Saturday, April 29, 2017

The Infinite Art Tournament, Round One: Vermeer v. Veronese

Jan Vermeer
1632 - 1675

1528 - 1588


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.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Michael5000 vs. Shakespeare: The Merry Wives of Windsor

In February, I used a "Reread Something Before Goodreads" in The Game of Reading to read Snow Falling on Cedars.  I drew Card #514, “Shakespeare.” I played it a few weeks ago to read Merry Wives of Windsor.  (I drew Card #326, Middlesex

The Play: The Merry Wives of Windsor
Edition: The Folger Shakespeare Library, Edited by Barbara A. Mowat and Paul Werstine, 2004.

Genre & Setting: Comedy set, for practical purposes, in the present-day England of Shakespeare's time, the only of his plays so situated.

The Gist, which will obviously involve spoilers: Sir John Falstaff, last seen in the Henry IV plays, wants to have sex with two nice women he has noticed while staying in Windsor, both for the sake of the thing itself and also in hopes that it might be used as a lever for financial gain.  The women are not even a little tiny bit interested, but enjoy contriving a series of tricks to punish and humiliate him.  A jealous husband gets a lighter comeuppance, and a genial daughter manages to avoid her parents' competing matrimonial plans for her and end up with the husband she actually wants.  And then they all hang out companionably.

The Edition: The Folger Library is a terrifically prestigious collection of Shakepeare material.  The Folger Editions, at least the ones I've seen, are throwaway paperbacks with pretty good interpretive material and a lot more attention paid to textual matters than most other paperback printings.  My particular copy has about 20% of the words and phrases underlined in very thick pencil, according to no logic that I was able to puzzle out.  I enjoyed pretending that it was used as the text for a book code in some sort of unsavory skullduggery.

I thought that in a set of Shakespeare editions, you had one scholar (or duet) per play, but in the case of the Folger series it looks like Mowat and Werstine have edited most or all of the whole dang canon.  The blog Shakespearean tells me that they are big cheeses.  I guess that, plus the cheapo format, means that the Folger is trying to bring good interpretation to the masses, or something.  I'm in favor of that.

Prognosis: They say [citation needed] that comedy doesn't age well, a point my high school English teacher [there's a citation for you] illustrated by referring to the then already-old, already-puzzling Saturday Night Live parodies of Gerald Ford's once legendary clumsiness.  The more topical and contemporary the humor, the more difficulty it has in the aging process.  For instance, to fully appreciate the significance of Mr. Ford's physical ineptitude, you really need to be aware that he was the stopgap President of the United States in the mid-1970s, something that may have escaped the attention of many of the Youth of Today, or for that matter the Youth of Yesterday.  But I digress.

The point is, since Merry Wives is a possibly hip, sly contemporary comedy, it is chockablock with clever references that no longer carry any meaning.   There are footnotes along the lines of "this line might be riffing on the name of a coffeehouse or brothel or something."  At one point a character mentions a famous bear that was regularly baited just down the street from the Globe Theater!  This kind of thing was probably a real laugh riot for those in the know, but nobody's been in the know since around the time of the Guy Fawkes execution.

There are some broader comic elements -- it's Shakespeare, after all.  There's a guy with a crazy Welsh accent, and a guy with a crazy French accent, and a woman who says lots of crazy nonsense, and a guy who might be an early pioneer of camp.  None of this is at all funny to read, but good comic actors could almost certainly squeeze good laughs out of it, particularly if you'd been drinking before the show.

It's not a particularly important point, but I was bothered that Falstaff has to fire two of his servants in Act I because they are outraged by his plans to get inside the corsets of the two married women.  How could such a thing come as a surprise to people who work for Sir John Falstaff?  Hadn't they read the Henry IVs?  You'd think that assisting in seductions would be right there in the job description.

All in all?  As a text, it's hard to read and not terribly rewarding for the effort involved.  You'd get a better payoff from reading three or four of the naughty bits from The Decameron.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

The Infinite Art Tournament, Left Bracket Second Round Elimination: van Ruisdael v. Sánchez Cotán!

Jacob van Ruisdael
1628 - 1682

Juan Sánchez Cotán
1561 - 1637

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.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Infinite Art Tournament Left Bracket Second-Round Elimination TIEBREAK: Raeburn v. Renoir!

Here's the back half of the Second-Round Elimination Tiebreak that we kicked off last week.

Sir Henry Raeburn
1756 - 1823

Pierre Auguste Renoir
1841 - 1919

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, April 24, 2017

The New Monday Quiz wishes you the joy of the Feast of St. Fidelis of Sigmaringen

Since our Saint of the Month for April wasn't, strictly speaking, "real" -- but rather a "Hilarious April Fool's Gag" -- today we will celebrate the feast day of St. Fidelis of Sigmaringen with a New Monday Quiz about his life, times, and works.

1. St. Fidelis was born as Mark Roy in 1577. In that same year, Queen Elizabeth of England commissioned a privateering voyage that was successful both in seizing Spanish treasure -- a 4700% percent profit on investment! -- and as a voyage of discovery, circumnavigating of the world. The flagship, originally called the Pelican, was renamed the Golden Hind during the voyage. Who was the captain?

2. Roy was, as his later name implies, born in Sigmaringen. Here's a map showing where that is. In what modern country is Sigmaringen located?

3. We read that, as a student, Roy avoided alcohol and practiced chastity; apparently this sets him apart from other students. In the same passage, we see that he always wore a cilice. What's a cilice, and why do people wear them?

4. After getting his doctorate, Roy taught philosophy at the University of Freiburg. A later philosophy prof at Freiburg is "widely acknowledged to be one of the most original and important philosophers of the 20th century." Supporters point to his 1927 classic Being and Time, his influential argument that "being" or "being-in-the-world" is more central to human experience than rationality, and his contributions to the fields of phenomenology and existentialism. Critics, however, sometimes suggest that his densely argued prose veers perilously close to gibberish, and note that he was a bit of a Nazi tool. Who is this famous philosopher?

5. Roy took the name of Fidelis when he entered the Capuchin order. The modern beverage we call "Cappuccino" takes its name from "Capuchin" -- what is the basic recipe for cappuccino?

6. Fidelis was sent to the Prättigau district of eastern Switzerland in 1622 to convert Calvinists to Catholicism. What are two examples of something that Calvinists believe that Catholics don't, or vice versa?

7. Fidelis's team arrived in Prättigau on the Feast of the Epiphany. What's an example of an epiphany, without the capital E?

8. Because the locals were hostile to his missionary efforts, Fidelis predicted that he would soon be "food for the worms." 259 years later, Charles Darwin would write of worms that "It may be doubted whether there are many other animals which have played so important a part in the history of the world, as have these lowly organized creatures." What makes worms so important?

9. On April 24, 1622, St. Fidelis was killed by Austrian soldiers. A few days later, a British ship called the Tryall, sailing much too far south and east on the way to Batavia, became the third European vessel to spot what large landmass?

10. St. Fidelius was canonized in 1746 by Pope Benedict XIV. Like many older guys of his time, and a rapidly increasing number in our own time, Pope Benedict struggled with gout. What is gout?

Answers go in the comments! 

Two weeks ago, The New Monday Quiz celebrated fours and tens, on account of how it was 4/10. The answers were:
1. Elements 4 and 10 are Beryllium and Neon.
2. In Genesis 4:10, God is scolding Cain for slaying Abel.
3. Nephi 4:10 begins with the formula "it came to pass," like so many passages of the Book of Mormon.
4. Four Ten was a British racehorse.
5. The fourth and tenth most populous countries are Indonesia and Japan.
6. The answer to the math problem is a gross, or 144.
7. The answer to the other math problem is that no, its diagonal is the square root of 116, which is less than 11 inches, 11 being the square root of 121.
8. If it's "fourth and ten," it's American football and the next play will almost certainly be either a punt or, if the team on offense is far enough down the field, an attempt at a field goal.
9. You could beat four tens with four... queens, for instance, or a straight flush -- five cards in numerical order from the same suit.
10a. the prolific composer is Mozart; 10b the Beatles album is Yellow Submarine.
Out of all the rightness on display in the answers, DrSchnell's rightness was unblemished and absolute!  This makes him the master in perpetuity of all realms of knowledge that involve the intersection of four things and ten things.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Infinite Art Tournament, Round One: Vasarely v. Velázquez

Victor Vasarely
1908 - 1997
Hungarian; worked in France.


Diego de Silva y Velázquez
1599 - 1660


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.

Friday, April 21, 2017

The Game of Reading Deals With its Abandonment Issues

Ever since the Game of Reading began, 10 months ago tomorrow, I've been a little unclear on whether or not I am allowed to abandon books. It's a tricky point, because if I can just abandon books willy-nilly, it defeats the whole purpose (?) of having a mechanistic book-selection system in the first place! On the other hand, I don't think I ever really intended to put myself in a position where I could never again (or even for as long as the game lasts, which is starting to look like it will be quite a while) give up on a book halfway.

Surprisingly, the issue hasn't come up in all this time.  But it is bound to eventually, and one must be prepared. So here, in all its proactive splendor, is the Game of Reading 1.01 Rules Patch, in which the parameters for allowable book abandonment are lain down!!

Game of Reading 1.01 Rules Patch
[Thanks to Morgan for his key contribution to the general approach of this rules patch.  Responsibility for any ridiculousness in the details, and in the overall concept, are entirely my own.]

1. Books may be abandoned, but no more than one in any two consecutive calendar months.

2. If a book is abandoned, the card that was played to begin reading it is drawn back into the hand.
a. Clarification: since this will ordinarily result in an eleven-card hand, I may not then "draw back up to ten" after the next card is played.

b. If the abandoned book is a specific title, that card must remain in the hand until either (i) I play the card and try reading the book again, or until (ii) it is discarded through the action of another card.

c. If the abandoned book is one that has been assigned via an "Ask" card, I may ask the person if they are willing to suggest an alternative title. However, I must also inform them that the rules of the game entitle them to refuse to do so. [cf. Miranda v. Arizona]

d. For all other cards, the card for the abandoned book may be played again to initiate the reading of a new book. Example: I abandon Zane Grey's Thirty Thousand on the Hoof, and retrieve the "Western" card into my hand. I may then replay the "Western" card to read Louis L'Amour's Showdown at Yellow Butte. At least one other card must be played, however, between the abandonment and the replaying of the retrieved card.

e. Clarification: Rule 2d also applies to "Try again on a book that you have previously abandoned" cards.
3. The exception to Rule 2 is "Unrestricted" cards. If an "Unrestricted" card was used to begin reading a book, and that book is abandoned, the "Unrestricted" card remains discarded and may not be retrieved.

What's the State of Play?

I'm currently listening to something called Daughter of Smoke & Bone, for which I played a "Young Adult" genre card, and eye-reading Roberto Bolaño's sprawling 2666, for which I played a "From the Spanish" card.

The cards I'm holding are strong for written material and weak for audio material, which is a bit of a pain as I'm finishing up Daughter and will be chewing on 2666 for quite some time to come.  I've got an "Unrestricted" card in hand, though, and might have to burn in on the longest audiobook I can come up with -- a nice thick Trollope novel, maybe? -- in hopes of letting some turnover shuffle some easier listening into the mix.  Or, I might just go ahead and re-listen to Tony Judt's Postwar, which would serve the same purpose and spare the unrestricted card.  Yes, that's what I should do.

And of course...

What do you have on your to-read list?

Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Semi-Finals: Benton v. Krøyer!

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

"Semifinals" designates the Fourth to Seventh Rounds of the Infinite Art Tournament.  This is a Fifth Round Match.  It pits Thomas Hart Benton (4-0-1, 41-19, .683), who just beat Kandinsky by a single vote, against Peter Severin Krøyer (4-0, 37-17, .685), who beat Georges de La Tour, also by a single vote.

Thomas Hart Benton
1889 - 1975
Thomas Hart Benton was one of America's most popular and heavily patronized modern artists during the decades leading up to World War II, and his murals were especially acclaimed.... While his subjects were primarily based in America's heartland, he lived in New York City for twenty years. Considered by many to be reactionary due to his outspoken and inflammatory diatribes against the art world, Benton, a populist, did in fact boldly use his art to protest the KKK, lynching, and fascism during the 1930s and 1940s.... The advent of Abstract Expressionism has all but eclipsed Benton's importance in the history of modern art. - The Art Story

Peter Severin Krøyer
1851 - 1900
The combination of Krøyer's technical bravado and the persistent appeal of his Skagen imagery have made it difficult for art scholars in Denmark to resist him; at the same time, however, the frivolity of content in his paintings has left scholars reticent to give him full credit for his creative enterprise. When the question of substance in Krøyer's paintings is taken up, the reference is often somewhat apologetic. "Krøyer is so masterly in his handling," wrote Krøyer's contemporary N. V. Dorph in 1902, "that he would have to reach great heights to match it with content of commensurate significance. And those heights, he never reaches. There is an undeniable disparity between spirit and hand in Krøyer's art." - Nineteenth Century Art Worldwide
  • Thumped Leon Kossoff in Round 1.
  • Crushed American Jeff Koons, albeit with gentle lyricism, in Round 2.
  • On recount, was found to have beaten Florentine master Domenico Ghirlandaio in Round 3 by a two-vote swing. YOUR VOTE COUNTS!!!
  • Beat Georges de La Tour in the Fourth Round by a single vote. YOUR VOTE COUNTS!!!

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The Infinite Art Tournament Left Bracket Second-Round Elimination TIEBREAK: Ghiberti v. Reni!

We are gathered here today to get into this thing called a Second-Round Elimination Tiebreak.  It is occasioned by the tying up of Guido Reni and Pierre August Renoir.  They'll pair off against Lorenzo Ghiberti and Sir Henry Raeburn, who tied in an earlier tiebreaker after initially stalemating against William Holman Hunt and Ljubov Popova, respectively.  Got it?  Good.  

Lorenzo Ghiberti
1378 - 1455

Guido Reni
1575 - 1642

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, April 17, 2017

Through History With the New Monday Quiz: the 1420s

The 1420s were a busy time to be alive!  They are all, of course, busy times to be alive.

1. In 1420, construction started on the dome of this building, the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, after Filippo Brunelleschi landed the commission with a new and innovative design. As the dome went up, the city around it was becoming a world center in finance and art. What’s that city?

2. The First Empire was founded around 681 along the lower Danube, and lasted until it was conquered by the Byzantines in 1018. The Second Empire was founded in 1185, but after being harassed for decades by the Golden Horde, it began falling apart after 1371. In 1422, the last Tsar, Constantine II, died in exile in Serbia; by then, the empire's lands had been incorporated into the Ottoman Empire, where they would remain until the country reemerged in 1878. This is of course the country of __________?

3. In or around the 1420s, according to traditional histories anyway – it’s a subject of debate -- a Eunuch-dominated cabal began “to control the palace guards and imperial workshops, infiltrate the civil service and head all foreign missions” in what country?

4. Charles VI of France died in 1422, and in accordance with the Treaty of Troyes, the French throne was inherited by Henry VI of England. Henry wasn’t able to hang onto it, however, and Charles VII – the estranged son of Charles VI – defeated what must have looked like overwhelming odds to re-establish an independent French monarchy for himself. But, it’s hard to blame Henry VI for not being a more effective leader while this was happening. What was his most obvious disadvantage at the time?

5. Until about the mid-1420s, Nanjiang was probably the largest city in the world. When the imperial capital was moved elsewhere, however, Nanjiang lost this distinction. What city would be the largest in the world from the 1420s until at least the 1600s?

6. Only one of these countries had anything resembling an independent existence in the 1420s. Which one?

7. Meanwhile, in the Kingdom of Navarre, King Charles III died in 1425 and was succeeded by his daughter, Queen Blanche I. There’s no Navarre anymore. Where was it?

8. The Ming Chinese had taken advantage of a dynastic rivalry to occupy this productive and populous coastal land, but after 10 years of warfare under the national hero Lê Lợi, they were kicked out in 1427 and independence was reestablished. What country lived happily ever after, or at least until 1887?

9. In 1428, the three cities of Tenochtitlan, Texcoco, and Tlacopan formed an alliance. This was the beginning of what empire?

10. This doodle on a 1429 French court document portrays someone who was very much “in the news” at the time. Who must it be?

Through History with The New Monday Quiz: the 1410s

1. The Yongle Emperor restored the Grand Canal.
2. The Teutonic Knights began their decline at Tannenburg.
3. The Medici family were the up-and-coming bankers of the fifteenth century.
4. Zheng He was the epic voyager.
5. After the Council of Constance, most everybody settled on a single Pope.
6. Jan Hus was not well received at Constance; they had him tied to a post and lit on fire.
7. The outnumbered English beat the French at Agincourt because they had newfangled longbows, and the French cavalry got stuck in the mud.
8. Portugal began its colonial expansion.
9. A Defenestration of Prague is when you throw someone out of a window, in Prague.  It sounds like a lark, especially in the Second Defenestration of Prague where legend has it that the defenestrated landed on a dung heap and survived.  In the First Defenestration, though, the folks so expelled died horribly.  It was a very high window.  In Prague.
10. "Bohemia," as they liked to call the Czech kingdom in those days, was a hotbed of innovative religious ideas -- not quite Protestantism, but starting to gesture in that direction.  Mr. Hus had been a leader of this ferment, and his being burned to death had not been popular locally.  In the defenestration, religious radicals (you might or might not say) threw the city council to its collective death on the pavements three stories down.  Bohemia became "Hussite," and for more than a decade was wracked by internal dissension and attacked by five crusades.  The aftermath left the area impoverished for decades.  You could probably make a case that the region is still trying to get back on track.

Out of DrSchnell and Susan both took the Quiz, which means that they can reign as co-Popes for one more decade.  Susan, you take Avignon; Doc, you're Rome.  Susan, keep your Defenestration answers handy in case I use the second Defenestration of Prague.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

The Infinite Art Tournament, Round One: Utrillo v. Vallotton!

Maurice Utrillo
1883 - 1955


Félix Vallotton
1865 - 1925


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.