Friday, August 26, 2016

How Important Is Marcel Proust, Really?

This morning my inbox had an email with more book recommendations from Amazon. Like a lot of modern marketers they do a pretty good job of hitting the sweet spot as regards potential interests. That is, based on what we have been looking at they've fine tuned our personal profiles to a degree that many folk find scary. The first recommendation was Alain De Botton's How Proust Can Change Your Life.

I'm trying to figure out what prompted this. Yesterday I was looking at someone's bookshelf and noticed he had a fat copy of Swann's Way, but unless there was an Amazon drone in the room they would never know I was looking at that book. It caught my eye because I have a two-volume Remembrance of Things Past on my own shelf, abutting Tolstoy's War & Peace. I've read about thirty pages of each.

De Botton's book looks interesting though. One reviewer, who calls him-or-herself brassawe, wrote:

I have tackled only "Swann's Way" from the seven volumes of Marcel Proust's "In Search of Lost Time," formerly translated as "Remembrance of Things Past." You need not have read Proust to thoroughly enjoy this concise 197-page book in nine chapters. When you finish it, however, you will be seriously contemplating having a go at Proust's masterpiece in its entirety.
Consider the chapter titles. The fourth is "How to Suffer Successfully." The seventh is "How to Open Your Eyes." The eighth is "How to be Happy in Love." The last, and my favorite, is "How to Put Books Down." The author draws on the ideas and characters found in Proust's masterpiece and renders Proust's response to these issues. All of this is very wittily done. The whole thing is leavened with fascinating biographical tidbits concerning this strange, brilliant man, Marcel Proust.

Other reviewers share similar sentiments. Steve Balk offers this concise commentary:

Who can deny the craftsmanship of one who can dissect the complexities of Proust and serve up a multi course feast of insights. Beautifully woven as both an introduction to Proust and as a utility knife for shaping one's wisdom.

It's no surprise to find people intimidated by Proust. His opus, In Search of Lost Time, weighs in at no less than 4215 pages. I doubt it will be your "Book of the Month" recommendation for your book club, though perhaps one of it's sections could theoretically be suggested.

As for important fat books with lots of pages, I've read some (Moby Dick, Don Quixote, Ulysses) and stumbled at others (War & Peace, Remembrance of Things Past.) If you have the inclination, here's a website with 25 Big Novels That Are Worth Your Time.

Not all the reviews of De Botton's book are dripping with adulation. One reviewer calls it "a rather tedious book" and another states simply, "Disappointed in De Botton." And who knows, maybe Amazon pegged me as someone who would be interested because the title sounds pretentious.

The Applied Sentience website shares the point of view of De Botton's critics in an essay titled, "Proust Can't Change Your Life: A Review of Allain De Botton's 'Proust Can Change Your Life." Harold Mesa's scathing review is itself a good read. Early on he states, "Be prepared to be under-whelmed and uninspired." A little further on he sums up the book this way:

The book is built around the idea of simultaneously being a literary biography and a self-help manual. In terms of the latter, it is an abject failure. It is neither uplifting nor particularly helpful and simply shows inexplicably how Proust was able to survive past the age of twenty. In fact, the life story of Proust and his upbringing just reiterate the nature of how certain class privileges beget success per se and how irrelevant his work may be.

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In closing, a few Proust quotes, something to mull on for the day.

“Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.”
“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”
“Always try to keep a patch of sky above your life.”
“Remembrance of things past is not necessarily the remembrance of things as they were.”
“Desire makes everything blossom; possession makes everything wither and fade. ”
“There is no one, no matter how wise he is, who has not in his youth said things or done things that are so unpleasant to recall in later life that he would expunge them entirely from his memory if that were possible.”
“It comes so soon, the moment when there is nothing left to wait for.” ― Marcel Proust

Meantime, life goes on all around you. And yes, hold on to that patch of sky.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Twin Ports Tonight: Zenith City On Tap and Gaelynn Lea @ the DAI

Life would be a whole lot simpler if we didn't have so many choices to make. I'm thinking it has to be a drag sometimes to live in a big city where there is so much happening you don't know how to choose, between this show and that performance and this talk and that art opening. Take a peek at the first few pages of The New Yorker each week and it makes your head spin.

I say all that because as small as the Twin Ports scene seems in comparison, there's still so much happening here once you're aware of it... and it's a challenge to choose between this event and that.

Tonight is one more evening where having a clone of oneself would be helpful. First, there's a Gaelynn Lea performance at the Duluth Art Institute from 6-8 p.m.. It's something akin to a closing reception for Tim White's "In and Out of Context," the summer show in the Steffl Gallery featuring photography by Tim White and excerpts from local poets. The event will not be at the Depot, but rather in the DAI's Lincoln Building at 2229 West 2nd Street. Here's a clue as to what a treat this free concert will be. I dropped by Beaners on the way home one evening and it was packed wall to wall, hardly any breathing room. All the tables had been removed and the ticket price to get in was twenty bucks. I said, "Wow, that's pretty steep for a typical Friday." "No, Gaelynn is performing tonight."

It's been a very special year for Gaelynn Lea, who gained national recognition for her music. Paul Whyte of the Reader assembled this story about her new album The Songs We Sing Along the Way.

Tonight's free performance is featured this a.m. in the DNT's Best Bests section. Tell your friends you're attending by noting this event on Facebook.


Last year was a big year for the Duluth Armory. The historic building turned 100 this past year. Tonight from 6:45 till 9:00 p.m. Glensheen Mansion is hosting a TED Talk-style presentation with two speakers who will shine a light on the Duluth Armory, Tony Dierckens and Mark Poirer.

Dierckens is a local author, publisher, entrepreneur and historian who has been our keeper of the flame as regards local Duluth history. His talk regarding the Armory's history will undoubtedly be eye-opening and leave you wanting to hear more. Mark Poirer, executive director for the Armory Arts and Music Center (AAMC) board, will share what has been happening at the Armory these past ten years as well as its plans for future use. Slated for demolition, the building was saved by the AAMC in 2004—but its renovation has been a struggle.

If you decide to go, be sure to enter through the mansion’s front door. There will also be beer and wine available for purchase.

I've written a number of times about the Historic Duluth Armory. Here are a couple posts from recent years:
Items of note regarding the Armory
Making a case for preserving the Armory

Gaelynn Lea has performed during the annual Duluth Dylan Fest fund-raiser concert for the AAMC. Tonights's events are tied together in a sense.

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This is week three of Kathy McTavish's Duluth Quantum Computing Project, which can be found at The 3 West Building on Superior Street. This week's theme is intriguingly titled alice in wonderland ::: hypermedia ::: the cross-sensory house of mirrors

Drop in anytime Thursdays 3-9, Fridays 12-6, Saturdays 3-9 during the next 6 weeks.

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For a more complete list of things to see and do, check The Reader, the Transistor and the DNT.... and the bulletin boards around town where all our local arts happenings get promoted, like Beaners, Pizza Luce, the Electric Fetus... and Facebook.

Meantime, life goes on all around you. Just keep breathing and open your eyes.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Almost Wordless Wednesday: The Things They Carried @ the Prøve Collective

"But the thing about remembering is that you don't forget."
--The Things They Carried

Show runs 8/19 - 9/9
Open Hours: Thursday-Saturday, 4-7 p.m.
or by appointment: info@provegallery

A contemporary expressionist conversation between Brian Ring & Flo Matamoros

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Tech Tuesday: Thinking Machines and Sex Bots (A Mashup of This Week's A.I. Views and News)

A few weeks ago I wrote about how automation will be replacing increasing numbers of white collar jobs. In point of fact here is an example of this very thing. As I was doing a bit of recent investment research I noticed this comment at the end of a news story;

This story was generated by Automated Insights ( using data from Zacks Investment Research. Access a Zacks stock report on CZZ at

This task used to be executed by a human being. It was called writing. But since investors were more interested in the presentation of data than in eloquent prose, the machines were more than adequate to the task.

* * * *
Earlier this month there was a showdown between seven artificial intelligence systems to see which had what it takes to be World Champion. In this case, the competition was striving to identify the world champion Hacker. Two million dollars was on the line, winner-take-all.

The seven different AI agents were projects of teams that hailed from around the world, coming together to compete for a $2 million purse. Partnering with Def Con, DARPA pit the rival development teams against each other in a CTF, where the programs had to beat each other at reverse engineering unknown programs, probing the security of opponent software, applying patches and shoring up defenses.

The article, titled Hacking and AI: Moral panic vs. real problems, anticipates moral and ethical issues raised by intelligent machines. After the section on hacking the author examines sexbots and their related moral implications.

Sci-fi writers have been worrying about technology for ages, it seems, but most of it seemed so far off in the future it just wasn't real. Terminator was simply heart-rush entertainment. The same with Minority Report and getting arrested for pre-crime.

But so many news stories are being flung at us regarding new technologies that one has a hard time sorting it all out, or what it mean. Should we be afraid as the Watson's of this world get smarter? The film Ex Machina purports to explore the possibilities of artificial intelligence, and how to determine what is true intelligence vs. what has been programmed. Because of the nature of the storyline it struck me more as an advertisement for future possibilities in the sex-toy industry, which this article in Tech Republic addresses.

The article is titled "The Campaign Against Sex Robots raises red flag for violence and victimization, calls for standards in sexbots" and subtitled, "Advances in speech recognition, emotion-detection, and artificial skin are making humanoid robots more 'human-like' than ever. But are we fully considering the consequences?"

This particular article addresses not only the question of sexbots, but also bots designed to "keep us company" as companions when we get old. The author, Hope Reese, is concerned about how this will alter us a persons.

Forbes this week also published an article on the topic of sex with machines titled, "The Future of Sex Could Be AI Robot Sex Dolls."  Author Curtis Silver pulls back the curtain on some of the creepy activity that is already taking place.

Somehow the effect of all this "news" is to leave me feeling sad. Are we really this lonely and unhappy? Will intelligent robotic sex toys make us happy? I think it will only make us more alienated. The soul yearns for an intimacy that is real, not virtual.

In the Biblical account of creation the first man was himself lonely. God, being a compassionate creator, made for Adam a companion. A person, not a machine or a toy.

As regards the future, we'll see what happens next. It somehow feels like just another Desolation Row. And a long ways from Paradise.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Local Art Seen: Art in Bayfront Park 2016

To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven..." 
--Eccles. 3:1

Here No Evil by Julie Roth
This weekend it was again a time of Tall Ships here in the Port of Duluth. And simultaneously, that time when artists from various parts of the country descend upon Bayfront Park to display their work, meet potential buyers, gain recognition and hopefully make a little money to support their (art-making) habit.

In years past the art show in Bayfront Park has been a stand-alone event, the price of admission advertised as free. It wasn't really free because there was a five dollar fee for parking, but the public generally accepted that. This year there was a bit of sticker shock associated with the art fair. All the parking had been bumped to $10, a pinch that we put up with again. But then the art fair was no longer free either. For some reason the Art in Bayfront Park was a $12 deal because it had been combined with the Tall Ships. This was not a marriage made in heaven. I did get a little exercise in since the nearest parking lot was down beyond the new Pier B/Silos complex that now enhances the waterfront.

Butterfly Effect
The feedback I received from artists was mixed. Some locals altruistically supported the decision saying, "It's good for Duluth." There were others, however, who felt the crowds kept more art patrons away and the Tall Ships sightseers were not there for the art. Said one, "We do a lot of shows with an entrance fee but it's never over six dollars, and the parking is usually free!"

All this to say that (a) I hope next year the parking is a fivespot again and there is no entrance fee, and (b) the Tall Ships choose an alternate weekend to descend on the Twin Ports.

The weather was gorgeous Sunday, couldn't have been better. A bright sun, friendly skies, a gentle breeze off the bay.... and a lot of smiling faces. It's a beautiful time of year to visit the Northland. The artists displaying wares are from all levels of experience. There were what I call emerging artists and there were veterans of this kind of work. And work it is. Setting up tents, hauling everything in, always having to be "on" for the potential customers, dismantling everything after four days of not sleeping in one's own bed. As beautiful as this waterfront has become, it's no vacation for those who are working the show.

All the usual mediums are visible at this show. Paintings in acrylic, oil and watercolor; sculpture in wood, copper and bronze; photography printed on various kinds of surfaces with a range of subject matter; crafts and miscellaneous creative objects for homes and gardens.... It was all there. A lot of talent on display.

Here are some of the images my camera captured. As time permits I'll try to share more of their work in the weeks ahead.

Bronze sculpture by James Shoop
Bowie by Kristi Abbott of St. Paul
Toronto artist Anna Polistuk

Meantime, art goes on all around you. Get into it.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

On Loneliness: 17 Quotes and an Anecdote

“What should young people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured.”
― Kurt Vonnegut, Palm Sunday: An Autobiographical Collage

I was thinking about Swiss psychologist Paul Tournier this weekend, in particular his book Escape from Loneliness which I'd once owned several decades back. Psychologists sit in the privileged position of having people from all walks of life bare their souls to them, and after a long career they have ample fodder for anecdotal material in books and articles.

Thinking about that led to my Googling the word loneliness, followed by quotes on loneliness. This blog post assembles in one batch a few of the many that you'll find if you do the same. What struck me is how many different kinds of people from various walks of life have had something to say on this topic.

And what also hit me was the quote by Kurt Vonnegut that opens this passage today. I interviewed the author once, and to build a rapport I started by stating that in college I'd read all of his books and Herman Hesse's books. He replied, "You must have been lonely." When I asked why he'd make such a comment he said something like, "Anyone who is that into Hesse must be lonely. All of Hesse's characters were lonely."

When he said that my thoughts turned inward. I managed to keep the dialogue going with Mr. Vonnegut but inwardly I wrestled with questions like, "Was I really that lonely? Was I lonelier than I'd realized?"

What I see now is that Mr. Vonnegut himself was well acquainted with this "disease of loneliness" and had I been more astute I may have been able to take a couple minutes to digress on this. Who knows what may have been unearthed?

As for our theme here, there's a difference between loneliness and solitude. I'm guessing that most writers and artists relish their times of solitude. The quotes that follow clarify and amplify what loneliness is in its essence. You can sense a lot of pain in many of these observations.

* * * *

“The loneliest moment in someone’s life is when they are watching their whole world fall apart, and all they can do is stare blankly.” ― F. Scott Fitzgerald

“Let me tell you this: if you meet a loner, no matter what they tell you, it's not because they enjoy solitude. It's because they have tried to blend into the world before, and people continue to disappoint them.” ― Jodi Picoult, My Sister's Keeper

“If you're lonely when you're alone, you're in bad company.” ― Jean-Paul Sartre

“When you have nobody you can make a cup of tea for, when nobody needs you, that's when I think life is over.” ― Audrey Hepburn

“If one's different, one's bound to be lonely.” ― Aldous Huxley, Brave New World

“A great fire burns within me, but no one stops to warm themselves at it, and passers-by only see a wisp of smoke” ― Vincent van Gogh

“It would be too easy to say that I feel invisible. Instead, I feel painfully visible, and entirely ignored.” ― David Levithan, Every Day

“Nothing makes a room feel emptier than wanting someone in it.” ― J

“We're all islands shouting lies to each other across seas of misunderstanding.”
― Rudyard Kipling, The Light That Failed

“To forget a friend is sad. Not everyone has had a friend.”
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

“Loneliness is about the scariest thing out there.” ― Joss Whedon

“There are no words to express the abyss between isolation and having one ally. It may be conceded to the mathematician that four is twice two. But two is not twice one; two is two thousand times one.” ― G.K. Chesterton

“Booksellers are the most valuable destination for the lonely, given the numbers of books written because authors couldn't find anyone to talk to.”
Alain de Botton, The Consolations of Philosophy

“In the midst of friends, home, and kind parents, she was alone.”
William Makepeace Thackeray, Vanity Fair

“The worst thing about loneliness is that it brings one face to face with oneself.”
Mary Balogh, No Man's Mistress

“I have been a stranger here in my own land: All my life” ― Sophocles, Antigone

Meantime, life goes on all around you.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Fall Schedule for DAI Announced: Another Exciting Season Coming Up

"Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time." ~Thomas Merton

The Thomas Merton quote above comes from a page of quotes around the theme "What Is Art?" What I find interesting here is how the quotes seem to say more about the speaker than the topic. That only makes sense. If as Marshall McLuhan once wrote (and Warhol likewise said) "art is whatever you can get away with," then a definition of art must fall under the spell of the same definition.

In seeking a suitable quote to open a blog post about upcoming events at the Duluth Art Institute, I found a rewarding website called Brain Pickings.

I like this one by Fellini: "All art is autobiographical; the pearl is the oyster’s autobiography." If you replace the word art with"life" you might get away with saying the same thing. Which leads to the admonition to beware of throwing your pearls before swine.

Alas! Here's a Fall/Winter Schedule for the DAI with a lot to look froward to.

* * * *

From the Basement: Brent Kusterman, Sept. 22 - Nov. 6, 2016
The work of Brent Kusterman is raw and immediate, layered and mythic. His paintings incorporate found objects and collage, and are focused on keeping the process of art making visible to the viewer. Kustermann is not afraid of a heavy line or rich colors and generates a constant tension throughout the work. A combination of abstract gesture mixed with figural quotations create a middle ground for mind wandering in his canvases.

Rust & Flow: David Everett, Sept. 22 - Nov. 16, 2016
Sculptor David Everett works primarily in iron, exploring the push and pull of pairing seemingly everyday objects with larger mythological traditions. Everett’s exhibit presents two main bodies of work. In the first he transforms trash reclaimed from the beaches of Lake Superior and its tributaries into aquatic creatures and landscapes. The second combines weapons of war and violence with food and sustenance. Everett’s explorations engage us in a dialogue about the unintended consequences of what we purchase, consume, utilize and discard. [EdNote: David Everett is the artisan who transformed the designs into manhole covers for three locations on Bob Dylan Way. He also forged the official marker for the walk in front of the original home of Bob Dylan in Duluth's Central Hillside.]

Fragments/Memory: Adam McCauley, Sept. 22 - Nov. 16, 2016
Employing traditional mediums alongside craft paint, print screens, antique book covers and the universal grid, McCauley builds artwork that is purposefully based in the physical world, staunchly refusing the comforts of representation for his viewers. Built with layers and focused on the formal, McCauley’s work is at once mind bending and fresh, focused and free.

Duluth Quantum Computing Project: Storytelling in a Digital Age (Now thru TBD)
Kathy McTavish is offering free workshops and lectures exploring digital-based art throughout August and September, held at an off-site location (3 West Superior). A composer and media artist who has over 20 years of experience working at the intersection of art, science and technology, McTavish has exhibited multimedia installations at the Plains Art Museum in Fargo, ND and at the 2015 Northern Spark Festival in Minneapolis, MN. Under her guidance the workshop experience will culminate in a collaborative installation in the downtown storefront. This project and exhibition is made possible by the Arrowhead Regional Arts Council.

My Mind’s Eye: Portraits Inspired by Shakespeare’s First Folio, October 3 - 27, 2016
In honor of Shakespeare’s First Folio visit to Duluth, The Duluth Art Institute is hosting a portrait exhibition exploring artists’ unique renditions of their favorite characters from Shakespeare’s plays. For more info on Shakespeare’s First Folio, visit:

4North: New Works by Alison Aune, Kirsten Aune, Ann Klefstad, & Arna Rennan, Nov. 10, 2016 – Feb. 2, 2017
In her 1979 book of short stories titled “The White Album,” Joan Didion posits that “a place belongs forever to whoever claims it hardest, remembers it most obsessively, wrenches it from itself, shapes it, renders it, and loves it so radically” that they remake it in their own image. The Duluth Art Institute’s fall exhibit, 4North, features four female artists that share a heritage from Scandanavia as well as make their home in the northern reaches of Minnesota near Duluth. While the work diverges in style and medium, the artists share grounding in their dual identity and connection to place. Threads throughout the show reveal a deep reverence for the natural world and the translation and transmutation of patterns and symbols. Four women artists— Alison Aune, Arna Rennan, Ann Klefstad, and Kirsten Aune—create work that sings in harmony and connects viewers to their own personal home, wherever that may be. The exhibition is accompanied by a series of enhancement events.

61st Arrowhead Regional Biennial
Started in 1919, the Arrowhead Regional Biennial features some of the best artwork coming out of the upper Midwest, showcasing the work of exciting contemporary artists from Minnesota, Wisconsin, North and South Dakota, Iowa, Michigan, and Ontario, Canada. Three awards will be named on the evening of the opening reception with almost $2,000 worth of prizes.

Dyani White Hawk will serve as the Juror this year. White Hawk (Sicangu Lakota) earned her MFA in studio arts in 2011 from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is a 2015 Native Arts and Cultures Foundation Regional Artist Fellowship recipient, 2014 Joan Mitchell Foundation Painters & Sculptors Grant recipient, 2013 McKnight Visual Arts Fellowship recipient, a 2012 SWAIA Discovery Fellowship recipient and won the 2011 Best of Classification at the Santa F e Indian Art Market. She draws from her multi-cultural background and education to create paintings and mixed media works that speak to her upbringing as a Lakota woman in an urban American landscape. This exhibition is sponsored by the Depot Foundation and the North Shore Bank of Commerce.

About the Duluth Art Institute 
The Duluth Art Institute is a 109-year-old nonprofit organization—one of the oldest art centers in Minnesota. The mission of the Duluth Art Institute is to enrich daily life with dynamic, innovative visual arts programming that upholds excellence and promotes active community participation. For more information, visit The Duluth Art Institute's programs and services are made possible through the support of contributing members of the Duluth Art Institute, Bush Foundation, Depot Foundation, Duluth Superior Area Community Foundation, Jerome Foundation, Lloyd K. Johnson Foundation, McKnight Foundation, the Minnesota State Arts Board through an appropriation by the State Legislature from the Minnesota arts and cultural heritage fund with money from the vote of the people of Minnesota on November 4, 2008, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Wildey H. Mitchell Family Foundation

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Meantime, art goes on all around you. Just do it.