Skywriter; wingdancer

A small edit to the fashion dictum: clothes make the man of letters. At this late date you might not be able to identify Arthur Conan Doyle by his face, but a Sherlock Holmes costume is all it takes to return him to the time when his visage seemed unchangeably memorable. In Dover Publications’ Literature and Humanities catalog for October 2012, the Arthur Conan Doyle paper doll is an alpha body, dominating a whole page of other literature. Click his domain to enlarge it.

Like Sir Arthur with Holmes’s deerstalker cap, meerschaum pipe, and violin, the four other men in the advertisement for Literary Greats Paper Dolls are accessorized from the workshops of their own imaginations. Hemingway is carrying the old man’s big fish, Shakespeare is holding Yorick’s skull, Poe has shouldered his pallid bust and noir bird, and Mark Twain is toting Tom Sawyer’s bucket of whitewash. But the boys have been joined on their page by a woman, Virginia Woolf, and Mrs. Woolf seems to have arrived there from quite a different boutique. At first glance I thought she was wearing Orlando’s doublet and hose, but no.

Virginia Woolf – on the cover of this book, only she – did not dress herself. That creative task was delegated to someone working in another profession entirely. The clothes of the other writers bear labels cut from the spines of their own books – The Old Man and the Sea, “The Raven” – but Mrs. Woolf’s wardrobe master did his shopping among the discount racks of Dover Thrift Editions. There the customer information read, “Prose that is all nerve endings, nervous breakdowns, suicide,” with the cover term about language marked out. This remaindered Virginia Woolf was then dressed for publication by Sir William Bradshaw, the Harley Street psychiatrist of Mrs. Dalloway, and for her new cover shot he chose a straitjacket.

But what else could he have chosen? When I try to visualize Mrs. Dalloway myself, I see only the face of a movie star: Vanessa Redgrave in Mrs. Dalloway or Meryl Streep in The Hours. On the pages of the book, the words that might have described Clarissa Dalloway herself are sunk in inward reference. It is only from her sense of holding a needle and a thimble that we learn the color of her dress: green (35-36). When she crosses the room to console weeping Peter Walsh (46), she rustles and tinkles. But dresses also rustle and chains also tinkle in To the Lighthouse (152). It was Mrs. Dalloway’s clothes that made their comforting social sounds, not Mrs. Dalloway. And the hazy fabric has also blurred the outline of Mrs. Dalloway’s form.

But outside Mrs. Dalloway’s soul, where the haze (in her essay “Modern Fiction,” Woolf calls it a luminous halo) has not descended, vision and voice and outline remain sharp and clear. There in the zone of clarity, the book’s two villains, menacing Sir William and dreary Doris Kilman, strut forth under brilliant runway lighting, wearing a whole designer thesaurus of social markers. Doris and Sir William have upsprung into Mrs. Dalloway from the lower classes, both of them, and there is no luminous halo blurring Woolf’s vision when it is de haut en bas.

But Mrs. Dalloway once looked upward rather than down, and there she perceived a source of significance wholly different from her creator’s breeding.. From it there flowed a word in a silent language. Neither Mrs. Dalloway nor anyone else in that chapter of her book could read the word, but it communicated happiness to all, as if all could understand it. Mrs. Dalloway’s sensorium is hard to distinguish from Woolf’s as it responds, rising, to the skywritten word, but somewhere in the interior of one soul or the other there is a word for that wordless understanding: “ecstasy.” Literally, etymologically, the word means “standing outside oneself.”

It was strange; it was still. Not a sound was to be heard above the traffic. Unguided it seemed; sped of its own free will. And now, curving up and up, straight up, like something mounting in ecstasy, in pure delight, out from behind poured white smoke looping, writing a T, an O, an F. (28)

Up there, outside herself, what would Virginia Woolf have worn? If she had been a male author, of course, the fashion statement would have been easy to make. As Le Corbusier says, “One can pass judgment on a truly elegant man more conclusively than on a truly elegant woman, because male dress is standardized” (189, caption). So the creator of Sherlock Holmes stands out in his illustration by repeating Holmes’s gesture of wearing a country hat in the city; so the creator of Hamlet stands out by wearing Hamlet’s solemn black. “I have sought external significance by daring to approach the boundary of what is standard,” says such an act. And then it says, “See me there, and judge.” Because women clothe themselves less in order to speak that way to others than to tell themselves what they are, the act was less available to Mrs. Dalloway.

Fortunately for us and for Dover Publications, however, Mrs. Dalloway’s airplane offers to the imagination a function that Woolf’s friend T. S. Eliot called the objective correlative.   Ascend, says the airborne rhythm of Woolf’s prose. Reading then, ascending as we read, we become passengers of Mrs. Dalloway as she rises on the scents of the florist’s shop: “light, very tall, upright” (12). Then, transported above ourselves, we touch down on a wing. On the wing waits our hostess, and she has dressed herself, by herself, for herself, at last. Close Sir Arthur’s and Sir William’s catalog, open Mrs. Woolf’s book, and see. She is in her gorgeous green paperwear.


Le Corbusier, Toward an Architecture, second edition (1928), trans. John Goodman. Los Angeles: Getty Research Institute, 2007.

Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway (1923; New York: Harcourt, 2005) and To the Lighthouse (1927; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006).

The headline: “Log Cabin Republicans Endorse Mitt Romney”

The story:

The historical analogy, 1932:

Click to enlarge.

The transcription:

The annotation:

The abridged translation: “German national comrades of Jewish descent! Election day is the day to affirm that we are German. Where our soul is, there is our fatherland. We are in solidarity with Germany. This unbreakable attachment to the German people cannot be stolen from us. The sense of nationhood is what matters, not so-called ‘race.’

“Vote German!”

Photography, the dangling modifier, and ESL

 “As a Deleuzian nomadic feminist, my photographic work explores a dynamic disequilibrium. My photographs play with inter-relating imbrications—concurrent, multiple, contradictory tendencies. My pedagogical and art-based research explores the possibilities of radical citizenship by actively cultivating vulnerability through corporeal inquiries. Irreducibly allusive corpo-visual language unfolds as embodied rhizomatic vulnerabilities. My project is intricately rooted in the potential of a rhizomatic uncanny—‘reducible neither to the One nor the multiple’ (Mille Plateaux 22). I ground my theoretical investigations within narratives of personal experience [1]—sexual becomings and analog photography. As a strategy to elucidate my theoretical queries, I refer both to my philosophical underpinnings and the international public reception of my photographs—which frequently has led to censorship. In doing so, I practice an embodied theory that advocates a politics, philosophy, and pedagogical commitment rooted in everyday behavior and interaction. A commitment to this heterogeneous embodied thinking has the potential to rupture cultural assumptions. It explores the cross-fertilization of Deleuze’s enfoldments as disarticulated membranes. This awareness awakens the possibility of fully inhabiting our bodies—bodies that pulse with the multiplicity of the ‘I’—as inherently interdisciplinary. Revitalization of both individual and social bodies produces enfoldments of psyche-somatic consciousness. No hierarchies survive these monstrous, heterogeneous, multiple entwinings of body intelligence and wisdom. The body becomes a condition for participatory democracy—a lived erotic politics.”

Cara Judea Alhadeff, “Practicing the Abject: Deleuze and the Analog Uncanny.” Rhizomes 23 (2012).

From bottom to top: a footnote to “Biotherm”

The bibliography:

Hines, Alice, “Abercrombie & Fitch CEO’s Corporate Jet Rulebook Reveals Cult-Like Secret World.” Huffington Post 18 October 2012. Accessed 20 October 2012.

O’Hara, Frank. Selected Poems, ed. Mark Ford. New York: Knopf, 2008.

The footnote:

* “The four models or actors who work as cabin attendants must never respond to Matthew or Michael, as the manual refers to [Abercrombie and Fitch chief executive officer Mike] Jeffries and [his partner Matthew] Smith, by saying anything but a friendly ‘no problem.’ Phrases like ‘sure’ or ‘just a minute’ are not permitted”.

The text, from “Biotherm”:

Click to make it bigger.


When sorrows come, they come not single spies

On October 10 I posted a note about The New York Times. On October 12, David Brooks, by far the deepest thinker of them all on the Times’s editorial page, opined for the ages:

[Republican vice presidential candidate Paul] Ryan was nurtured by the conservative policy apparatus, and he had a tendency Thursday night to talk about policy even when he was asked about character. I would not say he defined a personality as firmly as he might of . . .

Here’s a suggestion about your venture into the demotic, Mr. Brooks. One reason the conservative intellectual Rush Limbaugh enjoys a reputation even loftier than yours is that in addition to holding forth about politics, he holds forth about sports. So how about biting the Onion and applying for a position with GOOMF?,28930/

Flash: from the high church of American culture

From the New York Times, whose daily editorial pages thunder with righteousness and whose Sunday magazine publishes a column called “The Ethicist,” this e-mail bulletin: both the column on the left and, in accordance with the high precept of Matthew 6.3,* the column on the right. Click to enlarge the fonts to pulpit size.