Thursday, April 22, 2010

William Blake's Eternity

Blake’s short poem Eternity may have resulted from an encounter with a butterfly, but whether or not such an encounter took place, Blake, in his customary way, sought in this poem some insight into the nature of life. And also in his customary way, he seems to be considering life as it extends far beyond the years allotted each of us on earth.


He who binds to himself a joy

Does the winged life destroy;

But he who kisses the joy as it flies

Lives in Eternity’s sunrise.

Blake implies what we already know as we grow older, that joy and beauty cannot be possessed and thus are never commodified except in the minds of shallow people or people who are certain that they are entitled to privileges denied to others. Keeping the beautiful butterfly can be done only by destroying its life, which is a path many people follow, unaware of the fact that by doing so they undo its beauty.

Eternity implies something quite opposite to the material world in which we must live our lives. That we have glimpses of beauty in nature makes us all the more aware that Eternity, like beauty, is immaterial, and thus eternal. Blake asks us to live in “Eternity’s sunrise” with a sense of reassurance that somehow we will “see” that sunrise, that metaphoric beginning of something, like joy and beauty, that has no beginning and no end.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Mary Cassatt's Show Woman

Mary Cassatt was an independent woman at a time when it was very difficult to achieve such a position. She lived for most of her life in France, where independent women were more able to be part of society without attracting the wrong kind of attention.

Many of her canvases portray mothers with their children, and while the Medieval and Renaissance religious theme of mother and child was virtually a given throughout Europe, in the 19th century the portrait of an ordinary mother with her child was almost a novelty. And it was rarely taken seriously in an age in which huge canvases picturing the accomplishments of men in and out of wars were the norm at the Academy both in the United States and abroad. Yet, we find her portraits very touching because in our time the public tastes have altered. Rather than the epic, we prefer the intimate, the emotionally recognizable and the local.

Her painting Woman with a Pearl Necklace in the loge of the Opera Comique is similar to another of her paintings of a woman alone in a box in the theater. But instead of wearing black and preferring to be unnoticed, this Woman is brilliantly dressed in a radiantly emotional color, showing decollete highlighted by her pearl necklace.

She is a woman on exhibition and because of her beauty and the way in which she engages her audience, including us, she is a refreshing, intimate presence. She radiates beauty and confidence. Like Mary Cassatt, she is an independent woman. The difference is that Mary Cassatt is not, like this lovely woman, seen; she is showing us what is to be seen. Like the showman behind the curtain, Casssatt is the showwoman behind the canvas.  
The Woman with the Pearl Necklace is showing herself in her setting, not looking at the stage, but around herself as if there is someone, a man perhaps?, by whom she wishes to be seen. She is in fact there to be seen, to be appreciated, just as the painting itself is designed to be seen and to be appreciated.  But what is the reflection behind her and what does it imply?

Monday, April 5, 2010


In a recent interview, I was asked about the advantages of publishing through Hammonasset House Books, an Independent Press set up by several writers to publish their books.  First, I pointed out that all the writers involved with Hammonasset House Books had been widely published by commercial presses.  One writer has published more than 20 books by conventional commercial presses.  Another, a member of the Writer's Guild, has published and produced more than a dozen screenplays, yet another published several dozen articles in magazines.  A fourth is a Television writer, member of the Writer's Guild, and the founder of an ongoing theater group in which he has been honored for the year's best work.

So, I answered the question by saying that the Independent Press approach gives us extraordinary control over our books, from the control over copyright, to design, and certainly to editorial content.  This model would not necessarily work well for writers who have not yet published book length works, but for highly experienced writers it offers a freedom that has been earned in the world of commercial publishing.

The Indie Press has control, too, over the means of publicizing and maintaining the life of the book.  Commercial presses are well known for publishing a book, giving it a little push if the author is not a celebrity or a best-seller, then letting it languish.  The sales rankings on Barnes and Noble and Amazon tell that tale clearly.  The Independent Press, with fewer titles, is able to keep pushing the book as long as it wishes.  True, it may not have the distribution potential of the commercial press, but that potential works best only in the first 6 months of a book's life.  With online outlets like Amazon, the Indie Press can promote a book for life.