Tag Archives: drawings

In Praise of Annoyance

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2011 portrait of my annoyance by my then 9-year-old Augustus

The happenstance of the stacks is a wonderful thing. One finds a call number, consults the map and marches purposefully to the floor, section, stack on which the book they seek lays waiting. And then something happens. All the neighbors call out, “read me! read me!” You could say I am a sucker, or you could congratulate me on passing thousands of other books and resisting them all, save one. But with a title like Annoying I couldn’t even pretend to resist.

There’s never a time when a fly buzzing around your head isn’t annoying (24).

That’s for damn sure. And it turns out (contrary to popular belief) I am not a mad woman for getting thoroughly annoyed by a mosquito that conducted flybys over my head for a full hour before I had to wake up the other morning. Even when I begged it to simply bite me and be done with it, even when I covered my head with the pillow—it persisted.

According to Joe Palca and Flora Lichen, the authors of Annoying: The Science of What Bugs Us, there is a legitimate reason to be annoyed, and it does not solely depend upon your disposition. In the case of buzzing insects, it is the roughness of the sound (the change of amplitude over time) which is something that we notice and are hardwired to become annoyed by if the roughness is distracting. Which a mosquito’s is. It is not predictable: the sound starts and stops randomly, the volume a stochastic nightmare. And, we don’t like that.

The irritant alarm is ancient. Unlike smell and taste, which appear to have evolved multiple times over the course of history, the signal for irritation has been conserved since the Cambrian period. Our ancestors—in fact, the ancestors of all vertebrates and invertebrates—had this protein [TRPA1 which stands for “transient receptor potential A1” pronounced “trip-a-one”]five hundred million years ago, meaning these chemicals could have been annoying life on Earth for half a billion years (237).

So perhaps my one hour of mosquito torture pales a bit in comparison to that time frame. Still, it is actually helpful to know that these reactions are innate. It’s not just you. Or me. We don’t like overhearing cell-phone conversations, not because they are mostly inane, but because our brains prefer to predict. When you can only hear one side of the conversation you can not predict when the person is going to start talking again or how they might answer based on the other end. And this is annoyingly distracting. The distractibility of it gets in the way of simply re-focusing our attention. Our brains are mostly set up to help us make sense of the world and one could look at annoyance as a sort of first-defense mechanism. The brain is geared to let us know when it can not work optimally. Most of us don’t let annoyances become anything other than annoyances, and some of us should just let me others be annoyed when they are seriously annoyed (my friends, not un-coincidentally, tell me ‘annoying’ is one of my favorite words).

But what of annoying people?

Is it possible to come up with a shorthand test, one that simply measures how annoying someone is? (164)

According to Robert Hogan who runs a management consultant business—yes. He breaks “the annoying inventory” down into three parts: irritable, arrogant, and picky. In the book there are a series of questions you can answer true/false, or on a scale, to assess how annoying you may be. The problem is, of course, that one of the hallmarks of annoying people is that they do not know or believe that they themselves are annoying!

Annoying: The Science of What Bugs Us, is a fascinating book that covers a lot of ground: physics, chemistry, biology, psychology, sociology, anthropology, history, philosophy, and on and on. Being annoyed is a complex matter. But, I feel I have been helped in understanding myself and others better. I have, on occasion, been accused of being overly-anylitic, but I swear it does help me to be able to stop and analyze a situation— why is that person or thing annoying me? —Oh! because my brain is unhappy, or—oh! that’s right. because they are fucking annoying! Once I know the source it is easier to then deal with the problem, or keep the lid my annoyance accordingly. It is when annoyance flares into anger that people start to have real problems. So I  say, let’s all embrace our mild defender: annoyance. After all, to be annoyed is to be alive.

amor mi mosse, che mi fa parlare

Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux, Ugolino and His Sons (1865--67)

Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux, Ugolino and His Sons (1865–67)

And he said to me: “This miserable way
is taken by the sorry souls of those
who lived without disgrace and without praise.”
—Dante Alighieri, Inferno (Canto III)

According to Signor Dante, there are many sins that will consign a soul to one ring of hell or another. Perhaps that is reason why, upon reading his Inferno, I was most fascinated by the Ante-Inferno.

These wretched ones, who never were alive”

Of course one assumes that the murderers, adulterers, avaristic, and blasphomous will suffer the Mintors’ exacting evaluation. But the merely meh? Those that simply lived without praise or disgrace? Seems a little harsh.

“Now you must cast aside you laziness,”
my master said, “for he who rests on down
or under covers cannot come to fame;
and he who spends his life without renown
leaves such a vestige of himself on earth
as smoke bequeaths to air or foam to water.
Therefore, get up; defeat your breathlessness”
—Canto XXIV

“Defeat your breathlessness.” Well, okay; that may have to be my new call to arms…. In a rare move I decided to purchase a copy of Dante’s Inferno rather than check it out of a library. But pecuniary considerations pushed me to a used bookstore where I spent some time comparing alternate translations. In the end I went with a cheap paperback version which had the Italian on the verso and English on the recto. The translator was Allen Mandelbaum. But what did I know? I simply compared various lines and made my purchase based on the version that moved me more.

O souls who are so cruel
that this last place has been assigned to you,
take off the hard veils from my face so that
I can release the suffering that fills
my heart before lament freezes again.”
(Canto XXXIII)

I began reading my purchase at my friends’ house in Brooklyn (a lovely, dear-to-me couple who have generously allowed me to sleep on their couch half the week during my summer internship at the Met where I walk by the incredibly life-like Ugolino sculpture every work day [Ugolino was in the ninth circle]). It wasn’t until I was asked who had done the cover art that I looked at the title page and became aware that the person who did the interior illustrations (not the cover art: that was Hans Mamling) was a professor of mine, Barry Moser.

In a kind of strange synchronicity, very soon after that discovery my relationship with the eminent Mr. Moser suddenly blossomed from a professor/student admiration into wonderful friendship. I mention that for two reasons: 1) I love the crazy coincidence of accidentally reading the book he illustrated and then at the very same time I am reading it being contacted by him. And 2) full disclosure. Although—I’d have high praise for the drawings regardless of knowing, or not, the artist.  When I saw his depiction of the Centaur from Canto XII my jaw dropped. My only thought was how could have anyone ever drawn a centaur any other way? It is truly menacing.

But back to Dante. By some powerful art of contradiction, Dante (through the exquisitely talented Mandelbaum) describes the utter despair and terror of hell with the most beautiful language.

“I’d utter words much heavier than these,
because your avarice afflicts the world:
it tramples on the good, lifts up the wicked.” ( Canto XIX)

I know a few corporations and politicians who should hear those words. It is quite a fun read. The book evokes so much thought about the nature of good and evil, heaven and hell, eternity and finality. But,  there is also a strange avarice for, or fetishizing of punishment. The excessive nature of the punitive measures are almost absurd. And many of the crimes are….well…My son Augie was confused how anyone doesn’t wind up in hell. He’s only twelve and can see no one he knows would not be headed there. But more than that, I began to wonder things like: what does it really mean to be cold, wet, and damp (as in the third circle meant for gluttons) forever? If there is never anything other? No means of comparison? No hope of comparison? What does that mean?

Perhaps it is just a failure of my imagination to imagine a constancy of that level of pain that does not incapacitate or cause death, but so then, if you are already dead…then what?  If you are already dead and suffering eternal pain what does pain or fear mean?  Fear of what? Not death, obviously. It’s all gruesome and terrifying but, as Augie put it, “After a while you’d get the routine. It’d just be boring.”

*title from Canto II: Love prompted me, that Love which makes me speak.

Mad Girl’s Love Song

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I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead;
I lift my lids and all is born again.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

The stars go waltzing out in blue and red,
And arbitrary blackness gallops in:
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.

I dreamed that you bewitched me into bed
And sung me moon-struck, kissed me quite insane.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

God topples from the sky, hell’s fires fade:
Exit seraphim and Satan’s men:
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.

I fancied you’d return the way you said,
But I grow old and I forget your name.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

I should have loved a thunderbird instead;
At least when spring comes they roar back again.
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

– Sylvia Plath

 

In a Word

“One suffers so much,” Denis went on, “from the fact that beautiful words don’t always mean what they ought to mean.” ( 211) – Aldous Huxley, Chrome Yellow IMG_2167 Chrome Yellow was recommended to me by a lovely fellow blogger after I read Lady Ottoline’s Album. In this wonderful and often hilarious book, Huxley satirizes his ‘set.’ Chrome, the fictional name of the estate, based on Ottoline’s own Garsinton Manor, is seen and experienced by young Denis who comes with youthful ambitions to be a writer, poet, indeed – a man!

“Recently, for example, I had a whole poem ruined because the word ‘carminative’ didn’t mean what it ought to have meant. Carminative–it’s admirable, isn’t it?” “Admirable,” Mr. Scogen agreed. “And what does it mean?”

Huxley describes the ennui of the upper crust of society to perfection. He mocks  the superior “education,” bestowed with entitlement,  which often results in a shallow, dilettante class.

“They used to give me cinnamon when I had a cold […] On the label was a list of virtues, and among other things it was described as being in the highest degree carminative. It seemed so wonderful to describe that sensation of internal warmth” 

While the Ottoline-esque hostess is distracted by occult mysticism, artists come to find their muse and paint, writers come to work, young girls to have serious discussions and not fall in love.

Later, when I discovered alcohol, ‘carminative’ described for me that similar, but nobler, more spiritual glow which wine evokes not only in the body but in the soul as well.”

…of course everyone is there to fall in love or  at least die flirting. They all seem somewhat silly, either by virtue of excessive seriousness, or a certain passionlessness. But what does it all mean?

“Well, what does it mean?” asked Mr. Scogan, a little impatiently. “Carminative,” said Denis, lingering lovingly over the syllables, “carminative, I imagined vaguely that it had something to do with carmen carminis, still more vaguely with caro-carnis, and its derivatives, like carnival and carnation.”

A word is like a mystery, a snare of syllables encase it: understanding is within. The meaning is an opening, a pandora’s box of symbols and curiosities which mingle with the impression already given by the sound or vision of the letters: aligned, curving, swaying, with dancing periods hopping along the ‘i’s’ – a thing of beauty.

“Do come to the point, my dear denis,” protested Mr. Scogan. “Do come to the point.” “Well, I wrote a poem the other day,” said Denis; “I wrote a poem about the effects of love.” “Others have done the same before you,” said Mr. Scogan. “There is no need to be ashamed.”

A house, and the lives within,  seen from the outside can only be ill understood. Huxley takes that idea and has a lot of fun shrinking it to a word, then broadening it to person, a house, a village…

“I was putting forth the notion,” Denis went on, “that the effects of love were often similar to the effects of wine, that Eros could intoxicate as well as Bacchus. Love, for example, is essentially carminative.”

Of course true to our training, and nowhere is that training better than in England- except perhaps some Scandinavian countries that will remain nameless, we never simple state things, or leave our insides out for others to see or know. Often, one hardly knows one’s own insides.

“And then suddenly it occurred to me that I had never actually looked the word up in a dictionary.”

Huxley’s story is highly amusing. The days are long, golden, frustrating for youthful would-be lovers, but full of quirky erudite conversations. The evenings are cool as the history of Chrome as its own heartbreaks and drollery is read aloud by Henry Wimbush, the current master of the grandiosity that is Chrome.

“Carminative: for me the word was as rich in content as some tremendous, elaborate work of art; it was a complete landscape with figures. ‘And passion carminative as wine…’ It was the first time I had ever committed the word to writing, and all at once I felt I would like lexicographical authority for it. A small English-German dictionary was all I had at hand. I turned up C, ca, car, carm. There it was: ‘Carminative: windtreibend.’   Windtreiband!” he repeated. Mr. Scogin laughed.

Of course, there is always the possibility that we are exactly the ridiculous creatures that we fear we are.

*As Huxley does not, I will be kind to those that don’t know the word in German either, as it turns out it means: relieving flatulence. Oh, Poor Denis. Poor us.

** All quotes come from pages 211-14

The Angel is My Watermark

Every Middle Age is good, whether in man or history. It is full sunlight and roads extend in every direction, and all roads are downhill. I would not level the road nor remove any of the bumps. Each jolt sends a fresh message to the signal tower. I have marked all the spots in passing: to retrace my thoughts I have only to retrace my journey, re-feel those bumps (37).
– 
Henry Miller, Black Spring.

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I didn’t set out to read another Miller so soon after the last, But as I was shelving a book in my Rare Book Room job my eye was caught by a lovely artists’ book – The Angel is my Watermark (by Barbara Beisinghoff).  What a title! I carefully read the book while standing in the stacks. I know some people have some sort of obsession with Angels. I am not one of them. Mine is perhaps more for watermarks. Still, there is something wonderful in it and I really can’t get it out of my head. Turns out the title comes from Henry Miller’s novel Black Spring which was written after Tropic of Cancer. Obviously, I had to read it.

What little I have learned about writing amounts to this: it is not what people think it is. It is an absolutely new thing each time with each individual. Valparaiso, for example. Valparaiso, when I say it, means something totally different from anything it ever meant before. It may mean an English cunt with all her front teeth gone and the bartender standing in the middle of the street searching for customers. It may mean an angel in a silk shirt running his lacy fingers over a black harp (27).

I will admit that about half-way through reading this book a depression descended upon me. The heaviness of the cruel epithets that populate the recounting of Miller’s early life began to crush me down. I wondered how Miller, filled with such bile and objectification, could recover- recover himself! It was at this point that I noticed a small hole in the relatively  ancient paperback version of the book that came to me through the I.L.L (inter library loan). It was a perfect circle, and it went through to the next page, and the next, and next, more appeared and it became apparent that the book had been eaten by worms. I burst out laughing. Perfect!

Sitting in the snow before the place of my birth I remember this incident vividly. Why, I don’t know, except it connects with the grotesque and the void, with the heartbreaking lonelines, the snow, the lack of color, the absence of music (194).

I suppose there are wormholes in us all. The truth is, they were quite beautiful and made me smile to think of the worms digesting Miller before me. I noticed they took it in back-to-front, so, I have that up on them at least– I know which way the pages turn. And, taken as a whole, the book is aching in its love, or maybe just longing, for humanity, even the crassness of individuals, and individual words, can not vitiate the hope.

Miller is brutal in his assault on the pathetic and degenerate only when they combine with stupidity and cruelty. But it can eat away at one. And yet, and yet… worms are the composters of the planet, what do they make but the very majestic living foundation of our existence?–dirt, nourishment, life, a lightening of the crushing dead refuse of the world. The worm is my watermark!

During the journey I wept–I couldn’t help it. When people are too good for this world they have to be put under lock and key. There’s something wrong with people who are too good (95).

The chapter which led me to the book, The Angel is My Watermark, is simply brilliant. I suppose I am a little more like the worms than I like to think- I just get a book and plunge in, it wasn’t until after I read it that I discovered this chapter is quite revered. Rightly so. It is an account of Miller creating a masterpiece, a painting, and the description of the process is an hilarious, true, poignant, brazen, chaotic splendor of the artistic process.

I am merely flipping the pages of my notebook as a warming up exercise. So I imagine. But cursorily and swiftly as I sweep over these notes something fatal is happening to me (51).

He becomes possessed with the idea of drawing and then painting a horse: mistakes lead to modifications to transformations, fire! volcanoes! bedbugs! to the sink, with a nail brush–the Muse dragging him over a bumpy messy road until at last – the masterpiece emerges!
It is a true literary delight to read.

You may say it’s just an accident, this masterpiece, and so it is! But then, so is the Twenty-third Psalm. Every birth is miraculous–and inspired.

Miller is perhaps not for everyone, but there is a fundamental goodness to his work that refuses to cease calling to me, and I refuse to cease responding. Yes, he lets the wormholes lie where they are, and it can be disturbing, but, he seems to ask: they are there–who am I to ignore them?

The angel is there like a watermark, a guarantee of your faultless vision. The angle has no goiter; it is the artist who has the goiter. The angel is there to drop a sprig of parsley in your omelette, to put a shamrock in your buttonhole. I could scrub the mythology out of the horse’s mane; I could scrub the yellow out of the Yangtsze Kiang; I could scrub the date out of the man in the gondola; I could scrub the clouds and the tissue paper in which were wrapped the bouquets with forked lightning……But the angel I can’t scrub out. The angel is my watermark (67).

*drawing by J. Ryan 2014.

 

 

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Map of my Heart

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Art: JR 2014, quotes: Octavio Paz, T.S. Elliot, Isak Dinesen, John Donne.

 

The Art of Loneliness

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Edward Hopper, Office at Night (1940)

There are a couple of things that make the Hopper Drawing show currently running at The Whitney Museum in New York City worth the entrance fee (I’ll save the why-is-it-so-expensive-to-simply-view-art diatribe for another day, but geez Whitney- four bucks? That’s the best you can discount a student?).

The first is the irrefutable technical skill that Hopper possessed. His early drawings for advertisements as well as his academy drawings are all really, very good. The nude figure studies in particular are just lovely.

The second point, which I have been mulling over ever since seeing the show, is the Whitney’s display of Hopper’s process. Now, I’m not one who thinks seeing how the sausage is made necessarily adds anything- many times it doesn’t. Sometimes in fact too much information about the personal lives or processes of artists (of all disciplines) actually ruins the ability to appreciate their work.

But, I have to say, this show is fascinating for just that experience: Hopper’s process. His themes of loneliness are well known, but that feeling of forlorn isolation does not appear in his work until the finished painting. In the drawings, perhaps the angles are experimented with, different shoes or hair styles are tried out, spaces are cropped, but they are completely devoid of his typical narrative – that seems to magically appear with the paint.

Something in the opacity and richness of color, the slight shifts, here and there, of angled heads or tense shoulders…It is hard to pinpoint just exactly what the difference is…well, in Office at Night, there is an obvious one:  the female figure goes through a noticeable enhancement (from plain Jane to va va voom), but that adds more to the voyeuristic quality found in much of his work than the yearning for connection that permeates.

It seems to me there is almost a letting go of his actual technical acumen which allows his heartbreaking pictures to come alive and resonate so deeply with the viewer. Standing in front of these paintings…It was not easy to keep my hand from instinctively covering  my heart- but I was not alone in that struggle.

There Be Dragons

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circa 2000 map of Lower Manhattan by Marco Accardi age 9ish

All writers are fundamentally mapmakers. The cartography of the novelist involves creating unknown lands, while the literary critic finds the uncharted routes and undiscovered islands.

This weekend I attended the Yale Writer’s Conference. In my excellent Literary Criticism and Review workshop with Je Banach, we were asked to define and then justify the discipline.

One may imagine a sort of relationship, be it symbiotic or parasitic, between literature and literary critique; on the face of it, there would seem to be a distinct parasitical directional pull from critique-ee to critique-er. And yet, no one (sane) ever told a story in a vacuum. It is much more true to speak of the relationship as symbiotic, and to rejoice in the discourse, because critics are mapmakers too.

Walking into breakfast the first morning I barely let my stride break while I furtively perused the early morning population. I had seconds on my way to the victuals to seek out a suitable place to sit. A place where I could insert myself cold at a stranger’s table with a measure of comfort. I passed one full table after another and a few very long lonely tables that screamed out to me – Sit here, it’s easy! While another voice said, my God! don’t sit alone, Idiot! The tables passed, oh hurry, find a spot, Jessica! – Too late. Time’s up. The door to the food is to the right! Turn! Turn! Turn!

If we are talking about why one writes, then the impetuous is a common one. And if we talk about why one reads, again, we are on the same terra firma- both the writer of fiction and the writer of critique use the same tools to the same effect: to share and map their vision and sense of the world.

Coming out with my plate of food and coffee my nerve (what nerve?) slips away and I sit at the very end of a frighteningly long table. I eat in mute discomfort trying not to look too entreating, resigned that my isolation is a growing barrier reef. Finally a lovely energetic man sits nearby, (If we were chess pieces I would have had to be a horse to move to his seat) we chat amiably, but he leaves precipitously and alone again, the book in my bag is a siren’s call. Don’t do it! Do. Not. don’t – I capitulate, (damn it!) pull it out, but cleverly lay it across my lap so as not to appear entirely hopeless and unsocial. It is, I must confess, a sweet relief. 

As human beings we have a strong desire for understanding and belonging. One of the ways that we do that is to share our stories. Before the days of the written word, the most effective form of critique was omission from the oral cannon. If the stories and rhythm of the words did not resonate with the audience, the work died a death of silence. Once the world of print took over storytelling, it became necessary and interesting to justify or examine the presence and continuing existence of each piece of literature in the ever-growing sea of canonical works. Unlike the oral story, the written word never dies, but banishment, facilitated by critical opinion, is an option, and for many a saving grace of efficiency.

Later in the afternoon, I sit in the faux-Oxford courtyard basking in the sun, the academia dripping down the walls of the surrounding buildings. I have no computer but begin to imagine writers, including the oft-maligned critic, as members of the same map making species. I pull out a piece of paper and a pen. Holding the pen in my hand I marvel at the length of time it has been since I have seriously written with such an archaic object. I begin to write: All writers are fundamentally mapmakers…but when I look at the words I see that my hand has made these words: All writers are fundamentally heartbroken. I eye my hand with some trepidation and laugh. Yes, a friend says to me later, all writers are fundamentally heartbroken mapmakers.

The critical voice is a curator, an enthusiast and a realist. The curator offers context and relevance. The enthusiast shares insight and meaning. The realist describes the mechanics- the hows and whys it all works or doesn’t. That is what the literary critic can do. He or she can step off the island of the book where the novelist is trapped, and view the entire archipelago, deconstruct the ecosystem of the lexicon or simply consider the climate of meaning.

Lunch. Oh God.

It is probably safe to say that readers consume far more reviews of books than actual books in their lifetime. Navigating all the seas of literature is an impossible task for any one reader , and if they are told, “Don’t go there, it’s a barren wasteland!” or, “You must see this place before you die!” the wanderlust is channeled. There is also the specific pleasure of perusing the maps of review and criticism in and of themselves, because readers are essentially curious travelers; they are seekers and gypsies of the heart.

That evening, I’m chastised with uncalled-for excessive zeal by my children for my social awkwardness and reticence. Breathing deeply I enter the trial-by-breakfast on the second morning cavalierly ignoring my relentless reserve.

Whether telling a story or critically seeking to understand a story, words are the mapmaker’s tools. The topography, scale, and charts of language, while distinct, ultimately give each reader a key to understanding the terra incognito of us all.

A conference full of people who love what I love; incredibly talented writers and teachers full of kindness and generosity- these are my people: I am –  a mapmaker.

The Courage of Your Own Nudity

“The beauty of women has, all through my life, been my most potent inspiration, and I pitied every man who was wasting his time on less urgent concerns.”
Alexander King presents Peter Altenberg’s Evocations of Love (61)

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Don Juan painting by Alexander King

I don’t remember having new books on my bookshelves as a child. I do lovingly recall a few heavily used  wonders: Pocahontas and  the Greek Myths by Edgar and Ingrid Parin D’Auliare, a book of Russian Fables by Pushkin with fantastically wonderful drawings of Russia, my sister’s collection of Ant and Bee books that I coveted. When I recently went to the library to pick up a book I had apparently requested using my fancy new library search skills I was immediately reminded of those childhood books.

Children are disgusted with almost nothing, and this is their wonderful, unconscious romanticism. They’re as drunk with life as a lover, who would unhesitatingly drink the water in which his sweetheart has just washed her face. (33)

Over-sized, interspersed with whimsical drawings in fine red pen by the author, the battered,  cover-less book whose faded name on the spine was unintelligible, immediately fascinated me. Not least of all because I had no memory of ordering it nor any idea of why or what it could be.

Just remember that neither you nor anyone else is part of the mass. Maybe sheep and geese are, but I’m not too convinced of that, either.  After all, you have to suffer all your deep sorrows individually, and even your rare joys are profoundly personal; and nothing in your life, as far as I can see, manifests itself mass-wise, except dreary verbal cliches with which you exculpate your lack of thought and initiative. (28)

Over at Wuthering Expectations there is a Buch Party on German and Austrian literature; after examining the book in question for a full ten minutes I felt confident guessing that I had got the name from that blog. I could go back and look again, do my “homework,” but I am terrified that I will find ten more books to impulsively request and add to the pile of books-to-read-before-due towering on my desk.

Altenberg was an Austrian poet who died in 1919, Evocations of Love is a compilation of some of his vignettes and musings with lovely commentary by Alexander King who knew and clearly adored him. Very understandable, considering Altenberg’s enormously sincere, funny, and youthful outlook on life and people. His attitude is so infectious I didn’t mind laughing boisterously in public reading what looks like a child’s book. In fact, that’s the only way to do it.

Woe to those who are lucky in love! They are denied the joyous, painful, slow accumulation of yearning which finally fulfills itself in the heart’s ultimate ecstasy. They have been cheated out of the most valuable gift that life has to offer.
Whom does Don Juan, flitting from flower to flower, actually cheat? He cheats himself. (90)

The stories are very short, and wonderfully funny. My favorites were La Zeerlina in which Altenberg sets up an old age fund piggy bank for a beautiful starlet. In the Service of Beauty is too funny to spoil, you will have to seek this gem out for yourselves. And then there is My Night of Indulgence, somehow Mr. Altenberg has been privy to my own fantasy night of indulgence. Too bad we can’t do it together. On second thought he is probably best loved from a distance, I have the feeling that Mr. Altenberg loved falling in love rather more than being in love.

“Do you think,” he said, “that to act in this way is correct, in principle?”
“Certainly,” I said. “In matters of the heart, the only principle is to have no principles.” (74)

The man is divine, simply after my own heart, the entire book is an absolute delight. I look forward seeking out and  reading his poetry, to hell with my towering pile.

*Title of post from page 60: What is my great artistic credo? Listen to your heart, and don’t be afraid of giving off unexpected sounds. Have the courage of your own nudity.

Drawing by Peter Altenberg pg. 23

Drawing by Peter Altenberg pg. 23