Reading Jon Krakauer‘s Into the Wild. A compelling account of the tragic story of Chris McCandless and his idealistic trek into the Alaskan wilderness. At the same time, the book offers a cultural history of the fascination wild spaces hold in the modern imagination.

The New York Times has published a lovely and charming interview with Patti Smith, where she talks about some of her favourite books (and where I discovered she has a signed first edition of James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake).

Source: The New York Times

This week, it was my great privilege to visit the John Muir National Historic Site in Martinez, California. The beautiful Muir family home was restored from dereliction by the National Park Service, and pays tribute to the father of modern environmental conservation.

anseladams

“When words become unclear, I shall focus with photographs. When images become inadequate, I shall be content with silence.”

— Ansel Adams

August Diehl as Franz Jägerstätter in Terrence Malick's A Hidden Life
August Diehl as Franz Jägerstätter in Terrence Malick’s A Hidden Life

“The growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”

— George Eliot, Middlemarch


Terrence Malick‘s A Hidden Life has debuted at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. It is the American filmmaker’s second work to be based on the events of the Second World War, and tells the story of Franz Jägerstätter, a conscientious objector who was executed by the Nazis in 1943. Writing for The Los Angeles Times, Justin Chang has praised Malick’s latest work as a return to form and “a spiritual call to arms”:

“At its simplest level, A Hidden Life exists to disprove the snarling Nazi soldiers we hear telling Franz that his act of protest is meaningless and that no one will ever remember him. (They have admittedly already been disproved, thanks to the scholarship of Gordon Zahn and Thomas Merton, as well as a 2007 papal declaration of Jägerstätter as a martyr.) But it is also a call for moral vigilance in any era, the present one very much included…”

Source: The Los Angeles Times

Joan Didion

“Life changes in the instant. The ordinary instant.”

― Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking

“No definition of poetry is adequate unless it be poetry itself. The most accurate analysis by the rarest wisdom is yet insufficient, and the poet will instantly prove it false by setting aside its requisitions. It is indeed all that we do not know. The poet does not need to see how meadows are something else than earth, grass, and water, but how they are thus much. He does not need discover that potato blows are as beautiful as violets, as the farmer thinks, but only how good potato blows are. The poem is drawn out from under the feet of the poet, his whole weight has rested on this ground. It has a logic more severe than the logician’s. You might as well think to go in pursuit of the rainbow, and embrace it on the next hill, as to embrace the whole of poetry even in thought.”

— Henry David Thoreau, Journal, 26 January 1840

Svetlana Alexievich
Svetlana Alexievich

“What can art accomplish? The purpose of art is to accumulate the human within the human being.”

— Svetlana Alexievich, Nobel Banquet, December 2015


Boyd Tonkin (NYRB) visits the Van Gogh and Britain exhibition at Tate Britain. He reflects on the painter’s religious background, his oft-overlooked writing talents, his interest in marginalised and working-class figures, and Victorian London as a European metropolis:

“Young Vincent often felt a failure. He endured loneliness and dejection—though nothing like the bouts of anguish and panic that would seize him in Provence—but he also felt the bittersweet melancholy of a dreamy, wandering outsider. He could go into raptures about autumn days in London, ‘especially in the streets in the evening, when it’s a bit foggy and the street-lamps are lit,’ while fading elm-leaves turn ‘the colour of bronze.’ His letters from England crackle with the descriptive and affective force of what, should he have chosen another fork on that pilgrim road, we would surely now call a born writer. Foggy Victorian London, where literature far outshone in status both the visual arts and music, helped make Van Gogh the artist he became and remained, even when the golden fields and cobalt skies of Provence blazed across his canvases.

‘He was a writer before he was a painter,’ insisted Carol Jacobi, as crowds flowed around us on the first day of public access to Van Gogh and Britain, the exhibition she has curated at the Tate Britain in London, next to the river Vincent loved to walk beside. ‘”Writing is like painting”: he says that thirty or forty times,’ she reminded me. Through his apprentice years, his writer’s pen obeyed him as his crayon or brush could not. Jacobi, curator for British Art 1850–1915 at the Tate, mentions an 1880 drawing titled Miners in the Snow at Dawn, completed in Belgium, where Van Gogh had gone to live and preach among the poor. It’s an early token of his new-found artistic ambitions. The ‘word picture’ that partners it in a letter is ‘beautifully accomplished, influenced by Dickens and Zola,’ she said. ‘But he’s struggling to express these things in visual terms.'”

Source: The New York Review of Books

Toni Morrison
Toni Morrison

“At some point in life the world’s beauty becomes enough. You don’t need to photograph, paint or even remember it. It is enough. No record of it needs to be kept and you don’t need someone to share it with or tell it to.”

— Toni Morrison, Tar Baby

“A great photograph is a full expression of what one feels about what is being photographed in the deepest sense, and is, thereby, a true expression of what one feels about life in its entirety.”

— Ansel Adams

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Movement.

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Dusty.

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Morning.

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We wake up with the light.

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(more…)

“Maybe I’ve been absurd about wanting to do a big flower painting, but I’ve wanted to do it and that is that. I’m going to try. Wish me luck.”

Georgia O’Keeffe

Terrible to see news footage of the fire at the historic Notre Dame cathedral today. Thinking about the opening lines of Victor Hugo‘s Notre-Dame de Paris (1831): “The church of Notre-Dame of Paris is without doubt, even today, a sublime and majestic building […] a vast symphony in stone, as it were; the colossal handiwork of a man and a people”.

thomas-bernhard-faber

Faber and Faber is reissuing five Thomas Bernhard novels with new artwork designed by Leanne Shapton. Concrete and Extinction arrive on 7 March 2019, followed by The Loser, Wittgenstein’s Nephew and Woodcutters later in the year. Beautiful!