The Book of Life

Here, some fantastical illustrations from The Book of Life: The Spiritual and Physical Constitution of Man by Dr. Alesha Sivartha. Sivartha was the assumed name of one Arthur Merton, MD (1834-1915), purported to be the illegitimate son of Raja Ram Mohun Roy Bahadoor, an Indian scholar, activist and Brahmin, and an unknown English Unitarian woman who dallied with the Raja on his tour of England. Merton began his quasi-scientific Biblico-Evolutionist parsing in 1859, evidently self-publishing several volumes. His son published a thorough updated tome in 1912. From what I can see the pages are filled with a hybrid of spiritual intensity, Hegelian determinism, economic dabblings and obsessive hand lettering. Let the good doctor speak for himself:
science and history both answer that man has advanced step by step from the ignorant and selfish rule of his lower brain organs up toward the beneficent dominion of his higher brain faculties. The laws that have controlled that vast upward movement are still in force...And they are of supreme importance for they determine what new institutions and what social changes are now required to meet that higher growth of nations.
The many many illustrations are what set my pulse racing of course: part phrenological, a lot outsider art. The hand-drawn type is particularly masterful. I was enveloped by the density and the obsessional zeal in the same way I was with the drawings of Adolf Wolfli
whose mad genius I discovered at the Folk Art Museum a few years ago.

Charts, diagrams and hierarchies of obscure or dubious content are also a fascination of mine...

I found the good doctor by way of No Relevance on a random late night net ramble (more on late nights in a coming post). The Book of Life site is sensitively written and minutely presented by Sivartha's great great grandson, who unfortunately lost a bit of my scholarly confidence when he recounts how he "did meth and fried my brain."


the beginning of no end

The other day I went to see the Iraq war documentary-- No End in Sight: Devastating, galling, embarrassing. It provoked teeth gritting, muttered curses and involuntary obscene hand gestures in me. The rest of the audience seemed suitably riled as well. I challenge anyone to see it and try telling me there aren't grounds for impeachment.

Addendum: I came across another fabulous German term too wildly appropriate not to insert here: Lügengebäude "a building of lies," an elaborate edifice of interrelated falsities. Bringing up the notion, of course, of the collapsing "house of cards"...

I was very impressed with the opening credits (well, I am a graphic designer). Simple, really: Black banding crawling and skittering over images that flicker and change fitfully, layered with garbled code or memo-like text assembling and degrading. Smaller fields of white lines intrude at the edges reminiscent of bar codes. Strong and very effective. More impressive than the effect conveyed above...

opening credits by Big Star.


Dont forget: letterpress

It's August and I can't think of anything compelling to say at the moment.
I've mulled over and discarded several possible post topics: Mrs Astor-- do I really have anything new to add? A very provocative (and galling) essay in the London Review of Books about US/Israel relations--do I really want to go there? I think not.

And so, to letterpress. A reminder that our cards, based on 19th century type specimens and printed by hand on 19th century platen presses, are available
in our etsy store. And, most excitingly, they are available for purchase in the real world at Bowne and Co. Stationers at South Street Seaport (211 Water Street).

(several other models, catering to the demands of all manner of witty and stylish correspondence, are also on display)


best regards, part II

Another in an occasional series that casts a spotlight on a few of the best blogs I frequent.
Here, the art of memory by one, Matthew Swiezynski. Alighting on cinema but hovering closely over art, photography, and music, as well, the blog is truly about a sensibility. A beautiful and hushed moodiness. I can go there and revel my own interests (Netherlandish painting, film noir, Hopper) but come away with glimpses --microscopically intense or broad and hazily evocative--of things I would not have otherwise known to explore: experimental drone music, obscure (and not so obscure) cinema...
Observations, lists, examples and associations-- random parts that do, in fact, make a whole.
images: film still, photos of Venice by Matthew Swiezynski


"murder... vandalism, mishegaas"*

"We're trying to run a city, not a goddam democracy!"

This weekend I saw "The Taking of Pelham 123," the classic heist movie from 1974. With Walter Matthau, Jerry Stiller, and a mesmerizing Robert Shaw, among others, and a brash, driving and consummately 1970s musical score by David Shire (nothing says 70s like a big honkin' horn section) it was much be
tter than I had vaguely recalled from tv viewing. The real fascination for me, though, was the window onto a vanished New York.

I'd been thinking about New York City in its "heyday"--when the city itself was a character on film, not just the backdrop. From lovable ramshackle mess --all crumbling infrastructure and idiosyncratic "Only in New York!" punchlines to dystopian nightmare. In a recent post I talked about New York before anyone thought to Y it--when it was "Fun City": fiscal crises, transit strikes and blackouts.**
In the movie's original review, published October 1974 in the New York Times, Nora Sayre, made the keen observation that: "Throughout, there's a skillful balance between the vulnerability of New Yorkers and the drastic, provocative sense of comedy that thrives all over our sidewalks." Fatalistic resignation and a dose of exasperated humor in the face of menace was every New Yorker's stance-- at least on film.

The movie was a study in obsolete apparatus: money counting machines, bulky intercoms, lightbulbs flashing on oversized analog display panels, and comically large and noisy buttons. Everyone spoke in a strikingly antiquated dialect that didn't seem possible that late in time--more Jimmy Cagney than Jimmy Breslin-- '"noive" center,' "For Pete's sake," "lousy," "dame"... (but I suppose Archie Bunker was still switching his "oi"s and his "er"s --"terlet" or little "goil"--on prime time well into the 70s).
* Walther Matthau as MTA chief Zachary Garber: "In the course of a normal week, the average TA policeman deals with such crimes as robbery, assault, murder, drunkenness, illness, vandalism, mishegaas, abusiveness, sexual molestation, exhibitionism..." Addendum for those non-New Yorkers who may be reading: mishegaas is Yiddish meaning "craziness, tomfoolery." Yiddish was one of the big contributors-- in vocabulary and intonation-- to the distinctive "New Yawk" accent.

**What would a New York City-Fun City film festival include? Death Wish, Escape from NY, The Out of Towners? Someone with a better knowledge of cinema could do wonders...

I'm not sure what accounts for the three different poster approaches above but I like the first one with its grainy high-contrast black and bilious yellow. Setting everything on the diagonal, with the subway car careening out of the frame, is brilliant.


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