Personalization on the slant: a hazard

Honolulu, Hawaii, USA, January 30, 2013, 11:40 AM. Driving down the street in bright sunshine under a tropical sky, the mailwoman made her delivery. Temperature on the thermometer on my front porch: 75 F (24 C). I walked down the stairs to the street, opened the mailbox, and read:


And ah, the verb “escape” on its diagonal brought back memories. In memory I was once again back in the midwest, where the standard witticism from people who learned that my wife is from Korea was, “Does it slant? Har har!”

It’s physically cold in the midwest too, and dark.

Usage note, 2013

“I definitely have nothing to say about gun control. That’s so out of the parameter of what we’re about.”

— Jeanne Monahan, president of the March for Life Education and Defense Fund, New York Times, January 26, 2013

The intensive “definitely,” the “so” without a “that,” and the not-quite-part-of-speech “parameter,” all within just two sentences. And you know that if she were writing it out, she’d be pro-choice. Would the choice be “definetly,” “definately,” or “definantly”?

The birth of chiaroscuro

In Arthur Hopkins’s magazine illustration of a night scene from The Return of the Native, the corpse of Eustacia Vye is borne up into lantern-light by Diggory Venn’s shadowed body.

Hardy’s way of communicating the death was to represent a flesh that can be known now only  by touch and inference. Covered by her drapery, Eustacia is no longer decently to be seen. In Hardy’s sentence, the dread of death is the dread of something that has now become only palpable. Sensing the change by touch alone, we realize, horribly, that Eustacia is now on her way toward the invisible. But because Hardy’s illustrator had to represent that invisibility visually, he resorted to the technology of literature. Don’t just look at me, says his picture to the readers of Mr. Hardy’s magazine, Belgravia. Start by looking, but then go on to read. Do you remember, for instance, the interpretive corpus you learned in school? Here: refresh your memory by studying  this composition.

Caravaggio, The Entombment of Christ
Caravaggio, The Entombment of Christ

And the educational process proceeds by allusion. But the labor of study teaches us something else beside evoked literary emotion. Side by side, Hopkins’s picture and its model teach us that narrative art can’t proceed to completion without its handicap aids. To be understood, Hopkins’s illustration requires every one of the words above and below it. Caravaggio’s vision, however, didn’t need to be supplemented,


because the death it depicts is (unlike Eustacia Vye’s) there on the canvas to be seen. It doesn’t illustrate the words of its story; it shines light into our eyes and tortures us into admitting that the light was there from the beginning, before the words.

Nadav Kander began his 2010-11 series of nudes by preparing his surface. He dyed his models’  hair red and gessoed their bodies with marble dust, and only then did he turn on the big lights and step back to his camera’s control panel. What that sequence of performances did was to slow a fraction of a second’s exposure time into a realized representation of creation. A Kander woman is a just-shaped mountain, huge hot flesh not yet animated with a pulse or a face. It is whiteness changing into shape under the lights in a studio through whose windows no sun has yet entered. In the darkness surrounding the woman, the first morning has not yet occurred and the first word has not yet been spoken.

We are told in Genesis that evening came first. Only later could there be the kind of light that comes into being when an artist puts down his gesso brush, throws a switch, and says “Now.”