Here is a slideshow of pictures I took in Egypt: Cairo, Alexandria, Ancient stuff, and people. The music is Amal Hayati by Umm Kulthum (translated lyrics here). More info on the pictures can be found in my Picasa album. Enjoy!
One of the unforgettable details of the
novel was the obsession of Hans Castorp (the main character) with the
elusive Clavdia Chauchat, who Mann describes repeatedly as having Kyrgyz
eyes. This is, indeed, one of her defining features. "Kyrgyz eyes" were
also a feature of an earlier breathless obsession in Castorp's life--a
young boy who had many years before loaned young Hans a pencil on the
school playground. So Mann echoes these eyes and these obsessions (even the pencil) throughout the novel.
I also wondered exactly what Mann meant by Kyrgyz eyes (Kirgisenaugen). Messer provides us with this photo of actual Kyrgyznauts, or whatever one calls people from Kyrghyzstan:
In Frankfurt yesterday I dropped by the Schirn Kunsthalle to see the exhibition on Gustave Caillebotte, perhaps the most interesting of the impressionists (if you ask me). The exhibit's called Gustave Caillebotte, Impressionist and Photography, and shows the give-and-take relationship between Caillebotte's work and the emerging art form of photography. The traditional notion is that artists in the 19th century realized that photography had rendered the pursuit of realistic painted reproduction superfluous, freeing artists to concentrate on a sort of refracted and distilled 'painterly' technique that focused on the act of seeing itself. Caillebotte had a different reaction: he used the emerging technology of photography to enrich his technique. The revolutionary motion studies of Muybridge, for instance, or the odd perspectives and hallucinatory detail of 'stereographic' 3-D panoramas of Parisian streets, or the ability to capture snapshots of laundry billowing in wind.
The actual documentation of the link between photography and Caillebotte's technique was thin, so the exchibit was just pioneering French photography side-by-side with a decent cross-section of Caillebottes (including the famous Floor-Scrapers, which sounds much better in French: Raboteurs de Parquet). But that's something else! Only one of his mesmerizing studies of white laundry, though. The Schirn Kunsthalle is, as always, a weird and uninviting space, and the structure of the exhibition is hard to follow. Plus, they're charging 10 Euros for just one exhibit, which is just too damn high.
One part of the exhibit struck my eye: this ad for the 'Photographic Secret Camera' made by the Stirn Company from Bremen, billed as the 'newest and most amazing invention in the area of photography for professional and amateur photographers.'
The camera is a metal disc about 14 cm across with an lens emerging near the top. The ad targets four groups. The last two are photographers and tourists,
but the first two are more interesting. The first group is 'Officers of
the Army and Marines' to take 'snapshots of positions and terrain of
military importance'. The second group is 'Secret Police Officials', who
can use the camera to copy (copieren) 'suspicious persons, street
I suppose it shouldn't come as a surprise, but it's pretty sobering to know that there were so many 'secret police officials' skulking around Europe in the late 19th century that they constituted a major target group for camera marketers. It conjures up a Conradian world of malodorous anarchists gathering in seedy underground taverns while desperate informants secretly photograph their gaunt, feverish faces.
The weather on Sunday was so obscenely pleasant that the local park was crowded. So I veered off into the adjoining Stoffels cemetery (g) a large cemetery created in 1876 in the south of Duesseldorf. It's a minor masterpiece of cemetery design, with rolling hills and dales that create many small enclaves, and a huge variety of trees that keep it in autumn glory for months.
In addition to conventional graves, there's a field for urn burials and for ash-scattering. There's also a large memorial for 1,230 Dutch people who were killed in concentration and forced-labor camps during World War II, one of many such cemeteries in western Germany. The graves are located in a semi-circle around a central sandstone pillar listing the names of concentration camp in which many of the victims died.
On Friday, I debated American law professor and death-penalty proponent Robert Blecker in the 'New Auditorium' of Heidelberg University, which was freshly renovated in 2011 to celebrate the 625th birthday of that institution. The room was pretty crowded, and the audience -- almost exclusively students -- asked interesting questions. The Heidelberg Symposium (g) is organized exclusively by a small group of idealistic, hard-working students, and they did a fine job, presenting dozens of interesting speakers (I went to several other presentations myself and was never disappointed) and making guests feel more than welcome. If you want to support this entirely voluntary, student-run, interdisciplinary conference, go here (g). They also welcome Sachspenden (in-kind contributions).
Given all the charming people I was meeting, I did rather a bit more drinking and socializing than I normally do -- in fact, on Friday night, I stayed up until 6 AM, and walked home to the Hotel Tannhäuser.* Many thanks to my readers for the suggestions. Unfortunately, the weather was cool and rainy, so all the Biergärten were closed and no space was left inside, so there was no white asparagus with braised pork knuckles (or whatever they eat in Heidelberg) for me. My drinking companions and I always seemed to end up in the Weinloch ('Winehole'!) in the Untere Straße, which stays open until 3 AM and lives up to its name.
I finally got a chance to see the Prinzhorn Collection of art by patients in a clinic for the mentally ill, collected in the early 20th century by an idealistic psychologist and art historian named Hans Prinzhorn. The classic book he published in 1922, Bildnerei der Geisteskranken (g) (Artistry of the Mentally Ill), influenced a generation of modern artists. And I didn't just buy if for the pictures; Prinzhorn's innovation was to treat artworks by mentally ill patients not as curiosities or signs of disease, but rather as serious expressions of the primal human need to understand the world, bring order to sense impressions, decorate one's surroundings, and express states of the soul.
The project was perverted a generation later, when the chairman of the Heidelberg psychiatric clinic, Carl Schneider, permitted works from the collection to be used by the Nazis to 'prove' that modern art was no different from the 'scribblings of mental degenerates'. Prinzhorn himself was prevented from further developing his own fascination with racial ideology (g) by his early death in 1933. Many of the artists whose works appear in the book were later murdered in Grafeneck (g) as part of the T4 program. Prinzhorn's masterpiece has been translated into English and has consistently remained in print in Germany, with the last edition appearing in 2011. The Prinzhorn collection is now housed in a thoroughly-renovated old lecture hall, and is the perfect size.
I have a few other observations about Heidelberg:
In the early morning, the streets of Heidelberg are full not only of drunken students, but also lots of drunken random citizens speaking a neurologically-impaired version of whatever their native language is. Or their 'school English'. You'll also see a lot of swarthy men showing each other rather intense levels of public affection. There are almost-nightly fights, which the police actually don't do much to prevent: they watch over things and make sure nobody gets seriously hurt. It's all loads of fun until somebody loses an eye, but it's not exactly the academic idyll it is often portrayed as.
The university's world-famous Egyptian collection is closed, apparently indefinitely, while it's being moved to a new location. Naturally, you won't find this clearly stated anywhere on the University's website or at any signs at the former location of the exhibition.
The traditional German style of holding a 'Vorlesung' lives on among many of the crusty old professors at Heidelberg (but not only there, of course). The professor stands behind the lectern, reading a prepared text (or simply reading a slightly revised version of their most recent book or commentary) in a monotone. The text is read word-for-word, page for page. Deviation from the text is a cardinal sin, as is the idea of integrating contemporary examples or empirical verification. After having droned on for the required amount of time, the professor gathers his or her papers and leaves the room. Interruptions and questions are not permitted, and the professor simply doesn't care if half the students leave mid-lecture out of sheer boredom. The fact that this 'lecture' style could also be performed by an Amazon Kindle doesn't seem to have inspired thesed professors to change their ways. Fortunately, this style of lecturing is slowly dying out even in German universities, but it's always gob-smacking to see one of these 'old-school' profs displaying such open contempt for the audience.
Heidelberg 'Student kisses' are the most delicious candies in the world.
UPDATE: The indefatigable Christian Boulanger asks how the debate was. You'll be able to judge soon enough, since it will be posted on YouTube. Until then, my impressions. My job was to defend the 'European model' of criminal punishment, which could be summed up as (1) avoid prison confinement wherever possible; (2) integrate retributivism (as the basis for the length of the sentence) without going overboard; (3) make sure prison does as good a job as possible resocializing inmates; and (4) keep criminal justice out of the hands of the people and in the hands of politically insulated civil servants. Blecker, for his part, is an 'emotive retributivist' who favors capital punishment for the 'worst of the worst' and supports making prison life gradually more restrictive depending on the level of moral culpability of the offender, meaning those who displayed serious depravity of mind would be subject to punitive segregation. His views are more nuanced than some of the video clips circulating on the Internet may make it seem: he believes the death penalty is used too frequently in the United States, agrees that America has a serious over-incarceration problem, and that too little is done to try to rehabilitate prisoners. His focus is on severe punishments for the 'worst of the worst', but on correspondingly less severe punishments for those whose crimes don't demonstrate utter viciousness.
I was preaching to the choir, since I was defending a system that most of the middle-class to upper-class university students tend to see as natural and normal and humane. (This complacency is aggravated by the 'respectable' German media's disinterest in highlighting the many problems plaguing German criminal justice, with the intermittent exception of Der Spiegel (g)). I don't normally like preaching to the choir, so I tried to leaven my endorsement of European mildness with some criticisms. Nevertheless, the students listened to Blecker's point of view respectfully, and Becker earned applause for his frankly, honestly retributive opinions -- such as that he has little use for the abstract notion of 'human dignity', and that he considers the 'human dignity' of people like Magnus Gäfgen as much less worthy of protection than that of the young boy he callously murdered.
Anyway, that's my two cents. The debate was captured on video by a pretty professional camera team, and I've been promised it will be posted on YouTube in the next few weeks. As soon as it shows up, I'll post it here, and you can draw your own conclusions...
And now for a few random pictures from my photostream:
A finalist for Best Amazon Review Ever has to be this one, for the $30,000 Hasselblad Hx4 digital camera. It starts with the fact that Goldman Sachs was giving away $30,000 cameras as party gifts, and then gets even stranger:
I am a landscaper and I work mostly in Bel Air. One of my clients neighbors sold me this camera, which he'd received as party gift at a Goldman Sachs function. I told him I couldn't afford it, but he said, "take it home, try it out before you say that."
Well, I did and he was right, the pictures are absolutely amazing. In many respects they are MORE, not less, realistic than the subjects.
I have no complaints whatsoever on that score - or not exactly on that score. There were a number of images left on the camera, either by the neighbor of my client, or whoever may have had it before him. I can't be too specific, there are all kinds of people who use this web site, children, those from here and there all types in short, and I've no wish to offend. I'll just say the images were of an erotic nature, and graphic, my God, on account of the subject matter, and the quality of this amazing camera, these picture were very, very disturbing. I had to be hospitalized in fact - only for four days, but I was unable to return to work for almost six weeks. I'm paying $700.00 a month now to the client's neighbor for the camera, even though the police have it as evidence, and will keep it until the Goldman Sachs dudes and the others involved come up for trial. It's been an hellish ordeal, but I can't wait to get that camera back - digitally wiped, the police have assured me, of those unforgettable atrocious images. The bulldog was put to sleep.
What can you say about a camera that beats reality at its own game? A camera that can send you to the hospital?
But why did the bulldog have to die? Was it the camera again?
A friend of mine who is a semi-professional photographer has just started sharing some of his photos on flickr here:
Another one of my friends, John Carter Wood of Obscene Desserts, has just started a blog about his book The Most Remarkable Woman in England: Poison, Celebrity and the Trials of Beatrice Pace (Manchester University Press, 2012). I had the pleasure of reading an early draft of the book, which is a fascinating history of a poisoning case that gripped England during the 1920s: Did Beatrice Pace slowly murder her husband with arsenic? John's book is written in crisp, accessible prose and studded with priceless quotations from contemporary news reports and court documents. It has as many plot twists as any detective story, and also casts fascinating sidelights on everything from early forensic science to press ethics to the status of women in inter-war England. Highly recommended!