Monthly Archives: August 2016

The appreciative memoir/biography

Her [Frances Spalding’s] appreciative biography of Vanessa Bell won her critical and popular acclaim; it is a long and well-narrated work. It convinces the reader that Vanessa was splendid— a game, kind woman and gifted artist, who led a rich, beautiful life . . . Angelica Garnett’s memoir, in contrast, like Dido Merwin’s memoir of Plath, is full of aggrievement and complaint and one doesn’t like her for it— as one ultimately doesn’t like it. We don’t want to be told what vengeful memoirs like Angelica’s and Dido’s oblige us to consider: that our children and friends do not love us, that we are neurotic, blind, pathetic, that under the eye of God our life will be seen as a mistake, something botched and wasted. The outcry against the Dido Merwin memoir was a cry from the reader’s heart about his own posthumous prospects, an expression of his wish to be remembered benevolently and not all that vividly.

Janet Malcolm, The Silent Woman: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes

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The artist who speaks articulately about his work.

It’s normally the province of critics, interviewers, and historians to analyze the mechanisms of creative work. Their efforts are important, because creative people are usually bad at talking about what they’ve made. Artists such as Ingrid Bergman, Pablo Picasso, and Bob Dylan answered questions about their work for years, but their answers tended to come down as rock slides of near gibberish: unsolid, unhelpful, and full of indirection. Hitchcock, by contrast, was the rare late-modern craftsman who not only knew exactly what he was trying to do but could lay it out in words. If you’re the sort of person who believes that lasting art is often born through the constraints of craft—that genius has a way of creeping in as restless virtuosos push against the pressures of a market, trying to meet the demands of a mainstream audience—then the Hitchcock interviews emerge as a creative Rosetta Stone.

Nathan Heller, The Book That Gets Inside Alfred Hitchcock’s Mind, The New Yorker, August 12 2016, (from here) 


Hitchcock/Truffaut is a 1966 book by François Truffaut about Alfred Hitchcock, originally released in French as Le Cinéma selon Alfred Hitchcock.[ First published by Éditions Robert Laffont, it is based on a 1962 exchange between Hitchcock and Truffaut, in which the two directors spent a week in a room at Universal Studios talking about movies. After Hitchcock’s death, Truffaut updated the book with a new preface and final chapter on Hitchcock’s later films.




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To be misquoted

I  . . .  learned that it was Clemenceau’s favourite trick to embarrass his interviewers . . .

‘M Clemenceau’ [ I said] . . This interview has been arranged by a mutual friend.’ I mentioned the name of the friend.

‘Why isn’t he here?” Clemenceau snapped back. ‘The other day he brought me one of your countrymen, who afterwards misquoted every word I said.’

‘To be misquoted,’ I remarked, ‘is the destiny of great men. They are always misquoted. That’s no misfortune. Some of the best things attributed to great men were probably never said at all – at least, not by them. The world’s imagination invents the appropriate word if the hero’s  own imagination fails him.’

Georges Clemenceau, interviewed by George Sylvester Viereck, Liberty, 7 July 1928

from The Penguin Book of Interviews:  An anthology from 1859 to the Present Day ed Christopher Silvester  (published 1993)

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Finding courage

Interviewer: During World War 11, when you established some sort of record for experiences that women simply shouldn’t encounter, you were torpedoed off the African coast . .

Margaret Bourke-White.

It was a dividing time in my life. It wasn’t only dramatic, it went much deeper than that. I had the feeling that this was bringing out the best in people. There was such extraordinary courage. I remember standing there in the moonlight, waiting to get into our lifeboat, which was flooded by the flash of the torpedo, and I thought to myself that this was one time in my life when I had no idea of what was going to happen to me, I may live or die. Then I noticed several nurses standing nearby, and the way they were trembling, and I thought, ‘This must be fear,’ and I had to admire their discipline because aside from the trembling they controlled themselves so well. I think it was then that I realized that every normal person has great courage that’s just waiting to be called on. ‘

The Penguin Book of Interviews: An Anthology from 1859 to the present Day ed Christopher Silvester, 1993

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The smoker’s alcove

Version 2   closeup smokers (1)

View from the Nicholas Building, Melbourne  July 2016, If you look closely you will see two adjoining rows of

little lights, in the centre, the alcove for the smokers.

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What am I doing here?


In the recent story “Writing,” the narrator says, “Life is too serious for me to go on writing.” Do you feel that way? Could you ever stop writing?


I do stop for periods. But I can’t see stopping altogether, just because I enjoy it so much. I have posed myself that question. If you were alone on a desert island and there were no more world and no more people, would you go on writing? Supposing I had the pen and paper, I probably would.

Like a lot of my stories, that one just followed one momentary thought—What am I doing here, putting odd sentences together and creating some little piece of nonsense, when people are dying on the other side of the world and our government’s going to damnation? It’s something that a lot of ­artists, I’m sure, feel at one time or another, that they’re wasting time or doing something frivolous. So instead of answering myself and ignoring it, I wrote it out as a little thought. I didn’t know how much value to give to that story, but I showed it to a very severe critic and she liked it, so I decided it passed.

(from here)

Paris Review Spring 2015 No. 212

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The postcard arrives


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The soul of a sleeper

The soul of a sleeper is supposed to wander away from his body and actually to visit the places, to see the persons, and to perform the acts of which he dreams. For example, when an Indian of Brazil or Guiana wakes up from a sound sleep, he is firmly convinced that his soul has really been away hunting, fishing, felling trees, or whatever else he has dreamed of doing, while all the time his body has been lying motionless in his hammock. A whole Bororo village has been thrown into a panic and nearly deserted because somebody had dreamed that he saw enemies stealthily approaching it. A Macusi Indian in weak health, who dreamed that his employer had made him haul the canoe up a series of difficult cataracts, bitterly reproached his master  -next morning for his want of consideration in thus making a poor invalid go out and toil during the night. The Indians of the Gran Chaco are often heard to relate the most incredible stories as things which they have themselves seen and heard; hence strangers who do not know them intimately say in their haste that these Indians are liars. In point of fact the Indians are firmly convinced of the truth of what they relate; for these wonderful adventures are simply their dreams, which they do not distinguish from waking realities.

Sir James George Frazer (1854–1941).  The Golden Bough.  1922.

from here 

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