The Alan Sondheim Mail Archive

March 17, 2010


I sit down to read Rachel, Her Stage Life and Her Real Life, by Francis
Gribble, 1911 - 90 years after Rachel's birth, fifty-three years after her

I stop. I can't go on. I don't know why I'm reading this. I feel in my
bones - incessantly - that I'm close to death. I felt this decades before
my father turned 95 last year and will feel it until the end.

So why read about Rachel; what good is this knowledge, which will have no
chance to grow, which will disappear into the wind when I cease to exist?
Or what better thing is there to do at this point, beyond entertainment?

Perhaps I will carry Rachel to the grave, this early Jewish actress who,
unknown to her, is seen has a precursor to Sarah Bernhardt. She too was
haunted by death, called herself, constantly according to Gribble, La
Pauvre Rachel.

She was determined to accomplish and was in a position to accomplish. Her
lovers included an emperor. She was the greatest interpreter of Phedre. I
would say of course until Bernhardt, not even on the horizon of Rachel.

Our horizons are not our own.

It is on the horizon that the Other is, accompanied by the Thing, unknown
rubbed raw against unknown, and that is all I know of it.

But I know what I know about Rachel, another heroine of mine, that I will
not carry her to the grave; I will not carry anything. I am the richer for
reading her biography - her voice, of course unlike Bernhardt's, was never
recorded - but this is an illusion; memory and knowledge, unlike wealth,
are never recirculated, but die completely.

No one can ever comprehend the world of another. (Memes notwithstanding.)
And knowledge is never knowledge, but a moment in habitus (which we never
understand), or illusory, virtual (which we understand, but disagree).

I agree with the Other of Rachel which is my Other, and with the Thing
which led her constantly to tears. But I wonder: Shall I learn something
here, or elsewhere; understanding the Dirac equation does not unfold the
universe, and attempting Rachel does not unfold Phedre.

Phedre and the universe and every noun are one. But it is impossible to
see the universe in a grain of sand and impossible to see worlds within
worlds; these are fundamental illusions that allow some of us to approach
death with equanimity.

I continue to read Rachel, Her Stage Life and Her Real Life, finding
myself approaching senselessness without wall or barrier in the depth of
the abyss.

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