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29 January 2013

some chess art

Having been schooled in a game of chess recently (due to my friend Matt’s skill, though I’ll claim if pressed that it was my mistaken judgment on the value of an exchange), I’ve decided my game could use much improvement.  To the chess books!  While searching through a few tomes on the end game, I came across the artist Samuel Bak, whose chess-scapes appear as the dreams and nightmares of a mad scientist still hung-over from the inhumane side effects of the industrial revolution.  The chessboards are broken, in decay, and sometimes sinister.  The pieces are often rough.  Sometimes, they are wounded.  Bak has used the game to illuminate life.

In The Game Continues, the book I had picked up, Lawrence Langer examines Bak’s chess paintings, proclaiming that “Bak provides us with a visual vocabulary for imagining the tension between fixity and fluidity” (p.11).  When I viewed the paintings in this context, I couldn’t help but notice that it appears very hard in the paintings to stop the force of fluidity, brought about by nature and human nature, and that it is human “civilization,” the rules and conformity by which we aim to check and order nature, that is trying to impose the fixity.  Nature is winning.

I also noticed that, even in their abstract arrangements, the chess figures in the painting are trying to behave according to the rules, with limited success.  As one would expect, there is a military aspect to many of the paintings, keeping in line with the nature of chess.

That said, I found a few touching personal pieces.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to make my move.

26 January 2013

1st prompt

In going to dinner with a good friend last night, I drove past the St. Louis Park treehouse, which is located not far from the restaurant we went to in uptown.  (Uptown is south and topographically lower than downtown, so I don’t know why anyone would call it uptown.) 

What is it that is so alluring about a treehouse?  Are modern “man caves” just extensions of childhood desires for treehouses, days of letting go and forgetting about the existence of time?  Do treehouses invoke literary memories, like thrilling to the adventures of the Swiss family Robinson?  Do people who live in treehouses or on stilt houses have yearnings for the more familiar house of the western world?  Are treehouses even ethical or moral in a world in which one child out of every six goes to sleep without a home every night?

Anyway, here are a few treehouses I fancy.

24 January 2013

One Austro-Hungarian's death

I first came to hear of Ödön von Horváth in Javier Marias’s Dark Back of Time, where Marias remarks on the nature of his death.  Most remarkable is that Ödön von Horváth’s girfriend should suffer such a freak tragedy twice:

“(his) girfriend, who saw the same impossible accidental death happen to her father and her lover in the course of a single lifetime, her life, both struck by lightning and the younger man on New Years Day...”

Such a mention deserved further research, and I soon learned that the unfortunate Austrian was indeed killed, not on New Years Day, but during a storm on the first of June in 1938, when lightning struck a tree on the Champs-Élysées, breaking off a branch, which came crashing down on poor young Ödön von Horváth.  He had fled the Nazis and finally felt safe in paris, telling a friend a few days before his death, “I am not so afraid of the Nazis … There are worse things one can be afraid of, namely things one is afraid of without knowing why. For instance, I am afraid of streets. Roads can be hostile to one, can destroy one. Streets scare me.”  In a poem written in 1932, he states: “Yes, thunder, that it can do. And bolt and storm. Terror and destruction.”  Indeed

Melville House, as a part of their Neversink Library, is now rolling out the works of Ödön von Horváth.  Check them out here and here.

Group read for 2014?

I’m considering compiling a 2014 group read of foreign fiction, but I approach such a task with trepidation.  Many have done it far better in the past than I am likely to do at any point in the future.  That said, here are a few ideas I am kicking around:

1.)   Off the beaten path in European literature at the end of the 19th century.  Reading Eça de Queiros, Leopardi, Gautier, Alas, Raabe, and others.
2.)   Joseph Roth.  All of it in English, along with his letters.
3.)   The Spanish civil war.  Rivas, de Lope, and Marias’s YFT, among others.


22 January 2013

blog revamp

This thing is getting stale, and so I will be revamping and retooling the blog in the next few days.  Stay tuned.

07 January 2013

FC Barcelona

Those who know me know that, after family, friends, and books comes FC Barcelona.  It has been a pleasure to watch my team these past few years, and as Leo Messi has just won his record fourth Ballon d’Or and I am in a euphoric fan paradise, here are five favorite moments for my beloved Blaugrana over the last five years

5.)The Manita: Barcelona beats Jose Mourinho’s Real Madrid side 5-0 at the end of November, 2010.  As much as I love Barça, I hate Jose Mourinho.  He’s the type of guy who pokes other coaches in the eye, literally.  Watching his smug look evaporate at the same time I watched one of the single greatest team performances was wonderful.  The thuggish behavior of some of the RM players at the end of the game reflects on their coach as much as on them.

4.).  A shot from the heart.  Having won all other major tournaments that year, Barcelona were looking to win the club world cup against a valiant Estudiantes in 2009 and time was winding down.  The score was tied one all when Messi ghosted to the back post and met a cross with his chest.  With the clock running out, Messi literally struck the ball with the Barcelona crest, with his chest, with his heart.  Sometimes the best stories are the ones that are true.

3.) The tears.  After winning all six trophies in his first season as coach of the team in which he grew up, Pep Guardiola sobs tears of joy after winning the Club World Cup.  What he has given to Barcelona fans is beyond words.

2.) Taking off the shirt: Iniesta celebrates his World Cup Goal.  Ok this isn’t strictly a Barcelona moment, but it does involve one of their greatest players.  After scoring in the dying moments the goal that would give Spain their first World Cup, Andres Iniesta removed his jersey to  reveal a message written on his undershirt reading “Dani Jarque, siempre con nosotros.”  Dani Jarque was a rival player for Espanyol, the other team in Barcelona, and a close friend to Iniesta.  Jarque died of a heart attack the previous year.  Iniesta received a yellow card for his gesture, which stood in sharp contrast to the cards issued during the game for some very unsportsmanlike behavior.  Iniesta related what the moment and the message on his shirt meant to him: "I did it because I felt it deeply. It showed that what is more important than rivalry, your team or your colours is to be human and a good person. I am delighted because it was the most important moment in my career."  The gesture also leads me to my number one favorite moment.

1.)  Iniesta is sung off the pitch at  El Prat.  In his first game against Espanyol after the World Cup, Iniesta was substituted late in the game.  The Espanyol fans, who hate FCB almost more than Real madrid fans, stood up and sung Iniesta’s name as he walked off.  I got chills. In that moment, everything right with sport happened.

02 January 2013

Into 2013

I read 141 books in 2012 and have decided to slow down this year.  My friend Matt and i have decided to read all of Shakespeare in the span the next two years and he and my wife will be reading all of Proust with me in 2013, thanks in large part to the read-along over at Goodreads.  In the spare moments I have left, I plan on reading a few art history books and keeping up with my various real world book groups.

Have a wonderful 2013.  I wish you all good things and joy.