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"Method of this work:
literary montage.
I have nothing to say only to show."
(Passagenwerk (1927 - 1940) - Walter Benjamin)

2005, Aug 31; 20:53 ::: Un chant d'amour (1950) - Jean Genet

Un chant d'amour (1950) - Jean Genet
[Amazon UK]

see also: 1950 - Jean Genet - gay cinema - French cinema

2005, Aug 31; 20:40 ::: Witches' Sabbath (1789) - Francisco de Goya

Witches' Sabbath (1789) - Goya

see also: 1789 - Goya - art

2005, Aug 31; 19:27 ::: Carnivalesque

For the literary theorist and philosopher Mikhail Bakhtin, the carnivalesque is both the description of a historical phenomenon and the name he gives to a certain literary tendency. Historically speaking, Bakhtin was interested in great carnivals of medieval Europe. He saw them as occasions in which the political, legal and ideological authority of both the church and state were inverted — albeit temporarily — during the the anarchic and liberating period of the carnival. The carnival was liberating not simply because for that short period the church and state had little or no control over the lives of the revellers (as the critic Terry Eagleton has pointed out, this would be 'licensed' transgression at best). Rather, it was liberating in that the carnival — in particular, the idea that set rules and beliefs were not immune to ridicule or reconception — 'cleared the ground' for new ideas to enter into public discourse. Bakhtin goes so far as to suggest that the European Renaissance itself was made possible by the spirit of free thinking and impiety that the carnivals engendered.

Bakhtin recognises that the tradition of carnival dwindled in Europe following the Renaissance and the eventual replacement of feudalism with capitalism. As a result, he says, the public spirit of the carnival metamorphosed into the 'carnivalesque': that is, the spirit of carnival rendered into literary form. The person who, existing on the cusp of this social upheaval, most fully represented this spirit was Francois Rabelais, and the book which holds the greatest purchase on Bakhtin's imagination is Rabelais' Gargantua and Pantagruel. The comic violence, bad language, exaggeration, satire, and shape-shifting which fill this book are, for Bakhtin, the greatest example of carnivalesque literature. Ever concerned with the liberation of the human spirit, Bakhtin claimed that carnivalesque literature — like the carnivals themselves — broke apart oppressive and mouldy forms of thought and cleared the path for the imagination and the never-ending project of emancipation.

Bakhtin suggests that carnivalesque literature also became less common as the increasingly privatised world of modern, individualistic capitalism took hold. However, he points to some notable exceptions: most importantly Fyodor Dostoevsky, but also (in a brief note) Ernest Hemingway. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carnivalesque [Aug 2005]

see also: culture - carnival - cultural studies

2005, Aug 31; 19:27 ::: Cultural history

Cultural history, at least in its common definition since the 1970s, often combines the approaches of anthropology and history to look at popular cultural traditions and cultural interpretations of historical experience.

Most often the focus is on phenomena shared by non-elite groups in a society, such as: carnival, festival, and public rituals; performance traditions of tale, epic, and other verbal forms; cultural evolutions in human relations (ideas, sciences, arts, techniques); and cultural expressions of social movements such as nationalism. Also examines main historical concepts as power, ideology, class, culture, identity, attitude, race, perception and new historical methods as narration of body. Many studies consider adaptations of traditional culture to mass media (tv, radio, newspapers, magazines, posters, etc.), from print to film and, now, to the Internet (culture of capitalism). Its modern approaches come from art history, annales, marxist school, microhistory and new cultural history.

Common theoretical touchstones for recent cultural history have included: Jürgen Habermas's formulation of the public sphere in The Structural Transformation of the Bourgeois Public Sphere; Clifford Geertz's notion of 'thick description' (expounded in, for example, The Interpretation of Cultures); and the idea of memory as a cultural-historical category, as discussed in Paul Connerton's How Societies Remember. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cultural_history [Aug 2005]

see also: culture - history - cultural studies

2005, Aug 31; 15:06 ::: What Is Art? (1897) - Leo Tolstoy

What Is Art? (1897) - Leo Tolstoy [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

What Is Art? (1897) is a nonfictional essay by Leo Tolstoy in which he argues against numerous aesthetic theories which define art in terms of the good, truth, and especially beauty. In Tolstoy's opinion, art at the time was corrupt and decadent, and artists had been misled.

What is Art? develops the aesthetical theories that bloomed at the end of the eighteenth century and during the nineteenth century, thus criticizing the realistic position (held since Plato that regarded imitative position as the highest value [is this true, is this Plato's point of view, can anyone advise?]) and the shallow, existing link between art and pleasure. Tolstoy addition to previously existing theories that stressed the emotional importance pivots on the value of communication-as-infection; which leads him to reject bad or counterfeit art since those are harmful to society inasmuch it damages the people's ability to separate good art from bad art.

Tolstoy detaches art from non-art (or counterfeit art); art must create a specific emotional link between artist and audience, one that "infects" the viewer. Thus, real art requires the capacity to unite people via communication (clearness and genuineness are therefore crucial values). This aesthetic conception led Tolstoy to widen the criteria of what exactly a work of art is; he believed that the concept art embraces any human activity in which one emitter, by means of external signs, transmits previously experienced feelings. Tolstoy exemplifies this: a boy that has experienced fear after an encounter with a wolf and later relates that experience, infecting the hearers and compelling them to feel what he had experienced—that is a perfect example of a work art.

The good art vs. bad art issue unfolds into two directions, one is the conception that the stronger the infection, the better is the art. The other leads Tolstoy to the examination of whether that emotional link corresponds with the religion of the time. Good art, he claims, fosters those feelings that fit with the particular religion, while bad art inhibits such feelings. The problem Tolstoy sees is that the upper class has entirely lost its religion, and thus clings to the art that was good according to another religion. To cite one example, ancient Greek art extolled virtues of strength, masculinity, and heroism according to the values derived from its mythology. However, since Christianity does not embrace these values (and in some sense values the opposite, the meek and humble), Tolstoy believes that it is unfitting for people in his society to continue to embrace the Greek tradition of art.

Among other artists, he specifically condemns Wagner and Beethoven as examples of overly cerebral artists, who lack real emotion. Furthermore, the Symphony No. 9 (Beethoven), cannot claim to be able to "infect" their audience—as it pretends—with the feeling of unity and therefore cannot be considered good art. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/What_Is_Art%3F [Aug 2005]

see also: 1897 - art - aesthetics

2005, Aug 31; 15:06 ::: Renaissance chronological painting gallery

See also: Europe - Italy - art - Hans Baldung Grien - Hans Holbein - Matthias Grünewald - Lucas Cranach - Leonardo Da Vinci - Renaissance - Northern renaissance

The Annunciation (c. 1472-1475) - Leonardo da Vinci
image sourced here.

The 7 Ages of Woman - Hans Baldung Grien (1484-1545)

Venus, c. 1485 - Botticelli

Selbstportät mit Blume (1493) - Albrecht Dürer

Christ as the Man of Sorrows (c. 1493) - Albrecht Dürer

Pond in the Woods (c. 1496) - Albrecht Dürer
Watercolor and gouache on paper

Satyr mourning over a nymph (c. 1495) - Piero di Cosimo

Albrecht Durer

The Large Turf (1503) - Albrecht Dürer

Garden of Earthly Delights (detail) (c.1504) - Bosch

Mona Lisa (c. 1506-1507) - Leonardo da Vinci

Lucrezia Borgia (1505-1508) - Bartolomeo Veneziano

The Fall from Grace (1508-12), from the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel - Michelangelo

Perseus Frees Andromeda (c. 1515) - Piero di Cosimo

Three Ages of the Woman and the Death (1510) Hans Baldung Grien (1484 - 1545)

Matthies Grunewald, The Temptation of Saint Anthony (Detail from Panel from Isenheim Altarpiece), 1515

La Fornarina (c. 1520) - Raphael

The Ugly Duchess (1525-30) - Quentin Matsys
[Oil on wood, 64 x 45,5 cm National Gallery, London]

Lais (1526) - Hans Holbein

Dead Lovers (1528) Matthias Grünewald

Venus Standing in a Landscape (1529) - Lucas Cranach the Elder

Salome, c. 1530 - Cranach [Wood, 87 x 58 cm Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest]

Venus of Urbino 1538 - Titian, (Oil on canvas, 119 x 165 cm, Uffizi, Florence)

Triumph of Death (1562) - Pieter Brueghel the Elder

The Annunciation (c. 1570-1575) - El Greco

See also: art - painting - renaissance

2005, Aug 31; 13:56 ::: The Bra Shop (1997) - John Currin

The Bra Shop (1997) - John Currin
image sourced here.

John Currin is a U.S. painter.

He was born in Boulder, Colorado in 1962, and went to Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, where he obtained a BFA degree in 1984. He went on to receive an MFA degree from Yale University in 1986.

His work shows a wide range of influences, including sources as diverse as the Northern Renaissance, popular culture magazines and contemporary fashion models. Many of his paintings show female nudes; he often distorts or exaggerates the natural form of the human body.

His paintings can be seen in many locations, including the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Smithsonian Institution.

Currently he is based in New York City.

See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Currin [Aug 2005]

See also: 1997 - John Currin - USA - painting - renaissance

2005, Aug 30; 23:34 ::: Painter of Modern Life (1863) - Charles Baudelaire

French text:
Il y a dans le monde, et même dans le monde des artistes, des gens qui vont au musée du Louvre, passent rapidement, et sans leur accorder un regard, devant une foule de tableaux très intéressants, quoique de second ordre, et se plantent rêveurs devant un Titien ou un Raphaël, un de ceux que la gravure a le plus popularisés; puis sortent satisfaits, plus d'un se disant: "Je connais mon musée."

English translation:
“The world—and even the world of artists—is full of people who can go to the Louvre, walk rapidly, without so much as a glance, past rows of very interesting, though secondary, pictures, to come to a rapturous halt in front of a Titian or Raphael—one of those that would have been most popularized by the engraver’s art; then they will go home happy, not a few saying to themselves, ‘I know my Museum.‘” -- Charles Baudelaire

In this excerpt, quoted from the Baudelaire's 1863 The Painter of Modern Life, an essay on Constantin Guys, Charles Baudelaire comments on the fact that works of art have lost their aura (a term I borrow here from Walter Benjamin) because of the technique of engraving. For the first time in history, engraving allowed images of works of art to be mass-popularized in posters and postcards. This essay foreshadows Walter Benjamin's The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. Needless to say, Walter Benjamin was an admirerer of Baudelaire.

It is precisely this mass-reproducibility of works of art, in two-dimensional (postcards of the Mona Lisa) as well as three-dimensional forms (plastic statues of the Venus of Milo), which has given birth to the concept of kitsch.

see also: 1863 - Painter of Modern Life - culture theory - media theory - Walter Benjamin - Charles Baudelaire - reproduction - aura - aesthetics - modernism

2005, Aug 30; 23:34 ::: The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (1935)

The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction is a 1935/1936 essay by German cultural critic Walter Benjamin, which has been influential in the fields of culture theory and media theory. It is the most often read of Benjamin's texts and although it is commonly referred to as "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction", a better translation of the title would be "The Work of Art in the Age of its Technological Reproducibility". --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Work_of_Art_in_the_Age_of_Mechanical_Reproduction [Aug 2005]

see also: 1935 - full text of the essay - culture theory - media theory - Walter Benjamin - reproduction - aura - aesthetics - modernism

2005, Aug 30; 23:34 ::: Avant la lettre and après la lettre

Having recently researched the origins of many art movements, cultural movements and genres of which the boundaries are almost never clear, I find it odd that so little attention is given to the etymological aspect of definitions of these movements or genres. Over the years I have begun to split art movements in two distinctly different periods:

  • avant la lettre (before the name of the movement was coined)
  • après la lettre (before the name of the movement was coined)

For example: it has recently come to my attention via Douglas Harpers's excellent Etymology Online Dictionary that the term avant-garde in an art context was first attested in 1910 and the word modernism, again in an art context, in 1929. The term modern art, however, was first attested in 1849.

To me, these little details on a term's first usage are more significant than a "a postiori" list of artists and techniques that belong to them. It means that chronologically, modern art came first, avant-garde second, and lastly, when these terms were well established, people began to celebrate the modern because of itself, hence the term modernism, a celebration of breaking with the past and constant neophilia.

To conclude, naming a term: assigning a name to it, and having it accepted by the audience, is a decisive moment in every movement or genre. Always think: is it avant la lettre or après la lettre.

The lifecycle of a genres and movements:

  1. a certain number of cultural products (films, music, books), share common characteristics
  2. critics notice similiarities and come up with a name (see neologism)
  3. the name is excepted by the audience and a genre or movementis born
  4. producers start to make products to fit the new genre classification
  5. parodies may arise

see also: http://www.etymonline.com/

see also: genre - movement - etymology - avant la lettre - neologism

see also: modern - modern art - avant garde - modernism

2005, Aug 29; 23:34 ::: Waiting for Godot (1952) - Samuel Beckett

Waiting for Godot (1952) - Samuel Beckett [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

Waiting for Godot (sometimes subtitled: tragicomedy in 2 acts) is an absurdist play by Samuel Beckett, written in the late 1940s and first published in 1952 by Grove Press, after having been refused by more mainstream publishers. Beckett originally wrote Godot in French, his second language, as En attendant Godot (literally: While Waiting for Godot). The simplicity of the dialogue reflects this French origin. An English translation by Beckett himself was published in 1955. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waiting_for_Godot [Aug 2005]

see also: http://www.etymonline.com/

see also: modernist literature - Samuel Beckett - Grove Press - fiction - 1952

2005, Aug 30; 08:34 ::: Olympia Press's Traveller’s Companion Series

The Ginger Man first edition

The Olympia Press
The Traveller’s Companion Series was an imprint of the Olympia Press, a publishing company founded by Maurice Girodias in Paris in the early 1950’s. Continuing his father’s legacy as a fearless, avant-garde publisher (his father, Jack Kahane, had published works by James Joyce, Anaïs Nin and Henry Miller), Girodias was the first to publish The Ginger Man, The Naked Lunch, and—most famously—Lolita.

From the pornographic to the experimental, from historical landmarks to modern classics, Girodias published a bizarre mix of the good, the bad, and the obscene, and although he published a number of important books under a variety of imprints (such as Watt, by Samuel Beckett, under Olympia Press/Collection Merlin), The Traveller’s Companion Series was clearly the flagship line of his publishing enterprise.

Many of the books in the series played pivotal roles in overturning censorship laws in the U.S.A. and the U.K., and have become icons of twentieth-century literature.

Ironically, Girodias was, to some degree, a victim of his own success: once censorship laws in the U.S. and U.K. were repealed, the market for ‘dirty books’ was never the same. Girodias moved to New York in the late 1960’s to capitalize on new publishing freedoms in the U.S., but the company went bankrupt in the early 1970s. He published his last book in 1974.

Maurice Girodias died in Paris in 1990 at the age of seventy-one. --http://www.thetravellerscompanionseries.com/olympia.cfm [Aug 2005]

Traveller’s Companion Series
In the first six months of 1955, Girodias published the first fifteen titles in a new imprint, "The Traveller’s Companion Series." Most were clearly ‘dirty books,’ with titles like The Enormous Bed and School for Sin. Number seven, however, was a bit different - The Ginger Man by J.P. Donleavy.

Now considered to be one of the great books of the last one hundred years (The Modern Library ranked it 99th on their list of the Top 100 books of the Century, The Ginger Man made its debut between number six, Tender Was My Flesh, and number eight, An Adult’s Story. Donleavy was not amused.

To make matters worse, Girodias claimed to own the worldwide rights to the English edition-a claim Donleavy disputed-and thus began a long and bitter feud.

Donleavy, however, had the last word. When the Paris Olympia Press was forced into bankruptcy in 1968, it was auctioned off in a French court. Donleavy outbid Girodias, sending his young wife to act for him incognito, finally triumphing over his old adversary in one of the strangest annals of publishing history.

First Thus
Following are the first printings of each title in the series, along with the author’s true name (where known), and the year of publication. More specific bibliographic data is being compiled and will appear here in the future. --http://www.thetravellerscompanionseries.com/travcomp.cfm [Aug 2005]

see also: Olympia Press - fiction - 1955

2005, Aug 30; 07:34 ::: A Short History of Paperbacks

The Good Earth
Pocket Books' "unnumbered" version published November, 1938
image sourced here.

Along with many other products of our culture, paperbacks have become a very active area for collecting. This article gives a short history of this quite interesting artifact, and a very brief overview of what collectors in the category generally look for. The web is chockful of informative articles and sites on the subject, mostly by enthusiastic amateurs (in the best sense of that word), and we have included links to some of these spread throughout this piece.

Nineteenth Century Ancestors
Many references on paperbacks will tell you that the first mass-market paperback ever issued was The Good Earth, by Pearl S Buck, in 1938. Actually, of course, paperbacks have been around a lot longer than that - as early, in fact, as the 17th Century in France and Germany. In the English-speaking world James Fenimore Cooper was writing frontier stories published in paperback-like format as far back as 1823, soon to be followed by a host of imitators. These were precursors of the tabloid "story papers", like Brother Jonathan Weekly, in the 1840s. The introduction of the steam rotary press enabled these to be produced cheaply in large numbers, and the emerging railroad network provided a convenient means of distribution. Probably the first true mass-market paperback, though, was the so-called "Dime Novel", which sprang into being in the 1860s.

In fact, the first bona fide mass-market paperback in the English speaking world is said to be Malaeska, by Mrs Ann S Stephens, which was published in June 1860 by the pioneers of the Dime Novel, Erastus and Irwin Beadle. The success of this romantic tale of an Indian princess was such (it sold 65,000 copies within a few months of publication) that it gave birth to a whole new genre. Beadle & Adams (one of the Beadles sold out) began publishing a new paperback dime novel, featuring tales of derring-do by stand-up-guy frontiersmen, at first every two weeks and then every week. They opened a London office in 1862, and pretty soon the format had become all the rage with the English masses, who called these little thrillers the "penny dreadful".

In the US, dime novels soared in popularity during the Civil War - for some reason soldiering and paperbacks seem to go together -- and by the 1880s writers like Prentiss Ingraham, who wrote Buffalo Bill stories, were turning out novels of 50,000 - 70,000 words at the incredible rate of one a week (for $200 - $300 a pop). Heroic western pioneers continued in popularity until late in the century, but with the growth of cities the Dime Novel heroes became increasingly urban and street smart. The detective, Nick Carter, made his first appearance in the 1880s. His creator, Frederic Marmaduke Van Rensselaer Dey is said to have written, on average, about 25,000 words per week for almost 20 years, turning out the Nick Carter stories and various others under a roster of different pen names. The introduction of the typewriter in the 1870s was no doubt a factor in the sheer volume many dime novel hacks were able to achieve. Still, perhaps lured by the lucre, even "respectable" writers were not immune to the attractions of the paperback dime novel form: Louisa May Alcott, Horace Greeley, Longfellow, Upton Sinclair, Robert Louis Stevenson ("Captain George North"), and even Alfred Lord Charge-of-the-Light-Brigade Tennyson all at one time or another made contributions to the genre. In total, the Library of Congress has received, through copyright deposit, a Dime Novel collection of nearly 40,000 titles from 280 different series.

Dime novels as such were somewhat eclipsed by so-called pulp magazines starting in the 1890s, an event which is sometimes attributed to a sharp hike in postal rates, but their spirit, at least, has lived on ever since. In fact, the pulp magazines, exploring the same terrain (basically, westerns, romance and crime), could be viewed as a kind of interregnum in the whole trashy paperback saga. --Oliver Corlett http://vox.popula.com/vintage/pbpix/pb.html [Aug 2005]

see also: 1938 - paperback - pulps - dime novels

2005, Aug 29; 23:34 ::: Non-fiction paperback sleaze

Unidentified English language edition of Psychopathia Sexualis (1886)
image sourced here.

Fiction paperback books have, not surprisingly, gotten the lion's share of attention from collectors. They tend to have the most imaginative prose, have the most spectacular covers, and on occasion are even well-written. Huge numbers of non-fiction - and supposed non-fiction - titles were also published during the '50's and '60's, but have been pretty much ignored by collectors and commentators alike.

Nonfiction paperbacks owed their existence to a long-forgotten legal loophole - a book could not be censored if it was (or, in practical terms, could make a pretense to being) a serious scientific study. This distinction was used, initially, to make previously obscure scientific texts available to the reading public. The great-grandaddy of all of these books is Psychopathia Sexualis by Richard von Kraft-Ebbing, published in German in 1886. It was initially only available in the United States as a German-language medical textbook, then as an English language book with the really "nasty" parts left untranslated. (This used to be a common practice in high-end sleaze publication; I remember my father owned a copy of The Philosophy of the Bedroom by the Marquis de Sade with the hot parts in French). As community standards became even more lenient, a number of different publishers issued their English language own editions of the book.

England's Sex Explosion, by Allen Carson (Social Behavior Books #152, (c) 1967)
image sourced here.

The mass-market appeal of this book lay in the fact that, unlike, for example, The Kinsey Report, it did not just lay out statistics of behavior, or provide general summaries - it set forth hundreds of individual case studies, in many cases supplemented with interviews with the persons profiled. The "disorders" profiled range from simple cases of behavior now viewed by many as unremarkable, such as homosexuality or transvestitism, to hideous cases of sexual sadism (even Jack the Ripper merits a case file.) For many outsiders in the less tolerant periods in our country's history, Kraft-Ebbing supplied the first evidence they has ever seen that there were others like them out in the world. For others in search of a cheap thrill (not that I have anything against cheap thrills) this book supplied personal interviews with many of the person profiled, sometimes with breathless descriptions of the acts they had reveled in.

Flagellation, by Simon Defont (Viceroy Publications #297, (c) 1967)
image sourced here.

A flood of these "studies" followed, beginning in the '50's, as paperback publishers rapidly came to realize that they could put out them out at little cost and legal risk, and that they would sell, particularly if they could find a scientific figure willing to devote a little less space to analysis and more space to those fascinating interviews. Most of these books were allegedly written by physicians or psychologists, but I think we can safely assume a great many, particularly the more obviously exploitative examples, were written by individuals whose only medical expertise was an encyclopedic knowledge of alternative nouns for different parts of the body.

A selection of examples from different genres, in chronological order, follows. --http://users.rcn.com/xcentrik/nonfict.html [Aug 2005]

see also: paperback - non-fiction - sleaze

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