Saturday, December 08, 2018

Friday, December 07, 2018

Silent no longer!

The New School Histories vertical's latest post went up Tuesday - our first piece by a guest contributor. Appropriately it's the university archivist, Wendy Scheir, who offers the unexpectedly gripping tale of how the New School was an archive in itself long before it came an archive for itself. Along the way she confronts the myth that a commitment to the new requires a distancing from one's own past.
The delightfully witty image she picked for the headline has alas been chopped by Public Seminar's template. Here's the whole thing.

Thursday, December 06, 2018

Graue Eminenz

At an event for alums this evening, I reconnected with one of my first students at Lang. I've seen him recently, but since the last time he's grown a beard - and it's touched with grey! I have Lang ex-students going grey?! On the other hand, it was great to hear him describe what he remembered of studying with me. I assigned tough primary texts, but provided enough context that students were confident interpreting them - and felt they were entering the great conversation. That is what I was trying to do - how exciting to hear it so compellingly described. And to hear that it lives on, informing his own practice as a teacher of school teachers.

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

Tuesday, December 04, 2018


Throughout the 70s and 80s, the New School's telephone book-thick course catalogs sported striking artistic covers. Fall 1973's cover, by R. O. Blechman and spilling into the first page, may be the sweetest.

Monday, December 03, 2018

Sunday, December 02, 2018

The campus that wasn't

We like to say that the merger between Parsons and the New School was something neither party would ever have expected, and that is certainly true. The merger's impact took a long time to be felt, too, especially on the New School end. Now it seems destined, even visionary. Our imagination of the pasts of both schools is distorted by retrospect.

Reconstructing where the two schools thought they were heading at the time is a fun challenge. Here's an image of a New School future that wasn't: replacing the buildings between the New School and Sixth Avenue with a Center for Creative and Performing Arts (!), with a dedicated home for the Center for New York City Affairs planned, too!

Saturday, December 01, 2018


An unexpected pleasure - and unexpected grief. My friend H is visiting from Japan, and in her work managing an arts center has got to know Kanya Yoshida, a bunraku (puppet theater) master who sometimes gives performance- demonstrations of the craft. He was in NY this week for a first such presentation, and we scored tickets!

Kanya and the two men with whom he works to animate a puppet (since the early 19th century three puppeteers per puppet has become the norm) opened the evening with Sambaso, a dance, performed by a male puppet at the start of every performance (sometimes before the audience comes) as a sort of blessing of the stage. The usual barrier which obscures the puppeteers' feet was removed so we could see the puppet hovering in mid air, running, gesticulating, prostrating, dancing. Then Kanya showed us how it was done, how each part of the puppet is moved - assembling it bit by bit, starting with just the head - and, more interestingly, how the puppeteers wordlessly communicate with each other to make the puppet move as one, an art that takes decades to master. The demonstration first took apart some of the movements of the male puppet's dance we'd seen, then introduced a female figure, whose movements were more fluid and eloquent,

The climax of the evening was the performance of a scene ("Fire Lookout Tower") from the famous Bunraku play Datemusume no koi no higanoko, where the female doll played a grocer's daughter who gives her life to save her lover's by sounding a false fire alarm. This is so the city gates will be opened and her lover be able to retrieve a lost sword for whose disappearance he's supposed to kill himself the next morning, but the pathos comes from her knowledge that sounding a false alarm is a capital offense. He will live but she will be burnt at the stake - but living on without him is unimaginable.

An absurd story, but just the kind of celebration of the nobility of ordinary people bunraku is about. The play was in fact based on a true story, we learned (a genre called "overnight pickles"!). A grocer's daughter's shop burnt down and she found refuge at a temple, where she fell in love with a page; when the shop was rebuilt she set the shop ablaze again to be able to be with him. But somehow everything came together, the artifice of the dolls, the symbiosis of puppet and the puppeteers, literally joined at the hip (all male, though the character is female), the contrived story...

I didn't expect to be moved but was in fact devastated. What love!

Friday, November 30, 2018

The body transformed

One of the highlights of the Met's rather precious show "Jewelry: The Body Transformed" is a 19th century golden ear ornament from the Indonesian island of Sumba. The motif? Head hunters on the prowl.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

It comes around

A book of gorgeous photographs chronicling our 2016 pilgrimage has just been published, Kailash Yatra: A Long Walk to Mt. Kailas through Humla. There's one picture where you can see me (and my lamented 
backpack, too!). And there's an abridged version of the talk I gave as part of our panel presentation at the ISSRNC conference, about how to encounter the mountain without "world religions" getting in the way.