Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Night Mail (1936)

"But who can bear to feel himself forgotten?" The most significant film collaboration of the Auden-Britten working partnership is, happily, up on Youtube (in various renditions). Auden's sublime doggerel kicks in about 4 minutes from the end, as does Britten's perky score, first heard over the opening credits ("Sound Direction: Cavalcanti [top billing] Auden Britten").

Sunday, January 22, 2012

"massive and misleading"

Googling around for some enlightenment on John Glassco's "Villanelle," I came across this sentence in a review of Seminal in Xtra!

There's a massive and misleading typo in one of the poems (John Glassco's haunting "Villanelle") …

Since some of us are professional editors and have spotted many more typos in our readings than I have, I won't even venture out on this one but offer it up to them in the spirit of good fun!

Saturday, January 21, 2012


This is mainly to thank Tim for overcoming the technical problems I was having and getting me on to the blog. I'm looking forward to our discussion of The Habit of Art. I wonder if others also saw it at Studio Theater this past fall. I hope I can keep that (excellent) performance out of my head as I read, so I'm open to other possibilities.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Merrill's Ouija Board

[John sent this for me to post.]

The Yale Alumni Magazine Jan/Feb 2012 issue includes a short article about Merrill’s Ouija board, which has been given to Yale’s rare book library. The article is by Langdon Hammer, professor of English at Yale and author of James Merrill: Life and Art, a forthcoming biography. Here is most of the article (I’m omitting description of the poems etc.):

… Merrill received a store-bought Ouija board as a birthday gift from a friend in 1953. As a lark, he tried the board with David Jackson, a fiction writer he had just met, and it was an immediate success. So was his relationship with Jackson, who would be his companion in daily life and on the Ouija board for the next 40 years.
For the first 20 years of their collaboration, JM and DJ—as they were known to the spirits—treated the board as a peculiar evening diversion, to be shared with friends after dinner over wine or a joint. They made their own board, to which they added numbers and punctuation, and they used a tea cup as a pointer. With this apparatus, they chatted at ease with dead friends and famous literary figures … Merrill and Jackson’s homemade Ouija board and the dime store tea cup they used as a pointer—glued together after more than one occasion when the spirits pushed it off the table in a pique—are kept in Yale’s Collection of American Literature at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. [They] were a gift to the library from J.D. McClatchy ’74PhD, adjunct professor of English at Yale, editor of The Yale Review, and one of Merrill’s two literary executors [and editors of Sandover]. With his left hand on the cup, Merrill used his right to record letters, sorting the lexical lava into words and sentences. [A few transcribed pages of this record are pictured with the article. They] are inscribed to “dearest Sandy”—McClatchy’s nickname--by DJ and JM, who call it “a page saved from the pyre.” The “pyre” refers … to Merrill’s choice to burn the Ouija transcripts he used to write Sandover. The pages shown here made it to the Beinecke, however, safe with the board and cup.

McClatchy, I find by googling, now lives in Stonington. In Merrill’s and Jackson’s house? If so, do you suppose … spooky, possums!

The issue also includes an excerpt from an account by Thornton Wilder of his time at Yale, c. 1916-20. It is to be published in February of this year in Thornton Wilder, The Eighth Day, Theophilus North, Autobiographical Writings, ed. McClatchy. The editors’ note with this article says Wilder “was homosexual—though never openly so, probably not even to himself.” The excerpt talks about his being an “outsider” at Yale, but there’s no reference I can see, even subliminally, to being gay.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Glassco's Villanelle - some additional thoughts

The quote that I mentioned during our discussion of Villanelle is from Donne’s “The Ecstasy”:

    Love’s mysteries in souls do grow,
    But yet the body is his book.

After rereading Donne’s poem this evening, I think it is a very clever seduction poem.  I think that Glassco’s poem may be a dialog between a body and its soul about the causes of loneliness, but not a body and soul that are two totally distinct entities. The poem asks two unanswerable questions. It would be interesting to know the context of quote, or paraphrase, from St. Augustine.  I couldn’t find it even in the Catholic Encyclopedia.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

"timeskip and gadabout"

So Merrill, describing the narration in "Book of Ephraim"—something we commented on but nowhere near so neatly. (Yes, I'm continuing … Mirabell — it's not getting less loopy.)

Monday, January 9, 2012

Party Time Proust, or Parting Glances

I've been snacking on the imperishable carcass of this beached whale, off and on, for many years. I had read the first two volumes and wondering whether it was worth the effort skipped ahead and read the last three-hundred pages … and decided it was!

All Proust, like Gaul, is divided into three parts: narration, impressions, and commentary. The commentary—echoing Flaubert on Tolstoy one might say he psychologizes—too often seems trivial, false, or incomprehensible. The impressionistic passages (I tell myself) are good for my soul. Much of the narration are parties. There are nine of them. Most of what we read was the sixth, the grand Guermantes soirée. These are for me the best part, certainly the most fun. Someone at our meeting said nothing ever happens in Proust. But something's always happening in the parties, usually somebody behaving badly. Nothing would be happening in a party if Proust sat off by himself describing his feelings of … (whatever … ) boredom—and analyzing them.

I had thought I would never read all of Recherche. I was bored with Swann's jealousy. How would I put up with two volumes of Marcello Gelosiato!? Our reading, however, has suggested to me that I may. People often talk about the best time for reading Proust being a long summer on a slow steamer to nowhere. Alternatively, nibble away, a few pages a day, somewhat à la Swann, in this long-running Gaulois. Even skip selectively through—or to—the jealousy passages, leaving the infill for later.

Our discussion, covering less than a tenth of the whole, could never be complete, could only be radically incomplete because there's so much to consider from the whole that cannot be seen in the parts until one has read (or at least read about) them all. Even if you've no wish to read Proust further, I recommend looking at Roger Shattuck's "field guide" Proust's Way. Reading about Proust for some people may be more rewarding than actually reading him!

And finally my awe of those early readers. A wit once remarked that Proust whether or not a great writer requires great readers. I wouldn't qualify as one, with my guides and synopses and indices and what not, but those first readers, venturing out onto that sea of ink, having no idea where they'd end up—whether they'd end up—simply enjoying the billow of the sail, the creak of the boards, the smell of the salt … it's humbling.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Edmund White on Proust

This is an excerpt from Edmund White's essay on Proust in his new collection of essays Sacred Monsters :

"Modern readers are responsive to Proust's tireless and brilliant analyses of love because we too no longer take love for granted. Readers today are always making the personal public, the intimate political, the instinctual philosophical. Proust may have attacked love, but he did know a lot about it. Like us, he took nothing for granted. He was not on smug, cozy terms with his own experience. We read Proust because he knows so much about the links between childhood anguish and adult passion. We read Proust because, despite his intelligence, he holds reasoned evaluations in contempt, and understands that only the gnarled knowledge that suffering brings us is of any real use. We read Proust because he knows that in the terminal stage of passion we no longer love the beloved. The object of our love has been overshadowed by love itself. Proust writes:

and this malady, which Swann's love had become, had so proliferated, was so closely interwoven with all his habits, with all his actions, with his thoughts, his health, his sleep, his life, even with what he hoped for after his death, was so utterly inseparable from him, that it would have been impossible to eradicate it without almost entirely destroying him. As surgeons say: his love was no longer operable.

Proust may be telling us that love is a chimera, a projection of rich fantasies onto an indifferent, certainly mysterious surface. But nevertheless, those fantasies are undeniably beautiful, intimations of paradise, the artificial paradise of art."

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Proust on Film

You can go directly to track 12 on the Kino DVD of "Time Regained" (1999) for the late, great Chilean director Raul Ruiz's enactment of Marcel's accidentally-on-purpose "drop by" of Jupien's male brothel, circa 1915. Book IV's signal voyeuristic event of Marcel espying Charlus's perverse encounter with Jupien in the courtyard, is re-echoed in Book VI: only this time, Marcel rather awkwardly lugs a chair to an open transom, mounts it, and watches Charlus being flogged by one of the brothel's denizens. John Malkovich speaks French very slowly in his insinuating reedy tenor, and makes for a very seedy Charlus. In Ruiz's film we see him go to the dogs over his nasty passion for Morel (Vincent Perez), becoming a shadow of his formerly vainglorious self. Pascal Greggory is a throughly obnoxious Saint-Loup. A superb rendition of Proust's world, for those who have read the first third of Book IV, and want to know how the characters end up.

Parenthesizing Proust

We talked last night about the difficulty of reading Proust, particularly his long sentences. The longest sentence in Recherche is supposed to occur in the middle of Proust's essay on "inversion." But it's merely eight semi-colons in search of a period. Proust becomes daunting when he inserts one thought within another thought within another: parenthesis, em-dash, colon etc. I challenge anyone to read and understand the following on the first trial through. (Background: Bloch has introduced Marcel to the easy women in brothels.)

So that if I owed to Bloch—for his “good tidings” that happiness and the enjoyment of beauty were not inaccessible things that we have made a meaningless sacrifice in renouncing forever—a debt of gratitude of the same kind as that we owe to an optimistic physician or philosopher who has given us reason to hope for longevity in this world and not to be entirely cut off from it when we shall have passed into another, the houses of assignation which I frequented some years later—by furnishing me with samples of happiness, by allowing me to add to the beauty of women that element which we are powerless to invent, which is someting more than a mere summary of former beauties, that present indeed divine, the only one the that we cannot bestow upon ourselves, before which all the logical creations of our intellect pale, and which we can seek from reality alone: an individual charm—deserved to be ranked by me with those other benefactors more recent in origin but of comparably utility (before finding which we used to imagine without any warmth the seductive charms of Mantegna, of Wagner, of Siena, by studying other painters, hearing of other composers, visiting other cities): namely illustrated editions of the Old Masters, symphony concerts, and guidebooks to historic towns.

This Moncrieff-Kilmartin-Enright translation occurs in "Madam Swann at Home," the first part of Within a Budding Grove (specifically the "Revelations about love" rubric from the Synopsis). Even after having made sense of this—after performing the kind of segmentation-anaysis one is sometimes in need of with Cicero—I doubt I could read it aloud and have anyone understand it … which constitutes a pretty far mark in the lands of unreadability!

how "temps" flies …

when you're reading Proust!

   Happy New Year!