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Posts Tagged ‘Thomas Hardy’

The Return of the Glass Delusion, and Other News

May 11, 2015 | by

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Zoja Trofimiuk, Despair, 2012.

  • Chris Burden—who spent five days in a school locker, hammered a metal stud into his sternum, and had himself shot in the arm by a rifle from fifteen feet, all in the name of art—has died at sixty-nine. “Power was a central motif in Burden’s work. He approached it as an almost tactile, palpable material, one with visual, physical, emotional and social meanings … His work delved into the power of individuals, tribes and nations. Often he explored the realm of science and technology as distinctly modern manifestations of power’s dual capacity for the creation of magical delight or total annihilation.”
  • Send a (well-encrypted) thank-you note to the antiauthoritarian librarian in your life: “Librarians have frequently been involved in the fight against government surveillance. The first librarian to be locked up for defending privacy and intellectual freedom was Zoia Horn, who spent three week in jail in 1972 for refusing to testify against anti–Vietnam War activists. During the Cold War, librarians exposed the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s attempts to recruit library staffers to spy on foreigners, particularly Soviets, through a national effort called the Library Awareness Program. The post-Snowden Internet age is no different.”
  • The county of Dorset, along the coast of England, gave Thomas Hardy “the pastoral landscapes that he is famous for describing; the farmland and heath with sandstone cottages, sheep pastures and Roman roads ending abruptly at dramatic seaside cliffs. And since Dorset is relatively unspoiled by modern development, it isn’t hard to imagine, with a squint of the eyes, the countryside as Hardy saw it.”
  • The Irish landscape, meanwhile, contains such well-documented beauty and blight that any writer who takes it on risks courting cliché—but why not try anyway? “Over the years I had avoided what I call ‘the landscape solution’ in Irish prose, whereby the writer puts the word ‘Atlantic’ or ‘bog’ into the story and some essential yearning in her character is fixed. But there I was myself, getting fixed on the green road, and it seemed to me that this was something I should allow myself to write about now.”
  • Today in living, breathing metaphors: people who think they’re made of glass. When glass was a new and seemingly magical material, glass delusions manifested relatively commonly; about midway through the nineteenth century, though, doctors began to see fewer and fewer of them. “It’s easy to assume society and culture are so changed that mentally ill people would no longer manifest this particular delusion. But a psychiatrist from the Netherlands has uncovered contemporary cases … The glass delusion has powerful contemporary resonance in a society in which anxieties about fragility, transparency, and personal space are pertinent to many people's experience of, and anxieties about, living in the modern world.”

Asylums Face the Wrecking Ball, and Other News

May 7, 2015 | by

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Greystone Park, in an old postcard.

  • In defense of Kim Kardashian’s book of selfies, which is “arguably emblematic of the disruptions in image production and consumption that have taken place over the past decade on a significant, even revolutionary level”: “Though their circumstances are hardly comparable, the Kardashians, like the Brontës, are a family of creative women, in the business of conducting narratives in which men come and go, but female relationships remain constant and meaningful.”
  • Harold Bloom presides over a tour of his stuffed animals: “Well, there’s Valentina, the ostrich, named after Valentinus, second-century author of The Gospel of Truth … this little baby gorilla, well, we call Gorilla Gorilla. And there is that famous original A. A. Milne donkey, Eeyore, and the last of our boys here, Oscar, the duck-billed platypus, named in honor of my hero, Oscar Wilde.”
  • We’re not in the habit of dispensing financial advice—we’re a nonprofit, after all—but if you’ve got 3.25 million quid just lying around, and you’re an extravagant person, you could do worse than buy this old manor house, once featured in Thomas Hardy’s The Trumpet-Major.
  • You could also do better, though. Say, by preserving one of America’s stately, nineteenth-century mental asylums, of which only fifteen remain. New Jersey’s Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital, for instance, built in 1876, is on the verge of demolition, despite its obvious historic significance.
  • Faulkner got the idea for Pylon, his underrated novel about daredevil fliers, from a conversation with Howard Hawks, in Hollywood: “I said, ‘Why don’t you write about some decent people, for goodness’ sake?’ ‘Like who?’ I said, ‘Well, you fly around, don’t you know some pilots or something that you can write about?’ And he thought a while, and he said, ‘Oh, I know a good story. Three people—a girl and a man were wingwalkers, and the other man was a pilot. The girl was gonna have a baby, and she didn’t know which one was the father.’”

Operation Keep Faulkner Sober, and Other News

March 3, 2015 | by

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William Faulkner, in 1954, in a portrait by Carl Van Vechten.

  • After Faulkner won the Nobel Prize, he was a hot commodity abroad—he traveled to many foreign lands to bang the drum for the U. S. of A., which would’ve been fine, had he not been such a lush. The State Department circulated a memo called “Guidelines for Handling Mr. William Faulkner on His Trips Abroad,” designed to help agents curb Faulkner’s drinking. Their advice ranged from the obvious (monitor his liquor cabinet) to the subtle: “Keep several pretty young girls in the front two rows of any public appearance to keep his attention up.”
  • Twenty-five years late, a novelist has at last completed and delivered her tenth-grade term paper on Tess of the D’Urbervilles. Her (perhaps convenient) conclusion: it’s about shame. “Like Tess, I spent a lot of time waiting to be found out: I worried that my adolescent failures would be exposed and that people would lose respect for me. Or love me less … Shame depends on an audience, and those who are ashamed become overly self-conscious. I’m aware, even now, of compensating for past mistakes.”
  • Why are there so many more aspiring writers than aspiring readers? “I try to take a philosophical, and I hope empathetic, view of it all. I mean, we’re all going to die, and we have a short time here on earth, and we all want to achieve distinction of some sort while we’re here. Meanwhile, we all have Microsoft Word installed on our desktops. We all already spend a lot of time typing. One way to leave one’s mark would be to, say, write a great symphony, but most people don’t know how to read music. Whereas more or less everyone does have the means to put down words on a page and save them and share them. That’s a great thing—I’m all for technology eliminating barriers to communication and expression—but it can lead to delusions. Just because you’ve written it doesn’t make it worth reading. And it’s depressing when people forget that you can’t be a good writer without first being a good reader.”
  • Paul Beatty has an enviable gift: he “can turn a sacred cow into hamburger with just one sentence.” His new novel The Sellout takes on race in America, sparing “no person or piety”: “The only tangible benefit to come out of the civil rights movement,” he writes, “is that black people aren’t as afraid of dogs as they used to be.”
  • René Magritte, comedian: “It’s noticeable that many of the techniques Magritte uses for creating his mysterious images are to be found in comedy writing. His pictures are frequently structured like jokes … relying upon a simple (almost mathematical) function, like reversal or negation.”

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The Bleared White Visage of a Sunless Winter Day, and Other News

January 14, 2015 | by

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Karl Hagemeister, Havelufer mit Kahn im Schneetreiben, 1895.

  • Which Thomas Hardy novel is the bleakest? A data-driven study looks at such criteria as “bleak events” (unrequited love, grinding poverty, animal genitalia-related injury), “bleakest words” (poor, alone, dead), and “bleakest quotes” (“The bleared white visage of a sunless winter day emerged like a dead-born child”).
  • Let’s keep things bleak and remind ourselves that the Internet isn’t killing the culture—it’s always been next to impossible to make a living in the arts. “‘You can make a killing in the theatre, but not a living,’ the playwright Robert Anderson is reported to have said in the mid-1950s—at the height, in other words, of government intervention and middlebrow respect for art.”
  • Bleaker still: “ ‘Brand’ may be an ugly word when applied to an author, literary agent Jonny Geller acknowledged, but it is only a shorthand for a way in which publishers are attempting to hold on to the reading public at a time when sales of print books are flat and electronic gadgets vie for readers’ attention.”
  • Because we’ve got a theme going, let’s investigate the history of influenza. “Some medical historians say that the virus goes back even further than the sixteenth century and into antiquity. They point to a suspiciously flu-like illness mentioned in writings dating as far back as 412 B.C.  Reports of ‘a certain evil and unheard of cough’ spreading through Europe in December 1173 cause some to believe flu pandemics have been around since the Middle Ages.”
  • And just to send it on home, it’s time to learn about anthropodermic bibliopegy, the art of making books from skin. For instance, “Burke and Hare were two serial killers in the early nineteenth century. They killed seventeen people. Essentially they were posing as body snatchers, but actually they were just killing everybody and selling the bodies to anatomists for dissection. So they’re caught, and Hare turns King’s evidence and Burke goes down for the crime. As added punishment, he is publicly dissected … They also took his skin and created all of these objects from it. One of the objects is a pocketbook.”

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T. S. Eliot’s “The Cultivation of Christmas Trees”

December 18, 2013 | by

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In 1927, Richard de la Mare had an idea for some Christmas cards. Because he was a production director at London’s Faber & Gwyer, his cards were festive poetry pamphlets that could be sent to clients and sold to customers for one shilling a piece. Because two years earlier Geoffrey Faber had lured a banker from Lloyd’s Bank to work as an editor at his publishing house, Faber & Gwyer had T. S. Eliot to contribute to the series.

Named for Shakespeare’s sprite, the Ariel poems each addressed the Christmas holiday or a seasonal theme. G. K. Chesterton, Thomas Hardy, D. H. Lawrence, Siegfried Sassoon, Vita Sackville-West, Edith Sitwell, and W. B. Yeats all contributed. The Ariel series followed a strict formula: identical cardboard bindings; title, illustrator, author, and occasionally an illustration on the cover; and two interior sheets folded to make four pages. The first page repeated the title information; the following three featured the poem and an original illustration.

T. S. Eliot wrote six poems for the series: “The Journey of the Magi” (1927), “A Song for Simeon” (1928), “Animula” (1929), “Marina” (1930), “Triumphal March” (1931), and, later when the series was revived, “The Cultivation of Christmas Trees” (1954). Only thirty-four lines long, that final poem is like a whisper in the whirlwind of dramatic plays and long poems that characterize most of Eliot’s later work. “The Cultivation of Christmas Trees” came decades after “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” (1917) and The Waste Land (1922), years after Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats (1939) and The Four Quartets (1943).

I think of Eliot’s Christmas trees every year around this time: when firs, pines, and spruces appear in living rooms, storefronts, and town squares around the country. Eliot wrote the poem when he was sixty-six years old. His voice is wizened, yet wistful as he reaches through all the years of his life to recover “the spirit of wonder” from his earliest Christmases. Though formal and serious, the poem seems almost saccharine when compared to his earlier work. It will surprise many that the poet of fragments and ruins eventually turned his attention to the pretty packages and bright lights of Christmas. Read More »

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In Proust’s Library

November 7, 2012 | by

Whether they follow an established tradition or rebel against it, whether they are authors of classics or are considered innovators, rare are the writers who were not also great readers. Proust was no exception to this rule; reading had always been his earliest and most important source of pleasure and stimulation, and it remained as such. He is distinguished from his colleagues, however, by the immense role that literature plays in his oeuvre.

Proust seemed incapable of creating a character without putting a book in his hands. Read More »

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