Talking About Literature

Allen Ginsberg and  Philp Whalen, in Allen’s East 12th St apartment, New York City 1984

 

Allen Ginsberg: I (know) a couple of lines (of German) – ” Du bist wie eine Blume/so..schon und..” (Heinrich Heine)

Philip Whalen: I’d like to take the Rilke out of .. as much German as I’ve absorbed, totally out of the air, and out of the imagination, and what-not, to look at The Duino Elegies and so on, and get some comfort and charm out of the sound of the things as they go by. But, as far (as).. if you asked me to render a single line, I’d be.. I might recognize some lone word, or something like that, but otherwise, I’d be totally flummoxed, I wouldn’t have any idea.

I do the same thing with Lorca. Although I can guess better at Lorca because it’s nearer to a Latin trip, but I enjoy looking at the Lorca texts in Spanish. But we all learn from the same people. From Rilke and Lorca and Thomas Mann and from (Marcel) Proust, and..

Allen Ginsberg: I never could get much out of Lorca. Just a continuous breath..

Philip Whalen: Oh, there’s a thing about weather..

Allen Ginsberg: …The Duino Elegies, but that’s all.

Philip Whalen: Yeah, but in Lorca, there’s a thing about the smell of things and the shape, the colors of things, and about the weather, about how hot it is and how cold it is, which I find really nice.

Allen Ginsberg: I’ve always seen him as a bad influence on people. They get really.. sad and romantic.

Philip Whalen: It’s very thin, it’s really thin stuff the Lorca materials are, I think, but still they’re very pretty. The Rilke thing is very.. it gets smeary

Allen Ginsberg: I’m sorry. I was talking about Rilke.

Philip Whalen: Well, he tends to smear..

Allen Ginsberg: Yeah.

Philip Whalen: ..as far as I can see. And he’s like Richard Strauss, he gets.. exactly, he gets imprecise and floppy around the edges, and it just gets pretty.. and, I think it’s wonderful that..the greatest thing about Rilke is that he died after picking a rose and getting stuck on one of the thorns. What actually happened was that it turned out that the wound from being poked by this rose-thorn didn’t heal up and he actually had leukemia, but they didn’t know it until right that minute, or a couple of months later, when he still had this hole in him. He was actually dying of leukemia. But it was quite wonderful to be pricked by a rose and die. I always thought more kindly of him on that account.

Philip Whalen: And also when I was in the army, a friend gave me a copy, a little single volume of the Letters To A Young Poet, which I treasured. I really thought that was some of the wisest, most marvelous, most inspiring stuff that anybody ever said about the calling of being a poet.. were these letters that he’d written to..very stuffy, actually.. letters to this young kid who was writing to him about, “How do you be a poet?”, and, “I’m discouraged”, and “Please tell me what to do next?”, and so on. And Rilke wrote these very studied and very careful, very beautiful, replies to him, and I don’t know whether the kid ever amounted to anything, but they..

Allen Ginsberg: No, he didn’t.

Philip Whalen: ..but the replies are much more.. and I do like the prose… the thing I was talking about yesterday, about writing prose with the care of poetry, where the Malte Laurids Brigge‘s right on top, every minute, right now. Right on top of each event, each particle is going by, he’s right there with it. And so it works a lot better than a lot of the poems, except.. I don’t know. That’s quite wonderful where that angel comes in and grabs him in the first Duino Elegy..and says, “Shape up” (and, poor sap, that took him twenty years to shape up there!)

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In The Shadow of Goethe

Vorlesung aus Goethes „Werther“ (Reading Goethe’s “Werther”), Wilhelm Amberg, 1870

 
 

Thomas Mann‘s 1939 novel, Lotte in Weimar: The Beloved Returns, or otherwise known by Lotte in Weimar or The Beloved Returns, is a story written in the shadow of Goethe; Thomas Mann developed the narrative almost as a response to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe‘s novel The Sorrows of Young Werther, although Goethe’s work is more than 150 years older than Lotte in Weimar. Lotte in Weimar was first published in English in 1940.

The Beloved Returns is the story of one of Goethe’s old romantic interests, a real historical figure by the name of Charlotte Kestner neé Buff, who has come to Weimar to see him again after more than 40 years of separation. Goethe had romanced Charlotte when they were young, but she had already been engaged (and then married) to another man whom she truly loved. Ultimately, the romance ended unconsummated; afterwards, Goethe wrote a fictional depiction of these events, with some artistic changes, and published it under the title The Sorrows of Young Werther—a still famous book, which brought early renown to Goethe. The real Charlotte became inadvertently and unwillingly famous, and remained so for the rest of her life to a certain degree.

Her return in some ways is due to her need to settle the “wrongs” done to her by Goethe in his creation of Werther; one of the underlying motifs in the story is the question of what sacrifices both a “genius” and the people around him/her must make to promote his/her creations, and whether or not Goethe (as the resident genius of Weimar) is too demanding of his supporters. Most of the novel is written as dialogues between Charlotte and other residents of Weimar, who give their own opinions on the issue of Goethe’s genius. Only in the last third of the book, starting with the internal monologue in the seventh chapter, the reader is finally directly confronted with Goethe and what he himself thinks of the entire affair.

Lotte in Weimar also echoes in subtle ways Mann’s and the world’s concerns with German military aggression and social oppression.

Bogarde’s Ups and Downs

“I suppose the greatest exit which we are called upon to make or which is wished upon us, is our birth; that clumsy, uncomfortable, messy, bewildering affair which brings us often breathless into the long corridor of life leading directly, sometimes indirectly, but always inevitably, to our final supreme Exit, death.”

Dirk Bogarde
Quote from Snakes and Ladders (1978)

 
 

 
 

In his outstanding first volume of autobiography, A Postillion Struck by Lightning, Dirk Bogarde retraced his childhood and early experiences on the stage. In Snakes and Ladders, he continues his memoirs, from the trials of army training camp to the greatest challenge of his film career—the role of von Aschenbach in Death in Venice  (Lucchino Visconti, 1971). Here, Bogarde recounts all the ups and downs and the people he encountered—family and friends, actors and actresses, directors and producers—on his way to becoming one of the finest cinematic actors of our time.

Display of Brilliant Friends

Self-portraits

 
 

George Platt Lynes was an American fashion and commercial photographer. Born in East Orange, New Jersey to Adelaide (Sparkman) and Joseph Russell Lynes he spent his childhood in New Jersey but attended the Berkshire School in Massachusetts. He was sent to Paris in 1925 with the idea of better preparing him for college. His life was forever changed by the circle of friends that he would meet there. Gertrude Stein, Glenway Wescott, Monroe Wheeler and those that he met through them opened an entirely new world to the young artist.

He returned to the United States with the idea of a literary career and he even opened a bookstore in Englewood, New Jersey in 1927. He first became interested in photography not with the idea of a career, but to take photographs of his friends and display them in his bookstore.

Returning to France the next year in the company of Wescott and Wheeler, he traveled around Europe for the next several years, always with his camera at hand. He developed close friendships within a larger circle of artists including Jean Cocteau and Julien Levy, the art dealer and critic. Levy would exhibit his photographs in his gallery in New York City in 1932 and Lynes would open his studio there that same year.

By 1946, he grew disillusioned with New York and left for Hollywood, where he became chief photographer for the Vogue studios. He photographed Katharine Hepburn, Rosalind Russell, Gloria Swanson and Orson Welles, from the film industry, as well as others in the arts among them Aldous Huxley, Igor Stravinsky, and Thomas Mann. While a success artistically, it was a financial failure.

By May of 1955 he had been diagnosed terminally ill with lung cancer. He closed his studio. He destroyed much of his print and negative archives particularly his male nudes. After a final trip to Europe, Lynes returned to New York City where he died in December 1955. He was just 48.

 
 

Dorothy Parker

 
 

Jean Cocteau

 
 

Gloria Swanson

 
 

Christopher Isherwood

 
 

Yul Brynner

 
 

Tennessee Williams

 
 

Paul Cadmus

 
 

Henri Cartier-Bresson

 
 

Alfred Kinsey

 
 

Salvador Dalí

The Half Life of Gregor Samsa

 
 

Insect Dreams: The Half Life of Gregor Samsa is a sequel to Franz Kafka‘s short-story The Metamorphosis, written in 2002 by Marc Estrin.

Rather than being thrown away like trash, Gregor Samsa was secretly sold to a Viennese sideshow by the Samsas’ chambermaid. He then met various figures like Ludwig Josef Johann Wittgenstein, Oswald Spengler and Albert Einstein and witnessed American Prohibition, the Scopes trial, was involved in Alice Paul‘s feminist movement, encountered the Ku Klux Klan, and conferred with U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Robert Oppenheimer. The novel made allusions to post-World War I Vienna through the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos, New Mexico. Reciting Rainer Maria Rilke and discoursing on Spengler’s Decline of the West, Gregor attracts the attention of writer Robert Musil, who tells him that although western humanity is finished, that “Society…is in a larval state. What it needs is a larval model to lead it onward, upward, and out of the corral,” and Gregor is that larval model, his ironic task being to teach us what it means to be human.

Estrin was born in Brooklyn, New York. He attended Queens College, studying chemistry and biology, then studied theater directing at UCLA. Estrin came to novel-writing late. In the fall of 1998, he and his wife Donna were on holiday in Prague and decided to visit the grave of Franz Kafka, whose work had always been important to him. His father had challenged him to read Thomas Mann‘s The Magic Mountain during the summer before he attended college. He left a note on the grave, inviting Kafka to drop by if he ever found himself in Burlington. Estrin said that the concept, an outline and the opening episodes of Insect Dreams arrived in Vermont one morning at 3 AM, three weeks after he visited Kafka’s grave. Insect Dreams appeared from BlueHen/Putnam in 2002. Since then it has been re-released (by Unbridled Books). Through the 1960s he worked in various repertory theaters in the United States, including the Pittsburgh Playhouse and the San Francisco Actor’s Workshop. But the Vietnam War and Bertold Brecht inspired him to become politically active.

Acquaintances and Literary Influences

“I never wish to be easily defined. I’d rather float over other people’s minds as something strictly fluid and non-perceivable; more like a transparent, paradoxically iridescent creature rather than an actual person.”

Franz Kafka

 
 

 
 

A Friend of Kafka, a collection of Yiddish writer Isaac Bashevis Singer’s short stories, was published in 1970 with most of the stories appearing in the previous decade. He and his readers had plenty of time to dwell on the growing feeling of alienation that came from decades of broken promises. One of the most powerful themes in these stories is the exhausting banality of life and a total feeling of rootless isolation.

The plot of A Friend of Kafka is about a bohemian amateur philosophy and former actor, Jaques Kohn, who spent his life pursuing women, drinking and otherwise living the hedonist lifestyle that his life philosophy demanded. He was an intriguing figure for the narrator who saw in him glimpses of Western Europe. “The very way he carried his silver-handled cane seemed exotic to me. He even smoked his cigarettes differently from the way we did in Warsaw.”

Supposedly, Kohn was the first to recognize Franz Kafka’s talent, and he has corresponded with other important figures: Marc Chagall, Stefan Zweig, and Martin Buber. As the narrator’s cultural guide, Kohn shows him his letters and photographs, and he even arranges for him to meet Madam Tschissik, with whom Kohn performed and whom Kafka allegedly loved.

Kohn likes to tell a story about Kafka’s failure in a brothel. His sexual reservations are the same as the reservations he had about writing. Kohn is obsessed with the idea that he is playing a game of chess with fate. “My partner wants to play a slow game. He’ll go on taking my pieces one by one. First he removed my appeal as an actor and turned me into a so-called writer. He’d no sooner done that than he provided me with writer’s cramps. His next move was to deprive me of my potency.” In short, while he finds something invigorating about the struggle, he is slowly dying. His stories of his acting career and his knowledge of Kafka are all that keeps him from total fatalism. Many if the characters in this collection are involved in same sort of slow death. No longer capable of a projectural life, they limp along, trying to find meaning in banalities, religious, hedonism, of their own delusions.

Isaac Bashevis Singer had many literary influences; besides the religious texts he studied, he grew up with a rich array of Jewish folktales and worldly Yiddish detective-stories about “Max Spitzkopf” and his assistant Fuchs. He read Russian, including Fyodor Dostoyevsky‘s Crime and Punishment at the age of fourteen. He wrote in memoirs about the importance of the Yiddish translations donated in book-crates from America, which he studied as a teenager in Bilgoraj: “I read everything: Stories, novels, plays, essays… I read Avrom Reyzen,Johan August Strindberg, Don Kaplanowitsch, Ivan Sergeyevich Turgenev, Lev Tolstoy, Guy de Maupassant and Anton Chekhov.” He studied many philosophers, among them Baruch Spinoza, Arthur Schopenhauer, and Otto Weininger. Among his Yiddish contemporaries, Singer considered his older brother to be his greatest artistic example; he was also life-long friend and admirer of the author and poet Aaron Zeitlin. Singer had translated Thomas Mann‘s Der Zauberberg (The Magic Mountain) into Yiddish as a young writer.

Illustrated Masterpiece of Pastiche

 
 

Kafka’s Soup is a literary pastiche in the form of a cookbook. It contains 14 recipes each written in the style of a famous author from history. As of 2007 it had been translated into 18 languages and published in 27 countries. Excerpts from the book have appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald and the New York Times. Theatrical performances of the recipes have taken place in France and Canada. Kafka’s Soup is Mark Crick‘s first book. He has subsequently written two other books with similar themes; Sartre’s Sink and Machiavelli’s Lawn which are literary pastiches in the form of a DIY handbook and a gardening book respectively. Anybody who prefers their recipes to be a simple list of foolproof instructions should stay away.

Recipes include: tiramisu as made by Marcel Proust, cheese on toast by Harold Pinter, clafoutis grandmere by Virginia Woolf, chocolate cake prepared by Irvine Welsh, lamb with dill sauce by Raymond Chandler, onion tart by Geoffrey Chaucer, fenkata (rabbit stew) by Homer, boned stuffed poussins by the Marquis de Sade, mushroom risotto by John Steinbeck, tarragon eggs by Jane Austen, Vietnamese chicken by Graham Greene and Franz Kafka‘s Miso soup. Also included are recipes in the style of Jorge Luis Borges and Gabriel García Márquez.

Among the recipes that did not make the original edition of the book was “plum pudding à la Charles Dickens” which was written but rejected by Mark Crick for being “too long-winded”. It was, however, included in a subsequent paperback edition of the book along with two recipes, Rösti à la Thomas Mann and moules marinieres à la Italo Calvino, originally created for the German and Italian translations respectively.

Kafka’s Soup has become a cult hit. Andy Miller of The Telegraph called the recipes “note-perfect parodies of literary greats”. Emily Stokes of The Observer called it an “illustrated masterpiece of pastiche” citing the lamb with dill sauce as “particularly good”. C J Schüler wrote that Virginia Woolf’s clafoutis grandmere is the “pièce de resistance” and called the collection “irresistibly moreish”. He later called the book “a little gem of literary impersonation”. Schüler believes that “part of the book’s appeal lies in the fact that the recipes…actually work.”

 
 

 
 

Kafka’s Soup is illustrated with paintings by the author in the style of a number of famous artists including Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, William Hogarth, Giorgio De Chirico, Henry Moore, Egon Schiele and Andy Warhol.

The idea for Kafka’s Soup arose during a conversation between Crick and a publisher. Crick noted his dislike for cookbooks saying that he enjoyed looking at the pictures but found the accompanying text dull. When asked what would it take for him to read beyond the ingredients list he replied “if [the text] was written by the world’s greatest authors.” The publisher liked the idea and, in Crick’s words, “she said that if I wrote it she’d publish it.”

Most of the recipes in the book are Crick’s own, although some, such as the chocolate cake, came from his friends. Crick notes the implausibility of some of his authors cooking their stated dishes (for example he states that John Steinbeck “would never have eaten [mushroom risotto]” and “I certainly accept any challenge that Kafka would not have eaten miso soup”). He says that he selected the recipes based on the ability of each dish to allow him to use the language he wished to use. Chocolate cake was selected for Irvine Welsh because “people become terribly selfish when there’s chocolate cake around, just as they do with drugs. It’s the closest many get to taking heroin.”

Crick says that he found Virginia Woolf the most difficult of the authors to write while Raymond Chandler was the easiest.

Pierced by Arrows

Anonymous Nuremberg (XV cent) : St Sebastian (c. 1440). Bibilothèque Nationale (Paris, France). Woodcut.

 
 

Saint Sebastian is commonly depicted in art and literature tied to a post or tree and shot with arrows. This is the most common artistic depiction of Sebastian; however, according to legend, he was rescued and healed by Irene of Rome. Sometimes Sebastian is known as the saint who was martyred twice.

The earliest representation of Sebastian is a mosaic in the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo (Ravenna, Italy) dated between 527 and 565. The right lateral wall of the basilica contains large mosaics representing a procession of 26 martyrs, led by Saint Martin and including Sebastian. The martyrs are represented in Byzantine style, lacking any individuality, and have all identical expressions.

As protector of potential plague victims (a connection popularized by the Golden Legend) and soldiers, Sebastian occupied an important place in the popular medieval mind. He was among the most frequently depicted of all saints by Late Gothic and Renaissance artists, in the period after the Black Death. The opportunity to show a semi-nude male, often in a contorted pose, also made Sebastian a favourite subject.

 
 

His shooting with arrows was the subject of the largest engraving by the Master of the Playing Cards in the 1430s, when there were few other current subjects with male nudes other than Christ.

 
 

Andrea Mantegna

 
 

It has been suggested that the first picture was made after Mantegna had recovered from the plague in Padua (1456–1457). Probably commissioned by the city’s podestà to celebrate the end of the pestilence, it was finished before the artist left the city for Mantua. According to Battisti, the theme refers to the Book of Revelation. A rider is present in the clouds at the upper left corner (pic. 1). As specified in John’s work, the cloud is white and the rider has a scythe, which he is using to cut the cloud. The rider has been interpreted as Saturn, the Roman-Greek god: in ancient times Saturn was identified with the Time that passed by and all left destroyed behind him.

 
 

Giovanni Bellini (1460-64)

 
 

Sandro Botticelli (1474)

 
 

Albretch Dürer

 
 

Giovanni Antonio Bazzi “Il Sodoma” (1525)

 
 

The saint is ordinarily depicted as a handsome youth pierced by arrows. Predella scenes when required, often depicted his arrest, confrontation with the Emperor, and final beheading. The illustration in the infobox is the Saint Sebastian of Il Sodoma, at the Pitti Palace, Florence.

 
 

Cesare Da Sesto (1523)

 
 


El Greco

 
 

 San Sebastiano curato da un angelo (St Sebastian Healed by an Angel), Giovanni Baglione, c. 1603

 
 

Anton Van Dyck (1621-1627)

 
 

Peter Paul Rubens

 
 

José de Ribera (1651)

 
 

St Sebastien Attended by St Irene, Georges de La Tour, (c. 1649)

 
 

Honoré Daumier, 1849-52

 
 

A mainly 17th-century subject, though found in predella scenes as early as the 15th century, was St Sebastian tended by St Irene, painted by Georges de La Tour, Trophime Bigot (four times), José de Ribera, Hendrick ter Brugghen and others.

 
 

The Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian, by Ángel Zárraga (1911)

 
 

This may have been a deliberate attempt by the Church to get away from the single nude subject, which is already recorded in Vasari as sometimes arousing inappropriate thoughts among female churchgoers. The Baroque artists usually treated it as a nocturnal chiaroscuro scene, illuminated by a single candle, torch or lantern, in the style fashionable in the first half of the 17th century. There exist several cycles depicting the life of Saint Sebastian. Among them are the frescos in the “Basilica di San Sebastiano” of Acireale (Italy) with paintings by Pietro Paolo Vasta.

 
 

Antonio Bellucci, c. 1716-8

 
 

Saint Roch with Saint Jerome and Saint Sebastian (after a picture attributed to Alessandro Oliverio), John Singer Sargent, circa 1880-1881

 
 

Egon Schiele painted a self-portrait as Saint Sebastian in 1915

 
 

During Salvador Dalí’s “Lorca (Federico García Lorca) Period”, he painted Sebastian several times, most notably in his “Neo-Cubist Academy”

 
 

While Lorca was not a practicing Catholic, he was fascinated by Catholic liturgy and ritual, leading him to seek inspiration from religious themes such as the lives of saints which he would have studied while reading The Golden Legend by Jacobus de Vorgine. Sebastian relate to Lorca’s poetics as well as his relationship to Salvador Dalí.

 
 

Gabriele  d’Annunzio come S. Sebastiano, A. Salvini. In 1911, the Italian playwright Gabriele d’Annunzio in conjunction with Claude Debussy produced a mystery play on the subject.

 
 

St. Sebastian with St. Irene and Attendant,Eugène Delacroix, 1858

 
 

The American composer Gian Carlo Menotti composed a ballet score for a Ballets Russes production which was first given in 1944. In his novella Death in Venice, Thomas Mann hails the “Sebastian-Figure” as the supreme emblem of Apollonian beauty, that is, the artistry of differentiated forms; beauty as measured by discipline, proportion, and luminous distinctions. This allusion to Saint Sebastian’s suffering, associated with the writerly professionalism of the novella’s protagonist, Gustav Aschenbach, provides a model for the “heroism born of weakness”, which characterizes poise amidst agonizing torment and plain acceptance of one’s fate as, beyond mere patience and passivity, a stylized achievement and artistic triumph.

Sebastian’s death was depicted in the 1949 film Fabiola, in which he was played by Massimo Girotti.

 
 

In 1976, the British director Derek Jarman made his debut film, Sebastiane, which caused controversy in its treatment of the martyr as a homosexual icon. However, as several critics have noted, this has been a subtext of the imagery since the Renaissance.

 
 

Also in 1976, a figure of Saint Sebastian appeared throughout the American horror film Carrie, directed by Brian de Palma

 
 

Pietro Vannucci Perugino’s painting (c. 1495) of Saint Sebastian is featured in the  movie Wit  (Mike Nichols, 2001) starring Emma Thompson. Thompson’s character, as a college student, visits her professor’s office, where an almost life-size painting of Saint Sebastian hangs on the wall. Later, when the main character is a professor herself, diagnosed with cancer, she keeps a small print of this same painting of Saint Sebastian next to her hospital bed. The allusion appears to be to Sebastian’s stoic martyrdom – a role the Thompson character has willingly accepted for the betterment of all mankind. There may be a touch of authorial (or directorial) cynicism in making this “saintly” connection.

 
 

tumblr_lm64izZk8c1qcdvnmo1_1280Still from R.E.M.’s  Losing My Religion (Tarsem Singh, 1991) promotional music video

 
 

*I will be posting more artistic representations of St Sebastian on The Genealogy of Style´s new Facebook page
https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.597637210325056.1073741828.597542157001228&type=1&l=9328e23d78

The Afterimage of a Flash-bulb

Source image for Liz Taylor portrait

 
 

Silver Liz-Ferus Type, 1963

 
 

Liz (Late colored Liz), 1963

 
 

Andy Warhol chose the source image for this painting of actress Elizabeth Taylor from a publicity photograph of her 1960 film, BUtterfield 8 (Daniel Mann, 1960). He created this portrait when Taylor was at the height of stardom, but was also very ill with pneumonia. Warhol remembered: “I started those [pictures of Elizabeth Taylor] a long time ago, when she was so sick and everyone said she was going to die. Now I’m doing them all over, putting bright colors on her lips and eyes.” Art historian Robert Rosenblum reflects on Warhol’s artistry both of technique and of selection: “the contradictory fusion of the commonplace facts of photography and the artful fictions of a painter’s retouchings was one that, in Warhol’s work, became a particularly suitable formula for the recording of those wealthy and glamorous people whose faces seem perpetually illuminated by the afterimage of a flash-bulb.

Taylor became very ill during the early filming of Cleopatra and was rushed to hospital, where a tracheotomy had to be performed to save her life. The resulting scar can be seen in some shots. All of this resulted in the film being shut down. The production was moved to Rome after six months as the English weather proved detrimental to her recovery.