A Brief History of Home Lighting

Kate Perugini - Portrait of Agnes Pheobe Burra (aka Feeding the Rabbit)

With the invention of electric light human lives changed suddenly. This change was reflected immediately in art, first by the Impressionists. Impressionist painters were the first to enjoy the freedom of painting without reliance upon the sun, in plein air. Artists from the 1960s to today use light sources to express ideas, concepts and to overcome the material limits in a work of art. Writers also use light in this way.

For an example of a beautifully designed website, which happens to tell the history of art and light, see E luce fu (And There Was Light). The website is written in Italian but the English auto translation works fine.

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The Likeable Superpower of Perspicacity

Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came” is a Victorian fairy poem and, coincidentally, O.G. To T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land. In this context, ‘childe’ refers to a young man who has not been knighted. He is a modern young adult.

In this poem, Roland is having a pretty crappy time. But he perseveres on a hopeless journey because, like many a modern young adult character, “naught else remained to do”.

What else does this old poem by Robert Browning have to do with modern young adult characters?

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How to become invisible

Method 1: Rune Stave

For this one you must go to Iceland. Once in Iceland, get your hands on a magical text full of spells and suchlike, a.k.a. Icelandic grimoires. But to save you the trouble, refer to the recipe below.

You’ll need a magical rune stave. There is literally a rune stave for every possible thing you can imagine up.

The invisibility run stave looks a bit like a snowflake. The one you need is called the hulinhjalmur. Google it.

I’m sure you can recreate that with a marker on paper. Hold your horses, it’s not that simple though. You must engrave this rune stave onto a piece of lignite using magnetic steel that’s been hardened by soaking in human blood.

Be careful how you blend the blood. You need three drops from the index finger of the left hand and three from the ring finger of the right hand. Worse, you also need two drops from the right nipple and one from the left.

Next you need an alive raven. Don’t kill it. You will need to extract six drops of blood, though, straight from the raven’s heart.

Melt it all down, along with the raven’s brain and parts of a human stomach. I’m not actually sure if the raven’s still meant to be alive at this point. I assume the human is not.

Now you should be invisible. Bear in mind, there may be rune staves for picking locks, keeping the butter from going rancid and for protecting yourself against ghosts but there is no rune stave to make you un-invisible. This is your life now. I hear Iceland is beautiful.

Method 2: The Witch Way

Are you a witch? Do you want to be a witch? Let’s be witches. We’re going to Papua New Guinea for this one, where witches have the power to see inside others, and also have the power to become invisible. The best of both worlds. In PNG there is a concept known as gwumu. This refers to a spirit which can live in people, rendering them invisible. (There are also evil spirits, known as sanguma or spirit nogut in Tok Pisin. They came to the world via pigs. Look, it says so in the Bible.)

In other countries, witches don’t become invisible per se, they simply transmogrify themselves into other animals, like ravens. No one thinks twice about a particularly witchy-looking raven flying across the sky at night, right? As ravens, witches are free to attend their moonlit sabbats.

But in the Papua New Guinea highlands, witches don’t bother with the faff of transmogrification. They can, I mean, if they want. They might become a quick, highly mobile creatures: bat, rat, bird, moth, grasshopper, butterfly, cicada… or they might simply become invisible.

Odilon Redon, Butterflies, before 1909, oil on canvas

Let’s do that. That way, we can go about our supernatural lives alongside regulars and we don’t have to worry about a thing.

Except for one thing: We will still be blamed for the following:

  • sickness
  • death
  • poverty
  • lack of development
  • portentous world events
  • that overall feeling that the apocalypse is nigh.

Method 3: Escape to the Woods

Are you living in a fairytale reality? If so, entering a forest will work. Disclaimer: So long as you’re not hiding in the English woods, which are not very vast and expansive these days. By the start of the 20th century, just 5% of Britain was wooded. It doesn’t take too long to find you in the spinneys.

This tactic may work better in, say, America, Canada or other parts of Europe. Works really quite well in the Australian bush.

Downside: You may not make it back out alive.

Method 4: Wear a Mask

Admittedly, masks work better if you’re a character within a fictional story rather than in real life because for some reason I’ve always been recognised even when wearing a mask. I have this in common with Dwight Schrute.

The human brain is very good at recognising someone by their gait. So if you really want to come across as someone else, don’t just rely on the face mask. Change how you walk. Change your height and BMI while you’re at it.

Method 5: Creep Around Like A Ninja

Ninja techniques for hiding are called ongyo-jutsu (隠形術), the way of the hidden form.

  1. When sneaking in the dark, slow your movement.
  2. Stop moving if someone is facing you.
  3. Camouflage yourself
  4. Hide in the shadows
  5. Make yourself small e.g. crouch in the shape of a quail (for some reason)
  6. If you have white skin, hide your white face
  7. Be mindful of light sources
  8. Standing in front of a wall or tree may be more effective than you think, because the enemy is busy looking behind rocks and whatnot. Only works if you’re camouflaged and hiding your big white face
  9. Don’t accidentally breathe on your enemy
  10. Be absolutely silent
  11. Risk making noise only while other noise is happening
  12. Use a throw cloth to muffle your footsteps
  13. Bring an animal e.g. a rat to let loose and distract a sentry
  14. Stand downwind of guard dog snoots
  15. Or hide under water making use of a snorkel
  16. Throw down a toothpick to attract the enemy’s attention. While they’re glancing at the toothpick you’ll be able to hide.
Here’s Courage The Cowardly Dog hiding in a toilet. Courage is often hiding inside things.

Further Reading

A 2001 episode of This American Life asks which superpower would you choose: Invisibility or Flight?

The Symbolism of Hats and Crowns

Carlton Alfred Smith - The Hat Makers 1891

In various territories around the world it is considered improper to leave the house without covering your head. We tend to put this down to religious beliefs of the area, though it is mostly cultural. People younger than about 60 may not be aware that until quite recently it was impolite in Western countries to appear in public without headgear. No hat, not dressed.

My mother was a child of the 1950s. When we watched Mad Men together she noticed an inaccuracy. Unless America was vastly different from New Zealand, the real world secretaries of Madison Ave would have been wearing hats, even in the office. Don Draper would have also worn a hat more than depicted on the show. He was an old-fashioned guy. Lack of hats on Mad Men was an anachronism, possibly a stylistic choice which allowed the viewer to get a better look at actors’ faces. (For the same reason we rarely see characters on screen wearing sunglasses outside.)

One of the more realistic hat scenes from Mad Men

The painting below demonstrates how, in earlier eras, women’s decorative hats were considered a part of their day wear, not necessarily functional, and therefore worn inside.

Thomas Benjamin Kennington – Lady Reading by a Window

These days, here in New Zealand and Australia, hats are mainly worn for practical reasons — hard hats on building sites, sun hats under our harsh UV rays. Hats are also worn on certain specific occasions, for example by women to The Melbourne Cup (as fascinators).

But why is headgear so important in many places across most eras?

Hats and Status

Headgear identifies the status of the wearer. Peaked hats in general authority. The witch’s hat is very tall and spiky. The hat supposedly contains the essence of her magical power in the form of a spiral of energy. The medieval Jewish hat and the papal tiara (triregnum) are also tall and spiky. Some believe these are phallic symbols.

A crown means royalty, and is the clearest example of headgear as status symbol: There is literally no reason to wear a crown other than to show off your status. Crowns can be so heavy they would’ve given the wearer a headache.

Crowns are circular and therefore inherit the symbolism of the circle — eternity, immortality and a connection between the spiritual and material world. This is symbolised by the coronation itself.

Jewels are often affixed to a crown. These are expensive and pretty, but also symbolise rays of sun. The wearer becomes one with the ‘illumination’ from above. Read illumination in all senses — someone who wears a crown achieves illumination — greatness, knowledge, power.

The Catholic Pope wears a triple crown. It’s called a triregnum. The three parts symbolise different aspects of the Catholic faith and of their papal role.

Crowns aren’t always made of precious metals and jewels. A crown made of laurels signals victory and carries equivalent status. In Ancient Roman times, the highest accolade for a soldier was to wear a crown of grass. A crown of grass was called a corona graminea. It meant he now owned the territory.

Native Americans traditionally make use of feathers to indicate status. The feathers themselves signify the different qualities of the birds they belong to. The most valuable feather is the eagle feather.

In contrast, beggars take off their hat (‘cap in hand’) in order to collect coins in it, but also to defer. An uppity beggar won’t have much luck.

The top of the head is a sacred part of the body because it’s closest to the heavens, and first contact with spirits who descend from above. In sacred places you take off your shoes but worshippers are likely to cover their heads. Both acts signal modesty and deference.

An excellent example of this belief is the skullcap worn by Orthodox Jews (the yarmulke or kippah). The Torah says no man may walk more than four paces without head covering. The head should always be covered in the presence of God. God is believed to be omnipresent. Many other faiths also require the covering of heads, though mainly in a place of worship.

The paper hat in the role playing game below is important to the scenario. Without a fancy hat it’s difficult to imagine one’s own importance.

James Jacques Joseph Tissot - A Little Nimrod
James Jacques Joseph Tissot – A Little Nimrod

Kate Greenaway was a prolific and pre-eminent English Children’s Book Illustrator throughout the Victorian Era. This is a case in which reality mimics ‘fiction’.

A ‘High End’ London Children’s Clothing Store stocked Kate Greenaway’s designs. These fashion items were copied from her book illustrations. Upper class Victorian mothers adorned their children in Kate Greenaway’s Designs.

Kate Greenaway’s Birthday Book (1890)

Hats As Indication Of Civility

When Jon Klassen created his hat series of picture books, he was making use of the idea that when someone puts on a hat, they become better people, emphasis on ‘people’. His characters are animals. When they put on a hat they become more important. Two tortoises both want a hat. A fish steals a hat. A bear can’t find his hat and this is a tragedy.

By putting on hats, humans likewise metamorphose from base, animalistic creatures into civilised human beings.

John Falter (American, 1910-1982) “The Hat Shop” cover illustration for “The Saturday Evening Post” magazine, March 10, 1945

The painting below shocked its turn of the century audience not really because the woman wears no clothes, but because of the combo: She is wearing no clothes EXCEPT a hat. At the time this felt especially shocking, because hats were almost sacred. Hats were a marker of respectability. You’d not leave the house without one. When a naked person wears only a hat, they are thereby emphasising their nakedness. They are more naked than before. In fact, the painting below was so shocking, it wasn’t viewed by the public for another 40 years:

Wilson Steer, one of the most impressionist of British painters, posed his nudes in everyday settings, and here the model is playfully trying on a hat she has found in the studio. Steer did not exhibit this sketch, and it was chosen for the Tate Gallery directly from his studio in 1941, by the then Director Sir John Rothenstein. Steer told him ‘friends told me it was spoiled by the hat; they thought it indecent that a nude should be wearing a hat, so it’s never been shown’.

Gallery label at The Tate, February 2016

Seated Nude: The Black Hat c.1900 Philip Wilson Steer

Removing One’s Hat

This J. C. Leyendecker illustration shows a young man who is clearly deferential to the young woman. His hat in hand and hand on heart show us he is requesting something. Meanwhile, ladies wear hats for fashion purposes and are not expected to remove them.

Header painting: Carlton Alfred Smith – The Hat Makers 1891