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April 22, 2014

On Meditation: Peter Matthiessen

An Intimate Portrait of the Late American Writer and Spirited Adventurer

The explorer, environmentalist and treasured author Peter Matthiessen was the first on filmmaker Rebecca Dreyfus’ wish list to feature in On Meditation, a series of personal shorts exploring the subject alongside other notable deep-thought practitioners including David Lynch. Matthiessen passed away earlier this month, leaving behind the legacy of a large life as a one-time CIA employee turned co-founder of The Paris Review. He will be remembered most as the author of the cherished natural-world travelogue The Snow Leopard, which was awarded two National Book Awards in the US. Below, Dreyfus recollects her time with Matthiessen for NOWNESS.

It’s inspiring to see someone who treated life as a relentless search for new places and ideas, with a general hunger for meaning. Few have lives that include that much adventure. I’ve met a lot of very accomplished people but Peter really lived beautifully.

I don’t think you can separate his life from his writing. He stood up for what he believed in. Whether it was for American-Indian people or animals or his very last novel In Paradise that takes place at a meditation retreat at Auschwitz, he never stopped thinking about the bigger picture.

Peter once said to me: “You can have meaning or you can have rest but you can’t have both.” I’m still trying to figure that out.

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Spotlight

Shorts on Sundays: Atelier Persol Part One

The First Installment of Chiara Clemente’s Documentary on Persol Eyewear’s Recent Creative Retreat

“As a child we lived at my father’s studio and I was surrounded by portraits,” says filmmaker Chiara Clemente, daughter of Naples-born painter Francesco Clemente and director of this intimate look at Atelier Persol, the artist-in-residence group project in Florence, Italy that carries on our new Shorts on Sundays season. “Growing up around very strong visuals definitely influenced the way I look at things and the aesthetic I’m drawn to.” The film features eight artists, one for each day it takes to make a pair of Persol glasses, carrying on where last year’s collaboration 8 Days of Persol left off. Clemente’s work often discusses her subject’s story and here captures the week-long creation, completion and presentation of new pieces by Vanina Sorrenti, Kolkoz, Sebastien Tellier, Robert Montgomery, Futura, Fabio Novembre, Random International and Mathilde Monnier. “I try to let people go back to a memory, to have a sense of looking back,” says Clemente of her interview process which often forms the backbone of her films, as seen in her first documentary feature Our City Dreams that told the story of five female artists living and working in New York, including Marina Abramović,. “I’m truly curious; I get such a thrill from having conversations. It helps to be instinctive.”

Atelier Persol Part Two premieres on NOWNESS on November 3.

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Spotlight

A Dictionary of Portmanteaux

The Roots of Twerking, Cronut and More are Unraveled in a Frisky Animation from Christian Borstlap

A portmanteau is the result of linguistic liaison: two words come together and create a single offspring that combines the meanings of both parents. One of the stars of today’s vibrant animation from Christian Borstlap is the ‘cronut’—for those not too busy queuing for one at Dominique Ansel’s New York bakery, the cronut is a ‘croissant’ and a ‘donut’. While it’s not quite a genetically modified ‘Frankenfood’ (‘Frankenstein’ and ‘food’), the cronut still has the feel of something devised amid steam and Bunsen burners, while lightning splits the sky. The word portmanteau was first used in its modern sense in Lewis Carroll’s 1871 novel Through the Looking Glass; the term itself derives from a French portmanteau, combining porter, to carry, and manteau, cloak. When Carroll came upon it, it meant a suitcase with two compartments; he reinvented it so it would apply to the textual process itself—“two meanings packed up into one word,” Humpty Dumpty explains to Alice. Carroll invented the portmanteau ‘galumph’ (a blend of ‘gallop’ and ‘triumph); ‘chuckle’ and ‘snort’ gave birth to ‘chortle.’ The fashion that he inspired produced ‘electrocute’ (‘electricity’ and ‘execute’) and ‘prissy’ (‘prim’ and ‘sissy’). Yet portmanteaux reach their pinnacle when they exist away from the page, appearing before your very eyes in the form of crossbred animals. ‘Liger’ is of course a lion and tiger cross. ‘Wholphin’ is a whale and a dolphin—though just saying wholphin out loud induces the feeling that we passed through the looking glass somewhere near the last bus stop.

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