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Posts Tagged ‘Postmodernism

“The principle of the Gothic architecture is infinity made imaginable”*…

Tower Bridge in London, England, is one of the most famous structures in the Gothic Revival style. Its spires echo Islamic architecture’s minarets, pointing to the ancient exchange of cultural ideas between the West and the Middle East.

There’s more to Gothic architecture and Gothic style than we might imagine. Roger Luckhurst explains…

When fire devastated the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris in April 2019, the architectural historian Diana Darke noted in a Twitter post that of course everyone knew the famous twin tower and rose window of France’s finest Gothic cathedral were copied from a Syrian church in Qalb Loze, built in the fifth century. The post went viral: amplified or rebutted, triumphed or tossed.

Darke was surprised at the reaction to what historians have established as a well-known path of influence: the East-West trade in architectural ideas. It was argued centuries ago that key defining elements of the Gothic style were borrowed from the Islamic architecture of the Middle East. The soaring pinnacles of the Palace of Westminster in London, the pointed arches of St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice, and the rose windows of Notre Dame all point to the influence of Islamic design.

But from early in the 19th century, these contributions were forgotten, and Gothic became celebrated as an intrinsically Northern European style. In Britain, it was only in the revival of this medieval style of architecture that it started to be called “Gothic.” The Revivalists no longer dismissed the Gothic as a crude or barbarous form, and instead repurposed it as a national, patriotic style.

By knowing this deeper history of some of Europe’s most iconic buildings, travelers can approach these well-known attractions with new eyes and can appreciate that the “East-West divide” isn’t as deep as we are often led to think…

Hidden in the architecture of some of the world’s most famous buildings is a cultural exchange between Europe and the Middle East: “What is ‘Gothic’? It’s more complicated than you think,” from @TheProfRog in @NatGeo.

* Samuel Taylor Coleridge

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As we esteem exchange, we might send well-designed birthday greetings to Arduino Cantafora; he was born on this date in 1945. An architect, painter, and writer, he became a postmodernist (in the mode of his teacher/mentor Aldo Rosi), creating designs and paintings that reached back to the Renaissance revival of Gothic themes.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

November 8, 2022 at 1:00 am

“A Monograph I promised, and a Monograph this shall be”*…

Virginius Dabney wrote the American South’s great postmodern novel. Too bad he did it in 1866…

I found Virginius Dabney in the usual way: which is to say, by accident. I was pawing through a box of antiquarian books when one old volume fell open and a centerfold fell out. Not that: it was a centerfold of sheet music. I cradled the book in my hand and examined the title page

The Story of Don Miff,

As Told by His Friend John Bouche Whacker:

A Symphony of Life.

Edited by Virginius Dabney.

It appeared to be a novel, but as I idly flipped through it, more centerfolds flopped out: sheet music again. I thought for a moment that someone had jammed them in there, but no, they were bound in. Then I began to notice the title of each section of the book. Symphony of Life Movement One. Symphony of Life Movement Two. Symphony of…

The book had a publication date of 1886, just the period I tend to favor, and it bore the imprint of J. B. Lippincott Company, a major publisher. Yet I’d never heard of it or its author. And what was more, most—but not all—of the parts in the orchestral score inserted into the book were blank. The whole thing seemed rather curious. Then I started reading, and it got curioser and curioser.

Don Miff is… well, first let me state that I am reasonably sure that I am correct when I say that Don Miff is the only nineteenth-century novel that is addressed to a tenth-generation descendant living in the twenty-third century. Or that this descendant is Asian-American—because, as the narrator muses, even as the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was coming into force, perhaps “under the contempt expressed for them as inferiors there lurks a secret, unrealized sense of their real superiority?” And even this grandson faces a superior force to himself: women. With mechanization removing the advantages of physical force, Dabney predicts, men and their wearisome violence will become obsolete. Only a few men will be “preserved here and there in zoological gardens of the wealthy and the curious, along with rare specimens of the bison of the prairie, skeletons of the American Indian and the dodo…”—and there his tenth-removed grandson will be exhibited to the inquisitive stares of numberless crowds of women. “You will rue the day when your ancestors, mistaking might for right, excluded woman from that haven of rest, the ballot-box.”

It is to this twenty-third-century Asian-American grandson, a living exhibit in a peaceful matriarchy, that the great Southern novel of 1886 is addressed.

Dabney, making his morning commute as a deputy collector at the Customs House downtown, had collapsed unconscious on a bench after climbing the stairs to the El line at Eighteenth and Third. His grown son Noland was by his side, and called for help, but it was too late. Virginius Dabney was due to turn fifty-nine soon, and already lucky to be alive after a previous stroke. But this time, his luck ran out…

Colleagues stood up and recalled how, even though he had only been working there for nine months before dying, old Virginius was one of the most genial men to ever hold the job: a true Southern gentleman. Some of the may have known that, before then, he’d been an editor at the Commercial Advertiser, and that before that he’d run the New-York Latin School for many years. A few might have even have heard that once, eight or nine years ago, their deputy collector had written… something or other.

And that is where history closes its book upon our author. There is no biography of Virginius Dabney: no critical studies of his work, no scholarly papers on the man. Search any database and you will find innumerable hits on “Virginius Dabney,” but these are of his namesake grandson—a Richmond Times-Dispatch editor who won a Pulitzer in 1948 for writing against segregation on city transit lines. Of his dear old granddad, there is nothing.

Why? How could such a forward-looking book have been ignored?

Think back upon one of Dabney’s immediate predecessors at the Customs House. He, too, had written a curious book years before—and, like Dabney, had soon been largely forgotten, and left to toil in obscurity in the downtown warehouses by the late 1880s. His great book was out of print and would stay that way for decades. When he died, he got an even shorter obituary than Dabney did. Apparently nobody cared as much around the Customs House for Mr. Herman Melville.

If we wonder why Don Miff is forgotten, we might also ask—why did it take seventy years for Moby-Dick to be recognized as a masterpiece? Until the 1920s, it was out of print in the United States, and appreciated in the United Kingdom primarily as a maritime tale. It was not until the excavation of Melville by Lewis Mumford and his fellow critics, and the rise of Modernism, that—oh, look! A masterpiece!

Which, of course, it is… now…

Read Emily Dickinson next to other then-famous poets of her time—Tupper, say, or even Longfellow—and her contemporaries look staggeringly old-fashioned. Dickinson is new, spare, prophetic. It is tempting, reading her mysterious and yet intensely personal lines, to think to yourself: My god, it’s as if she knew the future of poetry. But the truth is precisely the opposite; it is because we know the future that the way we read her work is irrevocably altered. The point is not that Emily Dickinson saw the future, but rather, that the future saw her. She appeals to our own aesthetic, and fits in with our notion of a suitable lineage. Had our economic, aesthetic, and political world turned out differently—if, say, heroic socialist odes were the fashion—then Emily Dickinson would have been just another crazy lady in Amherst.

The present catches up to the past: “The Lost Symphony,” from the wonderful Paul Collins (@PaulCollinsPDX) and the good old days of The Believer– eminently worth reading in full.

* Virginius Dabney

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As we look back, we might recall that it was on this date in 1726 that Jonathan Swift’s Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World. In Four Parts. By Lemuel Gulliver, First a Surgeon, and then a Captain of Several Ships— much better known as Gulliver’s Travels— was first published.  A satire both of human nature and of the “travelers’ tales” literary subgenre popular at the time, it was (unlike Don Miff) an immediate hit (John Gay wrote in a 1726 letter to Swift that “It is universally read, from the cabinet council to the nursery”).  It has, of course, become a classic.

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“I have a foreboding of an America in my children’s or grandchildren’s time — when… our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what’s true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness”*…

I’ve always been bullish about American scientific and technological supremacy, not in some starry-eyed, jingoistic way, but due to the simple reality that the United States remains the world’s research and development engine.

This is true for at least four reasons, which I detailed previously: (1) Superior higher education; (2) A cultural attitude that encourages innovation; (3) Substantial funding and financial incentives; and (4) A legal framework that protects intellectual property and tolerates failure through efficient bankruptcy laws. There’s a fifth, fuzzier reason, namely that smart and talented people have long gravitated toward the U.S.

But while Americans believe in unalienable rights endowed by our Creator, we are not similarly guaranteed everlasting technological supremacy. China is already challenging the U.S. in computer science, chemistry, engineering, and robotics. Without a consistent and relentless pursuit of excellence, the eagle risks losing its perch.

Unfortunately, there are a confluence of factors that, when combined, constitute an existential threat to American science: Postmodernism, political partisanship, and trial lawyers…

Alex Berezow of the American Council on Science and Health (and founding editor of RealClearScience; @AlexBerezow) explains (and offers some hope): “The Slow Suicide of American Science.”

And lest we think this a very recent phenomenon, consider this collection of pieces from New Scientist in 2011: “Science in America: Decline and Fall.”

(Image above: source)

* “I have a foreboding of an America in my children’s or grandchildren’s time — when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what’s true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness…” – Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark (1995)

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As we listen to reason, we might we might recall that it was on this date in 1996 that the cable channel Fox News debuted.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

October 7, 2020 at 1:01 am

Is it real or is it…?

 

Australian artist Jeremy Geddes creates oil paintings that are astonishingly– dangerously– counterintuitive, at the same time that they’re astoundingly photo-realistic.  Geddes’ describes his process in this 2011 interview with Empty Kingdom.

[TotH to Laughing Squid]

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As we look away then back again, we might spare a thought for Jean-François Lyotard; he died on this date in 1998.  A co-founder (with Derrida, Châtelet, and Deleuze) of the Collège International de Philosophie– the bastion of Postmodernism– Lyotard was a philosopher, sociologist, and literary theorist.  As a champion of “the sublime”– in Lyotard’s rehabilitation of an ancient aesthetic concept, the pleasurable anxiety that one experiences when confronting wild and threatening sights– he would surely have approved of Geddes’ work.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

April 21, 2013 at 1:01 am

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