Monthly Archives: March 2016

Childhood knowing

Maurice [Sendak] says: “People say, ‘Oh, Mr. Sendak. I wish I were in touch with my childhood self, like you!’ As if it were all quaint and succulent, like Peter Pan. Childhood is cannibals and psychotics vomiting in your mouth! … In reality, childhood is deep and rich … I remember my own childhood vividly … I knew terrible things … but I knew I mustn’t let adults know I knew … it would scare them.”

Maurice liked to tell the story of the daughter of a friend who was at school near the World Trade Center when the towers fell. She told her father that she saw butterflies on the building as the towers collapsed. Later she admitted that they weren’t butterflies, they were people jumping, but she didn’t want to upset her father by letting him know that she knew. Children protect their parents, which is the funny part of childhood that slips away from us, the awful knowledge it contains.

Kaitie Roiphe, The Wildest Rumpus;Maurice Sendak and the Art of Death, The Atlantic , 7 March 2016

(from here) 

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Story about a drawing class

A story is told about the artist Oskar Kokoschka, who was leading a live drawing class. The students were bored, and doing dull work, so Kokoschka whispered to the model, and told him to collapse to the ground. Kokoschka went over to the prone body, leaned over him, listened to his heart, and pronounced him dead. The class, of course, was deeply shocked. Then the model stood up, and Kokoschka said: “Now draw him as though you were aware he was alive and not dead!” But perhaps drawing someone as if he or she were alive also implies drawing him as if he were dead too, or at least, as if he would one day be dead, like all of us.

James Wood, Serious Noticing, (from here) 

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wonderful metaphors

In Russia, . . . Chekhov attracts a kind of sickening piety. You utter the name ‘Chekhov’ and people arrange their features as if a baby deer had come into the room.”

Janet Malcolm, Reading Chekhov, A Critical Journey 

William Gass reviewing Susan Sontag’s On Photography in The New York Times,

 . . . . the book is a thoughtful meditation, not a treatise, and its ideas are grouped more nearly like a gang of keys upon a ring than a run of onions on a sting.

(from here) 

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A story is story-producing. . . . No single story can ever explain itself: this enigma at the heart of story is itself a story. Stories produce offspring, genetic splinters of themselves, hapless embodiments of their original inability to tell the whole tale.

 . .  stories are dynamic combinations of surplus and disappointment; in a way, the surplus is the exquisite disappointment. A story is endless, begun and ended not by its own logic but by the coercive form of the storyteller; the pure surplus of life trying to get beyond the death which authorial form imposes.

James Wood, Serious Noticing, in The Nearest Thing to Life 

(from here) 

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The power of imperfection

Japanese aesthetics speaks to me powerfully. What it means to have form and function interwoven, to have elegance but also imperfection, a flaw, the number five—like the way Japanese dishes come in sets of five. There’s an analogue in poetry: you’re trying to achieve formal harmony but there has to be a torque, something that’s a bit off, that lets the sun shine in. Another analogue is in jazz, which is very important to me, and the music of Thelonius Monk. There’s that off-note, where all the possibility lies, because life is like that. We strive for formal elegance, but the reality of life is there’s always that fifth teacup.

Ann Tashi Slater, Telling it True, A Talk with Poet Elizabeth Alexander 

(from here) 

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Meeting the author

I was in Copenhagen and just walking along, you know, window shopping in a crowded mall. Denmark has a historical relationship with Greenland where a lot of Inuit live. Along the street came some Inuit dancers done up in traditional Greenland dress. They had their faces painted and they had furry costumes on, impersonating beasts and monsters, spirits of some kind. They were spirit dancers, growling and making odd noises to the crowd. They had clawed hands and face-distorters in their mouths—pieces of wood that made their cheeks stick out in a funny way. One of these furry spirit-monsters came over to me, took his face-distorter out of his mouth, and said, Are you Margaret Atwood? I said yes. He said, I like your work. And then he put his face-distorter back in his mouth and went growling off into the crowd.

Margaret Atwood,  The Paris Review interview, Winter 1990 (from here)

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The meeting of the private and the public

The invisible centerpiece of every great novel is the protagonist’s rebellion or coming to terms with his or her place in the scheme of things.

Novels, of course, communicate a lot more in carrying out their design, but what seems to me beyond dispute is that literature, when undertaken seriously, is a celebration not of life but of awareness, an awareness of the human condition, which is both communal and individual and inevitably strikes a balance, palpable or barely perceptible, between the two. Each of us, then, is a fulcrum where the private and the public meet, where inner and other-directed yearnings sometimes clash. Literature gets written because of this, and what we understand and love in it, as Erich Auerbach wrote, “is a human existence, a possibility of ‘modification’ within ourselves.”

Arthur Krystal, The Novel as a Tool for Survival, The Chronicle for Higher Education , 6.3.2016 (from here) 

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The intimacy of selfies

ankor selfie pink women

©Clara Brack, women in pink, Ankor Watt 2016

Tegu Cole on selfies: “It’s funny, in the past three weeks or so, I’ve started taking selfies. Never of myself, but often with fans (using their phones) or of people I admire, people that I’m a fan of. There’s a lot to be said about narcissism in our culture, but a group selfie is actually a good way of taking a picture. “If your pictures are not good enough, you’re not close enough,” Robert Capa, the war photographer, once said. Well, arms have a maximum length. All the portraits taken by selfies are close, faces often fill the frame, and that’s an unexpected form of intimacy. My larger point is that new technologies and new forms of communication are only as good or as bad as the uses to which we put them, and they can open us up to unanticipated languages of experience. I feel that to give new things the benefit of the doubt is a form of generosity.”

(from here) 

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The necessity of imperfection, making mistakes

The novelist, Hanya Yanagihara reflects on bravery 

‘I began thinking of what “brave” meant when someone, a reader, told me my book was brave. I thanked him, because although I wasn’t sure what inspired the compliment, I knew it was indeed one. Later, I thought about what he might mean: was it because the book was unexpected (but that’s not bravery, at least not in my interpretation of the word)? When we say a novel is brave, what do we mean?

I sometimes wonder if what we’re really trying to praise is not the subject matter or the politics or even the aesthetics of the book, but the author’s ability, or even just willingness, to be impolite, to be messy, to be extravagant on the page. A novel can be perfect in its structure, in its logic, in its composure, but the most memorable novels, the most electrifying, are the ones that understand the necessity of imperfection, of ragged edges, of being distasteful, of making mistakes, of being demanding of the reader.


And yet, as readers, don’t we read fiction exactly to be upset? A novel, in its truest form, is a questioning of what it means to be human, of what a life is. But what makes it different from, say, a work of philosophical inquiry is, among other things, the way it uses (or misuses, or differently uses) language and, second, the particular sense of discomfiture it can provide. Not that a novel needs to disturb or dismay or unsettle in order to mesmerise or provoke, but it does, or should, force us to reconsider, to rethink. The fiction writer’s bravery, then, is her dedication to never second-guessing the reader, even at the risk of her own book’s likability; the reader’s bravery is allowing himself to trust the writer, to surrender himself to the world she has created.’

Hanya Yanagihara: ‘Don’t we read fiction exactly to be upset?’ The Guardian, Friday 4 March 2016 (from here) 


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Tourists at Ankor Watt

ankor taking photo 1  ankor watt floral blouse

©Clara Brack ,tourist (1) at Ankor Watt    ©Clara Brack,tourist (2)at Ankor Watt, 2016


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