An instinct

In the days of Betty Friedan, an object of feminist scorn was Phyllis McGinley, poet of suburban domesticity. The hate has gone away now, if only because the immensely successful writer of the middle twentieth century is now unread. A fast history of her representative evanishment from memory, if you need one, is Ginia Bellafante’s “Suburban Rapture,” New York Times, December 24, 2008.

Acting on the need isn’t mandatory, though. The historical point about Phyllis really makes itself. It has a completely self-evident background, for example, here on these four pages from The New Yorker. “War war war! Fiddle dee dee!” Miss Scarlett had protested a short time before they appeared, but by now the date on the cover had advanced to October 25, 1941. The war had been on for more than two years as of then, and Pearl Harbor was less than two months in the fully foreseeable future. So no, say the images on the pages to you, as of 1941 and also as of ever after: don’t ignore and don’t evade. Fiddle dee dee won’t work, and now you are obliged to know that it never did. You always had to look.

And you did look at this corpus. The prose is showing its age, but ah, the pictures . . .

But the consecutive corpus is actually five pages long, and you looked only at pages 1, 3, 4 and 5. Except for the little dog-doodle by James Thurber, page 2 is read-only, and one part of the reading it imposes on you is not in prose. There it is, below the dog: the poem by Phyllis McGinley.

See how The New Yorker’s typographers have helped you identify it the way a timetable identifies a train. Yes: Phyllis McGinley, poet of America’s northeastern burbs, classified this section of her lexicon into an English or Shakespearean sonnet, a consist actually devised by Surrey. That arrangement of words is a form, and it belongs to literature. After the war, when Americans who had survived the war needed to forget, literature went looking within its forms and found there a Phyllis technique for forgetting the whole by remembering parts. After a while, when the work of forgetting was complete, that phase in the history of form could be broken back down to the parts: octave and sestet, salvageable steam engine and children. Phyllis McGinley herself (1905-1978) could be trucked to the antique store, and while we’re at it ubi sunt the Spasmodic poets and Mrs. Humphry Ward?

But affection isn’t mortal on schedule.

Look at this Phyllis. If the looking gets you to think, as unerringly as birdsong, some such word as “face,” perhaps the association has evoked a notion of being loved face to face, regardless of what you know better. So a possibility remains that in some nest somewhere there always will be a Phyllis, regardless of the But you know better words that persist in saying things like “pathetic fallacy.” Ahistorically, just as a matter of biological necessity, a Phyllis nest may still be building somewhere for us, regardless of who the Phyllis of the moment may be.

White bandage: chivalry as a mode of corporal control

“Riviero, Señorita Lenore. With Anthony Jannus; in Rex Smith aeroplane,” 1912. Harris & Ewing Collection, Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2016863243/. Contrast and detail restored.

Compare the expressions of the man at the controls and the woman being controlled.

Then imagine the Marquis de Sade in a state of meditative connoisseurship, contemplating Srta. Riviero’s calves as she rises into the air, lashed. Her knotted binding may be a bridal garment at its symbolic work of standing for. The conception comes to the marquis. Ever after, the white symbol may stand for control. Ever after, it may inflict.

Fox News: its values and its viewers

Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2020630074/. Contrast and detail restored.

From England’s Natural History Museum, https://www.nhm.ac.uk/our-science/departments-and-staff/library-and-archives/collections/piltdown-man.html:

In 1912 Charles Dawson, an amateur archaeologist, claimed to have discovered the ‘missing link’ between ape and man. He had found part of a human-like skull in Pleistocene gravel beds near Piltdown village in Sussex, England.

Dawson wrote to Arthur Smith Woodward, Keeper of Geology at the Natural History Museum at the time, about his find.  

Dawson and Smith Woodward started working together, making further discoveries in the area. They found a set of teeth, a jawbone, more skull fragments and primitive tools, which they suggested belonged to the same individual.

Smith Woodward made a reconstruction of the skull fragments, and the archaeologists hypothesised that the find indicated evidence of a human ancestor living 500,000 years ago. They announced their discovery at a Geological Society meeting in 1912. For the most part, their story was accepted in good faith.

However, in 1949 new dating technology arrived that changed scientific opinion on the age of the remains. Using fluorine tests, Dr Kenneth Oakley, a geologist at the Natural History Museum, discovered that the Piltdown remains were only 50,000 years old. This eliminated the possibility of the Piltdown Man being the missing link between humans and apes as at this point in time humans had already developed into their Homo sapiens form.

Following this, biological anthropologist Dr Joseph Weiner and human anatomist Wilfrid Le Gros Clark, both from Oxford University, worked with Dr Oakley to further test the age of the Piltdown findings. Their results showed that the skull and jaw fragments actually came from two different species, a human and an ape, probably an orangutan.

Scratches on the surfaces of the teeth, visible under the microscope, revealed that the teeth had been filed down to make them look human. They also discovered that most of the finds from the Piltdown site had been artificially stained to match the local gravels.

The conclusion: Piltdown Man was an audacious fake and a sophisticated scientific fraud.

We hold many documents and photographs relating to the Piltdown Man, including correspondence between Woodward Smith and Dr Oakley and communications within the Museum’s palaeontology department. The Museum also has a large collection of photographs of the original findings and cranial restoration. There are also a number of Museum publications on the Piltdown story.

 

Nevertheless, what you’re seeing is in color, just like your TV.

Requires red-and-blue stereo viewer.

So you know it’s true.