Cultural Driftwood Wins Bambi

After floating around in the roiling sea of Anglo-American popular culture, many artists find themselves stranded on the lonely shores of obscurity.  There, they’re gradually bleached out by neglect, playing to ever-smaller venues, bumping down the food-chain to ever-smaller record labels, and giving ever-bitterer interviews to ever-smaller magazines, until the interviewers finally stop calling.

Then, like an interesting piece of driftwood spotted by a beach wanderer, Germany picks them up, takes them home, polishes them lovingly, and displays them on the coffee table.  This has happened to Chris de Burgh, Motörhead (perhaps because of the umlaut), Metallica, and dozens of other grateful has-beens, including Jon Bon Jovi, who is not only still alive and apparently producing records, but just won a Bambi award, which is basically a German grammy. 

Yes — Jon Bon Jovi.  Touching, really.

“What a Sex!”

Here’s a slideshow of (discreet) nude photographs of Marlilyn Monroe, presented to us by the Sueddeutsche Zeitung under the "English" headline "What a Sex!"

I’ll be at an academic conference the next few days, so light blogging.  But, in the meantime, an amusing/depressing portrait of German academic feudalism can be found here (G) [h/t Frankie].

Bonjour Russland at the Kunst Palast


I just got back from the exhibition Bonjour, Russland (Bonjour, Russia) at the Kunst Palast museum in Duesseldorf. More than 120 works have left Russian museums for the first time for this show, and its only stop in Germany is the Museum Kunst Palast.

The exhibition features dozens of French and Russian paintings from around 1870 to 1925 held in major museums in Russia.  Russian collectors Sergei Schukin (1854-1936) and Ivan Morozov (1871–1921) were discriminating collectors of avant-garde French and Russian art around the turn of the 20th century.  Their collections, in turn, helped inspire many Russian modernists.  After the Revolution of 1917, these holdings were nationalized and sent to Russian state museums. 

Now, Schukin and Morozov’z French paintings — including fine canvases by Gauguin, Cezanne, Monet, Renoir, Derain, Manet (among them his 1878 Tavern, pictured above) and Matisse — are on display.  Alongside these rather familiar works are paintings and sculptures from Russian masters of early modernism such as Ilya Repin, Wassily Kandinsky, Natalya Goncharova, Vladimir Tatlin, Kasimir Malevich, Mikhail Vroubel, and many more.  Vroubel, an extravagant symbolist who descended into insanity in the early 1900s, is a fascinating figure.  Here is his 1904 Six-Winged Seraph, on view in Duesseldorf now:


The curating is unobtrusive, which suits me just fine.  The paintings speak for themselves; if you want to read about them, pick up a catalog (the Kunst Palast museum has a mezzanine fitted out with dozens of catalogs and benches for just this purpose).

I’ve seen several Russian exhibitions in the past few years, including a show dedicated to Ilya Repin (G) in Wuppertal and a massive exhibition of Russian art from the second half of the 19th century (F) in the Musee D’Orsay.  Russian painting from the late 19th and early 20th centuries is a comparatively neglected field, but as these exhibitions, along with Bonjour Russland, show, it’s a trove of idiosyncratic, spiritually intense creation.  The impressionists and post-impressionists are a bit over-exposed, but it’s the lesser-known Russian paintings that make Bonjour Russland  well worth going out of your way for.

Employment Contracts circa 1703

I recently bought a CD in Rome which reconstructs a musical contest between Haendel and Scarlatti at the Church of San Giovanni in Laterano in 1709.  From the liner notes: "[I]n 1703, Haendel accompanied Mattheson to Lubeck on a visit to Dietrich Buxtehude, who then held the official post of organist at St. Mary’s Cathedral there.  However, like Bach a few years later, Haendel was less than thrilled at the idea of being the old master’s successor due to a ‘certain clause’ concerning marriage to the daughter of the outgoing organist."

Hölderlin in English by David Constantine

Hölderlin, done into English by the poet David Constantine (G):

‘Another day’

[orig. Wohl geh ich täglich…]

Another day. I follow another path,
Enter the leafing woodland, visit the spring
Or the rocks where the roses bloom
Or search from a look-out, but nowhere

Love are you to be seen in the light of day
And down the wind go the words of our once so
Beneficent conversation…

Your beloved face has gone beyond my sight,
The music of your life is dying away
Beyond my hearing and all the songs
That worked a miracle of peace once on

My heart, where are they now? It was long ago,
So long and the youth I was has aged nor is
Even the earth that smiled at me then
The same. Farewell. Live with that word always.

For the soul goes from me to return to you
Day after day and my eyes shed tears that they
Cannot look over to where you are
And see you clearly ever again.

Sublime.  More here.

German Word of the Week: Muttermundschleim

In Planet Germany, American Eric T. Hansen notes that medical Latin and Greek took over daily discourse in English, so that even the "simplest peasant" in an English-speaking country has to try to pronounce words like esophagus, larynx, mucus, or gastrointestinal. 

German found a much better solution: it just took ordinary words and combined them in directly descriptive ways.  A nostril in German is a Nasenloch or "nose-hole", a larynx is the Kehlkopf "throat-head" (well, sort of), gums are Zahnfleisch or "tooth-meat."  Mucus is Schleim "slime," (crude but effective), and mucus membranes are Schleimhaut or "slime-skin."

Which brings us to Muttermundschleim, a word I didn’t know until I woke up one day to a radio feature on the Austrian gynecologist Hermann Knaus (G), one of the first physicians to popularize the rhythm method of contraception.  You already know that Schleim is mucus, but what on earth could Muttermund, or "mother-mouth" be?  What’s the kind of mouth only a mother could have?  Why, one that speaks babies, of course.  And lo and behold, the "mother-mouth" is the cervix, which all of us have seen once headin’ out, and only gynecologists (and certain other people who should generally be avoided) have seen headin’ in.

So putting it all together, yes, the subject of this week’s GWOW is, er, cervical mucus.  If you’d like to see a picture, just go below the fold.

What, were you really expecting a picture of cervical mucus?  Do you think I run that kind of blog?  Get help, my friend.  Now.

“Heil Hitler, Herr Friedmann”

Mahler0001_2Timeless wisdom from The Clash: "But I believe in this and it’s been tested by research / He who f%$^s nuns will later join the church."

Exhibit A:  Horst Mahler.  He started his career in Berlin as a relatively successful business lawyer, then migrated to the far left of the political spectrum.  Because of his conservative dress and horn-rimmed glasses, he was called the "Opa der APO," the grandfather of the opposition.  On the left, we see him at a 1968 May Day demonstration sponsored by a left-wing group (the picture is from Butz Peters’ immensely readable RAF history Toedlicher Irrtum). Eventually, Mahler grew close to the RAF.  It was his silver-tongued eloquence that convinced a prison warden to let Andreas Baader visit the Institute for Social Questions to "research a book."

During the visit, Ulrike Meinhof and several accomplices broke Baader out, shooting and severely injuring an institute employee named Georg Linke in the process.  Mahler, alas,  wasn’t very good at life underground.  After some terror training with the RAF in Jordan and a few months on the run committing bank robberies,  he was arrested on October 8, 1970, after police saw through his disguise.  Bond-like, he complimented them on the arrest.  From prison, he gave interviews to anybody who came by, generally reciting the kind of revolutionary word-salad popular in the 1970s.

Has Horst Mahler changed his opinion about fascism (bad! and right around the corner!) since the early 197s0?  I’ll let you judge for yourself from the first four words of his recent Vanity Fair Germany interview [h/t Ralf] with Michael Friedmann: "Heil Hitler, Herr Friedman!" 

Mahler goes on to say lots of things about Jews (Angela Merkel is their "marionette") and the Reich and the struggle between the peoples of the world and the Holocaust.  Friedmann, former head of a prominent German Jewish organization, listens bemused, occasionally trying to make sense of it all.  I found Mahler a bit disappointing.  He’s sometimes described as "diabolically clever" or the like.  I was expecting some kind of eloquent, reasonable-sounding melange of accurate historical observation, questionable historical interpretation, and just a delicate whiff of understated anti-Semitic conspiracy-mongering.  Instead, except for a few classy quotations from Buber and Goethe, it’s the kind of stuff you hear in a skinhead bar or a right-wing German fraternity.

By the way, kids, don’t try this at home!  Mahler will likely be indicted for just about every sentence of this interview, and is fully aware of this fact.  He claims not to mind, since prison is a place where you can get a lot of things done which you’d otherwise never have time for.