I had heard of Edward Hopper before, but it wasn’t until a summer or two after high school, when I was working the overnight shift at a gas station, that I was hooked. I saw his painting “Gas” and was shown how even my lonely hours at BP could become the subject of art. He […]
Take a look through some of the best paintings of Gustave Courbet (1819-1877). Is the general claim true, that in his landscapes, portraits and self-portraits, that what we call modern art, began here? Click on each image to enlarge, or watch the video below.
On 8/26/20, a virtual book launch was held in London to celebrate three new titles published by Dempsey & Windle. As part of the reading I read the following poems: “The Harvest of 1665,” on the harvest following the plague of London in that year “The Historian,” on the execution of Sir Walter Raleigh “Mr […]
Jean-François Millet (1814-1875) was a formative influence on artists as diverse as Salvador Dali and Vincent van Gogh (his famous sower was lifted from Millet). Looking at two dozen or so of his best paintings, I understood why. Click on any image to enlarge:
A post from a few years ago that is worth revisiting: I began this blog in earnest almost six years now, with a post called “Silence in London,” which offered a handful of photos from a recent trip to England. I only made that post, though, because during the trip I left a long comment […]
Many thanks to editor Aaron Berkowitz, who just published my poem about Albert Einstein in The Jewish Literary Journal. Check the poem out, as well as the other fine work there.
Many thanks to Michael Bartholomew-Biggs, for publishing my poem “Caedmon Comes to Singing” in the new issue of Londongrip. Many will remember that Caedmon, who lived in seventh-century Northumbria, is credited with being one of the earliest English poets; I suppose we can all learn from his half-mythic example, of living most of his life […]
Laurie Sheck, “Pompeii” Covered with lapilli we crouch preserved as we were on that first day The last one of our lives Our bodies black marginalia beneath the sky’s unstable searchlight They have unearthed the House of the Fawn the House of the Silver Wedding And the Surgeon’s House Our bread still in our ovens […]
A few years ago, the great historian William H. McNeill died. I still have surprisingly endearing memories of reading his A World History one winter, in the middle crowded New York City Wendy’s, surrounded by high school kids just done with their day, his narrative silencing every one and every thing. His obituary can be […]
Washington August 10 1863 Mr and Mrs Haskell, Dear friends, I thought it would be soothing to you to have a few lines about the last days of your son Erastus Haskell of Company K, 141st New York Volunteers. I write in haste, & nothing of importance—only I thought any thing about Erastus would be […]
from Peter Ackroyd, at the end of his first volume of the history of England: Other forms of continuity are also evident. Modern roads follow the line of old paths and trackways. The boundaries of many contemporary parishes follow previous patterns of settlement, along which ancient burials are still to be found. Our distant ancestors […]
From Oswald Spengler’s Decline of the West, published just over a century ago. Our bad relationship with information and disinformation didn’t start with cable news or Twitter: … Man does not speak to man; the press and its associate, the electrical news-service, keep the waking-consciousness of whole peoples and continents under a deafening drum-fire of […]
from Peter Ackroyd, at the end of his first volume on the history of England: When we look over the course of human affairs we are more likely than not to find only error and confusion. I have already explained, in the course of this narrative, that the writing of history is often another way […]
Manet’s 1862 painting The Old Musician is a great human riddle. Just what everybody is doing here, and why they’re gathered together, is a mystery. Yet it’s a puzzle more emotional than academic. Held in the National Gallery in Washington, D.C., you can read their page about it here, or the Wiki page.
Here, Erik Hornung refutes the old cliché that ancient Egyptian religion was “death obsessed,” or that constructions like the pyramids are nothing more that huge tombs. In fact I can think of few religions both more anxious to deny death and affirm, somehow and some way, the continuation of life: For the Egyptians even […]
The environment in which some of humanity’s first–and still best–works of art, in the cave of Lascaux nearly thirty thousand years ago, is described here by Randall White: Plant materials, especially wood, would have been important fuel for cooking, heating, and light. Again, the excellent preservation at Lascaux indicates that certain species of trees […]
from Steven Mithen’s The Prehistory of the Mind: The evolution of bipedalism had begun by 3.5 million years ago. Evidence for this is found in the anatomy of A. afarensis, and, more dramatically, by the line of australopithecine footprints preserved at Laetoli in Tanzania. The most likely selective pressure causing the evolution of bipedalism was […]
From Mark Cohen’s Under Crescent & Cross: The Jews in the Middle Ages: An aspect of Jewish-gentile sociability under Islam that seems to lack a counterpart in the Jewish-Christian world is the world of shared popular religious practices… particularly in the joint worship of saints. Here, interdenominational religiosity has its basis in the fact that […]
No matter how poor he got, and no matter what of his belongings he had to sell to get by, William Blake always held onto a print of Albrecht Dürer’s 1514 work, Melencolia I; it was found in his workroom when he died. And so it is worth looking in detail, again and again, at […]
Among the earliest photos taken of Paris were those of Eugène Atget, beginning in the late 1800s. Here is only a sample:
I first came across Claude Lorrain’s fantasies of classical Greece and Rome on the cover of an old paperback of the Aeneid. These are my favorites, but there are many more of them here. Click on each image to enlarge:
From Primo Levi’s 1986 book, The Drowned and the Saved, remembering the concentration camps: On Levi’s own—and others’—guilt at having survived the concentration camps: At a distance of years one can today definitely affirm that the history of the Lagers [from Konzentrationslager, concentration camp] has been written almost exclusively by those who, like myself, never […]
At an antique store a few years ago, I spent $10 on an envelope of old photos. I love to imagine their stories, and thought others might too. And perhaps someone out there knows them? Click on the slideshow to begin:
From Christopher Clark’s The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914: Do we really need to make the case against a single guilty state, or to rank the states according to their respective share in responsibility for the outbreak of war? In one classical study from the origins literature, Paul Kennedy remarked that it […]
Scroll through this selection of preliminary studies & photos of the canvas as it was worked on & completed. Pretty astonishing, & all done in about five weeks.
from Randall White’s Prehistoric Art: The best known of the statuettes from Brassempouy is the 25,000 year-old “dame à la capuche” (hooded lady), carved from the dense, homogenous interior core of a mammoth tusk. She was found immediately below a fireplace and was covered by a small limestone slab. Although she has frequently been imagined […]
From Steven Mithen’s Prehistory of the Mind: The anthropologist Robin Dunbar looked at the size of the brain of H. habilis [2.1 – 1.5 million years ago] from a very different perspective. Recall that we have already referred to his work regarding the relationship between brain size and group size—living within a larger group requires more […]
From Steven Mithen’s The Prehistory of the Mind: There is good circumstantial evidence that H. habilis [2.1 to 1.5 million years ago] would have been living in larger groups than his ancestors. If we again look at modern primates, there appear to be two ecological situations in which primates choose to live in larger groups, and […]
from Steven Mithen’s The Prehistory of the Mind: This propensity to think of the natural world in social terms is perhaps most evident in the ubiquitous use of anthropomorphic thinking—attributing animals with humanlike minds. Consider the Inuit and the polar bear. This animal is highly sought after and is “killed with passion, butchered with care […]
Here are two passages from Beethoven’s life. The first finds him on his deathbed, and is recorded in the memoirs of one of his friends. Beset by his final illness, the composer is rejuvenated for the last time by an astounding gift: the complete scores George Frederic Handel. The fact that Beethoven, so close to […]
I am always thrilled to reread these two passages by Erik Hornung, and to find in them just about the wisest things I’ve ever read about religion in general, and fundamentalism in particular. Although he hopefully assumes (the book was first published in 1971) that just because fundamentalism will become increasingly “inhuman” it will lose […]
Three passages on prehistoric religion from the book Becoming Human: One of the pervasive themes of [this book] is that spirituality and materiality cannot be separated. The roots of religion are to be found in ritual practice. And ritual practice, as documented by the material record goes back before the Franco-Cantabrian “explosion”, back indeed […]
The archaeologist Jean Clottes writes that, besides the more famous paintings in the ice-age caves of France and Spain, it has also been observed that “various objects have been either deposited or stuck into cracks of the walls, or even stuck into the ground. Those apparently non-utilitarian gestures have been noticed from Asturias in Spain […]
It took 9/11 to show me the real damage conspiracy theories can do. Since then, the gleeful and gullible ability of many to believe any and all conspiracy theories has convinced me that Lee Harvey Oswald probably did kill John F. Kennedy, and probably alone. The reason for our desperate need for conspiracy theories hasn’t […]
from the book Becoming Human: Innovation in Prehistoric Material and Spiritual Culture: Caring for severely disabled members of the community must be one of the indicators of respect for the individual and for human life. It is clear that Neanderthals fed and looked after severely handicapped members of their communities who were too disabled to […]
from Richard Klein and Blake Edgar’s The Dawn of Human Culture: The Neanderthals are fascinating because they were so much like us and yet so different. Before we abandon them completely, we want to address one well-known speculation for what could explain the difference. This is the possibility that they possessed only a limited […]
From Geoffrey Ward’s biography of the Roosevelts comes this moving account of Eleanor Roosevelt’s Dickensian childhood, complete with neglectful mother and alcoholic father. Following the early death of both parents, the intervention of an aunt changes her life: …[Eleanor’s father] Elliott was delighted at her birth, and called her “Little Nell” after the relentlessly […]
from two essays on the origins of the aesthetic impulse in Becoming Human: Innovation in Prehistoric Material and Spiritual Culture: The earliest current evidence for handaxes comes from West Turkana, Kenya, dated to 1.65 Mya [Million years ago]. Similar finds have been made at Konso, again in Ethiopia, dating to 1.5 Mya. These tools […]
Many thanks to Tom Zimmerman at The Big Windows Review for his review of Bone Antler Stone. I’ve pasted an excerpt below, and you can read the entire review here. Excerpts and reviews from the book are here. “… [Bone Antler Stone] is an act of powerful sympathetic imagination that forges a connection between lost cultures […]
Many thanks to Bill O’Driscoll and Pittsburgh’s 90.5 WESA for interviewing me about Bone Antler Stone. You can listen to an audio interview, with a longer story on their website, here. Excerpts and reviews from the book are here.
I began this blog in earnest almost six years now, with a post called “Silence in London,” which offered a handful of photos from a recent trip to England. I only made that post, though, because during the trip I left a long comment on a poetry blog, and found that it made me want […]