The Corona Diaries: Drunk on Déjà-Vu

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A month ago, most stores and businesses have reopened around here. That includes movie theaters, many of which show the films they were showing the day they had to close. Those films are also already out on DVD and BluRay, so you are in the luxurious position to be able to choose whether you would like to watch 1917, Onward or Once Upon A Time in Hollywood at the movies or at home. There are movie drive-ins and movie open-air festivals, the closest of which will open tonight and last until Sunday. Better times, for now.

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The Rear-View Mirror: James Joyce, Dubliners (1914)

Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!

Now that most of us have so much time to read – did you pause and think about Bloomsday the other day? That’s June 16, and it’s the day that James Joyce’s Ulysses takes place. The whole weighty tome is set on less than 24 hours. Every year, there are people who walk the city of Dublin on that day, novel in hand, and go from one location to the next.

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The Rear-View Mirror: The Spanish Flu (1918)

Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!

No-one who consciously experienced the year 1918 is alive anymore, but if you ask the old folks around here, sooner or later you will encounter someone who knows about someone who died from the Spanish Flu. The might be puzzled by your question, they might be reluctant, but some of them will remember the dead. It might even be someone from their family, one or two generations back. You could even go all morbid and count the headstones in a graveyard and calculate if the year of death 1918 seems overpopulated. There is hardly any male dead from the First World War around here in Switzerland, so if 1918 is a peak year, you will know why.

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The Corona Diaries: I’m up and dressed, what more do you want?

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Since Monday 11th, this country of ours has opened some of the restaurants and selected stores and businesses under certain conditions, but not my daughter’s school. As before, capitalism trumps education. And I still have to work from home, which doesn’t half work. I don’t mean to say that we should open up everything, and unconditionally. I mean the opposite: when someone is down with the flu, we recommend that they stay at home until they are fine again, plus one day, just to be safe. Can we not do that right now as well, seeing as the new freedoms are grossly abused? We are risking an absolutely unnecessary second wave these days, and what should have been a mild second wave when every public pool, every fitness room, every brothel will open again, will be a third wave.

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Vikings in the Rear-View Mirror, Humming from the Back Seat

There’s this man, Bill Drummond, who tells us to Imagine Waking Up Tomorrow and All Music Has Disappeared. All instruments and all recording devices, too. We wouldn’t even know what music was, and we would have to re-invent it by using our voices. That is Drummond’s mission. He has fun with the concept, but he is also utterly serious – driven, almost. He gathers people all over the world (prayer groups, schoolkids, construction workers) and tells them that they are part of a choir called ‘The17’. He tells them what to sing and records them. He arranges people in a huge circle, for instance in Berlin, calls the project ‘Surround’, and has them shout at each other like in Chinese Whispers. He has become a performance artist, using print, graffiti and paintings in his latter years, but music and sounds are at the center of what he does, at least in this documentary.

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Real Love, Forged Poetry

We like to think of Emily Dickinson as a shy recluse, communicating with the good people of Amherst and the world at large only by stringing her poems into small parcels and lowering them out of her first-storey window in a basket on a rope. There is, however, a branch of research into America’s beloved poet that brings the focus away from the cliché of an unravished bride of quietness, and tries to peek behind the scenes. The most conservative scholars, who might see themselves as keepers of the holy grail that is Emily D., might just foam at the mouth. A bit of irreverence never hurt anyone, especially if it’s not unfounded.

Because there seems to have been ravishing. Wild Nights with Emily (2018), a film directed by Madeleine Olnek, based on her own stage play, takes Emily’s relationship with her brother’s wife Susan as the center and goes from there, stating that, yes, Emily lived in Amherst almost all of her life, but only to be near the woman she loved – near in the sense that their houses stood only a few meters apart. Susan, according to this movie, seems to have married Emily’s brother Edward just to be close to Emily, who had a lot of time on her hands and could write love poetry all day because she could catch glimpses of Susan just by peeking out the window.

The movie shies away from portraying Emily as cruel and selfish, but there is a moment in the movie where Emily seems to roll in her bed with another lady just to make Susan jealous. She certainly was no womanizer, but that scene destroys the cliché of the virginal poet, because carnal knowledge entered Emily’s and Susan’s relationship in their teenage years, and both women, however spuriously, met other people.

And there is also Mabel, who is hired to play the piano for Emily, but never gets to see her: she is seated on the ground floor while Emily hears the tunes while sitting in her upstairs room, listening on her own. Mabel will go on to seduce Emily’s brother, maybe because she likes him, maybe she wants to get at the poems. The movie pretends that it was her who, after Emily’s death, erases Susan’s name from all of the poetry and suggests that there was a man involved. Mabel also goes on tour, telling the life story of the famous poet whom she has never met in person.

There is also Higginson, editor of the Atlantic Monthly, answering Emily’s letter in person. He says that her poems are not fit for publication. Emily seems disappointed at first, but the movie takes that rejection as the motivation to write even more. Wild Nights with Emily is tamer than the title suggests, but it is a kind of alternative riff on the life and times of Emily D. The tone of the movie is all over the place: it’s part biopic, part Drunk History and part filmed stage-play. Those puzzle pieces do not wholly fit into each other, but the cast saves a lot of scenes that would go nowhere. Molly Shannon plays her Emily as a very determined, lonely, slightly desperate and sometimes bitterly funny woman. In some scenes, I had to think of her as Fleabag before her time. Susan Ziegler plays Susan with the exasperation of a woman who wants to keep her lesbian love a secret but finds Emily’s love letters in places they should not be found. Amy Seimetz has the thankless role of portraying Mabel who seduces Emily’s brother, tells the falsified story of Emily and later forges all the letters, erasing Susan’s name.

Maybe the movie’s strongest argument is this: give Emily a bit of room to breathe. The harder you cling on to the myth of the lonely hermit poet, the more you insist on the argument that Emily’s poems were directed towards an unknown male rather than a well-known female.

The Rear-View Mirror: Mrs Dalloway (1925)

Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!

Ah yes, modernist literature. It’s suspicious, isn’t it? No other literary epoch is so well-known by its titles and authors, and yet so un-read. Go to your bookshelves. Find Ulysses. It might just be the most bought and least read book of all times. Go to the chapter that’s set in the maternity ward. See? Have you read it? Have you? Almost no-one has, at least not the one in the novel. And if you want to read it right now, chances are you will need linguistic help. Just as with the whole of Finnegans Wake. Here, just gave you the whole novel. Something tells me you have more time than usual on your hands, but you probably won’t read it.

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The Corona Diaries: To Live and Die in Paris and here

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Everything is changing. We might not yet know how the world will look like once the air is clear again, but not many things will remain the same, in the same place, in the same way. At the very least, things will look the same, but feel different. That’s in large part because we are no longer the same, already now, and even more so later. We must get our bearings back. That might mean all kinds of consequences, from excellent to catastrophic. Continue reading

The Corona Diaries: Friday the 13th.

By Mege. – Friday 13th. What a coincidence. It was the day the Swiss authorities told us that we should all keep our distance from one another, that we should work from home if at all possible, that congregations of more than 100 people were a no-go and that we should self-quarantine if we felt sick. (Please note that these measures are only valid for Switzerland and are already obsolete anyway. Check with your own authorities.) Most shops and restaurants were still open. The situation seemed serious, but not really desperate. I still thought that my week-long holiday in Berlin might really happen. Hah. Continue reading