Saturday, December 3, 2011

Beethoven did an Overture, Guerlain a scent

     not bad 
     for a lad
     who couldn't
     come out

I remember, some dozen years ago,
being astounded when Guerlain an-
nounced the men's fragrance with
this portrait. Instantly, the im-
age struck me as spot-on; but why,
even from the land of Grétry, did
a scent emerge to commemorate this
personality? Rather than quibble,
Guerlain did a very Coriolanic 
thing - they simply renamed their
product, soul of a hero.

William Shakespeare
op. cit.

Unbecoming Coriolanus

The title is not as redundant
as it sounds. The blogger on
his birthday has already here
asserted the prerogative to
claim the great gift of his
readers' indulgence - this is
of course the driving clamour
of Shakespeare's hero. Now
that we're being given a new
Coriolanus for the screen, 
it will be timely to recall
our acquaintance with him;
and to note the distinction 
between an unbecoming man, 
and unbecoming him.

I will go to Mr Fiennes' movie and pay attention to it. I'm taking it for granted that we all know this is intriguingly a political play, a considerable discourse on alternative theories of governing, which were of great interest to the Renaissance and which have certainly never been settled. But this is William Shakespeare, and the play occupies the political sphere with that almost indifferent (although famously cautious and astute) and versatile genius with which, we know, he could have set it in a vineyard or a dough-nut shop, and have come up with the same issues to illuminate his real subject. We don't forget Mozart, whose prettiest music involves a pair of phony Turks, an old roué, and an animal-magnetist maid.

Coriolanus boasts some 27 wounds, which puts him in the casting call for a Mel Gibson biopic; and given the grosses our Roman thrillers entail, it will probably be enough for Mr Fiennes to show them. But this hero is no Philoctetes, no Amfortas. His real wounds are not visible, and they stretch all hope to regard as curable.

Moreover, you and I know, this is not a writer who will ask a man his occupation, to discern his character; and you and I greet that intelligence as a breath of fresh air - if not as air, itself - in our specialist times, with all their naïve and tiresomely vain claims to exculpations of expertise. We will be curious to discover if Fiennes' Coriolanus is a man necessarily involved in politics, or one of the stock deformities that we mistakenly attribute to that calling, itself, only to call it a day. But we have known pâtisseurs who were Coriolanus. And who hasn't, in the stale doughnut?

Coriolanus is a stale man, and has cultivated himself to be so. We think of this as unbecoming, who invoke the features of Mr Young to suggest an unfitness for the law. But there you have it; his distinct unbecomingness is derived not from ordinary vanity, but from disdain of intimacy. He is famous (to hear him say it) for great, single-handed conquests, and he is grudgingly feared, because he has capabilities that he uses for himself. Yet he is maladroit in what drives him and proficient in militant offense; and this is not conquest as he conceives of it.

This is far from being one of Mr Shakespeare's more appealing plays. Brilliant people have found its language, gorgeous, and disliked it (Auden); others have found its language, base, and adored it (Eliot). These are not polarities, however, so much as they are arguments over a tragedy of original impression, not derived from Greece and not derived from the play's literary sources, but from themes so indebted to the Sonnets, that they furnish one of its most certain keys. Coriolanus is hideous and draws fear and pity from a truly Shakespearean crisis. If this movie fails to break the heart, either we don't know how to look at movies anymore, or a tale too often dismissed with contempt will have been deferred again, unforgivably. And that is exactly what Coriolanus did to himself.

William Shakespeare
after 1605, before 1610
Philip Brockbank, editor
The Arden Edition of
  the Works of William Shakespeare
op. cit.

Friday, December 2, 2011

"I don't get angry, Mr Gittes. My lawyer .. does. "

  Even if you'd rather steer clear
  of Mrs Hollis Mulwray, on advice
  of counsel, Evelyn cabriolets
  about LA with her own in tow,
  with a satchelful of subpoenas.
  This is not that gentleman, but
  an uncharacteristic glower; and
  I don't know why, but he seems
  not to have mastered her tech-
  niques for facial serenity. In
  another 400 years, timed to co-
  incide with Charley Kane's be-
  ing wiped out (at the rate his
  newspapers are losing money) he
  will probably acquire a telling 
  wrinkle. We should then be sad.
  The law was plainly not for him.


                            Funny, how that works.
                            Time of life, that sort
                            of thing.


Robert Towne, screenplay
Paramount, 1974©

Jeremy Young

Thursday, December 1, 2011

What is keeping

It is rare when I find a portrait
of anyone which suits me, as op-
posed to a blogger's requisites.
This approximate contemporary of
Laurent probably floated up from
the well of Flickr™ into one or
another of those strata where I
search for characterisation of a
phrase in this pursuit. And now
it comes to the page to address 
a timely purpose.

Novembr' au revoir.

I heard from a literature student
that he had never read any gay fic-
tion. He is of a generation - the
one we indelicately call, the pres-
ent one - which will never discover
gay fiction as mine did, and by
whose experience whatever is writ-
ten today will be shaped materially.

A number of us, one could almost go
so far as to say, discovered fiction
through gay fiction. That is, we dis-
covered the close reading of imagin-
ative texts through the application,
at an early age, of incentives which
the present generation finds being
met in non-literary terms, all about
it. We didn't know anything, at 11,
19, 27. Surely, there was Classicism.
But that was not about us, we knew.

Harmful as my ignorance was, I still
value the surprises it sequestered.
Somehow, in the same correspondence,
the subject of one's first kiss was
raised. This is why that portrait is
valid to me in ways which nothing I
have read - from Melville to Cunning-
ham - has captured; and this, I know,
is a test that many people apply to
red mug, blue linen. I am grateful.

The single most formative experience
in my college life was not that first
kiss, which did happen there, between
terms. It was another, which happened
the previous Spring. A professor of
history called my bluff on reading the
founding masterpiece of biographical
psychology, in his course in the High
Renaissance, furiously chewing me out
for negligence with - it rings in my
ears to this day - a labour of love.
I was earning grades with him in the
revoltingly prosperous range which is
enough for a Princetonian to acquit
himself without breaking a real sweat.
For my final paper, I raked my way
through his own benchmark work on Ital-
ian rhetoricians; turning, in effect,
straight upon him. His comment was, 
"you have a fine sensitivity to texts."
This was my introduction to the kiss,
which is to say, the thing of oneself.

We do some rough and tumble here with-
out much citing of its predicate, and
I owe this youth an answer for his in-
terest. This portrait shows an exer-
cise of consciousness by someone made 
intimate to us by the act. We have a 
nature which assimilates an articula-
tion of caring as a caring for us.
We know this is the basis of a can-
ard, rooted in unease, that we are 
sensitive. It is, rather, that we 
are aware we have a bond with that 
being, which none of us needs to 
hear explained. We know we can watch 
the day go down; and we know what is
when we do. Many people do. We are 
the ones who are fond of each other 
for it.

What is gay fiction?


Herman Melville
op. cit.

Michael Cunningham
Flesh and Blood
  pp. 130-131 et passim
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1995©

Erik Erikson
Young Man Luther
  A Study in Psychoanalysis
  and History
Norton, 1958©

Jerrold E. Seigel
Rhetoric and Philosophy
  in Renaissance Humanism:
  From Petrarch to Valla
Princeton University Press, 1968©

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Mr Wittgenstein and his sister's ceiling

Have you never wondered, how it should be, that the same people who might berate Ludwig Wittgenstein for prodigal waste in the reconstruction of his sister's ceiling - it having been laid some few centimeters too low to permit that agreable perception of proportion which is essential to the humane occupancy of space, to say nothing of its sharing - mightn't think twice of concentrating the attention of an entire nanosecond on the inevitably mobile and  entirely conditional disposition of their own waistband?

I know the page is bound to suffer some rebuke for raising a question of human happiness in terms of structure, without so much as a sop to decoration, but not every posting can include a Rothko, unless that nice lady in Upperville should care to blog her acquisition of eleven Rothko canvases one morning, on the fly of a carefree walk in town. (Yes, but those were the days when painters would deliver). And who does not remember, as Clemenceau had said, the good Lord had no more than ten?

But our sage was plainly on to something, hounded for not lower-ing the floor as he might have done, at such vastly less expense. You know you are not just neurotic when you decline to step down, to appreciate your environment. As élitists are so quick to remind us, there's nothing defensible in being practical, if pleasure isn't possible; and the élite, need I say, are limited enough in that prospect, without enduring compressions of their domicile. We can't really leave our leaders of perception and opinion, to say nothing of our arbiters of exper-ience, to the mercies of a clement day for their delight.

But to take our truffles bending low is not so much a concession to constraint as a credit to a chef whose eggy gigli's timely toss is all it takes to turn attention's head. Not to commit a waste (a laundress' wrath being harsher than frugality's reproach), we draw nigh to the plate of gracious service.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

In the Rothko Chapel without a press pass

One shouldn't let intellectuals play
with matches
Because Gentlemen when left to itself
The mental world Gennntlemen
Isn't at all brilliant

And as soon as it's alone
Works arbitrarily
Erecting for itself
Out of self-styled generosity in honor of

Let's repeat it Gennnntlemen
When left to itself

The mental world


Jacques Prévert
  One Shouldn't
Lawrence Ferlinghetti 
op. cit.

Mark Rothko
  Painting no. 8
circa 1970

iii  Hedi Slimane, photo, rev.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Yes, you may be a dog

  Yes, you are a slightly shedding 
  fellow, but you are not my guest, 
  you are my friend.

ii, iii  another country

Glare of Monday

Too brutal to
portray, atop
the page, the
glare can not
altogether be

Richard Serra, litho
oncle pierre     

Sunday, November 27, 2011

A comfy T, boxers, and a web chair in Sausalito

I forget where I sourced
this portrait, but I'm
very grateful. This is
so Sausalito, it stinks.
My Alfa's in the garage,
and I want to get to it.
My English Cocker's yawn-
ing, and not from fatigue.

But I have a book review
to write for Pacific Sun,
and I liked what I read.
We did it this way, an-
alogue writing, chomp 
by chomp; lots of rip-
ping out from the plat-
en, starting over. We
forgot the time. It's
harder to get it down
right when it's hot;
but would it be per-
missible, to say so.
The guy who wrote on
Hiroshima for The New
Yorker later wrote, My
Petition for More Space.

Here Mother you may
hab this, I wrote in
crayon on a paper nap-
kin once, and taped a
nickel to it. Bruce
Chatwin put it best -
What am I doing here?


Ellsworth Kelly
Untitled, oil on canvas