Posts Tagged ‘ writing

An Essay for an Art History Class

William M. Harnett, Memento Mori—"To This Favour"

Memento Mori, “To This Favour,” 1879

Oil on canvas

William Michael Harnett
(American, born Ireland, 1848-1892)

The Latin Term memento mori describes a traditional subject in art that addresses mortality. In Harnett’s example, the extinguished candle, spent hourglass, and skull symbolize death. A quote from William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, inscribed on the inside cover of a tattered book, reinforces the theme. It comes from the play’s famed graveyard scene, where Hamlet discovers a skull and grimly ponders his beloved Ophelia, ironically unaware that she is already dead. The “paint” in the quote not only refers to Ophelia’s make-up, but also wittily evokes the artifice of Harnett’s picture.

Mr. and Mrs. William H Marlatt Fund 1965.235

(The Cleveland Museum of Art)

While most still life paintings offer no narrative in their imagery, this does not mean there is no meaning to the piece. The meaning of this work by William Michael Harnett is offered directly in the title: Memento Mori, “To This Favour”. Even viewers not familiar with the Latin phrase memento mori can suss its meaning when viewing Harnett’s painting. An empty hourglass, a burned candled, and a skull are all icons of passing on, giving rise to feelings of one’s own mortality. As the phrase translated states, “Remember, you must die,” and so the viewer does. However, the meaning of this memento mori goes beyond that simple phrase.

“To This Favour” is a predominately dark piece, both visually and thematically, drawing the viewers attention to specific iconography with the touches of whiteness. The largest body of light color is the pages of the open books on the left. Harnett is known for his style of trompe l’oeil; in this instance he tricking the viewer’s eye into thinking one of the open books is motion. The upper of the two open books has three pages splayed in a position that would be impossible to capture in a still life painting if it were actually in motion. Each of these three pages curves in the exact manner one would expect it to do if it were falling under its own weight after being turned and left to fall to the opposite side of the book. Such is the trick, the tromp l’oeil, that the eye thinks the image so real that the page would fall at any moment. The book itself shows no meaning of death. The viewer cannot see the title nor read the text within it. Rather than be a symbol of the permanency of dying, the book, being half-open and in motion, may be a symbol of life: a life life half-over and passing quickly to the end.

The lower book is open as well, though its cover is torn from the binding. The aged, damaged book cover hangs over the edge of the table by a thread as if it, soon shall die. The inside cover is the closest object in the painting to the viewer, demanding one’s attention to the quote it bears. From Shakespeare’s Hamlet on the subject of death, the inscription reads: “Now get you to my lady’s chamber, and tell her, let her paint an inch thick, to this favour she must come.” In the play, the paint is Ophelia’s make-up; in this piece, the paint is the oils used by Harnett. Both paints are applied with thoughts death, which may have prompted the artist to use this particular quote. As one may know, Ophelia is already dead at the time the line is spoken by Hamlet, further compounding on the theme of death in the painting.

The next largest collection of whiteness is the skull, quintessentially the most recognizable symbol of death. The skull, like the book, is aged and damaged. It lacks several teeth and is a dirty, off-white color. Unlike the book, the skull faces to the side. The skull looks to the right of the viewer, whereas the book’s cover opens to the viewer directly. This positioning by Harnett aids in drawing the eye to the quoted text for which the painting is titled. The skull rests atop yet another book, this one much thicker and less damaged than the first two. The spine shows it to be a collection of Shakespeare’s Tragedies, which, like the thoughts this painting is meant to provoke, is full of death, loss, and mourning.

Another obvious symbol of passing used by Harnett is the extinguished candle. Light entering the scene from the left side of the painting creates a reflection on the candlestick. A broken line of white draws the viewer beyond the darkness of the whole piece to the candle. On the table, it sits behind the skull-topped book. Behind the candlestick and skull is naught but a darkened archway; a light-less passage through which the used-up candle cannot guide the viewer. Even the off-painting light source cannot guide the viewer’s eyes to what lies within that hall. It creates a sense of anxiety and anticipation at the thought of the great beyond. One cannot see what is through the passage, just as one cannot know what is seen after death.

Behind the open books sits an empty hourglass, presumably the sand has run out to the bottom though it is not seen in the painting. It is yet another iconic reminder of one’s own mortality and the passage of time. It is tilted in a slightly unsettling way and is perhaps propped up by one of the other books behind the open pair. Like the open book before it, the hourglass appears to be at the cusp of motion. It appears ready to fall, or even already falling, in its tipped position. The only portion of the glass seen is that which reflects the light from the left. The lighting effect may be Harnett’s real reason for presenting the hourglass at an angle. The glass is so clean that the viewer can see to the stone wall beyond and, had the hourglass not been positioned as it is, the reflected light may have been too much or too little. Too little, and the hourglass would go unnoticed. Too much and it would detract from the whiteness of the book cover and detract from the intended focus.

The books surrounding the hourglass have no visible titles, though they appear to be at different stages of aging. One book, positioned at an angle on the left side of the Shakespeare tome, has a few pages that seem to be shifted and poking out of the rest. This can be read as a well-used book that is possibly near “death,” though not as near as the book with quote upon it is. A book lays flat to the left of the hourglass and the open books. It appears to be smooth and not at all damaged, though perhaps a bit dusty. The sixth and final book is perhaps in the same stage of life: its pages are neat and straight, but are yellowed from age.

The table upon which this memento mori still life is placed is a drab, olive-brown. It does not shine like the silk painted by other artists using oils, but it is as smooth. It seems to be very plain, which could be indicative of it being over-used and near its end along with the books and candle. The lack of luster in the cloth, as well as the rest of the objects, shows death to be very mundane and common. This fits with the sense of tragedy in Hamlet as no death in the play is glorious, no one died a martyr, and celebrated at another’s death.

Still life paintings are oft devoid of deep meaning. However, William M. Harnett’s Memento Mori, “To This Favor” bears a rich subtext of the commonality of aging and loss in addition to it’s obvious subject of death. Each object is positioned to relate to the other as aging, death, and anxiety all relate to each other. Harnett’s work reminds one of one’s own mortality as intended, but also reminds us that those we love will pass, too.

Dinosaur Hunter

Forbes published an article about the company I work for.

They got a few things wrong in that first paragraph.


Tonight James made tacos. While we were each constructing our tacos, there was a hissing noise, not unlike the sound of gas slowly escaping a tiny aperture.

“The gas is off, right?” James asked. I glanced at all the dials on the stove to confirm.

The sound seemed to be coming from our stack of appliances in the corner of the kitchen. I unplugged them all, just in case there was something going on with them. The sound persisted.

I opened the cupboard below the appliances and gave a listen. The sound got quieter.

James went outside and tightened the hose’s valve as that is right outside where the sound is coming from. There was no change in the sound.

I decided to stop worrying and continue to build my taco. As I opened the jar of salsa, the sound stopped.

“Yeah, let’s throw that out.”

An Old Short

Originally posted on TCB Mon, 15 Dec 2003 01:27:59 GMT

Sandra sat at the terminal, leaning on her crossed arms in front of the keyboard. She couldn’t believe what was happening. Shock, worry, fear, and all the emotions she was told never to feel were washing over her face all at once, which resulted in her stone-cold visage squeezing out a few salty tears. These feelings, as she knew, were simple replacements, something to soothe her most prominent feeling of complete emptiness.

There was something missing in Sandra now, and she knew what it was. The connection had been severed. She was the most alone she had ever been in her life, though she was currently in a room with at least a dozen others, all in as much shock as her from the disturbing occurrences.

The air echoed with questions of Amanda’s well-being, doubts of her survival, and premature praise of the agent’s past life. The video feed was down. Audio was gone, too. Sandra, along with two others, waited at their terminals for any sign of Amanda.

But Sandra knew that there was no hope. Amanda was dead.

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An Old First Post

I, uh, got a bit bored. Here’s an ancient post from the Jurassic Era. TCB was five years old in 2003. That makes it fucking old now.

Thu, 11 Dec 2003 07:45:12 GMT

I made a huge mistake. I thought about upgrading from ib v3.0.2 to ib v3.1.2. As you can see, the Cork Board is currently on 3.1.2, but at no small price. While upgrading the Cork Board, the old databases became corrupt, and I had no working ones elsewhere. All the posts were lost. All 14K+ of them.

So it’s gone. The backups that I did have were no good. It’s all gone.

Not like there was much there, but I’m sorry. I’m sorry I lost what people had given.

The Cork Board celebrated it’s fifth year this year. It went by with no one noticing, and with me not saying a word.

I guess a new start is something I need, though. Now that it’s completely clear of any bugs, any missed images, I should be fine. I should be able to keep this up again.

If I don’t go crazy from everything else first.

So, the first question, which I do not expect to be answered about the board, as it is a Happy Question and must be answered happily (or at least in an entertaining manner) and I will not be happy with compliments or criticism right now – where was …. right, the Q.

How does it look?

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Echo exists because I had a dream about dying.

Echo is a main character of a story called Vivify that I wrote in October 2007. I recommend reading it before continuing. (Unlike a lot of my other writing, I’ve re-read this and didn’t hate it.)

Echo is the first of the fifth generation Vivified drones created by Dr. Weiss of the Vivifix Corporation. With all the vivi you’d think I’d named her that, but no. Echo’s past life remains an unknown to herself, but she has seen pictures of her recent past. The first two iterations of Vivified (Alpha, Bravo) were her, suspended in fluid for testing connections and controls. Future iterations had some motor skills, but the Echo line was the first to be able to walk and eventually be taught to function.
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Dream 09.05.27

I wish I had more time to write this out. For now it’ll just be a braindump so I don’t forget it.

The dream started with James and I going to Florida. (I have had two previous dreams wherin we accidently end up in Florida and need to get back home ASAP for work.) We needed a place to stay while we were down there, so we thought it was a good idea to steal the old mobile home I grew up in. (I have had several other dreams involving owning this mobile home or others as secondary housing.)

Upon examining the interrior of the trailer, I found that my parents had not completely emptied it and many of my mother’s old business clothes were there. I held up a dress and said to James, “I should take all these home and wear them to work. I can totally start bringing the 80s back.” (I need new business-casual clothes, getting old stuff might be a good idea). Inside the bedroom, my parents old waterbed was still there, along with some fans.
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Foreign Transaction Fees update

Citibank refunded the charge on 5/19 (it didn’t show on the online statement until 5/21). Even though this was resolved, I still received a new message from Valve’s support. They asked me for a screenshot of the fee. I obliged and gave also a screenshot of the Citi CSR stating which charges were considered foreign transactions.

Here’s the conversation through Steam’s support:

8 « Message by Thomas on Tue, 19th May 2009 5:11 pm »
Hello Amanda,
We are still working on this issue and have been talking to the bank, can you please confirm the dollar amount of the foreign transaction fee that they are charging?

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Jacs Aderyn

Jacs has a thing for slave traders. A hate thing. A passion to destroy the market of owning people. It may have something to do with her TRAGIC HISTORY of being a slave herself.

Jacs is a privateer sanctioned by several governments to stop the trade of living souls that is legal in the majority of countries in her world. These governments would rather not get involved in direct confrontation with the larger ones, so she doesn’t let on that she’s doing the good work of the small guy. She also wants some profit. So she knocks off the captains of the slave ships, claims the merchandise as her own, and gives them two options: Stay and work on the ship or swim back home. She pays a small wage if they stay, which they can save (to pay Jacs her fee for saving them) or spend (she let’s them buy whatever they want … from her) as they please. Once they’ve paid off the fee, they’re free to go wherever they want. Many end up staying because they’ll make more and be safer on her ship than if they would go back home.

Fee Removed

EDIT on 05/21/09: see bottom for more details

Update on the foreign transaction fee issue. After waiting a few days for a response to my previous call, I decided it would be better to call them. After explaining the situation to “Hugo,” I was transfered to a supervisor (“Mr. Thomas”). I explained the situation to him, and he stated that the foreign transaction fees are automatic and they do not watch for them. Since it is so common for US businesses to process through Canada (and warn their customers of possible fees) they don’t bother with alerting customers of foreign purchases. He waived the $1.92 and thanked me for being a customer. I’ll be checking my account online at the end of the business day to verify that it’s been taken off.

If Valve had at all stated that they process payments outside of the US (in plain text would have been nice, but they didn’t even have it in legalese), I would have made the purchase in a different manner.
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