Scientifically cool, with new cartoon

Observation on the basis of iconography: American cultural history and American literary history seem to be arguing for new study of the once famous, now forgotten Georgia novelist Erskine Caldwell (1903-1987). See below. The second icon depicts the office of House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi during the Republican insurrection of January 6, 2021, when the United States Capitol was occupied by a paramilitary force of Caldwell grotesques.

Grotesques were a Caldwell specialty; grotesques and lurid sex scenes. A cruel laughter pervades. But Caldwell was also a serious liberal who collaborated in 1937 with the photographer Margaret Bourke-White on a documentary book, You Have Seen Their Faces, which showed its readers some of the things that the South’s chain gangs and sharecropper economics had done to faces and bodies. Soon to become Caldwell’s wife, Bourke-White was one of the foremost photojournalists of the twentieth century, but when You Have Seen Their Faces is read in the twenty-first it’s read only for educational comparison with James Agee and Walker Evans’s Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, which was published in 1941 and went virtually unread at the time. In her history of that exchange of reputations, Janet Holtman suggests a reason why: Caldwell’s attitude toward humanity, which was naturalist tending toward eugenicist. In retrospect, where the literary judgments are made, Caldwell’s characters have turned out not to be fully human. We remember Agee’s three families for their souls, but we recognize Caldwell’s type species only for their pathognomonic signs. And the faces photographed by Bourke-White in the service of Caldwell’s vision were reduced by his captions to the function of medical illustration.

But oh, go ahead and notice the Bible in the pocket in Caldwell’s image 3. The Caldwell way of seeing is still available to you after all — if not photographically, at least verbally. After all, too, the initials N.A.L. stand for New American Library. So go ahead: read. Then, if you can, laugh. Laughing, close thy Agee. While thou art at it, close thy sentimental Steinbeck too. Instead, if only as an experiment, open Caldwell and see if he can be thine. Consider it possible that the maimed humor characters who swarm through his language actually are happy with what it has done with them: summoning up their bodies from the pathology text, making them live and move and hit and tweet and kill. Then, please, try to understand what your disbelieving laughter is teaching thee about our country.

 

(1958)

 

Janet Holtman, “‘White Trash’ in Literary History: The Social Interventions of Erskine Caldwell and James Agee.” American Studies, vol. 53, no. 2, 2014, pp. 31-48.

And it was Diogenes Teufelsdröckh in Carlyle’s Sartor Resartus who said, “Close thy Byron; open thy Goethe.

Household god dating from the Republican period

“Unidentified soldier in Confederate uniform with bayoneted musket and pistol,” Liljenquist Family Collection of Civil War Photographs, Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2015650755/. Post-processed for contrast and detail. This tinted photograph is an ambrotype — that is, it is generically a low-contrast mirror image.

Belongings

EBf7z_UW4AAPkyP aiB plus BDM
“You too belong to the Führer.” Poster, League of German Girls (Bund deutscher Mädel), 1933-1945. On August 7, 2019, President Donald J. Trump flew to the border city of El Paso to condole with the survivors of a mass shooting inspired by his anti-Mexican rhetoric. While there, he and his wife posed, grinning and thumbs-upping, with a two-month-old baby whose mother and father had died shielding their child.

 

Language note: ask any sophomore

A Chicago-based restaurant chain has apologized for asking Hawaiians to stop using two Hawaiian words…kind of.

Over the weekend a furore broke out when it came to light that the Aloha Poke Co. had sent cease and desist letters to several small businesses operating as some variation of “Aloha Poke,” which it owns the trademark for. Many of these businesses are run by native Hawaiians. Aloha Poke Co. is not.

[. . .]

In response, the company took to Facebook to share a deep apology that the issue had “been so triggering” and to defend itself against what it called misinformation spread on social media. The post said the company had not tried to own the words “aloha” or “poke” and had not told Hawaiian businesses they could not use the words “aloha” or “poke.” Instead, they’d merely enforced their trademark which protects the use of the phrase “Aloha Poke” in connection with food service.

The Aloha Poke Co. founder, Zach Friedlander, who no longer works at the company, also posted on Facebook, saying he was “deeply saddened by the reaction that some have taken regarding this situation.” He went on to say the reaction was a “witch hunt” based on “false news”.

— Hallie Detrick, “Aloha Poke Co Is Really Sorry It Told Native Hawaiians They Couldn’t Use ‘Aloha Poke.'” http://fortune.com/2018/07/31/aloha-poke-cease-and-desist/

About the red letters:

With his business and political activities under investigation as of August 2018, President Trump is tweeting several times a day about what he calls, with perhaps trademarkable capital initials, “the Witch Hunt” and “Fake News.” The difference between Mr. Trump’s “Fake News” and Mr. Friedlander’s “false news” may seem trivial, but in the classroom it matters. When you ask a sophomore why, the sophomore will explain that when you change “Fake” to “false,” that makes it not really plagiarism.

Sort of the way standing a plastic hula girl in the snow outside your restaurant door fills Chicago with aloha.

Right, Dennis?

Franco-Italian language note: the plural of “rigoletto”

May 19, 2018. The car’s radio transmits a bass voice singing over diminishing-storm effects on flute. Oh yes: it’s act 4 of Rigoletto, and Sparafucile has just delivered the body bag. The jester has lost his honor but gained his revenge. Egli è là! he soliloquizes over the bag. Morto!

But what is that tenor voice in the distance? And is it singing La donna è mobile?

Oh no. And because the tenor has taken to the radio to explain about women, it’s easy for us delightedly unseeing hearers to visualize him in a comb-over.

On May 16, former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had delivered the commencement address at Virginia Military Institute. Without naming any names, Mr. Tillerson suggested to the graduates that virtue may have value, appearances to the contrary notwithstanding. Two months earlier, white-haired Mr. Tillerson had been publicly broken by the blonded master whose vices he faithfully served. He wasn’t the only one.

An accurately idiomatic plural of rigoletto (“funny little guy”) wouldn’t be rigoletti. It would be optimists.

 

 

 

Larry Clark and William Gedney: documentarians of the prehistory of the Trump era

A Larry Clark archive is at

https://www.icp.org/browse/archive/constituents/larry-clark?all/all/all/all/0

A William Gedney archive is at

http://library.duke.edu/digitalcollections/gedney/?keyword=kentucky

Forty years ago, the prophetic photographs were silent and still. We thought they were archaeologies of civilizations relegated to the archive. Now they pass among us in color and motion, telling us in their dead language what we have become and retweeting the corpus in the language of the undead. We are joining them in the archive.