Wow. Just wow.

Ok – AppleTV has brought me a good number of surprises so far. But tonight, a showery night with rain sounds outside, my “recommended for you” queue pulled up Brideshead Revisited. That music!

He told me and, on the instant, it was as though someone had switched off the wireless, and a voice that had been bawling in my ears, incessantly, fatuously, for days beyond number, had been suddenly cut short; an immense silence followed, empty at first, but gradually, as my outraged sense regained authority, full of a multitude of sweet and natural and long forgotten sounds: for he had spoken a name which was so familiar to me, a conjuror’s name of such ancient power, that, at its mere sound, the phantom of those haunted late years began to take flight.

I’ve been teaching the Church of the Holy Sepulcher this week in Early Medieval Art and Architecture, without ever explaining that I love Helena more than Krautheimer, even if Krautheimer is the background I teach out of.

I need to read the novel again before I start typing out quotations. “The women are still doing what they do before they come downstairs. Sloth has undone them – we’re away.”

Writer’s Papers

I’ve always sort of wondered about the trade in Famous Writers’ Papers. What motivates someone to sell off his material during his lifetime? The Ransom Center at the University of Texas has just acquired (no price mentioned) T.C. Boyle’s papers. Jennifer Schuessler at the New York Times Arts Beat blog has an interesting post which gets at some of Boyles’ (non-monetary) motivations.

Steinbeck. Big ol’ fictioneer.

And the professionals? Defending his non-fiction in terms more appropriate to fiction.
NY Times link – sorry. Excerpts below, until that becomes illegal.

The Reason article is a distillation of a blog Mr. Steigerwald wrote for The Post-Gazette for several weeks in 2010 while retracing Steinbeck’s journey in a leased Toyota Rav4. And he did sleep in the car, he pointed out in a recent phone interview. He stopped frequently in Wal-Mart parking lots, and once he parked in a car dealer’s lot, impersonating a used car. Mr. Steigerwald insisted that he began his project not intending to expose Steinbeck but to commemorate his journey and to write a book about how the United States had changed in 50 years.
“I didn’t set out to blow the whistle,” he said. “As a libertarian, I kind of like the old guy. He liked guns; he liked property rights.”
In the published version of “Travels With Charley” Steinbeck’s itinerary is often hard to follow, so Mr. Steigerwald created a timeline, drawing on newspaper accounts, biographies and Steinbeck’s letters, to determine where Steinbeck was on such and such a date. Discrepancies with the book’s account immediately popped up. Mr. Steigerwald also consulted the handwritten first draft of “Travels With Charley” — now at the Morgan Library & Museum — where Steinbeck’s wife is a much more frequent presence than she is in the final text.
“This is just grunt journalism,” Mr. Steigerwald said of his research methods. “Anyone with a library card and a skeptical gene in his body could do what I did.”
What! We (well, some of us) would call that “scholarship”!
He added that he was a little surprised that his findings hadn’t made more of a ripple among Steinbeck scholars: ” ‘Travels With Charley’ for 50 years has been touted, venerated, reviewed, mythologized as a true story, a nonfiction account of John Steinbeck’s journey of discovery, driving slowly across America, camping out under the stars alone. Other than the fact that none of that is true, what can I tell you?” He added, “If scholars aren’t concerned about this, what are they scholaring about?”
Susan Shillinglaw, who teaches English at San Jose State University and is a scholar in residence at the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas, Calif.
[self-interest?], said in a phone interview: “Any writer has the right to shape materials, and undoubtedly Steinbeck left things out. That doesn’t make the book a lie.”
Talking about the authenticity of the characters in “Travels With Charley,” she said, “Whether or not Steinbeck met that actor where he says he did, he could have met such a figure at some point in his life. And perhaps he enhanced some of the anecdotes with the waitress. Does it really matter that much?”

Jay Parini, the author of a 1995 biography of Steinbeck who wrote the introduction to the Penguin edition of “Travels With Charley,” said he was surprised to learn that Elaine Steinbeck had accompanied her husband on so much of the trip. “I spent several hours with Elaine, and she never mentioned that,” he added. “She made a big deal about how painful it was for them to be separated and how she insisted that he take the dog along for company.” Hmmmm. Your informants are not reliable?
About the book’s accuracy he said: “I have always assumed that to some degree it’s a work of fiction. Steinbeck was a fiction writer, and here he’s shaping events, massaging them. He probably wasn’t using a tape recorder. But I still feel there’s an authenticity there.”
Isn’t that beautiful!
He added, talking about Mr. Steigerwald’s discoveries: “Does this shake my faith in the book? Quite the opposite. I would say hooray for Steinbeck. If you want to get at the spirit of something, sometimes it’s important to use the techniques of a fiction writer. Why has this book stayed in the American imagination, unlike, for example, Michael Harrington’s ‘The Other America,’ which came out at the same time?”

Well, he sold it as non-fiction. If Steinbeck had tried to sell the book as a novel, would it have – um – sold?

Michael Bellesisles – Tool. Chronicle of Higher Education – Worse.

Asked for a response, Mr. Bellesiles said he was saddened that his student had altered the details of a personal tragedy and that he regretted that he had unknowingly passed on a story that was not accurate. “But I hope that no one mistakes the point of my article in calling for greater sympathy and support in our colleges for veterans and the families of those who have suffered loss in our current wars.”

In other words, Bellesisles’s p.o.v. trumps things like truth. Historian? Maybe an op-ed author. If Bellesisles were a plant by evil Academe-haters he couldn’t be doing a better job.

Here’s his recent, egregiously incorrect, article in the Chronicle.

The Chronicle should never have accepted a story from this man without asking for documentation.
Here is a quick look at what was kinda obviously questionable – really, Prof. Lindgren checked some facts available online to the casual researcher.
I’m sorry that my ancient blogspot archives are gone, or you could see what I think about Bellesisles. Quick summary – liar.

The thin edge of the wedge

Scholastic Press takes on the Arabic language market. Will Clifford the Big Red Dog offend Muslim anti-dog sensibilities? Yes!

To observant Muslims he is, because dogs are considered ritually unclean. Scholastic wanted to be careful not to appear culturally imperialistic, so Clifford was put in the “no” pile.
The education ministers, who came from Bahrain, Lebanon and Jordan, drew up a list of 27 “no-nos,” according to Sakoian. “No dogs, no pigs, no boys and girls touching, no magic,” she said, naming a few.
They liked values and talk of honesty and cooperation among children. Anything that hinted at overly independent children or religion was eliminated. The colorful “I Spy” series was excluded after a tiny dreidel was spotted in a picture.
. . .
The U.S. and other Western governments have funded Arabic translations, particularly of textbooks. But Scholastic’s Arabic publishing effort is by far the largest, experts agree.
[17 million distributed so far!]
During an interview near the publisher’s global headquarters in Lower Manhattan, Sakoian said that she’d long ago set her sights on selling to the vast Arab market. She first approached a private foundation to underwrite translations but got nowhere. In post- 9/11 America, none was interested in supporting Arab culture, she said. The U.S. State Department eventually paid for translations through a democracy-building initiative and for printing about half the books.
But Scholastic had a long way to go before it started printing. First, it had editing to do even of classics. Because Islam does not acknowledge the celebration of birthdays, “Ladybug’s Birthday” was renamed “Ladybug’s Anniversary.” Ms. Frizzle’s students on “The Magic School Bus” were given Arabic-sounding names, skirts were lengthened, body parts were covered and the skin tone and hair of the Swiss orphan girl in “Heidi” was darkened for the Arabic edition. (A tiny church steeple on the cover picture of Heidi’s village escaped notice, however. “We just couldn’t catch everything,” Sakoian said.)

Gotta love that – overly independent children, bad. Dreidels – do you think that’s religion, or a specific religion, driving the veto? Heidi darker than blonde? Oh, well – it’s a publishing venture.

Fiction for fun!

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 BusinessThe ManticoreWorld of Wonders

Carnivalesque 63

Carnivalesque 63 – an Ancient and Medieval Version!
Do cities that are just NOT THERE any more matter? You bet they do! But how do we show people what was there if there’s no there there any more? Go look at what can be done with Antioch on the Orontes.
How do you get extant but really fragile manuscripts out of the library where more than one scholar at a time can use them? Here are some really interesting digitalization examples.
And how do you get the DNA out of a manuscript folio to figure out things about – well, about everything, starting with the sheep herd the page was made from. Well, first you have to convince a librarian that a set of 40-micron diameter holes in the edge of a manuscript is acceptable. Then you have to use Michael Drout’s new machine – prototype now available!
Bit players in the grand play of the Fall of the Roman Empire and the eventual emergence of the modern western European nations? Not so fast, buddy! Go read about the Burgundian Civil War and think harder about what makes people(s) central to the story.
Not a bit player at all – the power behind the throne – a new life of the Empress Theodora.
Periodization is always a question. In question? Questionable? But much like bit players and great powers, definition is important, if impossible. Magistra et Mater asks “How late should the late antique go?”
So you didn’t make it to Kalamazoo this year? Jonathan Jarrett covered a BUNCH of sessions incredibly thoroughly – here, here, here, and here He’s not quite Prof. Dr. Boethius P. von Korncrake, but hey – most of us aren’t.
The most important Kalamazoo news? The Chaucer Blogger steps forward!
And finally, what I think must be the most-forwarded ancient or medieval story of the year — the lurid cemetary of the Gladiators at York. Men bitten by Tigers! Differential development of right arms! At least three of my students in Greek Art & Architecture this semester forwarded this to me – and it was on every list serve I’m on, too. And then ADM sent it as a suggestion, too – so clearly Gladiators are In the News!
Happy reading!

Mark Twain

“When people ask me ‘did Mark Twain really mean it to take 100 years for this to come out’, I say ‘he was certainly a man who knew how to make people want to buy a book’,” Dr Hirst said.

Mark Twain autobiography to come out in November – 100 years after his death. No one suggests the most obvious reason for holding it back – no one is alive to deny his allegations!

Science Fiction Query

I was talking to a friend tonight….she’s interested in music and dissonance – and sound. She has a long-standing interest in science fiction and cyborgs.
So I am remembering a short story that couldn’t have been published (given my life and my high school library) after 1975.
The mute-but-not-deaf protagonist works for a service that sweeps for left-behind sound. In this world sound keeps reverberating – and one client is a failed or retired opera (?) singer. And he can here the sounds that he’s removing.
Any help?

Plato and crankiness

Tomorrow we start The Symposium in Euro Studies 101. Talk about mood swings!
I appreciate Plato much more now that I am an adult. Plato was a great artist. However, I think he’s a deeply tricky one – and probably even not particularly honest. I don’t believe in his Socrates at all – just one quick read through Xenophon makes you realize that in a world of opposing evidence we can’t just say that Plato is right – unless, of course, we are professors of philosophy who think that full-time philosophers are inherently more reliable than soldiers.
So tomorrow I’m starting off with about 15 or 25 minutes of pictures of symposia, masks of Dionysus, and Greek homosexuality. I’m an art historian, after all – and these folks get to deal with visual evidence along with translated texts.

Dante Blogging – Inferno Canto XIX

Canto XIX
Dante begins with an epic apostrophe – but not of the muses:

O Simon mago, o miseri seguaci
  che le cose di Dio, che di bontate
  deon essere spose, e voi rapaci
per oro e per argento avolterate
  or convien che per voi suoni la tromba,
   però che ne la terza bolgia* state.

Simon Magus, O you wretched crew
  of his disciples! The things of God should be
  espoused to righteiousness and love, and you
Rapacious wolves, you pander them for gold,
  foul them for silver! Sound the trumpet now
  for you — for this third pocket is your place.

The simonists, those who like Simon Magus want to reduce sacred authority to a cash transaction, are planted upside down in holes, with fire burning the souls of their feet. The red-hottests pair of feet turn out to be those of a recent pope, Nicholas V. Esolen cleverly points out that Nicholas had inverted the purpose of the hierarchy of which he was head, so this makes an example of Hell fitting the sin.
Nicholas mistakes Dante for Boniface VIII – he wonders if the prediction was off by a few years and Boniface is already dead and waiting to be plunge Nicholas deeper into the hot hole. Dante then leaps forward to Boniface’s even worse successor, Clement V.
It is clear from all this that Dante is generally troubled by the temporal power of the Church – he takes it all the way back to the Donation of Constatine. Dante’s problem is that the sources of temporal authority he wanted to like were the Empire and the Kingdom of France – neither of them very likeable, either.
Still a problem today, and no more liable to a solution other than the individual holiness of clerics and just uprightness of rulers. It could happen.
*When I was proofreading I noticed this little moment of structural orientation I had slid past before. Handy!
Click here for all the Danteblogging and none of my other ramblings.

The Moon and Sixpence

I’m reading more fiction this summer than last (yay!). I turned in The Moon and Sixpence to the circulation desk on my way into the library this morning (my current location). Prof. Soltan mentioned that a copy lurks on the shelves in her Catskills getaway, and she rereads it often (I think the Polynesian getaway in the novel provides her with pleasant contrast to the rolling hills of Upstate NY, but that’s a guess). I hadn’t read it in so long that I decided to read it again.
The novel is more or less Maugham’s version of an English painter based on Gauguin. Like most novelists’ attempts to describe works of art it fall flattest in the painting talk (though for the most horrible you really have to read Zola’s version of Cezanne His Masterpiece).
An abandoned dissertation topic of mine from my comp lit days was to look at this sort of thing. I wonder (and I mean it, I wonder – I haven’t ever decided) if it’s possible for the post-Romantic novelist to describe a visual artist as anyone other than the stereotype of the Romantic, tortured artist. I’ve certainly never read any fictional account of the formalist painter. A little Vasari is a good antidote. Not that Vasari’s explanation of how art works is necessarily universal and true, but his biographies de-biographize the art his discusses so thoroughly as to help overcome post-Romanticism.
By the way, my favorite example in the genre is Patrick White’s The Vivesector.