I’ve spent a lot of time guddling around the Daily archive of late. There are many joys attendant to this, not least the expansion of that tragic category, Literature I Should Already Be Familiar With. This rapid multiplying of “known unknowns” is the reason I’m reading a Christmas poem, T. S. Eliot’s “The Cultivation of Christmas Trees,” in March. Casey N. Cep’s Daily article does a perfect job of describing the history behind Faber’s Ariel Poems series, to which Eliot’s piece belongs, so I’ll direct you there instead of rehearsing it here. Perhaps after reading, you’ll do as I did and buy yourself a springtime Christmas present: one of the slim original pamphlets from 1954. They’re beautiful. So beautiful, in fact, that I can’t really justify holding on to it—I know my Christmas-loving mother would appreciate it far more than I do. Reluctantly, next December, I’ll give it away. Thank heavens it’s not yet April. —Robin Jones Read More
Ennio Morricone is responsible for some of the most recognizable soundtracks in cinema. He’s been the go-to composer for Sergio Leone, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Brian De Palma, and many others. He’s especially renowned for his spaghetti western themes, which helped establish the mood of the genre. In 2007, Morricone received an Academy Honorary Award, and in 2016, he won an Academy Award for Best Original Score, for The Hateful Eight. Here, he discusses one of his other great passions: chess.
How about playing a round?
Rather than playing a game, you’ll have to teach me how to play the game.
[We pull out a very elegant chessboard, which Morricone keeps on a table in the living room of his home, where we are seated.]
What’s your first move?
I usually open with the queen, so I’ll probably start with her, although once the great chess player Stefano Tatai advised me to open on E4, which reminds me a lot of the figured bass.
Have we already started talking about music?
In a certain sense … In time, I’ve discovered that strong links exist between chess and the musical notation system, set up as it is in durations and pitches. In chess, the two dimensions remain spatial, and time is what players have at their disposal in order to make the right move. In addition there are horizontal and vertical combinations, different graphic patterns, just like musical notes in harmony. Even still, one can pair patterns and plays as if they were instrumental parts in an orchestra. The player who doesn’t start—who has been assigned black chess pieces—has ten moves to choose from, before it is again the opponent’s turn—white chess pieces. The number of possible moves then grows exponentially with the following plays. This makes me think about counterpoint. There are analogies between the two disciplines—if one is interested in looking for them—and progress in one field oftentimes is linked to progress in the other. It is not by chance that mathematicians and musicians are generally among the best chess players. Take Mark Taimanov—an exceptional pianist and chess player—Jean-Philippe Rameau, Sergei Prokofiev, John Cage, my friends Aldo Clementi and Egisto Macchi. Chess is related to mathematics and mathematics is related to music, as Pythagoras claimed. And this is all the more true for the kind of music Clementi composed, a music substantively based on tone rows, numbers, and combinations … the same key elements as in chess.
Ultimately, music, chess, and mathematics are all creative activities. They rely on graphical and logical procedures that also involve probability and the unexpected. Read More
In Valerie Stivers’s Eat Your Words series, she cooks up recipes drawn from the works of various writers.
Any writer who has recently been the subject of a film starring Keira Knightley can be said to be having a moment, and this is especially true of Colette (1873–1954), a star of the belle epoque Parisian literary scene whose life lends itself well to the themes of our own time. Colette, born Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, was a gender nonconformist more than a hundred years ago who adopted her surname as a one-word moniker. She was born to prosperous parents in the French village of Saint-Sauveur-en-Puisaye, and at twenty years old, with a “little pointed face,” a “well-made body,” and braids that touched her calves like “whips” or “reins,” she made an improbable love marriage to “Willy” (Henry Gauthier-Villars), a wealthy thirty-four-year-old Parisian aristocrat and publishing impresario. Willy was the ultimate networker, a critic, society hound, and a provocateur who ran a workshop where impecunious young writers pumped out popular novels under his name. He brought his countrified young bride to Paris and was disowned for the ensuing scandal.
Colette quickly went to work for him, and the series of semierotic autobiographical novels she wrote as “Willy,” which begins with Claudine at School, was “one of the greatest, if not the greatest” success stories in French literature, according to a contemporary. Colette’s biographer Judith Thurman even credits her with having invented the teenage girl. Later Claudine books reveal the queer and genderqueer ferment in Parisian society at the time (Proust was a contemporary); Colette’s affairs with women, including Mathilde de Morny, Marquise de Belbeuf, a woman who dressed as a man and went by “Missy”; and Colette and Willy’s open marriage, which could be considered an early attempt at polyamory. The approach of the Keira Knightley movie is to portray Colette’s struggles to leave Willy, regain the rights to her work, and begin writing under her own name as a feminist parable.
As a person allergic to orthodoxies, I never want to like the writer who is having a moment, especially when the reasons are ideological (even when the ideologies are ones I mostly share). I’d been resisting Colette until cracking a spine and discovering, like most of Paris did once before me, that she’s irresistible. Read More
In our column Poetry Rx, readers write in with a specific emotion, and our resident poets—Sarah Kay, Kaveh Akbar, and Claire Schwartz—take turns prescribing the perfect poems to match. This week, Sarah Kay is on the line.
I am in love, and yesterday I helped the man I love pack all of his belongings and board a bus bound for a city far, far from me. That was his plan before we met six months ago. I am so, so happy for him and the fresh start he has made for himself. But I am also grieving the loss of him and of us, because even though I will visit in a few months, after that, everything is very unsure. Our lives were always headed in different directions and this was likely the only time our paths would or could cross. I am grateful for the time I had with him and how easy it was to feel much more for him than I had ever planned. I am also grateful for the friendship that we plan to carry between us into the future, but the sadness right now is heavy. I’m hoping there is a poem that might speak to this feeling of loss and joy and grief and gratitude. I know I could certainly use something like that.
In Love and Out of Time
Innumerable nudes are scattered across millennia of art history, but none look like Alice Neel’s. With radical frankness, she painted bodies outside the scope of most visual art: those of pregnant women, of children, of a blissfully domestic couple peeing in a bathroom. There’s a touch of the surreal to her demonic reds and sickly greens—and, as often accompanies the surreal, there’s also a touch of the uncomfortably alive. The subjects stare out from the canvas and feel uncannily real. But Neel rejected traditional realism. Of her style, she once said: “I hate equating a person and a room and a chair. Compositionally, a room, a chair, a table, and a person are all the same for me, but a person is human and psychological.” Instead of the omnipresent male gaze, here the gaze is Neel’s, in which nakedness is not explicitly sexual and body parts can assume proportions untethered from the purely representational. A mother’s breasts sling out like red-tipped yams. A penis, thin and long, slithers like an enoki mushroom. A child’s hands clutch and creep like opera gloves filled with hay. Through April 13, David Zwirner will host “Alice Neel: Freedom,” a new exhibition of significant paintings and works on paper from Neel’s six-decade career. Below, we present a selection of the glorious nudes for which she’s known.
In order to become a member of the World Association of Ugly People, you need to be assessed. In the clubhouse of the Association, known by locals as Club dei Brutti, the president, a stocky man named Gianni with a lopsided goatee, produces a card featuring the official Club dei Brutti ugliness rating system: non definita (undefined), insufficiente (insufficient), mediocre, buona (good), ottima (great), straordinaria (extraordinary). Gianni examines my face and body quickly but thoroughly. Then, on a membership card on which he has written my name, he checks off the box marked “insufficiente.” At first, I’m confused by this designation and the ranking system as a whole. I can’t tell whether insufficiente means I am insufficiently attractive (and therefore ugly) or insufficiently ugly (and therefore not eligible to join the organization). As it turns out it’s the latter. Gianni signs my card anyway, thereby designating me the 31,310 member of Club dei Brutti. “Time makes us all ugly,” he explains.
I have not really come to Piobbico, a small village between two mountains in central Italy, to join the organization. Rather, I’m here for Club dei Brutti’s annual Festival of the Ugly, where thousands of self-identified ugly people gather in the town square to celebrate ugliness and cast their votes for the club’s president. But it is hard to observe life in Piobbico, whose ties to the hundred-and-fifty-year-old organization are inextricable, without inadvertently becoming a participant. This is in part because Piobbico is small, in terms of both its geography and its population of just under two thousand. But the more time I spend here, the more I attribute this feeling of inherent involvement to something else about the village: a panoptic sense of being watched. The people in Piobbico look at each other: women hanging laundry call out to passersby from flung-open windows; men sit in front of bars in long rows rather than circles, ogling local women as they smoke; children shout “Ciao!” from their bicycles to people they appear not to know. (I realize that all of this sounds too picturesque to be true, but indeed, Piobbico feels like something straight out of an Elena Ferrante novel.) There is nowhere to hide here; no action goes unseen. To be in Piobbico is to be on display, to perform, to be known. I wonder how anyone stands it. Read More