Friday, May 31, 2013

Friday Afternoon

When I took this fuzzy picture we had just come back to Mabel's apartment with take-out food from the Pickle Store (her private name for the famous hamburger place Pearl's, where Mabel chooses her own thick wedges of dill pickle one by one from the bin). I took many other much less flawed pictures of this child in the course of the afternoon and evening, but this one (with serene, evaluative gaze) is my favorite.

And the peonies (expiring below). They get named and their white petals flushing pink get shown as my other Friday afternoon favorite sight in Mabel's apartment, to go with Mabel. Six months ago these pictures would have been completely impossible because at the same time of day the sun would have long since set and darkness would have already overtaken everything. That is the reason (or at least the main reason) why I like summer best.   

Mayor of Des Moines

Below is the opening of a London Review of Books essay by John Lanchester (above) about the series of novels called Song of Ice and Fire by fantasy writer George R.R. Martin. I'm interested in this subject of fantasy fiction because I am one of those ordinary readers described by Lanchester for whom the entire genre might as well be non-existent.

"The writer Neal Stephenson, in response to a question about his own fame or lack of it, came up with a usefully precise and clarifying answer:

It helps to put this in perspective by likening me to the mayor Des Moines, Iowa. It's true of both the mayor of Des Moines and of me that, out of the world's population of some six billion people, there are a few hundred thousand who consider us important, and who recognize us by name. In the case of the mayor of Des Moines, that is simply the population of Des Moines metropolitan area. In my case, it is the approximate number of people who are avid readers of my books. In addition, there might be as many as a million or two who would find my name vaguely familiar if they saw it; the same is probably true of the mayor of Des Moines. 

The crucial contributing factor to this condition, which involves being both incredibly, outlandishly famous by serious-writer standards while also being unknown to the general reader, is the fact that Stephenson works in the area of SF and fantasy writing. For reasons I've never seen explained or even thoroughly engaged with, there seems to be an unbridgeable crevasse between the SF/fantasy audience and the wider literate public. People who don't usually read, say, thrillers or military history or popular science will read say, Gone Girl or Berlin or Bad Pharma. But people who don't read fantasy just simply, permanently, 100 per cent don't read fantasy. 

That doesn't stop some of these books finding millions of readers. The works that do so, though, are almost always cross-overs from the category of teen, or as the industry calls it, 'young adult', fiction. Harry Potter, the Hunger Games, and the Twilight novels are all in this category, and they're also not individual works but series. When they found a wider readership they didn't do so in a merely big way but in an apocalyptically huge one. Given permission to read books of this kind  permission derived from the books' success  people have shown that they are willing to wolf them down by the millions. (It's a subject in its own right, the self-reinforcing phenomenon of the contemporary mega-seller; by which I mean not just the garden variety bestseller but the book or books which go to the mysterious other place in the popular consciousness, when  it's as if reading them has somehow been made compulsory.)"

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Square Tree

Mabel, collaborating on Sunday in the nostalgia of her mother, who remembered climbing the same tree with friends when she was a few years older than Mabel. When I cropped this picture to square, it pleased me much better.  

Marabou & Spangles

Tommy Ton (the most interesting photographer presently working in fashion) went backstage in Paris earlier this month during a rehearsal for the showing of Dries Van Noten's Fall/Winter collection.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Gothic Cathedral by the Sea

Karl Friedrich Hampe (1772-1848) painted his Gotische Kirche am Meer around 1816. Symmetrical beggars are positioned as if to ornament the base of the shallow stone steps. The beggar on the right wears a tattered soldier's uniform. I suspect he represents one of many stranded thousands cast aside sick and penniless after the Napoleonic Wars.

Anybody who is interested and wealthy should hasten at once to Berlin, where this painting is due to be auctioned tomorrow (Thursday the 30th) at Galerie Bassenge.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Dom Sylvester Houédard

Occasion Papers press recently published Notes From the Cosmic Typewriter : The Life and Work of Dom Sylvester Houédard.


like contemplation, 1971

a particular way of looking, 1971

comment le present ouvrage suscite ces questions critiques, 1971

"This book," says the publisher, "is the first since the early 1970s devoted to the extraordinary British Benedictine monk, scholar, translator, concrete poet and artist Dom Sylvester Houédard (1924–92)."

Tom Lubbock writes about one of Houédard's "typestracts" (above) from a 1976 series with the collective title  For The 5 Vowels

"He employed standard equipment. His typestracts were all typed on a portable Olivetti Lettera 22 (a fact, he said, Olivetti showed no interest in)

A letter is an obvious enough subject for typewriter art, but there aren't any u's or other letters used in this U-structure. Its planes are made entirely from full stops, more and less widely spaced. These dots are in regular lines and columns, and most of them are set on the page in the normal upright way, and very tightly. 

But the dots that form the wider-spaced, up-facing planes run at diagonals. Houédard didn't do this freehand. He turned the page in the machine, and used stencils to guide his slanted forms ...

The two-pronged U-structure seems to be floating off the ground, or rather just above a separate oblong base. (It could be a three-dimensional underlining.) The U-structure is typed in brown ink, but the base is in green, and it's constructed not from dots but from a stitching and criss-cross of dashes.

What makes the U-structure look weightless is the way it's joined to this base. A length of string, knotted around the ends of the base, and threaded through the U, is holding it down. 

Now this length of string is a piece of freehand drawing (though very laborious). It is created by gradually moving the paper by hand through the roller, as numerous individual black strokes are closely overprinted and accumulated into a loose, fat, twisted line ...

There are other drawn lines, but thinner and shorter. They hang on the tops and sides of the U-structure. They're probably made from dots. They look like seaweed trailing down it, or sea-worms slithering up it. There are further tiny drippings or droppings or beadings, descending and going off the bottom. All these marks give the U-structure a feeling of being underwater. That makes sense of its weightlessness. Perhaps that's what U stands for." 

Monday, May 27, 2013

Four Plants

Riding BART on Sunday Mabel sat in my lap and rootled through my backpack until she had located paper and pens and a hard pink folder to draw against. I drew the row of dots (as ants) under Mabel's direction. She drew all the rest.

Unlike someone who has already learned to write standard English, she produced these figures by working from right to left. For Mabel, to draw a straight line with a clearly marked start and stop is still a remote ideal, but one she can be seen pursuing here with her habitual ferociousness.


My downfall in photographing Mother's Day (postponed) Brunch was twofold, consisting first of tardiness and second of a bizarre indoor lighting situation. I made not nearly enough use of the brief interval before and/or during the walk to the restaurant (above) simply because my mind was not yet moving at sufficient speed.

Then once inside the East Bay brunch place, it turned out to be an extremely odd mix of colored spot lights and fixed lamps (both incandescent and fluorescent) with natural light leaking in around the edges. The "play area" (a dark corner with somebody's discarded carpet and two bins of broken plastic toys, all apparently dating from the 1980s) effectively lured Mabel into deeper shadow.

I had walked past this dump for decades on various East Bay visits but had not ever before found my planets in such unfortunate conjunction as to land me inside it. Since I also picked up the check, nobody will call me ill-mannered for reporting that the service and the food were both about as poor as I have ever encountered.

But Mabel had a lovely time. She can do that anyplace. It is like keeping company with Jesus, who had the same habit of turning unpromising social situations into epiphanies of glowing grace.


After a (delayed) Mother's Day brunch in the East Bay, Mabel wanted to revisit the tree her mother had shown her once before and not very long ago. This was the same tree my daughter and her friends had climbed as neighborhood children, this overgrown ficus with large limbs low to the ground.

When we were inside the brunch restaurant I changed the white balance to compensate for artificial light, but then when we went back outside I forgot (and not for the first time) to change the setting back to daylight. With the result that the color versions of these outdoor ancestral tree pictures looked unacceptably blue-all-over (as below). Personally, I am not able to color- correct pictures of Mabel without also altering the skin tone in ways that coarsen it. And lacking ambition to refine those deficient editing abilities, I am a sitting duck for the quick fix of sepia.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Pipe Cleaner Animals

Mabel decided to pick out all the stripey pipe cleaners and use them to make tigers. She was fairly happy with the outcome until I pinched the ears into shape. The ears made them look like cats, said Mabel, not tigers. The ears came and went, taking on various shapes as the tigers got tangled and untangled.

Two of Each

In the horizontal pictures Mabel was showing me how it is really just as fast to roll across the floor as it is to walk across the floor. In the vertical pictures she was expressing fleeting states of mind through the subtle language of physiognomy (an everyday medium of communication, yet never truly fathomable).


Mabel wanted to make purple worms with the worm-maker before making any other Play-Doh creatures.

After the purple worms, she became enchanted enough with her purple Play-Doh dolphin that she kept it in the mold to play with better.