Life as the Past in the Present
Yes, as usual, I’m smiling--for the camera, that is. But these da be ys, with the war crimes being committed by Putin’s Russia against the people of Ukraine, and this for no other reason than to begin the restoration of what will be his Empire, there is not btoo much to smile about for too long. With my residency in France come the dreads that must be in the hearts and on the minds if not the direct memories of all Europeans. The deja vu of one despot's take-over of Europe, one country at a time, and less than a century ago, with some of the greatest powers in the world standing motionless -- until the reality of this horror overcame any isolationism, apathy, fear, or denial -- is all too vivid. Concerns about war spreading further and liberties being lost have surpassed the concerns which we were overwhelmed by exactly two years ago next week when we were confined for the first time due to the Covid-19 Pandemic. In spite of it all, I still believe that I live in The Most Beautiful Place in the World, and there are still times when I am filled with a sense of joy and wonderment that contribute to the re-emergence of that state of mind that I have also referred to as 'the most beautiful place in the world.'
In this past week, we enjoyed Julie Manet, La Memoire Impressionniste at The Musée Marmottan Monet in the 16th Arrondisement. This museum houses a permanent collection of over three hundred Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings by Claude Monet alone, including his 1872 Impression,
Sunrise. Marmottan Museum's fame is the result of a donation in 1966 by Michel Monet, Claude's second son and only heir. This visiting exhibit is the first exhibition dedicated to the work of Julie Manet, daughter of Berthe Morisot and niece of the famous artist Edouard Manet. It highlights Julie Manet's contribution to the arts, works bequeathed to her by her mother (the painter Berthe Morisot), and the building of her own collection of paintings with the
help of her husband Ernest Rouart, as well as donations, legacies, and endowments of works made to French museums. The chance to see works by Hubert Robert, Camille Corot, Degas, and so many others is topped off by paintings of the artist herself at all ages as well as her own excellent works of art. With a brief break the following day for a walk in the Champs Elysées Park, enjoying the sun,
the daffodils in full bloom, a pigeon that seemed dressed up as a penguin, and each other’s company and conversation, the next day, we took a long walk
through the gardens of the Tuileries to the Musée D’Orsay to see the latest visiting exhibit of
some of the work of James McNeil Whistler, which are on loan from the Frick Museum in New York. It is a diminutive but beautiful sampling of his work in several media. My two favorite (besides his Mother, of Course,) were Symphony in Flesh Color and Pink: Portrait of Mrs. Frances Leyland and The Man WIth Pipe.
As we strolled through the extraordinary permanent collection of sculptures on the lower floor heading for the exit, we recalled our first visit. It was the week of the opening of the museum in 1986. As we gazed, still in awe at the model of Paris embedded under a glass floor, we recalled how Ted had lain on his belly taking photographs, like today’s aerial drones photograph the city these days..
In that moment we were treated to the sweet taste of our memories of those early sojourns in this amazing city. And we are still making memories. Just last night we shared a wonderful Japanese kaiseki dinner with our young friend, Antoine. We met at the
restaurant, walking on foot from opposite directions. Antoine was excited, having just noticed a plaque on the rue Caumartin dedicated to the classic renowned writer, Stendahl. The plaque could be translated to read, In this building from the 4th of November to the 26th of December 1838, Stendahl improvised and dictated La Chartreuse of Parma in 52 days.The Association of the friends of Stendahl 1983.
Antoine had just published a book titled Stendhal Biographe (translated in English, "Stendahl the Biographer") last year. It had emerged from his doctoral dissertation which was defended in the United States in 2017 and was devoted to the issue of the "biographical" in Stendhal. Antoine Guibal's work covers several issues including the study of "biographies" written by Stendhal and their relationship with pre-existing models of French biography. The links with 'autobiographical production' are highlighted in Antoine’s book because “Stendhalian biography emanated from the writing of the self." This side of the work of Stendhal,
who in 1810 had very ambitiously planned to write nearly thirty"lives", had been long neglected, even by Stendhalian criticism, until Antoine’s work. It is regrettable that the selected corpus was, so to speak, reduced to Haydn, whose "life" is a hack in which it is certainly more often a question of music than of biography, Rossini, Napoleon and Brulard (to the detriment of the Italian painters of the Renaissance) of Mozart, or of Metastasius, whose "life" was too short to deserve an analysis. So the question one is left with is what is it to write the life of another? One might also wonder how a biographer becomes a novelist. These and many other questions about Stendahl are examined in Antoine’s unique work.This kind of historical caretaking in Europe and the synchronicity between our present lives and the past lives of others has given me a deeper appreciation of time and the study of other lives as well as the study of my own. Of course having trained as a psychoanalyst long ago, and having had a lengthy career dedicated to the investigation of
and the act of writing about the lives of others, it was inevitable that I would share my own life in a memoir. How I became a novelist is no mystery either. After years of writing about the lives of others and about how my relationships with these others during the course of my work taught me much about myself and formed the basis for my theoretical and technical contributions to the field, I was naturally bound to write a memoir after retiring from my work. A memoir, unlike a biography, is a string of stories told from a subjective point of view, and if these stories are emotionally evocative, humorous, or touching, they are, like a string of pearls, an aesthetic product that glows and grows naturally inside ones mind over time and often begins with some irritation or another.
For me, a novel is a product of the unconscious, colorfully decorated and furnished with fictional characters born of the mating of real-life experience and creative conjecture. A convincing novel is the offspring of unconscious truth creatively elaborated, just as a moving memoir is born of unconscious intercourse between the past and the present subjective narratives. Perhaps because my memoir was so very personal, and was wholly conceived and delivered during a truly life-threatening period of time in the world, I may have inadvertently shunted it aside to make room for my mystery novel, which is far less personal and more lighthearted (if you can say that about a bloody murder), probably owing in part to the creation of the vaccines that made ongoing life a real possibility. And after the publication of my first novel, it was ever so much more fun to 'hawk' that work on my website and on social media. Not only was it potentially more commercial, but I felt less threatened by criticism, or at least the anticipation of the kind of criticism that cuts into the soul -- a real wound, not the fictional variety! I've come to fill the last year and the
pages of my Blog posts with tales of domestic adventures and misadventures, political uprisings, descriptions of beautiful wide-open wonderlands, accounts of our escapades during the pandemic first year when Paris was a veritable ghost town and those days when
we were on a short leash, moving safely and slowly through our days after confinement with two jabs of Pfizer, a matching booster shot, and a new car (the first one that these automobile-crazy Los Angelinos had owned in over five years.) I've shared beautiful gardens and parks and storied castles visited on day-trips with my readers.
I've shared photos of our cat Mickey and our friends and relatives and, more recently the art, the food, and the music that fills our eyes and ears and tantalizes our tastebuds , and now I think
it’s time to reintroduce my memoir to those who may have an appetite for a different sort of non-fiction than I have been known for throughout the better part of forty years studying and practicing psychoanalysis.
I hope that, if you decide to read it, you will share your honest impressions and comments with me. After all, if we can live through Covid and the Ukrainians can lift up their heads and hold their ground in the name of democracy and for the sake of preserving freedom in the face of terror and tyranny, then I can surely survive any constructive criticism that comes my way.