Bugs Around Pennsylvania

While hiking around the hillsides in northeastern Pennsylvania today I came across the following bugs.

Praying mantis, Franklin Hill, Montrose, Pennsylvania, 24 September 2011

I’ve always found the praying mantis a fascinating insect because it seems like such an alien outlier. It’s body layout seems like a grasshopper, locust, cicada, etc., but it is predatory. And so viscous with those spiked forearms. And the strange mismatch between how delicate their head and thorax are versus how all-consuming their mandibles are.

For all the fascination they carry for me, I have never seen one outside the frame of a television documentary until this week when I saw one crawling up an apartment window on Wednesday night and this guy today. I want to harass them more thoroughly, but I have no idea how tame or dangerous they are. They seem so ravenous in the documentaries that I fear if I were to get my finger too close, he would have me cinched between his spiky forearms and a few stitches worth of torn flesh inflicted by his horrible mandibles before I could shout and shake him off.

But enough of insect brutality, now for sweet insect romance, like two monarch butterflys fucking.

Monarch butterflys mating, Franklin Hill, Montrose, Pennsylvania, 24 September 2011

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Hard Truths about Concrete

Zachary Korb, Abbott Hospital Parking Garage Ramp, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1 October 2006

In 1992 the Max Protech Gallery in New York had an exhibit of the concrete furniture work of Scott Burton. Chaise Longings, the catalogue of the exhibit, included an essay, “Concrete and Burton”, by Peter Schjeldahl (at the time an art critic for The Village Voice). It came to my attention when the following section was excerpted in Harper’s Magazine (published under the title, “Hard Truths about Concrete,” vol. 287, no. 1721, October 1993, pp. 28-30).

It is really more of a prose poem, or a paean to concrete than an essay of analysis or criticism. As an enthusiast of urbanism and the human built environment, I too have a considerable eros for concrete, and often find myself reciting lines from this passage to myself as I gaze out the train window rumbling about the city (usually the eastern branch of the red line).

Wall-Ties & Forms, Inc., High Rise Concrete Construction In Venezuela, 26 August 2008

1. Concrete

Concrete is the most careless, slovenly stuff — until it is committed, when it becomes fanatically adamant. Liquid rock, concrete is born under a sign of paradox and does not care. Pour concrete out on the ground and it will start to puddle and spread, in rapture to gravity, but then will think better of it: enough spreading! It heaps up on itself in lazy glops, sensual as a frog.

Concrete takes no notice of what is done with it, flowing into any container, and the containers one makes for it, the molds and forms, must be fashioned with laborious care, strong and tight, because concrete is heavy and entirely feckless. Promiscuous, doing what anyone wants if the person is strong enough to hold it, concrete is the slut, the gigolo, of materials. Every other material — wood, clay, metal, even plastic — has self-respect, a limit to what it will suffer to have done with it, and at the same time is responsive within that limit, supple in the ways it consents to be used. Concrete is stupid and will do anything for anyone, without protest or pleasure, so long as the person indulges its mania to lie down.

Let concrete set, however, and sense the difference. Concrete hardens in the shape of whatever container received its flow, its momentary sensual abandon in thoughtless submission to half-loved gravity. Once it has set, what a difference! Concrete becomes adamant, fanatical, a Puritan, a rock, Robespierre. It declares like no other material the inevitability, the immortality — the divinity! — of the shape it comprises, be the shape a glopped heap on the ground or a concert hall, ridiculous or sublime.

Wall-Ties & Forms, Inc., Aluminum Concrete Forms in Hong Kong, 31 May 2007

Concrete that has set will have no thought, no monomaniacal obsession until the end of time, except this shape. No other material — not brick, not wood, not the very stone blocks of the Great Pyramids forgets itself to such an extent. Bricks planks of wood, and stone blocks whisper from their built configurations of their willingness to be disassembled and to become something else. Whorish but ironic plastic holds back from a lasting passion for the form it takes, murmuring of its readiness if given heat, just some lovely heat, to melt into other forms. Likewise metal and glass. Not concrete once concrete has set.

Set concrete insists, insists, insists. It insists on the rightness, permanence, godliness of the form into which it flowed so carelessly. You must smash set concrete to bits if you would shut up the voice of its insistence, and even then the smashed bits will lie around insistently piping. I was in Berlin early in 1990 and remember a thousand hammers banging away at the Wall, banging out “die, die, die!” The concrete of the awful thing was shrieking back “wall, wall, wall!” It took a long time for the hammers to win the argument, and even then the shattered corpse would not give in. I brought a handful of fragments home, and the ones that retained any flat surface still shrill “wall” in tiny voices, totalitarian for eternity.

There is something inappropriate, not quite right, about the notion of “working” concrete, finely finishing it, making its forms true, smooth, and pristine. It seems insulting to concrete’s gross strength and simplemindedness, mocking concrete as one might a rough farmworker by forcing fancy evening dress on him. Unlike the farmworker, however, concrete is unmockable because it is impervious. Go ahead and make fun of concrete. You might as well. Concrete will never notice.

Concrete has no feelings to hurt. It does have feelings, as we know, but they are adamantine, fanatic, and untouchable by anything. Concrete is solipsistic. By contrast, clay is touchy, wood is as woundable as the flesh it is, and brick has a yeoman worker’s pride, stolid and prickly. All have good reason to fear misuse and to exude sadness when misused. But kick concrete as much as you like, all you will hurt is your toe.

Concrete is among the world’s best exercise devices for unrequited loving. You may love and serve it until your heart is worn out and be assured of no responsiveness, not a quiver in return. No loathing, even. Nothing! Concrete is like Don Quixote’s Dulcinea, only colder. Coarse and stupid beyond compare, it combines these qualities with the froideur of a goddess, of Pallas Athena! It is a dominatrix, blind, deaf, and dumb, dumb beyond anything. You have to be a masochist to love concrete, enjoying the strength that your own capacity to love displays when the loved one is a pitiless idiot.

I too have a piece of the Berlin Wall, brought back for me by a friend who was visiting at the time. One side was part of the flat exterior of the wall. On the other side, two inches into the wall from the face, is an impression left by the concrete’s envelopment of a shaft of rebar.

Photographs “Aluminum Concrete Forms in Hong Kong” and “High Rise Concrete Construction In Venezuela” courtesy of Wall-Ties & Forms, Inc.; “Abbott Hospital Parking Garage Ramp, Minneapolis, MN” courtesy of Zachary Korb; used under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

A Third Blog Reboot

So it’s been a bit of a hiatus here at This is Not a Dinner Party Marching Under Banners. I would like to say that I put the blog on hold because I was completely occupied by having started graduate school, but as I really stopped blogging in July of 2010 (with a few quick outliers in September and November), the explanation lies elsewhere. I suspect the real reason that I stopped was because twitter and FaceBook were fitting the personal expression bill. But I never really made an explicit decision and am not actually sure what the reason was.

Whatever the case, 140 characters sufficed for a while, but I am increasingly finding that the character counter block has turned a verbose-threat-level HIGH color long before I have completed my thought and even the usual cleaver pairing down doesn’t suffice to squeeze the idea into the allotted space. So maybe it’s time to resume the blog.

This will be the third iteration of my blog. The original blog, smarties, I developed myself in PHP in 2004 and it was pretty basic. In its second incarnation, it was an attempt at a group blog using an installation of b2evolution (also PHP) hosted by a friend. This time around, I’m giving up on the DIY thing and just going with a WordPress blog. An explanation for the new title and banner can be found on the About page.

I have ported over the July 2007-November 2010 This is Not a Dinner Party archives. The June 2004-July 2007 smarties archives are stuck on a currently deactivated RAID array or a tape backup somewhere. I hope to have them recovered soon enough because there are a number of currently dead links throughout this blog to those old posts and there’s a lot of important thinking and personal history there.

Oddly enough, in my first year as a graduate student, I didn’t write a single piece for any of my seminars with which I was adequately satisfied to make a post out of it. I hope that will change over the next few months and I this blog will serve as a place to do some thinking towards academic work — some background thinking, some preliminary studies, some finished work and so on.

Anyway, enough with the preliminaries: I’ve got a few things queued up already so back to the blog trenches.