How dead people are like cats



Dead people are like cats in that you can free associate with them, and they won’t turn away no matter what you say (although cats are prone to interrupt a full hour before mealtime).

My blog is about as close as I come to free association. Yet, more is always possible, and so I tend to write about the same things.

P.S . The portrait is from 1866 and was made by Julia Cameron of Julia Jackson whose only claims to fame are that she was Virginia Woof's mother and Julia Cameron's favorite photographic subject. 

There's an erotic exoticism of the deepest sort about the past, especially when it's remote enough that all those people, who were once so alive, have long since been consumed by worms. How can I reconcile myself to the beauty that has been lost, even the beauty that no eye ever witnessed? 

10 comments:

Stephen Hayes said...

An interesting analogy!

kj said...

i kind of don't know what to say. i look at the faces on the obit page and i look at the wedding picture of my grandmother, who died when my father was two, and i know less than i know more. here too, i'm not able to ascertain what the expressions of these women say.

i am unable to mourn for people dead long ago who i do not know because i have enough real to mourn about ( a few exceptions)

love
kj

Snowbrush said...

"i am unable to mourn for people dead long ago who i do not know because i have enough real to mourn about"

I see it as being all one thing. I see it as a case of grief varying mostly (if not entirely) in intensity. I lost a towel at a campground in 1975, and I still think about that towel from time to time. I can't even tell you what it looked like, but I remember feeling like I had betrayed it by leaving it behind, and the feeling has never left me. I feel similarly about people and dogs I have lost. I grieve that they are gone, but I also grieve that I couldn't have somehow done more or been more. With the people I wrote about in this post, I would just say that the grief is existential rather than personal, but it's still grief, and all grief is one.

"i'm not able to ascertain what the expressions of these women say."

Well, I can't really see the second woman's face that well, and I wouldn't claim to know what the woman in the top portrait was thinking. I just know that I see her as someone who, in her portrait, has a face that devoid of all pretense, and it is this quality that I see (or imagine I see) of being fully present that attracts me to her. Her intensity is such that it's almost as if she's simultaneously dead and alive.

Snowbrush said...

P.S. Although I emphasized in the post the extent to which I'm drawn to faces rather than bodies, what appeals to me most about the bottom photo is the framing, the lighting, and the resultant softness so what I said about the top photo doesn't apply to the bottom photo.

Snowbrush said...

KJ, another PS. When I so completely miss communicating what I was trying to communicate, I find it hard to tell if the problem is with my writing or with my reader being on another wavelength. Since I put this post up within minutes after writing it, I'm going to take it down and look at it again later to see if I can tell which it is. I usually appreciate candor, and you give me that, so I thank you.

kj said...

Hi snow, always consider the issue may be my reading and not your meaning! I do understand more from your comments than my initial read. I think you are talking about a feeling of betrayal as well as grief. I felt that way trading in JB's car Prissy and leaving her destined for junk parts (I leaned never to name something or someone inanimate until I was willing to mourn too)

I can see that that woman's face is ageless. If time is not linear (I don't think it is) it's anybody's chance who knows who in real time. And I believe there is a part of humanity we all carry, respond to, understand. I 'read' that you were responding to these two women sexually/sensuously/erotically. That is not what came up for me, although some women alive or dead certainly hit that switch for me. Again, that was my first read and I'm no doubt wrong in many interpretations of many things

Now: about that towel..... :-)

Love
kj

Lisa said...

That woman's eyes speak volumes. She has known loss on a huge scale.
Damn Snow , now you have me thinking all day !

ellen abbott said...

beauty may be lost every day but it is also created every day.

Snowbrush said...


"always consider the issue may be my reading and not your meaning"

I do, but I wrote and published the original of this post within minutes, and I don't trust the clarity of my expression when I do that.

"I 'read' that you were responding to these two women sexually/sensuously/erotically."

Yes, but moreso on the level of emotional intimacy if only because erotic interest is so comparatively shallow and so easily set aside, if only temporarily. Bear in mind that what I respond to here was what this photographer was known for, which was the intense intimacy of her photographs. One thing she did to achieve this was to make her subjects sit for hours on end while she took and developed plate after plate after plate, breaking down any possibility of falsity in their expressions. It's also true that this subject was renowned for her beauty, although I question how renowned she would be were she alive today.

If I see no sadness in a woman's face, I feel lost, whereas if I see sadness, I imagine that I'm in the presence of something real if for no other reason than that no one would be likely to feign sadness. I also imagine sadness to be that which is deepest, and joy to be that which overlays the sadness and makes it endurable. Thankfully, Peggy's face is not sad but kind. If it were sad, I don't know how I could bear my own feelings of helplessness, such faces being best consigned to the grave where there is no longer any suffering. I think that my feelings about this photo go as deep as anything I could share, but how would I even know where to begin, and would I even want to begin? I know that what I feel regarding this portrait might have nothing to do with the reality of its subject, but with art, the point is not what's there, but what one sees there. It's the opposite of religion in this regard, and the reason that I can be so moved by the one and so calloused by the other. Religion says "believe." Great art says "just try to NOT believe."

"That woman's eyes speak volumes. She has known loss on a huge scale."

Her name was Julia Jackson (Virginia Woolf's mother), and she was her aunt's favorite photographic subject, so you can find a great many photos of her. I have forgotten more than I ever knew about her life (I've had various photos of her on my computer for years). I do recall she lived on an island off the south of England, was married more than once (being widowed), and that she died in her forties (of complications from the flu). I also recall that she was respected for her kindness.

"beauty may be lost every day but it is also created every day."

I find that more tragic than consoling. I'm reminded of a passage in "The Mysterious Stranger" (by Twain) in which a group of boys are befriended by Satan (who, I believe, Twain intended to represent God). The boys were charmed by Satan and enjoyed his powers immensely, but were appalled by his inability to care about the suffering of his creations. When they talked to him about this, his answer was that nothing mattered if more could be made to replace it. So it is that nature makes, nature destroys, and nature replaces. It's an amoral system, and I find no deliverance in such a system. I'm in awe, but I'm not in love.

kylie said...

all i can think is i wonder what you would see in my photo?

ever the narcissist.....