Teju Cole on shattered glass

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Untitled (Broken Window, San Francisco), 1937 by Brett Weston.

Teju Cole’s essay “The History of Photography is a History of Shattered Glass,” part of his “On Photography” series, is new in today’s New York Times

From the essay:

Broken glass, and broken windows in particular, are a notable byway in photography’s history. Brett Weston made one of the most striking examples in San Francisco in 1937. Weston was not recording evidence of a crime, or even particularly making a sociological comment. He was describing an abstraction with his camera, the calligraphic presence of a jagged black hole surrounded by a gray remnant of glass. What has been broken away dominates the picture. We see an outline like a map of a fictional island. There’s more dark to see here than glass, and the darkness is deep and mysterious, a mouth agape in an unending scream. About this picture, John Szarkowski, the influential curator at the Museum of Modern Art, wrote that the black shape “is not a void but a presence; the periphery of the picture is background.” In the middle, in that darkness, is where Weston’s self-portrait would be, if the window were intact.

“The Glass Dog” — L. Frank Baum

“The Glass Dog” by L. Frank Baum

An accomplished wizard once lived on the top floor of a tenement house and passed his time in thoughtful study and studious thought. What he didn’t know about wizardry was hardly worth knowing, for he possessed all the books and recipes of all the wizards who had lived before him; and, moreover, he had invented several wizardments himself.

This admirable person would have been completely happy but for the numerous interruptions to his studies caused by folk who came to consult him about their troubles (in which he was not interested), and by the loud knocks of the iceman, the milkman, the baker’s boy, the laundryman and the peanut woman. He never dealt with any of these people; but they rapped at his door every day to see him about this or that or to try to sell him their wares. Just when he was most deeply interested in his books or engaged in watching the bubbling of a cauldron there would come a knock at his door. And after sending the intruder away he always found he had lost his train of thought or ruined his compound.

At length these interruptions aroused his anger, and he decided he must have a dog to keep people away from his door. He didn’t know where to find a dog, but in the next room lived a poor glass-blower with whom he had a slight acquaintance; so he went into the man’s apartment and asked:

“Where can I find a dog?”

“What sort of a dog?” inquired the glass-blower.

“A good dog. One that will bark at people and drive them away. One that will be no trouble to keep and won’t expect to be fed. One that has no fleas and is neat in his habits. One that will obey me when I speak to him. In short, a good dog,” said the wizard.

“Such a dog is hard to find,” returned the glass-blower, who was busy making a blue glass flower pot with a pink glass rosebush in it, having green glass leaves and yellow glass roses.

The wizard watched him thoughtfully.

“Why cannot you blow me a dog out of glass?” he asked, presently.

“I can,” declared the glass-blower; “but it would not bark at people, you know.” Continue reading ““The Glass Dog” — L. Frank Baum”

“John Mortonson’s Funeral” — Ambrose Bierce

“John Mortonson’s Funeral,” a very short story by Ambrose Bierce

John Mortonson was dead: his lines in ‘the tragedy “Man”‘ had all been spoken and he had left the stage.

The body rested in a fine mahogany coffin fitted with a plate of glass. All arrangements for the funeral had been so well attended to that had the deceased known he would doubtless have approved. The face, as it showed under the glass, was not disagreeable to look upon: it bore a faint smile, and as the death had been painless, had not been distorted beyond the repairing power of the undertaker. At two o’clock of the afternoon the friends were to assemble to pay their last tribute of respect to one who had no further need of friends and respect. The surviving members of the family came severally every few minutes to the casket and wept above the placid features beneath the glass. This did them no good; it did no good to John Mortonson; but in the presence of death reason and philosophy are silent.

As the hour of two approached the friends began to arrive and after offering such consolation to the stricken relatives as the proprieties of the occasion required, solemnly seated themselves about the room with an augmented consciousness of their importance in the scheme funereal. Then the minister came, and in that overshadowing presence the lesser lights went into eclipse. His entrance was followed by that of the widow, whose lamentations filled the room. She approached the casket and after leaning her face against the cold glass for a moment was gently led to a seat near her daughter. Mournfully and low the man of God began his eulogy of the dead, and his doleful voice, mingled with the sobbing which it was its purpose to stimulate and sustain, rose and fell, seemed to come and go, like the sound of a sullen sea. The gloomy day grew darker as he spoke; a curtain of cloud underspread the sky and a few drops of rain fell audibly. It seemed as if all nature were weeping for John Mortonson.

When the minister had finished his eulogy with prayer a hymn was sung and the pall-bearers took their places beside the bier. As the last notes of the hymn died away the widow ran to the coffin, cast herself upon it and sobbed hysterically. Gradually, however, she yielded to dissuasion, becoming more composed; and as the minister was in the act of leading her away her eyes sought the face of the dead beneath the glass. She threw up her arms and with a shriek fell backward insensible.

     The mourners sprang forward to the coffin, the friends followed, and as the clock on the mantel solemnly struck three all were staring down upon the face of John Mortonson, deceased.

They turned away, sick and faint. One man, trying in his terror to escape the awful sight, stumbled against the coffin so heavily as to knock away one of its frail supports. The coffin fell to the floor, the glass was shattered to bits by the concussion.

From the opening crawled John Mortonson’s cat, which lazily leapt to the floor, sat up, tranquilly wiped its crimson muzzle with a forepaw, then walked with dignity from the room.