The Archives of an Unsatisfied Genius


For a modification of rate, I opened a box that Vicki had actually identified “Edward’s Notebooks on World Literature.” Ed’s reading program was prodigious. I understood that he was working his method methodically through the Western canon, however I might dislike the scope of the task or of Ed’s determination till I saw it for myself. I pulled note pads out of the bins 10 at a time and analyzed them. The very first one I opened was identified “Modern Masters and Their Functions: Music,” and it started with Benjamin Britten. Ed was a musicologist. His dad, Edwin John Stringham, had actually been a teacher of music at Queens College and had actually called his kid Edward MacDowell after Edward Alexander MacDowell (1860-1908), an author he loved and whom his kid derided as second-rate. Ed was called Mac by his moms and dads. He was an only kid.

Next, I opened a note pad identified “Russian III.” It consisted of the schedule of a class Ed was taking (” 6-8 Wed.”), the Russian alphabet, workouts, and the author and title of the book (” Khavronina, ‘Russian As We Speak It’ “). It likewise suggested the presence in other places in the archive of Russian I and Russian II. Another note pad was called “End of Painting,” among lots of volumes dedicated to art, with biographical sketches of artists and descriptions of specific paintings, along with paragraphs of reliable criticism that were either made up by Ed or copied without attribution from expert art critics. It ended up being the previous. Numerous such note pads later on– there were volumes devoted to “Portuguese Painting,” “Russian Art I and II,” “Swiss Artists,” “Greek Art,” “Cubism & & Dalí,” “Hans Hofmann,” and “Modern American Painting” (which had a whiff of turpentine), along with a couple of sketchbooks– I deduced, and Vicki verified, that Ed had actually been dealing with the conclusive book about modern American artists. He had an agreement for it, and a due date– a 1960 due date that initially loomed and after that passed. “He gradually quit the concept,” Vicki stated. “He prevented doing it, and prevented it and prevented it, and all of a sudden he wasn’t doing it.” On Sunday, March 13, 1960, Ed composed, despondently, “So I invest the majority of the day studying for more unwritten posts.”

However it is the note pads on world literature that reveal Ed’s amazing variety. The very first one I took place on, “Albanian History, Music, and Art,” was common. It consisted of a careful hand-drawn map of Albania and a timeline that starts in 1000 B.C. and culminates with the see of Chou En-lai, in 1964 A.D. Each volume is arranged chronologically, initially by century, then by years, then by year, if a nation was at war or in the middle of a renaissance. In a different area, specific authors, authors, and painters are arranged alphabetically, with their operate in sequential order. Sources are offered at the back.

I blew the dust off note pads in which Ed had condensed the history, music, art, and literature of Romania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Switzerland, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Russia, Denmark, Norway (Stone Age to Knut Hamsun), Nazi Germany (Hitler’s favorites), East Germany, Latin America, Yugoslavia, Greece, Estonia, Hungary, Turkey, Holland (from the arrival of Julius Caesar, in 58 B.C., and the building and construction of the very first dikes to the Fight of Waterloo, in 1815), Non-Russian, Byelorussian, Poland (the volume called “Polish Authors” is brimming; he liked the deeply dismal work of Krzysztof Penderecki), Iceland, Cuba, Yiddish (rather scanty, however supplemented with Moldavia, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenia, Tajikistan, and Kirghizian), and Finnish. When I pertained to a volume entitled “Anthology of Modern Yugoslav Poetry,” I attempted hope that Ed had actually left some blank pages, however he used up the slack by annexing Macedonia.

The note pads likewise consist of some unexpected one-offs: “Misconception” opens with an ancestral tree of the gods of Olympus, starting with Mayhem, and broadens to other cultures, especially that of Japan; “Ballets” is a history of choreographers consisting of Balanchine, Massine, and Nijinsky; “ISCM Festivals, 1923-1982” files the nation, authors, and collection carried out at sixty years’ worth of global music celebrations; “Movie” is a worldwide collection of directors, from France to Hollywood; “EB” is a research study of the Russian-born phase designer Eugene Berman; “Books” is a chronologically arranged bibliography of the category; “Leaves of Turf” adheres completely to Walt Whitman; “The Middle Ages” includes Petrarch (1304-74), Welsh poetry, Galician and Portuguese, Irish folklore cycles, Dante, Marco Polo, and Boccaccio. It pertained to me that Ed was Wikipedia prior to there was Wikipedia– he was Wikipedia with judgment.

Every So Often, a slip of paper drifted out of a note pad: a wish list, state (” cheese spread, Ajax, lettuce, Bufferin, Times”), or a quick evaluation of some literary phenomenon, like this among the spectacular French book “Bonjour Tristesse,” by the teen-age Françoise Sagan, released in English in 1955: “Real, the Riviera environment is wispily unconvincing; real, the story itself is as unbelievable as a fairy tale.” These roaming notes restored Ed’s passion to share his interests, exhorting an associate to check out Rebecca West’s “Black Lamb and Grey Falcon,” or Robert Musil’s “The Man Without Qualities,” or John Kennedy Toole’s “Confederacy of Dunces,” which he discovered satisfying, if flawed. Ed kept in mind whatever he composed in his note pads, as if the act of composing things down etched them in his memory; he always remembered a character’s name or how a story ended. However what to do with all this understanding? His task evoked that of another Edward: Edward Casaubon, in George Eliot’s “Middlemarch,” whose bride-to-be, Dorothea, initially enamored of his stunning intelligence, slowly understands that his terrific work, the “Secret to All Folklores,” is an impression and will never ever be ended up. Ed was some sort of genius– an unsatisfied genius. He when stated to me, fearfully, on the brink of retirement, “Have I constructed myself a home of cards?”



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