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Called Back

October 30, 2013 | by

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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 For the first time since her death, almost all of her poetry, published and unpublished, finished and unfinished, appears together in high-resolution scans, just waiting for readers and scholars to page through it electronically.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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A Week in Culture: Angus Trumble, Curator, Part 2

July 29, 2010 | by

This is the second installment of Trumble's culture diary. Click here to read part 1.

DAY FOUR

5:30 A.M. I have been mining the poet, critic, journalist, playwright, sometime minor colonial official Richard Henry Horne (1802–1884). He was one of the most picturesque, occasionally lionized but accident-prone literary figures in Victorian Britain. According to his biographer Cyril Pearl, Horne “finished a wild and adventurous career as a rather pathetic, rather tiresome, very poor old man, living in two shabby rooms of a London apartment house, still determined, in his eighties, to be a distinguished man of letters. Forty year before, no one would have questioned his claim to the title. He had been extravagantly praised by Poe, who ranked him with Milton, and enthusiastically praised by Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning, by Carlyle and G. H. Lewes, by Leigh Hunt and Douglass Jerrold, and many other of his contemporaries. Critics spoke of him in the same breath as Browning or Tennyson. He was, for many years, one of Elizabeth Barrett’s most valued friends; Dickens, with whom he worked, had a warm regard for him; he was the patron, almost the discoverer, of Meredith…No writer ever affirmed the dignity of literature more, or himself behaved with less dignity.” Quite so.

1:30 P.M. The reason for my present interest in “Hengist” or “Orion” Horne is that I think he was the conduit through which the term “art for art’s sake” migrated from the neighborhood of French criticism in the 1830s (when in England “l’art pour l’art” was generally treated with disdain) and crash-landed in the circle of Algernon Charles Swinburne, Rossetti et al. during the 1870s, thereby laying a sort of foundation of Aestheticism in British art and letters. Horne was obviously insane. In 1873 he entertained the idea of representing Her Brittanic Majesty as consul-general in Tokyo, and duly sent to Mr. Gladstone in Downing Street, and to the Meiji Emperor complimentary copies of his privately printed Ode to the Mikado of Japan. Even if your command of the English language is surefooted, the text is truly bonkers—so goodness knows what Emperor Mutsuhito made of it.

There was a Dome, like midnight

Lit up by blood-red lightning!

And deep within

A demon din,

With many a sight

Of ghastly horror whitening

Faces and Forms, e’en while the flames were brightening!

The screams of those wild massacres

Long echoed down the shuddering years;

And yet we know the self-same creed

For which those proselyting [sic] martyrs died,

Hath caused unnumbered victims thus to bleed

Before its symbols deified1!...

To cover against the possibility that it might just be good, the Emperor sent back two lavish volumes of Japanese poetry. An invitation to tea with His Imperial Majesty’s Ambassador to the Court of St. James’s was thrown in also. To His Excellency’s dismay Horne promptly accepted it. Read More »

Annotations

  1. Horne seemed to feel that this evocation of the Japanese flag and the long imperial tradition of military prowess would come across as complimentary.

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A Week in Culture: Angus Trumble, Curator

July 28, 2010 | by

DAY ONE

4:45 A.M. Reviewing two new books about Caravaggio—books that are about as different from each other as it is possible to be: Caravaggio: A Life Sacred and Profane, by Andrew Graham-Dixon, and The Moment of Caravaggio, a series of illustrated lectures by Michael Fried. Almost everything we know about the man himself comes from evidence meticulously transcribed by hugely diligent notaries attached to the Roman civil and criminal courts: a litany of threats, assault, battery, and, ultimately, cold-blooded murder.

6:00 A.M. Until two years ago it was axiomatic that Caravaggio did not draw. Thanks to a new infra-red camera, however, we may now observe what was previously thought not to exist, namely short choppy lines in ink—unmistakable evidence of fairly extensive under-drawing by which the artist set down on the primed canvas his principal points of reference. There is also evidence of scored lines and even tracing, à la carbon paper. None of this overturns the basic fact that draftsmanship was not very important to him. But at least we now know Caravaggio certainly practiced it when he needed to, the crafty devil.

12:30 P.M. I am re-reading My Memories of Six Reigns, by H. H. Princess Marie-Louise, having some months ago suggested it as an ideal summer book for readers of the Yale Alumni Magazine, especially connoisseurs of that neglected subgenre of dotty royal memoir. “Cousin Louie,” as she was known, was the fourth child of Queen Victoria’s bad-tempered middle daughter, Princess Helena. Her book is a fantastically weird combination of out-of-sequence table-rapping reminiscence; reverent reflection upon the burdens of monarchy, and innumerable flecks of interesting detail1.

1:45 P.M. Louie’s Edwardian wedding to Prince Aribert of Anhalt was the bright idea of Cousin Willie, the Kaiser, but more accurately an example of his total lack of judgment. It seems the Prince was soon afterwards caught in flagrante with an attractive young male servant in, on, or more probably beside the marital bed, and, concluding from this that her marriage was no longer viable, Louie promptly undertook an extended tour of Canada and the United States. Returning to Britain she immersed herself in charitable and artistic work, set up a Girls’ Club in Bermondsey, kept an eye on her mother’s nursing homes, and lent modest support to the imperial trade in dried fruit. Wholly guileless, Princess Marie Louise is irresistible. Read More »

Annotations

  1. For example, during the darkest days of the Blitz, Louie and her older sister Thora (Princess Helena Victoria) were discreetly evacuated with the Polish ambassador and his family to borrowed accommodations in the attic of an old house near Ascot. She radically overstated the spartanness of the arrangement.

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