Thursday, July 14, 2011

Parvum Opus 390: Summer Read

Dulce, utile, et decorum est pro patria scribere

Arty Bollocks

My work explores the relationship between new class identities and urban spaces. With influences as diverse as Kierkegaard and Roy Lichtenstein, new synergies are created from both explicit and implicit textures. Ever since I was a student I have been fascinated by the traditional understanding of the mind. What starts out as hope soon becomes corrupted into a hegemony of lust, leaving only a sense of chaos and the chance of a new reality. As spatial phenomena become clarified through boundaried and diverse practice, the viewer is left with a glimpse of the possibilities of our future.

Is an image or even a thought forming in your mind now? This is an artistic statement generated by David James Ross, whose Arty Bollocks is another one of those automated statement generators that I love. They’re like MadLibs but with a point. The variables are in bold type. Make your own list of trendy and abstract nouns, adjectives, verbs, and names, and try your own artistic, personal, or mission statement.
            If you like Arty Bollocks, be sure to read The Painted Word (almost typed “Pained”) by Tom Wolfe.
            By the way, wouldn’t Arty Bollocks be a great name for a band? (American translation: arty B.S.)

Summertime and the Readin’ Is Easy

Today I picked up a book on the clearance table — Perfumes: The Guide by Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez. Writing about perfume must be like writing about wines. We can compare unfamiliar or complex smells and tastes to familiar ones, but cannot reproduce them with words, though much of the terminology in this book is chemical. Visual images can be approximated in writing — or does it just seem so? — but the language of smell is more esoteric.
            Examples from the glossary:

Drydown:  The late stage of a fragrance that develops after the top and heart notes subside and before the smell completely fades.
Green:  Smelling of cut grass or leaves.
Heart note:  The middle portion of a fragrance, after the top note subsides but before the drydown, often considered to be the fragrance’s true personality.
Sillage:  French for the wake left in the water by passing ships; fragrance industry jargon for the scent trial left by a perfume at a distance from the wearer.
Top note:  The first few minutes of a fragrance, when the materials with the lowest molecular weights and highest volatilities evaporate first.

            I was pleased to find that two of my favorite scents are highly rated.
            Diorissimo, from Dior, though not sold anymore in its original formulation, “is the archetypal muguet [lily of the valley]…. The original 1956 Diorissimo established Edmond Roudnitska as the Mozart of postwar French perfumery. And Diorissimo was a truly Mozartian fragrance, with a catchy jaunty presto tune like the overture to The Marriage of Figaro…. The best way to describe [the new version] is as the voice of a great soprano close to retirement. The melody, the timbre are there, but some of the high notes are a little forced and have lost the effortless soaring, the liquid fluency of old.”
            Grey Flannel is, “despite the fact that [it] can occasionally feel a little crude, a masterpiece.”
            I could go on. If you’d like me to look up the description of a fragrance, let me know, though there are some I couldn’t find, and not just because they’re too cheap. The books lists a number of cheap, low rated scents, but some cheaper ones are well rated too.
            Years ago a woman said to me, apropos of nothing (though we were in a restaurant), that when you smell something, molecules must actually enter your nose, thus your body. Which is obviously true but I’d never thought about it before. That steak or that flower or that guy next to you is actually getting inside your head, and elsewhere.

            I’m also reading The Secret Knowledge: On the Dismantling of American Culture, by David Mamet, in which the famous playwright writes about, around, under, over, and above his conversion from left to right politically. If you like his theatrical work before, you should like this book. I’ve seen some of his movies, and House of Games stuck with me, a pretty good suspense movie with a weird atmosphere.

            And the entry for trash is an out-of-print bodice (or toga) ripper by satirist Florence King. In The Florence King Reader she excerpted a chapter from an early novel, The Barbarian Princess, which she said is mercifully out of print. But I got a copy from a used book dealer. King made money writing genre fiction and wanted to get in on the gravy train that was the lurid “sweet savage” fiction she says was a backlash to the feminist movement of the era.
            She made a lot of money from this book under the nom de plume Laura Buchanan, in which a Celtic princess, Lydda, is kidnapped and escapes, is forced into wedlock, is ravished and raped, escapes and becomes a Druid warrior priestess, from Britain to Rome to North Africa and back with stops along the way, and so on and on until she finally marries her true love, the Saxon invader Thel. The book is ridiculous yet gripping. King knew her history and her Latin. She even threw in Saint Patrick as Lydda’s youthful boyfriend, who later unites her and Thel in Christian (at last) wedlock.
            I’m thinking about writing to King about this 1978 paperback. The characters on the cover were painted by someone who didn’t read any part of the book:  the red-headed Celtic princess is a brunette and the big blond Saxon looks like Charles Bronson. And on the back Lydda, wearing half a robe, appears to have no pelvic bones.
            If you don’t like trash, you’ll at least like Florence King’s other work, especially her book reviews. These days her columns appear in National Review.

Serial Karma

Dave DaBee notified me that the Oxford Style Guide now advocates dropping the Oxford comma, which is the serial comma, the one in a series before the final conjunction. We’ve talked about this before, here, so I won’t go into detail, but this is a horrible development and further evidence of weakening standards everywhere. What can it hurt to keep the comma? It often aids in comprehension, and when it doesn’t necessarily, it adds a sense of order, logic, and completeness to a series.
            The only bright note is that it seems that it’s the Oxford PR office style guide that perpetrated this shabbiness, not the Oxford University Press.
            Daily Writing Tips has a good array of examples of where and why to use commas in 10 Comma Cases in Which More Is More.

Beauty vs. Cutey

Hopping to another on the Oxford Comma site, I found an article on the most beautiful words in the English language, with a short list of suggestions. This is purely subjective as you have to distinguish between the sound of the word and its meaning. For instance, onomatopoeia is on the list, but why? It’s rhythmic but its meaning isn’t particularly beauteous. Someone once complained about the sickening sweetness of something like “summer afternoon” offered as most beautiful words. (Sorry about all the esses.)
            Are words with hard K sounds less beautiful, like cookie? Cookie is a beautiful word if you’re looking at a tray full of freshly baked cookies with chocolate chips — especially if accompanied by a bottle of Coca-Cola. Maybe cookie is a cute word rather than a beautiful word, but no one ever discusses cute words.
            Because of the contrast between sound and meaning — both of which are subjectively pleasing or otherwise — we have a panoply of names given to babies by parents who were more attuned to sound that meaning, such as this one invented by a comedian, Lemonjello, with the stress on the second syllable, a sort of aural allusion to Michelangelo; and the mythical twins Syphilis and Gonorrhea.


Heard on the radio:

“He’s taken some deserv-ed time off.”

“Deserved” was pronounced with three syllables, which is an antique pronunciation though it remains in some words, such as “bless-ed” alongside of “blessed” (blest). But shortly after, the same speaker on the radio said “deserved” with two syllables. I kind of like hearing the old version, a bit of the past popping up unexpectedly.

Not Quite

Someone/s wrote:

·         “A saying chalk full of wisdom.” Could sound like that in speech but it’s actually “chock-full”, possibly from “choke full”, which would suggest choking because your gullet is too full.

·         “It’s a shoe-in.” Should be “shoo in”, an easy winner, from “shoo” meaning to urge something or someone in a particular direction.