Friday, January 21, 2011

On facing pages in Ashbery

I saw you waiting for a streetcar and pressed forward.
Alas, you were only a child in armor. Now when ribald toasts
sail round a table too fair laid out, why the consequences
are only dust, disease and old age. Pleasant memories
are just that. So I channel whatever
into my contingency, a vein of mercury
that keeps breaking out, higher up, more on time
every time. Dirndls spotted with obsolete flowers,
worn in the city again, promote open discussion.

I am almost always looking
for themes to break down
to further my research
into backward climes of noon alienation and majesty.

One, a little farther than here, resonates today with unusual candor: my own take on the disheveled
frankness we all inhabit
at one time or another. 

Backing away from tribal sunshine
so as to inhabit a no doubt intact compunction of one's own.


It's not possible, it's not dignified, willfully to forget. I think it is just incredibly marvelous that someone, quietly, at Harper Collins thought to juxtapose these poems on facing pages; in recip-rocating voices they portray a rich and earnest dialogue between avatars of one alertly moral mind, yet one more at home with Eric Rohmer than Robert Bresson. "Friday night," addressed by name for the first time last week, is a prism, not a syndrome; an exam, a preceptorial, a "research" whose backstop one has never seen more exactly staged or phrased, than in the final lines of the second poem.

This blog will find its level. In the meantime, one has to dedicate this posting to RAD, who isn't unacquainted with tribal sunshine, and whose compunction is not cold.

John Ashbery
A Worldly Country
  (i)   Thrill of a Romance
  (ii)  A Litmus Tale
Harper Collins, 2007©

Hedi Slimane
Monochrome, Stephen Dorff 
Paris Vogue©
June, 2010

A new semester

So far, his seas are barely stirred
You are forever
fair to his fairweather mind, and golden
to his gullibility: no storms are forecast there,
and no distress. What blind and wretched men --
you've barely touched them, yet they find you gripping!

Castor and Pollux, Hercules
crowd the list -
Those two twins engineer
both war and peace,
Their constellation rises above the sea
And, in its beam, the troubled surges fall
Below the rocks, the threatening breakers cease.

Horace, The Odes 
(a) I, 5
Heather McHugh, translation
(b) I, 12
Charles Tomlinson, translation
J.D. McClatchy, editor
Princeton University Press, 2002©

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Unaccountably, Greece has disappeared from our circulation base

That tears it. Years of pains-taking cultivation, and a simple ski holiday can cost one a whole culture. I'll bet this doesn't happen to Valéry Lorenzo! Well, I'm going to send a trinket to the concièrge at the Grande-Bretagne. I'm not going to lose Greece on the whereabouts of a tiresome truant.

Cabin in Praz de Fort, Paschalis
Miffed rustic, Tassos

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The boy who knew i

And didn't know it.

Lily could have led you about, reciting: "These white-and-green chairs are from Venice; the chandelier, too. The tiles on the floor are Spanish. Where they're scuffed shows how antique they are. That painting's a Renoir. They bought it in New York, but it's French really.."

But the more polite way, her mother said, was just to let people notice things.

James Merrill (1926-1995)
The Seraglio (1957)
James Merrill
Collected Novels and Plays
J.D. McClatchy & Stephen Yenser, editors
The Literary Estate of
  James Merrill at
  Washington University
Knopf, 2002©

Between Émile and Mr Creakmore

Who didn't note, when the Prince of Wales thought it proper to mark his successor-apparent's emergence into that distinction which Nature reserves for all youth, that his gift to him was a valet? To be handed a valet at the age of 18 could not have been more convenient, looking back, for those of us who had to improvise the rela-tionship from a distinct-ly iffy duffle-bag. Where was everything? 
But eventually every father, whether on the insistence of his spouse or as a precaution against further embarrassment at his beach and tennis club, will introduce a lad to his tailor. At least then, if the tide is crimson, it'll be repp-striped or it may not come up to the pool. "Born free," but hungry.
How uncanny is it, that Charles Dickens seems to have intervened in the naming of our lives' devoted support cast? I remember Creakmore as if it were yesterday, into whose fitting room my father handed me with confidence that I'd not emerge as the revulsion one apparently was. What wale of cord did we wear then, to simulate the part of 'men'?

But this was not so, for our tonsorial requisites. It's up to Everyman to find his Émile. My Émile happened to be named Émile, and to maintain a chair in the basement of the St Regis, before Mr Coppola shot it up. One would buzz in to see Émile without fail, to freshen one's face from the New Jersey Turnpike or the Merritt Parkway, and make one dimly tidy enough not to scare one's dinner hostess. Émile gave one the haircut one sustains to this day, which seems to soothe the vines, if not the livestock. But they're a moody lot, wherever you find them.
Weekdays, on the other hand, are to rural oblivion what weekends are to the urbane. From time to time, these days, the razor takes a rest, and the face of endless Californian days is just as glad.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

One's race for the Senate

Offshore readers are simply going to have to take it on faith, that one's career in the United States Senate used to be one of the presumptions on most American boys' to-do list. Now that we know what we know about one of the halves in this equation, it's hard for us all to believe it. But there you are: times change, so who's to say anyone can feel safe from a Senatorial career, nowadays?
Yet there was a time when having to go ahead and win a Senate seat inhibited a guy from slappable behaviour at a college mixer, or dumping a few loose snakes into a hot VW at a shopping center. It meant the unthinkable possibility of a come-down, and many were loathe to explain such a thing to their family. You can almost hear them: Is that what you want to be for the rest of your life, a nude stockboy?

There's nothing like the specter of a Senate-dashing fall from grace to inflame the youthful disposition, from the inertest indifference to the most compelling inclination. Now that naughtiness is impossible, the youth of today can have no comprehension of how compulsory it was, to seek it out and extract it for all its worth. "Nude stockboy," you say? Hey, neat.
Anthropologists are unanimous in telling us, the Intifada wouldn't exist but for constituting a come-down. Inevitably, though, Wal-Mart will open in Sinai, and peace will break out for a naughtier career. Only the stockroom of democracy remains.

Provincial landscape

I know a reader who's off to Madrid, and one who's already in Praz-de-Fort. Immediately, as a farmer, I think of what grows there, and what it looks like in perspective. As an oenophile, I spontaneously think of what goes with it, and enjoy contrarian pairings to unearth its telling secrets. Everywhere that colour and texture flicker, and weave resiliently with scent, we are a traveler, a visitor even at home. We scratch the surface to get to the bot-tom of things. What is a student of freckles, who does not marvel at the physics of their distribution, the chemistry of their emergence, their absorption of his awe that they can take him distant places, even as he sleeps.

Fabienne Verdier
Guan (La contemplation)
Oil on Linen, 2002©

Monday, January 17, 2011

There are Hitchcocks I do not wish to look at

There are ways of being handled, I do not enjoy; and this not hauteur, it's autonomy. The more one learns how to give oneself, the more one tires of a tease in which one cannot take part. An elegant jest, embedded in the structure of a work, is estimable. Così fan tutte is not a corrida. Psycho is.

There are no Truffauts I will not look at, even Tirez sur le pianiste. One hates to say, Chaplin, one hates to say, Renoir in watching Truffaut, because he is one's own generation's filmlover. He was our maker of trust-worthy films of feeling, with the antic element in his immortal Doinel cycle, his celebration of women from Jules et Jim to Adèle H to La Sirène to Day for Night. L'enfant sauvage is an extraor-dinarily delicate work framed by a belyingly terse and dispassionate script. He brought a sensibility to American screens no one had seen from one man before.  It doesn't seem possible to be a cultivated man and cite a favourite among the films of François Truffaut, but one is hors de concours.

Léaud, Cocteau, Truffaut
Here are three fellows in a restaurant! It's late and they're a long way from Paris. The lad on the left has just been made famous by the man on the right, a protégé of the third. They are in Cannes for the Festival, 1959, and this is the most priceless table of genius that night in France. They're drinking Volnay, and celebrating the prize for Best Director. Unapologetic, radical, The 400 Blows projects a great gift: compassion.

Recalling Rossellini on movement and emotion ii

Clearing the path for the technician, the figure's posture would make no sense, but for the intervention of her restoring hand.

Rembrandt van Rijn
Aristotle Contemplating
  a Bust of Homer
Metropolitan Museum Purchase

Recalling Rossellini on movement and emotion i

It's mathematical:
change a rhythm, 
immediately you have
an emotion.

It follows ineluctably: change content without movement, and you have non sequitur, a species of shock. With this simple technique, a fine and "soldiering" performance by Judith Anderson was intensified in Rebecca (1938), manipulating audiences toward greater empathy with the heroine and discernibly closer to each other in their seats. This motion picture, cited in one's profile as a favourite, adopted Rossellini's law before it was even drafted.

Mrs Danvers was almost never seen walking and was rarely shown in mo-tion. If she entered a room in which the heroine was, what happened is that the girl suddenly heard a sound and there was the ever-present Mrs Danvers, standing per-fectly still by her side. To have shown Mrs Danvers walking would have been to humanize her. 

Hitchcock tells us this in a finer study of his films than we have the right to expect, in which several days of the director's inter-views with François Truffaut in 1962 were transcribed, published and subsequently revised. The cruelest director of women, interviewed by one of their very best. Truffaut proves himself to be a master of analytical interrogation, with Hitchcock only too glad to confess. 

It was one's pleasure to study their works simultaneously and repeatedly, in 16mm reels shipped to one's college eating club by two clubmates majoring in French. We would screen them in the library on weekends, party or no party. Everybody I knew, admired Hitchcock without reservation. But we loved François Truffaut. If static Danny Danvers stands extremely well for the manipula-tions of Alfred Hitchcock, then Truffaut's directing of himself, directing "Julie's" folding of her hands on a balcony, reveals layers in manipulation which few have ever touched.

Alfred Hitchcock, director
Selznick Studio, 1940©
United Artists

François Truffaut
  Helen G. Scott, translation
Éditions Ramsay [and]
Simon & Schuster, 1983©

François Truffaut, director, co-writer, producer
Day For Night [and]
La nuit américaine
Les Filmes du Carrosse, 1973©

François Truffaut
  Sam Flores, translation
Day for Night
  The Complete Script of the Film 
Grove Press, 1975©

What a difference a day... Nr. 17

Mondays, sometimes the tabula isn't rasa enough. We take the occasion of a Monday holiday to sweep out weekend debris. Evidence has accumulated, tending to show that some of our exhibits have been drawn from a professional class of portrait subject, which excites a skepticism we don't see, when the professional is the exhibit-maker - the artist, as we say. I give you young Davenport, recalling two different figures in Raeburn, Master William Fraser of Reelig, at the Metropolitan, and Mr Niel Gow at the National Gallery in Edinburgh. Now, we have been given to understand that he accepts fees for such conduct, which we thought it only fair to disclose. Then, too, an agreable aspect is often discerned in our exhibits, for which the texts furnish a frame in every sense of the word.

We are non-professional, which casts a suspicion that we may be up to some preferential mischief. The previous posting brought the matter to an un-foreseen nadir, in the offering of a comment in favour of exploiting one's evidence for a proposition which it refutes, against which this page has stood with some tiresome regularity. It's true that we make very little effort to obscure who we are, a page antagonistic to seducing boys. A sidebar search will make that clear enough. We're prepared to be reviled for our objections, but we won't hear them invoked as our preferences. This page will not be used against itself. The Raeburn posting stays.
Mr Patrick Moir, Australian Coll.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

A magnificent resource

It is thought that William Blair was 14 years old when he sat for Henry Raeburn, with this famous consequence. Now fatherless for three years, his six sisters and widowed mother destitute but for a stipend from the Crown, William Blair had sat for this painter al-ready, as had his father and his parents, together; so we are not ill-advised to conclude that when this commission was accepted, the artist would have had other than pecuniary motives, and that the subject would have been familiarly at ease with them. One's own acquaintance with this painting began when one was 5 years old, at that age when anxious theoreticians still have not been heard, to declare there is no life in pictures.

On the contrary: where does it begin, where does it end, this prodigious force that reaches out, sometimes to embed itself in canvases? We have seen some people denounce this rhetorical question as incoherent, some as illegitimate; while others, dear in their impetuosity, simply bid the image to come out and play. Very likely this was one's first response to this portrait, although plainly that of a "big guy" by comparison at the time, because the Gallery in which it hangs is sited in a child's arcadian playground, richly treasured for its lawns well-sloped for tumbling and its ponds of dazzling fish. If you want a boy to look at paintings, let him like them first.

This unreasonably benign function has kept this setting close to one, throughout one's experience with imagery. For this reason one naturally refuses to put paid to the place with a page entry purporting to do so. So many children do grow up, however, next door almost to carefully curated collections, that one must hope they all are able to meet them at that phase when unconditional love is the extent of their critical acumen, so that they see the resource in that mode while they still can. There will be time enough for the law - young Blair's destiny - and civet de lapin.
There will be the sport-ing phase, the martial phase, the matrimonial and consolidating phase, and Raeburn will capture them all. His sibling studies are probably his finest things, apart from being stunningly rich documents of Scottish culture and society. One regards The Archers in that light, primogeniture and other customs ripen-ing the composition. 
And then there is his red. Throughout this entry, the colour has welled up from within, to lend mobility and emotion in equal portions. There is no incidental red in Scotland's greatest portraits, yet no injudicious use of that resource until, perhaps, it so irradiates Mrs Moncrieff that you don't know where it begins or where it ends. That seemingly rhetorical question and its corollary - whether there is life in pictures - consumed the whole of the mature work of Mark Rothko, a painter in red and its complaint with black.

Sir Henry Raeburn (1756-1823)

  William Blair, ca 1814
  Huntington Library, San Marino

  Henry Raeburn Inglis, ca 1815
  Royal Academy of Arts, London

  Robert and Ronald Ferguson (The Archers), ca 1790
  National Gallery, London

  Mrs Moncrieff, n.d.
  Huntington Library, San Marino

Duncan Thompson, Keeper, Scottish National Portrait Gallery
  with John Dick, David Mackie, and Nicholas Phillipson
Raeburn: The Art of Sir Henry Raeburn
Exhibition Catalogue
Scottish National Portrait Gallery,
Edinburgh, 1997©

John Logan
Oberon Modern Plays
Oberon Books, Ltd., 2009©