My mystical moth by the wonderful Bryan Proteau at Old Crow Tattoos in Oakland, CA
i wanna rent a truck and a pop-up camper and have a girlfriend and go into the woods and live there for a little while okay. i don’t want a master’s degree i want a poorly-thought out romantic adventure and a thousand mosquito bites and a lot of love
Sara Forbes was the goddaughter of Queen Victoria, 1860s. [Died in 1880.]
orlando is my favourite of woolf’s novels. it’s so playful, so bright and bold and sunny, so full of love—because it’s an in-joke shared with the woman woolf loved, a love-letter written at breakneck speed as if it might escape her. it’s about a longing that’s always moving and laughing and changing shape—like in ovid’s metamorphoses, desire is ferocious and unfettered, red and quick as violence; it melts and transforms all it touches. but orlando isn’t about the brutality of wanting. its enemy is the victorian era, cloying and sickly and claustrophobic, with its widow’s weeds and bridal veils… crystal palaces, bassinettes, military helmets, memorial wreaths, trousers, whiskers, wedding cakes, and cannon, confining women to a jaundiced domestic sphere that stifles all desire.
orlando is woolf at her most bitingly satirical: as long as she thinks of a man, nobody objects to a woman thinking. orlando turns into a woman and experiences spontaneous convulsions in her left hand because she’s not wearing a wedding ring. when orlando faces a legal fight for her right to own property, woolf writes: the chief charges against her were (1) that she was dead, and therefore could not hold any property; (2) that she was a woman, which amounts to much the same thing. there’s as much rage as love in this novel.
but really it’s a grasp for freedom: orlando roaming through the centuries, from one gender to another, ageless and beautiful and falling in love. the writing’s rhythm is like a heartbeat, ecstatic and sensual when it speaks about earth and rain and rotting and ink and bones and skin. it’s flesh and blood and breathing, like a body lifting free of gravity, turning to places where sunsets were redder and more intense and dawns were whiter and more auroral, where the rain fell vehemently, or not at all. the sun blazed or there was darkness… violence was all. the flower bloomed and faded. the sun rose and sank. the lover loved and went.
for all woolf’s privilege, it’s a brave decision to publish such a fantastically intimately joyfully queer novel in an age of bigotry. discussions of androgyny are in the air at the time—not least among the bloomsbury set—but woolf goes for broke, preempting butler’s “gender as performance” by decades (orlando influenced much of the work on androgyny and cross-dressing and queer identity by women writers like carter & winterson). there’s a lot in it that’s problematic, and a lot that’s bold and radical: beneath the wry wit, it’s a ruthless interrogation of gender norms. rather than transcend sexual difference, it makes a spectacle of it: gender isn’t a stable opposition, it’s irony and carnival and parody and travesty. identity is always disguised, a parade of roles and costumes and manners, because in orlando the play’s the thing: any stable definition of self is too narrow for the wild desiring multitudes that we are.
(i’m v. fond of the 1992 film adaptation because tilda swinton’s orlando is brilliant & luminous. if you haven’t read her article on orlando you should go and do that now.)
“For obit writers, the whole world is necessarily divided into the dead and the pre-dead. That’s all there is.”
the bacchae, okay. i can’t choose one—there are three i like, for different reasons.
woodruff’s bacchae is a good performance text: succinct and colloquial—it finds an equivalent modern idiom rather than an awkward literal translation—elevated where it needs to be, lucid and powerful. i’ve got no online source for it but it’s cheap to buy.
the translation in vellacott’s edition of euripides (medea and other plays) is several decades old but still sounds modern and spare and punchy, faithful but not slavish to the original. i’ve only got a low-res pdf, uploaded here, because i own it in print—i use it most often for quick reference.
gibbons’ bakkhai (pdf) is my favourite translation to read: gibbons is a poet, and his translation—mostly free iambic meter, with a stricter pentameter for narrative parts and varying rhythm for dialogue and choral odes—is loose and vivid and full of energy, and sometimes strays a distance from the literal meaning. segal’s introduction, which begins “dionysus is the god of letting go…” is v. good and comprehensive on the divine & religious context, the allusions & references, the thematic & symbolic strands of the play itself, &c. (also—the extant text of the bacchae is corrupt: there’s some fifty lines marred by lacunae, manuscript gaps. most translations just render the spaces as ellipses but segal & gibbons have tried to extensively reconstruct those lines in an appendix, and it’s an interesting read.)
Gail Albert Halaban: Paris Views, courtesy of Edwynn Houk Gallery.
I sure do, always do, ever do, & here they be, stories of excellence online & free:Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Complete Sherlock HolmesJohn Steinbeck, FlightAgatha Christie, Double Sin and Other StoriesSamuel Beckett, LessnessVladimir Nabokov, The AurelianMaxim Gorky, Twenty-six Men and a Girl