Amoeblog

A look at French writer and thinker Paul Valery on the anniversary of his birth

Posted by Eric Brightwell, October 30, 2013 02:04pm | Post a Comment


Paul Valéry
was an essayist, intellectual, journalist, philosopher, Symbolist poet, fiction writer and polymath who was born 142 years ago today.

Ambroise-Paul-Toussaint-Jules Valéry was born 30 October, 1871 to a Corsican father and Genoese-Istrian mother in Sète (or Cette) -- a small town in Occitania. There he attended school at Collège de Sète before the family moved to nearby Montpellier, where in 1889 he began studying law. At the same time he began writing Symbolist poetry, some of which was published in La Revue maritime de Marseille. Symbolism was in many ways a response to Realism -- particularly inspired by the writings of Edgar Allan Poe and Charles Baudelaire. It particularly flourished in Belgium, France, and Russia.

In 1890, after completing his law studies, Valéry met Belgium-born poet Pierre Louÿs. Louÿs introduced him to the writer André Gide, who in turn introduced him to France’s preeminent Symbolist poet – Stéphane Mallarmé, whose “L'Après-midi d'un faune” inspired Claude Debussy’s wonderful symphonic poem of the same name (composed in 1894).





In 1892, on the night of 4 October/morning of 5 October, Valéry suffered from what he described as an existential crisis. After that he attempted to devote himself to what he called la vie de l'esprit (“the the life of the spirit”). In doing so he would get up around 5 am and jot down his thoughts in a journal every morning which afforded him the right, he said, to afterward be stupid for the remainder of the day. These journal entries are considered by many to be his greatest written accomplishment, and several volumes were published as Cahiers I (1973), Cahiers II (1974), and Cahiers (1894–1914) (1987). The total length of the journals is about 30,000 pages.

In 1894, Valéry moved from Genoa to Paris and began working at the War Office, claiming that being a poet was as useful to the state as being a good bowler. He published only two works during this period, Introduction à la méthode de Léonard de Vinci (1895) and La soirée avec monsieur Teste (1896). After his friend and mentor Stéphane Mallarmé died at the age of 56 in September of 1898, Valéry quit writing altogether for nearly twenty years.

In 1900, he married Jeannie Gobillard, a friend of Mallarmé's family. In a double wedding ceremony at Saint-Honoré d'Eylau, Gobillard’s cousin (and daughter of Berthe Morisot’s and niece of Édouard Manet) Julie Manet married painter Ernest Rouart. The union of Valéry and Gobillard ultimately produced three children: Claude, Agathe, and François.


  


Valéry’s “Great Silence” finally ended in 1917, when at 46-years-old he published "La Jeune Parque," a long poem which he’d begun some four years earlier at the encouragement of both Gide and the publisher Éditions Gallimard. He wrote what many consider to be one of his finest poems, "Le Cimetière marin," in 1920 and published Album des vers anciens (1920) and Charmes (1922). The first collection of his prose works, Variétés I, was published in 1924. Ulitmately more volumes followed: Variétés II (1930), Variétés III (1936), Variétes IV (1938), and Variétes V (1944).





Valéry became famous in France as both a writer and public speaker and received loads of honors. In 1924 he became the president of Pen Club Français. In 1925 he was elected to the Académie Française in 1925 Valéry became a well-known public speaker and intellectual in France and to an extent, much of the rest of Europe. In 1931, was named commander of the Legion of Honor and the same year he founded the Collège International de Cannes, still in operation today. On the 100th anniversary of the death of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Valéry gave the keynote address at a German observance of the occasion. In 1932 he joined the board of national museums. In 1933 he was made director of of what became the Centre universitaire méditerranéen de Nice. More honors, titles and positions followed – many of which he was stripped by the Vichy regime as punishment for failing to collaborate with the German Occupation.


Le Cimetière marin (source: Le blog de Michel Croz)


Valéry died in Paris on 20 July, 1945, shortly after the end of World War II. He has honored with a state funeral and his remains are interred in Sète at the same cemetery celebrated in his poem "Le Cimetière marin." Check the bookshelves if you're interested in reading the man's words. Much of his writing has been translated into various languages but learn French -- it's pretty easy!


*****


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Lucien Levy-Dhurmer -- Artist, explorer, and autumn son

Posted by Eric Brightwell, September 30, 2013 02:52pm | Post a Comment
Lucien Lévy-Dhurmer was a Symbolist and Art Nouveau artist who was born on this day in 1865. In France, he is still celebrated in some quarters for his work -- which includes paintings, drawings, ceramics, furniture and interior design -- but he remains obscure, especially outside the Francosphere. Even though there aren't any films about him that I know of -- or even any books that I've found -- I'm hopefully wrong. In that case, let me know so that I can add them to this entry and tell fans to seek them out. In any case, he's also a great artist to look at because he was born in autumn, died in autumn, and most of his most recognizable work has a great, autumnal, crepuscular quality which is perfect for viewing as the nights grow longer and summer fades.


CHILDHOOD AND EDUCATION

Lévy was born 30 September, 1865 in Algiers (then part of occupied French Algeria) to Salomon Lévy and Pauline-Amélie Goldhurmer. In 1879, when he was fourteen years old, Lévy began studying drawing and sculpture at École communale supérieure de Dessin et Sculpture in Paris. He first exhibited in 1882 at the Salon de Paris, where he showed a ceramic piece, La Naissance de Vénus, d'après Cabanel -- a reference to painter Alexandre Cabanel). 

EARLY CAREER 


After school Lévy first worked as a lithographer. Then, from 1887 till1895, he worked as a ceramic decorator in the studio of Clément Massier, in Golfe-Juan. Though Jewish, much of Lévy's early ceramic work bore the more obvious influence of Islamic Moorish art that had surrounded him during his childhood in North Africa.


In 1892 he became the artistic director of Massier’s studio and as such, began signing his pieces "L. Levy." Throughout his stint at the studio he continued using oils and pastels and exhibited some work produced with them at 1894’s Peintres de l'âme collective exhibition alongside artists Edmond Aman-Jean, Émile-René Ménard, Alphonse Osbert, Carlos Schwabe, and Alexandre Séon.


In 1895 he returned to live in Paris to pursue a career in painting, where he met the poet Georges Rodenbach, whose portrait he painted shortly after in a style that, as with other works from the period, suggests the strong influence of Symbolist painter, Pierre Puvis de Chavannes. 

 
                              Portrait de Georges Rodenbach (ca. 1895)                                                 La Silence (1895)

After a visit to Italy, Lévy's work revealed an increased interest in German and Florentine Renaissance -- resulting in paintings that fit in well alongside those of the English Pre-Raphaelites.

La Bourrasque (1896)


La Femme à la Médaille or Mystére (1896)


Portrait de Pierre Loti or Fantôme d'Orient (1896)

In 1896 the artist had his first solo exhibit of his work, billed as “Lucien Lévy-Dhurmer," which added part of his mother's maiden name (Goldhurmer) to his given family name. The exhibit included two sanguines, five paintings, and sixteen pastels and was shown at Georges Petit’s gallery. Success quickly followed and his prominent admirers included occultist writer Joséphin Peladan and artists such as Emile Bernard and Gustave Moreau.

In 1897, in the tradition of the Grand Tour, Lévy-Dhurmer began extensively traveling in Europe, Africa, and Asia -- visiting Britain, Holland, Italy, Morocco, Spain, and Turkey. His work from this period began to increasingly focus on landscapes, albeit subjectively idealized ones, and he also depicted the inhabitants of the places through which he passed in portraits. As the fin-de-siècle transitioned into the début-de-siècle, Levy-Dhurmer continued to focus on landscapes and portraits that syncretized the styles of Claude Monet and James McNeill Whistler.

Beautés de Marrakech (1901)

LATE CAREER

Levy-Dhurmer continued to exhibit his work in group exhibitions, salons, and solo shows. Also, between 1910 and 1914 he designed the Wisteria Dining Room at the home of Auguste Rateau (now preserved in the Metropolitan Museum of Art). In 1914 he married Emmy Fournier (Jeanne Marie Marnière), editor of the feminist newspaper La Fronde.

The Wisteria Dining Room

Levy-Dhurmer's wife, whom he nicknamed "Perla," died in 1944. Levy-Dhurmer died close to his 88th birthday, on 24 September, 1953.

*****

SOUNDTRACK SERIES #5

Posted by Job O Brother, May 2, 2010 12:46pm | Post a Comment
Directions: Imagine Mr. Brother living another day, as always, with music playing. Whether it’s one of his trusty iPods, or his home stereo, or working the soundtracks section of Amoeba Music Hollywood, Mr. Brother is eating, sonically, with the mouths of his ears.

To simulate this experience, as you read the below story of a day lived, you will be given certain music clips to play. These are inserted to provide you with the same tunes Job was hearing as he was doing what you’ll be reading.

For example, while he was writing the above directions, he was listening to this:


The boyfriend and I need a lamp. Not just any lamp – something that can complete his “reading nook” in the prominent corner of our living room. It must be a lamp that won’t be diminished by our awesome Italian chair (roughly the size of my last apartment) which it will stand behind, be powerful enough to provide the boyfriend with the amount of light he likes in order to read (roughly the brightness of two suns) and, in general, should be hella rad.

So, every Sunday for the past month, he and I have set out into the deliciously temperatured* but cruelly trafficked land of Los Angeles. Armed with my trusty iPod, which I plug into his car – a Lexus with a capacity for smarts exceeding most high school students – its music gives me the fortitude to face another shopping day.


We’ve tried most everywhere: trendy boutiques, flea markets, furniture chains, thrift stores, even kept an eye out on the streets of West Hollywood where, for some unexplained reason, you can always find abandoned pieces of living room furniture. Always. It vaguely troubles me.


How can a city with so many interior designers come to this?

Anyway, last week we went to what I once knew as the Fairfax Flea Market but seems to have re-branded itself the Melrose Trading Post – ostensibly because anything with the name "Melrose" in it  attracts swarms of youths with expendable monies.

And I did find a lamp – unfortunately, not for the reading nook, rather, my desk. It was an imitation Art Nouveau affair, with an ornate, glass, tulip bulb atop a Victorian woman in neo-classical gowns actually swinging from a branch in the center of the lamp! Very Maxfield Parrish meets funeral parlor.


"I wonder if they wear clothes on other planets?"
Another smutty painting by playboy of the art-world, Maxfield Parrish

“But you already have a desk lamp!” exclaimed the boyfriend.

“Yes,” I answered, “But it only has a black-light bulb in it, and I’d like to have a little more light at night.”

“Why don’t you just put a normal light-bulb in what you already have?” he asks, his tone betraying knowledge that he’ll regret asking. But I don’t answer directly.

“I need one with a black-light and another with some other color, like red or blue.” And my eyes light up. “It’ll be so spooky!” (It’s important to know that whenever I use the word “spooky” it means for me what most people convey with words like “cozy” and “lovable.”)

After a meal of some Argentinean street food (which seemed to consist of tired spinach dragged through clear oil and dirtied with salt-less scrambled egg whites – ¿Que pasa, Argentina?) we left the flea market – me with a framed, three-dimensional picture of a Greek peasant woman, a 1950’s chip ‘n’ dip, a bullfight advertisement, and yes, a lamp I didn’t truly need – but no lamp for the nook. Back in the car!


Our next stop was the neighborhood of Little Ethiopia, where you can find some swell thrift stores. I love Little Ethiopia because the air always smells of frankincense, sweet tea spices, and exhaust.

The first store we tried had some amazing junk, and I inquired on prices for everything from a metallic etching of a celebrity rabbi (looking like some elder member of the Justice League of America) to a cross-stitched portrait of Shiva (looking like a Playgirl centerfold).


"I like cuddling in front of the fireplace and girls who believe I'm straight."

The boyfriend, seeing I was in danger of spending my rent money on antique ashtrays and politically incorrect lawn-jockeys, dragged me out before I could get a price check on a mounted, electric Jesus head…

“I at least need to find out what it needs electricity for!” I pleaded. I mean, what happens to a mounted Jesus head when you give it the power of voltage? But he showed no mercy, and we entered another shop. One that was playing this on a boom-box:


Okay, now you the reader will probably lose all respect for me, but hear me out: If you saw how awesome the lamp in the window was, you’d stop, too! I pointed it out to the boyfriend.

“Look! Ah! It’s so good!” It was a shepherd boy, sloppily and carefreeily* drinking from a huge jug, his vest and shirt permanently swept up by a summer breeze; his eyelids painted a delicate, pastel blue, his dainty feet almost dancing over a plot of grassy soil. The lamp stood at about 4 feet and looked to weigh about 1½ sea lion**. The boyfriend rolled his eyes.

“There is no way. You can’t seriously think that goes with the living room,” he said.

“No, of course not,” I answered, “But… for the Study…” (The Study is the room where I work. It’s where I keep my desk – the desk that now would have two lamps on it.)

This led to the boyfriend and I having a not-quite-argument about the necessity of having four lamps for the Study. (Did I mention the fourth lamp? It’s on my bookshelf, with the flicker-flame bulb.) For some reason it annoys the boyfriend that I could have so many lamps in one room without a single one equipped with a normal, white bulb. (Did I mention there’s also a string of blue Christmas lights I keep under the couch to provide an otherworldly glow? And two light-up beer signs on the wall?)


It's what appears over my head when I get a brilliant idea.

I will admit that my acquisition of so many light sources did seem to mock our mission of finding a suitable candidate for his reading nook, but we don’t choose who (or what) we fall in love with, and I had feelings for the electric, pastoral dude. So I bought him. That, and, an antique mirror, a Depression-glass candy dish, and a hardcover edition of Poe’s works translated into French by Charles Baudelaire.

“You don’t read or speak French,” commented my boyfriend.

Mon nom est Pierre. Je suis un médecin,” I retorted.

So, we have yet to illuminate his reading nook. But it’s Sunday again, today. I’m in the mood for rockin’ music and I'm feeling optimistic, so I’m insisting we go out shopping yet again. Besides, I have to buy some more extension cords for the Study.



*Not actually a word.
**Not actually an accepted form of measurement.