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Editor-in-Chief
Alex Carnevale
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Features Editor
Mia Nguyen
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Reviews Editor
Ethan Peterson

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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Entries in alex carnevale (239)

Thursday
Feb162017

In Which Georges Braque Survives Multiple Wars

A Break From All That

by ALEX CARNEVALE

As he had for André Derain, Pablo Picasso chose Georges Braque's wife. Marcelle Vorvanne had modeled for other painters, including Modigliani, and had many cheerful anecdotes about doing so. She loved to drop nicknames on unsuspecting artists, terming Max Jacob "the magus." Her mother was an upholsterer, her father was absolutely missing. Madame Vorvanne was a tiny, stout woman with a low center of gravity; her frequent donning of a large hat made her look something like a striped or patterned turtle depending on her mode of dress.

Marcelle's birth name was Octavie, but she discarded it with much else. Reinventing yourself in Europe at this time was not terribly difficult, and she did it more than once. While Braque was a domineering type, he did not mind having a wife with her own mind. Marcelle was expert at giving people exactly what they wanted or needed. Her major tool of benign manipulation was food and drink; after a conversation with Marcelle, participants frequently felt undone.

In the first year of their dating, Braque was still keeping time with a courtesan he had known since boyhood, Paulette Philippi. Madame Philippi ran an opium den in Paris, and the drug would eventually ruin her good looks and sour Braque's view of her. Braque took Paulette to dinner and sometimes lectures, but he felt his heart moving towards Marcelle. When he returned from an uneventful bout of required military service in 1922, he and Marcelle moved into a double apartment in Paris. She continued calling him by his last name for the rest of their lives.

Marcelle usually went to church alone, which is not to say Braque had no faith in the almighty. He did avoid the chapel in Marseilles when they were summering. "It's probably because I know it too well," he said, "but it bothers me that when I go to the House of God it's Matisse that lets me in." Despite their cohabitation, the two would not be officially married until fifteen years later.

By 1914 the war was on. Braque and Derain were both immediately transferred to the front. Picasso took them to the station, writing fallaciously, "On 2 August 1914 I took Braque and Derain to the station at Avignon. I never saw them again." In the thick of the fight, Braque was awarded the Croix de Guerre and appointed Chevalier of the Legion of Honor.

In a battle at Neuville-Saint-Vaust, Braque was struck in the head. He became temporarily blind, a condition that was relieved by trepanning two holes in his skull to relieve the pressure. "I was afraid of finding him so badly wounded," Marcelle wrote, "that I would not be able to hide my despair." Braque would spend month after month under the care of doctors, during which time he could not even think of returning to his studio.

Picasso and Braque reunited, but as close as they had been before the war, they never got back to where they were. Picasso was deeply troubled by his own avoidance of battle, and remarked to Gertrude Stein, "Will it not be awful when Braque and Derain and all the rest of them put their wooden legs up on a chair and tell about their fighting?" Pablo was an all-around disgusting man.

Return to painting was slow for Georges. It took him until he received his full discharge, after two solid years of convalescence, to think of proceeding past still-lifes. "Survival does not erase the memory," he wrote.

He looked differently at those who had avoided combat: Gleizes and Picibia, Delaney and Duchamp. Even his closest friend. While Braque was fighting for his country, Picasso had become famous and rich. Still serving in the war, Derain looked down on them both.

A short essay of aphrorisms published by Braque in Nord-Sud helped him regain his creative compass and was variously praised and ridiculed by observers. Picasso and Derain in particular thought that "Thoughts and Reflections on Paintings" was nonsense, but it holds up somewhat better today:

In art, progress does not consist in extension, but in the knowledge of limits.

Limitation of means determines style, engenders new form, and gives impulse to creation.

Limited means often constitute the charm and force of primitive painting. Extension, on the contrary, leads the arts to decadence.

New means, new subjects.

The subject is not the object, it is a new unity, a lyricism which grows completely from the means.

The painter thinks in terms of form and color.

The goal is not to be concerned with reconstituting an anecdotal fact, but with constituting a pictorial fact.

Painting is a method of representation.

One must not imitate what one wants to create.

One does not imitate appearances; the appearance is the result.

To be pure imitation, painting must forget appearance.

To work from nature is to improvise.

One must beware of an all-purpose formula that will serve to interpret the other arts as well as reality, and that instead of creating will only produce a style, or rather a stylization…

The senses deform, the mind forms. Work to perfect the mind.

There is no certitude but in what the mind conceives.

The painter who wished to make a circle would only draw a curve. Its appearance might satisfy him, but he would doubt it. The compass would give him certitude. The papiers collés in my drawings also gave me a certitude.

Trompe l’oeil, is due to an anecdotal chance which succeeds because of the simplicity of the facts.

The pasted papers, the faux bois— and other elements of a similar kind— which I used in some of my drawings, also succeed through the simplicity of the facts; this has caused them to be confused with trompe l’oeil, of which they are the exact opposite. They are also simple facts, but are created by the mind, and are one of the justifications for a new form in space.

Nobility grows out of contained emotion.

Emotion should not be rendered by an excited trembling; it can neither be added on nor be imitated. It is the seed, the work is the blossom.

I like the rule that corrects the emotion.

Derain in particular was contemptuous of the publication. "I’m staggered by the aphorisms of Lieutenant Braque,” he wrote to his wife. “I even feel sorry for him, I have to say. What a filthy journal! He doesn’t see that the others are using him. I’d like to know what the General of Cubism thinks of it. As a reflection, he doesn’t exactly strain himself... I can’t help thinking about Braque’s nonsense. It’s so appallingly dry and insensitive. It manages to combine fanaticism with some initial omissions. One needs centuries of painting, good and bad, for or against, in order to have an idea about art. It regulates the imagination."

Along with the essay, a new spate of paintings followed and sold for obscene amounts. This allowed Braque and his wife to move to Montparnesse, where they commissioned the building of a house. Braque's studio took up the entire top floor of this magnificent, modern domicile. Servants filled the new home: a cook, a chaffeur. Marcelle ensured the walls were mostly yellow, the color which did not disturb her husband's restored and fragile vision.

The second World War smashed this reverie. The Braques fled Paris, meeting the Derains south of Toulose. Eventually, however, they would be able to return to their home, finding it had been used as a German officers' quarters. (Only Georges' accordion was missing.) Derain visited Germany as a honored guest of the Nazis, accepting commissions from the party.

Braque refused all entreaties from Berlin. He did leave his home in order to show his face at the funeral for Max Jacob, who had died on the way to the extermination camp at Treblinka.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

Monday
Feb132017

In Which We Start On Proust At Some Point

He Hated The City

by ALEX CARNEVALE

In order for me to find myself worthwhile, I have got to be pretty brilliant, and understand everything.

Paul Bowles arrived in Paris in 1931. When he rode up to the home of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, they could not believe they had been corresponding with a college student. "I was sure from your letters that you were an elderly gentleman, at least seventy-five," Stein told him. He was twenty-one years old.

Bowles started fast. He had been insulated from the world until the age of six, when he was sent to school. "I developed a superiority complex the first day," he wrote in one of his many, many letters. His advancement continued apace:

When I was eight I wrote an opera. We had no piano, but we had two or three pieces of sheet-music which I studied and I had a zither which I tuned in various scales and modes. My first sexual thrills were obtained from reading newspaper account of electrocutions. At the time I was quite unconscious of the facts, except that I had the New England guilt about it.


Bowles' first literary idol was Poe, and crossing the Atlantic aboard the S.S. McKeesport he contemplated setting some of the man's poems to music. As a self-described modernist snob, Bowles' perspective on other artists resembled his shaky feelings about being turned on by torture -  a mix of wonder, awe and pain. Upon his arrival in Paris, the first person he went out of his way to meet was Jean Cocteau. At the beginning of April 1931 he writes that Cocteau

rushed about the room with great speed for two hours and never sat down once. Now he pretended he was an orangoutang, next an usher at Paramount Theatre, and finally he held a dialogue between an aged grandfather and his young grandson which was side-splitting. I think never have I seen anyone like him in my life. He still smokes opium every day and claims it does him a great deal of good. I daresay it does. By definition, the fact that it is considered harmful for most mere mortals would convince me of its efficaciousness for him.

Reading Bowles' private letters is like watching the precise movements of a guided laser. He writes completely differently depending on the level of intimacy with his correspondent. He penned almost stream-of-consciousness Joyce imitations to his friend Bruce Morissette, adopting a more formal tone for those whose friendship he coveted and had yet to earn. With his closest ones he even vacillated between styles with a severity of purpose nearly bipolar in its enthusiasm.


By June of 1931 he was in Berlin. He hated the city, all rain and mosquitos, but it was mostly that the place suffered in comparison to Paris. It is obvious how much his surroundings affected Bowles' personality. In his letter to the Paris-born Jew Edouard Roditi, Bowles accurately described his view of the German metropolis:

if only the world were stronger! if only there were more dimensions! if only we thought in terms of perfumes! if only there were a third world where we could hide from the other two. then the other one would not be always grinning in feeling so perfectly well that we could do nothing when it intended to enter. there would be two of them there, and the two would be easier to fight than the one. but now it is always either one or the other, and neither one stays away long enough. in full noon sleep falls upon one for one tiny second without measurement and one knows there is no escape. berlin is not a beautiful city

Later he would tell Roditi, and in a sense himself as well, that "I have the feeling you are primarily two people, one of which should be killed."

Among so many potent writers and artists, it was natural for young Bowles to feel a bit discouraged in his own writing. Yes, he could write or speak to Gertrude Stein anytime he liked, but reading further and further into her work, he despaired of his own.

All my theories on her I discover to be utterly vagrant. She has set me right, by much labor on her part, and now the fact emerges that there is nothing in her works save the sense. The sound, the sight, the soporific repetitions to which I had attached such great importance, are accidental, she insists, and the one aim of her writing is the superlative sense. "What is the use of writing," she will shout, "unless every word makes the utmost sense?" Naturally all that renders her 'opera' far more difficult, and after many hours of patient reading, I discover she is telling the truth, and that she is wholly correct about the entire matter. And what is even more painful is that all my poems are worth a large zero. That is the end of that. And unless I undergo a great metamorphosis, there will never be any more poems.

In August he boarded another ship, the S.S. Imerethie II, with a destination of Tangier. His reaction to this lush place was the polar opposite to his experience of Berlin. In a postcard to John Widdicombe he wrote, "here I shall live until the eucalyptus leaves all fall and it starts to rain across the strait." He took up residence in a villa with Aaron Copland. The villa featured a permanently out of tune piano, and while Copland found he could not do his work, Bowles' mood improved immediately. After a sojourn in Marrakech, Bowles returned to Paris before stopping in London at the beginning of December.

London did not offend him as a city, but as a way of life. In a letter to Charles Henri-Ford, he writes,

I have crossed the little water that is mightier in its human gap than an ocean, and fallen again into the great pit of London. The chalk cliffs at Newhaven were all greyer through the dawn rain than any human eyes could be, and white gulls fluttered out of the black wind into the vague lights of the boat, and seemed to cry when their flight crossed the boat, but to be silent when they went back into the darkness again. There is little change, save that Piccadilly grows more and more like a sprawling Times Square, running down Haymarket and Coventry and Regent, all garish and burning with neon. It doesn't fit. In New York, the great planes of the lifting buildings can carry it off, in London it stays right there, on the ground, on your mind, on your hands, and you can't lift it. I am sad for this.

Paris left me empty. I look only, everywhere, all hours, for that new way of looking at the human thing, the heart, I suppose, of the world, and I found it not there. I was childish to look for it. Only the echo of the beat, not the strong pulse.

At any rate, it was good of you to lead me about by my nose, and to let me meet so many people. As you know, I like to meet everyone in the world at least once.

He had met many of the most important artists of his generation; from Klee to Gide to Stein to Copland to Pound. For a short time, it raised all boats to be amidst such individuals, but eventually Bowles' surroundings discouraged him: 

Literature has never lived on literary talk, and literary acquaintances. I want to take every poet and shove him down into the dung-heap, kick all his literary friends in the ass, and try to make him see that writing is not word-bandying, like Stein, and the thousand legions of her followers, but an emotion seen through the mind, or an intellectual concept emotionalized, and shaping its own expression. You can't write from a literary vacuum, and all of Paris, I felt, was trying to. They get all tangled up in trying to write cleverly and as no one else has, and get lost in the timber hills of their effort. I can't help thinking Shakespeare never worried about writing a new kind of blank verse, just went ahead instinctively and did it.

The artists and writers Bowles once idolized had begun to let him down, as they had to. (He called Gertrude Stein, who told him, "Why don't you go to Mexico? You'd last two days there.") Friends he depended on for money were no longer as forgiving; after all, he had been in Europe for almost a year. A traveler is always welcome, a wayward resident finds himself more swiftly resented.

Even Copland became slow in answering his letters, and Bowles stopped visiting the Stein home. He developed syphilis and then acute tonsilitis, medical expressions of how little Europe had left for him. How he loathed these ancient cities! By the same token, he did not want to go home at all. In Algiers he began, for the first time in his life, to read the work of Marcel Proust.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording. You can find an archive of his writing on This Recording here.

in his library

Friday
Jan272017

In Which All Our Positive Memories Of Archie Have Been Erased

Forget the Blossoms

by ALEX CARNEVALE

Riverdale
creator Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa
The CW

The first episode of Beverly Hills 90210 still holds up extremely well. Except for the proliferation of cell phones, nothing about America seems all that different from October 4, 1990, the day that Jim and Cindy Walsh moved with their two kids from Minnesota to California. It took another episode for Luke Perry to emerge on the scene as a cross between James Dean and Rock Hudson. He lived on the top floor of the Chateau Marmont and he was truly magnificent.

The ratings were not so great at first:

Beverly Hills 90210 had a decent debut for a pilot, but it was crushed by A Different World, a spin-off of The Cosby Show that depicted life at an African-American college. (Progress does not really go in one direction, and it is impossible to imagine such a show being successful on a major network today.) Bill Cosby's success gave him a lot of power at NBC and rightly so. By the second season, Beverly Hills 90210 picked up serious steam in all demographics and the show became a juggernaut for Fox that allowed them to compete with the major networks for the first time by expanding their programming to five nights a week.

It is the fate of soap operas to fall in and out of fashion. Watching 90210 today, all the more wild and less believable storylines the show naturally embraced as its run went on are so much more boring than the tight plots employed by Darren Star and his team of writers at the beginning. Yet it is natural for soaps to want to drive themselves off a cliff with wild stories as time goes on, since it takes a lot more to create engaging conflict when your characters are all white suburbanites without criminal records. I have never heard of a soap opera starting crazy until Riverdale.

Even Archie Comics eventually went in this direction, although the traditional stories still existed in one Double Digest or another. One of the wackier moments was Archie's team-up with The Punisher, which actually worked because the comic's slightly satirical tone mixed perfectly well with more serious elements, as long as he could still be Archie. There were a few things that Archie liked: girls, his friends, sports cars. He was not particularly a complicated person until now.

For some reason Riverdale's Archie (K.J. Apa) is a musician. "I wrote a lot of poems this summer," he explains to Betty (Lili Reinhart), "and then I realized they were songs." He is changing the subject because Betty is talking a lot about all the respect she has for Toni Morrison and her adderall prescription. Archie's singular characteristic was freckles. He does not have them anymore, since the preciously terrible actor who portrays him in Riverdale just has ginger highlights. They did not even cast a real ginger.

Half the point of Archie Comics was to make people realize that gingers were also beautiful and attractive; all that is gone in Riverdale. In the comics Archie and his girls never used condoms so any sexually transmitted diseases were passed on gainfully and pleasantly. Reggie Mantle, Archie's rival, was a good-natured fellow who mainly wanted a monogamous relationship with Veronica (Camila Mendes). These young people looked towards the future with a hopeful optimism; their lives in the present were not as all-important.

Clueless was one of the finest movies of its time, and it took serious inspiration from Archie Comics. Neither could really be called subversive, but nor were they an alarmingly innocent portrait of American life. Above all, Archie Comics were very funny. There is none of that in this joyless adaptation, and instead of starting small, Riverdale is absurdly ridiculous from Day One.

Creator Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa does not feel that actual so-called high school life is quite dark enough, so before the credit sequence even rolls on Riverdale we find out through a series of flashbacks that Archie has fucked a Julliard-educated teacher at his school. There is also a murder of a young man named Jason Blossom whose sister (Madelaine Petsch) is supposed to be some kind of ingénue. Unfortunately Cheryl's face looks like it was placed beneath a steamroller and her role as a vacuous, villainous cheerleader only exists because Veronica Lodge is supposed to be a winsome, sympathetic teen in Riverdale.

Luke Perry is still looking pretty good these days. His full beard obscures whatever has happened to his jawline in three decades. Luke and Veronica Lodge's mom seem to have a deep history together. I don't remember Veronica ever really having a mom: didn't being the child of single parent explain her inability to commit to any one man, who might supplant her father?

This kind of basic psychology may have been a sexist cliche, but it was a lot more engaging than seeing Veronica and Betty have a heart-to-heart about their broken families or sharing a fake kiss during a cheerleading audition.

It is understandable that Aguirre-Sacasa wants to make this milieu more brooding, since he has mistaken the sometimes frivolous storylines of the comic books for a lack of depth. Maybe he actually dislikes the source material here, or he is just not willing to go far enough. When the climax of the teens' party after some kind of Homecoming Ball is a game of spin the bottle, it seems like time is completely out of joint.

"Do you miss New York?" Archie asks Veronica while they are imprisoned in a closet together. He tells Veronica that he and Betty are best friends, and he asks her if she had a boyfriend in New York. After this intimate talk, the two share a couple of chaste kisses and rush to reassure Betty that nothing happened. It is about three thousand times more innocent than 90210, which was twenty-seven years ago.

Weirdly, Mr. Lodge never shows up. As the pilot for Riverdale ends, we find out that Jughead Jones (Cole Sprouse) is an aspiring novelist who seems to be well on the path to revealing his homosexuality through delicate prose. He counsels Archie to explain to Betty that he is not good enough for her, which she seems to accept good-naturedly. "The night was far from over," narrates Jughead. What the fuck is this?

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.