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The blog of author Dennis Cooper

Spotlight on … Ronald Firbank Concerning the Eccentricities of Cardinal Pirelli (1926)

 

‘English novelist Ronald Firbank, was born in 1886. Had he been younger, his wit and thirst would probably have swept him into the frantic frippery of the Bright Young Things and we may have been denied the subversive brilliance of the dozen or so books that he left. Howard himself called Firbank’s Concerning the Eccentricities of Cardinal Pirelli “the wittiest book ever written”.

‘Firbank, it seems, was born blushing; his associates never fail to mention his social awkwardness, particularly the incessant fluttering of hands (or compulsive washing of same) and the hysterical laughter which would periodically erupt, leaving him incapable of completing an anecdote. Attempting to embolden himself with drink merely exacerbated the problem.

‘The key to Firbank’s life as well as his art is a sense of never quite belonging. He was born into wealth but it was only two generations old and thus socially suspect. His delicate health led him to constantly seek out more sympathetic climes, and his friends knew of his comings and goings largely from notices in The Times. He was also a Catholic convert, like Waugh in the following generation and Frederick Rolfe in the previous. In fact he was accepted into the Church by Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson, who enjoyed a short-lived friendship with Rolfe and Firbank was, like Rolfe, rejected from the priesthood and ever after maintained a strange, Oedipal love-hate relationship with Catholicism.

‘All of these things, as well as his homosexuality, gave Firbank a privileged vantage point to observe the rituals of his circle as well as its hostility to outsiders, but the barbs in his writing are sometimes so subtle that they only become visible on a second reading. While his plots and dialogue can occasionally seem as precious and overstuffed as a Victorian salon, Firbank was also remarkably forward-looking, such as in the impressionistic passages in Valmouth which record fragments of conversation, out of context, or his regular deployment of characters who were gay or lesbian or otherwise alienated.

‘There are numerous accounts of Firbank’s personal eccentricity, such as presenting the Marchesa Casati with a bunch of lilies and suggesting that they embark immediately for America, sending his cab driver to smooth the way before his first meeting with Augustus John, or his unlikely participation in sports. While at Cambridge, Oscar Wilde’s son Vyvyan Holland recalls seeing the effete Firbank incongruously dressed “in the costume of sport”. Confounded, Holland enquired what he had been doing, and learning that he had apparently been playing football, further enquired whether it was rugby or soccer. “Oh,” replied Firbank, “I don’t remember”.

‘Firbank’s persistent ill-health and self-destructive drinking finally caught up with him in Rome where, in 1926, he died alone in a hotel room. The only person who knew him there was Lord Berners, who hastily arranged a funeral ceremony with a Reverend Ragg (who, to complete this chain of coincidence, had been an associate of Frederick Rolfe’s in Venice). Firbank was an outsider to the last; Berners, having no inkling of his conversion, had him buried in the Protestant Cemetery (he was later reinterred).’ — James J. Conway

Concerning the Eccentricities of Cardinal Pirelli (1926) has something of the solidity of texture which characterized Firbank’s earlier novel Valmouth, and it contains some of his best writing. It is set in Spain, and the Cardinal’s ‘eccentricities’ include the baptism of pet dogs in his cathedral and an unsuitable passion for choir-boys. Plot is reduced to a minimum, once again the book consists of a series of conversation-pieces.

Cardinal Pirelli is, incidentally, the bawdiest of Firbank’s novels: what elsewhere has been suggested by a mere lift of the eyebrow is here presented without the least equivocation. On the whole, the change is not for the better; Firbank’s mingling of sanctity and smut is not the most attractive aspect of his work, and to a modern reader seems curiously dated. The Cardinal’s pursuit of the choir-boy, in the last chapter, is plainly intended to produce the half funny, half moving effect of the final passages in Prancing Nigger; the intention fails, however, for in these concluding pages of his last books ( Since this was written, a fragment of ‘The New Rhythum’, a novel about New York which Firbank was at work on when he died, has been published, together with several pieces of juvenilia. The latter are of some interest, written as they were in the transitional phase between Odette and The Artificial Princess; the novel-fragment, though amusing enough, seems hardly up to the standard of its predecessors.). Firbank relapses once again into the sentimental and too consciously ‘literary’ style of Odette and Santal. It is as though the two contrasted elements in his personality, so happily blended in his best work, had here refused to mingle, and the effect is of an uneasy collaboration between two quite disparate writers.

‘Firbank is not an author who lends himself to facile literary judgments: he cannot be fitted into any of the normal categories, and to dissect his novels as one might, say, those of George Eliot, is, as E. M. Forster has wisely said, equivalent to breaking a butterfly upon a wheel (Essay on Firbank in ‘Abinger Harvest’). In any case, one must first catch one’s butterfly, and Firbank, more than most writers, eludes pursuit, and refuses to be pinned down. Any judgement upon him is bound to be highly personal: either one enjoys his work or one does not, and it is all but impossible to explain its merits to those who dislike it.

‘Firbank has been compared, in an earlier passage of this essay, with James Joyce, and though no two writers seem, on the face of it, more dissimilar, the comparison could be extended. Neither Joyce nor Firbank, in their earliest work, appeared to possess more than the slenderest of talents: Odette can be paralleled by the vapid and derivative poems in Chamber Music. Both, however, were gifted with great literary virtuosity and a talent for pastiche, and were thus enabled to produce works totally different in quality and scope from anything which could have been predicted from their juvenilia. But whereas Joyce was tempted to work on a vast scale (and thereby, as some may think, to dissipate much of his natural talent), Firbank was content to recognise his own limitations, and to write in the manner which he found easiest and most pleasing to himself.

‘Firbank is without doubt a minor writer (whether Joyce, for all his present ‘reclame’, is a major one, is a question which can only be settled by posterity), but one who, for the most part, achieved precisely what he set out to do. Sometimes his inspiration flags, he can be irritating and downright silly; yet he is one of those artists who, as Cyril Connolly has said, ‘attempt, with a purity and a kind of dewy elegance, to portray the beauty of the moment, the gaiety and sadness, the fugitive distress of hedonism (The Condemned Playground.). Such artists are not, perhaps, very fashionable today; yet among them can be numbered (as Mr. Connolly goes on to say) such names as Horace, Watteau and Mozart. Firbank, of course, is not their peer, but he is a citizen, so to speak, of the same country; though not a great artist, he is that rare phenomenon in English literature, a pure artist, and as such he deserves our respect.’ — Jocelyn Brooke

 

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Further

Ronald Firbank @ Wikipedia
Ronald Firbank: An Inventory of His Collection at the Harry Ransom Center
‘The Novels of Ronald Firbank’, by Jocelyn Brooke
RF @ goodreads
‘Vainglory: with Inclinations and Caprice by Ronald Firbank’
Ronald Firbank @ New Directions
The Lectern: ‘Five Novels by Ronald Firbank’
‘Method in Madness: Ronald Firbank’s The Flower Beneath the Foot’
‘Prancing Back into Print’
‘I Often Laugh When I’m Alone: The Novels of Ronald Firbank’
‘Criticism of Society in the English Novel Between the Wars: Ronald Firbank’
Ronald Firbank Fansite
‘From “Odette, A Fairy Tale for Weary People” by Ronald Firbank’
‘Ronald Firbank and the Powers of Frivolity’
‘The Parrotic Voice of the Frivolous’
‘Ronald Firbank’s Radical Pastorals’
‘Pilgrimage to Ronald Firbank’
‘Firbank as poet’, by Douglas Messerli
‘ROBUST BODY AND SOCIAL SOULS: REASSESSING RONALD FIRBANK’S EFFEMINATE QUEER MEN’
Video: ‘Gleefully Shameful. The Camp Fictions of Ronald Firbank’

 

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Extras


Ronald Firbank


Sir Monkey channels Ronald Firbank


Ronald Firbank Quotes


Jerzy CHODOR – Księżniczka Słoneczników (Ronald Firbank)

 

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10 uses of the term Firbankian

 

1.
Guide to the Richard Blake Brown Letters, 1933-1962
COLLECTION DESCRIPTION: Correspondence by Richard Blake Brown, Anglican priest and sub-Firbankian gay novelist to Marcus Oliver. Written from various places on a variety of letterheads and on a variety of subjects, including fashion and costume designer Norman Hartnell; novelist Denton Welch; Brown’s meeting with Queen Mary; gay life in and out of the British Navy; and World War II in England. In addition to the letters are a photograph of Brown, a 4-page publicity leaflet regarding Brown’s novels, an item regarding an Anglo Latin-American costume exhibit, a magazine clipping of two nude boys wrestling, and a card from a hairdresser.

2.
nudism or firbankian moments on the beach

summer holiday 1999, a boy perhaps a fiend: for a few years I have been going to the nudist beach whenever the Dutch climate would allow a day in the sun, at first I thought it strange but it didn’t took long for me to realise that it was absolutely normal, I did not miss anything I mean.

But only last year on another nudist day at Hook of Holland I went for a walk with some friends along the coast line; I think they put something on because we did not know how far we would walk, but I was rather ignorant at the moment that something could be wrong, when suddenly out of the blue there was this little boy, almost seven or eight years old in a shiny striped speedo with the emblem of a crying octopussy loosely stitched on the front (was it still…wet?) waving with a large butterfly-net at me, while he raved violently: “All willies must go away…dirty willies go away!”

I was horrified, did i already walk too far? I could have only just crossed the border where nudist recreation was no longer alowed and I did not yet see the signboard. And then already this angry young lad attacking me with his hard wooden stick! — erik, Tuesday, June 4, 2002, ilx.wh3rd.net

3.
From the lavender rust, to the Firbankian frisson, to the poofing incense, and baron Corvo incognito, this litany of homophobic codes has been marshaled to bear witness to what Kroll later characterizes as Rauschenberg’s “Capotean” indulgence. From Kroll’s perspective, we have indeed gotten “too close to the artist in the wrong sense,” having uncovered his secrets: the expression of his ostensibly hidden homosexual life. What Kroll sneeringly refers to as the space “between the sanctum of private reference and the littered tundra of commemorative decay” is precisely the territory I want to navigate in my attempt to get “close to the artist.” It is in this space between authoritative usage and “private reference” that the emergence of “other” meanings – seductive implications both “public” and “private” – emerge into discursive promise. — from LOVERS AND DIVERS: INTERPICTORIAL DIALOG IN THE WORK OF JASPER JOHNS AND JASPER JOHNS by Jonathan Katz

4.
I love those European Scientology celebrities, who are unique among celebrities in that nobody has ever heard of them. For some reason most of their names also sound like they’ve been made up. At one point, Scientology in the Netherlands trotted out a ‘celebrity’ spokesperson called Kiki Oostindiën, a self-described singer and model. One wouldn’t dare to make it up. “Polish cellist Baroness Soujata de Varis” is a wonderful find, it sounds so splendidly Firbankian — are they sure she exists for real and isn’t just a character from a Firbank novel? — Piltdown Man, from a discussion on Scientology at alt.religion.scientology

5.
Authorial Adjectives: If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then to have been imitated enough to warrant having your name turned into an adjective must be an embarrassment of riches. I came across an article this evening, “Adjectives and the Work of Modernism in an Age of Celebrity” (Project Muse) by Aaron Jaffe, which contains a partial list of authors whose names have been adjectivified, and entered popular use. Goodness, Ibsenite could be some dim, carbon-like mineral, I imagine. A Firbankian is obviously a resident of Firbanks, AK. Brontëan reminds me of some extinct race of malformed giants. Lawrentian: the name of some unplumbed undersea abyss. — from the blog Reeding Lessons

6.
… my highly evolved if not Firbankian sense of camp. Thus I eschew the ubiquitous Frida K; ditto anything with Day of the Dead skeletons on it. I avert my eyes from a stamp showing Georgia O’Keeffe in her jaunty gaucho hat. But somehow I end up with … — from James Wolcott’s blog

7.
Jean Rouch at 86 had lost some of his youthful energy but none of his wit and enthusiasm. With another great film-maker still not subdued by the constraints of old age, the veteran Portuguese master Manoel de Oliveira (a Firbankian nonagenarian), he made a film in Oporto centred on that city’s Pont Eiffel, based on a poem d’Oliveira had written as a script. — from an obituary of director Jean Rouch by James Kirkup

8.
James Broughton’s Mother’s Day is a comic anti-tribute to Mother that envisions Father as mostly a face in a frame, staring dourly, and the children as childlike adults, mindlessly engaging in such rituals as playing hopscotch and shooting squirt guns. Broughton’s attack on the family is wrapped in Firbankian whimsy: “Mother was the loveliest woman in the world,” reads a title in the film, “And Mother wanted everything to be lovely.” — from an appreciation o James Broughton at qlbtq.com

9.
The novelty of the plays, which feature ordinary suburban couples speaking gibberish with absolute complacency, is gone, of course, and they seem more mildly charming than explosive. But they do have their moments, with epigrammatic non sequiturs of Firbankian flair and a delightfully inane religious service broadcast on the radio. — from Ben Brantley’s review of a production of N.F. Simpson’s short plays in the NY Times

10.
The obituaries recently published for Anthony Powell are infused with elegy, as though marking the end of a tradition. Here was the last man left with the confidence to write as he pleased. The room he occupied in the house of English literature was distinct, somewhere on a staircase nobody else climbed. Before the last war, he had published several Firbankian novels so light and comic that they are almost disembodied. — from a remembrance of Anthony Powell by David Pryce-Jones from The Paris Review

 

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Book

Ronald Firbank Concerning the Eccentricities of Cardinal Pirelli
New Directions

‘Ronald Firbank’s novels describe a world which is only adjacent to this one, having many of the features of reality, but a reality which is altogether ‘too much’. In Concerning the Eccentricities of Cardinal Pirelli, there is a class structure, a Cardinal harassed by an overwheening aristocrat, presumptious servants, lavish banquets, and so on. But the overwheening aristocrat has recently had her latest adopted dog baptized in full ceremony in the Basilica, the Cardinal has a crush on an altogether too knowing acolyte, and Madame Poco the wardrobe mistress is a Vatican spy. A world of gossip, barely suppressed scandal, Catholicism of the Scarlet-Whore-of-Babylon variety, and a limpid prose style with roots in the Decadent movement, have ensured for Firbank a place in the pantheon of gay classics. But Firbank is not just a gay writer. He is also one of the great unsung 20th century masters of English prose, a magnificent stylist of the very first rank.’ — The Lectern

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Excerpt

I

Huddled up in a cope of gold wrought silk he peered around. Society had rallied in force. A christening—and not a child’s.

Rarely had he witnessed, before the font, so many brilliant people. Were it an heir to the DunEden acres (instead of what it was) the ceremony could have hardly drawn together a more distinguished throng.

Monsignor Silex moved a finger from forehead to chin, and from ear to ear. The Duquesa DunEden’s escapades, if continued, would certainly cost the Cardinal his hat.

“And ease my heart by splashing fountains.”

From the choir-loft a boy’s young voice was evoking Heaven.

“His hat!” Monsignor Silex exclaimed aloud, blinking a little at the immemorial font of black Macæl marble that had provoked the screams of pale numberless babies.

Here Saints and Kings had been baptized, and royal Infantas, and sweet Poets, whose high names thrilled the heart.

Monsignor Silex crossed his breast. He must gather force to look about him. Frame a close report. The Pontiff, in far-off Italy, would expect precision.

Beneath the state baldequin, or Grand Xaymaca, his Eminence sat enthroned ogled by the wives of a dozen grandees. The Altamissals, the Villarasas (their grandee-ships’ approving glances, indeed, almost eclipsed their wives’), and Catherine, Countess of Constantine, the most talked-of beauty in the realm, looking like some wild limb of Astaroth in a little crushed “toreador” hat round as an athlete’s coif with hanging silken balls, while beside her a stout, dumpish dame, of enormous persuasion, was joggling, solicitously, an object that was of the liveliest interest to all.

Head archly bent, her fine arms divined through darkling laces, the Duquesa stood, clasping closely a week-old police-dog in the ripple of her gown.

“Mother’s pet!” she cooed, as the imperious creature passed his tongue across the splendid uncertainty of her chin.

Monsignor Silex’s large, livid face grew grim.

What,—disquieting doubt,—if it were her Grace’s offspring after all? Praise heaven, he was ignorant enough regarding the schemes of nature, but in an old lutrin once he had read of a young woman engendering a missel-thrush through the channel of her nose. It had created a good deal of scandal to be sure at the time: the Holy Inquisition, indeed, had condemned the impudent baggage, in consequence, to the stake.

“That was the style to treat them,” he murmured, appraising the assembly with no kindly eye. The presence of Madame San Seymour surprised him; one habitually so set apart and devout! And Madame La Urench, too, gurgling away freely to the four-legged Father: “No, my naughty Blessing; no, not now!… By and by, a bone.”

Words which brought the warm saliva to the expectant parent’s mouth.

Tail awag, sex apparent (to the affected slight confusion of the Infanta Eulalia-Irene), he crouched, his eyes fixed wistfully upon the nozzle of his son.

Ah, happy delirium of first parenthood! Adoring pride! Since times primæval by what masonry does it knit together those that have succeeded in establishing here, on earth, the vital bonds of a family’s claim? Even the modest sacristan, at attention by the font, felt himself to be superior of parts to a certain unproductive chieftain of a princely House, who had lately undergone a course of asses’ milk in the surrounding mountains—all in vain!

But, supported by the Prior of the Cartuja, the Cardinal had arisen for the act of Immersion.

Of unusual elegance, and with the remains, moreover, of perfect looks, he was as wooed and run after by the ladies as any matador.

“And thus being cleansed and purified, I do call thee ‘Crack’!” he addressed the Duquesa’s captive burden.

Tail sheathed with legs “in master’s drawers,” ears cocked, tongue pendent….

“Mother’s mascot!”

“Oh, take care, dear; he’s removing all your rouge!”

What?

“He’s spoilt, I fear, your roses.” The Countess of Constantine tittered.

The Duquesa’s grasp relaxed. To be seen by all the world at this disadvantage.

“Both?” she asked, distressed, disregarding the culprit, who sprang from her breast with a sharp, sportive bark.

What rapture, what freedom!

“Misericordia!” Monsignor Silex exclaimed, staring aghast at a leg poised, inconsequently, against the mural-tablet of the widowed duchess of Charona—a woman who, in her lifetime, had given over thirty million pezos to the poor!

Ave Maria purissima! What challenging snarls and measured mystery marked the elaborate recognition of father and son, and would no one then forbid their incestuous frolics?

In agitation Monsignor Silex sought fortitude from the storied windows overhead, aglow in the ambered light as some radiant missal.

It was Saint Eufraxia’s Eve, she of Egypt, a frail unit numbered above among the train of the Eleven Thousand Virgins: an immaturish schoolgirl of a saint, unskilled, inexperienced in handling a prayer, lacking, the vim and native astuteness of the incomparable Theresa.

Yes; divine interference, ‘twixt father and son, was hardly to be looked for, and Eufraxia (she of Egypt) had failed too often before….

Monsignor Silex started slightly, as, from the estrade beneath the dome, a choir-boy let fall a little white spit.

Dear child, as though that would part them!

“Things must be allowed to take their ‘natural’ course,” he concluded, following the esoteric antics of the reunited pair.

Out into the open, over the Lapis Lazuli of the floor, they flashed, with stifled yelps, like things possessed.

“He’ll tear my husband’s drawers!” the duquesa lamented.

“The duque’s legs. Poor Decima.” The Infanta fell quietly to her knees.

“Fortify … asses …” the royal lips moved.

“Brave darling,” she murmured, gently rising.

But the duquesa had withdrawn, it seemed, to repair her ravaged roses, and from the obscurity of an adjacent confessional-box was calling to order Crack.

“Come, Crack!”

And to the Mauro-Hispanic rafters the echo rose.

“Crack, Crack, Crack, Crack….”

II

From the Calle de la Pasiôn, beneath the blue-tiled mirador of the garden wall, came the soft brooding sound of a seguidilla. It was a twilight planned for wooing, unbending, consent; many, before now, had come to grief on an evening such. “It was the moon.”

Pacing a cloistered walk, laden with the odour of sun-tired flowers, the Cardinal could not but feel the insidious influences astir. The bells of the institutions of the Encarnacion and the Immaculate Conception, joined in confirming Angelus, had put on tones half-bridal, enough to create vague longings, of sudden tears, among the young patrician boarders.

“Their parents’ daughters—convent-bred,” the Cardinal sighed.

At the Immaculate Conception, dubbed by the Queen, in irony, once “The school for harlots,” the little Infanta Maria-Paz must be lusting for her Mamma and the Court, and the lilac carnage of the ring, while chafing also in the same loose captivity would be the roguish niñas of the pleasure-loving duchess of Sarmento, girls whose Hellenic ethics had given the good Abbess more than one attack of fullness.

Morality. Poise! For without temperance and equilibrium—— The Cardinal halted.

But in the shifting underlight about him the flushed camellias and the sweet night-jasmines suggested none; neither did the shape of a garden-Eros pointing radiantly the dusk.

“For unless we have balance——” the Cardinal murmured, distraught, admiring against the elusive nuances of the afterglow the cupid’s voluptuous hams.

It was against these, once, in a tempestuous mood that his mistress had smashed her fan-sticks.

“Would that all liaisons would break as easily!” his Eminence framed the prayer: and musing on the appalling constancy of a certain type, he sauntered leisurely on. Yes, enveloping women like Luna Sainz, with their lachrymose, tactless “mys,” how shake them off? “My” Saviour, “my” lover, “my” parasol—and, even, “my” virtue….

“Poor dearie.”

The Cardinal smiled.

Yet once in a way, perhaps, he was not averse to being favoured by a glimpse of her: “A little visit on a night like this.” Don Alvaro Narciso Hernando Pirelli, Cardinal-Archbishop of Clemenza, smiled again.

In the gloom there, among the high thickets of bay and flowering myrtle…. For, after all, bless her, one could not well deny she possessed the chief essentials: “such, poor soul, as they are!” he reflected, turning about at the sound as of the neigh of a horse.

“Monseigneur….”

Bearing a biretta and a silver shawl, Madame Poco, the venerable Superintendent-of-the-palace, looking, in the blue moonlight, like some whiskered skull, emerged, after inconceivable peepings, from among the leafy limbo of the trees.

“Ah, Don Alvaro, sir! Come here.”

“Pest!” His Eminence evinced a touch of asperity.

“Ah, Don, Don,…” and slamming forward with the grace of a Torero lassooing a bull, she slipped the scintillating fabric about the prelate’s neck.

“Such nights breed fever, Don Alvaro, and there is mischief in the air.”

“Mischief?”

“In certain quarters of the city you would take it almost for some sortilege.”

“What next?”

“At the Encarnacion there’s nothing, of late, but seediness. Sister Engracia with the chicken-pox, and Mother Claridad with the itch, while at the College of Noble Damosels, in the Calle Santa Fé, I hear a daughter of Don José Illescas, in a fit of caprice, has set a match to her coronet.”

“A match to her what?”

“And how explain, Don Alvaro of my heart, these constant shots in the Cortès? Ah, sangre mio, in what times we live!”

Ambling a few steps pensively side by side, they moved through the brilliant moonlight. It was the hour when the awakening fireflies are first seen like atoms of rosy flame floating from flower to flower.

“Singular times, sure enough,” the Cardinal answered, pausing to enjoy the transparent beauty of the white dripping water of a flowing fountain.

“And ease my heart by splashing—tum-tiddly-um-tum,” he hummed. “I trust the choir-boys, Dame, are all in health?”

“Ah, Don Alvaro, no, sir!”

“Eh?”

“No, sir,” Madame Poco murmured, taking up a thousand golden poses.

“Why, how’s that?”

“But few now seem keen on Leapfrog, or Bossage, and when a boy shows no wish for a game of Leap, sir, or Bossage——”

“Exactly,” his Eminence nodded.

“I’m told it’s some time, young cubs, since they’ve played pranks on Tourists! Though only this afternoon little Ramón Ragatta came over queazy while demonstrating before foreigners the Dance of the Arc, which should teach him in future not to be so profane: and as to the acolytes, Don Alvaro, at least half of them are absent, confined to their cots, in the wards of the pistache Fathers!”

“To-morrow, all well, I’ll take them some melons.”

“Ah, Don, Don!!”

“And, perhaps, a cucumber,” the Cardinal added, turning valedictionally away.

The tones of the seguidilla had deepened and from the remote recesses of the garden arose a bedlam of nightingales and frogs.

It was certainly incredible how he felt immured.

Yet to forsake the Palace for the Plaza he was obliged to stoop to creep.

With the Pirelli pride, with resourceful intimacy he communed with his heart: deception is a humiliation; but humiliation is a Virtue—a Cardinal, like myself, and one of the delicate violets of our Lady’s crown…. Incontestably, too,—he had a flash of inconsequent insight, many a prod to a discourse, many a sapient thrust, delivered ex cathedrâ, amid the broken sobs of either sex, had been inspired, before now, by what prurient persons might term, perhaps, a “frolic.” But away with all scruples! Once in the street in mufti, how foolish they became.

The dear street. The adorable Avenidas. The quickening stimulus of the crowd: truly it was exhilarating to mingle freely with the throng!

Disguised as a cabellero from the provinces or as a matron (disliking to forgo altogether the militant bravoura of a skirt), it became possible to combine philosophy, equally, with pleasure.

The promenade at the Trinidades seldom failed to be diverting, especially when the brown Bettita or the Ortiz danced! Olé, he swayed his shawl. The Argentina with Blanca Sanchez was amusing too; her ear-tickling little song “Madrid is on the Manzanares,” trailing the “‘ares” indefinitely, was sure, in due course, to reach the Cloisters.

Deliberating critically on the numerous actresses of his diocese, he traversed lightly a path all enclosed by pots of bergamot.

And how entrancing to perch on a bar-stool, over a glass of old golden sherry!

“Ah Jesus-Maria,” he addressed the dancing lightning in the sky.

Purring to himself, and frequently pausing, he made his way, by ecstatic degrees, towards the mirador on the garden wall.

Although a mortification, it was imperative to bear in mind the consequences of cutting a too dashing figure. Beware display. Vanity once had proved all but fatal: “I remember it was the night I wore ringlets and was called ‘my queen.'”

And with a fleeting smile, Don Alvaro Pirelli recalled the persistent officer who had had the effrontery to attempt to molest him: “Stalked me the whole length of the Avenue Isadora!” It had been a lesson. “Better to be on the drab side,” he reflected, turning the key of the garden tower.

Dating from the period of the Reformation of the Nunneries, it commanded the privacy of many a drowsy patio.

“I see the Infanta has begun her Tuesdays!” he serenely noted, sweeping the panorama with a glance.

It was a delightful prospect.

Like some great guitar the city lay engirdled ethereally by the snowy Sierras.

“Foolish featherhead,” he murmured, his glance falling upon a sunshade of sapphire chiffon, left by Luna: “‘my’ parasol!” he twirled the crystal hilt.

“Everything she forgets, bless her,” he breathed, lifting his gaze towards the magnolia blossom cups that overtopped the tower, stained by the eternal treachery of the night to the azure of the Saint Virgin. Suspended in the miracle of the moonlight their elfin globes were at their zenith.

“Madrid is on the Manzan-ares,” he intoned.

But “Clemenza,” of course, is in white Andalusia.

(cont.)

 

 

*

p.s. Hey. ** Steve Erickson, Hey, Steve. Thank you so much again! The post got monster traffic. How funny were your dad’s questions in the end? It seems like becoming addicted to opiates in order to cope with physical pain is so completely different than doing drugs recreationally. Maybe it’s like people with a terminal illness who commit suicide versus those who do it while depressed? Awesome insight and knowledge from you in the comments section over the weekend that I will admit I looky-looed when need be, thank you. I do know Serpent Power, yes. I can’t remember if they were in the big psychedelic gig. Quite possibly. Yes, the new Dream Syndicate is quite good isn’t it? Surprisingly so. ** David Ehrenstein, Hi, D. Thanks for your great response. ** Sypha, Hi. Cool, I’ll do that Google search, thank you. Yes, use Devon as a muse, I agree with Bill. Unrequited lust, love, and/or what have you can be writing’s motherlode. ** S., I seem to have pretty much fallen out of love with rock. It’s weird after pretty much lifelong attentiveness. I wonder if it’s it or me. I wonder if we’ll get back together. Sounds like you and Steve’s post were one that night in your inimitable fashion. Let’s make a pact that neither one of us will ever have a stroke. Nutloaf … sounds familiar. Maybe, I think so? Identity and subjectivity are like soup and sandwich. ** Dóra Grőber, Hi! Oh, right, I remember you helped sell your mom’s ceramics now. The job test is today, right? If so, infinite luck to you, and let me know how it felt like it went. Yeah, my jet lag has been murder. It seems to be actually dying for real now, but jet lag is very untrustworthy, so I think I will only declare victory if I get one more okay night’s sleep tonight. There’s a theater version of ‘Let Me In’? Huh. It doesn’t seem like that would work, but … obviously it could. Did it? My weekend was mostly about gradual recovery from the lag. I did manage to go see a early cut of my pal (plus artist, filmmaker, and cinematographer for Zac’s and my films) Michael Salerno’s recently shot new short film (which co-stars 15 year-old genius boy Milo who’s also in ‘Permanent Green Light’), and it’s great even in its unfinished form, so that was cool. I suppose that was my most ambitious weekend venture. Otherwise, I fought sleepiness and futzed around. So, today, how did everything go? ** Bill, Hi, Bill. Sorry for your exhausting week. Mine too, although in my case the real world was not to blame. I think jet lag is still sneaking around inside me looking for the moment to re-strike, but if I get a good 8 hours of snooze tonight, I think I can declare it quashed. Huh, okay, I will get the new Beachy. Its length spooked me, but your description is Sirenic. Mm, I don’t believe I’ve done a concentrated post on that era/those bands, no. In fact, some in your list are unfamiliar to me. Yes, yes, I should greatly love it if you want to pull together a post about that/them. The would be amazing if you have time to swing it. Thank you a lot! ** _Black_Acrylic, Hi, Ben. Ooh, that ‘Away Kit’ is a beauty. And I even think I understand what an ‘Away Kit’ must be just from gazing at it. Very sweet work, bud. ** Misanthrope, Hi, G. Niceness is nice. Yeah, there were a few days while I was away that there were no comments at all. First time that’s happened in the entire history of the blog. So weird. But nice, I guess, yes. Well, mega-hope that LPS maintains his currently fruitful and pleasantly objective opinion of school’s place and value in his young life. I think I’ll just watch the movie version of ‘CMbMN’. If I go there. Maybe the young guy is just culturally appropriating gayness? Maybe he turns straight eventually because he gets called out on Facebook for being a privileged white gayness appropriator by people who have no idea if he’s gay or not and who just feel like harassing him because they’re addicted to harassing and shaming people who aren’t exactly like themselves? Maybe he gets shamed into deciding he’s straight? Maybe in the third movie he’ll finally realize that he was bullied and abused into being straight and that he’s gay after all? ** MawBTS, Hi, hello there, welcome, and thank you very much for your response to Steve’s post. Door’s always open here if you like. ** Right. It seemed like high time to put Firbank’s booty in the saddle, and so I did. See you tomorrow.

19 Comments

  1. David Ehrenstein

    November 6, 2017 at 2:45 pm

    “Concerning the Eccentricities of Cardinal Pirelli” is Firbank’s masterpiece and consequently one of the greatest novels ever written in my far from humble opinion. It’s right up with Jane Bowles’ “Two Serious Ladies” Irving Rosenthal’s “Sheeper” and of course Proust. Brigid Brophy’s “Prancing Novelist” is the definitive bio — and incidentally twice as long as all of Firbank’s works out together.

    For those living in the L.A. area Check this schedule I will be appearing “live on stage” and the “Unurban Coffee House” on Saturday at 4 PM where I will be interviewed about my work as a film critic.

  2. David Ehrenstein

    November 6, 2017 at 4:22 pm

    Jann Wenner is the “King of the White Jerks”. Not exactly a “revelation” but it’s always nice to see a well-aimed pie in his punim. Back when “Rolling Stone’ was first being formed Richard Meltzer told me “Wenner’s gay but wants everyone to think he isn’t” And so he had himself a “New York Marriage.” Now they’re “happily divorced ” and his boyfriend is a former Calvin Klein model. Typical.

  3. Wenner is famous for being horrified that the Sex Pistols’ NEVER MIND THE BOLLOCKS came in at #2 when Rolling Stone conducted a poll of rock critics regarding their favorite albums, so that when RS did the same thing with singles, he personally fiddled with the results so that songs by his buddies Foreigner and Billy Joel made the list. Also, there was a 5-year stretch between the late ’70s and early ’80s where no black people were put on the magazine’s cover. (Michael Jackson, not surprisingly, broke this. I guess it would’ve been him or Prince ca. 1983.)

    Yes, Prince didn’t set out to get high, but from what I’ve read about his final days, his addiction to opiates involved a heavy component of seeking pleasure after the initial need to relieve pain. This is how a lot of people with chronic pain issues end up becoming junkies. This is a complicated issue, but as I said in the “Raspberry Beret” intro, had he come forward and said he was an addict publicly seeking treatment, everyone would’ve called him a hypocrite. For what it’s worth, the extremely authoritative “Prince vault” site confirms the story about him experimenting with MDMA in the ’80s and hallucinating that God told him not to release THE BLACK ALBUM, so his “I never took drugs, and all of them are evil” stance at that time probably didn’t reflect his actual life.

    I know what you mean about losing interest in rock. There are actually a fair number of rock albums I think are relatively major in 2017: Bell Witch, the National, Big Thief, Queens of the Stone Age, Couch Slut, Myrkur, the Dream Syndicate. And I discovered Ghost’s 2015 MELIORA and 2016 EP POPESTAR this year. But the music has largely lost its cultural currency – if you talk to most people in their 20s, they listen to hip-hop, R&B, mainstream pop and/or EDM, not rock, unless they’re hardcore music geeks like us. Of all the above bands, I think Bell Witch are the only ones who are doing something I’ve never really heard before. The rest are just very good at coming up with combinations of cool influences (or in the case of the Dream Syndicate, picking up on what they were doing in 1982, which even then was a combination of Television, Bob Dylan and the Velvet Underground.) As far as some kind of genuinely rebellious spirit, I think Run the Jewels, Dominowe and Huarotron do a better job of capturing that than the vast majority of contemporary rock artists.

  4. Hi!

    I just got home like an hour ago and I’ve got a job for the next two months, yaaay! I’m really tired but I’m also really happy. Thank you for the “infinite luck”!
    The theater version of ‘Let Me In’ is a Hungarian thing and… no, it did not work at all, haha. It was horrible. But at least we had a laugh.
    How great that Milo also (co-)stars in Michael Salerno’s new short film! I’m really curious about him by now! And about Michael’s piece too, obviously.
    Gosh, sorry for this short and messy little letter. I’m pretty exhausted.
    What happened today on your end? How are you? I very much hope your jet lag is truly gone by now!!

  5. Amphibiouspeter

    November 6, 2017 at 9:29 pm

    Hi DC. Been ages since I’ve checked in on here, life’s been pretty hectic, but hope that you’ve been well! Loved the list of times firbankian has been used as an adjective – I bet there must be loads more of those you can do. Was also pleased to see Sacrilege on the list of bouncy castles. I know Deller sometimes talks about it as a bit of a joke but I think it’s a really sophisticated piece. When I went it was pouring with rain and these kids were just going flying.

    I’ve been reading Bolaño’s 2666 and am pretty near finishing now, I’ve read a bunch of his other work but never thought I’d read it because I can find novels quite hard to finish – short attention span – but in the end it’s taken like three and a half weeks. Also read Will Self’s new book which is actually pretty good, if you’re happy to run the risk of repetitive strain injury from rolling your eyes.

    Anyway – take care. Look forward to what’s in store tomorrow.

  6. I enjoyed reading this about Firbank’s doings, so thank you for putting it together!

  7. Hey Dennis, it has been a long, long, long time. One year? Even two years? I hope not… But I am still alive and I was always somehow around here. At least surveying the scene like a benevolently ghost.
    There is a specific reason that I write today. We will be in Strasbourg to see Crowd on wednesday and thursday. I wanted to tell you this. Will you be there? Also we have one ticket left for each day. So when somebody is reading this and is still looking for a ticket – reach me at schaschlix@gmail.com. Love, Schlix / Uli

  8. MawBTS, Hi, hello there, welcome, and thank you very much for your response to Steve’s post. Door’s always open here if you like.

    Thanks. I think I’ll stick around.

    By way of introductions, the first Dennis Cooper book I read was The Marbled Swarm, which has a really great image midway through. Something about a kid getting assraped so hard his guts fall out of his ass like a mangled octopus.

    Of course, it was worded much better than that – I don’t have the book in front of me, or I’d quote it. But it hit the perfect ratio of cringe to hilarity. It’s hard to make someone a fan with a single line of prose, but you managed it.

  9. Hello,

    How’s everything? Any plans for today? How was your stay in LA?

    I’m sorry, but, I don’t have your email address; could you give it to me? Could I send you an email?

    A.

  10. I know the “Amen” break has been sampled to death as well, but I think much of it may have been in drum’n’bass rather than hip-hop. The Incredible Bongo Band’s “Apache” is up there too – I think its best use is in Nas’ “Made You Look.”

    I was not very impressed with CALL ME BY YOUR NAME. I can’t really go into my reasons without cannibalizing my review, which should go up later this week (and includes spoilers.) Let’s just say it’s the most tame and middlebrow gay-themed film I’ve seen this year, although there are 2 scenes I found quite moving. BTW, your comments about the character being a “gayness appropriator” are quite funny, especially since you wrote that without having seen the film, which actually could provoke such responses from the more woke among us.

    • Steve, That’s one of my fears about this film: tame and middlebrow. Despite the glowing reviews -DUNKIRK got the same shit and wasn’t very good- I’ve had this feeling that I might find it disappointing.

      • DUNKIRK is better. Also, I found Michael Stuhlberg more attractive than either Armie Hammer or Timothee Chalafant, but maybe I’m weird. There are also many references to Judaism in the film which go nowhere; I think it’s trying to parallel Judaism and non-heteronormative sexuality on some level, but whiffs it, maybe because the director is Gentile.

        After Saturday, I discovered two bands I should have included in the black psych primer. One is a ’90s group from North Carolina called the Veldt who have reformed in the past 2 years and were basically an African-American shoegaze group. The other is a contemporary band called Here Lies Man. I’m not totally sure whether they have any black members, but the musician who founded the band is a Latino man and their concept is “Black Sabbath meets Afrobeat.”

    • David Ehrenstein

      November 7, 2017 at 3:55 am

      Really? I disagree. It’s a Summer Idyll so “tame” is built right into it. After all it’s not “Pages From Cold Point” ya know.

  11. D., Jesus Christ baby are you ok? “Say it ain’t so?” You’ll
    come back, they always come back. You’re like the Rock & Roll kid,
    you’ll Kiss and makeup! Being a Kiss fan pretty much saves me from
    Rock death, otherwise, “Pantera” as I like to call him is a real
    piece of work. I think of a recent interview with Phil Anselmo at a
    college, he did a talk about heroin addiction. At one point the talk was
    music, and said of it, “The difference is we stole from ten bands. Now they
    just steal from one band, so it sounds ripped off and shitty.” I thought
    GBV was my savior but it was only a phase. Candlebox sounds good to me these
    days, because I’m out of my Rock & Roll mind. “I can here it calling me
    the way it used to do.” I’ve been hearing a lot of Page riffs in my head
    lately. It’s a fucking deal! No strokes here or with you, ever. Just got
    a clean bill of health. Never gonna fuck again, last 2 were from Detroit.
    “I get the joys of rediscovering you…” Anyway, feeling very writerly,
    “Cos I’ve got no place left to go!” May you live as long as you like my friend.
    Love live the King of that thing you do

  12. Dennis! Jesus Christ, that whole bit about the sequels -a third!!!!!!!- made me giggle throughout. 😀

    I tell you, I don’t know. But anyway, I did some further reading about stuff, and the consensus seems to be that the time period when it takes place has a lot to do with everything in regards to the characters being essentially straight in their future lives though they have this passionate gay romance. It’s 1983, the beginning of AIDS, the norms and mores were still on the side of staying in the closet, etc. (Not good enough for some, I know.) So…maybe.

    But I like said, little Elio is gay as fuck in the novel. Though he does sleep with a girl -more going through the motions, it seems to me- and ponders his later life when he’s married with kids, as if that’s an expectation more than anything. I will say I’m glad that Luca didn’t seem to change the movie from the book, from what I’ve read.

    So I was 17 in 1988, 5 years later. I had a girlfriend for 4 1/2 years. We had lots of sex. But I was gay and knew it. She knew it. I never envisioned a future where I was married to a woman and had kids. Did 5 years make that much of a difference? I don’t know.

    I’m probably thinking on this too much.

    I’m in a depression right now. Or coming out of it. I’ve told you before that these bouts hit me from time to time and pass quickly. Today was one of those days. Hard to explain why, often there is no why. I’m tired as fuck, which I think is a main cause. I’ll be better tomorrow.

    Oh, I forgot to say: my stomach pain went away. I think I strained it a bit in the gym, which I’ve corrected since. Sometimes, I’m feeling so good in there, I do a little too much, forgetting that I must always be cautious. Well, I’m back to being always cautious again. I’m fine. Thanks for the concern.

    • Elio sleeps with a girl in the movie too. Guadagnino is too prudish to show him going down on her for more than 15 seconds, and when Elio and Oliver have sex, there’s suddenly a tracking shot out their bedroom window as soon as they get into bed which ends by focusing on a tree. Cut to them intertwined in each other’s arms, post-orgasm. Can you say “pandering to straight people who get grossed out by watching 2 men have sex?” MOONLIGHT showed gay sex very obliquely, but it did show it, and its reticence seems a lot more justified considering that it’s about a character who only has sex once in his life and is way more amorously and sexually repressed than Elio.

      • David Ehrenstein

        November 7, 2017 at 4:02 am

        LOATHED “Moonlight” So much hue and cry over a blow-job! JEEZ! “Call Me By Your Name” may be low-key but the characters DO fuck.

        Anyhoo the best gay movie this year is “BPM” — which won te grand rize at Cannes this year. Have you seen it Dennis? For my money the French really know how to make gay movies: “BPM,” “The Witnesses,” “Wild Reeds,” “L’Homme Blesse” and of course “Those Who Love Me Can Take the Trian.”

  13. Sometimes I think all of my loves/lusts are unrequited. Though now that you mention it, a big reason why I wrote my last novel (“Harlem Smoke”) was to relive certain events and conversations that took place between me and another unrequited crush back in 2013 (though the novel is set in 2015, and obviously some of the details have changed: for example, the character most based after me is a rich older black guy who used to be a horrorcore rapper).

    Speaking of “Harlem Smoke,” after nearly two years of rejections from, well, pretty much everyone I sent it to I might have finally found a publisher for it. I can’t say anything more about it right now though as nothing is set in stone and it’s still all up in the air… it’ll be some time before it sees print though, possibly 2019 at the earliest and 2020 at the latest. So I’ll have to be patient I guess. But the fact that it might be published for real at some point in the future will, hopefully, enable me to begin working on a new novel one of these days.

  14. Many thanks for this, Mr C. Especially as I’ve just started doing a PhD on Ronald Firbank!

    http://www.bbk.ac.uk/languages/arts/research/research-students/english-and-humanities/Dickon-Edwards

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