HISTORICAL HOMIES: Ugolino della Gherardesca

Most Prof. Prattle posts are freewheeling, digressive, madcap. Once in a while, though, we prefer to temper the tangential tendency and train our eye on a single subject for an in depth analysis of an HISTORICAL HOMIE. The first HISTORICAL HOMIE piece (declared as such retroactively) was the compelling story of that legendary daughter of Poughkeepsie, Lee Miller. Today our insatiable knowledge lust demands we go further afield to bring to you a tale of derring-do and double-dealing. Without further preamble, the legend of Ugolino:


Exam 3 / cowabunga

I suppose I should’ve mentioned this in last night’s email, but your last in-class exam will on the last day of class — Thursday, May 8th. It will cover everything we will have covered since exam 2 — all the stuff from the posted lecture notes, plus section 4.2 (yesterday’s lecture), plus the material we’ll be doing next week (which will come from section 5.3 and maybe a bit from 2.6 and/or 3.5). The final exam will be on Monday, May 19th, from 2:15 – 5:00 pm. The location is TBD; I requested a larger room than our regular classroom but haven’t yet heard back.

Gregory Corso was a Beat poet who is interred at the Protestant Cemetary in Rome (which is a dope spot to visit if you’re ever in the Eternal City). He wrote his own amazing epitaph:

is Life
It flows thru
the death of me
like a river
of becoming
the sea

That’s definitely one of my favorite similes of all time. Corso also once heckled Allen Ginsberg at a poetry reading that my aunt went to, at the St. Mark’s Church-In-The-Bowery. They were chums, though. (Corso and Ginsberg, I mean. But actually Corso and my aunt were also chums. She is another example of a very cool person from Poughkeepsie; in fact, it was she who told me about Lee Miller.)

gc  grave


Lecture notes

I’ve added the lecture notes from yesterday’s class. They’re jpegs because the department closed early today and I didn’t get to the copy machine in time, but they look pretty good. There’s even a nice white border around each page. Pretty fancy. There’s also a bit of a grease mark on one of the pages because I dropped a piece of Gouda on the page when I was writing them up. You know how I do! My bad tho.

Probably like two or three of you were disappointed this morning to get the homework announcement with no added bonus supplementary extra nonsense with it. It was a bit late for me to write my customary ramble. In fact, if you check your email you’ll see that it was 4:48 a.m. when I sent that email; that time is significant because 4.48 Psychosis is the name of the last play that Sarah Kane wrote before she took her own life back in 1999. That play was named for the time when Kane, suffering from severe depression, often woke. To be honest, I’ve never actually read the play, but ever since I read about it after reading Kane’s more famous play Blasted a few years back, the name has stuck with me, and every time I happen to be awake at 4:48 a.m. I think about it. Blasted is a terrifying, disturbing, and profound play about war, sexual violence, and human interaction; it premiered in London to great controversy when Kane was just 23 years old, but is now generally recognized as a major work. The U.S. premiere was at Soho Rep. in 2008 and is one of those shows that it still pains me to have missed (others include Sweeney Todd with Patti LuPone and Michael Cerveris and the recent Glass Menagerie with Cherry Jones). One evening I went down to the theater and waited in line for 90 minutes in the hope of getting tickets, but to no avail.

To get back to art about depression , it’s tough to broach that subject without mentioning David Foster Wallace. Two of his better short stories are “The Depressed Person“, from the collection Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, and, especially, “Good Old Neon” from Oblivion. They each delve deeply into the complexities of human thought; the dangers of recursive, inwardly spiralling introspection; and the impossibility of language expressing anywhere near the scope of what goes on in any one person’s brain. If you’re a smarty-pants you should read “Good Old Neon”; it’s challenging in an interesting, engaging way, not the boring way of some of Wallace’s other stories (e.g. “Mister Squishy”) which mostly just annoy me.

Unfortunately, just as 4.48 Psychosis came from a very real place in Kane’s psyche, Wallace knew whereof he wrote. He was somewhat more successful in managing his depression, but in 2008 he, like Kane, hanged himself.

While I’m on the subject of tortured geniuses who hanged themselves, the 2011 exhibition Savage Beauty at the Metropolitan Museum of Art celebrated the work of the English fashion designer Alexander McQueen.


Incidentally, that exhibition also falls within the “Big events that I missed” category. I went to the Met to see it one day, but the wait to get in was three hours! I was like “Umm chill dude that’s wilin”; on the plus side, the rest of the museum was less crowded than usual. There were some spectacular pieces on view, though.

mcq2  mcq3

Sorry this post was a bit of a downer. Let’s close by considering Yayoi Kusama, who is very much alive and whose work is super chill, though her persona is consistent with the theme of this post (she has a book called Manhattan Suicide Addict and apparently has suffered from intense suicidal thoughts for her whole life).


That’s her (and some of her famous polka dots) in a publicity picture from her big show at the David Zwirner Gallery in New York this past autumn that, you guessed it, I am really bummed about missing. I swear I sometimes actually do some of the things I want to do. I’m just modest so I talk about the stuff I miss. Would’ve been sweet to have gotten a selfie in the Infinity Mirrored Room, though, like all the cool kids did! Could’ve been a really original profile pic.


jk that ish is played dawg errybody did it.

“What if everything is an illusion and nothing exists? In that case, I definitely overpaid for my carpet.”


New material / Exam 2 notes / cabbage sale

Last Thursday’s lecture notes are posted in the Documents tab. Perhaps you’ve seen them. Also posted are the solutions to your second exam. Your grades are up, too. If you want your test back you can get it from the box outside my office at any time. There are also a bunch of graded homeworks in there. 

Some statistics from the exam:

75th percentile:     84.25
Median:                  75
25th percentile:     62

Mean:                     70.12
Std. Dev.                19.08

Remember you have a homework assignment due Thursday; it covers material from last Thursday’s lecture. Office hours this week will be as 

If your textbook is like mine and has some sections omitted, you may seek supplementary material. Jim Hefferon has written a linear algebra textbook that is available for free here

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

– Dylan Thomas

Rembrandt knew a thing or two about being an old guy. Here’s a self-portrait of his that is in the Met:


Homework 2

The assignment is this:

Section 2.2: 1, 3, 7, 10, 18, 29

Section 2.4: 17

Section 2.5: 2, 4, 6

It is due Thursday, 13 February 2014, at the start of class.

I know some of you might be wondering whether I’m going to wear a different plaid shirt every class for the whole semester. Let’s put it this way: you’ll only find out if you come to lecture every day. So don’t skip class, because you’ll miss out and everyone will laugh at you.

Ever heard the phrase “burning the candle at both ends”? It comes from a poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay:

“First Fig”

My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends —
It gives a lovely light!


Pretty tight.

Maybe you also know the phrase “Hey who’s that Spanish guy with the guitar and the onions on the floor?” That comes from this painting, The Spanish Singer, by Édouard Manet (it’s at the Met in NYC):


Manet is also responsible for the bartender’s saw “What can I do you for?” which has its origin in his painting A Bar at the Folies-Bergères (Courtauld Gallery, London):


Okay I was lying with those last two; I just wanted an excuse to post a couple Manet pictures.


Final reminder / a sonnet / some more art for you to enjoy or ignore

The hour of reckoning is almost upon us. Your final exam will take place tomorrow, Tuesday 17 December 2013 from 8:00 a.m. to 10:45 a.m. in our regular classroom, Humanities 1003. Be there or be square (where square = satisfied with your current grade as described in previous announcements). No graphing calculators allowed. You can write on both sides of your cheat sheet.

The format is as follows: section one has two problems, both of which you must answer. Sections two through four have three problems each; you must complete two problems from each of these sections.I wrote a sonnet for inspirational purposes. It’s Petrarchan in spirit, if not exactly in form (I go ABBACDDC in the octet, rather than ABBAABBA).


No spirit wearies not, to bear the toll
Of daily life, small burdens, cruel misdeeds.
Unsated tastes and unacknowledged needs —
Too common, all too toxic to the soul.
And weakness gestates, stealthy and perverse
When granted berth by pettiness and greed.
It siphons strength; the impetus to lead
Subsides, our fate resigned to with a curse.
But let reserves of heroism swell!
Until the reservoir o’erflows its side.
Though latent genius seems always to dwell,
It tarries not beholden to the tide,
Nor to the stars. Assert control; live well.
Reject malaise and mount the world astride.


Caspar Friedrich was a 19th-century German Romantic landscape painter. He killed the game.

Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog:

The Sea of Ice:

Friedrich didn’t get too many props in his day, but by the turn of the twentieth century a lot of peeps were like “Ayo Caspar was pretty dope tho damn!” and he is now cited as an influence on many artists from that period forward, including Gerhard Richter, the man whom a recent Vanity Fair article declared “our most admired living artist” based upon the results of a survey of 100 art-world cognoscenti. The top six artists were, in order: Richter, Jasper Johns, Richard Serra, Bruce Nauman, Cindy Sherman, and Ellsworth Kelly. No big surprises there. Ai Weiwei, John Baldessari, Jeff Koons, Kara Walker, and James Turrell were among the also-rans. I was slightly surprised that Chuck Close didn’t garner any votes. His massive portraits at the Met are worth long looks, but you really have to see them in person.



Incidentally, Gerhard Richter gets hipster cred by virtue of the fact that Sonic Youth used his painting Kerze (“Candle”) as the cover art for their magnum opus Daydream Nation.

HW 8 posted / old hw + exam pickup

Hello all,

Your next assignment is now posted in the usual place. Also, I will be in my office tomorrow afternoon from around 2:30 to 5:15 if you want to stop by to pick up your homework 7, or any other material from earlier in the semester that you might want. I can answer quick questions, too, but it won’t be a full-fledged office hour.

If you only read one poem today, make it The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, by T. S. Eliot.

If you only listen to one Solange Knowles-curated compilation album today, make it Saint Heron.
If you only look at one picture of cabbage today, make it this one:
That’s the logo for my fantasy team this year. I’m in first place.