October 7, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
From the psychiatrist R. D. Laing’s transcripts of his sessions with Edith E., a young woman he took on as a patient in 1954 and later wrote about in The Divided Self. Laing, who was born on this day in 1927 and died in 1989, is remembered for his progressive thinking on sanity and madness. He struggled to make sense of Edith, whose schizophrenia was so abstruse that on paper it amounted to “an intolerable mass of incoherent data.” To draw her out, he tried to react to her comments as spontaneously as possible, sometimes addressing himself to a doll he’d brought in. Edith admitted to hearing voices that instructed her to disrobe or to go to a certain subway station, where she would, one voice said, see someone beaten to a pulp; she talked at length about mouths, tonsils, and sucking, and once claimed that her mother had cut her into pieces and that Laing was her “new, good mother.” The case is discussed in further detail in Alan Beveridge’s Portrait of the Psychiatrist as a Young Man, a study of Laing’s early work from which the following exchange is taken.
EDITH I’ve no tongue. I’ve a tongue but it’s not my actual tongue.
LAING You have a tongue in your mouth anyway.
EDITH Yes, I’ve a tongue in my mouth, but it’s not my actual tongue. I’ve no actual tongue. Read More »
September 28, 2015 | by John Jeremiah Sullivan
Did I ever tell you about the thing I did with The Ice Plant? You know them—they make oddly compelling photography books. Last year they did one about some candid “found photos” of the Rolling Stones, pictures taken in the South that had somehow turned up at a flea market or estate sale out west. I wrote a piece to go with the book. But the book wound up getting squashed, or at least suppressed. There was some kind of legal problem—a photographer’s estate claimed rights, saying their man had taken the pictures, but it couldn’t be proved, and there were other claimants. At one point the book was embargoed on a container ship, I’m not inventing. Anyway it was all a shame because the book was beautiful to look at and would have been positive for all parties, and The Ice Plant’s books are done for the love—if nobody’s profiting, nobody’s profiting off—but we are a people of the lawsuit, we like to own.
All of that is background, though, to the actual pictures (referring here only to those that have already been on the Web). There’s something sweet and sad about them (a twenty-two-year-old Brian Jones flipping playfully into the pool … ), and something unglamorous that has postwar English childhoods in it, and at the edges maybe just a trace of eerie and autumnal pre–Altamont Apocalypse vibes. Read More »
September 17, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
From letters William Carlos Williams sent to his mother as a student at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. During his time there, Williams, born on this day in 1883, joined Mask and Wig, the nation’s oldest all-
September 10, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
A letter from Hilda Doolittle (H. D.) to her companions Bryher and Kenneth Macpherson, sent March 1, 1933. H. D., born on this day in 1886, had journeyed to Vienna to commence her psychoanalysis with Freud himself, though he was old and frail by then. She wasn’t supposed to discuss her analysis with friends, but she wrote about it in great depth to her loved ones; those letters are collected in Analyzing Freud. Here, she chronicles their first meeting and the difficult initial session. The analysis soon improved, though H. D. remained wary of Freud; among other concerns, she found it perturbing that he preferred dogs to cats. Read More »
September 2, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
Part of a letter from Joseph Roth to Blanche Gidon, his French translator, sent October 11, 1932. Roth, born on this day in 1894, used his letters to vent his spleen, often about money and politics; in this note he rails against French publishing. (“Une heure avec” refers to a regular interview feature in the literary weekly Les Nouvelles Littéraires.) “His actual molten, sun-spotted core,” writes his English translator Michael Hofmann, “flares nakedly in these letters.” Hofmann’s Joseph Roth: A Life in Letters was published in 2012.
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August 26, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
A letter from Guillaume Apollinaire to Madeleine Pagès, dated October 11, 1915. Apollinaire had met Pagès, who taught literature, on a train in January of that year; by August they were engaged and Apollinaire was stationed in the trenches of Champagne, fighting the Great War. His prolific correspondence with Pagès from this period is remarkable not just in its erotic candor but in its portrayal of life in the trenches, down to the finest details: “mud, what mud, you cannot imagine the mud you have to have seen it here, sometimes the consistency of putty, sometimes like whipped cream or even wax and extraordinarily slippery.” At times he rebuked his lover for not writing often or well enough, though the beginning of this letter finds him pleased with her efforts. The following year, he was wounded by shrapnel; the injury so disturbed him that he refused to receive his fiancée during his convalescence, and soon the letters, along with their engagement, dried up.
My love, I had two letters from you today. I am very happy with them … especially out here, where your precious sensuality is a consolation to me, the sole remedy for all my troubles. Please do mark this well, my love. You said yourself that we should strengthen the secret between us, so do strengthen it, and fear for nothing. Be naked before me—as far away as I am … Your meaningful look in Marseilles is admirably clear to me in memory, charged with all the voluptuousness that is part of you. You are very beautiful. I kiss your mouth through your hat veil, tearing it like a Veil of Isis and grasping the whole of that little traveller who is now my own beloved little wife and clasping her madly to me …
I take your whole mouth and kiss it, and then your breasts, so sensitive, whose tips harden at my kiss and strain towards me like your desire itself. I wrap my arms about you and hold you fight forever against my heart. Read More »