Laurie Anderson Needs Your Help Finding an Image From Balzac

“As the wind passes through windows and slips under doors we meet the characters in the book. If any Times readers know which Balzac book this wind is in — please let me know.”

Comments: 47

  1. Don't you get a sense that what she really reads are Harlequin romances?

  2. @Jon Miners No, not really.

  3. @Jon Miners No. Not at all.

  4. @Jon Miners You say that as if there is nothing of value in a Harlequin romance.

  5. Ms. Anderson, it is winter in The Netherlands. What is the name of the hotel in Groningen? Can I smoke Cuban cigars? How's the bar? Calvados? 12 days, 10 books. I'm going to book. BTW, when you are there next time, visit Schiermonnikoog Island. Cold, windy and sacred beauty.

  6. @CHARLES I too want to know the name of the hotel.

  7. Love this series.

  8. Could she be thinking of Dickens’ Bleak House, where, in the opening chapter, the fog surrounds everything and seeps in through doors and window cracks, enveloping various Londoners in the streets, and making its way into the courthouse, where we meet the Lord Chancellor?

  9. @Gail Giarrusso I thought of Bleak House too. And now I want to read it again!

  10. i read each week this column....laurie anderson ...i knew it would be so "original" spontaneous....etc...and it didn't disappoint that would be totally impossible...........fierce...i'll write all the books she mentioned and probably never read them some i've read of course.....anthony bordain s' was marvelous as well....thanks...sigh!!!!!!!!!!

  11. I would begin the dinner with cocktails and a dish of salted nuts and assorted unidentified past due pills. HA! priceless. Love Laurie Anderson. Mr Sharkey

  12. Rarely do the responses in this column rise to such a level of lyricism. What a treat!

  13. I hear Laurie speaking in staccato electrified impulses...one of poetic concern always questioning through her art and actions the chaotic fabric that the political climate presses upon us so urgently today. There is always a cheery sound even when her concerns are far from that!

  14. Laurie Anderson's amazingly broad, diverse reading interests would seem - in Isaiah Berlin's formulation - to make her a fox. But as with Berlin's assessment of Tolstoy, I would bet that underneath her pluralism, she's a hedgehog who believes in one overarching "truth."

  15. @Charles Michener Laurie Anderson is a Buddhist. I met her at the Rubin Museum of Art in NYC years ago. The museum has a collection of Himalayan art. Anderson was there, as I was. for a lecture by (her friend) artist Sophie Calle. She's one of the nicest people I've ever met.

  16. I was pretty knocked out by the scope and breadth of her reading - most of which included books I've not read. Still, I do read but have tended toward what at this point are considered classic writers (I guess only to some) such as Norman Mailer, Hemingway, Dostoevsky or Faulkner who were not mentioned and what I particularly am drawn to is their voice so that I go back to them time and again - some of the reason I'm not capable of getting to more modern work. I just feel that the great writers have indeed a voice that lasts for centuries - that towers over so much of the writing that is current. IMHO.). You know, what book would you take with you to that island in the sea? So what I"m wondering is have writers like that become uninteresting or worse, considered misogynistic or reactionary?( I hope this is mistaken) Of course, the NYT interviewer was asking specific questions but it did make me wonder. BTW. I've listened to Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson for a long, long time and I hope she keeps up putting out good work and the two names I am familiar with are John Giorno (he gave wild poetry readings at St. Marks) and Wm Burroughs.

  17. Laurie Anderson is my hero!

  18. I believe the Balzac tale Laurie may be thinking of is called Seraphita, a novel which takes place in Norway and explores themes of androgyny. It begins with two beings, one seemingly superhuman, one a young woman, skiing - perhaps like a gust of wind - dreamlike, through the precipitous slopes, until they finally arrive at the young woman's porch where her father sits.

  19. Over ten years ago while at JFK Airport waiting at the international arrivals section of the airport to pick up my wife returning from Trinidad, a flight from Ireland off boarded and Laurie Anderson walked passed me and smiled. It has been many years since I'd listen to any of her music but perhaps today I will ask Alexa to delight me again later today.

  20. In summer 1985 I was privileged to work on Laurie Anderson's concert film "Home of The Brave." It was produced on a very low budget, and it's technical requirements posed continual challenges to the director, producer, cast and crew. Throughout the shooting schedule a spirit of intense dedication prevailed, inspired, I'm sure, by the example of Laurie herself. I'd never met an artist who worked with such focus, energy, commitment, patience, and good humor. She is an inspiration to me to this day.

  21. A favorite book is “At Home with Books - How Booklovers Live with And Care for Their Libraries.” Great photos of people’s’ homes with stacks and stacks of volumes and many loving comments on the role books have. Wish they’d do a second volume and include Laurie Anderson’s Collection.

  22. As Gail writes it does sound like Dickens Bleak House. However, another possibility is the first 3 or 4 passages of Balzac's Eugenie Grandet are evocative of a run down house that precedes the introduction of the books characters. Could this be the book?

  23. Great read! Laurie reminds me of Patti Smith in many ways. Laurie and Patti, feel free to come to my literary dinner any time. I suspect a third guest wouldn’t be needed. I’m not far from NYC...

  24. She might be thinking of Balzac’s "History of the Thirteen" about a secret society in nineteenth-century France and its first story Ferragus, Chief of the Devorants from Chapter 2 - A delightfully tragic love story if that is possible. "First, there’s the musing philosophical pedestrian, who observes with interest all he sees,—whether it be the stripes made by the rain on the gray background of the atmosphere (a species of chasing not unlike the capricious threads of spun glass), or the whirl of white water which the wind is driving like a luminous dust along the roofs, or the fitful disgorgements of the gutter-pipes, sparkling and foaming; in short, the thousand nothings to be admired and studied with delight by loungers..."

  25. This wind before the introduction of characters also reminds me of Chocolat, the film with Juliet Binoche.

  26. There was no wind in the biz they call it SMOKE!

  27. I had the same mental image while reading this. And I hope this begins an intriguing new trend where authors ask readers questions. How fun!

  28. @whatshouldido yes-that reference is spot on

  29. "The bitter wind whistled through the crannies of the ill-fitting casements; there was a smothered sound of snow lashing the windows." 'The Elixir of Life' - Honoré de Balzac

  30. Is Ms Anderson 100% sure it is a story by Balzac and not Zola? Germinal seems to have a wind that threads its way from scene to scene, not so expositional as she describes but certainly a device that sets a running theme throughout the start of the book.

  31. Ahhh, delightful, inspiring insight from a peerless Great American. Thank you for calling a witness when we really, really need one, this week in particular.

  32. Many years ago, my husband and I saw Laurie in one of her performances in downtown Seattle. The next morning we were having breakfast at our hotel and I happened to look up as someone entered the restaurant and it was Laurie. My husband thanked her a great show and she smiled and was very gracious.

  33. Those words are not the Balzac quote, but a description of the use of "coulis" in the Balzac, in: Grandeur Et Decadence de Cesar Birotteau - Page 362. He writes, "Ma jambe etait glacee par une de ces vents coulis qui vous gelent une moitie du corps."

  34. it must be the definition of "wind slurred" (vent coulis) in the quote in : Nouveau dictionnaire universel de la langue française De Prosper Poitevin

  35. She might also be thinking of "Christ in Flanders."

  36. Laurie, Are you sure of the translation? Because I found a similar sentence, but more developed, taken from his work; the Human Comedy. Have you read it in English or French? If I found what you're looking for, I would trade it for a Lou Reed pick. A barter so. Would you be interested? Who is yours prefers poets? Best regards

  37. Les petits Bourgeois, a posthumous novel by Honoré de Balzac in La Comédie humaine

  38. "How to develop the mental, spiritual, physical and emotional abilities to thrive in the midst of chaos and collapse." (?) ......... I have the answer to that.

  39. I never miss this column because I find out such interesting tidbits about writers. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Ms. Anderson enjoys James Lee Burke. I do too. Wayfaring Stranger got me hooked.

  40. By The Book is the best thing on the NYTimes in my opinion and I look forward to it each week!

  41. I'm dropping whatever else I had to do today to scour all Balzac and search for the book that opens with the window blowing through the town. There is nothing more important that trying to offer Laurie Anderson something after all that she's given me.

  42. Thank you for choosing Laurie Anderson for this week's "By the Book." Her responses were fresh, natural and apart from those typically found in your column. I especially enjoyed her answer to the literary dinner party.

  43. I'm surprised at how many people who met Laurie Anderson feel the need to say it, and so do I. I met Ms Anderson in the backstage after the Moby Dick show in Turin, in the late 90s. About ten years later Laurie was in Milan for a bookshop showcase, and the chain manager was a friend of mine. I have been to dinner with Laurie, my wife Marcella, Paolo and Stella. We talked a lot about dogs and food. And of books, of course. Laurie Anderson is a delightful person and a formidable artist that I have always appreciated, I can share most of the things she says in this inspirational interview. Thanks Laurie.

  44. Laurie, what’s the name of the hotel in Groningen? The cavernous fireplace and coffee at the wintry hotel is what jumped out at me the most here.

  45. really a captivating and thought provoking interview. I've made a list of things to search for-thank you for that!

  46. I'm surprised that you cut out that Eliot Weinberger is the author of "Nineteen Ways of Looking at Wang Wei". A point that I expect Ms. Anderson mentioned herself (and good chance they know each other, and travel in the same intellectual circles in NYC, as well). His commentary on the 19 translations, including the one by his favorite poet, Octavio Paz, is as important as the poem and translations themselves. A slim volume, it is one of my favorite books to give as a present, especially people in their 20's.

  47. I read somewhere, "If you believe everything you read, Stop Reading,.." that is when I started serious journal writing. -- I believe nothing, I don't know.