The Meaning of EverythingThe Story of the Oxford English
Winchester has given us a smasher here. Who would ever, in their right mind, think that the history of the 54 years it took them to create the first Oxford English Dictionary would be such a treat? We're talking of a delightful précis of a project of several lifetimes, where several of the editors up and died before their work was done.
The early years were consumed with agony and backbiting. The Philological Society of London thought up the project, and the first editor, Herbert Coleridge turned pale and died after a year on the job. Some time after, the greatest editor of them all, James Murray, drove everyone to distraction by moving ever ... so ... slowly. He decided to publish the dictionary in bits and pieces, the first (A - Ant) with over 8000 words, came out twenty-seven years after work had commenced.
Samuel Johnson set the stage for the OED, for the editors wanted not only all English words included --- and the emphasis is on all --- but that they would be defined and then illustrated with copious quotes. The final 12 volume OED, completed in 1928, carried slightly over 400,000 words, but was illustrated with some 2,000,000 quotes.
Oh the characters that worked on it over the years! Frederick Furnivall, an early editor, loved sculling and pretty young women --- so that during his time of service, he created a Ladies' Sculling Club in West London. Then there were Murray's funny hats, great white beard, and eleven children (all employed in the project at some time in their lives).
One of the thousands of contributors, Fritzeward Hall, spoke nine languages and "wrote every single day ... with sheet after sheet of proofs, corrected, changed, closely read and carefully parsed." William Chester Minor was a murderer working from his cell at Broadmoor Asylum for the Criminally Insane. (Winchester recently published a book on Minor, called The Professor and the Madman.)
There is J. R. R. Tolkien, employed in 1919 --- mostly concentrating on "W" (warm, wasp, water, wick, wallop, waggle, winter). He said that the time he worked on the OED he learned more "than any other equal period of my life." In one of the many delightful footnotes to The Meaning of Everything, we are told that Tolkien "found sufficient evidence for the existence of the strange expression the right to wallop one's own nigger to prepare a slip for it: but his seniors at the Dictionary thought it too offensive (and insufficiently illustrative) and so did not use it."
Learning to Fall
The Blessings of an Imperfect Life
(Bantam)Author Simmons is obviously someone we'd want to know --- smart, writerly, open-minded. He's also someone who got a terrible draw of the cards. Still, as I read and re-read his words, I kept feeling that there was something awry. It may have something to do with the implied premise that there is a God in Heaven and that he sends down bad things to teach us to be good. The plague, boils, ALS, terrible sickness, decay, aging --- all these serve a higher purpose: to bring us closer to the divine.
Simmons denies this, says, "Rhyme and reason, after all, are human values, not divine ones." But then, "Thank God for the sunset pink clouds over Red Hill," he says, "but also for the mosquitoes I must fan from my face while watching the clouds. To thank God for broken bones and broken hearts, for everything that opens us to the mystery of our humanness."
Now I'm never one to fault another man's divine. We have to cling to whatever life raft they leave behind in the icy waters when the boat goes down. But this old Testament stuff does try one's patience. Largely, I believe, because it has the faintest aroma of pollyanna.
I think the fault of all this lies not with the divine, but with the syllogism. Simply stated, Simmons' premise is,
- I have [a disease, a woe, a travail].
- Thus I am suffering.
- We are all going to suffer sometime.
- This suffering has a purpose, because
- Suffering is part of the handiwork of the divine to teach us grace, or, better --- how to fall with grace.
I should like to put forth what might be a more user-
- I have [a disease, a woe, a travail].
- I am suffering but this suffering probably doesn't mean squat.
- It will not make me wiser or nicer or more humane or more wonderful.
- Nor does it have to make me more bitter, wrathful, depressed, or suicidal.
- Also, we can't blame all this on the divine: the divine don't work that way.
- He (or she or it) may have set the whole merry-go-
round in motion, but he (or she or it) is not involved in our day-to-day.
- Especially with questions of pain, misery, suffering, and death. (As John Cage said, they're there "merely to thicken the broth.")
Whatever You Do, Don't Run
True Tales of a Botswana Safari Guide
(The Lyons Press)Even those of us who don't care for hyenas and ground hornbills, Whatever You Do is a fascinating ramble, loaded with facts. A reserve is not a zoo, so "we did not feed them, stroke them, or stand next to them for photographs." (Exception to this last noted above.) "All we did is watch them live and die." And do other things. Like try to steal meals off the tables and out of the trash-cans at the camp. Or show their asses ... zebras (we learn) are notorious rump flashers.
Or piss. We get to see a giraffe pissing, and "the stream came thick and gooey."
I explained to the group that giraffes are at their most vulnerable to lions when they lean down to drink, so they do everything they can to conserve water --- including a biological process that leaves their piss thick and honeylike.
We learn not to pick up snakes, especially pythons. They have "curved and jagged daggers of teeth." When they crap, and they do if you touch them, "the stink was overwhelming. There is something about a six-month digestive process that really gets a pong going." Their preferred method of getting rid of you is to strangle you. I won't tell you how Allison finally got untangled from a ten-footer that he was silly enough to pick up.
Elephants, as he reiterates, are one of his favorites. He tells us that Salvadore's tusks, so named because they were reminiscent of Salvadore Dali's mustache, are used to "dig up roots, peel bark from trees, and lazily rest her trunk upon."
The elephants are the high-point of the book. As I have indicated, I don't put elephants in the wild (or leopards, or water buffalo, or hippopotamus, or wart-hogs and honey badgers or any of those exotic creatures) high on my list of requiring a trip to Botswanaland in my declining years. Still, Allison's report on the birth of an elephant, evidently a community event in the elephant world (and a rare sight for humans to see) made him and the clients moist.
The Making of a Tropical Disease
A Short History of Malaria
Randall M. Packard
(Johns Hopkins)Randall M. Packard is another of those well-meaning historians who is interested in informing us but, in the process, puts the reader into a narcoleptic twilight zone. I am quite a fan of books on the earth's scourges (disease, war, madness, greed, fundamentalist Baptists) but I insist on being entertained while I am being instructed, even on the most horrific details.
The facts of malaria are well known, interesting, and can be woven into a fascinating history if you are a Hans Zinsser or a J. W. Howarth. Unfortunately, if you are a Randall Packard, the story of malaria becomes a sloughing contest, sloughing the poor reader through countless, repetitive facts to get to a muddled, inconclusive ending.
It doesn't have to be so, and there are facts that manage, somehow, to escape the author's miasma. We know that malaria is caused by mosquito bites even though that is a misnomer. Mosquitoes don't bite you; they stab you; then they spit into your capillaries before sucking your blood; thus, the source of infections like malaria, yellow fever and dengue is mosquito spit.
As Packard rightly indicates, malaria is caused by poverty, poor sanitation, deforestation, overcrowding, and cows, horses, pigs, and goats (farm animals attract blood-sucking insects, which by feeding on them, causes more mosquitoes to appear). There are charts in The Making of a Tropical Disease that give some strange correlations. One graph pits the rate of malaria infection vs. foreign aid offered to Third World countries (p. 170). We might intuit that one: less aid, more disease.
More startling is the ratio between mortality and the price of cotton in the Mississippi Delta (p. 74). "While the conditions under which sharecroppers lived were generally poor, they became worse when cotton prices bottomed out."
As the price of cotton fell, sharecroppers' ability to maintain their homes, feed their families, and acquire medicines when sick declined.
Even more tragically, when Americans get their dander up about local politics, deaths can rise exponentially. "Socialist tendencies by the Sri Lankan government led the United States to withdraw foreign aid from the country in 1963."
At the time Sri Lanka had all but eradicated malaria, with 6 reported cases in the entire year. Over the next five years, malaria exploded upward, reaching 1 million cases by 1968.
We punished India the same way in 1972 for "entering into a friendship treaty with the Soviet Union. Malaria cases went from less than a million to seven million by 1976."
(Norton)We always heard that Marx was a humorless drudge, the equivalent of a computer geek, slaving away in the British Museum Reading Room. Nonsense. He was a merry one, or at least as merry as one could be --- having been born in dreary Trier, Germany.
He was a dynamite speaker, especially when there was a brouhaha amongst his fellow rabble-rousers, as there usually was. He could round up the troops, get anything he wanted passed when he was running, say, the International Working Men's Association.
And he was wonderful at insults. Arnold Ruge, he said,
stands in the German revolution like the notices seen at the corner of certain streets: "It is permitted to pass water here."
A rowdy, loudmouthed and extremely confused little mannequin whose life-motto came from Rameau's Nephew --- I would rather be an impudent windbag than nothing at all.
After he started Das Kapital, he was forever and a day promising to deliver the manuscript to the publishers, forever and a day putting it off. He had bad liver, pains here and there, and boils so terrible that he often couldn't sit to work. These carbuncles gave a colorful edge to his work. When he delivered Das Kapital to his German publishing house, the manuscript had blood all over it. Engels had to lacerate one of his more pernicious boils, sited on his...well, don't ask; I won't tell.
He and Frederick Engels were a pair. They used to go pub-hopping along Tottenham Court Road. There were eighteen pubs, and they vowed to visit each and every one. By the time they got to the last, they were drunk enough that they began to throw cobblestones at streetlights --- until the police came running. To avoid being caught, they ducked down alleys and jumped over fences like a couple of rowdy schoolboys. O these kids!
We're All Doing Time
(Human Kindness Foundation)
Bo Lozoff has written a book for prisoners, and it is a good one indeed. The writing is simple, wise, direct; it overflows with honesty. The book came out of the Prison-Ashram Project started by Ram Dass --- and it is subtitled (correctly) "A Guide for Getting Free," and the freedom described can be within or without. It is in no way preachy, or arrogant, or "we're- up- here- and- we're- gonna- help- you- down- there." It is an honest recounting of the methods that one can use to get free while one is in the most unfree place in American society. It makes no excuses for the specific methodology it offers to those who are, after all, in a violent war zone:
Going to prison is one more opportunity to come closer to Truth, God, Self, Freedom --- whatever we want to call it. Prison life is so negative and intense, prisoners sometimes get the chance to work out karma and build strength in a period of months that might have taken fifty years on the streets, if they could have done it at all. What a blessing!
This is the tone of the whole book. Grace, godliness, and the topsy-turvy concept that being in prison can contrarily be considered "good fortune." After all, says Lozoff --- where else can we get all our bodily needs taken care of, and have a regular schedule each day to work on our spirituality. The assumption --- the key assumption --- of this book is the very existence of the holiness that each of us holds within ourselves. Such Grace is hidden from us by our ignorance, but it can be accessed by meditation, by touching "the blue pearl" within. As part of the process, one has to leave behind violence, hate, anger, superiority, cruelty. Once one has the courage to embark on such a course --- either inside or outside the joint --- freedom is one, but not the only, dividend.
We're All Doing Time is divided in three parts. The first is an overview of prison and spirituality. Number Two --- "Getting Free" --- introduces the reader to Yoga and diet and breathing and the chakras. Book Three consists of letters sent to Bo by prisoners all over the country. Lozoff has been working on this project for many years now --- and he publishes here material, including letters of praise, of questioning, of triumph, of hope, of hopelessness, of terror --- gathered from his correspondents.
And there are, too, the chilling letters:
In April of l974, eleven men entered my home in Portland, Oregon, raped my 17-year-old wife, who was three months pregnant at the time, then threw her four stories out our apartment window. You see, I had been running drugs and guns for some people out of Nevada. My wife had asked me to stop so I tried to get out but they said no. On my next run I kept the goods I was to deliver and told them I'd turn it over to the feds if they tried causing me any trouble.
They went to our house, after beating her and realizing she really didn't know where I put the stuff, they gang-raped her and threw her out the window. By some freak accident she lived for several months after that, long enough to tell me who most of the eleven were. She committed suicide while in a state mental institution, as her body was so crippled up from the fall, she had lost all hope and just wanted to die. In August of 1974, I went after the eleven guys who did it and caught nine of them in several different states. I was unable to complete my death mission and get the last two because I got caught here in Idaho...
Emanuel Swedenborg's Journal of Dreams
Wilson van Dusen, Editor
What is particularly fascinating about Journal of Dreams is not so much Swedenborg's night visions, for most people's dreams are so personal as to be almost meaningless. Rather, it is the editor's excellent understanding of the dream process. In fact, Van Dusen's Introduction is one of the best primers extant on how dreams occur, what they mean for the individual, and how one should look at them. Because he is so eloquent --- as eloquent we think, as Emanuel Swedenborg, and a hell of a lot less daffy --- one can see a system of dream-vision which makes sense to the average reader.
Once you get used to the peculiar language of dreams they become a personal guidance system with a superior overview of the nature of one's own life. As a clinical psychologist, understanding my own dreams is a prerequisite for working on a client's dreams... Dreams are valuable guidance system. Should I be in error with Swedenborg's dreams, I would expect my own personal guidance system to tell me so. I need my own dreams to monitor my understanding of his. This might surprise you. But when you are working on something, especially when it is close to your life concerns, your dreams will tell you how well you are doing.
As some of the rest of us have discovered over the years, dreams are a feedback system, and a very sensible one. The key is learning one's own code. Dreams are a part of the brain communicating with another part of the brain, an interior movie house, free but without popcorn. At night, we are allowed to watch the fireworks, all created by us. Words are not the medium of dream communication --- rather, it's pictures, with a rich system of personal symbols:
Dreams are mostly composed of dramatic pictorial representations... its natural mode of thought is this dramatic language of correspondences --- dramatic because it is inclined to make statements by showing actual incidents involving us. It speaks in terms of dramatic events which correspond to elements in the inner life and the experience of the person.
He refers to the source of dreams as "the dream maker" (Nabokov referred to it as "the Dream Machine.") Dreams, Van Dusen says, are a function of free will. The Dream Maker presents curious incidents that we can "try to figure out or not," as we wish. The Dream Maker is "in a position to know all the memories, experiences, hopes and fears of the dreamer." Thus he (or she, or it) is a cool and unbiased commentator on our days and lives --- something necessary for our personal balance and adjustment. (In experiments, it has been found that if people were woken constantly to prevent dreams, the subjects turned a bit psychotic.)
Margaret Mead, Gregory Bateson, and Highland Bali
Fieldwork Photographs of Bayung Gedé, 1936-1939
(University of Chicago)Gregory Bateson and Margaret Mead moved to Bali in 1936, and stayed for three years. They were there to study the culture in the village of Bayung Gedé --- but Bateson being Bateson, was primarily interested in madness, conflict, and conflict resolution. (He referred to it as "schismogenesis.")
Problem was, the Balinese were and still are disinterested in conflict. When there was a problem, Mead stated that the Balinese "simply refuse to perceive" something strange or intrusive, because
they close their eyes and say "I don't understand..." They are the least responsive people, I think, I have ever known...They seem to me to have no affective attachment to anyone.
Thus, she claimed, the only way they "kept the peace among some 800,000 people on this little island," was by their "lack of emotional responsiveness." In the present shrink world, Mead's take on things is sometimes referred to as "a delusional psychological projection."
Outside of misreading the culture, Bateson and Mead took several thousand photographs of daily life of the Balinese. Some two hundred are included in this volume. One would not call them art per se --- but they are a visual portrayal of a culture which others have found to be artistic to the core with their exquisite music, their sense of design, and their gentle spiritual beliefs.
§ § §The Derrida ReaderThis Derrida is a regular Hoover vacuum cleaner of ideas and pardoxes. For instance, from The Memoirs of the Blind, he begins with an experience of temporary blindness that he had while in Paris --- an attack of frigore --- and moves on from that to a general meditation on vision (or the lack of it). As he sweeps us along, we suck up ideas like these:
Julian Wolfreys, Editor
(University of Nebraska)
- Blinking is "the breath" of sight;
- The medical tools to investigate blindness are all sound --- "the play of waves and echoes...if you hear what I mean;"
- Healing is a "resurrection;"
- After regaining his sight, he and his collegues meet at the Louvre, and it hits him that the theme of the exhibition is L'ouvre où ne pas voir (The Open Where Not To See);
- Can a blind person keep a journal, a "day-book" --- if he or she cannot see daylight?
- Blindness can be seen as "a filiation of the night that buries Homer and Joyce, Milton and Borges...the great, dead-eyed elders of our literary memory;"
- Ulysses is "haunted by a 'blindman'" so "the Joycean oeuvre cultivates seeing-eye canes;"
- Milton was Borges "rival."
Now for us literary nuts, this is a marzipan of excellent puns, metaphors, and allusions --- all contained on two pages. What makes it work is his breathtaking style. Hear this on Borges' blindness:
For the wound is also a sign of being chosen, a sign that one must know how to recognize in oneself, the privilege of a destination, an assigned mission: in the night, but the night itself. To call upon the great tradition of blind writers, Borges thus turns round an invisible mirror. He sketches at once a celebration of memory and self-portrait. But he describes himself by pointing to the other blind man, to Milton, especially to the Milton who authored that other self-portrait, Samson Agonistes.
Derrida then goes on to quote Borges on Milton, "He destroyed his sight writing pamphlets in support of the execution of the king by Parliament. Milton said that he lost his sight voluntarily, defending freedom."
There's a decided breathlessness in Derrida, a minefield (I almost wrote "mindfield") with enough visionary --- if you will pardon the expression --- insights to found a thousand PhD theses. It reminds me of the first time I picked up Bradley on Shakespeare, or David Reisman's The Lonely Crowd, or Marshall McLuhan's Understanding Media, or a current dynamite book on the perils of statism --- Seeing Like a State by the political scientist James C. Scott
A Frozen Hell
Winter War Of 1939 - 40
William R. Trotter
(Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill)The stories within a major story of a war are what makes for interesting history. Whether it is Tacitus, Clauswitz, Churchill, Fussell, Ward, or Trotter --- what holds the reader are the details. Here we have Baron Carl Gustav Mannerheim, who was one of the last of the dying breed of European nobleman commanders, one who was comfortable in at least five languages (except Finnish). At a meal with the German military,
a German officer produced a cigar and asked if it would bother the Marshal if he smoked it. Mannerheim fixed the Wehrmacht officer with a gaze...and cut him dead by replying evenly: "I don't know. No one has ever tried it."
War in the wilds of Finland is not something to be taken lightly. The Russian army arrived in dark uniforms driving typical camouflage colored tanks that could easily be seen against the snow. The grease that worked for other wars in other lands --- for example, against the Japanese in Manchuria --- froze in the barrels of their guns in the sub-zero temperatures. (The secret that took them some time to figure out was to mix the grease with gasoline).
Something as simple as the design of a stove could be vital. The smoke of the Russian kitchens made an ideal target for Finnish riflemen, while the Finns themselves developed a smokeless stove. Sometimes the Russian soldiers were so hungry that they stopped military action at the moment that they overran a Finnish kitchen, creating a "sausage war." In counterattack, the Finns practically destroyed the now well-fed but lethargic battalion, and some Russians died still chewing on their wurst.
Russian tactic demanded straight ahead attacks, ignoring the fact that Finland had few roads --- there was no off-roading in the Arctic at that time --- and equipment and men could get jammed up, easy pickings for sharpshooters traveling by skis. Mannerheim had spent a dozen or so years as a commander in the Russian military --- so he knew the strengths and weaknesses of their tactical systems. His counterattacks involved lightning guerrilla raids from first one flank, then the other, keeping them constantly off balance.
With the exception of the Spanish Civil War, --- the Russo - Finnish Winter War was the most highly reported conflict in the western press during the period between WWI and WWII. The Finns were seen as brave and resourceful: heroes the world could relate to. They were also colorful. Kurt Wallenius, in command of the far north theater,
made great copy; he was profane, feisty, and swaggering. His "trademark" for visiting journalists was bare-chested virility, though more than one reporter privately wondered at the sanity of someone who would walk around with his shirt unbuttoned in temperatures of twenty below zero.
The Classic Polar Adventure
Admiral Richard E. Byrd
At times, his descriptions of the solar spectacles, the mirages, the brilliant stars, and the ever-changing auroras reach into the realm of poetry.
"I saw the blank northeastern sky become filled with the most magnificent Barrier coast I have ever seen, true in every line and faced with cliffs several thousand feet tall. A mirage of course. Yet, a man who had never seen such things would have taken oath that it was real. The afternoon may be so clear that you dare not make a sound, lest it fall in pieces." Then,
And on such a day I have seen the sky shatter like a broken goblet, and dissolve into iridescent tipsy fragments --- ice crystals falling across the fade of the sun. And once in the golden downpour a slender column of platinum leaped up from the horizon, clean through the sun's core; a second luminous shadow formed horizontally through the sun, making a perfect cross. Presently two miniature suns, green and yellow in color, flipped simultaneously to the ends of each arm. These are parhelia, the most dramatic of all refraction phenomena; nothing is lovelier.
He concludes: "In the northeast a silver-green serpentine aurora pulsed and quivered gently. In places the Barrier's whiteness had the appearance of dull platinum. It was all delicate and illusive. The colors were subdued and not numerous; the jewels few; the setting simple. But the way these things went together showed a master's touch."
It is what we would call now "a minimalist performance." And in his own way, Byrd was a minimalist; thus he could be seen to be in his element in such a delicate environment.
He was also sloppy. I don't mean in dress and action and speech: no, in those, he was always the perfect English admiral. He was a slob in another way. His preparation for his six months alone was awful.
Like his famous --- and martyred --- predecessor, Robert Falcon Scott, his arrogance damn near killed him. (If you have any doubts of the reasons for Scott's famous and ghastly death, you only have to read his preparations for his journey: horses in a decidedly unhorsey environment; a scow from New Zealand to the Antarctic that was dangerously overloaded; a provisioning that showed a foolish lack of foresight. Scott and several companions died because he was a terrible planner. For proof of this, see The Worst Journey in the World by Apsley Cherry-Garrard.)
The key to Richard Byrd's survival was not to be his sturdy character ... but his gasoline heater. His tiny hut was constructed 10,000 miles away and delivered to Little America, then to the Barrier. But, quite obviously, it was not tested at the site. The doors quickly warped in the icy moisture and would not shut properly.
More ominously, the chimneys for the heating apparatus and the gas-powered "transmitter" were flawed --- so deeply flawed that they continually leaked carbon monoxide into the hut. In any closed space, carbon monoxide can incapacitate not to say kill a person. It is impossible for one to survive this most pernicious gas, CO. It goes directly from the lungs into the bloodstream, binding with oxygen, depriving the body of its single most important survival mechanism.
Within a few weeks of Byrd's self-imposed exile, he was dying. His journal entries telling of his inability to eat, headaches, backaches, dizziness, fainting fits, throwing up --- combined with the brutal cold that would attack fingers, toes, eyes, cheeks, nose and mouth, plus the other horrors of an hostile environment, along with the degradation of a man used to robust mental health.
The recounting of these horrors make up the bulk of Alone --- and, in its own gory way, it makes for fascinating reading. Although we know he is going to make it (he wrote the book four years after) we still come under the spell of a man who is dying, not understanding exactly why he is dying.
Byrd's vigorous but declining efforts to make it through the increasingly dark days without keeling over are combined with his self-destructive need to convince those at the home base that he was really doing fine. All the while. there are his occasional bursts of lovely prose (you can hear your breath freeze as it floats away, making a sound like that of Chinese firecrackers) --- all this makes for a book that is not only exotic, but a gripping adventure tale from the pen of one who knows how to set out a stunning, make-you-not-
want- to-put- it-down story.
Twentieth Century United States Photographers
A Student's Guide
Kristin G. Congdon, Karas Kelley Hallmark
(Greenwood Press)Well, we can certainly see including Ralph Eugene Meatyard and his funny masks, and Lee Friedlander with his slightly off-center faces of supposedly normal people.There could be no doubts about the classicists: Dorothea Lange (Fig. 1) and the other historical figures ... the earliest being Edward Steichen (b. 1879), Edward Weston (1886) and the pioneer of American photography, Alfred E. Neumann --- I mean, Alfred Stieglitz (1864) --- although his shot of Georgia O'Keeffe offered in the book is neither his most memorable nor his most admirable.Margaret Bourke-White turns up with all her repeatable machines, as does Imogen Cunningham with photographs of photographers. The youngest of the seventy-five artists represented in this volume is Anna Gaskell (b. 1969) ... second being Meghan Boody with her rather silly made-up fin de siècle shots of Psycho and Smut.
Some of these folks we've never heard of, have you? There is Martha Rosler who drives around taking shots of freeways and airports yawn. Someone named Joel-Peter Witkin who shows some really weird folk in embrace or on show (he gets three pix; most of the other artists get one).* Jan Groover who is fond of shots of kitchen utensils and who "made a series of digital photographs using a color inkjet printer to create pastel prints."
Each composition is cluttered with items too random not to have been deliberately thrown together: part of a skull, loose bones, a toy horse, a blue plastic wine glass, a cherub, varied fabric swatches and bits of painted and colored paper.The authors have included Maplethorpe, Mann, and Arbus, and why not, even though they are such show-offs. Too, we have Richard Avedon who many professionals scorn but his take on beekeeper Ronald Fischer, naked head and all stingers, is alone well worth the whole opus (too bad it doesn't appear here).
We once learned that Avedon's legal team is always on the alert. In RALPH's predecessor magazine, The Fessenden Review, Douglas Cruickshank reviewed a book of his and devoted a full page to the snap of the beekeeper and quickly got a snotty letter from Avedon's attorney threatening us with mayhem or worse. We promised faithfully never to do him or it again.Twentieth Century United States Photographers is designed for schools, but the editors would have been better advised to let the pictures speak for themselves. William Wegman, the funny dog man, appears here ---his Weimaraner named Man Ray in suit is one of the best of the twenty-seven color shots --- but where is the best human/animal photographer of them all, Weegee? Even Huntington buys Weegees?If a teacher of photography really wants to show the craft to students, he or she should have the students buy their own copy of Contemporary Photographers, edited by Colin Naylor. It was published by Saint James Press. The last edition I have came out in 1988. There is no buffonish commentary, just the facts, ma'am.
For some reason, the writing in U. S. Photographers is so proletarian it makes your teeth hurt, telling us about families or religions or teaching posts that we (and the students) really don't need and shouldn't have to care about. Richard Misrach's picture of the fog rolling over the Golden Gate is a bore; Gordon Parks' shot of a black man, dressed in houndstooth jacket, weeping behind a broken windowpane is a heart-stopper.*When I sent a pre-publication copy of this article to a photographer-nut friend, he responded, "Your bloomers are showing when you admit you've never heard of Joel-Peter Witkin. He's extremely well known, certainly one of the better-known fine arts photographers of the second half of the 20th century."
I still say it's spinach, and I say to hell with it.