Posts Tagged ‘“Marilyn Yalom’

“Evolution of Desire” launch party is literally unforgettable, thanks to Leah Garchik of the “San Francisco Chronicle”

Friday, April 20th, 2018
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The tweeting consul et moi.

I wrote about the launch party for Evolution of Desire: A Life of René Girard, hosted by arguably the most hospitable couple at Stanford, Marilyn and Irvin Yalom, a while ago here. It cast a spell over all of us, I think. A few guests have drifted up to me since and said dreamily: “Wasn’t that a looovely party?”

Of course, I would assert that any party that had buckets of French (real French) champagne was well on the way to being unforgettable. But that would underrate the considerable charm of the gracious Yaloms, as well as their beautiful Palo Alto home.

Both are Stanford authors, but he is also a leading existential psychotherapist; she is one of the founders of feminist studies at Stanford. She also has the privilege of being René Girard‘s first graduate student.

The columnist..

It would also undersell the caliber of the guests, especially the high-octane presence of our French consul general from San Francisco, Emmanuel Lebrun-Damiens.

But it was Leah Garchik of the San Francisco Chronicle who made sure the party is literally unforgettable – as long as cyberspace and the Library of Congress endure – by including a brief notice in her popular column. We don’t get top billing, but one notch below a Diane Keaton book-signing ain’t bad.

Read the snippet in yesterday’s paper here. Or in the screenshot below:

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“A Company of Authors” is back! An exciting afternoon of lively authors, fascinating books, and “Evolution of Desire”!

Monday, April 16th, 2018
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See the second name from the top on the poster above? That’s Humble Moi. You can call me “Moi” for short. And I am personally inviting you to come to “A Company of Authors,” Prof. Peter Stansky‘s celebration of recent books by Stanford authors at the Stanford Humanities Center – this Saturday, April 21, from 1 to 5:15 p.m. (I know, I know… the poster above says 5 p.m. Keep reading…)

Patrick Hunt at the Stanford Bookstore.

Like the Another Look book club, it’s Stanford’s gift to the community. It’s free, and all members of the community are welcome. I’ve written about previous years here and here and here and here. Usually, I moderate the panel for poets; a few years ago, I gave a pitch for Another Look instead (my comments here), and seven years ago I presented my book, An Invisible Rope: Portraits of Czesław Miłosz. This year, I will be attending as an author, discussing my brand-new Evolution of Desire: A Life of René Girard.

Here’s the thing: you can drop by to hear the twenty-one authors discuss their event (schedule of speakers below or here) at any time during the afternoon, and leave when you wish. Some people stay the whole afternoon. Some people come late. Some people come at the beginning and leave early. Please don’t do that! Gaze at the schedule below. I am the very last speaker. Please, please stay to the very end! Wait and talk to me afterwards! I want to meet you! I want to sign your books! (Oh, and the Stanford Bookstore attends, too, selling all the books at a discount. We want you to buy lots.)

Moreover, the last panel has a terrific team, presenting some memorable characters: Stanford archaeologist Patrick Hunt presenting his new book, Hannibal. And Stanford mathematician Keith Devlin discussing thirteenth-century Leonardo da Pisa, the subject of his Finding Fibonacci: The Quest to Rediscover the Forgotten Mathematical Genius Who Changed the World .  And I will discuss on a very modern hero, Stanford’s René Girard, the French theorist who wrote about human imitation, envy, violence, and scapegoating.

Peter Stansky, author of many volumes on modern British history, assures me that the final spot to anchor the day is a position of honor. So please come see me crowned in glory. I’ll be waiting for you. And I’ve highlighted and hyperlinked some of the other authors who have been featured in these pages on the schedule below (please note: Steve Zipperstein has had to cancel his attendance).

Marilyn Yalom signing books

Now you will ask why does the poster that was used in publicity list the event as ending  at 5 p.m., yet the schedule below ends at 5:05 p.m., and elsewhere it says 5:15 p.m. That’s because we noticed that the last panel was five minutes short, and that means we’d all be talking awfully, awfully fast. So the panel ends at 5:05. But after that, we expect you’ll all want to head into the lobby, drink more tea and eat more cookies, buy more books, and many of the authors will be chatting and lingering and longing to sign your books till 5:15 or so. In fact, the hubbub and conversation in the lobby after it’s all finished is one of the funnest things of all.

Come when you can. Stay as long as you can. It’s always lively, informative, and thought-provoking.

SCHEDULE

1:00 pm Welcome (Peter Stansky)

1:05 pm – 1:35 pm The Wide Range of History
Peter Stansky, Chair
Nancy Kollmann, The Russian Empire 1450–1801
Mikael D. Wolfe, Watering the Revolution: An Environmental and Technological History of Agrarian Reform in Mexico
Thomas S. Mullaney, The Chinese Typewriter: A History

1:40 pm – 2:10 pm Killing and Controlling the Population
Paul Robinson, Chair
Carolyn Chappell Lougee, Facing the Revocation
Philippa Levine, Eugenics

2:15 pm – 2:45 pm Considering Life
Tania Granoff, Chair
Peter N. CarrollAn Elegy for Lovers
Irvin D. YalomBecoming Myself: A Psychiatrist’s Memoir

2:50 pm – 3:20 pm Life and Love
Edith Gelles, Chair
Aiko Takeuchi-Demirci, Contraceptive Diplomacy
Karen Offen, The Woman Question in France, 1400–1870
Marilyn YalomThe Amorous Heart: An Unconventional History of Love

3:25 pm – 3:55 pm The Former British Empire
Kristin Mann, Chair
Jack RakoveA Politician Thinking: The Creative Mind of James Madison
Priya Satia, Empire of Guns: The Violent Making of the Industrial Revolution
Aidan Forth, Barbed-Wire Imperialism: Britain’s Empire of Camps, 1876–1903

4:00 pm – 4:30 pm The Many Worlds of Stanford
Larry Horton, Chair

4:00 pm – 4:30 pm The Many Worlds of Stanford
Larry Horton, Chair
Tom DeMund, Walking the Farm
Peter Stansky et al., The Stanford Senate of the Academic Council
Robin Kennedy on behalf of Donald Kennedy, A Place in the Sun: A Memoir

4:35 pm – 5:05 pm Rich Lives
Charles Junkerman, Chair
Patrick HuntHannibal
Keith Devlin, Finding Fibonacci
Cynthia Haven, Evolution of Desire: A Life of René Girard

This event is co-sponsored by Stanford Continuing Studies and the Stanford Humanities Center, with special thanks to the Stanford Bookstore.

The history of the heart: how a pinecone, eggplant, and pear became a ❤

Sunday, January 28th, 2018
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I’d say it’s more like a pear

A couple weeks ago, we wrote about Marilyn Yalom‘s latest book, The Amorous Heart: An Unconventional History of Love. Her onstage conversation at Kepler’s Books considered the history of the ❤, but left us a bit fuzzy about how the symmetrical shape took hold, sometime in the fifteenth century.

Her article in the Wall Street Journal this weekend gives the details: “the lack of real knowledge of physiology left open fanciful possibilities. The second-century Greek physician Galen asserted that the heart was shaped like a pinecone and worked with the liver. This view carried into the Middle Ages, when the heart first found its visual form as the symbol of love.”

Hence, “The earliest illustrations of the amorous heart, created around 1250 in a French allegory called ‘The Romance of the Pear,’ pictured a heart that looks like a pinecone, eggplant or pear, with its narrow end pointed upward and its wider, lower part held in a human hand.”

And then there’s Giotto, in his 1305 fresco of Caritas in the Scrovegni Chapel of Padua – (Proust makes much of this image – read about it here). I rather like the discreet pear-like objet passed between the lady and the saint (is she giving or taking it?) – a casual transaction like handing over a five-buck bill, that occurs cleanly without a fuss, rather than the messy, bloody, pulsating thing that makes a mess of our real lives.

But soon enough, science and biology took over, and that’s no fun at all:

The great exception, in this as in other matters of art and science, was Leonardo da Vinci, who studied both human and animal dissections. The painstaking illustrations in his notebooks show his longstanding dedication to anatomical accuracy. (Human dissection, long taboo, began appearing as early as 1315 in Italy, but it could be banned at any time, according to the mood of the pope.)

Queen of Hearts (Photo Margo Davis)

Andreas Vesalius, the 16th-century Flemish physician who is considered the father of modern anatomy, was allowed to dissect cadavers at the University of Padua, thanks to a judge who supplied him with the bodies of executed criminals. In his groundbreaking book “The Fabric of the Human Body” (“De humani corporis fabrica”), Vesalius corrected certain errors made by Galen that had been blindly repeated by successive generations of doctors since the second century.

The detailed plates in Vesalius’s “Fabrica,” like the drawings in da Vinci’s notebooks, pictured a heart that looked more like the real thing. Yet the advance of science did nothing to shake popular attachment to the image of the heart as bi-lobed at the top and pointed at the bottom.

Lub-dub, lub-dub, lub-dub. Here’s to artifice over the real thing, which brings us back to the pristine object we began with: ❤

Read the Wall Street Journal article here.

Kepler’s Books ❤ Marilyn Yalom and her “Amorous Heart”

Friday, January 12th, 2018
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Author in the pink. (Photo: Margo Davis)

The shape is ubiquitous: two rounded curves swooping downward to meet in a single point. It’s meaning is universal: love. But where did it come from?

Marilyn Yalom, author of the brand new The Amorous Heart: An Unconventional History of Love (Basic Books), was in the British Museum when the question came to her a few years ago, as she gazed at a treasures from the 15th century in the “Fishpool Hoard,” discovered in Nottinghamshire in the 1960s. In the midst of the jewelry: a perfect heart-shaped brooch. As she marveled at the delicately enameled piece, she knew she was hooked.

Hence her new book, which had her at Kepler’s earlier this week, in a “public conversation” with Theresa Donovan Brown, a longtime friend and sometimes co-author. Marilyn, a longtime friend of mine as well, is also the author of the acclaimed How the French Invented Love – we wrote about it here and here. (And about her husband, the eminent psychoanalyst Irving Yalom, is also an author, here and here).

The Amorous Heart is likely to be as successful as her previous efforts, with Robert Pogue Harrison proclaiming it “Another tour de force by one of America’s leading cultural historians.”

“For anyone whose heart has ever palpitated in love or devotion, this is a thumping romp through the history of hearts – in love, literature, illuminated manuscripts, and valentine cards,” added Christopher de Hamel, author of Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts.

The heart that launched…

For the Kepler’s occasion, fueled by plenty of Prosecco and heart-shaped cookies, almost everyone seemed to be wearing pink – even yours truly, though it was happenstance in my case. Fortunately, our mutual friend, photographer Margo Davis (who was wearing NYC black, without a touch of pink) was around to document the occasion. (See photo above.)

What did she discover in her long journey that began in the British Museum? Marilyn learned that the heart has been considered the “home of love” at least as far back as Sappho, though the visual rendering didn’t occur until much later. The first known rendering is ambiguous – a heart stamped on a coin in Libya, circa the third or fourth century B.C. It may, however, reflect the shape of a variety of a fennel pod still extant during the time. (Catullus makes mention of the fennel plant as a means of contraception … a clue?)

It was “a form in search of a meaning” until the 13th century, when the troubadours were full of amour and the need to represent it. In art, however, the heart was usually portrayed as a cone-shaped object, thanks to the imprecise discoveries of medicine. Sometime in the 15th century – we don’t know how, or where, or exactly when – the heart shape caught on. By the 14th century the heart had become a commonplace symbol, as Marilyn’s beloved brooch demonstrates. By the 16th and 17th?  Shakespeare uses the term “heart” almost as much as he does love.

Religion was never the same again. The “Sacre Coeur” of the Church became ubiquitous and portrayed with leaping flames and crowns of thorns. Its more regular representations continued unabated in the profane arts, too. Just as the image was about to sink into inevitable kitsch, it was revived by none other than Martin Luther.

Then, the 20th century, with more innovations. The heart became a verb, as in I ❤ NY. Or I ❤ San Francisco. Or Paris. Or Berlin. Then the computer age, and the Japanese made it into an emoji. Is it dissipating into meaninglessness? Marilyn celebrates it nonetheless. Might we suggest the delightful volume for Valentine’s Day?

“It’s the most popular symbol in the world, the perfect shape,” said Yalom. Two equal halves, conveying the Platonic idea. “It really moves our hearts, makes us feel good. Something in the shape itself.”

Photographer Margo Davis and “the landscape of the face”

Tuesday, November 14th, 2017
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Photo by Margo Davis, of course.

Loyal readers of these pages know the legendary self-effacement and humility of the Book Haven. You should. We keep telling you about it. But we are shedding our accustomed modesty and shyness for a brief holiday.

Humble Moi no more! Now it’s Glamorous Moi! Elegant Moi! For we have had our photograph taken by the esteemed Margo Davis, whose artistic focus is fine arts portraiture.

The notable photographer and I met in an elevator, some years ago. We were both on our way to visit Marilyn Yalom, who was hosting the Middlebrook Salon at her lovely Russian Hill home. Margo was memorable. She was wearing a black leather jacket, with her hair characteristically short, and she spoke in a rapid-fire Connecticut accent (not New York, as my imprecise ear thought).

We’ve seen each other since – usually at Marilyn’s home. So naturally Marilyn recommended her as the perfect photographer for my once-every-seven-years photograph. Marilyn was correct, as she so often is.

Humble Moi is not the easiest client to photograph. I panic and freeze before the camera and my eyes bug out and go glassy. But Margo just kept talking, and she kept snapping, too. She talks about getting to know her photographic subjects as “a waltz between two people trying to do something in the way of a portrait.”

Margo, in color.

“You have to spend time,” she said. “This is not a journalistic activity, an in-and-out thing.” The result of her efforts above.

Margo has spoken in the past about being drawn to the “landscape of the face.” As a young photographer, she recalled: “When I was going through my proof sheets I realized I was really gravitating toward portraiture. And from that point on, I think I started moving in closer towards peoples’ faces. It was a process, it wasn’t something that happened overnight.”

Margo always uses natural light, and is known primarily for her black-and-white portrait photography, because, she’s said, “you’re already in an abstraction process, because the real world is in color.” In black and white, she’s photograph such celebrities as Saul Bellow, Maxine Kingston and Ursula K. Le Guin as well as average people in Africa, the Caribbean, Asia and Latin America. But in my case she clearly made a colorful exception. In the quick tour she gave me of her home, I fell in love with her black-and-white portrait of an Angor Wat monk. He looks just as uncomfortable in front of the camera as I was, meditation notwithstanding.

An especial focus for her work has been Antigua in the Caribbean, as well as Africa: “I borrowed the methodology of an ethnographer: participant-observation, becoming part of the fabric of the culture,” she has said.

My favorite guy. He looks nervous, too.

“Being married to an Antiguan [her former husband Gregson Davis] and returning there often, I was able to work with this axiom in mind; the importance of getting to really know people.”

She has taught photography at Stanford University forever, as well as the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of California, Santa Cruz.

By my count, she’s up to half a dozen photography books now. Her newest book this year is Antigua 1967-1973 from Nazraeli Press. Previous books include: Antigua Pride, Edition One Press, 2013; Under One Sky, Stanford University Press, 2004; The Stanford Album: A Photographic History, 1885 – 1945 (Stanford, 1989); Antigua Black: Portrait of an Island People (1973); and Women Writers of the West Coast (1983), with text by Marilyn Yalom.

Margo’s work is in major museums, including the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art Cantor Art Center at Stanford, the Brooklyn Museum, and the Bibliothèque Nationale de France.

“A Company of Authors” – a pleasant afternoon of classy books this Saturday. Be there!

Wednesday, April 13th, 2016
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stansky

Our hero, Peter Stansky.

It’s that time. Peter Stansky‘s annual “A Company of Authors” is happening this Saturday, April 16, from 1 to 5 p.m. at the Stanford Humanities Center, 424 Santa Teresa Street on the Stanford campus. The annual event gathers Stanford authors from the previous year to present and discuss their books.

yalom

Encore, Marilyn!

I’m particularly looking forward to Myra Strober‘s new memoir, Sharing the Work and Albert Gelpi’s American Poetry After Modernism. I’ve heard Marilyn Yalom and Theresa Donovan Brown speak about The Social Sex: A History of Female Friendship  before, and also Edith Gelles on Abigail Adams‘s letters (we’ve written about Marilyn here and here and here, and Edie here) – I look forward to doing so again. It’s always fun.

So many people on this list I really want to see this weekend … oh, I could go on and on. What’s that you say? Why, yes, yes … Humble Moi will be speaking at 2:45 p.m. on “The Wonderful World of Books at Stanford.” I’ll be talking about the wondrous success of the “Another Look” book club which brings little-known or overlooked masterpieces to the Bay Area community – and which, I might add (and I will), has received international coverage. I’ve written about the open book club – which focuses on a series of public events –  here and here and here and here, among a zillion other places.

Anyway, great fun, and the Stanford Boostore will be selling the books in the lobby – at a 10% discount, too.

companyofauthors

Yalom’s Cure: Stanford’s famous psychotherapist onscreen – and it’s fun!

Thursday, March 12th, 2015
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With Vienna’s mayor Michael Häupl in 2009 – and lots and lots of his books

André Malraux once asked a parish priest who had listened to confessions for half a century what he had learned about mankind. On the first page of his 1968 Anti-Memoirs, the French writer recorded the priest’s reply: “First of all people are much more unhappy than one thinks…and then the fundamental fact is that there is no such thing as a grown up person.”

Not a bad starting point for this week’s Stanford premiere of Yalom’s Cure, an hour-long film about Irvin Yalom, one of the world’s most celebrated existential psychotherapists. Irv is now a well-known author as well, leveraging psychology into literature with Love’s Executioner and Other Tales of Psychotherapy, When Nietzsche Wept, The Schopenhauer Cure, The Spinoza Problem, and others. (We wrote about the Viennese “Eine Stadt. Ein Buch” celebration of his book here and here – 100,000 copies of When Nietzsche Wept were distributed throughout Vienna.)

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The Yaloms enjoying Vienna’s Freud Museum.

Stanford’s Irv was obviously guest of honor for the screening, along with his wife Marilyn Yalom, one of the founders of the Clayman Institute for Gender Research and author of the acclaimed How the French Invented Love – which, I’m told, is as big a hit in France as it has been on this side of the Atlantic. (We wrote about it here and here and here.) The screening was also attended by a number of Stanford luminaries we’ve written about – among them Gerhard and Regina Casper, John and Mary Felstiner, Myra Strober, Marguerite Frank, and also Georgia May, widow of the eminent existential psychologist Rollo May.

Writer/director Sabine Gisiger and her film crew filmed hundreds of hours of the Yaloms and their family – the result? “This movie is making me squirm. I feel very exposed,” the good doctor said. But I came to the event cold, with no expectations, and was both exhilarated and moved by the film, which premiered in Zurich and already has been featured in San Francisco and Mill Valley film festivals. For locals, it features an awful lot of Stanford and Palo Alto, and brought back memories of my previous visits to their idyllic Palo Alto home… well, I didn’t need much in the way of memory… I had visited a few days ago.

The doctor turns 84 this June, and said that facing death has been a “long odyssey… I’m much less terrorized by it.” He explained part of his attitude towards psychotherapy with Thomas Hardy‘s words: “If way to the better there be, it exacts a full look at the worst.”

Don’t be puzzled by the German. The trailer is in English. Want the whole movie? Try here.

“I am dying, and that’s a helluva way of introducing the book of my greatest love”: Middlebrook’s posthumous Young Ovid; Djerassi’s last public appearance

Saturday, January 31st, 2015
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Last wishes fulfilled. (Photo: Amanda Lane)

Carl Djerassi had a way of stealing the show, and last week may prove, in retrospect, to have been no exception. The January 22 occasion was the launch of biographer Diane Middlebrook‘s posthumous book, Young Ovid: A Life Recreated (Counterpoint Press) a book that has taken seven years since the author’s death to find its way into book form. Last week’s event, at the fabulous Djerassi digs atop Russian Hill, will be known equally as Carl’s last public appearance. The eminent chemist who has been called “father of the pill” (surely a contradiction in terms) – and also an author, playwright, and founder of an artists’ colony – died yesterday of cancer at 91. It’s certainly appropriate that his final public appearance was a last salute to his late wife, who died of cancer in 2007.

According to Diane’s daughter, Leah Middlebrook, the posthumous book would not have come out with him. “He kept her alive and kept her distracted,” she recalled. She had reached a lowpoint in her long illness when she realized she would not be able to finish her book. Carl suggested a “Young Ovid” biography, and that gave her new life. She discussed the manuscript with Carl to the last days of her life. A pleasure as well as a duty, for Ovid was her lifelong passion. “Reading a page and a half will convince you her voice is still present with us,” said her daughter.

I bought a copy, available at the event courtesy Green Apple Books in San Francisco, and though I’ve only had a chance to cast a casual eye over it, it’s impressive, perhaps some of her best work. “It is Diane’s prose. It is Diane’s writing,” said Leah. It wasn’t easy. Middlebrook had continued writing until a month before her death. She conveyed to a circle of insiders her plans and intentions for the finished book. The execution finally rested in the hands of others – and the search of a publisher was a labor of its own. The New Yorker has already named it as one of their “Books to Watch Out For” here.

At the event last week, however, tribulations were forgotten amid plenty of champagne, plenty of brie, plenty of dolmas, and plenty of little bits of goat cheese wrapped in strips of fried zucchini, against the backdrop of what must be one of the most stunning views in a city full of them. I described it a dozen years ago (here) this way:

“The couple’s art interests are evident in their home, surely one of the most fabulous apartments in San Francisco. It occupies the entire 15th floor (they gradually absorbed four apartments) of an art-deco building on Green Street, atop Russian Hill. The elevator from the lobby opens onto blue walls meant to suggest a night sky, with poetry by Ovid, Paul Klee, Wallace Stevens, Basho, Hughes and others written across it in different scripts and languages and illustrated with zodiacal signs. To the left are living quarters; to the right, offices and the salon area, where the couple entertains. They enjoy a 360-degree view of the city.

(Photo: Isabella Gregor)

He liked this one. (Photo: I. Gregor)

“Middlebrook’s office features Eurodesign cabinets and built-in bookcases, with a computer desk and round work table. As in the hotel room, all is very neat, very well-organized—a Middlebrook cardinal virtue. A painted baroque ceiling, with blue, gray and plum-colored swirls, gives the impression the sky is right above you.

“Works of art by Klee, usually on the walls in the salon area, are currently on loan to San Francisco’s Museum of Modern Art, keeping company with the permanent Klee collection Djerassi donated. The couple has one of the world’s most significant private Klee collections.”

Much of the evening buzz over hors d’oeuvres was about Carl’s health – whispers that this would be his last public appearance, and so it was. (I still can’t believe that he won’t email me tomorrow with the photo he’d rather have me use for this farewell post – but the one I’m including is the one he preferred last time, so here it is again.) When Carl finally appeared and was helped to a chair at the front of the gathering he was startlingly thin, exceedingly frail, but erect and dignified, surprisingly present, altogether there. “Can you hear me back there? All of you back there?” he called. “I’m losing my voice, and I am losing my voice because I am dying, and that’s a helluva way of introducing the book of my greatest love.”

He had a slender, old-fashioned paperback – 1930s, Europe – on the small table next to his side as he spoke, and told his story about fleeing Austria with his mother in 1938 to escape the Nazis. “What would you take as a refugee? No furniture of any size, nothing heavy,” he recalled. Just clothing, pictures, and some books – and one of the books was this one – naturally, a book of Ovid. Heavy going for a teenager who had only four years of Latin, he admitted, but the relic from his past traveled with him to New York; Newark, New Jersey; the Midwest; Mexico; and California. It’s still with him. If he were writing a book, it would be framed as a prefiguration of the woman he would find towards the end of a journey – a woman whose lifelong passion was Ovid – and the book that would connect them at the end of both their lives.

middlebrook1“Diane, I want to tell you how important that book was to me that you finally finished,” he said.

Let the last words be hers, however. Her close friend Marilyn Yalom read, if not a page and a half, at least this part from the introduction to the book, turning on Ovid’s own words: “Throughout all ages,/if poets have vision to prophesy truth, I shall live.”

“To a biographer, Ovid’s declaration ‘I shall live’ can feel like a glove slapping a cheek across twenty centuries. Quite aside from its embarrassingly self-promotional aspect, the phrase can be dismissed as empty convention: Ovid’s most celebrated contemporaries incorporated lines like this in work of their own they most admired. But what if Ovid meant it? What could support a writer’s belief that works of poetry could be immortal and that his own was destined for this rare elevation?

“Biography is a medium for working out solutions to such puzzles. Yet Ovid is not an obvious candidate for biography; there is almost no documentation of Ovid’s life outside his poetry. The evidence inside his poetry is all we have to go on. But it is enough, for Ovid was an unusually autobiographical writer for his time. His voice comes toward us like a plucked string, immediate and recognizable across two millenia, partly because he made frequent use of an effective rhetorical strategy: accosting us readers as if we were present in the room with him. At one point he even calls us, his heirs, by name: ‘Who is this I you read … ?/You want to know, posterity? Then attend” (Tristia 4.10.1-2).

 

Is it possible to collapse from too much love?

Wednesday, June 18th, 2014
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Pont_de_l'Archevêché

At the Pont de l”Archevêché, “a forest of glittering objects…” (Photo: Francis Hannaway)

Some months ago we posted this, from Marilyn Yalom‘s How the French Invented Love:

During the summer of the [Dominique] Strauss-Kahn affair, I found myself walking behind the Cathedral of Notre Dame and wondering how I could finish this book. Had love in France become little more than a myth?  Were the French abandoning the ideal of “the great love” in favor of serial affairs?  Had seduction won out over sentiment? And then my eye was drawn to a strange sight. I saw, attached to the grille on the Pont de l”Archevêché crossing the Seine, a forest of glittering objects, small padlocks with initials or names on them, sometimes with dates or hearts: C and K, Agnes & René, Barbara & Christian, Luni & Leo, Paul & Laura, 16–6–10. There must be at least two or three thousand. And already, on the other side of the bridge, a few similar locks were clinging to the grille.  How long before that side would also be completely covered?

I hung around, enchanted by the spectacle, and was rewarded by the sight of two youthful lovers, who came across the bridge arm in arm, affixed a lock to the grille, drank from each other’s lips, and threw the key into the Seine.

how-the-french-invented-loveWe wondered at the time … can love sometimes be too much? Could the burden of love be lighter?  Is it possible to collapse from too much love? Yes! And that’s exactly what happened:

… the celebrated bridge had to be evacuated at the weekend after part of the railing collapsed under the weight of love locks attached to it.

Police ordered visitors to leave and closed the footbridge after a 2.4-metre section of railing broke loose.

Since the phenomenon began in 2008 it has become a headache for city officials. Not only is the full 150-metre Pont des Arts covered in locks, but visiting lovebirds have targeted other bridges in the French capital. Forty locks are reported to have been removed from the Eiffel tower. …

Protesters who say the thousands of locks are an eyesore and vandalism have long warned they are also a risk to the iron bridge, which is a listed monument, and launched a petition to have them removed. There are also campaigns on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

The protesters wrote an open letter to the Paris mayor, Anne Hidalgo, saying the locks were “like a plague on our city’s historic bridges and sites.” They complained: “This is most apparent on the Pont des Arts, which has been terribly degraded, both visually and structurally In a few short years, the heart of Paris has been made ugly, robbing Parisians of quality of life and the ability to safely enjoy their own public spaces along the Seine, which has itself been polluted by thousands of discarded keys. The time has come to enact a ban on ‘love locks’ in order to return our bridges to their original beauty and purpose.”

The Guardian article is here. Or the BBC article here. One reader worried: “Does this mean that thousands of innocent tourists have now fallen out of love? Their dreams consigned to the watery depths of the Seine?” Another sniped: “Nothing says I love you like putting a padlock on a bridge in Paris.” I’d settle for a trip to Paris and a 7th floor walk-up on the Rue des Petits Champs.

Stanford’s “Another Look” spotlights Marguerite Duras’ The Lover

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014
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Stanford’s book club honors the famous French writer’s centenary with a May 12 discussion of The Lover, her autobiographical tale of her scandalous teenage affair with an older Chinese millionaire, set in her native Saigon. Read more below.

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pantheon-coverLong before most Americans could find Vietnam on a map, the French ruled Indochina, and its Chinese, French, and native Annamese denizens lived in an unequal colonial stew. So when a 15-year-old French schoolgirl had a passionate affair with a wealthy 27-year-old Chinese lover in Saigon, it created a scandal. The affair eventually became a book, and the book became a masterpiece.

The writer, Marguerite Duras, would tell the story again and again, throughout her lifetime, but never more compellingly than in The Lover, which received a prestigious Prix Goncourt when it was published in 1984, and sold two million copies.

Now, in Marguerite Duras’s centenary year, the “Another Look” book club is celebrating the author and her book at 7:30 p.m., Monday, May 12, at the Stanford Humanities Center’s Levinthal Hall. The panel will be moderated by Blakey Vermeule, professor of English, with her colleague Paula Moya, professor of English, and Stephen Seligman, a psychiatrist and professor at the University of California, San Francisco. The event is free and open to the public.

Vermeule had read the short novel as a high school student, but on rereading it, “I was gobsmacked,” she said. “It’s one of these masterpieces that gets rediscovered again and again. It’s a very intense book, so powerful it had slipped my mind what a truly great and subtle work of art it is.” With the centenary, she thought it was an excellent moment to revisit the book the New York Times Book Review had called “powerful, authentic, completely successful … perfect.”

Duras’ simple, terse writing style reads “as if language itself were merely a vehicle for conveying passion and desire, pain and despair,” wrote British author and journalist Alan Riding. “The mysteries of love and sex consumed her, but she had no room for sentimentality in her works, or indeed, in her life.”

“I write about love, yes, but not about tenderness,” she had told him in a 1990 New York Times interview. “I don’t like tender people. I myself am very harsh. When I love someone, I desire them. But tenderness supposes the exclusion of desire.”

Mitterrand

A presidential pal

Duras was born in Gia Dinh, near Saigon. Her father fell ill and returned to France, where he died. Her widowed mother, a teacher, was bankrupted in a shady land deal. The family struggled as impoverished colonials in a small tight-knit, gossiping community. Duras recalls an abusive mother who had severe bouts with depression, a drug-addicted brother who beat his sister fiercely and stole from the family (and even its servants), and a beloved younger brother who died young. When she met a Chinese millionaire on the ferry crossing the Mekong River, the teenager saw a doorway to a different world. The affair continued until Duras returned to France to finish her education at 18.

In France, she worked in the French Résistance in a team under the direction future French President François Mitterand, who remained a lifelong friend. After the war, she became a member of the French Communist Party. Duras is often categorized with the writers of the postwar “nouveau roman,” a movement that loosened the grip of plot- and character-driven narrative, blurring the boundaries of time and space, but Duras resists easy categorization. She experimented with novels, plays, films, essays, journalism, and memoir. She was fascinated, in particular, by the possibilities of film, most notably writing the screenplay for Alain Resnais‘s 1960 classic, Hiroshima, Mon Amour.

She wrote The Lover at 70, when she had become a tiny old woman, her body wracked by alcoholism and cigarettes, giving interviews often read like a parody of what a French avant-garde writer is expected to sound like. She told the story in different ways with widely divergent details, so much so that until the discovery of an unpublished diary, there could be doubts that the affair had happened at all.

“She had an intensive, almost anti-social capacity to tell the story the way she wanted to tell it, in all its violence and ugliness,” said Vermeule. “The need to be utterly solitary, and socially antipathetic – very rarely does one see it in women writers. It’s not a pose they claim,” she said.

“This book is so very psychoanalytic. She’s clearly under that spell. Look at the nonlinearity of the story. As narrrator, she is almost dissociated from herself, moving from first to third person and back.”

The_lover

The 1992 film that irked her…

Duras quarreled with film director Jean-Jacques Annaud as they collaborated on the 1992 film of the book, and retaliated with 1991’s The North China Lover, as a way of reclaiming her story. But no version before or since had the luster of The Lover. According to Stanford scholar Marilyn Yalom writing in How the French Invented Love, “She could transform a somewhat sordid affair into a mutually passionate romance and project into posterity her vision of love as an irresistable force that penetrates through the skin, regardless of its color.”

That vision continues to transfix readers, and The Lover continues to draw fans, decades after its first publication. In The Independent, South African playright and novelist Deborah Levy wrote in 2011, “The Lover does not just portray a forbidden sexual encounter of mind-blowing passion and intensity; it is also an essay on memory, death, desire and how colonialism messes up everyone.”

“Marguerite Duras was a reckless thinker, an egomaniac, a bit preposterous really. I believe she had to be. When she walks her bold but ‘puny’ female subject in her gold lamé shoes into the arms of her Chinese millionaire, Duras never covertly apologises for the moral or psychological way that she exists.”

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The “Another Look” book club focuses on short masterpieces that have been forgotten, neglected or overlooked – or may simply not have gotten the attention they merit. The selected works are short to encourage the involvement of the Bay Area readers whose time may be limited. Registration at the website anotherlook.stanford.edu is encouraged for regular updates and details on the selected books and events.