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American Grotesque: William Mortensen, Photographer as ‘Antichrist’


 
This is a guest post from Feral House publisher Adam Parfrey regarding two fascinating new books related to photographer William Mortensen.

Now that smartphones have become the camera of choice, it seems strange that photographers once belonged to divergent schools that battled one another, and sometimes quite viciously at that. The style that integrated painterly techniques with film technology was called Pictorialism. The “modernists” who dismissed complex photo techniques called themselves Group f/64 before they enlarged their influence, ultimately becoming known as “Purists.” For the Purists, sharp focus was the only natural way to photograph an image, and nature itself was the preferred subject.

Purists like Ansel Adams and Edward Weston did brilliant work in their careers, but it seemed important to them to remove Pictorialism from textbooks, galleries and museums. Their bête noire was none other than William Mortensen, who had for decades published many instructional manuals and reproduced his work in major photo magazines of the time, most notably Camera Craft. Mortensen specialized in a style that emphasized a grotesque look, which tended to feature many nudes. Compared to the trees and mountainsides that Ansel Adams shot, Mortensen’s work was accused of being exploitative and distasteful.

Purist hate was so intense that Adams even referred to Mortensen as “the antichrist.”

I had first heard of Mortensen from Anton LaVey, who had a photograph called “Fear” hanging in his Black House kitchen. In this photo a distressed woman is enveloped by a black-cloaked demonic entity. Anton acknowledged that Mortensen’s book The Command to Look: A Master Photographer’s Method for Controlling the Human Gaze changed his life, teaching him the basics of what he called “Lesser Magic.” LaVey also co-dedicated The Satanic Bible to Mortensen.

When Photoshop techniques and manipulated digital photography took hold in recent decades, the Pictorialist style once again became quite prominent though by then the Purists had long ago successfully bounced Mortensen out of public recognition. This was the reason I found it important to publish both Mortensen’s The Command To Look, which also includes Michael Moynihan’s article on Mortensen’s influence on occult researcher Manly Palmer Hall and Anton LaVey. We have also published a Mortensen monograph called American Grotesque: The Life and Art of William Mortensen, that includes an illuminating biography by Larry Lytle, a great deal of heretofore unpublished images and Mortensen’s textual battles with Purists from photo magazines. We hope that this evidence of William Mortensen’s brilliance once again revives his reputation and cements his rightful place in the history of the Photographic Arts.

—Adam Parfrey.

Here are some examples of William Mortensen’s work from American Grotesque
 

“Fear” aka “Obsession”
 

“A Family Xmas, 1914” 1932
 

“The Strapado”
 

“Belphagor”
 
More Mortensen after the jump…

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
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Never Mind The Sex Pistols: Here’s Vivienne Westwood’s Bollocks
10.21.2014
09:10 am

Topics:
Books
Fashion
Punk

Tags:
Vivienne Westwood


 
You would think the old saying (often attributed to Mark Twain) of “Never let the truth stand in the way of a good story, unless you can’t think of anything better to say” would be redundant when it came to Dame Vivienne Westwood’s autobiography. Surely, there would be a surfeit of entertaining and amusing tales to tell, without recourse to plagiarism or possible legal action over libel? Well, possibly not, as the investigative magazine Private Eye has been noting over the past few weeks. It would appear that Dame Westwood’s autobiography (written together with Harry Potter actor Ian Kelly) has been accused of plagiarism, factual inaccuracies and may shortly be on the receiving end of some serious legal action.

As first reported in Private Eye’s Books & Bookmen section on October 3rd-16th, there are “already rumblings from the estate of Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren, which has taken exception to her account of the Westwood/McLaren business arrangements.”

But as the Eye points out this is negligible to a “potential libel action” for the authors and publishers Picador.

...the biggest nightmare for Picador, may be a whopper of a potential libel action from her former shop manager. [Westwood] says in the book that, since he is dead, “now we can be honest”—and proceeds to accuse him of stealing all her money from the shop’s takings for eight years, taking “every spare penny”. Alas! The man in question is still very much alive, working as a psychotherapist in west London.

In the same passage she names the manager’s “boyfriend”, a well-known businessman and tycoon in the 1970s, who was “keeping” him. This man in question is also still alive, married with three children, and has never come out as gay. Although his name is slightly misspelt he is clearly identifiable.

Private Eye contacted publishers Picador to ask whether the book had been checked for legal issues—the publishers did not return their calls.
 

 
Other claims made by the Dame Viv of Westwood are “not actionable” but are certainly rum:

“The mad old bat is even claiming she wrote lyrics with Johnny Rotten,” says one incredulous veteran of the punk scene. Of the Sex Pistols’ first single, “Anarchy in the UK” [Westwood] says: “The idea and the title were mine.”

Private Eye followed up this story in their 17th-30th October issue, pointing out a number of elementary typos/spelling mistakes and factual errors:

We read of artist “Derek Boucher” (presumably Derek Boshier) and guitarists “Jimmy Hendrix” and Pete “Townsend”. The latter may surprise Pete Townshend less than Westwood’s claim that her first husband, airline pilot Derek Westwood, “managed the Who” in the early 1960s.

This all may be explained by Westwood’s caveat to her biographer Kelly:

I think, in talking about the past, it’s important to think afresh. Nothing from the past is entirely true.

Okay. I guess this may explain the large number of factual errors contained within Westwood’s autobiography, for example her first meeting with Malcolm McLaren is stated as “1963” then three pages later when McLaren was nineteen, i.e. in 1965. Even the dates of the Sex Pistols first gig at St. Martin’s School of Art is out by a year, claiming it took place in 1976 rather November 1975.
 

 
And then there are the charges of plagiarism:

“‘Just look at what people like Jack Kerouac were wearing,’ explains Vivienne, ‘after they had left the marines and the army and went on the road. White T-shirt, jeans, leather jacket…’” And so, for several more sentences. But despite that “Vivienne explains”, Kelly has in fact lifted the whole paragraph verbatim from a foreword written by McLaren, not Westwood, to Paul Gorman’ book The Look (2001).

Gorman is not pleased. Although named in a few footnotes, he has so far identified 24 “textual lifts from my work without attribution, credit or acknowledgement”, and has already consulted m’learned friends. “We’re throwing the book at them,” he says, “claiming damages, an apology and rectification of credit etc.” He notes that the copyright in many photos credited to the “Vivienne Westwood Archive” actually belong to photographers or picture agencies who will presumably now want fees and proper attributions.

If Picador is also sued by the man they thought was dead, this car crash could soon become a multiple pile-up.

I am sure a few lawyers across London are rubbing their hands with anticipation. It may be an idea, therefore, to buy your copy before this edition becomes rather scarce!

While we wait for that, here’s Academy Award-winning director Mike Figgis’ documentary Vivienne Westwood on Liberty, which features footage from the 1994 Paris fashion Show and captures Westwood’s captures thoughts on beauty, femininity, show production, clothing… but not the importance of fact checking.
 

 
Via Private Eye

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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Here be monsters: Incredible illustrations from ‘De Monstris’ (1665)
10.16.2014
10:32 am

Topics:
Books
History

Tags:
monsters
De Monstris
Fortunio Liceti

cccthrgrpmerreps.jpg
 
Fortunio Liceti (1577-1657) was an Italian philosopher, doctor and scientist. He studied medicine and philosophy at the University of Bologna before becoming a lecturer of logic at the University of Pisa and then a professor of philosophy at the University of Padua. Liceti was omnivorous in his interests writing books on mathematics, philosophy, astronomy, genetics and disease. He was friends with Galileo and the mathematician Bonaventura Cavalieri, who once remarked that Liceti was such a prodigious scholar that he produced a book a week. It’s certainly true that Liceti did have a rather impressive output of scientific and philosophical texts during his life ranging on subjects as diverse as the immortality of the soul, gem stones and the causes of headaches (which he thought were the microcosmic equivalent of lightning).

His most famous work was De monstrorum causis, natura et differentiis (Of the causes of monsters, nature and differences) that documented the many “monstrosities” and deformities reported in nature. The book chimed with the public’s interest in “monsters” and “freaks” and Liceti documented all of the stories of man-beasts, mermaids, wolf children as well as the physical abnormalities he had witnessed (co-joined twins, multiple-limbed children, hermaphrodites and alike). Liceti did not consider these “monstri” as abnormal, but rather as attempts of nature to fashion life as best as possible, in the same way an artist would create art with whatever materials were available.

It is said that I see the convergence of both Nature and art, because one or the other not being able to make what they want, they at least make what they can.

He was also the first to posit the idea that fetal disease could lead to abnormalities in children.

De monstrorum causis, natura et differentiis was first published in 1616 without illustrations, a lavish illustrated second edition was published in Padua in 1634, with a further edition De monstris (or what you might call the mass market edition) was produced in Amsterdam in 1665. It is from the last edition that these incredible images are from.

A PDF of De monstris is available here.
 
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dddheanim.jpg
 
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More illustrations from ‘De monstri’ after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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Noted poster artist dragged into local election fracas over charges of anti-Semitism
10.15.2014
01:45 pm

Topics:
Art
Books
Politics

Tags:
Derek Hess
Kent Smith
Mikhail Alterman


 
Amazing the trouble that a reaction-baiting local TV news segment can work up, isn’t it? In Euclid, a small city to the east of Cleveland, Ohio, the race to send a representative to the state house in Columbus recently got a healthy injection of political punk art—not always the most welcome addition to a candidate’s resume. The controversy stems from a book that one of the candidates wrote in 2008, a book of good old-fashioned pamphleteering called Please God Save Us. The text of the book is by current Euclid school board member and possibly future state representative Kent Smith, and the art is by renowned master of the punk rock poster idiom, Derek Hess.

On September 22, a markedly one-sided news segment by political reporter Tom Beres on local station WKYC all but accused Smith of being a virulent anti-Semite—over a book that has nothing to do with Jews or Judaism—because Hess (not Smith), in order to land a specific point about specifically extremist brand of Republican thinking—incorporated a modified swastika in some of the images. Predictably, it isn’t all that difficult to get the vox populi tut-tutting if you show an older voter a picture of a swastika and refuse to explain the full context. The WKYC segment explains that Smith is listed as an author of a book that does have a weird kind of swastika-ish symbol on the cover and then cuts to some older women saying (and this is a quotation), “I find it very disturbing, I find it insulting,” etc etc. Basically a respectable TV station said “Boo!” to some random shoppers in a retail mall and got them to say “Eek!”
 

 
Kent Smith finds himself in a tough race with Republican Mikhail Alterman and Independent Jocelyn Conwell, a race that would be a shoo-in for the Democrat if not for some gerrymandering shenanigans from 2010 that put portions of impoverished (read African-American) East Cleveland and predominantly affluent and Jewish Beachwood into the previously unified 8th district of Euclid. Alterman is an interesting guy, a former metal DJ at WRUW, the radio station of Case Western Reserve University—hey wait, don’t you reckon Alterman has to have purchased more than a few pentagrams in his day? Does that make him unfit for office? (For the record, Cleveland.com, the online presence of the Plain Dealer, enthusiastically endorsed Kent Smith on October 3, saying that Alterman is “armed with lots of ideas but some don’t make sense.”)

I spoke with Smith on Sunday evening. He insists that there isn’t anything to the charges, reasoning that the book has been in circulation for a while without anyone objecting to any anti-Semitic content: “Mr. Alterman and the Ohio Republican Party are not objective book critics or art reviewers,” said Smith. “The reason they are offended by the positions taken in the book is because those positions run counter to their Far Right, Tea Party agenda for Ohio and this nation. Please God Save Us has been in circulation since 2008 and not one professional, impartial reviewer found it to be antireligious or anti-Semitic.”
 

 
The fuller context you need to know is as follows: Kent Smith is a responsible and accountable representative of his community; the book was an expression of Democratic anger directed at the extreme right wing of the Republican Party, and Smith is being branded an anti-Semite for images he did not draw in a book that has zero to do with Judaism. But more to the point, the book has been out for six years now. It was conceived in 2006, not long after the bitter defeat of John Kerry, when liberal anger over the excesses of the Bush administration was at its peak. The book was released on July 4, 2008, the heady days of Obama’s first presidential run, and received positive notices from many quarters, including the Boston Globe, the San Francisco Weekly, Real Detroit Weekly and Juxtapoz. The book received national coverage for a brief period, and to be frank, nobody said diddly squat about any anti-Jewish sentiment in the book. Kent Smith has run for office several times since then and the issue has never come up because it’s completely clear that the charges of anti-Semitism are utter nonsense.

The book has ten chapters, which tackle themes like opposition to creationism, opposition to fossil fuels, opposition to the Iraq War, support of stem cell research, and a few other topics like that. Where’s the substance to the anti-Semitism charge? Alterman threw a stinkbomb into the middle of the race as a kind of Hail Mary pass, but the tactic reeks of desperation and threatens to sully Kent Smith.
 

Kent Smith and Derek Hess
 
And what of Derek Hess, self-described “superhero + overrated artist” (the verbiage comes from his own website). Angry, oh so angry, intemperate, irresponsible Derek Hess? Come now, this is rank silliness. Hess is a gifted graphic artist of whom it can safely be said that moderation is not his strong suit. But who really gives a tinker’s damn about the political agenda of Derek Hess? He’s not running for anything. He’s an internationally acclaimed artist whose work the Louvre in Paris has calledune remarquable série d’affiches” (a remarkable series of posters); the museum has acquired some of Hess’ posters. Derek Hess is not an amateur, he’s not a crank, and he’s not a joke. If anything, the decision of Derek Hess to choose Smith as a co-author can only reflect positively on Smith.
 

Mikhail Alterman
 
Let’s talk about the “swastika.” It isn’t really a swastika, to begin with. You can see it on several of the images on this page—it’s a swastika that Hess has (rather cleverly) modified with some care to make a specific point. In the book, which probably nobody involved in this whole fracas has even read, Hess explains that the symbol in question, which variously appears on a U.S. flag where the stars would normally be and as a kind of elongated cudgel, is a “Crosstika,” elaborating further that the hideous red Republi-creature is holding a “half swastika, half cross” that is designed to “create blind faith and allegiance, much as the swastika was used by Nazi Germany.”  In other words, Hess is linking the swastika with the extremist right wing, which makes sense insofar as the original Nazis were an extreme and hyperconservative reaction to left-wing/collectivist political groupings like Marxism, socialism, and so forth. In other words, Smith and Hess aren’t advocating anything at all with respect to the stupid swastika.
 

 
One might ask, what is Mikhail Alterman’s objection to anti-fascist art? Why is he hostile to outspoken denunciations of fascism or movements that bear some similarities with fascism? Does every political objection have to take the form of “candidate X” strayed within 1000 feet of “annoying object Y”—is that where all thought processes have to end? Does anyone, Alterman included, really want a world like that? I’m pretty sure the answer is no.

As Smith said to me, “Neither Derek Hess nor myself are anti-religious – any religion. But we both strongly disagree with Republican Party positions on the economy, environment, going to war over trumped up claims and faulty intelligence, freedom to marry and women’s reproductive rights.  Please God Save Us is a rebuke to the Far Right and I do not back off from what I wrote.”
 

 

Posted by Martin Schneider | Discussion
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This ridiculous Burt Reynolds paperback might mark when the 1970s truly began!
10.10.2014
10:34 am

Topics:
Books
Movies
Sex

Tags:
Burt Reynolds


 
One of the many mystifying aspects of the 1970s was the American public’s seemingly unquenchable appetite for Burt Reynolds. The same decade that is widely considered the strongest for uncompromising American cinema, a decade that produced The Godfather, Chinatown, Taxi Driver, and Nashville.... was also the decade that multiple times bestowed on Reynolds the title of America’s top box office star.

It isn’t so much that Reynolds is bad, exactly. It’s just that often his fame and celebrity success often seemed to come in advance of the cinematic accomplishments. If you look at Reynolds’ finishes in the “Ten Money Making Stars Poll” annually conducted by the Quigley Publishing Company, you get this:

1973: 4
1974: 6
1975: 7
1976: 6
1977: 4
1978: 1
1979: 1
1980: 1
1981: 1
1982: 1
1983: 4
1984: 6

Number one box office star—five years in a row. That feat was duplicated only by Bing Crosby from 1944 to 1948. If you look at 1973, the first year Reynolds made the list, he finished ahead of (in order) Robert Redford, Barbra Streisand, and Paul Newman. At that point his primary accomplishments as an actor were being second lead in Deliverance (an admittedly excellent movie in which he is also very good) and a brief appearance in Woody Allen’s Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask). In addition, of course, Reynolds had starred in The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing. For the next few years, it didn’t really matter what movies Reynolds starred in—the American public wanted more.

One of the most attention-getting episodes in Reynolds’ career was his hunkalicious nude appearance in the April 1972 issue of Cosmopolitan. Clearly, women were lusting after the cocky (ahem) and hirsute thespian and former athlete, a fact that leads us into the true subject of this post.

In 1972 Signet Books released a remarkable paperback, authored by Burt Reynolds, with the title Hot Line: The Letters I Get ... And Write! It was less a portrayal of Reynolds’ life as a man of letters than a kind of palatable, not X-rated version of his Cosmo pictorial.

Reynolds was not a man without a sense of humor, as can be seen in his confident, silly pose on the hand chair. (Yes, that’s right—hand chair.) The letters—who can say where these letters came from?—all acknowledge Reynolds’ fame and sex appeal as immutable facts and engage in some heavy double entendres—what one writer terms “Swahili.” Here’s a typical sample:
 

Dear Burt,

MAN, DO YOU EVER TURN ME ON! You’re great. When I told my husband how I love you, he said, “Well, just pretend that I’m Burt Reyolds.” To which I replied, “Nobody in the world has got that much imagination!”

I have to tell you this funny thing that happened at the office where I work. We have this 60-yr-old supervisor (lady). When we showed her the miniature picture of you from Newsweek, she said, “Well, that doesn’t turn me on!” The rest of us girls decided it would take all the men of South America put together to turn her on.

But you’re just the hottest! If I knew my tropic zone number I would use it rather than my zip code. (Sin)—Cerely

FAY IN FARGO

Dear Fay:

Why don’t you introduce your husband to the 60-year-old supervisor? Forget about your tropic zone number and bone up on your erogenous zones.

 
The pictures of these luscious babes literally draping themselves on Reynolds’ torso are a kind of visual corollary to the libido that the sexual revolution had just unleashed. You can’t exactly imagine Clark Gable doing this pictorial…. this was the new sexual frankness that would come to define the decade. In fact, you could argue that this stupid book, or the Cosmo pictorial, was the first thing that really reeked of the Seventies the way we think of it today. That hairy chest just needs a coke spoon to complete the picture.

Here are a few shagadelic scans from the book—I’m confident you won’t soon forget them.
 

 

 
More Burt Reynolds than anyone in this century could ever possibly want, after the jump…

Posted by Martin Schneider | Discussion
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Mourka the dancing cat, pre-Internet trailblazer for today’s ‘cheezburger cats’
10.03.2014
08:36 am

Topics:
Animals
Books
Dance

Tags:
cats
George Balanchine
Mourka


 
As the 1964 book Mourka: Autobiography of a Cat amply demonstrates, cats did not need the Internet to become nationwide sensations; they have been, er, catnip to content providers for decades.
 

 
Mourka was an “alley cat” who belonged to the legendary choreographer George Balanchine. A picture of Balanchine “training” Mourka appeared in LIFE magazine, and the picture proved so popular that a book deal was quickly inked. The author, Tanaquil Le Clerq, was Balanchine’s wife, and the photographer was Martha Swope. This text is from the dust cover of the book:
 

Mourka, an extraordinary alley cat is one of famed choreographer George Balanchine’s prize pupils. He has learned to do entre-chats, pas de chats, and even a grand jeté. When photographer Martha Swope caught Mourka doing one of his spectacular leaps, Life printed the memorable photo and Mourka’s reputation was made instantly for millions of Americans. Here, Miss Swope’s pictures and Miss Le Clerq’s text convey his many exploits and suggest that Mourka may well be the most accomplished feline in the world. [This, of course, was written decades before the advent of Maru.]

Mourka, a native New Yorker, shares a large apartment on the upper West Side with Mr. and Mrs. Balanchine. He spends his summers in Weston, Connecticut, where he indulges in his favorite hobby, bug-watching, and such favorite foods as asparagus, potatoes, peas, and sour cream.

Ballerina Tanaquil Le Clerq, the wife of George Balanchine, was born in Paris and brought to this country at an early age. She won a scholarship to the School of American Ballet at the age of eleven and later danced many leading roles with the New York City Ballet. In 1956, while on a dance tour of Europe, she was stricken with polio which halted her dancing career. Now that Mourka is published, she is at work on her next book, a gourmet cook book to be published by Stein and Day in 1965.

 

Balanchine training Mourka
 
Balanchine put in considerable time “training” Mourka, and on the occasion when Mourka was obliged to present a command performance for the composer Igor Stravinsky, it was the only time that a ballet performance ever gave Balanchine butterflies. According to Balanchine: A Biography by Bernard Taper:
 

While [Balanchine] was away, a friend or Tanaquil’s mother stayed with her, or she often chose to remain alone in the apartment, kept company by Mourka, their white-and-ginger-colored cat, a pampered and much admired creature. Balanchine had trained this cat to perform brilliant jetés and tours en l’air; he used to say that at last he had a body worth choreographing for. He talked of presenting Mourka publicly, in a program titled—in parody of the revolutionary program he had presented as a youth in Russia—“The Evolution of Ballet: From Petipa to Petipaw.” Once, at a party at his apartment during the Christmas season, Stravinsky asked to see Mourka perform. Guests present later said that was the only time they had ever seen Balanchine nervous before a performance.

 

 

 

 

 
via Awful Library Books
 

Posted by Martin Schneider | Discussion
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‘The Mysteries of Conjugal Love Revealed!’ 18th century sex manual is a total hoot!
09.30.2014
03:14 pm

Topics:
Amusing
Books
History
Sex

Tags:
sex
18th Century


English caricaturist James Gillray‘s famous cartoon ‘Fashionable Contrasts’
 
If you’re not following John Overholt on Twitter, I suggest you get on it. As a Curator of Early Modern Books and Manuscripts for Houghton Library at Harvard, he Tweets about some strange, beautiful and often hilarious texts. Take The Mysteries of Conjugal Love Revealed an 18th century sex manual written by a French doctor, then translated to (“done into”) English by “a gentleman” (is a gentleman supposed to call himself a gentleman? Sounds a little excessively boastful to me.) Though the language is prissy, and the “information” wildly inaccurate, it’s important to remember that England was in the midst of a sexual revolution at the time, and books like this one represented a major move in cultural liberalism (for the upper classes, at least).

Still, let’s laugh at some particularly absurd excerpts!

We call the principle part of the Man’s Privaties the Virile Member, which the Ancients ranked among the number of their Gods under the Name of Falscines, to teach us what Empire it has acquir’d in the World: For no Charms or Enlightenments can equal it. If perchance a Woman perceives it thro’ some slight unfolding of the Garments, her Heart is at the same Instant inflam’d with a Passion, that is with Difficulty assuaged.

I feel like you might be giving yourself a little too much credit here.

The Privy parts of a Woman, by some called Nature, because all Men owe their Origin to them, are the cause of most of our Sorrows, as well as our Pleasures; and I dare say, that all Disorders, that every happen’d in the World, or do happen in this our time, spring form the same source.

I feel like you might be giving us a little too much credit here.

There is a part above the [Nympha?], longer more or less than half a Finger, called by Anatomists Clitoris,which I may justly term the Fury and Rage of Love. There Nature has plac’d the fear of Pleasure and Lust, as it has, on the other hand, in the Glans of Man. There is has plac’d those excessive Ticklings, and there is Leachery and Lasciviousnes establish’d;

I stopped after “half a finger.”

But ‘tis certain that Women have Testicles, spermatick Vessels and Seed, because they sometimes pollute themselves; and their Testicles, which are hollow instead of being solid, as Men’s are, contain several small Cellules, wherein a Humor is kept, that spurts up in the Face of those that cut them.

I don’t know what you’re doing, or with whom, or why there is “cutting” involved, but this does not sound like conventional heterosexual sex to me.

As soon as the Fancy is touched, and the small Fibres of the Brain shaken by the Thoughts of Love, there is an internal Sweat in our Privy Parts, and the Spirits which rush thither with Precipitation, force out a limpid Liquor of the Prostate which prepares the Conduit for the Passage of the Seed. But when one is join’d amorously to a Woman, the 2 small Bladders, most ready for evacuation, empty

Okay. Gonna start calling it “The Fancy”!

Chapter 6: What Hour of the Day one ought to kiss one’s Wife.

Well… they’re still English.
 
Via John Overholt and Harvard Library

Posted by Amber Frost | Discussion
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The resistible rise of Stephen Fry and his plans for world domination
09.29.2014
10:23 am

Topics:
Books

Tags:
Stephen Fry

coversfrybookfool1.jpg
 
It would seem that fame, fortune and the adoration and seven-and-a-half million twitter followers is not enough for Stephen Fry. No. The well-loved, respected and overly indulged national treasure, etcetera, etcetera, wants his life (or at least the third volume of his autobiography More Fool Me) to become “a global story.”

Last week Penguin and the unstoppable ego that is Stephen Fry, launched YourFry a “global digital storytelling project” tied-in to the latest volume of the luvvie’s autobiography More Fool Me. The project will make available text, audio and photographic samples for developers and digital artists to create “whatever they like from apps and data visualisations through to animation and 3D models.”

According to Nathan Hull, digital product development director at Penguin Books, YourFry is:

....an interactive and collaborative project to reinterpret the words and life story of Stephen’s memoir, turning Stephen’s personal story into a global one.

We want to experiment, collaborate, open a conversation, learn and share—and we’re excited to see the creativity and energy of storytellers all over the world.

This is an interesting idea, but one that would (surely) be best served by some great work of fiction (fairy stories, Harry Potter, War and Peace) rather than Stephen Fry’s superfluous third volume of memoirs (how many volumes of autobiography does the privileged 57-year-old need?). The whole thing looks more like some desperate PR ploy to boost interest in this dud of a book.

More Fool Me is piss poor and reads like bits left out of the second volume The Fry Chronicles, where it would happily sit in an edited form under the chapter heading “C is for Cocaine.”

I spent the weekend reading Fry’s latest wankathon, and want to save you the bother of buying it, reading it or being scarred for life by its mediocrity. Save your money. Spend it on drugs, beer, a night out, or a suitably charming present for someone you love. For those still not heeding my words, here is a breakdown (almost) without spoilers.

Fry begins More Fool Me by recounting a recurring dream where he is arrested, tried and sent to prison. Whether it’s true or not, we only have Fry’s word. But its affect is to make the reader sympathetic to the author’s plight before he even begins his tale. Poor Stephen we think, as we then spend the next 50 pages reading a rehash of volumes one and two: Moab is My Washpot (which covered Fry’s life up to the age of twenty) and The Fry Chronicles (his life up to the age of 30).

The following 150 pages are mainly about his hedonistic years on cocaine (hardly revealing), hanging around the Groucho Club (who knew the place was so dull?) and meeting fellow celebrities (no, there is no juicy gossip as Fry loves everyone and anyway he claims he saving all the juicy stuff until after he’s dead). To be frank, there is nothing here of any merit, real interest or literary/cultural importance. The most talked about piece is Fry’s list of the places where he has snorted cocaine: Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle, the House of Commons, the House of Lords, the BBC, a long list of gentlemen’s clubs, and a selection of newspapers and periodicals, etcetera, etcetera. I seriously doubt that Fry was the first to hoover up Colombian marching powder in any of these various venues, and he is unlikely to be the last.

The final section of the book is a sub-Adrian Mole diary from 1993, which would not look out of place in the comedy pages of National Lampoon or Private Eye.

Fry was known as “Sly Fry” at school, which is about right, for he is smart (cunning?) enough to ensure his readers are sympathetic, by cleverly disarming any criticism throughout the book with his unhappiness, his self-doubt, self-loathing and the fact that he is encumbered with the omniscient curse of knowing exactly how his readers think:

..I do hear what I consider to be the voice of the reader, your voice. Yes, yours. Hundreds of thousands of you, wincing, pursing your lips, laughing here, hissing there, nodding, tutting, comparing your life to mine with as much objective honesty as you can. The chances are that you have not been lucky with the material things in life as I have, but the chances are (and you may find this hard to believe, but I beg that you would) that you are happier, more adjusted and simply a better person.

(Oh, do fuck off Stephen.)

This is Fry being “sleekit” here, a great Scottish word meaning “sly, secretive, up to no good,” telling his readers that his life may have been charmed, blessed, beautifully plumped like goose-feather cushions on the Chesterfield of life, but in actual fact, he is to be pitied for he is not happy, and all this success, this excess has not made our little Stephen happy.

Well, tough. Deal with it. You have never suffered the privations, the illness, the violence, the utter despair most people face every day of their lives. You are damnably privileged, and should try and think about how you can help others rather than seek approval from their applause.

Maybe it’s time for some kind of intervention? What if all the causes of Mr. Fry’s addiction to fame and public adulation are confiscated, and he is made sit in the corner where he can have a good long hard think about other people for a change.

The book is rather like the homework written on a bus by a clever student traveling to school, “Will this do?” Sadly, no. As Fry himself possibly suspects as he tells his readers to try Moab is My Washpot or The Fry Chronicles. He’s right—both of these books are far better as he reflects on his past life, examining and understanding his younger self. There is little of that here, this is more of the “unexamined life.” If you want to read Stephen Fry at his best then do please read Moab is My Washpot or The Fry Chronicles or his excellent book on poetry The Ode Less Travelled or try his fiction The Liar, or (possibly his best novel) The Hippotamus , as this is where you will find the riches of his talent.

And if you are still not convinced, well, more fool you, though I’m sure you’ll be interested in the global mass worshiping of Saint Stephen on 1st October… details below.
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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Illustrations from the new edition of ‘A Clockwork Orange’
09.23.2014
02:04 pm

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A Clockwork Orange


 
Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange achieved its iconographic status through the lens of Stanley Kubrick—something you could argue is both a blessing and a curse when you remember that almost anytime you hear, “Oh I love A Clockwork Orange,” you can bet they’re invariably talking about the movie. That kind of legacy can be difficult to escape, but these illustrations from the Folio’s Society’s new edition of the book add a pretty fresh look—it’s dingier and more isolated than Kubrick’s vision, lacking the circus-like atmosphere, but maintaining the violent dystopian madness the film captured so well.

Watch the video to hear the illustrator talk process—he abstained from watching the movie while working, but still gives Kubrick a nod. The new edition will come in a gorgeous hardback and include the once-omitted 21st chapter and an expanded glossary of “Nadsat” researched from Burgess’s handwritten notes and letters to his editors.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 
Via Juxtapoz

Posted by Amber Frost | Discussion
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’What Every Child Needs To Know About Punk Rock’ is a real children’s book that actually exists


 
The Ramones’ 40th anniversary celebration just happened at Bowery Electric last weekend, and the last living original member of the band died, aged 65, just a couple of months short of being able to attend. Punk rock is OLD, and yet, through generations, it persists. As ways for a kid to rebel go, punk has been extraordinarily durable and flexible. Its most basic and superficial tropes were long ago rendered cartoonish or outright mainstreamed, but the defiant outlook they express is eternal.
 

Eh, why not? It’d beat them turning Juggalo.

The very idea of punk as a staid cultural institution, let alone toddler-book fodder, might be met with wounded howls of opposition from some circles—as it should be—but again, 40 years. There are OG punks who are grandparents now. I have an 11-year-old Godson who spent his infancy decked out in Ramones and DK’s onesies. So as weird and implausible as a children’s book frankly explaining punk may sound at first blush, one could make a case that by now, it’s pretty well overdue. What Every Child Needs To Know About Punk Rock was released about a week before the Ramones’ 40th anniversary show, and it’s actually kind of awesome. I’ll let these spreads speak for themselves.
 

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The book is credited on the cover to “Brad and Marc.” Sounds pretty casual, but both of them are highly credentialed.  Marc is researcher and healthcare analyst Marc Engelsgjerd, and Brad is child behavior expert R. Bradley Snyder. The two have co-authored several books in this series, penning What Every Child Needs To Know About board books on a topics as trivial as pizza and coffee, and as serious as cancer and the economy. I can think of a few adults in pretty dire need of that last one.
 

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Spreads reproduced with permission from Need to Know Publishing

Previously on Dangerous Minds
Napalm Death on children’s TV, 1989
Before Harry Potter there was ‘How to Make Magic’: A childrens guide to practicing the occult
Right-winger accuses ‘Sesame Street’ of corrupting America’s youth with self-esteem
Barbarian metal is for the children: Manowar on Nickelodeon

Posted by Ron Kretsch | Discussion
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