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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The Married Priest

Le Prêtre Marié (The Married Priest), René Magritte, 1951

 
 

La Valse Hésitation (1950)

 
 

Souvenir de voyage (1961)

The apple with a mask became a series of paintings later titled, The Married Priest (around from 1950 to 1961). Eroticism, understood both in light of the Marquis de Sade and Sigmund Freud, was fundamentally important to the Surrealists.

 
 

Jules Amédée Barbey D’Aurevilly (1808-1889), an autor forgotten by many, was a French novelisy and a short story writer known by Les Diaboliques (The She-Devils). As a young man, he was a liberal and an atheist, and his early writings present religion as something that meddles in human affairs only to complicate and pervert matters. In the early 1840s, however, he began to frequent the Catholic and legitimist salon of Baroness Amaury de Maistre, niece of Joseph de Maistre. In 1846 he converted to Roman Catholicism.

A Married Priest had first appeared in 1864. He was revered by the decadents of the late nineteenth century and had a decisive influence on writers like Henry James and Marcel Proust.

While seemingly opposed themes from Catholicism, Marquis de Sade and dandyism appear interwoven in his texts, like many of his free thinking contemporaries he takes a stance against the usefulness of his age (or the utilitarianism of the bourgeois world-order) and sees Christian inspiration in one of the leading principles of modernity, laicism.

A Married Priest, D’Aurevilly’s “most forgotten work”, is the story of a rebellious priest, Sombreval, who reneges on his priesthood and gets married because he ceases to believe (marriage becomes, for him, a way of protestation). D’Aurevilly does not present the interior life of his main character; instead the reader is faced with a strong, sovereign, Promethean man who in many aspects symbolizes an ideal of the positivist century and its revolt against God. From his marriage Sombreval has a daughter, Calixte, a sublime beauty afflicted with maladies. The father-daughter bond is very strong, and a rumor of incest spreads, reinforced by Calixte’s refusal of the young Nöel, To protect his daughter from slander, Sombreval decides to separate from her and goes back to the Church. Calixte comes back to life and marries Nöel. Sombreval is now an impostor priest who does not believe in his own truth. Finally Calixte dies in a cataleptic crisis of vision, dragging her father along.

Tangled Up in Blue

The Old Guitarrist, Pablo Picasso, Late 1903, early 1904

 

“Early one mornin’ the sun was shinin’
I was layin’ in bed
Wond’rin’ if she’d changed at all
If her hair was still red
Her folks they said our lives together
Sure was gonna be rough
They never did like Mama’s homemade dress
Papa’s bankbook wasn’t big enough
And I was standin’ on the side of the road
Rain fallin’ on my shoes
Heading out for the East Coast
Lord knows I’ve paid some dues gettin’ through
Tangled up in blue

She was married when we first met
Soon to be divorced
I helped her out of a jam, I guess
But I used a little too much force
We drove that car as far as we could
Abandoned it out West
Split up on a dark sad night
Both agreeing it was best
She turned around to look at me
As I was walkin’ away
I heard her say over my shoulder
“We’ll meet again someday on the avenue”
Tangled up in blue

I had a job in the great north woods
Working as a cook for a spell
But I never did like it all that much
And one day the ax just fell
So I drifted down to New Orleans
Where I happened to be employed
Workin’ for a while on a fishin’ boat
Right outside of Delacroix
But all the while I was alone
The past was close behind
I seen a lot of women
But she never escaped my mind, and I just grew
Tangled up in blue

She was workin’ in a topless place
And I stopped in for a beer
I just kept lookin’ at the side of her face
In the spotlight so clear
And later on as the crowd thinned out
I’s just about to do the same
She was standing there in back of my chair
Said to me, “Don’t I know your name?”
I muttered somethin’ underneath my breath
She studied the lines on my face
I must admit I felt a little uneasy
When she bent down to tie the laces of my shoe
Tangled up in blue

She lit a burner on the stove
And offered me a pipe
“I thought you’d never say hello,” she said
“You look like the silent type”
Then she opened up a book of poems
And handed it to me
Written by an Italian poet
From the thirteenth century
And every one of them words rang true
And glowed like burnin’ coal
Pourin’ off of every page
Like it was written in my soul from me to you
Tangled up in blue

I lived with them on Montague Street
In a basement down the stairs
There was music in the cafés at night
And revolution in the air
Then he started into dealing with slaves
And something inside of him died
She had to sell everything she owned
And froze up inside
And when finally the bottom fell out
I became withdrawn
The only thing I knew how to do
Was to keep on keepin’ on like a bird that flew
Tangled up in blue

So now I’m goin’ back again
I got to get to her somehow
All the people we used to know
They’re an illusion to me now
Some are mathematicians
Some are carpenters’ wives
Don’t know how it all got started
I don’t know what they’re doin’ with their lives
But me, I’m still on the road
Headin’ for another joint
We always did feel the same
We just saw it from a different point of view
Tangled up in blue”

 

Tangled Up in Blue is a song by Bob Dylan. It appeared on his album Blood on the Tracks in 1975. Released as a single, it reached #31 on the Billboard Hot 100. Rolling Stone ranked it #68 on their list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

Tangled Up in Blue is one of the clearest examples of Dylan’s attempts to write “multi-dimensional” songs which defied a fixed notion of time and space. Dylan was influenced by his recent study of painting and the Cubist school of artists, who sought to incorporate multiple perspectives within a single plane of view. As Neil McCormick remarked in 2003: “A truly extraordinary epic of the personal, an unreliable narrative carved out of shifting memories like a five-and-a-half-minute musical Proust.” In a 1978 interview Dylan explained this style of songwriting: “What’s different about it is that there’s a code in the lyrics, and there’s also no sense of time. There’s no respect for it. You’ve got yesterday, today and tomorrow all in the same room, and there’s very little you can’t imagine not happening”. The lyrics are at times opaque, but the song seems to be (like most of the songs on the album) the tale of a love that has, for the time being, ended, although not by choice.

The Telegraph has described the song as, “The most dazzling lyric ever written, an abstract narrative of relationships told in an amorphous blend of first and third person, rolling past, present and future together, spilling out in tripping cadences and audacious internal rhymes, ripe with sharply turned images and observations and filled with a painfully desperate longing.”

The song has been covered by various artists, including Great White, Jerry Garcia, Mike McClure, The Byrds, Half Japanese, Robyn Hitchcock, the Indigo Girls, Kim Larsen, KT Tunstall, Ani Difranco, The String Cheese Incident, Jennifer Charles and The Whitlams on their Eternal Nightcap album of 1997.

In the Hootie & the Blowfish song Only Wanna Be with You, Darius Rucker sings: “Yeah I’m tangled up in blue / Only wanna be with you / You can call me your fool / Only wanna be with you.” The reference extends a string of mentions of Bob Dylan in the song, beginning at the start of the second verse: “Putting on a little Dylan” …. The song’s rhythm itself seems to be inspired by Dylan’s original track.

 

To listen to Bob Dylan and Hootie & the Blowfish’s songs, please take a gander at The Genealogy of Style‘s Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Genealogy-of-Style/597542157001228?ref=hl

Proust Was a Neuroscientist

 
 

Proust Was a Neuroscientist is a non-fiction book written by Jonah Lehrer, first published in 2007. In it, Lehrer argues that many 20th and 21st-century discoveries of neuroscience are actually re-discoveries of insights made earlier by various artists, including Gertrude Stein, Walt Whitman, Auguste Escoffier, Paul Cézanne, Igor Stravinsky, and, as mentioned in the title, Marcel Proust.

The New York Times described it as “a precocious and engaging book that tries to mend the century-old tear between the literary and scientific cultures.” A review in The Daily Telegraph stated, “Lehrer is a dazzlingly clever young man whose writing bears witness to both the clarity of his scientific training and the humanity of his literary studies. The Whitmanesque electricity of all the thought and heart he has put into this book fizzes from each sentence.”Salon.com, by contrast, described it as being written “arbitrarily and often inaccurately”.

Jonah Richard Lehrer (born June 25, 1981) is an American author, journalist, blogger, and speaker who writes on the topics of psychology, neuroscience, and the relationship between science and the humanities. He has published three books, two of which, Imagine and How We Decide, were withdrawn from the market by publishers after it became known that Lehrer had fabricated quotations. This led to his resignation from his staff position at The New Yorker following disclosures that he had recycled earlier work of his own for the magazine. A later investigation at Wired.com, where he had previously worked, found instances of recycled content and plagiarism. He was fired from that position as a result of the investigation.

Lehrer resigned from The New Yorker on July 30, 2012, less than two months after he had joined the staff, after an article by Michael C. Moynihan appeared in Tablet Magazine exposing him as fabricating quotes attributed to singer Bob Dylan in his book Imagine.

 

I Am The Ghost of Shadwell Stair

Photograph by Michael Vincent Manalo

 
 

I am the ghost of Shadwell Stair.
Along the wharves by the water-house,
And through the cavernous slaughter-house,
I am the shadow that walks there.

Yet I have flesh both firm and cool,
And eyes tumultuous as the gems
Of moons and lamps in the full Thames
When dusk sails wavering down the pool.

Shuddering the purple street-arc burns
Where I watch always; from the banks
Dolorously the shipping clanks
And after me a strange tide turns.

I walk till the stars of London wane
And dawn creeps up the Shadwell Stair.
But when the crowing syrens blare
I with another ghost am lain.

Wilfred Owen

 
 

This poem was first drafted at Scarborough between January and February 1918, then in July or August it was revised just prior to Owen’s tragic death. Its message is cryptic, bound up with Wilfred’s sexuality and his association with gay literary figures such as Robert Ross (Oscar Wilde‘s friend), Osbert Sitwell and Charles Scott Moncrieff (the translator of Marcel Proust) who, along with Siegfried Sassoon, were doing much to forward Wilfred’s career as a poet.

Creative Optic

Illustration by Jiří Slíva

 
 

First row: А. П. Че́хов (Anton Chekhov); J.R.R. Tolkien; Franz Kafka; Betty MacDonald (misspelled McDonald)

Second row: Jack Kerouac; Marcel Proust; Antoine de Saint-Exupéry; R. Kipling

Third row: Marcel Duchamp; Stendhal; Karl May; Karl Marx

Fourth row: Magritte; S. Freud; Louis Pasteur; Günter Grass

Fifth row: Salvador Dalí; E.M. Remarque; Jaroslav Hašek; Isaac B. Singer

Snacks of the Great Scribblers

Illustration by Wendy MacNaughton

 
 

“When I sit down to work, I keep a small bowl of garlic croutons on my desk. These are little rewards for good ideas and strong lines, Pavlovian pellets to keep my spirits up. Recently, I began to wonder what fuel writers have relied on, and the answers turned out to be all over the culinary map. Walt Whitman began the day with oysters and meat, while Gustave Flaubert started off with what passed for a light breakfast in his day: eggs, vegetables, cheese or fruit, and a cup of cold chocolate. The novelist Vendela Vida told me she swears by pistachios, and Mark Kurlansky, the author of “Salt” and “Cod,” likes to write under the influence of espresso, “as black as possible.” For some writers, less is more. Lord Byron, a pioneer in fad diets as well as poetry, sipped vinegar to keep his weight down. Julia Scheeres, the author of the memoir “Jesus Land,” aims for more temporary deprivation. “When in the thick of writing I minimize food intake as much as possible,” she told me. “I find I work better when I’m a little starved.”

Wendy MacNaughton

The New York Times. Sunday Book Review, July 29, 2011

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.

The Dream of A Romanian Princess

“De nouveau la guerre. Il y a ici un tel cafard, une angoisse générale qui vient de tout ce qui se dit et répète sur la prochaine occupation de Nice que j’en suis très affecté par contagion et que mon travail est particulièrement difficile. Heureusement je viens de finir presque un tableau commencé il y a un an et que j’ai mené à l’aventure -en somme chacun de mes tableaux est une aventure. D’abord très réaliste, une belle brune dormant sur ma table de marbre au milieu de fruits, est devenue un ange qui dort sur une surface violette -le plus beau violet que j’aie vu, -ses chairs sont de rose de fleur pulpeuse et chaude -et le corsage de sa robe a été remplacé par une blouse roumaine ancienne, d’un bleu pervenche pâle très très doux, une blouse de broderie au petit point vieux rouge qui a dû appartenir à une princesse, avec une jupe d’abord vert émeraude et maintenant d’un noir de jais. Que tu es belle, ma messagère au bois dormant! tes yeux sont des colombes derrière leurs paupières. Et elle rêve d’un prince français prisonnier d’antan dont j’ai lu et relu les poèmes pour en faire un choix. Je me suis toujours méfié de la littérature, mais je ne l’ai pas seulement illustrée, je l’ai soigneusement, amoureusement recopiée, et l’on en trouve l’émerveillement dans mes thèmes.”

 

(“The war, again. We live such dark thoughts, such general anguish, which is fueled by anything which is being said and repeated about the imminent occupation of Nice. This rather affects me adversely and I find it difficult to work. Fortunately I just about finished a painting which I started a year ago and which was quite an adventure, in fact each of my paintings represent an adventure. Above all, very realistic, a beautiful woman with dark hair, who was asleep on my marble table, among the fruit. She had metamorphosed into an angel sleeping on this violet surface – the most beautiful violet colour which I had ever seen – her pink flesh of bulbous hot flowers ; her corsage had been replaced by a Romanian blouse, of ancient design, of a pale, very soft blue, a blouse embroidered with old ochre stitches, which must have belonged to a princess, with an emerald skirt which now was of a black jade. How wonderful you are my sleeping beauty of a messenger – your eyes so like doves behind their closed eyelids. And she dreams of a French prince of yore, whose poems I read and reread in order to set my choice. I was always reticent about literature, but now, not only have I illustrated it, here I have lovingly recopied it, so that you could marvel in my theme.”)

Henri Matisse

 
 

Le rêve (The Dream), Henri Matisse, 1940

 
 

So the great Master, Henri Matisse, now nearly 70, dreams of a Romanian Princess in the guise of a Sleeping Beauty, who was bringing solace during the uncertainties of war and old age. The scene he conjures is borrowed from the pre-war Paris and even much earlier on, from La Belle Epoque, before the First World War, to which Matisse was acquainted in his youth. This was the time when Romanian princesses were mesmerizing the French. They were the ‘Egerias’ of the Parisian intellectual society and there were several of them:

Helene Vacaresco, whose love poems were sung by Tino Rossi (Si tu voulais) and her love life inspired Pierre Loti’s best selling novel L’Exilee and gave the name to a prestigious literary prize ; Le Prix Vacaresco-Femina (now known as the Prix Femina).

Or the much lionized Comtesse de Noailles, nee Princess Brancovan, the first woman to become a Commander of the Legion d’Honneur. Anne de Noailles’s poems were awarded the first Prize of the Academie Francaise, at the turn of the century.

Or her cousin, the Parnassian poetess and hostess Marthe Bibesco, who inspired Marcel Proust, Jean Cocteau, Paul Valéry and Gabrielle D’Anunzio and who attracted to her entourage all the contemporary names that mattered, with the zest of a consummate entomologist, who would pin coleopterans in his prized cabinet.

Or, perhaps the rombustious Elvire Popescu, Countess de Foy, of the Theatre du Colombier and later of the Comedie Francaise, who delighted the public with her appearance in Ma cousine de Varsovie and became known by the endearing sobriquet of “Notre Dame du Theatre”. Popesco played with Sasha Guitry in the Paradis Perdu … Doubtless the Lost paradise was the object of much anxiety for Matisse and his bringing back to life the memory of these etheral Romanian muses in the form of the La Blouse Roumaine was an act of faith.

The war was going to put an end to this fertile liaison between Romania and the Paris Literary and artistic circles as the natural link between Romania and the West was fractured by the Iron Courtain. Now the country was going to live ,for five decades, the dark ages of ideological censorship, imprisonment and extermination.

The gap caused by this withdrawal from the French scene was filled to an extent by a number of exiles, who refused to reintegrate their fallen country, but their zest of life was blunted by the anxieties of sheer survival. On rare occasions, after the Cold War, a Romanian soprano or a ballerina might reappear on the French stage, but, by that time, the fire and the imagination of the public had changed and the impact was no longer the same. Besides, Romania would no longer conjure an image of intellectual excellence, but rather one of inept dehumanising, of the Prison of History. There the Romanian women not only shared their husband’s, brother’s and son’s prisons, but they were further condemned, through their bodies to fulfill the expectation of the “Demiurge”, for population growth… like some interminable genetic experiment of Kafkaesque proportions.

 
 

“An entire people,
Not yet born,
But condemned to birth,
In columns before birth
Foetus beside foetus,
An entire people,
Which does not see, does not hear, does not understand,
But moves forward.
Through writhing bodies of women,
Through the blood of mothers
Unconsulted.”

Ana Blandiana

The Children’s Crusade, 1984

 
 

With it, for nearly half a century the spirit of La Blouse Roumaine suffered a long period of eclipse, but survived to tell the story: these are the voices of Romanian women, which we bring about in this Anthology – some famous, other infamous, and most of them with the unconscious freshness of the unknown heroines – simple peasant farmers who languished in Siberian camps, pastor’s wives who suffered for their religious beliefs, self-effacing wives who were sent to concentration camps to expiate the politics of their husbands, or for no other sin than for having edited their spouse’s work – women, who in the normal course of events would have passed through life unnoticed, but whose torment under a genocidal regime, brought them to the fore of their country’s consciousness, for their bravery, their lyrical expression of their suffering, women who had to be buried under an assumed name, many others whose bodies were thrown in an unmarked, common grave – The names of these heroines are countless but their roll call, deserves our attention.

After Ceausescu’s demise the image of La Blouse Roumaine gradually came back into its own, slowly, like the awakening from a surreal nightmare: is the transition real? Is it for true? Is the past going to repeat itself?

Are the Romanian women, one may ask, going to regain their glittering reputation, which they had enjoyed before the war? For now, the answer is not simple and the road is tortuous. The only reputation which so far seems to have gained currency in the West was sadly one of poverty and desperation, which pushed the statistics of the young women from the “Balkan Vortex” to high levels of prostitution. Long after Ceausescu was put down, Ceausescu’s children who were once “condemned to birth” are now destined to begging for their subsistence, by selling their bodies…
It will take a while before The Sleeping Beauty of Matisse’s canvass will wake up to enchant the world stage, once again.

This day will come, but in the meanwhile the princess from La Blouse Roumaine will keep vigil that this dream may come true, like the angel enjoined by the French Master, in his war-time diary..

Essay On Proust

“The time-state of attainment eliminates so accurately the time-state of aspiration, that the actual seems the inevitable, and, all conscious intellectual effort to reconstitute the invisible and unthinkable as a reality being fruitless, we are incapable of appreciating our joy by comparing it with our sorrow.”

Samuel Beckett
Proust

 
 

Samuel Beckett. Photo by François-Marie Banier

 
 

Samuel Beckett wrote Proust in the summer of 1930, in response to a commission precipitated by Thomas MacGreevy, Charles Prentice, and Richard Aldington, during his stay at the École Normale in Paris. By the end of September, he delivered it by hand to Charles Prentice at Chatto and Windus. The book sold 2,600 copies by 1937, with the remaining 400 remaindered by 1941. In retrospect, Beckett dismissed it as written in “cheap flashy philosophical jargon.

The essay served double duty as its author’s aesthetic and epistemological manifesto, proclaiming on behalf of its ostensible subject: “We cannot know and we cannot be known.” In dense and allusive language, Beckett credited his current influences (notably Arthur Schopenhauer and Pedro Calderón de la Barca) and forecast his future preoccupations, reading them into the prose of Marcel Proust:

“The laws of memory are subject to the more general laws of habit. Habit is a compromise effected between the individual and his environment, or between the individual and his own organic eccentricities, the guarantee of a dull inviolability, the lightning-conductor of his existence. Habit is the ballast that chains the dog to his vomit. Breathing is habit. Life is habit. Or rather life is a succession of habits, since the individual is a succession of individuals; the world being a projection of the individual’s consciousness (an objectivation of the individual’s will, Schopenhauer would say), the pact must be continually renewed, the letter of safe-conduct brought up to date. The creation of the world did not take place once and for all time, but takes place every day. Habit then is the generic term for the countless treaties concluded between the countless subjects that constitute the individual and their countless correlative objects. The periods of transition that separate consecutive adaptations (because by no expedient of macabre transubstantiation can the grave-sheets serve as swaddling-clothes) represent the perilous zones in the life of the individual, dangerous, precarious, painful, mysterious and fertile, when for a moment the boredom of living is replaced by the suffering of being. (At this point, and with a heavy heart and for the satisfaction or disgruntlement of Gideans, semi and integral, I am inspired to concede a brief parenthesis to all the analogivorous, who are capable of interpreting the ‘Live dangerously,’ that victorious hiccough in vacuo, as the national anthem of the true ego exiled in habit. The Gideans advocate a habit of living—and look for an epithet. A nonsensical bastard phrase. An automatic adjustment of the human organism to the conditions of its existence has as little moral significance as the casting of a clout when May is or is not out; and the exhortation to cultivate a habit as little sense as an exhortation to cultivate a coryza.) The suffering of being: that is, the free play of every faculty. Because the pernicious devotion of habit paralyses our attention, drugs those handmaidens of perception whose co-operation is not absolutely essential.

Beckett went on to pinpoint his moral focus on the fundamental quandaries of human existence, disclaiming any involvement in social issues:

Here, as always, Proust is completely detached from all moral considerations. There is no right and wrong in Proust nor in his world. (Except possibly in those passages dealing with the war, when for a space he ceases to be an artist and raises his voice with the plebs, mob, rabble, canaille.) Tragedy is not concerned with human justice. Tragedy is the statement of an expiation, but not the miserable expiation of a codified breach of a local arrangement, organised by the knaves for the fools. The tragic figure represents the expiation of original sin, of the original and eternal sin of him and all his ‘soci malorum,’ the sin of having been born.

‘Pues el delito mayor
Del hombre es haber nacido.’

The final quotation is from Calderón de la Barca’s La vida es sueño (Life is a Dream), and ‘soci malorum’ is a quotation from Schopenhauer’s Studies in Pessimism.

In fact, the conviction that the world and man is something that had better not have been, is of a kind to fill us with indulgence towards one another. Nay, from this point of view, we might well consider the proper form of address to be, not Monsieur, Sir, mein Herr, but my fellow-sufferer, Soci malorum, compagnon de miseres!
In all his subsequent writings, Beckett continued to endorse this hamartiological conclusion; compare “The only sin is the sin of being born,” from a 1969 interview.

À la Recherche du Shoe Perdu

À la recherche du shoe perdu, Andy Warhol, 1955. Blotted line drawing, watercolor and ink on paper. The title is a play on words inspired by Marcel Proust’s novel À la recherche du temps perdu.

 
 
 
 

Ralph Pomeroy (1926-1999) throughout his writing career published essays, monographs, catalogs, three poetry collections and an illustrated book of poems with Andy Warhol entitled “A La Recherche du Shoe Perdu“. One of his books was about painter Theodoros Stamos. His friend, Edward Field, discusses his life in his book: The Man Who Would Marry Susan Sontag and Other Intimate Portraits of the Bohemian Era (2007, University of Wisconsin Press) In an article for the “The Gay & Lesbian Review,” (July–August, 2005, Volume 11 Issue 4), Field notes that the openly gay Pomeroy was accepted by Yaddo 1955, “where he scandalized the sedate arts colony by having an open affair with painter Clifford Wright.

A Statement in Favor of Individual Freedom

 
 

Le déjeuner sur l’herbe (The Luncheon on the Grass) – originally titled Le Bain (The Bath) – is a large oil on canvas painting by Édouard Manet created in 1862 and 1863. Rejected by the Salon jury of 1863, Manet seized the opportunity to exhibit this and two other paintings in the 1863 Salon des Refusés where the painting sparked public notoriety and controversy.

Odilon Redon, for example, did not like it. There is a discussion of it, from this point of view, in Marcel Proust‘s Remembrance of Things Past. One interpretation of the work is that it depicts the rampant prostitution that occurred in the Bois de Boulogne, a large park at the western outskirts of Paris, at the time. This prostitution was common knowledge in Paris, but was considered a taboo subject unsuitable for a painting.

It is not a realist painting in the social or political sense of Honoré Daumier, but it is a statement in favor of the artist’s individual freedom. The shock value of a nude woman casually lunching with two fully dressed men, which was an affront to the propriety of the time, was accentuated by the familiarity of the figures. Manet’s wife, Suzanne Leenhoff, and his favorite model, Victorine Meurent, both posed for the nude woman, who has Meurent’s face, but Leenhoff’s plumper body. Her body is starkly lit and she stares directly at the viewer. The two men are Manet’s brother Gustave Manet and his future brother-in-law, Ferdinand Leenhoff. They are dressed like young dandies. The men seem to be engaged in conversation, ignoring the woman. In front of them, the woman’s clothes, a basket of fruit, and a round loaf of bread are displayed, as in a still life. In the background a lightly clad woman bathes in a stream. Too large in comparison with the figures in the foreground, she seems to float above them. The roughly painted background lacks depth – giving the viewer the impression that the scene is not taking place outdoors, but in a studio. This impression is reinforced by the use of broad “photographic” light, which casts almost no shadows; the lighting of the scene, in fact, is inconsistent and unnatural. The man on the right wears a flat hat with a tassel, of a kind normally worn indoors.

 
 

Judgement of Paris (circa 1515). Engraving by Marcantonio Raimondi to a design by Raphael

 
 

As with the later Olympia (1865), and other works, Manet’s composition reveals his study of the old masters, as the disposition of the main figures is derived from Marcantonio Raimondi‘s engraving The Judgement of Paris (c. 1515) after a drawing by Raphael.

Scholars also cite two works as important precedents for Manet’s painting Le déjeuner sur l’herbe, The Pastoral Concert, 1508, attributed to either one of the Italian Renaissance masters, Titian or Giorgione, and Giorgione’s The Tempest, both of which are famous Renaissance paintings.

 
 

The Pastoral Concert (c. 1509), attributed to either one of the Italian Renaissance masters, Titian or Giorgione

 
 

The subject was perhaps the allegory of poetry and music: the two women would be an imaginary apparition representing the ideal beauty, stemming from the two men’s fantasy and inspiration. The woman with the glass vase would be the muse of tragic poetry, while the other one would be that of the pastoral poetry. Of the two playing men, the one with the lute would represent the exalted lyric poetry, the other being an ordinary lyricist, according to the distinction made by Aristotle in his Poetics. Another interpretation suggests that the painting is an evocation of the four elements of the natural world (water, fire, earth and air) and their harmonic relationship.

 
 

Giorgione, The Tempest (circa 1508)

 
 

There is no contemporary textual explanation for The Tempest, and ultimately, no definitive reading or interpretation. To some it represents the flight into Egypt; to others, a scene from classical mythology (Paris and Oenone) or from an ancient Greek pastoral novel. According to the Italian scholar Salvatore Settis, the desert city would represent the Paradise, the two characters being Adam and Eve with their son Cain: the lightning, as in ancient Greek and Hebrew times, would represent God who has just ousted them from Eden. Others have proposed a moral allegorical reading, or concluded that Giorgione had no particular subject in mind.

A Crush on Lolita

Lolita is a novel by Vladimir Nabokov, written in English and published in 1955 in Paris and 1958 in New York. It was later translated by its Russian-native author into Russian. The novel is notable for its controversial subject: the protagonist and unreliable narrator, middle-aged literature professor and hebephile Humbert Humbert, is obsessed with the 12-year-old Dolores Haze, with whom he becomes sexually involved after he becomes her stepfather. “Lolita” is his private nickname for Dolores.

In April 1947, Nabokov wrote to Edmund Wilson: “I am writing … a short novel about a man who liked little girls—and it’s going to be called The Kingdom by the Sea….” The work expanded into Lolita during the next eight years. Nabokov used the title A Kingdom by the Sea in his 1974 pseudo-autobiographical novel Look at the Harlequins! for a Lolita-like book written by the narrator who, in addition, travels with his teenage daughter Bel from motel to motel after the death of her mother; later, his fourth wife is Bel’s look-alike and shares her birthday.

Some critics have accepted Humbert’s version of events at face value. In 1959, novelist Robertson Davies excused the narrator entirely, writing that the theme of Lolita is “not the corruption of an innocent child by a cunning adult, but the exploitation of a weak adult by a corrupt child. This is no pretty theme, but it is one with which social workers, magistrates and psychiatrists are familiar.”

The novel abounds in allusions to classical and modern literature. Virtually all of them have been noted in The Annotated Lolita edited and annotated by Alfred Appel, Jr. Many are references to Humbert’s own favourite poet, Edgar Allan Poe.

Chapter 26 of Part One contains a parody of James Joyce‘s stream of consciousness.

Humbert Humbert’s field of expertise is French literature (one of his jobs is writing a series of educational works that compare French writers to English writers), and as such there are several references to French literature, including the authors Gustave Flaubert, Marcel Proust, François Rabelais, Charles Baudelaire, Prosper Mérimée, Remy Belleau, Honoré de Balzac, and Pierre de Ronsard.

Vladimir Nabokov was fond of Lewis Carroll and had translated Alice in Wonderland into Russian. He even called Carroll the “first Humbert Humbert”.

Lolita contains a few brief allusions in the text to the Alice books, though overall Nabokov avoided direct allusions to Carroll. In her book, Tramp: The Life of Charlie Chaplin, Joyce Milton claims that a major inspiration for the novel was Charlie Chaplin‘s relationship with his second wife, Lita Grey, whose real name was Lillita and is often misstated as Lolita. Graham Vickers in his book Chasing Lolita: How Popular Culture Corrupted Nabokov’s Little Girl All Over Again argues that the two major real-world predecessors of Humbert are Lewis Carroll and Charlie Chaplin. Although Appel’s comprehensive Annotated Lolita contains no references to Charlie Chaplin, others have picked up several oblique references to Chaplin’s life in Nabokov’s book. Bill Delaney notes that at the end Lolita and her husband move to the Alaskan town of Grey Star while Chaplin’s The Gold Rush, set in Alaska, was originally set to star Lita Grey. Lolita’s first sexual encounter was with a boy named Charlie Holmes, whom Humbert describes as “the silent…but indefatigable Charlie.” Chaplin had an artist paint Lita Grey in imitation of Joshua Reynolds‘s painting The Age of Innocence. When Humbert visits Lolita in a class at her school, he notes a print of the same painting in the classroom. Delaney’s article notes many other parallels as well.

In chapter 29 of Part Two, Humbert comments that Lolita looks “like Botticelli’s russet Venus—the same soft nose, the same blurred beauty”, referencing Sandro Botticelli‘s depiction of Venus in, perhaps, The Birth of Venus or Venus and Mars.

In chapter 35 of Part Two, Humbert’s “death sentence” on Quilty parodies the rhythm and use of anaphora in T. S. Eliot‘s poem Ash Wednesday.

Many other references to classical and Romantic literature abound, including references to Lord Byron‘s Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage and to the poetry of Laurence Sterne.

After its publication, Lolita attained a classic status, becoming one of the best-known and most controversial examples of 20th century literature. The name Lolita has entered pop culture to describe a sexually precocious girl. The novel was adapted to film by Stanley Kubrick in 1962, and again in 1997 by Adrian Lyne. It has also been adapted several times for stage and has been the subject of two operas, two ballets, and an acclaimed but failed Broadway musical.

 
 

Lolita (Stanley Kubrick, 1992)

 
 

Bert Stern worked as a photographer on Lolita and shot the publicity photographs of Sue Lyon.

 
 

The Crush (Alan Shapiro, 1993)

 
 

The plot of The Crush was based on an actual incident involving the neighbor of Shapiro.

The White Duck Beneath the Waves

The White Duck illustrated by Ivan Bilibin

 
 

The Russian folktale Белая уточка (The White Duck) also bears some resemblance to the story of Лебединое озеро (Swan Lake) ballet, and may have been another possible source. The contemporaries of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky recalled the composer taking great interest in the life story of Bavarian King Ludwig II, whose tragic life had supposedly been marked by the sign of Swan and who—either consciously or not—was chosen as the prototype of the dreamer Prince Siegfried.

 
 

Audrey Hepburn received a Tony Award for her theatrical performance in the 1954 Broadway play Ondine, directed by Alfred Lunt

 
 

The original Swan Lake was based on the story of Ondine, a German myth with a theme common in Romanticism that was adapted by Hans Christian Andersen for his story The Little Mermaid.

In that German tale known as Sleep of Ondine, Ondine (from Latin: Unda, “a wave”)  is a water nymph. She was very beautiful and, like all nymphs, immortal. However, should she fall in love with a mortal man and bear his child, she would lose her immortality.

 
 

Undine beneath the waves of the Danube. Illustration by Arthur Rackham

 
 

Ondine eventually falls in love with a handsome knight, Sir Lawrence, and they are married. When they exchange vows, Lawrence vows to forever love and be faithful to her. A year after their marriage, Ondine gives birth to his child. From that moment on she begins to age. As Ondine’s physical attractiveness diminishes, Lawrence loses interest in his wife.

One afternoon, Ondine is walking near the stables when she hears the familiar snoring of her husband. When she enters the stable, she sees Lawrence lying in the arms of another woman. Ondine points her finger at him, which he feels as if kicked, waking him up with surprise. Ondine curses him, stating, “You swore faithfulness to me with every waking breath, and I accepted your oath. So be it. As long as you are awake, you shall have your breath, but should you ever fall asleep, then that breath will be taken from you and you will die!

In Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Past Things, Volume II: Madame Swann at Home, the narrator’s girlfriend Gilberte is referred to as Undine: “… she assumed that vague air, full of reticence and kept secrets…like the Undine that she was…”

And Genesis’ 1973 song Firth of Fifth (from the album Selling England by the Pound) makes reference to Ondinal Songs.