Universal Open Carry

The other day I came across an item on one of my favorite blogs, Nag On The Lake, about a new kid’s book, My Parents Open Carry.
oc_oc

Now this is great because children ought to learn not to despise minorities with peculiar life styles. And then the publisher announced that, right now, you could get a special two-for-one bundle with a book of parental guidance, Raising Boys Feminists Will Hate .
oc_boys

The author says, “Feminists would love nothing more than to take your son and eradicate his masculine uniqueness. …raise your little man into a lion, capable of leading the next generation into a moral culture of God, family and country.”

Which is really special! But it made me wonder how a boy raised like that would handle an open-carry feminist and do you want her to hate him.

oc_sharon

Now some reviewers have noticed that the art for My Parents Open Carry seems taken from those kid’s books with titles like Johnny Has Two Dads that tried to spread understanding about gay families. Check this out. Does Dad look gay to you?

 

Dad is seated. Does he look gay to you? Is the fellow standing with arms crossed, one of Dad's special friends?  Does he belong to a visible minority group? Is that why he's not carrying?

Dad is seated. Does he look gay to you? Is the fellow standing with arms crossed, one of Dad’s special friends? Does he belong to a visible minority group? Is that why he’s not carrying?

There probably are open-carry gays, some of those log-cabin Republicans, I bet, though I believe that this magazine is a phony:

oc_Gay-Sentinal

Even so, wouldn’t it liven up your local Pride Parade to have guys in buttless chaps carrying AK-47s marching beside the floats?

So, if feminists and gays start toting weapons, will it become okay for Blacks? The Panthers tried carrying weapons back in the 1970s and wound up being shot to death by the police. Still, there are black gun enthusiasts, like Colion Noir, host of the NRA sponsored Noir program.

That's Colion Noir, who got noticed a while back when he claimed that Dr. Martin Luther King, jr. was a gun enthusiast. (Hey! Do you thing his name really is "Noir"? Because, that's French or something.)

That’s Colion Noir, who got noticed a while back when he claimed that Dr. Martin Luther King, jr. was a gun enthusiast. (Hey! Do you thing his name really is “Noir”? Because, that’s French or something.)

Perhaps now, after years of battling for equality, Blacks can arm themselves openly. Perhaps we have come that far. And Hispanics and Moslems, too! Perhaps now, everyone can open-carry. Some of you will object, saying that there are folks who can’t afford decent weaponry, and to you I have this reply: it’s time for a National Gun Ownership program that gives weapons to everyone.

No, this isn’t charity, like food stamps, this is a program to provide one of the necessities of life. Some municipalities have even passed laws requiring their citizens to be armed. So, it seems to me, if government is going to dictate your possessions, then it has a duty to help provide them. All the disadvantaged should be armed: Single Moms Who Shoot, Open-Carry Homeless, Locked and Loaded Derelicts — everyone!

Universal Gun Ownership. Because once all the poor and dispossessed are armed, then they, too, can pursue the American Dream.

 

 

Good Books: Barbara Tuchman, The Guns of August

In 1962, Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August was published to immediate acclaim. Causes of the First World War had been debated since 1919, when it ended, but Tuchman boiled it all down to this: the European powers had created an aggessive posture as the best defense and, once that defense was triggered, it could not be stopped. Armies could be mobilized, but not easilly made to stand down; treaties between the great powers were often secret, so that there was no clear understanding in Germany, say, that marching through Belgium would immediately cause England to enter the war; the inflexibility of military plans kept any diplomatic solution from ever having a chance.

Barbara Tuchman. "War is the unfolding of miscalculations." [Bob Child/AP via wsj.com]

Barbara Tuchman. “War is the unfolding of miscalculations.” [Bob Child/AP via wsj.com]

In her research, Tuchman quoted the German chancellor, Bethmann-Hollweg, when asked how the war started, “Ah,” he replied “If only one knew.” One of her readers, President John F. Kennedy, was horrified by those lines. He himself was facing the possibility of nuclear armageddon — during the Berlin Crises of 1961 – 62, he asked a general what would happen if the Soviet Union did not back off. The general replied that he would order a nuclear strike. Kennedy now, for the first time, really understood the stakes in the game he was playing and immediately began removing nuclear capability from the military as a tactic. Now he read Bethmann-Hollweg’s words and said:

If this planet is ever ravaged by nuclear war—if the survivors of that devastation can then endure the fire, poison, chaos and catastrophe—I do not want one of these survivors to ask another, “How did it all happen?” and to receive the incredible reply: “Ah, if only one knew.”

Bethmann-Hollweg at Versailles in 1919. He requested that the Allies try him for war crimes rather than the Kaiser. He died two years later. [bundesarchiv.de]

Bethmann-Hollweg at Versailles in 1919. He requested that the Allies try him for war crimes rather than the Kaiser. He died two years later. [bundesarchiv.de]

Shortly after, the Cuban Missile Crisis tested Kennedy and his resolve not to allow global catastrophe on his watch. Tuchman was not the only popular writer to impress Kennedy, but she was easilly the best. Her clear and readable account of the war’s beginnings was excellent but her influence on policy-making was exemplary. Unfortunately, policy-makers ignored her later book, The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam, which described how nations find themselves enmeshed in stupid, self-destructive policies.

Tuchman’s work synthesized research done by others during the previous decades that emphasized the automatic responses of the nations involved when faced with a problem. Previously, most histories had dealt with assigning blame to this or that nation; Tuchman’s book pinned the blame on the system, rather than a specific country. For a while, this concept held primacy, but, slowly and surely, the human need to fix blame re-established itself as the focus of historians.

The first nation to bear the burden of causation was Germany. If Germany had not invaded France via Belgium… Okay, but France was committed to war against Austria, so if that nation had not… And so on. Every country involved, including Russia and England, has been blamed for the First World War, and that multiplicity of blame seems only to strengthen Tuchman’s thesis: once an idiotic hair-trigger policy was generally adopted, it was only a matter of time until someone caused that trigger to be pulled and then all was disaster. My own inclination is, that if a single nation is to be blamed for the war, that nation is Serbia. Which then brings up the question of nationalism, cited by many as a cause of the war, and which was very much in the minds of the Treaty of Versailles drafters, including Woodrow Wilson, who came up with a scheme to prevent future wars of nationalism. Currently, Wilson is thought a fool, and he was certainly foolish in proposing a scheme that involved what we now would call ethnic cleansing, though that fitted the engineer mentality of the best and brightest of his era.

Of course, World War I was only the first act, the second occurred between 1939 – 45. We know that now and that knowledge has kept alive the question of the cause(s) of WWI, which ended the European system inaugurated by the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia and renewed by the Congress of Vienna in 1815, ending one era and beginning another. Perhaps it is a good thing that contemplating this history causes us doubt and confusion, perhaps that provides a lesson to be learned here. And another lesson, as Kennedy put it, people should beware the “stupidity, individual idiosyncrasies, misunderstandings, and personal complexes of inferiority and grandeur” that characterized the leadership of 1914 Europe.

 

Notes:

Barbara Tuchman,The Guns of August

On Kennedy and Berlin, see Michael Beschloss, The Crisis Years: Kennedy and Krushchev, 1960-1963

 

 

 

A Half Century of Criticism: The New York Review of Books

It is one thing to see something fifty years old and think “I was alive when that happened!” and something else to see something a half century in the past and say, “I remember that!” One is history, the other, memory. The New York Review of Books recently celebrated its fiftieth anniversary by reprinting its first issue, which you can read here or buy a paper copy here. I was a (very) young man when this issue was printed — I didn’t read it then; I don’t know if it was distributed outside of New York City at the time, but I did start reading the Review not long after when the Vietnam War became an issue. This magazine was one of the first to oppose that war and nothing that I have ever read since has caused me to think that was a misinformed position. Still, that doesn’t mean that the NYRB was, or is, right about everything. But here, what I mean to do is look at this first issue as an historical artifact and examine what it has to say. Many of these books and writers were known to me at the time and some are still being read.
There was a newspaper strike in New York in 1963 and a business-minded publisher, Jason Epstein, realized that publishers would buy ads in a magazine devoted to books. Epstein was connected in New York’s literary world and soon teamed up with Elizabeth Hardwick, a writer unfairly known mostly for being Robert Lowell’s wife. Epstein’s wife, Barbara, became an editor and Hardwick recommended Robert Silvers of Harper’s as co-editor. Whitney Ellsworth became publisher. This group worked together for years running the magazine. Robert Silvers is the last of the team still alive. He still edits the New York Review.

25th anniversary of the NYRB. Left to right, standing: Robert Silver, Susan Sontag, Joan Didion, Darryl Pinckney,Jonathan Miller, James Fenton, Rea Hederman, Alma Guillermoprieto; seated: Elizabeth Hardwick, Jason Epstein

25th anniversary of the NYRB. Left to right, standing: Robert Silver, Susan Sontag, Joan Didion, Darryl Pinckney,Jonathan Miller, James Fenton, Rea Hederman, Alma Guillermoprieto; seated: Elizabeth Hardwick, Jason Epstein

Various lights of the New York literary scene signed on to contribute — Norman Mailer, Mary McCarthy, Susan Sontag, Gore Vidal, Dwight MacDonald, Phillip Rahv, and so on. Most of these people knew each other, many had been associated with the Partisan Review. Now they reviewed each other’s books gratis to kick off the new magazine. The result was what the New Yorker called “the greatest first issue of any magazine ever”.

Staff of the  Partisan Review , 1938. Philip Rahv at top center, Dwight MacDonald at right.

Staff of the Partisan Review , 1938. Philip Rahv at top center, Dwight MacDonald at right, FW. DuPee at left.

The lead essay is a critique of James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, written by F.W.DuPee, who had been instrumental, as editor of the Partisan Review,  in getting Baldwin to return from France to report on racial matters. It is jarring now to read the word “Negro” when applied to African-Americans, or black people of any nationality. It is even more jarring when the writer refers to “the Negro problem”. Those troublesome darkies! What a problem they pose! I am reminded of 19th Century references to the “problem of the Feminine”. Both terms assume that the person writing is the norm, that Negroes or women are somehow apart from the standard, normal sort of human being.
Baldwin’s book consists of two essays that appeared in magazines toward the end of 1962, “A Letter to My Nephew”, (retitled in the book version as “My Dungeon Shook: Letter to my Nephew on the One Hundredth Anniversary of Emancipation”, DuPee calls this title “ominous”) and a much longer one, “Letter from a Region of My Mind” (retitled for the book, “Down At The Cross — Letter from a Region of My Mind”). Baldwin describes the problems of the Negro (his term) in America and warns that there is a great deal of anger being suppressed that will, eventually, find some voice. He writes of a meeting with Elijah Muhammed and the Chicago Muslim organization. Black Power, urban riots, and the Black Panthers are yet to come, but Baldwin is prophesying their birth. That is the part of the book that brings a response from DuPee. But Baldwin’s overall message is that blacks should not allow their humanity to be corrupted by the “American problem” while whites try to discover their own souls. DuPee rejects entirely the essay “Letter to My Nephew”, but it has a message for him, one of the “innocent and well meaning people” who have perpetrated a great wrong that they will not acknowledge because they believe that their hearts are Good. Baldwin to his nephew:

There is no reason for you to try to become like white men and there is no basis whatever for their impertinent assumption that they must accept you. The really terrible thing, old buddy, is that you must accept them, and I mean that very seriously. You must accept them and accept them with love, for these innocent people have no other hope. They are in effect still trapped in a history which they do not understand and until they understand it, they cannot be released from it.

Life is tragic, says Baldwin. Inevitably, it ends in death. The most significant word in the two essays is “love”. Love requires courage because it means directly confronting the tragic nature of humanity:

Love takes off the masks we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within. I use the word “love” here not merely in the personal sense but as a state of being, or a state of grace — not in the infantile American sense of being made happy, but in the tough and universal sense of quest and daring and growth.

DuPee never once uses the word “love” in his review. His analysis of Baldwin’s book winds up basically supporting the notion that American blacks need to be non-violent, not because — as Baldwin pointed out — that was more comfortable for American whites, but because anything else would be harmful to the gains he thought that blacks were making. He is also clear on the fact that any kind of black uprising would be crushed. Baldwin is aware of this, too, and suggests that making whites fearful will only cause them to be more violent than they already are. And the angry outbursts of the ’60s and ’70s did wind up being fatal to many black people. Even so, it does not seem to be true that racial progress was slowed by these violent events — it may be that they served a purpose by demonstrating that, however nice the words used by “innocent” whites, they masked a deep-rooted inability to achieve the kind of spiritual state that Baldwin proposes. Baldwin to his nephew:

Many of [the innocents] indeed know better, but as you will discover, people find it very difficult to act on what they know. To act is to be committed and to be committed is to be in danger. In this case the danger in the minds and hearts of most white Americans is the loss of their identity.

White American racial attitudes show up in other essays. A book review by John Thompson includes these words:
“…all of us need desperately to extend our knowledge of the life of American Negroes.” Then he scurries on to add, “Naturally, I do not exclude Negroes when I say ‘us’.”
Well, no, John, that isn’t what you meant, naturally, to say, because that is incredibly insulting, whereas, without that hurried bit of expiation, your comment is merely condescending and stupid. Of course, being English, you may beg a little bit of excuse.

Frank Tannenbaum,Carleton S. Coon,James Baldwin

Frank Tannenbaum,Carleton S. Coon,James Baldwin

One might ask “just how different are the races themselves”? And that brings up The Origin of Races by Carleton S. Coon which seeks to prove that they are very different and some more advanced than others. Coon said that there are five races and that they each evolved independently into Homo sapiens. Congoid/Negro races evolved some 200,000 years later than Caucasians. Well, that explains so much, doesn’t it! Reviewer of this book is John Maddocks, who is not further identified. Mr. Maddocks, though, is very astute and he recognizes a pile of crap when he steps in it. He mentions that other anthroplogists and geneticists have serious doubts that the five-fold evolution of H.sapiens is at all likely, and he notes other shortcomings of Coon’s work. He is a little taken aback that a scholar of such eminence would promote a thesis that will so benefit racists. Maddocks writes:

No great imagination is needed to see how this conclusion has delighted the theoreticians of apartheid. Professor Wesley C. George of the University of Alabama leans heavily on Coon in a document called The Biology of Race, prepared for the governor of his state. So too does Mr. Carleton Putnam, who specializes in open letters to the President which are then reprinted in Southern newspapers and even as advertisements in The New York Times, with titles such as Race and Reason and Evolution and Race: New Evidence … In these and other ways the campaign to suggest that race prejudice can be given a scientific foundation goes with a more vigorous swing than it has for many years.

And Maddocks sees that providing a rationale for white supremacy is what the book is meant to do:
“…it would be over-generous to think that Coon’s present book could be innocently tactless. The uses that would be made of it were, after all, entirely predictable.” Yes. But it would be a good many years before it was revealed, via the publication of Coon’s letters, that he had been actively seeking to help white racists, especially the aforementioned Carleton Putnam, though Coon was careful to keep his own name out of the segregationist literature except as it referenced his books.
Another article that touches on these matters is a review by William Styron of Frank Tannenbaum’s Slave and Citizen. Originally published in 1947, a recent reprint is reviewed here. Styron was, at the time, researching his novel about the Nat Turner slave rebellion in Virginia and was familiar with Tannenbaum’s book. According to Tannenbaum, race relations in the US were an outgrowth of the specific kind of slavery there. Other places, with different kinds of slave institutions have less racial discord, said Tannenbaum. So far as that goes, most readers might agree with Tannenbaum. The problem is that some, like Styron, take Tannenbaum’s arguments too far and make far-fetched claims for racial harmony in, say, Brazil which are not borne out by the facts. Still, there are differences between the US and other Western Hemisphere nations in black/white relations and those differences, and why they occurred, are of great interest. Tannenbaum’s book is still a starting point for this discussion, though Winthrop Jordan’s White Over Black has shifted the argument.
The main problem with the NYRB‘s handling of race relations is that it is directed toward a very small audience — the White Citizen Councils of Alabama were unlikely to ever read Maddocks’ takedown of Dr. Coon. The NYRB is not a publication that would have been of value at the time for either black or white Americans trying to deal with the great set of problems that confronted them because these problems were not of much immediate concern to the small cultural elite representing there, with the exception of such as DuPee, who helped bring Baldwin back from France to report on the situation. But even these few were apt to lapse into confrontational mode, informed by fear, when having to face the fact that blacks could be harboring great anger. They were, as Baldwin said, innocents who would have to be brought slowly, and with love, to knowledge.

Jules Feiffer, William Burroughs

Jules Feiffer, William Burroughs

The elitism of the NYRB shows up in various ways. Mary McCarthy reviews William Burroughs’ The(sic) Naked Lunch. The review is favorable but includes this puzzling statement: “This must be the first space novel, the first serious piece of science fiction — the others are entertainment.”
Now it is hard to see how Burroughs’ work is any more science fiction than Gulliver’s Travels, a book McCarthy compares it to, or, say, works by George Orwell or Aldous Huxley that everyone recognizes as serious. The point is, McCarthy is using the term “science fiction” as a derogatory identifier. If it’s good, then it isn’t science fiction, except maybe this one book by Burroughs that can’t easilly be pigeon-holed. But McCarthy’s attitude was widely held. At the same time that this essay was published, J.G.Ballard was writing stories that he claimed were not science fiction, even though they were being published in science fiction magazines. The notion that a genre tag, like “science fiction”, would diminish a work was adopted even by people working in said genres.

Jules Feiffer illustrates how highcult becomes masscult or something.

Jules Feiffer illustrates how highcult becomes masscult or something.

This attitude is especially evident here when a writer uses the term “comic strip” in an essay. It is always derogatory. It is pretty funny to read a review, by John Hollander, Yale English professor, of a collection of comic strips by Jules Feiffer (who also has a strip in this issue of the NYRB) that includes this statement:

There are often non-books on the best-seller lists, and lately they have been appearing for children as well.
It is a deplorable tradition. And yet, it has been almost redeemed by the few cases in which a really unique imagination has found form there. The splendid Gothic Victorianism of Edward Gorey is one of these, I think, and the collections of what are by no means really cartoon-strips by Jules Feiffer are surely another.

“By no means really cartoon-strips”? What the hell? If it’s good, you see, then it can’t be a comic strip. But then Feiffer himself was shortly to publish an article in Playboy, expanded into a book in 1965, that concludes that comics are only “junk”, and kid’s junk at that!
It is startling to hear an artist put down his own work that way, and I do think that Feiffer and Ballard grew somewhat less defensive as they achieved both popular success and critical appreciation. Still, at this time, they adopted the manners of the class that they wished not to alienate, the one where they felt they belonged.
This cultural defensiveness seems to be a common attitude of the NYRB elite and one of them, Dwight MacDonald, tried to turn it into an artistic credo. MacDonald’s book, Against the American Grain, reviewed in this issue, includes an essay called “Masscult and Midcult”, that has achieved classic status. [Read it here]
MacDonald says that you have High Culture, which is for the elite, and Folk Art, which is for the masses. The problem is that Midcult stuff which pretends to be Art but is really mass produced simplifications of High Culture aimed at bourgeois tastes. MacDonald tries to make this distinction clear but only muddies the waters as he displays his own ignorance of, for instance, jazz. But he is most revealing when he tries to say that art aimed at the non-elites is Okay, so long as it doesn’t get uppity:

Folk Art was the people’s own institution, their private little kitchen-garden walled off from the great formal park of their masters. But Masscult breaks down the wall, integrating the masses into a debased form of High Culture and thus becoming an instrument of domination.

That is a pretty amazing analysis of medieval times coming from a communist — or, rather, former communist, MacDonald having passed from Stalin through Trotsky to calling himself an anarchist. Less to do with classical anarchism, like Saint-Simon or Fourier, than an excuse for sloppy thinking, I believe. Anyway, his reviewer, Barbara Solomon:

Somewhere in “Masscult and Midcult” Macdonald finds himself in Ortega y Gasset’s bed—the masses are destructive of civilization, the elite, the preservers of tradition. It is a perfectly valid conclusion, and yet once Macdonald arrives at it he shies away from the implications. A world for the elite? It is not easy for a long-time left-winger who is also American to say: “I am Charles de Gaulle.”

Here, I must say, I have never read a favorable review of “Masscult and Midcult” anywhere, although it still has life — possibly due to the insecurity of people who write for a living, possibly due to the term “midcult” having been selected into the English language.
The important part of the essay for the purpose here is this bit:

The past cultures I admire — Periclean Greece, the city-states of the Italian Renaissance, Elizabethan England, are examples — have mostly been produced by communities, and remarkably small ones at that. Also remarkably heterogenous ones, riven by faction, stormy with passionate antagonisms.

Dwight wants to be Athenian. Not a slave, of course, but the kind of guy who hangs out with Socrates and Plato and admires beautiful Alcibiades. Okay, but this great phase of Athenian culture lasted only 80 years at best, the second half of that being Periclean and then, around the time Socrates drank hemlock, descended into not-greatness. So, if the period following the Persian Wars but before the post-Periclean collapse is what MacDonald wanted in a contemporary version, perhaps in post WWII America, before the Nixonian collapse, he thought he might find it.
(I have to insert here MacDonald’s comment about Mary (NoSFForMe) McCarthy — “Why does she have to be so goddamned snooty..?” Oh yeah! Takes one to know one, Dwight.)
Race relations and cultural definition are the major topics of this issue of the NYRB, but other matters are discussed: the Cold War, for example. This was a time when Khruschev was attempting to take the USSR from Stalinism into a place more kind to its citizens. There is a review by Philip Rahv of Solzhenitsyn’s A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, now allowed publication after Khruschev’s public revelation of the gulag. Rahv thinks it’s a pretty good book although, he sniffs, it’s too small to be a “great work of art”. (Philip: how big is the “Mona Lisa”? How large a canvas did Van Gogh require for his sunflowers? How many pages does a writer have to fill to have a great work, as opposed to a small one? Aren’t you conflating two different meanings of the word “great”?) But this is interesting:

Thank God, the world is still unpredictable after all. No one, not even the most astute Kremlinologist among us, could possibly have foreseen that the party-hierarchs would be prevailed upon to permit the publication of a work so devastating in its implications.

There is also a review of several works on the Soviet economy, which Khruschev was also trying to reform, bringing in experiments with computer models and profit-making. The review does not mention these but is more interested in the question of how much the USSR is spending on its military — this is, after all, only a year after the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Khruschev’s experiments failed and when a great drought devastated the 1963 grain harvest, the USSR was in dire economic straits. Brezhnev and Kosygin replaced him in 1964. The economy went back on a military footing without much regard for consumers. Cultural expression was suppressed and Solzhenitsyn exiled. But in the 1980s a group of Soviet officials took Khruschev’s attempted reforms to heart and, well, the world is still unpredictable after all.
There are a couple of essays on American politics. Dennis Wrong reviews James MacGregor Burns’ The Deadlock of Democracy. Burns has a list of ailments in the American political system and a list of remedies for them. Some of the ailments are familiar: a minority in Congress can stifle legislation, districts are often gerrymandered, there are barriers to voting, and so on. Burns proposes some Constitutional amending to cure these ills. Wrong is not so certain that this will help. What is certain is that no such reforms happened then and are unlikely to take place any time soon.

Arthur Schlesinger and Kennedy [Life Magazine], Dwight MacDonald [Corbis]

Arthur Schlesinger and Kennedy [Life Magazine], Dwight MacDonald [Corbis]


Burns was one of many New Deal Democrats who became boosters for John Kennedy’s New Frontier. Arthur Schlesinger was another and his paean to Camelot, The Politics of Hope, is reviewed here by Dwight MacDonald. MacDonald guts the book with some lovely invective and without much regard for facts. (It wasn’t Lincoln who made that statement, it was Jackson). He presents Schlesinger, who he calls a friend, as a lickspittle toady to power. Seduced by Kennedy glamour, Schlesinger has become a hypocrite who admires a forceful presidency more than a democratic one. Schlesinger sees no reason why a president shouldn’t ignore the Bill of Rights if national security is an issue. “Why is it always the liberals who want to take away individual freedoms?” asks MacDonald. Well, we all know now that it isn’t only the liberals, that power of every persuasion will seek to extend itself, but MacDonald’s concern about the loss of individual freedom remains important. As for Schlesinger, after Kennedy’s death, he became estranged from the White House and wound up writing The Imperial Presidency (1973), warning that the Presidents had used national security concerns to expand their power in a way that made a mockery of the Constitution. Of course, there was a Republican in the White House at the time.
Feminism is not mentioned in this issue of the Review. It is possible that this is due to a Queen Bee attitude — the best-known of the female reviewers here are Susan Sontag and Mary McCarthy and both were famously indifferent to feminism. An issue or two down the line and Mary McCarthy’s The Group was reviewed by Norman Mailer, who called it a “lady book”. McCarthy was a woman who the male members of this intellectual elite feared; she could have been remembered as a feminist champion. But people belong to their times and it is hard to demand that they should have responded to issues in ways that reflect the times to which we belong.
There are a good many other items in this issue of the NYRB. There is, for instance, poetry — three poems and reviews of a number of recent books of poetry. With one exception, the reviews are favorable. One might leap to the conclusion that poets are always kind to one another, but if one did so, one would be leaping into the very pit of wrong-headedness. Still, the review by W.H.Auden of David Jones’ Anathemata is very generous.
Auden showed this same generosity in a lot of his criticism, collected as The Dyer’s Hand, and reviewed here by John Berryman. Berryman states that Auden is not by trade a critic but praises him as an informed person who tries to increase the reader’s appreciation, rather than trying to boost himself through negative criticism.
That kind of negative criticism shows in a silly review of Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? And, to a lesser extent, in one of John Updike’s The Centaur (by Jonathan Miller). The NYRB has had a great problem with Updike over the years — first, he was mid-cult, then he was misogynistic, and so on. On the other hand, the recognition by the NYRB reviewer that J.D.Salinger’s Raise High the Roof Beams, Carpenter and Seymour: An Introduction is not at all good, delights me, because I spent money I could not afford on that waste of paper (and on Franny and Zooey, too. Lord! If I could trade all the bad books I purchased when I could not afford them for one good book that I missed out on when it was available…)

Morley Callaghan, Mary McCarthy, Norman Mailer

Morley Callaghan, Mary McCarthy, Norman Mailer

There is lots of other material here — forty-four contributors, including great poets, critics, novelists, essayists, but there’s no point going on about that. One last review deserves mention — I suspect it will be the one essay most reprinted from this issue of the NYRB: Norman Mailer’s review of Morley Callaghan’s memoir, That Summer In Paris. Mailer waves aside most of the book as uninteresting — memoirs are an “inferior art” — but it contains “a superb short story”. The story, which has been widely discussed, concerns a boxing match between Callaghan and Ernest Hemingway, refereed by F. Scott Fitzgerald, that took place that summer in Paris. Hemingway had a penchant for calling smaller men into the ring and showing off by pounding them — later on, he did this with Cuban fishermen — but he made an error by taking on Callaghan, who had done some real boxing. So, Callaghan knocks Hemingway down when Fitzgerald, the time-keeper, over-extends the round. Hemingway over-reacts and snarls at Fitzgerald, who later asks Callaghan to apologize, and so on. A real literary match here, folks. But Mailer gets to the meat of the situation:

It is possible Hemingway lived every day of his life in the style of the suicide. What a great dread is that. It is the dread which sits in the silences of his short declarative sentences. At any instant, by any failure in magic, by a mean defeat, or by a moment of cowardice, Hemingway could be thrust back again into the agonizing demands of his courage. For the life of his talent must have depended on living in a psychic terrain where one must either be brave beyond one’s limit, or sicken closer into a bad illness, or, indeed, by the ultimate logic of the suicide, must advance the hour in which one would make another reconnaissance into one’s death.
… It is not likely that Hemingway was a brave man who sought danger for the sake of the sensations it provided him. What is more likely the truth of his long odyssey is that he struggled with his cowardice and against a secret lust to suicide all of his life, that his inner landscape was a nightmare, and he spent his nights wrestling with the gods. It may even be that the final judgment on his work may come to the notion that what he failed to do was tragic, but what he accomplished was heroic, for it is possible he carried a weight of anxiety within him from day to day which would have suffocated any man smaller than himself. There are two kinds of brave men. Those who are brave by the grace of nature, and those who are brave by an act of will. It is the merit of Callaghan’s long anecdote that the second condition is suggested to be Hemingway’s own.

And that, possibly, is the critical insight that will last longest from this first issue of the great New York Review of Books.
Dwight MacDonald wanted to be part of a small cultural community and the New York Review of Books was put together by a coterie who all knew one another and had worked together and sometimes were passionately riven, just as MacDonald fantasized. Many had published or participated in the Partisan Review. The Partisan Review had several editors among the reviewers here, MacDonald and DuPee among them, and The Partisan Review Anthology, a collection of essays culled from twenty-five years of publication, is reviewed in this issue.
The PR was godparent to the NYRB. But fairly quickly, the New York Review grew to include all kinds of writers from all over the world, many of whom have never met one another. The world is too large for the tiny fiefdoms of MacDonald’s fantasy. A recent article by Timothy Garton Ash [paywall] says that contributors to the NYRB belong to a “republic of letters” and states that the NYRB stands in for a European review of books, of which there are none so good. (Readers of the London Review of Books may need to be reminded that, during the London Times lockout in 1979, the NYRB founded the London Review. First issues were inserts in the NYRB.) And the NYRB has outgrown silliness like typing genre literature, television, and comics as not being worthy of notice. The Fiftieth Anniversary issue includes a review of George R.R. Martin’s Fire and Ice books and the television series Game of Thrones. Margaret Atwood has reviewed Elmore Leonard (favorably) in its pages and comics artists like Chris Ware and Art Spiegelman are taken seriously. (Though the NYRB wound up with a useless clunker of a review when they assigned Harold Bloom to review Robert Crumb’s Genesis.) Right now the magazine has the highest circulation it has ever had — about 150,000 — even as other periodicals are dying. It still produces essays worth reading, whether you agree with them or not, and hopefully will continue doing so for another fifty years or more.

Notes:
reprint of the first issue of the New York Review of Books
50th anniversary issue
Washington Post article on the 50th anniversary

Some of the books mentioned above:
Dwight MacDonald, Masscult and Midcult: Essays Against the American Grain
Frank Tannenbaum, Slave and Citizen: The Classic Comparative Study of Race Relations in the Americas
James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time
William Burroughs, Naked Lunch
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
W.H.Auden, The Dyer’s Hand
David Jones, Anathemata, The
Morley Callaghan, That Summer in Paris
Arthur Schlesinger, The Politics of Hope and The Bitter Heritage: American Liberalism in the 1960s

Good Books: Pudd’nhead Wilson by Mark Twain

In 1830, at Dawson’s Landing, Missouri, a baby boy is born to a slave woman in the Driscoll household, Roxy; at the same time, a boy is being born to Roxy’s white mistress, who dies in childbirth. Roxy is ordered to nurse and raise both children. One week later, David Wilson arrives in Dawson’s Landing, meaning to practice law there. He enters into conversation with some locals:

…[when a] dog began to yelp and snarl and howl and make himself very comprehensively disagreeable, whereupon young Wilson said, much as one who is thinking aloud:
“I wish I owned half of that dog.”
“Why?” somebody asked.
“Because I would kill my half.”
The group searched his face with curiosity, with anxiety even, but found no light there, no expression that they could read. They fell away from him as from something uncanny, and went into privacy to discuss him. One said:
“‘Pears to be a fool.”
“‘Pears?” said another. “Is, I reckon you better say.”
“Said he wished he owned half of the dog, the idiot,” said a third. “What did he reckon would become of the other half if he killed his half? Do you reckon he thought it would live?”

After some discussion, the locals decide that Wilson is a “pudd’nhead”. Wilson is unable to shake this first impression and no one hires him as a lawyer. He takes down his shingle and offers his services as surveyor’s assistant and bookkeeper, specializing in untangling confused accounts. So begins Mark Twain’s 1894 novel, Pudd’nhead Wilson.

Mark Twain photo used in the first editions of Pudd'nhead Wilson [Twain Library, U. of Va.]

Mark Twain photo used in the first editions of Pudd’nhead Wilson [Twain Library, U. of Va.]


The two children, one the white heir to the considerable Driscoll estate and the other a black slave, remain in Roxy’s care. One day she and the other house slaves are called before their master who has noticed that some cash has gone missing. He wants to know who has stolen the money. All say, Not I! But only Roxy is telling the truth. The master then says, if the guilty party confesses, that slave will be sold locally, but if no one confesses all four will be sold “down the river” to the new cotton plantations in Mississippi and Alabama being raised on land taken from Indians who had been driven out. This is a terrible sentence, for these plantations are well-known to be harsh and cruel places that use up slaves the same way that cotton uses up soil, wearing it out and working it to death. Immediately, three slaves fall to their knees and admit their guilt. Only Roxy remains standing. Only she will remain at the Driscoll household.
Roxy returns to her cabin, shaken by the knowledge that she could have been sold down the river. And her son might or might not be sold with her, or might be sold down the river in any case, without her. Roxy is 1/16 black (or Negro, if you wish) and looks white. Her race, or “caste” as Twain has it, is revealed only by her speech and her dress. Her son by a white father is 1/32 black and also appears white — in fact, the white baby’s father is not certain which child is his own except that he recognizes that his son is the one that wears better clothes. After wrestling with the moral implications of what she is doing, Roxy switches her baby for her master’s.
Now, before we go any further, there may be those who doubt such a switch is possible — black is black, white is white, and etc. So check out this photograph taken of some freed slave children in New Orleans in 1863 after the Union capture of the city:

pud-white slave children
[More photos and info here] Blacks pretending to be white is a constant theme in America. Of the children fathered on slave Sally Hemmings by her owner Thomas Jefferson, some descendants went north and lived as whites, some stayed in the south and were black. “Passing for white” was a theme in the 1959 movie Imitation of Life. It was not until 1967 that interracial marriages were legal in some states and life for blacks and whites was so unequal that, given a chance, many people who were legally (under state law at the time) black would pass for white.
There is considerable discussion in the United States right now as to whether such a thing as “race” exists. Twain is making the point that circumstance, not race, decides a person’s place in the world. A white person who is a slave becomes black. Race is created by racism. The fact that Obama is half white is meaningless, his black half defines his race. Roxy is black because she had a black great-grandmother; she and her child are the product of generations of slaves raped by white masters. Twain might appreciate the irony that has both Roxy and and her child played by very dark-skinned actors in the various dramatic and film adaptations of his book. But then, these black people could hardly be played by whites, could they?
So Roxy switches the children: her son becomes Tom Driscoll and her master’s son, Chambers, short for Valet de Chambres, “the fine sound of it had pleased [Roxy's] ear” — even as she named her child, she was thinking of elevating him in the world.

pud_prints
David “Pudd’nhead” Wilson has a hobby: he collects fingerprints. By the 18th Century some European researchers understood that every individual had a unique set of fingerprints, something that the Chinese had known (but not applied) for a thousand years. The first real use of fingerprints for identification was made in India by English civil servant William Janes Herschel, a decade or two after Pudd’nhead Wilson ends. Wilson takes fingerprints on glass slides, labels them with the name and date, and stores them away. He already has two sets of the infants in Roxy’s care when she brings them around for another printing. She does not see the prints as identifying the boys (nor does anyone else see them as identifying marks); she wants to know if Wilson can detect that she has switched the babies. For Roxy, unlike the local townspeople, sees that Wilson is a very bright man. But he does not notice the exchange (all babies look alike) and Roxy is satisfied that her scheme will succeed. Wilson never compares the slides, just stores them away with the many others he has collected.
The idea of babies switched at birth is an old one, found in many folk tales around the world. The idea that a person might be of royal birth but was switched out for a commoner was current in the late 18th and early 19th Centuries in popular literature. Usually a scar or other identifying mark, perhaps known only to a parent or an old nurse, reveals the true heir to the throne. Occasionally it is a piece of jewellery that was left with the child. Twain reverses that concept by having Roxy take the necklace that belongs to the Driscoll baby and put it on her own boy. Twain mocked the “switched-at-birth” convention in some of his other writings, but here uses it to explore notions subversive of the original idea. Noble birth does not make better people, only more privileged ones. In other words, Twain is a proponent of Nurture over Nature and this shows up in his treatment of the two boys as they grow up.
Tom (Roxy’s own child) becomes the spoiled son of privilege, and Chambers, the true heir, learns humility as a slave. Tom is a nasty sort who enjoys giving pain. Chambers is often the recipient of Tom’s blows but, as he grows older and stronger, is used by Tom to beat up the other boys. The boys’ characters solidify as they become men.
Meanwhile, Tom’s father dies and he is fostered by his uncle, Judge Driscoll. Tom’s father has a disordered estate that is taken over by debt collectors, but his childless brother is wealthy and names Tom as his heir. Roxy is set free by her owner on his deathbed and goes off to work as a chambermaid on the riverboats. Tom spends two years at Yale where he was “not an object of distinction” and returns home.
Now Dawson’s Landing experiences a rarity: something exciting happens! Identical Italian twins take up residence there. The town is quite excited over having such exotic new residents and the twins are well-received.
Roxy also returns to Dawson’s Landing. She has begun to suffer from rheumatism and quit her job on the riverboats, meaning to live off the savings that she has slowly accumulated. Alas, her savings have disppeared when the New Orleans bank where they were held went bust and Roxy is penniless. Her co-workers on the riverboat take up a collection for her — not the last time in the book that people will take up a collection for Roxy, since she is well-liked — and Roxy makes her home in an abandoned building. She calls on Tom and asks him for money:

“My lan’, how you is growed, honey! ‘Clah to goodness, I wouldn’t a-knowed you, Marse Tom! ‘Deed I wouldn’t! Look at me good; does you ‘member old Roxy? Does you know yo’ old nigger mammy, honey? Well now, I kin lay down en die in peace, ‘ca’se I’se seed—”
“Cut it short, Goddamn it, cut it short! What is it you want?”
“You heah dat? Jes the same old Marse Tom, al’ays so gay and funnin’ wid de ole mammy. I’uz jes as shore—”
“Cut it short, I tell you, and get along! What do you want?”

Roxy loses her temper and reveals to Tom that: “You’s a nigger!—bawn a nigger and a slave!—en you’s a nigger en a slave dis minute; en if I opens my mouf ole Marse Driscoll’ll sell you down de river befo’ you is two days older den what you is now!” Unless he helps her, she will reveal all. She is quite aware of the kind of person that Tom is and tells him that if anything happens to her — like someone sticking a knife in her — that she has left a written account with a person who will make certain that Tom is exposed. Actually, there is no such letter but Roxy understands her boy well enough that she knows the threat is all that’s required to keep him in line.
Tom believes Roxy but he has no money to give her. He is a gambler — Judge Driscoll has already bailed him out once but has threatened to disinheirit Tom should he go into debt again. Tom has begun burglarizing houses in the town and selling the stuff he steals in pawnshops up the river. He manages to pay off his debts this way and swears never to gamble again. He shares half of his allowance from Judge Driscoll with Roxy and the two manage to get on for a while.
But Tom cannot stay away from gambling. He wins big, then loses it all and more besides. He engages in some more theft and Roxy helps him set up a scheme to borrow on his expected inheritance from Judge Driscoll. But when Tom goes to St.Louis to sell his plunder, he himself is robbed, and now has nothing. Once again, Roxy comes up with a scheme: Tom is to sell her as a slave to a farm upstate and use the proceeds to clear his debts. When he comes into the Driscoll fortune, he will buy her back.
Although Roxy is a freedwoman, she knows that slavedealers are not particular. Tom can put together some phony documents and she can be sold in an area where she is unknown. So it happens. Roxy is on a steamer, heading toward her new owner, when she realizes that the boat is going with the current. Tom has sold his mother down the river!
There are other crises: a duel between the Judge and one of the twins — the judge is fighting on Tom’s behalf and disowns him for not duelling until Tom weasels out an explanation; the continuing thefts — now reported as being done by a woman who the reader knows is Tom in drag; political hoopla — Wilson runs for Mayor and the twins run for Council: Wilson wins, the twins lose after being slandered by Tom, and they lose all their friends in town, except Wilson. But all this is just prelude to the big event: Roxy’s return.
Roxy is mistreated on the deep South plantation by a cruel overseer. When a child gives Roxy some food, the overseer hits the little girl until Roxy takes his stick away and beats him with it. Then she makes her way to the river where she finds a boat where she had once worked. The crew help her out, she steams up the river, people take up a collection for her, and now Roxy confronts her son — in blackface! Yes, to disguise herself, Roxy darkens her skin and wears men’s clothes. I think that, of all the characters in this book, Roxy comes out the best. She is not perfect by any means, she is imperious and bossy and likes her whisky, but she is also brave, resourceful, and intelligent.
So Roxy confronts Tom. She gives him an ultimatum: buy her back or she will go to Judge Driscoll. Roxy thinks that Tom will beg the money from his guardian, but Tom decides to steal it. Tom has with him a very valuable knife with jewelled scabbard that he stole from the twins, but the knife cannot be sold to a pawnbroker, everyone knows what it looks like and the seller would immediately be identified as a thief. The judge surprises Tom — or perhaps Tom never meant to hide from him — and Tom stabs him with the twins’ knife which he leaves behind.
So the Judge is dead, the twins are accused of his murder, and Tom stands to inheirit a fortune, The only obstacle to this scheme is Pudd’nhead Wilson who now takes up his neglected law practice to defend the Italians. Wilson has noticed a fingerprint on the knife…
The big trial scene: Wilson has compared the print on the knife with those in his collection and made some astounding discoveries. First, he explains fingerprints to the court and demonstrates that he can tell one person’s prints from another’s. Then he tells the story of two babies, switched at the age of ten months, as the fingerprint records show, and how the prints of one of those babies, now grown, is on the bloody knife. That man is a murderer and a slave posing as a white man. That person is… But Tom has already collapsed in a faint and there is no need to continue.
Some readers have criticized this book for its lack of coherence; they think it should have been written longer and read more smoothly and they have a point. Some of the characters — Chambers, for example — are little more than caricatures and there are certain inconsistencies in the narrative, but over all, I think Pudd’nhead Wilson stands up very well.
Twain was in need of money when he wrote the book — his publishing company had just failed — and dashed it off in a month or so of feverish writing. He says that, originally, the work was to feature more of the twins but that he found that he was trying to pour too much plot into too small a book. The book is sometimes titled The Tragedy of Pudd’nhead Wilson and the Comedy of Those Extraordinary Twins. So some of the twins’ story was removed to be printed as an addendum. Various critics have remarked on the twinning bits of the narrative — besides the Italians, there is Tom and Chambers, for instance, and other characters have counterparts. Perhaps this is a remnant of Twain’s original plan.

Mark Twain contemplates twins. Some think that, originally, Twain had meant the Italian twins to be conjoined.

Mark Twain contemplates twins. Some think that, originally, Twain had meant the Italian twins to be conjoined.

Twain had a bitter streak that shows up in many of his writings. Human beings always fall short of the greatness  of which Humanity is capable. This bitterness shows throughout the novel. All events, all opinions are delivered with Twain’s characteristic dry humor but there is a bite here not found in some of his other books. Several chapters end with a bit of harsh satire that the reader may or may not find funny. For instance, at the end of Chapter Two, when Driscoll demands that the thieving slaves confess or all will be sold down the river and the guilty parties say, “I done it!—have mercy, marster—Lord have mercy on us po’ niggers!” The master replies:

“I will sell you here though you don’t deserve it. You ought to be sold down the river.”
The culprits flung themselves prone, in an ecstasy of gratitude, and kissed his feet, declaring that they would never forget his goodness and never cease to pray for him as long as they lived. They were sincere, for like a god he had stretched forth his mighty hand and closed the gates of hell against them. He knew, himself, that he had done a noble and gracious thing, and was privately well pleased with his magnanimity; and that night he set the incident down in his diary, so that his son might read it in after years, and be thereby moved to deeds of gentleness and humanity himself.

Each chapter begins with a quotation from Puddn’head Wilson’s Calendar, a collection of thoughts by the man himself:

Adam was but human—this explains it all. He did not want
the apple for the apple’s sake, he wanted it only because it
was forbidden. The mistake was in not forbidding the
serpent; then he would have eaten the serpent. —Pudd’nhead
Wilson’s Calendar

Less amusing perhaps, is this one:

Whoever has lived long enough to find out what life is,
knows how deep a debt of gratitude we owe to Adam, the first
great benefactor of our race. He brought death into the
world. —Pudd’nhead Wilson’s Calendar

But the bitterest comments of all close the book. The townspeople admit they were wrong to call Wilson a “pudd’nhead”. Yes, they say, he has turned us all into pudd’nheads. Now he is elevated but Wilson remains estranged from his fellows. His friends, the twins, return to Italy, having had enough of America. Roxy finds solace, as much as she can, in her church. Chambers supports her. Poor Chambers is now a wealthy free man, a white man, but his speech and manners are those of a slave. He can find no place in society, but Twain has little more to say about him. Twain winds up with these words about Tom:

The false heir made a full confession and was sentenced to imprisonment for life. But now a complication came up. The Percy Driscoll estate was in such a crippled shape when its owner died that it could pay only sixty percent of its great indebtedness, and was settled at that rate. But the creditors came forward now, and complained that inasmuch as through an error for which THEY were in no way to blame the false heir was not inventoried at the time with the rest of the property, great wrong and loss had thereby been inflicted upon them. They rightly claimed that “Tom” was lawfully their property and had been so for eight years; that they had already lost sufficiently in being deprived of his services during that long period, and ought not to be required to add anything to that loss; that if he had been delivered up to them in the first place, they would have sold him and he could not have murdered Judge Driscoll; therefore it was not that he had really committed the murder, the guilt lay with the erroneous inventory. Everybody saw that there was reason in this. Everybody granted that if “Tom” were white and free it would be unquestionably right to punish him—it would be no loss to anybody; but to shut up a valuable slave for life—that was quite another matter.

As soon as the Governor understood the case, he pardoned Tom at once, and the creditors sold him down the river.

Notes:

There are several editions of Pudd’nhead Wilson on line. I used the one at Gutenberg.org.

Stephen Railton’s Mark Twain in His Times, is a valuable resource on Twain that includes a complete digitization of the first edition, a link to Those Extraordinary Twins, a number of illustrations, and some critical articles.

Pictures I Like: “A Walk To The Paradise Garden”, W. Eugene Smith (1946)

smith_garden2

My Story: Isn’t that sweet! Those two kids and that wonderful light. All is joy and hope at an age when everything is new! No wonder that this photo was the final shot, the coda to Steichen’s Family of Man exhibit.

The Facts: Eugene Smith was an ordinary photographer before the Second World War, handling routine assignments for Life, Newsweek, and Parade magazines. After Pearl Harbor, he tried to join Steichen’s Navy photography unit but was refused because of his small size and an injury that hampered his movement. Smith persevered and managed to contract with Ziff-Davis Publishing and was assigned to the Pacific. He photographed combat at Rabaul, Tarawa, and in the Marianas. After his contract with Ziff-Davis ended, he got Life magazine to send him back in time for the fighting on Saipan, Guam, and Okinawa.
Smith’s father had committed suicide in 1936 and…:

…the sensational­ism of the local newspaper’s coverage of his death caused Smith to bitterly hate dishonest journalism. Smith almost decided to quit journalism, but a friend convinced him that, “honesty is not of a profession, but within the individual and what he brings to his work.”

This passion for honesty caused him to despise sentimental depictions of war’s glory (such as the Iwo Jima flag-raising); Smith was determined to show the gritty realities. These included dying soldiers caked in mud, and civilians caught up by chaos and fear.

Saipan, 1944. Smith: "They burst out through the opening, stumbling, dazed, choking, and nearly blinded by the fumes, trying to lurch and claw their way past the still warm body of a man, and another of a boy. Trying for an escape when there was no escape."

Saipan, 1944. Smith: “They burst out through the opening, stumbling, dazed, choking, and nearly blinded by the fumes, trying to lurch and claw their way past the still warm body of a man, and another of a boy. Trying for an escape when there was no escape.”

The Pacific war was brutal and nasty, and the battle for Okinawa was a horror show. This was the bloodiest battle Americans had fought since the Civil War and it included mass suicides by civilians who feared capture. Smith photographed it all. He hated what he saw but:

If I could photograph powerfully enough… If my photographs could grab the viewer by the heart, making the enormity of the terribleness of war lodge heavilly, they might also prod the conscience and cause him to think. [Smith]

Okinawa, 1944. Smith: "In his first action he had been quickly hit and was now lying on a stretcher... The blood had sprayed the length of him and behind him as he ran... it now was mixed with the muck of Okinawa from his boots to the head wound from which it had come... As he lay thee he touched the tips of his fingers together... The last I saw of him...two men running and creeping with the recent replacement between them... I think the boy on the stretcher was already dead."

Okinawa, 1944. Smith: “In his first action he had been quickly hit and was now lying on a stretcher… The blood had sprayed the length of him and behind him as he ran… it now was mixed with the muck of Okinawa from his boots to the head wound from which it had come… As he lay there he touched the tips of his fingers together… The last I saw of him…two men running and creeping with the recent replacement between them… I think the boy on the stretcher was already dead.”

While photographing the fighting, a shell hit near Smith and shrapnel tore through his body. One shell fragment passed through his left hand that was focusing the camera, and then ripped through his face, shattering parts of his skull. Smith was shipped back to the US and spent two years having metal and bone splinters removed from his face. His skull was reconstructed and his hand rebuilt, but fluid constantly dripped from his nose and he could not fully close his hand. For a time Smith thought he would never use a camera again.

Two years after he was wounded, Smith determined to make an effort to create a photograph. He decided to photograph his youngest children who were too small to recognize the struggle he was undertaking. He got his wife and oldest child out of the house, not wishing witnesses to what might be a failure. Once they were gone, Smith faced his first trial:  he had to load the camera with film.

I struggled to tear open the cardboard container, and then struggled to open the camera and insert the roll. This, at the beginning, almost proved my undoing, for as I fought to give my mangled left hand a strength and a control it did not have…the pain and the nerves and the fear and the inadequate fumbling left me trembling, sweating, and coldly hunched in cramp. [Smith]

Now, with the camera loaded, he and the children went outside. It was a lovely day and the children scampered about as Smith walked behind, trying to work the focus with his ruined hand. Whenever he brought the camera to his face, nasal fluid splashed on the glass viewfinder and obscured his vision. He struggled along, forcing his hand to work and swallowing the vile, bitter, seepage from his wounds.

Then Smith saw the opening in the trees, full of light, and thought his children might walk into it. It was the shot he hoped for.

I became acutely sensitive  to the lines forming the scene and to the bright shower of light pouring into the opening and spilling down the path toward us. Pat saw something in the clearing, he grasped Juanita by the hand and they hurried forward. [Smith]

Smith struggled with the camera, pain ripping from his hand through his arm as he focused, sucking down the “ugly tasting serum”, gauging the light and composition, and trying to determine exactly when to press the shutter to make up for his slowed reaction time. He squeezed off a shot and knew that he had something. He forced himself to take another. Then he turned away from the children so that they would not see him weep.

More:

Life photographs by Smith
a biographical essay
interview
the lengthy piece by Smith excerpted above
Photography Made Difficult, American Masters documentary

Lynd Ward

The story goes that when Lynd Ward, as a child, discovered that his name spelled backwards was “draw”, he determined to become an artist.

Ward self-portrait from the 1930s

Ward self-portrait from the 1930s

God’s Man, the first of six pictorial narratives that Ward completed, was published in 1929 and became a best-seller. The story is that of an artist who signs a contract with a mysterious stranger who gives him a magic brush. Using this tool, the artist creates paintings that win him wealth and fame. [The first ten pages of God's Man are reproduced here.] But the artist becomes disenchanted with the emptiness of his fame and the falsity of the things offered him. He strikes out, is arrested, breaks free, and escapes the city.

 God's Man Arrest, Imprisonment, Escape, Pursuers gloat after the Artist falls from a cliff.

God’s Man: Arrest, Imprisonment, Escape, Pursuers gloat after the Artist falls from a cliff.

Outside the city, the artist finds artistic completion, love, and family in a wilderness paradise. One day, the mysterious stranger returns and asks the artist to fulfill the contract by painting his portrait. The artist complies but when the stranger removes his mask, he is revealed as Death and the artist dies.

 God' Man : block and print.

God’s Man : block and print.

Susan Sontag called God’s Man kitsch and Art Spiegelman, though sympathetic to Ward’s work, has said that he finds the depiction of the wilderness idyll unconvincing. Part of the problem is the nature of Ward’s medium, wood engraved prints. The printed images are stark black and white and the carved blocks leave little scope for individual nuance — the images are direct and symbolic, the pictorial language is dramatic by its nature. The artist’s eye has been influenced by silent movies, which in turn were influenced by histrionic stage drama styles of the late 19th Century. Gestures are exaggerated and every pose exudes meaning. German Expressionist cinema further developed, but refined, this kind of vision.

Frans Masreel from The City or  or any of a lot of translated titles.

Frans Masreel from The City.

Ward engraved his images in the dense endgrain of maple blocks, an exacting process that, as Spiegelman has pointed out, often results in bloody fingers. Still, it was a process that Ward loved, even though he was also proficient in other techniques. Ward spent a year in Germany, 1926-27, studying the work of Flemish master Frans Masreel and others who had pioneered wood-cut stories. This work was largely unknown in the United States and God’s Man became a bestseller, popular enough so that, a year later, Milt Gross published a parody, He Done Her Wrong, which was called the second American all-graphic novel.

Milt Gross parody of Ward in  He Done Her Wrong

Milt Gross parody of Ward in He Done Her Wrong

Ward’s second novel told in woodcuts was Madman’s Drum, [many illustrations here] an incredibly ambitious undertaking that sought to examine the corrupting influence of accumulated wealth over time. The story opens with a man stealing a magic drum in Africa. He uses the drum to enslave people and these slaves are the foundation of his wealth.

Two poages from Madman's Drum. As I understand it, the woman is reading of Justice but sees that, applied to her family, Justice = Death.

Two pages from Madman’s Drum. As I understand it, the woman is reading of Justice but sees that, applied to her family, Justice = Death.

We see the family’s history over three generations as its members disintegrate. But it is not the drum itself that is the agent of this family’s difficulties, rather it is profiting from enslaving and exploiting other human beings that corrupts them. The great problem with Madman’s Drum is that the limits of wood-cut mean that it is difficult to tell the characters apart over three generations. Ward’s art was better suited to symbolic narratives where the main character was The Artist or The Woman or some other typed person, rather than an individual with nuanced personality.

Wild Pilgrimage The lynching.

Wild Pilgrimage The lynching.

Ward returned to this concept with Wild Pilgrimage, where a young man escapes the city and the crushing demands of industrial society. He wanders into the idyllic countryside and is kneeling to pick a flower when he witnesses a lynching. Ward’s is not a simplistic back-to-nature story. The title is derived from a quote from Arturo Giovannitti, poet and activist, organizer of the 1912 Lawrence Textile Strike:

…thinking things that cannot be chained and cannot be locked, but that wander far away in the sunlit world, each in a wild pilgrimage after a destined goal.

Wild Pilgrimage: The Young Man is introduced to political theory; he thinks that he is pulled from the pit of ignorance; he sees the cause of all injustice (echoing the lynch scene);he and the Philosopher will change the world!

Wild Pilgrimage: The Young Man is introduced to political theory; he thinks that he is pulled from the pit of ignorance; he sees the cause of all injustice (echoing the lynch scene);he and the Philosopher will change the world!

The man runs away and, after a clumsy attempt at love, stumbles onto the farm of a backwoods philosopher who introduces him to leftist thinking. The young man, now full of ideas to shape his passion, returns to the city, meaning to effect change. He is drawn into a confrontation between police and strikers that becomes a riot. At one point he grabs a policeman by the throat and is strangling him but he sees the man’s face as his own and suddenly recognizes their shared humanity. Too late! He is killed in the riot and we close with a view of his corpse.

Wild Pilgrimage: The Young Man sees the factory floor as Hell; company police break up a workers' meeting; the Young Man realizes that he is assaulting his own humanity.

Wild Pilgrimage: The Young Man sees the factory floor as Hell; company police break up a workers’ meeting; the Young Man realizes that he is assaulting his own humanity.

One innovation Ward tried in this book was printing some pages in red that show the thinking of the main character. He sees a young woman and imagines them making love in the moonlight, but in black-printed reality, she pushes him away and he runs from rape charges. Factory life becomes a scene in Hell presided over by a whip-wielding demon foreman, after the young man (or The Young Man) reads a bit of socialist literature. The scenes of urban industrial life as Hell inspired Allen Ginsberg’s notion of Moloch in “Howl”. In 1978, a reprint of “Howl” was illustrated with a brand new Lynd Ward woodcut.

Ward's illustration for the 1978 reprint of Ginsburg's "Howl"

Ward’s illustration for the 1978 reprint of Ginsberg’s “Howl”

Ward had similar political beliefs to those of his father, Harry F. Ward, a Methodist minister in the days when Methodism was deeply involved in social issues. Harry Ward was leader of the American Civil Liberties Union from 1920 until he resigned in 1940 because the organization banned communists.

Ward's hand with graver. Photo from The Complete Printmaker by Romano et al. All of the wood engraving photos in ths manual were of Ward and his work.

Ward’s hand with graver. Photo from The Complete Printmaker by Romano et al. All of the wood engraving photos in ths manual were of Ward and his work. (For a look at Ward wielding his graver see the film trailer for O Brother Man).

After Wild Pilgrimage, Ward created two graphic novels not meant for a general readership. Prelude to a Million Years was a collection of thirty woodcuts that showed Ward’s more developed ideas about art and artists since God’s Man. It was printed directly from woodblock onto rag paper and hand-bound in a very small printing.

Prelude to a Thousand Years: A bitter commentary on the ephemeral nature of art? Perhaps.

Prelude to a Million Years: A bitter commentary on the ephemeral nature of art? Perhaps.

In 1936, Ward and many other people could see that the future looked grim. Lynd and his wife, May McNeer, were debating whether to have another child. This is the old “how can I bring a child into existence in a world like this?” problem. So Ward did a series of twenty-one blocks that showed one woman facing the prospect of death and destruction as she considers having a child. The blocks were published as Song Without Words. In the end, life triumphs over death, as always, and a child is born. The Wards’ child was their daughter Robin, who has become a keeper of her father’s legacy.

Song Without Words: The Woman desires achild; but the future seems terrible; life triumphs over fear.

Song Without Words: The Woman desires a child; but the future seems terrible; life triumphs over fear.

In 1940 Ward published his last completed novel in woodcuts, Vertigo, [sixteen examples plus a bit of synopsis here] where he attempted to apply all the lessons he had learned over a decade. There are three main characters: A Boy, A Girl, An Old Man. There are three time periods, shown in periods of years, months, and days: in the first, we see The Girl, a violinist, sacrificing herself to care for her father while The Boy yearns for her; in the second, The Girl takes up with The Old Man, a capitalist who is presented in terms quite different from the top-hatted, pot-bellied stereotypes of Ward’s earlier work — here he is simply old and lonely, with no purpose other than clipping his stock coupons; then, The Old Man is out of the picture, The Boy and The Girl are reunited and we are left to wonder how successful their union will be. Spiegelman considers this the best of Ward’s Novels in Woodcuts, though personally, I prefer Wild Pilgrimage.

Vertigo The young couple.

Vertigo The young couple.

During the years that Ward did his woodcut novels, he also did other work — a lot of other work. He illustrated Alec Waugh’s Book of Women… and Hot Countries, a series of ghost stories, and Frankenstein [all of the Frankenstein illustrations here] in woodcut but he also did other kinds of illustrations for work like Beowulf. And, like many illustrators of the era, he worked on children’s books.

Illustration for Waugh's Most Women.... Note the incredible textures produced by Ward's graver. [via thomas shahan 3's photostream on flickr.com]

Illustration for Waugh’s Most Women…. Note the incredible textures produced by Ward’s graver. [via thomas shahan 3's photostream on flickr.com]

"Sanctuary", 1939. Self-satirization as the artist in an ivory tower.

“Sanctuary”, 1939. The ivory tower above the fray. An artist is one of the residents.

from Beowulf

from Beowulf

"The Beast with Five Fingers"

“The Beast with Five Fingers”

from The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Grey Bridge

from The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Grey Bridge

Lynn Ward’s children’s books deserve a post or two all by themselves. Over the years he illustrated books by his wife, May McNeer, his daughters, and himself as well as those of other people. He won numerous Newbery Awards and finally a Caldecott for his own book, The Biggest Bear. In all, he had six Newbery Honor Award books and two Newbery Award books besides the Caldecott award books that he illustrated. No other illustrator has matched this record.

The Biggest Bear

The Biggest Bear

Ward was working on a new Novel in Woodcuts. The Silver Pony, when he died in 1985 at the age of 80. The extant prints were issued as a limited edition to a lucky few. Robin Ward has collaborated in a documentary on her father’s work, O Brother Man, the title taken from a Whittier poem later set to music as a hymn:

O brother man! fold to thy heart thy brother;
Where pity dwells, the peace of God is there;
To worship rightly is to love each other,
Each smile a hymn, each kindly deed a prayer.

If you can’t find it at your local theater, O Brother Man; The Life and Work of Lynd Ward will probably turn up on PBS’ American Masters. And that is a fitting title for Lynd Ward.

More:

The Library of America has issued Lynd Ward: Six Novels in Woodcut with an introduction by Art Spiegelman.
If you can find it, the Out of Print Storyteller Without Words has the same six novels, a few extra illustrations, plus intros by Ward (also in the LoA version).
Dover has reprinted Gods’ Man: A Novel in Woodcuts, Mad Man’s Drum: A Novel in Woodcuts, Wild Pilgrimage: A Novel in Woodcuts, Prelude to a Million Years and Song Without Words: Two Graphic Novels, and Vertigo: A Novel in Woodcuts at rather cheap prices.
The illustrations for the unfinished The Silver Pony: A Story in Pictures is available. Also, the illustrated versions of Frankenstein: The Lynd Ward Illustrated Edition and numerous children’s have been reprinted.
If you are an aficionado, you may find original printings of God’s Man or Wild Pilgrimage at your local used book dealer. Other titles are more expensive.
A Lynd Ward bio.
A very good essay here.
Art Spiegelman on the Wordless Book.
Chris Lanier blogs on the artists featured in the exhibition “Silent Witness”
As always, for more Ward picyures Google Image Search anf Flickr.com are your friends.

The Christian War On Christmas

It’s that time of the year again, that time when right-wing fantasists bloviate about the War On Christmas. In a sense, they are correct — there have been efforts to do away with Christmas for centuries — but these anti-Xmas efforts have been Christian in origin. My mother’s Scots Presbyterian ancestors banned Christmas in 1583, faced down a royal attempt to reinstate the holiday, and outlawed it by Parliamentary decree in 1640. English Puritans followed suit. During the period when England’s government was a Christian dictatorship, it was illegal to throw a party or hang any decorations.

Christian opposition to Christmas reflected a deep suspicion of its pagan roots. Besides the north European Yule celebration, there was Roman Saturnalia, a celebration of the Winter solstice, when people dressed up, sang and danced, gambled, exchanged gifts, feasted and partied. There was a notion of turning things around (so that the dying day would begin to lengthen once more) and masters served slaves, high was low, and rules were broken.

December illustration for a Roman "calendar" of 354. Dicing is part of Saturnalia. [via Wikipedia]

December illustration for a Roman “calendar” of 354. Dicing is part of Saturnalia. [via Wikipedia]

Early Christians were generally conflicted about the idea of celebrating. Birthdays were regarded with suspicion because emperors had public celebrations of their own birth and anything that seemed like emperor-worship was anathema. Celebrating the birthday of a god was a serious problem. Still, pragmatic religious followers recognized that folks love a party and eventually came around to giving a date to Jesus’ birth (different dates for different sects) and naming it a holy day. Christ’s Mass was the early medieval version.

Medieval Christmas was a wild affair that incorporated many aspects of both Yule and Saturnalia. There was a Lord of Misrule, adapted from a similar figure in the Roman holiday, who presided over merriment and foolishness. There was a feast. There were holiday trappings like holly and miseltoe and Yule logs — all this was given a Christian plating of course, but underneath it was still the same old mid-winter party.

Frontispiece for The Vindication of Christmas", published 1652. The Puritan on the left says "Come not here." to Old Christmas in the center who replies, "I bring good cheer." The man on the street bids Old Christmas welcome, "Do not fear." Yes, it all rhymes.

Frontispiece for The Vindication of Christmas, published 1652. The Puritan on the left says “Come not here.” to Old Christmas in the center who replies, “I bring good cheer.” The man on the street bids Old Christmas welcome, “Do not fear.” Yes, it all rhymes.

Still, some Christians were suspicious of Christmas and after the Reformation, many Protestants denounced Christmas as wicked Popery. In England, it didn’t help that the champions of Christmas, the Stuart kings, were suspected of Catholic sympathies. This all culminated in the Puritan shut-down of the holiday which resulted in pro-Christmas riots. The Restoration brought back Christmas right away and it has been a great British holiday ever since. Mind you, the Puritans and Presbyterians still didn’t do much celebrating — then or any other time — but eventually they were worn down. American Presbyterians began joining in Yuletide celebrations in the mid-19th Century and there was little objection when President Grant declared December 25th to be a national holiday.

This license to party was questioned by certain Christians. New American faiths such as Seventh Day Adventism and Jehovah’s Witnesses refused to celebrate either Christmas or birthdays, so reverting back to earlier beliefs. And, as Christmas became more and more a day characterized by consumer values, American preachers began advocating that people “put Christ back into Christmas”. This also echoed some early Christian thinkers opposed to the holiday:

This festival teaches even the little children, artless and simple, to be greedy, and accustoms them to go from house to house and to offer novel gifts, fruits covered with silver tinsel. For these they receive, in return, gifts double their value, and thus the tender minds of the young begin to be impressed with that which is commercial and sordid.
[Asterias, Bishop of Amasea, in a sermon given January 1, 400 AD]

[via irregular.com]

[via irregular.com]

But those who inveigh against the “War On Christmas” generally are supporting consumerism — Christmas trees in shopping malls and the like. Of course it could not be otherwise since the War On Christmas is part of the cynical right-wing project to enlist Christians as political supporters. The large enterprises behind this project are not about to oppose the commercialization of Christmas or anything else that is good for business.

Well, I’m what Jimmy Swaggart calls a Secular Humanist, a label that I embrace. And I love Christmas. Not speaking for Christians but just for me, Christmas is a big party right when you shouldn’t have one. You know things are going to get worse. There’s going to be more snow and it’s going to get colder, cold enough so your pipes may freeze,  so cold that trees freeze in the forest and you hear them in the night cracking. Then even when it gets warmer all that snow thaws and refreezes and there’s mud and nasty slush everywhere. Christmas comes right at the beginning of the worst time of the year. And the days are short. You get up in the dark, you go to work, the sun comes up a little after, just gray light though, the sun is weak. Then, about three, you look up and the sun is setting and it gets dark and you go home in the dark. But at Christmas the days start to get a little longer and that’s the thing, you know you’ve turned some kind of corner, the light is coming back and things will get better eventually, even though you’ve got three miserable months to go. So, you throw a party, a big party, and everybody celebrates! They eat too much and they drink too much and they spend too much money and do stupid silly things and it’s all a kind of defiance. It’s saying, “Come on, show me the worst you got, I’m laughing!” This setup, this deal that humans get here on Earth — that’s what we’re defying. We’re saying, “I can take the worst there is and still celebrate!” Because, you know what? No matter how bad it sometimes gets, life is still pretty good.

Pictures I Like: Diane Arbus, “Xmas Tree In A Living Room In Levittown, Long Island, 1963″

arbus

My Story:

“Here it is, the most beautiful tree on the lot. Cost me $18, but what the hell it goes to a good cause. At least I think it does. Depends on what the firemen do with it. Probably buy booze for themselves. So what! I got the tree, the best tree. Just have to get this damned stand screwed on, Fill the thing with water later so the tree won’t dry out so fast and shed needles all over the rug. Love that evergreen smell! Okay, upsy-daisy. Jesus, this thing’s heavy. Move the stand over. Try again. Stand up goddamit! Jesus, it’s too tall! Oh hell it’s falling over. Christ! My back! Okay, okay. It’s still a beautiful tree, nice shape, I’ll just trim a little off the top. Get the fucking saw. Where did I leave it? Out in the shed. There it is, under the lawnmower. Okay, back inside. God, my back! Okay, saw off a little. Now heave the damn thing… Still too tall goddamit! Okay, okay. Saw off a little more. And up… Just fits! Ha! Got you you bastard! Okay, no angel on top this year but put the damn presents around and who gives a shit. My back! Every step is agony! I need a drink a really really stiff drink. The most beautiful drink in the house.”

The Facts:

Diane Arbus got a Guggenheim Fellowship to work on a project called “American Rites, Manners and Customs” that she completed in 1963. This photograph was made during the end of that project as she was perfecting her head-on square format style. Arbus’ work is often called strange or freakish but it is really just ordinary life in photographs — trees like this one are the subjects of millions of family snapshots — the problem is that people don’t recognize just how strange the ordinary actually is.

“…if you scrutinize reality closely enough, if in some way you really, really get to it, it becomes fantastic. You know it really is fantastic that we look like this and you sometimes see that very clearly in a photograph. Something is ironic in the world and it has to do with the fact that what you intend never comes out like you intend it.”
(Diane Arbus quoted in the 1972 Aperture monograph Diane Arbus published shortly after her death. New edition which may or may not include this quote: Diane Arbus: An Aperture Monograph: Fortieth-Anniversary Edition)

Manchurian Candidates

Twelve years ago the parents of an autistic boy won $2.1 Million from the estate of a deceased neuropsychiatrist who had tried to turn the boy into a weapon. Doctor Donald Dudley began treating the boy in 1989 and, in 1990, started injecting him with sodium amytal, attempting to “erase” part of his brain. Dudley intended to fill these erased areas with murderous notions implanted through hypnosis.

The boy’s condition deteriorated and

[w]hen Jeanie Drummond confronted Dudley about her son’s treatment in November 1992, he told her he was going to take over hospitals, police forces and schools, and that she was fortunate he wanted her son to be one of his trained soldiers, attorneys said.

That was the end of Drummond’s treatment by Dudley.

Following complaints by Mrs. Drummond and others, Dudley’s license to practice was revoked. He himself was diagnosed as manic-depressive. Among his patients was a suicidal fifteen-year-old who had threatened people with a gun, possibly supplied by Dudley from his huge stash of weapons.

Sirhan Sirhan under arrest.

Sirhan Sirhan under arrest.

Doctor Dudley claimed to be working for the CIA and he may have been involved in the CIA’s investigation into human manipulation via psychotropic drugs. Some people died in these experiments, some became artists, one became the Unabomber. In 1973, Richard Helm, panicked by Watergate, ordered the CIA files on these experiments destroyed, but a number have survived and been declassified. Still, no smoking gun linking the CIA to mind-altered assassins has been found.

Sirhan Sirhan now [Ben Margot/AP]

Sirhan Sirhan now [Ben Margot/AP]

Meanwhile, the lawyers for Sirhan Sirhan claim that their client was hypnotized into murdering Robert Kennedy in 1968. At that time and for years later, Sirhan claimed that he shot Kennedy out of anger over US policies in Palestine. Now he claims not to remember that confession. But a year ago, illusionist Derren Brown claimed to replicate Sirhan’s programming in a test subject who was sent to murder Stephen Fry.

In 1971, Jerome Johnson, an African-American admirer of Hitler, shot mobster Joe Colombo to death. Colombo’s associates blamed Joey Gallo and went to war against the Gallo faction. Although the FBI called Johnson a “lone assassin”, Colombo’s friends said that he was a tool used by others. Knowing mafiosos claimed that the practice of manipulating some “yoyo” to commit murder was a very old one. We will never hear from Johnson, who was shot to death by Colombo’s bodyguards at the scene of the assassination.

Jerome Johnson subdued by police just before he was killed. [Life]

Jerome Johnson subdued by police just before he was killed. [Life]

Nicholas Deak, who was an OSS operative during World War II, became an international financier after the war ended. His firm was used by the CIA to launder money but after the Church Committee investigations of 1975 revealed that he had bribed Japanese ministers on behalf of Lockheed, Deak became someone the CIA didn’t want to know — at least officially. In 1983, Deak was accused by the Reagan administration of laundering Colombian drug money and, the following year, he was subpoenaed to testify before Congress. Deak’s empire came crashing down. His clients, many of them criminal organizations, began pulling their cash out of Deak’s companies only to discover that there wasn’t enough money to go around. Deak was on the verge of bankruptcy. He felt angry and betrayed by the government he had worked for and he was disgusted by the hypocrisy of being accused of dealing with drug lords by the same administration that was funding Nicaraguan contras via cocaine sales. Perhaps some people in high places feared that he might talk about things that they wished to have kept secret. In 1985, Deak was shot to death in his office. His killer was a homeless madwoman named Lois Lang.

deak_lois_lang_arrest3

Lois Lang was an outstanding college athlete and one-time homecoming queen. In the mid-60s, while coaching at the University of California at Santa Barbara, Lang began showing signs of mental instability. In 1970, the university declined to renew her coaching contract. Lang became convinced that many of the people around her were “fakes”. Her behavior became more and more erratic. Her marriage fell apart. In 1975, police found her “naked and catatonic” in a Santa Clara motel.

For the next month, she was put under the care of Dr. Frederick Melges, a psychiatrist associated with the Stanford Research Institute. One of Dr. Melges’ main areas of research: drug-aided hypnosis. A few years after Lang was put in Melges’ care, the New York Times exposed the Stanford Research Institute as a center for CIA research into “brain-washing” and “mind-control” experiments in which unwitting subjects were dosed with hallucinogenic drugs and subjected to hypnosis.

Recent shot of Lois Lang, who has let her post-menopausal beard grow. [via Salon]

Recent shot of Lois Lang, who has let her post-menopausal beard grow. [via Salon]

By 1980 Lang returned to Washington state, where she had grown up, and began hanging around the university campus where she became a familiar sight, an eccentric derelict. Did Lang ever meet Doctor Dudley? She said that someone gave her the gun that authorities claim she bought in a Florida pawnshop. Someone, she said, had shown her Deak’s office and taught her how to shoot. But, since her incarceration in a mental facility, Lois Lang has not said anything else. There are many who think that she was a puppet of people out to get Deak: the Macao mob, Argentineans, the CIA — there’s a long list of suspects.

I’m not much of a conspiracy theorist; I figure a lone gunman killed JFK. But each of the killers named above was a lone gunman and that brings up the main point: were they manipulated into murder? And that is something we’ll probably never know.

NOTES:

This post was prompted by reading the Salon article by Mark Ames and Alexander Zaitchik on the Deak killing.

A book on the CIA’s experiments in mind control by John Marks is available free on-line: The Search for the Manchurian Candidate: The CIA and Mind Control

Spain Rodriguez

Spain Rodriguez died yesterday after a six year battle with cancer. He was 72. Rodriguez was one of the major underground comics artists, of course, but he created or illustrated many other kinds of work from Sherlock Holmes to personal stories of “What the Fifties Were Really Like”.

His work was political, from a proletarian perspective. He was pleased to work in a mass medium that was disdained as lowbrow. When he knew he was dying, Rodriguez said, “I’ve enjoyed immensely being a Zap artist. I’ve enjoyed being an underground cartoonist. I generally wish everybody well.”

Self-portrait, 1974

Some of his political comics include: The Dark Hotel about an attempted American coup in the 1930s, a biography of Che Guevara , and stories about The Long War aka the War On Terrorism.

I particularly liked his work based on the great struggle between fascism and communism in the twentieth century. His direct, thick lines were well suited for depicting the industrial scale combat of the 1940s. Although a collection of these strips was proposed once or twice, it never was published and that’s too bad.

from “Durrutti”, Anarchy Comics #3

from “Stalin”, Arcade: the Comics Revue #4

Interview from 1998.

This link includes a fifteen minute documentary.

Much of Spain Rodriguez’ work, such as The Dark Hotel , is out of print. His most recent book in print is Crusin’ With The Hound: The Life And Times Of Fred Toote , a series of stories from the 1950s.

“The Inheritance of Rufus Griswold” and other graphic stories from the classics

Dies Irae – “One man against the American empire.”