In Which We Find Eric Gill Among Some Old Books

The Antidote


As years go by, Eric Gill becomes more, not less, unsettling.

Fiona McCarthy

Art is not an aesthetic but a rhetorical activity.

– Ananda Coomaraswamy, epigraph to Eric Gill’s essay “Art”

The natural world is God’s present to himself.

Eric Gill, Last Essays

Eric Gill would fuck anything: family members, strangers, a dog. It might seem strange, then, that he wrote essays praising Christianity, specifically Catholicism. I don’t know that he even was admiring Christianity as much as he lived in wonderment at the pleasure of believing in something.

Eric Gill never worked a regular job — he spent most of his time working on sculptures. They became more and more erotic, since he was obsessed with the carnal pleasures of the body. But even so, he had the temerity to write an essay entitled “Work.” (Why is it the people who don’t work always have so much to say about the meaning of it?) He wrote:

We must return again and again to the simple doctrine: physical labour, manual work, is not in itself bad. It is the necessary basis of all human production and, in the most strict sense of the words, physical labour directed to the production of things needed for human life is both honorable and holy. And we must remember that there no exceptions.

What is man? Is he just an animal for whom earthly life is all? Or is he a child of God with eternal life in view?

I honestly don’t know which answer is worse.

Eric Gill kept a vial of poison in his workshop, just in case the mood struck him.

Quite naturally, Eric Gill made the act of creating art into a heavenly task. Perhaps he never imagined it would be democratized to a willing populace.

Eric Gill designed only one home in his long career. It was utterly normal-looking.

Eric Gill’s nudes in particular are disturbing, given the various harms he perpetrated on his daughters. He found no boundaries in life, and since he was good at one thing, he felt it justified his pursuit of many others. You can find a similar quality in public figures. Moreover, they never apologize for their behavior, and take every opportunity to continue doing what they enjoy.

Eric Gill writes, We are ourselves creators. Through us exist things which God Himself could not otherwise have made. Our works are His works, but they are also in a strict sense our own, and if we present them to him, they are our presents to Him and not simply His to Himself. They are free-will offerings.

Do you understand why this is not a good philosophy?

Let me give you an example. I once knew a writer who was completely paranoid others would steal his precious ideas. He had this idea — I can share it with you now, because I think he is a priest or something like it, and gave up writing — about a murder mystery that involved a chase across the Andes. I don’t know why he thought this was such an original concept, although it might have made for a nice story. When I tried to talk to him about it he put his fingers in his ears.

He also loved Eric Gill, and introduced Eric Gill to me. His name was Ben.

In a diary of his trip to Ireland, among other insulting things, Eric Gill writes, At Ballinasloe saw the first people either distinctly Irish or distinctly beautiful — two girls. Otherwise, all the people ugly as in England.

Do you understand why this is not a good philosophy?

The world of men lasted for quite a long time. It was a natural extension of a philosophy that there was a reason why some things were beautiful, and a reason why things were ugly. Because if you think at any length about this, it is more a trick of the mind than an actual perspective on events. Therefore, objectifying women was morally correct for such people, and Eric Gill.

By 1930, Eric Gill began to suffer from intermittent amnesia. Even in this forgetful state, he knew he had done awful things to people he should have cared for, even beyond how much he cared for and loved himself. Life had completely proved his view of things wrong, and the creeping sensation of this infected what remained of his existence, as well as his writing.

He wrote:

I believe in birth control by the man by means of:–

(1) Karetza.

(2) Abstinence from intercourse.

(3) Withdrawal before ejaculation.

(4) French letters.

I don’t think 3 and 4 are good. I don’t think abstinence from orgasm is necessarily a bad thing. It depends on the state of mind and states of mind can be cultivated. (Anyway there’s no point in ejaculating seed into a woman who doesn’t welcome it – they can jolly well go without, if they don’t want our spunk they needn’t have it.) Let us talk about Matriarchy next time.

In 1934, Eric Gill went to Jerusalem for the first time. He saw all the usual tourist sites, with the wonder of a child. He began wearing a long, black robe and a head cloth, in a demented parody of Jesus, a man he admired. He was so happy, and then God bestowed upon Eric Gill a painful toothache. I guess sometimes God gives himself a gift.

Mark Arturo is the senior contributor to This Recording. He is a writer living in Manhattan.



In Which We Sincerely Believe We Do Not Belong



Tin Star
creator Rowand Joffe

v1.dDsyNjA5NTY7ajsxNzQ2MzsxMjAwOzc3MDsxMTU1.jpgIn Tin Star, Jim Worth (Tim Roth) is a London police officer who relocates to a mining town in British Columbia with his wife Angela (Genevieve O’Reilly), his daughter Anna (Abigail Lawrie) and his son Peter (Rupert Turnbull). At the conclusion of the show’s tumultuous first episode, an assassin approaches the family at a sinister Calgary gas station. He fires a bullet at Jim’s head from a distance of seven feet. Instinctively, Jim ducks, and the shell explodes his five year old son’s head. Fragments of the boy’s skull impact on his mother’s cranium, and she enters in a coma.

Jim is a recovering alcoholic, and it is not one night later that he finds himself in a bar. Tin Star creator Rowand Joffe gives us a hearty close-up of the heavenly whiskey that Sheriff Worth desires more than anything in his turgid little life. Everything in his world is categorically easier to abandon than alcohol – which is not to say he is not going to fail his family. Just that it will be hard.

Jim’s enemies do not really have sufficient reason to want him or his son dead. They are representatives of the oil concern which has infilfrated the town. The idea that oil companies would have to resort to murder to get their way when they can simply purchase everything in sight is somewhat implausible, but who cares? Tin Star is more a pure revenge fantasy, meant to bring Jekyll’s story into a Western forum. It has to be a fantasy – I mean, I can’t rationally believe in a rural Canadian town where everyone in it is a different type of asshole.

Christina Hendricks plays Elizabeth Bradshaw, a representative of that oil company. Hendricks grew up in the Pacific Northwest, although you would not really know it. I think her father was British, which makes sense with her coloring. She looks absolutely tiny in this, having eradicated any of the voluptuousness which might lend a sympathetic tint to this merciless character. She is not so much a villain as an embodiment of a lack of personal morality.

Jim’s daughter Anna is drawn to alcohol, and one of the most affecting scenes in the show’s opening episodes has her chugging down the various components of a motel mini-bar. “I want to be an archaeologist,” she tells her father, and this fortune-telling strikes us as wildly off-base. Jim himself has nothing in the way of hobbies or passions – that was what drinking was for. His job enables him to practice the only skill he has – the distribution of violence, and the proclivity to mete it out for somewhat rational reasons.

He is completely disconnected from modernity. It is what happens to those of us who, as we get older, neglect to manifest a regular discernment of what makes society itself. Such people often change their surroundings, since doing so gives them a reasonable excuse for feeling lost. There is no such get-out-of-jail free card when we are surrounded with those we know, and those who know us. It is better to be in the wilderness, where you can sincerely believe you do not belong. You will be right.

Eleanor Morrow is the senior contributor to This Recording.


In Which We Return Almost Completely To Ourselves

Death Became Them


creators Louise Fox & Tony Ayres

The worst thing I can ever imagine has happened to Australian police officer James Hayes (Patrick Brammell). After his perfect-looking blonde wife Kate (Emma Booth) dies of breast cancer, he remarries shortly thereafter, falling in love with an annoying brunette named Sarah (Emily Barclay). She becomes pregnant with his child, a blessing he could never achieve with his one true love.

What’s so bad about that, you’re saying to yourself as you wait for a burrito bowl to be prepared for you. One woman is great; a second pregnant one is usually better. I mean, there is a lot wrong in this scenario, but the downgrade is not worst part. The worst part is, your wife reemerges from her grave looking better than ever, shocked and appalled that you moved on so fast from the most important relationship of your life.

One of the most important aspects of Glitch is that you don’t have to worry about the central mystery of the show being that everyone is actually dead, since most of the cast is in fact deceased. Dr. McKellar (Genevieve O’Reilly) is a stringy blonde lesbian, also herself deceased, who woke up in a morgue determined to continue her important research in cellular regeneration. Although this is all her fault, she has little in the way of answers for these freshly alive corpses.

Some of the corpses hail from Australia’s stinky, racist path, resulting in lengthy flashbacks where we view the misdeeds of plantation owners and wayward civil servants. Australia is such a usual and unusual country, and although most of Glitch takes place in a small town to which this group of survivors is confined by a strange invisible boundary, we get a full sense of the place as both familiar home and overwhelming outpost on the edge of the wild.

Patrick Brammell is the main peace officer in this town of Yoorana in southeastern Australia. Brammell has the unpleasant job of merely reacting plausibly to everything that is spinning around him. He cannot really admit to anyone what has taken place, and yet he views himself as a paragon of ethics. In most scenes his most central task is to prevent his head from splitting open in frustration. We are constantly waiting for him to snap.

His new wife Sarah is a quivering wet rag. She is one of the most unlikeable people that has ever existed on television. She uses every moment as an excuse to tear apart something in herself in others, and she is completely careless with the things she loves.

The real centerpiece of Glitch is Emma Booth’s character Kate. In the first episodes of the show’s second season, which will be arriving on Netlfix for global audiences this fall, she is finally finding herself as a non-dead person. Part of her would love to leave Yoorana forever, but since she is not able to do that, she has to find escape wherever she can. She is still in love with her husband, but instead of leaving his wife for her, as any sane individual would do, he chooses to stay with his new baby. He and his wife name the beautiful child Nia.

Television concepts like The Returned have brought to life the reverse Time and Again experience, a mirror universe Outlander. But only Glitch has imagined that people from the past might actually bring a new energy to the world of the present, rather than simply feeling completely lost when out of their own time.

Glitch is a fantastic, intense, frequently violent experience. Giving up on the premise, even for a single scene, would dramatically reduce the stakes. A good soap never drops its pretense, even for a moment. Showrunner Tony Ayres (the original Aussie version of The Slap) never lets the tension let up, and Louise Fox’s scripts for this somewhat flimsy concept deftly explore every single aspect of what it means to be alive.

Ethan Peterson is the reviews editor of This Recording.

In Which We Received Something Before The Implosion

Burn Mark


after Fanny Howe

George, a biographer of W.H. Auden, was the first one to introduce me to him. He gave me Ted’s book Climbing the Mythic and after I had finished it, he gave me Ted’s phone number so I could call him and tell him what I thought of it. I had never done anything like that. It was 2003, and I was twenty-two.

Ted answered the phone right away and for the next couple of years I would receive phone calls from him that were understanding and encouraging, if somewhat patriarchal. These phone calls changed the direction of my life.

Ted, who was said to be the originator of the idea that sequential logic was only one of many possible systems of literary thought, was not much of a writer unless you call relentless musings about a sex life that took place entirely in the past, memoir. I call Climbing the Mythic a novel only because I know how much of it was utter bullshit. Then again, the word novel is a term of respect in that context.

Ted left a burn mark on whomever he met; he branded his disciples and partners and then dropped them like his father, who had given him away to nuns until reclaiming him at the age of fifteen. His father informed Ted that they had both improved during their time apart, which Ted knew to be a lie.

He broke off with C.D. Wright over the importance of Marianne Moore, who Ted described as a “the old woman who lived in the shoe.” Moore was perhaps too close an influence.

Ted grew up in western Massachusetts, largely on his own. In order to get an idea of the man you must read lines like these, describing his first orphanage:

A god approaches his subjects with a maudlin gaze, sighing with disappointment like a deer rejected by the hunt. Everyone watches a boy-god until they can no linger see with any other eyes but those they have been given. I yearn to find those little ones.

Ted talked and wrote like this. Unlike C.D. Wright, who he had a crush on for the better part of a decade, Ted identified with the proletarian underground since the early 1990s. After writing Climbing the Mythic, he went into eight years of withdrawal in order to study such texts as he could procure. After he emerged from this dark period, much like his father, he renounced the man he was, along with everyone he knew.

In an e-mail written to me in December, 2006, he wrote,

Now you can’t admire Tolstoy along with Joyce, Jane Austen and Henry James. That’s the usual academic pother of the day. Should you have understood Tolstoy you won’t be able to read the famous rubbish of James, Joyce and Austen. You must learn how to expurge what is foolish, bad garbage; otherwise you’ll never find these values you long for and should possess.

We met at a particular bookstore in Providence where the proprietor, for some reason, let Ted borrow whatever he wanted. Sometimes we met at a restaurant. It was never the same place twice, and he always disliked whatever he ordered. I was proud to be with him, my secret teacher, and only George shared my interest, my desire to please him.

He sent me a list of writers I was instructed to read by July, 2009. This is that list, verbatim:

Osiris by Wallis Budge
Egypt by Maspero
The Book of Job by Morris Jastrow
The Song of Songs
The Gentle Cynic
The Voyage of the Beagle by Darwin
L’Amour by Stendhal
Physiology of Marriage by Balzac
Enquires Into Plants by Theophrastes
The History of Greece
Greek Poets by John Addington Symonss
Lives of the Greek Philosophers by Diogenes Laertius
Last Essays by Eric Gill
Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion by Jane Harrison
Amiel’s Journal
The Goncourt Journals
Imaginary Conversations by Landor

And later he handed me a further list:

Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy
Sir Thomas Browne
Twelve Caesars by Suetonius
Animals and Birds by Buffon
Les Characteres by Lydell
Love of the Nymphs by Porphyry
Gil Blas by Le Sage

At that time Ted had no interest in religious thinking as we might conceive of it today. He was not an atheist whatsoever; he simply put god in the head of the men he most respected. These were scientists and also sociologists, who were to his mind as much inventors and adventurers as any. I managed most of the list, but concealed from him my other readings (Acker, Thalia Field, Cole Swensen, Armantrout, Fanny Howe). He would have been disgusted by my secret books. I loved misogynists. I debated them, even married them, but I never begged or let it go on too long.

My friendship with Ted ended sadly. He hated my then-husband, Rafi, and kicked out the man’s leg. He chased Rafi down the street screaming that he had no idea to what do with something as wonderful as myself. I felt, on one level, flattered. On another, deeply disturbed. My last e-mail from him was a critique of how much he hated Moby Dick and a confession of his true feelings for me. I couldn’t bear to write back.

What I got from Ted before his implosion was the sense of the writer always investigating the parameters of whatever world she had entered. You had to protect yourself from the politics of ideologues, and read what he called “ethical” writing. Ted told me to take a vow of poverty if I was serious about my work. This is his politics, he who is a proud supporter of Bernie Sanders, and to this day I wonder if he is right.

Going back to read Ted’s writing is no longer any fun for me, or anyone. We have surgically repaired everything he did to us. There is no use pretending the pain did not happen, or that the man understood his country or the people in it. It was not the time for Ted, but maybe in some other epoch.

I received an e-mail from George the other day. I was surprised the man even knew how to use a computer. He told me he didn’t get along with Ted much anymore either. “I suppose there is no use pretending we didn’t know him the best,” George wrote. Yeah.

Rena Latimer-Cross is a contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Illinois.


In Which For The Most Part We Consider Ourselves Lucky

Hard to Say is This Recording’s weekly advice column. It will appear every Wednesday until the Earth perishes in a fiery blaze, or until North West turns 40. Get no-nonsense answers to all of your most pressing questions by writing to or by dropping us a note at our tumblr.


I have been dating my new boyfriend, who I will call Sauron, for about six months give or take a week. Recently I received a message from an ex-girlfriend of Sauron’s that was rather spiteful in nature. I showed it to my boyfriend and he became very upset, at first, mainly at the idea that someone from his past was trying to sabotage his current relationship. He hasn’t brought it up since, but I have to admit the idea of being discarded by someone not interested in a relationship brings up some of my trust issues and I have found myself holding back more. It’s hard not to ask about the full story but I don’t want to make it seem like I’m jealous or petty. Is there a way of getting over this without screwing up or making a wrong move?

Emily H.


I send out spiteful messages all the time, often to people who I never even dated. Here are some examples:

Hi, I miss you and I love you. Do you know where you put my slippers?

Hey, what’s up. Did you see that video where the guy drank the entire cup of hot coffee? Classic.

Hi, is this Tim? Where is Tim? I miss you.

These kinds of strange messages are sure to contribute to an underlying instability at the center of the world. You seem to think that because you received a message from the past, it needs to affect your future. No one wants to see someone they care about moving on with anyone new. A facebook message is about the most mediocre expression of rage that exists, so consider yourself lucky that you were not run over by this woman’s car. If things are going well, just forget it ever happened.

Screen Shot 2017-08-23 at 8.14.22 AM


I recently met a woman through some mutual friends. Dee is a social worker who is very devoted to the people she helps get on their feet. She is great at her job. 

Frequently, our dates or hangouts are postponed because things come up unexpectedly. Dee doesn’t have a lot of faith in the people with which she works, so she feels like she has to handle these things herself. I try to accept that I am not always going to be her number one priority, but I am starting to worry it might be this way forever. She is apologetic and feels really guilty when she cancels the plans, and I try not to make things worse. I don’t feel comfortable bringing it up to her since we have only been dating for four months. Should I give up now, or is it possible things will change in the future?

Henry P.

Dear Henry,

Dee probably is balancing a lot of things on her plate at one time, and since she deals with people who are used to letting her down and feeling bad about it, she is reflexively adopting their behavior. A good psychologist could probably fix her in a month or two.

We don’t have that kind of time. It seems like she likes you because you are the one person she can disappoint, which means you may be very special to Dee. The irony seems to be lost on you.

Your instinct to wait until further in the relationship to make this an issue seems sound. By six months she will have bonded to you further, and you can influence her decision-making without her openly wondering where you got the nerve to tell her what to do. Four months in, you’re just another aspect of the patriarchy holding her back.


In September I am planning on marrying my boyfriend of four years, Darren. Recently the wedding preparations have begun in earnest and while I don’t have any hesitation about my decision to get married (I hate the expression tie the knot, it is gross), I am a bit worried about how many people seem to be involved in the ceremony. Both of our parents are contributing financially to the event, and understandably they both expect to be a part of the process.

The wedding already seems like it will have to be much larger than I ever imagined it – over 100 people! – and the amount of money and time that is going into one day is starting to bother me. Should I just suck up my feelings or should I try to do something about it?

Jamie P.


Dear Jamie,

Many weddings and genocides share a common trait – they both involve over 100 people. I have attended many weddings in my time, and the only one I really truly enjoyed the bride got incredibly drunk and slept through most of the reception. Basically, as a bride, you are allowed several common expressions that will curtail a lot of this chicanery without coming off as a party pooper:

– “I always imagined a small wedding.”

– someone suggests inviting Aunt Helen. “Didn’t Aunt Helen once say ADHD was caused by grapefruit juice? She is not welcome on my special day.”

– “Whose wedding is this?”

– “Darren and I need to talk that over.”

– “Whose special day is this?”

– “Aunt Helen once thought my Armenian friend was a terrorist.”

– “They had that at the Katie Holmes-Tom Cruise nups. Remind me how that special day worked out.”

– “You’re not my mother.”

– “You might be my mother, but this is not your special day.”

– “I need to talk that over with Aunt Helen.”

Above all, lie, prevaricate and postpone any decision you feel the slightest bit uncomfortable with. No one ever looks back on a bride’s behavior before a wedding and says, “She was just so indecisive, Shelia!” It’s just par for the course.

Illustrations by Mia Nguyen. Access This Recording’s mobile site at


In Which We Fly To The Darkest Reaches Of Face

Screen Shot 2017-09-11 at 9.28.46 PM



The Orville
creator Seth MacFarlane

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What is the mininum amount of enterprise you have to put into a creative task for it to be called original? Star Trek: The Next Generation was a smash hit from the beginning, with its first episode drawing an astonishing 27 million viewers on September 28th, 1987. Unfortunately, the entire first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation was utter dogshit, but that did not drive people away, since the only other thing on television at the time was Wheel of Fortune and reruns of M*A*S*H. Patrick Stewart carried the show. The sets were awful, many being reused from previous Star Trek films and television shows, and outside of Brent Spiner and Stewart, the acting was mind-bogglingly stilted.

In time this disaster of an hour of television found its way into some halfway decent writing. The show peaked with a tremendous fifth season, highlighted by the season’s penultimate episode, a masterpiece of science fiction titled “The Inner Light.” A lot of actors, directors and writers had to pass through Star Trek: The Next Generation to get to that level of quality. Is The Orville attempting the same five year plan? Because if so, I feel decently confident it may never get there.

Screen Shot 2017-09-11 at 9.28.51 PM

The Orville would normally be conceived as a parody of Star Trek, but it is stunningly sincere in its appropriation. Other than the normally calming presence of the Enterprise’s second-in-command, Lieutenant Riker, even the roles of the crew of Ed Mercer (Seth MacFarlane) remain the same. Minorities and women are mere background noise, and yet the relationships between the sexes never advance past getting wackily twisted by alien influence before returning to a muted professionalism.

With CBS sending its most recent Star Trek show to die on its internet service, The Orville is the only brief for the viability of an alien-of-the-week series, and unfortunately for fans of this now-niche genre, it does not acquit itself very well. MacFarlane is an underrated actor with great delivery of lines and natural comic timing, not to mention his singing voice. Sadly, the cast he has surrounded himself with on this tin can leaves a substantial amount to be desired.

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Portraying Mercer’s love interest is a clunky Adrienne Palicki. The fact that their marriage fell apart after she cheated on him because he was absent all the time is the central source of “humor” in the show’s first episodes. Unfortunately, jokes are few and far between in The Orville, which seems to think of itself as a dramatic series with a few light moments.

Star Trek: The Next Generation also featured quite a few jokes. Many consisted of applying basic human values to the strange practices and cultures that could be found in the universe’s many worlds. This human-centric view has not aged very well — we now have substantial reason to believe there is no truly superior culture that exists, and the search for a different way to live makes a lot more sense than the idea of bringing our own views out to a galaxy at large. You want the Milky Way to find out about r/The_Donald?

Screen Shot 2017-09-11 at 9.29.01 PM

As such, The Orville is ill-timed. Star Trek: The Next Generation emerged at the end of the Cold War, where democracy itself was sufficiently virtuous to think that spreading various Western values along with it was a worthy proposition. Well, it worked — the world now mostly consists of various messy democracies in our own image.

It is time to take a hard look in the mirror. The world has to teach us something — about how we value human and animal life, how we deal with our natural resources, and how we deal with economic inequality. There must be some evolution, since it is the sole principle that allows life to continue subsisting. We get none of that in The Orville — just the same blandishments and science fiction premises barely based in science, and hardly creative enough to be called fiction. You would be forgiven if you thought you were simply watching a rejected TNG script from thirty years ago.

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McFarlane must really like Star Trek. Far more probable, however, is that he saw the economic sense behind it. Shot on a limited variety of sets, and only requiring one or two shots of mediocre CGI from time-to-time as the only evidence this show is not thirty years of age, The Orville is not really much of a risk for Fox, who seemingly has been struggling to produce live-action hits since The X-Files.

It is substantially more of a shaky venture to spend your valuable time watching it. Never in my wildest dreams did I think a show made in 2017 could be as stupidly self-important as Babylon 5.

Ethan Peterson is the reviews editor of This Recording.


In Which We Leave New York In A Panic

The Mistress of Fevre-Berthier


In 1958 New York was a dark city. Much more so than Paris, I remember that from the window of my room on the ninth floor, looking out over 85th Street, I couldn’t see what was going on below. I could hear cars passing and see their headlights, but I couldn’t see the street. New York is as dark as it is beautiful.

At the age of forty-two, Jean-Pierre Melville went to a New York he knew from the movies. He had just discarded a film-in-progress that would never be released — a spy movie featuring frequent collaborator Pierre Grasset. His new project detailed the story of a French cabinet member’s death in his girlfriend’s apartment. He had shot twenty minutes of it when Charles de Gaulle came to power in 1958, forcing Melville to reimagine the project in America, though the interiors for Two Men in Manhattan would be filmed back in Paris.

As de Tocquevilles go, there is none better. Although Two Men in Manhattan is something of a disaster as a motion picture with an engaging plot, it is better conceived as a documentary of New York in the late fifties, with a particular focus on the sorts of women that Melville met in the city.

Some of the many women that Moreau (Melville, in his only starring role) and Delmas (Pierre Grasset) meet are lesbians, many are non-white, and most have tremendously large breasts. “This seems to be the American ideal of beauty,” Melville told Rui Nogueira. “You had the feeling that Americans were suffering from a mammary complex and still needed to be breast-fed. It was very disagreeable, repugnant even.”

Watching Two Men in Manhattan today, you come to the sinking conclusion that very little has changed. The entire film takes place two days before Christmas, and Rockefeller Center looks exactly the same as it does every year. New York is dark, vast and nearly infinite in Melville’s conception. It took him a few weeks to learn what took me years and years. If only I could see as Jean-Pierre did; that is, everything at once.

Photographed by Michael Shrayer, this New York is rooms and elevators, small and tinnier. Lights passed through surfaces translucent, then mysteriously opaque. Sound bounces around and begs to be removed. Suddenly Two Men in Manhattan becomes unbearably loud with the sound of horns, before transforming, not a moment too soon, into the elegiac ballad you were never expecting. Along with the proliferation of rats, it is really enough to begin to loathe the place.

Grasset’s character is a lothario member of the paparazzi. About halfway through the film, he and Moreau find the young girlfriend of the diplomat in Roosevelt Hospital. She has tried to kill herself by slashing her wrists, and she lies helpless and alone in bed. Moreau enters first to try to find out what has happened, but when he cannot get the information he wants, he sends in his less scrupulous friend.

This moment of violation, of utter violence, is awful to witness. But Melville is suggesting that as indecent as it is, this is nothing compared to what we do to ourselves. Jean-Pierre repudiated Two Men in Manhattan many times, and the dialogue in the film appears to have been devised in a rush. As an actor, Melville comes across like a minimalist eunuch. Unfortunately, he lacked the training to conceive of his priggish character as anything but a schlub. Ashamed, he never appeared in front of the camera again.

By making both of his protagonists unlikable journalists, Melville indicted his critics. But in a weird way, this was the right choice for Two Men in Manhattan, since it makes the diverse roster of women that the men query throughout into the secret heroes of the film. All of the women lie to these men they barely know, since it is the only way to protect themselves from the patriarchal harm Moreau and Delmas represent.

Built into this portrayal is Melville’s definitive brief on the opposite sex. Without saying anything or stating it outright, Two Men in Manhattan is concerned with what Melville admires about women, and also what he feels is not present in individuals of his own sex. Dispensing with conventional wisdom and stereotype, Melville finds these feminine human beings have all sorts of qualities that he is lacking, and cataloguing them would take as long as the film’s running time. Crucially, it is not that they are better or worse than men, it is that they less frequently delude themselves about this subject.

I took this lesson to heart. I used to walk by the United Nations building, featured numerous times in Two Men in Manhattan, quite a lot. There is a development site several blocks long not far from the U.N. that has featured a massive pit for as long as I can remember. In China the site would have been developed in a weekend, but here in New York the project never stops oscillating. To prevent people from falling in, a white curtain blocks a stunning view of the East River. God forbid you are ever able to pretend you are anywhere other than where you stand.

My memories of New York are a day in the Central Park Zoo, and standing near that fake castle in the rain. My friends who I loved are still there, well maybe some of them are. Perhaps I’ll check when I find the nerve. The subway broke down near Columbia. We all got off, some of us did, others stayed on, waiting to see where the train went. I walked to the top of the park with sweat in my eyes. A fire filled up a trashcan, so I told a doorman. The next day was the Puerto Rican Day Parade.

No time to think about who and what I miss. God gave me a letter, and I walked all the way down Second Avenue and back. Jamie came over to take care of the mice, and went out again. Helping my professor sort through his crowded apartment, his prints. Spring was always the wrong season, smiles were too seductive or not enough. I left her at 72nd Street. When I came back, she was still crying. Now so am I.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording. He is a writer living in Los Angeles.

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