On Abandoment and Disappointed Love

d4051821r(c) Watts Gallery; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

 

George Frederic Watts first painted the story of Orpheus and Eurydice in the late 1860s. This decade saw a revival of classical subject matter in British art. It is a measure of Watts’s flexibility as an artist that, in the middle of his career aged about fifty, he should become deeply involved in a new movement in art, sharing the aims of much younger painters such as Frederic Leighton and Edward Burne-Jones. His Orpheus and Eurydice paintings are among the most powerful early masterpieces of this ‘aesthetic classicism.’ As with most subjects that gripped his imagination, Watts treated it several times, refining the composition until it fully realised his ideal.

The story of Orpheus is recounted in many ancient sources. The most accessible account, and probably the one used by Watts, is found in Ovid‘s Metamorphoses (book X).

Three subjects from the story were particularly attractive to artists:

Orpheus playing in hell;
Orpheus’s loss of Eurydice’; and
Orpheus’s head and lyre, which continued to sing after his own death.

In the 1860s Watts treated many themes of abandonment and disappointed love. Clytie whose yearning for the sun god Apollo turned her into a sunflower and Ariadne deserted by Theseus, share similar themes with Orpheus and Eurydice. Watts probably exposed deep personal emotions in such subjects, for his first marriage, to the young actress Ellen Terry, ended in separation in 1865, after they had been together for only eleven months.

But Watts’s impetus was not simply personal for the Orpheus and Eurydice theme was also popular with his closest artistic friends in the 1860s. In Victorian High Renaissance, Allan Staley suggests that Watts took it up in direct response to Frederic Leighton‘s 1864 Royal Academy picture (Leighton House). This is a distinctly odd treatment of the theme in which Orpheus pushes Eurydice away. Watts’s painting may be intended to criticise this version. Leighton became Watts’s near neighbour in Kensington in 1866, and the two men exerted a strong influence on each other for the next six years. In the late 1860s Burne-Jones produced illustrations to William Morris’s unpublished Orpheus and Eurydice poem. (He later re-used them for the 1880 Graham piano, the designs for which inspired John Singer Sargent‘s portrait of Comyns Carr. Watts painted portraits of his friends Burne-Jones and Morris in 1870 (Birmingham City Museum and Art Gallery and National Portrait Gallery).

There are many studies for the various versions of the work. Most appear to date from the late 1860s when Watts conceived and developed the subject. Two drawings are in the Royal Academy, London, among the collection selected by Edward John Poynter, as President, under the terms of Watts’s will. A head study for Orpheus is in the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham’s collection (Cecil French Bequest). A drawing for one of the horizontal format compositions is in the collection of David Loshak. Most interesting among the drawn studies is that in the collection of Sir Brinsley Ford. The upper half is very close to the composition of the present picture, but the figures are full length and a third figure (omitted from all known painted versions) appears in the bottom right corner. This emphasises the placing of this version in the sequence of Watts’s paintings between his abandonment of the horizontal format and his development of an upright one. Watts also produced sculptured studies for the figure and head of Orpheus to help him realise the difficult pose of the figure and the tormented expression, both hard for a model to hold. (Two studies, plaster casts from clay or wax originals are in the Watts Gallery, Compton.) Watts’s interest in sculpture developed in the 1860s, when he made both finished works (such as the bust of Clytie) and such studies. The production of sculptural studies for paintings was a Renaissance practice and passed into the academic tradition. The studies and the finished painting reveal Watts’s fascination with dynamic twisting poses and especially with the stretch and turn of the neck. This seems to have been a personal idiosyncracy. Found in many other works of this time (such as Clytie), it should be seen as an aspect of Watts’s enthusiasm for the Renaissance artist that earned him the nickname of ‘England’s Michelangelo.’

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Orpheus Emerged

 

Orpheus Emerged is a novella written by Jack Kerouac in 1945 when he was at Columbia University and was just 23 years old. It was discovered after his death but not released until 2000 (by his estate).

It chronicles the passions, conflicts, and dreams of a group of bohemians searching for truth while studying at a university. Kerouac wrote the story shortly after meeting Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, Lucien Carr, and others in and around Columbia University who would form the core of the Beats.

The journal Kerouac referred to as “The Plan For The Novel Galloway,” provides deep insights into Jack’s growing organizational skills. The Galloway notes contain 22 sections which break down potential scenes for the novel, plus there are revelations about Jack’s characters (himself, his family, friends, etc.) and how they would be developed. Although, eventually Kerouac would not choose to include many of these scenes in The Town and The City, he would later utilize some of them in Maggie Cassidy and Vanity of Duluoz. Jack was driving towards a literary feeling, something uniquely his own that could answer his artistic callings. In section 19, Jack wrote: “Whereas, in most novels, the climax of the narrative is dramatic, this, not being so much a narrative as a fugue of moods, must be a musical climax – the climax in Galloway must be referred to as such: – it is not the dramatic outbreak of a narrative’s laborious building up, but sheer triumph erupting like a mood without cause over the mass of life – moods strung and woven thereunto. The same method I applied in Orpheus Emerged, where realism was established in order to vent full and glowing truth of a mystico-spiritual experience…although that work, in itself, was of the poorest quality, really.”

So Kerouac originally planned to write his first novel in an improved but similar style to the experimental short novel Orpheus Emerged. It resembles the work of Camus and Sartre far more than the edited, published version of The Town and The City. Journals from 1943 and 1944 reveal Kerouac’s outline and intended symbolism in Orpheus Emerged and are interesting when compared to Galloway. The charts of symbols are much the same, and the stated themes of both intend to deal with the search of a “young American Artist.” The artist’s search centered around the choice to live life for art or to live it for life itself. Orpheus Emerged pursued this theme through its main character, Michael, who was described as “the genius of imagination and art.” He was a mysterious sufferer who followed his artistic “calling,” yet strangely only shared his poetry and money with a possible twin, Paul, “the genius of life and love.” Both men are 22, they are linked to Marcel Orpheus (also 22) in ways only understandable by the appearance of “Helen,” the beloved of Marcel Orpheus.”

Orpheus, of course, from Greek legend was the gifted poet and musician who after receiving a lyre from Apollo became supernatural is his artistic abilities. Helen, the daughter of Zeus represented the magnificence and joy that beauty can bestow, yet with it came the promise of doom. With the glow of these mythological characters as a back drop, Michael’s story evolved; he was attempting to transcend man’s mortal emotions, and through art achieve immortality. The other characters in Orpheus Emerged, Leo (a bright student possibly based on Ginsberg), Arthur (a student who writes possibly Lucien Carr), Anthony, a struggling alcoholic, and the women who are manipulated by these men, are all mystified by the oddness of Michael’s emotional state. It is only Paul who appeared to have some understanding of and connection to Michael. At an innocuous party, Paul revealed to Michael that: …”She’s (Helen) coming here soon,” which launched Michael into an unexplainable, violent attack on Paul.

This behavior and a subsequent doomed affair between Michael and Marie (Anthony’s wife) began a downward spiral and unraveling of Michael’s personality. In a drunken rage, he rebuked Leo’s attempts to console him while the two men drank in a neighborhood bar. Later, Michael wandered the rainy city streets until, so distraught, he contemplated ending his life by plunging into the cold depths of the river. But Michael decided to postpone his suicidal act because he desired to once more see Paul, and “hurl curses in his face.” Michael found Paul in his room, but also discovered that Helen had, indeed, returned, and in her presence he descended into a complete nervous breakdown. Strangely, he announced to Paul that both of their lives were about to end, and to Helen, he declared that he was not worthy of her for, like other ordinary human beings, he had settled for merely living his life.

The baffling scene ends with Helen holding both men’s hands, and the notion of Michael and Paul being one and the same person, though unstated, was implied. Like the “fugue of moods” Kerouac had promised, the story mysteriously ended with Leo, Arthur, and another student arguing. The men had observed Helen riding off in a trolley car with either Michael of Paul, there is not agreement over which one it was. Finally, Arthur, we are told, reached some understanding of this bizarre episode after finding a note in his mailbox which made reference to and was signed “Orpheus.”

As an unfinished work of fiction, Orpheus Emerged is a strange and tantalizing story that suffers from numerous structural flaws. The lack of clarity, intentional or not, diminishes the novels seriousness, the setting is poorly focused, and the dialog is barely believable. The overall effect is one of sheer bewilderment. Yet, viewed as a journal entry one can better understand that “Orpheus” was more of a thematic experiment, and that Kerouac recognized it to be a stylistic failure. It’s influence on the Galloway journals is also purely thematic. Kerouac’s own artistic journey and his struggles with choosing between the artist’s life and the life he knew from his family and the town of Lowell, undeniably are the source of inspiration. But, Kerouac realized he needed to broaden his scope and therefore wrote The Town and The City in a classically structured style where “the climax of the narrative is dramatic.” He had come full circle from his intentions of style in Orpheus Emerged.

Later in life, Kerouac, no doubt, must have found it annoying when he was said to have been an undisciplined writer. Jack took the brunt of that criticism knowing full well how hard he had worked, in a “disciplined” sense, to evolve into a writer who could write brilliantly from multiple styles: as an objective narrator, a first person confessionalist, an expressive poet, a creator of mythical characters, and a chronicler of history. Kerouac’s journals are the unarguable evidence of the dues he paid.

A Dedication by Ginsberg

Presentation copy of Howl to poet and scholar Richard Eberhart – inscribed “For Richard Eberhart in gratitude for his original vision of Nature both in his poetry and in his early sympathy for mine, Allen Ginsberg Dartmouth, October 17, 1960

 
 

Allen Ginsberg wrote drafts of the poem Howl in mid-1954 to 1955, purportedly at a coffeehouse known today as the Caffe Mediterraneum in Berkeley, California. Many factors went into the creation of the poem. A short time before the composition of Howl, Ginsberg’s therapist, Dr. Philip Hicks, encouraged him to quit his job and pursue poetry full-time. He experimented with a syntactic subversion of meaning called parataxis in the poem Dream Record: June 8, 1955 about the death of Joan Vollmer, a technique that would become central in Howl.

Ginsberg would experiment with this breath-length form in many later poems. The first draft contained what would later become Part I and Part III. It is noted for relating stories and experiences of Ginsberg’s friends and contemporaries, its tumbling, hallucinatory style, and the frank address of sexuality, specifically homosexuality, which subsequently provoked an obscenity trial. Although Ginsberg referred to many of his friends and acquaintances (including Neal Cassady, Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs, Peter Orlovsky, Lucien Carr, and Herbert Huncke), the primary emotional drive was his sympathy for Carl Solomon, to whom it was dedicated; he met Solomon in a mental institution and became friends with him.

Ginsberg admitted later this sympathy for Solomon was connected to bottled-up guilt and sympathy for his mother’s schizophrenia (she had been lobotomized), an issue he was not yet ready to address directly. In 2008, Peter Orlovsky told the co-directors of the film Howl (Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, 2010) that a short moonlit walk—during which Orlovsky sang a rendition of the Hank Williams song Howlin’ At the Moon–may have been the encouragement for the title of Ginsberg’s poem. “I never asked him, and he never offered,” Orlovsky told them, “but there were things he would pick up on and use in his verse form some way or another. Poets do it all the time.” The Dedication by Ginsberg states he took the title from Kerouac.

Everything Is Holy

Photo by Robert Doisneau

 
 

FOOTNOTE TO HOWL

“Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy!
Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy!
The world is holy! The soul is holy! The skin is holy!
The nose is holy! The tongue and cock and hand
and asshole holy!
Everything is holy! everybody’s holy! everywhere is
holy! everyday is in eternity! Everyman’s an
angel!
The bum’s as holy as the seraphim! the madman is
holy as you my soul are holy!
The typewriter is holy the poem is holy the voice is
holy the hearers are holy the ecstasy is holy!
Holy Peter holy Allen holy Solomon holy Lucien holy
Kerouac holy Huncke holy Burroughs
holy Cassady holy the unknown buggered and suffering
beggars holy the hideous human angels!
Holy my mother in the insane asylum! Holy the cocks
of the grandfathers of Kansas!
Holy the groaning saxophone! Holy the bop
apocalypse! Holy the jazzbands marijuana
hipsters peace & junk & drums!
Holy the solitudes of skyscrapers and pavements! Holy
the cafeterias filled with the millions! Holy the
mysterious rivers of tears under the streets!
Holy the lone juggernaut! Holy the vast lamb of the
middle class! Holy the crazy shepherds of rebell-
ion! Who digs Los Angeles IS Los Angeles!
Holy New York Holy San Francisco Holy Peoria &
Seattle Holy Paris Holy Tangiers Holy Moscow
Holy Istanbul!
Holy time in eternity holy eternity in time holy the
clocks in space holy the fourth dimension holy
the fifth International holy the Angel in Moloch!
Holy the sea holy the desert holy the railroad holy the
locomotive holy the visions holy the hallucina-
tions holy the miracles holy the eyeball holy the
abyss!
Holy forgiveness! mercy! charity! faith! Holy! Ours!
bodies! suffering! magnanimity!
Holy the supernatural extra brilliant intelligent
kindness of the soul!”

Allen Ginsberg

Berkeley 1955

Cracked Actor Meditating Upon a Skull

David Bowie snarling and holding a skull with a rose between its teeth

 
 

Photo by Michael Tweed

 
 

David Bowie sings in concert during his Serious Moonlight Tour in 1983. The skull is a reference to the “Alas, poor Yorick” scene of Hamlet. Photo by Neal Preston

 
 

Cracked Actor is a song written by David Bowie, originally released on the album Aladdin Sane in April 1973.

One of the album’s hard rockers, the song is about an aging Hollywood star in an encounter with a prostitute, the chorus including various allusions to sex and drugs:

“Crack, baby, crack, show me you’re real
Smack, baby, smack, is that all that you feel
Suck, baby, suck, give me your head
Before you start professing that you’re knocking me dead…”

Rolling Stone suggested that Bowie’s goal was “to strip the subject of his validity, as he has done with the rocker, as a step towards a re-definition of these roles and his own inhabiting of them”. However NME writers Roy Carr and Charles Shaar Murray considered that the song “reveals little else except that Bowie’s capabilities with a mouth-harp are decidedly limited”.

Cracked Actor became a centerpiece of Bowie’s 1974 North American tour when he would perform the song wearing sunglasses and holding a skull (à la Hamlet), which he would then proceed to French kiss.

 
 

 
 

The track also gave its name to Alan Yentob‘s documentary of the tour. In 1983 Bowie revived the song and the sunglasses-and-skull routine for his Serious Moonlight Tour. The documentary depicts Bowie on tour in Los Angeles, using a mixture of documentary sequences filmed in limousines and hotels, and concert footage. Most of the concert footage was taken from a show at the Los Angeles Universal Amphitheatre on 2 September 1974. There were also excerpts from D.A. Pennebaker‘s concert film Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, which had been shot at London’s Hammersmith Odeon on 3 July 1973, as well as a few other performances from the tour. Cracked Actor is notable for being a source for footage of Bowie’s ambitious Diamond Dogs Tour. The title of the documentary was originally to be The Collector, after a comment that Bowie had made to interviewer Russell Harty the previous year, whereby he described himself as “a collector of accents”.

 
 

The documentary can be seen in The Genealogy of Style’s Facebook page

Perfectly Satisfactory

Hunky Dory gave me a fabulous groundswell. I guess it provided me, for the first time in my life, with an actual audience – I mean, people actually coming up to me and saying, ‘Good album, good songs.’ That hadn’t happened to me before. It was like, ‘Ah, I’m getting it, I’m finding my feet. I’m starting to communicate what I want to do. Now: what is it I want to do?’ There was always a double whammy there.”

David Bowie

 
 

Hunky Dory is the fourth album by English singer-songwriter David Bowie, released by RCA Records in 1971. It was his first release through RCA, which would be his label for the next decade. Hunky Dory has been described by Allmusic’s Stephen Thomas Erlewine as having “a kaleidoscopic array of pop styles, tied together only by Bowie’s sense of vision: a sweeping, cinematic mélange of high and low art, ambiguous sexuality, kitsch, and class.” The slang hunky dory (of uncertain origin), would mean perfectly satisfactory, about as well as one could wish or expect; fine

 
 

The style of the album cover was influenced by a Marlene Dietrich photo book that Bowie brought with him to the photo session, which was taken by Brian Ward. Terry Pastor achieved the silk-screen printing appearance in the manner of Andy Warhol, using an airbrush. However,  the album’s sleeve would bear the credit “Produced by Ken Scott (assisted by the actor)”. The “actor” was Bowie himself, whose “pet conceit”, in the words of NME critics Roy Carr and Charles Shaar Murray, was “to think of himself as an actor”. George Underwood was also involved in the creative process of the album cover design.

 
 

The opening track, Changes, focused on the compulsive nature of artistic reinvention (“Strange fascination, fascinating me/Changes are taking the pace I’m going through”) and distancing oneself from the rock mainstream (“Look out, you rock ‘n’ rollers”). However, the composer also took time to pay tribute to his influences with the tracks Song for Bob Dylan, Andy Warhol and the Velvet Underground inspired Queen Bitch.

Following the hard rock of Bowie’s previous album The Man Who Sold the World, Hunky Dory saw the partial return of the fey pop singer of Space Oddity, with light fare such as Kooks (dedicated to his young son, known to the world as Zowie Bowie but legally named Duncan Zowie Haywood Jones) and the cover “Fill Your Heart” sitting alongside heavier material like the occult-tinged Quicksand and the semi-autobiographical The Bewlay Brothers. Between the two extremes was Oh! You Pretty Things, whose pop tune hid lyrics, inspired by Friedrich Nietzsche, predicting the imminent replacement of modern man by “the Homo Superior”, and which has been cited as a direct precursor to Starman from Bowie’s next album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.