Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Cabinets of Curiosities

Is this JunkThief at 90? Oh, he hopes not. If he's around then (and based on his gene pool, there's a good chance), he hopes that he's done many estate sales and pared down to a tiny zen flat somewhere in Tokyo. This photo of Gray Foy is from a recent New York magazine article about the release of the book The Grand Surprise, the journals of Foy's longtime partner Leo Lerman. Lerman was, among other things, an omnivore of high and low culture, and general dishy gossip.

How fitting it is that one can spot upon close inspection of the photo, the book
Cabinets of Curiosities in the far left corner since it appears that Lerman lived his life that way of overstuffing rooms and the decades of his life with curious objects and people high and low. This got JunkThief thinking after reading this entry over on Kusala's blog musing on the value of buying and never getting around to reading books on obscure topics such as Weimar exiles in L.A. or just getting what you need from the book review instead of investing time and money into a hard cover edition.

What, the point was raised, is the use of gathering more and more information that might be weaved into a conversation at a cocktail party, proving that you can speak with even modest authority about Weimar Berlin, as if it mattered that you knew what Anita Berber was wearing when she died. Are we filling our cabinets of curiosities with meaningful, transformative experience or petty cocktail party fodder? Will JunkThief's life have meant more if he finally manages to read all of the untranslated Proust and Cavafy (likely on the former; ain't gonna happen on the latter) or to make that work-related trip to Niger? Are they signposts, the answer to the riddle of the troll that allows passage across the bridge to the next vista, or just a bunch of more useless crap collected?

"So much useless beauty..." Elvis Costello mused a decade or so ago. And that sentiment as raised by Lerman when he once told Paul Bowles that his stories were like Chinese boxes, each opening into another—and that at the end there was nothing. Is that so bad?

Blogger friend
Salty Miss Jill recently mentioned picking up the Andy Warhol Diaries for a buck or so, and JunkThief recalls spending $40 or so when it came out thinking that by devouring it there and then he would gain something that would be stale if he waited for it in paperback or the cutout bin. Snippets of it come back to him now and then, such as his hilarious comments about going to see Cats, but what difference would it have made if JunkThief waited a couple of decades to buy it for $.99 and how would JunkThief have wasted the $39 saved? All the same, JunkThief has devoured almost all of the Ned Rorem journals and those of Glenway Wescott, as if these entries gave me some keyhole view of the random moments of lives. JunkThief has kept journals since age 12, and they have been useful sign posts to revisit, but is there anything after opening that final Chinese box?

I remember the director Ozu glowing about his eternal journey into the great nothingness, the ultimately fulfillment that a life well led left behind no evidence. That, of course, is not what happened with Ozu whose films are over analyzed for the meaning in their simplicity and static camera shots. Or what about Henry Darger whose seemingly nothing life as a janitor muttering and painting away in a pathetic, tiny room ended in poverty and left behind works that sell for six to seven figures and are in $500 hard back editions.

In the meantime, the Lerman book is on its way in the mail.

UPDATE: My copy arrived this morning (Thursday, May 24) , and I sneaked a few snippets over lunch. Dern, that Lerman is one catty queen (who has a guest room with nothing but paintings of dogs). Wonderfully dishy gossip over the course of nearly 50 years.

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