Dog in the Manger
Posted by Pam on October 27, 2006 - 2:55pm
Categories: Behind the Walls

Editors don't know everything, but we pride ourselves on knowing how to look up almost anything. Like many editors, when I stop to look up one word or phrase, I generally end up following the thread from this subject to that, perusing and learning as I go along. The Internet makes this all too easy. It seems I am always beginning conversations with, "Hey! Did you know...?" followed by a smattering of information connected only by the fact that I learned it in one Internet marathon. I am always amazed that if it's in any way art-related, there will be some connection to the Modern. This happened recently when I read a New York Times article by Charles Solomon entitled "The Son of Anime Master Begins His Quest for Honor."

I'm guilty of being a bit dog-obsessed since adopting a puppy this summer. So it's no surprise that the phrase "dog in the manger" captured my attention when the author Ursula K. Le Guin was quoted using it in Solomon's article. Am I the only one who didn't know this one? The phrase alludes to one of Aesop's fables, in which a dog sleeping in a manger prevents an ox from eating hay. The dog can't eat the hay, yet she doesn't want the ox to have it. So, to be a dog in the manger is to prevent someone from using or enjoying something you have, but have no use for.

Le Guin used the phrase in reference to the Sci-Fi Channel, which owns the rights to her Earthsea novels and is preventing the United States release of an animated film by the Japanese filmmaker Goro Miyazaki -- Gedo Senki (Tales from Earthsea) -- that is based on one of the novels. The Sci-Fi Channel is being a dog in the manger: it has no use for the Earthsea rights at the moment, but it doesn't want anyone else to have them.

General museum tie-in: Goro Miyazaki previously held the position of managing director of the Ghibli Museum in Mitaka, Japan, which is dedicated to the work of his father, the much-loved anime director Hayao Miyazaki. (Note to self: If in Mitaka, Japan, DO NOT go to the Ghibli Museum gift shop. Is there a kawaii equivalent to Stendhal Syndrome, whereby you see so much cute stuff you pass out?)

Modern tie-in: Hayao Miyazaki's film Howl's Moving Castle is discussed in the catalogue for the influential exhibition Little Boy: The Arts of Japan's Exploding Subculture, organized by the artist Takashi Murakami and presented in 2005 at the Japan Society in New York City. Little Boy included the work of Chinatsu Ban, a young artist from Tokyo whose first museum exhibition is the Modern's December FOCUS show. You can read all about Ban in our Winter calendar.

It's great to be a museum editor.