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A terrible word, -splaining — and a not terribly nice thing

Monday, May 9th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — Rebecca Solnit and Donald Hall DoubleQuoted, with a touch of Mallory Ortberg ]
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11a_Jean-Beraud-Scene-de-cafeJean Beraud, Scène de café, from Women Listening To Men In Western Art

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I’d have called this piece Youngsplaining if it wasn’t such a terrible word. App-ocalypse, ape-ocalypse, and Apple-ocalypse all arose in response to my Google inquiry about -ocalypses, and I have to say it gets tiresome, especially for a student of apocalyptic — and much the same would be true of -splaining, so I won’t call it that, I’ll just let you know there’s a parallelism.

It was Rebecca Solnit‘s essay Men Explain Things to Me that first hovered around the notion that was later named Mansplaining — a word I can tolderate — and the instance which captured the idea naked was one in which a man, all unknowing, tried to explain to Solnit the importance of one of her own books. It is by now a well-known anecdote, so if you already know it, you can skip it. It’s it’s twin that I want to get to.

But in case you’ve not read it before:We were preparing to leave, when our host said, “No, stay a little longer so I can talk to you.” He was an imposing man who’d made a lot of money.

He kept us waiting while the other guests drifted out into the summer night, and then sat us down at his authentically grainy wood table and said to me, “So? I hear you’ve written a couple of books.”

I replied, “Several, actually.”

He said, in the way you encourage your friend’s seven-year-old to describe flute practice, “And what are they about?”

They were actually about quite a few different things, the six or seven out by then, but I began to speak only of the most recent on that summer day in 2003, River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West, my book on the annihilation of time and space and the industrialization of everyday life.

He cut me off soon after I mentioned Muybridge. “And have you heard about the very important Muybridge book that came out this year?”

So caught up was I in my assigned role as ingénue that I was perfectly willing to entertain the possibility that another book on the same subject had come out simultaneously and I’d somehow missed it. He was already telling me about the very important book–with that smug look I know so well in a man holding forth, eyes fixed on the fuzzy far horizon of his own authority.

Here, let me just say that my life is well-sprinkled with lovely men, with a long succession of editors who have, since I was young, listened and encouraged and published me, with my infinitely generous younger brother, with splendid friends of whom it could be said–like the Clerk in The Canterbury Tales I still remember from Mr. Pelen’s class on Chaucer–“gladly would he learn and gladly teach.” Still, there are these other men, too. So, Mr. Very Important was going on smugly about this book I should have known when Sallie interrupted him to say, “That’s her book.” Or tried to interrupt him anyway.

But he just continued on his way. She had to say, “That’s her book” three or four times before he finally took it in. And then, as if in a nineteenth-century novel, he went ashen. That I was indeed the author of the very important book it turned out he hadn’t read, just read about in the New York Times Book Review a few months earlier, so confused the neat categories into which his world was sorted that he was stunned speechless–for a moment, before he began holding forth again. Being women, we were politely out of earshot before we started laughing, and we’ve never really stopped.

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Okay, here’s the DoubleQuote part: the poet Donald Hall has another essay,Out the Window, in which he recounts a deligiously parallel experience:

I go to Washington to receive the National Medal of Arts and arrive two days early to look at paintings. At the National Gallery of Art, Linda [Hall’s girlfriend] pushes me in a wheelchair from painting to painting. We stop by a Henry Moore carving. A museum guard, a man in his sixties with a small pepper-and-salt mustache, approaches us and helpfully tells us the name of the sculptor. I wrote a book about Moore and knew him well. Linda and I separately think of mentioning my connection but instantly suppress the notion — egotistic, and maybe embarrassing to the guard. A couple of hours later, we emerge from the cafeteria and see the same man, who asks Linda if she enjoyed her lunch. Then he bends over to address me, wags his finger, smiles a grotesque smile, and raises his voice to ask, “Did we have a nice din-din?”

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To revert to “mansplaining” — it also involves woman listening, at least at first, though not necessarily with much enthusiasm –a fact deliciously illustrated by Mallory Ortberg in one of her Toast pieces, Women Listening To Men In Western Art History.

Too funny, if you don’t mind my saying so.

Brevity in Paradox

Monday, May 2nd, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — or as John Cage once said, I have nothing to say and I am saying it and that is poetry ]
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suzuki_enso-2-sm

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JV Cunningham has a poem which runs in its entirety:

Life flows to death as rivers to the sea
And life is fresh and death is salt to me.

Brilliant and brief. Samuel Beckett goes him one better, writing:

My birth was my death. Or put it another way. My birth was the death of me. Words are scarce.

It’s the scarcity that interests me here. Earlier, in Godot, he had written:

They give birth astride of a grave, the light gleams an instant, then it’s night once more.

That’s too wordy. “My birth was the death of me” packs a colloquial punch, while “My birth was my death” is more succinct and correspondingly powerful.

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Birth > death.

They are opposites, obviously, and almost tautologically so — and yet there is a less-than-obvious “double meaning” to them — when brought into close conjunction they can be said to fold the universe from many back into one.

This business of the conjunction of opposites is one which Carl Jung made the centerpiece of much of his later work, writing for instance:

Whoever identifies with an intellectual standpoint will occasionally find his feeling confronting him like an enemy in the guise of the anima; conversely, an intellectual animus will make violent attacks on the feeling standpoint. Therefore, anyone who wants to achieve the difficult feat of realizing something not only intellectually, but also according to its feeling-value, must for better or worse come to grips with the anima/animus problem in order to open the way for a higher union, a coniunctio oppositorum. This is an indispensable prerequisite for wholeness.

Consider the current US election campaign in this light…

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Shakespeare’s “insult, exult, and all at once” in As you Like It, and Dylan Thomas’ “Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray” in Do not go gentle are 0other instances of brevity in paradox.

Beckett, Jung, Shakespeare, Dylan Thomas — heady company.

Why the Secret Service may need to address the issue of crayons

Thursday, April 28th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — cultural criticism and the White House lawn ]
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Tablet DQ outside the lines

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The Secret Service (lower panel, above) is exactly right:

We have now a society that tends to want to jump over the fence..

That box of crayons in kindergarten is where the trouble begins.

The slogan in the t-shirt design (upper panel, above) shows us how society got that way: it’s creative, which means entrepreneurial. Indeed, for a succinct explanation of the dualism between coloring outside the lines and jumping the White House fence, how about this article header from an entrepreneurial site?

criminals & entrepreneurs

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Sources:

  • ShirtWoot, Color Outside the Lines
  • NBC Washington, Secret Service Plans to Raise White House Fence by 5 Feet

  • Inc.com, Criminals and Entrepreneurs
  • Surrealism and surreal reality

    Sunday, April 24th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — perception and plutonium ]
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    The sureralist master and master surrealist Salvador Dali here invokes optical illusion to illuminate the fickle nature of our perceptions of (non-surreal) reality:

    As for reality itself, it has its own form of surreality — in this case, the dismal facts of plutonium stockpiles and their disposal, and their implications for politics (not to mention its conceivable / inconceivable continuation by other means).

    All of which is unpleasant to conteplate, seldom discussed, and thus itself a form of perceptual illusion:

    FWIW, I see a visual connection between these two images, although that may ba a personal quirk not shared by others. Again, a quirk of perception?

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    Readings:

  • RFE / RL, As Putin Swipes At U.S. Over Plutonium Disposal, Nuclear Cooperation Takes A Hit
  • Cheryl Rofer at Nuclear Diner, Plutonium Disposal Difficulties
  • A couple more beads for Hesse’s Game

    Sunday, April 24th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — Art & Philospphy, Latin, Greek & Arabic, Porphyry & Proclus ]
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    I discovered Elaine Van Dalen‘s twitterstream today, and was enchanted. Trawling backwards a little from her tweet about the Sultan al-Kamil, I ran across this one:

    which fairly begged to be DoubleTweeted with this hastily assembled tweet of my own, quoting from Hermann Melville‘s Mardi:

    **

    Both are instances of the game Hermann Hesse described himself playing while raking and burning leaves, in his poem Hours in the Garden:

    Within me, my thoughts begin to play
    A game, an exercise I have practiced for many years.
    It is called the Glass Bead Game, a charming invention
    Whose framework is music, whose basis is meditation.

    [ … ]

    I hear music and see men of the past and the future.
    Wise men and poets and scholars and artists, all of one mind,
    Building the hundred-gated cathedral of the spirit…

    That’s Hesse’s private manner of playing the Glass Bead Game: the game as played in the novel is more abstract, shorn of persons, a virtual music of ideas indeed.

    I’ve quoted this over and over, I know, but for those who are new to the Game, here’s Hesse’s definitive description from the novel:

    The Glass Bead Game is thus a mode of playing with the total contents and values of our culture; it plays with them as, say, in the great age of the arts a painter might have played with the colors on his palette. All the insights, noble thoughts, and works of art that the human race has produced in its creative eras, all that subsequent periods of scholarly study have reduced to concepts and converted into intellectual values the Glass Bead Game player plays like the organist on an organ. And this organ has attained an almost unimaginable perfection; its manuals and pedals range over the entire intellectual cosmos; its stops are almost beyond number. Theoretically this instrument is capable of reproducing in the Game the entire intellectual content of the universe.


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