24.2.11

Aesthetic Thursdays: Perseus with the Head of Medusa

Perseus with the head of the Medusa by Canova
Perseus with the Head of the Medusa, Antonio Canova, The Metropolitan Museum of Art 


Detail of Perseus
The Face of Perseus
Detail - The Head of Medusa, Metropolitan Museum
For several Fridays in a row, I've been dedicating at least an hour to the Metropolitan Museum of Art galleries. Proffering my student ID I pay as little as ten dollars to view a vast collection of priceless art. One more reason why I love New York City. I do not stay longer than an hour and I stick to one section, sometimes only one room. For my visit today I scurried over to the European Sculpture Court and sat with the sculptures. The Perseus statue with the head of the Medusa struck me because of the narrative embedded in the presentation. Perseus is stylistically graceful in this replica of Canova's Perseus which is now in the Vatican museums. The Met's profile on the piece mentions that Perseus's stance is modeled off the Apollo Belvedere. This seems right to me. It is as if Canova imagined what Apollo would have been holding if he were Perseus! The result is a stunning sculpture that projects grace in victory rather than priapic destruction. The medusa head in the Canova is hardly horrifying. The nest of vipers seems stilled and her face is cast in a dull mourning. Contrasted with Carravagio's Medusa's Head, which I mentioned on these pages, Canova has placed only a slight reference to snakes: two opposite facing serpents adorn the brow of the Medusa. Where Caravaggio favors priapism and glorious horror, Canova goes for subtle beauty and quiescent victory.

20.2.11

Notes on an Idea: Cavell On The Star

For the American philosopher Stanley Cavell (The World Viewed, Pursuits of Happiness, Contesting Tears) actors on the silver screen are embodied representations of themselves thrown up on the movie screen, for all us to gaze.
The Best Film History Books of All-Time - Book ...
Emerson's Star that Stands the Gaze of Millions
The star, to use Emerson's phrase, "stand the gaze of millions." We gaze on Cary Grant, for example, because we recognize him as Cary Grant who happens to naturally represent the roles he plays in the film. We appreciate Cary Grant (and Irene Dunne, or Elizabeth Taylor, or George Clooney) in the movie because they naturally “are themselves.” It is as if we treat the stars as persons we would encounter in everyday life. If the star does not appear to be himself we call his performance inauthentic. We judge the actor in the movies as authentic portrayals of themselves rather than as a convincing actor performing a role (as in the theater).
Questions of Authenticity and Inauthenticity
For Cavell, this propensity to view the film as authentic or inauthentic is characteristic of modern art. Would we ever call a performance of Chopin inauthentic? If we did we would be addressing our indictment to the performer and not to the piece itself. Art becomes treatable in the same way we treat persons. Are you authentic to the role you play? If not, you are not fit to stand the gaze of millions.
See my post on Cavell's other book about philosophy and movies: Pursuits of Happiness.

19.2.11

The Awful Truth: Cary Grant and Irene Dunne

In this post, I write about Carey Grant and Irene Dunne's performance in the movie The Awful Truth.
With "the holiday in his eye," Stanley Cavell quotes Emerson on Carey Grant's performance in The Awful Truth: "he is fit to stand the gaze of millions."
Carey Grant in the Hollywood
film "The Awful Truth"
A high class married couple (Cary Grant and Irene Dunne) break up after a dispute on marital fidelity. After each tries their luck with a different lover the two come to terms with the "awful truth."

The comedy carries the basic plot structure of the romantic comedy. Boy meets Girl. Breakup. Hijinks. Come back together. Transformed. The End. But in certain movies from the 1930s, just after the advent of talkies, several films made during or just after the Great Depression dealt with a slight twist on the romantic comedy: the remarriage plot. The difference is both stars are already married and through a break-up and coming back together (after they realize they're "just the same, but different") both boy and girl learn to grow up together, as Cavell has pointed out in his deft review of 1930s comedies of remarriage, Pursuits of Happiness: The Hollywood Comedy of Remarriage.

The Awful Truth (1937) Directed by Leo McCarey. Written by Viña DelmarArthur RichmanStarring Cary Grant, Irene Dunne,  Ralph Bellamy, Cecil Cunnigham, Esther Dale.

18.2.11

Preparing for My Graduate Schools Oral Exams: On Phronesis

I am writing this right now because I need the motivation to care about the practical:
Aristotle brushed his teeth and had time to think?! #mindblown
On Thursday mornings for the past month, I have been meeting with a fellow graduate student to study for the Philosophy department's oral exam. She is preparing for Aristotle. Although Ancient Philosophy is not my specific area, I find myself going back to the Ancients. My study buddy was explicating Aristotle on phronesis which is found in these two works: the Ethics and the Politics. Aristotle develops this cool idea about wisdom which I think makes sense. We tend to think of wisdom as something disconnected from practical everyday life. Or, we tend to think the attainment of wisdom has nothing to do with practical matters. The wise man just is wise. Right? Wisdom appears to be totally inactive and geared towards contemplation. Nothing to do with everyday stuff like brushing your teeth and getting rid of head lice. Aristotle has this groovy notion that if a person really wants wisdom what he first needs to do is get his practical affairs in order. To achieve the leisure time to reflect one has to do the boring, tedious stuff first. Scheduling, being to work on time, replying to email, making money, and all the stuff we associate with the humdrum must be accomplished, or at least those things ought to be managed well by us if we ever want time to reflect on the good stuff.

13.2.11

Photograph: I Love NYC

Fast cars and adorable group shots — I love 'em all.
Fast Cars, Manhattan, "I Love NYC"
Walking on busy Manhattan streets, especially streets lower than Fourteenth Street, it is easy to spot classy, fast cars. I have no idea the make and model of the one above, but I love this meta-moment of capturing other people being captured in front of a car. And I love love love the boy wearing the iconic I heart ❤️ NYC tee.
image credit: Greig Roselli

12.2.11

Travellin' Thru

Travellin' Thru (Dolly Parton)
Well I can't tell you where I'm going, I'm not sure of where I've been
But I know I must keep travelin' till my road comes to an end
I'm out here on my journey, trying to make the most of it
I'm a puzzle, I must figure out where all my pieces fit

Like a poor wayfaring stranger that they speak about in song
I'm just a weary pilgrim trying to find what feels like home
Where that is no one can tell me, am I doomed to ever roam
I'm just travelin', travelin', travelin', I'm just travelin' on

Questions I have many, answers but a few
But we're here to learn, the spirit burns, to know the greater truth
We've all been crucified and they nailed Jesus to the tree
And when I'm born again, you're gonna see a change in me

God made me for a reason and nothing is in vain
Redemption comes in many shapes with many kinds of pain
Oh sweet Jesus if you're listening, keep me ever close to you
As I'm stumblin', tumblin', wonderin', as I'm travelin' thru

I'm just travelin', travelin', travelin', I'm just travelin' thru
I'm just travelin', travelin', travelin', I'm just travelin' thru

Oh sometimes the road is rugged, and it's hard to travel on
But holdin' to each other, we don't have to walk alone
When everything is broken, we can mend it if we try
We can make a world of difference, if we want to we can fly

Goodbye little children, goodnight you handsome men
Farewell to all you ladies and to all who knew me when
And I hope I'll see you down the road, you meant more than I knew
As I was travelin', travelin', travelin', travelin', travelin' thru

I'm just travelin', travelin', travelin', I'm just travelin'
Drifting like a floating boat and roaming like the wind
Oh give me some direction lord, let me lean on you
As I'm travelin', travelin', travelin', thru

I'm just travelin', travelin', travelin', I'm just travelin' thru
I'm just travelin', travelin', travelin', I'm just travelin' thru

Like the poor wayfaring stranger that they speak about in song
I'm just a weary pilgrim trying to find my own way home
Oh sweet Jesus if you're out there, keep me ever close to you
As I'm travelin', travelin', travelin', as I'm travelin' thru


Source: Stanley, Ralph, and Duncan Tucker. Transamerica: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack. S.l.: Nettwerk Productions, 2006. Sound recording.

11.2.11

Washington Square Park

Washington Square Park, New York City, 2010
Washington Square Park is like a postage stamp of New York City. It is opened up by a grand arch that honors George Washington. Fifth Avenue rams into the park at once — and then voilà, you're in what New Yorkers call Greenwich Village. Nineteenth-Century row houses line the Fifth Avenue side while New York University's campus buildings line the opposite side. When I was a graduate student at the New School for Social Research I spent many hours in Bobst Library — it is the largest building to border the square. The square itself is filled with life — chess players, performers, homeless, and groups proclaiming a cause. Sometimes I imagine what it would be like if a subway line ran underground through the park and you could alight on a train from the fountain. And I do love the fountain. In the Summertime, you can step inside it, feel refreshed, take your shoes off and watch the zest of bodies, of allegria, of life.

10.2.11

Aesthetic Thursdays: Dionysos Holds a Theater Mask

Terra-Cotta Mixing Bowl, Dionysos and Young Pan, 410-390 B.C., Metropolitan Museum of Art
The mixing bowl depicted above was probably made in Greek occupied southern Italy in the 5th century B.C. The bowl was used to mix wine for the celebration of the feast of Dionysos, the god of the theater. Dionysos stands opposite a young Pan who pours water into a mixing bowl. 

Dionysos holds a mask. Masks were used by actors on stage to personate the roles they played. In this piece, Dionysos appears to hold a mask of himself. The mask he holds is identical to the artistic representation of his face. Dionysos wears the person of the character he personates. His mask is his person. To personate means to wear the person of someone. Person derives from the Greek word for "mask." To personate is to wear a mask. Personation is the act of personating. In an obsolete usage, a personation is also the mask itself. So we could say that Dionysos holds his own personation.

8.2.11

Stanley Cavell on the Aesthetic Autonomy of the Photographic Image


"Photography overcame subjectivity in a way undreamed of by painting, a way that could not satisfy painting, one which does not so much defeat the act of painting as escape it altogether: by automatism, by removing the human agent from the task of reproduction."
Stanley Cavell, The World Viewed

Source: Cavell, Stanley. The World Viewed : Reflections on the Ontology of Film. New York: Viking Press, 1971. Print.

7.2.11

View from the K-Mart Adjacent to the Astor Place Subway Station (6 Train)

View from K-Mart (6 train), New York City, 2011
If you enter the K-Mart at Astor Place in downtown Manhattan, go to the lower level and you can see there is an entrance to the Astor Place subway station. Get your essentials and hop on the local Lexington Avenue line. Caveat: the K-Mart is only accessible on southbound trains, though. If you are going uptown you will have to forgo this convenient lifehack.

4.2.11

30 Ways to say "Sheep Skin"

Thanks to a tag on a sheepskin rug sold at Ikea in Hicksville, New York, one can easily learn to say "peau de mouton" in thirty languages.
"Sheep Skin" in 30 Languages

3.2.11

Aesthetic Thursdays: Tony Feher


Art is fixated on its medium. Tony Feher has draped the walls and floor of the Pace Gallery in Chelsea with vinyl tubes filled with food coloring. Typical of contemporary art, Feher eschews traditional media and instead uses cheaply bought vinyl tubing and dye. Is it art? Well, if art is what is deemed sacred: no one stepped on the tubes during my recent visit. The Next On Line Exhibit runs till February 12th.

2.2.11

Two Photographs Taken From In And Around Long Island City in the Borough of Queens

Queens Queensboro Bridge Peaks Over Building in Long Island City, Queens
New York City Taxi Cab Lot in Long Island City.