Saturday, October 21, 2017

A Night at The Garden

Available for online viewing: A Night at The Garden, Marshall Curry’s seven-minute assemblage of archival footage of a 1939 German American Bund rally at Madison Square Garden. The 20,000-strong event was advertised as a “Pro-American Rally.” George Washington, swastikas, and a protester beaten. Draw your own parallels and conclusions.

Churchill on looking at nature

Once you begin to study it, all Nature is equally interesting and equally charged with beauty. I was shown a picture by Cézanne of a blank wall of a house, which he had made instinct with the most delicate lights and colours. Now I often amuse myself when I am looking at a wall or a flat surface of any kind by trying to distinguish all the different colours and tints which can be discerned upon it, and considering whether these arise from reflections or from natural hue. You would be astonished the first time you tried this to see how many and what beautiful colours there are even in the most commonplace objects, and the more carefully and frequently you look the more variations do you perceive.

Winston Churchill, Painting as a Pastime (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1950).
No painter, I. But this passage makes me think of the way everything looks different after a day at a museum, where you might see Cézanne’s House in Provence or House and Trees or The House with the Cracked Walls. Churchill’s essay is about much more than hobbies and pastimes; it’s about attention.

[This passage so captured me that I didn’t even stop to ask whether a wall should be considered part of nature.]

Friday, October 20, 2017

The language of a military coup

At The New Yorker, Masha Green writes about John Kelly and the language of a military coup:

When Kelly replaced the ineffectual Reince Priebus as the chief of staff, a sigh of relief emerged: at least the general would impose some discipline on the Administration. Now we have a sense of what military discipline in the White House sounds like.
Consider, in light of Green’s commentary, today’s comment from Sarah Huckabee Sanders about Kelly’s claim that Congresswoman Frederica S. Wilson took credit for securing funding for an FBI building: “I think that if you want to get into a debate with a four-star Marine general — that’s highly inappropriate.”

I think of a line from a great Specials song: “Don’t argue.”

[Sanders’s sentence was split in two by a question from a reporter. I’ve reproduced it as an uninterrupted sentence.]

“A brief overview of his life”

Franz Kafka, The Trial, trans. Breon Mitchell (New York: Schocken, 1998).

I think of the “portfolio” that accompanied my application for tenure, assembled in three three-inch looseleaf binders.

The thought of “a brief overview” of one’s life that nevertheless documents “each event of any particular importance”: there’s the madness of the Trial world. I suppose that among the events accounted for would be the decision to write the overview itself. And also, perhaps, the decisions about what to leave out, in which case events of no particular importance would also find their way into the brief overview.

Related reading
All OCA Kafka posts (Pinboard)

Benguiat beatniks

[Zippy, October 20, 2017.]

Dig the lettering of BeATnik, inspired by Ed Benguiat’s Interlock. Just right for beatniks.

Related reading
All OCA Zippy posts (Pinboard)
Benguiat style

Thursday, October 19, 2017


Elaine and I like an expensive-ish oat-and-honey granola that we call FPC, or Fancy Pants Cereal. Yesterday we bought a box of the Aldi version, which, it turns out, is just as good and much less expensive-ish. So we have decided to call this cereal UPC: Underpants Cereal.

A related post

Wrong professor

Elaine and I were walking and found ourselves in front of City Lights Books. The windows had been smashed, and the shelves were nearly empty. We stepped in through an empty window and saw that a poet was preparing to give a reading. She asked us about ourselves. When I told her I was a retired English professor, she pushed a book of her poems at me. “Here,” she said, “this better end up in a book.”

Wrong professor. But it did end up in a blog post.

Related reading
All OCA dream posts (Pinboard)

[A dream likely inspired by recent conversations Elaine and I have had about our shared distaste for self-promotion.]

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

More blizzardous

I went looking for John Ashbery’s word blizzardous in Google Books and found this passage:

The word “blizzard” seemed to strike many people here as a good novelty, and many looked upon it as a clever American invention of the moment. And yet “blizzard” has long been in Nuttall’s Standard Dictionary, with its proper definition, “a sudden, violent, cold snowstorm.” A modern humorist has invented a novel application of the word. Where anything is absolutely wretched, disastrous and disagreeable, he speaks of it as “blizzardous.” This makes a fearful and strong-sounding adjective that will probably achieve a very great popularity. As we receive some of our most popular and most expressive words from America, it seems only fair that we should occasionally attempt to send them something in return. I really think that “blizzardous” ought to suit some of your people down to the ground.

J. Ashby-Sterry, “English Notes,” The Book Buyer (May 1888).
So a word in a John Ashbery diary entry also shows up in a column by one J. Ashby-Sterry. Crazy! Ashby-Sterry further glosses blizzardous: “I think it a mistake to call some of these expressions ‘slang.’ Slang very often arises by the adoption of technical terms in general conversation, and what is the slang of one generation not infrequently becomes the refined language of the next.”

The Oxford English Dictionary on the origin of blizzard:
As applied to a “snow-squall,” the word became general in the American newspapers during the severe winter of 1880–81; but according to the Milwaukee Republican 4 Mar. 1881, it had been so applied in the Northern Vindicator (Estherville, Iowa) between 1860 and 1870. It was apparently in colloquial use in the West much earlier.
Which would suggest that blizzard was indeed “a clever American invention,” earlier than 1888. The OED’s first definition for the noun blizzard: “a sharp blow or knock; a shot,” with an 1829 citation from the journal Virginia Literary Museum. The verb, “of snow, sleet, etc.: to form a blizzard,” first appears in 1880 in the newspaper The Idaho Avalanche: “Oh, the snow, The bee-yew-tiful snow! It made last night so jolly, you know, Belating the trains and grounding the Wires, as blizzarding over the land it fires.”

[I can find nothing to suggest the identity of the “modern humorist.”]

Martha Penteel

[Ministry of Fear (dir. Fritz Lang, 1944).]

In a movie full of doors, this one is the oddest. The eye is the doorbell.

A blizzardous Wednesday

From a diary, February 19, 1941. The writer, John Ashbery, was thirteen years old:

Wednesday (written on Wednesday). February 19. Wea. Blizzardous Ther. 16° Today (Wednesday) the weather was extremely blizzardous. The day seemed so much like Wednesday. In English we are reading poems. At noon I walked uptown even though the weather was blizzardous (I think I mentioned that before). I made up the Social Studies which was given on the Friday I was absent. 92%. The marks in the Latin test yesterday were very poor, but I managed to get 100%. For dessert tonight we had a sealtest ice cream cherry pie, a rare treat. After supper I started to illustrate Poe’s “Hop-Frog” But I did not get on very well. I listened to Eddie Cantor and Mr. D.A. Wednesday. Wednesday. I am feeling silly today. Blizzardous. Written (oh definitely) on Wednesday.
This diary passage is reproduced in Karin Roffman’s The Songs We Know Best: John Ashbery’s Early Life (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2017).

Related reading
All OCA Ashbery posts (Pinboard)

[The Oxford English Dictionary has the adjective forms blizzardy, blizzardly, and blizzardous. But no citation for blizzardous.]