Friday, August 29, 2014

Dalí, Psychoanalysis & Dante’s Divine Comedy

During the 1950s, Salvador Dalí began working on a series of watercolor illustrations to accompany Dante's Divine Comedy. These illustrations, which follow the trajectory of Dante's journey through hell, purgatory and heaven, were commissioned by the Italian government to mark the 700th anniversary of Dante's birth in 1965. But when word got out that a Spaniard instead of an Italian had been recruited to create the artistic tribute to one of Italy's greatest literary legacies, a general public outcry broke out, pressuring the government to revoke the commission. Undeterred, Dalí pushed forward on his own to complete the series, and found enthusiastic support from the French publisher Joseph Forét. The project was eventually taken up and completed by the French publishing firm Les Heures Claires, which released Dalí’s work in 1965 as a suite of limited edition prints to accompany an exquisitely letter-pressed, six-volume set of Dante’s Divine Comedy.

The prints consist of one hundred color woodcuts, which carefully recreate Dalí’s watercolors, capturing their subtle washes of color and delicate linear drawing. It took the woodcut artists over five years to hand-carve 3,500 wooden blocks. Throughout the printing process, anywhere from twenty to as many as thirty-seven separate blocks were needed to reproduce each individual watercolor.

Dalí’s illustrations of Dante’s Divine Comedy are far from a literal engagement with the medieval Italian text. Implementing a psychoanalytic lens, Dalí extracts the metaphoric potential of Dante’s poetry. Dalí’s aesthetic idiom to represent dreams versus reality derives from explorations of the unconscious and subconscious.

Most of the Inferno and Purgatorio prints contain motifs referencing the elementary nature of human drives. Dali’s surrealist practice translates man's sins and frailties into unconscious drives. Crutches, bones perforating skin, soft or crystallized bodies, scatological and cannibalistic metamorphoses abound in his interpretation of the medieval text. For instance, Dalí’s interpretation of the twenty-eighth canto in Inferno, "The Hypocrites," plays with the crutch motif, with the naked Caiaphas nailed to the ground. In this print, the crutches indicate social weakness, flaccidity and vulnerability, but most importantly, the evil speeches of hypocrisy. One of the deceitful tongues, which a hypocrite is known to have several of, has been overused and hangs limply over a crutch. Caiaphas grasps desperately at another tongue as he simultaneously clutches his innards spilling from his body. The remaining two tongues are nailed to the floor.

Another illustration that draws heavily from psychoanalysis and surrealism is the print accompanying the first canto in Purgatorio. In this print, "The Fallen Angel" examines the drawers of his body. This iconography recalls the famous 1936 Venus de Milo with Drawers. Dalí used this sculpture, as well as the fallen angel illustration, to symbolize the ways in which Freud's analytical tools could be used to scrutinize the human soul.

Our copy is currently uncatalogued. So, to take a look at Dalí's surrealist illustrations of Dante's Divine Comedy, come to Rauner and ask for it by name.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Natural History of the Hankey Bird

Soon after the publication of And to Think that I Saw it on Mulberry Street in 1937, Ted Geisel '25 (a.k.a. Dr. Seuss) produced a new creation for a very different audience: the Hankey Bird.  This grotesque, drunken bird was designed to hang on the neck of a bottle of Hankey Bannister Scotch whiskey inviting you to have a drink.

If it seems odd to you, it did to Geisel as well. "There's no sense to it," he said in Sales Magazine (January 1, 1939):
"The bird on the bottle is a replica of an actual bird, developed after years of painstaking cross-breeding in the Seuss Laboratories for a lofty purpose, namely, to produce a carrier pigeon for the Scottish army... a bird so distinctive that it would not be mistaken for a grouse and shot down by near-sighted American millionaires. After fifteen generations of wearing kilts, the Hankey Bird has developed sideburns. But most unfortunately his mating call is characterized by a distinct burr. Our only purpose in leasing him to Hankey Bannister is to finance further scientific effort to de-burr that mating call... not, I assure you, to aid in the crass business of selling whiskey."
We really should have a bottle to go along with our bird. We wrote to Hankey Bannister asking if they had an old bottle (preferably still full) that they could give us, but they did not have any samples.

To see it yourself, ask for MS-1100, Box 3.

Friday, August 22, 2014

A Comic Tour of Japan

Legend has it that Japanese author Jippensha Ikku (1765-1831) spent so much money drinking that he could not afford to furnish his home. Instead, he simply hung pictures of furniture he would have bought. One New Year's, when he found himself without proper holiday attire, he offered a visitor a bath and took off with the man's nice clothes to pay some visits of his own. And on his deathbed, he had firecrackers secretly stowed in his funeral pyre, to go out with a bang, if you will.

Sadly, these tales are probably untrue, a result of Jippensha being conflated with his clownish characters. Yaji and Kita, the traveling duo in his novel Footing It along the Tōkaidō Road, are always trying to trick their way into free meals and free rides, and into the beds of attractive young witches. Usually their schemes backfire. For instance, in a meta-referential moment, Yaji boasts to a local that he is in fact the famous writer Jippensha Ikku, researching for an upcoming book called (you guessed it) Footing It along the Tōkaidō Road. The local is impressed and treats Yaji at his home, but when a letter arrives from the real Jippensha, Yaji is forced admit his deception and flee.

At the time, the book functioned both as an entertaining story and as an informational travelogue, sketching out the varying customs and scenery along the eastern coast. Rauner's edition features 60 full-page illustrations by print maker Tamenobu Fujikawa. The landscapes, which often dwarf the characters, provide moments of pause to accompany the fast-paced narrative. The prints' detailed use of patterns is impressive, especially considering that each color had to be carved from a separate block of wood and perfectly aligned. Such work was done not by the artist alone but by a team who specialized in each stage of the printmaking process. As the book goes on, you can see the level of detail on the faces change, reflecting differing interpretations of the artist’s original drafts.

If you can’t read Japanese, you're not alone. Illiterate Japanese in the nineteenth century would commonly buy books just for the printed illustrations, too. But unlike them, you can view this one online from our Digital Library Program, or ask for Rare Book PL797 D62 1800z.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

A Head Full of Steam

If you've ever traveled across the Connecticut River between Orford, New Hampshire, and Fairlee, Vermont, then you did so on the Morey Memorial Bridge. The steel span, finished in 1938 and now listed in the National Register of Historic Places, was named for Samuel Morey, a resident of both Orford and Fairlee who was instrumental in the construction of the river locks between Connecticut's Windsor Locks and Olcott Falls in New Hampshire (now the site of the Wilder Dam).

However, Samuel Morey is perhaps better known today, at least around these parts, as the man who should rightfully be called the inventor of the steamboat as we now know it. Although Robert Fulton is generally regarded as the proper holder of that title, he instead should be credited with making the steamboat a commercially viable concept. Morey had built and successfully operated a steam-powered paddleboat in the early 1790s, more than a decade before Fulton's Clermont sailed up and down the Hudson between Albany and New York City in 1807. In fact, some historians speculate that if Morey had been a better businessman, his name would be synonymous with the steamboat, and not Fulton's. The financier for Fulton's "invention," Chancellor Robert Livingston, had originally approached Morey with an offer of $7,000 to use his invention. When Morey refused, Livingston turned to Fulton instead, and the rest is history.

The Samuel Morey papers at Dartmouth bear testimony to Morey's early inventive endeavors. They contain numerous United States patents for various inventions related to the use of wind and steam power and provide a veritable who's who of Founding Father signatures, from George Washington and Thomas Jefferson all the way up to Andrew Jackson. One of Morey's first patents, filed in 1793, involves a wind-powered cooking spit. One of his last is concerned with an improvement of the "decomposing and recomposing of water in combustion with spirits of Turpentine," filed in 1833.

To see Morey's patents and other papers, ask for Rauner MS-150.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Dartmouth and the Canal

The Panama Canal was officially opened 100 years ago on August 15, 1914, ten years after the United States assumed control of the project. Construction had been started by France in 1881 but ultimately faltered due to cost overruns and the high mortality rate experienced by the construction workers. Once the United States took over there was a need for highly skilled engineers. Several alumni from Dartmouth's Thayer School of Engineering were involved in the project.

Robert Fletcher went to visit the canal in May 1913, during the latter part of construction. While there he saw a number of Dartmouth and Thayer alumni. Among them was Herbert Hinman (Dartmouth 1907, Thayer n1908) - in charge of the Balboa terminal work and earlier superintendent of work on the Pedro Miquel locks. Fletcher also mentions Otis Hovey (Dartmouth 1885) who designed and constructed the canal's emergency dams, and Fred Stanton (Dartmouth 1902, Thayer 1903).

Pictured here are several lithographs from Joseph Pennell's Pictures of the Panama Canal (Philadelphia, London: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1912) that depict places mentioned in Fletcher's diary or in letters from alums to Fletcher.

Culebra Cut
The Culebra Cut is mentioned in a letter from Stanton to Fletcher from July 25, 1913. "It was a great pleasure to have you here when the Canal work was in its most interesting stage. The Culebra Cut will be flooded about October tenth, so you weren't here any too soon."

The Gatun locks appear in one of Fletcher's diary entries. "Langley met me and went over the Gatun Locks end to end and into some operating chambers in the middle wall. In the lower approach excavation 42 ft. below sea level." A postcard in Clarence Langley's (Dartmouth 1907, Thayer n1908) alumni file bears the inscription: "At Fort Lorenzo. Occupation - Transitman I.C.C. Address - Gatun, C.Z. Dear Prof. F. I answered your letter promptly...I do not intend to return to Hanover this Sept." I.C.C. stands for Isthmian Canal Commission, C.Z. for Canal Zone, and Prof. F. is Robert Fletcher.

Gatun Locks
More letters indicate the scope of the project and the cost. Fred Stanton wrote to Fletcher on September 10, 1907: "The work which I will be engaged in consists of removing some eight millions cubic yards of rock and about five millions of sand. I expect to find the work very interesting and instructive…." Another alum, Clarence Pearson (Dartmouth 1907, Thayer 1908), worked at the Gatun Locks and left the Canal Zone in 1910 due to poor health. He died in 1911 and is mentioned by Hinman in a letter to Fletcher, ca. 1911: " We are still fighting it out on the same old lines down here but we lost poor Pearson. I think his death was a direct result from this work."

Ask for Robert Fletcher's diary from 1913 (DA-4, Box 2234, folder 2) and the alumni files for the Thayer School (DA-4, filed by class year). The Pennell illustrations can be seen by asking for Illus P382pe.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Where Tigers Roar in Silence

“Where tigers roar in silence
where moose and monkeys hide,
a cage as light as cardboard
holds elephants inside.
And grizzly bears are gentle
where lions are so sweet,
you never need to worry about
whom they’d like to eat.“

Can you solve this riddle? (If you're stumped, the answer is at the very end of this post!)

Where Tigers Roar in Silence is a lovely miniature book by Lynn Hess. From jump ropes to bubble gum, the answers to the 15 riddles in this tiny book are inspired by the “everyday world of the elementary school age child.” After trying to solve the riddle, there’s nothing more satisfying than checking your answer by opening the double-folded pages to reveal the illustration concealed inside. But make sure not to peek before guessing!

Here's another riddle:
"I have a yellow body
and a beak.
I can make notes,
but I will never sing.
Sometimes I scratch,
although I have no claws.
Born full grown,
I'm smaller everyday.
A superhero -
I too wipe out wrong.
But I need you
to be my helping hand."

Come to Rauner and ask for Presses L565he to see the answer!
Answer to the first riddle

Friday, August 8, 2014

After the Fact

Hindsight is always 20/20 and that applies to prophecy as well. It's funny how a prophecy "never accurately printed before" 1685 manages to capture the the entirety of an event that happened in 1530. So it is with the complete story of Cardinal Wolsey and his ill-fated and never completed trip to York which appears in our copy of Mother Shipton's Prophesie: with Three and XX more, all most Terrible and Wonderful, Predicting strange Alterations to befall this Climate of England (London: printed for W. Thackeray, at the sign of the Angel in Duck-Lane, neer West-smithfield, [1685]). The title page depicts the event, with Mother Shipton, in all of her ugliness, featured prominently in the center.

The editor or, more likely, author of our copy has helpfully provided historical notes and explanations of many of Mother Shipton's utterances, including anecdotes relating to King James, an anonymous Lord Mayor, and battles between Scotland and England. We're also provided potential confirmation of another prophecy with the note that "There is a Child not many years since born at Pomfret, with three thumbs."

In addition to Mother Shipton's words of warning, the book also includes an additional twenty-three foreshadowings of the past and future. We are treated to "A Prediction of Richard the Third" as well as several entries that could be read as lightly veiled political opinions on the succession of James II after the death of Charles II in 1685.

Ask for Rare Book BF 1777 .M66 1685 to read the "prophesies" yourself.