Wednesday, February 28, 2007
If a frontier falls and no one hears it.
Turner's frontier thesis was to become well known to later generations of scholars and to stimulate much debate and controversy, yet it occasioned almost no reaction or comment on the evening it was read. Even the historians who received copies of the paper responded with little more than polite interest. For example, Dr. Francis Walker, President of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, after receiving a copy of the paper wrote to Turner that he hoped to 'find time in the future to read the paper.'Daisy L. Machado, Of Borders and Margins: Hispanic Disciples in Texas, 1888-1945 23-24 (Oklahoma University Press, 2003). Via Paul Nightingale on the Pynchon List.
34 years old!
Monday, February 26, 2007
Nomad School, by Raul Gutierrez.
For more of his work, visit the Nelson Hancock Gallery.
Sunday, February 25, 2007
What you don't know won't kill you.
Mr. White might care to read a new French bestseller about how to talk convincingly about books you haven't read. Sarah Vine offers her two cents on Comment Parler des Livres que l’on n’a pas Lus ( How to Talk About Books that You Haven’t Read), though of course she hasn't read it.
Blogging for change.
Or, you could call Pizza Hut.
Tom Hilton explains the latest in Kiwi pizza advertising.
The hunter under fire.
Jim Zumbo is a big-game hunter who lives in a log cabin near Yellowstone National Park. For a living, he writes for hunting magazines and hosts cable-TV shows about hunting. Or he did until recently: Last week, what you might call "friendly fire" from the National Rifle Association and associated gun nuts got him fired by his various employers, and led to the termination of his relationship with Remington, for whom he had been a spokesperson. Zumbo's gaffe was criticizing the use of assault weapons (guns called "military-style assault weapons" by reporters who don't shoot them and presumably want to make them sound scarier) to shoot prairie dogs:
"Excuse me, maybe I'm a traditionalist, but I see no place for these weapons among our hunting fraternity," Zumbo wrote in his blog on the Outdoor Life Web site. The Feb. 16 posting has since been taken down. "As hunters, we don't need to be lumped into the group of people who terrorize the world with them. . . . I'll go so far as to call them 'terrorist' rifles."Obviously, the NRA is eager to make an example of Zumbo. Just as obviously -- although the Washington Post seems to have missed it -- he didn't "challenge" anyone's "right" to hunt with assault weapons. Rather, he suggested that shooting prairie dogs with weapons designed to kill animals many times larger -- i.e., people -- is overkill.
The reaction -- from tens of thousands of owners of assault rifles across the country, from media and manufacturers rooted in the gun business, and from the National Rifle Association -- has been swift, severe and unforgiving. Despite a profuse public apology and a vow to go hunting soon with an assault weapon, Zumbo's career appears to be over.
His top-rated weekly TV program on the Outdoor Channel, his longtime career with Outdoor Life magazine and his corporate ties to the biggest names in gunmaking, including Remington Arms Co., have been terminated or are on the ropes.
The NRA on Thursday pointed to the collapse of Zumbo's career as an example of what can happen to anyone, including a "fellow gun owner," who challenges the right of Americans to own or hunt with assault-style firearms.
Now, Zumbo is hardly the only hunter to have reservations about turning prairie dogs into red mist. I usually find that I have shot more prairie dogs than the next guy, and as far as I'm concerned a .22 does the trick. If you're using an assault weapon, something else is operating beyond a simple desire to kill the varmint. But the "red mist" crowd buys their share of Remingtons, so once the NRA took aim, he was a goner.
So why did they open fire? He's not the first person you would expect the NRA to target. Perhaps with a Democratic Congress, they saw a need to make an example of someone. But the Post suggests that Zumbo inadvertantly highlighted an weakness among the gunnies -- a potential wedge issue to separate the hunters from the assault-weapon crowd. The message for the hunters is, if you're going to get on the wrong side of the gun nuts, expect to take so much fire that a little Kevlar won't do any good. Those guys like their twenty-round clips for a reason.
He's only high-minded on alternate Sundays.
It is unfortunate that the Republican Party is currently dominated by hyperpartisan, gut-punching professional politicians and expert technicians whom I wouldn't want to face at the dark end of the electoral alley. They specialize in the flawless execution of "wedge" politics. That may have worked well in past elections, but no longer. The latest gimmick is "branding" -- a Madison Avenue technique -- to reverse the Republican slide. But political parties are not brands, slogans are not a replacement for ideas and you don't sell leaders the way you sell widgets.Frank Lutz, three years ago, discussing his craft:
What are you measuring with the dial technology?
It's like an X-ray that gets inside your head, and it picks out every single word, every single phrase [that you hear], and you know what works and what doesn't. . . .It's so immediate, it feels instantaneous.
But it is, because politics is instantaneous. Politics is gut; commercials are gut. You're watching a great show on TV, you now come to that middle break, you decide in a matter of three seconds whether or not you're going to a) flip the channel; b) get up; or c) keep watching. It's not intellectual; it is gut.Is it the same for political decisions about power companies and politicians, though?
We decide based on how people look; we decide based on how people sound; we decide based on how people are dressed. We decide based on their passion. If I respond to you quietly, the viewer at home is going to have a different reaction than if I respond to you with emotion and with passion and I wave my arms around. Somebody like this is an intellectual; somebody like this is a freak. But that's how we make up our minds. Look, this is about the real-life decisions of real-life Americans, who to vote for, what to buy, what to agree with, what to think, how to act. This is the way it is.
Friday, February 23, 2007
Department of Peace.
A long list of short stories.
Thursday, February 22, 2007
Found on the web.
- Daniel Gross doesn't see much value in political futures markets.
- Nicholas van Hoffman points out that all that going on background with government officials isn't doing much for him -- Tim Russert has never broken a big story.
- Spencer Ackerman notes that another troubled American convert to Islam is in custody.
- Benedict Anderson has revised and updated a terrific book, Imagined Communities.
- Anyone who thinks the Washington Post is liberal isn't reading it.
- Ron Rosenbaum watches the Anna Nicole Smith hearing so you don't have to (and I'm so out of it I don't know what it's about).
- The Editors at the Poor Man Institute read the wingnut blogs so you don't have to.
- Cool teacups.
Monday, February 19, 2007
Tim Hardaway has crossover appeal.
Via Jacqueline Passey.
Sunday, February 18, 2007
Eradicating Guinea Worm Disease.
The New Yorker in haiku.
Our Local Correspondents: Mink Inc.Terrific blogging,
By Lauran Collins
Rosenfeld's fur coats
Are fitting wear for either
Rap star or matron.
Life and Letters: Rewriting Nature
By Adam Gopnik
Darwin, happy to
Let the facts speak for themselves,
Deftly arranged them.
Notes of a Gastronome: TV Dinners
By Bill Buford
Food Network wants food
That's pretty, quick, comforting;
Same goes for its hosts.
Casual: Pinchuck's Law
By Woody Allen
Hiding in our midst:
Who just want to talk.
Personal History: A Return
Men who were once boys
Fighting in the Pacific
Go back, remember.
but none new since October
and that is a shame.
Saturday, February 17, 2007
The pasteis de Belém.
Murakami on film.
Thursday, February 15, 2007
Turnabout is fair play.
Modern-day cargo cults.
On this holiest of days, devotees have descended on the village of Lamakara from all over the island to honor a ghostly American messiah, John Frum. “John promised he’ll bring planeloads and shiploads of cargo to us from America if we pray to him,” a village elder tells me as he salutes the Stars and Stripes. “Radios, TVs, trucks, boats, watches, iceboxes, medicine, Coca-Cola and many other wonderful things.”
The island’s John Frum movement is a classic example of what anthropologists have called a “cargo cult”—many of which sprang up in villages in the South Pacific during World War II, when hundreds of thousands of American troops poured into the islands from the skies and seas. As anthropologist Kirk Huffman, who spent 17 years in Vanuatu, explains: “You get cargo cults when the outside world, with all its material wealth, suddenly descends on remote, indigenous tribes.” The locals don’t know where the foreigners’ endless supplies come from and so suspect they were summoned by magic, sent from the spirit world. To entice the Americans back after the war, islanders throughout the region constructed piers and carved airstrips from their fields. They prayed for ships and planes to once again come out of nowhere, bearing all kinds of treasures: jeeps and washing machines, radios and motorcycles, canned meat and candy.
But the venerated Americans never came back, except as a dribble of tourists and veterans eager to revisit the faraway islands where they went to war in their youth. And although almost all the cargo cults have disappeared over the decades, the John Frum movement has endured, based on the worship of an American god no sober man has ever seen. . . .
THE HEART'S ETERNAL VOW
April 10, 1988
By Thomas Pynchon
LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA By Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Translated by Edith Grossman. 348 pp. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. $18.95.
LOVE, as Mickey and Sylvia, in their 1956 hit single, remind us, love is strange. As we grow older it gets stranger, until at some point mortality has come well within the frame of our attention, and there we are, suddenly caught between terminal dates while still talking a game of eternity. It's about then that we may begin to regard love songs, romance novels, soap operas and any live teen-age pronouncements at all on the subject of love with an increasingly impatient, not to mention intolerant, ear.
At the same time, where would any of us be without all that romantic infrastructure, without, in fact, just that degree of adolescent, premortal hope? Pretty far out on life's limb, at least. Suppose, then, it were possible, not only to swear love ''forever,'' but actually to follow through on it - to live a long, full and authentic life based on such a vow, to put one's alloted stake of precious time where one's heart is? This is the extraordinary premise of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's new novel ''Love in the Time of Cholera,'' one on which he delivers, and triumphantly.
In the postromantic ebb of the 70's and 80's, with everybody now so wised up and even growing paranoid about love, once the magical buzzword of a generation, it is a daring step for any writer to decide to work in love's vernacular, to take it, with all its folly, imprecision and lapses in taste, at all seriously -that is, as well worth those higher forms of play that we value in fiction. For Garcia Marquez the step may also be revolutionary. ''I think that a novel about love is as valid as any other,'' he once remarked in a conversation with his friend, the journalist Plinio Apuleyo Mendoza (published as ''El Olor de la Guayaba,'' 1982). ''In reality the duty of a writer - the revolutionary duty, if you like - is that of writing well.''
And - oh boy - does he write well. He writes with impassioned control, out of a maniacal serenity: the Garcimarquesian voice we have come to recognize from the other fiction has matured, found and developed new resources, been brought to a level where it can at once be classical and familiar, opalescent and pure, able to praise and curse, laugh and cry, fabulate and sing and when called upon, take off and soar, as in this description of a turn-of-the-century balloon trip:
''From the sky they could see, just as God saw them, the ruins of the very old and heroic city of Cartagena de Indias, the most beautiful in the world, abandoned by its inhabitants because of the sieges of the English and the atrocities of the buccaneers. They saw the walls, still intact, the brambles in the streets, the fortifications devoured by heartsease, the marble palaces and the golden altars and the viceroys rotting with plague inside their armor.
''They flew over the lake dwellings of the Trojas in Cataca, painted in lunatic colors, with pens holding iguanas raised for food and balsam apples and crepe myrtle hanging in the lacustrian gardens.
"Excited by everyone's shouting, hundreds of naked children plunged into the water, jumping out of windows, jumping from the roofs of the houses and from the canoes that they handled with astonishing skill, and diving like shad to recover the bundles of clothing, the bottles of cough syrup, the beneficent food that the beautiful lady with the feathered hat threw to them from the basket of the balloon.''
This novel is also revolutionary in daring to suggest that vows of love made under a presumption of immortality - youthful idiocy, to some -may yet be honored, much later in life when we ought to know better, in the face of the undeniable. This is, effectively, to assert the resurrection of the body, today as throughout history an unavoidably revolutionary idea. Through the ever-subversive medium of fiction, Garcia Marquez shows us how it could all plausibly come about, even - wild hope -for somebody out here, outside a book, even as inevitably beaten at, bought and resold as we all must have become if only through years of simple residence in the injuring and corruptive world.
HERE'S what happens. The story takes place between about 1880 and 1930, in a Caribbean seaport city, unnamed but said to be a composite of Cartagena and Barranquilla - as well, perhaps, as cities of the spirit less officially mapped. Three major characters form a triangle whose hypotenuse is Florentino Ariza, a poet dedicated to love both carnal and transcendent, though his secular fate is with the River Company of the Caribbean and its small fleet of paddle-wheel steamboats. As a young apprentice telegrapher he meets and falls forever in love with Fermina Daza, a ''beautiful adolescent with . . . almond-shaped eyes,'' who walks with a ''natural haughtiness . . . her doe's gait making her seem immune to gravity.'' Though they exchange hardly a hundred words face to face, they carry on a passionate and secret affair entirely by way of letters and telegrams, even after the girl's father has found out and taken her away on an extended ''journey of forgetting.'' But when she returns, Fermina rejects the lovesick young man after all, and eventually meets and marries instead Dr. Juvenal Urbino who, like the hero of a 19th-century novel, is well born, a sharp dresser, somewhat stuck on himself but a terrific catch nonetheless.
For Florentino, love's creature, this is an agonizing setback, though nothing fatal. Having sworn to love Fermina Daza forever, he settles in to wait for as long as he has to until she's free again. This turns out to be 51 years, 9 months and 4 days later, when suddenly, absurdly, on a Pentecost Sunday around 1930, Dr. Juvenal Urbino dies, chasing a parrot up a mango tree. After the funeral, when everyone else has left, Florentino steps forward with his hat over his heart. ''Fermina,'' he declares, ''I have waited for this opportunity for more than half a century, to repeat to you once again my vow of eternal fidelity and everlasting love.'' Shocked and furious, Fermina orders him out of the house. ''And don't show your face again for the years of life that are left to you. . . . I hope there are very few of them.''
The heart's eternal vow has run up against the world's finite terms. The confrontation occurs near the end of the first chapter, which recounts Dr. Urbino's last day on earth and Fermina's first night as a widow. We then flash back 50 years, into the time of cholera. The middle chapters follow the lives of the three characters through the years of the Urbinos' marriage and Florentino Ariza's rise at the River Company, as one century ticks over into the next. The last chapter takes up again where the first left off, with Florentino, now, in the face of what many men would consider major rejection, resolutely setting about courting Fermina Daza all over again, doing what he must to win her love.
IN their city, throughout a turbulent half-century, death has proliferated everywhere, both as el colera, the fatal disease that sweeps through in terrible intermittent epidemics, and as la colera, defined as choler or anger, which taken to its extreme becomes warfare. Victims of one, in this book, are more than once mistaken for victims of the other. War, ''always the same war,'' is presented here not as the continuation by other means of any politics that can possibly matter, but as a negative force, a plague, whose only meaning is death on a massive scale. Against this dark ground, lives, so precarious, are often more and less conscious projects of resistance, even of sworn opposition, to death. Dr. Urbino, like his father before him, becomes a leader in the battle against the cholera, promoting public health measures obsessively, heroically. Fermina, more conventionally but with as much courage, soldiers on in her chosen role of wife, mother and household manager, maintaining a safe perimeter for her family. Florentino embraces Eros, death's well-known long-time enemy, setting off on a career of seductions that eventually add up to 622 ''long-term liaisons, apart from . . . countless fleeting adventures,'' while maintaining, impervious to time, his deeper fidelity, his unquenchable hope for a life with Fermina. At the end he can tell her truthfully - though she doesn't believe it for a minute - that he has remained a virgin for her.
So far as this is Florentino's story, in a way his Bildungsroman, we find ourselves, as he earns the suspension of our disbelief, cheering him on, wishing for the success of this stubborn warrior against age and death, and in the name of love. But like the best fictional characters, he insists on his autonomy, refusing to be anything less ambiguous than human. We must take him as he is, pursuing his tomcat destiny out among the streets and lovers' refuges of this city with which he lives on terms of such easy intimacy, carrying with him a potential for disasters from which he remains safe, immunized by a comical but dangerous indifference to consequences that often borders on criminal neglect. The widow Nazaret, one of many widows he is fated to make happy, seduces him during a night-long bombardment from the cannons of an attacking army outside the city. Ausencia Santander's exquisitely furnished home is burgled of every movable item while she and Florentino are frolicking in bed. A girl he picks up at Carnival time turns out to be a homicidal machete-wielding escapee from the local asylum. Olimpia Zuleta's husband murders her when he sees a vulgar endearment Florentino has been thoughtless enough to write on her body in red paint. His lover's amorality causes not only individual misfortune but ecological destruction as well: as he learns by the end of the book, his River Company's insatiable appetite for firewood to fuel its steamers has wiped out the great forests that once bordered the Magdalena river system, leaving a wasteland where nothing can live. ''With his mind clouded by his passion for Fermina Daza he never took the trouble to think about it, and by the time he realized the truth, there was nothing anyone could do except bring in a new river.''
IN fact, dumb luck has as much to do with getting Florentino through as the intensity or purity of his dream. The author's great affection for this character does not entirely overcome a sly concurrent subversion of the ethic of machismo, of which Garcia Marquez is not especially fond, having described it elsewhere simply as usurpation of the rights of others. Indeed, as we've come to expect from his fiction, it's the women in this story who are stronger, more attuned to reality. When Florentino goes crazy with live, developing symptoms like those of cholera, it is his mother, Transito Ariza, who pulls him out of it. His innumerable lecheries are rewarded not so much for any traditional masculine selling points as for his obvious and aching need to be loved. Women go for it. ''He is ugly and sad,'' Fermina Daza's cousin Hildebranda tells her, ''but he is all love.''
And Garcia Marquez, straight-faced teller of tall tales, is his biographer. At the age of 19, as he has reported, the young writer underwent a literary epiphany on reading the famous opening lines of Kafka's ''Metamorphosis,'' in which a man wakes to find himself transformed into a giant insect. ''Gosh,'' exclaimed Garcia Marquez, using in Spanish a word we in English may not, ''that's just the way my grandmother used to talk!'' And that, he adds, is when novels began to interest him. Much of what come in his work to be called ''magic realism'' was, as he tells it, simply the presence of that grandmotherly voice.
Nevertheless, in this novel we have come a meaningful distance from Macondo, the magical village in ''One Hundred Years of Solitude'' where folks routinely sail through the air and the dead remain in everyday conversation with the living: we have descended, perhaps in some way down the same river, all the way downstream, into war and pestilence and urban confusions to the edge of a Caribbean haunted less by individual dead than by a history which has brought so appallingly many down, without ever having spoken, or having spoken gone unheard, or having been heard, left unrecorded. As revolutionary as writing well is the duty to redeem these silences, a duty Garcia Marquez has here fulfilled with honor and compassion. It would be presumptuous to speak of moving ''beyond'' ''One Hundred Years of Solitude'' but clearly Garcia Marquez has moved somewhere else, not least into deeper awareness of the ways in which, as Florentino comes to learn, ''nobody teaches life anything.'' There are still delightful and stunning moments contrary to fact, still told with the same unblinking humor - presences at the foot of the bed, an anonymously delivered doll with a curse on it, the sinister parrot, almost a minor character, whose pursuit ends with the death of Dr. Juvenal Urbino.
But the predominant claim on the author's attention and energies comes from what is not so contrary to fact, a human consensus about ''reality'' in which love and the possibility of love's extinction are the indispensable driving forces, and varieties of magic have become, if not quite peripheral, then at least more thoughtfully deployed in the service of an expanded vision, matured, darker than before but no less clement.
It could be argued that this is the only honest way to write about love, that without the darkness and the finitude there might be romance, erotica, social comedy, soap opera - all genres, by the way, that are well represented in this novel - but not the Big L. What that seems to require, along with a certain vantage point, a certain level of understanding, is an author's ability to control his own love for his characters, to withhold from the reader the full extent of his caring, in other words not to lapse into drivel.
In translating ''Love in the Time of Cholera,'' Edith Grossman has been attentive to this element of discipline, among many nuances of the author's voice to which she is sensitively, imaginatively attuned. My Spanish isn't perfect, but I can tell that she catches admirably and without apparent labor the swing and translucency of his writing, its slang and its classicism, the lyrical stretches and those end-of-sentence zingers he likes to hit us with. It is a faithful and beautiful piece of work.
THERE comes a moment, early in his career at the River Company of the Caribbean when Florentino Ariza, unable to write even a simple commercial letter without some kind of romantic poetry creeping in, is discussing the problem with his uncle Leo XII, who owns the company. It's no use, the young man protests -''Love is the only thing that interests me.''
''The trouble,'' his uncle replies, ''is that without river navigation, there is no love.'' For Florentino this happens to be literally true: the shape of his life is defined by two momentous river voyages, half a century apart. On the first he made his decision to return and live forever in the city of Fermina Daza, to persevere in his love for as long as it might take. On the second, through a desolate landscape, he journeys into love and against time, with Fermina, at last, by his side. There is nothing I have read quite like this astonishing final chapter, symphonic, sure in its dynamics and tempo, moving like a riverboat too, its author and pilot, with a lifetime's experience steering us unerringly among hazards of skepticism and mercy, on this river we all know, without whose navigation there is no love and against whose flow the effort to return is never worth a less honorable name than remembrance -at the very best it results in works that can even return our worn souls to us, among which most certainly belongs ''Love in the Time of Cholera,'' this shining and heartbreaking novel.
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
Be nice to the lobsters you eat.
Humane lobster harvesting, in more detail than you could possibly want:
To replace its live lobsters, Whole Foods has
signed a dealwith Clearwater Seafoodsof Canada to sell shucked raw frozen lobster, processed using an Avure 687L (pictured above).
Monday, February 12, 2007
Wednesday, February 07, 2007
Who's playing Buck Turgidson here?
From down in the audience, just beyond the stage, he heard a cell phone ring. He stopped in the middle of telling a story. “It’s okay, you can answer your cell phone,” he said. “You won’t interrupt me.” The woman whose phone had rung was mortified; he had just embarrassed her in front of 18,000 people. In the “town hall” meetings he used to conduct as mayor of New York, through a radio show, Giuliani was not known for his good-natured populism. He was known for making fun of constituents who called him with what he thought were petty problems. This is the dark Giuliani, and here he was, making an unwelcome appearance. He shifted to a long digression about the scene in Dr. Strangelove where General Buck Turgidson answers a call in the middle of a crisis and whispers sweet nothings to his girl on the phone, as the nation’s political and military leadership looks on impatiently. “Just tell him you love him so I can go on with my speech,” Giuliani said. No one was laughing. Giuliani actually waited for the woman to hang up. Then, after a painful minute or so, he was back in candidate mode, talking about Vince Lombardi and the mind of a champion.I wouldn't invest my own money in a candidate who doesn't know when to shut up. See, e.g., Sen. Joseph Biden.
Saturday, February 03, 2007
Had he been around today, Sir Frederick Upcott would be having a bad case of indigestion. When Jamsetji Tata, founder of the Tata Group, first proposed making steel girders for the British-run Indian railways, in 1907, the colonial administrator scoffed at the very idea. "Do you mean to say that Tatas propose to make steel rails toBritish specifications?" he asked. "Why, I will undertake to eat every pound of steel rail they succeed in making." This week, exactly a century later, the Tatas paid £6.7bn to buy Corus and with it the remnants of British Steel.Jo Johnson, "India's steely drive is overcoming jaded colonial attitudes," Financial Times 7 (Feb. 3 2007).
Friday, February 02, 2007
I've never gotten the point of Paul Auster and his swami mystique and probably never shall, unless I move to Brooklyn and achieve phosphorescence.James Wolcott, en route to slagging Adam Gopnik.
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