Pinhole and Not

November 1, 2017

old books POS

It was a dull, cloudy day out, so even with some lights turned on, this interior shot was exposed for about 9,000 seconds; that’s two and one-half hours.  🙂  The aperture is 0.2mm and the focal length is 0.9″ for an f-stop of about 114.  My collection of first editions of illustrated copies of Voltaire’s Candide and E. A. Poe’s The Adventure of Arthur Gordon Pym are hardly legible.  😦


This is the image I should have taken with my pinhole camera yesterday at The Cloisters!  But it was made with my iPad.

Romantic, sublime… ironic?

March 14, 2010

Ah, back to one of my favorite hobbyhorses – Man & Nature!  Over at the civilized roundtable hosted by Man_of_Roma, there was a little exchange about irony and nature, apropos of religion.  Personally, I see little irony in the relationship of man and nature (if we can just sort out what that relationship is…) other than the fact that we humans are so smart, yet so blind at the same time.  We insist on thinking that the universe somehow cares about us, or is, at least, cognizant of us.  That something is out there that …um…well, thinks about us.

I don’t think so at all. Voltaire, such a clever fellow, was shocked, yes shocked, that God, if he exists, could destroy such a fair city as Lisbon with all its innocent inhabitants. (Is that ironic.  I mean, didn’t he read any history?)  Rousseau was more phlegmatic in his response, and he’s considered the blustering romantic.  (Another irony?  Note, they are all cultural ironies.)  I’ve posted about their exchange of ideas on the Lisbon tsunami/earthquake here.

Here in my town, we had a little bit of Nature’s irony last night.  A ripping storm moved through with terrific winds, knocking down 150 trees in in Teaneck alone.  (Amazing – our power didn’t go out for once!) I’ve posted pictures from this morning below.

Two people were killed last night by a falling tree or power lines.  They were out walking.  Why?  Could they have been members of the sizable orthodox Jewish community in town?  They have to walk to and from temple on Saturday.  Killed performing their duty to God?  Is that ironic?  Would a pagan have acted thus, or would they have stayed put in their home, and made some small burnt offerings?  I guess if you’re orthodox, this is a little bit of a theodicy problem – how could God permit this to happen to people carrying out his will?  (Who knows – maybe it will turn out they were atheists out boozing – I haven’t heard for sure.)

Ah yes, the trees!  Trees are so good!  Protect trees, be green.  No, trees kill!  Trees are the instrument of evil Nature!  Or is it the weather, the storms?  Whom, what do we blame?

We plant hundreds of trees in town to keep up property values, make streets look nice, lower temperatures, preserve that smalltown American look, but we crowd the trees into little spaces so their roots can’t develop well.  Another irony here?  The unintended effect – death, disruption, property damage – from a beneficial action, planting trees.  Shall we cut down all the trees?  Then we would be safe!  Or, as Jean Jacques observed, if we did not insist on living in such close proximity to one another, falling trees would hardly be such a problem.

Please don’t think I’m heartless and cruel – I sympathize with those residents who have to deal with the fear and aftermath of a storm that blows huge trees into their houses, and of course, I’m not happy to see people killed to prove a point.  But, I could go on, it entertains me so . . .the ideas that is…

Candide forever!

December 2, 2009

By chance, I stumbled upon a notice for a talk about Voltaire’s Candide, that was part of this series.  Since it’s one of my favorite books (I buy a copy whenever I see it) I decided to risk an immersion, however brief, into the world of literary academe, to which I said goodbye so many years ago.  I can say right off that I learned something important – the speaker also curated this exhibit which I will certainly visit now that I know of it!

The talk was about the processes by which a work of literature becomes part of the canon, the received wisdom of cultural propriety as Flaubert might have said.  The speaker was particularly interested in how a work, especially a successful one, gets entangled in the web of prefaces, afterwords, copies, satires, imitations, rip-offs, corrupt versions, “bad readings,” and just how THE WORK gets pulled out of all this onto the hallowed shelf of really Great Books.  Rather arcane, but who knew that Candide had so many spurious sequels?  And what could be more fun than reading, as she said, the  “18th century pseudo-philosophy” in these various texts? I’m sure they are not available in translation, so I’ll pass on that one.

By coincidence, I just got my copy, used of course, of one of the later paperback editions of Candide, the Penguin Deluxe Edition, that has a cover drawn by Chris Ware of comic book glory.  In keeping with the theme of re-productions, translations, transpositions, and such, this edition has a condensed version of the entire story, in comic book form, on the front and back covers – is this a first?  Two books for the price of one?  A book within a book?  Can you judge this one by it’s cover?  Will the real Candide please stand up!

Of course, these days, a work has only to be produced to become something else, perhaps its opposite.  Movies become “books,” become comics, pop songs, and the other way ’round.  Old books turned into old movies are remade, the books republished with the movie stars on the cover – an endless merry go ’round of meaning and farrago of nonsense.  Think of Planet of the Apes and The Bridge on the River Kwai,  (discussed here) two blockbuster movies adapted from texts by one man, that somehow got their logic inverted.

Candide is, at bottom, a cry of anguish by an intellectual enraged that the world doesn’t accord with his notions of justice – compassion is not much in evidence – but its redemption is its exuberant hilarity.  In the end, I think it was Rousseau (did he have a sense of humor?) who was closer to understanding mankind’s place in the universe – see his exchange of letters (and here) with Voltaire on the Lisbon earthquake/tsunami.

Lisbon Redux

December 27, 2004

News of a great catastrophe, brought on by an oceanic earthquake and tsunami. The same magnitude as the one that hit Lisbon in the late 18th century and prompted the famous exchange between Voltaire and Rousseau about pessimism, optimism, God, meaning, etc. [Read J.J.’s letter here.]

From Voltaire’s poem about the destruction of Lisbon:

But how conceive a God supremely good,
Who heaps his favours on the sons he loves,
Yet scatters evil with as large a hand?

And this from today’s newspaper:

…the underlying story of this tragedy is the overpowering, amoral mechanics of the earth’s surface, the movement of plates that grind and shift and slide against each other with profound indifference to anything but the pressures that drive them….. [These forces] demonstrate, geologically speaking, how ephemeral our presence is.

Bravo! That’s what I call secularism with a capital ‘S’! Three cheers for the Enlightenment! Up with Voltaire. And as for you Mr. J.J. Rousseau, keep your pollyanna fantasies!

Well…, he wasn’t so bad in his letter to Mr. V. He just felt that Voltaire was too, er…negative. Didn’t give one reason to hope. As he said:

If it is not always a misfortune to die, it is only very rarely one to have lived.

Does anyone write that way anymore?! Alas, no.