The [Brutally Honest] Language of Flowers

"Your self-love and stupidity excite my pity"

a favorite from

The Language of Flowers

The Floral Offering: A token of affection and esteem;
comprising the language and poetry of flowers
by Henrietta Dumont, 1852

A compendium of definitions and quotes on the Victorian tradition of floriography in which "various flowers and floral arrangements were used to send coded messages, allowing individuals to express feelings which otherwise could not be spoken."


Do with less

After the post about British wartime posters I came across a limited but great collection of American ones at Northwestern University Library. As the site describes it,
these posters represent the government's effort, through art, illustration, and photographs, to pull the American people together in a time of adversity for the country and its population.
The only time in recent era I've felt American people "pulling together" was in the stunned aftermath of 9/11, and in a very different way, in rallying behind Barack Obama. Americans need some commonality to counterbalance the puerile "its a free country I can do what I want" reflex. I fear the country is stuck in polarity and atomizing. As Sophie Munns puts it in a comment here:
there are times for distinct messages to be put to the public reminding us of that working together for the greater good is critical - even though the "greater good scenarios" are immensely complex and global now
Not that posters could accomplish this in 2009 but a creative effort deploying ads and youtube with content created by different independent artists and small design studios might be worthwhile. (I've long thought that someone should do a pro bono ad campaign for fruit aimed at children). Alas, there's so much crap bombarding us perhaps there's no mental bandwidth to absorb civics reminders...
some random thoughts:
"Scrap" is astonishing—why the US gov't appropriated a very European fascist graphic idiom is mysterious but effective.

"United we win" is very poignant.... civil rights still had decades to go

I particularly respond to "Is your trip necessary" and "Do with less" philosophically — I could see these working today: "Leave the car at home: Walk it", and "Do with less" needs to be posted at every Costco, Walmart and Olive Garden Never-Ending Pasta Bowl and Salad bar...


note to self: Eat Greens, Defend Freedom

About two years ago, online, I came across a brilliant reproduction World War II poster sold by a gallery in London. It was silkscreened (pale blue) and I thought I'd made the most fabulous and quirky find. When it arrived friends were immediately impressed and my framer he said he'd never seen something as simple and cool. It said "Keep Calm and Carry On." Not too long after I saw one in a shop downtown, and then in Domino magazine, and... the rest is history.

I still like the poster. It's an oddly comforting voice of reason, it's beautifully spare, and it retains its permanently disquieting provenance: it was created for use in the event that the Germans occupied London. This now-famous poster, produced anonymously within the British Ministry of Information, was never in wide distribution. Some of these others, above, had print runs of up to a million and were plastered all over Britain.

Having experienced (however fleetingly and at arm's length) the apocalyptic frenzy and blind dread of 9/11, I'm barely able to comprehend what London/England went through—for years. Blackouts, nightly bombing raids, destruction of portions of the City, sleeping in subway stations, sending children out of the city, rationing... The stalwart cheeriness of a poster like "And still the railways carry on!" amazes and irritates me. "The city's being reduced to rubble and Panzer tanks will be rolling down the block next week and the government thinks it best to spend money, time and effort on patronizing ephemera!?" is probably what I would have said at the time. Now, though, I'm drawn to the we're-all-in-this-together no-bullshit tone, the chanelling of Churchillian steadfastness.

I sometimes think a series of civic-oriented posters wouldn't be a bad idea today...can we get any anti-high fructose corn syrup campaigns going?


Purple prose of yore

photo of the tomb of Olivier de Clisson (d. 1407), Notre Dame du Roncier, France, by Edwin Rae/Trinity College Dublin

photo of John, 14th Earl of Arundel (d. 1435) by flambard

The longer I don't update this blog, the more difficult it becomes to come back. Mostly this is because I get caught up in endless research and self-editing, which then leads to procrastination, frustration with my topic and a subsequent search for another topic...effectively extinguishing flames of interest at every turn. Bad.

As a perverse antidote to my debilitating, wrong-headed and ultimately fruitless quest for perfection I offer here an unvarnished piece of my early "creative writing," unearthed on a visit to my mother's today.
Written when I was 16, the piece was a last gasp of my long-abiding medievalist fancies. Heavy-handed and adolescent and... I still kind of like it! It appeared in my high school literary magazine.

I marveled at the effigies
lined up along the wall,
of kings and queens and poets,
bowed equal to Death's call.

Marble rendered pious, brass,
and fragile filigree,
each erased and broken
by countless centuries.

There was but one small window,
casting a wearied light,
recounting a soul's lone passage
to Hell, its tormented flight.

The solitary casement
suffused its jeweled glow
into gray, sepulchral darkness,
rising from below.

Painfully etched in stone
sanctae of the dead,
nisi dominus, frustra*
was all that could be read.

And I noticed as I passed
by each neglected tomb
that moss crept slowly over them
imperceptible in the gloom.

* This translates to "Except the Lord in Vain" or "Everything is in vain without the Lord" and is evidently the motto of the city of Edinburgh, Scotland.
While I have no recollection of where I picked this up, I undoubtedly read the phrase somewhere and thought it was cool.


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