On this day in 1915, the great literary theorist Roland Barthes was born. These days he’s fallen out of favor, partly due to many of the excesses of later literary theorists. Also there is a belief, especially among conservative scholars that the only kind of valid truth is that which can be verified. That’s just silly. I’ve always found Barthes to be extremely insightful about the ways that language colors our perceptions of the world. We need this thinking more today than ever.
The great actor Wallace Shawn is 70 today. He is also a fine playwright. But the thing is that he writes primarily about sexual politics in the most explicit of ways. In fact, I don’t even know how some of his plays have been produced. It is absurdist work, mostly about people who are unable to relate to each other. Regardless, everyone knows him as an actor. Here he is in My Dinner With Andre, which he co-wrote with Andre Gregory. In this scene, Wallace lays out the urbane middle class philosophy of life. I mostly agree with it. Where I think the character shows some limitations is in his reductionist idea of the universe. Otherwise, I too think that not finding a cockroach in my coffee is about the best that can be hoped for in this life. Check out the clip, it’s really great and funny:
The great leader of Booker T & The MG’s, Booker T Jones is 69. Here he is with the band doing “Time Is Tight”:
Another great musician Neil Young is 68. I am a great fan of Buffalo Springfield. And since then, Young has done the best work of any of the great people in that band. Here he is doing “Harvest Moon”:
Other birthdays: activist Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815); playwright Ben Travers (1886); justice Harry Blackmun (1908); actor Grace Kelly (1929); murder mastermind Charles Manson (79); Buck Dharma of Blue Oyster Cult (66); gymnast Nadia Comaneci (52); political activist Naomi Wolf (51); ice skater Tonya Harding (43); actor Ryan Gosling (33); and actor Anne Hathaway (31).
The day, however, belongs to the great sculptor Auguste Rodin who was born on this day in 1840. He is best known for The Thinker, but it really ought to be named “The Thinkers,” because he did it again and again. It was a big hit and he was on the leading edge of turning art into commerce. I first got into him when I visited the Musee Rodin in Paris. It was a revelation. Until that time, all I’d really known about him was The Thinker and it isn’t really one of his best pieces. What really struck me at the time was The Kiss, but all the work was incredible. In later years, I’ve become a much bigger fan of The Age of Bronze.
Happy birthday Auguste Rodin!