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Archive for February, 2018


An old woman reading — a magnificent painting done in the 17th century Netherlands

There is indeed one element in human destiny
that not blindness itself can controvert. Whatever
else we are intended to do, we are not intended
to succeed; failure is the fate allotted. Our business
is to continue to fail in good spirits. — Robert Louis Stevenson

Friends,

Accept what you are.
Do what you can.
Be glad you can do that.

These are lines I tell myself or some version of them. They help me carry on. I then try to follow them doing what’s in front of me to do that day, and doing what I tell myself I want to and shall do for the sake of events coming up that I can participate in. Participate to the best of my ability and if I can’t do what others do, live with it.

Very sad today because dear close friend for the past 4 years now has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. It has been so hard to live since Jim is gone. One can say live in and on yourself but to do this in my state of several dysfunctions takes strength, courage, cheer and yes friendships.

This one is hard. I have a new understanding — much better, much more accurate — of friendship, its limits as well as its gifts, can picture how many people live on themselves and with others. It’s probably salutary for me to see better, more clearly (like Lear is told to) but honestly I would have preferred to go to the end of my chapter without seeing. In reason or logically it should make me stronger to be able to see clearly, but like when I’ve done something that’s hard for me to do and then people tell me, each time it will get easier (say traveling or some technology), and the act(s) don’t at all get easier (but come accompanied by the same anxiety, intense reluctance, and when they are over the same intense relief). Perhaps seeing makes things more doable because I realize how others are what’s called striving or struggling to do them too. (Of course for some these acts come easy; such people are not admirable, just lucky in their genes, or circumstances.) I’m not sure seeing where others experience similar emotions and where they don’t, makes things more doable.


Roger Fry, self-portrait

“Second-hand books are wild books, homeless books; they have come together in vast flocks of variegated feather, and have a charm which the domesticated volumes of the library lack. Besides, in this random miscellaneous company we may rub against some complete stranger who will, with luck, turn into the best friend we have in the world.” — Virginia Woolf

I’ve been immersed in one of Virginia Woolf’s it seems to me now hundreds of masterpieces of writing, this one a full length biography of Roger Fry. She grasps that powerful turning points for him later in life were when he faced defeat, recognized what he could do and then flourished within his limitations so as to live out his extraordinary gifts. He was tremendously lucky in who he was born to: he automatically went to the best schools, had connections to get to places where he could meet minds equivalent in finest and insight to his own, and he was born sociable: could make and knew how to sustain friendships. I am so moved by his life style: he was partly homosexual and bisexual and sustained deep relationships among men and women that were unconventional. His rooms were beautifully decorated by true art (not what would fetch money or give prestige necessarily at all) and filled every where what he was doing: books, papers, easels, paint, his food on plates because he was too taken up with what he was doing to keep up with tidyness. A man after my own heart. Fry’s art was one she understood, his principles those she lived by as Fry had understood hers: she reveled in his life, wished she could have lived it.

I’m comparing Woolf’s book to Samuel Johnson’s life of Richard Savage, considered his masterpiece in biography. What a contrast from the point of view of failure. Savage a self-deluded wildly behaved “genius,” born with no advantages but that of “intellectual greatness” (Johnson’s phrase) whose “eminence” because of such gifts just made him a better known instance of of how such things contribute very little to worldly success, happiness, or fulfillment — all of which Roger Fry knew, partly the result of his having been born with the extrinsic advantages Savage lacked and didn’t know how to or in his world could not acquire. It was not just bad luck as Savage also had some innate awful traits of vanity, luxury, scorn for those beneath him (as he saw this), and he could not control ill-advised responses, like anger (when he desperately needed to). His sexuality is not clear; at the time (not in Johnson’s biography) he was linked to at least two women, one Eliza Haywood supposedly had a child by him, but I wonder if he was homosexual or bisexual. It is as extraordinary a story as Fry’s is, only far more flagrantly breaking all taboos. The man may have been in effect homeless, living on the streets, in taverns, for some 28 years; at 46 he died in debtor’s prison, surely from exhaustion and the terrible wear and tear of his body and mind as much as anything else. Johnson was 35 at the time he wrote the biography, living on little bits of money, and saw a possible fate for himself in Savage.

“They are surely happy,” said the prince, “who have all these conveniencies, of which I envy none so much as the facility with which separated friends interchange their thoughts.” — Samuel Johnson, Rasselas


Van Gogh, A Field with Poppies — Woolf begins and ends her biography of Fry with his utterances about poppies

I’ve been following a Future Learn course on autism for three weeks now and have some thoughts about it. It’s done by a group of people running a center in a British university (Kent) for people on the autism spectrum. They have a variety of degrees and positions that legitimate them — and give them salaries. What are they doing with this precious four weeks in public on the Internet they are given?

They persist in asking, Does Autism Exist? & seem to doubt there is such a condition. They know better. They present evidence it does, two of them are clearly autistic themselves — or Aspergers Syndrome as the high end of the condition, where people come closest to non-disabled functioning and are highly intellingent in reasoning, writing, reading, understanding, used to be distinguished. Logically from what they show, if it’s amorphous, cannot be confirmed by scientific method that is unassailable, and manifests differently, there is a (laughably) strong base of similarity. Like cancer, the basic disability or problem comes in different manifestations, but we don’t doubt cancer exists.

I’ve decided that they mean to counter intense hostility by the neurotypical world: my experience is the hostility only goes away when a NT has an autistic person in their family or as a friend. Even then, not all the time, and many inside a family especially (where they cannot get rid of the tie) want to doubt the person is autistic. How painful this is. How painful this Future Learn course. It means such people don’t want to recognize the autistic and refuse to acknowledge they exist. I know this is what people without disabling conditions do with disabilities (I’ve reviewed & read enough books on disability to know this), and with this one mental they can deny even more readily.

So I don’t exist. One of my daughters doesn’t exist. Aspergers Syndrome which describes the part of the spectrum she is on and I’m almost does not exist in the book any more.

The Future Learn course is doing little good to the Aspergers or autistic person: by spending so much time doubting autism, the speakers don’t have the time to go into individual characteristics. Or they don’t want to — two of the three weeks have been unusually short (less videos, less essays than most such courses). I suspect they fear evoking ridicule and hostility. Open objections that could become obnoxious. So they don’t talk about specifics autistic people can’t do, only try to assert through photos how autistic people are social, are made happy by having friends, just don’t know the unwritten codes and social behavior that gains and sustains them.

What they have been willing to discuss (again in general terms) are depression & anxiety as “co-existing morbid conditions.” The language chosen is, shall we say, unfortunate?

Then they show reluctance to say these two linked conditions result from autism & are a response to the way society treats the autistic and how society is organized along neurotypical lines w/neurotypical expectations. So I must spend 4 traumatic hours trying to upgrade a computer with someone’s help so I can even have an app for a power-point presentation; today four more for installation; and now my older daughter may help me learn to use this software and I know that still I might not be able to do such a thing in public. Too nervous. Or I can’t travel alone without it becoming an intense ordeal because I know I get lost. These are crippling conditions and it’s natural to be depressed, would be unlikely not to produce anxiety.

I’m sure they recognize the worst problems of the disabled are mostly the result of the way the larger society refuses to recognize and help them. Books on disability begin with this insight (see, for example, Fictions of Affliction). Deaf people have gone furthest with this, declaring themselves a simply culture, which is not quite so. Not to hear is to live in danger. The alphabet is based on oral sounds

You are given room to comment as “a learner” in these Future Learn courses and I watch people dialoging or commenting alongside one another. So I told the people who invented and have enacted this course they are not helping the autistic by this approach and they are not countering the hostility of the non-autistic by their innocent films (showing autistic and non-autistic babies interacting and then supposedly disproving stereotypical pictures of how autistic people look).

It’s them being timid and is, unfortunately, matched by timidity I’ve seen in other of these Future Learn courses: say on colonialism. The people there were afraid to offend (I now realize from having taught two courses in the Booker Prize book formula and discovered that people drop the course because they identify with the settler colonialists, the imperialists) and spoke in jargon-filled words (like marbles in their mouths) lest they be understood too readily.


Katy Murphy as Jenny Wren from the 1998 Our Mutual Friend by Sandy Welch

From Charlotte Mew’s The Changeling

Sometimes I wouldn’t speak, you see,
Or answer when you spoke to me,
Because in the long, still dusks of Spring
You can hear the whole world whispering;
The shy green grasses making love,
The feathers grow on the dear grey dove,
The tiny heart of the redstart beat,
The patter of the squirrel’s feet,
The pebbles pushing in the silver streams,
The rushes talking in their dreams,
The swish-swish of the bat’s black wings,
The wild-wood bluebell’s sweet ting-tings,
Humming and hammering at your ear,
Everything there is to hear
In the heart of hidden things.
But not in the midst of the nursery riot,
That’s why I wanted to be quiet,
Couldn’t do my sums, or sing,
Or settle down to anything …

I’ve finally taken to sitting in my sunroom, only this week through the windows I saw much rain. It is very quiet there, no TV, no computer, no radio, just a silent clock. A comfortable chair, tables, lamps, some of my books, two smaller bookcases of DVDs, a thick cream-beige rug, the walls a soft light green. I read more this way. Settle down to my book friends.


My room of my own in the evening: during the day imagine Snuffy cat sitting along the top and Clarycat by the radiator, me in the chair …

I know some peace here,
for peace comes dropping slow

Miss Drake

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Night time ending (Season 2, Episode 6, 2016 Poldark)

Night Thoughts

What pain did I see in your eyes
and still something beautiful inside?

My fear that you will go —
because no one stays forever.

This memory: at the outdoor cafe near the sea,
the waiter’s black shirt

and some stranger waiving to another stranger,
waving.

Live move on like shadows of the windblown willows
to other lives.

Wounds heal but the scars remain vulnerable,
Sand sifts across the high dunes endlessly.

My body turns and turns again moving in and out of sleep,
dreams like sand dollars sinking.
— Patricia Fargnoli

Friends,

I wake to find I’ve been dreaming of character in movies I’m moved by — especially serial drama, and lately the new Poldark series. I am not sure if I’ve always done this but think not: I remember when I wrote my books (my dissertation on Richardson, the unfinished ones on Vittoria Colonna and Anne Finch), I used to dream of these people I’d been writing and thinking about so much. Since I’ve known him, I’ve dreamt of Jim. He’d come in late from wherever and I’d lift my arms to him, “my darling,” and hours later wake having dreamt of him, too. Now I’ve not got any people that close any more. No person to dream of. So I dream of characters in movies. Much of our lives is spent in dreams.

Diary-journals shared with others are daylight events I record here. These past few weeks I tried taking or following a few courses at the two OLLIs I teach at, went to the Smithsonian, and also signed up for a couple of online Future learn courses. The first week I did and tried out too much, went out 5 of 6 days! (also lunch and a movie with a friend). By Sunday I was so dizzy I couldn’t keep it up. Now I’m down to two OLLI at Mason courses on Wednesday (four 1 hour and 1/2 sessions each): one on Sylvia Plath, and the other early modern American women writers (not just Anglo either). In a two session course I learnt a lot about making out my tax returns (what is a deduction anyway?) and where is the local AARP who will help Izzy and I for free. On-line I’m following an excellent course on autism at Future Learn once a week — I wish I had a way of telling how good it is to participate in these dialogues. Hope triumphed over experience at the Smithsonian again: of hearing good conversation or intelligent thorough analysis (which didn’t happen, again it was dumbing down, silly histories of kings and queens instead of the Scottish culture I expected to hear about from the descriptions).

I go because I spent so many decades of my life in effect (as to social life) alone. This is probably the social life I am most comfortable at.

I can offer informative detail for but a select few of such experiences. To round off this opening section, this week I read for the Plath class Plath’s night dreams under the title of a Mermaid:

Lorelei

It is no night to drown in:
A full moon, river- lapsing
Black beneath bland mirror-sheen,

The blue water-mists dropping
Scrim after scrim like fishnets
Though fishermen are sleeping,

The massive castle turrets
Doubling themselves in a glass
All stillness. Yet these shapes float

Up toward me, troubling the face
Of quiet. From the nadir
They rise, their limbs ponderous

With richness, hair heavier
Than sculpted marble. They sing
Of a world more full and clear

Than can be. Sisters, your song
Bears a burden too weighty
For the whorled ear’s listening

Here, in a well-steered country,
Under a balanced ruler.
Deranging by harmony

Beyond the mundane order,
Your voices lay siege. You lodge
On the pitched reefs of nightmare,

Promising sure harborage;
By day, descant from borders
Of hebetude, from the ledge

Also of high windows. Worse
Even than your maddening
Song, your silence. At the source

Of your ice-hearted calling­
Drunkenness of the great depths.
O river, I see drifting

Deep in your flux of silver
Those great goddesses of peace.
Stone, stone, ferry me down there.


Susan Herbert’s sad daylight Mercat

We have two more sessions of Plath and then I will make a separate blog for under Austen Reveries. Below, today’s middle section is on two lectures, the second one contrasted to my reaction to the early modern American women writers class thus far.

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A coherent lecture from the Washington Area Print Group last Friday afternoon: American romance in translation in Turkey


Harlequin marketed at Amazon: Twilight Crossing

Heather Schell talked of the business and production of Harlequin romances originally written in the US and translated into Turkish and sold across Turkey. She called it “American Delightz: Harlequin Romance in Turkey.” My sten is so weak I have had to omit much detail but I hope what I transmit is of interest. Prof Schell began with the assertion that Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is seen as the foundational text for romances. That observation, which I’ve no doubt is true in some large circles of people, is so ironic, but is the reason the subject belongs with Austen studies. Georgette Heyer is the modern quintessential regency romance; her Regency Buck was cited. Then she cited three recent American authors and two novels, one of which after the lecture another woman scholar at the meeting said she loved as a girl: Janet Daily with her Dangerous Masquerades; Violent Winsfrey; Shirley Jump’s Doorstep Daddy.

In 2001 supported by various grants, Heather Schell traveled to Turkey to Turkey and lived there for a year. She had taken a year of Turkish, and had been studying romance for some time. Alas when she arrived her main contact had died, but she made her way to this Harlequin company, which is located in a small townhouse (another shop in the front first floor). This was a small firm going since 1949; it began with 25-65 books a year and now publishes 110 books every month. They bought up Mills and Boon. She showed us a group of books, where the authors’ name is de-emphasized, the covers are naive pictures of sentimentally attached lovers. There are an astonishing number of small bookshops selling such books across Turkey; otherwise you must buy them by mail order.
Gov’t censorship remains strong; you can be put on trial. The books were originally about strictly chaste heroines, heroes successful in whatever they endeavor, and this utter mainstream point of view protects them still today when they have somewhat departed from this formula. They used euphemistic language reminiscent of US romance in the 1950s. Most authors and translators and bookshops seek to stay “under the radar: so pseudonyms are used; translators’ names rarely appear on the covers. She asked how the books are chosen: apparently the firm employees look at the number of stars given a book on Amazon and choose a book with the most stars.

She outlined the conditions and constraints under which this company published these translations: the translator is given a month to translate. He (there were two males hired by this firm) or she makes a pittance compared to translators in the US or Europe and even tinier in comparison to the original author whose incentive is they need do nothing for a good profit but offer the text. The books are regarded as interchangeable. She suggested in fact the books are individual, but the translators sit down to translate without having read the book through; they will omit descriptions and dialogues to keep to a certain length. If they find they have omitted too much and have too few words when they get to the end, instead of going back to find good passages and restoring them in translated form, they just add on their own stories and ideas. She found that the publishers and translators would not allow the idea that men read these books, and would not discuss anything having to do with religion in them

She told us the story of Shirley Jump’s One more Chance; Jump professed herself fascinated by the changes made to her book. A couple married for many years living in Indianapolis separate. Cade is a corporate attorney and Melanie has dedicated her life to him and her family for many years. Upon separation, she opens a coffee shop. The translator made many small changes, the effect of which is to turn a mildly progressive realistic book into a conservative romance. She made the heroine conventionally much prettier (e.g., thin waist); the American heroine showed her age. The translator also made them lower in class and status. In general translators play a mediating role, changing the book to suit the tastes and understood culture of their target audience. When American texts are translated in Turkey, the heroine is made less intelligent, less educated, without knowledge of sports (very common in American novels for heroines to be involved with sports). The woman’s function is to redeem the man. (This reminded me of the new Poldark films: the new Ross is made to say how Demelza has redeemed him, an idea and feeling no where to be found in Graham’s novels or the older Poldark films.) There are a large number of TV soap operas in Turkey, most of which do not go on for more than half a season and have happy endings, and such endings are tacked onto the American book if the American book is at all ambiguous. Asked, Turkish women said they long for very rich husbands, a prince in the story, or a cowboy. Sex scenes are varied and may be “hot” and “heavy,” and how they are translated depends on the sensibility of the individual translator.

The pseudo-contemporary content of the books as described left me cold, what material Prof Schell could carry away (filch) about authors, themes, ritual product promotion was not new. I love the Poldark, find Outlander irresistible, read when I can fictionalized biography and the Booker Prize books, but these sorts of contemporary things even when respected don’t attract me (or sometimes, conversely, threaten me), so what was interesting was all the Turkish sociological and other circumstances surrounding them.

Sometimes you learn by contrast. Other women in the audience said they had read more of the Outlander books than I have, and that these are a cut and more well above the Harlequins Prof Schell was describing. One woman said to me when she was a girl she devoured Violent Winsfrey. I replied that I never read these curiously innocent books: instead I veered between lurid, violent, openly masochistic journals like True Story, and the middle-brow historical and contemporary novels that came through my mother’s book-of-the-month club which were packaged with more staid pictures (of houses, or heroines say at the typewriter or doing some job) and were in more complicated language; and the 19th and early 20th century classics I found on my father’s bookshelves.

Then there were 12 for dinner and the talk was good and lively. I was snubbed by one woman. I tell about this since she snubbed me by saying to my attempting to introduce myself, “oh I knew you, from WMST-L and your blogs” in this dismissive kind of voice. Well “there was me placed,” not the tenured person she and her husband (aging, half-blind) were as she proceeded to let me know, by telling me of how she lives in Dupont Circle and travels back and forth between DC and to where their prestigious Pennsylvania college is. I, OTOH, waste myself in these blogs, which so tiresomely make some names better known than others on lists (of all places).

And so to class and race in the US: A muddled lecture, a reflection of US culture accompanied by a selection from early 20th century paintings and films


Edward Potthast, Coney Island (this was not one of the paintings shown in the course below)

The OLLI at AU (3 morning sessions): Art and film, 1900-1950:

Unfortunately the woman appeared either to know little about the art (paintings) of the 20th century or be unwilling to discuss or evaluate it. She was even more reluctant to discuss her very early films, which she was unable to show for the most part because power-point presentation is not that easy. She refused to (or could not) describe them in words. Surely she was not as empty-headed as she seemed, but worried lest she offend someone somewhere somehow.

What I picked up from her selection: US paintings and films of this era were as egregiously racist, class-ridden, and commercialized as today, only the surface content different. According to her, some artists drew rich people portraits (like John Singer Sergeant and Cecilia Beaux), some piously sentimental group pictures where poor Negroes are happy all the live-long day and while working people just enduring all stoically, to these abstract pictures of the city (awful, hardly any sun, or moon, or even recognizable buildings, all abstraction, stick figures for people). She showed no influence from Europe and when I asked about the 1913 Armory show, she seemed to know nothing!. Moving along with what slides she managed to show, she cited all sorts of names, mostly men e.g., Henry Ossawa Tanner, Alfred Steiglitz, Robert Henri (many socialite types), a roster of early 20th century commercial male artists, photographers who sold from NYC galleries, now and then a woman (Georgia O’Keefe, Isobel Bishop). We saw “The Great Train-Robbery,” some railway scenes, proto-typical Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers luxury liner piece. All she could say over and over, was “see the movement.” Well, duh. The high-point (or shall I say low) of these films was the 1915 Birth of Nation.

The above is the first full-length film made in the US and is referred to as a “classic.”

All her chosen material was part of the formation of a nation all right (not just the Klan, the US itself) or one stream of it, based on fantasy norms, atavistic nightmares and slapstick. This very real American grain group just voted in the hideous Trump. She appeared to condone the depiction in paintings of blacks as innocuously innocent or wild devils. I was uncomfortable to have to sit there and be silent while hardly anyone spoke so asked a few questions. When I asked if the 1910 Fry Exhibition influenced the 1913 Armory Show, she muttered something about not wanting to describe or discuss anything not American. She also seemed not to know what was in it, and finally came up with (as if this said all one needed to say, as when someone says of someone else they “Have you seen their resume?”): “it was curated!” A little later I asked about audiences who went to galleries to see these pictures (were they elite?) and mass audiences for films? so how much interaction could there be between these classes and thus between films and art? somehow she resisted that. No, lots of people went to museums, but then she began to drip with condescension over the guards at museums today. “Did you ever ask them if they stay and look at the pictures?” “Of course not” and as she answered her rhetorical question, she smiled. Far more professional looking than me with her styled hair and even a two-piece pantsuit. She was well packaged (most presentable — she claimed she was once a writer for the New Yorker). What talk she had (without statistics) was how much money someone could make or how their career demanded this or that. That was her level, what she thought motivated each artist whose work she showed.

By contrast, the female professor at the OLLI at Mason who presented real material about two early women writers (Sor Juana de la Cruz and Anne Bradstreet), was in a relaxed sweater over a blouse, and jeans: she gave concrete details, evaluated, critiqued. After about 10 years of my life going to the Library of Congress at night and on weekends during the 1980s and early 1900s where I used to read these early modern and 17th century women writers alone, now I heard two discussed for the first time, and it was a kind of revelation to hear the perspective, the context offered. Also the other women in the audience reacting, commenting. This is the sort of thing I used to read by myself in the library and at home: personal poetry by these women:

Sor Juana On Her Portrait

This that you see, the false presentment planned
With finest art and all the colored shows
And reasonings of shade, doth but disclose
The poor deceits by earthly senses fanned!
Here where in constant flattery expand
Excuses for the stains that old age knows,
Pretexts against the years’ advancing snows,
The footprints of old seasons to withstand;

‘Tis but vain artifice of scheming minds;
‘Tis but a flower fading on the winds;
‘Tis but a useless protest against Fate;
‘Tis but stupidity without a thought,
A lifeless shadow, if we meditate;
‘Tis death, tis dust, tis shadow, yea, ’tis nought.

(A poor online translation — I will see if I can find something better in my conventionally printed older book)

This professor presented very different difficult-to-read verse by these women meant to make very compromised public statements. Her material too I shall present separately after all four sessions are done with the lectures on Plath (on Austen Reveries). After all the OLLI at Mason these past weeks was not for me what Feynman used to call Cargo Cult Experience.

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Walk Where They Fought. Battle of Waterloo. June 18, 1815. (Petho Cartography)

Daylight hours at home, on the train, in my car: reading and writing (though not my paper, only notes towards it and postings). Outstanding best critical book has been Andre Maurois, Aspects of Biography. Deeply moved by Graham’s Twisted Sword (the 11th Poldark novel, where Demelza and Ross’s son, Jeremy is killed at Waterloo), re-fascinated by the de-constructive abilities of Trollope (in An American Senator), now listening to every single word garnered by Boswell in his Life of Johnson, unabridged!) as read by Bernard Mayes. Lots of Latin quoted and then patiently translated …

Sometimes it’s been freezing cold, and sometimes balmy.

Miss Drake

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