Through the Looking Glass

The greatest novels seem to have one thing in common: they take us through the looking glass. That is, these books tell stories within stories, taking us down the rabbit hole of a conversation, a dream, an historical event, a philosophical diatribe, a parallel universe. This demands loyalty and sometimes blind faith from the reader.  We are required to bury our skepticism and follow the author through these detours.  At times, it can feel hopeless, daunting, and even make us angry to be carried along these dark side roads that seem to lead nowhere. The French rightly call this predicament mise en abyme, being placed into the abyss.  But, when handled with genius and artistry, we are given a parachute, a soft landing.  Suddenly or gradually, we realize the roads led to somewhere after all.  We feel mysteriously connected, understood, joined with some invisible force that seems to fill us with awe.  We close our eyes, perhaps tearfully, nod our heads, and say to ourselves and the writer’s ghost, “Yes, I get it. I’m with you.”  

 

As a writer, taking the reader through the looking glass gives a story a special kind of depth and intimacy. A depth that is rarely achieved by simply sticking to the plot. A depth much like the attraction, empathy, and private understanding that builds between two lovers.  The more secrets they share, even if unremarkable or banal, the more something surprising and revelatory occurs between them. When you’ve entered someone’s inner universe and been privy to their untold stories, their kaleidoscope of thought, their philosophies, their dreams, you begin to truly Know them with a capital K.  This is what taking the reader through the looking glass achieves- you lose yourself and become naked, exposed, uninhibited, unafraid- and, when you find a dedicated fellow psychic traveller, they feel the gift, this treasured depth that attaches them to your journey.

                                                                                                      – P. A. Swirnoff

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Don Quixote and the Windmills, 1945 - Salvador Dali  9780679441830-us-300

Hermann Hesse’s Steppenwolf

“How beautiful she looked, how unearthly, when she said that! Cool and clear, there swam in her eyes a conscious sadness. These eyes of hers seemed to have suffered all imaginable suffering and to have acquiesced in it. Her lips spoke with difficulty and as though something hindered them, as though a keen frost had tumbled her face; but between her lips at the corners of her mouth where the tip of her tongue showed at rare intervals, there was but sweet sensuality and inward delight that contradicted the expression of her face and tone of her voice.”

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  • Alla Nazimova in Salomé (1923)
  • Belladonna of Sadness (1973)
  • Aubrey Breadsley, Rose Bush, pen and ink, 1893-94
  • Egon Schiele, Reclining Woman, Gouache, watercolour and pencil on cream wove paper, 1916

Tales of Desire

Tales of Desire is a great read for sleazy Thursdays. This collection was published by New Directions. Below is the forward written by Gore Vidal:

“Tennessee’s stories need no explication. So here they are. Some are marvelous- “Desire and the Black Masseur”; some are wonderfully crazed-“The Killer Chicken,” “The Mysteries of The Joy Rio.” So what are they about? Well, there used to be two streetcars in New Orleans. One was named Desire and the other was called Cemeteries. To get where you were going, you changed from the first to the second. In these stories and in those plays, Tennessee validated with his genius our common ticket of transfer.”

Read it to lose yourself.

 

Excerpts: Conversations with Jorge Luis Borges

Richard Burgin conducted a series of interviews between 1964 and 1984 with Jorge Luis Borges. Below are candid thoughts from a wonderful thinker:

“I began thinking of the injustice or rather how illogical it was for Christians, let’s say, to believe in the immortal soul, and at the same time to believe that what we did during that very brief span of life was important, because even if we lived to be a hundred years old, that’s nothing compared to everlastingness, to eternity. I thought, well, even if we live to a hundred, anything we do is unimportant if we go on living, and then I also worked in that mathematical idea that if time  is endless, all things are bound to happen to all men, and in that case, after some thousand years everyone of us would be a saint, a murderer, a traitor, and adulterer, a fool, a wise man”

“…I think there’s something very mean about revenge, even a just revenge, no? Something futile about it. I dislike revenge. I think the only possible revenge is forgetfulness, oblivion. That’s the only revenge. But, of course, oblivion makes for forgiving, no?”

“…Perhaps coincidences are given to us that would involve the idea of a secret plan, no? Coincidences are given to us so that we may feel there is a pattern- that there is a pattern in life, that things mean something. Of course there is a pattern in a sense that we have night and day, the four seasons, being born, living and dying, the stars and so on, but there may be a more subtle kind of pattern, no?”

The Yellow Book

The Yellow Book was a fashionable quarterly magazine published from 1894 to 1897. It was created in part to challenge the traditional values of the Victorian era. Through artistic experimentation, emphasis on wit, and, most importantly, the exploitation of morals, The Yellow Book was, and forever will be, an artful publication made for the sake of good art.

The Yellow Book is as vital today as it was then because it represents what is lacking in today’s culture: aesthetics over ideology.

Aubrey Beardsley and Henry Harland conceived the magazine and received funding from John Lane and Elkin Matthews. Beardsley, an accomplished artist, was appointed illustrator and editor until his dismissal over a scandalous story surrounding Oscar Wilde. Below are some of the Beardsley’s illustrations for The Yellow Book.

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“The Repentance of Mrs…”

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“La Dame aux Camelias”

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“Portrait of Himself”

Beardsley’s fusion of the Japanese woodcut style with Art Nouveau made his work bold and elegant, while his taste for the licentious made it controversial.

It was the intention of The Yellow Book to be, “ representative of the most cultural work…with no hall-mark except that of excellence and no prejudice against anything except dullness and incapacity.” Hubert Crackanthorpe’s “The Haseltons” is exemplary of that vision:

“Since his boyhood, religion had been distasteful to him, though, at rare moments, it had stirred his sensibilities strangely. Now, occasionally, the thought of the nullity of life, of its great unsatisfying quality, of the horrid squalor of death, would descend upon him with its crushing, paralyzing weight; and he would lament, with bitter, futile regret, his lack of a secure stand-point, and the continual limitations of his self-absorption; but even that, perhaps, was a mere literary melancholy, assimilated from pertain passages of Pierre Loti.”

Crackanthorpe uses soft words to describe the poetic nature of The Haselton’s velvet world and strong themes to contour the main character’s dispositions.

Today we look to the past and find The Yellow Book as a beacon of light.

(We recommend The Yellow Book: An Anthology)