The Daily

Our Daily Correspondent

In Flight

May 19, 2016 | by

Photo: NARA.

On a plane, I sat between an aging nerd and a teenage boy. The nerd informed us both with contemptuous superiority that we’d be told to put our bags up in the bin and then, when we were, said, “I told you.” He spent the rest of the flight playing chess on his tablet and reading A Clash of Kings. The teen read Sartre’s Critique of Dialectical Reason. Read More »

The Lives of Others

Me and My Monkey

May 19, 2016 | by

Frank Buckland wanted to save—and eat—as many animals as possible.

Buckland with his pet monkeys.

This is the first entry in Edward White’s The Lives of Others, a monthly series about unusual, largely forgotten figures from history. He has previously written for the Daily on Carl Van Vechten and rugby.

Every now and then, even Charles Darwin was dumbfounded by the mysteries of the natural world. On those occasions, he reached out for enlightenment to a repertory cast of scientific correspondents, one of whom was Francis Trevelyan Buckland, a raffish, tousle-haired star of the natural-history craze that befell Britain in the mid-nineteenth century. The two made for unlikely pen pals: if Darwin was the dour, sincere prophet who transformed humanity’s appreciation of its place in the universe, Buckland was a professional eccentric, as much showman as scientist. Although he did groundbreaking work in pisciculture (the breeding of fish), Buckland was perhaps best known as a lecturer, beguiling huge audiences with his left-field takes on botany, zoology, and human anatomy. As a general rule, the weirder the subject, the more likely Buckland was to have something to say about it: the fighting behavior of newts, the cannibalistic propensities of rats, the best method for killing a boa constrictor, gigantism, walking fish, flea circuses, conjoined twins (he was a good friend of Chang and Eng Bunker, the original Siamese twins), the uses of human hair as manure, and pagan burial rites. Tellingly, it was Buckland to whom Darwin turned to verify a claim that a dog and a lion had successfully bred in rural Russia. Read More »

On the Shelf

The Vegetated Sound Buffer of Your Dreams, and Other News

May 19, 2016 | by

A rendering from Studio Dror. Photo via Slate.

  • Remember that scene in The Squid and the Whale where the pretentious Jesse Eisenberg character says that a novel is “very Kafkaesque,” and his classmate says, “That’s because it was written by Franz Kafka”? In real life we have the opposite problem: the word Kafkaesque risks total meaninglessness. “The dictionary defines the adjective, incidentally, as ‘of, relating to, or suggestive of Franz Kafka or his writings; especially: having a nightmarishly complex, bizarre, or illogical quality’ … But Merriam-Webster also admits that the word, which saw its first recorded use in English in 1946, ‘is so overused that it’s begun to lose its meaning,’ a word that a columnist for Toronto’s Globe and Mail argued is ‘tossed around with cavalier imprecision, applied to everything from an annoying encounter with a petty bureaucrat to the genocidal horrors of the Third Reich.’ ”
  • Every year brings with it another armload of Brontë-related biographies and ephemera: plays, films, novelizations, tea towels. Why? “I see no reason not to consider the Brontë cult a religion. What are People of the Book, after all, if not irrepressible embroiderers of fetishized texts?” Judith Shulevitz asks. “The Jews have a word for the feverish imaginings that run like bright threads through their Torah commentaries: midrash, the spinning of gloriously weird backstories or fairy tales prompted by gaps or contradictions in the narratives … Some Brontë fans—reader, I’m one of them—would happily work through stacks of Brontë midrash in search of answers to the mysterium tremendum, the awesome mystery, of the Brontës’ improbable sainthood. How did a poor and socially awkward ex-governess named Charlotte and her even more awkward sister Emily, who kept house for their father in a parsonage on a Yorkshire moor far from the literary circles of London, come to write novels and poems that outshone nearly every other nineteenth-century British novel and poem by dint of being more alive?”

Look

Speech Acts

May 18, 2016 | by

Ben Vida, Speech Act 6, 2016, ink and gesso on panel, 47.5" x 58.5"

Ben Vida’s recent exhibition at Lisa Cooley Gallery, “[Smile on.] … [Pause.] … [Smile off.],” included a series of what the author calls Speech Acts, inspired by concrete poetry. Intended to be recited in a duo vocal performance, the speech acts capture all the pauses, false starts, stammers, and disfluencies of conversation: all the spoken detritus usually omitted in transcripts. Inspired by Beckett and other dramatists who foreground the emptiness of speech patterns, Vida and a partner read each piece aloud at the gallery. “Aurally it’s kind of a short distance from ‘eh, itz tah’ to ‘ah, um oh’ to ‘well, okay so,’ ” he told the Creators Project, “but within this distance the function of the language changes and so the compositional logic begins to change as well. It becomes a completely different engagement in terms of what is being communicated.”

Click any of the images to enlarge them. Read More »

Our Daily Correspondent

And Thou

May 18, 2016 | by

I pity you, because presumably you—unlike me—do not own an apron that features a loaf of bread, a jug of wine, and the word thou. So how could you possibly celebrate the birthday of Omar Khayyám? You could read from the Rubaiyat, of course. If you happen to be in Nishapur, you could visit his stunning mausoleum. Or you could try a little light non-Euclidean geometry or take out your telescope and ponder his many astronomical discoveries …

Even if you do all of those things, though—even if you own the same apron I do—you can still devote an hour or so to 1957’s Omar Khayyám. “In this dramatic adventure,” Paramount’s capsule description says, “a Persian philosopher poet attempts to thwart conspiring assassins.” Read More »

On History

The Hard-on on Trial

May 18, 2016 | by

Erectile dysfunction and divorce in prerevolutionary France.

Grace under pressure. Photo: Jörg Bittner Unna.

At face value, René de Cordouan was a lucky man: born into French nobility as the Marquis de Langey, rich without effort, pleasant to look at. By generic, century-spanning sort of standards he was a catch, as endearing to unwed Catholics of the early 1600s (those seeking a deep-pocketed partner with bucolic property to share) as to manicured women with manicured nails browsing EliteSingles.com. The actual minutiae of the Marquis de Langey’s appearance remains a mystery—the size of his feet, the straightness of teeth, the presence or absence of dimples—but one part of his anatomy was so meticulously discussed it secured him a minor place in European history. Inside the nobleman’s underpants, between his upper thighs, was an intromittent organ that would be leered at and prodded before a court of law. To put it plainly, in 1657 the Marquis’s penis was subject to public trial. Read More »