Clotheshorse

To the next person who mocks my love of clothing or scorns my (frequent) inability to find something to wear, I will hand them a copy of any volume of Virginia Woolf's diary and say, "Read."

Apparently, she was just as concerned as I (and just as guilt-ridden about wasting valuable brain cells on the topic of adornments).

Clotheshorse

To the next person who mocks my love of clothing or scorns my (frequent) inability to find something to wear, I will hand them a copy of any volume of Virginia Woolf's diary and say, "Read."

Apparently, she was just as concerned as I (and just as guilt-ridden about wasting valuable brain cells on the topic of adornments).

"the perfumed silkiness of a geranium"

Jan van Huysum's Basket of Flowers

Sylvia Plath's "Tulips" begins:


The tulips are too excitable, it is winter here...

And then:

The tulips are too red in the first place, they hurt me.
Even through the gift paper I could hear them breathe
Lightly, through their white swaddlings, like an awful baby.
Their redness talks to my wound, it corresponds.
They are subtle, they seem to float, though they weigh me down,
Upsetting me with their sudden tongues and their colour,
A dozen red lead sinkers round my neck.

Nobody watched me before, now I am watched.
The tulips turn to me, and the window behind me
Where once a day the light slowly widens and slowly thins,
And I see myself, flat, ridiculous, a cut-paper shadow
Between they eye of the sun and the eyes of the tulips,
And I have no face, I have wanted to efface myself.
The tulips eat my oxygen.

Before they came the air was calm enough,
Coming and going, breath by breath, without any fuss.
Then the tulips filled it up like a loud noise.
Now the air snags and eddies around them the way a river
Snags and eddies round a sunken rust-red engine.
They concentrate my attention, that was happy
Playing and resting without committing itself.

The walls, also, seem to be warming themselves.
The tulips should be behind bars like dangerous animals;
They are opening like the mouth of some great African cat,
And I am aware of my heart: it opens and closes
Its bowl of red blooms out of sheer love of me.
The water I taste is warm and salt, like the sea
And comes from a country far away as health

I purchased a pot of rosemary this afternoon, along with a large bloom of chrysanthemums. And as much as I love the above poem, they do not have quite the same effect as Sylvia's bunch of tulips.

I was seized by a craving to have living things in my apartment with me, more specifically, to have living shards of history and language and growth. I can spend hours with my copy of Fuchs' Herbal, flipping through the illustrations of Seaside Balsam, fever-few, heartsbane, hollyhocks, coskcomb etc. The meticulous drawings do not, however, breathe as much life as the names accorded to each tiny specimen of verdant life. As I walked through the greenmarket at Union Square yesterday, I was struck by the plethora of names we have for flowers and herbs and plants. And the poetry of those names! Hyssop and Hog's Fennel; Lady's Mantle and Mountain Laurel; False Damiana and Saw Plametto. They're as aromatic and savory as the plants themselves. And so, by bringing a pot of chrysanthmums into my home, I have brought a word which never fails to delight me when I say it (aloud, or silently and to myself).

I have so many beloved memories of little growing things. Of the marigolds I used to plant in the garden that smelled of tomato vines and soil; of the spears of snapdragons, the cornflowers that were so difficult to pluck, the morning glories that wilted as quickly as they sprung back. I remember lilies of the valley and grape hyacinth and those straw flowers that prick and crackle and retain their color long past their life. I especially loved those flowers that smelled more of earth than of perfume. Marigolds, chrysanthemums, geranimus. Strange biting smells that lingered.

There is something about an herb or a flower that always makes me think of lost knowledge. There is an entire language to these little sparks of nature, a language that gifted names for very particular reasons. The knowledge of a plant's usefulness, its history, its life--these are things which are no longer easily accessed. We don't easily commune with the things that spring forth from the earth; there is no desire to. But they never fail to delight me, with their scents, their abundance or delicacy, with their attendant insects. To feel the waxiness of the leaves or the paper-smooth elasticity of a petal.

To have plants in my home is to feel my life a bit differently, in a growing, gleaming way.

"the perfumed silkiness of a geranium"

Jan van Huysum's Basket of Flowers

Sylvia Plath's "Tulips" begins:


The tulips are too excitable, it is winter here...

And then:

The tulips are too red in the first place, they hurt me.
Even through the gift paper I could hear them breathe
Lightly, through their white swaddlings, like an awful baby.
Their redness talks to my wound, it corresponds.
They are subtle, they seem to float, though they weigh me down,
Upsetting me with their sudden tongues and their colour,
A dozen red lead sinkers round my neck.

Nobody watched me before, now I am watched.
The tulips turn to me, and the window behind me
Where once a day the light slowly widens and slowly thins,
And I see myself, flat, ridiculous, a cut-paper shadow
Between they eye of the sun and the eyes of the tulips,
And I have no face, I have wanted to efface myself.
The tulips eat my oxygen.

Before they came the air was calm enough,
Coming and going, breath by breath, without any fuss.
Then the tulips filled it up like a loud noise.
Now the air snags and eddies around them the way a river
Snags and eddies round a sunken rust-red engine.
They concentrate my attention, that was happy
Playing and resting without committing itself.

The walls, also, seem to be warming themselves.
The tulips should be behind bars like dangerous animals;
They are opening like the mouth of some great African cat,
And I am aware of my heart: it opens and closes
Its bowl of red blooms out of sheer love of me.
The water I taste is warm and salt, like the sea
And comes from a country far away as health

I purchased a pot of rosemary this afternoon, along with a large bloom of chrysanthemums. And as much as I love the above poem, they do not have quite the same effect as Sylvia's bunch of tulips.

I was seized by a craving to have living things in my apartment with me, more specifically, to have living shards of history and language and growth. I can spend hours with my copy of Fuchs' Herbal, flipping through the illustrations of Seaside Balsam, fever-few, heartsbane, hollyhocks, coskcomb etc. The meticulous drawings do not, however, breathe as much life as the names accorded to each tiny specimen of verdant life. As I walked through the greenmarket at Union Square yesterday, I was struck by the plethora of names we have for flowers and herbs and plants. And the poetry of those names! Hyssop and Hog's Fennel; Lady's Mantle and Mountain Laurel; False Damiana and Saw Plametto. They're as aromatic and savory as the plants themselves. And so, by bringing a pot of chrysanthmums into my home, I have brought a word which never fails to delight me when I say it (aloud, or silently and to myself).

I have so many beloved memories of little growing things. Of the marigolds I used to plant in the garden that smelled of tomato vines and soil; of the spears of snapdragons, the cornflowers that were so difficult to pluck, the morning glories that wilted as quickly as they sprung back. I remember lilies of the valley and grape hyacinth and those straw flowers that prick and crackle and retain their color long past their life. I especially loved those flowers that smelled more of earth than of perfume. Marigolds, chrysanthemums, geranimus. Strange biting smells that lingered.

There is something about an herb or a flower that always makes me think of lost knowledge. There is an entire language to these little sparks of nature, a language that gifted names for very particular reasons. The knowledge of a plant's usefulness, its history, its life--these are things which are no longer easily accessed. We don't easily commune with the things that spring forth from the earth; there is no desire to. But they never fail to delight me, with their scents, their abundance or delicacy, with their attendant insects. To feel the waxiness of the leaves or the paper-smooth elasticity of a petal.

To have plants in my home is to feel my life a bit differently, in a growing, gleaming way.

Too Much

Whistler's Purple and Rose: The Lange Lijzen of the Six Marks


I am saturated with work, with fatigue, with the watery world of Proust's memories (Volume Six: Here I come!).

And I'm longing for open vistas, for crisp gusts of wind, for the crackle of leaves trampled over in sturdy boots. I'm longing to spend more than 15 minutes in the cool sunshine of autumn. I want this weekend to be a swirl of thought, studded with a trip to the new Vollard exhibit, the careful transcription of my notes on Proust, a plunge in the water, and visits with old friends.

I'd like cups of earl grey with shortbread; a pot of greek yogurt, and some fresh apples.

I want to spend time at my window, shutters thrown open, feet on the sill, reading and looking down onto the tops of the linden trees lining my street. Those dusty-grey trunks and powdery-green leaves, just turning up at the edges. Hans Castorp took the song Der Lindenbaum into his heart where it lived as something uniquely his and ever-renewing. I want a song in my heart, wings on my feet, and a forest canopy over my head.

I want to find a grey dress, sharp in its lines and soft in its color. A cobalt blue sweater, a silk scarf with a William Morris print, a pair of cognac-colored leather boots.

I'd like for a cat to keep me company as well, a robust Maine Coon with tufts of hair on its ears, or a silent Russian Blue with knowing, amber eyes. I've always had cats, but they've been family pets; now I'd like a cat of my own, with a name like Ivan the Terrible or Catherine the Great.

Most of all, I'd like an organic weekend, not at all curated or arranged, I'd like it to spring forth naturally, uncurling itself and lingering.

Too Much

Whistler's Purple and Rose: The Lange Lijzen of the Six Marks


I am saturated with work, with fatigue, with the watery world of Proust's memories (Volume Six: Here I come!).

And I'm longing for open vistas, for crisp gusts of wind, for the crackle of leaves trampled over in sturdy boots. I'm longing to spend more than 15 minutes in the cool sunshine of autumn. I want this weekend to be a swirl of thought, studded with a trip to the new Vollard exhibit, the careful transcription of my notes on Proust, a plunge in the water, and visits with old friends.

I'd like cups of earl grey with shortbread; a pot of greek yogurt, and some fresh apples.

I want to spend time at my window, shutters thrown open, feet on the sill, reading and looking down onto the tops of the linden trees lining my street. Those dusty-grey trunks and powdery-green leaves, just turning up at the edges. Hans Castorp took the song Der Lindenbaum into his heart where it lived as something uniquely his and ever-renewing. I want a song in my heart, wings on my feet, and a forest canopy over my head.

I want to find a grey dress, sharp in its lines and soft in its color. A cobalt blue sweater, a silk scarf with a William Morris print, a pair of cognac-colored leather boots.

I'd like for a cat to keep me company as well, a robust Maine Coon with tufts of hair on its ears, or a silent Russian Blue with knowing, amber eyes. I've always had cats, but they've been family pets; now I'd like a cat of my own, with a name like Ivan the Terrible or Catherine the Great.

Most of all, I'd like an organic weekend, not at all curated or arranged, I'd like it to spring forth naturally, uncurling itself and lingering.

A Tangled Skein

borrowed

I have long been working at unravelling my semi-coalesced theory pertaining to the construction of a human mind, a life, a person in the fullest sense of that world. I encounter fragments of my theory-in-infancy in the works of other thinkers and writers, sometimes in an arrested moment, sometimes in a casual, almost unnoticed phrase or remark, but it always returns to me, such that I wonder if someday this will be my study, my pursuit, my magnum opus in a sense.

Today I was tracking down a volume of Virginia Woolf's diary, after having spent a few hours re-reading parts of Orlando, one of the best novels I have ever read, and so I was very caught up in the tangles of my non-theory, wondering about the thread of consciousness that makes a person appear to be so different at so many points in their life.

Proust helps as well--he is fantastic at elucidating the very thing that Orlando embodies: that human beings are both one and many, that they have many facets, each different and even opposed to the other; he asks how a person that one can know intimately, can spend every day with, can watch sleeping, waking, infuriated, enrapt will forever retain a core of mystery, a misty center veiled from view and most likely (most certainly?) unknown to them as well.

And musing upon this I came across an article on knot theory, of all things, in the latest issue of Cabinet magazine and was struck by the description of Borromean knot as a 3-dimensional knot made of 3 closed circles which do not intersect one another. These knots are described in Not Knot, a movie I was familiar with at the library, created by The Geometry Center at the University of Minnesota in the 80s.

I was struck bcause I had never thought of knots as a possible model in my own theory of personality. I used to imagine something akin to A.N. Whitehead's corpuscular strands with an enduring-ness about them, but not sclerotic or static at all. But knots seem to get to the essential this and not that about a person. The unmistakability, the undeniability that persists through the myriad of changes that any one person will experience. The links of the knot are boundaries, but they move and change and revolve, just as the triple helix of DNA is often shown as a spiraling strand.

The knot is clearly made up of three limits, the three links that twine together, but it is also clearly made up of necessary empty space, the space that creates the knot as it keeps the links separate from one another.

Just as any given personality will have some persisting elements, like Orlando's enduring desire for "Life!" or "A Lover!", the knot is composed of those three necessary links. But within them is the space for an infinitude of occurences; occurences which my mind, tutored rudely in Lobachevskian geometry, and even more rudely in modern physics, balks at thinking of.

But isn't it so much more beautiful to imagine a human personality as something which is clearly a specific thing, but which also wears a myriad of masks, costumes, habits, and even ways of being throughout its persistance. An ever-changing knot of life, a focus of energy with its own unique vibratory pattern (another one of my half-cracked theories), and always circling around the vein of the unkown, that essential artery from which everything must spring and to which everything must return.

A Tangled Skein

borrowed

I have long been working at unravelling my semi-coalesced theory pertaining to the construction of a human mind, a life, a person in the fullest sense of that world. I encounter fragments of my theory-in-infancy in the works of other thinkers and writers, sometimes in an arrested moment, sometimes in a casual, almost unnoticed phrase or remark, but it always returns to me, such that I wonder if someday this will be my study, my pursuit, my magnum opus in a sense.

Today I was tracking down a volume of Virginia Woolf's diary, after having spent a few hours re-reading parts of Orlando, one of the best novels I have ever read, and so I was very caught up in the tangles of my non-theory, wondering about the thread of consciousness that makes a person appear to be so different at so many points in their life.

Proust helps as well--he is fantastic at elucidating the very thing that Orlando embodies: that human beings are both one and many, that they have many facets, each different and even opposed to the other; he asks how a person that one can know intimately, can spend every day with, can watch sleeping, waking, infuriated, enrapt will forever retain a core of mystery, a misty center veiled from view and most likely (most certainly?) unknown to them as well.

And musing upon this I came across an article on knot theory, of all things, in the latest issue of Cabinet magazine and was struck by the description of Borromean knot as a 3-dimensional knot made of 3 closed circles which do not intersect one another. These knots are described in Not Knot, a movie I was familiar with at the library, created by The Geometry Center at the University of Minnesota in the 80s.

I was struck bcause I had never thought of knots as a possible model in my own theory of personality. I used to imagine something akin to A.N. Whitehead's corpuscular strands with an enduring-ness about them, but not sclerotic or static at all. But knots seem to get to the essential this and not that about a person. The unmistakability, the undeniability that persists through the myriad of changes that any one person will experience. The links of the knot are boundaries, but they move and change and revolve, just as the triple helix of DNA is often shown as a spiraling strand.

The knot is clearly made up of three limits, the three links that twine together, but it is also clearly made up of necessary empty space, the space that creates the knot as it keeps the links separate from one another.

Just as any given personality will have some persisting elements, like Orlando's enduring desire for "Life!" or "A Lover!", the knot is composed of those three necessary links. But within them is the space for an infinitude of occurences; occurences which my mind, tutored rudely in Lobachevskian geometry, and even more rudely in modern physics, balks at thinking of.

But isn't it so much more beautiful to imagine a human personality as something which is clearly a specific thing, but which also wears a myriad of masks, costumes, habits, and even ways of being throughout its persistance. An ever-changing knot of life, a focus of energy with its own unique vibratory pattern (another one of my half-cracked theories), and always circling around the vein of the unkown, that essential artery from which everything must spring and to which everything must return.

The ideal Energeia


Manet - Bar at the Folies Bergere

I was unfair to Proust in my last post and he took sweet revenge; the last few hours of reading have left me with that delightful rapture which comes from dips into nostalgia and musing. Some of the most provocative passages in these volumes are so because they seem to me to be like portals: small windows through which I can glimpse a heaving sea waiting to be explored, experienced, overwhelmed by. Frequently, these portals open onto questions on art:

I had been able to apprehend the strange summons which I should henceforth never cease to hear, as the promise and proof that there existed something other, realisable no doubt through art, than the nullity I had found in all my pleasures and in love itself, and that if my life seemed to me so futile, at least it had not yet accomplished everything.

Or:

it is not true that those elements--all the residdum of reality which we are obliged to keep to ourselves, which cannot be transmitted in talk, even from friend to friend, from master to disciple, from lover to mistress, that ineffable something which differentiates qualitatively what each of us has felt and what he is obliged to leave behind at the threshold of phrases in which he can communicate with others only by limiting himself to externals, common to all and of no interest--are brought out by art, the art of Vinteuil like that of Elstir, which exteriorises in the colours of the spectrum the intimate composition of those worlds which we call individual, but which, but for art, we should never know.

I was walking through the Morgan Library's exhibit of Rembrandt's etchings and then through those spectacular halls of wealth and grandeur, and I was thinking that there must be nothing more challenging and yet more fulfilling than to be an artist. To be able to put outside of your own head something that you have felt or seen or loved or been repulsed by, to make it with your own hands, conceive it with your own mind, and then find it realized in the great open space of the world, no longer in your control but still entirely representative of some facet of your mind: how terrible and how yet how wonderful!

I used to want to be a muse, I think thats fairly common, but I also think that was a cop-out because I am terrified by the idea of true artistic capacity. Skill is something I can understand, in my brief sallies in different media (intricate embroidery, miniature fantastical drawings, pencil shaded views), I have always been able to execute quite easily. I am, however, fickle with my media and quite generally uninspired. No specific form of art persists for very long and I instead fall back on those easiest of "arts," writing sloppily. (This is another of my constant debates: the lack of curation or even editing in the way so many people write today).

But I long to have that crystallization of an idea, and then the meticulous and at times furious execution of it, and that final horrified pride at having created something that was supposed to be powerful and other, but has only ended up as some awful mannequin of a thought you're now sick of and never want to encounter again.

I feel a bit like Sartre's Roquentin, who, at the end of his upheaval of reality and perception and existence seizes upon the buoy we always have at hand:

Couldn't I try...Naturally, it wouldn't be a question of tune...but couldn't I, in another medium? ...It would have to be a book... A story, for example, something that could never happen, an adventure. It would have to be beautiful and hard as steel and make people ashamed of their existence.


The mind loves to close up when it is confronted with the greater, and I think this tendency has become even stronger today when there is just so much to divert one's attention from the abyss of dark thoughts that are clouded and confused and clothed in mystery. Even if we seize upon some piece of the puzzle, what is to be done with it? How is our truth, our gleaming shard of light, how is that communicated to another mind, itself dimmed by quotidien cares?

I imagine that the truly creative life would feel at times like the performance of a detailed autopsy on one's own living self: taking the bright scalpel to a memory and pulling it apart delicately, laying its parts out on the dry canvas and then glossing them over, re-arranging, blurring edges and fading out some of the pain felt in the process of taking something so intensely personal and bringing it into light and air.

There would also be pride, the hubris of one who has been able to step outside of himself and to bring a piece of himself along. The hubris of one who has created.

But I speak too much of a certain thread of the creative process, I know nothing of the ease of creation, that felicitous talent bestowed upon certain people who I will always envy no matter how hard I try not to. To be able to create, to express a thought in some way that persists, that is a gift that humanity often takes for granted, one which it never, ever should. It is the one activity that strives to build bridges and stride gulfs. It's the connectivity of the entire world, of the infinitude of individual, unknown little worlds.

The ideal Energeia


Manet - Bar at the Folies Bergere

I was unfair to Proust in my last post and he took sweet revenge; the last few hours of reading have left me with that delightful rapture which comes from dips into nostalgia and musing. Some of the most provocative passages in these volumes are so because they seem to me to be like portals: small windows through which I can glimpse a heaving sea waiting to be explored, experienced, overwhelmed by. Frequently, these portals open onto questions on art:

I had been able to apprehend the strange summons which I should henceforth never cease to hear, as the promise and proof that there existed something other, realisable no doubt through art, than the nullity I had found in all my pleasures and in love itself, and that if my life seemed to me so futile, at least it had not yet accomplished everything.

Or:

it is not true that those elements--all the residdum of reality which we are obliged to keep to ourselves, which cannot be transmitted in talk, even from friend to friend, from master to disciple, from lover to mistress, that ineffable something which differentiates qualitatively what each of us has felt and what he is obliged to leave behind at the threshold of phrases in which he can communicate with others only by limiting himself to externals, common to all and of no interest--are brought out by art, the art of Vinteuil like that of Elstir, which exteriorises in the colours of the spectrum the intimate composition of those worlds which we call individual, but which, but for art, we should never know.

I was walking through the Morgan Library's exhibit of Rembrandt's etchings and then through those spectacular halls of wealth and grandeur, and I was thinking that there must be nothing more challenging and yet more fulfilling than to be an artist. To be able to put outside of your own head something that you have felt or seen or loved or been repulsed by, to make it with your own hands, conceive it with your own mind, and then find it realized in the great open space of the world, no longer in your control but still entirely representative of some facet of your mind: how terrible and how yet how wonderful!

I used to want to be a muse, I think thats fairly common, but I also think that was a cop-out because I am terrified by the idea of true artistic capacity. Skill is something I can understand, in my brief sallies in different media (intricate embroidery, miniature fantastical drawings, pencil shaded views), I have always been able to execute quite easily. I am, however, fickle with my media and quite generally uninspired. No specific form of art persists for very long and I instead fall back on those easiest of "arts," writing sloppily. (This is another of my constant debates: the lack of curation or even editing in the way so many people write today).

But I long to have that crystallization of an idea, and then the meticulous and at times furious execution of it, and that final horrified pride at having created something that was supposed to be powerful and other, but has only ended up as some awful mannequin of a thought you're now sick of and never want to encounter again.

I feel a bit like Sartre's Roquentin, who, at the end of his upheaval of reality and perception and existence seizes upon the buoy we always have at hand:

Couldn't I try...Naturally, it wouldn't be a question of tune...but couldn't I, in another medium? ...It would have to be a book... A story, for example, something that could never happen, an adventure. It would have to be beautiful and hard as steel and make people ashamed of their existence.


The mind loves to close up when it is confronted with the greater, and I think this tendency has become even stronger today when there is just so much to divert one's attention from the abyss of dark thoughts that are clouded and confused and clothed in mystery. Even if we seize upon some piece of the puzzle, what is to be done with it? How is our truth, our gleaming shard of light, how is that communicated to another mind, itself dimmed by quotidien cares?

I imagine that the truly creative life would feel at times like the performance of a detailed autopsy on one's own living self: taking the bright scalpel to a memory and pulling it apart delicately, laying its parts out on the dry canvas and then glossing them over, re-arranging, blurring edges and fading out some of the pain felt in the process of taking something so intensely personal and bringing it into light and air.

There would also be pride, the hubris of one who has been able to step outside of himself and to bring a piece of himself along. The hubris of one who has created.

But I speak too much of a certain thread of the creative process, I know nothing of the ease of creation, that felicitous talent bestowed upon certain people who I will always envy no matter how hard I try not to. To be able to create, to express a thought in some way that persists, that is a gift that humanity often takes for granted, one which it never, ever should. It is the one activity that strives to build bridges and stride gulfs. It's the connectivity of the entire world, of the infinitude of individual, unknown little worlds.

Rembrandt helps me deal with my vitriol

Rembrandt's Self-Portrait of 1658 (Frick Collection)


I've been reading Proust, as I mention often enough, and I'm at the infuriating section in The Captive where the young Marcel betrays just how much of a pansy he actually is. I've always found it amusing how easy it is to dislike the character, to even think of him as a dissipated ninny (sort of where I am right now in my assessment of the guy). But at the same time as Marcel is saying aloud the sorts of things I would smack someone else for, he's thinking the most beautiful, provocative, and spot-on thoughts I've ever been privy to. So I forgive him for seeming like a girly-man and enjoy his swirling musings on the only way we can know human experience--through the filter of memory.

Nonetheless, these last 100 or so pages on jealousy have made me impressively annoyed and irritable. He lies in bed all day and thinks about this woman who he doesn't love but merely wants to possess--in the sort of way one possesses a plant (he doesn't even want her as a pet, but as something that is limited to respiration and immobility). He makes lofty speeches about how beautiful she is when she's asleep in his bed, or anchored to his arm, or entirely at the mercy of his call and desire, but as soon as there's the slightest suggestion of a life outside of being Marcel's mistress she becomes ugly in his eyes--and reprehensible.

Dealing with my vitriol has been difficult--for a dangerous few pages I was about to just flip forward and forget all of the speeches I was confident I could predict as loathsome. But I persevered, largely with the help of a splendid trip to the Frick.

I was fortunate enough to receive, as a parting gift from my previous librarian co-workers, an annual membership card to the Frick. This is one of my favorite galleries, right up there with the Wallace Collection in London and the National Gallery in DC. I used to imagine my own future home as something like a glorified and less dusty version of the library in the Frick. (I spent 0 hours imagining my wedding and countless ones planning my library...still do actually).

This was my first visit in quite some time and I found myself face to face with a lot of nostalgia, quite a few happy reunions, and one almost-tear-soaked encounter. It was as if I were walking through the vaults of my own memory, turning slowly and bemusedly to shake hands with the first forgotten face and lock eyes with the next well-loved gaze. As I smiled at the pink-checked courtiers and admired the lovely ladies of society, I found myself in the world of beauty that makes it effortless to forget quotidian affairs.

I was only slightly irritated by pat art commentary (whenever I visit a gallery solo I always wish everyone else had done so also and would remain silent...but I am just as guilty of that superfluous chat when I have a gallery companion), and entirely ensorcelled by one man.

Rembrandt is one of those historical figures who, to me, comes closest to what greatness must be. I don't know much about him, I only know that every time I encounter his art my breath catches a little bit and I feel that immediate, complete recognition of genius. His realism is of the sort I wish we would encounter more often in artworks-- complete and profound honesty to an idea, an image, a story, and most of all, to a craft practices by a man. There are no ulterior motives, nor are there pushy statements jumping off of the canvas. No frills, no variations, no gloss. It is as if Rembrandt has taken the story, pointed to the very quick of the meaning and then rendered that mysterious essence of idea/story/subject exactly as it should be.

I am not saying that his version of the Return of the Prodigal Son is the one and the only--I am saying that his version is what appears to me to be a complete realization of a specific vision. I am saying that when I stand in front of Aristotle with a Bust of Homer that I know exactly who is the creator of this beauty, and at the same time, I care little for the man and almost entirely for the gift he has made me in remaining so faithful to his vision, in being so exacting with himself.

It is this development of personality and skill and talent that struck me when I found myself eyes to eyes with the Self-Portrait of 1658. His stare is not self-deprecating or self-aggrandizing; it does not grasp after unseen laurels and courtly rewards; he is a powerful man, a talented man, a challenging man, but he confronts you not with condescension, rather with the same challenge he has put to himself. I stood in front of him and heard the statement "This is me, this is my expression of my idea of myself." A statement like that cannot be taken lightly, I immediately made the appropriate substitutions and asked myself what it would look like if the accumulated weight of my personality were to be displayed by my skill to an audience.

It's easy to turn coward under the scrutiny of an audience, but how much easier is it for us to turn blind eyes on ourselves--to ignore faults or indulge excesses? How difficult would it be to meticulously portray each crag in the skin, each shadow over the mind, each hidden shame or mis-step?

I stood in front of honesty and felt tears prick my skin; as people walked about me; as a beautiful de la Tour stood two paintings down and a Vermeer on the other side of the room; I stood in front of honesty and beauty and challenge and wanted to weep. But I didn't, I'm not yet honest enough (foolish enough?) to forget the audience we are each surrounded by.


(as an aside, and now that I have at least a few familiar commenters, I would love to hear what anyone else has been reading/viewing/being moved by lately. I'm a bit starved for some intelligent conversation)

Rembrandt helps me deal with my vitriol

Rembrandt's Self-Portrait of 1658 (Frick Collection)


I've been reading Proust, as I mention often enough, and I'm at the infuriating section in The Captive where the young Marcel betrays just how much of a pansy he actually is. I've always found it amusing how easy it is to dislike the character, to even think of him as a dissipated ninny (sort of where I am right now in my assessment of the guy). But at the same time as Marcel is saying aloud the sorts of things I would smack someone else for, he's thinking the most beautiful, provocative, and spot-on thoughts I've ever been privy to. So I forgive him for seeming like a girly-man and enjoy his swirling musings on the only way we can know human experience--through the filter of memory.

Nonetheless, these last 100 or so pages on jealousy have made me impressively annoyed and irritable. He lies in bed all day and thinks about this woman who he doesn't love but merely wants to possess--in the sort of way one possesses a plant (he doesn't even want her as a pet, but as something that is limited to respiration and immobility). He makes lofty speeches about how beautiful she is when she's asleep in his bed, or anchored to his arm, or entirely at the mercy of his call and desire, but as soon as there's the slightest suggestion of a life outside of being Marcel's mistress she becomes ugly in his eyes--and reprehensible.

Dealing with my vitriol has been difficult--for a dangerous few pages I was about to just flip forward and forget all of the speeches I was confident I could predict as loathsome. But I persevered, largely with the help of a splendid trip to the Frick.

I was fortunate enough to receive, as a parting gift from my previous librarian co-workers, an annual membership card to the Frick. This is one of my favorite galleries, right up there with the Wallace Collection in London and the National Gallery in DC. I used to imagine my own future home as something like a glorified and less dusty version of the library in the Frick. (I spent 0 hours imagining my wedding and countless ones planning my library...still do actually).

This was my first visit in quite some time and I found myself face to face with a lot of nostalgia, quite a few happy reunions, and one almost-tear-soaked encounter. It was as if I were walking through the vaults of my own memory, turning slowly and bemusedly to shake hands with the first forgotten face and lock eyes with the next well-loved gaze. As I smiled at the pink-checked courtiers and admired the lovely ladies of society, I found myself in the world of beauty that makes it effortless to forget quotidian affairs.

I was only slightly irritated by pat art commentary (whenever I visit a gallery solo I always wish everyone else had done so also and would remain silent...but I am just as guilty of that superfluous chat when I have a gallery companion), and entirely ensorcelled by one man.

Rembrandt is one of those historical figures who, to me, comes closest to what greatness must be. I don't know much about him, I only know that every time I encounter his art my breath catches a little bit and I feel that immediate, complete recognition of genius. His realism is of the sort I wish we would encounter more often in artworks-- complete and profound honesty to an idea, an image, a story, and most of all, to a craft practices by a man. There are no ulterior motives, nor are there pushy statements jumping off of the canvas. No frills, no variations, no gloss. It is as if Rembrandt has taken the story, pointed to the very quick of the meaning and then rendered that mysterious essence of idea/story/subject exactly as it should be.

I am not saying that his version of the Return of the Prodigal Son is the one and the only--I am saying that his version is what appears to me to be a complete realization of a specific vision. I am saying that when I stand in front of Aristotle with a Bust of Homer that I know exactly who is the creator of this beauty, and at the same time, I care little for the man and almost entirely for the gift he has made me in remaining so faithful to his vision, in being so exacting with himself.

It is this development of personality and skill and talent that struck me when I found myself eyes to eyes with the Self-Portrait of 1658. His stare is not self-deprecating or self-aggrandizing; it does not grasp after unseen laurels and courtly rewards; he is a powerful man, a talented man, a challenging man, but he confronts you not with condescension, rather with the same challenge he has put to himself. I stood in front of him and heard the statement "This is me, this is my expression of my idea of myself." A statement like that cannot be taken lightly, I immediately made the appropriate substitutions and asked myself what it would look like if the accumulated weight of my personality were to be displayed by my skill to an audience.

It's easy to turn coward under the scrutiny of an audience, but how much easier is it for us to turn blind eyes on ourselves--to ignore faults or indulge excesses? How difficult would it be to meticulously portray each crag in the skin, each shadow over the mind, each hidden shame or mis-step?

I stood in front of honesty and felt tears prick my skin; as people walked about me; as a beautiful de la Tour stood two paintings down and a Vermeer on the other side of the room; I stood in front of honesty and beauty and challenge and wanted to weep. But I didn't, I'm not yet honest enough (foolish enough?) to forget the audience we are each surrounded by.


(as an aside, and now that I have at least a few familiar commenters, I would love to hear what anyone else has been reading/viewing/being moved by lately. I'm a bit starved for some intelligent conversation)

To Play the Fool


There has been a little voice speaking from the back of my head lately, the slightly exasperating but acutely observant personality that likes to notice actions that betray themselves to analysis and critique.

I don't often dwell on personal things; It helps that I don't welcome instense relationships or tense situations into my life. I like my drama to be on canvases, in texts, on stage and in waves of beautiful sound curling around me. I like to feel my drama on the level of thought, not on the level of basic emotion. But all that means is that when I am confronted with some sort of personal trial, I'm not so good at managing it.

And that's a lot of unnecessary words to say that I'm just worried about the next step of applying and being accepted to a PhD program. I have no patience for following trends in academia; I have no desire to schmooze with the right people; I don't even know what the different catch phrases are in the worlds of academic philosophy and art theory. I used to think these were necessary and desirable things to know. I wanted to be able to construct bulleted outlines of philosophers, great ideas, shifts in paradigmatic belief and thought through time periods. When I was planning on a PhD in art history, I would want to be able to produce the same bulleted crap, only with key movements, shifts in patronage, introduction of techniques and visual representation.

I dropped every single on of those aspirations, along with the silly desire to be able to hear the name of some figure of historical or philosophic importance and immediately be able to list achievments, influences, importance. I actually wanted to know jargon (I despise jargon).

It all just felt so hollow, so entirely opposite of what my mind was actually moving toward. I love to imagine the sort of true erudition that can call up these bulleted lists and concise descriptions simply from a profound wealth of knowledge; a dynamic, coursing, changing stream closely held within the banks of the mind--but the lists and synopses shouldn't really come first, should they?

And so I thought I'd turn my back on "Academia," a place that sounds like it belongs in a painting by Watteau and recalls King Arthur's comment in Monty Python's In Search of the Holy Grail-- "On second thought, let's not go to Camelot. It is a silly place."

But I don't know how not to go! My mind is a feeble thing when it's not supported by the thoughts and conversation of a group of people. I don't think as well as when I am reading and discussing and moving forward. I can only muse on nature and lovely things for so long before I wish had instead fallen silent in the presence of some truly excruciating thought or idea. (For the record, that's not a glamorization...there really are excruciating thoughts and there are ideas that make you so uncomfortable within yourself, so utterly confused and be-riddled that nothing will do but to keep puzzling and working and trying).

So I'll go to this silly place where I'll again have to face pretension, where my own pretensions and inabilities will be trotted out and examined, where I'll fall in love with voices and minds, with certain lines of text and the odd full page. But to get there I must first jump through their hoops, be humbled by their terms and systems and structure.

Such fractured creatures we are, so full of certainty that we have achieved that unity or stability we thought we wanted, only until we remember those two classic phrases:

"Know Thyself"
"The unexamined life is not worth living"

There's another voice in my head that has a thick black mustache and likes to remind me that a dishonest life is one not worth living. He also likes to tell me to shut up before this post degenerates into a pity party chock full of sound bytes and furious rants, signifying nothing.

To Play the Fool


There has been a little voice speaking from the back of my head lately, the slightly exasperating but acutely observant personality that likes to notice actions that betray themselves to analysis and critique.

I don't often dwell on personal things; It helps that I don't welcome instense relationships or tense situations into my life. I like my drama to be on canvases, in texts, on stage and in waves of beautiful sound curling around me. I like to feel my drama on the level of thought, not on the level of basic emotion. But all that means is that when I am confronted with some sort of personal trial, I'm not so good at managing it.

And that's a lot of unnecessary words to say that I'm just worried about the next step of applying and being accepted to a PhD program. I have no patience for following trends in academia; I have no desire to schmooze with the right people; I don't even know what the different catch phrases are in the worlds of academic philosophy and art theory. I used to think these were necessary and desirable things to know. I wanted to be able to construct bulleted outlines of philosophers, great ideas, shifts in paradigmatic belief and thought through time periods. When I was planning on a PhD in art history, I would want to be able to produce the same bulleted crap, only with key movements, shifts in patronage, introduction of techniques and visual representation.

I dropped every single on of those aspirations, along with the silly desire to be able to hear the name of some figure of historical or philosophic importance and immediately be able to list achievments, influences, importance. I actually wanted to know jargon (I despise jargon).

It all just felt so hollow, so entirely opposite of what my mind was actually moving toward. I love to imagine the sort of true erudition that can call up these bulleted lists and concise descriptions simply from a profound wealth of knowledge; a dynamic, coursing, changing stream closely held within the banks of the mind--but the lists and synopses shouldn't really come first, should they?

And so I thought I'd turn my back on "Academia," a place that sounds like it belongs in a painting by Watteau and recalls King Arthur's comment in Monty Python's In Search of the Holy Grail-- "On second thought, let's not go to Camelot. It is a silly place."

But I don't know how not to go! My mind is a feeble thing when it's not supported by the thoughts and conversation of a group of people. I don't think as well as when I am reading and discussing and moving forward. I can only muse on nature and lovely things for so long before I wish had instead fallen silent in the presence of some truly excruciating thought or idea. (For the record, that's not a glamorization...there really are excruciating thoughts and there are ideas that make you so uncomfortable within yourself, so utterly confused and be-riddled that nothing will do but to keep puzzling and working and trying).

So I'll go to this silly place where I'll again have to face pretension, where my own pretensions and inabilities will be trotted out and examined, where I'll fall in love with voices and minds, with certain lines of text and the odd full page. But to get there I must first jump through their hoops, be humbled by their terms and systems and structure.

Such fractured creatures we are, so full of certainty that we have achieved that unity or stability we thought we wanted, only until we remember those two classic phrases:

"Know Thyself"
"The unexamined life is not worth living"

There's another voice in my head that has a thick black mustache and likes to remind me that a dishonest life is one not worth living. He also likes to tell me to shut up before this post degenerates into a pity party chock full of sound bytes and furious rants, signifying nothing.