Tuesday, December 25, 2018

COLOR BLIND: Ironic Racism in Roman Art

The subtitle of Margeret Talbot's The New Yorker article "Color Blind" is: "Scholars have known for centuries that Greek and Roman marble figures were routinely covered in bright [white] paint. Why does the myth of their whiteness persist?"

In the text of the article, Talbot shared: "For centuries, archeologists and museum curators had been scrubbing away these traces of color before presenting statues and architectural reliefs to the public."

This was and is done because there's: "[...] a tendency to equate whiteness with beauty, taste, and classical ideals, and to see color as alien, sensual, and garish."

This behavior is ironic since, in general, the Romans practiced classism as opposed to racism. Talbot referenced Sarah Bond, a University of Iowa classics professor, who wrote in a Forbes essay: "[...] the Romans generally differentiated people of color on their cultural and ethnic background rather than the color of their skin [...]"

And Talbot wrote: "[...] though ancient Greeks and Romans certainly noticed skin color, they did not practice systemic racism. They owned slaves, but this population was drawn from a wide range of conquered peoples, including Gauls and Germans."

"Pale skin on a woman was considered a sign of beauty and refinement, because it showed that she was privileged enough not to have to work outdoors. But a man with pale skin was considered unmasculine: bronzed skin was associated with the heroes who fought on battlefields and competed as athletes, naked, in amphitheaters."

Monday, November 26, 2018

Jerry Saltz's "How to be an Artist [i.e., Writer]"

Of the 33 rules that Jerry Saltz listed in his New York article How to be an Artist, lessons 5, 20, and 21 were most resonating. In summary, work relentlessly, accept the premise that you may always be poor, and that "The best definition of success is time - the time to do your work."

Saturday, October 27, 2018

The White Woman: A Root of Racism and Segregation

If not the root, a root of segregation is the vehement objection to interracial relationships.

In Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, a New York Times Bestseller and National Book Award winner, Ibrahim X. Xendi related: 
Klan violence was needed to “keep the niggers in their place,” explained Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest, the Klan’s first honorary “Grand Wizard.” To the Klan, the only thing worse than a Negro was “a white Radical.” But the worst offender was a suspected Black rapist of a White woman. Klansmen glorified White womanhood as the epitome of honor and purity [...] 
And Robert Beck wrote in his memoir, Pimp: The Story of My Life:
Greenie, the white man [...] locks all Niggers inside tight stockades [i.e., in prisons and segregated neighborhoods]. He’d love it if the Nigger broads wasn’t locked in there. The white man is scared shitless. He don’t want them humping bucks [i.e., oversexed Black men] coming out there in the white world rubbing their bellies against those soft white bellies [...] That’s the real reason for keeping all the Niggers locked up. 
Arguably, the most famous example of the fear of interracial relationships is the Emmett Till case. August 28, 1955, 14-year-old Till, an African-American, was kidnapped, pistol whipped, beaten, shot in the head, and tossed in a Mississippi river by two white men - Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam. What did Till do to Bryant and Milam?  He didn’t anything to them, but they believed that Till did something to Carolyn Bryant - Roy Bryant’s 21-year-old white wife.

According to Alan Blinder’s New York Times piece, “U.S. Reopens Emmett Till Investigation, Almost 63 Years After His Murder”:
[...] the events leading to the attack has repeatedly shifted. One account had the boy only insulting her verbally. In court, but without jurors present, she claimed that Emmett had made physical contact with her and spoken in crude, sexual language. She later told the F.B.I. that Emmett had touched her hand.
But when she spoke to the researcher Timothy B. Tyson in 2008, she acknowledged that it was “not true” that Emmett had grabbed her or made vulgar remarks. She told Dr. Tyson, who published a book about the case last year [The Blood of Emmett Till, a New York Times bestseller and National Book Award Longlist], that “nothing that boy did could ever justify what happened to him.”
However, Christopher Benson’s Chicago magazine piece, "Eyewitness Account: Emmett Till's cousin Simeon Wright seeks to set the record straight", Simeon Wright, Till’s cousin, said that Till whistled at Bryant, “[...] to get a laugh out of us or something.”

Thus, Bryant and Milam were so threatened by a 14-year-old African-American male that they brutally tortured and killed him for allegedly whistling at a white woman. And to send a message to other African-Americans, even though Bryant and Milam confessed to murdering Till, they were acquitted by an all-white jury.

Even housing African-Americans in nearby low-income projects was unacceptable to some whites. In The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America, Richard Rothstein wrote:
[...] the Reverend Constantine Dzink, pastor of the King Catholic Church, wrote in opposition to the United States Housing Authority building the Sojourner Truth public housing project for African American families in Detroit [in 1941]: The “construction of a low-cost housing project [...] would jeopardize the safety of many of our white girls.”
And most recently, what did John Kovach Jr., a white Lorain, Ohio police officer, do after he discovered this past summer that his 18-year-old daughter had brought to life one of his greatest nightmares, per Katie Nix’s article in the The Chronicle-Telegram and a video: 
“[...] he abused his authority by conducting a traffic stop on his daughter’s [African-American] boyfriend without cause and temporarily detained his daughter and her boyfriend in the back of his squad car.” 
And Kovach threatened to frame the African-American teen. 
“Have a seat in my car. We’ll make (expletive) up as we go.” 
Obviously, the segregated neighborhoods in Lorain weren’t working; thus, Kovach tried the second method of keeping white women away from African-African men - prison. 

In addition, Xendi wrote: 
Klansmen religiously believed that Blacks possessed supernatural sexual powers, and this belief fueled their sexual attraction to Black women and their fear of White women being attracted to Black men. It became almost standard operating procedure to justify Klan terrorism by maintaining that southern White supremacy was necessary to defend the purity of White women. 
Interestingly, (some) white men feared that white women would be attracted to Black men due to their "supernatural sexual powers"; thus, Klansmen condoned segregation as a way to prevent white women from seducing Black men.

The Greatest Fear of (Some) White Men

The Guardian, David Olusoga wrote in his review of Stamped from the Beginning:
The causal thread of American racism, Kendi suggests, runs in the opposite direction to the way we normally presume. Racist ideas [e.g., oversexed African-American males] are manufactured to justify racial policy [e.g., segregation of white women].

Frank Rich reported in his New York magazine piece "Oklahoma Was Never Really O.K." that: 
[...] the most lethal race riot in American history [took place in Oklahoma]. The match that sparked the flames was the usual — a black man was falsely accused of sexually assaulting a white woman. The official death toll was 36, but a 2001 study corrected it to between 100 and 300. All but one of the neighborhood’s blocks were destroyed, including nearly 1,300 homes and almost 200 businesses; some 8,000 residents were rendered homeless. Much as whites had looted the possessions of Indians evicted under the Indian Removal Act some 70 years earlier, so white Oklahomans helped themselves to the bounty of Greenwood’s affluent households. The culprits were let off as Curly was, no doubt under some spurious rationalization of “self-defense.”
That conflagration was still within recent memory at the time Oklahoma! arrived on Broadway in 1943. Or would have been had it not been purged from the record. And I mean literally purged. The dead were tossed into the Arkansas River and unmarked mass graves. News accounts were cut out of the Tulsa Tribune before they were assembled into bound reference volumes. The incident was not a part of the Oklahoma public schools’ curriculum until 2000, and only recently entered American-history textbooks. Any physical remnants of that 1921 inferno had long since been bulldozed by the time I passed through.

[UPDATE 03/24/2021]
There's a scene in Judas and the Black Messiah (2021) where J. Edgar Hoover (Martin Sheen) justifies assassinating Fred Hampton by implying to FBI Special Agent Roy Mitchell that a consequence of not stopping the Black Panther Party and Fred Hampton would be that Mitchell's daughter could bring a "negro" home and that there would be widespread rape, pillage, and conquer of (young) white women.
"When you look at [Fred] Hampton think of [your white daughter] Samantha, because that's what's at stake if we lose this war. And our entire way of life. Rape. Pillage. Conquer. You follow me?"

Sunday, August 19, 2018

View Your Books as Works of Art to Overcome Disappointing Sales

 Jan Hendrik Eversen A still life with books, a clay pipe and a pewter jar, 1965

If you're a writer who is disappointed in your book sales, opine that your books are works of art. Because what (sane) artist would be disappointed to have sold over 500, 100 or even 50 paintings, sculptures or screen prints? 

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Racism in the United States: Bad and Better

The July 23, 2018 issue of The New Yorker contains the article "The Big Question: Is the World Getting Better or Worse?". 

This excerpt from the piece describes the mantra "Bad and Better", which may be the best way to view racism in the US:

Saturday, June 23, 2018

BALZAC'S OMELETTE: French Food & Writing

We put Balzac's Omelette in our Amazon Wishlist years ago, but we didn't purchase the petit livre until we found it for $2.00 while recently browsing Strand's used book stalls. 

We find descriptions of food in novels to be highly entertaining. For example, Nabokov's outdoor cafe scene in Transparent Things is especially engaging. 

In the introduction, Muhlstein shared that Balzac opined that "[a]n appetising young peasant girl is a ham [...]. And that a "[...] girl's innocence "is like milk [...]"

Balzac was a financially poor boarding school student. His parent didn't send him "[...] parcels of jam, chocolate, or biscuits [...]" Consequently, "[...] he devoured books of every kind [...]"

As an adult, Balzac "[...] remained convinced that sobriety was necessary to an artist [...]" And he "[...] ate only one piece of fruit as his evening meal at five o'clock and went to bed as early as possible [to rise after midnight to write]." He would "[...] set himself to work for eighteen-hour days"

"He barely ate anything for weeks on end during periods of intensive writing [...]" However, "[o]ccasionally he took a boiled egg at about nine o'clock in the morning or sardines mashed with butter if he was hungry; then a chicken wing or a slice of roast leg of lamb in the evening, and he ended his meal with a cup or two of black coffee without sugar.

But "[o]nce the proofs were passed for press, he sped to a restaurant, downed a hundred oysters as a starter [...] then ordered the rest of the meal: twelve salt meadow lamb cutlets with no sauce, a duckling with turnips, a brace of roast partridge, a Normandy sole [...] [and for dessert] special fruit such as Comice pears, which he ate by the dozen. Once sated, he usually sent the bill to his publishers."

How do you celebrate finishing a book? We recommend a prayer of gratitude.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Consistent Positive Journaling

Shana Lebowitz's Business Insider post "18 habits of highly successful people" lists "They keep a journal" in the number 2 position. 

William Arruda advised in the Forbes post "The One Thing Successful People Do Every Day", "Document your wins. What’s the easiest way to do that? Keep a job journal."

And in The Atlantic article "The Wisdom of Running a 2,189-Mile Marathon", Paul Bisceglio shared:

Thus, it's advised to consistently keep a positive journal.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

How to be a Gritty Writer

If you frequently abandon writing projects, we highly recommend Duckworth's Grit, which she defines as:

Duckworth writes that grit is a better indicator of success than "talent" or IQ scores.

We culled from Grit that the success of one book shouldn't be your top-level goal, because you may not be able to sustain grit if that book isn't "successful". Instead, your top-level goal should be to be a New York Times bestselling author or, even better, something altruistic like disclosing nympholepsy in popular culture, which you may attempt to accomplish through writing books, blog posts or (online) magazine pieces. Therefore, being a successful writing may serve better as a low-level or mid-level goal.

Here's an animated summary of the book until you can get a copy:

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Mango Languages: French Transliterations!

Students of French tend to find it difficult to pronounce the Romance language; however, Mango Languages' English transliterations have made that aspect of learning French a lot easier.

For example: Bonjour. Vous parlez anglais? (Bone-joor. Voo par-lay a(n)gleh?)

Mango Languages, which I highly recommend, isn't free, but it's free if you have a New York Public Library card.

(Disclaimer: This is not a paid endorsement.)

Saturday, April 7, 2018

J.D. Salinger: Writers vs. Musicians

I recently wrote a post on Nabokov’s views on music and here’s a look at J.D. Salinger’s views on musicians.

Joyce Maynard shared in At Home in the World: A Memoir the following conversation she had with Salinger. (Salinger and Maynard had a 10-month age-gap affair that began when Maynard was 19 and a freshman at Yale.)

Joyce said, “I wish, instead of writing, that I could play an instrument.”

Salinger responded, “Don’t ever suppose it’s some kind of lesser art form […] because nobody’s lined up outside some […] club full of people in turtlenecks waiting to hear you transport them into some other orbit of pure ecstasy.”

Maynard said, referring to a Jazz performance, “They were inventing everything. Right on the spot.”

But Salinger explained that what Joyce assumed was improvisation were “virtuoso effects” from the (jazz) musicians “repertoire”.

Maynard opined that being a musician “looked like so much more fun than” writing to which Salinger exploded:

“Fun! Not much fun in writing […] No notes on a page for us to fall back on. No amazing orgasmic rhythms to make the audience melt. Not one goddamn thing to do with the body, except to try whenever possible to ignore one’s own cursed immobility. God, the unnaturalness of writing. And unlike performing music, it never gets any easier, no matter how much you do it. Every damned time we sit down to work, it’s that same blank page again. A person could have a better time at a Doug McLure retrospective."

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Some Foods Are Too Good

Chocolate Ganache Cake and a Rachel Whiteread Untitled (Nets) 2002

There's a principle in Islam that when a man and a woman are (seemingly) alone, there's actually a third party in the room - Satan. This indicates that one should avoid being alone with an attractive woman, because it's extremely difficult to maintain self-control and not commit fornication or adultery. 

Thus, an attractive woman should be viewed like an attractive piece like Rachel Whiteread at the MoMA. Take one admiring look but don't have a desire to take her home. 

I would opine that the same principle applies to certain foods. Some foods are too good and one shouldn't be alone with them, because it would be extremely difficult to maintain self-control and not eat too much. 

For example, purchasing a slice of chocolate ganache cake would be a better idea than taking an entire cake home, because it would be almost impossible not to eat more than three or even four slices. 

Thus, to maintain optimal weight and health, I would advice against purchasing your favorites foods in bulk but limit yourself to a single serving.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Nabokov & Kafka on Music: It's Primitive, Lulling, Dulling, Stupefying, Numbing, & Animallike

Boyd related in Vladimir Nabokov: The American Years that after a lecture at Spelman College, an African-American women's college in Atlanta, Georgia, Nabokov was invited to the chapel but, "he protested", because he "hated music and singing." 

In a 1964 Playboy interview, Nabokov shared: "I have no ear for music [...] I am bored beyond measure by the motions of the musicians [...] But I have found a queer substitute for music in chess—more exactly, in the composing of chess problems."

And in a lecture on Kafka's "The Metamorphosis", Nabokov opined that music is primitive and animalistic compared to literature and painting, that music has a "[...] lulling, dulling influence [...]" and that Kafka shared his view that music was "stupefying, numbing, animallike":

Without wishing to antagonize lovers of music, I do wish to point out that taken in a general sense music, as perceived by its consumers, belongs to a more primitive, more animal form in the scale of arts than literature or painting. 

I am taking music as a whole, not in terms of individual creation, imagination, and composition, all of which of course rival the art of literature and painting, but in terms of the impact music has on the average listener. 

A great composer, a great writer, a great painter are brothers. But I think that the impact music in a generalized and primitive form has on the listener is of a more lowly quality than the impact of an average book or an average picture. What I especially have in mind is the soothing, lulling, dulling influence of music on some people such as of the radio or records.

In Kafka's tale it is merely a girl pitifully scraping on a fiddle and this corresponds in the piece to the canned music or plugged-in music of today. 

What Kafka felt about music in general is what I have just described: its stupefying, numbing, animallike quality. 

This attitude must be kept in mind in interpreting an important sentence that has been misunderstood by some translators. Literally, it reads “Was Gregor an animal to be so affected by music?” That is, in his human form he had cared little for it but in this scene, in his beetlehood, he succumbs: “He felt as if the way were opening before him to the unknown nourishment he craved.” 

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Learn How to Play Chess Like a Writer

A number of writers like Nabokov, Lewis Carroll, and Edgar Allan Poe wrote about and played chess. Unlike Tolstoy, you may not have learned to play chess as a child but I've got a simple way for you to learn, because it can be a daunting task. 

Firstly, I recommend that you learn the names of the chess pieces and how they move:

Moves one box in any direction

Moves in any direction as far as possible

Moves forward\backwards and side-to-side as far as possible (i.e., in straight lines).

Moves diagonally as far as possible

Moves in a L shape and is the only piece that can jump

Moves forward one box but initially can move two but captures diagonally
The only piece that can block
If it reaches the other side of the board, it gets promoted to a piece of your choosing

Secondly and lastly, I recommend that you play. It's that simple. Once you start playing, you'll organically understand how to capture your opponents king (i.e., "Checkmate."). And the game is so kind that you're warned that your king is in grave danger (i.e., "Check."). If you can't find a patient human to play with you, I recommend an app set on the lowest level of difficulty. 

Saturday, February 3, 2018

#WhatsInYour[WRITER'S]Bag: A Russian Novelist's knapsack

Transparent Things (1972) p.18

A popular hashtag on Instagram is #whatsinyourbag. For some reason, it can be fascinating to view the contents of a stranger's bags. And writers may find it very interesting to read about the contents of a Russian novelist's 
  • rough drafts of letters
  • an unfinished short story in a Russian copybook
  • parts of a philosophical essay in a blue cahier purchased in Geneva
  • loose sheets of a rudimentary novel temporarily titled Faust in Moscow
  • portable ink
Person is the protagonist in Nabokov's Transparent Things. A quean took Person to a room in a "hideous old roominghouse" where the Russian novelist "[...] sojourned on his way to Italy."

So, what's in your (writer's) bag?