Saturday, September 1, 2007

Chutzpah and Other Traits

My Favorite Pen as Though Photographed by Richard Avedon
(An Ancora--anchor; not again--with a fine, flexible point, mother-of-pearl side panels and an authoritative weight.)

Avedon would have used a white sheet and painstaking lighting. I chose a paper towel from the house brand at Von's Market and shot in pure daylight.

This bit of whimsy has already set me to wondering how Annie Liebowitz would have come at it. Or Pod. I think Zoe would have it under a street grate in downtown Philadelphia.

Playing with such conceits, the mind begins to shift gears and get a journey on the way. The process is a combination of college humor magazine and the pre-blog, almost Talmudic dialogue between artists and generations called framing.

It was Geoffrey Chaucer who, so far as we now know, gave us the word "pander" thanks to his character Pandarus, in Troilus and Cressyde. Shakespeare, who knew a good thing when he saw it, framed the work, giving it another direction and edge, in Troilus and Cressida.

Is Wallace Stevens having fun with Ode on a Grecian Urn with his Jar? Speaking of Chaucer,was he having framing fun with Boccaccio, or is it just an accident that The Decameron and The Canterbury Tales are framed about a group of people telling stories? And was it fun and mischief or an accident that James Joyce's Ulysses so scrupulously and, in some places ironically is framed on The Odyssey?

Speaking of Boccaccio, what should we make of Ten Days in the Hills by Jane Smiley, or indeed, what should we make of Smiley's estimable Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Novel? No problem if we haven't read Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird by Wallace Stevens.

It is difficult to think that Vance Bourjally had not read The Canterbury Tales, and so we must assume some framing intent in his novel about a group of actors, called Now Playing at the Canterbury.

Writers do not only frame to have fun or carry on a dialogue with another author or work, they frame to make fun, sometimes with malicious intent, as in the splendid Cakes and Ale, by W. Somerset Maugham, who was having on Horace Walpole, the Tom Clancy of his day. One of the early romans a clef, Cakes and Ale pilloried poor Walpole by presenting a character very much like him, who was carrying on with the widow of an older, respected novelist whom most readers took to be Thomas Hardy. Absolutely no substance to the roman a clef argument, Maugham said. But what's this? Cakes and Ale featured a character who walked with a limp, stuttered, had just taken a medical degree--all traits possessed by Maugham. Oh, yes; the character's name was Ashenden, a name Maugham used as a pseudonym.

Sorry, have to run off now; Pod has borrowed my pen and is making his move to the door.

1 comment:

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