Saturday, June 26, 2010

Drew what he saw

I read about Melchior Lorck in a review* by Marina Warner of Erik Fischer's projected five-volume catalog, the fourth volume of which was just published. This drawing was made when Lorck, his Flemish patron Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq, and the rest of an embassy from Flanders to the court of Suleiman - ruler of the Ottoman Empire - were under house arrest in Istanbul. The enterprising artist found a vantage point and started drawing. Among the details is a couple making love on a rooftop terrace (above, middle left). Eventually freed, the embassy was successful. Lorck's portraits of Suleiman are in a Mughal style that was popular at court. The Mughals were the other power, along with the Hapsburgs, with which Suleiman had to contend. Warner argues that the presence of the artist with a high-ranking Ottoman companion in a panorama (below) Lorck drew of the city was meant to advertise Suleiman's self-confidence to western viewers.

*: Marina Warner, "A View of a View," London Review of Books, 27 May 2010, page 15-17. (Readable by purchase or subscription. The LRB is worth getting.)

Thursday, June 17, 2010

State of the Nation

"Forced to investigate conditions in the US, and to enlist the help of defense lawyers there in establishing otherwise unreported data, extraditees have come to understand that practice after practice is accepted in America which, in Europe, could risk the prohibition of a trial, or subsequently cause its nullification, or bring an end to conditions of imprisonment it stipulated. Within a system of criminal justice that for all of us, from a lifetime of watching procedural dramas, seems more familiar than our own, there are profoundly disturbing features which do not accord with the assumptions we continue to maintain, despite the actions of the previous administration, about the constitution of the United States." - Gareth Peirce
The quote is from an essay in the London Review of Books (13 May 2010) on the question of allowing suspected terrorists to be extradited to the US from the European Community. The way the US legal system deals with suspected terrorists violates the European Convention. It's clear that America's use of absolute isolation, which consistently makes prisoners vegetative or insane, violates the US constitution's prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment. And this isn't the only violation. The real scandal here is the failure of the Obama administration to repudiate and correct any of this. On this issue, we're still in the Bush/Cheney era. Nothing has really changed.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Valley of the Prudes

"It's their rules. We're coming to their dinner party at their house." - Robert Berry
Berry, quoted in an article by Julie Bosman, is the illustrator of Ulysses Seen, "a Web comic version" of James Joyce's Ulysses. Not surprisingly, the work features some nudity. When Berry's publisher, Throwaway Horse, proposed to port it to the iPad, Apple demanded that it be blanked out. The result, as shown in the New York Times, is a re-sized image. (Apple rejected other solutions.) "We basically had to lose all of her body and just tighten in on her face," Berry said. It's odd but somehow fitting that a Victorian prudishness has broken out in Apple's command-and-control world - ideal for the China market, of course. I wonder what they'll do with Manet, for example?

Wednesday, June 9, 2010


"For years, almost nobody paid attention to Edward Hugh, who repeatedly predicted that the euro zone could not survive. It was the height of policy folly, he warned, to think that aging, penny-pinching Germans could successfully coexist under one currency umbrella with the more youthful, credit-card-wielding Irish, Greeks, and Spanish." - Landon Thomas, Jr. in the New York Times
As Thomas recounts, the "gregarious blogger" Edmund Hugh found an audience among academic economists and a "cult following" among financial analysts. He "was writing very clearly about the imbalances in Europe and the likelihood of a crisis long before it was on the radar screen of economists or analysts," according to London-based researcher Jonathan Tepper. Yet Hugh posts whatever interests him, "even the sociable behavior of bonobos," Thomas writes. "With the Internet," Hugh says, "I feel that I can do what I like. This makes me feel I can really do something."

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Donald Windham (1920-2010)

"If revenge is a dish that tastes best cold, then Donald Windham has certainly fixed himself a satisfying frozen dinner." - Robert Brustein
The quote, from a review in the Times of Donald Windham's published collection of letters from Tennessee Williams, appeared in his obituary in the same paper. My friend Kenneth Caldwell compares obituaries to films, and there's something to that. Windham's is illustrated with a photo from 1949 by Karl Bissinger that shows him in the company of Williams, Gore Vidal, and others. It captures the cosmopolitan spirit of New York City in that era, a liberating magnet for those stifled elsewhere. In an article in his wonderful blog, Design Faith, Caldwell discusses Dominick Dunne and, briefly, the last years of Truman Capote, when he began retailing the nominally private lives of his friends. Naming names put Capote beyond the pale, but his doing so anticipates the current moment, when celebrity has become sufficiently debased that it's no longer possible to identify who's being dragged through the mud unless you make celebrity your obsession. "Nothing is hidden" is a signature phrase of Dogen, founder of Soto Zen. That seems to be true. He also believed that our human condition is a constant mix of enlightenment and delusion. It's funny, in this regard, that someone like Williams would worry about how he came across. All too human, as Nietzsche used to say.


"Libraries are in trouble" - ex-journal publisher, East Coast university press
I heard this in a recent
conversation on the impact of e-books and e-journals on publishing, bookstores, and libraries. Libraries don't get talked about as much, but - at least in Berkeley - they still receive a hefty public subsidy. My informant said that library purchasing budgets have been gutted. "They're turning into living rooms," she said, wondering aloud if people won't ultimately choose to access that digital content in their own homes. That will leave urban libraries to the homeless. They may prefer something more practical.