Sunday, December 31, 2017

Monday, December 25, 2017

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Saturday, September 23, 2017


Source: “General von Watter.” George Grantham Bain Collection, Library of Congress, Photoshopped.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Sunday, July 16, 2017

My noon had come to dine

Visible only in the tropics – that is, in the latitudes between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn – this is the zenith passage or Lahaina noon: the moment when the sun is directly overhead and an object standing vertically will cast no shadow. In the tropics it comes twice a year: when the sun is on its way north to the Tropic of Cancer (which it will reach at the summer solstice) and when it is on its way back south to the Tropic of Capricorn (which it will reach at the winter solstice). In Hawaii, where I took this picture today, the dates are in May and July.

And the picture’s title comes from a poem by Emily Dickinson, “I had been hungry all the years.”

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Globalized language and its armed forces

Label on a package of synthetic-wood floorboards

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Foucault in the seat of power

For years I couldn't find this artifact because it turned out to have migrated to another stratum: my wife's office. It has surfaced there now, however, so

to the memory of Michel Foucault, look, fill, and drink.

It was a present from an ex-student who was then working as a Senate aide: a young woman, Asian-American like many students at my university. And it came with an anecdote attached.

Every time my student was on the Senate floor, she told me, liberal cynosure Edward Kennedy would stop whatever he was doing, freeze, and stare.

Yes, Kennedy died many years ago, and he was alive then.

No, the Trump era is neither unique nor new.

Estampe XLII: air construction with sunbeam and tree

Friday, May 26, 2017


"What the hell is this," he snarled, "a Tom show?"
-- Nathanael West, The Day of the Locust, chapter 11

When the posters for this Tom show came out of their lithograph press in 1898 they were stacked face to face. The damage to this surviving example has been permanent. It is still marked with the ghost of another face, in reverse. So far, however, damage has made this piece of printed matter more readable, not less. The ghostly countertext makes us work more productively at seeing the survivor, and as the paper has turned brown it has contributed shading after shading of new complexity to the survivor’s spectral record. The parade is more intelligent now.

In 1898, on the street, it was some horses, some mules, some dogs, and a model house made portable on a wagon. In the mind, it was a communication from a text off-poster -- a text whose full title was Uncle Tom's Cabin; or, Life Among the Lowly. There, off-poster, the on-poster word "sumptuous" seemed not to refer to anything. But in 2017, with all sense of what "sumptuous" might have meant in 1898 obliterated by what's called progress, the palace cars can be seen as such, only as elements within a picture. And there, now, solely within the picture, at last! the palace cars have become one with the classical architecture of their mounting: in an ideal approximation of color, their shading completed by the passage of time, no longer on a mere overpass but on a plinth, no longer cramped smelly boring as they would have been in 1898 but, as the poster's words promise, regal. In 1898 the pageant was a crudely literal play within a play and Al. W. Martin's employees with their mule-propelled cabin were only rude mechanicals like Bottom and the boys in A Midsummer Night's Dream. In 2017, surviving through time as a provisionally immortal snapshot, the pageant is seen at last as snapshot sees: mules and dogs and little black actress, stilled in transit toward us, passing just now and forever beneath a palace in the air.
Having become a fossil, the mammoth production invites us to enter its matrix and see it within lithograph stone.  

Source: Library of Congress, Photoshopped.

Thursday, March 23, 2017