The readership of this blog has fallen off 20 percent in recent days, with the lack of boytummy. This daunting statistic calls to mind his trust officer's warning to Charles Foster Kane, that his newspaper was losing money. Well. It's going to get worse before it gets better.
I have always anticipated discussing the great masterpiece in film on what I regard as the most unremunerated rôle in life, Vittorio de Sica's awesomely beautiful Ladri di biciclette. I probably will do that, but (like everyone, I hope) I believe I was raised with the best of amateurs in the part in question, fatherhood. In his first boy, David, and in oneself, I remark more and more on the evenness of his hand, on his genius for not inflating a natural sibling rivalry. He was getting even with his past, and he won. We loved him and, vastly worse, we admired him. He was our winner of games.
In this portrait, my favourite among the few that survive of him, his cigarette is in one hand, his lighter in the other; and he would love to bring them together. His second boy has lately been born, and his mother has come to investigate this circumstance. She has not been an intimate of his since his 16th year, yet she commands great respect from him, and even love if she would like it. But now he is invulnerably happy, a flicker of play crosses his face, which she has begun to assimilate as the shutter is snapped. In the open shade of his own garden, he is a man in full.
One night when the beautiful light of the moon poured into my room ... imagination, taking something from life: some very scanty thing - a distant scene, a distant pleasure - brought a vision all its own of flesh, a vision all its own to a sensual bed.
It's hard on the Classics scholars, because they are, after all, immersed in a world whose schoolmarm was Plato. This means, for them, when they encounter a passage of awkwardness of translation, its text will not have been policed by hypocrites. It takes a very good school, and very well run at that, to furnish a climate of trust - the body and blood of learning, in any event - where a boy or girl can wander down the hall and ask an honest question. This poem, written in the katharevousa, poses that challenge.
The catastrophe is self-evident where the boy may not inquire, in that setting of zombie piety that will be left of a culture gone not merely mad with denial, but stupid by choice. Parents who know better have been willing to raise dumb children - did I say that, clearly enough? - in a society where speculation is more urgent than conservation. Look at the debris of Brooke Astor's portfolio, if you doubt it.
I write from a polity horsewhipt into innumerable wars and horrendous fiscal follies, on the strength of arguments a 9th grade Classics student would denounce as Sophistry. It's what the whole, bitterly comic interview with the priests was about, in Henry V's deliberately unjust war - the scene Olivier's revolting revamp had to cut. Day after day after day, we still endure that masterpiece of passive-aggressive denial, the Manichaean heresy - the binomial false alternative - by crescendoes from our public rostrums and from Mr Murdoch's media.
First, let's see the boy. That's a start. Now, let's try saying this: I honestly don't intend for this boy to be stupid.
You understand the risk, of course. We won't elect a Governor of Virginia who tells us the misogynistic, homophobic thesis he wrote to get a degree at a seaside sectarian hate-tank is something he never meant to say.
Staging a dramatic scene means finding conflicts. It's mathematical: change a rhythm, immediately you have an emotion.
Roberto Rossellini on La prise de pouvoir par Louis XIV, 1966
The American head of state came to the city of San Francisco for a mid-day levée at the St Francis Hotel, on February 28, 1990, to extract money from partisan nobles willing to watch him eat lunch.
A great change in the rhythm of the most thriving and open public square in the United States was staged, to lend the requisite drama to the dynast's nourishment. The people needed to sense the power; the nobles needed to worship the glory. Millions were spent to barricade the people; Saks, Hermès, Gucci, Magnin, Macy's, Tiffany were locked for the duration. The sun, itself, beamed obsequiously.
The most extreme health emergency in the history of the city was decim-ating it without notice from the head of state, apart from relief there was no threat to "the general population." The majesty of his serenity remained unblemished through lunchtime jests about a government he destroyed in Nicaragua.
Yet, gaily, unabashedly, the nobles filled the hall, paid-up in advance and cashed out to their toes to treat themselves to his approving glance. The cable cars fell silent to their stride across the tracks, the moated palace opened to their glossy, clinking slippers.
Every street was emptied to facilitate escape; several contingencies were available to the vast and armored Cadillac. But lads with buttons in their ears and on their jackets will chat with a tidy fellow. He'd head up Post, and then to Nob Hill. He'd pass the Bohemian Club.
We'd be there, at Sutter and Taylor. The reason there is no image of yet another limousine on this roll of film is that the hand was readied for a different gesture of commemoration, steady and vivid in its offering of a solitary finger of god-speed. And as the well-fed occupants of the con-veyance's back seat sped up the hill, it was delightful to see the gesture reprised from the sheltering window at their back.
Roberto Rossellini The Taking of Power by Louis XIV 1966
One very considerable problem of antisemitism, as a subject to comprehend responsibly as a citizen of coffee, is its infuriating mutability. The horror of the canny molecular mutation, in the back of every retrovirologist's mind, is nothing more than the quotidian face of this desperate sociopathic infection. Even its most notable incidents of inflammation under the twelve-year Reich, 1933-45, have defied comprehension, at their most fundamental level; and yet nobody can be content to resign himself to this protracted enigma, in the way we accept the intractable mystery of heterosexuality. There is the fact that antisemitism is a choice.
The judeocide of the late War in Europe drew breath from the structuring of a choice which was assented to, in various modes and degrees and for various ostensible reasons, with breathtaking multilateralism. These layers of permission have stood in the way of historiography, despite the production of a plethora of sub-masterpieces on one or more of its moving parts. The most urgent first-person narratives and the assaults of poetry, too, have acquiesced in some way to an abiding resistance to comprehension of the whole, as if that would be pretentious, or an exhibition of blasphemy. Now, however, it feels as if a mighty fortress has all but finally fallen to prose fiction.
Jonathan Littell's fictional work, The Kindly Ones, written in French and published in France in 2006 as Les bienveillantes, is notorious for its baggage of literary prizes, exhausting length, and exhaustive catalogue of depravities. The book's existence restored itself to my attention in 2010 and occupied a couple of weeks of my reading calendar, gaining for itself the serious impression that one cannot understand the Holocaust without wading through it.
Remember how little you found you actually wanted to know, about whales? The book, itself, and the best review of the book remark explicitly on that sensation, of reading Moby-Dick. And that review is excellent on the book's self-conscious references to Aeschylus, the Oresteia.You will want to revisit the plays, and when you do, you will gain a necessary vantage point on their fearsome framing relevance in Robert Fagles' introductory essay to his own translation. You will not need to re-read Melville, because The Kindly Ones, itself, will steep you in recollection that Melville could not have 'quarreled with God' any other way. But you will have to read this Augean labour of an absorbingly researched, minutely crafted, fully anatomising book, all the way, to arrive outside the belly of the beast. There is no shortcut, no speed-read, no synopsis to its catharsis. There is no other exit. This is a great achieve-ment.
.. no war, no force, no prayer
can hinder the midnight Fury stamped
with parent Fury moving through the house.
Agamemnon, Chorus, 758-60
Only one material element in the judeocide eludes Littell's grasp - antisemitism. Of course this only purifies his accomplishment, to thrust it upon the stage as Aeschylus had done, confiding its human qualities.
Oh, I'm as keen as the next guy - don't get me wrong - for the hot new thing, and (if that did not dishearten you) I can even get past a lurid font, an un-linear printing, a fuzzy illus-tration. It's the sequence of the assembly, that I don't think I could master, before it were time to take on the next inven-tion. Still, there must be a Customer Service department, surely?
I think, in every household that observes Christmas Day, there comes a moment when a guy's urge to get out and play, inflamed as it has been by importunings to linger in itchy pants, praise the nitrate breakfast, reciprocate the claustrophobic hugs of elders - in short, to look to the feelings of others - comes face to face with ferocious pressure to erupt into the nearest wave, snow bank, or romantic embrace, without the slightest regard for decorum in velocity or vector.
I'm afraid that if we continue to approach this ancient crisis in holiday circulation from the point of view of denial, we are going to raise a generation much like ourselves. That's a job for rabbits.
There's nothing like a houseful of slow farts, clashing parfums, and endless fussing to hurl a fellow out the door. Nor is the torrent of annual good advice especially well calibrated for the intimacy it flaunts, or the orgy of connois-seurship much conducive to pleasure. [image subject to query of copyright]
It isn't natural to suffer so much coddling by Dickens' kitchen fumes, Thackeray's treacles, O'Neill's tipples. Good cheer is dross to good fun, and if guys were allowed to storyboard our Christmas daytimes, there would be a great deal more mirth at dinner. Don't stay home without it.
There's a fresh roll of monochrome in the Leica, and a world compressed to the bursting point. Whit and I intend to be there when it happens, and we know we aren't the only ones.
It isn't so hard. Christmas ignites energy, ebullience. Tchaikovsky's ballet and our own Recessional told us so. As we lay aside our choris-ter's bright crucifix, and fold away its black and silken cord, it can even be amazing.
Walking with Whit this evening, which is chilly and bright, I looked up to the east to examine the moon, a natural habit in crystalline country air. The dog knew no such concern; the moon was where it was supposed to be, and behaving itself as one would expect. I was bemused by my first thought - It doesn't even know what is going to happen to it.
I'm glad I did not con-fide this consideration to Whit. He needs to be able to believe that he can enjoy his evening constitutional without distraction, much less having to nanny his companion through some impertinent twinge. But then, unfailingly, his taciturnity brought me up short, and was clarify-ing.
Our holiday now follows this protocol. For a time, you won't see us; but it will not be so for us.
Thomas Gainesborough Wooded Landscape with Herdsman .. Rustic Lovers, and Ruined Castle Pencil on paper, ca 1780 The Huntington Library San Marino
When last we visited the friable, if fertile structures of Frank Lloyd Wright, at the urging of Philip Johnson, we ran into the Lally column in the living room, against the drooping cantilever. Satan in construction's curious canon, gravity. Impromptu perpendiculars play hell with circula-tion, though glossy they are bossy in their upright concentration.
But now the maintenance of life's materials lands squarely on our desk, to test our own commitment to their conservation. Our beloved Guggenheim is patched and spiffy once again, and various other charities flock to spackle what's left of the Master's crumbling legacy. Yet who can say he hasn't had to make choices in his own priorities of repair, as the taste for things of elegant projection lays claim upon the highest maintenance? The builder's work seems never to be done - and just when one thought one might cash out one's chips, somewhat ahead for the night, there's dawn to light a crumbling cornice, a buckling buttress needing bolstering . .
Yet still the thirst for the heroic is not strained, computer-assisted design going only so far to nourish its requirements. The imagination can tell you only what you want, it can't deliver it on a plate. This tiresome lesson leads many into compromise, and others into trade, but at the end of the day, a thing meets specifica-tions or it does not. For a few, the great, unbending arc of time inspires the diligentest use of it; the romance of the thrilling edifice is engineer enough. And we find them, coiled as if a chord to spring a tangent from its center. But even they depend on a solid footing, and that does look like a bother.