Saturday, June 25, 2011

"That is not justice. Your daughter is still alive."

for my friends of the Method,
Toby and Bobby, remembered

The AFI has named its top 10's again, and to no one's reasonable surprise, The Godfather (1972) reigns in the Gangster category. Only a soloist entrepreneurship, then, explains the exclusion of Chaplin's talkie on the lone wolf of free enterprise, Monsieur Verdoux (1947), in which, as Agee remarked, the master exhibited murder as business by other means. It remained for this fine distinction to be laid into Francis Coppola's depiction of business organisations, to warrant the "gangster" epithet. Here, in an ancient still from rehearsal in youth, it is gorgeous to see the voice of that distinction acquiring its perfect pitch.

James Agee
Review of Monsieur Verdoux
Time, May 5, 1947
James Agee: Film Writing and
  Selected Journalism
Michael Sragow, editor
The Library of America, 2005©

Marlon Brando

Francis Ford Coppola, director
Mario Puzo and
  Francis Ford Coppola, screenplay
The Godfather
op. cit.

A sentimental rumble

Making sense of ancient jumbles is more sometimes than mem'ry can unsnare; who knows what whims, a stack of limbs, had seemed to have to spare? I found myself yesterday in one of those cauldrons of brick our Virginian villages used to thrust up at their core, before the blessings of Walmart cracked them open and gutted them of life; when a shirtless skater, swooping hard upon me, flaring shoulders in his crouching haste, roared past to echo through that canyon as a cascade of vitality, imploded. It wanted an ear.


Saturday commute xxx: to thread the needle of time

would you try?

Friday, June 24, 2011

Say why you like the picture

This is a blog of criticism and advocacy, so much the same thing that you may already be annoyed. But this isn't the end of our repetitiveness. If this is your first visit to the page, you will find it to be an exercise in writing from a tactile point of view, of engaging a picture, and of enlisting a picture to accompany its journey. There are tens of thousands of you every month; no one can say for you, why you like the picture. One can say, the picture will not be of you, or I; but from the instant it was made, it was ours. And what then?

There are pleats in the subject's background, which accompany the foreground of his gaze. He is old enough to have defeated Darius, and written Die Entführung aus dem serail. One enjoys the study of the ones who got away with something left. That way of keeping modifies the act of going, but not necessarily contradictorily. Do you ever wonder whether it would have been harder to have been Henry James or Tennessee Williams, both going but not getting away, or Scott Fitzgerald, going and getting lost, but showing something gained?  

But most of us, I would think, are closer to the ones who do not get away, such as James's Roderick Hudson, Williams' Tom; 

and it's incredible and beautiful, that of all the works of both these wonderful writers, these were the ones they couldn't end, which is to say, bring to an end without a mechanical trick, a deus ex machina of a fatal fall in one, a blowing out of candles in the other. There is an art of reconciliation, and we are trained to appreciate it in art. And there is sometimes only art.

     And Roderick left you in - in irritation?
     I offered him my company on his walk, 
     but he wouldn't have me.

Henry James
Roderick Hudson
The Atlantic Monthly, 1875
Macdonald & Co., Ltd, 1909
Harper, 1960©

Denim and Cuffs
  Left Profile
Unidentified tumblr

Paul Cézanne
Card Players
ca 1890-92

Richard Shiff
Cézanne and the End
  of Impressionism
University of Chicago Press, 1984©

T.J. Clark
At the Courtauld
London Review of Books©

Peter Schjeldahl
Game Change
The New Yorker©

Jed Perl
Playing for Keeps
The New Republic©

Thursday, June 23, 2011

If 'LA' can discover denim, it's time for us to find the architrave

We ponder the architrave in passing, all the time: sometimes a portal of an augury of shade, sometimes of warmth, or frieze displayed, seldom out of welcome to the curious parade. The other day, Little Augury was out discovering denim, and we thought it the least we could do, to make a trek for architecture's sake. We've never seen a shadow, an architrave might cast, deter intrepid cast of honest wonder, whence we almost thought that if a luminance were fact, shade might be abstraction where we blunder. Pity architecture, to've been assimilated by aesthetics; pity aesthetics, to suffer aesthetes.

A shadow in the gorge it shapes is treachery to jackanapes, a lechery projected in their cares; coincidence of light and its deflection, notwithstanding - a clarion call to prudery to rail against some puderie of theirs. The city shoulders on, a swarm of architraves.

Last night, after a sloppy (but tasty) sandwich and pint of Bitburger down the street [in Stockholm], I took a relaxed walk along the water (the Norr Mälarstrand’s esplanade). The 6-10 story buildings along the walk struck me as (compared to Copenhagen) more articulated / adorned, and vastly more colorful - from creams to the burnt oranges and reds I now associate with Santa Cruz. I mention this, because they were activated (and fully under-stood) in the evening light; sharp and uneven, unlike the soft diffu-sion of light I'd experienced in DK. 

Every building wears the shadow of its neighbor.


Correspondence of an architect
  abroad, cited by permission

ii Marc Chagall, self-portrait

Coming home, going away

When I first learned
I went home to lie down.
The fear in me took me by the throat.

What I had wished for - 
   that my life
Would be a hook, and the hook a paradigm
Whose knowledge would be impossible to bear
Even as I braced and kept bracing
To bear it -
   had been granted.

Until then I had loathed
My safety -
   now I saw disaster
In the hanging baskets of fuchsias, the fig tree
Littering the yard with leaves, the staghorn ferns
Thrusting into the air, the eucalyptus strewing scaly bark
Like shed skin, in the intolerable, unlivable
Eden of my mother's garden ...

   She put out her hand
To rest it on my shoulder
   and I stiffened as if I had been stung.

Our imagery of fashion is absolutely saturated in the telling recurrence of fantasies of suffering, danger, indeed of the fashionability of such fantasies. This circumstance is offered many permissive explanations, all meaning scrupulously well, we can't doubt. Such sagacity is of a piece with the culture of put on a pretty record, the Gurney-esque mantra of the cocktail hour. Hence, the recurring riposte of the ostentatiously unpretty record is less an embarkation on a style than another pressing of the same strange fruit, a complaint in what we take to be desire that will not go away.

Tom Sleigh
  Ending [fragment]
Phoenix Poets 
University of Chicago Press, 1990©

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Oh, pleats!

I know, no one'll believe me, but sometimes it really isn't their fault. They could well have picked this up from someone else, and by simple accident of the draw, we were there to get it from them. Life is short, one can't go around indicting people for living it. And they are, in the end, a very great deal like the rest of us, although blond, I admit: simple, candid - if oblivious - goddies, really, just like you and I, you see, under the skin - in pleated shorts with cuffs.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Possibly it seems a lot to ask, but one never knows


Do you think we could interest Rimbaud in a game of softball? 

There's room for chapeaux of rakish tilt, and degrees of concealment, as a pitcher turns in profile to hide his grasp of the pitch, the batsman coiled in his posturing. It isn't true that the pitch is a blur; it is merely bright and in rotation and in styled pace and vector on an axis we're a tangent to in flight. This is what a solstice is, minus the aggression: a tether of light between two related bodies from a sudden angle of sight. It's over as it's begun, and gorgeous in between. He owns that tense.

J'ai tendu des cordes de clocher à clocher; des guirlandes de fenêtre à fenêtre; des chaines d'or d'étoile à étoile, et je danse.

I stretched ropes from steeple to steeple; garlands from window to window; gold chains from star to star, and I dance. 

Arthur Rimbaud
John Ashbery, translation
  Fragments du feuillet 12
op. cit.

i  André Ziehe
ii Anonymous Dutchman

Horace at your back iv: when you simply can't be starstruck

We know it saddens friends, to think that our imperviousness to stars (much as we might admire their work) is a kind of rebuke. It's as if we didn't envy their china, and thought that Mrs Guest were simply normal. Horace was received as a star, which seems almost reasonable, but he was reminded of a baby girl playing under her nurse's watchful eye, what she eagerly desired to have, she soon abandoned when bored with it. He is saying this to his patron, the most omnipotent figure the earth had ever known - possibly, has ever known. He is mocking as degenerate, the favour of authority: If the Greeks had found novelty as offensive as we do, what would nowadays be old?  

In the next line, Horace all but jugularly asks Augustus, What likes and dislikes are there that you wouldn't suppose could be easily changed? It's notable that this spontaneous question appears in his most urgent case for poetry and its criticism, the first letter in his second, final book in this form. Horace ran a merry flirtation with misery in his missives to indulgent tyranny, and one doesn't care to think where Voltaire would be without him. But what stardom is reserved for those who work that illumination from the other end of light, and give embrace to freedom?

In his later years my father, then widowed and childless but one, sharpened an already Socratic mode with me in my visits to exploit his La Jolla weather. Referring to this man, whom he'd seen in plays in Pasadena when I was an infant, he once asked me, How do you suppose Tennessee Williams was able to write with such understanding of women? I have no regard for my educated, elegant answer - he'd paid for it, he was entitled to it. But I do have regard for a humane gift for interrogation which, finding the right register and range, deftly crafts a dialogue to embrace the actual subject of his scrutiny beyond any category of liking. 

Satires and Epistles
  Epistle to Augustus
John Davie, translation
op. cit.

ii  ad for a former client of Laurent

iii Brando corresponding 

Who can forget translation, much less the language lab?

not so fast with that solstice

Oh, the itchy pants of cotillions were nothing, compared with the trials of the umlaut, the awkward rue in French. Fortunately, then, the changing room restored us to our streetwear, soon enough, with friends to tidy tanglings of our much-conflicted tongue. 

Monday, June 20, 2011

Violet days: not quite a season

"I am here. I will always succour you,"
he used to say, a little full of himself.
What did I know? I was just a boy
loved by Apollo. There had been others.

All I wanted was to ride my deer,
who made me feel some knowledge of myself,
letting me string his big antlers with violets.

One day, in a covert, not seeing the deer
stray to drink at a cool spring, I thrust
my spear inadvertently into him.

Not even Apollo could stop the grief,
which gave me a greenish tint, twisting my
forehead upward; I became a cypress.
Poor Apollo: nothing he loves can live.

Henri Cole
Pierce the Skin
  Selected Poems, 1982-2007
    From Apollo, xiii
      The Visible Man 
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2010©

ii ciné

Sic transit cinema

Hey, listen, I want somebody good - and I mean very good - to plant that gun. I don't want my brother comin' outta that toilet with just his ---- in his hand.

Did Sonny really not say, iPod
Whit and I are giving serious con-sideration to the need to protect such virgin space as may remain from this anti-social implement of modern life. Anyone knowing of the existence of such a foundation, already, is asked to notify the undersigned.

Francis Ford Coppola
The Godfather
Mario Puzo and
  Francis Ford Coppola, screenplay
James Caan, Sonny
Paramount, 1972©

Dep't of what-you-don't-know-won't-hurt-you: guy stuff

we're as un-
desolated as
you are

Abercrombie & Fitch
Sportsmen's Requisites

Not a civil double-gauge to 
save your life. It's like 
the Algonquin, not to men-
tion the sole at the Colony.

Let's not go there just now.
Let's make this an overnight
outing; no one'll notice.

See you tomorrow, Laurent.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Clear thinking of dark places

Who would be the first to explain, how he can reconcile himself to any bigotry's extremest self-sacrifice, the renunciation of a reasoning mind? I would love to know how James Dobson, cheerleader to the deaths of my friends, was able to hurt himself beyond imag-inable endurance. So great, bigots must suppose, is their Creator's love that they must yield Him pleasure, as in a coronation anthem, before duty. Yet of all the convolutions in the garments of the mind that most of us unravel for our own comfort's sake, none is more popular with bigots than the twisted, self-defeating oxymorons they pursue. I give you the hideous irony of the belligerent phrase, defense of marriage.

For the import of this phrase it is necessary to trace it to its natural habitat, the absolute abyss of darkness as we know it. No, to be sociable we will not resort to Virginia, whose Loving case exposed it well enough. We will go with a leading German scholar into the practices of his homeland for 12 famous years of the previous century. Of all the studies that strive to portray how the judeocide occurred, the most compelling is the least poetic, now just released and revised in English by Oxford University. Compelling, because all but completely drained of sentiment (as opposed to, sympathy), and because looking through raw evidence of the myriad acts and memoranda of decision which formed State policy, Peter Longerich's Holocaust: The Nazi Persecution and Murder of the Jews is a neutral resource in the study of bigotry's motivation. Lo and behold, it works against you.

Realising these aims [isolation of Jews from citizenship, 1935-37] meant more to the National Socialists than the intensification of Jewish persecution. They had an important general domestic policy function since they offered significant starting points for improving the Nazi movement's penetration of German society. Demands for a ban on 'racial miscegenation', subjecting people's choice of partner to the control of the National Socialist state, represented a radical break with the concept of the 'private sphere' that had hitherto been a central constitutive element of bourgeois society. Attempts to put these aims into practice questioned the notion that there existed behind a public sphere controlled by the National Socialists an inviolable space into which the individual might withdraw.

How it could be lost on any bigot, purporting to defend marriage, that his invitation of the State into exclusionary practices is the deepest nightmare of his own perverted sense of liberty, is quite naturally beyond rational comprehension. Oh, it may be alleged, some people are stupid. But people led by Archbishops and incorporated temples of prodigious political intervention are not without recourse to intellectual servants. There's a casuist for every cause; call John Yoo, if you need a bonfire of your rights. 

And this is history's message to intellectual deviants: Fascism has never lacked for phobic lemmings to do its dirty work. "Intolerance" is not what stands between marital equality in the United States and the present legacy of theocracy. It is the cold, hard desire to structure society as illiberally as possible, to entrench the power of the powerful. It follows that the Tea Party will do nothing, absolutely nothing, to allow tolerance to enter into American life. This is not a matter of heresy. It is a matter of control. Who can be shocked to hear Michelle Bachmann call for the return of polluted water? Or wonder why she is the darling of the deviants.

Peter Longerich
  The Nazi Persecution
  and Murder of the Jews
Oxford University Press, 2010©

The Ashbery translation: not quite a son

father's day

La chasse des carillons crie dans les gorges.

The carillons' hunting party halloos in the gorges.

So now it's done. I have met Rimbaud in the new translation by John Ashbery. I always sensed I would be captivated by his prose, and there it is. But now a portrait captures translation's dilemma. In Rimbaud the hunt can still be the music; in Ashbery it is embodied. 

Yet the chase is of the music. And such music. In one line, soft consonants framing alliterative hard ones, is the Rimbaud we knew was coming.


Arthur Rimbaud
  Cities [ii]
John Ashbery, translation
  and preface
Norton, 2011©

The Rothko play ii: not quite a father

No one who reads this page will attend a performance of Red - the Tony-awarded play on a fictionalised but notoriously public moment in the career of a character modeled on Mark Rothko - without asking himself, what will a relationship with this tempestuous figure be like? Will this be another Peter Grimes, although the youth might be able to fend for himself; will this be another Billy Budd, an insidious emotional torment under a predatory authority? Will this be a Death in Venice, a youth seen but not heard, defining the protagonist's narrative by extraction? It's a play from England, and nobody there can forget the 3 greatest operas of Benjamin Britten. As models, for a drama cast like this, even today, they are compelling in their enticements.

John Logan conceived a play cast for 2 males (and the off-stage ear of a third, Philip Johnson), inventing a 20-something studio assistant who is a painter, himself, who signs on for the grunt work of helping to produce the master's oversize mural canvases for the Seagram Building - in a span the play depicts as two years. Most critics - Brantley at The New York Times aside - describe this rôle as strictly limited, in the mode of an enabler and sounding board for the protagonist's baying outbursts at the great bear and pleiades of his conflicts and his grudges, not always too petty to be compared to Ahab's.

This is a wet play, a play of flux, itself, ostensibly contending in a dialectic of red and black; and tidal comparisons are apposite to its projection on the stage. It's materially impossible for a cipher to carry the 2nd part; there can't be a dramatic criticism worth its salt, that doesn't discern its code.

Red is quite close to being a Death in Venice in Expressionist translation, in which the internal warfare of the elder lashes out at the younger to fashion a whole character, and more to Thomas Mann's point, a resolved artist, and to cut him loose. It is a pity, only to see and hear this florid, noisy play; to read it, will not leave one with anything less than this cognition. The impression left by most critics (particularly at The New Yorker and The Village Voice, bastions high and low of Rothko's home turf) is that the script is vacuous, and is given life only by brilliant stagecraft and the power of Alfred Molina's Rothko. It would help them to read Ms Woolf. 

Will the plain vitality of the script be lost when, as is certain to take place, the play is adapted to the screen? One can't help but think, it will be revealed. A debate on sexuality took place between the playwright, who thought he should not, and the director, who thought should, which was settled by the performance of the actor, who performed the part of Ken without projecting a gay male consciousness. Although it would make a difference for the audience in processing the information of the script, that underlying information is on the subject of whether one is strong enough to be a painter. This is, of course, the calling of the play. But in the volatility of the text, the question lives on relentlessly: Do you love them? 

Like Mann, Mr Logan gives the only sensible answer. The consummation he arranges is rather breathtaking, if simple: he portrays their inevitable quarrel as less the sometimes bitter debate on abstractions that it seems to be, than an exchange and dissolution of their private fears. It is a play that can claim to come from life.

Logan obviously is relying on staging for the trauma of a spare text to be reinforced by enigma in the canvases. His enthusiastic critics are right to regard the play as rather diaphanous in that sense, a screen on which to mount billboards of angst in outbursts out of scale for the page, but handsomely tuned to the technologies of modern production. As a reading of the play this simply does not go far enough; it is to confuse literature with what you can do by sleight of hand. This is its strategem, not its effect.

It remains only to accept that the Platonic climax in the play's defining transaction has been repeatedly prefigured in the paintings' own transit. While there is Tadziu's meekness in the understudy's departure from the shore, he has gathered an image of his artistic self, and the monomaniacal elder has restored himself by a generous act. The timing is impeccable, and not to see the soul of Thomas Mann smiling at this, is to pretend not merely that the artist is less portable than his medium, but that he will not be beckoned into Mann's promising immensity of it all. John Logan has just refuted that, again. We are looking at two men, parting, ready to paint.

John Logan
op. cit.

Alfred Molina, Rothko
Eddie Redmayne, Ken

Stage photography 
  The New York Times©