Archive for May, 2008


“And God said, ‘SYS 49152.'”

In Cologne, no traveler looks past the cathedral; its spires fly upward just steps from the train station, the Gothic delights of a large public space that’s otherwise stolid and boxy. Started in the 13th century but not finished until the 19th, the cathedral is full of minute modern touches that seem, at first glance, quite medieval.

Still, when I went to Cologne back in March, I didn’t expect to find a stained-glass window tuned in to such bright modern static. I took one (admittedly terrible) photo and thought to myself, “Just imagine what medieval builders might have done if they hadn’t been stuck with those 8-bit computers.”

It seems my dumb joke was more right than I knew. Designed by artist Gerhard Richter, the 65-foot window was installed only last year, and there’s a method to its pixelated madness. According to Wired, Richter

devised a mathematical formula to systematically mix permutations of the three primary colors and gray. Funny coincidence: 4,096 is also the number of “Web-smart” colors that display consistently on older computer screens, a limitation some Web designers still take into account.

Richter’s new window pops up this week in a New Yorker piece about—mirabile visucontroversial European stained glass commissions. Specifically, the contemporary design has prompted the locals to ponder the link between art and religion:

More seriously, the city’s archbishop, Cardinal Joachim Meisner, complained to a local newspaper that it “belongs equally in a mosque or another house of prayer,” adding, “If we are going to have a new window, then it should be one that reflects our faith, not just any faith.” He would seem to have a point, his doubtful reference to Islam aside. (Cologne has been roiled by plans to build a mosque for the city’s hundred and twenty thousand Muslim residents, with minarets that would share the skyline with the cathedral’s towers.)

The window does feel ecumenical . . . The literally paradoxical, if not quite heretical, results of these two projects pose a question of whether, in Christian Europe today, art on celebrated artists’ terms has risen to equality with religion or if religion has sunk to the level of mere art.

At the Kölner Dom, religion is hardly vestigial: when I visited on that gloomy March weekend, any tourists who didn’t wish to sit for prayers and a German-language homily were asked to leave for a while at noon. With its simple commingling of art and religion and framed by concerns about Islam, Richter’s window continues a medieval story; this “finished” cathedral is still being built.

“Er war so exaltiert, because er hatte Flair…”

Too few of us are lucky enough to associate the Middle Ages with Newark, Delaware, but I’m glad to know at least one other soul who does: Matthew Gabriele, who returned to the University of Delaware last weekend to deliver the keynote address at the Undergraduate Research Symposium.

Over at Modern Medieval, Matt has posted his entire speech, an accessible and interesting summary of the Crusaders’ use of Charlemagne and the influence of that connection on modern rhetoric. The result is a passionate defense of the study of history, a response to the cries of so what?—”a valid question,” sayeth Matt, “albeit one that scholars too rarely think to ask, let alone answer.”

(I should add that Matt incubated his work at UD in the days when Newark—or, as I like to call it, “the Aachen of I-95″—had only three bars, no coffee shops, and hardly any chain stores. Why, conditions back then were downright barbaric…)

“They rose up out of a sinking sand…”

My interest in Tolkien is passing at best, but lately I just can’t escape him. Here are a few clever Tolkienesque tidbits that popped up last week on the Web.

Steven Hart is willing to give Guillermo del Toro a shot at directing The Hobbit.

At The One Ring, they think del Toro faces a “dragon problem.”

Elberry ponders hatred in The Lord of the Rings. (Link via Books, Inq.)

At The Cimmerian, Steve Tompkins revisits The Silmarillion. (Link via Wormtalk.)

Heading to Birmingham? Why not visit “Tolkien tower”?

“Green thoughts come around every now and then…”

Hark! Open Letters Monthly has posted the fourth installment of Green, Adam Golaski’s funky translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

Here’s a typical passage, which shows how Golaski’s weird diction brings out the exoticism of the original:

Arthur’nd Arthur’s court
look’d long’nd in wonder, + wondered what kind’v man be-held them,
wondered what this magical spectacle must mean,
f’r’a knight’nd’is horse to’ve accrued such’a hue that is

green

green as th’grass’nd growing greener it seemed
green glow’n’nd bright’nd brighter than enameled gold.

Can Adam Golaski sustain this idiom through an entire translation? I don’t know—but after the past few years, when translations of medieval poems have met with such reverence, it’s nice to read one that’s just fun.

“Silhouettes and shadows…”

This weekend, why not wander out of the Middle Ages and into Ephemeral New York? This new blog, set up by a great friend of mine, exists to chronicle “an ever-changing city through faded and forgotten artifacts,” including 19th-century bicycle ads, ghostly painted advertisements, and long-gone elevated trains.

I’ve had the pleasure of bumming around the boroughs with the blogger in question. She loves New York, she has a sharp eye for historical curiosities, and her observations promise to be “sometimes wry and often wistful” rather than predictably snarky. Bookmark her blog or add her to your feed reader; her scans and snapshots are a welcome respite from the endless stream of words, words, words.