Tuesday, August 15, 2017


Here's another cultural take: this one on "The Human Body" at the LA Science Center's IMAX Theater. 

The column begins like this:

In these dog days of summer, who doesn’t want to sit in a darkened, air-conditioned theater for an hour? I sure do. Thus I recently found myself at the IMAX down near USC watching “The Human Body.” (Show times are at 10 a.m., 12 p.m., 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. through Sept. 4.)

For those of us drawn to the psalmist’s “You knit me together in my mother’s womb” and who center our lives on the Eucharist, little could compel more than the human body.

(I was also poised to visit “Body Worlds: Pulse” at the adjacent California Science Center, but learned that sponsor/impresario Gunther von Hagen has generated controversy in the Church for his lack of respect for the bodies of the deceased. So I skipped that one.)

Nothing too strenuous: the film’s target audience seems to be 8 to 10-year-old boys. The opening shot is of what looks to be a skin-covered volcano with a hairy opening.

Our bodies are 65 percent water and 22 percent carbon. They contain traces of gold, arsenic and rust. They’re 100 percent unique. If we’re lucky, each of us might live to see a new day begin more than 27,000 times.


Sunday, August 13, 2017


Why should this propensity to seek beauty in darkness be so strong only in Orientals? The West too has known a time when there was no electricity, gas, or petroleum, yet so far as I know the West has never been disposed to delight in shadows. Japanese ghosts have traditionally no feet; Western ghosts have feet, but are transparent. As even this trifle suggests, pitch darkness has always occupied our fantasies, while in the West even ghosts are clear as glass. This is true too of our household implements: we prefer colours compounded of darkness, they prefer the colours of sunlight. And of silverware and copperware: we love them for the burnish and patina, which they consider unclean, insanitary, and polish to a glittering brilliance. They paint their ceilings and walls in pale colours to drive out as many of the shadows as they can. We fill our gardens with dense plantings, they spread out a flat expanse of grass.

But what produces such differences in taste? In my opinion it is this: we Orientals tend to seek our satisfactions in whatever surroundings we happen to find ourselves, to content ourselves with things as they are; and so darkness causes us no discontent, we resign ourselves to it as inevitable. If light is scarce then light is scarce; we will immerse ourselves in the darkness and there discover its own particular beauty. But the progressive Westerner is determined always to better his lot. From candle to oil lamp, oil lamp to gaslight, gaslight to electric light—his quest for a brighter light never ceases, he spares no pains to eradicate even the minutest shadow.

Jun'ichirō Tanizaki, In Praise of Shadows, trans. Thomas J. Harper and Edward G. Seidensticker, pp. 30-31, Leete’s Island Books, Stony Creek CT, English translation, Foreword, and Afterword Copyright 1977. The essay has been made available to Leete’s Island Books with the gracious permission of Mrs. Jun'ichirō Tanizaki

Thursday, August 10, 2017


Ilona, a photographer and former model originally from Latvia,
in the mezzanine library of her home, which so far contains only copies of a self-published book
of her fashion photographs. Moscow, 2012.
copyright Lauren Greenfield (image from the Annenberg Space for Photography exhibition,
Generation Wealth by Lauren Greenfield

This week's arts and culture column is a reflection on the idolization of celebrity and bling.

Here's how it begins:

Here’s an exhibit that will make you want to go home, take a shower and give thanks for your humble existence: “Generation Wealth” at the Annenberg Center for Photography.

“Generation Wealth” (subtitled “A Visual History of the Growing Obsession with Wealth That Has Come to Define a Generation”) spans 2 1/2 decades of the work of photographer, documentarian and urban anthropologist Lauren Greenfield. The exhibit ends Aug. 13, but you can peruse Greenfield’s interviews, commentary and selected photos at your leisure by visiting the exhibit’s website.

Greenfield grew up in Venice “before it was gentrified.” Her mother, a professor, did cross-cultural fieldwork in Mayan Indian villages. But Greenfield, fresh out of Harvard with a degree in visual anthropology, began to realize that L.A.’s culture of wealth, status and bling — vis-à-vis the “American Dream” — deserved its own study.

She began to train her lens on rich high school kids: the $60,000 bar mitzvahs, the girls who received nose jobs as graduation gifts.

She made a documentary, “Thin” (2006), about young women with eating disorders. She also made the shorts “kids + money” (2008) and “Beauty CULTure” (2011).

“Generation Wealth,” a multimedia project, is divided into nine sections, including “Bling Dynasty/New Oligarchy,” “The Legacy of Gordon Gekko” and “Sexual Capital/New Aging.”


Thursday, August 3, 2017


The Cave of Hands (Cueva do las Manos) is a series of caves in the province of Santa Cruz Province, Argentina.I learned about it while reading Bruce Chatwin's In Patagonia.