Hours have a differnt texture as i slide from activity to non-activity. Mornings become elastic stretching into lunches at 3. Today, reminiscing about Friday's excursion into the older city beaches in San Juan, we drove over to Old San Juan and this being the beginning of a long weekend avoided most of the stagnant traffic we had ecountered on Thursday as we ping ponged from relatives houses peppered in the metropolitan area. This small beach sits next to the exclusive Hilton private beach but is far superior to its corporate cousin. With our beach chairs from prior trips we found a shady spot near the lapping sea and proceeded to take our novels out for a good read. Unlike North American beaches, here you can bring your beer to accompany your literary adventures.
5 days into my sojourn and the possibilities seem slightly incomprehensible. Waking up is getting to be a very strange exercise that mixes dreams of misplaced responsibility with the reality that I can pick up a book or take my camera for a walk. It makes this week in San Juan special in that I spent some significant times before I began my full time career 40 years ago in this tropical American metropolis. Chained to the U.S. not much has changed here though its becoming obvious to many that there really aren't too many advantages to being a pseudo-colony to a country who doesn't even realize you exist. The island served its purpose during our cold war period and now there is Antartica to conquer.
On October 25, 1914, just over one hundred years ago, the remarkable poet John Berryman was born in McAlester, Oklahoma. In honor of this anniversary, Farrar, Straus and Giroux offers The Heart Is Strange: New Selected Poems and is reissuing The Dream Songs, 77 Dream Songs, and Berryman’s Sonnets. Both the title and cover of this peculiar Selected Poems obscure the fact that the selection includes not a single poem from Berryman’s most famous work, The Dream Songs. (The publicity notice for the Selected promises “a generous selection from across Berryman’s varied career,” and claims to celebrate “the whole Berryman.”) A reader ordering the book online might well expect that a rational Selected would devote a substantial number of its pages to TheDream Songs, and would feel deceived when the book arrived. (The far more comprehensive Library of America John Berryman: Selected Poems finds room for sixty-one Dream Songs.) What we really need, of course, is a Complete Poems, but that is not forthcoming from any quarter.
The anniversary invites a second look at Berryman’s life, art, and reputation. His life, as related in John Haffenden’s detailed 1982 biography, makes for excruciating reading.1 The maladies from which Berryman suffered—bipolar illness and severe alcoholism—ruined his abused body and shook his excellent mind. Since the medicine of his era could do little for these illnesses, his life became marred by successive hospitalizations, attempts at rehabilitation, divorces, the loss of at least one job, and desperate remedies (including a late return to his childhood Roman Catholicism just before his suicide at fifty-seven). His physical state in middle age brings to mind Whitman’s “A Hand-Mirror”:
Hold it up sternly—see this it sends back, (who is it? is it you?)… No more a flashing eye, no more a sonorous voice or springy step, Now some slave’s eye, voice, hands, step,… No brain, no heart left, no magnetism of sex; Such from one look in this looking-glass ere you go hence, Such a result so soon—and from such a beginning!
When Berryman was eleven, his financially unsuccessful (and unfaithful) father, John Allyn Smith, shot himself in Tampa (where the Smiths had moved when they left Oklahoma). The poet’s formidable and overbearing mother shortly afterward married a successful man, their landlord (who had apparently been her lover before her husband’s suicide). She then made it the principal business of her life to establish a fusion of identities with her elder child; as her intrusive and incessant letters reveal, she never relaxed her tentacular grip on her son. The young John Smith, adopted by his stepfather, was known thenceforward as John Berryman, inaugurating a strange duality of identity that was to influence both his poetic themes and his stylistic inventions. The Berrymans moved from Florida to Connecticut, and John was sent to the South Kent School, an Episcopal establishment where he found adolescent devotion serving as an acolyte at morning Mass.
n. the desire to be struck by disaster—to survive a plane crash, to lose everything in a fire, to plunge over a waterfall—which would put a kink in the smooth arc of your life, and forge it into something hardened and flexible and sharp, not just a stiff prefabricated beam that barely covers the gap between one end of your life and the other.
Dementia is caused by a range of medical conditions (the best-known being Alzheimer’s) that eat holes in the short-term memory of sufferers and degrade their capacity to process new information. Memory becomes like a flickering signal from a faraway shortwave radio station: people can do and say things, then promptly forget them, and then do and say them again. They can no longer read obvious social cues. They become easily distressed as a thickening fog descends upon them, causing them to lose track of everything. As the disease progresses, only fleeting glimpses of the once capable person can be seen; for the rest of the time, everyone is stuck with an uninvited guest. Eventually, the sufferer fails to recognise even loved ones.
Dementia raises deeply troubling issues about our obligations to care for people whose identity might have changed in the most disturbing ways. In turn, those changes challenge us to confront our philosophical and ethical assumptions about what makes up that identity in the first place. Everyone touched by the disease goes through a crash-course in the philosophy of mind.
Philosophy is not of much practical use with most illnesses but in the case of dementia it provides insights about selfhood and identity that can help us make sense of the condition and our own reactions to it. Broadly speaking, there are two accounts of how personal identity is formed and sustained. Each has different implications for how we understand dementia and so seek to care for people with it.
Our commonsense understanding of the self has been dominated by an individualistic idea that goes back to René Descartes and John Locke in the 17th century. Descartes found certainty within himself – ‘I think, therefore I am.’ The inner, mental life of the self was also grounds for knowing our experience to be real, and that we were not dreaming. Locke, for his part, identified the self with the ordered flow of sense experiences that the mind recorded. That tradition, more recently updated by the British philosopher Derek Parfit in books such as Reasons and Persons (1984), argues that identity and memory come from the same place: a psychological connectedness and continuity maintained inside our heads. Selfhood hinges on our ability to order memory, and connect a set of experiences to form a coherent autobiography of who we were and how we became the person we are now. The theory has implications for dementia, because dementia destroys the temporal binding that sustains our identity.
According to Baldwin van Gorp of Leuven University in Belgium, who studies how the media reports dementia, this individualistic, inward looking, memory-based account of identity is the default way that dementia is framed in most public debates. That framing carries clear implications for how we might hold dementia at bay: keep your brain as fit as possible; do lots of physical and mental exercise. It explains why dementia self-help books lean so heavily on the provision of external supports: Post-It notes and other visual reminders that jog the memory. Google – that instant memory-jogger – might already be helping to forestall the dependency created by dementia. Before long, no doubt, little robots will accompany us to make sure we remember to take our pills and flush the toilet.
This idea that identity is based in memory underpins the excitement that greets the brain implants being developed by US firms such as Medtronics and Boston Scientific as potential ‘cures’ for Alzheimer’s, and the BRAIN initiative founded in 2013 by the US President Barack Obama to fund university research into treatments for common brain conditions.
Imagine stepping through the frame into a sepia-tinted haze, where you could sit on the side of the road and watch the locals passing by. Who lived and died before any of us arrived here, who sleep in some of the same houses we do, who look up at the same moon, who breathe the same air, feel the same blood in their veins—and live in a completely different world.
n. a moment of awareness that someone you’ve known for years still has a private and mysterious inner life, and somewhere in the hallways of their personality is a door locked from the inside, a stairway leading to a wing of the house that you’ve never fully explored—an unfinished attic that will remain maddeningly unknowable to you, because ultimately neither of you has a map, or a master key, or any way of knowing exactly where you stand.
When I was much younger, in my early thirties, I remember the strange enjoyment of having discovered Highsmith almost by accident and reading the Talented Mr. Ripley on my living room couch stumbling over each and every surprise. Where had this writer come from and I why hadn't anyone ever told me about her. Year's later the cinematic rendition of the novel by Rene Clement echoes those very same feelings.
lain Delon excels as gentleman psychopath Tom Ripley in René Clément's beautifully restored classic.
The boyish, twinkly-eyed, bring-him-home-to-meet-momma good looks of Alain Delon run in complete opposition to the ugly modus operandi of his Machiavellian character in René Clément's taut 1960 psychodrama, Plein Soleil (aka Purple Noon), re-released in the UK on a newly restored print. Adapted from Patricia Highsmith's novel, 'The Talented Mr Ripley', Clément's film, when boiled down, examines the destructive and impossible nature of lying, as Delon's raffish Tom Ripley finds that his intricate game of identity theft on the Italian riviera is not as failsafe as it initially appears.
The film takes great pains to establish a workable relationship between Ripley and his trust fund-powered acquaintance, Philippe Greenleaf (Maurice Ronet), who has fled from his folks in San Francisco to live it up in continental Europe. Through strange quirk, Ripley (it seems) has inveigled his way into the family circle to the point where he's been promised a cash reward if he can save Philippe from his is decadent odyssey.
Though bullied by Phillipe and his pals who believe him to be a leech, Tom remains in the inner circle nonetheless, and it transpires that either all the physical and verbal abuse he has been suffering has driven him to violence, or, this was all part of his fiendish master plan.
The film's most extraordinary and tense sequence arrives about half-an-hour in, where Tom is drafted in as loose-limb on a boating trip with Phillipe and his Fra Angelico-scholar girlfriend, Marge (Marie Laforêt). His presence sets off arguments between the lovers, and Phillipe — whose sense of financial entitlement has reached dangerous extremes — is starting to suspect Ripley's up to something.
Unlike Roman Polanski's Knife in the Water from two years later and trades in a similar psychological set-up, Plein Soleil is photographed (beautifully, by Henri Decaë) in the piercing midday sun. The gorgeous blues of the water and the sky play in ironic stand-off to the seething rivalries on the boat. The camera, too, offers signs of ominous portents, barrels around the boat to capture the energetic drama on board, often feeling like it too is about to fall into the sea.
As lies beget lies beget lies, Tom has managed to manipulate his situation so he's the one who's now cashing the cheques and slumming in luxurious hotels. Aside from its tag as a thriller about a gentleman psychopath, Plein Soleil, also examines the desperate measures one might take to lift themselves from penury and live, illicitly, extremely high on the hog. It's a character study, but also a critique of consumerism and the antisocial baggage that comes from its unalloyed indulgence. And it's only the final clever twist that lets down the material, a handy literary conceit that's lost in the world of movies.
Purple Noon is the very opposite of film noir. No murky labyrinths here: all is apparently open and bright, inviting every variety of self-indulgence. Each frame filled by Henri Decaë’s astonishing cinematography is a place that begs to be entered and savored. The color values are almost too beautiful to be endured, especially since we sense that they are not only beautiful but accurate, no Hollywood fantasy but the almost tangible textures of a world where texture still matters. This is a film that can hardly be watched without nagging waves of desire and envy—all the better to become complicit in the desires and envies of the murderous hero. By the end of the film, we do not simply understand Tom Ripley; we want what he wants.
To that extent, and despite the freedom with which it reworks many of the book’s details, the film is deeply faithful to Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley (1955)—much more so than Anthony Minghella’s later version, which, along with making elaborately unnecessary additions to Highsmith’s story line, reduces Ripley to a figure of pathos and the film to a critique of his misguided yearnings. Highsmith, on the other hand, does not so much critique Ripley’s motives as share them. Her book—which was once pigeonholed as a genre entertainment and now seems one of the novels of its period most likely to endure—has the force of a fully realized and quite perverse fantasy, a The Count of Monte Cristo for postwar Americans, or at least those postwar Americans who could identify with Tom Ripley’s sense of primal dispossession and infinite yearning.
Highsmith had the coldest of eyes, and she reserved her empathy precisely for a character who feels entitled to deceive or destroy anyone who gets in the way of his sincere desire to become the person he was meant to be. Her Tom Ripley is an astonishingly detailed inner portrait of a young psychopath who merely wants the best of everything. He is neither a diabolical Other nor a clinically observed specimen, but someone we come to know as an intimate companion, sharing his thoughts and seeing the world through his eyes—the eyes of a rejected child who cannot rest until he has had his revenge on the world for denying him a place at the banquet table. The novel’s uncompromising amorality, right down to the note of triumph on which it ends, gives it the invasive force of myth. Myths are not morality plays, even if this one does imply a twisted self-help credo: you really can have whatever you want, as long as you’re willing to kill people and clever enough to cover up your crimes.
Clément’s decision to curtail Ripley’s triumph at the end is very much in line with the cinematic conventions of the time, but also evidently reflects the director’s sense that the punishment of transgression “somehow . . . reassures people.” Cinematically, however, he still gives Tom the final victory: in our last glimpse of him, as he strides, unaware, toward a police stakeout, he is still free and savoring the completeness with which he has realized his desires. Tom’s triumph is also that of Alain Delon, whom we have watched throughout the film as he watches the others and studies them, trying on masks and rehearsing deceptions, to emerge finally into this serene moment of perfect accomplishment. It was Delon’s first important role, and it is hard to imagine the film without him.