Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Philip Roth RIP

Come on, who hasn't read - or hasn't had - Portnoy's Complaint...?
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Philip Roth, Towering Novelist Who Explored Lust, Jewish Life and America, Dies at 85

Charles McGrath
The New York Times
22 May 2018

Philip Roth, the prolific, protean, and often blackly comic novelist who was a pre-eminent figure in 20th century literature, died on Tuesday night at a hospital in Manhattan. He was 85.

The cause was congestive heart failure, said the writer Judith Thurman, a close friend. Mr. Roth had homes in Manhattan and Connecticut.

In the course of a very long career, Mr. Roth took on many guises — mainly versions of himself — in the exploration of what it means to be an American, a Jew, a writer, a man. He was a champion of Eastern European novelists like Ivan Klima and Bruno Schulz, and also a passionate student of American history and the American vernacular. And more than just about any other writer of his time he was tireless in his exploration of male sexuality. His creations include Alexander Portnoy, a teenager so libidinous he has sex with both his baseball mitt and the family dinner, and David Kepesh, a professor who turns into an exquisitely sensitive 155-pound female breast.

Mr. Roth was the last of the great white males: the triumvirate of writers — Saul Bellow and John Updike were the others — who towered over American letters in the second half of the 20th century. Outliving both and borne aloft by an extraordinary second wind, Mr. Roth wrote more novels than either of them. In 2005 he became only the third living writer (after Bellow and Eudora Welty) to have his books enshrined in the Library of America.

“Updike and Bellow hold their flashlights out into the world, reveal the world as it is now,” Mr. Roth once said. “I dig a hole and shine my flashlight into the hole.”

The Nobel Prize eluded Mr. Roth, but he won most of the other top honors: two National Book Awards, two National Book Critics Circle awards, three PEN/Faulkner Awards, a Pulitzer Prize and the Man Booker International Prize.

In his 60s, an age when many writers are winding down, he produced an exceptional sequence of historical novels — “American Pastoral,” “The Human Stain” and “I Married a Communist” — a product of his personal re-engagement with America and American themes. And starting with “Everyman” in 2006, when he was 73, he kept up a relentless book-a-year pace, publishing works that while not necessarily major were nevertheless fiercely intelligent and sharply observed. Their theme in one way or another was the ravages of age and mortality itself, and in publishing them Mr. Roth seemed to be defiantly staving off his own decline.

Mr. Roth was often lumped together with Bellow and Bernard Malamud as part of the “Hart, Schaffner & Marx of American letters,” but he resisted the label. “The epithet American-Jewish writer has no meaning for me,” he said. “If I’m not an American, I’m nothing.”

And yet, almost against his will sometimes, he was drawn again and again to writing about themes of Jewish identity, anti-Semitism and the Jewish experience in America. He returned often, especially in his later work, to the Weequahic neighborhood of Newark, where he grew up and which became in his writing a kind of vanished Eden: a place of middle-class pride, frugality, diligence and aspiration.

It was a place where no one was unaware “of the power to intimidate that emanated from the highest and lowest reaches of gentile America,” he wrote, and yet where being Jewish and being American were practically indistinguishable. Speaking of his father in “The Facts,” an autobiography, Mr. Roth said: “His repertoire has never been large: family, family, family, Newark, Newark, Newark, Jew, Jew, Jew. Somewhat like mine.”

Mr. Roth’s favorite vehicle for exploring this repertory was himself, or rather one of several fictional alter egos he deployed as a go-between, negotiating the tricky boundary between autobiography and invention and deliberately blurring the boundaries between real life and fiction. Nine of Mr. Roth’s novels are narrated by Nathan Zuckerman, a novelist whose career closely parallels that of his creator. Three more are narrated by David Kepesh, a writerly academic who shares some of Mr. Roth’s preoccupations, women especially. And sometimes Mr. Roth dispensed with the disguise altogether — or seemed to.

The protagonist of “Operation Shylock” is a character named Philip Roth, who is being impersonated by another character, who has stolen Roth’s identity. At the center of “The Plot Against America,” a book that invents an America where Charles Lindbergh wins the 1940 presidential election and initiates a secret pogrom against Jews, is a New Jersey family named Roth that resembles the author’s in every particular.

“Making fake biography, false history, concocting a half-imaginary existence out of the actual drama of my life is my life,” Mr. Roth told Hermione Lee in a 1984 interview in The Paris Review. “There has to be some pleasure in this life, and that’s it.”

Occasionally, as in “Deception,” a slender 1990 novel about a writer named Philip who is writing about a writer having an affair with one of his made-up characters, this sleight of hand feels stuntlike and a little dizzying. More often, and especially in “The Counterlife” (1986), Mr. Roth’s masterpiece in this vein, what results is a profound investigation into the competing and overlapping claims of fiction and reality, in which each aspires to the condition of the other and the very idea of a self becomes a fabrication at once heroic and treacherous.

Mr. Roth’s other great theme was sex, or male lust, which in his books is both a life force and a principle of rage and disorder. It is sex, the uncontrollable need to have it, that torments poor, guilt-ridden Portnoy, probably Mr. Roth’s most famous character, who desperately wants to “be bad — and to enjoy it.” And Mickey Sabbath, the protagonist of “Sabbath’s Theater,” one of Mr. Roth’s major late-career novels, is in many ways Portnoy grown old but still in the grip of lust and longing, raging against the indignity of old age and yet saved from suicidal impulses by the realization that there are too many people he loves to hate.

In public Mr. Roth, tall and good-looking, was gracious and charming but with little use for small talk. In private he was a gifted mimic and comedian. Friends used to say that if his writing career had ever fizzled he could have made a nice living doing stand-up. But there was about his person, as about his writing, a kind of simmering intensity, an impatience with art that didn’t take itself seriously.

Some writers “pretend to be more lovable than they are and some pretend to be less,” he told Ms. Lee. “Beside the point. Literature isn’t a moral beauty contest. Its power arises from the authority and audacity with which the impersonation is pulled off; the belief it inspires is what counts.”

Philip Milton Roth was born in Newark on March 19, 1933, the younger of two sons. (His brother, Sandy, a commercial artist, died in 2009.) His father, Herman, was an insurance manager for Metropolitan Life who felt that his career had been thwarted by the gentile executives who ran the company. Mr. Roth once described him as a cross between Captain Ahab and Willy Loman. His mother, the former Bess Finkel, was a secretary before she married and then became a housekeeper of the heroic old school — the kind, he once suggested, who raised cleaning to an art form.

The family lived in a five-room apartment on Summit Avenue within which were only three books when he was growing up — given as presents when someone was ill, Mr. Roth said. He went to Weequahic High, where he was a good student but not good enough to win a scholarship to Rutgers, as he had hoped. In 1951 he enrolled as a pre-law student at the Newark branch of Rutgers, with vague notions of becoming “a lawyer for the underdog.”

But he yearned to live away from home, and the following year he transferred to Bucknell College in Lewisburg, Pa., a place about which he knew almost nothing except that a Newark neighbor seemed to have thrived there. Inspired by one of his professors, Mildred Martin, with whom he remained a lasting friend, Mr. Roth switched his interests from law to literature. He helped found a campus literary magazine, where in an early burst of his satiric power he published a parody of the college newspaper so devastating that it earned him an admonition from the dean.

Mr. Roth graduated from Bucknell, magna cum laude, in 1954 and won a scholarship to the University of Chicago, where he was awarded an M.A. in 1955. That same year, rather than wait for the draft, he enlisted in the Army but suffered a back injury during basic training and received a medical discharge. In 1956 he returned to Chicago to study for a Ph.D. in English but dropped out after one term.

Mr. Roth had begun to write and publish short stories by then, and in 1959 he won a Houghton Mifflin Fellowship to publish what became his first collection, “Goodbye, Columbus.” It won the National Book Award in 1960 but was denounced — in an inkling of trouble to come — by some influential rabbis, who objected to the portrayal of the worldly, assimilated Patimkin family in the title novella, and even more to the story “Defender of the Faith,” about a Jewish Army sergeant plagued by goldbricking draftees of his own faith.

In 1962, while appearing on a panel at Yeshiva University, Mr. Roth was so denounced, for that story especially, that he resolved never to write about Jews again. He quickly changed his mind.

“My humiliation before the Yeshiva belligerents — indeed, the angry Jewish resistance that I aroused virtually from the start — was the luckiest break I could have had,” he later wrote. “I was branded.”

Mr. Roth later called his first two novels “apprentice work.” “Letting Go,” published in 1962, was derived in about equal parts from Bellow and Henry James. “When She Was Good,” which came out in 1967, is the most un-Rothian of his books, a Theodore Dreiser- or Sherwood Anderson-like story set in the WASP Midwest in the 1940s.

“When She Was Good” was based in part on the life and family of Margaret Martinson Williams, with whom Mr. Roth had entered a calamitous relationship in 1959. Ms. Williams, who was divorced and had a daughter, met Mr. Roth while she was waiting tables in Chicago, and she tricked him into marriage by pretending to be pregnant. He was “enslaved” to her own sense of victimization, he wrote. They separated in 1963, but Ms. Williams refused to divorce, and she remained a vexatious presence in his life until she died in a car crash in 1968. (She appears as Josie Jensen in “The Facts” and, more or less undisguised, as the exasperating Margaret Tarnopol in Mr. Roth’s novel “My Life as a Man.”)

After the separation, Mr. Roth moved back East and began work on “Portnoy’s Complaint,” the novel for which he may be best known and which surely set a record for most masturbation scenes per page. It was a breakthrough not just for Mr. Roth but for American letters, which had never known anything like it: an extended, unhinged monologue, at once filthy and hilarious, by a neurotic young Jewish man trying to break free of his suffocating parents and tormented by a longing to have sex with gentile women, shiksas.

The book was “an experiment in verbal exuberance,” Mr. Roth said, and it deliberately broke all the rules.

The novel, published in 1969, became a best seller but received mixed reviews. Josh Greenfeld, writing in The New York Times Book Review, called it “the very novel that every American-Jewish writer has been trying to write in one guise or another since the end of World War II.” On the other hand, Irving Howe (on whom Mr. Roth later modeled the pompous, stuffy critic Milton Appel in “The Anatomy Lesson”) wrote in a lengthy takedown in 1972, “The cruelest thing anyone can do with ‘Portnoy’s Complaint’ is read it twice.”

And once again the rabbis complained. Gershom Scholem, the great kabbalah scholar, declared that the book was more harmful to Jews than “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.”

Mr. Roth’s autobiographical phase began in 1974 with “My Life as a Man,” which he said was probably the least factually altered of his books, and continued with the Zuckerman trilogy — “The Ghost Writer” (1979), “Zuckerman Unbound” (1981) and “The Anatomy Lesson” (1983) — which examined the authorial vocation and even the nature of writing itself.

Zuckerman reappeared in “The Counterlife” (1986), where he seems to die of a heart attack and is then resurrected. “Operation Shylock” (1993), which Mr. Roth pretended was a “confession,” not a novel (though in the very last sentence he says, “This confession is false”), involved two Roths, one real and one phony, and the real one claims to have been a spy for the Mossad. The book, with its sense of shifting reality and unstable identity, partly stemmed from a near-breakdown Mr. Roth experienced when he became addicted to the sleeping pill Halcion after knee surgery in 1983 and from severe depression he suffered after emergency bypass surgery in 1989.

For much of this time Mr. Roth had been spending half the year in London with the actress Claire Bloom, with whom he began living in 1976. They married in 1990 but divorced four years later. In 1996, Ms. Bloom published a memoir, “Leaving the Doll’s House,” in which she depicted him as a misogynist and control freak, so self-involved that he refused to let her daughter, from her marriage to the actor Rod Steiger, live with them because she bored him.

Never fond of attention, Mr. Roth became even more reclusive after this accusation and never publicly replied to it, though he privately denied it. Some critics found unflattering parallels to Ms. Bloom and her daughter in the characters Eve Frame and her daughter, Sylphid, in “I Married a Communist.”
An American Trilogy

The marriage over, Mr. Roth moved permanently back to the United States and began what proved to be the third major phase of his career. He returned, he said, because he felt out of touch: “It was really my rediscovering America as a writer.”

“Sabbath’s Theater,” which came out in 1995 and won the National Book Award, is about neither Roth nor Zuckerman but rather Morris Sabbath, known as Mickey, an ex-puppeteer in his 60s. His voice is nothing if not American: an angry, comic, lustful harangue.

“In this new book life is represented as anarchic horniness on the rampage against death and its harbingers, old age and impotence,” Frank Kermode wrote in The New York Review of Books, adding, “There is really only one way for him to tell the story — defiantly with outraged phallic energy.”

Like “Portnoy’s Complaint,” “Sabbath’s Theater” seemed to liberate its author, and yet the work that followed — what Mr. Roth called his American trilogy: “American Pastoral,” “I Married a Communist” and “The Human Stain” — is less about sex than about history or traumatic moments in American culture. Zuckerman returns as the narrator of all three novels, but he is in his 60s now, impotent and suffering from prostate cancer. His prose is plainer, crisper, less show-offy, and he is less an actor than an observer and interpreter.

The books are full of dense reportorial detail — about such seemingly un-Rothian subjects as glove making and ice fishing — as they tell Job-like stories. There is Swede Lvov, a seemingly gilded Newark businessman, a gifted athlete married to Miss New Jersey of 1949, whose life is destroyed in the 1960s when his teenage daughter becomes an antiwar terrorist and plants a bomb that kills an innocent bystander. Ira Ringold is a star of a radio serial during the McCarthy era who is blacklisted and becomes the subject of an exposé published by his own wife. And Coleman Silk, a black classics professor passing as white, commits an innocent classroom gaffe while the Clinton impeachment is taking place and finds himself mercilessly hounded by the politically correct.

These books are not without their comic moments, but history here is no joke; it is more nearly a tragedy. In 2007, Mr. Roth killed Zuckerman off in the sad and affecting “Exit Ghost,” a novel that cleverly echoes and inverts the themes of “The Ghost Writer,” the first of the Zuckerman novels. Meanwhile he had begun writing a series of shorter novels that, after the publication of “Nemesis” in 2010, he began calling “Nemeses.” The sequence began in 2005 with “Everyman,” which starts in a graveyard and ends on an operating table.

That work set the tone for the rest: “Indignation” (2008), a ghost story of sorts about a young student unfairly expelled from college and sent off to fight in the Korean War; “The Humbling” (2009), about an actor who has lost his powers; and “Nemesis,” about the polio epidemic of the 1950s. The prose became even sparer and, in the case of “Nemesis,” deliberately matter-of-fact and unliterary, and though the books have plenty of sexual moments, they are haunted by something darker and bleaker.

Yet the very existence of these books, coming reliably almost one every year, seemed to belie their message. “Time doesn’t prey on my mind. It should, but it doesn’t,” Mr. Roth told David Remnick. He added: “I don’t know yet what this will all add up to, and it no longer matters, because there’s no stopping. All you want to do is the obvious. Just get it right.”

Increasingly, Mr. Roth spent most of his time alone in his 18th-century Connecticut farmhouse, returning to New York mostly in the winter when he grew so stir-crazy he found himself talking to woodchucks. He worked, read in the evenings (nonfiction mostly) and occasionally listened to a ballgame. In some ways he came to resemble his own creation, Nathan Zuckerman, who asks at the end of a chapter in “Exit Ghost,” “Isn’t one’s pain quotient shocking enough without fictional amplification, without giving things an intensity that is ephemeral in life and sometimes even unseen?”

“Not for some,” he goes on. “For some very, very few that amplification, evolving uncertainly out of nothing, constitutes their only assurance, and the unlived, the surmise, fully drawn in print on paper, is the life whose meaning comes to matter most.”

In 2010, right after “Nemesis,” Mr. Roth decided to quit writing. He didn’t tell anyone at first, because, as he said, he didn’t want to be like Frank Sinatra, announcing his retirement one minute and making a comeback the next. But he stuck with his plan and in 2012, he officially announced that he was done. A Post-it note on his computer said, “The struggle with writing is done.”

He had been famous for putting in endless days at his stand-up desk, throwing out more pages than he kept, and in a 2018 interview he said he was worn out. “I was by this time no longer in possession of the mental vitality or the physical fitness needed to mount and sustain a large creative attack of any duration.” He settled into the contented life of an Upper West Side retiree, seeing friends, going to concerts.

He was in frequent communication with his appointed biographer, Blake Bailey, whom he sometimes flooded with notes, and he was also at pains to straighten out an erroneous Wikipedia account of his life. Mostly, he read — nonfiction by preference, but he made exception for the occasional novel. One of the last he read was “Asymmetry,” by Lisa Halliday, a book about a young woman who has a romance with an aging novelist who bore an unmistakable resemblance to Mr. Roth — funny, kind, acerbic, passionate, immensely well-read, a devotee of Zabar’s and old movies. In an interview, Mr. Roth acknowledged that he and Ms. Halliday had been friends, and added: “She got me.”

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Michael Chabon talks about Pops: Fatherhood in Pieces

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Michael Chabon: ‘Parent properly and you’re doing yourself out of a job’
The Pulitzer prize-winner on combining writing with raising kids, his freakozoid tendencies and the authors he returns to

Alex Preston
The Guardian
Sat 12 May 2018

Michael Chabon is one of America’s best-loved writers, the author of nine novels, including The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (which won the Pulitzer prize), Wonder Boys, The Yiddish Policemen’s Union and Moonglow. In 2009, he published Manhood for Amateurs, a series of reflections on his early years as a father. Now, with Pops: Fatherhood in Pieces, 54-year-old Chabon has collected his essays about parenting four teenagers.

A few years ago, Chabon’s wife, the novelist Ayelet Waldman, wrote a controversial essay for the New York Times in which she claimed to love her husband more than her children (and to be the only one of her married friends still having regular sex). Chabon’s meditations on fatherhood are less likely to offend – they’re generous, very Californian (Chabon lives in Berkeley) and full of warm, often humorous anecdotes.

If Manhood for Amateurs was about taking on responsibility, Pops feels like it’s about letting go as your kids grow up.
Eventually, one of the things you come up against as a parent is the limitation of your importance in your kids’ life. They go off and forge relationships and make families by choice, in one way or another. You recede and dwindle in importance. If you are parenting properly, you’re parenting yourself out of a job.

In the introduction to Pops, you recall a long-ago conversation with an older author who told you that you had to choose between being a great novelist or a father.
I realised I wasn’t interested in the question of balancing one’s art and one’s life as a parent. I’m not saying it isn’t a problem, but I was trying to consider a different question – what difference does it make in the end, either way? Either your books will be forgotten or even if you are remembered in 100 years, you won’t be around to enjoy it.

You write about a discussion with your daughter in which you talk about how important it is to be a “freakozoid”. How do we encourage our children to embrace their own weirdnesses?
My daughter went to fifth grade one day wearing a dress on top of jeans, a green rubber apron with blue frogs all over it and a Martha Washington bonnet that we’d bought on a family trip to Washington’s home at Mount Vernon. When your kid has an impulse like that you either say: “Go change your clothes, people are going to make fun of you, you look ridiculous” or you say: “See you this afternoon.” If you choose the latter option then you take a step in the direction of encouraging your kid’s freakozoid tendencies.

In Against Dickitude, you gently upbraid your elder son for his textual mistreatment of a female friend. She’s interested in him and he either doesn’t reply or sends emotionless one-word responses. How have you found bringing up teenagers during the boom years of social media?
When I observe the lives not just of my teenage children but also of their friends, it’s just so much harder now and that’s almost exclusively because of social media. When I was a teenager, I might arrive at school on a Monday and gradually come to realise that a party had occurred over the weekend to which I had not been invited. But I was blissfully unaware of that over the weekend when the party was going on. That Fomo [fear of missing out] is just a routine part of adolescence now and you’re always vividly and constantly aware of all of the apparently fun things that are going on within your supposed friend group to which you have not been invited.

You write about your children by name. Do you ask their permission? Do you worry about their right to private lives?
Everything you write is drawn from the people you know. You can do all this sweating and agonising about whether it’s going to embarrass them or make them angry and often it just sails right over them and they don’t even recognise that you’re talking about them.

Saying that, writing Little Man [an essay in Pops about taking his 13-year-old son to Paris fashion week] was the single hardest short piece of writing I’ve ever had to do.

What’s the last really great book you read?
I just reread for probably the fifth time The Queen’s Gambit by Walter Tevis. I had to teach it at the State University of New York. Every time I read it I’m overcome afresh with admiration for it and with awe for the control of its performance.

How do you organise your books?
Alphabetically, in the most part. We have a house where we live here in Berkeley and we have a summer house in Maine, which is full of all the books we couldn’t fit in here. There are some glassed-in shelves in our house in Maine in which, one summer’s day a few years back when I didn’t have a whole lot else to do, I organised them by colour. That looks pretty spectacular.

Which classic novel did you read recently for the first time?
I’m not sure if it quite counts as a classic, but I just read Sebald’s Austerlitz for the first time. I loved it – it’s beautiful. It was the one of his that I hadn’t read.

Which book would you give to a young person?

Books that I loved as a child and which I then reread to my children who also loved them were The Dark Is Rising series of novels. They are so fantastic. Also Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain, based on Welsh mythology and The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster.

Finally, there’s Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh, which I mostly loved because she wanted to be a writer when she grew up.

What books do you read for sheer pleasure?
I go back to Edgar Allan Poe, Raymond Chandler. There’s a little-known American thriller novelist called Ross Thomas. I’ll pick one of his books up and I’ll only sometimes have to read a chapter or two to re-establish contact with whatever it was that was comforting and familiar about it.

Friday, 18 May 2018

Dead Poets Society #77 Robert Penn Warren: San Francisco Night Windows

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Robert Penn Warren: San Francisco Night Windows

So hangs the hour like fruit fullblown and sweet,
Our strict and desperate avatar,
Despite that antique westward gulls lament
Over enormous waters which retreat
Weary unto the white and sensual star.
Accept these images for what they are--
Out of the past a fragile element
Of substance into accident.
I would speak honestly and of a full heart;
I would speak surely for the tale is short,
And the soul's remorseless catalogue
Assumes its quick and piteous sum.
Think you, hungry is the city in the fog
Where now the darkened piles resume
Their framed and frozen prayer
Articulate and shafted in the stone
Against the void and absolute air.
If so the frantic breath could be forgiven,
And the deep blood subdued before it is gone
In a savage paternoster to the stone,
Then might we all be shriven.

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

J. D. Salinger and the Nazis

I know, I know... the title sounds like one of those God-awful Channel 4 type documentaries where you can substitute 'Pyramids' or 'Sharks' for 'Nazis,' but...

J. D. Salinger and the Nazis
Eberhard Alsen

Uncovering the impact of Salinger's World War II experience

Before J.D. Salinger became famous for his 1951 novel The Catcher in the Rye and infamous as a literary recluse, he was a soldier in World War II. While serving in the U.S. Army's Counter Intelligence Corps (CIC) in Europe, Salinger wrote more than twenty short stories and returned home with a German war bride. Eberhard Alsen, through meticulous archival research and careful analysis of the literary record, corrects mistaken assumptions about the young writer's war years and their repercussions. Though recent biographies and films claim that Salinger regularly participated in combat, Alsen cites military documents showing that his counterintelligence work was well behind the front lines.

Alsen, a longtime Salinger scholar who witnessed the Nazi regime firsthand as a child in Germany, tracks Salinger's prewar experiences in the army, his work for the CIC during significant military campaigns, and his reactions to three military disasters that killed more than a thousand fellow soldiers in his Fourth Infantry Division. Alsen also identifies the Nazi death camp where Salinger saw mounds of recently burned bodies. Revealing details shed light on Salinger's outspoken disgust for American military leaders, the personality changes that others saw in him after the war, and his avoidance of topics related to the Holocaust.

Eberhard Alsen is a professor emeritus of English at Cortland College, State University of New York. He is the author of several books, including A Reader's Guide to J.D. Salinger and Salinger's Glass Stories as a Composite Novel.

Monday, 14 May 2018

Saturday, 12 May 2018

Mario Carnicelli: America in the 60s

Schoolboy, New York, 1966

South Pacific Restaurant, Chicago, 1966

Lincoln Memorial, Washington, 1967

Men Wanted shopfront, Chicago, 1966

Two girls in a car, Washington DC, 1967

Queue at job centre, Chicago, 1966

Fashion students, New York, 1966

Trade union workers, Detroit, 1966

Airport payphones, Chicago, 1966

Barber College, Chicago, 1966

Yellow cab, Chicago, 1966

Window Nurses, NYC, 1966, by Mario Carnicelli.
Window Nurses, New York, 1966

Image result for mario carnicelli tony nourmand
American Voyage: Photographs by Mario Carnicelli
Beautiful portrait of America in the 1960s, rediscovered after 50 years

In 1966, Mario Carnicelli won first place in an Italian national photography competition sponsored by Popular Photography magazine and Mamiya and Pentax. The prize was a scholarship to photograph America.

Carnicelli was fascinated by the almost reckless freedom offered by America, with its mix of cultures and traditions, its fashion and individuality; while at the same time he was aware of a pervading loneliness and rootlessness in people separated from family and clan. This beautiful book features over 150 colour and black and white images of America in the 1960s. It transcends other books on a similar subject matter; the photographs are truly compelling, drawing the reader/viewer into Carnicelli’s world. He approached the country as an outsider, and yet his perspective managed to capture the essence of the American experience. His photographs are a captivating, optimistic and contemplative look at the complexity of ordinary people living the American dream.

These photographs were recently rediscovered after 50 years, and the book’s release coincides with an exhibition of this work at Morton Hill Gallery in London.
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MARIO CARNICELLI (b.1937) was exposed to photography from a young age, through his family’s photography business in Pistoia, Italy. He went on to document public events, demonstrations and political meetings. His style was in uenced by the humanistic approach, photographers like Lewis Hine and the FSA-photographers. He worked for national newspapers and magazines and had several solo exhibitions of his work during the 1960s and 1970s, before retiring from photography in the 1970s to focus on running his own photography business. Many of his photographs, including his American Voyage essays, have lain forgotten until now.

ISBN: 978-1-909526-57-0
160pp; hardback; 150+ colour and b/w photographs
275 x 230mm / 10.75 x 9 in

Photographs by Mario Carnicelli

Friday, 11 May 2018

Dead Poets Society #76 Stevie Smith: Drugs Made Pauline Vague

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Stevie Smith - Drugs Made Pauline Vague

Drugs made Pauline vague.
She sat one day at the breakfast table
Fingering in a baffled way
The fronds of the maidenhair plant.

Was it the salt you were looking for dear?
said Dulcie, exchanging a glance with the Brigadier.

Chuff chuff Pauline what's the matter?
Said the Brigadier to his wife
Who did not even notice
What a handsome couple they made.

Thursday, 10 May 2018

Last night's set lists at The Habit, York

At The Habit, York: -

Ron Elderly: -
Try A Little Tenderness
Dead Flowers

Da Elderly: -
Heart Of Gold

The Elderly Brothers: -
Then I Kissed Her
Hello Mary Lou
Bus Stop
Crying In The Rain
Surfin' USA

It was a busy one on a wet night. Our host kicked off with two original songs, backed by TWO bass players (see above) - a first for The Habit and probably most other venues. Highlights included: Stan covering Slow Train Coming and singing an excellent original song; Chris getting everyone singing along with California Dreaming and some deft harmonica work by a young guy who also wielded a resonator guitar. The Elderly Brothers finished off the night and included two songs appropriate for the weather conditions!

P.S. there will be no reports from The Habit for the next few weeks as Da is away on vacation.

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

W. C. Fields: the soul behind the gag

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W. C. Fields

James Curtis
The New York Times
30 March 2003

Comedy, Bill Fields would say, is truth-a bit of artful reality, expressed in action or words, carefully exaggerated and brought to a surprise finish. Fields didn't think the mechanics of a gag counted for half as much as the soul behind it. You might coax a laugh from a willing audience over most anything, but a gag wouldn't be memorable without the delight of human recognition.

The comedy Fields propounded reached its apogee with a modest sixty-seven-minute film called It's a Gift. In it, he plays an everyman-hardworking, beset by life's frustrations, caring and respectful of a family that no longer appreciates him. He dreams his dreams in private. He is not brilliant, lovable, or even admirable, but his dignity never leaves him, and, in the end, he triumphs as much through luck as perseverance. When it was released, in November 1934, It's a Gift was a minor event, bound for a quick playoff in what Variety referred to as "the nabes." But the critics took notice, and a groundswell of enthusiasm for the fifty-four-year-old Fields and his work, which had been building for eighteen months, suddenly erupted. Andre Sennwald, writing in the New York Times, referred to Fields' growing legion of fans as "idolaters," and, although not necessarily one himself, he concluded his notice by sweeping away all doubt that one of the great comedies of the so! und era had arrived. "The fact is that Mr. Fields has come back to us again, and It's a Gift automatically becomes the best screen comedy on Broadway."

As Fields pointed out, the appeal of his character was rooted in the characteristics audiences saw in themselves. "You've heard the old legend that it's the little put-upon guy who gets the laughs, but I'm the most belligerent guy on the screen. I'm going to kill everybody. But, at the same time, I'm afraid of everybody-just a great big frightened bully. There's a lot of that in human nature. When people laugh at me, they're laughing at themselves. Or, at least, the next fellow."

Like Mark Twain, Fields believed humor sprang naturally from tragedy, and that it was normal and therefore acceptable to behave badly when things went wrong. One of the key sequences in It's a Gift shows an elderly blind man laying waste to Fields' general store with his cane. Afterward, Fields sends him out into a busy street, where he is almost run down in traffic. "I never saw anything funny that wasn't terrible," Fields said. "If it causes pain, it's funny; if it doesn't, it isn't."

"I was the first comic in world history, so they told me, to pick fights with children. I booted Baby LeRoy. The No-men-they're even worse than the Yes-men-shook their heads and said it would never go; people wouldn't stand for it ... then, in another picture, I kicked a little dog.... The No-men said I couldn't do that either. But I got sympathy both times. People didn't know what the unmanageable baby might do to get even, and they thought the dog might bite me."

The conniving and bibulous character Fields developed caught the public imagination at a time when the nation was deep in the throes of the Great Depression and the sale of liquor was still prohibited by law. He appeared on the scene as the embodiment of public misbehavior, a man not so much at odds with authority as completely oblivious to it. He drank because he enjoyed it and cheated at cards because he was good at it. Fields wasn't a bad sort, but rather a throwback to a time when such behaviors were perfectly innocuous and government wasn't quite so paternalistic. Harold Lloyd called him "the foremost American comedian," and Buster Keaton considered him, along with Charlie Chaplin and Harry Langdon, the greatest of all film comics. "His comedy is unique, original, and side-splitting."

Fields had the courage to cast himself in the decidedly unfavorable light of a bully and a con man. He not only summed up the frustrations of the common man-he did something about them. Unlike most comedians, he never asked to be loved; he was short-tempered, a coward, an outright faker at times. Chaplin was better known, Keaton more technically ambitious, and Laurel and Hardy were certainly more beloved, but Fields resonated with audiences in ways other comics did not. He wasn't a clown; he didn't dress like a tramp or live in the distant world of the London ghetto. Indeed, for most audiences he lived just down the street or around the corner. He was everyone's disagreeable uncle, or the tippling neighbor who warned off the local kids with a golf club. People responded to the honesty of Fields' character because, like Archie Bunker of a later generation, everyone knew somebody just like him. They admired him in a grudging sort of way, and saw the humanity beneath his thick crust of contempt for the world.

"The first thing I remember figuring out for myself was that I wanted to be a definite personality," he said. "I had heard a man say he liked a certain fellow because he was always the same dirty damn so and so. You know, like Larsen in Jack London's Sea Wolf. He was detestable, yet you admired him because he remained true to type. Well, I thought that was a swell idea, so I developed a philosophy of my own: Be your type! I determined that whatever I was, I'd be that, I wouldn't teeter on the fence."

The childhood Fields exaggerated for interviewers was vividly Dickensian, and his run-ins with his father had the brutal energy of Sennett slapstick. Yet the humanity he always strived for in his film treatments failed him when dredging up details of his own early life. He invariably described his father as an abusive scoundrel, his mother as ineffectual and sottish, and his younger self as a Philadelphian version of Huck Finn. He sprang from immigrant stock-his father was British-and however American Fields seemed, there was always an element of the outsider in the characters he played. He embraced the nomadic spirit of his grandfather, whom he never met, and although he was married to the same woman for the entirety of his adult life, he was always at odds with both her and the world, embattled and solitary.

Fields moved through a career that lasted nearly half a century, acquiring slowly the elements of the character by which he is known today. Onstage, he perfected what can best be described as the comedy of frustration, building one of his most popular routines on the petty distractions a golfer encounters while attempting to tee off. His seminal pool act was similarly constructed, leading him to conclude that "the funniest thing a comedian can do is not to do it." In films, he found his voice after an abortive career in silents and became, in the words of James Agee, "the toughest and most warmly human of all screen comedians."

His time as one of Hollywood's top draws was brief-barely six years-and by 1941 his audience had largely abandoned him. Radio, where he could still find work, drained him of any subtlety, due, in large part, to his boozy exchanges with Edgar Bergen's sarcastic dummy, Charlie McCarthy. In spite of his own best efforts, he was constantly at pains to justify a character that had become so fixed in the public mind that he was widely presumed to be the same man he portrayed onscreen. The day he died, Bob Hope made a joke about him on NBC. Hope implied he had seen Fields drunk: "I saw W. C. Fields on the street and waved, and he weaved back." The audience laughed; Fields was by then the most famous drunk in the world. It no longer mattered that he had never played a drunk in his life.

In 1880, travelers approaching Philadelphia from Delaware County and points south would generally pass through the tiny borough of Darby on their way to the Quaker City. Less than a mile square, Darby was a mill town and a transportation hub, home to 1,779 permanent residents and a cluster of paper and textile factories that fairly dominated the landscape. Every day, fifteen thousand workers flooded the town, making the central business district, which ran four blocks along Main Street between Tenth and Mill, second only to Chester in terms of size and importance. There were taprooms and cafs, a funeral parlor, a dozen churches, an Odd Fellows lodge, and one of the oldest free libraries in the nation. Both the B&O and Pennsylvania Railroads passed through Darby, and trolleys connected the Philadelphia line with Wilmington and Chester. Just beyond town were cattle and horse ranches and a vast blanket of farmland that stretched toward Media. Wealthy buyers in search of prime racing stock would put up at the Buttonwood Hotel, at the terminus of the Chester Traction Co. line, or sometimes at the Bluebell Tavern, up near Grays Ferry, where George Washington was said to have stopped on his way to Philadelphia for the second inaugural. Of Darby's several inns, however, only one actually catered to the horse trade-a simple stone building at the southeast corner of Main and Mill Streets known as the Arlington House.

Older than the Buttonwood and less historic than the Bluebell, the Arlington stood directly in front of Griswold's Worsted, the largest and most modern of Darby's numerous textile mills, and a block and a half west of the town dock, the central receiving point for freight and supplies brought up the Delaware River and inland via Cobbs Creek. At the noisiest and dustiest intersection in town, the Arlington was a stopping point for dockhands, mill workers, clerks, tradesmen, and tourists on their way to or from Philadelphia. Atop its three modest stories was a fire lookout, a box- like room with windows on all sides that afforded a panoramic view of the mills along the two tidewater streams, Cobbs Creek on the east and Darby Creek on the west, and the main arteries leading off into Lansdowne, to the north, and Sharon Hill, to the south.

Locals and guests pausing at the bar on the ground floor were likely to be served by James Lydon Dukenfield, a robust Brit in his late thirties who ran the hotel with his wife, Kate, and a cousin from New York named Jim Lester. A short, stocky man with intense blue eyes, a thick moustache, and light hair he carefully parted down the middle, Jim Dukenfield broke Arabian horses for a living and obviously saw an opportunity when the little hotel, built on the site of an old flour mill, came up for lease. He was known for his flash temper, his extemporaneous bursts into song (the more sentimental the better), and the two fingers missing from his left hand. He had a ready smile that made him a congenial host, and an explosive contempt for authority that made him a difficult employee.

Jim had been a volunteer fireman in the days when such companies were like roaming bands of hooligans that would cut the hoses of rival companies for the privilege of knocking down a fire. He enlisted with the Philadelphia Fire Zouaves when the call came for three-year volunteers in August 1861. He deserted for five months-not responding any better to military authority than he had to any other kind-and was mustered out after "accidently" getting his fingers blown off while on picket duty near Fair Oaks. Four of his nine brothers also answered the call, and all survived with the exception of George, two years younger than Jim, who fell at Gettysburg on July 2, 1863. Jim liked to say he had been wounded at the Battle of Lookout Mountain; his eldest son said he had more likely been caught picking pockets.

Jim Dukenfield was one of thirteen children, most of whom followed their father, John Dukinfield, to the United States in the mid-1850s. John was the second son of George Dukinfield, who in turn was the third son of Lord Dukinfield of Cheshire. John Dukinfield and his elder brother George were born patricians, but the estate passed in line to a grandson who was a clergyman and vicar of the county. When he subsequently died without issue, the estate reverted to the chancery and became property of the kingdom. John moved to Sheffield-not to work in the mines but to distinguish himself as a comb maker, carving premium designs from animal horns. He married an Irish Catholic girl named Ann Lyden and began her career in wholesale motherhood with the birth of their first son, Walter, in 1835. The business grew steadily, and by 1837 John had taken George on as a partner. They established a little factory in Rockingham Street, where they made buttons, spectacle frames, and pocket knives, and installed their families in adjacent housing nearby.

John was a restless spirit, impulsive and autocratic. He had a big nose that would later inspire his niece Emily to remark that his grandson, the film comedian he never met, resembled him "especially above the mouth." In 1854, John was seized with the notion of moving to the United States, where there would be fresh supplies and a ready market for his imitation pearl buttons and tortoiseshell glasses. He packed a trunkful of supplies, enlisted his twelve-year-old son Jim for the trip, and left Ann, pregnant as usual, in George's care. The voyage was arduous, plagued by bad weather, and they were shipwrecked off the coast of Glen Cove, Long Island. John and his son made their way to Dudley, New Jersey, north of Camden, then crossed the Delaware River into Philadelphia, where they opened a dry goods store in the Kensington district, known because of its concentration of British textile workers as "Little England." Ann followed with most of the other kids; Godfrey, the youngest, made the crossing from England in his mother's arms.

The family had largely reassembled by November, when John filed a declaration of intent to become an American citizen. He also began spelling his name "Dukenfield" (with an "en" in place of the "in"), apparently considering this to be an appropriate Americanization of the name. The Dukenfield boys were all fiercely independent-not unlike the old man-and no two spelled the family name alike. According to one source, it derived from "Dug-in-field," meaning "bird-in-field," and there was (and still is) a township in Stockport Parish, near Manchester, called Dukinfield. Jim spelled it with an "en," and other variations included Duckinfield (favored by George as a child), Duckenfield, and even Dutenfield.

The older boys took jobs in and around Philadelphia. Jim, who was good with horses, became a driver. His brother John became a bricklayer, and another brother, George, became a potter. Walter, the eldest, worked as a bartender at the Union Hotel. The family business moved to Girard Avenue, west of Second, and eventually north to 625 Cumberland, where it remained into the 1890s. John Dukenfield opened a tavern on East Norris Street, and it was there that he increasingly spent his time. He managed to drink the business into a downturn, and, in 1859, with six children under the age of ten still living at home, he abandoned his wife and family. Ann struggled mightily with the business, eventually passing it to her brother-in-law George.

Excerpted from W. C. Fields by James Curtis Copyright © 2003 by James Curtis

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Tuesday, 8 May 2018

Film Noir Posters #12 The Maltese Falcon (Huston, 1941)

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A coule of Italian posters intent on spicing it up!
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A gothic reimagining?
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The 'Naked City' version:
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A reminder that Huston's wasn't the first version:
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