Sunday, November 28, 2010

Are We There Yet?

What are those ants doing?  I never get tired of looking at them.

When I was making art, I was fascinated by metonymy, a figure of speech that substitutes one word for another word that it's closely associated with.  Over time, the crown comes to stand for the king.

It is metonymy that gives documentary film and other forms of sympathetic magic their power over us.  And it is metonymy that connects the unseen and unseeable theoretical concepts of science to their manifestations in the realm of the senses.

In the physical world, films and photographs are instantly metonymic.  The weaver ants in the header stand for actual ants in a completely realistic and convincing way.  The ants in the header may be suspended in time and space, immutable, undying, but, to our minds, they are real.  And they are doing a real ant thing, a thing they were caught in the act of doing by the biologist who snapped their picture and generously gave us permission to use it here.  They will continue to do that one ant thing and nothing else as long as the photograph lasts.  They will not sting us to move us off their trail, they will not turn around and head in the opposite direction, and the major worker will not put the minor worker down.  They will move forward together, always tending toward some place outside the frame of the photograph, but never getting there. 

Now the scientist who took the picture of these weaver ants, Bert Hölldobler, knows as much about ants as anyone alive, and he tells us that what is literally going on in that picture is an example of the division of labor.  What Professor Hölldobler's photograph shows is a major worker carrying a minor worker "to a place where the minor worker is needed for special work, such as attending honeydew-secreting homoopterans or nursing small larvae."

That's the observable fact of the picture.  The denotative meaning of it.  But we do not live by metonymy alone.

Beyond metonymy, there is metaphor, a figure of speech in which a word that literally denotes one thing or idea is used in place of another to suggest a likeness.  As metaphor, the picture of our ants points to something beyond itself.  It refers to other things that it is like.  And, as a picture that is a metaphor for something else, the more things it refers to, the better it is.

As metaphor, Professor Hölldobler's weaver ants are amazingly polyreferential.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Annals Of The Waterboard (An Opera) February 13, 2010

2:00 AM. Bush meets Cheney in the hallway of a cell block. Bush is carrying a surfboard. Marine guards snap to attention as Bush approaches.

Cheney: What the hell is that?

Bush: My surfboard.

Cheney: What an asshole. I said we were waterboarding tonight.

Bush: Whoa! You can't call POTUS an asshole. (To the Marines in the hall.) Grab hold of him. (Bush throws the surfboard on the floor.) Hold him down on that!

Cheney: Goddam it, George, stop fucking around.

Bush: Somebody get me some water and a rag.

Tutti cantano insieme:

The Marines: Sir! Aye, Aye! Sir!

Cheney: Don't board me, George!

Bush: Tube City! Damn! Turn him over now!

Sacrifice I The Sugar

When I knew him, it was Michael Tracy's intention to make the vestiges of ancient signs visible in the modern world.


Sacrifice I Burning

Maundy Thursday Circa 1975

Good Friday Circa 1975

Easter Sunday Circa 1975

Le Monde Circa 1975

Michael (Crossed Out)

The Girl 2008

Sacrifice I

Michael Out Of Egypt June 21, 2008

Zyema's Garden June 3, 2007

Hello Kitty Admires The Baby Jesus March 8, 2005

My daughter hasn't quite got the hang of religion yet.  She wanted a nativity scene, and we got her one from Saint Vincent DePaul. She called it her Jesus set, and mixed in Hello Kitty and farm and jungle animals. I figure the Mary I grew up with wouldn't mind that much.

Jasmine March 14, 2005

My Night Blooming Jasmine has started to bloom already. I have two big plants in pots in my sun room. I bring them inside in the Fall and put them back out on the porch in the Summer. They've never bloomed this early before. It's amazing to sit in my sun room in the evening, look out at the moonlit snow and smell Jasmine. I just have one little cluster of about 10 flowers on one plant, which is lucky, since my wife hates the smell. But I grew up with it. One whiff transports me back to hot summer nights in Galveston, Texas, reminds me of the warm waters of the Gulf Of Mexico, brings back the heavy scent of the perfume on the necks of the Mexican girls I held in the back seat of my old man's Pontiac. I worry about what kinds of smells my young daughter is going to remember from her childhood, growing up in Wisconsin. Wood fires maybe. Other Winter smells. But Jasmine, too, come to think of it. She loves it. She tears off one flower every night and takes it to her room.

Deformed Monarch Butterfly March 9, 2005

Princess Zyema January 3, 2005

Princes Zyema Velvet Kitten sits on my lap, purring, and kneads my stomach while I consider this post. She slips behind me on the chair, rubbing her face against my back. This is my daughter's cat, rescued from the Humane Society. She's too young to hunt anything except her little, rabbit-fur mice. She leaps into the air, back arched, tail curved, and comes down on them with all four feet. For some reason, she likes to drop them in her water bowl. There are no mice in the garden now. Everything is under 6 inches of snow.  Where are the mice?  I picture them in their little burrows, sitting in rocking chairs, knitting, sipping tea or smoking pipes. They have no idea what awful deaths await them in the spring.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

5 Cookbooks That Changed My Life

The Talisman Italian Cook Book was my first cookbook.  I bought a copy when I moved out of the dorm my first year in college, and I still refer to it now and then.

Ada Boni's recipes were different from the ones my grandmother gave me.  Boni uses carrots in her chicken cacciatora.  We used celery.  We never cooked with wine, and my grandmother skinned the chicken before she browned it.

Mastering The Art Of French Cooking by Julia Child, of course.  The only Child recipe I still do is her roasted chicken.  She thought roasted chicken was the true test of a cook, and I agree.  Except for slow smoking and an occasional bird done standing up with a half-full beer can in its cavity, I don't do whole chickens any other way.

Julia's book led me into French wine, and Alexis Lichine made French wine fun.

The Minimalist Cooks Dinner was my introduction to Mark Bittman.

In the trade-off between time and taste, Bittman strikes just the right balance for me.  By now, everybody in the world has linked to Bittman's New York Times article about Jim Leahy's no-knead bread recipe, but one more link can't hurt.

Everyday Greens by Annie Somerville was my bridge into Vegetarian and Vegan cooking. 

Express Lane Meals by Rachael Ray is my daughter's cookbook. 

Because of Ray and the other Food Network foodies, I have a 10-year-old who eats everything and concocts her own recipes, including interesting dressings, some of them actually edible.