As an oblique indicator of the character of shift under way in my life in the past year or so, let me describe a weird coincidence in my life with books. My life with books is nothing remarkable overall, it needs to be said. But lately there are a few particulars worth remarking on. A good part of this has to do with moving to New York and the connections that brought me to it — as this post not quite a year old will suffice to suggest — and a good part has to do with the direction my work has gone since the move. Those are related things, or things that make sense taken together anyway, and deserve (and may yet get, who can tell?) more treatment in this space.
Noting here a two-week-old article in the NYRB about the Jew-caricature in medieval Europe and its connection to evolving Christian tradition.
In accord with the new devotions, artworks had just begun to portray Christ as humbled and dying. Some Christians struggled with the new imagery, discomfited by the sight of divine suffering. Proponents of the new devotions criticized such resistance. Failure to be properly moved by portrayals of Christ’s affliction was identified with ‘Jewish’ hard-hearted ways of looking. In this and many other images, then, the Jew’s prominent nose serves primarily to draw attention to the angle of his head, turned ostentatiously away from the sight of Christ, and so links the Jew’s misbegotten flesh to his misdirected gaze.
The author, Sara Lipton, teaches history and Judaic studies; I gather she’s been working on the story of the development of anti-semitic imagery for a long time. The article seems intended to introduce her new book Dark Mirror.
This would be a fine occasion, obviously, to pick up again with what I started in May, but I don’t have time for it now. Hope to come back to it in the new year, perhaps.
And now, merely for example’s sake, I will, with your permission, read a few lines of a true book with you, carefully; and see what will come out of them. I will take a book perfectly known to you all. No English words are more familiar to us, yet few perhaps have been read with less sincerity. I will take these few following lines of Lycidas: —
Last came, and last did go,
The pilot of the Galilean lake.
Two massy keys he bore of metals twain,
(The golden opes, the iron shuts amain,)
He shook his mitred locks, and stern bespake,
‘How well could I have spared for thee, young swain,
Enow of such as for their bellies’ sake
Creep, and intrude, and climb into the fold!
Of other care they little reckoning make,
Than how to scramble at the shearers’ feast,
And shove away the worthy bidden guest
Blind mouths! that scarce themselves know how to hold
A sheep-hook, or have learn’d aught else, the least
That to the faithful herdsman’s art belongs!
What recks it them? What need they? They are sped;
And when they list, their lean and flashy songs
Grate on their scrannel pipes of wretched straw;
The hungry sheep look up, and are not fed,
But, swoln with wind, and the rank mist they draw,
Rot inwardly, and foul contagion spread;
Besides what the grim wolf with privy paw
Daily devours apace, and nothing said.’
Stephen Fry, Big Think interview
Jesse Boykins III, Amorous
San Francisco Jazz Collective, Superstition
Reinhardt, Grappelli, J’attendrai
It bears noticing, here, that since Aug. 8, Richard Thompson has been blogging daily. Every day, now, he does some thoughtful little bit of commentary on the day’s edition of his newspaper strip Cul de Sac, telling readers something about technique, about the way he’s imagining this or that character at the moment, about where the story might possibly go from here, about memories of childhood he’s drawing upon, &c., &c. Every day. It’s wonderful, and I’m not sure what to say about it. Can a cartoonist carry on so without eventually paying a price?
(It bears noticing too that Thompson is coming up here from his home in the D.C. suburbs to appear at upcoming spectacle the Baltimore Comicon, and I can’t go. I don’t love conventions, though, so I’m not crying much.)