At Odds and Ends

by HRM on October 14, 2013

Bernard-Henri Lévy at the Foundation Maeght

By Andrea Longini

Magritte---Les-Vacandes-de-HegelRené Magritte, Les vacances de Hegel, 1959. Huile sur toile, 60 x 50 cm. Collection de M. et Mme Wilbur Ross – © Adagp, Paris 2013

Bernard-Henri Lévy, author of American Vertigo and superstar philosopher in his native country, has curated an exhibit for the Fondation Maeght in southern France.  “Adventures of the Truth: A Narrative” explores the relationship of art to philosophy over the last six centuries.

The exhibit, expansive in its inclusion of over 120 pieces, features seven sequences that narrate a battle between philosophers and artists over whose privilege it is to portray the truth. Work by Jean-Michel Basquiat has found its way into the exhibit, as has work by Marina Abramović, Anselm Kiefer, and Ellsworth Kelly.

The exhibit opens with a challenge. The first sequence, entitled, “The Fate of the Shadows,” establishes that art laid in the shadow of philosophy, its alleged predecessor in representing truth.  Here the viewer is presented with a panoply of works that seek to challenge common perceptions about what art should do: a lesser-known Warhol is featured as well as an incandescent work, “Poetry of Form” by Mike Kelley.  Kelley’s black and white photographs of cave interiors are given whimsical titles which cleverly provoke the viewer into associating two seemingly dissimilar cues; for instance, a hippopotamus and a rock.  It is compelling pieces like this one that give the exhibit its soul; without them, the sheer number of works can imply a hodge-podge.

Pierre-et-Gilles-Pierre---Sainte-V+-roniquePierre et Gilles, Sainte Véronique, 2013 (modèle: Anna Mougladis). Photographie peinte – pièce unique encadrée par les artistes, 100 x 70 cm – © Pierre et Gilles

Next, the sequence entitled, “The Strategy of the Coup d’Etat” argues that one can indeed pinpoint the first awakening of art’s desire to portray truth over decoration: the Sudarium of Veronica, a Catholic legend depicted in painting as early as the 15th century where the image of Jesus appeared on a maiden’s handkerchief.  Here, Lévy explains, artists realized if an image could be the incarnation of divine truth, then artists as well as philosophers could possess and portray it.

A rejoinder to that argument is presented in the following sequence, in a series of video interviews filmed by Lévy himself in which contemporary writers and intellectuals read thought-provoking historical texts to the camera.  In these moments, philosophy in its distilled form is a powerful means of conveying what we understand to be reality and thought.  The narrative continues on from there to Nietzsche references, abstract expressionism, and postmodernism.

Jacques-Martinez-Triomphe-de-la-PhilosophieJacques Martinez, Triomphe de la philosophie, 2013. Technique mixte, 249 x 270 x 130 cm. Collection de l’artiste – © Photo François Fernandez / Droits réservés

“Adventures of the Truth” conveys a populist understanding of truth, philosophically: either you have it, or you don’t.  One weakness of the exhibit is that it assumes that the viewer will take for granted the notion of an ongoing war between philosophers and artists.  As noted by Digby Warde-Aldam, this is a perspective that may be challenging for contemporary viewers – especially English-speaking ones – to accept.  There is little evidence presented to substantiate the claim of philosophy having preceded or superceded art.  Instead, the viewer is met with an abundance of art and a dearth of philosophy.  Since when is art not a statement of philosophy? The intimation is perplexing.  And even if the exhibition isn’t suggesting that one must pick one or the other – philosophy or art – it seems at least to gesture at a nationalistic cultural divide: France, at least, seems to prioritize philosophy. (Philosophy is given short shrift in American schools while in France it’s a mandatory subject to pass the baccalaureat.)

Moreover, who is to say that the truth-teller is not art, has not been art for many years? Wallace Stevens noted that “the aim, in fact, of an artist should be, not to create as beautifully as possible, but to tell as much of the truth as is compatible with creating beautifully.”   Philosophy is not able to unite beauty and truth as easily. However, it does not mean that “Adventures of the Truth” does not represent philosophy’s enduring influence in truth-telling or propose the disturbing notion that perhaps art attempting to depict truth is a more recent development than we may have thought.  Yet the idea goes back at least three quarters of a century.  Indeed, we were told by Jacques Maritain, himself a French philosopher, in 1937:

BHL_Fdn_Maeght“Bernard-Henri Lévy, curator of the current Fondation Maeght exhibit, guides companions through the exposition” [July 25, 2013]

“It is less difficult for the philosopher than for the artist to be in disagreement with his period.  There is little parallel between the two cases.  The one pours his spirit into a creative work, the other ponders on the real with the understanding mind.  It is in the first case by depending on the intellect of his time and pressing it to the limit, in the concentration of all his languor and all his fire, that the artist has a chance of reshaping the whole mass[.]”1

Ultimately, Lévy’s narrative nods towards the possibility that art stands on equal ground with philosophy.  In the last sequence, the exhibit concludes with the notion that the two fields are now intertwined and feed off of each other.  Collaboration wins.  But it is up to the viewer to decide if they were ever really at odds in the first place.

“Adventures of Truth: A Narrative” runs at the Fondation Maeght in St. Paul de Vence through November 11.


1. Jacques Maritain, The Degrees of Knowledge, trans. Bernard Wall and Margot R. Adamson (London: G. Bles, Centenary Press, 1937), p. 4.


Pelt and Other Stories

by HRM on September 19, 2013

An interview with Catherine McNamara

Pelt and Other Stories

Pelt and Other Stories, a new short story collection by Catherine McNamara, is out this month from Indigo Dreams Press. The eighteen stories collected here are transporting and vivid, dark but never sorry for themselves.

Her prose is at once lyrical and staccato, not distracted so much as ambitious – constantly moving forward. I’m talking about paragraphs like: “I was passed Ray’s version of a Tequila sunrise. I wandered out to change my dress. Afterwards, the restaurant had hard lights and the huge, unwieldy bike they’d stolen for me must have belonged to a post-Aryan giantess./ I read Hemingway that week.” (Examples like this work better as stream-of-consciousness, for me, than most traditional stream-of-consciousness does.) James Wood once described Sheila Heti’s first short story collection, Middle Stories, as “prickly,” and I would say the same of these. I mean all of this in a good way, of course. I want a story that surprises in a language that excites.

But the stories are also ambitious in the places they take you. In the characters her stories inhabit. We move from Berlin to Brussels, Australia to Italy, Ghana to Togo…And each character has a very distinct way of narrating each story, yet each story is clearly of a piece, written in Catherine McNamara’s confident, astute prose.

1. From your bio, it seems like you’ve lived all over, and your stories are set in just as many places. How well do you feel you have to know a place in order to set a story there?

This is a question I ask myself all the time. I’d hate to be a fiction tourist and would like my work to reach some sort of truth, if not about a setting, at least about the people living there. I’m really wary of using clichéd places, and yet don’t want to appear to be trying too hard to convey an original location. It’s essential to be able to inhale small things, or use your character for a partial and honest view.

(Follow-up question: do you usually draw from notes you might have taken while there, or does the memory transmute the place into a story later)

I don’t take notes because I am a very disorganised person and would lose them or not be able to read my own writing! I tried for a while, but was just too lazy to go back and decipher. I drive a lot and often jot down a sentence for a story idea and have a file on my computer, that’s all. What I really enjoy is the act of writing, so once I have a beginning, everything that is memory and invention crowds into what follows.

2. Do you read more than one book at once? Do you write more than one story at once?

I try not to read more than one book at once but sometimes it happens – you have to write a review in the middle of reading a big novel. I mostly stick to one book. However I don’t read as much as I’d like to as my day is busy and long. I always save up books or literary reviews to read on trips.

I can’t write more than one story at the same time as I’m so possessed and excited, wondering where the story will go. Although when I’m finished for the day I can go back and do some manuscript revision on something else. Or sometimes I do this to limber up early in the morning.

atherine McNamara

3. How is your editing process different from your writing process? Your choice of words is so specific and often so unusual, I wonder if verbs like “she lay there scripted ” come naturally in the first draft, or come later to replace more mundane verbs like “lay”?

No, these words come in the first draft. It sounds very silly but I just hear them and feel it and write it down. I used to be a lot wordier and still have to take care – as a young writer I was once told my story read like a bad translation! I think I deeply love words and the writers I love best are really athletic and feisty with their word choice. And the way the English vocab comes out is heightened by living your daily life in another language, which is what happens with my life in Italy.

Editing is much more relaxed than writing, as the bones of the story don’t really change. But I know I have to be terribly focussed. I think I am improving with cleaning out unnecessary words and sentences.

4. You seem so comfortable writing from the perspective of young businessmen, pregnant Ghanaian women, ambling Euro-travelers, grieving husbands….how do you get into your characters’ minds?

I’m not sure, and I’m glad you think it’s effective. I’ve lived with lots of different people of different cultures, and I think that helps. I’ve always avoided hanging around with people who are too similar to me. I love talking other people’s languages – making people comfortable and getting them to speak. Probably an initial sense of insecurity being a young Australian traveller many years ago made me want to remodel myself, trying to fit in, and made me work hard on understanding what other people had been through or held close. I’ve always wanted to travel a long way from myself, and this probably shows up in my writing.

5. What triggers a story for you? A word, an idea, a character, a story? I read on your blog that you once saw a man and knew that, from the way that he walked, he was Rolfe [the character from the title story, Pelt]. Did this man come before Rolfe?

I’m very much a first sentence person. That’s the trigger. The first paragraph has to resonate and I (unwisely!) usually fall in love with it. Then there’s the main character. There has to be something I want to explain or heighten. I think with Rolfe in ‘Pelt’ that the character came first, as he was secondary to the first-person narrator, and then I remembered the German man who’d come to our house in Ghana one day and he seeped into the character I needed in the story.

I love the journey of the story as it happens on the page. I don’t like to be constricted by plot ideas too much and enjoy the way everything can shift or pivot. I play classical piano and I love cadences and the motion of a piece.

6. What are you working on now?

I’m working on a new short story collection although promotion is taking up a lot of my time. I have a completed novel waiting to be revised this winter and am looking forward to that. I also have a thriller I wrote years ago that someone wants to see, so I should be going through this, although I think my heart belongs to the short story at the moment.

Thank you Harriet for having me here.

Where to buy the book:
It can be ordered from Waterstones UK or local independent bookshops.

Her blog is and Twitter is @catinitaly.


Once Home, We Raised a Toast to Him and Drank

by HRM on September 1, 2013

Poem read aloud by Gerald Fleming

Metro sign by Pank Seelen

I first met Gerald Fleming at a reading in Paris and was struck by his poems immediately. Sometimes I find it hard to describe what I like about poetry because, with the poetry I like best, it just works. It makes me feel like I’m more connected to the world, like I see things clearly. When I went to the Giacometti retrospective at the Pompidou a few years ago, the friend I went with said, afterwards, “I’m seeing everyone as a Giacometti!” and I think the same is true for good poets. You start to see people, and the world, as they write them. Gerald’s poems are intimate, sometimes conversational but always elevated, bevelled with beauty, and seem to vibrate with feeling (every feeling!) while also managing to be hilarious. He had the whole crowd laughing when he read “The Choreographer,” but by the end of the poem, I, for one, had tears in my eyes.

His most recent books are The Choreographer (Sixteen Rivers Press), Night of Pure Breathing, prose poems (Hanging Loose Press), and Swimmer Climbing onto Shore, poetry (Sixteen Rivers Press). He also taught in San Francisco’s public schools for thirty-seven years and seems to have the infinite compassion and genuine interest that I associate with the best teachers I’ve had. Perhaps the best poets I’ve ever met have these qualities, too.

The poem we published in HRM 13 is one of his new ones. Gerald challenged himself to create a series of poems with one major, Oulipian constraint: to use only single-syllable words. “Once Home, We Raised a Toast to Him & Drank” sounds just amazing when read out loud, and Gerald has graciously agreed to record himself reading it, just for us.

Once Home, We Raised a Toast to Him & Drank
by Gerald Fleming

There we were, the smash of us in wait for a train in those tubes-through-the-earth the French dug so long in the past, and at the edge of the quai they’d put in new glass doors to keep us safe in our wait to go home, but when the train came we saw that it, too, was jammed—fish in a can—& you could just smell the hot breath & stale clothes, all of us mushed there— Half of these folks sure to get off, but none did, & there was a surge, & that stuff scares me, so I stepped to the side & the guy at my left tried to get on, but the horn-to-warn blared & the train door closed & the keep-us-safe shield snapped shut & there he was, caught half–way, the train soon to take off & those of us at the glass yanked back the doors, snatched him free.

Breaths let out, the man nods, says thanks, but this was not his day. Next train comes, more packed—no one gets off, crush of crowd, the guy braves it, steps in but not quite all the way, train doors slams & he’s in but somehow his coat’s caught & we on the quai see more, more of that coat pulled out by the doors as they shut tight—but can’t see him, who must be pegged there at the doorjamb, scarecrowed—can’t move his arms, the look on his face a madman’s look, the fear.

Now the train pulls out & inch by inch we see the coat drawn in—much talk in that train for sure as those at his sides tug at the coat, but on the quai we hear none of it, just wheels on rails, and we laugh, a crowd-laugh, a fine thing to hear, just as those in the car must have laughed, too, when it was done, when all of him was in, red-faced, but in.

The rest of us still there, keen to head home, tell what we saw that day. But not once would that tale—though it might have held the words poor fool— not once mock him, for we know we are he, & it was just dumb luck that kept us that day from caught then caught twice in the vise of what keeps us safe.

We are good. I’ve come this far, war to more war, but claim it still: we are good. No one in that tin can of a train car knew that man, yet inch by inch they drew him in, freed his arms & no doubt slapped him on the back one-two-three to say You’re O.K., the wheels the gears the pressed jets of air will come for you, pin you, try to suck you through, but we’re here; we’re here for you.

Image credit: Metro sign by Pank Seelen at Flickr


An Animated World

by HRM on May 30, 2013

Interview with Poet Arda Collins

Arda Collins

Robert Frost once said that poetry is a way of taking life by the throat. The abrupt, vivid violence of this metaphor is integral to the work of Arda Collins, albeit with just a touch more mystery.

Collin’s poetry is a way of taking life by the throat, nearly strangling it, then letting go before embracing it tenderly, stealing its coat, leaving it gasping for breath on a suburban street corner just as the day turns to night. All as a silent bystander watches from inside a house.

In fact, Collin’s poetry is full of mysteries. Her poetry ensnares you in a world that is a mix of the familiar and foreign, the commonplace and the obscure. The title of her chapbook, It Is Daylight (winner of the Yale Series of Younger Poets Prize) is an example of Collins’ talent of casting a normal occurrence in a kind of light that reveals its uncanny nature. Collins’ ‘daylight’ falls over the pages of her book like a spotlight, searching out strange happenings in dark corners.  Below, Collins discusses It Is Daylight, the strange power of everyday objects, Bambi, and poetry.

– Carolyn Supinka

CS: I find your poems seem so suspenseful because in many cases, even objects have agency. In ‘Department Store’, a woman lays out her skirt on a chair, and while the woman slept, the skirt ‘didn’t pray’. Can you talk about this type of characterization, and how you see objects in your stories?

AC: Yeah, objects are very important to me. It’s something – especially when I was writing those poems – I didn’t know that was happening. You write what satisfies you, or what feels good, or what feels good because it feels bad, or because it feels necessary.  And I didn’t notice until a lot of that was written that that was something that was happening.

I do feel the world is animated in a way. And in terms of objects, it used to be much worse. I used to have a lot of stuff. [laughs] I was able to separate from it, but in that poem, it’s not that I think the skirt is really gonna pray, or that the skirt is cartoonish, but really it has more to do with the idea that objects have an energy around them. Even trees and animals and water, those are not objects, but…everything is made out of the world.

So I do sort of have this feeling that you can feel something from what surrounds you. I get kinda superstitious about it. I do have a strong feeling, of material surroundings as having an emotional quality.

This is not meant to be a flaky story, this is real, but objects retain something important about them. There was this time when I was sleeping in the backseat of a friend’s car and we were driving home late at night. She had this plaid blanket, and I wanted to use it because I was cold, but even in that sleepy state, I was like…I don’t know if I should use this. I had a feeling it was involved in a car accident. This blanket was giving me all kinds of feelings. I said something to her about it, something about the blanket, and she said “Oh, I was in a really terrible car accident”. There were nuns involved, and I don’t remember exactly the details of this, so this story has a ghost story quality about it. But I don’t think of it that way. It makes perfect sense that you can perceive the life of this object. I don’t know as a scientist [laughs] how this all works, but it makes total sense to me. There was all this intensity of emotional and energy that this object – not absorbs – but maybe retains as part of its life in the world. So I guess I think of everything as having something like that. So the world is alive in a way. Oh I’m blanking on the author’s name…there is this story is called Street of Crocodiles [editor’s note: the story is by Bruno Schultz] and the characters have this refrain where they keep saying “What is alive” and there’s a similar relationship in that too. There’s this whole idea of what becomes of us when we die, what becomes of all of humanity, us as physical beings, and what is their relationship. And that there’s only so much matter in the world.

CS: I remember hearing once that there’s a word in Japanese for objects that have been used for so long for one purpose that they become that purpose, they take on a character themselves. They have this aura attached to them, even though they aren’t physically living.

AC: Yes, an aura is a good word. A hammer comes into being a hammer! [laughs]

CS: Or a blanket, or a skirt. So I read your essay Poetry As Process of Inquiry at the Poetry Society of America. You talked about the process of inquiry and how that leads to poetry, and to quote you: “It is intimate and private, and is also meant to be witnessed in the larger privacy of the shared space of our psyches”. I liked that, taking something so intimate and a part of yourself and sharing it with the wider aura of other people’s shared space. Can you talk about the shared and the private in your own work and how those two might interlap and overlap?

AC: In terms of that, the idea of the shared space of our psyches – there is a feeling that poetry or your imagination is a shared space, and become a shared space, because the poem makes it so. Whenever you read a poem, you’ve entered the world of that writer’s imagination and emotional life. You have a –it’s not even a parallel experience, it’s that you’re able to enter a space that would otherwise be invisible to you. If you look at someone else and you can see in their face and physical being that there’s thinking and imagining and perceiving. If you were standing in a landscape with someone, and you could feel that you were comprehending this something together or simultaneously. The poem allows this other further articulation of that imaginative experience. And also with people who are dead or invisible now.

CS: How did you start writing poetry? Did you start by reading it, or experiencing it, or did it just sort of happen?

AC: I always read a lot as a kid. That’s what most people say, but that is what happened. I read mostly stories and novels, and short stories especially. I think I always thought I wanted to write, and I did write, and I wrote bad little stories and then bad bigger stories and then I stopped writing stories [laughs].  I read a lot of fiction and I still do, but it was probably at the end of high school and in college that I took my first poetry workshop, and I left the fiction workshops behind. I was writing poetry, and my first workshop was with Charles Simic. He was a wonderful teacher—ooh, I hate that word, ‘wonderful’!

CS: Really?

AC: Well it was different:  his class was different than wonderful. I found it deeply comforting to listen to him. He would tell a lot of stories in class, and the way that he would tell stories and the way that that would tell you what was going on in your poem and whether or not anything worthwhile was there. His way of seeing the world I found very comforting. And by that I mean the presence of being in a class like that made me feel like I could write whatever I wanted to write. I felt he understood the world in a way that was important to me.

But really I became serious about writing poetry in college. Before that… I remember having this thing where I was a kid, when I was like, wouldn’t it be so great if there was a job where you could just think about things and say stuff and there was no plot and no characters and you could just say whatever you wanted! I thought that would be cool.

CS: You found it.

AC: [laughs]I mean I had read poems, but I didn’t make the connection that this is what that was. It took me a while to see that. So that’s how.

CS: At AWP this year I was listening to Tracy K. Smith during an homage to Seamus Heaney. She was talking about her class with him, and how he viewed poetry. She said his class made her think, oh I can make anything be poetry, and it gave her more access or she felt more empowered by what she could touch and affect with poetry.

AC: Yeah definitely. A really great class can do that, or even a not great class can do that. Seamus Heaney is also mind-blowing. Tracy K. Smith is pretty mindblowing herself.

CS: So sort of in the same vein, can you talk about some poets who have inspired you, and what do you think poetry can do for readers that perhaps other mediums can’t?

AC: Well I liked Charles Simic a lot but it made a large impression at the time because it was the first poetry class I took, so it opened up this whole thing I never had. I have taken a lot of workshops because at this point I have a PhD in poetry, and I don’t want to name names because I’ve had a lot of great workshops and I have learned a lot from pretty much all of them.

I went to the Writer’s Workshop for my MFA and Denver for my PhD. But also with those workshops you learn as much from the other people in the class and their work as you do from the person teaching the class. And those places, I know people were doing great work and being able to read that every week was a huge experience.

CS: So you got your MFA from Iowa Writers Workshop, and you’ve completed your PhD. So what are your current projects? What are you working on now?

AC: I’m working on two things right now. I’m working on a manuscript that I’m winding up, and then I started this other one that is…well, usually I have always written one poem at a time, or a cycle of poems, without trying to see it as a manuscript until there was a larger thing of it- but this thing, I do feel the larger world of these poems formed very quickly in my mind.

CS: So talking about place. You’ve studied in a wide range of places, and is there a place you’ve traveled to in the past that has affected your writing? You can interpret that literally, or like how we talked about earlier: the feeling of a place.

AC: Yeah, I’m very affected by landscape. So living in Denver was very different from living in Iowa, and I don’t end up writing about that landscape necessarily, but what that landscape does to your emotional life. So I felt affected in that way. I like Denver a lot and I like living in the mountains, but there was too much sunshine for me. Relentless!

I mean Denver is known for that. It’s sunny for something like 320 days a year and it can be great, in some ways that feel terrific, but I do like moody cloudy east coast weather.  I also love the Midwest, I love living in Iowa.

I there’s something about the Midwest that I love. It’s stark, and the flatness is so beautiful. The quality of the light there is very lovely, and in the spring and the fall there’s a thunderstorm season. It’s – have you ever seen Bambi? It’s a fantastic movie. So Bambi has the April showers song, where it rains and it’s great.

CS: Yeah it drips from the petals at first, and then-

AC: Yeah! I taught Bambi at our seminar last semester.

CS: You can teach Bambi?

AC: You can teach Bambi! I mean, it was in conjunction with a lot of other things but Bambi was on the reading list. I think the movie was supposed to take place in Maine, but there are a lot of deer in Iowa and there are a lot of beautiful thunderstorm s and because it’s so flat there’s nothing to block the storm, so there are really amazing, energetic storms –it feels like it’s going to shake the house down sometimes. I’m excited about it. Anyway landscape definitely, I do feel very affected by that.


An Audience with the Queen

by HRM on March 27, 2013

by Mia Funk
An Audience with the Queen by Mia Funk

An Audience with the Queen by Mia Funk, oil on canvas 110 x 143.2 cm winner of the Thames and Hudson Pictureworks Prize 2010

Do you like Goya? was the first thing the Famous Painter asked. Well I knew where he was going with that one. After all, he was famous for more than just being a painter – 30 illegitimate children, or was it 29…? Memory isn’t what it used to be. I’d read his file, but that was months ago, before they vetted him and judged him to fit to paint the Royal likeness, whatever that means. It’s just a face, my face – but the way the Privy Council talk about it makes it sound distant, disembodied. The Famous Artist, they say, is very good at painting flesh, that’s his specialty so to speak. Especially fat ones, wonder then what he’ll make of this scrawny old bird with bad knees.

16 May 20–
I am at your Majesty’s pleasure, was the second thing that came out of said Famous Artist’s mouth, delivered with a sly look. I’d never understood that phrase. It gives me no pleasure to incarcerate a man indefinitely.

No, I’m at yours, I thought, though I didn’t dare say it. From what I understand – for I’d been warned – sitting for the Famous Painter is something of a sentence with no chance of parole. You begin your sentence, never being told how long it will take or what eventual form your portrait will be. Will you be naked or will you be clothed? Will you be stripped of all dignity, lying on a hardboard floor clutching a filthy whippet, or be forced to wear the same dirty dress for the 600 days it takes him to finish the portrait? People have grown old posing for him, have gotten pregnant and seen the pregnancy to term, been married and divorced before he finished with them. It’s all a bit of a crap shoot, so we took no chances. He’s a fixed number of hours and if he can’t capture the Royal likeness before his time’s up time, that’s his fault.

He is rumoured to be something of a perfectionist – and yes, that’s what he’s known for too, a seducer, or so I’m told. But honestly I don’t see it, the way he dresses, it’s practically rags, you should see him in his smock, spattered with paint, he looks like a butcher, and his house, it must be years since it’s seen a mop.

11 June 20–
And yes, I do like Goya. But he doesn’t mean The Disasters of War, or The Third of May. He means that naughty little diptych at the Prado, or rather, particularly, the second part. The Naked Maja reclining on a bed of pillows. Well, he would like that, wouldn’t he. Maja, rumoured to be the 13th Duchess of Alba, with whom Goya, who apparently had a bit of a reputation himself, is supposed to have been romantically involved…

26 July 20–
I’m beginning to think this was a mistake. The man is obsessed. He can’t take his eyes off me. At first I thought it was my face, until I realised it’s the crown he’s interested in. All the facets fascinate him. Such a symbol of power. Finally, fed up, I removed it and said that perhaps, if he needed more time to study it that a female staff courtier place it on her head and fill in for me. I think it’s the first time one of his sitters have stood up for themselves. He doesn’t like it one bit, and I have a feeling I’m going to regret it.

20 August 20–
It seems awfully disrespectful. While he’s at work on my portrait, he has another canvas of identical size set up on a nearby easel, which he works on simultaneously. He says he’s just sketching out an idea (nothing to do with me) while the paint dries on mine. It’s very disconcerting for him to divide his time that way when I have given him my complete attention. What’s more, the way he has this easel set up, at an angle skewed into a corner doesn’t permit me a view of it. He says it’s just an idea I have, shooting me another me another of his sly looks. I shoot him sly look right back and he says, “perfect, that’s perfect!” and immediately begins sketching me at great speed.

All very mysterious.

5 October 20–
I’d been attending to royal functions all morning and my feet are paining me, so quietly, hoping no one would notice I briefly slipped off one shoe and rubbed it against the back of my calf. Such relief. I thought the artist was busy mixing paint and didn’t see, but when I looked up there he was with his sketchbook–the conniving magpie. I quickly slipped my stockinged foot back into its leather vice, bearing my discomfort in silence.

At three we pause for afternoon tea. Old Eagle Eye sips it with me, but doesn’t eat cake, and all the time I can tell he is working, recording everything, every last gesture and detail. It’s all rather uncomfortable, really. Quite.

7 November 20–
He’s doing it for free which makes it very hard to complain. I suppose he’s entitled his full artistic freedom, but it seems unfair that he should be allowed to do what he likes with my face, not to mention that other shadow portrait that he’s creating in secret, which he still hasn’t shared with me and I’m beginning to doubt if he ever shall.

4 December 20–
He’s finished today. The work is framed and presented at the Palace. At first it was a burden I thought I would be happy to see the end, but a part of me wishes it would go on. There is something strangely confessional about having one’s portrait painted. This one more than the others I’ve had. One has the feeling he is not just seeing me as I appear to others, but seeing into me as I truly am. A trick of the paint, no doubt, layer on fleshy layer, knotted with time like an old tree nearing its final ring. How many more of these will I be able to pose for? A handful, I suppose, if I’m lucky, at very least two.

Before he takes his leave, he thanks me for my time. “You never did tell me whether you liked Goya,” he says. “And you never did show me the other painting you’re working on.” He shoots me one last sly look, picks up his sack and turns to leave.



ISSN: 2116 34X