Jun. 28, 2013
Always there would be stories of lights
hovering among bushes or at the foot
of a meadow; maybe a goat with cold horns
pluming into the moon; a tingle of chains
on the midnight road. And then maybe
word would come round of that watery
art, the lamping of fishes, and I'd be
mooning my flashlamp on the licked black pelt
of the stream, my left arm splayed to take
a heavy pour and run of the current
occluding the net. Was that the beam
buckling over an eddy or a gleam
of the fabulous? Steady the light
and come to your senses, they're saying good-night.
It's the birthday of philosopher and writer Jean-Jacques Rousseau (books by this author), born on this day in Geneva (1712). In 1749, the Academy of Dijon sponsored an essay contest, and the question was: "Has the revival of the arts and sciences done more to corrupt or to purify morals?" Rousseau was delighted by the question, and he said that his head was so full of ideas he was unable to breathe. He said: "And that is how I became a writer almost against my will. ... The remainder of my life and all my subsequent misfortunes were the inevitable result of this moment of aberration." He was normally a lazy man, but he worked feverishly on his essay, "A Discourse on the Arts and Sciences." He argued that the advances of science and art had been harmful to humanity by consolidating power in the hands of governments and creating an atmosphere of competition and fear between citizens. His essay won first prize, and he went on to write many more philosophical works, including his most famous, The Social Contract (1762), in which he said that the natural condition of humanity is to be brutal and lawless, and that it is through an agreed "social contract" of what constitutes a good society that humans are able to rise above their base nature.
It's the birthday of comedian and filmmaker Mel Brooks, born Melvin Kaminsky in Brooklyn, New York (1926). While Brooks was in the Army in World War II, deactivating mines after the Battle of the Bulge, he was also organizing shows for fellow servicemen. When he returned to the States, he worked as a drummer and pianist in the Catskills, taking over for an ailing stand-up comedian one night. In 1949, Brooks' friend Sid Caesar asked him to write for his comedy program, Your Show of Shows. In 1968, he wrote his first feature film, The Producers. Although the movie didn't do well at the box office, it has been made into a Broadway musical, winning 15 Tony Awards. He's known for off-the-wall comedies such as Blazing Saddles (1974), Young Frankenstein (1974), and Spaceballs (1987).
Apparently, during movie shoots, Brooks would hand out white handkerchiefs to the cast and crew to stick in their mouths if they were going to laugh while watching a scene being filmed. He knew the scenes would be funny when he would turn around from the director's chair and see a sea of white handkerchiefs.
Brooks said: "Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you walk into an open sewer and die."
It was on this day in 1948 that Shirley Jackson's (books by this author) controversial short story "The Lottery" was published in The New Yorker. Hundreds of readers wrote to the magazine, many of them wanting to cancel their subscriptions because they were so upset by the story. Jackson later wrote: "On the morning of June 28, 1948, I walked down to the post office in our little Vermont town to pick up the mail. I was quite casual about it, as I recall — I opened the box, took out a couple of bills and a letter or two, talked to the postmaster for a few minutes, and left, never supposing that it was the last time for months that I was to pick up the mail without an active feeling of panic. By the next week, I had to change my mailbox to the largest one in the post office, and casual conversation with the postmaster was out of the question, because he wasn't speaking to me."
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®