Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Poplar Flowers

The yellow-poplar or tulip-poplar has beautiful flowers, but of muted coloring, and not clustered or large: the Audubon Society field guide says
 1.5 -2" (4 - 5 cm)long and wide; cup-shaped, with 6 rounded green petals (orange at base); solitary and upright and end of leafy twig;
The poplars are tall, therefore the flowers are high, and an eye has to be better than mine to see flowers less showy than a catalpa's or southern magnolia's at their common height. A fortnight ago I noticed them fallen, brought down the week's rains, and it occurred to me that I hadn't seen them on the trees. The only place I knew to look for the flowers at a convenient height was from a bridge out of the Zoo, which crosses Beach Drive at about twenty feet up. However, this past weekend I discovered another in Rock Creek Park, on a slope beside Ridge Road near Broad Branch:

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Arnold and Homer

The premise of On Translating Homer hardly stands up to consideration:
My one object is to give practical advice to a translator...
How many students, since the publication of On Translating Homer in 1860 have had practical ambitions of publishing a translation of the Iliad or the Odyssey; and what fraction do they make up of those who have read the essay? I would guess that the fraction is pretty small. The fraction since Chelsea House reprinted the work thirty-five years ago must be tiny.

Arnold argues for four qualities in Homer:
that is is eminently rapid; that he is eminently plain and direct, both in the evolution of his thought and in the expression  of it, that is, both in his syntax and in his words; that he is eminently plain and direct in the substance of his thought, that is, in his matter and ideas; and, finally that he is eminently noble;
He points out convincingly the want of one or more of these qualities in one or another of the translators of Homer into English, from Chapman on.  He quotes the strictures of Bentley on Pope's Iliad and of Wordsworth on Dryden's Aeneid. He offers his own translation of a few passages, and hints on meter.

Near the end of the essay appears
 for what he has in common with Milton--the noble and profound application of ideas to life--is the most essential part of poetic greatness.
The passages he quotes in support of this, from the last book of the Iliad certainly are remarkable:Rachel Bespaloff's essay "Priam and Achilles Break Bread" is worth reading for a sense of them. Yet I cannot see them as applications of ideas to life, or see how the application of ideas to life is an essential part of poetry.

I am glad to have read the essay. But I think the premise implausible, and for other practical uses I can think of better essays. For a comparison of translations, Guy Davenport's essay "Another Odyssey", collected in The Geography of the Imagination, has more extended and more current examples. Robert Fitzgerald frankly acknowledges the impossibility of translating the Odyssey "as an aesthetic object."

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Traveling, Etc.

Noticed this week in Truth and Method, Part I, 1.3.(a), "The retrieval of the question of artistic truth":
Even art forms which seem to be opposed to the simultaneity of the aesthetic experience, such as architecture, are drawn into it, either through the modern technique of reproduction which turns buildings into pictures, or else through modern tourism, which turns travelling into an armchair browsing through picture books.
The characteristic seat of modern tourism seems to me to be not the armchair but the airline seat with scant legroom. Still, perhaps I see what Gadamer means. As for the simultaneity addressed in this section, I think of Flann O'Brien, in the "Criticism, Arts, Letters" section of The Best of Myles:
 Search any old lukewarm bath and you will find one of these aesthetical technicians enjoying himself.... All round this person in the bath life is going on, nothing is ever lost, over in Harlem Einstein is testing a diminished seventh for an overstimulated thyroid, in Milan Buonaparte is writing the letter that ends Ah, Joséphine! Joséphine! Toi! Toi!, in the Bank of Ireland Silken Thomas has laid his sword on the counter what will they allow him on it, in Bohemia they are throwing the Emperor's ambassadors out of the window while always waddling comically into the polyphonic aureole of the sunset recedes the tragic figure of Charlie Chaplin. This is life, and stuffed contentedly in the china bath is the boy it was invented for, morbidly aware of the structure of history, geography, algebra, chemistry and woodwork; he is up to his chin in the carpediurnal present, and simultaneously, in transcendant sense-immediacy, sensible that without him, without his feeling, his observation, his diapassional apprehension on all planes, his non-pensionable function as catalyst, the whole filmy edifice would crumble into dust.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Seen on 16th St. NW

Yesterday, while walking home from the bus stop, I saw this work in progress

at the bridge over Piney Branch Parkway. The light was not favorable, but this morning, when the ligth might have been better, the stand and the model were gone.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Carpe Librum Returns

Carpe Librum has reopened, at 2134 L St. NW and at Union Station. I visited the first of these location today. Whether through lack of space and shelves, through having to share with Union Station, or both, the stock is considerably smaller than it was at 17th St: it might be a sixth or eighth of what it was there. Still, anyone who really needed to spend money could have found something to buy. I bought a copy of the JQuery Cookbook, not to spend money but for quick reference when, as sometimes happens, I need to write or adjust a bit of JQuery.

According to the cashier, the L St. location will be open until July.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

A Pillar of Aristocracy

On September 2, 1813, John Adams wrote to Thomas Jefferson a letter containing among much else
 Now, my Friend who are the ἄριστοι ["aristocrats"]? Philosophy may Answer the Wise and Good." But the World, Mankind, have by their practice always answered, "the rich the beautiful and well born." And Philosophers in marrying their children prefer the rich the handsome and the well descended to the wise and good.
 What chance have Talents and Virtues in competition, with Wealth and Birth? and Beauty? ...
 The five Pillars of Aristocracy are Beauty Wealth, Birth, Genius and Virtues. Any one of the three first can at any time over bear any one or both of the two last.
Adams added a postscript:
You may laugh at the introduction of Beauty, among the Pillars of Aristocracy. But Madame Barry says La veritable Royautée est la B[e]autee ["true royalty is beauty"], and there is not a more certain Truth. Beauty, Grace, Figure, Attitude, Movement, have in innumerable Instances prevailed over Wealth, Birth, Talents Virtues and everything else, in Men of the highest rank, greatest Power, and sometimes, the most exalted Genius, greatest Fame, and highest Merit.
This came to mind when I was reading through the pages dedicated to Mme. Récamier in Mémoires de Outre-Tombe. These were to have formed a book of the third part, but Chateaubriand decided against publishing them: Livres de Poche includes them in the "Fragment retranchés" at the end of the third volume. They run to twenty-three chapters, almost ninety pages. Mme. Récamier's beauty does seem to have prevailed over much. The list of men with their heads turned includes at least Lucien Bonaparte, Prince August of Prussia, Benjamin Constant, and of course Chateaubriand. (One could presumably add M. Recamier to the list; but in the narrative he is all but absent.) It is fair to say that Mme. de Staël was devoted to her also. A thumbnail biography in the back of a Larousse writes of Mme. Récamier as celebrated for her wit, her beauty, and the salon she kept. Was she enchanted, flatter, bored, or distressed by the very silly letters sent her by mostly sensible men?

Sunday, May 6, 2018

The Pelidisi System

In The Big Show in Bololand: The American Relief Expedition to Soviet Russia in the Famine of 1921, Bertrand M. Patenaud writes of a system to identify the children most in need of help, the Pelidisi system:
This was the creation of a Viennese medical doctor, Professor Clemens Pirquet, who served as chairman of the Austrian equivalent of the [Russian-managed relief committee]. Pirquet devised a formula for determining the degree of undernourishment in children up to the age of fifteen. The measurement was the cubic root of the tenfold weight of the body divided by that body's sitting height. For adults the average would be 100, for children 94.5--anything below that signified undernourishment.
On the face of it, this is confusing. The cube of 100 is 1,000,000: so for units x of weight and y of height we need a body weight of 100,000x for height 1y. Unfortunately, the units are not stated. But presumably, since Pirquet was Austrian, they are taken from the metric system. Nor is "sitting height" defined. One can make sense of this by assuming that
  • weight is stated in grams
  • height is given as centimeters from the ground, or anyway the seat
  • we aim at  numerator/denominator = 1, then multiply by 100
For a person weighing 100 kg, 10 * the weight in grams will be 1 million, the cube root one hundred. That just works out with a seated height of 1 meter, 100 centimeters, which one might expect of a man 6'7" tall. Men that height play basketball at 220 lb without anyone supposing that they are starved. Still the numbers look about right.

An article in the Journal of the Royal Army Medical Corps gave the formula as stated, and also committed itself to the statement that "the cube of the sitting height in centimetres is about ten times the body weight in grammes." Again, assuming that for sitting height we sit on the ground or measure from the seat, my sitting height is around 90 cm: I would be considered adequately nourished at around 72 kg, roughly my weight on graduating from college. A person 5' tall might have 75 cm sitting height. Then that person should weigh around 42 kg, call it 93 lb.