EPHEMERIS

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July 25, 2023: Granted, I was flattered. Eric Ormsby, friendly-like, decided to join me in my dream. Esteemed poet, tangoist, bon vivant, scholar, was about to demonstrate his capacity for hustling, as we were headed for a poolhall, snooker the game. Commercial Drive, Vancouver. It would have necessitated time travel, the venue as yet resistant to the yuppie invasion that changed the character of the ‘Drive’ henceforward in ways I still find too painful to recall. And Calabrians and Sicilians hanging about the place never tired of letting me know that, for all the time I spent practicing on a snooker table and would be spending on it, I would not achieve anything like mastery of the game. Yes but, the attempt was still a beautiful thing, so I liked to remind myself.

In any case, it was disconcerting, the way Ormsby chalked his cue, as if he knew what he was doing and proceeded to the break. He sent the cueball rolling, and it gently ticked off a single red ball from the 14 other red balls racked together in a triangle and so, leaving me with nothing to shoot at. Thereafter, the dream went vague as to the rest of the snooker action. We might have stood around and discussed Wallace Stevens. This, of course, would date us. I suppose poetry has moved on, though I suggest all such movement is illusory. Middle Kingdom poetry (Egypt 1800s BC) in translation could squat and call no undue attention to itself, say, in Kalamazoo. The Tale of the Eloquent Peasant...

We might have discussed Lunar and his newfound relations with various persons in the islands off Scotland, persons mystically inclined. We might have discussed Doctor Atomic the opera, given that a movie was coming out about the ‘father of the bomb’ in tandem with some flick about ‘Barbie’ or a doll, or we might have zipped our mouths and concentrated on the game in church-like silence. I had been reading an essay, or rather an address, one delivered (in Brussels, 1948) by Graham Greene on the fate of Christianity, and in particular Catholicism. Something in the address moved me to care, though I would consider myself not an unbeliever so much as a pagan with stoic inclinations against a backdrop of the pleasure principle. And this, by way of Graham Greene by of Wyndham Lewis: something to the effect that death is spiteful, does not care much for optimism. A certain fatalism?

Greene had words to say for Charles Dickens that took the wind out of my admiration for the Victorian novelist (I had recently finished reading Bleak House, which it is a tome with many interlocking characters), Greene stating that in Dickens there is no evil, therefore no spiritual dimension; there is only bad economic policy, and with a little reasoning, things can be set right. Perhaps I should not have been, but I was startled to learn that the game of ‘Monopoly’ was played as far back as 1938, that the game was first conceived in 1902, and as per Greene: ‘England’s heart beating out in bagatelle towards her eastern extremity’, which words are fairly meaningless to me but that, in close proximity to mention of the aforementioned boardgame, they acquire a cryptic patina, as when four one-armed men, dining together, so arrange their seating that their arms should not clash… All this in a town called Metroland. A suburb of Halifax? The Four Horsemen &c?

I call them Graham Greene’s essayettes. They have been my bedside reading for the past few nights. In one of the pieces, in homage, Greene quotes J B Priestly when Priestly might have been talking at the spirit of the year 2023, not broadcasting at some period of time in the war years of the 1940s, the blitz on-going: ‘Nazi-ism is not really a political philosophy, but an attitude of mind – the expression in life of a certain very unpleasant temperament – of the man who hates Democracy, reasonable argument, tolerance, patience and humorous equality – the man who loves bluster and swagger, uniforms and bodyguards and fast cars, plotting in backrooms, shouting and bullying, taking it out on all the people who have made him feel inferior’. Oh, man, replace fast cars with a Boeing 757, and backrooms with Mar-a-Lago, and presto, you have got Barbie doll pink Geist on your hands. But one more quote, cannot resist, and in Greene’s own words: … ‘and where can we find a more complete escape from the ruins of history than in the poetic pages of Colloquial Persian’, as opposed to those of a French or German phrasebook, roundabout 1941. There was so much more at stake in that war than a battle between economic systems…. But I digress, as it gets said.

Otherwise, in the words of Cornelius W Drake, speaking to the passing of the crooner Tony Bennett: I tuned out contemporary music when disco came in. I have missed nothing since. So I shall stay with Bennett, Sinatra, Ellington, Basie, Mozart, Berlioz and Beethoven. Even Mahler.


Received: Four novels, all by R K Narayan: The Guide, 1958; The Man-Eater of Malgudi, 1961; Vendor of Sweets, 1967; A Tiger for Malgudi, 1982. As recommended by Graham Greene some 80 years ago.

As Per Lunar: … ‘… mysticism (does) fare better in a Celtic burr, the danger being it can become, if not sufficiently controlled, mere mistiness. Yeats got sucked into it’ ...

Postscript I: Talking Avocado is talked out, he says, and begs to be, as it were, overlooked, ignored, shunned, boycotted, frozen out, surgically removed, at least for the next week or so. À bientôt then.

Postscript II or Picked at Random: The sketchy stands of pickerel weed/That oversee the river’s surface have/A lazy grace of curious alertness./They seem to gaze away from shore/especially in mid-summer when their small/Successive petals begin to form. From a poem titled River Plants, of which this stanza opens the poem’s third part entitled: Pickerelweed. And all of it hails from Time’s Covenant, Selected Poems, Eric Ormsby, Biblioasis, 2007. Ormsby, you have a way of observing the minutiae of things without ever bogging the reader down in them….

July 20, 2023: The Comptroller of the Universe sent me a word. ‘Atheos’ was that word. It is a Greek word that, among other things, signifies abandonment by the gods (as opposed to non-belief or atheism). There are implications here which I am sure she, the Comptroller of the Universe, wished me to consider. I will not, in so many words, consider, as this sort of thing never ends well. Whether there were gods who abandoned us, whether anything at all has abandoned us, something like ‘sense’ is abandoning us as we speak. There is a great deficit in public discourse. I rest my little case.

Lunar has always said, speaking of mass shootings, that lack of imagination figures in them. The busy byways of narrow logic. And although he is no believer himself, he has pointed out any number of times that most atheists he has had words with are beset with tunnel vision and are downright un-poetic. (Evangelicals, however, are narcissistic, so much so that biblical words shrivel up and die on the vine in their company, or implode with bombast.) Lunar then sends me a link to a poetry reading. W S Graham (1918-1986), a Scots. He is doing the reading replete with all those r’s. One of the poems, as it happens, is about space. In that space there is a beast. It would seem that everything depends on how one treats with that beast. Best to love it, if you can. R-R-R-ilkean (as in Rilkean). All those r’s. The other night I stuck my head out the window, having recently wondered where all the fireflies got to this season, and there they were – almost at eye level to me, fourth floor of the apartment building in which I reside, and flying high, high above some hydrangeas across the street, right up to the top of a power pole. And it seemed they were saying, “Don’t count us out yet. We still have a few tricks up our sleeves.” All those twinkling r-r-r-r-r’s… A whole lot of firefly shagging going on…

So, poetry then. Cannot live with it; cannot live without it... And having not much left to colonize, it seems the colonizers are going to colonize themselves, and wear fancy sunshades while they do it, and with sun-blockers. Enter AI in a zoot suit, soft-shoeing all the while. How’s that for a mini-essay on Foucault with a view toward getting Christopher Hitchens a drink?

Indeed, feed AI a few fun facts, and it will spit out a novel, naval genre, Napoleonic era. “No one can apologize for human nature,” said somebody or other in a German police procedural of some years back which was set in Venice, and it is strange on the ear to hear all that Cherman being spoken in back alley canals, and not a Venetian dialect to be heard within miles. As for Trump, Cornelius W Drake maintains that the noose around his neck tightens, but that one cannot account for the behaviour of a single juror who can dynamite deliberations, court having been in session. Just as the notion of random choice seems to be losing some of its lustre in recent deliberations on how evolution works, so chance in cahoots with a sh-t show just might haunt us when it comes to, what, ‘accountability’?

Perhaps what follows relates to the above, perhaps not, but last night I dreamed a kitty cat. Either I had rescued it from starvation, or it had been born with a dread of hunger, but there it was chowing down at its food bowl, ecstatically happy because it had something to eat, only I could see it had but one morsel left of its meal, and then what? Its doom? Its shattered elation? Earlier, I was asking myself as to the origins of ‘cute’. Did Stone Age Man ever regard a wriggly pup as ‘cute’? Cute, it seems, is a clipped version of ‘acute’ with a meaning leaning towards shrewd or keen…. But when did “Oh, he’s so cute” first enter our consciousness? When Chaucer had been long gone? When Elizabeth Barrett Browning, hopped up on laudanum, stopped smiling? When we ceased eating dogs? Cats were sacred to the Egyptians, but ‘cute’?

And still earlier, Oxford Café, and Too Tall Poet had presented me with a poem, and it was a fine poem, indeed, a cut above what he has been up to of late, and I thought, “Isn’t it good that one can still be surprised, that now and then, in the machinations, the schematics, the doings, the carrying-ons of the universe, things can come together, the combined effect of which is, in a word or three, something like beauty, no false notes struck, no faltering in the rhythm. A long, elegiac line, limpid in the best sense, in no hurry, and the full body is presented; it is not dismembered and wrapped in plastic and gnawed at by rats….

Otherwise…

But back in the real world, in yet another police procedural – Italian, although Sicilian is spoken on the premises, an ex-press agent who happens to have a knack for solving crimes, who has written a novel that no one read, who is writing a novel that no one will read, has a moment of self-realization (it is even epiphanic), and he shuts his laptop and makes of it, as it were, something like a discus, and he then spins around like a man about to chuck a discus and wings the damn thing out the door, whereupon it smashes against some rocks. It is a satisfying moment. It smacks of self-liberation. Yes, the futility of authorship. The machine perhaps flew for twelve metres or so. Later, it will have to be reclaimed and taped back together. Because it’s never as bad as it looks, and it’s never as great as it seems – that damnable novel in progress. So spoke a faux, sympathetic voice buried between the lines somewhere in Genesis….


Received:
https://warwick.ac.uk/fac/arts/scapvc/wwp/about/archive/writers/wsgraham/231079/… which has to do with W S Graham reading his verses...

Postscript I: I have been uneasywith respect to Talking Avocado. Here is a man who lives on an island off the Canadian west coast. Here is a man who is a great reader, who travelled a great deal until his last and fairly recent foray through the U. S. of A. took the stuffing out of him (he had simply wanted to get to Key West and drink in a bar that Hemingway frequented, and he did, driving there and back in a vintage Buick); who has authored a number of books, who has often provided me with counsel, and here he is indicating to me that he fears he may be losing it. For he has become addicted to Two and a Half Men, which it is a sitcom once very popular, that had in it some actual wit in addition to the jokes dependent on various bodily functions, potty jokes, ones aligned with a refusal to knuckle under the usual pieties, but that the show sometimes drifts off into empty smut and general mindlessness such as one might associate with three-day binges…. And then, well, some martial arts woman has come to reside on the island. Talking Avocado is taken with her. And it might prove fatal, he being too old for that sort of thing. She is friendly, but she does not suffer fools, and he might be just that – a hapless fool. A fool who can run circles around her when it comes to the canon is still a fool, even if he likes her freckles. Could be Talking Avocado has gone and gotten himself a new round of cabin fever and needs another foray into SomewhereLand.

Postscript II: … … an impression of sculptured rhetoric, of innumerable politicians facing every way with carved open mouths and hands raised in the silence of stone… Well, I was struck with this semi-sentence. (To be found in Reflections, a rather uninspired title for a collection of minor ‘essays’ written by Graham Greene as collected and compiled by one Judith Adamson, a Montrealer, circa 1990. Greene was in Paris and there was a strike going on, and the year was 1934. But the sentence immediately brought to my mind an image of rhetoric as squeezed from a tube and being spewed about, say, at a Trump rally, Trump's tiny hands straight out of some mix-and-match set of doll parts. And then another semi-sentence a few pages on, and just for the hell of it, I quote the thing, because it satisfies in me some need of drollery: … it was, one remembers, the Victorians who first exploited the full emotional satisfaction of a holiday in Switzerland…One might could see Orson Welles delivering this remark, smirk on his face, derby on his head, Ferris wheel in the background…

Postscript III: From The Tale of Sinuhe, a Middle Kingdom poem circa 1875 BC, translated by R B Parkinson, the last few lines of which are: …

I was given funerary priests;/a funerary demesne was made for me,/with fields in it and a garden in its proper place, as is done for a Chief Friend.

My image was overlaid with gold,/and its kilt with electrum./It is his Majesty who has caused this to be done./I was in the favours of the king’s giving,/until the day of landing came.

So it ends, from start to finish,
as found in writing

a few millennia ago....

Postscript IV: And in the immortal words of Cornelius W Drake, apropos of the last twenty years or so: ‘I recall writing exactly that every day for several hundred days before GWB launched the Iraq War. But Bush-Cheney agitprop was the most effective I had ever seen. An entire nation bought into their bullshit.’ And yes, and now in Florida, they are going to teach that slavery was beneficial. And perhaps it was. But for whom? Even old alpha dog Hemingway would have cringed.

The I'm Sure I'm Misquoting This Quote Dept: But as attributal to Dorothy Parker, to wit: 'Beauty is only skin deep but ugliness goes straight to the bones.'


July 13, 2023: I figure an alien visitation would occasion results similar to those of the Spanish incursion into Mexico. Relations between the invader Hernando Cortéz and Montezuma the Aztec emperor and defender, slow to warm, did attain, apparently, affectionate exchanges. But then things turned nasty. Greed, menace, suspicion, outright hostilities, disease (pox, salmonella?), religious differences… all the charms of passive-aggressive behaviour – it made for a variegated slaughter in the end, whatever the agent of death. A kind of farce whereby Montezuma, under house arrest, was to be seen to rule over a capital city population of an estimated quarter million people, preceded tragedy. And then Montezuma was killed. Either Cortéz murdered him, or a power struggle fomented by his own kind took him out… In any case, Cortéz’ eventual triumph was a close run thing, as it used to get said, and were it not for European disease-spreading bugs, and were it not for his Indian allies who hated the Aztecs, Cortéz would not have prevailed. No wonder he believed that his God had his back, the lucky sod…

I figure Montezuma foresaw his own extinction whilst Cortéz carried on, albeit Cortéz and his forces were mauled pretty bad by the Mexican resistance. (You might consult The Discovery and Conquest of Mexico by Bernal Diaz de Castillo, roughly late 1560s, for a ‘narrative’. (Contemporary readings of the history suggest that, and I say it again, were it not for the off-continent viruses, the Mexicans would have, soon enough, taken horses and cannons in their stride – items they had never encountered before – although the tribes from whom they took tribute might still have made things dicey for them.) Castillo wrote his account of the expedition and conquest with a view to rebutting lies, as he saw it, that were being published about it all. Views of Cortéz’ personality range all over the place – from rapacious to idealistic….

In a venture broadly described as imperialistic, attributes like ‘rapacious’, and ‘idealistic’ do not necessarily cancel one other out. ‘Ruthless’, vicious’… As opposed to ‘honourable cavalier’… shall we bring out the brass scales? Castillo, who campaigned with Cortéz, seemed to understand that the man’s character would be viewed favourably or harshly, depending on how history turned, and who wrote it. At least Castillo did not romanticize his ‘captain’, wise to the contradictions the man hauled throughout half the world. Gold ingots and the Virgin Mary, to be sure… And dial the clock back two thousand years, and much the same could be said for tin and Aphrodite, goddess who did not look askance at profiteering so long as she got her cut.

I suppose that for most problems solutions abound. It goes that way and then one’s electronic devices act up, and googly Google says not to worry, here is your return to paradise in six easy steps. And then it gets sticky getting stickier, and one siren voice says do this and another says do that, and three over there say au contraire, and sixteen off to the side say there but for the grace of God, and in this way, the human mind is always at work, but always in some primitive mode or other, no matter the technological trappings, no matter the transcendental potential of a cheap epiphany. Bernal Diaz de Castillo wrote that Cortéz tried hard to minimize the casualties amongst his Indian allies and even amongst his enemies the Aztecs but, you know, forces had been unleashed. Hubris is not when you think you are better than anyone else, but when you think you are in control, and you are not. Even so, a fair number of times, the Aztecs had Cortéz on the ropes, and he always managed to weasel away…. When the Aztecs sued for peace, as it were, it was not so much that they reckoned they had been out-soldiered but that they recognized they had no wind left in their sails. There was no tech support number to call. Contemporary historians claim it for a myth, that the Mexicans had it in their mythology that one day, white-skinned men would appear out of the east and rule them. Contemporary historians say this was icing superimposed by Christian religionists on a triumphalist cake. On the other hand, Castillo spoke to it often enough in his history, recorded it as a fact that the Mexicans believed it was so, and he did not seem the type to shabbily proselytize….

Whereas Chapters 52-54 in Charles Dickens’ Bleak House, lead one to conclusions that, in essence, are not much different from what one might glean from a bloody history of Tenochtitlan, which it was the Mexican capital and a wonder, and the Spanish were right to marvel when they first had it in view. Life, as lived by humankind, is sticky and perfidious, and is never as easy as advertised. But Bucket (Dickens’ police inspector, and was his name pronounced ‘buck-it’ or ‘boo-kay’ as per a Brit sit-com) interviewing various personages in the Dedlock baronial abode has all his investigatory ducks in a row; he knows what’s been afoot, though Lady Dedlock will not be able to say that wealth and privilege have satisfied her expectations of life: life is the proverbial sticky, and it is perfidious. Otherwise, even the most blood-thirsty Aztecs (ritual sacrifice de rigueur) were never as craven as Bucket’s interviewees – the Smallweeds, the Chadbands, the Snagsbys looking to capitalize in a monetary way off Lady Dedlock’s closet secret....

In the Meso-American world there was a ballgame, the playing of which was meant to keep the cosmos in balance, to keep it ‘maintained’ even if, in some instances, it seems to have cost the losers their heads. I would like to believe in its efficaciousness, just as I would like to believe that the modern game of baseball has had its ritually beneficial effect on societal well-being. I have felt that it had that potential when I played the game, and poet and athlete might inhabit the same body or at least, from different vantage points, appreciate the poetry of the game. Should money-grubbers and sick politicos finally succeed in thoroughly ruining the pastime, I will not hold out much by way of a future for the nation-state to the south of here.


Postscript I: Cornelius W Drake on wonderment: ‘It's only natural to wonder how an advanced civilization can be so bloody. What’s unnatural is...’ But the man left the thought unarticulated. Tenochtitlan had been the subject of his inquiry. But a town like Champaign-Urbana has to suffice for the nickel-and-diming that is our advanced state. Mass shootings. Canned laughter.

Postscript II: Talking Avocado threatens to take out a restraining order on the world. ‘Well, Two and A Half Men has gotten less funny. That was probably inevitable. Sticky and perfidious, you say?’ He goes on to say that perhaps it is important to remember, apropos of reading Proust, how it is a powerful need, the need to make the world familiar. The question perhaps to be asked, and Talking Avocado apologizes for asking it: to what extent does one let boredom drive one to reach for the unfamiliar or even the grotesque? ‘How mad can auntie render a guy, she going on and on about the dogs of Combray? Reports of new canines in the area? Did the Aztecs have a notion of adventurers in the sense that we have? Or was it all just expansionism on their part, the acquisition of tribute-territory, tax collection? Thieves stealing from thieves? What of this dream I had, Sibum? I dreamed this woman whose body was a virtual keyboard, and you press this part of her and you’re linked to an article on Aztec culture, and that one, and you get a list of the kings…’ … The less said, the better?

Postscript III:Of so much haste, of so much impatience, our machines are the consequence and not the cause. It is not they who are driving civilized man to his doom; rather he has invented them because he was already on his way there; he sought means, auxiliaries to attain it faster and more effectively… Well, that is one way of looking at it. From The Fall into Time, E M Cioran, translated from the French by Richard Howard.

Damn Near Poetic, If Old Hat Dept: Only the speed of light is regarded as theoretically an absolute. But since the nature of every object changes even when it approaches that speed, the one absolute left to physicists has a universally modifying effect rather than a freezing one. Further research into dimension and relativity is awaited with great interest as it is even now explaining much old truth in terms of the new language of mathematics. And the philosopher of the future, speculating upon the nature of man in cosmos, will certainly have to draw upon the conclusions of math, wholly, for his background, just as Aristotle drew upon the natural history of his day. If the speed of light is absolute, and I daresay it is, though I venture to add that the nature of light needs still more subtle investigation, and if all else is relative, then we have, indeed, a radiant confirmation of the thesis that each positive contains the germ of its opposite, excepting light, which has only the most inconceivable opposite of utter darkness. From Generation of Vipers, Philip Wylie, 1942. Me, I will still bet on a moving bus.

July 5, 2023: Every so often I get a despairing e-mail from a certain nation-state to the south of here. The inevitable questions ensue. So there is a funk in progress. Is it ascribable to the political state of play enveloping one’s life? Is one’s mood colouring how one views the world? At our ages, anything is possible. And Christ, just going to the grocery store anymore in this country could find us shot dead before we get out to the parking lot.  I mean seriously. It's ALL a crapshoot these days let alone bringing our ages into it, etc. 

I confess I find myself looking for tea leaves everywhere. It is decidedly less than scientific – this exercise; there is no logic in tea leaves unless the logic be part of something unseeable. But in the ancient world, ‘fate’ had everyone by the short hairs. It is said that, with the advent of Christianity, things got better, the state of the intellect raised a notch. There was at least the possibility of going to heaven based on one’s virtue, though the pagans were not unacquainted with the notion of virtue. Come the Renaissance, and faith reverted or was re-directed to Man Himself as the expediter of His Own Destiny. Come the Victorians, and Machine Age man had only to apply himself and everything would be hunky-dory. By the way, Leopardi (1798-1837) thought it all so much stuff: that notion of progress. I cannot say what was going on in the mind of Charles Dickens as he cranked out his novels, but I would wager that he smiled in the direction of Optimism but did not take his eyes off the Bouncing Ball. Tea leaves…

So there I was in all innocence making my way through Chapter 51 of Dickens’ Bleak House. It was almost a breezy read. But then I struck a paragraph; it may as well have been a reef. His hopefulness had long been more painful to me than his despondency; it was so unlike hopefulness, had something so fierce in its determination to be it, was so hungry and eager, and yet so conscious of being forced and unsustainable… And so forth and so on. The person described is caught up in a hopeless lawsuit and the cards are stacked against him. Lawyers are sucking him dry, and unto themselves, they are a predatory colony. The person describing him – Esther Summerson – is anything but self-indulgent and will keep her worries to herself, but even so… She loves Ada who has recently married the young man just described. Ada loves her back, but she also loves the man just described. Well, I suppose it is complicated. Which brings me back to the top of this post, and the hope that it is not all just a crapshoot, or that the ancients, even with all their frenzied rites and drunkenness, may have been more sober than us…

The e-mail referenced above, one of those ‘there’s something in the air’ riffs, could have been written at any hour of any day of any week of any month of any year of any decade of any century of any epoch going back millennia by any man or woman, but it was written a couple of days ago. It claims no prescience. It is a venting, to be sure. But tea leaves, eh? How is it possible for an order to collapse when all who have a share in it regard it as the proper order? To put it more precisely: how is it possible for it to be destroyed by those who have a share in it, in the absence of any extraneous influence – to be destroyed when no one wishes to attack it, to be annihilated when no one repudiates it? … … Such an effect can be produced only by unintended side-effects of action. (From Caesar, A Biography, Christian Meier. Basic Books. 1982).

And here: Human beings always do much the same things: they try to secure and enjoy their lives, attend to their duties and interests, make the best of their opportunities, engage in administration and politics, contend with their opponents, and seek to distinguish themselves. However, when the Romans of the late republic did these things they hastened the dissolution of their order, whereas their predecessors in the classical republic, acting no differently, had simply demonstrated its durability. For the configurations had changed.

And here: In earlier times the hand of fate would doubtless have been discerned in a situation in which everyone destroyed what they wished to preserve. It is obviously a case of the kind of involvement in history that can lead conservatives to engineer revolutions and make reformers effectively into enemies of change – that can make a lover of peace into an agent of war, the forces of evil into a power for good. Yes, indeedy, &c. Can make Cornelius W Drake, a social-democrat, Burkean…

And here: The civil war, launched for the sake of Caesar’s honour and safety, had the side-effect of making him the master of Rome and its empire. Just saying. God knows one should not read too much into words.

And here, dammit: When someone has been declared a demigod and is treated as such, many factors may contribute to his actually becoming one.

Postscript I: Apropos of the previous post, Cornelius W Drake: ‘It also seems self-evident as well as massively important, this business of distinguishing between disintegration and a crisis of legitimacy. If Trump is re-elected, we'll be in full-blown disintegration. We're already in a crisis of legitimacy, because of Trumpers: anyone who differs from them is by definition illegitimate, including the president, the press, the courts.’ Otherwise, the man rounds on me for my technological ham-handedness, as if to suggest that, by now, this deep into the computer age, an ability to post a post for all and sundry eyes to see should come as naturally as scratching an itch. In other words, he was unable to call up on his machine the post previous to this, something he attributed to ‘upstreaming’, as if he were talking salmon enroute to spawning grounds….

Postscript II: And I expect Talking Avocado is lying low after fessing up to an addiction to Two and A Half Men, which it is a TV show of fairly recent vintage, and he is no stranger to high-level works of literature and history and philosophy. He is a proud man for all that he would avoid confrontation and any possibility of fisticuffs; for all that he would not bruit it about that he has some low-brow affinities, and that they are held with some conviction, with all the force of Goethean gravitas.

Postscript III: The ancients were always on guard for instances of hubris. Caesar back in Rome for the long haul, and celebrating his triumph, had his ear whispered to by a slave: “Remember you are human.” Soldiers sang filthy ditties based on Caesar’s sexual peccadillos. Even the axle of his chariot broke in the course of his triumphal procession, as if something would go out of its way to mar a perfect day. What this has to do with us, ask me in another year or so when some of the dust – be it Tinkerbelle’s or Pigpen’s dust – may well have cleared. Julius Caesar otherwise died of his pride. He wished to be loved, liked, revered, admired, respected, befriended, but he would not kiss ass for the favours. The Senate, consciously or not—what to do with Caesar?—kept heaping honours on him which led certain men to conclude that Caesar wished to govern Rome as a king and so, they assassinated him. Well, that is my ‘take’.

In the Meanwhile Dept. Circa 1942: The spectacle of a great physicist, astro-cum-nuclear, who was also a leading apologist-for-God-according-to-the-Congregationalists, was one of the merriest to be seen in the past two decades, for those who take their merriment out of Imminent Despair. The intellectual predicament of the personage had him at odds with his own cloud chambers. It made necessary, he seemed to feel, the confinement of all observed phenomena to the frame described by St Paul—and not just that, but the Congregationalist definition of the St Paul border. This bricklike nuance led, among other things, to a debate upon whether the universe was winding up or whether it was running down. Posses of learned men scrabbled over the planet setting balloons into the stratosphere and peering through smoked glass at eclipses in order forever to settle this matter; all sorts of manifestations of God were boiled in test tubes and ground up with pestles in the hope or the fear that what had started some two billions of years ago was or was not building up to an awful letdown some five or ten billions of years hence. The enterprise of these mahatmas and their discussions per se were of considerable classical moment, and even of conceivable future practical use to, it might be suggested, some sweating tycoon who could get control of the stock in a corporation that had harnessed the cosmic or solar radiation thus uncovered and wire it to every home, where it would be utilized for the cooking of waffles, the operation of electrical clippers, and the mechanical reversion of unsalted butter to sweet cream. And to the running of porn sites – the great achievement of our particular slice of the era. In any case, the rather playful venting above could have easily have come out of some Grand Fenwick gazette, science section. (See The Mouse That Roared, flick meant to be a satire of ‘the bomb’, for the location of said Grand Fenwick). Freedonia? See Duck Soup. The venting, however, is from Generation of Vipers, Philip Wylie, 1942. And I reckon that, at the time of the venting, the Holocaust was going full-bore, and bombs were falling all over the place.


July 3, 2023: … … And I awoke in it next day, to find that there was still the same shade between me and my darling….

The above is one of those sentences (from Bleak House, Charles Dickens, circa 1852). It is a sentence put in the thoughts of Esther Summerson, the book's heroine. It concludes Chapter 50. At first blush, it is an unremarkable sentence. It is, in fact, an unremarkable sentence. It is one of those hewer of wood and hauler of water sentences. But read at a slightly off-kilter angle at an early hour of the morning, and it is a thunderous sentence inasmuch as it nails it, speaks to all that may nag and worry and harass and bewilder two people who love each other, and there is nothing to be done about it: no blame. One sighs; one shrugs. It is all a conspiracy. In the corner of one’s eyes one might detect Daffy Duck up to no good, pronouncing existentially with a lot of spit-splatter, addressing no one in particular: You’re despicable.

Or one switches dials. In a book entitled The Countess of Pembroke Arcadia (Sir Philip Sidney, 1590-something) one encounters the word ‘smackering’, and what a word it is. For it does not at all have a sound to match its sense, which is that of ‘longing’. Though in the sense of ‘to have an itch for something’, the word might more appropriately obtain, sound and sense more closely merged. It is a raucous word, not a romantic word even if, in the heat of a flirtatious exchange, it might suit. Yes but, first line of a song: Let not old age disgrace my high desire…. Nine lines later: Old age hath known whatever was in youth… 0530, and some robin chirps away. One keeps one’s youth at arm’s length, though a fresh summer morning with a bit of breeze is always a lovely thing, just enough to keep one’s thoughts from being wholly of oneself and therefore unfit to be ‘imparadised’….

On to another word: obnuntiation. It is a Latin word, and it has to do with the announcement of ‘evil omens’, as when one reads the flight of birds for signs or sees lightning. I came across this word in a biography of Julius Caesar. It seems, in the years when he was trying to establish himself as a major player in Roman politics, that he was frequently up against Cato and the senate and other parties. Some pending legislation that one disliked, and one could bring augury to bear on it and forestall a vote and thwart a stratagem. I encountered the word just as SCOTUS was happily reversing decades of what had appeared to be settled law with respect to ‘affirmative action’ and ‘rights’ and such. Had the majority opinion been spooked by a two-headed cow? Politics are more than simply politics if they are the central element in the life of a class. This may have no bearing on the way in which they are conducted, but it crucially affects the life of the individual. Failure in politics then means total failure, since political rank is not just one goal among others. Perhaps this is too much of a stretch (because I am not sure that there exists in America a class that exists solely for politics – a patrician order, say, as per kazillionaire underwriters and media tycoons), but the current edition of SCOTUS, its weathervane cocked in a radical-right direction, certainly does savour of ‘politics, and nothing but the politics, ma’am.’

Or this, and what to make of it? Rome was thus able to pull off the trick, exceedingly rare in world history, of finding, within a class that was full of powerful tensions and particularist interests, a group in which the overriding interest of the whole was institutionalized in a non-partisan way – if the outcome of a long series of skilful attempts can properly be called a ‘trick’. ??? There are tea leaves somewhere in those words, but damn if I can decode them. Could be ‘what’s at stake’ is mirrored a little more clearly immediately below:

To distinguish between disintegration and a crisis of legitimacy is not just to quibble. The distinction is in fact extremely important. The manifest discontent was not generalized into criticism of the system. At no point were the opinions and interests of those suffering objectivized as a cause; at no point did their objections and new ideas interact with current needs in such a way as to generate a political alternative. The lower classes were probably largely indifferent to the existing order. But they did not question it, even though they might periodically revolt. From Caesar, A Biography, Christian Meier. And it sounds like a job for Cornelius W Drake – to wave a magic wand over the words ‘disintegration’ and ‘legitimacy’ and elicit some theatre from them. And it could be I am a sucker for portentous sounding sentences. Could be I have not yet outgrown my predilection to find analogies between Roman and American histories even where there are none to be had.

Or this (from the same book, in a discussion of Caesar’s Commentarii de Bello Gallico or his Gallic Wars): … The particular emotional control that we have inherited from early modern times, which sets up official channels, as it were, between emotions – good and bad – and their expression, arose only with the modern state and the particular civilization it engendered. Fear then came to be regarded as a base emotion. In the Roman soldiers, however, courage and fear probably manifested themselves more directly; they did not need to conceal them and therefore reacted more naturally. It was thus possible to address them more openly. This probably has to do with the fact that ancient communities lived in the present, a fact that is also obvious in the sphere of public order and the performance of countless public functions. After all, a large number of soldiers who had to fight man against man in a confined space felt differently from a modern army. So then, whilst engaged in rapine and pillage, your average Roman soldier was more able to express his innermost feelings? PTSD, anyone? So much for “Catch-22” or “Good Morning, Vietnam”?


Postscript I: Patching through to Lunar… And he has been through another ordeal: a second and much more invasive operation to do with setting his spine in order. And among the results was this: a two-hour discussion with his surgeon as to the nature of the soul and whether there is one, and if so, &c. Or else Lunar – liquid morphine in play – hallucinated the whole thing. But it seems the good surgeon was more in need of Lunar’s counsel than the other way around. A once in a lifetime conversation between a medico with science in his tea leaves and a skeptic… It does warm the heart to hear that such conversations still take place, and that they still take place without recourse to cheap religious sentiment or even cheaper scientific dismissal… Me, I have a bet or two riding on the latest in quantum physics…. …

Postscript II: Cornelius W Drake: well, the man looked it up: ‘Lee’ is the sheltered side, or the side away from the wind. Speaking of boats and, who knows, the Ship of State... What is leeward of American politics? Or politics in a lot of other places? The old fishing hole? Velvet Speakeasy with DJs? Vale Perkins in the Eastern Townships under a clear winter night sky, though a clear night sky in August with the odd meteor streaking across will suffice…

Postscript III: Talking Avocado: ‘I’ll see your Proust and Swann’s Way and raise you a serendipity. Seeing as I was at the recycling depot where I often find discarded books. And lo and behold, and there was an Arcadia by your man Sidney, circa 1590-something. I lit a small fire on the beach and popped open a beer. I read. I read of knights masquerading as shepherds going on about their love woes. Later, I fell off the table (not the wagon). It’s to say I have sunk so low that I have been watching Two and a Half Men streamed on a computer screen, and in doing so, I have formulated a question. Question: in comparison to the Elizabethans, are we degenerates or merely different, with a tendency to eschew full-blown sentences in favour of snappy one-liners that hit an audience like the contents of an asteroid belt? The episodes of the show – lots of cheap, vulgar schtick albeit some genuine wit is interspersed amidst the raillery… And I’m thinking, am I that easy a mark? Or am I privileged to have had such emphatic chuckles?

Postscript IV:Through the mere reduction of the sex act to one of no lasting physical consequence, it will return the instinctual psyche to the ancient social condition in which man did not know that there was any consequence of coition but pleasure. &c. From Generation of Vipers, Philip Wylie, 1942. But ought we to trust a man who uses the word ‘coition’? I hesitate to quote the rest of the paragraph as it would class some parts of humanity as ‘primitive’. Even so, Mr Wylie ties the bow with the following: … practiced every form of promiscuity and polyandry, of perversion and diversion, of witchery and buggery, and rape as well, so that one may assume there is to be no ipso facto emancipation for mankind in this newfound freedom from unwanted sex burdens, but only another opportunity for him to use his head and a fresh, fancy chance for him to make a botch of things if he doesn’t. I have in mind a scene from Rome, the HBO series wherein Atia’s daughter Octavia, irritated by her mother’s love moans in the course of ‘coitus’, begins to mimic those moans at a dinner party and so, mocks her mom, her use of the word ‘coitus’ scornful, dismissive. Enter Cornelius W Drake. No, not from a triclinium couch. But he chimes in, as follows: ‘… at least the Elizabethans retained a sense of modesty, whereas our ribaldry is shameless. But that may be too shallow of a view. Folks might have been every bit as shameless then. All I do know is that today's culture (American) is not something I admire, or am proud of, even if it's a constant (which I don't believe it is, within the US, that is).’ If I am going to bring the sex act and other bodily functions down to their most basic expressions, and utterly stripped of romantic notions at that, I would rather have it from the Sicilians as portrayed in Mafioso with Alberto Sordi, film by Alberto Lattuada. A dark comedy with some horror…

Postscript V: What made Caesar so cruel when he was apparently a civilized man? Well, he had a timetable, and he hated it when things got in the way... … May he not have been impelled by the impatience that from time to time assails someone who has put immense effort into attaining a certain goal, thinks he has succeeded, and then presses on with increasing haste, refusing to be held back for fear of losing direction, becoming less and less able to wait and let things take their course, and seeking to force events? If so, such impatience would explain the enormity of Caesar’s conduct. Although it would not make it less heinous, it would make it possible to construe it differently – as deriving less from an urge to destroy than from a quickening of Caesar’s inner tempo, which broke through the inhibitions that should have restrained him. And what with all his carnage-making in Gaul and all the gold that subsequently flowed into Rome, the price of gold fell by twenty-five per cent….

Received: The Discovery and Conquest of Mexico. Bernal Diaz del Castillo, circa 1521. American edition: Farrar, Straus and Cudahy, 1956. Serendipity led me to it – hardcover in good condition just sitting there in a sidewalk bin, and it would cost me a loony (Canadian dollar to you Yankees) to acquire it. I decided to get it because it was a primary source for William Prescott’s History of the Conquest of Mexico (roundabout 1843), which I consider to be one of the great books of history. Inside the shop I asked why the steep discount? “Because it’s history,” cheerily answered a pleasant-faced woman, Daffy Duck in her eyes, "and we’ve got so much of the stuff we can’t give it away.” “Good to know,” I said. A lot of such books at large in Montreal… Check those bins.