Thursday, June 30, 2016

The Infinite Art Tournament, Round 3: Raphael v. Rego!

1483 - 1520

Defeated Allan Ramsay in Round 1.
Beat Modigliani in Round 2.

Paula Rego
Born 1935

Demolished Ad Reinhardt in Round 1.
Nicked Odilon Redon by a single vote in Round 2. YOUR VOTE COUNTS!!!

Vote for the artist of your choice in the comments, or any other way that works for you. Commentary and links to additional work are welcome. Polls open for at least one month past posting.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Michael5000 v. Dickens: David Copperfield

2012 Assessment: I don't believe I've had the pleasure.

Current Reading: I listened to an audio version, from Blackstone Audio I think.

You feel bad for the poor literature professors who have to try to pin down The Modern Novel, because whatever characteristics they try to tie to Modernism, the Victorians always got there first. Two Modern Novels I thought of while reading David Copperfield were, first, To the Lighthouse, which is notable for the way it handles the flow of time. The action in Woolf’s book takes place in two closely observed episodes, separated by a sudden rush of time in which much happens that we learn of only in telegraphic fragments. Copperfield has more episodes, they're more conventionally biographical, and the summarized gaps of time between them are less extreme, but the dilation of time is built into the story’s structure just the same.

Then of course there would have to be Ulysses, and the first of the many quirky things you learn about James Joyces’ tome is that it’s about a more or less ordinary guy going about his more or less ordinary life, with no immediately apparent traditional narrative arc. David Copperfield isn’t quite so free-form – it has several plot lines that progress through conflict to resolution, and has perhaps more denouement than is really good for it – but at the same time, it doesn’t really follow a traditional narrative arc. It’s difficult to say what the book is “about,” because it doesn’t have the central story line that most novels, of most periods, are built around. It’s really about a more or less ordinary guy going about his more or less ordinary life. It’s about David Copperfield.

The first thing to know about David Copperfield is that he’s a fellow who, like most men of sense, enjoys the company of women. Although he is not really aware of it, he is a guy with three girlfriends. And let’s be frank in our assessment: one of the girlfriends is toooo dumb, and one of the girlfriends is essentially toooo smart for her own good, as a Victorian woman; but, the third girlfriend is juuuust right! So you think you know what is going to happen, and then you get a bit of a shock when he goes and marries the numbskull. If you’ve read enough nineteenth century novels, you can recover from there and work out where things are heading.  If you haven’t, or if you were one of Dickens’ original readers, you might be on tenterhooks to figure out how the situation would be resolved. Or, you might not even recognize that there was a situation that needed resolving, due to that lack-of-an-immediately-apparent-traditional-narrative-arc thing I mentioned earlier.

David Copperfield is written (by Charles Dickens) as a first person account written by its subject, David Copperfield. Dickens is clearly in great sympathy with Copperfield – in the forward, Dickens calls Copperfield his "favourite child" – but it’s not always crystal clear whether the two of them are in perfect accord. This stood out for me in the case of Uriah Heep, ostensibly one of the villains of the piece. Heep is oily, low, scheming, and thoroughly disagreeable, and despite or perhaps because of this I found that I had a great deal of sympathy for his motives and respect for his cunning.

Copperfield does not share my partiality. Copperfield loathes Heep from the very moment he sets eyes on him, and hasn’t a kind word to say for him throughout. So the interesting question to me is, how did Charles Dickens feel about Uriah Heep? Was he enough in sympathy with his character David Copperfield that we can assume that Copperfield’s repulsion mirrors his own, the repulsion we are “supposed to” feel for Heep? Or, did Dickens intend for me to feel sympathy for Heep, and for me to regard Copperfield’s malice towards him as a humanizing character flaw in his hero?

I’d like to think the latter, as Copperfield could use a little humanizing. Like other Dickens novels that focus on the adventures of a single character, David Copperfield suffers a bit from looking at the world from the perspective of someone less colorfully drawn then everyone else in the story. In a novel populated by people with exaggerated mannerisms, vivid personalities, and axes to grind, Copperfield himself is a bit of a cypher: decent, earnest, capable, and bland. He’d be a good chap to have in your corner, but he's the least interesting guy in his own book. His inhibiting presence in every scene is probably what separates this very good Dickens novel from the real masterpieces.

Plot: David Copperfield is born, deals with an abusive stepfather, gets an education, makes friends, enters adulthood, and eventually sorts out his girlfriends.

Prognosis: Good stuff!

Current Dickens Score: I have now read 11/14.5 of the non-Christmassy Dickens novels.  On deck are Oliver Twist, Little Dorritt, The Old Curiosity Shop, and the Mystery of E

Second Opinion: The Guardian says it's the 15th best book in the English language.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Infinite Art Tournament, Left Bracket Second Round: Della Quercia v. Popova!

Jacopo Della Quercia
1374 - 1438

Crushed by Sir Henry Raeburn in Round 1.
Beat Francesco Primaticcio in First Round Elimination.

Ljubov Popova
1889 - 1924

Beat Jacopo Pontormo in in Round 1.
Lost to Poussin in Round 2 by a single vote. YOUR VOTE COUNTS!!!

Vote for the artist of your choice in the comments, or any other way that works for you. Commentary and links to additional work are welcome. Polls open for at least one month past posting, but likely much longer.

Monday, June 27, 2016

The New Monday Quiz fires off a memorable quip

You probably expected an installment of the march through history today, but alas! Mrs.5000 and I are spending the weekend in a place so desolate, isolated, and primitive that it literally does not have internet access.  It does, however, have a 80s-era copy of the surprisingly conservative Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, from which I rather haphazardly threw together the following.  Then I went down the street to this little coffeeshop so I could post it online before returning to an arduous round of reading, playing games, and tinkering with little projects.

Quotations by Well-Known People

Who said it, or where was it written?  The list is at the end.

1. All things are full of labour; man cannot utter it: the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.
The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.

2. As long as war is regarded as Wicked, it will always have its fascination. When it is looked upon as vulgar, it will cease to be popular.

3. By the time you swear you’re his,
   Shivering and sighing,
And he vows his passion is
   Infinite, undying –
Lady, make a note of this:
   One of you is lying.

4. Errors look so very ugly in persons of small means – one feels they are taking quite a liberty in going astray; whereas people of fortune may naturally indulge in a few delinquencies.

5. He disappeared in the dead of winter:
The brooks were frozen, the airports almost deserted,
And snow disfigured the public statues;
The mercury sank in the mouth of the dying day.
What instruments we have agree
The day of his death was a dark cold day.

6. Man is born unto trouble, as the sparks fly upward.

7. Resolve not to be poor: whatever you have, spend less. Poverty is a great enemy to human happiness; it certainly destroys liberty, and it makes some virtues impracticable and others extremely difficult.

8. Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away. For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone; The flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land.

9. Romances paint at full length people’s wooings,
   But only give a bust of marriages:
For no one cares for matrimonial cooings
   There’s nothing wrong in a connubial kiss:
Think you, if Laura had been Petrarch’s wife
   He would have written sonnets all his life?

10. She bore about with her, she could not help knowing it, the torch of her beauty; she carried it erect into any room that she entered; and after all, veil it as she might, and shrink from the monotony of bearing that it imposed on her, her beauty was apparent. She had been admired. She had been loved.

11. Still round and round the ghosts of beauty glide
And haunt the places where their honour died.
See how the world its veterans rewards!
A youth of frolics, an old age of cards.

12. The wounded surgeon plies the steel
That questions the distempered part;
Beneath the bleeding hands we feel
The sharp compassion of the healer’s art
Resolving the enigma of the fever chart.

13. To the University of Oxford I acknowledge no obligation; and she will as cheerfully renounce me for a son, as I am willing to disclaim her for a mother. I spent fourteen months at Magdalen College: they proved the fourteen months the most idle and unprofitable of my whole life.

W.H. Auden
Lord Byron
George Elliot
T.S. Elliot
Edward Gibbon
The Book of Job
Samuel Johnson
Dorothy Parker
Alexander Pope
The Song of Solomon
Oscar Wilde
Virginia Woolf

Saturday, June 25, 2016

The Infinite Art Tournament, Round One: Rousseau v. Rubens!

Théodore Rousseau
1812 - 1867


Sir Peter Paul Rubens
1577 - 1640


Vote for the artist of your choice! Votes go in the comments. Commentary and links to additional work are welcome. Polls open for at least one month past posting.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

The Infinite Art Tournament, Left Bracket Second Round: Pontormo v. Raeburn!

Jacopo Pontormo
1494 - 1556

Bested by Ljubov Popova in Round 1.
Beat sculptor Hiram Powers in First Round Elimination.

Sir Henry Raeburn
1756 - 1823

Walloped Jacopo Della Quercia in Round 1.
Lost to Pierre-Paul Prud'hon in Round 2.

Vote for the artist of your choice in the comments, or any other way that works for you. Commentary and links to additional work are welcome. Polls open for at least one month past posting, but likely much longer.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Game of Reading

I keep track of my reading on the website.  You probably used to do that too, but fell off at some point.  Me, I’ve been pretty dogged about it, logging every book I’ve read (or abandoned) since I started the account in February 2009.  It’s getting up toward a thousand books.

With all this data available, I’ve been toying with the idea that it would be interesting to spend a decade re-reading the books I had read the previous decade.  It would!  But of course, one only has so many decades.  So I’m not going to do that.

What I ~am~ going to do is make a little game out of book selection that encourages lots of rereading, and also tries to steer my reading diet in various directions, without being so programmatic that it sucks every last drop and dreg of joy from my life.  It will be fun!  Maybe!

The Game of Reading is a card-deck game, and might be a little bit like Magic: the Gathering.  I’m not sure, because I don’t really know that much about Magic: the Gathering.  My sense is, though, that it’s a game where taking a turn means playing a card from your hand, then drawing a replacement from a big complicated deck. 

(A source close to the enterprise points out that Magic: the Gathering is also a game that involves interaction with other humans.  The Game of Reading isn’t like that.  There’s no interaction with other humans, except authors.)

In the Game of Reading, I’ll be “taking a turn” every time I select a book to read.  To pick a book, I will play one of the ten cards in my “hand,” and then draw a new card to replace it.  For instance, it’s possible that I might play a “Science Fiction” genre card in order to read something by Ursula LeGuin, and then draw a “Western” genre card as its replacement.  That doesn’t mean that I have to read a Western next – I’ve got ten cards to choose from in my hand, after all.  But, I should start thinking about what I want to read that will let me play that Western card in the fullness of time.

With me so far?  If so, you realize that, as in Magic: the Gathering (or so I am told), the game is really all about the deck.

The Deck

The Deck, like the Electoral College of the United States of America, is composed of 535 items.  I spent a very entertaining evening tinkering with it.  (I won’t really make the physical cards until I “draw” them, mind you.  The conceptual deck exists in the form of a numbered list of cards-in-waiting, and a randomized list of numbers representing their shuffled positions.)  Here are the contents:
  • Two hundred ninety-five of the cards – a little more than half – are the Individual Books I read from 2009 to 2011, plus a smattering that I read before I started my Goodreads account but entered on my account anyway.  Card #87, for instance is Anna Karenina.  Card #91 is Crime and Punishment.  Card #84 is Carry On, Jeeves.  It’s a mixed bag.  Card #92 is something called Slouching Towards Kalamazoo, of which I have no memory whatsoever.  But I might be rereading it, sooner or later.
  • There are 50 Unrestricted New Book cards.  I can play these to read anything I want.
  • There are 60 Genre Cards: 10 each of Science Fiction, Detective, and Fantasy, 3 of Western, 2 of Romance, and 25 of something called “Non-Fiction.”  That last category is admittedly rather broad.
  • There are 20 International Cards, calling out books from the French, German, Spanish, Russian, “other European” languages, and Japanese, as well as books from India.
  • There are 20 Challenge Cards designating books that are in some way “hard,” for instance old or long.  For instance, there are 3 Shakespeare cards, 5 cards that compel me to advance the moribund Michael Reads the Bible Blog, and 4 cards that require me to try again with any book that I’ve listed as “abandoned” on Goodreads.
  • 10 cards tell me to read something from that shelf in the bedroom, where I’ve parked books that I plan to read someday.
  • 15 cards tell me to re-read something that I read before I started the Goodreads account.
  • Then, there are 30 cards that tell me to solicit a recommendation from someone – five cards for Mrs.5000, smaller numbers for various bookish friends and regular IAT voters.
  • Finally, and in the gaming spirit, there are 18 cards that let me return a card from my hand to the deck, and another 12 that let me discard a card from my hand entirely.
Getting Started

To transition in, I have dealt myself an initial hand of 10 “Any New Book” cards that are not from the deck.  See?

Also, the 10 or 12 books that I have started but have on the back burner don’t require a card.   Tomorrow, though, I will probably finish my audiobook of David Copperfield.  When I pick my next audio book, I will have to play one of the “Any New Book” cards – they’re all I have for my initial play – and make my first replacement draw. SO EXCITING!!!

Three Rules

1. I listen to a lot of audiobooks. For the Game of Reading, eye-reading and ear-reading are equivalent – both require a card, from the same hand and the same deck. It would be cool to eye-read books I listened to the first time around, and vice versa, but that’s not a requirement.

2. Book Group selections are exempt from the game.

3. The Serial Fiction rule: Any time I draw a specific book from a series, I may substitute in another book from the same series. Card #170, for instance, is The Naming of the Dead, the 16th entry in Ian Rankin’s Inspector Rebus detective series. If I draw that card, I can read any of the Inspector Rebus books. This will keep me from being forced to read series out of order.

So, This Deck Will Determine the Next 535 Books You Read?

Nah. Assuming I enjoy the system – and you know what happens when we assume – the top 60 or 70 cards from the deck will steer my reading for the rest of 2016. When 2017 starts, all of the books I read in 2012 will be added to the deck, the ratios will be adjusted to reflect evolving priorities, the deck will be shuffled, and we’ll go from there.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The Infinite Art Tournament Left Bracket Third-Round Elimination: Adams v. Lippi!

Filippino Lippi has won four straight matches in the Left Bracket after losing his First Round Match to his dad.  One of his victims on this comeback trail has been none other than Lippi the Elder, who lost the grudge match after losing in the Second Round to El Lissitzky.

Meanwhile, Lissitzky went on to beat Ansel Adams in the Third Round, setting up today's match faceoff in the elite Third Round Elimination Bracket (Nickname: "Gateway to the Semi-finals").

Leaving the Tournament this week are Wyndham Lewis (3-2; 32-28, .533) and the Limbourg Brothers (2-2; 26-20; .565), with the 21st and 11th strongest "batting averages" of the 233 Tournament leavers to date!

Ansel Adams
1902 - 1994

Filippino Lippi
1457 - 1504


Vote for the artist of your choice in the comments, or any other way that works for you. Commentary and links to additional work are welcome. Polls open for at least one month past posting.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Through History with The New Monday Quiz: the 1330s

In Catalan, 1333 came to be called Lo mal any primer, or "the first bad year." That kind of gives you a sense of the mood in Europe as the fourteenth century approached its midpoint.

More recently, I found this decade quite difficult to research, and that usually means a Quiz that is pretty hard to take.  Courage!

1. The epic Battle of Velbazhd, fought on July 28, 1330, reshaped the regional balance of power for a few decades; by the end of the century, however, both of the combatant countries would have been swamped by the Ottomans. Which do you suppose is a fair summary of Velbazhd?
a. The Serbians defeated the Bulgarian army and advanced on Macedonia
b. The Genoan Fleet overwhelmed the Venetians, gaining control of the Adriatic
c. Swiss Mercenaries held out against the army of Bohemia, maintaining Swiss independence
d. The Persians failed to overcome Goan defenses, and were forced to abandon their eastward expansion
2. The Emperor during this period was "little more than a figurehead, holding no real administrative power." In 1331, he plotted to seize power from the de facto authority, but was betrayed by a trusted adviser. Forced to flee the capital "with the Sacred Treasures," he sought refuge in a secluded monastery. When the monastery was put to siege, the emperor managed to escape, but was captured and banished to a small, isolated island. The establishment then appointed a new Emperor.

Those were the political doings in the early 1330s in what country?

3. Amda Seyon I was well into his 1314-1344 reign as emperor of a Christian kingdom during the 1330s. In this decade, as throughout his reign, he continually expanded and put down rebellions in the Muslim provinces neighboring the core of his empire. His military success and the prosperity of his reign set the foundation for his country's enduring power over the following centuries. Today, as then, the country was something of a Christian outlier in a mostly Islamic region. Of what nation was Amda Seyon emperor?

4. During the 1330s, an increasingly important fortress on a bend in the Moscow River first started to be called a ____________.

5. In 1332, The Venetian historian Marino Sanudo Torsello published his History of the Realm of Romania. This is one of the most important sources of information we have about what 13th century empire? Hint: it’s not Romania.

6. China has had more than its share of them, but the one that lasted from 1333 to 1337 was pretty remarkable. It left from four to six million people dead. What was this problem?

7. George V the Brilliant (გიორგი V ბრწყინვალე) was King from 1299 to 1302 and again from 1314 until his death in 1346. “A flexible and far-sighted politician, he recovered his country from a century-long Mongol domination, restoring the country’s previous strength and Christian culture.” Here’s a map! Of what kingdom was George the king?

8. It would eventually reduce the human population of the planet by as much as a quarter. And it is first noted in the historical record in 1334, in Hubei. What was this problem?

9. In 1338, after decades of scuffling, the city of Nicomedia in northwestern Asia Minor was taken away from a shrinking empire by a growing empire. What were the empires?

10. This fresco, called The Effects of Good Government, was painted on the walls of city hall in 1338. But of what city? Was it Antioch, Edinburgh, London, Madrid, Siena, or Tehran?

Through History with The New Monday Quiz: the 1320s

1. Martini's painting is an altarpiece, originally intended to wow 'em in the pews.  and it's Italian.
2. The Arsenale Nuovo was a Venice thing.
3. Expanding southeast into the Rus': Mighty Lithuania.
4. The Pharos was The Great Lighthouse.
5. Mansa Musa was on The Haj.
6. Musa destabilized the regional economy because he spent an absurd amount of gold, creating a kind of hyperinflation.
7. Here come the Ottomans.
8. Falling in love with Laura: Petrarch.  He wrote a lot of sonnets about her.  Should have put that in the clue.
9. Nicholas V thought he was a pope, but today he's usually called an "anti-pope."
10. Patzcuaro, with its beautifully preserved and historic colonial indigenous charm, is in Mexico.

Only two people in the contest this week.  Susan scored six for six, but couldn't answer four -- "the 1320s are a bad time for me," she says, little suspecting the horrors of the 1330s.  pfly has eight right, wins Historian of the Week, and is rewarded by a single glimpse of the ethereally beautiful Laura that will haunt him for the rest of his days.  We'll be expecting some really good sonnets.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

The Infinite Art Tournament, Round One: Roubiliac v. Rousseau!

Louis François Roubiliac
1702 - 1762
French; worked in England


Henri Rousseau
1844 - 1910


Vote for the artist of your choice! Votes go in the comments. Commentary and links to additional work are welcome. Polls open for at least one month past posting.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Third Thursday Semi-Finals: Varo v. Hopper!

Third Thursday: Bringing big names to your mid-month!

This is the sixth-ever Fifth Round match -- there will only be sixteen of them -- and it's the first to feature an artist from the Play-In Tournament.  Ms. Varo is also the first woman and the first artist from Latin America to make it to this lofty height.  She will presumably face stiff competition against Edward Hopper, who has staunch fans of his own.

Remedios Varo
1908 - 1963
Spanish; worked in Mexico
Her paintings are carefully drawn, making the astonishing stories or mystic legends especially convincing. Rejecting the male-dominated language of Surrealist doctrine, Varo often painted magnificent heroines busy with alchemical activities. A delicate figure may spin and weave tiny threads transforming them into musical instruments or fashion them into paintings of small birds. The settings are often medieval tower rooms equipped with occult laboratory devices. Figures wearing tattered garments may emerge from a forest of withered trees.... Varo borrowed from Romanesque Catalan frescoes and medieval architecture, mixed nature and technology, and combined reality and fantasy to create worlds that elude time and space. - National Museum of Women in the Arts
  • Finished First in Phase 1, Flight 3 of the Play-In Tournament with a voting score of .917.
  • Finished First in Phase 2, Flight 1 of the Play-In Tournament with a voting score of .500.
  • Beat André Beauneveu in Round 1.
  • Defeated Katsushika Hokusai in Round 2.
  • Thumped Dutch Master Pieter De Hooch in Round 3.
  • Crushed Andō Hiroshige in a Round 4 11-1 blowout.

Edward Hopper
1882 - 1967
By the late 1920s, Hopper developed his mature style, characterized by depictions of lonely urban and small town scenes in which there may be only a few silent, solitary figures. Often he shows only the drab architecture, devoid of human life. Hopper’s vision of the American scene was one of alienation and anxiety. His life and art were remarkably consistent: a very private person, he endowed the figures in his paintings with a similar sense of detachment. Hopper divided his time between a small apartment in New York’s Greenwich Village and trips to New England, continuing to synthesize and distill his observations of contemporary life into hauntingly familiar scenes. - The Phillips Collection
  • Took out French sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon in Round 1.
  • Knocked Raoul Dufy into the Left Bracket in Round 2.
  • Had a solid victory over Ingres in Round 3.
  • Beat Frida Kahlo in Round 4 by a respectable margin.