January 26, 2013
The Grolier Club in Manhattan is an old society of bibliophiles that occupies a remodeled townhouse in midtown. I don’t know what their daily business is, but they put on some wonderful free exhibits, including one on Wunderkammers that closes soon.
These ‘rooms of wonder’ were the forerunners of our museums, particularly museums of natural history, and the exhibit documents their place in the Europe of the Enlightenment. It also includes two color volumes from the catalog of Albertus Seba’s collection, perhaps the most magnificent such publication. I have a copy of the one-volume Taschen full-size facsimile of the book, and it is a favorite of mine: I never tire of paging through it. The alligator below is from the facsimile; the original is on display at the Grolier. Always wonderful to see the real thing.
By chance, a second, upstairs exhibit began the day I was there, and it illustrated the history of microscopy, mostly with printed matter, but a few antique microscopes were also on display. There was a beautiful copy of Robert Hooke’s seminal publication on display, opened to his most famous illustration, a large-scale drawing of a flea. I have a copy of the book as a high quality Adobe PDF which has the advantage of letting me page through it in its entirety. What a shock of recognition and revelation this book must have been to the fortunate few who read it in the 17th century!
October 5, 2012
This woman’s son was shot by police when they pulled him over after he allegedly cut them off on a NYC highway. Everyone in the car, including an off-duty police officer, was unarmed. The NYPD has offered no explanation for why the officer fired the fatal bullet.
This sort of thing seems to happen a lot in NYC, and the victims are usually black or Hispanic.
The two police trucks forced Mr. Polanco to stop after one truck went in front of the Honda while the second truck maneuvered behind. After the car stopped, along a median of the busy highway, two officers approached the car, a sergeant at the driver’s side and the detective at the passenger’s side where the windows were open, the police said.
Ms. Deferrari later told the police that she had heard the officers order those inside the car to show their hands. In an interview, she said that Mr. Polanco had no time to comply and that, in that instant, the detective, Hassan Hamdy, 39, fired the shot. Ms. Deferrari said she believed the shooting was the result of a case of police road rage.
No weapons were found inside Mr. Polanco’s car, the police said.
Complete newspaper article here. Does shooting someone like this count as police ‘brutality’ I wonder..?
October 2, 2012
I discussed the appalling actions of the New York Police Department at the Republican National Convention in 2004 in an earlier post, much earlier… Today, the Times reports that a judge ruled the behavior of the police illegal. Oh…not all of it. They were within their rights to fingerprint the people they arrested, a fact that their spokesman trumpeted loudly. Only problem is that the arrests themselves were illegal.
August 15, 2011
A quick subway trip uptown to indulge my preoccupation with shoes and whatnot (I’m heading out for a ten-day vacation abroad, and I want my feet, the man-earth interface, properly shod) and I find myself debouching from the R-Train right on Lower Broadway, across from one of my favorite NYC buildings! It’s called the Little Singer Building to distinguish it from the skyscraper, for a while, the world’s highest, that is no longer with us. A blast from the past of consumer culture, right out of Paris: the curving Art Nouveau ironwork brings to mind Galeries Lafayette, the great 19th century department store. (More on the buildings here and here.)
Walking around the area puts one in the center of the tourist, chi-chi, consumer maelström, and it can be overwhelming, but I soldier on. As I put on my own consumer hat, I chuckle at the thought of my current reading, a fabulous study of the origins and nature of consumer culture. The Romantic Ethic and the Spirit of Modern Consumerism is a rich and complex analysis that takes off from Weber and ends up at the mall. The author disposes of the simplistic explanations of consumerism – instinct, manipulation by élite conspiracy, or variations on Veblenesque emulation – and locates the origins of our culture in the latter 18th century (Not much controversy there, think Josiah Wedgewood and his factory, embodying Adam Smith’s dicta on the division of labor. The two were friends, and Darwin later married into the family. So many cultural cross-currents at that point in time and space!) and links the ‘spirit’ of our consumerist age to the mutations of protestant theology and the cult of sentimentality. His argument is brilliant – not sure if I’m convinced yet, but his approach to the questions is the best I have ever come across.
The book is not for casual reading as it is assumes a wide knowledge of 18th century European, especially British, culture, and it makes a very involved and dense argument about religion and culture. I will try to post a summary of it once I have finished it and digested it somewhat. Meanwhile, I consume, calm in the knowledge that I must be of my Age, even if I repudiate its values in many ways. “I shop, therefore I am,” may not apply to me, but shop I must.
March 21, 2011
The grid of streets in Manhattan is celebrating its 200th birthday this week. The urban grid itself has a much longer history than that, of course, going back at least as far as the Greek settlement in Turkey at Miletus.
Evacuation zones are on the minds of many who are watching developments at the Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan: A map of similar zones for NJ was published in several newspapers recently. An article in today’s Times indicates that these cartographies of danger are more fantasy than reality. Not in the sense that the dangers are not real, but in that the ‘plans’ associated with the maps are infeasible.
Which leads me back to a more benign example of zones of influence that is similar in form, but different in intent from these buffer zones of horror – personal space.
…her fame had spread itself to the very out-edge and circumference of that circle of importance, of which kind every soul living, whether he has shirt on his back or no,-has one surrounding him…But I must here, once for all, inform you, that all this will be more exactly delineated and explained in a map, now in the hands of the engraver, which with many other pieces and developments of this work,will be added to the end of the twentieth volume…
from The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne
October 8, 2010
A video I created as a summer student at NYU using 5-inch tape reels and a very heavy recorder with a bulky camera. Editing resources were extremely crude. I’ve cleaned it up a bit, but the quality suffers from thirty years of sitting in a crate.
Music by Saint-Saens. My world.
September 18, 2010
In 18th century landscape architecture, a folly is a whimsical, usually ornamental building often in a rather outlandish style set in a garden. The British were particularly fond of them.
In an earlier post, I remarked on a different sort of folly related to the rebuilding of the WTC site. Today, the business columnist in the NYTimes, Joe Nocera, has an excellent analysis of the absurdity underlying the Freedom Tower now rising at the site. All this in a town and country that prides itself on hard-headed economic analysis in the context of the free market. I wonder how the local Tea Party members will feel if they have to pay more to cross the bridges in order to foot the bill for this folly.
A view of the behemoth rising outside my office window: