The British Film Institute’s YouTube channel features short films about Charles Dickens’s interest in magic lantern shows as well as the silent film adaptations of his work. The earliest, Scrooge or Marley’s Ghost, was made in 1901. Dramatist and Dickens adapter Michael Eaton argues that Dickens’ prose style itself may have influenced the language of the emerging artform. Dickens 2012 has more on the “global celebration” of the author’s 200th birthday year.
Archives for February 2012
From NER 30.2 (2009), Nancy O’Connor’s translation of Paul Bourget’s notes on Baudelaire:
In order to evaluate decadence, the critic can adopt two perspectives, so different as to be antithetical. In the presence of a society that is disintegrating—the Roman Empire, for instance—he can, from the first of these perspectives, consider the social effort as a whole and bear witness to its inadequacy…Roman society produced few children; consequently it could no longer muster soldiers for the nation. Citizens had little use for the vexations of paternity, and they hated the crudeness of military life. Linking effects to causes, the critic who examines this society from a general point of view concludes that a discriminating pursuit of pleasure, a subtle skepticism, the exacerbation of the senses, the inconstancy of dilettantism, were the social wounds of the Roman Empire, and will in any other circumstance be the social wounds destined to destroy the entire organism. So reason politicians and moralists, who take an interest in the amount of energy the social machine can produce. The point of view of the pure psychologist will be different, for he will consider the machine in detail, and not in its overall operation. He will find that this individual independence rewards his curiosity with more interesting examples and more strikingly singular “cases.” His line of reasoning will be approximately the following: “If the citizens of decadence are inferior contributors to the greatness of the country, are they not, on the other hand, very superior artists within their own souls? If they are ill-suited to private or public action, is that not owing to their being too accomplished as solitary thinkers? If they are poor procreators of future generations, is it not because the abundance of delicate sensations and exquisitely rare sentiments have made of them sterile but refined masters of voluptuousness and pain? If they are incapable of the sacrifices of deep faith, is it not because their overly-cultivated intelligence has rid them of prejudices, and that after having reviewed all ideas they have attained that supreme equity that legitimates all doctrines by excluding all fanaticisms?”
The Leningrad Dress | Nonfiction by Anne Raeff
In the summer of 1973 we visited my father’s relatives in the Soviet Union. For the trip, my parents bought six oversized suitcases and stuffed them with clothing, toys and Timex watches. We presented these gifts to our relatives, the ones who were not afraid to have contact with foreigners, at my great aunt Vera’s gloomy communal apartment, where we were served black market delicacies—caviar, herring, chocolate, oranges—and plenty of vodka. Even we children got a taste.
One particularly hot afternoon after another lunch filled with elaborate toasts that I didn’t understand, my parents allowed me to take my sister to the park for an ice cream. My father wrote down what I should say to the ice cream vendor in Romanized Russian, and made me practice it until I had it right. After successfully procuring two double-scoop cones, we were sitting on a bench enjoying our treat when a group of Japanese tourists surrounded us.
“Photo, photo,” they said.
“We’re American,” we said, pointing to our shoes and jeans, “American,” but they were already snapping away happily.
Among the relatives I met the summer of 1973 was Natasha, who, with my father’s sponsorship, immigrated here in 1980 with her daughter Katya and her parents. Today Natasha lives with her American husband Joe, an avid fan of conservative talk radio, in a four-bedroom/three-and-a-half bathroom house in a suburban development of Baltimore.
I visited them recently, and Katya and her husband came for dinner. Natasha prepared a full Russian meal, including a great variety of zakuski—herring, cabbage, beet and mushroom salad—served with potatoes and Russian black bread. Of course we drank vodka and raised our glasses in long, sentimental toasts to family members who were no longer with us, including my father, and, at Natasha’s insistence, to the United States and freedom.
After dinner, while Joe watched Fox news, which I was able to tune out by concentrating on the photos and drinking more vodka, we looked at Natasha’s photo albums.
“I remember that dress,” I said, pointing to a picture of Katya posing in front of The Hermitage. She was wearing my dress, one of many hand-me-downs that we had included in the suitcases of gifts we brought to the Soviet Union in 1973. I had been happy to pass it off: “I hated it. It made me look pregnant, the way it flared out above the waist. Whenever I wore it, the boys asked me how many months along I was and whether I was hoping for a boy or a girl. I cried every time my mother laid it out.”
“I would have worn that dress every day if my mother had let me,” Katya said. “No one in all of Leningrad had a dress like that.”
NER Digital is a creative writing series for the web. Anne Raeff’s short stories “The Buchovskys on Their Own” and “Keeping an Eye on Jakobson” appeared in previous issues of NER. She is the author of the novel Clara Mondschein’s Melancholia.
Oni Buchanan’s online project The Mandrake Vehicles, with animation by Betsy Stone Mazzoleni, features text that crumbles, melts, and reassembles itself in new forms, moving from prose to poetry via several word collages that may be read in many different way, including as little packets of music such as “astral typhoon” or “cartoon emanates hemoglobin.” Buchanan explains at Conduit.org:
During the seven stages, two additional “secret” poems that have been embedded all along in each of the text blocks are revealed.