Theory of laundry: to judge a book by its cover

The book is a ten-page pamphlet by the chief prosecutor of the conspirators in the murder of Abraham Lincoln. The prosecutor, Judge Advocate General Joseph Holt, had attempted to prove that President Davis of the Confederacy was aware of the conspiracy, and Davis’s sympathizers responded by attacking him in print. In print, he replied:

Printed in 1866, the paper has gone brown with age. The florid rhetoric looks old as well. Since at least the era of Hemingway, our taste in prose about moral conflict has trended monochrome.

But there were also monochrome effects in 1866. Before, during, and after the black-and-white absolutes of the Civil War, Washington was a Southern town where white was what gentlemen wore in the summer. In the presence of white, both time and the conflict seemed to halt at the wardrobe door. Fashion sometimes looks like a parallel morality, and as of the second half of the nineteenth century one of its commands began, in a body language which seemed to transcend the mortal changeableness of the body: “Thou shalt wear . . .”

Experiment with the command yourself. Think of this photograph of Judge Holt by Mathew Brady’s studio as a frontispiece to the pamphlet. Then ask: after I’ve seen this image of an author’s body in absolute white, will I have any desire to turn the page and read his words’ transient brown? Won’t I lose as much as I gain when I leave the white behind, back there at the innocent beginning where faces are fortunes, books are judged by their covers, and to appear seems to be?

Sources: Holt’s Vindication is online at Archive.org, https://ia600302.us.archive.org/21/items/vindicationofju3693holt/vindicationofju3693holt.pdf.

The photograph of Judge Holt is in the Brady-Handy Collection, Library of Congress, http://www.loc.gov/pictures/collection/brhc/item/brh2003001193/PP/. I have photoshopped it.

From the city of Andrei Bely

There was a small public park on the north side of the square. In one of its linden trees an ear and a finger had been found one day – remnants of a terrorist whose hand had slipped while he was arranging a lethal parcel in his room on the other side of the square. Those same trees (a pattern of silver filigree in a mother-of-pearl mist out of which the bronze dome of St. Isaac’s arose in the background) had also seen children shot down at random from the branches into which they had climbed in a vain attempt to escape the mounted gendarmes who were quelling the First Revolution (1905-06). Quite a few little stories like these were attached to squares and streets in St. Petersburg.

— Vladimir Nabokov, Speak, Memory, chapter 9

Every few seconds for the last two days, a cyberentity in Russia has been attempting to break into this blog. According to several bloggers, this represents the activity of something called a brute-force password-guessing attack on WordPress’s XMLRPC function.

It claims to originate from an address in St. Petersburg. Of course that claim may be a mere act of literature – say, something like a May Day hommage to Andrei Bely, author of the great Modernist novel of terror and masquerade, Petersburg. In any case, the cyberentity claims to be headquartered not in St. Petersburg but in Moscow, where it calls itself the Super Professional Servers Network.

But its street address in Moscow is all Bely, all Petersburg. It is:

1st Magistralny Blind Alley, 30

And naturally, as a prudent reverence before literature’s power to blind and erase (the pseudonym Bely means “white”), I configured this blog long ago to reject all attempts at communication from Russia.

 

Teaching aid: Wordsworth at night

Benjamin L. Singley, “Overlooking the Thames at 11 o’clock at Night, London, England.” 1903. Library of Congress, http://www.loc.gov/item/91793505/

My photoshopped anaglyph (requires red-and-blue stereo viewer):

Contribution to an illustrated edition of Heidegger

Ostensibly a work of modern non-fiction, Martin Heidegger’s autobiographical essay “Why Do I Stay in the Provinces?” (text below) is written in the language of a pastoral genre that had been popular in Germany since the nineteenth century: the novel of blood and soil (Blut und Boden), “which idealized its subject and painted the mythology of peasant life, far from the crossroads of the world” (Mosse 138). During the Third Reich the genre was cultivated like an agribusiness crop, and as its formulas became part of the vocabulary of the state they acquired a derisive nickname, Blubo. Heidegger himself disliked the term Blut und Boden, but the narrator of his essay speaks its language like a native.

“Why Do I Stay in the Provinces?” was published in 1934. As of 2015, many wars and a holocaust later, an international consortium of astronomers is attempting to build a great telescope atop Hawaii’s 14,000-foot extinct volcano Mauna Kea, one of the world’s premier sites for an observatory. However, the road to the construction site is being intermittently blocked by a group of native Hawaiian cultural practitioners who claim that to build anything atop Mauna Kea except altars to the volcano goddess is (as their media releases put it) a desecration. Speaking of desecration, Heidegger’s great object of hate René Descartes wrote a theory of the telescope, and I’m sure that if Heidegger were in Hawaii now he’d be up there at the roadblocks himself.

As he raised his voice in a chant of protest, he’d be joined by some of my post-colonialist colleagues from the University of Hawaii. For them and for Heidegger, then, this collegial contribution in the rational language of Descartes and Photoshop. It depicts the mountain hut where Martin Heidegger grew his deep thoughts out of the Boden. One peak higher, goddess willing, will arise the Thirty Meter Telescope.

Sources:

George Mosse, ed. Nazi Culture: Intellectual, Cultural and Social Life in the Third Reich. New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1966.

Click the link to access Heidegger’s “Why Do I Stay in the Provinces?”

1934-WHY-DO-I-STAY-IN-THE-PROVINCES-dated.pdf

For Sherwood Anderson and Charles Burchfield

Source: “Track elevating at grade crossing, Joliet, Ill,” between 1900 and 1905. Detroit Publishing Company Collection, Library of Congress, http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/det1994001636/PP/. Photoshopped.