In Which We Wonder If The Book Will Last Long Enough

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Total Stranger

by SARA BLACK MCCULLOCH

This sentence is full of asides, parenthetical remarks, parentheses, dashes, illuminations, reconsiderations, revisions, addenda, corrections, augmentations, digressions, qualifications, erasures, deletions, and marginal notes. The sentence, in other words, attempts to be exhaustive, to capture every nuance of a piece of reality, and yet to be correct–to reflect Proust’s entire thought. To be exhaustive and correct is of course an infinite task. More can always be inserted, more event and more nuance, more commentary on the event, and more nuance within the commentary.

—Lydia Davis, “The Architecture of Thought: Lydia Davis on Proust.”

The world for us is a work in progress. And what we understand of it we understand by cobbling these pieces together—synthesizing them over time.

—Peter Mendelsund, What We See When We Read

Back in December of 2014, Christie’s auctioned off 75 first-edition books, “each a unique object that has been annotated with words and/or illustrations by its author,” as the New York Times put it. The proceeds went to the PEN American Center. Philip Roth, Angela Davis, Lydia Davis, Shirin Neshat, and Toni Morrison (to name a few) revisited their earlier works and filled the blank margins with illustrations, notes on intent, feelings, or small corrections. The PEN American Center’s First Editions/Second Thoughts raised $1 million. Philip Roth’s annotated version of American Pastoral brought in $80,000 alone. One of the annotations that struck me was Alice Walker’s, in The Color Purple. “I was mistaken,” she wrote, “There is nothing more for me to say about this book!” The appeal of the auction was not only to have renowned writers look back on their previous work, but also to make annotating more performative and social. I can’t decide if Walker didn’t want to talk the book or had nothing more to say about it to the public. This isn’t an issue of private or public here, but that she just had nothing to say about it, as if she had moved on already. Marking up a book with your notes already says so much about you.

Annotating a book, we are told, is proof we’ve really engaged with the material, but it’s supposed to be a solitary act, too. It’s the main point of contention for every single e-book detractor: why read a book if we can’t physically do something to it? In 2010, when Sam Anderson was asked by The Millions, to contribute to their “A Year in Reading Series,” he submitted, instead, scans of book pages he had inscribed with personal comments. “Right on the border of stoner existentialism,” he scrawled next to a paragraph of Don Delillo’s Point Omega. “OMG! Rolling EYES so HARD!! Someone needs to protect F’s art from his editorializing,” he penciled in next to a Franzen-esque rant about Twitter in Freedom. (“There was plenty of tweeting on Twitter, but the chirping and fluttering world”—you understand.) Of course, we don’t annotate to jot down our eye rolls or all-caps tirades just as much as we don’t annotate with always an audience in mind.

When Sarah Kessler interviewed a Kindle designer about marginalia, he stressed that Kindle’s version of marginalia was less comparable because it didn’t capture the reader’s state of mind as swiftly—anything from anger to tears on a page. The subject of marginalia is always framed through this e-book lens: publish digitally and marginalia will perish. I enjoy writing in my books, but too often we confound digital publishing as having less of a human touch because of physicality—as if books themselves aren’t written for readers to begin with. The discussions about marginalia are much more morbid as they’re preoccupied with permanence; will this book last long enough for someone else to find it, read it, and remember us?

Ander Monson’s Letter to a Future Lover is a series of lyrical essays that lean on the past in order to hinge on some hope for a future. The one thing that challenges the permanence-ephemerality binary is memory itself. Our memory is imperfect because it constantly encodes information differently; some memories become fuzzier over time while others become more resonant (not without their flaws, of course). Monson considers the relationship between writer and reader and how both are so interdependent on each other: the book relies on a reader so that it has some kind of value (cultural or otherwise), while the reader depends on the book in order to survive (by engaging with it; annotating it). The reader’s notes can survive if the book is still intact. These all become tools for remembering, especially as we begin to forget and misremember things from the past.

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One of things I remembered most when I played piano was how my teacher would play through a piece, and stop intermittently to scribble notes and highlight changes in tempo, or fingering. She would stop a few times, and repeat sections, testing out different finger combinations. Nearly every note in Bach’s Minuet in G had been assigned a finger number, for instance. She would remind me always, at the top of the page, that left-handed needed to ease up on my left hand, because the melody carried over from right hand to left. The annotations bridged notes to hand movements to the sounds they would create. They were instructions on how to understand something in order to perform it.

Years later, when I was having some problems with memory, I would relentlessly write in the margins of my textbooks. The only way I would realize I had read the material was through notes—my own—peppered all over the page. From the different colors of the pens used, I realized I had read things more than once. My annotations proved I had been there, an active reader, but in the present I drew a blank. When I sat down to read, I wrote all over the page only to forget, a week later, when and where I had penciled in my notes. Taking notes is supposed to help you encode the information in a different way; it’s supposed to help you remember.

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…the ways in which our lives are reduced to their component parts—blame that less on the ways in which we break and more on the ways in which our social selves are told that we might break. We are not so imaginative as we would hope.

—Ander Monson, Letter to a Future Lover: Marginalia, Errata, Secrets, Inscriptions, and Other Ephemera Found in Libraries.

And so then why are there so few of them [masterpieces]. There are so few of them because mostly people live in identity and memory that is when they think. They know they are they because their little dog knows them, and so they are not an entity but an identity. And being so memory is necessary to make them exist and so they cannot create master-pieces. It has been said of geniuses that they are eternally young.

—Gertrude Stein, What Are Masterpieces?

In his essay “Crime of Omission,” Monson explains how we value product over process — how our livelihoods, reputations, careers, identities, depend on what we make and how we present ourselves. Monson opens the essay with a scanned image of a passage from Steve Orlen’s unpublished manuscript Crime of Omission. It ends with “live in the present.” The undercurrent of the chapter is less about change and vocation; it becomes more about how we hope we’re remembered when we’re gone. We live again through the objects we leave behind, as the objects are triggers for memories too. Monson goes through a garbage bag filled with Orlen’s drafts and unpublished manuscripts. He reflects on writing, how it’s seemingly a solitary act, but also, in a way, something a reader will interact with in the future.

But it’s Monson, now, who has to decide what, in the garbage bag, matters, and he doesn’t know. He finds a pack of Lucky Strikes from 1948 that he eventually keeps as a shrine to Orlen. I wonder how often, when we become the subject of someone else’s memory, how close or distanced we are from it. Do memories make us who we are? Are we the ones who make people remember us a certain way? I wonder how many times we try to dismantle an identity, only to have others impose our own pasts on us in the present. What even makes a book or publication last?

There’s a fascination always, with how we read: psychologists time saccades while art directors invoke the principles of human perception to better layout and display information. There is a question, however, about how people read us; the discordance between how we see ourselves and how others see us. Joe Brainard’s I Remember is defiant, because not only is every memory significant, but it’s specific: it’s a season, a feeling of rejection, a situation:

I remember trying to figure out what it’s all about. (Life.)

I remember the “dum-da-dum-dum-dum” from Dragnet.

I remember looking at myself in a mirror and becoming a total stranger.

I remember when twins dressed alike.

What Monson points to, as he nears the end of the book, is how we seem to remember more significant places and people. What do we miss for the big picture, he asks:

The is the problem with the future, how to use what we think we know right to lever open an idea into understanding, knowing all the while that this is not knowledge but a best-fit line among the scatter plot in view of what we think we know, and not much of one at that.

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When my memory became a problem, I had to get it evaluated. One of the key neuropsychological tests is the Rey-Osterrieth Complex Figure. You study a drawing with a complex arrangement of lines—some lines connect to make squares or crosses or triangles. The drawing is taken away and after a “short delay” (this evaluates short term and working memory), you are asked to reproduce it. I could barely do so.

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After about 20 minutes, you are asked, again, to reproduce the image. I could barely remember what the picture generally looked like. The key to succeeding is chunking the details instead of trying to remember each one; it’s less taxing (it’s how you can remember more). If you can organize your memory and recall the spatial arrangements, the structure, the direction of the lines, then you can remember the image pretty well. Most people do this automatically.

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Annotating is personal and intimate, but it also gives someone a context to the reader. What does the reader fixate on and why? There’s a constant appeal to withdraw, but to also get inside everyone’s heads. Recently, Rap Genius relaunched as Genius, a website that will attempt to annotate everything from a Kanye song to “The Wasteland.” It’s billed as an “interactive guide to human culture.” Rick Rubin already annotated Kanye’s “Only One”:

Kanye is a combination of careful and spontaneous. He’ll find a theme he likes quickly, and then live with that for a while, not necessarily filling in all the words until later. At the end, he’ll fill in all the gaps.

He was upset at one point when I said that he wrote the lyrics quickly. He’s right — they percolate for a long time, he gets the phrasing into his brain, lives with it, and then lines come up. It definitely starts from this very spontaneous thing.

On “Only One”, a lot of those lyrics came out free-form, ad-libs. The song is essentially live, written in the moment. Some of the words were later improved, but most of it was stream of consciousness, just Kanye being in the moment.

It gives us less insight into Rubin, although he admits that Kanye’s cautious spontaneity used to make him anxious; it gives us a bit of context to the making of the song. I wonder if annotating is just another way to remember the reading, to contextualize a small detail in the bigger picture. There are annotations from a small pool of people some would pay for, so I wonder, ultimately, how many of us, just like certain memories we don’t need, are pushed aside for the more important voices.

Sara Black McCulloch is a contributor to This Recording. This is her first appearance in these pages. She is a writer living in Toronto. She has written for The New Inquiry, The Hairpin, Gawker, Bitch, Little Brother Magazine, and The National Post. You can find her website here and her twitter here.

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“Desperado” – Rihanna (mp3)

“Love on the Brain” – Rihanna (mp3)

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In Which Nearly Everyone Has Been A Lesbian At One Time Or Another

Road to Somewhere

by ALEX CARNEVALE

Carol
dir. Todd Haynes
118 minutes

The movie of The Price of Salt gets boring just when the book gets interesting. Patricia Highsmith always explained her novel about being a lesbian as inspired by some old blonde woman she saw in a department store. This explanation was ridiculous. In reality, she was that ebullient codger who secretly believed there was no chance a young, beautiful woman would ever want to be with her — so she invented a novel about how there could be a reason, even if there really wasn’t one.

Highsmith was a reprehensible person and a second-rate writer. Her prose itself ranged from choppy to mediocre, and The Price of Salt is far from her best work. If it were not for the lesbian angle no one would probably give it a second thought. There were a million novellas written exactly like it, only less boring, during the 1950s. Highsmith’s own style is non-existent: whether in her prose or her characters, she was never terribly good at what captivated normal people since she was not one herself.

Enter Todd Haynes, a director who practices humanity like it’s part of his morning routine: empathy, coffee and a bagel. Yet Carol is so flimsy that even he cannot elevate it above dull. The plot concerns a divorced woman named Carol (Cate Blanchett) who seduces a young photography enthusiast (Rooney Mara) after Therese sells her a train set at a department store.

The best part of the movie is the seduction itself; for various reasons the novel was extremely subtle about this part, and Haynes apes the slow-moving pace of The Price of Salt. By the time Carol and Therese get around to making it with each other on a Thelma & Louise type road trip that includes absolutely no fun whatsoever, we have all waited far too long to care.

Mara’s only acting training has bestowed upon her ridiculously clear visage a wide-eyed innocence popping out of an understated stolidity. She can manage no other expression or emotion, but fortunately Carol is not really that deep of a story.

Carol’s husband finds out about his ex-wife’s many relationships and makes it an issue in the custody of their child, even hiring a private detective to record the conversations of the two women. There is no moral ambiguity whatsoever; the men are just monsters and women, even those scorned by Carol in her pursuit of Therese, are inviolate as they band together in her defense.

Blanchett tries to save the movie by letting her eyes flit from place to place, constantly, as if instructing us where to look. Her relationship with her daughter and ex-girlfriends is more amusing than the mostly sexual attachment she has with Therese; guess where Highsmith puts all the attention and drama? Then again, a novella about an upper-class lesbian breaking a bunch of middle-aged womens’ hearts probably would not have been made as a theatrical feature.

Carol is the better character, but Therese has the more compelling journey and experience. Unfortunately, Highsmith used a young, attractive woman only as a means to an end. She saw Therese as nothing more than an unusual name and perfect body — Haynes tries to remedy the inadequacy in the source material by emphasizing his protagonist’s scenes with a boyfriend, Richard (Jake Lacy), who inexplicably wants to stick around despite the fact that he realizes he is dating lesbian.

Richard is upset by the fact that his girlfriend is gay, but maybe not as much as he should be. “I never asked you for anything,” he yells at her helplessly. “Maybe that’s the problem,” she replies before meeting up with Carol.

Visually, Carol is in line with the aesthetic popularized by Haynes’ idol Douglas Sirk, who demanded colorful, detailed interiors that complemented the rough, vibrant world beyond. Sirk’s style shimmered at the time, but the overall look is more familiar to us since it was adopted for the entire run of Matthew Weiner’s Mad Men. Still, Haynes chooses wonderful sets which seem to match the various moods of Carol and Therese as they shunt through a sometimes forgiving but always alien world.

As a thriller, Carol is a mildly compelling effort. As a character study, Cate Blanchett has virtually nothing to sink her teeth into and Rooney Mara can’t bring much life to Therese because of her own inadequacies. As a political film, the story may have been unusual in the fifties but we demand more from this subject matter now.

Therese is often taking pictures of Carol with her camera. Every time she frames her shot, Carol demurs and acts embarrassed, then goes on to pose for her, a repeated moment that keeps on occuring several times as Carol unfolds. Maybe they didn’t realize it would be ridiculous for Carol to adopt this attitude whenever she sees a lens. This empty banters leads us to suspect there is no actual engagement between these women, only an observation of each other’s beauty. It reminds us that Highsmith had no actual grasp of what draws one person to another besides infatuation.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

“Fighting a Sandstorm” – Sia (mp3)

“House on Fire” – Sia (mp3)


In Which The Predictable Outcome Arrives With Too Much Fanfare

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.

Hey,

Is there any way of asking someone to be quiet during sex that won’t immediately end the sexual encounter?

My partner, who I will call Travis, is extremely loud at the point of orgasm and I find this incredibly distracting. He also enjoys talking at length during sex, mostly about his own adeptness and unusual abilities in that arena. I really like Travis, but I will be forced to break up with him if this continues.

Janice E.

Dear Janice,

For centuries men and women have silenced their sexual partners by insisting that while they love the vociferous reaction to their genitals, people might overhear and it is best to keep things at a reasonable volume. This is quite realistic in city living, but if you are miles away from your closest neighbor, this excuse may ring a bit hollow. One option would be to get a pet and insist the loud volume of the wintercourse is violating the pet’s well-being. The pet has to participate in the lie, however, and if I have learned one thing from my pet parakeet Kevin LaSame, it is that he is an asshole.

It is better to be honest about the situation. Be sure to not frame this as a criticism. Explain “I was about to have the most wonderful orgasm of my life, and then you screamed and I started laughing…” Travis will think to himself, “Wow, look at all the pleasure I gave her. I pretty much ruined it with my volume, better keep that in check from now on! What’s on TV, the new X-Files, I bet Chris Carter’s writing has not aged all that well!!!” Men are such simpletons.

Illustrations by Mia Nguyen.

Hey,

My fiancee and I are expecting a child together. It was unexpected but we planned to have a family anyway so we’re both exciting for everything that is to come. There is one problem we keep coming back to, which is the name of the baby. We have chosen not to learn the sex of the child, but no matter if it’s a boy or a girl, my fiancee wants to name the child Morgan.

If the child is a boy, I am worried this name is going to cause problems. If the child is a girl, the name is a lot better, but I really don’t like it and it lends itself to no reasonable abbreviations or nicknames. My fiancee also wants to give the baby a middle name — which is a family name — I am not crazy about this either, but I could stand it a lot better if my child was not going to be named Morgan.

I have tried to talk with my fiancee about this but she seems rather fixed in her views. I don’t know what I can do to change her mind.

Michael S.

Dear Michael,

Getting pregnant and married in the same calendar year or even in the same period of time can be a stressful process. Your fiancee is exerting control perhaps in the only way she can, since you are presumably monitoring what she eats, reads, and shits.

It is probably going to be very easy to change her mind about this. All you need to do is establish a negative connotation between the name and some other thing in her life. Consider getting her interested in the Showtime series Dexter, which features an incestuous family with the surname of Morgan. Just don’t watch the last season, as it could impede childbirth and general happiness.

Maybe she is too fixated on this name to let that bother her. One good thing to do is to show her the clunkiness of her chosen name in context. Like pretend to be calling out to your child, or alternately, striking your child. “Morgan, no, stop! Bad!” etc. This will quickly encourage her to alter her choice to something more acceptable to both of you, like Marissa or Dandelion.

“High By the Beach” – Lana del Rey (mp3)

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In Which Sometimes The Sun Goes Round The Moon

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The Strange Case

by VLADIMIR NABOKOV

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was written in bed, at Bournemouth on the English Channel, in 1885 in between hemorrhages from the lungs. It was published in January 1886. Dr. Jekyll is a fat, benevolent physician, not without human frailties, who at times by means of a potion projects himself into, or concentrates or precipitates, an evil person of brutal and animal nature taking the name of Hyde, in which character he leads a patchy criminal life of sorts. For a time he is able to revert to his Jekyll personality — there is a down-to-Hyde drug and a back-to-Jekyll drug — but gradually his better nature weakens and finally the back-to-Jekyll potion fails, and he poisons himself when on the verge of exposure. This is the bald plot of the story.

First of all, if you have the Pocket Books edition I have, you will veil the monstrous, abominable, atrocious, criminal, foul, vile, youth-depraving jacket — or better say straitjacket, You will ignore the fact that ham actors under the direction of pork packers have acted in a parody of the book, which parody was then photographed on a film and showed in places called theaters; it seems to me that to call a movie house a theater is the same as to call an undertaker a mortician.

And now comes my main injunction. Please completely forget, disremember, obliterate, unlearn, consign to oblivion any notion you may have had that Jekyll and Hyde is some kind of a mystery story, a detective story, or movie. It is of course quite true that Stevenson’s short novel, written in 1885, is one of the ancestors of the modern mystery story. But today’s mystery story is the very negation of style, being, at the best, conventional literature. Frankly, I am not one of those college professors who coyly boasts of enjoying detective stories — they are too badly written for my taste and bore me to death. Whereas Stevenson’s story is — God bless his pure soul — lame as a detective story. Neither is it a parable nor an allegory, for it would be tasteless as either. It has, however, its own special enchantment if we regard it as a phenomenon of style.

It is not only a good “bogey story,” as Stevenson exclaimed when awakening from a dream in which he had visualized it much in the same way l suppose as magic cerebration had granted Coleridge the vision of the most famous of unfinished poems. It is also, and more importantly, ”a fable that lies nearer to poetry than to ordinary prose fiction,” and therefore belongs to the same order of art as, for instance, Madame Bovary or Dead Souls.

There is a delightful winey taste about this book; in fact, a good deal of old mellow wine is drunk in the story: one recalls the wine that Utterson so comfortably sips. This sparkling and comforting draft is very different from the icy pangs caused by the chameleon liquor, the magic reagent that Jekyll brews in his dusty laboratory. Everything is very appetizingly put. Gabriel John Utterson of Gaunt Street mouths his words most roundly; there is an appetizing tang about the chill morning in London, and there is even a certain richness of tone in the description of the horrible sensations Jekyll undergoes during his hydizations. Stevenson had to rely on style very much in order to perform the trick, in order to master the two main difficulties confronting him: (1) to make the magic potion a plausible drug based on a chemist‘s ingredients and (2) to make Jekyll’s evil side before and after the hydization a believable evil.

The names Jekyll and Hyde are of Scandinavian origin, and I suspect that Stevenson chose them from the same page of an old book on surnames where I looked them up myself. Hyde comes from the Anglo-Saxon hyd, which is the Danish hide, “a haven.” And Jekyll comes from the Danish name Jokulle, which means “an icicle.” Not knowing these simple derivations one would be apt to find all kinds of symbolic meanings, especially in Hyde, the most obvious being that Hyde is a kind of hiding place for Dr. Jekyll, in whom the jocular doctor and the killer are combined.

Three important points are completely obliterated by the popular notions about this seldom read book:

1. Is Jekyll good? No, he is a composite being, a mixture of good and bad, a preparation consisting of a ninety-nine percent solution of Jekyllite and one percent of Hyde (or hydatid from the Greek “water” which in zoology is a tiny pouch within the body of man and other animals, a pouch containing a limpid fluid with larval tapeworms in it — a delightful arrangement, for the little tapeworms at least. Thus in a sense, Mr. Hyde is Dr. Jekyll’s parasite — but I must warn that Stevenson knew nothing of this when he chose the name.

Jekyll’s morals are poor from the Victorian point of view. He is a hypocritical creature carefully concealing his little sins. He is vindictive, never forgiving Dr. Lanyon with whom he disagrees in scientific matters. He is foolhardy. Hyde is mingled with him, within him. In this mixture of good and bad in Dr. Jekyll the bad can be separated as Hyde, who is a precipitate of pure evil, a precipitate in the chemical sense since something of the composite Jekyll remains behind to wonder in horror at Hyde while Hyde is in action.

2. Jekyll is not really transformed into Hyde but projects a concentrate of pure evil that becomes Hyde, who is smaller than Jekyll, a big man, to indicate the larger amount of good that, Jekyll possesses.

3. There are really three personalities — Jekyll, Hyde, and a third, the Jekyll residue when Hyde takes over.

The situation may be represented visually.

 

But if you look closely you see that within this big, luminous, pleasantly tweedy Jekyll there are scattered rudiments of evil.

Still if you look closely at Hyde, you will notice that above him floats aghast, but dominating, a residue of Jekyll, a kind of smoke ring, or halo, as if this black concentrated evil had fallen out of the remaining ring of good, but this ring of good still reamins. Hyde still wants to change back to Jekyll. This is the significant point.

It follows that Jekyll’s transformation implies a concentration of evil that already inhabited him rather than a complete metamorphosis. Jekyll is not pure good, Hyde (Jekyll’s statement to the contrary) is not pure evil, for just as parts of unacceptable Hyde dwell within acceptable Jekyll, so over Hyde hovers a halo of Jekyll, horrified at his worser half’s iniquity.

I would like to say a few words about Stevenson’s last moments.

As you know by now, I am not one to go heavily for the human interest stuff when speaking of books. Human interest is not in my line, as Vronski used to say. But books have their destiny, according to the Latin tag, and sometimes the destinies of authors follow those of their books. There is old Tolstoy in 1910 abandoning his family to wander away and die in a station master’s room to the rumble of passing trains that had killed Anna Karenin. And there is something in Stevenson’s death in 1894 on Samoa, imitating in a curious way the wine theme and the transformation theme of his fantasy. He went down to the cellar to fetch a bottle of his favorite‘ burgundy, uncorked it in the kitchen, and suddenly cried out to his wife: what’s the matter with me, what is this strangeness, has my face changed? — and fell on the floor. A blood vessel had burst in his brain and it was all over in a couple of hours.

What, has my face changed? There is a curious thematical link between this last episode in Stevenson’s life and the fateful transformations in his most wonderful book.

V.N.’s Chronology of Madame Bovary

First Part

1815 Charles born

1821 Gustave born

1827 Charles begins lessons with village priest (spring)

1828 (spring) confirmation

1831 (spring) is removed from school

1834 (spring) fails in medical exam (father hears of it five years later)

1835 (spring) passes exam, becomes “officier de sante”

1835 (fall) goes to Tostes to practice

1836 (Jan.) marries first wife, Heloise Dubuc

1837 (6th or 7th Jan.) goes to Les Bertaux first time

1837 (early spring) first wife dies

1837 (later in spring) goes to Les Bertaux again

1837 (Sept.) makes proposal to Emma Rouault

1838 (June) wedding

1838 (Sept.) ball

1839 (Sept) no ball (all winter at Tostes)

1840 (Feb.) turkey from Rouault

 

Second Part

1840 (March) Tostes to Yonville, Emma pregnant

1840 (summer) Bertha born

1840 (summer) walk to the nurse’s house.

1841 (Feb.) walk to cotton mill

1841 (March) Bertha taken home

1841 (early April) visit to priest

1841 (early May) leaves for Paris

1842 (spring) Rodolphe brings farmboy to be bled

1842 county fair

1842 (winter) affair with Rodolphe

1843 (3rd Sep.) Rodolphe leaves Emma

1843 (4th Sep. Monday) the date fixed for their elopement, see Chap. 12; no other 4th of Sep. falls on Monday in the early forties. Emma falls sick – brain fever.

1843 (17 Oct.) recovery

1844 (June) opera, Leon “after three years of absence”

Third Part

1844 (all year) affair with Leon

1845 (summer) roses

1845 (autumn) Charles with Bertha in garden

1846 (mid-Lent, early March) fancy dress ball

1846 (March) Emma asks Leon for money

1846 (March) Emma dies, aged 26-28

1846 (around end May) Felicite runs off with Theodore, taking all Emma’s clothes; Leon marries

1846 (early summer) Charles find Rodolphe’s last letter

1846 (winter) Homais getting rid of beggar

1847 (around March) mausoleum

1847 (summer Aug) Charles finds all letters; goes to cemetery, sells horse; meets Rodolphe; dies next day aged 33.

1847 Homais calls Louis Philippa (1830-1848) “one good king”

1848 (Feb.) revolution

1856 (April, Napoleon III is now Emperor) Bertha, aged 15, works in a cotton mill. Three doctors have succeeded one another at Yonville between 1847 and 1856; Homais has just received the Cross of the Legion.

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“Mystery Light” – Alice on the Roof (mp3)

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In Which We Simply Cannot Sit Through Another Macbeth

The Sad Boy

by DICK CHENEY

Macbeth
dir. Justin Kurzel
119 minutes

I have never liked Macbeth. It is easily the most patronizing of Shakespeare’s plays and watching Michael Fassbender holding Marion Cotillard in his arms, gripping her like a wriggling golden retriever does little to alter my conviction.

I remember when I was a kid I explained to my fifth grade teacher that Macbeth was whipped. She highlighted this term and made me understand why it was so offensive, since it was a word that intimated a man controlling a woman was some kind of beastly slavery. She was controlling me in much the same fashion, so I substituted a synonym, or as I prefer to call it, a cinnamon. I will never forget her armpits; she never shaved them and it was very brave. Director Justin Kurzel attempts to dispense with the sexist undertones of his source material, but that is impossible and Macbeth becomes only duller for his impotent attempt.

Weirdly, Marion Cotillard uglies herself up quite a bit for Lady Macbeth. She barely ever leaves the dark rooms where she encourages her husband’s misdeeds. Once she meets up with Duncan and she looks like a depressed housewife; not the wife of the Thane of Cawdor. Lady Macbeth, by all rights, should be glorious. But she is not, a fault blamed on the play’s writer and the director of this year’s Macbeth, who seems to think he is making some kind of Scottish horror movie.

Murder is substantially worse than Kurzel makes it out to be. As he slays Duncan, Fassbender has this very exacting look, like he is popping an extremely painful pimple. He looks good after the murder; he even seems to enjoy it on some level. Afterwards and before, the Scottish highlands resemble lesions on the face of the earth.

Even when Macbeth starts in on killing kids, we never see it, just the fire afterwards burning their corpses and the intonation of sad music. Was the point here to exclude the most interesting, painful parts of the story so that Fassbender could tawk more?

Even the theatrical Macbeth can only be saved by shifting the focus to the play’s heroes. Malcolm (Jack Reynor) is a simpering man-child who weeps when Fassbender throatily informs him of his father’s passing. Paddy Considine is utterly wasted in the shit role of Banquo, and he fades into the background as Fassbender overwhelms him by talking louder and more often.

Sean Harris is a subtle and possessed actor who invests the key role of Macduff with a shrill vulnerability, but Kurzel gives Macbeth’s mirror image little in the way of meaningful screen time. Even his grief is boilerplate: he retches.

The key scene in Macbeth is when the titular character goes mad at this big dinner in front of everyone. This is usually played partly for laughs and then it turns more serious. Since Kurzel’s Macbeth is not the slightest bit humorous for any reason — it is maybe the most self-serious rendition of the tale ever perpetrated — we feel neither embarrassed nor amused.

Kurzel cuts as much of Macbeth‘s dialogue as he dares, the only means of turning the action into a compelling drama instead of an extended meditation on death. Avoiding the latter is difficult, because Macbeth has Fassbender intone some of his longer speeches into voiceover. All the mystery is lost in Macbeth by the end of the second act; we know everything there is to know, so the only means of keeping the audience’s attention is to (1) show Fassbender shirtless and (2) wait for Marion Cotillard to do the same in vain. Everyone is ghosts at this point.

As the play spirals toward the inevitable, just before Lady Macbeth is about to take her own life for reasons unknown, Marion is actually looking a lot better. A lot of directors have trouble making sense of Cotillard’s beauty, and her raw, throaty sexuality before death is the best part of Kurzel’s Macbeth. It is the only time we are listening because we care, not because the diegesis is begging for any attention at all.

I don’t know if Shakespeare is holding up all that much lately. His political commentary seems super dated; even twenty years ago it seemed significantly more relevant. A few of his comedies are funny, but most of them are weird jokes with sexual entendres that barely made sense even at the time. Besides Hamlet, you may want to be spared the trouble when this time could be repurposed towards getting into crossfit.

Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording.

“Stanley Park” – Aoife O’Donovan (mp3)


In Which It Has Only Been The Two Of Us For So Long

A Little Less Spirituality

by ALEX CARNEVALE

Just tired and busy and amazed and amused and charmed and horrified. – Maria Huxley, in a letter

In 1913 Aldous Huxley began to lose his sight. His eyes clouded over, his vision was “steadily and quite rapidly failing. I was wondering quite apprehensively what on earth I should do.” After seeing an oculist, it was decided that a milder climate might help him, so Aldous Huxley and his wife Maria Nys went to Italy. Their son Matthew spent the first four years of his life in Florence and Rome.

Matthew was an extremely large and difficult child. Aldous and Maria were a bit taken aback by who they had created; Matthew Huxley would later become a prominent epidemologist. The child was a picky eater and stuck to a vegetarian diet, causing Aldous to remark, “he realizes that meat is dead animals.”

Matthew had no desire to read, which made him the polar opposite of his father. The entire family was practically grief stricken at the young boy’s non-literary habits; only Aldous was able to be patient with him. “Too early a passion for reading distracts from the powers of observation,” he told everyone.

The whole family liked Italy, but Aldous was the only one who admired it, more in theory than in practice. Florence never suited him; it was more a place where culture had been rather than a city where it was. He chose Rome as the young family’s landing spot. “After a third rate provincial town,” he concluded, “colonized by English sodomites and middle-aged lesbians, a genuine metropolis will be lively.” They could not stay in Italy, however, as fascism was in the air. They left Matthew in Belgium with his grandmother and took a boat to Bombay.

Aldous despised the architecture of Lahore, and loathed Kashmir worse. They kept incredibly active, fortified by a gnawing fear and the weight they burned off from their time in Florence. At Srinagar they visited the lunatic asylum.

Every place that they visited, Aldous asked question after question, ostensibly as research for a series of articles that helped pay for the journey. He also did it when he felt he did not have something himself to say.

An attempt to travel second class did not go well – a holy man spit his mucus all over their car – so they paid the extra rupees for first class, money they knew they should not be spending. Maria could barely eat the food. “India is depressing as no other country I have ever known,” Aldous wrote. “One breathes in it, not air, but dust and hopelessness.”

Aldous was most put off by the beliefs of the people he met. “A little less spirituality,” he wrote, “and the Indians would now be free – free from foreign dominion and from the tyranny of their own prejudices and traditions. There would be less dirt and more food. There would be fewer Maharajas with Rolls Royces and more schools.”

He was not impressed at all by the Taj Mahal, and told everyone so. “These four thin tapering towers,” he wrote in Jesting Pilate, “are among the ugliest structures ever erected by human hands.” Whatever one thinks of the Taj Mahal, it seems a greater dissatisfaction with the world and his place in it may have been the cause of this observation.

Things got better as soon as they left Calcutta for Burma. Dutch ships took them to the Philippines. From there they landed in Japan, taking the train to Kyoto and departing via Yokohama. Aldous watched Maria’s eating closely, preventing her from having too much caviar, the only food she felt comfortable consuming at sea.

Japan was almost as nauseating to Aldous as India, but for different reasons. Kyoto was “such a collection of the cheap and shoddy, of the quasi-genuine and the imitation solid, of the vulgar and the tawdry.” The industrial city did not suit Aldous’ taste at all:

Little wooden shacks succeeds little wooden shack interminably, mile after mile; and the recession of the straight untidy roads is emphasised by the long lines of posts, the sagging electric wires that flank each street, like the trees of an avenue. All the cowboys in the world could live in Kyoto, all the Forty-Niners. Street leads into identical street, district merges indistinguishably into district. In this dreary ocean of log-cabins almost the only White Houses are the hotels.

with D.H. Lawrence

San Francisco was next, and from there Maria and Aldous took the Daylight Limited train to Los Angeles. They did not stay long in any one American city; Hollywood was “altogether too Antipodean to be lived in.” (Aldous would spend the majority of the rest of his life in Southern California.)

When they returned to England from New York, Maria went to see Matthew while Aldous stayed in England. It had been only the two of them for so long.

While they were apart, Aldous wrote Maria long letters. They prefigure a latent unhappiness that would lead him to adultery, but also the connection that would allow the marriage to survive his mistakes until Maria died of breast cancer in 1955.

I think myself it’s rather nice to be busy and practical on the outside – and daydreams, as you call it, inside. The things one cares about are all inside, like seeds on the ground in winter. But one has to attend to the things one only half cares about. And so life passes away.

Luckily, the inside thing corresponds with the inside thing in just a few people. I think it is so with us. We don’t fit in very well outside – but the inside corresponds, which is most important.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

“Pretty Words” – Crissi Cochrane (mp3)

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In Which Shadowhunters Brings Sibling Incest To The ABC Family Audience

I Don’t Know, Incest?

by DICK CHENEY

Shadowhunters: The Mortal Instruments
creator Ed Decter

Were you possibly interested in watching a show about teens experimenting with incest written by the man who penned the instant Christmas classic The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause? The answer to this question is the same answer I have every time someone asks me if I find Ted Cruz’s wife appealing, intelligent, and principled: Yes.

But let’s begin at the beginning, since there is a Lost connection here. Juliet from Lost played Mrs. Clause in The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause, because they wanted to pun on the word Clause as much as was humanly possible. The character of Juliet was a mole planted to find out information about the survivors of Flight 815. I watched the whole show and I had to look that up; in my heart of hearts I thought she was just a fertility specialist on vacation.

Years later, when a man can no longer depend on the furtive sight of Tim Allen in a beard to provide for his family, he must hire actresses and actors of a certain age who will play a brother and sister in love with each other on the new Freeform series Shadowhunters: The Mortal Instruments.

Clarissa Fray (Katherine McNamara) and Jace (the English actor Dominic Sherwood) are these two individuals. If there was a time to move away from the ABC Family branding by renaming your network Freeform, it was when you debuted a series dedicated to the thrills of brother-sister incest.

McNamara is a redhead who appears to have been conceived immaculately. No one has ever had skin this perfect in history, but unfortunately for Jace, despite being eighteen years old, Clarissa is extremely modest. Jace gives Clarissa a leather skirt to wear at one point on Shadowhunters: The Mortal Instruments, and when her friend Simon (Alberto Rosende) sees the outfit, he gives Clarissa his jacket to cover up, and she accepts immediately, as if to acknowledge she never should have worn something so revealing.

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Most of Shadowhunters: The Mortal Instruments appears to take place in a time when women had to be Mary Sues like that young woman who barely got three lines in The Force Awakens. Clarissa is a typical such creature — she displays no actual skills or talent in anything except drawing, yet she is incredibly feared and respected by everyone she meets.

Clarissa goes around screaming and plotzing everywhere like her head got caught off, despite the fact that she has the blood of an angel named Raziel inside of her that allows her to do things her Mundane friends could never dream of. Shadowhunters: The Mortal Instruments creator Ed Decter attempted to get the rights to the trademark Muggle and failed, but don’t lose hope. J.K. Rowling will probably need money again at some point.

Shadowhunters: The Mortal Instruments is marketed at kids and older women, who are nothing if not lovers of incest storylines. The typical incest storyline consists of shock and disgust followed by a relapse and then a prolonged separation. The weird thing about the novels Shadowhunters is based on is that they don’t follow this narrative. Clarissa and Jace eventually don’t care at all that they are brother and sister. The two are in love, a fact they are certain of because they never consummate the relationship beyond heavy petting.

Watching Katherine McNamara walk around not having sex with anyone and just whining about how her father froze her mother is a recipe for disaster, and the previous film adaptation of The Mortal Instruments really didn’t have time to delve into the particulars of why it was okay for the brother and sister to feel so strongly for each other.

Shadowhunters begins on Clarissa’s 18th birthday, when it is certainly legal for her to start wanting her brother in that way. Despite being almost perfect-looking, she has no boyfriend or even interest from the opposite sex. She is focused on a graphic novel she is writing with her friend, and her recent admission into the Brooklyn Academy of Art. Her Jewish friend Simon plays in a band named Champagne Enema, and we briefly see him performing a wretched cover of “Forever Young,” of all the things.

That night she and her friends plan to hit the club. They don’t drink or do any drugs, which makes Shadowhunters: The Mortal Instruments significantly more chaste than Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which is many decades old at this point and actually concerned younger characters. It is hinted that the reason Clarissa is so disturbingly naive is because her mother had a warlock cast a spell on her that makes her forget any tawdry memories, e.g. that time she had to take the morning after pill or was fingered at the Ray Lamontagne concert.

For some reason Clarissa’s new adulthood restores her sense of self, and she is suddenly sexually hungry. Her only options are her brother and her friend who can’t sing, so it is not terribly hard to criticize the choice she makes, especially since Jace looks like he was cut from iron, he has the best haircut I have ever seen, and is constantly throatily whispering, “I will protect you.”

The motley cast of characters surrounding these two cesters is really the highlight of Shadowhunters: The Mortal Instruments. The show has a bunch of unconventional relationships: Clarissa’s mother has a weird detached angry love relationship with a black police officer, another shadowhunter loathes himself and hides his homosexuality, and the main antagonist flies into a murderous rage when anyone gives him the slightest bit of backtalk.

Hopefully Shadowhunters: The Mortal Instruments can remedy the main problem in the books it is based on: a bizarre lack of wintercourse. Even the Twilight series had that disturbing scene where Kristen Stewart lost her virginity on vacation, suffering bruises all over her body, and Robert Pattinson was like, “I’ll never do that to you again!” and they broke up IRL because Stewart prefers women and, probably, real men.

Is it wrong to want to see a brother and sister caress themselves lovingly, no matter what the world says to sour their magnificent ardor? I am pretty sure Ron Weasley and Hermione were brother and sister, and everyone was fine with that.

Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording.

“Wildlife in America” – Shearwater (mp3)