In Which We Calmed Down After The Screaming In The Sky

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Second Person

by DAN CARVILLE

I like a girl with personality. I have a lot of personality myself, and when I see someone else that has it, my heart goes out to them. – Ross Macdonald

The thing about the second person that is a mistake is that writers like you think it is the only form of address. Maybe your ex will feel it is him or her you are really saying this all to, and when they realize that, they will come to their senses. Only if you had ever become important enough to be addressed in the medium of literature, most likely you never even took the time to read about all the people whose hearts you tore up, stomped on, and drowned off the dock at Pacific Point.

There are other modes of address, and I will tell you about them after I get through this. There is a way of writing that is therapeutic, sure. Afterwards, this bracing feeling floods me, like my body is filled with nature, if I am in nature. Coleridge said that you see the beauty if it’s inside you, otherwise the viper thoughts are all that’s left in the remarkable scene. Then again the man was addicted to opium. After he wrote, he did some more, so each feeling was artificial and he could no longer discern what was therapy, and what was trauma. I don’t do drugs anymore: you made sure of that.

Well, the first month we were dating, I was not so sure it was going to last. I told you I was going to Oregon for the weekend and the phone service might not be the best. You said, “You’ll get a lot of writing done.” You said, “Isn’t it beautiful up there?” I had taken a lot of pictures on my phone from another time I was in Oregon. If you really look at a picture you can tell the time it was taken, but I knew you weren’t going to go to all that trouble, and that you believed me. I was in Oregon.

I guess it’s not really cheating, only I wasn’t going to tell you or anyone else about it, and I never have until now, because it is so far past making a difference to anyone. Her name was Patricia, I mean was it really? No, but what do I get out of saying her true name. We already established that I lie. She had this vitality that was something apart from her, feeding off who she was. For that reason Patricia could never get whole. I gave her some Valium I had – I don’t remember where I got it, and we went to the museum down here.

It was the exhibition that they have every two years, and she told her friend to come. The friend was a local who was very frumpy and obviously in love with Patricia. She also dated some guy who had been in prison and I think this made her interesting to Patricia, because Patricia’s boyfriend was also something of a bad guy for other reasons, not like he went to jail but he had very specific sexual requirements and yelled at her when he drank. In contrast, I realized after listening to their discussion, I must be the most milquetoast fucking person in the world.

I never let myself love Patricia, because I knew nothing would ever come from it. She was a tourist in my life, and that only gives you a sad feeling if you let it. If you (and I don’t mean the editorial you) shut down your emotions at the first moment they occur, then they have only happened once, and are unlikely to repeat themselves. That kind of emotional control is priceless, only I do not have it anymore.

I may end up going east for school. That’s one of the things I wanted to tell you. I decided it would be better not to have to walk around this place getting reminded of where we got ice cream, or I took you to some dinner on your birthday. Those are sad details now, and the park across from your apartment (that you never went to) is not so bad either. It is quite painful to think of all the misapprehensions I have had about the world, because they make me realize that I see people in that mistaken way as well. For God’s sake I trusted you.

When I write ‘you’, I feel like there is another you, waking up somewhere. That’s all I need to get by. But there are other forms of address — more indirect ones.

I visited one school the other day. The students are noticeably younger than I am, but not so much that they will know I have had a hard time up until now. I plan to pretend I am like them: full of this contained grace. It is an asset, as we enter middle age, not to be soured by what we have experienced, but I do think I needed to be touched by the world in order to claim it. Standing at a distance will not help in your writing, or any profession you select. It only means you will not get to pick the moment you are drawn into things.

After the museum, when her friend had gone to sit shiva for her grandmother, Patricia and I fooled around on the beach. It felt like I was alone because you were not there, so I sent you a picture of Oregon. Later I called to hear your voice. I did not like to talk on the phone much before then, but I remember the first time I called you. Outside, a plane was streaking across the sky and I took a picture, since nothing ever seems that close to the moon. We told each other what we knew about ourselves. I know you liked what you heard. I barely even knew you to say hello at that point, but I hoped you did. And those marvelous months together. How did I screw up that up? Oh well.

Dan Carville is the senior contributor to This Recording. He is a writer living in Manhattan. You can find an archive of his writing on This Recording here.

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In Which Georges Braque Survives Multiple Wars

A Break From All That

by ALEX CARNEVALE

As he had for André Derain, Pablo Picasso chose Georges Braque’s wife. Marcelle Vorvanne had modeled for other painters, including Modigliani, and had many cheerful anecdotes about doing so. She loved to drop nicknames on unsuspecting artists, terming Max Jacob “the magus.” Her mother was an upholsterer, her father was absolutely missing. Madame Vorvanne was a tiny, stout woman with a low center of gravity; her frequent donning of a large hat made her look something like a striped or patterned turtle depending on her mode of dress.

Marcelle’s birth name was Octavie, but she discarded it with much else. Reinventing yourself in Europe at this time was not terribly difficult, and she did it more than once. While Braque was a domineering type, he did not mind having a wife with her own mind. Marcelle was expert at giving people exactly what they wanted or needed. Her major tool of benign manipulation was food and drink; after a conversation with Marcelle, participants frequently felt undone.

In the first year of their dating, Braque was still keeping time with a courtesan he had known since boyhood, Paulette Philippi. Madame Philippi ran an opium den in Paris, and the drug would eventually ruin her good looks and sour Braque’s view of her. Braque took Paulette to dinner and sometimes lectures, but he felt his heart moving towards Marcelle. When he returned from an uneventful bout of required military service in 1922, he and Marcelle moved into a double apartment in Paris. She continued calling him by his last name for the rest of their lives.

Marcelle usually went to church alone, which is not to say Braque had no faith in the almighty. He did avoid the chapel in Marseilles when they were summering. “It’s probably because I know it too well,” he said, “but it bothers me that when I go to the House of God it’s Matisse that lets me in.” Despite their cohabitation, the two would not be officially married until fifteen years later.

By 1914 the war was on. Braque and Derain were both immediately transferred to the front. Picasso took them to the station, writing fallaciously, “On 2 August 1914 I took Braque and Derain to the station at Avignon. I never saw them again.” In the thick of the fight, Braque was awarded the Croix de Guerre and appointed Chevalier of the Legion of Honor.

In a battle at Neuville-Saint-Vaust, Braque was struck in the head. He became temporarily blind, a condition that was relieved by trepanning two holes in his skull to relieve the pressure. “I was afraid of finding him so badly wounded,” Marcelle wrote, “that I would not be able to hide my despair.” Braque would spend month after month under the care of doctors, during which time he could not even think of returning to his studio.

Picasso and Braque reunited, but as close as they had been before the war, they never got back to where they were. Picasso was deeply troubled by his own avoidance of battle, and remarked to Gertrude Stein, “Will it not be awful when Braque and Derain and all the rest of them put their wooden legs up on a chair and tell about their fighting?” Pablo was an all-around disgusting man.

Return to painting was slow for Georges. It took him until he received his full discharge, after two solid years of convalescence, to think of proceeding past still-lifes. “Survival does not erase the memory,” he wrote.

He looked differently at those who had avoided combat: Gleizes and Picibia, Delaney and Duchamp. Even his closest friend. While Braque was fighting for his country, Picasso had become famous and rich. Still serving in the war, Derain looked down on them both.

A short essay of aphrorisms published by Braque in Nord-Sud helped him regain his creative compass and was variously praised and ridiculed by observers. Picasso and Derain in particular thought that “Thoughts and Reflections on Paintings” was nonsense, but it holds up somewhat better today:

In art, progress does not consist in extension, but in the knowledge of limits.

Limitation of means determines style, engenders new form, and gives impulse to creation.

Limited means often constitute the charm and force of primitive painting. Extension, on the contrary, leads the arts to decadence.

New means, new subjects.

The subject is not the object, it is a new unity, a lyricism which grows completely from the means.

The painter thinks in terms of form and color.

The goal is not to be concerned with reconstituting an anecdotal fact, but with constituting a pictorial fact.

Painting is a method of representation.

One must not imitate what one wants to create.

One does not imitate appearances; the appearance is the result.

To be pure imitation, painting must forget appearance.

To work from nature is to improvise.

One must beware of an all-purpose formula that will serve to interpret the other arts as well as reality, and that instead of creating will only produce a style, or rather a stylization…

The senses deform, the mind forms. Work to perfect the mind.

There is no certitude but in what the mind conceives.

The painter who wished to make a circle would only draw a curve. Its appearance might satisfy him, but he would doubt it. The compass would give him certitude. The papiers collés in my drawings also gave me a certitude.

Trompe l’oeil, is due to an anecdotal chance which succeeds because of the simplicity of the facts.

The pasted papers, the faux bois— and other elements of a similar kind— which I used in some of my drawings, also succeed through the simplicity of the facts; this has caused them to be confused with trompe l’oeil, of which they are the exact opposite. They are also simple facts, but are created by the mind, and are one of the justifications for a new form in space.

Nobility grows out of contained emotion.

Emotion should not be rendered by an excited trembling; it can neither be added on nor be imitated. It is the seed, the work is the blossom.

I like the rule that corrects the emotion.

Derain in particular was contemptuous of the publication. “I’m staggered by the aphorisms of Lieutenant Braque,” he wrote to his wife. “I even feel sorry for him, I have to say. What a filthy journal! He doesn’t see that the others are using him. I’d like to know what the General of Cubism thinks of it. As a reflection, he doesn’t exactly strain himself… I can’t help thinking about Braque’s nonsense. It’s so appallingly dry and insensitive. It manages to combine fanaticism with some initial omissions. One needs centuries of painting, good and bad, for or against, in order to have an idea about art. It regulates the imagination.”

Along with the essay, a new spate of paintings followed and sold for obscene amounts. This allowed Braque and his wife to move to Montparnesse, where they commissioned the building of a house. Braque’s studio took up the entire top floor of this magnificent, modern domicile. Servants filled the new home: a cook, a chaffeur. Marcelle ensured the walls were mostly yellow, the color which did not disturb her husband’s restored and fragile vision.

The second World War smashed this reverie. The Braques fled Paris, meeting the Derains south of Toulose. Eventually, however, they would be able to return to their home, finding it had been used as a German officers’ quarters. (Only Georges’ accordion was missing.) Derain visited Germany as a honored guest of the Nazis, accepting commissions from the party.

Braque refused all entreaties from Berlin. He did leave his home in order to show his face at the funeral for Max Jacob, who had died on the way to the extermination camp at Treblinka.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

In Which We Tell An Exciting Half-Lie

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.

Hi,

I made some mistakes in my friendship with a co-worker who I will call Jane. Although I am in committed relationship and I told her that, we both have not really brought it up too much since then. It is nice to have someone to talk to at work and if I am beginning honest, things in my relationship have been a bit stale — my girlfriend works long hours as well.

I have been sort of toeing the line with Jane and although I really do like her, I don’t want to break up with my girlfriend. Is there anyway to reestablish boundaries? (Nothing physical has happening, although we have come close.)

Theo A.

Dear Theo,

Jane does not sound much like an innocent party either. She knew you were in a relationship and that was probably part of the reason the two of you became so close. There are so many different ways two people can derive sustenance with each other. The kind you have chosen is essentially unhealthy, since it lacks real intimacy with either party, but maybe that is just the sort of arrangement you prefer.

The real problem is in your primary relationship. Maybe you don’t want to be with someone who works such long hours. Normally I would advocate a fresh lie, but telling everyone involved the truth is most likely going to lead to your best result. Half relationships can sometimes become full relationships, and it is possible either of these situations might be repaired to your satisfaction.

Hi,

 

It is always disgusting or skeezy to ask someone who you met while they are working? I have built up rapport with an administrator who is employed at a hotel I often visit for work. I don’t want to make her uncomfortable by hitting on her, but there must be some way of letting her know I am really interested.

thanks,

Daniel S.

Dear Daniel,

She has to deal with this a lot in her job. Building “rapport” as you call it is really just an aspect of service jobs. You’re a client and thus you receive this treatment because you have paid to receive it. It is really no indication of romantic interest on her part.

It is OK to drop hints, but never intrude on her private space or well-being. If she really picks up on what you are broadcasting, maybe it is then OK to straightforwardly ask if something more is going on. Without that green-light, you are just being a dick.

Illustrations by Mia Nguyen.

In Which We Always Desired A Normal Relationship

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Mr. Grey’s Beads

by DICK CHENEY

Fifty Shades Darker
dir. James Foley
118 minutes

screen-shot-2017-02-13-at-9-29-43-amIn a Seattle cafe, Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) explains in the most half-hearted manner imaginable that he wants Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) back in his life. He is willing to change, he admonishes her, why would you ever believe otherwise? A moment before, the waiter struggles with a bottle of wine. Both diners appear flummoxed. You see, when two people are together, one of them always feels the slightest bit awkward.

Later, during the first sex scene in Fifty Shades Darker, Jamie Dornan pants like maybe he is going to be out of breath. Regular sex is much more taxing than torture, and it is part of the reason he used to have a contractual agreement that allowed him to take powders for water and gumballs. Next to his stash of various whips, chains and chokers is a glorious room of gumball machines that he only shows to Matthew Fox, and on more serious outings, former child stars. It reminds them all of what they lost.

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Grey tells much of his backstory while trying on this normal relash for size. His mother was a crack-addicted so-and-so. It is quite disturbing and boring to realize someone’s past explains their present, and even more so when it does not fully take into account the considerable weight Jamie Dornan has put on his slender frame for this important sequel. Comparing him to the original Christian Grey, it might be said that there are now two of them. If you did not know any better, you might conclude that Dornan does not give a fuck.

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Ms. Johnson on the other hand, really gives her all in this role. She clearly does not want to seem ungrateful: the money from being “fucked” by this man will keep her on easy street for the rest of her life, and she does not actually even need to wintercourse with the blubbery mess like Chloe Sevigny. When Grey gives her an iPhone and a Macbook as a gesture after they reconcile, he texts her to dream of him. She responds, “Maybe. Laters Baby,” and Dornan gets this little smile on his face, like how is this woman wanting to work in publishing when she sounds like Demi Lovato after four drinks?

Ana is not really liking her new job, because why would she be an assistant for some guy who looks remarkably similar to her boyfriend, when she could just serve her boyfriend? Eventually, Grey purchases the publishing company. She is not only unsurprised by the fact that she is suddenly working for him, she does not complain. Later, she accepts the position her boss had filled at the top of the editorial chain. Her first memo naturally ends with Laters Baby.

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No it does not. She never sends out a memo, or knows what one is, since she has only been an assistant whose main job is to book hotel rooms and relay messages. Despite having nearly unlimited economic resources, Grey keeps having strange women approach him with vague accusations. Normally this would be a red flag for his girlfriend, but it’s not like he did anything else weird recently. Bored with their sex life after a single week, he introduces anal beads and a new haircut into their lovemaking. She raises her right eyebrow like The Rock.

Involving Kim Basinger in these proceedings, at an Eyes Wide Shut style masquerade charity event no less, is a bit of a low blow. Director James Foley makes her look like Chelsea Handler a decade-hence. Basinger still gets my blood moving, and it is hard to realize why she is wearing a headscarf like a cancer patient. It turns out that she introduced Christian to this whole psychosexual lifestyle. “Without me, he would be in jail or dead,” she tells Ana. “If you really want to make him happy, you’ll let him go. Nothing lasts.”

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Afterwards, Ms. Johnson washes Mr. Dornan with a loofa. During each subsequent sex scene, Mr. Dornan’s body is more and more burnt and abused, whereas in some scenes they don’t bother applying the makeup since it distracts from his penetration. Everyone who has ever loved anybody knows that Kim Basinger is right and this relationship is going nowhere fast, but she really enjoys the high points: his cabin in Aspen, his massive yacht. I think the subtle moral code here is that having a lot of money is more important than good sex, and maybe a lot more important.

Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording.

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In Which We Start On Proust At Some Point

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He Hated The City

by ALEX CARNEVALE

In order for me to find myself worthwhile, I have got to be pretty brilliant, and understand everything.

Paul Bowles arrived in Paris in 1931. When he rode up to the home of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, they could not believe they had been corresponding with a college student. “I was sure from your letters that you were an elderly gentleman, at least seventy-five,” Stein told him. He was twenty-one years old.

Bowles started fast. He had been insulated from the world until the age of six, when he was sent to school. “I developed a superiority complex the first day,” he wrote in one of his many, many letters. His advancement continued apace:

When I was eight I wrote an opera. We had no piano, but we had two or three pieces of sheet-music which I studied and I had a zither which I tuned in various scales and modes. My first sexual thrills were obtained from reading newspaper account of electrocutions. At the time I was quite unconscious of the facts, except that I had the New England guilt about it.

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Bowles’ first literary idol was Poe, and crossing the Atlantic aboard the S.S. McKeesport he contemplated setting some of the man’s poems to music. As a self-described modernist snob, Bowles’ perspective on other artists resembled his shaky feelings about being turned on by torture –  a mix of wonder, awe and pain. Upon his arrival in Paris, the first person he went out of his way to meet was Jean Cocteau. At the beginning of April 1931 he writes that Cocteau

rushed about the room with great speed for two hours and never sat down once. Now he pretended he was an orangoutang, next an usher at Paramount Theatre, and finally he held a dialogue between an aged grandfather and his young grandson which was side-splitting. I think never have I seen anyone like him in my life. He still smokes opium every day and claims it does him a great deal of good. I daresay it does. By definition, the fact that it is considered harmful for most mere mortals would convince me of its efficaciousness for him.

Reading Bowles’ private letters is like watching the precise movements of a guided laser. He writes completely differently depending on the level of intimacy with his correspondent. He penned almost stream-of-consciousness Joyce imitations to his friend Bruce Morissette, adopting a more formal tone for those whose friendship he coveted and had yet to earn. With his closest ones he even vacillated between styles with a severity of purpose nearly bipolar in its enthusiasm.

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By June of 1931 he was in Berlin. He hated the city, all rain and mosquitos, but it was mostly that the place suffered in comparison to Paris. It is obvious how much his surroundings affected Bowles’ personality. In his letter to the Paris-born Jew Edouard Roditi, Bowles accurately described his view of the German metropolis:

if only the world were stronger! if only there were more dimensions! if only we thought in terms of perfumes! if only there were a third world where we could hide from the other two. then the other one would not be always grinning in feeling so perfectly well that we could do nothing when it intended to enter. there would be two of them there, and the two would be easier to fight than the one. but now it is always either one or the other, and neither one stays away long enough. in full noon sleep falls upon one for one tiny second without measurement and one knows there is no escape. berlin is not a beautiful city

Later he would tell Roditi, and in a sense himself as well, that “I have the feeling you are primarily two people, one of which should be killed.”

Among so many potent writers and artists, it was natural for young Bowles to feel a bit discouraged in his own writing. Yes, he could write or speak to Gertrude Stein anytime he liked, but reading further and further into her work, he despaired of his own.

All my theories on her I discover to be utterly vagrant. She has set me right, by much labor on her part, and now the fact emerges that there is nothing in her works save the sense. The sound, the sight, the soporific repetitions to which I had attached such great importance, are accidental, she insists, and the one aim of her writing is the superlative sense. “What is the use of writing,” she will shout, “unless every word makes the utmost sense?” Naturally all that renders her ‘opera’ far more difficult, and after many hours of patient reading, I discover she is telling the truth, and that she is wholly correct about the entire matter. And what is even more painful is that all my poems are worth a large zero. That is the end of that. And unless I undergo a great metamorphosis, there will never be any more poems.

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In August he boarded another ship, the S.S. Imerethie II, with a destination of Tangier. His reaction to this lush place was the polar opposite to his experience of Berlin. In a postcard to John Widdicombe he wrote, “here I shall live until the eucalyptus leaves all fall and it starts to rain across the strait.” He took up residence in a villa with Aaron Copland. The villa featured a permanently out of tune piano, and while Copland found he could not do his work, Bowles’ mood improved immediately. After a sojourn in Marrakech, Bowles returned to Paris before stopping in London at the beginning of December.

London did not offend him as a city, but as a way of life. In a letter to Charles Henri-Ford, he writes,

I have crossed the little water that is mightier in its human gap than an ocean, and fallen again into the great pit of London. The chalk cliffs at Newhaven were all greyer through the dawn rain than any human eyes could be, and white gulls fluttered out of the black wind into the vague lights of the boat, and seemed to cry when their flight crossed the boat, but to be silent when they went back into the darkness again. There is little change, save that Piccadilly grows more and more like a sprawling Times Square, running down Haymarket and Coventry and Regent, all garish and burning with neon. It doesn’t fit. In New York, the great planes of the lifting buildings can carry it off, in London it stays right there, on the ground, on your mind, on your hands, and you can’t lift it. I am sad for this.

Paris left me empty. I look only, everywhere, all hours, for that new way of looking at the human thing, the heart, I suppose, of the world, and I found it not there. I was childish to look for it. Only the echo of the beat, not the strong pulse.

At any rate, it was good of you to lead me about by my nose, and to let me meet so many people. As you know, I like to meet everyone in the world at least once.

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He had met many of the most important artists of his generation; from Klee to Gide to Stein to Copland to Pound. For a short time, it raised all boats to be amidst such individuals, but eventually Bowles’ surroundings discouraged him: 

Literature has never lived on literary talk, and literary acquaintances. I want to take every poet and shove him down into the dung-heap, kick all his literary friends in the ass, and try to make him see that writing is not word-bandying, like Stein, and the thousand legions of her followers, but an emotion seen through the mind, or an intellectual concept emotionalized, and shaping its own expression. You can’t write from a literary vacuum, and all of Paris, I felt, was trying to. They get all tangled up in trying to write cleverly and as no one else has, and get lost in the timber hills of their effort. I can’t help thinking Shakespeare never worried about writing a new kind of blank verse, just went ahead instinctively and did it.

The artists and writers Bowles once idolized had begun to let him down, as they had to. (He called Gertrude Stein, who told him, “Why don’t you go to Mexico? You’d last two days there.”) Friends he depended on for money were no longer as forgiving; after all, he had been in Europe for almost a year. A traveler is always welcome, a wayward resident finds himself more swiftly resented.

Even Copland became slow in answering his letters, and Bowles stopped visiting the Stein home. He developed syphilis and then acute tonsilitis, medical expressions of how little Europe had left for him. How he loathed these ancient cities! By the same token, he did not want to go home at all. In Algiers he began, for the first time in his life, to read the work of Marcel Proust.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording. You can find an archive of his writing on This Recording here.

photo-by-cherie-nutting

In Which There Remain Very Many Matthew Crawleys

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A Series of Profiles That Never Took Place

by ELEANOR MORROW

Legion
creator Noah Hawley
FX

15590692_10154747020132488_2201604669235057392_oDan Stevens knew the moment he leapt out of his wheelchair on Downtown Abbey that he was destined for a better show. “The first thing I thought to myself,” he says, “was that I needed to find out where Julian Fellowes was, and find a flight of stairs to thrown him down.” (Dan Stevens is the toughest man in show business, possibly the world. When he smokes a cigarette it is like the cigarette is smoking him. When he plays baseball he is the shortshop, and when he has sex he has it twice, once for you and once for him.) Dan Stevens is a walking Esquire profile In Search Of a Role which has eluded him for some time. That of a man who is as good at something as he is at acting.

Enter Noah Hawley. Hawley wrote a novel or two, a screenplay (The Alibi) or two, nothing really that great. Then suddenly he made Fargo, season two of which was probably the best thing ever produced on television to that point. Now that he is in Fox’s talons, they are never letting him go. For some reason they have given him the worse possible project, the one that no one in their right mind could ever really do justice to, a property that has resulted in about eight terrible movies that no one ever wants to see again, the destruction of the Golden Gate Bridge, and the slow decline of Hugh Jackman’s career, and he has made that art, too.

Sitting on a veranda at a Los Angeles hotspot, Hawley discusses how losing his virginity changed him as a working writer. “Before that moment,” he says with a crab leg dangling from his lower lip, reeking somewhat of chamomile and bourbon, “I thought that intercourse was the great barrier. One had to depict it truly and all else would follow. After I had sex, I realized that not touching was far more erotic and would be the basis of Legion.”

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Confined to a mental institution with Lenny (Aubrey Plaza, “There are no small parts, only the same schtick I do in every single role,” Plaza says, half a steak tartare dangling from her lower lip”), Dan Stevens has only his sister Amy (Katie Aselton) to visit him. One day Syd Barrett (Rachel Keller) walks in. Dan asks her to be his girlfriend, and she agrees as long as they never have to touch.

Or does she? Or is she even there? That is what kind of show Legion is, except for one key aspect of the series’ milieu — it does not really truly matter whether something is occurring in the mind of David Haller (Dan Stevens, who describes his friendship with Rebecca Hall in the most concrete terms: “She’s the most wonderful godmother to my daughter Willow,” he says, tossing a macaroon in the air and catching it with his teeth.) It only matters whether something feels like it happening at the moment it happens to be happening. Looking back, it may not have actually happened, it may be a memory of something happening, only the memory is not quite as exact as the actual experience. It could be in the head of Dan Stevens, who.

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Hawley shoots Legion on a series of endlessly wonderful sets and places, stretching the budget he has been given for the show in every direction. Ultimately it looks like we are dealing with a single campus, but this is warped and circled around so many times it feels like a true variety of different places and perspectives. Often shooting above, below and across his subjects, Hawley is the most preternaturally talented director in his medium despite training mostly as a writer. As with Fargo, Hawley is at his best when he is diverging from concepts that have already been established. He seems to most enjoy modifying an existing aesthetic and playing off our expectations of that genre.

Legion‘s sprawling, ninety-minute pilot winds our way through much of David Haller’s life. Of course, we never learn any really salient facts about him; for example, who his parents are, or when he lost his virginity, or where the disturbing devil with yellow eyes that haunts his mental fabric originates. Hawley loves to slowly peel back the onion of the characters he brings to the screen, and it is relief to know so little and be drip fed the rest.

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The key aspect of a shared psychotic disorder, or folie a deux, is the fantasy that develops in a sane person who has a close relationship with an inducer, sometimes called “the primary case”, who already has a psychotic ailment with more developed fantasies, and who is usually the dominant figure pushing his or her own worldview over their weaker, less-ill submissive. Sometimes I feel like that properly represents every person who has ever dealt with Bryan Singer, who gets an executive producer credit on Legion. Certainly what he did to the X-Men, and a lot of other people, should never be forgiven.

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Possibly the only present action of Legion is the room where a government operative (Hamish Linklater) decides whether or would be more prudent to murder David Haller where he sits, later in a pool so they can electrocute him if necessary, or use him as a kind of weapon. This familiar dilemma feels a bit forced, so Hawley resolves it completely in the first episode. Haller’s escape into the company of Melanie Bird (Jean Smart) sets up a more interesting dynamic: even after Dan Stevens has found someone to trust, can he trust himself to know it is real?

Jean Smart worked with Hawley on Fargo, and you can see why she is exactly his type of actress — she even looks like Stevens, which means she is probably his mother or at least an important aunt. Like her potential son, she is great at delivering lines in humorous but also sinister manners, and shuffling back and forth between comedy and drama, which is where Hawley’s tonality always lies. He is constantly testing our boundaries, to see if we are capable of laughing at how absurd something is and then forcing us to imagine it could be happening to us as well. As he does this, he eats a banana split.

Eleanor Morrow is the senior contributor to This Recording.

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In Which We Began Reading As Soon As We Could Write

This is the second in a series. You can find the first part here.

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Durable Green

The human being as a social animal would like to achieve distinction from the others, and be praised by them. This is the basis for the preference for virtue.

In middle age the Austrian writer Robert Musil did not last long at any one occupation. Even a short stint as a librarian only unnecessarily served, in his mind, to distract from his duties as a working writer. His relationship with his wife Martha sustained him intellectually and emotionally through the ill health of his father. The following excerpts take place during the early part of the twentieth century, and were translated by Philip Payne.

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It was about a woman who runs an inn in Carinthia and is well known for her intimate relationship with her mastiff. In the angry arousal of such an animal there is something that may well stimulate a woman. It is also possible that one feels loathing for men and prefers dogs — such a feeling is possible, precisely with women who love their integrity.

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I have just come from Martha’s; on the street the air and the light are like those of early spring. I had the idea that all expression depends on the light — I had seen a coalman in profile. The cheeks dissolving, their colors as if ravaged by the light and then abandoned; forehead, bridge of nose, hair lit from the front (but a diffuse light coming only from over the rooftops) —

I can find no word for the expression of this man’s face.

I enjoy the work that is going quite easily but sometimes, it seems, too easily; I don’t know if it will turn out to be substandard.

I am very irritable, and a single unreflected remark of Martha’s can make me unhappy.

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What matters to me is the passionate energy of the idea. In cases where I am not able to work out some special idea, the work immediately begins to bore me; this is true for almost every single paragraph. Now why is it that this thinking, which after all is not aiming at any kind of scientific validity but only a certain individual truth, cannot move at a quicker pace? I found that in the reflective element of art there is a dissipative momentum — here I only have to think of the reflections that I have sometimes written down in parallel with my drafts. The idea immediately moves onward in all directions, the notions go on growing outward on all sides, the result is a disorganized, amorphous complex. In the case of exact thinking, however, the idea is tied up, delineated, articulated, by means of the goal of the work, the way it is limited to what can be proven, the separation into probable and certain, etc., in short, by means of the methodological demands that stem from the object of investigation.

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Yet again this dreadful lack of energy and unwillingness to work. (Yesterday afternoon… Take note: a little too quick. You mount me as if I were an animal, how could you. Outside, a Sunday like those in spring.) I am afraid that I shall not have enough time for a vacation, a yearning for that surge of energy that massages away self-reproach. Unpleasant letter from home;  I’m supposed to be in Vienna in mid-September, “on the way home”; when am I to take that break?

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Type: very muscular, athletically trained men who are timid.

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For three days now in a state of deep depression. I am tired, I sometimes feel dizzy. Above all, I’ve little confidence in the work.

Half-past midnight. Have just come from Martha’s. Have discussed the first half of the work with her and now it’s all right up to that point. Martha promised to come to me around 11 tomorrow. Cholera in Spandau.

Wrote home explaining my opinion about Vienna, telling them I’m going but that I don’t want to go. Emphasized once again that I will not have anything to do with anyone on a social level when I’m there.

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Literary people who speak scornfully of the work of their spirit. Kerr: “Literature takes up only a corner of my life.” Set against that: literature is a bold life arranged in a more logical way. It involves the creation or distillation of possibilities. It is fervor that pares a human being down to the very bone for the sake of a goal in which emotion is in an intellectual mode. The rest is propaganda. Or it is a light that originates in a room, a feeling in one’s skin when one looks back at experiences that at other times remain muddled and indifferent.

I have to remind myself how I invariably found all existing literature unsatisfactory from an intellectual perspective. But then all the more subtle and more powerful thinking about what is represented in the work must not take place within the work itself but before the work is written.

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Here only the facts are given, the appearance of the street, the station building, the conversation, etc. It is not stated that these things had such and such a mood, but they do have one. The attitude within me was one of soot and strangled sadness, or something of the sort, and then I saw things in that particular way.

The last is a room in an Alpine inn. Whitewashed walls with wretched paintings. Clothes stand, a broad cross with a curving transverse beam, and four hooks beneath. The little bedside cabinet next to the cupboard is in an impossible state of disrepair. Such things invent people. And he becomes sensual; but there is nothing in the whole world with which to satisfy this errant corporeality.

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Wherever possible, one ought to let facts speak rather than feelings. This gives rise to a fine dryness of tone: i.e., things that have claim to objective, not just subjective, validity. Perhaps as a way of regulating this, statements that one can prefix with the pronoun “we.”

I was unwell — angina — spent two days in bed and had a temperature for probably a week before that. Perhaps it was precisely this condition that made me more impetuous.

2b8b7cbd5a13fff156bc83e23d1bf17aFrom time to time the little (round) birds let themselves drop down between the branches, and then, behind the glass of the windows and the thin lace curtains, they seem to be made up of cross-stitching. When they sit still one sees, through the small gaps in the curtains, extensive areas of their plumage. One sees their natural colors, bright, quite bright light that sometimes shines on beak or wings, but is somehow subdued, modified in some way for which there is no description.

I don’t want here to attempt once more to keep a diary, but simply to record things that I don’t want to forget.

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Walk along the Hauptallee. Martha was in a bad frame of mind and reproached me quite unnecessarily, which left me cold. “You will leave me,” she said. “Then I’ll have no one. I shall kill myself. I shall leave you.” In a momentary state of weakness, Martha slipped far beneath herself to the level of a jealous or neglected woman with a fierce temper. In personal terms, of course, this has no significance for our relationship. But I switched off this reservation, so to speak, and gave myself over to the impressions that would arise if this were a time of disappointment.

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Before the storm, the houses are brighter than the sky.

Between the forked legs of the telegraph poles children have set up their swings.

The great plain was overcast with gloomy light.

In the trees, the leaves glitter, or are quite dark. This makes the masses of foliage look rather like a lake when the wind just stirs its surface and tiny waves flash.

The trees are in winter green, a durable green.

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