Daily Office:


Matins: At Chron Higher Ed, Peter Dougherty argues for more pro-active university presses, as a way of overhauling scholarship.

Lauds: The Prince of Wales has resigned from the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (founded in 1877 by Williams Morris), of which he was also the patron. The issue appears to be his rigorous (rigid?) antiquarianism.

Prime: While the major labels (such as still exist) fret about plunging CD sales, a cottage industry of new music recordings is re-inventing the business model.. (via Arts Journal)

Tierce: Four years’ jail time for stealing 91 lobsters from the kitchen at Balley’s? I say sell Anthony Jones’s story to Hollywood and give the proceeds to a soup kitchen. The 38 year-0ld Jersey man created value.

Sext: Ivy Style digs up an article from Time (November 11, 1966) about a once-thrilling trend: going sockless.

Nones: Charles Taylor, former Liberian president/tyrant, takes the stand in his own defense, as the first African leader to be tried at The Hague.

Vespers: At The Rumpus, an excerpt from Jonathan Ames’s new collection of essays and short fiction, The Double Life is Twice as Good.

Compline: Choire Sicha takes another look at Brüno, and, partly inspired by Anthony Lane, comes away with a troubling take on America.


§ Matins. Before getting down to details, Mr Dougherty dishes out a bit of medicine.

Hard ideas define a culture — that of serious reading, an institution vital to democracy itself. In a recent article, Stephen L. Carter, Yale law professor and novelist, underscores “the importance of reading books that are difficult. Long books. Hard books. Books with which we have to struggle. The hard work of serious reading mirrors the hard work of serious governing — and, in a democracy, governing is a responsibility all citizens share.” The challenge for university presses is to better turn our penchant for hard ideas to greater purpose.

The older I get, the less inclined I am to agree that serious writing ought ever to be difficult to read. Take Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism. (Mr Dougherty mentions The Human Condition.) It’s an exciting book to read, but its difficulties owe, in my opinion, to indigestion. Arendt hasn’t quite absorbed all of her material, nor has she worked out the connections. A certain academic arrogance seems to encourage her to lay her interesting ideas out for us to make what we can of them. The Origins of Totalitarianism is certainly a book that could be improved — as a book.

In any case, Mr Dougherty’s “content revolution” has four principal points:

First, include on our lists more titles from the burgeoning professional disciplines: engineering, law, medicine, architecture, business, the graphic arts, and the information sciences. Those fields are driving the growth of our host universities while redefining the limits of culture in new and exciting ways.

Second, become much more purposeful and assertive in publishing books that define whole fields, including important advanced textbooks. University-press editors would add depth and ballast to their lists by looking for that next great advanced text in our traditional fields, such as social theory, comparative literature, or art history, as well as in emerging fields. That kind of publishing is often dismissed as cookie cutter, but it’s not.

Third, publish more books for worldwide readerships. As the globalization of knowledge continues apace, American university presses are positioned to engage readers in ways unimagined a generation ago. By infusing our lists with titles of international interest, we can better exploit the technologies that bring the world closer to us.

Fourth, work more closely with departments and centers within our host universities to adapt their work — sponsored lecture series, etc. — into books, monograph series, and other such initiatives. We should be planning our future lists strategically within our host universities in order to maximize the relative strengths of press and campus alike.

§ Lauds. Here’s the rub:

The Prince forcefully took the view in the piece that old houses should always be restored in their original style, while the society, despite its title, is committed to employing the best of modern architecture and design in restoration projects.

To the Society’s understandable pragmatism, the Prince could just as understably argue that

the issue of “honesty” in conservation – using design and materials of your own time, to which the society is committed – had been used too often to justify unsatisfactory alterations and ugly additions.

I don’t believe that either side is “correct.” Where the Society leans toward adaptation, the Prince insists on restoration/conservation. Both are protocols to be considered with respect to the rehabilitation or upkeep of any building. The protocols ought to be clearly defined and differentiated, sothe Prince’s divergence from the Society looks to be a constructive development.

Politically, however….

§ Prime….and getting it right. The important thing is to make the recording, and then to worry about sales. Trying to anticipate sales may sell pop hits, but it will never nurture genuine art.

Many of the latest entries into the field emerged from an existing music organization or emerging artistic scene. In San Francisco, Other Minds Records was launched in 1998 as an outgrowth of the then six-year-old Other Minds Festival. Composer Charles Amirkhanian uses an oft-repeated term when describing the value of recordings: “The CDs doubled as calling cards,” he says, adding that they were first used as premium gifts for donors. Beyond its use a promotional vehicle for the festival, Amikhanian’s rationale for the label is also a familiar refrain among those who decide to start their own shop: “We realized that a number of really interesting kinds of music were falling between the cracks and that no one else was going to release them.” While the Other Minds Festival presents living composers, often performing their own works, Other Minds Records, now with 17 titles, has hewed toward rare and out of print repertoire, such as recordings of the late George Antheil performing his own music, the player piano rolls of Conlon Nancarrow (reissued from 1750 Arch), and the most recent release featuring early works of Marc Blitzstein.

§ Tierce. This story gives entirely new meaning to the phrase, “stuffed shirt.”

He really ought to have been made to eat ’em all on the spot (instead of which, the lobsters — dead? alive? — were “destroyed.” Where’s the Mikado (“let the punishment fit the crime”) when you need him?

§ Sext. I can still remember feeling like a nudist of the exhibitionist persuasion when I first went out of doors wearing everything that I normally wore — except socks. No socks.

In olden days a glimpse of stocking
Was looked on as something shocking…

Cole Porter was writing about ladies’ stockings, of course, but by the time I came along, everyone was used to it. The glimpse of naked male ankle, however, prompted fulminations from headmasters. Here’s why:

Others now give the trend Havelock Ellis overtones, agreeing, as one Californian puts it, that “hairs on the ankle look provocative.” Some girls agree. “It looks sexy,” says Rosalie Netter, in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village. “You can see the bone structure, like finely chiseled stone,” says Wisconsin Sophomore Karen Knauf.

§ Nones. Mr Taylor’s lawyers say that his testimony may go on “for weeks.” Where did he get them? Robert Morgenthau’s office?

During the trial, the magnitude of the atrocities has not been in dispute. But the prosecution and the defense have described the case as legally complicated. The defense lawyer, Mr. Griffiths, said that the prosecution must prove Mr. Taylor’s effective control over the rebel groups and that demonstrating influence or assistance was insufficient. “The case is all about linking the crimes to Mr. Taylor, but the evidence has been riddled with inconsistencies,” Mr. Griffiths said.

§ Vespers. Mr Ames’s forte is making the presumably repellent distinctly irresistible.

One night close to when my friend and I would be leaving, the girl told me that she wanted me to take her virginity.  I said that I couldn’t do it, that if her father found out he would kill me.  She insisted that he would not find out.  Her brother even came to me and told me that he would like me to be the one to take his sister’s virginity.  It was all very odd.  On one hand the brother was being very modern, but his statement that he ‘approved’ of me felt somewhat medieval, befitting the country of his origin.  The thing is I really was scared of the father – he was a kind man, but he was very much from the old world and I kept imagining him taking this sword that hung on the wall of the living room and plunging it into my back.

§ Compline. Perhaps, Mr Sicha muses, we have carried tolerant niceness too far.

More importantly, Anthony Lane is very much on to something today, when he wrote, “I realized, watching ‘Borat’ again, that what it exposed was not a vacuity in American manners but, more often than not, a tolerance unimaginable elsewhere.” Similarly, I realized, watching Bruno again, that what doesn’t happen in interactions with people in the film is what is important. People in odd job interviews are agreeable and sycophantic; people are happy when a baby is taken away from an obviously bad parent; people are upset and disturbed when confronted with an obviously crazy person. Yet, overall, people exhibit an extremely profound cultural training that forces them to treat people with at least some basic respect, when it isn’t completely, earth-shatteringly obvious that they are dealing with a crazy; Bruno shows the extent of this social code, and how it borders on extreme, myopic denial.

It’s a perversion of the Golden Rule: assuming that everybody else is as well-intentioned as you are may be nothing more than lazy narcissism, and ultimately self-destructive.

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