Thursday, August 31, 2006

Annals of Literature

The New York Times today reports that A. N. Wilson, in his biography of the poet John Betjeman, published what he called a love letter by Betjeman which has been revealed to be a hoax. Wilson accepted the authority of the letter, which was sent to him under obviously suspicious circumstances, without apparently checking up on it. It turns out that the first letters of each sentence read, "A N WILSON IS A SHIT."

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Interestingly enough

Tim Page, in tomorrow's Washington Post, chooses Alvin Lucier's "I Am Sitting in a Room" as one of his 25 representative pieces of 20th-century music. I've always found more in it than just about any other piece of classical musical experimentalism, and it's been the topic of conversations with Colby about noise and degeneration in processes of representation.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Creator of "Frank & Ernest" comic strip dead at 81
Associated Press
MANHATTAN BEACH, Calif. - Bob Thaves, whose nationally syndicated comic strip "Frank & Ernest" amused newspaper readers for decades with its quirky observations on life, has died of respiratory failure. He was 81.

Thaves died Tuesday at Little Company of Mary Hospital in Torrance, said his daughter, Sara Thaves.

His long-running strip stars the happy-go-lucky punsters Frank and Ernest, who travel the universe and through time - and sometimes change shape - as they comment on everything from science to world politics.

The strip, which was syndicated in 1972, is distributed to 1,300 newspapers worldwide by Newspaper Enterprise Association and is read by more than 25 million people a day.

Thaves' son, Tom, has collaborated with his father on "Frank & Ernest" since 1997 and will continue to produce it, according to a statement from United Media, whose Newspaper Enterprise Association syndicates the strip.

Sara Thaves said her father's curiosity about the world made his comic strip unique.

"He was an avid reader. There are books and periodicals and newspapers stacked up all over the house," she said in a telephone interview Wednesday. "That allowed him to be interested and engaged with the world in a way that was pretty unique and it consequently made him a really interesting person to be around."

Thaves, who held both bachelor's and master's degrees in psychology from the University of Minnesota, began cartooning as a child and was published in a college humor magazine at the University of Minnesota.

He went on to cartoon for various magazines and created "Frank & Ernest" while working as an industrial psychology consultant in Los Angeles. The strip wasn't syndicated until Thaves was 48, and he didn't quit his consulting job for several years.

"He knew the chances of being syndicated - you might as well try to be a professional athlete," his daughter said. "And then to be as successful as he was, it's even more lucky. ... He did not take that for granted."

"Frank & Ernest" went on to become one of the most popular comic strips in the world, as well as one of the most innovative. According to United Media, it was the first newspaper cartoon to run in a strip format; the first to use block lettering; the first to use comic book-style digital coloring for the Sunday pages; and one of the first to have its own Web site, in 1997.

The Web site features interactive cartoons as a way to draw Internet readers without losing newspaper fans, Sara Thaves said.

Thaves was a three-time winner of the National Cartoonists Society's prestigious Reuben Award for best syndicated panel and won the Free Press Association's Mencken Award for best cartoon. He was named one of the University of Minnesota's 50 most distinguished alumni and was recognized this year as Champion of Creativity by the American Creativity Association.

In addition to his daughter and son, Thaves is survived by his wife of 52 years, Katie, and a son-in-law, Michael van Eckhardt.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

The Invisible Machine

I'm studying up on Utopias to teach a couple of courses aligned with the Modernism exhbitiion planned for the Corcoran in Spring 2007. Every time I take on a topic, it seems to me the one thing that explains everything in the world that we're not getting (even though it's always some point that's painfully obvious--my whole life theme seems to be that what's most important is what we're overlooking). But this passage from Lewis Mumford's essay, "Utopia, the City and the Machine" is particularly clarifying:

The many genuine improvements that science and technics have introduced into every aspect of existence have been so notable that it is perhaps natural that its grateful bneficiaries should have overlooked the ominous social context in which these changes have taken place, as well as the heavy price we have already paid for them, and the still more forbidding price that is in prospect. Until the last generation it was possible to think of the various components of techonology as additive. This meant that each new mechanical invention, each new scientific discovery, each new application to engineering, agriculture, or medicine, could be judged separately on its own performance, estimated eventually in terms of the human good accomplished, and diminished or eliminated if it did not in fact promote human welfare.
This belief has now proved an illusion. Though each new invention or discovery may respond to some genuine human need, or even awaken a fresh human potentiality, it immediately becomes part of an articulated totalitarian system that, on its own premises, has turned the machine into a god whose power must be increased, whose prosperity is essential to all existence, and whose operations, however irrational or compulsive, cannot be challenged, still less modified.
The only group that has understood the dehumanizing effects of the Invisible Machine are the avant-garde artists, who have caricatured it by going to the opposite extreme of disorganization. Their calculated destructions and "happenings" symbolize total decontrol: the rejection of order, continuity, design, significance, and a total inversion of human values which turns criminals into saints and scrambled minds into sages. In such anti-art, the dissolution of our entire civilization into randomness and entropy is prophetically symboliozed. In their humorless deaf-and-dumb language, the avant-garde arrtists reach the same goal as scientists and technicians, but by a different route--both seek or at least welcome the displacement of and the eventual elimination of man. In short, both the further affirmation of the mechanical utopia and its total rejection would beget dystopia. Wherever human salvation may lie, neither utopia nor dystopia, as now conceived, promises it.

Monday, August 07, 2006


I'm traveling and can't post frrom my home computer so this will be primitive, but look at Dennis Cooper's blog for today and you'll see a pretty extensive exhibition of keepsakes from regulars: photos with reminscences. Mine are about the most long-winded, natch, yet poignant, fraught with suspense, revelatory. Dennis' blog is a pretty great endeavor--one of the few I know that reaches in all directions to bring in people obsessed with very different obsessions, connecting them along unexpected lines of affinity, which is very much in character for him. Dennis is a great anthologizer and it makes sense that he's showing the possibilities of the blog as a contemporary literary form.