Though his reputation was made as a poet, Ford's artistic interests took him in many directions--prose, the visual arts, even directing a feature filmThough his reputation was made as a poet, Ford's artistic interests took him in many directions--prose, the visual arts, even directing a feature film. But if the back cover of this volume, a decade-long expanse of Ford's personal dairies, is to be believed, Ford himself considered this to be his masterpiece. And having read a collection of his poetry concurrently, it's rather hard to disagree. Ford's background as a poet is obvious and serves him well, as the diaries are mostly long strings of short anecdotes polished to a sparkling epigrammatic brilliance--there's definitely a talent for diverting what could conceivably be a long digression and summing it up perfectly with a witty line or shrewdly recorded bit of dialogue. Famous names waft in and out of the pages--the Sitwells, Djuna Barnes (Ford's former lover), Cocteau, Genet, Capote, as well as the not-so-famous that made an impression on Ford during his many travels and international places of residence. It's also remarkably candid about his sexual adventures and misadventures, though in the end the entire thing can almost be characterized as an elegiac valentine to his longtime partner, the Surrealist painter Pavel Tchelitchew. Though Tchelitchew, fondly referred to throughout by his pet name Pavlik, often comes off as conflicted and unbearably cantankerous, Ford still manages to convey his great love and affection, and as the diary comes to a close by recording Tchelitchew's last days and painful death I found myself, unexpectedly, near tears. A particularly notable example of the personal diary as a work of art.
"Sometimes, one has to empty out oneself to feel the world's fullness."...more
After a second reading had to include the missing fifth star. Full reassessment soon.
So I'm not used to this kind of reaction with a book--finisheAfter a second reading had to include the missing fifth star. Full reassessment soon.
So I'm not used to this kind of reaction with a book--finished it this morning, and I might very well start it all over again. Immediately. This never happens to me.
And this despite not knowing what the hell was going on half (most?) of the time, but by the end I became intoxicated by the sheer absurdity that made me laugh stupidly despite being in public, the unexpected submersions into harrowing despair, the (to blatantly steal Ned Rorem's characterization) "gorgeous claustrophobia" the novel evokes. I've never come across anything quite like this before.
Was initially intrigued by Susan Sontag's comment in her journal that her and her friends were essentially characters out of this novel; I wonder now how much of her own romantic sufferings were modeled off of Norah Flood's...
"'How do you stand it, then?' she demanded. 'How do you live at all if this wisdom of yours is not only the truth, but the price?'"
At first it just seems like simply a gossipy good time, but it also functions as a fascinating mise en abyme (the author speaking about herself througAt first it just seems like simply a gossipy good time, but it also functions as a fascinating mise en abyme (the author speaking about herself through the voice of her partner, etc).
It's a thoroughly delightful portal through which to slip into 1920's Paris. I'd wager that Hemingway's A Moveable Feast is generally preferred, but I'm definitely Team Stein. ...more
I jumped ship when Joyce took over the entire narrative—I can only take so much Jimmy (and his whole involvement here is just so damn depressing). OthI jumped ship when Joyce took over the entire narrative—I can only take so much Jimmy (and his whole involvement here is just so damn depressing). Otherwise a fascinating account of a fascinating person. ...more
Excellent, and unjustly forgotten. With its crystalline prose rendering gleefully raunchy queer hijinks during a storied moment in history, think of sExcellent, and unjustly forgotten. With its crystalline prose rendering gleefully raunchy queer hijinks during a storied moment in history, think of something akin to A Moveable Feast penned by Jean Genet, even if that doesn't at all get to the wonderful singularity of Steward's fictionalized memoir. ...more
A diverting, nicely observed little read. Levy takes on this quality that sometimes comes off as a bit faux-naïf, as I got the impression that her obsA diverting, nicely observed little read. Levy takes on this quality that sometimes comes off as a bit faux-naïf, as I got the impression that her observations cover, just barely, a layer of subtle wit and more than a bit of satire (take the deliciously veiled b*tch-slap of a closing line: "I never get the chance to read [Stein] my story and left Paris eventually enriched only by the knowledge that Gertrude Stein was now great in France"). Throughout Portraits she constantly downplays her intelligence and abilities to comprehend and appreciate modernist art--a role it is implied the extended Stein family kept her in--but the art collection she amassed and several texts she wrote belie a bit more to the situation than she lets on here.
The title is a bit misleading, as most of the incidents involves those who fall into the "their circle" part of the title--Alice B. Toklas (whose trip to Europe was funded by Levy), Swedish sculptor David Edstrom, and most particularly Sarah Stein, Gertrude's formidable sister-in-law and staunch Matisse supporter, make the most frequent appearances. There's also Levy's take on the rowdy Montmartre dinner that Stein made famous in The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, and even an odd little chapter that seems to center around an attempted lesbian pickup from which Levy demurs (another case of feigned naiveté?).
Nothing is exactly revelatory, but that's just it--as the short introduction states, for years this previously unpublished manuscript has been mined endlessly by scholars and historians for firsthand information on this storied period. As such, it's nice that Levy has been given the opportunity to finally speak for herself. ...more
After finishing The Pilgrim Hawk I couldn't help but feel as if this sparkling novel(la) was structured like an iceberg, its crystalline prose and theAfter finishing The Pilgrim Hawk I couldn't help but feel as if this sparkling novel(la) was structured like an iceberg, its crystalline prose and the sharp lines of its prosody creating shimmery effects somewhat akin to a diamond refracting sunlight.
It's all very impressive--or at least impressive enough--in and of itself. But an icebergs placidly floating across a tranquil bodies of water masks a larger reality: only about 1/10 of the iceberg is ever actually visible. The mass and bulk lurks far beneath the water line, unglimpsed, unseen, and nearly impossible to get a full handle on. Of course, one doesn't have to grasp or even be aware of the entirety of an iceberg to be awed by it; but the fact remains that what is rendered visible is buttressed by what remains necessarily out of view.
So yes, my thoughts on The Pilgrim Hawk are essentially a Formalist's nightmare, dependent on knowledge and information found outside the text itself. But my reading of the novel represents one of those situations where my knowledge about the author completely shaped and shaded my thoughts when experiencing the actual text for the first time. And it led me to believe that The Pilgrim Hawk is a text containing hidden, incalculable depths.
Though I've read quite a bit on Wescott's life--something I'll return to shortly--after reading Hawk I finally read some direct analysis of the novel that I had been putting off, namely, Michael Cunningham's introduction to the NYRB edition, and Susan Sontag's late essay "Where the Stress Falls," a reflection on Wescott's novel which transforms into a more broad analysis of first-person narration in 20th century literature. I was rather startled to discover that both of these writers, both who are gay, neglect to mention the fact that Wescott himself was a gay man, not even throwing it out as a possibility that might affect interpretation of the novel and its possible meaning(s). Which, okay, I can understand, especially since both writers in question are themselves often described as being ambivalent about their sexuality within public spheres. But Wescott, whose life spanned a large chunk of the 20th century, was not as circumspect, which is a major reason why he looms large in the gay canon despite leaving behind a relatively scant oeuvre ("he has a certain syrup but it does not pour," remarked friend Gertrude Stein in the infamous The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas). I could write biographical information endlessly, but most pertinent is the fact that in 1919 Wescott met Monroe Wheeler--a book publisher who later became a major figure in establishing the MOMA--and the two men remained partners until Wescott's death in 1987. And while it's not hard to predict that this remarkable fact was left out of both men's New York Times obituaries, everything I have read attests to the fact their relationship was a well-known fact and they were "out" as romantic partners as much as the times allowed (which, it must be admitted, was the rarified and relatively accommodating transatlantic expatriate/New York City arts and culture world).
I drudge up these interesting but perhaps superfluous-seeming biographical details because I think it holds an important bearing on the volucrine symbol of the title. For indeed, the manner in which the titular hawk, a falcon named Lucy, is handled throughout the narrative seems to lay at the heart of most critiques (truth be told, that was my initial reaction too). Generally regarded as a heavy-handed symbol for a marriage of a particularly stifling and restrictive sort, when considered on that level it does come across as a perplexingly flatfooted flaw marring what otherwise comes across as a text of incredible linguistic and observational agility. But as I began thinking about the possible reasons why a gay man would take on this particular topic and what it might look from that particular perspective I found that what had initially seemed straightforward started becoming more and more elusive. A few scattered ideas that crossed my mind:
-Wescott was writing at a time when it was still a widely practiced social convention for not-straight men to enter into marriages, and a number of men in Wescott's circle did exactly that (Lincoln Kirstein, Carl Van Vechten, W. Somerset Maugham, Chick Austin, and Jared French, are several off the top of my head). From this angle, what had originally seemed like rather nondescript expository dialogue suddenly seemed pregnant with potential meaning. Consider: "some such hopeless attempt to escape, crazy fit of freedom, comes over all domesticated falcons at fairly regular intervals, [Madeleine Cullen] explained, especially in their first year or two… they never get over being wild" (26). Or this odd digression (allow me to quote it in full):
"Falcons, she informed us, do not breed in captivity… little by little the perfectly wild creature surrenders, individually, in the awful difficulty of hunger. But surrender is all, domestication is all; they never feel at home. You can carry male and female side by side on the same cadge year in and year out; nothing happens. They will cease to fight but they stay solitary. Scorn for each other for giving in, or self-scorn, seems to break their hearts. They never build a nest or lay an egg. Not one chick or eyas is ever reared in bondage. There is no real acceptance or inheritance of the state of surrender" (27-8).
Or what about Madeleine's later remark that "Lucy gives up her freedom and stays with me because it's a better life, more food and more fun" (49)? The idea of giving up and accepting "captivity" combined with the phrase "because it's a better life" sends shivers down my spine.
-Larry Cullen despises the falcon not only because she is the main object of his wife's attention and affection, but it also becomes clear that Lucy's presence literally prevents him from making direct physical contact with his wife. One of the most well-known facts about Wescott's life is the long-term ménage à trois relationship Wescott and Wheeler entered into with George Platt Lynes, who would go on to become a celebrated photographer. From the sections of Wescott's published journals that I have read, it is clear that Wheeler benefitted most from this arrangement, and that the beautiful, young, and effeminate Platt Lynes overwhelmingly preferred Wheeler as a sexual partner, which often left Wescott feeling excluded and dejected. Despite using the narrator as his very literal stand-in, I suspect the character of Larry was fully informed by Westcott's personal experiences as well.
-But why then, make Lucy a female hawk? It seems much more straightforward within the context of the story and all of its interpretations for the hawk to be a tercel (the term for a male hawk, as Madeline explains at one point). As is, it's a female presence at the root of the distance in the Cullen's relationship… and of course I'm going to follow up on the possible implications of that fact. Indeed, throughout The Falcon Hawk Madeleine Cullen continuously reveals unexpected dimensions: far from the frail-seeming woman tottering on "the highest heels" (6) that literally needs to be helped across the cobblestone driveway, we come to find out that in reality she is a healthy, lusty, vivacious, and incredibly driven woman who rides a horse magnificently, etc, etc. And isn't the idea of a "lady falconer" itself a rather bizarre one, an unexpected juxtaposition of traditional images of masculinity and femininity? All I'm saying is that symbolically there might be something to the fact that Madeline's affections are centered on a falcon than a tercel; could Lucy's captivity subtly mirror a possible type of imprisonment Madeline herself secretly experiences?
Even the title itself, it occurred to me after the fact, contains its own puzzling obscurities. Aside perhaps from wanting to avoid being confused with a certain, celebrated Dashiell Hammett novel, why a "Pilgrim Hawk" and not "Pilgrim Falcon?" By opting for a generalized term for his title, Wescott neutralizes gender particularity, opening up even more possibilities for interpretation.
I could go on and on along similar lines, but this has already started crossing that unwieldy space between "review" and "unanticipated term paper," and so I'll bring this to a close. Basically, the point I'm trying to make is that when taking into consideration Wescott's personal life--and make no mistake, Alwyn Tower is a stand-in for Wescott, a "character" that reappears throughout much of his work--and most particularly, his sexuality, we go a long way in starting to fathom the hidden 9/10s of the iceberg. And as a direct result, what at first glance comes of as a pretty but thin facade is effectively shattered, and whole chasms of possible meaning are suddenly, unexpectedly revealed. ...more