It can be objected that I am speaking of political freedom in spiritual terms, but the political institutions of any nation are alwDated? Not at all.
It can be objected that I am speaking of political freedom in spiritual terms, but the political institutions of any nation are always menaced and are ultimately controlled by the spiritual state of that nation. We are controlled here by our confusion, far more than we know, and the American dream has therefore become something much more closely resembling a nightmare, on the private, domestic, and international levels. Privately, we cannot stand our lives and dare not examine them; domestically, we take no responsibility for (and no pride in) what goes on in our country; and, internationally, for many millions of people, we are an unmitigated disaster. ...more
She admits to tracing Didion’s sentences as Didion admitted to tracing Hemingway’s – much of this is Didionish, personal-historical, my neurosis interShe admits to tracing Didion’s sentences as Didion admitted to tracing Hemingway’s – much of this is Didionish, personal-historical, my neurosis intersects the vastness – but three of the essays, "Time and Distance Overcome," “Is this Kansas,” and “No Man’s Land,” are distinctive and strong. You can read them on her site and you should. I liked the shoutouts to Marilynne Robinson and the fighting abolitionists of the Middle Border. The blurbs oversell her; if Biss tells you a “story of our country” that you “never saw coming” – then you ig’nant. Or were. Or are a teenager - this is an ideal book to assign to undergraduates. I say that without snark – her’s is a young, “relatable,” approachable, wise and stylish voice telling Americans what they need to know and what Faulkner – and Louis CK– have also told: “the past is never dead; it’s not even past.” ...more
A core of three intense near-manifestoes – “The Artist as Critic,” “The Scholar as Critic,” “The Critic as Artist” – surrounded by occasional essay-reA core of three intense near-manifestoes – “The Artist as Critic,” “The Scholar as Critic,” “The Critic as Artist” – surrounded by occasional essay-reviews which show us Montaigne’s Italian journey (a “medicine-and-book-laden coach set out for Rome…”), the props and repertoire of third-century Alexandrian mimes, Nabokov teaching Don Quixote at Harvard (“Nabokov was lecturing in the hotbed of Spanish romanticizing. Lowell and Longfellow had invented a Spain which has stuck in the American imagination”); Balthus, late Beckett, the automotive deformation of the small American city; and so much more. In his Paris Review interview Davenport called himself “an obscure and experimental writer” – or I would say one of those mandarins Updike neatly sketched as “beyond commercial hopes, beyond the general earthbound sensibility,” with no rousing tale to tell or public thesis to prove, but a “rare sensibility and a curious found of information.” I love Davenport like I love Marguerite Yourcenar and Guido Ceronetti. He’s such a surprising and unpredictable writer that he can repeat all the most ig’nant shit ever said about Ulysses Grant in an essay that is nonetheless one of the best things I’ve read on the American Civil War. This is good:
What Olmstead shows us is a culture in the raw, capable of a high civilization in Charleston drawing rooms and in a few private homes, but for the most part not working, clumsy, perhaps purposeless to those who took stock of what they thought they were doing. In their most idealistic picture of themselves, Southerners looked back to Greece and Rome (a decade or so after the century of the Enlightenment!) for a model, but many of them must have seen that they were awkwardly out of phase, that they were maintaining a feudal society in the dawn of the Age of Steam. Slavery gave them the opportunity to be idle, demoralized, and vain. The beautiful irony is that it was a man bored with being idle [Grant], for whom war was something to do, who fought them to the death over an ideal which perhaps both North and South, each in their own way, had betrayed.
When I read J.F.C. Fuller’s Grant and Lee a few years ago I was shocked by the evidence of Lee’s carelessness and fatalism, his ineptitude as an administrator and indifference to high strategy, his seeming failure to grasp the nature of the war he was fighting, and by the aristocratic arrogance that let him believe that to chasten a Federal army was to destroy it. Perhaps Lee was simply an inferior general who didn’t “know his business,” but sometimes I wonder if he knew he was wrong and his heart just wasn’t in it. He did say before the war that slavery harmed Southern society, and he had spent his life in the US Army, and his father had been one of George Washington’s trusted lieutenants. The North’s superiority is always described as one of men or material, less frequently of morale; the North retained a far larger portion of the country’s mystic nationalism, the evangelical certainty that God created the United States to redeem humanity from dark centuries of class tyranny and sectarian oppression. Lincoln and Sherman wrote like melancholic ironists but acted like fanatical warlords; muted Grant, in whom Davenport weirdly finds no ideals, writes of Providence guiding his armies. Beside such certainty Confederate nationalism seems like bravado and duelist pique. At the outbreak of war Grant and many others thought the slaveholders were committing suicide.
I really did think Borges unique in a genius that allowed him, in his nonfictions, to select a tidbit from a superannuated encyclopedia, extract an inI really did think Borges unique in a genius that allowed him, in his nonfictions, to select a tidbit from a superannuated encyclopedia, extract an incident from the most obscure chronicle—or, conversely, from the collective media memory of widely disseminated, easily recognizable historical caricatures—and, with a certain pace of retelling, a special pattern of emphasis, fashion a spare fable full of spectral images and unsettling suggestions. I was wrong. “Everything has been said: we shall add no new facet to the history of their château, and of their own lives. Yet let us venture to reinvestigate the known facts—they are often less so than is supposed.”
“The marble fly,” the nickname Khlebnikov gave Mandelstam for his compound of vulnerability and righteousness (though sick, homeless and hounded, that“The marble fly,” the nickname Khlebnikov gave Mandelstam for his compound of vulnerability and righteousness (though sick, homeless and hounded, that prophet of Logos was unafraid to physically slap the plump well-fed cheeks of the sham Soviet intelligentsia, or to metaphorically tug at Stalin’s “cockroach whiskers”), I will borrow and apply to Yourcenar, who is exquisite and marmoreal even in a posthumous miscellany of reviews, tributes, editorials and responses to questionnaires. Every page—no, sentence—of That Mighty Sculptor, Time shows a graven dignity, and a poetic density of suggestion rare in works of much greater ambition and unity. Other than Borges I can think of no other modern writer whose slightest composition evokes as many landscapes and libraries, or poses so elegantly, and so eerily, the essential mysteries of our planet’s manifold vitality. Her abiding attention to humanity—its ties to other animals and to the earth, its various understandings and enactments of the sacred, the voices of its dead—unify these diverse journeys through time and space: to feudal Japan, for the suicide haiku of vanquished samurai; to India, for the ripeness of Hindu reliefs (“It seems as though, if sliced, these torsos would present a homogenous, fleshy inside to the eye, like the pulp of some fruit. If cut off, these arms and legs would grow again like stalks or roots”); Islamic Andalusia, Tantric Tibet, New England towns on Halloween night; and, in the titular essay, the debris-strewn Mediterranean:
Some of these alterations are sublime. To that beauty imposed by the human brain, by an epoch, or by a particular society, they add an involuntary beauty, associated with the hazards of history, which is the result of natural causes and of time. Statues so thoroughly shattered that out of the debris a new work of art is born: a naked foot unforgettably resting on a stone; a candid hand; a bent knee which contains all the speed of the footrace; a torso which has no face to prevent us from loving it; a breast or genitals in which we recognize more fully than ever the form of a fruit or flower; a profile in which beauty survives with a complete absence of human or divine anecdote; a bust with eroded features, halfway between a portrait and a death’s-head.
She sounds so much like Trilling! Trilling’s moral gravity—with a haughty “Gallic” abstraction I find utterly irresistible. Sontag’s heyday as an inteShe sounds so much like Trilling! Trilling’s moral gravity—with a haughty “Gallic” abstraction I find utterly irresistible. Sontag’s heyday as an intellectual pinup occurred before I was even born—but I get it. Her critical voice seems the perfectly oracular emanation of the book-lined apartments of the self-consciously "edgy" tastemaking intelligentsia--the dandified apartments perched above the garbage and graffiti of 1970s Manhattan, so ambivalently described by Edmund White, a ragamuffin freelancer awkward in those fair courts. (White preferred to flop in roachy squalor by day and suck off truck drivers down at the docks by night, and avoided romantic involvement with Sontag coeval Richard Howard because he didn’t want a joint subscription to the opera, "didn’t want to grow a little paunch and discuss Roland Barthes with the same man who was fucking me.”) She's got her Gauloise, the latest New York Review of Books, a stack of Gallimard new releases...
I didn’t read the essays on Godard and Bergman, because I haven’t seen any of the films mentioned therein—though I “read and like” Goodreads reviews of books I haven’t read, might never read, so perhaps the explanation is that I’m lazy and just don’t care about Godard and Bergman. “The Aesthetics of Silence” and “The Pornographic Imagination” are meaty and re-readable; she deeply discusses the secularization of spirituality and the nearly religious "total" ambitions of modernism. Her high-handed chastisement of American critics for not reading more Sade and Bataille is a Greatest Hit. “Thinking Against Oneself: Reflections on Cioran” won’t blow any minds, but it’s good she promoted him so brilliantly to American audiences, back in the day. “What’s Happening in America (1966)” is shrill and jejune—its famous line: “the white race is the cancer of history”—but “Trip to Hanoi” is not. This seventy-page monster essay, which I feared might be the literary cousin of Jane Fonda’s truthfist mugshot, makes up for a barrenness of characterization and descriptive color with plenty of fearless moral-intellectual self-scrutiny. And as I peruse “What’s Happening in America (1966)” I do find some admirable things, like her remark that modern American life “brutalizes the senses, making gray neurotics of most of us, and perverse spiritual athletes and strident self-transcenders of the best of us.” Perverse spiritual athletes and strident self-transcenders perfectly evokes a kind of intellectual ambition rare among today’s bookish. In The Farewell Symphony Edmund White talks about coming home drunk from cruising bars and sitting up with one eye closed to focus on some Adorno or a Bartok score. In City Boy he says that his generation of “strident self-transcenders” and defensively arty provincial pilgrims to NYC was always studying for a test that never came:
In my twenties if even a tenth reading of Mallarmé failed to yield up its treasures, the fault was mine, not his. If my eyes swooned shut while I read The Sweet Cheat Gone, Proust’s pacing was never called into question, just my intelligence and dedication and sensitivity. And I still entertain these sacralizing preconceptions about high art. I still admire what is difficult, though I now recognize it as a “period” taste and that my generation was the last to give a damn. Though we were atheists, we were, strangely enough, preparing ourselves for God’s great Quiz Show; we had to know everything because we were convinced we would be tested on it—in our next life.
Kirstein had an awesome range of interests. This selection of his writings shows him intimate with so many areas. He co-founded the NYC Ballet, so ofKirstein had an awesome range of interests. This selection of his writings shows him intimate with so many areas. He co-founded the NYC Ballet, so of course there are essays on dance (a dry but trenchant history of the development of dance technique, then a wonderfully idiosyncratic essay explaining how Russian Orthodox demonology informs Balanchine's choreography), and essays on the photography of Walker Evans, on the paintings of Cadmus and Siqueros, the poetry of Auden, Japanese music and theater, a memoir of the JFK inaugural, an appreciation of James Cagney and gangster films, historical studies of Henry Adams's marriage and black soldiers in the Civil War. He published Pound and Eliot in a literary magazine that he started while an undergrad at Harvard. During WWII he was part of the U.S. Army's Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives section, a unit that was responsible for rescuing and repatriating art looted by the Nazis. He's tirelessly insightful, it seems, about everything. I only started reading him in May, and he's already one of my favorite writers....more
I've lost count of the times I read his essay on Whitman.
Within a few miles of each other in the 1880s, Whitman was putting the last touches to his gr
I've lost count of the times I read his essay on Whitman.
Within a few miles of each other in the 1880s, Whitman was putting the last touches to his great book, Eadweard Muybridge was photographing movements milliseconds apart of animals, naked athletes, and women, and Thomas Eakins was painting surgeons, boxers, musicians, wrestlers, and Philadelphians. In a sense Muybridge and Eakins were catching up with Whitman’s pioneering. Their common subject, motion, the robust real, skilled and purposeful action, was distinctly American, an invention. Eakins and Muybridge worked together; Eakins came over to Camden and painted and photographed Whitman. Their arts ran parallel, shared a spirit and a theme. Muybridge’s photographs, the monumental Zoopraxia, kept Degas and Messonier up all night looking at it. There has been no finer movement in American art, nor a more fertile one (from Muybridge, through Edison, the whole art of film), and yet their impact was generally felt to be offensive. Eakins and Muybridge were forgotten for years; Whitman persisted.
A pleasure of reading Davenport is his compression of any given matrix of affinities—the whole lit-crit trainspotting of influences on and influences of—into striking little scenes like that of Degas staying up all night with the Zoopraxia. (When you see Degas’ dancers or his racehorses, see also his colleague in nineteenth century motion study, Muybridge, the London-born San Francisco bookseller who took up photography after a serious brain injury—he was thrown from a stagecoach whose operator had taken to using teams of half-wild mustangs in a bid to increase speed.) It seems that a way with the suggestive fragment, the connective anecdote—“let the song lie in the thing!”—marks these Disciples of Pound. Davenport and Hugh Kenner (to whom The Geography of the Imagination is dedicated) would say that that is how Pound taught them to write—“ideogrammatically”; but Pound’s poetics are also useful for partisans. His poetry spun off its own polemical-explicatory prose. To defend their then-and still-maligned master Davenport and Kenner had to vividly and concretely communicate his entire intellectual lineage, his often obscure sources and inspirations, his unsuspected sponsorship of Things We Know; to explicate Pound they required a prose that with its combinatory compression, genius for collage, and imagistic piquancy prepared readers for the summa of civilization we are assured is to be found in The Cantos. To be sure, the critical prose instigated by Pound has its drawbacks—essentially peremptory, its salutary solicitousness of the unknown masterpiece, the obscured context, the neglected relation can become at times a hectoring of us ignorant barbarians—but on the whole I love it.
The placing of events in time is a romantic act; the tremendum is in the distance. There are no dates in the myths; from when did Heracles stride the earth? In a century obsessed with time, with archeological dating, with the psychological recovery of time (Proust, Freud), Pound has written as if time were unreal, has in fact, treated it as if it were space. William Blake preceded him here, on the irreality of clock time, sensing the dislocations caused by time (a God remote in time easily became remote in space, an absentee landlord), and proceeding, in his enthusiastic way, to dine with Isaiah—one way of a suggesting that Isaiah’s mind is not a phenomenon fixed between 742 and 687 B.C. Pound’s mind has to be seen for the extraordinary shape it has given to itself. To say that The Cantos is a “voyage in time” is to be blind to the poem altogether. We miss immediately the achievement upon which the success of the poem depends, its rendering time transparent and negligible, its dismissing the supposed corridors and perspectives down which the historian invites us to look. Pound cancelled in his own mind the disassociations that had been isolating fact from fact for centuries. To have closed the gap between mythology and botany is but one movement of the process; one way to read The Cantos is to go through noting the restorations of relationships now thought to be discrete—the ideogrammatic method was invented for just this purpose. In Pound’s spatial sense of time the past is here, now; its invisibility is our blindness, not its absence. The nineteenth century had put everything against the scale of time and discovered that all behavior within time’s monolinear progress was evolutionary. The past was a graveyard, a museum. It was Pound’s determination to obliterate such a configuration of time and history, to treat what had become a world of ghosts as a world eternally present.
Kenner’s The Pound Era is the best defense/explication any modern writer has had, a spicy masterpiece that can claim an admirer in Vladimir Nabokov—who despised Pound. Davenport hailed it as “not so much a book as a library, or better, a new kind of book in which biography, history and analysis of literature are so harmoniously articulated that every page has a narrative sense”—and the same can be said of The Geography of the Imagination. To use his own phrase, Davenport is an ideal "historian of visionaries."
But Davenport’s an astounding fictionist, as well. My only prior exposure was “Some Verses of Virgil,” the novella that closes his collection Eclogues. “Some Verses of Virgil” is a beautiful, unclassifiable freak that displays a virtuosic style, evokes multiple genres, and flamboyantly straddles poetry and prose (if Pale Fire is a “centaur-work,” “half poem, half prose,” according to Mary McCarthy, then Davenport’s novella is a “satyr-work”: less obviously dichotomous, a humanoid biped with goat shanks; it also happens to feature plenty of sylvan trysting). I’ve never read anything like it. So it was strange to read Davenport calmly, humbly, almost professorially explicating the ideogrammatic densities and “architectonic” collages of Pound and Olson, Marianne Moore and Paul Metcalf, without dropping even a hint that he is a part of their lineage, playing in the same league. It wasn’t until I reached the very last essay that I stopped wondering why he seemed to be holding back. He admits, “I was forty-three when I wrote my first story since undergraduate says.” Most of these essays were not written by an artist appreciating his fellow practitioners. Not that it matters. The Geography of the Imagination is a real reader’s testament. It’s packed with those vivid, meaning-making connections apparent to and privately gathered by common readers, but often excluded from the dossiers handed down to us in school and in most journalistic book review columns. It’s up on my shelf—wedged between Evan S. Connell and James Salter, two other American Prose Wizards once published by the lamented North Point Press—but I think it’ll be back down soon. Davenport’s essay on Eudora Welty, I mean his fantasia on a theme of Eudora Welty, deserves a second look—or a third, or a fourth.
Guido Ceronetti is an exemplary vestige of the humanist tradition: there painters slice up cadavers and the philosopher reads by Caravaggian candleligGuido Ceronetti is an exemplary vestige of the humanist tradition: there painters slice up cadavers and the philosopher reads by Caravaggian candlelight, a skull at his elbow; there the comedian is a symptomologist of venereal and urologic affliction, the tragedian a deviser of serial slaughters and eulogistic pomp; and all who are literate transcribe remedies. It is a tradition macabre and increasingly repellent as a society becomes accustomed to the hieratic profession of medicine and the taboo of mortuary secrecy. As we suffer less visibly and live longer and hope more and more to defeat death, “the curse of dragging about a corpse”—what Ceronetti’s admirer E.M. Cioran identified as the “very theme” of The Silence of the Body—recedes as a mainstay of literature. Ceronetti is definitely of another time (though at home in the eternal present of poetic speech). What could be more humanistic, more antiquated, than his approval of Petronius’s “amazing maxim Medicus enim nihil aliud est quam animi consolatio (For a doctor is nothing more than consolation for the spirit),” which, he says, “reduces medical practice to its essence—psychology—and equates medicine with landscape, poetry, perfumes, and love”? The only modern milieu in which he might fit is that of the great 19th century French pessimists—though they felt belated and exiled, too. Cioran mentions Huysmans. I can see Ceronetti getting on with the Goncourts, those voyeurs of hospitals and asylums; as well as with Flaubert, the country doctor’s son who contrived to spy on his father's dissections, and who was once cartooned in La Parodie as a cold literary pathologist, proudly hoisting Emma Bovary’s heart on scalpel.
In The Silence of the Body Ceronetti sprinkles aphorisms between paragraph-length prose poems and disquisitions of many pages. Among the topics: infanticide, industrial pollution, cunnilingus, chemotherapy, coprophagy, executions, grave robbing, obstetrics, syphilis, totalitarianism, demagoguery, meat as murder, pesticides, witchcraft, menstruation, masturbation, excretion, assassination, Dürer, Altdorfer, Goya, Leopardi, Leonardo, Confucius, homeopathy. “A procession of physiological secrets that fill you with dread,” said Cioran. (I dunno, I liked it.) The style is mordant, skeletally lyrical; and the texture formidably erudite. In addition to the expected Greco-Roman classics and Hebrew scriptures (Ceronetti has translated Job and Isaiah), there’s enough ethnography to remind one of Eliot and Pound—poets who don’t really excite me but whose work, read forcibly once upon a time, I feel trained me for texts like this, texts in which the allusions are often obscure but always presented dramatically, and therefore somewhat legibly. “Genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood,” said Eliot. From the tractate on Egypt (ellipses are his):
Hippocrates learned medicine in Egypt, a shelter housing all the infectious diseases. Imhotep’s bag never had a moment’s rest. Out of it came beautiful surgical instruments and an anesthetic made from vinegar and the dust of Memphis marble, to treat every type of tumor listed in the Ebers papyrus. Perhaps the same diseases existed in Rome and Athens, but Egypt in particular conjures up the image of a sad, sick man and of a wisdom in the shadow of his disease, smelling of iodine and camphor, at the end of a gray ward in an old hospital. (The Romans had instead a cheerful sanatorium whose dry climate attracted everyone who coughed.) Blame it on the museums; they exhibit only ruins from tombs, and welcome you with a long moan, interrupted by the barking of Anubis.
Like intelligent people who suffer from chronic illnesses, the Egyptians were mischievous, humorous, and satiric. The Nile was their perpetual and colossal physician, with the gods in charge of the various wards, followed by throngs of assistants…So much rachitis! So many backs with Pott’s disease! So many spastics! So many dystrophics! So many blind and half-blind! Polio, smallpox, typhus, leprosy, bilharziasis, cholera…They got drunk for relief, and their bellies swelled with liquid…I imagine Egypt as a giant freak show of curved spinal columns, achondroplastics, irregular outlines, and exsanguine profiles, under the protection of dogs, cats, crocodiles, hippopotami, oxen, and monstrous chimeras, the only ones to possess good health in the Nile Valley. And the parasites, permanent guests of the bowels: pend, heft, herxtf, the ruthless corroding worms…the worm of ààà, the unknown disease…Endless torrents of diarrhea…
I am amazed that such big onion eaters were so diced by infectious diseases…Famously flatulent…But at least their kidneys worked…Bread and beer swelled the stomachs—the rohet—of the poor, the bellies of the peasants; game meat and roast gazelle and ostrich inflamed the stomachs of the rich. A people deeply immersed in the mystery of nourishment: they received it from a river god, shared it with the dead and with the heavenly beings, with the breath of the living universe. They mated kitchen and Tomb to invent bread and alchemy. If an invoked deity refused to heal a sick person, the supreme threat of the man of the words was: You won’t get any more to eat.
Gimme more! I especially cherish “the barking of Anubis,” the jackal-headed funerary god. Biographical shard: Ceronetti (1927- ) is co-founder of the Teatro dei sensibili, a traveling marionette theater. Here he is with his actors.
If I had started with The White Album instead of Slouching Toward Bethlehem I might have been spared two years of blithely embarrassing myself with stIf I had started with The White Album instead of Slouching Toward Bethlehem I might have been spared two years of blithely embarrassing myself with statements like: “Joan Didion? She’s ok.” Actually she’s amazing. The rhythms of her self-dramatization in Slouching were too arch for my taste, or perhaps for my mood. The White Album must be different, or I must have changed, because I love the persona that emerges from its rhythms. She’s brooding, migrainous, in the first essay paranoid, yet essentially tough-minded and clear-seeing—a recipe, of sorts, for my favorite type of writer. Baudelaire and Cioran also brazed their delicate nerves to hard, cutting styles.
I like her excitability, her habit of sudden absorption. Of late ‘60s biker grindhouse she writes, “I saw nine of them recently, saw the first one almost by accident and the rest of them with a notebook.” The book’s keynote, right there. Didion takes the stuff of recondite hobbies and autistic fixation—irrigation infrastructure, the Governors’ mansions of California—and finds the grandeur, the lyric, the idea.
Since the afternoon in 1967 when I first saw the Hoover Dam, its image has never been entirely absent from my inner eye. I will be talking to someone in Los Angeles, say, or New York, and suddenly the dam will materialize, its pristine concave face gleaming against the harsh rusts and taupes and mauves of that rock canyon hundreds and thousands of miles from where I am. I will be driving down Sunset Boulevard, about to enter a freeway, and abruptly those transmission towers will appear before me, canted vertiginously over the tailrace. Sometimes I am confronted by the intakes and sometimes by the shadow of the heavy cable that spans the canyon and sometimes by the ominous outlets to unused spillways, black in the lunar clarity of the desert night. Quite often I hear the turbines…
I walked across the marble star map that traces a sidereal revolution of the equinox and fixes forever, the Reclamation man had told me, for all time and for all people who can read the stars, the date the dam was dedicated. The star map, he had said, was for when we were all gone and the dam was left. I had not thought much of it when he said it, but I thought of it then, with the wind whining and the sun dropping behind a mesa with the finality of a sunset in space. Of course that was the image I had seen always, seen it without quite realizing what I saw, a dynamo finally free of man, splendid at last in its complete isolation, transmitting power and releasing water to a world where no one is.
And leave it to the poet of Public Works to hang out with Malibu lifeguards and delight in “the laconic routines and paramilitary rankings” of those “civil servants in red trunks,” cherish their use of “a diction as flat and as finally poetic as that of Houston Control.”
The White Album is rich in another effect, one I cannot name and so will clumsily indicate by invoking Holly’s stereopticon in Badlands, Joseph Cornell’s doll coffins among other uncanny capsules of ephemera; also, your mom’s tasseled dance card, and Flaubert’s assertion that “when everything is dead, the imagination will rebuild entire worlds from a few elderflower twigs and the shards of a chamber-pot”:
The bedrooms are big and private and high-ceilinged and they do not open on the swimming pool and one can imagine reading in them, or writing a book, or closing the door and crying until dinner. The bathrooms are big and airy and they do not have bidets but they do have room for hampers, and dressing tables, and chairs on which to sit and read a story to a child in the bathtub.
She was a child on the Wisconsin prairie who played with china dolls and painted watercolors with cloudy skies because sunlight was too hard to paint and, with her brothers and sisters, listened every night to her mother read stories of the Wild West, of Texas, of Kit Carson and Billy the Kid. She told adults that she wanted to be an artist and was embarrassed when they asked what kind of artist she wanted to be: she had no idea “what kind.” She had no idea what artists did. She had never seen a picture that interested her: other than a pen-and-ink Maid of Athens in one of her mother’s books, some Mother Goose illustrations printed on cloth, a tablet cover that showed a little girl with pink roses, and the painting of Arabs on horseback that hung in her grandmother’s parlor.