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This Is a Monomania: A Love Letter from Balzac

“I cannot bring together two ideas that you do not interpose yourself between them.”

Honoré de Balzac (May 20, 1799–August 18, 1850) might be as well known for his literary legacy as he is for his tumultuous love life. At twenty-three, he fell for Mme. Berny, a woman nearly twice his age known as “la Dilecta,” whose creative and intellectual influence on Balzac had a profound impact on shaping his budding voice. When the two split up in 1832, he entered a troubled relationship with the Marquise de Castries, whom he later portrayed rather unflatteringly in The Duchesse of Langeais. That year, he received a fan letter from Countess Ewelina Haska, a married Polish noblewoman to whom he came to refer to as “The Foreigner.” They embarked upon an intense correspondence, which quickly escalated into a passionate bond, which lasted seventeen years. The two met twice — once in Switzerland the following year, and once in Vienna in 1835 — and the two vowed to marry once Ewelina’s husband died. Though the Count passed away in 1842, Balzac’s poor finances prevented the couple from marrying. In March of 1850, when he was already fatally ill, the two finally wed — five months before Balzac died in Paris.

Their correspondence, an exquisite and enduring paean to love and patience, is gathered in The Letters Of Honore De Balzac To Madame Hanska (public library). Here is a small but deliciously telling taste:

June 1835


I am nearly mad about you, as much as one can be mad: I cannot bring together two ideas that you do not interpose yourself between them. I can no longer think of nothing but you. In spite of myself, my imagination carries me to you. I grasp you, I kiss you, I caress you, a thousand of the most amorous caresses take possession of me. As for my heart, there you will always be — very much so. I have a delicious sense of you there. But my God, what is to become of me, if you have deprived me of my reason? This is a monomania which, this morning, terrifies me. I rise up every moment say to myself, ‘Come, I am going there!’ Then I sit down again, moved by the sense of my obligations. There is a frightful conflict. This is not a life. I have never before been like that. You have devoured everything. I feel foolish and happy as soon as I let myself think of you. I whirl round in a delicious dream in which in one instant I live a thousand years. What a horrible situation! Overcome with love, feeling love in every pore, living only for love, and seeing oneself consumed by griefs, and caught in a thousand spiders’ threads. O, my darling Eva, you did not know it. I picked up your card. It is there before me, and I talked to you as if you were here. I see you, as I did yesterday, beautiful, astonishingly beautiful. Yesterday, during the whole evening, I said to myself ‘She is mine!’ Ah! The angels are not as happy in Paradise as I was yesterday!

This gem also appears in The 50 Greatest Love Letters of All Time (public library) — the magnificent volume that gave us the breathtaking love letters of Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West. Complement it with the love letters of Nabokov, Mozart, Beethoven, Cézanne, and Einstein.


Designers on Top: MoMA’s Paola Antonelli on the Evolution of Design

The quest for elegance and empowerment, or how design went from process to authorship.

In this wonderful talk from the 2012 EyeO Festival, playfully titled Designers on Top, MoMA Senior Curator of Architecture and Design Paola Antonelli offers a sweeping look at the evolution of design over the past few decades, and the past few years in particular, illustrated with examples from her most recent MoMA show, Talk to Me: Design and the Communication between People and Objects.

Beauty and elegance are a right, not a surplus… . We must demand, at least, intention.

Particularly insightful is this slide by Anthony Dunne, chair of the Interaction Design program at London’s Royal College of Art, and his partner, Fiona Raby, depicting the directional evolution of design from past to present.

For more, see the book based on Talk to Me, and follow Paola on Twitter for a steady stream of progressive design discernment.


Green Card Stories: A Visual Catalog of Immigrants’ Triumphs and Tribulations

Poignant portrait of a system caught between hope and despair.

Having spent a good portion of my adult life wrangling the nine circles of my very own immigration hell, I feel a profound personal investment in the immigration debates that have swelled to particularly prodigious proportions around this year’s election. Green Card Stories (public library) tells the heartening, and often dramatic, tales of fifty immigrants who recently attained their American residency or citizenship, accompanied by powerful profiles by journalist Saundra Amrhein and evocative portraits by documentary photographer Ariana Lindquist. Created in collaboration with acclaimed immigration lawyers and scholars Laura Danielson and Stephen Yale-Loehr, the project is in some ways a beautiful celebration of the triumph of hope embedded in the promise of the American Dream, and in others a poignant glimpse of a brutal system of struggle that can, if allowed to, eat away at one’s deepest sense of dignity.

At its heart, however, the project aims straight for the bigoted misconceptions that immigrants are somehow less hard-working and passionate and full of potential than “real Americans,” revealing instead the remarkable kaleidoscope of human life and purpose in those who have come to share their gifts with America. Humble yet proud, the voices in these stories — of artists, of scientists, of entrepreneurs, of dancers — bespeak a simple truth about place and personhood: Who you are and what you have to contribute to society cannot, nor should it, ever be reduced to or measured by a few legal checkboxes, a set of biometric data, and a passport.

Saah Quigee escaped Liberia with bodily and emotional scars from torture and beatings at the hands of rebel and government forces during his native country’s civil war. On a student visa, he moved to the United States and obtained a master’s degree at Cornell University. He and his family now live in New York, where Saah, a U.S. citizen, is a supervisor at Cornell’s Africana studies library.
Image courtesy Ariana Lindquist
When Rino Nakasone first saw Michael Jackson on TV at her home in Okinawa, Japan, she was transfixed. An avid dancer, she studied his moves until she could imitate him perfectly. In 1999, she moved to California to chase her dream of becoming a professional dancer. Rino has since performed with Gwen Stefani, Christina Aguilera and Janet Jackson.
Image courtesy Ariana Lindquist
Thupten Lama was a Tibetan teacher living for decades in exile in India. When mobs attacked his home there because of his religious beliefs, he moved to Minnesota, where he obtained political asylum. Today, Thupten Lama holds Buddhism classes for Americans as a newly naturalized U.S. citizen.
Image courtesy Ariana Lindquist
Nelly Boyette made an odd pair with husband, Jeff. She was an undocumented immigrant from Peru with a mind for business. He was a Florida native who worked hard and carried a radio with a bumper sticker advising foreigners to speak English. After the two met at a flea market where they both worked and fell in love, they didn’t realize the uphill battle they faced convincing immigration authorities that their relationship was real.
Image courtesy Ariana Lindquist
For years Charles Nyaga dreamed of moving to the United States from Kenya for graduate school. His dreams seemed to come true when he won the diversity lottery and appeared close to getting a green card while pursuing a divinity degree near Atlanta. But after immigration officials failed to process his application in time, his faith would be put to the test during a decade-long court battle that nearly ended in detention and deportation.
Image courtesy Ariana Lindquist
Farah Bala was raised by a single mother in India, where divorce was taboo. She immersed herself in the world of theater, began acting in school plays, and eventually won a scholarship to study theater at Sarah Lawrence College in New York in 2001. Farah has gone on to become a critically acclaimed actor and drama therapy instructor.
Image courtesy Ariana Lindquist
Randolph Sealey, brought up in a Brooklyn public housing high-rise apartment, felt just as American as his classmates when he learned he was an undocumented immigrant. His dreams of becoming a doctor seemed dashed. As he studied on private scholarships, his family took a risky gamble and turned him into immigration authorities. A judge cancelled his deportation and he was granted permanent residence; today he is an orthopedic surgeon in Connecticut.
Image courtesy Ariana Lindquist
Susan Delvalle was steeped in a business management career in Curaçao, a Caribbean island in the Dutch Antilles. But her love of the arts intersected with her business background. The two merged in New York, where she grew enamored with El Museo del Barrio and helped spearhead a major fundraising campaign that led to an overhaul of the museum near East Harlem, establishing her as a key player along New York’s Museum Mile.
Image courtesy Ariana Lindquist
Soumaya Khalifa, born in Egypt, longed to share the rich complexities of her Muslim religion and background with fellow Americans of different faiths. But she never imagined her first experience doing so would be after the horrific events of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Today her Islamic Speakers Bureau reaches thousands of people, focusing on education and debunking negative stereotypes about Islam and Muslims.
Image courtesy Ariana Lindquist

With its cross-section of magnificent diversity within a lump-sum “minority,” Green Card Stories is part Gay In America, part Created Equal, part something else entirely. Find out more about it on the project site.



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