“On the bustling docks of New Orleans, Louisiana, just before he boarded the merchant ship Delos and left to cross the Atlantic, John James Audubon purchased a baby alligator for a dollar. He likely thought the animal would be fun to draw, and the live specimen might impress the naturalists of Britain when he delivered his paper “Observations of the Natural History of the Alligator.” If his baby alligator, long hair, or French accent did not attract curious looks from the crew and fellow passengers, surely did his additional luggage of an enormous wooden portfolio, lined with tin to protect against shipboard rodents, which held over 300 drawings and paintings of birds. No one on deck at the time, including Audubon, could know that as a result of this voyage and that portfolio, he would go on to be a celebrity in his day and not only one of the most famous painters of wildlife in North American history, but the namesake, some two centuries later, of hundreds of birding societies and nature centers and a near synonym across the continent for environmental conservation.”
“Plato and Aristotle disagreed about the imagination. As the philosopher Stephen Asma and the actor Paul Giamatti pointed out in an essay in March, Plato gave the impression that imagination is a somewhat airy-fairy luxury good. It deals with illusions and make-believe and distracts us from reality and our capacity to coolly reason about it. Aristotle countered that imagination is one of the foundations of all knowledge.
One tragedy of our day is that our culture hasn’t fully realized how much Aristotle was correct. Our society isn’t good at cultivating the faculty that we may need the most.
What is imagination? Well, one way of looking at it is that every waking second your brain is bombarded with a buzzing, blooming confusion of colors, shapes and movements. Imagination is the capacity to make associations among all these bits of information and to synthesize them into patterns and concepts. When you walk, say, into a coffee shop you don’t see an array of surfaces, lights and angles. Your imagination instantly coalesces all that into an image: “coffee shop.”
Neuroscientists have come to appreciate how fantastically complicated and subjective this process of creating mental images really is. You may think perception is a simple “objective” process of taking in the world and cognition is a complicated process of thinking about it. But that’s wrong.
Perception — the fast process of selecting, putting together, interpreting and experiencing facts, thoughts and emotions — is the essential poetic act that makes you you.
“The blogger John Rogers once noted that there are two novels that can shape the lives of bookish 14-year-olds: “Atlas Shrugged” and “The Lord of the Rings.” One of these novels, he asserted, is a childish fantasy that can leave you emotionally stunted; the other involves orcs.
Well, I was a bookish 14-year-old, but my touchstones were two different novels: Isaac Asimov’s “Foundation” and Frank Herbert’s “Dune.”
Many social scientists, it turns out, are science fiction readers. For example, quite a few experts on international relations who I know are fanatics about the TV version of “The Expanse.” I think it’s because good science fiction involves building imaginary worlds that are different from the world we know, but in interesting ways that relate to the attempt to understand why society is the way it is.
Anyway, that’s my excuse for devoting today’s newsletter not to the latest scary developments in politics and economics but to a much happier event: the U.S. release of a wonderful, satisfying film version of “Dune” — the first movie I’ve seen in a theater since the pandemic began.”
“In 1885, a 22-year-old Dutch woman named Johanna Bonger met Theo van Gogh, the younger brother of the artist, who was then making a name for himself as an art dealer in Paris. History knows Theo as the steadier of the van Gogh brothers, the archetypal emotional anchor, who selflessly managed Vincent’s erratic path through life, but he had his share of impetuosity. He asked her to marry him after only two meetings.
Jo, as she called herself, was raised in a sober, middle-class family. Her father, the editor of a shipping newspaper that reported on things like the trade in coffee and spices from the Far East, imposed a code of propriety and emotional aloofness on his children. There is a Dutch maxim, “The tallest nail gets hammered down,” that the Bonger family seems to have taken as gospel. Jo had set herself up in a safely unexciting career as an English teacher in Amsterdam. She wasn’t inclined to impulsiveness. Besides, she was already dating somebody. She said no.
But Theo persisted. He was attractive in a soulful kind of way — a thinner, paler version of his brother. Beyond that, she had a taste for culture, a desire to be in the company of artists and intellectuals, which he could certainly provide. Eventually he won her over. In 1888, a year and a half after his proposal, she agreed to marry him. After that, a new life opened up for her. It was Paris in the belle epoque: art, theater, intellectuals, the streets of their Pigalle neighborhood raucous with cafes and brothels. Theo was not just any art dealer. He was at the forefront, specializing in the breed of young artists who were defying the stony realism imposed by the Académie des Beaux-Arts. Most dealers wouldn’t touch the Impressionists, but they were Theo van Gogh’s clients and heroes. And here they came, Gauguin and Pissarro and Toulouse-Lautrec, the young men of the avant-garde, marching through her life with the exotic ferocity of zoo creatures.” . . .
” . . . Twenty-one months after her marriage, Jo was alone, stunned at the fecund dose of life she had just experienced, and at what was left to her from that life: approximately 400 paintings and several hundred drawings by her brother-in-law.
The brothers’ dying so young, Vincent at 37 and Theo at 33, and without the artist having achieved renown — Theo had managed to sell only a few of his paintings — would seem to have ensured that Vincent van Gogh’s work would subsist eternally in a netherworld of obscurity. Instead, his name, art and story merged to form the basis of an industry that stormed the globe, arguably surpassing the fame of any other artist in history. That happened in large part thanks to Jo van Gogh-Bonger. She was small in stature and riddled with self-doubt, had no background in art or business and faced an art world that was a thoroughly male preserve. Her full story has only recently been uncovered. It is only now that we know how van Gogh became van Gogh.” . . .
Mr. Levithan is the author of numerous books for children and young adults. The most recent of which is “The Mysterious Disappearance of Aidan S. (as Told to His Brother).”
“In third grade, I wanted to be a mouse.
Not a timid mouse. Not a quiet mouse. And certainly not Mickey Mouse.
No, I wanted to be Ralph, the mouse with the motorcycle.
In the many appreciations of Beverly Cleary that have been posted since her death at age 104 last Thursday, there has been plenty of rightful attention paid to Ramona, her most famous character. Though I have nothing but respect for Ramona, my heart has always belonged to Ralph. Ms. Cleary always said she wrote “The Mouse and the Motorcycle” for her son. In doing this, she didn’t welcome just one boy into the world of her books; she welcomed generations of boys like me.
Third grade was a crucial time for me as a reader. I felt I was coming to a fork in the library aisles, where one path led to the Hardy Boys doing hardy boy things while Nancy Drew did mysteriously girl-coded things down the other. Even though Princess Leia was my favorite character to be when I played “Star Wars”with my friends (unusual, but not that unusual) and Marion Ravenwood was my favorite when we played “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (highly unusual, to the point of oddness), I still felt I needed to head for the mountainous boy-book terrain. I was supposed to read for action, not depth. Feelings were not a mystery the Hardy Boys ever needed to solve.
Then I found Ralph.
We meet him in Room 215 of the Mountain View Inn, where a boy named Keith has just arrived. (Keith’s parents are in an adjoining room.) As soon as Keith settles in, he pokes around the room, coming very close to discovering the knothole behind which Ralph and his mouse family live. Then Keith does exactly what I would have done, had I been the one checking into Room 215: He takes out his toy cars, plays with them, and then lines them up in a neat row before he goes to sleep.” . . .
A political cartoonist associated the donkey and the elephant with the two major political parties.
Why is the elephant the symbol of the Republican Party and a donkey the symbol of the Democrats?
“A very famous political cartoonist named Thomas Nast is credited with making these animals the symbols of their parties during the 1870s. (The donkey was first associated with the Democrats during the election of 1828, but it wasn’t until Nast used it in 1870 that many people began to link the Democrats with the donkey.)
In 1874, Nast drew the cartoon shown above with a donkey wearing a lion’s skin and scaring all the other animals in the forest. One of the animals was an elephant, and it was labeled “The Republican Vote.” And the rest, as they say, is history.”
“Bosch’s view of human nature is there in all his works. One work I will be discussing is the Haywain. It is a triptych which exists in two versions, one in the Escorial and the other in the Prado. We will be looking at the Prado painting.”
A humorist for the New Yorker one upon a time saw a musical with a title like My Wild Irish Rose, or something like that, and wrote that the fact that an American audience liked such rubbish was proof that democracy would never survive. This also describes my feelings about this music piece. This story didn’t belong on the front page, but in the the section called Health and Mental Disorders. I second the comment that the money for this concert? could have gone to a soup ktichen. David Lindsay Jr. is the author of “The Tay Son Rebellion” and blogs at InconvenientNews.net.
When I revisited this article, to review my comment, I had been recommended once.
I looked at the top comments, and learned a great deal about my own limitations. Both of these comments were so profound, I had to recommend them, even though they each conflict with my first reaction, diametrically.
As a donor to this undertaking (year 2355), I have been happy to support a project that, for almost two decades already, repeatedly renews a public conversation such as that I’m reading here. For me, this work requires an uncomfortable contemplation of the human lifespan, for example. As we venture deeper into the Anthropocene — and acknowledge more and more how the human species is irrevocably shaping our planet — an artistic creation that cannot be experienced within a single human lifetime humbles me to reflect on worlds beyond my possible contemplation. Just as I wonder about the time perception of creatures with such disparate lifespans as a common housefly or a giant tortoise, so too can I revel in imagining an entity for which a 639-year composition might be perceived as little more than a brief tune. For years, even when I wake in the night, I think about this continuum of sound in Halberstadt, and feel connected to past and future. As a human statement, and as a work of art — the exact opposite of narcissim, I find — this ongoing performance, is truly humbling and inspirational.
Years ago I was with a friend at the Boston Ballet watching a piece by Merce Cunningham. It went on for quite some time in dead silence. I glanced at the program and showed my friend the line “Music by John Cage. “ In the absolute stillness of the theater we were laughing with tears streaming down our faces, but in total silence, one of those terrible moments when you CAN NOT make a sound, which makes the moment that much more absurd. It was more than 40 years ago. All I had to read was John Cage and it set me off.
NYT Critic’s Pick, Directed by Thomas Kail. Biography, Drama, History, Musical. PG-13, 2h 40m
“The opening scenes of the filmed version of the Broadway musical “Hamilton,” which starts streaming on Disney+ on Independence Day weekend, pull you back in time to two distinct periods. The people onstage, in their breeches and brass-buttoned coats, belong to the New York of 1776. That’s when a 19-year-old freshly arrived from the Caribbean — the “bastard, immigrant, son of a whore” who shares his name with the show — makes his move and takes his shot, joining up with a squad of anti-British revolutionaries and eventually finding his way to George Washington’s right hand and the front of the $10 bill.
But this Hamilton, played with relentless energy and sly charm by Lin-Manuel Miranda, who wrote the music, book and lyrics, also belongs to the New York of 2016. Filmed (by the show’s director, Thomas Kail, and the cinematographer Declan Quinn) in front of a live audience at the Richard Rodgers Theater in June of that year, the movie, while not strictly speaking a documentary, is nonetheless a document of its moment. It evokes a swirl of ideas, debates, dreams and assumptions that can feel, in the present moment, as elusive as the intrigue and ideological sparring of the late 1700s.”
“A fifth grader in New Jersey is a master of curlicues and connecting loops. His technique is so good he was named a state and national champion of a dying art: cursive writing, a skill that once seemed destined to go the way of the typewriter.
The boy, Edbert Aquino, who is 10, took home last year’s national trophy, $500 and bragging rights for his Roman Catholic elementary school in Bergen County.”
But competition for the prize might just get stiffer in New Jersey.
Assemblywoman Angela McKnight, a Democrat from Jersey City, has introduced legislation that would require public schools to again teach a skill that had been phased out across the country, but is now enjoying something of a revival.