‘It was almost an obsession with him that a man who could play the violin would never starve. He himself had struggled for years to make an acceptable sound, in hopes of being able to support his family by playing in the gutter if no one wanted to buy his paintings…’ (John Russell on Henri Matisse)
To imagine that you can make a living from one creative talent (painting) is unfortunate; to imagine that you can have as your back-up another (playing the violin) is simply ludicrous. If one is to venture into the deep, dark forest of the creative arts, one needs a sensible life-line; something like banking, law, or chicken-farming. To be so sensible, however, suggests that you aren’t cut out to be an artist in the first place…
Speaking of artists and jobs, a review of Ivan Zech has appeared at Underneath the Bunker. Peruse it at your pleasure.
‘Johannes Speyer – who despite a lifetime of reading never thought himself well read enough to interpret anything with confidence – summed this predicament up nicely when he responded to a journalist’s quip suggesting that he had never had more than two ideas in his life. ‘Two ideas!’ exclaimed the professor – ‘I should be so lucky!’ Speyer’s celebrated Huxley misquotation (‘the proper study of mankind is a book’) plays on the same thought…’
(from Lasse Huwam’s review of Y Yippo’s Why the Fig Leaves Fall)
The plot is porridge – which is to say it thickens. Information recently received from a vaguely reliable source (step forward Jean-Pierre Sertin) appears to offer a whole new perspective on the Y Yippo affair (see here and here). And it goes a little something like this:
Two years ago Mr Sertin was at a literary festival in Lithuania, presenting a paper on the process of ‘literary intercutting’ (more on that soon). He gave his talk to a small crowd, amongst which he spotted what seemed to be a familiar face. Later on that day he spotted the same face. ‘Aren’t you Yippo, the writer?’ he asked the face in question. ‘I am indeed’ answered the face. Pleasantries followed, at the close of which Sertin thanked Yippo for attending his paper. ‘Thanks for your thanks,’ noted the novelist, ‘but I’m afraid to say I missed the event’. ‘Oh,’ said Sertin: ‘oh, of course’.
The next day Sertin bumped into Yippo again. Pleasantries followed, mingled with further confusion. Yippo was, Sertin recalled, a strange man: nothing if not forgetful. First he denied attending the talk, now he now denied having the conversation after the talk. He did so with perfect politeness, mind you, but the denials were nonetheless hurtful. ‘But I never met you yesterday. I’ve never seen you before,’ protested the man. Sertin could only smile.
That evening Sertin was pleased to be presented with an explanation. Yippo appeared once more; only this time he remembered him. ‘I heard you speak yesterday’, he said. ‘Oh yes?’ said Sertin, preparing to challenge him on the nature of his cruelly forgetful nature. Before he was able to do so, however, a couple of men appeared by Yippo’s side. The situation was at once resolved. Yippo was one of identical triplets.
One’s initial reaction to this story is that Sertin was blind drunk. On reflection, however, I am inclined to take his word. After all, does it not offer the best answer yet to the question of Y Yippo’s full first name? One of triplets, you say? That’ll be X, Y and Z Yippo, surely?
Further to last week’s ponderings, I have received two messages. The first (from Dr. Serge Reidler, aka ‘The Name Doctor’) points out that ‘there would be a certain irony in Y Yippo’s mysterious first name turning out to be Yanisin, seeing as this name – of Native American origin – means “ashamed”. He would, thus, be ashamed of being called ashamed’.
The doctor has a point, though one has to question a culture in which the word ‘ashamed’ is seen as a good basis for someone’s name. Would one call one’s child ’embarrassed’ or ‘downhearted’? I think not. It is the parents, if anyone, who should be ashamed.
The second letter, from Mr P Grandy, lends support to the theory that Mr Yippo’s first name is ‘something along the lines of Yvonne’. According to the writer, ‘anxiety over enforced and/or encroaching feminity informs Yippo’s writing at every level. One senses a man desperate to stamp his masculinity – a desire that could well spring from his having been given a female name at birth: a relatively common custom in some countries.’
I take it that’s Mr Patricia Grandy, then…
Underneath the Bunker, god bless the little monster, has re-published yet another of my Greatest Novels reviews. Let us celebrate with a rendition of the Latvian national anthem. Dievs, svētī Latviju!…
Now let us pause to consider a question provoked by said review. Every other novelist to appear in my Greatest Novels List comes equipped with a full Christian name. Pyetr Turgidovsky, Koira Jupczek, Alexis Pathenikolides. Why then ‘Y Yippo’? Where is the rest of the man’s name?
This is a perfectly valuable, eminently worthy and adequately apposite query. It oozes with good intentions. It carries with it the sweet scent of common sense; the holy perfume of integrity. It demands to be pondered.
So ponder we shall. Perhaps we might even – dare I say it – venture an answer? An answer: oh yes! What a thing that is: an answer! What a thing indeed. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the world was as full of answers as it is of questions? Or would it? I know not… Nor do I know, alas, the answer to this particular question; at least, not an absolute answer. All I have is speculation: a nest of viperous rumours, vying for dominance.
There are, as ever, several schools of thought. The first is that Mr Y Yippo’s first name is just that: ‘Y’. Nicknames are the bane of many people’s lives; nevertheless, they are inevitable. People simply will shorten things. By all means call your child Persephone, Bartholomew or Maximilian, but don’t expect other people to do the same. Unless, of course, you decide to exercise some control on the situation. Knowing that people will only shorten the name, why not start short? Cut to the chase. Keep it brief.
‘Y’ it is, then. Or is it? A second school of thought has it that ‘Y’ is not, in fact, Mr Yippo’s full name, but the initial of a name he wishes to keep hidden. Perhaps he is embarrassed, or perhaps he simply wants to keep it to himself. I know not which. One cannot help but speculate, however, over the nature of this ‘hidden name’. Is it Yevgeny? Yanisin? Yeshaya? Yvonne? Perhaps he was named after a place or object: Yorkshire, Yoghurt, or Yellow? This could go for ever. Yacht? Yodel? My fancy leans towards the latter. Yodel Yippo. Could it be?
What possibilities, what possibilities – which leads us, of course, to the third school of thought: that Mr Yippo is a ringmaster, and we the circus ponies, merrily prancing around his pernicious puzzle. It will transpire, no doubt, that the man does indeed have a full, healthy Christian name, but that it doesn’t begin with a ‘Y’ at all. Maybe it doesn’t even end with a ‘Yippo’. Fabrication, all fabrication: one of many, so many, pseudonyms. Which leaves us with this question only: why choose this one in particular? Why ‘Y’?
‘Perfectly formed animals won his goodwill as being specially favoured by nature; and more than once, when he was ill, the sight of a beautiful landscape cured him.’ (Jacob Burckhardt on Leon Battista Alberti)