J G Ballard on viewing Crivelli’s Annunciation

Via Bibliokept:

I am sure that a large part of the enduring mystery of the Renaissance masterpieces in the National Gallery was due to the absence of the explanatory matter that now drains away much of the strangeness and poetry of the Old Masters. I would stare at Crivelli’s Annunciation, charmed by the peacocks, loaves of bread and other incongruous items, the passer-by reading a book on the bridge and the Virgin in her jewel box of a house. I was forced to use my own imagination to stitch these elements into a master narrative that made some kind of sense, rather than read an extended wall caption and be solemnly told that the peacock was a symbol of eternal life. Perish the thought, and let the exquisite bird be itself, and nothing more or less than itself. What could be more natural, and more mysterious, than a peacock and a loaf of bread appearing on the scene to celebrate the forthcoming birth of the Saviour?

From J.G. Ballard’s autobiography Miracles of Life.

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Jarod Gott on Tinder, writing and the presentation of the self

Recently I was at Dreams, Hallucinations and the Imagination, a conference organised by the University of Glasgow’s Centre for the Study of Perceptual ExperienceDreams and like experiences are an interest of mine generally, clinically and personally (if you follow) at some point I would like to blog about this fascinating meeting more, especially from my perspective as an interested party but not part of a specific sleep/consciousness/philosophy of mind group.

One of the most memorable presentations was the last, from Jarod Gott,   a neuroscientist from Melbourne with the Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour . He gave a bracing and no-sacred-cows-untouched talk entitled “Neural correlates of “synthetic” perception: Towards a common statespace model for dreams, hallucination and imagination”

I may not have entirely expected, reading through the various papers by conference speakers I could find online on the way to the airport, that Gott has written a piece for Quilette on dating in the age of Tinder.  It made me quite glad to be too old and too married to have any familiarity with Tinder itself. One of Gott’s asides (which I have highlighted in bold below) made me wonder something about writing in the world today:

Now you are cooking with gas! Expect several days of intimate, evocative and tantalising back-and-forth, conversations running into the early hours of the morning, a reliable hit of dopamine at the peering at of one’s lock screen. You organise a face to face, a real live date—and the anxiety hits infinity, as this person who you have finally clicked with, will suddenly become real. So you meet up, and you can’t even recognise them. To make matters worse, you never actually do. Their digital persona is more familiar than anything physical existence can do justice to, and you fade out of each other’s lives, wondering who that imposter actually was, and how they got that other person—the one who you really felt something for—to type all those sweet and lovely messages. The hollow feeling grows profound, as you slowly realise, that you never will get to find out and that maybe, just maybe, you have actually lost your mind.It took some serious contemplation, to untangle why I was repeating this cycle. In part, I can attribute my recently improved skills as a writer, in building an entertaining and beguiling narrative, and pulling somebody haplessly into it. Maybe I am just too good at this? No. It’s something else entirely. I revisited my best encounters, ones that became lasting and rewarding friendships, relationships or anything in between. What pattern did these follow? I can say for certain—these addictive, high-frequency textual exchanges, giving one’s phone a poker-machine like quality—came at the tail end of months of physical intimacy, if they came at all. We existed, perhaps, in a much more tribal state. Every waking moment together, where it was at all practicable; no zero-sum playing of games, no existential desire to weed out deal-breaking traits and experiences, like landmines in a Cambodian rice field, lest they blow up under your tread, leaving you gamed by some malevolent sentient other. When you fall in love the way that you do when you travel, the world has a way of contracting and such details fade into irrelevancy. When you scour the Internet for mates using Tinder, the world has a way of expanding—and nobody is ever good enough, and nobody, ever, can be trusted: to be all they appear to be; to be who they say.

In the context of his piece, Gott dismisses the impact of his “recently improved skills as a writer”, but these two sentences got me thinking about how writing has become more and more about presentation of a kind of self. It is sometimes claimed we  live in a golden age of writing, that the net result of email/social media/SMS is an explosion in the written word, albeit writ on the water that is the Internet.

Whatever the truth of that, the impulse of much more of the writing we do is to present a certain sense of the selfl and . The internet is a powerful agent of Girardian mimeticism, and one wonders if “improved writing skills” are a powerful agent of imposing conformity.

And one wonders if writing-as-presentation-of-a-self makes Literature (deliberate big L) more inclined to solipsism, more virtue-signally, less interested in the world and others and more focused on Thinly Disguised Autobiography (or Thinly Disguised What I Wish Was Autobiography)

 

A 2015 blog post by John Ayliff observes:

The early Railway stories were based on real railway incidents, and the characters were based on real models of locomotive (Thomas is LB&SCR E2 class). The technical details provided a lot of the stories’ appeal, at least to some children. The stories took ideas from the realm of science and engineering and made them entertaining by weaving stories about them.

See where I’m going with this? The Railway stories have a lot in common with hard science fiction. Especially for modern children, for whom the technology described is outside of their lived experience and therefore as imaginary as an interplanetary rocket.

#AshWednesday with Evelyn Waugh in New Orleans, 1949

Via the Evelyn Waugh Society online I came across this from Waugh in 1949. It captures the falseness of the dichotomy betweent the fleshy pleasure of Mardi Gras and the asceticism of this day:

Ash Wednesday; the warm rain falling in streets unsightly with the draggled survivals of carnival. The Roosevelt Hotel overflowing with crapulous tourists planning their return journeys. How many of them knew anything about Lent? But across the way the Jesuit church was teeming with life all day long; a continuous dense crowd of all colours and conditions moving up to the altar rails and returning with their foreheads signed with ash. And the old grim message was being repeated over each penitent: “Dust thou art and unto dust shalt thou return.”

The lost worlds of Debois and Julieta Guipeal at the Tipperary County Museum

The lost worlds of Debois and Julieta Guipeal at the Tipperary County Museum

This is Portrait of a Man, by Julieta Guipeal:

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Apologies for the photo quality – this was taken with my phone’s camera in a well-lit (and thereby reflective) space.

It is currently on display as part of an exhibition called Reflections in Tipperary County Museum, Clonmel. Here is a bit of background on the exhibition:

Earlier this year [2018], Tipperary County Museum initiated a vital research project which focused on the origins of its municipal art collection. Art Historian, Catherine Marshall was appointed Curator in Residence at Tipperary County Museum to oversee this particular project. The result of Catherine’s findings will be documented in a specialised catalogue in early 2019 and the accompanying exhibition ‘Reflections’ will exhibit approximately 65 paintings which have remained unseen by the general public for many years.

This Tipperary Art Collection is the result of active, committed and sustained citizenship by a small group of people, from those who established the South Tipperary Fine Arts Club in the 1940s, to individual donors like William English in the 1980s and more recently Tipperary County Council S.R., South Tipperary County Council and our now unified Tipperary County Council.

Portrait of an Artist and others of the most interesting works (including “F***lands 1982”) are part of the William English Bequest. I haven’t been able to find out much about William English online (possibly because there is an artist of that name) this article:

Subsequently, the original collection was added-to by a number of bequests, the most notable of which came from Clonmel man, William English. This brought relatively modern artists (working in the late decades of the 20th century) into the gallery: Robert Ballagh, Patrick Pye, Leo Hogan, Julieta Guipeal, and the Clonmel-born artist, Martin Quigley.

The above article by Margaret Rossiter is the only online reference to Julieta Guipeal I could find.  The catalogue for the exhibition states “All attempts to find the artist Julieta Guipeal have so far come to nothing. While almost all of the William English Bequest was acquired in the Limerick area, enquiries about Guipeal there have yielded no information, nor have early international searches”:

 

Here is another, unfortunately blurry, view of Portrait of A Man:

Julieta Guipeal is not the only lost artist on display. Here is a work whose very title is a mystery. Is it  EA or A1/2?  We known it is signed by “Debois”, but who is Debois? Again, apologies for the quality:

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Here is the image in a bit more context with a great big stonking reflection of myself hogging the frame:

While in Guipeal’s case one can make assumptions (possibly misleading ones) about gender and possible ethnicity, in Debois’ case we have even less to go on. As the catalogue states “No information has come to light about the artist who signed this work, Debois, and no indications of how William English came across his or his work. That is all the more intriguing since the work itself is so tantalisingly dreamlike and surreal”:

 

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So there you have it – I have posted before here about the amnesia of our supposedly information-saturated age., and here we have two intriguing works, each by an artist apparently unknown for anything else.

Ian Parker in The New Yorker on Dan Mallory’s life of deception

There’s an enthralling piece in the Feb 11th New Yorker on the suspense novelist Dan Mallory who has published as A J Finn. Turns out he chose a pseudonym for a reason:

In 2016, midway through the auction for “The Woman in the Window,” the author’s real name was revealed to bidders. At that point, most publishing houses dropped out. This move reflected an industry-wide unease with Mallory that never became public, and that did not stand in the way of his enrichment: William Morrow, Mallory’s employer at the time, kept bidding, and bought his book

The whole article is worth reading. There is something highly disturbing about Mallory’s repeated claims to either have cancer himself or that his mother died of it. Parker quotes various nauseatingly jokey emails and self-dramatising articles. For instance:

While there, he published a dispatch, in the Duke student publication TowerView, describing an encounter with a would-be mugger, who asked him, “Want me to shoot your motherfucking mouth off?” Mallory responded with witty aplomb, and the mugger, cowed, scuttled “down some anonymous alley to reflect on why it is Bad To Threaten Other People, especially pushy Americans who doubt he has a gun.”

I get a strong whiff of Never Happened from this. Mallory’s evident tendency to never let the truth get in the way of a good story has nearly been caught out before:

In an interview last January, on “Thrill Seekers,” an online radio show, the writer Alex Dolan asked Mallory about the novel’s Harlem setting. Mallory said that, when describing Anna’s house, he had kept in mind the uptown home of a family friend, with whom he had stayed when he interned in New York. After a rare hesitation, Mallory shared an anecdote: he said that he’d once accidentally locked himself in the house’s ground-floor bathroom. When he was eventually rescued, by his host, he had been trapped “for twenty-two hours and ten minutes.”

“Wow!” Dolan said.

Mallory said, “So perhaps that contributed to my fascination with agoraphobia.”

Dolan asked, “You had the discipline to, say, not kick the door down?”

Mallory, committed to twenty-two hours and ten minutes, said that he had torn a brass towel ring off the wall, straightened it into a pipe, “and sort of hacked away at the area right above the doorknob.” He continued, “I did eventually bore my way through it, but by that point my fingers were bloody, I was screaming obscenities. This is the point—of course—at which the father of the house walked in!” After Dolan asked him if he’d resorted to eating toothpaste, Mallory steered the conversation to Hitchcock.

Parker considers how Mallory’s lying and exaggerations became notorious:

In subsequent interviews, Mallory does not seem to have brought up this bathroom again. But the exchange gives a glimpse of the temptations and risks of hyperbole: how, under even slight pressure, an exaggeration can become further exaggerated. For a speaker more invested in advantage than in accuracy, such fabulation could be exhilarating—and might even lead to the dispatch, by disease, of a family member. I was recently told about two former publishing colleagues of Mallory’s who called him after he didn’t show up for a meeting. Mallory said that he was at home, taking care of someone’s dog. The meeting continued, as a conference call. Mallory now and then shouted, “No! Get down!” After hanging up, the two colleagues looked at each other. “There’s no dog, right?” “No.”

The examples I’ve quoted are relatively benign. Other of his self dramatics have a sinister air.

As Parker points out, Mallory’s use of cancer and mental illness as self justifying rhetorical props misrepresents the reality of these conditions:

What is most objectionable about Mallory is his use of suffering and reported suffering for instrumental purposes. Culturally we increasingly valorise and glorify victimhood, giving certain approved classes of victim a moral authority. It should be no surprise this provides an incentive for bad faith manipulation.

Happy Birthday Edgar Allan Poe, and a cheers to the Poe Toaster

Poe would be 210 if he was alive today, which would be a surprising development for all concerned. And presumably today will see the appearance of the Poe Toaster at Poe’s Baltimore grave. Alas, this is a revival of the original mysterious decades-long toaster:

 

Poe Toaster is a media epithet popularly used to refer to an unidentified person (or more probably two persons in succession, possibly father and son) who, for over seven decades, paid an annual tribute to American author Edgar Allan Poe by visiting the cenotaph marking his original grave in Baltimore, Maryland, in the early hours of January 19, Poe’s birthday. The shadowy figure, dressed in black with a wide-brimmed hat and white scarf, would pour himself a glass of cognac and raise a toast to Poe’s memory, then vanish into the night, leaving three roses in a distinctive arrangement and the unfinished bottle of cognac. Onlookers gathered annually in hopes of glimpsing the elusive Toaster, who did not seek publicity and was rarely seen or photographed.

According to eyewitness reports and notes accompanying offerings in later years, the original Toaster made the annual visitation from sometime in the 1930s (though no report appeared in print until 1950) until his death in 1998, after which the tradition was passed to “a son”.[1] Controversial statements were made in some notes left by the post-1998 Toaster, and in 2006 an unsuccessful attempt was made by several onlookers to detain and identify him. In 2010 there was no visit by the Toaster,[2] nor has he appeared any year since, signaling an end to the 75-year tradition.[3][4]

Pleasingly, the revival since 2016 has maintained the anonymity aspect:

 

In 2015, the Maryland Historical Society organized a competition to select a new individual to resurrect the annual tribute in a modified, tourism-friendly form. The new Toaster—who will also remain anonymous—made his first appearance during the daylight hours of January 16, 2016 (a Saturday, three days before Poe’s birthday), wearing the traditional garb and playing Saint-Saëns‘ Danse macabre on a violin. After raising the traditional cognac toast and placing the roses, he intoned, “Cineri gloria sera venit” (“Glory paid to one’s ashes comes too late”, from an epigram by the Roman poet Martial), and departed.[25]