Book Preview: This is the title story of Alfred Schwaid’s book Everything Else Is Everything Else. Because of some interesting goings on at ECP Books that can’t be revealed yet, Alfred’s posthumous re-issue has been delayed until early fall. But to give a flavor of his incredibly unique prose, but we present the full text of the story here as it will appear in the book, as originally published by Experimental Chapbook Press in 1993:

 

Everything Else Is Everything Else
Alfred Schwaid

 

I am not an actor. I have just this minute learned that Ernest Hemingway wanted to write as Cezanne painted, and that his knowledge of Cezanne was obtained from Gertrude Stein. The actor is a reflection of confidence, which is his mirror.

I want my work to combine the abstract, the symbolic and the representative: it’s hard to believe I said that once myself, now that Lenore is dead.

Acting is the most corporeal art, music the most spiritual, and yet of all artists I envy the actor the most, and if I had my pick would be one. Prose is the queen of arts: it must contain elements of all the others, design and texture, rhythm and time, space and the lack of it. Is it true that Renoir painted with his prick?

Lenore had a background that I have never been able to unravel. “I would like to at least come away with some happy memories,” she once told me.

The setting should be as stark as possible: three black walls and one white, a folding ladder in the center of all, symbolic of the letter A, and in one comer a coffee can full of paint brushes.

Actor: You pretentious son of a bitch.
Actor: That remains to be seen.

One of the actors is male and the other is female. The male is costumed in black and the female in white. When the male is before the black walls only his head can be seen. When the female is before the white wall only her head can be seen. The name of the play is The Perfect Equipoise of the Sky.

“Suppose it turned out we were really cousins,” Lenore once said to me. I am more interested in human nature than individual character. There was something mawkish about our first meeting. If I had my way it would have been in Rienzi’s.

Renoir’s palette: white lead, antimony yellow, yellow ochre, raw umber, superfine carmine, venetian red, French vermillion, madder lake, emerald green, cobalt blue and ivory black; he never used cadmium yellow but quantities of Naples yellow.

“Do you think anyone cares about us?” she said.

She came here to be an actress, but for a time earned her living by modeling at the New York Academy of Art. When she posed one of her shoulder blades protruded in an odd way. Form depends upon what is to be expressed. What is to be expressed is form. Neither can exist apart. I would have to say that nothing that happened to us was common­place. Although we didn’t meet in Rienzi’s we used to go there often. Each night dozens of artists tried to put themselves into her body and bring away from it something of their own, something that would be the unique result of a unique temperament.

Actor: One day my mother said to me, “When all is said and done, you will become what you imagine you are; not just your personality but even your face will change to reflect what’s in your mind’s eye.”

Actor: My mother beat me with a stick.

For example: In Monet’s series paintings, the motif is transformed into the atmosphere. In Cezanne’s, each object of the motif is transformed into every other object in it. It’s no accident that Monet chose rivers, trees, haystacks (Rouen Cathedral is disintegrated into the flexibility, the”softness” of those other things), and Cezanne chose a mountain. For Monet, each painting in a series is of equal importance, a finished a depiction of motif’s reality at each instance; for Cezanne, each one is a progression toward one final consummate depiction of reality — a monumental, classical image.

There was something sickly about the pale cast of her skin. I was astonished when I saw Ad Reinhardt’s black paintings. She was down to earth but had a numinous quality as well. Reinhardt believed that he had destroyed painting. Sometimes she posed for anatomy class and they pasted little orange papers all over her body indicating the different muscles. Sometimes the students went to the morgue where a body was flayed for them. When I first met Lenore she was rehearsing for Iphigenia.

Actor: The trouble with you, you bastard, is that you’re a solipsist. You think that the mind is its own place.

Actor: Notice how our bodies only become apparent when we change places.

Rienzi’s was everything you’d expect. Sometimes her skin trembled. To negate the absolute corporeality of acting, actors have sometimes worn masks; to go even further, they have sometimes been puppets. There are hundreds of drawings, paintings and sculptures of Lenore, and every once in a while I come across one.

The rehearsal was in an old loft building with no air conditioning; it was a hot night and she came down to the street as Iphigenia to get a breath of air. Seeing her sitting on the front steps, smoking a cigarette, costumed, I recognized her role immediately. She had no description but herself.

Actor: If you like, then, you can turn and deny yourself.

Actor: I would, if only to escape all these suns and galaxies.

“I almost died when I was born,” she told me.

In Cezanne there is no foreground, middle ground or background: each painting is a perfect sphere on a two dimensional plane.

There were women in Rienzi’s who wore white powder makeup to approximate the condition of her skin. At about that time she was rehearsing “The Cherry Orchard.” “That’s a play that knocks the pins out from under itself,” I tell her.

She had the world’s saddest eyes; even when I made her laugh she pitied us. My role was to dramatize everything. Digression is accessible to no other artist but the writer. Improvisation is for all to use. She was in thrall to something or somebody I couldn’t grasp.

The only time that Hemingway actually referred to wanting to like Cezanne painted he deleted the reference. There is a manuscript version of “Big Two-Hearted River” where Nick Adams thinks in those terms.

Who was it who broke a mirror to avoid seeing his face, and saw it hundreds of times in each of the shattered pieces?

Actor: You cry yourself to sleep sometimes.

Actor: I no longer have to think of something sad from my own experience to cry.

There is no one thing more important than any other. Everything has equal weight. If anything begins to dominate, it becomes necessary to begin again. “They peel back the skin ofa cadaver,” she told me “and then when they look at me they know what’s inside.”

Actor: If you had to, would you choose the ladder or the brushes?

Actor: What does it matter, if I am still the same?

While she memorized a part I read all of the other roles for her. Ad Reinhardt could paint black paintings because he understood the aesthetic relationship between Angkor Wat and its jungle setting. As far as I knew she began life as Iphigenia. “Sometimes their eyes are as cold as bone.” “I have had a terrible experience,” she seemed to say. There was no role that could carry her away. Rienzi’s was phony but we loved it. Lee Krasner said that Jackson Pollock would always form an image in the early stages of his work, then he would cover it.

You understand, pretense is wretchedness. We accepted it because there was no alternative. You understood that she would only be here for a short time. She had a proclivity for funny hats. I hated to see her in them because they emphasized what I came to understand was her despair. She would spend hours buying them, trying them on forever.

Actor: Switch places with me.

Actor: I already have.

There are the usual visual puzzles I could show you: how the same colors look different, how one of two lines of the same length appears to be longer than the other, and how a duck turns into a rabbit, or rabbit into a duck.

It was necessary for Lenore to forget her past. A reflection becomes itself in the surface of the water. I tried to imagine her as a little girl somewhere but could only manage to reduce her size, and see her in the present as a child. The actor must give his experience to another. Here’s a controversy for you: Ribera’s painting of Ixion on the wheel has been hanging horizontally for three hundred years and now somebody comes along and makes an argument that it should be hung vertically.

We were always the last ones to leave Rienzi’s. We loved it because it was romantic and false. In here the audience becomes the players, she used to say. I recently made the mistake of going there again. It was like coming home and finding all of your furniture gone. The owner greeted me as if I had been there only yesterday. Everything was the same and everything was different. He asked for Lenore and I told him she was dead.

Cezanne left some paintings unfinished because one more touch of color would have ruined them.

Every work is a self-portrait; there is no such thing as an objective work of art. If you pare your fingernails they will fall into the work. Don’t forget that John Ruskin destroyed Turner’s brothel pictures.

Once I came to take her home from a rehearsal and all the other actors were gone. She was sitting on a chair in the center of the stage alone, and all of the lights were out. I groped until I managed to find the switch that illuminated the entire theater. She was sitting on a chair looking out when the lights came on and she began to recite her lines, too softly for me to hear; I missed them. Her face was as white as a dahlia and she wore a red rose in her hair. I came closer and heard intonations, and fitted words to them. They were as abstract as an incantation. I wanted to express beauty, too.

Once in a while you find a suitable experience but it has to be refined into something that has a virtue of its own beyond any possibility of relating it to what it once was.

Actor: If you close your eyes. And remember that these walls were once colored differently. One was blue and bristled with stars. One yellow. One green, and hard. And one red and soft.

Actor: Don’t you see that we must go?

Rembrandt used the thickness of pigment and not the intensity of hue to express perspective. We can now understand that as a mechanical solution to a mechanical problem. The same technique could also be used to imitate the texture of the painted object; fabric, like brocade, for instance, can be rendered more realistically. Now, if you apply this principle to a nonobjective painting it will take you beyond an approach to the distance or a device to trick the eye. The same can be said for our speech.

She had one hand on her lap and the other at her side, and there was a shadow, like that of a huge wing, beside her. Her eyes were frightened and she started to sing. I shut off the lights, and went home alone.

There is marked and strident disagreement as to whether the paint­ings executed by Willem de Kooning after the onset of his Alzheimer’s disease are important works, a valid development of his art, or pathetic doodles executed by a negligent hand.

I passed Rienzi’s that night and it was closed. The windows were black sheets of vacant glass that reflected the street but if I put my face close and shielded my eyes with my hands I could see inside. It was like looking into a peep show. We were there sitting at our table, and Lenore was telling me that in order to feign every emotion she had to empty herself of her own, and it was my loneliness that kept us together. She had on a particularly silly hat, a sort of beanie, with a turned up brim that was scalloped, something that I might have remembered from an old comic book, but was in fact based on an older tradition and would have been worn at one time by a type of traveling circus performer. It belied her face’s earnestness and more than one person who saw her smiled. There are people who will not allow you to take or draw their picture because they believe that with it you have their soul. I was watching us there in Rienzi’s but I was alone on the street.

Actor: Where will you go when I die?

Actor: To where I am, so I can see you.

Renoir insisted that art is unexplainable. Ruskin in his dotage fingered beautiful things. In Ad Reinhardt’s ideal academy all of the paintings would face the wall.

Lenore was really alone in a darkened theater. I looked into Rienzi’s window and saw her smiling in her saltimbanque’s hat. She sang in pure and wordless tones. A decayed building can easily be analyzed back to its original state but the next step in an original progression cannot be imagined. “Big Two-Hearted River” progresses into darkness, and for that, as well as other reasons, it’s the best story ever written.

You’re lonely because you’re so damn cold, she told me. I went home and began to wait for her.

© Alfred Schwaid Estate, 2021