Grove Press

February 23, 2012

Barney Rosset, the founder and publisher who ran Grove Press, died and is written up in this NYTimes obituary.  I still have my copy, purchased in high school, of The Monk, by Matthew Gregory Lewis.  At the time, as today, I had a taste for gothic excess in literature.  When I say gothic, I mean in the original literary sense:  Vathek, Melmoth the Wanderer, Confessions of a Justified Sinner, and that sort of thing.  The Monk is in a class by itself, however, moving over the line from dark romantic fantasies and frissons into peverse and pornographic lunacy.

Grove is famous for battling the censorious US Postmaster, and winning, in cases involving Lady Chatterlee’s Lover and Tropic of Cancer.  Many got their fill of Divine Marquis by perusing the pages of the fat, brick-like three volumes of de Sade in the bookstore, even if they didn’t buy them to finish at home.

Almost Parallel Lives

November 29, 2011

The dates of their lives were very close, but those lives-not by a long shot!  Both had obituaries in the NYTimes today:

Lana Peters, Stalin’s Daughter, Dies at 85

Shown below in a cuddly pose with the great Russian bear, the Red Tsar, and sitting on the lap of Uncle Laventry (Beria), chief of the secret police, later one of its victims, with papa working for the masses in the background.

Ken Russell, Director Fond of Provocation, Dies at 84

He could be flat-out ridiculous, as in his biopic of Tchaikovsky, The Music Lovers, or brilliantly over-the-top in The Devils.  He was not deterred by being a “punching bag” for some critics:   “I believe in what I’m doing wholeheartedly, passionately, and what’s more, I simply go about my business,” … “I suppose such a thing can be annoying to some people.”

Burn them!

December 11, 2010

Some well-known witch burnings from film.  Carl Dreyer’s 1928 The Passion of Joan of Arc.  Often noted as one of the greatest films in history…and so it must be.  The close-ups are harrowing.  Joan burned at the stake, but in Day of Wrath, Dreyer showed a woman being burned while lashed to a stretcher.

Ingmar Bergman’s stunning 1957 The Seventh Seal features a witch burning too – no stake.  She’s just a young madwoman.  The virtuous knight who plays chess with Death considers killing her executioners and freeing her, but she’s almost dead anyway.  He gives her herbs to dull her pain.  As she dies, the terror in her eyes stimulates a frenzied existentialist rant by the knight’s squire.  The point?  There is nothing.  It was in the air in those days, but this film is no cliché.

Father Urbain Grandier, the subject of Aldous Huxley’s study, The Devil’s of Loudon, was loosely translated into riotous film by Ken Russell’s 1970 The Devils.  The movie is totally over the top, but totally on the mark.  The representation of the spiritual madness of cloistered nuns, walled towns, and the unspeakable brutality of Church ‘trials’ for witchcraft is disturbing.  It’s also comedic at times – can you believe it?  The movie was extremely controversial – contains nude scenes of nuns orgiastically blaspheming, etc. etc. – and still is not ‘officially’ released on DVD.

Down the memory hole!

December 21, 2009

The good old days of airbrushing history away – as Comrade Stalin always liked to say, “No man, no problem!”:


Not so easy anymore, as pointed out in this (unintentionally?) amusing story in the New York Times:  Accenture, as if Tiger Woods Were Never There

A Few of My Favorite (Prohibited) Things

February 18, 2008

auto da fe

After 200 years of religious freedom in America, we have difficulty remembering why our predecessors fought so hard for the separation of church and state. Here I present excerpts from one of my favorite documents in the history of ideas, reprised from a time when church and state were one! I am particularly fond of the prologue to the enumeration of thought-crimes, emphasis is mine.

Faculty of the University of Paris:
The Condemnation of 219 Propositions (1277 A.D).

We have received frequent reports, inspired by zeal for the faith, on the part of important and serious persons to the effect that some students of the arts in Paris are exceeding the boundaries of their own faculty and are presuming to treat and discuss as if they were debatable in the schools, certain obvious and loathsome errors, or rather vanities and lying follies which are contained in the roll joined to this letter. …Lest, therefore, this unguarded speech lead simple people into error, we, having taken counsel with the doctors of Sacred Scripture and other prudent men, strictly forbid these and like things and totally condemn them. We excommunicate all those who shall have taught the said errors or any one of them, or shall have dared in any way to uphold them, or even listen to them, unless they choose to reveal themselves to us or to the chancery of Paris within seven days…Given in the year of the Lord 1276, on the Sunday on which Laetare Jerusalem is sung at the court of Paris [the condemned propositions follow]:

1. That there is no more excellent state than to study philosophy.

2. That the only wise men in the world are the philosophers.

3. That one should not hold anything unless it is self-evident or can be manifested from self-evident principles.

10. That nothing can be known about God except that He is, or His existence.

22. That God cannot be the cause of a newly-made thing and cannot produce anything new.

53A. That an intelligence or an angel or a separated soul is nowhere.

66. That God could not move the heaven in a straight line, the reason being that He would then leave a vacuum.

67. That if the heaven stood still, fire would not burn flax, because God would not exist.

83. That the world, although it was made from nothing, was not newly-made, and, although it passed from nonbeing to being, the nonbeing did not precede being in duration but only in nature.

84. That the world is eternal because that which has a nature by which it is able to exist for the whole future,
has a nature by which it was able to exist in the whole past.

86. That eternity and time have not existence in reality, but only in the mind.

87. That nothing is eternal from the standpoint of its end that is not eternal from the standpoint of its beginning.

89. That is impossible to refute the arguments of the Philosopher [Aristotle] concerning the eternity of the world unless we say that the will of the first being embraces incompatibles.

99. That there is more than one prime mover.

100. That there was no first man, nor will there be a last; indeed, the generation of man from man was and always will be.

188. That it is not true that something comes from nothing or was made in a first creation.

180. That creation is not possible, even though the contrary must be held according to the faith.