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LEE & LOW BOOKS celebrates its 25th anniversary this year and to recognize how far the company has come, we are featuring one title a week to see how it is being used in classrooms today as well, as hear from the authors and illustrators.
Today, we are celebrating Jim Thorpe’s Bright Path, an inspirational story for children of all backgrounds. A biography of the legendary Native American Jim Thorpe (1888–1953), voted the Greatest Football Player and Greatest Athlete of the Half-Century by two AP polls, focusing on his early childhood and how school and sports shaped his future.
Synopsis: The biography of the legendary Native American, Jim Thorpe (1888–1953), focusing on his early childhood and how school and sports shaped his future.
From the day he was born, Jim Thorpe’s parents knew he was special. As the light shone on the road to the family’s cabin, his mother gave Jim another name — Wa-tho-huck — “Bright Path.”
Jim’s athletic skills were evident early on, as he played outdoors and hunted with his father and twin brother. When the boys were sent to Indian boarding school, Jim struggled in academics but excelled in sports. Jim moved from school to school over the years, overcoming family tragedies, until his athletic genius was recognized by Coach Pop Warner at the Carlisle Indian School.
Awards and Honors:
Carter G. Woodson Book Award Honor, National Council for Social Studies
Choices, Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC)
Teachers’ Choices, International Reading Association (IRA)
Best of the Best List, Chicago Public Library, Children & YA Services
Storytelling World Resource Award, Storytelling World magazine
Check out thisinterview with author, Joseph Bruchac, about Native American literature.
Resources for teaching with Jim Thorpe’s Bright Path:
Draw attention to the use of similes in the book. For example: Jim took to it all like a catfish takes to a creek. It made him (Jim) feel like a fox caught in an iron trap. Epidemics of influenza swept through like prairie fires. Have students try to write their own similes for other events or actions in the story.
Ask students to explore the National Track & Field Hall of Fame (www.usatf.org ) or the Pro Football Hall of Fame (www.profootballhof.com ) and plan an imaginary trip there or enjoy a visual visit on the Web.
Have you used Jim Thorpe’s Bright Path? Let us know!
Veronicahas a degree from Mount Saint Mary College and joined LEE & LOW in the fall of 2014. She has a background in education and holds a New York State childhood education (1-6) and students with disabilities (1-6) certification. When she’s not wandering around New York City, you can find her hiking with her dog Milo in her hometown in the Hudson Valley, NY.
Of the billion dogs in the world, three-quarters of them look as much alike as do the individuals of any other species.
A few years ago we asked a Navajo shepherd what a Navajo sheepdog looked like. He said, “A Navajo sheepdog is not too big and not too small.” To us the Navajo sheepdogs were identical in size and shape and color variations with the sheepdogs of Sonora and the village dogs in the mountains of Venezuela or the ones we worked with in eastern and South Africa or saw in India and China.
That is true of the majority of dogs in the world—they are not too big and they are not too small. One of the most fascinating details about that 85 percent of the dogs in the world that control their own reproductive life is: they all look alike.
The similarity between the pigeon world and dog world continues. Pigeons, in some sense, all look alike. The pigeons in the Mexico City dump fly and look just like the pigeons in Trafalgar Square, like the pigeons in Istanbul, like the pigeons in Central Park, like the pigeons in Milan. Wherever you go, the pigeons in the park look like the pigeons in every other park.
No two pigeons are the same, of course. No two pigeons are exactly the same color or size or shape. At the same time, they all look pigeon-like. They have an essence that evokes pigeons. “I know one when I see one.”
It is true for every species. The chickadees at our feeders all look very much alike, and it takes practice to see the little differences that distinguish them. They all can get into the bottle feeder as far as we know. The same is true with blue jays and squirrels. The squirrels are intriguing because around here you sometimes see a black one or a brown one, but it still looks like a squirrel. At one time we lived on a small island of nesting seagulls. After a few years, we could distinguish the boys from the girls because of subtle differences in their head shapes.
All wolves look alike. But the wolves also show small variations of a neutral monotone. It could be that wolves vary more in coat color than squirrels do. Thus, a pack of grey wolves (Canis lupis) might have mostly gray animals except for an anomalous white one or black one. In some regions, the wolves are mostly white. Right now there seems to be an increase in frequency of black wolves in Yellowstone National Park. Color variations appear in certain subspecies of the gray wolf: the red wolf (Canis lupus rufus), the Arctic wolf (Canis lupus arctos), and the Mexican wolf (Canis lupus baileyi). Yet even with a color difference, they still look like wolves. (Taxonomists are confused about which scientific name to give to some of these wolves, but they recognize the essence of wolf in all the variations.)
In any given area, the wolves tend to be the same size. From the far north to the east of the Mediterranean, they will grade in size from larger to smaller. A biologist would say this gradation is a cline, that the species follows Bergmann’s rule: it grades from a large animal in the north to a smaller size on the equator. Ecologist Val Geist once pointed out that the cline isn’t always perfect. Wild sheep also exhibit these clines. For example, the bighorn sheep (140–300 pounds, 3–3.5 feet) of the northern Canadian Rocky Mountains grade down to the smaller mouflon of the Iranian desert (90–120 pounds, up to 2–4 feet at shoulder height) with smooth coats. What’s noteworthy is that all those different “species” of sheep along the cline are interfertile from north to south—including domestic sheep. As with the dogs, the spot on the cline from which the domestic sheep evolved is difficult to pinpoint. The big gray wolves in the north are interfertile with all the other members of the genus, all the way to little jackals in equatorial Africa. The genus Canis appears to us to be a single species cline.
Free-ranging street and village dogs, also, tend to be bigger regionally in the north and up into the mountains, and smaller in equatorial regions. In Greenland, on Baffin Island, and over in the Hudson Bay area, the village dogs we have observed can weigh as much as sixty pounds, whereas equatorial dogs are basenji-like and weigh less than twenty-five pounds. With increasing latitude and altitude, dogs tend toward being rough coated.
So, if the village dogs range from twenty to sixty pounds and from smooth coats to rough, how could we say they all look alike? It is a good question. For us, the population density of dogs weighs heavily on our thinking. The farther you get from the equator, or the higher in the mountains, the fewer the street or village dogs. In the warm climates, the density can be substantial. When we want to study village dogs, our preference is to go south (toward the equator) rather than north. Those regional warm-weather dogs, all about the thirty-pound, lion-colored variety, are usually prevalent. This strongly indicates that the overall size and color of the local dog is an adaptation to the local geography, the climate, and the prey base—in other words, the niche in which they make their living.
Every once in a while we will see a report that scientists have discovered a new species of mammal. That means they have discovered a new shape in a population of animals that are sexually isolated from all other species (well, maybe sexually isolated, but not always). They name it with a Latin binomial indicating the genus and species. It might not be a bad system if the biologists stuck to the rules. many people contend that dogs and wolves are in the same species (Canis lupus lupus). The classification of any species should be mostly about biology/evolution but it can also be about beliefs, culture, politics, and numerous other factors. When a wild canid was first discovered in New Hampshire in 1944, after a lot of talk and measurements it was a classified as a coyote (Canis latran). The animals were bigger than the well-known western coyote (also of course Canis latrans). Barbara Lawrence and William Bossert at Harvard measured skulls of wolves, coyotes, and the New England canid and concluded that the New England animal was, although not exactly the same as the coyotes, closer physically to them than to wolves. Well, those of us who had studied with Professor Wood did not believe skull measurements to be accurate indicators of species, and our research, done later with our student, Michael Sands, revealed histologically (shape) that the sweat glands in their feet resembled those of gray wolves in Alaska and not those of western coyotes, although few people seem ever to have read that paper, published in the Journal of Mammalogy in 1976.
It was always suspicious that had the New England canid been classified as a gray wolf it would have fallen under the Endangered Species Act. That would have led to any number of management restrictions about how fish and game scientists in New England states could manage this population. We now have lots of these wild canids in this region. The discussion is heating up as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decides whether it is time to take the gray wolf off the Endangered Species list because its population is increasing. If the eastern coyote really is a gray wolf, then it is not rare and not endangered. Again it looks like whatever species it is, the discussion is more political than scientific.
Interested people have debated the ancestry of the dog since the late 1800s. Not only have wolves, jackals, or dingoes been suggested as an ancestor of dogs, but several people argued that dogs were the result of hybridization between wolves and jackals. There were astonishing theories about big dogs (breeds) evolving from the Chinese wolves. The Nobel Prize–winner Konrad Lorenz at one point suggested that some “breeds” of dogs descended from wolves and others from golden jackals. When we met him in 1978, he started the conversation by saying, “Everything I have written about the dog is wrong—but it was better that I discovered it rather than someone else.”
*This excerpt has been adapted (without endnotes) from What Is a Dog?by Raymond Coppinger and Lorna Coppinger (2016).
“Parks, Biodiversity, and Education” by Edward O. Wilson*
This is a very important meeting and book, and I’m grateful to be part of it. First, I’ll summarize what scientists have learned about biodiversity and extinction, especially during the past 20 years. Then I’ll suggest what I believe is the only viable solution to stanch the continuing high and growing rate of species extinction. Then, finally, I’ll make the point already obvious to many of you, that our national parks are logical centers for both scientific research and education for many domains of science, but especially and critically biodiversity and conservation of the living part of the environment.
The world is turning green, albeit pastel green, but humanity’s focus remains on the physical environment—on pollution, the shortage of fresh water, the shrinkage of arable land, and on that great, wrathful demon, climate change. In contrast, Earth’s biodiversity, and the wildlands on which biodiversity is concentrated, have continued to receive relatively little attention. This is a huge strategic mistake. Consider the following rule of our environmental responsibility: If we save the living environment of Earth, we will also save the physical nonliving environment, because each depends intimately on the other. But if we save only the physical environment, as we seem bent on doing, we will lose them both.
So, what is the condition of the living environment, in particular its diversity and stability? How are we handling this critical element of Earth’s sustainability? Let me summarize the basic information that scientists have assembled up to the present time, most of it during the last decade.
First, what is biodiversity? It’s the collectivity of all inherited variation in any given place, whether a vacant lot in a city, an island in the Pacific, or the entire planet. Biodiversity consists of three levels: an ecosystem such as a pond, a forest patch, or coral reef; then the species composing the ecosystem; and finally at the base, the genes that prescribe the traits that distinguish the species that compose the living part of the ecosystem.
How many species are known in the whole world? At the present time, almost exactly two million. How many are there actually, both known and unknown? Excluding bacteria and the archaea, which I like to call the dark matter of biology because so little is known of their biodiversity, the best estimate of the diversity of the remainder (that is, the fungi, algae, plants, and animals) is nine million, give or take a million. Except for the big animals, the vertebrates, comprising 63,000 known species collectively of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fishes, and 270,000 species of flowering plants, very little to nothing is known of the remaining millions of kinds of fungi and invertebrates. These are the foundation of the biosphere, the mostly neglected little things that run the planet.
To put the whole matter in a nutshell, we live on a little-known planet. At the present rate of elementary exploration, in which about 18,000 additional new species are described and given a Latinized name each year, biologists will complete a census of Earth’s biodiversity only sometime in the 23rd century.
I’m aware of only three national parks in the world at the present time in which complete censuses have been undertaken: the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Boston Harbor National Park and Recreation Area, and the Gorongosa National Park of Mozambique. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most advanced, with 50,000 hours of fieldwork by experts and assistants completed, about 18,000 species recorded, and a rough estimate of 40,000 to 60,000 species considered likely when all transient, rare, or undescribed species have been registered. Fewer than 1%, let me repeat, 1%, of the species have been studied beyond this first roll call. (Incidentally, the largest biodiversity in a North American park would be the one under consideration for the Mobile Alabama Delta and Red Hills immediately to its north.)
Next, what is the extinction rate? With the data sets of the best-known vertebrate animal species, and additional information from paleontology and genetics, we can put the extinction rate, to the closest power of 10, at 1,000 times greater than the extinction rate that existed before the coming of humans. For example, from 1895 to 2006, 57 species and distinct geographic subspecies of freshwater fishes were driven to extinction in the United States by human activity. These losses have removed roughly 10% of the total previously alive. The extinction rate is estimated to be just under 900 times the level thought to have existed before the coming of humans.
This brings us to the effectiveness of the global conservation moment, a contribution to world culture pioneered by the United States. It has raised public awareness and stimulated a great deal of research. But what has it accomplished in saving species, hence biodiversity? The answer is that it has slowed the rate of species extinction but is still nowhere close to stopping it. A study made by experts on different groups of land vertebrates, species by species, found that the rate in these most favored groups has been cut by about 20% worldwide. Furthermore, the Endangered Species Act of 1973, by focusing on recognized endangered vertebrates in the United States, with legal process and processes designed for each species in turn, has brought 10 times more species back to health than have been lost to extinction.
Nevertheless, the species, and with them the whole of biodiversity, thus continue to hemorrhage. The prospects for the rest of the century are grim. All have heard of the 2C threshold, 2°C (or 3.6°F), the increase in the ground average temperature above which the planet will enter a regime of dangerous climate changes. A parallel circumstance exists in the living world.
Earth is at or approaching an extinction rate of 1,000 times above prehuman levels, and the rate is accelerating. Somewhere between a rate of 1,000 times and 10,000 times, Earth’s natural ecosystems will reach the equivalent of the 2C global warming threshold and begin to disintegrate as half or more of the species pass into extinction.
We’re in the situation of surgeons in an emergency room who’ve brilliantly slowed the bleeding of an accident patient to 50%. You can say, “Congratulations! The patient will be dead by morning.”
There is a momentous moral decision confronting us here today. It can be put in the form of a question: What kind of a species, what kind of an entity, are we to treat the rest of life so cheaply? What will future generations think of those now alive who are making an irreversible decision of this magnitude so carelessly? The five previous such mass extinctions, the last one 65 million years ago that ended the Age of Reptiles, required variously 5–40 million years to recover.
Does any serious person really believe that we can just let the other eight million species drain away, and our descendants will be smart enough to take over the planet and ride it like the crew of a real space ship? That they will find the way to equilibrate the land, sea, and air in the biosphere, on which we absolutely depend, in the absence of most of the biosphere?
Many of us, I believe, here present understand that only by taking global conservation to a new level can the hemorrhaging of species be brought down to near the original baseline rate, which in prehuman times was one species extinction per 1–10 million species per year. Loss of natural habitat is the primary cause of biodiversity extinction—ecosystem, species, and genes, all of it. Only by the preservation of much more natural habitat than hitherto envisioned can extinction be brought close to a sustainable level. The number of species sustainable in a habitat increases somewhere between the third and fifth root of the area of the habitat, in most cases close to the fourth root. At the fourth root, a 90% loss in area, which has frequently occurred in present-day practice, will be accompanied by an automatic loss of one-half of the number of species.
At the present time, about 15% of the global land surface and 3% of the global ocean surface are protected in nature reserves. Not only will most of them continue to suffer diminishment of their faunas and floras, but extinction will accelerate overall as the remaining wildlands and marine habitats shrink because of human activity.
The only way to save the rest of life is to increase the area of protected, inviolable habitat to a safe level. The safe level that can be managed with a stabilized global population of about 10 billion people is approximately half of Earth’s land surface plus half of the surface of the sea. Before you start making a list of why it can’t be done, that half can’t be set aside for the other 10 million or so species sharing the planet with us, let me explain why I believe it most certainly can be done—if enough people wish it to be so.
Think of humanity in this century, if you will, as passing through a bottleneck of overpopulation and environmental destruction. At the other end, if we pass through safely and take most of the rest of the life forms with us, human existence could be a paradise compared to today, and virtual immortality of our species could be ensured—again, if enough wish it to be.
The reason for using the metaphor of a bottleneck instead of a precipice is that four unintended consequences of human behavior provide an opening for the rest of the century. The first unintended consequence is the dramatic drop in fertility at or below zero population growth whenever women gain a modicum of social and economic independence. Population growth is slowing worldwide, and the world population has been predicted most recently by the United Nations to reach between 9.6 billion and 12.3 billion by the end of the century. This assumes that the peoples of sub-Saharan Africa will pass through the demographic transition and fertility rates there will drop to levels consistent with the rest of the world.
The second unintended consequence is from the ongoing abandonment of rural, primitive agricultural economies by the implosion of people into cities, freeing land for both better agriculture and the conservation of natural environments by restoration. It’s worth noting also that the present daily production of food globally is 2,800 calories per person. The problem is not food production but transportation and the poor quality of artisanal agriculture. We can fix that. Present-day agriculture is still primitive, with a lot of wriggle room.
The third unintended consequence is the reduction of the human ecological footprint by the evolution of the economy itself. The ecological footprint is the amount of space required for all the needs of each person on average. The idea that the planet can safely support only two to three billion people overlooks the circumstance that the global economy is evolving during the digital revolution, and at a fast rate. The trend is overwhelmingly toward manufacture of products that use less materials and energy, and require less to use and repair. Information technology is improving at almost warp speed. The result is a shrinkage of the ecological footprint. We need an analysis of the trend and its impact. If economists have thought of analyzing this effect and its meaning for the environment, instead of stumbling around in the fever-swamp parameters of the early 21st century, I haven’t seen it.
The fourth unintended consequence is the easing of demand on the natural environment inherent in the evolutionary shift now occurring from an extensive economy to an intensive economy, one that focuses—in the manner of Moore’s law—on improvements of existing classes of products instead of acquisition of new and bigger projects, expanding physical development, and promotion of capital growth based on land acquisition. Humanity may be shifting toward a nongrowth economy focused on quality of life instead of capital and economic power as the premier measure of success.
This brings me to the focal issue of the conference. Inevitably, biodiversity and ecosystem science will move toward parity with molecular, cell, and brain science among the biological disciplines. They have equal challenges. They have equal importance to our daily lives. As this expansion occurs, national parks and other reserves will be the logical centers for fundamental research. They are our ready-made laboratories, in which the experiments have been largely performed. They will also be among the best places to introduce students at all levels to science. We already know that is the case for geology, earth chemistry, and water systems studies. Soon it will be obviously true also for studies of the living environment. Students and teachers alike will have the advantage of hands-on science at all levels. Even at the most elementary level, they are soon caught up in original discoveries of citizen science. After 42 years of teaching experience at Harvard, I believe that natural ecosystems are by far the most open and effective door to science education.
Last year, we gave our 10 favorite reasons to read diversely. One reason being that we live in a diverse world, so why not the books that we read? Books help us see the world through someone else’s eyes, and in the case of bilingual books, through another language.
Here are our ten favorite reasons to read bilingual books!
Teach us how to read in two languages.
Celebrate the 22% of students who speak a language other than English at home.
Develop strong critical thinking skills
Keep our brains young, healthy, and sharp.
Expose us to new ways of communicating.
Make reading an inclusive activity for all students.
Highlight the achievement of knowing more than one language.
Encourage interest in other cultures and languages.
Against this passivity, however, there were those who struggled to hold matter, feeling, and will together: to keep the machinery not just alive but active, life-like. These holdouts accordingly had something very different in mind when they talked about the “animal-machine.” William Harvey, whom we have already seen comparing the heart to a pump or other kind of hydraulic machinery, also invoked automata to describe the process of animal generation. Observing the development of a chick embryo, Harvey noted that a great many things happened in a certain order “in the same way as we see one wheel moving another in automata,and other pieces of mechanism.” But, Harvey wrote, adopting Aristotle’s view, the parts of the mechanism were not moving in the sense of “changing their places,” pushing on another like the gears of a clock set in motion by the clockmaker winding the spring. Rather, the parts were remaining in place, but transforming in qualities, “in hardness, softness, colour, &ce.” It was a mechanism made of changing parts.
This was an idea to which Harvey returned regularly. Animals, he surmised, were like automata whose parts were perpetually transforming: expanding and contracting in response to heat and cold, imagination and sensation and ideas. These changes took place as a succession of connected developments that were also, somehow, all occurring at once. Similarly, Harvey wrote with regard to the heart that its consecutive action of auricles and ventricles was like “in a piece of machinery, in which, though one wheel gives motion to another, yet all the wheels seem to move simultaneously.” Geared mechanisms represented constellations of motions that seemed at once sequential and simultaneous, a congress of mutual causes and effects.
The first appearance of life, as Harvey described it, seemed to happen both all at once and as a sequence of events. Harvey wrote of seeing the chick first as a “little cloud,” and then, “in the midst of the cloudlet in question,” the heart appeared as a tiny bloody point, like the point of a pin, so small that it disappeared altogether during contraction, then reappeared again “so that betwixt the visible and the invisible, betwixt being and not being, as it were, it gave by its pulses a kind of representation of the commencement of life.” A gathering cloud and, in the midst, a barely perceptible movement between being and not being: the origin of life. Harvey invoked clockwork and firearm mechanisms to model a defining feature of this cloudy pulse that was the beginning of life: causes and effects happening all at once, together.
In addition to geared mechanisms and firearms, Harvey invoked another analogy that would become commonplace by the end of the century—we have seen Descartes and his followers invoke it—the analogy between an animal body and a church organ. Muscles, Harvey suggested, worked like “play on the organ, virginals.” Under James I, English churches had resumed the use of organs in services, so they were once again a feature of the landscape and available as a source of models for living systems. The organ signified to Harvey something more like what it meant in the ancient and medieval tradition of animal machinery, rather than the intricate sequence of contrived movements of parts that it later came to signify. Harvey wrote that the muscles performed their actions by “harmony and rhythm,” a kind of “silent music.” Mind, he said, was the “master of the choir”: “mind sets the mass in motion.”
The particular ways in which Harvey invoked artificial mechanisms make it difficult to classify him, as historians have been inclined to do, either as a “mechanist” or otherwise, the problem being that the meaning of “mechanism” and related terms was very much in flux. Lecturing at the College of Physicians in London in April 1616, Harvey told his anatomy and surgery students that anatomy was “philosophical, medical and mechanical.”But what did he mean, and what did his students understand, by “mechanical”?
In part, he likely meant that there was no need to invoke ethereal or celestial substances in explaining physiological phenomena, because the mundane elements seemed to transcend their own limits when they acted. The “air and water, the winds and the ocean” could “waft navies to either India and round this globe.” The terrestrial elements could also “grind, bake, dig, pump, saw timber, sustain fire, support some things, overwhelm others.” Fire could cook, heat, soften, harden, melt, sublime, transform, set in motion, and produce iron itself. The compass pointing north, the clock indicating the hours, all were accomplished simply by means of the ordinary elements, each of which “exceeded its own proper powers in action.” This was a form of mechanism that was not reductive, but really the reverse: a rising of mechanical parts to new powers, which could conceivably include the power to produce life.
Similarly, Harvey elsewhere defined “mechanics” as “that which overcame things by which Nature is overcome.” His examples were things having “little power of movement” in themselves that were nonetheless able to move great weights, such as a pulley. Mechanics, understood in this way, could include natural phenomena that overcame the usual course of nature, not just artificial ones. Harvey again mentioned the muscles. When he said that the muscles worked mechanically in this instance he meant that the muscles, like artificial devices such as a pulley, overcame the usual course of nature and moved great weights without themselves being weighty.
Motion, relatedly, was a term with various meanings, as Harvey himself emphasized. He noted many different kinds of local movement: the movement of a nigh-blooming tree and that of a heliotrope; the movements caused by a magnet and those caused by a rubbed piece of jet. In what were likely some notes for a treatise on the physiology of movement, he jotted down any form of local movement that came to mind, such as the presumably peristaltic and undeniably graphic “shit by degrees not by squirts.” He identified too, as a distinct form of movement, a kind of controlled escalation, as “in going forward, mounting up, with the consent of the intellect in a state of emotion.”
Harvey drew upon another form of casual motion to resolve another critical mystery in the generation of life: how did the sperm act upon the egg once it was no longer in contact with the egg? Like the apparently simultaneous occurrence of causally connected events, this quandary seemed to pose a problem for a properly “mechanical”anatomy. Invoking Aristotle, Harvey proposed that embryos arose form a kind of contagion, “a vital virus,” with which the sperm infected the egg. But after the initial moment of contact, once the contaminating element had disappeared and become “a nonentity,” Harvey wondered, how did the process continue? “How, I ask, does a nonentity act?” How could something no longer extant continue to act on a material entity? The process seemed to involve too a kind of action at a distance: “How does a thing which is not in contact fashion another thing like itself?”
Aristotle had invoked “automatic puppets” to explain precisely this seeming mystery. He had surmised that the initial contact at conception set off a succession of linked motions that constituted the development of the embryo. According to this model, as Harvey explained, the seed formed the fetus “by motion” transmitted through a kind of automatic mechanism. Harvey rejected this explanation along with a whole host of other traditional explanations by analogy: to clocks, to kingdoms governed by the mandates of their sovereigns, and to instruments used to produce works of art. All, he thought, were insufficient.
In their place, Harvey proposed a different analogy: one between the uterus and the brain. The two, he observed, were strikingly similar in structure and a mechanical anatomy should correlate structures with physiological functions: “Where the same structure exists,” Harvey reasoned,there must be “the same function implanted.” The uterus, when ready to conceive, strongly resembled the “ventricles” of the brain and the functions of each were called “conceptions.” Perhaps, then, these were essentially the same sort of process.
Harvey taught his anatomy and surgery students that the brain was a kind of workshop, a “manufactory.” Brains produced works of art by bringing an immaterial idea or form to matter. Perhaps a uterus produced an embryo in the same way, by means of a “plastic art” capable of bringing an idea or form to flesh. The form of an embryo existed in the uterus of the mother just as the form of a house existed in the brain of the builder. This would solve the apparent problems of action at a distance and nonentities acting upon material entities. The moment of insemination endowed the uterus with an ability to conceive embryos in the same way that education endowed the brain with the ability to conceive ideas. Once the seed disappeared, it no longer needed to act: the uterus itself took over the task of fashioning the embryo.
The idea that the uterus functioned like a brain, actively fashioning an embryo the way a brain fleshes out an idea, was for Harvey not only within the bounds of the “mechanical,” but a model that could actually rescue mechanism by eliminating the need for action at a distance.
LEE & LOW BOOKS celebrates its 25th anniversary this year and to recognize how far the company has come, we are featuring one title a week to see how it is being used in classrooms today as well, as hear from the authors and illustrators.
Synopsis: Babu’s Song is the story of a young Tanzanian boy who learns a lesson about family love after selling the special music box his grandfather made for him. Set in contemporary Tanzania, this story is a tender testament to the love between grandchild and grandparent.
Awards and honors:
Children’s Books of the Year, Bank Street College of Education
“Choices,” Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC)
40 Books About Sports, Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC)
Parents’ Choice Recommended, Parents’ Choice Foundation
South Carolina Children’s Book Award Nominee, South Carolina Association of School Librarians
Storytelling World Resource Award,Storytelling World magazine
Children’s Africana Book Award, African Studies Association
Pennsylvania Young Reader’s Choice Award Master List, Pennsylvania School Librarians Association
West Virginia Children’s Book Award Master List, West Virginia Children’s Book Award Program
The story behind the story:
“To this day Babu’s Song is still one of my favorite books and though I’ll illustrated over 20 books since then, I still go back to it when I’m speaking with kids and other artists. Babu’s Song is such a beautiful story and it is still one of my most requested books when I talk to people.
Working on Babu’s Song continues to touch my life as an artist as much today as it did when I began illustrating it. Not only because it’s one of my most recognized and colorful books I’ve illustrated, but also because it helped set the trajectory of my artistic and social conscious. Growing up where books (and movies) too often didn’t contain subjects or people that I saw in my own life I knew that when I began illustrating books my priority would be to capture people and places that we don’t often see or know on a map.
In Babu’s Song I got to show a boy and his father in Tanzania dealing with poverty and loss that while not uncommon in the world are often unseen by most of us, even when next door. And while this story does deal very honestly with the boy’s struggles, it always keeps its heart and shows us that there is a way to persevere. So a story about a little boy and his grandfather on the other side of the globe becomes someone we can begin to see (empathize with) thus bringing us all a little closer. “
Book activity: Ask students to write a letter to their grandparent or grandparent-figure in their life. Review the structure and tone of a friendly letter. Students should describe what they admire about this person and include questions to learn more about them.
Although few Americans had read The Stranger in French—it had been hard enough to find a copy in wartime France—word of the novel had crossed the ocean. Blanche Knopf had founded the US publishing house Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., with her husband Alfred in 1945, and she had a special interest in publishing English translations of contemporary European literature. She had been cut off from France for the duration of the war, but by February 1945 she was back in touch with Jenny Bradley, Knopf’s agent in Paris. Sartre had lauded a new Camus novel, still in manuscript, called The Plague, in a lecture he gave at Harvard, and Blanche Knopf cabled Bradley, asking to see the proofs. The Plague, with its link to the suffering and heroism of France during the German occupation, was bound to make a splash, and she understood that Knopf might also have to buy The Stranger in order to get it. Alfred Knopf cabled Bradley in February, eager to acquire The Plague, although Camus hadn’t yet finished it, but he was still hesitating about The Stranger. In March 1945, he made up his mind and offered $350 for it.
Not an ideological or interpretive divide, not even an aesthetic quarrel, but rather a question of timing and marketing explains why L’Étranger and The Outsider were born into the English language as fraternal twins—same text, different typography, covers, and titles. The doubling has continued to this day, even as new translations have replaced Gilbert’s: no matter who is translating, the British edition is called The Outsider, the American edition The Stranger. Books about The Stranger/The Outsider, when they’re published in both the United States and England, have to keep the titles straight for each country or risk disorienting readers. If you ask someone, English or American, which title they prefer, chances are they will answer: “the one I’m used to.”
In England, Jamie Hamilton was certain he had a bestseller on his hands, and he planned a first print run of 10,000 copies—over twice Gallimard’s wartime print run on 4,400. At Knopf, there was much more hesitation. In-house readers’ reports were less than stellar.
Herbert Weinstock, a specialist in nineteenth-century opera and a Knopf advisor, had this to say about the novel: “This extended short story (the translation does not exceed 30,000 words) is a pleasant, unexciting reading. It seems to me neither very important nor very memorable—and it also seems to me to be padded with extraneous detail.” He attributed the piling up of details, the flat tone, and what he called “deliberate artlessness” to a “philosophic theory called existentialism,” of which The Stranger could be considered a demonstration: “My best guess is that it will appeal to very few readers and produce something less than a sensation”
Knopf’s publicists had a formidable task. As The Stranger was about to go on sale in American bookstores, the publisher placed a full-page advertisement in Publishers Weekly (an American trade magazine for publishers, librarians, booksellers, and literary agents). It was signed by Blanche Knopf and entitled “On the New Literature of France.” Jamie Hamilton referred to it as “Blanche’s existentialist ad.” She was going to do everything possible to make The Stranger accessible and exciting.
The advertisement began by sympathizing with the average reader’s dilemma: “There is no use trying to talk about new French literature unless you are willing to tackle ‘existentialism.’ Now this is a frightening word. . . . Everyone likes to show that he can pronounce it, but no one enjoys undertaking to define it. Well, here goes.”
Existentialism, the ad continued, is the notion that a consciousness of the universe’s meaninglessness can make us free. Passing mention was then made of the fact that Camus, whose somber countenance gazed out from the upper right of the page, refused to be classified with the existentialists, because their emphasis on meaninglessness was at odds with his belief in political justice. The author of The Stranger was introduced as a man who had lived a double life during the Occupation—publishing with the approval of the Nazi censor while editing a Resistance newspaper underground. The Stranger was then presented in a few words—a novel as simple and straightforward as John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men.
Pitching The Stranger as both a lofty existentialist work and a straightforward populist novel was clever, since reviewers could take up either strand, high or low. Pitching Camus as an existentialist and a champion for social justice was also a good idea—here was an author both intelligent and heroic. After a month of what Blanche Knopf considered “fantastic” press, 2,500 copies of the novel had sold. In 1946, The Stranger was not yet a bestseller. In the long run, the ad accomplished something more important than immediate sales: it introduced Camus to American magazine and newspaper publishers as a leading figure of a school of French literature called “existentialist,” and it established that school as the most important new intellectual current coming out of France.
You would have to read the advertisement in Publishers Weekly more than once to glean that Camus disavowed the existentialist label, and that in fact he detested it. He joked in an interview with a French magazine that he and Sartre decided they ought to put out their own ad “stating that the undersigned have nothing in common and refuse to respond to any debts they might have incurred mutually.” Yet it was Sartre who prepared the way for Camus’s New York welcome.
New York had been a privileged refuge for exiled intellectuals during the Occupation years, and as of 1945, when travel became possible once again on the big liberty and cargo ships, Sartre, Camus, and Beauvoir all made the trip. Sartre was first. In spring 1945, he filed stories from New York for both Combat and Le Figaro, and he returned in 1946 to speak to American universities about the literary scene in Paris.
In Vogue magazine, in 1945, Sartre described Camus as the emblematic writer to emerge from the Resistance—the only writer who corresponded to his theory of a “committed literature” essential to France’s renewal. Sartre had read an early version of Camus’s forthcoming novel, The Plague, in manuscript, and he was ready to vouch that the world was about to see a new Camus: the absurdity of the world in The Stranger and The Myth of Sisyphus gave way in this new work to positive revolt and struggle. The Plague, based on Camus’s own commitment to the Resistance, demonstrated that the human spirit could come to rule over “the absurd world.” Sartre described, as he had done in the Cahiers du Sud essay in 1943, Camus’s somberness and his debt to the classical moralists, though now he underlined the potential of those qualities for a literature to come: “It is likely that in the somber, pure work of Camus are discernible the principal traits of the French letters of the future.”
For Sartre, Camus represented most vividly the aspirations of postwar literature at a shining moment when writers and intellectuals felt the world was theirs to remake. No other writer could have fit the bill for Sartre: Malraux was too much of an individualist; Guéhenno and Mauriac, much older men, had refused to publish above ground, and the Communists were indebted to their own masters. Camus had done exactly what needed to be done during the Occupation: he had marked time but he hadn’t accepted the oppression; he had chosen struggle rather than silence. At thirty-two years old in 1945, he had reached the perfect age when youth meets maturity.
In January 1946, speaking to students at Yale about the French view of the American novel, Sartre singled out The Stranger as “the French novel which caused the greatest furor between 1940 and 1945.” He placed his emphasis differently in this American context than he had in his Cahiers du Sud essay of 1943. Gone in his American lecture are references to Voltaire and the eighteenth-century morality tale. His focus now was on Camus’s debt to Hemingway, the short disruptive sentences that in Hemingway were a feature of the writer’s temperament but in Camus were rather a deliberate technique for expressing a philosophy of the absurd. Sartre entertained his audience with stories of the symbolic value of American literature when France was under German Occupation. He described the Café de Flore as the headquarters for a black market in American books. Not only did reading Faulkner and Hemingway novels become a symbol of resistance, he claimed, it was even the case—he couldn’t resist a joke—that secretaries “believed they could demonstrate against the Germans by reading Gone with the Wind in the Metro.” Sartre promised his audience, three months before the English-language publication of The Stranger, that French novels written during the Occupation would start to appear in translation. He was rolling out a thick red carpet for his friend.
I’m getting married in a little under two weeks, and a few nights ago I had my first anxiety dream about my upcoming wedding. It went like this: my wedding and the American Library Association Annual Conference (ALA) had been scheduled for the same time. I was arranging books at our exhibit booth in my wedding dress, and when I tried to leave to head to the altar, an author appeared for her signing. She demanded that I stay and fix the lighting, which she said was not flattering. I woke up in a cold sweat.
It doesn’t take Freud to figure out where this dream came from. As any marketing person can tell you, conferences take an immense amount of work, planning, and mental energy. As it turns out, weddings do too. The good news is that I’ve learned a lot in my eight years of planning and attending conferences that helped me stay sane throughout the wedding planning process—and there’s a lot that wedding planning can teach about conferences, too. Here are a few tips that I’ve found to be true for both events:
Always be prepared. Long-term planning is essential, but I’ve found that in order for events to go off without a hitch, a lot of time needs to be dedicated to thinking through the minute details because seemingly small things can throw a wrench in even the best-laid plans. Are any of your dinner guests gluten-free? Do you need a reminder to change your watch when you get to a new time zone? In which part of the convention center is the exhibit hall located? How many pens have you brought for your signing? What will you do if your powerpoint was not uploaded as promised?
If you are an author attending a conference, think through all the items you will need and make a list, so you remember to bring them all with you or make sure your publisher has them. If you have an itinerary, look over it carefully and get any questions you have answered early, before the conference starts. The more time you set aside ahead of time to think through the details, the less likely you are to be caught by surprise on the day of your event.
You can’t make everyone happy. In wedding-land, it’s notoriously hard to satisfy everyone and make decisions without some feelings getting hurt. You’d think that conferences would be less emotionally wrought, but I am hear to tell you that’s not always the case. Your book is your baby, and it’s natural to feel disappointed when it doesn’t draw the attention or sales that you hoped it would. Not all signings go well, and not all panels pull a standing-room-only crowd. Not every author gets his or her own publisher-sponsored cocktail party. When it comes to conferences, everyone is working with limited time, attention, and resources. Try to go in with managed expectations, and remember that you’ve created a beautiful piece of art. Even if it doesn’t attract all the attention you hoped it would, it is still something to celebrate and be proud of. And if you connect with just a few new readers who are excited, you never know where that might lead.
Use Institutional Knowledge. When I started planning my wedding, nothing helped me more than speaking with friends who had gone through it before. They pointed me in the right direction, kept me sane, and even shared their spreadsheets with me. If you are an author going to a conference for the first time, don’t reinvent the wheel: use your publisher and peers to help you plan. If you have never done a signing on a conference floor before, ask for some recommendations of ways to break the ice with people walking by (we have some great recommendations from authors here, here, and here). If you are going to a dinner or another event for the first time, ask fellow authors or publishing staff what they use to start conversation or keep it going. What kind of materials are helpful to bring along? If you ask questions you’ll find that people are happy to share their knowledge and experience with you, so you don’t have to start from scratch.
Don’t lose sight of the big picture. In conferences and weddings, it’s easy to get bogged down in the small details. But at the end of the day, what’s your goal? If it’s a wedding, your goal is probably (hopefully!) to get married. If it’s a conference, your goal may not be quite as clear, but it’s worth thinking through. Do you want to introduce your book to new people? To connect in person with key contacts? To meet your editor for the first time? To sell copies at your book signing? To drum up new school visits? If you can figure out which goal or goals are most important to you, it’s easier to plan your conference experience around that. Decide where you want to allocate your time, energy, and resources. Let your publisher know what you hope to accomplish, so you’re all on the same page. Your goal can help you navigate the conference craziness and come out sane on the other side.
Whatever you do, don’t let the stress of event planning take away from the joy of the event, whether that means getting married or sharing your book with the world (next time ALA is based in Las Vegas, you could do both at once!). Keep calm, keep your eye on the prize, and you’ll get through just fine.
Artificial Darkness does not advance the medium of darkness in place of the medium of painting or the medium of film. The histories of art and film presented here demonstrate not only that artificial darkness could operate between media but, more so, that it could only operate between media. Implicit in these histories, therefore, is a more radical proposition—asserted expansively by media theorists like Eva Horn—that there are no media. That is, there are no media “in a substantial and historically stable sense.” Joseph Vogl elaborates:
“Media are not reducible to representations such as theater or film or to techniques such as printing or telegraphy. Nor are they reducible to symbols such as letters or numbers. Nevertheless, media are present in all of these things. They cannot be comprehended simply as a method for the processing, storing, or transmission of data. One can, however, reach their historical mode of existence through a special form of questioning: by asking how media determine the conditions they themselves created for what they store, process, and transmit.”
Artificial darkness was not a medium. Instead, it was a “thoroughly heterogeneous ensemble consisting of discourses, institutions, architectural forms, regulatory decisions, laws, administrative measures, scientific statements, philosophical, moral and philanthropic propositions—in short, the said as much as the unsaid. Such are the elements of the apparatus [dispositif]. The dispositif itself is the system of relations that can be established between these elements.” Michel Foucault’s conceptualization of the dispositif—the French, as addressed below, is decisively more accurate than “apparatus” or “mechanism”—encapsulates the workings of artificial darkness in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. But in order to transpose Foucault’s verbal genealogy to our visual one, his definition must be extended from the said and the unsaid to the seen and the unseen. For artificial darkness was, above all, a technology of visibility and invisibility. At Bayreuth and in the spaceless darkness of the cinema, spectators “disappeared from the auditorium.” Black-clad subjects similarly vanished before Marey’s black screen. Pepper, Méliès, Schlemmer, Man Ray, and countless others mobilized artificial darkness to render bodies invisible, in whole or in parts. The invisibility engendered by artificial darkness required specific architectures, insensitivities to specific light spectra, specific physiological thresholds, or the reflectivity of specific paints. But it was not medium specific. A matter of ontics rather than ontology, invisibility was among several qualities and subject effects endemic to artificial darkness that were not only the product of any one medium but rather the product of heterogeneous elements assembled in a certain order—in short, the product of a dispositif.
The term dispositif can be traced back millennia. I will limit this inquiry to two centuries. In its modern technological usage, a dispositif is an arrangement of devices or apparatuses (appareil). In nineteenth-century manuals of photography, science, or magic, for example, a camera might be called an appareil, whereas a black screen, photographic darkroom, or theatrical attraction was more likely to be described as a disposition or dispositif. Controlled darkness was almost always an arrangement, a dispositif, rather than a self-contained device. At its most modest, a dispositif is neither more nor less than a proper arrangement. The term’s two other modern meanings, however, point toward the broader network of relations central to this study. In military use, the dispositif is the proper arrangement of equipment and troops. In a juridical context, it is the legal decision, independent of the opinion. At its most forceful, a dispositif disciplines bodies and shapes discourses.But just as there are no media in a substantial and historically stable sense, a dispositif is always provisional, strategic, and historically specific.There was no dispositif of artificial darkness independent of the architectural and artistic forms, regulatory and administrative decisions, scientific and philosophical statements, discourses, institutions, and subjects that produced it and that were produced by it. The recursion inherent in this definition serves as a firewall against axiomatic first causes,such as the autonomy, specificity, and ontology tirelessly—and tiresomely—claimed for modernist arts. Artificial darkness was exploited by modern artists and filmmakers but it was not a modernist medium. In other words, this study of artificial darkness is anchored not in the false bedrock of ontology but in an ocean of discourse and praxis, tethered to a historically contingent dispositif.
Throughout Artificial Darkness we will encounter individuals, techniques, and sites that advanced the positive value of modern darkness. At this introductory stage, however, artificial darkness may be most legible as a negative image of its ancient counterpart. These negations are nuanced throughout the book but warrant brief and schematic summary here. Not total darkness. Not night. Not shadows. Not black. Not race. Not artificial light.
Not total darkness. As a technology of controlled darkness, artificial darkness was incompatible with total darkness. When black screen techniques were exploited for magic performances, for instance, the stage was ringed with dazzlers—gas or electric lights with reflectors directed at the audience—to intensify the contrast and enhance the illusion. Audiences recalled bright lights rather than darkness.
Not night. Artificial darkness was divorced from its natural counterpart, night, and representations thereof in nocturnes or nightscapes—subjects with extensive historiographies of their own. Early seminal manifestations of artificial darkness—such as the Diorama or Marey’s black screen—functioned exclusively by daylight. Others, like cinemas,were essentially blind to nocturnal and diurnal cycles.
Not shadows. Artificial darkness demanded the concentrated presence and strict separation of light and darkness and so suffered few shadows—a penumbral phenomenon with a massive historiography that rarely overlaps with the phenomena in question here.
Not black. Artificial darkness was distinct from the color black and its abundant symbolism. Black monochromes were irreverent jokes or aesthetic provocations that marked the limits of established art, but they rarely channeled the operations of artificial darkness. What is more, the products of artificial darkness were often iridescent. Méliès regularly shot trick films before the black screen only to have them hand colored for distribution. And while most of Schlemmer’s costumes were sewn from light-absorbent black fabrics, they invariably included glistening blue-green-silver overlay, cardinal red tucking, or dazzling yellow spheres. Techniques of artificial darkness often produced variegated, even gaudy color images.
Not race. The history of artificial darkness unfolded by and large independently from discourses on race. Nevertheless, a promising avenue for further critical scholarship is the uncomfortable union of artificial darkness and race instantiated only sporadically in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries but explored potently by a number of contemporary artists. Darby English establishes the terms through which any such discussion would have to unfold in his analysis of David Hammons’s Concerto in Black and Blue (2002): “How to see a work of art in total darkness? One cannot, of course, except in the most extraordinary of circumstances, such as when darkness itself forms the condition of the work’s visibility.”
Not artificial light.In name and in practice, artificial darkness was much more proximate to artificial light than to other forms of darkness. Substantial scholarship has chronicled the industrialization of light in the nineteenth century and the use of artificial lighting in art, architecture, and theater. But these histories, too, must be disentangled from that of artificial darkness. At a technical level, artificial darkness could and did function independently of artificial light; as already mentioned, sunlight powered many of the early dispositifs of artificial darkness, not least Marey’s Physiological Station. More interestingly, photographic and cinematic studios erected in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were consistent in their deployment of artificial darkness, even as they amalgamated or alternated between natural and artificial light. The histories of artificial light and artificial darkness overlap at important junctures; but ultimately they are distinct.
Nevertheless, the history of artificial darkness cannot be hermetically sealed off from total darkness, night, shadows, black, race, or artificial light. Commonalities could certainly be found in baroque tenebrism; Étienne-Louis Boullée’s Temple of Death; the Claude glass or “black mirror”; the mutual imbrication of gothic tropes and modern media; James Whistler’s nocturnes and “black portraits”; blue tinting or day-f0r-night shooting (nuit américaine); and hosts of recent projects in and around the ascendent black box gallery. (This book’s coda makes a few preliminary gestures in this direction.) Artificial Darkness focuses on the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century rise and consolidation of artificial darkness around a specific circuit—black screens and dark theaters—and certain of the art, media, and subjects formed therein. Artificial Darkness does not endeavor, however, to be the last word on artificial darkness.
Natalie Lloyd is the author of A Snicker of Magic and her newest book The Key to Extraordinary. She lives in Chattanooga, Tennessee. She collects old books, listens to bluegrass music, and loves exploring quirky mountain towns with her dog, Biscuit.
And . . . she is a reading superhero! Read her story to find out how she became a reading superhero, and how YOU can too!
And in case you missed it, here’s René Colato Laínez’s post about his experience being called an “illegal alien” when he was young.
To find out more about René Colato Laínez and Mamá the Alien/Mamá la extraterrestre, check out his blog and follow him on Twitter. And if you are a blogger interested in being included on this or future blog tours, please reach out to us at publicity [at] leeandlow [dot] com.
LEE & LOW BOOKS celebrates its 25th anniversary this year! To recognize how far the company has come, we are featuring one title a week to see how it is being used in classrooms today and hear from the authors and illustrators.
Today, we are celebrating First Day in Grapes, an inspirational story for children of all backgrounds. Chico’s story of personal triumph and bravery in the face of bullying is a testament to the inner strength in us all.
Synopsis: All year long Chico and his family move up and down the state of California picking fruits and vegetables. Every September they pick grapes and Chico starts at a new school again. Often other children pick on him — maybe because he is always new or maybe because he speaks Spanish sometimes.
Chico’s first day in third grade turns out to be different. His teacher likes him right away, and she and his classmates are quick to recognize his excellent math skills. He may even get to go to the math fair! When the fourth-grade bullies confront Chico in the lunchroom, he responds wisely with strengths of his own.
Awards and Honors:
Pura Belpré Illustrator Award Honor, ALSC/REFORMA
Notable Children’s Book, Smithsonian
Choices, Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC)
From the Illustrator:
“Stories that help kids become familiar with kids of other cultures or others in different situations are books that I like to illustrate. I appreciate the way the author put the main character in situations that kids deal with daily in real life and how the boy used his wits to get out of tough situations.
I related to the kid in this story in a wacky way when it came to avoiding bullies. When I was about nine years old there was a boy who picked on me daily, until one day I came up with an idea. I thought that if I walked by him making a face that he wouldn’t recognize me and leave me alone. The plan worked, but now that I think of it, I doubt it was because he didn’t recognize me.”
One way of characterizing the social turn in contemporary artistic practice is to foreground its history in the pedagogical practices of previous generations, in this case, women ceramists whose careers throughout the mid-twentieth century expand and enrich our current understanding of what socially engaged artistic practice is today. This book argues that is was modern craft and not modern art that spearheaded nonhierarchical and participatory experiences, through the experiential properties endemic to craft practices and, in particular, ceramics. This runs counter to the existing genealogies of participatory art charted by Claire Bishop and Boris Groys, which are wholly tied to a European model of performance and non-object avant-garde practice. Today, many artistic practices focus heavily on “socially engaged art,” “institutional transformations,” and “knowledge-exchange” between artist and audience. Mid-century craft is an important but unacknowledged antecedent to the activist principles that service such contemporary ideologies. Moreover, it was women artists, many of whom were affiliated with social reform movements and spearheaded radical educational initiatives, who performed the teaching and transmission of craft skills and ideologies at midcentury.
This study is a thematic and gendered history of postwar American ceramics, which resituates a presently isolated and self-contained field as a malleable medium that could be manipulated to suit simultaneously avant-garde, nationalist, and regionalist constituencies. The tensions between these competing interests are compelling not just for their historical significance but for the prominent role craft has played in the political economy throughout the twentieth century.
Accordingly, the perpetuity of the art/craft divide is better understood politically, rather than aesthetically: craft is most often linked to fiscal policy, a redistribution of labor, production, and skill resulting in improved economic conditions, while avant-garde art is linked to social policy and its ensuing debates of morality.The circulation of handmade goods, no matter how expensive or inefficient their production, have markedly more potential for bestowing pride upon a nation through mass ownership and collection. In both formats of production, it is public efficacy that is a t stake, turning on questions not of usefulness but of use, as political propaganda, the inherent attributes of craft’s materialism, its sustainability and durability, is potent as a metaphor for community and nation-building. In this way, craft becomes the ultimate service discipline, its utopian and communal values both politically alluring and easily appropriated by ethnic, religious, diasporic, or cultural nationalisms.
In the book, I focus on three American women ceramicists: Marguerite Wildenhain (1898–1985), a Bauhaus-trained potter who taught form as process without product at her summer craft school Pond Form; Mary Caroline (M. C.) Richards (1916–1999), who renounced formalism at Black Mountain College in favor of a therapeutic model she pursued outside academia; and Susan Peterson (1925–2009), who popularized ceramics through live throwing demonstrations on public television in 1964. These three artists were chosen in part for their direct relationship to teaching and writing—all left behind written legacies—and for their heavy involvement in the creation of alternative circuits and new forms of pedagogy.
At a time when women were virtually excluded from both the teaching and making of painting and sculpture, craft provided a vital arena as teachers, thinkers, and makers. It became a viable alternative to the mainstream, urban art worlds of New York City and Los Angeles, a space in which women could innovate, teach, and create lasting pedagogical structures. Ceramics in particular, with its emphasis on self-sufficient rural living, offered women unprecedented social freedoms, with the opportunity to live and teach in nontraditional settings, such as cooperative, experimental, or self-initiated communities. This unorthodox, largely rural livelihood was beholden to the formal requirements of their craft: the making, storage, and most importantly, firing of ceramics. Due to the strict fire codes and zoning laws that made kilns illegal in most cities, the medium itself was ill-suited to an urban setting. Infinitely more private, these off-the-grid situations were more conducive to alternative lifestyles and sexualities, minimizing the social pressure, judgment, and community policing endemic to the sexist and repressive 1950s. Able to barter their unique wares and skills sets, women, too, found varying degrees of financial autonomy in the informal economies of exchange that existed through pottery’s social and pedagogical networks.
But to have chosen craft at that moment required a heightened awareness and rejection of conventional artistic structures, institutions, and hierarchies. As women foregrounded in both pedagogical and theoretical constructions of their shared discipline, Richards, Wildenhain, and Peterson were craftswomen engaged not just in highly skilled labor but, moreover, in the language of that labor. Their stories prefigure, or parallel, the masterful male pedagogical narratives now so well known—the ABCs, in effect—to scholars and students of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries: Josef Albers, Joseph Beuys, John Cage. In studio ceramics, as well, a version of this narrative has also been propagated, centered firmly on Peter Voulkos and his cadre of all-male students in the mid-1950s. As a parallel medium, ceramics offered a tantalizing proximity to the avant-garde movements of the era, including, but not limited to, abstract expressionism, Happenings, experimental music, minimalism, and, as I will argue, even early video art.
Indeed, its artists engaged in similar midcentury tactics: the expression of form through a suppression of narrative content, the embattled and sometimes exalted status of the artist as a maverick, the ambivalent relationship between artist and industry, and the increasing disregard for traditional artistic skills such as draftsmanship. In my project, the ceramic vessel becomes, in one sense, a foil, the shell object loaded with metaphorical and symbolic values of female labor, and, on the other hand, dematerialized, in tandem with the larger conceptual practices of the 1960s and 1970s, in which artists saw fit to engage with different forms of aesthetic experiences not limited to traditional object making.
The similarities between the formation of craft and media discourses during the postwar era are striking. As a hand-based, ancient technology, ceramic became a powerful metaphor for encouraging critical awareness and adaptation in the face of new technologies such as radio and television,and its performativity developed alongside, not in spite of, this sensoria. If one of the criteria for newer media is remediation, that is, the ability to generate an adaptation, translating from one format to another, ceramics itself is marked by variability and transformation, no more consigned to its basic materiality than is a computer chip, originally derived from metals and sand (silica). Beyond art and aesthetics, clay consistently transforms into media formats that seem unimaginable, at the forefront of advanced technological innovation in fields such as dentistry, automotive, oil and gas, solar, industrial, electronics, and defense industries.
I know some kids get really sad when summer vacation is over and it’s time to go back to school, but I was never one of them. I LOVED back-to-school time! Who’s with me? Yay, school!!!! Woo hoo!! No? Um. . . . anyway. . . Whether you are happy or sad, here are some activities to help you celebrate (or mourn) the first day of school.
It may seem odd that we see so many constraints on expression in traditional public forums in light of today’s generally permissive First Amendment landscape. In recent years, the Supreme Court has upheld the First Amendment rights of video gamers, liars, and people with weird animal fetishes. But in most cases involving the public forum—cases where speech and assembly might actually matter to public discourse and social change—courts have been far less protective of civil liberties.
Part of the reason for this more tepid judicial treatment of the public forum is a formalistic doctrinal analysis that has emerged over the past half-century. Courts allow governmental actors to impose time, place, and manner restrictions in public forums. These restrictions must be “reasonable” and “neutral,” and they must “leave open ample alternative channels for communication of the information.”
The reasonableness requirement is an inherently squishy standard that can almost always be met. The neutrality requirement means that restrictions on a public forum must avoid singling out a particular topic or viewpoint. For example, they cannot limit only political speech or only religious speech (content-based restrictions0. And they cannot limit only political speech expressing Republican values or only religious speech expressing Jewish beliefs (viewpoint-based restrictions). It turns out to be pretty easy for government officials to satisfy the neutrality requirement.
The requirement of “ample alternative channels” introduces another highly subjective standard. Lower courts have found that an alternative is not sufficiently ample “if the speaker is not permitted to reach the intended audience” or if the distance between speaker and audience is so great that only those “with the sharpest eyesight and most acute hearing have any chance of getting the message.” But the ampleness standard is otherwise underspecified. At least one federal appellate court has concluded that an alternative venue need not be within “sight and sound” of the intended audience.
The Supreme Court’s only recent consideration of the ampleness standard came in its deeply divided opinion in Hill v. Colorado, which upheld a public forum restriction that had been challenged by anti-abortion protestors. The majority opinion concluded that the restriction left open “ample alternative channels for communication” and did “not entirely foreclose any means of communication.” Justice Anthony Kennedy warned in dissent that “our foundational First Amendment cases are based on the recognition that citizens, subject to rare exceptions, must be able to discuss issues, great or small, through the means of expression they deem best suited to their purpose.” Kennedy insisted “it is for the speaker, not the government, to choose the best means of expressing a message.” That sentiment echoes Justice William Brennan’s assertion in an earlier case: “The government, even with the purest of motives, may not substitute its judgment as to how best to speak for that of speakers and listeners; free and robust debate cannot thrive if directed by the government.” The underspecified ampleness standard can substantially hinder these goals.
As long as the requirements of reasonableness, neutrality, and ample alternative channels are met, officials can limit the duration and time of day when public forums can be used, the location of an expressive event, and the way in which ideas are conveyed. In principle, these restrictions make sense. In practice, they have been used to control and mute expression and voice.
Consider, for example, how restrictions on time can sever the link between message and moment. Closing a public forum for periods of time that encompassed symbolic days of the year like September 11, August 6 (the day the United States detonated an atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima), or June 28 (the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots) could stifle political dissent. Time restrictions that closed the public sidewalks outside of prisons on days of executions, outside of legislative buildings on days of votes, or outside of courthouses on days that decisions are announced, would raise similar concerns. Yet all of these restrictions are arguably permissible under current doctrine.
Restrictions on place that preclude access to symbolic settings can be similarly distorting. As law professor Timothy Zick has noted, “Speakers like abortion clinic sidewalk counselors, petition gatherers, solicitors, and beggars seek the critical expressive benefits of proximity and immediacy.” Zick observes that current doctrine means “individuals who wish to engage in speech, assembly, and petition activities are too often displaced by a variety of regulatory mechanisms, including the construction of ‘speech zones.'” Take, for example, a labor protest. A strike that occurs in front of an employer’s business rather than blocks or miles away not only communicates to a different audience but also conveys different meanings.
Restrictions on manner can drain an expressive message of its emotive content. A ban on singing could weaken the significance of a civil rights march, a funeral procession, or a memorial celebration. Manner restrictions can also eliminate certain classes of people from the forum altogether. That might be true of a requirement that all expression be conveyed by handbills or leaflets rather than by posters. As Supreme Court Justice William Brennan once observed, “The average cost of communicating by handbill is . . . likely to be far higher than the average cost of communication by poster. For that reason, signs posted on public property are doubtless ‘essential to the poorly financed causes of little people.'”
Under current doctrine, the state’s regulation of public spaces through time, place, and manner restrictions is too easily justified apart from serious inquiry into the implications of those restrictions. A government official can usually come up with some reason to regulate expressive activity, some explanation of neutrality, and some argument that an ample alternative for communication exists. But the First Amendment should require more than just any justification to overcome its presumptive constraint against government action.
Sometimes the government can go to even greater extremes than the latitude afforded under time, place, and manner restrictions. Under an evolving doctrine known as government speech, the government can characterize some expression as distinctively its own and not subject to any First Amendment review.
Not all applications of the government speech doctrine are problematic; some cases are easy to understand. When the City of Pawnee hosts a tribute to black history on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, it is “speaking” a message consistent with Dr. King’s values. To that end, it need not ensure that members of the Ku Klux Klan have an opportunity to present their perspective. The event is premised on government speech rather than on facilitating a diversity of viewpoints and ideas.
Even though we can readily grasp the easy cases, the government speech doctrine is fiercely contested by courts and legal scholars because the line drawing it requires beyond those easy cases is impossible to configure. And without any lines—if the government could claim its own speech in any possible forum—the doctrine would swallow the First Amendment.
The Supreme Court unwisely gestured toward the possibility of the unrestricted government speech doctrine in its 2009 decision Pleasant Grove v. Summum. In that case, an obscure religious group called Summum wanted to erect a stone monument in a city park in Pleasant Grove City, Utah. Summum argued that because Pleasant Grove’s park was a traditional public forum, the city could not limit the privately donated monuments in the park to those representing certain mainstream groups, like a statue of the Ten Commandments. The city responded that the park space was a limited resource that could only accommodate a limited number of monuments, and insisted that it could choose which ones to include. In some ways the city’s argument makes sense—public parks are finite resources and cannot possibly accommodate every monument that every person wanted to contribute. But rather than addressing that issue within a public forum analysis, the Supreme Court ducked the issue by designating the monuments in the city par as government speech. That meant Pleasant Grove could decide which monuments to allow and which ones to prohibit. Sidestepping the public forum analysis avoided the hard work that courts and officials should be required to undertake in these settings.
The animated adventure STORKS (rated PG) is in theatres nationwide on September 23 —fly on over and check out the movie trailer.
The STORKS Movie Baby Name Game!
Storks deliver babies…or at least they used to. Now they deliver packages for a global internet retail giant in the movie STORKS. Junior is the company’s top delivery stork, and he’s about to be promoted when he accidentally activates the Baby Making Machine, producing an adorable and wholly unauthorized baby girl. Desperate to deliver this bundle of trouble before the boss gets wise, Junior and his friend Tulip, the only human on Stork Mountain, race to make their first-ever baby drop – in a wild and revealing journey that could make more than one family whole and restore the storks’ true mission in the world.
Are they up to the challenge? Are you? What name would you give the STORKS movie baby? Leave your ideas for the STORKS baby name in the Comments!
It’s August and with the New Voices Award deadline approaching in just seven weeks, participating writers may be starting to feel the heat. No sweat! The New Voices Award blog post series has got you covered from the summer sun of stress.
At this stage, you’ve probably got your cover letter and story written down. You’ve also read July’s post on the importance of voice in a story and made your narrative even more engaging to readers. Congrats! That’s two essential checks on the New Voices To-do list –but don’t seal the envelope just yet! Now that your story is down it’s time to begin the revision process.
Revision is an important part of the writing experience. It’s about revisiting what you’ve written, identifying what needs to be strengthened, and rewriting to improve your story. Every writer’s revision process is different so to provide some guidance we interviewed two New Voices Award Winners, Linda Boyden (The Blue Roses) and Jennifer Torres (Finding the Music/ En pos de la musica), about how their revision processes helped them prepare their stories for the New Voices Award.
What inspired you to write your story? Did you write it specifically for the New Voices Award, or was it something you were working on already?
Linda Boyden: In 1978 my maternal grandfather, Edward Dargis, passed away. I was about to have my last baby and couldn’t attend his funeral 3,000 miles away. Until I went to college, we had lived in the same neighborhood and were very close. He worked at a factory but was happiest in his garden. A few nights after he passed, he came to me in a dream. He stood in a beautiful flower garden, and like Rosalie’s Papa his face was “smooth, not wrinkled.” In the dream he told me to stop grieving because he was happy. From that point on I knew I needed to write this story as a gentle way to broach a tough topic.
Many years later when my husband’s company moved us to Maui, I left teaching and decided to follow my dream of becoming a writer. I enrolled in a community college writing course. The instructor assigned us the task of writing 1,000 words a week so the first draft of The Blue Roses was actually homework! When he returned it he commented, “I wanted to like Rosalie more, but I couldn’t.” That hurt so I put the manuscript away. Months later I rethought and revisited. By the time I learned of Lee & Low’s New Voices Award, the manuscript had been through a few revisions. After winning, it went through a few more with my careful editors, Laura Atkins and Louise May.
Jennifer Torres: Finding the Music was inspired by my own childhood—growing up in a noisy family, being close to my grandparents and their stories, hearing mariachi music playing in the background of weddings, birthday parties and other special celebrations. It was also inspired by stories I covered as a newspaper reporter: one, an obituary for a farm worker who gave free mariachi lessons to neighborhood kids on his time off, and another about the sense of community that grew around the mariachi program at Cesar Chavez High School in Stockton, California. I started working on the book long before I learned about the New Voices Award. After researching publishers, I knew I wanted to submit my manuscript to Lee & Low. I went to the website to learn more about the company and to review submission guidelines—that’s when I discovered the award.
What does your revision process look like? At what point in your writing process do you begin making changes?
LB: I write at a certain time every day. When working on a picture book, I rough it out on paper and revisit the next morning. I revise the previous work then create new. Next day, repeat. When it’s almost “good” I print it, read it aloud, and revise more. I love the process: revision is the heart of writing.
JT: I always catch myself wanting to revise as I go, making changes today on what I wrote yesterday. But I try to resist! It’s too easy for me to get hung up on small details that way. I think I do much better work when I’m revising a finished draft. I can step back with a sense of the story’s full scope. The problems stand out more clearly, and, often, so do the solutions.
How often do you share your works-in-progress with other people? Are you part of a critique group or is there someone specific you rely on for feedback?
LB: I’ve been part of many critique groups over the years. Now, I share with trusted individuals only and generally online. I read most rough drafts aloud to my husband who hears the mistakes. I also share all my picture book manuscripts with one young granddaughter who also has remarkable insights.
JT: I’m not part of a critique group-I think it could be good though! I do have a few friends who I ask to read drafts after I’ve finished a couple of rounds of revision on my own. They’re talented writers—whose styles and voices are nothing like mine—and they give thoughtful and honest feedback. It’s super helpful to me to see my work from someone else’s perspective, especially when the story has been all alone in my head until then.
What is something surprising you learned while preparing your story for publication?
LB: The most surprising part was discovering that authors and illustrators seldom meet, or even have contact. My Lee & Low editors had no problem with illustrator, Amy Cordova, and me communicating. Not only did this collaboration strengthen our book, Amy and I have remained friends.
JT: During the publication process, my editor let me know that Finding the Music would be bilingual (It was initially English-only). This meant some extra editing and paring down, but I was really excited about the decision! What was surprising to me, though, was how adding the Spanish text added so much dimension to the book as a whole. I can’t imagine it any other way now, and it’s a good reminder of how the collaborative nature of the process can do so much to enrich storytelling.
How has winning New Voices Award changed the way you write or revise stories?
LB: Winning the first New Voices Award gave me something I lacked as a writer: self-confidence. Though I understood picture books, I had no training in becoming a writer other than the one community college course mentioned above. Winning also gave me the opportunity to learn from the wonderful editorial staff at Lee & Low Books.
JT: Coming from a newspaper background, I already had big appreciation for editing and revising as part of the writing process. But at a newspaper, it happens so fast. Winning the New Voices Award and preparing Finding the Music for publication helped me realize how valuable it can be to step back from a project, and approach it again weeks (or even months) later with fresh eyes and perspective.
Though perhaps best known in the United States for his fiction, Bengali writer Amitav Ghosh has previously published several acclaimed works of non-fiction. His latest book The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkabletackles an inescapably global theme: the violent wrath global warming will inflict on our civilization and generations to come, and the duty of fiction—as the cultural form most capable of imagining alternative futures and insisting another world is possible—to take action.
In his first work of long-form nonfiction in over 20 years, celebrated novelist Ghosh (Flood of Fire) addresses “perhaps the most important question ever to confront culture”: how can writers, scholars, and policy makers combat the collective inability to grasp the dangers of today’s climate crisis? Ghosh’s choice of genre is hardly incidental; among the chief sources of the “imaginative and cultural failure that lies at the heart of the climate crisis,” he argues, is the resistance of modern linguistic and narrative traditions—particularly the 20th-century novel—to events so cataclysmic and heretofore improbable that they exceed the purview of serious literary fiction. Ghosh ascribes this “Great Derangement” not only to modernity’s emphasis on this “calculus of probability” but also to notions of empire, capitalism, and democratic freedom. Asia in particular is “conceptually critical to every aspect of global warming,” Ghosh attests, outlining the continent’s role in engendering, conceptualizing, and mitigating ecological disasters in language that both thoroughly convinces the reader and runs refreshingly counter to prevailing Eurocentric climate discourse. In this concise and utterly enlightening volume, Ghosh urges the public to find new artistic and political frameworks to understand and reduce the effects of human-caused climate change, sharing his own visionary perspective as a novelist, scholar, and citizen of our imperiled world.
To read more about The Great Derangement, click here.
LEE & LOW BOOKS celebrates its 25th anniversary this year and to recognize how far the company has come, we are featuring one title a week to see how it is being used in classrooms today!
Today we’re featuring DeShawn Daysby Tony Medina and illustrated by R. Gregory Christie, released in 2003 by LEE & LOW BOOKS:
About the Book: DeShawn Days introduces us to ten-year-old DeShawn’s world, where we meet his family, friends, and learn about his hopes and dreams. Author Tony Medina draws from his own experiences growing up in the projects to create this dynamic character. From neighborhood barbecues to building snowmen in the winter to experiencing the loss of DeShawn’s grandmother, readers from all backgrounds will be charmed by this upbeat, compassionate, and creative young boy.
Awards and Honors:
Starred review, School Library Journal
Children’s Literature Choice List, Children’s Literature
Choices, Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC)
Parents’ Guide to Children’s Media Award, Parents’ Choice Foundation
Paterson Prize for Books for Young People, The Poetry Center at Passaic County Community College
Watch author Tony Medina read to a third grade class in Dorchester, MA.
Teacher Tip: Tell students that poets often use what is called “poetic license.” Poets may write in dialect or nonstandard English to achieve a certain effect as Medina does in poems such as “My Cousin Tiffany.” Sometimes poets do not use capital letters or standard punctuation. Point out that Medina’s poems are not punctuated, except for the occasional exclamation point.
In the latest installment of the Marisol McDonald series, Marisol McDonald and the Monster/Marisol McDonald y el monstruo, Marisol McDonald is confronted with her greatest fear: monsters! In celebration of Marisol McDonald and the Monster/Marisol McDonald y el monstruo, released last month, Lee & Low Staff share the scary things that keep them up at night.
Louise May, Editorial Director
“Having to sing in public. I don’t have a great voice and I can’t carry a tune.”
Kandace Coston, Editorial Assistant
Pia Ceres, Marketing & Publicity Intern
“Not having the courage to speak up when it counts. Also, since I was a kid, I’ve had this fear that someone living in the mirror would reach through the threshold and grab me while I’m brushing my teeth, which is a very vulnerable position if you think about it.”
Randy Eng, Operations Coordinator
Keilin Huang, Marketing & Publicity Associate
“I have a huge fear of clowns. I think it’s because I watched Stephen King’s “It” when I was young with my cousins and it scarred me for life.”
Jalissa Corrie, Marketing & Publicity Assistant
“I have a fear of ghosts. I think there is one (or more) that lives in my parent’s house in the Hudson Valley. They tend to make themselves known when I’m home by myself.”
Hannah Ehrlich, Director of Marketing & Publicity
“I actually had a very strange phobia when I was growing up: I was afraid of buttons. I would not let my parents dress me in any clothes with buttons, did not like to touch buttons myself, hated sitting on chairs with buttons, and even avoided hugging people who were wearing button-down shirts. For most of my childhood, I thought it was just a weird thing that only I had. But thanks to the Internet, I’ve actually learned that there is a name for this phobia: Koumpounophobia. It’s pretty rare, but it’s estimated that nearly one in every 75,000 people experiences it. Most famously, Steve Jobs admitted that he has koumpounophobia and some speculate that his fear of buttons may have led to the invention of the iPhone and other buttonless devices. My phobia is fairly mild now but I still hate wearing button-down shirts, avoid button-up duvet covers, and prefer not to touch buttons (especially the small plastic ones) if I don’t have to!”
Hsu Hnin, Operations Assistant
“My greatest fear is the darkness; especially when I have to sleep in a place where there’s absolutely no light.”
John Man, Director of Operations
“My biggest fear is running out of poke balls during a hunt.”
You can purchase a copy of Marisol McDonald and the Monster/Marisol McDonald y el monstruo here.
Don’t miss the first two books in the Marisol McDonald series:
From his earliest days in Vienna Beethoven associated some of his compositions with friendship—a means by which to repair a disagreement or cement a relationship threatened by separation. One year after his arrival in Vienna, the twenty-three-year-old composer wrote to Eleonore von Breuning, his piano student and close childhood friend in Bonn. Beethoven blamed himself for a quarrel between them and hoped he could make amends by dedicating a short piano piece to her. In a lighter vein Beethoven composed his duet for viola and cello, ‘With Two Eyeglasses Obbligato,’ to play with his friend, the amateur Viennese cellist Nikolaus Zsemskall—both men were short-sighted.
In the second half of 1798, the Bohemian Prince Franz Joseph Maximilian von Lobkowitz—himself a competent singer, violinist and cellist—commissioned both the aging Haydn and his talented student to write six string quartets. Haydn would compose only the two Opus 77s and the unfinished Opus 103, hindered by other obligations and failing health. Towards the end of 1798 Beethoven began work on what would become his six Opus 18 quartets, and had probably finished them by 18 October 1800, when he received the second installment of a fee totaling four hundred florins from Prince Lobkowitz. This was a significant sum,more than half the amount it is estimated that someone in Beethoven’s situation would have needed to support himself for a year.
Beethoven’s work on his new quartets became intertwined with old and new relationships. By 25 June 1799, he had finished the first version of Opus 18, no. 1 and gave it as ‘a small token’ of friendship to Karl Amenda, a violinist with whom he had become friends following Amenda’s arrival in Vienna in spring 1798. Amenda was a year older than Beethoven and had trained in Lutheran theology at the University of Jena. After he moved to Vienna, he became the music teacher of Mozart’s children. Later in the summer of 1799, the death of his brother forced Amenda to return to his home town of Courland, in Latvia. In honor of their friendship Beethoven made him a gift of Opus 18, no. 1, entreating him to remember the times they had spent together.
Beethoven complained to Amenda at this time of a broken heart, likely caused not so much by Amenda’s imminent departure as by the marriage plans of one of Beethoven’s piano students, Joesphine von Brunsvik. In May that year, Josephine’s mother Anna had brought Josephine and her sister Therese to Vienna and persuaded Beethoven to give them piano lessons. Beethoven’s acquaintance with the family and possible infatuation with Josephine seems to have caused an interruption to his work on Opus 18, no. 1. Five years later, after the death of Josephine’s first husband, Beethoven would repeatedly declare his love for her, recalling that when he had first met her in 1799 he had been determined not to let himself fall in love. It seems rather more likely that Josephine was responsible for discouraging his overtures than that the young musician heroically repressed the desires of his heart. Whether or not her impending marriage was the cause of Beethoven’s distress in the summer of 1799, Beethoven fell in love easily and frequently: a broken heart was a common emotional state for the sensitive composer who craved depth and intensity in his relationships.
Amenda’s departure from Vienna may have contributed to Beethoven’s anguish. Over a year later, Amenda wrote to Beethoven explaining that he had fallen in love and was likely to settle for good in Courtland, but that when he played or listened to Beethoven’s music, ‘All of the ardent feelings awaken in me in the liveliest manner, [feelings] that your company itself inspired in me. It seems to me as if I must then get away from here and go to you, to the source of my most tender and most animated sentiments.’ Amenda feared—correctly—that hey might never see each other again, and entreated Beethoven never to forget him.
The overt emotion in Amenda’s letter was reciprocated. In the summer of 1801 Beethoven shared a painful secret with him:
How often would I like to have you here with me, for your B is leading a very unhappy life and is at variance with Nature and his Creator. Many times already I have cursed Him for exposing His creatures to the slightest hazard, so that the most beautiful blossom is thereby often crushed and destroyed. Let me tell you that my most prized possession, my hearing , has greatly deteriorated. When you were still with me, I already felt the symptoms; but I said nothing about them. Now they have become very much worse.
Franz Wegeler was another of only a few close friends in whom Beethoven confided: ‘For almost two years I have ceased to attend any social functions, just because I find it impossible to say to people: I am deaf.’
Beethoven’s professional situation, however, was now much better than it had been during his first years in Vienna. Publishers competed to publish his works, and as a result he was able to charge a higher fee for his compositions. He could now afford his own apartment and servant, although the increased independence was itself facilitated by Prince Lichnowsky, who paid him an annuity of six hundred gulden (or florins).
Some time after the composition and publication of Opus 18, Lichnowsky further demonstrated his belief in Beethoven’s string quartet projects by purchasing a quartet of Italian string instruments for him: violins by Joseph Guarnerius and Nicolò Amati, a viola by Vincenzo Rugeri and a cello by Andreas Guarnerius. The seal of Beethoven, stamped under the neck of the instruments, must have not seemed adequate proof of ownership: Beethoven took matters into his own hands, scratching a big B on the back of each instrument. Although Beethoven himself played the violin and viola, given his hearing problems it seems most likely that the primary beneficiaries of this purchase would have been Schuppanzigh and his quartet colleagues.
Thus Beethoven composed his Opus 18 quartets at a time when considerable professional recognition could not keep at bay feelings of social isolation, caused in a large part by his increased deafness and frustrations about his Viennese friends, many of whom he dared not to tell about his condition. To Amenda he worried not so much about the danger to his professional abilities as about the devastating effect on the his social interactions. In 1824 Goethe would describe a string quartet as ‘four rational people conversing with each other.’ Grieving the loss of companionship, Beethoven created his own ideal dialogues in his Opus 18 quartets, conversations in which he held complete control.
TUI T. SUTHERLAND is the author of the Wings of Fire series, the Menagerie trilogy, and the Pet Trouble series, as well as a contributing author to the bestselling Spirit Animals and Seekers series (as part of the Erin Hunter team). She lives in Massachusetts with her wonderful husband, two adorable sons, and one very patient dog.
And . . . she is a reading superhero! Read her story to find out how she became a reading superhero, and how YOU can too!