The Wit Of The Staircase

Every so often I go on a spring cleaning rampage in my RSS reader, deleting out blogs that I may have read once but have since failed the “why the heck am I reading this?” test. Two-thirds of what I have loaded in NetNewsWire are picture, mp3, pop culture archeology, or otherwise meta blogs that I just scan without actually reading in depth. Of the third left over, a couple belong to friends, a couple more are coding/Apple related but there’s also a group of blogs written by complete strangers that so just so well-written that I’m compelled to just keep reading. Someone, somewhere out there linked to a post, I toss the feed into NetNewsWire and presto, I’m another anonymous follower.

Case in point… Theresa Duncan’s blog “The Wit Of The Staircase.” Couple years back I ran across her Chelsea Hotel post, read some more (“LA and Detroit” is another good place to start) and quickly concluded “hey, this is some terrific writing.” Since then I’ve been reading her writings about perfume and various lateral epiphanies about architecture, music, Los Angeles, and random esoterica – most of which punctuated by photographs of Kate Moss. It’s all good stuff.

Of course reading what someone posts on a blog isn’t equivalent to, well, knowing someone personally. However once you’ve consumed enough words, music, and generalized creativity you may not know the person, but you think (or at least you like to think) that you understand their P.O.V. Which makes this all the more unexplainable:

Writer, filmmaker and perfume aficionado Theresa Duncan has not posted at her Venice-based blog, The Wit of the Staircase, since July 10. She gave no indication of taking a break, and now an Internet discussion forum has posted an unconfirmed report that Duncan killed herself last week in New York City, where she was making a film. From the same report, her partner of many years, artist Jeremy Blake, is missing off New York’s Rockaway Beach, where a man was seen going into the ocean Tuesday night. The news comes from Anya McCoy, a Florida perfumer who says she spoke with an ex-girlfriend of Blake. I can find no recent news reports tonight on Duncan in New York or her hometown of Detroit, so I’ll stress again that none of this is confirmed.

7 am Update: Art critic Tyler Green blogs at Modern Art Notes that Duncan committed suicide last week and that the NYPD confirmed Blake is missing.

9:30 am: I’m told there is a funeral for Theresa Duncan tomorrow in the Detroit area. And Kate Coe, who knew her, talks about Duncan at Fishbowl LA.

The Wit of the Staircase marked its second anniversary on July 4. A personal favorite of mine, Duncan’s blog interests ran to literary allusions, Kate Moss, perfume and possibly apocryphal moonlit debaucheries of the Los Angeles Lunar Society. In her 20s she created the video games “Chop Suey,” “Smarty” and “Zero Zero.” With Blake she produced The History of Glamour, an animated mockumentary about an art scene similar to Andy Warhol’s Factory. I have never met Duncan, but always figured I would someday. Blake’s paintings and video art have been shown all over the place, and he created the abstract hallucination scenes in Punch Drunk Love.

When confronted with something like that you can’t help but wonder at how things could go so terribly awry. There’s no clues in the blog, only a small community of other shocked readers. I wonder if there’s any irony in her blog’s title…

From the French phrase ‘esprit d’escalier,’ literally, it means ‘the wit of the staircase’, and usually refers to the perfect witty response you think up after the conversation or argument is ended. “Esprit d’escalier,” she replied. “Esprit d’escalier. The answer you cannot make, the pattern you cannot complete till aterwards it suddenly comes to you when it is too late.”


Author: Chris Barrus

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