Arts Snooze: October 26, 2012

Aerial View of Di Shu taken from a video by filmmaker François Chastanet.

It seems harder and harder to find (or at least find time to read) articles that are not about the upcoming election, but there is a lot happening that doesn’t involve art and the nightmarish circus that is the 2012 Presidential Election. The work-week round up for October 26, 2012.

Tragedy’s decline and fall
Jenny Diski paints in broad strokes a general arc of how tragedy in the western consciousness has developed—and been trivialized—in the western consciousness in the last century. She eschews an alarmist tone—thank goodness—but is convincing in her arguments for the necessity of better tragedy in an increasingly convoluted world of push-button pleasure and war.

Strange Death of the English Gentleman
To my secular ears, some of the content is grating in its association of Christianity with the old gentleman, and it consistently puts a conservative bias on full display…AND it is flagrantly androcentric. But if you ignore all that, it has a lot right. “The gentleman has retired from the fray, but we still need an ideal of good conduct: something that is not the same as Christian behaviour, but which helps to raise us above boorish self-seeking; an ideal which includes modesty, magnanimity and the willingness to sacrifice oneself for the sake of others, especially those who are weaker.”

Jacques Barzun, Atlantic Contributor and Renaissance Man, Dies at 104
Speaking of dead gentlemen, Jacques Barzun passed away at 104 this week. The Atlantic offers a lovely eulogy. (And I sympathize with the author for having a painful typo in the very last line. SO CLOSE.)

Something indescribably elemental: A history of ambergris
Jennie Erin Smith writes a pleasing abstract for a new book authored by an American molecular biologist on the history of ambergris. It reminds you on the same page that ambergris is used in flavoring foods (“He also plops chunks of ambergris into hot chocolate, following a recipe by Brillat-Savarin, and grates it over eggs.”) but is essentially a peculiar species of whale turd (“He establishes that ambergris is transformed faeces, and not some sort of fatty intestinal secretion.”), which makes Kopi Luwak sound appealing by comparison.

Grounding Chinese Calligraphy
With so many articles focused on the death of ideas and men of ideas (and whale turds), I should include at least one insight into the birth of new traditions with an artistic and literary bent. Check out an article from last month discussing the modern art of Di Shu—ground calligraphy—developing in China in recent decades. The craft itself is beautiful and the power of it to keep elders active and alert is inspiring.