The Book, Cat, & Cat Book Lovers Almanac

of historical trivia regarding books, cats, and other animals. Actually this blog has evolved so that it is described better as a blog about cats in history and culture. And we take as a theme the advice of Aldous Huxley: If you want to be a writer, get some cats. Don't forget to see the archived articles linked at the bottom of the page.

January 22, 2017

January 22, 1879

Francis Picabia (January 22, 1879 to November 30, 1953) , the French avant-garde artist was, according to one source:

.... born in 1879 in Paris, the only child of a Cuban-born Spaniard, Francisco Vicente Martinez Picabia, and a Frenchwoman, Marie Cecile Davanne. Both his parents came from prominent European families, and Picabia was raised in an affluent household. Throughout his life, the family fortune allowed him to study, travel, and enjoy a luxury lifestyle. However, at the age of seven, his mother passed away of tuberculosis, and the following year his grandmother died. These losses ensured that Picabia's childhood would be a lonely one, and he was left in the care of his father, the chancellor to the Cuban Embassy, his uncle, Maurice Davanne, a curator of the Bibliotheque Sainte Geneviève, and his maternal grandfather, Alphonse Davanne, a wealthy businessman. Their house was known as the house of quatre sans femmes (four without women).

His uncle was an art lover and collector, who facilitated young Picabia's interests by surrounding him with works by classical French painters such as Fèlix Ziem and Ferdinand Roybert. ....

We recall the history of the avant-garde in mentioning Picabia's contributions:

In the 1910s, Picabia shared the interests of a number of artists who emerged in the wake of Cubism, and who were inspired less by the movement's preoccupation with problems of representation than by the way the style could evoke qualities of the modern, urban, and mechanistic world. Initially, these interests informed his abstract painting, but his attraction to machines would also shape his early Dada work, in particular his Mechanomorphs - images of invented machines and machine parts that were intended as parodies of portraiture. For Picabia, humans were nothing but machines, ruled not by their rational minds, but by a range of compulsive hungers.

Picabia was central to the Dada movement when it began to emerge in Paris in the early 1920s, and his work quickly abandoned many of the technical concerns that had animated his previous work. He began to use text in his pictures and collages and to create more explicitly scandalous images attacking conventional notions of morality, religion, and law. While the work was animated by the Dada movement's rage against the European culture that had led to the carnage of World War I, Picabia's attacks often have the sprightly, coarse comedy of the court jester. They reflect an artist with no respect for any conventions, not even art, since art was just another facet of the wider culture he rejected.
Figurative imagery was central to Picabia's work from the mid-1920s to the mid-1940s, when he was inspired by Spanish subjects, Romanesque and Renaissance sources, images of monsters, and, later, nudes found in soft porn magazines. Initially he united many of these disparate motifs in the Transparency pictures, complexly layering them and piling them on top of each other to provoke confusion and strange associations. Some critics have described the Transparencies as occult visions, or Surrealist dream images, and although Picabia rejected any association with the Surrealists, he steadfastly refused to explain their content. Picabia always handled these motifs with the same playful and anarchic spirit that had animated his Dada work.

Picabia learned early on that abstraction could be used to evoke not only qualities of machines, but also to evoke mystery and eroticism. This ensured that abstract painting would be one of the mainstays of his career. He returned to it even in his last years, during which he attributed his inspiration to the obscure recesses of his mind, as he had always done.

And we can put his pictures of cats under the category of "mystery."

Mystery and love.

January 21, 2017

January 21, 1904

R. P. Blackmur (January 21, 1904 to February 2, 1965)) is remembered for his criticism as well as his poetry. Criticism such as:

Dirty Hands; or, The true-born censor.
The Double Agent: Essays in craft and elucidation.
Form and Value in Modern Poetry. 1946.
Language as Gesture: Essays in poetry.
The Lion and the Honeycomb: Essays in solicitude and critique
. 1955.
Anni Mirabiles, 1921-1925: Reason in the madness of letters: Four lectures presented under the auspices of the Gertrude Clarke Whittall Poetry and Literature Fund
. 1956.
Four Poets on Poetry
(by Richard P. Blackmur, Yvor Winters, Marianne Moore, & Mark Van Doren; edited by Don Cameron Allen). 1959.
American Short Novels.
Eleven Essays in the European Novel. 1964.
A Primer of Ignorance (edited by Joseph Fink). 1967.
Studies in Henry James. 1983.
Selected Essays of R.P. Blackmur
(edited by Denis Donoghue). 1986.

This brief biographical blurb sketches his career:

Literary critic, poet, playwright, and author Richard Palmer Blackmur was born in 1904 in Springfield, Massachusetts. The son of a boarding house owner, he was expelled from the Cambridge High and Latin School at 14 after arguing with the headmaster. He became an autodidact and attended lectures at Harvard University but did not pursue an academic degree. He worked in a bookstore in Cambridge and for two years edited the small literary magazine Hound & Horn.

Blackmur’s formal, metered poems engage moral and intellectual themes.
Collected Poems (1977) draws together the three volumes of poetry he published during his lifetime, which include From Jordan’s Delight (1937), The Second World (1942), and The Good European and Other Poems (1947).

Blackmur’s critical writing, which emphasizes the process of close reading as a means of examining how literary language shapes understanding of form and technique, played an integral role in the development of the New Criticism. In the New York Review of Books, Michael Wood stated, “R.P. Blackmur was much possessed by failure, by what René Wellek calls an insight into human insufficiency.… Blackmur wished he could show, ‘clearly, self-evidently, and irrefutably,’ how criticism resembles art.”

Blackmur’s honors included the inaugural Hodder Fellowship at Princeton University, a grant from the Guggenheim Foundation, membership in the Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a Fellowship in American Letters at the Library of Congress. He served as vice president of the National Institute of Arts and Letters, taught for 25 years at Princeton University, and founded the Christian Gauss Seminars on Criticism there. The Princeton University library holds a selection of his papers.

From his poem "Ides of March to April Fool's"

Easter took wing, last years forsythia
neared bloom and sudden cats rode male
the female tattering agony at midnight with their
discovery. Lapis revolutus est,
moved from the dead, set on the living chest.
In short, he heard that so and so announced
themselves engaged and meant to propagate.


January 20, 2017

January 20, 1920

Federico Fellini (January 20, 1920 to October 31, 1993) was a major film director of the last century. He explained his success by saying he didn't know what he was doing. Here is the context:

The director is asked how, if he refuses to look at rushes, at any filming he already did on a movie, how exactly he can proceed with and finish a film:

And here is what Fellini said:

I don't want to know what I am doing....This is the same way I provoke my psyche, my muse. When I get out of bed each morning I say I wonder what I did yesterday? And my creative self sits up like a cat and cats don't like to be ignored. If you pretend to walk away from a cat, it may just get curious and follow you. So an idea then, if you neglect it, it will follow you.

January 19, 2017

January 19, 1946

Julian Barnes (January 19, 1946) recalls Fleet Street in 1970s London and mentions--

There existed a loose sense of connection to previous Bohemias, to Fitzrovia and Bloomsbury, back to the original Grub Street, whose inhabitants Johnson defined as 'writers of small histories, dictionaries, and temporary poems'.....

And Barnes recalls a famous editor (of The New Review) Ian Hamilton:

One Famous Writer brought him a piece and wisely absented himself to the Pillars while Hamilton read it. On his return, Old Stoneface told him that if torn into small pieces it might serve adequately as cat litter. 'Fine, fine,' replied the FW, 'May I borrow your phone?' Whereupon he rang his office and began chewing out his secretary. It made perfect psychological sense.

Julian Barnes called the Man Booker prize, "posh bingo." And yet he won it for his book The Sense of an Ending (2011).

His less recent publications include:

Metroland, 1980 (Somerset Maugham Award, 1981);
Before She Met Me, 1982;
Flaubert’s Parrot, 1984 (Geoffrey Faber Meml Prize, 1985; Prix Médicis, 1986; Grinzane Cavour Prize (Italy), 1988);
Staring at the Sun, 1986;
A History of the World in 10½ Chapters, 1989;
Talking it Over, 1991 (Prix Femina, 1992);
The Porcupine, 1992;
Cross Channel (short stories), 1996;
England, England, 1998;
Love, etc, 2000;
Something to Declare (essays), 2002;
trans. Daudet, In the Land of Pain, 2002;
The Pedant in the Kitchen, 2003;

And this crime fiction under the name of Dan Kavanagh:
Duffy, 1980;
Fiddle City, 1981;
Putting the Boot In, 1985;
Going to the Dogs, 1987.

January 17, 2017

January 18, 1951

Peter Shelton (January 18, 1951) is an American artist, His sculpture was described by Art in America this way: "Peter Shelton's sculpture has made deviously and delightfully clear for more than 30 years that physical space is, inevitably, also psychical..."

A recent proposal of his for public art was written up by Smithsonian magazine:

Called “Catbridge,” the piece of public art could soon grace an overpass spanning Howard Street that connects different portions of the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. Metcalfe reports that the project, which is “populated with mutant felines whose peepers gleam in the dark,” is one of three finalists for the project.

On the San Francisco Arts Commission page for the project, artist Peter Shelton explains that “Catbridge” was inspired by Janus, the two-faced god of doors, gates and passageways of Roman mythology. Shelton links Janus to cats, which are “the consummately adapted urban animal that is as much a part of the day of the night.”

Shelton proposes that crouching, glowing-eyed cat sculptures draw visitors across the bridge during the daytime and at night, when their eyes would be the only light on the bridge, and he compares his vision with other sculpture bridges in cities like Prague and Rome.

Here are Shelton's ideas for the bridge sculpture:

And here is how the artist himself sees the cat bridge

A bridge is a gate and passage from one place to another. While modestly scaled in comparison, my sculpture proposal for the Howard Street Bridge follows in the tradition of the sculpture bridges of Bernini’s Ponte Sant’Angelo in Rome and the Charles Bridge in Prague. I want to use a set of sculptures to draw us across the bridge during both the day and the night.

In Roman mythology, Janus is the two faced god of beginnings and transitions—of gates, doors, doorways, endings and time. In ancient sculpture, we usually encounter his dual faces looking both forwards into the future and backwards into the past. This is the origin of our word January. For the Howard Street Bridge, I propose to render five to six pedestal mounted cast bronze sculptures based on the abstracted forms of cats. The cat is the consummately adapted urban animal that is as much a part of the day scape and as of the night.

I envision these cat forms on pedestals roughly two feet in diameter. The eyes of these cats would light up at night in keeping with the concept of the multi-facing Janus figures of antiquity. These cats would have at least two faces and two sets of eyes facing in both directions of the bridge.

The glowing eyes of the cats would lead us up and over the otherwise darkened bridge. It is important that the experience of the sculptural installation is as credible and poetic during the day as it is at night.

January 17, 1911

Israëlis Bidermanas (January 17, 1911 to May 16, 1980), or Izis as he was known professionally for his photography, was Jewish, Lithuanian, and by 1930, a part of Parisian life. He fled when the Nazis invaded France but was caught near the border. The French resistance rescued Bidermanas from the Nazis. Although his post war fame is based on his photographs of Paris, these next notes sketch another subject: London.

... Israel Bidermanas .... first achieved recognition under the identity of Izis for his portraits of members of the French resistance that he took while in hiding near Limoges at the time of the German invasion. Encouraged by Brassai, he pursued a career as a professional photographer in peacetime, fulfilling commissions for Paris Match and befriending Jacques Prévert and Marc Chagall. He and Prévert were inveterate urban wanderers and in 1952 they published ‘Charmes de Londres,’ delivering this vivid and poetic vision of the shabby old capital in the threadbare post-war years.
I invite you to go to and see some of the photos. Meanwhile, here is one, a sphinx in Chiswick Park.

The photographs of Bidermanas show what genius in photography looks like.

January 16, 2017

January 16, 1932

Dian Fossey, (January 16, 1932 to December 26, 1985) needs no introduction but here is one anyway-- an article from Britannica

Dian Fossey ...was ...
[a] researcher who got her start under Leakey’s guidance. She spent almost two decades studying and working with the mountain gorillas in Rwanda and became a leading anti-poaching advocate, a role that many believe led to her murder by unknown assailants in 1985. ...

Dian Fossey was born on January 16, 1932, in San Francisco, California. She trained to become an occupational therapist at San Jose State College and graduated in 1954. She worked in that field for several years at a children’s hospital in Louisville, Kentucky. In 1963 she took a trip to eastern Africa, where she met the anthropologist Louis Leakey and had her first glimpse of mountain gorillas. She returned to the United States after her trip, but in 1966 Leakey persuaded her to go back to Africa to study the mountain gorilla in its natural habitat on a long-term basis. To this end, she established the Karisoke Research Centre in 1967 and began a hermitlike existence in Rwanda’s Virunga Mountains, which was one of the last bastions of the endangered mountain gorilla. Through patient effort, Fossey was able to observe the animals and accustom them to her presence, and the data that she gathered greatly enlarged contemporary knowledge of the gorilla’s habits, communication, and social structure.

Fossey left Africa in 1970 to complete work for a doctorate at the University of Cambridge in England. In 1974 she received her degree in zoology with the completion of her dissertation, “The Behavior of the Mountain Gorilla.” She returned to Rwanda with student volunteers who made broader kinds of research possible. Motivated by the killing of Digit, one of her favoured gorillas, Fossey generated international media coverage in 1978 in her battle against poachers.
In 1980 Fossey returned to the United States to accept a visiting associate professorship at Cornell University, Ithaca, New York. While teaching, Fossey also completed Gorillas in the Mist (1983; film 1988). Back in Rwanda, Fossey resumed her campaign against poachers, taking increasingly drastic measures to protect the Virunga gorillas. On December 26, 1985, her slain body was discovered near her campsite. Though no assailant was ever identified, it is widely suspected that she was killed by the poachers against whom she had struggled for so long.

Fossey relates in her Gorillas in the Mist how she named one of the baby gorillas "Simba," Swahili for lion. She also named a gorilla Tiger. Seems a bit odd.  Hope she didn't have the Disney virus.