Slips of the Tongue

An insidious device for producing unwitting comic stereotypes, English as She Is Spoke has sputtered incoherently in the background of our culture for nearly a century and a half now, and the extent of its damage to Anglo-American/Portuguese-Brazilian relations can only be estimated. Thanks to Paul Collins and McSweeney’s Books, it has returned after a hiatus of some 30 years, beautifully bound to resemble a volume from a school library, a new cover for an old trap.

“A choice of familiar dialogues, clean of gallicisms, and despoiled phrases, it was missing yet to studious portuguese and brazilian Youth,” the authors, José da Fonseca and Pedro Carolino, state in their baffling Preface. The need has since been met by a wide variety of helpful phrase books, of which this is notoriously not one.

“Clean of gallicisms” strikes a particularly unfortunate note, given the received story of how this bizarre thing came to be. The authors, it seems, accepted the commission for a phrasebook despite the hurdle of being themselves non-English speaking. In addition, they were unable to procure a Portuguese-English dictionary.

They did, however, have access to Portuguese-French and French-English dictionaries, and with admirable pluck, made the most of their limited means. (Were the authors stranded in a mountain cabin by agents of a particularly unscrupulous publisher? One of the most entertaining things about the book is the possible scenarios it spawns—not least of which is the attempt of an unwary Portuguese speaker to actually use it.) The result is, of course, flush with gallicisms, along with infusions from Portuguese and from the mysterious hybrids that sprout along linguistic borders.

EASIS begins, respectably enough, with a “Vocabulary” section, which soon goes wonky with the inclusion of “Some wigs, A dainty-dishes, An amelet, and Vegetables boiled to a pap” as representative “Eatings.” There follows a list of “Familiar Phrases”—a number of them quite violent, e.g., “He has spit in my coat. He does me some kicks. He laughs at my nose. He has me take out my hairs. He has scratch the face with hers nails.” Herein lie the intimations of a complicated story. The authors must have anticipated that the book might cause trouble and perhaps intended to aid the speaker in filling out a police report.

Indeed, ill temper is a recurring theme in the book. In one of the “Familiar Dialogues”—”For to Ride a Horse”—da Fonseca and Carolino envision, with characteristic ambiguity, either a very particular customer or an incredibly sorry nag: “Here is a horse who have bad looks. . . . He not sall know to march, he is pursy, he is foundered. . . . He is undshoed, he is with nails up; it want to lead to the farrier. He go limp, he is disable, he is blind.”

Then, some “Anecdotes,” the points of which remain dimly visible beneath the lush growth of this new dialect, and lastly the apt “Idiotisms and Proverbs.” Here, some familiar phrases return, made strange (“The stone as roll heap up not foam”), while other entries seem wholly new and demand inclusion in English as we speak her now—especially “That which feel one’s snotly blow blow one’s nose.”

It is, in short, a book that fairly begs to be mocked. And it has been, mercilessly, since soon after its original publication in France in 1855. Did the authors anticipate this too? Consider the following testy dialogue, “With a Bookseller”: “The actual liking of the public is depraved they does not read who for to amuse one’s self ant but to instruct one’s.” The target is not quite clear—perhaps it hinges on the word “ant”—but a denunciation of popular taste is obviously intended.

EASIS led a subterranean existence—an accident waiting to happen—until a London publisher brought out a new edition in 1883, changing the title from the respectable if muddled The New Guide of the Conversation, in Portuguese and Englishto the more obviously comic one it still bears. American knockoffs soon followed, one with an introduction by Mark Twain that contributed greatly to its ongoing popularity.

The McSweeney’s reprint unfortunately doesn’t include the Twain piece, but editor Paul Collins has supplied a succinct and sympathetic introduction of his own (he says of the authors, “their intentions were good”). It marks the inauguration of the Collins Library, devoted to the rediscovery of forgotten beauties and oddities of literature and potentially the most exciting new imprint since the launch of New York Review Books. “When I find really great weird old books that have been forgotten,” Collins says, “the question that always gets me is ‘Why don’t people know about this? Why doesn’t somebody reprint it?’ The wonderful thing about a book is that it only takes one surviving copy to bring it back to life—they are the world’s longest-lasting seeds.”

As Collins, a former instructor of English at Dominican University, demonstrated in his own Banvard’s Folly (Picador USA, 2001), he’s a canny explorer of the crevices of culture. In that book, a worthy companion to John Michell’s Eccentric Lives and Peculiar Notions, he offered studies of 13 overlooked historical figures, unlikely in themselves and/or devoted to unlikely pursuits. Among its highlights are a portrait of Shakespearean forger William Henry Ireland, whose spurious plays have their own genius, and a history of Jean François Sudre’s Solresol language, originally based on the seven notes of the Western scale and later adapted for hand gestures, numbers, and colors. The second promised volume in the Collins Library is The Memoirs of **** by “George Psalmanazar” (real name unknown), whose life as a refugee from an imaginary Formosa is also detailed in Barnvard’s Folly.

Collins says he can’t reveal future titles, but mentions as likely contenders a “very odd POW escape narrative” and a couple of missing links from the Bloomsbury circle. Some of the authors on his short list, he adds, are so obscure that “Google searches on their names turned up zero hits—nothing at all, not even different people with the same name.”

His own Web site ( contains mini-discoveries made during his prolonged library trawls—and also a revision to the story of EASIS‘s genesis, as she is known, from Alexander MacBride, a graduate student in linguistics at UCLA. In brief, MacBride thinks da Fonseca (described by Collins as author of “a long and respectable list of published works in poetry, linguistics, and translation”) may have been the victim of a shoddy publisher and an incompetent fellow countryman.

MacBride’s suspicions were initially aroused by internal evidence in the book itself, notably the authors’ brain-twisting preface. “Untwisted,” he writes on the site, it “becomes a sensible (though somewhat boastful) introduction to what sounds like a decent little textbook.” Intrigued, he consulted the online catalog of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France—and found a French-Portuguese phrasebook by da Fonseca alone, published by J.-P. Aillaud in 1836.

If MacBride is correct that Aillaud did assign another writer to do an English knockoff, the hack in question was presumably Carolino, of whom, Collins informs us, little is known beyond his authorship of a manual on letter writing. MacBride soon discovered he was not the first to reach this conclusion. A 1967 British edition features an introduction by Leslie Shepard that likewise puts the blame on Carolino, though he speculates that da Fonseca may have been complicit. “The idea of an English-language version was perhaps a natural one, and it seems that da Fonseca became acquainted with a certain Pedro Carolino, who confidently undertook the task of producing an exact English edition,” Shepard wrote.

But MacBride is dubious that the genesis of EASIS lies in da Fonseca’s unwarranted faith in a newfound friend’s language skills: “[It] looks an awful lot like a guess on Shepard’s part, and if it’s a known fact, Shepard provides no source for it,” he tells the Voice.

Then there’s the point that in 1853, Aillaud brought out an edition of da Fonseca’s 1836 Portuguese-French phrasebook, just two years before publishing the work that would achieve infamy as EASIS. Could the latter primer simply have been a blind translation of the former? MacBride says it’s possible da Fonseca had nothing to do with either of these books: “If he didn’t live in France, he may not have even known about them.”

A further twist to the tangled tale occurred when MacBride came upon an article by George Monteiro from the 1983-84 issue of the journal Estudos Anglo-Americanos. According to Monteiro, “It is now accepted . . . that [Carolino] was merely a pseudonym for [da Fonseca], whose dates are given on library catalog cards as 1792?-1866.”

MacBride contacted Monteiro, who was unable to provide any further information. It would certainly seem bizarre for da Fonseca to include his own name along with a pseudonym, since this is usually a tactic of writers who wish to conceal their identity, not multiply it. In fact, the proliferating histories of EASIS itself begin to read like bad translations from a decayed source. “Every time I look at this stuff again, it becomes more mysterious,” says MacBride, adding that da Fonseca is “the Lautréamont of incompetence.”

Unable to find any biographical information on either da Fonseca or Carolino, MacBride has nevertheless discovered a clue that may prove decisive—da Fonseca had published books on English prior to 1855, including phrasebooks; he would later translate Gulliver’s Travels. “I’m wondering now if da Fonseca actually did have some solid work in English, and the bad phrasebook was an attempt to cash in on his reputation,” MacBride says. “If not, and the earlier English works are as bad as this one, he must have been a tremendous imbecile.” The books that could prove the case, one way or the other, reside in French libraries. MacBride is trying to secure copies.

Was da Fonseca an unknowing dupe, a too trusting friend, a linguistic serial killer, or a borderline schizophrenic? “My first assumption was that the mysterious ‘Pedro Carolino’ was some hack who’d gone through the original phrasebook with a dictionary, and that Fonseca was completely innocent,” MacBride says. “I still think that’s likely, but I’m not tremendously confident about it.”

Indeed, the ground shifts like the tenses in EASIS. Yet MacBride’s initial hypothesis still seems the most probable. If da Fonseca did have some command of English, it’s unlikely he would have had his name tied to such a work. If he did not—well, the mind boggles at the prospect of other books of this ilk remaining undiscovered for so long. And how did he continue to get commissions? Surely someone in France spoke English.

If the hypothesis holds, da Fonseca (one imagines a thin, quiet man with a neatly clipped moustache) has been the innocent victim of the worst possible press. As Collins says, “Da Fonseca has gone down as the worst scholar in history—and probably undeservedly. The irony is that, unlike most of his colleagues, it means that people still read him.”

But would such immortality have appealed to the respectable da Fonseca, or was he the first to be caught in the trap? If the latter, the calumny is unspeakable. A moment of silence, then, for his tormented shade. To use a Familiar Phrase, He is tears.



In March 2002, a group of authors and critics told Book mag that lit’s top fictional dog, post-1900, was good old Jay Gatsby, from that status-conscious Ivy chap’s 1925 book. Not a big shock to most; but lipogram aficionados—folks who lash words and (alas!) brains so as to omit particular symbols—did in fact gasp, saying, “Hold that ringing communication tool for a bit! What about J. Gadsby?”

John Gadsby, “Youth’s champion,” is the hero of Ernest Vincent Wright’s 1939 Gadsby, fearlessly subtitled A Novel of Over 50,000 Words Without Using the Letter “E.” Like the paragraph above, the book eschews our tongue’s bedrock letter. The absence creates a tone alternately lofty (“It is an odd kink of humanity which cannot find any valuation in spots of natural glory”) and rambunctious (“Books!! Pooh! Maps! BAH!!”), and demands comical circumlocutions for the simplest things—a turkey dubbed the “Thanksgiving National Bird,” a wedding cake rechristened “an astonishing loaf of culinary art.” The languorous tale shows how Gadsby harnesses the energy and ideas of young people to turn the backwater of Branton Hills into a bustling city. Children stump for civic projects, such as the establishment of a park and a library, and Gadsby soon becomes mayor.

Wright was born in 1872 and died in 1939—legend has it, on the day the Wetzel Publishing Co. brought out Gadsby. Some accounts say he was English, or a sailor, or both, though the former claim seems dubious. He had written three previous books, two of which involve fairies, and is also known for a comic poem, “When Father Carves the Duck.” A 1937 Associated Press item states that he lived at the National Military Home in Los Angeles, served in the World War as a musician, and had graduated from M.I.T. in 1889. In fact, he attended M.I.T.’s School of Mechanic Arts, essentially a two-year high school program for local youth, which replaced familiar subjects with such shop-type skills as carpentry and metalwork. It is unclear whether Wright graduated. The school catalog lists him as a first-year student in 1888, but he’s a “special” student the next year. After that, his M.I.T. record is blank.

In any case, the school’s name is fitting, for nothing better describes the method of Gadsby‘s composition than “mechanic arts.” As Wright states in his introduction, he tied down the E bar of his typewriter to prevent any of the verboten vowels from asserting themselves, though “many did try to do so!” The restriction forced him to hunt for synonyms and assay lucid contortions, and he modestly submits that the book “may prove a valuable aid to school children in English composition.” His motivation for embarking on the project is at once explicit and murky. To the AP, he claimed the eureka came upon reading that “the letter ‘e’ occurred five times more than any other and after seeing a four-stanza poem without an ‘e,’ ” while the novel’s introduction tells how his “balky nature” chafed at “hearing it so constantly claimed that ‘it can’t be done; for you cannot say anything at all without using E, and make smooth continuity, with perfectly grammatical construction—’ so ’twas said.” But perhaps his reasons are more private, less explicable. As author William Poundstone, a Gadsby fan, drolly points out, “When was the last time you ever heard some blowhard going off about how you can’t say anything without using E? The last time I heard it was never.”

In the world of Branton Hills, a face is a “physiognomy,” and eyes are invariably “orbs.” Some traditional sayings get playfully altered—music can “calm a wild bosom,” while Keats’s notion that “a thing of beauty is a joy forever” turns into “a charming thing is a joy always.” (The polymorphous, anything-goes ethos is literalized in Gadsby’s son Bill, who designs girls’ skirts that can be turned inside-out in foul weather.) Every so often, Wright lets loose a refreshing blast of authorial hot air, noting how the novel’s “strict orthographical taboo” hinders his full eloquence. Yet for all his self-consciousness, Ernest Wright writes earnestly enough. He maintains a moral stance, inveighing against animal, child, and alcohol abuse and alluding to the horrors of war. For all his radical invention, and the contumely heaped upon “minds as rigid as rock,” the social order is preserved: Characters are barely introduced before Wright has them tie the knot—no less than eight couples wed in the course of the novel, thanks to rascally “Dan Cupid.”

Thirty years on, French writer Georges Perec would publish a similarly 250-plus-page absent-E ballad, La disparition (Englished, with the same restriction, by Gilbert Adair as A Void, 1994). Perec was a literary magician, a key member of the Oulipo, famous for its embrace of compositional constraints. La disparition nods respectfully to its Anglo-Saxon predecessor: a “grand anglais savant,” an Oxford instructor of the novel’s missing protagonist (A. Vowl) is named Lord Gadsby V. Wright, and one of Vowl’s English compositions is in fact an uncredited extract from Gadsby. That the passage is the same one quoted in Oulipian Raymond Queneau’s 1964 essay “Potential Literature,” wherein Queneau admits he hasn’t been able to acquire a copy of Gadsby, suggests that Perec may have only known of this rare book by reputation. Queneau himself lifted his exemplary dab of Gadsby from John Pierce’s An Introduction to Information Theory: Symbols, Signals and Noise (1961); Pierce, in turn, credits cryptanalyst William F. Friedman with digging up the prose. Thus, ironically, this swatch of text has been passed down like the received wisdom (the “worn out notion that ‘a child don’t know anything’ “) which Wright professes intolerable.

Alas, the 1998 Oulipo Compendium dismisses Gadsby as “an important example of the lipogram but, unfortunately, one of little interest.” It also cites Jacques Roubaud’s 1991 assertion that Perec’s lipogram is superior to its predecessors because it follows the Oulipian axiom, “A text written according to a constraint describes the constraint.” La disparition indeed concerns the disappearance of the letter E, but Gadsby is also thematically permeated with its constraint: Being told that it can’t be done, Gadsby and his young friends go ahead and do it all the same. (To convince the old codgers to donate cash for worthy causes, the group has “to work its linguistic ability and captivating tricks full blast.”) It’s poignant to think of Wright in his mid sixties, composing this testament to childhood vigor over five and a half months in 1937. A Times photo that year shows a stooped man with Whitmanesque beard and large glasses, peeling a page from his typewriter—an image at odds with the book’s dedication “TO YOUTH!”

Book called Fitzgerald’s Gatsby “an American dreamer of a certain crass kind . . . One admires him while seeing what he admires is a preposterous part of the American Dream.” Beautiful in its preposterousness, Gadsby is the work of a dreamer who, like its hero, rearranges the world to his liking. Wright found in his infernal machine the seed for a supreme fiction; language, minted anew, hermetically seals Branton Hills. (Do E-laden things even exist in this atmosphere? Though monkeys are memorably rendered as “a ‘big gang’ of that amusing, tiny mimic always found accompanying hand-organs,” a visitor to the zoo “might miss a customary inhabitant or two,” due to abecederian restrictions.) Far from playing off The Great Gatsby (Poundstone notes that the novel was hardly a classic then), the title suggests an act of awesome demiurgical control: Transposed, it reads By Gads—that is, by God. If one thinks of the invisible vowel hovering in front, a mild oath—Egads!—can be heard at the start of this audacious creation.

A copy of Gadsby is on display at the New York Public Library’s “Cabinet of Curiosities” exhibit (through August 24), but the English tongue’s premier E-visceration should be read, not relegated under glass. Would kids’ grammar skills turn amazing without that catalyst of passivity homophonically known as “2B”? The influence of Wright’s lexical gumption can be felt in James Thurber’s whimsical The Wonderful O (1957) and Walter Abish’s astonishing Alphabetical Africa (1974)—even if those authors never read Gadsby. More recently, Mark Dunn’s amusing “progressively lipogrammatic epistolary fable” Ella Minnow Pea (2001) and this year’s homovocalic Eunoia, by Canadian poet Christian Bök, share their forebear’s diverting monomania. (Not to mention “Food Box—Go or No Go?,” Homer Simpson’s E-less foray into restaurant reviewing.) Three cheers, then, for the enduring charm of the lipogram—or to do right by Wright, “a trio of our customary huzzahs”!


A School For Salomes

It is the turn of the last century and half-naked young women are dancing with seven veils and papier-mâché heads. “Salomania” is spreading through Europe and the United States, with crowds succumbing. In 1907, a school starts on the roof of the New York Theatre. For two hours each morning, Mlle. Dazié, a/k/a Daisy Peterkin from Detroit, directs her pupils; she produces 150 Salomes every month, filling American music halls. As Toni Bentley writes in her new Sisters of Salome (Yale), by August 1908 four Salomes are performing in New York alone, and by October the number increases sixfold. The next year, every variety and vaudeville show has a Salome on its bill. Every hootchy-kootchy dancer wiggling without underwear in some vaguely Eastern outfit in every early film is a Salome in spirit. By 1912, almost 3000 French poets have fallen under the spell, writing their own versions of the tale. And there are protests. Early feminist Julia Ward Howe, writer of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” says Oriental dancing involves “only the most deforming movement of the whole abdominal and lumbar regions.”

Bentley studies the figure of the fin-de-siècle femme fatale, in particular four women—Colette, Maud Allan, Mata Hari, and Ida Rubinstein—who chose the way of Salome. They danced exotically to wield their power, reinvent themselves, and, paradoxically, hide their sad pasts by becoming as nude as possible. (Colette had a happy upbringing, but Allan—her brother had murdered two women, slicing open one of them.) The Salome dance was an aspect of the Orientalism that had seized the West stylistically and thematically in the 19th century. Bentley notes the historical simultaneity of the theater as women’s erotic territory and, offstage, the beginning of women’s rights, as well as the dance’s symbolic importance: The story of Salome is “a woman’s naked beauty” resulting in a dead man.

Flaubert and others were preoccupied by the Eastern femme fatale, but it was Oscar Wilde’s 1893 play Salome (illustrated by Aubrey Beardsley) and Richard Strauss’s 1905 opera that sparked the craze. Wilde is the first to give the young girl a dance of the veils—”the unlikely father of modern striptease”—and an independent voice. The Wilde story goes like this: King Herod has just married his sister-in-law after murdering her husband. He is attracted to her daughter Salome and offers her anything to dance; finally she does (in the New Testament Gospels, it is her mother who urges her on), and after taking off each of the seven veils (a reference to the Babylonian goddess Ishtar at the underworld’s seven gates), Salome says, I want the head of John the Baptist. She has fallen in love with him while he was howling in the prison below about the coming of Christ, and he would have nothing to do with her. But after she gets the head, the guards kill her.

Wilde also added her murder. Femme fatales always end up dead and take down everybody around them.

I shall dance naked . . . spinning round ablaze with light, blind as a fly in a sunbeam. And I shall invent beautiful slow dances with a veil; sometimes it will cover my body, sometimes it will envelop me with a spiral of smoke, and . . . —Colette, La Vie Parisienne, 1906

Colette was “always in search of an escape from her desk,” Bentley notes, detailing the six years of the French writer’s life during which she made a whole career out of playing nude fauns and gypsies in music halls and at the all-female Natalie Barney afternoons.

Bentley, a former New York City Ballet dancer and the author of three other books, remembers getting carried away herself. One night in 1980, while the company is in Paris, she follows ballet director George Balanchine to the “red velvet underworld of the Crazy Horse.” As the naked women come out wearing only sequined rope around their waists, she wonders why Mr. Balanchine is here. Then she wonders about the women: “This creature, in that moment, was to me the most powerful woman in the world.” She is “more powerful than a rich woman, a married woman, a titled woman, or a woman with degrees, diplomas, or awards.” She goes backstage and gets some school supplies: Dior No. 004 stage makeup and the black Leichner for painting an equilateral triangle. As Crazy Horse owner Alain Bernardin insists, “Like a painting, like a Modigliani, everyone the same.”

Next scene: 1996. A rainy Saturday night, an empty Tribeca street. The place with the blue lightbulb. Here, at the Blue Angel, Bentley finds her training ground. There’s a nude fire-eater, someone in a schoolgirl kilt. Working up a little act to Leonard Cohen’s “Waiting for the Miracle,” Bentley makes a fast $89 and concludes that her “urge to strip in public was an archetypal will to power.” This later brings to mind the theatrical leanings of her Viennese great-grandmother and her obsessive handbag collection.

But is going to Salome school the way to go? Three of the four sisters of Salome did not end up very powerful. True, Colette became one of the major French writers of the 20th century, but Maud Allan and Mata Hari subsidized their careers with a lot of prostitution, and the latter was executed for espionage. (After they killed her, they found out she was innocent.) The Canadian Allan, one of Europe’s most famous Salomes, ended up in a shabby one-room rental in Los Angeles, working as a drafter at Douglas Aircraft. And Russian performance artist Ida Rubinstein—”a sexy Jewish girl with quite a lot of money,” according to Diana Vreeland—who had spent most of her life putting on extravagant vanity productions, passed her remaining years with former lover Romaine Brooks refusing to see her (because she was “no longer like an orchid”) and drinking champagne and taking a laxative every night.

Back to 1996. When Bentley does her dance at the Blue Angel, in black pumps and little else, she notices one man in particular: “His desire burned into my own gaze, showing me with a clarity I had not experienced before the power of my own body,” she writes. “I then knew what triumph felt like.” This reminded me of all those Madonna bad girls and Camille Paglia and gender studies gurgling with excitement of a real takeover and getting mixed up with subversion as fashion. Around that time in New York, I remember, there was a very attractive former semiotics student who would secretly tell everybody that she was stripping at the Blue Angel. One night, she brought one of her fans, an audience member, to a dinner party and he was this accountant and he lived with his mother in Queens and his glasses were smudgy. Now who would want to hold him in the palm of her hands?

A nude woman onstage has power as long as she initiates the dance, Bentley notes, becoming both the subject and author of her show, embodying the misogynist and feminist as the cultural debate of the time. But when the clothes are off, and the music stops, then what? After all this reading about Salome empowerment, all I can think about is when the strip-club owner in The Killing of a Chinese Bookie says to the girl, “You don’t have to jump anymore, sweetheart. Just walk up and down.”


Chimp Change

When Marc Jurnove first visited the Long Island Game Farm Park and Zoo in the spring of 1995, he found Barney, a chimpanzee, living in bleak isolation, with only a swing to distract him and no other chimps in sight. Concerned, Jurnove sought legal action. However, the case that followed, Animal Legal Defense Fund v. Glickman (1998), did not focus on Barney’s psychological well-being, oddly enough, but that of his human observer. As one of the deciding judges wrote, “Mr. Jurnove’s affidavit is an uncontested statement of the injuries that he has suffered to his aesthetic interest in observing animals living under humane conditions.”

Of course, none of the interested parties in this case were actually convinced that animal welfare is merely a matter of taste. But the notion of “aesthetic injury” is just one means of circumventing a hard legal fact: Property can’t sue, thus neither can animals, nor can a guardian ad litem bring criminal or civil action on their behalf. Some animal rights advocates are hoping that will soon change. In Rattling the Cage: Toward Legal Rights for Animals (2000) and the recently published Drawing the Line: Science and the Case for Animal Rights (both Perseus), attorney Steven M. Wise proposes “legal personhood” for certain highly intelligent nonhuman species, beginning with our evolutionary next-door neighbors: chimpanzees and bonobos, who are endangered in the wild. Wise’s idea is a major point of contention in the far-flung animal rights debate, tangled in ageless questions of justice, philosophy, biology, even the very definition of being human.

Protections, if not rights, for animals have been on the books for decades. But though the Animal Welfare Act requires the U.S. Department of Agriculture to set minimum standards of nutrition and shelter for captive animals, they’re difficult to enforce (especially against elusive traveling zoos, who are among the worst offenders), the fines are token, and the rules are skimpy—the Game Farm hadn’t even broken any of them. Though Jurnove had standing to sue for once-removed distress, Barney himself had no judicial recourse.

Legal personhood for animals, Wise explained in an interview with the Voice, “means the right to bodily liberty and bodily integrity, which are the fundamental rights that we humans have. If you wanted to do something to violate [animals’] rights, at the very least they should have a guardian appointed to represent their interests, the way a human child or any severely impaired human being would.”

“Ironically, ships, corporations, partnerships, and other inanimate entities and objects are considered ‘persons’ under the law with the ability to sue and be sued, and have been for generations,” says Pamela Frasch, director of the anti-cruelty division of the Animal Legal Defense Fund. “Judges and legislatures need the courage to take the next logical step and enhance the status of sentient nonhuman animals as well.” Any species equipped with these new rights could no longer be used as zoo attractions or biomedical research subjects, but as Wise writes in Rattling the Cage, “Without legal personhood, one is invisible to civil law. One has no civil rights. One might as well be dead.”

Animal law, however, is alive and kicking—this fledgling division of legal theory is now taught in 21 law schools around the country, up from 12 just two years ago, and will be the subject of a symposium next month at Harvard. (The all-star roster of scheduled speakers includes Jane Goodall, Alan Dershowitz, and Laurence Tribe.) In the past few years, pets have become increasingly common subjects of custody battles, veterinary malpractice suits, and emotional-distress claims. Outside the U.S., rights and protections for animals are expanding by steady increments. The last laboratory in the European Union to use chimpanzees in experiments, the Biomedical Primate Research Centre in the Netherlands, will stop in December by order of the Dutch government. And this past May, Germany’s lower house of parliament voted 543-19 to add animals to the dignity-rights clause of their constitution, though, as one lawmaker hastened to add, “People remain the most important.”

With that general consensus in mind, Wise has prioritized seeking rights for the most people-like of nature’s kingdom. “I don’t think that ‘animals should have rights,'” Wise says. “I think that specific kinds of animals should have specific kinds of rights. Because we share genetic and evolutionary status, it’s easier for a human to understand and empathize with why a chimpanzee or bonobo should have similar basic rights. Their lives mean a lot to them in the way our lives mean a lot to us; we’re just able to direct our lives in a much more complex way.”

The eligibility requirement for legal personhood is what Wise calls “practical autonomy,” a constellation of capacities observable to varying degrees in all species of the Great Ape family (which comprises chimps, bonobos, orangutans, gorillas, and yup, Homo sapiens). These include self-consciousness, imitation, empathy, insight, tool use and production, spatial representation, and understanding of symbols—including the building blocks of language. The famous signing gorilla, Koko, has scored as high as 95 on standardized IQ tests for human children; she boasts a signing vocabulary of 500 words and has given Internet chats.

“The waters have been lapping on the shores of human uniqueness for a very long time,” says Sally Boysen, who founded the Ohio State University Chimpanzee Center in 1983 and has spent much of her career teaching basic mathematical tasks to chimps. “First we were undermined when Jane Goodall discovered tool use in chimpanzees. Then we had apes using the rudiments of language. Later, [Emory University primatologist] Frans de Waal identified the roots of morality as seen in chimp reconciliation and alliance formation. We used to think only humans could attribute mental states to others, but now we know that chimps do that all day long. The bottom-line question since the ’60s has been, Gee, are they really like us? And there’s been a resounding Yes from every camp.”

In this light, Wise sees the legal separation between human and nonhuman animals as a cruelly arbitrary one. To borrow a phrase coined by Peter Singer, author of the seminal Animal Liberation, the distinction can be seen as a form of “speciesism,” with roots reaching back to Genesis and Aristotle’s Great Chain of Being. In June of 1999, a team of primatologists published an article in Nature, “Cultures in Chimpanzees,” which concluded that chimps possess the ability to invent customs and pass them on. In response, The New York Times ran an anti-speciesist editorial: “We have learned to live with the curvature of space. It may be harder to learn to live with the curvature of history, to grasp that our almost deific sense of difference from the animal creation is a latent prejudice that obscures as much as it explains.”

“Culture,” of course, can be defined as narrowly or broadly as you like. In The Electric Meme> (Free Press, 2002), Robert Aunger stresses that chimps lack “cumulative culture”: They don’t produce artifacts, and the adaptations they make to their environments over the course of a lifetime do not improve or evolve from generation to generation. Aunger, a professor of biological anthropology at Cambridge, concludes, “This limitation consigns monkey culture to the continual reinvention of simple novelties (like the famous invention of potato-washing by a Japanese macaque).”

A divine distinction between man and ape may well be presumptuous, but casting Ape in Man’s own image presents a different, and knottier, dilemma. The human brain is three times as large as that of a great ape of equivalent body size. (The reader should keep in mind, however, the Chihuahua Fallacy: The dogs’ encephalization quotient is off the charts, but that’s because they’ve been bred for tiny bodies, not big brains.) The frequently cited 98.7 percent genetic similarity says less about human nature than DNA structure—by the identical math, people are 98.1 percent mouse. Chimps are cannibals, and depending on how much practical autonomy you grant them, you could also call them kidnappers, rapists, and murderers. The same could be said of humans, but once protections become rights, they go hand in hand with duties—what duties could a chimpanzee possibly fulfill under the social contract? Among Goodall’s subjects in Gombe Stream National Park, an ape named Passion killed and ate the offspring of other females. Given legal personhood, could a Passion be tried for manslaughter?

Chimps will find no truer friend among humans than Sally Boysen, but even she harbors trepidation about the legal-personhood hypothesis. “Whatever it takes to protect chimps from biomedical research is important to me,” she says. “But I’ve been working with chimps for almost 29 years, and they are not hairy little humans. Males especially are huge, extremely powerful, hormonally driven—you’re not going to walk around the park with them on a leash. They are a different species—they’re not infants, they’re not disabled, they’re not mentally retarded.”

“They’re endangered, sentient, and emotionally complex, and they require protections on that basis—none of this is in dispute,” says Jonathan Marks, a biological anthropologist at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte. “But when people say the minds of chimpanzees are like the minds of mentally disabled humans, the big therefore is that we should give apes human rights because they’re mentally on a par with mentally disabled humans, which is an odious way of humanizing chimpanzees. Because if you say to them, ‘All right, if chimpanzees are somehow like retarded humans, do you believe retarded humans are like chimpanzees?’ they would say, ‘ Oh no no no.’ ”

The legal-personhood camp frequently draws such parallels, but they push the envelope even further by drawing an analogy between great apes subjected to biomedical research and the ordeal of slaves in the United States. The chimpanzee Jerom died at age 13 after he was repeatedly infected with strains of HIV at the Yerkes Regional Primate Research Center at Emory; in a 2000 speech, Laurence Tribe declared that Jerom had been “enslaved.” The Animal Law casebook, co-edited by Pamela Frasch (the second edition was just published by Carolina Academic Press), includes a section on slave disputes. Wise’s next book will chronicle the life of James Somerset, a slave in England who made a successful legal journey to freedom. “It’s the story of how a thing became a person under the law,” Wise says. “The thing in 1772 was an African human being; I would argue the thing in 2002 is certain species of nonhuman animals. I’m hoping that even if you don’t care about animal rights you’ll find the story interesting, but it’s also one large metaphor for what I’m trying to accomplish.”

This particular metaphor, however, dilutes or even contaminates the animal rights message by its uncomfortable proximity with the most vile and vicious of centuries-old racial stereotyping. “To compare any class of humans to apes is ipso facto dehumanizing to the people concerned,” Marks says. “The targets are always the people whose own rights are the most precarious—blacks in America, the Irish in England, and now the mentally disabled. It has a long history; it has never, ever been intended as a compliment; and it is simply biologically bankrupt.” In What It Means to be 98% Chimpanzee (University of California, 2002) Marks cites the astonishing cover art for the 1996 Houghton Mifflin publication Demonic Males: Apes and the Origins of Human Violence: a 1933 illustration by the Swiss anatomist Adolph Schultz comparing the body proportions of a gorilla to a man Schultz identified as an “adult Negro.”

To make the point again but with tongue in cheek, Marks also directs this reporter to; it’s worth noting that this very paper expressed its displeasure with George W. Bush’s ascension via the cover salute “Hail to the Chimp” and a correspondingly simian portrait.

Wise suggests that “proportional rights” could be allocated to nonhuman animals according to their level of practical autonomy. “The legal scale needs to approximate the biological scale,” he says. “Darwinian evolution would imply a seamless continuum from a virus all the way to human beings. It doesn’t make sense to treat them all the same.” Nor should humans be splitting hairs on issues of chimpanzee culture. “Whether or not chimpanzees have an advanced technological society is utterly irrelevant. Human beings have an infinite number of rights, and many of them make no sense with respect to chimpanzees. We’re not talking about the right to vote or practice religion or petition the government. The fact that they can’t send someone to the moon doesn’t mean that we have the right to do biomedical research on them.”

Ironically, Marks poses a similar argument to arrive at the opposite conclusion. “I know of no basis in the human species where smart people should have more rights than dumb people,” he says. “What does it mean to give a chimpanzee an IQ test and say, ‘Well, it’s really smart, therefore it should get human rights’? That presupposes that we use a scale of intelligence as a basis for allocation of rights for humans, and we don’t.”

But a cognitive scale to measure animal minds could provide a basis for the most divisive and wrenching of issues: deciding which species, if any, can be ethically used in invasive experimentation. (No fewer than 10 scientists who work with animal models—ranging from cardiovascular disease in lab rats to AIDS in primates—either declined or did not acknowledge interview requests for this article.) A practical-autonomy rubric could potentially separate those animals who feel pain from those who feel pain intelligently—that is, those who suffer.

On this count, it’s safe to say that even the staunchest supporters of animal use in biomedical research feel some measure of regret or ambivalence about the use of great apes. Invasive chimpanzee experimentation all but ceased in Great Britain after the early ’70s, and the government formally prohibited the practice in November 1997. Japan has also called a moratorium. Stateside, chimps are still used in investigations of malaria and hepatitis C. In the ’80s, hundreds were infected with HIV in clinical settings, but in 1999, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases called a halt to new infections.

“Because chimps take such a long time to progress to AIDS, they are not a practical model for developing vaccines,” explains Lillian Lee Kim, chief of public relations at the Yerkes center. “Scientists have moved to using rhesus macaque monkeys, which do develop AIDS-like illness much more quickly than humans.” (Harriet Robinson’s vaccine candidate, developed using macaques at Yerkes, is now entering clinical trials.) Paradoxically, chimps’ physiological similarities to people—which is the most compelling reason both for and against their use in biomedical research—ruled them out of conscription into the war on AIDS.

It’s another paradox that captive primates, even granted bodily integrity through legal personhood, most likely represent the future of their species. Plagued by deforestation and the increasingly commercialized “bushmeat” trade, wild great apes in sub-Saharan Africa are disappearing. As few as 150,000 chimpanzees survive there today, down from 2 million a century ago. “I’m pretty fatalistic about their plight in the wild,” Boysen says, “but that gives us even greater responsibility to try to create situations in captivity in which the animals can maintain their behavioral integrity. And that doesn’t mean getting a liver punch every week.”

In a July speech at an animal rights conference in Virginia, Peter Singer invoked the Judeo-Christian ethic of mankind’s “dominion” over animals as a roadblock to securing their rights. But humans—from the radical warriors of the Animal Liberation Front to meat-eating cosmetics researchers—have dominion over nonhumans whether they like it or not. Freeing captive apes would effectively authorize their extinction. Boysen’s team of chimps—most of them rescued from adverse environments, and all of them beloved—are enculturated for the enhancement of human knowledge. And every tenet of the animal rights debate boils down to anthropomorphic projections: How similar to me is this creature, and therefore which of my rights do I assign her? Improving Barney’s plight at the Game Farm, after all, hinged on a human being’s “aesthetic interests.” Perhaps the editors of Nature had that case in mind recently, when they published an editorial on the use of nonhuman primates in biomedical research and titled it “Distasteful but Necessary.”

Research assistance: Ben Kenigsberg


The Burning of Bleak College

[Paradise, 1:]

The weather was awful: rain for three seasons, then sweltering heat, then rain again. Enormous flies spawned in the wetlands at the mouth of the Quinnipiac River: malformed flies with bird-like legs, flies with tiny canine heads. So the legend goes. “By this Wingèd Persecution we hope to attain more quickly to Earthlie Happiness,” Prosperity Bleak wrote in his journal, having already decided to found, in the middle of this wet grey wilderness, an institute of higher education.

[Boston, 1:]

In 1637, Anne Hutchison (or Hutchinson), for whom a suburban parkway would one day be named, was banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony, for “traducing the ministers” of the Colony, by which her accusers meant, inviting women to her house to talk about theology, and not apologizing to anyone for it. She taught that divine grace was accorded at birth, and no amount of polite behavior afterwards could make up for its absence. Anne knew that she was saved; why should she apologize? Those who accused her were “Baals, Priests, Popish Factors, Scribes, Pharisees and Opposers of Christ himself,” she said.

Her punishment was terrible. John Winthrop, the governor of the Colony, writes: “Mistris Hutchison being big with child, and growing towards the time of her labour, as other women doe, she brought forth not one (as Mistris Dier did) but (which was more strange to amazement) 30. monstrous births or thereabouts, at once; some of them bigger, some lesser, some of one shape, some of another; few of any perfect shape, none at all of them (as far as I could learne) of humane shape.” Then she was banished. Anne and her husband and their monstrous brood fled to Rhode Island, which was known in those days as the “Island of Error,” because so many heretics lived there. Even the Rhode Islanders wouldn’t have her—and those monsters!—and she moved to New York, where, in 1643, she and her husband were killed by Indians, near a body of water called by the Dutch sailors Hell-Gate. The monsters escaped. More on them later.

[Mr. Bleak, 1:]

In the same year, a blind man named Prosperity Bleak arrived in Boston, bearing a letter from Dr. Sextus Halbmond of Leiden (Holland), which attested to his piety and his education. As the churches of Boston were fully staffed, Mr. Bleak preached in out-of-the-way places: in Smoaky rooms at the back of coffee houses, in dockside Warehouses, in Churches half-built, or half-destroyed by fire. In these places he made a name for himself with his doctrine of “Purposefull Suffering.” Where other ministers delivered sermons once or twice a week, Bleak held sixteen services; where other ministers urged chastity and abstinence from coffee, Bleak urged celibacy and abstinence from milk. “You cannot be Sprung, unless you are first Lock’d,” he said, “no more can you knowe Delight, unless you have tasted its Opposite.” His congregation was the largest in Boston, larger even than that of John Wilson (who had a knack for describing the fires of Hell), until it was discovered that no such person as Sextus Halbmond had ever lived in Leiden, or anywhere else. The only Bleak anyone could find a record of was a locksmith’s apprentice, who had come to Boston from Dorset.

[Mr. Bleak, 2:]

The name suits him so well, it seems like another of his fabrications. In fact the English telephone books abound with Bleaks, named not for the adjective but for the fish, Alburnus lucidus, a relative of the bream and the minnow. “It is found in European streams, and is caught by anglers, being also a favourite in aquariums. The well-known and important industry of ‘Essence Orientale’ and artificial pearls, carried on in France and Germany with the crystalline silvery colouring matter of the bleak, was introduced from China about the middle of the 17th century.” —Encyclopaedia Britannica, 11th ed. The fish is called ablette in French.

[Paradise, 2:]

As a blind locksmith, Mr. Bleak no more believed in Heaven than he did in Halbmond. He believed what his fingers told him: that there was no other world but the one that contained England and Boston and the great wilderness beyond. Likewise, his “Purposefull Suffering” had no end but the provocation of earthly delight.

And what delight! Stevedores rolled about on the floors of sheds that stank of fish; coffee fiends flung their hands in the air and cried that they would never sleep again; and in the roofless churches, men and women huddled, eating oranges and whispering secrets that they could not remember afterwards.

[Boston, 2:]

Boston was not built for that kind of happiness. Wilson preached against the “Fishy Bleaks,” who were, he said, relics of the same “pagan creation” that had peopled America with “Salvages”; and John Winthrop railed against “those followers of Mr. Bleak who lie upon the Common Grass and rub one another’s Haire.” In March of 1654, a warrant was issued for Bleak’s arrest on the grounds of witchcraft and incitement to riot. The officers went to Bleak’s house, but they found nothing except a treatise on raising demons from Hell (planted by Winthrop) and a bag of oranges.

[The Wilderness:]

In May, 1652, Prosperity Bleak visited the Island of Error, where he preached a sermon on “The Plan of Providence,” which mentioned ropes, pulleys, a fire, wheels, and things that had to be seen to be believed, but how they fit together, or what they had to do with Providence, no one could understand. In August of the same year Bleak narrowly escaped arrest in a Northampton tavern, where he had issued challenges to the “backwoods saint” Samuel Mather (father of Increase, grandfather of Cotton) to “pit the Invisible against the Felt.” Bleak fled to the wilderness. In 1656 or 57, he was said to be living among the Indians west of the Hudson River, where he impersonated a French trader named Ablette. In 1662, a blind Mr. Blick opened a shop on Gansevoort Street, in New Amsterdam, where he dealt in artificial pearls. In 1664, when New Amsterdam was handed over to the English, Mr. Blick vanished, too, and there was no trace of Bleak until the autumn of 1671, when he arrived in New Haven with letters from the clergy of Boston, attesting to his piety and learning. He was accompanied by a piebald quadruped that could only have been a dog, although some people swore they had heard it speak in a woman’s voice.

[The Children, 1:]

Who knows where he met them, around what fire, in what forest. They were not happy to see him. They hated human faces, as humans hated their snouts, muzzles, scales, etc. Even Anne had wept when they were born, and cried that Winthrop or some Priest must be their father, that they were the offspring of a forced copulation for which she was not to blame. In time she got over her horror, and wrapped them in blankets and rugs, but her feelings for the children remained cold. They stayed in the cellar (not imprisoned, just liked the darkness) and came up only when she wanted to show one of her friends what Winthrop had done to her. What an insult he had given her beliefs, what monsters the Puritans were. When the family moved to New Amsterdam, the children were allowed to play outside—probably Anne hoped they’d be slaughtered by the Indians who lurked in the forest. One day they came home and found the house ringed by those Indians, who shot burning arrows at the roof. The children looked at each other, shrugged, and retreated into the forest. They were monsters, after all.

“Monsters?” Mr. Bleak said, reaching his hands toward their fire. “In what sense?”

[The New-Haveners, 1:]

Strange doings in Mr. Bleak’s house on Prospect Street. Lights and noises at night. Comings and goings of Figures in Cloaks, and Shapeless Creatures in Carts. Frenzied barking of dogs. Great laying-in of provisions, including much Food not fit for any Man: spoiled Meat, Corn, etc. Digging, constant digging. Speech in unknown Languages, and Inhuman Cries. What is happening? Mr. Bleak is building a school.

[The Graduate, 1:]

Bleak College opened its doors on August 21, 1676, which would have made it the oldest continuously operating college in Connecticut, if a mob hadn’t burned it to the ground three years later. Most of what we know about its first incarnation comes from the “True Description of Bleak College Its Heresies Its Destruction” by Martin Lyall, whose son Charles was a member of the ill-fated class of 1679. According to Lyall, the college was remarkable not so much for its curriculum (theology, Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, as well as the “technologica,” as the Puritans called earthly knowledge) as for its architectural peculiarities: the tunnels that connected the four main buildings; the tower atop West House that lacked interior stairs, so that the only way to get to the top was to climb the outside. The fact that the college had a total of exactly 30 doors, and this number was so strictly maintained that, if a new door had to be cut somewhere, Mr. Bleak nailed an old door shut. The telescope atop West House, which was trained on the churches of New Haven Green, as though some danger was to be feared from their direction. The shed which no one was allowed to visit until the eve of their graduation, and then only on the condition that they tell no one what they had seen.

[The Graduate, 2:]

“Upon Prising apart the Lock (Lyall writes), we found within a Great Framework of Ropes and Wheels, with a Fire at the bottom of it, and, suspended over the fire, a Chair, in which my Sonne sat, clutching at its Arms and evidently very Afraid to fall. Over his Head hung various Discs, representing, the Sun and Moon, and a Ravening Wolf, and the Stars, and Birds in Flight, all Drawn as it were from Life, and moving in their Orbits at various Speeds. What was stranger still, I dare hardly Tell you: the whole Device was Turn’d by Beasts, or Monsters. A Great Creature with a Lion’s Body and the Head of a Bat pumped the Bellows, while Fluttering Atrocities saw to the Motion of the Stars, and Charles’s rope was held at the Lower Extremity by a Nude Woman with the Head of a Hen. About her feet there slithered Creatures without Legs, although they had Faces, and these Faces they turned to us with an Expression as it were of Contempt. [ . . . ] When we had Charles down from the Chair, and had tied Mr. Bleak in his own Ropes, we Interrogated him, as to the Purpose of his Machine. ‘It is meant to shew us how Providence works,’ said Charles; but Mr. Bleak, who retained the manner of a Schoolteacher even when Bound, chided him with these words: ‘Charles, it is providence.’ ”

[The Children, 2:]

They burned the shed that housed Providence first, then the main building with its stairless tower, the dormitory and the kitchen. Anne’s children watched from the woods. When the ashes were cool, they came back to see if they could salvage anything of value. Elizabeth (seal’s body; head of a crow) took the disc painted to look like the sun, and Prudence (dog’s body, woman’s head) took a few of the imitation pearls that represented the stars. When Bleak College re-opened, half a century later, under the direction of a Rhode Islander named Ablet, whose education and piety were beyond doubt, they brought these things back and offered them as gifts, in memory, they said, of someone who saw what was. The disc and pearls were displayed in Bleak’s museum as “Indian Relics” until 1871, when this fiction could no longer be maintained; then they were moved to the library.

Paul LaFarge is the author of Haussmann, or the Distinction (FSG) and the recipient of a Guggenheim fellowship. This story is from Luminous Airplanes, a novel in progress.



• • • art

Before applying brush to canvas or chisel to stone, you might—or might not—need to know what art is in the first place. Along with courses on Native American art, performance art, and 20th-century artists, the New School (229-5600) is taking it back to basics with a course on what art is anyway. The class will discuss how definitions of art, and its role in society, have changed over the course of history, and will look at recent attacks on art funding in the United States.

Collage is one of the most important art forms of the new millennium. Or so says the School of Visual Arts (592-2000), which is devoting a course to the medium this fall. Mosaic, cut paper, mixed-media and photomontage will be covered.

If a less high art is more of interest, Hunter College (650-3850) offers instruction in “basic drawing for graphic communication.” The class, “Cartoon & Caricature,” is taught by Irwin Hasen, creator of Dondi and the Green Lantern. —Kurt Gottschalk

• • • cooking

Every fine wine starts with good dirt. Andrew Harwood (917-838-8591; has had plenty of fertile soil on his hands. He’s made wine in Hungary, France, and California, and now teaches a semiweekly wine appreciation course that emphasizes understanding wine “from the ground up.”

Sharpening your skills through cutting class: This would be an oxymoron anywhere but at the New School (255-4141;, which offers a one-day “Knife Skills Workshop’’ for those interested in chopping, mincing, slicing, boning, carving, and filleting like a TV chef.

Dare to surpass Smuckers, transcend Welch’s, and put Bonne Maman back on the étagère. The Institute of Culinary Education (847-0770) provides “Jams, Jellies and Preserves,” a one-day crash course in preserving berries, apples, and other fruits. Grandma would be proud. —Danial Adkison

• • • dance

“Belly dancing, to me, is a uniquely feminine form of expression—unfathomably deep and powerful, yet playful and joyous at the same time,” says Stella Grey, who teaches the Middle Eastern dance at the New York Open Center and the 92nd Street Y. Contact her for her private classes at a Tribeca loft: 541-5054. Cost: $10-$15 a class.

Mamadou Dahoue, who danced with the National Ballet of Côte d’Ivoire, is from a family of traditional masked dancers, teaches the distinctive leaps and bounds of West African dance with live drummers on Thursdays and Saturdays at the Rod Rodgers Dance Studios on East 4th Street (674-9066). Cost: $12 a class.

Beginners and those with physical challenges are welcome at the New York Contact Jam (Monday nights at the Children’s Aid Society in Greenwich Village; $5 donation) to experience the wild, early-’70s–born communal modern dance form known as contact improvisation. Contact Jim Dowling (718-768-3492) or go to for info on classes and jams. —Anya Kamenetz

• • •

Augusto Boal developed the Theater of the Oppressed to serve political groups in Latin America, helping them to seek solutions through direct action. In this workshop at the Brecht Forum (242-4201;, on September 21 and 22, you can learn the same problem-posing techniques that have been utilized by organizers for decades. Explore the role of power, learn how to transform the spectator into a participant, and find ways to build consensus. Cost: $60-75, sliding scale.

You may not master the art that dare not speak its name, but you can certainly try to get inside the comedy. In the New School’s “Mime and Comedy Workshop” ( on September 28, you’ll start off learning how to slam a hand into a window, or how to trip on a rug, and then graduate into breaking a priceless vase or choking during opera singing. Cost: $80.

The projector is broken, and the needle on your record player just snapped. A roomful of guests and no entertainment. Time for some face-to-face storytelling. At the NYU School of Continuing and Professional Studies (998-7200;, from September 25 to December 4, you can learn the complex process of incorporating voice, body, and movement and adapt the folklore performance of your ancestors. You’ll be prepared for anything. Cost: $415. —Ariston Anderson

• • • fashion

So you’ve finally found the closet apartment of your dreams. Now the only problem is how to add a few decorations while still being able to maneuver around the 4 x 6 space. Learn the secrets of the pros at NYU’s “Interior Design: Manhattan Style” (, from September 18 to October 9, and master the secrets of lighting, color, storage, and furniture. Recent classes have visited apartments by Jamie Drake and Clodagh. Cost: $235.

You’ve spent 18 years in the PR industry. And yet your closet is full of handmade designs, and your desk crowded with patterns and prints. It’s time to quit your office stint and chase after your natural calling. Start at the Fashion Institute of Technology (, the place to learn the industry. With “Image Consulting” or “Decorative and Wearable Arts,” you’ll be able to make up for lost time.

At the Learning Annex’s “How to Start Your Own Cosmetics Line” ( on Tuesday, September 24, makeup gurus Anthony Gill and Christina Bornstein show you how to capitalize on your homemade pomegranate lipstick and turn it into your own company. They’ll give you the lowdown on their own visualization technique for success, as well as provide advice for every business starter. Cost: $49. —Ariston Anderson

• • • film

For the past week your kitchen has been full of pie tin flying saucers and ketchup blood, and you forced your own mother to hold up the Super-8 camera while you dragged your G.I. Joes across the linoleum floor. There’s a little more to it than that. The New School’s “Independent Filmmaking from A to Z” ( gives you the ins and outs of everything you need to know, from directing to producing, and yes, even how to make a masterpiece with a low budget. Course begins September 18. Cost: $425.

If you’re serious about breaking into the biz, get it all through the Digital Film Academy‘s 14-week course (333-4013). They’re the only school that starts you off writing your own screenplay, which they’ll copyright. Then you’ll move into directing, complete with live talent. On top of that you’ll get 24-7 unlimited lab time and master three editing forms; when your movie’s complete, they’ll teach you Web streaming and DVD authoring.

TV sucks, but you can change that. DV Dojo (477-2299; favors revolutionizing video. Whether you’re ready to dive into a career in digital video, or want to start with night classes, this Lower East Side school has a variety of workshops to fit your schedule, as well as regular screenings. You’ll make several beginning projects in the five-week, full-time course, which begins on September 3 or October 7. Get the lowdown on shooting and editing as well as broadcasting and film festivals in the eight-week evening course, which begins on September 2. —Ariston Anderson

• • • finance

Get started in the sizzling-hot creative bookkeeping field now with “Fundamentals of Accounting” at NYU’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies (998-7080;, Monday evenings from September 23 to November 25. Tighten your belt, though, ‘cause this prerequisite for more advanced courses costs $655—shredder not included.

The six-hour “One-Day MBA Workshop: Practical Knowledge It Takes Years to Learn in Biz School” at the Learning Annex (; 371-0280)
on August 24 runs $124. Learning good business planning from a CEO who’s made good by. . . teaching folks good business planning sounds. . . good, but the
circularity’s distracting; Dale Carnegie, eat your heart out.

Leave it to Borough of Manhattan Community College (220-8350; to give it to you under budget during these grizzly-market times: “The ABC’s of Investing” has two-day sections for $50—that’s four AOL shares plus change—beginning in October, surveying basic investment outlets plus education and retirement finance. —E. McMurtrie

• • • international study

If you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere. So why not try Vietnam, South Africa, or Nicaragua? The School for International Training (888-272-7881; specializes in semester-long study-abroad programs like “Revolution, Transformation, and Civil Society in Nicaragua.”

International studies heavyweight Columbia University gives select non-degree students the opportunity to take such courses as “Politics and Society of Pakistan’’ and “Human Rights in Post-Soviet Eurasia’’ through its Continuing Education and Special Programs division. (854-9699;

If you aren’t the type who could spend a semester unravelling the intricacies of Uzbek monetary policy, try the smorgasbord at the 92nd Street Y (415-5500; “Great Decisions 2002,” a foreign affairs colloquium that shifts its focus for each of eight weekly sessions. —Danial Adkison

• • • language

Voulez-vous parler avec moi? At the French Institute/Alliance Française (355-6100;, serious classes at several levels of difficulty and intensity will have you pronouncing the wine list in no time. Registration for the fall term begins September 17. (Cost: $400)

NYU’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies (998-7080; offers three-week intensives for $995 in standard Arabic, French, Japanese, Mandarin, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish; you study in the classroom and practice on field trips to ethnic neighborhoods. They teach over 25 languages, in a broad range of schedules and formats.

The Lexington School for the Deaf/Center for the Deaf in Queens (718-899-8800; teaches American Sign Language classes, two hours a week, to the general public as well as staff and parents of Lexington students. Register early for the $120 nine-week session. —Anya Kamenetz

• • • music

Picking up where 1970s matchbook covers left off, Hunter College (772-4490) will help you turn your poems into songs. Their lyric-writing course, through the Music Department, promises to help hone your heartfelt verse into commercial product and to help composers learn to work with lyricists.

The New School (229-5600) doesn’t just offer instrument instruction and appreciation courses (Al Jolson, Bob Dylan, and a reggae primer), but will make you an audio engineer as well. A five-course sequence covers the nuts and bolts of engineering, using Pro Tools, producing pop and hip-hop, and an internship.

If a percussion orchestra at your fingertips is what you’re after, tabla master Samir Chatterjee offers classes at Lotus Music & Dance (718-335-3465) in the small Indian drums that can make you sound like you’re hearing a trumpet here, a cat there—the high-speed patterns behind traditional ragas. —Kurt Gottschalk

• • • nature

If you think New York would be the worst place to study botany, than you’ve never been to the New York Botanical Garden. Offering over 750 courses, the garden has been teaching the ways of plants for over 70 years. With “Great Women in the Garden” (September 8, $35) you’ll learn the secrets of the world’s greatest female horticulturists. In “Plants That Changed History” (September 14, $35) you’ll discover how plants have radically altered commerce, medicine, and even stories of love and war. Visit or call 718-817-8747.

The average American uses more than twice the amount of land resources than the average European. Fortunately there is Vermont’s Institute for Social Ecology (802-454-8493;, an independent institution for activists. “Ecological Land Use” explores organic agriculture and permaculture with the goal of creating a self-sustaining community. Don’t let the “free society” fool you, though. The programs carry university-sized fees ($8900 for the fall semester), so look into their financial aid packages.

Strengthen your gardening skills while adding a little color to your neighborhood. Since 1978, GreenThumb (788-8070) has transformed vacant land into community spaces. It is the nation’s largest urban gardening program, with over 650 groups in all five boroughs. GreenThumb provides resources, materials, and seasonal workshops to jump-start groups and individuals. —Ariston Anderson

• • • photo

Somewhere between your old Instamatic and the age of digital was the Poloroid era. The International Center of Photography (857-0001) offers a weekend course in October on the creative use of Polaroid materials. Previous coursework at the center, or a portfolio review, is required.

Is there anything better to catch in a shutter than New York? The city loves to be photographed, and a nine-session course at the New School (229-5600) will use the city as its model, looking for patterns, colors, and shapes in field trips from the river to the parks.

And if New York is the place, the last year has certainly been the time. The School of Visual Arts (592-2000) offers instruction to budding documentarians in “Photography on Assignment: Witness to Our Times.” The class covers researching subjects, building a portfolio, and aspects of working in the publishing world. —Kurt Gottschalk

• • • religion

The Tibetan Studies Program at Professor Robert Thurman’s Tibet House ( offers meditation instruction, courses based on the Dalai Lama’s teachings, and a variety of lectures on dharma East and West. Call the New York Open Center to register at 219-2527. Cost: $20 per session.

Evening classes at the New York Kollel (Hebrew for “community”) at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (674-5300, ext. 272; cover fundamentals—liturgy, history, theology, major Jewish texts in a “transdenominational, pluralistic, egalitarian environment.” Ask about their comprehensive Mechinah program. Cost: $160 for a five-week class.

The international Theosophical Society (753-3835;, founded in New York in 1875, sponsors study of various aspects of the universal “Wisdom Tradition” through their Quest Bookshop (758-5521) in midtown. Discover the fundamental unity of existence, as revealed through various religions and ancient wisdom. —Anya Kamenetz

• • • sports

David Lee Roth recently disclosed a yen for kendo, the sport of Japanese fencing. Intrigued? The New York City Kendo Club (874-6161) holds beginners sessions Tuesdays and Thursdays, 6:30 to 8 p.m. If you adopt the Way of the Sword, regular practice is $80 per month—cheaper than Van Halen reunion tix.

Sailing lessons from friends or loved ones can entail plenty o’ cussing. The nonprofit New York City Community Sailing Association (Port Imperial Marina, Weehawken, New Jersey; takes lubbers on gentle three-hour “Introduction to Sailing” jaunts for 30 clams; a $300 “Basic Keelboat” course advances you toward ASA certification. Remember: The icebergs are melting.

World Cup fever’s fine on TV, but your own fifth-grade soccer skills need upgrading. The Field House at Chelsea Piers (336-6500; hosts adult league play for skill levels (like “over 30”) this fall; registration starts August 26, and the season’s $200 per head. —E. McMurtrie

• • •

Looking to receive expertise in a less formal, yet productive environment? Louis Reyes Rivera (, author and co-editor of Bum Rush the Page, gives an all-inclusive workshop at Sistas’ Place in Brooklyn starting September 1. Contributions are accepted in lieu of an enrollment fee!

Do you feel you didn’t get that perfect promotion due to your hang-ups with assertiveness? If so, you don’t need counseling to pinpoint your issuesjust attend Ken Wydro’s “Write Yourself” at the Harlem Institute for Higher Learning (280-1045), starting October 9. Cost: $125

It’s time for a lot of us closet writers to put down the latest Anne Rice book and get to work on our own. Do it at Pace University’s “Introduction to Creative Writing” (346-1244;, starting October 14. This course will utilize exciting methods like visual imagery and aromatics. Students will develop their talent through memoirs, short stories, and journals. Cost: $265.
—Celeste Doaks