Growing Old, David Jones’s Itinerant Life, and the Mechanics of Jackson Pollock’s Drip Paintings
David Jones’s itinerant life: “As he shuttled between Wales and his parents in Brockley, Jones’s movements began to take on an impulsive and even absurdist aspect. Gill’s community was itself itinerant: Ditchling Common and Wales were followed in 1928 by a farm in Buckinghamshire called Pigotts, and Jones kept returning to all three like a distracted homing pigeon. After his break-up with Petra Gill, who abruptly married someone else, having tired of his absent-mindedness (or disguised panic), he worked with concentration wherever he found himself, even when he had no particular place to be. He had Ditchling and Wales, as well as a London world in which he exhibited successfully and met everybody, but his preferred perches were fugitive: forays to the zoo or to the galleries, the routine of Mass followed by pub (he liked the former to be observant of ritual and the latter quiet, dark and comfortable). Alert to his surroundings, he was indifferent to his whereabouts. He had always hated leaving anywhere, the trenches included. Dugouts became billets, the more provisional the more intensely inhabited, and he had a keen awareness of carrying around a soldier’s body in peacetime as a snail its shell. At one point he half-heartedly rented a room in Kensington, as an experiment in leaving home, from which in turn the homes of friends became his refuge. His Catholic intellectual circle was outwardly purposeful – publishers, broadcasters, curators, historians and academics, mostly denizens of Chelsea and Kensington – but also introspective, contrarian and like-minded; they made conscious space in their lives for his unscheduled landings and the ensuing intervals when he would remain grounded by uncertain ailments. Further afield there was Pigotts (the letters are full of variations on a theme: ‘I went to Pigotts in July for a week’s visit and stayed 2½ months!’), or Rock Hall in Northumberland. As Helen Sutherland, its demanding chatelaine – and the most loyal of his hostesses or patrons – remarked approvingly, ‘he’s bad at going.’”
The mechanics of Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings: “Pollock manipulated fluid dynamics to create his work, whether it was a conscious decision or not, according to a new study. The study published Wednesday in the journal PLOS ONE.”
David Pryce-Jones reviews a biography of David Ben-Gurion: “For centuries, the majority of European Jews had lived more or less anonymously in a reserve under Russian domination known as the Pale of Settlement. They had no choice but to identify themselves solely as Jews, which set them apart from the neighbors and conditioned prejudice. Ben-Gurion was to have a vital role creating another possible identity. By the end of his career, Jews who hitherto would have been defined exclusively as members of a religious faith could instead be citizens of the state of Israel and also secular if they chose to be.”
Remembering the WASPs: “The combined destructive forces of a highly valued dollar and the takeover mania of the 1980s helped do in the old manufacturing companies that were the economic base of much of the WASPs’ financial power, which had already taken serious blows in the inflationary bear markets of the 1970s. In economic language, the transaction replaced the relationship—not just on Wall Street but in American business generally. And the same can be said of the elite as a whole. WASPs once made for a fairly coherent upper class: concentrated in big cities and their suburbs in the Northeast, products of the same prep schools and colleges, likely to choose from a small pool of marriage partners, guaranteed of a decent inheritance and, for men, a sinecure at a respectable firm. Social ties were stable and for the ages. That has all given way to rule by money. Now you have to pay a consultant half a mil to get your kids into U.S.C. instead of relying on your bloodline to get them into Harvard.
The playwright Lauren Yee has won over $400,000 in literary prizes in 2019 so far: “This year’s awards to Yee include the Whiting Emerging Writers Award and the Steinberg Playwright Award, each with a $50,000 purse, and the $25,000 Steinberg/American Theatre Critics Association New Play Award.
Want to understand our crazy world? Sure, you can read George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, or Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Or you can read C. S. Lewis’s The Abolition of Man and That Hideous Strength: “Lewis, too, conceived of a bleak future, one in which man seeks to overcome his nature and in so doing ends up enslaving himself. Outlined in his essay The Abolition of Man and his novel That Hideous Strength, his premonitions have been largely ignored, at least in the mainstream, perhaps because they’re so unfashionable. They involve, after all, not easy enemies like communism or patriarchy, but the West’s abandonment of natural law and God.”
Essay of the Day:
Arthur Krystal surveys a handful of books on aging. They are mostly “chatty accounts meant to reassure us that getting old just means that we have to work harder at staying young.” Is that true?
“These authors aren’t blind to the perils of aging; they just prefer to see the upside. All maintain that seniors are more comfortable in their own skins, experiencing, Applewhite says, ‘less social anxiety, and fewer social phobias.’ There’s some evidence for this. The connection between happiness and aging—following the success of books like Jonathan Rauch’s The Happiness Curve: Why Life Gets Better After 50 and John Leland’s Happiness Is a Choice You Make: Lessons from a Year Among the Oldest Old, both published last year—has very nearly come to be accepted as fact. According to a 2011 Gallup survey, happiness follows the U-shaped curve first proposed in a 2008 study by the economists David Blanchflower and Andrew Oswald. They found that people’s sense of well-being was highest in childhood and old age, with a perceptible dip around midlife.
“Lately, however, the curve has invited skepticism. Apparently, its trajectory holds true mainly in countries where the median wage is high and people tend to live longer or, alternatively, where the poor feel resentment more keenly during middle age and don’t mind saying so. But there may be a simpler explanation: perhaps the people who participate in such surveys are those whose lives tend to follow the curve, while people who feel miserable at seventy or eighty, whose ennui is offset only by brooding over unrealized expectations, don’t even bother to open such questionnaires.”
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“There is, of course, a chance that you may be happier at eighty than you were at twenty or forty, but you’re going to feel much worse. I know this because two recent books provide a sobering look at what happens to the human body as the years pile up. Elizabeth Blackburn and Elissa Epel’s The Telomere Effect: Living Younger, Healthier, Longer and Sue Armstrong’s Borrowed Time: The Science of How and Why We Age describe what is essentially a messy business . . . Walt Whitman, who never married, made it to seventy-two, and offered a lyric case for aging. ‘YOUTH, large, lusty, loving—youth full of grace, force, fascination,’ he intoned. ‘Do you know that Old Age may come after you with equal grace, force, fascination?’ It’s pretty to think so, but the biology suggests otherwise.”
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