"Sure of itself, the stone claims nothing, whereas the tree, that mute entreaty, and the animal, an agonizing appeal, torment themselves this side of speech. Ages of silence and of screams wait in vain for us to deliver them, to serve as their interpreters; deserters of the world, we no longer aspire to anything but the reign of the undifferentiated, the darkness and the drunkenness of an epoch before daybreak, the uninterrupted ecstasy at the heat of that original opacity whose traces, now and then, we rediscover deep in ourselves or on the periphery of God."

— E. M. Cioran, The Temptation to Exist, trans. Richard Howard


Giovanni Bellini's circle, A Man in a Turban (via)


"A poem should be equal to:
Not true.

For all the history of grief
An empty doorway and a maple leaf.

For love
The leaning grasses and two lights above the sea—

A poem should not mean
But be."

— Archibald MacLeish, from "Ars Poetica"


Bill Brandt, Self-Portrait with Mirror, East Sussex Coast, 1966 (via)


"There is too much self in my writing. Do you know the term Lukács uses to describe aesthetic structure? Eine fensterlose Monade. I do not want to be a windowless monad—my training and trainers opposed subjectivity strongly, I have struggled since the beginning to drive my thought out into the landscape of science and fact where other people converse logically and exchange judgments—but I go blind out there. So writing involves some dashing back and forth between that darkening landscape where facticity is strewn and a windowless room cleared of everything I do not know. It is the clearing that takes time. It is the clearing that is a mystery."

— Anne Carson, Economy of the Unlost

"It is—in the latter half at least—a phallic novel, but tender and delicate. You know I believe in the phallic reality, and the phallic consciousness: as distinct from our irritable cerebral consciousness of today. That's why I do the book—and it's not just sex. Sex alas is one of the worst phenomena of today: all cerebral reaction, the whole thing worked from mental processes and itch, and not a bit of the real phallic insouciance and spontaneity. But in my novel there is."

— D. H. Lawrence, writing about Lady Chatterley's Lover, 15 March 1928


Lucian Freud, Naked Man on a Bed, 1987


"At such moments I feel mad to do it in some filthy way, to feel your hot lecherous lips sucking away at me, to fuck between your two rosy-tipped bubbies, to come on your face and squirt it over your hot cheeks and eyes, to stick it between the cheeks of your rump and bugger you.

Basta per stasera!

I hope you got my telegram and understood it.

Goodbye, my darling whom I am trying to degrade and deprave. How on God's earth can you possibly love a thing like me?"

— James Joyce, from a letter to Nora Barnacle, 6 December 1909 (via)


Lucian Freud, etching of Naked Man on a Bed, 1987


"You know ... I shall not be fashionable long. They will find me out. ... I like such awfully unfashionable things—and people... you see I am not a high-brow. Sunday lunches and very intricate conversations on Sex and that 'fatigue' which is so essential and that awful 'brightness' which is even more essential—these things I flee from."

— Katherine Mansfield, from a letter to William Gerhardi, 1921

"You're like a witness. You're the one who goes to the museum and looks at the paintings. I mean the paintings are there and you're in the museum too, near and far away at the same time. I'm a painting. Rocamadour is a painting. Etienne is a painting, this room is a painting. You think that you're in the room but you're not. You're looking at the room, you're not in the room."

— Julio Cortázar (via)


Beata Bieniak (via)


"I am kneeling before the white wall
I write my name
upon the water. I see the hours
passing like clouds. There is no
bottom. Neither abyss.
At my feet shadow draws back.
Who am I? Do you not know me?"

— Ernesto Mejía Sánchez, from "Vigils," trans. William Carlos Williams (via wood s lot)"


Ingmar Bergman, Through a Glass Darkly, 1961


"This very second has vanished forever, lost in the anonymous mass of the irrevocable. It will never return."

— E. M. Cioran (via)


"Stay with us one more Birthday, Ned —
'Yesterday, Today, and Forever,' then we will let you go."

— Emily Dickinson, from a letter to her nephew, Ned, 19 June 1883


Marc Chagall, Birthday, 1915 (via)


"My birthday began with the water —
Birds and the birds of the winged trees flying my name
      Above the farms and the white horses
                  And I rose
            In rainy autumn
And walked abroad in a shower of all my days."

— Dylan Thomas, from "Poem in October"


John Singer Sargent, The Birthday (Fête Familiale), 1887 (via)


"... on my birthday we walked among the downs, like the folded wings of grey birds; and saw first one fox, very long with his brush stretched; then a second; which had been barking, for the sun was hot over us; it leapt lightly over a fence and entered the furze — a very rare sight. How many foxes are there in England?"

— Virginia Woolf, from a diary entry dated 26 January 1930

"The walls recede, the roof vanishes, and you float quite naturally
You float uprooted, dragged off, lifted high
You are transported, immortalized, saved, honored
Thanks to that subtle, continuous rhythm…"

— Reinaldo Arenas, from "The Parade Ends"


Corin Redgrave applies his makeup backstage at the Lyric theatre, where he appeared as Duke Ferdinand in a musical adaptation of Shakespeare's Love's Labours Lost, 1959 (via)


"It would be... heartless terror. Yes. Terrible, and...

Very great. To shed your skin, every old skin, one by one and then walk away, unencumbered, into the morning."

— Tony Kushner, from Angels in America


Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Landscape by the Lake, c. 1865-70 (via)


"In the valleys, where the song
of the weary farmer sounds,
and when I sit and mourn
the illusions of youth fading,
and on the hills where I recall
and grieve for my lost desires
and my life's lost hope, I think of you
and start to shake."

— Giacomo Leopardi, from "To His Lady," trans. Jonathan Galassi

Paul Klee, Angelus Novus, 1920


"A Klee painting named Angelus Novus shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing in from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such a violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress."

— Walter Benjamin, "Theses on the Philosophy of History," 1940

"I told you before, that I had taken another turn at the Schiller Correspondence. The two Letters, numbered 389 and 390, have set me thinking again. Schiller says, 'Can it really be, that Tragedy does not suit your nature, because of its pathetic force?' And again, 'A certain reckoning on the spectators is a hindrance to you, and perhaps for that very reason, you are the less fitted to be a writer of Tragedy, because you are altogether created for a poet in the highest sense. Anyhow, I find in you all the poetic specialities of the writer of Tragedy, in their fullest measure, and if, notwithstanding this, you are really unable to write a perfectly genuine tragedy, the reason must lie in the non-poetical requisites.'

I, for my part, do not understand this chiaroscuro, and much I know about writing a Tragedy, or whether such things let themselves be written; when poetry bears about the same relation to the writing, as music does to the notes. It becomes clearer to my mind, when I remember, that Schiller was just then wrestling hard with his Wallenstein, and trying, as it were, to hook poetry to it."

— Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, from a letter to Carl Friedrich Zelter, 27 October 1831


Lines from a poem by Goethe, signed and dated 1 March 1826 (via)


"Few critics have even admitted that Hamlet the play is the primary problem, and Hamlet the character only secondary. And Hamlet the character has had an especial temptation for that most dangerous type of critic: the critic with a mind which is naturally of the creative order, but which through some weakness in creative power exercises itself in criticism instead. These minds often find in Hamlet a vicarious existence for their own artistic realization. Such a mind had Goethe, who made of Hamlet a Werther; and such had Coleridge, who made of Hamlet a Coleridge; and probably neither of these men in writing about Hamlet remembered that his first business was to study a work of art. The kind of criticism that Goethe and Coleridge produced, in writing of Hamlet, is the most misleading kind possible. For they both possessed unquestionable critical insight, and both make their critical aberrations the more plausible by the substitution—of their own Hamlet for Shakespeare's—which their creative gift effects. We should be thankful that Walter Pater did not fix his attention on this play."

— T. S. Eliot, from "Hamlet," 1920


First edition of Goethe's Die Leiden des jungen Werthers (The Sorrows of Young Werther), 1774 (via)


"After the seventeenth century, few English authors were able to write verse plays comparable to those of Shakespeare and Webster (though almost every major Romantic tried his hand at them), but poets in other languages, such as Goethe and Pushkin, were able to follow that tradition. Perhaps English-speaking authors felt overwhelmed by Shakespeare, but other poets were able to pick up on the tradition and continue it, thereby expanding their own literatures. What can we learn from literatures of other languages in the same way that Pushkin and Goethe learned from Shakespeare?"

— Ilya Kaminsky, from "Various Tongues," an exchange with Adam Kirsch

"I am ashamed of the violence of my own love.
In this ruined house how I had hoped to be a builder!

Today our verses, Asad, are only an idle pastime.
What's the use of flaunting our talent, then?"

— Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib, from "Twilight in Delhi," trans. R. Parthasarathy


"Among the shadows of people, sea horse bodies dry,
Lose translucence, become rough and blunt.

Between two fingers you crush them, beauty and love,
Into what is not beautiful and what (you don’t remember) stopped loving."

— Aleš Šteger, from "Sea Horse"

A young Marcel Proust at Combray with the famous magic lantern (via)


"... at Combray on Sunday mornings one had the delight of emerging upon a festive street, but where that street was paved with water of a sapphire blue, refreshed by little ripples of cooler air, and of so solid a colour that my tired eyes might, in quest of relaxation and without fear of its giving way, rest their gaze upon it."

— Proust, Albertine disparue, 1925, trans. C. K. Moncrieff and Robert Kilmartin

Proust at the Club des Découvreurs (via)


"I am finishing a book which in spite of its provisional title: Contre Sainte-Beuve, souvenir d'une matinée, is a genuine novel and an extremely indecent one in places. One of the principal characters is a homosexual. And this I count on you to keep strictly secret. If the fact were known before the book appeared a number of devoted and apprehensive friends would ask me to abandon it. Moreover I fancy it contains some new things (forgive me!) and I shouldn't like to be robbed by others. The name of Sainte-Beuve is not there by chance. The book does indeed end with a long conversation about Sainte-Beuve and about aesthetics (if you like, as Sylvie ends with a study of a popular song) and once people have finished the book they will see (I hope) that the whole novel is simply the implementation of the artistic principles expressed in this final part, a sort of preface if you like, placed at the end."

— Proust writing to publisher Alfred Vallette as A la recherche du temps perdu was emerging from his earlier piece, Contre Sainte-Beuve, August 1909. As quoted in William C. Carter's Marcel Proust: A Life.

"I'd read to him at night. His horoscope,
The New York Times, The Advocate;
Some lines by Richard Howard gave us hope.
A quiet hospital is infinite,
The polished, ice-white floors, the darkened halls
That lead to almost anywhere, to death
Or ghostly, lighted Coke machines.  I call
To him one night, at home, asleep.  His breath,
I dreamed, had filled my lungs--his lips, my lips
Had touched.  I felt as though I'd touched a shrine.
Not disrespectfully, but in some lapse
Of concentration.  In a mirror shines

The distant moon."

— Rafael Campo, from "The Distant Moon"


Nan Goldin


"Nothing is more punitive than to give a disease a meaning... The disease itself becomes a metaphor. Then, in the name of the disease (that is, using it as a metaphor), that horror is imposed on other things. The disease becomes adjectival."

— Susan Sontag, Illness as Metaphor, 1978

Cy Twombly, Untitled (Funerary Box for a Lime Green Python), 1954


"The at-once-ness of literal and allusive white paint, addressed above, now meets the seemingly contradictory, or at least discrete, quality of in-between-ness, registered in this case as what lies between the sculpture’s literal materials and its allusive title. Even so, here we must recall that the larger part of Twombly's title functions as a parenthetical, after that initial laconic Untitled. Parentheses are used to bracket an insertion without which a sentence, or a meaning, would yet remain grammatically correct. Or, more loosely, to bracket a digression, an interlude — better still, an interval. This title's parentheses point to the literal, grammatical fact of the gap as well as to the idea of the gap, the idea of the space-between."

— Kate Nesin, from "Some Notes on Words and Things in Cy Twombly's Sculptural Practice"


Cy Twombly, Petals of Fire, 1989


"I'm a painter and my whole balance is not having to think about things. So all I think about is painting. It's the instinct for the placement where all that happens. I don't have to think about it. So I don't think of composition; I don't think of colour here and there. Sometimes I alter something after. So all I could think is the rush. This is in certain things and even up to now, like The Four Seasons, those are pretty emotionally done paintings. And I have a hard time now because I can get mentally ill. I usually have to go to bed for a couple of days. Physically I can't handle it, and I can't build myself. You know, my mind goes blank. It's totally blank. I cannot sit and make an image. I cannot make a picture unless everything is working. It's like a state."

— Cy Twombly, from a 2001 interview with David Sylvester

"[Cocteau's] early years are dominated by the ballet; then comes the theater, and also fiction; and finally films: that is to say, predominantly the visual media, conjuring up spectacles. As noted before, he classified all these activities as poetry: (just plain) poésie, poésie de théâtre, poésie du roman, poésie cinématographique, even poésie critique.

So he was primarily a poet of the spectacle: the circus, the parade. He is like a harlequin leading the parade in Fellini's Clowns. One of his finest contributions to the 'idea' of the theater in the twentieth century was the distinction, articulated in 1921 in his preface to the ballet scenario for Les mariés de la Tour Eiffel, between 'poésie de théâtre' [theater poetry] and 'la poésie du théâtre' [poetry in the theatre]. With this formula he entered the lists of the advocates of a new kind of theater-poetry, in contrast to the verse-theater favored by T. S. Eliot or Christopher Fry, some fifteen to twenty years later."

— Walter A. Strauss, from "Jean Cocteau: The Difficulties of Being Orpheus," in Reviewing Orpheus: Essays on the Cinema and Art of Jean Cocteau, edited by Cornelia A. Tsakiridou


Portrait of Jean Cocteau by André Papillon, 1939 (via)


"Le fond de la mer a ses saisons. Comme sur la terre, le printemps est une des plus belles. Le corail bourgeonne et les éponges respirent l'eau bleue à pleins poumons. Une forêt de cerfs rouges écoute un bruit d’hélice. Il arrive de très haut dans les cieux de la mer. Il tombe lentement et se roule dans le sable. Les fleurs dorment debout et il y en a une foule qui diesent adieu. Les poissons manchots se posent dessus. Ils donnent de gros baisers à la mer. A cause de l'éclairage et du décor on se croirait souvent chez le photographe. Un panache de globules gazouille dans le coin. Il s'échappe du petit robinet qui change l'eau salée."

— Cocteau, "Le Printemps au fond de la mer," in Poésies

"It is twenty-five years since the Hogarth Press launched its edition of Woolf’s essays. Stuart N. Clarke, who took over the editorship from Andrew McNeillie after Volume Four, now completes the series with essays published between 1933 and 1941."

— Trev Broughton, from "Virginia Woolf's Late Essays" in The Times Literary Supplement


Marianne Brandt, Ashtray, 1924 (via MoMA; see the website for their exhibition on German Expressionism)


"No one wants to reopen the wounds; no one wants to stick           the gored. We can call this a new 'happy problem.'

                                                            'The only way,'

says I; says the old I; says the unmanhandled I and I recall this could be a tasty thing. Let me draw my neck out—just so to see.
                                                                            I want to see how willing the 'I' is. Just to see how willing 'I' am. How willing 'I' should be.

And, yes, yes, someone said yes, someone said yes to me. I was unsafe and I was safe and I was oh so ready."

— Leah Umansky, from "Life is a Verb" (via BOMBlog)


"How many books will Alan Hollinghurst have to write before the press stops asking him about his sexuality? When will the beauty of his words simply be enough?"

— Elizabeth Minkel in The New Yorker on Alan Hollinghurst's writing and his forthcoming book, The Stranger's Child


"Nabokov treated fame as if it were a novel to be read or written according to the details. ... So it comes as no surprise that Nabokov staged a photo for Life Magazine in 1959 in which he is seen writing Lolita on notecards in the Nabokov family sedan, after the novel had been published. Or that he gladly appeared on the cover of Time in 1969 and Newsweek in 1962. Or that he corrected Carl Proffer’s Keys to Lolita and revised Andrew Field’s biography of him, saying that his life resembled 'a bibliography rather than a biography' and that the best part of a writer's biography is not 'the record of his adventures but the story of his style.' Or that he tightly controlled the collection of his short stories, compiling them according to 'theme, period, atmosphere, uniformity, variety.' Or that he translated his early Russian novels, such as Bend Sinister, Despair, and The Luzhin Defense, as well as the autobiography that became known as Speak, Memory, into English himself, making substantial revisions and adding prefaces to the texts. Or that he conducted and wrote all of his interviews himself."

— Sarah Fay, from "Vladimir Nabokov and the Art of the Self-Interview" at The Paris Review