An Ambiguous Shade of Something Else

Photographs by Robert Mapplethorpe from 1983 to circa 1986

 

“Robert was not a literal person.
Everything he saw was an ambiguous shade of something else.
He was a metaphorical person. The irony was he took photography, which is a literal person’s perfect way to show life in snapshots, and raised the single frame to a metaphor.
A Mapplethorpe lily is not a lily is not a lily*.
This is trick photography shot by a trickster.
Now you see it.
Now you don’t.
Now, if you’re lucky, you do.
Senator Jesse Helms never got it.
Helms probably thought that Robert’s drop-dead flowers, always actually more explicit than his human nudes, were, uh, flowers.
And not the sex organs of plants or, omigod, phallic and vaginal symbols!
Metaphor is a problem for fundamentalists clamming up the hard shell.
Robert captured the essence of flowers, figures, faces, and fetishes so resonantly on the literal level that the very perfection of the moment frozen in the single frame caused the very being of the object to suggest its own becoming… other.
That capturing of the suggestive instant of becoming ambiguous was his existential magic.
Elegant flowers become sexual organs,
The shadow of a flower becomes the horned god.
Sexuality becomes theology.
Face becomes mask.
The mirror becomes window.
Life becomes death.
The cross becomes the crown.
Light becomes dark.
The looking glass makes the way out become the way in: the anal insertions.
This spinning ambiguity causes fear in the literal-minded who look at his single-shot metaphors…

…He intended his stills to be “moving” pictures, photographs that “moved” the viewer, through assault if necessary, for the viewer’s own good, the way one slaps someone who is hysterical.
Every Mapplethorpe photograph is a single frame in a movie, which, if it existed, would be a series of dissolves:
The lily dissolves to the genitalia,
The face to the skull,
The skull to the lily.
Although versed in film and video, Robert consciously kept with the discipline of the single-frame still camera.
Robert was a Platonist: he saw the real and he saw the ideal.”

Mapplethorpe: Assault With a Deadly Camera
Jack Fritscher

 

*Praraphrase of Gertrude Stein’s sentence “Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose.”

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Come to America

Portrait of Gertrude Stein (with American flag as backdrop), Carl Van Vechten, January 4, 1935

 
 

1 May 1933

 

150 West Fifty-fifth Street
[New York]

 

Dear Gertrude,

 

Wherever one goes̱‒and I just gone to Baltimore‒one hears about your paper in the Atlantic. Everybody loves it. Even Harry Hansen who made some asinine remarks about it really loves it. Anyway, it seems the whole town rose to write and correct him¹. We are all dying for the 20 of May when the June number comes out and when I think I have to wait till July 20 to get at the whole I some times think I can’t bear it and other times I am happy because I have so much pleasure ahead of me! You are a woojums and Alice is woojums and I foresee now that you must, soon or late, come to America and then I will photograph you… I do nothing but make photographs now and they are good… I like your Francis Rose portraits². Edith brings in food on the Carlo plates more often than not, but it does not need that to remind us of you… Fania had her appendix out and is much better than she has been in years, I didn’t have mine out, but I am better too! In this crazy world it is nice to remember that there are two people we love called Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas.

a great many shell boxes and four orchids to you!

 

Carlo

 

NOTES FROM THE EDITOR:

1. Harry Hansen was a syndicated newspaper columnist.
2. Stein had sen Van Vechten a photograph of a portrait done of her by Sir Francis Rose (1930-33), which is now in the collection of the heirs of Gertrude Stein. She also sent him a photograph of Rose’s Portrait of Alice B. Toklas (1932)

 

The Letters of Gertrude Stein and Carl Van Vechten, 1913-1946
By Edward Burns

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.

 

A Completed Portrait of Picasso

Portrait of Gertrude Stein, Pablo Picasso, 1906, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. When someone commented that Stein didn’t look like her portrait, Picasso replied, “She will”.

 
 

IF I TOLD HIM

(A Complete Portrait of Picasso)

“If I told him would he like it. Would he like it if I told him.
Would he like it would Napoleon would Napoleon would would he like it.
If Napoleon if I told him if I told him if Napoleon. Would he like it if I told him if I told him if Napoleon. Would he like it if Napoleon if
Napoleon if I told him. If I told him if Napoleon if Napoleon if I told him. If I told him would he like it would he like it if I told him.
Now.
Not now.
And now.
Now.
Exactly as as kings.
Feeling full for it.
Exactitude as kings.
So to beseech you as full as for it.
Exactly or as kings.
Shutters shut and open so do queens. Shutters shut and shutters and so shutters shut and shutters and so and so shutters and so shutters shut
and so shutters shut and shutters and so. And so shutters shut and so and also. And also and so and so and also.
Exact resemblance to exact resemblance the exact resemblance as exact as a resemblance, exactly as resembling, exactly resembling, exactly
in resemblance exactly a resemblance, exactly and resemblance. For this is so. Because.
Now actively repeat at all, now actively repeat at all, now actively repeat at all.
Have hold and hear, actively repeat at all.
I judge judge.
As a resemblance to him.
Who comes first. Napoleon the first.
Who comes too coming coming too, who goes there, as they go they share, who shares all, all is as all as as yet or as yet.
Now to date now to date. Now and now and date and the date.
Who came first Napoleon at first. Who came first Napoleon the first. Who came first, Napoleon first.
Presently.
Exactly as they do.
First exactly.
Exactly as they do too.
First exactly.
And first exactly.
Exactly as they do.
And first exactly and exactly.
And do they do.
At first exactly and first exactly and do they do.
The first exactly.
At first exactly.
First as exactly.
At first as exactly.
Presently.
As presently.
As as presently.
He he he he and he and he and and he and he and he and and as and as he and as he and he. He is and as he is, and as he is and he is, he is
and as he and he and as he is and he and he and and he and he.
Can curls rob can curls quote, quotable.
As presently.
As exactitude.
As trains.
Has trains.
Has trains.
As trains.
As trains.
Presently.
Proportions.
Presently.
As proportions as presently.
Father and farther.
Was the king or room.
Farther and whether.
Was there was there was there what was there was there what was there was there there was there.
Whether and in there.
As even say so.
One.
I land.
Two.
I land.
Three.
The land.
Three.
The land.
Two.
I land.
Two.
I land.
One.
I land.
Two.
I land.
As a so.
They cannot.
A note.
They cannot.
A float.
They cannot.
They dote.
They cannot.
They as denote.
Miracles play.
Play fairly.
Play fairly well.
A well.
As well.
As or as presently.
Let me recite what history teaches. History teaches.”

Gertrude Stein

 
 

Written in 1923, it was first published in Vanity Fair in 1924. It was in response to a portrait of her which Pablo Picasso had painted two decades before.

A Renowned Art Collection

 
 

Gertrude Stein and her brother Leo shared living quarters on the Left Bank of Paris at 27 rue de Fleurus from 1903 until 1914, when they dissolved their common household. Their residence, located near the Luxembourg Gardens, was a two-story building with adjacent studio. It was here they accumulated the works of art into a collection that would become renowned for its prescience and historical importance.

The joint collection of Gertrude and Leo Stein began in late 1904 when Michael Stein announced that their trust account had accumulated a balance of 8,000 francs. They spent this at Vollard’s Gallery, buying Paul Gauguin‘s Sunflowers and Three Tahitians, Paul Cézanne‘s Bathers, and two Renoirs.

Leo Stein cultivated important art world connections, enabling the Stein holdings to grow over time. Bernard Berenson hosted Gertrude and Leo in his English country house in 1902, facilitating their introduction to Paul Cézanne and Ambroise Vollard‘s art gallery.

The art collection increased and the walls at Rue de Fleurus were rearranged continually to make way for new acquisitions. In “the first half of 1905” the Steins acquired Cézanne’s Portrait of Mme Cézanne and Eugène Delacroix‘s Perseus and Andromeda. Shortly after the opening of the Salon d’Automne of 1905 (on October 18, 1905), the Steins acquired Henri Matisse‘s Woman with a Hat and Pablo Picasso‘s Young Girl with Basket of Flowers.

 
 

To watch some of the paintings mentioned in this post, please take a gander at The Genealogy of Style‘s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Genealogy-of-Style/597542157001228?ref=hl

A Poem to Cézanne

Self-portrait with Palette, Paul Cézanne, 1885-7

 
 

CÉZANNE

The Irish lady can say, that to-day is every day. Caesar can say that
every day is to-day and they say that every day is as they say.
In this way we have a place to stay and he was not met because
he was settled to stay. When I said settled I meant settled to stay.
When I said settled to stay I meant settled to stay Saturday. In this
way a mouth is a mouth. In this way if in as a mouth if in as a
mouth where, if in as a mouth where and there. Believe they have
water too. Believe they have that water too and blue when you see
blue, is all blue precious too, is all that that is precious too is all
that and they meant to absolve you. In this way Cézanne nearly did
nearly in this way. Cézanne nearly did nearly did and nearly did.
And was I surprised. Was I very surprised. Was I surprised. I was
surprised and in that patient, are you patient when you find bees.
Bees in a garden make a specialty of honey and so does honey. Honey
and prayer. Honey and there. There where the grass can grow nearly
four times yearly.

Gertrude Stein

An Opera for Gertrude Stein

166_fa59f554bbd760a138fe07d997a74c06Apollinaire et ses amis, Marie Laurencin, 1907

 
 

Marie Laurencin:
[Taking a gulp of her wine.]
I want to know about her shaggy
hair. Did her mother put ribbons
there? I want to touch her long
black locks. What freedom
made her mock
clothing so? Guillaume, Cheri,
hand me my lorgnette.
[Guillaume pulls from his pocket a folded lorgnette, opens out the handle and offers it to Marie. She gives him her brush in exchange for the glasses.]

Gertrude, you magnifying glass, come
link arms that we may study this portrait
together.
[She staggers over to Gertrude and hooks her arm into Gertrude’s. Alice frowns and then takes Marie back to Guillaume.]

Monsieur Rousseau, I want to know
about her shaggy hair.

Pablo Picasso:
Yes, the way it snakes
to her voluptuous
knees.
[Pablo runs his hand down Fernande’s leg as he eyes Marie. Fernande, glaring first at Pablo and then Marie, goes to the table for a goblet of wine.]

Guillaume Apollinaire:
[oblivious to everyone except Marie:]
And her thighs,
her calves!
Who or what
does she
love?

Henri Rousseau:
She loves her mother.

Guillaume:
[Suddenly pulled to his senses.]
You’ve got to be kidding.
Guess her mother doesn’t sit
at the gaming tables all day.
[He takes a goblet and drinks.]

Henri:
[More earnestly:]
She loves her mother.

Gertrude Stein:
Just like me,
having the buttons
to prove it.

Leo Stein:
Buttons?
Leave Mother out of this!
It’s Alice, not Mother,
not me.

Marie
What about
the platypus?
Isn’t the pink-winged
bird a bit like us?
[Drinks and then throws down her goblet.]

Everyone
What?
What?
What is a genius?

Pablo
Henri, come sit
on the throne
I’ve made for you.
[Pablo escorts Henri to the throne.]
The legs are uneven,
the arms a bit cracked.

Marie
Yes, do, Monsieur Rousseau,
before the candle wax melts
and ruins the floor for dance.
[Marie holds her arms out and spins, avoiding the broken goblet.]

Gertrude Stein Invents a Jump Early On

First Act

Opera composed by William C. Banfield to a libretto by the poet Karren LaLonde Alenier

 
 

On March 10, 2002 the music from act II of Gertrude Stein Invents A Jump Early On was workshopped presented under the sponsorship of the National Opera Association and Opera Index at the Manhattan School of Music in New York City in a program entitled New American Opera Previews: From Page to Stage.

Gertrude Stein Invents A Jump Early On–three portraits of Gertrude Stein’s life and work from 1908-1944 as researched and embellished by poet-librettist Karren Alenier. Piano and voice score are completed. Music might be characterized as a fusion of new classical music and jazz. Presented by Encompass New Opera Theatre and Nancy Rhodes, artistic director.

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

Lips of Vermouth

“Yes, good folk, it is I who direct you to roast upon a red-hot shovel, with a little brown sugar, the duck of doubt with lips of vermouth, which, in a melancholy struggle between good and evil, shedding crocodile tears, without an air-pump everywhere brings about the universal vacuum. That is the best thing for you to do.”

Comte de Lautréamont
Les Chants de Maldoror (The Songs of Maldoror)

 
 

A l’heure de l’observatoire, les Amoureux (Observatory Time – The Lovers), Man Ray, 1934

 
 

 
 

One of Man Ray’s most memorable paintings, Observatory Time, is featured in this black-and-white photograph taken in 1936, along with a nude. It includes a depiction of the lips of his departed lover, Lee Miller, floating in the sky above the Paris Observatory. In the photograph, the nude is lying on her side on a sofa underneath the painting, with a chessboard at her feet. Observatory Time hints at what the woman might be dreaming: a nightmare or an erotic fantasy.

Observatory TimeThe Lovers, or as it has become more familiarly known, The Lips, has been described as the quintessential Surrealist painting, a supreme example of isomorphism, the use of organic forms oddly and obliquely referring to man, in a kind of fastidious, realistic illusionism – the unifying theme in mainstream Surrealist art in the heyday of the 1930s. Its title exemplifies Gertrude Stein‘s insistence upon embodying “time in the composition”. The canvas was eight feet long and over three feet high, and it took Man Ray two years of meticulous, daily work to get it right.

The Lips relied on a reference central to Surrealist philosophy, the devouring woman. It was the latest in a distinct series of big paintings, stretching back to MCMXIV of the Ridgefield period and The Rope Dancer and anticipating by a half dozen years Le beau temps. Every time Man Ray reached for the dramatic, grand statement in his paintings, he succeeded. The bigger canvases forced him into deliberateness of gesture and drew him away from the slapdash approach that ultimately (permanently, some critics would say) undermined his reputation as a painter.

 
 

 
 

Man Ray’s complete absorption in the task of painting The Lips also enabled him to forget his deepening hatred of photography and to escape into the preferred “high and exacting plane of Surrealist activity.” Surely it is no accident that Lee’s lips in the painting are flying through the air – reveling in sublime height, set in a faint smile, redder than any lipstick-reddened lips could possibly be. Indeed, the color of The Lips is as emancipated as its subject: the woman gone, the woman flown.

 
 

Hattie Carnegie against Man Ray’s painting Observatory Time – The Lovers

 
 

It is not known whether Man Ray was also recalling the evil lips of Maldoror, the “sapphire lips” of Lautreamont’s poem, that satanically lyric work that had made such an enduring impression upon him in his American Dada period. The monumental painting is – like Lautreamont’s poem – truly startling in its impact. Once again, as he had done so often in his photographs, making him the darling of the Surrealist writers, Man Ray set out to reinvent the female anatomy, in much the same manner as one of his earliest exemplars, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. He wanted to prove himself with The Lips, to demonstrate that he could take on a vast terrain and keep control of it. The work figurative, yet mystifying.

Kafka for Kids

Sylvia Plath believed it was never too early to dip children’s toes in the vast body of literature. But to plunge straight into Franz Kafka? Why not, which is precisely what Brooklyn-based writer and videogame designer Matthue Roth has done in My First Kafka: Runaways, Rodents, and Giant Bugs (public library) — a magnificent adaptation of Kafka for kids. With stunning black-and-white illustrations by London-based fine artist Rohan Daniel Eason, this gem falls — rises, rather — somewhere between Edward Gorey, Maurice Sendak, and the Graphic Canon series.

 
 

 
 

The idea came to Roth after he accidentally started reading Kafka to his two little girls, who grew enchanted with the stories. As for the choice to adapt Kafka’s characteristically dark sensibility for children, Roth clearly subscribes to the Sendakian belief that grown-ups project their own fears onto kids, who welcome rather than dread the dark. Indeed, it’s hard not to see Sendak’s fatherly echo in Eason’s beautifully haunting black-and-white drawings.

 
 


 
 

Much likeJonathan Safran Foer used Street of Crocodiles to create his brilliant Tree of Codes literary remix and Charles Darwin’s great-granddaughter adapted the legendary naturalist’s biography into verse, Roth scoured public domain texts and various translations of Kafka to find the perfect works for his singsong transformations: the short prose poem Excursion into the Mountains, the novella The Metamorphosis, which endures as Kafka’s best-known masterpiece, and Josefine the Singer, his final story.

 
 

“I don’t know!”
I cried without being heard.

“I do not know.”

If nobody comes,
then nobody comes.

I’ve done nobody any harm.
Nobody’s done me any harm.
But nobody will help me.

A pack of nobodies
would be rather fine,
on the other hand.

I’d love to go on a trip — why not? —
with a pack of nobodies.

Into the mountains, of course.
Where else?

 
 

In a way, the book — like most of Kafka’s writing — also bears the odd mesmerism of literary history’s letters and diaries, the semi-forbidden pleasure of which swells under the awareness that their writers never meant for us to read the very words we’re reading, never sought to invite us into their private worlds. Kafka wished for his entire world to remain private — he never finished any of his novels and burned the majority of his manuscripts; the rest he left with his closest friend and literary executor, Max Brod, whom he instructed to burn the remaining diaries, sketches, manuscripts, and letters. It was out of love that Brod chose not to, possibly displeasing his friend but eternally pleasing the literary public.

 
 

 
 

Though Kafka never wrote for children (in fact, one might argue, he never wrote for anyone but himself), My First Kafka transforms his surviving work into a fine addition to other notable children’s book by famous authors of “adult” literature, including Mark Twain, Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, James Joyce, Sylvia Plath, William Faulkner, Gertrude Stein, Anne Sexton, T. S. Eliot, and John Updike.

Portrait of One of the Jewish Geniuses

Franz Kafka, from Ten Portraits of Jews of the Twentieth Century, Andy Warhol, 1980

 
 

In October 1980, an exhibit featuring portraits of “famous Jews” opened at the Jewish Museum in New York; in June of the following year, a scaled-down version of the show had its “West Coast Premiere” at the Judah Magnes Museum in Berkeley, California. Entitled Andy Warhol: Ten Portraits of Jews of the 20th Century, the exhibit featured silk-screen prints and acrylic paintings — the Berkeley museum showed only the serigraphs — based largely on known photographs of a variety of Jewish figures no longer alive. In 1979, reviewers disliked his exhibits of portraits of 1970s personalities and celebrities, calling them superficial, facile and commercial, with no depth or indication of the significance of the subjects. They also criticized his 1980 exhibit of 10 portraits at the Jewish Museum in New York, which Warhol —who was uninterested in Judaism and Jews— had described in his diary as “They’re going to sell.” In hindsight, however, some critics have come to view Warhol’s superficiality and commerciality as “the most brilliant mirror of our times,” contending that “Warhol had captured something irresistible about the zeitgeist of American culture in the 1970s.”

Andy Warhol became fascinated with a group of influential Jewish figures – a pantheon of great thinkers, politicians, performers, musicians and writers including French actress Sarah Bernhardt (1844-1923); the first Jewish judge of the United States Supreme Court, Louis Brandeis (1856-1941); renowned philosopher and educator Martin Buber (1878-1965); the theoretical physicist, Albert Einstein (1897-1955), widely regarded as the greatest scientist of the twentieth century; the hugely influential founder of the psychoanalytic school of psychology, Sigmund Freud (1856-1939); vaudeville, stage and film comedians, the Marx Brothers: Chico (1887-1961), Groucho (1890-1977), and Harpo (1888-1964); Israel fourth Prime Minister and one of the founders of the State of Israel, Golda Meir (1898-1978); distinguished American composer George Gershwin (1898-1937); the eminent novelist, Franz Kafka (1883-1924); and avant-garde American writer, poet and playwright Gertrude Stein (1874-1946). The collective achievements of this group changed the course of the twentieth century and may be said to have influenced every aspect of human experience.

For the most part, Warhol’s standard techniques of cropping photographs, outlining faces and figures, and overlaying collage-like blocks of color onto them seem to have little specific connection with the particular character or significance of either the portraits or the represented figures. The multicolored, fragmented surfaces Warhol applied in the 1960s and 1970s to portraits of celebrities in the world of entertainment and politics usually complemented or enhanced the poses and public images of those represented — think of his portraits of Marilyn Monroe, Mick Jagger, Mao Tse-tung, or Richard Nixon.

With the possible exception of the Marx Brothers, the “famous Jews” display none of the star quality of many of Warhol’s other portraits; yet the cliché seems to rule in a similarly superficial, commercialized effort to lend the portraits a veneer of flamboyance or “modern” hip. In a rather quirky review of the New York exhibit, Carrie Rickey found in the paintings of Jews “an unexpected mix of cultural anthropology, portraiture, celebration of celebrity, and study of intelligentsia,” but she also observes that “Warhol had recast their visages to make them fit his pop iconology.” Roberta Bernstein, who has a fine critical appreciation of Warhol’s artistic abilities, notes in a discussion of his printmaking that, though his talent as portraitist functioned primarily to reveal only the surface and therefore was “entirely suitable for his portraits of glamorous celebrities and socialites, its appropriateness for historical figures of the type in this portfolio [of the ten twentieth-century Jews] is questionable,” and, she adds, his “unique ability to make insightful selections is not as apparent here as it is in other works.”

An Effort to Recapture What is Lost

Lord Jim is a novel by Joseph Conrad originally published as a serial in Blackwood’s Magazine from October 1899 to November 1900.
An early and primary event is the abandonment of a ship in distress by its crew including the young British seaman Jim. He is publicly censured for this action and the novel follows his later attempts at coming to terms with his past.

 
 

Lord Jim (Richard Brooks, 1965) It’s the second film adaptation of the novel by Joseph Conrad. The first was a silent film released in 1925 and directed by Victor Fleming. The film stars Peter O’Toole (Jim), James Mason (“Gentleman” Brown), Curt Jürgens (Cornelius), Eli Wallach (The General), Jack Hawkins (Captain Marlow), Paul Lukas (Stein), and Daliah Lavi (Jewel).

 
 

Peter O’Toole and Paul Lukas

 
 

After Jim rejects Marlow’s suggestion that he go to America, Marlow decides to consult Stein, the proprietor of a large trading company with posts in “out-of-the-way places” where Jim could more easily live in peace. Stein, according to Marlow, is extremely trustworthy and wise. We learn a little about Stein’s past: he escaped Germany as a young man after getting entangled with revolutionaries, then came to the East Indies with a Dutch naturalist. Stein remained in the area with a Scottish trader he had met, who bequeathed him his trading empire and introduced him to a Malay queen. Stein became an adviser to the queen’s son, Mohammed Bonso, who was battling several relatives for the throne. He married Bonso’s sister and had a child with her, and began to collect beetles and butterflies. Bonso was assassinated, and Stein’s wife and child died from a fever. Stein tells Marlow an anecdote about a particular butterfly specimen in his collection. One morning, he was tricked into leaving his compound by an enemy of Bonso’s and was ambushed along the road. After feigning death, he attacked and dispatched his attackers with bullets, but a few escaped. Suddenly, he saw a rare butterfly glide past him. Moving quickly, he captured it in his hat, holding a revolver in his other hand in case the bandits should reappear. Stein describes that day as one of the best of his life; he had defeated his enemy, possessed friendship and love, and acquired a butterfly he had long desired.

Stein collects butterflies, which may seem like just a passing hobby. But we think there just might be something more to it. Let’s take a look at Stein’s description of his favorite pasttime:

“When I got up I shook like a leaf with excitement, and when I opened these beautiful wings and made sure what a rare and so extraordinary perfect specimen I had, my head went round and my legs became so weak with emotion that I had to sit on the ground. I had greatly desired to possess myself of a specimen of that species […]”

He sighed and turned again to the glass case. The frail and beautiful wings quivered faintly, as if his breath had for an instant called back to life that gorgeous object of his dreams. (20.10-5)

 
 

 
 

Each time Stein captures a butterfly, he must kill it. He both admires and destroys these beautiful bugs, because each time he gets his hands on one, he takes away its freedom, and the beauty of the insect in flight. It’s a bit of a contradiction, right? If you love butterflies so much, Stein, perhaps you should leave the poor things alone. But he can’t. For Stein, all beauty is fleeting and all perfect moments must come to an end. His own personal history seems to confirm this: his wife and daughter were tragically killed, and live on only in his dreams and memories. He spends the aftermath of that tragedy tracking down and capturing butterflies, perhaps as an effort to recapture what he has lost.

Aside from personal considerations, Stein’s butterfly hunting is also a powerful symbol of the British Empire (and other European empires). Stein goes tromping around foreign places, capturing these things of beauty so he can study them and show off his trophies to his admirers. That sounds eerily familiar when you consider that European imperialism was all about traveling to foreign places and capturing their resources for European use. Perhaps these butterflies represent what is lost when Europeans colonized these far-flung foreign lands.

Boy with Butterfly Net

“It happens very often that a man has it in him, that a man does something, that he does it very often that he does many things, when he is a young man when he is an old man, when he is an older man. One of such of these kind of them had a little boy and this one, the little son wanted to make a collection of butterflies and beetles and it was all exciting to him and it was all arranged then and then the father said to the son you are certain this is not a cruel thing that you are wanting to be doing, killing things to make collections of them, and the son was very disturbed then and they talked about it together the two of them and more and more they talked about it then and then at last the boy was convinced it was a cruel thing and he said he would not do it and his father said the little boy was a noble boy to give up pleasure when it was a cruel one. The boy went to bed then and then the father when he got up in the early morning saw a wonderfully beautiful moth in the room and he caught him and he killed him and he pinned him and he woke up his son then and showed it to him and he said to him see what a good father I am to have caught and killed this one, the boy was all mixed up inside him and then he said he would go on with his collecting and that was all there was then of discussing and this is a little description of something that happened once and it is very interesting. ”

Gertrude Stein
The Making of Americans: Being a History of a Family’s Progress

 
 

Boy with Butterfly Net, Henri Matisse, 1907

 
 

Visiting Italy in 1907, Henri Matisse was deeply impressed by the frescoes of Giotto, the 14th-century artist who ushered in the Italian Renaissance. Matisse especially liked Giotto‘s simplified volumes and restricted primary colors. In response to his Italian experiences, Matisse set about making Fauvism more dramatic and monumental. Here, he created a spare landscape composed of flat areas of land and sky with a single grand figure. The boy was modeled after the nephew of Leo and Gertrude Stein.

The Kids Are Alright (Still)

“I’ve always considered myself an illustrator, a literate photographer interested in producing images that reflect the essence of an idea…I wanted to interpret the human scene rather than simply record it.”

Art Kane

 
 

 
 

“They were great. They made me think of Dickens’ Oliver Twist, Fagin’s gang. Irreverant, lovable. The first to wear clothes made from the British flag. I had the flag made from 2 Union Jacks. I was influenced by a Cartier-Bresson photograph of a vagrant asleep under a statue in Trafalgar Square.”

 
 

Trafalgar Square on the Day of the Coronation of George VI, 1937Trafalgar Square on the Day of the Coronation of George VI. Henri Cartier-Bresson, 1937

 
 

Photo session and sleeve design by Art Kane

 
 

The Kids Are Alright is a soundtrack album by British rock band The Who, as a companion to the band’s rockumentary film of the same name directed by Jeff Stein. It was originally released as a double album in June 1979 on Polydor Records in the UK and MCA Records in the US.

 
 

 
 

Pepe Jeans advertisement, circa 2002.