Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Let me tell you about my day

Yesterday, I received an email that my inter-library loan request for a book which I didn't think would come actually arrived! I was excited, and headed down to the San Francisco Public Library later in the day. Little did I know that this email would set off a chain of events . . . .

The book in question was Jacques Arnaut (or Jacques Arnaut et la Somme Romanesque as it is sometimes listed) by Leon Bopp, a French novelist, literary critic, and philosopher born in 1897. I had come across the book while searching through Gallica, the digital library of the Bibliothèque nationale de France. My search of the keywords "Louise Brooks" revealed that the actress was mentioned in this French-language work published by Gallimard in 1933.

I had blogged about this book and my discovery of its Brooks' connection back on January 22. And subsequently, I put in an inter-library loan request in hope of borrowing the title. According to a search of WorldCat, there were a few copies (7 to be exact) in the United States. There are barely twice that number listed in libraries around the world. Though I don't read French, I wanted to try and find the reference to Brooks, and perhaps determine the context of what is a rather early literary reference to the actress.

Well, the book arrived - or rather, a facsimile of the book arrived. I guess it really is rare. Wow.

What I took home with me was a bound hardback copy of a photocopy of Bopp's 1933 book. The item I received came from the library of a major American university; and I wonder what happened to the original. I am not complaining about receiving a facsimile. And I am really, really, really glad to be able to borrow books via ILL and to examine the text of this elusive title. Here is a peak inside this curious sub-species of printed publication.

Bopp's Jacques Arnaut is more than 600 pages long. Originally, I thought it was a short story collection. But that turns out not to be true. Rather, it is a long work of fiction composed of many short and shorter passages. There don't see to be any chapters. From what I have been able to gleam from the internet, the book was considered an experimental novel at the time and it's story was concerned with the life of an artist. Who knows? Perhaps it is some early kind-of metafictional mash-up of James Joyce's A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man with Ulysses or Finnegans Wake. Proto Jorge Luis Borges anyone?

I don't read French, so it is going to be at least a few days before I am able to visually skim the entire book and spot the reference to the actress - which reads in part, "comme ceux de Louise Brooks." That snippet is all that I got from the Gallica database. On first glance, I did notice a character named Lola. That's all I can say at this time.

But let me tell you about my day . . . libraries are wonderful places. Especially the San Francisco Public Library. It is one of my favorite places in The City. There is still so much to be discovered in libraries - so much beautiful information. So many unexpected connections.

For example, one of the women working at the information counter where I picked-up my facsimile book was none other than Penelope Houston. No, not Penelope Houston the well known film writer and editor of Sight & Sound (who as such had her own connections to Louise Brooks), but Penelope Houston the singer / songwriter for The Avengers, the seminal 1970's San Francisco punk band. How cool. I like her recordings. 

Libraries are indeed wonderful places filled with unexpected connections . . . . However, the best was still to come. 

Browsing the CD and DVD room, I found a few things to borrow including Julian Schnabel's filmed performance of Lou Reed's Berlin, a video of the Theater Music of Brecht & Weill with Lotte Lenya and Gisela May, and Rufus Wainwright's tribute to Judy Garland - which I am enjoying as I write this; Wainwright's interpretation of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" as performed here with his late mother, Kate McGarrigle, is lovely. Afterwords, I headed on over to the library bookstore / gift shop.

I was browsing their selection of donated, mostly second-hand books when I noticed someone enter and begin to look over the cart of new arrivals. It was none other than the San Francisco Poet Laureate Jack Hirschman.

I had been meaning to get in touch with this acclaimed writer because, as I explained after approaching him, I had recently come across his name in a 1962 newspaper article about a screening of Pandora's Box in Monterey, California. According to my research, this was the first time the film had been shown anywhere in the greater San Francisco Bay Area, or Northern California.

I wasn't sure what Hirschman, a poet and translator (I cherish his 1965 Artaud Anthology from City Lights Books) would have been doing at a screening for what was then a somewhat obscure foreign silent film at a small college south of San Francisco. Hirschman was described in one article I found about the event as a "film authority" who would be joining the film critic Pauline Kael and the film curator James Card (who brought the print of Pandora's Box from George Eastman House) in a series of formal and informal discussions. Perhaps there was another Jack Hirschman in the world?

When I asked Hirschman if he had attended this 1962 screening in Monterey, he immediately interjected in his tender singular raspy voice, "ah, Louise Brooks."

"Yes, I was there," Hirschman explained, "along with Pauline Kael." The poet remembered seeing Pandora's Box nearly 50 years ago, and said that the film and Brooks were a favorite of those in attendance.

We chatted a bit more - about the actress, poetry readings (I had put on an event with him a few years back - and took the snapshot of the poet pictured here), the actress and model and muse Tina Modoti, and  the filmmaker Bruce Conner (who not only aspired as a child to take dance lessons with Louise Brooks but also years later took photographs of Penelope Houston during her punk days). And, we spoke briefly about Wichita, Kansas and Detroit, Michigan. Hirschman described himself as a fan of the Detroit Tigers, and I grew in Motor City suburbia. . . .ah, unexpected connections.

An email alert just popped up. I got a message from the San Francisco Public Library.  Some microfilm I requested just came in. There are bunch of rolls of microfilm of the San Jose Mercury Herald, Lodi Sentinel, and Delta News (from Sacramento County) awaiting me. I will head to the library tomorrow to look at what arrived. Hopefully, more beautiful information will be found.

1 comment:

  1. I forgot to mention that I put in an ILL request for "A study of Léon Bopp : the novelist and the philosopher," a 1955 English-language book about the writer. Perhaps it will provide some info on Bopp and his work.


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