In Which Our Tragic Effects Remain Purely Professional

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My Only Advice

In every relationship, romantic or otherwise, one of the two people feels slightly closer to the other, if only by a matter of degrees. So it was with Gustave Flaubert and his hypochrondriac, flaky friend Ivan Turgenev. These two barnacles met when Flaubert was 40 and Turgenev was three years older. From the tenor of their conversations, which Flaubert seemed to treasure above all else, we can deduce that their spirits remained substantially youthful. Flaubert’s self-professed love of literature was so all-encompassing it almost crowded out other parts of himself; Turgenev shared his friend’s basic interest but saw the underlying reality for what it was. (Turgenev called his friend, “the only man in existence really devoted to literature.”)

Turgenev would visit Flaubert at his retreat in Croisset in the summer, or in Paris during the winter season. Many of the hours they passed together consisted of Flaubert reading his novels or plays aloud, a difficult burden even for one of his most central admirers. The written correspondence between the two in the 1860s leaves the mortal plane behind; it can be classified as the first bubbles of modernity to enter the universe.

RomePriests

March 1863

 

My dear Turgenev,

Your letter was most kind and you are too modest. For I have just read your latest book. I found your essential qualities in it, and more intense, more rarified than ever.

What I admire above all is the distinguished quality of your art — a wonderful thing. You manage to ring true yet avoid banality, to be sentimental without morbidity, and comic without being at all low. Without looking for high drama, you achieve it none the less by the sheer professionalism of your tragic effects. You seem very casual, but you have great skill, ‘the skin of the fox combined with that of the lion’, as Montaigne said.

Elena’s is a fine story. I like this character, as well as Shubin and all the others. While reading you one says to oneself ‘I’ve experienced that’. Thus I believe that page 51 will be felt with greater intensity by no one than by me. What a psychologist! But I’d need many lines to express all my thoughts on that.

As for your First Love, I understand it all the better for its being the story of one of my closest friends. All old romantics (and I who slept with a dagger under my pillow am one) should be grateful to you for this little story that has so much to say about their youth! What a real live girl Zinochka is.

The creation of women is one of your strong points. They are both ideal and real. They have the attraction of saintliness. But what dominates this work, indeed the whole collection, is the two lines: “I had no bad feelings towards my father. On the contrary he had, so to speak, increased in stature in my eyes.” That strikes me as being startlingly profound. Will people pick it up? I don’t know. But for me, it is sublime.

Yes, dear colleague, I hope that our relationship will not stand still, and that our mutual sympathy will tum into friendship.

In the meantime, one thousand handshakes from your

Gustave Flaubert

 

pull head saw my heavy snow

April 1863

My dear colleague,

I don’t need, I hope, to tell you how much pleasure your second letter gave me — and more than pleasure! If I didn’t reply straightaway, it was because I had to extricate myself from a host of disagreeable little matters that made me ill-humoured and lazy at the same time. These miseries continue, but my conscience will not permit me to delay any longer. I have been counting, and still do, on your indulgence — and above all I want to thank you and shake you by the hand.

I am very glad to have your approval and you should be convinced of it: I well know that an artist and man of goodwill such as yourself reads a host of things between the lines of a book, for which he generously appreciates the author’s effort: but it doesn’t make any difference. Praise coming from you is worth gold — and I pocket it with pride and gratitude.

Shall we not see each other during the summer? An hour of good, frank conversation is worth a hundred letters. I’m leaving Paris in a week’s time to go and settle in Baden. Will you not come there? There are trees there such as I’ve seen nowhere else — and right on the tops of the mountains. The atmosphere is young and vigorous and it’s poetic and gracious at the same time. It does a power of good to your eyes and to your soul. When you sit at the foot of one of these giants, it seems as if you take in some of its sap – and it’s good and beneficial. Really, come to Baden, even if it were only for a few days. You will take away with you some wonderful colours for your palette.

Before I leave, you will receive a book by me which has just been published. I am cramming you full — but you are partly to blame.

A thousand friendly greetings, keep well, work well, and come to Baden.

Yours

I. Turgenev

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Turgenev,

Cram me full then, dear colleague! I await your book impatiently and I shall read it with delight, I am sure.

I also have had a number of little aggravations just lately. The affinity between us is complete, you see.

I don’t think I shall be able to go to Baden, because I shall have several obligations that will disturb my routine this summer. When will you be back? And send me your address.

I shall spend the whole of June or the whole of August in Paris. In any case, we shall see each other next winter.

A thousand very long and very vigorous handshakes from your

Gustave Flaubert

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May 1868

My dear friend,

I’m very grateful to you for thinking of writing to me. Your letter gave me much pleasure — for it re-established relations between us and because it showed that you liked my book.

These days every single artist has something of the critic in him.

The artist is very great in you — and you know how much I love and admire it; but I also have a high opinion of the critic and I am very happy to have his approval. I well know that your friendship for me counts for something in all this: but I have the feeling that a master has stood in front of my picture, has looked at it and has nodded his head with an air of satisfaction. Well, I’ll say again that this has given me great pleasure.

I was very sorry not to have seen you in Paris — I only stayed there three days, and I regret even more that you are not coming to Baden this year. Your novel has you in harness — that’s good — I await it with the greatest impatience — but could you not take a few days rest, to the profit of your friends here? Since the first time I saw you (you know, in a sort of inn on the other bank of the Seine) I have felt a great liking for you — there are few men, particularly French men, with whom I feel so relaxed and at ease and yet at the same time so stimulated. It seems to me that I could talk to you for weeks on end, but then we are a pair of moles burrowing away in the same direction.

All this means that I should be very glad to see you. I’m leaving for Russia in a fortnight’s time, but I shan’t stay there long, and I shall be back by the end of July — and I shall go to Paris to see my daughter who will probably have made me a grandfather by then. I shall be game enough to come and chase after you even at home — if you are there. Or will you come to Paris? But I must see you.

In the meantime I wish you good fortune. The living, human truth that you pursue indefatigably can only be captured on good days. You have had some – you will have more — and many of them.

Keep well; I also embrace you — and with true friendship.

I. Turgenev

 

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July 1868

My dear Turgenev,

This is simply to remind you of your promise. You were supposed to be in Paris at the end of July or the beginning of August. As for me, I am here, and I await you.

So as to avoid your making unnecessary arrangements, here is my programme: from 30 July (next Thursday) until August I shall be at Saint-Gratien at the Princess Mathilde’s. Then I shall return to Paris for two days. I shall then spend another two days at Dieppe at one of my nieces. Then I shall return to Croisset, to get on with my book.

We must spend a few good hours together.

I embrace you wishing you cooler weather than we’re having in Paris, and I remain yours

G. Flaubert

the xbox player

 

August 1868

My dear friend,

I have waited until now to reply to your kind little note, because Iwas still hoping to be able to announce my arrival; but my devilish gout is obstinately refusing to leave me, and I cannot yet contemplate any kind of long journey. It’s annoying — but what can I do about it? I shall come as soon as I can; and in the meantime I embrace you and beg you to present my respects to your mother, whom I shall be very happy to meet.

Work hard in the meantime.

I. Turgenev

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November 1868

My dear friend,

The cheese has just arrived; I shall take it to Baden with me, and with every mouthful we shall think of Croisset and of the delightful day I spent there. Decidedly I feel that there is a real affinity between the two of us.

If all of your novel is as good as the extracts you read to me, you will have written a masterpiece, I’m telling you.

I don’t know if you’ve read the book I’m sending you; in any case, put it on one of the shelves of your library.

Present my respects to your mother — and let me embrace you.

Your

I. Turgenev

P. S. My address is: Carlsruhe, poste restante. It would be very kind if you were to send me a photograph of yourself. Here is one of me that looks very forbidding.

P.P.S. Find another title. Sentimental Education is wrong.

from baden compelte

January 1869

But I must have news of you, my dear friend. Let’s see now — in two words: where are you — and how is the novel going? I am writing to you at Croisset, and perhaps you are in Paris, sniffing out what’s new.

In any case, I don’t think you’ll stay there long.

I have not yet thanked you for the photograph, which makes you look very military and well groomed — but it’s you all right — and it’s always good to look at it. Why don’t you have some good ones taken?

I have often thought of Croisset, and I think to myself that it’s a nest to fledge songbirds in. As for me, I have done almost nothing. I have embarked on a task that I find repugnant and I am floundering about sadly in it. There’s no going back, but when it’s finished, I shall give a great sigh of relief! It’s a sort of anthology of literary reminiscences that I promised my publisher; I have never worked in that field and it’s not at all amusing. Oh! Two hours of being Sainte-Beuve! I’d like to know if he enjoys it very much.

My best greetings to your honourable mother, who seems to me the best possible of mamas one could imagine, and a good vigorous handshake to you.

Your

I. Turgenev

P. S. I am here for the whole winter because my friends the Viardotl are here. It’s not very gay, Carlsruhe, but it’s better than its reputation. I shall come to Paris towards the end of March.

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My dear friend,

Yes, people have certainly been unfair to you, but this is the time to brace yourself and hurl a masterpiece at the reading public. Your Anthony could be such a projectile. Don’t tarry too long over it, that’s my refrain. Don’t forget that people judge you according to the standards that you yourself have established, and you’re bearing the weight of your past. You have energy; el hombre debe ser feroz as the Spanish proverb says — and artists especially. Even if your book has only gripped a dozen people of any worth — then that is enough. You understand I’m saying all this not to console you, but to spur you on.

I have been here for about ten days — and my sole preoccupation is keeping warm. The houses are badly built here, and the iron stoves are useless. You’ll see a very little thing by me in the March edition of the Revue des 2 Mondes. It’s nothing very much. I’m working on something more ‘solid‘, that is, I’m getting ready to work.

I shall go to Paris before returning to Russia; that will be towards the end of April. I shall stay a good ten days — we shall see each other often.

If you see Mme Sand, give her my regards. Greetings to Du Camp and the Husson family.

I embrace you and wish you courage! You are Flaubert after all.

Your I.T.

the third rail etc

April 1870

I was very sorry to hear in your last letter that we shan’t see each other this summer, my dear friend. I had counted on a good chance to let myself go with you, before your departure for Russia. But how difficult everything in this life is!

The great sadness I’ve had this winter has been the death of my closest friend after Bouilhet, a good lad called Jules Duplan who was devoted to me. These two deaths, coming one on top of the other, have overwhelmed me. Add to that the pitiful state of two other friends (not such close friends, it’s true, but none the less they were part of my immediate circle). I’m referring to Feydeau’s paralysis and the madness of Jules de Goncourt. The loss of Sainte-Beuve, money worries, my novel’s lack of success etc., etc. even down to my manservant’s rheumatism (the one who looks like Lassouche), everything, as you can see, has conspired to aggravate me. And to do so to no mean extent.

I can easily say that the only good thing to happen to me for a long time was your last visit, which was too short. Why do we live so far away from one another? You are (I think) the only man I enjoy talking to. I can’t see that anybody else bothers about art and poetry! The plebiscite, socialism, the International and other such garbage are cluttering up everybody’s brains.

I fear I shan’t be able to accept your invitation this summer. Here’s why. In four or five days’ time I shall return to Croisset, where I’m going to write the preface to the volume of Bouilhet’s verse straightaway. It will take me two or three months — after which, I shall tackle St Anthony which will be interrupted in October by the rehearsals for Aisse. They will rob me of a good two months. So between now and next New Year I shall have barely six weeks to devote to the good hermit. I would like to spend not more than two years on that fellow. So you see how pressed for time I am. I must get on with that work, as quickly as possible, as I’m already starting to feel I’ve had enough of it. I have consumed too many books, one on top of the other — but it was in order to make myself numb to my personal sorrows.

Send me your news when you’re at home in Russia — and think of me often, because I often think of you, and I embrace you, ex imo

G. Flaubert

My mother was, as they say, very touched by your kind regards.

1863-1870

 

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In Which It Is Just The Christmas You Lost To Cocaine

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Workshop Blues

by JANICE LEVENS

Screen Shot 2017-11-18 at 5.46.18 PMEveryday Is Christmas
Sia
producers Sia Furler and Greg Kurstin
November 17th on Atlantic Records

I have no idea why Sia recorded Everyday Is Christmas, but it is best to not look this particular gift horse in the mouth or face. Some artists make jokes and others are sincere, but Sia occupies a discursive space between those two norms, and what a space it is. This metaphysical area is full of the following:

* puppies (Sia loves dogs, because they only judge people based on physical presence and * potential as a food source)
* nature (on “Snowflake” Sia deals with the traditional version of term. She is not so crass)
* elves (in the metaphorical sense)
* mistletoe (there is a positive aspect to touch)

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Parsing the lyrics is sometimes a challenge. On “Sunshine”, Furler suggests, “Tell me your secrets tonight and I’ll get the elves working on them.” She adds, “Got the elves working so hard, make your pain stop.” I honestly never know when to laugh or cry on this album, and the preternaturally talented producer of Everyday Is Christmas, Greg Kurstin, doesn’t seem to either. This unexpected album is such a songwriting tour de force that even the most nonsensical lyrics land completely in the Santa’s Workshop of orchestration woven by Furler.

On the album’s most formal and nearly devout track, “Snowman”, Furler manages a touching and deeply beautiful ballad that proves that almost any simile she writes can encompass anguish and joy at the same time. She warbles

Don’t cry snowman, don’t you fear the sun
Who’ll carry me without legs to run?
Don’t cry snowman, don’t you shed a tear
Who’ll hear my secrets if you don’t have ears?

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Mostly Everyday Is Christmas seems to be making the point that words are mere shells, and the underlying arrangements are Furler’s actual voice. She is one of the most magnetic and intuitive musical talents ever to work in this genre, and if it feels like very few risks are being taken here, there is also the pervasive feeling that Sia is closing a door on a certain sound embodied by her 2014 masterpiece 1000 Forms of Fear.

On “Puppies Are Forever”, Furler sings, “Cause they’re so cute and fluffy with shiny coats. But will you love ’em when they’re old and slow?” This should not have affected me as much as it did either. But for some of us, the end of the year is when we are at our most vulnerable and plaintive. Timing is everything in life, and I am happy Sia made Everyday is Christmas for us this year.

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Janice Levens is the music editor of This Recording.

 

In Which We Careened About A Dray Loaded With Sand

False Notes

The letters of Henry James from Italy paint a disturbing and often contradictory picture. On one hand you have an educated observer open to a variety of impressions and situations detailing events. On the other, Henry seems oblivious to much of what he experiences, so much so that you have to wonder what percentage of the world he encounters on even footing. In the following selections, James details his view of Italy — it is the view of Englishman, granted, but an appreciative one.

The first month I was in Florence I had a villa at Bellosguardo, kindly sublet to me by a friend (Constance Fenimore Woolson the novelist—an excellent woman, of whom I am very fond, though she is almost impracticably deaf), who had taken it for three years and was not yet ready to go into it, having another on her hands.

A cook went with it—a venerable—and veritable chef—so that I was very comfortable—and blissfully lifted out of that little simmering social pot—a not very savoury human broth—into which Florence resolves itself today.

It is a pity it is personally so tiresome, for (allowing for the comparative ugliness of its winter phase, with hard cold and dusty tramontana) it had never seemed to me, naturally and artistically, more delightful. And the views from the villas on the hills (I was at a good many) are as beautiful—really—as your memory must tell you. On January 1st my friend came into her villa and I descended into Florence—where (I am told) I went “out” a good deal. Why, I don’t know—as it was very exactly what I had left London not to do.

I am also told I was “lionized”—and the wherefore of this I know still less. On reflection, in fact, I greatly doubt it. But I did see a great many people; too many, for what they were. I won’t tell you their names, or more than that they were members of the queer, promiscuous polyglot (most polyglot in the world) Florentine society.

+

Venice is wintry yet and so little terne, in consequence; also the calles and campos impress the sense with a kind of glutinous, malodorous damp. But it is Venice, none the less, and it is a ravishment to be here and to think that every week, at this season, will bring out a little more of the colour. I have a hope, if I stay in Italy late enough, of going down to Rome for ten days in May—when the damaging crowd shall have taken itself off. I dream then of also taking a little tour of old towns in Tuscany. If I am able to do this I shall certainly give you news of Rome.

+

I enjoyed my absence, and I shall endeavour to repeat it every year, for the future, on a smaller scale: that is, to leave London, not at the beginning of the winter but at the end, by the mid-April, and take the period of the insufferable Season regularly in Italy. It was a great satisfaction to me to find that I am as fond of that dear country as I ever was—and that its infinite charm and interest are one of the things in life to be most relied upon. I was afraid that the dryness of age—which drains us of so many sentiments—had reduced my old tendresse to a mere memory. But no—it is really so much in my pocket, as it were, to feel that Italy is always there.

+

De Vere Gardens always follows me.

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There are many things I must ask you to excuse. One of them is this paper from the village grocer of an unsophisticated Bavarian valley. The others I will tell you when we next meet. Not that they matter much; for you won’t excuse them—you never do. But I have your commands to write and tell you “all about” something or other—I think it was Venice—and at any rate Venice will do. Venice always does.

+

This is a delightful moment to be in Italy, and really nowadays, the only right one—for the herd of tourists has departed, the scramble at the stations is no more, and one seems alone with the dear old land, who at the same time, seems alone with herself. I am happy to say that I am as fond as ever of this tender little Florence, where it doesn’t seem a false note even to be staying with an “American doctor.” My friend Baldwin is a charming and glowing little man, who, coming here eight or ten years ago, has made himself a first place, and who seems to consider it a blessing to him that I should abide a few days in his house.

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When, three mornings ago, I rose early, to take the train for Florence, and in the cool, fresh 7 o’clock light, was rowed through the delicious half-stirred place and the imbroglio of little silent plashing waterways to the station, it was really heartbreaking to come away—to come out into the dust and banalité of the rest of the world. (Venice clings closer to one by its dustlessness than perhaps by any other one charm.) But already the sweetness of Florence tastes. I am, however, seriously thinking, or rather dreaming, of putting my hand on some little cheap permanent refuge in Venice—some little perch over the water, with a bed and a table in it, to call one’s own and come away to, without the interposition of luggage and hotels, whenever the weight of London, at certain times, is no longer to be borne.

+

At Verona I collapsed upon my old hotel—which, however, this time I found excellent and not exceptionally dear.

Some day you might do worse than try it—the woods, the walks, the views, the excursions, the places to stroll in, and sit, and spend the day in the open air, all being, apparently, exquisite and extremely numerous. The only blot is that one has to make sure of quarters a long time in advance—unless one stays with Mme Peruzzi: a privilege that I am actually engaged in wriggling out of.

+

Italy is already a dream and Venice a superstition.

I have been here (in this particular desolation,) since yesterday noon, intently occupied in realizing that I am an uncle. It is very serious—but I am fully taking it in. I don’t see as yet, how long I shall remain one—but sufficient unto the day are the nephews thereof.

I can only, for all sorts of practical reasons, live in London, and must always keep an habitation “mounted” there. But whenever I have been in Venice (especially the last two or three times), I have felt the all but irresistible desire to put my hand on some modest pied-à-terre there—modest enough to be compatible with the retention of my London place, which is rather expensive; and such as I might leave standing empty for months together—without scruple—in my absence, and deposit superfluous luggage in, when I wished to “visit” Italy. This humble dream I still cherish—but it is most vivid when I’m on the spot—i.e. Venice; it fades a little when I’m not there.

I rejoice in everything that may be comfortable in your situation or interesting in your adventures.

1869-1890

 

In Which This Is Not The Greatest News For Him

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 justhardtosay@gmail.com.

Last March I had a brief relationship with a co-worker, who I will call Sam. The relationship ended when Sam was transferred to another part of the company – it’s about an two hours drive away. I never heard that it was because another employee found out about us, and transfers are frequent. 

I miss Sam a lot, and I have thought about asking for a transfer or leaving my job so that this would not be an obstacle to us being together. When I talk to him about it, he is mostly focused on the repercussions for his career. He does say he wants to be together, but it seems impossible right now. Can you suggest any course of action?

Nadine A.

Hiqfo2C

Dear Nadine,

A man is a beautiful thing. He smells of musk and Raisinets, and he always has a kind word for a tourniquet or bedfellow. A hour is not too far to conduct any relationship, but two can make it rather difficult on both of you.

The facts seem to be these, though: if you did not tell someone about your relationship, then it is quite possible Sam did, which means he may not exactly want this relationship as much as it seems. It’s a great cop-out, and we can add to the fact that if he wanted to see you on a regular basis, he probably would.

It can be tricky to get out of a work relationship, and Sam most likely felt trapped. This is through no fault of your own, but the fact that you are still pursuing this even when he has been transferred indicates the momentum in the relationship is entirely on your side.

Let me tell you a story. A man (Joseph Cotten) loved a woman (Ginger Rogers). When he found out that she had to serve three years in prison for murdering her boss when the man tried to drunkenly r her, he was like, “I will wait for you my darling.” He was there outside the prison when she got out, and they had three wonderful children together, two of them addressed by their peers and parents as “Monsignor.”

Instead of Joseph Cotten, who was also a war hero in this particular instance, you have targeted a mid-level functionary at your organization who has a lot of excuses that he can’t be with you. He sounds like Scar from The Lion King, and while Scar’s phallus was shaped like a can of tuna, Scar also had some pretty attractive qualities. Every single person in the universe can be the love of your life. Sam doesn’t want to be.

You can probably turn this around. Cut off all contact with Sam and start dating someone named Davidson LeGrue. Problem partially solved.

Hi,

My friend Ashley has a boyfriend named Johnny. A few nights ago she got a call from him: he was in the hospital. He had woken up there without any knowledge of how he had gotten there other than that he had drinks with a female friend. There was some kind of drug in his system that indicated one of his drinks was spiked; he has no idea by who.

She was comforting, but I was pretty aghast at this entire story and the idea that she believed him without verifying any of the information. Then again, he did not have to call her from the hospital at all or provide any of this, to me, weird story.

What do you think actually happened here, and what should I tell Ashley to do about it?

Raina N.

Dear Raina,

It is disturbingly serious what Bill Cosby did to all these women. And to offer them a muffin afterwards and send them on their way after the rape is just disgusting. I don’t know how that relates to your question, but I must admit it has been on my mind.

I was reading this Robert Heinlein book about life on the moon the other day. Any crime is punishable by death, if it is bad enough. The idea that rape is a crime worse than murder only makes sense in that it is more difficult to prosecute. I don’t know how that relates to your question either.

Or maybe I do, since your friend’s boyfriend is and isn’t having a reaction that indicates this may have happened to him. If he simply drank too much, the only reason not to say so if he did something so out of character it might be revealed to Ashley by a third party. Then, his excuse is built into the original story.

For a second let’s assume everything he said is true. It is possible to be drugged by someone we know, or drink from someone else’s glass. (This happened in The Princess Bride as I recall.) There would be no reason not to tell Ashley the truth in this scenario, and it would explain most everything in the story.

Unfortunately, pathological exaggerators seek to play up stories, and people often feel humiliated and embarrassed when their drinking leads them to medical care. I don’t know if there is much to be gained by checking up on this story however. You should be only able to find out whether Johnny was a patient at the hospital. If he was, then that is the likely limit of your investigation.

It would be beneficial for you yourself to quiz Johnny about this incident, but Ashley is likely going to have to do this on her own. Here is some advice for follow-up that you can provide here.

* Questions will keep coming up. Do not ask them randomly, as they come to mind, or constantly hint or make suggestions about her doubts. This is easy to deflect. Most people can only tell one lie at a time.

* The key is to really find a specific moment, preferably in public, to talk at length to Johnny about this incident. If he really is a pathological liar, he will want to do this in private.

* Ask a series of noncombative questions, and then suddenly turn nasty, but only for a moment, to gauge his reaction. Then back off — this isn’t Guantanamo.

* If he becomes flustered or upset, this is not the greatest news for him. If he cries, this is not the greatest news for him. If he calmly tries to reassure you, this is the best news for him.

* Pray

 

In Which Taylor Swift Becomes A Stranger

Iconoclasted

by JANICE LEVENS

Reputation
Taylor Swift
producers Max Martin and Karl Schuster
November 10th on Big Machine

When evening comes, I go back home, and go to my study. On the threshold, I take off my work clothes, covered in mud and filth, and I put on the clothes an ambassador would wear. Decently dressed, I enter the ancient courts of rulers who have long since died. There, I am warmly welcomed, and I feed on the only food I find nourishing and was born to savour. I am not ashamed to talk to them and ask them to explain their actions and they, out of kindness, answer me. Four hours go by without my feeling any anxiety. I forget every worry. I am no longer afraid of poverty or frightened of death.

– Niccolò Machiavelli

If Taylor Swift is anything like the person depicted on her new album Reputation, she is the most devious, complicated, multifaceted person ever to exist. Let us take our time with a line from “I Did Something Bad”, which I believe in the end represents everything this woman is concerned with: “I never trust a narcissist, but they love me.” Such a statement implies that every single association Swift has with other people is deceitful in some way. This admission is startling on another level, since it prizes the latter section of the clause over the former. The beginning of the lyric is a preference, the ensuing clause is a state of being.

Of course there is the possibility that this, like so much else on Reputation, is tongue in cheek, or simply written by one of the many co-writers Swift has worked with over the years. On Reputation, Jack Antonoff and the producing-songwriting team of Karl Schuster and Max Martin are present to work in the confines of Swift’s familiar sound. But the lyrical voice is distinctly Swift’s own, and the message is completely fucked up:

I stay when it’s hard, or it’s wrong
Or we’re making mistakes
I want your midnights
But I’ll be cleaning up bottles with you

Again, if this is true, it’s desperately sad and twisted. If it’s only a conceit, the expression of it is somehow worse. I know that massive amounts of money and adulation are capable of changing a person, but altering them to this extent is potentially what happened to Lady Macbeth. Of course, no one ever said Lady Macbeth was boring, and Swift is intent on focusing this aspect of her personality. On “Dancing With My Hands Tied” she explains, “I’m the mess that you wanted.” Uh-huh.

But no one could ever think Swift was, or has ever been a mess. So that part is a lie, and probably a lot else on this album. Swift’s last album, the more enjoyably pop 1989, sold ten million copies, and Reputation attempts to put it in the dust. The more considered, low-key elements of that album are completely submerged here, with Swift more often sounding like mid-career Madonna than any iteration of herself.

There is something dated about Reputation, which suggests that the 27-year old is becoming very old, very quick. The orchestrations are generally limited, leaving the focus on Swift’s sharp, bouncy voice, which is at its best when breathily intoning in something like speech. “Dress” is her most complete and exciting track in this vein, explaining, “I don’t want you like a best friend,” hinting at a story she refuses to tell. Instead, we receive the following blandishments:

Even in my worst times, you could see the best of me
Flashback to my mistakes
My rebounds, my earthquakes
Even in my worst light, you saw the truth in me
And I woke up just in time
Now I wake up by your side

It would be compelling to watch Swift take on various new themes in her work, including authentic estimations of loss and love. Instead Reputation is an extended revenge fantasy on no one in particular. “I’ll be the actress starring in your bad dreams,” she blurts out on “Look What You Made Me Do.”

When Niccolo Machiavelli retired from private life, he wrote his signature work, The Prince. The entire time he was longing to return back to politics, since it was what brought joy to his life. In The Prince, he explains that such a person must be able to change his views at a moment’s notice. He isn’t able to be honest, because it would mean losing his ability to defeat his rivals, and kill them when he can. This was what Machiavelli called virtu. I feel like Taylor Swift is articulating a new philosophy along these lines, which is essentially a return to the old.

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Janice Levens is the music editor of This Recording. She is a writer living in Los Angeles.


 

In Which We Display Modesty As A Form Of Arrogance

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How to Behave

The final diaries of Søren Kierkegaard occupy themselves primarily with an extended discussion of faith. Søren viewed most things through the lens of Christ, usually disdaining the paltry efforts of organized religion to represent the god he felt inside of him. Over his lifetime, he composed over 7,000 pages of journals on this and various other topics. His extended thoughts on his own belief may interest believers and non-believers alike, but he was much pithier and less sacrosanct about other aspects of his life.

A serious misogynist, Kierkegaard had largely abandoned relationships with women near the end of his life. It had gone wrong once, and he refused to let it happen again. His relationship with the media, as reflected on below, could hardly be said to be better. He sees himself so definitely that at times he does not even realize how dead-on balls accurate he is. The highly edited extracts below from his last years on earth display modesty as a form of arrogance, ascended to highest ideal.

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It is commonly thought that it is cowardice to flee from the world and enter a monastery.

Now perhaps it is sometimes the case that such a man doubts whether he can endure the bestial laughter and ridicule, the persecution and maltreatment which may result from his having to express the ‘spirit’ in the midst of animal creatures.

But the matter can be regarded from another side. Such a man flees because he does not have the heart to upset the others, of whom he knows very well that he will never entirely win them to his view, and so he will only be a torment to them. Would you not much prefer to be rid of a man who speaks only of one thing, of dying, of dying to the world?

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My task is so new that in Christianity’s eighteen hundred years there is literally not one from whom I can learn how to behave.

When I die, there will be something for the professors! These wretched rascals! And it does not help, it does not help in the least, even if it is printed and read over again. The professors will still make a profit of me, and they will lecture away, perhaps with the additional remark that the peculiarity of this man is that he cannot be lectured about.

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If I were a father and had a daughter who was seduced, I should by no means give her up; but if I had a son who became a journalist I should regard him as lost.

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Evil is always more horrible the longer it lasts. Cannibals kill a man and eat him – and that is that. It lasts only a short time and when it is over, there is as it were a hope – till the next time – that the cannibal become a different man, might become better. But the priest and the professor make their preparations (with cold calculation) once for all to live on the sufferings of those saints. They get married on the strength of them, they beget children, they organize an idyllic and thoroughly enjoyable life. They live on the torment of the saints.

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Is moral philosophy not, like astrology and alchemy, a science which has to do with something which does not exist?

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Everyone who has a little experience knows at heart that this is a rotten world. But just as it is the done thing in a prison to keep a stiff upper lip, as it is also regarded as the cleverest thing to do, and to pretend one is having a good time, and as it is in consequence the custom in prisons to tease and torment the man who lets it be seen he is suffering, so with the whole world or with mankind in the world. In general, anyone who wants to understand human life as the whole would do best to study the criminal world – this is the really reliable analogy.

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Surely not even my bitterest enemy would deny that I shall acquire a certain renown. But I am beginning to wonder whether I will not become renowned in a quite different sphere than I have hitherto imagined – namely, as a naturalist. For I have discovered, or at least made a very significant contribution to the natural history of parasites, I mean priests and professors, those voracious and prolific parasites, who even have the effrontery (unlike other parasites) to try and pass themselves off as the friends and disciples of those whose sufferings they live on.

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What a woman is most afraid of, where she feels that her being and her power are annihilated, is when she has risked the utmost in seduction, and it ends with the laughter of her opponent. And strangely enough, wherever they get it from – presumably from instinct – women seem to suspect that so far as I am concerned, just when they make the greatest efforts I would burst out laughing – and no woman will risk this at any price.

Alas, there is some truth in this, that it could end with my bursting out laughing. But the reason is neither my great virtue nor my great spirituality but – my melancholy.

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The daily press is properly calculated to make personality impossible. For it has the effect of an immense abstration, the generation, which has infinite power over the single person. It is a means which was unknown in former times. For in former times the battle between a personality and the abstract was not so immensely disproportionate as now, when an individual who is impersonal and scoundrelly can use this fearful weapon against the single person.

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Most men do not have enough self-esteem to be able to assert themselves in the face of other men, so their self-esteem demands that they have some people who obey them absolutely, whom they have entirely in their power, so that they also feel that they are the man and the master. These people are children. God pity what takes place in family life! What brutality and what egoism are hidden there. Is is unfortunately only too certain that the parents usually need more upbringing than the children.

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When his mother is cursing him, Richard III, in order not to hear her curses, turns to the drummers and says, “Strike up the drum.” Is it not so with us all? There is something in us we do not want to hear.

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In Which John Cage Believed He Was Not A Writer

Eating His Words

by MARK ARTURO

I have no piano now. But that doesn’t bother me much. What I want is time.

John Cage thought he was not a writer. This is a scary thought, because I sometimes wonder what kind of writer he could have been if he gave up music and focused on writing full-time. There is a whole class of people who spent their entire lives pursuing one thing when they should have focused on another talent they had. For example:

Mark Wahlberg (waste management)

Jesus (community manager)

Damian Lillard (rap music)

Thom Yorke (pro-Israel advocacy)

Maybe my list makes this sound like a distinctly male problem, but I guess this would also apply to Joan Didion, who would have been a hell of a full-time model.

Back to John Cage. Mr. Cage’s letters are completely unself-conscious, which is the mark of every great correspondent. He never bothered censoring himself, since there was nothing terribly bad in his heart. He would go off on people when necessary though. Since he knew a lot about music, and most people writing about did not, he felt it was his duty to educate them.

I appreciate your interest in my work and the trouble you have taken to write the enclosed article. For many reasons, however, I am certain the publishing of this article would not serve either your or my best interests. People are accustomed to saying that anything printed about anything is “good publicity”; such a point of view doesn’t interest me. I am anxious that the article you publish be accurate as to facts and present some true and sensible critical evaluation of the work in percussion and its objectives. I have not really delayed answering your note; I have instead written several letters to you, each of which attempted to point out the errors in your article. I have decided, instead, that it would be better for you to write a new article entirely; and that I could best help you by giving a brief statement about facts and objectives.

I think he was a lot more generous in person. He married a woman, then spent the rest of his life with Merce Cunningham after she divorced him because of all the gay sex. His love letters condense ardor into a fine, tempered feeling, that pulsing with an orgasmic joy of infatuation. He makes love into something so tangible it could be held on the tip of my tongue.

My own feelings towards you were always those of wishing to flow in where it looked like water was absent (mixed with an inherited missionary attitude, itself not practicing what it preached). At any rate I feel very free that you are loving.

I don’t know when it was that I found out how to let this month go by without continual sentimental pain. It’s very simple now, because I’m looking forward to seeing you again rather than backward to having seen you recently.

For Merce he saved his most exquisite remainders.

My whole desire is to run up and down the sea coast looking for you.

Send me some little twig or a hair from near enigma or a piece of grass you touched and sunbathed with, mon prince.

Cage usually condensed his formal writing into the form of anecdotes. It was an aspect of his overall respect for how form shaped his thoughts and ideas. In his private writing, he drops this entire pretense, and it is disappointing to know it is a pretense. As a vehicle for theoretical thoughts about subjects like politics and man’s place in the world, the terse aphorism remains very effective. Cage usually pared these observations with choreographed dance by Merce. He was a stickler for detail on any project he pursued, even if the eventual outcome of the project was something as hilariously conceptual as 4’33”.

Silence is generally conceived as Cage’s first and best book, even though all his other collections of essays revolve around roughly the same topics. His view of the world has held up very well today, because while it does put faith in a variety of odd places, like Schoenberg, Zen Buddhism, and the I Ching, it never settles on any one of them more definitely than the other.

It is important to bring the concept of random chance into my life, and I am usually bad at allowing such things to happen. Arnold Schoenberg had a fear of the number thirteen and then he died on Friday the 13th. I think my main fear now is putting everything I have into something, and it not working out. If you only let a part of yourself, into the venture, maybe you will be like John Cage was with writing. You will have published books, but you will not have said anywhere near enough.

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

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