Where We Come From

A tour of cultural history in the arts section of today’s New York Times:

–“My Lobotomy”: A story about Howard Dully, who as a 12-year-old in 1960 underwent a prefrontal lobotomy at the hands of Dr. Walter Freeman, the pioneer and champion of the procedure intended to pacify “disturbed” patients. The story says Dully “was lobotomized … for no other reason than that he didn’t get along with his stepmother, whose long list of complaints about him included sullenness, a reluctance to bathe and that he turned on the lights during daytime.” Dully has produced a radio documentary for NPR, “My Lobotomy,” which will air on “All Things Considered” this afternoon.

–A Critic’s Notebook offering from Margo Jefferson on Constance Rourke and Zora Neale Hurston and their use of “creative nonfiction” to unearth the cultural traditions of white and black America: “They were out to remap the cultural territories; shift the boundaries that separated folk, popular and high art; explore the American character (what we now call the national psyche). … They began in what I’ll call separate but equal neighborhoods. Rourke wrote about white cultural myths and traditions, iconic figures from Paul Bunyan to Harriet Beecher Stowe. Hurston wrote about the roots and characteristics of black American culture: language, folklore, music and dance, the will to improvise.”

–By way of my brother John, a writeup on a $9 million restoration (your tax dollars at work) of a gigantic (27 feet high, 365 feet in circumference) “cyclorama” painting of Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg. The painting was one of four identical works made in the 1880s as tourist attractions to be viewed in the round, complete with foreground props designed to make the viewing hall merge into the action. One guy in the story refers to the cyclorama (and others like it) as “the Imax of their day.” Like most old art, the Gettysburg painting has been abominably treated — handled roughly, cut up, stored and displayed in wet, leaky rooms.

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