In Review: October 8, 1997
An admiring biography of Frank Stella '58
FRANK STELLA: AN ILLUSTRATED BIOGRAPHY
Sidney Guberman '58
SIDNEY GUBERMAN '58 has written a warm and appreciative biography, embellished with color photographs, of his Princeton classmate Frank Stella, called by one journalist the most successful and richest artist of his generation.
Stella came to Princeton from Andover, majored in history, and took art classes in the basement of McCormick Hall from William Seitz and Stephen Greene. He and Guberman became friends in their junior year and kept up their friendship over the years.
As soon as he graduated, Stella moved to New York, supported himself by painting apartments, and produced big pictures that were all black with white stripes. The next year he can be said to have made it--he was included in the exhibit "Three Young Americans," at Oberlin College; Leo Castelli, a major New York dealer, took him on and gave him a one-man show; and four of his paintings were part of a show, "Sixteen Americans," at the Museum of Modern Art. Stella went on to create 213 paintings within the next five years.
In early 1960, he showed Darby Bannard '56, a painter who was running the Little Gallery in Princeton, the rough sketches for a series of paintings and complained that in each image there were left-over pieces that he didn't like. "Well, if you don't want them, just take them away," said Bannard. That's when Stella began cutting away parts of his canvases. Guberman is particularly good at explaining the way Stella works, including a description of how the circular stretchers were made for the picture in Stella's Protractor series. The 130 paintings in the series sold out when the first ones were exhibited at Leo Castelli.
Stella's reputation rocketed. He had his first one-man show at the Museum of Modern Art when he was only 34. He moved into color and painted even bigger pictures (some as long as 42 feet). Stella took up print-making and made even more money. His prints must be among some of the most elaborate ever made.
Stella even filled commissions for sculpture and designed the decoration of a theater in Toronto. Invited by Harvard to give the prestigious Norton lectures one year, he spent months in Rome, writing the lectures. When they were published, a reviewer in the Times Literary Supplement in London lauded Stella for being a major artist "prepared to commit himself publicly to a considered, large-scale survey of the art of his time, and to relate it moreover to substantial cross-sections of the art of the past." When Stella was arrested for speeding on the Taconic Parkway, the judge sentenced him to deliver the lectures at the high school in Hudson, New York, to avoid 20 days in jail.
Guberman, a painter, writer, and teacher, is convinced of Stella's genius and sometimes his tone is almost worshipful. He pays scant attention to Stella's personal life, barely mentioning his five children by three women, two of whom he married. In this book his writing is occasionally amateurish, but his understanding of, as well as admiration for, Stella's work make this a cheerful read.
Searching for pearls of hope among swine
TRAIL FEVER: SPIN DOCTORS, RENTED STRANGERS, THUMB WRESTLERS, TOE SUCKERS, GRIZZLY BEARS, AND OTHER CREATURES ON THE ROAD TO THE WHITE HOUSE
Michael Lewis '82
BISMARCK IS CREDITED with the quip that the making of laws, like the making of sausages, is an activity best not observed too closely. Just when the making of our nation's president threatens to turn equally unsavory, along comes a witty and resourceful writer to make the process palatable.
Michael Lewis is the author of Liar's Poker---perhaps the only funny book ever written about bond trading--and an editor at the New Republic magazine, in which much of this campaign journal was first published. Lewis's gimmick is to cover the presidential race not as a member of the credentialed press pack, which is easily corralled by cautious campaign staff, but as a mischievous, gate-crashing amateur.
Having discovered how much of politics is sheer fakery scripted to disguise a lack of substance on the part of mainstream candidates like Bob Dole and Bill Clinton, the author prefers to chronicle the struggles of more marginal and passionate candidates like Pat Buchanan, Alan Keyes, and his favorite, tire magnate Morry Taylor. Lewis's reporting of the primary season, in which nine Republicans and Ralph Nader '55 vied for the right to challenge Clinton, is the funniest part of the book. A sort of a Smart-Alec in Wonderland, Lewis pokes wicked fun at the exotica of modern campaigning. He deconstructs campaign-speak, marvels at hypocrisy, and watches character revealed by everything from the way a man listens to voters (Phil Gramm's twitching dimples betray his indifference) to the way he butters a dinner roll (Steve Forbes '70 methodically "disembowels" it and rolls the bread into little balls).
Although Lewis professes to be looking for pearls of hope, heroism, and authenticity among swine, his satirical sensibilities win out. "[T]he moderate center of American politics discredited itself with its blind faith in the power of deception," he writes. "In so doing it raised the stature of the extremes." Ultimately, he blames the torpor and irrelevance of modern presidential campaigns not on unprincipled candidates, risk-averse handlers, or cynical journalists, but on an electorate "grown numb" to them and their manipulations. In this author's hands, though, numbness and extremism are raw ingredients for wry humor.
--D. W. Miller '89
D. W. Miller writes for Policy Review in Washington, D.C.
Brain food for everyone
LATE IN 1988, Jeffrey Perl *80, then an assistant professor at Columbia University, and his friend Tom Tanselle, the vice-president of the Guggenheim Foundation, sat in a Manhattan restaurant, discussing the lack of communication among scholars and intellectuals--what the media were calling "the culture wars." Perl told his friend that he thought a journal might help solve this problem, but that it would probably be impossible to assemble the personnel and resources to found such an ambitious project. Tanselle responded, "Why?" It was a liberating word for Perl, and the two spent the rest of the evening jotting down names and notes on a napkin.
Thus was born Common Knowledge, a five-year-old triquarterly that Stanley N. Katz, a professor at the Woodrow Wilson School and president of the American Council of Learned Societies, calls "the most influential general intellectual journal in the English language."
Perl, who received his Ph.D. in comparative literature and now teaches at the University of Texas in Dallas, says he established the journal "to offer a forum for many different kinds of thinkers to really listen to each other." The journal's eclectic assembly of contributors includes a veritable Who's Who of erudition--Princeton denizens Clifford Geertz of the Institute for Advanced Study; Natalie Zemon Davis, a professor emeritus of the history department; and Robert Fagles of the comparative literature department are all members of what the London Times calls "the Common Knowledge community." Nobel Prize winner Czeslaw Milosz, New York Review of Books contributor Adam Michnik, and paradigm-shifting scholar Richard Rorty are on the editorial board.
So why can't you find Common Knowledge at a Barnes & Noble that carries 1,800 different magazines and journals? With a circulation of less than a thousand, the journal is not exactly attracting glossy ad campaigns. One reason for this is certainly the daunting language of articles like "Inter-subjectivity and Nonverbal Interactive Processes" in a symposium on "Countertransference and the Humanities."
But this article does not represent standard Common Knowledge fare. For while this cerebral journal is not duck soup, its tone is, for the most part, surprisingly down to earth. Noted music and culture critic Greil Marcus, author of Invisible Republic: Bob Dylan's Basement Tapes, says, "Yes, there are academic pieces, but the journal is not written for academics." Novelist Susan Sontag agrees. "I'm not from the academic world," she says, "and it's one of my favorite magazines." In fact, the journal has published poets Denise Levertov and Philip Levine, as well as work by political leaders, including the king of Romania and the president of Hungary. Perl explains that this broad range of thinkers communicates in a lingua franca "without unnecessary jargon." In one representative Common Knowledge article, University of Virginia humanities professor Richard Rorty, a self-described atheist, wrangles with Yale law professor Stephen L. Carter's assertion that the current intellectual climate does not allow someone to "hold a political position (preferably a controversial one, such as being against abortion or pornography) because it is required by your understanding of God's will." Rorty counters that this separation of faith and politics "seems a reasonable price to pay for religious liberty."
Although many of the contributors to Perl's journal tell Baudelaire jokes and think Bakhtin is passˇ, for the most part the ideas in Common Knowledge are the kind the average citizen can bandy at literary parties, exchange at backyard barbecues, or even ponder for hours while alone in the bathtub. Sontag says simply, "Common Knowledge feeds my head." A little brain food never hurt anyone.
--Mark Rambler '96
Mark Rambler works at Newsweek magazine, in New York City.
Terry Silverlight '79's new eponymous CD
WHEN HE ARRIVED on campus in the fall of 1975, jazz drummer Terry Silverlight '79 was astonishingly precocious, even by Princeton's standards. He had already recorded four albums and worked with some of the biggest names in the music business. "I'll never forget Terry's command of the drums at the age of 14," marvels guitar virtuoso Al DiMeola, who played regularly with Silverlight and his brother, pianist Barry Miles '69, in 1973. "He was an absolute prodigy. Can you imagine him now!"
In the ensuing 24 years, Silverlight has put together a rˇsumˇ that is astonishing in its breadth and quality. He has recorded with Mel Tormˇ, George Benson, Freddie Jackson, and the late Laura Nyro--to name just a few--and his credits as a session drummer include movies (The Daytrippers), television shows (Pacific Palisades) and countless commerical jingles--for everything from beers to bras, from fast foods to dolls (both Cabbage Patch and Rambo). In the mid-1980s he recorded with Billy Ocean, drumming on a string of Top Ten singles including the No. 1 hit "There'll be Sad Songs (to Make You Cry)." For two years he toured with Roberta Flack, a stint that included performing at the Reagan White House. Among his favorite memories is of then-vice-president George Bush sidling up to him and some fellow musicians after a party and assuring them, "I'd like to hang out with you cats but I have work to do on the Hill." (Trust a Yalie to sound like he's stepped out of a bad beatnik movie!)
The only thing Silverlight hadn't done was make his own album, and he remedies that now with Terry Silverlight (on CEI records), 10 cuts of bright melodic instrumental jazz, all of which he's written and arranged. The buoyant "Someday Under the Sun," which Silverlight describes as "anthem for the environment," was originally a vocal piece Roberta Flack performed in concert. Though Silverlight played and programmed all of the album's many synthesizers, drumming is obviously one of its strong points. In "Magic Rainbow" he suspends a winsome flute line over some of the most intricate, oddly metered drumming you'll hear anywhere. With help from his brother, who contributes two gorgeous acoustic piano solos, and crack saxmen Danny Wilensky and Bob Kenmotsu, Silverlight makes music that manages the difficult feat of being at once funky and lyrical. Despite years in a tough business, his optimism shines through. Listen to this album and you'll agree with Roberta Flack: "Terry Silverlight is an exquisite drummer and musician."
--Merrell Noden '78
Merrell Noden contributes regularly to Sports Illustrated and a variety of music magazines.
Preaching from the pulpit
Good sermons have no limit in their element of surprise. Remember, it is not only the preacher looking up, but God looking down, and in spite of our earnestness, God is greater, wiser, more loving, and more intentional about effecting a God-human reconciliation. Watch for that. --the Reverend Samuel D. Proctor, in his introduction to Wisdom of the Word: Faith.
LIFE IS unpredictable, especially in the way youthful ideas can flower unexpectedly years afterward. When Rhinold Ponder '81 began collecting sermons as an undergraduate, his interest was, by his own account, more intellectual than spiritual.
"My father went to Morehouse College with Martin Luther King, Benjamin Mays, and a number of others who went on to become religious leaders in the African-American community," Ponder recalled recently, sitting alongside his wife, Michele, in their New Brunswick, New Jersey, law office. "When I was growing up in Chicago, our family listened to records of Dr. King's speeches. Later, as a student at Princeton, I took some very challenging African-American Studies courses--and in the literature, the influence of religion was simply overwhelming. I found this intriguing, and so I began to compile sermons from well-known ministers."
Fast forward to 1995: Rhinold and Michele have formed a neophyte literary agency and are pitching a list of books to Crown Publishers--including an idea for a volume of sermons by notable African-American preachers, to be called The Wisdom of the Word.
The publishers went for the concept. "Of all our book proposals, that's the one that really struck a chord," Ponder says today. The couple now began gathering sermons in earnest: they approached Dr. Samuel Proctor, the longtime pastor of the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, who gave the endeavor his blessing and put them in touch with religious leaders across the country.
Eventually they gathered 150 sermons. The next task was to choose the best of the group. "To be honest, we weren't looking forward to it," Michele remembers. "It just seemed like a lot of hard work. But in fact, the process turned into a wonderful experience. We spent a weekend in a hotel suite in Delaware, each of us in a different room, reading manuscripts. We really got swept up in it--every time one of us found something that we especially liked, we'd come running in saying, 'Listen to this!' "
Their first publication, The Wisdom of the Word: Faith, came out in 1996, followed by a second volume in early 1997, devoted to the subject of Love. Both have been well received by the press and the public (the couple got a special kick out of hearing that Hank Aaron, the all-time home-run king, had picked up a copy), and praised by the clergy. The books have also had an effect on their coauthors. "We were both raised in churchgoing families, but we weren't what I'd call deeply religious," says Rhinold. "This experience has brought both of us in closer touch with our spiritual roots."
He sees a parallel shift taking place in the African-American community, as well: "There's a large resurgence of interest in religion across the country," he says. "As we traveled around promoting the books, one of the most interesting new phenomena we encountered was the 'megachurch'--huge churches that have as many as ten thousand members. In Oakland an entire neighborhood, including schools and other social services, is built around the church. They're becoming powerful forces for change."
The couple plans two more volumes soon, though neither is giving up their day job: Rhinold combines his work as a literary agent with a law practice; Michele does some part-time lawyering, but most of her time is spent working as mayor of Princeton Township, a post she was elected to in 1994.
"I'm a very hands-on mayor," she laughs. "For example, we just finished developing a training program for road repair crews--to make them safer, and to avoid liability claims in the future. These days, if anything happens that's remotely connected with the township, we wind up somewhere on the defendants list."
As the Ponders have learned, however, words for the spirit can offer unforeseen help for even the most worldly of cares. Their next books are tentatively titled The Wisdom of the Word: Justice and Hope.
--Royce Flippin '80
Royce Flippin is a freelance writer living in New Jersey.
The Wisdom of the Word: Faith
J. Alfred Smith, Sr.: "Faith--What It Is and What It Does"--Faith is not a superstitious rabbit's foot or a lucky horseshoe. Faith is not a blind illusion or a stubborn rejection of the facts. Faith is not faith in faith. Faith is not trust in my intellect. It is not trust in my ability to outwit my enemy. It is not confidence in the ability of friends to not let me down. Faith is the ability to trust completely the presence, power, and promises of God.
The Wisdom of the Word: Love
Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: "A Christmas Sermon on Peace"--It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. . . . Before you finish eating breakfast in the morning, you've depended on more than half the world. This is the way our universe is structured, this is its interrelated quality. We aren't going to have peace on earth until we recognize this basic fact.
THE DAD OF THE DAD OF THE DAD OF YOUR DAD, by Jeff Moss '63; illustrated by Chris Demarest; (Ballantine Books, $18). Jeff Moss '63, a former head writer and composer-lyricist for Sesame Street, is the author of two collections of poetry and two children's books. In this latest book, Moss's love of playful rhymes and amusing situations are evident in the stories he's written about different dads--and their children--through time.
THE 21ST CENTURY NONPROFIT: REMAKING THE ORGANIZATION IN THE POST-GOVERNMENT ERA, by Paul B. Firstenberg '55; (The Foundation Center, 79 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10003, $34.95). Paul Firstenberg '55, a former financial vice-president of the university and now a partner in an investment banking and advisory firm, explains in an introductory summary that the book was written "primarily for people who manage or serve as trustees of nonprofit organizations dedicated to educational, cultural, scientific, and social objectives." To be more productive and viable in the future, Firstenberg insists that remaking the organization of nonprofits is essential. He makes his case in 15 chapters, many accompanied by charts or source notes, that cover such topics as the role of nonprofits, downsizing, mergers, and marketing.
SEXUAL MUTILATIONS: A HUMAN TRAGEDY, edited by George C. Denniston M.D. '55 and Marilyn Milos; (Plenum Publishers, 233 Spring St., New York, NY 10013, $79.50)--a collection of academic and medical papers about male and female circumcision. Denniston is the president of Doctors Opposing Circumcision, based in Seattle.
BLINDING AMBITION, by Douglas F. Greer M.D. '61; (G. P. Gibraltar, $14.95; orders to Blinding Ambition, Suite 214, 3301 New Mexico Ave. N.W., Washington, DC 20016)--a self-published medical mystery thriller.
THE SAND WITCH: A HALLOWEEN FABLE, by Jim Schisgall '56; illustrated by John Timmins; (Hardy Hill, 10 Daniel St., Farmingdale, NY 11735, $6.95)--a little girl and an ugly witch match wits at Halloween in this paperback book for children.