“When Nietzsche Wept” – Irv Yalom’s book is still a fascinating read. The 2007 movie? Not so much.

March 18th, 2019

In Vienna ten years ago: Irvin Yalom with Mayor Michael Häupl for “Ein Stadt. Ein Buch.”

The stack of books I mean to read gets taller by the day. One of the volumes that has been there for quite some time is a book by a friend – Irvin Yalom‘s celebrated When Nietzsche Wept. It was the toast of Vienna for its annual Ein Stadt. Ein Buch event a decade ago – and also the subject of the second Book Haven post ever. (I discuss the retrospective on his career as a psychiatrist, Yalom’s Cure, here.) Yet the book itself remains right there, stubbornly atop of one of the precarious ziggurats that surround my desk.

Fun and games with Salomé in 1882: she had rejected proposals from both Rees and Nietzsche.

So, on a cheerless Saturday night, imagine my surprise to find out the 1992 book has already been made into a 2007 film, starring Armand Assante and Ben Cross. Let me dissemble no more, gentle reader, I put aside my pressing deadlines to watch it online – and that returns me to Friedrich Nietzsche, Sigmund Freud, and the book. I didn’t know the beginnings of psychoanalysis with the “talk treatment” of Dr. Josef Breuer, nor the details of the overlapping lines of thought in fin-de-siècle Vienna.

The Stanford professor offers this disclaimer in his author’s note: “In 1882, psychotherapy had not yet been born; and Nietzsche, of course, never formally turned his attention in that direction. Yet in my reading of Nietzsche, he was deeply and significantly concerned with self-understanding and personal change.”

But history is a series of close calls and what-might-have-beens. This book was born in the discovery of a letter: an 1878 message where a friend tries to get Nietzsche to come to Vienna to see Dr. Breuer for treatment.

Author Yalom continues:

Friedrich Nietzsche and Josef Breuer never met. And, of course, psychotherapy was not invented as a result of their encounter.

Nonetheless, the life situation of the major characters is grounded in fact, and the essential components of this novel—Breuer’s mental anguish, Nietzsche’s despair, Anna O., Lou Salomé, Freud’s relationship with Breuer, the ticking embryo of psychotherapy—were all historically in place in 1882.

Friedrich Nietzsche had been introduced by Paul Rée to the young Lou Salomé in the spring of 1882 and, over the next months, had had a brief, intense, and chaste love affair with her. She would go on to have a distinguished career as both a brilliant woman of letters and a practicing psychoanalyst; she would also be known for her close friendship with Freud and for her romantic liaisons, especially with the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke.

On to better things…

Read more from Irv here.

As for the film, I don’t recommend it, but I do point it out. (The excellent youtube clip below is one of the films best moments.) In general, accents and orchestration are obtrusive (Brahms‘s Requiem, bits of Wagner here and there, and I can’t remember what else), the dream sequences clownish. The females are badly miscast and underfed, given the curvacious standards of the period. The casting is made with a modern eye to beauty, so the hairstyles and makeup concede too much to our own times and so are jarring. We shake what we’ve got: the women have no internal qualities, but are happy to roll their eyes and their hips. Someone should have looked at a real-life portrait of the time – Salomé’s, for example. If she could hold Rilke’s attention, I suspect that there was more to her than this manicured floozy. The exception to this rule is Breuer’s stiff, estranged wife, played by Joanna Pacula, who has a great final scene where a flicker of hope rekindles beneath the years of mistrust.

One of the best parts of the film are in the credits afterwards: we learn that Crazy Berthe, Beuer’s patient and Freud’s “Anna O.”, in fact becomes a groundbreaking social worker, while Salomé becomes an important early psychoanalyst. Breuer gives up his “talk therapy” – but Freud picks it up. Nietzsche takes the train to Switzerland where he will write Thus Spake Zarathustra. And Lou Salomé… well, we’ve all read Rilke’s letters…

Endangered species: book coverage in the Bay Area

March 15th, 2019

It was a surprise for many of us to hear the news on Feb. 27: The San Francisco Chronicle told John McMurtrie, its longtime book critic and editor, that he was being laid off. He announced the news on Twitter, which is how I heard the tale. There will be no replacement, so what happens next? The San Francisco Bay Area is one of the literary capitals of the U.S. The idea that one of the nation’s top papers is stripping down its book section is bad news indeed.

I remember, in the long-ago days of the 2001, Bay Area-wide protests, spearheaded by the late great Diane Middlebrook, when the Chronicle folded its book section into the rest of the paper. From The Los Angeles Times:

…when word began leaking out a few weeks ago that the city’s major daily newspaper was reconfiguring its Sunday book review section, a howl went up from segments of the Bay Area literati. Books and the people who write and read them are taken seriously in San Francisco, home at various times to such venerable and disparate persons of letters as Mark Twain and Allen Ginsberg.

Accordingly, reports that the San Francisco Chronicle was revamping, and possibly even downsizing, its well-regarded Book Review section were treated in some quarters as a potential affront to the city’s literary self-esteem.

Middlebrook (Photo: Amanda Lane)

“You owe it to the citizens of San Francisco!” not to diminish book coverage, wrote Diane Middlebrook, a professor of English at Stanford University, in a recent letter urging Chronicle management not to “demote book talk to the status of infotainment.”

“You will embarrass yourselves along with every literate person in town,” wrote Middlebrook, who is spearheading a letter-writing campaign over the issue.

What is to be done? In such times, it’s good to have Steve Wasserman, my former editor at the Los Angeles Book Review, back in the Bay Area. He’s now publisher and executive director of Heyday Books in Berkeley. Steve and Ethan Nosowsky, editorial director of Graywolf Press, He called a meeting on March 13 at Heyday’s new headquarters to discuss how best to support continued coverage of books in the Bay Area in the aftermath of the news.

Good to have you back, Steve!

A photo commemorating the event, clockwise, from lower left: Frances Dinkelspiel, author, journalist, and founder of Berkeleyside,com; Andy Ross, literary agent and former owner of Cody’s Books, Cherilyn Parsons, founder and executive director of the Bay Area Book Festival; Calvin Crosby, executive director of the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association; Leslie Jobson, Field Sales czarina of the Ingram Content Group/Publishers Group West; Praveen Madan, owner of Kepler’s Bookstore and chairman of the Board of Directors of Berrett-Koehler Publishers; T.J. Stiles, author and historian and two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize; Steve Wasserman, publisher and executive director of Heyday and former editor of the Los Angeles Times Book Review; Ethan Nosowsky, Editorial Director of Graywolf Press; Paul Yamazaki, Chief Book Buyer for City Lights Bookstore. On the phone but not depicted: Oscar Villalon, editor of Zyzzyva literary quarterly and former books editor of the San Francisco Chronicle; March 11, 2019, Berkeley) (Photograph by Emmerich Anklam, Publisher’s Assistant and Editor at Heyday.)


March 13th, 2019

Becky picks a shard a decade ago. (Photo: L.A. Cicero)

Yoko, Yoko, where did you go? Yoko, Yoko, where are you? See all those little shards from a shattered Chinese vase in the photo above? I keep one of them in a box on my dresser. As I wrote a decade ago: “Audience members at Yoko Ono’s lecture Jan. 14 were invited to take home pieces of a ceramic vase that was smashed prior to the event. Ono invited everyone to return in 10 years to reassemble the vase.”

But wasn’t she going to join us? She spoke about the Imagine Peace Tower, she set up a “wish tree” in front of the Stanford post office, and she smashed a vase. And … and … and …

She broke her word! She never returned!

I have witnesses; plenty of them. The brown-haired woman with glasses in the photo above is Elizabeth “Becky” Fischbach, exhibition designer and manager for of Special Collections at the Stanford Libraries. She’ll remember, too, and vouch for me. So will the Stanford photographer who took the picture, Linda Cicero, who has snapped so many of the Book Haven photos.

“She’s one of the most original and creative artists of our times,” said Stanford history Professor Gordon Chang, who introduced Ono before her talk, titled ‘Passages for Light.’ Citing her work as a writer, artist, performer, activist, composer, musician and filmmaker, Chang said that “in each area, she has broken boundaries, expanded horizons.”

“Ono was once one of the most hated women in the world; now the effervescent and indefatigable 75-year-old activist is a celebrated icon,” I wrote. She just turned 86 on February 18. But that is no excuse. I’m not exactly a spring chicken, either.

With Gordon Chang. (Photo L.A. Cicero)

It all came back to me when I happened to stumble across my “Imagine Peace” button in a box recently, a reminder of our interview and her visit:

What do you hope to accomplish with the Imagine Peace Tower and the wish trees?

“It’s growing, and it is doing what I hoped that it would do. Many, many wishes are being made and they are being sent to the Imagine Peace Tower. There’s an incredible power of people’s wishes that are concentrated in the Imagine Peace Tower. Also, light has the same vibration as love. The light that’s in the Imagine Peace Tower—which is the Imagine Peace Tower—I think many people are enjoying it, somehow, feeling part of it.”

Together at last.

What would you say to critics who say these works are too—

“I know. People say it is too simplistic, or whatever. Some people say, “Oh well, maybe when you get older you want to do something simple.” I thought that was ageist. My work was always minimal. Minimalism—I believed in that. It was always very simple. I think it is as simple as breathing. Breathing is very important. I don’t feel that that’s bad. I was very surprised myself that the wish tree has become so important in people’s lives. I’m very honored that I was used for that, instead of some very complex, highfalutin work. Sometimes something simple gives more to people.”

Or did she make a silent incognito visit and we all missed it? Did she drift among us wordless and invisible like a shade. I’m sobbing and clinging to my shard as I think about it, tears dripping on my Imagine Peace button. I’ve waited for ten lonely years. Does everyone else still have their shard? Becky?

Yoko, Yoko, come back! We need you!

Letter from John Steinbeck to Marilyn Monroe: “He is already your slave. This would make him mine.”

March 9th, 2019

This 1955 letter from John Steinbeck to Marilyn Monroe has been making the rounds on Facebook in the last few days, so we thought we’d join the party. It’s a sweet letter, somewhat bashful, and it was found in the superstar’s personal archive, and sold for $3,250 at Julien’s in 2016. Steinbeck humbly, even grovelingly requests a “girlish” photo for his nephew. Did she send the photo to the lovestruck boy, Jon Atkinson? We’ll never know, but she valued enough to keep it till her dying day.

Happy World Book Day! A few words from John Milton…

March 7th, 2019

Happy World Book Day! According to Wikipedia, “World Book Day, also known as World Book and Copyright Day, or International Day of the Book, is an annual event the organized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to promote readingpublishing, and copyright.”

Nota bene: Apparently, World Book Day was first celebrated on 23 April 1995, and continues to be recognized on that day – but it’s also recognized as Shakespeare’s birthday, and we rather think the Bard deserves his own day.

So let’s celebrate with one of the English languages other Bards: John Milton. From Milton’s Cottage on this day: “What better time to quote Areopagitica – Milton’s iconic defense of the freedom of the press and the source of his best quotes about books?”

“A good book is the precious life-blood of a master spirit, embalmed and treasured up on purpose to a life beyond life.”

And this: “For Books are not absolutely dead things, but doe contain a potencie of life in them to be as active as that soule was whose progeny they are; nay they do preserve as in a violl the purest efficacie and extraction of that living intellect that bred them.” (Thanks to poet Dan Rifenburgh for the find!)

Bergen International Literary Festival: “the real charm was in the minor details”

March 4th, 2019

Beautiful Bergen from the atop one of its seven hills. (Photo: Zygmunt Malinowski)

We promised, we promised, we promised that we’d write more about our adventures at the inaugural Bergen International Literary Festival, and what have we delivered? Nada! Nada! Nada to date!

Fortunately, there are others picking up the slack. Jacob Silkstone over at Asymptote includes some observations of the fête in the journal’s “weekly dispatches from the frontlines of world literature.” An excerpt:

Glasses, please. (Photo: Zeljko Koprolcec/Wikimedia)

Writers from twenty different countries gathered in Bergen’s bowl of snow-capped hills, including recent Asymptote contributors Helon Habila and Dubravka Ugrešić. In her opening notes, festival director Teresa Grøtan emphasised that “This is a festival where politics meets poetry, where society meets art, and where art meets the world . . . [This] is not a place where we seek consensus. It is not a festival where we are looking for an answer.”

A festival with a clear purpose, then, although sometimes the real charm of literary festivals lies not in the grand message but in the minor details: Dubravka Ugrešić twice interrupting questions from Daniel Medin to rummage through a crumpled grey and orange rucksack before locating a pair of reading glasses; Cambridge professor James E. Montgomery left temporarily speechless by a performance from Saudi poet Hissa Hilal, eventually breaking the silence with a muttered “Powerful . . .”

Partners in crime, looking a tad silly in a Bergen bookstore.

Encouragingly, the children’s programme was held in front of a packed audience, and most venues were filled to capacity. Cynthia Haven was among the bloggers covering the inaugural festival, “tired and hungry and footsore and jetlagged, but delighted . . .” It’s hard not to conclude that any event that can remain a delight even to the tired/hungry/footsore/jetlagged audience member has to be regarded as an emphatic success.

You can read more here. (The free umbrellas he mentions were a nice signature for the festival in Bergen, where it rains 266 days of the year.)

A less-touted event at left: a rare get-together between the Book Haven and Daniel Medin of the American University of Paris. We’ve written about him before, here and here.

Early sci-fi: how Dante warps time and space

March 2nd, 2019

Was Dante a precursor to modern notions in sci-fi? Perhaps so. I was recently reading Disorder and Order, the book that came out of Stanford’s remarkable 1981 conference of that name organized by René Girard and Jean-Pierre Dupuy. I had seen the volume before, but somehow overlooked the brilliant essay, with the unalluring title, “Cosmology and Rhetoric,” written by one of the world’s leading Dante scholars, Stanford’s own John Freccero. In it, he makes the case for the written language as a spatial representation of time. He begins the discussion this way:

He recaptured time too.

“…I would like to cite the representation of the solar disc and zodiac in the pavement of the baptistry in Florence. Surrounding the Romanesque wheel of the heavens is a nearly effaced inscription – En giro torte sol ciclos et rotor igne – which may be roughly translated, “Behold the sun in its cyclical gyres and the wheel of fire!” Its significance is not in what it says but rather how it says it. The phrase, in fact, is a palindrome which reads the same from left to right and from right to left. In a tradition that goes back at least to Plato‘s Timaeus, the two apparent motions of the sun diurnally moving from east to west and zodiacally from west to east were described as a motion to the right and to the left. …

Dante’s disciple, John Freccero

“Dante’s literary cosmology is infinitely more complex, although elements like this can be discerned here and there in his voyage through the heavenly spheres. The complexity arises from the fact that the tautological structure of his poem warps the categories of time and space so that his voyage ends where it begins and time is recaptured. The arrow of temporality is also reversed in the final part of Proust‘s work where Le Temps retrouvé marks the end and therefore, paradoxically, the beginning. But the space was Paris, or at least the corklined study. In Dante’s work, however, space is a figure for this temporality so that it too bends back upon itself, boundless and all-encompassing, yet encompassed by the time that it takes to traverse it. The space-time continuum was familiar to Dante through the metaphor of written language which is a spatial representation of time. We are made surprisingly aware of this each time we run across phrases such as ‘as we saw above’ or ‘as we shall see below.’ The surprise comes from our temporal representation of space which is, in fact, the act of reading, in which we lend to space our own temporality as does a machine to the film frame placed before it. In the case of a book, however, the claim to totality is implicitly made – bound up and bounded by its covers, encyclopedic in the etymological sense of the word. When such a claim is translated into temporal terms, then all of time must be contained within it. When Dante refers to the primum mobile with one of his most bizarre images, referring to the outermost heavenly sphere as the flowerp0t in which time has it roots, he is making a claim not only for his voyage but also for the poem, which is coextensive with it. Since his story is in part how this story is written, it is inevitable that the closing of the book be its ending in which all of time and space are contained.”

Miltonist Martin Evans and “an intellectual journey from point A to point B.”

February 27th, 2019

Martin and Milton. “He filled the room, with his crisp voice and laugh.” (Photo: L.A. Cicero)

Recent thoughts have turned my mind again to the late Prof. Martin Evans, one of the leading John Milton scholars in the world – well, perhaps it’s no surprise, given my recent Milton Cottage residency (see here). Poet Kenneth Fields of the Stanford English Department penned this little tribute at the time of the Welshman’s death in 2013. It was never published … till now.

Ken with cup

There has never been a time when Martin Evans was not at the center of the English Department, and I’ve been here for a long time. Martin was a man of great enthusiasms. He loved food and wine, he loved teaching, he loved Milton and the Renaissance, he loved his wife, the unfailingly charming Mariella, and he loved his children. He also loved being a contrarian. But it was not enough for him to be contrary; he wanted to be right. He once complained about a former colleague, “What I hate about him is that in any conversation, he always heads for the moral high ground, usually getting there ahead of me.” Few people got anywhere ahead of Martin. He filled the room, with his crisp voice and laugh. I always thought his voice resembled that of his countryman Richard Burton, but without the deepening and coarsening effects of cigarettes and booze. I cannot think of Dylan Thomas’s “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” without hearing Martin’s voice reading it at department Christmas parties.

About a year ago I asked several of my colleagues what they told students who were preparing to write papers. Martin’s reply was the shortest and the best: “I tell them to take me on an intellectual journey from point A to point B.” I pass this nugget on to my students every quarter, always careful to cite him, and to deliver it in Martin’s declarative voice. It’s a deceptively simple remark that needs to be passed on, and can stand some attention. First, intellectual. Second, a journey. From A to B means that there must be an A, must be a B—how often do we realize about even our own writing that there’s no A, no B? Finally, “take me on a journey.” Many of us have been taken on journeys by Martin. I intend to keep and broadcast that little sutra until I reach point B myself. Were Martin to hear me say the line that now comes to me, “They are all gone into the world of light,” he’d recognize his fellow Welsh poet, and he’d complete the sentence.

French diplomat Emmanuel Lebrun-Damiens travels to Boise to say “Merci!” to a 99-year-old American soldier

February 25th, 2019

The dapper diplomat thanks a teary-eyed soldier in Boise

We’ve written about the popular new consul general at the French consulate in San Francisco – the charismatic Emmanuel Lebrun-Damiens was, after all, an honored guest at the launch party for Evolution of Desire: A Life of René Girard. He is already a familiar figure on the Palo Alto tech scene. Now he’s a beloved figure farther afield, too. He went all the way to Idaho to say merci to a 99-year-old soldier who fought to liberate the French, and to bestow an honor he has already bestowed to a few at Stanford.

Hence on Friday, “technician fifth grade” Emil Reich was raised to the sublime rank of Chevalier in the Legion of Honour for his World War II service, where he served with the Antitank Gun Crewman 610 division. With hundreds of other servicemen, he sailed to Europe, and on June 6th, stormed the beaches in Normandy.

Reich continued on to fight in the Ardennes and Rhine region and participated in the famous Battle of the Bulge. Since he was fluent in German, he frequently traveled with higher ranking officers to speak to the citizens prior to troops approaching the towns in the Rhineland. He was wounded twice and spent time away from his division in a Paris hospital, returning to his unit after recovery.

After the end of World War II, he served as an interpreter at army camps housing German soldiers and returned in to the U.S. early in 1946.

“As a young man you left your home and family to fight and liberate not only France but the whole European continent,” said Lebrun-Damiens in an address. “Your courage and your bravery are the reason why the President of the French Republic decided to award you the highest French recognition.”

The ceremony took place on the second floor rotunda of the Idaho State Capitol building, attended by Reich’s family, as well as French Honorary Consul Mrs. Hortense Everett, Former French Honorary Consul Ms. Gabrielle Applequist, Congressman Russ Fulcher Representative Jake Ellis, Colonel Brit Vanshur Director of Staff of the Idaho National Guard, Marv Hagedorn Chief Administrator of Veteran Services, The Idaho National Guard Honor Guard, 25th Army Band, Chief of Staff of the Idaho National Guard COL Tom Rasmussen and Louis Hougaard Policy Advisor, Governor Brad Little.

The Reich family encourages any other WWII veterans who fought in France, or their family members, to reach out to the French embassy in San Francisco so they can also be recognized for their service. (Photos courtesy the French consulate)

Walter Tevis’s The Queen’s Gambit: you read the book, here’s the podcast of the Another Look discussion!

February 22nd, 2019

Walter Tevis is best known for his three novels that were turned into major films: The Hustler, The Color of Money, and The Man Who Fell to Earth. But on January 29, Stanford took another look at his overlooked masterpiece, The Queen’s Gambit, a book about chess, and the teenage girl who masters it. The lively discussion was headed by Another Look’s founding director, the eminent author Tobias Wolff. He was joined by Robert Pogue Harrison, a regular contributor to The New York Review of Books, and former Stanford fellow Inga Pierson. Some considered it our best event ever! Judge for yourself: the podcast of the discussion is here.

Tevis was born in San Francisco and grew up in the Sunset District. While his parents relocated to Kentucky, he spent a year in the Stanford Children’s Convalescent Home (which later became Stanford’s Lucile Salter Packard Children’s Hospital). Hence, Another Look’s winter event will be a homecoming for the author, who died in 1984.

Photos below by Another Look friend David Schwartz.

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