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Posts Tagged ‘dogs’

Once and Future

October 24, 2014 | by

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T. H. White. Photo: Burns Library, Boston College

Perhaps you’ve read Sylvia Townsend Warner’s short stories, or the volumes of poetry she wrote (some with her partner, Valentine Ackland). Lolly Willowes, her best-known work, is a sly novel about a spinster who takes up witchcraft, and well worth seeking out. But my favorite, and the one that’s been on my mind lately, is her 1967 biography of T. H. White, a small masterpiece of humanity.

White, born in 1906 and known to his friends as Tim, was the author of the Arthurian epic The Once and Future King and a number of successful sci-fi titles. A former teacher, he was prone to passionate enthusiasms—falconry, snakes, plans—and wrote a memoir about his experience training a goshawk. Townsend Warner captures his boundless excitement about these things, his humor, his kindness. But more than anything, this is a portrait of loneliness. White had no known relationships with men or women. Townsend Warner speculates that White was “a homosexual and a sado-masochist,” although others disagree on the question of his sexuality. In any case, he was profoundly alone; Townsend Warner wrote, “Notably free from fearing God, he was basically afraid of the human race.”

He did love his dog, an Irish Setter called Brownie. Townsend Warner writes extensively about his bond with Brownie, the love he could not express in other facets of his life. Upon Brownie’s unexpected death, he wrote the following heartbreaking letter to his friend David “Bunny” Garnett, presented in its entirety on the Futility Closet blog. Read this only if you are feeling emotionally tough: Read More »

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Take a Walk with Our Summer Issue

June 2, 2014 | by

209That adorable canine on the cover is Boo, a shaggy brown Brussels griffon and an habitué of our old loft on White Street. Boo’s owner (and portraitist) is Raymond Pettibon, whose portfolio, “Real Dogs in Space,” is at the center of issue 209, fit for consumption in the dog days of summer.

Then there’s our interview with Joy Williams—whose stories have appeared in The Paris Review since 1969—on the Art of Fiction:

What a story is, is devious. It pretends transparency, forthrightness. It engages with ordinary people, ordinary matters, recognizable stuff. But this is all a masquerade. What good stories deal with is the horror and incomprehensibility of time, the dark encroachment of old catastrophes—which is Wallace Stevens, I think. As a form, the short story is hardly divine, though all excellent art has its mystery, its spiritual rhythm.

And in the Art of of Poetry No. 98, Henri Cole discusses his approach to clichés (“I like the idea of going right up to the edge of cliché and then stopping”), his collages, and his contempt for the sentimental:

Oh, I hate sentimentality. Heterosexual men are more susceptible to it than women, because middle age keeps telling them they’re gods. This is not true for women, however, who are often discarded. Is it possible that we can more readily see the bleakness of the human condition if life has been a little harder for us? Nothing kills art faster than sentimentality.

There’s also an essay by Andrea Barrett; fiction from Zadie Smith, J. D. Daniels, Garth Greenwell, Ottessa Moshfegh, and Shelly Oria; the third installment of Rachel Cusk’s novel Outline, with illustrations by Samantha Hahn; and new poems by Henri Cole, Charles Simic, Ange Mlinko, Nick Laird, Rowan Ricardo Phillips, Les Murray, Adam Kirsch, Jane Hirshfield, and Thomas Sayers Ellis.

It’s an issue that, like Boo, commands immediate and frequent affection, and will keep you enthralled for years to come.

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Clean-Living Canines, and Other News

May 23, 2014 | by

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Carl Reichert, Paar Doggen

  • Jane Austen read her own reviews, and took scrupulous notes: “Austen appears to have compiled the reactions of her readers from letters, hearsay, and direct conversations and recorded them on a set of closely written pages around 1815, before her death at the age of forty-one, two years later.”
  • From now till June 21, you can apply for a residency with Write A House, a new program with a terrific mission: to renovate homes in Detroit and then to give them, permanently, to writers. One of those writers may be you.
  • Dogs have a kind of moral code—one long hidden to humans until a cognitive ethologist named Marc Bekoff began to crack it … If three dogs are playing and one bites or tackles too hard, the other two are likely to give him the cold shoulder and stop playing with him, Bekoff says. Such behavior, he says, suggests that dogs are capable of morality, a mindset once thought to be uniquely human.”
  • Today in artificially intelligent cyborg assassin news: “a team of scientists destined to doom us all has developed the first bionic particles fusing organic materials and synthetic semiconductors, in a project they openly admit is ‘inspired by fictional cyborgs like the Terminator.’”
  • “In 1835, the Finnish linguist Elias Lönnrot published The Kalevala, a compilation of traditional epic poetry. In his home country, The Kalevala is now considered to be one of the most important works of literature of all time … Five photographers traveled to Kainuu in Northeast Finland, the birthplace of The Kalevala, and explored the mythology through contemporary photography.”

 

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Wildlife, or Nor Woman Neither

May 20, 2014 | by

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A Chihuahua with a member of ordinary size. Photo: Abuk Sabuk, via Wikimedia Commons

What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals—and yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust? Man delights not me—nor woman neither, though by your smiling you seem to say so.

The text came up on my phone at 5:34 P.M.

“Just saw chihuahua with human-sized penis :( ”

I tried to think of something comforting to say.

“Don’t worry,” I wrote back. “He can mate with bigger dogs!!”

“:( ” came the response.

In conference with another friend, Dan, later the same day, I mentioned this anomaly.

“It’s at times like this one wonders how self-aware dogs are,” he wrote. Then:

“I hope he knows”

Then:

“He must know.” Read More »

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The Cat Came Back

April 9, 2014 | by

The Incredible Journey Quad

Detail from the poster for Disney’s The Incredible Journey, 1963.

Yesterday, a dog raced a Metro-North train from the South Bronx into Manhattan. The train slowed down at several points so the dog, an adorable shepherd/collie mix, would not risk injury. Passengers feared for her safety during the mad dash—and cheered lustily as she was collected by two transit cops, who took her to animal control to treat her injured paw.

We love to see pets going to great lengths for our companionship, or whatever it is they’re doing. It’s hard enough to know what your dog or cat is thinking as it goes from room to room—and no one can divine the thoughts of these heroic specimens who follow their masters across continents, Incredible Journey–style. We usually choose to regard this as proof of pure devotion. But in other cases, we see these antics—especially by cats—as slightly sinister. Consider the case of “The Cat Came Back.”

Written in 1893 as a minstrel song with a very different title, “The Cat Came Back” tells of a malevolent cat who won’t stay away—until he’s killed. It’s not the sort of enlightened fare we usually associate with modern elementary education. And yet, a sanitized version of the song is a staple of nursery schools and day camps, where it’s seen as a useful tool for teaching young children about rhythm and harmony. For whatever reason, kids love the minor-key tune and the story of the grim, Mephistophelean cat.

There’s a G-rated modern version in which the owner tries to pawn the cat off on Santa Claus and an air balloon; and then there’s an earlier iteration, in which said owner clearly wants to see the feline dead. Kids laugh at both, because this cat will not be ruled by man. He defies adult authority—to say nothing of the laws of physics and geography—and this is as reassuring as it is terrifying. He “couldn’t” stay away, we are told—but not because he so loves the beleaguered Mr. Johnson, or Wilson, or whatever the owner’s name happens to be. He is a law unto himself. And the glee in telling his story has little to do with affection, and much to do with things dark and unexplained.

If no owner claims that train-loving dog, animal control is going to put her up for adoption, even though her heart is clearly wild and free and her thoughts inscrutable. But maybe for someone, that will be an adventure. Maybe they’ll like the minor key of its small mysteries. And why take on another life, if not for that?

 

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The Man with the Companion Animal

March 10, 2014 | by

This week, we’re presenting five vignettes by David Mamet.

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Detail from Ivan Makarov’s Unknown Man, c. 1880s.

The fellow down in the front row of the auditorium was around my age. He was massively obese, and he was overdressed in many layers of wool. He held an oversized pet carrier which, one presumed, held a large dog. He was permitted to carry the dog to the concert, then, as it was designated his “companion animal.”

What did this mean? That his mental state was such that he could never be without his dog. The dog was his security totem.

But it was in a bag. And his look was furtive. He glanced right and left, never making eye contact, as he settled himself into his seat. What was he looking for? He was looking for nothing. He was merely drawing focus. It was a performance. He was performing exemption. The pet carrier was his badge, and it indicated he had been certified as exempt, and so, beyond criticism.

But one saw that he felt he had also been certified as pathetic. He had traded his self-respect for a societal indulgence, and he loathed himself for the choice. He was caught, for the daunting price he thought he had evaded in adolescence—that of matriculation into the mature world—was still being paid at age sixty.

He was a man without friends. How do I know? He was at the concert accompanied by a dog in a bag. He loathed his life. He had, perhaps, at some point, been “injured,” who has not? And he suffered as he’d never found someone or some idea from which he could take courage. I felt I was looking at myself.

David Mamet is a stage and film director as well as the author of numerous acclaimed plays, books, and screenplays. His latest book is Three War Stories.

 

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