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 film...moreThough 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."(less)
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--finishe...moreAfter 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?'"
Probably ideally read in the throes of great romantic passion (or even anguish), for what Michelangelo lacks in literary skill he makes up for with hi...moreProbably ideally read in the throes of great romantic passion (or even anguish), for what Michelangelo lacks in literary skill he makes up for with his great fervor in attempting to translate into the written word his capacity for the great extremes of emotional rapture. In a lot of ways a proto-John Donne as he embodies a lot of the baffling contradictions that great English poet has become so famous for: lusty sexual outpourings (for both boys and girls, and written up to his last days at nearly 90 years old), musings on how love inspires the soul to seek Heavenly perfection, more considered meditations on religion-inspired agony and ecstasy. I very much appreciated Nim's translations as they purposely errs on the side of forcefulness rather than the poetic delicacy of other translations I considered; also included are some of the most enlightening observations on the process of literary translation I've ever come across.
"Let the clock-hands end their circling; in accord sun cease his ancient roundabout endeavor, so I might have, certain-sure--though not procured by my own worth--my long desired sweet lord, in my unworthy but eager arms, forever."
In the introduction of this collection of Ford's poems, an Edward B. Germain makes a grand pronouncement: "when he began publishing in 1929, Ford was...moreIn the introduction of this collection of Ford's poems, an Edward B. Germain makes a grand pronouncement: "when he began publishing in 1929, Ford was unique: America's surrealist poet. In retrospect, he is seminal." And yet he doesn't seem to have much a reputation these days (though, really, none of the American surrealists--with the possible exception of Joseph Cornell--managed to establish legacies on the level of their European counterparts), which is a shame, because he can be striking poet. Beginning as a self-made and self-conscious prodigy of sorts--he founded an important literary magazine after dropping out of high school--and a member of the European ex-pat community in the 30's and 40's, this collection spans Ford's entire body of poetry up to the early 1970's. It's a bit uneven (several late long poems dedicated to Edith Sitwell in particular are ponderous bores), and Ford works with rhyming much more than most of his contemporaries, but each poem holds at least a dazzling turn of phrase or two. At the very least. It's a shame more of his work isn't more widely available.
"What kind of poem would I like to write? One in which the images are new and yet fill one with pleasure, like a face that's strange but which we recognize with joy mixed with nostalgia."
Please note that the above star rating is less indicative of the quality of the novel than of my shortcomings as a reader: I realize in retrospect tha...morePlease note that the above star rating is less indicative of the quality of the novel than of my shortcomings as a reader: I realize in retrospect that what I wanted was an engaging, gossipy yarn dissecting the sexual practices of the affluent and/or artistic circles Colette moved in in the fifty years spanning from the fin de siècle to her death just past the midway point of the 20th century... What I got instead was a nuanced, diffuse and delicately textured meditation on love, sexuality and sexual practice. And even though she is particularly interested in various "deviant" sexualities, the author—to her great credit, of course—is less interested in recounting details of lascivious excess than in trying to understand the motivations and psychology of sex in all of its diverse forms. In the end, there's hardly any sex to speak of.
The main reason I took up this novel was for its now-famous chapter devoted to poet and author Renée Vivien, who was Colette's neighbor and (in a loose sense of the term) friend in the years leading up to Vivien's early, tragic death. And one can see why Natalie Clifford Barney was appalled by the portrait—Vivien comes off as eccentric if not actually mentally unbalanced, and much of the rather sensational mythology that sprung up around her certainly has many of its roots here. But it's also not nearly as vicious as Barney regarded it as either, as Vivien comes off as a complex individual, lively and vivacious and intensely melancholic in turn. If it does come off as a rather sad depiction in the end, it's also deeply sympathetic and even a bit moving. And it's certainly the most vivid and absorbing section of the novel, perhaps because its the most concrete in its sharply-observed details (something Colette is masterful at) and the least ruminatory in nature.
I fully intend to return at some point with my expectations recalibrated and more attuned to the intricate complexity of Colette's project. And when I do, I expect that it will yield a higher star rating. (less)
"Although experimental in ways that seem typically Modernist, this fictional work bears little resemblance, by opposition rather than imitation, to Jo...more"Although experimental in ways that seem typically Modernist, this fictional work bears little resemblance, by opposition rather than imitation, to Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man." -Shari Benstock, Women of the Left Bank(less)