Monday, August 31, 2015

pride is no longer a thrill for the super-rich

”What would make him insist on having the company buy his postage stamps?” … “Well, when you have all that money, the only thing you can’t buy is something free. Whereas less extravagantly compensated people often take pride in being able to make purchases from their earnings,” she said, “If you are super-rich the thrill is gone.”

— Nell Minow on the compensation package of Jack Welch, CEO of General Electric.

source: “The Pay Problem” by David Owen The New Yorker “The Money Issue” Oct 12, 2009, v. 85 no. 32

Sunday, August 30, 2015

word of the day: hermeneutics

context:
As for the hermeneutics of suspicion, I begin with Steven Weinberg’s report of an elderly friend of his who (at the prospect of his impending death) says he draws some consolation from the fact that when that event arrives he will never have to rush to his dictionary to look up what the word hermeneutics means. It means interpretation, but hermeneutics sounds more imposing. [italics in original]

The hermeneutics of suspicion is an interpretive device that attacks theses not head-on but indirectly, by innuendo. … In everyday examples, the claimant is accused of wanting to make a name for himself, or to be a provocateur.

definition (from the Oxford English Dictionary): The study or analysis of how texts, utterances, or actions are interpreted. Also: a particular system of interpretation or scheme of analysis for language or actions.

I marked the above passage in Huston Smith’s Why Religion Matters because, like Weinberg’s “elderly friend” I always forget what “hermeneutics” means.

Once I started copying it out I went on and copied out the bit about the “hermeneutics of suspicion” because, why not? I doubt I will ever pop the term into conversation (or an essay), but, as with the naming of fallacies, it’s not a bad idea to know that an abusive rhetorical strategy has been pointed out for shaming by somebody clever enough to do so. Unless its inventor did it cuz she couldn’t get laid.

source: Why Religion Matters: the fate of the human spirit in an age of disbelief by Huston Smith
2001. HarperCollins, New York

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

pile of reading

Why Religion Matters: the fate of the human spirit in an age of disbelief by Huston Smith
I’m reading Why Religion Matters on my breaks at work. I agree with Huston Smith somewhat, he seems a nice enough fellow, but he has yet to lead me to a place where the evils of religion are clearly outweighed by true goodness. It’s not that I’m totally convinced religion is worthless or necessarily monstrous, rather I’m agnostic on the matter. I know there are good and gentle (and fierce) people who are inspired by religious beliefs to do extraordinary and good things. Yet there are so many who seem inspired by their religious beliefs to hack at people with machetes or blow themselves up in crowded marketplaces. As a gay man I pay attention to the role conservative religious beliefs continue to play in forcing people to live inauthentic, stunted, and tragic lives. How mean-spirited many religious seem to be. Still, while genial folks like Smith insist there’s something to it, I will keep open an ear.

In Other Lands Than Ours by Maud Gage Baum
L. Frank Baum, author of The Wizard of Oz, went with his wife Maud to Europe and Egypt in 1906. Maud wrote letters home. The letters were lively and evocative so they were collected and published (privately, I believe). I downloaded the Pumpernickel Pickle e-book version from lulu.com and am reading the book on my iPad.

Gaysia: adventures in the queer east by Benjamin Law
Law is an ethnically Chinese Australian. He devotes a chapter each to Indonesia (although Law doesn’t explore beyond Bali), Thailand, China, Japan, Malaysia, Myanmar, and India. I hadn’t heard before that Bali was a gay destination. That seems to be a new thing. But the locals are more friendly to it than you might expect. I am now reading about Thai ladyboys (the term is not an insult, Law is told).

The Bedside Guide to the No Tell Motel: second floor edited by Reb Livingston and Molly Arden
An anthology of poetry themed (but not terribly strictly) to the sensual and interpersonal. No Tell Motel was an ezine that I visited for a while.

A Byzantine Journey by John Ash
John Ash was a visiting poet-teacher at UC Berkeley one of my years there. I took his workshop. Lately I’ve been catching up on what he’s written in the 20 years since. Ash long had a fascination for Byzantium, what’s often called the Holy Roman Empire. Rome didn’t fall, as far as the Byzantines were concerned; it just contracted a little. I’ve read Ash’s poetry books. A Byzantine Journey is prose, travel literature, the kind of thing I’ve gotten a taste for recently. The writer moves about taking down impressions, complaining about food or transportation, limning the locals and the ruins, and weaving in library research.

Eating Fire: my life as a Lesbian Avenger by Kelly Cogswell
The Lesbian Avengers formed in the wake of AIDS activist group ACT UP, eager to put a strong feminist voice on the streets again. For one action Kelly Cogswell teaches herself to spew fire like a circus performer. She and her colleagues make TIME Magazine flaming up in front of the White House.

A Year of Rhymes by Bernard Cooper
I enjoyed Bernard Cooper’s My Avant-Garde Education, which was billed as memoir. I knew I had a novel on my shelf so I pulled it down.

Two Lines: world writing in translation issue 22
In earlier issues Two Lines featured introductions to the English versions written by the translators who talk about what attracted them to the task, what special challenges were faced, and some biographical info about the non-English-writing author. The intros have been dispensed with, mostly. I miss them.

Variety Photoplays poems by Edward Field
I bought this a long time ago. I even got Edward Field to sign it. But, as much as I like Field’s poetry, I held off reading Variety Photoplays because so many of the poems contained spoilers to old movies. Field basically retells the plots of Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein and SHE, and I hadn’t seen them! I still haven’t seen SHE — and now I don’t have to! I had a hankering to read Edward Field’s newest book, After the Fall: poems old and new, but when I opened it I remembered that I hadn’t yet read Variety Photoplays. So I’m reading Variety Photoplays.

Selected Poems by W. H. Auden, edited by Edward Mendelson
I’ve said before that I won’t read a selected when I can read a complete. I have the feeling I’m going to renege on that commitment more often than I’m going to comply. I’m reading Auden rather the way I read Emily Dickinson. I read at least two pages at a sitting. I read at least two pages so I can physically turn a page and know when next I open the book I will be reading a poem new to me. I was doing that thing where I open to the placemark and find myself rereading the poem I read last time then stopping because one poem was all I could handle. One does need to move along.

The Flayed God: the mythology of Mesoamerica by Roberta H. Markman and Peter Markman
I’ve returned to The Flayed God after a long pause.The worldview of the Mesoamerican empires can be, well, unsettling. The Aztecs are known for human sacrifice, but did you know they would strip the skin off a victim and wear the skin around for a month? I know there are intense, world-preserving mystical justifications for this, but — shudder — it still looks like butchery, doesn’t it?

The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon translated and edited by Ivan Morris
Sei Shonagon was a contemporary of Murasaki, the woman famous for writing what may be the first novel, The Tale of Genji. In her Pillow Book Sei Shonagon records anecdotes, impressions, and likes and dislikes. For instance, in a list titled “Depressing Things,” she mentions, “A dog howling in the daytime. … A cold, empty brazier. An ox-driver who hates his oxen.”

From the Other Side of the Century: a new American poetry 1960-1990 edited by Douglas Messerli
An 1100 page anthology. I’m going to be at this one for quite some time. Messerli’s project focuses on the experimental, the innovative. Lyn Hejinian, yes; Robert Hass, no. Allen Ginsberg, yes; Robert Lowell, no. Rae Armentrout, yes; Louis Gluck, no.

Sunday, August 09, 2015

the ragged strip that was left

Once I was sure the librarian [of the junior high school library] was distracted in the stacks, I quietly tore out the article in Life and folded it into my shirt pocket. I hadn’t so much as stolen a candy bar before that day. I’d been taught never to write in the pages of a book from the library or to tear out the pages from a magazine in a waiting room. My mother demonstrated the concept of respect for others’ property one day in the dentist’s office when she found a recipe she wanted to tear out of Good Housekeeping had already been torn out. “Don’t do this,” she said, showing me the ragged strip that was left. Despite the admonition, I kept the stolen pages of Life in the nightstand next to my bed and furtively eyed the article every night, the saturated color raising my pulse, the effect of Pop art nearly pornographic.

source: My Avant-Garde Education: a memoir by Bernard Cooper

At the Claremont Branch of the Berkeley Public Library the newest issue of Scientific American would be short of articles soon after it arrived. Someone was neatly and precisely snipping out pages because, I don’t know, he found the science “nearly pornographic” and couldn’t live without secreting the formulas in the “nightstand next to [the] bed”?

We put that magazine (and Consumer Reports and The New York Review of Books) on a shelf behind the Information Desk and only handed them over if presented with a library card, which we held onto until the magazine was returned and its contents reviewed.

I’m pretty sure I was the one who ID’d the culprit, although I made the mistake of handing him his library card before I flipped through the magazine. When I discovered that pages were missing I went up to the mild-mannered retiree, who did not look familiar to me, and asked him if he had noticed that articles had been removed. “Oh no, really?” he said.

We were trying to catch the person who’d been doing it, so if you could let us know when an article is missing, I said to him, we would appreciate it, as though I were earnestly enlisting his support in the project. It’s been several months now since an article has been snipped from Scientific American. Nor have I seen the fellow around. But would I recognize him anyway?

This is my third DIR post about authors confessing in memoirs to filching from libraries. See also Ode to Joy and another memoir, another library thief.

Monday, August 03, 2015

“I don’t want to watch boys masturbating.”

Excerpt from a Berkeley Poetry Review interview with Steve Lance and Lyn Hejinian:

BPR:
How does that unpredictability and surprise relate to what you were describing earlier about how we are over-inundated with newness and we can’t place as much value in encountering new things anymore?

Steve Lance:
Well novelty is weird now. Novelty itself is commonplace. I don’t just mean in a sense of aesthetics, but do you guys know about Chatroulette? You go to a website and click “connect me” and you have your video going on, and it connects you with a random stranger. And about a third of the time it’s a guy masturbating. There are a lot of penises in this. But almost every single time it’s just people who say “hey” and that’s it. And they’re just looking to be amused by this crazy new thing. It’s totally wild, totally insane but totally boring. It’s just boring. It’s either boring or a guy masturbating.

BPR:
That’s funny because I was about to say that novelty is so pornographic now. It’s just the speed of amusement, and complete commitment of your desire to that quick amusement.

Steve Lance:
Well, we should go on Chatroulette right now.

Lyn Hejinian
I don’t want to watch boys masturbating.

I’d never heard of Chat Roulette. (Probably more accurately I should say, if I ever had heard of Chat Roulette everything about it has slipped from memory.)

So I looked for more information and found a couple Hot New Thing articles about Chat Roulette. It was the Hot New Thing in 2010! Sam Anderson’s article at New York Magazine describes his experience:

I entered the fray on a bright Wednesday afternoon, with an open mind and an eager soul, ready to sound my barbaric yawp through the webcams of the world. I left absolutely crushed. It turns out that ChatRoulette, in practice, is brutal. The first eighteen people who saw me disconnected immediately. They appeared, one by one, in a box at the top of my screen—a young Asian man, a high-school-age girl, a guy lying on his side in bed—and, every time, I’d feel a little flare of excitement. Every time, they’d leave without saying a word. Sometimes I could even watch them reach down, in horrifying real-time, and click “next.” It was devastating. My first even semi-successful interaction was with a guy with a blanket draped over his lap who asked if I wanted to “jack of” with him. I declined; he disconnected. Over the course of an hour, I was rejected by what felt like a cast of thousands: a teenage girl talking on her cell phone, a close-up of an eyeball. It started to feel like a social-anxiety nightmare. One guy just stared into the camera and flipped me off. Another stood in front of his computer making wave motions with his hands, refusing to respond to anything I typed. One person had the courtesy to give me, before disconnecting, a little advice: “too old.” (I’m 32.)

Anderson pushes on, bringing in a male friend, asking his wife to participate, and he has some fun after all:

The default interaction on ChatRoulette is roughly three seconds long: assessment, micro-interaction, "next." This might seem like yet another outrage of the Internet era—the Twitter-fication of face-to-face interaction. But I was surprised (as I was with Twitter) by how much pleasant communication—joy, interest, empathy—can occur in these tiny chunks. The quest to connect becomes lightning-quick. A few seconds is plenty of time to wave, or give a thumbs-up, or type “EMO HAIR,” or elaborately mime the process of smoking marijuana, or jovially flip somebody off. (Middle fingers are extremely popular on ChatRoulette, and somehow seem affectionate.)
Eventually, I realized that clicking “next” was not so much a rejection as it was pure curiosity, like riding a train past an apartment building at night, looking briefly into as many lit windows as possible.

The New Yorker’s Julia Ioffe wrote about Chat Roulette at about the same time:

The point is to introduce you to people you’d never otherwise meet and will never see again—the dancing Korean girls, the leopard-printed Catman, the naked man in Gdansk. More than a million people, most of them from the United States, clog Chatroulette’s servers daily. To “next” someone has become a common transitive verb. Catman is an Internet celebrity, as is Merton the improvising pianist. Brooklyn bars throw Chatroulette parties, an indie band has used the site to début an album, and the Texas attorney general has warned parents to keep their children far, far away.

Sam Anderson mentions the dancing Korean girls, too.

My Google searches for Chat Roulette aren’t returning much that’s current. Perhaps I should end with a quote from salon.com’s “What went viral 5 years ago today: Chatroulette, social media’s short-lived penis empire”:

[B]efore the webcam service was declared officially dead at the tender age of eight months, the website did provide us a fascinating window into human nature in the digital age. And by that, of course, I mean penises.

According to an RJ Metrics survey from March 2010, 89 percent of Chatroulette users were male. Many, many of those men were baring it all on screen, apparently, prompting the site’s Russian teen founder to, at one point, threaten to turn the naked offenders into the cops. The absurd nudity problem quickly became part and parcel of the Chatroulette experience.

Chatroulette.com is still online. You have to register to use it. Maybe you didn’t five years ago. The articles don’t mention that. Back in 2010 there was no age limit. Now there is. And now, officially at least, no dicks:


1. Broadcasting or offering nudity is not allowed.

2. If you are under 18, you can not use the service.

source of interview quote: Berkeley Poetry Review Issue 41
2010. UC Berkeley, California

Friday, July 31, 2015

Let’s stay down under, way, way, way down deep

While researching his book Deep, James Nestor hires a private submarine for a tour of the sea bottom 2500 feet down. Nestor’s description of the sights reminded me of L. Frank Baum’s Sea Fairies wherein the visiting land dwellers are given mermaid tails and gills so they can mosey about comfortably. They see fiddler crabs playing violins, listen to the songs of barnacles, avoid a cross sea pig, and pause before a batch of jellyfish:

[F]loating in the clear water was a group of beautiful shapes that the child thought looked like molds of wine jelly. They were round as a dinner plate, soft and transparent, but tinted in such lovely hues that no artist’s brush has ever been able to imitate them. Some were deep sapphire blue; others rose pink; still others a delicate topaz color. They seemed to have neither heads, eyes nor ears, yet it was easy to see they were alive and able to float in any direction they wished to go. In shape they resembled inverted flowerpots, with the upper edges fluted, and from the center floated what seemed to be bouquets of flowers.

Most of the creatures in Sea Fairies are punnily magical, but in the case of the jellyfish Baum seems to find their natural state magic enough. Sea Fairies was published in 1911 and available views of undersea life at that time were very limited.

Even today the deeper you wish to go the harder it is to get there. Water is heavy and ever so crushingly heavier the more it piles on itself. Light doesn’t get as deep as Nestor does in the little yellow Idabel (captained by its creator Karl Stanley). Yet there is color in the darkness, color generated by the natives:

In the distance, a group of glittering disco balls hangs a few feet above the seafloor. It’s a school of squids, Stanley tells us. Each is wrapped in a Technicolor coat more sparkly and garish than the next. Beside the squids are other animals — jellyfish, I think — that emit bright pink and purple light. It’s like we’ve stumbled into some underwater Studio 54. …

A two-foot glob of flashing color approaches, then hovers a few inches from the window. Along the top of this glob is a blanket of lights, all blinking, one after the other, in perfect synchroncity. First, only blue lights flash, then only red; then purple; then yellow, until every color in the spectrum has appeared. Then all the colors flash at the same time and the spectacle repeats. The hundreds of rows of little lights are evenly spaced around the glob. It looks like a cityscape at night: when the lights are red, they look like the taillights of cars on a freeway; when they’re white, they look like a grid of streetlights as viewed from an airplane thousands of feet above. Between these lights, there is nothing, no visible flesh, no nerves, no bones or body. … Stanley says it’s a comb jellyfish, the biggest he’s ever seen.

sources:
Deep: freediving, renegade science, and what the ocean tells us about ourselves by James Nestor
2014. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York
Sea Fairies by L. Frank Baum
1911. Reilly & Lee, Chicago

[The post title is a couple lines from Tom Tom Club's "Suboceana"]

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Do speakers of Tzeltal never get lost in the woods?

I remember reading about a language that features the cardinal directions in its grammar. The author did not include a description of the method this language’s speakers use to determine whether one is facing east, west, north, or south with such dependable accuracy that they can take it for granted, which is something you have to do if you’re going to be incorporating that information into everyday speech. I remember wondering if speakers were rarely indoors, thus hip to directional cues from the sky, the sun during the day, the stars at night. But I didn’t take it any farther than an idle puzzling.

In a discussion of hidden senses in his book Deep James Nestor says this:

The Guugu Yimithirr, an Australian Aboriginal tribe, had a remarkable sense of direction that they incorporated into their language. Instead of using words meaning ‘right,’ ‘left,’ ‘front,’ and ‘back,’ Guugu Yimithirr used the cardinal directions of north, south, east, and west. If a Guugu Yimithirr tribesman wanted you to make room for him on a bed, he’d ask you to move a few feet west. Guugu Yimithirr didn’t bend backward, they bent northward, or southward, or eastward.

The only way Guugu Yimithirr could communicate was by knowing their exact coordinates at all times … But it was second nature to them, as well as for a host of cultures throughout Indonesia, Mexico, Polynesia, and elsewhere, whose languages were also based on cardinal directions.

In the 1990s, researchers from the … Max Planck Institute … placed a speaker of Tzeltal — a Mayan directional language spoken by about 370,000 people in southern Mexico — in a dark house and spun him around blindfolded. … [A]sked … to point north, south, east, and then west [the Tzeltal speaker] did this successfully, and without hesitation, twenty times in a row.

You’ve heard that birds and sharks use the earth’s magnetic field to navigate, right? Well, maybe that’s how east and south got into grammar. Maybe we can take advantage of magnets in our heads.

“Human magnetoreception [is] distinct from other senses, like vision and smell [in that magnetoreception] is an unconscious, latent sense,” says Nestor. “We don’t know it exists unless we put ourselves in a situation in which we have to use it.”

Like when we’re lost in the woods? Or at sea?

Were the Polynesians relying on their magnetoreceptive sense when they colonized islands thousands of miles apart in the Pacific?

source: Deep: freediving, renegade science, and what the ocean tells us about ourselves by James Nestor
2014. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York

Sunday, July 19, 2015

word of the day: scanlation

context:
Many of the readers coming to this book [Massive: gay erotic manga and the men who make it] will have found the first crumbs leading to our pie years ago at websites that host scanlations and other forms of pirated manga. The road we as editors took to get here was itself paved in part by the purveyors of these illicit goods — not because we were downloading illegal scanlations, but because the presence of those sites was proof that thousands of manga fans were desperate for legitimation. Across the board(s), we’d see the same rationalizations come up repeatedly in conversations about the unsanctioned translations.

“It doesn’t hurt anyone because it’s out of print.”
“It’s never going to be published in English.”

The problem isn’t just when this isn’t true. It’s the fact that not telling someone you like their stuff enough to sepnd hours translating and publicizing the work is just weird. It’s a little bit stalker-like.

That’s Anne Ishii, one of the editors (and the translator) of the gay manga collection.

I think you get the definition just fine from the context. It’s a new word, clearly. The most thorough version of its meaning is this one at Wikipedia:

definition: the scanning, translation, and editing of comics from a language into another language. Scanlation is done as an amateur work and is nearly always done without express permission from the copyright holder. The word “scanlation" is a portmanteau of the words scan and translation. The term is mainly used for Japanese comics (manga), although it also exists for other national traditions on a lesser scale. Scanlations may be viewed at websites or as sets of image files downloaded via the Internet.

source: Massive: gay erotic manga and the men who make it edited by Anne Ishii, Chip Kidd, and Graham Kolbeins
2014. Fantagraphics Books, Seattle WA

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

“Attitudes” by Jean Le Louet

Attitudes

At that time I saw three men. The first was covered with blood, and because they had beaten him, the blood kept pouring out of him. The second was kneeling, and because they had tied his arms, he remained on his knees. The third was sitting at his enemy’s table, and because the enemy treated him with respect, he remained at that table.

Then I called the first by name and cried out to him, “Don’t die.” But the blood continued to flow and through the blood he replied, “I’ll make it, because I love.”

Then I named the second man and cried out to him, “Cast off your bonds.” He replied, “I am weak, and the man who tied me up is very strong.”

And I named the third man and said to him, “Stand up, won’t you!” And he replied, “I shall remain here, because my enemy is cunning and I wish to outwit him.”

Then I summoned the angel of unity and said to him, “Unite these people or destroy them.” At that the angel of unity took the first man’s blood and smeared it on the other two.

And he who had been kneeling and he who was sitting were strengthened.

The bleeding man leaned on them for support. And the blood flowed less freely from his wounds. And the blood removed the veil from their eyes.

I came across Jean Le Louet’s poem in Czeslaw Milosz’s Year of the Hunter. Czeslaw Milosz includes some context:

[I]t is a translation into French of my translation into Polish; the French original was lost. Its author, Jean Le Louet, a French poet of the second wave of Surrealism was in Warsaw in August 1939, possibly for romantic reasons (he was gay). … The outbreak of war caught him in Warsaw; the Germans sent him to Lake Constance as a French citizen, and he was interned along with another French citizen, Stanislaw Dygat. That is when he wrote the poem, immediately after the fall of France in 1940, I believe. Dygat brought it to Warsaw and gave it to me; I translated it and put it in my anthology The Invincible Song (1942).



Louet [was] thin, delicate, almost feminine, with a sickly throat, speaking in a whisper. … I heard that after the war he led the life of a clochard [vagrant]. No one knows when he died. … Completely forgotten as a poet, with that one title to his fame — a poem in Polish translation. An unusual poem, having nothing to do with Surrealism … but referring to biblical tradition (as if it were written by a Polish romantic poet); a prophetic poem, because how in 1940 could he have foreseen collaboration?

I searched the web for more on Jean Le Louet and found description of a chapbook from 1937, Ceci Passe: Quatrième Cahier de Habitude de la Poésie. So it seems more than just a single poem of Jean Le Louet has survived. I found no mention of his publishing after the war. I’m sure there are French sources to search, but that’s beyond me.

I present the poem here because I like it. The poem traveled no easy path to survival. Yet, despite Milosz’s claim, it is not the only “title to his fame.” I am curious, if Milosz’s translation is the closest we can get to Louet’s French original, is the one here, the version in English, translated from Milosz’s French version of his own Polish version or did the translator of A Year of the Hunter, Madeline Levine, work with Milosz’s Polish?

source: A Year of the Hunter by Czeslaw Milosz, translated by Madeline G. Levine. 1994. Farr, Straus and Giroux.

update: After asking the question at the end of the post, I looked up the translator, Madeline G. Levine. There is a professor of Slavic Literatures, Emerita at the University of North Carolina named Madeline G. Levine. Her email is listed on the UNC site. So I sent Ms Levine an email, apologizing for bothering her, but wondering if she could recall whether Jean Le Louet’s “Attitudes” made one stop or two on its way to English. Ms Levine wrote back the same day saying she remembers reviewing the page proofs of Year of the Hunter with Milosz himself. She said she translated the poem from the Polish. The French original (in Stanislaw Dygat’s transcription) must have been lost. Why else would the poem require retranslation from Polish back into French?

Monday, July 13, 2015

word of the day: auscultate

context:
Primo Levi survived the German extermination camp, Auschwitz. Reflecting on Germany in 1960, fifteen years after its defeat in World War II, Levi thinks back to the country’s embrace of Nazism. “[T]he National Socialist message found an echo precisely in the Germans’ traditional virtues, in their sense of discipline and national cohesion, their unquenched thirst for primacy, their propensity for slavish obedience.”

What has changed since the end of the war?
It is difficult to auscultate the hearbeat of a people. Anyone who travels in Germany today finds the outward appearances that I found everywhere. A growing affluence, peaceful people, large and small intrigues, a moderate subversive atmosphere; on the stands, newspapers like ours, conversations like ours on trains and in trams; a few scandals that end like all scandals. And yet in the air you sense something that you do not sense elsewhere. Anyone who takes them to task for the dreadful events of recent history rarely finds repentance, or even critical consciousness: much more often he encounters an ambiguous response, in which are intertwined a feeling of guilt, a desire for vindication, and a deliberate and impudent ignorance.

definition: to listen (especially with a stethoscope)

source: The Mirror Maker: stories and essays by Primo Levi
translated from the Italian by Raymond Rosenthal
1989. Random House, New York

Sunday, July 12, 2015

word of the day: vernissage

context:
He is working three or four nights a week for the caterer, plus the odd afternoons, waiting tables, tending bar, assembling hors d’oeuvres; at bar mitzvahs, cocktails, vernissages, dinner parties, bank openings. … He prefers to work in the kitchen or pantry, where he is safe from discovery and can make the rent money in peace. Often he has looked out from the equivalent of the wings and spotted a friend or even a table of friends among the guests. Everything he does … is a distortion of his old expectations of being rich and glamorous. He is present at the experience but on the wrong side of the canapes.

definition (from the Oxford English Dictionary): A day before the exhibition of paintings on which exhibitors may retouch and varnish their pictures already hung. Now usu. denoting a private view of paintings before public exhibition.

source: The Family of Max Desire a novel by Robert Ferro
1983. E. P. Dutton, New York

Saturday, July 11, 2015

word of the day: gallooning

context:
The house faced the sea from a low bluff of dunes beside a red-brick lighthouse with a fourteen-mile, two-second light. Down the coast green lawns met the beach with a thin gray strip of boardwalk in between, like gallooning. All the way down, where on the clearest days the horizon came ashore, the rocks of an inlet led into Barnegat Bay.

definition (The Oxford English Dictionary doesn’t offer this particular form “gallooning;” however a definition appears under “galloon”): A kind of narrow, close-woven ribbon or braid, of gold, silver, or silk thread, used for trimming articles of apparel; a trimming of this material.

source: The Family of Max Desire a novel by Robert Ferro
1983. E. P. Dutton, New York

Friday, July 10, 2015

word of the day: machicolation

context:
On either side of the gate rose square towers
faced with white marble, one pierced by
a narrow door, too low to enter without stooping.
Beyond it, ramps and stairs twisted upwards
through the mass of stone. At the halfway point
the lights failed: it was completely dark.
We lit improvised tapers, emerging at length
on the broad summit of the tower.



The students posed for a group portrait against
a backdrop of machicolations and the sea,
but the elevation made me giddy and my knees weak,
so I descended alone, stumbling in the dark.

lines from John Ash’s “The Tour”

definition (according to the Oxford English Dictionary): Archit. An opening between the corbels which support a projecting defensive parapet, or in the floor of a gallery or the roof of a portal, through which combustibles, molten lead, stones, etc., could be dropped upon assailants below. Also: a projecting structure having a range of such openings.

source: The Anatolikon by John Ash
2000. Talisman House Publishers, Jersey City, NJ

Thursday, July 09, 2015

word of the day: pervicacious

context:
[Dr William] Masters underlined a quote he found in the library from Dr. Robert L. Dickinson, former president of the American Gynecological Society, who wrote in JAMA [The Journal of the American Medical Association] during the mid-1920s: “In view of the pervicacious gonadal urge in human beings, it is not a little curious that science develops its sole timidity about the pivotal point of the physiology of sex.”

definition (from the Oxford English Dictionary): Thoroughly obstinate or stubborn; headstrong, wilful, refractory.

The prudish aversion to serious research into human sexual response is nearly as pervicacious as human sexual response is pervy.

source: Masters of Sex: the life and times of William Masters and Virginia Johnson, the couple who taught America how to love by Thomas Maier