Searching the Archives

Published August 12, 2009 by Graham

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Not long from now, the cinematic language of digging through the past will be irrevocably transformed. No longer will we believe in the thrilling sight of harried protagonists furiously spinning through reels of microfiche in the dim recesses of their local libraries, searching for that one obituary that promises to validate all of their fears and unravel the unthinkable mystery. Those same sequences of historical investigation will all be relegated to the much less theatrical setting of a glowing laptop screen, as Google News quickly spells out the twist ending without any of that exciting legwork.

Google announced this week that they were quadrupling the number of articles freely available in their News Archive Search. While this may rain on the parade of few hack screenwriters of made-for-TV movies, it’s definitely good news for the rest of us. Perhaps most exciting is their inclusion of the entire Village Voice back catalog, giving the world instant access to fifty years of New York’s art, culture and politics. Searching for Maurice Sendak brought up some interesting results.

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The Village Voice profiled Sendak first in 1956 with a glowing article entitled The Wonderful World of Maurice Sendak, introducing the author and his marvelously sharp understanding of childhood, capped off with an intense anecdote about three little girls in a sidewalk spat. Following a brief mention in the late 60’s, the Voice addressed Sendak next on Christmas Eve, 1970, with Joe Flaherty’s (no, not that Joe Flaherty) A Christmas Valentine to Maurice Sendak. Getting off to a good start with a couple of cute stories about Flaherty’s kids and their devotion to the Sendak oeuvre, Flaherty’s “valentine” quickly dissolves into one man’s obsessively detailed interpretation of In The Night Kitchen, firmly rooted in disconcerting childbirth allegory.

“But right in the middle of the steaming and the making and the smelling and the baking, Mickey poked through and said: ‘I’m not the Milk and the Milk’s not Me. I’m Mickey!’”

Is Mickey now announcing he is no longer a merger of egg and sperm (cream?), but almost the finished product as his head pokes out from a womb of dough?

Yikes! Luckily, Google also points us towards a letter to the editor published the following week from an appropriately distressed reader responding to Flaherty’s coldly psychosexual reading, pointing out the glaring failures of his pragmatic oversimplification:

…Sendak to me, is a medium; he’s somehow able to transmit from another world where I once was, and probably still am, far under the well-mapped surface; that’s why he haunts and disturbs me. To pull down his dreamy and exultant ambiguity into one of its possible meanings is to clutch for the bedside bottle of abstractions. The world then was big, new, self-evident, magical; no line to show tickly from scary, or dirty from clean; words had not yet separated from each other or come free of original noises; feelings filled the world and had no names. It is the yeasty, sturdy, heroic, and sensual quality of that world that is Sendak’s siren song to adults, and Mr. Flaherty has tied himself to the Freudian mast. Joe! Turn off your mind, relax, and float downstream.

Annie Gottlieb
East 9th Street

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