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Lusty Lady

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Tuesday, November 01, 2011

How to open a book, Jackie Under My Skin edition

There's a chapter called "How to Open" in Priscilla Long's excellent (and that is an understatement of a word, it's a must-read) The Writer's Portable Mentor: A Guide to Art, Craft, and the Writing Life. I'm in high observation mode, in part because I'm determined to succeed at NaNoWriMo, but more because I'm determined to succeed at life and meet many goals that are as yet unrealized. So I couldn't help but be awed by this first paragraph, and page, quoted below, of Wayne Koestenbaum's Jackie Under My Skin: Interpreting an Icon, from the chapter "Jackie's Death."

I'm still pondering "tranced apostrophe," and while I don't know precisely what it means, the words are beautiful to me, and the reverence for Jackie, the tension between the woman and the myth, is something I’m fascinated by. This is probably my third time picking up this book, which happens often with the amount of books I own and the rate at which I acquire them. I'm trying to be more studious and learn from what I'm reading, and savor the time to read at will (and push myself with my writing too). (Thanks to Veerublog for the block quote help for this tech simpleton.)

I began to write about the allure of icon Jackie in May 1993, while the real Jacqueline Onassis was alive and well. I addressed my sentences toward her, in tranced apostrophe: Dear Jackie, for a long time I have wanted to tell you about your frequent appearances in my dreams. I had a mad notion that she would read my book and understand my desire; that she would acknowledge the legitimacy of public curiosity; that we might become friends. It was a hopeless quest, doomed to fail. Brashly, I wanted to effect a truce between Jacqueline Onassis and icon Jackie. I wanted to find—to liberate—my "inner Jackie"; somewhere in my body was trapped a mimic Jackie O, and I wanted to afford her some room to breathe. But my plans to scale Mount Jackie—to give voice to Jackie's charisma—were foiled. Her cancer was announced; with sad suddenness, she died. I can't address Jacqueline Onassis anymore. But icon Jackie remains, a baffling array of images still requiring interpretation—not because interpretation is a panacea for loss, but because Jackie darkly captivates, and captivation fumbles for a foothold in speech. Dare I find words for why Jackie mesmerizes? Even while Jacqueline Onassis was alive, icon Jackie had a life of her own, obeying comic-book laws; we could no more explain the icon than we could avert war, bewitch our neighbors, or reverse time.

More on Jackie Under My Skin:

The New York Times review:

Initially, the results are amusing: Mr. Koestenbaum possesses a sharp and nimble wit, and his first few chapters seem like both a playful exercise in cultural commentary and a campy, tongue-in-cheek send-up of deconstructive pedantry. As the book progresses, however, the reader begins to suspect that Mr. Koestenbaum is actually completely serious about his undertaking, that he really believes he can decipher the hidden meaning of Jackie changing hairdos and clothes. In fact, by the end of the book, he has effectively turned her into a blank slate for his own theorizing, an approach that allows him to completely ignore the facts of her existence. It's this approach that enables him to write such ludicrous sentences as "Doom came to her, in Dallas, and it may have seemed retribution for hubris." Or to ask the reader to think of her father "in the dark night" and "imagine Jackie's love for him, and wonder if he pushed that love too far."

Interview with Wayne Koestenbaum

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