Ephemeris January 2011
January 31, 2011: Young Master keeps promising to have me over for dinner, and the months go by, and I still have not yet had the pleasure; and I begin to wonder if it is something I said. There are other considerations to ponder - to do with the exigencies of literary politics which would make of me a churlish sod were I to broach them here; and then I reflect on his busy life and his domestic obligations, and well, enough said. And so it goes. Quite a chill morning outside, inside Nikas the atmosphere is buoyant, seeing as one of the owners became a first-time father overnight, his wife having undergone a difficult pregnancy. Many evenings now and I have seen him mightily brooding in the restaurant, consumed with anxiety whilst his clientele ate, drank and was merry. For all that, at this moment, the cook in the kitchen is a happy enough grandpa, and I fully expect to be handed a cigar at some point in the day. It reminds me yet again, as I am somewhat other-worldly, of what really counts in people's lives; and what counts are babies, not Cavafy's poetic art or whether or not the tanks in distant Cairo (that is as near as one's TV set) will be unleashed on the populace there. There is, come to think of it, a poem in Cavafy's oeuvre that goes by the title of In A Famous Greek Colony, 200 B.C. which speaks somewhat to the current situation, or that the U.S.A. will have to mull over the pros and cons of political reform in regards to its client state; that the 'colony has many shortcomings', but then, is there anything human that lacks imperfections? Ah, politics. In the late 60s and throughout the 70s, even as I bridled at the notion that everything is political - from the food one eats to the colour socks one wears - I worried that I was insufficiently political; I was going to drive myself insane with such worry. On the other hand, everything was political in a very real sense, and everything is political once again, but in a different sense, in a much less generous and much more desperate sense; because however addled we were and insufferable in our youth, we were right about a couple of things; and if we were angry and insufferable we were also hopeful; and reason and good will would ultimately carry the day. Well, reason or a kind of logic did, in fact, carry the day. Reason or a kind of logic always will carry the day. Good will, however? That is debatable. I hear people speaking of hope; I hear people describing themselves as hopeful, as most sensible people must describe themselves or go off the deep end of the table, but I do not see it tangible anywhere save as a species of self-induced hysteria. It is a figure of speech, a predictable trope. It is like the smile on the face of a waitress I know. A smile impossible to eradicate. A smile nailed to her visage. One comes to rely on that smile. One forgets what that smile must cost her in any true sense of well-being. Or else she is a loon pure and simple—
|January 30, 2011: Wild turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo silvestris) greeted our arrival at our cabin in the Eastern Townships. Impressive-looking birds. I had not seen them this close up before. They did not much like our looks, and off they went into the trees with powerful wing-strokes, getting up a racket with their calls. Even so, and once again, however briefly, I was tempted by the romance of country living to renounce my city slicker ways, but that wore off fairly quickly, what with the amount of snow that wanted shovelling. In the course of which I would stop every five minutes or thereabouts and listen to the silence, snow falling in a dead calm air. The two creeks gurgled by under their ice. Nuthatches. Woodpeckers. Crows. A cheeky mink. On the evening of the following day a bacchanal ensued at the commodious cabin of Miss J in the midst of which was performed a bagpipe medley, Amazing Grace having pride of place. It was played with an appropriate dollop of irony. Liberal dispensations of wine led to spirited talk, topics of which ranged from Burckhardt's The Age of Constantine the Great to whether or not Christ was a proper Catholic to recent events in Tunisia and Egypt; and who, by the way, when you get right down to it, actually runs this world in which we find ourselves. But by then we were all of us incoherent with drink, although the sorry quality of the opposition to Current Prime Minister was duly noted. It would seem that Ignatieff, looking for his feet, seems to have mislaid various other parts of his materiality—Courtesy of a Cape Bretoner, a very good scotch began making the rounds, the wine consumed. He worked on the Alaska highway way back when, has spent a lot of time in Java, and expects to spend his last years hunting truffles in the south of France. I suggested to him that Celts did not originate in Europe. One does not presume to tell a Celt where Celts originated. It was a great lesson I learned.|
|January 26, 2011: It is snowing in Montreal-NDG. I mention it because, once in a while, when it snows around here, it is like the first snow of creation. More often, much more often, there is no poetry in the stuff; there is just the prose: snow as something else with which to contend. Some poets are petulant, wanting the poetry all the time. I did hear out the speech, last evening. The SOTUS thing. Remarking on it at this moment would only make a shrill creature of me. Still, in regards to the speech, mawkish is a word that comes to mind. That, and now and then, the mild ting-a-linging of alarm bells which I cannot ascribe to any pre-existing condition on my part. A book of Cavafy poems was staring at me all the while from its perch on the coffee table, its cover brooding, as it were, with a question: where did those barbarians get to? A correspondent wrote, he in the book trade, of having worked with James Joyce's Trieste library, and of knowing things about Chatwin that not even Chatwin's biographers know; the point being here that these sorts of remarks are touchingly the constituent material of a real world as opposed to a chamber of bemused politicos, well-scrubbed distinguished guests, and all the boulevardiers of the corridors of power. Later, Charlie Rose's magic bus parked somewhere handy, its passengers on a survey, taking in the newly constituted lay of the land.|
January 24, 2011: Killick, though totty from his swink—Anyone? (Thank you, but I have it now: toil and trouble. Plus Swink is the name a few towns go by as well as a poetry rag.) I had it mind to go on about Robert Graves for whom I have mixed regard, seeing as a correspondent of mine is steeped in Graves, however non-committal he has been so far in respect to the 'goddess-muse' aspect of Graves's thought - or that which defeated me. This correspondent did say of Graves: "Wrote some exquisite short poems in middle age and then went on to make a poetic philosophy out of being hen-pecked." Does that sum up a man's career or what? More contretemps with P M Carpenter, Prominent Political Carpenter. He seems to be saying that life is much too complex a business to ever declare of certain times that they went into decline and all the rest of it, and that this is particularly true of the current moment in history. I seem to be in disagreement. What's a poet without a Jeremiad? But yes, why sully the sanguinity of the current inhabitants of the current time-space continuum with suspicions, only suspicions, mind you, that it is all an across the board failed TV sit-com?
|January 23, 2011: Except for our kind, humankind, that is, no other animal in the animal kingdom applauds the he or she who will prefer to die for a principle than adapt for the sake of the species. There are no martyrs among sea gulls, though I suppose social insects may seem now and then to approach martyrised behaviour. Perhaps this is just another way of stating we are wracked with conscience; or that we are innately moral, though I have my doubts. I am told that science has proved we are, in fact, innately moral, proof coming by way of the ologies and studies of how the brain works. I am handicapped on this score inasmuch as I distrust academe; inasmuch as I cannot just pluck knowledge from thin air and then say I know a thing or two. And because some 19th century text germane to the proposition at hand is already 300 years out of date, every day a new cutting edge such as subverts the ordinary rate of the flow of time, research monies at premium, and because I am leery of my own reason, I am thrown back on superstition and hyperbole. And superstition and hyperbole inform me I have watched too many Charlie Rose interviews; coxcomb chats with coxcomb, and with the possible exception of some back and forth on electoral politics, knowledge for an hour seems beside the point in an hour's worth of promenading for the camera. Altogether elsewhere, vast / Herds of reindeer move across / Miles and miles of golden moss, / Silently and very fast. Auden's cheek. But what would happen were we to go au naturel, as if human life was ever anything but natural, with or without aid of artifice? Would it resemble the world of Mad Max, dystopia gone funky? It might not spell the end of poetry which, I believe, does have a taproot or two in the more primitive regions of our evolved brain, but it would likely spell the end of genteel mores such as justify civilization even when civilization is at its most shabbily rapacious. Respect for the dignity of all persons as a de facto matter of pride? Really, now. For history is not written by the winners so much as by the smug. And one might say, if the saying so did not come off shrill, that the smug have gotten hold of too much that matters, separating what matters from its structural integrity: personhood as a cube of ambient jello. It is easy enough of course to romanticize the past, yet languages do decay now and then as opposed to simply evolve; every past the consequence of a previous past. I cannot say that, per capita, there is more evil in the world than at any time before, but what seems more prevalent on the streets - mostly in the younger men, but in women, too - are eyes that do the work of eyes and register time and space and proclivity; that seem healthy; only that, experience-rich, they are lifeless. That such persons as have this look might be characterized as amoral or on drugs does not quite capture the sense, the effect, even so, chilling. But enough. One gets worked up about things, begins to fulminate. I sit in Nikas on a frigid afternoon of stark wind chill, snow, salt and dirt commingled on the parquet floor. A cheerful Bulgarian sets a pot of tea on my table. I have nothing about which to complain. The Miaow Woman (I attempted to immortalize her in my novel) has had her early dinner - chicken, from the looks of it - and she is miaowing and maynoo-ing in French to anyone who will give her the time of day; she blessed in dottiness, uninhibited, untroubled by moral scruples of any kind. For I suspect that though she would never gratuitously harm a fly, were she to witness an act of cruelty human on human she would cast a cold eye. She would pass on.|
|January 22, 2011: A thoroughly idle observation flitted through what has become of my brain over the decades, this as I was watching an ad in the course of a supper hour news broadcast. It struck me that if the old advertisements endeavoured to program the viewer and shape their consumption of products, the advertisements of our day assume the viewer is already sufficiently programmed ad nauseam, the advert now freed up, as it were, to target other target areas of a viewer's sentience - his or her relations to society, his or her hipness, the quality of his or her knowingness, his or her capacity for sex-play, his or her sense of aesthetics, and on and on; and moreover, the advert is free to turn the tables at any time, recalibrate, and the viewer, congrats, is now an out and out sociopath, but with needs, a Bud Light thirst perhaps. But like I said: idle observation. My forays into the ologies are amateur at best, even if I am always bemused when the TV image would tell me I are civilized in one of yuppiedom's numberless senses of the word, I a proud sub-sub culture of one (hermetic selfishness and saving the world from ecological collapse not mutually exclusive moral imperatives), and if I'm not yuppie-ish, why not? For I am not necessarily permitted to note that business models are fallible, unless, unaccountably, I were an emissary from a shareholder's purgatory getting down to cases in some closed session of movers and shakers. I had spent the afternoon reading Patrick O'Brian, working my way through novel the 15th in his epic Aubrey-Maturin series of naval novels set in Napoleonic times; and I still could not quite put my finger on why they work. For all the minutiae of ships and the sailing of them that he registers in the prose, it is what he seems fairly restrained about - his views on the human beast - that are perhaps more telling. The bonhomie and the inevitable frictions of a closed, shipboard society told with affection and restraint in conjunction with a less than Pollyannaish view of life? I found myself thinking: "An old-fashioned wisdom about things—" But then, as soon as those words popped into my head I seemed to myself a cretinous creature, indeed. Old-fashioned wisdom? What on earth is that? The cracking-on prose has stripped me of my wits. Yet, I must somehow save the author from falling into the grips of a Charlton Heston who would have him an honorary member of the National Rifle Association to my own satisfaction, if to no one else's—There was something else—Slipped my mind—Some Heideggerian overview of Bush-Cheney? No—That all politics is mysticism right and left of centre but at the centre of the bonbon it is strictly Oz—No—Damn it all—Ah, I had thought to say something about Jon Stewart and the Daily Show, how he is an intelligent fellow; how the satire has been appreciated, yes; but how the relentless yukking it up is drowning everything in a kind of mindlessness as it suggests that one need not much give a hoot, after all, just give a ha-ha-ha. In which case, what has been gained, if anything? Setting oneself on fire to call attention to a cause - has this already gotten passé? Is timing everything? Was Atellan farce better stuff than Stewart's mugging it on camera? It didn't keep Caesar from being Caesar—Should it interest anyone, I have posted more material from my novel The Traymore Rooms on the Selected Sibum page.|
January 20, 2011: It is a miracle, I suspect, how I have been typified only twice this month, and with days to go yet before we see February in, as being a bull in a china shop, or even worse. I bring up politics, philosophy, and so forth and so on, and I bring about intellectual calamities. I am, as intimated below, a pessimist, an ebullient pessimist light on my feet if subject to the laws of gravity. I am intensely skeptical of a great deal. I have no delusions of grandeur; I have delusions of Diogenes, and there is much in politics and philosophy that blocks the sun for me. I regret the loss of lyric in my poetry; it is the price I paid for going 'political', not in any polemical sense but in the sense of Juvenal, or self-defence. Whatever animus I happen to carry about, one that was much exercised in the George W Bush years, but was precipitated by art-speak or any kind of 'speak', finds it easy to dismiss right of centre thought as repellent, left of centre thought a swamp where it is difficult to obtain traction. The centre, however, is more complicated terrain, a species of freak show, trick mirrors doing the trick of allowing all us dears to behold ourselves as per the men, handsome, as per the women, strong. Last night was A's birthday the 26th. It was celebrated at Nikas by Labrosse and myself who, for all of Labrosse's habitual optimism, had all the spiritual uplift of a couple of failed defectors of eastern bloc provenance, and even the wine cow was suspect. Even so, the good people of Nikas, the evening shift, set about improvising once it became clear that A expected something of a ceremony, a buss on the cheek at the very least, if not a recital of The Ring and The Book in its entirety. (I have read the thing. Have you?) So then a bowl of rice pudding with a sizzling sparkler set in it soon sufficed the requirements of ritual, plus the off-key obligatory happy birthday to you. The Rangers were making mince meat of the Leafs all the while, 7 zip. True, I was in a sombre mood, having heard but an hour before of the passing of Florence Millman, owner and proprietor, along with her son, of the Westend Gallery on Greene Avenue, she one of the kind and generous souls of this world. They are more rare than I think we realize. I hung in with Labrosse and A for what seemed a seemly lot of time, bussed A on her cheek, returned to my digs, finished watching the old John Huston flick Beat the Devil with Bogart, Jennifer Jones, P Lorre, R Morley, Gina Lollabrigida; and it was a droll spoof; and I regretted, as I watched, that I did not drop in on Florence in her shop as often as I might have.
January 18-19, 2011: Dim dots is how a correspondent
of mine describes those entities who seek the glories of self-expression
amidst the numberless universes of cyberspace. It is an existential application
of mind applied to a condition of being, not necessarily a reflection
upon quality of thought, even if, one, at times, wonders. It is not the
sweet anonymity of life in a metropolis such as New York. It is certainly
not Vale Perkins, a state of mind in the Eastern Townships where I have
had a more intense social life than anywhere else on this earth, save
perhaps for the Old Europa Restaurant, Commercial Drive, Vancouver.
(No, it is no longer there as the Hungarian long ago took the money and
ran.) In Vale Perkins one is in a state of gossip whether one likes it
or not, and whether or not one chooses to exercise spiritual injunctions
against the evil. Now Labrosse, of whom I have written variously in prose
and poetry, was at the controls of the wine cow, the other evening, in
Nikas, Montreal-NDG. There were consequences. And, semi-retired
from the business world, he was lamenting the woeful lack of political
talent in this country. He was going to sit down with the HBO series Rome
- for the sex, not the history. At some point in the second period of
the hockey game - Calgary-Montreal - two young woman appeared at our table,
A and E. E had just gotten off a plane and
was dressed for ranching; A had disembarked from the 105, garbed
for an expedition into artic hinterlands. E, as is her wont,
after greetings and felicitations were exchanged, immediately set about
putting the restaurant's recyclables in a green bin for street pick-up,
and by recyclables I do not mean inebriated regulars but the depleted
wine cows they leave behind. A clapped her eyes to the TV screen
and lusted, even if Montreal was now in the process of blowing a four
goal lead. There was conversation of a kind that almost attained the status
of high level talks, to do with Cavafy and Virgil, a certain Montreal
defenceman, and the state of theatre in Toronto where E had seen
something - it escapes me now what she saw - ah, a musical, she said.
She does not ordinarily take kindly to musicals, but this one had her
thinking; and then the matter was dropped, Calgary scoring yet again to
quaint howls of disbelief. After the game we repaired to my living room
with a fresh wine cow and resumed a discussion of Cavafy and threw modern
Canadian poets into the mix; and then Labrosse, being old and decrepit,
pleaded age and decrepitude and left; and I being old and decrepit, pleaded
age and decrepitude and stayed, and then A and E brought
to my notice the hazards of their combined 56 years of life, one of which
is old, decrepit men. They humoured me a while and departed. In the morning
I heard from a literary thug. He takes exception, and he is entitled,
and I assume it is cheery exception, to the post immediately previous
to this one in which I characterize sanguinity as second-nature in Canadians.
He cited Alice Munro, Keath Fraser, Richard Outram, Norman Levine, Mavis
Gallant, John Metcalf, Russell Smith, Henighan the bard, and good grief,
even the grimly creepy dystopias of Margaret Atwood, not that he recommends
anyone read them. I was routed, driven from the field. There is musique
de chambres of sorts to be heard in a Montreal rag called The Rover.
To do with a review of Marius Kociejowski's Pigeon Wars. Blasts
and counter-blastings. The Rover then.
|January 15, 2011: P.M. Carpenter, Prominent Political Commentator, has had for some time a bone to pick with sections of the American 'left'. It seems he views them as contributing nothing much to the problems bedevilling the country save the unction of their moral superiority, especially to those 'pragmatists' of whom Current President is a luminous example in the vein of FDR. I am unable to speak to this one way or the other as I am not there, down there, that is, and I have not been there these many years, and have no desire to be. But it is not as if I have failed to pay attention, so much so that friends of mine believe I have become too Americo-centric or something in my thinking; the world will not cease to exist if America falls - unlikely, in any case, and that America is simply undergoing an evolution of sorts, evolving from A into B or perhaps into Q; and sure, when Antony and Caesar had Cicero's head on their metaphorical plate here was a spectacular if tawdry instance of evolutionary principles. For all that, a fellow I once knew in high school and have not talked to since, not since we were part of a party that drove down to San Francisco from Washington state for the great anti-war march back in those heady old days; who now seems to be living on a disability pension of one kind or another, and has taken up paganism with ceremonial flourishes - well, he recently re-established contact with my person but then saw fit to strike me off his list of worthies as being insufficiently conversant with reality, that is to say, Mr Obama, for instance, is an impediment, not an enabler of progress and social justice. Furthermore, there are millions of like-minded souls like him down there somewhat discernible as an inchoate but menacing cloud on a metaphysical radar. At best, I have been late to the cotillion. God knows I have failed to keep up my end on plenty of dance cards over the decades. I am not troubled by feelings of moral superiority to anyone, not even to the backyard squirrels, the sparrows that generally stay over having decided to winter elsewhere for a change. I am also, as Mr Carpenter has gently suggested to me, in want of some pragmatism, the elixirs and humours thereof, so much so that, perhaps, reacquainting myself with the life and times of a Rosa Luxemburg is only going to render this want of mine into even more of a deficiency - a badly engineered splint job put to a broken limb. However I believe that when Mr Carpenter further suggests that the practice of torture violates the spirit of pragmatism he is being flip, being glib, is callous. And, although I am confident he does not intend it so, it is an instance of humour-making that generally misfires because the timing is off. Besides, how germane is a discussion of torture to anything? Let us discuss something real, like the unravelling of Palin's public image; the newest spate of absurdities to careen through the Republican Party like a maddened horde of rhinos. Sure, let's do. Let's count straw polls, ad hoc assemblies, mercurial joustings at the proverbial windmill of electoral drift. (It is not my intention to spat with Mr Carpenter; he has my serious attention and respect; just that his distrust of ideological fervour gets, say what, ideological at times—) No, what I am is an alleged poet, and, as such, something of a clown - in the sense that saying so I risk formulating a credo of sorts of what it means to be a poet. God help us. The credos of poets generally herald heavy weather, the approach of a low pressure system of scam. Deep skepticism on my part as I have seen credos change from day to day on a whim, as perhaps nature intended it. Even so, when things get parlous enough and politics fails to address famine, pestilence and foreclosure mania, to name but a few dysfunctions, violence is generally just around the corner spilling its shadow on the boulevard, the fact of which gives certain people pause. And yet, there is no skirting the possibility, if not the eventuality; and then a spectacle of Hamlet-izing reformists and Leninizing revolutionaries and United Church ministers looking a little anxious; and clowns like myself attempting to adapt physique to so many puzzles and labyrinths that of a sudden space seems to consist. I was at a book launch the other night for a new British publication of modern Canadian poets in which my name does appear on a roll call of the eligible; as it would seem I am both Canadian and modern, various chucklings to be heard out there notwithstanding. At this launch, one woman read in whose lines there seemed to be an appreciation of the bottomless abyss over which we are all of us suspended; and that is all I can say on it as I may have heard wrong; only that a certain sensation on the back of one's neck rarely misdirects. And in Canada, too, this appreciation, here where sanguinity is second nature in spite of the troublesome climate and the horseflies, and the geo-psycho factor of a literary community being stuffed between a moody and touchy and vindictive super power that might regard the ballads of Gordon Lightfoot as somewhat histrionic, and a long since atrophied colonial arbiter gone on to other things, like BBC sit-coms and period pieces. Lastly, I am reminded by a correspondent that the troubles now erupting in Tunisia may have some tenuous connection to that fact that the country is a playground for Europeans who like to get their jollies off there, exotic massages for the women, boys for the men. My hallowed pleasure principle losing lustre. We will not hear it in the news: rioting is not all about want of bread.|
|January 12, 2011: I come from the restaurant, incensed. Two in the afternoon, and I wish to impound and destroy every cell phone within a five mile radius, and more if I could. Those damnable chittering things such as spread our stupidities around with increasing insistence. I was trying to read something, you see. Ordinary conversational tones do not impede the reading of a text in a public place; nor do cooks and their banging of pots; nor do ventilator fans and fridge motors and the like. A cell phone chitters and then something in the human voice alters pitch and angle, and it is like a knife in the brain. So it is then, and the mood is foul. It seems I am spatting with one of my correspondents on top of it all. I regret having given that business in Tucson mention; sometimes silence is the better way. As when Rilke, at first infatuated with military parades (World War I), regained his senses and understood what it was all going to mean. And when everyone is unhinged, what good are spoken words? I know, I know, good and well-meaning souls will forever say that to remain silent is to permit - obscenities, atrocities, injustices, you name it. In any case, the spattee the other day observed, when I had made mention of the shooter and whether or not he had been operating in a vacuum, replied, and I paraphrase: "Of course he was operating in a vacuum. Surely there is an immense vacuum and has been for one hell of a long time. Sarah Palin is in it, too. Certainly Gifford is in it, with her approval of the gun laws. The whole country is in it. I suspect the world is, too."|
|January 10th, 2011: It is still too early to comment with any intelligence on the January 8th shootings in Tucson; just that in what commentaries I have seen so far, I might note the on our best behaviour debate over how much roiled up political rhetoric contributed to the episode. I might also note that in some quarters, at least, a question is going the rounds as to whether the shootings signify the same old same old, id est, the usual gun violence, or whether a shift has occurred in the inner equilibrium of a mystic entity or the body-politic, Tuscon the signal. In effect, if not cause, it was a political assassination; and yes, perhaps the recent gunning down of that governor in Pakistan heralds something even worse for the world, who's to say, especially in Montreal-NDG a Member of Parliament of which laments the loss of Canadian stature in the UN? More birds dropping from the sky, this time, just east of Quebec City, the fact of which does not tempt me to invoke dread and apocalypse; but it does add to the increased sense of unreality all around with which, in my view, we have been living since the Bush-Gore campaign was decided preemptively. Heavy weather seas, if intimidating, are fairly predictable in their effects, that is, until the wind veers ever so slightly, and then, cross-hatching seas, and no telling what may happen, the forces impinging on whatever craft one is sailing exponentially increased. Keats called it negative capability that is now a cushy concept amongst critics, but others call it madness, a madness that I characterize here as the rapidly widening chasm between the point of view of a Mr Carpenter, Prominent Political Commentator (see the links page), and Mr Hedges, once a Prominent Political Commentator or rather, prize-winning journalist, and now a burgeoning agitator. As agitators eventually must, he is now saying that all business as usual responses to crises are futile; the Democrats and Republicans are virtually interchangeable; and Obama in effect, if not in essence, is no better than Bush. One is either for or against the wars. What, with all the war dead, the atrocities, shall one equivocate? Perversely enough, I will now refer the reader to the post immediately below and either correct or further complicate the record; it having come to light that the restaurant in question is not Macedonian, it is Montenegrin; that the singer was not Italian and not even a him but a her who does have a Serbian background; and last but not least, there was very much so an Orthodox Christmas on January 7th, that it was celebrated the world over. And I throw up my hands as a certain correspondent who was there had parlayed my way certain details—It would seem that Patrick O'Brian once thought to imitate Proust but got over it. In other words, one has an inner ear. One either finds it or one flounders—|
January 8, 2011: A correspondent of mine suggests I sort it out: what to make of an Italian masquerading as a Serb singer; and this in a Macedonian restaurant, Orthodox Christmas as observed in the United Kingdom. I interview a few Balkan souls of my acquaintance here in Montreal-NDG - Greek-Albanians - and all I get from them are looks of incomprehension. Orthodox Christmas? Now? Italian-Serbs? Go back to bed and dream again. So it turns out that my correspondent has got things all muddled; that the evening in question was an occasion for Sevdah, nothing more, nothing less, Bosnian music the core, the excuse for which is ungratified love such as can occur any day of the year. That, and dancing on table tops by ravishing beauties, the fact of whom, plus the alcohol, probably accounts for my correspondent's intellects having gone flibbertigibbets. He was witness to illicit cigarettes everywhere, and this in non-fumatory London. Shattering glass. The cook drunk, the eats were horrendous, recipe as follows: take pork and goat. Shove in oven. Leave them. Semi-boil potatoes. Quick fry with onions. Leave centres uncooked. Serve the forgotten meat in thick lukewarm slabs. Drink lots. Lots and lots. Dance. Lots and lots. When morning comes, go back to shooting each other. Wish you were here. Otherwise, always late to the party, I have addicted myself to the nautical novels (set in Napoleonic times) of Patrick O'Brian. Still, I do not much care for the presence of the Charlton Heston encomium at the end of HMS Surprise, his Arms and the Man his 'showing away' that he has read Virgil, too; only that Virgil's account of the naval engagement that was Actium was lubberly, at best. Forgive my fooling around here with naval vernacular. If not a great writer - in the sense that Tolstoy and Proust et al are great writers - O'Brian is certainly a very good writer; just that, overlooking that his heroes hate Bonaparte without restraint and reserve and so, it is rah rah rah the Royal Navy despite the twits who ran it; and overlooking O'Brian's deep understanding of the human condition, sea battles or no sea battles; I am not yet comfortable with one strain of his sensibility. Being a card-carrying pessimist, but that I have no quarrel with optimism rooted in realistic appreciation of the odds, there is in the man's writing a certain reduction of all truths to a single truth - or the life force, Nietzsche in a topgallant breeze.
|January 5, 2011: To the south the 112th Congress has been sworn in; a new silly season begins, and how destructive will it prove? Just so much hot air at worst or an ever deepening roll-back of sanity, the economy - to name but one catastrophe - in the balance, and the republican nature of the republic that plenty enough people say no longer exists? And now, further adventures, to wit, the attempt to expunge from the text of Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn all racially charged words and replace them with, what, slave? 'Slave' is an opprobrious enough word in its own right, but now suddenly, it is a neutralizing, a distancing word in the newly proposed context of, what, a less bothersome, troublesome read? It is now a sociological word that has nothing to do with the living particulars of the day in which the novel is set. One may as well go whole hog, make a cottage industry of it, and treat all novels written or yet to be written in like manner, as there is something in all novels that will offend somebody somewhere. Shall 'honky' be substituted for by a word of prettier meaning? Are we not to know what was ugly in the past, and then think ourselves above all that now, incapable of fomenting what is hateful? (So, on top of everything else, literature is to be gentrified. I knew, I just knew it was going to come to this.) Meanwhile Conservative Colonel quotes a fellow named Henderson who quotes Napoleon that 'the man is everything'. '—It was not the Roman army that conquered Gaul, but Caesar; it was not the Carthaginian army that made Rome tremble in her gates, but Hannibal; it was not the Macedonian army that reached the Indus, but Alexander—It was not the Americans who disgusted half the world but Mr Bush, with his smirks. What is Conservative Colonel on about? That the blind forces of history do not dictate all that happens; that European history, for example, would have turned out differently had there been no Napoleon, let alone a Hitler or a Stalin. I believe he is in the right of it; then again, when the pendulum flies off its pin, what one person, man, woman or child, can reverse the consequent physics? There is a new anthology of modern Canadian poets out and about (or soon to be). It was published in Britain by Carcanet Press. It goes some way to dispel the notion that CanLit has been the private reserve of a handful of authors and their sensibilities.|
|January 4, 2011: A quote: 'The literary world is just one bubble after another, all of them popped at a glance.'|
January 2, 2011: Smug and snotty characterize too much Canadian book reviewing, and I have always wondered why. Westmount childhood? Overweening self-empowerment? Plain old ambition? That the more scalps one collects the higher one is allowed to skinny up the totem pole of tribal literary practice and preen one's feathers in more rarified atmospheres? Bad books deserve to be called out. Pomposity and pretension rate ridicule, except when the ridicule itself is pompous and pretentious, as is so often the case. Most books are mixed results, however, and there generally is not room enough in a 200 word review to sort out the good, the bad, the ugly and so, reviews, as such, are damn near worthless. One may as well scrawl on a restroom wall: 'I read The English Patient'. The buzz in the early 70s, in the beer halls, at least, theorized that arts councils and grant systems would counter elitism and level the field. Well, those were brave days bravely lived. Bowering cracked jokes. McKinnon looked nervous. Fawcett laid down rules of engagement while Hoffer did a pretty fair imitation of Toad from Wind in the Willows. Lane kicked McFadden's butt around in the palatial urinal of the Cecil Hotel and Mcfadden, being a good social democrat, so I suspect, seemed to like it. I thought I was on the right side of things, but what I did not know is that there is no side when one is on the make. Silly me, I took everyone seriously. In any case, ever since those halcyon days, all I have seen by way of literary endeavour is an endless succession of mandarins, high priests and priestesses, a zoology of poobahs - some anointed, some self-elected, the self-importance so thick and dense a nuclear detonation could not hope to disperse it. A for instance: review in a minor key of Marius Kociejowski's The Pigeon Wars of Damascus: http://roverarts.com/2011/01/every-single-flute-in-damascus/ However minor the key, note the flourish that is the opening paragraph, the invocation of established names, the air of benefice bestowed on the author to be reviewed by one who knows, the book 'thoughtful', and, 'too personal to be a travelogue and too metaphysical to qualify as a memoir'. Accurate enough. Working with a Proustian appreciation of meaning—Like every great flâneur—Et cetera. But note in the third paragraph from the bottom the commencement of the twisting of the knife, the dig at 'Orientalism' (the reviewer has perused Said, no doubt). Then the second paragraph from the bottom, and I, for one, would wish to have an example of how it is an erudite man likes the sound of his voice too much; and in what way, exactly, is Syria a stand-in for an Ontario-born Londoner's longing, as it would seem his choice of residence is unfortunate, cannot possibly satisfy him, hence the travels in the first place. Death to romantics, eh? The author could do with a bit more humanizing, you say? Is there criteria for this exercise, a list of rules or recommendations? Some anodyne bit of yoga? Has the reviewer a PH.D in life or is she stuck on her baccalaureate? And then this personage who would acquaint us, to go by the smirking, wink-wink disclosure at the bottom of the barrel of the reviewing page, vouches for the fact that she has eaten Damascene pigeon and can testify to the omnipresent pigeon in one of the world's oldest cities. Good God, not only are cultured fingertips on parade here but a gourmet's prowess, to boot. My own disclosure is as follows: the author under the gun is a friend of mine whom I have teased relentlessly and without mercy over the years, but who, otherwise, has all my respect; and I have seen this sort of this side of the Atlantic review before in regards to the man, or else I would not be moved to write the above words and supply this verdict: snotty, smug, unassailable. By design.