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Index: Biography and Memoir


Enzo Kohara Franca: ‘In the New World the new language turned out to be the obstacle. Jichan failed to learn Brazilian Portuguese. The morphemes, phonemes, the cadence – none of it made any sense to the Japanese speaker inside his head.’

Harold Dickson, British Political Agent.

Piers Michael Smith: ‘This museum aims to remind us that the Dickson life is part of larger whole called Britain in relation to another whole called Kuwait, and that these two are themselves (implicitly) only parts of a still larger whole itself representational of another grander understanding.’

E. M. Cioran and puttering therapy.

James Gallant: ‘Cioran in his mature writing evinces little interest in “good chunks of experience,” and as a recluse, he would have had few enough to contemplate. But given his disposition of mind that would not really have mattered. He was always concerned with human realities of a “universal” kind whose apprehension does not require extensive experience: the obfuscation of mortality by “doing”…’

Empyrean Suite.

Anthony Howell: ‘James Kirkup said that “decidedly, Fawzi Karim is a poet for our times, with his strong yet beautiful voice, his indignation…and the haunting memories of certain lines that seem intended for all of us, but that few can hear in the endless tumult of what is called life.”’

Maria, towards Cartoceto.

Franca Mancinelli: ‘Among the hearts on the walls, I search, in jest, the initials of my name. I know they have also come here for me. They have knelt at the wooden pew, lit a candle. I was heading towards death, with the instinct of a migrating animal. But even the tiny divinities of the water and the heavens can be tricked: you find them beached, caught in nets, bewildered by their wounds.’

Mourning and Memory: Public and Private.

Jerry Palmer: ‘The personal experiences that compose these memoirs – as well many novels based on them – entered the public domain to become parts of the collective memory of the war. If few of them survive as literature, the fact that there is a collective memory of the experience of a war that ended a hundred years ago suggests that they had their impact, at least cumulatively. ‘

Mr James, Miss Bosanquet, her palpitations.

Pamela Thurschwell: ‘Bosanquet’s interactions with [Henry] James and his family at the end of his life, are often touched with a sense of insecurity about her place in the household. The intimacy with the secretary, keeper of an author’s words, can be a strange and intense one…’

The new life of Whistler.

Walter Sickert: ‘If Whistler has himself left, in an interesting and passionately felt life-work, a contribution to our better understanding of the visible world, he has also done another thing. He has sent the more intelligent of the generation that succeeds him to the springs whence he drew his own art — to French soil. ‘

Artists and their Physicians: Vincent van Gogh and Doctor Paul Gachet.

Anthony Costello and Emma Storr: ‘One interpretation of the relationship between artist and doctor is that Gachet’s life-long interest in art manifested itself in the wish fulfilment to be Vincent van Gogh, so he dressed like his patient, he tried to paint like his patient and he made a second ‘fake’ copy of the eponymous painting. He also collected his patient’s paintings, painted a deathbed scene so that his painting became synonymous with the great Vincent van Gogh in death and he became custodian of a cache of Van Gogh paintings.’

The Panopticon.

Neil Davie: ‘It was this combination of omniscient surveillance and unquestioning submission that made the Panopticon such a powerful symbol in the hands of Michel Foucault; a place where the prisoner “is seen, but he does not see; he is the object of information, never a subject in communication.”’

W. L. Courtney.

John KMarriott: ‘No one who knew the Oxford Courtney – the brilliant teacher, the keen metaphysician – doubted that he had a logic of the head; no one who knew him in his later and mellower and happier years could ever question the truth and depth of his “philosophy of the heart.” In pace requiescat.’

Ernest Renan.

George Saintsbury: ‘[Renan’s]] gospel may certainly be said to be a vague gospel, and the enemy may contend that Morgane la Fée is architect and clerk of the works at the buildings which he so industriously edifies with graceful words and, at the same time, with a vast quantity of solid learning. But of his literary skill there can be no question, and scarcely less of the admirable character of his intentions.’


Richard Jensen: ‘Valery Legasov spent two years fighting behind the scenes to have some of the more glaring problems with the reactor addressed. When these efforts failed, in frustration and despair, he hung himself in the stairwell of his office building on April 27, 1988. ‘

The Magdeburg Sphere.

Marcel Cohen: ‘Can the way we see the world after the Catastrophe serve as testimony for a man of my generation? Can a form of absence of the author, an author cut-off from himself, serve as presence for the reader? These are further questions to which I have no answer. But I remember that when I was a special correspondent for a Parisian daily in Israel during the Six Day War, I was struck by this obvious fact: contrary to a church or a mosque, the Wailing Wall is not a place where you can take refuge and feel sheltered. You gaze upon it and then you must necessarily resolve to turn your back to it in order to look out at the world.’

James Smetham calls on the Ruskins.

Mark Jones: ‘By inviting Smetham to Denmark Hill, Ruskin was admitting to his circle of acquaintances one of the most intriguing and curious actors to feature on the outskirts of the whole Pre-Raphaelite pageant. Although Smetham’s art along with his facility with an evocative phrase have largely been mislaid by posterity, his talents both as painter and correspondent are long overdue for critical reappraisal.’