Evan S. Connell, who died last week, was eighty-six when I interviewed him at Ponce de Leon, a nursing home in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he had moved after selling his condominium at Fort Marcy. He had lived an incredibly solitary life. One of his caretakers mentioned that some of the other residents assumed at first that he was mute. I wish that the transcribed text that follows better reflected Mr. Connell’s timbre, because you’d be able to hear the way his inarticulacy was equal parts reticence and modesty. He had a wonderful laugh, a huh-huh-huh, gentle and self-deprecating. You could tell he was accustomed to downplaying his erudition. But he clearly wanted to communicate what he considered important.
This is the second installment of Sieff’s culture diary. Click here to read part 1.
11:00 A.M. This copy of Innocence comes from Adam’s Books, a used bookstore on Bergen Street in Brooklyn that has since closed. The volume was, in a previous incarnation, a gift and carries an inscription:
I hope you enjoy this gift. But I must tell you now, while everyone’s watching, that I have a gift to give you when we are alone that will lead to something even grander and more sublime than this novel, or any work of art for that matter. I am thinking of touching you now, watching you while you read this inscription.
Your hulking, sometimes brilliant and temperamental, boyfriend. You are my only baby.
I love you
By the way—this title is appropriate given the theme of the fall in our relationship.
This couple actually seems kind of sweet. One wonders why she chucked the book—but it doesn’t mean they didn’t get married. She could have been having an Archer moment. “The message inside the envelope … ran as follows: ‘Parents consent wedding Tuesday after Easter at twelve Grace Church eight bridesmaids please see Rector so happy love May.’ Archer crumpled up the yellow sheet as if the gesture could annihilate the news it contained.” Yet there he is on his wedding day with the old ladies in their “faded sables and yellowing ermines,” observing every ritual and “formality … which made of a nineteenth-century New York wedding a rite that seemed to belong to the dawn of history.”
12:30 P.M. I get a belated birthday present from a friend: Kith, Kin & Khaya: South African Photographs by David Goldblatt. Khaya, in Zulu, means “home.” Goldblatt is Jewish South African (his grandparents emigrated from Lithuania in the late nineteenth century; most South African Jews are Lithuanian, my family included). These black-and-white pictures are very still-seeming: the landscapes of Gauteng and the Transkei; bleak twin bathtubs in Benoni, a suburb of Johannesburg where my father’s mother grew up. In the section “Afrikaners,” in a place called Hartebeespoort, a white child is splayed out in the foreground, sleeping in bunched underwear, while behind him a bigger child holds a contented-looking baby. The baby holds a bottle and the older boy holds a toy gun to the baby’s eye. In the book’s second section (a series he collaborated on with Nadine Gordimer), there is a photograph of a black man’s torso: tool belt with pocketknife and pocket watch, shirt pocket full of rulers and drafting pencils, and a silver armband stamped with three stars and the title “Boss Boy.”
7:45 P.M. A day of photographic gifts: a friend gives me the Fall (“library”) issue of Bidoun. Each copy has a found photograph—mine a plump Cairene matriarch and her two pretty daughters at the beach—pasted onto the white-and-gold embossed cover. Creative director Babak Radboy(!) writes,
The issue of Bidoun you hold in your hands has a photograph affixed to its cover. The photo is unique to this copy of the magazine. It was procured for one Egyptian pound (eighteen cents U.S.) and shipped, along with thousands of other photos, directly to our printer in Las Vegas … From the perspective of the archivist, the photograph affixed to the cover does not exist. By gathering these discards and binding them to a (purportedly) legitimate publication, replete with ISBN number, that resides in the collections of a number of public and private libraries, we are, in a sense, rescuing them from their status as detritus. But then, by distributing these issues to bookstores, art fairs, and thousands of unknown individuals—not to mention the accursed share of unsold copies bound for store basements, secondhand book stores, and landfills—these photos are destined to return to the obscurity from whence they came.
11:00 P.M. At home I read Dan Chiasson’s New York Review of Books piece on The Anthology of Rap. It’s called “‘Rude Ludicrous Lucrative’ Rap,” which seems an even better title in the NYRB’s typewritery typeface. “Only in hip-hop is the age-old comedy of grown-ups trying to understand young people yoked so uncomfortably to the American tragedy of whites trying and failing to understand blacks. Age incomprehension is comic, since everyone young eventually grows old; race incomprehension is tragic, since nobody knows what it is like to change races.”