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Friday, August 30, 2002

Getting waisted

In an essay that is part of the publication: - 'Woman as sex object, Studies in Erotic Art’- David Kunzle describes in his chapter ‘The Corset as Erotic Alchemy’, the complex relationship between the Rococo Galante and her tailor and staymaker.

‘The vogue at the turn of the century for costume books representing the typical attire of the various professions and estates gave new status to the tailor and staymaker, the latter having recently (1675) split off to constitute a new guild, calling themselves ‘Tailleurs de corps de femmes et enfants.’
The staymaker was required to ‘educate’ the body of the young into the newly fashionable slenderness. His appearance at the eve of the new century is strictly utilitarian. In the engraving [ Nicolas Arnoult: The French Tailor, 1697 ], he stands formally, at a distance, passing the stays over his client’s arm, while a maid busies herself nearby with some drapery. From his dress be it noted, this craftsman who ‘knows how to correct the faults of nature,’ is of a superior kind: he must be a gentleman to serve so fine a lady.
Only in the caption-verse is there a hint of the amorous role he is to play. By the age of Pater the gentleman stay-maker has become more familiar: he presses closer to his client; burying his knee into her skirt, and taking the measure of the busk with his top hand actually touching her breast, while the maid watches attentively, perhaps admiringly, from behind. The verse makes no bones about the increase in erotic-content, expressing the lover’s identification with the tailor, and his readiness to suffer in silence, could he but entertain the hope ‘of taking her measure as I crave.’

- The Victorian waistline is thought to have been 18 to 32 inches -

[La vie est Cher] A persistent rumor has it that the singer/actress Cher had her lower pair of ribs removed to achieve an ultra-slim waistline. Given the antics displayed by Cher, one can see the fans’ gullibility. The rumor was spread in 1988 by Paris Match magazine, and has since lived on despite a lawsuit initiated by Cher.

‘If that rumor were true," she said, "how could I do those health club commercials, in which I wear next to nothing? I'd be scarred all over. And could I wear the kind of clothes I do if I'd had all those many operations? Wouldn't there be visible scars everywhere?
"I've been up front about saying that I had my nose done, my breasts done, and had braces on my teeth. The rest is nonsense."

Still, the rumor continues to follow Cher: "I've killed myself in the gym to have this body. It isn't like I have some amazing secret that nobody else has."

[To add and subtract] Singer Courtney Love was dissatisfied with the shape of her nose since her early teens. When she was featured on the cover of ‘Flipside’ she was heartbroken and decided to ‘whack it’. She did some research and found a plastic surgeon in Utah, who had a trackrecord for doing stippers, porn-stars and country singers.

‘It was the best thing I ever did,’ she says. ‘After that, my life was just a lot better because the human response when you walk into a room is just one-thousand times better. You're gonna be perceived; you're gonna be able to speak and be heard. Nothing's gonna mar you or get in your way. That's just a reality.’

‘It's time now for some speculation. Many other actresses certainly appear to have gone under the knife, but are not as candid about it. They include Madonna, Demi Moore, Glenn Close, Sharon Stone, Shannen Doherty, Michelle Pfeiffer, Winona Ryder, Tori Spelling, Jennifer Grey and Uma Thurman -- all of whom are said to have had rhinoplasty procedures. Those who have probably had breast enlargements include Courteney Cox, Shannen Doherty, Lauren Holly, Demi Moore, Jane Fonda, Raquel Welch, Elizabeth Taylor (-) and untold others.'

[Beauty sells] An article in IHT last weekend featured an overview of the economics of the new esthetic. Beauty has become a new industry and a token of affluence and social savvyness.
Last year $7 billion was spent in the US alone on cosmetic treatments. Growth is also reported from Asia, estimated at 20% last year, Germany at 15%, and Britain with an increase of 30%. Some of the best performers in cosmetic surgery were:

Forehead lift – treatment $2.552 – $191 million
Tummy tuck – treatment $4.205 - $246 million
Botox injection – treatment $388 - $332 million
Liposuction – treatment $ 2.049 - $564 million
Eyelid lift – treatment $2.544 - $606 million
Face lift – treatment $5.007 - $624 million
Chemical peel – treatment $516 - $690 million
Breast augmentation – treatment $3.043 - $699 million
Nose reshaping - $2.947 - $ 1.1 billion

[A big break] Perhaps one can take heart from the story of singer/actress Marissa Winokur, star in the recently opened Broadway show ‘Hairspray’

‘Marissa Jaret Winokur, 1.5 meters tall and an American size 11-12, wore white to the opening-night part of ‘Hairspray’ on Broadway. Heavyset women are expected to wear their clothes long and loose-fitting. Winokur likes her skirts short and her T-shirts tight. Heavyset women are often presumed to hate their bodies,to have low self-esteem, to want to hide. Winokur appears relaxed and confident and perfectly comfortable as the leading lady in the new musical which opened to effusive reviews last week at the Neil Simon Theater in NYC.
‘I feel like I’m sexiest in my prison-stripe dress,’ she said. She added ‘I always wear tight clothes, I don’t want tem to cover up my body.’ [Robin Pogrebin – NYT]
Woman as Sex Object – Studies in Erotic Art 1730 – 1970 Edited by Thomas.B.Hess and Linda Nochlin © Newsweek 1972

posted by Walter at 8/30/2002

Thursday, August 29, 2002


I consider myself a man-child. I was raised by liberal and curious parents, who loved to see their children dress up, engage in impersonifications, exert pantomime, and immerse themselves in painting, music and dance. I was lucky to have parents who really enjoyed the imaginative potential and energy that their six children could offer to them.

I believe that any healthy social environment should be able to afford regular infusions of the ‘childlike’ spirit.


‘How does a childlike mind affect creativity?’
This question was explored by students of the University of Miami in a research paper.

The team formulated three questions to determine a childlike mind and mirrorred these to wellknown public figures:

-Richard Feynman – Physicist, teacher, and Nobel Prize Laureate

‘During his short period of depression after working on the atomic bomb, Feynman decided that the reason he was unhappy was that he was not "playing" with physics anymore..
After deciding to begin once again to "play with physics," to recharge his childlike mind, Feynman was much happier and much more productive’

-Charles Darwin - Biologist

‘From the beginning of his schooling at Shrewsbury boarding school, to Edinburgh University, and even to Christ's College, Cambridge, Charles was bored with droning professors. He needed excitement and the outdoors, not some stuffy lectures in which to daydream. Charles was constantly skipping lectures to collect various objects of nature, and at Cambridge, he took up shooting and sporting’

-Harpo Marx - Actor and comedian

In the 1920s the Marx brothers’ Harpo Marx would comment of his success; ‘I wasn't having a second childhood. It was my first real childhood.’

Describing Harpo's disposition, Groucho would say, "He's the best adjusted man in the world. If a flood comes, he'll be riding a house as if he had never done anything else but ride houses. When the bomb falls, he'll start fixing his chimney without even looking up to see what hit him"


If we would be less lenient with childlike behaviour we might ask:


Dear Dr. Heller,
Do some people have a childlike behavior?

There can be many reasons. Bipolar disorder can cause it, immaturity can cause it, rejection sensitivity can cause it, as can socially-behind individuals with attention deficit disorder. The actual diagnosis or diagnoses need to be made.


The singer Bjork however accepts her fate wholeheartedly:

'It was decided that I was an Eskimo Elf and I guess that's something I have to live with'

'When I was younger I used to play with the cat a lot. I would teach it how to play. You see, I used to watch the birds flying about, and I could tell he wanted to fly and chill with the birds. I wasn't very successful though'


If Bjork were not quite so blessed, she might have located the folks of Childlike Records:

Childlike Records is a small independent record label originally based in Hoboken, New Jersey. We recently moved from one room in an apartment to a larger space in Manhattan. Since we established Childlike in 1995 we have tried to stay true to the idea of making records not for the sake of striking it rich, but for the sake of helping great indie bands release great indie music. We think we have succeeded so far: we sure aren’t rich and we’ve managed to release some fine CDs by some very talented artists.

posted by Walter at 8/29/2002

Wednesday, August 28, 2002

K n o x v i l l e : Summer of 1915


‘I know I’m making the choice most dangerous to an artist in valuing life above art’
-James Agee-

‘It takes some courage to go into an art which shows you as you are, and no doubt many wonderful souls have shrunk from the ordeal and refused to put their real emotions into art form for others to know’
-Samuel Barber-


My favourite classical piece of music is probably the Samuel Barber (1910-1981) oratorio: Knoxville: Summer of 1915.

Samuel Barber was born on 9th March 1910 in West Chester, Pennsylvania. He played piano at age 6, and wrote his first piece at age 7. At 14 he enrolled at Curtis Institute, where he studied composition, piano, and singing.This interest almost diverted him from his composing career, since for a while he wanted to become a singer.

‘Knoxville’ was written for flute (doubling piccolo), oboe (doubling English horn), clarinet, bassoon, two horns, optional triangle, harp, solo soprano and strings. Barber completed the piece in 1947, and revised it in 1949. The piece was first performed in April 1948 by the Boston Symphony under Sergei Koussevitsky, with the soprano Eleanor Steber, who also commissioned the work.

Barber is best known for his Adagio for Strings (1937) , first conducted by Arturo Toscanini in a 1938 NBC Radio Concert. The piece was also broadcast as a memorial tribute to Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Today this work has been played on so many occasions, so many times, that one may have stopped wondering as to its origins.
The Adagio for Strings remains Barber’s most performed piece to date.

Samuel Barber did not stick to a personal style. A fact that confused his critics. In the 1970s he remarked of this trait: ‘It is said that I have no style at all, but that doesn’t matter. I just go on doing, as they say, my thing.’

Barber encountered James Agee’s (1909-1955) prose in an anthology he read in the late 1930s.
The singer Eleanor Steber had commissioned him to write a piece, that prompted a rare synergy: The Boston Symphony director Sergei Koussevitsky had expressed an interest to Barber to conduct a large piece for voice and orchestra. Also at that time James Agee was experimenting with Jazz improvisation, and was eager to express his insights into a new fluidity to his writing.
As he was ‘scetching vaguely’ on an outline for a new novel, he wrote a nostalgic remembrance of his childhood, at the time when he was almost 6 years old. It took him barely two hours to produce the writing that would eventually lead to the final text for the piece, of which Barber chose only the third part.

In a correspondence with his childhood friend Father James Harold Flye, he wrote to Flye:
‘I wanted to become a really great writer’ a task he thought he must attempt against all odds, the perfecting of a full blooded epic writing style in a ‘prose that would run into poetry.’
Agee was also a film critic, for both Time magazine and The Nation, and was working as a scenarist in Hollywood, working among other projects on the joint script with John Huston for the ‘African Queen’. Later in his life he would deplore the fact that he had been distracted by the movie world and had not been more committed to the writing of his novels and poetry.

His friend and Harvard buddy, the poet Robert Fitzgerald describes a physical portrait of Agee:

‘A tall frame, long-boned but not massive; lean flesh, muscular with some awkwardness; pelt on his chest; a long stride with loose knee-joints, head up, with toes angled a bit outward. A complexion rather dark or sallow in pigment, easily tanned. The head rough-hewn, with a rugged brow and cheekbones, a strong nose irregular in profile, a large mouth, firmly closing in folds, working a little around the gaps of lost teeth. Hair thick and very dark. Eyes deep-set, strong stained teeth. On the right middle finger a callous as big as a boil; one of his stigmata as a writer.’

The final version of Knoxville is a moving narrative of a Southern Summer late afternoon after a long languid day seen through a child’s eyes, lying down on the lawn, surrounded by parents and family sharing stories with oneanother.
In Agee's vivid depiction of that atmosphere the adults seem unaware of being in the presence of an astute observer, as Agee puts it, ‘so succesfully disguised to myself as a child.’

K N O X V I L L E , Summer of 1915


First movement- ( Slow rendering of atmospherical contours, winding down after a long hot day )

..It has become that time of evening when people sit on their porches, rocking gently and talking gently and watching the street and the standing up into their sphere of possession of the trees, of birds' hung havens, hangars. People go by; things go by. A horse, drawing a buggy, breaking his hollow iron music on the asphalt: a loud auto: a quiet auto: people in pairs, not in a hurry, scuffling, switching their weight of aestival body, talking casually, the taste hovering over them in vanilla, strawberry, pasteboard, and starched milk, the image upon them of lovers and horsemen, squaring with clowns in hueless amber.

Second movement- ( Sudden acceleration, the stir of honking horns, a sense of panic )

A streetcar raising its iron moan; stopping; belling and starting, stertorous; rousing and raising again its iron increasing moan and swimming its gold windows and straw seats on past and past and past, the bleak spark crackling and cursing above it like a small malignant spirit set to dog its tracks; the iron whine rises on rising speed; still risen, faints; halts; the faint stinging bell; rises again, still fainter; fainting, lifting, lifts, faints foregone: forgotten. Now is the night one blue dew.

( Slowing down again, pausing and concluding in meticulous poetic coloring )

Now is the night one blue dew, my father has drained, he has coiled the hose.
Low in the length of lawns, a frailing of fire who breathes...
Parents on porches: rock and rock. From damp strings morning glories hang their ancient faces.
The dry and exalted noise of the locusts from all the air at once enchants my eardrums.

Third movement- ( Moving lines, carrying stunned observation and existential insight )

On the rough wet grass of the back yard my father and mother have spread quilts. We all lie there, my mother, my father, my uncle, my aunt, and I too am lying there... They are not talking much, and the talk is quiet, of nothing in particular, of nothing at all in particular, of nothing at all. The stars are wide and alive, they seem each like a smile of great sweetness, and they are very near. All my people are larger bodies than mine,... with voices gentle and meaningless like the voices of sleeping birds. One is an artist, he is living at home. One is a musician, she is living at home. One is my mother who is good to me. One is my father who is good to me. By some chance, here they are, all on this earth; and who shall ever tell the sorrow of being on this earth, lying, on quilts, on the grass, in the summer evening, among the sounds of the night. May God bless my people, my uncle, my aunt, my mother, my good father, oh, remember them kindly in their time of trouble; and in the hour of their taking away.

Fourth movement- ( Slowing down, and picking up again, slowly fading into quiet despair )

After a little I am taken in and put to bed. Sleep, soft smiling, draws me unto her: and those receive me, who quietly treat me, as one familiar and well-beloved in that home: but will not, no ,will not, not now, not ever; but will not ever tell me who I am.


The recording that I didn’t bother to compare with other existing versions of the same piece, is a musical epic. The soprano Jill Gomez is superb; the London Sinfonia, directed by Richard Hickox evokes the essence of the Samuel Barber and James Agee synergy. It conjures up a rich evocation of melancholy and musical euforia, that moves me time and again.

Gershwin, Copland, Barber
City of London Sinfonia
Directed by Richard Hickox
Virgin Classics VC 7 90766-2

Robert Fitzgerald excerpt: Some time in the sun by Tom Dardis
The Hollywood years of Scott Fitzgerald, Faulkner, Nathaniel West, Aldous Huxley, James Agee
Charles Scribner’s Sons / New York

posted by Walter at 8/28/2002

Tuesday, August 27, 2002

The Gates

From ‘Microcosm’ 1962 by Maureen Duffy, British writer, poet and playwright, the first British lesbian to come out publicly. The book describes her experience of lesbian life in WW2, written in the setting of the lesbian club Gateways in Chelsea London. The club opened in the 1930s, and closed in 1985, and by that time had outlived every lesbian club in Europe.

The book features an interesting ‘stream of consciousness’:

‘O mothers, matres, nestling your hungry infant close. Do you know your little cannibal longs to sink its bony gums in your marbled flesh, torment the rubbery nipple with phantom teeth and pound impotent fists into the soft milky breast where it hangs independent? Or thrust it off with the anonymous bottle; it will wail abandoned, seeking the lost warmth of your body. Keep it from the rough children of the street, cosset it against the urban savage swearing cops and robbers between the semi-detached and it will grow sickly and clinging, wrapped in a closed world of soft images. Send it to play in the yelling, scuffling lanes of common childhood and watch it tomboy, torn-trousered, rough-voiced, aggressive through life. Such a dear little girl.’

‘O patres, driving the long-distance lorries or away about war or business, you will come home stranger to find it has replaced you, man-about-the-house. Beat, humiliate it; it will reject you. Mice Men bowing before your hen-peck, pecking wives, it will despise you.
‘The patterns form in the foetus, at the breast and play, about the house, in teacher’s eyes, in the eyes of the world, worn in grooves, each one adding a little until the final voice is heard. ‘I am what I have become and I will be what I will be.’

posted by Walter at 8/27/2002