Ephemeris December 2011
Dec 31, 2011: I read that liberals of yesteryear, say the FDR yesteryear, if they were not working-class, tended to identify themselves with that class and its concerns. I read that, as of this moment, liberals almost constitute an economic class of their own; are mandarins of a sort doing just fine (although this felicity may not last), the fact of which has separated them politically from their old affiliations and the collective anger seething just below the surface, to which the 'right' seems better connected. The right parlays that anger into 'market populism' while liberals continue to believe that, unless CoolHand Luke blinks, technology is still the panacea that will solve all problems and float all boats—Well, it is what I read, and it seems plausible enough. My own disenchantment with the 'left' began, and some have deemed it petty of me to remark on it, with its 'professional' and 'collegial' support of shabby literature and art and empty theory - or spiritual suicide; just that I have yet and am not likely to find anything on the 'right' particularly welcoming, and I remain, as it were, in strictly electoral terms, unspoken for. In respect to the current political climate, I read that the 'internet' - one of those God awful words lacking even the slightest iota of texture, one among many such words that have been hollowing out language for quite some time now - fosters 'cognitive disassociation from a shared world'. I ask you, what is more injurious to one's mental health - the diagnosis or the malaise? Morning. Nikas. New Year's Eve on tap. I have predictions for the coming year, but that is between me and a few drinking buddies—Suffice it to say, they are not pleasant predictions. I read that Ralph Waldo Emerson with whom I have always had bones to pick, predicted the demise of the novel at the hands of diarists. I think he might have had a point. In poetry, the personal lyric, when done well; when it is not just an exercise in self-knubbling, still seems to pack the most punch with the audience, says he who has experienced both sides of the podium/audience configuration. I am however all for the epic and the didactic, even to the extent of bucking the blasts emanating from that source of all weather - that sausage meat known as the geist, mustard, please. I have begun acquainting myself with a guitar cliché entitled Spanish Romance simply because a fellow from whom I will be taking the odd guitar lesson is to be seen having at it on a video clip; and already it is apparent what a poor student I am likely to be: attitude. But there is also this gorgeous blues piece of John Fahey called Joe Kirby Blues which I have always wanted to play, and I am trying to play the thing. Its simplicity is genius, and it is what renders the piece difficult to learn, let alone play. As someone said: fewer notes to hide behind— It is the one bit of blues I can think of which would not sound amiss on the pipes—The musical equivalent of a Sapphic or Alcaic—Heavens me - Sapphic? Alcaic? This early in the day?
Dec 30, 2011: It is apparently marxism of a 'vulgar' sort to suggest that everything on the checkersboard dances to oil. (And water. And other precious items—) But perhaps everything does, in fact, dance to oil so long as one keeps it in mind that the dance is not always cheek to cheek—Morning. Nikas. I am a dull boy for the moment and have not much to say. Even so, item: it is cold in Montreal-NDG. Item: here in the restaurant, a sour-faced woman drowns her French toast in maple syrup. That she left her invalided husband and the lap dog at home does not seem to have lightened her burden—The irksome Christmas music has given way to the relentless grind of the hit parade—Yesterday, MH provided me with a lesson in economics the gist of which has already slipped my mind. However she did not know why the price of gold is falling; just that, if the price of gold is falling, it means something. But what does it mean? And this, too: however much capitalism is out of whack certain routine maneuvers must remain the same, unscathed, as it were, her question being: what's still working? You want to start up a business - you require a bank loan - you—Enter Larry the software entrepreneur, smoke billowing from his ears. He had been in a few minutes ago, but as Alexandra the waitress had no apple juice for him, he stepped back out to find some. Do you know where you are? It's a jungle out there—So then: Drunkin Donuts—At the corner—There he is charged $2.38 for a five ounce bottle of his heart's desire. Wait a minute - There must be some mistake - No, no mistake - But surely - It's not my fault - oh yes it is - it's his fault and his and his and hers and that person seated over there - it's everyone's fault who doesn't get off their hindend and call this gouging by its name: extortion, and take it to management—Larry the software entrepreneur, in continuance: "So, seventy feet away at the depanneur at the corner I discover I can buy the exact same bottle of apple juice for a buck, tax included. I mean, come on, man—And you know depanneurs have margins—" And so forth and so on—Economics lesson? Does it explain why CanLit got in the way of Canadian literature? Labrosse does seem to be boycotting hockey and the dinner specials that Nikas serves up. Perhaps he has got himself a life.
Dec 29, 2011: Here is a word for you connoisseurs of words, something to drag your tongue across and hear it stumble: exomologesis, or repentance involving a humiliating public confession—Akin to the mawkish harangues that recipients of arts awards render up? It is sometimes interesting to reflect on what constitutes 'sin' and how, for every sin that manages to shed its long-held infamy over time, another takes its place—The early church, for instance, deemed certain sins worse than others, so much so, some were 'unforgivable'; were 'unto death'; they were violations of spirit on the order of 'denying the faith' or attributing to Satan the works of God. One can read in Frazer (The Golden Bough) and elsewhere in the anthropological record of what sin was in tribal societies all over the pagan world. One might fairly surmise that those sins that challenged the authority of the church were a great deal more deadly than those sins that restricted themselves to the innocuous souls of mere individuals—Ironically enough, two thousand years later, it is venal sin on the part of its priests, and nothing but, that fatally eats away at the church's credibility when it comes to personal conduct. In this light, politics, theological complexities and the perennial changing of the guard in matters of custom are so many side shows—Morning. Nikas. Enter Larry the software entrepreneur. He observes that, out there, a classic Montreal winter's day is in progress, wind chill in the minus twenties. George the owner-cook brays that he has become sufficiently Canadian enough that minus forty is nothing to him—Perhaps I ought to take him aside and expose him to a few literary matters pertinent to Canadianess and we will see how sufficient sufficiency is—Larry now gives me a heads up on e-commerce and how it works: what you initially get gratis will bring you to your knees at a future date - anywhere in the world pagan or not. But do I know the poetry of Guns and Roses? No, I do not know the poetry of Guns and Roses, nor do I know the poetry of Geoffrey Hill. But there is a kind of poetry readily apparent in the body language of Alexandra the waitress, she just back from a brief vacation in Torontonia, which it is a mythical realm, to be sure, chockfull of a populace high on prowess. Alexandra's on-going misery is peerless, however; even as she chews her gum like some manic squirrel. Back in the saddle again—Now, does an excess of casual sex in the course of one's life dull one's capacity to view other human beings with the honour and respect due their dignity? Could be. Then again, I have had the acquaintance of people for whom sex has nothing to do with it; they are constitutionally unable to view any personhood outside of themselves in any kind of light at all, period. Some of them are poets, and they have been busy de-mystifying the myth that poets know better when all the other darlings seem to have abandoned their wits and lost their manners—There it was on TV, last night, the Catholic channel: a discussion of sex and the Absolute by young persons whose complexions were free of pimples, psyches however another cosmetic challenge—But then, I should not stoop to cheap shots: I have a superstitious respect, if nothing else, for the Absolute—I'll hold to my superstition, thank you very much, and you keep your panel palaver—
Dec 28, 2011: The following is my nomination for the flagship observation of the era, by way of argot, casual dialogue, to wit: how f—ed is that? Another chance viewing of In the Valley of Elah, a rather quiet little flick that has been going the rounds on TV channels of late—It grows on me more each time I see it; and I would promote it from 'flick' to 'movie' status, and even perhaps, to a designation as high as 'film', 'cinema' being the top of the heap. In any case, it is not so much its 'big message' - and I am not so sure it actually has a big message - as the little things the movie does well that paint a picture of 'cause for alarm' - as in how f—ked is that? Words that connote a question or two, or why would anyone in their right minds go and do this, or go and be a party to that; and yet, there it is - it happens and is happening - all around us all the time. Distress scenario. So much so that, at the movie's conclusion, when Tommy Lee Jones causes the flag to be hung upside down so as to effect a distress signal, it is not a cute or pat resolution to the logic of the movie, it is the appropriate response, given that the character Tommy Lee Jones portrays is a military veteran in whom a certain 'logic' has obtained and will always obtain. I suppose a critic could find much wrong with the movie, and not a few people I know have dismissed it as lightweight material. Charlize Theron is no doubt much too good-looking to be plausible as the in-house detective whose male colleagues are not exactly keen on seeing her distinguish herself; and she not only has them on her plate but a prickly Tommy Lee Jones, as well; the ex-military man endeavouring to get to the bottom of who murdered his military son and why; and he regards her at the outset as grossly incompetent. And so forth and so on. I also know plenty of people, as in lots of plenty of people, who will tell me, and who have been telling me for the past thirty years, that it was always a case in the U.S.of A. of how f—ked is that, so what's the big deal all of a sudden? My rejoinder, for the moment, is to point at the much banged about countenance of Tommy Lee Jones near the conclusion of the movie. It is the confession scene in which one of the grunts, combat mate of his son, in a absolutely chilling fashion, reports that one minute words are flying around and in the next minute, he is stabbing his mate to death, Jones's son, that is, and then there is the problem of disposing of the body, and then, hey, they are all hungry so they go to the Chicken Shack and—At any rate, the look that the Tommy Lee Jones was born to project (and for all that he has been in so many cheesy flicks projecting cheap thrills), difficult to reduce to its elements but, anyway, how about we spring for grief, fury, agony, disbelief, one's personal failure, but mostly, recognition; or that this insanity one is looking at just now in the person of the grunt who has still got his baby fat on him - well, one has known it in one's bones all along; it has been out there all along, and, here it is, right in front of one; but that something set it loose; it got out from under its rock - it is having its innings—So that, in a sense, the aforementioned critics are right - it was in the 'script' and the movie treatment before the script or the movie treatment even had cause to get written, and yet, the 'countenance' is the point of the movie and what it builds toward. I know that look. I know the look that preceded that look. I have seen both looks on the face of my own father who was a 'lifer' in the military. It is not a look you will see elsewhere, though I suppose one might come across its corollary somewhere, wherever the 'code' is still the code, no matter that one has long since stopped believing in it - it is all one has—Well, I certainly had no intention whatsoever of scribbling these words down, this morning - Nikas, and, what happened to the snow that was forecast? Perhaps this explains the cheer on steroids in the kitchen—Not so with the waitress. Here is the Albanian waitress with the startling eyes lamenting the fact that she is still on the floor when she has, in fact, an architectural degree of some sort, though Labrosse figures there is something fishy with her story—Yesterday, it was to be noted that, in the place, they finally came out of the woodwork for their holiday repast: the loners, loonies and depressives of the area all burning holes in space-time fabric with their eyes. Women, mostly, though there was the odd male looking for a convenient pretext with which to heave the sugar dispenser at some target or other—It is something one sees every year about this time in any less than posh eatery in any city on the continent—
Dec 27, 2011: It is, apparently, an anniversary of sorts in respect to the fall of the Soviet Union. The twentieth such to have come down the turnpike? I recall how, at the time of the momentous event, a number of persons of my acquaintance, all with bragging rights to competing political philosophies such as ran the gamut right across the 'spectrum' nonetheless remarked that a 'symmetry' was in the process of unravelling, and it would entail 'serious consequences'—A number of wars later, an insistent economic crisis, not to mention malaises of other kinds, including that of a certain nation-state reeling from the combined effects of head shot trauma and vertigo, and it would seem the case has been made for 'serious consequences'. In light of which, as if still giddy from the effects of Christmas Day, 1991, I met up with Labrosse at 'bratwurst', yesterday afternoon, and A - the little wretch - in town for the holidays, her new base of operations now Vancouver. No, we did not talk Gorbachev and Yeltsin and the pillaging the latter man countenanced with which a smirking west either connived or gave it all its thumb's up. Nor did we delve into a history of baptism or the prevalence of lustral rites in the mystery religions; but we did talk Vancouver property values, the Sylvia Hotel and rain. We did not bother our pretty little heads as to whether the novels of Stephen King have in them anything like artistic value, but we did put on record the distinct possibility that computers control us and not we them; and that the fact of it seems 'intended'. Hmmm, paranoid, are we? I went so far as to observe of myself that I have what passes for 'infinite patience' when it comes to people and their inexplicable behaviours, but that, when it comes to machines and their acting-out, I can lose it on a dime. What kind of human being this makes me, I am unable to say, but it suggests I am not terribly suited to the requirements of the age. Meanwhile, A and Labrosse had a mock-marriage to re-consummate, as it were, each the other's mock beauty with mock conjugal obligations, and I was getting to be a third party looking on and so, I retreated from an active front—Morning. Nikas. Enter Larry the software entrepreneur who has words for the kitchen: "Do you know where you are, guys? You're gonna die, baby. It's a jungle out there—"
Dec 26, 2011: I read optimistic reports of political and spiritual awakenings to the south of here and elsewhere in the world. Well, it's what they say, compassion in the driver's seat here, there and everywhere—Perhaps it is true that what is purely political can address a shortfall in spirit and vice versa; perhaps not. Be religion a boon or a great evil, surely discussion of religion is a toxic business, just that let it be noted: Baptism is older than Christianity . . . . The origin of the rite is uncertain, but it was probably a spiritualization of the old Levitical washings—A History of The Christian Church, as inscribed in block letters, blue ink, by one EMILY DRYSDALE, CLASS of '63—Or this: . . . .for want of the fruits of the field - eight words to be had in Lamentations 4:9. King James Version—Which might lead us to a discussion of how it is poetry on occasion transcends pettiness and the various strait jackets of the various political correctnesses, even if ideologues will argue that if it, in fact, poetry ever does so, it is at the expense of the telling particularities, as in who's screwing whom and who's currently in violation of the protocols—Christmas Day afternoon, and there was Labrosse at table in Nikas at the controls of the wine cow, sublimely negligent. Which is to say, he was quite happy to take on all comers for whom he would, in comradely fashion, pour out a glass; but he was also perfectly happy with his own company, though I have never quite understood what he sees in The Globe and Mail. At any rate, I showed up and noted in the restaurant the presence of a woman in a white tuque gunning off the world for all that she was worth, agony of some kind on her face. Loneliness perhaps? But loneliness expressed as hostility, 100 proof, eyes clapped to phantasms—Which leads me to Orwell's Keep the Aspidistra Flying and his self-loathing, impecunious protagonist for whom tobacco and the making of verses were inseparable the one from the other, even if he were to run out of smokes and verses. Which leads me to Grant Buday's fluff piece in Brick 88, but a sweet fluff piece it is, a fueilleton of sorts on a theme of books and exotic travels, the odiferous and tactile qualities of said books in relation to exotic places (as opposed to electronic thingamajigs that purport to be literary in relation to places no longer exotic because there is nowhere left to flee to in which to subsequently obtain refuge from a bonkers world), Buday's peroration this: Not that I have anything against e-books and Kindles. Some day I'll likely buy one and be thoroughly impressed. But can you throw it at the cat or flatten a roach, can you hide things in it, use it as a filing system, or dribble wax onto the back cover and stick a candle on it to enhance the atmosphere of a faraway room, and, in those flickering shadows, make love? (The very fact that these words have been written and then been seen fit to have published probably indicates that it's all over, in any case, Baby Blue—) Or that, in respect to The Digital Apocalypse, already come to a bookstore nearest you, I have nothing sensible to say. Had hideous dreams, last night, which might have something to say for Labrosse's wine—Do then the words that follow have even an iota of traction remaining to them? For everything that exists there are three instruments by which the knowledge of it is necessarily imparted; fourth, there is knowledge itself, and, as fifth, we must count the thing itself which is known and truly exists. The first is the name, the second the definition, the third the image, and the fourth the knowledge—from Plato's Seventh Letter—The immediately above words, in the current light of day, seem almost manic in their insistence upon something or other - or how it is first principles bore us to tears, so much so, we continually f—k with our heads—Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin series (twenty volumes worth) putatively has to do with British naval history and the Napoleonic wars, but arguably has a great deal more to do with a 'discussion' of friendship, especially friendships that transpire over a long spate of years. It has to do with all sorts of human relations, a discussion of which some contributor to an august literary review might depict as the 'politics of friendship' or whatever else boots it for one hanging out in the loop—The oddest thing: rank imperialism and tender hearts—
Dec 25, 2011:I was told that Nikas would be open first thing on Christmas Day, and it seems I was told wrong. In any case, I am somewhat at sea, not having my usual shot at collecting my thoughts over a cup of coffee and a scribble in the old notebook at my customary perch. However, my correspondent in Prague informs me that Havel's caisson was drawn by the three black horses, while Christmas carp was being butchered on every street corner. London Lunar watched The Land of the Pharaohs (1955), Joan Collins in the role of the mega-bitch. You can see we are not up to anything much, ce matin. I had figured on entertaining all sorts of spiffy thoughts in respect to the Alex Good article The Digital Apocalypse in the current CNQ. A dull ache in the mind, or something on the order of a void, I am sorry to say, must pass for 'thought' for the time being. I am not doubting in the slightest the import of the tale the man has to tell; it is just that, as a species, we are perhaps perverse enough to yawn at the news of an impending nuclear strike whilst we get all hysterical at the sight of someone or something a tiny bit off kilter in the street—Or, to put it another way, I may never write another poem again, let alone publish one of the things, but that does not mean I will have ceased being a poet, no matter what Amazon and the like get up to. MH had me to a candle-light Christmas Eve dinner in her studio; and we ate and had a listen to the Miserere (Miserere mei, Deus). It is music that she loves pure and simple; no need to get all twisted up in knots polemically as to whether religion is a boon or a great evil as per Hitchens. My correspondent in Japan tells me that Christmas there is fried chicken, sparkling wine and winking lights. There is a ' fortified castle' just over the hill from him in which are Mormons. Otherwise, he wonders: how does one specify pianissimo for the guitar?
Dec 24, 2011: Gossip interests me more than scoring debating points a la an essay or a sashay over ideological terrain, whether or not with a view toward taking prisoners. Literature has always struck me as nothing more than gossip in some distillate form, and with an ear not only for scandal (content) but for the music that there is in language. Still, it is a grim business to consider that the literature one has loved all one's life is no more than a whipped dog, soon to be canned meat and then - oblivion. So long, capital L Literature, it was so good to know ya. I have finally gotten around to a perusal of an article in the current issue of Canadian Notes and Queries which, so I was put to the wise by a 'knowing one', I would find apocalyptic. Ah - that - apocalyptic. It is a word with which I have been living for a good, long while. In fact the article - essay - death knell - whimper - let's see how scary we can get whilst we idly pick our teeth - is entitled The Digital Apocalypse. It is not to say the words contained therein fail to present a compelling and all too depressing argument for the fact that literature, even if it survives its nuclear winter, will never be the same again; that what has made it possible - writer, reader, publisher, distributor and the odd not smarmy, not smug critic always on the look out for a cheap thrill - all this has been and is being re-shaken and re-stirred so as to make for a whole new ball game or cocktail or monstrosity. The article does seem to get all that down, a bit of panache thrown in at no extra cost to the psyche. I have always said and will continue to say that authors who will do nothing but offer to the as always unsuspecting world at large sub par after sub par coda will only cook the proverbial goose of each themselves and the literary exercise in toto - as if anyone can distinguish anymore between a goose and some avian life form a touch more noble than that which honks. Indeed, I can choose to read the article in this light: now that the goose has been deep-fried down to an evil-smelling lump of coal, it follows that the essence of literature itself - which is 'listening', d—n it all, not the imposing of one's dubious personality on a void consisting of a collective of glassy-eyed stares, is fair game for all who wish to play a little Parcheesi or commit a little socioeconomic engineering as a species of pastime; or that the 'internet' is rendering life itself a pastime, just that there is a lot of cash to be made from the rendering; and, as per the article, authors are not likely to see much of that cash, being at the tag-end of the dole line. But up until now and for some time now, faux writers and publishing house accountants have certainly done their part in triggering a nuclear winter of a kind, and they can cry 'foul' against me all they want, and advise me to 'get real, man,' and plead each their 'necessity of being one's identity of the week' (and really, what they want to say is 'money' if not 'I am God'), but they have no excuse. They have no excuse for not understanding what it is stake when one says The Iliad or Pride and Prejudice. They have never understood, though they may cart around degrees in the humanities and teach the horrid stuff for a hobby. They have on their hands A, the little wretch, once a student at Carleton for which she has some ill-disguised contempt, who said to me that reading was too slow and so awfully boring, but that I was the first poet she had yet to meet who seemed like a poet - whatever 'poet' means to her - I've no effing idea—A year now into 'posting' on the internet, and I also have no idea whether I have been committing spiritual suicide all along; have been engaging, as per the article, a species of denial whereby my head is not only in the sand it is up my arse, or whether I am simply 'taking what the defense gives me'. I still do not rightly know the answer to the question, just that, on some days, I do suspect myself, for all that I know my posts, such as they are, enjoy a small but faithful cadre of readers who put up with my whims. And by small, I do not mean a cast of thousands, just enough to get up a game of water polo in the alley with substitutes in the wing waiting to give this or that darling a breather—There is something in Canadian intellectual life that must needs always steal a march on the rest of the world by investing a thought or thoughts with a frisson of we may be dull but we're savvy dull and we're not above piling on. There is that to think about as I digest the article's import over the next few days. I see that London Lunar, however, and he knows a lot about books, period, as he has been a bookseller all his sentient life, and he has not been above writing a book now and then, gives the article his seal of approval; though he does take issue with a little matter of timing, or, when exactly did Huxley make Orwell sensible?—And just when I thought Orwell was getting pedestrian and that I have been mistaken all along in my estimation of his powers, he goes and delivers up in Keep the Aspidistra Flying the sine non qua of poverty-induced pettiness, which it is humiliation and life itself, all this in a depiction of a man attempting to steal a pot of tea from his landlady—It is what literature is - the thing itself. It cannot be faked or simulated. It is not about art imitating life or art for art's sake; it is the thing itself, and either the artist knows what that thing is or he does not, all else a matter of spinning one's wheels and putting on a show so as to better disguise one's lack of knowing; the thing itself that can render an entire book worthwhile even if only a few paragraphs in it pay proper due to the aforementioned truth. It then remains to be said that if books are being lost to us, and if there is such a thing as 'truth', and if truth matters, then truth is being lost to us, and we will have been the first generation in the history of the affair that is humankind to have pulled off this stunt—Last evening, I sat a while with Labrosse in Nikas, E on shift, as was the Romanian waitress, the one who forces one to contend with the word petite. We discussed politics, Labrosse and I. Sibum: "Even if Current President wins re-election, I think he'll still be saddled with what has plagued his inaugural term: no wiggle room. He has to cut such unsavoury deals just to get a smidgen of what he wants. It makes him look highly suspect in certain quarters—" Labrosse: "It all depends if he can find the sweet spot, the right cut of the cake—" Labrosse went on to say that he meant his words in relation to all the players in the room, other contending sources of power; Congress, for instance, the courts, the Pentagon, State Department. I had my fill of wine and rose to leave. At which point E sauntered up looking for Something or Other which turned out to be a hug undertaken in the spirit of Christmas, no less. What caused her to believe I am not some malignant Scrooge deeply committed to humbuggery and dislike of academe and literary (postmodern) theory? As with the Romanian. She wanted it, too. Bear hugs - Crazy wild smiles—
Dec 23, 2011: Nature may or may not be innately fascistic, but it is a structured thing, so much so even chance has its part - or so I was thinking in 'bratwurst', MH, one of nature's unsung aristocrats, treating me to an afternoon beer. I was somewhat vexed, although MH was innocent of any vexing. But to judge from a couple of remarks I have received of late it would seem I am obliged to apologize for the fact I have been reading a history of the early church; that it makes of me something unattractive, a convert perhaps, an apologist—An idea leads to a community of like minds. Tensions, however, do develop amongst the like-minded. This necessitates debate, ways and means of settling disputes, of delegating authority. The dynamics of power and the subsequent abuses of the same. Would I find the essence of corporate life to be any different were I to read a history of Microsoft and its engineers as opposed to a history of presbyters? People are dreaming who believe that humankind, in the long run, can get on without its deacons and deaconesses. For all that, we talked, MH and I, of matters personal to us, and of getting on as 'artists' in a world in which artists are more or less nothing but entertainers. Well, entertainers are fine, just that entertainers are not likely to think through reality in terms of alexandrines or mull over the advantages and disadvantages to be had in the use of acrylics over oils—Yes, and then London Lunar reintroduces into the fray the notion of the sublime in respect to the opera he attended, last evening, his 'box' visited perhaps by a ghost or two unwilling to stray too far out of earshot of the passage for the quintet—In any case, MH hijacked my copy of Orwell's Down and Out in Paris and London, substituting his Keep the Aspidistra Flying which I read as a young man; which I now begin to reread - because it is there - and there it is, opening pages, and the literary life as borne up under by a bookshop clerk, failed poet of sorts, whose predictable and somewhat neurotic anxieties vis a vis all those 'books' and the entities who wrote them, entities tending toward the 'usual suspects', comes into focus—Ah yes, now I remember—And how to stretch out one's parlous little fund of tobacco over the course of a week - how I do remember—In any case, pure silliness, I have any number of books on the go in my endeavour to read them all in one fell swoop, as it were: a pair of Roman period pieces, Arrowsmith, those Orwells mentioned above, O'Brian's Blue at the Mizzen, that infamous history of the early church, P.M. Carpenter's commentaries that will, some day, constitute a classic, and last but not least, The Secret Childhood of Captain Orville Kydde, it being a send up of life in the Floridian swamps during the Eisenhower years—It is something I have been keeping in reserve for a truly rainy day, only that, as I look out the window here in Nikas, it is evident that it is snowing; and that it is snowing with intent—
Dec 22, 2011: I had company, last evening, in the persons of E and Labrosse. Our excuse? The fourth episode, first season of The Wire. At the conclusion of which, E, cross-legged in the armchair, puts it to Labrosse: "Well, are you enjoying it so far? I know I am. I enjoyed it before. I shall enjoy it again." Somewhat bowled over by E's alacritous thumb's up, Labrosse righted himself. (He occupied the rocker.) Yes, Labrosse pondered it for a moment, chin in hand. Eventually, he answered that it (the show) was 'alright' but that it was nothing he was going to write home about. He was, he surmised, having some trouble handling the argot with which much of the dialogue expresses itself. There were other considerations of language, as when McNulty and Bunk, having at a crime scene with a tape measure and deductive reasoning, make commentary with one another on the strength of a single word (and variations thereof) or 'f—k'. E made sure to call our attention to this showcase virtuosity lest we miss it. It was as if Labrosse and I have not ourselves been sufficiently around the block, and thereby lack proper exposure to the tonal possibilities of the expletive—But perhaps Labrosse found this particular interlude of f—k and mothuhf—k and f—k me set in various keys overly droll—I am reading that the persecution of the early church began in earnest under Decius, 250 A.D. This date was roughly the 1000th year anniversary of the founding of Rome—It was an organized and whole-hearted persecution back when the church had nothing in common with certain wing nuts of our era, not even Christ. Otherwise, I am not willing to devote a perfectly good morning on such subject matter—So what about Gesualdo? Was his 'wildly chromatic' music (this Italian aristocrat composed in Renaissance times) nothing other than a massive guilt complex, seeing as he had caught his wife in flagrante delicto and, aristocratic privilege, murdered her and her paramour—Perhaps guilt had nothing to do with it and he was, instead, revelling all his subsequent life in the deed, exulting. At what level of psyche do all other languages leave off, thereby leaving the field to music alone? As if in reply, London Lunar announces he plans to attend a performance of Die Meistersinger ce soir and will be packing a picnic lunch—Too Tall Poet, a Nikas regular so far neglected in these posts, hearing that I have been on the look out for Patrick O'Brian's Blue at The Mizzen, the last volume of the Aubrey-Maturin series, handed one to me, this morning. I was touched by the gesture. You mean poets can actually be civilized?
Dec 21, 2011: London Lunar unaccountably receives a Christmas card from one of the more esteemed poets in the language, senior rank. It occurs to him he might reciprocate with a Valentine's Day card. But ought he? Ah, protocol. Indeed, to whom is owed the greater ritual genuflection: Origen's fallen man or an independent producer of flicks? Yes, what do an exchange of felicitations and drone predators and their stressed-out remote control handlers and the state of the Chinese economy and Gingrich's marital musical chairs and Congressional hissy fits have in common with one another? Nothing. Nary a whisper. But I should have known, as per a recent post I wrote, that IXTIAN signifies Christian, and I am a dolt for not having known it. It strongly suggests I misread entirely a not insignificant stretch of Orwell's Down and Out in Paris and London—(IXTIAN appears in the margin of the pertinent page, courtesy of an earlier reader, perhaps as early as the 60s - to judge by the library due dates stamped at the back of the book such as constitute an archaeological dig.) In any case, I am spiritually in arrears to a reader of my post for setting me straight on this score, life sufficiently perilous that, now and then, one requires a little help from one's friends—You think not? Morning, Nikas, and Alexandra the waitress has just cranked up the radio's decibels: they spew forth Frosty the Snowman. Has she no shame? Is madness completing its take-over bid in respect to her every molecule? Madness? We all of us now inhabit a global police state. Too true: I have just yarded out an item of hyperbole, a jejune declaration, knee-jerk spite; but in potencia the statement is accurate enough. It is as true as waking in the morning and observing that, as for the weather, why, it happens to be snowing. I am advised there is no future for literary culture, not after the 'internet' is done having its way with the thing, pulverizing the thing to shapeless 'content' or worse - to some gelatinous muck that one might apply to one's hair or teeth or other more discreet anatomical parts of one's corpus. I have always suspected that, quite apart from what coup de grace brings literature to its knees for the last time, litterateurs themselves will have struck the initial toppling blow, if one likens literature to a cow on a stockyard treadmill—A terminal case of Faux Everything - just so this or that darling can mince about festivals and prize-giving ceremonies and pretend humility and mouth the word 'career' for the sheer hell of it. I am having at Leo Brouwer's Ojos Brujos or Bewitched Eyes on the guitar, which it is an old Cuban tune. I discern all too clearly what a klunker I am doomed to remain on the glorious instrument—
Dec 20, 2011: I wondered about some of the vulgar remarks I was coming across block-lettered in the margins of the pages of Orwell's Down and Out In Paris and London. Then, bottom of page 33, and there it was - stamped in ink as lurid as lipstick: MECHANICS' INSTITUTE OF MONTREAL. The origins of the realist taking issue with the realist. Case closed—There has been the spectacle of North Korean television: the wailing, gnashing of teeth, tearing out of hair, breast-beating and the like - pyrotechnical lamentations for Dearly Departed Leader, somewhere off camera, no doubt, police looking on to ensure that no one unduly slacks off in the grief department. For all that, we in the 'west' ought not to gloat: we are subject to theatricality, too; it is just that it is less ham-handed and perhaps more energy-efficient—And then the bankers—But here I can only parrot a few opinions I have come across, or that, in some fair nation-states, slapstick artists, or bankers, trumping the respective governments, are the effective rulers of the commonweal, but that various peoples may very well get restive—I am told by a Literary Thug of my acquaintance that an essay has appeared arguing a view bleaker than my own in respect to literary culture and its future. It is downright apocalyptic, so I have been advised. How can this be - bleaker than my own? I have so far been unable to track this essay down in order to confirm or refute this remarkable claim, one that the Literary Thug of my acquaintance would not make idly, as he is not whimsical of nature—I sit in Nikas. Morning. I battle Christmas carols and unruly clientele. There is S now engaged in having discourse with himself. He may as well be shouting out audibles on a football field, calling the signals. When he is not quarterbacking, squatting there in his booth, he is whistling and stamping his feet. No one has ever managed to embarrass him into silence. He brings to mind some Q&A: literary culture? The sound of one mind clapping? There is Larry the software entrepreneur. An observation occupies his brain: "I suppose the thing to look for in coming days is how many of the more saner Republicans will starting drifting toward the Dems, looking for company—" Sibum: "Are there any left? I thought they'd been squeezed out of politics in the Bush years. There was a purge going on, you know—" Larry: "So I've heard—" Sibum: "So the thing to look for - but hey, it's too early in the day for this—" Larry: "I quite agree. Now I'll trundle off to my table and my tabloid, and you'd think a guy could get a cup of coffee in this place—" Sibum: "Apparently this is a restaurant and not the funny farm—" There has been the spectacle of surge, crash and burn to the south of here. A frenetic primary campaign. Perhaps the most frenetic ever, more crazy wild than anything in the annals—Plato putting words in the mouth of Socrates: Mankind at first lived dispersed, and there were no cities. But the consequence was that they were destroyed by wild beasts—And so forth and so on. Larry, detouring enroute to his table, to the fellows in the kitchen: "Where are you, my hearties? I'll tell you. Hey, you're in the jungle, baby. You're gonna die—" Hilarity erupts. Greek-Albanians. Impervious to politics. Not fazed by the prospect of gruesome death—
Dec 19, 2011: Rhetorical question on the part of London Lunar: what makes people think they can deliver satire without moral force? Or that satire without moral force is simply 'fascism' of a kind. If he does not say so in so many words, the implication is there in his use of the word repellant, by which he describes what a once funny comedian cum satirist is up to, these days, on the Brit boob-tube—Well, it is on boob-tubes everywhere: what is apparently to be construed as ha ha funny is but tedious and nihilistic; devoid of anything worthwhile, beyond empty—I am only a few pages yet into Orwell's Down and Out in Paris and London. The protagonist has begun his meditation on the effects of poverty on the spirit when, written in block letters in the margins of the pertinent page, I come across the remarks of an earlier reader, to wit: WHY DIDN'T YOU FIND A BETTER XTIAN MONEY-LENDER YOU S.O.B. ! Allowing for the fact that I have no idea what 'ixtian' connotates, it would seem that the author of the remark rags on Orwell and his protagonist for their ragging on the Jewish proprietor of a pawnshop simply because 1), the proprietor pays out ridiculously low sums for goods brought in, and, 2), he is a curmudgeon lacking all social graces—Poverty engenders pettiness always and always—Morning. Nikas. Larry the software entrepreneur has a quarrel with CBC. Or that it is a prime source of cultural and political b.s. - not to put too fine a point on it - in this our fair nation-state, when once it was an honest force to the good of what matters in life. Now it is Smug&Smarm writ large, Mister and Mizz Self-Satisfied, and how can Mansbridge stand his own company, anyway? And all the rest of that lot? In any case, it seems to me that the software entrepreneur has a point, and he has made it; and he leaves me now to scribble my bromides down in peace, be well, and do not let the bedbugs bite. So I am left to wonder whether the Albanian waitress with the startling eyes, all sweetness and light here, is a holy terror on the home front, never to be doubted or refuted or in any way crossed—And, apropos of none of the above, I also wonder if anyone ever has truly succeeded in explaining how it is baseball got such a grip on the American imagination, and whether the beauties of the game can withstand what it is that floats in the cesspit that is the prevailing geist; whether it it will knuckle under the effects of that f-word I so lazily render up in this post's opener—So then, for what it's worth: Nothing can be meaner than the anxiety to live on, to live on anyhow and in any shape; a spirit with any honour is not willing to live except in its own way; and a spirit with any wisdom is not over-eager to live at all—Santayana—
Dec 18, 2011: The little wretch, or A, having gotten herself marooned in Vancouver, is looking to rent an apartment there. "Somewhere safe", or so she texted. Good luck with that. My memory-bank summons recollections of a grotty Westend at the pizza hour when, late in the evening, the phones ring off the hook in pizza shops all around, everyone glassy-eyed in their towers suddenly in the mood for all-dress everything—I sat a while with Labrosse, last evening, in Nikas, he clapping a warning eye on the TV screen and the hockey game it featured. The eye said: "Play this game the way it was meant to be played or else I boycott. I withdraw my attentions—" I have heard this sort of thing at other times in other quarters, but I believe Labrosse means it. He was wearing his corporate I am not to be trifled with black. In other words he had been at a meeting in the course of the day or he had been in attendance at some Christmas-do, catching up with old colleagues, no doubt. I do not ask, as to ask would violate certain unwritten rules of the relationship, one in which conversation is either of a speculative nature (politics, for the most part) or it is comprised of gossip. There was the fact of E sneakering from one end of the restaurant to the other on her shift; and she was preening in respect to her latest exam scores in French grammar, Labrosse wondering if the preening was truly warranted— Now sidle over (in an on-line sort of way) to issue number eight of the Bowwow Shop, click on the name Eric Ormsby who may or may do double-duty as a certain Captain Kydde, and one might come across a photo of Kydde looking every bit the mystic-Beau Brummel-ballplayer-headed-for the-show that he is. Enough said. One might find the accompanying memoir of interest, too—I have begun reading once again, after a very long hiatus, Orwell's Down and Out in Paris and London. I am immediately struck by how fresh the writing is, and how, as I read, I do not sense resentment building up in me in respect to the probability that I am being gamed. There seems to me, as of this date, two ways to write: one either has something to say and one gets on with it, or one grinds out a polished style which ought to produce the same effect of 'naturalness', of immediacy, of candour, even a bit of charm; everything else in between those two polarities - well, you are on your own with all that. The Moesian might take note of how, early on in the book, Orwell handles sex in his depiction of what appears to be a night time raid on a Parisian convent; and rape is momentarily true love and the highest human felicity; and then the crash after the mania, and the reality of one's miserable little existence—There is nothing in the writing to shock or aggressively jog the senses; there is no suspicion of prurience; just that little belated truth that much of life is banal and dreary and poverty-stricken in more ways than one, and an instance of release is more often than not madness and nothing but, after which the monster even feels a little pity for the girl (sold into slavery by her parents) he has ravished, now that he perhaps feels a little pity for himself, having placed all the money he had in the world into the bony hands of the old whoremaster at the gate—On the other hand, the Roman period piece I have been attempting to muck my way through has gotten unreadable, and the fact that it is a New York Times best seller can only indicate a scam on the part of the publisher, or else the reading public is so desperate it will read any effing thing. I who am squeamish about flying dreamed that a young woman took me up for a spin in her specially-designed craft - one of those things that does not require much distance for lift-off; and she said of it that it did not fly so much as soar; and, and—It was explained to me how the machine, once air-borne, stayed air-borne; even so I did not attain understanding; just that I was happy enough to fly with the girl who seemed utterly competent, and the fact of the storm on the near horizon was not troubling—Politics? One of those dreams, I guess—
Dec 17, 2011: MH got sentimental, last night, the object of her effusions being one George Orwell, of whom she said: "Now there was a writer who could write. Wish he were with us now—" What particularly appealed to her mid-western savagery (of intellect) was how the man adapted 1 Corinthians 13 to his own especial aims:—And now abideth faith, hope, money, these three; but the greatest of these is money—(You may find the example in full in the preface to Orwell's Keep The Aspidistra Flying—) I was thinking all the while, unbeliever that I am, that Alexandria had been the city of the Divine Logos; and, as a city, it perhaps has greater claim on our 'western' souls than any other city since that has enjoyed some measure of heyday and cachet as an intellectual and cultural centre—But that Origen, he who emasculated himself as per Matthew 19:22 or He that swears by Heaven and et cetera - apart from having gone the extra yard, the man probably has no corollary, say, among the Abstract-Expressionist crowd—We wound up watching a flick, MH and I. Plot: Three young Mossad agents are on a mission in East Berlin circa '66 to kidnap and bring back to Israel for trial a Nazi doctor who perpetrated medical atrocities on concentration camp inmates. In the course of their activity the threesome form an intense emotional triangle, two men and a woman. The mission winds up going awry and the doctor they had managed to capture escapes and ostensibly disappears forever. They decide to concoct and maintain the fiction that the doctor was shot while escaping and so, justice of a kind will seem to have been served. Years go by. The woman and one of the men have married and have had a daughter; just that the woman really loves the other man. Daughter grows up and writes a book lauding her mother's courage. The woman and the man she really loves are bothered by each their consciences and the fact that they have been living a lie all this time. The woman's husband, on the other hand, believes 'truth' as such is less important than - what? - the stability of the state? The cohesiveness of a people who need to believe X,Y and Z? Somehow it becomes known to them that the doctor is still alive and that a journalist is about to interview him and will probably learn the truth as to what really happened back in East Berlin—And so forth and so on. There is a scene near the flick's conclusion where, in a Kiev hospital, the woman (whose lot it is to 'finish the job') and the doctor are each trying to kill the other. They are entangled for a brief spell in a death embrace, as if each their mentalities and destinies, as it were, cannot disengage the one from the other—At the conclusion of which flick I put it to MH: "What did we just watch here? What? History? Entertainment? Something philosophical? Something that takes from all of the above but blurs distinctions? Is there in this an implied critique of the Israeli state as is? Well?" MH: "Forget it. It's just entertainment. Producer wants to make money. Everyone wants to make money. So long as it's entertainment and is making money - or not - your questions are meaningless and beside the point. Lighten up—" That was that. MH had pronounced and would retire for the evening. We kissed, savagery of intellect still bright in her eyes—I woke in the middle of the night in a panic, my mind's eye confronting numberless sheets of guitar tablature. So much, so much to learn—Tambora? One applies the side of one's thumb to the strings just this side of the bridge—What? Nothing happens? You're not living right. Moral climate? You mean we inhabit a moral universe? I will give Mr Hitchens (who just passed on) this much: that when he mugged the 'liberal left' for its being feckless and a parody of anything that matters, he had a point. Otherwise—The real satirist is the one who writes that the electorate, in its genius, almost always elects just what it needs. Its job is to put the defect most suited to the times in the driver's seat. The contenders each have their retinue of carpetbaggers who want to cash in for their troubles. When times are good, the scalawag (incompetent) is most preferred. Think Harding, think Clinton. The public turfed out Hoover as he was too much the nuts and bolts engineer. Think Carter. Current President has no plan, and this may bespeak his vaunted intelligence. No, what is wanted is a 'bold liar', a 'hearty delusional'. A Gingrich. Jackass for all seasons. If there is any snippet of truth to the words immediately above, well then, I think you may draw your own conclusions—
Dec 16, 2011: I note that P. M. Carpenter, often cited in these posts as a worthy commentator on matters of politics to the south of here, chose not to treat with the recent presidential speech - that benchmark of dissembling on a war nine years long. In its content, the speechifying may have been politically justifiable from a certain point of view however narrow, but it was one of those acts in life - we all of us have a history of such acts in our lives - that, no matter what, leave a bad taste in someone's mouth—Instead, Mr Carpenter chose to treat with the possibility that Gingrich could very well unite a fractured and factitious-prone Republican Party (whereas the fact of a Romney nomination will almost certainly exacerbate its divisions) and so, present Current President with a serious electoral challenge; an election that, according to recognizable laws of political physics, he ought to have in the bag. As it were. Otherwise, yesterday was a miserable day weatherwise. A damp cold as pernicious as London cold—The kind of cold that not only eats into your bones, it disintegrates them—Which brings to mind the following: or how I would not have thought it possible but apparently it can happen: that in the course of a funeral, in addition to New Agey gestures, one might hear a decidedly unNew Age Ted Hughes poem as well as The Flight of the Valkyries; as well as the blandishments of a Scots piper, plus Janis Joplin whaling on Me and Bobbie McGee; not to mention Gregorian chants, a Tibetan mantra, a trumpet having at some last post. The fellow being sent off like that was a neighbour of London Lunar, a former SAS man who died from infected lungs or the dust they incurred from his making of dollhouse furniture—One weeps from the lovely whimsicality of it all—And while we are on about the dead, I will not be one of those to deem Christopher Hitchens a Great Man, let alone a great thinker and writer. Ungenerous of me, yes, but I cannot help but remember his bravura performances on the Charlie Rose Show in the lead-up to the Iraq war - he was all for it, and though I would not begrudge him his atheism (nor am I a believer), I did not find his militancy on that score a source of intellectual clarity and so, a triumph for the human spirit and a reason to take heart that, whaddya know, we're going to muddle through all these horrors, after all, you, me, and the candlestick maker—He, Dawkins and the lot of them - they do not strike me as persons who open the mind but as custodians of some shut-down or other in which they are akin to smug schoolyard bully-brats—If they free up the mind from unnecessary baggage, they do so by lobotomizing it— That they are the mirror opposites of their most immediate foes, the bible thumpers, and the one party deserves the other—London Lunar, among other things, is endeavouring to have me know that there is something of a chill in the guitar playing of John Williams, Julian Bream much to be preferred. I am not that familiar with John Williams' work, just that he championed Barrios; and that, to my mind, at least, it is possible to play Bach like a surgeon and Barrios like a lover—Oh dear - I had better stop now—Myself, I am in no danger, now or ever, of coming off either the surgeon or the lover. My brain knows where the fingers ought to go, but as the fingers are so many unherdable cats, they have their own predilections—
Dec 15, 2011: It was a masterpiece of political triangulation. I did not know whether to marvel at the slick footwork or head for the nearest bar so as to drown my disgust. I speak of the speech Current President provided the world, yesterday, to mark the official departure of yankee troops from Iraq. Not a word, at least from the snippets my ears were privileged to register, of what the Iraqis were put through in the name of exceptionalism and 'sacrifice'. Perhaps Current President had no choice but to give the speech he gave. There was Caesar attempting to keep the whole she-bang from flying apart, his eye on the main chance which, in this instance, is getting himself re-elected lest crazy people get their hands on the reins of government. The war was one of the great obscenities in history, one he characterized as 'dumb' from the outset. I wonder what has happened to 'dumb'? P.M. Carpenter, Prominent Political Commentator to the south of here, a man whose commentaries I admire - up to, and sometimes, including his dogged defense of the president against all comers from right and left of centre, will think me a self-righteous sot for the venting I have just expressed. He will remind me that it is childish to expect justice at every twist and turn in the course of our lives on this miserable earth. Morning. Nikas. It is gauche-ly Christmas on the radio, what with the jingly dingles. Ding dong ding dong ding—It does look to me like Alexandra the waitress is going mad before my very eyes as she swashbuckles about, humming this ilk under her breath. I expect the loony bin wagon to pull up and cart her off anytime now—For all that, and it seems I am always the last to know, I have stumbled across the music of one Agustin Barrios (1885-1944). He seems to have been an itinerant Paraguayan, a guitar virtuoso who also composed for the instrument, combining folk and classical (baroque and Romantic) elements. It was the guitarist John Williams who championed the man in the 70s and perhaps insured his legacy, though Barrios apparently had the attention of Segovia who approved of both his playing and writing. Although Barrios had something of an education and was also steeped in literature (he wrote a great amount of poetry), his corollaries in our part of the New World would have been blues and jazz men and women, a semi-nomadic, self-instructed lot some of whom may have read The Iliad—So I have begun to teach myself Barrios' Aconquija, the tambora section of which will certainly defeat me. Once music in the New World was not necessarily a stranger to the 'poetic', and once the 'poetic' did not automatically invite a gag response—Speaking of which, Foulard has seen fit to send me the following, and I include it here - for what it's worth.
Let me ponder for a while.
Let me ponder for a while.
Let me ponder for a while.
If you wish, proceed to my links page, apply your best keyboard technique to The Bowwow Shop link, and have a look at what sly Foulard has managed to do with a painting by MH—
Dec 14, 2011: The Moesian is, I think, in need of a spiritual exercise or two, now that he has declared The Wire to be a profanity-ridden, implausible circus of buffoonery. Too many characters, he wrote. Then again, perhaps his description of the TV series does get to the nut of the matter, or what it is a certain nation-state to the south of here has become. Soon after I read the Moesian's missive, I was on the street where I overhead a middle-aged man gone paunchy wheedle into some device or other, his tone much aggrieved: "I'm trying, you know. I'm really making an effort, you know. You know—" I was willing to wager that his interlocutor, if not a case-worker, was in any event a woman, and one who was wise to his empty pitch for her esteem. None of this, of course, has anything to do with the Moesian and his feelings vis a vis The Wire which, as he intimates, is too burdened with baroque sprawl. Still, as a TV series, profanity aside, it is the best thing I have ever seen in the medium; and, as a commentary 'on the times', well, it has much to say. Perhaps the Moesian is simply having me on, payback for my inability to 'get' his novel—London Lunar seems to think that the Polish peasant gets the worst of it in what is apparently the best Polish novel to have been written in the last hundred years by a fellow named Mysliwski: Stone Upon Stone. London Lunar wrote: 'After this, Poles won't be allowed anywhere— ' Well, the man is half Polish and so, the revelation most likely goes hard on him, he who was, in my company, so inordinately proud of the cheesecake the Café Maya served up on King Street, Hammersmith, the place a collection point for Poles in London. I read how, in some minds, Germany is once again coming off as a menace to Europe by way of the debt crisis. I recall that, years ago, a sometime bookseller of my acquaintance, in a rather jolly tone, predicted that Germany and Russia would once again come to blows. It had something to do with geographical determinism. It was inevitable that—The new Roman period piece I am reading is exacting a high price for the odd evocation of the ancient city. Genre-writing at its most absurd. I have also been reading a history of the Christian church, and not for pleasure. It is a self-imposed obligation the unintended side effect of which is that I recognize myself at twelve years of age all caught up in theological complexities such as I would argue out with my best friend of the time - a Pole whose parents were strict Catholics—He, of course, thought me daft - just on general principles, never mind what I might have thought in respect to the divine Logos. We lost touch, and I believe he was killed in Vietnam. Even in his very early teens, lacking anything resembling finesse when it came to sports, he was all grim determination, nonetheless, and he would overturn the odds and bull his way to top echelon status, no matter what—Alexandra the waitress here in Nikas, she fiddles with the radio tuner, dead set on Christmas music. Jingle Bell Rock. Feliz Navidad—It is going to get so much worse—She is pure evil, that one—
Dec 13, 2011: Although I have been ragging on poets in these posts for being a useless lot of humankind, it is also fair to say that poets (or some of them, at any rate, and due to their sensitive antennae, no doubt, and in which capital E Evolution perhaps takes some pride, or perhaps not) seem to get advanced warnings of perturbations in the geist long before any other substrata of the animal kingdom. Otherwise, yes, a useless lot of Cassandras and village idiots—The other day I picked up a copy of a Roman period piece cum thriller, the first page of which is stunning; just that before one is even halfway through page the second one is already lost to genre and its demands and will never be found again; and yet one will continue to press on with the prose - not for the characters or the plot that has enmeshed them, as none of it is memorable - but for the author's evocations of the ancient city for which she has an undeniable feel. She also curiously enough seems to go out of her way in claiming expertise in the psychology of women (in their Roman guises), but through her male mouthpiece of a flatfoot (detective); just that the stratagem is so transparent or so crudely done, that one winds up concluding that the author is happily indulging herself with great dollops of mock-irony or else she really is serious about claiming for herself this expertise in the psychology of women; as if women in general have not had this expertise these past millennia; and that all women are, at bottom, hard-eyed realists. Perhaps. In any case, E, for whatever reason, though she obviously had better offers elsewhere, declined to grace us with her presence, last evening, as Labrosse and I set to a viewing of The Wire. In the course of which the name Guicciardini popped up in my mind. I was momentarily puzzled as to why it should, the man having been stone dead for quite a while. He was a Renaissance Italian historian and politico. He is considered to be the father of 'modern history' and rightfully famous for his Storia d'Italia that I have read off and on throughout the years but have yet to read front to back in one fell swoop. Perhaps that his name should have interjected itself in what remains to me of consciousness had to do with a conflation between the historian's treatment of Italian city-states and the DVD commentary on the part of the writer-producer of The Wire, the initial part of which is an explication of his view of 'competing American institutions' playing out their turf wars in a microcosm, or the city of Baltimore—Which brings to mind how it is P.M. Carpenter, Prominent Political Commentator to the south of here, in order to confound not only me but a significant portion of the population of an entire continent, has made mention of the fact that he has lost track of the number of decades in which insanity ruled helplessly and was sure to bring the nation to ruin. Is he suggesting that some of us lighten up? Is he insinuating that poets are a miserable, useless gaggle of whomevers, a drain on the exchequer of western civilization? Another city, besides Rome, that gestures hypnotically at me across the centuries, is Alexandria. Now there was a muddle of pagan philosophers and Philos (Jewish syncretists) and Christian apologists and the odd versifier or two, Theocritus, say. There was Cleopatra, to be sure, who may have been a tease but was no bimbo; and one wonders if Lady Gaga could preside politically over a realm of mule-headed emotives as prone to rioting as to dozing off at the drop of a hat; whether she has some passing acquaintance with a notion that history did not actually begin in the 50s - to select a decade at random - of which her parents may still retain a dim remembrance. Morning. Nikas. A few days ago I had intended to treat with the Clytemnestra in Alexandra the waitress but it slipped my mind. As we speak, she has the radio here in the restaurant tuned to a French station from which ensues an uninterrupted spate of venally commercial Christmas tunes as execrable in French as they are in the English of their mother tongue. Alexandra, being Mediterranean, perhaps finds it all exotic. Or else, the warfare between us continues on an even more insidious plane, she viewing my pacific nature and Virgilian world-weariness with sublime contempt—Enter Larry the software entrepreneur. Ears quiver. That is to say, his auditory senses have already blanched as he occupies his booth. He is aghast. He is too polite or perhaps too civilized to complain, as Andy Williams or some other late-lamented crooner noodles out holiday cheer. He does, however, raise a question. What, is it Christmas?
Dec 12, 2011: The fellow whom we dubbed the 'I-Phone Guy' had no such gadget on his person; at least, none was in evidence. He was only spewing forth invectives into the cold empty air. Perhaps the moon was full in his mind's eye as he sat on the bus stop bench just outside Nikas, Labrosse having his after-dinner smoke on the corner. All my years of driving a cab, and I have seen countless persons muttering and 'invecting' like that, deep in conversation with phantasms. But the fellow in question - he seemed born for the moment; that he was not so much incidental to the times but a sign, a significator of them. And so, he gave one pause—Back inside, Labrosse resumed the roll he had been on, this man who used to get around in corporate jets; who has played golf on some upscale courses. "The 20-40 year olds among us - in my estimation? Too many of them are a superficial lot, no matter that they complain that reality is too slow for them, just as reading a book is. One may as well have sex without knowing who one is having it with and why. And if you're an dead-ender in terms of market forces and elsewise, too bad, get used to it, you're just going to have to die. Problem solved." Labrosse paused to breathe and then resumed: "And sure, it's all very well to extol JFK and his presidency, but after all, he was just the tail-end of Eisenhower, the 50s. RFK, his brother, you know, was the 60s, and he knew it, and he knew what he was going to do with the knowing, and had he become president, indeed, history would have turned out differently—" Well, Plausible Scenario. Otherwise, we sat at table, Labrosse, Dave the trucker and I, three old farts with cell phones simultaneously giving A, the little wretch now relocated in Vancouver, Labrosse's mock-partner in a mock-marriage, the gears via a satellite—"But," said Labrosse, "the one thing I have difficulty explaining, and you might think me a little funny on this, is how it is the American paw doesn't lie more heavily on us, given what it's been up to in Mexico and points south—" Dave the trucker had no idea. Me, I was racking my brain, trying to recall the Leopardi poem in which a shepherd of Asia talks at the moon—Thistle has been at me, intimating that whether or not life actually means anything, and by 'life', it is assumed he means whether or not one's life has any meaning, we are nonetheless obligated to try and understand the matter; and, in the meantime, there are always hedonistic pursuits. Besides the more carnal desires, there are the pleasures of the table and aquavit. Which it is a poison sure to rot one's brain and render it susceptible to ological mush. A little like one's body playing host to an alien life form— Morning. Nikas. George, owner-cook, normally a pleasantly dour, fairly undemonstrative hombre, is full of p & v just now; and he is singing something in a strange tongue, and he is reducing the Albanian waitress with the startling eyes to a helpless condition of the giggles. Live long enough and you just might see everything—Plutocratic anarchy? Well no, not at this level. More like peasants, in a feudalist phase, kicking over their traces for a moment or two of reprieve—It is London Lunar to whom I owe the epithet 'plutocratic anarchy' who, in turn, got it from an esteemed poet in the language who, in turn got it from heaven knows where—It is apparently what we are all under the thumb of—In which case it is perhaps seemly to ask whether the following words (from Gibbon) obtain any longer. (Or is it that the after-taste of them contributes nothing more to discourse than a dated melodrama?) Such is the constitution of civil society, that, whilst a few persons are distinguished by riches, by honours, and by knowledge, the body of the people is condemned to obscurity, ignorance and poverty—
Dec 11, 2011: It is a new one on me. And here, I figured I had better than average acquaintance with the area, having read at least two books on the subject (history of the early church) and I am in the process of reading a third - but anyway - Modalistic Monarchians? Suffice it to say it all has to do with the matter of the Trinity. Well, who can possibly care? For all that, my interest in the ancient quarrel is simple, or that 'a certain cast of mind' is a certain cast of mind, no matter the era. Or that the kind of mind that argued for one kind of God as opposed to another is the same sort of mind as now argues evolution or creationism or some arcane point in anthropology or string theory—Argues baseball players or olive oil - will argue anything under the sun, as if the integrity of a speck of dust matters as much in the scheme of things as the survival of the species—In Sinclair Lewis's Arrowsmith, the following bit of dialogue emanates from the mind and mouth of a medical researcher and instructor having just infected a couple of guinea pigs with anthrax, young doctors-to-be in his charge both horrified and fascinated: Some of you think that it does not matter; some of you will think, like Bernard Shaw, that I am an executioner and the more monstrous because I am cool about it; and some of you will not think at all. This difference in philosophy iss what makes life interesting—(The double ss is deliberate, indicating a Teuton, no doubt—) Otherwise, Sulla - as depicted by Plutarch - is one of my favourite villains. This Roman was probably a psychopath but 'had a thing' about the law, and cheerfully enough surrendered his dictatorial powers, but not until he had turned significant portions of the ancient world into bloodbaths, most notably Athens and the 'Academy'. What, he preferred the company of clowns and dancers and jesters to that of academics? Thistle is on the warpath. It is to say he objects to my objection to Quentin Tarentino who should have pride of place in the ranks of clowns and dancers and jesters but forfeits the distinction on account of his fraudulence and the fact that he insults my cynical outlook with his metaphysical vacuities—Thistle considers that perhaps I am having a cheap swipe at liberalism and am prudishly unable to handle the fact of pornography. Apart from the fact that the liberal class has something to answer for concerning the horrors of the past decade or so, and that a certain kind of pornography will strut about as having artistic depth, I have no objections to either liberals (being putatively a liberal myself) or pornography as such. It strikes me that spouse-swapping parties are a cowardly way of coveting another person's spouse, whatever this statement has to do with any of the above—I was going to say (before Thistle rapped on my door) that greed is something I understand; what I so far fail to understand is how greed obtains in a world all technological marvel and tech-driven profit maximization, as I have been living a fairly sheltered life since the 90s of the previous century. Is sex in the Waldorf-Astoria different from sex in a motel down on St Jacques, Montreal-NDG? I suppose money buys one a more cultivated partner and more cultivated surroundings, unless one is talking rape on the part of high-flying financiers—I have taken issue with a very prominent political analyst to the south of here (not Mr Carpenter) who is often on TV. His repeated and prissy use of the epithet 'food insecurity' to describe the lives of Gazans (and the lives of marginal peoples elsewhere) is irksome. What happened to 'starve', 'starving', 'starvation'? Why must academic PC-ness keep coughing up sterile languages with which to entrap this or that still breathing portion of humanity and freeze it in abstractions - like mosquitoes in amber—
Dec 10, 2011: It is eerie, London Lunar and I of a sudden agreeing on virtually everything. It can only mean this concurrence of ours shall have to be declared a menace to society; or that Quentin Tarentino is a scumbag; that Syria is about to pass through the eye of a needle that is hell; that war is coming to a certain "I"-country not known for its race cars. For a long time now, for years, in fact, people have been suggesting to me that Tarentino is a cinematic genius. I have tried to get on board with it. Believe me, I have tried. But yet another chance viewing of one of the man's notorious opuses and I can only conclude that he reduces everything, and I mean everything, not just sex (and is there any sex as such, really, in Kill Bill, Vol I?) to a pornographic conditionality. A pornography then, of the heart, mind and soul. Congratulations, Mr Q.T. You succeed where so many try and fail, even the Great Satan himself and a few litterateurs here and there, in demonstrating just how thrilling beingness is when stripped of anything that burdensomely matters—All that phony warrior stuff - Jerk-Off City - Fluff on steroids—My intent, yesterday, was to sit in 'bratwurst' that is newly renovated and watch the snow fall. I would leisurely quaff a beer in the process and perhaps scribble something in a notebook, that is, if there was anything to scribble. But the snow stopped falling, and whatever charm the afternoon had going for it simply fell away in Montreal-NDG. If, by way of a suspect poll, Montreal has been voted as one of the cities in the world most possessed of 'soulful' character, what of Notre-Dame-de-Grâce? Clearly, this hang-dog district must have the main portion of that soul—P.M. Carpenter, Prominent Political Commentator to the south of here, also concurs with me on a thing or two. It has all gone downhill down there since the 1790s, just that Mr Carpenter caveats that much tends to look golden in retrospect; and to the Founding Geniuses, it was not the intellectual and political luminaries of their time that most commanded their attention, it was the Greeks and the Romans—But back to silly notions of soul—I once pointed out to London Lunar on one of his layovers here a certain tree, scrubby thing, that was planted directly across the street from 'bratwurst' in front of the video store. Old Eggy, homunculur runt, used to nurse his drinks on the 'bratwurst' terrace and remark on the thing, observing how sickly it always looked and wondering what chances, if any, it had for surviving. He identified with it. No doubt, it is sheer coincidence, but soon after Eggy went to his reward not so long ago, the tree took off. It is the very image of arboreal health. It is doing just fine, thank you very much—London Lunar wants I should make mention of this phenomenon in a coda of sorts, one I might append to my novel that a certain party is threatening to publish, and in which Eggy figures as a central character. Well, one can overdo it, surely, but perhaps London Lunar is slyly on to something—
Dec 9, 2011: Perhaps, I am in the wrong of it, pure and simple, when it comes to the use of explicit sex in literary prose. Even so, I do not much care for it; and when it comes to flicks and films and movies and cinema, almost all of it - there is the odd exception or two - irritates, annoys, and generally gets in the way of whatever thin excuse there is for a line of plawt. I do not object from any moral view; I simply wish to spare the author his or her being exposed for a jackass and a dunce as he or she presents us with each their bona fides, with each their complete command of the sexual universe. Otherwise, yes, by all means: sex. Without sex there is no literature. Or there is a greatly diminished literature, sex being one-third at least of what there is to talk about, the rest of it death and taxes. What else is Sense and Sensibility about (the movie - have yet to read the book) than what to do about sex in the guise of talking about how to procure for oneself a mate that one can wake up to every morning without retching? The Moesian resorts to a fair bit of explicit sex in his novel and he defends it as 'satire'. Satire is one of those words which, like moral, is easy enough to toss off and have it believed one is a serious hombre or hombress. And then there is anti-literature, or the being a wart on the arse of the body of awt—Well, I am fond of the Moesian and I respect his quality of mind; and I wish him well in every endeavour, but his novel is no wart on the arse of the body of art. For it is a body that is so cankered, in any case, with protuberances, it can only be an argument as to whose wart is more wart-like than the next. So Canadian. So dirty oil. By which I mean let us stake out turf with which no one in their right mind would care to concern themselves, let alone occupy, and then export it. And this is how we shall distinguish ourselves as without peer. I do not think the Moesian has, in actual fact, stooped, or would ever stoop, to playing this game, but he is perilously close and so, my - what shall I say? - my alarm. Morning. Nikas. Alexandra the waitress has got her gum going. I have been in relations with women that have not worked out so well, yes, but I have not been in relations with women that have soured to the point of antipathy and mutual disgust. For all that, I begin to see what it might be like to endure such a state of affairs, and it truly must be one of the hells on earth, each breath one takes in and expels a relentless slog to the death for a little scrap of some prize or another—If she has not been wronged somehow (and I suspect the chances are good that she has, in fact, been wronged somehow) then the woman of whom I speak and walk on eggshells for is one of those deeply emotional Mediterranean women who can be nothing but what they are; and a man would have to be thick to the point of insensitivity in order to survive prolonged exposure to the onslaught of perpetual mood. But what if she's happy, though, content enough? Wouldn't this be a hoot, and your understanding, old man, of what boots it utterly laughable, top being bottom, black being white, her hostility your paranoia? No, I return to my original surmise: she is not happy. She is utterly depressed, but for what reasons, I have no effing idea. Perhaps it is as uncomplicated a matter as homesickness for her motherland, a little Mediterranean sun. To eat a little fish, drink a little wine by the sea? Has she not said as much to you, or that she itches for it? But, hang on, here is Irish harpy and retinue - full complement thereof - and a little exchange ensues - and oh, it has to do with whatever transpired, last evening, on reality TV - and, here it is, the woman, Alexandra the waitress, she is now all wreathed in smiles head to toe, and she may have inadvertently swallowed her gum in her excitement—Or else Irish harpy is a master at button-pushing, cooking up Manchurian candidates every day on a daily basis her specialty—Larry the software entrepreneur, not be to outdone or otherwise overlooked, enjoins everyone to behave—
Dec 8, 2011: We introduced Labrosse to The Wire, last night, E and I, she being a once upon a time Virgilian, and I being - well, there was a time when I wanted to write verses like those of a certain 'San Francisco' luminary until a combination of limelight and spiritual pretension and perhaps not a little ingrained pomposity rendered everything he subsequently wrote as utterly risible. It was the beginning of my walking away from the so-called Black Mountain poetry experiment—In any case, Labrosse - natural born contrarian - certainly was not going to accept our raves of the HBO production lying down and so, he set to watching it like that purest of empiricists - a lizard on a warm rock - will watch this, that and the other in respect to spectrums of light unavailable to mere human eyes. He did seem to appreciate the opening peekaboo look-sees into a world devoted to bedrock economic principles, albeit a world in some skewed relation to the law, law that is itself in skewed relation to itself, unduly stressed and warped by competing political interests—For me it is the second time through this depiction of a cess pool the articulation of which might have done honour to Sophocles or Shakespeare; and already it is Bubbles who, as a 'character', begins to compel—I note that P.M. Carpenter, Prominent (and sometimes distinguished) Political Commentator to the south of here, speaks of a suicide watch for the Republican Party, and would speak of 'principled conservatism' if to speak of it were not, willynilly, a joke in very bad taste. The re-election chances of Current President seem less in jeopardy now, though nothing is certain. Nothing ever is. Then again, much does follow, time and again, with unvarying consequence from unvarying cause; or that Alexandra, Nikas waitress, will play that blasted radio at inordinate decibels - every time, as she is mule-headed. And she wonders why she is continually depressed. Socrates was wrong: knowledge does not vouchsafe virtue. I read what may strike you as nothing that rates remarking upon but is to me one of those sneaky ironies of which history is replete: the second destruction of Jerusalem, 135 A.D. What this allowed for, among other things, was Rome's primacy in the Christian world, Rome as head of church, Jerusalem no longer a rival on that score; but that Hadrian had now unwittingly helped to consolidate the power of the church to destroy the world he so loved; and for him, I should imagine, the world of the apostles was all the poorer if a man could not, in his grief, elevate his beloved to the status of a god—It was but a civilized thing to do—I read, too, of an underwater super-predator that knocked about a kazillion years ago, one whose eyes were attached to its head by way of appending stalks, each of the eyes consisting of 17,000 separate lenses—The fact of which might have triggered an 'arms race' inasmuch as the rest of creepy-crawly life now had to adjust to this freak or perish - as in publish or perish? - ever elaborate defenses inviting new forms of assault—Isn't nature grand?
Dec 7, 2011: We were, in all innocence, discussing matters in Nikas, last evening. That is to say, Labrosse and I were up to our usual tricks, Dave the trucker in company also, when Nick the waiter starting heaping plates on a table now doing double duty as a sideboard. His explanation had it that a staff party was in the offing, and that we could stay as long as we liked, only we were to keep our filthy fingers off the food. But no wonder then that the cooks had been mysteriously cooking up a storm in the kitchen, all of three customers in the restaurant, and I was not eating. No, I was hearing out Labrosse as he presented us a rambling synopsis of an article he had read on how control of debt and 'debt-slaves' comprise such a prominent part of the history of humankind. (I give you a stricken Greece - the euro zone crisis - that gave us Solon, poet-legislator. Way back when, 6th century B.C., he ameliorated, by way of law, the lot of those whose privates were permanently in hock—) At which point, in walked the Albanian waitress with the startling eyes come to party. Come to forget, perhaps, that she is a trained architectural engineer, or so she says, and she cannot for love of God or filthy lucre procure herself a job interview in these parts in respect to her true profession. Dave the trucker, a mix of genuine and mock alarm contending for his countenance, stated that he was off, and he would be re-examining his investment portfolio where he presumed it still lay - under his mattress. At which point in sashays E, famous Virgilian and Nikas waitress, and she was dressed to party: rouge, revelatory red dress, and beaming smile. The delivery boy was sure he was speaking for all the delivery boys when he, in his best English, observed that she looked pretty. "Oh thank you," beamed E in response, not entirely without irony, and in her best English. But for the presence of the two women, the occasion had all the appearance of a stag event, and I believe that Labrosse and myself suddenly felt - and unaccountably so - a little out of place and perhaps, even too elderly for the fun that was, no doubt, soon to manifest. Indeed, the 'women' indicated that, while our conversational prowess was, as always, peerless, and always fascinating, the real action was going to be had elsewhere, a table full of delivery boys as restive as young nippers of an over-long school day—It is hard, getting accustomed to one's irrelevance—Hermann Hesse is an example of a writer I have unjustly consigned to my personal margins simply because, as a cultural icon of sorts, he attracted so many trippy questers after inchoate spiritual ascendancy over God, mom and apple pie—When, in fact, the man was a serious man who loathed the limelight, or so it gets said in a puff book devoted to his memory. He claimed not to have an answer for anything; just that, in a time of political madness, it was best to pursue one's avocation - to work, and to educate - in as unpretentious a fashion as possible. At receipt of this information, it struck me anew that, over the years, I have known plenty of men and women for whom 'political reality' is reality, and there is no other worth speaking of, unless it can be socially engineered according to their specifications—They are Strelnikovs all who used to view artists with such infinite pity, and now—Well, art is there to be socially engineered as well - lots of bells and whistles with which to play—But I am beginning to hector—Here, let Hesse speak of the 'public artist': In public readings I experience not only the recluse's reservations about public occasions - these are not difficult to conquer - but I also come up against some fundamental and deeply anchored disorders and tensions. To put the matter much too briefly and crudely, these pertain to my distrust of literature generally. They attack me not only during these readings but much more strongly when I'm working. I set no store by contemporary literature. I appreciate of course that that every period must have its own literature, just as it will have its own politics, ideals and fashions. But I cannot rid myself of the conviction that contemporary writing is something insubstantial and sorry, a seed grown on poor soil, doubtless interesting and full of problems worthy of pursuit, but hardly something that can mature or that is capable of producing long-term results. Consequently, I can only consider the work of contemporary German writers (my own included) to be in some way inadequate and derivative; I detect everywhere a suspicion of routine, lifeless models of what things should be. On the other hand, a transitional literature, writing that has become problematic and uncertain, can perform the useful function of confessing with maximum honesty its own poverty and the poverty of the times. There are, therefore, many fine and well-structured books by contemporary writers that I can no longer enjoy or welcome, whereas I can feel sympathy for several crudely written books by our youngest writers because of their attempts at unreserved sincerity—A mouthful, eh? And though I have been loathe to carve out a position on it all - as I distrust 'positions', I am coming around to declaring (declaring, mind you) that 'the personal, the intellectual, the spiritual life is worth defending'—Otherwise, some old Chinese sage has said that old men who have fought their fight should be left in peace so they might familiarize themselves with death. He has no need of people. He knows them already and has seen enough of them. How true. But my, how grim. Silly poet that I am, I can't quite embrace such an austere view. Pour, for eff's sake, pour the wine—
Dec 6, 2011: She brought booty, MH did, from one of her forays into the wild beyond Montreal-NDG: Manhattan Transfer by John Dos Passos. Biographies of Hermann Hesse and Eleanor Duse. London Lunar is told by an Italian of Fellini's generation that the film La Dolce Vita is more than the greatest flick ever about nothing; is more than a comedy of manners: it is a tragedy. I have always thought of it as a 'tragic' piece of work, and I am not talking a want of cinematic craft on its part. A sentence caught me up in the tome A History of The Christian Church. Following upon a discussion of Montanism, the sentence reads: 'Soon after 170 it was represented in Rome, and for years the Roman church was more or less turmoiled by it.' Montanism, among other things, was an ascetic backlash to the increasing worldliness of the church—Dos Passos is an instance of a writer for whom I have always had congenial feelings, just that I never really read him as I ought to have. Initial impressions from a brief look-see at the opening pages, and it is something a little 'dated' and yet, readable, as in: it's really of a time a la some old John Sturges flick—Hesse? Is he of any interest? (Is it his fault that his writings and spiritual quests spawned so many dubious enthusiasts who wound up troubling the Nepalese or some such people?) Duse? Duse and the Duce? That is, there it is - two appellations that one conflates by way of sound association (and the fact that the politico and the thespian-mystic were contemporaries); but that the Duce in this case is not Mussolini so much as it was the Futurist poet D'Annunzio who bethought himself as Mussolini's rival. Falling in love makes for strange politics— Morning. Nikas. And here he is - Larry the software entrepreneur, red tuque piled on his head that might have walked out of a Sinclair Lewis novel set in a northern plains state where hockey was a legitimate pursuit. It sports the letters KU. Greek for some frightening concept of a fraternity? The University of Kentucky? Of Kansas? Larry has not a clue, just that he bought the item in Reno for three yankee dollars and it seemed a deal. Oh, and for the good news: a certain bill now going the rounds of Congress such as will permit the yankee military to detain any yankee anywhere, including on domestic turf, and it is a reversal of Posse Comitatus that once saw fit to curb the military of overweening police powers—Are the one per centers expecting trouble? It is possible that in contradistinction to our time, and to that of Rome of the late republic and early imperial era, that the pietistic Middle Ages was an expressly randy period—I wound up watching some Jane Campion film that is near noble in its attempt to say something important about sex; a movie in which a feminist point of view is not obfuscated by an ism. The flick's(In The Cut) only problem seemed to me an implausible plot-line. That is to say, what is it about serial killing and erotic sex that requires the obligatory 'twist'; a twist that, when offered up, the viewer has known for a while he is going to discount for its being specious?
Dec 5, 2011: There was something on TV, last night, that floated up from some subterranean realm; and it was a flick entitled The Gentlemen's League (of something or other); and it was mad and it was deranged, All-Brit; it was so far beyond Monty Python that I could not count the ways, and it seemed given over to a good-sized chunk of self-loathing; and I wondered - as I watched what I could stand to watch of it - if this is all there is for ex-imperialists: a ninth circle of hell in an boundless Hades of self-parody. Otherwise, apropos of the noodling I committed against the word 'humanism' in the post previous, a chance hearing of the word 'humanitarian' has now struck me as a diminution of spirit, a boxing up of spirit, a specialist's abuse of the ancient laws of hospitality; an abuse that, in any case, can only be permitted expression in approved circumstances and time slots—Ah well, a reach on my part, no doubt—Sunday brunch in Nikas when the church set predominates in the place is generally an excuse for late, late breakfast. To be sure, there are plenty of other Montreal-NDGers to be observed scarfing down bacon and eggs with single-minded purpose, as if no other area of their lives offers up as much pleasure, as much distraction from care; as if, for all their official optimism the darlings are, in private, pessimists to the core: that this is it - breakie, enjoy, because the customary grind beckons—It is at least heard of that a great portion of the world is not so privileged that its denizens may chow down with such cheerless countenances all the while the set of mouth is sheer lascivious intent vis a vis a slice of buttered toast. A great portion of the world starves, you know—On an almost tangential note, reminded by MH that over-large frozen peas are a travesty on the notion of pea-ness and are less than tender in her view, in my getting of a sack of winter vegetable matter, frozen peas, at a local mart, I did measure. Measured with forefinger and thumb and mind's eye circumference and volume and other qualities. Shall I compare thee - how shall I compare thee—Or so I assured MH upon her inspection of my purchase. I move back and forth on the guitar (or rather I move from one guitar to the other), having at John Fahey's The Red Pony (open C#? tuning) and Vicente's Suite Intima Parts 1&2; and I murder all of it in as grisly a fashion as anything in Titus Andronicus, and that is where love of a thing can get you. I note that Mr Hedges in a recent op-ed believes the OWS movement just might, but probably will not, revitalize the traditional church and return it to the Beatitudes or those 'blessed are the fill in the blanks'. The failure will drive another nail in the scaffolding the world-soul lugs about like some cross—
Dec 4, 2011: Humanism is, as a word, one of those words that packs more bark than bite, and one wonders what the fuss had been about. If I recall one of this country's more illustrious poet-intellects pronouncing humanism as such dead, it is just that I cannot recall where the pronouncement got uttered - the Cecil Hotel, Vancouver? The Waldorf, Indian whores and stevedores in celebratory mode? Private house party, the cocaine being kept back until such time as only inner circle stalwarts remained to tango? Well, the man might have just read his Darwin and come to a conclusion or two. Postmodernism, whatever that is, was beginning to streak the firmament with gaudy hues, making all sorts of noises such as one doesn't read Shakespeare - one is Shakespeare when one reads William—The upshot of it all being that humankind was no longer at the centre of the universe as when, Renaissance times, 'man' was deemed the 'measure' and not 'God' so much. You know, there is that da Vinci drawing: Vitruvian Man. Vitruvian Man looks like he meant it, came with his game face on— It is probably a mere truism, and nothing more, to suggest we have outgrown certain systems of belief. Or it is we no longer have a use for them, and they hang around like old shoes in a Sally Ann bin. Or it is we cannot remember what those beliefs were about in the first place, as when there came a time in Rome when people were mumbling ritualistic mumbo-jumbo in their ceremonies long after people had forgotten what the words once meant. But - to this mind, at least - we have not got past the questions that gave rise to certain systems of belief in the first instance, and when we do we will find ourselves in some Elysium were only technocratese is spoken—But then, that's all - that's all I wanted to say, and how about them (insert sports team here) them Whomevers—Now MH has outstripped me in the Gloom Department when it comes to where it is things seem to be headed, and this is a first. Not that she was ever some chirpy PollyAnna. London Lunar considers himself, no doubt, too fastidious an intellect to stoop to the predictive and commit himself to a abjuration compliments of the house, and one replete with expletives. He has, in any case, gotten himself seduced by the music of Tomaso Luis de Victoria, Renaissance composer, Spanish court, and is out for the duration—As I owed Labrosse a fiver, and even if he is a natural-born humanist cum financier, and as he was taking in an early hockey game in Nikas, les Canadiens playing out on the coast, I went to settle accounts and wound up watching a winter twilight take over the Remains of the Day, Montreal-NDG. In which there was a steady in-flow and out-flow of traffic at the liquor and video venues. Gangs of girls looking to party. Christmas ornaments festooning lamp poles. Labrosse had little to say, and it seemed to me that he was not just watching the hockey game on the TV screen, he was looking through the spectacle at some other much more compelling reality—It was later that MH would advise me that our Arts&Entertainment besotted world is hell bent on making things more difficult for honest artists in the pursuit of their craft and making even the barest hint of a living—Which brings me somewhat full circle to the top of this post; or that, now and then, I flatter myself - and I am far from alone in this - to be the last of a kind, as defined by the following: how, in a general sense, 'humanistic considerations', as opposed to ological data, tend to imbue what I think about things with their savour. Perhaps it makes of me something of a 'flake', or worse, a latter-day neo-platonist, just that, otherwise, I concur with the notion that humankind is just one weed among other weeds that pass the time scratching out a spot to root on this rock where we are pleased to find ourselves sequestered, and that no one or nothing will mourn our passing when that hour arrives, be it the next decade or five billion years hence - our sun giving up the ghost, having given it the old college try—
Dec 3, 2011: Labrosse continues to believe we will muddle through somehow. Really? He was in a good mood, last evening in Nikas; I in a pensive state. In fact, he was cheerfully philosophical. Disgusting. However, he did wonder if it was possible to take a portion of the history of humankind and detect in it an arc, a trend-line, if you will, and from it extrapolate a reading of the future of our species; one subject only to 'evolutionary forces' - whatever that means; one somewhat free of a can of worms called 'human nature' - whatever that is - a corrosive to which technological progress is nonetheless impervious? Meaning that 'muddling through' will mean that, eventually, we will get the hang of our tools so as to better apply them to our problems - climate change, food supply, population growth and the like. I remain unconvinced, for all of my friend's natural and unoppressive optimism, that we are any better at managing our affairs than when we first put up a ziggurat so as to pick the brain of God—For all that, we have succeeded beyond our wildest dreams. This thought is a commonplace; is nothing that originates with me, the implication being that we are the victims of our success. Otherwise we might have to believe that the ape-man and ape-woman from whom we descended had it in their sights that some day there would be Nobelists and moonwalks and investment banks. We are not necessarily born killers, but neither are we 'nice' entities. We have a shocking disregard for the sanctity of human life and life in general however much we are apparently 'wired' to nest and to nurture family—Over and over the 'better angels of our nature' are lobbied for this and that; there must be a reason that this lobbying goes on perpetually; and I did say to Labrosse in a mild fit of pique that if reason were all that was required for the practice of politics and how to best manage life on this earth we would long ago have gotten the 'better of our nature'—It was easy to believe in the American Dream and American exceptionalism when half the world was in shambles just after hostilities ended - WWII. Can one measure a dream, apply quantifying numbers to it? Even Labrosse agreed that America's rapid wise to wealth and power was predicated on violence and slavery, as it was for Rome that started out as Dodge City, cow town. Perhaps the early Christians had something of a gang-like element in their mentality, and I scribble this apropos of the fact that Labrosse began to get fancy and would describe for me a new phenomenon in the world called MS13 (of Salvadorean-L.A. provenance), which it is gang behaviour that favours economic leverage over muscle, and the cops cannot cope with it; or so Labrosse said, admitting that he himself was not sure he had full grasp of the particulars. He had only just heard of it. I read in a yankee publication of how our beloved PM is intent on dismantling everything that makes being a Canadian meaningful and agreeable; that he has routinely met with such political groundlings and trolls from the south of here as precede all political action; who are shock troops of a kind. I read of Gnosticism. Perhaps it had a point when it suggested, way back when, that the material world was an evil, 'spirit' the point of the exercise. It is not that the material world is evil per se, but that perhaps it is not the happy-happy stuff as life's Pollyannas would have us believe. Gnosticism got its start by suggesting that the Christ had always been strictly divine, not earthly - as 'earthly' would have defied common sense; or that a god in his or her perfection could only pretend to a human guise. But then the church outmaneuvered the mystics by doubling down on the mystical - or that Christ was all things divine and earthly, and so forth and so on—Morning. Nikas. In the material world - good, bad, ugly, or indifferent - the American dream - myth or else - is collapsing, and in some instances in some quarters, has long since collapsed; partly because there have been personages with various axes to grind who have wanted this outcome; and partly because of those so-called 'unintended consequences' that one might expect of any theory. Labrosse asked me, last night, why I bothered with any of it. "Impossible for me not to," I answered, "just as, for you, it's impossible not to concern yourself with Trudeau, Lévesque, Chrétien and all things Quebec. It's in the blood. I have no bright ideas. I can't make things better. My understanding of it all is bound to be imperfect, for want of proper data and training in the pertinent disciplines. Perhaps it demonstrates how the life of the mind is part and parcel always of the Absurd and its cheap seats, of the windmill at which we tilt or that tilts at us—" Labrosse's eyes began glassing over. E on shift was doing everything within her power to make of the material world happy happy stuff. Labrosse would go out and smoke a sacramental cigarette—
Dec 2, 2011: I have recently read somewhere (or heard it said) that there are people on this earth so privileged they are able to cheerfully deny reality and stay out of jail. I am sure of the truth of it, though one might have a go at just what constitutes 'reality': that an item of fashion wear is just as real to the senses as a fly-blown wreck of a sub-Saharan child. Everything is 'reality'. But is there such a thing as an ultimate reality? Or is there some aspect of reality over and above another that ought to have the greater claim on our attentions? I am all for escapism, the fact of which puts me in a curious position vis a vis Arts&Entertainment, or that which has all my contempt. One might have less contempt for its machinations were its perpetrators more honest about what it is they are up to: the acquiring and maintenance of celebrity status, never mind mastery of craft— My love of movies, for instance, is so encompassing that, excepting those flicks one cannot watch without cringing, without sensing one's soul slipping into a bottomless perdition never to be heard from again, I will watch bad specimens of the cinematic art and not think myself craven in the slightest degree. Why I have so much less tolerance for sub par literature and art beats me. For yes, why should bad movies get a free pass? Perhaps because there is in them less conning in evidence: no one pretends that The Revenge of the Nerds is transformative except in the worst possible sense, or that it induces brain rot and certainly is not Tolstoy—Perhaps because we inhabit a culture that has us convinced that a bad movie matters a great deal more to the operations of living and making do than a bad poem ever can— (Just to be clear, most poets write bad poems except when they manage to write a good one - bad poems are not the issue - it is the faux poem that so rankles. Funnily enough, no one ever alludes to a movie, however awful, as faux—) Morning. Nikas. Alexandra the waitress is in one of her moods, and she awaits Irish harpy and retinue so that she can discuss a reality TV program with the dears. She knows she will not get such a discussion from me. Escapism. It does get in the way of reckoning. Indeed, which comes first in a chicken and egg argument: the spirit of fascism or the legislation that permits fascism its hold on a body-politic? Perhaps we are always a great deal more close to the 'spirit' of it than we would like to think, and it is only 'law' as such that prevents that spirit from becoming a consuming force, that sort of law which we have been pleased to designate as checks and balances—Tinker with that intricate mechanism and—Well, there you have it: the on-going nightmare from which the last election in a certain nation-state has provided no reprieve, and things only seem to be getting worse—All out persecution of Christians apparently did not really come into play until mid-third century A.D. or thereabouts, despite the intermittent martyrdoms and the fact of a Nero; it could have easily gone much worse for the early community and it did not. And yet, one can understand how alien that community must have seemed to the pagan mind, even that pagan mind quite devoted to what we might call the more enlightened notions of how humankind ought to conduct its affairs. To wit: Cicero's long, long screed to his brother Quintus as to how best govern a province. Excruciatingly tedious missive. Cicero - one of the great minds of the ancient past and such a pompous arse— Even so, he would have found, I imagine, engagement with the Christian mind to be a claustrophobic experience. How far apart, in terms of quality of mind, is Paul and a bible-thumper of the current moment? Perhaps I am all loony tunes for positing the question in the first place - that it is an exceedingly irrelevant question in a secular time, a time so secular that even poets who profess no belief in a god as such are suspect by virtue of a disposition to mysticism. Now if nothing in human nature is necessarily inevitable, it was inevitable that E, a Nikas waitress, a student who once read Virgil in Latin and seems to have forgotten that she ever did do so, was going to stand us up in a little matter of a poetry reading, the other night. Poetry reading? I can hardly blame her for voting with her feet. But oh, she would love to come. She would be there - definitely. In the meantime someone desperately requires a 'chat', and she would offer up her services as a chat-filled interlocutor and thereby burn two ends of a candle and a host of other ends, besides; and it is something she always does, always; and fewer and fewer people are going to take her seriously as a consequence; and she may even run out of people who might think to take her seriously. A curious creature who genuinely wishes to please everyone and yet, in the effort to remember to please herself as per the ethos of the hour, winds up getting so boneheaded with the pleasing that she grossly disappoints all concerned. All she had to say in the first instance was: I'll try and make it if I can, but I might have to sit down with So-and-So who's a bit needy just now and—
Dec 1, 2011: London Lunar, innocently enough, I suppose, was
at a dinner party, last night - where else? - but in that metropolis that
was once nicknamed Big Smoke, that city of fog - you know, in London Lunar's
neck of the woods—The odd peer or two was also in attendance at
the sup fest; just that I have been supplied no names, lest I, chattering,
reveal who they were who were such crashing, no-nothing bores, and my
friend never get invited back again to tie on the feed bag—Myself,
I thought it a good thing to give my neighbourhood the slip for once,
and I wound up downtown on St Catherine's at a bookshop, one of the last
remaining bookshops that feels like a bookshop hereabouts and not a mezzanine
in a mall where fetishists slurp fancy coffees. Poetry reading. Oh dear.
Young crowd. I cannot blame the young for being young. It is not their
fault my generation has serially misled them in a great many matters pertaining
to art and literature and that they are consequently somewhat at sea and
instinctively looking for traction, brave hearts that they are; and I
can only applaud the darlings for their unabashed declaration of love
of literature - well and good; just that it does not excuse a tiresome
commonplace or the palming off of lame-a—d prose as poetry; it does
not excuse the tin ear that has no notion that words have effects, and
in particular auditory effects; that poetry is, among other things, music.
Enough. The evening's penultimate reader happens to be a Moesian of my
acquaintance. He read from his novel. Later, I was to hear him being congratulated
by an admirer for his grasp of the 'shabby and the sublime'. I doubt that
this ostensibly deeply cultivated admirer on the enthusiastic side of
thirty years of age has any true notion of what is to be meant by the
'shabby' and the 'sublime' - how could he? - but he was trying, I'll give
him that and so, why unduly cavil, eh? Even so, I will count it a breakthrough
if that flicker of alarm that crossed the Moesian countenance did in fact
evince embarrassment both for the admirer and for himself. Whose account
of butt-f—king some overweight bored housewife went on long enough
that it may well help literary devotees pass an entire Canadian winter
- with a book of the stuff in hand - by the good old maple log fire—Afterwards,
a group of stalwarts repaired to a bar that was apparently an old haunt
of Mordecai Richler, and I thought I did detect the presence of literatas
and literatos, but I might have been mistaken, and they might have been
into NASCAR or kick-boxing or some such—For all that, I found myself
talking to a novelist and an artist and a young woman who has studied
the history of unions - she is all for them, as am I, whatever the excesses
for which they are notorious; and I talked this and that with the young
owner of the bookshop mentioned above; and, two things, 1): for all my
complaints, I wish these people the best and nothing less; and 2): now
and then it strikes me that Quebec as a polity of some kind is a lone
bastion of sanity on the continent, no matter what things here look like
to persons in Toronto or Red Deer. As for the books I have been reading
- A History of The Christian Church, Cicero's Letters, and Arrowsmith
(Sinclair Lewis), I am advised by the one book that, in respect to the
church, the politics set in early. Those persons who in an ad hoc community
were the source of authority - the so-called charismatics - proved, more
often than not - to be unreliable, of dubious and opportunistic character.
'Texts' had to be engineered to as to prevent 'worship' from degenerating
into mere cultism and so forth and so on - hence the 'politics' and the
quarrels that, in the end, fatally split the church—It leads one
to reflect on futility. It leads one to consider how much truth there
is in romantic notions of pagan comity and community; that such heathen
piety persisted through the millennia until the Christian Caesars worked
the magic of their wrecking balls and brought down the temples. It leads
one to contemplate the operations of chance even when it comes to the
gods, never mind the inexplicable behaviour of far-off gamma rays—And
then, in regards to Cicero and his letters, I scribbled the following
in a notebook: "'Bratwurst'. Renovated. The ubiquitous TV screen
with its L.A. input. I turn up a long screed of a letter from Cicero to
his brother Quintus dated to 60 B.C. Screed comprises 50 book pages—Quintus
is head honcho in some Asian province of Rome. Cicero, a Roman consul
now, is praising Q's incorruptibility to such an extent that one imagines
that graft was ever the norm when it came to gathering taxes from the
locals; and that a day would come when Tiberius - was it Tiberius? would
tell his taxmen that the point of the exercise was to shear the sheep,
not butcher it"—Arrowsmith? Early days. The blurb slots it
as a satire—Otherwise, as I watched the scene in the bar after the
poetry reading, last evening; as I watched allies seek allies for whatever
transient end, it struck me more forcefully than usual how it is that
politics has its origins in the unconscious, and how this observation
can as easily apply to the current moment as it does to the 30s and 40s
of a certain era—