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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

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Robert Altman Week

Tuesday
Jan262010

In Which The Pattern Shows Through the Wingcases of the Pupa

The Master's Voice

I have always had a number of parts lined up in case the muse failed. A lepidopterist exploring fabulous jungles came first. Then there was the chess grand master, then the tennis ace with an unreturnable service, then the goalie saving a historical shot, and finally, finally, the author of a pile of unknown writings - Pale Fire, Lolita, Ada - that my heirs discover and publish.

- Vladimir Nabokov in a 1977 BBC interview

...turning to the title-page butterfly, its head is that of a small tortoise, and its pattern that of a common Cabbage White butterfly (whereas the insect in my poem is clearly described as belonging to a group of small blue butterflies with dotted undersides), which is as meaningless...as would be a picture of a tuna fish on the jacket of Moby Dick. I want to be quite clear and frank: I have nothing against stylization, but I do object to stylized ignorance.

- Nabokov, 1959 to publisher

I do have a story for you - but it is still in my head; quite complete, however; ready to emerge; the pattern showing through the wingcases of the pupa.

- Nabokov, 1946 letter to Katharine A. White

June 12, 1951

Dear Irofessor Finley,

Many t anks for your delig tful letter. Yes, I think would be able to arrange a course of t e general tyoe you suggest, orovided you allow me some individual latitude. In my lectures I emo asize t e artistic side of literature. I visualize a course t at would not clas wit your conceot of t e connections between narrative genres. It would deal wit questions of structure, develooment of tec nique, t emes (in t e sense of 't ematic lines"), and imagery and magic and style. I certainly could link uo to my study of nineteent century fiction wit t ematic lines running t rough such initial masteroices as t e Iliad or te Slovo; but my main ouroose would be to analyze suc artistic structures as Mansfield Iark (and its fairy-tale oattern), Bleak ouse (and its c ild-and-bird t eme), Anna Karenin (and its dream-and-deat symbols), ten t e "transformatino" t eme, as old as t e oldest myt s, in one lumo consisting of t ree stories (Gogol's Overcoat, Stevenson's Jekyll and yde and Kafka's Metamoro sis), and finally the jardins suoerooses of Iroust's style in is first volume Swann's Way. If t is is too muc, eit er Bleak or Mansfield may be sacrificed. It seems to me t at t is orogram does not really deviate from yours since in the long run it deals with t e istorical evolution of symbols, of images, of ways of seeing t ings and conveying one's vision. After all, Homer, and Flaubert, and Gogol, and Dickens, and Iroust are all members of my family. I only hooe t at t e "added stiooend" will be adequate - if, of course, my course outline meets with your aooroval.

In any case I am looking forward to seeing a lot of you and Harry Levin next soring.

Sincerely yours,

Vladimir Nabokov

I.S. T is tyoewriter is falling aoart but a new one is on its way.

Dear Laughlin,

Would you be interested in publishing a timebomb that I have finished putting together? It is a novel of 459 typewritten pages.

If you would like to see it, the following precautions would have to be observed:

First of all, I would have to have your word that you alone would read it. Everything else could be settled later. You would further have to give me an address where the MS could reach you personally and directly. This is a very serious matter for me, as you will understand after reading the work.

Sincerely,

Vladimir Nabokov

Laughlin was out of the country and unable to read the typescript of Lolita.

March 12, 1955

Dear Mr. Epstein,

Here is a short list of works which ought to be retranslated and which might be presented in the following form:

I. A volume which might be titled "Three Duels", and which would contain:

Pushkin's THE PISTOL SHOT

Lermontov's PRINCESS MARY

Chehov's THE SINGLE COMBAT.

2. "Three Fantasies"  - a trio of fantastic tales -

Pushkin's THE QUEEN OF SPADES

Gogol's THE NOSE

Doestoevski's THE DOUBLE (by far the best thing Dostoevski ever wrote)

My favorite project, however, is Lermontov's THE HERO OF OUR TIME, a novel consisting of five stories (of which PRINCESS MARY is one).

If you are interested in any of these works, I shall explain in more detail what is wrong with the old translations (for instance, with Yarmonlinski's "The Pistol Shot" or Guerney's "The Queen of Spades"). My protege is none other than my son who will be graduated from Harvard this spring. He is a young Russian scholar and a budding American author in his own right. He has done some very creditable translations for me, and I would undertake to control and revise and work on the lines suggested here.

Sincerely yours,

Vladimir Nabokov

1955 corrections to the manuscript of LolitaNovember 28th, 1964

Dear Mr. Hitchcock,

Many thanks for your letter. I find both your ideas very interesting. The first would present many difficulties for me because I do not know enough about American security matters or methods, or how the several intelligence bureaus work, separately and together.

Your second idea is quite acceptable to me. Given a complete freedom (as I assume you intend to give me) I think I could turn it into a screenplay. But there would be a matter of time. What delays did you have in mind? I am at the present very busy winding up several things at once. I could devote some thought to the screenplay this summer but could hardly settle down to work on it yet. Please let me know what are your ideas about this.

In the meantime, I, too, would like to give you a short resume of two ideas of my own. You will find them, very badly jotted down, on the separate sheet attached to this letter. Please let me know what you think of them. If you like them, we might discuss their development.

It was good talking to you on the telephone.

With best wishes,

Sincerely yours,

Vladimir Nabokov

I.

A girl, a rising star of not quite the first magnitude, is courted by a budding astronaut. She is slightly condescending to him; has an affair with him but may have other lovers, or lover, at the same time. one day he is sent on the first expedition to a distant star; goes there and makes a successful return. Their positions have not changed. He is the most famous man in the country while her starrise has come to a stop at a moderate level. She is only too glad to have him now, but soon she realizes that he is not the same as he was before his flight. She cannot make out what the change is. Time goes, and she becomes concerned, then frightened, then panicky. I have more than one interesting denouement for this plot.

Hitchcock replied that this idea was not in his genre.

II.

While ignorant of the workings of American intelligence, I have gathered considerable information regarding those of the Soviets.

For some time now I have been thinking of writing the story of a defector from behind the Iron Curtain to the United States. The constant danger he is in, the constant necessity to hide and be on the lookout for agents from his native land bent on kidnapping or killing him.

I would have this man meet a benevolent American couple who would offer him the security of their Western ranch. But these would turn out to belong to certain pro-Soviet organizations and would betray him to his pursuers. I have in mind some marvellous scenes at the ranch and a very tragic ending.

Hitchcock responded that this idea had been used for The Iron Curtain (1948).

Download the unabridged audiobook of Lolita here.

Monday
Jan252010

In Which Joshua Ferris Diagnoses Us All In The Unnamed

The Many Compulsions of Joshua Ferris

by DURGA CHEW-BOSE

She puffed out her cheeks like someone about to burst, eyes popping wide. Then she settled into a grin shaded with resignation. “It’s my one go-around,” she said. “What do you do—hate yourself till the bitter end?”
“I’ve always thought you were the most beautiful girl in the world.”
“You’ve always been biased.”
“I’m glad you don’t hate yourself.”
“Acceptance,” she said. She shrugged. “It’s a bitch.”

Standing behind a wooden podium at the West 82nd Street Barnes and Noble, Joshua Ferris reads from his second novel, The Unnamed. He pauses after this last bit as if acknowledging the audience’s all but united, nearly inaudible sigh. Rife with pressing and existential questions, and at times overwhelmed with corporeal images of a tortured body and landscape, Ferris reads this quieter, more yielding part — a bittersweet reunion between father and daughter — with a slower, more deliberate pace.

ferris' officeDuring the Q&A, hands shoot up. The popular focus: Tim Farnsworth, the protagonist of the novel, and his harrowing, unidentified disease best described as a sudden, irrepressible urge to walk. This compulsion damages his family, his friendships, his career — partner at a successful New York firm — and provokes philosophical and sometimes spiritual enquiries, while physically inflicting the most grotesque, frost bitten, skin peeling, swelling, burning, assault from the elements on his once healthy and handsome body. Gone were the days…

In response to some of the more metaphorical readings, Ferris is quick to express his expectations for a literal appraisal of Tim’s illness, rather than an allegory for the way we live our lives: “Treat this like a real disease…like a cancer,” he recommends. Apologizing for perhaps appearing too vehement in his expectation, and understanding the inevitability of multiple interpretations, Ferris remains bound to, as if championing above all, a precise grasp and accurate reading of this particular disease.

Conceivably, this might be why he chose to read an excerpt less fixed on the disease and its physical and mental effects but on a moment between family; largely what I found most compelling in the novel. In a society consumed by the legitimizing reassurance of diagnosis, the Farnsworths are never offered any guarantee or explanation about Tim’s strange walking bouts.

One of many doctors attempts to empathize: “I know how you’ve struggled to validate your condition...I know you’ve fallen into depression because no empirical evidence has emerged to exonerate you.” The hope offered in a name, in a baptism of this disease, would absolve the family’s pain. Their life, their norms, their vows, and their respective roles—father to daughter, wife to husband, husband to wife, mother to daughter—undergo an unorthodox but necessary shift. The immediacy of survival reinvents responsibilities within their home; but at what cost?

But the novel finds its character, finds those kernels that readjust the reader in his or her seat as if to fully consume a sentence or idea, when it sheds the persistent, more clinical voice. Once the family reorganizes itself around Tim’s disease, a candid telling takes off.

Jane, Tim’s wife, wonders about the “matrimonial haul.” Is she prepared, and in more hilarious bits, ‘equipped,’ for another round of retrieving her husband from bizarre and far away locations in the middle of the night? And yet, her commitment and love is unflinching: “Sickness and death, caretaking, the martyrdom of matrimony—that was fluff stuff. When the vows kick in, you don’t even blink. You just do. She had to be up for it.”

Later in the novel, Jane reckons with a darker period in her life, one that Ferris describes tenderly but stops short of letting breathe a little longer. There are the occasional moments of temptation when Jane’s pitter patter is excited by another man, a better life — “Her heart leapt. It was a girl’s heart.” — but those instances are rarely revisited. Jane’s superhuman, unrelenting devotion is hard to appreciate because the history of their love is never shared.

Ferris really pinches at something real when describing the daughter, Becka. She is an overweight, solitary teenager who sometimes evokes the most pressing kind of sadness — unspoken desperation — and other times coolly assumes a level of responsibility within her family that shines a light on her inborn mellowness and maturity.

In one of my favorite parts, diverging from the novel’s prevailing sense of commotion, Becka and Tim watch disc after disc of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Together, they are a pair of unapologetic, idle adolescents. And though their Buffy imparted inertia is a symptom of some greater crossroads within their family, this shared surrender is sweet and reminds us of the irreplaceable nature of family. In passages like this last one, Ferris’ confident style returns and the novel’s otherwise perverse preoccupation with despair pales.

Durga Chew-Bose is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Brooklyn. She tumbls here.

"Sing" - Four Tet (mp3)

"Pablo's Heart" - Four Tet (mp3)

"Love Cry" - Four Tet (mp3)

Saturday
Jan232010

In Which There's No Courage In Me

On the Poetry of Joseph Ceravolo

by KENNETH KOCH

Modern poetry takes a large step in this poetry that has not yet really beeen followed by others. It is as if one could see the print of that step in the snow, and then a great beautiful snowy wilderness but no more tracks. In this respect it resembles the work of such poets as John Wheelwright or Gerard Manley Hopkins, its stylistic innovations so bound up with the expression of a particular sensibility as to be, even though inspiring, inimitable.

Ceravolo's poetic subject is often a moment, caught, as it were, off guard and open to all kinds of other moments and their sensations:

Then there is nothing    think!
the angular explanation
boom!     he was a parade
             with a gift
a question cable of
             thought
a thermos savage in
            the hotel
in vera cruz color
            sand the boat

This is not "just language" (no such remarkable description as that of a man as "a parade with a gift" could be that), but descriptive language arranged and disarranged in such a way as to keep the feelings and ideas fixed in it, fresh and shapr, every time the passage is read. What these lines say, in a prose way, doesn't make sense in an ordinary way - a human being is not (not without further explanation, in any case) a parade, a cable, or a thermos savage. But what the lines suggest (which is what they say if you take them on what might be termed "poetic faith") makes sense of a kind that is only found in poetry.

Another example of a Ceravolo "moment," from this same poem ("Water: How Weather Feels the Cotton Hotels)" has a more concentrated, almost microscopic intensity, while at the same time seeming quite large and open:

   earthenware
drawing its own
tonight on some
particular wasp

I knew Joseph Ceravolo and his poems for twenty-five years. He would send me a poem like "How Weather Feels the Cotton Hotels," and, every time, I'd gasp. It was wonderful and I didn't know how he had done it. It faded like the mirage of a gorgeous building: then, as soon as I reread it, it was there again. What was Ceravolo doing? Whatever it was, somehow in four lines he brought me intense, clear feelings of wasps on earthenware, of night, of feelings wasps must have, that clay pots might have. A new - or, rather, old but unlighted - part of my experience was given light. His poems were a sort of amazing perceptual archeology.

Rather than explaining ("Seeing this wasp landing...") or conventional poeticizing ("O wasp alighting!"), which risks making such moments banal or false, Ceravolo's method uses indirection, rapid transitions, disassociation, and other kinds of apparent "nonsense." These oddnesses are there not be resolved but to be given in to, so that the poem can have its say. If one can do that, it's certainly worth it.

There are, in this poetry pairs of seemingly unconnected words - "rice Spring", "Sail glooms", "boom autumn"; and seemingly unconnected phrases and lines - "As far as I look we are across A/boat crosses by. There is no monkey in me/left: Sleep." There are many odd usages, words put together in "incorrect" ways - "These are my clothes to a/boat" - and syntactically unfinished statements. 

Hold me
Tilly only,   these are my
clothes   I sit

These oddnesses take place in a context of simplicity, quietness, and directness. They aren't avant-garde explosions for their own sake, but occur when they are necessary to the difficult, exciting expressions of whatever has to be said.

There's nothing to love in this
rice Spring.
Collected something warm like friends.
Sail glooms are none...

One could sing this. One would know well enough what it meant.

Ceravolo was influenced by William Carlos Williams, sometimes, though his poetry goes elsewhere. In the work of both there is a blurring expansion of identity, a sort of giving oneself completely to a tree, an insect, flowers. Williams' aim, in such poems as "Daisy," "Queen Anne's Lace," and "The Young Sycamore," is usually accomplished in his merging with the thing observed so as to describe it more convincingly. Ceravolo has a tendency to go back and forth from one identity to another.

I am a dirty little bug
Plants!, because
I'm small  because there's no courage
in me    will you come home
with me? And
stay    With us on the bed

When Ceravolo, like Williams, is merely looking, he can be trusted to say what is right there, in the simplest, most direct manner - "man walking with his/shoulders haunched and tufts/of white duck hair in the back /of the head!"; when he goes beyond ordinary perceptions, this atmosphere of accuracy stays with him. It is a quality rare among poets, a combination of clear down-to-earthness with the sort of wild dreaminess of Lorca or Rimbaud, as in this passage from "May":

Morning oh May flower! oh
May exist. Built.
When will water stop
Cooling? Built, falling. Reeds. I am surprised...

After the excited, ambiguous invocation (of May), a number of profound ideas are suggested with surprising simplicity and speed: the notion that the month of May has been "Built"; the wondering if water will keep its qualities; the realization that water also has been built, and built, probably, so as to be falling (even falling things are built). After this there is a return to plain physical presence, a fact ("reeds") and plain everyday consciousness ("I am surprised"). Ceravolo's work is full of pleasures like these. Sometimes his sensations are expressed in language that seems as physical as the things he is talking about:

Oak oak! like like
it then
       cold some wild paddle
so sky then...

Even the most simply descriptive poems about something seen have a characteristic lift:

The fish are staying here
and eating. The plant is
thin and has very long leaves
like insects' legs, the way
they bend down.
Through the water
the plant breaks from the water:

the line of the water and the air.
Told!

The slowed-down, superimposed perceptions of lines 6, 7, and 8 are extraordinary and all Ceravolo's own.

To read these poems is to be refreshed and surprised. They are the real thing. Their audience may always be limited by one of their great qualities: they are aesthetically uncompromising, and make no gestures or appeals outside themselves. Anyone lucky enough to read them, however, will have one of the great true experiences of twentieth-century poetry.

Kenneth Koch was a poet and critic until his death in 2002. This essay is from the introduction to The Green Lake is Awake, which you can purchase here.

"Drunken Winter" - Joseph Ceravolo (mp3)

"Dangers of the Journey to the Happy Land" - Joseph Ceravolo (mp3)

"Autumn Time, Wind, and the Planet Pluto" - Joseph Ceravolo (mp3)

TRANSMIGRATION SOLO

See the black bird
in that tree
trying out the branches, puzzled.
I am up there with you
puzzled against the rain
blinking my eyes.