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Posts Tagged ‘women’

The Favorite Game

September 19, 2014 | by

Leonard Cohen in love.

leonard cohen

Cohen in 1988.

“Desperation is the mother of poetry.”
—Leonard Cohen

Like most people, I remember the first time I had sex pretty well. I can recall the surprisingly adept flirting I carried off beforehand, and the moment of pleasant shock when she kissed me. I remember how we stayed in bed until three the next day and how when we finally got up, faint from hunger, we went to eat at a greasy spoon that had a little jukebox by each table. I have no idea what I ordered, but I do remember that she got a grilled cheese sandwich. In the next year and a half that we were together, I don’t know if she ever ate another one.

We all have memories like that, jumping out of oblivion like buoys in the water. The facts might be fuzzy, but the moments are clear. Leonard Cohen describes such a memory in his first novel, The Favorite Game, published in 1963, when he was twenty-nine:

What did she look like that important second?

She stands in my mind alone, unconnected to the petty narrative. The color of the skin was startling, like the white of a young branch when the green is thumb-nailed away. Nipples the color of bare lips. Wet hair a battalion of glistening spears laid on her shoulders.

She was made of flesh and eyelashes.

Cohen, who turns eighty on Sunday, is exceptionally good at drawing out those moments of sexual crystallization. It’s a skill that, along with his gravelly voice and poems about women’s bodies, has given him a reputation for being a “ladies’ man.” Judging by the adoring crowds at his shows, it’s a reputation he deserves.

Yet it isn’t success with women that accounts for Cohen’s particular vision, even if his fame as a lover may have, over time, borne the fruits of self-fulfilling prophecy. Rather, his work is shot through with fears of physical deficiency and sexual deprivation, loneliness and insecurity. “He could not help thinking that … he wasn’t tall enough or straight, that people didn’t turn to look at him in street-cars, that he didn’t command the glory of the flesh,” he writes of his autobiographical protagonist in The Favorite Game. Decades later, in his 2006 poetry collection Book of Longing, Cohen confessed: “My reputation as a ladies’ man was a joke / that caused me to laugh bitterly / through the ten thousand nights / I spent alone.” Read More »


Diego, Frida, and Me

March 20, 2013 | by

Molly's Factory

Molly’s Factory

When a woman artist looks for her forebears, she sees a void.

There are, needless to say, great female artists. There’s Tamara de Lempicka, queen of art deco. There’s Artemisia Gentileschi, forever in paintings, cutting off her rapist’s head. There’s love-ravished Camille Claudel, making the hands of her lover Rodin’s sculptures before being institutionalized for forty years. There are Mary Cassatt’s paintings of children. But it can’t be denied: the canon of Western woman’s art is nothing compared to the canon of Western woman’s writing.

Noted Audre Lorde, “Of all the art forms, poetry is the most economical. It is the one which is the most secret, which requires the least physical labor, the least material, and the one which can be done between shifts, in the hospital pantry, on the subway, and on scraps of surplus paper.” While a writer may require only a room of one’s own, an artist needs years of training, muses, a studio, canvas, paints, patrons, and, fundamentally, a world that lets her be grubby and feral and alone.

Growing up, the women in art history who inspired me were primarily models: Victorine Muerent. La Goulue. Far from pampered, indolent odalisques, these are sexy, tough, working-class women, often with backgrounds in the sex trade. Notable contrasts to the genteel girls who studied flower painting along with piano and embroidery, my archetypes were flamboyant, glamorous self-creations, unabashedly employing themselves as their own raw materials in a world that would give them nothing else. I too worked as an artist’s model. For an artist, the job is a paradox: you’re clay for someone else’s creation while longing to make your own. Read More »


Festival Guide: A List of Don’ts for the Lady Music Writer

March 13, 2013 | by

Image via

Image via

  • Don’t be fun. “Fun” is your former life. Now you are expected to responsibly imbibe all of the complimentary beverages available to you over the course of the ten hours (per day) you are attending live sets (even if they are stone boring), factoring in an extra two to three hours set aside for the after- and after-after-parties. If you insist on remaining fun, you should be sober, like, one-beer sober or recovering-alcoholic sober. And if you’re sober and not semifamous, be aware there is a forty percent chance that band people will be less inclined to chat with you. It’s all right; they’re going to give the hastiest interview possible. It’s a festival.
  • Don’t be a music journalist when you’re broke, even if it’s the primary way you earn income from your writing. Among other reasons, if you’re broke, you’ll drink the free alcohol. Too much of it, probably. Read More »


Cougar Lit, Gender Confusion

August 20, 2010 | by

Is there a story or book that can shed light on whether a woman should sleep with men she doesn't love or know very well? Younger men, specifically? —A. Chesterfield

You're in luck! This is pretty much the animating question behind French literature of the last two hundred years, starting with Adolphe (no) and ending with The Sexual Life of Catherine M. (yes). No book puts the question more starkly than Colette's masterpiece, Cheri (yes and no: sex is tragic). Non-French novels have reached some memorable conclusions of their own. Good Morning, Midnight, for instance (sex is tragic: get me a drink), or The Piano Teacher (hell no). (But skip it and see the movie.)

Most novels, it has to be said, fall into the no column. The stories of Maupassant give one long resounding yes. You might begin with "A Country Excursion." This story shocked Tolstoy, with good reason—it is a cannon-blast against the nos. The movie version, Jean Renoir's A Day in the Country, is lighter hearted. And if light-hearted is what you want, check out the Hungarian Stephen Vizincey's 1965 novel In Praise of Older Women or Mario Vargas Llosa's linked bagatelles In Praise of the Stepmother and The Notebooks of Don Rigoberto (yes, yes, yes, yes, YES).

Read More »


Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010)

June 1, 2010 | by

When Louise Bourgeois published “The View From the Bottom of the Well,” a seminarrative portfolio of prints, in The Paris Review (Fall 1996), she seemed already to be gazing up from the grave. Bourgeois, who died yesterday at ninety-eight, had been long enjoying a kind of afterlife as a celebrity sculptor, with work that made improbably explicit the themes that had animated her work from the nineteen fifties and nineteen sixties—the human body and its vulnerability, the threat of predation, sexuality both grotesque and ever-present.

That afterlife owed quite a lot to a 1982 photograph by Robert Mapplethorpe, which showed a grandmotherly Bourgeois fondling her phallic sculpture Fillette. And when she began in her seventies and eighties to receive major commissions and museum retrospectives, the acclaim seemed as much personal as aesthetic, the exhibitions inspired as much by her engaging biography and confessional personality as by the work itself, which could hardly be reduced to the story of childhood trauma. Longtime followers knew that Bourgeois was much more than Spiderwoman, and in the summer of 1984, at perhaps the peak of her fame, the Review published a small portfolio of her drawings from the fifties—as a kind of reminder, it seems, that though her work was often engrossingly personal it was also, at its best, arcane. Below, a slide show of her two portfolios from The Paris Review:


Drawings from the 1950s, Summer 1984


Drawings from the 1950s, Summer 1984


Drawings from the 1950s, Summer 1984


Drawings from the 1950s, Summer 1984


Drawings from the 1950s, Summer 1984


Drawings from the 1950s, Summer 1984


Drawings from the 1950s, Summer 1984


The View From the Bottom of the Well, Fall 1996


The View From the Bottom of the Well, Fall 1996


The View From the Bottom of the Well, Fall 1996


The View From the Bottom of the Well, Fall 1996


The View From the Bottom of the Well, Fall 1996


The View From the Bottom of the Well, Fall 1996


Drawings from the 1950s, Summer 1984