Sunday, June 30, 2013

Versailles, Invitation Privée

Doors to the Queen's Suite from the Queen's Guardroom

Bolt on Sofa Room door

Armchair designed for Marie Antoinette, 1770s

Lacquer puppy from Marie Antoinette's colleciton

Marie Antoinette's music room, the Gold Room, as redecorated in 1783

Carpet with French coat of arms, 1760s

Chair designed for Marie Antoinette for the Petit Trianon, 1787

Enfilade through State Apartments

The King's second anteroom, the Bull's-eye Room

Oval bull's-eye window

Service staircase in the Royal Theater, 1770

The Stags Court seen from the window of the King's dressing-cabinet

Informal bed for bathroom suite of Louis XVI, 1785

Insignia of Louis XIV, intertwined L-shapes, from a door panel

In 2011 the publisher Flammarion collaborated with Chateau de Versailles to produce A Book of intimate views, including parts of the palace seldom or never open to the public. Guillaume Picon wrote the text and Francis Hammond took the photographs. As coffee table books go, it would be hard to find a livelier one currently in print.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Poem 124

Above is the house in Amherst where Emily Dickinson lived. And below is a pure piece of self-indulgence because I stumbled across Dickinson's poem number 124, an old favorite that I had not thought of in a long while. For me, this poem is the marker-stone at the beginning of modern writing in America.


Safe in their Alabaster Chambers -
Untouched by Morning - 
and untouched by noon -
Sleep the meek members of the Resurrection, 
Rafter of Satin and Roof of Stone - 

Grand go the Years, 
In the Crescent above them -
Worlds scoop their Arcs - 
and Firmaments - row -
Diadems - drop -
And Doges surrender -
Soundless as Dots, 
On a Disk of Snow.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Good Vibrations

This spring Nürnberg's Neues Museum invited Mary Heilmann to mount a show of recent work and she called it Good Vibrations. The artist was born in 1940 in San Francisco, establishing a reputation for herself in the New York of the late 1960s, where she can still be found these many decades later laboring away at minimal shapes in clashing neons. 

Impossible not to notice the happy family resemblance to Heilmann's German contemporaries Blinky Palermo (1943-1977) and Imi Knoebel (born 1940). All three discover their pictorial vocabulary inside some imaginary child's toy box, then set about the heavy-duty grown-up labor of transubstantiation. 

Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Roving Shadows

Grasset published Les ombres errantes by Pascal Quignard in 2002. In France it was greatly acclaimed, becoming the first non-novel in more than 60 years to win the prix Goncourt.

Chris Turner's translation called The Roving Shadows came out in 2011 from Seagull Books. The far-roving text is divided into 55 short chapters. Below are their titles, which can be read as a sort of poem-prelude to this past-worshipping collage of sensibility ...

 1. (The Young German Woman)
2. (The Shadow of Sexual Bliss)
3. (The tertium)
4. (Buddhas of Bamiyan)
5. Norstrand
6. (We)
7. The Nursling
8. (Last Kingdom)
9. The Ewer
10. (The Absent One)
11. Cras
12. (The Horse)
13. The Bark
14. (The Dark Sky)
15. Shadows
16. List from the Year 2001
17. (Television)
18. On the Arrest of Monsieur de Saint-Cyran on 14 May 1638
19. (Pluto)
20. (Mogador)
21. The Snuffers
22. (Ubi)
23. (The Region of Dawn)
24. (Dawn Mist)
25. (Banks of the Yonne)
26. The Immortal King of the Ages
27. Saint Bartholomew's Day
28. Last Farewell
29. Han Yu
30. The Vestals
31. (Mud)
32. Churches of Leyden
33. Post tenebras
34. Perditos
35. (The Keep at Vincennes)
36. The Barefoot Teacher
37. Terror
38. (The Bassin du Roi at Le Havre)
39. (Saint-Cyran)
40. (Lancelot)
41. (Monsieur de Merveilleux)
42. The Brouette
43. (Monasteries)
44. (Going from Bergheim to Frankfurt)
45. (Dream)
46. (The Hunter)
47. Emily
48. History
49. (Right of Asylum)
50. (Shoreline)
51. On the River that Flows into the Flowers
52. (Marc Antoine Charpentier)
53. The Other Kingdom
54. (Kingdom of Jerusalem)
55. Sofiius' End

... and a fragment from chapter 43.

"Books without pictures have become like the endowed Masses of old. The pious would pay, during their lifetimes, for church services to be said in perpetuity to ensure their survival. They had in their time left purses full of gold louis from the year 1640 with their lawyers. Or they had offset the cost of these services against still active estates bequeathed to an ecclesiastical living for its use or profit. 

Offices were sung for no one present. 

Unmarried men in black robes earned this money from the hands of corpses, then from the bones of skeletons, then from the dust of hands that no longer existed anywhere. 

Just as the priest would say Mass into the void, just as the organist would climb to the organ loft for a memory with no living connections in this world, so too a book is addressed to eyes that the person writing it does not see." 

Wednesday, June 26, 2013


These drawings were not made by Mabel's own hand but were made in collaboration with Mabel and under her general direction.

TOP - a faint yellow outline of Grandpa's hand and a bright pink outline of Mabel's hand

MIDDLE - outline of Mabel's shoe in lavender, her sock in pink, and her foot in blue (I only noticed later that we had put a LEFT foot and sock inside a RIGHT shoe)

BOTTOM - bird made from an outline of Grandpa's hand (the last of many drafts, each draft taking us farther away from the hand and bringing us closer to this admirable bird taking a step with one leg and turning its head so you can see both its eyes)

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Wandering and Following

According to my own limited experience and observation, literary criticism is never read for pleasure even by the most steady and serious readers (who already represent a tiny percentage of the general population in the time and place where I happen to live). I might not read any literary criticism either if I were not exposed to so many examples in my work. Of course I ignore a great deal too, being lazy and indifferent much of the time just like anybody else, but on occasion some exceptional idea about some writer I already care about and know about will make me stop dead and rethink what I thought I knew. And those moments are the ones when I think about what a shame it is that criticism has such a slim to nonexistent chance of capturing the attention of the ordinary non-professional reading audience.

Here is an example of a literary critic who surprised me into seeing familiar texts in a new way. Below, a short extract about the writing of W.G.Sebald from John Limon's book, Death's Following : Mediocrity, Dirtiness, Adulthood, Literature 

"Several of his books in various forms have come out posthumously, but the four prose works in which Sebald discovers and perfects his genre – his documentary fiction – are Vertigo, The Emigrants, The Rings of Saturn, and Austerlitz. Two, The Emigrants and Austerlitz, are more or less biographical (someone like Sebald investigates the lives – perhaps modeled on actual lives – of, mainly, melancholics). Two, Vertigo and The Rings of Saturn, are more or less autobiographical (someone like Sebald travels in East Anglia or on the continent, noticing, researching, occasionally following, thinking, dreaming, writing). The autobiographical fictions mainly take the form of wandering: the biographical fictions mainly take the form of following.

It is almost accurate to add that the wandering books are based on an extremely lonely yet vulnerable heterosexuality, and the following books on a defeated or repressed homosexuality.  

.     .     .

The curious effect is to associate Sebald's deeply informed and unblinking morality with a kind of inexplicit, unfaced, erotic strangeness. The strangeness consists of a debilitating vulnerability as to ghost and an inchoate desire; one produces a general flight (and constant dreams and occasional breakdowns), and the other a determined yet somewhat hypothetical or inexplicable tracking of the ghosts of other men's pasts. These tendencies in themselves produce a family resemblance with figures whose heterosexual susceptibilities are as fantastic as Stendhal's or whose homosexual desires are as doomed as Kafka's; family resemblance, with Sebald as the middle term between antithetical identities, abrogates the sexuality divide along with the religious. These tendencies lend mobility – tracking and fleeing – to Sebald's melancholy, and narrative energy to his melancholic texts; strangeness makes the digressive meditation plausible as a narrative."  

Because of Susan Sontag's long ecstatic essay in The New York Review of Books, I read each of the four crucial Sebald titles as they came out in English between 1996 and the year of Sebald's death in 2001. Since then I've reread each them, though not in any orderly way. And have talked with friends about his work over the past 15 years with consistent devotion. Yet it would never in a million years have occurred to me that his major books could neatly be split down the middle into separate symmetrical categories (called wandering and following by Limon). And I would definitely never have boldly assigned erotic significance to those categories, as Limon does. Yet his argument convinces me, not that his reading is exclusively true, but that it expands what is visible in the books themselves, extends their horizons.   

Image at top (cover of Limon's book) – Maggie's Cartwheel by Susan Rothenberg.

Monday, June 24, 2013

More Squeegees

Ever since the springtime when I first took notice of Corinna Belz's documentary Gerhard Richter Painting, I have kept an eye open for stills from that film. They turned up in scattered locations, slowly but surely. There are now at last enough in my folder to give an idea of Richter's giant labors (a man in his late seventies when Corinna Belz's cameras gained studio access in 2010) with the small, the large, and the very large squeegee.

Sunday, June 23, 2013


The photo immediately above is the only one I have succeeded in taking since babyhood of Mabel laughing. I don't even remember what I said that made her laugh. I am always both surprised and happy when it happens. But the principles of two-year-old humor generally elude me. My surprise also means that I am usually too startled to take a picture. Thus their rarity, and exceptional value.