Recent links of note:
“A Little Fellow with a Big Head”
Margaret Jull Costa, The Paris Review
Søren Kierkegaard’s pseudonymous alter egos are perhaps the closest analogues we can find to Fernando Pessoa’s (1888–1935) approximately seventy-five “heteronyms,” under which the Portugese author wrote the majority of his poetry and prose. Like Kierkegaard, Pessoa avowed that their “feelings I do not have, and opinions I do not accept”; unlike the moral bent of Kierkegaard’s synoptic oeuvre, however, Pessoa’s heteronymic works provided him with opportunities for distinct experiments in form and language rather than content alone. “Alberto Caeiro,” “Charles Anon,” and other such names eventually took on lives of their own, translating and commenting on the works of the others, to the point that Pessoa sometimes found his own identity melting into theirs. As he put it, “While their writings are not mine, they do also happen to be mine.” Margaret Jull Costa explores his life and work in a piece for The Paris Review.
“Did they even hang bears?”
Tom Shippey, London Review of Books
It is always fascinating to discover how echoes of long-past events recur throughout time. An article from the Times Literary Supplement in the prior “Week in review,” “God’s Own Werewolf,” related the strange case of Old Thiess, a peasant and self-professed werewolf from the seventeenth century whose origins may lie in the fertility rituals of Europe’s pagan past. Tom Shippey’s review of a new anthropologically focused study of the Vikings by Neil Price is chock full of such echoes—sometimes speculative, but intriguing nonetheless. Price’s book attempts to uncover the factual basis behind many of the most famous myths of and about the Norsemen, from the fabled Fimbulwinter’s origin in a sixth-century volcanic winter to the modern, perhaps overly generous reappraisal that these hardened warriors were for the most part “peaceful traders.”
A single picture can do so much to affect the appreciation of a figure from the pre-photographical past. My mind goes to the alleged portrait of Christopher Marlowe, miraculously discovered in a pile of rubble in 1953 during renovations at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. Beyond an inferred concordance with his personality, there is really no proof at all that the portrait, depicting a haughty young man in garish orange and black attire, shows the Elizabethan playwright. We long to attach personalities to faces, and as it would be the only known picture of the man, many were quick to jump to the conclusion that it was in fact him. It has graced many a book cover ever since, coloring our experience of Marlowe’s biography along the way.
Likewise I wonder how our appreciation of Beethoven would be different today if the composer had not (reluctantly) sat for Joseph Karl Stieler in 1820, the result of which was the famous portrait, supposedly the only painting Beethoven ever agreed to pose for in his lifetime. It solidified the characterization of Beethoven as the gray-haired, mercurial genius, staring fixedly somewhere into the distance above the viewer’s head, his mind too occupied by his art to be distracted by mundane matters. Today, it is an instantly recognizable image for those with any level of familiarity with classical music. But is this because of Stieler’s skill at capturing—or creating—a personality, or is it the many facets of Beethoven’s biography that we eagerly apply to the image? In a curious case of the chicken and the egg, the answer may be impossible to discern.
“Music for a While #31: Four-handed phenomena”
Jay Nordlinger, The New Criterion’s music critic, talks music—but, more important, plays music.
“Hanging by the threads” by Mario Naves. On “Marie Cuttoli: The Modern Thread from Miró to Man Ray” at the Barnes Foundation.