Tuesday, June 25, 2024

The Last Stone Age Man

History records that Ishi, a.k.a. the Last Yahi, the Stone Age Ishi Between Two Worlds, was captured by northern Californians in 1911 and dutifully turned over to anthropologists. He spent the rest of his life in a museum in San Francisco. (And you think your life is boring.)

They said Ishi was the last North American Indian untouched by civilization. I don’t know about that, but it’s clear he was really country and seriously out of touch with recent developments. We’re talking major hayseed.

His keepers turned down all vaudeville, circus, and theatrical offers for the living caveman, but they weren’t above a little cheap amusement themselves. One day they took Ishi on a field trip to Golden Gate Park. An early aviator named Harry Fowler was attempting a cross-country flight. You can imagine the delicious anticipation of the anthropologists. The Ishi Man versus the Flying Machine. What would he make of this miracle, this impossible vision, this technological triumph? The aeroplane roared off into the heavens and circled back over the park. The men of science turned to the Indian, expectantly. Would he quake? Tremble? Would they hear his death song? Ishi looked up at the plane overhead. He spoke in a tone his biographers would describe as one of “mild interest.” “White man up there?”

– Paul Chaat Smith, Everything You Know About Indians Is Wrong (2009)

Monday, April 29, 2024

The Letterboxd Years

So a year ago I posted my Letterboxd stats on what years the films I watched were made in and said that I was going to try and watch more films from before the 80s. Here's the updated chart including the films I've watched over the last year: 

Letterboxd 2024

Still a big spike in the 80s, but I've successfully pushed back into earlier decades a bit. Maybe one day I'll have watched a film from every year?

Sunday, March 03, 2024

Wednesday, January 31, 2024

On Pirates

There's a fragment of Cicero's Republic from around 51 BC that recounts the story of a captured pirate captain who was brought before Alexander the Great. Alexander has one main question for the pirate, and the anecdote finishes like this:
 . . . for when he was asked what wickedness drove him to harass the sea with his one pirate galley, he replied, "The same wickedness that drives you to harass the whole world."
– Cicero, Republic 3.14 (translation by C.W. Keyes)

Sunday, April 30, 2023

Burned Cities

Thanks to my sister, I've been lucky enough over the last year or so to go to a couple of performances of the immersive production The Burnt City. It takes place in a Troy which is simultaneously Schliemann's excavation, the ancient city, and a Blade Runner-type Art Deco dystopia. As their own website says, "As night falls, Gods, mortals, dreamers and lovers come alive – one last time."

So I was interested recently when I came across this passage from Arthur Evans' excavation report on Knossos, The Palace of Minos III (1930):

The Grand Staircase as thus re-compacted stands alone among ancient architectural remains. With its charred columns solidly restored in their pristine hues, surrounding in tiers its central well, its balustrades rising, practically intact, one above the other, with its imposing fresco of the great Minoan shields on the back walls of its middle gallery, now replaced in replica, and its still well-preserved gypsum steps ascending to four landings, it revives, as no other part of the building, the remote past. It was, indeed, my own lot to experience its strange power of imaginative suggestion, even at a time when the work of reconstitution had not attained its present completeness. During an attack of fever, having found, for the sake of better air, a temporary lodging in the room below the inspection tower that has been erected on the neighbouring edge of the Central Court, and tempted in the warm moonlight to look down the staircase-well, the whole place seemed to awake awhile to life and movement. Such was the force of the illusion that the Priest-King with his plumed lily crown, great ladies, tightly girdled, flounced and corseted, long-stoled priests, and, after them, a retinue of elegant but sinewy youths—as if the Cup-bearer and his fellows had stepped down from the walls—passed and repassed on the flights below.


Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Big Gaps Before the 80s

One of the things Letterboxd lets you do is see what films you've watched by release year. Here's what my efforts so far look like.

Letterboxd Films By Year

1988 seems to be the year I home in on, but I could do with watching more films from before the 80s in general.

Thursday, March 31, 2022

It's Literally a Spectre. It's Scary as Hell.*

To what extent Marx and/or Engels encountered occultists or their literature is not known, and is certainly not a question that has interested any of their biographers. It cannot be said that the passing references to alchemy and the Philosophers' Stone in their writings indicate any familiarity with original hermetic sources. We do know, however, that they shared Hegel's high esteem for the sixteenth-century German mystic and heretic Jacob Boehme, saluted by Marx in the Rheinische Zeitung in 1842 as "a great philosopher." Four years earlier Engels had made a special study of Boehme, finding him "a dark but deep soul," "very original " and "rich in poetic ideas." Boehme is cited in The Holy Family and in several other writings of  Marx and Engels over the years.

One of the things that may have attracted them to Boehme is the fact that he was very much a dialectical thinker. Dialectic abounds in the work of many mystical authors, not least in treatises on magic, alchemy and other "secret sciences" and it should astonish no one to discover that rebellious young students of Hegel had made surreptitious forays onto this uncharted terrain in their quest for knowledge. This was certainly the case with one of Marx's close friends, a fellow Young Hegelian, Mikhail Bakunin, who often joined him for those all-night discussions at Proudhon's. As a young man the future author of God and the State is known to have studied the works of the French mystic, Louis Claude de Saint-Martin, "The Unknown Philosopher" and "Lover of Secret Things," as well as of the eccentric German romantic philosopher, Franz von Baader, author of a study of the mysterious eighteenth-century Portuguese-Jewish mage, Martinez de Pasqualis, who is thought by some to have had a part in the formation of Haitian voodoo (he spent his last years on the island and died in Port-au-Prince in 1774), and whose Traité de la réintégration is one of the most influential occult writings of the last two centuries.
- Franklin Rosemont, "Karl Marx & The Iroquois", (1989)

*This joke stolen from a Nick Pinkerton Tweet that now seems to have been deleted.