2016: Big Storm Light

April Gornik - Big Storm Light (2016)

April Gornik: Big Storm Light (2016)

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1982: Press Operators

Russ Marshall - Press Operators, GM Fisher Body Trim Plant, Fort Street, Detroit, Michigan (1982, printed 1997)Russ Marshall: Press Operators, GM Fisher Body Trim Plant, Fort Street, Detroit, Michigan (1982, printed 1997)

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5650: The Last Day of Manhattan

Winsor McCay - The Spectrophone - The Last Day of Manhattan (New York Herald, Feb 26, 1905)

In 1905, the great comic strip artist Windsor McCay illustrated a series of satiric science fiction vignettes by the prolific author, humorist, and editor John Kendrick Bangs. The series ran in The New York Herald and other newspapers and featured the Spectrophone, a device which allows the user to see into the future.

Bangs extrapolated from the popularity of the phonograph, for example, and has his narrator see that by 1907 Vassar students have replaced their autograph books with collections of voice recordings—and that by 1914 nearly all the volumes in the Boston Public Library have been replaced with audiobooks:

This superb creation of the public spirit of the Hub architecturally still rested upon its present site, but within I found strange changes. Not only were my own books not to be found upon its shelves, but none others of modern authors. Upstairs, where there had once been reading rooms of rare beauty and of studious quiet, were lecture or reading halls in which people were read to Instead of reading for themselves. There was a service of current fiction, but it came no longer from printed pages as of yore, but from large phonographs placed high upon platforms having sounding boards upon them so that no word issuing from the cavernous megaphonic jaws should be lost….Withdrawing my eye from these large literary gatherings, I peered through the corridors of the building and was entertained to observe that for readers desiring books not of the current hour, there had been provided individual phonographs located in alcoves, into which cylinders containing the especial work desired were placed, and which were listened to In rapt attention through the usual insulated wires with rubber nozzle ends connecting the ear drum of the consumer with the cylinder within, exactly as the martial notes of Sousa marches are now conveyed to the public ear by slot machines in railway stations and ferry houses.

Elsewhere, Bang’s audiobooks are distributed by a version of the internet:

Winsor McCay - The Spectrophone - Reading in 1914 (Los Angeles Herald, Feb 26, 1906)

Continue reading

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9th Century: Mandrake

Mandragora - Pseudo-Apuleius - De herbarum medicaminibus (late 9th cent.) Kassel ManuscriptIn that valley which encompasses the city on the north side there is a certain place called Baaras, which produces a root of the same name with itself; its color is like to that of flame, and towards the evenings it sends out a certain ray like lightning. It is not easily taken by such as would do it, but recedes from their hands, nor will yield itself to be taken quietly, until either the urine of a woman, or her menstrual blood, be poured upon it; nay, even then it is certain death to those that touch it, unless anyone take and hang the root itself down from his hand, and so carry it away. It may also be taken another way, without danger, which is this: they dig a trench quite round about it, till the hidden part of the root be very small, they then tie a dog to it, and when the dog tries hard to follow him that tied him, this root is easily plucked up, but the dog dies immediately, as if it were instead of the man that would take the plant away; nor after this need anyone be afraid of taking it into their hands. Yet, after all this pains in getting, it is only valuable on account of one virtue it hath, that if it be only brought to sick persons, it quickly drives away those called demons, which are no other than the spirits of the wicked, that enter into men that are alive and kill them, unless they can obtain some help against them.

—Flavius Josephus: The Wars of the Jews (c. 75 AD)

Illustration from a late 9th century manuscript of De herbarum medicaminibus, a work originally produced in the 4th century and ascribed to the Roman poet and philosopher Apuleius of Madaura; the attribution is spurious, however, so the anonymous author is now know as Pseudo-Apuleius.

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2015: Grid

Victor Hugo Zayas - Grid Series 16 (2015)

Victor Hugo Zayas: Grid Series 16 (2015)

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1909: The Seven Ravens

Arthur Rackham - Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm (1909 edition)

The good little sister took a knife and cut off her own tiny finger, fitted it into the keyhole, and succeeded in opening the lock.

When she had entered, she met a Dwarf, who said: “My child, what are you looking for?”

“I am looking for my brothers, the Seven Ravens,’ she answered.

The Dwarf said: “My masters, the Ravens, are not at home; but if you like to wait until they come, please to walk in.”

Thereupon the Dwarf brought in the Ravens’ supper, on seven little plates, and in seven little cups, and the little sister ate a crumb or two from each of the little plates, and took a sip from each of the little cups, but she let the ring she had brought with her fall into the last little cup.

All at once a whirring and crying were heard in the air; then the Dwarf said: “Now my masters the Ravens are coming home.”

Then they came in, and wanted to eat and drink, and began to look about for their little plates and cups.

But they said one after another: “Halloa! who has been eating off my plate? Who has been drinking out of my cup? There has been some human mouth here.”

And when the seventh drank to the bottom of his cup, the ring rolled up against his lips.

He looked at it, and recognized it as a ring belonging to his father and mother, and said: “God grant that our sister may be here, and that we may be delivered.”

As the maiden was standing behind the door listening, she heard the wish and came forward, and then all the Ravens got back their human form again.

And they embraced and kissed one another, and went joyfully home.

The Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm (1909); illustration by Arthur Rackham

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1941: A Thing of Beauty is a Joy Forever

Russell Lee - Candy stand run by Negro. Southside, Chicago, Illinois (1941) small

Russell Lee: Candy stand run by Negro. Southside, Chicago, Illinois (1941)

A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.

John Keats, Endymion (1818)

The phrase “There’s no place like home” is a line from the song “Home, Sweet Home” from the opera Clari (1823): “’Mid pleasures and palaces though we may roam, / Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home”(words by John Howard Payne and music by Henry Rowley Bishop); it was also famously spoken by Judy Garland in the role of Dorothy in the film version of The Wizard of Oz (1939).

I have cropped the photo. Click on it to see the original. (source)

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1966: Coleslaw

Cole Slaw

From a 1996 essay by Elisabeth Roudinesco, “Lacan and Derrida in the History of Psychoanalysis”:

The first encounter between Lacan and Derrida took place…at a famous symposium held in Baltimore in October 1966, which, under the auspices of the Center for the Humanities at Johns Hopkins University, assembled some of the most prestigious French and American academics in the fields of the human sciences and of the interpretation of literary texts.

At dinner…Derrida raised questions close to his heart, about the Cartesian subject, substance, and the signifier. While eating coleslaw, Lacan replied that his subject was the same as the one proposed by his interlocutor as an alternative to the theory of the subject. In itself, the remark was not false, but Lacan hastened to add: “You can’t bear the fact that I have already said what you want to say.” Derrida responded without missing a beat: “That is not my problem.”

From Peter Salmon’s An Event, Perhaps: A Biography of Jacques Derrida (2020):

Despite teaching at the same institution, and being aware of each other’s work, Lacan and Derrida had not met until they attended a dinner at the Belvedere Hotel in Baltimore. It was at an event hosted by the conference organizers, with Lacan holding, incongruously, a plate of coleslaw. According to one account by Lacan’s biographer, Elisabeth Roudinesco, the pair immediately exchanged terse words on the Cartesian subject, substance and the signifier, with each claiming the primacy of his own position against the other’s, chronologically and intellectually. Derrida’s own recollection is more mundane. Lacan was concerned with more prosaic matters. Editions du Seuil had decided to bring Écrits out in a single volume and he was concerned that the binding might be insufficient, meaning that it could fall to pieces in the reader’s hands. Lacan quizzed Derrida about what he knew of binding and glue. Derrida recalled the conversation — “You’ll see,” he told me as he made a gesture with his hands, “it’s not going to hold up.” Derrida does not relate any advice he may have offered regarding adhesives.

From Cynthia L Haven’s Evolution of Desire: A Life of René Girard (2018):

Lacan came to the conference early, via New York, where he had made a detour to see the Albert C. Barnes Foundation art collection outside Philadelphia. A graduate student, Anthony Wilden, had trekked to New York for the care and feeding of Lacan, whose English was sketchy.

Lacan was high-maintenance. “He wanted his underwear laundered,” said [Johns Hopkins professor Richard Macksey]. “They were silk and he wanted them hand laundered. He wanted this and he wanted that.” The Girards remembered the underwear, too. They laughed as they recalled the graduate student who took Lacan’s silk shirts and knickers to the laundry. He reported later that when the Chinese managers at the cleaners were warned that they were “fancy” and “special” shirts, they responded by wadding them up and throwing them on the floor, putting the snooty customer in his place, in absentia.

From Lacan’s talk at the 1966 conference, “Of Structure as an Inmixing of an Otherness Prerequisite to Any Subject Whatever”:

When I prepared this little talk for you, it was early in the morning. I could see Baltimore through the window and it was a very interesting moment because it was not quite daylight and a neon sign indicated to me every minute the change of time, and naturally there was heavy traffic and I remarked to myself that exactly all that I could see, except for some trees in the distance, was the result of thoughts actively thinking thoughts, where the function played by the subjects was not completely obvious. In any case the so-called Dasein as a definition of the subject, was there in this rather intermittent or fading spectator. The best image to sum up the unconscious is Baltimore in the early morning.

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1980: Burnt House

Robert Gober - Burnt House (1980)

Robert Gober: Burnt House (1980)

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2nd Century: Dodecahedron

DodecahedronThe following entry appears in the 1849 catalog of the miscellaneous collections of the Society of Antiquaries of London:

A singular object of bronze, in form of a hollow dodecahedron…with a ball attached to each angle; each of its pentagonal sides is pierced with a circular opening, the diameters of these perforations increasing gradually from six-tenths to about 1 ½ inch. Each side measures, in diameter, 2 1/5 inches. It was found in May, 1768, at a depth of about 8 feet, on the north side of St. Peter’s Church, Carmarthen. Several pieces of copper, curiously laid in flag-bricks, were found at the same time, but they crumbled to dust….A similar bronze dodecahedron, found with copper coins at Aston, in Hertfordshire, in a field called Hagdale, was exhibited to the Society by Mr. North, June 28, 1739….A third, resembling these, but of smaller size, and without balls at the angles, found near Fishguard, was sent by the Rev. Edward Harries of Llandysilio, Pembrokeshire, March 12, 1846.

Since Mr. North’s 1739 discovery, 116 pieces of similar dodecahedra have been found across Europe. They date generally to the Roman Empire—the second, third, and fourth centuries AD. They have been found in riverbeds, military camps, public baths, a theater, a tomb, a hoard, a temple, and in a filled well

Although dozens of theories have been put forth regarding the purpose and use of these objects, there is nothing close to a consensus. The dodecahedron has been seen as an amulet; the head of a mace or scepter; a measuring device; a rangefinder; a calibration gauge; an astronomical or fortune-telling device; a candle-holder; a military symbol; a toy; and a magical item. Evidence points away from some of these theories: they are not standard sizes and bear no signs or numbers, so it seems unlikely they were measuring devices; they do not roll well due to the soldered-on knobs, so they were not dice.

Scholars find no mention of them in ancient texts, and even precise dating is difficult since most of them were not found in archaeological excavations.

It is notable that, although found as far north as Hadrian’s Wall and as far east as Szőny in Hungary, none have been found in other parts of the Roman Empire—Italy, Africa, or present-day Spain.

The one pictured is housed in the Hunt Museum in Limerick, Ireland.

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