Tuesday, January 29, 2008

1942 photos from OWI

Here are some more photos taken in 1942 by photographers in the US Office of War Information. They're part of the large collection being uploaded to Flickr by the Library of Congress. They're clearly works of propaganda, not journalism or personal reminiscence. They're also from a time when color photography was still relatively new. Color emulsions gave high quality images, but the film was very slow. With long shutter speeds, subjects had to remain motionless for a second or so and lighting had to be fairly intense.

Click images to view them full size. Do this; they're much better that way.

Caption: Palmer, Alfred T.,, photographer. Learning how to determine latitude by using a sextant is Senta Osoling, student at Polytechnic High School, Los Angeles, Calif. Navigation classes are part of the school's program for training its students for specific contributions to the war effort. 1942 Sept.

Caption: Palmer, Alfred T.,, photographer. M-4 tank crews of the United States, Ft. Knox, Ky. 1942 June

Caption: Hollem, Howard R.,, photographer. Sailor mechanic inspecting a PBY plane at the Naval Air Base, Corpus Christi, Texas. 1942 August

Caption: Hollem, Howard R.,, photographer. Mary Louise Stepan, 21, used to be a waitress. She has a brother in the air corps. She is working on transport parts in the hand mill, Consolidated Aircraft Corp., Fort Worth, Texas. 1942 Oct.

Caption: Hollem, Howard R.,, photographer. Painting the American insignia on airplane wings is a job that Mrs. Irma Lee McElroy, a former office worker, does with precision and patriotic zeal. Mrs. McElroy is a civil service employee at the naval Air Base, Corpus Christi, Texas. Her husband is a flight instructor. 1942

Caption: Hollem, Howard R.,, photographer. Lathe operator machining parts for transport planes at the Consolidated Aircraft Corporation plant, Fort Worth, Texas. 1942 Oct.

Caption: Hollem, Howard R.,, photographer. This sailor mechanic is inspecting a PBY plane at the Naval Air Base in Corpus Christi, Texas. The ship had been reconditioned by the Civil Service employees at the Assembly and Repair Department in the base. 1942 August

Caption: Hollem, Howard R.,, photographer. Mrs. Eloise J. Ellis, senior supervisor in the Assembly and Repairs Dept. of the Naval Air Base, talking with one of the men, Corpus Christi, Texas. 1942 August

Caption: Hollem, Howard R.,, photographer. Lorena Craig is a cowler under civil service at the Naval Air Base, Corpus Christi, Texas. 1942 August

Caption: Delano, Jack,, 1914-, photographer. C & NW RR; locomotives in the roundhouse at Proviso yard, Chicago, Ill. 1942 Dec.

Caption: Delano, Jack,, 1914-, photographer. Melrose Park (near Chicago), Ill; C & NW RR; L. Logan, of West Chicago, boilermaker at the roundhouse at the Proviso yard. 1942 Dec.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Capa and Taro

Robert Capa's war photographs are legendary. He has been the subject of much biographical writing and his photographs have been endlessly analyzed and appreciated. A Google image search turns up many gems. He has other photographic creds as well. Take for example this famous shot of Pablo Picasso and Françoise Gilot, taken in 1948.

Today, the New York Times reports on the recovery of many Capa negatives from his time as a partisan in the Spanish Civil War: The Capa Cache, by Randy Kennedy.

The article points out that Capa's companion Gerda Taro was an equally accomplished photojournalist during the mid-1930s. Like his, her life was full of action and as much at risk as the soldiers whom she photographed. Unlike his, her luck ran out all too quickly. She died in an accident leaving a battlefield in 1937. She had hitched a ride on a car by jumping onto its running board and died when a tank accidentally collided with the car.

The Times reproduces some of the best war photos of Capa-Taro in a slide show here.

Not long ago, a photojournalism magazine, The Digital Journalist, did a nice piece on the couple: Capa and Taro: Together at Last.

Here are some images from the article:

GERDA TARO: Republican militiawomen training on the beach outside Barcelona, Spain. August 1936.

ROBERT CAPA: Gerda Taro and soldier, Córdoba front, Spain. 1936.

GERDA TARO: Republican dinamiteros, Carabanchel neighborhood of Madrid, Spain. June 1937.

FRED STEIN: Gerda Taro and Robert Capa, Paris. 1935.

[Photographer Unknown]: GERDA TARO, Guadalajara front, Spain. July 1937.

GERDA TARO: Robert Capa, Segovia front, Spain. Late May-early June 1937.

[Unidentified Photographer]: Robert Capa holding his 35mm Contax on a Japanese tank captured at the Battle of Tai'erzhuang, Xuzhou Front, China. April 1938.

Here's a photo showing the Contax camera Capa used; click to view full size:

And a photo of the Leica 3f that Taro sometimes used (she also used a Rolleiflex):

Taro was born the same year my father was. He bought a very similar Leica during a trip to Germany in the early 1930s. As you can tell from her biography, his comfortable middle-class Manhattan life could hardly have been more different from her life as a left-wing militant in central- and western-Europe during that tumultuous time.

Clarissa, Waldo, and Tom

There are parallels and correspondences between Emerson's Brahma and Eliot's Burnt Norton, on the one hand, and Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway, on the other. They are tantalizing, but, unfortunately, they are not profound. Emerson tells us much that Woolf shows: the dispassion of a fully-realized life and the paradoxes that emerge from that realization: the collapsing of space and time and the temporary suspension of the compulsions of ego and id.

Burnt Norton's resemblance is not so superficial. The place from which the poem takes its name is something like Clarissa's Bourton, a manor house he once visited having an ethereal rose garden. Possessing uncannily similar names, both are in Gloucestershire and both are freighted with nostalgia of nearly Edenic intensity.

Both the poem and the novel have a circular structure, returning at end to the point of departure, though this is less obvious in the novel. Both use the imagery of time to convey esoteric meaning: the flow of time; the experience of past, present and future; the illumination that accompanies a release from the confinement imposed by time. For both the word that best describes the enlightened state is love, not of physical desire, but a metaphysical acceptance of all and everything -- good and bad, important and trivial, handsome and ugly, permanent and transient. Both evoke nonexistence as counterpoint to the physical world, what Eliot calls the still point in the gap between un-being and being.

The big difference is one of religious faith. Eliot's point of view is entirely Christian, his faith in redemption and eternal life. Woolf neither accepts nor denies religious faith. It, like everything else, is part of life, but is not life itself. Woolf's point of view is more complex. She gives us the minute details of each living moment to treasure. She gives us our lives to live, fully if we can, but without any certainties, lacking all permanence, and having no freedom from doubt. Woolf's imagery deals with unfathomable nature -- that of oceans, skies, and piercing light -- and also much natural beauty -- of trees, gardens, and bounteous flowers. Her essential theme, I believe, is the peculiar courage that can face up to aboriginal fear -- fear of non-being, fear of death -- and, having allowed ourselves to exerience this deep amorphous dread, do more than survive, ourselves shine forth in fully-realized humanity. This is very different from Eliot's vision of purification, perfection, and spiritual unity.

Early in Mrs. Dalloway, Clarissa decides she should mend her dress. Woolf uses the dress itself, her acquisition of it, the maker, and its need for repair to show us Clarissa's compassion, ability to live life as it is, and potential to experience fear -- existential dread I would say -- as a necessary part of life. Using fairly complex imagery it's possible also that in this passage Woolf intimates Clarissa's capacity for enlightenment, the epiphany Clarissa will experience at the end of the novel which will reveal her fully to us as existential heroine, transformed but still present ("there she was") and still the person who will do for herself that she was at the outset.

Here is the passage:
Quiet descended on her, calm, content, as her needle, drawing the silk smoothly to its gentle pause, collected the green folds together and attached them, very lightly, to the belt. So on a summer’s day waves collect, overbalance, and fall; collect and fall; and the whole world seems to be saying “that is all” more and more ponderously, until even the heart in the body which lies in the sun on the beach says too, That is all. Fear no more, says the heart. Fear no more, says the heart, committing its burden to some sea, which sighs collectively for all sorrows, and renews, begins, collects, lets fall. And the body alone listens to the passing bee; the wave breaking; the dog barking, far away barking and barking.

Here's Emerson's poem. It's one of only a handful of really good ones that he wrote during his long lifetime and it first appeared in the very first issue of The Atlantic Monthly in November 1857.
by Ralph Waldo Emerson

If the red slayer think he slays,
Or if the slain think he is slain,
They know not well the subtle ways
I keep, and pass, and turn again.

Far or forgot to me is near,
Shadow and sunlight are the same,
The vanished gods to me appear,
And one to me are shame and fame.

They reckon ill who leave me out;
When me they fly, I am the wings;
I am the doubter and the doubt,
And I the hymn the Brahmin sings.

The strong gods pine for my abode,
And pine in vain the sacred Seven;
But thou, meek lover of the good!
Find me, and turn thy back on heaven.

Eliot's poem is widely available. An internet search turns up a number of locations where you can read Burnt Norton including this one.

He is the much greater poet; they are not in the same league at all. And Four Quartets, of which Burnt Norton is a part, is a masterpiece.

There's no intersection between the lives of Woolf and Emerson, of course, and no reason to expect that Woolf had more than passing interest in his poetry. Eliot, on the other hand, was more than an acquaintance of hers. She and Leonard published his poetry -- hand-setting it for printing at the Hogarth Press which they jointly ran. And Eliot is mentioned in her diaries, though it's not evident that his work had any influence on hers. Some anecdotes of Eliot and the Woolfs, along with a description of their early publishing business, is given here.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Clarissa: existentialist heroine

I promised to revisit my essay on Clarissa Dalloway as existentialist heroine in the context of Lucio P. Ruolto's treatment of the same.

Ruotolo and I both draw upon the same existentialist pantheon to establish the boundaries and essence of the philosophy, including Kierkegaard, Sartre, and, more than anyone else, Heidegger. However, Ruotolo's main secondary source appears to be William Barrett's What Is Existentialism? whereas mine is Anthony Manser's article in the old Dictionary of the History of Ideas.

Ruotolo says explicitly what I imply, that Woolf's novel is extraordinary existentialist literature. Most works in the genre are pessimistic. They depict the mass of humankind as passive and tragically self-deceived. They depict life as an absurdly futile interval between the vacancy that precedes birth and the vacancy that succeeds death. They may have a main character who possesses innately, or works to achieve an ability to perceive all that's wrong, but they generally show this person as lonely victim of persecution -- an outcast.

Ruotolo points out that Clarissa Dalloway is unusual in that Woolf gives her an existential triumph, not of course by defeating adversaries but by permitting herself to confront and to respect the absurdity of life and the inevitability of death; to dislodge and examine her own personal strengths and weaknesses; and to closely observe both the superficial attributes and underlying foibles of others and to find within herself a unpassionate love for each in their full individuality.

Ruotolo shows us Clarissa's emerging self-realization partly, as I do, by revealing the incompleteness of the novel's other characters, but he does this much more thoroughly. On the other hand I more than he try to show the transformation which Clarissa undergoes during the course of the day. He brings in other writings of Virginia Woolf to explicate his thesis, particularly the Diary and a lecture she gave at Cambridge in 1924, Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown. I do not.

Ruotolo is more prudent than I in maintaining the boundaries of the frame we've chosen. He writes about Clarissa as existentialist hero and doesn't let his imagination wander on to the other pathways which lead to authentic living -- those of the religious mystics, Zen masters, and even Samurai warriors. Whereas I . . . . well to quote myself,
For me, Zen is existentialist. Its end product is overcoming dread of nothingness and of death by facing up to both. It is subjective practice aiming at a transcendent objectivity. It values the absurd and is enemy of complacency. Zen adepts are fully conscious of the choices they make; if there is self-deception among them, it is conscious self-deception.

And I use this amplified frame to show something Ruotolo doesn't bring out: that in the end, Clarissa, now enlightened -- in the Zen sense -- is back where she began. She has given herself time and space in which she can transform -- move gracefully from cherished memories of the past, through each precious moment of time in which she finds herself, into a future which is indetermined, but in which she knows she will be both different from whom she was time past and is time present, but also, paradoxically, the same. She is, that is to say, not transformed out of her life, but into it. Accepting this paradox is a heroic achievement, an existentialist triumph.

Ruotolo more than I stresses the presence Clarissa has attained. He uses the Heideggerian term "being there" to describe this and he closes his essay by emphasizing the importance of the phrase with which Woolf closes the novel:
Peter and Sally, however, are no less human by virtue of their inauthenticity. The fear that drives them to dominate others is stamped upon Clarissa's world and no doubt our own. If Peter has denied (more than once) the sanctity of the human heart by reducing Clarissa to "the perfect hostess," on other occasions he has responded to such mystery. Early in the book he describes the magical quality of her parties. Clarissa, he confesses, has "that extraordinary gift, that woman's gift, of making a world of her own wherever she happened to be." During her parties it was not what she did or said that one remembered but rather the extraordinary sense of her being there, "There she was" (pp. 114-115).

In the closing scene, as Clarissa moves from her small room toward Peter, her miraculous presence fills him once again with an undefinable sense of terror and ecstasy; reduced to wonder he can only exclaim: "It is Clarissa." The novel's last words, reiterating Peter's messianic invocation - "For there she was" - challenge each critic's effort to fathom Mrs. Dalloway. Is the statement a final irony - Peter's romantic affirmation of a presence that sustains his melancholy - or does the reader respond with similar apostolic fervor to Clarissa as being there in some special way? Since Virginia Woolf sought to portray the mysterious reality of character it is fitting that, finally, this question remains unanswered.

A few more differences as afterthought: (1) Ruotolo very nicely brings in support from Ludwig Wittgenstein:
Wittgenstein's Lecture on Ethics. The connection between Woolf and Wittgenstein is tenuous but Ruotolo says "In a letter dated July 28, 1965, Leonard Woolf informs me that although he and his wife did not know Wittgenstein well they spent some time with him when the philosopher stayed with Maynard Keynes in a house close to their own." (2) And also brings in support from Sigmund Freud. He says "Freud's late comments on the artist, quoted by Ernest Jones, seems particularly relevant: 'The artist, like the neurotic, had withdrawn from an unsatisfying reality into this world of imagination; but, unlike the neurotic, he knew how to find a way back from it and once more to get a firm foothold in reality.'" (3) I make more of the Shakespearean quote Fear no more the heat o' the sun. (4) He does not point out as I do that Clarissa, in counterpoint to the fearful sun, is a radiant being (Clarissa = "clear," "bright," "famous").

1942 again

A short time ago I noted that the Library of Congress has posted photos to a flickr page and I reproduced some photos from that collection from my birth year, 1942. The LC initiative has become very popular, eliciting this statement from an archivist at the National Museum of Health and Medicine:
The National Museum of Health and Medicine has been uploading pictures to Flickr since September 2006. We've transcribed, of course, all information that we have for each picture, but have also been posting some for which we have relatively little information, such as LC is doing, with the hope that a Flickr user will recognize them and be able to tell us more.We've been uploading the hard way, mostly one picture at a time, choosing from among the several hundred thousand we've been digitizing over the last three years. Until that database goes live, this is our way of sharing our favorite photos from our many collections. You can see our photos at:
- http://www.flickr.com/photos/99129398@N00,
- http://www.flickr.com/photos/7438870@N04/,
- and http://www.flickr.com/photos/22719239@N04/

That said, here are photos tagged "1942" from the NMHM collections on flickr. As usual, click image to view full size.

Caption: Chinook Kennels for U.S. Army dogs, New Hampshire... S/Sgt. Stanley Kovak, stops with his dog for a short rest. 1942.

Caption: One of the wards at a U.S. Army Station Hospital in Iceland. Nurses, doctors and linen rooms are located in the back. November 25, 1942.

Caption: Army Medical Museum. Main exhibit hall. 1942.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Clarissa's party

Mrs. Dalloway has many poetic sections whose meaning must be picked out, hesitantly interpreted. The novel comes close to its swing point when Clarissa recognizes that, after all and once again, she's created space, via one of her parties, for people to reach outside themselves and see their lives, briefly and tentatively, in a new frame of reference.

The words she uses to describe this recognition are puzzling. Clarissa knows all is well only when Ralph Lyon beats back the curtain. Ralph Lyon is just a name; he has no significance outside this one action. The curtain is in the drawing room. Woolf has already told us about it while Ellie Henderson is asserting her right to wallflowerdom: "Gently the yellow curtain with all the birds of Paradise blew out and it seemed as if there were a flight of wings into the room, right out, then sucked back. (For the windows were open.)"

Here's the block of text for the moment, later in the party, when Ralph Lyon beats back the curtain:
The curtain with its flight of birds of Paradise blew out again. And Clarissa saw—she saw Ralph Lyon beat it back, and go on talking. So it wasn’t a failure after all! it was going to be all right now—her party. It had begun. It had started. But it was still touch and go. She must stand there for the present. People seemed to come in a rush.

Colonel and Mrs. Garrod . . . Mr. Hugh Whitbread . . . Mr. Bowley . . . Mrs. Hilbery . . . Lady Mary Maddox . . . Mr. Quin . . . intoned Wilkin. She had six or seven words with each, and they went on, they went into the rooms; into something now, not nothing, since Ralph Lyon had beat back the curtain.

And yet for her own part, it was too much of an effort. She was not enjoying it. It was too much like being—just anybody, standing there; anybody could do it; yet this anybody she did a little admire, couldn’t help feeling that she had, anyhow, made this happen, that it marked a stage, this post that she felt herself to have become, for oddly enough she had quite forgotten what she looked like, but felt herself a stake driven in at the top of her stairs. Every time she gave a party she had this feeling of being something not herself, and that every one was unreal in one way; much more real in another. It was, she thought, partly their clothes, partly being taken out of their ordinary ways, partly the background, it was possible to say things you couldn’t say anyhow else, things that needed an effort; possible to go much deeper. But not for her; not yet anyhow.

{Not Clarissa's curtain, but nice.}

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Clarissa Dalloway: Existential Heroine

Mrs. Dalloway continues to occupy my mind. Though there's a vast amount of scholarly output on the book, until today I'd been able to find only a few passing references to its existential nature. What I found today is an excellent little book called Six Existentialist Heroes, by Lucio Ruotolo. Since it's contents are not web-accessible, it took me a little extra effort to discover that Clarissa Dalloway is one of Ruotolo's heroes. (I borrowed a copy in the library where I work after seeing a reference to it in an academic journal; the reference didn't mention Clarissa or Existentialism, but the context made me suspect it would be worthwhile taking a look at the book.)

I'll write about the content of the chapter in another post. For now, here's some information about the author, written in appreciation following his death a few years back. Note that his treatment of Clarissa as Existential Hero almost didn't appear in print.
Longtime professor Lucio Ruotolo, expert on Virginia Woolf, dies

Stanford Report, July 23, 2003

extract: Lucio Ruotolo, a professor emeritus of English whose work on Virginia Woolf helped to cement her reputation as one of the great writers of the 20th century, died July 4 at Stanford Hospital. He was 76.

Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway is a subject of his award-winning first book, Six Existential Heroes: The Politics of Faith (Harvard University Press, 1973), in which he explores existentialism as a positive, life-embracing philosophy that can serve as a catalyst for change.

"The book grew out of the notion of a hero who develops in relation to a world he seeks to remedy," Ruotolo said in a 1983 interview with the News Service. "My object was to redefine the notion of an existential hero in more political terms. ... A recurring criticism of existentialism is its supposed disposition to pessimism, anarchy and disillusion -- that it remains essentially a destructive posture. I assume that the courage to raise the question 'If not something, why not nothing?' is linked to the capacity to suspend, at least provisionally, traditional solutions and to entertain often radically new procedures."



extract: Lucio Ruotolo, a professor emeritus of English, died July 4, 2003, at Stanford Hospital, of complications following heart surgery. He was 76.

His first book, based in part on his dissertation, Six Existential Heroes: The Politics of Faith, contained a chapter on Woolf's novel, Mrs. Dalloway. A long-time friend recalls that he was pressured to exclude Woolf from the book because she was the only woman in the study and not highly regarded, but Ruotolo refused to back down. He even had to change his publisher in order to stick to his principles. The book won the Thomas J. Wilson Memorial Prize, awarded by the Harvard Board of Syndics.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

presidential prevarications

A year ago The Atlantic printed an article by Carl M. Cannon, Untruth and Consequences, detailing presidential lies over the years. He says "Presidents prevaricate for the reasons other people do: pathology, politeness, paternalism, convenience, shame, self-promotion, insecurity, ego, narcissism, and even, on occasion, to further a noble goal," and he tells of Franklin Roosevelt's deception about the state of his health, quotes Churchill to Stalin: “In wartime, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies,” and gives the following marvelous Lincoln anecdote:
Abraham Lincoln was said to have walked miles as an Illinois store clerk to return a few cents’ change. His “Honest Abe” nickname, which predated his presidency, was an advantage that his opponent Stephen Douglas tried to erase by calling him “two-faced.” (Lincoln’s response: “I leave it to [my audience]. If I had another face, do you think I’d wear this one?”)

{source: the Cannon article in the Atlantic}

Not long ago I did a post on the Watergate tapes and mentioned my evolving disillusionment about government truthfulness. Cannon recalls a couple of the incidents that brought about this loss of faith: Nixon's Watergate lies and the revelations in the tapes including Lyndon Johnson's admission to Robert McNamara that the Gulf of Tonkin incident was fabricated. He says,
By 1975, the year Saigon fell, 69 percent of Americans answered affirmatively to a poll question asking whether “over the last ten years this country’s leaders have consistently lied to the people.”
It's easy to find Presidents' lies on the internet. Just a few here:
"The world will note that the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, a military base. That was because we wished in this first attack to avoid, insofar as possible, the killing of civilians."

"We did not--repeat, did not--trade weapons or anything else for hostages, nor will we"

"I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky."

"We are now threatened with a missile gap that leaves us in a position of potentially grave danger."

It's normal for full details of this mis-leadership by US administrations to appear long after the occasion for the lies. So it's no surprise that now, so many years afterwards, the press is giving extensive coverage to a study showing that the present administration put out hundreds of them during the months preceding the US attack on Iraq. Here's a link to the AP story:
Study: False statements preceded war by Douglass K. Daniel.


A study by two nonprofit journalism organizations ... concluded that the statements "were part of an orchestrated campaign that effectively galvanized public opinion and, in the process, led the nation to war under decidedly false pretenses."

The study counted 935 false statements in the two-year period. It found that in speeches, briefings, interviews and other venues, Bush and administration officials stated unequivocally on at least 532 occasions that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction or was trying to produce or obtain them or had links to al-Qaida or both.

"The cumulative effect of these false statements — amplified by thousands of news stories and broadcasts — was massive, with the media coverage creating an almost impenetrable din for several critical months in the run-up to war," the study concluded.

{AP Photo}

Monday, January 21, 2008

Miyamoto Musashi

Calligraphy and paintings by Miyamoto Musashi, who wrote A Book of Five Rings (Gorin no shô)

A cormorant, ink on paper
click image to view full size

A dragon (detail of a large painting)
click image to view full size

click image to view full size

The god, Hotei, contemplating two fighting cocks. Hotei is one of the gods of good fortune.
click image to view full size

The calligraphy on the left is Senki, the War Spirit. It reads, "The Moon in the cold stream like a mirror." The drawing on the right shows Daruma (Bodhidharma) the father of Zen Buddhism in China and Japan
click image to view full size

A shrike
click image to view full size

One side of a screen
click image to view full size

The other side
click image to view full size

Not by Miyamoto, but an imaginary depiction of what he might have looked like
click image to view full size

Also not by Miyamoto, this is the character Earth (or Ground) by Dr. K. Itoh (Earth is the first book in Five Rings)
click image to view full size

The character Void by Dr. K. Itoh (Void is the last book in Five Rings)
click image to view full size

Sources: About half the images are scans from the book. The others came from an image search. Ultimately, most are reproductions of works held by the Eisei Bunko museum in Tokyo (described here).

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Clarissa's day

I said that The Traveler and Mrs. Dalloway were less unlike that one might expect. Among their likenesses is an existential core which they share. In The Traveler this core is in plain sight; the novel is forthrightly speculative and its author sets out his thesis forthrightly: humans exist in a tragic, futile, passivity. Only a few adepts can break free of this anomie. They do this at great risk and their success does not lead to the power of social control, but only the power of self-realization. Between the unhappy mass of humans and the few enlightened warriors, the author places a third body -- an evil order of men that abuses technology to impose its twisted will on humanity. The plot is driven by the unequal contest between the sword-carrying warriors and the steel-willed devils having immense resources at their command.

Virginia Woolf is both less direct and more satisfying in showing us a life well-lived.

She lets her characters speak to us, shows them to us from the inside. Each makes individual response to the fundamental challenges of life. And together their individual struggles help the reader see the surprising fullness of the life of the central character. It's fitting that this central character, a Mrs. Dalloway, is gradually shown to be Clarissa, a woman who, having her own light, fears not the heat of the sun.

The incompleteness of other characters is made plain by absence: Richard and Elizabeth in simplicity, love of nature, and awkwardness among people; Doris Kilman in failure to respect her own self and false faith in salvation through religion; Peter Walsh in his dependence on others, in his awkwardness with his pocket knife as unacknowledged defensive weapon, and in a fickle inability to make right choices in life; Sally Walsh, charming like Peter, like him volatile, and more than him adventurous, not fickle in making choices, but too cowardly to make right choices all the same.

Septimus Smith shows more than others the fullness of life that Clarissa is eventually able to claim for herself. He cannot hide from knowledge of death, but he is overwhelmed by it and has lost his ability to experience emotion. He sees life as meaningless but cannot accept what he sees. Pursued by the only truly evil character in the book, his despair drives him to suicide, a violent, ugly, and disfiguring death.

Woolf shows us Mrs. Dalloway struggling to acknowledge the unfairness of life -- futile, mean, barren, and lonely -- and to use that knowledge to achieve a love beyond the love of individuals for other individuals, a love of humankind in all its flawed beauty. It is a love that transcends the shallowness of complacency (Hugh Whitbread's for example), accepts the inequity that makes life nasty, brutish, and short for many (the Armenians, or maybe it's the Albanians, for example), and does not judge the shortcomings of all others (forgives them for judging her). Clarissa, Woolf tells us, simply likes life. Speaking aloud to life itself she says "That's what I do it for." She comes to possess the most perfect ease as if she were a creature floating in its element; her dignity is inexpressible, her cordiality exquisite.

Struggling also to come to terms with fear of death. Mrs. Dalloway fears death, so the author tells us. Most of the characters fail to face this fear and of course Septimus is done in by it. Peter has thoughts of death but they are a component of his mood swings -- he does not face up to it, but fears and denies alternately.

Clarissa knows how it is certain we must die. Helped by her reaction to the odious Sir William Bradshaw, she is given the grace to overcome her dread. At the party which ends her day she thinks how that morning she had experienced her fear of death. She thinks, "there was the terror; the overwhelming incapacity, one’s parents giving it into one’s hands, this life, to be lived to the end, to be walked with serenely; there was in the depths of her heart an awful fear." Then, learning of the suicide of Septimus, she begins to come to terms with this terror. "Somehow [she thinks] it was her disaster — her disgrace. It was her punishment to see sink and disappear here a man, there a woman, in this profound darkness, and she forced to stand here in her evening dress. She had schemed; she had pilfered. She was never wholly admirable. She had wanted success. Lady Bexborough and the rest of it. And once she had walked on the terrace at Bourton."

Indirectly, Woolf lets us know the practice that Clarissa follows as her acknowledgment leads to acceptance. She views the death with sacrificial empathy. More than a scapegoat, Septimus becomes a token for the mortality of oneself and all humankind. Of course she knows that Golden lads and girls all must,/As chimney-sweepers, come to dust. But when she absorbs the news of Septimus's death, the event is not a topic for gossip or quick moralizing. In her emerging sense of self-awareness she sees the importance of death in the midst of life. She is not shocked and she does not pity him. As the novel comes to an end, of all the characters, she alone, in the fullness of her life, learns not to fear the heat of sun.

Woolf's recurrent images of ageless womankind help us see the connection Clarissa comes to make between her own individuality and all the individuals who were, are, and ever will be. Using these images of female presence, she indirectly reaffirms this connectedness, continuity, primal force.

• The beggar woman at Regent's Park tube station.
ee um fah um so
foo swee too eem oo
And rocks and creaks and moans in the eternal breeze.

Through all ages — when the pavement was grass, when it was swamp, through the age of tusk and mammoth, through the age of silent sunrise, the battered woman—for she wore a skirt — with her right hand exposed, her left clutching at her side, stood singing of love—love which has lasted a million years, she sang, love which prevails, and millions of years ago, her lover, who had been dead these centuries, had walked, she crooned, with her in May; but in the course of ages, long as summer days, and flaming, she remembered, with nothing but red asters, he had gone; death’s enormous sickle had swept those tremendous hills, and when at last she laid her hoary and immensely aged head on the earth, now become a mere cinder of ice, she implored the Gods to lay by her side a bunch of purple-heather, there on her high burial place which the last rays of the last sun caressed; for then the pageant of the universe would be over.

• Old Miss Parry who is dead and not. Here is how Richard renders her:
There was old Miss Parry, her aunt.

For Miss Helena Parry was not dead: Miss Parry was alive. She was past eighty. She ascended staircases slowly with a stick. She was placed in a chair (Richard had seen to it). People who had known Burma in the ‘seventies were always led up to her. Where had Peter got to? They used to be such friends. For at the mention of India, or even Ceylon, her eyes (only one was glass) slowly deepened, became blue, beheld, not human beings—she had no tender memories, no proud illusions about Viceroys, Generals, Mutinies—it was orchids she saw, and mountain passes and herself carried on the backs of coolies in the ‘sixties over solitary peaks; or descending to uproot orchids (startling blossoms, never beheld before) which she painted in water-colour; an indomitable Englishwoman, fretful if disturbed by the War, say, which dropped a bomb at her very door, from her deep meditation over orchids and her own figure journeying in the ‘sixties in India—but here was Peter.

• The old woman in the building opposite. Here is Clarissa's epiphany on this woman:
She [Clarissa] walked to the window.

It held, foolish as the idea was, something of her own in it, this country sky, this sky above Westminster. She parted the curtains; she looked. Oh, but how surprising!—in the room opposite the old lady stared straight at her! She was going to bed. And the sky. It will be a solemn sky, she had thought, it will be a dusky sky, turning away its cheek in beauty. But there it was—ashen pale, raced over quickly by tapering vast clouds. It was new to her. The wind must have risen. She was going to bed, in the room opposite. It was fascinating to watch her, moving about, that old lady, crossing the room, coming to the window. Could she see her? It was fascinating, with people still laughing and shouting in the drawing-room, to watch that old woman, quite quietly, going to bed. She pulled the blind now. The clock began striking. The young man had killed himself; but she did not pity him; with the clock striking the hour, one, two, three, she did not pity him, with all this going on. There! the old lady had put out her light! the whole house was dark now with this going on, she repeated, and the words came to her, Fear no more the heat of the sun. She must go back to them. But what an extraordinary night! She felt somehow very like him — the young man who had killed himself. She felt glad that he had done it; thrown it away. The clock was striking. The leaden circles dissolved in the air. He made her feel the beauty; made her feel the fun. But she must go back. She must assemble. She must find Sally and Peter. And she came in from the little room.

What has Mrs. Dalloway done? She has ended where she began, as Clarissa, but grown and changed as the day extended into evening and night.

How is this existential? The poetic force of Woolf's writing makes this now seem a trivial question.

Still, Mrs. Dalloway -- Clarissa -- has achieved what was given to the great medieval mystics to achieve, what the Yogi's seek, what Zen masters sit endlessly to become, what Samurai swordsmen trained for: she has allowed herself to become an authentic being. She is lover of life. She has discovered the gift which others lack. As Woolf says it is to exist, to be, not needing to add, to exist wholly, to be authentically human.

And she has done this as Heidegger says we must: First by asserting her individuality, e pluribus unum; a full realization that each of us is essential. The all that we call the world cannot exist without us, each person an own individual self. Second by absorbing and rising above the full busyness of life with its trivialities, its work-of-the-world, its tedious, meaningless, futility; by transcending the ordinary without denying it. Third by facing up to the twin dread of emptiness and death; experiencing the blank void where nothing exists and fully accepting that death is an essential feature of life. Though traditionally the process of overcoming fear of emptiness and death is depicted as descent in to the dark and return to light, experiencing the dark night of the soul and welcoming the morning sun as enlightened adept, Clarissa -- life-lover, whose symbols are floral and who famously will buy her own flowers -- she fears no more the heat of the sun. She is, I think Woolf is saying, her own brightness, not a helpless creature whom the universe overwhelms by its unimaginable immensity, but her own fully-realized authentic self.

I wish to give the last word not to Heidegger (who possessed much of Sir William's odiousness) but to Miyamoto Musashi and those other adepts who teach that the end brings you back to the beginning. As Musashi's translator says: "The first technique is the last, the beginner and the master behave in the same way. Knowledge is a full circle." This is Clarissa's story. In the 24 hours of one particular day she has realized her life in its timeless fullness and unique individuality. She has ended where she began. Coming full circle, she is not the same self, but a fully-realized instance of the same.

Sources: All my Dalloway quotes come from an online edition. My source for Musashi is the Overlook Press edition.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

a word about existentialism

As I said a couple of days ago, I mean to write something about the existentialist core of Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway. First I have a little bit to say about existentialism itself. Given its nature, it's fitting that existentialism lacks a satisfying definition. To some extent it's a philosophy, though one that lacks precise description. To some extent it's a literary movement, albeit without much in the way of self-acknowledged followers. To some extent, it's a cultural development, a historic artifact that arose from the pressures on Christianity in the 2nd half of the 19th century and, much more, from the ravages of the two world wars in the 20th.

The most satisfying treatment of existentialism as philosophy is in Anthony Manser's article in the old Dictionary of the History of Ideas.

Manser says existentialists are pessimists about humanity. They say that we humans deceive ourselves, fail to face up to reality, and evade both the choices we must make and the responsibility for these unacknowledged choices. They say humans are absurd, complacent when well off and succumbing irrational despair when not.

He says existentialists tend to be romantic, somewhat bohemian souls who believe that
the smug, the comfortable, and the bourgeois pretend that there are moral rules written into the nature of things, but this is a device of bad faith or inauthenticity, an attempt to hide from one's self the agony of choosing. . . . This concentration on the personal, the subjective, the authentic individual who makes his choice without reference to “what they will think,” made existentialism popular in times of crisis; it is no accident that the movement had its greatest appeal in wartime and in the immediate postwar period.

He says things don't have to be this way. We can if we will lead authentic lives as opposed to the escapist ones we've passively accepted. This release from illusion and invisible, though self-imposted, constraints can be accomplished by facing up to emptiness and the inevitability of death. These two are not the same. Existentialists say we all dread nothingness -- a nameless, featureless, absence of structure, support, certainty, objectivity; all material substance and all source of sustenance. Equally, we all dread death, the extinction of our existence. Existentialists say religious faith helps us cope with these two dreads, but those that are atheists say this faith is one more complacent illusion that needs to be overcome in order to lead an authentic life and those that are Christian say that faith itself cannot be authentic unless the faithful face up to the two types of existentialist angst; otherwise it is, as the atheists say, just another complacency.

Manser uses texts from Kierkegaard, Heidegger, and Sartre to explicate all this. Interestingly, there are medieval religious texts and Asian writings say much the same. Perhaps this simply illustrates his point that what we call existentialism belongs to specific men of a specific time, but the existentialist impulse is not so constrained.

For me, Zen is existentialist. Its end product is overcoming dread of nothingness and of death by facing up to both. It is subjective practice aiming at a transcendent objectivity. It values the absurd and is enemy of complacency. Zen adepts are fully conscious of the choices they make; if there is self-deception among them, it is conscious self-deception.

So too, the Japanese martial arts, at least as given by Miyamoto Musashi. I have a copy of his Book of Five Rings, Go Rin No Sho, translated and introduced by Victor Harris. Written in 1645, it is a masterful guide for Samurai swordsmen by one of the best of them who ever lived.

As Harris explains, "Enlightenment in Zen does not mean a change in behaviour, but realisation of the nature of ordinary life. The end point is the beginning, and the great virtue is simplicity. . . . The ultimate teaching is lack of anger. You treat your enemy as honoured guest. You abandon your life, throw away fear. . . . The first of Musashi's chapter headings is Earth, for the basis of Zen, and the last book is Void, for that understanding which can only be expressed as nothingness. . . . the first elementary teaching becomes the highest knowledge, and the master still continues to practise this simple training, his everyday prayer."

In the first book -- The Earth Book, Musashi says:
Strategy is the craft of the warrior. Commanders must enact the craft. and troopers should know this. There is no warrior in the world today who really understands the Way of strategy.

There are various Ways. There is the Way of salvation by the law of Buddha, the Way of Confucius governing the Way of learning, the Way of healing as a doctor, as a poet teaching the Way of Waka, tea, archery, and many arts and skills. Each man practices as he feels inclined.

It is said the warrior's is the twofold Way of the pen and sword, and he should have a taste for both Ways. Even if a man has no natural ability he can be a warrior by sticking assiduously to both divisions of the Way. Generally speaking, the Way of the warrior is resolute acceptance of death. Although not only warriors but priests, women, peasants and lowlier folk have been known to die readily in the cause of duty of out of shame, this is a different thing. The warrior is different in that studying the Way of strategy is based on overcoming men. By victory gained in crossing swords with individuals, or enjoining battle with large numbers, we can attain power and fame for ourselves or our lord. This is the virtue of strategy.
In the last book -- The Book of the Void, Musashi says:

The No To Ich Way of strategy is recorded in this the Book of the Void.

What is called the spirit of the void is where there is nothing. It is not included in man's knowledge. Of course the void is nothingness. By knowing things that exist, you can know that which does not exist. That is the void.

People in this world look at things mistakenly, and think that what they do not understand must be the void. This is not the true void. It is bewilderment.

In the Way of strategy as a warrior you must study fully other martial arts and not deviate even a little from the Way of the warrior. With your spirit settled, accumulate practise day by day, hour by hour. Polish the twofold spirit heart and mind, and sharpen the twofold gaze perception and sight. When your spirit is not in the least clouded, when the clouds of bewilderment clear away, there is the true void.

{This painting by Musashi expresses Void and Wind, and by implication, Earth}

The Book of Five Rings, Go Rin No Sho, can be found online. Here are three sources:

Go Rin No Sho, by Miyamoto Musashi.

The Book of Five Rings

A BOOK OF FIVE RINGS by Miyamoto Musashi

Secret Service narrative on the Nixon taping program

beSpacific, the excellent legal affairs blog of Sabrina I. Pacifici, has a link to a chronological account of Nixon's secret taping system. The tapes of Nixon and his confidants ended up in the possession of the congressional committee that investigated the Watergate fiasco in the early 1970s. Here's the link: Report on the US Secret Service and the White House taping system during the Nixon Administration. Pacifici credits governmentattic.org with the find.

Here's what I found most interesting in skimming through it:

1. There's a chronological narrative by a Secret Service Intelligence specialist, A.D. Kelley, beginning on page 20 of the pdf file and running through to the end (p. 60). Entitled "Secret Service Participation in Tapings," the report is contemporaneous -- it's dated July 2, 1974, only a few months after the incidents and actions it describes -- and it's authoritative both in the sense that it comes from operatives who were themselves participants in the events described and in the sense that it comes from an organization that wished to preserve its integrity and reputation for rectitude.

2. It details the installation of taping equipment in the White House, Exec Office Building, and Camp David; and it explains how the equipment worked, how the tapes were stored, how transcribed, and who had access.

3. There's extensive coverage of Secret Service involvement, including a statement of its reservations about getting involved in the taping program in the first place.

4. Kelley gives a first-person account of the notorious 18-minute gap in one tape and how it resulted from a process of erasure and forgery by Nioxon's personal secretary. This episode, Kelley says, produced a temporary embarrassment in the Secret Service until it was learned, he says, that their agents were not involved (initials on the control documents were forged to make it appear that they had control when they actually did not).

There's a lot more of course, along with a great deal of redaction.

Reading it brings to mind the turmoil of that time, and how damaging it was to my own view of the integrity of government -- coming as it did on top of many other damaging revelations (the trumped up Gulf of Tonkin incident, to take one random example).

At that time I had a friend who worked as a staffer on the congressional committee conducting the impeachment investigation. She actually sat all day listening to the tapes, transcribing them, and comparing notes with other staffers and the committee counsel on their significance to the impeachment. Quite exciting.

{image sources: Time Magazine cover, Dec 14, 1973; Newsweek cover, July 30, 1973; page from Newsweek in 1973}

Friday, January 18, 2008


About 100 people visit this blog each day and more than two-thirds land here as a result of an image search. The web is good for images. My fondness for them isn't eccentric.

So it's good news that Flickr now has images from among the millions in the collections of the Library of Congress. The collection went up earlier this week and has already become one of the most popular destinations on the site.

To accompany the images meme of the previous post, I thought I'd mine the LC photos on flickr so see which were made in the year of my birth. Here are only a few of the many -- a hundred or so -- from that year:

Some photos taken in 1942 from Library of Congress' photos on flickr. Click image to view full size. About them, LC says:
These vivid color photos from the Great Depression and World War II capture an era generally seen only in black-and-white. Photographers working for the United States Farm Security Administration (FSA) and later the Office of War Information (OWI) created the images between 1939 and 1944.