Instead of ushering in 2008 with a peevish list of "things I can do without", I'll leave 2007 with a couple of musical finds:

Ross & Laura

look: he, Paul Giamatti-ish and endearing, she, cute.
sound: Charming, low-fi pop noodlings. I cant stop thinking about "where did i meet u."
found: entertainment at local cynosure's
enchanting party...

Vampire Weekend
Love the name
look: white boys
sound: low-fi hipster afro-beat? Neo garage Paul Simon?
found: the dazzlingly erudite and eclectic Northern stylings of Finn at mavo


Highlights from the Collection (part 6)

Postcards of questionable merit. (Not to be confused with a previous Highlight of generic landscape postcards.)
Of course I'm being completely disingenuous– each of these has its own rare charm, and merits closer inspection...

At top, a View of the Electrification on the N. & W. RY., Bluefield, W. VA. Stupefyingly dull and suffering from too many needless abbreviations, this postcard could prompt snide comments about West Virginia.

U.S.O. Building, Lawton, Okla. The USO (United Service Organizations) is cemented in my mind with brief film clips of Bob Hope entertaining the troops but evidently USO clubs and community centers were the GI's "Home away from Home" and quite cherished. I'm impressed with this card's fine artistic tinting, which expertly enlivens the row of cars at front. Note that most of the cars are of the bulbous ca. late-1940s vintage except for one model T and a woody station wagon. Also note the wonderful, slightly Bauhuasian lines of the building.

Lower Manhattan Skyline, New York City. Color Photo by Milt Price It is the genius of Milt Price that he can take the dynamic New York skyline and render it a grey, static backdrop for shipping containers. On the reverse is a tourist slogan I'd never heard before: Visit New York– The Wonder City. The scalloped edge, a vestigial throw-back to older photographic prints, is particularly nice. [Does anyone know why the scallop edge photograph came about and why it ended? It's still so iconic that evidently there are products out there to mimic it on your own photos.]

Gordon's Crab & Oyster House /America's Largest Crab Steaming Plant/ One Whole Block/ Baltimore Md.
This is my favorite card– where to begin? The surreal purgatorial limbo this building seems to inhabit is fascinating. It also appears amazingly small for the Largest Crab Steaming Plant in America, no? It is possible, I suppose, that the place is One Whole Block deep and about 12 feet wide. The building (and sidewalk) teeters downward to the left but is shored up with a sprightly yellow band at bottom, which appears to be what is called "artistic license."
One would think, artistically speaking, it might have been nice to highlight the logo of the restaurant rather than covering it over in the same "wood tint" of the facade, but one would be wrong. Finally, the outrageously miniaturized evergreens grandly flanking the entrance are superb.


greetings from Pink Bemis

"and many of 'em

Perhaps you remember
a little song that goes
something like this–

Pink Bemis"

Letterpress card, c. 1930s. A little Googling tells us that Pink was Cornell, Class of 1909.


American nervousness

If the Eskimos, as the old saw goes, have a hundred words for "snow," I must have nearly as many for "tired." I'm weary, enervated, blah. So it was no coincidence that I finally got around to reading American Nervousness 1903 which had been stalled in my mental books-to-read cue for quite a while. An exploration of neurasthenia, an affliction that took on epidemic proportions at the end of the 19th and turn of the 20th centuries, the book inspired my visual collection of ennui, above.

Neurasthenia was a nebulous mental and physical diagnosis that covered a lot of territory from hysteria, anhedonia, and "brain collapse" to premature baldness, fatigue and hot flashes. There was a whole constellation of debilitating symptoms for which fainting couches, air baths, nerve tonics, electric trusses and the like purported to relieve. The concept of nerve disease was introduced as a medical condition in 1869 but became more prevalent as the 19th century drew to a close. George M Beard published one of first full-length studies of neurasthenia in 1881 and called it “American Nervousness.” He and other neurologists of the time developed theories of health and disease which were based on folk beliefs of bodily energy, and were expressed 'economic' terms.
“The idea of “dissipation” thus is based on a notion of dispersed rather then directed nerve force, spent without any possible return on the investment. Dissipation eventually led to “decadence,” the death and decay of nerve centers in the individual, and the death and decay of civilization at the social level.” The end result of processes of dissipation, or of any unwise nervous investment, was disease.
Conversely if patients were sensitive and refined enough to begin with, neurasthenia could be brought on by simple exposure to the hectic pace and excessive stimuli of modern life. Paradoxically, the disease could thus be a sign of moral laxity–or extreme moral sensitivity. It was seen as a particularly American syndrome, made manifest in this country as it roared into the 20th century-- straining at the continental frontiers, overrun by waves of immigration, stretched by imperialist expansion and bristling with industrial might. But certainly any thinking man (or woman) of the Mauve Decade could be struck by taedium vitae or acedie. I always saw it as the purview of European aristocratic families in decline, or Europeans anyway– from the relative vigor of Wilde's jaded drawing room wits, through Huysmans' languid decadents, to Egon Scheile's stricken husks...

Some saw it as practically the natural given state for women. Charlotte Perkins Gilman's famous short story, The Yellow Wallpaper, portrays the worsening mental state of the narrator as she endures the "rest cure," enforced inactivity and seclusion based on real-life prescriptions of the well-known 19th century physician, S. Weir Mitchell. Gilman theorized that a proscribed daily existence made women feel their own backwardness–cramped and useless. "Confined to the home," Gilman says, "she begins to fill and overfill it with the effort of individual expression... and overfilling the house, like the overspending of energy is unhealthy." Hmmm. Interior decorating as neurotic displacement...

Next up in my mental book cue:
the intriguingly titled "Philosophy of Disenchantment" by decadent wit and aesthete, Edgar Saltus.

Images: Ennui, 1914 Walter Sickert; The Lute, 1903 Thomas Wilmer Dewing; CMS Reading by Gaslight, 1879 William Stott; Woman in Plaid Shawl, 1872 Susan MacDowell Eakins; Yellow Scale, 1907 František Kupka; Tree of Nervous Illness, 1881 George Beard.


"the confidant of my thoughts"

I just finished a book on neurasthenia, that wonderfully evocative nervous disorder of tremulous aesthetes, profligates, and women (more next post), and decided to peruse some first-hand accounts. I started rereading the Goncourt Journals. The brothers Goncourt, Edmond (1822–96) and Jules (1830–70), lived together, wrote essays, plays and novels together (though little of that made it into the 20th let alone the 21st century) and, most notably, kept a journal together. Part of the Parisian Bohemian literary set, the brothers– sensitive, rarefied, and ultimately, rather spinsterish–recorded comings and goings with their friends (May 11, 1859– A ring at the door. It was Flaubert...), their insecurities about fame and the lack thereof, and most deliciously, a running social commentary (January 2, 1867– Dined at the princess's with Gautier, Feuillet and Amedee Achard, a wilted man of fashion, a mind without emphasis... the archetype of nonentity).

The brothers began their journal on what was to have been a momentous occasion–the publication of their novel. Unfortunately, day of all days, Charles Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, called Napoleon III, chose that December 2nd to seize power and make himself dictator of France. The boys were positively apoplectic with annoyance:
In swept our cousin Blamount... full of asthma and peevishness. "By God," he panted; "It's done!"
"What? What's done?"
"The coup d'etat!"
"The Devil you say! And they're bringing out our novel today!"
The journal is filled with breathtakingly misogynistic pronouncements, pithy characterizations of social grandees, much self pity and hand-wringing, hilariously astute asides, and gluckschmerz. Sort of like Lord Whimsy meets Gawker.

A random sampling:

no date 1856—These past day a vague melancholy, discouragement, indolence, lethargy of mind and body. Feeling more than ever this despondency of my return [from Italy], which is like some great disappointment. We come back to find out life stagnating just where it was... I am bored by the few monotonous and repeatedly scrutinized ideas that trot back and forth through my head.And other people to whom I looked forward in the expectancy of entertainment, bore me as much as myself....Nothing has happened to them either; they have simply gone on existing... No one has even died amongst the people I know I am not actually unhappy: it is something worse than that.

April 24, 1858—Between the chocolate soufflé and the chartreuse Maria loosened her corsets and began the story of her life.

May 27, 1858–... After so many skinny graces, so many sad little faces, careworn and with the clouds of eviction on their foreheads, forever scheming to gouge something out of you... after all these shopworn gabbling creatures, these squawking parakeets with there miserable slang picked up in workshops and in the clattering cafes...what a satisfaction lies in Maria's peasant health... in her peasant speech, her strength... the heart that is evident in her with its lack of breeding...as if I've found myself eating simple and solid food in a farmhouse after a vile dinner in a filthy pothouse.

March 3 1864—At a ball, at Michelet's, the ladies were costumed as the oppressed nations– Poland Hungary, Venice, and so on. It was like watching the future revolutions of Europe dance.

December 14, 1868—Our admirer Zola came to lunch today... He talked about how hard his life was...He wants to do"big things" and not "those squalid, ignoble articles I have to write for the Tribune for people whose idiotic opinions I am forced to take..."

The brothers themselves noted that they attempted to sketch from nature, to "record those swiftly passing moments of emotion in which personality reveals itself." Their mission: to observe and document "le vrai." They could find meaning– divine character– in the ephemeral, telling, details of the day-to-day. Describing the journals in an author's preface Edmond announces, "... this work hastily set down on paper and sometimes not reread, the reader will find our syntax of the moment and our occasional passportless word, just as they came to us."

Never having been separated for much more than a day (30 hours to be exact) in their entire lives, their intense bond was broken only when Jules died of syphilis. Edmond considered the journals over at that point. However, before long he was compelled to continue (for 26 more years in fact) and decribed the diaries as "the confidant of my thoughts."

My copy of the Goncourt journals, Doubleday 1958, cover by Phillipe Jullian, typography by Edward Gorey.
Photograph of the brothers by Nadar, c mid-1860s.

This English edition, originally published 1937, is, unfortunately, quite abridged ("[this volume] translates the most informing and agreeable passages... the reader has been spared most of the pages where they bemoaned their lot or recorded their ills.") although the translation itself seems superb.


How Did I Get Here (part 2)

I transcribe verbatim
Google searches that have led people to this blog,
as found on our sitemeter:

Andy Warhol peach slices

morgue slab
sentimental christmas card phrases
naked negresses
impalement eyewitness
rowdy Roman youths
printers aprons
empty Times Square
how a book impressed me
street scenes gossamer
what is olfactory
pictures of inbred people
Every now and then I find people have used Google like some kind of oracle.
My favorite example thus far: "what did Karl Blossfeldt do as a child"

• • • • || • • • • || • • • • || • • • •

Poetics of
The Beaufort Wind Scale
(an empirical measure for describing wind velocity, developed in 1805
by Sir Francis Beaufort)
with a nod to Matthew Weingarden
nb: there are many variations in the force descriptions;
I am taking these from several different sources

Sea like a mirror.
Small wavelets, crests glassy,
no breaking
Wind felt on face, leaves rustle
Flags extended
Small waves becoming longer, frequent white horses.
Dust, leaves, and loose paper
Small trees in leaf begin to sway
whistling in telegraph wires, umbrellas are difficult to control.
Wave crests topple,
and roll over.
chimney pots and slates removed. Surface generally white.
Widespread damage.
Widespread damage.

• • • • || • • • • || • • • • || • • • •

A tantalizing roster of "psychometrics"
available on the Educational Testing Service web site.
Unfortunately these are accessible only with payment.

Achenbach Lewis Symptom Checklist

Alienation Scale

Awareness of Consequences Scale

Barratt Impulsiveness Scale

Daydreaming Inventory for Married Women

Fetler Self Rating Test

Illinois Index of Self Derogation (Form 3)
Kit of Selected Distraction Tests
Lemire Androgyny Scale

Moral Orientation Device
Rydell-Rosen Ambiguity Tolerance Scale

Self Actualizing Tendencies Test

Style of Mind Inventory Trait Value and Belief Patterns in Greek Roman
and Hebrew Perspectives

Ways of Looking at People Scale

image: kiddie ride, Brooklyn, 2005


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