Oso Dorado (Golden Bear), 2013 by Walton Ford (b. 1960)
Oso Dorado (Golden Bear), 2013 by Walton Ford (b. 1960)
I went to a party and corrected a pronunciation. The man whose voice I had adjusted fell back into the kitchen. I praised a Bonnard. It was not a Bonnard. My new glasses, I explained, and I’m terribly sorry, but significant variations elude me, vodka exhausts me, I was young once, essential services are being maintained. Drums, drums, drums, outside the windows. I thought that if I could persuade you to say “No,” then my own responsibility would be limited, or changed, another sort of life would be possible, different from the life we had previously, somewhat skeptically, enjoyed together. But you had wandered off into another room, testing the effect on members of the audience of your ruffled blouse, your long magenta skirt. Giant hands, black, thick with fur, reaching in through the window. Yes, it was King Kong, back in action, and all of the guests uttered loud exclamations of fatigue and disgust, examining the situation in the light of their own needs and emotions, hoping that the ape was real or papier-mache according to their temperments, or wondering whether other excitements were possible out in the crisp, white night.
“Did you see him?”
“Let us pray.”
The Invalid – Cheyne Walk 1869, 2017 by Walton Ford (b. 1960)
The painting refers to the pet wombat of the Pre-Raphaelite painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s pet wombat Top, who died not long after Rossetti acquired the poor marsupial. From Angus Trumble’s fantastic lecture “Rossetti’s Wombat: A Pre-Raphaelite Obsession in Victorian England”:
In September 1869, Dante Gabriel Rossetti bought the first of two pet wombats….In the 1860s, Rossetti often took his friends to visit the wombats at the zoo, sometimes for hours on end. On one occasion Rossetti wrote to Ford Madox Brown: ‘Dear Brown: Lizzie and I propose to meet Georgie and Ned [the Burne-Jones] at 2 pm tomorrow at the Zoological Gardens—place of meeting, the Wombat’s Lair.’ In this period a number of new wombats arrived at the Regent’s Park Zoo: a rare, hairy-nosed wombat on 24 July 1862, and two common wombats despatched from the Melbourne Zoo on 18 March 1863. As well, Rossetti made regular visits with his brother, William Michael, to the Acclimatisation Society in London and its counterpart in Paris, to keep an eye on the hairy-nosed wombats residing in both places. This was no passing fancy.
Earlier, in 1862, Rossetti had moved to Tudor House, at 16 Cheyne Walk, Chelsea. Spacious, with plenty of room for family and friends including George Meredith and the deeply unattractive poet and semi-professional sadomasochist Algernon Charles Swinburne—who liked to slide naked down the banisters—the house had four-fifths of an acre of garden, with lime trees and a big mulberry. As soon as he arrived, Rossetti began to fill the garden with exotic birds and animals. There were owls, including a barn owl called Jessie, two or more armadillos, rabbits, dormice and a racoon that hibernated in a chest of drawers. There were peacocks, parakeets, and kangaroos and wallabies, about which we know frustratingly little. There was a Canadian marmot or woodchuck, a Pomeranian puppy called Punch, an Irish deerhound called Wolf, a Japanese salamander and two laughing jackasses. We know the neighbours were tolerant up to a point but Thomas Carlyle, for one, was driven mad by the noise. At length there was a small Brahmin bull that had to go when it chased Rossetti around the garden, and, in September 1869, a long-awaited wombat.
Shortly before this date there had been a number of animal deaths at Cheyne Walk, so Rossetti raised the animal-collecting stakes considerably. …His object was to purchase a young African elephant, but he balked at the price of £400. Rossetti’s income for 1865 was £2000.
…Soon, however, Top the wombat was ailing. William Michael wrote: ‘The wombat shows symptoms of some malady of the mange-kind, and he is attended by a dog doctor.’ The next day: ‘Saw the wombat again at Chelsea. I much fear he shows already decided symptoms of loss of sight which effects so many wombats.’ At length, on 6 November, the wombat died. Rossetti had him stuffed and afterwards displayed in the front hall.
Rossetti’s famous self-portrait with Top, the deceased wombat, is satirical but was apparently prompted by genuine grief. The accompanying verses are bleak indeed:
I never reared a young wombat
To glad me with his pin-hole eye,
But when he most was sweet and fat
And tailless, he was sure to die!
Links to reviews, riffs, etc. I wrote in June and July of 2018–
I continued and then apparently abandoned the silly project of trying to write reviews on every film I watched or rewatched this summer:
Trying to write about every film I watched what was exhausting and I’m not really sure what I got out of it, if anything. Here are the other films that I remember watching and not writing about:
All eight of the Star Wars films, again, sort of, with my kids.
Samsara (dir. Ron Fricke, 2011)—bought a new TV for the first time in eleven years and used this film to test the screen. Ended up watching it twice.
Thor: Ragnarok (dir. Taika Waititi, 2017)—another one I watched with the kids, although I’m not sure it was for them. It wasn’t for me. A lot of wasted potential in this one.
The Company of Wolves (dir. Neil Jordan, 1984)—I think this one holds up well. I remember renting it for 99 cents from the Hollywood Video next to my apartment in Gainesville, FL in 1997 and thinking it was a work of genius.
Princess Mononoke (dir. Hayao Miyazkai, 1997)—in the theater for the first time, again as part of Ghibli Fest 2018. I wrote about the film here a few years ago.
Under the Skin (dir. Jonathan Glazer, 2014). Watched it again last night on Netflix. I wrote about it here. I like a film that is basically a mood.
I finally read George Eliot’s longass wonderfulass novel Middlemarch this summer. I wrote about wanting to reread it from about halfway through
I also wrote about finishing Middlemarch, but edited out a few paragraphs about how much the last paragraphs of Eliot’s novel reminded me of the last lines of Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself.
In what is either strange felicity or my need to connect everything to Whitman, I did connect the end of Song to one of Denis Johnson’s posthumous stories, the title story in The Largesse of the Sea Maiden.
Writing about “Largesse” was the first of an intended five part series on each of the stories in Johnson’s last book; I wrote about the second story, “The Starlight on Idaho” here and “Strangler Bob” here. (Links to the full texts of those stories are in each of those pieces, by the way).
I also wrote about how weak and ineffectual I think George Saunders’ “satire” of Donald Trump, “Little St. Don” is. I see Saunders’ piece as part of an obsolete postmodernist mode that cannot viscerally engage the emerging zeitgeist. I wrote,
But postmodern perspectives have thoroughly soaked our culture (whether we recognize this our not), and good old-fashioned postmodernism-by-numbers isn’t going to work. “Little St. Don” reveals nothing new to its audience, it simply amplifies what they already know and believe, and does so in the very rhetoric that we need to overpower. Literary satire needs to do more than confirm our own morality while lambasting those who perpetrate evil—it needs to invent its own rhetoric, its own form, its own new language.
Excerpts from Sigmund Freud’s Leonardo da Vinci: A Psychosexual Study of an Infantile Reminiscence
As far as I know Leonardo only once interspersed in his scientific descriptions a communication from his childhood. In a passage where he speaks about the flight of the vulture, he suddenly interrupts himself in order to follow up a memory from very early years which came to his mind. “It seems that it had been destined before that I should occupy myself so thoroughly with the vulture, for it comes to my mind as a very early memory, when I was still in the cradle, a vulture came down to me, he opened my mouth with his tail and struck me a few times with his tail against my lips.”
We have here an infantile memory and to be sure of the strangest sort. It is strange on account of its content and account of the time of life in which it was fixed. That a person could retain a memory of the nursing period is perhaps not impossible, but it can in no way be taken as certain. But what this memory of Leonardo states, namely, that a vulture opened the child’s mouth with its tail, sounds so improbable, so fabulous, that another conception which puts an end to the two difficulties with one stroke appeals much more to our judgment. The scene of the vulture is not a memory of Leonardo, but a phantasy which he formed later, and transferred into his childhood. The childhood memories of persons often have no different origin, as a matter of fact, they are not fixated from an experience like the conscious memories from the time of maturity and then repeated, but they are not produced until a later period when childhood is already past, they are then changed and disguised and put in the service of later tendencies, so that in general they cannot be strictly differentiated from phantasies.. . .When we examine Leonardo’s vulture-phantasy with the eyes of a psychoanalyst then it does not seem strange very long; we recall that we have often found similar structures in dreams, so that we may venture to translate this phantasy from its strange language into words that are universally understood. The translation then follows an erotic direction. Tail, “coda,” is one of the most familiar symbols, as well as a substitutive designation of the male member which is no less true in Italian than in other languages. The situation contained in the phantasy, that a vulture opened the mouth of the child and forcefully belabored it with its tail, corresponds to the idea of fellatio, a sexual act in which the member is placed into the mouth of the other person.Strangely enough this phantasy is altogether of a passive character; it resembles certain dreams and phantasies of women and of passive homosexuals who play the feminine part in sexual relations.. . .The origin of Leonardo’s vulture phantasy can be conceived in the following manner: While reading in the writings of a church father or in a book on natural science that the vultures are all females and that they know to procreate without the coöperation of a male, a memory emerged in him which became transformed into that phantasy, but which meant to say that he also had been such a vulture child, which had a mother but no father. An echo of pleasure which he experienced at his mother’s breast was added to this in the manner as so old impressions alone can manifest themselves. The allusion to the idea of the holy virgin with the child, formed by the authors, which is so dear to every artist, must have contributed to it to make this phantasy seem to him valuable and important. For this helped him to identify himself with the Christ child, the comforter and savior of not alone this one woman.