Cheryl Strayed, Wild
Cheryl Strayed, Wild

Spent this afternoon walking around Cardiff Bay barrage with Jennifer and our good friend, Laura. There’s little that beats good conversation at walking pace. I’ve spent much of this week working on an academic manuscript, so it’s refreshing to get outdoors for awhile and see the sunshine.

I have started reading Cheryl Strayed‘s Wild, a memoir of the author’s life changing decision to hike America’s Pacific Crest Trial. It’s written in an accessible and compelling style which has literally made me laugh and cry within the first fifty pages. An excellent start, and I’m looking forward to reading more of it this afternoon.

The New Yorker has published a new short story by Don DeLillo, entitled “The Itch” • Geoffrey Rush plays Alberto Giacometti in British film made with close involvement of artist’s estate • Herman Melville‘s Mystery: Was Billy Budd black? • Lauren Elkin on Jeanne Moreau

Samuel Beckett with Alberto Giacometti
Samuel Beckett with Alberto Giacometti

Judith Wilkinson has written an interesting account of Samuel Beckett‘s friendship with the Swiss artist Alberto Giacometti. In a recent piece published on the Tate website, she describes how they came to know one another:

“At the time of Giacometti and Beckett’s first meeting, Beckett was living at a modest artists’ hotel in Paris called Hôtel Libéria. Located down a narrow alleyway, Giacometti’s studio (and home) was a mere twenty-minute walk from Beckett’s accommodation. The two would meet late at night, when they had finished work, in one of the Parisian cafés, such as Café Flore, Le Dôme or La Coupole, to drink and socialise. The cafés were the central hub of French cultural and intellectual life during the period, and other notable artists and thinkers, such as philosophers Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir and Jean Genet, as well as painters Jean-Paul Riopelle, Joan Mitchell and Bram van Velde also visited these establishments.

The pair would often leave the cafés in the early hours of the morning to embark on long walks around the city together. During their nocturnal rambles they frequently discussed each other’s work, although Giacometti is believed to have dominated these conversations with his anxieties concerning his artworks. Beckett and Giacometti’s nights routinely concluded with a visit to a brothel – the favourite being the legendary Sphinx located behind Montparnasse train station.”

Wilkinson will be giving a Tate Modern Tour that explores the links between Beckett and Giacometti on 24 July and 31 July 2017, respectively. For more information, take a look at the event page on the Tate website.

David Lloyd talks about Beckett’s friendships with twentieth-century painters and his enduring interest in the visual arts
David Lloyd, Beckett's Thing: Painting and Theatre (Edinburgh University Press, 2016)
David Lloyd, Beckett’s Thing: Painting and Theatre (Edinburgh University Press, 2016)

What draws you to the work of Samuel Beckett?

I’ve been reading Beckett’s work since I was a teenager and writing on him since my undergraduate days at Cambridge in the 70s. I dare say part of my initial attraction to Beckett lay in the kinds of philosophical conundra his work posed, in its hilarious comedy and in its ascetic reductionism. In a letter to Georges Duthuit, in which he comments on his desire for “a theatre reduced to its own means”, he goes on: “That is Protestantism if you like, we are what we are.” It may be that there was also something about the South Dublin Protestant background that I shared with Beckett that felt like grounds for affinity: certainly there was something familiar as much in the ethos as in the local landscapes secreted in the works. But above all, it was the uncompromising aesthetic ethic, the commitment to a work determined to “reduce itself to its own means”, that corresponded to the refusal of extraneous resources like the resonances of identity or signifiers of cultural belonging. That offered a quite different set of possibilities, intellectually and aesthetically, than Irish culture at the time generally made available. (more…)

French philosopher and literary critic Maurice Blanchot on the strange power of Giacometti’s work, and the aim of writing
alberto-giacometti-art-sculpture-walking-man-i
Alberto Giacometti, Walking Man (1/6), 1960.

When we look at the sculptures of Giacometti, there is a vantage point where they are no longer subject to the fluctuations of appearance or to the movement of perspective. One sees them absolutely: no longer reduced, but withdrawn from reduction, irreducible, and, in space, masters of space through their power to substitute for space the unmalleable, lifeless profundity of the imaginary. This point, whence we see them irreducible, puts us at the vanishing point ourselves; it is the point at which here coincides with nowhere. To write is to find this point. No one writes who has not enabled language to maintain or provoke contact with this point.

Taken from Maurice Blanchot’s essay, ‘Approaching Literature’s Space’ in The Space of Literature (translated by Ann Smock).

Writer and translator Lydia Davis talks to Dann Gunn about Beckett and The Emperor of Ice-Cream (via Music & Literature)
Dan Gunn
Dan Gunn

A very orderly Greek friend visited me recently, and on stepping into my office and seeing the state of my desk, cried out “Dan! What is that?” He was genuinely shocked, perturbed even, at the sight of the books, papers, unopened envelopes, and assorted debris that flows from several piles over my desk, threatening at any moment to spill off the edges (as it regularly does) and onto the floor. My response was not, I hope, unduly defensive: “It’s a sign that I’m being productive.” Indeed, my desk is clear and tidy only ever for a brief moment after some task has just been completed (or at moments when I remember some unopened bill that needs to be paid). I do like to observe something organized emerging from the apparent chaos; and when that chaos threatens to become a liability, I turn to photos of the studios of artists I admire, of Francis Bacon or Alberto Giacometti, and protest: Now their mess really was a mess.

When I was seventeen, I chose to leave Edinburgh, where I was raised, for the University of Sussex, not least because I had read a book by Gabriel Josipovici entitled The World and the Book; it said on the cover that he was teaching there. What I admired (and still admire) about this wonderful critical work was that it dealt openly and freely with different periods and authors, from different cultures and languages, from Dante to Proust to Saul Bellow. Also mentioned on the cover was that Gabriel Josipovici wrote fiction as well as criticism. In some quiet place within me I seized hold of this as a model: a critic who also writes fiction; a novelist who also writes criticism. I had eight fantastic years at Sussex, taught in an ideal setting by the best teachers imaginable. As it happens, on my very first day I was introduced to my “personal tutor” (what in America would be called my “academic advisor”): Gabriel Josipovici. We quickly got to know each other and have remained friends ever since. The Sussex of those days confirmed for me that one did not have to be (only) a specialist, that one could draw inspiration from many sources, refusing to be boxed in to a single discipline or period or language. I still find that the criticism emerging from this openness suits me best. I have recently been rereading with delight Tony Nuttall’s Shakespeare the Thinker—a book by a former Sussex professor that emerges out of precisely what I’d call the “Sussex spirit.” (more…)