Dore Ashton with Phong Bui & Deidre Swords

Octavio Paz with Dore Ashton at the New School of Social Research’s Banquet for Paz c. 1986. Courtesy of Dore Ashton.

On a late Saturday afternoon, Rail publisher Phong Bui and the painter Deidre Swords visited the art critic and art historian Dore Ashton at her East Village home to talk about her life and work.

Rail (Phong Bui & Deidre Swords): I thought we could begin with a bit of your background from the very beginning.

Ashton: I don’t look back much but I’ll try. I grew up in Newark as a middle class child. My father was a physician and my mother was a newspaperman. Both were exceptional people. I went to a public blue-collar school until I was nine, while every weekend my parents sent me, in addition, to a Saturday morning art class. I remember clearly—it happened in one of those hideous class field trips to a museum. I saw an exhibition of second-rate 17th Century Dutch still-life paintings and I was utterly smitten by one painting, which could have been painted by a follower of Willem Kalf, with masses of grapes and lemons, and on one lemon there was a teardrop of water. That was the real beginning for me. Then I went to a state university, on purpose, the University of Wisconsin, but I didn’t like their art department because they were all interested in magic realist paintings, and so I didn’t take any painting courses. But it was there that I met Fred Licht, the well-known art historian whose book on Goya remains the best one. He’s my only friend from childhood. We both started school when we had just turned seventeen. He started taking art history courses; I took literature courses and was mostly lying around reading novels. Then I took a year off to study with Léger in Paris, and after that I went to the New School for one semester, where I met Rudolph Arnheim. Then I wanted to go to graduate school. I applied to two: Yale in the department of literature and Harvard in art history. I didn’t get into Yale because I didn’t have Greek and Latin, which in those days were required, as they should be but aren’t anymore. But Harvard came through with a really big fellowship. That’s the bare bones of my story. Lots of incidents in between.

Rail: Did you know then that you wanted to devote your life to writing about art?

Ashton: Yes, after graduation I moved to New York and got a job as an art writer for just four dollars a review, and I managed to live on that if you can believe it.

Rail: For which magazine? And when did you come on board at the New York Times?

Ashton: Art Digest, Arts & Architecture, and the Times hired me in 1955. I worked for them till 1960. Again, lots of incidents in between.

Rail: [Laughs] Although you’ve written on many artists including Noguchi and David Smith, your associations with Guston and Rothko are the most pronounced. Could you tell us how your relationships with them began, in sequence if you can?

Ashton: Well, I saw Philip [Guston]’s first exhibit at the Peridot Gallery in 1952. It was that exhibit where he had shown those abstract, delicate, almost evanescent paintings, with white-on-white strokes, and I was very moved by the work. So I made it a point to meet him. Of course it was our common interest in other things besides painting— literature—that got us mutually congenial. Our first conversation was about our common admiration for Boris Pasternak’s early prose like Safe Conduct and The Childhood of Lüvers, which are almost surrealistic, and full of innovative imagery.

Rail: So it was an immediate attraction.

Ashton: Yes, I believe it also has to do with a kind of conservative, in the literal sense of the word, streak in my own personality as well as his. I was always interested and never wanted to be caught in my own moment. I regard that as provincial. He was like that too. He was vastly learned. Also, there was something about his robust individualism, his refusal to be congealed to the group or anything of that nature, which drew me closer to him.

Rail: I remember having a conversation with Louis Finkelstein, who admired Guston’s early elegiac abstractions, but he confessed to me that he had some reservations about the late figurative paintings. But then again, so did his close friend Morton Feldman. You, on the other hand, stood by him through thick and thin.

Ashton: As I mentioned before, I was a painting student myself and I was always and still am in love with painting. So I followed Philip as a painter from the beginning to the end. To me it was a natural progression. Though I can understand some of his contemporaries would find it hard to accept because of the narrative aspect and cartooning character. On one hand, Philip could have been an eminently romantic traditionalist, but on the other hand, there was a daimon in him, in the Greek sense, which urged him on, which I think all good artists have. But most of us don’t realize that he was doing beautiful abstract drawings at the same time. The idiom changes and so does the artist. Picasso, of course, did what he felt and he was criticized for it. So why shouldn’t I make the same allowance for Philip? Anyway, as a matter of principle, they were paintings. And de Kooning knew it too.

Rail: “It’s all about freedom, Philip,” de Kooning said to Guston at his 1970 exhibit at Marlboro Gallery.

Ashton: That’s right.

Rail: What do you think about his friendship with Philip Roth?

Ashton: You know how it is with intellectuals, volatile intellectuals? They come together, then drift apart, but they were intensely involved for a few years when Philip Roth lived up there near Philip, in Woodstock. They liked walking along the railroad track and discovering discarded objects like rusty nails or old shoe heels and things of that kind. So the way Roth piles up language is very similar to the way Guston piles up shapes. The same way he loved Beckmann’s piled-up shapes in his paintings when he saw them in the late thirties at Curt Valentin Gallery.

Rail: Do you think the late paintings of de Chirico and Morandi have some parallels to Guston’s own from the mid-1960s onward?

Ashton: He saw the late de Chiricos as a boy at the Arensberg collection in Los Angeles. I remember he talked to me about de Chirico’s big stuffed chairs with strange figures that are packed with remnants of Roman antiquity in their torsos. And he was very struck by those paintings. Likewise with Morandi’s paintings when he saw them in his many visits to Italy.

Rail: I can understand Guston responding to Morandi’s slowness of paint movement and the use of highly propped horizontals in his still-life setting, but in de Chirico, they are borderline dreadful and kitschy.

Ashton: Yes, but Philip saw the best in them. Everybody else said it was terrible, he said it was good. Again, de Chirico stuffed a lot of things in his paintings with a peculiar painterly application quite similar to Philip’s.

Rail: Many recent interpretations of Guston’s imagery are symbolically tied with his early childhood, such as the light bulb, the shoe, the rope in reference to his father’s suicide, and so on.

Ashton: I prefer to think of the hanging chain from the light bulb as a connection to “Guernica,” which was included in Picasso’s retrospective at MoMA in December 1939, which had a great impact on Philip. It’s true that he did find his father hanging (towards the end of his life, he told me it wasn’t his real father). Once I had a party and right here where we’re sitting were Stanley Kunitz, Philip Guston, and Mark Rothko, all three of them had someone in the family who committed suicide so we were all talking about the subject. The question came up of: “Do you have a right to prevent someone from committing suicide?” And I said, “Of course! You have to stop them.” And they all disagreed with me. I thought that was really interesting. So that was certainly a shock to a little boy. Although, I have no objection to such interpretation, but what I see is a profound response to the lynching in the south and what we call the Holocaust. Those shoes are victims’ shoes. The best book about such matters is The Drowned and the Saved by Primo Levi. In there he says, in effect, that what upset him most was the shame of it. That I think is a profound physical response due to the horror of it. It was on that level that Philip painted. And to me the last paintings are tragic paintings.

Rail: How would you see the tragic in Rothko and the tragic in Guston?

Ashton: Mostly people who see the tragic in Mark (Rothko) read it back from his tragic ending. I don’t. I believed him when he said that his painting was about tragedy. He hated the idea that people were saying, “How beautiful those yellows and reds are,” because in his imagination he was expressing his sense of tragedy—or to use that great title from Unamuno The Tragic Sense of Life. I did feel something which is unnamable that has to do with the great tradition of the tragic. I tried very hard to understand it in those terms. There is a difference of course between Mark and Philip, and the differences are legit but both of them responded to the period in which they were born. But what they experienced in their time made them wonder about the human condition and that is transmitted into visual terms in mysterious ways, that can’t easily be expressed in verbal means.

Rail: Don’t you think the tragic sense in Rothko is nearly that of the sublime? Guston seemed to be more anxiously physical in his visual substitute, which nevertheless stemmed from everyday life.

Ashton: Philip wanted that, yes. We talked about Kafka who also had created a parallel, which compensated for his fear of the external world. Yet he knew he could neither be fully engaged in the external world, nor could he entirely withdraw into his inner world. And you might say that Rothko sublimated, as you used the word sublime. Rothko, by temperament, was more inclined to what can only be called mysticism than Guston was. In the end, the emotional content was very similar.

Rail: Guston has been credited for bringing narrative back to painting. There were many painters who had seen Guston’s late paintings in the Whitney Museum in 1980, which made a great difference in their work, such as Elizabeth Murray and Carroll Dunham. What are your thoughts on his renaissance?

Ashton: I wouldn’t doubt that his work had an impact on the next generation, naturally, and the fact that he “went after the figure.” I remember that I said to him, “Oh it’s so great that everybody’s going back to the figure thing, thanks to you.” He stoutly answered, “That’s a disaster.” I had great laughs with him. One time, we were having lunch at a restaurant on Second Avenue, right at the very beginning of Pop Art, and every collector was dumping all the Abstract Expressionists, in particular Robert Skull, the taxi mogul, who one morning put his collection of all Abstract Expressionists paintings in auction and instantly went out and bought all the work of Pop artists—it was printed in Life magazine. Well, Philip said to me, “I just don’t like what they paint about!”

Rail: [Laughs.] That’s funny about the paint reference!

Asthon: That’s his one-sided humor.

Rail: What about Noguchi and David Smith? While Noguchi came out of Brancusi, Smith came out of Picasso. Although both were heavily involved with surrealism for a long period, Noguchi’s work seems formal in contrast to David Smith’s expressiveness.

Ashton: I don’t know about that. The late stones emanate an ephemeral expression that recalls the last work of Michelangelo’s "Rondanini Pietà" in Milano, which is an unspeakable emotion. Isamu was occupied with the interior of the stone and all the allegorical meaning of time, place and so on. Isamu was a person who controlled his emotional life, or tried to. Yet there were, all through his working life, occasions where the emotional thrust was more apparent. And I believe in Isamu’s late works you feel that.

I would say that the two—you would say their formation is so different, yet they share in a modern legacy—were very different kinds of people. Isamu was small and elegant in everything, and David was big and clumsy as a person. Isamu had a bit of the Japanese elitism, that is to say he believed in simplicity but in a very mannered way. And David liked clutter. He used to stay uptown with the Motherwell’s, which was very fancy, but preferred to come downtown to Herman Cherry’s place where we’d sit around and eat chili like the old days. And Isamu would never do such a thing. I don’t think so.

Rail: In your book Fable of Modern Art, you pointed out the certain kind of shared attraction to the predicament of what Frenhofer stood for, the struggle to bring together the classical and the romantic spirit, which he failed in doing. Picasso via Cézanne; Rilke by way of Rodin; Schoenberg in the same context, even though he had a difficult relationship with Mahler, which Picasso has illustrated so beautifully in his etchings and paintings. Did the premise arise from your interest in Balzac and Picasso?

Ashton: Yes, Picasso was and is one of my biggest interests to this day. At the same time, I read Balzac long before and always have been aware of his multiple dimensions in his sensibility, which in the usual sequence of romanticism, has affected Baudelaire, Rimbaud and Mallarmé. And in addition, I really loved his three philosophic stories. One of them was Le Chef-d’Oeuvre Inconnu. The title itself is ambiguous; one could say the Unknown Masterpiece, or the Unseen Masterpiece. Above all, I was very struck by Rilke’s description of Cézanne beating his chest and saying, “Frenhofer, C’est moi.” “I am Frenhofer!” I carried that with me for a while, and then started to extrapolate from there. Originally I thought I was going to write an art history detective story like Borges but when I began working on it, it just developed in another direction.

Rail: You mentioned Bachelard’s contempt for those who, like the psychologists, try to explain the flower by the fertilizer. In other words, knowing a person’s background doesn’t quite explain the work that he or she has created. And that was the pervasive tone throughout your account of the artists’ community in New York School: A Cultural Reckoning.

Ashton: He was exaggerating a bit. But in point of fact, I’m always against any of these psychoanalytic biographies that suggest when a certain person was six months old his mother died and that’s colored his life ever since. I’ve known too many people who have so many lives and have been able to jettison their early experience but, artistically speaking, I think the kind of sensibility that develops in an artistic person has a lot to do with what contingencies they arrived with at a certain place and time that fortified their worldview and made them who they were. In other words there may be prior psychological factors, but the group to which they belong and their common interest certainly would have an affect on each of them individually. It’s not an accident that absolutely all those people I’m talking about who were painters had to come to terms with Picasso. There he stood. You either went around him or you went through him. But he was always there. So let’s call that a fact, which one comes up against, and we’ll call that a circumstance. My favorite quote is from Ortega Y Gassett in which he said, “I am myself and my circumstance.” Then in later years he said, “Circumstancia, the mute things around us,” and he concluded that everything was found in relation to circumstance. Everything. So I believe that’s true also.

Rail: But wouldn’t you agree that his book, The Dehumanization of Art, is a somewhat hostile view of modern art?

Ashton: I don’t think that he was against modern art per se. He said something very important, which was that modern artists don’t believe in art any more. I think he was absolutely right. It was a great turning point in modern history, in 1948. And there was a lot of evidence that many modern artists didn’t think there was much to be said. And that was their problem and their dilemma. So he was misread. He wasn’t attacking abstract art. He was simply saying that in this terrible century, artists have lost their faith.

Rail: Which means a certain absence of object of attention that usually derives from nature or human experience rather than a mere product of mind or spirit.

Ashton: Yes, and there were many authors who I think felt that it was the beginning of an age of irony. That’s very hard for an artist who is presumably affirming life as we used to say—to be ironic.

Rail: Would that lead in any way to the way you felt about Duchamp when you were first exposed to his work? In fact you probably were the last person who interviewed him.

Ashton: I did interview him. But I was not interested in Duchamp as a visual artist because to this day I still believe that his great talent was in language. He was a verbal artist, not a visual artist. If you look at his early work, it was competent but it wasn’t outstanding by any means. And he must have sensed that because he went off it very soon. Who he was we don’t know, really. There are thousands of hypotheses about Marcel Duchamp, but there are little things about his history, which are quite interesting. He never had a job, he lived off women, and nobody disliked him. In other words he didn’t take a position, and he said the reason was indifference. And he was indifferent. The only political thing I ever heard him say in that interview was his bitter complaint about American income taxes. I was interested in him because there was such a strong turning here in New York in his direction. Artists like Jasper Johns were saying, “He was my hero,” and all of that. Ever since, there have been no less than two or three of my students who choose to write about Duchamp for their term paper. I’ve been teaching for nearly 40 years and every year he remains interesting. So the question of why he remains interesting is complicated and I’m sure if you ask six different people—

Rail: They’ll give you six different interpretations.

Ashton: Absolutely, and I think that was what was so clever about Marcel, nobody could ever corner him. It’s like that old song, “Go into the roundhouse Nelly, they can’t corner you there.”

Rail: Tactically illusive. So irony was both a perfect expedient and ripe timing for American art despite the fact that Abstract Expressionists had finally gained international status—but the movement itself had only lasted for a decade or so.

Ashton: Yes. A very short run. But it’s not a difficult thing to comprehend, really. America was and still is a puritanical culture which had little appreciation for artists. The only “art” that most Americans knew was calendar art or Saturday Evening Post art. And that’s what they really liked. The alacrity with which they threw over the Abstract Expressionists for the Pop artists is a perfect example. There was nothing they couldn’t understand there.

Rail: Can we shift the subject to politics? Last June, Pataki voiced his judgment against the International House of Freedom and the Drawing Center for displaying anti-American art. Similarly, Giuliani condemned the young British painter Chris Ofili’s painting “The Holy Virgin Mary,” for anti-Catholic content at the Brooklyn Museum in 1999. We tend to forget that in 1956, the year of Pollock’s death, Abstract Expressionists were under aggressive censorship by members of the House on Un-American Activities Committee. And then Barney Rosset, in 1959, brought a court case against the general postmaster Robert L. Christianderry, for banning D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Was that something you experienced similarly which somehow led to your departure from the New York Times? After all, it was during the McCarthy years.

Ashton: There’s no question that my departure, as you put it, from the Times, had a political increment. On one incident the managing editor had said to me one day, “You know that review you did about George Grosz, who, as you know, was a communist.” On another incident which made matters even worse: Peter Selz was then the curator of the Museum of Modern Art and I got involved with the Southern Movement Core with Dr. Martin Luther King and we organized an auction for them, and our names were on the ad, which was placed in the New York Times. Long and behold, I was called in and they said to me, “You can’t do that, as a Times person,” and I said, “Yes I can, I do that as a private citizen, you can’t tell me what to do as a private citizen.” That, probably, was the beginning, because then they began to keep a dossier on me. One day, they called me in and they showed me the dossier, and I could see that everything was underlined with a ruler in red ink, all the accusations against me. They probably heard rumors that I was a leftist. Even though they couldn’t fire me because I belonged to the Guild, they did harass me, a lot. In return I certainly gave them a little run for their money and left. I swear, one day I came to pack up my things, then the next day and ever after, I never thought of it again, just as though I’d never been there.

Rail: Was that when your teaching career began?

Ashton: I was married, at that time, to a painter [Adja Yunkers] and I had a child, so I needed a job to support my family. The School of Visual Arts came first to ask me to organize the humanities department and to teach there. Pratt invited me to teach a graduate class and then finally Cooper Union offered a full tenure professorship and I’ve been there ever since.

Rail: How did you become involved in the Freedom to Write, PEN America Center?

Ashton: Because of my other involvement as a head of USLA (United States Committee for Justice to Latin American Political Prisoners). Richard Howard, who was the president asked me to join in and I was able to do my best as a chairman for several years. I’ll tell you one interesting story. I was very friendly with a Peruvian painter whose sister was married to a United Nations Mexican official, Alfonso Garcia Robles, the Nobel Prize recipient for peace in 1982. At any rate, they invited me to a reception at their apartment where I was introduced to all the diplomats including the one who later turned out to be Julio César Caraseles the infamous Argentinean ambassador to the U.N., though I didn’t know who he was at the time. Later, when I was told of the horrendous massacre in Buenos Aires in an empty lot just outside the city—forty-three of the people that were killed were Jews and ten were not—we organized a protest and a letter, which I was going to present to the Argentine ambassador to the U.N. along with Professor Richard Falk from Princeton. And there was Caraseles, sitting right between two clones dressed exactly like him, with briefcases on the table. So I made the first presentation, I told him what had happened and why we were there, and he looked at me—and this was my first encounter with authentic fascists, I’d read about them, but never been in a room with one or talked to one—and he said to me, ‘Madame, they weren’t killed because they were Jews, they were Communists!’ And I was so shocked, can you imagine? And then Richard [Falk] did the presentation of why it was an international criminal offense and why we were protesting and going to take it to the United Nations.

We did what we could to reveal all of the murders, torturing, missing persons, and brutal treatment of political prisoners in Chile, particularly with Dr. Mario Pedrosa, an aesthetician and the director the of Museum of Modern Art in Rio de Janeiro, who had been politically imprisoned about three times already. There was a deal made with Allende where they flew out one planeful of intellectuals, and Mario was among them, thank God. Later, Allende asked him to establish the Museo de Solidaridad (the Museum of Solidarity) in Santiago, and that’s when he asked Herbert Read and I to come as the British and US Commissioners including several other experts from different countries. The idea was to make a modern museum showing avant-garde art to the people. It had just opened when the coup came. The first exhibition he did was for the miners in the north of Chile. That was very exciting for me because the focus was about getting real workers to see art.

Rail: What about the disappearance of that Guatemalan writer who belonged to Amnesty International, Alaida Foppa?

Ashton: That was terrible. They never found her. Once she came back to Guatemala from Mexico. But we had better luck with the group of Czech intellectuals who published their human rights manifesto in 1977 for which they were all arrested: Havel and Benda and their colleagues. That was because they got tremendous support from the jazz musicians which made it more of a publicity issue.

The other place I was deeply involved with was Nicaragua. After the election, and the Sandinistas were elected out, a few years later, I had a call from Nicaragua and they said, “You know they’re burning books in the Universidad Nacional in León.” So at that time, I was on the executive board of PEN, and I brought it to the board in a meeting. There was this long silence and someone said, “What kind of books?” and when they said what kind of books, I said, "I’m out of here." I was already getting annoyed with them because they really were playing footsies with rich people and, you know, they were all very comfortable, mostly, there were a few people that weren’t, but it wasn’t the right place for me, and I quit. I’m still a member, but I’m not on any of their committees.

Rail: So what’s your relationship with Octavio Paz? Everybody’s curious about that. [Laughs.]

Ashton: Yeah? Not telling. [Laughs.] I was in Mexico, staying with my friend Matthias Goeritz, and Matthias knew Octavio, this was around 1957 or '58, and we were invited to lunch, oddly enough, by the Israeli ambassador General David Shaltiel. I walked in and wandered around with my drink, and I looked at his library and in the library were all these French books, including the complete edition of Paul Valéry, and I said to him, “What is a General, like you, doing with a library like this?” And he said “Madame, you ask that in the wrong way, you should have asked, ‘What is a man with a library like this doing as a General?’” [Laughs.] So at that lunch, I was seated next to Octavio Paz, whose work I already knew, and I started telling him what I liked about his work and he started asking me about art and we became friends.

Rail: But your politics and his seem quite opposite.

Ashton: That was our problem. We had a nice relationship as long as we stayed with art, poetry, literature, painting, and so on. But, as you know, he became even more reactionary, politically, later on. Once, he became annoyed with me because I went to Nicaragua, so we didn’t see each other for two years, but then we made up and decided that we wouldn’t talk about politics. Well neither of us stuck to our promise, really. But somehow we remained friends till the day he died.

Rail: When did you first encounter Bachelard’s writing?

Ashton: It must have been in 1958. I was in Paris walking down the Boulevard San Michel and I passed a bookstore in with its window display was filled with his new book, The Poetics of Space. The title alone intrigued me, so I bought it and read it in a day. I was so excited that I did something I rarely do—I sat down and wrote Bachelard a fan letter, and asked if I could meet him, and I got a letter back immediately saying, “Any afternoon from four to six, you can come.” So the very next day I turned up at four o’clock, he answered the door and looked like a cross between Walt Whitman and Father Christmas, and he was wearing a jacket and underneath the jacket a red flannel pajama top and fluffy slippers on his feet. He had a tiny office, maybe ten feet by eight feet, and there was a two-seat couch covered in books and he just swept the books off on the floor and invited me to sit down. My first impression was that he was like Hokusai, the old man mad about drawing; Bachelard is the old man mad about reading, which was something he was so good at. In any case, the first question he asked me was, “Do you know Marilyn Monroe?” [Laughs.]

Of course I didn’t know Marilyn Monroe and he was vastly disappointed. But what a good coincidence it was that before I left I’d met Howard Greenfelt, the young publisher of Orion Press, who said, “If you see anything interesting in Paris let me know and I’ll publish it.” So I said to Bachelard, “I’d like to have that book published in America,” since there was nothing available in English except for a very short article in Julian Levy’s 1936 book on Surrealism. And he said yes. Naturally when I came back, I called up Howard and got him to publish The Poetics of Space. After that we began our correspondence. As you know he had been a post office clerk so he used to write to me on both sides of tissue-thin paper with old post office inkwells, which I could hardly read because of the ink’s bleedings. It was the real post office clerk writing. And the last book he sent me came about three days after he died, and it was a lovely little essay about how wonderful the light of a candle is. I was very moved.

Rail: What do you think about the Post-Modernist theory that was imported from the French in the late 60s, which became so popular in the States in the 80s, especially in academia?

Ashton: First of all, I want to remind you that the Greek word “theoria” for theory really means “to view, to look at,” not about all of that a priori theory. So I was and I still am hostile to theorizing. Secondly, I believe that they took a certain formula like a grid and they put that grid on everything. There were too many books on semiotic theory that were so overly intellectualizing and certainly superfluous. As far as the importation of French theory is concerned, when I was younger in Paris in the 50s or 60s, the intellectuals were different. They hadn’t yet gotten brash, publicizing themselves as they have in the last two or three decades. I found it contentious, although I tried to read their work when I could. But the appeal in general is quite simple: giving the interpretation a greater prominence than the actual work of art itself thereby removing all the sensual aspect from the seeing experience. For example, I was giving a lecture on Guston at the Art Institute of Chicago some years ago and they had a reception for me in a trustee’s Gold Coast apartment. This couple had about four Gustons on their walls—two abstracts and two late figures. And the wife said to me, “This painting has got content.” I said, “No. You should look at it as a painting. I could interpret it?” And she insisted, “No, it’s got content.” Then I thought to myself, you know, we did our job too well because she was talking to me the way we talk to the public. What we try to teach them, they learn and give it back to us. However, the one thing they can’t do is to adapt or enter the intimate climate of feeling, which is exactly what Philip or any other good painters were after. So that’s what I do when I write: follow my visceral reaction to the work and be as clear as possible with the language. Besides, writing is hard and to write well is nearly impossible.

Rail: Yeah, someone asked Oscar Wilde, “What did you do today, Oscar?” and he said, “I wrote today.” The man continued, “What did you write?” “Well, I put down a comma in the morning, and took it out in the afternoon.”

Ashton: Roland Barthes, the only one I like among the French, especially his late writings and because he was a good writer, had said in one of the interviews, “We looked so hard at language. I’m afraid we are losing our love for language." And he was so right.


Phong Bui