Video of the Day


Alex Carnevale

Features Editor
Mia Nguyen

Senior Editor
Brittany Julious

This Recording

is dedicated to the enjoyment of audio and visual stimuli. Please visit our archives where we have uncovered the true importance of nearly everything. Should you want to reach us, e-mail alex dot carnevale at gmail dot com, but don't tell the spam robots. Consider contacting us if you wish to use This Recording in your classroom or club setting. We have given several talks at local Rotarys that we feel went really well.

Pretty used to being with Gwyneth

Regrets that her mother did not smoke

Frank in all directions

Jean Cocteau and Jean Marais

Simply cannot go back to them

Roll your eyes at Samuel Beckett

John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion

Metaphors with eyes

Life of Mary MacLane

Circle what it is you want

Not really talking about women, just Diane

Felicity's disguise

Live and Active Affiliates
This area does not yet contain any content.

In Which We Are The Picture Of Mental Health

The Rabbit Hole


On Wednesday, Julia says she doesn’t want us to read for an entire week. No, she amends, not just no reading, also no talk radio, no music with lyrics, no television, no e-mail, no web browsing, and no chatty phone calls that we wouldn’t ordinarily make. "I'm not going to tell anyone not to see a movie," she hedges. "But there may be other things you can do with your time."

The Artist’s Way is the perfect workshop for an aspiring Left Coast-ist. There are affirmations, visualizations, and the idealization of synchronicitous events. The author of the book and workshop, Julia Cameron, also talks about her ex-husband, Martin Scorsese (Sicilian Scorpio) and about herself (sensitive Pisces). She’s writing a musical and, sometimes, there is group singing, which she insists puts us in touch with our better nature. It’s a strange group, between 50 and 70 students, a salad of Westchester moms, brides-to-be, guys with broken hearts and broken limbs, students who are doing NIA dancing, whatever that is, and a photographer who’s following the Diamond Approach. A latently angry lot. This is group therapy for artists, creative recovery according to Julia.

I’m open-minded about personal betterment strategies. I’ve been subjected to a lot of them, thanks to all the therapists in the family. I’m also starting to think that, like my dogs and my niece, I’d have a greater sense of security from a better set of rules. But as a freelancer who works from home, I know this will be an interesting experiment in madness.

On the way out, I check for texts, e-mails, and Facebook updates, call my dad and walk to Magnolia to buy a fortifying dose of sugar. I suspect that the instrumental Arvö Part on my laptop will only heighten this Bergmanesque austerity, so I stuff my iTunes with Charlie Parker and Miles Davis (no duets with Ella, though: no lyrics!). I am now hopped up on green tea latte and chocolate cupcake. There is nothing to do but spy on the naked neighbors, clean the refrigerator and listen to “In a Sentimental Mood” 45 times.

Before I fired my acupuncturist, Dr. Y determined (through muscle testing) that all my problems stemmed from “the concept of living through others”. I want to congratulate him—the entirety of my thoughts and memories seem to come from media, ether- and other-generated materials. I linger nostalgically over my most recent media forays: that puzzling YouTube clip about John “Walnuts” McCain; the wiki entry about Charlie Parker’s recording of "Lover Man"; those Asobi Seksu songs.

Certain half-measures occur. Can I, for example, flip through the Maira & Tibor Kalman book of photos that I just bought? No words there. But I’m bargaining. It would be a little like when I went to the fascist nutritionist who nixed sugar, dairy, wheat, starches, fruit, caffeine, and alcohol from my diet. Sometimes the desire for bread became so intense that I’d have to unfasten a bag of sourdough just to sniff at the contents. If I’m still craving it, I’m probably not cured.

On Thursday, I’m perfect — most of the day. It’s raining so I can’t get Hector to install the pigeon wires. There is nothing to do but walk the pups and write.

I had already made plans to see Gemma Hayes and Mundy at Mercury Lounge, and I decide to soak up every locution and lyric that comes my way. Nourishment for my inner artist. Gemma Hayes has West Coast malaise: she was shopping for a bikini in LA and discovered the one she liked was dry clean only. Get it? Her remarks are a little evolved for the crowd, a rowdy Saint Patrick’s day warm up. But she is gracious when someone’s mobile phone interferes with the sound, and her song “Back of My Hand” echoes pleasantly in my word-parched brain.

Gemma admits that kids are cruel. When she was 9 or 10, there was a little boy in her class who kissed her while the teacher was writing on the blackboard. All the other students jeered. Gemma waited after school, beat the crap out of him, and threw the boy and all his copybooks into a puddle. A few days later, the boy came over to her, apologized and gave her a present. "So treat ’em mean, I guess," she says, after apologizing to the memory of the humiliated schoolboy.

Mundy is a little rough around the edges. "Someone up here farted?" He waves his hands around. “It’s a fart with wings, then. Or someone has a very high ass.” He plays a couple of songs. I even get a shout out before his single from the Romeo + Juliet soundtrack. There are a couple of wolf whistles, though my name means, obviously, nothing and Mundy also dedicates the song to some stewardesses, buxom blondes, and bartenders who are following him around.

Afterward, we find ourselves at the Scratcher, where Paddy Casey is sitting at the bar like a gnome on a toadstool. Mundy comes along, then the cabin crew from his Aer Lingus flight, then the guy from The Frames who won the Oscar.

At the bar, we talk to a transplanted record producer, Shuggie, whose eyes are springing from his head—think Susan Sarandon with hyperthyroidism. Can you guess where my name comes from, he challenges us. The most famous Shuggie of them all. Can you guess. Guess.

I take a stab. Shuggie Otis?

No. He’s crestfallen. Sugar Ray Leonard.

I met Mundy in Monaghan. Recalling this, he pulls out the book he’s reading — Patrick Kavanagh, he believes, is going to inspire the final song for his new album. I’m three paragraphs into the Monaghan poet’s The Green Fool before I realize I’m having Word Rush. I feel exhilarated and slightly queasy, the sensation you’d have shopping at the Columbus Circle Whole Foods after exiting a sensory-deprivation tank.

I hand back the book and start talking to Paddy, who is a cross between Vladimir Putin, Crispin Glover and Lyle Lovett. Discretion of Putin, stare of Crispin, frizzy hair of Lyle. He also has the tiniest, most recalcitrant mouth I’ve ever seen. His cure for writer’s block, he tells Mundy, is to unplug everything in the house and lie in the dark until something happens. Seems to work; he’s being followed around by MTV for a documentary about his new album.

We notice that Paddy is wearing seven layers of zip-up jackets. He is his own nesting babushka/tootsie roll pop. We set about unlayering Paddy Casey. He is resistant. He leaves at four because he has to make an in-store appearance at ten in the morning. How are you going to wake up, we ask him. I don’t have to wake up. He smirks. Someone will do that for me. This reinforces my thought that everyone needs personal support staff.

I have a hangover for four days.

The following afternoon, I meet another friend-from-abroad and we walk down past Battery Park to the piers. Spalding Gray departed on his final ferry ride here and this is the site of the catalytic events of Desperately Seeking Susan, when Rosanna Arquette loses her memory. It is pissing rain but my friend has never seen the Statue of Liberty and we decide to take the trip anyway. Why not? A chance to rewrite history. The last time I was in Staten Island, I had gotten trapped at a party in New Dorp and a 50 year old roadie was trying to read my palm (I was 17).

On the way over, it is grey and foggy and the windows are so steamed up it is impossible to see anything. We get out of the station, head for a bar and decide to exchange music. I’m violating the word-rules again but I reason that this is more of a melodic dialogue — my friend wants to play something new he’s written.

A big, balding, grey-complected guy is writing out bills at the bar. Hey, he yells. Take the earphones out and talk to each other. He keeps harassing until we turn off the iPods and chat to him. Not talking is gonna break you guys up. I’m assuming you’re a couple.

We were, says my friend. We broke up an hour ago but we’re thinking of getting back together.

Sometimes people break up in order to make up. It’s the making up, if you know what I mean. Harold — or Harry, or Hal — starts singing Al Green songs. He’s a widower (last May) but feels that he’s ready to move on. He also tells us that he lived in Bournemouth for 6 months, and the highlight of that time was his participation in Grab a Granny parties, the very Brit-perv tradition of going off for a night with an elderly woman. Hal went home with a 70 year old when he was 35, he tells us, and it was the best sex of his life. We cover our ears.

We return in heavy rain to line up for the departing boat. There is a giant aquarium in the waiting area. We look at the fishes. One of them looks like a parrot (it has blue, beaky lips), one is a stick of chewing gum, the silver ones resemble Lamborghinis, one strangely shaped guy with bulging eyes is kind of "slow." On the return, the ferry passes the Statue of Liberty, and we imagine having the lone night watchman job.

We had a week-long fling a while ago, me and this friend; we always have a good time but I’m suddenly certain that Julia would say the right thing is always to keep moving forward.

The next day, my father, Dr. W, stops by after the panel on erotic transference. He's glowing. He liked all the speakers, he tells me, even the elderly Jungian, who was happily married and only realized her feelings of eros toward a patient after having a dream in which a Bengal tiger was riding shotgun in her car. I think you would have found it enormously helpful, my father tells me. Sometimes he forgets that I am not a work colleague. Or maybe it’s wishful thinking. He has brought mail, including books I had ordered from Amazon. I’m not tempted, even though I had so much coffee at lunch that I lie in bed all night, thinking. Barry has started to snore. I wonder if he has a deviated septum, sleep apnea, food allergies.

On Sunday, I am forced to read. In these cases, Julia advises, we should keep a media log. I head up to my teaching job, spend the morning with the Koreans and write down: 7 vocabulary questions, one dual passage on Gone with the Wind and Sherlock Holmes, one long passage on wolf behavior, one New Yorker article on Michelle Obama.

I’m stoic on the return subway. I can’t listen to any more ambient music. I will just look at people, the way Maira Kalman does. I get home, can’t sleep, eat quantities of sugar, tear open the box from Amazon and sink into 90 pages of Susan Shapiro’s addiction memoir, in which she chronicles giving up smoking, toking, drinking, eating bread and chewing gum. I don’t even feel guilty, I’m enjoying it so much. I force myself to stop and do my own writing. I stop my own writing and finish the entire book.

Julia would call this a binge. Shapiro would say I’m "self-soothing" by practicing my word habit. Learn to get comfortable with suffering, her shrink Dr. Winters asserts.

I have been trying all week to think up things to tell George, my new therapist, and have been keeping a list of dreams. Luckily, the caffeine intake has produced some restless nights. I am able to recall that the character from V for Vendetta pursued me in the most recent one. George hasn’t seen Vendetta so he asks me to free-associate on the Hugo Weaving character. He’s wearing a Guy Fawkes mask, I muse. When I say that I associate Guy Fawkes with resistance instead of rebellion, George finds it very interesting.

He’s also skeptical about the word assignment. I consider aloud whether conversation and alcohol are in violation of the no-media rule.

“Words are supposedly allowing me to avoid feeling and now maybe I’m substituting conversation for feeling.” George thinks I think too much, and reminds me that it is healing to interact with other human beings. "I think it’s okay if you skip the logos fast," he advises. In celebration, I go home and listen to podcasts with the Coen brothers and the screenwriter Ronald Harwood. Harwood is out of this world.

Then I receive an alarming e-mail from my sister-in-law. I can’t help but read it.

I can't believe you are taking an actual class with the woman who wrote the Artist's Way! I can't believe it! I can almost remember her name, is it Julia Cameron? I didn't realize she had been married to Martin Scorsese. How many times has he been married, anyway? I know about 20 years ago he was married to a woman who had his baby at like age 55, but since it wasn't all over the news, I am guessing she used someone else's eggs and they hush hushed it. I remember thinking that was very intriguing at the time, and wondering why I couldn't read all about it in People magazine. Was that the same woman?

I faithfully followed her book during a period when I was feeling incredibly uncreative, and I really adhered to the whole protocol down to the last detail. I certainly DO remember how tough it was not to read anything for that time, I remember forcing myself not to cheat and read the cereal box at breakfast.

Busted. My sister-in-law goes on to tell me that she was able to earn a living entirely from her own artwork after following the protocol in this book. I have to reconsider George’s words.

Elizabeth Hardwick’s book Seduction and Betrayal lies abandoned by the nightstand. In it, she writes about my favorite novel, Wuthering Heights. WH is not a deconstruction of social constructs like Charlotte’s Jane Eyre. (Was it Charlotte who wrote Jane Eyre? Without the internet, I’m creating an entire literary history, like that woman who wrote a world history entirely from her own spotty memory; or Maira Kalman’s mother, who drew a subjective map of the United States when compromised by dementia). The novel’s interest is in following a perpetuating psychic trap. And by this point, I know: I am caught in my own psychic trap.

I survive until Wednesday. Before class, I run down and take a picture of the billboard I keep thinking about whenever I walk by the river. Albee is always trenchant:

The best part of Wednesday night is when Julia reads out our cards about how we’ve completed the weekly assignments.

We get to hear what each person has done for his artist date (an activity, carried out alone, that’s fun or stimulating artistically). Someone went to see Richard Diebenkorn; someone saw Dianne Wiest in The Cherry Orchard; someone had a threesome. “I know it involves two other people, but my artist self was very happy.” Another student: “I wrote a love letter to a woman whom I’ve recently fallen in love with. I’m a woman with a boyfriend. It’s your fault, Cameron.” Guffaws and clapping.

Then we talk about how people experienced the reading ban. Some people found that words were a barrier between themselves and their own perceptions. Some discovered that no media meant they stopped living vicariously. Some people drew better boundaries. One student asks Julia how often she uses these kinds of strategies in her own life. “As needed,” Julia says. “I do it when the class does it. And then sometimes spontaneously. Probably a lot of you know that I had a nervous breakdown last year.”

Clearly, not everyone knows she had a nervous breakdown last year.

A guy who has told me he’s depressed raises his hand and asks, “So what were the causes of your breakdown? Were they mostly external things?” I know that he’s asking because of his own difficulties, but it feels like an invasive question in front of a huge group.

Julia answers pretty honestly. A combination of external things, the wrong meds, a family history of depression — this hasn’t been the first time. She is so gracious and poised. Everyone is quiet. "I was fine on Tuesday — I was teaching this class — then all of a sudden, I couldn’t form sentences. My mind was fragmented. And it was interesting, because a lot of the recuperative therapy involved exercises like the ones in creativity class." Suddenly, everyone laughs and any resistance evaporates.

Karina Wolf is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Manhattan. She twitters here and tumbls here. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here.

digg delicious reddit stumble facebook twitter subscribe

"All These Strangers" - Elvis Costello (mp3)

"The Spell That You Cast" - Elvis Costello (mp3)

"That's Not The Part of Him You're Leaving" - Elvis Costello (mp3)


In Which Cameron Crowe Knew How To Pick Them

Talk About Things That
Get Me Excited


dir. Cameron Crowe
99 minutes

Kyra Sedgwick works for the vaguely named "Seattle Environmental Group", which probably amounts to a terrorist organization masquerading as a hedge fund. Her new boyfriend appears one day and helps fix her car, informing her he's an exchange student from Spain. The guy is pretty smooth, he gives her this really nice promise ring before he's "deported." She gives him her garage door opener for when he comes back. It turns out he was pretending to be from Spain. Cameron Crowe should ready an Elizabeth Gilbert-based lawsuit. (How Stella Got Her Groove Back was also a blatant infringement of his rights.) Good luck to the next guy she meets.

Hairstyles are codified, familiar. Cameron Crowe was evidently having sex with lots of different people in the Seattle area during this period. Campbell Scott's father left home when he was eight, and told him, "Have fun, stay single." Scott intones, in overbearing voiceover, "Work is the only thing I have complete control over."

His cubicle is a disturbing sight. The central machine appears ancient, rotten with some kind of papyrus note affixed to its membrane. Relics of paper ledgers contain god-knows-what information. The smell is redolent of pears and the slight afterburn a fax leaves in the air. There is no mouse. He appears to have altogether forgotten what being a human is: high speed DSL and a decent fucking browser.

Crowe views everything that occurs in retrospect through a gold haze. A relationship that falls apart is simply food for thought, and a reunion is always possible even when it's not. His peers navigate their world with spastic affront. Then again, their ancient machines deprived them of much wisdom. When Scott meets his environmental au pair to share water in an elaborate allusion to Stranger in a Strange Land, Paul Giamatti is making out with some girl at the next table, salivating over his water glass.

Perhaps anticipating her future role as The Closer, Kyra Sedgwick doesn't put out for several dates at least. To seduce her Scott discusses his plan for a SuperTrain. "People will park & ride, I know they will," he tells everyone he meets. It's amazing what a moron he is, I'm not sure if Cameron Crowe knew about this.

The idea of making a movie to praise yourself or someone you love is not foreign to Crowe. His new film, a documentary about how wonderful Eddie Vedder is titled Pearl Jam Twenty, features Vedder and Kurt Cobain dancing with each other in mutual adulation. Crowe's backstage look paints Vedder as a tortured soul that reaches back to his confusion over his real father. Eddie's every eccentricity, from his propensity to climb the stage and set, to overcoming his shyness, is worshipped like Pheobe Cates' left breast. What a wonderful time to be alive, and at two hours and twenty minutes, the euphoria lasts almost forever.

Everyone receives a trophy. He was a DJ in college. She's had bad luck with boyfriends. There's nothing on television, maybe one or two channels. Mostly reruns of old television programming like M.A.S.H. or older sitcoms, because the rights were inexpensive to acquire. In the eighties TV Guide began a spirited fight with TV Cable Week. New York magazine breathlessly reported that, "Readers of Fortune, Time, Discover, Life, People, Sports Illustrated or Money have often also taken TV Guide or Triangle's Seventeen." Does the past still excite you?

Back then TV Guide subscribers paid 69 cents an issue. There was a spirited debate over how many channels should appear in the magazine's listings. Different experts weighed in. TV Guide magazine was acquired by Rupert Murdoch in 1989 and you know the rest. Most of the individuals on the cover of TV Guide either became drug addicts, got AIDS while cheating on their wives, or in the case of Jay Leno, came out as a homosexual.

Was this a more innocent time? In comparison to the present, any time is infinitely more naive. The only problem any of these people really had was how seriously to take Jane Pauley.

Crowe also scripted the 1984 comedy The Wild Life, a loose sequel to his Fast Times at Ridgemont High, directed by legendary Hollywood producer Art Linson. The Wild Life has never made it to DVD because it uses every worn-out movie song you can imagine ("Born to Be Wild" opens the proceedings) and it would cost a fortune to purchase the rights. In every scene the intense urge to punch Eric Stoltz in the face is the film's driving motivation. Lea Thompson is so gorgeous the camera can barely turn away from her. Without Crowe's breakneck pace and his innate directorial desire to make his characters likable, the jaded teens just seem like overgrown assholes.

In fact, the crazy high school hijinks of The Wild Life and Fast Times at Ridgemont High now feel almost too adrenaline-filled. Singles offers a Seattle setting that is infinitely more desirable; you know, San Francisco in the middle sixties was a very special time and place to be a part of. Matt Dillon has this long speech where he discusses the perils of living near the airport and having barbecues no one attended. His complaints are our dreams. Every person in his building knows every other person. It's like an adulation factory.

Things don't work out between Kyra Sedgwick and Campbell Scott after a pregnancy scare. Kyra's organization plans a "coastal" trip of Alaska. (It is never specified if this trip is to encompass the entire coast.) She tells everyone, "You don't have to be my boyfriend." She wears a coat accented with the imprint of a doe. Scott is advised in matters of love and life by the waitress Bridget Fonda; she informs him life is only 40 percent sex, and this revelation appears to shock him into action.

The idea of a 1992 Bridget Fonda being without a man for more than six nanoseconds is unlikely in the extreme. Her rent was probably in the $100 range, possibly less than that. This may have well been the 1920s. It was better than the 20s, it was basically the same as the 20s. Are you excited yet?

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording. He is a writer living in Manhattan. He tumbls here and twitters here. He last wrote in these pages about David Bowie's Secret Moonlight tour.

digg delicious reddit stumble facebook twitter subscribe

"Need to Know (demo)" - Pearl Jam (mp3)

"Walk With Me (live in CA)" - Pearl Jam (mp3)

"Times of Trouble (demo)" - Pearl Jam (mp3)


In Which Vladimir Nabokov Says It All

The Life We've Been Living

The correspondence of Vladimir Nabokov and the critic Edmund Wilson had sputtered over the latter's inability to appreciate some of Nabokov's work. But Edmund still wanted Vladimir as his friend, and by the spring of 1950, illness had affected both men to the point where a skilled correspondent in the ways of the U.S. mail became not only desirable, but a panacea to pain. Wilson continued his wayward criticism; Nabokov composed the first version of his memoir Speak, Memory, then titled Conclusive Evidence. Even as they aged, both men were gifted with a literary curiosity that belied their years. In these letters, a conciliatory tone is struck so that both can educate the other in the particular unappreciated pleasures of the Western canon. The relationship would splinter and fracture in the coming decade, but for now both had one ear open.

Nabokov was preparing a course and asked for Wilson's help; the two argued over the literary worth of Robert Louis Stevenson.

May 15, 1950

Dear Bunny,

Awfully grateful to you for the books. Scott's piece is admirable. His French seemed to me quite good though Vera says she detected a few wrong tenses but then Frenchmen make mistakes too. The whole thing is very funny and successful. For one instant I had the wild hope that the big Con was French.

I am in the middle of Bleak House going slowly because of the many notes I must make for class-discussion. Great stuff. I think I told you once that my father had read every word Dickens wrote. Perhaps his reading to us aloud, on rainy evenings in the country, Great Expectations (in English, of course) when I was a boy of twelve or thirteen, prevented me mentally from re-reading Dickens later on. I have obtained Mansfield Park and I think I shall use it too in my course. Thanks for these most useful suggestions. You approach Stevenson from the wrong side. Of course Treasure Island is poor stuff. The one masterpiece he wrote is the first-rate and permanent Jekyll and Hyde. I hope you have enjoyed Cardinal Spellman's poem dedicated to an Alfred E. Smith Memorial Hospital. It ends:

                     ... and we
as brothers must within these troubled waters
protect, maintain AI's heritage and ours
devotedly in service to our fellow men?

I have to go to Boston to have six lower teeth extracted. My plan is to go thither (Tyдa) Sunday the 28th, grunt at the dentist's (a wonderful Swiss, Dr. Favre) Monday and Tuesday and perhaps Thursday (the 31st), then mumble back, toothless, to Ithaca to correct examination papers and return to Boston by car with Vera on the 6th or 7th to have a denture put in; then we shall stay there till the 11th and fetch Dmitri in New Hampshire on the 12th to go back to Ithaca through Albany, near which, at a place called Karner, in some pine-barrens, on lupines, a little blue butterfly I have described and named ought to be out. Would it be possible to fit a meeting with you into this scheme?

Было бцоно in this sense should be understood as было вйдно слдующее a kind of collective adjectival noun is implied; thus neuter. But it is a good question as I say to my pet students.

My method of composing is quite different from Flaubert's. I shall explain it to you at length some day. Now I must go to room 178 to analyse "The Lady With the Dog" in English, translating from the Russian text and indulging in most brilliant technicalities that are quite lost on my students.

It may just happen that I shall have to shift the whole Boston affair to after the 12th. Keeping up this exchange of letters is like keeping up a diary you know what I mean but please do not give up, I love your letters.


with his son

Nabokov shows some of his usual frustration with Wilson as they continue to banter about Western literature.

June 3, 1950

Dear Volodya:

(1) It is impossible to use automobile gracefully in iambic verse at all. You would have to have anapests or dactyls. The line you wrote is something that would be stumbled over by any native of the English-speaking world, and it demonstrates the fallacy of your stress theory. As I was trying to explain to you some time ago, even the last syllable of a word like imagination had through Milton and I don't know how much later a stress that had to be treated with respect:

"Guiding the fiery-wheeled throne,
The Cherub Contemplation"
                          Il Penseroso

Today it is always slurred: "the first imagination of Christendom" is a blank-verse line of Yeats and more the kind of thing you mean, but your method of approaching such a line leads you into errors about English metrics. "Imagination," I take it, has only one stress that counts, but this is not the case with the two long words of the line above. The last syllable of Christendom is extremely important to the structure of the line. So is the first syllable of automobile, and you have spoilt your line by disregarding it.

(2) As for the street and the moon that Chekhov, in a mood of masochism all too common in Russian literature, has made the victims of the verb instead of, as they should be, its dominators: you have given me two distinct explanations neither of which can justify the construction. The truth is that this is one of the grotesque anomalies so rife in Russian grammar. I propose, when our enlightened proconsuls have to come to the rescue of that unfortunate country, in my role of Secretary for Colonial Culture, to exterminate such absurdities by making indulgence in them punishable by imprisonment.

(3) About Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: I tried reading that to Reuel, too, and it, too, seemed to me thin. Though it is on a bigger scale, I don't really like it as well as Poe's William Wilson, which I imagine must have suggested it. I even prefer Dorian Gray. I don't know what is involved here. People sometimes have infatuations for second-rate foreign authors that mean something different to them than they do to their countrymen. I don't understand your admiring Jekyll and disliking "The Black Monk" and "Viy", the last of which seems to me the greatest story of the horrible supernatural I have ever read. By the way, I think "The Lady With the Dog" rather overrated. I think it owes its popularity the Soviets have lately got out a special illustrated edition to its being the only one of these later stories of Chekhov's that has any hint of a love affair not frustrated without respite or putrefying in triteness. "The Archbishop", which I've just read, is a masterpiece.

I am getting rather tired of all these topics and think we ought to start something new. Let me know about your movements. Our definite plan now is to be in Boston the 15th and go on that afternoonElena to St. Paul's; Rosalind, Reuel and I to Utica, on our way to Talcottville, all probably getting back Sunday. We'd love to have you anytime. Good luck with your teeth.


Edmund, Elena, Reuel, and Helen Miranda Wilson photographed by Sylvia Saimi in 1950 Nabokov seems to be repaying a previous slight with his analysis of Wilson's literary memoir of the 40s, Classics and Commercials. In any case, he does not seem to have thought much of the book.

November 18, 1950

Dear Edmund,

it is only today that I have a moment to thank you for your book (Vera joins me) but "better late than never, as said the woman who missed her train" (an old Russian chestnut).

There are lots of things in it that are superb, especially the attacks and the fun. As with most good critics, your war-crying voice is better than your hymn singing one. Some day you will recall with astonishment and regret your soft spot for Faulkner (and Eliot, and H. James). Your bit on Gogol and me contains various things (added? changed?) that I do not seem to remember having seen in the original version. I protest against the last line. Conrad knew how to handle readymade English better than I; but I know better the other kind. He never sinks to the depths of my solecisms, but neither does he scale my verbal peaks.

I want to make my mid-term report on the two books you suggested I should discuss with my students. In connection with Mansfield Park I had them read the works mentioned by the characters in the novelthe two first cantos of the "Lay of the Last Minstrel," Cowper's "The Task," passages from King Henry the Eighth, Crabbe's tale "The Parting Hour," bits of Johnson's The Idler, Browne's address to "A Pipe of Tobacco" (Imitation of Pope), Sterne's Sentimental Journey (the whole "gate-and-no-key" passage comes from thereand the starling) and of course Lovers' Vows in Mrs. Inchbald's inimitable translation (a scream).

In discussing Bleak House, I completely ignored all sociological and historical implications, and unravelled a number of fascinating thematic lines (the "fog theme," the "bird theme," etc.) and the three main props of the structurethe crime-mystery theme (the weakest), the child-misery theme and the lawsuit-chancery one (the best). I think I had more fun than my class.

I am worried about Roman. I wonder whether he has quite recovered from his heart attack.

It is fairly probable that I shall visit New York some time in the beginning of next year. I want to see you very much. Vera and I send Elena and you our best love.


Wilson's home in Talcottville

Changes at The New Yorker and Nabokov's desire to secure a Guggenheim to work on his translation of Eugene Onegin are the subject of this Wilson letter.

January 18, 1951

Dear Volodya:

I recommended you warmly for a Guggenheim, but I wish you had given them some other project it seems to me a pity for you to spend a lot of time on Onegin when you ought to be writing your own books.

I corrected my description of the duel in the English edition of the The Triple Thinkers which is just about to come out. It is clear, however, that Pushkin means Onegin to take a certain advantage of Lensky.

We have been leading a most monotonous but rather pleasant and productive life up here. I have been working on a gigantic book containing ninety-two of my articles, mostly written in the twenties and thirties, which has been turning into a sort of volume of literary memoirs. We are going to Boston tomorrow for a long-postponed holiday. At the end of this month, we hope to get to New York for February and March. We're very glad you're coming to Cambridge and shall see you there later on.

Nobody seems to know at The New Yorker what is going to happen now that Ross is dead. I am afraid it may deteriorate instead of taking a new lease on life.

What do you think of Colette? I've been reading her a little for the first time and really don't like it much. The books about Cheri repel me. Have I expounded to you my theory of the role in Russian literature of the decisive step and the fixed gaze? If not, I will do so sometime.

I should like to see the review that Harold Nicolson did of your book. I suppose you saw the thing in the New Yorker.

As ever,


Edmund Wilson's mother had died earlier in the week, and he approached her passing in the same blindly analytic fashion he approached literature. A clerihew is a four line biographical poem with a specific AABB rhyme scene.

February 7, 1951

Dear Volodya:

Thank you for your letter. My mother was nearly eighty-six, was completely deaf, nearly blind and so arthritic that she could hardly stand up. But it was impressive to see how well she kept up and how keen she still managed to be. When she died, she had a moment before been having coffee and joking with Rosalind and her nurse. That morning she had asked Rosalind about her beaux and said, "I suppose they're a lot of writers. Don't marry one or you'll never have any money."

That story about the Blue Light in the Times was not entirely true. The Theater Guild denied it, but, so far as I know, the denial was not published. We had differences on several points, but there was never any question of doing the whole of the printed text. It looks now as if the original people were going to do it April 1, in conjunction with ANTA (if you know what that is). I am much better pleased, for the Guild is old and gaga.

I hope that you will have the publishers send me a copy of your book. You should have them put me on the publicity list, so that you will not have to supply the copy yourself. And please have it sent to the New York address-which, it turns out, is c/o Mrs. Moise, instead of Mrs. Lloyd.

I have been reading with great enjoyment the earlier series of Gogol's Ukrainian Evenings, I have the impression, from the contemptuous way in which you discuss these in your Gogol book, that you have not read them since childhood.

Did you get the Russian clerihew I sent you? If it is off the track, I wish you would let me know. Clerihews, of course, run to lines of any length and are doggerel like Ogden Nash.

Love to Vera. Is there no chance of your getting to New York during the spring vacation?

As ever,


March 10, 1951

Dear Bunny,

No I conscientiously reread those Gogol tales (as explicitly stated in my book on G.) and found them exactly as I thought they were on the strength of old impressions. I also remember I had reread them in 1932 or 1933 for an article on Gogol in Russian which I still use for my Russian courses.

In my European fiction class I have finished lecturing on Anna Karenin and "The Death of John, son of Elijah" (joke) and am proceeding to draw a most fascinating comparison between Jekyll and Hyde and "Metamorphosis," with the latter winning.

After that: Chehov, Proust and parts of Joyce. The Moncrieff translation of Proust is awful, almost as awful as the translations of Anna and Emma but in a way still more exasperating because Mr. Moncrieff a son petit style a lui which he airs.

Did you get the two copies of Conclusive Evidence, one with a dedicace? Perhaps, whenever you have the occasion to bother about it, you will send the Wellfleet copy back to me. Did you get my nasty letter about your nasty Russian verse? Will you be in New York at the end of May? Vera and I will be there at that date for a reason and an event which I have been asked not to divulge until mentioned in the papers but which, I suspect, you know of.



the Nabokov family estate in Vyra

Perhaps sensing the combative and annoyed tone of Nabokov's previous letters, Wilson lavishes praise after his first reading of Speak, Memory.

March 19, 1951

Dear Volodya:

Elena was so delighted with your book that she swore she was going to write you a letter, to which I was going to add my own comment, but as she hasn't got around to this, I must let you know my opinion; which I know you have been nervously awaiting. This is that Conclusive Evidence is a wonderful production. The effectiveness and beauty of the material have really been raised to a higher power (in the sense of being cubed) by the pieces appearing in a book and in the proper order. I reread the whole thing with avidity, except for the final one that deals with parks and perambulators, the only one I do not care much for (though Elena particularly likes it). I don't approve of the title, which is uninteresting in itself-and what is the conclusive evidence? Against the Bolsheviks?

I have received only the inscribed copy. The other will be in Wellfleet. I hope that you will have both of them put down to publicity, in which case you won't be charged with them. I am a practicing critic, and I want to send the other one to Mario Praz in Rome, who writes about American and English books in one of the papers there.

We're going back to Wellfleet early in May. I know nothing about the event that is bringing you on at that time. Is there no chance of your coming to the Cape?

I did not get your nasty letter and am still awaiting enlightenment which I think you owe me in return for my inestimable services in straightening you out about English metrics.

I have been fascinated by von Frisch on bees about whom you first told me. 

I have only looked into the Moncrieff translation of Proust. What struck me was that he had turned Proust's lugubriousness into something lighter and brighter and English.

As ever,


A little flattery goes a long way, leaving Nabokov to subtly apologize for his remarks about Wilson's Tolstoy clerihew in a letter than did not survive.

March 24, 1951

Dear Bunny,

It may sound foolish (in the light of what I always have felt toward criticism of my work), but your letter did give me a twinge of pleasure. I would dearly have liked to get Elena's letter and, please, thank her for me for her kind and subtle attitude toward Conclusive Evidence. Title: I tried to find the most impersonal title imaginable, and as such it is a success. But I agree with you that it does not render the spirit of the book. I had toyed with, at first, Speak, Mnemosyne or Rainbow Edge but nobody knew who Mnemosyne was (or how to pronounce her), nor did R. E. suggest the glass edge "The Prismatic Bezel" (of Sebastian Knight fame).

A British publisher Gollancz, do you know the firm? wants the book and dislikes the title. If Green (the first page of his Nothing is wonderful with your intonation, I hope) had not used so many monosyllables for the titles, I would have thrown hIim "Clues" (or "Mothing"!).

Several things have happened to me recently. Karpovich, head of the Russian Department at Harvard, will be away next spring term and has suggested I replace him in the Russian Literature courses, so that we shall probably transfer our activities to Cambridge (of which I am thinking with great warmth at udder-conscious and udderly boring Cornell) in January. Another pleasant aspect of this is that we will be much nearer to you in space. We are terribly keen to come to the Cape.

Life, a magazine, wants to take photographs of me catching butterflies, and of rare butterflies on flowers or mud, and I am doing my best to give it a strictly scientific twistnothing of the kind has ever been done with rare Western species, some of which I have described myself so they are sending a photographer to be with me, for a week or so, in some productive locality in S.W. Colorado or Arizona (Dmitri is in a great singing voice today, booming French from La Juive, and in a minute he is driving me to the soccer field for some practice and coaching) in July they do not quite understand what is going to happen.

I thought you had some secret influence or something, suggesting my name que sais-je? in the matter of the American Academy that is giving me a ceremonious award on the 25th May. I know nothing whatsoever about that institution and at first confused it with a Mark Twain horror that almost obtained my name in the past; but I am told this is the real thing. I am asked not to divulge this news until it appears in the gazettes.

Love to both of you from us both.


P.S. I suppose you will find in Wellfleet my letter about your poem. I took it apart, viciously. It is a salad of mistakes.

You can find the first part of this series here and the second part here.

delicious reddit stumble facebook twitter subscribe

"People, Turn Around" - Delta Spirit (mp3)

"Bleeding Bells" - Delta Spirit (mp3)

"Parade" - Delta Spirit (mp3)

"Children" - Delta Spirit (mp3)