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Chimera of Arezzo

Judith,

It’s been a while since we wrote to one another. I feel that we exist in some kind of mute communication, nevertheless. I’m thinking of lover’s skeletons buried together, in that poem by John Donne, “The Relic”: “When my grave is broken up again / Some second guest to entertain”… There’s a line about the digger spying “a bracelet of bright hair about the bone,” and imagining the love of the couple whose remains are now skeletons in a mass grave of the plague era. Is the “second guest” of the first line another body, in the sense that this grave is a mass grave? Or is the guest the viewer, the imaginer, the writer of the poem? It’s hard to know until later, later in the reading and re-reading of the poem. Anyway, there are some strange lines in that poem. For instance, that “all women shall adore us, and some men.” Or lines three and four: “For graves have learn’d that woman head, / To be to more than one a bed.” A dig at woman’s promiscuity? And then, the more basic claims, still astounding to see laid bare: “First, we lov’d well and faithfully, / Yet knew not what we lov’d, nor why; / Difference of sex no more we knew / Than our guardian angels do.”

Holofernes

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Judith,

I am gazing at this image of the Chimera of Arezzo, this bizarre sculpture that a recent film is named after. It’s a beautiful film, but not once does it make reference to the Chimera. I had to dig up the D.H. Lawrence travelogue, “Etruscan Places,” in order to learn about it. “The human being, to the Etruscan, was a bull or a ram, a lion or a deer, according to his different aspects and potencies. The human being had in his veins the blood of the wings of birds and the venom of serpents. All things emerged from the blood-stream, and the blood-relation, however complex and contradictory it might become, was never interrupted or forgotten. There were different currents in the blood-stream, and some always clashed: bird and serpent, lion and deer, leopard and lamb. Yet the very clash was a form of unison, as we see in the lion which also has a goat’s head.” This is how Lawrence “interprets” the Chimera and I found myself a bit bored at first. But now I think it’s striking, one of these obvious but striking observations; indeed the beast is a fusion and that’s all it is.

I got into it further, and felt the same insane desire you used to evince for including long citations in your letters. To hell with the exchange of intimacies between lovers! Here’s some properly invigorating writing instead: He seems to have drawn the whole thing complete, each time, then changed the position, changed the direction, to please his feeling. And as there was no indiarubber to rub out the first attempts, there they are, from at least six hundred years before Christ: the delicate mistakes of an Etruscan who had the instinct of a pure artist in him, as well as the blithe insouciance which makes him leave his alterations for anyone to spy out, if they want to. Then there’s a paragraph that’s a bit more technical, a brief statement really on how the Etruscan either drew with the brush or scratched, perhaps, with a nail, the whole outline of their figures on the soft stucco, and then applied their colour al fresco. So they had to work quickly.

I’m sorry if these don’t live up to my enthusiasm. But now I must share with you even more statements:

The subtlety of Etruscan painting, as of Chinese and Hindu, lies in the wonderfully suggestive edge of the figures. It is not outlined. It is not what we call ‘drawing’. It is the flowing contour where the body suddenly leaves off, upon the atmosphere. The Etruscan artist seems to have seen living things surging from their own centre to their own surface. And the curving and contour of the silhouette-edge suggests the whole movement of the modelling within. There is actually no modelling. The figures are painted in the fiat. Yet they seem of a full, almost turgid muscularity. It is only when we come to the late Tomb of Typhon that we have the figure modelled, Pompeian style, with light and shade.

It must have been a wonderful world, that old world where everything appeared alive and shining in the dusk of contact with all things, not merely as an isolated individual thing played upon by daylight; where each thing had a clear outline, visually, but in its very clarity was related emotionally or vitally to strange other things, one thing springing from another, things mentally contradictory fusing together emotionally, so that a lion could be at the same moment also a goat, and not a goat.

Then, see this. One of his mid-paragraph elaborations, excessive, which give Lawrence’s prose a thick, dense, repetitive quality: here is the musculature of a man doubling down on what he already knows.

In those days, a man riding on a red horse was not just Jack Smith on his brown nag; it was a suave-skinned creature, with death or life in its face, surging along on a surge of animal power that burned with travel, with the passionate movement of the blood, and which was swirling along on a mysterious course, to some unknown goal, swirling with a weight of its own. Then also, a bull was not merely a stud animal worth so much, due to go to the butcher in a little while. It was a vast wonder-beast, a wellhead of the great, furnace-like passion that makes the worlds roll and the sun surge up, and makes a man surge with procreative force; the bull, the herd-lord, the father of calves and heifers, of cows; the father of milk; he who has the horns of power on his forehead, symbolizing the warlike aspect of the horn of fertility; the bellowing master of force, jealous, horned, charging against opposition. The goat was in the same line, father of milk, but instead of huge force he had cunning, the cunning consciousness and self-consciousness of the jealous, hard-headed father of procreation. Whereas the lion was most terrible, yellow and roaring with a blood-drinking energy, again like the sun, but the sun asserting himself in drinking up the life of the earth. For the sun can warm the worlds, like a yellow hen sitting on her eggs.

Or the sun can lick up the life of the world with a hot tongue. The goat says: let me breed for ever, till the world is one reeking goat. But then the lion roars from the other bloodstream, which is also in man, and he lifts his paw to strike, in the passion of the other wisdom.

I am not quoting the two paragraphs which follow in a similar manner.

(Except for this one sentence, startling unrelated to the rest:
“Love is only a subsidiary factor in wonder and admiration.")

Holofernes

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Judith,

I want to tell you this: in La Chimera, the movie, the protagonist is a grave robber by profession. The earth collapses behind him as he enters one final tomb. In the darkness he manages to relight his candle, and then sees a red thread hanging from the ceiling. He gives the thread a gentle tug and some light leaks through the surface of the soil, where the ground has broken. Cut to above, and we see that his lost beloved, shown in the beginning of the film, is pulling on that same thread, which has unravelled at the hem of her red knit dress. We’ve seen this earlier. It’s pre-ordained, ouroboric, circular. But it felt incredibly important that the soil be so thin. So improbably thin and brittle at the point where the thread broke. It makes a precise little hole.

Holofernes

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Holofernes,

You are an excellent mirror. I’m searching for distillations or clearings in a mostly full and regulated life; sometimes I think it’s a miracle that walls are white, that they’re such competent reflecting surfaces. The sun streams through at an angle and hits my face and the wall, and the blinds are broken, so I go to the couch. I woke up to a mosquito bite high up on my shoulder and found it sweet. I killed the mosquito two days later; they always rest near the tops of walls, near the edge where the wall meets ceiling. The screen is broken and absent in one of the windows of the bedroom, and I had it opened though it was warm enough for the AC. I feel good with nothing around but the environment I describe and the thoughts that emerge on this screen, written for an audience of one. I know I suffer from a lack of passion, a lack of clear and actionable desire; something about my training in the field of psychoanalysis has made me so receptive, and it causes me to float in the unknown aether of other men’s desires. I realized after speaking with Adam last night that I no longer feel irritated or impatient when he speaks about his problems; there seems to be a kind of progress embedded in his voice, in the act of delivering the story, even if its contents remain the same. I take such lucid interest in others, I feel I see, I feel I can move. Other times I want to eat nothing and not move at all, and I wonder how to live. “Things mentally contradictory fusing together emotionally,” maybe that’s the life I seek. And I do believe that love is only a subsidiary factor in wonder and admiration. I do feel that it’s true.

Judith

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Holofernes,

More summer mosquito bites, this time from a long conversation with a man I’ve had to end relations with. Wondering what happens when I touch someone, when I aggress, wondering about my coldness. Thinking of a passage from a novel in which the man writes to a woman and the woman writes nothing. A passage from a novel in which the frequency of certain words in a love letter are enumerated: “cunt” six times. Hurting a lot from having hurt someone, who claims I have been irresponsibly seductive. I am seductive? Even after all that? The idea is that I don’t know what I want, or what I express, and that I should “grow up” and figure it out. I’m learning that not everyone takes part in the practice of wonder and admiration. Pure want is different. Someone wants me to be theirs, someone wants pure contact with me, unending and singular contact. Inflamed with this contact, I suppose I want to live up to the task, but I triangulate instead.

Judith

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Judith,

Tell me more, tell me more about this affliction of “responsibility.”

Holofernes

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Holofernes,

Imagine the goat-like man who wants to breed for ever, till the world is one reeking goat, but imagine that goat has me sticking out of his back. I have met a man who I know wants me, who wants a partner and mother to his children, and I refuse to leave the constellation of men I am with, or have been with. I have invited the man I sleep with more to be with him at a party in which the goat-like man is present. The goat-like man who wants me is humiliated, incredulous. I could add more words but I do not know them. An unwilling sadist I am, getting so close to a man I know I can’t be alone for. An absolutely passionate man.

And I have met a new woman, and I have named her the New Cruel Girl, though this isn’t what she is. I’d like to learn how to fuck her. I’d like to learn something about desire and fear, desire and fear for women.

And in the midst of this I cry and cry and cry and feel monstrous for having hurt the goat-like man without understanding. I have been seductive, and at the same time, I have thought, how bad could it be, with everything laid out so clearly, and if not laid out, subject to proper investigation? I would have liked to see the world with, sensitively, and without this muck of existential friction, but as it turns out, he needed me to be single for him. And I would have liked to have been a strange thing growing out of his back.

Judith

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Judith,

I can only write my words of admiration and wonderment and what it is that you write to me, and what it is that I see here around me. How capable you are of constructing an argument, an edifice within which all these trampled others manage to survive. Souls clustering around a concept in you. That’s seductive.

And I believe your responsibility has taken shape in the procession of your fantastical lamentations.

I want to know what happens with this New Cruel Girl, who isn’t in fact a New Cruel Girl.

Holofernes

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Holofernes,

Come visit me, and perhaps you’ll know, and we’ll know, a little more about life.

Judith