Cosima was Wagner’s wife, the one word Jessa Crispin hadn’t searched for…
|December 15, 2011|
From The Smart Set:
“Find Madame Wagner, and you will find yourself,” the man told me. It wasn’t quite the spiritual quest I had been expecting as I sat waiting for the U-Bahn to arrive. One second I was enjoying my book; the next, a man was jabbering excitedly to me in very quick German. I interrupted to ask him to slow down or switch to English, although really, I wasn’t listening so much as looking to see if I could get to the exit fast enough in case he pulled a knife. The man looked perfectly normal, able to dress himself and carrying a bag full of groceries and not, say, a bag full of moldy stuffed animals. But still, the situation was alarming. He picked up in English where he left off in German, repeating “You are she, you are she…unheimlich, you could be twins,” and something about Wagner. Then the train arrived and he jumped on with that final salvo, half message from God and half opening line to an awkwardly plotted fantasy quest, with a commoner unexpectedly finding herself heir to a throne.
“Find Madame Wagner, and you will find yourself.”
After many Google image searches for “Wagner mistress,” “Wagner muse,” and “Wagner daughter,” I finally came across a picture of Cosima. In an instant, I knew this was the face the strange man saw in me. She had a haunting familiarity when she faced the camera, as if she had was a long-lost great grandmother. In profile, she became a past life version of myself.
Cosima was Wagner’s wife, the one word I hadn’t tried in the search query. I did not think of myself as someone’s wife — it did not occur to me to consider my double filling that role. I felt an eerie enough draw to her photo, a draw at least as strong as a repulsion I also instantly felt, to look to see if she had a biography. She did. It just happened to be coming out in a few months, and the publisher had galleys available. Did I want one?
Pale Youths in Love
I remember when I was a pre-teen and they moved into a loft across the street from me in Tribeca, where I lived. And an older neighbor friend told me they were living in her building, on the top floor. I saw him at my corner deli, and on the street smoking, but never her. At night, I sometimes looked up at their windows and saw their lights on. He was not very impressive in person. Cute, but no big deal.
What is Work?
Without a written record, we cannot know with certainty how the earliest humans thought about work, but the importance of sharing food and other resources means that prehistoric work embodied at least an element of serving the needs of a community rather than just those of an individual and his or her immediate family.
Genesis: A Supreme Fiction
It occurred to me that Genesis is such a supreme fiction, or perhaps it is the supreme fiction in western culture, which begat many others. For thousands of years this book has been the mirror or lamp that reveals what reality consists of – regarding the nature of human existence, the cosmos and God. Or, to put it differently: the meaning of life, the universe and everything.
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Late in 2011, Michiko Kakutani opened her New York Times review of Claire Tomalin’s biography of Charles Dickens with “a remarkable account” she had found in its pages. In London for a few days in 1862, Fyodor Dostoevsky had dropped in on Dickens’s editorial offices and found the writer in an expansive mood.