Monday, October 31, 2005

The Angel's Farewell

The picture at left is based on a sketch by Dante Gabriel Rossetti of angel and knight.

As my church choir gets ready for All Souls Day, we are practicing The Guardian's Farewell by David Haas, which utilizes the last lines of John Henry Newman's 1865, The Dream of Gerontius.

All of us are touched by the power of the poem. Although Haas has made some modifications, what follows is Newman's text.

Angel’s Farewell

SOFTLY and gently, dearly-ransomed soul,
In my most loving arms I now enfold thee,
And, o’er the penal waters, as they roll,
I poise thee, and I lower thee, and hold thee.

And carefully I dip thee in the lake,
And thou, without a sob or a resistance,
Dost through the flood thy rapid passage take,
Sinking deep, deeper, into the dim distance.
Angels, to whom the willing task is given,
Shall tend, and nurse, and lull thee, as thou liest;
And Masses on the earth and prayers in heaven,
Shall aid thee at the Throne of the most Highest.

Farewell, but not forever! Brother dear,
Be brave and patient on thy bed of sorrow;
Swiftly shall pass thy night of trial here,
And I will come and wake thee on the morrow.

Daniel Chester French, The Angel of Death and the Sculptor, 1889

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

The Magic Realism of Louis de Bernieres

I am currently reading Louis de Bernieres’ The Troublesome Offspring of Cardinal Guzman. From the back cover’s description of the book, I figured it fit the “magic realism” category, which is a much debated category. Since I had not read much South American writing [other than Jorge Borges], I thought the book sounded interesting.

If you are not aware of the term "magic realism" this quote from might help:

Literature of this type is usually characterized by elements of the fantastic woven into the story with a deadpan sense of presentation. The term is not without a lot of controversy, however, and has come under attack for numerous reasons. Some claim that it is a postcolonial hangover, a category used by "whites" to marginalize the fiction of the "other." Others claim that it is a passé literary trend, or just a way to cash in on the Latin American "boom." Still others feel the term is simply too limiting, and acts to remove the fiction in question from the world of serious literature.

De Bernieres' book is structured into fairly short chapter vignettes told by different narrators and with different perspectives. The book chronicles the people of Cochadebajo de los Gatos, an Andean village where everyone reads books and has pet jaguars, a 300-year old man can pass through searching for the beast who is a shape-changer, a Conquistador can be brought back to life from being frozen in ice and end up living in the same town as his descendant, the people can construct Utopian projects, and the oppressive Church and State can constantly intrude on the lives of its peaceful natives.

The more I read, the closer I find De Bernieres to the world of Voltaire’s Candide. Cochadebajo is a modern El Dorado whose people are threatened by the bigotry and insensitivity of both Church and State. Just as in Candide, where a noble black slave can lose his limbs for trying to escape, here a woman who has actually spoken with the Virgin Mary [who tells her to stop overdoing it with the rosary and Hail Marys] can be persecuted and eventually martyred because of two condescending missionaries.

For me, one memorable vignette is a theological lesson taught by a defrocked priest [who can magically levitate as he preaches] about the creation of man. According to his story, Satan was the creator of the world, not God. God, he maintains, would not have created something as flawed as the world. So Satan sets about to populate his world by forming people out of clay. But he can’t animate them. God sends down his Angel Adam to see what Satan is up to. God warns Adam not to go to sleep or Satan will take his soul. Of course, that’s just what happens. So Satan takes the soul of the Angel Adam and puts it into the clay, making the first man. God then sends the Angel Eve down to check on Adam. She also loses her soul to the clay. So according to De Bernieres’ priest we all have the souls of angels inside of us struggling to escape here and return to Heaven where we belong. Don’t we all sometimes feel those wings pushing to get out?

If you liked the irony and wisdom of Candide, if you like a world where the magical can coexist with the mundane, if you are willing to think, you will probably enjoy this book.

De Bernieres, Louis. The Troublesome Offspring of Cardinal Guzman. New York: Vintage International, 1992.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

A Quality Shylock

Reading Shakespeare’s plays is like studying a blueprint of a house. The framework is there along with rooms and windows, but nothing is on the walls, no finishing nor furnishings give the life to the house. That’s what the actors do.

For over twenty years, I taught Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice to high school freshmen, so I was interested in seeing the current production at Chicago Shakespeare Theater on Navy Pier. Seeing the production offered some new insights and creative additions while showing me some new things about the play.

“In sooth, I know not why I am so sad…”

The play begins with Antonio coming on stage and crying. That simple addition was riveting. Yes, the whole first scene talks about Antonio being sad, but to see him actually weep made it so much more forceful than just discussing it.

“Mislike me not for my complexion…”

The hatred of all groups of people, not just Jews, is an inherent theme of the play. Many powerful moments in this production reinforce both the global racism and the anti-Semitism of the characters. Mike Nussbaum’s Shylock—the best characterization I’ve ever seen of the part-- not only talks about being spit upon and hit, but we actually see the violence he describes. During Shylock’s pivital speech, beginning “Hath not a Jew eyes…,” Salerio and Salanio attack Shylock, knocking him to ground, spitting on him and in his yamulke, setting up a powerful reading of the rest of the speech:

…and if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?
If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that. If a Jew wrong
a Christian, what is his humility? Revenge. If a Christian wrong a Jew, what
should his sufferance be by Christian example? Why, revenge. The villany you
teach me, I will execute, and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction.

Almost immediately after this scene comes the intermission. As the act finishes, all the characters of the play form a gauntlet through which Shylock must pass—and all the actors spit on him as he exits. I was moved to tears.

In Act V, when Jessica (showing signs of disappointment in her elopement with Lorenzo) learns that her father has bequeathed all his goods to her husband Lorenzo and herself, she cries—and all the characters laugh at her—showing their non-acceptance of the “gentle” convert.

Throughout the production, the actors sit at tables out of the acting area, but clearly visible to the audience. When asked why that directorial decision had been made, Jay Whittaker, who plays Salanio, told a group of high school attendees, “One of the problems with racism is that people watch it happen and don’t do anything to stop it.” According to Whittaker, the cast bears witness and blame for all the racism shown.

One of the complexities of the play is there is no "hook character" who pulls us in and allows us to interpret through their eyes (think Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird). All the characters, especially the Christians, are racially bigotted, self-centered, and nasty. In seeing the production the person we find ourselves identifying with is the victim, Shylock... and Shylock spends the play plotting a murder.

For one of my students, one of the galvanizing moments of societal hatred was Launcelot Gobbo's first appearance, bringing bags of trash. When the garbage truck (a sound effect) leaves before he is ready, he calls after them, "Faggot." The majority of the audience found it funny or even ignored it. But one of my gay/straight alliance students felt under attack by his and their response.

In Belmont is a lady richly left;
And she is fair, and, fairer than that word,
Of wondrous virtues...

While Chicago’s Portia (Kate Fry) gains power in the courtroom scene, she ultimately suffers from the same problem I’ve seen with all women I’ve seen playing the part. She’s too old. Listening to the lines with a fresh ear, I now think Shakespeare intended Portia as younger, more impetuous, more a teenager willing to risk and hazard to get what she wants. A more mature Portia becomes merely willful and conniving and nasty. Her attempt to convince Shylock that “the quality of mercy is not strained” becomes totally planned and callous. What if instead she is younger, more naïve? What if she finds herself in a courtroom among men where the closest person to her husband is about to be murdered—in the name of justice? [One of the jewel moments in this production is Antonio being tied to his chair with his breast exposed, weeping like a condemned man and Shylock moving toward him like the vengeful Christians we’ve seen in the production.] What if her epiphany comes as she realizes she must stop Shylock from the murdering? In Chicago’s production, she literally steps between the two men. Is this the ultimate “good deed” of the play: saving Antonio’s life at the cost of “killing” Shylock?

Say how I loved you, speak me fair in death;
And, when the tale is told, bid her be judge
Whether Bassanio had not once a love.

I have read some critics and actors who see Antonio and Bassanio as lovers. [One goes as far as saying that Antonio is gay while Bassanio is bisexual.] Although this production didn’t take that approach, I realized watching the play how logical that choice seems. Bassanio is a Jason out to steal the golden fleece. He goes after Portia because she is rich, not because he is in love with her. Chicago’s Bassanio (Timothy Edward Kane) is handsome, charismatic, romantic… but ultimately we realize that the “love” the characters claim is merely the reflection of themselves in each other’s eyes. Were I to direct the play, I would have no problem approaching the “kin” as more “kissing” than “kind.”

The man that hath no music in himself,
Nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds,
Is fit for treasons, stratagems and spoils;
The motions of his spirit are dull as night
And his affections dark as Erebus:
Let no such man be trusted. Mark the music.

Lorenzo states one of the direct themes of the play in the last act. We see in the play that Shylock cannot abide music while Portia welcomes it. In Chicago’s production, however, that contrast is not played up as much as I felt it needs to be. The solitary silence of Shylock has to be emphasized and Portia’s Belmont must be filled with music to help contrast the two worlds. Otherwise you lose the power of Lorenzo’s speech.

Unfortunately the most effective use of sound is in the car horns and garbage trucks in the street scenes of Venice. Portia and Nerissa sing the song while Bassanio ponders the caskets, but the song is used to blatantly have Portia tell Bassanio which is the right chest. A decision which totally weakens his character.

That light we see is burning in my hall.
How far that little candle throws his beams!
So shines a good deed in a naughty world.

The Chicago production begins with a lighted candle on a stand which is blown out at the beginning. At the end, it is brought back in. This is an obvious reference to Portia’s comment about Belmont’s candle. But there are no good deeds in this production. And when the play ends with Antonio sitting looking pensively down, one wishes he would begin to cry as we saw him earlier. The world has not changed for him… and he is still not sure why he is so sad. Is that what hatred does to us?

The production runs until November 12.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

A 1920s Cleopatre

One of my finds on Ebay was this very 1920s Cleopatre by Herouard. The colored postcard was printed in Paris. The Egyptian craze of the 1920s, stimulated by the discovery in 1924 of Tutankhamon's tomb, blends in this picture with a very modern boudior portrait of a "bright young thing."

Friday, September 16, 2005

NOLA Architecture

Every year when I went to Mardi Gras, I had to get souvenirs to commemorate the event. Usually that consisted of a mask and a poster. In 1993 and 1994, I bought these great watercolors of NOLA architecture. I really like the clean graphic style. These would make great miniatures. The artist, Arelene Centohie, sold her pictures on the fence by Jackson Square, across from Cafe DuMonde. I hope she's still around and there for the next Mardi Gras.

A Mardi Gras Tale

My friend Jay in New Orleans is a great storyteller. He once told about a close friend who had lived in the city for years before moving out of state with his partner. When the man became ill, he asked his partner to take his ashes back to NOLA for burial. On the following Mardi Gras, the partner brought the ashes to the Jackson Square Cathedral and asked that his partner be buried there. Since he wasn’t Catholic and not from that parish, the priest refused. Distressed at what to do with the ashes, he had a brainstorm. He bought purple, green, and gold glitter and mixed it into the ashes. He then proceeded walking around the French Quarter throwing the ashes and glitter on the revelers. “It was wonderful,” laughed Jay. “Our friend loved Mardi Gras and got to participate one last time.”

"You don't bring me flowers." The photograph shows a Mardi Gras reveler costumed as Van Gogh, complete with sunflower bouquet. Photo copyright 1995 David Claudon

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Cleaning the Silver

A year ago I used to dread cleaning the silver plate items. But watching a home remedy show last fall changed all that.

To 1 quart hot water, add 1 T Calgon water softener, 1 T salt, 1 T 20-Mule Team Borax, and a sheet of aluminum foil. It’s amazing how easily this cleans silver without having to do a lot of rubbing. I had a garage sale piece that was black with age. I let it sit for awhile and had a whole new piece. It also cleans in those little crevices. Wash it with hot water, dry, and you have clean silver.

Monday, September 05, 2005

A Philosopher Novelist

What a delight to find a detective novelist who ponders philosophy in modern settings. This summer, I devoured Alexander McCall Smith’s series, beginning with The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, where he follows the adventures of Precious Ramotswe in Botswana, Africa. It was a charming series and I throughly enjoyed McCall Smith's gentle viewpoint.

This week, I’ve discovered another of McCall Smith’s heroine’s, Isabel Dalhousie. In The Sunday Philosophy Club, we follow his philosopher amateur detective in Edinburgh as she tries to understand the death of a young man who fell from a balcony in a concert hall. In the midst of her adventure, Isabel has time to ponder such things as good manners and truth:

Good manners depended upon paying moral attention to others; it required one to treat them with complete moral seriousness, to understand their feelings and their needs. Some people, the selfish, had no inclination to do this, and it always showed. They were impatient with those whom they thought did not count: the old, the inarticulate, the disadvantaged. The person with good manners, however, would always listen to such people and treat them with respect.

How utterly shortsighted we had been to listen to those who thought that manners were a bourgeois affection, an irrelevance, which need no longer be valued. A moral disaster had ensued, (140) because manners were the basic building block of civil society. They were the method of transmitting the message of moral consideration. In this way an entire generation had lost a vital piece of the moral jigsaw, and now we saw the results: a society in which nobody would help, nobody would feel for others; a society in which aggressive language and insensitivity were the norm. (141)

The world, it seemed, was based on lies and half-truths of one sort or another, and one of the tasks of morality was to help us negotiate our way round these. Yes, there were so many lies, and yet the sheer power of truth was in no sense dimmed. Had Alexksandr Solzhenitsyn not said, in his Nobel address, “One word of truth will conquer the whole world.” Was this wishful thinking on the part of one who had lived in an entanglement of Orwellian state-sponsored lies, or was it a justifiable faith in the ability of truth to shine through the darkness? It had to be the latter; if it was the former, then life would be too bleak to continue. (164)

Sunday, September 04, 2005

In Katrina's Wake

This miniature of a New Orleans Shotgun House was designed by Braxton Payne and painted by David Claudon, 1998. It was based on the Harmony Street house of my friends. All photographs copyright 2005 David Claudon

My friends lived on Harmony Street. The shotgun house is close to New Orleans’ Garden District and they’d spent years fixing it up into a beautiful home on one side and a bed and breakfast apartment on the other. For seven years during the 1990s, my wife, friends and I stayed at our friends’ home for Mardi Gras and seasonal visits. I fell in love with New Orleans and Mardi Gras and the people’s “live and let live” response to life. I found it important that whether I lived there or not, the idea of New Orleans counterbalanced the straight-laced other half of the world I live in. My NOLA friends taught me that “It’s not my business what other people think of me.”

Divorce separated me from my previous life and my NOLA friends. Eventually I learned that one of my friends had passed. But NOLA remains alive in my heart; and the house on Harmony still retains favorite memories. Katrina brought those memories into sharp focus. Everyday has brought new horrors and reactions, to the point of making it difficult to process all the information coming in. It’s like watching the heart attack of a close friend, where you want to help but you don’t know what to do.

This Friday, as my cardiac rehab session was finishing, Billy, a middle-aged African American male whom I haven't had occasion to speak to, sat beside me and began a conversation about New Orleans.

"You know why it happened, don't you?" he began. I looked at him rather cautiously and said, "No, why?"

"Because God is punishing all those people who live down there."

"I beg your pardon?"

"He got tired of all that sinning... New Orleans and all those places down there allowed the gambling... All the prostitutes and drinking... All that HOMO-SEX-U-ALITY... God decided to wipe them out just like Sodom and Gommorrah. You know about Sodom and Gommorah, don't you? That's where he wiped out all those HOMO-SEX-U-ALS by burning them with pitch. Served them right."

I just kept staring. "Why do you suppose, then," I asked, "did He punish all those innocent children?"

"Because they were the children of sinners and would become just like their parents."

At which point the nurse said, "David, why is your blood pressure not going down? ... Billy you need to stop talking with David so he can get his blood pressure down."

And there I was trying to deal with the overload of information about the horrors of the aftermath of Katrina and finding myself inarticulate in defending my friends and NOLA and the whole Gulf Coast from Billy’s pronouncements.

All I could think was, “Billy, I don’t know what God you pray to, but I don’t think we pray to the same God.”

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Black Athena

In 1987, Martin Bernal's Black Athena: The Afroasiatic Roots of Classical Civilization (The Fabrication of Ancient Greece 1785-1985, Volume 1) began a controversy which continues today. His Afrocentric view stresses that much of the Greek thought(perhaps all Eurocentric thought) stems from ancient racism which still is present today.

Learn more about the "Black Athena" debate.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Unmasking Cleopatra

Cleopatra has many faces, as diversified as all the artists who have represented her.

Over the last twenty years as Afrocentrism has attempted to establish a justified "black pride" in African linage, one of the predominent arguements is that "Egypt (or Kemet) is in Africa. Therefore, these African kings and queens have to have been black." Perhaps studies like the Genographic Project will do a better, more impartial answering of the question testing living and ancient DNA.

At present, however, are some interesting arguments regarding the question. Egyptologist Frank Yurco addressed the issue in a series of articles in the Biblical Archaeology Review (Sept-Oct 1989), starting with a lead article, "Were the Ancient Egyptians Black or White?" The focus of his article was around the bust of Nefertiti currently in Berlin. Yurco says in his article:

Was Nefertiti "black" or "white"?

The ancient Egyptians did not think in those terms.

The whole matter of black or white Egyptians is a chimera, cultural baggage from our own society that can only be imposed artificially on ancient Egyptian society. The ancient Egyptians, like their modern descendants, were of varying complexions of color, from the light Mediterranean type (like Nefertiti), to the light brown of Middle Egypt, to the darker brown of Upper Egypt, to the darkest shade around Aswan and the First Cataract region, where even today, the population shifts to Nubian. ...(24)

... From all the evidence extant, the Egyptians were not race conscious. Even enemies who fought them were conscripted into the army and thereby integrated into Egyptian society, regardless of their ethnic background. In utilizing Egyptian reliefs and painting to assess ethnicity and racial characteristics, a cautionary note is in order. In the Old Kingdom period (c. 2755-2230 B.C.E.), artistic canons governed the color for people shown in statuary, relief work and painting. Reddish brown was used for men, yellowish white for women.

... By the Middle Kingdom, and certainly in the New Kingdom, the color strictures of this artistic canon partly gave way. Often in these periods, people were depicted with their actual skin color, men and women (29) alike, and with distinctive facial features. (58) In their ability to ignore race and absorb foreigners, ancient Egyptians outshine our own achievements and should serve as our model. They also surpassed us in providing legal and social equality for women, guaranteed by "the Law of Pharaoh." How then can we be so presumptuous as to assign our primitive racial labels onto so wonderful a culture. (58)

Richard Poe in "Should Conservatives Believe in Black Egyptians?" cites a personal experience of Yurco and his Grenadian wife, who was accepted as full African by her looks, in spite of her actual African, Scottish, and English ancestry.

Yurco, in a response to a reader's statements in BAR (Mar/Apr 1990), finally says:

Let me close with a remark shared with me by scholarly associates about the ancient Egyptians' ethnicity. If someone like Amenhotep III or Tutankhamun or Senwosret II had entered an American café in the South in the 1940's-'50s, they
would have been refused service on racial grounds. Thus the social problem belongs with American, and not with the Egyptians. As I have stated in my initial article and in all subsequent comments, the pharonic Egyptians were Africans. And now, one may add the growing evidence of blood group studies that have been done on the modern Egyptian populations and are being done on mummies.

But where does that leave us with Cleopatra? Cecil Adams gives a pretty good explanation of the argument in his The Straight Dope: Was Cleopatra Black? (10 Nov 1999):

[Mary] Lefkowitz [author of Not Out of Africa: How Afrocentrism Became an Excuse to Teach Myth as History (1996)] begins by noting that, until recently, it never even occurred to anybody to ask this question. The information we have identifies her as a Macedonian Greek. Her ancestors were Ptolemies, descended from one of Alexander's generals. Cleopatra was a name traditionally given to women in the royal family, so, as you indicated, there
were in fact previous Cleopatras. The one in question here was Cleopatra VII, daughter of Ptolemy XII and his sister (ewww). Sticking with the tradition of keeping it in the family, she married two of her own brothers in succession (the first "died in suspicious circumstances, [and] she had the second murdered," which is definitely taking sibling rivalry to extremes). . . .

Lefkowitz does note that there is a slight possibility that Cleopatra might not have been a full-blooded Macedonian Greek, because we don't know the precise identity of her father's mother. Apparently, grandma was not the wife of gramps, but his mistress (maybe he wanted to taste the forbidden fruit of somebody outside his immediate family, like a cousin). The assumption has always been that grandma was another Macedonian Greek, because the Ptolemies were a bit xenophobic, and somebody would likely have written about a foreigner being that close to gramps (examples of such writings exist when it happened with others).

Lefkowitz notes that most writers who have raised the question at hand here haven't been ancient historians. She says the first American writer to suggest that Cleopatra had a black ancestor was J.A. Rogers, in World's Great Men of Color. Unfortunately, Rogers somewhat muddled Cleopatra's family history, claiming her father was Ptolemy XIII (nope, Ptolemy XII) and her grandfather was Ptolemy XI (nope, Ptolemy IX). Then he claimed that Ptolemy XIII (who was actually Cleopatra's brother and husband and cousin and, oh, you get the idea) showed pronounced Negro traits--although this claim doesn't seem to have any actual support.

Some of the evidence used to support the claim of Cleopatra's alleged African roots come from, of all places, Shakespeare. In Anthony and Cleopatra, Shakespeare called her "tawny." Rogers and other supporters claim this was a 17th-century way to
describe mulattoes, and since Shakespeare obviously thought of her that way, she must have been.

The evidence of busts and reliefs from the Cleopatra's time period, don't seem to support the "black" image.

So is it this?

Or is it this?

Perhaps the final answer to the above depends upon the race of the viewer, each side claiming the other is either "Afrocentric" or "Eurocentric."

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Seeing the World in Color

In a strip of Calvin and Hobbes from the 1980s, Calvin asks his father, “Dad, how come old photographs are always black and white? Didn’t they have color film back then?” His father replies, “Sure they did. In fact, those old photographs ARE in color. It’s just the WORLD was black and white back then. … The world didn’t turn color until sometime in the 1920s, and it was pretty grainy color for a while, too.” Calvin responds, “That’s really weird.”

For many of us, history is seen in terms of black and white-- and if it’s not in color, it might as well be ancient. In my Mass Media class, the moans would start as soon my students realized a film might not be in color—even if it were a recent production. Black and white is the world their great-grandparents live in.

It’s always a surprise to find that color, whether by tinting or the use of actual color film, has recorded more of the last two centuries than we think. Would you believe that the picture at left shows French troops in World War I? It does... and it's a real photograph.

But there are earlier examples. Note the pre-Civil War portrait of a boy and his sister, where she wears a beautifully tinted pink dress. Young America. The Daguerreotypes of Southworth and Hawes talks about the hand-tinting coloring of these early monochromatic images. An 1855 house with white picket fence and trees shows an early landscape. A pensive 1850s girl leans against a chair with a blue blanket.

Watching The War in Color on PBS the other afternoon, I realized that I don’t remember seeing a lot of color footage of World War II, even though it was available. And I’ve seen even less of World War I. I was delighted to find two great websites that dealt with full color images from those periods.

The Heritage of the Great War: Over 250 hand-tinted post cards or actual color photographs presented on this copyright free site.

World War 2 Pictures in Color: An extensive collection of images from U.S., German, Russian, Japanese, British and Italian sources.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Understanding Egyptian Frontal Based Art

An artwork is a dialogue between an artist and the viewer.

Sometimes that dialogue needs explanation. Have you ever looked at an Egyptian painting and tried to figure out what is gong on? Perhaps you’ve asked yourself why the figures look so different than our way of drawing?

Part of the reason the people look so different is that they are rendered in what is known as frontal based art, also called frontalism. Rather than attempting to create realistic looking items, the frontal based artist is working more with symbols, showing the most recognizable feature of an item.

A glass, for example, has a round top, two straight sides, and a straight base. It can be rendered in what appears a style Picasso might have used, showing all three qualities at once.

When we look at a figure, we can see the head in side-view; but notice that the eye is rendered as if it were a straight-on view. Here we are dealing with symbols similar to hieroglyphics not realistic body parts. The shoulders are rendered in front view while the torso is actually a 3-quarter side view—the front is a silhouette of a front side view and the back is a back view. The wrist and the bottom curve of the buttocks are 9 squares from the baseline if the arms are at the side. Legs are rendered with the “downstage” leg—the one closest to you—in front. Legs far apart often suggest action. The arms and hands are done in side view—the same direction.

Problems of interpreting clothing can often be blamed on the frontal view. A dress with two straps covering the breasts can actually be rendered with both straps coming toward the center of the torso area, but with what appears to be a bare breast on the front side. [See illustrations below.] A necklace which hangs at center actually appears worn to the side because it is drawn directing in the center of the torso, even though the torso is 3-quarter side view.

My drawing, showing how the torso and necklace are done, is based on a fragment relief of Maya, shown in Geoffrey T. Martin's The Hidden Tombs of Memphis [158].

The Egyptian artist used a grid to create his figures. All items have a baseline which they rest on. The Egyptian canon of art dictated that the body was 18 squares from feet to the hairline and a remaining square for the top of the head. John Legon, in The Egyptian Canon in Art, gives a very complete description of the process.

Sethos I offering Isis a treat. The small birds float in the air above the tray. Because Sethos is pharaoh, he is eye level to the goddess. My drawing is based on a painted relief from A. Rosalie David's The Egyptian Kingdoms: The Making of the Past, [88].

Except for the Amarna art experiment of the XVIII Dynasty, women’s skin was rendered with yellow ochre and men’s with red orchre.

Things resting on top of objects—such as a senet piece on top of a board--are often shown floating above the object. And in this case, the board would be tilted facing the viewer.

Students in my History and Thought of Western Man classes, do a frontal based project where they have to use the principles we’ve discussed and combine them with a modern movie or historical event. Below is one for The Wizard of Oz.

Help for Beginning Web Designers

I teach html to one of my classes. The following webpages are a great helps to anyone trying to design webpages:

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Wading into Einstein's River

I have spent my summer reading. One of the books I just finished was Jack Finney's Time and Again [1970]. In it Si Morley, the artist protagonist, is able to travel back in time. The premise is based on a discussion of Albert Einstein's view of time being a river. The argument goes that although we may only be able to see one section of the river at any given time, the river has not disappeared--nor has our past or future. Finney's idea is that the reason we are locked into knowing that today is today is because we are surrounded by things our senses remind us are today: newspapers, clocks, television, our furnishings, our clothing, laundry detergents, candy bars. What would happen, suggests Finney, if we surrounded ourselves with things from a previous time? Could we then step into that world, back upstream so to speak? While Si is able to do it, the author also plays with the idea of what happens when the time traveler interacts and even changes the past?

Finney's book, from 1970, has some of the same feel as Ursula LeGuinn's The Lathe of Heaven [1971]. In LeGuinn's book the protagonist George Orr is able to have effective dreams. Whatever he dreams changes everything that came before it, so no one is ever aware that things have changed--except the dreamer. Orr keeps peopling his dreams with the same people, but his relationships change without his control and each waking brings a different reality. His girlfriend Heather can be someone he's just met, his wife, or someone who's never met him.

Certainly Kurt Vonnegut played with the same kind of "time continuum" contemplation in his classic Slaughterhouse Five [1969], where Billy Pilgrim gets jumps from past to present to future. Knowledge of his situation allowed Billy to accept the alien's "So it goes" philosophy, knowing that one never dies since time is always there in a line.

Are there other novels that take on Einstein's river? Certainly it has elements of Hermann Hesse's Siddhartha [1922] where he contemplates the river and sees all of humanity.

Maybe all of us would like that chance to change the past, shape today into what we would like, mold tomorrow into a future we could understand.