The New York Times notes the rising interest in attending Premier League soccer matches among American fans and offers a primer. Excerpt:
Premier League soccer is growing ever more popular worldwide. A survey by Britain’s national tourism agency in 2011 found that about 900,000 tourists — 61,000 of them American — attended games that season. The league broadcasts to 212 territories for a possible reach of 720 million homes, with more and more Americans watching the games.
But nothing on television can provide adequate preparation for the startling, exhilarating, bewildering, exhausting experience that is a live English professional soccer match. (First lesson: Pick a side). With the most recent season just finished, here is a primer on what to expect should you find yourself at an actual game.
It will be noisier than you are used to. Emotions will be higher than they are at home. The food will be awful. People will be drunk. The weather will be bad. Many of the supporters, even the ones cheering the loudest, will not appear to be having fun as we know it, and will be expressing their feelings in novel combinations of swear words. The discomfort, the din, the rudeness, the cleverness, the chanting, the verbal abuse, the unalloyed ecstasy, the abject despair, the love, the hatred — all these are part of the ritual, essential to even to the most meaningless, late-season, non-standings-affecting match.
Thomas Jefferson at Mount Rushmore under construction, 1939.
Learn more about the making of Mt. Rushmore. Photograph by Edwin L. Wisherd, National Geographic
“I had rather be shut up in a very modest cottage with my books, my family and a few old friends, dining on simple bacon, and letting the world roll on as it liked, than to occupy the most splendid post, which any human power can give.”
“‘Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands’ is eleven minutes and twenty seconds of infuriating, boring, indecipherable music that has been accurately described as the greatest love song of the 20th century. For the length of an entire side of a record (as it was originally released), Dylan does nothing but list nonsensical attributes of the woman to whom he’s singing. The lyrics are even more opaque than most of his songs. The music has no variation, dragging around and around in a circle. It feels like the end of the night, after the party’s been dismantled and the bar’s been closed and everyone’s gone home except one last drunk couple, half-asleep and slow-dancing to music only they can hear. The song is a closed experience, and feels the way it does when, in loving one person, you are happy to shut down and ignore the rest of the vivid, pointless, crowded world that isn’t them. It’s not for the people listening, the people buying the album, playing it in their homes, playing it at parties and on the radio. It’s for one woman. The list is an accounting; in love we want to gather the object of our feeling to us, as though if we could know them well enough, could list them comprehensively, we could finally fully possess them. The repetition, starting over again and again, shows how we never quite do, how we always fail.”
Stefany Anne Goldberg tells the story of Sir Isaac Pitman, who is credited with establishing the most widely used system of shorthand in English today. For Pitman, the connection between language and meaning was crucial, which explains why he chose to translate the work Rules by scientist, philosopher and religious mystic Emmanuel Swedenborg:
Emmanuel Swedenborg spoke to the angels, but more than that, he listened. The angels told him about their language and how it differed from the language of men. In Heaven and its Wonders and Hell, Emmanuel Swedenborg described the speech of the angels. Angelic speech, wrote Swedenborg, has words and is audible, like the speech of men. Angels, like men, discuss a variety of subjects: moral and spiritual as well as domestic and civil. But this is where the connection ends. In heaven, everyone has the same language, so everyone in heaven is understood and understands. This is because language in heaven is not learned but instinctive. In heaven, speech corresponds directly to pure thought and feeling. When an angel expresses thoughts, it is wisdom; when an angel expresses feeling it is love. When people speak, their words are not analogous to their ideas and feelings — speech is mediated thought and feeling for people. When angels speak they can express in one word what people cannot express in a thousand. Therefore the books of angels are smaller than the books of men.
This purity makes the speech of angels more like pure tones. Angelic speech, wrote Swedenborg, is like a symphony; thought and speech are in complete harmony. “The tone of the voice in speaking,” wrote Swedenborg, “separate from the discourse of the speaking, and grounded in the affection of love, is what gives life to speech.” The angels told Swedenborg that man’s first language was an angelic language because it came right from heaven. Swedenborg decided that there was a spiritual or angelic speech still inherent in every person — only people didn’t know it. But Swedenborg knew it because he, among men, had spoken with the angels.
Most of us don’t get a chance meet angels. If we did, we wouldn’t know what to say. Isaac Pitman was trying to bridge this gap — perhaps he thought he had found an answer in Swedenborg. Human speech could never directly express thoughts and feelings, because this would make human words divine. But human speech was a lot closer to thought and feeling than writing, which was just another mediation. If written language could be streamlined to directly express speech, writing could be a more immediate expression of people’s thoughts and feelings. To achieve this, writing could focus more on tones than letters, like the angels. The spoken word could flow easily from one person to another. When that word was written down, the writing could express the word’s richness, without losing its meaning. Writing could be closer to wisdom and love.
Isaac Pitman absolutely believed in a universal shorthand that could be used one day as a tool for the discovery and regulation of man’s spiritual state, “as the pocket chronometer is for the discovery and regulation of time with reference to the present life.” Remember Pitman’s motto was ‘time saved is life gained.’ But Isaac Pitman was not interested in saving time. He was looking — in language — for a more direct connection to meaning. In an 1835 letter written to the Bible Society, Isaac Pitman signed, “yours in Him by whom the prophets wrote and spoke,” a signature that proclaimed the gospel of shorthand.
Rivalry in sports is not just something of our time. Nor is baseball. Both date back to at least the fourteenth century, when this image was made. What is less likely encountered in a baseball game today are the teams: monks vs nuns. The scene is from the margin of a medieval page, the location used to make fun of people. The manuscript contains a romance, popular among the medieval nobility. Somewhere, someone in a castle had a good laugh about these religious men and women playing ball.
Pic: Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Bodley 264 (14th c). Browse the entire manuscript here. More enjoyable marginal drawings like this are found in this Tumblr post.
Remarkable “colour” footage of London in 1927—see details about this film here.
“More will emerge in time, although time itself has a thicker and more clouded atmosphere in such a place. The levels of the centuries are all compact, revealing the historical density of London. Yet the ancient city and the modern city literally lie beside each other; one cannot be imagined without the other. That is one of the secrets of the city’s power. These relics of the past now exist as part of the present. It is in the nature of the city to encompass everything. So when it is asked how London can be a triumphant city when it has so many poor, and so many homeless, it can only be suggested that they, too, have always been a part of its history. Perhaps they are a part of its triumph. If this is a hard saying, then it is only as hard as London itself. London goes beyond any boundary or convention.It contains every wish or word ever spoken, every action or gesture ever made, every harsh or noble statement ever expressed. It is illimitable. It is Infinite London.”
Dan Siedell, reflecting on the relationship between modern art and faith, finds meaningful ground for dialogue:
“But modern art lives in discontinuities. It contradicts our belief that artistic value is found in technical virtuosity, that its “meaning” should declare itself immediately, that looking is easy, and art is about making us feel good. It’s a stick shoved into the relentlessly spinning spokes of our incessantly spinning desire for emotional, intellectual, and aesthetic efficiency. In other words, modern art undermines our desire to make art serve our theologies of glory.
And it has taught me some things about my faith. Christianity is not a life system, helping me make sense of the world, making it transparent and explainable. In fact, it makes the world impenetrable, mysterious, and frustrating to me, creating discontinuities and sharp edges that confuse and anger me…
Although it is full of pain, suffering and doubt, if we allow ourselves to sit still, perhaps lizard-like, and look closely enough, we can hear something else from the world—a song.”
Nicholas Carr takes aim at the jarring juxtaposition of the two recent Facebook advertisements with conflicting messages and finds that they “actually draw from the same source: the well of nihilism.” Here are some excerpts from his devastating critique.
First, on the ad titled “The Things That Connect Us”:
“The ad showed people eating and talking and sitting on chairs and walking across bridges and pushing doorbells and sitting on chairs and watching lectures and lying entwined on lawns and waving flags and sitting on chairs and climbing trees and reading paperbacks on porches and having difficult conversations in kitchens and sitting on chairs and dancing and drinking and watching basketball games and climbing trees and gazing at tiny insects drifting through beams of muted sunlight and sitting on chairs, but there was hardly a computer or a smartphone in sight. Everyone was deeply engaged, deeply in the moment. All the objects of the world were luminous. Everything was shining. In retreating into a gauzy, pre-digital myth of civic and social bliss, ‘The Things That Connect Us’ sought to position Facebook squarely in the mainstream, to portray the social network as a slice of homemade apple pie. Facebook, the ad told us, with considerable defensiveness, wasn’t revolutionary or disruptive or even particularly new. It was just the latest link in a long chain of human-fashioned objects that have allowed us to ‘open up and connect.’”
This makes the ad for Facebook Home, titled “Dinner,” all the more jarring to Carr:
“What’s really remarkable about ‘Dinner,’ though, is that, in tone and meaning, it’s set in a universe not parallel to that depicted in ‘The Things That Connect Us’ but altogether opposite to it — fiercely opposed to it, in fact. The new ad comes off, disconcertingly, as a sarcastic and dismissive rejoinder to the earlier one: Facebook calling bullshit on itself. ‘Our place on this earth’? Doorbells? Bridges? What a load of crap! The earth sucks! Things are boring! People are ugly! Go online and stay online! Chairs, mawkishly celebrated in ‘The Things That Connect Us’ as bulwarks against the meaninglessness of the universe, as concrete means of connection and hence liberation, become in ‘Dinner’ instruments of torture. They trap us in the distasteful world of the flesh, the hell of other people.”
Carr’s evocative conclusion in a piece that must be read in full:
“Home and Away are the poles of our being, each exerting a magnetic pull on the psyche. We vibrate between them. Home is comforting but constraining. Away is liberating but lonely. When we’re Home, we dream of Away, and when we’re Away, we dream of Home. Communication tools have always entailed a blurring of Home and Away. Newspaper, phonograph, radio, and TV pulled a little of Away into Home, while the telephone, and before it the mail, granted us a little Home when we were Away. Some blurring is fine, but we don’t want too much of it. We don’t want the two poles to become one pole, the magnetic forces to cancel each other out. The vibration is what matters, what gives beauty to both Home and Away. Facebook Home, in pretending to give us connection without the shadow of loneliness, gives us nothing. It’s Nowheresville.”
“you will find a fortune, though it will not be the one you seek. but first… first you must travel a long and difficult road, a road fraught with peril. you shall see things, wonderful to tell. you shall see a… cow… on the roof of a cotton house. and, oh, so many startlements. i cannot tell you how long this road shall be, but fear not the obstacles in your path, for fate has vouchsafed your reward. though the road may wind, yea, your hearts grow weary. still shall ye follow them, even unto your salvation.”
Martin Scorsese delivered the 2013 Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities. He used the occasion to talk about the power of cinema, the need for visual literacy, and the importance of preservation. Here’s Scorsese on the life-giving nature of cinema:
“My parents had a good reason for taking me to the movies all the time, because I was always sick with asthma since I was three years old and I apparently couldn’t do any sports, or that’s what they told me. But really, my mother and father did love the movies. They weren’t in the habit of reading, that didn’t really exist where I came from, and so we connected through the movies.
And over the years I know now that the warmth of that connection with my family and with the images up on the screen gave me something very precious. We were experiencing something fundamental together. We were living through the emotional truths on the screen together, often in coded form, these films from the 40s and 50s sometimes expressed in small things, gestures, glances, reactions between the characters, light, shadow. We experienced these things that we normally couldn’t discuss or wouldn’t discuss or even acknowledge in our lives.
And that’s actually part of the wonder. Whenever I hear people dismiss movies as ‘fantasy’ and make a hard distinction between film and life, I think to myself that it’s just a way of avoiding the power of cinema. Of course it’s not life – it’s the invocation of life, it’s in an ongoing dialogue with life.
Frank Capra said, ‘Film is a disease.’ He went on, but that’s enough for now. I caught the disease early on. I used to feel it. They used to take me to the movies all the time. I used to feel it whenever we walked up to the ticket booth with my mother or my father or my brother. You’d go through the doors, up the thick carpet, past the popcorn stand that had that wonderful smell - then to the ticket taker, and then sometimes these doors would open in the back and there’d be little windows in it in some of the old theaters and I could see something magical happening up there on the screen, something special. And as we entered, for me it was like entering a sacred space, a kind of a sanctuary where the living world around me seemed to be recreated and played out.”
Video: Trailer for The Red Shoes (1948), which Scorsese calls “one of my very, very favorite films and one of the best films ever made.”
“Of course, thanks to the house, a great many of our memories are housed, and if the house is a bit elaborate, if it has a cellar and a garret, nooks and corridors, our memories have refuges that are all the more clearly delineated. All our lives we come back to them in our daydreams.”
The initial reviews for Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby appear mixed. It’s a good reminder that while Paul Thomas Anderson may have been a better option among contemporary director to make Gatsby, the best “Gatsby” film in American cinema really is CitizenKane. Its creator, Orson Welles, would have celebrated his 98th birthday yesterday
Oxford American ponders the legacy of George Jones and finds it, quite simply, in his singing:
George Jones’s passing has inspired volumes of words, but none can touch his singing. Torn in pieces, soaked in tears and bad booze, haloed in cigarette smoke and neon, he could gut a honky tonk in a single note, the reverberations of loss and regret echoing like the broken heart he seemed to endure.”
Click the link to see their great list of youtube links that capture some of Jones’ classic performances. Here’s one:
That loss and regret did not keep Jones from revisiting his Pentecostal roots, leading Russell Moore to describe him as “the troubadour of the Christ-haunted South.” Larry Rohter admires his lack of artifice in an age of irony and polish (h/t to both links: Andrew Sullivan). Here’s a gospel number from Jones on the subject of Gethsemane: