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Posts Tagged ‘dreams’

Britain’s Best-selling Sex-Ed Guide, and Other News

August 21, 2015 | by

aristotle

From Aristotle’s Masterpiece.

  • First published in London in 1684, Aristotle’s Masterpiece is “one of the best-selling books ever produced in English on sex and making babies.” Aristotle, at the time, had assumed a role in the popular culture as an ancient sex expert; “his” sex guide reads in parts like the Kama Sutra in cheeky British doggerel, and it’s complete with a woodcut of a woman in dishabille, so teenagers probably masturbated to it. “But the book also provided a solid framework of contemporary knowledge about the basics of pregnancy, childbirth, and infant health, detailing topics such as the signs of pregnancy, how to tell false labor from true, the various positions the baby might present in, et cetera. Not surprisingly, since it was plagiarized from another midwifery book, this information was largely unexceptional.” It makes a cameo in Ulysses.
  • “I attend a diplomatic soiree and as I am leaving my pants fall down (Is it desire?) … Cannibals. You were on an island and some black cannibals jumped out and they put you on the grill and poured oil on you. You, so peaceful. They ate you and they reported saying that the meat was hard and had to fatten more.” Santiago Ramón y Cajal discovered the neuron and hypothesized the function of synapses—which was a boon for science and all—but more important, he kept a dream journal, and it is piquant.
  • Art has come to valorize depression, clearly, and to see genius in melancholy—but in the culture at large, thanks to pharmacology, depressives are still stigmatized. “Stigmatization and sanctification come with real ethical dangers. On the one hand, there is the danger that hidden in the wish for the elimination of depressive symptoms is a wish for the elimination of other essential attributes of the depressed person … On the other hand there is the danger of taking pleasure in the pain of the melancholic, and of adding the expectation of insight to the already oppressive expectations the melancholic likely has for herself … The language used in both discourses bears a striking resemblance to the language the depressed person uses in her own head.”
  • Considered as a text, the Nashville music industry’s collected lyrics have one clear idée fixe: adultery. Even in the twenties, tunes like “The Jealous Sweetheart” and “The Mountaineer’s Courtship” wept over the wayward heart; by the time “Jolene” came around, the style had become an archetype, if not a formula. “Cheating songs have a lot of moving parts. All of them have at least three characters, each of which can be the narrator or the person being addressed … Country music has a somewhat limited palate, and adultery is one its primary colors. ‘To say something fresh and literal is the hardest thing’ … But if you have a mess of variables to slot into your tried-and-true story structure, it gets a little easier.”
  • The refined songcraft of one James “Jimmy” Buffett, meanwhile, focuses its talents almost exclusively on epicurean pleasures. “Food and drink are central to the ethos of Jimmy Buffett, and even the most casual fan can rattle off a handful of songs that orbit around seaside eats. There are lesser known gems like 1994’s ‘Fruitcakes’ (Half-baked cookies in the oven / Half-baked people on the bus / There’s a little bit of fruitcake left in everyone of us) and 1970s classic ‘Grapefruit-Juicy Fruit’ (Grapefruit, a bathin’ suit, chew a little Juicy Fruit / Wash away the night).”

Anxiety

June 30, 2015 | by

Exam

 

“Last night I had a dream”—there are few sentences more ominous. And not in an interesting way, either, although people seem to think listening to dreams is the sort of thing friends are happy—nay, obligated—to do, like helping them move house or giving medical advice (if the friends happen to be doctors). Imposing them on a stranger is merely unforgivable.

For my own part, I can bear dream narratives—it’s stories of drug-addled antics I can’t stand. What I hate is that they’re always supposed to be uproarious. But many of the problems inherent to an endless drug tale—lack of relatability, the difficulty of conjuring the scene, the essential loneliness of the experience—are the same. I won’t say relating either a hilarious drug story or a dream is an actively hostile act—but alienating, certainly. Maybe antisocial. Certainly solipsistic. Read More »

A New Coat

April 10, 2015 | by

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Lanpher Furs ad, 1906.

At what age does one outgrow the belief that a new coat will change one’s life? The belief that somehow, the you who wears this costume will grow worthy of it, will stride around a rosy future with a different sound track entirely? Plenty of garments can acquire this magical allure, but because a coat is something one wears every day—something everyone sees, something that has to serve a function and therefore has moral fiber as well as fabric—gives it extra importance.

And they’re expensive. Read More »

Bring Up the Bodies

January 13, 2015 | by

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Photo: Golden Globes

Last night—or early this morning, I guess, around four A.M.—I woke up from a dream. I’d been reading a Hilary Mantel novel and watching red-carpet recaps before bed, and the two apparently melded in my brain in the most literal way imaginable. In my dreams, Thomas Cromwell attended the Golden Globes. Or Mantel chronicled them. I’m not sure which—but this is how it went down. 

It is the awards season. Lupita in silks and nosegays, Felicity stately in Dior. Photographers line the strip of crimson worsted like so many starlings on a line: here a Michael Kors, here a Givenchy. Lacquered hosts prattle now of jewels, now with furrowed brow of news from abroad.

“Alchemy,” says George Clooney, boyish and urbane. He is at his ease, of a mind to talk of brass rings and love.

Kevin Spacey is at the podium, eyes narrowed in a mockery of evil, bent on revenge. Jeremy Renner stands at his ease and leers, “You’ve got the globes, too.” 

Virgins win, and Birdmen. 

Cromwell stands with the others and prices the finery, an old habit not easily lost.

“There was a time,” he says, “when the carpets were not ruled by the stylists. There was Marlee Matlin then, and Bonham-Carter. We knew risk then, and yes, folly, too. I saw once a woman dressed in the plumage of a swan.”

And around him, etched in jewels, he sees the motto: “Je suis Charlie,” they say. “I stand with France.”

Counterpunch

October 21, 2014 | by

On a sentence by Robert Walser.

Plantin_letterpress

Plantin letterpress type. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

It is worth remembering that there once was a time when every letter, number, and punctuation mark printed on paper started life as a sculpture. Someone had to make the letterforms by hand, in three dimensions; the individual characters could all look alike because they were all molten metal poured into the same mold (hence: font), but someone had to make the molds. The first time this hit home for me was when I thought about changing the type size in letterpress days: rather than pressing CTRL+> or CTRL+<, the whole font—every letter, capital and lowercase and italic and roman, every number and symbol—would have to be recarved, by hand, from scratch. Redesigned, too, since different proportions work better at different sizes. Tiny furniture’s got nothing on typefaces.

They’re sculptures, not drawings, because the angle and depth of the sides affect the look of the printed letter. These can be adequately controlled along the outline of a letter, but for the inner lines and negative spaces—the triangle in an A, the near-rectangles in a serifed E—it’s hard to gouge out the cavities precisely enough. So a D, for instance, would start out as a rod of steel whose tip is carved into a semicircle: a counterpunch, tempered to be harder than the steel of the punch. Pounding this into the flat end of another rod makes a semicircle-shaped hole. Carving around the hole makes a raised D, or rather a raised . Slamming that rod into another block of metal (softer than the steel, usually copper) makes a -shaped hole, the matrix. Pouring molten metal into that and letting it cool produces the piece of type. Then the letters are set into a stick, in reverse order; clamped together; and ink is rolled onto the surface before it is flipped again onto a sheet of paper, leaving a D-shaped black mark.

By my count, that’s five turnarounds: counterpunch, punch, matrix, piece of type, printed character. There’s a strange reversal in time, too, since every other kind of counterpunch (in boxing, in debate) reacts to the punch, while here it pre-exists the punch. I’ve never gotten tired of replaying the transformations in my mind—positive, negative, positive, negative, mirrored, counting and recounting them, following the fate of a raised waning half-moon to the empty space in a printed D. The dreamy dizziness felt like what art is. Read More »

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Oneiric Architecture and Opium

August 15, 2014 | by

Visualizing opium dreams through the etchings of Piranesi.

Title Plate

Title Plate

Prisoners on a Projecting Platform

Prisoners on a Projecting Platform

The Arch with a Shell Ornament

The Arch with a Shell Ornamental

The Drawbridge

The Gothic Arch

The Gothic Arch

The Man on the Rack

The Round Tower

The Round Tower

178054, 2012.159.18.6

The Smoking Fire

The Staircase with Trophies

The Staircase with Trophies

It’s Thomas De Quincey’s birthday today—what better time to tour the mind-bending architecture of his laudanum-fueled dreams? The famed Romantic opium addict described his vivid dreams as “the immediate and proximate cause of my acutest suffering.” In his 1821 Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, he outlines their disturbing qualities. They’re extremely productive—pretty much anything he thinks about at night ends up in them; they resurrect deeply repressed memories from his childhood, accompanied by intense anxiety and melancholy, and they seem to expand time and space to the point of “unutterable infinity.”

What might this madness look like? Here De Quincey turns to ekphrasis, invoking Giovanni Battista Piranesi’s Carceri d’Invenzione (Imaginary Prisons), a series of etchings that depict surreal, classical-inspired dungeons:

Many years ago, when I was looking over Piranesi’s, Antiquities of Rome, Mr. Coleridge, who was standing by, described to me a set of plates by that artist, called his Dreams, and which record the scenery of his own visions during the delirium of a fever. Some of them (I describe only from memory of Mr. Coleridge’s account) represented vast Gothic halls, on the floor of which stood all sorts of engines and machinery, wheels, cables, pulleys, levers, catapults, &c. &c., expressive of enormous power put forth and resistance overcome. Creeping along the sides of the walls you perceived a staircase; and upon it, groping his way upwards, was Piranesi himself: follow the stairs a little further and you perceive it come to a sudden and abrupt termination without any balustrade, and allowing no step onwards to him who had reached the extremity except into the depths below. Whatever is to become of poor Piranesi, you suppose at least that his labours must in some way terminate here. But raise your eyes, and behold a second flight of stairs still higher, on which again Piranesi is perceived, but this time standing on the very brink of the abyss. Again elevate your eye, and a still more aerial flight of stairs is beheld, and again is poor Piranesi busy on his aspiring labours; and so on, until the unfinished stairs and Piranesi both are lost in the upper gloom of the hall. With the same power of endless growth and self-reproduction did my architecture proceed in dreams. In the early stage of my malady the splendours of my dreams were indeed chiefly architectural; and I beheld such pomp of cities and palaces as was never yet beheld by the waking eye unless in the clouds.

Completed in the mid-eighteenth century, Piranesi’s Prisons, with their vast cavernous archways and creeping staircases, remind of the impossible constructions of M. C. Escher, though Piranesi precedes Escher by nearly two hundred years. And there’s an expressiveness to Piranesi’s line, a level of permitted imprecision radically different from Escher’s mathematically inspired print work—a certain nightmarishness, even. Through the Prisons, De Quincey manages to evoke the strange, haunting infinity of his dreams. And by setting these expansive dungeons in the mind of an addict, he gets at something key about the particular creepiness of Piranesi’s constructed prisons: the crush of infinity. There’s something claustrophobic about their sheer expansiveness. The shadowy inmates of imaginary prisons, like opium eaters, are enslaved in surplus, sentenced to learn the restrictive power of excess.

Chantal McStay studies English at Columbia University and is an intern at The Paris Review.

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