EPHEMERIS

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January 27, 2023: Moving on then… I was reading along, and quite innocently too, in Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot when a conversation between Rogozhin and the prince took a turn. They were speaking of a woman with whom they were both obsessed as they walked through the house in which Rogozhin lived. Then they came across a painting: a copy of Holbein’s The Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb.

I will forego the details, just that certain preoccupations of late in my mind were of a sudden put in relief as I read. So it seemed. Faith in art. Faith in anything. Even faith in God, and how some people I have either known or read derive such satisfaction from their unbelief (not to mention zealots who smack their lips as they ‘believe’). At any rate, an old friend-nemesis, bookseller, once said to me (and he was a self-declared Marxist ‘reconstituted’) that to lose faith in art was to lose faith in all of it, in everything, anything that matters. Some days, and I know exactly what he meant. Other days, and the words he spoke, in the course of a salvo aimed at an ailing civilization, are well, slippery.

Recently, I walked into the Oxford Café, rue Sherbrooke Ouest, and was greeted by Granados. His ‘Andaluza’ (1890) as transcribed for the guitar, was in the speakers. I must have been in a fine frame of mind for the hearing of it. I must have been wonderfully receptive. “Why, this is the loveliest music I’ve ever heard,” so I said to myself, and as I took a table, I was on the verge of asking for a towel, for I was weepy. I survived this encounter, you may be pleased to know, with ‘Spanish Dance No. 5’, otherwise known as ‘Andaluza’, and after a quick look-see in my local bookstore nearby (I was on the look-out for some Camilleri in translation, no dice), and a quick stop at the deli in the local poor man’s super mart for Tuscan-style ham, and the woman who sliced it for me was rude, having a bad day, I went home and for no reason at all, none, I tell you, I spent the rest of the afternoon with Alicia de Larrocha.

That is to say, YouTube and the demon ads which in spite of them, de Larrocha was having at Granados’ ‘Goyescas’ on the piano… To my recollection, I had not yet heard them. But Alicia de Larrocha was, apparently, a tiny woman with small hands, so that the fact that she could even perform the pieces, let alone perform them with such delicacy and power, was quite something to hear…. I suppose one might say that I was in a mood to let art be art again. What hostage, what hostage situation, what freak show among others in the culture wars?

But it was like one those ads that, once it gets into your head, it is in your head forever, the ‘Voice of Doom’ intoning: all art has become kitsch. It was not as if I were talking a plug for Tylenol or a Lincoln commercial, the Meaning of Life at the Wheel as per McCaughey, pseudo-Pre-Socratic and yet, it was as bad, even worse. It did not have to be this way, but there it is: kitsch and nothing but.

I could not rid myself of the voice. I have been trying to work it out with Lunar, but for him, responding to my alarms over art and the state of it is beneath his dignity. And there he has been gadding about in a wheelchair, crushing the feet of innocents in London streets, terrorist. As per Cornelius W Drake transliterating Marx: ‘Even capitalists are held hostage by Kapittalism’. So too art, as intimated above.

Of course, I was overstating things. Then the old Synchronicity Effect kicked in: Dostoyevsky’s Rogozhin and the prince, and it is the prince who observes that the power of the painting of a dead Christ laid out on a slab, mouth and eyes open, body mass much reduced, skin tone poor, can persuade a believer to lose both his faith and his appetite (even as, one supposes, one’s respect for the efficacy of art might be enhanced). I had thought that some choice irony here at this pass as delivered by Jane Austen might further clarify matters, but I could not get past her saying, as follows: The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.

Well, I had been listening to a tiny woman play the ‘Goyescas’: a glittering array of arpeggios. I had been telling Mr G Gould to piss off, he and his notions that there is only Bach…. Perhaps, I, too, in my own fashion, was decolonizing light, or else I was only managing to re-colonize luminosity. 1920s and: Agh! what/sort of man was Fragonard? From a William Carlos Williams poem. As if this answers anything… (Fragonard – Rococo painter. Mentioned in the previous post.) Yes, apropos of what? These words that just popped into my head…

Back to The Idiot, and the prince who seemed a simple soul at the start, by page 260 something, is now gotten complicated. A love affair, and the inheritance of a fair wad of cash, will do that to you. He has had a return of his epileptic fits, and he wonders if any of his meditations as bookend them are legitimate meditations, as the fits seem to by-pass the ordinary procedures and protocols of logic. In other words, is a thought one has while intoxicated to be borne? I do not recall when I first read Dusty’s (Dostoyevsky’s) book, but I was ‘young’, and I do remember that upon reading the beginning of the first chapter I thought to myself: “So this is how one starts a novel.” Mid-way through: “So this is how one sustains a narrative, juggling characters in the air.” Novel’s end: “So this is how one wraps it up.” I expect there is going to be a tragic ending.

Postscript I: When I was 15 or 16, hanging out in a coffeehouse (Olympia, Washington) at 3 in the morning, listening to Manuel de Falla’s ‘Gardens in the Nights of Spain’ as played by Alicia de Larrocha, Cornelius W Drake was, as he put it, whoring around Kansas City’s west side, hobnobbing with crooks and listening to Benny Goodman and Buddy Rich. Now the man listens to symphonic music to the exclusion of all else, it seems, a half finished painting on his easel that may or may not receive attention. Me, I am happy enough to have in my head simultaneously, at any given time, John Fahey and Augustin Barrios (a pair of New World musical autodidacts) as well as Bach and Beethoven and Mozart and the Spanish canon, as I much love Spanish guitar, though I cannot play it worth a damn.

Postscript II: I have met with McGraviton of late – at the Oxford. It was he who alerted me to the notion that light can be decolonized. “Yessir,” he said, “you heard right.” He was showing me photos he had snapped with his phone of a town north of Ravenna on the coast that is, in his words, a mini-Venice. It seemed a stage set. No, he was not going to take up jazz drumming as a solitary pursuit, but Drake has threatened to resume…

Postscript III: I fear for Talking Avocado now that he is Florida somewhere. The crazy weather. The nutters. He is one of those travellers who get about overstocked with bravado. Once, in Ulan Bator, he arm-wrestled a security guard who promptly wiped the floor with his presumptuous challenger. But it all ended amicably enough. The main discomfitures were the smog and swarming pickpockets….

Postscript IV: … For just as beetles appear most of all in grain when it is ripe for harvest and in roses when they are in full bloom, so envy fastens most of all on characters and persons that are good and increasing in virtue and fame. Plutarch’s ‘On Envy and Hate’ from his Moralia. For what it is worth… Perhaps he had read Jane, as in Austen, with pleasure.



January 22, 2023: Houston, we have inflection. It could well mean trouble. All that friction upon re-entry into the atmosphere from a place high, high above the culture wars, heat shield iffy. Had I been on the moon? The hot coals that make for the earthly ground on which we hot foot it – there is the icing on the cake. Or that there will be ‘points’ made in what follows.

For example, I will hold to this: it is beside the point to say we live in extraordinary times. To say so extends the lease on a fool’s paradise. One way or the other, what is happening now has always happened, and will always happen. But can I manage to avoid even more trite generalities, treating with sentiments such as one might find in Ecclesiastes or in what The Byrds sang in 1965 key of D major, the lyrics thereof lifted from the aforementioned Old Testament book? Well then: Turn, turn, turn… A time to be born, a time to die… Why? Just so that I might speak about ‘time’ and ‘stuff’ in any key? Invoke Fragonard on a whim? (Whose paintings once put me off as being sugary, cotton candy-ish. I am considering taking another look. What was that someone said? Veiled eroticism?)

Then again, there are particulars that involve us which have no precedent. One does not associate Neandertals with cell phones even if, on the whole, they were likely more intelligent that a great many of the stalwarts who now wield such devices as a nuclear option in public places. To be sure, I carry one around. It embarrasses me when the damn thing is set off, say, on a bus packed with passengers who now have a window into my private life whether they wish to or not. Myself, I do not want to know about the private lives of others. Not like that, in any case, a mouth inches from my ear going on about the bash they were at the night before, and isn’t So-and-So a jerk? Being that exposed to a call – it confirms too many suspicions, as when So-and-So indubitably is a jerk, all his contacts comprised of fellow jerks. What is it that makes us ‘human’?

Crack open The Idiot (Dostoyevsky wrote it) and sooner or later you will come across Nastasya Filippovna, society beauty. Here she is, her birthday soiree at her digs in progress. She announces to her guests that Prince Myshkin… well, he is the only person she has met whom she is pleased to call human. Perhaps because he has kept his hands to himself. Perhaps because he did not look up her skirt while she was perched on a swing a la Fragonard. Perhaps because he will neither equivocate nor lie. But because he cannot be bought, he may well be short of a few bricks. Poor sod. That his life involves degrees of difficulty. His fellow partyers are perhaps more human, seeing as they are all the more flawed. They are ‘worldly’ head to toe with their beauty gels and assorted big ticket consumer items. They are pretty on the surface. They meet all the criteria for polite society eligibility. They are unappealing in their souls, sometimes brutish. What is high society but a cover up, Fragonardian Ancien Régime light notwithstanding? Come ahead to the 21st century, and we might make the acquaintance of Inspector Montalbano. He appears in novels, if not in ones written by Dostoyevsky. Il Commissario Montalbano… Eh… (See various Italian hand gestures…)

Montalbano then. He had been getting around in books. Then he got signal status in a television series, cop show, Sicilian streets and beaches. The novels on which the show is based were authored late in the life (7th and 8th decades) of one Andrea Camilleri, Pirandello his literary touchstone. The man had already spent, prior to the writing of detective fiction, a lifetime in the theatre. I seem to be the last person on earth to hear of him, the novels, the show, the popular appeal of it all. The French Revolution killed off Fragonard’s source of income. Eh… (See various Italian hand gestures.)

An on-line reviewer of the show tells me that the reason why I, ostensibly a masculine entity, like the action is pretty much this: the inspector is a throwback. His attitudes to do with women are dated. Still, she likes the series, this reviewer. Is it the House of Savoy light? She does not say exactly why, but one suspects that the characters who surround the good if flawed and un-flashy Dottore are the characters most endearing to her. Though perhaps Mimi, the philandering deputy whose adventures are misadventures, annoys her. Perhaps there is not that much to say for Fazio, straight-up police officer who always holds his counsel, who anticipates everything, especially the whims and quirks of his superiors. The hapless Catarella, however, is Atellan in my books.

Police station switchboard operator, he mishears everything said to him. Then he panics, Judgement Day perpetually in the offing. “Dottore, Dottore, So-and-So is here to see you, personally in person….” And all the extras, side characters, eccentrics well-acted… Gallery rich with rogues and female picaros… Eh… (See various Italian hand gestures.) At any rate, I will not dismiss the on-line reviewer for her proclivities, if only because it might serve me to be told why I like what I like. The somewhat dumpy inspector? He is not up to the mark on the latest literary trends. Short, bow-legged, bald. Women like him even so. Perhaps because he likes them, who can say? Befriends them. Sympathizes with the dears. Sleeps with them on occasion. Eh… (See various Italian hand gestures…)

But that the sympathy is not the whole point of the show. Or perhaps it is. The plotlines feature few thrills, none at all, really. Niente (as articulated with the final 'e' dropped). Car chases are very far and few between. Now and then a shot is fired in anger. It would seem that the men and women on view are too busy living their lives to be tearing strips off each other in furtherance of this or that culture war, even when they are in it up to here in the commission of major felonies and murder. There are the horrors.

The horrors. They are presented as starkly as you could wish. The mafia, if nothing else, is omnipresent in the background, casting shadows, pulling strings. Drug traffic. Sex slave traffic. The trafficking in refugees and body parts… Snuff videos… Evils that chill one to the bone… Fragonard could not have handled it. Goya just might have. And there is always the Mediterranean tide coming in, going out. The rhythms of the tides are the rhythms of the show. Montalbano, as already intimated, is far from cashing it in as a model of fine behaviour. His amour-propre is all too often offended, but he is living his life as best he is able, and on his own terms, just as his girlfriend is trying to live likewise and by her own specs. Leads to friction, to long-distance spats on the phone (they live apart in different regions), to close quarter quarrels when they do link up. Concluding episode, and the final being-out-of-synch with one another – such a heart-wrenching business – lasts but a few moments (on the phone), and is symphonic finality, as if the entirety of the sky had fallen on both their heads. One has deep sympathies for both parties…. One might have hoped… Eh…

Chilled to the bone? There is the warmth. Ordinary, everyday warmth. Plain, old-fashioned, down to earth warmth. It is part love, a lot of ribbing, a lot of fooling around. Eh… (See various Italian hand gestures.) Relations between friends, colleagues, lovers, lovers-to-be, relations with strangers and bitter enemies, are not entirely devoid of human regard. Things might be grotesque, but isn’t it wonderful that we’re alive and swooning from scarfing down all that cannoli? It’s the almonds, you know…. As Fragonard might have painted a cream puff, and we are not talking Frenchy Cannoli and his cannabis… Eh… It is futile to define what ‘human’ is (each breath one takes engenders an alteration, a refinement, a new accommodation, to the good or to the bad, as to what that definition will now become). But the warmth (I do not know what else to call it – pan-sympathy?), even on a scorching Sicilian day, outweighs the most enlightened opinion as to what constitutes appropriate ‘human’ behaviour. Eh…

The on-line reviewer took issue with the women on the show. They are ‘types’. Male constructs, I suppose she meant to say. Well, it might be so. Has she been to her local Walmart lately? Has she bummed around Italy or Sheboygan any time in the recent past? Has she swung on a swing? Someone might say that I am a ‘type’ simply because I do not care to be ‘labelled’, but I do, after all, have attributes that are all too recognizable: the maleness, the agedness, the whiteness. I can easily enough pigeonhole, classify, typecast old sourpusses, man or woman, as types, but, you know, it would be unfair to sourpusses, even as one sees them everywhere, particularly in hospital corridors. Eh… (See various Italian hand gestures.) So what makes a novel popular?

The Idiot again, and fairly early on, there is in it reference to Dumas fils and his novel La Dame aux Camélias. High society all over Europe was enthralled by this book. Camelias became the flowers of choice. White, if the courtesan was ‘available’. Pink or red if she were menstruating. The novel would never fade from any cultured view. Tragic, ill-starred love hitching a ride on the back of Scandal. Society could not get enough it. Verdi would base an opera on it: La Traviata. Could be Dostoyevsky was jealous of it. That last episode of Inspector Montalbano, and damn it all, I had to reach for a towel. Ah, Fragonard's The Progress of Love: Love Letters, and that parasol up to God knows what, about to rocket-launch itself to the moon...

Compare Inspector Montalbano to another cop show: Justified. A slicker, faster American production more sexed up, juiced up, more bullets on a mission, more carnage per clip between sun-up and sun-down, more everything than what Inspector Montalbano can bring to the table on the best of days, including the tango-ish soundtrack, the insistent accordion. More soul-of-the-hinterland kind of dynamics. (Besides, what Swede wants to vacation in Kentucky when he or she can more easily exasperate Sicilians when on holidays?) Just that the inspector knows a thing or two. He may be less amiable than Raylan Givens and much less lethal, but he knows a thing or two. Or that the ticket that was punched at the beginning of creation includes everything, tutti frutti, that can possibly happen to humankind, that humankind can taste, and it is forever and a day until the Fat Lady stops with the singing already. After all, who has not invaded Sicily? Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Vandals, Ostrogoths, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans, Angevin French, Spanish Habsburgs, Brits, Italians, Yanks, and throw in a few Swabians here and there… What has Montalbano not endured, absorbed and otherwise put up with?

Postscript I: With respect to Inspector Montalbano ad nauseam, Lunar has it that each episode has a ten minute or so stretch of the Awfuls, as when the director has time to fill and so, he throws in filler that tends to cloy. Therefore, the episodes are too long. ‘Even Homer,’ so said Horace winking at Dryden, ‘nods.’ Shakespeare got his unities of time and place all in a twist and his geography wrong. So snarked Ben Jonson. Eh…

Postscript II: But Talking Avocado survived Tallahassee. Back on the highway, listening to Radio Key West…

Postscript III: Drake, Cornelius W fears that he suffers from Casey Stengelism. Which is predicament attended to by language of a wonky sort. As when one is too ill to see the doc. Popular culture? Sure. But trash culture maggoty and rancid all the while it is emitting ads? Even to those who take the fork in the road?

Postscript IV: Brash poet dedicates a poem to GB. Makes GB nervous.

Received, Sort Of: Patrick Leigh Fermour’s Mani, Travels in the Southern Peloponnese, 1958, with yellow, blue and white cover, depicted on it a third eye kind of eye looking down on a town or village… A book about the wildest Greeks. A wild person flung it down on a table whilst I was in the vicinity, as if in challenge…

Thought-Thought: That Inspector Montalbano, as a TV series, is a distant but not all that remote a cousin to Night of the Iguana, cinema as directed by John Huston, based on a play as written by Tennessee Williams. Required viewing. I dare not cough up the word ‘humanist’ with respect to either production. So how about I whisper it, as did Marcus Aurelius (as played by Richard Harris in Gladiator), speaking about the fragility of the idea of a republic, one Roman?

January 18, 2023: [Good heavens, gentlemen, what sort of free will is left when we come to tabulation and arithmetic, when it will become a case of twice two makes four? Twice two makes four without my will. As if free will meant that!] Cited from Dostoevsky’s Notes from the Underground, 1864.

I had been rummaging through Blake and Wordsworth amongst the Romanticals. I drifted on to Coleridge, his discussion of what sensibility is and what it is not, his notion that every man is born an Aristotelian or a Platonist, the one ‘the sovereign lord of understanding’ the other… well, the other… the other did not confound science with philosophy, it seems, whatever that means. ‘… Whatever a man’s excellence is, that will also be his fault’? (The question mark is mine.) But like so, Coleridge wrote out his thought in a letter to John Thelwall on a Saturday night, nothing on at the bijou,1796. I blinked and then, the next thing I knew, I was thumbing through Dostoyevsky’s novella, looking for what, I did not know.

So then, yes, from Coleridge to Russian intellectual ferment, to Dostoyevsky’s novella. Which I read in my late teens or early twenties, perhaps thinking I would be treated with – as per ‘underground’ – some revolutionary mode of being, when in actual fact Dostoevsky’s underground was more like a ‘crawl space’ wherein lived vermin. Not that the novella lacked for politics, and Dostoyevsky had it in for positivists and utopians, but that he was not going to gratify my youthful romanticism with respect to ardor of a certain kind. I do not know what I thought I was reading then and how badly I may have misread.... This time around, it was not until I got to Dostoevsky’s mention of Heine and Rousseau, and how Heine reckoned that a true autobiography was an impossibility, and that Rousseau told lies about himself largely out of vanity, that a brain cell in my head lit up and alerted me to the fact that I had read the words before, might even have pondered them. Perhaps when I was existing on peanut butter and sardines in some hovel, was a squatter on the margins of what one might call the ‘existential’ as opposed to the political….

In any case, here I am reading Dostoyevsky’s cri de coeur again all the while I am asking myself, “What makes the loons on the right so loony?” (They have their cousins on the left, but what drives far-left behaviour is something else altogether….) And I hit upon words that suggest how it is that self-loathing becomes pleasurable, and that trucking in obvious untruths is self-validation. Some people think it is a great, great pleasure to spew nonsense for the hell of it; one knows, in this way, that one is alive. “I say, gentlemen, hadn’t we better kick over the whole show here and scatter rationalism to the winds, simply to send these logarithms to the devil, and to enable us to live once more at our own sweet foolish will!” (Graffiti from Notes from the Underground.) But when did ‘independent choice’ arise in humankind, let alone ‘shared intentionality’?

I turned to the computer. Began with a dissertation to do with primate behaviour, whether chimpanzees have a sense of what is ‘normative’ to them in their groups, and I was defeated by the jargon, the scientese aspect of the language, the need, it seemed, to define and re-define terms after each and every semi-clause. For whose benefit? My question was: is there perversity among chimps? Could one find among them an anti-social anti-hero who would flout every convention and decency just to redress a slight to his or her person, or that, though he or she is all too often looked down upon, he or she will hold their personhood to be superior to the personhoods of all those nitwits out there? &c. Would Lord Byron the poet and Dostoyevsky have gotten on? Bought each other drinks, played piquet? The former could be nasty in his inability to suffer fools; the latter was downright vicious, if the tongue in his cheek was anything to go by…. Chimpanzees? Lunar has agreed that Jean Rhys the novelist is an interesting figure, more so than most such figures, she an author famously known for her The Wide Sargasso Sea which I have not read. Who claims to have lived in a town so dull not even liquor could enliven it….

I distrust collectives. Individualism run amok is a hazard. There is no way to escape the gravitational pull of a seeming paradox. “Where the line exists between the individual who, say, is a force for the good, who, at least does not actively encourage the bad, and the man or woman who acts out or acts up to no end other than to act up or act out, and they will call it defending liberty, perhaps there we encounter Solomon Syndrome, actors with low self-esteem.” But when the Mystic, by ambition or still meaner passions, or (as sometimes is the case) by an uneasy and self-doubting state of mind seeks confirmation in outward sympathy, is led to impose his faith, as a duty, on mankind generally: and when with such views he asserts that the same experiences would be vouchsafed, the same truths revealed, to every man but for his secret wickedness and unholy will;—such a Mystic is a fanatic and in certain states of the public mind a dangerous member of society. Could be that Coleridge, in his ‘Aids to Reflection’, had either ingested too much or not enough laudanum for the chronic pain he suffered. Over time, he lost his sympathy for anarchists, if ever he had any. Oppressive regimes deserve to fall. But societies that continually mishandle what is common sense to one personhood and poison to another, that are bent on language that perpetually inflames the distinctions, so much so that thought itself is obfuscated, as everything, including the baby and the bathwater, winds up in the cement mixer – as it gets said in the movies: things are not likely to end well.

So I have lighted upon thin ice that covers quite a large area. Indeed, what is the good? What is the bad? How much for that pound of flesh? Philosophy has answers. Science has answers. Religion has answers. William Blake had answers. As did William Burroughs and Emily Post and Sweeney Todd. A yesteryear hippy might have said of a certain poet: “Hell, man, he was stoned without needing to get high.” To be sure. 5. Cast thy keys, O Rome, into the deep down falling, even to Eternity down falling, 6. And weep. Heard at an elevator: “Going up?”

Justice? An anecdote is told in Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot. Man smoking a cigar gets on a train, seats himself in a compartment, alone there. The window is open. Two women, one with a lapdog, enter the compartment. They do not like cigars, but they do not complain. Man continues to puff away. Of a sudden, one of the women snatches the cigar out of the man’s mouth, chucks it out the window with something like flair. The man, ‘with the most perfect courtesy, indeed, with the most refined courtesy’, grabs hold of the dog, dangles it delicate-like by the neck, and then, out it goes, out the window of a moving train. Thoroughly tossed. Dispensed with. At which point, the woman slaps the man on the cheek. There were further repercussions – of, perhaps, a political sort. Only in Russian literature, eh?

English Language Literature
: Or rather, I was watching a Merchant-Ivory film – Quartet – based on a book of the same name by the aforementioned Jean Rhys. At one point in the film, Lois Heidler (played by Maggie Smith) had a moment of reflection. I thought I heard, as I was in a dozy state, eyes semi-shut, that men are disgusted with the things men do, so they go and do the things men do: they drink, take drugs, and then, perhaps I heard these words: and they abuse women. Well, if those words were not spoken, the thought was implied. I thought: “Yes, perhaps, that is what men do, though I wonder about the ‘disgust’ aspect of it.” I amended the declarative to say, and now it was saying, as Dopey, Grumpy, Sleepy, Sneezy et al would have it: “Men like the things men do, so they go and do the things men do: they drink, take drugs, abuse women…”

Postscript I: Talking Avocado surfaces. Tallahassee. Having himself a break from the road. Met a retired art history teacher, Canadian ex-pat, at a downtown diner. Man complained of the violence in the area. Man had, in the meantime, soured on art. It was but an investment opportunity. One might just as well buy an electric toothbrush. Cultivate a canary. It was clear he despised himself. He was not about to hold up a liquor store. Would take up smoking again. Hell, we have been knocking it back for 9000 years or so. And now it causes cancer, booze, that is? But, so the man, said, it was either Florida or a condo in Toronto for his old age. Smug Toronto. A fishhook across the eye. Talking Avocado nodded. Said he had to be off. Had developed a sudden thirst for pulque. Had not listened to a hockey broadcast for well-nigh the last twenty years.

Postscript II: Our man in Champaign-Urbana, Cornelius W Drake, has it thus: Republicans flying high is proof enough against Fyodor's (Dostoyevsky) railing against determinism. Most of their continuing support comes from kids raised in Dad's warped backing of the GOP, and by unenlightened Christian indoctrination. Determinism Inc. These "kids" lead an automaton-like existence, their familial, social and religious environments have determined it. They've never had an independent thought. I take your point about the 1960s (although some definitely foresaw the republic's end, or at least they cheered it on). So I'll raise you the 1930s. There was common talk about the end of traditional, capitalistic America and its political system, of the nation careening either far left or far right. But FDR saved capitalism, and thus the republic. There was, in fact, a real danger then of its collapse. Drake stopped to catch his breath. I took a moment to throw the I-Ching. Continuity, wholeness, and dynamism came for me.

 

January 14, 2023: Non-sequiturs, errant verbs to follow… Or that I goes to the hospital and comes away from it once again with a condition: awe of nurses. How they, when they can, congregate around a nursing station. Talk politics, or what boots it on the ward. How they josh one another. How they are an energy field of which a doctor will, on occasion, gravitate towards, partake of a ‘hit’ of that energy, and depart, his body language suggesting gratitude, that of the nurses drolly saying: “Don’t mention it.” But this time around, an old woman in a faded hospital gown, she with an eagle eye in the recovery area, she searched out the wusses among her fellow patients. Her sweep now and then rested on me. Aha! Disconcerting. I had intended to read Dostoyevsky whilst there, the bit in The Idiot about the village girl who was bullied by everyone, and then the ‘idiot’ kissed her out of pity, and she began to know happiness. Not exactly Valley of the Dolls material, but perhaps Faulknerian…

Nabokov can be such a twit. So says Lunar in a reflective mood. Nabokov’s wholesale dismissal of Dostoyevsky whom I have taken to calling ‘Dusty’ – with affection… My submission to the debate: Mrs Yepanchin (by way of The Idiot) puts me in mind of a ‘dithery society matron’. Yes, as portrayed by Alice Brady in My Man Godfrey, screen treatment partially conceived by Franklin Delano Roosevelt. A joke, mesdames et messieurs. Nonetheless, the matron’s airy declaratives leaves one with whiplash, just as Dryden’s rhymes do…

Speaking of which, metaphysical John Donne is the greatest poet in the language apart from Shakespeare. Says Lunar again, he on a roll. I could see my way to agreeing, just that I now and then prefer Donne to the Bard, just that I have often failed to get through one of Donne’s sermons, he who became a cleric and wrote the things. Lunar, once more, being of service, directs me to ‘Death’s Duell’, Donne’s final sermon, his own death on the horizon. Must I? Heigh-ho, heigh-ho, a-haying we will go…

Just that, Browning’s long introduction to his The Ring and the Book, more than anything else in the English language, including the American language, and even after I failed to make heads or tails of Charles Olson’s disquisitions on ‘open verse field theory’, showed me the way to a rolling blank verse that, amiably enough, touches all before it. Was it taught at West Point, what Charles Olson instructed? Basta then! People who too often champion energy in language frequently are glassy eyed. Have you not noticed?

I ought not opine about Nabokov. I have not read much of his output (though I saw Lolita at age 12 for a quarter, American army base in Germania). I have only read smatterings of biographical matter pertaining to his life, but I have always been wary of aesthetes. A fine line separates them from fetishists, so it seems to me, after which I get confused as to what an aesthetic truly is. I often enough say I am a barbarian. Well, what sort of barbarian?

The kind who has travelled a great distance, perhaps as a pilgrim, perhaps as a looter and sacker. At last, he arrives at a hill with a vista of Rome in the near distance. Says to himself: “I’ve heard the rumours, but I sure didn’t expect anything this grand.” And now all bets are off. One can argue whether civilization as such is a good thing or bad – it hardly matters. Is there amber enough to preserve all of it? Civilization was inevitable, once molecules began to arrange things between themselves in a certain way, and bridge to ‘life’ and life… Do we leave it here to biophysicists, moralists, or bring on the dogs? Lunar takes a dim view of my frequent dives into jargon. Them there aestheticists… What, is language a beauty parlour?

“The more money, the more business, the more respect,” says a mafioso-arms dealer type in Octopus, Italian cop show from the 80s. It seemed a sentiment. Flocks of birds surge this way and that. So, too, human emotion, thought, opinion. What god, let alone human conscience? The smelly little orthodoxies, as per G Orwell…

Side Read (and it’s not going well): The Green Man, Kingsley Amis. In light of which, Cornelius W Drake, Champaign-Urbana’s man on the point, has said to me that Roth, Updike and Bellow had a problem with successive matrimonial alliances. “Friends told them to keep their ex-wife complaints out of their literature, but their ‘feelings’ got the better of them. When I was in the depths of Updike's Rabbit trilogy, I fancied him a favorite. That has faded; his increasingly long, metaphorical descriptions became too much. Didn't know Nabokov's opinion of Dost. Interesting. Any succinct explanation of it?”

Postscript I: Where is Talking Avocado? Not a peep. Perhaps he is on the 49 headed for Baton Rouge and a Canadian grill house…. Perhaps he has completely revamped all his views on literature.

Postscript II: Byron’s humour, of course, is lost on the humourless. These things happen in history; spells take over an entire collective, and the moronic is installed and hyped as enlightenment. No matter where you are situated on the political spectrum. I give you the House of Representatives south of here. Newly elected House Speaker. Well, he has the look. Has the look of a perp unsure whether to acknowledge a need for discretion or to flaunt it. Flaunt whatever it is that perverts him. Marjorie Taylor Greene has surely worked on that number in him, shined it up with bare knuckles, handed it back to him, as has M Gaetz and all the other darlings of Our Gang.

Postscript III: Vermiculation: to be eaten by worms... A pattern of wavy lines resembling worm tracks… The process of being turned into a worm… There is a great deal of Latin in John Donne’s 'Death Duell', a great deal of semi-clause development articulating the issues of death, beseeching that some comfort is possible at the prospect of it, that it is a liberation, that Donne’s meditation is a noble one for his being a poet, his Christ a poet’s Christ: the soul breathed by the second Adam into God… Or would you rather talk astrological determinism?

Postscript IV: I fell short. I did really try to hang in there with Terrence Malick’s Knight of Cups (2015), as I am partial to the man’s cinematic intentions. In this film there seemed to be a lot of being in one’s cups. The Hollywood poolside parties, the drugs, the sex romps, the bravado – as when one has cheated life and is cheating death, in other words has it all gamed out. A schlemiel is at the centre of it all, no matter the Pilgrim’s Progress tenor to his schlemiel-ing, he unworthy of the fussing-over that various women accord him. The endless cascade of stunning images which, taken all together, just beats one down, seemed to suggest that even the act of comprehension brings no understanding. But when the homeless on the street were the camera’s focus, when life’s meaning and general wretchedness were all too clear, and the bravado on their part was no less ubiquitous than the playboy’s bluff (just that these fools understood they were fools and knew something of the score – who was doing what to them), then the film touched me, and I regretted that the gravity of these scenes did not extend to the rest of the film. It was as if Fellini had come back to shoot a few scenes. They were brief interludes in the otherwise desiccated questing of the schlemiel. Are there decoctions for ‘existential depression’? Angel wings on which to nibble for a high?

Postscript V: On the notion that fate is a substance that pervades the entirety of the universe. Ergo, nature. The notion appears in an essay ascribed to Plutarch but was likely authored by someone else with a bone to pick with stoics. A whole lot of ‘consequents’ and ‘contingents’ and ‘necessities’ going on… Then there is the procatartic or that which initiates, and there is that which is autotelê or complete in itself. Well, whatever. We may reject such thought as fantastical, as having any bearing on reality, but for reasons I am not even sure I grasp, I find I cannot reject the ‘way of thinking’, the poetical-intuitive apprehension of crows, for instance, hundreds of them, caw-cawing at first light in winter. Every damn morning. Plutarch’s Moralia then, vol. VII.

 

January 9, 2023: Early on in Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot which I am revisiting, the ‘idiot’, a prince of sorts, in the company of an upscale woman and her daughters, tells how the mere sighting of a donkey pulled him out of a depression. (He had been depressed when he came across it in Switzerland. Did Dostoyevsky know the jokes about the place viz. cuckoo clocks, 1868 the year that saw Dostoyevsky’s novel published?) In any case, there I am reading the prince’s words pertaining to this donkey – it is a friendly, patient, hard-working, long-suffering creature, this donkey. I say to myself, as if in thrall to an epiphany: “How absent, how irrelevant the animal is, what with our AI and robotics and Ram trucks.” So long gone. And perhaps, Dostoyevsky knew it would come to this eventually. He would lay it on, and the image of the donkey, enduring everything, taking everything on faith, would tug at our heart strings so-called. Then the great Russian writer would segue; he would blitz our unsuspecting but culpable souls with his (the prince’s) account of, not an environmental disaster, but a stay-of-execution episode. What goes through the mind of a political criminal in the sightline of a firing squad? Well, his final moments are upon him. The pages swept me up. No doubt, someone will inform me where the equal is to be had in contemporary literature, but I wonder….

If art, as Coleridge had it, is the reconciler of man to nature, it seems art in our time is doing everything but. As if there’s no nature with which to reconcile. I ask myself yet again whether our hot shot technologies, despite all their claims, will ever answer to our spiritual needs, let alone our material needs, in the way that the donkey above did answer to both in its way, but without ever intending to, and even if humankind beat it with a stick. I watched a science-fiction flick which would purport to answer my questions, and in the end, it opted for a fail-safe ambiguity. Humankind? Humankind is but a simulation on a first name basis with its AI handler. Character? Who needs character? We are born unique, and perfectly so. Development? Maturation? You’re already there, kid. You just need an agent.

I wrote Lunar. Still under the weather, huh? I hope you haven’t caught one of the nasties. Nothing much doing here. It’s like, you know, winter. Sure, there are a lot of thoughts swirling about in my brain, but to what end? I ask myself if ‘social media’, of which this post has an infinitesimal share (and so, I am a party to it), is a monstrous instance of tunnel vision on a collective scale, how a thought-process, any thought-process just sucks one up like a whale, and as one sloshes about inside the beast, one thinks one is thinking, but really, one is just sloshing about… and maybe, just maybe, if, in fact, poetry is the highest form of thought, it is only paramount so long as it resists being railroaded, which, apposite the whale, makes for a very mixed metaphor. Lunar, I suppose, shrugged an all-wise, all-knowing shrug, or he went to the toilet to retch.

But then (from Childhood Pieties - Eric Ormsby poem, first stanza) I read: I grew up sullen, nervous, full of tricks./St. Paul and Milton were familiar ghosts./I sniffed First Disobedience from the bricks/And mildewed plaster of the Lord of Hosts;/from smiling lies rouged with a crucifix;/The naphtha’d parlour and the Sabbath roasts;/The bitter bibles where the saved would mix/Apocalyptic gossip with their boasts. And then, as the first two lines of the next poem – Two Views of My Grandfather’s Courting Letters – utterly relax the sustained torque and unease of the poem previous, I have splash down: So here is where it all began, in these/limp prevarications and apologies!

The two poems, as with the others in the collection, appear from a distance; they traverse a mesa and work down to a plain. They come into focus. You see them strutting their stuff in Time’s Covenant, Selected Poems, Eric Ormsby the rhyme master, Biblioasis Press. Be that as it may, as I read them, I believe I read the whole history of the underbelly of modernism, an American modernism of well-read, bibulous souls, and I say to myself that, though I only present fragments here of Ormsby’s accounting, they get to the nitty-gritty with expeditiousness, unlike the isms that superseded ‘modernism’, isms which only rearranged surfaces and made for allegedly interesting shapes. Bonus: I can go from Dostoyevsky’s universe to Ormsby’s turf without missing a beat.

Lunar sends me a clip. The Platters sing, in an epic fashion: ‘Only You’. Only you can make the darkness bright…. And of a sudden there is a unifying factor to this post, though I fail to see why I should be singled out….

Shifting gears: Cornelius W Drake of Champaign-Urbana: No doubt you’re correct about the ensuing two years, my friend, a combination of terror and comedy. (Here Drake addresses what the House of Representatives is likely to serve up, now that the Republicans have their Speaker of the House slotted after a vicious food fight on the House floor.) But I hold to my opinion that everything rests on the 2024 election which, after Republicans make complete fools of themselves, could largely wipe them out…. lacunae … You’ve got me wanting to read more Byron.

Whereas Scrope writes that a recent translation of Proust improves on Montcrieff’s, so much so, Proust’s jokes are now funnier. I respond. “I stared out the window of a Mt Pleasant rooming house (Vancouver, late 60s) at the False Creek mills below. The ‘creek’ is an inlet of the sea, the once mud-flat land now all marinas and condos. My brain perhaps turned by the reek of pulp and my landlord’s homemade wine, he lacking a finger or two because of his time on the saws, I realized Montcrieff was saving me from churning out even more execrable verse in whatever counter-culture mode than I was already serving up. At the very least, I was presented with what an architectural sentence was capable of. As well, I felt myself to be a little less lonely in the literary world, let alone the world itself. Because, in the end, no one who claims to dispense such good stuff as literary family values gives a rat’s ass, and never did, and is not likely to. The Proust-Montcrieff tandem did not truck in bogus promises.” With respect to the words immediately above, I did not relay all of this to Scrope, but I meant to.

Postscript I: Still nothing from Talking Avocado, likely to be somewhere in Louisiana… Crawfish on his agenda? Red beans, rice? Religious experience?

Postscript II: Harman greeted me this morning, saying, “There’s no room left on this earth for the animals.” I went on to read that the Great Salt Lake is disappearing. The alarming news triggered another memory cell. How I once swam in it, or rather floated in it, my Missouri godfather and godmother having conveyed me and my sisters there in a grey Ford, Customline model, an end-of-days sky tracking us. Mr Niermann, one hand on the wheel, thumb resting on the horn rim, now and then lit a cigarette with aplomb. Mrs Niermann smiled a lot. Lovely smile. They were an attractive couple, pious. Kind, unassuming, unpretentious. Helped people without making a fuss. A vanishing lot even then, perhaps. Not to be replaced by a notion that the poet, ‘described in ideal perfection, brings the whole soul of man into activity, with the subordination of its faculties to each other, according to their relative worth and dignity’. Coleridge’s words, though godmother read Keats. I would talk poetry as I might horse racing. I would refrain from doing so lest I cheapen both endeavours, just that the last thing I want in my head is whether Coleridge’s ‘whole soul and active man’ is yet another source of toxicity.

Postscript III: Euripides, by way of Plutarch’s Moralia, the essay entitled ‘On the Delays of Divine Vengeance’, to wit: Apollo lags: such is the way of Heaven.

Postscript IV: Speaking of ‘divine’, last night I was informed that the Divine Philippa died. I did not know her, but we did exchange some playful e-mails a few years back at Lunar’s expense. She saw much of the world, lived in a great many places, though she regretted not having crossed over the Khyber Pass. She wrote books and articles. She was, quote, a marvellous cook, a stellar host. She was a beauty, to judge by photographs I have seen of her. She took life seriously, if not so much herself. Great spirits are not grown on trees; they are the consequence of much living and learning, often the hard way. The thing is, it is possible to miss someone you have never met. When someone says the world is ‘diminished’ by the fact that she is no longer in it, and they spell out why, you feel it, too. What eerily adds to the diminishment is a parade of Facebook entries saying to a friend of Philippa: “Sorry for your loss’, ‘sorry for your loss’, ‘sorry for your loss’ and so forth, as if those lame consolations can address a void. But, tonight, in London, when glasses are raised in her honour, consider me there in spirit.


 January 5, 2023: I do not know how old the discussion is: whether thought preceded or followed upon the first use of language. One might point to Plato, just that the man was wary of words, had it in for poets. How would he have fared with Wonder Woman, Captain Marvel, I am so bold as to ask, as avatars for ideas as substance? The Pre-Socratics were up to something along the poetry-thought fault line, but I will plead the 5th on this.

You see, I happened to be reading George Steiner on Heraclitus, how that ancient Greek haunted Wittgenstein, Heidegger, Nietzsche, and how my use of the language perhaps leans heavy on the idiolectical. And then I could not understand a word of what Steiner was trafficking in his Poetry of Thought, and his Heraclitus eluded me too, for all my vain lunging after the logos, just that, if I could not savvy a sage’s intent, I could smell him, smell an olfactory aura of ash and figs and fish and wine and goat cheese when otherwise, there was nothing to smell but snowmelt outside the window. Happens to me all too often: there is a presence to sense, if only for a nano-second, but no sense to the words the presence utters. My frustration sometimes gives rise to period pieces (poems), and the characters therein might gad about in sandals.

Pure serendipity, but that very same morning, I had occasion to look at a lecture Eliot gave on poetry and drama, whether verse drama could ever be given a good and healthy instauration, and how he figured his own shabby efforts savoured of mixed results, and I reckoned – O, Apposite Thinking – that ours is a Rom-Com-Cannibal age and not much else. I had been reading Grigori Kozintsev on Gordon Craig and Artaud and others, how they were out to destroy, to obliterate, to absolutely eliminate all traces of that obscenity ‘commercial theatre’ by their experimentalisms, and we have been through all that, through the Dadaist, Surrealist, Cubist, and Whatever Else theme parks. To what end? Shakespeare in Love, Paltrow fetching? Tom Hanks marooned in Castaway, getting all Parmenides with a volleyball name of Wilson? Parmenides postulated that everything starts with knowing that one exists. When it comes to painting up a storm about a world gone mad, I will take Goya over Picasso anytime.

So I went through an Artaud period in my early 30s. Put his sensibility against that of, say, The Sound of Music or Legally Blonde 3, and sure, but of course, Artaud has the right of it in his assaults on the tender mercies of the audience, but American suburbia in its Westinghouse immensity just swallowed up his ripostes against the sentimentalisms. Perhaps William Burroughs cut deeper with his frat house rebellions, seeing as a great deal of our childhoods, as I remember them, were taken up with jokes about grotesque situations and fetid atmospheres. What of Lord Byron’s (Don Juan) scorn? Is it so inconsiderable a weapon with respect to the complacencies? Theirs was the best of unions, past all doubt/Which never meets, and therefore can’t fall out. Something one might read on a cereal box? I have known lots of scorn that happens not to rhyme, but has corrosive power right up there with Sherman’s march to the sea. What enables humankind to see things more clearly in one generation (for example, the theatre of cruelty) is but the haze the next generation gazes through. Haze… gazes… who said that? Cornflake name of Sibum. Gag him. The man is much too profligate.

And then there is the notion that Shakespeare’s poetry is ‘stronger than time’ (Kozintsev’s notion), that it is always moving through time, henceforth and therefore there can be no definitive film version of King Lear for instance, ever, whether the MGM lion roars at the start of the opening credits or the state picks up the bar tab. Artaud might have hated the European capitals, but Goethe spoke of the demon that will possess poets, in which case pass the salt.

And Byron’s jests are sacred jests inasmuch as they both defy the gods and defy those who deny the gods. Here is self-existence for you that rivals Plato’s shadows upon cave walls and Artaud’s artfulness reproaching genius texts: The dinner and the soirée too were done/The supper too discuss’d, the dames admired,/The banqueteers had dropp’d off one by one—/The song was silent, and the dance expired:/The last thin petticoats were vanish’d, gone/Like fleecy clouds unto the sky retired,/And nothing brighter gleam’d through the saloon/Than dying tapers—and the peeping moon. (Stanza VIII from Canto the Sixteenth, Don Juan.

And one hears ‘row, row, row your boat… and merrily… and… life is but a dream’ et cetera at some Parnassian campsite ever so faintly in the distance…. Marshmallows, wieners, Southern Comfort. Steiner wrote that what distantly happened in Greece as gave the world Heraclitus was a miracle, but also perhaps catastrophic. In the immortal words of Commissario Montalbano: che è successo?

Byron’s irreverence has an opposite: Hölderlin’s all-pervasive reverence. (A collision between the two of them, and they cancel the universe out.) They were near contemporaries, Hölderlin in his sanctuary tower (because unfit for the workaday world), and Byron in his gondola romancing everything that moved, so it seems.

Vancouver, the Hungarian’s restaurant (my headquarters back then), and one afternoon, enthusiasts – Hölderlin lovers – gathered at table, the Hungarian scowling. What, cabbage rolls for these idiots? Under his breath: idióták. He loathed having to work. Work entailed waiting on customers. He hated artistic pretensions, having shot Russians in Budapest with a rifle at the age of ten. There by the cash machine, he would ‘menace’, fingering his ring the size of a brass knuckle….

But Hölderlin, the most sincere and pious of poets, had his moments: What use are poets in time of need? So the oracle asks in his poem Bread and Wine. All of which – the question, the bread, the wine – the Hungarian could have related to easily enough, and he did make allowances for me, as I would scribble in notebooks. At any rate, I smelled a cult in the making, seeing as I had some idea of where those young poets were coming from, and it had little to do with reverence; had lots to do with plumage.

Johann Christian Friedrich Hölderlin. He remains for me one of those poets. That I should have reckoned with him long ago (I had perhaps jumped the gun with Rilke), all this to do with fact that I am cruising along with Byron, and that Steiner makes frequent enough mention of perhaps the most idealistic of the German Idealists, devoted as Hölderlin was to the Greek gods. He would meld them with some Dionysiac Christ, the gods, even so, dozing off in their separate world, one firewalled from ours, whilst we look for love. And here he is as if on cue, Byron sincere for once: The lamp must be replenished, but even then… Opening salvo from Manfred (which it is a dramatic poem, not a send up).

Nor can I say that there is consolation to be had, knowing that Hölderlin died alone and unrecognized, that the love of his life had predeceased him by a long shot, that, at times, he was, if not insane, out of his wits, and he lasted into his 70s. It took a long while for his words to get traction in any ampitheatre, any Madison Square Garden of the Mind. Byron had only half that many years under his belt when he gave up the ghost in Greece, having brought money and arms there for the fight against the Turks, and he was probably regretting many of the words he wrote. Since my young days of passion—joy or pain,/Perchance my heart and harp have lost a string…. (From Childe Harold.) In the world of verse, if not in the Ant Man/Miss Fury cosmos, win, and you lose. Lose, and I mean really lose, who knows, fortune might take a fancy. Did not Yeats exult when Swinburne packed it in?

Lunar writes so as to grumble about George Steiner. Too Parnassian, that guy. Do we romanticize Heraclitus when we say there was something in his brain that was closer to poetry cum thought that we have managed to lose, just as there are instincts we have lost?

 

Postscript I: I call Crow to wish him a Happy New Year. He sighs as if to say, “Must we?” American politics is the last thing on his mind. It is the last thing I wish to talk about too. Whereas Kydde was just in Marienbad, Czech Republic, amidst the colonnades. Talking Avocado is off the radar, but I expect him to reemerge in Shreveport soon: Fannin Street, Leadbelly.

Postscript II: Chanced upon Too Tall Poet in the street. I was calculating how many years I have spent on this street (rue Sherbrooke in NDG) when he and his shadow drifted over on the strength of his galoshes, he saying that he was still ‘on his high’ courtesy of the news a month ago that his poetry manuscript was accepted. I congratulated him on his high, having previously congratulated him on his manuscript, and I advised him to enjoy it while the buzz persists. Harman, listening to her car radio somewhere west of Eastman on Highway 10, has heard that publishers are abandoning poetry as it does not sell, and they no longer fear calumniation should they be shamed for pulling the plug on the Muse, just as the Freedom Caucus down south no longer fears Trump. What, since when has Poetry ever bullied its way into or out of anything? Wink, wink, nod, nod… In any case, what does a radio show doing culture know? But did not Byron relish pulling a verbal Three Stooges routine on Southey’s mug whenever he, Byron, got the chance? Keats was threatening to bring off a no confidence motion on Shelley… but had he the votes?

Postscript III: from Plutarch’s Moralia, ‘Progress in Virtue’, and perhaps quoted on the floor of the House in the U.S. of A. as vote after vote to elect a Speaker has so far broken apart on sea-pounded rocks: The incurable are those who take a hostile and savage attitude and show a hot temper toward those who take them to task and admonish them… Trump’s protégés… Otherwise, in Sappho’s words: My tongue breaks down, and all at once/A secret flame throughout my body runs… and Plutarch has it that these words might depict one who has a genuine grasp of philosophy, however much Sappho might have meant them as an instance of lovesickness.

Postscript IV: Cornelius W Drake of Champaign-Urbana tapped me on the shoulder (metaphorically-speaking). “Got a light?” (Metaphorically-speaking.) “I’ve had it up to here with Charlemagne, biography of, written by a woman more interested in births and weddings, hundreds of pages of the stuff, than in stallions rearing, warriors slashing, raping, pillaging –: medieval hoedown of mayhem. Am I sexist? Clearly, whatever parasite that dug itself into my brain and rendered me, a male, toxic has mutated, and there is, for the nonce, no known inoculation for this new development. Maybe, I’ll read me some Slouching toward Kalamazoo. Peter DeVries. How you been?”

 

January 2, 2023: While Alexander Blok, symbolist poet, cracked the ‘iambic whip’ in Kozintsev’s memory, the latter man wrote that he and Stanislavsky were on about stage designs and the technologies pertaining to them. In a bitter state of mind Stanislavsky asked: “Why is the human mind so inventive in matters concerning butchery… or concerning the bourgeoise comforts of life?” He went on to ask: “Why is technology so coarse and primitive when man is striving to satisfy not his bodily or animal requirements but his most elevated spiritual aspirations?” Why, why, why? Well, onward Christian soldiers and computer hacks.

The book from which I derive the quotes is King Lear, The Space of Tragedy, University of California Press, 1977. The writer is, indeed, Grigori Kozintsev, notable film director. His book in diary form diary reflects on his making of a Lear film. He philosophizes on Shakespeare’s wretch. In any case, I watched the film and had difficulty with it, due perhaps, to the poorly synchronized subtitles, the dialogue cursedly hard to follow. So much so that one might lodge another complaint against ‘progressive’ technology and feel self-righteous in the bargain. Afterwards, decompressing, a British sci-fi about space travel and undiscovered planets and parallel universes on view, I wondered if technology would, one day, truly answer to our spiritual needs. Eleusinian rites on Titan? Golgotha on Pluto? Samadhi on Mars? Farce brutalized becomes tragedy, so said, or so wrote one Gordon Craig, another man of ‘experimental’ theatre who died old and utterly alienated in Vence, France. Or else, after the tragedy you get the farce, and man, do you ever get the farce until you are sick of it.

I have read Browning’s The Ring and the Book in its entirety and Carl Jung’s collected works (which I later had to unread, as it were), and I expect within the next month or two to have done with Byron’s Don Juan, but I wager I will never get around to Balzac’s La Comédie humaine, all 90 or so novels (though Yeats, I think, did read every last one of them and bragged about it). I may or may not watch Kozintsev’s Hamlet, but I do recommend his book cited above, one of those books that addresses so much more than the sum of its particulars, from Dostoyevsky and Pushkin and Eisenstein to what’s on at the Bijou…. Is shame the most basic human emotion? Or shamelessness, say what?

Quote from the Kozintsev exegesis: ‘Methods of literary research have entered a new era. Once it was thought that a poet was the best judge of another poet. Pushkin, Goethe, Coleridge, Hugo all wrote about Shakespeare. Then philosophers took him up. Psychologists studied his characters. Then arriving just in time with their knowledge, came the historians of the Elizabethan theatre, the literary critics, the specialists in rhetoric. Shakespeare’s texts were explained both as the spirit of the Renaissance (full-blooded and earthy), and as the neurosis of our times – the psychoanalysts delved into their inner meanings. We also produced those who liked to brandish questionnaires at the author. Shakespeare went down now as a champion of the vanishing aristocracy, now as a defender of the rising bourgeoise. It was all there. Who has the strength to find his way out of all this… and then came the era of the precise sciences. All quarrels were at an end. How can you doubt statistics? Mathematical linguistics got them down to work.’ Will algorithms catch up to Shakespeare, he still running at a comfortable pace with a comfortable lead in some literary Preakness until the end of time? Once a Brit author in a London wine bar told me how lucky I was not to have Shakespeare as a monkey on my back, me being a New Worlder, veritable barbarian who could blithely scribble away without fear of censure. Well, I was Old World born to Old World parentage, but sure, barbarian – I are, yawpingly, that.

In the last couple of weeks, a number of notables have died, but at mention of Ian Tyson’s death (cowboy balladeer), I stopped a moment and re-checked my memory. How, 1965 or so, I would stop by a friend’s Seattle apartment, on my way to classes at the university where, amidst 30,000 other students, I had a very brief career as an on-coming academic acquiring training wheels. That is to say, if I had survived those classes and my failing grade in symbolic logic about which I have nightmares even now, I would have become ‘acadeemed’ in the course of time, Touring de France through a life’s worth of syllabus. (My friend was the first of us to break away from home – Olympia, and he did this by way of a mental ward.) He would fry up eggs and bacon, pour us out some gin, throw Ian & Sylvia on the turntable followed by Holsts’ The Planets and then Lenny Bruce, and he might even recite some of his execrable Beat poetry (mine was even worse, so much worse), but what does not kill you, makes you stronger, even with those four winds blowing lonely coming for your jugular….

Received: King Lear, The Space of Tragedy, Grigori Kozintsev, University of California Press, 1977… ‘with constant reference to the development of European theatre and the influence of Meyerhold, Artaud, Gordon Craig and Peter Brook’.

Book that Sidled into My Digs by Way of My Local Bookstore: The Overcoat, Nicolai Gogol, Merlin Press, first published 1956, translated by David Magarshack, ‘decorations’ by John Edward Craig – any relation to Gordon Craig and his woodcuts? For which I paid $8 or thereabouts, which I see listed on an internet book dealing site as selling for $300 rounded off. Am I not smug?

Postscipt I: Talking Avocado explained his stop-over in Dallas thusly: “Just had to see how immersive immersion is with respect to ‘Rainbow Vomit’, some art show.” He provided no further details. His ultimate objective is Key West. He hopes to get there one day, if his Buick holds up.