Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Free Epigraphs

Some interesting tidbits from things I've been reading lately:
If I watch the end of a day--any day--I always feel it's the end of a whole epoch. And the autumn! It might as well be the end of everything.
That's from an excerpt of The Sheltering Sky in a reader called The Portable Paul and Jane Bowles. I first read "Pages from Cold Point," a short story by Paul Bowles, which is fascinating; it's very suspenseful and the whole thing hinges on a father's realization about his son, but the realization is never made explicit. I didn't understand what had happened, and when I asked John, he wasn't sure if he had read the story, but he guessed that the realization was that the son was gay; at the time you would have had to tiptoe around that. In hindsight I'm sure that's what it was, but it hadn't occurred to me while reading. From the details and the tone you get the sense that the son contains a secret darkness, is evil; the people of the town think he is a "bad boy." I tend to be naive about these old codes. Now I'm reading "Camp Cataract" by Jane Bowles, which is very funny.

Here's another epigraph up for grabs:
There are no colors in nature, only electromagnetic radiation of varying wavelengths.
That's the part I think is most epigraphable, but here's the rest of the passage: "If we were aware of our 'real' visual worlds, we would see constantly changing images of dirty gray, making it difficult for us to recognize forms. Our visual stimuli are stabilized when the brain compares the variations in the different wavelengths of light; the consequence of these comparisons is what we perceive as 'color.' The brain creates a sense of 'color constancy': no matter the lighting conditions--bright sunlight, filtered sunlight, or artificial lighting--colors remain more or less the same. This phenomenon is not fully understood. But colors themselves are not in our surroundings. Brains therefore create something that is not there, and in doing so they help us to make sense of our environment." That's from a review of Oliver Sacks's new book by Israel Rosenfield in the April issue of Harper's.


  1. Interesting. I recently read that Oliver Sacks has had prosopagnosia -- face blindness - for many years. The opposite of the brain's ability to remember faces by assigning them to a certain point on an axis of facial characteristics (oversimplified and maybe slightly off).

    Just before I read your post, I upped Jefferson Hansen's poem "Red Shift" to my blog as part of my Natl Poetry Month parade. According to the eponymous phenomenon, our brains not only help us make sense of our environment, but also our mortality.

  2. Yes, there's a bit in the review about his face blindness, and about Chuck Close, an artist who has a similar disorder, and how it manifests in his paintings.

  3. I didn't know Chuck Close had that condition. There were some really large CC artworks (I remember them as drawings rather than paintings, but that might be my art blindess) on display in the Des Moines airport for awhile. Whenever I'd walk by, I'd hear people complaining about how ugly they were

  4. Really? God people are awful.

  5. Camp Cataract is one of my ALL TIME FAVORITE STORIES. I am so beyond obsessed with it that I can barely talk about it rationally. I think it would make the perfect movie. I see it in my head like one. Judy Davis is in it, and Shelley Duvall. I love the characters, the mood, the tone, the oblique angles of all these things intersecting. And I love that Paul Bowles story very much. It's sad and creepy and bizarre and I think captures childhood fear and shame in a really poignant and UNCOMFORTABLE way. Last night I was looking at the cover for the new DVD edition of Blow Out, at a young John Travolta, and suddenly I remembered how amazing he looked back then, and how when I was a kid I hid an attraction to him like a really deep dark secret, could tell no one, worried it showed on me like a hickey. Paul Bowles' story makes me think of that...feeling. The first collection of his stories I read were all like that one, but I can't remember the name. The first or second was about an American in the middle East whose tongue is cut out at the end and he can't do anything but moan for help. One of the best stories ever. And they were all like that. Each one perfectly calibrated for dread.

  6. Yes, I am really liking this reader. I love stories about the dynamic between sisters. "Camp Cataract" reminds me of that Joy Williams story "Traveling to Pridesup." (I love how I'm such a slow reader I refer to being in the process of reading a short story like it's an epic novel...)

  7. I read someplace once that a part of the reason that human beings see a visual light spectrum with -- specifically -- yellow and green in the middle range is because our primate ancestors ate mostly fruits and tree leaves. It was an evolutionary advantage to see in a color range centered on the colors of common foods.

    A similar evolutionary reason is apparently why primates (including human beings) tend to see a high degree of static visual detail, compared with (for instance) dogs and cats, and similar predator/hunting animals, which tend to see motion detail (e.g. a small animal running across a field far away) better than static shapes and patterns.


    I've never read anything by Paul Bowles or Jane Bowles. Your post here got me curious and I Googled, and found an interview with Paul Bowles in which he talks (among many other things) about "Pages from Cold Point." It's here, if you care to take a look. (The website with the interview,, states itself to be the authorized Paul Bowles website.)

  8. Thank you for the link, Lyle! It's not loading for me right now, but I'll try again later.

    Color theory is fascinating stuff. It's part of why I liked Maggie Nelson's Bluets so much -- tons of color theory.

  9. HOLY CRAP. I just read that Paul Bowles interview. Wow, did I miss the boat on that story. At least he says nobody gets it, so I know I'm not the only idiot. It honestly did not occur to me that the father was an unreliable narrator....