Archive for the ‘Memory’ Category

Antonio Soler and the Mournful Valley

January 21, 2015

Not long ago, WQXR played some keyboard sonatas by Padre Antonio Soler, a favorite composer of mine since my student days at MIT but one not especially widely known. That tweaked bittersweet memories of those days in Cambridge MA, especially powerful at this time of the year, in what I’ve come to think of the Mournful Valley of Mid-Winter, in between January 17th, the anniversary of Ann Daingerfield Zwicky’s death (this year, the 30th anniversary) and January 22nd, my man Jacques Transue’s birthday (this year, the 73rd; Jacques died in 2003) — and with celebrations of love, for Valentines Day, very much in the air.

This wil be about Ann — another posting of many about her and her family — who shared an appreciation of Soler with me.


Tricks of memory

December 9, 2014

I very often awake with a name stuck in my head, usually a person’s name, and usually for no reason I can discern. This morning it was the French actress Arletty, most famous for the film Les Enfants du Paradis (1945, with Jean-Louis Barrault, among others). I recalled her as playing the character Annabella (Smith), whose murder sets off the action of Alfred Hitchcock’s film The 39 Steps. I then spent fruitless hours looking for any connection between Arletty and Hitchcock.

Apparently I’d mixed up the character’s name Annabella and the actress’s name Arletty, on the basis of phonological similarity, and my (somewhat inaccurate) belief that they were both mononymous, plus the fact that the two actresses were both glamorous women whose first language was not English (as far as I can tell, Arletty’s films were all in French, while Lucie Mannheim (who played Annabella) acted in both German and English).

Still, I was utterly convinced that it was Arletty who came to Hannay (played by Robert Donat) with information about a spy network with a connection to something called “the 39 steps”.

Memory is a tricky thing, often undependable.


Briefly noted: decline

June 5, 2014

From Bruce Handy’s “Comic Relief: Bob Mankoff’s ‘How About Never — Is Never Good for You?’ ” in the NYT Book Review on the 1st (on Mankoff’s book, see here):

To the perennial gripe that the [New Yorker] cartoons aren’t as funny as they used to be [a complaint sometimes ventilated in comments on this blog], Mankoff’s short answer is: “They never were.” It’s true. I conducted another experiment, pulling three random issues of the magazine off local library shelves, from 1933, 1965 and 1997; each batch of vintage cartoons produced the same amount of chuckles, snorts of recognition, mehs, groans and huh?’s as would those in any recent issue (minus jokes at the expense of Africans, Native Americans, Gypsies, Jews and wives who won’t shut up). Mankoff believes that people tend to forget cartoons they didn’t like, remembering only the keepers, which gives the past a perpetual leg up.

Selective memory strikes again.

I’ve gone back over years of New Yorker cartoons and had the same experience as Handy. In fact, some older and celebrated cartoonists — Peter Arno and Helen Hokinson, for example — never entertained  me much at all.

Social memory

December 28, 2013

From GayStarNews on the 17th, in “Taylor Kitsch ‘had no idea about the whole AIDS epidemic’ before filming The Normal Heart: Actor plays closeted Wall Street executive in denial about having the disease” by Greg Hernandez:

‘I mean, look: I was born in ’81. I had no idea about the whole AIDS epidemic,’ the actor tellsVulture.

Social memory is surprisingly shallow. Events vanish with great speed. My studemts (in their 20s and 30s) know virtually nothing about the Vietnam War or the protests surrounding it. Then it turned out out that several acquaintances (in their 20s) knew essentially nothing about the AIDS epidemic — this after some emotional reminiscences from me.


Arnie Levin

June 19, 2013

This fine New Yorker cartoon by Arnie Levin, sent to me by Sally Page Byers and Amanda Walker (along with an X-rated composition by Pierre et Gilles and an X-rated photograph by Wolfgang Tillmans; posting on Tillmans on AZBlogX, here):


A play on the proverbial “An elephant never forgets”.


Syntax on the move

April 28, 2013

Jon Lighter on ADS-L comments on my usage:

Arnold’s unremarkable syntax from the “Chicano” thread: “the first OED2 cite, from 1947 Arizona, is somewhat disparaging in tone.”

In case some young folks don’t realize it, this journalistic use of a year-date as an adjective [well, prenominal modifier] is pretty “new” …

The usage is so natural to me that I thought nothing of it, nor did I recognize it as a relatively recent innovation or associate it with journalists.



February 1, 2013

After seeing myself cited repeatedly as the source of

Zwicky’s Law, which states categorically that
 “The more irrelevant garbage you put into a sentence, the better it sounds.”

I pondered. This is from this source, but all the cites go back to John Lawler. The sentiment is one I’ve expressed several times (in connection with grammaticality judgments on specific sentences), though not in fact categorically, and usually light-heartedly, but I didn’t recognize this wording, and couldn’t find the source. So I wrote John to pin the thing down. Turns out it’s Linguists’ Lore.


Explanations and understandings

January 30, 2013

Posted by Mike McKinley on Facebook this morning:

Ah, I recognized this as a variant of a quotation I have long admired. From Boswell’s Life of Johnson, courtesy of the Samuel Johnson Sound Bite Page:

Johnson having argued for some time with a pertinacious gentleman; his opponent, who had talked in a very puzzling manner, happened to say, “I don’t understand you, Sir;” upon which Johnson observed, “Sir, I have found you an argument; but I am not obliged to find you an understanding.”


Ask AZ: The F-word and “F-word”

July 8, 2012

Reader Adrian e-mailed me yesterday to ask about John McPhee’s reminiscence in the New Yorker‘s July 2nd issue (“The name of the subject shall not be the title”) in The Writing Life department, in which McPhee claimed that the expression F-word wasn’t in use in 1975. Adrian had tried, unsuccessfully, to get Google N-gram to track the expression (but reported a Google Books hit from 1969, alas an artifact of the screwiness of GB searches) and now was asking me what I knew about the matter.

First, McPhee’s account, coming in the middle of a history of fuck at the magazine. Then, some usage data.


A Proustian moment

June 23, 2012

(About my life, not language.)

Benita Bendon Campbell writes from Colorado:

Not too long ago, while cleaning a bunch of neglected desk drawers, I happened upon a few sheets of faded pale-green scratch paper from your days at The Reading Eagle. Pure Proust.

Ah, the green headline pads!



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