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In the Sweet

I have always been particularly attracted by happy lovers and attached to them: Lawrence and Frieda were more than twice as attractive to me together than they would have been separately. 
—David Garnett, from the forward of Love among the Haystacks by D.H. Lawrence

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The concluding book of my trip to Rome this summer was D.H. Lawrence’s Love among the Haystacks. I bought it in an English-language used book store in Trastevere. The book itself was appealing. A yellow paperback of old thick paper stock. It was published by Phoenix Public Co Ltd out of Berne and on the bottom of the front cover was printed, “not to be introduced into the British Empire or the U.S.A.,” which I read on the tarmac of JFK, so maybe not technically U.S.A.?

During my time in Rome I took many photos. I was alone after all, and through my lens I relished being the observer and used my photos to communicated to my friends at home. When I read the above quote in the forward of Lawrence’s charming book, I realized that I too have always been particularly attracted to happy lovers. The proof was there to see in my photos.

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We were both still. She put her arms round her bright knee, and caressed it, lovingly, rather plaintively, with her mouth. The brilliant green dragons on her wrap seemed to be snarling at me (“Once” 173)

I had not thought I would get to this last book in my plastic bag, but events overtook me. We took off an hour late from Stockholm so landed at JFK at 9pm instead of 8:00. An hour before landing, the airline brought coffee and some packaged bread-like substance to wake us up. I was seated in the middle of the middle of the plane and when the steward reached over to put my coffee on my tray I had a moment of distraction and suddenly the cup was sliding down, off the tray, onto my lap. The hot coffee scalded my legs and I hopped (as much as one can hop while seated and pack like a sardine) and quietly (so as to not wake the baby sleeping in her mother’s arms next to me) cried out “oh! oh! oh!” But what could I do, really? I was trapped in my seat until everyone else was finished and had their trays cleared. So I sat in a literal hot mess for about 30 minutes.

There it was damp and dark and depressing. But one makes the best of things, when one sets out on foot (“A Chapel Among the Mountains,” 115).

Finally, I was able to get up and retrieve my bag. I went to the bathroom, changed my pants for a skirt, asked for a blanket to cover my wet seat and sat back down. It was at this point that I settled in with Lawrence. I thought I might just get a few pages in, but reading is my relaxation go-to.

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His lips met her temple. She slowly, deliberately turned her mouth to his, and with opened lips, met him in a kiss, his first love kiss (“Love among the Haystacks” 98)

I was very much mistaken however, because the night that I landed in JFK was the night that the terminals were shut down due to rumors of a shooter. We sat for hours on the tarmac before anyone even told us what was going on, although, as we all had half-dying cell phones we knew something was up.

The young woman looked at Geoffrey, and he at her. There was a sort of kinship between them. Both were at odds with the world. Geoffrey smiled satirically. She was too grave, too deeply incensed even to smile (“Love among the Haystacks 63).

I ended up reading the entire book. We sat in the plane for just under seven hours. Seven hours. Seven. Luckily, Love among the Haystacks is a collection of endearing love stories. Endearing, that is, in Lawrence’s usual strangled way. Lawrence’s lovers are never fully able to express the raging waters in and between them. Their attempt are often thwarted, frustrated, bitter, and even angry. But when the waters meet—it is sweet.

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In the Minds of Others

so I argue within myself whether to take my shoes off or not, and of course I could not ask him if I’m to take them off or not however it doesn’t seem right to me to begin analysis proper with a question of this sort especially since I have trouble becoming intimate with people, even with my father there was no intimacy, and in conclusion since hesitating any longer could also look insulting to him while he waits and perhaps doesn’t understand I resolutely take off my shoes…
—Giuseppe Berto, incubus (269)

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While I was in Italy a friend of mine posted a Facebook game in which all participants were to reach for the closest book, turn to a certain page, and write down the fifth sentence they came upon. I did not even need to decide if I wanted to participate because the book I was reading at the time, Giuseppe Berto’s incubus doesn’t do sentences. Written in 1964, and leaning hard on the conceit of a session at the analyst’s office, the exposition of the central problem of the narrator’s life (father issues) is very nearly a 383 page stream-of-conscious work. It is a tour-de-force of a study in modern angst as well as a fun and fascinating read.

my God I’m not fourteen yet and already I have such a great longing to die, what am I doing in this world what am I doing, I love love love so wretchedly and immensely that I don’t have the courage to decide on an object for my love, and then mine is love in bitterness love in renunciation, now houses and human beings are far away and I can sing without anybody hearing me Lovely liar beauty of an hour your lips are like a poisoned flower….(304)

The protagonist, a writer living in Rome, tells the story of his life and consequences of being the son of a father unable to show any love towards him. It is at once funny and tragic. A sort of Italian Catholic Woody Allen flinging himself from one illness to another, some real and some imagined.

he wants me to dig up in the Gospels or some sacred text or other article of faith whereby a person that has nobody to weep for him on earth cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven, and for the hundredth time I explain to him that such an article of faith doesn’t exist because it isn’t in accord with the ethical principles of our religion, nor of any other religion in the world I’m sure, however I believe he needn’t worry about this since it’s a film he’s making and not a theological treatise, and since the gimmick involving Gennerio is poetically valid according to me he can proceed freely with out articles of faith, but since I have used pretty obscure words like ethical principles and theology and poetically valid he looks at me like I’m trying to put something over on him…  (186–7)

I found this book in a used-book shop in Trastevere and I was happy to discover it. It kept me company when I took breaks from walking and looking and thinking. Although my trip was truly wonderful, I was also quite alone (when I wasn’t working, and even much of the time then) and as in all lonely periods of my life books afford me time out of my own incessant internal dialogue. This book was particularly interesting to me not only because it was set in Rome, the city I stayed in for over a month, but also because it took place in someone else’s mind. Someone else’s fears, foibles, and fables mercifully quieting my own; giving me someone besides me myself and I to listen and talk to.

Throughout all of the struggles of the unnamed protagonist in this tale, one thing becomes painfully clear to both reader and hero—while there may indeed be no article of faith that prohibits a person from entering heaven if no one weeps for him, the knowledge that no one will is the most wretched sort of life one could endure. My loneliness was temporary. The disorientation of being in a foreign country with middling fluency in the language gave me the freedom and a silence created by the remove of social interactions to fearlessly examine my past and my future hopes. Berto’s hero was not so lucky. He worked himself up into a froth of incurable isolation. It was heartbreaking to witness.

*Published in Italy as Il Male Oscure. This Penguin Books edition translated by William Weaver.

 

A Plenty

Snowdie grieved for him, but the decent way you’d grieve for the dead, more like, and nobody wanted to think, around her, that he treated her that way. But how long can you humor the humored? Well, always.
—Eudora Welty, “Showers of Gold” (1)

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Tuesday I was standing in a packed NYC subway in alarmingly close intimacy with my fellow passengers, amazed at how well bodies fit into one another, reading a story about being in the woods (where I had been on Monday). I wrote of it to a friend of mine and he re-set my words into verse:

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I was pressed up so tight against his backside
I only had to whisper in his ear,
“I am sorry, I am being pushed.”
But still I held my book above the fray
So that I could continue the story.

And what was this story that had me so enthralled with poetic devotion? A book of short stories, Golden Apples by Eudora Welty. The first story “Shower of Gold” is told with disarming charm by Miss Katie. I loved her no-nonsense ingenuousness. She told the story of Snowdie MacLain, an albino woman, whose husband would come and go without so much as a by your leave. Sometimes when he would come he’d let her know:

“Meet me in the woods.” No, he more invited her than told her to come–“Suppose you meet me in the woods.” And it was night time he supposed to her.  And Snowdie met him without asking “What for?” (4)

I guess I admire Miss Katie–she wants to know why. When her husband tells her he thinks that he saw the absconder husband, King MacLain, at a county parade she can’t believe he didn’t confirm much less confront him:

Men! I said if I’d been Governor Vardaman and spied King Maclain from Morgana marching in my parade as big as I was and no call for it, I’d have had the whole thing brought to a halt and called him to accounts. “Well, what good would it have done you?” my husband said. “A plenty,” I said.

yet, I think I understand Snowdie better. Welty enchants words, she’ll have you laughing out loud in a hot crowded subway, and then leave you a little lost on the platform of her phrasing musing over the devastating disappointments we endure. Some, like Snowdie, just take them quietly. I thought, after discussing the title of the story with another friend, that perhaps Ms. Welty, as fun and sharp as she made Miss Katie, saw things Snowdie’s way. That shower of gold was Snowdie’s news that she was expecting twins. Maybe she didn’t think she deserved more than a shower. Her husband just disappeared with no word or explanation and maybe she just took that as proof that she was just going to get what precipitation she did.  What good would it have done her to complain?

Each story in the book stands alone, and yet they are all set in the same fictional town, the same characters, the same disturbing inability to “know how to do about” as is Welty’s refrain in the story “June Recital.”

That’s the frightening thing. We are all trying so hard, but what if we just plum don’t know how to do about? I don’t mean algebra, or gardening, or spelling. I mean to say, when we don’t connect to one another when we, like Miss Eckhart, flail and fail in something so essential as love. When one looks into their own heart and has to admit–I don’t know how to do about you at all.

Both Miss Eckhart and Virgie Rainey were human beings terribly at large, roaming on the face of the earth. And there were others of them–human beings, roaming like lost beasts (“June Recital” 85).

You Are Here

It was eerie to have stepped into this silence of the desert, and I wished to get clear away. Yet, since there did not seem to be an adequate reason for absconding, I took a place at the table and resigned myself to the inevitable.
Stefan Zweig, Moonbeam Alley (139)

IMG_0506A green paperback. Four words. The title: Kaleidiscope One, and the author: Stefan Zweig.

The main motive is dread of solitude, of the terrible feeling of aloofness which severs us one from another -Transfiguration (202)

I was trying to navigate a new library, all of the books had call numbers that I could not make sense of. YF? Was I in the Youth Fiction section? I am stereotypically male-like in my reticence to ask for directions, but I was flummoxed and the awkwardness of looking so obviously lost clinched it- I would ask the pony-tailed librarian brimming with helpful alacrity for assistance. I was of course deeply impressed with his enthusiastic explanation of their filing system- Cutter Seventh Classification.

I rejoiced to know that my feelings had merely been paralysed, and were not utterly dead; that somewhere beneath the smooth surface of my indifference volcanic passion must still be raging. -Transfiguration (189)

Earnestly and nearly embarrassedly fascinated, I listened, raptly, while he extolled the difference. This guy Cutter (an actual librarian at the library in question 1894-1903, Forbes Library) developed a system for organizing books, but somehow , over time Mr Dewey Decimal gained popularity, meanwhile the Library of Congress knew a good thing when they saw it and based their system after Cutter’s, except they, cruelly, added in decimals which is the bane of the Liberian’s assistant (or maybe just mine) shelving existence, although it seemed also to be the reason why this young man was singing the praises of Cutter Seventh Classification to me- why, I think we almost had a connection….

…behind me I heard the laughter of a woman, the bright and somewhat agitated laughter I so dearly love in women-laughter that issues from the burning bush of voluptuousness. – Transfiguration (171)

But no, I had to face the stacks alone, and while I now had an appreciation for the system, I still didn’t quite grasp it, and I so when I saw this plain green book, with the familiar name-I just grabbed it. When I got home I realized it was a series of short stories, most of which I have already read. But, that’s okay there were a few new ones in there.

Touching, too, was the eagerness with which she would scan the shabby books in the hotel library… – The Fowler Snared (270)

I skipped to Moonbeam Alley in which I was able to assemble the most comprehensive list of words to describe a wanton women I’ve ever made (strumpet- love it, harlot- a favorite, vixen, weak-minded wench, slatternly, blowzy…blowzy?) Let me quickly add that Zweig has an innate sympathy for women, despite his creative use of synonyms, the subtle and not so subtle subjugating conditions of the female were repeating themes in his work.

But as I went along, I began to understand something about Zweig and my interest in his writing. Transfiguration is a long one, but it perfectly exemplifies what it is I felt. In all of his stories there is an urgency, a burning desire for something, even if it is simply to tell the tale. The fever of his characters is palatable. His passions awaken the reader, and are well suited to the short story format he favored. Whether resolved tragically or happily (yes there are a few) his heated breathless pace warms the soul by its cautionary or sympathetic call to those that open their hearts to sense and human passion: it’s our very humanity and Zweig’s writing is a spark.

Indeed, I now realize what was still hidden from me when I took up my pen ten minutes ago, that my sole object in writing this account of the incidents is that I may hold them fast, may have them so to speak concretized before me, may enjoy their rehearsal at once emotionally and intellectually. – Transfiguration (159)

It occurred to me, as I’m currently reading Sartre’s Existentialism and Human Emotions (found in my college’s L of C system- they use the DD as well depending on the book), that literature speaks directly to essence, while libraries speak to existence. The conditions are the same for book or person- we are here, and so…what’s the essence of the pages or our hours? That burning ember within us, that the books lack, is the freedom to choose (or not choose) how to live our lives. But the books, the books can give oxygen- their whispers remind, plead, scold or extol. It is their essence that fuels our fire.

But one who understands will not judge, and will have no pride. -Transfiguration (218)

* Kaleidoscope One translated from German by Eden and Cedar Paul, Hallam Edition

Peripety, Discovery and Suffering

A likely impossibility is always preferable to an unconvincing possibility.
– Aristotle, On Poetics (238)

IMG_0105On Poetics is a diverting book for a few reasons. Lacking Aristotle’s declarative tone of absolute knowledge, I humbly submit a few for your consideration:

Reason # 1)  Imagine the long road of literature, anyone of us may not know all of the side streets, perhaps very few, but we do have an inkling as to one of the starting points. Reading Aristotle, (which in my mind is a lot closer than not to the starting place) in which he outlines and explains the art of Poetry, Epics, Tragedies,  and Comedies is fascinating for his relative juxtaposition- there’s not a lot more road where that came from. He breaks the thing down into hilariously pedantic laws and by-laws, but still- he’s not wrong.

Hence poetry is something more philosophic and of graver import than history, since its statements are of the nature rather of universals, whereas those of history are singulars. (214)

Reason #2) Okay, so maybe it is the latent quasi librarian in me, but who can resist such a genius for categorization and organization? The ultimate constituents of language (chapter 20) is a marvelous deconstruction. Interestingly, he discusses the terms not only as we unthinkingly absorb them today: as written words, but also as most people of his day thought of them: as spoken sounds and words. The Diction is wrapped up in the grammar and from our view down the road, it makes one reconsider our penned ideas of language.

The iambic, we know, is the most speakable of meters, as is shown by the fact that we very often fall into it in conversation, whereas we rarely talk hexameters, (208)

Too true. I find the iambic regularly holds my tongue hostage leaving me laughing to myself like a mad woman. These things can’t be helped, apparently, and that’s a comfort.

Reason #3) Brevity. In form and function. Aristotle naturally has an opinion on the whys and wheres of the importance of brevity. Epics are long, Tragedies are not. I find that’s true in life as well. But Aristotle is no hypocrite, if something demands an explanation, he happily gives it, but when it gets down to brass tacks obvious, he doesn’t waste time, Here by ‘Diction’ I mean merely this, the composition of the verses; and by ‘Melody’, what is too completely understood to require explanation. (210) I really hope I remember that gem for the next time someone asks me to explain something obvious- too completely understood to require explanation– enough said. Aristotle, I could kiss you!

The argument of the Odyssey is not a long one. (226)

Then again, anyone who thinks that the Catalogue of the Ships section of the Odyssey is an “[episode] to relieve the uniformity of [Homer’s] narrative.” (235) is perhaps a little too much of a home town fan for my taste. To me that was like being stuck behind a parade of local by-gone heroes. The argument may not be long, but let’s get back to it, shall we?

Reason #4) Philosophy. Student of Plato he is. This is what I find so appealing about philosophy in general as a framework for studying anything- it seeps in. For example, his discussion of the proper makings of Poetry broken down into three parts: peripety, discovery, and suffering- If that’s not life, than I don’t know what is and perhaps deserve a refund.

The worst situation is when the personage is with full knowledge on the point of doing the deed, and leaves it undone. (220)

Yes, we all crave a little resolution. Aristotle inadvertently and on purpose makes many a brilliant observation that apply to our non-fiction lives. The one small little concern I have on his behalf, and this could simply be a result of having studied under the arm of the apparently humor-less Plato, is his view of Comedy.

As for Comedy, it is (as has been observed) an imitation of men worse than the average; worse, however, not as regards any and every sort of fault, but only as regards one particular kind, the Ridiculous, which is a species of the Ugly. (208)

Well. That’s cause for a moment’s awkwardness. I’m not sure what I would do without my attachment to the Ridiculous. I’m not even sure if I am aware of the parts of life that aren’t ridiculous. He goes on to describe something which produces laughter as a thing “ugly and distorted without causing pain.” Come now, Ari, lighten up. Anything that doesn’t distort with pain is a-okay in my book.

*Aristotle, Rhetoric and On Poetics – translated by Ingram Bywater

A Polarized Flow, like love.

It is all a most artificial business of living according to prescription, keeping every impulse strangled, and ending where it begins, in materialism pure and simple.
– D.H. Lawrence, The Symbolic Meaning: Studies in Classic American Literature (55)

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“Yet the lovely cloud of green and summer lustre is within” (30)

Vincent Scully mentioned this D.H. Lawrence book in one of his essays on architecture. Perhaps my interests have some collecting force that draw me to and around Lawrence, but I find that he is referenced again and again in other books that I read. Here in The Symbolic Meaning is a group of essays on American Literature. Poe, Melville, Hawthorne, and Whitman are among the writers that Lawrence cites to discuss his theory of the American writer.

Only art-utterance reveals the whole truth of a people. And the American art-speech reveals what the American plain speech almost deliberately conceals.[…] And this, again, is one of the outstanding qualities of American literature: that deliberate ideas of the man veil, conceal, obscure that which the artist has to reveal. (18)

Lawrence hits hard on all of his most passionate philosophies and it’s interesting to read the introduction which seeks to untangle the different and sometimes opposing versions of each essay. It would seem that unlike many writers, when Lawrence revised he wholesale re-wrote – sometimes to ill effect. Lawrence was a unique thinker better left in his primary voice, as E. M. Foster so eloquently stated:

Lawrence “was both a preacher and a poet, and some people, myself included, do not sympathize with the preaching. Yet I feel that without the preaching the poetry could not exist. With some writers one can disentangle the two, with him they are inseparable.” (8)

While there are some 2013 politically incorrect moments, Lawrence is so forward at heart that he is easily forgiven. His essay on Fenimore Cooper’s Leatherstocking Novels (Last of the Mohicans, et all) is wonderful, perfectly describing what I loved about those books; his essay on the symbolism of the sea to American writers such as Melville is perceptive and fascinating; his appreciation for women, as discussed in the Hawthorne essay regarding The Scarlett Letter, as whole female humans is quite beyond the reach of most people still, depressingly,  to this day.

In the old days, when women turned in her terrible recoil, she became Astarte, the Syria Dea, Aphrodite Syriaca, the Scarlett Woman. To-day, in her recoil the Scarlet Woman becomes the Sister of Mercy. She cannot help it. She must, in her upper mind, keep true to the old faith that man has given her, the belief in love and self-sacrifice. To this she is, as it where, hypnotized or condemned. (132)

His humorous yet heartfelt remonstrations against the “great Greek-Christian will-to-knowledge” that result in such American respectables as the “admirable little monster of a Franklin,” (Yes, Benjamin) are what I love about his writing. When he states that the “modern virtue is a machine-principle,” we can only lament that things are far worse now. But he foresaw that.

 Now, after two thousand years, having established our knowledge and even our experience all in one sort, a halfness, we find ourselves in a prison. We reach the condition when we are so imprisoned in the cul de sac of our mutilated psyche that we are in the first stages of that madness and self-destruction into which the ancients fell when they were imprisoned and driven mad within the cul de sac of the sensual body. Quos vult perdere Jupiter, dementat prius. (71)

That Latin bit basically means- those that Jupiter (God) wishes to destroy, he first drives mad. And this is Lawrence’s point- which he never ceases to fit into whatever it is he is talking or writing about. He sees a duality and a disconnect. Where the pagans of old veered toward sensuality, the modern man veers towards knowledge. Both extremes are equally destructive.

Whereas there is a “magnificence of futurity flooding the heart,” in a liberated and appeased soul, the psychic toll to future generations when we cut ourselves off from one half of our soul is tragic.

What is the use to me if a man sacrifice and murder his living desires for me, only to return in death and demand the sacrifice again of me, tenfold? What is the use of a mother’s sacrificing herself for her children if after death her unappeased soul shall perforce return upon the child and exact from it all the fulfillment that should have been attained in the living flesh, and was not? (73)

Lawrence, of course, explores these esoteric themes in his novels to poignant and moving effect. If his deeply held passion for life was sometimes equaled by his profound disgust in his fellow man, there was at least a true commitment to finding our way back to the life force with a fervency of gratitude and communion. His work was influential to all serious thinkers and the artistically sensitive of his age and beyond. He believed in the vibrancy of life, not the stagnant extremes of the idea and the ideal which disturbed the “natural reciprocity and natural circuits” of the “breath of life.”

KNOWING and BEING are opposites, antagonistic states. The more you know, exactly, the less you are. The more you are, in being, the less you know.
This is the great cross of man, his dualism. The blood-self, and the nerve-brain self.
Knowing, then, is the slow death of being. Man has his epochs of being , and his epochs of knowing. It will always be a great oscillation. The goal is to know how not-to-know. (178)

Other books by or about D.H.Lawrence:

Women in Love – Fog of Love
Lady Chatterley’s Lover – Love’s Lambency
Sons and Lovers Part 1 – Kicking Against the Pricks
Sons and Lovers Part 2 – Flickering Sanity
Apocalypse – Start With The Sun
Lawrence, An Unprofessional Study by Anaïs Nin – On Impulse

*”A polarized flow, like love” from the essay Dana’s Two Years Before The Mast (181)

Siren’s Call


The sweet song of seduction,
caught up in the curling scent.
Listen.
Bright crooning aroma;
down beat falling in
a rhythmic amour –
come to me come to me
come to me.
I’m yours.

Cranberry scones
*close up taken by Augie.