(Roughly) Daily

“The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven”*…

 

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The Easter ‘Passion of the Christ’ procession in Comayagua, a small town in Honduras

 

Cults, generally speaking, are a lot like pornography: you know them when you see them. It would be hard to avoid the label on encountering (as I did, carrying out field work last year) 20 people toiling unpaid on a Christian farming compound in rural Wisconsin – people who venerated their leader as the closest thing to God’s representative on Earth. Of course, they argued vehemently that they were not a cult. Ditto for the 2,000-member church I visited outside Nashville, whose parishioners had been convinced by an ostensibly Christian diet programme to sell their houses and move to the ‘one square mile’ of the New Jerusalem promised by their charismatic church leader. Here they could eat – and live – in accordance with God and their leader’s commands. It’s easy enough, as an outsider, to say, instinctively: yes, this is a cult.

Less easy, though, is identifying why. Knee-jerk reactions make for poor sociology, and delineating what, exactly, makes a cult (as opposed to a ‘proper’ religious movement) often comes down to judgment calls based on perceived legitimacy. Prod that perception of legitimacy, however, and you find value judgments based on age, tradition or ‘respectability’ (that nice middle-class couple down the street, say, as opposed to Tom Cruise jumping up and down on a couch). At the same time, the markers of cultism as applied more theoretically – a single charismatic leader, an insular structure, seeming religious ecstasy, a financial burden on members – can also be applied to any number of new or burgeoning religious movements that we don’t call cults.

Often (just as with pornography), what we choose to see as a cult tells us as much about ourselves as about what we’re looking at…

Cults are exploitative, weird groups with strange beliefs and practices, right? So what about regular religions then?  “What is a Cult?

To get a sense of terrain in question, visit Wikipedia’s page “New Religious Movement” and consult their “List of new religious movements.”

For a sense of how time can convert a “new religious movement” into an established faith, consult the “Timeline of religion.”

And for (one) opinion of where all of this might be leading, see “Tomorrow’s Gods: What is the future of religion?

* John Milton, Paradise Lost

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As we ponder piety, we might recall that today is the concluding day of International Clown Week.

Screen Shot 2020-08-03 at 2.46.55 PM source

 

 

“Strong minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, weak minds discuss people”*…

 

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Interior of a London Coffee-house, 17th century

 

Picture someone who spends hours each day debating politics, indiscriminately consuming serious news and dubiously sourced gossip, yet takes no part in actual political action. That might describe many twenty-first-century Twitter users. As philosopher Uriel Heyd writes, it’s also how satirists depicted obsessed news consumers in eighteenth-century Britain.

The turn of the century brought a flourishing of print media, Heyd writes. By the 1710s, artisans and shopkeepers filled coffeehouses, discussing and debating the events in political and foreign affairs that they had read about in the day’s papers.

Soon, satires appeared in theaters, depicting regular citizens absurdly focused on the political sphere, to the detriment of their personal lives. In the 1711 play The Generous Husband, a woman dismisses a news-obsessed man as “a walking News-paper: his Head is the very Emblem of the dirty Houses he frequents, full of foul Pipes, News, and Coffee—Foh, methinks I smell him hither; he stinks of Tabacco like an old Gazette.” In the 1769 comedy The School for Rakes, a female character asks to have newspapers and magazines sent to her: “My mental faculties are quite at a stand—I have not had the least political information, these four days.”…

Hooked on viral news (or is it gossip?), today’s Twitter hordes owe a lot to history’s coffeehouses: “The News Junkies of the Eighteenth Century.”

* Socrates

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As we watch what went around come around, we might send insinuating birthday greetings to Louella Parsons; she was born on this date in 1881.  In the movie business from its earliest days (she supplied a script to the Eassanay Company before they discovered Charlie Chaplin), she became a film columnist in 1914– and a few years later, became the lead gossip columnist for the Hearst papers.

There was persistent speculation that Parsons was elevated to her position as the Hearst chain’s lead gossip columnist because of a scandal she did not write about. In 1924, director Thomas Ince died after being carried off Hearst’s yacht, allegedly to be hospitalized for indigestion. Many Hearst newspapers falsely claimed that Ince had not been aboard the boat at all and had fallen ill at the newspaper mogul’s home. Charlie Chaplin‘s secretary reported seeing a bullet hole in Ince’s head when he was removed from the yacht. Rumors proliferated that Chaplin was having an affair with Hearst’s mistress Marion Davies, and that an attempt to shoot Chaplin may have caused Ince’s death. Allegedly, Parsons was also aboard the yacht that night but she ignored the story in her columns. The official cause of death was listed as heart failure…   – source

In any event, Parsons became an influential figure in Hollywood; at her peak, her columns were read by 20 million people in 400 newspapers worldwide.  She was the unchallenged “Queen of Hollywood gossip”… until the arrival of the flamboyant Hedda Hopper, with whom she feuded for years.

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“Hollywood is a place where a man can get stabbed in the back while climbing a ladder”*…

 

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Cartoon of the brothers Warner drawn by Faulkner for his daughter Jill. Early 1940s. Center for Faulkner Studies, Southeast Missouri State University

 

William Faulkner disparaged his two decades of work in film, even though he spent the equivalent of four years in Hollywood and worked at MGM, Universal, Twentieth Century-Fox, RKO, and Warner Bros. Biographies of Faulkner treat his film work as more or less ancillary to his life and fiction, but in fact his screenwriting transformed his conception of himself and his writing. An understanding of the man and his work changes when his contributions to cinema are integrated into a capacious conception of his career…   – “The Cinematic Faulkner: Framing Hollywood

Jill Faulkner Summers found the screenplay for the vampire film Dreadful Hollow among her father’s papers in 1999.  An adaption of Irina Karlova’s lesbian vampire tale of the same title, it remains unpublished (except for excerpts) and unproduced… but not unstudied:

The screenplay is an important contribution to Faulkner scholarship in particular and film adaptation studies in general because the script has not been altered or edited in any way by anyone other than Faulkner. Because the film has not been produced, the multiple script revisions that usually occur when a film goes into production have not happened.  The script is completely Faulkner’s own and reading the screenplay allows a rare glimpse into Faulkner the screenwriter after he had been at it in Hollywood for over ten years. This essay provides the first thorough analysis of Faulkner’s unpublished screenplay for Dreadful Hollow. The first section gives an overview of how the script came to be, Hawks’ attempts to get the film made, and a detailed summary of the screenplay with new plot details not mentioned in earlier published summaries.  The second section focuses on the screenplay as a vampire narrative that borrows conventions from earlier vampire texts and catalogues the significant changes Faulkner made to the vampire novel on which the screenplay is based.  Faulkner chose to emphasize the vampire’s lesbianism to a greater extent than any earlier female vampire text, which is all the more striking because a female vampire film had not been made since Dracula’s Daughter (1936).  He also added details and made filmic changes to the story that cause the vampire’s destruction to appear as a rape or lynching and a revenge response to her lesbianism.  Finally, the essay shows how Faulkner reworks the novel’s conventional detective narrative for the film by including his own specific interests in crime narratives to give Hawks another vehicle for his vision.  He was rewriting the detective stories, “Knight’s Gambit” and “An Error in Chemistry” for publication while working on the screenplay and had just completed the screenplays for To Have and Have Not (1944) and The Big Sleep (1946) for Hawks…

Faulkner wrote Dreadful Hollow immediately following To Have and Have Not and The Big Sleep, and so it should be read along with those two films as indicative of the kind of work he produced for Hawks at the time. The screenplay reveals Faulkner’s approach to adaptation was to add elements that could deepen an audience’s appreciation of a form. In doing so, he resists the Hollywood Studio system’s tendency to whitewash corners and soften the shadows of source materials, something that would have been appreciated by his friend and sometimes employer, Hawks. Because the film has not been produced, the multiple script revisions that usually accompanied any script Faulkner wrote for a studio have not happened and the script is completely Faulkner’s own. The screenplay reveals him to be a serious and focused screenwriter with a wide knowledge of early film narratives and techniques who by 1945 had become quite good at his trade. Faulkner stamped the screenplay with his signature multiple times and so it contains large traces of his more canonical work. These echoes serve to further blur the lines between his “literary work” and his “commercial work” and suggest, instead, that for Faulkner, the distinction was perhaps not as clear as scholars have made it out to be. It therefore, should be considered a supplement to his more literary work. I wholeheartedly agree with Kawin’s 1977 assessment of the script: It’s Faulkner’s best screenplay and it deserves a place among his better-known and published work…

Grateful TotH to friend CE…

For a review of Faulkner’s entire career as a screenwriter, visit the essay cited at the top: “The Cinematic Faulkner: Framing Hollywood.”

* William Faulkner

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As we reframe fame, we might spare a thought for Martin E. Segal; he died on this date in 2012.  A Russian emigre to the U.S., Segal built a successful international human resources and employee benefit consulting firm.  But he is much better remembered for his passionate support for the arts– perhaps most particularly, as a champion of Lincoln Center and as the co-founder (in 1969, with William F. May and Schuyler G. Chapin) of the Film Society of Lincoln Center, and as its first President.  Now know as Film at Lincoln Center, it hosts The New York Film Festival and (with the Museum of Modern Art) the New Directors/NewFilms Festival.

As The New York Times noted in its obituary, while Marty “was generous with his money, he was perhaps most admired for the donations he managed to extract from others. He used to say he had no trouble giving people the ‘opportunity’ to contribute to the causes he cared most about, whether it be Lincoln Center’s redevelopment project, which updated the campus; Public Radio International [now PRX], of which he was a founding member; or the Library of America, a nonprofit publisher dedicated to publishing, and keeping in print, editions of America’s most significant writing.”

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“The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool”*…

 

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Naeem Hayat as Hamlet, with the Shakespeare’s Globe company, performs to migrants in the Jungle refugee camp on 3 February 2016 in Calais, France

 

William Shakespeare lived in an age of uncertainty. His society was traversing a number of unpredictable challenges that spun from the succession of the heirless queen Elizabeth to the ascent of a new class of merchants. But the biggest issue had to do with religious conflicts. In the premodern world, religion provided absolute certainty: whatever we knew was implanted in our mind by God. We didn’t have to look any further. Once that system of beliefs started to collapse, Europe was left with a yawning gap. Religion no longer seemed capable to explain the world. René Descartes and Shakespeare, who were contemporaries, gave opposite answers to the sceptical challenge: Descartes believed that our quest for knowledge could be rebuilt and founded on indubitable certainties. Shakespeare, on the other hand, made uncertainty a leitmotiv of all his works, and harnessed its creative power…

Lorenzo Zucca considers the poet as a philosopher: “Much ado about uncertainty: how Shakespeare navigates doubt.”

Of possible parallel interest: an informative review of Scott Newstok’s How to Think Like Shakespeare: Lessons from a Renaissance Education.

* Shakespeare, As You Like It, Act 5, Scene 1

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As we back the Bard, we might recall that it was on this date in 1600 that four plays, three by Shakespeare– Much Ago About NothingHenry V, and the source of today’s title quote, As You Like It— plus Ben Jonson’s Every Man in His Humour were officially entered into the Stationers’ Registry.  Readers will recall that the copyright regimen was strict in Elizabeth’s time, as is now.  But back then, copyright was literally that, the right to make a (first) copy: the Queen, concerned with sedition and determined to keep a tight rein on any and all published material in her realm, had decreed that no work could be printed in England without a license from the Stationer.  In this particular instance all four plays were “stayed”–meaning that they were specifically noted in the registry as works not to be printed.  The stay didn’t hold for long; within a few years, three of the four were published.  Only one held out: for reasons scholars still debate, As You Like It didn’t appear in print until the famed First Folio edition of 1623.

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Written by LW

August 4, 2020 at 1:01 am

“When I see a white piece of paper, I feel I’ve got to draw”*…

 

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The Nuremberg paper mill, the building complex at the lower right corner, in 1493

 

Paper made its first appearance in Europe in the 11th century, but was expensive and suffered from poor quality.  By the 15th century, it was inexpensive and of good quality– and that dramatically boosted the level of Renaissance art:

Paper created a monumental shift in European art. … Drawing is a primal urge, … but drawing only became a standard art form when paper became available. In the case of Europe, this occurred dur­ing the Renaissance, when paper was still a new idea on the Continent. Previously, there had been very little informal use of parchment for art because it was too expensive and too difficult to erase. At first, European paper was also too expensive to be used to dash off a quick sketch and had too low a standing to be used for serious art. But by the late fifteenth century, this had all changed. Paper opened up the possibility of the sketch. Renaissance artists sketched out their work before they drew, painted, or sculpted it — or, in the case of Albrecht Dürer’s woodcuts, carved it. This new ability to not only plan but toy with ideas raised their art to a level not known in the Middle Ages…

Sixteenth-century artist and historian Giorgio Vasari, whose Lives of the Most Eminent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects is the leading source of biographical information on the Italian Renaissance artists [see here], tells the story of a sketch by Michelangelo that was displayed in the Palazzo Medici for art students to copy. Since the sheet, like most of Michelan­gelo’s sheets, had a variety of sketches on it, students started tearing off pieces of it, and they became ‘scattered over many places.’ According to Vasari, those fortunate students who ended up with a remnant treasured it and regarded it as something ‘more divine than human.’

Michelangelo used a great deal of paper, [and] … almost any piece of paper he used contained a few sketches. A few are finished drawings. A stunning drawing of the resurrection of Christ is also marked with a shopping list. Masterful drawings were folded up, with notes about the banal ephemera of everyday life jotted on the reverse side. …

Michelangelo may have been among the first to jot down quick ideas for himself. Some 2,000 letters from and to Michelangelo have also been collected. Letter writing is another practice that blossomed with the widespread use of paper…

Leonardo da Vinci was notorious in his lifetime for his inability to complete projects. … Fortunately, there was paper, on which Leonardo could capture his genius. Though he is usually thought of as a painter, only fifteen paintings, some unfinished, have been found, along with two damaged murals. He also attempted some sculpture, though he never finished one piece. But he left behind thirty bound notebooks. Unlike Michel­angelo, he did want people to see this work on paper, including the notes he made in his mirror-image script — a curious response to being left-handed. He left drawings depicting all kind of inventions, and notes on literature, arts, mythology, anatomy, engineering, and, most of all nature….

Leonardo also left behind four thousand sheets of drawings of stag­gering beauty. He was the first artist to be recognized for his drawings on paper. Leonardo’s work became the standard for art in Renaissance Florence. Studying art now meant working on paper, learning to draw. Leonardo had learned art that way himself, in the workshop taught by Andrea del Verrocchio. Artists have been trained on paper ever since.”

More at “Leonardo, Michelangelo, and Paper,” an excerpt from Mark Kurlansky’s Paper: Paging Through History, via the ever-illuminating Delanceyplace.com.

For more on the enabling technologies of art, see “Primary Sources: A Natural History of the Artist’s Palette.”

* Ellsworth Kelly

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As we sketch, we might spare a thought for Joseph Severn; he died on this date in 1879.  A painter of portraits and literary and biblical subjects, he was a close friend and traveling companion of John Keats.  His works hang in museums including The (British) National Portrait Gallery, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and Tate Britain.

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Severn’s portrait of Keats

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Self-portrait

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Written by LW

August 3, 2020 at 1:01 am

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