E P H E M E R I S

 

December 28, 2022: A suspicion of mine, one that looks to be short-lived, has me at its mercy for the moment. That late 18th century, early 19th century women, of New and Old-World provenance, saw man-woman relations more clearly, with less ideological vitriol, than their present-day counterparts. At least they expressed in complete sentences their discontent, their doubts, their remedies. I tried this thought out on Harman. She began to say that women, in those days, of wealth, rank, education and whatnot… and then I was free to catch her drift, if I so chose. And the curses of scullery maids and streetwalkers, of wives abused by coal miners and drunkards, of wives bored to death by accountants and vicars, of girls violated by fathers and uncles – I could catch all that drift too, if I so chose. Compliant sons punishing half the world, or women, for their impotence… Is there such a thing as a happy couple? And what about all the Miss Havisham’s? The Eunice’s as per Carol Burnett?

In any case, Byron. Lord George Gordon Byron, 6th baron. That Byron. In whose verses women did not always come off well. Some women use their tongues—she looked a lecture,/Each eye a sermon, and her brow a homily… Who was accused of every unnatural vice under the sun, pedophilia too. Mad, bad, and dangerous to know. The first rock star. Who, by his own admission, wrote piffle the public ate up. Who wrote lyrics that could easily go with a rock-ballad backing. Who wrote some of the pithiest satire in the English language while writing metaphysical verse drama that intrigued Goethe. Who was the least literary of the great Romanticals, even if Percy B Shelley got the best of his conversazione. Who may have been the first poet in the language to play a stanza strictly for laughs. Ebullient pessimist when he was not depressed. I say—the future is a serious matter—/And so—for God’s sake—hock and soda water! Who kept his deformed foot on the Q.T. And I just might have to go back and read or re-read the Italians who inspired him, showing him what ‘colloquial idiom’ can get up to: Polci, Boiardo, Berni, Ariosto. Byron who did not avow Coleridge. Who much liked Crabbe. Who was devoted to animals. Travelled with a menagerie as part of his retinue… Loathed European governments.

Perhaps it is the job of the poet to recognize the presence of a god in human affairs. The most obvious candidate for such a presence is Aphrodite, then Eros, her problematic punk-child, father unknown. Which is to say the father could have been anyone of numerous suitors. Still, some claim Eros to be the first of the gods, or how else could the other gods have gotten themselves born, Eros, therefore, without a mummy, without a daddy to confound him? At any rate, there you have it: the last allusion I will make to Roberto Calasso’s The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony to which I have been alluding for some time: how the conjoining of Calasso’s book and that of Robert Graves on the Greek myths have been fatal to any feel-good notions I might still have retained, after all these years, with respect to human nature. Byron, I reckon, without aid of such books, though he packed the Old Testament around, had no such-like illusions to dispel even if, while miserably married to a pious woman, he did accord to her nature its genuinely good and saintly aspects; even as he considered Shelley to be the best of men though he could not abide Shelley’s outlook, or that ‘man’ was perfectible. Even Scrope, black borsalino’d, red-shoed, the only present-day poet I know whose wit is as ruthless as Byron’s was, even in Scrope I can catch the faintest of suggestions that maybe, just maybe, there is something in human nature that can be ‘edited’ and so, seemingly improved? Which might bring us to a discussion of fascism coming from, say, the left? As Lunar would most certainly agree, fearing PC-ers more than QAnon-ers.

Cornelius W Drake, by way of Harold Bloom, would argue that the Romanticals did not conjure the first depictions of ‘self’ and its struggles, Shakespeare did, whereas it strikes me that, whilst reading Horace, the self is self-evident, otherwise what a lot of hooey. Kydde says that the word ‘merry’ is a lovely word, particularly in its more archaic modes. When do we ever use it save at Christmas time, so enough of the culture wars already? Byron, in a letter to Douglas Kinnaird, October,1819, speaking to his Don Juan in progress: ‘As to “Don Juan” confess, confess—you dog and be candid—that it is the sublime of that there sort of writing—it may be bawdy but is not good English? It may be profligate but is it not life, is it not the thing? Could any man have written it who has not lived in the world?—and fooled in a post-chaise?—in a hackney coach?—in a gondola?—against a wall?—in a court carriage?—in a vis à vis?—on a table?—under it?’ Byronic hero? Ante up your Batman, I will raise you a Rum Diary…. I would love to prose on about Schopenhauer and his sympathies for a caged orangutan, but I sense a posse on the way….


Dog Day Afternoon Flick Department I: Now Harman spotted the cheese before I did, five minutes into the thing. Doggedly, I hung in there with the American Film Theatre 1974 production of Ionescu’s Rhinoceros for an additional forty minutes. Every time the beast (rhinoceros) was spotted on the street of Sometown, USA, doing its worst, I thought Trump, and this kept me on the hook, though the hollow slapstick, in lieu of anything else in this treatment of Ionescu’s play, eventually did me in. I believe that the cast, which included Zero Mostel, Gene Wilder, and Karen Black, did its best to preserve something of Ionescu’s sense, no matter the director’s wayward use of his actors. There was one passage in which Wilder, having witnessed his friend’s (Mostel) transformation from human to rhinoceros, to a monster then, reflected on his feelings, and his singular feeling was, in a word, disbelief. Wilder’s countenance said it all, numberless accounts of 30s Germany signified in one protracted look. Which speaks to my own bewilderment with respect to the past eight years and how otherwise sane people are unhinged, in a twist, possessed, their egos flattered, their frailties and foibles exploited, conduits for whatever social media has dripped into their blood. Perhaps, 1974, and America was not equipped to treat with homegrown fascism and so, how else could the Ionescu play be parlayed other than as slapstick? (Five will get you ten, there was an element of slapstick to Nixon’s resignation.) One might like to see another American film go at the play ontologically, no holds barred, in three acts, given the current political weather system…. Or not.

Dog Day Afternoon Flick Department II: But the 1973 American Film Theatre treatment of Edward Albee’s A Delicate Balance looked promising after the debacle that was Rhinoceros. The opening shot of a tea service arranged just so on a table so as, one imagines, to reflect a ‘delicate balance’, heralded a movie made for us, and Harman said, “This couldn’t have been done on a stage. This is what film can do.” And then Katherine Hepburn went right at it, and Paul Schofield took her best verbal swipes in a gentlemanly fashion. Kate Reid, Canada’s best ever actress (so I have had occasion to read), broadened the field of engagement by a country mile, but by the time Lee Remick got into the action, we had tired, Harman and I, of whining upper-middle class brats male or female, the dialogue all attack, attack, attack. It was not that the language in which the characters spoke was artificial; no one speaks in Shakespearean blank verse either, certainly not on the bus. It was not that… but never mind. Still, a little while after we bailed, and perhaps out of a sense that we may have sold the movie short, Harman did a little reading up on Albee and on reviews of his plays, the gist of which she relayed to me. Two things stood out. Firstly, that Albee had decided for himself that being gay was very much secondary to the fact that he was a writer of plays. Secondly, that a ‘socialist’ critique of his career suggested that while Albee was, indeed, an enemy of the status quo, he was insufficiently committed to the socialist cause. I thought to myself: “How much more Jacobin pettiness can the world take?” Well, it would seem Jacobin pettiness is the very air we breathe. Can’t win for losing. Can’t please the horse in every stall. They shoot horses, don’t they?

The Most Hortatory Flick Title Ever: Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death. Which it appears to be a spoof both of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and feminism. I have offered Lunar a ticket to ride, but he does not seem keen.

Postscript I: Talking Avocado, Christmas-ing in Las Cruces, New Mexico, got a whiff of art and golf and Billy the Kid.


December 22, 2022: Harman sat before the computer. She brought up page after page of control panel data, the computer sulky and bratty of late. She absorbed this data. She audibly articulated scorn or leery concurrence. All the while images recently viewed on my part of chimpanzees rooting about with sticks, of hominids applying bones and stones to animal carcasses, paraded across my consciousness, if consciousness it was. My thought, however scientific or not, however called for or not, was that the computer is not an extension of our minds but of our hands. Intelligence? Why, it’s all thumbs. In any case, Harman was on the point of surrender, the computer recalcitrant. Perhaps someday it will prove itself a useful tool, not just a metaphor for good intentions inviting hell, for the human mind outsmarting itself. I was stuffed through with guilt though; my lack of computerese had put Harman to an ordeal. I was getting the look. Why am I wasting my time on this, on this..? (Complete the insinuation with a scatological, dread-inducing word.) Moreover, it was driven home yet again: I had no language with which to depict the interaction between humankind and this particular machine, Harman’s poker face worn thin with respect to the implacable countenance staring back at so many pixels per inch, and it was quite doubtful that I even wanted such language sputtering out of my mouth, much less trafficking throughout the neural pathways of my brain. My not wanting one was akin to refusing to open envelopes with windows in them.

So what did the gods get from human-built altars? Nectar and ambrosia comprised the unvarying diet of the Olympians, not meat and smoke. The answer, if there is one, is not entirely clear to me by way of Roberto Calasso’s book: The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony, but it has something to do with the notion that gods and men are equals in most things save for the fact of mortality. The gods are immortal because there is no blood in nectar and ambrosia. And because men are dependent on death for their survival, there is need to expiate guilt, and the gods are in on the con. Perhaps it is true, what some thinkers have been hinting at since the early church fathers and a Roman stoic or two and on to Nietzsche and beyond: our civilization is based on the thought-processes of psychopaths, those ancient Greeks. ‘Dark eros’ then, or that virgin girls were the most potent sacrificial victims… And then there were Zeus and Hera, each doing their part in their I Love Lucy schtick. What kept the world from falling apart? Lucy’s goofy smile. The ‘little girl’s laugh’. It was Hera’s riposte to one of Zeus’ harebrained ruses, he chasing skirts. It was the prelude to the sacrifice of animals due her, all that smoke of which would waft her way and she chill out just a little.

But whose guilt is guiltiest? There is a story Theophrastus, colleague of Aristotle, told. It more or less says that an ox chanced upon a pie. Situated on a table in the mists of time, it was pie intended for an offering to a god. The ox scarfed it down. A fit of temper at the animal’s presumption: a farmer lost it, slayed the ox. Again, whose guilt was guiltiest? The ox, the knife used to cut its throat, the farmer who wielded the kopis (ancient meat-slicing implement)? From then on, the act of sacrifice was meant to sort the question out. The primordial crime is the act that makes something in existence disappear…. In the end the knife was pitched into the sea…. Clans were named after the participants in the sacrifice. Boutypoi or ox-strikers. Kentriádai or those who led the ox around, ‘goaders’. Daitroí or those who celebrate. … Mid-sentence: ’because cities can only be founded on guilt’, so then: Eat the victim’s flesh and don’t be squeamish. The gods, besides recognition, wanted from mortals their awareness of guilt, hence the rituals. But enough. Anyone else for non-sequiturs?

And what are the mysteries? “Killings and burials”, said Clement of Alexandria, who did not believe that Christianity and philosophy and cheekiness were incompatible, who lived from 150 A.D to about 215 A.D. He wandered the world in search of peace of mind for his troubled intellect. The mysteries concerned themselves with ‘ancient grief’, ‘ancient contaminations’. It is as if the first crimes continue to echo across the ages, and for all time at that, and that it is like receiving the light of the first stars billions of years after the fact, when we speak of who or what Zeus killed besides monsters, Asclepius for starters… Assuaging guilt… Allowing the gods to work out their own as when Apollo killed Python the first dragon, and for his atonement, had to serve some king or other for a period of nine years herding cows… Their old crafty subtleties – words as I read somewhere, in Plutarch probably, which suggest that even the gods sometimes cheated on what they owed… Otherwise, I agree that a thing called German Romanticism shaped a large portion of the modern mind, and especially the minds of American Transcendentalists, that there is no mind-body duality in nature, and that my ‘self is my reality, just that ‘my reality’ is not the reality of the world. The horns of a dilemma, couldn’t you say? For which I cannot Prufrock my way clear, as quaint as Prufrock’s anguish is, and Eliot could have as easily told a joke.

Postscript I: Browsing in my local bookstore the other day… So I picked up a Thorne Smith. Applied Crow’s test to it, which is to say, I opened the book to its 47th page, and read, the point being that if the page were readable, the book was likely readable. And lo, and it was. Just that the back cover blurb suggested that, besides sex and drink, elements of the supernatural were part and parcel of the plot’s frolic and so, from this I decided not to fork out the $19.95 for the hardcover with pristine wrapper. That night the name Thorne Smith flashed across a dream I was having. Upon waking, I endeavoured to look the man up. It seems he was responsible, or indirectly responsible at least, for the Topper movies such as featured the shenanigans of a banker and the ghosts that plagued him, one of whom was played by Cary Grant at his most incorrigible and dimply. I saw those movies when a child. Saw naughtiness to look forward to. I made mention of all this to Lunar who responded that, indeed, there had been ‘wonderful writing talent’ in the olden days that was now quite forgotten, that had gone from shade to light and back to shade in a flash, and that, had I bought the book, I might possibly have caused a ghost to smile. Now I shall have to guard against invisible petulance.

Postscript II: Of Slick Williams and his Benedetto archtop – he has been frustrated of late, musically, and would use his guitar as a planter, for begonias, say…

Postscript III: But what Talking Avocado is doing in Reno beats me. He has spoken of an uncle who preceded him there by decades. This uncle marveled at the stacks of silver dollars he saw once through a neon-lit window, tower after tower of the coin atop a green felt table, each coin a satisfying weight, perhaps because embossed with an eagle, wings spread, giving off an aura of eternity to the eye and the human hand. Talking Avocado has spoken also of the ‘Mystic Buick’, what was the Buick Super of the 50s, he said, as being a proper conveyance for touring the country that is the U.S. of A. Could be he would stumble across one in Nevada free of rust. Otherwise, otherwise… As it is, there is Plutarch, dialogue from ‘On the Sign of Socrates’, as follows: “There are, I take it, many desires, and these have many objects. Some desires, called innate, spring up in the body with the necessary pleasures as objects. Others are adventitious, and seek to gratify mere empty fancies. Yet when a man has had a poor upbringing…” Verily. And from the sounds of it, Talking Avocado is chasing phantasms. More power to him.

Postscript IV: Meanwhile, GB asks: “Is the ‘self’ something to transcend? To ride at a gallop?” Rhetorical queries, to be sure, but put to me in light of his mention of Novalis, pseudonym of a German poet, philosopher, and natural scientist, man with a very long name, who was associated with the romantic movement alluded to above (Jena in Germany, town famous for its rare orchids); who died awfully young in 1801, age 28. Tuberculosis. TB took a lot of people in those days. And they might be forgiven for having crafted the notion that ‘self-expression’ was a genuine path to a greater identification with the true universe, with investing it with ‘spirit’, that it was not just a circus sideshow of egoism on the part of minor Dionysiacs. A synthesis of reason and emotion?

Postscript V: Whereas Lunar is on about pain, soul, suffering. He has every right to be on about such things. Pain, soul, suffering. ... but it was salt and venemous to drink: for straight it did gnaw the guts of those who had drunk it, and made them marvellous dry, and put them into a terrible ache and pricking. I am louche with Sicilian cop shows. Northerners complicate life too much. For a moment there is absolute bliss with an impossibly beautiful young woman, then nagging in-laws. And if children need love, adults need money. And pasta with clams, green noodles for colour. One may, on occasion, quote Lampedusa, Pirandello. There is not much else. A swim in the sea. Some caciocavallo.

 

 

December 18, 2022: So we have no need of anything but ‘jokes and tears’. Laugh tracks are our nectar. It was beside the point, whether Greeks believed in their myths. What mattered was that they were enchanted by them, and for a while enchantment prevailed. And then the myths became literature. For it is said that Virgil did not believe in the gods; the gods were just a way to tell a story. I do not know what Ovid saw fit to believe, though I spent the first half of this year with his oeuvre, reading especially the poems he wrote in his last decade, that one spent in debilitating exile. The poet of ‘assignations’ had always been a pious man to some extent, middle-rank respectability his lot. There was Roman-ness, that is to say, there were Roman virtues, and there were gods who, in vague ways, favoured those virtues, and the Roman hegemony. It is said, too, that the Romans are closer to us in terms of a mentality we recognize; the Greeks are alien, as are, no doubt, those Scythians Herodotus wrote up, those dears who skinned their captives and drank from their enemies’ skulls. Sparta, for all that, was also a precursor to half this world, present day, and there it is, a vista of Politburos, ones consisting of faceless ephors, inquisitors. Sparta perfected the notion that the ‘state’ goes better not with Coca-Cola so much as with fear.

Harman’s excuse was that she had not seen it before. So we gave ourselves over to the flick. I cannot stretch a point and call Forrest Gump cinema, but for a while, as we watched, I was prepared to say it is a better movie than its critics gave it credit for. They preferred to see the effort as nothing but fantasy, nonsensical, an evasion of truth. In the real world, Vietnam was going full blast; civil rights struggles continued murderous. Watergate and then, Nixon’s downfall, and you might think the American edifice had been built slipshod with shoddy materials. On to Reagan, and the cracks were widening. All sorts of ‘struggles’. Turbulent times. Cocaine highs. But one might further think that, in Gump’s thought-realm, all was serenity, even with the rock music. Well, the protagonist is a simpleton. He, to my mind at least, is a mix of… I mean to say holy fools, but that is not quite it. Even so, take the allegorical ‘Christian’ (Pilgrim’s Progress) and garnish with sprigs of Parsifal, and bring on exotic beer to wash the repast down…

A fool, even a moron Gump might be, but he is seemingly wise when it matters. The 60s did claim to value innocence. They stashed it on pedestals, threw lyrics at it. But Gump, innately decent, had no need to gallivant about hipper than thou and so, he showed the decade up as a fraud. It ends there, as Gump begins to parody Gump. The flick could have used, somewhere in a frame or two, a smidgen of recognition as to what was slouching toward Bethlehem in Lebowski mode. The void in the film is filled with a cuteness as would have disgusted any Roman full of his own virtue or not. And we slouched on, and slouch so even now. Those guys? The Supreme Court of a certain nation-state? As presently constituted, do they not, the men and women of the originalist persuasion, parlay into a priesthood, berobed control freaks? ‘Sweet Home Alabama’? How about ‘Sweet Home Sparta’, Neil Young swinging in a breeze, not just slagged in a pointed bit of song verse? In any case, Harman threw in the towel in the course of one of Gump’s marathon runs, his crisscrossing of America not once but two and a half times if I counted right. I stuck the flick out until the bitter end, and thought to myself that if it had not been for what Lunar calls mush, the movie might have done itself proud.

Another stray thread to be gathered, or that, in nature, there is no equality. In theory we are equal under the law, as we ought to be. But perhaps we seek it here and seek it there – the equality unicorn – in rites of initiation. Roberto Calasso’s The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony: ‘The Spartans were, above all, hómoioi, equals, insofar as they had all been initiated into the same group. But that group was the entire society. Sparta: the only place in Greece, and in all European history since, where the whole citizenry constituted an initiatory sect.’ Catsup or mustard with that QAnon burger?

Moreover, of Greece in general: ‘The Greek god (pagan through and through) imposes no commandments. How could he forbid anything, when he has already done it all himself, good deeds and bad?’ Mr Calasso with an anticlerical agenda? Excess is divine, but the more Greeks found themselves immersed in the divine, the more they had regard for more temperate moods. Said the joker to the drunkard. All the gods wanted from us was to be recognized. Serve up Haight-Ashbury, evangelism, and the moral ascendancy sweepstakes of either right or left-of-centre savour, and you have got narcissism’s slipstream. (Aside: I seem to be running off at the mouth here, recycling my notes, too lazy to concoct an essay and pull off a Judge Roy Bean aka saloonkeeper.)

Just that Plato had a soft spot for things Spartan. Either he knew it right down to his toes, or he ignored it in himself: what is ‘technical’ by way of social organization may well spawn illusion, or that your latest perfect mechanism will unfailingly conduce to the Good. You have heard it before: paradise on earth, and have we got a pyramid scheme for thee. The Spartan mechanism excluded every Good that was not intrinsic to its own operations. In that cave that was Plato’s mind, poet and control freak collided. And if you were a helot (not quite a slave, but no citizen either) under the Spartan thumb down on Maggie’s farm, you were target practice. Spartan youths on a binge, spring break, would quite literally hunt you for sport and never see a day in court, up on murder charges. Chatty, preening Athens, however, was otherwise: kill a slave, and you would be before a magistrate tout de suite, your arse hauled into place unceremoniously. Jacobin pettiness perhaps, as afflicts every epoch. Such as we will see again when the Republicans to the south of here get the House of Representatives back in their horny grip. There is the lust for power. There is playing police. Three guesses as to which activity gives space cadets more good times?

Postscript I: Cornelius W Drake calls it television sin: he has been watching The X Files, three in the morning, rabbit-eared in Champaign-Urbana. I have attached myself to an Italian cop show (every other word of dialogue stronzo) that I will not identify lest I perjure myself. At the end of each episode, there is a kind of summation plus homilies thrown in free of charge by way of a despairing cop wise after the fact, all set to music that was, at first hearing, familiar enough to me, only I could not give the music its call sign. Beethoven-ish, to be sure. But then the penny dropped… ah well, the Seventh, 2nd movement. Music that I was hooked on from my late teens onward, along with Dvorak’s New World Symphony, and then, in addition to John Fahey and to the blues, opera swept me up and set me down in the cheap seats at the Met. At any rate, I have recently read that a fair number of elite musicians and composers are in awe of the symphony, particularly that second movement, ranking it as the greatest music ever, or in the ballpark thereabouts. Wagner concurred, as did Schubert who was ‘haunted’, even unto his deathbed, by the piece. To hear esteemed musicians talk about music in much the same way as baseball aficionados discuss shortstops…

Postscript II: No word yet from Foulard or McGraviton, each nested under their respective rocks, I imagine, reconfiguring the Buddha, if not Spinoza.

Cheap Shot I: From Plutarch’s Lives, Thomas North translation of the Mark Antony chapter: For it grieved them to see the gates commonly shut against the captains, magistrates of the city, and also ambassadors of strange nations, which were sometimes thrust from the gates with violence: and the house within was full of tumblers, antic dancers, jugglers, players, jesters, and drunkards, quaffing and guzzling, and that on them he spent and bestowed the most part of his money he got by all kind of possible extortions, bribery and policy, &c. No, not quite what was the Trump White House, but getting there…

 

December 15, 2022: Sometimes, looking on the face of one dear to you, you unaccountably see a stranger. Who is this magnificent person? It begins again, the getting acquainted, love, as it were, on its first go-round. There is a song which might happily enough apply here, lyrics of which include the words ‘getting to know you’, but were I to let a certain voice flit into my ears, I would never be able to rid my head of it. I will shut the window on Julie Andrews and in the nick of time digress.

That certain origin stories, ones that involve Hades, come to mind. He desired that a woman sit on a throne beside him in his hellacious palace. He desired not just any woman, not just any girl. He wanted Girl, or Kore: Persephone. Had his eye on this Persephone, a daughter of Zeus. Somewhere along a chain of stories involving Hades, Zeus, Poseidon, Hera, Demeter and all the ancillaries and then some, and we meet up with a near inchoate entity name of Phanes, the Protogonos, first-born. Hades aside, for Zeus to know the world and be the world, he had to swallow himself, and, God only knows what all that really meant. It meant he had to swallow up Phanes as well, who had sired Night, and Night became his concubine. But then Phanes seems to have gone and excused himself from further entanglement, from involving himself in the sweepstakes of Becoming. Fagged out, he became a recluse. Now we ask: when did Appearance first appear, Zeus still incomplete? There were, as yet, no book clubs. The infant Apollo receiving his first bow and arrow, and with his sister Artemis forming a hit squad, quail birds sacred to her, Dionysus self-sodomizing – these are maturating moments in eternity. These and countless other pairings and catalytic loops.

All Persephone wanted was to see herself as herself. And she had been on the verge of doing just that whilst gazing into a narcissus flower when Hades intervened and put death on an equal footing with Eros, or was it the other way around? What seems to be new in the world, once we drift past a certain phase in Zeus’ development– what we regard as new is but a memory of what was most ancient. On the radio an opera begins/dissonant yet tuneful enough to provide/a talking point for at least ten minutes. /Its music spreads like the musky scent/of wet bracken over a landscape/of stone walls, sheep pens, and cottages/where parents saw their children in half. (From James Sutherland-Smith’s Small-Scale Observations, Shearsman Books, 2022.)

Shades of Phillip Larkin? Creation myths? House of Atreus and subsequent stew made of human body parts, those of a child? Early-stage consciousness? Eleusis? In which rites Demeter, Persephone’s mother, and Persephone are reunited, and a drought-stricken earth is re-fructified and…. Caveat: I am only trying to make sense of a book to which some of the previous posts have referred, Calasso’s The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony, and the reading thus far has been tantamount to a ride in a wash tub lacking safety features, rough seas prevailing. And no, I am not trying to give Nietzsche a run for his money, although Cornelius W Drake would suggest I have just put a fiver on Nietzsche to place, the way I go on about the myths. Otherwise, he says he quite likes Livy on Hannibal. I do not comprehend crypto currency, not at all.

Cecrops, half man, half serpent, who got Athens started, founding it, invented marriage vows, bless him. Orestes might have thought that ‘family’ was overrated. Somebody had to be the first state poet; it was not Mayakovsky. The Christian fathers refused to accept that Zeus and Demeter had had sex. But these myth-stories that seem to reflect not only on world origins but on the formation of human consciousness are pretty much hideous affairs, brutal, enthusiastically incestuous, ergo spottily omniscient. “Aren’t we something?” asks Harman. She has just come up from the depanneur below with a six-pack. (We are about to take in Croatia vs Argentina, World Cup, about which spectacle swirl some dark rumours of corruption, worker deaths, murder.) Creation just keeps on repeating itself once you get past a certain phase of Zeus…. Persephone topside again, released from the bowels of hell with a six month-long day pass, was a major event in human sentience.

Myth-stories aside, on a whim, I opened up my copy of Plutarch’s Lives as translated by Thomas North (1535-1604), and immediately fell upon ‘howbeit otherwise’ and wondered unto myself: ought I trust a writer who would ‘howbeit otherwise’ me to death? I chanced on the life of Mark Antony, a man who always intrigues me, no matter the treatment of him by Plutarch or Shakespeare, for that matter, or the Rome series (Antony’s part played by James Purefoy in benchmark fashion, pace Richard Burton). Or by Suetonius and Tacitus et al… In Mark Antony I see my father. And although my father had no power to wield, he had Antony’s liberality, generosity, love of parties, good times, a preference for low life company as opposed to my mother’s imperial reserve. Antony was willing to let women chide his behaviour (and Cleopatra cheekily complimented Fulvia – who had been one of Antony’s wives – for having ‘trained’ Antony, and now Antony was suitable to her ends, and, one imagines, her needs). Antony, in a sense, was a small ‘d’ democrat who had the love of the soldiers he commanded though, at times, he lorded it over Rome, bored potentate. And then the dark side of it all, and perhaps the darkest of the dark – the days and nights of the proscription, the so-called Second Triumvirate the engine for the atrocities, of which Antony in his person comprised one of the three pistons driving the action, along with Octavian and Lepidus, and hundreds, if not thousands, of its enemies were killed and property confiscated. All the while Mr North’s use of the English language seems to hinge on his love of the adjective ‘marvellous’, as in ‘marvellous great debt’ or ‘a marvellous fury’ or to be ‘marvellously commended’; and then the word ‘insolencies’ such as might pertain now to Carnival King and his troupe of flunkies, all of whom are perhaps flaming out, making way for a fresh set of villainous cretins.

Postscript I: I do not think there is anything perverse in revisiting books previously enjoyed, even if these books are not, in fact, The Iliad, or the King James Bible, or The Annals by Tacitus, or the novels of Patrick O’Brien, his naval series. So then I plucked from my shelves a book entitled Rome, A Cultural, Visual, and Personal History as written by one Robert Hughes, an Aussie art critic and Catholic, and straightaway, the man was again letting me know that his favourite part of Rome is the Campo dei Fiore, as it is for me. The hustle and bustle of the market, the two-stroke mini-trucks entering (and exiting) the piazza from all points of the compass, the fruit and vegetable stalls, the statue of that cowled and rather poignant figure Giordano Bruno, the bad cappuccino… well enough, lest this sound like an info commercial. The thing is, moving on, and Hughes is quoting Tertullian, early church father, and the rhetoric is testy, how ‘you pagans ought to know that we Christians have infiltrated every aspect of your lives and we intend to stay’, or words to that effect, and for an instant, I thought I had just been presented with the contents of someone’s latest social media shot-across-the-bows-take-that-you-scum in our on-going culture wars. Those early Christians were not quietists. The hatreds so prevalent seemingly everywhere you turn, and you get inured to it, just that, now and then, the scope of it all is blindingly apparent and measurable by way of the shock one registers. There have been sightings of Talking Avocado at the wheel of a Bugeye Sprite, cruising his private Idaho in search of Ezra Pound. No harm, it seems, has come to him yet.

Postscript II: Looking to bail on Calasso. I decide to hang in there for one more chapter and so, Athena. Just a few sentences and already, it is hopeless, not through any fault of Calasso, but that the goddess is a complicated business. She likes her violence. Likes her men. Of all the goddesses she is the most intimate with men, short of offering them her body, forever virginal. She likes men who would rid themselves of what oppresses. But she does not like men who forget what they owe her or who would be free of her directives. Odysseus then. Odysseus never forgets what is due the goddess, and he sees her everywhere in everything. Athena, through a crack, emerged from Zeus’ head; the skull of which Hephaestus had split with a golden ax. Try that at your next heavy metal concert. The gods were visible for a while, a relatively short while, and then they were not. Troy as their twilight? Did Zeus have it in mind that, for the world to continue, even that world with mortals in it, he would have to offer himself up as a sacrifice? No word from Foulard. From McGraviton. From AP. No answers then to the questions immediately above.

Postscript III: What disconcerts by way of those deep space vistas that the James Webb telescope brings us is a pristine universe. Whether or not we are alone in this thing, and I figure we are, we with our hubris, celebrities and gods, we are not out there to foul it up. Well, that is fairly standard pique, misanthropic of me. But aye, pristineness is the noun, not pristinity. In which case, I object. Ezra Pound done with already? Talking Avocado has crossed into Utah. Wish him luck.


December 12, 2022: Avaritia, or greed, is one of the seven deadlies. (I figure boredom for the eighth.) Throw in the drug trade, child sex slaves, ass-kissing for leverage, and you are well on your way to the black heart of our culture. The good heart – what there is of it – may well be confused. It is as if it must levitate in order to tread water in a world of muck. Seemingly, it can find no simple way back to grace, by which I do not necessarily mean Christian grace, but grace, or a way of being in the world that does not offend against nature; against humanitas; against, why not? the gods.

But I am superficial; I am supercilious. Easy enough to rant and rave. To spell out paths to reform. Easy enough to mince about on one’s high horse and say there is happiness at the end of this or that trail: the Marx trail, the faith trail, the better shopping trail, the arts trail, if only one does X, Y, or Z – fill in the blanks. One can see why some cynical sod would rather swill martinis at his country club than say, “Just the facts, ma’am”, because all that happiness is happiness which comes with a price tag, even if nothing is free. People want to be bad, really bad, and that is the way it looks to be for the next spate of years. Contrapuntally: for 17 years a man who has committed outrages against a number of sanctities goes the anchorite route, is suckled by a stone. Which is to say, he is bound to a stone without shelter from the elements, is kept alive by some liquid or other that upwells from the heart of the stone, though he shrivels to the size of a hedgehog. But that he, in the end, completes his penance. Even so, Fortune is not yet done with him: he winds up pope in Rome, city of cities. (Consult previous post as to what the man’s crimes were. (The relationship of magic to evil and evil to magic – there’s seminar-ing for you, and swearing by the hair of your chinny-chin-chin.)

Man on a bed of stone – it is what happens in Thomas Mann’s The Holy Sinner (1951), strange novel. It is based on an epic by a medieval German poet who, in turn had recourse to a French poem, author unknown. But perhaps it is what humankind as a collective has to do to save itself: squat on a stone year after year without electricity and internet and airport snack bars, until it all falls away, whatever betrayed grace to the notion, for example, that any man, or woman, for that matter, may profit from raiding a child’s body for organs with a view toward transplanting them. Well, I am leery of judgment. It is not because to pass judgment is all too often indulgence, but because, as soon as one opens one’s mouth, one has already betrayed any possibility of ridding the air one breathes of what corrupts and corrodes. Let the pope pontificate because that is what we expect the pope to do. Let some tell-all carry a best-seller list; it will build to a climax. Is this apparent paradox a defect in our culture or has it always been there – in the deepest part of our souls before culture, once content with Delphic tripods, availed itself of steroids? Well, our brains are flesh and so, clay, are they not?

Helen of the Greek myths had two mothers: Leda and Nemesis. A complicated story, one that does not stint on irony. For Nemesis hated hubris. But Helen, so the poets wrote, provoked the Trojan War, an instance of great hubris in Greek history. Helen, it is said, commanded Homer to write The Iliad, an account of that war, whereupon he wrote his poetry in a cave, doing so, perhaps, to avoid distractions. Poor Helen: she could do nothing right, but her beauty was a burden. Could be she was only happy in the afterlife, she and Achilles walking about hand-in-hand, keen on each other…. If the Christians claim grace as their exclusive bequest from God, for the pagan Greeks, grace was beauty. Beauty conquered violence. Beauty had the power to alter Zeus’ behaviour, he who chased Nemesis all across the earth before he was able to run her to ground and ravish her. One look at Helen, and Theseus – though he was a man, and it is written that all men are the same – nonetheless, in an instant realized that there was more to women than just a barmaid’s lot in Porky’s. Isocrates would write… what did the man write? He wrote that Stesichorus the poet had insulted Helen, and she avenged herself, rendering him blind, until – good career move – he recanted, and she restored his vision. Arts Council politics? Then a hedonist moment in a Christian court: “We thought to offer God an entertainment.” So spoke the sinners in Mann’s aforementioned novel. As if to echo those sinners, Carol Burnett in a comedy sketch, a bar the setting, she a lush in furs, laying all her troubles on a man, said: “You know what life is, Ralph? I’m going to tell you what life is. Life is tacky, very tacky…” Will anyone gainsay her? The Divinity that might have led her to a happy ending could not find a parking space nearby. But perhaps the first poets were nymphs, Apollo’s daughters whom he brought wild to Parnassus, and civilized there. Grace by instinct, design, or Crackerjacks prize? To link the human mind to the circular motion of the heavens. Ah, Pindar. In any quarrel between Helen and Plato, Homer will aways find himself smack in the middle.

Books that Wandered in Like Stray Cats Looking for a Home Department: Lazarillo de Tormes, 1554, and The Swindler, 1626, two Spanish picaresque novels in one Penguin Classics volume, the first novel authored by Anonymous, the second by Francisco de Quevedo, at a time when a ducat was equal to 375 maravedis. And Spain was going through a bad patch. So much so, in the annals of what the rich and the poor had been doing to each other forever, a servant boy filches a sausage from his sight-challenged master who, in turn, in order to ascertain the source of the villainy and perhaps retrieve his half-swallowed supper, sticks his long, sharp nose down the boy’s gullet, thereby getting a whiff of the meat, whereas the boy retches…. Some metaphor, say what? Beats an hour of reading the tea leaves in your favourite op-eds disseminators, should you wish to get your who, what, when, where, how and why as to which infamy has you by the short hairs and to which doom it is taking you. The Swindler begins with an address to the reader, an insinuation: anyone who forks out to buy the book so as to actually read it must needs be as depraved as is the author, who intends to instruct in all the arts of living life on the down low. And it is unlikely to be anywhere as near high-minded as Orwell’s Down and out in Paris and London. Thence on to the narrative proper, and soon enough, there is a schoolyard hazing incident. A student’s servant (we would call him ‘bitch’) is made to walk a gauntlet of phlegm-throwers, not flame-throwers, students all (eins, zwei, drei, vier, lift your stein and drink your beer), and worse things befall our servant by way of excrescences. Picaresque material. Any page of which is equal to any weighty exegesis on class struggle. And that one comes across a poet who declares he will renounce poetry and dedicate his life to better things. Bon chance to that. And is there anyone who has a worse time than madmen who earn their living from other madmen, said the joker to the Freedom Caucus? And that… by God, I’m not going to put up with his….

Postscript I: Another meeting with Too Tall Poet in the Oxford Café: he was sitting there telling me of Proust and William Faulkner. They were different from one another in this way: Proust digressed, yes, but they are acceptable, his digressions. Faulkner digresses, too, but his style is ‘hard’; the digressionary grates. Too Tall Poet was otherwise tickled. His book, in the queue, is likely to see publication in 2024. There is justice. Poetry will have lived to see another day. Giotto’s cherubs flitted about our heads. “It is a bad thing,” he said, “when a poet can’t get his poems read, when he has to consign his pages to a desk drawer. When people don’t even know who you are.” Cherubs twittering with alarm... As Sancho P to his quixotic remarks, I hated to break it to him, that to be read is no guarantee of anything. So I said nothing. My countenance took on a mournful aspect, seeing as Plutarch wrote that Anaxagoras of old (500 to 428 B.C.) assigned the reason for man’s wisdom and intelligence to his having hands. Moreover: And even the base wins honour in a feud.

Postscript II: Onwards then to Jane Harrison, one of my heroes. What mention of Helen might she have made in her Epilegomena to the Study of Greek Religion and Themis? Which I had read along with Dryden, and I must have been feeling pretty frisky in my mind at the time. But no mention, it seems. There was an inscription to Spanish Nights and Days followed by some Arabic. Mysterioso. I do not think I can face again Bettany Hughes’ book on Helen, which I did try to read some time ago and must have gotten at least halfway through. Lunar is telling me to read Kozintsev, but then that subject matter would be all King Lear. I could not find anything to do with Helen in Frazer’s Golden Bough, save that she may have been worshiped as a tree or as part of a tree-worship ceremony. But I will have to return to Harrison’s book and read it again so as to have properly read it once….

Postscript III: And once more into the breach – Cornelius W Drake. He wrote me from Champaign-Urbana to remind me that American politics, regardless of its extremes, always reverts to the middle, which may or may not reside in the middle of Illinois. We shall see. For all that, forgiving man that he is, he cannot forgive the Trumpies; their sins go beyond the everyday kind. He wrote the word ostracism clearly, distinctly, just that he rather suspected that they, the Trumpies, will die out in any case. Roundabout here I start seeing the face of Buster Keaton which, despite its stony gaze, is awfully expressive of all sorts of alarm and panic.

Postscript IV: Back to Mr Calasso and his book The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony, how Ion and Creusa (son and mother) ‘thought of things divine, of how, one way or another, they always come too late’, but that there is telos anyway, the gods not altogether powerless.

 

December 6, 2022: Between Greek myths and cop shows, between Mars exploration and the spin rate on Sandy Koufax’s curveball, and the price of tea in China; Proust, Cervantes, Thomas Mann et al; between the ‘swipe’ motion on my mobile and that I get snaky when confronted with the brain-as-computer paradigm, that here it is: your sentience, thank you very much, I am ever more a ‘determinist’. It addresses my suspicions that our lives are ‘fated’ even if not god-directed, if only Big Bang-directed; even if one can fudge a little here and dodge a little there and so, affect, if not haul one’s destiny out of a hat. Alarming, eh? But I have felt it in my bones since I was a six-year-old. Even so, there I was, unsuspecting, running along a path in a backyard forest – Alaska. I come across a fish carcass, its head intact. “A bear’s done this.” It is my attempt at attributing cause. It is oracular, this salmon head. Dead Thing is a marvel because its eyes seem alive; they are talking to me, and they are boiling mad. And then, the sun-dapple bits, how they dance on the waters of the creek… A young boyhood in Anchorage is paradisal, heaven and hell interchangeable, a question of mix and match. Continental drift.

Fated? I am lazy. I would happily enough put off all questions of fate. “Come around next Thursday. We’ll have us a shot of something and a chin wag. Trot out Schopenhauer and toast Baudelaire.” But as much as most of us mainline cheap thrills one way or the other, as much as we are given to catchy jingles, the kind that, in ten words or less, encapsulates what existence is and what it means, mostly we are each of us a conundrum to others and to ourselves, but the sort of conundrum that, on anniversaries – the anniversary, for instance, of the assassination of Gaius J Caesar – rates a full-on consideration of fact and speculation. We are a headline; we are below the fold. And if we are not necessarily such stuff as dreams are made of, we are, in certain exigencies, such stuff as wraps fish or buys a lottery ticket on a whim. Right: love crazed – that’s what we are. Or we are alone in the universe, absolutely so, dragging on a cigarette, about to undergo anesthesia.

On occasion, I fall into rhythm, if not rhyme. Which is to say that, now and then, I write poetry. No matter that I rant and rave as I muse, no matter whether light dances or darkness suffocates, quashes spirit, what it is in me that drives the poem-act is, at bottom, love of life, no ifs, ands, and buts about it, even as life is sometimes hateful. It is no more grand than that, no more complicated. Yes, I might not feel the love at any given moment, but it is there – at any given moment to be felt: the urge to plunk on my guitar or go up the street for a coffee where I might spuriously rhyme ‘hand’ with ‘and’ in a Hilroy notebook with a ballpoint pen, green ink. Life, whimsy, the pursuit of happiness… freedom to get it wrong sometimes… that there was a halcyon bird that charmed the wind… Perhaps too much love of life might go hard on a poem’s chances at coming off halfway decent on the page, that is, readable. In any case, poet writes poem; copper solves a crime. Voilà, depths have been plumbed, or else someone tampered with the evidence. But just as science, for all its noble intent, is not divinity, so poetry is not the end-all and be-all of blackberry picking in a sun-washed lane. But it is, often enough, enough reason to want to keep on living, acolyte as if in a procession of rare orchids and common dreams.

So then: Hey nonny, hey bonny! So then, these words double-down and annunciate a horror. A little past midway in the novel Thomas Mann wrote, called The Holy Sinner, and the words trumpet the double incest to come. Child, born of the coupling between a brother and sister, is deep-sixed, stuffed in a floating casket of a kind, left to the vagaries of the sea. Eventually, babe washes up on a beach somewhere, is found, and brought to a humble family – to be raised, grudgingly. Ignorant at first of his true origins and identity, then apprised, the babe, by now, has grown to early-stage manhood. Wants to wander about as a knight-errant. Would locate his parents as a quest. And he finds his mother, not knowing who she is, she now a figure of authority to a realm; men answer to her. Winds up marrying and copulating with ‘mother’. What now, brown cow? Well, I will keep reading. I expect to be treated to the nature of sin, to the fine print of redemption, to novel applications of the verb lack. How much guilt and shame will it take to bury love of life in a ditch? The spirit of storytelling is a communicative spirit, gratified to lead his readers and listeners everywhere, even into the solitude of the characters spun out of his words and into their prayers. O Presentness. Artemis, by the way, was not, willy-nilly, a friend to women. A holocaust of animals was her handiwork. Which is to say, she was no conservationist. The invention of music might have had something to do with the pairing up of dirge and lyre-string made of flax thread. Linus then, he who had a muse-mother; he who was first to strike up the band, get rhythm and melody going. The pay-off? Women assaulted him, as they did Orpheus, Linus’s putative brother. Does existence require aesthetic justification? Aphrodite was born of a sea-wave, Helen born in a swamp…. Where did he get to – the Wizard of Oz, fall guy? In Ohio, that’s where, coaching the Akron Rubberducks….

Lunar confesses that he bailed on Roberto Calasso, folded tent after two chapters’ worth of The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony. “Is one left scratching one’s head after reading an essay by Eliot, as in T.S?” he added. (Me, I do not claim to be writing an essay here, or ever. O, avert.) The book, as I said in the post previous, is heavy-going, but I keep coming across sentences that give me pause, and at least the appearance, if not the actuality of having occasion to say, “Penny drops”. In the girdle of Aphrodite, in the body of Helen and of her phantom, beauty is superimposed over necessity, cloaking it in deceit. Which gives Plato his excuse to affirm: How very different is the nature of the necessary from the nature of the good. But never mind the good. What is that which is necessary? May one posit the question in any political climate? Or is it only when the wheels are falling off the wagon that the question even arises? It is necessary, above and beyond all considerations of good and evil, to dress warm in frigid temperatures, or one will freeze. But does this necessity have the same force majeure as gravity? Minus gravity, and we would no longer recognize the world we inhabit along with gnats, wombats, and the Sciuridae family. I suppose I will have to hang in there with the book, or else, like Lunar, bail as well.

November 1989, and I was in Munich, midnight in the offing. I was walking about the city’s central square. It seemed the ‘wall’ had come down in Berlin, or had been breached, at least. People milled, singly or in small groups – there in the Marienplatz, Munich the city of beer fests and book publishing. Many of these people appeared to be stunned. Was passiert? A pivotal moment in history, no doubt, sputtering fireworks attesting to the fact, stray rockets ricocheting off the Neues Rathaus. Last evening, present day, was unremarkable however, just that Harman served up a tourtière, and it was excellent. Lucien Skia, dinner guest, perhaps giving way to an episode of nostalgia, expatiated on Ronald Reagan. Reagan did not deserve all that much credit for the collapse of the Soviet Union, for sapping the infamous wall by way of rhetoric and military spending. (This morning, I checked. Plenty of historians agree, though no-one among them credits Rumour as the prime agent of change, as Skia did with mischief on his face.) Rumour had it that East Berliners would be allowed through the checkpoint so that they could go shopping. No mention of a high-ranking GDR bureaucrat or politico relaxing border restrictions, 500,000 souls gathering in Alexander Platz in anticipation. No mention of the Solidarity movement. None of the pope, none of Gorbachev. Is new-old history murkiest before the dawn? I liked the whimsy in Skia’s revisionist accounting of a certain event, Rumour dressed up as Peter Pan, no less, but I was skeptical. Montreal is a cosmopolitan city with nothing to prove. It is provincial, however, from the arts’ side of things. How explain then the apparent contradiction? The Quiet Revolution (of the 60s), people fed up with the church’s stranglehold on education, priestly abuses? Perhaps. But the civil service got unionized, pass the communion wine. Our guest was on solid ground when he said that making art requires a technique or two. Is a clarinet viable without a lower lip? He could not comprehend, however, the notion that to criticize is bad, is heinous behaviour; that all works of art, past, present, and future are equally good. Perhaps, when one has arrived at the doctorate level, a bit of critiquing is permissible….

 

Postscript I: “Dumb voices attract dumb voices.” So says Lunar, on about Harry and Meghan and their travelling circus, and just things in general.

Postscript II: I write small poems. They are more given/to the enfleshment of a vision/than to the sustenance of belief,/but I’ll stretch this one out for you—/
The first light of the universe,/hammered to the thickness of gold leaf
. From a poem called New Year Letter, from a book entitled The Affirmations, Luke Hathaway, Biblioasis, 2022. This book is hammered, or rather, drunk on Plato, Genesis, Bach, and poetry is a destructive force.

Postscript III: Waiting for Cornelius W Drake to chime in. Otherwise, over at The Carpentariat, invasive plant species has come in for a dressing down, a back shed thrashing. Has been hazed, tiraded, rebuked. There is euphemism for it: in no uncertain terms. Neo-Nazi then. Not since Rep. Preston Brooks, in the year 1856, came across Sen. Sumner on the Senate floor and clobbered him with a cane has …

Postscript IV: “In this secluded villa, world of ours, villainy binds men together.” Not an exact quote, but something like these words were put into the mouth of Charles Laughton who played (rampantly) the part of an evil sire in a bit of period fluff: The Strange Door. It was based on a short story by Robert Louis Stevenson who, had he been around in 1951, might well have groaned at the result. Indeed, I Love Lucy premiered in 1951, as did the trial of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg for espionage, and Stalin was still around.

 

December 1, 2022: December 1, 2022: As soon as one story is told, another has already suggested itself. Roberto Calasso says as much in his book The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony. “But how did it all begin?” It is the question he asks repeatedly in his inaugural chapter. And then, as for storytelling in general, for every story that is related, there is one left in the shadows, untouched…. Well, I am a third of the way through this messing about in the Greek mind. It is heavy going. As I read – and with each paragraph in my sights there is a new set of characters divine or not so divine to divine – I am having to consult (so as to keep my bearings) a book Robert Graves wrote on the Greek myths, called The Greek Myths. Very complete and very unabridged. It is because I am not always sure who Cadmus was, or Chryseis, or why the Danaids were not to be trifled with, mariticides as they were, husband-slayers. If Graves does not necessarily have the last word on this material, he did do his homework; he did submit his term papers, and, White Goddess or not, and despite his trees speaking in tongues, he did, otherwise, in his compendium on the ancient tales, take the artsy-fartsy out of poetry and connect it with what truly drives human nature: rapine and countermeasures.

And Graves and Calasso echo each other, necessarily, if unintentionally so, but of the two, perhaps the sentences of Calasso are the more salacious. But what happens when god and humankind meet? What happens is rape, said the joker to the thief. Or this: Dionysus as a divinity of women… his causing the vulva to vibrate… him as the first shex toy? Are we in any ballpark known to Peter Pan? Achilles was raised as a girl. But then, as he was bound to, because fated, he steps into his warrior role, and the net that binds him tightens…. Henceforth: The wrath of Achilles… The way he, with horse and chariot, drags Hector’s corpse around day after day, seeing as he had killed that guy Hector, drove a spear into the man’s chest cavity. I never thought to regard The Iliad as satire, not in the way Goya satirized the Spanish court with his caricatures, but Graves, pointer in hand, says the epic is as much satire as it is anything else, and he also talks up the view that Homer saw the Greeks as barbaric. The Trojans were so much better behaved. Three guesses as to which camp got his sympathies? Not the one that still indulged in human sacrifice, I can tell you.

How the notion of tragedy came about is a shabby affair. Think dead goats, not feta cheese. In comparison (were we to speculate as to poetry’s origins), Yeats’ rag and bone shop of the heart is rather toney, five-star rating. Even so, I am not about to reprise Nietzsche on the birth of tragedy or poetry’s origins…. I have said often enough that I have not a religious bone in my body, but if I had one, I am sure it would be a pagan femur as opposed to a Christian tibia. The pagan world is not devoid of pity, but pity is not at its centre as it is with the Christian universe. The Greek myths are almost all cru-el, but there is no Jesus-loves-me hullabaloo in them. Clear-eyed stuff, those tales of derring-do. GB has been on to me about Frederick Phillip Grove, Canadian author German-born, who spent time with Stefan George’s coterie of romanticists and would come to ‘poke fun’ at what he deemed the preciousness. (Precious perhaps, but George was no fan of German militarism and materialism, WWI looming.) Seems that Grove’s first wife wrote a poem that portrays their relationship as one of eroticized horseback riding, ‘metaphor for a highly charged journey through memory’. Well, who was riding whom? Not five minutes later, and in Calasso’s book, I am reading that Plato proclaimed erotic dialogue to be the source of Thought, capital ‘T’ with a cherry on the cake. “It is what it is.” Which is what you hear a lot on police procedurals, cop shows. The second greatest accomplishment that the Danaids managed was the massacre of their husbands, the first greatest achievement being that of bringing pure water to dry Argos. The dears.

Graves states without ceremony that the Trojan War, however fraught with gods and heroes and their shenanigans, was a trade war. Location, location: Troy’s position on the Dardanelles linking the Black Sea with the Aegean brought it its riches. It exported timber and horses. The Greeks coveted. Otherwise, necessity is a stronger force than any power the gods can muster. But if you are feeling not quite yourself, you can be excused for thinking a god is at the bottom of it, so the Greeks figured, and we moderns have only improved on this perception with longer, fancier, ever more over-wrought names for our malaises. The moderns are proud above all of their (sense of) responsibility, but in being so they presume to respond with a voice that they are not even sure is theirs. As if ours is a universe that slips its gears between Mann’s Magic Mountain and CNN ads for prescription drugs. Between eternal snow and HUMIRA. Lunar was on to me this morning about The Singing Detective (whose protagonist was hospitalized with psoriatic arthropathy) and ‘wokeness’, a word which I am not even sure retains any shape; it has been given to so much cudgeling. At any rate, BBC4. And a man addicted to gossip columns might well serve as the subject of our next restoration comedy. What of Mary Renault’s nurse stories? With a voice that might call out bingo numbers, Lunar declares: eccomi qui. Outside, a winter bright afternoon in Montreal…

And a few flakes of snow are seemingly self-animated. They zip here and there like winged summer insects. Harman has remarked on the alizarin tint of the trees now that the leaves are mostly off. A bluish red tending toward purple. Talking Avocado has it that the Indian wars were underpinned by ‘staggering amounts of hypocrisy’ – the op-eds of flunky gazettes, the granting and the taking back of reservations at gunpoint. Gold fever. There is also the scuzz who gave Lady Cornelia Locke the pox.

Postscript I: The liquid geometry of the clouds,/wave forms, helices of thermals,/grey and white shapes under blue absence of form,/suggest cause, suggest effect/though it’s foolish to try and join one to the other,/as if even weather were an argument…. from a poem James Sutherland-Smith has written, called 'From Stillness' (dedicated to the memory of Christopher Middleton), from the book Small-Scale Observations, Shearsman Press, 2022. I happen to like the understated musical effect of the lines quoted above pitched in what is, for the most part, plain English.

Postscript II: Bad may be found in the head of the cuttlefish; good there is also…: Plutarch in his Moralia quoting some proverb or other. The essay in question: How to Study Poetry. "Because it is very pleasant to eat but it makes one’s sleep full of bad dreams and subject to strange and disturbing fancies, as they say." Who knew that the reading of poetry once produced side effects?

Postscript III: That at the checkout counter of my local super mart, the customers in the queue grumbling about the pokey pace of the cashier, inadvertently I snatched up a packet of tomatoes belonging to the old woman ahead of me, we both bagging our groceries at the same time. I cannot square it with her unless I happen to see her again. She had, otherwise, quite the alert countenance; I thought to myself: “Professor, retired. Has seen every game, and then some.” I, too, have a reasonably alert countenance. Could be that she would think, regarding it: Crumbs, another poet. I’m sure he doesn’t know his ___ from a blankety-blank in the ground.” Could be she hides her Plato under a pillow, her Nietzsche in a jug of coffee grounds. The cashier, working to rule, was nonetheless, sweetly serene, a lot of her fellow Italians about, dropping their vowel endings, but not their zucca spaghett.