Friday, October 7, 2016

Correspondence: Tremors of the Trumpocollapse

Edited by Moristotle

Artemisia Gentileschi turned the horrors of her own life – repression, injustice, rape – into brutal biblical paintings that were also a war cry for oppressed women. Why has her extraordinary genius been overlooked? “More savage than Caravaggio: the woman who took revenge in oil” [Jonathan Jones, Guardian, October 5]. Excerpt:
Two women are holding a man down on a bed. One presses her fist against his head, so he can’t raise it from the mattress, while her companion pins his torso in place. They are well-built with powerful arms but even so it takes their combined strength to keep their victim immobilised as one of them cuts through his throat with a gleaming sword. Blood spurts from deep red geysers as she saws. She won’t stop until his head is fully severed. Her victim’s eyes are wide open. He knows exactly what is happening to him.
    The dying man is Holofernes, an enemy of the Israelites in the Old Testament, and the young woman beheading him is Judith, his divinely appointed assassin. Yet at the same time he is also an Italian painter called Agostino Tassi, while the woman with the sword is Artemisia Gentileschi, who painted this. It is, effectively, a self-portrait.
    Two big, blood-drenched paintings of Judith and Holofernes by Gentileschi survive, one in the Capodimonte in Naples, the other in the Uffizi in Florence. They are almost identical except for small details – in Naples Judith’s dress is blue, in Florence yellow – as if this image was a nightmare she kept having, the final act to a tragedy endlessly replaying in her head. [read more]

Wow, science news is even more interesting (and valuable to read) than the latest about The Donald! “Yoshinori Ohsumi of Japan Wins Nobel Prize for Study of ‘Self-Eating’ Cells” [Gina Kolata & Sewell Chan, NY Times, October 3]. Excerpt:
Dr. David H. Perlmutter, dean of the School of Medicine at Washington University in St. Louis, said Dr. Ohsumi’s work opened a field that has now exploded, with implications that are “the stuff of science fiction.” If the autophagy system is knocked out, he said, the result is premature aging, with ailments like cardiovascular disease, skeletal weakness, glucose intolerance and cognitive decline. Now drugs that stimulate this system are being studied. “If you take a drug and stimulate the system, you will make the organism live longer in a cancer-free way,” he said. [read more]

An example of how the power of imagination can break all social and cultural barriers – a refutation of those who claim special authorship rights: “Elena Ferrante and the Power of Appropriation” [Adam Kirsch, NY Times, October 3]. Excerpt:
On Sunday, readers awoke to the news that one of the world’s outstanding literary mysteries may have finally been solved. In an article published on the website of The New York Review of Books, and simultaneously in French, German and Italian publications, the journalist Claudio Gatti wrote that Elena Ferrante — the pen name for an Italian novelist whose true identity was a closely guarded secret — is actually a Rome-based translator named Anita Raja. Using financial records, Mr. Gatti makes a seemingly irrefutable case that Ms. Raja is the author of the books that made the name Elena Ferrante famous around the world, including her four Neapolitan novels.
    That series, which follows the lives of two girls in a poor neighborhood in Naples from childhood to maturity, feels so powerfully authentic that many readers have assumed it reflected Ms. Ferrante’s own experience. But as it turns out, Ms. Raja’s history is very different from those of her heroines, Elena Greco and Lina Cerullo. Ms. Raja was born in Naples, but she moved to Rome at the age of 3 and grew up there. Her father was Neapolitan, but not poor — he was a magistrate. Her mother was a German Jew who fled to Italy in the 1930s to escape Nazism, and who lost most of her family to the Holocaust. None of these facts could be gleaned from the novels.
    The immediate reaction of many readers to these revelations was, perhaps surprisingly, anger and disgust. On social media, many Ferrante devotees have condemned Mr. Gatti and those who published him. After all, Ms. Ferrante has been vocal about her need for privacy and her refusal to participate in the celebrity-author game. Her publishers have faithfully protected that privacy, even as her books sold millions of copies and made guessing her identity a favorite literary parlor game. Yet now that Mr. Gatti has seemingly won the game, nobody seems very pleased. Hiding from the world may have been a prerequisite for Ms. Ferrante’s creativity, raising the unhappy prospect that the identification of Ms. Raja may mean the end of her work....
    But there are also good reasons to welcome the revelations about Ms. Ferrante. In recent weeks, the literary world has been at war over the idea of cultural appropriation — whether a writer has the right to tell stories about people unlike herself. Lionel Shriver’s speech at the Brisbane Writers’ Festival said yes; many critics of that speech said no. But now it appears that one of the world’s best-loved writers is actually a sterling example of the power of appropriation.
    For it turns out that in telling the story of poor Neapolitan girls like Lina and Elena, Ms. Raja was claiming the right to imagine the lives of people quite unlike herself. In doing so, she was able to write books in which millions of people found themselves reflected — books about feminism and patriarchy, poverty and violence, education and ambition.
    This is the paradox of literature, which is also the glory of humanism: the idea that nothing human is alien to any of us, that we all have the power to imagine our way into one another’s lives. If the exposure of Elena Ferrante reminds us of that truth, which today we are too inclined to forget, perhaps it will turn out to be justified. [read more]
Tranquil Starnberger See, accessible
on the metro from central Munich
You’re invited to come on in! “Top 10 holidays in Bavaria’s lake district” [Diana Hubbell, Guardian, August 14]. Excerpt:
Starnberger See. TS Eliot immortalised this dreamy lake in The Waste Land, and Ludwig II, the “mad king” known for flamboyant palaces, had a summer residence here. Visitors can cycle the 49km border trail (, half-day rental €11) in roughly four hours, or take a boat from Possenhofen to Rose Island, to see the eccentric monarch’s villa. Though the chi-chi town of Starnberg tends to fill up with tourists in summer, the smaller villages retain a quiet charm. Take a ferry to Bernried to see the expressionist art at Buchheim Museum der Phantasie (€8.50). [read more]

This humor column in the latest New Yorker [“The Pences Visit Manhattan,” Douglas McGrath, October 10] has three paragraphs that almost choked me unconscious, they’re so funny: Excerpt:
[Donald, Jr.] nodded. “We put a tranquillizer in his Big Mac. We need to talk to you alone. Mike, you’ve seen the polls. Dad’s freaking out. When he got the numbers this morning, he collapsed and started thrashing around, knocking things over and sort of— What would you guys call it?”
    “Foaming,” Eric said. “Look, we wanted Dad to run for President. But not because he’d be a good President. We just want to get him out of the company. If you think he sucks as a candidate, you should see him try to run a business.”
    Ivanka shook her head. “A monkey with a high fever has better business sense than he does,” she said. “And, if he loses, he’ll be back at the office, spewing out ideas—oh, God . . .” She curled up on the floor and started rocking back and forth. [read more]
The Trumpocollapse: “It’s not just a ‘bad week’: Donald Trump’s campaign is collapsing” [Hunter, Daily Kos, October 3]. Excerpt:
Donald Trump has just come off the worst week in modern political history – almost all of it self-inflicted. And what’s shocking about it is that nearly every individual part of it would have been campaign-ending in any other election, for any other candidate.
    It started with a predictably terrible debate performance. This itself is not unusual or even unexpected; it seems the Trump campaign was being sincere when they claimed their candidate was not preparing for the debate, and so Trump came out onstage and happily proceeded to spend the evening being the worst version of himself, simultaneously belligerent and hopelessly uninformed. Clinton was easily able to get under his skin – and did so to the point that her reference to a former Miss Universe that Trump had demeaned became, for Trump, his own dominant campaign theme for the next week.
    By Friday, the Republican nominee for the presidency of the United States was on wee-hours-of-the-morning Twitter to instruct Americans to “check out” her “sex tape.”
    That was just the beginning. [read more]
Grateful for correspondence, Moristotle


  1. Women all over America are joining Artemisia Gentileschi in turning their horror into political action for oppressed women. A certain Presidential candidate is feeling the heat.

  2. Women all over the world are joining Artemisia Gentileschi in turning their horrors into political action on behalf of oppressed women. In the United States, a certain presidential candidate is feeling the heat.

  3. Cutting off someone's head in a Godly way----where have I heard that before?

    1. Have you remembered where you heard it? Your comment, anyway, reminds me of a paragraph in Gail Collins's October column about apologizing, "Who’s Sorry Now?" : "...Still, certainly not the worst apology of the era. That might have been the time a radical rebel group in Syria put up a statement expressing regret for having beheaded the wrong person."

  4. From Deborah Dopp, via Facebook:

    Being a woman in the performing arts, I'm seeing a lot more 'Artemisias' using their power in both their art and politics. My improv community is filled with brilliant women who speak their truth in their art and are creating change. Local theaters and comedy venues are becoming safer places for women artists because of a group I belong to called FairPlay. And these women vote against anything that has a hint of misogyny. There's definitely stretching going on. Also, lots of powerlifting. Nice blog.

  5. From Betty Gabbert Williams, via Facebook:

    I especially enjoyed the humor of 'the Pences in Manhattan'. It was a fun release after all the Trump insanity, AND almost believable.