Second book of the year. I just finished Iliaria Dagnini Brey, The Venus Fixers: the Remarkable Story of the Allied Soldiers who Saved Italy’s Art during World War II. This is the third book or so I’ve read about the assorted art historians, archaeologists, and architects who were tasked with keeping historical monuments from collapsing and trying to return looted art to its previous homes. Brey’s version is all Italy – and it suffers from that. Indeed, it suffers from altogether too much Florence. I’ll admit that I am a contrarian on the subject of Florence – but if Hobart and William Smith’s program in Italy had been based in Florence rather than Rome, I might not have stayed long enough to become tenure track. Brey has lots of fun anecdotes — she’s best on Frederick Hartt. I wouldn’t recommend it as highly as Robert Edsel’s The Monuments Men. Really, lots of stuff was stolen from all across Europe, and the German side of the story is quite interesting, too.
First book of the year – well, first book started and finished this year. I’ve got a novel going, too, but it’ll be a few more days at the rate I’m reading in bed.
I picked this up at big discount at McKay’s Books, which reminds me a little bit of Oxford Books of old in Atlanta where I was shopping for my nephew’s Christmas presents. In the Land of Temple Caves was filed in aesthetics or some such – and it is indeed in part a meditation on art.
Turner was hit hard by the evil destructiveness of 9/11. One thing and another made him think of the Paleolithic cave paintings, and this book is a memoir of exploring some of the great caves of France. The book ends with a weird episode in Paris. The whole is a mediation on the Vital Spirit and its endless opposition to the Destructive Impulse. It’s been too long since I’ve read Bergson to remember is this is just straight Elan vitalism, but it certainly seems so.
All in all the Paris part is too indulgent (why on earth did his publisher waste a page on a useless map of the neighborhood around St. Sulpice — and THAT map — instead of getting a decent map of SW France?), but his cave-talk is pretty good, whether he’s scrambling around bluff faces looking for flint cores or riding a little railroad into the heart of a hillside to see the paintings at Rouffignac. He reports a lot of the recent theorizing well and remains admirably unpersuaded by them.
I’m unpersuaded by his theorizing about art, but I agree that art does matter. It’s not an antidote to barbarism or something that makes us proof against evil, but art is a good. Getting from there to “what is good art?” is another problem entirely.
Or utterly online. Wikipedia wins?
My childhood research tool was Worldbook, which I found perfectly adequate until high school (when I started using the Britannica in the school library and real research in books). Until I went to college, though, I enjoyed browsing in my mother’s childhood encyclopedia. Was it a Compton’s? a Collier’s? It had great black and white photographs and really nice maps. I occasionally cut pictures out of it for grammar school projects (I remember butchering out agricultural products to paste down on my poster size map of Alabama, once). It was endlessly interesting!
I still love looking stuff up and then browsing around in dictionaries and encyclopedias. Frankly, hyperlinks are not always the same as adjacency!
It’s the 21st and I’ve got to find something to listen to!
I have recently listened to My Name is Red. I bought the book in 2003 in Rome and read it there. I picked it up and flipped around in it once since then. It’s LONG and very, very good. The next time I teach Islamic Art and Architecture I may have the students read the chapter “I am a Tree.” It ends with something along the lines of:
I am not a tree. I aspire to be the idea of a tree.
This week I’ve been in a snowless-winter funk and listening to The Great Influenza (John Barry). Talk about depressing! And anyone who thinks that America is sliding into Fascism needs to read about Woodrow Wilson, PhD. THAT man was a mess.
This is my deadline day – so I downloaded another Philip Kerr novel. Bernie Gunther is one of the better (historical) detectives of the early 21st Century.
It’s Not Right But It’s Okay (Thunderpuss Radio Mix) – Whitney Houston – Superstars #1 Hits Remixed, 1999
Legacy – Pet Shop Boys – Yes, 2008
Aqua Boogie – Parliament – Tear The Roof Off, 1974-1980
Jamaica Ska – Desmond Dekker (with the Specials) – Israelites – The Best Of Desmond Dekker
Leavin’ – Shelby Lynne – I Am Shelby Lynne, 1999
Mack the Knife – Charlie Palmieri – Eddie Bauer Mambo, 2000
Holiday (Extended Mix) – Mad’s House – This Is Dance! 1980s
Sorry – The English Beat – Special Beat Service, 1982
I Want You – Marvin Gaye – Marvin Is 60: The Tribute Album
Don’t Call Me Baby – Madison Avenue – Dance Club 2000
Que Sera Sera – Pink Martini – Sympathique, 1997
Blame It On Cain – Elvis Costello – My Aim is True, 1977
Come Live With Me – Heaven 17 – Best Of Heaven 17
Shed – Macy Gray – The Id, 2001
Good mix for grilling chicken, enjoying the late evening sky, and starting what looks to be a grim Norwegian mystery (Jo Nesbo, Redbreast).
From the 4 Star smart playlist:
Just the Two of Us — Bill Withers
Strawberry Letter 23 — Shuggie Otis
Okay — Macy Gray
How To Be A Millionaire — ABC
Change — Tears For Fears
World In My Eyes (Daniel Miller Remix) — Depeche Mode
Caligula — Macy Gray
All You Want — Dido
Lay Your Hands On Me — Thompson Twins
Prefer You Dead — Frazier Chorus
La vie en rose — Edith Piaf
Jimmy Mack — Martha Reeves
Too Much Pressure — The Selecter
¿Donde Estas, Yolanda? — Pink Martini
Careless – Steven Bishop
Edith Wharton, Age of Innocence. I’d forgotten how good this is. I know I read it for summer reading in high school and again for fun in college (I never took an American novel class — boo hoo). I don’t think I’ve read it since then. I have read some of her non-fiction and re-read “Ethan Frome” a few years ago. This is already much more impressive than that.
For various reasons of self-flagellation and book donation (gee, thanks, John) I spent a big chunk of bedroom reading this year on Robert Service’s triology: Lenin, Stalin, Trotsky. Yikes.
I’d read lots of stuff about the period — from Doctor Zhivago to Darkness at Noon. These three are more soul-deadening than anything else. There are dissenting views, but mainly about tone, not detail.
Let’s all admit it – the Soviets were worse than we were, however craaaaaaazy that Woodrow Wilson ever got. The best anti-Wilson treatment I’ve ever read (well, heard – Audible on iPod) was The Great Influenza by John Barry. If anyone ever told you that George W. was a fascist just read this treatment of Totalitarian America.
Near the start of this summer I had a book cross my mind – a trilogy of books, actually. I decided to reread them – such luxury! So I checked the first two out of the school library and had to go to the Geneva Public for the third. I just finished Robertson Davies’ Deptford Trilogy. The novel that piqued my interest back in May was actually #2, The Manticore. I came across the word “manticore” elsewhere and was reminded of the book and the amazing Bascove cover of the Penguin edition I first read (the newer editions are less interesting). The Manticore follows the Jungian analysis of an unsatisfactory son – the offspring of the man who triggered the whole trilogy by throwing a snowball with a rock inside it at a friend.
The three books are complicated, lush, full of shifty narrative voices, and very satisfying reading. Davies had a high view of the role of art, and I need to have that recharged for me every once in awhile so that I’m not plodding past beauty myself. I recommend them.
Fifth Business — The Manticore — World of Wonders
Maybe it’s because I’m reading about revolution that I need something sounder in the background – so I’ve been listening to some Brahms lately. Tonight Service’s Trotsky palled a little, so I googled about Brahms. I’m not musical at all and any help is – um – helpful.
Did you know there were online versions of listening guides for this kind of thing? Here’s what i was listening to tonight – the Symphony #1 in C Minor – listening guide here. I own the von Karajan/Berlin Symphony Orchestra recording, so the timings are off a little, but I not dim enough that I can’t pick up on that kind of thing.
The alphorn tune (about 3 minutes into the 4th movement) is one of the great calming motives in music. Grand stuff – and a great antidote to the October Revolution. Or at least to reading about it.
And the main theme is the big tune – which all of us who went to Miss Bright’s School can play on two or three instruments . . . yes, the Bright School Song – “may we be your source of pride / through all the coming years.” It’s a lot to live up to. But sometimes it helps to sing it to yourself and remember that we were cheerfully embedded in Big European Culture before we were old enough to resist. And I’m grateful to my parents, teachers, and whoever let me into the Bright School on a couple of weeks notice in the summer of 1967 for that.
I’m also grateful to Kelly Dean Hansen for the listening guides!
Here’s a free version of the symphony in case you don’t have a copy. And a link to the Bright School Song.
2nd book finished of 2010
It’s been a year for starting books – I had 2 mysteries going at my parents’ house and left them both there. But when I got home I decided to finish off my bedroom book – Stalin and His Hangment: the tyrant and those who killed for him, Donald Rayfield. Yeah, yeah – not great reading for the winter, but a friend gave it to me when he was leaving Geneva this fall, and I’ve been reading a bit here and there.
I’m not all that interested in Stalin, but I’ve read most of Solzhenitsyn and am fascinated by the systematization of evil in the 20th Century. Is it bureaucracy that lets us pull it off? I think so. I think that Henry VIII was a complete totalitarian, but he couldn’t pull it off with the resources he had. Diocletian certainly was, but without modern communications he just couldn’t do what he liked.
The portrait of Beria is especially creepy. Not recommended for winter reading – save it for brighter weather.
The first book I finished in the new year was The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History. Quite a good survey of the northern European campaign to save and return Europe’s treasures.
The author did a good job of weaving Nazi documents into the story – and the ‘dramatizations’ were all worthwhile. I recognized the names of most of the Monument Men – they were mainly mid-century famous art historians. The most important to me was James Rorimer, a medievalist who ended up as director of the Met.
The most interesting person, though, was Rose Valland, a staffer at the Jeu de Paumes who tracked Nazi looting thoroughly enough to steer Rorimer to the right salt mines in Germany to find things looted from Jewish collections.
Here’s the story. I just finished listening to Simon Winchester’s A Crack in the Edge of the World: America and the Great California Earthquake of 1906. Gosh this is vivid. Humans just will live anywhere they please.
Winchester reads his own books for our listening pleasure – and he’s GOOD at it. I’ve heard most of these and intend to hear them all as I go along.
My Bible reading this season seems to be flipping around to a book I haven’t read lately. The gone, but not forgotten Old Oligarch (can it really be 4 years ago he gave up blogging?) would understand my delight in Leviticus, but this week I’m reading Tobit for the first time in years.
I can really see why the Reformers were eager to toss this one out! In the benighted 16th Century they couldn’t imagine that fragments of Hebrew and Aramaic versions would one day turn up at Qumran, and their petty argument that it only survived in the Greek would go ‘boom.’ Famous last words in historical disciplines: “There is no evidence that . . .”
Always say “There is no evidence currently available.” Archaeology may well prove you silly otherwise.
So, Tobit. Angels who care – and tell white lies! Demons who flee to Egypt at the stink of fish, are run down, and bound hand and foot! Almsgiving and burying the dead (ooooh – Corporal Works of Mercy!). You can see how that would make Luther nuts. I enjoyed it – the description that it’s a religious novel with good historical detail works for me. And why shouldn’t we have a few of those in the Canon to read, too?
Even worse, from the Reformed point of view, must’ve been Tobit 12:10 (in either recension):
So now when you and Sarra prayed, I brought the memorial of your prayer before the glory of the Lord and did likewise when you would bury the dead.
There’s your Guardian Angel right there, laying your prayers as offerings before the Lord. Can’t have that!
The inscription over the Gate of Hell:
I AM THE WAY INTO THE CITY OF WOE,
I AM THE WAY INTO ETERNAL PAIN,
I AM THE WAY TO GO AMONG THE LOST.
JUSTICE CAUSED MY HIGH ARCHITECT TO MOVE
DIVINE OMNIPOTENCE CREATED ME,
THE HIGHEST WISDOM, AND THE PRIMAL LOVE.
BEFORE ME THERE WERE NO CREATED THINGS
BUT THOSE THAT LAST FOREVER — AS DO I.
ABANDON ALL HOPE YOU WHO ENTER HERE.
The hard thing is not to show students that Hell is hopeless, but that Love created it. Virgil gives us a help in the 6th tercet:
We have come to the place I spoke about,
where you would see the souls who dwell in pain,
for they have lost the good of intellect. (16-19)
Esolen’s Appendix C will also be a help – a big dose of Aquinas. The people in Hell have gotten what they sought – separation from God, the Trinity described as Omnipotence, Wisdom and Love. If Love is to give someone, finally, what he wants then Love has to create a place like Hell. Hard lines, but it makes an intellectual sense. It won’t satisfy them – I know I was one of two people out of about 18 who got it the first time when I took Dante as an undergraduate – but there we go. Maybe one of the course outcomes should be “Students will realize the way they want the world to be has consequences.”
I, too, prefer the idea that Hell is not eternal – that it’s really just a harder version of Purgatory, but so far as I’ve heard the only major 20th Century Catholic theologian to think about that possibility seriously was Hans Urs von Balthasar (Dare We Hope “That All Men Be Saved”?), but I’m not really interested in reading theology much. I’ll wager with Aquinas and try to scrape in to Heaven.*
By the way, the line immediately before “We have come to the place I spoke about” reminds us of Canto II. Virgil tells Dante, “here you must put all cowardice to death” (15). Dante is going to have trouble doing that. Like us his feelings are going to get in the way of understanding again and again.
Indeed, the first time he hears the wails of damned souls he weeps – and these are the souls who, like Dante in Canto II, unwilled what they willed, changed every plan with every thought. Angels who were neither rebels nor faithful, people who never lived well or badly. Dante, and Justice, respect more those who sin boldly. This is also the first example of a punishment to fit the crime: these souls are damned to follow a banner moving fast – to finally follow, not hang back and consider what they might or might not do.
In this Canto, too, we get the first example of Dante putting people in Hell because he doesn’t like their politics. Most of those are tedious factional problems of Florence, but one soul Dante recognizes “che fece per viltade il gran rifiuto,” “the craven one, who made the great denial” (61). He almost certainly means Pope Celestine V, who abdicated the papacy in 1294 and left the way open for Dante’s least favorite pope, Boniface VIII. Dante’s hatred of Celestine is based on hearsay, and much of his hatred of Boniface is based on narrow Florentine patriotism (though Benedetto Caetani was hardly a pleasant man). Remember, Dante is not dogma!
*That is, I will be leaving money for Masses for my miserable soul in Purgatory.
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