Tony Grist (poliphilo) wrote,
Tony Grist

What Is There Left To Do But Praise?

Criticism thrives on flaws. To get a grip on an artist's work you need to find something you can pick at. But occasionally you come across an artist you love so much they seem flawless- and what is there left to do then but praise?

I feel this way about Karen Blixen- aka Isak Dinesen- through whose short stories I am currently working my way. Slowly because they're too good not to savour. I recently finished her Seven Gothic Tales (Gothic is misleading because there's strangeness but very little supernaturalism or gore) and am part way through her Winter's Tales. Seven Gothic Tales is currently my favourite book of all time (and how odd that one should be saying that about a recent discovery and not about something from one's formative years) and if I like the Winter's Tales less it's because they're shorter and slighter- written as cramped acts of resistance during the German occupation of Denmark- but still packed tight with ambiguity, wisdom and beauty.

Blixen liked to nest stories within other stories. One of her very best- "The Dreamers"- has an English adventurer entertaining his compadres with a yarn about a woman he once knew- and as a matter of course his yarn takes in three other yarns told by three other men who met the same woman under different names and bearing very different characters. Which of the four women was the real woman- and is that even a question worth asking?

One doesn't need to dig deep to understand why the director of Citizen Kane and Mr Arkadin was drawn to this. Orson Welles had plans to film several of Blixen's stories- including The Dreamers- but managed to complete only one- The Immortal Story. His love of Blixen is obvious in the fidelity that movie bears to her tone and texture. When Welles was not wholly in sympathy with an author- Kafka for instance- he was happy to take liberties. When he was in perfect sympathy- as he was with Shakespeare and Blixen- he was their very humble, faithful servant.

Welles is another artist whom I love so much that I'm blind to their flaws.
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