Friday, January 1, 2010

Behind the Seen


Two different handles of men and women-Iran

اینجا پشت صحنه ی رندان

January 4th was a bad day for a few writers, checking out on that very date:

T.S. Eliot - over and out, Jan 4, 1965

Photo of TS by Alfred Eisenstaedt, London 1951


Umberto Eco, pioneering semiotician, reader-response critic, and fine novelist and library owner: Born Jan. 5, 1932 - 78 today…

“A book is a fragile creature, it suffers the wear of time, it fears rodents, the elements and clumsy hands. so the librarian protects the books not only against mankind but also against nature and devotes his life to this war with the forces of oblivion.”

“A dream is a scripture, and many scriptures are nothing but dreams.”

“The good of a book lies in its being read. A book is made up of signs that speak of other signs, which in their turn speak of things. Without an eye to read them, a book contains signs that produce no concepts; therefore it is dumb.”

Photo by Sergio Siano


Friedrich Dürrenmatt, Swiss play-wright and prose writer - and occasional artist - was born Jan 5, 1921 (d. 1990). Dürrenmatt championed epic theatre and political activism through audience involvement in the drama.

“Everything that is necessary is also easy. You just have to accept it. And the most necessary, the most natural matter on this planet is death.”

“You can’t take back an act you were able to think.”


More mystical stuff: Khalil Gibran (Jan. 6, 1883 - 1931), Lebanese poet-philosopher, chiefly known for his 1923 book The Prophet, a series of philosophical essays written in English prose, and a major New Age cult classic…


Carl Sandburg (Jan. 6, 1878 - 1967), American poet minstrel waxed lyrical about his beloved Chicago:


HOG Butcher for the World,
Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,
Player with Railroads and the Nation’s Freight Handler;
Stormy, husky, brawling,
City of the Big Shoulders:

They tell me you are wicked and I believe them, for I
have seen your painted women under the gas lamps
luring the farm boys.
And they tell me you are crooked and I answer: Yes, it
is true I have seen the gunman kill and go free to
kill again.
And they tell me you are brutal and my reply is: On the
faces of women and children I have seen the marks
of wanton hunger.
And having answered so I turn once more to those who
sneer at this my city, and I give them back the sneer
and say to them:
Come and show me another city with lifted head singing
so proud to be alive and coarse and strong and cunning.
Flinging magnetic curses amid the toil of piling job on
job, here is a tall bold slugger set vivid against the
little soft cities;

Fierce as a dog with tongue lapping for action, cunning
as a savage pitted against the wilderness,
Building, breaking, rebuilding,
Under the smoke, dust all over his mouth, laughing with
white teeth,
Under the terrible burden of destiny laughing as a young
man laughs,
Laughing even as an ignorant fighter laughs who has
never lost a battle,
Bragging and laughing that under his wrist is the pulse.
and under his ribs the heart of the people,
Laughing the stormy, husky, brawling laughter of
Youth, half-naked, sweating, proud to be Hog
Butcher, Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat, Player with
Railroads and Freight Handler to the Nation.

Photo of Sandburg, 1937 - Bernard Hoffman


One of the favourite mystics of the Modernists:

G. I. Gurdjieff (Jan. 13, 1866? – 1949) was a Greek-Armenian mystic and spiritual teacher.

“In August 1921 and 1922, Gurdjieff traveled around western Europe, lecturing and giving demonstrations of his work in various cities such as Berlin and London and capturing the allegiance of Ouspensky’s many prominent pupils (notably the editor A. R. Orage). After he lost a civil action to acquire Hellerau possession in Britain, Gurdjieff established the Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man south of Paris at the Prieuré des Basses Loges in Fontainebleau-Avon near the famous Château de Fontainebleau. Gurdjieff acquired notoriety as “the man who killed Katherine Mansfield” after Katherine Mansfield died there of tuberculosis under his care on 9 January 1923…” (Wiki)


A little sequence to commemorate the death of James Joyce, Jan. 13, 1941…

From the cover of Time Magazine, May 1939 - Gisele Freund’s classic image of Joyce reading…


Sisters heaviness and tenderness, your traits are one.
Bees and wasps suck the heavy rose.
Man dies. The heated sand cools,
And a black stretcher bears away yesterday’s sun.

Ah, heavy honeycombs and tender seines,
One may sooner lift a stone than say your name!
For me a sole concern remains on earth:
A golden concern, to flee the burden of time.

I drink the clouded air like a dark stream.
Time’s tilled by a plow, and a rose was the earth.
In the slow whirlpool are heavy, tender roses,
Weaving heaviness and tenderness into twin wreaths.

— Osip Mandelstam, 1920

(Mandelstam was born Jan. 15, 1891, murdered by Stalin, 1938; Photo of OM, 1914, unknown photographer)


Susan Sontag, American high profile public intellectual: critic, writer, film maker, activist was born Jan 16, 1933 (d. 2004)

Sontag wrote extremely influential books on the functions of photography and on the interpretation of literature, famously taking a stand Against Interpretation

“In place of hermeneutics we need an erotics of art.”

Photo: Peter Hujar, 1975


Theater theorist and pedagogue, Constantin Stanislavski (Jan. 17, 1863 - 1938):

“Stanislavski treated theatre-making as a serious endeavour, requiring dedication, discipline and integrity, and the work of the actor as an artistic undertaking. Throughout his life, he subjected his own acting to a process of rigorous artistic self-analysis and reflection. His system resulted from a persistent struggle to remove the blocks he encountered. His development of a theorized praxis—in which practice is used as a mode of inquiry and theory as a catalyst for creative development—identifies him as the first great theatre practitioner.”

“Stanislavski’s system was a systematic approach to training actors. He developed principles and sets of exercises to help actors develop their acting techniques. Areas of study included concentration, voice, physical skills, emotion memory, observation, harmony, analysis, creativity and personalisation. Stanislavski thought of his system as if it were a table of contents for a large book, which dealt with all aspects of acting.” (Wiki snips)

Photo: Stanislavski as Shakespeare’s Othello in 1896 - from Dictionary of Theatre


201st birthday of Eddie Poe, innovator of the short story genres of horror, detective fiction and speculative fiction…

Edgar Allan Poe: Jan. 19, 1809 - 1849


Lord Byron, Romantic poet, hero, hunk: Jan. 22, 1788 - 1824…

I can never get people to understand that poetry is the expression of excited passion, and that there is no such thing as a life of passion any more than a continuous earthquake, or an eternal fever. Besides, who would ever shave themselves in such a state?

— Lord Byron, in a letter to Thomas Moore, 5 July 1821

My soul is dark - Oh! quickly string
The harp I yet can brook to hear;
And let thy gentle fingers fling
Its melting murmurs o’er mine ear.
If in this heart a hope be dear,
That sound shall charm it forth again:
If in these eyes there lurk a tear,
‘Twill flow, and cease to burn my brain.

But bid the strain be wild and deep,
Nor let thy notes of joy be first:
I tell thee, minstrel, I must weep,
Or else this heavy heart will burst;
For it hath been by sorrow nursed,
And ached in sleepless silence, long;
And now ‘tis doomed to know the worst,
And break at once - or yield to song.


Derek Alton Walcott (born January 23, 1930) is a Caribbean poet, playwright, writer and visual artist. Born in Castries, Saint Lucia[1], he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in

The Fist by Derek Walcott

(Nobel Laureate, 1992 - 80 years old today!)

The fist clenched round my heart
loosens a little, and I gasp
brightness; but it tightens
again. When have I ever not loved
the pain of love? But this has moved

past love to mania. This has the strong
clench of the madman, this is
gripping the ledge of unreason, before
plunging howling into the abyss.

Hold hard then, heart. This way at least you live.

(this post was reblogged from lumpy-pudding)

Birthday of a pioneer of Modernist writing, champion of the stream-of-consciousness techniques she helped perfect in her prose:

Virginia Woolf: Jan. 25, 1882 - 1941 (suicide in despair)

Photo of Virginia and Leonard Woolf, n.d.

A less-known fact about Virginia Woolf is that she invented the laptop…

Although Virginia insisted that “a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction,” she realized that it might also be convenient to have a portable writing desk…


Anton Chekhov, playwright by night, doctor by day: Jan. 29, 1860 - 1904

“An artist must pass judgment only on what he understands; his range is limited as that of any other specialist—that’s what I keep repeating and insisting upon. Anyone who says that the artist’s field is all answers and no questions has never done any writing or had any dealings with imagery. An artist observes, selects, guesses and synthesizes.” — Letter to A.S. Suvorin (October 27, 1888)

Anton Chekhov: “Ivanoff”

Lebedieff: I had an uncle once who thought himself a philosopher. He would fill his house with guests, and after he had had a drink he would get up on a chair, like this, and begin: "You ignoramuses! You powers of darkness! This is the dawn of a new life!" And so on and so on; he would preach and preach –
  • Sasha: And the guests?
  • Lebedieff: They would just sit and listen and go on drinking. Once, though, I challenged him to a duel, challenged my own uncle! It came out of a discussion about Sir Francis Bacon.

  • ________

    One of my favourite American writers, Richard Brautigan, could have been 75 today - but he got away at 49 when he took his own life in 1984…

    Photo of Brautigan communing with the river, near San Fran., 1970 - by Vernon Merritt III

    Richard Brautigan:

    I like to think
    (it has to be!)
    of a cybernetic ecology
    where we are free of our labors
    and joined back to nature,
    returned to our mammal
    brothers and sisters,
    and all watched over
    by machines of loving grace.

    — “All Watched Over By Machines Of Loving Grace”

    (From The Pill vs. The Springhill Mining Disaster, 1968)


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