What He Simply Tries to Do

Two self-portraits by Frank Auerbach painted during the pandemic. Photograph: Frank Auerbach.

“In his view, painting and drawing are exactly the same difficulty and take roughly as long as each other.”

(William Feaver, art critic and one of Auerbach’s regular sitters)

Asked whether he has learned something new about his face, [Auerbach] said he has never thought in verbal, emotional or psychological terms about his subjects as that “undermines what one is doing.”

I’m simply trying to use the subject to make an image of my impression of it.”

(Frank Auerbach)

Auerbach’s commentary on his practice strikes me as state-of-the-art language concerning what picture making can be about.

(Dalya Alberge, “Frank Auerbach: how artist drew himself for Covid ‘plague years’ drawings,” theguardian.com, 9-18-22)

(c) 2022 JMN — EthicalDative. All rights reserved

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One Good Pareidolia Deserves Another

Acrylic on cardboard.

Rocky debate swirls around a squiggle on the “fingerlike menhir” at the entrance to the Dolmen of Guadalperal in Spain. (See https://ethicaldative.com/2022/09/17/the-dolmen-tells-the-wind-hard-weather-ahead/).

Opposite a vaguely anthropomorphic shape etched on the menhir’s side lies the squiggle. Angel Castaño, a philologist, believes it depicts the contours of the Tagus River before the hydroelectric dam was built. “The menhir may be the oldest realistic map in the world,” he says.

Primitiva Bueno Ramírez, an archaeologist, demurs. “The hypothesis of a map is based on a pareidolia,” she says. Dr. Bueno notes that the geometric squiggle resembles “twisty markings” widely found in European megalithic art. Her conclusion: It’s a snake.

“Pareidolia”: the tendency for perception to impose a meaningful interpretation on an ambiguous visual pattern.

(c) 2022 JMN — EthicalDative. All rights reserved

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The Dolmen Tells the Wind, ‘Hard Weather Ahead’

Acrylic on cardboard.

A megalithic archaeological site has been exposed by drought in Spain. Some 2,000 years older than Stonehenge, the Bronze Age sepulcher was deliberately flooded in 1963 as part of a rural development project.

Like the skeleton of an extinct sea monster, the Dolmen of Guadalperal has resurfaced from the depths of the Valdecañas reservoir in western Spain…

(Franz Lidz, “With Drought, ‘Spanish Stonehenge’ Emerges Once Again,” NYTimes, 9-9-22)

No, no, no, Franz Lidz. Not “extinct,” not the “sea,” not a “monster.” The great-great-grandmother of the Anglian pile is alive and well in Iberia. She has shrugged off her manmade puddle to remind men that man’s a speck on the planet, a booger in its nostrils, flicked away sooner than not, who knows for the better.

Also, to whisper to the wind, “Friend, hard weather’s ahead.”

(c) 2022 JMN — EthicalDative. All rights reserved

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Wipe It Off, Gray Lady

Free expression isn’t just a feature of democracy; it is a necessary prerequisite.

(Editorial Board, “Censorship Is the Refuge of the Weak,” New York Times, 9-10-22)

No big deal. Just a nicety of style, a peccadillo none but the persnickety rhetorician besotted with the jots and tittles of messaging has the effrontery to bust a potshot on. But the New York Times, a bastion of style and clarity, well merits being held to high account.

With the phrase necessary prerequisite, the journal steps in the same puddle of fudge that slathers our palaver with shambling redundancies such as free gifts and viable alternatives. If not free, not a gift; if not viable, not an alternative; if not necessary, not a prerequisite.

The point remains: Clear, true speech is the hill that democracy must choose to die on.

(c) 2022 JMN — EthicalDative. All rights reserved

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Tohu Bohu in the Land of Steak Frites

“We have to change our mentality so that eating a barbecued entrecôte is no longer a symbol of virility… If you want to resolve the climate crisis, you have to reduce meat consumption, and that’s not going to happen so long as masculinity is constructed around meat…”
(Sandrine Rousseau, French Green Party MP)

“Stop this madness!”… “That’s enough of accusing our boys of everything!”
(Eric Ciotti, Nadine Morano, members of the Gaullist Republicans party)

“Meat consumption is a function of what you have in your wallet, not in your panties or your underpants… A good wine, good meat, good cheese, that is French gastronomy… What are we going to eat? Tofu and soy beans? Come on!”
(Fabien Roussel, secretary general of the Communist Party)

“There’s a difference between the sexes in the way we consume meat, and people who decide to become vegetarians are mostly women… So if we want to go toward equality we have to attack virilism.”
(Clémentine Autain, lawmaker with the Unbowed party)

“It’s not virilism, it’s nature.” [Julien Odoul] vowed to pursue a “Cro-Magnon diet”…
(Julien Odoul, member of Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally)

(Roger Cohen, “Of Barbecues and Men: A Summer Storm Brews Over Virility in France,” New York Times, 9-5-22)

(c) 2022 JMN — EthicalDative. All rights reserved

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Asked and Answered

Pat Buchanan campaigns with a Winchester rifle in 1996. Credit… Eric Draper/Associated Press

“The American press is infatuated to the point of intoxication with ‘democracy,’ ” [Buchanan] wrote in 1991. To make his point, he compared the Marine Corps and corporations like IBM to the federal government. “Only the last is run on democratic, not autocratic, principles. Yet, who would choose the last as the superior institution?”

(Nicole Hemmer, “The Man Who Won the Republican Party Before Trump Did,” NYTimes, 9-8-22)

I would.

(This American)

(c) 2022 JMN — EthicalDative. All rights reserved

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Chasing Command: The Kicker

Acrylic on cardboard.

Statistic: Forty-nine of the 50 highest-scoring players in American football history are kickers.

“And the first ball comes off my foot like a rocket, and then the next one and the next,” he says. “I just felt like I had command over the ball, something every kicker chases.”

(Wil S. Hylton, “How Justin Tucker Became the Greatest Kicker in N.F.L. History,” NYTimes, 9-1-22)

Sports journalism can be commanding and lucid, so replete with specificity and nuanced vigor that it encroaches on poetry. Wil S. Hylton’s profile of Baltimore Ravens kicker (and Austin, Texas native) Justin Tucker is a case in point. I’ve cherry-picked some of Hylton’s lyricism into “stanzas”:

Stanza 1
Kicking is the most consequential and least understood aspect of the sport… [The place-kicker’s job] is to enter a kind of trance, as if he were the last man on earth, and perform a complex choreography of his own.

Stanza 2
He has spent the bulk of his adult life… adjusting… tinkering… perfecting… making fractional changes… He has carefully calibrated the sequence of his proximal-to-distal movements to exploit the kinematic potential of his own proportions.

Stanza 3
There’s the setup… the approach… the plant… the backswing… the follow-through… Each of these movements has its own set of customs and conventions, but none are obligatory… Anybody who’s serious about kicking knows that nobody knows that much.

Stanza 4
… The shape of a football… can be formally described as a “prolate spheroid,” which is another way of saying that it looks like a regular ball getting sucked into a vacuum hose… “The reason not many people have looked into [the aerodynamics of tumbling footballs] is because it’s a very hard problem,” says Timothy Gay, a professor of physics….

Stanza 5
“All great kickers bring a certain amount of arrogance to the table.” And yet to perfect a kick requires an almost inexhaustible reserve of humility and patience as they subject themselves to an endless barrage of punctilious criticism and microscopic correction.

I say this: Respect to the few, the finicky, the inexplicable: poets, translators and kickers.

(c) 2022 JMN — EthicalDative. All rights reserved

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Romancing ‘Gilgamesh’s Snake’

Arabic text copied from page 10 of Gilgamesh’s Snake and Other Poems, Ghareeb Iskander, Bilingual Edition, Translated from the Arabic by John Glenday and Ghareeb Iskander, Syracuse University Press, 2015.

The transliterations bracketed below are mine. In them, tā’ marbūṭa is , and I show the lām of the article as assimilated to a following solar letter. For example: [‘ayyuhā-s-sayyidu] instead of [‘ayyuhā-l-sayyidu]. My character set, contrived to avoid digraphs, is the following:

‘ a ā i ī u ū ay aw b t ẗ ṯ j ḥ ẖ d ḏ r z s š ṣ ḍ ṭ ẓ ^ ḡ f q k l m n h w y

The text tagged “JMN” comprises my English and Spanish interpretation, and my transliteration, of the published Arabic text that’s copied in my illustration. I tag the published translation that follows it “GLENDAY” and add line numbering for ease of reference.

01 O master! (¡Maestro!)

02 Don’t seek eternity. (No busques la eternidad.)
[lā tabḥaṯ ^ani-l-‘abadīyaẗi]

03 The stepson of unrest got there before you, (El hijastro de la inquietud te adelantó en ella,)
[laqad sabaqa-ka ‘ilay-hā rabību-l-qalaqi]`

04 our grandfather, Gilgamesh. (nuestro abuelo, Gilgamesh.)
[jaddu-nā kalkāmišu]

05 Take pleasure in the river that flows with blood (Recréate en el río que corre sangriento)
[‘un^um bi-n-nahri-l-laḏī yajrī daman]

06 and in the eye that flows with tears. (y en el ojo que corre con lágrimas.)
[wa bi-l-^ayni-l-latī tajrī dam^an]

07 Take pleasure in the end, (Recréate en el fin,)
[‘un^um bi-n-nihāyaẗi]

08 in the chill of the grave, (en el frío de la tumba,)

09 in the gloom that the ravens glorify. (en la melancolía que los cuervos alaban.)
[bi-l-waḥšaẗi-l-latī tumjidu-hā-l-ḡirbānu]

10 Don’t speak of the importance of your being alone. (No hables de la importancia de quedarte solo.)
[la tatakallam ^an ‘ahammīyaẗi ‘an takūna waḥīdan]

11 They got there before you (Te adelantaron en ello)
[laqad sabaqū-ka ‘ilay-hā]

12 with their hurtful hammers and desires. (con sus martillos y sus deseos nocivos.)
[bi-maṭāriqi-him wa ‘amānī-himi-l-mūji^aẗi]

01 Master!
02 Don’t search for everlasting life.
03 Our grandfather, Gilgamesh,
04 who was born in sadness, went there before you,
05 waded through the river flowing with blood
06 delighted in the eye that flows with tears.
07 Love the ending of things,
08 the chill of the grave
09 the strangeness the ravens sing of.
10 Don’t prattle on about needing to be alone.
11 They all went there long before you
12 following the ache and beat of their desires.

Lines 05 and 06 of GLENDAY hold mystery. I read the verb formed from root n-^-m as a masculine singular imperative of Form 1, with the meaning “take pleasure in” or “delight in.” Is “waded” interpretive license? Line 06 does pick up on the sense of “delighted in,” but, as with “waded,” makes it into a past tense whose subject is “Gilgamesh,” and not a command in direct address to the “master” apostrophized earlier in the poem as the writer of history, which is how I read it. Line 07 of GLENDAY seems to corroborate a parsing of ‘un^um as an imperative, because it issues a command that encompasses the meaning of na^ama: Love the ending of things.

(c) 2022 JMN — EthicalDative. All rights reserved

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Soot, Spit and Paper

The artist often bundled his artworks and hid them in walls. Credit… Maris Hutchinson/David Zwirner.

James Castle (1899 – 1977) was born deaf in rural Idaho, and seems never to have learned to read and write. Formally untrained, he “dedicated his life to making art among the farms and ranches in and near Boise.”

His principle medium throughout was soot from the family stove mixed with his own saliva on the repurposed material he salvaged from his family home, which doubled as a post office and general store.

(John Vincler, “Soot, Spit and Paper: James Castle’s Transfixing Worlds,” NYTimes, 1-13-22)
“Untitled” shows a farmhouse, stairs, and figure. The mix of real and imagined feels starkly contemporary and conceptually rich. Credit… James Castle Collection and Archive LP.

Castle would bundle his works and hide them away in walls and outbuildings, and even in holes.

Untitled” (farmscape). Cut off from the art world, Castle incorporated into his landscapes sculptural elements, like power lines, that look surprisingly contemporary. Credit… James Castle Collection and Archive LP.

Not included in a Castle exhibition at the David Zwirner Gallery of Manhattan are “… his drawn reproductions of product packaging, his handmade books and calendar-like constructions, as well as his experiments with hand-drawn typography.”

Untitled (flamingo construction),” one of several bird constructions. Credit… James Castle Collection and Archive LP.

(c) 2022 JMN — EthicalDative. All rights reserved

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(Not) Learning to Read

The most important thing schools can do is teach children how to read. If you can read, you can learn anything. If you can’t, almost everything in school is difficult. Word problems. Test directions. Biology homework. Everything comes back to reading.

(Emily Hanford, “School Is for Learning to Read,” NYTimes, 9-1-22)

It’s not about intelligence. Lots of very smart people have a tough time learning how to read. G. Reid Lyon, a former chief of child health and human development at the National Institutes of Health, told Congress in 1998 that learning to read is a “formidable challenge” for about 60 percent of children. They need direct and explicit instruction. Lots of children weren’t getting that kind of instruction in 1998. And they’re still not getting it. (Emily Hanford. My bolding)

“And they’re still not getting it” is the direst phrase in the article. Everything in this America is difficult.

(c) 2022 JMN — EthicalDative. All rights reserved

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