"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice
Category: Obituaries

I Don’t Want to Cling Too Hard

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R.I.P. Peter Matthiessen. Check out this recent profile of the author by Jeff Himmelman:

In his own life, Matthiessen found a home in Zen. As he writes in “The Snow Leopard”: “In the longing that starts one on the path is a kind of homesickness, and some way, on this journey, I have started home. Homegoing is the purpose of my practice.” And yet, in “In Paradise,” Matthiessen takes even that consolation away. The evil that Olin encounters at Auschwitz is so terrifying that spiritual practice can’t mitigate it. Olin reflects on Solzhenitsyn’s observation that “the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being,” and then decides to show it to one of the retreat leaders — who responds with a Buddhist bromide about eliminating “all self-lacerating partial truths while good and evil fall away.” It is correct doctrine, but Matthiessen makes it sound like claptrap. Of spiritual practice in general, with which he has a casual and conflicted relationship, Olin wonders: “How long would such delicate attainments have withstood the death camp’s horrors?” It is another way of asking the question we all ask of ourselves: How would I have fared?

The book is grim, but Matthiessen isn’t. Earlier that morning, I watched as he said goodbye to a guest who stayed over the previous night. They were business associates, friendly but maybe not friends, and as the guest was at the door, he good-naturedly offered optimistic advice about radical experimental measures that Matthiessen might take. Matthiessen smiled and said: “I don’t want to hang on to life quite that hard. It’s part of my Zen training.” In preparing for our interviews, having read “In Paradise,” I wondered whether the Buddhist teachings were providing him any more consolation than they did the characters in his book. I hoped so. “The Buddha says that all suffering comes from clinging,” Matthiessen said. “I don’t want to cling. I’ve had a good life, you know. Lots of adventures. It’s had some dark parts, too, but mainly I’ve had a pretty good run of it, and I don’t want to cling too hard. I have no complaints.”

The characters in “In Paradise” cling too hard and are full of complaints, which is one reason that the book doesn’t feel like any kind of “final word.” The novel lacks the beautiful and affirming moments so much more present in Matthiessen’s nonfiction, moments more beautiful even than the dancing at Auschwitz, because they don’t come with the same complications. When Matthiessen was happy, as a writer and as a traveler, he always let us in on it; most often, he found that happiness in reverence of the natural world and in a hard-won, if fleeting, acceptance of his own uncertain place in it. “Lying back against these ancient rocks of Africa, I am content,” he writes in “The Tree Where Man Was Born.” “The great stillness in these landscapes that once made me restless seeps into me day by day, and with it the unreasonable feeling that I have found what I was searching for without ever having discovered what it was.”

[Photo Via: Getty Images]

Pioneer

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Rest in Peace, Frank Jobe. 

Damn

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Oh, man. This is sad news. 

Where Have I Been?

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Sid Caesar, the comedy giant, has passed away at 91.

See for yourself.

One of the Greats

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I just read on Twitter that Ralph Kiner has died. Salute.

Million Dollar Movie

A few brief highlights from the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman:

[Photo Credit: Desmond Muckian]

You Don’t Have to Be Jewish

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Salute Judy Protas.

Salute

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Rob Neyer pays tribute to Jerry Coleman. 

Beyond Suspicion

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Farewell, Joan Fontaine. 

Cry Freedom

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Here’s the obit from the N.Y. Times. 

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[Photo Via It's a Long Season and Ian Berry]

Taster’s Cherce

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Rest in Peace, Judy Rodgers. In her honor, try this.

Beat of the Day

 Junior Murvin

A moment of silence for Junior…then:

American Master

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Rest in peace, Saul Leiter, dead at 89. A beautiful artist.

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Leiter:

“There are certain people who like to be in the swing of things, but I think I’ve been out of the loop a lot of the time. When Bonnard died, one critic accused him of not participating in the great adventures of Modernism. And Matisse wrote a letter in which he defended Bonnard, saying that when he saw the Bonnards in the Phillips collection, he told Mr. Phillips, ‘Bonnard was the strongest of us all.’

I’m not like those photographers who went up to the top of the mountain and hung over and took a picture that everyone said was impossible and then went home and printed it and sold 4,000 copies of it and then went on and on with one great achievement after another.

Max Kozloff said to me one day, ‘You’re not really a photographer. You do photography, but you do it for your own purposes – your purposes are not the same as others’. I’m not quite sure what he meant, but I like that. I like the way he put it.”

Where & When: Game 20

Welcome Back to Where & When.  This will be a special edition to highlight the recent loss of a cultural icon.  For several generations and cultures who inhabit the city, this was their Penn Station. I present this without further comment, but feel free to post thoughts.

Where & When 20-1

New York Graffiti Landmark 5 Pointz Continues To Appeal Demolition

Tuesday, November 19, 2013:

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Where & When 20-4

 Here is a Google Gallery of what was 5 Pointz. 

Here is a little history.

A Voice of Reason

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Michael Weiner, the executive director of the MLBPA, passed away yesterday at 51. Over at ESPN, Jerry Crasnick salutes a voice of reason.

Down By The Seaside

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Patti remembers Lou. 

Looooouuuuuu

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Here’s more on Lou Reed:

From our man Luc Sante.

Jody Rosen.

Sasha Frere-Jones.

Kurt Loder and Carl Wilson.

And a playlist from The Daily Beast.  

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[Images Via: This Isn't Happiness]

Mr. Bad News

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Head on over to Longform and check out their reprint of Gay Talese’s terrific 1966 profile of Alden Whitman, the New York Times obituary writer:

“Winston Churchill gave you your heart attack,” the wife of the obituary writer said, but the obituary writer, a short and rather shy man wearing horn-rimmed glasses and smoking a pipe, shook his head and replied, very softly, “No, it was not Winston Churchill.”

“Then T.S. Eliot gave you your heart attack,” she quickly added, lightly, for they were at a small dinner party in New York and the others seemed amused.

“No,” the obituary writer said, again softly, “it was not T.S. Eliot.”

If he was at all irritated by his wife’s line of questioning, her assertion that writing lengthy obituaries for the New York Times under deadline pressure might be speeding him to his own grave, he did not show it, did not raise his voice; but then he rarely does. Only once has Alden Whitman raised his voice at Joan, his present wife, a youthful brunette, and on that occasion he screamed. Alden Whitman does not recall precisely why he screamed. Vaguely he remembers accusing Joan of misplacing something around the house, but he suspects that in the end he was the guilty one. Though this incident occurred more than two years ago, lasting only a few seconds, the memory of it still haunts him—a rare occasion when he truly lost control; but since then he has remained a quiet man, a predictable man who early each morning, while Joan is asleep, slips out of bed and begins to make breakfast: a pot of coffee for her, one of tea for himself. Then he sits for an hour or so in his study smoking a pipe, sipping his tea, scanning the newspapers, his eyebrows raising slightly whenever he reads that a dictator is missing, a statesman is ill.

[Illustration by Jacob van Loon]

Transformer

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Lou Reed is dead.

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Sad news. Read this.

[Picture via Weheartit]

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver