You all know that old saying, the one about not judging a book by its cover, right? Well, I happened across some online French Revolution-era reproductions of books, with plain covers, that struck me as rather interesting.
During the French Revolution, reading was forbidden in order to prevent the spread of rebellious stories about the monarchy. During that time, printers produced couverture muette or “mute books” – books with blank covers – to avoid detection. Paying homage to those historic 18th-century tomes, these exquisite books are entirely crafted by hand, from the torn paper and simple cover boards to the naturally stained linen bindings and timeworn labels. The only difference? The pages within are blank.
What’s so interesting to me about these “muted books” is the strategic reversal: an historical artifact that once protected dangerous content by means of an unsignified cover now, instead, has utterly blank content and a plain cover that speaks loudly of antiquity, culture, and learning — at least to those who place them around their living rooms or dens.
But despite the curious reversal, all anyone does with these books is hope that people judge them by their covers: whether disguising once dangerous ideas or putting one over on our guests.
During last year’s Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life revival on Netflix, I kept hearing viewers basking in acknowledgment of a reference lost on me. In the scene, a wealthy and recently-widowedWASP declutters her mansion while wearing uncharacteristically casual clothes. The woman is in crisis and ready to make a change. She marshals some hired help to move large objects in her mansion while she scrutinizes the smaller items.
At one point she says, “If it brings you joy, you keep it. If it doesn’t, out it goes.”
Earlier this month Aubrey “Drake” Graham revealed that the knotting of his purse strings to his heartstrings are all a part of “God’s Plan,” the title of his latest music video.
The billboard hit features him giving out the video’s $999,631.90 production budget to the people of Miami. Gifts ranged from surprise shopping sprees to impromptu educational grants to unexpected spa treatments. The emotional reception shown in the video matched the public’s initial positive reactions.
To make the point, the left-leaning magazine Current Affairs re-edited the commercial with an audio excerpt from the same sermon that they believe to be more indicative of King’s message. Continue reading “On Kings and Trump Cards”
The northern end of Elizabethtown College sits at the meeting of East College Ave and Campus Rd. The vertex is more of a bend than an actual edge, justifying the placement of a conditional stop sign. Drivers can do the otherwise illegal so long as they are rounding the curve, but those moving away from the school must heed the sign conventionally.
Maybe you have similar intersections where you live, but signs like these appear to be rare in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. If anything, we make a habit of yielding the right of way to pedestrians, other automobiles, and yes, Amish buggies. Thus the rare conditional stop sign becomes a license to throw caution to the wind. Continue reading “I Saw the Sign, or Did I?”
Prompted by the discussion surrounding Rachel Dolezal’s NAACP resignation, this series of posts is about how and when we take performativity seriously…, and when it bows to interests in historical or experiential specificity.
My brother, Elliot, who died in 1996, was mentally disabled. That’s him above, with my two sisters. And that’s me on the far right; he was 12 years older than me and, as a baby, had taken a particularly bad fall from his highchair; presumably, that’s what caused what, just a couple years later, became painfully apparent to my parents: he had no speech development and began suffering from repeated grand mal seizures. I won’t belabor the tragedy of his life and death, but suffice it to say that in the 1950s there was little choice but to institutionalize him, when he was a young boy, in a government-run institution. So his profound cognitive problems were quickly compounded by a number of physical problems — who knows what all abuse he was subjected to over the course of his life, but from the “cauliflower ears” and missing teeth that soon resulted, well…, it was apparent that life in the institution was horrendous. Continue reading “They’re Just Old Buildings, Right?”
As a little kid in the early 1960s, I guess I decided that the hooded sweaters I sometimes wore made me look like Dino the dinosaur — you know, from “The Flintstones”? I don’t think we had a specific name for them yet — at least we didn’t call them “hoodies,” as people do now. Instead, opting for brutal descriptivism (which sounds like a 1960s architectural movement), I’m guessing that we just uncreatively called them “hooded sweaters.” Continue reading “Denaturalizing the Natural”
Recently, I had a student come by during my office hours. Upon entering, one of the first things he said was something like “Whoa, Dr. Smith – I wouldn’t have thought that you’d have a knife!”
To be honest, I wasn’t exactly sure what he was talking about. Then I remembered that I have an old knife hanging in a shadowbox frame on my office wall that I use as an art piece (it’s got some very interesting markings). Frankly, I’d never made much of it, except that it didn’t make the aesthetic cut at my house. In the hierarchy of interior design to which I ascribe, that means that my office became its new home. Continue reading “About That Knife”