Saturday, April 19, 2014

Remembering What You Must Not Forget

The Old Country

A Wedding Scene: Life went on, as depicted in this couple getting married under the chupah, 
or marriage canopy.
Credit Issachar Ber Ryback; 1917
Source: General Collection, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University

An article in Public Domain Review looks at the painter, Issachar Ber Ryback, whose art depicts shetl life in the Ukraine following the First World War, where pogroms and revolution were normal part of daily living, well, actually it was more like despair, destruction and death. These are not happy paintings, but what else can you expect when these were not happy, hopeful times.

The article says:
A selection from a set of 30 lithographs by the Russian artist Issachar Ber Ryback, dating mostly from 1917 and published in a book by the Berlin-based “Farlag Shveln”. The images depict scenes of Ryback’s home village in Ukraine before it was destroyed in the pogroms following World War I, a fate which seems ominously echoed in the torturous angles and distortions of form in which he represents the daily activities of village life. After graduating from art school in Kiev in 1916, Ryback played a key role in the Yiddish avant-garde of the Soviet Union following the Russian Revolution. After his father was murdered by Petliura’s soldiers in 1921, he fled to Germany, settling in Berlin where he became a member of the Novembergruppe and was involved in a number of important exhibitions. After a return trip to Russia, working on a set design for a Yiddish theatre and undertaking a prolonged journey through the Jewish “kolkhozes” of Ukraine and Crimea, he moved to Paris in 1926. Here he lived at the heart of the city’s vibrant artistic life – including solo exhibitions at the Galerie aux Quatre Chemins (1928) and Galerie L’Art Contemporain (1929) – until his death in 1935.
It is true that most of the figures look grotesque and unreal, which is the general impression of of life then, where it seemed that daily living was not ordered, but disordered, or out of order—a general sentiment felt to various degrees across Europe after the First World War. The people waited for some order to be restored, somehow, by someone, and while waiting with some kind of hopeful expectation, they somehow continued with their activities, such as marriage, religious ritual and commercial transactions. Somehow, and for some very personal reasons, these paintings resonate today.

To view more of Issachar Ber Ryback's paintings, go to [PubDomRev]

Friday, April 18, 2014

A Look Back: Márquez & Hemingway Meet in Paris


Gabriel García Márquez [1927-2014], in Cartagena, Colombia; February 20, 1991. Márquez
was the recipient of the 1982 Nobel Prize in Literature.
Photo CreditUlf Andersen; Getty.
Source: New Yorker

Gabriel Garcia Márquez died on Thursday at the age of 87; the Colombian writer who is known for his magic realism, notably his One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967), was at one time a journalist, which is common to many writers who want to eat, including Ernest Hemingway. Both men met at a Paris bookstore many years ago (in 1957), and in this 1981 article ("Gabriel Garcia Marquez Meets Ernest Hemingway"; July 26, 1981) for the New York Times, Márquez recounts their brief meeting:

He writes
I recognized him immediately, passing with his wife Mary Welsh on the Boulevard St. Michel in Paris one rainy spring day in 1957. He walked on the other side of the street, in the direction of the Luxembourg Gardens, wearing a very worn pair of cowboy pants, a plaid shirt and a ballplayer's cap. The only thing that didn't look as if it belonged to him was a pair of metal-rimmed glasses, tiny and round, which gave him a premature grandfatherly air. He had turned 59, and he was large and almost too visible,but he didn't give the impression of brutal strength that he undoubtedly wished to, because his hips were narrow and his legs looked a little emaciated above his coarse lumberjack shoes. He looked so alive amid the secondhand bookstalls and the youthful torrent from the Sorbonne that it was impossible to imagine he had but four years left to live.
For a fraction of a second, as always seemed to be the case, I found myself divided between my two competing roles. I didn't know whether to ask him for an interview or cross the avenue to express my unqualified admiration for him. But with either proposition, I faced the same great inconvenience. At the time, I spoke the same rudimentary English that I still speak now, and I wasn't very sure about his bullfighter's Spanish. And so I didn't do either of the things that could have spoiled that moment, but instead cupped both hands over my mouth and, like Tarzan in the jungle, yelled from one sidewalk to the other: ''Maaaeeestro!'' Ernest Hemingway understood that there could be no other master amid the multitude of students, and he turned, raised his hand and shouted to me in Castillian in a very childish voice, ''Adiooos, amigo!'' It was the only time I saw him.
At the time, I was a 28-year-old newspaperman with a published novel and a literary prize in Colombia, but I was adrift and without direction in Paris. My great masters were the two North American novelists who seemed to have the least in common. I had read everything they had published until then, but not as complementary reading - rather, just the opposite, as two distinct and almost mutually exclusive forms of conceiving of literature. One of them was William Faulkner, whom I had never laid eyes on and whom I could only imagine as the farmer in shirtsleeves scratching his arm beside two little white dogs in the celebrated portrait of him taken by Cartier-Bresson. The other was the ephemeral man who had just said goodbye to me from across the street, leaving me with the impression that something had happened in my life, and had happened for all time.
I don't know who said that novelists read the novels of others only to figure out how they are written. I believe it's true. We aren't satisfied with the secrets exposed on the surface of the page: we turn the book around to find the seams. In a way that's impossible to explain, we break the book down to its essential parts and then put it back together after we understand the mysteries of its personal clockwork.
That is the way with some writers, the great ones who take risks and have the courage of their convictions, who are odd fellows with a gift of explaining something of the world in such a manner as to grab the attention of readers. Such was the gift of Hemingway, and such was the way with Márquez, who used a different language to explain, yet we all understood. He will be missed, but not forgotten.

You can read the rest of the article at [NYT Books]

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

England's First Human Blood Transfusion (1667)

Human Health

Blood Transfusion: An Account of the Experiment of Transfusion, Practised upon a Man in London; 1667; Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, London. 
Source: PubDom
An article in the Public Domain Review looks at the first blood transfusion performed on a human n November 23, 1667; the transfusion was performed by Dr. Edmund King and Richard Lower, the person receiving the transfusion was Arthur Coga, a divinity student.

The article notes the following details:

An account by Dr Edmund King given to The Royal Society of the first ever blood transfusion involving a human in England. Six months after he successfully completed a blood transfusion between two dogs, the experimental physician Richard Lower, with the help of Dr King, administered 9oz of sheep’s blood into the body of Arthur Coga, a Divinity Student from Cambridge who subjected himself to the experiment in return for a Guinea. Lower describes Coga as “the subject of a harmless form of insanity”, the perfect candidate for the experiment as it was just such a tempestuous nature which Lower and his colleagues hoped to calm by the introduction of the blood of a gentle lamb–in addition to the fact that he was well educated and so able to talk about his experiences (indeed, Coga, produced, in Latin, an account of his own experiences of the trial). When Coga himself was asked why blood from a sheep was used he replied, in Latin, “Sanguis ovis symbolicam quandam facultatem habet cum sanguine Christi, quia Christus est agnus Dei” (Sheep’s blood has some symbolic power, like the blood of Christ, for Christ is the Lamb of God.) Despite a second transfusion and many attempts to show Coga had changed in character, it appeared that the experiment was a failure in this respect.
If the idea was that blood held the key to disposition, then the experiment was a failure; it would take much longer for medical science to realize the value of human-to-human transfusions. It would take almost 200 years before British obstetrician Dr. James Blundell would perform the first successful human transfusion in the early part of the 19th century; between  1825 and 1830, Wikipedia says, "Blundell performed 10 transfusions, five of which were beneficial, and published his results." Now, these are routinely performed.

A transcript of the Lower-King effort can be found at Wikisource; you can also see the original handwritten manuscript of the account here at Wellcome Images.) You can read more at [PubDom]

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

A Foreigner In China


Mark Kitto & Family: "I wanted China to be the place where I made a career and lived my life.
For the past 16 years it has been precisely that. But now I will be leaving.
I won’t be rushing back
either. I have fallen out of love, woken from my China Dream."
Photo Credit: Eric Leleu
Source: Prospect

An article  by Mark Kitto, in Prospect gives a first-person account of what it is like to live, to work and to operate a business in China as a non-Chinese foreigner. While Kitto's views might not apply to all cases, his views do provide some critical insights into a nation that has undergone great transition since Deng Xiaoping's modernization plan took capitalism as its economic system and grafted it to its prevailing Marxist ideology. What China has become, in addition to an economic powerhouse, is a nation that fears, or at least is uncomfortable with, outsiders—a trajectory common to many successful nations with a history of foreign invasion and control.

Kitto writes about how China has changed in the last 20 years:
If I had to choose one word to describe China in the mid-1980s it would be optimistic. A free market of sorts was in its early stages. With it came the first inflation China had experienced in 35 years. People were actually excited by that. It was a sign of progress, and a promise of more to come. Underscoring the optimism was a sense of social obligation for which communism was at least in part responsible, generating either the fantasy that one really could be a selfless socialist, or unity in the face of the reality that there was no such thing.
In 1949 Mao had declared from the top of Tiananmen gate in Beijing: “The Chinese people have stood up.” In the mid-1980s, at long last, they were learning to walk and talk.One night in January 1987 I watched them, chanting and singing as they marched along snow-covered streets from the university quarter towards Tiananmen Square. It was the first of many student demonstrations that would lead to the infamous “incident” in June 1989.
One man was largely responsible for the optimism of those heady days: Deng Xiaoping, rightly known as the architect of modern China. Deng made China what it is today. He also ordered the tanks into Beijing in 1989, of course, and there left a legacy that will haunt the Chinese Communist Party to its dying day. That “incident,” as the Chinese call it—when they have to, which is seldom since the Party has done such a thorough job of deleting it from public memory—coincided with my final exams. My classmates and I wondered if we had spent four years of our lives learning a language for nothing.
It did not take long for Deng to put his country back on the road he had chosen. He persuaded the world that it would be beneficial to forgive him for the Tiananmen “incident” and engage with China, rather than treating her like a pariah. He also came up with a plan to ensure nothing similar happened again, at least on his watch. The world obliged and the Chinese people took what he offered. Both have benefited financially.
When I returned to China in 1996, to begin the life and career I had long dreamed about, I found the familiar air of optimism, but there was a subtle difference: a distinct whiff of commerce in place of community. The excitement was more like the eager anticipation I felt once I had signed a deal (I began my China career as a metals trader), sure that I was going to bank a profit, rather than the thrill that something truly big was about to happen. A deal had been struck. Deng had promised the Chinese people material wealth they hadn’t known for centuries on the condition that they never again asked for political change. The Party said: “Trust us and everything will be all right.”
Twenty years later, everything is not all right.
I must stress that this indictment has nothing to do with the trajectory of my own China career, which went from metal trading to building a multi-million dollar magazine publishing business that was seized by the government in 2004, followed by retreat to this mountain hideaway of Moganshan where my Chinese wife and I have built a small business centred on a coffee shop and three guesthouses, which in turn has given me enough anecdotes and gossip to fill half a page of Prospect every month for several years. That our current business could suffer the same fate as my magazines if the local government decides not to renew our short-term leases (for which we have to beg every three years) does, however, contribute to my decision not to remain in China.
During the course of my magazine business, my state-owned competitor (enemy is more accurate) told me in private that they studied every issue I produced so they could learn from me. They appreciated my contribution to Chinese media. They proceeded to do everything in their power to destroy me. In Moganshan our local government masters send messages of private thanks for my contribution to the resurrection of the village as a tourist destination, but also clearly state that I am an exception to their unwritten rule that foreigners (who originally built the village in the early 1900s) are not welcome back to live in it, and are only allowed to stay for weekends.
But this article is not personal. I want to give you my opinion of the state of China, based on my time living here, in the three biggest cities and one tiny rural community, and explain why I am leaving it.
Well, of course, the article is personal, which does not mean or suggest in any way that it lacks validity, that it lacks veracity, that one person's experience while living as a foreigner in a nation undergoing great change is not authentic, not real, not factual.  Quite the contrary; it is very real, because he is a foreigner and as such Kitto can see and feel sense things that locals, fixed in their ideas and thoughts, cannot. Such is why I found this narrative both interesting and essential to read—especially if you have an interest and a curiosity of China, of its people and of where it, possibly, might be heading.

You can read more at [Prospect]