Ephemeris is updated every few days, then archived at the end of each month 





March 28, 2023:: I hear from a friend that it has been rough going: The Wings of the Dove as written by Henry James. ‘Ponderous, laboured sentences’. ‘Sentences that make you work for it’. She says that she was raised not to waste time; bothersome sentences eat up precious hours and mangle sense. I answered that so far as my memory went, I could not recall having been discomfited by any Jamesian construction made of clauses, bits and pieces thereof, full-blown sentences. But perhaps there was in the man an imp who wished to divide his spirit between rude democracy and social ascendancy, what was called the ‘transatlantic’ in him. So then, a lot to justify in a sentence. Rendered his writing idiosyncratic. But was he not something of a snob? Did he not truck with the notion that the only life worth living is the one most firmly entrenched with prestige and privilege, be it corrupt or innocent? You tell me.

My friend’s remarks put me in mind of Proust (Moncrieff’s translation). My reading of Proust took place an epoch ago. I believe I did read all seven volumes of In Search of Lost Time, which was to be followed by Gibbon and his Decline and Fall &c. The sentences of both works would alter ever after how I heard the English language. How was one to make architecture out of disparate words? I figured I had the perfect opportunity, in a Canadian setting, to somehow marry American spontaneity and something like ‘improv’ to the structured English sentence. Well, it was nonsense that I spewed inwardly, too unsure of myself to spew it publicly unless I were a couple of pints into any such proceeding.

There are various passages from various prose works fictional and otherwise that continually drift through my mind – like ghost ships, and at times I just wave them by, and at other times, I hail them, as if through a megaphone in the old days of shipping. Where are you sailing from? Where are you off to? He keeps coming around – Tacitus’ Tiberius. From Proust, and I suspect it is from the closing pages of his Sodom and Gomorrah, but I could well be wrong, is that scene where Baron de Charlus is looking for his gratifications whilst there are aeroplanes over Paris packing bombs. It spoke to me then of how the 20th century was on track to some apocalypse, one made out of being human and being all-too-human. Who is to say otherwise, or that just now in Kyiv there are not similar scenes playing themselves to this or that outcome, needs to gratify, the world getting hellish?

The first chapter (The King of the Wood) of Frazer’s The Golden Bough (1922) is prose that always comes around in my thoughts, like a comet on a return visit. There are these words: ‘In antiquity this sylvan landscape was the scene of a strange and recurring tragedy’. Mr Frazer took to describing the lake – Lake Nemi, the surrounding woods; he invoked the spirit of Diana (Artemis). I am uneasy about use of the word ‘haunt’, but that chapter has always done so – haunted me, as had that scene from Proust remarked upon above. My friend, writer of excellent short stories, treating with Henry James, talked of an ‘attenuated aesthetic’. She said: ‘More Beardsley than Beckett’, but apropos of what, I cannot say: she lost me there. In any case, there is nothing attenuated in ritual murder, which is what being ‘king of the wood’ was all about, being both king and priest, knife at the ready, your successor behind some tree stalking you. A dig on her part, perhaps, at the Jamesian house style that she charges with wasting her time? Someone might say: “Kings, woods, spilling blood – ancient stuff.” I think I could easily enough respond, if flippantly: “Have a look at film footage from any RNC, DNC nominating convention.” But as for words, too many words, reading Bleak House, I am reminded of a well-known fact: it was Dickens’ intent to pile on the words, as he got paid by the word. But for all the verbosity, I do not feel weighed down or imposed upon. I do recall that, in some context or other, I once had the temerity to say that, in a poem (in prose too), the shortest distance between two points is not always fewer words….

Read enough books, live long enough, and everything serious and everything farcical is one and the same. I give you Andrea Camilleri and how, in one of his crime novels, he describes Inspector Montalbano as ‘metaphysically disconcerted’ by the sight of yet another cadaver, the novel entitled The Dance of the Seagull. A dying bird at the novel’s outset, running in circles until it drops, horrifying Montalbano, prefigures a human death later in the book, and that aging and long experience are no shield against the effects of the grotesque. Metaphysically disconcerted… Here an economy of words seems to encapsulate a great many minds over the last couple of centuries…. In Dickens’ Bleak House, a certain neighbourhood, slum basically, goes by the name of Tom-All-Alone. Would this name not serve as a monicker for our solar system, galaxy, universe, just in case this universe is but one of many, just that the others perhaps enjoy the greater boon of federal funding?

And also in Bleak House, Tulkinghorn, enjoying a bottle of port, is not drinking wine so much as he is tippling time, and time has the aroma of nectar. Two score and ten years… And what of sweltering toads? What fascists out there best rate the epithet?

Postscript I: I am at a loss with respect to Talking Avocado. His American road trip has drained him somehow, his spiritual energies at a low ebb. I have not heard from the man, and I do not wish to pester him. Let us have the benefit of your newly acquired wisdom…. “What wisdom?” I can hear the man say. “I know even less than when I started out. I crossed the border at Blaine, smile pasted to my face. I was thinking that the burly customs official on the American side was fed from a different sort of cow than what we Canadians eat. Something like that. I was questioned and then granted admittance. Purpose of my visit? ‘Research,’ I’d had the cheek to say. ‘Oh yeah? Into what?’ ‘Hard to say. Something most likely very abstruse…’ ‘Ab what?’ ‘Struse. Abtruse.’ ‘Oh…that. Have a nice day.’” Something like that…

Postscript II: What seems to me to be the proper state of language, or: the language never old and never new,/such as the world wears on its wedding day… from A Letter from Li Po, Conrad Aiken, Selected Poems, Oxford University Press, New York. Or is the sentiment expressed too sappy? Look, I have not had occasion to breathe Mr Aiken’s name these past thirty years going on for... Caucus of robins on an alien shore/as of the Ho Ho birds at Jewel Gate/southward bound and who knows where and never late/or lost in a roar at sea. From the same effort. E A Robinson’s Richard Cory next? Imperially slim?

Postscript III: From Longinus on the Sublime: ‘How would Homer or Demosthenes, if he had been present, have listened to this passage of mine, and how would it have affected him?’ For indeed it would have be a severe ordeal to bring our own utterances before such a court of justice and such a theatre as this, to make a pretence of submitting our writings to the scrutiny of such semi-divine judges and witnesses…. Judge not lest you be bushwhacked? Best not set aside your day job? The fine print of a grant proposal? Thoughts no one has thunk these past two thousand years? Lunar at his kitchen window directing gamma rays at passersby with devices in their hands? And when those devices are pinged, ponged, lit up, the carriers of those devices may now confidently state that they exist? I never could get on with Spenser’s The Fairy Queen, though I have admired the odd Spenserian stanza…. When a compression of words and rhyme and overall tone are just right… How many singers, irrespective of musical category, have I heard over the years who do not sing, they shrill? Scads.

Postscript IV: Met up with Too Tall Poet in the Oxford Café, a chummy little place with a fish tank. He seemed in fine enough fettle after his heart surgery. He had this amusing tale to relate: that he had, fairly recently, submitted a few poems to a local rag. Editors of said rag turned the poems down, albeit they said the poems were nonetheless, of interest, that is, if he – the poet – would consent to tutoring. Ostensibly to be delivered by their very own poet-in-residence. How about that? Some laureate entity, one supposes. But tutor-able? Too Tall Poet is a rather ripe seventy-two years of age and has a handful of book publications to his credit. I suppose it is never too late to learn a thing. Still, I could only suggest: “Gad, man, I hope you told those people to fuck off.”

Postscript V: But suppose a very handsome man who lacks the art of dealing with women, and a great genius who lacks education or practice in writing, and on the other hand a very ugly man well-trained and practiced in seduction, and a very cold man well-educated and practiced in the manner of expressing his thoughts—the latter two will enjoy women and glory, and the former will undoubtedly stand there watching. From which it can be deduced that in the final analysis the power of art in human affairs is much greater than is that of nature. Lucan was perhaps a greater genius than Virgil, but it does not mean he was a greater poet, and more successful in his undertaking; rather, no one even considers him comparable to Virgil…. From Leopardi’s Zibaldone, or Zibaldone di pensieri as written up between the years 1817 and 1832 roughly, his ‘hodgepodge’ of thoughts, his ‘immense notebook’.

March 21, 2023: No doubt, something in my head is going soft, but try as I might I could not get onboard with Roger Ebert’s savaging of Heaven’s Gate, Cimino’s film debacle of 1980. A swarm of critics, including Vincent Canby, joined the feeding frenzy on arts pages throughout the realm. But worst film ever? It has to be said: Kris Kristofferson could not act though he could do ‘Help Me Make It Through the Night’ in the shower with the best of them. Harman was surprised to learn that there is more to the history of the west than cowboys. Oligarchs, you say, fully outfitted with hired guns and assassins? The film did take liberties with the actual history, but in the broad strokes, perhaps very broad strokes, it was accurate enough with respect to the conflict between the land barons and homesteaders in Johnson County, Wyoming, see range war. That there was no love lost between the combatants. In any case, it is, what? forty years on, and the film has been reassessed, and the reassessment has been kinder to its reputation. To paraphrase Scorsese, the film has unsuspected depths.

I have been telling friends that when I am done with my reacquaintance with the charms of fiction, the reading of, I intend to revert to my years-long reading of history, re-perusals of the likes of Tacitus and Thucydides and the rest of the gang. Sallust, anyone? Polybius? But I have Bleak House to get through; I stalled on Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot. Now Cornelius W Drake of Champaign-Urbana who, impiqued with the on-line way of doing journalism, threatens to start up a street rag he will call The Street Rag, insists that I must read Book V Chapter 4 of The Brothers Karamazov, or he will know the reason why. To complicate matters, in my local shop of books, I came across translations of three Andrea Camillieri Inspector Montalbano novels, the translator a poet apparently, and the result…. great literature? Perhaps in a galaxy far far away. But I may well find I have a taste for Sicilian smart-aleck asides against the arseholes that be, for Officer Catarella’s mangling of his mother tongue. I may well persuade myself that I might as well go whole hog, and with my minimal Italian, read the novels in the language they were meant to be written in.

After reading a particularly stunning passage in Bleak House involving the Snagbys and the Chadbands, and Jo and Guppy and the constable, I was able to tell myself that poetry and prose may or may not run in parallel lines across the expanse of the universe, but at some point, the lines do intersect, and then, one assumes, they diverge again. But for a while, it is hard to distinguish between the prose and the poetry, how the one may catalogue horrors while the other serves them up in terza rima. It is not that prose becomes ‘poetic’ of a sudden with purple hues, but that it now carries the same weight as poetry carries, and much of the weight of poetry is what is left unsaid, unless things get drafty between syllables….

Lunar and I had been discussing Lord Byron the poet and sometime swashbuckler, if only in his own mind. Or rather, Lunar brought the subject of Byron up after I suggested that anything I have written over the years and may yet come to write does not and will not matter, and he, the rotter, was in accord with the not mattering. Then he said, with reference to something he has been working at for quite some time – a biography and appreciation and critique of a certain individual who was both friend and nemesis to him – that the work addresses that very question. ‘What happens if you drop a man of Byronic sensibilities into this age? Of course, Ray was born in 1940 but the conclusion was as true for him as it is for us: the Byronic does not fare well. The proof of the pudding is the witlessness that is the companion to almost all comedy. It pretends to be brave, but the reality is that it does so only within limits prescribed by others. Byron would be butchered onstage. There is certainly nothing in modern poetry that has his bite. At best it is abstracted, partially hidden, and that is not the fault of the poet either. The atmosphere through which it might travel is not there.’ Otherwise, humankind lies in its cradle still, in a tailcoat of Dickensian tailoring.

Postscript I: Who was Christ’s rival in antiquity? Apollonius of Tyana. He gave Vespasian a hard time. Apollonius to Vespasian by way of letters. 1: ‘Apollonius greets the emperor Vespasian. You have enslaved Greeks, I am told. You think you possess more than Xerxes did, but without realizing it you possess less than Nero did. Nero both had it and refused it. Goodbye.’ 2: ‘Apollonius to the same. If you think so ill of the Greeks as to make them slaves when they are free, why do you need my presence. Goodbye.’ 3: ‘Apollonius to the same. Nero freed the Greeks in play, but you have enslaved them in earnest. Goodbye.’ Make of this what you will, but that, gradually, the petulant philosopher warmed to Vespasian who was not, as it turned out, all that bad as a ‘ruler’. The man had liberality and wit, so much so, that on his deathbed he remarked: “Dear me, I think I’m becoming a god.” For those of you not in on the joke, he would have been alluding to a deified Romulus, Julius Caesar, Augustus Caesar, and Claudius. These deifications were political appointments. Did someone, psst, whisper Donaldus Trumpus? (The Apollonius bits are from a biography of him written by one Philostratus, Greek sophist, Roman imperial period, and he may have rolled his eyes a lot.)

Postscript II: Talking Avocado is safely back on his island the name of which I will not divulge, lest the man be deluged with stalkers and investigatory committees. He said his peregrination throughout the southern portion of the North American continent was harrowing, not by way of anything in particular but by way of what was in the air, and it built up over a period of time and broke over his head. “I was made a paranoid,” said he, “and it did not sit well.” Was there anything pleasurable in the experience? There was the driving, the cruising in open spaces, good music on the radio, and reacquiring a sense of what space is. It is a sense he experienced before, but on the Atlantic. Freighter ship on a perfectly calm day, the water glass, and he could see the curve of the earth… Otherwise, the man intends to convalesce. He may, in the future, threaten us with poetry, it remains to be seen. Talking Avocado is actually rather taciturn.

Postscript III: Foulard? If you’re reading this…

Postscript IV: The Japan-Mexico ballgame, semi-finals of the World Baseball Classic tournament, was a delight to watch. You will have to take my word for it.

So-So Movies Department: The Company Men, 2010… And yet, I could watch the craggily countenanced Tommy Lee Jones in any flick good, bad, or indifferent. He won me over for keeps in The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada and No Country for Old Men, and in plenty of his other films. This time around, in a depiction of a financial collapse, 2008, he, in his role as an executive tossed aside by downsizing, seemingly has the last word on ‘economics’. As if he were sitting on a barrel with other folks around a woodstove, he is saying, more or less, that when we get too far from being able to see, hear, touch, smell what we make in a world financializing everything (as when, in this digital age, 2 plus 2 = sweet 16), then we are in a heap of trouble. It is far from being a new argument, the speech he trots out in the movie, but it carries a point that has long been ignored. And in my books, Art Speak, in lieu of making art, is the corollary of the financializing of everything. Perhaps I have dreamed this or read something on this notion before. Hell, I dunno. And then Lunar complains to me how we need not touch one another again, as in be in one another’s presence, literally (no more dreaded dinner guest), as we might as well attend to each other’s births and deaths and ceremonious debuts and dismissals on-line. Power lunch? Press a button. I-Love-You-Smooch. Drag your mouse. Well, he is crochety.

March 16, 2023: Apologies. I have been distracted. I have been sidetracked, diverted, rerouted, even feckless, pursuing a Great Chimera – the long poem, full feature-length. The less said the better.

And I had been intending to say, upon viewing, what? episodes of Paris Police 1900, that that which one takes away from the viewing is a certification of the notion that men, hombres et al, who pursue power and insist on keeping it, will often resort to evil. Whereas women play for all the marbles. It is almost as if the game they engage is a meta-game, one that makes of power – the pursuing it, the keeping of it &c – a child’s pastime.

The historical backdrop to the episodes is L’Affaires Dreyfus. Dreyfus, a Jewish officer in the French army, was about to have his day in court again. He was re-convicted on a standing charge of treason. (He was soon after cleared of the calumny, the accusation being that he had passed military secrets to the Imperial German Army.) Radicals of all stripes, generally grouped around pro-republican leanings or pro-royalty sympathies, the latter of which included antisemite agitators, were roiling up French streets. Social media was analog: newspapers had a field day pouring gas on all sorts of fires. There is a hint that the fomenting of the hate against Jewish people had less to do with ideological fervour than with right-wing greed for maximum profit of a decidedly monetary kind. Steve Bannon has his artful antecedents. But had Orwell and Camus met up as planned in Paris, at the conclusion of hostilities – WWII, would the subsequent history of literature been any different and Sartre less schmoozed?

And I had been intending to remark upon ‘tackiness’ American style, that perhaps it originated with roadside hamburger stands and motels. Even so, I will have to let this one go: I have not researched the subject even if I have lived a great deal of my life never far from the shout-outs of trash culture. Just that, a viewing by chance, of Dennis Hopper’s last feature film Chasers, leaves me with the sense that Hopper was paying homage to the tackiness; that there is even beauty in it despite the satirical lens Hopper brought to bear on it all. Moreover, he saw fit to parody himself, what with the red convertible the length of a city block that his character drove, sex doll in the trunk. I have never cared much for the actor and director, but the man did have an eye and talent to sustain it, and perhaps it is to be regretted that he did not do more with that eye. An over-indulgence in drugs? That James Dean died on him? That he was hamstrung by Easy Rider fame?

I had also planned to say a few things about the Kingdom of Redonda, that I understand it to be an island somewhere in the Spanish imagination; that the writer Javier Marías was perhaps its most noteworthy king, but that he died, and there have been successors and pretenders and attendant controversies since. That one qualification, among others, for the position of ‘king’ is that one must spell ‘Kociejowski’ successfully. In any case, I am informed that I am mistaken. There is no such qualification, no such spelling bee. I understand, however, that there are parties who are scheming for a violent overthrow of the current office holder…. There are rumours that the kingdom is to be dissolved….

Postscript I: Even Lunar agrees that an Orwell-Camus head-to-head meeting would have been something, two men determined to tell the truth

Question: Why do some films work so brilliantly with so little? The answer lies therein, I suppose. Credit Lunar for the self-answering query. He then goes on to misspell TikTok as Ticktock, endearingly, and how it is killing flamenco.

Postscript II: Talking Avocado, nearing the completion of his peregrination to Key West and back – back to an island off the west coast of Canada, and I cannot divulge its name, seems to have survived Alberta, specifically Calgary. The last I heard he meant to aim his vintage Buick at Kicking Horse Pass. Be that as it may, his plan to resurrect Hemingway not necessarily as a great writer but a notable one with something to say, and to wonder why Sartre, for instance, gets off easy, though he lied through his teeth about the Soviet Union, has come-a-cropper… because well, who cares? Who, at this late date, gets exercised about such things? Still, nothing has changed: ideology continues to trump ‘truth’ and greed trumps that, and what? Plutarch was a cross-dresser?

Postscript III: From Lucian’s The Lover of Lies, Or the Doubter, a dialogue as translated by A M Harmon for Loeb Classics Library, Tychiades speaking: Can you tell me, Philocles, what in the world it is that makes many men so fond of lying that they delight in telling preposterous tales themselves and listen with especial attention to those who spin yarns of that sort? And Philocles responds: There are many reasons, Tychiades, which constrain men occasionally to tell falsehoods with an eye to the usefulness of it. And besides, it is a sport, politics the arena as per the Hunger Games, even Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. …. The underlined asininity is my contribution to the fun. Cornelius W Drake of Champaign-Urbana may approve, though he has his eye darkly on Russia-Ukraine.

March 9, 2023: Years and years ago when I was struggling with open field verse (see Charles Olson, Projectivism), the rules and regulations thereof with respect to the Open Field Verse-Highway, I happened to read near simultaneously William Hazlitt (1778-1830) and Juvenal (55 A.D.–early 2nd century). I took to both the Romantical critic and the Roman satirist straight off, the one for his forthrightness and the other for, well, pretty much the same, so much so Juvenal caused me to startle fellow bookshop customers as I got audible, blurting out: “Good God, you mean you can do this?” That is to say, write like this, say these things, especially with respect to poetry readings, the ones that rendered him apoplectic in the first of his sixteen satires? They were to him no sacred cows. To be sure, I would come to realize that Juvenal was a conservative wanker, albeit one with astute observations to make of Roman society and humankind in general. And, as for Hazlitt, I am only just now returning to him, and I find I still appreciate the forthrightness of his thought, but I also see I am not entirely in sympathy with all his thinking, and that, as a boon companion, he vexed his intimates for his being mule-headedly high maintenance.

Still, what Hazlitt permits me to say is a notion, a surmisal (not a fact), that the Romanticals may have been the last lot of poet-thinkers and philosophes in the English language who, as they ‘thought’, were not ensnared by language; who spoke their minds, not their ‘language’, however much they may have thought or not thought that language is ‘everything’, the whole kit-and-kaboodle, or that language, for instance, kneecaps time as well as sense, that language is languidge is languidge is languidge even unto a rose, even unto a partridge in a pear tree, that as I language therefore am I language. One physical reaction I too often had, subsequent upon poetry readings, was to feel I had been dragged through the keyhole of someone’s mind, and I was a Prisoner of Zenda in it, drugged and otherwise battered. I recall thinking to myself: “There will be political consequences”, and those were the Clinton years: full-blown incoherence had yet to meet the Bush-Cheney years which, but for the Obama interlude, had yet to meet... And now, Trump Era, say what, and our four-wheel drift has all the physics of a black hole. Cue Hazlitt: The great fault of a modern school of poetry is, that it is an experiment to reduce poetry to a mere effusion of natural sensibility; or what is worse, to divest it both of imaginary splendour and human passion, to surround the meanest objects with the morbid feelings and devouring egotism of the writers’ own minds. Gadzooks, whatever could the man have been on about? The rationale for the Iraq War? Bitcoin? Or that what he objected to sounds pretty much like the stuff of any creative writing workshop, even stuff that is not solely languidge-driven.

Yes but, did Charles Dickens trouble himself with languidge? Miss Flite’s collection of caged birds in Bleak House were named: Hope, Joy, Youth, Peace, Rest, Life, Dust, Ashes, Waste, Want, Ruin, Despair, Madness, Death, Cunning, Folly, Words, Wigs, Rags, Sheepskin, Plunder, Precedent, Jargon, Gammon, Spinach, and, as such, they cut to the chase. To that extent, Mr Dickens troubled himself with language. They were the course of a human life, what was packed in those soubriquets. They were Miss Flite whose life (her wings decidedly clipped) was on hold pending Some Court Case, and there was never going to be a resolution to said court case, judges eternally mulling. Ditto for the other characters caught up in the ‘system’. Gets to the nub of things, does it not, those names? And Dickens is not even bothering with complete sentences… those names… Names for the individual constituents of a galactic fleet of battle cruisers?

And this: It is the gaiety of despair, the mirth and laughter of a respite during pleasure from death. Now what is Hazlitt on about? Here, he is speaking to A Thousand and One Nights. …. He is espousing that it is an heroic contempt for the untoward accidents and petty vexations of human life… And because, sometimes, it is best to just let words speak for themselves, I will not play (at least in this instance) the critic expatiating on the mind of a critic dead these past two centuries who, by the end of his life, was an impoverished nobody and unread. You can squeeze literary criticism from a tube and apply it to a reader’s sensibility and the reader grow hair, but you cannot put an industry back in a bottle when everyone is in on the take.

Just that there is ‘story’ and there is languidge, and what fool wants to mummify him or herself in swathes of languidge? (Recently released: Three Thousand Years of Longing. A flick that should have been superb. Looked like it had a shot at being superb, but it, the movie, lost its way, perhaps because the heroine was but a ‘narratologist’ breathing the exhaust, the aftertaste of languidge, oh dear, and our hero the djinn, well, he put the kibosh on his storytelling and preferred to – what? – play video games?)

Science may have, indeed, reduced everything halfways poetic and otherwise to bargain basement metaphor, but in Bleak House, the odd simile still can turn a trick, as in: … but we saw her run, such a little creature, in her womanly bonnet and apron, through a covered way at the bottom of the court; and melt into the city’s strife and sound, like a dewdrop in an ocean. And this is only Steady Eddy prose. Wait until Dickens gets up a head of steam…

Says Hazlitt, and I paraphrase, humour describes the ludicrous; wit exposes it. Wit heightens our sense of the absurd by way of unexpected likenesses or oppositions of one thing to another, so that we may well arrive at the colour of a boiled lobster when treating with the transition of night into dawn, and I just might, thereafter, reacquaint myself with Karl Kraus (1874-1936), Austrian who, watching the Nazis come on, authored up The Last Days of Mankind, and would read Shakespeare by candlelit at clandestine gatherings as his response. Trump, then, and the current imbroglios that are the political landscape of our days, the extremes inching closer to gaining the upper hand.

Which leads me to: Common sense is neither priestcraft nor state policy, which it is more Hazlitt. Which leads me to say: “I wish I’d said that.” But Hazlitt wrote it in an essay on genius. Moreover, at some point in his last years, he wrote that he was too old for ‘new mythologies of genius’, and he was perhaps saying his goodbye to books and genius, just that it had been worth his while, reading what books he had read – over and over.

Received: Advisement that David Hackbridge Johnson has a hit on his hands.


Postscript I: Brief note from Talking Avocado indicating that he had crashed (spiritually collapsed) near Mound City, South Dakota; that he had figured he might come across Indian mounds there, but no go; that he intends to make a dash for Manitoba and so, get clear of the admixture of crazy weather and crazy people that he had been skirting ever since he began his trek to Key West with every intention of getting back, and with a vintage Buick in the bargain.

Postscript II: Lunar on satire: I think one has to have a sneaking admiration for whatever it is one satirizes and here, in this moment, that is impossible.

Postscript III: GB on Evelyn Waugh’s Black Mischief (1932): ‘Horribly funny, as well as cringingly racist, and the sentences so relentlessly over-polished that the glare of its chrome makes it ring like a bell that won’t stop clanging. Is that a mixed metaphor, or just purple? Either way, most interesting. Now I’m back to Gorky’s Life of a Useless Man, utterly different and vastly superior, or should I say greater of spirit, inasmuch as he actually cares about his characters even if the prose is earthy and subdued?’ And then the man asks me if I have ever owned a pair of cufflinks….

The I Am Sunk Department: From Plutarch’s Moralia, his essay on chatty types: ‘It is a troublesome and difficult task that philosophy has in hand when it undertakes to cure garrulousness….’


March 3, 2023: 1814 or thereabouts, and S T Coleridge had himself a little fancy. Imagined an exchange between the poet John Milton (1608-1674) and an available Puritan, straight man for Coleridge’s Miltonic schtick:

‘Let us suppose Milton in company with some stern and prejudiced Puritan, contemplating the front of York Cathedral, and at length expressing his admiration of its beauty. We will suppose it too at that time of his life, when his religious opinions, feelings, and prejudices most nearly coincided with those of the rigid Anti-prelatists. P. Beauty; I am sure it is not the beauty of holiness. M. True; but yet it is beautiful. — P. It delights not me. What is it good for? Is it of any use but to be stared at? — M. Perhaps not! but still it is beautiful. — But call to mind the pride and wanton vanity of those cruel shavelings, that wasted the labor and substance of so many thousand poor creatures in the erection of this haughty pile. — M. I do. But still it is very beautiful. — P. Think how many scores of places of worship, incomparably better suited both for prayer and preaching, and how many faithful ministers might have been maintained, to the blessings of tens of thousands, to them and their children’s children, with the treasures lavished on this worthless mass of stone and cement. — M. Too true! But nevertheless it is very beautiful.’

And so forth and so on, from an essay by Coleridge under the heading of Principles of Genial Criticism, as presented in English Romantic Writers, edited by David Perkins, Harvard University, published by Harcourt, Brace & World, inc. 1967.

But do you not hear, in between the pealing of church bells, the back and forth, the knock-on effects of a ‘culture war’, of ‘see some evil, see it everywhere’, and ditto for the sense of hearing, and, who knows, the same for the other senses? Can we not, in the place of Roundhead-Cavalier, substitute ‘Orientalism’ and ‘Said-ism’, for an instance, and continue on in this vein with other examples of red state blue state politically viral, brain-eating strains until – the palace, the citadel, the temple, the church (cathedral), the circus pavilion of Objective Truth is demolished, made a haughty pile, which it is the objective of so many culture-warriors and political operatives to bring about; or that, stand before a moving bus, and no, no grievous harm shall befall thee. At worst, a flesh wound… One may choose to disavow an ‘objective truth’ qua truth or tradecraft, and run the risk of, say, lung cancer, but one cannot state that there is no such thing as small ‘o’ objective small ‘t’ truth, or any kind of truth, for that matter. There is a sun that warms this planet. That it is not an ad for orange juice. Could be it is that thing, what shines through the window of your holding cell.

I have finished perusing yet another translation of The Odyssey. It is decidedly not The Iliad. It is not Achilles looking for his glory from the siege of Troy. It is a war-weary hombre just wanting to get home to the wife and kids, with or without a stop at the nearest VA center. But the infernal gods are not going to cut him any slack. Along the way, he may sleep with goddesses. A mortal girl may sorely tempt him there in Scheria or Phaeacia, whichever, she the daughter of King Alcinous, she who develops a crush on an interloper washed up on her beach – Odysseus, his privates covered up with seaweed. But, as it is, get deep enough into it, and the poem comes to be a celebration of Penelope. Of a Penelope not Clytemnestra or intriguer. Of domestica and its calm waters, though she is not a mere wife, and she is certainly no Thatcher. She is no great fan of war civil or otherwise, though plenty of blood is let at the poem’s end and then scrubbed away (so as to spare her sensibilities). Who wrote those Siamese twins The Iliad and The Odyssey? Homer is not going to declare himself in any retrospective episode of 'To Tell the Truth'. Will the real author of the famous epics please

That is to say, be it resolved: Homer is the sole author of both The Iliad and The Odyssey; Homer is a couple of guys one of whom might have been a woman who authored each; Homer is a committee who jointly authored and ruined what might have been a great TV series…. Homer might have been an autodidact who lived for centuries like Methuselah, reciting to himself in a mumble-some voice day after day, year after year, all those lines, all 15,693 of them for The Iliad (tack on 12,109 for The Odyssey)… Heaps and heaps of dactyls to commit to memory…. And then writing was invented…. The first poetry readings as we know them? They did drone away in Roman times for hours at a time. Have a look at your basic Juvenal, first page. He was already on the job, cat-calling out schtick for what it was.

Homer, whoever he was, was a forgiving sort. Phemius the bard (he entertained the bad guys in the course of their revels at Odysseus’ expense) is spared the lord of the manor’s retribution, as if poets are not to be considered collaborators with evil, only we know that poets can, indeed, ‘collaborate’ with this or that travesty or malign regime. In the T E Lawrence prose translation of The Odyssey, the cackling Eurycleia (as opposed to the merely chuckling Eurycleia of the Fagles translation), might well have exhorted Odysseus to string the poet up, she being Odysseus’ old nursemaid and consigliere to Penelope…. As she cackled, she was on her way to apprise Penelope of the fact that her husband was back and about to make moves; he would dislodge the freeloaders and suitors from his house. Their entreaties, their nuisance value tested Penelope’s character. She might have shrugged and chosen to live life, an husband-free life, on existential terms and go with the flow. May the best man (suitor seeking her hand) win. She might head off to Australia instead. Or stick around and happily break the winner’s balls. Me, I have some sympathy for Clytemnestra. Her husband Agamemnon, after all, did monstrous things. Then, after she dispatched him and his shade became resident in Hades, he got into whining as a pastime. As for a matter unrelated to the above, I am not a chatbot, no matter what the techies may say.

I chanced across The Counselor, a movie for which Cormac McCarthy wrote the script. Happened to see it as I was sidling into the slaughter Odysseus had devised for the above mentioned freeloaders and suitors. A very short precis of the movie plot: lawyer gets involved in a drug deal. It goes, as they say, sideways. Drug cartel will have its Odysseus-like payback, and the payback, if unconnected to rage (it is business, routine business at that), is exceedingly grisly, even as the players all have ample stores of philosophy at their disposal when it comes to philosophizing about life and death, about women, and that men are pathetic. (The meaning in Greek of the name Odysseus is apparently son of pain. There is a pun in there somewhere to do with odious, but I have not the stomach just now to follow up on all the twisted semantic trails….)

Naturally perhaps, or maybe not, but I briefly compared the two – the poem and the movie which unsettled me, very much so. Lunar serendipitously wrote to say that he had read every word Cormac McCarthy wrote and then, of a sudden, had absolutely no desire to ever read another word of the man again, that it was hard to say whether McCarthy addresses the state of the world in any kind of true sense or whether he, in his himself-ness, supplants the world. The same for Beckett, or so Lunar would have it. Each author has his attractions; each is a hazard, prose-wise, each man less amiable than Byron who was bad to know. Cornelius W Drake kicked in, saying he has less trouble with McCarthy than with Q Tarantino whom he described as a ‘slasher-pusher’, and nothing but. I figure The Odyssey for a pessimistic work, even if Odysseus does get back from his twenty year ordeal and prevails over his enemies, but that there is a hint or two in the poem that wanderlust may grab him at any moment, and again whisk him away from home for another detour in his spiritual development. Not necessarily a desired outcome for all concerned. Whereas The Counselor… well, we might speak of out and out nihilism. We might, but who are we to know, unless we are, indeed, at the wheel of a tanker-truck hauling cocaine and body-dissolving acids from Point A to Point B, fatalists snacking down on crisps?

Blatherskite: There is such a word, verily. Cornelius W Drake brought it to my attention. Foolish talk, nonsense is the general drift of the word’s meaning. Certain political operatives specialize in such drift. They hold our wits hostage with it.

Postscript I: Talking Avocado – is he marooned in South Dakota, his vintage Buick become a ghost? I may have to send the man a chopper….

Postscript II: Language, you terrible surrounder/Of everything, what is the good/Of me isolating my few words/In a certain order to send them/Out in a suicide torpedo to hit?/I ride it. I will never know. From Implements in Their Places, W S Graham, 1977, Faber Paperbacks. The stanza cited is stanza 35 from a poem of the same title as the book. There is a name for this sort of poem. Flagship? Otherwise, the name escapes me.

Postscript III: …. Arrived by basket and left at my door: In my undergraduate and master's degree days, long ago, we learned actual history. When I returned to university, years later, for my doctorate, history was out and "theory" was in. One fellow PhD student in AMERICAN history once admitted in a meeting, "I don't know a bloody thing about Theodore Roosevelt." (He was British — the student, not Teddy.) That's because he had spent the last six or seven years studying only race and gender. Marxist analyses — i.e., class analyses — were also out. Everything centered on the other two. By committing to memory and indulging in repetition the words patriarchal, colonialist, and the supremely important, always indispensable "intersectional," one became a qualified historian. And presentism reigned. Every historical era was gauged in condemnatory terms of today. Even factual statements were outlawed. For example in one seminar I mentioned that the women's presidential vote in 1920 didn't change anything because they voted the way their husbands did. Thus Warren G. Harding. Two female grad students from Yale gave me the dirtiest look. And boy were the feminist "historians" ever ... flexible? For 20 years they wrote books and journal articles on how oppressed women had been. Suddenly it dawned on them that this made women look weak, so they began churning out books and journal articles on how women had actually led and shaped the past in virtually every field imaginable. The same "cultural turn" occurred in black history. All of this was why I largely created my own field of study — American conservatism — in the PhD program, which my major adviser allowed me to do. .... Sour gripes? Closet tippler letting off steam? From the sounds of it, I believe the man would be all too happy to study the lot of women and the lot of slaves and the under-classes in America, but as history, not as polemic, or rather not as the sort of writing which places itself beyond judgment but not applause. Which brings me to say that

Postscript IV: I am neither an academic nor an historian, and I have no idea what horrors go on in departmental offices. Blessedly. But I have read plenty of histories, many of them pertaining to America and the foulest things ever perpetrated within American borders (Andrew Jackson and his Indian Removal Act of 1830 always sticks in my mind as a ‘for instance’). I have read well-written histories, poorly written histories, histories authored by apologists for X, Y, and Z, histories given over to the calumniation of other histories, and I flatter myself that I can navigate my way around whatever agenda is on the program. Moreover, I can find something of value in most any ‘history book’ that is pleased to call itself a book, that is pleased to deal with, say, Reconstruction (post civil-war) and Rutherford B Hayes, about which there is enough controversy to detonate a dirty bomb. But what Governor DeSantis is up to in Florida, messing about with what constitutes a proper study of history, is straight-up fascistic. He claims he thereby addresses the problem of ‘wokeness’, and it is an ‘addressing’ of sorts, but he aims to uproot history, fraught as it always is, by its short hairs, and bury the result in a dumpster, one funded by some action committee or other. He wants whitewashing purple prose in history’s stead. Flaccid, flatulent stuff. He wants his oligarchy and his herbal tea. He wants his foot on someone’s neck. That much any pilgrim can tell from a distance.