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Style Matters

Via Dan Piepenbring at The Paris Review, you can discover:

- that Jack Kerouac once said “he had got the idea of the ‘spontaneous style’ of On the Road from ‘seeing how good old Neal Cassady wrote his letters to me, all first person, fast, mad, confessional, completely serious, all detailed, with real names in his case, however (being letters) ...  It was the greatest piece of writing I ever saw, better’n anybody in America, or at least enough to make Melville, Twain, Dreiser, Wolfe, I dunno who, spin in their graves...’

- and that E. M. Forster wryly cautions us to ‘Mistrust all enterprises that require new clothes...’


The bit about Forster is not quite right though.  Or at least, it's incomplete.  Forster was actually alluding (in A Room with a View, where the phrase appears most awesomely on the wardrobe of the Emersons) to something Henry David Thoreau had said in Walden: “I say, beware of all enterprises that require new clothes...


All of which reminds me of something from a Believer interview with documentary filmmaker Sheila Nevins:

BLVR: Is your appearance and how you dress calculated in any way to disarm people?

SN: I once saw an interview that we never used that Oliver Stone did with Castro.  He said to Castro, “Why do you have a beard?”  And Castro said something like [Nevins launches into full Castro voice] “I'm not going to spend forty minutes a day grooming my face!  Add it up and I will live less!”

So I would say it's sort of a '60s calculated schlumpiness, never really revealing too many body parts.  In the beginning it was calculated.  I didn't want to be a sexual creature.  But it's also a uniform, with the basic intention being to simplify my life.  It's become my style.  Tomorrow will be the fifteenth day I've worn this.  I get up, throw it in the wash, go to the gym, switch it to the dryer, and wear it.  It's worked so far.  Nobody notices it, or at least they pretend not to, because I change my earrings.


[nightingaleshiraz] [?]
[Via Giulio Cesare, Santa Marinella]
[domenica 29 maggio 2016 ore 16:06:04] []


How can I forgive you for something when you've never apologized for it?  How can I forgive you when you never say you're sorry?

[nightingaleshiraz] [?]
[Via Giulio Cesare, Santa Marinella]
[venerdì 27 maggio 2016 ore 11:26:04] []

What you get when you Google “Whitmanic.”

From the man himself, writing in 1858 under the pseudonym “Mose Velsor,” on the subject of “Manly Health and Training” — courtesy of Rebecca Onion at Slate:

We have sometimes even thought, while standing among a large crowd of these sporting men, in some Broadway drinking saloon, or some such place, and quietly observing their actions and looks, that they presented about the best collection of specimens of hardy and developed physique we had anywhere seen.  Their movements remind one of a fine animal.  They have that clear, audacious, self-confident expression of the eye, and of the face generally, which marks some of the animals in a wild state.  Notice the attitudes of them as they stand, or lean; the extended arm holding the glass of liquor, and raising it to the lips; the hat tipped down in front over the eyebrow; the “gallus” style generally.  Or, see two of them square off at each other in a joking way; the limber vibration of the upper part of the body upon the waist; one foot planted forward; the movements of the arms, and the poise of the neck.


From a profile of Whitman in Cosmic Consciousness, written in 1901 by Richard Maurice Bucke, via the Internet Sacred Text Archive:

I believe all the poet's senses are exceptionally acute, his hearing especially so; no sound or modulation of sound perceptible to others escapes him, and he seems to hear many things that to ordinary folk are inaudible.  I have heard him speak of hearing the grass grow and the trees coming out in leaf.


The following is the experience of a person well known to the present writer: He called on Walt Whitman and spent an hour at his home in Camden, in the autumn of 1877.  He had never seen the poet before, but he had been profoundly reading his works for some years.  He said that Walt Whitman only spoke to him about a hundred words altogether, and these quite ordinary and commonplace; that he did not realize anything peculiar while with him, but shortly after leaving a state of mental exaltation set in, which he could only describe by comparing to slight intoxication by champagne, or to falling in love, and this exaltation, he said, lasted at least six weeks in a clearly marked degree, so that, for at least that length of time, he was plainly different from his ordinary self.  Neither, he said, did it then or since pass away, though it ceased to be felt as something new and strange, but became a permanent element in his life, a strong and living force (as he described it), making for purity and happiness.  I may add that this person's whole life has been changed by that contact—his temper, character, entire spiritual being, outer life, conversation, etc., elevated and purified in an extraordinary degree.  He tells me that at first he used often to speak to friends and acquaintances of his feeling for Walt Whitman and the “Leaves,” but after a time he found that he could not make himself understood, and that some even thought his mental balance impaired.  He gradually learned to keep silence upon the subject, but the feeling did not abate, nor its influence upon his life grow less.


And finally, from an essay by Jim Berger on “Whitman's Long Lines”, at the Academy of American Poets:

Long lines are oceanic. They wash over you like waves, one after another, each of them full of shells and sand and fish and surfboards, sometimes pieces of wrecks and the bodies of sailors.

In his essay, Berger includes a couple of sample poems by his students.  There is one by “Samantha, age 15” which leaves me enchanted:

Annoying people comb their hair when it already looks good.
They drive their cars with jerks and short stops and purposely avoid bumps.
They go around singing off-key.
They crack their gum during tests.
They always have ink marks on their faces.
Annoying people wear the wrong color lipstick.
They place louder than anyone else in the orchestra and play the wrong notes.
They complain all the time and their sneakers stay perfectly white for about two years.
Their clothes never match and their clothes always match.
Annoying people leave a light on when they go to sleep and call during dinner all the time.
Annoying people don’t really know their ass from their elbow about a certain subject and then try to tell you what to do.
They speak slowly and whine.
Annoying people tell really bad jokes and then laugh at them ... alone.

[nightingaleshiraz] [?]
[Via Giulio Cesare, Santa Marinella]
[giovedì 19 maggio 2016 ore 14:29:29] []

The Eccentricities of a Nightingale

You would think some people would be able to go more than three years without a grade three distorsione della caviglia.  But no.  It seems that would be asking too much.  Perhaps I should be grateful there was no ambulance ride this time, no passing out in the pitch dark of some sketchy back road by some podunk railway station in the Roman countryside, not even as much pain as there usually is.  And I would consider myself lucky.  I do consider myself lucky.  But the consideration is somewhat complicated, I must confess, by the vague sense that one's ability to use the phrase “not even as much pain as there usually is,” is not quite a harbinger of very great luck.

Anyway.  The part that matters, here and now, is that it has therefore been a weekend full of flirtations with Fairy Queen Boredom.  We're not superfond of Fairy Queen Boredom around here.  We find her kind of embarrassing.  How can anyone with half a smidgen of initiative and intelligence find herself unable to make something out of an hour, or two, or twelve?  I look at myself in an imaginary mirror (because the real mirror is in the hallway and it will take me five whole minutes to limp over there) and I scold.  And then I think through the long list of things I have been wanting to do for months now — the kinds of things one never has a hope in hell of getting to unless one sprains an ankle or breaks a toe.

One of these things was to go back through the pile of unruly New Yorkers on our coffee table (I mean the magazines), figure out which ones I hadn't read all the way through, and then read them.  Andrew was especially keen on this option.  He was hoping (is still hoping, because I've only just started) that, having completed this task, I will finally stop wringing my hands in obsessive-compulsive-anxiousness every time he brings home a new New Yorker (“But I haven't finished these yet...  Now it's going to be even more messed up...  Why are you doing this to me?”)

The thing though, is that in many of these New Yorkers, even and especially the half-read ones, I have marked things up.  Lines I have loved and words that have wowed me.


Like this line from a reader named Arthur Blaustein in Berkley, California, on “The Mail” page of the September 22, 2014 issue (also known as The Style Issue), in response to an article on “The Crooked and the Dead” by Jill Lepore:

We are on the verge of seeing American democracy become a plutocracy, run by the worst politicians that money can buy.

This was written in September 2014, y'all.  September 2014.  Hm.

A few sentences on, this same Mr Blaustein refers to “the leprous condition Lepore describes” — I love that.

And finally, Mr Blaustein closes with the hope that upon “the eventual retirement of Justice Kennedy, Scalia, or Thomas, a Democratic President may then appoint a moderate to the Court...”  Again, hm.


Or these lines, on page 16:

The opening shot of Paul Thomas Anderson's 2007 film, “There Will Be Blood,” showing a man prospecting for silver in a barren landscape, upends musical clichés of the West in an unnerving instant: the first thing you hear is a dissonant chord of twelve tones, a seething of strings.  It is pure sonic claustrophobia, and it exposes the implosive soul of the future oilman Daniel Plainview.


And on page 20, in a review of Bootycandy, an almost-typo:

Robert O'Hara's brazen comedy of alienation moves like a carrousel and feels like a roller coaster—or, given its splashy, raunchy spirit, a log flume.

But no, of course.  Merriam Webster confirms it's a variant.  Still, it makes me think in ever-increasing circles: carousel, carrousel, carousal.  A business of cloudless arousal.  A crocus of raucous precocious.  Bellwether clearwater crux.


Then, among the movie reviews, some catchers of wordlight:

- Richard Brody, on the brother and sister dynamic in The Color Wheel — “the terrifying vulnerability of two wounded souls who know each other's wounds all too well.

- David Denby, on William Hurt's character in The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them — “who, as Eleanor's sensitive-shrink father, speaks so slowly that you want to applaud when he finishes a sentence.

- Brody again, on Fox and His Friends, and how “good taste happens to bad people.

- Anthony Lane on The Last of Robin Hood, or rather, what he calls the “unsavory final chapter in the life of Errol Flynn.”  This one not so much for the words, but for the memory of my father, on a couch in an apartment on Al Maktoum Street, talking about Flynn and his vow to live fast, die young.  How my father must have been in his forties.  How Flynn died at fifty.  How it all comes together, except it doesn't.

- Lane again on Love Is Strange and Ira Sachs's “determination to dramatize same-sex love not as groundbreaking but as securely rooted—rent control and all—in common ground.

- Brody yet again, on Memphis, and how Willis Earl Beal “drifts through a symphony of sights and sounds—steamy sunlight piercing vaulted foliage, dusty streets teeming with hidden life, the wind in the trees, train whistles, birdcalls—accompanied by a haunting score of elusive fragments and dreamlike twiddles that could be coming from Willis's studio or from his solitary yearnings.  His heavy trudge on a game leg suggests weariness of historical dimensions; the harmonious mysteries of the urban landscape are themselves the essence of his art.  A brilliant sequence of musicians at work gets away from familiar modes of filmed performance and into the depths of inner experience.

- And Brody one last time, on — of all things — Rossellini's Rome, Open City: “Handheld cameras tremble with the urgency of open wounds...” and “an authenticity that's based less on its quasi-documentary style than on a vision that brings ideas to life.”


And a few more among the rest of the reviews — of dance, art, and classical, and of whole-roasted-pig's-head:

- In a description of “theatricalized tango” (but is there any other kind?) — “the floor-bound subtleties of classic tango duets mingle with acrobatic lifts, partner-switching ensemble numbers, and bits of Bauschian theatre that include heated relations between men and women amid several beanbag chairs.”

- In an exhibition by Iranian sculptor Siah Armajani of “a subject that is both public but eternally private: a series of tombs, dedicated (mostly) to writers” — a piece that “maps out his adopted home town by marrying architectonic lines and the curving ornament of Farsi calligraphy,” and the Whitmanic flash of “an end that lightly and joyfully meets its translation.”

- In the music of a group called Mobius Band, a sound that is “plangent and atmospheric, with unobtrusive vocals that hinted at songs without necessarily committing to the idea of songs.”  (Also, the idea that an alto can be glassy, “like wind through the trees, equally soothing and ominous,” and that a bass line can be unfashionably perky, “octaves popped with the thumb rather than plucked.”)

- And in Hannah Goldfield's notes on The Gorbals in Williamsburg, a trinity of tastes in tongue-loving letters — “Broccoli was deep-fried to a delicate, candylike texture and saturated with sweet soy and vinegar.  Thrice-cooked thick-cut fries were bathed in hoisin gravy and tangled with Vietnamese pickles, sriracha, and shreds of pulled pork for the superb banh-mi poutine.  A tender leg of wood-grilled rabbit came nestled in microgreens and tart, juicy vinegar-cured cherries.


There's a goodish piece by Nick Paumgarten on “Life in the GoPro era” — goodish, in particular, for these bits:

When the agony of missing the shot trumps the joy of the experience worth shooting, the adventure athlete (climber, surfer, extreme skier) reveals himself to be something else: a filmmaker, a brand, a vessel for the creation of content.  He used to just do the thing—plan the killer trip and then complete it, with panache.  Maybe a photographer or film crew tagged along, and afterward there'd be a slide show at community centers and high-school gyms, or an article in a magazine.  Now the purpose of the trip or trick is the record of it.  Life is footage.


The short video synonymous with GoPro is a kind of post-literate diary, a stop on the way to a future in which everything will be filmed from every point of view.  Humans have always recorded their experiences, in an array of media and for a variety of reasons.  Not until very recently, with the advent of digital photography and video, and unlimited storage and distribution capacity, has it been conceivable to film everything.  As we now more than ever communicate through pictures, either still or moving, perhaps our lives come closer to Susan Sontag's imagined “anthology of images.”  An obvious example is the people who film concerts on their smartphones.  Will they ever watch the video?  And if they do will it measure up to the concert, which they half missed?  Of course not.  They film the concert to certify their attendance and convey their good fortune.  The frame corroborates.

The piece is rounded out, in its online incarnation, with a video by Nate Levey on “the art of making a GoPro video.”


There are these flashes, diamond-like and beautiful and maybe even damned, from Adam Gopnik's piece on Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald:

I saw that the novel, which at my maturity was the strongest and supplest medium for conveying thought and emotion from one human being to another, was becoming subordinated to a mechanical and communal art . . . capable of reflecting only the tritest thought, the most obvious emotion.

Romanticism under stress always becomes expressionism—what happened to Poe is also what happened to Fitzgerald.  When a lyric writer cracks, there's a new kind of dissonant music in the breaking.

The most beautiful things he ever did may be the separate sentences that fill a hundred and fifty or so pages at the back of Wilson's posthumous collection of Fitzgeraldiana...

There is very little second-rate champagne in Fitzgerald.  He lives in his sentences, which is where writing lives, in sentences and human sympathy.  Everything else is just journalism and punditry.


And of course, there is Peter Schjeldahl and his synesthetic syntheses:

Beauty happens within a couple of feet.  Then the nuances of color, as of a dusky green caressing a smoldering orange, trigger little shocks of perception. Closeup viewing may persuade you that you have underrated your powers of visual discrimination. Look long, for best results. You may feel lonely, but that's by design.

Most times I read Schjeldahl I am struck by the smoke he makes from such faraway mirrors.  How can the experience of reading a piece of writing about a piece of visual art be this palpable?  (And in this case, how can a verbal description of so abstract a piece of art feel this concrete?)  But I also love that there is usually a subtle humanity in his critic's persona.  Earlier in this essay, which is on color-field painting (about as abstract as abstract art can be, I would think) he describes Helen Frankenthaler's “Cool Summer” (1962):

... a panoramic winner in oils, rhythmic shapes distantly suggest blurry figures at a beach, wavering in a stiff breeze.

And so we're there, see?  Right there with him.  But then he turns to us for a moment, lets us into yet another room, with a quick, parenthetical aside on what critics like Clement Greenberg said, about looking at art like this:

Greenberg said that we should reject seeing chance imagery in abstract art, but he didn't say how.

But he didn't say how.  I love that.

At the end of the essay, he circles back to wink at this idea (and to the “design” by which you are meant to feel lonely, quoted above), in a paragraph that I have read maybe thirteen times now, because every time I find it has new places to take my thinking:

Color-field climaxed a modern ambition to expunge narrative content from painting.  You were meant to be alone—“autonomous” was a byword—in wordless communion with art, as with a sunset.  But art, unlike nature, requires someone to perform an act of will, and where there's a mind directing a hand there's a story.  If the story is excluded from a picture, it will reconstitute around it as art criticism, which provides a set of thoughts for the reasons that, as you look, you should abandon thinking.  That isn't fair to individual aesthetic experience, which may find drama in abstraction and transport in realism.

See what I mean?


Finally, this is the issue in which I learn, via Emma Allen's thoughts on a bar called Champagne Charlie's, that “the front garden of the High Line Hotel [...] inhabits the former General Theological Seminary, in Chelsea.

Why'd you do it Manhattan?  Why?

[nightingaleshiraz] [?]
[Via Giulio Cesare, Santa Marinella]
[domenica 15 maggio 2016 ore 18:44:33] []