Saturday, December 17, 2011

Saturday commute xlix: space to let

This is the first photograph
I have seen in several years
which spontaneously inspired
me to possess it. I'm happy
to be able to recall, having
met it fatal moments ago, a
primary and pure effectIt 
was published with a frame 
of reference that I resisted 
investigating, and possibly
always will. 

By common practice, this is 
how a creative publication
is often read. Here, the 
publisher is in the place 
where this page has been
described, its writing be-
ing the privileged image,
collateral data resisted. It 
just happens to be the fate 
of that publication, for 
the writing to be the pho-
tograph. We all prosper in 
our own way. 

The picture at the center
of this discussion is the 
work of one of my favour-
ite writers of the day. 
I pretty entirely love it. 
Now with that frame of ref-
erence, I have invaded it,
and certainly your impres-
sion of it. This indelicacy
was not intended. I have
never doubted, it is sound
to read for the pictures.
I wish everyone a superb

Friday, December 16, 2011

About abandoning an exemplary model

He tackled no group of appearances,
no presented face of the social or-
ganism (conspicuity thus attending
to it), but to make something of it.
To name it simply and not in some
degree tackle it would have semed 
to him an act reflecting on his gen-
eral course the deepest dishonour.
Therefore it was that, as the moral
of these many remarks, I "named" un-
der his contagion, when I was really
most conscious of not being held to
it; and therefore it was, above all,
that for all the effect of represen-
tation I was to achieve, I might 
have let the occasion pass. A 'fan-
cy' indication would have served my
turn - except that I should so have
failed perhaps of a pretext for my
present insistence.

I have cited Henry James' prefaces to the New York Edition of his novels as one's book of the year in its present publication. (The picture I selected to accompany that announcement is one of the more apposite to its case that I've ever found). These are not prefaces collected for re-publication; they are prefaces written late in life for the purpose of reconstructing what was in his mind as he wrote those works, from Roderick Hudson in 1875, forward. Here, he is recalling having alluded to a literal place in that early novel - Northampton, Massachusetts - and he is confiding how, at the time, he was so impressed by Balzac, that he was troubled by the exercise of such a gesture of naming, without remaining creatively in "the shadow" of an exemplary model. "The critical question swarms," he says, in these retrospective hours.

Taken together, through the many works which they address, there is very little of this swarm which does not emerge in these prefaces, which is why the book must be thought to be one of the greatest confessions of an artist, ever assembled. That said, if anyone can recall to me a subsequent occasion, when an artist has openly reflected on whether it impeaches his honour, to depart from a model he admires, I would be surprised to see it. And yet I think this impression must invade many a creative consciousness, as it certainly does in blogging - a form in which Balzac's tenacity for descriptive detail in writing of Saumur or Limoges (as James recalls) would be impracticable. Not that description, itself, is not reconstituted in the blogging form.

Because blogging is or becomes to the blogger, a creative form, a maturing consciousness of its limits is constantly at war with the underlying impulses of expression. This is simply a touchstone of what form, is. It isn't that James is good for bloggers to read; he's good for anyone to read, who is conscious of negotiating with form in everyday life. But if the question of honour may be called something else - as James persistently shows that it needs to be - it is whether the expression adopted fails the pretext of a present insistence. 

This is the north star of what honour is, in the created thing. It's the astrophysical body James could not ignore because it is more than his screen, it is his light. These prefaces are profoundly intimate. He is a passionate companion, of nothing other than the passion anyone may feel, to align his form to his pretexts. As gorgeously as I've seen it done, he threatens contagion for belief that it matters.

What precious school is this?

Henry James
The Art of the Novel
op. cit.

And what has it meant for the bath library, may we ask

 It was bad enough,
 when every Tom, Dick
 and Harry could wan-
 der up to the front,
 with a portable cam-
 era. At least that
 came in handy for
 tracking Mr Waldheim
 through the Balkans.
 But now, cameras are
 entering the bath -
 and not just as cam-
 eras, anymore, but
 as personal devices
 of the broadest ap-
 plication. Something
 serious is at stake,
 or it isn't Friday.

Now, library designers tell me, cameras are also our book repositories. This would be fine, but for the camera's innate zeal to commemorate its user's every moment. It used to take a natural photographer 40 or 50 years to get through War and Peace. Now, is it even thinkable? Moreover, what would it matter, that Mr Baldwin had designed the snuggest library for your bath, if you're focusing on connectivity?

None too soon, designers are reviving the notion of borders, having first done so much to dissolve them. By using fixtures which are ever less com-modious, even less condu-cive to ease, to say nothing of that shrinkage in their compartments which has banished entire genres of bathing, the self excites less com-petition with the book.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

In which we interrupt our neglect of materials

You can always tell, you are
not in Palm Springs, when your
perch is a deck made of wood.
This noble building material
is not a feature of desert ar-
chitecture, although surely if
a ship can be sent to Arizona,
twenty idiots may have spec-
ified Jamaican mahogany for a
pool deck, in that happy out-
post of Los Angeles.

I have a friend who is, at 
the moment, wandering the
globe to visit the sources
of various architectural 
materials, no doubt to ver-
ify that they have a place. 
It seems a sound undertak-
ing (besides, he is young,
and has the time) in this 
age of gaudy prosthetics
and synthetic derivatives. 
Too bad he isn't in banking.

Of course this is nothing
more than the miner's sup-
erstition, that gold would
come from particular hills,
and not from some idler in
the bowels of Wall & Broad.
That said, 20 idiots revis-
ing the ecology of Palm
Springs represent nothing
more than a coincidence of
vanity; while it seems, if 
you could put 20 bankers in
touch with each other on a
pipe-bomb of that kind, you
could wreak some lovely sight.

One always used to associate
anarchism with unfortunate
tailoring. You well remember
raise funds, to clothe Mr 
Frick's unlucky assassin. 
But there you are, the mot-
ility of language seems to
have balked at this latest
migration in antecedents,
from illusion to capital.
Possibly if we could dress
the mind with that prescience
with which fashion is cred-
ited, we'd command at least
a better price.

If one could contribute
through mirth and lark,
in some small way to the
measure mankind will one
day take of that scourg-
ing, calculated, knowing
rip-off of human life,
centered in American bank-
ing in the Age of Bush, one
could almost feel recom-
pensed for having lived so
long as to see an icon of
Stalinist art traded in the
millions for some pantry in
Palm Springs.

ii   Offices of J.P. Morgan
     23 Wall Street
     September 16, 1920

v   Konstantin Somov
     The Boxer
     Christies sale: $1,195,830

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Pre-heat to 325º

 Dad, I need to take a couple of  days.

 She won't like that ..

 Dad ..

 I know.

 I'll be back. For the Ballet. I'll  take her to the club.

 I have to be in Chicago then.

 I know.

 Be careful?

 You, too.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

May I recommend roasting a few extra quail, for contingency's sake?

Alumni of our entry on frogs legs might be the first to attest, to how the circumstances of everyday life occas-ionally present the venturesome palate with impromptu opportunity. Particular-ly in these holiday weeks, guests of a keen appetite and brow may pile aboard without texting, and it would be folly to hold them to that formality. No one is ever more satisfied - don't we find - than with his own, personal animal; and a brace of quail affords a lishy jumble of legs for munching. I happen to like a Nuits-St-Georges if the birds are seasonal game, a Volnay if not; but the Champagne one's begun with will always do. A cuvée rosé will nicely split the difference.

But I concede to you, these are very orthodox approaches; yet I grew up in a household, when birds were served, where a brace of sterling cocks would grace the table, from another century. You may say what you like against silver, or rather what you like in favour of little plants in shiny cachepots. But nothing flashes like it, the warmth and colour of the viands before one's face; and they are our subject.

With wine, the venial sin of our time is to offer a feast as a plinth for exhibiting the vintage. Apart from being in exceptionally poor taste, at great sacrifice of the senses being celebrated, this is simply a vanity invented by vintners. You'd probably be right to think, the company might prefer a luscious white with the quail; the answer is rather a quick sauté in extra virgin olive oil and de-glazing in Spätlese, say, for its delicate residual sugar and forward fruit, and then

relying on continuing with a non-vintage brut from a good house; and the silver will likely turn vermeil before your gaze, picking up the gold in the glass and on the plate. Technique, with ingredients, is as fundamental in their delectation as their natural selection, in the first place. But as to that, has a personal animal not always posed a natural claim, spontaneous, unor-thodox, or not? Moreover, all of nature abhors an appointment. In spon-taneity we learn how the waste of our unctuous wines is not in expending them, but in exposing them to comparison.

One has occasion to reflect on this, in these swirling days and nights of repat-riated families, hobbledehoys back home to supplement allowances and endure forgotten aunts. Lamentably, the diaspora seldom diffuses that illumination with which it bursts, in the scene of its conception. We must wonder why that is. But that project of diffusion does take place, and all we suggest is, a tolerant readiness toward the personal animal, and a wine of measured deference to the glow.

vi  the birds guy

Monday, December 12, 2011

Oh, Mr James, don't you just know everything

  imagine a literature 
  of power without force

               The very claim of the fable is naturally 
               that he is special, that his great gift 
               makes and keeps him highly exceptional; 
               but that is not for a moment supposed to 
               preclude his appearing typical (of the 
               general type) as well; for the fictive 
               hero successfully appeals to us only as 
               an eminent instance, as eminent as we like, 
               of our own conscious kind.

Henry James
Preface to the
  New York Edition
Roderick Hudson
1874-1875 in serial,
  The Atlantic Monthly
Tbe Art of the Novel
op. cit.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

'Tis the season to be spiffy ii: débutante invasions of December

Aw, Ma, do I got to?

Looking back, I'd say that
the Christmas holiday at
home which found me hos-
pitalised for dental sur-
gery, bent over convul-
sively in recovery from 
its anaesthetic, had a-
bout it a comparative 
modesty of invasion one 
could undergo again for
its unconsciousness, had 
the impactions not been
extracted. Yet such com-
ings-out are possible but 
once, it seems, and the 
work had been so thorough, 
and its fallout so famous-
ly picturesque, one could 
never again avail oneself 
of refuge in that parting.

Mind you, my aversions to 
the season could not then
have been articulated on
the scruples now known to
me, silently subcutaneous
in rebellion at the time. To
furnish the offices of the
escort has, indeed, not ev-
er been less than agreable,
given a mutual liberty to 
structure the occasion.

It's as the costumed prop in
an entertainment for other
parties, even more than for
a sodden inhalation of par-
fum, that the obduracy of
that servitude manifests it-
self, even today, in memory
of those holiday evenings.

My sedation now exhausted
as the excuse that it was, 
I welcome a marginalising
autonomy as I enter these
terminating days of the cal-
endar, chuckling with de-
light over cards announcing
at-homes for which an Eng-
lish dog affords the fair-
est of regrets. Whit must
always claim his share of
one's time; and we negoti-
ate these escortships rec-
iprocally, he in charge of
evening, I of day.

And every time these lic-
ences converge, when the 
light lowers just right on 
his coat on a stroll be-
fore dinner, as again now,
one can hear a kindly mov-
ie mother say,

John Ford, director
Frank Nugent, screenplay
Winston C. Hoch, cinematography
The Searchers
Warner Brothers, 1956©