Monday, April 27, 2009

Metal Machine Music

In 1975, Lou Reed released one of the most radical albums in rock history. Metal Machine Music consists of looping guitar feedback, orchestrated dissonance, 65 minutes of noise. Released a year after the pop-oriented Sally Can't Dance, the album has puzzled historians. Was it a joke? was it a redemptive avant-garde gesture? did it fulfill an earlier record contract? However skeptical some critics may have been, this monumental double album had a huge influence. Not only did it invent New York's Post-Punk "No Wave" movement but also a new rock genre known today as Industrial. It also aligned Punk with contemporary classical music, the rarefied mechanical universe of Xenakis, Stockhausen and Cage. In an interview with Lester Bangs, Reed points out that he originally sought to release the album in RCA's classical division.

In 2007, the German ensemble Zeitkratzer performed the piece with Lou Reed and released it on CD. See Pitchfork interview (Sept.17, 2007). Last Thursday, Reed performed Metal Machine Music once again at the Blender Theater in New York, with Sarth Calhoun and Ulrich Krieger (who first transcribed the work for Zeitkratzer). See review in New York Times (Apr. 25, 2009, p. C1)

It's amazing to think that 34 years have passed since the album's original release. Excluding Sonic Youth's success, the dissonant New York scene of No Wave is completely unknown to the general public. The situation might be changing, however, through a bibliographic explosion. In 2008, Thurston Moore (of Sonic Youth) and Byron Coley have published a documentary visual history
, No Wave: Post-Punk Underground. New York. 1976-1980 (New York). Two other books were released in 2007,: Mark Masters, No Wave (London); Paula Court and Stuart Baker, New York Noise (London). A biography of Sonic Youth has also just been published: David Browne, Goodbye 20th Century: A Biography of Sonic Youth (New York, 2008). In so many words, the New York punk scene has found some solid scholarly footing in the last couple of years.

There have also been some serious attempts to document the visual tradition of punk rock. While attending the Archaeological Institute of America's annual meetings in Chicago (January 2008), I got a chance to see, Sympathy for the Devil: Art and Rock and Roll since 1967, an exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art that tried to present rock's visual tradition after 1967. I must admit that the exhibit was disappointing (for a variety of reasons that I won't get into here) but at least it made one contemplate the difficulties of pulling threads between art and music. At least, it inspired me to design a class on Punk Aesthetics (which I doubt anyone would ever let me teach). For those that missed the show, the catalog is just as good, see Dominic Molon and Diedrich Diederichsen (Chicago, 2007).

Although not explicitly connected to Punk, a relevant show just opened in New York, believe it or not, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Pictures Generation 1974-1984 reflects on artists like Cindy Sherman that flourished at the hey day of Punk. Some of the artists were also part of the music scene. Robert Longo is a good example. He designed The Replacements' album cover Tim (1985) and shot music videos for New Order and R.E.M. Robert Longo's Men in Cities painting series (1979) stands out as the greatest visual statement of Post-Punk aesthetics that I grew up with (left). The Met show includes another work by Longo, a three-dimensional leaping man, American Soldier (1977). Holland Cotter uses Longo's leaping metaphor in his review, "At the Met Baby Boomers Leap on Stage" (New York Times, Apr. 23, 2009). It's unusual that this shows takes place at the Met, "a fusty backwater for contemporary art and an object of scorn in the art world" (Cotter). But the change is very much welcome. The Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney and the Guggenheim have become so annoying with their "contemporaneity" and steep admissions. The Met for me has become a default in the good old world of public service.

Pictures Generation runs parallel to a "Generational" show at the New Museum. The Generational: Younger than Jesus surveys a new crop of artists born after 1976 (hence younger than 33-yr-old Christ). The title is pretty annoying. Harold Cotter's review it in "Young Artists Caught in the Act" (New York Times, Apr. 9, 2009).
The Generational series at the New Museum is trying to out-do the Whitney Biennial.

The object of my posting here was simply to overview some recent phenomena in the historization of Punk. The scholarly armature is growing. Biographies, photographic archives, new performances and museum exhibits entrench Punk deeper into a hole, the halls of academic legitimacy. Still, however, there is little on Punk Archaeology. If the reader had the slightest doubt that Punk has accumulated an aged patina of cultural value, consider the following. Christie's held its first Punk Rock Fine Art auction
on November 24, 2008. You can see preview all 236 lots (and respective prices) on Christie's website here.

Finally, congratulations to Holland Cotter, who has won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for criticism. His reviews in the New York Times have been a guiding light.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Istanbul (Not Constantinople)

Today, I chanced on the original version of the song "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)" recorded by the Four Lads on August 12, 1953. The song hit #10 in the Billboard chart. I had only known the 1980 version by They Might Be Giants. The Four Lads, as it turns out, was a Canadian group from Toronto. Connie Codarini, Bernie Toorish, Jimmy Arnold and Frank Busseri met at Saint Michael's Choir School. They performed under various names including (my favorite) The Otnorots--Toronto spelled backwards. They were discovered by American band leader Mitch Miller and moved to New York City, also known as Old Amsterdam (according to the song lyrics). "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)" made the Four Lads famous. I wish I had known this trivia when I was in Toronto with fellow Byzantinist Vasilis Marinis, getting a Licentiate at the Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies in Saint Michael's College. Saint Michael's Choir School belongs to the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music in Rome and the Toronto Catholic District School Board. I'm tickled by Toronto's Catholic influence on American pop culture.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Jogging Empowerment: Kopanos

This posting is a test in transnational academic connectivity. It is the kind of challenge one might encounter in an episode of the Amazing Race, the popular CBS reality show going on its 14th season. I set the challenge for Antiquated Vagaries, a terrific blog documenting the experiences of Katie, an American graduate fellow at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA). Antiquated Vagaries has been posting on ASCSA history from research trips to the basement of the Archives, Loring Hall and from oral histories, see Dudes: Stay Out! (Feb. 2), Dinner Table Art (Feb. 20), School Art 2: Edward Lear (Mar. 12), and Happy Anniversary (Apr. 3).

Antiquated Vagaries has also been posting on jogging, see Jogging in Athens #1: The Olympic Stadium (Apr 22). Athens is a rough city for joggers, let alo
ne pedestrians (who are killed by cars and motorcycles on a daily basis). Posting on jogging routes is, thus, extremely helpful to other joggers (I speak from personal experience, having been attacked by dogs on Lykavittos). But from an intellectual point of view, it extends a venerable tradition of Athenian topography. Direct engagement with the modern city has been central to ASCSA's curriculum since the 19th century. Ask any 60-something American archaeologist about Athens, and they will immediately bring up Eugene Vanderpool, the peripatetic master who discovered countless sites through his hikes with students. Moreover, there is a tradition of women archaeologists whose liberation took the form of walking through Greece--without chaperons or native guides, relying solely on their physical endurance, and on their linguistic and cartographic skills. The diaries of Lucy Shoe, Agnes Newhall, Virginia Grace, Allison Frantz, or Eugene Bush Vanderpool are testament to this peripatetic empowerment from the 1920s.

Antiquated Vagaries is the 21st century version of such diaries. Although Athens is a safe city, women are still confronted by patriarchical obstacles, quite literally ... the exposed phallus. Katie describes an empowering incident by fellow Fellows: "... a few weeks ago a teenager chased after two Associate Members with his junx hanging out. To his dismay, one of those girls turned around, chased him down the hill, grabbed him by the hair, and beat the shit out of him until he cried ... a story with a happy ending! All in all, though, jogging in Greece is a pretty safe endeavor, so don't let the creepo's get you down."
Truth be told, that unlike the 1920s, it's only a minority of ASCSA fellows that have enough curiosity about the modern city to venture out of the ASCSA buble today. Kudos to Katie and others for confronting Greek realities face to face and striking a post-colonial victory.

Here is my challenge for Antiquated Vagaries. It's an experiment that hopes to bridge past and present, the U.S. and Greece. In Jogging in Athens #2: The University Run (Apr 23), Katie shows a photograph from the top of Mount Hymmetos. As soon as I saw the photo, I realized that Katie wasn't standing far from Kopanos Hill, where Isadora Duncan, the famous American dancer (above), built a house in 1903. In My Life (New York, 1995, pp. 93), Duncan writes, "The barren hillock, on the same level as the Acropolis, known since ancient times as Kopanos, now belonged to the Clan Duncan. The next step was to secure paper and architectural instruments and make the plans for a house. Raymond found the exact model desired in the plan of the Palace of Agamemnon. He scorned the help of architects, and himself engaged the workmen and the stone carriers." Find My Life
on Google books here

So, my challenge for Antiquated Vagaries is to find the house through jogging. I am not sure if the house survives. Athenian topographer Leta Costakis has told me that the house still exists. The only clues I have for Katie are a few published photographs below. Mind you, I am writing this challenge from Middletown, Connecticut, so I cannot join the search. But perhaps this is the beginning of a new game, an ASCSA version of Geocaching. If you have never heard of the game, here is a clue: "Geocaching is a high-tech treasure hunting game played throughout the world by adventure seekers equipped with GPS devices. The basic idea is to locate hidden containers, called geocaches, outdoors and then share your experiences online. Geocaching is enjoyed by people from all age groups, with a strong sense of community and support for the environment."

Spring has arrived, and the human body reclaims the city through exercise. The human mind also reclaims the past. The Kopanos clues below are images from, D. Duncan, C. Pratl and C. Splatt eds., Life into Art: Isadora Duncan and Her World (New York, 1993), pp. 53, 54, 110.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Truck Stop Chapels

Why would a medieval architectural historian post on airport chapels or truck stop chapels? Good question. Although most medieval architectural historians focus on churches and mosques, I prefer vernacular forms, secular buildings, productive installations, houses and landscapes. My archaeological method defines me, but it also encourages me to think diachronically. Although I have never excavated in the "New World," I am a devout follower of Dell Upton and the study of material culture as defined by Henry Glassie, James Deetz and others. Whenever possible, I use Upton's unorthodox textbook Architecture in the United States (Oxford, 1998) in conjunction with Deetz's In Small Things Forgotten (1st ed., New York, 1977).

Teaching in South Carolina (where I also lived as a kid) has sensitized me to the region's unique history and the occasional stupidity by which some "Yankees" dismiss the South as hick, racist, or backwards. After the Civil War, th
e victorious North administered the South as a colony-- exploiting its natural resources and managing its bureaucracies. Creating a subhuman caricature of the Southerner hick is classic colonialist strategy. So I'm amused to hear enlightened post-colonialist specialists from the obvious colonies (India, Congo, etc.) forget about the American South. Liberals in general have grown hostile to the South because of its conservative dominance. A new anxiety with the South has grown in the last few decades because Southern culture has dominated American culture for the first time since the Civil War. See Richard King," The Regions and Regionalism," in The Cambridge Companion to Modern American Culture ed. C. Bigsby (Cambridge, pp. 53-72).

One of my favorite books on Southern history is Jack Temple Kirby,
Rural Worlds Lost: The American South 1920-1960 (Baton Rouge, 1987). Kirby documents the southern modernization especially in the transition from agrarian to industrial modes of production. As Deetz reminds us, even bluegrass is a modern musical form (In Small Things, 2nd ed., pp. 180-182).

A couple of years ago I got a chance to meet Shane Hamilton, an American historian of technology who now teaches at the University of Georgia in Athens. We met, thanks to our commuter wives, who both happened to be teaching at Vassar College the same year. Hamilton takes the lessons of agrarian modernization and applies it to a rich case study, the abandonment of farming for trucking. Hamilton's dissertation has just been published, Trucking Country: The Roads to America's Wal-mart Economy (Princeton, 2008). The book answers a lot of questions and explores the southern agrarian origins of trucking culture.

And today, I just learned that there is a graduate student at Yale who studies Truck Stop Chapels. Dana Byrd is a PhD candidate in Art History at Yale University. I have not yet contacted her, but I am truly excited that someone is documenting such vernacular forms of devotion and architectural space. In 2005, Byrd gave a paper at the Center for Material Culture Studies at the University of Delaware, entitled "Way Finding: Work, Space and Evangelism at a Truck Stop Chapel." I look forward to its publication.

I learned of Dana Byrd through the power of blogging. One of my students in the House History course at Wesleyan read my Airport Chapels blog. Katherine Chabla is an American Decorative Arts specialist at the Yale University Art Gallery and a constant source of information. Katherine also wrote one of the most amazing House Stories, see From 100 to 99. Once I learn more about Dana Byrd's project, I will post some details. Keep on truckin'.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Stand by Me

Bruce Sperling, a founder of the cyberpunk literary genre, shocked the South by Southwest Interactive tech conference in Austin by raising issues of class in the jolly optimism of web networking. Sperling argued that Facebook, Twitter, Skype, text-messaging and other such forms of connectivity are registers of poverty. Poor folk, are essentially the greatest users of these technologies. Lacking resources to connect with other human beings, web connectivity fills in for class deprivation. The implications of Sperling's argument are profound, placing a buffer on the financial optimism that such services have depended on. Virginia Heffernan takes Sperling's reading further in "Let Them East Tweets: Why Twitter is a Trap," New York Times Magazine (Apr. 19, 2009), pp. 22, 24. And for an amusing take on Sterling's speech by Sterling himself, see his blog, Beyond the Beyond.

I personally agree. My ventures into web connectivity--this very blog, for instance--arise from desperation. Absolutely, if I had other venues of communication, I would choose them over the amorphous and undependable readership of a blog. If I could publish each one of my musings in a peer-reviewed journal, or even if I had a syndicated newspaper column, I would shut down this blog immediately. But such platforms require a different financial infrastructure, where I would ultimately also benefit financially (either directly through royalties or indirectly through tenure). At a moment of early optimism, I contacted my local newspaper offering to contribute a weekly column on architectural criticism, news in historic preservation and urbanism. But there was no interest. The cultural pages of the Greenville News, in this case, simply regurgitated articles circulated from USA Today, owned by the same conglomerate, the Gannett Co. I'm also fully aware that using the Blogger platform is dependent on mammoth economic players. Founded in 1999, Blogger was bought by Google in 2003. Indirectly, my medium of expression is a $23 billion dollar corporation.

Academic blogging is an interesting sub-genre. In discussions with colleagues, it still seems relatively counter-cultural and even dangerous. The medium of poverty remains more democratic than other options and is worth the risk. A few days ago I have even started experimenting with Twitter. Little did I know that on the same day, Oprah Winfried publicly joined, too, ushering Twitter into the mainstream, see Jenna Wortham, "With Oprah on Board, Twitter Grows" (NYT, Apr. 17, 2009). Thanks to the laborious commentary by Bill Caraher (Archaeology of the Mediterranean World) and others, we are beginning to understand the repercussions that blogging is having on the archaeological discipline and on pedagogy (much less so with Twitter). The effects (for me at least) have been astounding. And in discussions with Caraher, I still feel that academic blogging is a form of resistance. It is democratic and transparent in ways that run against the grain of academic institutions--even though a small number of academics have eagerly embraced the medium. This has been the first year, for example, that I've been on the academic job market with a blog visible to all future employers. The results have been interesting, and I will ponder on them later in the year (when the dust settles). I think it's undeniable that tools of connectivity have changed the rules of the academic market. Imagine doing a job search without Google's search engine, or without a Wiki. But enough about that.

I want to return to the issue of "Connectivity is Poverty" through a video that made me jump, clap, sing outloud and dance along. The video is a version of the 1961 hit "Stand By Me" rendered collectively by 16 dislocated performers throughout the world. Watch the video here. Stand by Me was produced by the Playing for Change Foundation and filmed by Mark Johnson and Jonathan Walls. "No matter how much money you got, you are gonna need somebody to stand by you," starts off Roger Ridley, a street performer in Santa Monica, California. Suddenly, Grandpa Elliott joins in, except that he is performing from another street in New Orleans, 1800 miles away (according to Mapquest). As the song further unfolds, we are joined by an array of musicians performing in the streets of New Orleans (Washboard Chaz, Roberto Luti), Amsterdam, Holland (Clarence Bekker), Zuni, New Mexico (Twin Eagle Drum Group), Toulouse, France (Francoise Viguie), Rio, Brazil (Cesar Pupe), Moscow, Russia (Dimitri Dolganov), Caracas, Venezuela (Geraldo and Dionisio), Mbouta, Congo (Junior Kissangwa), Guguletu, Umlazi and Mamelozi, South Africa (Pokei Klaas, Sinamuva Umlazi and Vusi Mahlasela), Barcelona, Spain (Djano Degen) and Pisa, Italy (Stefano Tomaselli). All the performers are street musicians and represent poverty; some bear the visible signs of poverty and even homelessness. They are all alone in their corners but collectively connected through the recording. They have never met each other, but the new media has brought them together. This may not be the best example of new connective technologies, but it gives a glimmer of hope towards new means of connectivity even if those connected are poor folk. I thank Brenda Gray for sending me the video. It is truly inspiring and has brought "tears of joy" to many bloggers throughout the world.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

J. C. Leyendecker

The New Britain Museum of American Art displays a drawing of a male fashion model by illustrator J. C. Leyendecker for Kuppenheimer's Men's Clothing Co., intended possibly for Country Gentleman Magazine, ca. 1920. The drawing illustrates the mastery of Leyendecker's craftsmanship, his regulating lines (hinted in the geometry of the socks), the care of the folded hands, the dreamy tilt of the head, the contrasting aquatic background, etc. Unlike other illustrators (like Norman Rockwell), Leyendecker has received little scholarly attention with only one book published since his death, Michael Schau, J. C. Leyendecker (New York, 1974). A new study by Laurence and Judy Cutler seeks to rectify this neglect, J. C. Leyendecker: American Imagist (New York, 2009), reviewed in Steven Heller, "Signs and Portents," New York Times Book Review (April 5, 2009), pp. 12-13.

The German-born Joseph Christian Leyendecer (1874-1951) produced hundreds of illustrations appearing continuously from the 1900s to the 1940s in The Saturday Evening Post, The Century, McClure's, Vanity Fair and other popular magazines. One of my favorite series is New Year Babies running on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post between 1908 and 1943. Leyendecker is also best known for his Arrow shirt ads and the beautiful Ivy League athletes embraced by gay visual history. The Atwater Kent Museum in Philadelphia, the New Britain Museum of American Art, the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, and the National Museum of American Illustration in Newport (founded by the authors) have made important contributions in ushering low-brow graphic works into the canon of American art. For example, see my earlier posting, Norman Rockwell and Conn College and Cousin Reginald Spells Peloponnesus. The medium's popularity in the American public is best seen at antique stores or even at the listings of eBay, where original magazines are highly desirable and inexpensive. I have begun a small collection of Collier's and Saturday Evening Post's from the 1930s. Seeing the illustrations next to contemporary prose, fiction, ads and related graphics is my favorite way of understanding the genre and the decade. The prose--of mostly forgotten writers--matches the visual language; the rhetorical and interdisciplinary coherence is great. After a bit of research, it also becomes evident that artists of some repute contributed images, this being the subject of Double Lives: American Painters as Illustrators, 1850-1950 at the New Britain Museum of American Art. As was the intention in the original publications, I appreciate possessing the art intended for my class, poor man's masterpieces.

Unlike Rockwell, who in 2001 was ushered into the halls of high art (by a Guggenheim exhibition), Leyendecker has not received his due acclaim. Part of the problem is Leyendecker's homosexuality. As Cutler & Cutler point out, Leyendecker stayed away from the public eye to protect his homosexual private life at a time when it would have caused him professional and social persecution. He also purged any reference to homosexuality from his archive, making it doubly difficult for the historian to reconstruct the artist's intentions. In the 1980s, the homoerotic subtext in his work was recognized by gay subculture and he was immediately embraced as an artistic forefather. However, the homosexual branding has kept Leyendecker in a private drawer as a transitional but not conclusive figure in gay America's coming of age.

Regardless of sexual orientation, Leyendecker is profusely erotic. According to the new study, he painted in a dark room illuminated by a single candle to capture a transgressive erotic quality. His visual language, more than any of his contemporaries, encapsulates the sexual tensions of the 1920s, flapper liberties tamed by censorship. Sometimes, I feel that Leyendecker is forgotten because he was so successful in his primary objective, "creating images easily reproduced, immediately recognized and broadly distributed for audiences by the millions to appreciate." We have internalized Leyendecker's Jazz Age to such a degree, that we claim it as our own. This familiarity has thrown the true author into obscurity. The same can be said about our internalized vision of homey America in the work of Rockwell. But we have scratched deeper under the Rockwell surface because we know it won't be sexually uncomfortable. A broader study of Leyendecker would trace the trickling down effect of Leyendecker's qualities in all aspects of visual culture. Even in archaeology, my expertise, I see traces of Leyendecker in the handling of scaled figures (typically placed in elevation drawings).

I write my ponderings on American culture, homosexuality and aesthetics, while learning of the death of Eve Sedgwick, the literary historian who helped create the discipline of queer studies, see Claire Potter, "All About Eve," Tenured Radical and New York Times obituary. I can't say that I have been influenced by Sedgwick's research directly, but in the hope of refining my critical vocabulary, I hasten to her classic Epistemology of the Closet (Berkeley, 1990).

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Church Logos

Back in December, I began a blog theme called Airport Chapels. Since then, I've been trying to visit as many of them as my journeys have made possible. The Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT) is a place I used to know very well from a commuter marriage from Clemson. But only during a recent connecting flight did I note the airport's multiple chapels . In addition to a permanent room and an ephemeral Sunday space, I found the first graphic sign for chapel. The icon depicts an abstract figure in a kneeling pose. I took a picture of the illuminated airport directory (above), but you can also see it on the official airport website. Charlotte's airport chapel is located just outside the terminal. At the risk of missing my connecting flight, I exited the terminal and visited the sacred space.

The chapel door bears a circular stained glass window depicting an appropriately jet-setting icon, the globe (left). Longitudes and latitudes divide the earth into green, blue, yellow and clear zones, while the logo kneels opaquely in front, genuflecting on Antarctica with its head rising from the equator. The image is too rich for words, crossing multiple planes of signification, from the Platonic immateriality of
logos and the visual immateriality of glass to the capitalist abstraction of the logo and its legalistic immediacy. Was this logo copyright-ed?

Chapel logos are not limited to the heterotopia
(Foucault) of airports . My good friend Kat (aka Little Ethiopia[n]) is all about church shops and church logos, and I thank her for introducing me to the genre. Kat's and the Esquire's infinite hospitality in Los Angeles included driving me to all the architectural monuments my heart desired.

At the top of my list was Rafael Moneo's celebrated Catholic Cathedral (of our Lady of the Angels) completed in 2002. We marveled at the structure's monumental ingenuity, the historical materiality unique to Moneo, the new Catholic art, the speaker funnels, the tapestry, Moses the Ethiopian (of course), and then we visited the church shop. We swung open a glass door (left) with the shop's hours and an iconic distillation of the building, literally mirroring the solid volumes across the open space.

Another Los Angeles church with its own shop and logo is the Greek Orthodox Cathedral, Saint Sophia completed in 1952. I've been studying this building in its own right as a pious donation of Charles and Spyros Skouras, the founders of Fox Studios in Hollywood. Spyros Skouras, moreover, was a trustee of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens and the producer of a 1947 documentary for the School. In the collection of essays I have just edited, The Archaeology of Xenitia, Natalia Vogeikoff-Brogan has written on the relationship between the Greek-American community (the omogeneia) and the School. The 1947 documentary, Triumph over Time, that Vogeikoff-Brogan discovered has been remastered as a DVD and published along with Vogeikoff-Brogan's insightful commentary.

My own contribution to
The Archaeology of Xenitia was an essay on the Orthodox Cathedral of Philadelphia (a church without a logo). The research on Saint George has morphed into another project, a survey of Greek-American architecture, a collaboration with Vasilis Marinis at Queens College. LA's Saint Sophia is a hybrid of Hispanic and Orthodox motifs, appropriate for its locale. The commemorated craftsmen for the building seem to have been Latin American, but according to oral history, they were all brought from Greece. But that could be the subject of another posting altogether.

Documenting chapel logos throughout the U.S. illustrates a well-studied phenomenon, the intrusion of corporate culture into religious space. Most research, however, has focused on the phenomena of televangelism and megachurches. The more modest evidence from Charlotte's chapel, from the Cathedral of our Lady of the Angels and from Saint Sophia point attention to different processes of image-making and meaning.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Sheeler's Classic Landscape

When John Updike died, I decided that it was time for a self-guided tutorial on postwar American authors. An old copy of The Harper American Literature, vol. 2 (1987) is my guide. The aesthetics of this edition bring me back to my college years. Remember those literature surveys with 300-page weekly assignments? Remember the textbooks, and the thousands of tightly bound, fragile, onion skin pages?

The mammoth that sits on my reading table has Classic Landscape (1931) by Charles Sheeler on the cover. Sheeler is one of my favorite American painters, and I fully understand why the editors chose this image to visually represent American literary modernity from Walt Whitman to Toni Morrison.

After indulging in Nabokov's "Terra Incognita" (1963), James Agee's Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (1960), and Eudora Welty's "Why I Live at the P.O." (1941), I close the book and take a break from the written word. It's time to judge the book by the cover. With Karen Lucic as my guide (
Charles Sheeler and the Cult of the Machine, 1991), I explore the problems behind this industrial landscape.

Sheeler painted Classic Landscape in 1931 at the height of the Great Depression. The scene depicts the Ford Motor Company's industrial complex on the Rouge River. Henry Ford moved his factory from Highlands Park to Dearborn in 1927, as he also introduced the Model A. The advertising agency of Ayer & Sons managed the company's new image and commissioned Sheeler to photograph the site. Sheeler's 32 official photos appeared on popular magazines like Vanity Fair and celebrated the factories as cathedrals of industry. American images of silos and industrial architecture inspired the new generation of European architects, evident in treatises like Le Corbusier's Vers un architecture (Paris, 1923).

Three years after the Ford commission, Sheeler used his photos to model a series of paintings, including American Landscape (1930) and Classic Landscape (1931). Their execution during the Depression begs the question on Sheeler's persistence on industrial heroics even at a time of pessimism. The absence of humans in the paintings, moreover, could be construed as total disregard for human labor and lack of compassion for the miseries of unemployment. In contrast, muralist Diego Rivera used images of the Ford plant to condemn capitalism in his Detroit Industry
(1932-33), which is crowded with figures. Similarly, architects like Le Corbusier abandoned the precisionist heroics for a brutal, curvilinear, expressionist alternative. Scholars have wondered why Sheeler refused to abandon the deification of American industry that he had helped create, why he ignored the human suffering of the Depression, or whether he had no regard for the labor movement.

The best way to explain the absence of humanity and the resilience of the machine in Classic Landscape is to recognize the poetic beauty of the work as a form of humanist triumph. Our guide in redeeming Sheeler's poetics should be no other than his contemporary, the poet William Carlos Williams. In a 1939 essay, Williams explains the artist's overwhelmingly humanless industrial landscape as follows: "Sheeler was devoted himself mainly to ... landscapes with little direct reference to humanity. This does not in the least make him inhuman, since when man becomes insignificant in his attributes and swollen to fill the horizon the representation of the human face is not enlightening." (Lucic 1991, p. 105) And even more potent is Williams' own industrial passivity expressed in his 1937 poem "Classic Scene" (Lucic 1991, pp. 106-107):

A power-house
in the shape of
a red brick chair
90 feet high

on the seat of which
sit the figures
of two metal

commanding an area
of squalid shacks
side by side -
from one of which

buff smoke streams while under
a grey sky
the other remains

passive today -

It's a shame that the editors of Harper American Literature lacked the art-historical insight to include this poem in their anthology and have Sheeler's and Williams' classic landscapes reverberate. In the postwar period (the literature of which I'm reading), Sheeler was heavily criticized as an apologist for capitalist exploitation. But his paintings seem to move beyond political activism in order to express a deeper existential ambivalence. They engage industry with an American pastoral tradition.
Lucic most eloquently describes the dialectical tensions inherent in Sheeler's Ford landscapes: "They speak to us in ways that are not easily analyzed--touching our needs to idealize as well as our fears of being annihilated by the object of our regard. Bringing conflicting hopes and anxieties to the surface, albeit subtly, they not only express ideology but also enact is own virtual unmasking and self-criticism. While such works relate to the hyperbolic rhetoric about industry during this era, they also turn the rhetoric in on itself to reveal its hollow core." (Lucic 1991, p. 117)

Monday, April 13, 2009

From Bones to Flesh: Parthenon and the Hudson School

John Ruskin had been raised on the bread and butter of classical antiquity and Winckelmann's ideal nudes. Like many Victorians, his introduction to the human body was through classical statues. Although male statues often contain suggestions of pubic hair, female statues do not. When Ruskin first laid eyes on his wife (according to his biographer) he was shocked to see pubic hair on the real female form. He was so repulsed by this physicality that he never consummated his marriage, leading to an annulment. For most of the 19th century, classical art and architecture presented an ideal of structural purity. From about 1820 to 1850, the Greek Revival style celebrated this great purity of classical forms. Nicholas Biddle was only the second documented American to divert the Italian Grand Tour towards Greece. His first impressions survive in his 1806 journals edited by R. A. McNeal (University Park, 1993). The revelatory character of pure tectonic form lead to the Second Bank of the United States (1816). As bank president, Biddle commissioned William Strickland to design this Philadelphian Parthenon, based strictly on Stuart & Revett's drawings in The Antiquities of Athens (London, 1762). The classical purity of the commission rejects the Roman impurity of the First Bank building (1791) located around the corner. In my mind, the Second Bank best illustrates America's early love affair with a pure, white, pristine national prototype. Like Ruskin's ideal beauty, the 1816 building lacks pubic hair.

This weekend, I realized that this is only the first half of the American relationship with the Parthenon. During the second half of the 19th century, the Parthenon becomes fleshy.

The New Britain Museum of American Art is currently hosting seven "Hudson River Paintings from the Metropolitan Museum of Art" (through Sept. 2010). And here, I got a chance to marvel Frederic Edwin Church's grand painting, The Parthenon. Church had traveled to Greece in 1869. He called the Parthenon "... certainly the culmination of genius of man in architecture," and in 1871 started to paint it. The Parthenon was widely celebrated and included in many shows, including the 1878 Paris Exposition Universelle. Church was a native of Hartford, making it especially enjoyable to see his work in Connecticut. Included in the show is also his West Rock, New Haven, of 1849.

What shocked me about Church's Parthenon is a monumental change in America's relationship to the classical original. Upon close inspection, Church's Parthenon is not clean and idealized but red hot and bothered. The tonality of the painting animates the tectonic bones with a pink luscious flesh. Church's Parthenon wears a luminous skin. The inclusion of human figures and human sculpture, plus the staging of slits and openings turns all attention to the surface of flesh. The painting also reminds me of two Acropolis paintings of contemporary date by Vikentios Lanza (1860) and Raffaello Ceccoli (c. 1845-1850), both in the National Gallery of Greece (cf., National Gallery, Alexandros Soutzos Museum: Four Centuries of Greek Painting, Athens, 2000, pp. 74-77)

So, I sat down with the painting and wrote down some thoughts on my notebook. Without trying to polish them up, or do any further readings on the luminosity of the Hudson River School, I share my first impressions below. One can zoom through the painting on the Metropolitan Museum's web site here. I have included some of my own details.

Two erect Doric columns (one blending into the frame) introduce the viewer into the dialectics of the Doric forms. The columns belong to the Propylaia through which the visitor must pass. Between the two columns, the statue of a kore stands in the distance; we notice her drapery. The only figure populating the sacred stone is a Greek man wearing the traditional foustanela skirt. The foustanela replicates the folds of the kore's clothes and the folds of the columns' fluting. Strange perspective: our horizon seems to be aligned with the temple's stylobate, also in line with the kore, but perched about 3/4 up the height of the Propylaia. One of the two Propylaia capitals catches the light (as does the kore), a key to the Parthenon's brightly illuminated facade in the distance--the temple rises above a diagonal line of shade. The mustached male figure, however, is seen from above. He shrinks both by our elevated perspective and in contrast to the colossal architectural blocks on which he leans. Although diminished in size and by his location in the shade, he captures our attention through his bright red vest, hat (fez), girdle and shoes. The tiny human pops into space. His orientally clothed red figure provides a signature for the red wash that bleeds vertically over the Parthenon columns. Church's tonality turns the monument from architectural bones to architectural flesh. It's a vibrant animated body, the color of blood-infused red cheeks. At the lower left, a third erect fluted column completes the foreground composition. Paradoxically, this fragment stands on a brick wall (hence post-classical), suggesting some stratigraphic inversion. Like the columns on the right, this, too, is located in the dark. Right behind it, half hidden, an architectural relief pops out, depicting a billowing fabric pinned by a central pin. The other fleshy elements are, of course, the highlighted pink metopes and the single surviving pedimental sculpture. The joined bodies of
Kekrops and his daughter balance a patch of infill at center right (more evidence of post-classical restorations). Finally, a sleeping dark voluminous mass, the mountain behind, completes our fleshy journey. The painter's identity is inscribed on a fallen block at the bottom left, "F.E. CHURCH 1871." Figuratively, the painter could also be impersonated by the male figure in red. James Stuart, after all, had inserted himself in The Antiquities of Athens, dressed up as an oriental man. We cannot fail to see two additional (non-fleshy) colors that balance the overwhelming red. The bright blue sky hovers above and through the mass of the temple. Then, there are bright green patches of grass, which situate the painting to verdant spring (and not the scorching heat of summer)

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Intersection: Sidewalks and Public Life

On April 2, the Philadelphia Alumni Writer's House at Franklin and Marshall College held a panel on the publication of Intersection: Sidewalks and Public Life, edited by F&M professor Marci Nelligan. Intersection collects six essays on the political contestation of public space, inspired by Jane Jacobs' classic book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961). Nelligan and Nicole Mauro have assembled a collection of vibrant essays that reanimate Jane Jacobs' urban criticism. The panel included performance artist William Pope L., sociologist and historian Claire Potter (the celebrated blogger Tenured Radical), and sociologist Jerome Hodos. The room was packed with faculty and students.

The event was magical for someone like me, raised on Jane Jacobs. Most incredible was to see a liberal arts college conducting a workshop at such a level of critical engagement. Having passed through many small colleges (Swarthmore, Vassar, Conn College, Wesleyan), I've become sensitized to the role that they can play in American intellectual life. As Claire Potter pointed out (from her experiences at Wesleyan), elite liberal arts colleges have changed dramatically. Competition for admission has become so fierce, that the student body is now dominated by successful test-takers. Colleges with radical traditions have a new problem. Their students have been admitted because they have done everything right (and hence taken no risks); they are the cream of the crop of no-child-left-behind policies. Liberal arts colleges have become conventional places of higher education. Paradoxically, the administrations heavily market the liberal arts brand as a places of experimentation, diversity, individualism and overall funkiness. Potter's essay "Chalking the Borders" discusses this very confrontation between critical student practices and the administration, when Wesleyan banned chalking on its campus in 2003-2003. In this case, Jane Jacobs' sidewalk (private? public?) was contested through ephemeral graffiti written overnight by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer voices.

My copy of
Intersection just arrived and its contents look great. I will post comments about each individual essay, as I read them one by one. I encourage EVERY reader of this blog to order the book. It's published by Chain Links, an independent venue, and it's worth every penny of the $16.

And here are a few additional notes on Jane Jacobs. Debates over the fate of the American city, walkable environments, creative classes, etc., have brought fresh attention to Jane Jacobs, see earlier posting, When a Place Gets Boring, Even the Rich People Leave (July 23, 2008). Jacobs is newly relevant in issues of civility in the virtual community of the internet. By reading this blog, you are participating in democratic space. Wikipedia is another key example of this space. This month, the first book on Wikipedia was published, where we read the following, "Ms. Jacobs argued that sidewalks provided three important things: safety, contact and the assimilation of children.” She may as well have been talking about wikis: “A wiki has all its activities happening in the open for inspection, as on Jacobs’ sidewalk. Trust is built by observing the actions of others in the community and discovering people with like or complementary interests.” These words could have come straight out of
Intersection. They are from Andrew Lih's, The Wikipedia Revolution: How a Bunch of Nobodies Created the World's Greatest Encyclopedia (2009), just reviewed in Noam Cohen, "Wikipedia: Exploring Fact City," New York Times (March 29, 2009).

Finally, back to urbanism. Peter Laurence, my colleague at Clemson University, is perhaps the single greatest force in Jane Jacobs studies today. Once published, Laurence's dissertation will be the authoritative intellectual biography; for the time being, see "Jane Jacobs (1915-2006): Before
Death and Life," JSAH 66 (2007) pp. 5-15. Last November, Laurence organized a conference, Re-Imagining Cities: Urban Design after the Age of Oil. The event marked the 50th anniversary of another conference held at the University of Pennsylvania, The Conference on Urban Design Criticism, where Jane Jacobs, Louis Kahn, Kevin Lynch, Ian McHarg, Lewis Mumford, and I.M. Pei first introduced their new urban visions. Both 1958 and 2008 conferences were sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation, see Laurence, "The Death and Life of Urban Design: Jane Jacobs, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the New Research in Urbanism, 1955-65," Journal of Urban Design 11 (2006), pp. 147-172.

Colleagues like Laurence made Clemson a place of intellectual debate (making my decision to leave even harder). For instance, I had the great pleasure to participate in Critical Practice for the Next Generation, a workshop on contemporary theory and practice organized by Laurence. It is there that I first learned the new term "post-critical," describing the architectural sell-out we are experiencing today (e.g. Rem Koolhaas, The Harvard Design School Guide to Shopping). Intersection generates exactly the same intensity that I had last experienced in the Critical Practice seminars. And it reassures us that post-criticism has thankfully not won the day.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Iraq, Sikyon, Orlandos

Hate crimes targeting Iraq's gay population have been rampant during the last couple of months with some 25 dead bodies discovered in Sadr City. Newly acquired social freedoms have allowed a gay subculture to emerge from secrecy. This very freedom, unfortunately, has made homosexuality a public target. Both Shiites and Sunnis condemn gays and some clerics have authorized cold-blooded executions, see Timothy Williams and Tareq Maher, "Iraq's Newly Open Gays Face Scorn and Murder," New York Times (Apr. 7, 2009), pp. A1, A10.

I read about these anti-gay hate crimes while working through Anastasios Orlandos' scholarship on the Frankish/Byzantine site of Mystras. Orlandos populates his reconstruction drawings of this medieval city with images of courtly love. A knight rides up the cobbled street while a lady looks down from her tower balcony. Here, Orlandos provides a visual correlate to the romantic imagination that Modern Greek literature invested on the texts and monuments of the Frankish Peloponnese. Such blatant heterosexual images of love, coupled by the stories of Iraqi intolerance, make me think of Orlandos' own personal life, particularly the murder of his lover at Sikyon. In the 1930s, Orlandos was the principal excavator of ancient Sikyon, where he also designed a fascinating museum, rising on the foundations of a Roman bath. But suddenly, Orlandos' archaeological activities stopped in 1953. The excavation terminated and, according to oral history, Orlandos never stepped foot on the site again. When working in the Sikyon Survey Project, I heard an interesting story about Orlandos' life in Sikyon. Apparently, Orlandos had a boyfriend in Sikyon, who was murdered by the locals for his homosexual leanings. After that incident, Orlandos vowed never to return to the site.

Stories such as these and any reference to Orlandos' homosexuality can only be heard in conversation. To this day, I have never encountered any published acknowledgment of Orlandos' sexual politics. In the celebratory volume Αναστάσιος Ορλάνδος, ο άνθρωπος και το έργον του (Athens, 1978), we find evocations for every aspect of Orlandos' extracurricular life, from his art collection to his literary style, but we encounter a deafening silence on issues of his homosexuality. So much so, that sometimes I wonder whether it was true at all. But when I doubt the veracity of oral histories, I encounter yet another archaeologist who reaffirms, "of course Orlandos was gay, everybody knows that." In Greek scholarship, Orlandos is the closest to a national hero. He was the head of the national monuments service, a teacher, architect and restorer. So, it's no surprise that a certain amount of censorship may have been imposed by him and his students.

In contrast to Greek academia, America has opened up the discussion on homosexuality, and its unique contribution to archaeological scholarship, even though Orlandos' American peers were no less persecuted. The closet was a choice of survival. A. Kingsley Porter's story is telling, as told by Douglas Shand-Tucci in Crimson Letters: Harvard Homosexuality and the Shaping of American Culture (New York, 2003), pp. 125-129. Porter was a leading expert on Romanesque art, influential professor of art history at Harvard and founder of the Medieval Academy of America. Although an influential member of the Harvard gay scene, Porter's homosexuality was not public. Speculation has it that Porter's homosexuality leaked and Harvard president Abbot Lawrence Lowell fired him. This ultimately led to his suicide in 1933, which was kept secret for many years. Ironically, Lowell's own sister, the poet Amy Lowell cohabited with her partner, actress Ada Dwyer Russell, in a "Boston marriage."

During the early 20th century, art history and archaeology were havens for a gay academic subculture. Greece was a desirable destination because homosexuality was not criminalized. When things got particularly repressive at home, British and American gay intellectuals found safe haven in Greece, where lovers were also readily available. Unable to be an expat in his own country, Orlandos and Greek intellectuals could not so readily enjoy the liberties shared by the internationals. In the absence of any formal acknowledgment, archival sources or private testimonies, it becomes difficult to explore Orlandos' sense of homosexuality or his relationship with openly gay expats. Future biographers and social historians will hopefully address the complexities of Orlandos' personal life and elevate his lover's murder in Sikyon above gossip. But even without such solid historical groundwork, I cannot help but read into Orlandos' medieval domestic fantasies an element of desire. The murder in Sikyon flavors my readings of Mystras.

Douglas Shand-Tucci has been most vocal in exploring America's "gay gothic," a closeted form of rebellion. An equivalent Greek version has not been formally written. We are left with many questions. For instance, how did Fotis Kontoglou's Byzantine aesthetics influence Yannis Tsarouchis open homosexuality? Did Tsarouchis break away from his master because Kontoglou disapproved of his sexual preference? Even though the personal has become political in Greece, too, there is a reticence in committing it to print. Everybody is in-the-know, but few risk the public uttering. Perhaps this is the very recipe that has kept homosexuality safer in Greece.

For an introduction to the Greek problems of queer theory, see James Faubion's, "Men Are Not Always What They Seem: From Sexual Modernization toward Sexual Modernity," in Modern Greek Lessons: A Primer in Historical Constuctivism (Princeton, 1993) pp. 213-241. For more information on Sikyon, see Yannis Lolos' much anticipated book, Land of Sikyon: The Archaeology and History of a Greek City State (Princeton, 2009)--kudos to Yannis and to the American School Publications office.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Ouranis' Frangissa: Greek Occidentalism

The scholarly history of Frankish Greece has been tainted by colonialism and nationalism. After the Fourth Crusade, the Latins controlled parts of the Peloponnese for almost two centuries (1206-1430). European historians of the 19th and early 20th centuries explored this period as precedent for French, German and British colonialism in Greece. In retaliation, their Greek peers explored the Byzantine counter-offensive as precedent for Greece's continuous resistance to colonialism from the West. Imperialism, on the one hand, and nationalism, on the other, have produced a polarized picture of the relationship between the Latin (Catholic) and Greek (Orthodox) populations of Frankish Greece. Today's scholar has inherited an exaggerated ideological mindset, hoping to dissolve the national/imperial agendas under a new paradigm of post-national multiculturalism. There are many reasons to endorse this strategy, most notably in order to highlight the Mediterranean as a medieval ecology where cultural interaction flourished. Reading through the Greek scholarship and literature of the polarizing 1930s, however, I have come to realize that we might have exaggerated the ideological certainty of our predecessors.

Without a doubt, the Frankish period served Greek national agendas, but only on the levels of official history (taught in the classroom, etc.). At the cultural arena, the texts and monuments of the "Frangokratia" served quite a different role. They liberated the Greek imagination from the national chains of history. The Frankish Middle Ages introduced a breath of fantasy, romance and love into a historical consciousness dominated by the weight of the Classical tradition. By the late 19th century, Greeks replaced their subservience to the classics with a new ambivalence (to use Paschalis Kitromilides' terminology, see, "From Subservience to Ambivalence: The Modern Greek Attitudes towards the Classics," in
The Impact of Classical Greece on European and National Mentalities [Amsterdam, 2003], pp. 47-54). I would argue that the Frankish discovery reinforced this very ambivalence and encouraged a new romantic relationship with the past. Romanticism gave liberties that Neoclassicism was unable to offer.

Among other considerations, we must give the Greeks of the 1930s some international leeway, since many of them were, in fact, a lot more multicultural than our enlightened postmodern scholar. After all, Constantine Cavafy is the paradigm of multiculturalism. Unlike Cavafy, the poet Kostas Ouranis (1890-1953) is less known (and untranslated) in English-speaking circles. Ouranis lived much of his life in transit and his work reflects the early modernist theme of homelessness. Ouranis lived during the political upheavals of the Balkan Wars, the "Great Idea" and the Asia Minor Catastrophe. Like many of his contemporaries, he turned his attention away from the national crises and explored a deeper inner life. Like his contemporary Kostas Karyotakis, he was inspired by French Symbolism and the introspective side of Kostis Palamas. For a short overview of such interwar tendencies, see R. Beaton, Introduction to Modern Greek Literature (Oxford, 1999), p. 124.

In 1920, Ouranis published "Frangissa" (the Latin Lady) in his collection of poems
Nostalgies. It reveals some of the poetic and cultural ramifications of the Crusader period in the modern Greek psyche. Instead of nationalism, we find compassion. The female overlord becomes identified with the itinerant poet. The Latin Lady discovers loneliness in Athens, the same way that the poet discovers loneliness in Paris. At the end of the poem, Ouranis takes us to the material culture of the Franks, the lady's tombstone (with its feudal crest) standing out of place in the Greek landscape. The literary character of the western woman becomes prevalent in Greek literature. Her various manifestations illustrate the interpretive complexities at the moment that gender, desire, emotion and sexuality enter in the relationship between Greek and non-Greek. I quote the whole poem from Ouranis' collection, Poiemata (Athens, 1953), p. 70. My translation follows.

Η Φράγκισσα (1920)

Ξενητεμένη στην ξερή τη γη της Αττικής,
σ' 'ενα του θέρου καυτερό κ' ήσυχο μεσημέρι,
η Φράγκισσα η Αυθέντισσα κοιτάει απ' τον εξώστη
του πύργου της τα ξενικά για την ψυχή της μέρη.
Όλα στο φως ακίνητάν: ελιές, βουνά, μνημεία,
σαν μες' σ' αιωνιότητα να είταν βυθισμένα
- κι ούτ' ένας ίσκιος να σταθεί ν' αναπαυτεί η ψυχή της,
μήτε και ταξιδιάρικο περνάει σύγνεφο ένα...
Και η ξανθή πριγκίπισσα, μονάχη στον εξώστη,
της εξορίας της μακρυνής νιώθει όλη την πικρία
κ' έτσι λευκή κι αμόλυντη και δίχως ιστορία,
μαραίνεται εγκατερτικά σαν κρίνος μεσ' στο κάμα.
Και μιάν ημέρα ο τάφος της ο οικοσημασμένος
μέσα στη γη της Αττικής θά 'ναι κι εκείνος ξένος.

The Latin Woman

Uprooted in the dry land of Attica
in the hot and quiet noon of summer
the Latin woman, an overlord, looks out from her tower's
balcony and sees a place completely foreign to her heart.
Not even a traveling cloud passes above ...
The blond princess, alone on the balcony,
feels the bitterness of distant exile.
Standing all white, pure and without history,
she withers like a lily in the burning heat.
And one day, her tomb decorated with her baronial crest
will also be foreign in the land of Attica.

Ouranis is not the only Greek writer to focus on the Latin female. The first piece of Greek literature to dramatize a love affair during the Frankish period is Alexandros Rakaves' The Lord of the Morea (1851) about which I've written earlier, see Postmodern Morea. And we must not forget that Mystras offers a backdrop for an even more celebrated romance, the marriage of Faust and Helena in Goethe's Faust. Angelos Terzakis' novel Princess Izampo (1935-1947) is another example, contemporary with Ouranis. The events dramatized in Terzakis take place ca. 1210-1297 and focus on the love between a Byzantine orphan Sgouros and a Latin princess Izampo. The Frankish Peloponnese had no shortage of interesting women. Especially at the end of the Latin reign, much of the Morea's rulership had fallen onto the hands of women. In typical antifeminine fashion, historians like William Miller blamed the rule of women for the ultimate collapse of the Latin state in Greece, see, The Latins in the Levant (1908). Thus the national question (Greek vs. Latin) is complicated by gender. Unlike the Western Middle Ages, Byzantium had been ruled by women. Historian Angeliki Laiou has also shown that Byzantine law favored women over men in the management of property, the passing of dowries, etc. In reclaiming a multicultural history for the Morea, it is easy to ignore the issue of gender and intermarriage.

In the fictive expression of Frankish Greece, love is central. This should not surprise us from the perspective of European literature. What would Victor Hugo's Hunchback of Notre Dame (1831), or Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe (1819) be without romance? Greek poets and novelists were fully aware of this tradition. Latin subjects could easily establish the same motifs on Greek soil.

The image at the beginning is the famous tombstone of princess Agnes from Andravida.

Morea: The Land and Its People

The Dumbarton Oaks' annual spring symposium focuses on the medieval Peloponnese. "Morea: The Land and Its People in the Aftermath of the Fourth Crusade," was organized by Sharon Gerstel and will take place in Washington, D.C., on May 1-3, 2009. In my opinion, this is one of the most interesting symposia organized at Dumbarton Oaks, which tends to be a fairly stodgy institution (administered by Harvard). Of course, I'm biased because I'll be delivering a paper. As the month of April unfolds, I now turn my undivided attention to this paper, and I suspect the postings on Objects-Building-Situations will reflect this reality. My apologies to the non-medievalists. It is a great honor to be included in the panel of speakers, a veritable who-is-who of Morea studies. See the full lot of abstracts here. I'll be speaking about the medieval town of Mystra, founded by the Latins in 1205 and passed on to the Greeks in 1261. From 1261 to 1460, Mystra became the seat of the Despotate of the Morea and a center of cultural revival. I'll be focusing on the domestic architecture of the site. I'll be arguing that the houses of Mystra, published in 1937, played such a great ideological role in modern intellectual history that they are practically useless as archaeological evidence. My abstract follows:


Kostis Kourelis

Mystra has played a unique role in the history of medieval architecture as the paradigmatic survivor of Byzantine urbanism and domestic form. Since the 17th century, this picturesque ruin has fed the creative imagination of artists, poets, statesmen and scholars. Rather than providing the foundations for the archaeological study of Byzantine and Frankish settlements, however, Mystra became a mythological benchmark, a much needed heterotopia for homeless heroes like Faust, Villehardouin, Palaiologos, Phrangopoulos and Laskaris. The first part of this paper excavates the fictional stratigraphy layered upon the city's domestic fabric. As with the castles of Western Europe, fact and fiction created a provocative house of cards, an experiential version of history that deflected cultural anxieties over national identity, ethnicity, gender and social change. The historic preservation of Mystra (from the 19th to the 21st centuries) obfuscated the archaeological record of the medieval city. For the second part of the paper, we must hence turn elsewhere for comparative data, looking at sites whose presumed worthlessness saved them from imperial and imperialist inflation. Surveying recent fieldwork from across the Peloponnesian countryside will ground the houses and settlement of Mystra within an ecological and productive setting. Some see Mystra as the Paris of the Mediterranean, but we will consider it as a modest village.

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Kostis Kourelis

Philadelphia, PA, United States