Friday, March 26, 2010

Salon: dance accessories

On a December day in 1961, Marilyn Monroe posed for the camera of Len Steckler in the company of America's folksy bard Carl Sandburg. Sandburg, off to the side of the image, holds his guitar close on his lap, but somehow he seems even closer to Marilyn. Curled kittenishly on her chair, Marilyn smiles absently at the camera but inclines her taut body toward Carl. Her shoulders are curved forward and her knees are held back only by the chair's arm. She irradiates Steckler's image with formal yearning. A still photograph, it desperately wants to be a movie.

As to what Carl Sandburg might be saying on the movie's soundtrack -- who cares? As to his guitar, who cares about that either? Most of what we feel, I imagine, is something like a focused desire that the picture may one day, somehow, help us understand its silent way of experiencing Marilyn as a song.

Double-click to enlarge.

But the publication in whose presence we experience Len Steckler's vision doesn't ask us to think about song. Here on its page the image of Marilyn remains rigorously silent among words, and the words are without music. After all, this is the TLS. "The film star was 'three hours late, but had an excuse,'" quotes the TLS caption writer from the book where this image has now been published for the first time. "'She had been at the hairdresser, trying to get her hair colour to match Carl's.'" Hair, round little shoulders, and eager, devoted knees incline themselves silently toward a dark-clothed man. Poetry receives the tribute of grace, in silence. The TLS encourages us to interpret the comedienne's image as an allegory.

But the allegory is isolated in a soundproof box, and around the box run TLS words, their flow undiverted by the printed topography that renders the form of a woman's body. In the expanded margin of the image, George Steiner reviews a collection of Louis-Ferdinand Céline's letters and quotes their author: "I rejoice only in the grotesque and at the frontiers of Death."

And the question arises then: what wordless dance can bear us over the printed line between that image and those words?