Archive for the ‘art’ Category

Is he in hell?

Friday, 16 July 2010

I'm rather a fan of the Scarlet Pimpernel (1934), and the reasons are largely to be found within about 8 ½ of its 97 minutes. I offer those 8 ½ minutes here in a clip. The excerpt can be understood without being set-up; all the essentials can be inferred as one watches. So you may want to skip ahead to watch the video. But, for those of you more comfortable with more context, I'll provide some:

La Révolution française is cutting-off heads by scores daily. (There is some confusion in the movie over the year in which la Terreur began.)

Percy Blakeney had married Marguerite St. Just about a year earlier. Some time after the marriage, he learned that Marguerite had been instrumental in bringing-about the execution of a French aristocrat and his family. Not knowing that she had been tricked into providing the information that had led to that execution, Percy asked her about it. Marguerite, given to impetuosity, did not explain, but angrily admitted that she had. Percy began paying for the fact that he loved — that he still loved — Marguerite, by adopting the identity of the Scarlet Pimpernel (the red pimpernel being a wildflower) and forming a team, the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel, who enter France in disguise, to steal political prisoners from la guillotine. The identity of the Scarlet Pimpernel is unknown to all but members of the League. Blakeney further secures his secret — and pushes away his wife — by adopting the persona of a fop.

Marguerite's brother, Armand, part of the League, has been taken prisoner in France. Chauvelin, an agent of the French, has offered to surrender a key piece of evidence against Armand if she will reveal to Chauvelin the true identity of the Pimpernel. Unaware that the Scarlet Pimpernel is Percy, she has done what she could. Last night, she learned and reported to Chauvelin that the Scarlet Pimpernel would at mid-night be in the library of an estate where a party was being held.

When Chauvelin went to the library, Percy was there, pretending to sleep on a love-seat. Chauvelin eyed him suspiciously, but then adopted a derisive expression. Shortly after mid-night, Chauvelin himself briefly fell asleep, then awoke to find a mocking note from the Pimpernel, with Percy still apparently asleep. Chauvelin glanced at Percy as if dismissively, and then left. Percy arose, and wondered how Chauvelin had come to be there and whether his dismissal were sincere.

As the clip begins, Lord and Lady Blakeney are returning home.

There's all kinds of things right with the scenes in this clip.

When Marguerite comes to speak with Percy, we see that his affectation of effeminacy is, as much as anything, a very bitter way of rejecting her. Harry Stack Sullivan once wrote Hate is love turned angry, and when Marguerite says You … hate me. she's not far from the truth. However, Percy's question in reply isn't merely rhetorical; he truly wants to know why she denounced the Marquis de St. Cyr. At the least Percy wants to see what sort of person she really is, but what he really wants is some vindication for her actions, so that his love for her will not have been — will not be — wrong.

After he hears her explanation of what really happened with respect to the Marquis and his family, there remains the issue of Marguerite's trade with Chauvelin. Note the desperation in Percy's voice. He doesn't just need the information qua Scarlet Pimpernel; he wants to know whether, after all, she's still done something dreadful. He want to feel free to love her. When he learns what she gave to Chauvelin (a report that the Pimpernel would be in the library at mid-night), Percy is almost ready to laugh aloud from relief. And watch Leslie Howard's left hand, as he raises it up, partly into frame, almost to his heart, his fingers flexing; his character wants to reach out and take hold of Marguerite.

When Marguerite says that the Pimpernel might be going to his death, and Percy says Well, that's all the fellow lives for, he's really now talking of how he has been living. That demmed, elusive Pimpernel has not been in Heaven. But now he's climbing out of Hell.

The subsequent meaning of Percy's body language is obvious to the audience. The rest of their interaction is, of course, two people speaking of their love one for another, with one of them almost oblivious to what is being said, as she doesn't recognize the relationship amongst referents. Almost oblivious, but as Percy leaves the room, Marguerite knows that there's something that she isn't seeing clearly.

The principal reason that the story-telling in this clip stays with me is because it has a moment [Marguerite, suddenly reälizing who the Scarlet Pimpernel is] where pieces all click together in the mind of one of the characters, revealing something important.

For this sort of moment to work, it's important that the character not have been positioned for the reälization before hand. Rather than having some twit finally see something that he or she should have seen all along, the story needs to put that character in possession of a new datum (preferably no more than one) and then have the character's mind move with fair intelligence towards the reälization.

I love the way that Merle Oberon presents Marguerite's reäctions, all within a matter of seconds. She questions her reasoning. [Marguerite, overtly reäcting to the reälization] As she looks again at the painting, her mouth is asymmetrical as she moves towards laughter [Marguerite, almost laughing] at the deception Percy has effected. But the joke is displaced in her mind and her expression moves towards a different, symmetric sort of smile [Marguerite, almost smiling] as she starts to think that her Percy is a better man than she had come to think him, and indeed a better man than she had thought him when they married. She doesn't get very far with that thought, as it hits her [Marguerite, seized with fear and with grief] that Percy has sailed off not only into danger but into danger that she has caused to be greatly increased.

Mighty Man of the Night

Tuesday, 6 July 2010
[Ted Knight, disturbed in bed, takes off his pajamas under which he has his Starman costume]

Really, it's a shame that Starman never made an appearance on The Superman/Aquaman Hour of Adventure, on Aquaman, on The Batman/Superman Hour, or on Super Friends.

Further Exploits

Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Craig Yoe's book, Secret Identity, revealed that Joe Shuster, the original artist and co-creätor of Superman, had during a low point in his life provided illustrations for a sado-masochistic series, Nights of Horror, and for three one-shot sado-masochistic fantasies, Rod Rule, Hollywood Detective, and Continental. I am therefore surprised that no one seems to have reported on the artist for House of Tears, by Harold Kane.

[cover of House of Tears; man on all fours, before woman in dominatrix outfit]
[source image for cover of House of Tears; man on all fours, before woman in dominatrix outfit][image of legs of woman in high-heeled boots in foreground, man on all fours in background]
[image of man kneeling before woman in dominatrix outfit with whip][image of hog-tied man]
[image of woman in dominatrix outfit with whip, straddling woman in heels and skirt on all fours, with buttock exposed][image of man gagged and bound in kneeling position]
[image of bound and ball-gagged standing woman in lingerie and heels][image of woman in maid's outfit, bound in kneeling position]
I found those illustrations on the WWWeb this morning. In some cases, they were creditted to Harold Kane; in others they were not creditted at all. A search of Google for pages containing both Harold Kane or House of Tears and Shuster or Schuster produced only false positives.

I don't know whether House of Tears had further illustrations. But, in any event, it seems that Shuster's underground oeuvre is larger than previously recognized.

Rassenfosse Book-Plate

Friday, 4 June 2010

A stereotype ex libris book-plate that I got to-day: woman, wearing sandals but otherwise nude, reading book while sitting on plinth, between the front paws of a sphinx This image is by Andre Louis Armand Rassenfosse (1862 – 1934). I've had an eye out for one of this particular design for quite a while.

Everybody Draw Mohammed Day Is Here!

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

To-day, 20 May, is Everybody Draw Mohammed Day. I'm quite disappointed that its founder has retreated; I could not have withdrawn in good conscience, even though my contribution demonstrates that I am pretty poor at working in charcoal: [drawing of the head of a bearded man of Mediterranean stock]

Some people have chosen to draw caricatures, but my objective was simply to violate a grossly illegitimate prohibition. As such, I sought to draw Mohammed. If the death threats become more narrowly focussed on those who creäte caricatures, then I will creäte a caricature.


Monday, 10 May 2010

Frank Frazetta
9 February 1928 – 10 May 2010
Requiescat in pace.

Everybody Draw Mohammed Day Is Coming!

Saturday, 24 April 2010

20 May is Everybody Draw Mohammed Day! It's a special opportunity to reject claims against our words, against our art, and against our minds!

Don Martin Dept.

Friday, 16 April 2010

By way of Thad Komorowski's 'blog, I learn that Barnes & Noble is selling copies of The Completely MAD Don Martin for $22.48 (list $150) and that it falls under a buy-two-get-one-free offer on bargain books. One gets free shipping on orders of $25 or more.

Up-Date (2010:04/20): I am informed by the Woman of Interest that the sale is at an end.


Friday, 26 March 2010

This stereotype ex libris book-plate [image of woman, naked but for shoes and a hat, straddling a book] would probably not be of much interest to me except that it was designed by Karel Šimůnek (1869 – 1942), the very same artist who did this lithographic book-plate [image of young woman reading on couch, in an early 20th-Century undergarment, stockings, and one red shoe] a copy of which I acquired on 16 July.

I prefer the lithograph, in part because what the woman in the stereotype appears to be doing cannot be good for the book. And, while raised bands on the spine of a book might have peculiar užitečnost to a nemrava, they were an artefact of better-quality book-binding (though sometimes false bands are used to counterfeit such book-binding), and hence of what may be expected to be a more valuable volume.

Ayn Rand and Me

Monday, 4 January 2010
art by Morton Meskin

I believe that my first encounter with the works of Ayn Rand was in seeing as a child some of The Fountainhead (1949) on television. All that I really remember seeing of it then were the final two scenes, which may indeed be all that I saw. I would have been unable to tell anyone very much about the movie (I didn't even know its name), and unaware of there being a book whose ideas were behind it.

Later, I read some distinctive stories by Steve Ditko in Charlton Comics. I was not a fan of Ditko's graphic work (which combines spareness of detail with an a propensity to put figures in ape-like positions and to present an abundance of wildly exaggerated facial expression), but the stories were written from an unflinching, and seemingly grim yet ultimately optimistic belief in straight-forward good and beauty. I wouldn't have been able to tell anyone whose prior work had informed his.

My next encounter was as a teenager, in a Midwestern drug store. Some of Rand's books were in a rack there; on the backs of the volumes were remarkable claims about Rand's popularity and about her significance to many people. I was skeptical, as I'd not otherwise heard of her. In any event, I didn't buy any of the books, but a mental note was made.

When I became more politically active over the next few years, I began to encounter frequent reference to Rand from people with whom I had some ideological allegiance. So I decided to read one of her books.

I tend to read authors' works in the order in which they were written, and the earliest of Rand's works that I found when I looked at a book-store was The Fountainhead (1943); and I had begun to think that I'd seen part of a movie based upon it; so that was the book that I first read. It was rather a while before I read any more.

Reading The Fountainhead was not the transformative experience for me that it has been for some people. There weren't any notions in it that were new to me (albeït perhaps in part due to my prior exposure to Ditko), and Rand seemed to confuse egoism with egotism. In a preface, she blamed a use of egotism for egoism on a poor dictionary (English was not her first language), but it seemed and seems that the confusion at the time that she wrote that novel was not merely one of words but of ideas.

I think that Rand suffered from a sort of mind-blindness, such that she could not use ordinary intuïtions as most people do to understand other people. That is not to say that she could not use some other means; and being compelled to use other means sometimes even caused her to have insights that other people would miss. But it was a struggle, her understanding could be imperfect, and it left her treating empathy as if it were an unfair demand. (It surely didn't help that she'd been forced to live under a regime that willfully confused coërcive redistribution with brotherhood in order to license a considerable amount of repression and brutality.)

One sees this lack and rejection of empathy somewhat reflected through-out her writing. Its expression diminished over time, but at its worst it embraced sociopathy. In some of her journal notes of 1928, a young Ayn Rand seriously planned to have a hero modelled on William Edward Hickman, who in late 1927 had kidnapped a 12-year-old girl, and then delivered her grotesquely mutilated corpse when her father paid for her return. Hickman, as Rand saw him, had acted without concern for others, with the supposed motto What is good for me is right. In The Night of January 16th (1934), the protagonist is a woman whose heroic love is for a man whom she knows to be a conscienceless swindler (inspired by Ivar Kreuger). In We the Living (1936), the heroine at one point thrills in response to a depiction of a man whipping serfs, and her truest love, Leo, lives only for himself. In The Fountainhead, that has largely been left behind, but it has a very ugly echo.[1]

In The Fountainhead, the hero rapes the heroine. I put rapes in quotation marks because, even though it is called as much in the book, it (as Susan Brownmiller noted in an moment of lucidity) isn't a genuine rape; rather, it is a confrontation, pretty literally by engraved invitation, between two individuals over whether they will have sex on her terms or on his, which he wins largely by physical force. It was enough like a real rape that I was deeply appalled. Bearing in mind the historical context, that this was written in a time when rape was still widely romanticized, did not help much.

Thereäfter, the relationship between the two remains perverse, with the heroine marrying a couple of other men, whom she certainly does not love, simply to hurt the hero, whom she does love — in her own, Randian way.

Additionally, this was a book without much salvation. In particular, no one saves Catherine, a woman crushed by abandonment, who is then drawn into a life of soul-less self-lessness, and Gail Wynand's redemption is in suïcide. If anyone is actually saved in the book, it is Mallory, who fell so far as to have made a private attempt at popular sculpture, before Roark summons him to reälize his true vision. I would note that salvation was something that I had seen in at least one of Ditko's stories, in which the hero and heroine reach out to pull a fellow doing an imitation of Ellsworth Toohey (Rand's principal villain in The Fountainhead) back into a world-view of truly humanistic possibility.[2]

I finished reading The Fountainhead with little desire to read anything more by Rand.

But she continued to be referenced, positively and negatively, by friends and by allies, and I was ultimately moved to read her magnum opus, Atlas Shrugged (1957).

Atlas Shrugged was not so unpleasant as had been The Fountainhead. Rand again manages to toss her heroine into bed with two men other than the hero, the second much to the distress of the hero (and to that of some hapless other fellow), but this time she isn't out to cause anguish; she isn't even aware of him as a person. The descriptions of sex between the principal hero and heroine seem a little peculiar, but markèdly different from the confrontational initial sex of the previous book.

There's salvation of one sort in the book — the main hero is persuading the most genuinely productive members of society to withdraw, in order to bring an end to a social order of unreason that demands self-sacrifice and becomes ever-more totalitarian. But none of these people are in danger of being lost to the unreason itself. The two characters who are in such danger, Cherryl and Tony, are basically left by the heroes to sink or swim. Cherryl literally drowns, unable to cope (with no one helping her) when she begins to grasp the prevailing social order. Tony figures it out, with little help, and is shot dead for trying by himself to stop a group of thugs from the other side; by the time that a hero could be bothered to help him, Tony was really past help.

As well as the lack of empathy expressed in the treatment of such characters, there's something else that I take to be a manifestation of Rand's mind-blindness. Some of the villains demand to be understood; the heroes reject the idea that they must understand such people. And understand is the recurring word, without the heroes asserting that there is a difference between understanding and acceptance. Personally, I very much want to understand my opponents, without any expectation that this will cause me to think much better of them. In fact, having a working model of what makes them tick often intensifies my rejection, but it allows me to anticipate their behavior. However, Rand seems truly to object to a demand of understanding. I think that it was because understanding did not come intuïtively to her.

Atlas Shrugged is often criticized for the fact that its characters are archetypal, and apt to present long philosophical monologues in the context of extemporaneous discourse. I think that such criticism is actively ridiculous (especially when it comes from people who haven't directed the same criticism at the works of Shakespeare, or at various ostensibly classic works by Russian novelists,[3] whose characters are like-wise archetypal and like-wise given to unlikely speeches). Atlas Shrugged is a novel of archetypes and of monologues because it seeks to present a fairly comprehensive philosophical statement. Even with the device of archetypes and monologues, it is a very long book, and without those devices it would be less clear and probably much longer. It is also, somewhat more reasonably, criticized as belaboring ideas, but Rand was plainly concerned not to allow a point to be treated as obvious when presented and then repeatedly ignored in application; I think that such concern is quite well-founded.

As with The Fountainhead, reading Atlas Shrugged was not a transformative experience for me. There were only three philosophical novelties for me. The first was simply interesting; the second and third were not clear to me.

It used the word justice in reference to something inexorable. I'm not sure that I would use that term in that way, though it does seem useful to me to recognize that a natural law that says that one should or shouldn't do X is founded on one that says what obtains from doing X.

What I didn't understand, but wanted to pursue, were her claims about causality being necessitated by logic and that Logic is the art of non-contradictory identification.

I came away from Atlas Shrugged more willing to read other things by Rand, especially to understand what was meant by those last two assertions. The book in which the last was answered (she was cryptic on the other, and I had to figure that one out largely on my own) is also the book by Rand that most affected me philosophically, Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology (1979). I didn't agree with everything in it, and have since come to reject more in it than I did at first. I also came to recognize that a considerable amount of it is unacknowledgedly borrowed from Locke and from others. But I believe that there is a core to it that is an original synthesis and a genuine advancement in epistemology, more properly conceptualizing logic in terms of a Lockean notion of concepts.

As well as Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, I got and read We the Living, Anthem (1938), various anthologies derived from The Objectivist Newsletter and from its successor, The Objectivist, and a few interviews. I also found and watched a movie whose screen-play she wrote, Love Letters (1945). (And, somewhere along the line, I watched the movie The Fountainhead from start to finish.)

In the fictional work, I perceived a recurring theme. As Rand herself essentially says in a later introduction, The Night of January 16th is about how Rand felt people ought to have reäcted to Ivar Kreuger's selfishness. Anthem is an unacknowledged re-write of We (1921), by Yevgeny Zamyatin; it is the novella that she thought that he ought to have written. I think that The Fountainhead is about the sort of man whom she felt Frank Lloyd Wright ought to have been. Love Letters is supposedly based on a book, Pity My Simplicity, by Christopher Massie, but when I skimmed through that I book, I found it hard to recognize the one in the other; meanwhile the screen-play bears a significant resemblance to Rostand's Cyrano De Bergerac, except that it ends with the true author of the love letters getting the girl; it is Rand again setting things as she feels that they ought to be. And Atlas Shrugged is, of course, about the strike that really ought to be held (and, on the side, with the sort of pirate who ought to be out there plundering and sinking the ships that ought to be sunk). As to We the Living, well, I think that it's about the man whom Rand felt ought to have loved her.[4]

The non-fiction was often insightful or amusing; and, my objections to aspects of the sexuality in her novels not-withstanding, I also thought that some of the claims concerned love and sexuality were important insights. But, at some point, I just didn't think that I was likely to get much more value out of her work. Before Rand had died, I had stopped reading her work, except occasionally to read an excerpt here-or-there.

While she was alive, I didn't encounter many people who could both admit that Rand was right in some of her unpopular assertions and wrong in others. Instead, the vast majority of people who recognized her name either denounced her as having had nothing to say that were both unusual and correct, or endorsed her every claim without exception, and each group was condescending and curtly dismissive of anyone who would say otherwise. (The preëmption, whatever its motive, insulated them from potential correction.) But, over time, I have increasingly noted people who self-identify with her philosophy, but not without their own criticism, and not without a willingness to entertain the thought that further criticism might be neither knavish nor foolish.

My own philosophical position is removed from Rand's in some very important ways, and I would simply not count myself as a subscriber.

For example, Rand treated existence as a property of things; I would join with various philosophers who would assert that existence is not a property of the thing considered, but of the consideration. When one says something such as that unicorns do not exist, one is really saying something about the idea of unicorns. (And to say that the idea of unicorns does exist is really to say something about the idea of the idea of unicorns, &c.) The reason that existence seems to be a property of things is that our natural discourse isn't clearly distinguishing between things and ideas of those things. If unicorns do not exist, then it is absurd to talk about the unicorn itself as having a property of non-existence, because there is nothing to have the property. Rand objected to Reification of the Zero, but if we treat existence as a property of elephants themselves, then its contradiction, non-existence, becomes a property, which can only be held by, um, nothing; the Zero would then be reïfied. Rand's formula existence exists isn't particularly helpful, and its invocation seems to be nothing more than an artefact of confusing a crudity of grammar with a metaphysical insight.

By the way, I want to mention a book by another author, The Watcher (1981) by Kay Nolte Smith. Smith was at one time amongst those personally associated with Rand, but (like many) eventually left. The Watcher is a novel that successfully fused much of what virtue is to be found in Randian fiction with a deep sense of empathy. And its heroes don't simply march relentlessly towards triumph, but reach back to save people who ought not to be lost.

[1] I wasn't at all positioned to write that paragraph until years after I read The Fountainhead.

[2] However, Ditko certainly does not present all of his characters as saveable; and, in particular, those characters of his who step across the line between Good and Evil with the thought that they will later redeem themselves are inevitably morally destroyed.

As to such crossings, Ditko's villains are more likely than those of Rand to be conscious of when they are crossing the line or that they have crossed the line. While both Rand and Ditko would declare wickedness to be founded in a choice not to think; Ditko's villains are more likely to be in fact thinking.

[3] It is certainly worth noting that Rand was a novelist from Russia.

[4] And thence I would explain much of the sexual dynamic across her fiction.