Writing, writing, writing

Der arme Poet / The Poor Poet, Carl Spitzweg, 1839, oil on canvas, 36.2 × 44.6 cm.

For a long while I had a link on my “projects” page to this painting, which I love with all the force of a million starving artist cliches. I thought I’d post it here as a fond and gently satirical testament to work of the mind.

A couple of interesting facts I learned while browsing the German Wikipedia entry for this painting:

-After the Mona Lisa, this is the painting that Germans most love in the world (according to an unidentified poll).

-Many have wondered what sort of a gesture this poor poet is making with his right hand. Some think he is scanning verse. Others believe he has plucked and is squishing a flea from his bedding. All poor poets know that one does not discount the other.

Mathias Etenhueber had the dubious privilege of serving as the model for this poor poet picture.

-And finally, my favorite: There are two almost identical versions of this painting. One is in the Neue Pinakotek in Munich, and the other was in the Nationalgalerie in Berlin. Until it was stolen by Ulay in 1976 as part of a performance piece (!), then stolen again in 1989 by true art thieves and never located. In art, there is a criminal touch.


Es sind lauter Widerstände von Anfang an

I found this funny, minimal, inventive and very moving film two weeks ago and was swallowed up whole (not a common Youtube viewing occurrence). Between 16mm and video recording for television, Ferry Radax performs a respectful, absurdist, and elegant pas de deux with Austrian novelist, poet, playwright and saint of the negative Thomas Bernhard.

Of the many brutal yet ornamental and telegrammatically-spoken thoughts Bernhard shares, I especially appreciated the one I’ve tried to translate below. Darkly hilarious and reluctantly tender. It brought my attention to the German word Widerstand, which I had always understood as “resistance,” but which Bernhard uses here equally in the sense of “antagonism,” “opposition” and “obstruction.” From around the 16:30 mark:

There’s plenty of oppositions from the very beginning, probably always have been. Oppositions, what is opposition? Opposition is material. The brain needs oppositions. By amassing oppositions, it has material.

Opposition? Oppositions. Opposition, when you peer through a window, opposition when you should write a letter–you just don’t want to do it–you receive a letter, another opposition [wieder ein Widerstand]. You say to hell with it–nevertheless, you answer at some point.

You walk outside, you buy something, you drink a beer, it’s all such a bother, all that is opposition. You get sick, go to the hospital, there are complications–again opposition [wieder Widerstand]. Suddenly chronic illnesses surface, go away again, linger–oppositions, of course. You read books–oppositions. You don’t want any books, you don’t want any thoughts, either, you don’t want language or words, no sentences, you don’t want any history–you want absolutely nothing. Nevertheless, you fall asleep, you wake up. The result of falling asleep is waking up, the result of waking up is standing up. You must stand up against all oppositions.

You must leave the bedroom, the newspaper appears, sentences appear, always the same sentences, actually–you don’t know where they come from–uniformity, right? From it new oppositions arise again, from all that you notice. Actually, you want nothing more than to sleep, to be ignorant of it all. Then suddenly, once again the desire to…


Lee Miller, Portrait of Space, 1937. Gelatin silver print. 13.3 x 12.4 cm.

Lee Miller, Portrait of Space, 1937. Gelatin silver print. 13.3 x 12.4 cm.

A Lee Miller photograph as an overture to sporadic summertime posting!

Miller made this photograph while visiting the Siwa Oasis in Egypt. She took it from inside an abandoned bungalow belonging to traveling officials.

On the recently established website dedicated to her archives, you can see the original snapshot from which she cropped and enlarged this image. The archive is fascinating to click through, even if the images are irritatingly (if self-explanatorily) watermarked for viewing unpleasure.

Miller described the rectangle sewn into the screen as what would have earlier been an opening used to “reach through the mosquito netting to latch or unlatch the sand storm shutters” (in Mark Haworth-Booth, The Art of Lee Miller, New Haven, Yale University Press, 2007, p. 133).

By the time she entered the bungalow, this original opening had been made accessory to the beautiful rent beneath it. Space’s portrait is only ever its frame.