Saturday, July 31, 2021

"You go, and tell me what you see": From seeing to telling in "The Green Knight"

At the beginning of David Lowery's "The Green Knight", his adaptation of the anonymous 14th-century poem "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight", Gawain (Dev Patel) asks his mother (Sarita Choudhury) why she isn't going to King Arthur's Christmas Day feast. "You go," she responds, "and tell me what you see." The experienced knights have seen things and turned them into stories; the young Gawain has not. In the quest that follows his confrontation at the feast with the Green Knight, the film explores how what is seen and experienced becomes story with long passages of purely visual storytelling, especially in the recounting of Gawain's future after the end of his quest. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 31 July 2021)

The Green Knight' Review: A Somberly Majestic Medieval Death Trip - Variety
Dev Patel in "The Green Knight"

Friday, July 30, 2021

"The ace in his vest"

In her Letter from an American for 29 July, Heather Cox Richardson accurately refers to voter suppression laws as "the ace in his vest" for House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy's goal of becoming Majority Leader after the midterm elections in 2022. I was surprised by this construction, as I have always seen the idiom as "an ace up one's sleeve". The OED dates the "sleeve" form to the mid-nineteenth century and doesn't refer to the "vest" form, but some further internet searching turned up a few other examples with "vest", especially as "an ace in his vest pocket". Indeed, the pocket would perhaps be the best place to conceal a card. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 30 July 2021)


Ace Up His Sleeve. Man With An Ace Of Spades Tattoo On His ...
One of many stock photos of "an ace up his sleeve".


Thursday, July 29, 2021

A low-quality television broadcast of a football match

This evening, FC Basel played the second leg of their Conference League qualifying tie in Albania against Partizani Tirana. The match itself isn't worth commenting on: Basel won 2-0 after winning the first leg 3-0. But the television broadcast was unique: the Albanian producers had only one camera that could only swing back and forth, with no zoom function or slow-motion (and in the first half, they experienced technical problems so that Swiss television had only a low-quality image with no sound). The match had few exciting moments, but in the absence of closeups and replays, even they remained flat. High-quality, multi-camera television production clearly heightens the drama of football matches. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 29 July 2021)


Screenshot from


Wednesday, July 28, 2021

James Joyce, defecation, and menstruation in Doris Lessing's "The Golden Notebook"

After Anna Wulf in Doris Lessing's "The Golden Notebook" refers to James Joyce's "Finnegans Wake" in her "red notebook" as a novel "about the breakdown of language", she later refers to Joyce again in her "blue notebook" when she tries to record everything that happens in one day. When she gets her period that morning, she is reminded of "Ulysses": "When James Joyce described his man in the act of defecating, it was a shock." Joyce's description is neutral: Leopold Bloom "allowed his bowels to ease themselves quietly as he read." But as Joyce introduced this ordinary experience into fiction, Lessing here introduces a woman's experience of menstruation into her novel. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 28 July 2021)

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

630 concerts (and more) in 43 years

In early 2020, I began keeping track of concerts I attended, and I also began trying to list all those I could remember attending. For anyone performing pop music in a broad sense, it is pretty easy to find the dates of old concerts with a website like, so I was even able to add my earliest concerts in 1978 (the first being Linda Ronstadt and Livingston Taylor in Toledo, Ohio, on 11 August). My list is now up to 630 concerts in all, and counting as I remember more – more than one concert per month. The Grateful Dead top the list of performers, of course: 80+ shows from 1982-1995. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 27 July 2021),%201978%2018.jpg
Linda Ronstadt, 1978, photograph by Lynn Goldsmith

Monday, July 26, 2021

Candidates, feelings, and facts: Rewatching a 2016 Last Week Tonight clip on the Republican National Convention

In my Facebook Memories today is a 25 July 2016 clip from John Oliver's "Last Week Tonight" on that year's Republican National Convention. It includes statements from a Newt Gingrich interview with CNN's Alisyn Camerota, which Oliver summarizes as a syllogism: "Candidates can create feelings" and "Feelings = facts", so "Candidates can create facts." This not only summarized Trump's presidential campaign but also forecast many things about his presidency, especially how he and his enablers have weaponized the 2020 election and the supposed need to combat "voter fraud": they create feelings in their supporters and then campaign and govern as if those feelings were based on facts about the real world. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 26 July 2021)


Screenshot from linked video of "Last Week Tonight"

Sunday, July 25, 2021

Carrying the ball in basketball: Comparing the USA-France game today and a game in 1980

Back in my youth, I watched a lot of basketball, but since moving to Europe in 1991, I've watched it rarely. Today, I watched the Olympic game between France and the USA, and all the players dribble in a way I'm sure would've been calling "palming" back in the 70s. I found a game on YouTube from the 1980 NBA finals (Sixers-Lakers), and those players dribbled from the top of the ball, not the side. Still, I checked the rules: "A player who is dribbling may not put any part of his hand under the ball." Today's players aren't quite under the ball, so I can see why it's not called. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 25 July 2021)

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Spaces to play in with Chico Freeman, Heiri Känzig, Norbert Pfammater, and Jim Hart at the Bird's Eye in Basel

On Wednesday, I heard Chico Freeman (tenor saxophone), Heiri Känzig (bass), and Norbert Pfammatter (drums) at the Bird's Eye in Basel. This format leaves space for the musicians to play in, even on some of the faster tunes they played, and especially when Freeman turned to circular breathing to create long, full phrases. Last night, the trio expanded to a quartet, with Jim Hart on vibraphone. Hart filled in the spaces I had heard on Wednesday, but new spaces were also created, especially when Hart and Pfammater engaged in dialogue over Känzig's bass, with the latter once even laying out for a spell while the two percussionists played louder and louder. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 24 July 2021)

Friday, July 23, 2021

World Saxophone Quartet in San Francisco in the mid-eighties

Twice in the mid-eighties, I went to see the World Saxophone Quartet at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco: Hamiet Bluiett, Julius Hemphill, Oliver Lake, and David Murray. Each played at least one unaccompanied solo per set. At the end of an overwhelming, energetic solo by Murray, the whole group played a final passage together, and Lake was so excited he repeatedly shouted, “David Murray! David Murray!” Another time, during an unaccompanied passage, the others came out as if the solo were ending, played one chord, and left the stage again, laughing, while the soloist continued. The musicians' enthusiasm and amusement made those concerts so intense, joyous, and memorable. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 23 July 2021)
World Saxophone Quartet, Live in Zürich, 1984

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Seeing musicians over thirty years later

Twice in the past few years, I noticed that a musician I was hearing at a concert was someone I had not heard live for over thirty years. So when I saw Eddie Gómez in Basel in April 2017, it had been over 32 years since I had seen him in New York in December 1984. And when I saw Al Foster in Basel in May 2018, it had been almost 34 years since I had seen him in San Carlos in June 1984. Today, I'll see Chico Freeman in Basel, and the only other time I saw him was over 32 years ago in the spring of 1989 in Philadelphia. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 22 July 2021)
Don Cherry, Arthur Blythe, Chico Freeman, with The Leaders in the 1980s

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Paula Modersohn-Becker's "Selbstbildnis am 6. Hochzeitstag" und "Liegende Mutter mit Kind"

Wearing a necklace present in many of her works, Paula Modersohn-Becker gazes out of her 1906 "Selbstbildnis am 6. Hochzeitstag" with a calm, bold expression, her hands cradling her naked, pregnant belly. The striking quality of this self-portrait only increases when one learns she wasn't pregnant when she painted it. In the equally startling "Liegende Mutter mit Kind" (and her many drawings of similar images), a nude woman nurses a baby. These images transform the tradition of paintings of female nudes as much as the direct gaze of Édouard Manet's "Olympia" had in 1865. But sadly, Modersohn-Becker herself died in November 1907, nineteen days after the birth of her daughter Mathilde. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 21 July 2021)

Paula Moderson-Becker - Selbstbildnis am 6 Hochzeitstag (1906)


Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Spontaneous reactions to paintings by Paula Modersohn-Becker

On Sunday at the Paula Modersohn-Becker Museum in Bremen, I had two spontaneous responses to paintings, one silly, one more serious. When I first saw Modersohn-Becker's 1897 painting "Mädchen mit Feuerlilien" out of the corner of my eye, I thought it was a painting of Emma Watson as Hermione Granger right after she conjured up birds in "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince". More seriously, when I first saw Modersohn-Becker's 1906 painting "Selbstbildnis nach halbrechts, die Hand am Kinn", it seemed like an optical illusion going back and forth between a self-portrait and a woman holding a mask up to her face (as in Edgar Rubin's image of vase or faces). (Andrew Shields, #111words, 20 July 2021)
Mädchen mit Feuerlilien
Selbstbildnis nach halbrechts, die Hand am Kinn

Monday, July 19, 2021

My train in Germany was delayed by bombs

Yesterday, I was changing trains in Hanover, but my connecting train to Bremen was delayed. While the announcements for other delayed trains all mentioned floods and the storms that caused them, mine was delayed by bombs. A civil war had not broken out in Lower Saxony, though; the bombs in question were dropped on Hanover by British and American airplanes during the Second World War. The defusing of the bombs (and the controlled exploding of one) started just past noon, a few minutes before I arrived in Hanover, and took over five hours. I was surprised to learn how long it took, because my train was only delayed by fifty minutes. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 19 July 2021)


Sunday, July 18, 2021

Pandemic denialism while waiting in line for a concert

On Friday,while waiting to enter the Bird's Eye jazz club in Basel, I began chatting with someone who was also waiting to get in. I told him that before I'd heard the band on Wednesday and Thursday, I'd only seen two other concerts since I got my second dose of coronavirus vaccine in June – and he decried the virus as a hoax and the measures used to contain it as "a crime against humanity." I was so taken aback I couldn't think of what to say, and just then it was time to go inside. I've come across pandemic denial online, but this was my first encounter with it in person. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 18 July 2021)

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Bonds between women in Charles Dickens's "The Cricket on the Hearth" and "The Battle of Life"

In Charles Dickens's "The Cricket on the Hearth" (1845), John Peerybingle suspects his much younger wife Dot of loving a mysterious young man who turns out to be his neighbor's emigrant son Edward, returned to marry Dot's close friend May Fielding. In "The Battle of Life" (1846), then, Marion Jeddler apparently elopes with someone else just before her fiancé, Alfred Heathfield, returns from several years abroad. Eventually, Alfred marries Marion's sister Grace – and when Marion returns six years later, actually unmarried, she reveals that she left to make that very marriage possible. In each story, bonds between women determine how the suspected deceivers behave toward the men they are connected to. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 17 July 2021)


John and Dot Peerybingle
John and Dot Peerybingle, 1924 illustration by Harold Copping for The Cricket on the Hearth


Friday, July 16, 2021

The last phantom in Charles Dickens's "The Chimes" as an anticipation of Lewis Carroll's "Cheshire cat"

In my reading of Charles Dickens, I keep finding passages that echo later works by other writers (I've already written about other such anachronistic moments). In "The Chimes" (1844), Trotty Veck's vision in the church tower of "dwarf phantoms, spirits, [and] elfin creatures of the Bells" ends when the chimes suddenly stop; the last one to disappear anticipates Lewis Carroll's "Cheshire cat" in "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" (1865): "[H]e twirled and twirled, and floated by himself a long time; showing such perseverance, that at last he dwindled to a leg and even to a foot, before he finally retired; but he vanished in the end, and then the tower was silent." (Andrew Shields, #111words, 16 July 2021)
Richard Doyle, 1844 illustration for "The Chimes"

Thursday, July 15, 2021

The "recognized fiction" of "John Doe" in Charles Dickens and in history

In Charles Dickens's "The Battle of Life" (1846), the narrator reflects on how two lawyers are unjustly criticized by their wives: "Perhaps the false Craggs and the wicked Snitchey were a recognised fiction with the two wives, as Doe and Roe, incessantly running up and down bailiwicks, were with the two husbands". In legal contexts, the name "John Doe" is indeed "a recognized fiction", a placeholder for the names of people who are unknown or prefer to remain anonymous. It predates Dickens; not only does the use of "John Doe" go back to the Middle Ages, but the name Numerius Negidius was used in a similar way in the Roman Empire. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 15 July 2021)
1846 illustration by Richard Doyle.

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Another one-year pass to the Bird's Eye in Basel

In September 2019, I bought a one-year pass to Basel's Bird's Eye jazz club. I calculated that it would be worth it if I went to five shows a month. The first show I went to was the band Hunter with Peter Rom on guitar. I only made it to 15 shows by February, though, and then the pandemic came, with my last Bird's Eye concert being Martin Speake with Ethan Iverson on piano. But today, I bought a new one-year pass and went to my first show with it, Hans Feigenwinter with Bänz Oester and Norbert Pfammatter. I'll see if I make it to five concerts a month this time. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 14 July 2021)

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Scaffolding with a hedged superlative: "Perhaps the leading mathematician"

In his superb review of Stephen Budiansky's new biography of Kurt Gödel, Ashutosh Jogalekar introduces David Hilbert as "perhaps the leading mathematician of the first few decades of the twentieth century." Such statements combine a superlative ("leading" as a form of "greatest") and a hedge ("perhaps"). My internal copy-editor suggests "one of the leading", but that's still throat-clearing rather than content. As Jogalekar continues with specifics about Hilbert, I'd drop the scaffolding of "perhaps ... leading" and go right to that information: in 1900, David Hilbert's list of "23 open problems in mathematics" provided a blueprint for 20th-century mathematics (and for the work of Gödel himself, who was born in 1906). (Andrew Shields, #111words, 13 July 2021)


David Hilbert and Kurt Gödel


Monday, July 12, 2021

Djokovic 20, Federer 20, Nadal 20

Yesterday, Novak Djokovic won his 20th Grand Slam men's singles title in tennis, equaling the record jointly held by Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. Since Federer won his first (at Wimbledon in 2003), there have been 68 Grand Slam tournaments, and these three have won 60 of them (Stan Wawrinka and Andy Murray have won three each, Juan Martin Del Potro and Marin Cilic one each). In the over 400 Grand Slam tournaments before Federer won his first, no man won more than 14 titles (Pete Sampras). Whatever comes next (and I assume it will mostly be more Djokovic titles), these three men's joint dominance of their sport has been singular. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 12 July 2021)



Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer
There don't appear to be that many photographs of Djokovic, Nadal, and Federer together. Source unknown.

Sunday, July 11, 2021

Robinson Crusoe as private and public figure in Charles Dickens's "Martin Chuzzlewit"

After Tom Pinch, in Charles Dickens's "Martin Chuzzlewit", catches the "pleasant smell of paper freshly pressed" coming out of the bookshops in Salisbury, he experiences a "trying shop", one with children's books, "where poor Robinson Crusoe stood alone in his might". Here, Crusoe is Tom's private figure, who "impressed one solitary footprint on the shore of boyish memory", but later, Tom shares Crusoe with his friend John Westlock, who describes his lodgings as "the sort of impromptu arrangements that might have suggested themselves to [...] Robinson Crusoe." The castaway on his desert island offers Tom Pinch both the private space of reading and the public space of a shared cultural heritage. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 11 July 2021)


Robinson Crusoe (1815)
1815 edition of Robinson Crusoe

Saturday, July 10, 2021

Driving through tunnels in Switzerland

Driving through central Switzerland today, with the many highway tunnels of varying lengths (the longest one on our route being the 9.25 kilometers of the Seelisberg tunnel), I remembered driving through the Gotthard Tunnel with Andrea and Miles in the summer of 2002, six months after it reopened after a fire. It is 16.9 kilometers long, but with its two-way traffic it seemed much longer as I drove. I grew tenser and tenser as I thought about how dependent on other people we were: not just all the drivers being careful, but also all the workers and tunnel architects who had built the tunnel and then renovated it after the fire. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 10 July 2021)
North entrance of the Seelisberg Tunnel.

Friday, July 09, 2021

Bartholomew the chauffeur

Many summers ago, on a family trip to New England, I gave myself a chauffeur name: Bartholomew. For a while, my Bartholomew uniform was a bright-red cap I bought at Laird Hatters in London. As Bartholomew, I've driven my children to football matches, circus practice, and horseback-riding lessons. Bartholomew's happy, when need be, to get them to their activities, but this week he drove Luisa to something that will eventually lead to his retirement: a week-long preparation course for the driver's license theory exam, which she'll be taking tomorrow. And this evening after horseback riding, we got stuck in a one-hour traffic jam, so Bartholomew already feels ready to retire now. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 9 July 2021)

Thursday, July 08, 2021

A reference to "Finnegans Wake" in Doris Lessing's "The Golden Notebook"

The second excerpt from Anna Wulf's "red notebook" in Doris Lessing's "The Golden Notebook" includes a diary entry from 11 November 1952 in which she mentions "novels about the breakdown of language, like 'Finnegans Wake'." Anna may distance herself from James Joyce's novel, but in Lessing's novel, she is the author of a novel called "Frontiers of War" and the main character of "Free Women", the "conventional short novel" (as Lessing puts it in her preface) that runs through "The Golden Notebook", interrupted by excerpts from Anna's four color-coded notebooks (black, red, yellow, and blue) and finally by the titular "golden notebook". So Anna's novels share the initials of Joyce's: FW. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 8 July 2021)


Finnegans Wake by James Joyce — Reviews, Discussion ...The Golden Notebook Buch jetzt bei online ...

Wednesday, July 07, 2021

One year after the Harper's "Letter on Justice and Open Debate"

One year ago today, Harper's published "A Letter on Justice and Open Debate". On Twitter, trans people read it as a direct attack on them. When I read it, I was struck by how such a bland text of strawmen and clichés could be read so specifically. When I posted my two texts on the letter in various threads, including a Facebook post supporting it, two women in Scotland who'd been criticized for transphobia took issue with my interpretations and said they'd specifically felt defended by the letter. So though the letter said nothing about transgender issues, both transgender people and those accused of being transphobic felt it was about them. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 7 July 2021)

Tuesday, July 06, 2021

The New Yorker website links books to Amazon pages and thus encourages monopolization

After reading Hannah Fry's review in The New Yorker, I wanted to check something about “A History of Data Visualization and Graphic Communication” (Harvard), by Michael Friendly and Howard Wainer, so I went to the magazine's website, found the article and the link provided to the book, clicked on it, and was taken to the Amazon page for the book. Instead of providing a link to the Harvard University Press website (where the book can also be ordered), the magazine (which links to Amazon for all the books that articles mention) thus encourages the ongoing march to monopoly of the online shopping site and the continuing accumulation of Jeff Bezos's billions. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 6 July 2021)
An 1824 time-series graph by William Playfair. (from the New Yorker review)

Monday, July 05, 2021

"Instant recollections" in Charles Dickens's "Martin Chuzzlewit" – and anachronistic associations

When Tom Pinch goes to Salisbury in Charles Dickens's "Martin Chuzzlewit", he loves the bookshops, "whence a pleasant smell of paper freshly pressed came issuing forth". That smell generates "instant recollections of some new grammar had at school, long time ago, with 'Master Pinch, Grove House Academy,’ inscribed in faultless writing on the fly–leaf!" Two anachronistic "instant recollections" then arise for me: the figure of sensation triggering memory recalls Marcel Proust's madeleine in "Du côté de chez Swann", and Tom's memory of writing his name on the flyleaf echoes Stephen Dedalus doing the same, though at greater length, in James Joyce's "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man." (Andrew Shields, #111words, 5 July 2021)

Sunday, July 04, 2021

"Carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere": A passage deleted from the United States Declaration of Independence

A few years ago, I learned about Frederick Douglass's speech now known as "What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?", which he gave on 5 July 1852. It should be a central document in any history curriculum in the United States. Today, thanks to a Twitter thread by Ali Velshi, I learned something new about a document at the center of American history and mythology: Thomas Jefferson's original draft of the Declaration of Independence contained a passage in its grievances against King George III that condemned the enslavement of Africans and their transportation to North America. The debate in the Continental Congress on 1-3 July led to its deletion. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 4 July 2021)
Jefferson’s Original Rough Draft of the Declaration of Independence, from here.