Sunday, April 25, 2021

On the Afterlife of Photographic Subjects: A Strange Sub-Sub Genre on the Border of History and Journalism

I just read the remarkable piece of journalism about the woman who was the subject of this famous photograph:

It was written by Patricia McKormick, whose work I was previously unfamiliar with, but who (judging by this piece) is superb; it was first published in the Washington Post (h/t LGM), but if that link hits a paywall for you, you can also find it in the Anchorage Daily News.

But it occurred to me that it is, in fact, an example of a small little niche genre: stories about the lives of not-particularly famous people who appeared in famous photographs. A few more examples occur to me.

First, there are stories about this other famous photograph from the Vietnam War, in which American napalm, dropped on children, has burned off the clothes of a little girl:

Well, the story (which I've had occasion to mention before) of the girl—how the photographer rushed her to the hospital, how she eventually ended up in Canada, how she and the photographer became friends—has been told, briefly, here: http://digitaljournalist.org/issue0008/ng5.htm and at greater length in a book (which I haven't yet read) called The Girl in the Picture by Denise Chong.

Another example, about a different iconic photograph* from a different iconic midcentury event, this one the 1957 integration of Little Rock, Arkansas's high school:

The story (which I have also had occasion to mention before) of the relationship between the two women (girls, at the time) in the photograph has been told by David Margolick, briefly, here: https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2007/09/littlerock200709 and in longer form in his book Elizabeth and Hazel.

But the more I think about it, the more examples come to mind.

There have been many stories told about this famous photograph from V-E day:

 About which there are, apparently, both questions concerning the identity of the people in the photograph and (conditional on who it actually is!) the fact that the kiss was non-consensual and more of a sexual assault than a celebration (see, e.g., here: https://www.artsy.net/article/artsy-editorial-controversy-surrounding-alfred-eisenstaedts-iconic-photo-v-j-day-kiss, but this has gotten a lot of coverage.)  And yes, that too has been a book, The Kissing Sailor (another I haven't read), which appears to focus on the who-are-they mystery angle.

Then there's this photograph, less historic than the others here, perhaps, but very widely known in the art world, of the artist Marcel Duchamp playing chess (the activity he abandoned art to persue) while at the first retrospective of his work, with a young woman named Eve Babitz who would go on to be a novelist of some note:

This story (less shocking than any of the above, but still quite interesting) was told first by Eve Babitz herself, and then in greater detail by writer Lili Anolick in this engaging & worthwhile essay: https://www.vanityfair.com/culture/2015/10/eve-babitz-marcel-duchamp-chess-nude. Anolick has also written a biography of Babitz, Hollywood's Eve, which also tells the story, of course.

And those are just the ones that come readily to mind. I'm sure there are a lot more. Please leave any that occur to you in the footnotes.  It would be nice to curate a list!

_____________________________

* Actually, this one wasn't a single photographs; there were two or three images taken at almost the exact same moment, from different angles, two (at least) of which are widely reprinted; see Margolick for details.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Kim Stanley Robinson's THE MINISTRY FOR THE FUTURE: A Review

 ...by me, but not here; it's at The Ancillary Review of Books, and you can read it here:

https://ancillaryreviewofbooks.org/2021/01/20/even-this-is-too-good-to-be-true-review-of-the-ministry-for-the-future-by-kim-stanley-robinson/



Poem of the Day: When people say, “we have made it through worse before”

When people say, “we have made it through worse before”

all I hear is the wind slapping against the gravestones

of those who did not make it, those who did not

survive to see the confetti fall from the sky, those who

 

did not live to watch the parade roll down the street.

I have grown accustomed to a lifetime of aphorisms

meant to assuage my fears, pithy sayings meant to

 

convey that everything ends up fine in the end. There is no

solace in rearranging language to make a different word

tell the same lie. Sometimes the moral arc of the universe

 

does not bend in a direction that will comfort us.

Sometimes it bends in ways we don’t expect & there are

people who fall off in the process. Please, dear reader,

 

do not say I am hopeless, I believe there is a better future

to fight for, I simply accept the possibility that I may not

live to see it. I have grown weary of telling myself lies

 

that I might one day begin to believe. We are not all left

standing after the war has ended. Some of us have

become ghosts by the time the dust has settled.

 

Clint Smith


America! America outraged! America broken! America martyred! But America liberated!

 A sneak preview of Biden's inaugural address in just over an hour:

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Piranesi: a Spoiler-Free Review

I just finished reading Susana Clarke's second novel, Piranesi (2020) and it is just as wonderful as her first novel, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell (2004) while being so utterly unlike it that you would never guess that they were by the same author. Their only commonality is that both are distinctly British fantasy novels.  Basically, if you like good fantasy novels, pick it up & read it.

 

That's the long and the short of it, except that I should add that I think it's a particularly good book to go into blind.  After I finished reading it, I glanced at a few reviews, and I was very glad I hadn't done so first.  Of course, for many of you, "by the author of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell" is sale enough. The rest of you should go read Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.—Ok, I kid: I know that that latter book was not for everyone, although for a large number of people it was utterly superb. But I will say that if you generally like fantasy but were put off by Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, then probably the parts that put you off are absent from Piranesi.



Beyond that? Try to learn nothing.  The first page or two of Piranesi can be confusing, but the immediate mysteries are cleared up within another few pages. You'll be quite comfortable with them before the new mysteries, the ones you don't want spoiled, start piling up.

 

There's more to say about this book — a lot more — but for now, that's where I'll stop. It's great, go read it, avoid reviews.

Thursday, December 03, 2020

The Inscription Over a Modern Gate to Hell

Philip Terry is a writer who works in the oulipian tradition.  He is the author of a novel, The Book of Bachelors (1995) (which was published in its entirety in an issue of The Review of Contemporary Fiction), which consists of nine chapters, each a lipogram on a different letter of the alphabet. He wrote a book of versions of Shakespeare's Sonnets, each modified by a different oulipian constraint (the results are predictably mixed).  And he did a... you can't really call it a translation... adaptation of Dante's Inferno.

For comparison, here are the opening five stanzas of Alan Mandlebaum's translation of the Inferno, Canto III:

THROUGH ME THE WAY INTO THE SUFFERING CITY,
THROUGH ME THE WAY TO THE ETERNAL PAIN,
THROUGH ME THE WAY THAT RUNS AMONG THE LOST.

JUSTICE URGED ON MY HIGH ARTIFICER;
MY MAKER WAS DIVINE AUTHORITY,
THE HIGHEST WISDOM, AND THE PRIMAL LOVE.

BEFORE ME NOTHING BUT ETERNAL THINGS
WERE MADE, AND I ENDURE ETERNALLY.
ABANDON EVERY HOPE, WHO ENTER HERE.

These words—their aspect was obscure—I read
inscribed above a gateway, and I said:
“Master, their meaning is difficult for me.”

And he to me, as one who comprehends:
“Here one must leave behind all hesitation;
here every cowardice must meet its death.

And now, here are the opening lines of Philip Terry's Canto III:

THROUGH ME THE WAY TO THE DOLEFUL CAMPUS,

THROUGH ME THE WAY TO ETERNAL DEBT,

THROUGH ME THE WAY TO THE FORSAKEN GENERATION.

 

FREEDOM OF THOUGHT INSPIRED MY FOUNDERS;

POLITICAL EXPEDIENCY RUINED ME,

COUPLED BY BETRAYAL OF PRINCIPLE AND PLEDGE.

 

BEFORE ME NOTHING BUT ETERNAL THINGS WERE MADE,

NOW I SHALL MARK YOU ETERNALLY.

ABANDON ALL HOPE, YOU WHO ENTER HERE.

 

I saw these words spelled out on a digital display

Above the entrance to the Knowledge Gateway.

‘Master,’ I said, ‘this is scary.’

 

He answered me, speaking with a drawl:

‘Now you need to grit your teeth,

This isn’t the moment to shit yourself.

It's quite funny— the first nine lines are, I think, a very good joke.

But I am rather uncertain, having read (thanks to Amazon's "see inside" feature) the opening two and a half cantos, whether it's a joke that can be sustained over an entire book.  So I am hesitant to plunk down $16 to get a copy.

Anyone know if the whole thing works at all?

Thursday, November 26, 2020

The Same Thanksgiving Post I Have Put Up Every Year Since 1621

Serve the LORD with gladness: come before his presence with singing.... Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name.

-- Psalm 100: 2, 4

ANYA: I love a ritual sacrifice.
BUFFY: It's not really a one of those.
ANYA: To commemorate a past event, you kill and eat an animal. It's a ritual sacrifice. With pie.

-- Buffy the Vampire Slayer, "Pangs" by Jane Espenson

The title of this post is false, of course: after an unbroken streak from 1621-2013, I have not posted it in seven years. But a friend of mine said he looked forward to it, so, in honor of the day, I am resuming, at least for this year, the ritual. There are so many rituals we will lack this year; this is one I can reclaim.

If you are reading this, I am thankful that you have (to borrow from another tradition) been granted life, been sustained, and been enabled to reach this occasion.  Too few of us have.  I hope you are being safe today; for even fewer will have by next year, or even by New Year's.

The Buffy the Vampire Slayer quote above comes from the Thanksgiving episode Pangs; you can watch the clip of it here:


And another, bonus quote from the same episode is here:


It's a fun episode; but for those of you reading this who aren't familiar with the show (hi Jon), not really the best place to start. Hit me up if you want more advice along these lines.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

A Longer-Term Problem

 

I know we're all (rightly) paralyzed with fear and anxiety about the next few months, but allow me a moment for a longer-term worry.

I heard some of Biden's speech on climate change this morning. And I had two thoughts. First, it was (as far as a Democratic candidate goes) superb: a level of alarm and seriousness which is very welcome (and, yes, long over due). I doubt that Bernie could have done better.

But I fear he fell into a trap not specific to him, but broadly arising out of liberal politics. He said that if we reelect a "climate arsonist" (great term), more of America will burn, more will flood. But he seemed to imply that if we elect him instead, this won't happen. The horrible truth, of course, is that at this point 20-30 years of ever-increasing climate misery are already baked in. We're going to spend the next three decades paying for the last three decades of emissions (you know, the 50% of all emissions throughout history which were produced after we were thoroughly warned & had supposed begun to react).

This doesn't mean that reducing our emissions rapidly is not a priority; it has to be. But that's because if we don't act now things will be unimaginable—perhaps literally unendurable—in the second half of the century. We need to ensure a future for later generations. But the near-term present will be increasingly worse regardless. — Of course, there are things we can and should do to help the next few decades, adaptation and social strengthening of all sorts. But those are to live through the climate misery, not avert it.

Again: nothing Biden said was wrong, precisely. Certainly a vote for the climate arsonist is as immoral as it is possible to imagine—solely on these grounds, even aside from everything else. But he hasn't done anything to prepare people for the longer-term struggles ahead. I don't think that's a failure of Biden's; I think it's a problem with liberal democracy, which must sell people the idea that they will have a better life if they vote for us. Whereas now we have reduced ourselves to choosing between bad and worse for the rest of our natural lives.

Not now, not in the next two months, but soon, we're going to have to learn, as a political movement, as a society, to talk about these things. We don't want Joshua Hawley or Tucker Carson or Don Jr to get up and say in 2024, "you said you'd fix this!". We need to communicate to people the urgency, but also the length of the storm. This won't be fixed in four years, nor even in forty, although in forty we will make some serious strides (or else have dug our own graves). We need to learn to speak of care; of struggling together to survive the damage already done; of preparing for the long term. Because that's what we need to do, now.
 
Housekeeping: this is reposted from FB. Preparing it for blog publication, it occurs to me I've been nattering about this long enough that the tag is "global warming" and not the more up-to-date "climate change" — or the currently trending "climate emergency". What will we call it in a decade?  Just ordinary life, I suppose.  Or perhaps our long twilight struggle.

Sunday, March 08, 2020

A Pesitlence Isn't a Thing Made to Man's Measure

"Everybody knows that pestilences have a way of recurring in the world; yet somehow we find it hard to believe in ones that crash down on our heads from a blue sky. There have been as many plagues as wars in history; yet always plagues and wars take people equally by surprise.… When a war breaks out, people say: 'It's too stupid; it can't last long.' But though a war may well be 'too stupid', that doesn't prevent its lasting.…

"In this respect our townfolk were like everybody else, wrapped up in themselves; in other words they were humanists; they disbelieved in pestilences. A pestilence isn't a thing made to man's measure; therefore we tell ourselves that pestilence is a mere bogy of the mind, a bad dream that will pass away. But it doesn't always pass away and, from one dream to another, ti is men who pass away...

"They went on doing business, arranged for journeys, and formed views. How should they have given a thought to anything like plague, which rules out any future, cancels journeys, silences the exchange of views. They fancied themselves free, and no one will ever be free, so long as there are pestilences."

— Albert Camus, The Plague

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

TWO IMPORTANT LANGUAGE NOTES

1) The proper English term for the Jewish celebrations in early adolescence is hereby termed "b'mitzvah" (both singular and plural). This allows easy sentences like, "when are your kids' b'mitzvahs?" or "we've been going to a lot of b'mitvahs lately", to say nothing of gender-noncomforming kids.

2) The word ducking is now an intensifier, as in "I can't ducking believe Pelosi actually had the guts to start impeachment hearings", and "I hope that the GOP is willing to do its ducking job and convict". Easier on kids & Apple ducking lets you type it.

Signed,

The English Language Academy

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Happenstance: the Print Edition

I assume most visitors to this blog know that I spent many years creating a graphic novel, and that over the past two years I have been serializing it online (you can read it here.)  Now I am trying to fund a print edition by running a kickstarter campaign.  You can learn more, donate and pre-order the book here:

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/happenstanceprint/happenstance-the-print-edition

Go have a look!

Wednesday, June 05, 2019

"But What Can I Do?"

A friend on facebook (who will be anonymous unless they say they'd like to be named) asked. re climate change: "But what can we do? I have yet to come up with anything we can do as individuals that could possibly help. Have anything?"

My reply:

"As individuals"? No. Nothing we can do as individuals is remotely equal to the scale of the problem. I mean, sure, drive less, fly never, get solar panels — all good things. But if everyone who cared did this it won't help. Only a radical restructuring of society and the economy can save us.

So what can we do? What we need to do is to elect politicians committed to a restructuring of the economy and society to a degree consonant with the problem. Not just Democrats; AOC Democrats, not Biden Democrats. (Along those lines: go to marches. Sign petitions. Give money. Make sure Jay Inslee is in the debates, at least.)

How do we do this? The only thing I know of, broadly, is to change the way people think. The best thing to do, I suppose, would be to find conservatives you know and convert them. That's tough, though. Second best? Try to convince liberals you know to treat the problem with the seriousness that is its due.

That's why I post on it all the time. If enough of us get that this is an emergency, one that will need to be solved by greater-than-WW2 style mobilization starting yesterday, then maybe, *maybe*, we can overcome this.

So talk about it, as often as you can stand or more. Be that annoying person who always points out that the house is on fire. And get everyone you know to talk about it.

If enough of us talk, if enough of us listen, then we won't be individuals any more, but a collective. And then maybe we can do something that can help.