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Posts Tagged ‘Yale’

To Learn Something

September 10, 2014 | by

This remembrance of our founding editor, Peter Matthiessen, originally appeared in the Summer 2014 issue of Hotchkiss Magazine; we’re grateful to the staff and to Lewis Lapham for allowing us to publish it.

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Peter Matthiessen in the 1945 Misch, the Hotchkiss School’s yearbook.

I first encountered Peter Matthiessen in the summer of 1949, on a beach at Fishers Island where he soon was pointing out the sights to be seen if one had the wit to see them—seven or eight species of seabird inshore and offshore, the likely change in the weather inferred by the wind veering around to the south, the Latin name for a nearby snake or crab, the probable catch in the hold of a trawler bearing east by north on the far horizon.

The meeting had been called by my godmother and Peter’s father, long-abiding friends whose houses on the island were a short distance from one another; by both parties it was thought that Peter could tell me what to look out for at the Hotchkiss School, from which Peter had graduated in 1945 and at which I was a member of the class embarking upon its lower middle year. I was fourteen, Peter seven years older, a senior at Yale tormenting himself with the ambition to become a writer of important books. Literature in those days was understood to be a noble calling, the high and not easily traveled road to light and truth.

The first question put to Peter about Hotchkiss proved to be the last. He didn’t wish to discuss what he deemed to be an ornamental pillar of the bourgeois status quo, and so as the afternoon went on (many fish to be seen and named, further sightings of sandpipers and gulls) I was surprised by the likeness of his interests and turns of mind to those of Mr. George Van Santvoord, the headmaster of the school with whom Peter seemed to share not only a love of words and nature but also the courage to lead an examined and examining life. Before the day was done I’d compounded the likeness of Mr. Van Santvoord with that of the druid, Merlyn, in T. H. White’s The Sword in the Stone, one of the books on the school’s list of suggested summer reading. By the time I returned to the lamps being lit on my godmother’s sundeck, it had occurred to me that Peter’s teachings on the shore of the Atlantic Ocean not only resembled those of Mr. Van Santvoord’s to the Hotchkiss woods squad but also those that under the walls of Camelot Merlyn had vouchsafed to the young King Arthur: Read More »

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French in Action

June 5, 2014 | by

Mourning Pierre Capretz.

robert-et-mireille

“Robert,” in his ubiquitous Yale T-shirt, with the fetching “Mireille” in a still from French in Action.

I carry vivid memories of a boy named Robert, who insisted on wearing his horrible Yale T-shirt everywhere—to Chartres, to La Closerie des Lilas, to that seedy little rental-car hub on the Boulevard Périphérique, even (sacré bleu!) under a white blazer. What tone-deaf Ivy League foolishness, I remember thinking. The corollary bummer was that Robert wasn’t a caricature of the average American exchange student; he was more or less the ideal version thereof. He bopped through France, always encountering the lovely Mireille, who seemed to appear—without explanation or apology, and often without a bra—around the country’s every corner. And most important, he took every conceivable opportunity to improve his French. Robert was in Paris not to chase tail but to learn the language, to become a citoyen du monde. And yet he insisted on wearing that horrible Yale T-shirt everywhere

Such were my first high school impressions, in 1999 and 2000, of the video pedagogy of French in Action, the language course cum TV series that taught me (and millions of other Americans) the rudiments of the Francophone lifestyle.

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Pierre Capretz

French’s wild-haired emcee, Pierre Capretz, died earlier this year, in Aix-en-Provence, at eighty-nine. Capretz’s eyes always brimmed with mischievous possibility. He struck me as Henry Kissinger’s magnanimous French cousin, a man whom the world had weathered in the best possible way, imbuing him with wisdom and a philosophical cheer without which no one who teaches French in America can stay sane.

As I learned more about Capretz, I started to get the jokes, which, of course, included the Yale T-shirt that Robert seemed never to wash. My teacher-guru, Madame Demaray—a sanitization of de marais, “from the swamp”—had helped Capretz beta-test the program at Hotchkiss, a very swish prep school that had taken me in; it wasn’t terribly far from Yale, for which Hotchkiss’s founders hoped to groom their young men and eventually (thank God) their young women. Relations between the two schools were still cozy in the sixties, seventies, and eighties, and Mme. Demaray worked closely with Capretz as he developed his legendary regimen for the oral and aural teaching of French, imparting knowledge through a long-form video narrative that moved with the rhythms of a mystery novel. My teacher, with whom I was in half in love as one is with a glamorous great-aunt, told me in private about the million-plus dollars Capretz had gambled in making French in Action: about securing funding from the CPB and from WGBH in 1985, about the multiple heart attacks he suffered during the scripting, filming, and editing of part two. I saw my hispanoparlantes classmates toting Destinos and realized that the workbook/video/language-lab triad owed its current pedagogical vogue to Capretz, who believed, correctly, that the musical tools of language might succeed where 501 French Verbs had failed. Read More »

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Called Back

October 30, 2013 | by

emily-dickinson-large

Emily Dickinson published only ten poems. Printed in various newspapers, her verses all appeared anonymously. It was not some failure of contemporary taste but her own decision that kept the rest of her poetry private. Dickinson wrote in one poem that “Publication—is the Auction / Of the Mind of Man—” and indeed she seems to have felt there was something crass, even violative about fixing one’s words in a particular arrangement of type, surrendering them for a price.

And yet, I am grateful to have been able to pay small sums of money for her poetry. A few complete editions, two selected volumes, and one pocket collection: new and used, hardback and paperback, her poetry has always been something for which I was willing to pay. I dreamed of sitting by the fire with my Emily Dickinson while someone I loved sat reading Robert Frost. I collected all these copies of her poetry so that no matter where I went, I would be ready for those dangling conversations.

But the books I gathered have gotten to rest these last few days as I’ve spent hours clicking away in the Emily Dickinson Archive. For the first time since her death, almost all of her poetry, published and unpublished, finished and unfinished, appears together in high-resolution scans, just waiting for readers and scholars to page through it electronically.

The first poem I ever received by e-mail was one by Emily Dickinson. Ten years ago, on what would be one of my last true snow days, when school was cancelled and all the world was covered in possibility, a teacher sent me an e-mail: “Don’t forget to put down the books and enjoy some of this winter wonderland,” she wrote, and then beneath her signature included the text of Emily Dickinson’s “It sifts from Leaden Sieves.” Read More »

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Strangers

December 30, 2011 | by

We’re out this week, but we’re re-posting some of our favorite pieces from 2011 while we’re away. We hope you enjoy—and have a happy New Year!

Laurel Nakadate, still from Stay the Same Never Change, 2008, 93 minutes.

When I was in high school, the few friends I had all lived in other states—the far-flung gains of various summer camps—which meant that I took a lot of long train trips on weekends. On these rides, I developed the habit of sitting next to a very specific kind of stranger: a middle-aged man who looked lonely. The goal was to find someone who’d talk nonstop. That was how I met Tom Malone: on the train from New York to Raleigh. Over the course of the eight-hour journey, he talked about everything from his government job to his pit bull’s separation anxiety. He told me he used to braid his ex-wife’s hair every night, back when they were married. He explained in detail the reasons Amtrak’s business model was bound to fail. He said my name a lot, and with formality: “Here’s the thing, Jean,” and so on.

I’d never felt safer in my life, sitting next to Tom—his belly like a life raft, and me nodding like a therapist. At one point though, he ruined the spell. He said, “You look exactly like that girl Lennon dated. What’s her name.”

“Yoko Ono?” I said.

“No, no, not Yoko Ono. Oh, darn it. May. May Pang? You know her? Lost weekend?” I didn’t know her. And I wanted us to go back to talking about him.

About five years ago, when I first saw the work of artist Laurel Nakadate, I could have sworn that she had cast Tom in one of her videos, which feature middle-aged, sometimes overweight, mostly white men who had approached her in the street or hit on her in parking lots. In return, she’d invited them to go home with her and act out strange one-on-one scenarios in front of video cameras. We see them shaking her inert body and yelling, “Wake up! Wake up!” or performing an exorcism, or sharing a birthday cake. In a scene from I Want to Be the One to Walk in the Sun (2006), her hirsute costar strips down to his loose-fitting underpants, while she takes off everything but her bra and panties. Then, with her index finger, she traces a clockwise circle in the air over his head. It’s a signal for him to spin around, which he does, while she watches, unblinking and tender.  Read More »

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Staff Picks: Dioramas, Donald Young and Stardom

September 9, 2011 | by

I’ve been reading Ben Jeffrey on Philip Roth’s later novels and our sometime special tennis correspondent Louisa Thomas on Donald Young and stardom. –Lorin Stein

This week I stumbled across the artfully nostalgic Welcome to Pine Point. Developed by the creative team behind Adbusters and billed as an interactive documentary, it explores the memories of a now-vanished mining town. It’s part film, part photo album, and completely fascinating. –Deirdre Foley-Mendelssohn

A conundrum: two petite biographies from Yale’s Jewish Lives series—Joshua Rubenstein’s Leon Trotsky and Vivian Gornick’s Emma Goldman. Which to read first? Sorry, Lev, the anarchist woman wins. –Nicole Rudick

A friend just drew my attention to an article in the June issue of Plum Hamptons by Taylor Plimpton about his father, touch football at the Matthiessens’, and the Review as seen from a child’s perspective: “Of my introduction long ago to the rich literary culture of the Hamptons,” it begins, “I remember best the nose-hair.” –L.S.

This is the last week to see the incredible diorama show at the Museum of Art and Design, “Otherworldly: Optical Delusions and Small Realities.” The title describes it well. –Artie Niederhoffer

Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life is kind of goofy, very uneven, and has an unwieldy third act. Still necessary viewing for the Serge-o-phile. And I thought Laetitia Casta made a stunning Bardot! –Sadie Stein

Recent perusal of a used book store turned up a Dover Thrift reprint of Clarence Cook’s 1881 The House Beautiful: Essays on Beds and Tables and Stools and Candlesticks. As a furniture enthusiast, I enjoyed its strong opinions on dining-room tables and wash-stands; as a New Yorker, I found it to be rather comforting. There’s just something nice about knowing that Victorian Manhattanites were packed in as uncomfortably as today’s: “In city houses, particularly in New-York, where I believe we are more scrimped for room ... even the richest people are obliged to squeeze themselves into a less number of square feet than in any other city in the world calling itself great. ” –Clare Fentress

Over Labor Day weekend I read Sailing Alone Around the World, Joshua Slocum’s 1899 memoir, because I’ll be damned if I give up the summery feeling of adventure without a fight. –Cody Wiewandt

I went to a garage sale this weekend that boasted a near-complete set of the now nonexistent hardcover Horizon magazine, and picked up a strange-looking issue with only a large gold Chinese character for “Tang” on the cover. Inside, I found an article on the dynasty’s turbulent history by one of my favorite writers, Emily Hahn. Definitely one of my better bargain finds. –Ali Pechman

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Staff Picks: Social Networks, David Foster Wallace

November 5, 2010 | by

Zadie Smith takes aim at The Social Network, writing, “It’s clear that this is a movie about 2.0 people made by 1.0 people.” It’s an assessment that echoes what Lawrence Lessig wrote for The New Republic a few weeks back: “But the most frustrating bit of The Social Network is ... its failure to even mention the real magic behind the Facebook story. In interviews given after making the film, Sorkin boasts about his ignorance of the Internet. That ignorance shows.” Agreed, but the truth is—you still gotta see it. In the same way everyone joins the real Facebook to complain about it, everyone sees the film in order to join the discussion. —Thessaly La Force

The weather’s turned; time to make a cup of tea and settle down with something melancholy. Jonathan Franzen’s elegy for David Foster Wallace, read at the New York memorial following his suicide two years ago, is a good place to start. Franzen’s heartache as he describes his friend’s ultimately doomed efforts to climb out of a hole of “infinite sadness” is palpable. Follow it up with “The Boy,” a previously unpublished DFW short story that recently appeared on the Internet. Sure, it’s depressing to remember that Wallace will never write anything new, but one can’t help but be grateful for the work he did leave us. —Miranda Popkey

Too much of what I read these days is distraction: an irritating flurry of sexist commentary on the DKE “no means yes” incident at Yale, and a dispiriting analysis of Bush’s attempt at image rehabilitation: “He seems to think that baffled surprise, on the part of a President, is somehow exculpatory. (It is not.)” So it was nice to curl up with something timeless and humanizing this week—Howards End, by E. M. Forster. Here are the Schlegel sisters at the end of the book: “The present flowed by them like a stream. The tree rustled. It had made music before they were born, and would continue after their deaths, but its song was of the moment. The moment had passed … Life passed. The tree rustled again.” Thanks, Mr. Forster. —Kate Waldman

For some good eighteenth-century gossip, read Doctor Augustin Cabanes’s Cabinet secret de l’histoire. It's not an easy book to find: You have to look for copies in carts along the Seine or in antiquarian shops, but they are fun to collect. Apparently, some aristocrats tried to pay Marie-Antoinette’s doctor, Seiffert, to start a rumor that the Queen could not conceive because of de Lamballe’s “moral influence.” De Lamballe was Marie-Antoinette’s attending lady and the envy of all the other ladies of the court. Which is probably why de Lamballe was the first woman to be guillotined during the Revolution, her flesh impaled upon a spike and paraded all over Paris. —Alexandra Zukerman

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