I always recoil when I hear that withered (yet more rapacious than ever) line about life writing novels. Let’s get one thing straight: if life really wrote novels, there wouldn’t be any literature. Literature might be on its deathbed, but its pervasive frailty can’t be ascribed to any historical victory of life over literature—taking that honor is the destruction so beautifully wrought by those invested in the literary enterprise: publishers with rapacious appetites for money, indolent editors, backscratching critics, unambitious readers, untalented writers with rapacious appetites for fame. As far as the relationship between literature and life goes, this is how things stand: the underlying premise of every literary act is gossip. We all want to know what others are doing, even if it’s just what they had for breakfast. Has anything changed in the time of new media? Ah, no, our appetite for gossip has only increased. Reality literature, literature that records the minutest details of one’s private life has today reached its apex. — Dubravka Ugresic from her Salmagundi Magazine ”Homelands & Exiles” column to appear in our next issue. The title essay of her recent book, Europe in Sepia, appeared in Salmagundi #177.
An excerpt from a forthcoming essay by David Bosworth:
To the consternation of his handlers during the predebate practice sessions, Reagan had focused less on mastering complex arguments than on scripting memorable theatrical moments, and “There you go again” had been one of the lines he’d coined at that time, storing it away for later use. What appeared to be so natural, then, was itself an artifice — the instinctive reaction, a clever ploy staged through heeding the old script of the “common dream.” In doing so, Reagan showed that he had mastered Hollywood’s means of denying dilemma, pursuing a career of unchecked and (in the case of running against his party’s incumbent president in 1976) unseemly ambition under the Teflon cover of the small-town hero.
"We have no recourse to living bodies in art. I am looking into fictive spaces. Hearts are not pumping. Blood is not running. The markers of the human female in biology—breasts and genitalia that I see in these images (when I see them) are representations. Pregnancy and birth do not figure explicitly in these pictures, but sometimes what is not there is powerful nevertheless." — Siri Hustvedt, "A Woman Looking at Men Looking at Women" (forthcoming in the next issue of Salmagundi Magazine)
Rick Moody generously offers some endings for use by writers who’d rather work on the more rewarding middles of their narratives … Audio! Read by the Author Himself!
Former Salmagundi staffer and current Bloomsbury New York editor Ally Jane Grossan is in charge of the 33 1/3 series which is marking its 10 year anniversary and 100th volume. Video with a call for proposals here.
Excitedly working on the Patrick Leigh Fermor feature for our next issue—what a range of contributors and writing: Joanne Kavenna, Michael Ondaatje, Suzy Joinson, George Prochnik, Thomas de Waal, Nick Hunt, Michael Gorra, Nick Delbanco and others… hopefully something you haven’t read by Paddy himself as well.
Meredith Moody (whose images appear on the covers of the new issue of Salmagundi Magazine, #180-181)
When we embarked on trying to find an image or two from my sister’s photographic work for THE FIRST 15 show at the Tang Museum, I knew it was going to be a difficult task. My sister passed away in 1995, so it’s been a long time since anyone went through her photographs. Mostly, I think my family felt it was too painful. Moreover, my sister was a major league pack rat in the collecting department. She worked in a photo store for a long time, in the period before digital photography, and she used to steal photos from among those she printed, if she thought they were particularly interesting. So the collection of photographs in her possession, which ran to the thousands, consisted mostly of photos she’d taken herself, but by no means exclusively so. She didn’t exactly throw things in shoeboxes, but she wasn’t terribly orderly either.
The vast majority of her own works was preserved on slides. My wife, Laurel Nakadate, is a photographer herself, and knows her way around a loupe—the little magnifying glass that people use to look at slides. She also has very good taste. I felt confident that the two of us could come up with some good pictures if we were willing to stake a day to the project. So we went out to my mother’s house in Bucks County, PA, where the Meredith Moody archive is situated, and spent an entire afternoon sitting on the deck going through the slides. What we found was as follows: my sister was raised on great landscape photography, and she spent much of her life trying to suggest the greatness of a northeastern sunset, but her very best photos were relational. She was a very social person, and the sense of community in the portraits is what looks most lasting now. Laurel and I worked quickly in pursuit of these community portraits and got three or four thousands slides down to a hundred or so. And then we spent some long hours getting that edit down to twenty. After which we polled Meredith’s friends to be certain that she had taken the photographs in question (which she did!).
I felt a lot closer to my sister’s memory while looking at her photographs. I could sense her presence behind the camera, laughing, directing, laughing some more. But there’s more to why these are great pictures than that. There’s history in them, but also an eye alert to emotional complexities, and traces of tragicomedy. One school of photography holds that the key to success is to take a bunch of pictures and then put them away for thirty years. The Meredith Moody oeuvre now has that wisdom, the wisdom of hindsight, but it has several other kinds of wisdom besides. I never knew quite how wise she was thirty years ago. But now I do.
What I have to say to you is very simple; so simple that I find it hard to say. It is that poetry is getting something right in language, that this idea of rightness in language is in the first place a feeling, which does not in the least prevent it from existing; if it is a subjective, which I doubt, it is not ‘merely subjective’ (as students say, and o dear how often they say it); that this feeling of rightness has largely been lost, if not eagerly assaulted with destructive intent, by people who if they ever wake up are going to find it extremely hard to recapture or even to remember what that feeling was.
One possible, and to me likely, consequence of these simplicities will have to be contemplated; it is that poetry in English is coming to an end. I have hesitated fearfully for a long time before that statement, realizing that coming from a middle-aged poet it will be helplessly be heard as one more variant of the common cry of middle-aged poets, I had talent once, where did it go? And yet it seems as though the evidence is massive that not poetry along but a great deal to do with language in relation to mind is fast approaching an end where it will be transformed into something unrecognizably other….
I return now to my first assertion: poetry is a way of getting something right in language, poetry is language doing itself right. This idea came first, as ideas have a way of doing, as a thoughtless phrase. I am a most inefficient teacher of verse-writing––but imagine what a monster an efficient one would be! –– and term after term, no matter what resolutions of patience and good-will I began with, three weeks later I found myself saying to the students about their productions such things as: But it’s not right, it just simply isn’t right…and even more cruelly on occasion: if there’s nothing right what’s the use of trying to say what’s wrong with it? And sometimes I would rhapsodize to my poor class about how poetry was simply language doing itself right, language as it ought to be, language as it was in the few hours between Adam’s naming the creation and his fall. The whole art of poetry, I would say, consists in getting back that paradisal condition of the understanding, the condition that says simply “yes” and “I see” and “it is so.” Naturally enough, it doesn’t happen often. But it does happen.
Excerpted from “Poetry & Meaning” by Howard Nemerov, published in Salmagundi Nos. 22-23, Contemporary Poetry in America (Spring-Summer 1973)
THE BELLE AFTER THE BALL
Ink and brown wash on paper, 9 1/2 x 11 5/8 in.
An an undergraduate (Harvard College, 1826-1830), Moorash composed a series of six satirical drawings in the lively vein of Hogarth, only one of which has survived. Despite a certain crudity of execution, it possess the boldness of his more mature work, as well as a savage and almost disturbing air of mockery. The Belle is shown among her partially cast-off clothes, with her wig at her feet and her teeth on the table, but Moorash carries the well-worn theme much further: one glass eye lies beside her mask, one naked breast lies under the table, her left arm, still gloved, lies on the floor beside a bouquet of withered roses, and in her lap she holds her bald, toothless, and half-blind head, which stares at the viewer with an expression of malignant hatred. The details of the grotesque scene are scrupulously observed; each minuscule link the graceful gold chain that hangs from the headless neck is drawn with a miniaturist’s precision. […]
Oil on canvas, 30 x 25 1/8 in.
E.T.A. Hoffmann’s “Rat Krespel” appeared in 1819 in Volume One of Die Serapionsbrüder. Although it is not known whether Moorash was able to read German, his sister Elizabeth was well read in both German and French; she may have translated the story for him directly from the German, or from the French translation by Loeve-Veimars of the Oeuvres completes. (1829-33). Moorash has depicted the scene of the Councillor Krespel’s wild grief about learning of the death of his daughter:
Deeply shaken, I sank into a chair. But the Councillor, in a harsh voice, began singing a merry song,and it was truly horrible to see how he hopped about on one foot, the crepe (he still had his hat on) fluttering about the room and brushing against the violins hanging on the walls. In fact, I couldn’t help giving a loud shriek when the crepes struck me during one of his sudden turns; it seemed to me that he wanted to enfold me and drag me down into the horrible black pit of madness.
The details of the scene are faithfully recorded in the painting: the violins on the wall are draped in black, in place of one violin there hangs a wreath of cypress, and Krespel wears a black sword-belt beneath which is tucked a violin bow instead of a sword. What is striking, however, is not the careful rendering of detail but precisely the opposite: the furious distortion of details as they are swept up into lines of forces, the deliberate and expressive blurring of form. Thus the streaming of Krespel’s hair and coat is seen in the violins, which, in the dark radiance of the candlelight seem to writhe like snakes, and the ripple of the fluttering band of crepe is echoed in the curve of the piano’s music rack, while the piano itself appears to be dissolving into reddish darkness. The effect is of a center of violent energy diffusing itself throughout the entire painting. Krespel himself, partially plunged in blackness and partially illumined by the red candleflames, has the distorted features of a grimacing dwarf. Despite such distortions, the painting retains a number of illusionist features, such as definite though at times ambiguous perspectival lines and a stable, centralized vantage point.
If the scene attracted Moorash for its painterly possibilities, the story itself has significant implications in light of what is known of Moorash’s theory of the demonic properties of art. It will be recalled that Krespel’s daughter is blessed with a supernaturally beautiful singing voice, which derives in part from a defect of the lung; if she continues to sing, she will die. The dubious origin and fatal effect of art––twin themes that haunted the romantic imagination (see Hawthorne’s “Rappacini’s Daughter” for a late variation)––is here given one of the earliest and most memorable expression by the German fabulist.
The painting, believed lost until 1951, when it was discovered in the attic of a descendant of William Pinney’s maternal uncle, shows some damage: the paint surface is abraded in the top right corner and in a small area to the right of the cypress wreath. There is also some loss of paint along the upper and lower edges of the picture, where the canvas has deteriorated.
Excerpted from “The Catalogue of the Exhibition: The Art of Edmund Moorash (1810-1846)” by Steven Millhauser. Originally seen in Salmagundi No. 92 (Fall 1991)