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At Home with History
A coffee-table tribute to 50 Philadelphia residences turned
By Peter Conn
HISTORIC HOUSES OF PHILADELPHIA: A Tour of the Region's Museum Homes
By Roger W. Moss, Faculty. Photographs by Tom Crane.
Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1998. 240 pp., $34.95.
In the century between its founding and the Revolution,
Philadelphia grew to be the largest and most prosperous city in the English-speaking
colonies. The trade that flowed through the city's busy port fueled a
thriving cosmopolitan culture; many of the leading figures in the politics
and art, literature and science of early America lived and worked in Philadelphia.
The record of that era is preserved not only in such
documents as books and newspapers, paintings and sculpture. It is also
written in the buildings that housed the people, commerce, culture, and
government of the 18th-century city. Historic Houses of Philadelphia,
which focuses on private residences, illuminates an important chapter
in the city's story.
The vast majority of the homes that were built in the
Delaware Valley over the past several centuries have, of course, disappeared.
In that sense, Historic Houses is an elegy to a vanished past.
However, nearly 200 houses survive as museums in the Philadelphia area,
ranging from the modest homes of artisans and mechanics to grand country
estates. The number itself should be a source of civic pride. Despite
its losses, Philadelphia retains a larger collection of accessible, historically-significant
houses than any other American city. Perhaps because of a shared self-consciousness
about how much history has been made here, Philadelphians have been rescuing
buildings of all sorts, houses included, for more than a century.
In Historic Houses, Roger Moss provides a readable,
reliable survey of Philadelphia's residential architecture and furnishings.
Moss, who is executive director of The Athenaeum of Philadelphia and teaches
in Penn's historic preservation program, has selected 50 houses, and describes
each of them in a brief essay that combines technical architectural comments
with information and anecdotes about the men and women who have lived
in each building.
Most of the houses illustrated in this book share common
features of scale and proportion, but each also possesses its particular
excellences and eccentricities. Taken together, they comprise an immeasurable
regional resource, enriching the city's visual treasury. Tom Crane's companion
photographs are pleasantly misleading: it is not always sunny in Philadelphia,
and the trees are not always exquisitely autumnal. But Crane's superlative
images complement and expand the text, by capturing the drama and vitality
that good architecture embodies, and by proving just how beautiful an
old building can be.
Immensely useful as a reference volume, Historic
Houses is also intended as a guide book for visitors. So, the text
is usefully divided into regions, with separate sections on Center City,
Fairmount Park, Germantown, the Delaware River, and the suburbs.
In combination, Moss's text and Crane's photographs
enable readers to take a number of imaginary walking tours, to visit or
revisit dozens of extraordinary places. Let me mention just a few of my
own favorites. In Center City stands the Todd House, on the corner of
Fourth and Walnut Streets, where Dolly Payne Todd lived for several years
before she and her second husband, James Madison, moved to Washington.
Nearby is the Bishop White House, for 50 years the home of William White,
Chaplain of the Continental Congress and a power in the Episcopal Church.
Fairmount Park is the setting for a wonderful group of houses, including
the Federal-style Sweetbrier and Lemon Hill, the Middle Georgian Mount
Pleasant, and the charmingly eclectic Cedar Grove, several of which still
command the views and vistas for which they were built. A number of significant
houses cluster in Germantown, including Upsala, Wyck, the Johnson House,
and Cliveden, which is ranked among the most distinguished house museums
in the country.
Roger Moss is a learned but engaging guide to the building
styles and furniture of the period, and readers will quickly learn to
recognize the variety of choices that owners and builders made. (A helpful
glossary of building terms will be found in the book's back pages.) Beyond
that, Moss's commentary anchors the city's physical fabric in its social
history. Thus, architectural analysis alternates with discussions of the
city's domestic life over several generations. To be sure, the more prosperous
classes, whose houses have survived as museums in greater numbers, receive
the most attention; but we also catch glimpses of the middling folk, and
Aside from teaching us about design and social history,
the book raises provocative questions about the complexity and even the
paradoxes of preservation itself. To put it bluntly: Houses and museums
are utterly different sorts of places. Houses have residents; museums
have curators. Houses are built to live in, and their owners alter them
willy-nilly as their needs or desires change. Museums, on the contrary,
are places to visit rather than occupy, in which the casual sociability
of daily life is replaced by a quasi-religious seriousness. Furnishings
and tools that were made for familiar household tasks are transformed
into objects of art that are not to be touched, much less used.
More generally, is it oxymoronic to talk about "preserving
the past?" Saving a physical structure usually means restoring it,
either piecemeal or wholesale, and thus changing it over time. Some old
buildings have been renovated and rehabilitated so often, over so many
years, that the "original" parts can no longer be identified.
Furthermore, even if a house (or another building) survives while everything
around it changes -- if fragments of the 18th or 19th century linger into
the 20th and 21st -- what exactly remains?
Questions such as these don't yield easy answers. Nonetheless,
most of us share an instinctive conviction that the past nurtures the
present, and we acknowledge an obligation to protect what we can of the
several legacies we have inherited from our predecessors. From that point
of view, Historic Houses does more than survey a collection of
buildings; it pays tribute to several generations of good citizenship.
Peter Conn is the Andrea Mitchell Professor of English at Penn and
faculty director of Civic House.
THE BOOK OF JOB
Translation, Introduction, and Notes by Raymond P. Scheindlin,
New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1998. 237 pp., $23.95.
With its withering focus on the ordeal of a righteous
man tormented by God for no apparent reason, The Book of Job explores
the meaning of suffering, adversity, and Divine providence and justice.
Ensconced in Kethubim (Writings), the third section of the Hebrew
Bible, The Book of Job has the reputation of being a formidably
difficult book for both commentators and translators. With more words
that occur only once in the Bible than any other biblical book, and dozens
of rare and obscure terms, the poetry of Job (chapters 3-42) has
been -- from ancient Greek translators through the rabbis in the Talmud
and Midrash and into the 20th century -- open to a staggering array of
In the introduction to his superb translation of The
Book of Job, Raymond Scheindlin, professor of medieval Hebrew literature
at the Jewish Theological Seminary, attributes only some of Job's interpretive
difficulties to textual errors that occurred as the book was copied over
the centuries. Many of Job's linguistic landmines occur, Scheindlin
avers, because the meaning of many of its words were simply forgotten
when Hebrew ceased to be a spoken language in the first or second century
Scheindlin disagrees with scholars who think that The
Book of Job's author couched his ideas in difficult language to deliberately
obscure his unorthodox message. Ecclesiastes, he points out, "shows
that such matters were written about openly. We must not read back into
the late biblical period the medieval and early modern notion that Judaism
has always had one specific set of officially approved doctines."
Rather, he makes a strong case for Job's difficult language being
"part and parcel of the poem ... an appropriate vehicle for its subject
... The author of Job may have decided that a difficult texture
was the right one for his emotionally wrenching theme -- a tortured language
to describe life's torment."
Scheindlin places Job within the tradition of
ancient Near Eastern "wisdom literature," which asked many of
the questions that would much later arise in The Book of Job. Yet
none of Job's precursors in Sumerian, Akkadian, Aramaic, or Hebrew
have its complexity and richness, and none dared to attack the alleged
certainties of wisdom literature (such as assuring the sufferer that he
must deserve whatever disaster has befallen him), which are refuted by
Ecclesiastes and, as Scheindlin puts it, "mocked to extinction"
In the excellent introduction, Scheindlin explains that
we read ancient, exotic books "not to confirm our own literary habits
and imaginations but to expand them." We read The Book of Job,
he adds wisely, "not because it provides answers to our questions,
consolation for our grief, or redress for our anger, but because it expresses
our questions, grief, and anger with such force."
Relying on philologists as his "disciplinarians,"
Scheindlin takes a conservative approach towards translating Job,
whose Hebrew was "decidedly not colloquial, even for biblical times."
He tried, he tells the reader, "to let the text suggest its own translation
and to interfere as little as possible. I have avoided imposing arbitrary
flights of imagination on The Book of Job's text, for I have a
horror of the free-and-easy approach to translation." Instead, he
aimed to create a "disciplined translation" that adheres, "above
all, to the poetic values that I thought were important to the author.
I imagined him reading over my shoulder as I wrote and shaking his head
with annoyance when I was about to take too great a liberty."
The results of his approach are revelatory and often
gripping. "Does God distribute pain-portions in His rage? Do such
men become straw before the the wind, or storm-snatched chaff?" Job
asks Zophar. Job tells Eliphaz:
As for my friends --
they failed me like a riverbed,
wandered off, like water in a wadi.
Gloomy on an icy day,
covered up with snow;
hey flow one moment, then are gone;
when it is hot, they flicker away.
Their dry courses twist
wander into wasteland, vanish ...
That is how you are to me:
You see terror, take fright yourselves.
Scheindlin sets Job as a series of dramatic
monologues, replacing its old chapter divisions with the names of the
speakers. In the 60 pages of endnotes, Scheindlin provides summaries of
the increasingly accusatory speeches of Job's three "clumsy comforters,"
who try to pigeonhole him into the category of the wicked, believing he
must have done something terribly wrong to have merited his crippling
losses, to say nothing of his loathsome skin disease. Scheindlin deftly
defends his choices of words (such as the recurring "deathgloom"
and "deathdark," for example, which is famously translated as
"shadow of death" in Psalm 23), imparting fascinating historical
and philological information without resorting to academic jargon.
While some translators, such as Stephen Mitchell (North
Point Press, l987), have omitted the "Meditation on Wisdom"
-- the only poetry in the book not attributed to any particular speaker
-- Scheindlin includes it, while noting that most scholars feel this poem
was not part of the original book, since it interrupts the dialogue and,
by anticipating Yahweh's message, renders His speech anticlimatic. Scheindlin
objects to the "Meditation on Wisdom' on more literary grounds, deeming
it "simply too straightforward to match the subtlety of the book
as a whole. On an emotional level, the 'Meditation on Widsom' seems to
derive pious satisfaction from the distance between the mind of God and
the mind of man; it reflects none of the anxiety that this distance causes
Job in the rest of the work. Yahweh's two speeches may boil down to the
same abstract idea as the one expounded in the 'Meditation on Wisdom,'
but in emotional pitch these passages are completely different. Wisdom
preaches; Yahweh crushes."
Scheindlin believes poetry doesn't merely state Job's
message -- it is the book's message, "providing its own vigor
as an antidote to its pessimism, by changing the level of the discussion
from a meditation of life's injustice to a parade of life's sheer multitudinousness."
Susan Miron, CW'72, writes and reviews for a variety of publications,
often on Jewish thought and culture.
A selection of recent books by alumni and faculty, or otherwise of
interest to the University community. Descriptions are compiled from information
supplied by the authors and publishers.
THE LANGUAGE OF LANDSCAPE
By Anne Whiston Spirn, GLA'74, Faculty.
New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1998. 313 pp., $35.00.
Combining poetry and pragmatism to teach the language
of landscape, Spirn argues that it exists with its own syntax, grammar,
and metaphors, and that we imperil ourselves by failing to learn to read
and speak this language. To understand the meanings of landscape, our
habitat, is to see the world differently, and to enable ourselves to avoid
profound aesthetic and environmental mistakes. Offering examples that
range across thousands of years and five continents, Spirn examines urban,
rural, and natural landscapes. She discusses the thought of renowned landscape
authors, such as Thomas Jefferson and Frank Lloyd Wright, and of less
well- known pioneers. Spirn is professor of landscape architecture and
regional planning and director of the Urban Studies Program.
UNKNOWN LEGENDS OF ROCK 'N' ROLL: Psychedelic Unknowns, Mad Geniuses,
Punk Pioneers, Lo-Fi Mavericks & More
By Richie Unterberger, C'82.
San Francisco: Miller Freeman Books, 1998. 400 pp., $19.95.
In the background and the underground of rock and roll
since the beginning, there have been hundreds of visionary musicians with
one thing in common: they made great music, but hardly anyone noticed.
This book reveals the stories and music of many of these unsung heroes.
Written by Unterberger, co-editor of the All Music Guide to Rock
and former editor of the alternative music magazine Option, Unknown
Legends explores the lives and careers of 60 of the best unrecognized
rockers from the 1950s to the 1990s. Their tales are full of artistic
triumphs, disastrous business deals, fleeting relationships with global
stars, the joys of making music, the weight of public rejection, and more.
Largely based on Unterberger's interviews with the musicians themselves
(when possible) and with their colleagues, friends, and family, some of
these firsthand stories end in personal tragedy; some uncover still-working
musicians content with their unknown status; and others find artists who
simply have moved on to new endeavors. A CD of 12 rare songs is included
with the book.
THE CLINTON SYNDROME: The President and the Self-Destructive Nature
of Sexual Addiction
By Jerome D. Levin, CGS'61.
Rocklin, Calif.: Prima Publishing, 1998.
Why would the most powerful person in the world risk
engaging in illicit sexual behavior throughout his political career? Levin,
a psychotherapist, addictions specialist, and professor, takes a clinical
look at the life and behavior of President Bill Clinton, putting together
a psychological portrait of a man out of control -- so driven by a sexual
addiction that he would risk his presidency to fulfill a desperate need
for reassurance and validation of his worth. In The Clinton Syndrome,
Levin argues that Clinton's background as a child of addiction predisposed
him biologically and socially to an addiction of his own. Levin is founder
and director of the Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Counselor Training
Program at the New School for Social Research in Manhattan. He has written
nine books, eight of which deal with the understanding and treatment of
VICTORY FROM DEFEAT: Learn How & Why Winners Win From History's Greatest
By Andrew Mason, W'91.
Pittsburgh: Sterling House, 1998. 178 pp., $19.95.
Bill Cosby, Bob Hope, Albert Einstein, Walt Disney:
This book uses true stories about these and other famous individuals who,
despite misfortune, heartache, and despair, overcame obstacles and took
control of their lives. By sharing their tales of failures and successes,
and his own, Mason, a financial consultant, identifies the key components
of success that readers can learn from and emulate.
AMERICAN MEDICINE AND THE PUBLIC INTEREST: A History of Specialization
By Rosemary Stevens, Faculty.
Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998. 613 pp., $18.95.
The reissue of Stevens's 1971 book on the growth of
medical specialties -- updated with an extensive new introduction and
a new bibliography -- offers an opportunity to take stock of our health-care
system. Chronicling the development of the medical profession, Stevens
shows how the increasing emphasis on specialization influenced medical
education and public policy as well as the costs of health care and the
organizations providing it -- all of which have profound implications
for the nation's health. Stevens is the Stanley I. Scheerr Professor of
History and Sociology of Science. Among her books are In Sickness and
in Wealth and Medical Practice in Modern England.
SECURITY ANALYSIS ON WALL STREET: A Comprehensive Guide to Today's Valuation
By Jeffrey C. Hooke, W'76, WG'77.
New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1998. 434 pp., $69.95.
The principles of investing have always been simple:
buy low, sell high. The investor who can find the right stocks to buy
at the right time will reap the rewards, but the information needed to
make these potentially lucrative decisions is often difficult to come
by, then hard to decipher and rely on. This book shows that rational,
rigorous analysis is still the most successful way to evaluate securities.
Security analysis dictates that the selection of specific stocks for purchase
or sale should be based on a rational analysis of investment values. Hooke,
a corporate financial consultant based in Chevy Chase, Md., and an adjunct
professor at the University of Maryland School of Business, takes a revealing
look at the security evaluation process and its complex inner workings,
as well as the major valuation techniques currently being used by Wall
Street professionals. He is also author of M&A: A Practical Guide to
Doing the Deal.
INSIDE THERAPY: Illuminating Writings About Therapists, Patients, and
Edited by Ilana Rabinowitz, WEv'79. Foreword by Irvin D. Yalom.
New York: St. Martin's Press, 1998. 291 pp., $24.95.
The mysterious process of psychotherapy is, for both
patient and practitioner, a minefield of buried emotions and experiences.
Every new session of analysis can conjure up any number of harrowing yet
deeply fascinating questions, not only about the patient and his or her
neurosis, but also about the nature of therapy in general and about the
intricacies of the relationship between patient and doctor: How does this
process work? What is my therapist really thinking during our sessions?
What can be done to make these sessions more productive? In response to
these and many other widely shared ruminations about the art and science
of psychotherapy comes Inside Therapy, a collection of essays and
fiction by 17 contemporary writers and psychologists, each of whom attempts
to shine some light into the dark corners of the profession. Rabinowitz
has written on topics in psychotherapy and psychiatry for The Philadelphia
Inquirer and other publications. Yalom is a psychiatrist and the author
of the best-seller Love's Executioner.
WHERE THE RIVER MEETS THE SEA: Coastal Landscapes, 1980-1998
By Jacques Levy, W'59.
Occidental, Calif.: Riversea Press, 1998. 56 pp., $24.95.
The oil paintings, watercolors, and pen and ink drawings
presented in this book are distilled from 30 years of painterly exploration
by Paris-born artist Jacques Levy. Inspired by the coastal beauty of northern
California, they are the evolutionary outcome of Levy's exposure to a
wide range of influences and experiments, including the beat and abstract
expressionist movements that held sway in San Francisco during the 1960s.
Shaped largely by memory, imagination, and the tactile suggestion of the
paint itself, the works begin simply as expostulatory gestures and build
up through layers of pigment. Thus, says Levy, the paintings figuratively
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1998 The Pennsylvania Gazette
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