Judith McMillan | Optic Exploration: Iris Kaempferi, 2001
Toned gelatin silver print
Incredible. They’re dancing girls wearing flimsy things.
Uh, no, I’m pretty sure that’s Dalí looking down on us from heaven. Clearly these Hubble analysts are in need of a broader, more humanistic training.
To be too explicit destroys the pleasure. This the Irish know, to whom the half-said’s dearest.
Theodore Roethke, Straw for the Fire: From the Notebooks, 1943-63, ed. Wagoner (University of Washington Press, 1984), 208.
I know this. I just haven’t quite learned it yet.
Rachel Newling - Windblown Engraving
Pierre Yves Petit
Quai de la Tournelle c. 1920s
“Ha ha yes, Stifter is crushingly boring most of the time, but it’s maddeningly on purpose, he knew what he was doing. And it’s fascinating how he refuses to play by some of the most basic novelistic rules. It’s also possible (he’s so repressed he just seems to be asking for it) to apply some muckraking criticism to his writing. Sebald, for example, has a couple of interesting essays touching on the morbid aspects lurking behind his petrified prose (it’s true that Stifter was a troubled man, and had a difficult life and horrible death): fetishism, borderline paedophilia, bulimia (?!), millenarianism (!!), as if he was some kind of Sadean subversive in disguise.
“…I find it very difficult to read Simone Weil, maybe because she’s so painfully earnest, there isn’t any kind of distance.”
—Thanks for this. Hmm, Stifter, I don’t know. Though near-paedophilia, bulimia, and millenarianism are universally recognized as the mirepoix of great literature. I’ll put it on the list. Intrigued by the juicy biographical details, I just lurked his Wikipedia page, and was amused to see that Friedrich Hebbel apparently offered the crown of Poland to whoever could finish “Indian Summer.” Nice burn.
As for Weil, I feel you on her “painful earnestness”—not to mention what sometimes feels like, I don’t know, non-humanity (not “inhumanity”). So severe, so stubborn, and such a willful pursuit of suffering and persecution—which would be easier to call neurotic (and certainly it was neurotic, which is not simply to dismiss her, not at all)—if it weren’t so beautifully rationalized. But of course that’s what it is to be a mystic or a saint, it’s to scorn balance, and to explore the intellectual and psychological payoffs of extremity, of overkill, of life reduced to one thing. And naturally, the Hellenist within us finds this lack of balance distasteful, unnecessary, immature. Extreme self-denial and willful suffering are indeed a form of excess, and can be—if they constitute a life’s sole practice—a kind of ethical simplism, rather than that ever-sought simplicity; a shirking of life, not a mastery of it.
Which is not to inweil against sainthood (went out of my vay to get that in, for sure. I’m here all week, folks!). There is, undeniably, enormous wisdom in Weil, enormous heart, for all her intellectuality and her absolutistic vision. And that mind—what a mind! (Not being a huge fan of Simone de B., I always derive a little Schadenfreude from the fact that Simone W. edged her out in that ENS entrance exam. Poor de B. had to endure second place only to play bridesmaid again, this time to JPS in the agrégation. A joke, after all, can’t possibly be exhausted until you repeat it.)
As for thinking and writing, which are the same thing, you’re dang right, girl, they IS hard. Sometimes when I’m down there—fully realizing that what’s deep for me is ankle-wading for others—I’m not sure I can find my way back up before I run out of air. I get disoriented, I get loopy, I get desperate. Therein lies the thrill, I suppose. I’ll try, by god, to “keep bringing interesting things to the surface,” but sometimes what seems marvelous when you’re down there turns out, when you return to the surface, to be commonplace. See Musil’s epigraph to his Törless; here I’m a Rock Bottom Riser. (o my foolish heart)
…But then the question persists: which is the illusion? The water’s transfiguring effect on an ordinary stone or shard of glass? Or the perception of ordinariness itself?
Bibliobilia, or Literary Lagan, Part II
Special Mail Course in Suggestion, by Herbert A. Parkyn. A relatively early American work on hypnosis, issued as a series of 30 pamphlets 1898, published by the Chicago School of Psychology. Laid in is a typed, signed letter, evidently sent with the book, from C.A. George Newmann, a.k.a. “Newmann the Great,” a mentalist who traveled the magic circuit in the first half of the 20th century. On stage, Newmann combined hypnotism with mind-reading effects. He was also one of the century’s foremost collectors of magic-related books.
Even in a private letter to a friend, Newmann’s language is that of the professional showman: the rhythmic flourish, the breathless hyperbole. Newmann praises the work—a bunch of mail-order pamphlets for a correspondence course, mind you—as “the finest, most rational and sensible work on the subject ever published,” and as “the ne plus ultra of practical works.” Besides other fulsome and unreserved endorsements (“Dr. Parkyn is 100% correct”), the letter describes the book as “exceedingly rare.” But in there amidst all the overkill is some genuine, measured wisdom:
Even the better class of so-called scientific works on the subject are filled with bunk, unconsciously perhaps, but bunk nevertheless, and it is hard for the conscientious student to separate the wheat from the chaff.
Happy Disturbing Easter!
The hair dryer iteration is spectacular. David Lynch would be proud.
Athanasius Kircher, Noah’s Ark, 1675
• 너의 의지에 의지하다, leaning on(against) your will
• 자라나는 너의 자아, Your ego is getting bigger and bigger