Thursday, August 25, 2016
On Rainer Maria Rilke, William Gass, Stumbling Across My Younger Self, and the Pleasures and Perils of Translating Poetry
Kai Maristed in Agni:
This past spring, at AGNI’s Issue 83 launch, I had the chance to chat with David Daniel, whose atmospheric, heart-moving poetry I had just discovered in the way you discover something you’ve missed before knowing it exists.
At some point I confided to David that, not being a published poet, I had recently experienced twinges of self-doubt, of feeling like a trespasser, while translating Ingeborg Bachmann, Paul Celan and others. At the same time, the doing itself was exhilarating, and seemed, well…if not exactly easy, to flow toward rightness and resolution. Or was I being grossly naive, to believe I could simply listen closely to the German words and verses, immerse myself in the worlds they made, twirl them through my ear and mind and have them emerge as lines of English, lucid and faithful to original meaning while carrying as much of the original music as possible?
Shouldn’t there be more hard labor involved, more agony and frustration? Isn’t that why so many modern poetry translations appear to have been composed by a duo of Established Poet and her/his trusty sidekick, the Native Speaker? Like high level military brass going into the battlefields guided by, well, local translators. Didn’t William Gass, in his 1999 book-length essay, Reading Rilke, Reflections on the Problems of Translation, assert that, compared to having fluency in both languages, “it is more important that the translator have native-like possession of the language into which he is trying to put his chosen poem”? (‘Native-like possession’ being in context a strikingly awkward euphemism for ‘should be a skilled poet or literary eminence, capable of wrestling with the intransigency of the task.’)
David listened patiently to my questions, then answered with a single one of his own: “Well, and aren’t Gass’s translations of the Duino Elegies really terrible?” Nothing like a baldly-stated truth to make you burst out laughing.
Stephanie Forrest and Melanie Mitchell in Communications of the ACM:
As a descendant of the cybernetics era, he was influenced by the work of John von Neumann, Norbert Wiener, W. Ross Ashby, and Alan Turing, all of whom viewed computation as a broad, interdisciplinary enterprise. Holland thus became an early proponent of interdisciplinary approaches to computer science and an active evangelist of what is now called computational thinking, reaching out enthusiastically to psychologists, economists, physicists, linguists, philosophers, and pretty much anyone he came in contact with. As a result, even though he received what was arguably one of the world's first computer science Ph.D. degrees in 1959,23his contributions are sometimes better known outside computer science than within.
Holland is best known for his invention of genetic algorithms (GAs), a family of search and optimization methods inspired by biological evolution. Since their invention in the 1960s, GAs have inspired many related methods and led to the thriving field of evolutionary computation, with widespread scientific and commercial applications. Although the mechanisms and applications of GAs are well known, they were only one offshoot of Holland's broader motivation—to develop a general theory of adaptation in complex systems.
Here, we consider this larger framework, sketching the recurring themes that were central to Holland's theory of adaptive systems: discovery and dynamics in adaptive search; internal models and prediction; exploratory modeling; and universal properties of complex adaptive systems.
Supriya Syal and Dan Ariely in Scientific American:
Only about half of the people who could vote in the 2012 U.S. presidential election actually did so (53.6 percent of the voting-age population). This puts turnout in the U.S. among the worst in developed countries. By way of contrast, 87.2 percent of Belgians, 80.5 percent of Australians and 73.1 percent of Finns voted in their last elections. In a nation quick to defend democracy both within its borders and beyond, why are more Americans not exercising what is arguably their biggest democratic right?
Certainly there are political and mechanical obstacles within the American voting climate that make it difficult for people to even get to the polls, such as onerous voter ID laws or a shortage of polling stations in some locales. The absence of automatic voter registration (as in Finland) or mandatory registration (as in Australia) also limits turnout.
But beyond these structural hurdles, most theories that examine the mindset of those who do not vote speak to disengagement from electoral politics or disbelief in government's ability to affect progress. Solutions that aim to address these problems typically inform people about the importance of their vote in electing a government that works for them. Yet this tactic does not appear to sway many. Despite such efforts, turnout has consistently hovered around 50 percent for the past nine U.S. presidential elections—the highest being 56.9 percent in 2008.
Tom Bartlett in The Chronicle of Higher Education:
You can order Gnome Chomsky, the Garden Noam for $195, plus shipping. A "What Would Noam Do?" mug can be yours for $15. "Colorless green ideas sleep furiously," an oft-repeated demonstration of how words can be simultaneously grammatical and nonsensical, is available both as a bumper sticker and an iPhone case. Noam Chomsky is souvenir-level famous.
That’s what happens when you are "arguably the most important intellectual alive today," a line from a 1979 New York Times book review that’s been recycled ever since as shorthand for a hard-to-summarize man. The same book review, written by Paul Robinson, a Stanford historian, goes on to outline what he calls "the Chomsky problem," that is, "the problem of an opinionated historian inhabiting the same skin as the brilliant and subtle linguist." There is Noam Chomsky, father of modern linguistics, whose theory of Universal Grammar seeks to explain human language. And there is Noam Chomsky, the political activist and writer, who remains among the most unrelenting critics of American military action. In his new book, Tom Wolfe takes a crack at explaining that bifurcated persona. (Yes, that Tom Wolfe — the Bonfire of the Vanities, Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test guy.). He describes the divide with patented Wolfeian exuberance: "Chomsky’s politics enhanced his reputation as a great linguist, and his reputation as a great linguist enhanced his reputation as a political solon, and his reputation as a political solon inflated his reputation from great linguist to all-around genius, and the genius inflated the solon into a veritable Voltaire, and the veritable Voltaire inflated the genius of all geniuses into a philosophical giant ... Noam Chomsky."
Once fully inflated, Wolfe proceeds to stick a pin in him. The Kingdom of Speech (Little, Brown and Company) is one of two new books that offer sour portraits of the soft-spoken, if not always mild-mannered, emeritus professor of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The other, Decoding Chomsky: Science and Revolutionary Politics (Yale University Press), by Chris Knight, was a decade in the making and may be the most in-depth meditation on "the Chomsky problem" ever published. Like Wolfe, Knight first consecrates Chomsky, noting that, by one measure, he is the eighth-most-cited thinker in the humanities — hot on the heels of fellow one-namers like Freud and Plato — before setting fire to the shrine.
Is this any way to treat arguably the most important intellectual alive?
Elizabeth Pennisi in Science:
It’s well known that humans—and our antibiotics—are in an evolutionary arms race with the bacteria that make us sick. As fast as we rev up a strong defense, they change to evade those defenses, upping the ante for either our bodies or our drugs. This arms race has been called the Red Queen hypothesis after the Alice in Wonderland character who told Alice that in looking-glass land, she would have to run as fast as she could just to stay in the same place. But what about friendly alliances—such as those between us and the beneficial microbes that naturally inhabit our guts and other tissues and help us digest food and stave off other infections? Researchers have often assumed that once such a mutualistic partnership arose, both sides would be stable gene-wise—they would have no need to keep evolving to match each other. A decade ago, this idea was dubbed the Red King hypothesis. But a new study in ants finds that even partners known to be engaged in mutually beneficial associations have rapidly evolving genomes, apparently to keep those partnerships intact.
To find out how quickly friendly partners evolve, Corrie Moreau, an evolutionary biologist at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, Illinois, and her graduate student Benjamin Rubin sequenced the genomes of seven ant species. Three survive by partnering with just one plant: the acacia tree, the Japanese knotweed, or a tropical tree called Tachigali. In the case of the acacia, Pseudomyrmex flavicornis defends the tree from elephants and other grazers in return for a special acacia-produced sugar and the hollow spines in which it nests. The duo also sequenced the genomes of three nonspecialist species—each closely related to one of the specialists—and one very distantly related ant species. All seven were in the Pseudomyrmex genus. Rubin, now at Princeton University, compared the genome of each mutualistic ant with that of its partner and the distant relative, using the three sequences to calculate a rate of evolution based on the number of DNA differences between the distant relative and the other ants. “What we expected to see was a slowdown in the rate of evolution in the mutualist,” Moreau says. But the opposite proved true. The genome of each mutualistic ant was evolving at a faster rate than that of the most closely related generalist, Rubin and Moreau report today in Nature Communications. Moreover, they discovered that changes were occurring in the same genes in all three mutualistic ant species compared with their nonmutualistic counterparts.
Wednesday, August 24, 2016
Freud felt—in a very old-fashioned way—that his portraits somehow got to the essence, the heart of the “self.” Martin Gayford quotes him as saying he wanted a painting not to be “of” or “like” the person he painted: “I didn’t want to get just a likeness like a mimic, but to portray them, like an actor…. As far as I am concerned the paint is the person. I want it to work for me just as flesh does.” After sittings, he liked to talk to his subjects, share a meal, understand their feelings. “In a way, I don’t want the picture to come from me. I want it to come from them.” In practice, this often meant that the person did not exist for Freud apart from the sittings: those who did not turn up, or wriggled, or chattered, or were otherwise annoying, were out—no matter what they gave up to sit for him for so long.
Sitting for Freud often took months while he circled around, came back, altered details, slowly filled in the center and worked outward. Small details, like the light on a lapel, a stray tuft of hair, or a deepening, swirling background, could alter the focus of the whole, and the strength and density came in part from this technique of returning, layering, reworking. The sketches were part of this work, but also a separate expression of the subject that obsessed him at the time. His lasting draughtsmanship shows in the sketch Girl sleeping, while the drastic change in his painting style in the 1950s from flat, almost hallucinatory definition, to loosely-handled watercolors and the lavish, heavy brushstrokes of later oils, is displayed in the loose, fast sketch of Anna in Venice, from the 1960s. Missing here are the naked poses that leave his subjects splayed and open, male and female genitalia rendered with a clinical gaze.
Various contemporary continental philosophers have taken an interest in espousing some form of a ‘return to religion’ but one devoid of actual, material religious belief and practice (e.g., John Caputo’s ‘religion without religion’ or Jean-Luc Nancy’s ‘deconstruction of Christianity)’. But actual, empirical religion, post-9/11, has been flourishing in our globalized world, where belief and religion are not devoid of their meaning, permanently cancelled out philosophically, as it were, but are as loaded as ever with the charge of tradition and sense. This is the context wherein Gregg Lambert develops his notion of the ‘return statement’. The latter phrase, appropriated from computer programming, indicates the exit from a particular subroutine, i.e., something like a paradigm shift in philosophical terms. Lambert invokes it in order to indicate contemporary continental philosophy’s desire to leave behind the various embodied religious forms we see before us every day in its own, more abstracted ‘return to religion’ that would serve perhaps to cancel out the religious altogether.
The problem with contemporary philosophical accounts, in Lambert’s analysis, is that they are too beholden to those deconstructive, negative theological accounts of representation that would see a specific ontology crossed-out but not replaced by anything with its own ontological substance. There is therefore a lack of an ontological form that arises in the face of these various philosophical ‘fundamentalisms’ that he is keen to frequently critique.
Nothing new in the East: the weather on the front is hot. In the summer, the war gets worse. The war, officially called an Anti-Terrorist Operation or simply ATO in Ukraine, began in spring 2014, when Russian-backed separatist groups in the Donbas region demanded that Ukraine be split up. The Minsk agreement of 2015, which was supposed to end the fighting between the Ukrainian army and pro-Russian rebels, did not ease the tensions, on the contrary. For Ukrainian soldiers, the situation even intensified, because many commanding officers would not allow them to return fire until the last moment, if the separatists opened fire. So if the agreement is to be observed, one is dependent on the West for assistance. Right now, it is very quiet here in Popasna, near the city of Sloviansk. The first shots are fired around midnight, when the OSCE observers go home.
The soldiers listen to bad patriotic Ukrainian rock, clean their weapons, play with the camp dog, smoke. Roksovana is the only woman among 20 men in this Intelligence Brigade, and one of 50,000 soldiers currently serving in the Ukrainian army or in volunteer battalions.
Roksovana is her nickname, she doesn't want to reveal her real name or show her face. She comes from Crimea, where her family lives and could get into trouble if her identity is made public. "It's better like this", she laughs, "I don't have to put on makeup." A few cosmetics utensils stand tidily arranged next to her bunk bed, above which there hangs a little guardian angel made of wood, a present from her niece. Roksovana is 45 and has no children. That's rare in Ukraine. Why did she become a soldier? Because, she says, it is her civic duty. Because she doesn't want to live in Russia.
Jason Stanley in the New York Times:
My childhood was privileged and fortunate. My mother was a court stenographer in criminal court, and my father was a professor of sociology at Syracuse University, who had written his doctoral thesis on British colonialism in Kenya. My parents divorced when I was young. But they each happily remarried, and in any case, when I was growing up in Syracuse in the 1970s and ’80s, it was the kids of non-divorced parents who were weird. I was on the cross-country team, the math team. And my mother and my father survived the Holocaust.
As a child, this fact was not as salient to me as it is today.
I grew up hearing stories from my father of Central Park and the Ethical Culture Society. New York City in the 1940s and ’50s seemed like a magical place. But between these stories were interspersed ones whose contrast couldn’t have been stronger.
My father told me of watching Nazi marches from his grandparents’ balcony, begging his grandparents to allow him to join. He told me what the signs on the streets said when he started learning to read. He told me of the fear of being in hiding, and of the lessons my grandmother gave him in how to dress quickly. More recently, reading family letters, I learned about the beatings he suffered on the streets of Berlin, his 5-year-old hands outstretched to fend off the truncheon blows raining down on his head.
John Bohannon in Science:
The term "life hacking" usually refers to clever tweaks that make your life more productive. But this week in Science, a team of scientists comes a step closer to the literal meaning: hacking the machinery of life itself. They have designed—though not completely assembled—a synthetic Escherichia coli genome that could use a protein-coding scheme different from the one employed by all known life. Requiring a staggering 62,000 DNA changes, the finished genome would be the most complicated genetic engineering feat so far. E. coli running this rewritten genome could become a new workhorse for laboratory experiments and a factory for new industrial chemicals, its creators predict.
Such a large-scale genomic hack once seemed impossible, but no longer, says Peter Carr, a bioengineer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Lincoln Laboratory in Lexington who is not involved with the project. "It's not easy, but we can engineer life at profound scales, even something as fundamental as the genetic code."
The genome hacking is underway in the lab of George Church at Harvard University, the DNA-sequencing pioneer who has become the most high-profile, and at times controversial, name in synthetic biology. The work takes advantage of the redundancy of life's genetic code, the language that DNA uses to instruct the cell's protein-synthesizing machinery. To produce proteins, cells "read" DNA's four-letter alphabet in clusters of three called codons. The 64 possible triplets are more than enough to encode the 20 amino acids that exist in nature, as well as the "stop" codons that mark the ends of genes.
Amardeep Singh in his own blog:
And indeed, I had read several of them before, but spread out over years and often sandwiched into lots of other online reading that sometimes diluted their impact. As a result, I did not see the true implications of important essays like "Unnamed Lake" or "A True Picture of Black Skin" in those earlier reads. Seeing them in print and in the context of other essays on overlapping topics helps the author drive the point home. (Another reminder of the limits of our online media + text consumption ecosystem.)
The collection as a whole is divided into three sections, including essays on writers and literature, essays on photography, and travel writings. The travel writings I found particularly engrossing; Cole has visited dozens of countries since he became a literary star after the publication of Open City in 2011. I also see in the travel writings echoes of the voices of other great travel writers, including Conrad, Naipaul and more contemporaneously, Amitava Kumar... There's a very precise balance in these essays of the personal voice and experience with a journalist's eye for broad questions of general interest. I would not be surprised if we were to see more travel writing from Teju Cole in the future.
Lynn Sherr in Bill Moyers Blog:
My mother was born in the United States of America without the right to vote. I just stopped to re-read that sentence because it seems so, you know, quaint. Okay, preposterous. By the time she neared voting age in 1920, the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, prohibiting federal and state governments from denying citizens the right to vote “on account of sex.” For the next seven decades, Mother didn’t miss an election. As a child, I remember watching her dress for the occasion: girdle and stockings, dress and heels, hat and gloves, because like many first-generation Americans who’d endured two World Wars, she considered voting a formal affair, a sacred privilege — and duty — defined by her citizenship. That’s my ritual, too (without the body armor), which is why this Friday, Aug. 26 — the 96th anniversary of the day American women got the vote — I’ll offer my annual thanks to the women and men who made it happen. Their exhausting slog over more than half a century was, as noted by the leader of the final surge, Carrie Chapman Catt, agonizing: “480 campaigns to urge legislatures to submit suffrage amendments to voters; 47 campaigns to induce state constitutional conventions to write woman suffrage into state constitutions; 277 campaigns to persuade state party conventions to include woman suffrage planks; 30 campaigns to urge presidential party conventions to adopt woman suffrage planks in party platforms, and 19 campaigns with 19 successive Congresses.” Not to mention countless insults, inanities and hurled rotten eggs. But the result changed the dynamic, opening the electoral process to more individuals than ever before in American history. And with Hillary Clinton now tying her historic candidacy to the legacy of our foremothers, it’s useful to recall its unique place in our often grudgingly shared democracy.
Early suffrage leaders understood their goal as a natural right of citizenship, right up there with life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who rewrote the Declaration of Independence along feminist lines for the 1848 Seneca Falls women’s rights convention, bemoaned the “degradation of disfranchisement.” But when men didn’t share on the simple grounds of equality, some women resorted to a higher calling — moral superiority — slyly predicting that female reformers would elevate and cleanse the corrupt political world; that everything from the drunken rowdiness on election day to the character of candidates would be purified. According to Susan B. Anthony, woman suffrage would “compel both political parties to nominate candidates of the highest character. A woman would no more vote for a low-down man than a good man for a degraded woman.”
Amy Maxmen in Nature:
First, there was the pitching and rolling in an old Jeep for eight hours. Next came the river crossing in a slender canoe. When Nathalie Strub Wourgaft finally reached her destination, a clinic in the heart of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, she was exhausted. But the real work, she discovered, had just begun. It was July 2010 and the clinic was soon to launch trials of a treatment for sleeping sickness, a deadly tropical disease. Yet it was woefully unprepared. Refrigerators, computers, generators and fuel would all have to be shipped in. Local health workers would have to be trained to collect data using unfamiliar instruments. And contingency plans would be needed in case armed conflict scattered study participants — a very real possibility in this war-weary region. This was a far cry from Wourgaft's former life as a top executive in the pharmaceutical industry, where the hospitals that she commissioned for trials were pristine, well-resourced and easy to reach. But Wourgaft, now medical director for the innovative Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi), was confident that the clinic could handle the work. She was right. With data from this site and others, the DNDi will next year seek approval for a sleeping-sickness tablet, fexinidazole. It would be a massive improvement on existing treatment options: an arduous regimen of intravenous injections, or a 65-year-old arsenic-based drug that can be deadly.
The DNDi is an unlikely success story in the expensive, challenging field of drug development. In just over a decade, the group has earned approval for six treatments, tackling sleeping sickness, malaria, Chagas' disease and a form of leishmaniasis called kala-azar. And it has put another 26 drugs into development. It has done this with US$290 million — about one-quarter of what a typical pharmaceutical company would spend to develop just one drug. The model for its success is the product development partnership (PDP), a style of non-profit organization that became popular in the early 2000s. PDPs keep costs down through collaboration — with universities, governments and the pharmaceutical industry. And because the diseases they target typically affect the world's poorest people, and so are neglected by for-profit companies, the DNDi and groups like it face little competitive pressure. They also have lower hurdles to prove that their drugs vastly improve lives. Now, policymakers are beginning to wonder whether their methods might work more broadly. “For a long time, people thought about R&D as so complicated that it could only be done by the biggest for-profit firms in the world,” says Suerie Moon, a global-health researcher at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who studied PDPs and joined the DNDi's board of directors in 2011. “I think we are at a point today where we can begin to take lessons from their experience and begin to apply to them non-neglected disease,” she says.
Middle of the Way
I wake in the night,
An old ache in the shoulder blades.
I lie amazed under the trees
That creak a little in the dark,
The giant trees of the world.
I lie on earth the way
Flames lie in the woodpile,
Or as an imprint, in sperm or egg, of what is to be.
I love the earth, and always
In its darkness I am a stranger.
Tuesday, August 23, 2016
John Freeman in Literary Hub:
For the past 30 years, Svetlana Alexievich has been writing one long book about the effect of communism and its demise on people in the former Soviet Bloc. Based on interviews, her books conjure a chorus of voices that rise and fall and arrange themselves into symphonic narratives: Here are the voices of Russians scarred by the meltdown of Chernobyl (Voices from Chernobyl), angered by the shame of Afghan War (Zinky Boys), and now, with Secondhand Time, bewildered by the collapse of communism and assumption they should all be capitalists now.
Alexievich was in some ways born into this task. Both of her parents were teachers and her father once studied journalism himself. At university, Alexievich was exposed to the work of Belarusian writer, Ales Adomovich, who believed the 20th century was so horrific it needed no elaboration.
Unlike Studs Terkel, whose oral histories of American life arrange themselves like transcribed radio interviews, Alexievich’s books are strange creations. They never ask the reader to think to imagine their subjects are representative individuals. When she won the Nobel in 2015, Alexievich described them as novels—which is a fair comparison given the meticulous arrangement required to create such clear and evocative pastiche. Whatever they are, her books are as eerie and beautiful as overheard voices on a crowded train car traveling through the night.
Jonathan Weiner in the New York Times:
Reader, as you read these words, trillions of microbes and quadrillions of viruses are multiplying on your face, your hands and down there in the darkness of your gut. With every breath you take, with every move you make, you are sending bacteria into the air at the rate of about 37 million per hour — your invisible aura, your personal microbial cloud. With every gram of food you eat, you swallow about a million microbes more.
According to the latest estimates, about half of your cells are not human — enough to make you wonder what you mean by “you.” Your human cells come from a single fertilized egg with DNA from your mother and father. Microbes began mingling with those human cells even before your first breath, the first kiss from your mother, your first taste of milk. And your human cells could not have built a healthy body without intimate help from all those trillions of immigrant microbes — your other half.
“I am large, I contain multitudes,” Walt Whitman declares in “Leaves of Grass,” in his great poem “Song of Myself.” But what is “self”? According to conventional wisdom, your immune system is supposed to protect you by detecting and rejecting anything in your body that is not “self.” And yet your very immune system is partly built and even partly run by microbes. “Even when we are alone, we are never alone,” Ed Yong writes in his excellent and vivid introduction to our microbiota, or microbiome, the all-enveloping realm of our microbes. “When we eat, so do they. When we travel, they come along. When we die, they consume us.”
Zaheer Kazmi in Prospect:
From religious leaders to former extremists and western governments, a consensus has emerged since 9/11 that stresses the compatibility between Islam and the liberal values of civility, freedom and tolerance, as opposed to terrorist groups such as Islamic State (IS). Yet in many ways Islamist militancy and Islamic liberalism—though seemingly opposed—are two sides of the same reformist coin. They are both engaged in ideological projects for an Islamic revival in a time of western ascendancy. And they are equally plagued with the problems encountered by movements that rest their legitimacy on claims to a unique and timeless authenticity.
Muslim liberals tend to prescribe modern answers to postmodern questions. Their focus on reviving supposedly representative forms of religious authority show them to be ill at ease with the ways in which Islam has become increasingly atomised in a fragmented world. Their intellectual antecedents are the 19th-century modernist movements such as the al-Nahda or cultural “awakening” in the Arab world and the Aligarh movement in British India. They cling to these modes of reform grounded in synthesising Islam with western notions of progress. Post-9/11 calls from western governments and civil society for Muslims to counter the extremism in their midst have reactivated these agendas.
Four problems in particular blight attempts at Islamic liberal reform—none of which have anything to do with duplicity or conspiracy, as Islamophobes allege.
From the TED website:
Summer, 2016: amid populist revolts, clashing resentments and fear, writer Anand Giridharadas doesn't give a talk but reads a letter. It's from those who have won in this era of change, to those who have, or feel, lost. It confesses to ignoring pain until it became anger. It chides an idealistic yet remote elite for its behind-closed-doors world-saving and airy, self-serving futurism — for at times worrying more about sending people to Mars than helping them on Earth. And it rejects the exclusionary dogmas to which we cling, calling us instead to "dare to commit to the dream of each other."
On a warm spring evening in early May, 1950, Edward Steichen, the director of the Department of Photography at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, opened an exhibition touted as a milestone event: the museum’s first exhibition devoted solely to color photography—titled, authoritatively, “Color Photography.” It featured an extravagant profusion of photographs drawn from science, journalism, and commerce: a microscope picture of an amoeba; an aerial photo taken from a rocket launched over the White Sands missile facility in New Mexico; Life’s images of exploding atomic bombs and the first published color photo of Mars; tear-sheets from the pages of Vogue, Fortune,Ladies’ Home Journal, and other popular magazines. The varied list of photographers included Roman Vishniac, Paul Outerbridge, Eliot Porter, Weegee, Irving Penn, Richard Avedon, Louise Dahl-Wolfe, Horst P. Horst, and Steichen himself.
The abundance of imagery on display served Steichen’s curatorial aim: to probe whether this technology could be a “new” and “creative” medium for the artist, and not just a “means of supplementing or elaborating the recognized attainments of black and white photography.” Chronologically, the show’s earliest works were printed reproductions of Autochromes, the colored-starch glass plates patented by the Lumière Brothers in 1904, marking that invention as the inauguration of modern color photography. But chronology didn’t guide the exhibition: the physical layout was determined by image source (e.g., the military, the magazine) and display needs of various media, particularly the many color transparencies, which had to be lit from behind in darkened rooms.
The name has been
to a stub.
For sixteen years
I have ransacked
looking for a way
to say how it was.
Because we have
no word for light
we live in shadows.
by Demetria Matinez
from Breathing Between the Lines
University of Arizona Press, 1997
Earlier this summer I was on a panel at a literary conference where I happened to say that Rudyard Kipling was a wonderful writer. Immediately, a number of people in the audience began to boo and hiss. Two of my fellow panelists nearly shrieked that Kipling was utterly beyond the pale, being at once racist, misogynist and imperialist. Not entirely surprised by this reaction, but nonetheless flabbergasted by its vehemence, I made a flustered attempt to champion the author of “Plain Tales From the Hills,” “The Jungle Books” and “Kim.” I declared what many believe, that he is the greatest short-story writer in English. This only made things worse. Finally, with some desperation I blurted out: “How much Kipling have you actually read?”
A short silence followed, and, without any answer to my question, the discussion moved on to other, less heated topics. But I felt significantly downcast. So when I got home I sat down and reread“The Jungle Books,” recently reprinted by Penguin because of a new film about Mowgli, the “Man-cub” reared by wolves. I also dipped into a number of biographies and critical works, visited the website of the Kipling Society and tried to clarify my own thoughts about, arguably, the most controversial author in English literature.
Tailleferre struggled to be considered asexual in musical terms, asking to be called simply “a composer,” not a “woman composer.” Even today her granddaughter Elvie de Rudder, still teaching music in a Paris lycée, bristles at those who refer to her as “Germaine.” Nobody calls Milhaud “Darius” or Poulenc “Francis,” she says. “So just call her ‘Tailleferre’.” Easy first-name usage can connote condescension, especially in protocol-sensitive France.
With hindsight, we can conclude that Tailleferre was cheated out of her rightful place in the legacy of Les Six. The other more prominent members – Poulenc, Milhaud and Arthur Honegger – are routinely credited as originators of a modern French School of composing. No less an authority on contemporary music as the late Joseph Machlis maintained in his book Introduction to Contemporary Music that Tailleferre and another member of the group, Louis Durey, “dropped from sight” after a brush with fame in the 1920s. Not true. They continued making an impact of their own choosing and at their own pace.
Tailleferre’s natural modesty didn’t help her career. She undervalued herself in part because of the patriarchal culture of early 20th century Europe. Playing her submissive role to the hilt, she told an interviewer she had no grand pretensions about her oeuvre. “It’s not great music, I know, but it’s gay, light hearted music which is sometimes compared with that of the ‘petits maîtres’ of the 18th century. And that makes me very proud.’’ She added, “I write music because it amuses me.” You can almost hear her tiny voice apologizing for what she has done.
Andreas Kluth in The Economist:
Many Germans have been glued to a television series, “Where We Come From”, that explains Germany’s long, complicated and often tragic history. The “we” in the title, however, is deceptive, for the host and narrator is Sir Christopher Clark, an Australian historian knighted for his services to Anglo-German relations. His academic credentials are excellent. His book on Prussia, “Iron Kingdom”, may be the best on the subject. His tome on the first world war, “The Sleepwalkers”, became a bestseller. But Germany has plenty of its own historians. Why Clark?
The answer starts with the dappled bow tie he wears as he drives around Germany in a red cabriolet vw Beetle: the quintessential Brit (Aussies are close enough) in the quintessential German vehicle. Then there’s the language. Clark speaks grammatically flawless German, but with enough of an English cadence to sound cheeky, witty and incisive. Occasionally he uses humour, which can still be shocking on German public television. Sometimes he even says nice things about the country’s past, which to Germans is truly shocking. He does not seem full of himself. To Germans that is refreshing. German Anglophiles consider such attributes “Anglo-Saxon”. The term is stretchable in this context and includes anybody English-speaking, whether Celtic or Saxon, pale or brown, from down under or beyond the pond. Clark is not an isolated case. The late Gordon Craig, a Scottish-American historian, achieved similar success. So has Timothy Garton Ash, a historian at Oxford and Stanford, who wows Germans with pithy insights delivered in sophisticated German.