Blog to Self

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

More Auden - and a sonnet by the Bard

Thanks, anonymous, for pointing out that
Actually, "the dyer's hand" is from Shakespeare's sonnet 111. Byron is
alluding to that, probably

in a comment on my Auden post. I do however maintain that Auden's primary reference is to Byron's interpretation or emendation of the metaphor as referring to the craft of poetry. Here is Sonnet 111:

O for my sake do you with Fortune chide,
The guilty goddess of my harmful deeds,
That did not better for my life provide
Than public means which public manners breeds.
Thence comes it that my name receives a brand,
And almost thence my nature is subdued
To what it works in, like the dyer's hand:
Pity me then, and wish I were renewed;
Whilst like a willing patient I will drink
Potions of eisel 'gainst my strong infection;
No bitterness that I will bitter think,
Nor double penance, to correct correction.
Pity me then, dear friend, and I assure ye,
Ev'n that your pity is enough to cure me.

The dyer's hand, subdued to what it works in, is thus stained or branded. Shamefully. This is apparently ususally interpreted as referring to Shakespeare's work in the theater, "public means" being interpreted as the lowly occupation of the actor, if you will. Of course it is not a huge leap to go from acting to writing poetry, philosophically (Aesthetically) generalizing to "the Artist" in general.

In the three chapters of "The Dyer's Hand" section of the book The Dyer's Hand, Auden discusses the nature of the poet's craft as well as its relation to the world both now (in the Modern Age) and historically - "Making, Knowing, Judging," "The Virgin and the Dynamo," and "The Poet and the City." Among many other things in these - manifestos? - he argues (in the latter) that the nature of Poetry in the Modern Age is very different than what it was in the past, and certainly in Shakespeare's time. The Modern twist given to the role of the Artist in Society by Byron's re-interpretation or echo of Shakespeare's metaphor of the dyer's hand (Poets "are such liars") to Shakespeare's shameful "brand" of the dyer's hand (the lowly tradesman) is evidence of Auden's claim in "Making, Knowing, Judging" that Great changes in artistic style always reflect some alteration in the frontier between the sacred and profane in the imagination of a society (p.59).

Really, I do appreciate the emendation, even if my response is tainted with the indignance of wounded pride...

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Half a geek, G-rated

Inspired by my friend Roger, I took the geek test. Here are the results. And this blog is safe for your children apparently. Frightening, eh?

50% Geek
50% - Free Online Dating

What's My Blog Rated? From Mingle2 - Online Dating

Mingle2 - Online Dating

Friday, June 15, 2007

Rediscovering W. H. Auden

For a thesis I wrote for my BA in Music, I wrote about Stravinsky's opera The Rake's Progress (based on the series of paintings and engravings by William Hogarth). In the process I became quite familiar with the thought and poetry of W.H. Auden, who wrote the libretto (the play in verse which provides the dramatic and poetic skeleton for Stravinsky's music).

Hoping for a chance to appropriately blog about Auden on his birthday soon, I googled his birthday and discovered that I'm about 4 months too late for the centenary of his birth (February 21, 1907). It's a good year for it anyway. Then I happened upon this homage in the New York Sun from Feb 21 of this year, which made me realize something of which I was dimly aware at the time when I became enamored of him back in the day: To wit, the Auden who was collaborating with Igor in the '40s was not the Auden who had been famous in the '30s for his visionary political verse. This was the Later Auden, dismissed by critics at the time as a lesser version of his earlier, ostensibly more genuine self, the Early Auden. One critic quoted in the Sun piece said, "Auden, never a pompous poet, has now become an unserious one."

My favorite book of his is a prose collection of criticism, The Dyer's Hand. I rediscovered why when I happened upon his page of quotations on Wikiquote. For a more copious collection of epigrammatic gems and insights, one need look no further than this extraordinary book as quoted at

Just one example:
What the mass media offers is not popular art, but entertainment which is intended to be consumed like food, forgotten, and replaced by a new dish. This is bad for everyone; the majority lose all genuine taste of their own, and the minority become cultural snobs. ["The Poet and the City", p. 83, The Dyer's Hand]

This underlines the concept that a developed taste is an essential part of 'Culture' as well as of one's unique identity, as in his remark, "The surest sign that a man[sic] has a taste of his own is that he is uncertain of it." I love that one, of course, being notoriously indecisive.... But it also has a great bearing on the discussion of the early vs. late Auden, since elsewhere in his writings (I think in The Dyer's Hand) I remember that he makes the argument that the life's work of a writer (or poet or 'Artist') is in one sense to discover his/her true and genuine identity: that, indeed, finding out exactly what one's taste is is precisely the important Work of the life of the Artist, since Genuineness is the ethical equivalent in the Artist to Truth for the Scientist. Which lends poignancy to the title of this remarkable book of his critical excerpts.

The title The Dyer's Hand comes from the 87th stanza (CXXXVII)of the 3rd Canto of Lord Byron's Don Juan (which you must pronounce, by the way, so that it rhymes with "true one" - ie, Don "JEW-en", see the first stanza of the poem), one of the greatest comic poems ever written. This is, I think one of the discoveries of Auden's, I'd guess, that transformed him from his early to his late self. Lord Byron (who as the narrator - as Auden tells it - is the actual hero of his epic of young Juan's exploits) has just quoted a song entitled "the Ilses of Greece" not as one that Juan DID sung, but one that he WOULD sing ("some sort of hymn like this"), after 16 full verses of which, he concludes:

Thus sung, or would, or could, or should have sung,
The modern Greek, in tolerable verse;
If not like Orpheus quite, when Greece was young,
Yet in these times he might have done much worse:
His strain display'd some feeling—right or wrong;
And feeling, in a poet, is the source
Of others' feeling; but they are such liars,
And take all colours—like the hands of dyers.

PS - Christopher Isherwood, pictured with Auden in the 30's, was the author of Goodbye to Berlin, the collection of short stories which was adapted by Isherwood to become a play, I Am a Camera, which was adapted to become the famous musical Cabaret. There is an earlier film adaptation of I am a Camera by the same name and starring Julie Harris and Lawrence Harvey which I like better as an adaptation of Isherwood, but it's not a musical. Another extraordinary view of Berlin of the '30s, including the rise of the Nazi's, is his Mr. Norris Changes Trains.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

a very funny comic called xkcd

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

New post at Remora

Miscellany and Stuff (or, 2 point - all!)

I've decided to keep the library stuff over at Remora, since it is quite different in tone to the other nonsense I spew here. Everything in its place...

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

The Blog People Are Coming!

Terms which we unfortunately seem to be stuck with, or which have yet to be replaced by better options:
  • Blog (both noun and verb -- the latter being the more unfortunate).
  • Blogosphere, and its attendant culture.
  • Biblioblogosphere (the blogosphere of the librarians -- sounds like a subtitle of a B movie sci fi epic).
  • Web 2.0 - or Social Computing
  • Library 2.0 - or "Next Gen Libraries & Librarians"
  • ...Add your own

Over at the ALA Techsource blog, Michael Stephens takes a look back at a relatively recent online fracas in the ALA (American Library Association) community regarding outdated attitudes towards blogs and blogging.

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An Architectural Mystery

There are three banks of elevators at the Coning Tower, as you can see from these photos. Why is there not access to floors 15 and 30? Are there any architects out there?
Perhaps the cafeteria on 29 takes up the space of two floors -- but then what's on 15?

I wanted to take a picture of the surveillance cameras but - I really DON'T wanna go to Gitmo! (Wasn't that a Dylan tune?...)

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

An interesting day

[Note: this post has been edited from its original version]

By random twists of fate I shared a late dinner tonight with a monk, a senator, and a chef (all of whom happened to be gay). I know, I know, it sounds like some joke. I had dinner with a joke: A senator, a monk and chef walk into a (gay) bar.... And have dinner with a librarian, where they discuss movies, the diversity of sexuality in humans and the vagaries of Alzheimer's disease -- apparently I must go see Away From Her with Julie Christie at the Spectrum, especially recommended by The Chef. The Monk plugged Into Great Silence (as one might expect)-- apparently it helps to know that the motto of the Carthusians is "Stat crux dum volvitur orbis" meaning "The Cross is steady while the world is turning" to help lend meaning to some time lapse cinematography in the movie. I'd wanted to see that anyway. The Senator has apparently been too busy to see much lately, but for some reason brought up Clueless with Alicia Silverstone as a fine film, which I haven't seen. Why did I end up at the diner with this lot? It's a question for the ages, isn't it?

Monday, June 04, 2007

Filing on the Fortieth, revisited, featuring The Tower Building

Here is the first actual portrait of the Corning Tower I offer, taken by myself before the weather became oppressively muggy. Some places in the concourse refer to it as "The Tower Building" which is not very helpful/specific if you're not already familiar with the plaza...

Also, a shot of the floor plan and another of the ceiling, revealing how they had to cut the ceiling tiles due to the funny shape of the building.