In his 1967 collection Ghost Tantras, poet Michael McClure praises Marilyn Monroe: "TODAY THOU HAST PASSED/THE DARK BARRIER/diving in a swirl of golden hair./I hope you have entered a sacred paradise for full/wan-n bodies, full lips, full hips, and laughing eyes!"
Dead now almost 50 years, Monroe seems stalled at the entranceway. Her great beauty, film career, personal and inner life are still - however reconstituted, pastiched, parodied or imagined - the subject of speculation and reverence in all of its forms.
Fragments was released this week, a carefully curated selection of Monroe's writing, sold by Lee Strasberg's widow, the sole inheritor of her then-meagre estate.
Edited by Stanley Buchtal and Bernard Comment, Fragments is precisely that: strips of poetry, diary-writing, scribbled remarks and other ephemera that the tragic starlet shored up, as another poet, T.S. Eliot, writes, "against [her]ruins."
The writing, however fascinating, is barely legible and, in the main, mawkish and agonizingly confidential.
At long last, we know that her journals do not reveal her murder at the hands of the salacious double-teaming Kennedys (John and Robert), a theory that passionate, incredulous devotees have floated around since Monroe's naked body was discovered, in bed, in August of 1962. Long having struggled with addiction and torturous depression, she was dead of an overdose.
But we do know that Monroe liked the plush sense of a sweater on her breasts; that she liked sleeping with her husband and that she was, on occasion, "ashamed of [her]sensitive feelings."
One wonders, if the latter is the case, why would her estate publish the kind of exquisitely sad and strictly secretive writing so many lonely people entrust to their private papers?
Just because we now live in an age where - in culture high and low - the most morbid, grotesque confession is matter-of-fact, this does not justify yet another raid on this woman's remains.
A couple of decades ago Anthony Summers published Goddess: The Secret Lives of Marilyn Monroe, a typically frantic paean to the complexity, the mystery and multiplicity of the actress. The author included, horribly, an autopsy photograph with a caveat explaining that she was "still beautiful" when she died. But not so in the shot, where Monroe's excised face appears to be sliding off; where her lustrous hair is matted and oily and her neck is accordion pleated, due to the angle and the pathologist's labours.
The cadaver photograph - and the author's sentiments, like those of an obsequious funeral director - once seemed to signal the apex of our fascination with Monroe.
Not so. Virtually every day brings news of Monroe: Two biopics are in the offering starring Naomi Watts and Michelle Williams (posing these days as Monroe; looking more like a mousy Rosemary Clooney); still more books appear (recently published, undiscovered shots of poor Marilyn in Alberta); a huge pictorial show has just opened at the Andy Warhol Museum; and writer Andrew O'Hagan has published a book from the perspective of her dog, Mafia Honey.
It is clear why we are still in Monroe's thrall. Virtually every living beauty has tried and failed to imitate her, but she is untouchable. The child's face, shimmering under a veil of makeup; the woman's pneumatic body sewn into bead-popping couture; the sculpted white hair; the tragedy, the mystique.
But why are we so determined to make her an intellectual as well? Most riveting in film because of her unparalleled charisma, Monroe was not a brilliant actress, but a perfect spectacle.
While attracted to dour, cruel artistic men, she was not an artist herself, or an intellectual - all of these attributions derive from the bad company - Svengalis like Strasberg, Arthur Miller and photographer Milton Greene who groomed her to play classical roles - she was keeping, late in life.
Is it easier to howl at Monroe's beauty when one dignifies such lust, even love, by affecting an admiration - again, like a coroner - of what lay beneath?
I asked the living legend, Monroe's colleague, Mamie Van Doren - who is alive and well and gorgeous - what she thought of Marilyn-the-Genius.
"I'm not sure you would call her an intellectual," she said. "What I do know about Marilyn is that she was a hard worker in a difficult profession, one where your peers often take greater delight in tearing you down than building you up, especially if your stock in trade was glamour."
"Farewell perfect mammal," exclaims McClure's elegy.
Such eloquence has no effect on the massive construction and demolition project that is our collective, mutated memory of a woman who - God help her - was terrified that she was "not to be loved."Report Typo/Error
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