Commentaries - March 2010

on becoming a character

In 2002, during his visit to the Writers House, I interviewed novelist Michael Cunningham. Just today Jenny Lesser segmented the audio recording of that discussion into topics. You can listen to any of these segments, or all of them, by going here, and here is the list:

* introduction by Al Filreis (6:32)
* on the gap between the ideal and the actual creation (4:35)
* on youth, conventionality, creation and The Hours (3:43)
* on changing circumstances and Cunningham's Clarissa (4:38)
* on pacing ideas in writing (2:53)
* on first reading Virginia Woolf (7:18)
* on being defined as a gay writer (4:00)
* on writing from Virginia Woolf's point of view (3:55)
* on faith, doctors, and Virginia Woolf (6:34)
* on gay boyhoods and the numbness and separateness experienced by outsiders (7:10)
* on personal politics and becoming a character (5:15)
* on Golden States (5:50)
* who Cunningham thanks for The Hours (1:24)
* reading from At Home at the End of the World (3:26)

At some point during our conversation we talked about the making of the film version of The Hours. By the time of Cunningham's visit, the film was in process, or it had been made but not yet released. He spoke admiringly of the film's Clarissa--Meryl Streep--and talked about the thrill of having his own tiny role in the film (a friend Clarissa meets along a Greenwich Village street). Well, our favorite literary photographer, Lawrence Schwartzwald, was there at the moment, yes, and took the photo below of Cunningham and Streep. It was February 1, 2001, and the precise location was Bleecker and Charles.

Susan Sontag, in the same zone


When the late Susan Sontag visited the Kelly Writers House, we had a series of extraordinarily heady discussions. Anyone who has read Sontag can easily imagine this, I think. But at KWH it somehow really clicked. During my interview with her on the last morning of her visit, she gave us high praise - which I've just listened to again after some years: audio. And click here to see the whole conversation segmented into topics.

bound for Treblinka

This is the Handscher family in Warsaw, Poland. My father's mother, Jenny, was born Jenny Handscher. These people are her brothers and sisters - and her parents, my great-grandparents. In the bottom row, from left to right, we have Schloime (who survived and later came to the U.S.); Eliezer (father of Menachem/Mike and Meyer who also survived); the parents, Menachem and Tova; the youngest of the children, Bezalel. In the back row, from left to right: the youngest daughter, whose name we don't know; Jenny (my grandmother); Minnie (who came to the U.S. with Jenny). Killed at Treblinka, so far as we know: Eliezer, Bezalel, the youngest daughter, and both parents. This photo was given to my father by my grandmother, and by my father to me. Just today I heard from Eliezer's grandson, Nachum Handscher, who lives in Israel. Nachum is the son of Mike/Menachem, one of Eliezer's sons. The story of the survival of Eliezer's sons, Mike and Meyer, is a long, complex and dramatic one - not for this entry, but later, someday.

the second-floor terrace of well-being


Erica Baum's new project is called Dog Ear. Photographs of consecutive pages of what seem to be old books. Dog-ear one page to create an origami-perfect right angle and the result is a kind of cut-up, only the text of the back side of the first page runs up-to-down rather than right-to-left, so the right-to-left lines of the previous page now revealed run to a corner and then turn 90 degrees. So we get, for instance: "made her feel as if of objects shaped." Can't wait to see the real project. Meantime, see you on the "second-floor terrace of well-being."

Ubu has already added Dog Ear to its terrific Erica Baum page, so I urge all readers of this blog to go there and find the link.

See earlier blog posts about Erica Baum's work here and here.

Susan Howe: marginalia is no longer marginal

I'm reading Susan Howe's Melville's Marginalia. Years ago, at the start of my own antiquarianism, I got deeply into writers' marginalia myself.I'm reading Susan Howe's Melville's Marginalia. Years ago, at the start of my own antiquarianism, I got deeply into writers' marginalia myself. I looked into Melville's reading, as have many scholars over the decades. He was one of those who left traces of his responses to reading. This morning I went to the web--of course--following an impulse to see if the scholarship was still out of the way, out of print, hard to find - itself, in short, marginal. But no. There's a fabulous web site that shows us everything. Here's your link. Go deep.