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The Truth About Animal Stories - The New Yorker
"Writers aiming to tell us about human life have often done so under cover of telling us about animals. Animals are fun—they have feathers and fangs, they live in trees and holes—and they seem to us simpler than we are, so that, by using them, we can make our points cleaner and faster. With Madame Bovary, you pretty much have to say who her parents were. With SpongeBob, you don’t, and this keeps the story moving. Most important, the use of animals to stand in for human beings creates a fertile ambiguity. We know that the author is not proposing a one-for-one equivalence between human and nonhuman life, but some kinship is certainly being suggested. Think of Swift’s Houyhnhnms, trotting down the road, their withers shining in the sun, saying sober, passionless things to Gulliver. How beautiful they are, and how creepy. Animal narratives have allowed writers with lessons on their mind to make art rather than just lessons.

Such tales are no doubt as old as animal paintings on cave walls. The earliest evidence we have of them is the beast fable, a form that is said to have come down to us by way of Aesop, a Greek storyteller who was born a slave in the sixth century B.C. Actually, no solid evidence exists that there ever was an Aesop, any more than there was a Homer. As with the Iliad and the Odyssey, we are talking about manuscripts that date from a period much later than the supposed author’s, and were probably assembled from a number of different fragments. In any case, a beast fable is a very short story (the Penguin Classics edition of Aesop renders “The Tortoise and the Hare,” perhaps the most famous of the fables, in five sentences) in which, typically, a couple of animals with the gift of speech learn a lesson from their dealings with one another. This moral is then stated at the end of the fable, and it is usually of a cautionary variety: don’t eat too much, don’t brag, watch out for this or that. As early as the third century B.C., these stories were being gathered together in various editions, usually for children, to teach them Latin (most were in Latin until the late Middle Ages) and some basic rules about life.

Eventually, in continental Europe, a more complicated kind of animal story, the “beast epic,” grew up alongside the beast fable. Beast epics used some of the Aesopian material, but they were much longer and more novelistic. They dispensed with the great Noah’s ark of generic animals that we see in a collection of beast fables: a duck, a goat, a frog, an ass, etc. Even a good-sized beast epic features no more than perhaps a dozen types of animal, each represented by only one or a few individuals, with names and rudimentary personalities. In the typical epic, the star is a fox—Reynard, Renard, or whatever, depending on the language—with his unwavering wiliness. Dominated by that slippery character, the beast epic no longer makes it altogether clear what lesson we are learning, or whether we should be learning it.

The fox epic was imported into England by William Caxton, the man who set up the first English printing press. In 1481, Caxton brought out “The History of Reynard the Fox,” a translation—by him, into his late Middle English—of what was basically a thirteenth-century Dutch version. By 1700, this had been followed by twenty-two further editions. Given the prevailing literacy rates, such a sales record qualifies the book, in the words of the Harvard medievalist James Simpson, as a “runaway best-seller.” This, Simpson says, is because its cold satire “answered to the intensely competitive, materialist conditions” of the time. Perhaps in the belief that such conditions still hold, Simpson has produced his own translation of Caxton’s “Reynard the Fox,” and Liveright has just published it."



"One doesn’t have to be an animal, however, to join the ranks of the tricksters. Gods can be tricksters—Hermes, in one of his aspects; Loki, from Norse mythology—and so can mortal heroes, such as Odysseus. A fictional trickster can also be a more ordinary man, like Patricia Highsmith’s Mr. Ripley. Lewis Hyde, in his widely cherished book “Trickster Makes This World: Mischief, Myth, and Art” (1998), says that artists can be tricksters. He nominates Marcel Duchamp and John Cage. It seems that just about the only kind of creature that can’t be a trickster, at least of the classic type, is a female, a fact that somebody should write a dissertation on.

Why do we like tricksters? A comforting answer is that we enjoy watching the play of intelligence. Even nicer is the idea that we like to see intelligence triumph over power. Actually, brains and brawn are not mutually exclusive—Goliath may have been a smart man—but in trickster tales they are usually opposed. Three pages into “Reynard,” Tybert the Cat, hearing Courtoys the Dog accuse Reynard of stealing his sausage, says, Not so! That was my sausage—I stole it from the miller. From then on, almost no episode passes without someone practically walking into a wall.

James Simpson, in the introduction to his translation, says that this is a great part of the pleasure of the book: its revelation of the stupidity of our fellow-creatures. He adds that Reynard’s preying on them might nevertheless trouble us if it weren’t for the fact that they are also brutal and greedy. Reynard gives them their “comeuppance,” and thereby “becomes a hero, or antihero of sorts.” I think that, for the most part, this is not true. On the contrary, the most interesting thing about “Reynard” is its moral ugliness, or, at least, lack of hope, like something out of a Russian novel. Reynard indulges in ecstasies of cruelty. When he tells the King the big lie about the treasure and gets permission to go to Rome, he decides that he’s not finished. One last thing, he says: I can’t make the trip without shoes. How about Isengrim’s? And so the wolf’s shoes are “pulled off from the claws to the sinews. . . . He didn’t move a muscle, even though his feet bled.”"



"What was Caxton’s world? One where there had been armed conflict—the Hundred Years’ War, the Wars of the Roses—for a century and a half, where religious persecution was the rule (the first auto-da-fé of the Spanish Inquisition, in Seville, was carried out the year that “Reynard” was published), where the spikes of city gates were topped with rotting heads. Some commentators, such as Hieronymus Bosch, saw this world as a place of madness. To others, like Machiavelli, it was merely a scene of mortal danger, in which—he says it straight out—one must imitate the fox. Machiavelli’s tone is steady and pitiless. But other works of the period are as baffling as “Reynard.” Consider the Unicorn Tapestries (1495-1505), in which, in a forest carpeted with daisies and marigolds, with little rabbits and birds running around, men plunge their swords into the beautiful white animal, and blood runs down its side. As in “Reynard,” you can’t figure out what you’re being told.

Why is “Reynard” being republished now? Simpson says that his version is the first readily accessible English translation to appear in almost a hundred years. I am glad that he rescued it, but I’d also like to know why no one else bothered to. There are a lot of medievalists in our universities, and Caxton’s English, which is only about a hundred years older than Shakespeare’s, isn’t difficult. (“The wulf sayd I may wel forbere your mockes and your scornes and also your felle venymous words strong theef that ye ar.”) Maybe, because of the book’s puzzling nature, people didn’t like it much, and so they left it alone. And now, perhaps, it has ridden in on the coattails of the iconoclastic trend in the modern study of fairy tales, with Disney’s prettified versions being execrated by feminists and queer-studies writers. (By Marxists, too, notably Jack Zipes, a pioneer in this campaign. His new and proudly horrifying version of the Grimms’ tales was published last year by Princeton.)

Amid the newly exposed atrocities in our folk literature, Caxton’s back-and-forthing on the subject of Reynard’s morals does not appear so shocking. One should consider, too, whether we might not be living in a time that’s comparable, or at least relatable, to Caxton’s, in the sense of strong religious feeling being juxtaposed with terrible events. The Ebola virus, Crimea, Ukraine, Syria; the Pakistani Taliban invading a school, setting a teacher on fire in front of her students, and then gunning down the children, a hundred and thirty-two of them. And that’s just last year. Worse things happened in preceding centuries, but we didn’t know about them. A beheading could be shared with only a certain number of spectators. Today, it seems, many people believe that the world is coming to an end. One of the most widely used settings for novels, movies, and television programs is a post-apocalyptic world. Measured against that, “Reynard,” laughing at cruelty, doesn’t seem so strange."
joanacocella  trickster  reynard  williamcaxton  2015  morality  marcelduchmap  johncage  patriciahighsmith  lewishyde  loki  mythology  hermes  uncleremus 
may 2015 by robertogreco
The Genealogy of "Carol Brown": An Intertextual Reading of Parodic-Travestying Song - Text Patterns - The New Atlantis
"Of the three songs, “Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover” might at first seem to be the least thoroughly captured by the masculinist rhetorical enterprise, since it features a woman listing the names of men: Jack, Stan, Roy, Gus, and Lee. But this appearance is misleading: note that no woman actually speaks in the song, but rather is spoken for by the masculine singer — and the emphasis is solely on how she relates to him: “The problem is all in side your head, she said to me.” (This is not a song that would pass any musical version of the Bechdel Test.) If a woman seems to have power in this song, it is power yielded to her by the singer, provisionally and temporarily. He remains the true decision-maker.

“Song for Whoever” is more obviously and flagrantly sexist, with its frank emphasis on using the tears of women for financial and reputational gain: “The Number One I hope to reap / Depends upon the tears you weep, / So cry, lover, cry.” Yet the song ultimately deconstructs itself, reaching its aporia in the namelessness of the singer: it is only the women who receive names, while he remains a cipher. He claims the power of speech and song — like Orpheus — but can only receive it by giving up his name, while the specificities of identity remain with the denigrated women. This reversal of power is indirectly acknowledged at the end of the song, with its narration of female vengeance — meant by the singer to be feared, but understood by the listener as a proper and indeed necessary act of retributive justice.

This “return of the repressed,” as Freud might have called it, finds a completion and intensification in the video of “Carol Brown.” Note here the presence of the woman's name even in the song’s very title — indicative of things to come, as the singer strives unsuccessfully to control the narration of his sexual history. His crucial mistake is the decision to display images of his former lovers, with the obvious purpose of subjecting them to the masculine gaze — but to his surprise and consternation, those images come to life: an ideal instance of the feminine subaltern speaking back to masculinist power.

Who organized all my ex-girlfriends into a choir
And got them to sing?
Ooh ooh ooh, shut up
Shut up girlfriends from the past

But — and this is the key point — they do not shut up. (He later repeats his order — “I thought I told you to shut uh-uh-up” — but they do not obey.) Through utterance they overcome their status as mere images, and take control of the song. As Baudrillard might put it, the simulacrum here becomes the hyperreal — and thereby the undoing of the Don Giovanni figure is complete.

Let me close with one ambiguous, and ambivalent, note. The wild card in “Carol Brown,” the figure that represents and enacts excess of signification, is “Bret” — whose evident chief trait here is silence. Unlike “Jemaine” and unlike the “Choir of Ex-Girlfriends” he does not sing. And yet he acts: and his primary acts involve manipulation of the image of “Jemaine,” including, most notably, shrinking him. Thus through “Bret” we see the reversal of the woman-as-enlarging-mirror trope that Virginia Woolf limned so memorably in A Room of One’s Own.

One might then see Bret as a Trickster figure — see Lewis Hyde’s Trickster Makes This World, though one might also describe “Bret” as a “whiteface” version of the “signifying monkey” about which Henry Louis Gates has written so incisively — but a trickster acting in order to help liberate women from imprisonment in the image constructed by the masculine gaze. But does such behavior enact a genuine male feminism? Or does it rather re-inscribe masculinist control in the deceptive guise of the Liberator? These questions will have to be pursued at a later date."
alanjacobs  fligthoftheconchords  paulsimon  thebeautifulsouth  music  meaning  gender  trickster  lewishyde  trickstermakesthisworld  henrylouisgates  feminism  freud 
october 2014 by robertogreco
minimum force, corporeal anticipation |
“For it is Sennett’s contention that “nearly anyone can become a good craftsman” and that “learning to work well enables people to govern themselves and so become good citizens.” This line of thought depends, among other things, upon the Enlightenment assumption that craft abilities are innate and widely distributed, and that, when rightly stimulated and trained, they allow craftsmen to become knowledgeable public persons.

And what is it that such persons know? They know how to negotiate between autonomy and authority (as one must in any workshop); how to work not against resistant forces but with them (as did the engineers who first drilled tunnels beneath the Thames); how to complete their tasks using “minimum force” (as do all chefs who must chop vegetables); how to meet people and things with sympathetic imagination (as does the glassblower whose “corporeal anticipation” lets her stay one step ahead of the molten glass); and above all they know how to play, for it is in play that we find “the origin of the dialogue the craftsman conducts with materials like clay and glass.”

The assumption that craft abilities are widely diffused leads Sennett into a meditation on our love of those intelligence tests by which we supposedly single out the very smart and the very stupid so that some will go to college and others go to bagging groceries. Sennett points out that such sorting ignores the “densely populated middle ground” where most of the population is actually found. Rather than celebrating a “common ground of talents,” we tend to inflate “small differences in degree into large differences in kind” and so legitimate existing systems of privilege. Thinking of the median as the mediocre creates an excuse for neglect. This is one reason, Sennett argues, that “it proves so hard to find charitable contributions to vocational schools” while currently the wealth of the Ivy League schools is compounding at an astounding rate.”

[from http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/06/books/review/Hyde-t.html?pagewanted=all ]
crafy  autonomy  craftsmanship  richardsennett  authority  resistance  force  forces  minimumforce  imagination  sympathy  play  materials  making  middleground  talent  talents  privilege  mediocrity  median  vocationalschools  wealth  knowing  knowledge  understanding  enlightenment  sarahendren  citizenship  openstudioproject  glvo  lcproject  cv  corporealanticipation  learning  work  tcsnmy  progressiveeducation  elitism  2008  lewishyde 
march 2013 by robertogreco
Frieze Magazine | Archive | Free Thinking
"The projected gain or value for msa^ students seems unaccountably individual and much more interoceptive and metaphysical than a more straightforwardly vocational course."

"How might we begin to run a cost/benefit analysis on the value of free education? Educational accounting is usually complex because it requires you measure things in both ‘worth’ and ‘value’. As Hyde puts it, ‘worth’ refers to ‘those things we prize and yet say “you can’t put a price on”. We derive value on the other hand, from the comparison of one thing with another.’ In his 2008 Lapham’s Quarterly pre-amble on education, Lewis Lapham writes [http://pinboard.in/u:robertogreco/b:b5ec4252c586 and http://www.laphamsquarterly.org/preamble/lewis-h-lapham-playing-with-fire.php?page=all ]: ‘To conceive of an education as a commodity (as if it were a polo pony or an Armani suit) is to construe the idea of democracy as the freedom of a market instead of a freedom of the mind […] Unless we stop telling ourselves that America is best understood as the sum of its gross domestic product, we stand little chance of re-imagining our history or reengineering our schools.’"

"The moment for me, where the value of msa^ really came through, was in Philosophy Class. It was run by a couple of teachers who were like Beavis and Butthead with PhDs. They covered a millennia of philosophical tobacco-chewing in a public debate free of the tweedy condescension that clip art philosophy profs are known for. It wasn’t a rehearsal of platitudes or a dry-cleaned agenda. It did what good classes do: it forced the teachers to re-evaluate something on the spot, and asked the student to send blood to the parts of their brain they don’t normally send blood to. All of which is to say that these lectures are where we get closest to the etymological foundation of ‘school’ (from the Greek ‘schole’ – a place in which leisure is performed) and to the redundant epiphany that while pedagogy might be a place to noodle on the possibilities of educational reformation, it might also just be a place to idle. This is the dramatic bail-out for the continued existence of a philosophy class and an art school: they aren’t really for anything. Their use lies in introspective withdrawal, whether you withdraw on the bus, or on an Athenian staircase, or in the backroom of a bar with jellyfish-insides."

"Seattle is natively foreign, and in the LA/NYC binaries of the US art world much more exotic than either London or Turin, being outside the professional blast radius of contemporary art’s cultural arbitrations and monopolizing names."
mountainschoolofarts  lewishyde  thegift  economics  value  worth  lewislapham  education  altgdp  pedagogy  learning  unschooling  deschooling  lcproject  openstudioproject  snowdensnowden  art  artschools  arteducation  seattle  losangeles  nyc  london  milan  artschool 
march 2013 by robertogreco
Education and Community Programs » Astra Taylor on the Unschooled Life
"This anarchist approach to education has been fundamental to Taylor’s D.I.Y. attitude towards learning, creativity, and pedagogy. As one interviewer wrote, ‘Her non-traditional upbringing, or as she calls it, her “super weirdo hippy background,” stood her in good stead, providing a strong sense of confidence and an affirmation in her own abilities and artistic vision.’ Thinking about Astra’s unconventional past, I began to wonder how education and the way we’re taught to learn can hinder or support our creative development.

Luckily, Astra will be back to the Walker next Thursday night (talk and gallery admission are free) to speak about how her personal experiences of growing up home-schooled without a curriculum or schedule have shaped her personal philosophy and development as an artist. If you need a primer, check out this great interview she did with CitizenShift or you can get a better idea of Astra’s influences by her recommended reads:

Animal Liberation by Peter Singer

A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guatarri

The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing

Ways of Seeing by John Berger

Wanderlust: A History of Walking by Rebecca Solnit

The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World by Lewis Hyde

* * * *

Other Suggestions:

“Against School” by John Taylor Gatto in Harpers Magazine, September 2003

How Children Learn by John Holt

How Children Fail by John Holt

Deschooling Society by Ivan Illich

The Teenage Liberation Handbook: How to Quit School & Get a Real Life & Education by Grace Llewellyn"
astrataylor  books  lists  education  unschooling  deschooling  pedagogy  art  toread  anarchy  anarchism  glvo  learning  creativity  lcproject  readinglists  deleuze  guattari  rebeccasolnit  dorislessing  johnberger  johnholt  gracellewellyn  petersinger  lewishyde  ivanillich  gillesdeleuze  félixguattari 
november 2010 by robertogreco

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