Jul 22 2016

Big Philanthropy and Small Towns

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Big Philanthropy and Small Towns

Gracy Olmstead wrote the other day about rebuilding post-industrial towns and concluded:

There are other ways we can consider saving America’s towns. One I have been mulling over lately is the role wealthy individuals can play by boosting local commerce via their patronage (providing microloans, sponsoring vocational programs, providing grants and endowments, et cetera).

Recently, I’ve been reading New Harmony, Indiana: Like a River, Not a Lake (2015), a memoir by the late philanthropist Jane Blaffer Owen (1915–2010), someone whom I think somewhat fits the criteria Olmstead has been mulling over.

Like the famous architect, in terms of landscape planning, urban design, and cultural influence, Mrs. Blaffer Owen might very well be considered the Frederick Law Olmsted of New Harmony. Originally from Houston and the daughter of two oil heirs—her maternal family included founders of Texaco, her paternal, Exxon––Jane Blaffer studied under Paul Tillich and later married one of the great-great grandsons of utopist Robert Owen (1771–1858). They then moved to Owen’s home in New Harmony which she helped revitalize and preserve by starting things like the Robert Lee Blaffer Foundation, whose mission continues “to preserve, promote and support, financially, and otherwise, the various historic and educational attributes of New Harmony.”

Mrs. Blaffer Owen also oversaw building a Roofless Church for her adopted Indiana community as well as commissioning various sculptures around town which can be seen in the photographs and illustrations on nearly every other page of New Harmony––one of the most beautifully crafted modern books I’ve ever handled––right up there with Jung’s Red Book and Umberto Eco’s Book of Legendary Lands (2013).

So, for its aesthetics, Indiana University Press should be commended.  Yet the text, at times, lacks organization. If readers prior to opening this book have never heard of New Harmony, Indiana or its founder––the Welsh social reformer Robert Owen––they might feel as I did: like they’ve eavesdropped upon the middle of an ongoing conversation without ever having been invited.

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But I read New Harmony because it was a gift from my grandmother after its editor Nancy Mangum McCaslin came to a reading and signing in Lampasas, Texas, the hometown of Mrs. Blaffer Owen’s mother. And I too spent the first seventeen years of life in this small central Texas town of nearly 7,000. (The second seventeen years have been spent sixty miles south in wyrd Austin.) I too still have family back home and maintain minimum ties and tabs there—just as Rod Dreher now roves between Starhill and Baton Rouge.

Lampasas is a land of springs lying on the edge of a desert. Once dubbed “the Saratoga of the South,” it has withstood Comanche attacks, biblical floods, and even a visit from gunfighter John Wesley Hardin. And in 2016 the town seems to still be striving––yet still surviving––with or without buckets of philanthropic oil money. Since I left in 1999, the population remains about the same. Its public school population, however, has gone down. The sports teams used to compete with the bigger city schools from Waco, Killeen, and Austin, but now the schools they play against are mostly smaller, rural, and geographically closer.

Although it took me seven years to earn a bachelor’s degree, perhaps, because I remained in Austin after attending university, I too am modestly guilty for some of the “brain drain” from Lampasas. And I often wonder if the town compensated for these changes by making itself a more accommodating place for people to retire to, or tour through, rather than grow up in.

But the citizens of Lampasas are bettering the cultural health of their community, with neither my aid nor that of an oil baroness like Mrs. Blaffer Owen. For example, the Perception Creative Art School was founded in March of 2009. In 2005 an unused lot of land owned by the city was transformed into the Hanna Springs Sculpture Garden. Since 2008, Vision Lampasas has commissioned nine murals on what were once blank walls scattered around town.

One mural, “Small Town…. Big Sound,” displays a panorama of local musicians spanning generations and genres, including songwriters, gospel groups (both black and white), rock bands, country artists and their Tejano counterparts. I’ve known some of these musicians or their relatives, some now dead, others still alive. The conservative in me loves this mural for its community-memory-building capabilities; and the liberal in me loves the true diversity of musical talent acknowledged and celebrated in a single work of art.

But another mural, “Patriot,” makes for a hodgepodge of Trumpesque clichés. It’s just a bunch of eagles and flags all coated in crimson, gold, ermine and azure. While the winner of the mural design contest should be commended for donating their financial award to a charity for veterans––and they can further be applauded for not adding any stars-and-bars to the mix––the content of “Patriot” remains utterly anti-creative. It looks like the generic template that an artist would be given when commissioned to paint a patriotic mural, but nothing more.

Yet confirming patriotic imagery is not the same as affirming actual patriotism, and while Oscar Wilde got it right when he said, “all bad poetry springs from genuine feeling,” I still try to remember that the perfect must not be made the enemy of the good.


Apr 1 2016

What I Read to Prepare for Italy

bookbread Canterbury

What I Read to Prepare for Italy

It’s almost time to head to Bologna! Here’s what I read since January to prepare. (FYI, I read Divina Commedia last year.)

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Alighieri, Dante. De vulgari eloquentia. 1321. Translated by Steven Botterill. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge UP. 1996.

Allsop, Peter. “Secular Influences in the Bolognese Sonata da Chiesa.” Proceedings of the Royal Musical Association. Vol. 104. (1977–1978.) pp. 89–100.

Boccaccio, Giovanni. Vita di Dante Alighieri. (Life of Dante.) 1355.

Bologna. Cultural Crossroads from the Medieval to the Baroque: Recent Anglo-American Scholarship. Eds. GianMario Anselmi, Angela De Beedictis, Nicholas Terpstra. Bologna, Italy: Bononia UP. 2011.

Braccidini, Poggio. The Facetiae of Poggio: and other Medieval StoryTellers.

Buonarroti, Michael Angelo. The Sonnets of Michael Angelo Buonarroti. Translated by John Addington Symonds. Second Edition. NY: Scribner’s Son. 1904.

The Cambridge Companion to the Italian Novel. Eds. Peter Bondanella and Andrea Ciccarelli. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge UP. 2003.

The Cambridge Companion to Modern Italian Culture. Edited by Zygmunt G. Baranski. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge UP. 2001.

Cavazza, Marta. “Bologna and the Royal Society in the Seventeenth Century.” Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London. Vol. 35. No. 2. (December 1980.) 105–23.

Clarke, Georgia. “Magnificence and the city: Giovanni II Bentivoglio and architecture in fifteenth-century Bologna.” Renaissance Studies. Vol. 13. No. 4. (December 1999.) 397–411.

Culture, Censorship, and the State in Twentieth-Century Italy. Eds. Guido Bonsaver and Robert S. C. Gordon. Leeds, UK: Modern Humanities Research Association and Maney Publishing. 2005.

Dean, Trevor. “Gender and insult in an Italian city: Bologna in the later Middle Ages.” Social History. Vol. 29. No. 2. (May 2004.) 217–31.

Deleldda, Grazia. Chiaroscuro: and other stories. 1912.

Dumont, Dora M. “Rural Society and Crowd Action in Bologna, c. 1796–1831.” The Historical Journal. Vol. 48. No. 4. (December 2005.) 977–97.

Eco, Umberto. Kant e lornitorinco. (Kant and the Platypus: Essays on Language and Cognition.) Translated by Alastair McEwen. NY: Harcourt. 1997.

Eco, Umberto. Il nome della rosa. 1980. (The Name of the Rose.) Translated by Martin Secker. NY: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. 1983.

Eisenbichler, Konrad. “Charles V in Bologna: the self-fashioning of a man and a city.” Renaissance Studies. Vol. 13. No. 4. (December 1999.) 430–39.

Gendler, Paul F. “The University of Bologna, the city, and the papacy.” Renaissance Studies. Vol. 13, No. 4. (December 1999) 475–85.

Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von. Italienische Reise. 1816–17. From Goethe’s Travels in Italy: Together with his Second Residence in Rome and Fragments on Italy. Translated by A. J. W. Morrison and Charles Nisbet. London, UK: G. Bell and Sons. 1892.

Gramsci, Antonio. Quaderni del carcere. 1929–1935. (Selections from the Prison Notebooks of Antonio Gramsci.) Edited and translated by Quintin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell Smith. NY: International Publishers. 1971.

Guinizzelli, Guido. Al Cor Gentil (In the Gentile Heart) 1250.

Herzig, Tamar. “The Demons and the Friars: Illicit Magic and Mendicant Rivalry in Renaissance Bologna.” Renaissance Quarterly. Vol. 64. No. 4. (Winter 2011.) 1025–58.

Hughes, Steven. “Fear and Loathing in Bologna and Rome the Papal Police in Perspective.” Journal of Social History. Vol. 21. No. 1.  (Autumn 1987.) 97–116.

Killinger, Charles. Culture and Customs of Italy. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. 2005.

Kolneder, Walter. Antonio Vivaldi: His Life and Work. 1965. Translated by Bill Hopkins. Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press. 1970.

Kristeller, Paul Oskar. “Petrarch’s ‘Averrosists’: a Note on the History of Aristotelianiam in Venice, Padua, and Bologna.” Bibliothèque d’Humanisme et Renaissance. T. 14. No. 1. (1952.) 59–65.

Lampedusa, Giuseppe Tomasi di. Il Gattopardo. (The Leopard.) Milan. 1958.  Translated by Archibald Colquhoun. NY: Pantheon. 1960.

Libby, Dennis. “Interrelationships in Corelli.” Journal of the American Musicological Society. Vol. 26. No. 2. (Summer 1973.) 263–87.

Machiavelli, Niccolo. Il Principe. (The Prince) 1532.

Manzoni, Alessandro. I Promessi Sposi (Betrothed) 1840.

The Oxford Companion to Italian Food. Oxford, UK: Oxford UP. 2007.

Pater, Walter. The Renaissance: Studies in Art and Poetry. 1873. London, UK: Macmillan and Co. 1910.

Petrarcha, Francesco. Petrarchs Letters to Classical Authors. Translated by Mario Emilio Consenza. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. 1910.

Pincherle, Marc. Corelli et son temps. (Corelli: His Life, His Work.) 1954. Translated by Hubert E. M. Russell. NY: W. W. Norton & Co. 1956.

Rogachevskii, Andrei B.  and Milena Michalski. “Social Demcratic Party Schools on Capri and in Bologna in the Correspondence between A. A. Bogdanov and A. V. Amfiteatrov.” The Slavonic and East European Review, Vol. 72. No. 4. (Oct. 1994.) pp. 664–79.

Ruskin, John. Mornings in Florence: Being Simple Studies Christian Art for English Travellers. Kent, UK: George Allen Sunnyside. 1875.

Schossberger, Emily. “Many-Splendoured Bologna.” Prairie Schooner. Vol. 30. No. 1. (Spring 1956.) 62–68.

Talbot, Michael. “Vivaldi and Rome: Observations and Hypotheses.” Journal of the Royal Musical Association. Vol. 113. No. 1. (1988.) 28–46.

Terpstra, Nicholas. Lay Confraternities and Civic Religion in Renaissance Bologna. Cambridge UP. 1995.

Terpstra, Nicholas. “Civic self-fashioning in Renaissance Bologna: historical and scholarly context.” Renaissance Studies. Vol. 13. No. 4. (December 1999.) 389–96.

Timberlake, Craig. “Evviva Vivaldi: Still Vital after Three Hundred Years.” Music Educators Journal. Vol. 64. No. 7. (March 1978.) 68–71.

Tuttle, Richard J. “Against Fortifications: the Defense of Renaissance Bologna.” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians. Vol. 41. No. 3. (October 1982.) 189–201.

Verga, Giovanni. Il Malavoglia  (The House by the Medlar Tree) 1881.

Vico, Giambattista. New Science: Principles of the New Science Concerning the Common Nature of Nations. Third Edition. Translated by David Marsh. NY: Penguin. 1999.

Vico, Giambattista. Vico: the First New Science. 1725. Translated by Leon Pompa. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge UP. 2002.

Wicksteed, P. H. and G. E. Gardner. Dante and Giovanni Del Virgilio. London: Archibald Constable & Co. 1902.

Zamagni, Vera. Dalla periferia al centro. 1988. (The Economic History of Italy, 1860–1990.) Oxford, UK: Clarendon. 1993.


Jan 18 2010

Mere List Making

At American Fiction Notes, Mark Athitakis lists five reasons for not posting lists of “best books of the year” or any other such lists on his book blog. Bookbread fully supports Athitakis’s proactive approach towards list containment in the book blogosphere even if he has to create lists to do it.

Athitakis also includes some ideas of list making as a potential kind of art form and even spirituality:

Lists contribute to a culture of filthy linkbait whoring that just plays into Arianna Huffington’s greedy goddamn hands. Every person who gets access to a Web site’s stats knows that lists bring in traffic. This is naturally seductive, but ultimately contributes to an online hivemind of short attention spans, which is death on sustained commentary.

All of which is to say that I was a tad cranky.

I might’ve calmed down a little had I read Albert Mobilio’s consideration of Umberto Eco’s book The Infinity of Lists before the holidays. Lists can, he argues, have a kind of art to them, if approached in the right way.

A list is an intimation of totality, a simulacrum of knowing much, of knowing the right much. We select our ten best big-band recordings, all-time basketball starting fives, mysteries to read this summer; add up the people we’ve slept with or people we wish we had; index our movie-memorabilia collection; count our blessings; list reasons for not getting out of bed. We jot these accounts on envelopes, store them on hard drives, murmur them under our breath as we ride home from work—it’s no accident that many prayers are really nothing more than lists.

Bookbread can’t vouch for lists existing as types of art forms — though the listing of statements in Wittgenstein is rather elegant — but when it comes to mental nutrition, there is no doubt that certain lists (in the form of that dreaded c-word “canon”) carry a practicality that cannot be denied. As Harold Bloom observes in The Western Canon (1995), “An Elegy for the Canon”:

Who reads must choose, since there is literally not enough time to read everything, even if one does nothing but read.

The question them becomes: what is the difference between the reader’s choice and mere list making?

[NYR: Umberto Eco]