Studying the Middle Ages through its monsters

(K. Brent Tomer),

YOU CAN learn a lot about a society by examining who or what it reveres. You can learn even more by studying what it is afraid of, as a new exhibit at the Morgan Library and Museum in New York proves. “Medieval Monsters: Terrors, Aliens, Wonders” takes the visitor on a jaunt through Europe’s Middle Ages via its beasties. Artefacts such as illuminated manuscripts and tapestries are adorned with unicorns, dragons, antelopes with forked tails, blemmyes—humanoids with no heads, their faces instead on their chests—and more. These images inspire awe and a keen respect for medieval artists’ use of colour, but it is the undertones of racial and gendered prejudice that make the exhibition more than a spooky show and tell.

In the era that the exhibition covers, roughly 900 to 1600BC, monsters were not simply things that go bump in the night. Aliens, before they were extra-terrestrial beings, were people who were foreign or unfamiliar (the word is derived from Latin, alius,  meaning “other”). As such, women, Jews,…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC Studying the Middle Ages through its monsters


Emmanuel Macron, the resolutely modern philosopher king

(K. Brent Tomer),

Revolution Française: Emmanuel Macron and the Quest to Reinvent a Nation. By Sophie Pedder. Bloomsbury; 297 pages; £25

AT A time of spreading despondency about democracy and the future of liberal values, it is heartening to find a book that has a good news story to tell about both—so far. This ringside account of Emmanuel Macron’s rise to win the French presidency and his early exercise of power by Sophie Pedder, The Economist’s Paris bureau chief, is all the more encouraging for the portrait it paints of its subject. As well as a standard bearer for liberalism, Mr Macron emerges as an extremely adept political operator with a healthy streak of cynicism and ruthlessness, a hyper-active politician comfortable with the trappings of power. As the author writes at the end of her impressive combination of reportage and analysis, enriched with tête-à-tête interviews, all this makes the…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC Emmanuel Macron, the resolutely modern philosopher king

Lorraine Gordon, queen of the Village Vanguard

(K. Brent Tomer),

IF YOU were to ask Lorraine Gordon to draw a map of the jazz universe, she wouldn’t focus on New Orleans or Chicago or Memphis. No: the Village Vanguard in New York, one of the city’s oldest jazz clubs, would be at the centre for her. Shaped like a pie slice and blessed with perfect acoustics, the Vanguard hosted jazz’s most influential and renowned musicians. Rising stars and legends alike chose the venue to capture their jazz live; more than 100 recordings were produced there, some of which won Grammys. Presiding over all this was Ms Gordon, who died on June 9th. She treated the basement-level club on Seventh Avenue South as something between a shrine and a public music salon. 

Born Lorraine Stein in 1922, Ms Gordon was already a jazz fan before she made her first visit to the Vanguard aged 17. There she fell in love—with the genre’s scene and with Alfred Lion, the founder of Blue Note Records. With marriage came a job at the label in the 1940s, which, alongside a thriving live-music field in Manhattan, introduced her to new…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC Lorraine Gordon, queen of the Village Vanguard

Portraits of the “Windrush generation”

(K. Brent Tomer),

“IT’S NOT me, it’s my shadow!” Alford Gardner says with a chuckle, looking across the OXO gallery in London at a large photograph of himself. In it he wears an azure shirt and stands in front of a studio backdrop that is a brighter blue than a British sky could ever be. Mr Gardner is 92 years old, laughs often, and is quick to say that he has enjoyed his life, “every day of it”. Born in Jamaica, he served as a Royal Air Force motor mechanic before moving to England on the HMT Empire Windrush. Around 800 Caribbean migrants made the trip on that boat; he is one of only 12 still alive. “I wasn’t expecting to live here this long,” he says. “The plan was to come here, work hard, go back home. But out here everything changed within a couple of years.” 

With this year marking 70 years since the Windrush’s arrival at the docks in Tilbury—and with the news of the Home Office’s abysmal treatment of Caribbean migrants still raw and unresolved—Jim Grover, the documentarian who took Mr Gardner’s picture,…Continue reading

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The G7 photograph has the dynamism of Caravaggio at his best

(K. Brent Tomer),

IT HAS become an instant classic, a picture of political drama that captures the power struggle of an age in a single image. Once upon a time there were the unnamed sculptors who carved the “Colossi of Memnon”, proclaiming the pomp of the pharaoh in statues 18 metres high. Then came Titian, portraying the Emperor Charles V on horseback, distilling the essence of imperial splendour in oils. Later Jacques-Louis David commemorated the passions of the French revolution in his “Oath of the Tennis Court” (before selling his republican soul by glorifying the coronation of Napoleon). To this pantheon of political image-makers can be added Jesco Denzel, the German government photographer who memorialised the stare-off between Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Donald Trump at the G7 summit.

As soon as the picture was circulated online (by officials of both governments), so did possible captions. “Just tell us what Vladimir has on you. Maybe we can help”, suggested Guy Verhofstadt, a former Belgian prime minister. Meanwhile would-be art…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC The G7 photograph has the dynamism of Caravaggio at his best

A new exhibition fleshes out man’s relationship with meat

(K. Brent Tomer),

GERMANS’ love of meat is well-known. The country has one of the highest per capita meat-consumption figures in the world, with the average citizen chomping down 59kg a year in 2016. In Berlin there’s a museum dedicated solely to the Currywurst, the classic sausage dish served everywhere in the Hauptstadt on crimped paper plates. Human-sized, grinning sausage mascots can be spotted all over the city outside fast-food stands. Many in Germany consider eating meat, and pork in particular, a key part of national identity. Election posters for Alternative für Deutschland, a far-right party, featured a piglet and an Islamophobic slogan, promoting prejudice against Muslims’ culinary rules.  

The complicated significance of fleisch for Germans is contained in the word itself. Meaning both “meat” and “flesh”, the term designates human bodily matter as well as what goes on a…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC A new exhibition fleshes out man’s relationship with meat

The problem of masculinity, in men’s words

(K. Brent Tomer),

“FATHERLAND”, a new play, arrives at the Lyric Hammersmith in London against a backdrop of awful deeds perpetrated by men. Allegations of sexual harassment and assault against Harvey Weinstein, a film producer, triggered the #MeToo movement; last week Mr Weinstein was indicted on charges of rape. In April, an “incel” (“involuntary celibate”) murdered ten people in Toronto. School shootings in America are usually committed by boys, with one shooter recently targeting an ex-girlfriend. On press night, even local traffic was affected by the problem of man. Roads were closed after a stabbing the night before, the latest in a spate of murders in London. Young men are usually the killers and the victims. 

These horrors would once have been thought of as separate issues. Now many file them under toxic masculinity, the inevitable result of narrow conventions of manhood which limit male behaviour to dominance, violence and sexual aggression….Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC The problem of masculinity, in men’s words

#TankMen2018, a global work of protest art

(K. Brent Tomer),

IN 1989 Fengsuo Zhou was a student at Tsinghua University in Beijing. Like many of his classmates, he went to Tiananmen Square on the morning of June 3rd to participate in peaceful demonstrations calling for a more democratic government. There he witnessed one of the darkest moments in China’s history: he was within spitting distance of the tanks that crushed young demonstrators. His role as a student leader earned him fifth position on China’s most-wanted list. Now, nearly 30 years from the day that would change his life forever, he wants to find a new way to memorialise it.

Mr Zhou has long been a friend and inspiration to Badiucao, the pseudonym of a Chinese artist, who shared his desire to redefine the memory of Tiananmen. In 2016, Badiucao created a piece of performance art in Adelaide, Australia, where he had emigrated. He stood on a busy street corner and “became” Tank Man, the unidentified figure who stoically confronted the tanks on the morning of June 5th 1989. Repeatedly shifting his position and blocking the tanks’ way…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC #TankMen2018, a global work of protest art

What does it mean to “bear arms”?

(K. Brent Tomer),

WHAT does it mean to “bear arms”? The Second Amendment to America’s constitution reads: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Concerned by the number of firearms in America, and the epidemic of gun violence they cause, many commentators (including Johnson) have in the past examined the first half of the amendment. It seems obvious to some that the first clause qualifies the second: the right to bear arms is tied to militia service.

But gun-rights advocates think the second clause stands alone. Among them was the late Antonin Scalia, who in 2008 wrote a Supreme Court opinion, DC v Heller, holding that the amendment guarantees an individual right to guns, no militia service required. He went on to explain “bear arms”. For him, “to bear” was simple enough, meaning “to carry”. And “arms” were just weapons. He conceded that there was an idiom,…Continue reading

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Bill Clinton’s debut thriller is an exercise in wish-fulfilment

(K. Brent Tomer),

Trouble at t’mill

The President is Missing. By Bill Clinton and James Patterson. Little, Brown. 

ONE of them was a publishing machine with scores of bestsellers under his belt. The other knew the White House like the back of his hand (because he lived in it for eight years). Together they made a perfect thriller-writing team. Or so claims the marketing for Bill Clinton’s debut novel, “The President is Missing”, co-written with James Patterson, whose books have sold over 375m copies. Insider knowledge! Thrills and spills! More of the latter than the former, it turns out.

In what seems a case of wish-fulfilment in more ways than one, “The President is Missing” features a morally unimpeachable president—a former soldier who was captured and tortured by the enemy but never said a word (his middle name is Lincoln rather than Jefferson). Now he is stressed, sick and grieving, juggling bitter enemies…Continue reading

via K. Brent Tomer CFTC Bill Clinton’s debut thriller is an exercise in wish-fulfilment