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26. Are Some People Hard-Wired For Bravery And Others For Cowardice?


“Which trait increases my chances of survival or my chances to reproduce? What would be most adaptive is switching from one response to the other, depending the situation, but our underlying biology cannot switch back and forth that quickly”

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27. A ‘Nasty, Glorious, Freewheeling’ Alternative Art History For The U.S.


“It’s possible to create a neat and tidy map tracing the progress of American art over the last 50 years. Yes, you can draw some sort of shape connecting Pop Art to Minimalism to Conceptual Art, highlighting the famed (often white and male) artists associated with each. … But it’s a stagnant, small portrait.”

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28. Italy Hid This Leonardo Self-Portrait From The Nazis So It Wouldn’t Give Hitler Magical Powers


“It is said that just before taking an exam, students would do their last-minute revision in the Royal Library above the vault. Legend has it that studying near Leonardo’s genius can somehow rub off.”

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29. Marvel spotlights Superheroes as Cats

marvel cats4 625x943 Marvel spotlights Superheroes as Cats
Yesterday was National Cat Day and Marvel celebrated by showing casing these covers by Jenny Park, who specializing in painting famous pop culture characters as cats. How she isn’t a billionaire I don’t know.

Could this possibly be another variant month theme for Marvel? Makes sense doesn’t it.

National Cat DAy was celebrated pretty quietly here at Stately Beat Manor, except by Charlie who overdid it a little and yakked all over the litter mat. And THAT is truly why we celebrate National Cat Day.

marvel cats2 625x943 Marvel spotlights Superheroes as Cats

marvel cats3 Marvel spotlights Superheroes as Cats

marvel cats1 625x943 Marvel spotlights Superheroes as Cats

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30. On the Scene: Reception at Society of Illustrators for Heroes of the Comics

by Nicky Wheeler-Nicholson

Just before the mad crush of New York Comic Con a crowd of comic book royalty gathered at the Society of Illustrators in Manhattan to hear a stellar panel talk about Heroes of the Comics, Drew Friedman’s wonderful book featuring some of the best and least known artists, publishers and writers who brought the comics alive.

 On the Scene: Reception at Society of Illustrators for Heroes of the Comics

Heroes of the Comics by Drew Friedman. Cover portrait of Jack Kirby.

The Society of Illustrators was established in 1901 to promote the art of illustration. From the very beginning the monthly dinners were attended by some of the most well-known artists of the time like N.C. Wyeth, Charles Dana Gibson and Maxfield Parrish. The Society also includes the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art in a beautiful old building on the upper eastside that was originally a carriage house for J.P. Morgan’s secretary. Since New York is the birthplace of American comic books what could be more perfect?

Every single person who attended had some connection large or small to the event and there is no way to name all the prominent illustrators and comic book people who came out to celebrate this event. A few of the cognoscenti spotted were Carl and Nancy Gropper of the Will and Anne Eisner Family Foundation and Will Eisner Studios, Jim Salicrup of Papercutz, Paul Levitz, past president of DC Comics and comic book scholar and author and David Kasakove who co-wrote the article on Feldstein and Krigstein’s Master Race. The crowd was enthusiastic and there was a palpable sense of excitement. This is a credit to Drew’s beautiful portraits and the care he took with his biographies of each person. Heroes of the Comics is published by Fantagraphics and features a large full page drawing of each person with a one-page biography. The portraits are a genuine insight and reflection of the person and their contribution. Special kudos to Drew for his careful research so that the bios are accurate and help to add to the ongoing study of how it all began in comics.

panelSoI 300x225 On the Scene: Reception at Society of Illustrators for Heroes of the Comics

Drew Friedman, Al Jaffee, Sean Howe and Karen Green, Society of Illustrators.

Danny Fingeroth did the honors as Master of Ceremonies and in his usual cheerful and astute manner kept things moving along. Danny introduced the comic book royalty in audience including the artist Will Elder’s family—daughter Nancy Vanderbergh and her husband Gary and their children. Gary is the instigator of Drew’s book as he commissioned a portrait of Will Elder for Nancy and the whole project took off from there. Publisher Max Gaines and his son Bill who took over the business were represented by Cathy Gaines Misfud and her sister Wendy Gaines Bucci with some of their children. Chelle Meyer represented her grandfather Sheldon Meyer, a long time editor at DC and comic book artist and me, Nicky Wheeler-Nicholson representing my grandfather, “the Major” Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson, the first publisher of comics with original art and scripts were all part of the comic book families present.

DannyatSOI 300x291 On the Scene: Reception at Society of Illustrators for Heroes of the Comics

Danny Fingeroth at Society of Illustrators panel on Heroes of the Comics.


Several of the portraits from the book were shown on a large screen and commented upon by Drew, Al Jaffee, Sean Howe who recently published Marvel Comics the Untold Story and Karen Green, fresh from her triumph as the instigator for the new Comics at Columbia exhibition and collection opening from the evening before. We could have stayed all night listening to the group talk about the people involved in comic book history. It was a special treat to have Al Jaffee speak about so many of the people he knew and had worked with.

AlJatSOI 225x300 On the Scene: Reception at Society of Illustrators for Heroes of the Comics

Al Jaffee holds forth with Drew Friedman in foreground and Sean Howe in background

Afterwards we enjoyed a lovely meal out on the terrace and were able to talk and catch up with old friends on a beautiful fall evening in New York. What more do you want for comic book heaven?

[Nicky Wheeler-Nicholson is writing a biography of her grandfather, Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson, military intelligence officer, prolific pulp writer, inventor and founder of DC Comics, with Gerard Jones (Men of Tomorrow) entitled Lost Hero. Her most recent publication is co-editing and writing an Introduction to a reprint of some of the Major’s adventure tales from the pulps entitled The Texas-Siberia Trail published by Off-Trail Publications. Nicky is a writer, editor and audio publisher and holds a Master’s in Classical Greek Mythology. She was featured in Women’s Enews with an article on Wonder Woman and San Diego Comic Con and appears frequently at Comics Conventions throughout the US speaking about early comic book history.]

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31. Legal matters: J. David Spurlock suing Tatjana Wood for Wally Wood artwork

frontline combat Legal matters: J. David Spurlock suing Tatjana Wood for Wally Wood artwork

Here’s one of those matters where there are really no winners. J. David Spurlock, the publisher of Vanguard Publishing which puts out books about comics history and such artists as Frank Frazetta and particularly Wally Wood, is suing Wood’s ex-wife Tatjana Wood, for the possession some of 150-200 pages of Wood art. According to Spurlock, the pages are worth between $2000-25,000 each.

Wood is of course the much beloved artist of many EC, MAD and Marvel comics, including Daredevil, and then Witzend Cannon, Sally Forth. He took his own life in 1981, embittered by failing health and career setbacks. Despite that his imaginative and finely rendered art continues to be among the most iconic (overused word I know but it really fits) in the comic book world. He’s also the creator of the”22 Panels that Always Work” piece which is widely copies and referred to.

Wood left a will leaving his money to Tatjana, but his possessions—including artwork and publishing interests—to his friend John H. Robinson. In 2012 Robinson assigned all his interest in Wood’s estate to Wallace Wood Properties, LLC, a company run by by Spurlock, whose interest in Wood includes co-authoring the book Wally’s World: The Brilliant Life and Tragic Death of Wally Wood, the World’s 2nd Best Comic Book Artist Legal matters: J. David Spurlock suing Tatjana Wood for Wally Wood artwork.

In court documents, Spurlock says he and his lawyers made many attempts in person and by letter to get Tatjana Wood to give them the artwork, which court documents say was erroneously returned to Tatjana’s home by Marvel, who thought her address was the proper one for returns. (Wally Wood died in LA.)

The court documents, shown below with addresses redacted, lays out a paper trail suggesting that remaining Wood artwork should go Robinson/WWP.

Wally Wood was married three times, and he and Tatjana divorced in the 60s. She continued to work in comics as a colorist for years, however, and back when I worked for Vertigo she would still come into the office. It was always a pleasure to talk to her and learn a bit of comics history.

I’m no expert in Wally Wood, but I’m sure some of you comics historians out there will have some ideas about all of this. And then a little more Wally Wood art to remind you why he’s so revered.


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32. Court tries to kill Zombie Stan Lee Media yet again

stan lee media Court tries to kill Zombie Stan Lee Media yet again

Once again, Stan Lee Media, the shell company that does nothing but line the pockets os lawyers with frivolous lawsuits, has been dealt a blow in their attempt to take over the world. The 9th Court of Appeals ruled that no, Stan Lee Media doesn’t not own Spider-Man.

I’ve written about Stan Lee Media and their endless lawsuits before. This time, they had been claiming tha tthey owned SPider-Man because Stan Lee, the founder of the company back in the go-go 90s, said they did. or something. No court has ever agreed with this reading of the law, and it was no different this time, Eriq Gardner reports:

SLMI might contend that it was assigned rights to valuable comic book characters, but a panel of appellate judges writes, “The record demonstrates that, between the date the [1998] agreement was signed and the filing of related litigation in 2007, SLMI never announced that it owned rights to these characters (even when publicly disclosing company information pursuant to a securities offering), licensed the characters, produced content related to the characters, or asserted or attempted to enforce its ownership rights.”

YOU’d think a winning record about on par with Charlie Brown’s baseball team would dissuade the folks behind SLMi that it was time to take the ball and go home, but no, they are still trying to appeal a judges ruling that Disney did not owe them $1 billion for using Spider-Man and the Avengers and so on.

Good luck with that.

1 Comments on Court tries to kill Zombie Stan Lee Media yet again, last added: 10/31/2014
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33. Another Gaza war: what if the settlers were right?

Before they were evicted from their homes and forcibly removed from their communities by the Israeli government in 2005, Jewish settlers in the Gaza Strip warned that their removal would only make things worse. They warned that the front line of violence between Israelis and Palestinians would move closer to those Israelis who lived inside the Green Line. They claimed their presence provided a buffer. They said God promised this Land to the Jewish people and that they should not abandon it. They said Jewish settlement in the Gaza Strip, unlike many other places inside Israel, did not involve the destruction of Palestinian communities or the displacement of Palestinians. Israeli Jews living in Gaza predicted that life would become more dangerous for other Israelis if the government pulled out.

Indeed, that is exactly what has happened. In the southern part of Israel, previously quiet communities have found themselves at the forefront of violent conflict since the 2005 disengagement when Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza, removing its soldiers and citizens. Palestinian attacks on Israeli citizens, once aimed at the settlements in Gaza, have since turned to the communities inside the internationally recognized borders of Israel. Now, missiles are fired from Gaza into the southern towns of the Israeli periphery. While it might seem strange, this has also had some benefits for those communities. In support of those who live on the front lines, the government has reduced taxes in those towns. The train ride from some peripheral areas is now provided free of charge. People began purchasing inexpensive real estate and were able to easily commute to their jobs in center of the country. Towns like Sederot became targets of missile fire, but also began to prosper in ways they had not before. More recently, Palestinian missile fire has increased in number and in range, disrupting life for Israelis throughout the country.

The settlers might not have made public predictions about the lives of Palestinians in Gaza, but surely their situation has become markedly worse since the 2005 disengagement. So far, there have been three major military campaigns and intermittent exchanges of fire resulting in the deaths of thousands of Palestinians. The number of casualties and deaths, and the destruction of property has only increased for Gazans since the Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian territory. This might seem strange, but it was probably entirely predictable.

Armored corps operating in the Gaza Strip. Photo by Israel Defense Forces. CC BY-NC 2.0 via Flickr.
Armored corps operating in the Gaza Strip. Photo by Israel Defense Forces. CC BY-NC 2.0 via Flickr.

Such might have been the prediction of James Ron in Frontiers and Ghettos: State Violence in Serbia and Israel, for example, who compares state violence in Israel and Serbia. When a minority is contained within a nation-state, he explains, they may be subject to extensive policing, as has been the case for Palestinians in the West Bank, which he describes as similar to a “ghetto”, or what we might think of as a reservation, or a camp. The ghetto, he says, implies subordination and incorporation, and ghettos are policed but not destroyed.

But state violence increases when those considered outsiders or enemies of the nation are separated and on the “frontier” of the state. In the American West, for example, when the frontier was open and indigenous populations were unincorporated into the United States, they were targeted for dispossession and massacre. And, he explains, when Western powers recognized Bosnian independence in 1992, that helped transform Bosnia into a frontier, setting the stage for ethnic cleansing.

We might ask ourselves if the disengagement set up Gaza as such a frontier. If so, we might have anticipated the extreme violence that has since ensued. Then we are also left to wonder if the settlers were right. What if dismantling Jewish settlements is more dangerous for Palestinians than for Israelis?

Many of those who support the rights of Palestinians have been calling for an end to Israeli settlement and for dismantling existing settlements in Israeli Occupied Territories, in preparation for the establishment of two states for two peoples, side by side.

But what is gained if the ethno-national foundation of the nation-state necessarily leads to containment or removal of those who are not considered members of the nation? This was Hannah Arendt’s warning about the danger inherent in the nation-state formation that makes life precarious for those who are not considered part of the national group that has sovereignty. As Judith Butler so eloquently explains in Who Sings the Nation-State?: “The category of the stateless is reproduced not simply by the nation-state but by a certain operation of power that seeks to forcibly align nation with state, one that takes the hyphen, as it were, as a chain.”

If the danger lies in that hyphen as chain, then removing Jewish settlers, like demolishing Palestinian homes, is also part of a larger process of separation, a power that seeks to forcibly align a people with a territory. That separation might seem liberating; a stage on the way to independence. But partition does not necessarily lead to peace. In the case of Gaza, removing Israeli citizens might just have made it possible for increased violence. If it is true that war is only politics by other means, or politics only war, then we have to think further. The political terrain of Israel has changed. If, prior to the 2005 disengagement, there was a vibrant Left Wing opposed to settlement in the Occupied Territories, those voices have faded.

The political terrain has changed, but the foundations of the seemingly intractable conflict in Israel/Palestine have not. Those foundations lie in the normative episteme of nations and states that form the basis for international relations and liberal peacemaking. If Israel/Palestine is a struggle between two national groups for one piece of territory, then fighting for that hyphen as chain will continue and the violence, death and destruction will only increase. As evidenced in Patrick Wolfe’s Settler Colonialism and the Transformation of Anthropology: The Politics and Poetics of an Ethnographic Event. Writing Past Colonialism, if Israel/Palestine is a settler colonial polity, then the forces of separation required for two states should be understood as part of a foundational structure that requires elimination of the natives (Wolfe 1999). It matters little if one believes that Jews have a right to sovereignty in their homeland or if one believes the Palestinian struggle for liberation is justified. If liberation relies on the ethnic purification of territory there can be no winners.

The post Another Gaza war: what if the settlers were right? appeared first on OUPblog.

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34. Eight facts about the waterphone

What in this galaxy is waterphone? You’ve might have not seen one, but if you’ve watched a horror or science fiction movie, chances are you’ve heard the eerie sounds of the waterphone. With Halloween around the corner and a spooky soundtrack required, I toured through Grove Music Online to learn more about the monolithic, acoustic instrument.

1. The waterphone was invented in 1967 and patented in 1975 by Richard A. Waters. It was manufactured individually to order by him (formerly under the company name Multi-Media in Sebastopol, California) so each was unique.

2. The Standard model is a stainless steel bowl resonator containing water. The dome-shaped top opens into a vertical unstopped, cylindrical tube that serves as a handle. Around the edge of the resonator are attached between 25 and 55 nearly vertical bronze rods, which (depending on the model) are tuned in equal or unequal 12-note or microtonal systems.

3. Various sizes have been produced; the earliest (‘Standard’) had a resonator 17.8 cm in diameter. Current models (‘Whaler’, ‘Bass’, and ‘MegaBass’) are constructed from flat, stainless steel pans.

4. The rods can be struck with sticks or Superball mallets or rubbed by a bow or the hands.

5. The movement of water in the resonator produces timbre changes and glissandi.

6. It has been played in a wide variety of musics, including rock and jazz, and featured in the compositions of Tan Dun and Sofia Gubaidulina.

7. It is an important element in the Gravity Adjusters Expansion Band founded by Waters in 1967.

8. It has been featured in many horror and science fiction film and television soundtracks, such as Poltergeist and The Matrix.

Headline image credit: Waterphone. Photo by Hangklang. CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

The post Eight facts about the waterphone appeared first on OUPblog.

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35. Stress before birth

Stress seems to be everywhere we turn. Much of the daily news is stressful, whether it pertains to the recent Ebola outbreak in western Africa (and its subsequent entry into the United States), beheadings by the radical Islamic group called ISIS, or the economic doldrums that continue to plague much of the developed world. Moreover, we all experience frequent stress in our daily lives. Stress can come from your job, your family, a romantic relationship, personal attacks by way of social media, or, if you’re a student, your school performance. Counselors, psychotherapists, even self-help books and other materials may help us cope with stress, but these sources don’t usually give us very much information about what is actually happening to our brain and our body when we’re stressed.

If we think about it for a moment, it becomes clear that stress is not a recent phenomenon brought about by the features of contemporary western societies. Our hominid ancestors who evolved on the African savanna were surely stressed in the course of meeting their basic biological needs of finding food and water, acquiring shelter, and keeping safe from predators. Moreover, the principal brain and endocrine (i.e. hormonal) systems that underlie the cognitive, behavioral, and physiological responses to stress are found throughout the animal kingdom, indicating that these systems arose much earlier in evolutionary history than the appearance of the first hominids. So just what are these systems and how do they work?

Insert drawing of adrenal gland here with the following caption: Structure of the adrenal gland, showing the outer cortex and the inner medulla along with the hormones they secrete. Reproduced from Psychopharmacology. Drugs, the Brain, and Behavior, second edition, by Jerrold S. Meyer and Linda F. Quenzer. © Sinauer Associates.
Insert drawing of adrenal gland here with the following caption: Structure of the adrenal gland, showing the outer cortex and the inner medulla along with the hormones they secrete. Reproduced from Psychopharmacology. Drugs, the Brain, and Behavior, second edition, by Jerrold S. Meyer and Linda F. Quenzer. © Sinauer Associates.

A lot of research has focused on the hormonal systems that are turned on during stress. These responses are easier to access than brain responses, since researchers usually need only to obtain samples of the person’s blood, saliva, or urine to determine whether her endocrine system is showing a normal stress response or perhaps is functioning abnormally due to the effects of previous stress exposure. There are two parts to the endocrine stress response, both involving the adrenal glands. The inner part of the adrenal gland, called the adrenal medulla, rapidly secretes the hormones epinephrine and norepinephrine (also called adrenalin and noradrenalin) in response to a stressor. These hormones help prepare the person for rapid physical action by elevating heart rate and blood pressure, mobilizing sugar from the liver for instant energy, and increasing blood flow to the skeletal muscles. The outer part of the adrenal gland, called the adrenal cortex, is also activated by stressors but a bit more slowly. This part of the gland secretes glucocorticoids such as cortisol, which not only works in conjunction with epinephrine and norepinephrine but also affects inflammation, immune function, and brain activity.

For many years, researchers focused on how stress, especially chronic stress, can damage the adult brain and body. More recently, however, it has become clear that stress may be particularly destructive during development. We now know, for example, that repeated childhood maltreatment and abuse increase the child’s vulnerability to a later onset of clinical depression or post-traumatic stress disorder. But stress can exert deleterious effects even earlier in development, namely during the prenatal period. Although the fetal adrenal glands begin to function before birth, it seems likely that stress is transmitted to the fetus mainly through maternal hormones such as cortisol. The placenta breaks down much of the mother’s cortisol before it reaches the fetus, but some of the hormone manages to get through. One example that shows how prenatal stress can adversely affect offspring development stems from a terrible ice storm that hit Québec Province in Canada in January of 1998. Three million people lost electrical power for up to 40 days, resulting in significant privation. David Laplante and colleagues at Douglas Hospital of McGill University later studied 89 five-and-a-half-year-old children whose mothers had been pregnant with them during the power outage. Children whose mothers endured the greatest hardship as a result of the storm scored noticeably lower in verbal IQ scores and in a vocabulary test than children whose mother experienced low or moderate hardship.

Insert drawing of human fetus here with the following caption: Late pregnancy human fetus. Illustration by Bruce Blaus. Source: Blausen.com staff. “Blausen gallery 2014”. Wikiversity Journal of Medicine. DOI:10.15347/wjm/2014.010. ISSN 20018762. CC-BY-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
Late pregnancy human fetus. Illustration by Bruce Blaus. Source: Blausen.com staff. “Blausen gallery 2014”. Wikiversity Journal of Medicine. DOI:10.15347/wjm/2014.010. ISSN 20018762. CC-BY-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

While natural disasters like the Québec ice storm afford researchers the opportunity to investigate some of the deleterious effects of prenatal stress exposure, there are many limitations of such studies because the stress cannot be controlled experimentally and there are additional confounding variables such as differing postnatal experiences among the participants. To overcome some of these limitations and additionally permit a more detailed examination of behavioral, endocrine, and brain function than normally available with human participants, models of stress (including prenatal stress) have been developed for studying nonhuman primates such as rhesus monkeys. Offspring of rhesus monkeys exposed during mid-to-late pregnancy either to repeated mild stress or to pharmacological stimulation of cortisol release show behavioral and brain abnormalities that are still present at least several years later.

Young rhesus monkey, courtesy of author
Young rhesus monkey, courtesy of author

The implication of both the human and primate research is clear. We must pay closer attention to the well-being of pregnant women in order to minimize whatever life stresses can be controlled. By so doing, we can help newborn children begin life with better prospects for their future mental and physical health.

The post Stress before birth appeared first on OUPblog.

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36. Cultural Workers In Turkey Prepare For Hunger Strike


“In protest of their unemployment and its endangerment of the country’s vulnerable cultural resources [and in] reaction to the government’s broken promise to hire 50 workers among the thousands of unemployed cultural heritage professionals, the Association of Culture and Art Workers is taking desperate measures.”

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37. Nupe literature

       The Nigerian Tribune has a Q & A with Isyaku Bala Ibrahim, who argues Nupe literature has come of age.
       Among his responses:

What do you think are the factors hampering Nupe literature ?

First, the government's total negligence at all levels, little efforts from traditional institutions, gross negligence by the department of Nigerian languages of our higher institutions to explore other languages other than Hausa, Yoruba and Igbo; not teaching the language in the core language centres in Niger, Kogi, Kwara, and Abuja.
       So, yeah, maybe there's still a ways to go ..... Read the rest of this post

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38. Literary prizes in ... Zimbabwe

       In The Herald Beaven Tapureta argues that We need literary awards in Zimbabwe.
       Of course, the whole writing/publishing infra- and all other structures could use some help in Zimbabwe, but more literary awards, of the sort he proposes, probably wouldn't hurt.

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39. Arnon Grunberg retrospective

       "The University of Amsterdam will present a major retrospective exhibition" on Tirza-author Arnon Grunberg 31 October through 1 February, as described here. It apparently has the (sad, German) title: "Ich will doch nur, dass ihr mich liebt"..... Impressive that they can mount a retrospective for such a young author. But there's certainly enough material to deal with: it's hard to believe that he's only been publishing for twenty years (he's accumulated a huge body of work).
       He's also featured in the current issue of De Boekenwereld -- none of the contents freely accessible online, but that cover certainly seems to be in keeping with the theme ..... Read the rest of this post

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40. Hong Kong International Literary Festival

       The Hong Kong International Literary Festival runs 31 October through 9 November.
       Sorry, but The Translator and the Translated event is already sold out.

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41. The Strange Library review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Murakami Haruki's The Strange Library, coming out in early December in (different-looking and -illustrated) US and UK editions.

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42. Four More Women Allege That Jian Ghomeshi Smacked Them Around


One of them has even agreed to be identified publicly. All of them have given plenty of unsavory detail.

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43. American Lit’s Superagent Lets Loose


At the International Festival of Authors in Toronto, Andrew Wylie “call[ed] Amazon ‘the equivalent of ISIS,’ 50 Shades of Grey ‘one of the most embarrassing moments in Western culture,’ and self-publishing ‘the aesthetic equivalent of telling everyone who sings in the shower they deserve to be in La Scala’.”

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44. A taxonomy of kisses

Where kissing is concerned, there is an entire categorization of this most human of impulses that necessitates taking into account setting, relationship health and the emotional context in which the kiss occurs. A relationship’s condition might be predicted and its trajectory timeline plotted by observing and understanding how the couple kiss. For instance, viewed through the lens of a couple’s dynamic, a peck on the cheek can convey cold, hard rejection or simply signify that a loving couple are pressed for time.

A kiss communicates a myriad of meanings, its reception and perception can alter dramatically depending on the couple’s state of mind. A wife suffering from depression may interpret her husband’s kiss entirely differently should her symptoms be alleviated. Similarly, a jealous, insecure lover may receive his girlfriend’s kiss of greeting utterly at odds to how she intends it to be perceived.

So if the mind can translate the meaning of a kiss to fit with its reading of the world, what can a kiss between a couple tell us? Does this intimate act mark out territory and ownership, a hands-off-he’s-mine nod to those around? Perhaps an unspoken negotiation of power between a couple that covers a whole range of feelings and intentions; how does a kiss-and-make-up kiss differ from a flirtatious kiss or an apologetic one? What of a furtive kiss; an adulterous kiss; a hungry kiss; a brutal kiss? How does a first kiss distinguish itself from a final kiss? When the husband complains to his wife that after 15 years of marriage, “we don’t kiss like we used to”, is he yearning for the adolescent ‘snog’ of his youth?

Engulfed by techno culture, where every text message ends with a ‘X’, couples must carve out space in their busy schedules to merely glimpse one another over the edge of their laptops. There isn’t psychic space for such an old-fashioned concept as a simple kiss. In a time-impoverished, stress-burdened world, we need our kisses to communicate more. Kisses should be able to multi-task. It would be an extravagance in the 21st-century for a kiss not to mean anything.

And there’s the cultural context of kissing to consider. Do you go French, Latin or Eskimo? Add to this each family’s own customs, classifications and codes around how to kiss. For a couple, these differences necessitate accepting the way that your parents embraced may strike your new partner as odd, even perverse. For the northern lass whose family offer to ‘brew up’ instead of a warm embrace, the European preamble of two or three kisses at the breakfast table between her southern softie of a husband and his family, can seem baffling.

The context of a kiss between a couple correlates to the store of positive feeling they have between them; the amount of love in the bank of their relationship. Take 1: a kiss on the way out in the morning can be a reminder of the intimacy that has just been. Take 2: in an acrimonious coupling, this same gesture perhaps signposts a dash for freedom, a “thank God I don’t have to see you for 11 hours”. The kiss on the way back in through the front door can be a chance to reconnect after a day spent operating in different spheres or, less benignly, to assuage and disguise feelings of guilt at not wanting to be back at all.

Couple, by Oleh Slobodeniuk. CC-BY-2.0 via Flickr.
Couple, by Oleh Slobodeniuk. CC-BY-2.0 via Flickr.

While on the subject of lip-to-lip contact, the place where a kiss lands expresses meaning. The peck on the forehead may herald a relationship where one partner distances themselves as a parental figure. A forensic ritualized pattern of kisses destined for the cheeks carries a different message to the gentle nip on the earlobe. Lips, cheek, neck, it seems all receptors convey significance to both kisser and ‘kissee’ and could indicate relationship dynamics such as a conservative-rebellious pairing or a babes-in-the-wood coupling.

Like Emperor Tiberius, who banned kissing because he thought it helped spread  fungal disease, Bert Bacarach asks, ‘What do you get when you kiss a guy? You get enough germs to catch pneumonia…’ Conceivably the nature of kissing and the unhygienic potential it carries is the ultimate symbol of trust between two lovers and raises the question of whether kissing is a prelude or an end in itself, ergo the long-suffering wife who doesn’t like kissing anymore “because I know what it’ll lead to…”

The twenty-first century has witnessed the proliferation of orthodontistry with its penchant for full mental braces. Modern mouths are habitually adorned with lip and tongue piercings as fetish wear or armour. Is this straying away from what a kiss means or a consideration of how modern mores can begin to create a new language around this oldest of greetings? There is an entire generation maturing whose first kiss was accompanied by the clashing of metal, casting a distinct shadow over their ideas around later couple intimacy.

Throughout history, from Judas to Marilyn Monroe, a kiss has communicated submission, domination, status, sexual desire, affection, friendship, betrayal, sealed a pact of peace or the giving of life. There is public kissing and private kissing. Kissing signposts good or bad manners. It is both a conscious and unconscious coded communication and can betray the instigator’s character; from the inhibited introvert to the narcissistic exhibitionist. The 16th-century theologian Erasmus described kissing as ‘a most attractive custom’. Rodin immortalized doomed, illicit lovers in his marble sculpture, and Chekhov wrote of the transformative power of a mistaken kiss. The history and meaning of the kiss evolves and shifts and yet remains steadfastly the same: a distinctly human, intimate and complex gesture, instantly recognizable despite its infinite variety of uses. I’ve a feeling Sam’s ‘You must remember this, a kiss is just a kiss’ may never sound quite the same again.

Headline image credit: Conquered with a kiss, by .craig. CC-BY-NC-2.0 via Flickr.

The post A taxonomy of kisses appeared first on OUPblog.

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