In 1930, in his early middle age, William Faulkner bought an unoccupied nineteenth-century house in his Mississippi home town. The next year he gave it a name, Rowan Oak, and began the remodeling that would occupy the remainder of his life there. As the transformation into an ancestral estate went forward, the estate’s on-site storyteller devised a tradition for it: every evening at dinnertime, one of the family retainers would parade the main course around the table before setting it down. Perhaps the idea was that this would mark the end of one day and the beginning of the next, for always.
Before dinner, the Modernist storyteller had been teaching language some things about time that would make tradition obsolete. In that telling, Quentin Compson had begun the day of his death by tearing the hands off his father’s watch.
Chris Wiley’s essay “What Old Money Looks Like in America, and Who Pays For It,”
introduces the work of Buck Ellison, who photographs carefully staged tableaux of models wearing the very best of understated fashion in the very best of settings, with every blade of grass on the putting green just so and the outdoor or indoor weather always perfect. Before the first image reveals itself, the prose prepares us this way for the responsibility of seeing it.
It’s the cut of the jacket that’s the dead giveaway. The graceful arc it draws above the woman’s waistline looks architecturally engineered, its hourglass effect enhanced by tastefully wide peaked lapels. The fabric, too, looks sumptuous. Cashmere? Probably.
Wiley mentions in passing that Ellison is gay, and the import of this deadpan scrapbook seems to be a travesti like the Trockadero Ballet — a travesti with all the wistfulness of an anatomically male body forcing itself onto pointe but none of the forced hysterical laughter. What’s being acted out through Ellison’s images isn’t at all gentle, but it is acted quietly.
After all, it is acted in The New Yorker, whose language is written in a traditional script. To the native speakers of The New Yorker’s dialect, the discreet but firmly lodged diereses in coöperate and reëlect are to be heard only at the overtones of their natural frequencies, and the ostensibly nonfictional is punctuated at strictly observed canonical intervals with understatedly Homeric descriptions of the characters’ clothes. These details of house style are themes, and they claim a moral purport. Other languages will change, says the house style to itself about itself, but I am as classic as changeless Roman marble. Simultaneously, on the advertising pages, capital is at romp, melting all that is solid into air.
In this 1849 print by Nathaniel Currier, one of the men at the foot of George Washington’s deathbed is identified as “Quaker, an intimate friend of Washington.” Perhaps out of Quaker modesty, his name is not named and his face is not shown. But we know the style he would speak in this silent image, because he is wearing the small-clothes of a gentleman at the end of the eighteenth century.
The other man’s face does show. The man is identified, too: with a euphemism, “Domestic.” But that is a mere pleonasm, because after all the man’s color reveals half of the unnamed truth of what he is.
The clothes reveal the other half. Close enough to the body of the father of his country to love but never to have been loved, this is a sans-culotte.
Bernard Faÿ, a French Modernist man of letters, saved the lives of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas during World War II by letting them live, rent-free, in his house in the unoccupied zone. He wasn’t using it himself at the time because he was occupied in administering both the Bibliothètheque Nationale and the Pétain government’s anti-Masonic program. At war’s end, he was one of the bitter-end collaborationists sheltered by the Nazis at Sigmaringen. After the war he escaped from prison with suspicious ease and crossed the French border into Switzerland, where he picked up his career where he had left off and spent the remainder of his professional life at the University of Fribourg.
There he continued his long collaboration with another right-wing Catholic, the Fribourgeois man of letters Gonzague de Reynold. The Fribourg years came and went, and de Reynold marked their passage with a tradition of his own: on special occasions, in the gallery-crypt where the culottes of his ancestors were preserved, he opened the chest and dressed up.
How but in custom and in ceremony
Are innocence and beauty born?
It also helps not to be unwhite.
For several days after this story broke, the reading was front-page news in the Star. The Star’s analysis two days later (March 4, pages 1 and 4) explained:
In all that time, the poet’s name never sullied the whiteness of the Star’s newsprint. On March 11, page 21, a reader complained:
Ginsberg’s own record of the event is the poem “Auto Poesy: On the Lam from Bloomington,” collected in his 1972 City Lights volume The Fall of America: Poems of These States 1965-1971. It mentions the “tower walls” of the Eli Lilly & Co. plant in Greenfield where I read the Star’s coverage in a break room,
and figured out the poet’s name,
and came with a sinking feeling to the realization that I was the only person in the complex who would know or care. About that, a line from Hart Crane’s The Bridge may have the grammatical distinction of being the only factually incorrect imperative ever written:
Come back to Indiana — not too late!
It is not possible to set foot too late in Indiana.
Says the poetry of Frost’s “Two Tramps in Mud Time,”
Only where love and need are one,
And the work is play for mortal stakes,
Is the deed ever really done
For Heaven and the future’s sakes.
Says prose, “Delicate muscles and nerves.” Says prose, “Your employer expects.” The prose words are embellished with a frieze of women’s faces in chiaroscuro. All of the women are what used to be called beauties, with a single descriptive adjective replacing the unmentioned names that their bodies bear outside the office. In the office, the copy spoken on behalf of their beauty says, “They are all enthusiastic,” but the collective expression on their faces seems not to.
Where this language prevails, who can afford to entertain the thought that need may enter into a marriage of equality with love? Only a poet; only a man to whom the thought of lightening the task of words would be experienced with a pang of loss, like a missed dividend.
Source: http://oldadvertising.tumblr.com/post/178962126368/the-red-book-magazine-april-1922. Post-processed to compensate for discoloration.
The New York Times article about a California man arrested for making death threats against employees of the Boston Globe:
A page from the FBI affidavit in support of an arrest warrant:
Photoshopped only for contrast and color balance, an image of the suspect’s home:
The bars on the door. The spiked fence. On a grassy street, the yard seeded with sharp-needled cactus.
There really is no need to quote Robert Frost, is there?
David Brooks’s New York Times column for May 23, 2017 (print edition page A25) begins with a medley of David’s Greatest Hits, harmonized so beautifully that it brought back a beautiful memory. Reader, stroll with me down Fifth Avenue that summer day in 1996 as my wife and I find ourselves passing the Mother Store of Tiffany’s.
* * *
“I HAVE! to go in here!” cried my wife, and in we went. My wife looked at the jewels in the front of the store and I walked on back and looked at the watches. One in particular caught my eye: a gold watch with a brown leather strap, a little larger than most watches but plain and simple and not at all ostentatious. What it was, though, was beautifully proportioned: a really handsome accessory. The brand was one that, in those days, meant nothing to me: Patek Philippe. So I asked the clerk how much it was.
“Seventy-eight thousand five hundred,” replied the clerk.
And my wife and I left Tiffany’s and continued on down the avenue.
But every once in a while, even now, somebody or something reminds me of M. Philippe and the relationship I never established with his métier. Today, for instance, the somebody was Mr. Brooks and the something was his magnanimously inclusive word we, as in
We have a college educated elite that has found ingenious ways to make everybody else feel invisible, that has managed to transfer wealth upward to itself, that crashes the hammer of political correctness down on anybody who does not have faculty lounge views.
Thank you for that, Mr. Brooks. You’ve made me feel Tiffany-worthy at last. As a token of my gratitude, what you see below is small and not nearly adequate to express what I feel, but here anyway is an authentic view from within the faculty lounge. Think of it as an allegorical still life illustrating the sound old saying “Time is money.” The watch is the one I actually wear when I leave the lounge and go forth to propagate its unsound new views.