“For Elisabeth beauty was nothing but a pretext for ointments, clothes-pegs, distortions, secret masquerades in a scarecrow assortment of bits and pieces. Far from being a heady draught, her present success was merely a new kind of game, a change from the rigours of the Game of yore; she was a white-collar worker on a fishing expedition.”
2. The Dinner Party
Although an after-work “leisure activity,” the dinner party is in fact a celebration of professional identity. Each of the guests has been pre-selected as in a floral bouquet; and in certain developed forms of this ritual there is usually a cunning mix of professions. Yet the point is finally not so much diversity as commonality: what remarkably shared attitudes and interests these people from different vocations demonstrate by conversing intelligently, or at least glibly, on the topics that arise. Naturally, a person cannot discourse too technically about one’s line of work, so he or she picks precisely those themes that invite overlap. The psychiatrist laments the new breed of ego-less, narcissistic patient who keeps turning up in his office—a beach bum who lacks the work ethic; the college professor bemoans the shoddy intellectual backgrounds and self centered ignorance of his students; and the bookseller parodies the customer who pronounced “Sophocles” to rhyme with “bifocles.” The dinner party is thus an exercise inlocating ignorance—elsewhere. Whoever is present is ipso facto part of that beleaguered remnant of civilized folk fast disappearing from Earth.
Or think of a dinner party as a club of revolutionaries, a technocratic elite whose social interactions that night are a dry run for some future takeover of the State. These are the future cabinet members (now only a shadow-cabinet, alas) meeting to practice for the first time. How well they get on! “The time will soon be ripe, my friends… .” If this is too fanciful for you, then compare the dinner party to a utopian community, a Brook Farm supper club, where only the best and most useful community-members are chosen to participate. The smugness begins as soon as one enters the door, since one is already part of the chosen few. And from then on, every mechanical step in dinner-party process is designed to augment the atmosphere of group amour-propre. This is not so say that there won’t be one or two people in an absolute torment of exclusion, too shy to speak up, or else suspecting that when they do, their contributions fail to carry the same weight as the others’. The group’s all-purpose drone of self-contentment ignores these drowning people—cruelly inattentive in one sense, but benign in another: it invites them to join the shared ethos of success any time they are ready.
5. Making Love
If it is true that I have the tendency to withhold sympathy from those pleasures or experiences which fall outside my capabilities, the opposite is also true: I admire immoderately those things I cannot do. I’ve always gone out with women who swam better than I did. It’s as if I were asking them to teach me how to make love. Though I know how to make love (more or less), I have never fully shaken that adolescent boy’s insecurity that there was more to it than I could ever imagine, and that I needed a full time instructress. For my first sexual experiences, in fact, I chose older women. Later, when I slept with women my own age and younger, I still tended to take the stylistic lead from them, adapting myself to each one’s rhythm and ardor, not only because I wanted to be “responsive,” but because I secretly thought that women—any woman—understood love-making in a way that I did not. In bed I came to them as a student; and I have made them pay later, in other ways, for letting them see me thus. Sex has always been so impromptu, so out of my control, so different each time, that even when I became the confident bull in bed I was dismayed by this surprising sudden power, itself a form of powerlessness because so unpredictable…
I tried to grasp the rhythms of carefree youth; I blended in at rallies, I stood at the fringes of be-ins, watching new rituals of communal love, someone being passed through the air hand to hand. But I never “trusted the group” enough to let myself be the guinea pig; or if I did, it was only with the proud stubborn conviction that nothing could change me—though I also wanted to change. Swearing I would never learn transcendence, I hitchhiked and climbed mountains. I went to wine-tasting festivals, and also accepted the wine jug from hippie gypsies in a circle around a beach campfire, without first wiping off the lip. I registered for a Free School course in human sexual response, just to get laid; and when that worked, I was shocked, and took up with someone else. There were many women in those years who got naked with me. I wish I could remember their names. I smoked grass with them, and as a sign of faith I took psychedelic drugs, and we made love in bushes and beach-houses, as though hacking through jungles with machetes to stay in touch with our ecstatic genitals while our minds soared off into natural marvels. Such experiences taught me, I will admit, how much romantic feeling can transform the body whose nerve-tendrils are receptive to it. Technicolor fantasies of one girlfriend as a señorita with flowers in her impossibly wavy hair would suddenly pitch and roll beneath me, and the bliss of touching her naked suntanned breast and the damp black public hairs was too unthinkably perfect to elicit anything but abject gratitude. At such moments I have held the world in my hands and known it.
— Phillip Lopate, Against Joie de Vivre, 1986
DEAR ABBY: Is it possible for a man to be in love with two women at the same time? — Jake
DEAR Jake: Yes, and also hazardous.
— Pauline Friedman Phillips, dead at 94.
“On Sunday 28 June, mid-afternoon, Jed accompanied Olga to Roissy Airport. It was sad: something inside him understood that they were living a moment of mortal sadness. The fine, calm weather outside did not favour the expression of the appropriate feelings… Jed wasn’t young - strictly speaking he never had been - but he was a relatively inexperienced man. In terms of human beings he only knew his father, and still not very well. This could not encourage him in any great optimism about human relations. From what he had been able to observe, the existence of men was organised around work, which occupied most of life, and took place in organisations of variable dimension. At the end of the years of work opened a briefer period, marked by the development of various pathologies. Moreover, some human beings, during the most active period of their lives, tried to associate in micro-groups called families, with the aim of reproducing the species; but these attempts, most often, came to a sudden end, for reasons linked to the ‘nature of the times’… “
“‘I think it’ll come back, in different forms,’ Jed said. ‘There has been a long historical phase of increased productivity, which is reaching an end, at least in the West.’
‘You have a really strange way of seeing things…’ Franz said after taking a long look at him. ‘It had interested me, your work on Michelin maps, really interested me; however, I wouldn’t have taken you in my gallery. You were, I would say, too sure of yourself; that didn’t seem to me completely normal for someone so young. And then, when I read on the internet that you had decided to stop the map series, I decided to come and see you. To propose that you be one of the artists I represent.’
‘But I’m not at all sure what I’m going to do. I don’t even know if I want to continue with art at all.’
‘You don’t understand,’ Franz said patiently. ‘It’s not a particular art form, or manner, that interests me, it’s a personality, a view of the artistic gesture, of its situation in society. If you came here tomorrow with a simple sheet of paper, torn from a spiral notebook, on which you’d written “I don’t even know if I want to continue with art at all”, I would exhibit this sheet without hesitation. Yet I am not an intellectual. But you interest me..’”
The American Poet’s Visit
“Tell them about West Germany, Ken,” she says. “Tell them about how the Provos did it over there,” she says with a surf of enthusiasm.
You tell us, Ken, I think, drinking down my scotch. Which everyone else is drinking down, I notice. Any other night we’d be drinking cheap flagon wine. Tonight we have a celebrity and everyone drinks my scotch. So much for fucking anarchists.
Five Incidents Concerning the Flesh and the Blood
“They’re an agony,” he said. “I didn’t mind them that much for the first few years. But recently they’ve become an agony.”
“I hadn’t realised,” she said, unrolling the newspaper. “Why did you bother?”
“I’ve finished with them now.”
She yawned. “I intend to slide into decadence without a fight.”
Perhaps I’ll slide with you,” he said, taking the newspaper and running away into it.
She didn’t seem to remember. He’d told her when they were first married that he did it for her. He kept fit for her. Not that the giving up now meant anything about his feelings for her. He valued their marriage. He had very deep affection for her. Giving up the exercises only meant something about him.
End of year wrap for Beat. I didn’t listen to too much this year so I did a pretty half-arsed job of putting this together. Other things I liked were Midnight Woolf playing at the Spanish Festival closer, Zoo by Ceremony, Donny Benet’s new album, Santigold’s Master of Make Believe, and despite what I wrote here, I really liked catching the Cambodian Space Project in Phnom Penh and will try and see them when they come through Melbourne again.
Everyone shot their juice over the Tame Impala album but I was too busy listening to The Communards and working on my vocal key changes. Party like it’s 1989.
A poster from the Office for Emergency Management, War Production Board, circa. 1942 / my house tomorrow. More.
Can’t wait for S08E02 of #peepshow tomorrow! Also, we condemn the General Assembly’s latest Palestine resolution #superhanssocrazy
“Once in parliament, Maxton’s forthright views often caused controversy, however. In 1923 his parliamentary privileges were withdrawn temporarily when he called the Tory MP Sir Frederick Banbury a ‘murderer’ following the government’s decision to withdraw school milk. When Ramsay MacDonald [above left], with whom Maxton had long since quarrelled, gave his last meandering, incoherent speech to Parliament, it was interrupted by Maxton calling out: ‘Sit down, man, you’re a bloody tragedy.’”