Friday, August 10, 2012

An Exquisite Mental Laziness

" herself over to an exquisite mental laziness."  Colette 

Perhaps if we were all like Colette, who mined her own life experiences for material to use in her writing, we, too, would be grateful for some "exquisite mental laziness."

The laziness, languor, that Colette was speaking of though was the laziness that she could indulge in whenever she went to her home near Saint Tropez, La Vielle Muscate.  There she could swim twice a day, weed her garden, and cook for the constant stream of visitors that ran through her home in the South of France.

This was, indeed, a break from her normal routine of locking herself up in a hotel room and writing for 18 hours a day.  When she was "seized" by an idea for a book or, more likely, when she was compelled to write because her bank account was depleted, she could endure long bouts of work that taxed even her own strength and vitality.

She discovered this way of forcing herself to work relentlessly, when her first husband Willy Gauthier-Villars would lock her in their small apartment on the rue Jacob and demand that she fill a certain number of pages in what turned out to be the "Claudine" novels, a highly successful venture to which he applied his own name as the author.  Until, she sued him for the rights to them after their acrimonious divorce.

The tactic was then one she used on herself for the rest of her life, living in small rooms at the Claridge Hotel or in the entresol in the  Palais Royale where she did much of her mature writing.

All her life she swung back and forth between her almost obsessive attachments to whatever the object of her affections at the moment and the solitude that was necessary for her to produce the oeuvre for which she ultimately received the Prix de Goncourt when she was 76 years old living in a crippled, corpulent body which required that she remain in bed most of the time and where she continued to write until her death.

"The kind of solitude Colette associates with paradise is a state of erotic detachment," says Judith Thurman in her biography entited SECRETS OF THE FLESH: A LIFE OF COLETTE.  Which, I guess, is why the image above and the quote provoked this piece of reflection.

The story of the image is itself as convoluted as some of Colette's writing where she uses characters in real life, but fictionalizes them so that one sometimes can't tell which is which.

The story:  While studying Jungian psychology in Zurich and being in need of warm clothes, I went to the flea market which was held every first Saturday at the end of the Bonhofstrasse.  As I was browsing though the cashmere sweaters, I found an old photograph and paid one Swiss franc for it. Years later, I rephotographed it and did a watercolor from that image.  The final version, at the top of this post, was done using PicMonkey.  The image below is of the orginal watercolor.  The old photograph itself has long since been misplaced.   I'm not sure which I like best, the orginal watercolor or the PicMonkey version.

Original watercolor from an old photograph found in the Zurich flea market

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