Wednesday, October 26, 2011

L'Enfant Terrible: Baby Herman

Baby Herman is Roger Rabbit's deuteragonist in the animated cartoons in which they appear together. He is Roger Rabbit's best friend. Baby Herman and Roger Rabbit appeared together in routines redolent of Abbott and Costello in the so-called "Maroon Cartoons" of the 1940s.

In the Robert Zemeckis' toon-noir, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Baby Herman's role was significantly reduced relative to the old cartoons. In one scene, however, he is tipping off Eddie about the whereabouts of Marvin Acme's will, saying that Roger didn't murder Acme. Baby Herman also appears in the first cartoon on the scene at the Acme Factory after Valiant's battle with Judge Doom.

Despite his name and appearance, "Baby Herman" is actually a middle-aged, cigar-smoking actor who happens to look like an infant, and act as one. While filming "in character," he speaks baby talk in a typical baby boy's voice provided by April Winchell. Off-camera, however, his real persona kicks in, and he has a loud, gravelly voice courtesy of the voice talents of Lou Hirsch. It is said that Richard Williams, the animation director for the film, so loved the character of "adult" Baby Herman that he personally animated those scenes in the film.

Baby Herman with Cigar

When he loses his cigar, however, Baby Herman cries like a real baby, only in the voice of an adult.

Baby Herman without cigar

I have not seen any member of the St. HOLG's cigar club cry when bereft of his cigar. But, then again, I have never seen a member of the St. HOLG's cigar club sans cigar.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

That SEEGAR sure is a big'un!

What do you get if you have a lot of wood, paint, paper, and tobacco on hand, love cigars, and think big? Well, if you are the artist Roger Gober, you come up with a huge (alas, unsmokable!) cigar.

Gober was born in 1954 in the town of Wallingford, Connecticut. He studied at Middlebury College in Vermont and then at the Tyler School of Art in Rome. Currently, he lives and works in New York City and is represented by the Matthew Marks Gallery.

"Cigar" by Robert Gober

Gober is probably best known for his sculptures, particularly sinks and human legs, but he has also ventured into other areas, including photography, print-making, drawing, and other media. He has had exhibitions of his work in Europe, North America, and Japan. As Wikipedia puts it:
His work is often related to domestic and familiar objects such as sinks, doors, and legs, and has themes of nature, sexuality, religion, and politics. The sculptures are meticulously handcrafted, even when they appear to just be a re-creation of a common sink.

In his 1991 work entitled simply, "Cigar," Gober crafted a human-sized cigar. It is approximately 15 3/4 inches in diameter and 70 7/8 inches in length. "Cigar" may be found in the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, California.

"Cigar" by Robert Gober

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Existential Cigar

Kierkegaard, his vocation as a philosopher in the Socratic spirit, his belligerence against the values of the bourgeoisie, and the smoking of cigars went hand-in-hand. This is an odd mixture, since this rather unique existentialist philosopher was said to suffer from pyrophobia, fear of fire. But his fear of fire must have been overcome by his love of cigars. In fact, according to his biographer, Kierkegaard sketched himself in 1835, while still a young man, "dressed in modern attire, wearing glasses, and with a cigar in his mouth."* (Alas! I haven't been able to locate this sketch.) But perhaps it was just this unsettling aspect of the cigar, the fear and trembling that each cigar caused him, that led him to devote his life to the pursuit of philosophy, knowing that life, like a cigar, is pleasant, though, like all contingent being and contingent good, fraught with danger, and is . . . for a time only. Every cigar, like every human, has an end. And it is both the wonder of life and the concern with death that are the impetuses of philosophy. Aristotle says that wonder drives philosophy. "Philosophy," Aristotle says in his Metaphysics, "begins with wonder." Schopenhauer says that death is the "real inspiring genius or musagetes of philosophy, and for this reason Socrates defined philosophy as 'thanatos melete' (rehearsal for death)."** Cigars and cigar smoking, and life and death, then, appear to have some linkage to which Kierkegaard was attuned.

One of Kierkegaard's favorite techniques was to write under the names of aliases. Sometimes a direct link between Kierkegaard's personal life and experience and his characters can be made. In the instance of the cigar and it generating Kierkegaard's calling to be a philosopher who opposed himself particularly to the bourgeois muffling of the Christian message, we have such a link.

First, we might look at Kierkegaard's Journals. In one of his journal entries,*** Kierkegaard describes his situation this way:
It is three years now since I got the notion to try my hand at being an author. I remember it quite clearly, it was a Sunday afternoon; I sat as usual in the café in Frederiksberg Gardens and smoked my cigar.

Statue of Kierkegaard at the Frederiksberg Gardens in Copenhagen

Of this event, his biographer says the following:
Kierkegaard loved the [Frederiksberg] gardens; he often sat there absorbed in his cigar and the in the sight of the serving girls, whom he sketched masterfully in a lengthy passage in "The Seducer's Diary," wehre the girls from Nyboder take top honors because they are "buxom, voluptuous, fine-complexioned, merry, cheerful, sprighly, talkative, a bit coquettish, and above all, bareheading, wearing, at most , something as endearing as a "saucy little cap."†
But we're not here to talk about buxom girls in saucy caps, but about Kierkegaard. (The cigar, by the way, also features also in Kierkegaard's In Vino Veritas (The Banquet), but we're not here to talk about that either.)

Kiekegaard's experience documented in his Journal is elaborated under an alias, "Johannes Climacus," in one of Kierkegaard's works, where the character realized that his job was--unlike the mass of men about him whose task was to make things easy for their fellows and get rich in the process--going to be something like a neo-Socrates, "to make difficulties everywhere." Using his frequent aliases, Kierkegaard depicts himself as a certain Johannes Climacus in Concluding Unscientific Postscript as thoughtully smoke a cigar and assessing his situation. As the biographer Graff puts it:
[Kierkegaard] (alias Johannes Climacus) sat thoughtfully smoking a cigar and attempted to take stock of his situation. He was no longer quite young, he had passed the time with a bith of studies about one thing or another, but he had not been of any use to the human race. And this pained him. For he saw himself surrounded on every side by energetic people who were doing everything they could to make existence more tolerable: "Some by means of railroads; others with omnibuses and steamships; others with the telegraph; others with easily understood surveys and brief bulletins about everything worth knowing; and finally, the true benefactors of the age, who by virtue of thought make spiritual existence systematically easier and easier, yet more and more meaningful. And what about you? Her my introspection was interrupted because my cigar was finisehed and I had to light a new one."

No sooner was the cigar lit than Climacus hit on the idea that his contribuiton to the modern world could be to make everything more and more difficulty, thereby supply existence with its lost gravity.††

Søren Kierkegaard

*Joakim Garff, Søren Kierkegaard: A Biography (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005), 54.
**Musagetes is an epithet of Apollo, the "leader of the muses."
***Journals and Papters, Vol. 5, 5756, VA111, n.d., 1844, p. 262.
†Garff, 304.
††Garff, 465 (internal quotes are from Concluding Unscientific Postscript.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

M & M and Cigars

The title to this posting is deceiving, as it has nothing to do with candy. Rather it has to do with an artist and a poet, with Stéphane Mallarmé (1842-1898) and the painting of Mallarmé by impressionist painter Édouard Manet (1832-83). Mallarmé is a famous fin de siècle French poet whose poetic works were frequently put to music. For example, Mallarmé's poem, L'après-midi d'un faune (or The Afternoon of a Faun) was wonderfully put to music by the impressionist Claude Deubssy in the orchestral work Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune. This would be a wonderful piece to listen to while smoking a cigar by oneself.

Mallarmé had a great affinity for cigars, and it shows up not only in one of his poems, but it shows up in Manet's portrait of Mallarmé painted in 1876. I have thus conveniently combined Mallarmé's poem and Manet's portrait of Mallarmé in one posting which yields the clever title M & M and cigars, for which I pat myself on the back.

First the picture:

Edouard Manet's portrait of Stéphane Mallarmé
1876. Oil on canvas, H. 27.5; W. 36 cm © RMN (Musée d'Orsay)

Now, the poem:

Toute l’âme résumée
by the cigar-smoking Stéphane Mallarmé

(in original French)

Toute l’âme résumée
Quand lente nous l’expirons
Dans plusieurs ronds de fumée
Abolis en autres ronds

Atteste quelque cigare
Brûlant savamment pour peu
Que la cendre se sépare
De son clair baiser de feu

Ainsi le chœur des romances
A la lèvre vole-t-il
Exclus-en si tu commences
Le réel parce que vil

Le sens trop précis rature
Ta vague littérature.

(in English translation)

The whole soul encircled
In our slow exhalings
Plural rings of smoke
Vanishing in other rings

They attest to some cigar
Burning wisely while
The cinders keep apart
From the clear kiss of fire

As the choir of romance
Flies up to your smile
Keep out if you come to
The real for it's vile

To clear a sense erases
Your vague literature.


The poem seems typically impressionistic, concerned more with feelings and less with reality, calling reality vile, and something from which one ought to separate oneself, just like one ought to separate one's impressionistic lips and smoke, from the reality of the cigar's fire. When reality gets too close to the emotion it impresses, the impressionist runs scared, for the impression is more important that the reality, which, based upon Kantian philosophy, cannot be known. Only impressions can be known, the ding an sich, the reality in itself, is unknowable. Better vague musings and impressions than hard reality.

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Physiology of the Cigar

Honoré de Balzac (1799 – 1850) was a French novelist and playwright. He is most famous for a sequence of short stories and short novels that are gathered together into a series called La Comédie humaine, The Human Comedy. Through interesting characters and situations realistically described, these attempt to describe the foibles, sins, and shortcomings of characters in France after the fall of Napoleon in 1815.

Cigars are frequently mentioned in his novels and stories, and in another post I will try to gather them up. In this post, however, I focus on a small piece that Balzac wrote on the physiology of the cigar. Unfortunately, I could not find it in English on the Internet, but only in its original French. So with a little help from Google Translate and my limited knowledge of the Romance languages, I came up with a tolerable translation of The Physiology of the Cigar.

July 1831.

by Honore de Balzac

"The Parisian women have only two hatreds! The toad and the smoking of tobacco."
"I would give up the most beautiful mistress rather than my cigar!"

--A Smoker.

"Smoking is traveling in one's chair."


The cigar, like a pretty woman, has its admirers, its favorites, its victims, and its critics. It seduces initially, then intoxicates, and sometimes leads by excess to make those engaged with it nuisances. We see the cigar, and we want to try it. We hesitate, but we taste it; we go back to it, and suddenly it becomes habitual. Quickly after turning over the first chapter of this activity we are introduced to its disadvantages. Every day the disadvantages are renewed, and we begin to notice it. The number of cigars consumed tends upward, and we think perhaps to get rid of habit. But by then it is too late: the use of the cigar, at first a passing fancy, quickly becomes a habit, a necessity, and, as an tyrannical master, it bullies when it ceased to charm, until at last it is sacrificed for a passion more violent than the one given up.

The cigar is a source of all sorts of personal and internal enjoyment. Similar to liquor, snuff, and opium, it it is approved by those who use it, but repels those who do not. It is this that makes smoking so difficult to give up, as smokers are continually exposed to the reproaches of those who have a different taste, and one of the great principles of our nature is to be intolerant to those who are intolerant of us.

The fact is that in countries where smoking is not a general practice, we find hundreds who shudder at the smell of the smoking of a cigar. Also, while we are on this point, one should probably smoke at home or in places dedicated for that specific purpose, and not in public promenades, where, to satisfy a selfish need, one will merely inconvenience many people, especially women, who pretty generally prefer the smell of musk to the smell of tobacco.

In all rational animals, reason ought to be guide, and man must always ensure that his motives are good. Inasmuch as man does not come into the world with a cigar in his mouth, and there is no article in any basic law to compel him to smoke a cigar, it is not, after all, absolutely necessary to adopt such a habit here, since, as everyone knows, you can smoke without a pipe. So, before deciding to take on the obligation of smoking, it takes at least some reason to justify such a strong commitment. So many people use the cigar as a remedy, to soften the toothache, or to relieve breathing problems. Let them smoke; it is all very well if they heal themselves from their maladies, if possible, and then all will be even better.

But, just like all animals are not equally reasonable, there are many who, for no reason at all, placed a cigar in their mouths, and who, not content to smell the smoke, swallow it so as to even make them sick. They throw away the little they do not steal as a result of the detriment to their health through the glares of people that do not find it amusing in the least.

For some smoking is but idleness, and, for others, to smell, maintain and especially to see the swirling smoke of a cigar is at once a subject of occupation, amusement, and admiration. What a marvel is that!

In others, such as, for example, in adolescents, smoking is a way to make these who are still young to look like men. For these latter, they would do well to give up the habit because it is a poor kind of habit where it is not customary, and they would be better served if they spent their manly energies on more useful things, and certainly on those things that are less harmful to their lungs.

It is during those rare circumstances, the only time when one ought to smoke, where there is sufficient reason to use a rare and a mild cigar in that it provides a real pleasure, but this is only if one does not become a professional smoker. It is during these moments of low morale, when the mind is numb, when the imagination refuses any activity, and the soul is cast into a melancholy mood. In just these instances where, to smoke a cigar for a moment, to breath in a few mouthfuls of smoke, results immediately, as if by magic, in the head turning on, the mind becoming clear, and a tumultuous emotions taking over and replacing one's insouciant mood, and an unknown power reviving all the faculties which before then were dormant. That is to say that the smoke, which produces the same effect as the vapors of wine, begins to operate. And it is at that time where one should stop, otherwise one may soon feel the inconvenience of being giddy.

To continue to experience the benefits of this sort of remedy, it must be rarely used, and always with moderation, since otherwise each new use will cause a loss of degree in intensity, as it eventually degenerates into a habit, and will not produce the same results.

There are certain countries, especially those which brutally high temperatures, where smoking is an activity that is performed just like eating and drinking, and it is not even unusual to see women with cigars in their mouths. In such places, all public places and public meetings are transformed into as many tobacco shops. In the theater in such countries, when the curtain falls, everyone lights his cigar, and all the lodges shine with a thousand sparks of fire started by lighters and lit cigars. During the intermission, the hall is filled with smoke. It is a discomfort not only to those who are born, live, and die in the middle of that unhealthy air which is much in need of purification. But it is even more unpleasant for foreigners who are not used to it.

I was never more surprised than when I saw the use of the cigar in Mexico during the trip that I made there. I was invited to a party at the mayor's office, at which of course the entire nobility of the city would be, so I went to observe the manners of high society. Arriving at the antechamber, I detected the smell of smoke which surprised me, astonished that even the servants are permitted to smoke and so would soon experience the inconvenience of being light-headed and giddy as if drunk before their masters.

Quickly, I made it to the ballroom. It too was filled with smoke, and it was only through a light cloud formed by the smoke that I could distinguish objects. I was witness to a very lively and very animated waltz during which the dancers were smoking, changing their cigar hand by turn with as much grace and agility so as to embrace the size of their partners. These, carried away by the ardor of the dance, the intoxicating smell of the tobacco, and the sound of instruments abandoned themselves to their male counterparts with complacency, and seemed to enjoy the luxuriously thick puffs that were thrown upon them by their gentlemen as if lances.

As proposing to waltz with a cigar to a pretty women of France or England . . .

Oh fie! Oh what horror! they would reply.

To which I can only say: "Other countries, other customs."

November 1831.

--A.M.G. (trans.)

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Sometimes a cigar is just a good cigar

There is a famous quote attributed to Sigmund Freud who, of course, was an avid cigar smoker. When he was reminded by a disciple that smoking cigars was clearly a phallic activity suggesting some form of neurosis, Freud, cigar in hand, is said to have responded, "Manchmal ist eine Zigarre eben nur eine Zigarre." "Sometimes a good cigar is just a good cigar." It is alas, an undocumented attribution, but it states a truth. Si non è vero, è ben trovato as the Italians say. If it is not true, it may as well be.

"Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar"

What truth is that?

We might let Françoise Meltzer, professor of religion at the University of Chicago, tell us what that truth is:
The anecdote demonstrates, it seems to me, a problematic central to psychoanalysis: the discipline which insists on transference and, perhaps even more significantly, on displacement as fundamental principles, ultimately must insist in turn on seeing everything as being "really" something else. Such an ideology or metamorphosis is so much taken for granted that unlike the rest of the world, which generally has difficulty in being convinced that a pipe, for example, is not necessarily a pipe at all, psychoanalysis needs at times to remind itself, in a type of return to an adaequatio,* that it is possible for a cigar really to be a cigar.

Ceci n'est pas un cigare
"This is not a cigar"

In other words, sometimes things really are as they seem. Sometimes common sense wins out. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. So, pace Freud, and pace Magritte, who both suffer from the epistemological "turn" ushered in by René Descartes and which brought us to modernity and its denial of reality or of the ability to understand it (e.g., Kant), perhaps we ought to maintain our sanity and, with St. Thomas return to a moderate realism. Things are, and they are true, and through our senses and our minds we are able to participate in that truth of that which is. It behooves us, for example, to read Josef Pieper or James Schall.

So it's not just that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. It is the fact that always, a cigar is a cigar, nothing more, nothing less.
*A reference to the scholastic axiom of the link between reality and the mind: the concept in the mind corresponds to reality outside of it: adaequatio rei et intellectus.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Cigar in a State of Grace

René François Magritte painted his infamous painting of a pipe, of which we wrote in a prior posting. We ragged the Belgian artist around a bit on his choice of a pipe, rather than cigar, in his La trahison des images, the Treachery of Images. Ceci n'est pas une pipe would have been better rendered Ceci n'est pas un cigare for the reasons given in that posting.

But Magritte was not entirely pro-pipe. In fact, the cigar was featured in another of his famous paintings, one called L'état de grâce, The State of Grace. It is composed of a simple gray bicycle atop a lit cigar (or is it a lit cigar below a bicycle?). (Does it make a difference whether the bicycle is atop the cigar or the cigar below the bicycle?) In doing a little research I found a letter from Magritte that helps answer this specific question. According to a letter to Andre Bosmans dated October 23, 1959, Magritte was not inspired by the bicycle, and it is unclear whether or not the cigar inspired him; what he said is that he was inspired, and from that inspiration he derived the "subject to be painted: a bicycle on a cigar." It is therefore--from the artist's own hand--a bicycle on a cigar, and not a cigar below a bicycle, but it's still unclear whether he was inspired before any cigar, or was inspired by the cigar, and if not the cigar, then what inspired him. Personally, I thought the painting was a marvelous depiction of a cigar below a bicycle, but it is a horrible depiction of a bike above a cigar. But I do not know much about art.

There is, of course, another issue which does not yield a ready answer: there is an obvious disproportion between the bicycle and the cigar, and the question then is: which figure is disproportionate? Is the bike painted small, and the cigar normal size? Or are we to regard the bike as normal, and the cigar overly-inflated? Or--banish the thought--is the bike smaller and the cigar larger simultaneously so that there is nothing here to scale? We only know that they are relatively presented in different scales. Either way the bike and cigar appear to suspend, as if we were looking at a bike on a smoking blimp.

Magritte observed in another letter, this one to Suzi Gablik, that he was contemplating painting a bicycle, and then as if obiter dicta, he mentioned that "a bike sometimes runs over a cigar down in the street." This is an odd thing by which to get inspired. But I will admit it is probably more likely to get inspired by a bike riding over a cigar, then a cigar riding over a bicycle, just because the probabilities of seeing the latter are so low.

Magritte's L'état de grâce

It is hard to tell, but the cigar band has a picture of an owl on it, at least that's what I read somewhere. I don't see the owl. It did do some quick-and-dirty research on cigars with owls in their brand names. There are such things as "White Owl Cigars," but they are very cheap, and not something a Belgian would deign to paint. There area also Buho brand cigars (Buho is "owl" in Spanish), but this brand is not old enough to have been around during Magritte's time. We probably will never know what brand cigar Magritte had in mind.

But there is something a little more ominous about the painting: Why would Magritte have called the painting "The State of Grace"? The state of grace is a theological term, and it seems that whatever "inspiration" Magritte had it was not anything that pertained to the theological concept of "state of grace." Methinks Magritte may have been naturalizing or emotivizing, and certainly deprecating, the notion of sanctifying grace.

Now I can see how a cigar may be a vehicle of actual grace, but that is an entirely different thing that sanctifying grace.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Ceci n'est pas un cigare

The Belgian artist René François Ghislain Magritte (1898-1967) was famous for his surrealist paintings, in particular those that seemed to challenge or at least ask questions about reality. One of his frequent techniques was to place familiar objects in unusual contexts. Contrary to another surrealist, Salvadore Dali, Magritte's purpose was not to shock or disgust, but rather to evoke the sense of mystery, of mystère. But Magritte's brain was a little muddled in that he spent much time mulling over the likes of Hegel, Heidegger, Sartre, Saussure, and Foucault. He might have been better served by reading Aristotle and St. Thomas and learned about the sanity of a philosophy of moderate realism.

Perhaps one of his best-known works is The Treachery of Images (La trahison des images). It shows a realistic depiction of a standard pipe, but below it, in writing which looks like that of a schoolboy's hand, he put, "Ceci n'est pas une pipe," which means (in French) "This is not a pipe." (In French, by the way, "pipe" is pronounced something like "peep," which makes it fun to say. A sentence like "I've got a pipe in my pants," becomes quite humorous if the word pipe is pronounced like the French would pronounce it. But I'm straying. Muhammad once condemned a man to hell because he had peep in his pants. But now I'm really straying.)

The painting is obviously meant to get us to think about the relationship between reality and concept and the representation of that concept, either in painting or in language. To get to the point, of course, there is truth and there is untruth in the statement "This is not a pipe" because it is ambiguous. Magritte insisted that had he written, "Ceci une pipe," "This is a pipe," below his depiction of the pipe, he would have been lying. But would he? If, before this discussion, I held out a picture of a pipe before you and asked you, "What is this?" You might have answered, "Why, it is a pipe," and you would not really be lying. You would of course would not be lying because you would be referring to the concept that is behind the painting. You would know that it is only a painting of a pipe, but you would know that it was communicating the concept of "pipe." Some things, however, are unexpressed: hence the ambiguity.

The problem, as I said, is one of ambiguity. It is unambiguously a problem of ambiguity. For one, what does the work "This" refer to? The painting? The painting of the pipe? The concept behind the painting? The sentence? The pipe that was the model for Magritte? What does "a pipe" refer to? A particular pipe, the "universal" or abstracted concept of a "pipe" or "pipeness," or the representation of a pipe? (We have been enlightened since Magritte's time, by that great mind and philosopher from Hope, Arkansas. We now know the copula "is" can mean some many things. To the ambiguity of "this" and "pipe" we can also ask, "It depends what you mean by 'is'?")

What, by the way, ties the sentence to the painting? If the sentence below the pipe had read, "Ceci n'est pas une piment," this is not a pepper, we would not even be able to have this discussion, because it would be true on all grounds: all the ambiguity is gone. But if the painting had read "Ceci n'est pas un piment" and had a painting of a pepper, the ambiguity is all in again.

Literally speaking, the painting of a pipe in Magritte's painting is not an actual pipe, a pipe in the concrete. This, of course, everyone knows. It is a representation of a pipe, and bears within it the ability to communicate the concept of a pipe, and perhaps even an individual pipe that lay before Magritte as he painted it. Thus the painting may encapsulate in representational form, both a concrete pipe and the concept, the abstracted idea of what a pipe is, of "pipeness." Conceptually speaking, however, the representation of a pipe does grasp in some way the concept of a pipe, even perhaps the individual characteristics of a particular pipe, and so it is false to say that the painting does not express, in some way, the concept of a pipe, the idea of what "pipeness" is, or even the whatness of a particular, concrete pipe. There is something of "pipeness" in the painting, maybe even the "pipeness" as expressed in one particular pipe that Magritte had before him that is communicated from the pipe, to Magritte's brain, back onto the canvas, even into the words "pipe," and from the canvas into our own brains, where we recognize the abstract concept "pipe" based upon our own experiences with pipes.

If we did not know what a concept of a pipe was, if we had no idea of what "pipeness" was, and if we did not have the ability to separate concepts or ideal objects from concrete objects or representation of concrete objects, then it would be impossible to know that a painted pipe is not a pipe. But obviously we see that a painting of a pipe has "pipeness" in it, just like an actual concrete pipe does, or just like the idea of a pipe in our own minds, or the the idea of a pipe in Magritte's own mind. Otherwise, we would not be able to be speaking of concrete, individualized pipes, paintings of pipes, and concepts of pipes or "pipeness." Indeed, we would not be able to even understand what the word "pipe" (whether pronounced "peep" or "pype") means.

It's all rather interesting, and it drove that erratic but brilliant Michel Foucault to write a monograph on it in 1968 (expanded in 1973) which (predictably) is entitled Ceci n'est pas un pipe. The work has been translated into English as This is Not a Pipe. It is almost ninety or so pages of ramblings, some of which makes sense, some of which does not. None of which is very important, and it is difficult to believe that the world is a better place for Foucault having written it. Did one person become better for reading it? Did one person come closer to truth for reading it? That is doubtful. I have looked at Foucault's work on Google books, and it is full of all sorts of interesting thoughts, including the concept of "calligram," which seem to dissipate as if they were so much smoke coming from a pipe. I wonder if it is my weak mind, but then I remember, that this is Foucault I'm reading. I'm not a better human for having glanced at it, but perhaps I need to mediate upon that.

Magritte got so much mileage off of his first painting that he painted a second which adds even more complexities, including perhaps a critique of Platonic or Hegelian notions of Idealism. I will not address those, as I already have said too much.

Anyway, what does Magritte's painting have to do with cigars? We are a cigar club, not a pipe club. Well, Magritte's selection of a pipe ("peep") betrays a hidden ambiguity which even the brilliant Foucault missed. The ambiguity is not one of painting or of the written language, but is one relating to the homphonic identity of "pipe" (pronounced "peep") and peep (pronounced "peep").

For that matter, there is a further ambiguity arising from the homophonic quality of the French "pipes" (peeps) and the famous if scurrilous diarist Samuel Pepys (pronounced, "peeps"). There are many pipes, but only one Pepys. But that aside, we can still have fun with the not ver savory Mr. Pepys. Others have observed this and have made a joke about it:

This homophonic ambiguity is disastrous, sloppy, problematic. It is a philosophical and artist faux pas. Had Magritte been thinking, he would not have painted a pipe, and he would avoided the homophonic ambiguity with "peep" and "Pepys." A clear thinker would have chosen a cigar, as a cigar suffers from no such pipe/peep/Pepys homophonic problem. A cigar is a cigar: there is no homophonic problem.*

It was very short-sighted of this artist. Even Homer nods. Magritte stumbled. I have therefore scoured the internet and found some folks who realized Magritte's lapse, and so I offer the club a modified version of Magritte's visual conundrum: Ceci n'est pas un cigare and (for the Spanish speakers) a version in Spanish, Esto no es un cigarro. These paintings are philosophically superior to Ceci n'est pas une pipe. Moreover, it makes me want to smoke a cigar.

One last thing. Magritte stumbled. But he did not do so because of a bias against cigars. Indeed, he painted a painting of a cigar below a bike in a painting entitled L'état de grâce, "The State of Grace." We'll get to that in our next posting.
*There is a charter boat called "Sea-Gar" which might present a problem. But it did not exist in Magritte's time.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Sancte Pie Decime Fuma Pro Nobis

Here is a tribute to our patron, Pope St. Pius X:

The words are:
Sancte Pie Decime, gloriose patrone, ora pro nobis.
Saint Pius X, glorious patron, pray for us.

The Naked Beauty of Cigars

Ah, perhaps the title "naked beauty of cigars" misled you? We are not talking about "naked beauties" and cigars, but the naked beauty of cigars. The topic of this post is not some titillating topic, but rather Lord Byron's poem, "The Island," where he describes the naked benefit, the nudum beneficium, of cigars: so close are they to nature itself, without any mechanical or technical intermediaries or accoutrements, "clothing" as it were, such as we find in pipe or hooka, which interfere, or at least intermediate, with the natural enjoyment of the tobacco. In a cigar, the tobacco stains the hand, the lip: there is no "middle-man" between the tobacco and the smoke. We come into contact with the tobacco's flesh, even its very veins. Smoking cigars is, for Byron and for the aficionado, the enjoyment of tobacco in the most intimate way.

"The Island"
by Lord Byron
Canto II.xix.*

Sublime tobacco! which from east to west
Cheers the tar's labour or the Turkman's rest;
Which on the Moslem's ottoman divides
His hours, and rivals opium and his brides;
Magnificent in Stamboul, but less grand,
Though not less loved in Wapping or the Strand;
Divine in hookas, glorious in a pipe,
When tipp'd with amber, mellow, rich, and ripe;
Like other charmers, wooing the caress
More dazzlingly when daring in full dress.
Yet thy true lovers more admire, by far,
Thy naked beauties--give me a cigar!

Cigar manufacturers, of course, seized on such language, and, before long, Lord Byron--in addition to all the other things he symbolized, many of which do not become a Christian man--became a symbol of the art and the beauty of smoking a cigar. So Lord Byron appeared on books about tobacco, obtained his own cigar brand, and appeared on cigar bands or vitolas.

Lord Byron on Cigar Vitola

Lord Byron-Brand Cigars

Lord Byron puffing on a "naked beauty"
"Give me a Cigar!"

*"tar" is slang for sailor; "Stamboul" is a variant of Istanbul, capital of Turkey; "Wapping" is a place in London close to the docks by the River Thames, at the time a lower class area; "Strand" refers to a location in London which, during Victorian England, was a fashionable address.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

"Cigar Box" Banjo

What to do with all those empty cigar boxes? Why, build yourself a cigar-box guitar or cigar box banjo as this elderly gentlemen did!

Making a Cigar Box Banjo, Part 1

Making a Cigar Box Banjo, Part 2

Playing the dadburn thang!

The cigar box guitar or banjo was at one time quite popular. In the early Peanuts strips, Charlie Brown played a guitar box banjo, something that the character Schroeder did not appreciate.

Schroeder did not know his Lizst, as had he known his Lizst, he would have known the link between good music and cigars.

For those more interested in this rather esoteric hobby, one can find kits on the internet or instruction manuals and instructional DVDs:

I will confess to you, however, since I can play neither cigar or banjo, I don't think this is something that I'm going to tackle. What I will do is contribute to the art by smoking cigars and emptying out boxes so that those that want to engage in this hobby will always have a ready supply of cigar boxes available. In this small way, I will be advancing the revival of the art of cigar box guitar and cigar box banjo building.


Monday, October 3, 2011

Bill Cosby on the Theology of Cigars

"All tobacco leaves are made by God and therefore all tobacco leaves are wonderful. Only man can take a perfectly wonderful leaf and turn it into a bad cigar. Or--God forgive me--into a cigarette! I can't speak for God but I would dare say that when God made tobacco He envisioned hand-rolled double coronas and not machine-made Ultra Light 100s."

--Bill Cosby, Foreword, Cigar Handbook.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Graceful smoke-wreaths of this cigar!

George Arnold (1834 - 1865) was New-York-born author and poet. After a brief stint as a portrait painter, he turned his attention to writing. Eventually, he became a contributor to Vanity Fair and The Leader. He was, with Walt Whitman his contemporary, a patron of Pfaffs beer cellar, where, like many of our group, he enjoyed the combination of beer and a cigar. In his unfinished poem "The Two Vaults," Whitman describes Pfaffs thus:
The vault at Pfaffs where the drinkers and laughers meet to eat and drink and carouse
While on the walk immediately overhead pass the myriad feet of Broadway . . . .

Whitman at Pfaffs enjoying, we may be sure, a beer and a cigar

Arnold is perhaps best known for his humorous pieces, among them, The Jolly Old Pedagogue.

In this posting, however, I have copied Arnold's poem, "Beer." The poem reminds us that we ought to remind ourselves at each herf about the finer things of life, which are not riches, influence, and power, but, rather
O, finer far
Than fame, or riches, are
The graceful smoke-wreathes of this cigar!
Even in the worst of times, bereft of hope and in the sloughs of despond, we ought to remember with Arnold:
What if luck has passed me by?
What if my hopes are dead,—
My pleasures fled?
Have I not still
My fill
Of right good cheer,—
Cigars and beer.

by George Arnold

With my beer
I sit,
While golden moments flit:

They pass
Unheeded by:
And, as they fly,
Being dry,
Sit, idly sipping here
My beer.

O, finer far
Than fame, or riches, are
The graceful smoke-wreathes of this cigar!
Should I
Weep, wail, or sigh?
What if luck has passed me by?
What if my hopes are dead,—
My pleasures fled?
Have I not still
My fill
Of right good cheer,—
Cigars and beer.

Go, whining youth,
Go, weep and wail,
Sigh and grow pale,
Weave melancholy rhymes
On the old times,
Whose joys like shadowy ghosts appear,
But leave me to my beer!
Gold is dross,—
Love is loss,—
So, if I gulp my sorrows down,
Or see them drown
In foamy draughts of old nut-brown,
Then do wear the crown,
Without the cross!
The poem has but one flaw: it suggests that drinking beer obtains for us a certain salvation, but it is a salvation without the cross, which, as every good Catholic knows, is untenable. It may be that drinking is a little respite from the life of Christian discipleship, but we know that we shall not wear the crown without likewise carrying the cross. But beer, cigars, and fellowship can make the burden a little easier for us weak pilgrims. And I have found that those pilgrims who drink and smoke and socialize in moderation seem far more jovial and happy and well-adjusted, than those with Puritanical or Jansenist tendencies who, if they had their way, would prohibit strong drink, smoke, male camaraderie, which are really just forms of human dancing.