Werner Herzog — Of Walking In Ice

Between November 23rd and December 14th, 1974, Werner Herzog, upon hearing his friend Lotte Eisner was on the verge of dying in Paris, walked directly from Munich to Paris believing this would somehow keep her alive. During his walk he kept a private journal that he decided to publish the following year. It was published for the first time in English last year.

I sought this book out to read of one person's plunge into feelings I've only dabbled with yet still found to be revelatory: The high of prolonged hunger and the rapture of eating, the curious impulse to start walking straight into the country with no destination in mind, and most importantly, the intense altered consciousness that results from prolonged solitude. I think the longest I've gone without talking to anyone has been four or five days but in such a short time, my self conception proved to be much more fragile than I ever would have guessed. Let it be said I no longer scoff at people sentenced to the hole in prison. I once read someone claiming that the only reason we are continuously speaking to ourselves in our minds is to prepare ourselves to immediately engage with other people. In my experience, it only takes a surprisingly short period of time with no human interaction to quiet that inner voice and revert or shift to a non-lingual mindset, one much more receptive to outside stimuli. Not to sound crazy but the most interesting interaction I've had with an animal was with two cats in one of these quiet-minded states where I felt a pure animal awareness flowing between us with no distinctions between species. That sounds crazy, forget it. Anyway, here are a few snippets I thought were telling of his mental state while on this 21 day hike:
A perfect morning; in perfect harmony with myself I'm walking briskly uphill.... For once I didn't notice that I was walking, all the way up to the mountaintop forest I was absorbed in deep thought. Perfect clarity and freshness in the air, up further there's some snow. The tangerines make me completely euphoric.
Out of sheer loneliness my voice wouldn't work so I merely squeaked; I couldn't find the correct pitch for speaking and felt embarrassed.
Today, especially en route to Senones, I felt severe despair. Long dialogues with myself and imaginary persons.
The text as a whole seems fragmentary, shifting constantly between the internal and external, observations and fantasies. I wondered if he didn't write in one line bursts as he walked or all at once at the end of each day in one of the many shacks and houses he would break into to sleep in.

Also, how could you not want to read a whole book by someone like this:

Lydia Davis — Samuel Johnson is Indignant

Boring Friends
We know only four boring people. The rest of our friends we find very interesting. However, most of the friends we find interesting find us boring: the most interesting find us the most boring. The few who are somewhat in the middle, with whom there is reciprocal interest, we distrust: at any moment, we feel, they may become too interesting for us, or we too interesting for them.

from Blind Date
"I was fifteen or sixteen, I guess," she said. "I was home from boarding school. Maybe it was summer. I don't know where my parents were. They were often away. They often left me alone there, sometimes for the evening, sometimes for weeks at a time. The phone rang. It was a boy I didn't know. He said he was a friend of a boy from school—I can't remember who. We talked a little and then he asked me if I wanted to have dinner with him. He sounded nice enough so I said I would, and we agreed on a day and a time and I told him where I lived."


"Well, when the day came, I didn't want to go out to dinner with this boy. I just didn't want the difficulty of this date. It scared me—not because there was anything scary about the boy but because he was a stranger, I didn't know him. I didn't want to sit there face-to-face in some restaurant and start from the very beginning, knowing nothing. It didn't feel right. And there was the burden of that recommendation—'Give her a try.'

"Then again, maybe there were other reasons. Maybe I had been alone in that apartment so much by then that I had retreated into some kind of inner, unsociable space that was hard to come out of. Maybe I felt I had disappeared and I was comfortable that way and did not want to be forced back into existence. I don't know.

"At six o'clock, the buzzer rang. The boy was there, downstairs. I didn't answer it. It rang again. Still I did not answer it. I don't know how many times it rang or how long he leaned on it. I let it ring..."


"What was strange was how awful this felt. I was treating a person like a thing. And I was betraying not just him but something larger, some social contract. When you knew a decent person was waiting downstairs, someone you had made an appointment with, you did not just not answer the buzzer. What was even more surprising to me was what I felt about myself in that instant. I was behaving as though I had no responsibility to anyone or anything, and that made me feel as though I existed outside society, some kind of criminal, or didn't exist at all. I was annihilating myself even more than him. It was an awful violation."

Mir the Hessian
Mir the Hessian regretted killing his dog, he wept even as he forced its head from its body, yet what had he to eat but the dog? Freezing in the hills, far away from everyone.

Mir the Hessian cursed as he knelt on the rocky ground, cursed his bad luck, cursed his company for being dead, cursed his country for being at war, cursed his countrymen for fighting, and cursed God for allowing it all to happen. Then he started to pray: it was the only thing left to do. Alone, in midwinter.

Mir the Hessian lay curled up among the rocks, his hands between his legs, his chin on his breast, beyond hunger, beyond fear. Abandoned by God.

The wolves had scattered the bones of Mir the Hessian, carried his skull to the edge of the water, left a tarsus on the hill, dragged a femur into the den. After the wolves came the crows, and after the crows the scarab beetles. And after the beetles, another soldier, alone in the hills, far away from everyone. For the war was not yet over.
Previously by Lydia Davis: Break it Down, Almost No Memory

Lydia Davis — Almost No Memory

from Examples of Confusion
There is his right leg over my right leg, my left leg over his right leg, his left arm under my back, my right arm around his head, his right arm across my chest, my left arm across his right arm, and my right hand stroking his right temple. Now it becomes difficult to tell what part of what body is actually mine and what part his.

I rub his head as it lies pressed against mine, and I hear the strands of his hair chafing against his skull as though it is my own hair chafing against my own skull, as though I now hear with his ears, and from inside his head.

We feel an affinity with a certain thinker because we agree with him; or because he shows us what we were already thinking; or because he shows us in a more articulate form what we were already thinking; or because he shows us what we were on the point of thinking; or what we would have thought much later if we hadn't read it now; or what we would have been likely to think but never would have thought if we hadn't read it now; or what we would have liked to think but never would have thought if we hadn't read it now.
Previously by Lydia Davis: Lydia Davis — Break It Down

Bucket List Item #845: Pet Edward Gorey's Cat


I went to the Edward Gorey Museum today in his former house and was pleasantly surprised to see how weird it still manages to be, even after having the bulk of his thousands and thousands of books and collections removed. Among other things they had a scavenger hunt for all 26 dead children from the Gashlycrumb Tinies, here is G is for George, smothered under a rug:

I also learned he had a pop-up book called The Dwindling Party published in the 80s that I'm off to get as soon as possible:

Looking at the book covers he made, I mentioned to my mum that there was a great web-comic artist who made comics extrapolated from his work. "Kate Beaton!" said the girl next to us, "I'm friends with her! She just moved to Brooklyn!" Hi Kate! Check them out (click to enlarge):

Larissa's New Show

Larissa's new show opened tonight and she is killing it! I almost started tearing up she's grown so much as an artist from her old very very pretty work to now just gorgeous. That work this good is being quietly produced and exhibited while so much garbage is being forced on people drives me bananas. My photos kill dead the luminosity of the real things so please go see them before the show closes on the eighth! She's also organized a panel discussion on December 11th that I will be trying very hard to attend.

Jay-Z at Brooklyn Museum

Snapped this quick at Jay-Z's talk tonight with Charlie Rose (it was a little awkward), Jay talking about his line "Inspired off Basquiat":

He was asked by someone in the audience what his dream cipher of five rappers would be. His answer: Biggie, Tupac, Kool Moe Dee, Big Daddy Kane, and KRS-One. (No one is asking me but if they did... Slick Rick, MF Doom & Ghostface)

Seen at the MoMA

[Click to enlarge]

The Planet of Vienna, Rooftop Oasis, New York
project, 1971

Project for the Opening of Haus Rucker Studio

It looks like architecture by way of Jack Kirby!

Sadly it's now just one less Coffee Shop:

I Love NY, But Change

I stopped on the corner tonight on my way home wondering why a distant aircraft wasn't moving. I finally realized it was Venus, the only light in the sky not moving besides the moon. New York, I love you, you're perfect, but there are a few things about you I'd change about you if I could. That being said, the explosion of stars I see when I go home to Maine has become pretty magical. I guess it'll have to be an open relationship.

UPDATE: Whoops! Alex says it's Jupiter. Good thing my dad doesn't read this!

Bookshelf Porn

"Featuring a book on your bookshelf is akin to displaying a trophy. You’ve accomplished something in reading a book; it feels like a victory. The opportunity to display your literary conquests in unique or unexpected ways is something I will greatly miss with e-readers.”

—The New Yorker’s The Book Bench on Bookshelf Porn

Here are some of my favorites from the BookshelfPorn blog. After having gone through all of them I have to add that I find it really distasteful when people organize their books by color or use novelty shelving (unless it's a hidden door).

Sherlock 2010

I'm really enjoying new Beeb miniseries of Sherlock Holmes set in the present day. Bonus: It stars British Office Tim (US Jim) as Dr. Watson! You can watch it here (thanks Chinese youtube!).

Elizabeth Bishop — Letter to N.Y.

And speaking of David Rakoff, this is the poem he chanted to himself while getting MRIs to stay calm. I'll forever think of it while watching the city lights pass by, slumped in a late night cab going home (despite the cringe-worthy rhyming of soul and owl):
In your next letter I wish you'd say
where you are going and what you are doing;
how are the plays and after the plays
what other pleasures you're pursuing:

taking cabs in the middle of the night,
driving as if to save your soul
where the road goes round and round the park
and the meter glares like a moral owl,

and the trees look so queer and green
standing alone in big black caves
and suddenly you're in a different place
where everything seems to happen in waves,

and most of the jokes you just can't catch,
like dirty words rubbed off a slate,
and the songs are loud but somehow dim
and it gets so terribly late,

and coming out of the brownstone house
to the gray sidewalk, the watered street,
one side of the buildings rises with the sun
like a glistening field of wheat.

—Wheat, not oats, dear. I'm afraid
if it's wheat it's none of your sowing,
nevertheless I'd like to know
what you are doing and where you are going.

David Rakoff — Half Empty

Just finished David Rakoff's new book Half Empty and promptly put his previous books on my To Read list. I laughed, I cried, and he's much too smart to reduce to a summary quote, but these are some of my favorite zingers:
If others had reservations about trusting me, they seemed to dissipate as quickly as that fleeting moment where one hesitates before undressing in front of the dog.
I am in a canvas that Edward Hopper never felt bummed out enough to paint.
...how lovely the friends who deliver a potted amaryllis... its pink and-and-white striped petals like a child's drawing of an ideal flower, if children could actually draw.
Two great interviews about his book: Daily Show / Fresh Air

And finally, the first ten minutes of his Oscar-winning adaptation (in which he also acts) short film, The New Tenants:

And then, lastly, there's this self-assessment:
Should you happen to be possessed of a certain verbal acuity coupled with a relentless, hair-trigger humor and surface cheer spackling over a chronic melancholia and loneliness—a grotesquely caricatured version of your deepest Self which you trot out at the slightest provocation to endearing and glib chronic effect, thus rendering you the kind of fellow who is beloved by all yet loved by none, all of it to distract however fleetingly, from the cold and dead-faced truth that with each passing year you face the unavoidable certainty of a solitary future in which you will perish one day while vainly attempting the Heimlich maneuver on yourself over the back of a kitchen chair...

You Should Have Heard Just What I Seen

Rick Rubin at home with his parents, 1986

Debbie Harry at home, 1977

This Friday from 6-8 at the KS Art Gallery (73 Leonard St) there will be a book launch and exhibition for photographer James Hamilton, one of the sweetest men I know. Come meet me there! I designed the book!

Here is Thurston's short, rapturous essay about James and a small slide show of his work on Vanity Fair's website. You can RSVP at rsvp@ecstaticpeacelibrary.com

Atlas of Remote Islands

The Atlas of Remote Places is one of the most beautiful books I've seen in a long time. If I had the money I'd buy everyone I know a copy. Judith Schalansky both wrote and designed this small tome after weeks of what I assume was a rabbit-hole's worth of research in Berlin's state library. The fine design and printing of the book would have been enough to make me want it but it's her essays, magical, probably true* vignettes or histories of each island that make the book a marvel. It is no wonder it won the 2009 prize for Most Beautiful Book in Germany.

* The author:
That’s why the question whether these stories are "true" is misleading. Every detail stems from factual sources…however I was the discoverer of the sources, researching them through ancient and rare books, and I have transformed the texts and appropriated them as sailors appropriate the lands they discover.
The librarian in me took a deep pleasure in sliding this book next to my copy of the Dictionary of Imaginary Places, a book I've been bringing with me everywhere since I got it in fourth grade. Without getting preachy, I really look forward to a future where the only books that continue to be printed are works of beauty for intimate perusal like this one.

And just because I love it so I'm tacking on Lewis Carroll's map of the ocean from The Hunting of the Snark:

He had bought a large map representing the sea,
Without the least vestige of land:
And the crew were much pleased when they found it to be
A map they could all understand.

“What’s the good of Mercator’s North Poles and Equators,
Tropics, Zones, and Meridian Lines?
So the Bellman would cry: and the crew would reply
“They are merely conventional signs!

“Other maps are such shapes, with their islands and capes!
But we’ve got our brave Captain to thank:
(So the crew would protest) “that he’s bought us the best—
A perfect and absolute blank!”