Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Patti Smith and Arthur Rimbaud

In Patti Smith's autobiography, Just Kids (our next book club selection) she often refers to the importance of the French poet Arthur Rimbaud in her life and her development as a poet. As I read, I made a note to look up more about Rimbaud -- in fact, I've been meaning to find out more about him for years. Conveniently, the current New Yorker includes the perfect answer to my questions -- REBEL REBEL: Arthur Rimbaud’s brief career by Daniel Mendelsohn. The article includes a biography of Rimbaud, a discussion of his appeal to adolescents and maybe other people, and even a couple of references to Patti Smith's love of Rimbaud. Above all, the author tries to explain the "powerful mystique that has seduced readers from Marcel Proust to Patti Smith."

Mendelsohn writes:
"The peculiarly adolescent quality of the poet’s life and work, the desire to rebel against whatever milieu he happened to find himself in—the schoolboy against school, the wunderkind against his admiring hosts, the poet against poetry—undoubtedly accounts for his particular appeal to teen-agers. (One statistic that Rimbaldians like to cite is that one in five French lycĂ©ens today claims to identify with the long-dead poet.) ...
"Ashbery ... was sixteen at the moment of impact, as was Patti Smith, the author of what is, perhaps, the most moving testament to the effect that a reading of Rimbaud might have on a hungry young mind. 'When I was sixteen, working in a non-union factory in a small South Jersey town,' she writes ... 'my salvation and respite from my dismal surroundings was a battered copy of Arthur Rimbaud’s Illuminations, which I kept in my back pocket.' The anthology, she adds, 'became the bible of my life.'”
Now I understand why I heard so much about him when I was young, and so few people seem to talk about him any more. I admit, I bought some volumes of his poetry but didn't get around to it. I wonder why it took me this long to read even a single article.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Reading Patti Smith's "Just Kids"

I distinctly remember that the audiences seemed divided between those who thought Patti Smith was a goddess and Allen Ginsberg an afterthought, and those (like me) who hadn't really heard of Patti Smith, but thought Allen Ginsberg was an American legend. I'd never seen her before, but had seen him at events in Berkeley or San Francisco in the 1960s, most notably the Human Be-In, a memorable Happening in 1967. His readings in 1995 and 1996 made a lasting impression on me -- hers, not so much.

Just Kids -- which won the National Book Award, by the way -- seems to me to echo this divide, between the slightly younger punk musicians and the older Beat and Hippie generations. The New York Times reviewer said that Just Kids was "the most spellbinding and diverting portrait of funky-but-chic New York in the late ’60s and early ’70s that any alumnus has committed to print. The tone is at once flinty and hilarious, which figures: she’s always been both tough and funny, two real saving graces in an artist this prone to excess. What’s sure to make her account a cornucopia for cultural historians, however, is that the atmosphere, personalities and mores of the time are so astutely observed."

Right. But I really think her little life was eclipsed by a lot of the other things that were going on then, and I'm not at all sure her poetry has really lasted. Not like Ginsberg's! And though her main topic, the relationship she had with Robert Mapplethorpe, is compelling, it leaves me a little unconvinced. But I don't think I'll try to expand that topic now.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Family Reunion

Here's half the family that gathered this past weekend. What fun!

Friday, August 05, 2011

Mona Lisa Sells Books?

As usual, when a book talks about Mona Lisa but it's not really relevant, my BS detectors get very busy. In the NYT book review, "Sex, Lies and Data Mining" by Wesley Yang discusses a new book by two neuroscientists, Ogas and Gaddam.

The reported results in the sensationally titled A Billion Wicked Thoughts sound very much like a bunch of cliches: "Men like pornography. Women like romance novels. 'Men’s brains are designed to objectify females,' Ogas and Gaddam write. Since men’s only concern is with the biological fitness of women for child­bearing, everything they need to know to feel desire is visible to the naked eye: 'The shapely curves of female ornamentation indicate how many years of healthy childbearing remain across a woman’s entire lifetime.'”

And where's Mona? Oh yes, "The enigma of the Gioconda smile; the technologically engineered 'crave­ability' of fast food; the alluring, 'alpha among alphas' quality of the paranormal hero; that climactic moment beamed to watchers on a hundred million laptop screens: all rely on the artful manipulation of our brains."

Really. I think we've seen all this before. Just because they were using internet search data as their source evidently doesn't mean we get any new ideas. I think I'll skip reading the book itself, though maybe that's unfair.