Each week, the Sunday Post highlights a few articles good for slow consumption over a cup of coffee (or tea, if that’s your pleasure). Settle in for a while; we saved you a seat. You can also look through the archives.
Poet Patrick Rosal issues an epistolary rebuke to a woman who took him for a server at a black-tie event, in a series of letters addressed to a subtly shifting cast of one — “Dear lady,” “Dear Miss Lady at Fancy Table 24,” “Dear ___ ” (we both know who you are). Out of the shock of that mistake, Rosal draws a compassionate essay on how style and dignity intersect, and how very little expensive fabric and brand names have to do with either.
Surely, by the way you crane your neck forward and to the side, stepping slightly left into my path just enough to intercept me, I must know you from somewhere else, right? I lift my chin a little to see if I can link a name to your face. And surely you think you know me too, don’t you? I’ve traveled only from the other side of the room to walk toward you and for you to walk toward me. But doesn’t something break just then, when you and I approach? All the festive shimmering in the space. These eyes. This face. I think I’m even smiling now, when you point back at your seat to tell me you need a clean linen to dab the corner of your mouth. You need a knife for the beef cheeks. A refill of your cabernet. Maybe you need me to kneel down and shim one of the table legs to keep it from bobbing.
So this is how you and I have been walking toward each other maybe this entire time.
There’s a romance to the Rorschach that no other personality test can match — not the Myers-Briggs; not the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, as sexy as it sounds; certainly not the myriad quiz memes that plague social media (House Slitherin, thanks for asking). No: it’s the Rorschach, the psychiatric test that spawned an antihero, that’s the warped and inky mirror of our souls.
Reviewing The Inkblots by Damion Searls, Deborah Friedell takes a tour of the test’s history, from the Swiss psychiatrist who created it “when he was bored during the First World War” to the problems of interpretation (“teenagers … too often came off as insane”) to the test’s use as a way to out gay men, “gauge the character” of foreign people, and provide final proof that women do go crazy on a lunar cycle. Huh. Maybe the test — at least, how we used it — tells us something about ourselves after all.
In horror movies, serial killers successfully feign harmlessness by claiming that all they see in the blots are butterflies, certainly not piles of female corpses. In the great Olivia de Havilland movie Dark Mirror – she plays good and evil twins — the test is all about Jungian archetypes. But for the actual test — this is the sentence that Rorschachians always repeat — ‘what matters isn’t what you see, but how you see.’ A few ‘content’ answers would later come to be thought significant: ‘food responses’ indicate that a person is ‘unusually dependent’ in relationships; a lot of sexual responses point to schizophrenia. But of more importance is whether an answer is judged to have ‘good form’ — ‘whether it could reasonably be said to describe the actual shape of the blot’ — as determined by Rorschach’s own sense of things, and also by responses from other ‘normal subjects’; he doesn’t say how he determined that those subjects were normal.
Mary Beard has demonstrated — at great risk to her (fortunately thick) electronic skin — that women have quite a bit to say on subjects one might think long-tapped-out by generations of male scholars. Now classicist Emily Wilson is breaking a gender barrier on our side of the pond: she’s turning a woman’s eye to the one of the best-known heroes of the Greek classics.
Of 60 English translations of the epic poem, not one of them is by a woman. Wyatt Mason does an excellent job of outlining exactly why this new translation and the gender of its author matter. I look forward to the academic feather-fluffing that’s sure to follow.
Throughout her translation of the "Odyssey," Wilson has made small but, it turns out, radical changes to the way many key scenes of the epic are presented — "radical" in that, in 400 years of versions of the poem, no translator has made the kinds of alterations Wilson has, changes that go to truing a text that, as she says, has through translation accumulated distortions that affect the way even scholars who read Greek discuss the original. These changes seem, at each turn, to ask us to appreciate the gravity of the events that are unfolding, the human cost of differences of mind.