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Posts Tagged ‘love letters’

A Thing That Wants Virginia

March 9, 2016 | by

William Strang, Lady with a Red Hat (A portrait of Vita Sackville-West), 1918, oil on canvas.

Vita Sackville-West, born on this day in 1892, and Virginia Woolf exchanged the letters below in January 1926. The two began an affair in the midtwenties that inspired Woolf’s novel Orlando. These letters came after their first separation; their affair ended in 1929. Original spelling and punctuation have been retained. Their correspondence is collected in The Letters of Vita Sackville-West to Virginia Woolf.Read More »

Slayer Is Sad, and Other News

January 19, 2016 | by

From Slayer’s Reign in Blood, 1986.

  • Norman Rush on “the savage fictions” of Horacio Castellanos Moya and the archetype of the “superfluous man”: “The literary woods are of course as full of superfluous men as they are of unreliable narrators and, these days, really rebarbative antiheroes. Superfluous men make up an illustrious lineage: Goncharov’s Oblomov, Dostoevsky’s Underground Man, Melville’s Bartleby, Robert Musil’s Man Without Qualities, all the way down through Sartre’s Roquentin and the hero of Ben Lerner’s debut novel, Leaving the Atocha Station. Superfluous men respond with disaffection, dysfunction, or withdrawal when they are unhorsed or irritated by the changing fortunes that the social machine spits out. It can be anything—plunging status, national disgrace, political or religious disillusion, extreme boredom … It’s always interesting to pick at the question of why these guys are the way they are. Sometimes the answer is on the surface and sometimes it’s complex and not on the surface at all. First of all, it’s fun to read about superfluous men. I don’t know exactly why. Maybe they offer to overworked and overbooked readers a dream of letting go, enjoying regression. There is learning and pleasure to be got from reading about them.”
  • Remember the whole debacle over A Million Little Pieces? That was ten years ago now. On one hand, not much has changed since then: readers still thirst for true stories, outrageous revelation, harrowing redemption. On the other hand, the memoir form has never had more to compete with, William Giraldi writes: “In the decade since the James Frey fiasco, social media has turned untold people into hourly memoirists in miniature. We live now in a culture of incessant confession … The absurdly named ‘confessional poets’ of the mid-twentieth century—Lowell and Berryman, Sexton and Roethke—look a touch constipated compared to your average Facebooker. How eagerly lives become doggerelized. What does it mean for the memoir as a form now that everyone, at any time, can instantaneously advertise his life to everyone else? Mailer never dreamed of such advertisements for the self … In this new ethos of endless self-advertisement, the memoir assumes a renewed responsibility, one that exceeds confessionalism.”
  • As music-streaming services come to dictate our listening habits and, to an increasing degree, our taste, we risk losing sight of the enormous emotional variance across genres. What makes sad songs sad, for instance, and how do songwriters from very different molds—Adele, Slayer, Nick Drake, Mozart—inflect their songs with sadness? Ben Ratliff investigates: “What is sadness in sound per se? Nothing. It doesn’t exist. There is no note or kind of note that in and of itself is sad and only sad … The construct of sadness, and the attendant contract that it helps build between musician and listener, has to do with how we might recognize it person-to-person: through silence and dissonant long tones, or through agitation and mania; through closed systems of harmony or phrasing, or through unnervingly open and dark ones. We hear it through voices and through instruments. And as listeners agree to play by the official rules of sadness, so do most musicians, and so do most singers, imitating the sound of instruments … There is a culture around any music, and how you understand that culture influences how you hear. Listening is augmented hearing, hearing through certain layers.”
  • “I love you madly … There is never a moment in which I do not adore you.” “I live and exist only to love you—adoring you is my only consolation.” Are these the words of friends or lovers? Hard to say when their authors are from the eighteenth century. These quotations are drawn from letters between Marie Antoinette and Axel von Fersen, the Swedish Count with whom she’s suspected to have had an affair. But with emphasis on that “suspected”—historians have yet to find conclusive evidence of their tryst.
  • If you’re bored and looking for your next big project, maybe it’s time to rethink space. All of it, and your relation to it. As George Musser writes, “In the past twenty years, I’ve witnessed a remarkable evolution in attitudes among physicists toward locality … Over and over, I heard some variant of: ‘Well, it’s weird, and I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen if for myself, but it looks like the world has just got to be nonlocal’ … Instead of saying that space brings order to the world, you can say that the world is ordered and space is a convenient notion for describing that order. We perceive that things affect one another in a certain way and, from that, we assign them locations in space.”

I Wrassled a Bear, and Other News

January 13, 2016 | by

From White Boy, Garrett Price/Sunday Press, via NYRB.

  • Sometimes I lose sleep worrying about the colors of the world, fearing that some of them will disappear forever as manufacturing processes change and our planet’s pigment chemists quietly swap, say, one shade of aubergine for another, slightly inferior shade. But we needn’t worry. The Forbes Pigment Collection, presently housed at the Harvard Art Museums, is dedicated to preserving historic colors. “Later Forbes hired scientist Rutherford John Gettens, who examined the chemistry of pigments and innovated tools like a microsampler for taking art specimens. Now conservators can examine how a color has changed over time—like pararealgar, that was originally red and reacted with light into yellow—and the original components of art through the pigment library.”
  • So your home was featured in a popular motion picture! That’s swell. That’s just grand. I’d be happy to stop by and have a look, because, you know, I’m in the market for a—oh, oh it was in Silence of the Lambs, you say? I see. And nearby, “there’s a creepy-looking tunnel, which some visitors suspect is haunted. There’s an old, rusty bridge that crosses the Youghiogheny River and serves as the main access route to the nearby town of Perryopolis. The isolated location is perhaps the perfect place for a fictional killer to set up shop”? Well, let me think on it. I’ll get back to you sometime.
  • In the 1930s, a Wyoming newspaperman named Garrett Price started to draw White Boy, a comic about, yes, a young white male who was captured by Indians and adopted into their tribe. (The strip later took the slightly less inadvisable title Skull Valley.) Now, the entire three-year run of White Boy has been reissued and it is … let’s say it’s illuminating as to the predilections and prejudices of its era. “Price’s character Trapper Dan Brown was a familiar frontier type, with a high opinion of himself and a low opinion of Indians,” Thomas Powers writes of it: “In one strip Trapper Dan challenges Lark Song, a noted orator in his tribe, to best if he can a song Dan has written. One verse goes: Oh, I don’t like books / and I don’t like tea, / I wrassled a bear / when I was three. Ki-Yi-Yippy-Yippy Yea.
  • A new collection of Walker Evans’s photography finds him in cinemas and junkyards, subways and ice-cream shops—the book shows “an artist who was constantly evolving; he was sampling new ideas, techniques, and technologies. Anything new or curious was of interest. When he advised the artist to ‘Stare, pry, listen, eavesdrop,’ he was speaking from his own experience. It could have been his personal mantra.”
  • Patti Smith has been reading Frida Kahlo’s love letters to Diego Rivera, with attention to one in particular: “They didn’t have a passionate relationship that dissipated and was gone. They had an earthly human love as well as the loftiness of a revolutionary agenda and their work. The fact that this isn’t a profound letter makes it in some ways more special. She addressed it to ‘Diego, my love’—even though this is the most mundane, simplest correspondence, she still noted their love, their intimacy. She held the letter in her hands, she kissed it with her lips, he received it and held it in his hands. This little piece of paper holds their simplicity and their intimacy, the earthiness of their life. It contains the sender and the receiver.

A New Kind of Refinement

August 26, 2015 | by

Guillaume Apollinaire and Madeleine Pagès in December 1915.

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 »

Meet Me in Treasondale, and Other News

March 27, 2014 | by

Here_lieth_a_temperance_man_--_cartoon

 

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