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Ephemeris  May 2011

 

 

May 31, 2011: A bookseller friend of mine, local eminence, considers I have been too cheerful of late. Something must be done about this, though he has no suggestions. He is one of those men of the trade who took his business off the street and into his private home. Consequently, there is hardly any point in going downtown any longer. Who wants to enter bookstores that have all the appeal of Wal-mart or tax rebate offices?—In Nikas this morning, the old cook sings. Troubling. —Hopes, what are they? - Beads of morning / Strung on slender blades of grass—Wordsworth. And so it goes. As one pundit argues that American foreign policy is riddled with hypocrisy, another counters - well, how is this news? In the world of politics, with so many competing interests, coherent intent across the board is an impossibility; it is herding cats. And yet, even so, it does not signify that there is no such thing as hypocrisy in any governmental itch that wants scratching - there certainly is wink and nod, lots of either; just that to go and point it out, to say there's this and that instance of the thing here and here and here only adds to the general clamour which itself is comprised of so many competing voices, and it clears no air. In every David's slingshot there is a stone on which is chiselled the word hypocrite, irrespective of what political allegiance that stone represents. A clearing of the air? Would an aerosol saint at the tiller freshen things up? Perhaps we are in need of a bottoming out or a catastrophe of some kind such as reminds us of what matters, and why it is that what matters ought to matter. Indeed, there is every likelihood—In light of which, people wonder why I fuss on about poetry so and the state of the thing. I wonder why, too. What are verses to a dying bee? I am a species of dixie whistler, meaning that I know f—k-all about politics, and yet I am unable to shake this foreboding sense that as bad as things have been they are going to get still worse. Perhaps a more motivated grass roots might shift Current President leftwards; he has been roosting centre-rightwards with some panache; but then, half the populace to the south of here is on anti-depressants, motivation hard to come by—Shall we talk a little colony collapse? Larry the software entrepreneur, at this very moment, explains to Alexandra the waitress how it is the Japanese treat with fish as opposed to how the Chinese serve up - what? - shark soup? Oh the shark has pretty teeth, dear / And he shows them pearly white—But by the cast of her shoulders, it would seem that if Alexandra started up the conversation, she regrets it now—We are weed that forms unaccountable affections for other living beings, be it human, geranium, starving kitten—Well, it used to be the case; I am not so sure at this stage of the game. It is pleasant to be loved, for this . . . makes a man see himself as the possessor of goodness, a thing that every being that has a feeling for it desires to possess—Really, Mr Aristotle, really? I blink, and the world seems to go a little more mad. Is this the moral then: don't blink? When we are all of us going a little mad, ought we to watch out for the fellow or lass who claims some presence of mind and sanity for his or her intellects? Palin? A miserable, rain-pissy month it has been. Getting on June. A brief sunny patch of days however are in store. I intend to mosey over to 'bratwurst' at a civilized hour for a cold beer and a go at Moby Dick, the reading of which has been a reminder of what a first-rate writerly intellect - Melville's, an intellect not inflamed by a 24/7 news cycle - feels, smells, sounds, tastes, and looks like. I was a goof; for I used to assume that our lot was a decent lot on the whole. Even the history of the 20th century and years of driving a taxi did not disabuse me of this assumption. I used to believe that when presented with a clear-cut choice, one would opt for a clear-cut course of action. I no longer believe such a fairy tale. Some eras are worse than others when it comes to confusion on a mass scale. In other words, no matter what the reasons for it are, there are times when humankind is more muddled than usual, no matter how apparent the so-called writing on the wall. Thucydides wrote up one such stretch of time when he wrote on the Athenians and Syracuse. When the news reached Athens (of the debacle at Syracuse), for a long time people would not believe it, even though they were given precise information from the very soldiers who had been present at the event and had escaped; still they thought that this total destruction was something that could not possibly be true. And when they did recognize the facts, they turned against the public speakers who had been in favour of the expedition, as though they themselves had not voted for it, and also became angry with the prophets and soothsayers and all who at the time had, by various methods of divination, encouraged them to believe they would conquer SicilyHistory of the Peloponnesian War, Thucydides. Yes but, ain't it the truth?

 

May 30, 2011: As I read Moby Dick bits at a time, as I take its digressions manfully in stride (for instance, the nation-state that produced the best likenessess of whales, the sperm whale in particular, was France, country that had the least to do with whale hunting); as I wonder to what extent Melville was consciously punning when he hit on the notion of Ahab giving out with a stump-speech, I always have it in mind that Melville was essentially a pessimist at a time when America was expanding, not a little drunk on its possibilities, civil war or no. Yes, I seem to recall I have read the odd historian or two who submitted that the civil war was primarily an 'economic' war, one fought for the control of the railroads beginning to tentacle outward from the urban centres of the east—All men live enveloped in whale-lines. All are born with halters around their necks; but is only when caught in the swift, sudden turn of death, that mortals realize the silent, subtle, ever-present perils of life—from one of those aforementioned digressions—Yes, and here's 'Christian' for you: what's an angel but a well-governed shark? Last night was an I, Claudius night at my digs, episodes nine and ten - the rise and fall of Caligula. As repellent as A found this Caesar, she was not unduly horrified by his excesses, no, not in an age of rock stars, and what was Caligula but the first rock star? (And what was George W but the first post-modernist president? The power of moral relativism and Texas-sized belt buckle all in one gut reaction—) Labrosse on the other hand found it tough to take, he fidgeting uneasily as Caligula minced about in some hideously camp god-garb. Then there was the scene where Caesar guts his sister, as she is with his child, and the expectation is that the child will, at some point in the future, overcome the father or Caligula-Zeus, the most powerful force in the universe for the time being. Labrosse, early on in the viewing: "So how long will it take them to kill this guy?" Sibum: "A lot longer than one might have thought, once it became apparent that Caligula was starkers. Kind of puts one in mind of improbabilities - you know, that he was even allowed to happen. Such as - Palin nabs the nomination. Palin winds up president. Not supposed to be a fact of life, no, not according to the dictates of reality or the physical laws of politics, at the very least." A: "Hmmmpf." A is a pleasant young woman doing her best to muddle through, in spite of her stay at Carleton U, and though she is not entirely sensible to the rightwards thrust of politics seemingly everywhere, she is a little oblivious to the fact that things are so crazy anything might happen, her 'hmmmpf' then her way of complaining: you old farts are talking over my head, guys—Well, by her own admission, she does not read. Indeed, what is there to read? This morning's NY Times, and I read this grabber: 5 POETS SEASONED BY LIFE. A book review, no doubt. What else can it be? It is not often I leap to the defense of poets, no questions asked, but in this instance are poets meat? Shall I read that the oeuvre of this poet in particular is medium-rare? In the course of things I move on and come across a movie review. In another journalistic organ someone with an opinion takes on The Tree of Life, Malick's latest. (There is a Malick film that I liked quite a lot - just so you know—) It is a damning review, to say the least. Ah, The Twee of Life. Now there is a movie I have often wanted to make, a satyr-play, of course. Bio-pic. The life of a poet laureate—I suppose I could motivate my fingers enough to get them tapping out the requisite letters of baby plus gender plus storm plus Canada on a keyboard and so raise the latest attempt to socially engineer the human weed and do Mother Nature a great big favor in the process, making babies genderically non-committal. The argument will run something like this (as I heard it once back when Nikas was a diner with a counter and chrome): who are we to define nature in our own image, insisting on these arbitrary distinctions of male and female? Who are we, indeed? But yes, to be sure, why insist? And yet, why deny that 'male' and 'female' obtain across vast swathes of nature in the way that we deny the consequences of carbon emissions as we continually f—k with nature's first principles? I am beginning to get shrill—And those groups, be they plutocrats or eco-warriors or anything more pedestrian in between, who most successfully plead the case that they own the word 'nature' by virtue of having 'defined' it, are going to have to be most reckoned with, for better or worse— As London Lunar reports, there was once a novel published entitled Smallcreep's Day. (Perhaps he is having me on - he is capable of mischief—) But verily, Smallcreep's Day, to go by what smallcreep connotes, has been upon us for quite a while. If nature tends toward heat, as it is said, we tend towards shrinking our heads to the sizes of pins, to render ourselves petty and think pettiness grand. It is morning. I am in Nikas, a faux Greek joint with Albanian predilections. Enter Irish harpy and retinue - hubby and son. Immediately, and I mean toute de suite, she is off, on about some poor hapless sod or another who lacks dental hygiene—We cannot be bound beyond our powers and means. For this reason - that we have no power to effect and accomplish, that there is nothing really in our power but will - all man's rules of duty are necessarily founded and established in our will—Montaigne. Kind of a stump-speech, say what?—

 

May 29, 2011: I merely note that it seems a commonplace in the media-sphere to indict the prevailing culture, and we are that - the prevailing culture, on charges of narcissistic indulgence, what with our slavish relations to the technologies and how they seem to puff up our lives with a false sense of prowess and empowerment. It is so commonplace that either the charges apply as stated, or they are wrong-headed, inasmuch as commonality tends to reinforce bad habits and lazy thought on a collective scale, leading to the engenderment of one 'received opinion' after another. Moreover, that an author-pundit should get with the program and stipulate that love is the reallest thing out there, is that which puts the lie to the shady collusions between the technologies and self-idolatry, is also a commonplace - but with a wrinkle as per an instance I have in mind. You see, for one author-pundit, it seems that it has only been through the agency of bird-watching and a subsequent love of birds that has reawakened in his soul some dead limb of love not of humankind so much but of the odd individual (and of his wife and his wunderkind, one presumes). Well, it comes it a little high in my estimation; it presents one with wonderment: just how unreal had his life been until rockin' robin got him to screw his head on straight? And then to present an account of his 'conversion' on some vanity page of the NY Times - it brings to mind John Donne. Yes, Donne the .'metaphysical' poet who became something of a celebrity-priest in 17th century London, even the royal chaplain, at one point. Just that Donne had a mind—In any case I am not hellfire bent on getting right with God or any such thing, including birds, and yet I will argue that Donne did not just cheese and noodle in some pleasant fashion on whatever hell it was he figured had the run of him or he of it; no, he actually thought a thought through - but, oh, never mind—Poor intricated soul! Riddling, perplexed, labyrinthical soul!—Mr Donne said it. And this: But I do nothing upon my self, and yet I am mine own executioner—The idle protest, the waggling of one's fingers over one's consumerist lot - the odd pang of guilt vis a vis the condition - what a ponce you are, Franzen—

 

May 28, 2011: A few words - nothing to write home about—Just that I might mention I do not follow up all my notebook scribblings with 'posts' on this site. For instance, why did I write like puke out of a puppy? Had it something to do with my rate of composition? But surely, an intense dream life signifies X, Y or Z, or Q at the very least. In my case it can only mean I am a mark of sorts for whatever marauding dream-electrons are at large at any given time, rioting in space—Most writers, I think, and it is quite understandable on their part, want to corral life, herd it, direct it somehow, and delude themselves that they have got a handle on its patterns, cycles, clown spots, mirages, bits of which are sweet. Elsewise, it is either indifferent to the discriminating taste or far from sweet—How does one answer the waves that crash on the seashore? Not with a catcher's mitt. Those Americans who go on about self-reliance and accountability and mean nothing of the kind - they owe a nod of deference perhaps to what was once, so it seems, a commonplace of Brit society. My dear, that's you, that's you stuck in your skin. Don't even dream of jumping out of it unless, of course, you can contrive to amuse us in so doing—Cruel and snotty, yes. But how much more cruel is this - that old yankee dream of transcendence? Sheer brutality. Year after year I have watched quest after quest go belly up. It has been somewhat like being this side of a windscreen on a summer highway. Bugs. Gore galore. Percussive. I was somewhat taken by this excerpt from a book-length poem that came my way recently. Translated from the Danish by a Toronto poet. Stranger things have happened. New York setting—Sample.
May 27, 2011: Grumblings to do with poetry readings reach me from far and wide. 120 cities. 26 countries, and counting. Hordes of poets on each street-corner, it's misplaced kindness / to refrain from writing—Juvenal, The Sixteen Satires, as translated by Peter Green. But that dress Lana Turner wears at the start of Portrait in Black - kind of shimmery, it is lime-green sherbet, and it either renders her a very serious woman, indeed, or not, depending on which decade you came into your own reason for whatever reasons and got your POVs and attendant verses. Or else it is the 50s then, crimes of passion a complicated business, conscience such an effer—Whereas in Babette's Feast (1987), the universal solvent of Parisian cuisine applies a soupcon of TLC to all prickly opposites, dualities, imbalances; and the soul and the body and communal piety and individual license all sit athwart the banquet table in mind-blown bliss—When at theological loggerheads always appeal to a higher over-arching bias or moral certitude—A wild dream in which someone I know operates an art gallery. She explains to me why So-and-So's painting - a rather sketchily treated urban scene - is a masterpiece. She affixes the thing to a wall. It begins talking - literally. The newest thing. Ah, the end of the silent era. But as art does not exist in a vacuum, spawn of monkeys and cats that have interbred scurry about. Somewhat intelligent critturs. Young girls see to their needs as they do to the kennelled pooches at the dog spa just down the street—Budding artistes? Clients? London Lunar skulks in the background, sussing out the particulars, as he is Boswellian; and then he promptly gets himself lost, as is his wont in urban areas, the urban area in question seemingly Philadelphia, City of Brotherly Affections—So, has the art of poetry finally collapsed? Fah. What art? Oh, you mean awt. In which case, hell no, things are just fine, tickety-tickety, and if you are a young master and you gripe in a sufficiently harrowing way about your immediate progenitors you will rate prizes, and Foulard may hand you an exploding cheroot, added plus. Or so London Lunar has it who dares me to find any such anti-parental literary riffs prior to the 60s. Anyone? Or as Larry the software entrepreneur has it, morning, Nikas, he turning at least one implication of London Lunar's remark on its head: "Sure. You're young. You dance. You marry. You have kids. Life's over." Me, I have malaise. That is to say I have fallen into the trap of thinking I actually have something to say. And you? What? You have this notion you are entitled? Outbreaks of narcissism come around every once in a while in a big way. Even those hard-headed Romans had it big time - early imperial period. It is not a crime against nature as such, as human nature, as we all know, is nature, just that - sufficient amounts of leisure, available cash, party venues, drugs, agreeable cynics, and eh voila and you got yourself some disco. But can we even muster this much commitment to our plaisirs and loves of self as when, in Catullus 11, Lesba is exhorted to be let to live and flourish - in the midst of her fellow adulterers whom, as she embraces them she owns them, loving no one of them, 'rupturing' their groins—A sly dig at women, that is, if one recalls that the poet was hopelessly in love with this Lesba? Or just general disgust with the scene? Or none of the above? So, hoser, pass the nachos—

 

May 26, 2011: A mug is a mug in everything—from Lady Eve, 1941. I bring it up for the sake of general principles, the flick in question notable for ebullient production values. Otherwise, as for poetry, just because you have laid on a spot of meter and have tossed a few rhymes into the fray does not entitle you to claim you have conquered form. As for poetry readings, it would seem enough has been said - well, almost enough, inasmuch as I have attended not a few readings over the course of a near half century and have only been on hand for a handful of spirit-lifting sessions. The math does not seem to change, ever. Moreover, I am perverse enough to say that most readings I have been subject to have had the effect of collapsing spirit, as when a stomach will collapse in time through lack of food-intake. (It is conceivable that for the first time in the history of humankind we might have to consider saving poetry not from the philistines but from itself.) It is not want of energy that secures this collapse - there is always plenty of energy around - it is want of sentience and common decency on the part of sadists who have no notion of a little kindness in respect to their audiences. I am doubly and perhaps even triply perverse enough to suggest that, all things being equal, I enjoy parlaying poetry aloud to a gathering of people - shameless of me, true enough - but that I have, of late, been finding it increasingly difficult to muster sufficient enthusiasm for the exercise. I am not sure why; just that, all too often, it seems I come into a dead zone when entering a venue in which poetry is to be rendered up as per an assembly line of auto parts. It estranges. It goes hard on the necessary intimacy that poetry requires, intimacy that cannot be established on the turn of a dime. Poetry is not rape, not even wham bam, thank you m'am, though I suppose it could be said that quickly in and out is more merciful in the end than a foray that goes on and on and on and on and on—I do not know how to account for it. Is it that one's need for attention outweighs the dubious benefits of sitting through an hour's worth of inexpressible tedium before one is even allowed to clutch that mic with one's clammy paw? Is it that we no longer possess in any way, shape or form, even the most general of critical capabilities? Now London Lunar will have nothing to do with what follows: the difference, if any, between great movies and great cinema. His twenty-five words or less suggests that I can go stuff it where I please, though he does allow that great movies, cinema, films - what have you, as with any truly fine novel - continue to play in the mind long after one's first encounter with the item. Let us say, for the sake of saying something,  that Fellini is always great cinema, even when he is abominably indulgent. Coppola's The Godfather is perhaps a great movie whereas his Apocalypse Now is - what? - cinema? Kubrick's Barry Lyndon? Shall we further roil the waters and designate that flick - one I regard highly - as a film? A certain Literary Thug of my acquaintance has it that great movies tell a familiar story with some dynamism while great cinema transcends itself and eludes convention—Could be. Which brings to mind something else that has been nagging at me, along with colony collapse: conformity. That I remain unconvinced that the word 'conformist' has any longer any punch in it insofar as it might make a distinction between one thing and another. That the word does not have the legs it had in the 50s when it was rich with sociological implications and Beatnik disgust with the burbs. And yet, if anything, the word might seem to justifiably apply so much more than it ever did to the prevailing geist of this continent, if no other; and it amazes me the extent to which, as if by stealth, by cover of light-devouring darkness, or by way of drugs and mass media, we have become so numbingly indistinguishable one from the other in spite of the so-called differences, be they differences of class, race, gender, lifestyle, or dare I broach the term - culture. And after some five decades of - what? - counter-culture? - alternate culture? - counter-counter-counter culture? It is not remarked upon. It is not, so far as I know, perceived. No one seems unduly bothered by the reality. Everything is tickety-poo. Those wretches there? They have been most agreeable, agreeing to suffer whatever it is they suffer. One might say they have signed a contract in expectation of future considerations - let the sufferings begin—There is a passage in Moby Dick in which Melville seems to intimate origins, origins implying differences - as if there had ever been a world in which test tubes played no part. Or that a Hindoo temple, by virtue of the carvings on its facade, could brag that it had already been apprised of every object this earth was ever going to know before said object actually slipped into existence. It is fantastic, of course. Cheap Platonism, even for Melville. But I am moved to happily enough believe it, if only to spite systems-management. When Ishmael encounters Queequeg, he encounters. Then again, fine afternoon, and I can sit at 'bratwurst', read my Melville, drink my beer, eye the street, and life seems marvellously various; and even the absurd pop videos on Jamal's TV have some positive bearing on something or another. Even 'conformity' as such cannot entirely crush the human comedy, if we can call it that—How amusing. For, morning, Nikas, and Eddie, owner-cook, is in the kitchen celebrating, as ever, yet another triumph, his life but an endless series of triumphs. And he is not even a poet. He's no rock star, just Albanian-Greek, laughing effer—

 

May 25, 2011: Had it in mind to write on a number of things, on George Gershwin, for example; why it is I always like listening to his Rhapsody in Blue when I encounter it and yet, cannot take the music seriously; that the music grabs hold of me, yes, but it does not work its way deep into my bones as does the music of Bach. I am insufficiently elitist to hazard an explanation as to why, and to suggest that perhaps the Brandenburg Concertos have a more thorough-going swing will only get me on the wrong side of the local musician's union—I had it it mind to write on the presence of Lebanese merchants in Northern Ontario circa the 18th century. (DW swears by this, rogue pedagogue that he is—) I would write on escaping into Linear B. On Duplessis orphans. On old codgers like myself spending months on end trying to figure out their cell phones—"What do the Japanese do when they have an erection?" "They vote—" Mercifully, I have forgotten the particulars of this conversational exchange. Perhaps the reading of Moby Dick has twisted my intellects, and we haven't even gotten to the effing whale, yetIf Obama fails and provides no leadership, there won't be any Congress and you can really kiss the republic goodbye—Here, too, I have mercifully forgotten the particulars, but it does sound suspiciously like Labrosse in some expansive mode of intellectual inquiry—Can take the boy out of Shawinigan but try and pry Shawinigan loose from the boy—According to Yohji Yamamoto, fashion designer, to whom I must apologize for the tasteless joke 6 sentences removed, beautiful things are disappearing every day. We ought to slow down as beautiful things are disappearing from us every day. I would go so far as to say we cannot bear the sight of anything truly beautiful lest we actually have to care about something—What follows is the odd sentence or two of a little beauty in non-lethal amounts: It was while gliding through these latter waters that one serene and moonlight night, when all the waves rolled by like scrolls of silver, and, by their soft, suffusing seethings, made what seemed a silvery silence, not a solitude; on such a silent night a silvery jet was seen far in advance of the white bubbles at the bow. Lit up by the moon, it looked celestial; seemed some plumed and glittering god uprising from the sea—from Moby Dick. The sounding of a whale, perhaps the whale. It is only because, in recent memory, I crossed the Atlantic by container ship, that I know that those words, however dangerously close they skirt the edges of purple prose and however heavy on the sibilants, are real, and that is how it sounds and how it looks when you are far out at sea—But back to particulars: Ah, there they are, the particulars being that we had been 'gamming', the other day, at 'bratwurst'. Gamming? It is what the crews of two whalers meeting in the open ocean after months of not having encountered other human life, do. In other words, they socialize. Labrosse, DW and I - we were gammerers then. And so, Labrosse in open air converse on the terrasse: "Perhaps Obama has sprung a trap, has got Netanyahu where he wants him - on record." Sibum: "Netanyahu has nothing but contempt for Obama." DW: "The man has a peculiar constituency to which he has to answer—" Labrosse: "Be that as it may - but look - there across the street - just passing Drunkin' Donuts - that old fellow - he looks quite majestic—" Mr Majestic was a Japanese gentleman. White flat cap. Walking stick. But yes - I know a fellow - he is for the most part cheerful, sociable, up for anything halfways reasonable; and yet, every now and then, he falls head over heels into melancholy or rather melancholy sneaks up on him like a summer cold, steals him wholesale; and it as if he can see some part of himself that he can no longer touch, let alone contact; and it is no matter whether that part of himself that he can still see but cannot touch is any entity with which he would want to have relations in any case; that it, the entity, just floated up from somewhere, some past portion of his life—We consist of so many ghost selves. It is said we inhabit a culture conducive to the perpetual reinvention of self. I think not. I think it is more likely that, at least, since Babylon, we have been amenable to living life along more than one track, that there are tenuous but palpable connections between those tracks - human messes to be had there—Melville's vision of life, if you will, was so complete that it rendered any notion of plot line beside the point; it certainly renders writing workshops superfluous. It would not have mattered what his subject matter was; he might have as easily written about a chess match or a quilting party as come up with a back story in which a whale had snapped off Ahab's leg—While his one live leg made lively echoes along the deck, every stroke of his dead limb sounded like a coffin-tap—Melville might have addressed himself thusly: "Hmmmm, could be I'll reveal the mystery on page 348 of my opus. Could be I won't." The art of novel-writing. Yes? No? All apologies to Mr Pamuk, but - you know - balderdash. Just another ruse with which the grinders of fiction persuade us they are clever sods. Morning. Nikas. I ask Patricia the Romanian waitress on her Wednesday once a week day shift: why Facebook? She sniffs. "Oh," she says. She sighs: "Oh, I was on it once. I got off it. Waste of time. You think you have all these friends. But you don't really. I said I was going to close my account. 297 people didn't care. 3 did. They e-mailed me later. Was I alright? Was there anything wrong?" I asked a famous poet residing in Slovakia. Most likely he adjudges my query as capricious. No response. Enter Irish harpy and retinue. It has been a while since I have gone on about Irish harpy and retinue. If you prefer I could go on about GH and how it is he considers attendance upon multiple-poet readings as semi-suicidal missions—Alright then, you don't prefer. Poetry demands a man with a special gift for it, or else one with a touch of madness in him—Aristotle. Well, I never - who would've thunk it?

 

May 24, 2011: A Literary Thug of my acquaintance has had his novel published. It means he now has something to lose. He is already receiving flak and vilification in gratifying measures in certain time zones. Over-privileged white boy of no redeeming qualities - who may or may not manage to titillate the jaded appetites of the good folk of official CBC culture—I do not know whether the novel is a good, bad or indifferent work, and that it is an exposé of sorts of inane literary life as lived in a certain time zone is not likely to pop anything like the scales from my eyes, but apart from the matter of the quality of the prose contained between the blurbs, I have every confidence that the writing is at least sentient, and recognizes hairy-nostrilled pompous twits overly-laden with trophy prizes as fair game when it stumbles on such. Literary Thug or M, somewhat ruefully : "All those prizes suck except when you win one." (In recent conversation with me, M reported that all the Young Masters are to be found routinely on Facebook, exchanging mug shots and virtual locks of one another's hair. Now this was news to me—) Last night was a scheduled I, Claudius night. Labrosse and A wanted to eat first - at Nikas. Labrosse was lit a little early in the proceedings, or so it seemed to me, A looking summery, M basking in the glow of his proximity to such unprepossessing savants like ourselves. M has taken a French lover or she has taken him, as it were, and would you believe it, but that Labrosse still touchingly believes that bed is the best place bar none to learn the glories of the French mode of palaver. "He'll be second-guessing Diderot inside of a year - you wait and see." Well then, I guess we will, and we will be proud of the lad, no question. A who has not a literary bone in her body was pleased to see that M, now affianced in a sense, was being taught to lighten up a little and was picking up vital instruction in French party games, and is himself considering hosting an evening of Victorian squalor—He has already experienced an adventure of sorts, one in which he would have had his lover's father know that he intended to take his daughter to the movies soon—Alas, what he did in fact say was that he intended to mount her toute de suite. In any case, M was obliged to go and have a late sup with his true love, and off he went; and Labrosse, A and myself got down to episodes seven and eight in the course of which we watched a decrepit, smelly old Livia plead her case that she become a goddess upon her demise (thus avoiding an eternity's worth of the Roman hell); watched her die brutally disabused of her fondest wish by a callous Caligula; watched the fall of Sejanus, twitted at long last by a smelly, old Tiberius. Watched much else too various to encapsulate briefly here—Not only was Labrosse lit, he was beside himself with pleasure in respect to certain stretches of dialogue, in particular that stretch where Livia responds to Claudius's queries as to whom she poisoned for, as she put it, reasons of state. A dialogue of minimalist grandeur, the murderess becoming all the more adorable as the number of her victims increased. And it was revealed unto A that not all that is 'classical' and 'historical', despite her experiences at Carleton U, is a crashing bore, I, Claudius supremely itself and not rigged to cater to the dumbed-down—Afterwards we repaired to 'bratwurst' for a nightcap where our presence briefly scandalized what looked to be the winding-up of a polite supper party. Jamal informed us at the door that he was kah-loze-ed. We were, however, irrepressible, and he could not deny us, Labrosse all red-cheeked, A all summery, and I - well - I will not trouble you with an image—And soon enough, Labrosse was grabbing at A's ankle (the old man giggling away like a school boy) while she and I conducted a back and forth on women and power and young male putzes. A is not a deep thinker, but she is one among several persons I am fortunate enough to know and have extensive dealings with, who remind me that a little honesty and unpretentiousness go a long way toward warding off all the cant and hypocrisy and zealotry kicking about in art and politics. One does not need to read the great books to know how to keep it simple. Even so, I have put my foot in it yet again, and this time tomorrow or next week, if ever, P.M. Carpenter, Prominent Political Commentator, will choose to respond to my latest sly jeremiad against his idolatrous worship of pragmatism a la William James; just that the man is a good sort and I have nothing but respect for his political acumen in respect to the minutiae of the current American political scene. Or he will choose not to respond as he will deem me unworthy - as I am so consistently pessimistic—Principles, of course, only lead to messes. Lack of principles lead to the same. So then, go forth and figure. One may experience No-God as easily in Ulan Bator as in Joplin, Missouri - the Show Me state. I am pretty much a pagan who can understand why Saul of Tarsus thought he had to become Paul, missionary to the world, but I would have thought him something of a megalomaniac, even so, whether or no he was principled, whether or no he was pitching a pragmatists's woo—Have I not seen carnage - random factor carnage every day? Even without bombs and missiles there is carnage - random factor carnage - every hour on the hour - each and every day—I have known the odd noble specimen of humanity for whom pragmatism as philosophy is but another parlour game, an intellectual's evening of Parcheesi. Not meant to be a creed as such—To be ashamed of one's immorality - that is a step on the staircase at whose end one is also ashamed of one's morality—Nietzsche. Who else?

 

May 23, 2011: So far as I know there are no 'no-name' strangers in Homer, though Odysseus in the Odyssey does return to Ithaca on a need-to-know basis, disguised as a beggar, as a range 'drifter', as - I was about to say trailer trash, but why insult panhandlers? In any case, in Homer, we always know who is doing the killing and who is getting killed - with gratifying amounts of gore—And yet, Homer is why I always find the Quentin Tarantinos of our world vile and pornographic. It was not ever going to be my intention to discuss Clint Eastwood. London Lunar has said he has never really seen the point of a lot of Eastwood's material, including spaghetti westerns. I am not sure those westerns were ever meant to have a point, but I am not entirely out of sympathy with the genre. And I did once ambulate by the orphanage in Rome some years ago where Sergio Leone apparently passed the odd, formative year, and I got a bit of a buzz from this, whereas I got zip, I must say, chancing by Jim Morrison's final resting spot in Père Lachaise, yes, should you still be in the market for a counter-culture figurehead— Eastwood and the characters he tends to portray quite often come off absurd and downright ridiculous, should you skewer your perspective ever so slightly, Debussy in the corner of your eye, perhaps, he having at his Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune in all the No. 10 saloons in the cosmos— As if the world, according to Eastwood, were nothing but sadists and man-hating bitches, assorted low-life, upwardly-mobile bullies, and flinty-eyed cowpokes who just want to enjoy their glass of beer in peace - but you know - a hero's work is never done. No such world, it seems, ever existed, except that - well, I certainly knew of such a one. Utah. The 60s. An argument might here be made that Moby Dick is much closer to the real beating heart of a real America than High Plains Drifter could ever hope to manage to be; and surely, the protagonist in the recent film There Will Be Blood is much closer in his sensibility to Ahab and Gatsby and Buffalo Bill than he is to the no-name stranger—And in No Country for Old Men, the anxiety-ridden sheriff that Tommy Lee Jones portrays is far from Eastwood's unflinching certitude—Who rides into town in High Plains Drifter, and before you can even say Bob's yer uncle, has put down three men in a shoot-out - mercy killings, those - and raped a man-hating bitch (who, as it will turn out had had no honour to defend). When hired by the town's elite to protect them against the expected retribution that a trio of thugs just out of prison will exact on their persons, no-name stranger commits communistic flourishes. He distributes candy to the Indian kids. He gets their pa some blankets— He sees through the visible and not so visible pecking order whereby everyone not directly connected to the cash cow, or the mine, is kept in line. As if this sort of thing never existed in America. He is the agent of a saturnalia in which political and social roles are reversed, as they were once a year in ancient Rome round about our Christmas time and so, he sets up the town runt as both mayor and sheriff, and the runt will spend the rest of the movie strutting about, a lot of personages grinding their teeth as a consequence. Well, the town has a bad conscience in the collective sense: the thugs they are expecting once whipped a sheriff to death in their high street and no one lifted a finger to stop this murder. No-name stranger knows how to push all the buttons in light of this bad conscience, as absurd a figure as he cuts, easily an object of parody among proto-feminists. Faith, peace, prosperity, progress, charity - these are just words by which to secure other agendas—As if none of this ever existed in America. Evil is camouflaged by those words, as is moral cowardice. No-name stranger is just this side of an utter fop, a preening, thorough-going ponce as he minces about town with swagger and cigar. The populace is so caught up in the stuff of its bad conscience that it fails to see in its midst the judgment coming for them. There are always sadists about. Always, and of all genders. High Plains Drifter 'came out', as it were, in 1973. John Wayne did not approve, the movie tantamount to high treason in his view. No such thing as moral cowards in America. Liberal critics thought the thing shabby for other reasons; that it was a paranoid's noodling, the mental product of some fantasist such as never sees the light of day as he is forever in his basement plotting vengeance on all that which belittles his person, unibomber in the making—Ought one not feel just a bit sorry for the doomsday preacher whose end of days did not come off? London Lunar thinks we ought to. When, according to Dwight MacDonald the old-time social-critic, human beings are no longer the centre of our concern, then - and admittedly here comes a leap in logic - liberals can go around claiming to be the conscience of a country, just that they never have to actually act on their presumption. Then again we did dismantle humanism with a kind of glee, piece by piece, shard by shard, atom by atom, or so I recollect from the beer parlour days on the coast, Vancouver, and the intelligentsia has never had so much fun since. In the name of liberation from something or another. One ought always to be wary of words like 'liberation'. It is a perfectly good word, no question. It can signify a great deal. Signifying is not always the same as meaning something, however. There are movies like High Plains Drifter that leave one a little unsure of what one has just watched. There are movies which feature nothing more than caricatures of Nietzschean supermen or Angelina Jolie - who is, I am told, well-read, (has bought Dostoyevski from London Lunar's bookshop) and intelligent enough to know better—We possess no living image of true law or of genuine justice. The barest outline is all that we have. Would that we could be true to even this; for it is drawn from the models that nature and truth afford—Cicero. Oh dear—

 

May 22, 2011: At the urging of London Lunar who always aims to civilize me, and how futile a task it is, I heard out a tenor new to my ears. Heard Jonas Kaufman sing E lucevan le stelle from Tosca. Reached for my towel. Heard him elicit pourquoi me réveiller from Werther. Reached for a sponge.Even so, Goethe, by way of his Werther creation, having spawned a cult of navel-gazing a long time ago, I wondered in what navel, possibly my own, might I find myself dog-paddling this time around—Otherwise, quiet evening, last night, I have little intelligent to say—In fact I even missed a signal from Labrosse to attend upon him and Mehdi the trucker at the 'bratwurst' terrasse over a shot of Jack Daniels. (They, no doubt, would have been discussing Keats's notion of Psyche, or the inner life that replaced all those brawling, noisome gods and goddesses—) That I missed the signal was tantamount to the watchman in Agamemnon's tower sleeping through the torch lights lighting up the coastal, Mycenaean sky, those flaming heralds announcing the end of that decade-long business in Troy—I had been drifting in and out of the movie Slaughterhouse Five, a movie now almost as old as Aeschylus's play—And as I watched it with what consciousness was available to me, I wondered if I ever thought Vonnegut a great writer, the movie based on his novel of the same name. For there is a certain vein of American writing that sees clearly enough the darker side of the so-called American experience (or that larded up PBS epithet that, on occasion, induces nausea in my gut); it sees the 'American experience' existing at great cost to mind and limb and yet, avoids staginess and overweening sanctimony in its remarks. It is Hawthorne as opposed to Emerson. Twain as opposed to - whom? - say Phillip Roth who, I cannot for the life of me, seem to abide, no matter what good things he appears to be intimating. Still, is not a little rabble rousing now and then therapeutic? Thinking here of Heine on his mattress-grave, paralyzed, but still sticking it to the emperor—My correspondent on Mayne Island reports that he has grown a little restive in respect to Joyce. Quotes a squib from Braughtigan to this effect: I don't care how smart those guys are, I'm bored. Yes, well—Spiffy plots bore me. Moby Dick does me fine. It lurches about like a ship in choppy seas. About everything and nothing, really. Some damn whale. A violation of the Chicago School of Physics which states that no two objects of fairly solid mass may inhabit the same cultural niche in the same epiphany, humankind evolving ever onward—Morning. Nikas. A new wrinkle here conducing to atmospherics. Flower boxes. Impatiens. Tunias. Daisies. Did I see marigolds? Small use is verse of Aeschylean strain: / In stress of love your grand old bard is vain—from Propertius, the A. E. Watts translation of careening couplets. But seeing that life has brought to bees as well / Our human troubles, it may be that their bodies / Will droop with sad disease—Virgil. The Georgics. L.P. Wilkinson the translator. The firebombing of Dresden?: How about colony collapse? There is always that—

 

May 21, 2011: I am most likely overly fond of philosophic musings on 'life' - whatever that word means when stuck between quotes - and the 'human condition', or that which comprises the largest portion of any argument between peoples and persons. Words spoken in respect to the human condition - indeed, yes, it is like hearing out some man-child wearing sunshades indoors, he explicating his reasons as to why he figured he would win his pot with a pair of sixes, the body language of the other guy leading him to conclude—The Aristotle of the river bet—But who best remembers Adam? The aforementioned poker player? The scientist with his fossils? The linguist with this clay tablets? The gentleman smoking a hookah in some drab ghetto not North America? I opened Moby Dick at a chapter entitled Hyena and read: There are certain queer times and occasions in this strange mixed affair we call life when a man takes this whole universe for a vast practical joke, though the wit thereof he but dimly discerns, and more than suspects that the joke is at nobody's expense but his own—Well, a sentiment that is standard enough. A musing of some quality, n'est-ce pas? And written before Weimar came around and Newt Gingrich became Cathy's Clown - as sung by the Everly Brothers way back when, but just last week when Gingrich's latest presidential bid imploded—Now Crow out there among the splendours of North Hatley has printed up my meemwars of William Hoffer, sometime bookseller and literary pariah. It is a thing called William Hoffer and The Theology of Snooker. It is a musing on a condition of sorts, some 37 pages worth of wry reflection on anything you care to bring to the party, 11 point Garamond on good stock. I like to think sometimes that I might have made a pretty good bookseller, but that I was already fairly deep into delusional thinking on another score, or that I was persuaded I could write the odd decent poem. It is humid outside, summer in the offing when a whole new set of plumage for the psyche one carries about will affect everything from how one reads Moby Dick to how one writes a poem to how one looks at a woman—I am also more fond than is good for my health of minor movies set in Rome. The Roman Spring of Mrs Stone is one such movie; it is based on a novella Tennessee Williams wrote. Warren Beatty with an implausible accent absurdly enough portrays a cynical gigolo who games Vivien Leigh for cash disbursements. Her portrayal of an aging love-hungry widow cum actress is no less convincing than would be one's close encounter with a grizzly bear in not the best of moods. Indiscretion of an American Wife is another such movie, this one directed by Vittorio de Sica, and it is not one of his stellar efforts. The production apparently was deeply problematic from the get-go. Jennifer Jones was one of those actresses who could get away with overacting because now and then she managed to project a sympathetic, appealing countenance, that is, when her 'look' was not busily engaged in stripping meat from bone. "But I am a housewife from Philadelphia", she protests to Montgomery Clift the smitten Italian, as if the 'housewife' bit explains anything, and it does. For Rome is always being lied to. It happens this way - that people are saying how much they adore the place and Rome always puts them to the test. Jones's passion for Clift has had about it something of a fantasy, a whim - and she is about to run out on the inconvenient fact of his return of serve as she has bit off more than she can chew - what's with these Italians, anyway? Eventually, humiliated and disgusted with her transparent feelings, he slaps Jones right then and there - in the Termini, the train station. Reality: a city in vindictive mode. The pay back only begins to bite Jones more deeply, as later, a remorseful Clift and an indecisive, dithering Jones, in the compartment of an empty railcar, are caught helplessly pitching woo at one another, and they are yarded off to the cop shop by smirking gendarmes, where Jones and Clift must explain themselves much to Jones's embarrassment, and so forth and so on. And Rome the imp thoroughly and most lasciviously enjoys her come-down. And Rome the perv leers at the spectacle of the emancipated but spoiled American tart freshening her lipstick just prior  to the interview with the commissioner who is, in a godly way, to decide her immediate fate. And Rome has this way of punishing the insincere, sincerity a crashing bore - never mind Clift's indubitable passion, but he will get his - ovviamente—Perhaps in the movie there is a private language of sorts on the part of de Sica in respect to the feckless postwar years and fascism, but—Only in Rome may infinite pettiness now and then attain the levels of the sublime, and this in a badly flawed film that nonetheless may boast a few inspired flourishes—It mercifully concludes with one last crying jag on the part of Jones making good her escape at last, and with Clift taking a header, disembarking from a moving train. The lover's pratfall—Sickly score—Meanwhile to the south of here the social contract, to the extent that there has been one, is being masticated and salivated upon. I have an image in mind of one those sets of mechanical jaws that crushes automobiles—Berlin bombed about—Indian reserve—Gaza, as ever—Perhaps it is true that I also have a besetting weakness from viewing all that transpires in human relationships in terms of applications of power - you know, one gets deconstruction with one's Wheaties - but sometimes it is only a sideshow, this playing out of power, centre-ring, and there it is - bottomless spite and a meanness more thorough-going than the operations of gravity across the entire expanse of the universe —

 

May 20, 2011: Homeric, as a word, when it does not characterize what belongs to Homer, only diminishes. Melville as the author of Moby Dick is not Homeric as much as he is a spiritual cousin to a poet who preceded him by some 2900 years or so. Did Homer write a greater epic than Virgil by virtue of being more noble in spirit? Silly question? Well, the above are scribblings I have left hanging in my notebook, so to speak, unattended, not thought through to any useful conclusion. There is probably more material to do with Homer Simpson the goof than Homer the poet on the internet; or else it is only an unkind supposition on my part. Morning. Nikas. There are tourists in the place already. Perhaps they are in the area to pay their respects to some cult hero or another—They are in any case much too full of inane commaderie and patter to be mistaken for sombre NDG regulars—Yesterday afternoon, at the 'bratwurst' terrasse, the humidity rendering us both somewhat languid, Labrosse let loose with a thought in respect to the previous evening's viewing of Les Enfants du Paradis, the 1945 film voted the greatest French film ever. He said of the film's conclusion that Baptiste pursuing his heart-throb Garance through a carnivale crowd on the Boulevard of Crime was now on his way to going mad. Did I not see how he had walked through his wife rather than around her (after Nathalie had caught Baptiste and Garance in an embrace) in order to chase after his one true love? Walking through her like that indicated he was not only leaving her, but tossing in a ditch all his family and his life's work, as well—Yes, but true love? What's love? Or dare I have asked it? The foliage on the trees already had the aspect, at this date in May, of a hanging garden—Yes, and Labrosse was not about to quit there; he had more. He observed that the NDP vote in Quebec was an 'anti-3 party' vote; that Quebeckers here have had it with the Liberals and the Bloc and the Conservatives; and have more razz in their tazz than is the case anywhere else in the country; that Layton, mais oui, is a 'nice guy', but it was not so much that he was voted for as that the rest of the rat pack got voted against—Hence a negative vote in favour of f—kall. (Once in a while Labrosse has recourse to a colourful anglicism or two.) Indeed, he was pleased with the conclusions he had drawn vis a vis art and politics; or perhaps he was pleased with the conclusion the electorate had come to, seemingly of their own accord, though the electorate perhaps might not have sat through with the best of will all 180 minutes, count 'em, of Les Enfants du Paradis, just that it (the electorate) had more in common with the plebs in the god seats than it might have found seemly—Now, at this very moment, as I scribble these words in my Hilroy cahier, Larry the software entrepreneur approaches me in the back of the restaurant from his booth in the front, his mien a troubled one. He has been minding his own business, has he not? He does keep the faith more or less, does he not, depending, of course, on what we mean by keeping the faith? Nothing necessarily Homeric in that, but, if worst comes to wurst—But what is it sticking in his craw? That table of yahoos, those tourists out front in their white knickerbockers - they are driving him around the bend with their goings-on about American Idol, and then that idiot mimicking the Woody Woodpecker chuckle, amphetamines having come with the sausages and eggs—Now I tell you I'm a decent guy, as tolerant as the next blankety-blank—Larry the software entrepreneur in his own words: "Can't stand it when people go on about American Idol. Dare I say it? I am become an elitist. There. Now you write that down." Sibum: "Oh dear. That bad. Well, I must inform you: putatively, you're now damned. Forever dissable. Scarlet letters may appear on your forehead at any moment—And you on your way to Atlantic City to play golf—But I hear you. And you have my sympathies —" Larry the software entrepreneur to no one in particular: "I hate that trivializing s—t." Sibum: "But like I said, they're tourists. Have to be. Probably from Cleveland. Who else would have them? Look at the looks on their faces. They are going to have every cheap thrill that life can possibly offer a person, or life won't have been worth living. Otherwise they have no belief-system to think of except death and destruction, the more spectacular the better—" Perhaps Larry here thinks I am coming it a bit high with my tongue in cheek jeremiad—"Well," he says, "even so." Even so, his agony of the past half hour seems to have been quite genuine. Alas, poor men, their destiny. When all goes well, a shadow will overthrow it—Cassandra in the Agamemnon of Aeschylus.

 

May 19,2011: He seemed awfully restive, did Labrosse. He squirmed a fair bit in my rocking chair throughout the 180 minute viewing of Les Enfants du Paradis. (1945.) Perhaps because there were no car chases, the camera content to pan all those grotty darlings, the Parisian plebs in the god seats of the Funambules? (Cheap shot here on my part?) No rivetting political drama - on the order of Primary Colors rather than Marat Sade, say, as for Labrosse, silver-haired and 67, politics is meat and potatoes, bread and wine?—Or that Arletty who portrayed Garance, the movie's centre of gravity, was no Natalie Wood, Labrosse's favourite starlet—E however looked enraptured even if, at times, her attention did seem to stray. Enraptured, yes, and it was not even Saturday, the day coming up of the imminent 'rapture'. (That I make mention of this imminence means I am stooping altogether too low for something to say, according it more notice than it deserves.) But since Les Enfants du Paradis is in part a simple love story however complicated by the fact that Garance has a number of suitors who are determined to be taken seriously, it struck me that this is what held E's feet to the fire - this discourse on 'love' and the passions, she at a point in her young life where confusions in respect to love and the passions are likely to be rife—I was almost touched by the spectacle on her part of a few inaudible sighs—Ditto for E's sidekick, hospital technician who has a weakness for Cary Grant flicks, or so she intimated—The Philadelphia Story, for instanceShe was also engrossed whilst Labrosse twitched and inwardly thumbed his nose at Garance and Baptiste having the only fate-determined love-night they were ever going to have, years after they initially encountered one another. For Garance, inscrutability incarnate, what with that smile of hers maintained at times to the point of pain, love is simple. She is a simple girl whom men continually wish to complicate. It is the order of her courage that 'simplicity' is her credo, however unrealizable at times. On the other hand, Nathalie, the Funambules manager's daughter, whose deepest wish that Baptiste become her husband is, in fact, realized, embodies an opposite sort of courage - life with Baptiste on a daily basis, and he is not an easy man—One of those temperamental artistes—There are all kinds of bravery—Perhaps the character that interested Labrosse the most was Lacenaire the thief, a poet of sorts scornful of 'love' as such, smitten by Garance nonetheless (as she recognizes his peculiar genius), political philosopher, sentimental anarchist even so who was deadheading to his 'destiny' - or the scaffold, his character getting most of the best ripostes. In any case—Yes, well, I must admit that for me, too, at times the film dragged and palled; and because I can recall the first time I saw it and how taken up I was by it, I could only wonder what has changed in the interim; that the change must be with me, and it saddens. Labrosse: You can still subject yourself to this sort of stuff? For all that, enough passages still retain their magic and charm, their poetry, if you will, that I did not regret watching it once again - no apologies required. Some people do not respond to poetry - ever - even at the best of times, that everything must be subjected to the grinding jaws of analysis, one method, among others, of crowd control - you know, what used to be called Soviet realism—Yesterday I made note of a few passages in Moby Dick, as follows: —In times of strong emotion mankind disdain all base considerations, but such times are evanescent. The permanent constitutional condition of the manufactured man, thought Ahab, is sordidness. And Lacenaire thought as much, though his thinking it led him to toss off the odd farce rather than chase great, white whales—He (Stubbs) would say the most terrific things to his crew, in a tone so strangely compounded of fun and fury, and the fury seemed so calculated  merely as a spice  to the fun, that no oarsman could hear such queer invocations without pulling for dear life, and yet pulling for the mere joke of the thing—Life on the Pequod? And on The Boulevard of Crime (that street just outside the Funambules Theatre in the above mentioned movie)? There, then, he (Starbuck) sat, holding up the imbecile candle in the heart of that almighty forlorness. There, then,  he sat, the sign and symbol of a man without faith, hopelessly holding up hope in the midst of despair—It would seem that the yankee Starbuck and the Parisian Nathalie were made for another, if they could manage not to drive one another into suicidal depression within five minutes of meeting—But I am being frivolous. Further frivolity, I scribbled a few notes comparing Melville's prose to the paintings of Poussin, but I hereby renounce those scribblings on general principles. I do have my troubles with neo-classicism though I do not mind it in architecture—A fair bit of the poetry of the hour as composed by my younger betters may be characterized as having, and distressingly so, neo-classical tendencies—But I have neither the heart nor the stomach for an out of left field critique—Or let us leave off all this, you and I, and to Arletty accord the last word here; or that she, accused of having collaborated with the Nazi occupiers of Paris, responded thus: My heart is French, but my ass is international—Or almost the last word, as London Lunar reminds me that Current President is to speechify today on things Middle Eastern - will it matter? - over and above the usual trafficking in arms, say? The man also suggests that Israel is the key, just that where's the lock? Or it would seem that I have written two halfways decent poems in the past two weeks, six pagers each, just that a third is an outright dog of a thing—It perhaps ought to be put down—Lastly, here is one more spanner to throw in the works: A poem is that species of composition which is opposed to works of science by proposing for its immediate object pleasure, not truth—Coleridge. I knew something of the like was lurking out there - somewhere—Poetry as a moral force? Anybody?

 

May 18, 2011: I believe it was Adorno who said it: that, after Auschwitz, to write poetry is unthinkable. The observation has always put me off. "All the more reason to write the stuff," I have always thought. Then again—Poetry-as-a-moral-force has been on my mind a great deal of late, courtesy of Mr Hill. (See previous posts.) But the death camp comes up again in an even more confounding way, to wit, after Auschwitz, anything is possible—These words or something like them was spoken in a National Film Board documentary, 1965, part of which I happened to catch by chance on TV. It is called Memorandum. Survivors of the camps return to grisly scenes and revisit horrors, the narration all understated irony; or that the fact that anyone had survived at all was in itself the supreme irony, not to mention that evil, having outdone itself, can now only seek to do worse—It is difficult to take it all in and consider Ovid at the same time, Ovid as the poet of light, amorous verse, not that Ovid who wrote later in his exile, the weight of his mistakes and the weight of the empire on him—London Lunar reports, now that the fuss has died down somewhat, that he went to see Biutiful. He was torpedoed. (I take it then that he approves of the film.) It brought to his mind John Keats, and he quoted a bit from one of Keats's letters, some of which correspondence is the best snail mail ever written in respect to literary matters. A letter of Keats dated December 21st, 1817: —The excellence of every art is its intensity, capable of making all disagreeables evaporate, from their being in close relationship with Beauty and Truth—One does not hear much of this sort of thing anymore, but I think London Lunar is to be commended for recounting his Keats whilst attempting to make sense of the rather harrowing flick. My eyes love the diverse forms of beauty, brilliant and pleasing colors. Let these things not take possession of my soul, let God possess, who made these things and made them exceedingly good: yet He is my good, not they. For they affect me in all the waking hours of every day, nor do I find any respite from them such as I do sometimes find in silence from all the voices of song. For light, the queen of colors,  suffusing all the things I see whenever I am abroad in daylight, entices me as it flows before my sight in alls its variousness, even though I am busy upon something else and not observing it. For it works its way into me with such power that if it is suddenly withdrawn, I desire it with great longing; and if it is absent too long, it saddens my mind—Augustine, Confessions. It is not clear from the above that Augustine has the soul of a poet, and yet, he is not, in his self-castigating way, entirely in the wrong of it. I have always thought that those poets and those fans of poets who consider poets the acme of the human evolutionary ladder awfully full of themselves. To take poets and poetry seriously, one has to realize that poets, as human beings, are only about seventh on the scale of what it is to be 'fully evolved' - this according to a measure I came across years ago and that did not reek of irony. Love of poetry? Heard tinny worship of self. Heard love of one's cleverness—A drunken sparrow hiccupping up among the rafters—I owe a certain NA an apology for having insinuated in a previous post, the bar tab in question, that she had misled me in a matter of funds and so forth and so, at my expense—It is to be sorted out—Are we still in Kansas, Toto?

 

May 17, 2011: The head, ce matin, is a balloon. That I went to a literary event last evening surely explains it. How did I ever get home? There are mysteries and there are mysteries—That there was one reader out of an obligatory host of them who showed any signs of having vital signs, of having something other than overweening self-regard—As in - look, see, count me as one of those who are making a vital contribution to enlightenment and culture - Absolutely crucial—Can't you tell? In any case, her vital signs notwithstanding, that one reader who had any sense of anything other than her immediate ego was adorably pissed. Self-defence, no doubt, even if she was rather young to be resorting so soon in life to this expedient—Now, at the bar where I had found refuge of a kind, there was a woman with a face. That is to say, there was a woman in her deep 60s with a face that bespoke soul, sentience, intelligence and the drop-dead gorgeousness of what had been her youth. These sort of women are rare, especially so, as she was not particularly embittered in any obvious way. Must have broken a few hearts in her time—Perhaps she, too, had been seeking refuge at the bar, only that, Canadian, Westmount to boot, she was too polite to say as much. Perhaps it is a random universe in which we live. Be that as it may, we had a long and hard discussion about Quebec painters, that she had been intimate with a number of them. Harrowing. Even so, she did not regret it. I had come to the venue flanked on either side of my person with a pair of Literary Thugs. Wouldn't you know it? Like assassins everywhere, they got sentimental in the course of things - London Lunar thinks I have it in for Geoffrey Hill, the man accounted by some as the premier poet in the language. I have had to put London Lunar in the right of it - or that, of course, I care deeply about poetry and so, it follows that I have a deep and abiding regard for Mr Hill and all things pertaining to Mr Hill or else, why would I subject myself to such a proceeding as excruciating to the eternal soul as a Literary Event in the colonies? I gave myself up to one fellow who read from the telephone directory, even if he claimed to be reading poems. One fellow read from greeting cards, so endearing he had made himself out to be, all for a doting audience. Another fellow read from God Only Knows What - a car owner's manual in Mandarin Chinese? One fellow imagined that he was possessed of wit. Or perhaps he only suspected himself of being in possession of wit - take your pick— Now the one who was adorably pissed actually read poetry. Good, bad or indifferent as only poetry can be, it was poetry that she laid on us. The actual McCoy. One can put up with a great deal of insufferability if some of that actual McCoy is to be had. At some point in the proceedings a young poet of my acquaintance slung his arm around me. Immediately that which was in me that is capable of receiving and making sense of sensation seemed to think it had been asked an Awfully Big Question. What's it all about, Alfie? Or some such. The woman at the bar thought me appealingly cynical. Which perhaps explains why she bought me a couple of beers, only that I wound up paying for the fare as she seemed to have unaccountably misplaced her wallet—Smooth operator. Mr Hill, however, was not a factor in our conversation.  This morning in Nikas Larry the software entrepreneur who does not have a literary bone in his body, who does not suffer from any artistic malaise, informs me that he is a regular reader of these here posts - God bless his hairy hide.

 

May 16, 2011: London Lunar seems to want from me a strange sort of recitative, a recantation a la Shostakovich that I filched from him the characterization of Geoffrey's Hill inaugural Oxford lecture on the state of poetry as having been Long John Silvery. Well, I am not an unreasonable lout. Yes, I filched it, though I had been thinking Long John Silver all along as I heard out the inestimable Mr Hill, could see in my inner landscape a peg-legged anarchist with a scrunched-up eye (as played by Robert Newton), even as Shakespeare's sonnet #66 was up for discussion—There, are you happy now? Otherwise - what? I suppose that in a random universe, and, mind you, I do not insist that the universe is necessarily random potluck, it is easy enough to drift from one extreme prejudice to the next in respect to how our eternal abode actually works. To posit 'God', for instance, or sheer serendipity—Gravity? Did it not come into play in that instant most proximate to the Biggest Kafuffle Ever and so, order of a kind resulted, First Consequence? The reader need not take this idle thought seriously - no, I beg you, don't - just that, worse, infinitely worse is my suspicion that the universe is worrisomely Lunarian, therefore utterly capricious—Morning. Nikas. My accustomed booth at the rear of the restaurant is denied me due to the presence of cleaners whose cleansers and gear are scattered all over the place, and, in the front, I am looking out a window at a squall. I am contemplating attending a literary event ce soir, a decision not to be taken lightly. Spiritual suicide? I daresay, Glaucon, that you are as much charmed by her {poetry} as I am, especially when she appears in Homer? // Yes, indeed, I am greatly charmed—Socrates, I believe, is the speaker here—Then again, more to the point of anything, more than metaphysics, astrophysics, literary derring-do, is the question of whether Current President has sold out a 'moment' in the unfolding of history or whether his finger remains the only finger in the dike holding back creeping fascism to the south of here. Perhaps the man, when he comes to each morning, has no more clear idea of himself than I do of myself when I pop open my peepers and gasp. Or rather, which side of what angels will he be reflecting over the course of the new news cycle? How tempting it is to escape into Linear B—Verily, yes - and so forth and so on - Because men more quickly forget the death of their father than the loss of their patrimony—Machiavelli. A kind of law of politics, that bit just broached—But back to things literary, I am not now as impressed as I was the other day with Mr Hill's assertion that what a poem is, or rather what a poem does, is add to the available stock of reality. By way of a second thought, this definition does not seem to get us much beyond the hormonal carnivale of the pituitary gland—In any case, we are now all of us geniuses, anything we could possibly wish to know at a keystroke's remove—Just that how easily it is forgotten - the labour of numberless minds over the many centuries. That it is through their blood, sweat and tears, if you will, that we can even boast of a 'library' that is not a subset of Trivial Pursuit—We have not reinvented the wheel so much as rendered it fatuous—I contemplate willful ignorance as a form of resistance to this sort of smug preening that passes for someone to be reckoned with—Just now one of the cleaners is expounding vision, saying: "You wait, China and Russia - they'll be allies - goodbye America - the hunter shall become the hunted—" I cannot place his accent. Albanian, most likely. But give him a mic, stick a camera in his face, and he could certainly improve on Fox News blathering—Speaking of which, Alexandra the waitress switches on the TV. Whereupon, immediately, some woman screeching out of her throat at the camera's eye is on about fat-free foods, and she only incidentally seems herself a mobile bit of vertical fat with a hole through which some sort of sentience spews—"How is it you can listen to this stuff without going mad?" I ask my dear waitress. He that is to govern a whole nation must read in himself, not this or that particular man; but mankind—Hobbes, Leviathan. And for a moment, one goes 'amen', right on, brother, but then, wait a minute, oh s—t, Houston, we've got a problem

 

May 15, 2011: Since the time, years ago, when I managed somehow to spill cream-o on Robert Duncan's lush cape and weathered his look of fury - poetry bash - UBC plantation canteen - I knew my true place in the poetry hierarchy: at the bottom of the heap amongst the barbarians. Whatever the worth of the man's poetic work, whatever his qualities as a human being, perversely or not on my part, I could never see him as anything but preposterous, and the little accidently-on-purpose-incident rendered me unfit for 'oracles' ever after, the fact of which complicated my relations with west coast litterateurs, the coast a prime breeding ground for those who go about in a perpetual state of revelation. Now John Locke once upon a time postulated something to this effect: that there can be nothing in the intellect that was not already in the senses. In other words, we are not born with ideas; we acquire them by way of experience. Leibniz, it seems, objected. However replete with continental drollery that he was, he argued for the fact that we are born with certain 'necessary truths'.For instance, it is self-evident to the eye that one stick and one stick equal two sticks - one does not need Einstein to address the matter for oneself. All this was borne out in a lecture that Geoffrey Hill the poet delivered at Oxford I am not sure when. An audio-transcript of the lecture was sent to me, and yesterday I sat down with it, chafing just a little. You see, again, years ago, I had been asked at a party to have a listen to a recording of this here fella Geoffrey Hill reading his work. I must have been in mood; thirty seconds into it, right off the bat, I found the 'voice' heavy weather, the words pretentious. (Snap judgments - a bad habit of mine, among other dubious manifestations of behaviour.) But as Mr Hill expatiated somewhat on the Locke-Leibniz Mexican stand-off, I thought: what a cushy little moral universe it is that we inhabit, coming it high with such neat little dilemmas. Not quite the mess, the ethical squalor that surrounds the recent killing of OBL for example, whether it was legal; whether it was extra-judicial; whether it was plain murder or home cooking, that is to say, down home revenge. How neat and cosy then, empiricists and innatists having at each other in a game of intellectual cricket—I wanted to to put it to Mr Hill: "What do you know, sir, of Williams Lake, B.C. deep in the colonies roundabout rodeo time, everyone in sight dead drunk, Indian lasses mooning the street from hotel windows, 6 a.m. - rapine, violence, and general thuggery in every eye along with nine kinds of pestilence—Ah, you know it from the London tube. Well, I can't say I know as much either, but I knew enough, at first sight of wild west reality circa the late 70s, to discreetly disassociate myself from the lawyer's son with whom I drove up from Vancouver in the Morris Minor, as, of a sudden, he had the wrong look, had about him the air of the privileged ponce—" For all that, in the course of his intoning, Mr Hill began winning me over. Perhaps it was the laryngitis of which he complained, the Long John Silver aspect of his voice—Perhaps it was his determination, if you please, to present poetry to the world as, wait for it, a moral force. As if it hardly ever happens anymore. Just that it does transpire on a daily basis ad nauseam at all the polite do's, only that Mr Hill was making the argument credible for a change. Even so, squibs of questions arose in me; the odd problematic stuck in my craw as I heard the man out. But first let me say that the rest of the day, following upon the lecture, was strangely, unaccountably imbued with 'moral force'. No, not morality as such but moral force. Even the movie I watched late in the evening seemed the most moral movie I had ever clapped eyes to, a little thing called 'Levity'. At one point in its proceedings, the character Morgan Freeman portrayed - a mix of Starbuck and Elmer Gantry and desperado and W.E.B. Dubois - put it to Billy Bob Thornton's character - a simple murderer seeking a redemption he knew he would never find: do you dance for pleasure or do you dance for joy? Because the one is a different universe from the other, every bit as much as Ovid's poetic universe is not certainly not William Blake's. Well, I have always been more partial to Ovid than Blake, which puts me under something of a moral cloud—Without putting words in the mouth of Mr Hill, it seemed he was on about our counterfeit poetical world in particular and the world in general; that he had this peculiar notion that contemporary poetry does not need any more encouragement than it already receives; that what is wanted are ontological readers - readers who actually read, who are not likely to mistake landfill for national treasures; that it is all a scam - the culture as it stands, let alone all the political and banking scams; that if 'intrinsic value' is but a figure of speech and nothing else, at least it is a meaningful figure of speech—And one might now appreciate in one's own time lines of Shakespeare written in another time, lines that address similar malaise, corruption of spirit: Tired with all these, from them I would be gone, / Save that, to die, I leave my love alone—Shakespeare's sonnet #66. Defeated disgust I believe were the words Mr Hill employed in his characterization of the poem, but I might have heard him wrong—But that, for all its world-weary resignation, and how the Fawcetts of the world rail against world weariness as being sinful, not a transgression in the Christian sense of sin, but sin as per one's social-democratic obligation to be of good cheer always, there is life in that concluding couplet, a dismissive middle finger—Now, is a poem as real as a bus schedule? In a time of creeping fascism seemingly everywhere, can Ovid's frivolous lust poems be accounted as a moral force, a pushback, an argument for life as opposed to that which crushes the life out of us? Augustus Caesar took a very dim view of the verses devoted to how best play footsy under the banquet table with the neighbour's wife, but it was not for grand reasons of  some moral vision, it was not for the sake of family values, that Augustus Caesar had the poet banished to Tomis, and it was not for like grand reasons that Tiberius kept him there; and yet, Ovid, incarcerated, as it were, certainly tapped into something like a moral force when he wrote his last poems (even those in which he less than manfully puled), including those in Fasti, all about the Roman calendar and its ritual days and who controls time—Is there anything intrinsically wrong with bread and circuses such as distract us from the fact of our passivity in the face of what wishes to have us under thumb? One might argue that without a certain preponderance of bread and circuses we would have a glut of mopey-dopey citizens everywhere - manic-depressives constantly underfoot, Prozacked to the gills—Ontological readers? Does not reality TV conduce to the ontological assessment of prowess? Irrespective of considerations of the language and the development of English theatre, would the world have been poorer had Shakespeare not existed? Is the world better for him? If so, for whom? Cushy academics? Yuppie ponces? A National Geographic nature show on blue whales told me, last evening, just how fraudulent it really does get; how a puff piece for science with endless mug shots (mindless music in the background) of scientists being all for the good, all moral force, allows us to believe that we are, willynilly, all for the good; and it's such fun, too, smile, you're on camera; see how we have everything well in hand, despite this or that besetting obstacle, but then, hey, we are can-do, if nothing else. We'll save those effing whales. Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said, Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge?Job 38-40: 4

 

May 14: , 2011: "Melville," I said to DW yesterday at 'bratwurst', the two of us parked out on the terrasse, bearing up under intermittent sprinkles of rain, the arrival of E imminent though she could take days, "is the American Herodotus. I'm not talking history-writing here but sensibility, quality of mind, both men passionately curious about the world, and if it's not adventure on the high seas then it's adventure on the high plains. And God only knows where on the high plains E has allowed herself to be distracted this time—" I was perhaps tearing on to no great effect, having nothing original to say for either Melville or Herodotus or E, nothing, really, for DW's delectation, and he, no doubt, has his expectations. For he has travelled much of the more difficult parts of the world; he has read the great books. He is strangely Quebec-American, the American side of the family reflecting the gamut of the political rainbow, even the extremes—He was munching peanuts, drinking beer, unassuming pilgrim on his way to Somewhere—What he does in life has a certain nobility to it, imparting 'literacy' to more or less battered children, grade schoolers in a rough patch of town. He has reported that it is an endeavour the results of which cannot be truly determined until years after the fact—"Like writing," I thought to myself in a rather churlish way, "though writing is no longer all the nobility of endeavour that it once was cracked up to be—" A further idle thought occurred in a time and space that has no great regard for things of the past and can perhaps do just fine without things of the past confusing the issue, thank you very much, but that - and here is the idle offender - in lieu of dead gods and dead mythologies, we have taken to mythologizing ourselves, and we even evince some flair for the activity, all our media and their attendant technologies - like so many talismans and scepters and incense-spreaders - reinforcing our delicious narcissisms. (Was Isis the celebrity slut of her time? She was not, however, without some prim, matronly aspects— ) DW shrugged. Much that would explain a lot explains little. An idle thought is an idle thought, irrespective of how much beer has gone down the sluice—The great weakness of progressives of all sorts is their penchant for posturing over and above and in place of the cautionary tales of experience. It is almost as if experience as such is tantamount to prejudice—Well, it would seem this line of reasoning is somewhat dependant on one's beer intake, and yet, it is fair game to ask, is it not? What would Shrew and Spare Rib have made of Herman Melville and experience? How much of a fee would any local literary society dock him for? Otherwise it is a world of psychopathic thugs who take limos to the opera and have got the rest of us tangled up in our feet—Morning. Nikas. Gloomy out. Drizzly rain. The daughter of Alexandra the waitress wants to hop inside a pop video and live happily ever after. It is her way of escaping into Linear B. It is understandable that she has such an urge and that her mother is her great pal in this fancy. Speaking of which, E did finally show up yesterday, she a principessa who saw no reason to apologize for keeping us waiting, as if we have nothing better to do with our lives than sit around and twiddle our thumbs until her excellence graces our grotty lives. But of course we have nothing better to do than exactly that: sit around, twiddle about—"But she has read Virgil in the Latin—" Et cetera. DW, currently reading Suetonius in an English not the king's, shrugged with some vitalism, nominally impressed. In any case, chit chat ensued. E is soon to embark on her sentimental education: London, Paris. Then, unaccountably, but probably because she is cognizant of the fact that she has lately put a number of friendships under some strain, as she is somewhat will-o'-the-wispy, she volunteered to obtain a copy of Les Enfants du Paradis, one of the great bits of cinema, and we will have an evening of it, viewing the thing; and we will pretend, in doing so, that we are tweaking the noses of Nazis and other psychopathic thugs, and all the Rick Santorums and the mangy Gringriches—Boswell, to Dr J: The question is, which is worst, one wild beast or many?" Spoken in respect to absolute princes and popular factions—

 

May 13, 2011: Much to my correspondent's disgust out there, duck hunters are roaming the vale. They disturb the geese across the road from her place, geese that are practically 'family'. It is in her to speak ill of the men. Camouflage-clad idiots, all a-sauntering, she writes, gun barrels glinting in the sun. One might think they'd go deeper into the boonies for their sport, but not these guys - too far from their all-terrain vehicles, too removed from their comfort levels. Then, without missing a beat, she goes on with what she imagines is transpiring in Syria - according to the BBC—I read that state universities to the south are going bust. They have begun to renege on their mandate to educate the minions of the lower classes, or what would have been me once upon a time, just that I decided to keep to myself and read books. Hardass economics explains it to some extent, but the ideologically-minded are always around to suit themselves at the expense of the Socratic pursuit of inquiry—Reading on, I read that one might compare the France of Louis XIV, the Sun King, you know, the one who got the better of the nobles, to present-day America. That is, one might liken the First and Second Estates of that old European order - the clergy and the nobility - to our Wall Streeters and Beltway lobbyists—Even so, American cult-weirdos have nothing on the Russkies, especially when it comes to space programs and what ultimately boots them, or spiritual considerations - or so London Lunar reports. Ah, but perhaps you want Shakespeare. Well, here is some Shakespearean chuff albeit at oblique remove as per Moby Dick. Tashtego: A row a'low - gods and men - both brawlers! Humph! / Belfast sailor: A row! arrah, a row! The Virgin be blessed, a row! Plunge in with ye! / English sailor (wouldn't you know it): Fair play! Snatch the Spaniard's knife. A ring, a ring! / Old Manx sailor: Ready formed. There! the ringed horizon. In that ring Cain struck Abel. Sweet work, right work! No! / Mate's voice from the quarterdeck: Hands by the halyards! In top-gallant sails! Stand by to reef topsails! / All: The squall! the squall! Jump, my jollies! If nothing else, the above bespeaks some playfulness on the part of Melville whilst the unabashed capitalism of our forefathers  had its last 'innocent' innings before the eventual onslaught of systems-management and - nothing new under the sun - insider-trading—Now the Ophites were Gnostics, snake-worshipers (Syria-Egypt), the fact of which infuriated a number of Christians who held that the serpent in the Garden of Eden was, of course, the devil—Yaldaboath - a demiurge - public worker - bureaucrat? - was not best pleased either, as he took it upon himself to deny humankind the fruits of knowledge; he was sort of anti-Promethean—But should you furrowing a brow wish a less cushy description of a more stern-minded fate, you might consider this passage - from Moby Dick: Here, then, was this grey-headed, ungodly old man (Ahab), chasing with curses a Job's whale round the world, at the head of a crew, too, chiefly made up of mongrel renegades, and castaways, and cannibals - morally enfeebled also,  by the incompetence of mere unaided virtue or right-mindedness in Starbuck, the invulnerable jollity of indifference and recklessness in Stubb, and the pervading mediocrity in Flask. Such a crew, so officered, seemed specially picked and packed by some infernal fatality to help him to his monomaniac revenge—The upshot being that Ahab's hatred of the whale became that of the crew, as well—And just when you think you are in the driver's seat, in control, as it were, you are only hastening to a conclusion your own end—Or so the Greeks figured it up until the time of sea to shining sea, Manifest Destiny, America —Fatalist that I am, I am a sworn enemy of all the determinisms - which means there are a great many arguments I will lose each and every time. I am also implacably dead-set against art-speak of any savour, and this puts me at odds with an indeterminate number of Yaldaboaths who look for their leverage on any number of heads of pins or arts council hectares—It has not escaped my notice that when artist (and this means poets, too) and bureaucrat in proximity one to the other begin foaming at the mouth with art-speak, they take to a notion of themselves as deep thinkers - oh, on the process of art; oh, on how the bloody thing is made—For years I have thought it would all go away and it has not. Remarkably resilient stuff. There must be some deep-seated need for the thing in the collective psyche as there is for leather and chains and hardcore Republicanism—Somewhere in the murky soul of a liberal there was always passion for a Barry Goldwater—Perhaps there is symmetry here, and should the one go, the other might fall—You see with what shoddy fancies I occupy myself—Perhaps one has to take the bleakest view possible of humankind and fortune in order to 'see', to 'divine' anything: that humankind is just one weed among others in competition for nutrients, and unchallenged success is bending humankind toward its colony collapse—But then, this, too, is pop: impotent language. Let us sum up: Many the wonders but nothing walks stranger than man—Sophocles.

 

May 12, 2011: The driver of the bus left the highway, and now we were driving over a rolling plain of thick, verdant grass, the odd heavy-leafed tree here and there, branches low to the ground. Quebec or Africa? There was much water about, either from a recent flood or a tremendous downpour. It did not seem to affect our progress—And yes, we would reach our destination soon, and it would seemingly arise from nothing in the middle of nowhere, a grand old house harbouring disturbed adolescents and teens. It was our perhaps thankless task that we should provide them with sympathetic company—And now we have arrived and there are no 'kids' as such, just adults, mostly seniors. They have been shopping at a Sally Ann or some discount store. They are somewhat confused. There is quite a crowd of them all of a sudden, struggling with parcels, and it is difficult, getting around, no one taking it upon his or herself to direct traffic—Something bad could possibly happen but more likely the same chaotic scene will just continue without let-up until there is no more reason for it to do so—No, I do not know how to account for the dream. The bean curds I ate at supper? Yes, and do dreams actually tell us anything in this our neurologizing geist, seeing as all that dreaming amounts to is no more than a sloshing about of chemicals in packages that we are pleased to call our 'persons', though one might jazz up the action with a few electric sparks? Starbuck musing on Ahab, from Moby Dick: —I see his impious end, but feel that I must help him to it. Will I, nill I, the ineffable thing has tied me to him, tows me with a cable I have no knife to cut. Horrible old man! Who's over him, he cries, - aye, he would be a democrat to all above, look, how he lords it over all below! Oh! I plainly see my miserable office - to obey, rebelling; and worse yet, to hate with a touch of pity—Rebels rebelling against those who would revolt from all the determinisms—Starbuck the rationalist hero, Ahab the romantic—Nothing more American could more stenuously and more nobly resist that most American of contributions, not jazz, to the world: systems-management, however much that stuff hails from Germany or Japan—Well, the Propertian, the Ovidian (classical) voices that I dearly love, that always make most sense mid-afternoons in the heat of the day, shadows getting long, nonetheless did invite the imperial cruelties; and then you will have your Christian voices countering, and eventually Christians will invite Christian cruelties to obtain—Some pundits are beginning to suggest that the killing of OBL, however extra-judicial, marks the beginning of America's long climb back to redemption and the restoration of the law, large parts of which have been in abeyance these past ten years or so—And then, who will mind overly much Americans rollicking in American exceptionalism? Yesterday, three in the afternoon at 'bratwurst', and I scribbled the following: Here's the thing. School bus stops to let children disembark. There is some problem - a delay ensures. Traffic backs up. A braying of horns. Here's the thing. Should there not be time to taken to suffer the little children? And yet, what's with all this pweciousness of consideration? Who or what does life itself consider? Wall Street can't bear the missing of a beat—Life is what it is - always and ever the application of power, and love, some argue, is power of a kind - ah, that - the power of love, and failing the dear heart, numberless theatres of persuasion—Yes, I am considering writing a poem along the lines of Prometheus Bound—It would seem I am a romantic, after all. In fact a young poet of my acquaintance suggests, and she is uncommonly bright, that Sibum does 'imperial decay'. Perhaps I do do the thing complete with grim coliseum awash in Roman moonlight a la Gibbon and Shelley—She cites Richard Outram on a subject of lyric sequences forming up into some sort of epic form, to wit, the ability of the poetic sequence to model, on the level of form, the kind of intense part-whole relationality he saw in the ecological world (that being very much the world of spirit, for him, as well as the world of flesh) - epics of community then - eschewing linear narrative - all this stemming from literary desiderata of the time—Good golly, Miss Molly, a very densely-packed sort of thought, indeed. Serial lyrics certainly do suit the time (as do serial rape and serial murder) in which anything of a more formal construction - linear narrative? - would require something like an Aristotelian flourish or two summoning up drama and fatalism, and we simply do not truck with fatalism any longer, and drama? - well, how about them soaps? Otherwise, too much trouble. God is troublesome, downright problematic, and, no God or gods and their overview, no epic, just the endlessly episodic. Difficult to see then the possibility of epic-writing in any genuine sense. Difficult, but not impossible. Just that one will have to believe in something again. And one might have to consider breaking the stranglehold that critics have had on literature - since when? - since the 80s at the very least, and earlier - critics who dot-commed themselves, so to speak, into being the Minotaurs with the mostest in a literary labyrinth, the only items in literature that matter - poets? - there's a laugh - who have happily, my pleasure, mixed us up a confection of languidge in which poets swim like drowning ants; made of language a calf to which one and all will genuflect though you will forget the reason why—In yesterday's post I halfways commended Young Master for brightening up John Glassco's reputation - what did Glassco write now? - ah, The English Governess - and some classical poetry. I approve, too, of the attempt to bring Richard Outram more sharply into focus vis a vis the national literature, as he deserves to be more in focus. But I have seen it before - the attempt to redress an un-balance leading to more imbalance, more clique-ing, more ghettos—It is a vast nation-state in which one can be as obstreperous as one likes, even for the sake of it and nothing else, as no one will hear you, though you will believe you have bellered loud enough to rouse the dead gods as well as the Sleeping Beauty ghost of Bliss Carman—

 

May 11, 2011: "Quiet, you sad man." I take these words at random from Rumi, the Coleman Barks translation, for an injunction against my predilection to vent—But it is morning, in any case. It is Nikas. The commute out there is in progress, and a cheerful Patricia, Romanian waitress, has happily mopped the restaurant's parquet. Perhaps a drug explains her cheer. Would it matter if it did? That is to say we inhabit a world in which a war obtains between means and ends, and if means tickle the fancies of all the Gertrude Stein aficionados and systems-management fetishists, the ends certainly warm the cockles of those who argue always for a tougher love, for hit squads and the like—Patricia will surely not need to hear what London Lunar hears through his contacts - how in a certain nation-state, some security official advises worried fathers to forget their current spawn - they are ruined; go and get started on the next round of spawn; go home and f—k the wives; and if this is not possible, then we'll come to your homes and f—k your wives—But before you begin to congratulate yourself that you live in a better and kinder place and have no need to escape into Linear B—I give up. Well, what is life but a series of inspired follies? You think not? But I believe I have just channelled Pygmalion here, the Canadian production, at that, and yet, I could be mistaken. Just to be sure, I go looking for a scrap of information or two on Margot Kidder the actress, and, synchronicity, I find that she was treated, and successfully so, for bi-polar disorder by Abram Hoffer, father of an old friend of mine, Bill Hoffer the sometime bookseller, the infamous Hoffer who objected to literature as a coffee table sport—I had no idea. Anyway, we are all of us savages, are we not, with varying capacities for civil or unciv-eel conduct?—Of late, it seems I can with some justification asseverate - that is, I can in a Strelnikovian manner pronounce without raising a blush to my cheeks that current literary practice, to go by what I glean here and there of its imprintings, is pretty much bourgeoisie tripe, after all; and even when it comes to having a critical edge, well sir, is a polite tantrum, a politic snit an edge? Literature as light frothy fare, cappuccino skim, alternative dating service, and with any luck, the next hot item will give you potluck—And it would further seem that on some literary afternoon not so long ago, in the shade of such a timeless afternoon, heat and humidity levels high, drinks and fine-smelling cigars in evidence, that some Wall Streeter or pol gunning for HBO considerations remarked; someone, at any rate, idly noodled: "Well, why not? Why not bugger them and take their wealth? They keep voting us in - they deserve a hosing—" And literature keens and pounds its bosom—But though the average salary for a literary professore cum poetaster on this continent is but roughly a cheesy 50 grand, it ain't chump change if you're a condemned McJobber. Justice served its McBillions—In theory, there is nothing which draws us away from following what is taught; but in the matters of life, many are the things which distract us—Epictetus, in a funk. This window in which a word like bourgeoisie unaccountably enjoys some traction for the time being will close soon enough. Myself, I am no zealot, no ideologue, no missionary, no soap boxer; I have no head for rabble-rousing—I am on the side of all the poets who just want to be left alone so they can plant their gardens. So what has set me off on this bout of spleen? Well alright, good to see the likes of a John Glassco being defended by the likes of a Young Master, the national literature having been tilted so long in favour of the same old ringers - no matter that they are well-seasoned at age 22 or 78 or while they are in the womb, but I am not heartened. Remove one rotten brick from a shaky edifice so as to clear the air and, eh voila, along comes another to stand in its place, one even dodgier—Clarity stage-managed—Rumi read at random is no help. Constantly in reading poetry, sense for the best, the really excellent, and of the strength and joy to be drawn from it should be present in our minds and should govern our estimate of what we read. But this real estimate, the only true one, is liable to be superceded, if we are not watchful, by two other kinds of estimate, the historic estimate and the personal estimate, both of which are fallacious—Well, the above seems a bit much, perhaps - from the thinking of Matthew Arnold, but it just might accord with what I am always trying to say, and badly: that bad poetry is not the crime, but that the making of literature into something small and cheap and and pliable and user-friendly and ultimately disposable is—

 

May 10, 2011: Apparently, Luis Borges, the Argentinean fabulist, observed that nothing frightens more than a labyrinth to which there is no centre. He was alluding to Citizen Kane, the movie that is enjoying its 70th anniversary of not only its existence but acclaim, as well: the greatest movie ever and all that. Perhaps what Borges had in mind was somewhat Old Testament, or vanity of vanities in the person of Mr Kane; or that the products of overweening ambition tend to be hollow at their core when the reckoning comes in the guise of a man's 'twilight years'. One looks back on it all, and what one took to be structure and shape was purely amorphous, a mirage. Rosebud, indeed. Consider Ezra Pound in his white-haired dotage ruefully according Thomas Hardy the palm—One wonders if Cleopatra, had she survived Caesar and prevailed into her seventh decade, would have had occasion to brood like so in some Xanadu of her making. But yes, what underwrites most human behaviour is getting back at things—Vengeance, don'cha know? From Moby Dick: "D'ye mark him, Flask?" whispered Stubb, "the chick that's in him pecks the shell. 'Twill soon be out." Do we have here the novel's turning point as per London Lunar who remarked to me that, in my reading of the thing, I will come across it one of these fine days; that I will stumble over the book's mystic nub? Could be. So I hear Gregory Peck's basso continuo in my mind, he having at his whosoever ye speechifying in the film version of the novel, he having called all hands to assembly, he now letting them know what they are in for - he setting course for his personal payback at their expense. The whale, you see, in case anyone requires a head's up here, the whale christened Moby Dick, had chomped off Ahab's leg—Ahab's 9-11. But here is Starbuck the Pequod's chief mate - Starbuck the Quaker moralist. Or perhaps more to the point, here is Starbuck the yankee capitalist cringing in horror at the thought of the human resource that will go to waste, there being no other earthly good reason to ship out for three years of whaling but to take profits. {Vengeance} will not fetch thee much in the Nantucket market—To which abjuration Ahab doubles down, revealing himself as anti-Platonist; or that the inscrutable is what he hates, and there is nothing more inscrutable in his mind than a living white monster—For with little external to constrain us, the innermost necessities in our being, these still drive us on—from Moby Dick. Last night, I had the company of Labrosse and A in my digs; we caught episode six of I, Claudius. Little Caligula now has poisoned his father Germanicus. Piso has been sacrificed to the machinations of Tiberius and Sejanus. Livia is still running circles around everyone, so much so, she risks getting careless in her contempt of human stupidity, the male the most egregious stupid in her book. Agrippina, inconsolable wife to the dead Germanicus, is on her way to becoming something of a female Ahab by way of an idée fixe, the empire a whale, Tiberius the swallow-upper of all her vulnerable children—Well, she is doing the math—With the exception of baseball statistics, numbers tend to go in one ear and out the other with me, but be that as it may, the U.S. seems to be getting more medieval by the day, what with its expanding class of serfs. Centreless labyrinth? Here is a more frightening notion: or that serfdom has been for a very long time (consider millenia) closer to the heart of the human condition than two-car garages, and we are circling back on ourselves—Even Caesar would have thought twice about alienating more than half of his populace—But yes, monsieur, there were two Agrippinas, Agrippina Major and Agrippina Minor, the latter of which, as Nero's mum and Claudius's wife, had a go at empress-ship and is considered by some historians to have gotten an undeserved reputation as a schemer to rival the likes of Livia—As previously suggested, Agrippina Major was pig-headed however brave and on the side of the better angels. In North America virtue is often conflated with charm, with crowd-pleasing capabilities. Big mistake. Now Labrosse was hungry and desirous of soup and poutine at table in Nikas. Labrosse has no mind for inscrutabilities, either, and hunger is not to be borne. Still, A was keen for another episode of murder, of cides of all sorts - parricide, infanticide and such, no ologies in the vicinity to explain it all to us, and I was game. Not to be, and A valiantly attempted to conceal the fact that she was chuffed. Men and their inscrutables—I have had from E an invitation to have tea with her in coming days. I don't get it, I answered. Tea? Moi? Labrosse hinted that he has read the girl the riot act, the way she takes her friends too much for granted, playing the principessa but without the Grace Kelly aura of principessa-ship—Even so, I am curious to know why I have been summoned to tea. Did you never see little dogs caressing and playing with one another, so that you might say there is nothing more friendly? but, that you may know what friendship is, throw a bit of flesh among them, and you will learn—Epictetus.

 

May 9, 2011: Flask, alas, was a butterless man! This lamentation is from Moby Dick. It speaks to the phenomenon of self-imposed intimidation, as when a junior officer, dining at the captain's table (the captain in this instance Ahab), is too terrified to help himself to butter even as the odds are excellent that were he to help himself the captain would not take it amiss. There is more on this sort of self-directed torment, but you can read the book for yourself—For be a man's intellectual superiority what it will, it can never assume the practical, available supremacy over other men, without the aid of some sort of external arts and entrenchments, always, in themselves, more or less paltry and baseMoby Dick, again. Well, I hear from London Lunar that he and Kydde plan to attend a famous poet's Oxford lecture - as hecklers. But of course. Recently, closer to home, I was with Labrosse at 'bratwurst'. It was just warm enough for the terrasse. I was suddenly missing the company of one Peter MacFarlane aka Eggy, deceased. A runt-like tree was doing it to me, putting me in mind of the old homunculus. In other words, MacFarlane's favourite tree was and still is directly opposite the terrasse on the other side of the street in front of Le Superclub Vidéotron, and it is always hanging in the balance at this time of year whether or not the bloody thing will put forth foliage—A scrawny mongrel of a shrub, that tree - infested with MacFarlane's ghost—We were talking old cars, Labrosse and I. Packards, Mercs. We veered into a discussion of language - that there is no French equivalent for the English of 'that bloody thing' - Labrosse brought up Diderot - for reasons that escape me now. But which, by the way, came first to humankind: the making of poetry or the making of music? Music, I should think. Labrosse was tempted to play the contrarian on that score but desisted. Even so, certain perverse minds will rhyme Pharmaprix with dicks - ("Monsieur, did I hear you right?")—And techie language is made not only for the gratification of techies but for tin ears and tin sensibilities—Yes, what do those boys signify? Because it sho ain't baseball—from a sporting flick. Now I have no deep and abiding regard for the ologies of which Canlit is a subset, but I suppose the ologies have their uses. What ought to follow here is an involved story which I am not at liberty to discuss. Just that I recently had occasion to field one of those early morning phone calls such as necessitate other phone calls, an emergency in progress, and it struck me what a wondrous thing is our communications system and yet how far apart are we are from one another still in a spiritual sense - which is the greatest distance of them all. How very far apart. It is something akin to one of the few sensible remarks Don Cherry ever uttered, to do with the improved quality of protective gear that hockey players wear on the ice, but how it only leads to yet more violent contact, there being less incentive for a player to have a care for the well-being of another—On the bus back from Ottawa, as it approached the corner of Viger and St Hubert, Montreal, I tipped my hat at Hermes atop the edifice Gilles-Hocquart, and reflected on our no-blame culture as I did so. How it does not seem to be taking us anywhere good. And yet who wants to play the blame-dispensing prophet, especially one who is not all that far removed from all the bigotries and other unattractive products of the mind? How does one speak of what has gone out of true, out of balance, and how restore a proper equilibrium? Is not Greek tragedy a kind of guilt-o-meter, the needle now quivering this way, now that way? Perhaps one might suggest that all of literature is the attempt to establish with whom blame properly lies, and with what true measure of guilt, in the sense that there are people who blitz through life without the slightest twinge of the thing troubling them while there are other people who literally drown in the stuff, who go into agonies of conscience should a speeding windshield 3,000 miles from their persons alter the physical make-up of a bug—This and other 'issues' were tossed around at 'bratwurst' yesterday. Labrosse, DW and I. DW had a quibble for me. Not so long ago he said that The Love for Three Oranges had been created in Chicago, and I took him to mean that it had been written there. But all the world knows, suggested DW, that 'created' means the same thing as 'staged'. Words are such slippery buggers— And what follows here I will not impute to any one person - it was, perhaps, a collective effort - but that a large portion of our geist consists of human constructs who may be characterized as Berlin post Weimar post Nazi anarchists who sniff female underwear on the side; who are deluded enough to believe they have transcended everything - have put aside as childish things all cultural difficulties; who are nerdish entities for whom it cannot be said that anything would blow in their minds in a bad way; who have no need of escaping into Linear B in order to flee from barbarians; who always come off a like a badly written episode of a rerun of The Office, the American attempt at measuring malaise. There we were shaking our craggy Zeus-like heads at 'bratwurst', the terrasse hopping. Jamal was hopping as was his wife and the cooks in the kitchen. Pistachio desserts were much in evidence as were spring-worshiping girls. Mehdi the truck driver joined us at some point, and he put in my hands a cd of some music of which his father had a part in composing. The Roman empire at first was run like a cottage industry. Jacksonian democracy, as per P.M. Carpenter's use of the notion, does explain a part of the current political scene to the south. As deeply pessimistic as I am, I have no quarrel with happiness. There are people who can never be happy, no matter what. As a general rule, people, even the wicked, are much more naive and simple-hearted than we suppose. And we ourselves are, too—Dostoyevsky, Brothers Karamazov.

 

May 6, 2011: So, is the story beginning to unravel? It seems to change by the hour, even by the instant - like the cuttlefish. Did they or did they not catch the killing of OBL on live video feed - the President and his Merry Band of Pranksters? Ought we to applaud the fact that the Chief apparently accords himself the capacity to have anyone anywhere in the world offed - in the name of what? In the Yorkshire TV production of The Sandbaggers (1978-1980 - probably the most plausible depiction of the spy game ever put on camera), in an episode entitled A Proper Function of Government, it is argued whether or not political assassination is 'proper' or merely 'barbaric', to be frowned upon, not something to which this government would ever resort. And so, a special ops request to have a hit put on some blood-thirsty potentate somewhere in a less civilized portion of the world is denied - in the name of human decency and civilized values. But then, when a scandal threatens the legitimacy of the sitting government, that same special ops is authorized to employ lethal force, if necessary, in order to defuse the situation—In other words, what is goose for the gander is bird for the Rising Bright Star now slipped between the cracks, on his way to a convenient nervous breakdown, the government untainted, home free—I was thinking as my eyes in some confusion lingered on a headline in this morning's New York Times, the offending item being: The Lives at the End of the Rocket's Arc - this in reference to the corpses of four migrant workers caught up in the shelling - Misurata - I was thinking how awfully soft porn, literary, glaringly poetic is this bit of high journalism. In light of the above, Conservative Colonel - the American colonel over at Sic Semper Tyrannis, on-line dating service for military and political thinkers (and generally what is being thought through are various foreign policy initiatives as well as the efficacy or lack thereof of counter-insurgency applications in relation to various bits of real estate here and there on this earth) - CC says that if it bothers you that the dead in the compound in Abottabad were unarmed, then next time send the NYPD. We pride ourselves on the fact that we do not truck with fate, as we no longer believe in fate's power to bend our lives to some overarching will. Even so, the Sophoclean chorus in Antigone would have it, like so: Fate has terrible power. You cannot escape it by wealth or war. No fort will keep it out, no ship outrun it. Then this bit from Ecclesiastes 9: 12 - seems so redolent of OBL: Man also knoweth not his time: as the fishes that are taken in an evil net, and as the birds that are caught in the snare; so are the sons of men snared in an evil time, when it falleth suddenly upon them. P.M. Carpenter, Prominent Political Commentator, recommends that the Republican party go ahead and nominate a Palin or a Bachmann or a Trump or some other dubious political actor for prez so that the party can all the more quickly bottom out and all the more quickly begin to reconstitute itself, and in so doing, restore integrity to the two-party system—Could be. Kind of puts one in mind of the Liberal Party, O Canada. London Lunar tells me that I am soon to reach a point in my reading of Moby Dick whereby I might express myself thusly - aha, a turning point! - yes, some mystical point—Is it not a turning point when Ahab chucks his smoking pipe into the briny sea as he has no more to do with serenity, the whale and the killing of the thing his end-all and be-all?—Sultanism of the brain? - evoking - what? Akin to the way some male species of bird sell sex and prowess to the female by way of plumage, I suppose it can be said that we humankind have attained a similar level of exoticism in our selling of soaps and cars and such to one another—But that it was not always this way with us - only that we have evolvED. And yet, one ought to have a care in respect to what one critiques as, over time, one is very likely to become what one critiques, be it rightwing loons or left of centre flaky brains or poets packaging poetry as if poetry were a cereal box enwrapping a prize within. Morning. Nikas. Alexandra the waitress has just awakened to the fact that she is well and truly at work and not sleepwalking; that she is buttering someone's toast, not someone's intrusive ego. She has the rumpled look of a person just rolled out of bed, somewhat sexy. True brotherhood is not a league, a conspiracy, a front, a gang, a special ops team looking for an edge, a hedge, a special appeal, a guarantee, a leg up in this or that endeavour; it is a collective appreciation of the fact of life's transience, of mortality, of the uncertainties—This is what Moby Dick knows - from cover to cover—Then there is Irish harpy and her retinue - husband and son - come for their morning coffee. Sultanism of the brain, truly—And verily, most emphatically, we're off

 

May 5, 2011: A's new-found enthusiasm for I, Claudius, the 1976 BBC adaptation of Robert Graves's novel, seems genuine enough. Otherwise I should think it would have to be a crashing bore for her, she brought up on fantasia and action and obligatory acts of culture.Or else she is desperate for company, even for the company of two men more than twice her age, the wine cow a plus. In any case, the pedant in me is gratified to see that she just might pick up a little history, whatever her reasons. As there are enough pundits out there raising the alarm that 'history' as such is disappearing from the every day mind, I need not pile on. —The most instructive, or rather the only, method of learning to bear with dignity the vicissitudes of fortune is to recall the catastrophes of others—Polybius. Morbid, but true enough. (And I figure one can just stay home and read books - lots of them - if one is genuinely interested in an education—Bugger academe—) Assuredly, I, Claudius is dry as dust history with plenty of murder thrown in. It was Robert Graves showing off. Even so, half of what went on in Caesar's palace goes on even now anywhere in the world - wherever power is concentrated, and so forth and so on - I am piling on. You may understand by the words above that I had Labrosse and A over for an evening, and we watched episodes 4 and 5. A little earlier, A not yet arrived, Labrosse and I took in some hockey, Tampa Bay about to eliminate Washington from the play-off picture in a sweep. Labrosse announced that he had lost edge off his appetite for the game that has been a lifelong passion for him. I was unaccountably alarmed, even though I have no such passion for the game. "Maybe," so I suggested, "because Montreal didn't get very far—" Labrosse waved me off, saying, "No, it's not that. It's the violence, all the head shots - detracts from the beauty of the game." "Oh," I said, silently according Labrosse credit for making his point without getting preachy about it. His tone was almost statesmanlike - in other words, resigned. Well, money is means, but when money gets to be the ends, it tends to ruin and despoil, and yet money will insist that violence will generate more dollars—The league will drag its feet, no matter how many players want to see something done—Labrosse's logic ran along these lines. Shall the game degenerate into a cock fight? As did the gladiatorial contest over time? (So far, this post of mine does risk preachifying—) Down, dog, and kennel! Uttered in Moby Dick. And, good golly, Miss Molly, but how often I have wished to utter those words—I did make mention, yesterday, of Melville and language (languidge). I might have added that Melville's vocabulary is something else again; that it would seem he collected words and expressions as if they were so many eye-catching pebbles on a beach; that he prized words for their peculiar properties; that his was a truer relationship to language than our critiquers who have only managed to fetishize language, spawning languidge, what with their so-called 'word salads' - loathsomely smug concept; that Melville might have lived at the tail-end of a time when the Elizabethan knack for words was still a living presence in our language, apart from Shakespeare. So that Dick and Jane, without the slightest intention of being such, were poets willynilly, and superior, at that, to a great many of our word salad aficionados. Tic-dolly-row as an euphemism for conscience? Anyone? —As when the red-cheeked, dancing girls, April and May, trip home to the wintry, misanthropic woods; even the barest, ruggedest, most thunder cloven old oak will at least send forth some few green sprouts, to welcome such glad-hearted visitants, so Ahab did, in the end, a little respond to the playful allurings of that girlish air. More than once did he put forth the faint blossom of a look, which, in any other man, would have soon flowered out in a smile—from Moby Dick. But back to I, Claudius—Episode 4 viewed and dispensed with, Labrosse was hungry and so, off we went to Nikas, he, A and I. Wine and poutine. Labrosse, a la Claudius the gimp, the palace laughingstock, stuttered and twitched, and he at some 67 years of age, and on his honour to conduct himself with Gallic reserve, given that most of the nation-state has tended to look askance at Quebeckers—Or do I exaggerate? So he stuttered and twitched and A giggled, and I pretended I did not know these people. Of course, so A would have it, the only real cheese that is any good for poutine is the really squeaky stuff, comes from St Albert, eastern Ontario. You know, the cheesy, squeaky curds— "Ssskkkkk-kweeky," said Labrosse. When we had had our fill of hamming it up, we returned to my digs for episode 5 and the death of Augustus Caesar, he having been twitted by Livia with, one might say, considerable finality. In a series of chapters called Knights and Squires, Melville depicted a shipboard brotherhood, yes, for all that the world now sneers at such a notion or makes of it Hollywood grotesques or shadowy ultra Catholic societies of plutocrats— American plutocrats—For the time being, they are not beside the point—

 

May 4, 2011: So OBL, it seems, was not 'executed' as such, my surmisal of yesterday thoroughly wrong-headed. Imbecilic of me to have brought it up. The heat of the moment and all that. Still, it may well be true that a great many lives were lost in the pursuit to 'get' this man and so, the imputations that this man was a 'loser', a complete and utter failure as a human being, however much he deserved death, seems to tintinnabulate up more than one false note—And to fudge or somehow gloss over the details of the 'narrative' in respect to how his death came about will only add to the man's power to exercise our minds, even the minds of comics expatiating on all of OBL's wives. The unvarnished truth will do. And let us admit that he managed to get the American Polyphemus off his game for a considerable period of time—Then perhaps, what do you think, we might move on—When that wicked king was slain, the dogs, did they not lick his blood? Here, the biblical Ahab is meant in Melville's Moby Dick, yes, by way of sanguinary analog—Also from the novel: Ahab has his humanities. And you, have you yours? Now, uh oh, look out - verse at three o'clock: We moved among delicate instruments, / Taking for a theme the sovereign light, / The scrimshaw, the parliament of water. / We then sought a division between things—from the poem Coast by Marius Kociejowski. Doctor Honoris Causa, Anvil Press Poetry, 1993. In the words above, there is a warning of a kind—The old game of consequences which America tends to bungle—For all that, and perversely enough, and irrespective of consequences, I wish to recall how it is that now and then I would talk 'old' cars with someone or another, that the first car I ever drove was a '47 Chevy, and the thing had a personality, and perhaps even a soul, unlike the cars of the moment though their engineering is superior—The engineering is at least more complicated—But similarly Melville has Ishmael chat on about old ships in the harbour, Ishmael and Queequeg about to muster aboard the Pequod, venerable boat, having signed the articles for what is assumed will be a three year jaunt—But the whale ship as path breaker, that which opened up territory - puts me in mind of ancient Sicily and its inhabitants as having been no different from 19th century South Sea islanders, Feejeeans, say—What to do with those Phoenicians, hairy Greeks? I knew a fellow once - he was a Montrealer - we were pals in Vancouver, early days - he was an avid reader of George Orwell - had a poor opinion of the poetry and the poets kicking around the Cecil Hotel beer parlour - was an Ishmael type - had adventure continually on his mind - so that he would longshore to build up a stake, working the casual's board on the wharves - adventured - wound up in Adelaide - got to be a social worker - oh dear - life is wicked, cruel and strange—But he was the only man I ever knew who could have walked into the pages of Moby Dick without flinching or missing a beat, who would have started in driving a cannibal toute de suite crazy with his bonhomie. In any case, it is not the language in Moby Dick that, come a critique, is the paramount consideration; it is not Quaker money yankee capitalism. And yes, what follows here is a throwback asseveration - that it is most certainly not the languidge, piles and piles of steaming hot languidge, but the writer's soul, the life he has lived breathing with imaginative sympathy through his words, the rough and ready fellowship of fellow wretches that makes the book—Enough. Or I shall wind up bringing down the full wrath of smug literariness that is everywhere upon my head—

 

May 3, 2011: I figured A was restive, she cross-legged on her couch, Labrosse regally ensconced beside her. I figured her for being bored with I, Claudius - second episode; and what with her cat wheedling for attention, Labrosse a bit internally fidgety, too; what with E once again having declined to show, though she had been oh so keen on the idea of I, Claudius, and I thought so much for art, culture, politics, for further adventures in sentience. I figured wrong, but more on this, later—In the meantime, as we watched Livia get up to her latest outrage in the dynasty sweepstakes, she supplementing family values for all she was worth, beyond the boundaries of A's digs and our little riding and Montreal-NDG in general (a soft rain falling, trees quietly putting out their pale green shoots), the Conservatives were deadheading for their majority and the NDP was highstepping into Stornoway - the official opposition now, and the Libs were foundering and the Bloc was sinking, and all the other players of a tragi-farce - Greens, commies, comedians - were flitting on and off the political radar like so many errant empowered moths not quite empowered. A had no idea that people could be so wicked—Yes, and now, here's a wicked sentence for you, one out of Moby Dick: 'Queequeg was George Washington cannibalistically developed—' Might I here broach the 'h' word and say, "Huh?" The odds are that the sentence refers to the slope of Queequeg's forehead and was Melville in a manic state—And somewhere, Harper would be speechifying as would Layton, and perhaps Iggy would do himself some hari kari metaphorically speaking, honourable soul that he is, and Duceppe would wonder if he was not going mad. How much of empire comes at the price of human happiness? How much of empire is indispensable to human well-being? (Some are saying now that the age of empires is over, the Americans or perhaps the Chinese the last of it—) But how constant a thing is human happiness in any political construct - be it South Seas tribal, be it Tammany Hall, be it imperial Rome? When the emperor farts, the pyramid's top hears it; the base however tends to have other preoccupations—Moreover, and once again beyond A's digs, the media was gladhanding as many reactions as it could to the execution of OBL. Can there be any doubt that the man was executed and not simply taken down in a firefight? That OBL, in some way, has held us all hostage these many years, as has Bush-Cheney, and perhaps, at long last, finally it's finished, basta, suffisant, had enough—But that, of course, no, no way—From Kantor's civil war novel, Andersonville: But he did not like their attitude. They seemed to bring a meanness to war. There should be nobility about the business of risking life; even the business of taking it—Drones, indeed. In any case, I, Claudius, episode three, and Julia, daughter to Augustus Caesar, has fallen on hard times. Her 'sexcapades'. She has provoked the ire of her father and perhaps her politics, if she has any, are wrong-headed, too - she a republican as opposed to an unabashed imperialist. She will find herself turfed out, banished from the realm, crying out her tears on a bit of island rock— So we leave it at that, A, Labrosse and I, and, departing A's apartment, we careen around the corner to 'bratwurst' where Jamal is, alas, closing up. Still he allows us to commandeer the terrasse. Surreptitious whisky and beer, and we will deposit the glassware under the picnic table when we are decorously done. But, heavens, but A is quite enthralled with I, Claudius, after all. "What a b-tch," she remarks of Livia. So we proceed to further discussion. Julia, Caesar, and Postumus's father - which one is he? Tiberius? No, Agrippa, silly— Then on to OBL and Current President - how the latter entity may be afforded some slack now, how he may sanely scale down operations - Iraq, AfPak, and perhaps even shut down Guantamano - that would be something - and I would eat my hat - Labrosse: "Will you? Really? Did you hear that, A, he'll eat his hat?" - yes, I would, and gladly, and take back all my ill-tempered remarks vis a vis the Chief—Bloody effing genius that he just might be—Morning. Nikas. Larry the software entrepreneur mutters to himself in his lonely booth. The election? He comes off a little like Preston Manic. Oh, he means Preston Manning, one of those right of centre critturs the left of centre critturs never saw coming back in the old days—

 

May 2, 2011: My first thought directly following on the September 11, 2001 attack - once the shock of it all had subsided somewhat - was that it would bring out the best in the Americans. More than this I am not prepared to say, now that Bin Laden has been cornered and killed in a firefight and buried at sea, some ten years later. Perhaps it is finally over. But of course it is anything but that. Enough. London Lunar reports that the killing is akin to hunting down Prester John and having at that semi-mythical personage who presided over a Christian paradise somewhere in Asia in medieval times—Well, really? Akin?—I had asked London Lunar if it is still a thing with Brits, this not calling attention to one's virtues - an attitude I admire but am unable to emulate. Or did Oscar Wilde dream all that up when he wrote An Ideal Husband? I was told that it is probably no longer the case even if it was once true, but that no people on earth are as mired in self-loathing as the Brits. Remissive guilt. I have picked up Moby Dick after many years of neglecting it. The first paragraph of the novel proper struck me as magic. But it is an odd prose, this Moby Dick prose. Homely despite the fact that Melville was well-read and had travelled and was 'worldly'. It brought back for me early days, Seattle, hanging around with disciples of the Black Mountain poets who claimed Melville as one of their own, as they claimed E Pound—So fare thee well, poor devil of a Sub-Sub—Then 'farrago'— You see, 'farrago' is a word I would dearly love to make use of but the timing for it, in my writing at least, has just never been right— Me sabbee plenty—Which is Queequeg the cannibal—Scorias? Cinders, mayhaps? But what means this: impregnable in his little Quebec? An allusion to Father Mapple's New Bedford pulpit, he a priest to whalers? To the fort in Quebec (City)? Anti-modern symbol? Old Order - old school, courtesy of Quebec? Apparently, generations of grad students have been on the case, unbeknownst to me. The God-fugitive? Do I recognize myself in those words? Or am I preening? A culture, at some point, must have some contact with reality or it will either rot or collapse from one too many internal contradictions. It is sometimes argued that the gladiatorial spectacle, that proximity to death as gory as it often was, was that contact-point for the Dicks and the Janes of Imperial Rome, that it brought about a brief cessation of the pursuit of immediate gratifications in which impending mortality was presumably reflected on—Recently, I watched off and on a bit of movie fluff whose 'situations' could boast extreme degrees of difficulty, the more extreme the better, situations calling for extreme solutions. And when those extreme solutions did not pan out, well then, ours being in part a rapturist culture, eh voila, the miracle. The miracle delivers results. And just in case such results should strain credulity overly much, why, we can both induce and justify the miraculous by rational means, by means as rational as applying science - hence, science fiction - hence the deus ex machina of extraterrestrial intelligence—Perhaps cubism is in fact the lazy man's view of the world, what with its simultaneous points of reference on offer. But then, why not take the time to stroll around the mountain and get to know it, as per a Chinese landscape? Is the abstract painter freer in his nor her soul than the painter slogging at the representation of objects in time and space? I am not allowed to follow up on these matters as a certain painter of my acquaintance wishes to maintain her low profile, just that, for her, there has been an element of hoo haw in some of the claims abstract expressionism has made for itself over the decades. On the other hand, I have had occasion to read a little on Cornelius Krieghoff, Amsterdam-born, genre painter who painted many 19th century Quebec scenes; and in my reading I have been reminded that Montreal, early days, was already a party town; that CK was an ambitious s.o.b.; that art in the provinces was a cutthroat business; and that, you know, it would seem not much has changed. Now for a Cape Horn measure of—

 

May 1, 2011: Sunny weather—'Bratwurst' terrasse—We sat around - at table: Labrosse, DW, MH, Mehdi, myself. After two half pints worth of her charming company, MH pleaded that she was not warm enough and she took her leave. Mehdi had his laptop cranked up and from it emanated qanun music about which I know nothing, save that the instrument itself is zither-like, a descendant of the Egyptian harp. A wheelchair bound woman turned up at one point, she in her early 40s, or so I guessed, her face seemingly steeled against pain, she attracted by the music. Apparently she once played the instrument, her MS preventing her now from playing anything ever again. There was indeed something quite brave about her person— She put me in mind of a goddess in disguise, Demeter testing the locals—I had said earlier, apropos of nothing, that no one in their right mind would choose a life of 'activism' unless their hand had been forced. DW said amen to that, he the most political among us by far, just that he was weary of professional activist types. Angela Davis had once bored him to tears—There was much we might have discussed but did not discuss: the so-called Arab Awakening - words which carry within themselves a slight savour of patronization; American drones; torture; the NDP; the price of gas; summer tires; Iggy (Ignatieff) who missed his calling and should have gone into circus life and worn over-sized shoes and done Sad Sack clowning. Labrosse did go on about something or another - Shawinigan? - but it has slipped my mind. I thought he looked a trifle melancholy, he the quintessential Quebec patriot (who is nonetheless a federalist), he sitting there while the exotic music issued forth, alien; while I was thinking some inane thought or another along this line: that where there is a great deal of stringed music to be had there is a great deal of poetry, as well—Just an idle thought, quite idle—Perhaps Labrosse was reflecting on how it is that life, now and then, is magical, and there may have been in his mind the memory of someone with whom he may have wished to share this particular succession of moments, and this someone was decidedly absent—Howsomever, Jamal the proprietor, along with his wife Flora, might as well have been running a day camp for delinquents, as we were getting more histrionic by the minute—Morning now. Nikas. Larry the software entrepreneur has just snapped my picture with his whizz-gadget, palm-held. The hidden hand of Larry. Always happy to accommodate—At a fire sale of books, Atwater Library, the pickings slim, and this was yesterday, I bought a copy of Kantor's Andersonville, and thought it a peculiar choice of reading material at this stage of my life. Pristine, gilt-edged Franklin Library edition, some of which editions are apparently collectible. Myself, I am not a collector; I only buy books because I wish to read them. I have known book dealers for years and years and years and then some, and all of them, irrespective of their politics and sensibilities, are Moses-like, always overshadowed by the shadow of some Golden Calf or another, the internet being one candidate for false idol-status. But Andersonville? It is going to be a grim read, I figure, written back when Americans were less self-conscious about being Americans, when I thought the likes of a William Faulkner was one of the masters of the universe; when the language itself, whatever its hubris, was less burdened with the dead weight of phony consciousness, phony liberation from evil, imperial ends—

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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