Saturday, November 12, 2011

Chaplin on Veteran's Day

Veteran's Day has never been a holiday that really captured my attention, given that none of the veterans of my acquaintance have ever paid it remarkable heed. Perhaps it is a holiday of more interest to families of veterans, as Milt Wolff, who fought in the Spanish Civil War and then in World War II, used to remark upon the fact that his daughter always called him then.

I thought of Milt and of my father this Veteran's Day, they being the veterans I knew best. There was a film festival here for the holiday, and while I had a lot of work to do, I rode my bike over to the Neon to see Charlie Chaplin in The Great Dictator. I've seen quite a few Chaplin films over the years, but I don't think I had seen this one in its entirety before, although of late the final speech has been circulating the internet with considerable vigor. Chaplin's plea for humanity to reject hatred, delivered in the role of a Jewish barber disguised as Hitler-figure Adenoid Hynkel, remains as current today as in 1940. Milt and my father would have appreciated The Great Dictator being shown on Veteran's Day.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

A Precise Stylist, or Two or Three or Four of Them

In drafting our father's obituary, My Sibling noted that in writing, he was "a precise stylist." On the whole, this was true. The long process of determining the final wording of a generally very satisfactory obituary proved, however, that the remaining members of our nuclear family are also precise stylists who all believe that perfection can be attained in the written word.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

New Laptop

Every so often one has to take the plunge and get a new computer. The old one quits, or else becomes sufficiently outdated as to be troublesome. Over the summer, my Lenovo X61, while generally functional, experienced 1) ever-full hard drive; 2) pen permanently stuck in the pen garage; 3) non-revivable battery. None of these things individually was a reason to buy a new laptop, but I had to ask myself how much longer a three-year-old laptop would work and thus whether it made sense to buy new things for it. At first I hesitated, as it seemed there were no tablet-convertibles on the market that offered the combination of features I wanted (large screen, large hard drive, swappable bay for second hard drive), but then I noticed that Fujitsu (maker of my first two or three laptops) had all of that. So I decided that I might as well get the whole project over with and have the new machine ready to go before school started.

While a large screen was one of my major desires--the small screen on the Lenovo has been the bane of my working life as Photoshop (among other things) is hard to use on it--I discovered that Fujitsu's TH700 had everything else I wanted at such an affordable price that I could get a big separate flat-screen monitor to use for Photoshop and watching movies. That seemed reasonable enough. I may use Photoshop a fair amount, but I don't have to do that kind of thing everywhere I take my laptop. It will be rather exciting to have a 27" screen (I bought a highly regarded model from Dell and it has arrived but I have not had time to do more than unpack it).

A friend with a Mac tells me it's a no-brainer to get everything from one Mac to another, and if so that's one of the few reasons I'd consider switching to Macintosh, because it always takes me days or weeks to get things properly set up on a new computer (mine, that is--I can do this for my parents in a day or two since they use few programs and have few files). I'm not sure how much of the time-sink is the searching out all those files and copying them, and how much is making decisions about reorganizing the material. Merely installing the programs I use takes hours and hours each time.

This installation process is exacerbated by changes in operating system. Once the new laptop arrived, I had to deal with Windows 7 and a 64-bit environment. This is taking some getting used to. At least two of my programs, neither of which I plan to abandon, don't yet work in 64-bit as they are complex and made by small companies that don't have huge squads of programmers. I had to upgrade Windows 7 Home Premium to a fancier flavor so that I could install XP Mode and thus install the said programs. I am still rather inclined to use these programs on the old laptop until the 64-bit compatible versions come out, which I gather should be relatively soon. There's also the matter of how many more times I can "activate" various programs that I've had for awhile, and suchlike.

For now, however, as I have most of what I need set up on the new machine, I may as well compare the two a bit.

Screens: Both have a 12" screen. The Lenovo has a 1024 x 768 resolution, however, while the Fujitsu has 1280 x 800. In other words, the shape is different, with the Fujitsu going more in the wide-screen direction. I don't know how I'll react to that, as wide-screen isn't desirable for most of what I do. The screen quality on the Fujitsu seems better, but I may need to see if I can calibrate the color, as photos that looked good on the Lenovo sometimes look gray-blue on the Fujitsu. This is not something I really want to deal with. Overall, I haven't spent enough time working on the Fujitsu to know how the screen interacts with my programs and tasks.

Keyboards: The Lenovo is the only laptop I ever felt had an uncomfortably small keyboard. I don't expect to have that complaint with the Fujitsu, which is an inch wider. I also detested the fact that the Lenovo keyboard placed special keys, intended to move you through web pages, RIGHT NEXT TO the arrow keys. I don't want to think how many times I hit those damned web keys instead of an arrow key and lost whatever I was typing on a web page. I wasn't opposed to the concept of the web keys (although I never used them), but the placement was terrible. Fortunately I won't have that problem with the Fujitsu. On the other hand, I regret to say that the Fujitsu keyboard also has some odd choices. It has the PageUp and PageDown keys in those locations, which I'm not sure I like as well as the Lenovo's location of these. I may not have any problem getting used to the switch, but more problematic is the fact that these two keys are also the Home and End keys, if you use them with the Function key. I use Home and End constantly when selecting text (or so it seems), and
I really dislike the cumbersomeness of depressing Shift, Function, and Home or End. And speaking of the Function key, the Fujitsu places it where I expect (from the Lenovo, but perhaps also from other computers) to find Ctrl. I keep hitting Function when I want Ctrl, which occasionally has bizarre results. (I will say I like how Lenovo puts everything requiring the Function key in blue.) However, if we speak of Function Keys in the plural (those F1-12 keys that were once so easy to touch-type back in the days when keyboards had them to the left!), I'm relieved to find that the Fujitsu, like most computers, aligns them pretty closely to the corresponding numeric keys. This means I'll be able to almost touch-type them. The Lenovo has F2 starting to the left of 1, so that F8 and F9 are above 7. This meant it was really hellish trying to use these keys, and believe me, I do use them. In some programs I use them A LOT. It causes me pain to watch students and conference presenters laboriously mousing through loads of menus to do things that can be accomplished by pressing (for example) F5.

Touchpads etc: The Lenovo has one of those pencil-eraser-shaped things for cursor movement. While better than a mouse, I didn't like it, as constant use was tiring. The clicker buttons were satisfactory. Thus, I was pleased to get a touchpad with the Fujitsu, although I still regret that Fujitsu phased out its earlier disk-shaped input devices, which were a very comfortable way of moving the cursor. But alas, I'm not sure I'm crazy about this touchpad. In combination with Windows 7, all kinds of weird things happen when it thinks I've gotten too close to it. I've already disabled some special function or other on the left side of the touchpad because my left hand was eternally setting it off. I may need to shut off a lot more things in order to make the touchpad truly usable rather than a weapon of unpredictable disaster. I'm also not crazy about the clicker buttons, which are too hard to find by touch for some reason. I'm always clicking on the edge of the laptop instead, I suppose because it is actually higher than the buttons and I expect the buttons to be what sticks up.

Operating System: I was really entirely content with XP. It was very stable and easy to use; I don't even remember there being much of a learning curve after Windows 98. So, especially after finding Vista a pain when working with my parents' computer, I was not eager to switch to Windows 7 despite hearing that it is considered quite satisfactory. Still, I was curious to see what it could do that I might like. At this point I'm not sure, because on the one hand I was dealing with its quirks most when installing new software, and on the other hand there are a lot of things that may be Windows 7 but on the other hand may be the Fujitsu's touch screen or touchpad instead. I get A LOT of unpredictable weird stuff happening, particularly in terms of things resizing in unwanted ways. Things would gigantify for no apparent reason, so that everything in the browser window with Gmail would be blown up too large to read--even if I closed and reopened the browser, or the desktop icons would bloat so that only about four would fit on the screen, or windows would leap to take over the screen when I wanted them to fill about a quarter of the screen. I was finally able to shut off the Windows 7 feature responsible for some of this mayhem, but it wasn't easy, and as I say that only shut off SOME of it. Also, the Windows Explorer windows are tricky to use. I was used to opening a folder and not having to see the whole directory structure over to the left--well, it's not a big deal to see it, but it takes up space. More to the point, when I'm moving files or folders, I have to be much more careful than ever before. Things really seem to want to go into the wrong place, or something I didn't intend to open suddenly becomes the open folder instead of the one I had very intentionally opened. I don't know if this is the fault of Windows 7 or of the Fujitsu.

Overall shape and contours: Much prefer the Fujitsu. The Lenovo has square corners, which I wouldn't mind except that they invariably caught in my sleeve. One of the first things I ever did after getting the Lenovo was to flip it onto the floor because I hadn't yet learned to move my arms very sedately around it to avoid catching the corners in my sleeves. I found that a very bizarre problem to have. It was partly because the Lenovo is very thin without its base. Let's just say it speaks well to the Lenovo's durability that it survived multiple tosses to the floor. Since the Fujitsu has round corners and a thicker bottom (to accommodate the swappable bay), chances of it catching in my sleeve and going flying are pretty small. Yes, it weighs more, and that's not a plus for portability, but it doesn't weigh all that much more, and I really like swappable bays. So much better than the separate base that I stupidly bought for the Lenovo instead of a plug-in DVD drive. The swappable bay means I can have a second hard drive in most of the time and swap in the DVD drive only as needed, which is rarely.

But enough of all this, classes begin in a week and my syllabi are not yet finished.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A Short Rant

Generally speaking, it's gotten much easier to submit fiction and poetry to journals than it was back in the ... Distant Past When I Spent A Fortune On Postage. For the most part, one uploads the file (often via a system called Submishmash), writes a brief cover letter, and with a few clicks the piece is on its way. Editors apparently find this easy to deal with as well, since they seem to respond more quickly than they used to (either that or I'm experiencing yet another byproduct of time racing by with increasing speed the older I get). There's also less chance of the submission being lost and requiring a series of inquiries.

Some publications want submissions attached to email, which is usually also pretty easy to handle.

What I do not understand is the desire of a few publications to make life more complicated by demanding that writers submit in non-standard formats. Normally, prose is formatted double-spaced, with contact information, word count, and rights offered up at the top of the first page, and with the author's name under the title, etc. Writers learn manuscript format early on because we don't want to annoy editors/look amateurish. We have our manuscripts neatly prepared and waiting on our computers, ready to upload the moment we decide publication X would be a great place to try.

And then we discover that the said publication wants the story copied into the body of an email. Or it wants it single-spaced. Or it wants no sign of the author's name anywhere. Or it wants a particular font used. Or it wants a bio statement in the same document. Or some other damned thing that wastes time and won't be wanted by any other publication.


These stipulations don't prevent me from submitting, but they do take time I could more productively use for something else. If the special formatting is in case of acceptance, then why not have me reformat if the piece is accepted? I'll feel much more willing at that point.

End of rant.

Friday, July 15, 2011

End of World Missed By Some

"There wasn't all that much news coverage of those Millennial types who thought the world was going to end on May 21," remarked My Sibling the other night.
"Didn't it?" inquired my father.
"Apparently I didn't notice," said I.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Unfortunate Associations

My Mother: I'm cooking stew.
My Father: You're cooking stool?
My Sibling: I'm not eating anyone's stool sample no matter how you cook it.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

How Stories Transmogrify

"Mabel used to cook some strange things," reminisced my father about his aunt. "What was her specialty again?"
"Pudding," said I (I have no clue what else Mabel ever cooked).
"Oh yeah, that's right. What was it she put in the pudding anyway, gopher tails?"

It had always been my understanding that it was roast beef that she put in the chocolate pudding, but maybe they had an excess of gophers on the farm that year. You never know. Maybe the gopher tails were a garnish.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

How Writing Groups Go Astray

Every writing group has its own peculiar character.
Bart turns into a bat and comes to the writing group at Alexis’s. Everyone but Stephanie realizes who the bat is; he perches on the back of the couch and squeaks. Later, Steve turns into a skunk and hides under the couch in embarrassment. Alexis tries to lure him out with a piece of cheese, but Bart eats the cheese. Bart insists on staying, hanging from the ceiling and sitting on the TV while Alexis watches, trying to persuade her to turn the channel to ‘Devil Girl from Mars’. Finally Stephanie brings lentil soup and he vanishes, leaving the apartment deep in guano.

Steve will leap out from under the couch and grab hold of Karla’s leg, refusing to let go until she lets him sleep in the bilge.

Some writing groups are more peculiar than others, of course. This was my third writing group. We often laughed uncontrollably about something called The Kitty Picture; just what The Kitty Picture was, I can no longer quite recall. I imagine it was a work of sentimental art retrieved from a garage sale, but perhaps I am mistaken and it appeared suddenly on a tortilla like a votive image of Elvis or the Virgin of Guadalupe.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Preparing for the Near Future

Here's what Rob Breszny had to say a couple of weeks ago:
LEO (July 23-Aug. 22)
I dreamed you had been tending an unusual garden for months. Your crops weren't herbs or flowers or vegetables, but rather miniature volcanoes. Each was now ripe and stood about waist-high. They erupted with a steady flow of liquid blue fire that you were harvesting in large, gold, Grail-like cups. Apparently this stuff was not only safe to drink, but profoundly energizing. You sipped some of the potion yourself and distributed the rest to a large gathering of enthusiastic people who had come to imbibe your tasty medicine. The mood was festive, and you were radiant. This dream of mine is a good metaphor for your life in the immediate future.

I was unsure whether this is about my students or my writing. Perhaps it's about both. If it was very immediate, however, I think it was about my students, both those who graduated and those who will return next year.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Fragment: On Grief or Resignation

With a certain stoic interest, he sat near the rail watching his mother float away as she stood in her long dress in the smaller, furl-masted sailboat, as though she were a figurehead entering an unknown port. Later, when he had grown up and left the sea, he stood in the center of a dusty road and watched his wife's car disappear down the straight; and it seemed to him very much the same.

(No, I'm not sure you can say furl-masted when it's the sails that are furled rather than the mast, but no better phrasing has ever come to mind, either 23 years ago or now. And no, I'm not sure exactly what caused me to write this, although I have a general idea. I would change a few words now, perhaps. It has a different meaning for me now than it originally did.)

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Dragon Fails

For the most part, I have Dragon rather well trained to take dictation, but it does require proofreading, especially on people's names and on words like "suppurating" which have a way of appearing as more common words like "separating." Every now and then, however, something truly perverse emerges, like "we behave with unusual incompetence sadistically yet without to obviously changing our outward habits."

That was supposed to be "we behave with unusual and complicitous decorum yet without too obviously changing our outward habits."

Friday, June 17, 2011

Ancient Limericks

A lady who looked like a cat
Used to go out and sit on a mat.
She wondered quite soon
"Should I bay at the moon?"
And her neighbors all wondered at that.

A boy who resembled a dog
Used to play he was dead as a log,
Until one day his dad
Quite enough of him had
And made him get up and go jog.

There once was a monstrous big tanker
Who when pulled by a tug did not thank her,
So the tug said "You bitch!
You belong in a ditch!"
And straightaway stove her and sank her.

A beggar asked me for a dime;
I said "Here, go and have a good time!"
He said "Not on your life,
This all goes to my wife,
Who's locked up for committing a crime!"

Sunday, February 27, 2011

When on Earth will Sidebar Cafe Get It Right?

Neighborhoods such as our downtown historic districts need good cafes. This seems pretty obvious to me--when you have a good cafe, people go and hang out and spend money. Both of the neighborhoods I lived in in Pittsburgh had good cafes--Shadyside had several reasonably good ones along Walnut, and Highland Park had the exceptional Tazza d'Oro. (All of these are still thriving since my departure, I might add, despite the grim economy.)
When I arrived in Dayton, I was gratified to find what seemed like the Dayton version of Tazza d'Oro, a place called Pacchia's. The coffee was good, there was a fine selection of pastries and breads, there was an adjoining restaurant serving lunch and brunch, and it was clear everyone in the area went there. In the evening it also served beer and wine, so it was the perfect place to stop with friends after a movie at the Neon. It was not quite on the same level as Tazza d'Oro in terms of cafe food, but it was about as close as I could reasonably expect.
In January 2010, however, Pacchia's rather silently changed ownership. At first all that was noticeable was that the cafe closed for a week for some counter remodeling. The new counter was supposed to make things more convenient, although I thought it was less so than the original one.
Gradually, I became aware that the restaurant side--which had been quite a popular destination as well--was closed and that the cafe no longer served beer and wine in the evening. People coming in for brunch were sent away and told that they could get sandwiches at the deli down the street. The restaurant side gradually became off-limits to cafe patrons, meaning less seating in the morning hours, and there were usually people over there discussing remodeling plans. For a long time people didn't know what to call the place other than "the place that used to be Pacchia's," so finally staff began to tell us to call it the Sidebar, that it had been bought by a downtown bar by that name.
For the first few months, it wasn't all that different beyond the lack of brunch. I think people were fairly optimistic that the new management simply had to get things off the ground. The cafe began to serve some pretty good sandwiches.
Around the time I bought my house, the cafe closed for yet more remodeling. I can't remember whether this was at the same time as the restaurant side reopened--probably. At any rate, it reopened with a completely different wood floor (staff said they thought this one would be easier to clean than the previous one, which I thought pretty unlikely *I've just heard that the new floor is vinyl, so that's why*), a completely new and expensive-looking counter area, and a yellow-orange-green paint scheme. Now, I wouldn't say I dislike the new counter area visually, but the old one was much too nice to get rid of, and the old paint scheme was far better. (I heard a fair number of customers comment on how they disliked the new paint; I can only remember hearing one say he liked it.) The restaurant area was also remodeled, moving the bar from one corner to another for no discernible reason. Basically, the remodeling seemed like a major waste of time and money, done only to emphasize that this was Sidebar now and not Pacchia's.
One day when I was hauling stuff over to the new house, I had a craving for one of the nice new sandwiches the cafe had been serving. I've forgotten whether it was tuna or chicken salad. In any case, I stopped in, only to be told that if I wanted lunch I had to go to the restaurant side. Mildly embarrassed, I sat down. I was in work clothes, fairly grimy, and this was all sparkling white tablecloth, with nothing under $10 on the menu. The food was excellent, but the ambiance was hardly what I had in mind.
After the restaurant opened, people continued to come in on weekends hoping for brunch, but the restaurant wasn't serving. Nor is the cafe open in the evenings anymore. The cafe no longer served the sandwiches, and the pastry case was utterly gone, so that instead of a tempting array of lemon bars and muffins (the sunrise muffins had been excellent), you were lucky if you could get a bagel. Coffee customers ceased to have a choice among skim, regular milk, and half-and-half; fortunately I prefer half-and-half since that's all there is now. Honey and the shakers of chocolate and spices disappeared. The new layout also means that the employees often forget to put out napkins or jackets or the half-and-half; I still, months later, regularly hear them complain of not knowing where to find things.
Recently the cafe began serving breakfast items like breakfast sandwiches and waffles. I was delighted to notice this when I stopped in on my way to school, and decided I'd give this a try on Sunday when I'd have a stack of grading to do. I biked over with my quizzes and papers, heartily looking forward to the new menu, only to be told that they don't serve breakfast on the weekend. Supposedly "only about five people will ask for breakfast or lunch today" and to get more would require expensive advertising, so it wouldn't be worth it.
Stunned by this strange logic, I pointed out that most people who want something don't bother to ask if it looks like it's not available; they just get something else or leave entirely. (Usually I get a bagel, but I didn't see any, so I just got coffee instead of the planned breakfast.) Besides, in a neighborhood cafe there's no real need to spend any money advertising; all you need to do is put a sign on the door or a chalkboard on the sidewalk announcing you've got something new and exciting on the menu.
It's no surprise that fewer and fewer people go to the cafe. The groups I used to see nearly every time I came by rarely seem to meet in the space. I'm guessing that some of them may go over to Ohio Coffee Company now, which is the closest place I know of but not very close to my house nor, last I checked, open on weekends. I like Ohio Coffee Company quite a bit, it's just not all that convenient for me, being somewhat more downtown.
If I go down to the University of Dayton area, there are several options in the form of Panera, Starbuck's, and the relatively new cafe Butter. The two chains are pretty good, but I prefer to support local independents when possible. Butter has very good breakfasts--I really like their Paris Omelet--but for the price there ought to be potatoes with the omelets (you'd get that for the same price even in an expensive city like Berkeley), the coffee is marginal, and the waitstaff doesn't seem fully trained yet (often they forget to bring the coffee until well after the food arrives, and friends and I have encountered other such faux pas). But in any case the UD area isn't remarkably convenient for me, even though I can bike there so long as it's not snowy or raining.
In sum, I'd say the Oregon District, St. Anne's Hill, and northern South Park are thirsting for the ideal local cafe. In my opinion, that's a cafe with good coffee, teas, and free wifi, a nice selection of bagels and pastries, which ideally serves soups, salads, and to some extent sandwiches and egg-based things. It should be good both for take-out coffee and for lingering (those who linger reading or grading tend to end up buying more food and drink).
It's my understanding that the Sidebar restaurant is very good--and that's a fine thing--but while I might go to the restaurant once or twice a year (I haven't been yet other than the one lunch foray), I'd be spending a much more reliable stream of cash on bagels, muffins, sandwiches, soup, and the occasional omelet. I don't think I'm alone in this. Alas, it seems clear that Sidebar's owners are really only interested in running a relatively fancy restaurant and have no clue (or don't care) that they could earn quite a bit serving the community with a better cafe.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Regrettable Discoveries

In a moment of obsessiveness, I thought perhaps it would be a good plan to get up to date on exactly which dissertations I had downloaded (over the past couple of years or so) for future reading. After all, most of them have file titles made up solely of numbers, which is not very informative at first glance.
The danger inherent in a project like this, of course, is that one can't resist starting to read, and it would be better to read and grade student papers, or read something for fun. But when I saw that one of these dissertations had a chapter on Devětsil, I didn't see how there could be any harm in reading just that one chapter, in case I learned something new and exciting.
Yet I am feeling unhappy rather than excited. While overall the chapter has reasonable things to say--it deals with Devětsil as a precursor to the main topic of the dissertation, which I will refrain from mentioning here as a courtesy to the author--it is riddled with unfortunate factual errors.
First off, the author calls surrealism a late phase of Devětsil. This is either backwards or just wrong, depending on how you think Prague surrealism came to be. While the original Prague surrealist group did more or less emerge from the ashes of Devětsil, the two groups were not the same. Nezval liked to claim that Devětsil was an embryonic stage of Prague surrealism, as when in 1934 he told Jindřich Chalupecký that Poetism (an aspect of Devětsil thought) was "latent surrealism." Very few members of Devětsil, however, became surrealists. Devětsil was over and disbanded by the time the Prague surrealist group formed.
Next, the author calls Josef Váchal a Devětsil poet. This startled me considerably. Váchal was a writer as well as an artist, but he was pretty independent and for that matter really the wrong generation to belong to Devětsil. Váchal was born in 1884 and the vast majority of Devětsil members were born around 1900. Váchal was more of a Symbolist or Decadent. It is possible that the dissertation author's source on Váchal was misleading (there is plenty of incorrect information published in English on Czech modernists), but it would not have been difficult to look up a well-known figure like Váchal, especially if one reads Czech, which apparently the author does.
The next unfortunate moment involved the author's failure to pick up on 1920s popular culture references. Namely, that the Jiří Voskovec picture poem Skyscraped Doug refers to Douglas Fairbanks. I don't think that this would have bothered me unduly had it been a lone bit of ignorance; I certainly don't claim to know what everything in Skyscraped Doug is all about either. But Douglas Fairbanks was an honorary Devětsil member and the photo in the lower right corner is definitely of him, never mind that I couldn't say what the precise source of the photo was or if the work refers to a specific Fairbanks film. The author was puzzled why "Doug" would appear, and this is something that shouldn't have been hard to track down.
Alas, the muddling goes on. Jan Mukařovský is identified as a poet as well as a member of the Prague Linguistic Circle. Reading that, I thought "Did I somehow fail to notice that Mukařovský was a poet?" However, a quick jaunt around the internet suggested that if Mukařovský ever wrote a line of poetry, it was probably during his teens. Oh well. The author then confuses Jan Neruda with Pablo Neruda by stating that Mukařovský's quotation of F.X. Šalda's words about Jan Neruda at the beginning of "Poetic language as a Functional Language and as a material" was Mukařovský's praise of Pablo Neruda's poetry. I'm sorry to say this, but we both read the same page in English in the volume On Poetic Language (1976) and even if it might be all right to naively confuse the dead Czech writer (subject of Mukařovský's academic thesis) with Mukařovský Chilean contemporary, it's pretty sloppy to take the Šalda quote, which Mukařovský uses in discussing poetic use of unlovely language, for Mukařovský praising anyone.
I didn't notice any other errors in the Devětsil chapter, fortunately. I hope the author was more careful in checking the bulk of the dissertation, because it's on a topic I'd like to learn more about.
And I certainly hope that no one reading my own dissertation is finding any lamentable obvious errors of fact there. I daresay there are probably a few, but I hope they are few and forgivable.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

And We Go to CAA...

It being February, it's College Art Association time again. The agony (sometimes) of choosing among sessions, and all that.
For the opening set, I was torn between a panel on Pre-Columbian art (after all, I don't know much about it, and CAA is a good opportunity to sample the less-known-to-me) and a panel on The Afterlife of Cubism. I was less interested in hearing about cubism given that I already know a fair amount about it, but last quarter I taught a course on cubism and other heavily abstracted or nonobjective movements, and it went well enough that I think I'll repeat it, so I felt this was a panel that would directly benefit my teaching.
My reaction to the lineup of papers was that it looked rather francocentric, but the first paper, by David Cottington, introduced the audience to cubism from Central and Eastern Europe, focusing on Czech and Polish cubism. As introductory papers go, it was well done, and posed some interesting questions about how we should theorize cubism in its various forms and locations. Still, it didn't really tell me much of anything new. I've read most of the English-language literature on Central and Eastern European cubism, after all, as well as a certain amount in other languages.
Papers on Gris and Léger went into much more depth, and I particularly enjoyed the exploration of Gris, but when we reached Sonia Delaunay-Terk, suddenly we were back to the introductory. At that point I began to get angry. Why is it that in a standing-room only panel on the Afterlife of Cubism, canonical artists like Gris and Léger get (naturally) the in-depth, subtle analysis while we're still on ground floor with cubism outside France and with a fairly canonical female artist like Delaunay-Terk (or Terk-Delaunay)? Delaunay-Terk is an artist whose obscurity ended thirty years ago, for heaven's sake. There should be no need to present introductory papers on her at CAA, where all of the modern specialists and a large percentage of the other attendees ought to be familiar already with everything that was said about her Wednesday. We should have gotten as in-depth a look at her work as we got at that of Gris and Léger and Miró. As for the Central and Eastern European cubists, it is true that they are not as well known as ought to be the case, but modern specialists ought to be aware by this time of at least the major names, particularly those of the Czech cubists, who are the best represented in English-language scholarship.
There was, unfortunately, time for only one audience question, but several of us did comment to David Cottington that it was time for a panel focused on the Central/Eastern European side. As my roommate commented later in the day, the art-historical literature in English is still fairly introductory and it's time to start dealing with some of the issues broached by Cottington.

Saturday, February 5, 2011


Long ago, well before the advent of digital cameras, I owned a couple of very nice manual cameras. (No tedious batteries or anything!) One was a Brownie box camera that used 620 film, and the other was a Praktiflex FX. While neither was really intended for flash photography, and in fact I never attempted to use flash on either one, each was an excellent camera in its own way. But alas, just as I was getting serious about photography and experimenting with printing black-and-white, both cameras were, to all intents and purposes, destroyed. (Let's not talk about that any further.)
Eventually I bought a decent-quality Yashica, but I never became very fond of it. I didn't get the same quality of candid shots looking straight through the Yashica as I had looking down into the Praktiflex, and while I enjoyed having flash, I disliked relying on batteries and being lured into using the automated point-and-shoot mode. Around the time I bought my digital camera, the Yashica developed an ailment of some sort and it has been awaiting a trip to the repair shop ever since.
It eventually dawned on me that while I had never seen another Praktiflex anywhere, all manner of things surface on E-Bay. And indeed, Praktiflex cameras do show up on E-Bay with some regularity, although not always whole or in good condition. I decided to get another one. This was easier said than done, since I don't really monitor E-Bay and almost never buy anything that way, but eventually I put in a bid on one.
I might add that I was feeling some urgency about getting one, as the digital camera had (as far as I can tell) given up the ghost while I was visiting Chicago recently.
Now, this weekend I have generally been feeling miserable, as I had papers to finish grading, a large batch of exams to grade as well, and I was beginning to feel as though I was an extremely incompetent lecturer after seeing how few students managed to identify any of the exam works fully (or even to follow my verbal instructions to place the IDs before the essay portions). It is not a good thing when you have a student who writes "Donatello" for every work whether it is Sainte-Chapelle, a page from the Très Riches Heures, Giotto's Madonna Enthroned, or a Jan van Eyck. (Why this student is obsessed with Donatello, I cannot imagine. If she likes Donatello so much, she should be able to tell that he had nothing to do with any of these other works.)
All that in mind, imagine my joy at discovering a box on my (very snowy) doorstep, in which resided the new-to-me Praktiflex!
It is not strictly identical to my former one. I knew before buying it that it has a different lens. The old one was a Zeiss and this one says Westenar. However, lenses can be swapped, and this lens may be quite satisfactory. The thing now is to get some film into it. And, of course, these days the question is where one buys film. Since there are two professors of photography in my department, learning where to buy film will not be a problem.