Category Archives: archives

From the Archives, 8: A View in the West

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My mother and I interrupt the view towards the Rockies. This wallet-sized print, which appeared out of nowhere identifiable last week, obviously dates from well before graduate school, so it shouldn’t really be here.  I make the rules, I break the rules.

The Kodachrome colors are better in reality than in this rephotograph, but you can tell that I really was blonde as a little kid.  My dad had a Nikkormat camera with Nikon lenses (later mine, Sherman the Tank Camera) and loved to take a photograph of me and my mother.  I can hear the clacking of the slide carousel now.  And the smell — do you agree that the slides gave off a scent as they went past the light?


From the Archives, 7: Critique

Photo on 2014-12-08 at 13.11

Jeff’s generous letter. “There’s something uneven about the paper.”

Photo on 2014-12-08 at 13.11 #3

Dwarf Postilion from Hell, Inigo Jones.

April 1989. I sent my big paper on theatrical perspective to my former professor, Jeff Merrick, an early-modern historian who was then at Barnard but moved the next year to the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee.  (It’s disconcerting but not surprising to read that he’s now professor emeritus.) Jeff was good enough to read and respond to the paper.

Oh, I was all about perspective in those days, I loved writing this paper and still think about the ideas I came across then.  Just the other day in this odd little theater at the Queens Museum, where the projection “booth” takes up the whole center spine of the auditorium, so there are no central seats at all, I recalled the story of James I’s rejection of a new style of seating putting the King’s box down in the front of the hall, cited in the paper from Orgel and Strong’s book on Inigo Jones.

I used to email Jeff once a year or so, often with a mention of Baroque opera. Back in my day he headed a short-lived interdisciplinary program called History, the Arts, and Letters, and it was for the class he led on “The Baroque and the Enlightenment” that we came to New York for Handel’s Giulio Cesare at the City Opera.  That production was antiquated by the time we saw it, which I guess was just at the edge of the contemporary explosion in Baroque opera production, and we enjoyed it but laughed at the attempts at Baroque gesture.  Jeff drove us in his little red car, Robespierre.  I should drop him a note now.


It’s about time that I showed you something from perhaps my two most faithful correspondents over the years.  I want to stick to the late 80s period, and by coincidence (but not at random) I find cards from them both in the same year on the same theme.

FLW x 2

FLW x 2

Fallingwater, Oct. 18, 1989, from Zach, cancelled in Normalville, PA (really).  I visited this justly famous house with a different boyfriend, Corey, the year I went to Pittsburgh with him at Christmastime.  Though not for Christmas, as his parents were kosher-keeping Jews.  I saw it in snow, rather than autumn colors.  Anyway, Z writes, “These laurel hills remind me of my Blue Ridge.”  We had by then visited the North Carolina mountains together, I guess, although I find it so hard to remember the order and  timing of events.  Z is from South Carolina; I met him in criticism graduate school, same place I met Jeff (vid Architêtes in Episode 4).

Frank Lloyd Wright with students, Taliesin West, Spring Green, Wisconsin, 1937; photo by Bill Hedrich.  May 9, 1989, from Nicole in Brooklyn.  N writes, “Thanks for François and that 2 timing Ken.  Here’s Frank L. and the serious young men.” I can neither remember nor guess what “François and that 2 timing Ken” might have been. Maybe I’ll ask Nicole.  N is my oldest friend in the world and I’ve relied on her often to remind me what I was doing in those many parts of our lives we’ve lived together.  The correspondence between us goes back to the depths of childhood.  N mostly grew up in Arlington, VA, but in 1989 she was living in Park Slope (one reason I moved there a year or so later) and either still in film school or working as a film editor.  See above for my difficulty in getting times and dates right. And I trained as a historian! I knew I wasn’t good enough, though.

FROM THE ARCHIVES, 5. Promissory.

Promise kept

Dear Customer:
We are pleased to enclose the Promissory Note(s) for the above referenced satisfied loan.

I paid off my college loan.  There were a few stubs left in the book, which I had in my hand yesterday but which seems to have vanished back into the heap.  It wasn’t very much, but at something like 85 dollars a month it took quite a while to make go away.  I remember my amazement at how long after leaving college I’d still be tearing out those stubs.  I never took out any loans for grad school, as I was working and could pay for one or two classes a term as I went.

Actually, I can’t figure out why it took so long to pay off.  Maybe if I find that stub book again.

FROM THE ARCHIVES, 4. Some cards.

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Four cards, rough shot

Archi-têtes (July 1989) is from Jeff, a grad school colleague and (still) friend.  It’s a drawing by Michael Graves.  Jeff says, “Thanks for a fabulous evening, dinner, and performance of Pygmalion — do you really think they done her in for the hat?”  I don’t have any memory of this.  Jeff signed for himself and his then-partner Nick.  Jeff’s now married to Alan and lives in London, Nick lives with Carlos in Boerum Hill, and we all celebrated Jeff’s birthday last month in Tribeca. The water lily (Lutcher-Moore Swamp, St. James Parish, Lutcher, Louisiana, August 1989) is from my freshman-year college roommate Pamela.  Pam was fiercely driven; she graduated early and had her MA a week before I had my BA.  She’s a scholar of the Reformation, with an early focus on Zwingli; she herself converted from Judaism. She says, “I am teaching a survey course and a . . . course called the Modern Experience. Lots of juicy 19c. stuff in the latter.  For the former I will have to get a grip on the French Revolution, something I have managed to avoid until now.  Keep in touch.”  Pam and I haven’t spoken for probably two decades, but I was just thinking about her, maybe because I was up in New Haven this weekend.  — Pause while I run a search.  I don’t see a second book for Pam after her 1991 publication. It looks like she’s living in Berlin and working as a translator.  My singing friend Anne is in Berlin translating this year; I’ll ask her if they have crossed paths.  I went to Pam’s wedding at St Paul’s Chapel at Columbia; it appears she’s no longer married, at least not to the same person, as he’s in Pennsylvania with a different wife (and children). The collage is from a little later, 1996, the Rubberstamp Period.  It’s from a woman I wrote about for Rubberstampmadness. And in a segue I hadn’t noticed, the camels with artichoke et al, are a holiday card from my college friend Remie, I suppose from the late 80s or early 90s as Remie says “I am writing chapters of my dissertation and job applications for positions in medieval history.”  Remie and Alice and Tory and Nicole and I were all part of JEB’s gang of mini-medievalists; Remie and Tory both went on to history grad school; Tory quit ABD but Remie finished and went on to teach at Notre Dame.  Remie died this past spring, and though I hadn’t been in touch except exiguously (thanks, John Summerson) for years, it still gives me pain to see her picture and birth and death dates on the card her husband Matthew sent me.  The world is worse off without her in it.


I won’t claim randomness, something often claimed and seldom achieved, but I will say there’s not a lot of system behind these choices.  This is from a letter from Malcolm dated August 29, 1989.  Malcolm was my first serious boyfriend, and after he moved to London in 1986 I lived with him for about six months in the winter and spring of 1987, taking classes at the Architectural Association, and visited for another month in the summer of 1988.  By 1989 we both had new relationships.  But we still wrote to one another.

Dear Nancy

The tree behind the flat,* a sycamore I think, has had half its branches trimmed off.  Whether it is in preparation of being felled (or dismantled, which is a more appropriate expression given the number of garden fences that would be crushed by chopping it down Paul Bunyan style) or simply to let more light into the garden below, I do not know.

The net result to me is that I can see the church steeple behind more clearly.  Its clangy bells have not rung for several months now — I wonder why.  I can also see more clearly the wood pigeons who like to roost in the tree — they sit about now on the remaining branches looking embarrassed, very exposed, and confused.  They’ve taken to hanging about in the jungle garden next door, ambling around through the overgrown grass and weeds.  If anyone in the triangle bangs a window or makes some other loud noise, they swoosh up into the bare tree with a great flap-flap-flap of their wings.  The cats also like the garden next door, I suppose because they can smooch about there and do those feline things, and no one will disturb them.  The cats and the wood pigeons seem to have established some rota or agreement on use of the garden.  The big birds would be a good match for any cat, even the big tom-cats that sometimes hang about, and they certainly win on numbers . . .

*This would be the flat on Bolingbroke Road, Brook Green, London, where I’d stayed with M the year before.  Why didn’t I want to watch the day the piano was swung into the second-floor windows?  I was difficult.


OUTLINE 4/23/92
the meanings of mass moca (hmmm)

Per notes
Return to idea: that a facility like this is necessary because these works claim [important word?] large amounts of space.  R Krauss talks about her sense that the museum space itself has become the art [CHECK], with works of Flavin and Turrell; A. Chave points out the aggressive nature of many Minist works and the language artists used.  Control; artworks that dominate space they’re not in.  They are pervasive. Classic parallel to industrial production?
. . . .
(Basically these guys were half-baked as thinkers, though all there as artists)

Aggressive, anti-“art” honesty of Judd; passive, illusional Turrell.  Hmmm. What was I getting at? Some fudgy idea about industrial production, etc.  Spoon-fed ideology.  Think harder.

So this is an outline I was working on (there’s a later version too) in hopes of turning my Metropolis article on Mass MOCA, which had started out as my master’s thesis, back into a thesis. As an article, it focused on the then-embryonic, or at most fetal, project in the crux between preservation and economic development; more and different would be required for an academic thesis. In June I wrote to my advisors:

Dear Herbert and Jane:

I want to try finishing my thesis.  After all, I have put a lot of work into it.  Herbert hinted that you are willing, if not longing, to help, and I think we can keep your time and effort commitment pretty small — two to three meetings and four readings (two of outline only).

Then there’s a couple of pages of outline.  Section IV:

Mass Moca proposes to re-site the homeless postmodern subject within the fixed, knowable, perspectival space of the factory.  At the same time, it adopts the technological, information-network methods of postmodernism.  It indeed regards Minimalism nostalgically as the parent (father, evidently) of the contemporary fragmented self, a parent who now appears, even despite itself, more confident, whole, and present than does the present.  This nostalgia becomes clear when the hundred-year-old factory complex starts to seem like a vast work of Minimalist art itself.

You know, I’d have liked to have read that paper, never mind written it.  I didn’t do either, as it happens, and it was several years later that I completed my degree with a totally different paper.  I haven’t even been back to see the museum.


The very first thing I picked out to read, on the subway on the way home from Mom’s, as a little light reading, was Chapter 9 from John Summerson’s 1946 classic Georgian London, headed “Fall ’87 History I PN703A Gardner.”  Just back from my winter in London and classes at the Architectural Association in beautiful Bedford Square, I think I was especially interested in this book.  In fact, had I perhaps read it while in London? I can’t recall.  (See why I need evidence, documentation?) Here’s a passage from this chapter, in which Summerson discusses the results of the 1774 Building Act’s categorization and rulemaking on the housing types of Georgian London.

“[T]he real importance of this system was not so much that it facilitated the enforcement of a structural code but that it confirmed a degree of standardization in speculative building.  This was inevitable; for the limitation of size and value set out in the rating tended to create optimum types from which there was no escape and within which very little variation was possible.  Especially did the second, third, and fourth rates of houses tend to become stereotyped.  This was, in many ways, an excellent thing: it gave some degree of order and dignity to the later suburbs and incidentally laid down minimum standards for working-class urban housing which would have been decent if they had been accompanied by legislation against overcrowding.

“On the other hand, the Act contributed largely to what the later Georgians and early Victorians conceived to be the inexpressible monotony of the typical London street, a monotony which certainly must, at one time, have been overpowering and which can still be felt in the lonelier tracts of Islington and, to a really distressing degree, in a more or less intact Georgian capital like Dublin.

“For not only did the Act tend to create standard types of houses, it saw to it that the London house should not adorn itself with any but the most exiguous and reticent kinds of ornament.  All woodwork (the cheapest and most tractable material was banished, except in so far as it was necessary for shop-fronts and door-cases.”

It’s so good, this book, so intelligently and rhythmically written.  “Any but the most exiguous and reticent kinds of ornament” — and he’s not showing off, these are exactly the right words.  Also, in reading about the orderly monotony of the Georgian street I must (I suppose) have thought, too, of all those later London terraces among which I had lived, and perhaps also of Wharton’s famous phrase in The Age of Innocence on the row houses of early 19C Manhattan, “the brownstone of which the uniform hue coated New York like a cold chocolate sauce.”  The packet also contained more chapters, which I’ve now read with equal or greater pleasure.  But this particular stapled section, when I turned over the last page, revealed something else, something in red pen, in my handwriting.

“Quiet, quiet. Don’t say a word. Don’t even twitch. Silence.
Inviolate. Shut up. Distressed. Don’t even mumble, Absolute silence.
Bland, blank silence.  Never even open your mouth, just breathe.
Button your lip. Be quiet, Shut your mouth.  Not a squeak
Blessed silence, Not possible to have a discussion, You won’t hear
anything else from me. Not a twig shall crack.  Why should I reform
these people’s stupidity if they can’t debate? No, I’m being, mean, I’m
the one who can’t or won’t debate.  I’m sulky because I’m badnatured
& have made a fool of myself.

“‘Think of good Lord Nelson & avoid self-abuse.'”

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Which scares me a little; does it scare you?  Of course I have no memory of the event; what happened in that seminar, how angry and how lowered I felt.  I have certainly written similar things, if more briefly, since then — on the back of some of my Streetsingers’ music, for one thing. (The Lord Nelson thing is from a naughtily prurient ballad parody by Lawrence Durrell.  Yes, of course he had in mind a different kind of self-abuse. My father liked this poem; make of that what you will.)


“Archives” here is best treated somewhat ironically, as meaning “piles, boxes, and drawers of minimally differentiated papers.”  No neat conservationally-correct folders, no finding aids.  I recently picked up several bags of papers from my mother’s apartment-building-basement storage space and brought them to my small apartment, already clogged and afflicted with increasingly ill-controlled ephemera.*   Anyway, this particular batch of stuff seems mostly to date from my grad school period, late 80s and early 90s, and includes photocopied readings, research materials, and paper drafts as well as letters and theater tickets and old calendars and god knows what.
Photo on 2014-12-03 at 14.20
So since this period is on top, mostly, I’ll be starting with it.  I’m going to post excerpts, taken in no particular order, with more or less commentary as it suits me in the moment. Maybe they will amuse you; maybe they will teach me something.  Let’s see how long I can keep it up.

*I keep it because it proves I existed, acted, thought, and was valued in the past; I leave it in a state of disorder because I fear — something.  What I will find, perhaps? Or something else.