T.S. Eliot, the Rat Man, Cindy Sherman, and Me

I went to MoMA with my old friend John McClure last Thursday, to see the Cindy Sherman exhibit.  I was overwhelmed by the audacity of the show, and, as a result, have since returned to buy the catalog and a translation from the German of a book on her “History Portraits.”

Tomorrow I’ll return to map the rooms and write up what I think, but meanwhile I can say that “The Weight of the Past” got a lot heavier since Thursday.  The petrification of all motion–working backward toward still life, mere death–is the thematic of the show, the trajectory of Sherman’s career.

But Eliot!  I just read T. J. Clark’s profoundly stupid piece in NLR, where the tragic sensibility is touted as the Left’s best refuge in these troubled times for socialism–I almost puked–and went looking for old information on Eliot’s undergraduate education at Harvard (James Longenbach’s book on this is quite useful) because Clark’s elegiac tone and frame of reference (Shakesepearean tragedy) made me think of The Wasteland.

I came across this in my brief travels, a letter to Conrad Aiken, New Year’s Eve 1914: “Oxford is very pretty, but I don’t like to be dead.”  Just so, I would say, as a retort to Cindy Sherman.  Nah.  I’ll put it as a question.  Do you like being dead?

And only an hour ago, Greg Foster the Rat Man and I discussed the block association meeting to be held next Wednesday, May 30th, where community funding for his traps will be discussed.  Like I said, I second that emotion.

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One response to “T.S. Eliot, the Rat Man, Cindy Sherman, and Me

  1. Having been in the desert of Southern Utah for the past month – Cedar Mesa near the head of Fish and Mule Canyons – I haven’t been able to keep up with the traffic at this place. Mostly rodent traffic it appears. I did catch this piece at the hospital in Blanding, Utah with WIFI where one of our party was getting treatment for a nasty scorpion bite. The seemingly new hospital is largely staffed by Navajos and a few Mormon doctors and features a stone Kiva next the front entrance where one might avail oneself of “alternative medicine” in the form of Navajo healing ceremonies. And, it did have WIFI.

    The Conrad Aiken reference reminds me of Ernest O., an old guy who lived in my home town when I was young. He was Aiken’s classmate at Harvard and they remained friends until the poet’s death. Ernest told me a few stories of Aiken, including that of a bicycle trip through Britain during the summer of their junior year. Halfway through their trip, Aiken insisted that they cut short their planned itinerary and visit Oxford. According to my memory – confirmed by a Minnesota Historical Society oral interview with Ernest – the exchange went this way: “Ernest, we ought to go back. I want to get back. I have to take a steamer, you know. I have to be in college this fall. I want to go down to Oxford first and then go back, and I’d like you to come down with me. I think Oxford would be glorious.” Ernest demurred, and Aiken stormed off alone as did Ernest. Ernest appears in Aiken’s Ushant in the persona of “Ebo” in which Aiken wrote: “parting with dear Ebo in the middle of Scotland, at Persey Bridge, after the quarrel (ah, that fantastic quarrel!)” Aiken apparently didn’t find Oxford so “glorious” but he did memorialize the quarrel.

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