"I can be a pain, but most of all, I can be a pleasure."
Stated in the prologue, I flagged this comment in the margins of my book, and now I see it's a"I can be a pain, but most of all, I can be a pleasure."
Stated in the prologue, I flagged this comment in the margins of my book, and now I see it's actually a nice summation of her entire memoir. Because while it could have used some substantial and judicious editing and condensing, overall what's here is mostly a pleasure to read, a raucous romp through the second half of the twentieth century through the perspective of one of pop culture's most iconic—and iconoclastic—personalities.
Of all things, this this memoir constantly brought to mind Candide, Voltaire's epochal satire. Whipping across time zones and continents, creating and shedding personas, colliding with important historic figures and events, blundering into potentially dangerous situations and skipping away unscathed, Jones herself is something of a Candide figure—albeit without the slightest trace of that character's infamous naiveté, for as Jones constantly reiterates, she's game to try anything at least once (and if everything recorded here is true, she's true to her word!).
Early on Jones insists she "love[s] secrets" and promises that sharing her memories will not "spoil the mystery" of her life. And for all the information packed into these 380 pages, I do believe she managed to stay true to her word. Each paragraph is so packed with dazzling names—Warhol! Harring! Studio 54! Roommates and BFFs with Jessica Lange and Jerry Hall in Paris! Iman! The British Royal Family! Karl Lagerfeld! Helmut Newton! Etc, etc, etc—that the reader slides along in a kind of happy buzz without necessarily realizing that how all of this happens remains, in the end, an enigma. How exactly does one keep a schedule of regularly staying out until dance clubs until 7am? Manage experimental drug use (she says one acid trip lasted two weeks)? Seem to be everywhere in Europe and America simultaneously? Time bends and blends, she seems to pack into months more than most people are able to experience in a lifetime. I kept thinking "it must take SO MUCH effort and hard work to maintain the Grace Jones persona," but Jones rarely shows her cards. Reading this memoir, I got a sense of one layer of who Jones is, the facade that operates in the realm of contemporary pop culture myth, larger than life, something beyond mere celebrity or notoriety. But like the expert showsperson that she is, she cleverly camouflages the nuts and bolts that keep everything in place. But the private Grace Jones? That Jones has been secreted her away from public display.
The primary and vitally important exception to this, I will say, is when it comes to her art and image creation. For most of her career Jones has been characterized as the muse and ultimately the creation of others, and primarily of men. Here Jones demonstrates over and over again the personal agency behind everything she has accomplished: ceaselessly sniffing out the latest trends in music, fashion, and art, collaborating with the most talented and creative individuals in their respective fields, carefully shepherding each project to fruition and public release, this memoir obliterates any lingering perception that Jones is herself is anything less than one of the astounding artists of the second half of the twentieth century. We're just barely starting to come to grips with the artistic legacy and sheer fabulosity that she hath wrought.
Heroines is a text that flares furiously: willfully ignoring Woolf’s fretting in A Room of One's Own over female authors whose work is driven by “thHeroines is a text that flares furiously: willfully ignoring Woolf’s fretting in A Room of One's Own over female authors whose work is driven by “the red light of emotion,” Zambreno instead throws in with the red-haired speaker of Plath’s “Lady Lazarus” who rises exultantly “out of the ash” to remorselessly chomp upon “men like air.” A showcase for Zambreno’s deep and wide-ranging study into the lives and experiences of a number of women of the modernist era, she also dares write herself and her experiences directly into Heroines, ingeniously undermining traditional distinctions between literary scholarship and personal memoir.
And I feel the need to stipulate right off: this is not my text. It is not mine in the sense that I am not a woman, let alone have experienced the kinds of mental illness or crippling insecurities disclosed throughout these pages. I feel it’s important to honor that reality, as scanning through the current Goodreads ratings and reviews it appears Heroines resonates much more with readers who identify as female than with the several males who have so far logged responses (with inevitable exceptions, of course) Considering how central the idea of creating a sense of community among women is central to many of Zambreno’s ideas, I respect and admire its attempt to record and actively construct a space of visibility and support.
On the other hand, this is very much my text; when she writes “I feel compelled to act as the literary executor of the dead and erased” I immediately recognized an impulse nearly identical to my own personal literary and academic project of Queer Modernisms, my blog on marginalized and forgotten queer figures of the modernist era. As someone also strangely compelled to spend so much time and effort to research and reclaim the life stories and artistic work of the historically erased (and outside of the typical orbit of academia), there were so many moments where I found myself muttering “yes, yes—that’s exactly it.” Reading Heroines in many ways felt like crossing paths with a fellow pilgrim while wandering in the wilderness—our trajectories or intended destinations aren’t the same, but the underlying motivation is.
Vivianne Eliot (married to T.S. “Tom”) and Zelda Fitzgerald (married to F. Scott) quickly emerge as the patron saints and great tragic figures of Heroines, with much space accorded to the explication of their heartbreaking life stories which eerily echo each other. A kaleidoscopic array of individuals also appear and disappear throughout the pages of Heroines, including Woolf, Plath, Jane Bowles, Jean Rhys, Djuna Barnes, Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, Anaïs Nin, Elizabeth Hardwicke, Mary McCarthy, Anna Kavan, Laure (Colette Peignot), and countless others (though I will say this is a disappointingly white project: I was eagerly anticipating the appearance of Nina Simone as she appears on the collage on the original Semiotexte cover, but she only warrants one passing mention like a bit of trivia. But that’s still one more mention than afforded Josephine Baker, also glimpsed on the cover. This odd and unexpected myopia is my primary critique of the book—really, not even one allusion to the women of the Harlem Renaissance?).
Over the course of nearly 300 pages the fragmented paragraphs of Heroines twist and blur into many different forms as it blends familiar modes of literary analysis, autobiography, hagiography, confession, apologia, scholarship, criticism, reportage, and even the more informal, impassioned style of internet writing (the book is indeed rooted in Zambreno’s blog), a multitude of shapes that add up to something that often feels somewhat singular. If there are stretches that seem to lead to dead ends, it is always sustained by its energy and its passion. And as much as a Herculean effort of reclamation, Heroines also seems to me to function as a site of possibility, opening up spaces, paths, and avenues of expression and inquiry yet to be taken. It’s a thrilling thing to experience.
"So much of modernism is myth-making–who gets to be remembered? Whose writing is preserved and whose is not?" ...more
A terrific overview of a number of gay-related historical topics and how they managed to coalesce over time into something that could legitimately beA terrific overview of a number of gay-related historical topics and how they managed to coalesce over time into something that could legitimately be characterized as a "sensibility." There is lots here subsequent queer scholarship will take issue with, but I turn to it often as an invaluable reference clearly articulating certain perspectives on gay history and scholarship at a particular moment in time. ...more
Historical interest and the possibility to glimpse pre-Stonewall queer lives and mores overrides any literary merit (which is meager, to say the veryHistorical interest and the possibility to glimpse pre-Stonewall queer lives and mores overrides any literary merit (which is meager, to say the very least). ...more
I'm finding myself in one of those tricky situations where I'm greatly enjoying a book any time I'm in the moment of reading it, but never seem to finI'm finding myself in one of those tricky situations where I'm greatly enjoying a book any time I'm in the moment of reading it, but never seem to find myself actually wanting to pick it up. As I'm just not in the mindstate these days to simply power through, I'm going to put this back on the shelf. For now.
Will certainly be returning, however—Davis's translation is nothing less than revelatory; she takes Flaubert out of the mothballs and makes his words sing anew. ...more
I've been reading through reviews and they all more or less declare that this substantial volume confirms Dlugos as the great gay poet of the AIDS eraI've been reading through reviews and they all more or less declare that this substantial volume confirms Dlugos as the great gay poet of the AIDS era; I'm not really in the position to opine on such a judgement (this isn't my era or area of expertise) but can absolutely confirm that there are a number of poems collected here that would be considered excellent by any standard.
No, I didn't read every poem—500+ pages is too much poetry to take on at once, but I read many and more than enough to familiarize myself with a writer I had been previously unfamiliar with. At this moment I was most immediately drawn to his early, casual poems obviously indebted to the work of Frank O'Hara: brief, often witty little reflections that vibrate with the stuff of everyday life (conversations experienced, news and pop culture witnessed, events attended, locations visited, friends met with, lovers had). So many serve as little windows into a life experienced at a particular moment in time, momentarily making the past feel like the present again—a lovely, heady sensation. Dlugos also has a great gift in creating a sense of intimacy that evokes intimate contact, deliberately evading the implicit distancing effect often built into the author/reader relationship.
These poems are arranged chronologically and as time passes the poems get longer, more dense, technically complex, and, as their writer directly stares down impending death, more taxing to read and process. My quick readings absolutely didn't do these late poem cycles justice, and I will undoubtedly return to them again at some point in the future.
A major achievement, and as the editor David Trinidad conveys in his introductory comments one that took much effort to get, ultimately, into the hands of readers (it was clearly a many-year labor of love on the part of Trinidad, a fellow poet and personal friend). One hopes that it does manage to achieve its stated goal and cement Dlugos's critical reputation once and for all.
"I open my eyes you kiss me, say It's dawn I smile, don't even check go back to sleep you too"
A really nice introduction to one of my favorite contemporary artists. Bas's work often calls to my mind Fairfield Porter's elegance and exquisite att
A really nice introduction to one of my favorite contemporary artists. Bas's work often calls to my mind Fairfield Porter's elegance and exquisite attunement to color, albeit filtered through a gothic sensibility; I also find his implicitly/explicitly homoerotic reinterpretation of "classic" symbols and motifs of American boyhood—like the Hardy Boys—irresistible. There's also often something of Harry Darger as well, what with idyllic, impervious youth dropped into nightmarish dreamscapes. A really striking talent still in the process of emerging.
Over the years I've come to realize that my first encounter with "Babylon Revisited" is a crucial reason why I've developed a tendency toward preemptiOver the years I've come to realize that my first encounter with "Babylon Revisited" is a crucial reason why I've developed a tendency toward preemptive nostalgia. Even at the moments I'm most blissfully content there's a part of my mind always already mourning the fact any present happiness is destined to quickly slip into the past tense. This line in particular has emblazoned itself into my memory, and still makes me shiver: "I didn't realize it, but the days came along one after another, and then two years were gone, and everything was gone, and I was gone." What's to ever guarantee that more good times are ahead?
I actually first read Fitzgerald's celebrated short story during one of the most sustained stretches of happiness I've ever experienced. I was an American student studying in London, my first time away from home for an extended period of time, and I was relishing every minute of it. This story was assigned for a class on expatriate American writers I was taking, and I distinctly remember a startling sensation of imagining myself returning at some point in the future to the large, warmly sunlit sitting room I often and was at that moment reading in, and ruefully recalling how truly wonderful that exact moment was, and how was it possible I didn't manage to recognize it at the time? "Babylon Revisited" haunted the rest of my semester—in a good, productive way, I should note—and, really, ever since.
At his best Fitzgerald composed prose that sparkles like so many diamonds upon the page. But here the crystalline phrasing not only glitters—it lacerates too.
Virginia Woolf’s posthumously published diaries are often—and rightly—considered among the major achievements of the form, with her biographer and nepVirginia Woolf’s posthumously published diaries are often—and rightly—considered among the major achievements of the form, with her biographer and nephew Quentin Bell unabashedly declaring them “one of the great diaries of the world.” But those now-classic examples of life writing, covering the years 1915 until 1941, are actually not what Lounsberry is concerned with in this study; instead she turns her attention to the diaries the young Woolf kept beginning in 1897 when she was merely fourteen years old. There are twelve early diaries in all, and beyond their obvious biographical interest, Lounsberry discovers within them a complex self-portrait of restless young talent eager to experiment and hone her craft as an aspiring author—first a reviewer and essayist, eventually as a writer of fiction as well.
This study considers the early diaries in strict chronological order, always keeping a keen eye on not just what they record, but how. Lounsberry very persuasively demonstrates that from the very beginning Woolf was fascinated by the diary as a form of literary expression, keenly attuned to the possibilities they provided to experiment in private. Very quickly the young writer came to regard her diary writing as a self-described “compost heap,” providing rich, raw material through which to cultivate work intended for publication and public consumption. Judiciously selected excerpts from the various diaries demonstrate that in many ways the “stream of consciousness” style for which she would go on to pioneer was beginning to take form in these pages as Woolf strains to capture and record the rapid movements of her restless, mercurial mind. It’s dazzling to witness, even via secondary analysis.
The other aspect of Lounsberry’s stated project—a consideration of how Woolf was influenced by the diaries she herself read and studied—was what elevated this study from the interesting to the invaluable; indeed, Lounsberry goes so far as to make the staggering claim that “Woolf was more steeped in diary literature than any other well-known diarist before her—and likely even since.” It can be confirmed that she read at least 66 of them, though she undoubtedly read many, many more. Lounsberry carefully traces how aspects of these many other texts made their way into Woolf’s own diary keeping, sometimes deliberately, other times in much more covert, unexpected ways.
As someone who has kept private journals since a young age and loves to read published examples of the form, Lounsberry’s study was from the get-go of specific interest to me. Beyond convincing me to return to Woolf’s own diaries, I now have a whole list of other diaries I’m now eager to explore, ranging from the perennial classics by Samuel Pepys, Samuel Johnson, and Ralph Waldo Emerson, to the celebrated life writing by the Goncourts and Fanny Burney, and on down to more obscure entries by Stopford Brooke, William Allingham, and the dictated journals of Lady Hester Stanhope. In other words, while I found the analysis and description of Woolf’s diaries and a glimpse into her development as a writer more than engrossing in and of themselves, perhaps more importantly I also managed to discover a dimension of my favorite author’s work and artistic practice that deeply synchronizes with my own, providing more avenues to explore my own development as a writer and diary keeper. ...more