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Posts Tagged ‘love’


November 5, 2015 | by

Albert Bierstadt, The Burning Ship, ca. 1871.

How riveted I was by the illustration entitled The Burning Ship! Is a sinking frigate not phenomenal?

If, by the way, velvet footstools and the like can be whacked free of dust and brushed on Sundays, then authorial activity must be permitted as well.

Do I not feel, when I am exercising my intellect, exactly as if I were sitting in church? Drafting a prose piece puts me in a devotional frame of mind.

How terrifying a ship on fire is. Gazing at the picture, I said to myself: The mariners find themselves faced with the necessity of fleeing the fire; but they have nowhere to escape to but the water, and soon enough they’ll be trying to escape from that as well; yet they have no choice but to take refuge in it. Beautifully spread out, the water lies there like a meadow; not the tiniest wave disturbs this mirror that conceals unfathomable depths. The mirror’s expansiveness poses a threat to the ones in peril, those desirous of rescue. Beneath the water, unknown mountain chains extend. This fact is surely known to the better educated among the mariners, and this precise knowledge makes them feel significantly more forsaken than those who enjoy perfect ignorance in this regard. Education, though reliable and helpful, is also treacherous. Read More »

Come Here, Beloved
 New Fresh Beautiful Tale of a Painter

November 4, 2015 | by

Gustav Klimt, Die Freundinnen (The Girlfriends) (detail), 1916.

Come here, beloved new fresh beautiful tale of a painter, let me pacify you. I should like to bring up certain sensitivities with you. I do expect to elicit indignation. The painter’s wife wore wondrously pretty little knickers and had the most enchanting wrists and kneecaps. Her limbs were of a shimmering smoothness, slenderness, and purity, and now this marvel of a painterly spouse encountered the lady of a manor. “Oh, my dear girl,” said the lady, “won’t you please show me your assuredly darling sweet knickers?” The wifey instantly responded to this request, displaying her knickers, whereupon the tiller of the soil took it upon herself to reciprocate, displaying in her turn that which had been carefully hidden. The two exhibitrixes and assuagers of curiosity threw themselves with expressions of delight upon each others’ breasts. The lady of the manor said to the painter’s wife: “Do introduce me to your husband so that he can paint me in all my manor-lady splendor.” As the painter, whose name was Zahler, beheld these two knickerbocktrixes knickering in his direction, it dawned on him at once that a commission might be forthcoming. The gran’dame threw herself imposingly upon a velvet armchair that, with its presence, adorned the painter’s studio. “Your so amiable wife,” said she, “will frequently be found in my vicinity, and you, my dear portraitist, will frequently be moved to sigh a bit on this account, to calm yourself.” At once the painter set to work, valiantly swabbing away, and one can certainly declare his picture of the manor lady eminently successful with regard to color and form. A knickers anthem rang out jubilantly in the agricultural soul. The painter patiently embraced the sound. And the charming specimen of painterly wifeliness smiled.

This piece appears in Robert Walser’s Looking at Pictures, out this month from Christine Burgin / New Directions. Walser wrote it in October or November 1924; it was unpublished in his lifetime. Translated from the German by Susan Bernofsky.

The New Museum will host a celebration of Robert Walser on November 12.

The Eternal Ham

September 25, 2015 | by

Anne Vallayer-Coster, Still Life with a Ham, 1767.

Dorothy Parker is said to have been the author of one of the best quotes in history: “Eternity is a ham and two people.” Like many such quips, it’s hard to find the original source—although in this case, we can safely assume that life was certainly the direct inspiration. 

It’s not just that hams are big—they were even more massive in Parker’s day than they are now—or that a little of the salty meat goes a long way. It’s also the fact that a ham goes immediately from a thing of festive beauty (cue pineapple rings, scored surfaces studded with cloves, glistening patina) to a professional leftover. It goes very gentle into that good night. And, because it is cured, and because it can be used in so many ways, and because you can always, always scrape more meat off that bone—well, you’re really never justified in throwing it away. It’s with you for eternity. Read More »

Will They or Won’t They?

September 24, 2015 | by

The not-quite-romance of Eudora Welty and Ross MacDonald.

Eudora Welty and Ross Macdonald.

Some friendships hover between romantic and platonic, anchored to the latter by circumstance or fate. It’s a sitcom trope: the will-they-or-won’t-they couple, always teetering at the edge of love. But though TV demands a tidy resolution—the answer is almost always that they will, and do—in life such friendships often remain in limbo indefinitely, stretching on for years, even decades.

Such was the case for Eudora Welty and Ross Macdonald. By the time they became acquainted, in 1970, both were well established in their fields—Welty in that nebulous genre called Southern literature, and Macdonald in hard-boiled detective fiction. Welty’s stories and novels captured the voice of small towns in Mississippi; Macdonald, the pen name for Ken Millar, set his novels in Southern California, where he and his wife, Margaret, had settled. His books explored, through his Philip Marlowe–equivalent Lew Archer, the ways in which the dream of suburbia could turn twisted and nightmarish.

Welty was an avid reader of crime fiction, so much so that the now-defunct Choctaw Books in Jackson used to keep a pile of paperbacks on hand for when she stopped by. Though she went on to win a Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award, the only award Welty publicly displayed in her house was the Mystery Writers of America’s Raven Award, which she received in 1985 for being the Reader of the Year. She and Millar, by all accounts, had admired each other’s writing from afar for many years, but never connected. Then Welty published her novel Losing Battles, and Millar, using his real name, wrote her a brief, appreciative note. Read More »

Time Wasted

September 18, 2015 | by

From The Little Prince.

When we got married, my husband and I knew we didn’t want to do anything elaborate: we had neither the money nor the inclination and, in any case, we wanted to get the wedding over with and begin the marriage. (Proper weddings, as any bridal magazine will tell you, take months of preparation.) So: we agreed on a date, got our license, I bought a suit, and we went to City Hall with our siblings and our two dearest friends.

After the ceremony, we took the subway uptown and met our families for lunch. I’d booked the upstairs dining room of a venerable French restaurant because I knew the food would be good, and everyone would feel comfortable. Like everything else about the wedding, I must admit I didn’t give it too much thought; I knew the day would be nice no matter what and, for my life’s sake, very much hoped it would not be the most important. Read More »

In Which Mark Twain Perspires

July 20, 2015 | by

Sam Clemens in September 1867.

A letter from Mark Twain to John T. Moore, July 1859. Moore, also known as Tom, was an “old river man” and a longtime friend of Twain’s. More than twenty years later, in 1883, this note appeared in The Arkansas Traveler and was afterward reproduced by papers nationwide—a few weeks later, though, the Traveler’s editor, Opie Read, claimed it was a hoax, thus casting doubt on its authenticity. Today most Twain scholars believe it to be genuine, suggesting that the notion of a hoax was, itself, a hoax.

Memphis, July 6, 1859.

My Dear John:—

I have made many attempts to answer your letter which received a warmth of welcome perspiringly in keeping with the present system of hot weather; but somehow I have failed. Now, however, I screw myself down to the pleasant task. It is a task, let me tell you, and it is only by the courtesy of friendship that I can call it pleasant. Read More »