She had to put up with being insulted by the cats

Hi, folks,

Here are some things I read, listened, or watched this past week. For more about this project & my previous posts on it, go here: Weeks 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 |


Week 9- ♦06♦

“Until Such Times”, by Jessie Kesson (Where the Apple Ripens and Other Stories, 1985)

This short story is all about voice: the narrator is a girl talking about her life and her family in a meandering way. She lives with her grandmother and her aunt (whom she refers to as the Invalid Aunt, in a vindictive way), and she keeps talking in and out about Aunt Ailsa, who has promised to return to take her back, and has asked her to wait ‘until such times’ (an unidentified point in time when her mother will come back for her and they will be able to live together). Ailsa may or may not be the narrator’s mother, but the girl refuses to call her that: ‘aunt’ seems to her a more acceptable relation for a single woman with a child (“‘She’s my Aunt Ailsa’, you said, protective of a relationship that was acceptable”).

The meandering nature of the narration mirrors the girl’s own inability to fully understand the nuances of the relationships that surround her. And she talks about herself in the second person, as if she were drawing us in to feel like she does; as if she were disconnected from her body and from her life; or as if she were not exactly telling a story but rather talking to herself. It’s a child’s point of view, and we get to understand far more than she does at the time. “My mother is ladies I cut out from picture books.”

My rating: ★★★★☆


“As They Rode Along the Edge”, by Leonora Carrington, tr. Kathrine Talbot (The Seventh Horse and Other Tales, 1989)

From its first lines, the story throws us into a strange, slightly distorted version of our world: “As they rode along the edge, the brambles drew back their thorns like cats retracting their claws. This was something to see: fifty black cats and as many yellow ones, and then here, and one couldn’t really be altogether sure that she was a human being.  Her smell alone threw doubt on it–a mixture of spices and game, the stables, fur and grasses.”

This “not altogether human” character is Virginia Fur. She lives in a forest on a mountain, together with a thousand cats and her wheel, which she uses to ride around, “between precipices”.” “Of course, she had to put up with being insulted by the cats sometimes, but she insulted them back just as loudly and in the same language.”

While out hunting with her cats, she meets and is courted by Saint Alexander. He wants to save her soul, she wants his church’s silver, and the cats want food. “Saint Alexander mounted the pulpit and explained that he was going to perform a miracle: everyone hoped he was talking about food.” During what seemed to be a religious mass, the lamb of Christ floated to the ceiling, only to explode and fall to the ground in large pieces, which the cats gulped down eagerly.

Virginia is then courted by a wild boar called Igname, she falls in love then curses it, and they make sex under a mountain of frenzied cats. I love Carrington’s absurd, heretic appropriation of Christian imagery in this story: in particular, her way of turning eucharistic elements into a savage pagan ritual.

Sadly, Igname and Virginia’s love is short-lived: he is shot by hunters and becomes the main dish at a religious banquet held by Saint Alexander to a group of nuns and society ladies. The forest beasts are not pleased, and Virginia will avenge the loss of her lover in a barbaric feast. Virginia then gives birth to seven boars. “Out of sentiment she kept the one most like Igname, and boiled the others for herself and the cats, as a funeral feast.”

My rating: ★★★★☆


“The poet and time”, by Marina Tsvetaeva, tr. Angela Livingstone (Art in the Light of Conscience. Eight Essays on Poetry, 2010, pp. 87-103. Original: (“Poet i Vremia”, in the magazine Volie Rossii, v. 1 – 3, 1932)

Poetry and time, the poet and its time, the poet in time: these are topics Tsvetaeva explores in this essay, in which she discusses what it means to be contemporary, and what it means to be liked or disliked for it. Assertions such as ‘I love poetry, but not contemporary poetry’ or its opposite ‘I love poetry, but only contemporary poetry’ are instances of the same mistake: an incomplete or distorted comprehension of what it means to like an artwork – and, ultimately, of what contemporary, art, poetry, and time mean.

On art appreciation:

Not to like a work is, in the first and more important place, not to recognize it: not to find the pre-cognised in it. The first cause of not accepting a work is not being prepared for it. (…) Like children not wanting to try anything new. A physical turning away of the head: I see nothing in this picture, therefore I don’t wish to look at it. – But, in order to see, one needs to look; in order to really see, one needs to look really closely. Disappointment of an eye that is used to seeing at first glance, which means used to seeing along its old track, that of others’ eyes. Used to not an act of cognition, but recognition.  (…) The only case worthy of respect, the only legitimate non-acceptance of a work, is non-acceptance of it in full knowledge. (…) Nobody is obliged to love, but every non-loving person is obliged to know: first – what it is he does not love; second – why he does not love it. (…) Anyone who loves only something, loves nothing.”

About the poet in time:

“Self-preservation of creativity. Sometimes, so as not to die, one has to kill (primarily something in oneself). Thus, Mayakovsky – against Pushkin. Not really his enemy, but his ally, the most contemporary poet of his time, as much the creator of his epoch as Mayakovsky is of his – and only an enemy because he’s been cast in iron and loaded on to the generations. (Poets, poets, fear statues and anthologies after your death still more than in your lifetime!) A shout that is not against Pushkin, but against his statue. (…) Coming back to here: in matters of art the philistine is generally contemporary with the preceding generation – that is, artistically he is his own father, and his grandfather and great-grandfather too. In matters of art the philistine leaves the ranks at around the age of thirty, as soon as he’s thirty he starts rolling uncontrollably backwards – through non-understanding of others’ youth – to non-recognition of his own youth, to non- acknowledgement of any youth – till he gets to Pushkin, whose eternal youth he transforms into eternal oldness, and whose eternal contemporality he transforms into antiqueness from the word go. At which point he dies.”

About time in the poet:

“Every modernity has two tails: one of restorers and one of innovators, each as bad as the other. (…) Every contemporaneity in the present is a coexistence of times, it is ends and beginnings, it is a living knot, which has only to be cut. (…) The reason X doesn’t accept contemporary art is that he no longer creates it. X is uncontemporary not because he doesn’t accept the contemporary age, but because he has stopped on his creative path. Contemporality of a poet means doomedness to time. Doomed to being driven by it. You can’t jump out of history. (…) Two movements that meet each other: age moving forward in time, and the corresponding awareness of art moving backward; increasing age and decreasing artistic perceptivity. (…) From all that’s been said it is clear that a poet’s contemporality is by no means signalled by the timeliness of his general recognition, thus not by the quantity but by the quality of this recognition. (…) The contemporality of the poet consists in so many heartbeats per second, giving the exact pulse-rate of the age – including its illnesses (NB we all gasp for breath in poems!); it consists in an extra- semantic, almost physical, consonance with the heart of the epoch – which includes my heart and beats in mine, as mine. (…) Poems are our children. Our children are older than us, because they have longer and further to live. Older than us from the future. Therefore sometimes foreign to us. (…) Rilke is neither a command to our time nor a display of it – he is its counterweight. (…) As its antithesis, necessity, antidote, Rilke could only have been born in our time. In this lies his contemporality. The time did not order him, but summoned him.”

About contemporality in art:

And the poet will best serve his time when he lets it speak, express itself, through him. The poet will best serve his time when he quite forgets about it (when it is quite forgotten). Contemporary is not what shouts the loudest, but sometimes what keeps the quietest. Contemporality is not the whole of my time. The contemporary is what is indicative of the time, what it will be judged by: not its demand, but its display. Contemporality is in itself a selection. The genuinely contemporary is what is eternal in time, thus not only what is indicative of a given time, but what is timely for ever, contemporary with everything. (…) Contemporality in art is the influence of the best upon the best (…) Contemporality is not the whole of my time, but neither is the whole of contemporality one of its phenomena. The age of Goethe is simultaneously the age of Napoleon and the age of Beethoven. Contemporality is the aggregate of the best. (…) To be a contemporary is to create one’s time, not to reflect it. Or, to reflect it, only not like a mirror but like a shield. To be a contemporary is to create one’s time – that is, to do battle with nine-tenths of what’s in it, as you do battle with nine-tenths of a first draft. We remove the scum from the cabbage-soup – shan’t we remove it from the boiling cauldron of time? (…) To defend against time what is eternal in time, or to eternalise what is temporary in it – however it’s put: to time, the age of this world, another age is counterposed. Service to time as such is service to change – betrayal – death. You can’t keep up with it, you can’t oblige it. The present. Is there such a thing? Service to the recurring decimal figure. I think I am still serving the present, but I’m already serving the past and already – the future. Where is it, the praesens, and in what? You may run with someone running, but once you realise that he is running nowhere, always running, running because he’s running, running in order to run…That his running is an end in itself, or – still worse – a running away from himself: from himself as a wound, a rent into which everything flows away. (…) Service to one’s time is a command of despair.”

My rating: ★★★★★


 ‘Father, Son, Holy Ghost’, by Girls (2011)

“Love, love, love, love
It’s just a song” – Just a Song


Film: Olivia, directed by Jacqueline Audry (1951, IMDb, also known as The Pit of Loneliness)


  • My review
  • Running time: 1h 32min
  • My rating: ★★★★☆
  • Favourite scenes: the Christmas party & the lesbian vampire kiss!

That’s all for now, folks. What have you been reading/ listening/ watching this week? Tell me about it.

Yours truly,


Leonora Carrington, Pastoral, 1950

4 thoughts on “She had to put up with being insulted by the cats

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