Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Disillusionment of Wednesday VI

Wednesdays have been haunted
By this game of poetry criticism.
This is the last one.
I promise.

Under the Sea

The key to Wallace Stevens's odd poem "Disillusionment of Ten O'Clock" is hidden in plain sight.  It requires only a simple anagram operation on the first letters of the otherwise opaque lines to render Steven's message meaningful. What we find, after sorting out "tbnooonwaptodci," is a manic zest for nautical daring-do. "Now to octopi band!" Stevens announces, like a kind of ancient submariner ready to lead us to our own destruction, or perhaps redemption.

With this key in hand, much that seemed arbitrary is now clear, in particular the "old sailor" who seems so intrusive in a naive reading.  The seaman stands revealed -- or rather, reclines revealed -- as the author himself, catching some intoxicated rest before the adventure begins. "Red skies at night," as everyone knows, are a "sailor's delight," and a man happily catching tigers on land tonight may well be happily be catching -- or collaborating with -- octopi tomorrow. What otherwise seems like just so much silly babbling nonsense about contrasting colors, similarly, suddenly becomes recognizable as the dreamlike loveliness of the undersea spectrum, with its purples, greens, and occasional yellows (but never reds). Note too the witty deployment of the word "rings," which is obviously a synonym for the octopi "band" but also a clear reference to the tentacular suckers characteristic to the animal and perhaps, even, a reference to its overall radial symmetry. Needless to say, octopi do not require decorative socks or sashes; the very idea is absurd, and this is perhaps a weak point in the poem as properly understood. Stevens is only being direct, however, when he announces that "People are not going to dream of baboons and periwinkles." They certainly are not: there will not be time for such reveries on our journey to the octopus lair.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Infinite Art Tournament, Round Two: Still v. Sutherland!

Clyfford Still
1904 - 1980

Beat American Gilbert Stuart in Round 1.

Graham Sutherland
1903 - 1980

Defeated George Stubbs in Round 1.

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, March 20, 2017

Through History With the New Monday Quiz: the 1400s

Many important historical things happened in the 1400s.  Let's start the tour!

1. The Kingdom of Kongo was founded sometime in or around the 1400s, and would survive until the late 1800s. Where?

2. This map of the world, called the Kangnido map, was made in about 1402. Like most map-makers, the Kangnido cartographers had a bit of a hometown bias. Where did they live?

3. Andrei Rublev is considered one of the great masters of his country’s artistic tradition. Here’s a work he completed in around 1405. Where do you suppose Mr. Rublev hailed from?

4. Timur, AKA Tamerlane, was “the last of the great nomadic conquerors of the Eurasian Steppe.” Having crushed the Dehli Sultanate in the late 1390s, he sacked Armenia, Georgia, and Syria in 1400, then Baghdad in 1401 and again in 1402. He began a planned conquest of China in 1405, but fell ill and died before the attack could begin in earnest. This was a lucky break for the Chinese, as being defeated by Tamerlane was seldom good news -- massacre of city populations was a commonplace, and it’s estimated that 17 million people, around 5% of the world’s population, were put to his sword.

And yet, many people in Europe thought that Tamerlane was just great! Why were some Europeans glad that this brutal conqueror had shown up?

5. In 1405, Zheng He (AKA Chang Ho) began the first of his amazing adventures. What would these amazing adventures consist of?

6. Construction on this building got underway in 1406. These days it is a museum of art and history, probably the most-visited museum in the world. We have an odd name for it in English: Name that Building!

7. Game of Thrones 1407: John the Fearless, angered that he has lost influence at court, has 15 henchman waylay the King’s brother in the street and stab him to death. This begins almost three decades of civil war between the staunchly feudal Royalist Armagnac faction and the English-allied Burgundians, who favored a less centralized social and political system. In what country did this all go down?

8. The Moa were several species of flightless bird that stood up to three and a half meters tall. Before humans arrived, their only enemy was the Haast’s eagle, a more aerial creature of similar mass, up to 230 kg or 510 pounds. But then humans arrived, and sometime around 1400 both the Moa and the Haast’s eagle went extinct. What group of humans failed to manage their bird hunting on sustainable principles?

9. Since 1378, there had been two rival claimants to the Papacy. In 1409, the Council of Pisa was convened to resolve this problem and reunify the Church. What was the outcome?

10. In 1409, a young sculptor named Donatello finished this sculpture. It is considered an early version of a more famous one he would make in bronze thirty years later. Who is the subject?

Through History with The New Monday Quiz: the 1390s

1. The Byzantine Emperor went to Western Europe to try to round up support against the Ottomans.  He was fairly successful, but the support that got sent was a big fiasco.
2. Vytautas the Great ruled imperial Lithuania.
3. The Book of Ballymote is from Ireland.
4. Kaffa is the southern highlands of Ethiopia.
5. The mad king and his ruined party were in France.
6. Tenochititlan was in Central Mexico.
7. The curious thing about Boniface IX and Benedict XIII is that they were Popes at the same time, or at least had competing claims.
8. The conquerer is Timur, or Tamerlane.
9. The three countries of the Kalmar Union were Sweden, Norway, and Denmark.
10. Mysore became part of independent India in 1947.

I was hoping there would be a tie this time, so I could riff on the "competing claims" theme, but quiz victory, like medieval Lithuania under Vytautas, was basically a one man show.  UnWise Owl returns to Quiz victory after, oh, who knows how long an absence.  But... can he stand up to the fifteenth century? 

Saturday, March 18, 2017

The Infinite Art Tournament, Round One: Toulouse-Lautrec v. de Troy!

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
1864 - 1901


Jean-François de Troy
1679 - 1752


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, March 17, 2017

Eastward the Course of the Avatar Makes Its Way

It's been a while since we checked in on the running Avatar. Remember him? The insubstantial little guy who, as I jog in plodding little circles around town, is out exploring the great continent at the exact same pace? We last saw him in January 2016, in central Missouri. What has he been up to since then?

Well, for a few months after that, he was running vigorously southeast.  Then various things happened, and he sputtered along fitfully for a while.  Then, some other things happened, and there was a three month stretch (August 11 to November 10) when he made it fewer than 15 miles down the road.  And so it was that he found himself languishing just north of Cairo, Illinois, a city that we can safely say has not lived up to the expectations of its founders.

The three months since then, though, have been pretty good!  As I've gone through a mostly-successful running "reboot," the Avatar has explored western Kentucky, visited Paducah, crossed the ferry back to Illinois at Cave-In-Rock, and bopped back and forth across the Illinois-Indiana border a few times.  And now he is in Vincennes, on the banks of the Wabash. He says hi.

We haven't looked at the Avatar's journey as a whole since December 2014, so let's get a little context here:

Knox County, Indiana, is his 93rd.  The colors represent years, with the dark purple clump showing the Avatar's initial tour of the Willamette Valley in late 2012.  The little bulls-eyes show counties where the Avatar has been, but I haven't.  There will be a lot of those from now until he gets to Pennsylvania.  And, I bet he'll be dipping his toe in the Atlantic by Summer 2018!  Assuming I am still around myself, naturally.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

The Semi-Finals: Fabritius v. Gentileschi!

"Semifinals" designates the Fourth to Seventh Rounds of the Infinite Art Tournament.  This is a Left Bracket Fourth Round Match between Carel Fabritius (5-1, 47-20, .701) and Artemisia Gentileschi (3-1, 38-16, .704).  Leaving the Tournament at the hands of Fabritius is Richard Estes (4-2, 37-30, .552).

Carel Fabritius
1622 - 1654

Artemisia Gentileschi
1593 - 1652
  • Slew Gentile da Fabriano in his tent in Round 1.
  • Dispatched Théodore Géricault in Round 2.
  • Outpolled Jacques-Louis David in Round 3.
  • Lost to Caspar David Friedrich in Round 4.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Disillusionment of Wednesday V

We continue our bad discussion of "The Disillusionment of Ten O'Clock" with this entry from hometown favorite Mrs.5000.  If you've been meaning to throw down with your own inept textual analysis, it's time to gloss or get off the pot, as next week's exegesis will be the last of the series.  To prevent that from happening, send your effort to me, Michael5000, at the leading electronic mail service hosted by the Google people.

Ideas and Things

In his poem "The Disillusionment of Ten O'Clock," Wallace Stevens juxtaposes two kinds of language, the language of ideas and the language of things. This juxtaposition is made clear in the very title, in which the abstract five-syllable idea word "disillusionment" is balanced as in a fulcrum against the very precise time phrase "Ten O'Clock," which is not only comprised of little words, but some of them are even shortened. With this mighty fulcrum (hanging delicately from the little preposition "of") Wallace Stevens throws down a gauntlet that will not be picked up for decades, until William Carlos Williams writes in his great and much longer poem "Paterson" "No ideas but in things."

Reading this poem, like any poem, is a matter of asking oneself the questions it raises and slowly unwinding the lines like clues for the answers. Some questions, like “What time is it?” are quickly answered: exactly 10:00. But why is ten o’clock in the state of having lost its illusions? For this answer, we have to read the poem carefully, line by line. In fact, there are five sentences unspooling over fifteen lines, for an average sentence length of exactly three lines apiece. Stevens is using these clues, the precise multiples of five, to refer back with numerical precision to the stated time, with the dry, heartless mathematical efficiency one might expect of a successful insurance executive.

And, in fact, we search the poem in vain for any more language of ideas. It is as if ten o’clock is so exhausted by the very utterance of the word “disillusionment” that henceforth it can only dream of things: first haunted houses, then houses painted in bright colors and decorated with rings, those colors unwinding in simple language and precise order like a child’s nursery rhyme. Then obscure, ornate words, to describe strangely fussy Victorian houses, probably in the Queen Anne style, decorated with lace and antiquated belts. And then, because people are strangely absent in this poem of negation, it is up to ten o’clock to do the dreaming, still of things: of baboons and the gastropod mollusk periwinkle, and at last to dream of a sailor who is himself asleep, which is a good way to end the vicious circle of things.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Infinite Art Tournament, Round Two: van Ostade v. Steen!

Adriaen van Ostade
1610 - 1685

Tied with Sir William Orpen in his first try at Round One.
Tied with Frederic Leighton in his second try at Round One.
Beat Jean-Paul Riopelle in Round 1 by a single vote. YOUR VOTE COUNTS!!!

Jan Steen
1626ish - 1679

Defeated Frank Stella in Round 1 by a two-vote swing. 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.

Monday, March 13, 2017

The New Monday Quiz Wishes You Many Happy Returns of the Day

1. It’s the 424th birthday of the French artist who, influenced by Caravaggio, used extreme contrasts of light and dark on his canvasses, as shown here. What was his name?

2. Today would be the 402nd birthday of Antonio Pignatelli, who grew up to be Pope Innocent XII, the most recent Pope to sport a beard. To symbolize of one of his chief objectives while in office, Innocent XII claimed that “the poor were his nephews.” What did he mean by that?

3. Abigail Powers was born 219 years ago today. As a 20 year old school teacher, she developed an attachment to her oldest student, and the two eventually married. As her husband achieved increasing success, Abigail became the wife of a Congressman, then a Vice President, and then, following the death of Zachary Taylor in 1850, she became the wife of the President of the United States. Sadly, at her last official act in that role – the inauguration of her husband’s successor, Franklin Pierce, in 1853 – she caught a cold that developed into fatal pneumonia.

Who was Abigail Powers’ husband?

4. It’s the 217th anniversary of the birth of Mustafa Reşid Pasha, the 212th Grand Vizier. Of what entity was Mr. Pasha the leader?

5. Percival Lowell would have been 162 years old today. Lowell is famous for predicting the discovery of something that turned out to be exactly where he thought it would be, although since his reasoning was completely wrong this was just a matter of luck. What 20th century discovery was predicted by, and partly named after, Percival Lowell?

6. It is Al Jaffee’s 96th birthday today. His work, like that shown here, is associated with what venerable publication?

7. If he was still alive, Carlos Roberto Reina would be 91 today. In the 1990s, he was president of the country shown here. What’s that country?

8. It’s the 67th birthday of William H. Macy, shown here in his Oscar winning role as Jerry Lundegaard in what film?

9. Adam Clayton turns 57 today. As a teenager in Dublin, he started a band in high school with his friends Larry Mullen, Dave Evans, and Paul Hewson. Their band became popular and is still playing to stadiums today. What’s it called?

10. Spanish-born soccer player Gerard Deulofeu Lázaro, 23 years old today, is currently playing for a team representing the capital of the Lombardy region, probably the largest and almost certainly the wealthiest city in Italy. What’s that city?

Answers go in the comments!  If it is anyone's actual birthday, they get a free extra point.

Two weeks ago, The New Monday Quiz celebrated International Polar Bear Day with a quiz about whiteness, which is, like, the color of International Polar Bears.  The answers were:
1. Albumen is egg white, when it's at home.
2. The Chicago World's Fair was the White City
3. The disorganized counterrevolutionaries were the Russian "Whites."
4. Those are songs from the White Album
5. The White Cliffs of Dover
6. Mont Blanc.  French for white, cf. Saint Blachard!
7. In high-level chess, playing white (and thus going first) is such an advantage that the goal of the player playing black is often to force a draw.  So the first part of the quote is "When I am White I win because I am White," which he considers no big deal.  Saying he wins with the disadvantage of black because he is Bogolyubov is a profession of chess genius!
8. Slowly fading stars: White Dwarfs
9. Alice ought to have wondered at seeing the White Rabbit.
10. The incredible walking marine mammal is the Polar Bear!!!

There was an awful lot of rightness in the air that day, but the rightest of all were Christine, Doc Schnell, and hometown favorite Mrs.5000.  We'll see how they do when they take a swipe at today's quiz with their massive, shaggy white forepaws.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

The Infinite Art Tournament, Round One: Titian v. Tobey!

1488ish - 1576


Mark Tobey
1890 - 1976


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, March 10, 2017

Saint of the Month: Saint Blanchard!

St. Blanchard

AKA: St. Blancardus
Feast Day: March 10.

Really Existed? Well.... the name may or may not ultimately connect with a historical personage.
Timeframe: Difficult to specify.
Place: Northern France, kind of.

Credentials: Recognized locally in Northern France.
Martyrdom: None.

Patron Saint of: no patronage.
Symbolism: A single known representation.

I chose Saint Blanchard by going to a popular internet calendar of the saints and picking him at random out of the thirty or so entries for March 10th. This choice sent me to the distant outskirts of the concept of sainthood, far from the bustle of historical record, folk traditions, and sacred legend. Indeed, Blachard is so far out on the periphery of the roster of saints that it took me hours of searching to find anything beyond his name and the existence of a single shrine.

The website where I first found Saint Blachard indicated that there is “no biographical information on this person.” That's a little discouraging, but by no means unprecidented.  I was surprised, though, that he wasn't on any of the other lists of saints on the internet.  That's unusual.  Was it possible, I wondered, that this Saint Blanchard was nothing more than a typo? But no: there is the matter of the “fountain” – an enclosed statue atop a little mineral spring – on a forest road just south of the village of Nesle-le-Reposte, in France.  It's at 48.625 degrees North, 3.559 degree East. That one presence is not what you’d call a robust legacy, but it is certainly a real thing. Look, here’s a picture:

From this picturesque base of operations, and armed with the precision tool of machine translation, I began to crack the French-language internet. It took some poking around, but I was able to determine that this shrine, in at least one account, has a rudimentary narrative identity! Also, an alarming miraculous tradition:
The Saint-Blanchard fountain, also known as Saint-Alban, was built in 1878. The popular memory reports that the water flowing there is good for the kidneys, freshness of the complexion and to relieve rheumatism. The legend adds that every fertile woman who drinks this water, will find herself pregnant and will give birth to a boy.
There was a tip-off in that passage, but I missed it. Instead, I went off on a journey to find out if French calendars of the saints are kinder to the memory of Saint Blanchard than those in English. But again, I could only find a single example that included him.  Here's the record:
Confessor. Feasting at Nesle-la-Repose, in Brie, we know nothing about him except that he is also honored in the diocese of Auch and that a locality still preserves his memory.
Since Nesle-la-Reposte is in Auch, and the fountain is the only candidate for the “locality” that preserves his memory, we’ve gained only corroboration here -- no new information.

I was well into my second night of scraping the bottom of the internet when I finally struck paydirt on the website of La Association A Cloche Fontaine, a church restoration society an hour’s drive southeast of Nesle-le-Reposte. And here, at long last, is the deal:
BLANCHARD (Saint), Blancardus, [was a] confessor in Brie, where he is particularly honored on 10 March. Saint Alban was also revered under the name of Blanchard, interpretation of the Latin albanus, derivative of albus = white.
Boom! Once I got to that breakthrough, confirmation wasn’t hard to find – it was no further away than Anne Franco̧is Arnaud’s 1837 Voyage archéologique et pittoresque dans le département de l'Aube et dans l'ancien diocèse de Troyes, who wrote of something or other that:
It is in one of these chapels that one preserves the curious Byzantine shrine of St. Albun, vulgarly St. Blanchard, whom we have described in the article of the Abbey of Nesle, from which it is derived.
At last the truth comes out: Our “St. Blanchard” is St. Alban by another name!  A “vulgar” name, in the sense of rural and uneducated. You may have heard of St. Alban, who is actually quite a high-profile saint in Britain.  In Brie, which is basically north central France, someone must have figured at some point in the unrecoverable past that St. Alban meant “St. White” in Latin and could be reasonably translated from “St. White” into French. Viola! The elusive St. Blanchard came into being.

If St. Blanchard is just a local alias for St. Alban, shall I tell you about St. Alban? No, not today. The Feast of St. Alban isn't until June 22. Today is the Feast of St. Blanchard, and I've told you pretty much everything there is to know about him. May you pass his day in good health and spirits.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

The Infinite Art Tournament, First Elimination Round #56/64

Faceoff #1: Smith v. Soulages

Frans Snyders
1579 - 1657

Lost to David Smith in Round 1.


Pierre Soulages
Born 1919

Lost badly to Sodoma in Round 1.

Faceoff #2: Soutine v. de Staël

Chaim Soutine
1893 - 1943
Russian; worked in France

Thumped on by Sir Stanley Spencer in Round 1.


Nicolas de Staël
1914 - 1955
Russian; worked in France

Pounded by Léon Spilliaert in Round 1.

Vote for the two artists of your choice! Votes generally go in the comments, but have been known to arrive by email, by postcard, or in a sealed envelope.

Please note that you may vote only once in each face-off.  Opining that both of the artists in one of the two face-offs is superior to the other is fine, but casting your votes for two artists in the same face-off is not permissible.