Karsh of Ottawa (Yousuf Karsh, 1908-2002; https://karsh.org) studied stage lighting at the Ottawa Little Theatre, and dramatic lighting was one of the hallmarks of his portraits. In his iconic image of Humphrey Bogart, for instance, a dedicated spotlight delineated the smoky detail of Bogart’s cigarette.
Toward the end of his life, Karsh moved all the way south to Boston, where he died. But half of Canada spends the winter in Hawaii, and you see that Karsh’s successor enterprise now lives southerly on in deeper winter quarters.
Not just the delicate temporary touching down from the air, unknowingly populated skyline, and fingerprint just inside the barrier that margins you off from the dead,
but even the defacing scratches and spots on the record itself. For a brief intermission between oblivions, the ordinary is perceived. A moment too late after that, it is understood to have been extraordinary.
William Butler Yeats didn’t at all enjoy getting old, and like a Silicon Valley frat boy of the twenty-first century he tried to do something about it. One of his projects was to construct, elaborate and describe a model of himself as a poem self-transmigrated from a mortal body with ink-stained living fingers to an immortal mechanism: a prosody fabricating itself to carry out the work of eternity.
But Yeats also had a more practical project in mind. That one wasn’t an original poem; at the time, it was current in such other texts as the lyric of Irving Berlin’s song “The Monkey Doodle-Doo.” Its key word there, however, was not gold but gland, and that G-word wasn’t a bejeweled utterance gleaming in the air but a soft, flesh-muffled sense inside the body, warmed with the blood of mortal life and comical and shameful as life is comical and shameful. The joke is on you, sings gland’s song there through a mouthful of meat. I am going to give out on you no matter what, and so you are going to die.
In Ulysses, gland takes on the comically anti-transcendental form of a pork kidney in a Zionist butcher shop. But Yeats’s gland was delivered to him on what he conceived of as an altar, even if the altar happened to be an operating table in a zoo filled with funny animals. At the end of this note you’ll find the animal joke’s sacerdotal history, with medical illustrations.
And now, a century post-surgery, the air over the island of Oahu is filled with the descendants of escaped cage birds. This one, a Java finch, lives with her family in the shadow under my eaves. But my eaves also shelter a Photoshop workshop, and Photoshop has joined with the feather-warmed bird to bring a simulacrum of light to bear on her image.
And see: gland has become jeweled artifice, and a beak has become an artwork claiming for its rigid boniness the fleshly attribute of smiling human happiness.
A history of the monkey-gland operation is at uroso20-history