In Which We Experience Da Vinci Through The Eyes Of Another

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Charm with a Negative Sign

by ANDREI TARKOVSKY

Let us look at Leonardo’s portrait of “A Young Lady With A Juniper,” which we used in Mirror for the scene of the father’s brief meeting with his children when he comes home on leave.

There are two things about Leonardo’s images that are arresting. One is the artist’s amazing capacity to examine the object from outside, standing back, looking out from above the world — a characteristic of artists like Bach or Tolstoy. And the other, the fact that the picture affects us simultaneously in two opposite ways. It is not possible to say definitively whether we like the woman or not, whether she is appealing or unpleasant.

She is at once attractive and repellent. There is something inexpressibly beautiful about her at the same time repulsive, fiendish. And fiendish not at all in the romantic, alluring use of the word; rather beyond good and evil. Charm with an negative sign. It has an element of degeneracy — and of beauty. In Mirror we needed the portrait in order to introduce a timeless element into the moments that are succeeding each other before our eyes, and at the same time to juxtapose the portrait with the heroine, to emphasize in her.

If you try to analyze Leonardo’s portrait, separating it into its components, it will not work. At any rate it will explain nothing. For the emotional effect exercised on us by the woman in the picture is powerful precisely because it is impossible to find in her anything that we can definitely prefer, to single out any one detail from the whole, to prefer any one, momentary impression to another, and make it our own, to achieve a balance in the way we look at the image presented to us.

And so there opens up before us the possibility of interaction with infinity, for the great function of the artistic image is to be a kind of detector of infinity… towards which our reason and our feelings are soaring, with joyful, thrilling haste.

Such feeling is awoken by the completeness of the image. It affects us by this very fact of being impossible to dismember. In isolation, each component part will be dead — or perhaps, on the contrary, down to its tiniest elements it will display the same characteristics as the complete, finished work. And these characteristics are produced by the interaction of opposed principles, the meaning of which, as if in communicating vessels spills over from one into the other: the face of the woman painted by Leonardo is animated by an exalted idea and at the same time might appear perfidious and subject to base passions.

It is possible for us to see any number of things in the portrait, and as we try to grasp its essence we shall wander through unending labyrinths and never find its way out. We shall derive deep pleasure from the realization that we cannot exhaust it, or see to the end of it. A true artistic image gives the beholder a simultaneous experience of the most complex, contradictory, sometimes even mutually exclusive feelings.

It is not possible to catch the moment at which the positive goes over into its opposite, or the when the negative starts moving towards the positive. Infinity is germane, inherent in the very structure of the image. In practice, however, a person invariably prefers one thing to another.

I am always sickened when an artist underpins his system of images with deliberate tendentiousness or ideology. I am against his allowing his methods to be discernible at all.

1986


 

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In Which We Become A Quick Kid In A Caper

Nothing At All Certain

The letters of Elizabeth Bishop to Marianne Moore at first reflected a close kinship. The two were always placed in the same sentence despite the vast differences between their oeuvres. Bishop and Moore both eventually chafed at this rotten incorporation, and something of that must have filtered into their relationship. Over time, they found themselves less in unanimity than before. When Bishop moved to South America, she encouraged her friend to come visit her not this summer, but next.

Bishop’s letters, whether to Moore or her friend Robert Lowell, were always excessively detailed. Reading them in full they seem a cataloguing of her various thoughts and feelings, usually ones she could not fully come to terms with until she wrote them down. Miraculous moments occur when you least expect them, and the collection of Bishop vignettes that follows includes excerpts from letters to Marianne Moore, Robert Lowell as well as her friend the lesbian poet May Swenson.

I am so sorry we were late last evening — sorry both to have interrupted you and to have missed that much of your talk. We thought we had timed the subway carefully, but I’m afraid we hadn’t. You looked so nice down there on the platform: the black velvet is overwhelmingly becoming, and you should not have apologized for the shoes — they looked extremely, small, shiny and elegant, to me. I enjoyed everything you said and blamed the IRT to being so slow and the audience for not laughing more as I thought they should have at your many excellent jokes. And were really quite baffled with admiration when you had to make those impromptu answers.

I enjoyed every moment except the one in which my own name struck me like a bullet, and I felt myself swelling like a balloon to fill the auditorium.

Dr. Williams is even nicer than I had imagined.

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The page of reports of my useless, unclean and bad-tempered pet delighted my heart. She had never had a bed before. I have always found that starvation was the best method of inducing her to drink milk. And I know she has a deplorable tendency to eat string – also lick glue from envelopes, etc. Perhaps I should have written to you immediately to reassure you about the constipation but I noticed that always seems to happen when she is taken from one place to another and rights itself which is so much worse in a day or two. I have been haunted by so many of my past unpleasant scenes with her.

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In Cuba & Mexico they have special two-pronged forks for mangos, but you can use a kitchen fork. You stick it in the stem end & if you do it right the fork will go in the soft end of the seed & hold the mango firm. Then you peel it down from the top and eat it off the fork like a lollipop, being very careful not to get the juice on your clothes because it stains badly.

You speak of being “handicapped by solitude”, but to me you seem the very height of society. It is terribly lonely here & I feel myself growing stupider & stupider & more like a hermit every day. I’m going to try to stay in New York all winter.

I wish you could have seen the beautiful sight I saw from the bus going to Miami nine tall white herons in a group, each on one leg, standing in shallow water where mangroves are just beginning to spring up just an arch here & there with a few leaves on it. The bus was stopped for almost ten minutes only one moved all that time, took one slow step & looked from the bus down into the water.

This is too long, but I want to talk.

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Maybe I’ve felt a little too much the way women did at certain more hysterical moments people who haven’t experienced absolute loneliness for long stretches of time can never sympathize with it at all.

I really feel that you should struggle against your feeling about children…but I suppose it’s better than drooling over them like Swinburne. But I’ve always loved the stories about Shelley going around Oxford peering into baby carriages, and how he once said to a woman carrying a baby, “Madame, can your baby tell us anything of pre-existence?”

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The missionary is dictating a letter to his wife at the next table. They are so sad, and the worst aspect of the trip has been the two Sundays we’ve spent at sea on which he held a “small interdenominational service.” There are so few of us we all had to attend and sing “Nearer My God To Thee” (after he told the story of how the people on Titanic sang it as they went down). The three tiny boys sang “Jesus loves me this I know” in Spanish, and a song, with gestures, about how the house built on the sand went splash. I’d always wondered how it did go, but I had never thought of it as splash somehow.

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I am puzzled by what you mean by my poems not appealing to the emotions. (I’m sorry to be so full of myself but your letter has brought it on.) What poetry does, or doesn’t? And doesn’t it always, in one way or another? A poem like “Never until the mankind making” etc. one feels immediately, before one starts to think. A poem like “The Frigate Pelican”, one thinks before one starts to feel. But the sequence, and the amount of either depends as much on the reader as the poem, I think. And poetry is a way of thinking with one’s feelings, anyways. But maybe that’s not what you mean by “emotion.” I think myself that my best poems seem rather distant, and sometimes I wish I could be as objective about everything else as I seem to be in and about them. I don’t think I’m very successful when I get personal rather, sound personal one always is, of course, one way or another.

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I bought Pablo Neruda’s poetry (he & his wife have been very nice to us) & am reading it, with the dictionary, but I’m afraid it is not the kind I — nor you — like — very, very loose, surrealist imagery etc. I may be misjudging it; it is so hard to tell about foreign poetry, but I feel I recognize the type only too well. His chief interest in life (or did I tell you about all this) besides communism seems to be shells, & he has a beautiful collection most of them laid in the top of a sort of large, heavy, specially built coffee-table, with glass over them.

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Sammy, the toucan, is fine — a neighbor built him a very large cage in which he seems quite happy, and I give him baths with the garden hose. Someone also brought him a big pair of gold earring from the Petropolis “Lojas Americana” (5 & 10) and he loves them. He has two noises – one a sort of low rattle in his throat, quite gentle, if he is pleased with you, or cranky, if he isn’t, and the other, I’m afraid, a shriek. He also has the shortest intestinal tract ever known I think, and has to eat constantly, and is far from neat.

Just a few minutes ago I found a hummingbird in the pantry — quite a big one, yellow and black. I got it out with an umbrella. There are such varieties of them — and now the butterflies have come for summer – some enormous, pale blue iridescent ones, in pairs. I gave Loren one in a box once maybe you’ve seen it at her house. And I’ve never seen such moths — I wish I had my equipment with me & I’m going to try to get some in Rio. The house is all unfinished and we’re using oil lamps so of course we get thousands and mice, and large black crabs like patent leather, and the biggest walking-stick bugs I’ve ever seen well it is all wonderful to me and my ideas of “travel” recede pleasantly every day.

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The first time I met Dylan Thomas, when he spent a day with me doing these recordings in Washington, he and Joe Frank and I had lunch together, and even after knowing him for three or four hours I felt frightened for him and depressed and yet I found him so tremendously sympathetic at the same time. I said to Joe later something trite about “why he’ll kill himself if he goes on like this” etc, etc and Joe said promptly, “Don’t be silly. Can’t you see a man like that doesn’t want to live? I give him another two or three years…” And I suppose everyone felt that way, but I don’t know enough about him really to understand why. Why do some poets manage to get by and live to be malicious old bores like Frost or probably pompous old ones, like Yeats, or crazy old ones like Pound and some just don’t?

Elizabeth Bishop met Lota de Macedo Soares in Mexico in 1942. Lota was traveling with her girlfriend at the time, the American dancer Mary Stearns Morse. When she visited Lota in Brazil, she fell victim to a violent allergic reaction to cashews. Nursing Bishop back to health in 1951 led to the two falling in love and spending the next 15 years together. A talented architect, Lota built a studio for Bishop on her property in Rio.

In the late sixties, Lota suffered a nervous breakdown brought on in part by political circumstances in Brazil. Eventually, Bishop couldn’t take it anymore and returned to New York. Lota followed her there in 1967 after a year of threatening suicide. Upon her arrival in New York, she took an overdose of valium and went into a coma before passing away. The following excerpts from Bishop’s letters to Robert Lowell as well as her therapist and various amateur biographers detail the years following Lota’s suicide.

I’m afraid you thought I was drunk when I called you, but I really wasn’t — just closer to hysteria, or more hysterical, than I have ever been in my life, and although I realized there wasn’t much you could do or say all those thousands of miles away it helped some just to hear you. I am afraid by now you are pretty bored with me and my neurotic friends, etc. — but I thought you liked and admired Lota when you were here and I sort of wanted you to know, maybe, that I wasn’t entirely wrong in my complaints from Seattle. I felt at the time that you thought I was being loyal and unsympathetic about her work, etc. — but as you can surely see now, it is all much worse than I thought, even.

I suppose the person closest is the last to realize how terribly sick someone is — but things have been getting worse and worse for several years now.

I only wish to God I knew if they are doing the right thing. Her nurse comes here to see me once in a while and yesterday said she is staying awake more now, and eating more — but talks of me constantly, etc.

She has had violent fights with all our friends except two — and it seems they all thought she was “mad” severally years before I did. But of course I got it all the time and almost all the night, poor dear. I do know my own faults, you know. But this is really not because of me, although now all her obsessions have fixed on me — 1st love, then hate, etc. I finally refused to stay alone with her nights any longer — she threatened to throw herself off the terrace.

I have almost decided to try the U.S. thing. I don’t know what is right really, and wish God would lean down and tell me. I hate to leave Lota like this, but it seems almost as if it were a question of saving my own life or sanity, too, now.

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Have you ever gone through caves? I did once, in Mexico, and hated it so I’ve never gone through the famous ones right near here. Finally, after hours stumbling along, one sees daylight ahead — faint blue glimmer — and it never looked so wonderful before. That’s what I feel as thought I were waiting for now — just the faintest glimmer that I’m going to get out of this, somehow, alive.

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One phrase I can’t abide — it may be what everyone says at present, but it always offends me — is “to have sex.” (Even Isherwood has used it.) If it isn’t “making love” — what other way can it be put? (I first heard about it years ago when the famous fan dancers was talking about her pet snake — maybe that prejudiced me.) It seems like such an ugly, generalized sort of expression for something — love, lust, or what have you — always unique, and so much more complex than “having sex.”

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I’ve never studied “Imagism” or “Transcendentalism” or any isms consciously. I just read all the poetry that came my way, old and new. At 15 I loved Whitman; at 16 someone gave me the book of Hopkins that had just been re-issued. I never really liked Emily Dickinson much, except a few nature poems, until that complete edition came out a few years ago and I read it all more carefully. I still hate the oh-the-pain-of-it-all poems, but I admire many others, and mostly, phrases more than whole poems. I particularly admire her having dared to do it, all alone — a bit like Hopkins in that. (I have a poem about them comparing them two self-caged birds, but it’s unfinished.) This is snobbery — but I don’t like the humorless, Martha-Graham kind of person who does like Emily Dickinson.

In fact I think snobbery governs a great deal of my taste. I have been very lucky in having had, most of my life, some witty friends, and I mean real wit, quickness, wild fancies, remarks that make one cry with laughing. (I seem to notice a tendency in literary people at present to think that any unkind or heavily ironical criticism is “wit,” and any old “ambiguity” is now considered “wit,” too, but that’s not what I mean.) The aunt I liked best was a very funny woman: most of my close friends have been funny people; Lota de Macedo Soares is funny. Pauline Hemingway a good friend until her death in 1951 was the wittiest person, man or woman, that I’ve ever known. Marianne was very funny — Cummings, too, of course.

Perhaps I need some people to cheer me up. They are usually stoical, unsentimental, and physically courageous.

I have a vague theory that one learns most — I have learned most – from having someone suddenly make fun of something one has taken seriously up until then. I mean about life, the world, and so on. This is again a form of snobbery. I dislike extremely bookish people (I do happen to love some, but I think they’d be better off if they weren’t so bookish), and I don’t enjoy writers who talk literary anecdotes all the time or are preoccupied in putting other writers in the proper pecking order. Criticism is important, “weeding out has to be done,” (R. Lowell), but I don’t want to do it. I feel that art would probably struggle along without it in very much the same way, probably. I trust my own taste and usually don’t want to explain it — at the same time I occasionally wish I could explain it better.

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I had meant to remark that I have been seeing some poems around by an Anne Sexton that reminded me quite a bit of you and also were quite good, at least some of them — and the same day your last letter came Houghton Mifflin sent me her book, with your blurb on the jacket and that sad photograph of her on the other side of it. She is good, in spots, but there is all the difference in the world, I’m afraid, between her kind of simplicity and that of Life Studies, her kind of egocentricity that is simply that, and yours that has been —what would be the reverse of sublimated I wonder — anyway, made intensely interesting, and painfully applicable to every reader. I feel I know too much about her, whereas, although I know much more about you, I’d like to know a great deal more, etc, — oh well it is fairly obvious, isn’t it?

I like some of her really mad ones best; those that sound as thought she’d written them all at once.

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I liked Roethke when I saw him — huge people like that often have that lightning quickness. I went to Grand Central with him in cab; he was almost missing his train to the west and I suggested my doing something while he did something else — I forget what, but to help him catch the train, and his last words to me were, “You’re a quick kid in a caper.”

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The biographical note in Who’s Who is correct — or was, the last time I saw it. I never lived in Worcester, however —  I left before I was a year old and spent only a few months there was I was 6-7, with my father’s parents. The rest of my childhood I spent with my mother’s parents in Nova Scotia – mostly long summers, although I started school there — and with a devoted aunt, in or near Boston, until I went away to school at 16. I also went to summer camp on Cape Cod for 6 summers. I’ve never lived in Newfoundland — I took a walking trip there one summer when I was at Vassar. Since Vassar I’ve lived in New York, Paris, Key West, Mexico, etc — mostly New York, and Key West until about 1948. Then since late 1951 Brazil — with several trips back, of course, one of 8 months or so.

Robert Lowell compressed my life even more, recently, into a very short poem that was in the Kenyon Review, called “The Scream.”

THE SCREAM

A scream, the echo of a scream,
now only a thinning echo . . .
As a child in Nova Scotia,
I used to watch the sky,
Swiss sky, too blue, too dark.

A cow drooled green grass strings.
made cow flop, smack, smack, smack!
and tried to brush off its flies
on a lilac bush—all,
forever, at one fell swoop!

In the blacksmith’s shop, the horseshoes sailed through the dark,
like bloody little moons,
red-hot, hissing, protesting,
as they drowned in the pan.

Back and away and back!
Mother kept coming and going—
with me, without me!
Mother’s dresses were black
or white, or black-and-white.

One day she changed to purple,
and left her mourning. At the fitting,
the dressmaker crawled on the floor,
eating pins, like Nebuchadnezzar
on his knees eating grass.

Drummers sometimes came
selling gilded red
and green books, unlovely books!
The people in the pictures
wore clothes like the purple dress.

Later, she gave the scream,
not even loud at first . . .
when she went away I thought
“But you don’t have to love
everyone,
your heart won’t let you!”

A scream! But they are all gone,
those aunts and aunts, a grandfather,
a grandmother, my mother—
even her scream—too frail
for us to hear their voices long.

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The trouble is — excuse my clichés — as people grow older, non-artists, that is, they do have to steel themselves so much, forget so much and try to pretend everything’s all right so much. They are afraid, probably rightly, that poetry — any art — if they take it hard, might upset them — so they pretend they like it at the same time they resist it absolutely — Nao e?

I’m feeling so much better these days.

1936-1970


 

In Which There Was An Element Of The Obscene

Postenumerated

by LEAH BUCKLEY

Lying in bed next to me, you begin to tell me about another woman you are seeing. I wonder if, to an outsider, this enumeration of your conquests would feel misplaced post-coitus. I am familiar with your breed of flirtation.

You tell me sure, she’s hot. She has a decent body, small tits like you like them, tall like you like them, she’s all right in bed.

When people ask me about you, how would you feel if I told them you were a lazy lover, that you had a belly that hangs over your belt and the back of a woman?

WDnEsYn

Instead, I say you are a “banker type,” and I fly to Mexico because I hope it will validate me, as a sexual trophy for you – your choice spoils. I pray for something to fill the hole in my heart left by the last man who brought me through that airport.

I sleep next to you – you, who have no passion for pleasing me, and no interest in the woman I am – rich in flaws and complexity. You don’t hear me when I speak, so I stop.

I follow you silently down narrow cobblestone streets as you trip over your shoes, checking your phone. Staring at the back of your head, I feel so lonely. I’m too apathetic and ashamed to fight you when you patronize me. I sleep with you despite myself, with my eyes clenched shut. I will it to be over before it begins; take the morning after pill thinking, “God, I deserve this.” I watch you get down on your knees in church and am amazed that you still have faith. What do you believe in, if it isn’t love?

Leah Buckley is the senior contributor to This Recording.

Art by Claire Lee.

 

 

In Which We Speak With The Voice Of Eric Rohmer

Eric Rohmer Says

In French there is a word moraliste that I don’t think has any equivalent in English. It doesn’t really have much connection with the world “moral,” a moraliste is someone who is interested in the description of what goes on inside man. He’s concerned with states of mind and feelings. For example, in the eighteenth century Pascal was a moraliste and you could also call Stendhal a moraliste because he describes what people feel and think. Morality is a very personal matter. But they try to justify everything in their behavior and that fits the word moral in its narrowest sense. But “moral” can also mean that they are people who like to bring their motives, their reasons for actions, into the open, they try to analyze, and they are not people who act without thinking what they were doing. What matters is what they think about their behavior, rather than the behavior itself.

A person’s charm comes across on television almost exclusively in close-up and even then it is helped by the voice, which does come across well. But the way people stand and walk and move, the whole physical dimension… all that is lost.

I’m looking for what is natural, but everyone has their conception of what is natural. I’m very particular about this point. There are actors who seem to me to speak correctly, and those who sound false. Of course, these notions are rather subjective. I’m not really drawn to non-professionals, I think actors speak more correctly than non-actors. There is a certain false theatrical quality into which the actors can be drawn and which I avoided.

Water is the first element. The idea of tears and rain. The lake comes later; it is slightly superfluous, but I’m very fond of water. I like water to look at, and to touch. I am not very fond of the arid Mediterranean landscape. The country I like best is the temperate zone, in central France. The cherry trees, the fruit and flowers: they’re all things I find enormously pleasing.

Yesterday I saw Stroheim’s Merry Widow again; a marvellous film, by the way. I hadn’t seen it for a long time, and I was struck by the sheer frenzy of the costumes and the sets. I don’t like artifice. I prefer nature.

There are people, like Resnais, who like to talk with someone. For me, my interlocutors are my guinea pigs. It has even happened that my actors have served as my guinea pigs, not for the film in which they played, but for the next film. No, I don’t need collaboration. Not at all. I work all alone. I speak to no one. Only when I have finished do I have someone read it.

The demagogues’ problem is that they want to impose culture, because that implies that there is a correct culture, and one that is wrong. While in fact there are different cultures for different audiences.

I’ve always been rather shocked by the resemblance between actors in the cinema. People that directors are experts in physiognomy, but I’m not really, and in lots of films I muddle up characters. Some directors favor a certain physical type, especially a certain female type, in their films. Often different women in a film resemble each other. In contrast, I always sought out strong oppositions, with the men too. I don’t want to find a unity of tone with my actors. I put actors together who should be difficult to use at the same time because of differences in their style.

My heroine returns to a place she has left because she felt uncomfortable there and she didn’t like it, and at the same time it had to be happy, it had to somehow express the interior happiness of someone returning to a place even if they don’t like it. I could have shown it softened by light, but that would have been cheating.

– Eric Rohmer


 

In Which We Bargain With A Frightened Man

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Painting of a Thousand Faces

by MARK ARTURO

We are angry. We are angry with you for what you did.

You further reproach me with having promised you that I would paint your picture with the greatest possible care that I ever could, Dürer wrote. That I certainly said unless I was out of my mind. For my whole lifetime I could hardly finish it. Now with the greatest care I can hardly finish a face in half a year. Now your picture contains fully one hundred faces, not counting the drapery and landscape and other things in it. Besides who ever heard of making such a work for an altarpiece? No one could see it. But I believe that what I wrote to was: to make the painting with great or more than ordinary pains because of the time you spent waiting for me.

We imagine modernity began with the last man to speak, the last man that we recognize. (Or woman.) Did you know that the ancient Egyptians had indoor plumbing? Civilizations are circular, cyclical, and we return to the end of the line.

The central posited fact, that remains through the ages, is an image in my mind. A man sits on the edge of a sunset and bakes himself into a landscape. Perhaps he would rather be with a man or a woman but he is unmoving in the firelight. I want you to know for all my days I have never begun any work that pleased me better than this picture of your which I am painting. Till I finish it I will not to any other work, Albrecht Dürer wrote. I am only sorry that the winter will so soon come upon us. The days grow so short that one cannot do much.

Life at the turn of the sixteenth century was all double entendres and unprotected sex. Man considered visiting the moon before deciding he had other things on his mind. 1503 was the kind of year where you wondered why there had been any other. Dürer had three journeymen on his payroll; all were named Hans. Dürer was the type of guy where a part of him was in the present and a part was in the past.

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He felt he had missed out on books of art written by close friends. “Phidias, Praxiteles, Abelles, Polteclus, Parchasias, Lisipus, Protogines.” He wondered what they wrote about the thing he loved. There were times in history where mankind thought art was a pejorative, a casting of evil. Maximilian asked Dürer for a design of a knight; it would adorn his tomb at Innsbruck.

Sometimes it seems odd how little Christ is talked about by nonbelievers as a historical figure. He is a character as much as Dürer, although he was not as light in the face as Dürer, and he did not smell of turpentine, bleach, and painting oils. When a man understands the thought of another, he can only understand it on as many levels as he can comprehend at one time. Some, like Dürer, could simply hold many more thoughts. The expression of the additional levels was present, here for example:

The_Citadel_of_Arco_in_the_South_Tyrol

We are eight to a side, we are sitting at the table until we fold beneath it, our wings pressed down, facing the ground.

Erasmus writes of Jesus Christ that, He despised the eating of his own flesh and drinking of his own blood, except it were done spiritually. This is an analog for history. The history of our people is different somehow, because there is no longer such thing as flesh and blood.

Dürer’s mother gave birth to eighteen children. Her name was Barbara. Dürer wrote, God be merciful to her. On her deathbed he drew her. We had the chance to make peace at the end, but we only stayed away. Mankind, in its infinite wisdom killed something precious, and the only way to move on emotionally was to kill something else precious. A few years later, Dürer began to lose his eyesight. He left Nuremberg for a time, determined to see other surroundings.

Mark Arturo is the senior contributor to This Recording.

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In Which We Make An Important Decision In Life

After College What? For Girls

by HELEN EKIN STARRETT

Four daughters had graduated in six years at Vassar College, two or more among the “honor girls,” and all with a standing that ranked them among the most thorough students in their different classes. And now they were all at home; and the most perplexed people in the State of Illinois were their good old-fashioned parents, especially their good old-fashioned father, as to what was to be done with such a body of the “higher education ” in a little town of three thousand inhabitants, that was surrounded by a simple, agricultural population, and that never had any good travelling entertainments or lectures or concerts because it had such a little, miserable public hall.

“I’m not so certain about this ‘higher education’ for girls and women,” said the kindly old father to me one evening, as he sat in the big armchair in his great cool old-fashioned parlor, “for the reason that I don’t see what they are going to do with it, especially if they stay at home. I am not certain that it isn’t a mistake, and that it doesn’t unfit them for the place in life that they were designed to fill.

“Now look, for instance, at my girls. Of course their mother and I wanted to do the very best we could for our daughters, seeing that we had no son; and we concluded one of the best things was to give them all the education they would take. We had plenty of means to do it with, — farms, cattle, horses, money just accumulating in bank, and no particular use for it; and so we thought we’d send all the girls to college, especially as they all seemed anxious to go. Well, the first that went was Sarah; and after she got over her first homesickness she kept writing how much she was enjoying it, and what a grand life of study it was. And that just fired the other girls to get prepared to enter; and so one after another they all went. And now they are all through, and blest if I know what to do with them! There was Sarah, that got through first; and she came home, and I kind of thought she ought to do a little housekeeping — learn those things that a woman needs to do in a home, and I told her so.

“Well, she was real sweet and good about it, and turned in and helped her mother first-rate ; but I could see she wasn’t exactly joyful or happy over it, and one day when I came in and found her sweeping and dusting, she said, as if half in fun and whole in earnest, ‘It seems to me, father, that it’s a very poor use to put a three-thousand-dollar education to, just to do the work that any uneducated foreigner would be glad to do for three dollars a week.’ — ‘Well,’ said I, ‘ Sarah, there isn’t any need for you to do a stroke of work if you don’t want to; I’m able and willing to hire every bit of it done, and I guess we’d better get another girl right away.’

“And then she sat down in a chair, and I thought I saw tears in her eyes as she said,  But, father, I must do something; I shall shrivel up and dry away without something to occupy my time. Oh, dear! I wish I had my college-days to live over again.’ And then she just broke down and cried. Well, I thought it all over, and really I could see a good deal to sympathize with. Here is this little town — nothing going on, nothing to do, nothing to talk about that would interest a girl that’s been to college.

“All the young men among the storekeepers or the rich farmers around, who might have been agreeable acquaintances, and that would have made good matches for ordinary girls — why, they have nothing in common with a girl that’s spent four years studying Latin and Greek and history and literature and the sciences. The girls don’t take any pleasure in their company, and the boys are afraid of them; and, as a consequence, I guess I’ll have a lot of college-educated old maids on my hands. But still,” said the old man, as if speaking to himself, “that would not make so much difference if only the girls themselves were happy and contented ; but I see they are not, and that is the puzzle. I declare, it’s all a muddle!”

The good, kind old father had in his plain, sincere way stated a problem that will inevitably confront the parents of all college-bred girls, but that has its deepest import for the girls themselves. It is a problem that should receive far more serious recognition than it does at the hands alike of parents and educators, and especially should it receive earlier recognition than it does in the years of life spent in college. The life of an earnest college girl is usually a happy and contented one, and this for very obvious reasons. She is busy ; she is regular and systematic in the employment of her time; she is experiencing day by day the delight of agreeable mental activity, the joy of acquiring knowledge, the conscious expansion of her intellectual powers, the widening of her horizon of life, and all this in the cheerful and stimulating companionship of her college- mates.

Each morning sees some task begun,

Each evening sees its close;

Something attempted, something done,

Has earned a night’s repose.

Thus all unconsciously does the college girl pass happily through the four years of college life ; and at its close she finds herself suddenly confronted with blank nothingness, especially if she is the daughter of parents in easy circumstances, and lives outside of the large cities.

Were the secrets of hearts revealed, it could surely be shown, that in the case of thousands of educated girls and women, not only of our own day, but of all the years that have gone by since anything worthily the name of a liberal education was afforded to women, the first year or years after leaving school or college were years of deep and perplexing unhappiness.

A pathetic figure in the memory of my own childhood is that of the return from a famous female seminary of the daughter of a farmer who, greatly to the astonishment of the neighbors, had sent his daughter to school till she had graduated, the neighboring custom being, if daughters were sent away to school at all, to send them for only a year or two. The daughter, a fine-looking, dark-haired girl of twenty-two or twenty-three years, rode in the family carriage, in which I also had a place.

Even now I can see the sad silence of her face during that long day’s ride home over the hills of Western Pennsylvania. I remember what a marvel she was to me as a “graduate,” and how I wondered that she did not talk more, and at the tears I occasionally saw glittering in her large dark eyes.

We arrived at her father’s house at the close of a hot June day, and after the usual sincere but undemonstrative welcomings we were soon seated around the bountiful supper table. The daughter was plied with many questions, all of which she answered kindly and seriously.

At last the good old farmer, her father, pushed back his chair from the table, and said, “Well, Amanda, I reckon ye’ve just got home in good time. Harvest begins next week, and there’ll be a lot of hands to cook for; and I reckon now you’re through school and hum to stay, we won’t need to keep any extra hired girl any more. I s’pose your seminary learnin’ hain’t made ye forget how to bake and cook and wash and iron.” And then he added, seeing that her face was not responsive, “I suppose ye’ll be glad to have a chance to pay back a little for yer eddication.”

I chanced to remain for a few days at that farmhouse, and consequently had an opportunity to observe how Amanda took to farmwork after being at ”the seminary.” Her mother was a wiry, dark, petulant, arbitrary little woman, whose one watchword was, “Drive the work!”

And before noon the next day no one would have recognized in the overheated, bare-armed, coarse-aproned girl, helping to cook for a dozen farm-hands, the serene, dark-eyed girl of the evening before. Though but a child, I comprehended dimly the great change it must be for her, and felt my heart beat with sympathy as her driving mother frequently emphasized her vigorous directions with, “Come, now, and let us see that go- ing to the seminary hasn’t spoiled ye, and made ye good for nothing.”

I sympathized with her as I observed how at different times when the evening twilight had brought a little moment of quiet and repose, she would wander off by herself among the great trees and flowering bushes of the yard, and return after a while with reddened, downcast eyelids to seat herself on the porch, and make an effort to join cheerfully in the talk about the affairs of the farm and the prices of the markets.

Life is not quite so hard and mysterious a problem for women now as it was then, but there are still many sphinx-riddles confronting the educated women of today. l have said that at the close of her college career the average college girl, daughter of well-to-do parents, usually finds herself face to face with blank nothingness in so far as worthy occupation of her time is concerned. Her brother, who may have graduated at Yale or Harvard at the same time, is perhaps decreed an additional year or two of foreign travel before settling down to the real purpose of his life. His education and his travel are both accomplished with an important and definite object in view, fitting him to take a strong, firm hold on the life-work which unquestionably lies before him, even though what that life-work is to be may not be clearly defined.

Probably the first realizing sense of dissatisfaction and painful perplexity will come to the college girl from the breaking up of mental and physical habits that have in four years’ time become a kind of second nature.

Here is a psychological fact that parents should understand and be prepared for. It is always difficult, and to a certain extent painful, to the human being to adjust itself to new relations, and to change habits that have become at all fixed. This pain in adjusting herself to new relations constituted the “homesickness” of the girl when first she entered college, and it is in a large measure the cause of her ” homesickness ” for college after her return. She has become habituated to doing things by system and rule, to mental application during stated periods of the day; to accomplishing something definite every day, and to be suddenly deprived of this habitual motive and stimulus is to be made conscious of a painful void.

No expression is more frequently heard upon the lips of the college girl who has completed her college course than that ” the hardest kind of work is doing nothing.” But occupation of time alone is not enough to fill the “aching void” in the breast of the earnest college girl ; it must be occupation that amounts to something — accomplishes some worthy result. The round of social duties will not do this: the greater or smaller share she may take in the duties of the household will not do it; for as the good old man’s daughter of whom I have spoken, argued, she will be apt to feel that it is not very good economy to use a three-thousand-dollar education doing three-dollar-a-week work.

It is not reasonable to expect that she will at once take to Sunday school and mission work to an extent that shall fill and satisfy her heart, though Sunday school and mission work have their place, and a very worthy one, in the life of any young woman. The eager cry of the healthy, aspiring young soul is the same as that of the eager, healthy young child, I want something to do.

Now, what parents, educators, and college girls need to recognize is that this unrest and longing are the result of a spiritual law of being. That law is, that action, progress, achievement, are the essential conditions of a satisfying, not to say a happy, life. The human being requires as an essential condition of contentment, not to say happiness, variety, change, fresh mental nutriment, and opportunity for useful activity. It wearies of the most beautiful surroundings if it is deprived of these, tires of the most heavenly music, loathes the most delicate viands. This is a psychological as well as a physiological fact, and we must adapt ourselves to it.

The question for all is how to adjust our lives to this law.

Of course there is but one adequate adjustment; and that is to seek and find some worthy occupation for our time, talents, and energies. The world is brimming over with things to do and needing to be done, and there is joy and an exceeding great reward in the doing of them. But it is a pity to wait till the end of a college career to find this out by painful personal experience. Far better were it for parents and professors to teach and emphasize this truth, this law of being, from the time that the young soul first begins to regard life with eagerness and interest.

All through the college course the thought should be emphasized that the object and aim of the education there acquired is to enable students to use their acquirements as effective tools with which to carve the fortune of life for themselves. They should be taught that one of the supreme joys of life is the joy of doing — a joy which comes to many a young woman as a divine revelation and as one of the beautiful results of the cultivation and expansion of her intellectual powers.

Becoming familiar with the statement of this truth, the college girl will learn to think ahead, to prepare and to plan for a life of definite and useful activity after she leaves college. She will not be left to face with dumb dismay the experience of an unsatisfied, longing heart, or the dead monotony of nothing in particular to do. But where in the plan and aim of a college girl’s life is to come in the possibility of her marriage ? That is a happy and beautiful possibility that may come in anywhere, but the less it is watched and waited for, the more likely will it be to come in.

Most college girls have the social opportunity within a year or two of the close of a college course to form acquaintances that will determine whether an early marriage is likely to be their destiny, but in the mean- time, the other aim must be held steadily in view as a strong probability set against an uncertain possibility. If the college girl marries, why, God bless her ! there is good promise of the founding of that most precious thing on earth, — a happy home. She may for a long stretch of years find all she needs of useful occupation of her time and talents and best energies in its conduct and the care of her children.

But for our college girl who does not marry within a year or two of the completion of her college course, there remains the inexorable law of worthy occupation as a condition of happiness, she must find something to do. Parents must recognize and yield to this law, even if it necessitates that the daughter or daughters shall forsake home and the small town in which home is located in order to find wider scope for their cultivated powers and their eager mental activities. As to what the particular line of occupation shall be, that must in all cases be determined by individual talents and preferences.

Here is where the value of having beforehand thought out and planned a course of action becomes apparent. Nearly every one has some special aptitude for some special work, and this aptitude should be the guide. The great and noble and, to those who love it, the most inspiring occupation of life, that of teaching, must, for many years to come, offer to the college girl the quickest and surest path to a rewarding profession, because, as yet, college-educated girls are in great demand for the higher positions in our best schools and colleges. Indeed, it must, in the nature of things, be many years before the demand for college-educated girls for teachers can possibly be supplied.

For those, then, who can with pleasure look forward to the profession of teaching, what a stimulus to select some special department of study (for all our best teaching is now done in the line of specialties), and to prepare for that work! After teaching, a score of delightful and rewarding occupations suggest themselves, — art, music, literature, the learned professions, and, finally, there is that profession which needs and demands the best talent of the best educated women of the land, — the profession, the overshadowing importance of which civilized humanity is but beginning to realize, — that of the kindergarten.

Living as she does in this day when money is the universal measure of so much of the high service rendered to the world, it is natural and desirable that the college-bred girl shall work for money. Happily the sentiment, nay the deep conviction, of the best men and women of our time has changed in regard to the earning of money by women. We are learning — we have learned — that money is only a form of power, and that to work for and desire it may be a noble ambition. Money is, indeed, the most subtle and easily wielded form of power that civilization has ever contrived. The history of civilization is but the history of the extension and distribution of power from the higher and stronger to the humbler and weaker classes of society. The invention of gunpowder first made all men equal in the physical contest for life and liberty, the invention of money gave to woman her first instrument of defense against social injustice.

Nearly all the legal rights and privileges that women now enjoy were first conceded to them as property rights. But not to dwell further on this point, it may safely be asserted that the earning of money, the accumulation and the care of property, is now regarded as a perfectly proper and womanly occupation for any girl. That college girl has the problem of life half solved for her whose parents and friends are willing from the outset that she should earn money if she so chooses.

My observation leads me to conclude that the more highly educated the family, the more assured the social position, the readier the assent of parents to this wish, if it be a wish on the part of their college-bred daughters. I have in mind two instances which illustrate this point. Circumstances gave me the pleasure of a short visit to the family of a wealthy banker in one of the smaller cities of Illinois, where I found the most charming and refined family life in a home spacious and elegant perhaps beyond any other home in that city. One of the early pleasant surprises was to learn that the eldest daughter, a recent college graduate, was with her father in his bank as one of his most useful assistants, on a regular and handsome salary. Expressing my pleasure and approbation at this, the father, himself a college graduate and a courteous and refined gentleman, said, “I felt that it would be a great deal better for our daughter, and make her far happier, to have something to do, and,” with a fond glance at the bright-eyed, happy-looking girl, “that is true, is it not, Florence?” Her smiling and hearty response showed only too plainly her pleasure in the useful and honorable part she was allowed to take in life. Returning from that visit, I met on the train a gentleman whose occupation was that of bookkeeper, who also had a daughter, to whom he had afforded the advantages of a college education.

Inquiring for her, I said, “Miss Margaret told me she wished to teach, and that a fine position had been offered her in Binghamton Institute. I suppose she will accept it.” The father’s face flushed with positive anger as he replied, “I have put my foot down on all that nonsense. Never as long as I can earn money to support my family shall my daughter go out teaching.” — “But,” I replied, “what will Miss Margaret do with all her splendid energy and vitality? She must find something to do in order to be happy.” “Let her do what other girls do, stay at home with her mother,” he replied in a tone of such annoyance and irritation as warned me not to pursue the subject further. But in my mind’s eye I saw the earnest, enthusiastic face of his gifted and finely educated daughter, thought of her in the neat and pretty but necessarily small home with all her powers “cribbed, cabined, and confined” in the monotonous round of daily trifles and petty personal interests.

Equal to the position of the best among teachers, fitted both by nature and education for a broad sphere of useful and happy activity, capable of becoming a fountain of strength and helpfulness to others, she is doomed, for the time being at least, to bear the pain of imprisoned capabilities, unused energies, and the dull, monotonous round of days without any special interest or special purpose. Poor book-keeper’s daughter! Happy banker’s daughter!

But while the finding and entering upon some regular and honorable occupation, and the earning of money thereby, is an excellent and noble thing for a college-bred girl to undertake, it is not necessarily the only or the noblest thing.

To seek happiness is one thing, to follow the narrow path of duty is sometimes quite another and far nobler thing. Oftentimes the unquestionable duty of the college-bred girl is in her home and to her parents and younger brothers and sisters; and there may be no possible compensation but that of affection and the consciousness of duty performed. Often it is the plain duty of the girl who has finished a college course to take upon herself the task of lightening the burdens and assuming the cares of the too often over-burdened mother who has so patiently borne them for many years that the daughter might be free to acquire the college education. That college girl’s education is defective in a vital point who has not been led to realize the overshadowing authority of that “Stern daughter of the voice of God,” Duty, and that college education is a failure that makes the daughter impatient of, and petulant under, conditions of home-life that are uncongenial, or that require self-denial. Did she but realize it, here is a new and noble kingdom for her to conquer. To change and better those irritating and unhappy” conditions; to reorganize, refine, inspire, elevate, — this is a work that often calls importunately to the college girl for accomplishment; and it is often a work that may extend outside the family circle, and include neighbors, friends, and even an entire village or town, in its scope.

The call of such a duty or duties should never fall unheeded upon the ear or the heart of the earnest and worthy college girl. And there is still another field of useful activity which has proved strangely attractive to a large number of college girls during the past decade of years, especially among those so fortunately situated in life in regard to money matters that they have no need to consider for a moment the earning of money as a necessity for support. That field is the field of human benevolence. It can be nothing less than the inspiration of the Divine Spirit of Love that has turned the hearts of so many in high places to consider the sorrows, the needs, the distressing environment, of the poor and ignorant; and that has led them to devote time, money, health, to the bettering of their condition. Surely it is “God manifest in the flesh” that has brought to pass the now countless agencies for the uplifting of the human race from the abysses of degradation and suffering in which it is found in all large cities, that has organized “university settlements ” and “working-girls’ clubs” and “homes” and has duplicated Toynbee Hall of London with Hull House of Chicago, and similar institutions.

When the college girl is truly inspired with this “enthusiasm of humanity,” this divine love for her fellow-creatures and a desire to help them, she has found the best and highest that there is in life. It is among the saintly women who have from choice devoted their lives, or a portion of them, to this work that has no reward except the doing of it, and the blessing it confers on other lives, that we find those serenely happy faces that make us think of the beautiful Madonnas of the great masters of old. This inspiration of devotion to the work of uplifting fallen humanity seldom comes to the young and happy except as the result of some great blow to the heart or wrecking of the ordinary hopes, loves, and ambitions of youth. When it comes as a result of such wreckage it is the message of divine healing. It is the transforming and transmuting power that changes the selfish, exclusive love of one and of self, to the beneficent, inclusive, healing love of all. It is the Gethsemane experience of the soul that enables it to understand and appreciate the words of that great suffering yet triumphant philosopher who said, “Learn to say to happiness, ‘I can do without thee,’ for with self-renunciation, life begins, or better and more simply, ‘Not my will, but thine, be done.'”

And since the lesson of what to do with a college education when it is gained is of such vital importance to the college girl, how great is the moral responsibility of those who occupy the position of instructors and mentors during the years of college life. I once heard a paper upon the Higher Education of Girls, written by one who was in the best sense a woman of the world, that is, she had had every advantage that wealth, education, culture, foreign travel, and association with the learned and great could give. In it she stated that the ideal college or university for girls should have three specially endowed chairs filled by women. The first of these should be for physical culture, including culture of the speaking or conversational voice, the second for instruction in the history, principles, and practical application of art, the third should be filled by a woman who should be general adviser as to the conduct and aims of life. The average girl, the writer said, or words to that effect, at twenty-one had no more idea of her own needs, capabilities, or of the conditions necessary to her happiness, than a child; and during this chaotic, formative period of character her greatest need was an adviser of her own sex who was wise enough, strong enough, and experienced enough to help her, or at least to restrain from hasty decision or action that might wreck her whole future life.

It will probably be long before we can have any such special chair in colleges for girls, or in universities where they are admitted as students, but fortunate is that college or university that numbers among its instructors or professors wise, helpful souls, who love out of their own full knowledge of life to impart of the highest to the young souls with whom they are brought in contact, who understand that deepest, most inspiring, most consoling of all truths, that “rest for the soul” is to be found only when our powers of mind and body are actively engaged in harmony with, and as part of, the Divine Life and plan in helping to bring about all that is good; who can open up life in a new and wonderful and heart-satisfying way because it has thus been opened to their own vision, who can help others to solve the problem of life because they have first solved it for themselves.

When such instructors, such professors, such inspired helpers and sympathizers and advisers for the young, are found, let colleges and universities cherish them, for they are the ones who will best help our daughters to answer that momentous question.

1896


 

In Which It Was What We Really Believed

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Port Authority

by ANNABELLA HOCHSCHILD

She was my best friend. She became my best friend after her boyfriend, who she had loved, died. Mine who I had thought I loved had nearly died. Someone suggested we meet in a punk bar. We did. She was outraged that someone suggested her tragedy was wholesale, exploitable and enough to recommend her to me. I was nonplussed, admiring of her pissed-offedness.

We didn’t get too drunk that night. Just a little drunk. Drunk enough for me to bring her back to my preppy roommates with pizza. We made gin and tonics and they looked at us like weekday drunks. We were weekday drunks then.

We had both been models in times before. Worse times when we both were skinny. I guess we were still skinny but not enough to be paid for it.

To the outside world we looked like drug fiends. I did not find out until later that she actually was a drug fiend. Until after she had stolen thousands of dollars from me and left me in the middle of the night too many times. She also welcomed me in the middle of the night many times so I don’t mind about the money. Minding would mean nothing here to either of us.

I do not know if she really believed that the pharmacist in the old Italian Brooklyn neighborhood she lived in would not check that the refill was not due yet. From the prescription I picked up from the doorman of the wizened Freudian Jew who treated her on her parents’ dime on the Upper West Side. The pharmacist checked the date on the scrip. He always did. We made soup that afternoon and drank coconut rum in coffee that we bought from the downstairs deli where Puerto-Rican shop boys would drink giant Coronas as a way to ​cool​ their hands.

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I could never tell that she was addicted to opiates. I thought she was just a sad-writer trope type like me. Bored by not writing. Writing about being bored. She was an actor but from what I understood the gig was similar in its boredoms.

She had to leave one night. I had gotten a magazine job and went to the office. She’d been asking me to come over to the place she was living with the guy who she’d slept with who happened to be the best friend of the man who died. She’d been asking me to come over for a couple of months but would never meet me anywhere in between. It had turned out that I liked working really hard and was at the magazine for 16 hours a day and never wanted to take the bus to an Alphabet City crackhouse when I was done.

She disappeared for three months. I sought solace in that if she had died I would have heard about it. She had not died.

I’m still waiting for that call, though, telling me that she has died. I think she is waiting for it too. I think when it comes it will not be a surprise, and I’ll still think of her in the same way, in the long dark subway tunnels we walked down together. When I was joyous just for having a friend I loved so very much. ​

Annabella Hochschild is a contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in New York. This is her first appearance in these pages.