December 13, 2007

Dos manuales de reconstrucción urbana

Eugène Atget es a París lo que James Joyce a Dublín. Ya sea con las fotografías del francés o las páginas del irlandés es posible reconstruir sendas ciudades.

L'enfer: Rodin, Atget, Doisneau

December 9, 2007

"Los amorosos" por Jaime Sabines

"Especulum" por Samuel Noyola

A civil war in my face?

Chimuelo -sin los dientes de la leche-
soy el retrato duro de un pirata
dormido en la corriente, sin la pata
de palo, cerrado un ojo en Campeche,
por culpa de la desfondada Meche
que piedrota me dio con una lata.

Así anduve de aquí a salto de mata,
antes de conservarme en escabeche.

Hubo una guerra en mi rostro arado.
Allí: saga etílica y el frío
adoctrinado desde la intemperie.

Sobrio los doce pasos e inclinado.
Los meses en la cárcel del estío.
Y una mirada de mujer en serie.

December 5, 2007

C'est moi que tu parles?

Contribution: Tamara P.

December 4, 2007

Ten Minutes Older

Frank Herz filmed this great short film called "Ten Minutes Older" (1978), which lately (1998) inspired a homonimous project divided in two films called The Trumpet and The Cello. It lasts almost ten minutes. A look is doubtless worth.

It remind me immediately of the documental film filmed in East Germany "Im Pergamonmuseum" (1962) by Jürgen Böttcher. Unfortunately it is not available online, but it portrays a lot of faces staring, admiring, judging and being surprised by the treasures of the Pergamonmuseum in Berlin.

This post was discussed previously with Tamara P.

December 2, 2007

Where I would like to be right now

Next to her on the WallyPower boat 118...

... or visiting the Stones' art cave in Napa Valley...

... approaching Notre Dame du Haut...

...or about to bungee-jump from le viaduc du Millau.

I am America. (And So?)

[An interesting text published today in the Sunday Magazine of the New York Times. Unfortunately it owes some to John J. Miller, We Are Here, without referring to him, and it silences that the word "America" is written in the southermost part of the continent, not in today's USA territories. With such a remark the text could be even better. But anyways... a lecture is still worth.]

by Wyatt Mason

From Rudy Giuliani’s making “12 Commitments to America” to John Edwards’s taking a “Road Trip for One America,” our latest crop of campaigners for the presidency seem to take for granted that the word “America” has a special resonance, that it defines something meaningful. But what, exactly, is it? America doesn’t take its name from an ethnicity nor from a clear demographic, whereas the French, say, owe “France” to their Frankish forebears. Despite the frequency of its use, “America” is actually somewhat difficult to define, particularly if we acknowledge that many people living on our planet who are neither residents nor citizens of these United States see themselves as Americans.

The elusive nature of the world’s most famous brand, not to say the curious road to its definition, will be illuminated next week as never before when the Library of Congress unveils an addition to its permanent collection nicknamed “America’s baptismal document.” The document in question, a four-and-a-half-foot-by-eight-foot map, will be receiving national-treasure treatment more appropriate to a Jerry Bruckheimer blockbuster. After all, in its 200-year history, the library has never waited longer, nor paid more, to acquire any single object: 100 years and $10 million were spent obtaining this last surviving print of a map of the world made in 1507 by an obscure German cartographer, Martin Waldseemüller — a map that happens to feature the first use of a certain seven letter word with an understandable appeal to our de facto national library: “America”. To house this treasure, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has built an encasement. At 2,000 pounds, its pressurized, argon-gas-filled environment is the largest case of its kind — big brother to the only other such cases NIST has made, those that protect the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

The Waldseemüller map, of course, is no charter of freedom, but as both it and the “America” it coined turn 500 this year, the map’s prominent inclusion in the story we tell about ourselves offers a glimpse at a kind of lexicographic liberty — how a word acquires meaning, often despite itself. For the story of the naming of America is one we think we know: Amerigo Vespucci, that famously self-promoting explorer, outfoxed not Columbus the discoverer but Columbus the marketer and managed to wheedle his name onto a whole hemisphere of continents he didn’t deserve. “Strange,” Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “that broad America must wear the name of a thief. Amerigo Vespucci, the pickle-dealer at Seville, who . . . managed in this lying world to supplant Columbus and baptize half the earth with his own dishonest name.” The only problem with this story — one in which America’s name harbors a prophetic seed of self-promotion that later flowers into a full-fledged huckster’s paradise — is its inaccuracy. The real story is more telling still, and begins with Waldseemüller.

Created collaboratively in 1507 in the French town of St. Dié by Waldseemüller and his humanist colleagues, their ambitious series of woodblock prints represented the most comprehensive collation to date of the Western world’s geographical knowledge, crediting Columbus and Vespucci by name for features discovered during their explorations of a few years earlier. A handbook published with the map offered Waldseemüller’s reasoning behind placing — in the southern quadrant of his map’s western hemisphere; on a lumpy banana of land meant to be the continent to our south — the name “America”:

[A] fourth [continent] of the world . . . has been discovered

by Amerigo Vespucci. Because . . .

Europe and Asia were named after women, I can

see no reason why anyone would have good reason

to object to calling this fourth part Amerige,

the land of Amerigo, or America, after the man of

great ability who discovered it.

The “good reason” to object to calling it “the land of Amerigo” would have been that among Vespucci’s “great abilities,” discovery wasn’t one. Waldseemüller seems to have been misled by a document known as the Soderini Letter, a narrative account said to have been by Vespucci but believed by modern scholars to have been forged by unscrupulous publishers. The letter reports that our shores are populated by giants, cannibals and sexually insatiable females — and implies that Vespucci reached this mundus novus pornographicus before that fellow Columbus. Though Felipe Fernández-Armesto, author of this year’s excellent “Amerigo”, makes very clear that Vespucci was not above self-promotion, he also argues persuasively that Vespucci had nothing to do with the Soderini Letter, nor therefore the elevation of his name to hemispheric heights. Waldseemüller seems to have later wised to his own credulity, removing “America” and replacing it with “Terra Incognita” on his subsequent maps. Still, he couldn’t erase the path his first map cut through the world: “America” had spread across maps and globes and minds, irreversibly.

Whereas Waldseemüller’s map seemed to have disappeared irretrievably. Despite what was said to be an initial printing of 1,000 copies, none were known to have survived into the 19th century, until an Austrian Jesuit priest named Josef Fischer, who taught high-school geography and history at a boarding school, finally found one. In a footnote to his forgotten opus, “Discoveries of the Norsemen in America,” Fischer recalls his scholarly sleuthing in a German castle: “I had spent two days in carefully examining the contents of Prince Waldburg-Wolfegg’s library. The following day I came across a Codex, elephant folio, dated 1515.” In it, Fischer found a rare engraving by Albrecht Dürer that was “carefully entered in the catalog of the unique Wolfegg collection of engravings.” What was not noted in any catalog were the folio’s further contents: several large maps that sat unnoticed for some 300 years — one of which featured an unlikely detail. “I turned over some more sheets,” Fischer explained, “and on Sheet 9, I found ‘America’ printed in large type.”

Fischer knew what that “America” meant, but what — beyond Emerson’s erroneous sense of America embodying a hidden fraudulence — does “America” mean? Vespucci’s given name is said to derive from the Old German Almaric, which literally means “work ruler” — a derivation that one nomenclatural historian called “a curiously appropriate title for the new world of labor and progress.” Curious indeed, given that those who first heard it would have thought retirement: Waldseemüller’s map claimed America was filled not merely with giants and loose natives but also with piles of gold. In any case, the word quickly took on the talismanic power that foreign names often do. “America” has stimulated generations of imaginations, filling them with hope for something better or hatred of something worse. The “America” of Allen Ginsberg (“I’ve given you all and now I’m nothing”) surely differs from that of Walt Whitman (“Center of equal daughters, equal sons”), Whitman’s America no less gilded than Waldseemüller’s, no less glittering a lure to immigrants fleeing lives that weren’t working out or, at least, ones they wished to see — by themselves — redefined.

And it is, in fact, a similar chance for redefinition that the Library of Congress is now providing visitors. Yes, the case, which dwarfs those of our Declaration of Independence and our Constitution, is somewhat grandiose, perhaps suggesting a characteristically American presumption. And yet, if we can see past the 600-pound piece of glass and the argon gas within and stare at a space on the map barely an inch long occupied by seven significant letters, you cannot help seeing an “America” that, very briefly, has been shorn of all meaning. It is — and most usefully — once again a newly minted word, one that might still mean anything.

November 23, 2007

On transmuting ideas

[Richard Sorabji, “Intellectual Autobiography” in Ricardo Salles (ed.), Metaphysics, Soul, and Ethics in Ancient Thought. Themes from the work of Richard Sorabji, Oxford: Clarendon Press (2005), pp.33-4.]

“I have already mentioned some of the lessons I believe I have learnt about philosophy: the ramifications which make study of the physical universe and of the mind relevant to each other, and to how to live. But what have I learnt about the history of philosophy, since I started in 1980 to read it as a continuous and continuing story, instead of skipping from one famous name to the next? I have already mentioned my first lesson, that intermediate philosophers may be needed for understanding later ones. In addition, I had learnt how ideas can be transmuted. One striking example was the transmutation of a Stoic theory of how to avoid agitation into a Christian theory of how to avoid temptation. Another was the harmonization of Plato and Aristotle, which, in the Neoplatonism, produced a new philosophy that was identical with that of neither.

But I also got a sense of how ideas can be revived in very different contexts. Berkeley’s idealism was designed to solve a problem ok knowledge – if we know only the ideas in our minds, how can we know about tables and chairs outside our minds? Answer: tables and chairs are bundles of ideas in the mind, sometimes of ourselves and always of God. This, I came to realize, is a revival of the fourth-century theory of St Gregory of Nyssa. Material objects, he said, are bundles of God’s ideas. But his reason was to do with a quite different problem converning causation. If cause must be like effect, how can an immaterial God have created a material world? Answer: the world is not material in the way you think. Material things are bundles of God’s ideas. Same theory: different reasons. Of course, Berkeley may have known of Gregory, and he does give Gregory’s reason as a supplementary one.

[...] I am inclined to wonder if there are any ideas that could not be revived in a new context. [...]

The possibility of reviving ideas is part of what gives point to philosophers studying the history of philosophy. It liberates us from the circle of ideas which happen to be most recent and expands the philosophical imagination. The opposite utility has also been illustrated, that history can make us question the soundness of some of our inherited presuppositions, as with the supposed harmlessness of killing animals.

This idea of history as liberating contrasts with the view that we are trapped in our circles of ideas and the ancients in theirs. On this view, ideas are so tied to the context of a given time that we can easily say they could not have been thought of before that date, or could not be taken seriously after it. There are also ideas, on this view, so entrenched that we can foresee that our own circle will not give them up. Again, history, on this view, mereley shows us why we have inevitably come to adopt certain views, and discard others. This is the opposite of what I think.

Admittedly if we revive an idea, we may need to detach it from its original background, as ideas about when it would be just to go to was may get detached from their backgraound in natural law. But detachability is not only an interesting historical phenomenon. It is also what helps to make ancient ideas directly applicable to modern philosophy, or, as in the examplo of justice in war, to life. As historian, one must be keenly aware of the original background, or one will miss significan differences. As philosopher, one may consider how far the background can be detached.

I do not wish to deny that there are limits to the repetition of ideas. A particularly itneresting one which I have mentioned is that I have found at most likeness, never exact similarity, in the case of non-Buddhist Indian philosophy, perhaps partly because it was until recently the guarded preserve of Brahmins who felt the west could teach them about technology, but not about philosophy.

To return to the ramifications of philosophy, they are so extensive, and the cultures which have studied them so varied, that Gregory of Nyssa’s charming idea is surely right: there is room for the understanding to make perpetual progress and one need never grow tired.

Bells toll to close churches: Kinski, PRD guys

November 19, 2007

America: Bourke-White, Cartier-Bresson

XXXXXXXXXLouisville Flood (1937) XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXChicago (1947)

November 18, 2007

Mary walk, Lola run

Cartier-Bresson (Irland, 1952) Tom Twyker (Berlin, 1998)

Magritte, Cartier-Bresson

Atget, Cartier-Bresson

Paris (1900)

Marseille (1932)

November 14, 2007

Campana y tumba

Manuel Álvarez Bravo (1936)

November 12, 2007

Campanas en la literatura y el cine

Tan antiguas como China o Egipto, las campanas se usan de modo diversísimo: para no perder el ganado, para convocar a la feligresía, para iniciar una guerra de independencia, para que Proust pueda llamar a su servicio doméstico... Los rusos han desarrollado incluso la campanología.

El capítulo "Victoria y Gabriel" de Al filo del agua, de Agustín Yáñez, contiene las mejores páginas que haya leído sobre las campanas. Para Gabriel, la campana es metáfora de Victoria; para ella, lo es de él; para el lector, lo es del amor imposible de esa pareja:
La Muerte misma -¡qué angustiosa!- que angustiosa disloca el esqueleto de los días, minuto a minuto, a segundos descoyuntados, como dicen que lo hace también el Amor. Así las angustias cuando se ignora el mal que tiene postrado al paciente, transcurren las hipótesis de los médicos, el daño se agrava, se frustran todos los recursos, el enfermo es llevado a ciegas y a locas, desesperadamente. Dicen que el Amor es también como la Muerte. ¿Será ésta o el otro quien descoyunta el pulso de Gabriel? ¿Ésta o el otro hace florecer la fiebre? ¿Amor o Muerte marchita el ánimo? Dicen que Amor es género de Muerte. ¡Cuán extraño latido el alterado latir de las campanas, cada día más sensible: alucinadas en rebato sin tino; presas luego de mortal decaimiento! Campanas de aleluya en toques de ánimas. Campanas que languidecen a tiempo de repicar.
- Gabriel está jugando con las campanas, dicen las gentes en el encierro de patios y recámaras.
Pero ya son muchos días. Eso no puede ser diversión. Entonces dicen las gentes, al encontrarse por las calles:
- ¿Qué le sucede a Gabriel?
El desconcierto de las campanas comienza a ser intolerable.
- Gabriel, dicen las gentes en la plaza, está burlándose del pueblo.
Al llamar una tarde para la conferencia de las Hijas de María, las campanas doblan. Desvanecido el equívoco, revienta la indignación:
- Gabriel está burlándose de nuestras tradiciones.
Otro día el toque de las ocho de la noche parece repique de posadas.
- Gabriel está burlándose de nuestros muertos.
O se ahogan las esquilas por la prisa con que se las volteaba, y las campanas por el frenesí de los badajos, o sonaban tan desabridamente, con tan exasperante, desacordada lentitud de relojes a los que les falta cuerda.
- Qué: ¿Gabriel también se ha vuelto loco?
Fueron ocho, doce días desasosegados.
- ¡Esto es inaudito!
Descompuesto el ritmo de las campanas, todo el pueblo marchaba mal. Pensamientos, comunes pasos alterados. General inquietud.
- ¡Es el colmo!
Ya no se podía trabajar y, menos, rezar. Ya no se podía estar a solas. Se dejaba sentir la gravedad del encierro. Se reparaba en la tisteza, en los anhelos contenidos, a la manera como se repara en la propia respiración, en la sístole y diástole del propio corazón.
- Esto no puede seguir así.
Fueron doce días desajustados. El Señor Cura se rindió al clamor general nacido en la clausura de casas y conciencias; hubo de rendirse a la propia evidencia, y relevó a Gabriel.
¡Qué vulgares, qué sordas tocaron las campanas en manos filisteas! Lo prefirió la mayoría, rencorosa, inolvidando el desacato. La minoría se rebelaba: era preferible oír gritos de vesania, con acentos de vida, que no muertos tañidos, mecánicos. La minoría los rechazaba. Eran insoportables a las orejas de cristal. Fueron insoportables para Victoria, tan insoportables, que la expulsaron del pueblo antes de lo que la dama proyectara. Y nadie supo la causa de su repentina retirada, sólo entrevista por algunos que tuvieron la malicia de conciliar la marcha de la señora con el asalto inesperado de la torre, por parte de Gabriel, quien dobló las campanas tan tremendamente, que muchos lloraron como en calamidad pública, como si vivieran el día del juicio, que no de otra manera, entonces, geminarán, se desbaratarán, se quebrarán los bronces del mundo.
Inmediatamente recordé esa extraordinaria escena final de Andrei Rublev, de Tarkovsky.

Fragmento de la fundición de la campana:

Fragmento del levantamiento de la campana, que no tiene nada que ver con aquella apoteósica, por hollywoodesca, de 1492:

October 31, 2007

On medical cruelty

Country Doctor (1948), by W. Eugene Smith

Here I proposed cruelty as the worst moral badness.

Now, two quotations of the English edition of In The Land Of Pain by Alphonse Daudet, on medical cruelty:

Jean-Martin Charcot was notorious for his blunt speakint to patients and their families. (...) He once said to a patient: "You're in the position of a man sitting in shit with a sabre flashing above his head: either dive in or have your head cut off". If he was being tactful, he might announce bad news in Latin (note on p. 23 by editor Julian Barnes).

The way nurses talk: "That's a lovely wound... Now this wound is really wonderful". You'd think they were talking about flowers (p.27).

Prayer to pain

"Pain, you must be everything for me. Let me find in you all those foreign lands you will not let me visit. Be my philosophy, be my science".

Alphonse Daudet

October 27, 2007

Músicos afinando sus instrumentos

Dicen que el momento más entrañable de una noche de concierto es cuando los músicos afinan sus instrumentos. Aquí, la Orquesta Nacional de Francia se prepara a interpretar la séptima sinfonía de A. Bruckner (una especie de epitafio para Richard Wagner), bajo la dirección de Kurt Masur. Impresionante ver a un hombre enfermo de Parkinson dirigir sin batuta...

October 25, 2007

Le désespéré, Le patient

Gustave Courbet (1843-1845)

October 24, 2007


El malinchismo esconde la ingenuidad de una derrota anticipada.

VW (1951), Darth Vader

Rice, Hirsi Ali, Yade

October 20, 2007

Variations on red

"Red Fontana di Trevi" by Ftm Azione futurista 2007

"#34" by Nickel Tailings

Taiji, Japan

Bull blood by César Rincón

Papal blood by Ali Agca

"Captain Jack Sparrow" by Carina Berlingeri

Irène Jacob by Krzysztof Kieślowski

"The Red Studio" by Henri Matisse

"Red on maroon" by Mark Rothko

"Vir Heroicus Sumblimus" by Barnett Newman

October 15, 2007

Con o sin tilde

Al margen del acento diacrítico, he aquí algunas palabras que, según recuerdo, pueden escribirse con o sin tilde. Va primero la versión preferida o "culta":

fútbol | futbol

período | periodo

icono | ícono

ibero | íbero

pentagrama | pentágrama

olimpiada | olimpíada

mímesis | mimesis

atmósfera | atmosfera

afrodisíaco | afrodisiaco

paradisíaco | paradisiaco

médula | medula

cardíaco | cardiaco

alvéolo | alveolo

dinamo | dínamo

cartomancia | cartomancía

elixir | elíxir

austriaco | austríaco

reuma | reúma

omóplato | omoplato

anémona | anemona

policíaco | policiaco

zodiaco | zodíaco

balaustre | balaústre

amoniaco | amoníaco

October 14, 2007

Busca en todas las cosas

por Enrique González Martínez (1871-1952)

Busca en todas las cosas un alma y un sentido
oculto; no te ciñas a la apariencia vana;

husmea, sigue el rastro de la verdad arcana,

escudriñante el ojo y aguzado el oído.

No seas como el necio, que al mirar la virgínea
imperfección del mármol que la arcilla aprisiona,

queda sordo a la entraña de la piedra, que entona

en recóndito ritmo la canción de la línea.

Ama todo lo grácil de la vida, la calma

de la flor que se mece, el color, el paisaje.

Ya sabrás poco a poco descifrar su lenguaje...

¡Oh divino coloquio de las cosas y el alma!

Hay en todos los seres una blanda sonrisa,

un dolor inefable o un misterio sombrío.

¿Sabes tú si son lágrimas las gotas de rocío?

¿Sabes tú qué secreto va contando la brisa?

Atan hebras sutiles a las cosas distantes;

al acento lejano corresponde otro acento.

¿Sabes tú donde lleva los suspiros el viento?

¿Sabes tú si son almas las estrellas errantes?

desdeñes al pájaro de argentina garganta
que se queja en la tarde, que salmodia a la aurora.

Es un alma que canta y es un alma que llora...

¡Y sabrá por qué llora, y sabrá por qué canta!

Busca en todas las cosas el oculto sentido;

lo hallarás cuando logres comprender su lenguaje;

cuando sientas el alma colosal del paisaje

y los ayes lanzados por el árbol herido...

[Este cuadro de van Gogh me enseñó a buscar el sentido oculto de los edificios.]

October 13, 2007

My favorite perspective at Potsdamer Platz

Back corner of Park Kolonnaden's Haus 1

Design: Schweger & Partner (Hamburg, Germany)