EPHEMERIS

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May 24, 2023: Lest you think we are slubbering up here, that is to say, relaxing standards, we will point out that to ‘embrue’ is to stain, to saturate, or to lower one’s behaviour to Trumpian levels of grotesquery. And then, when I come across ‘pumpkin-headed sots’ on a page of Apuleius’ The Golden Ass, it does put me in mind of some of the leading lights of the Republican Party, and it also brings to mind ‘The Pumpkinification of Claudius’ which, as written by Seneca the Younger (b. 4 BC), is a satirical riff on the ascension of the ‘divine’ Claudius (a Roman emperor) to heaven, only to be booted out and sent packing to Hades, which it is in hell. Otherwise, we are a long way from Halloween. On quite another matter: who was the first Greek to fall at Troy?

Protesilaus was the first of the Greeks to come ashore at Troy, the first to die. And then he was granted a three hour dispensation from his being dead so as to check in with the wife or she with him. Visitation over, she has a bronze statute made of her beloved spouse. To be able to gaze upon it, one supposes. But her father believes this behaviour to be dodgy. He would have the statue burned, whereupon she goes and throws herself into the bronze-consuming fire. In this way, she keeps her appointed hours with her husband. You know, it is a story that was sometimes told. (But this has been a digression, brutally so. Moving on…)

“And I will,” quoth she, “satisfy your whole desire, and it shall be no longer delayed than until night, when as (assure yourself) I will come to your chamber; wherefore go your ways and prepare yourself, for I intend valiantly and courageously to contend with you this night.” This, too, is a story, one from The Golden Ass, the Adlington translation, 1566. The speaker of the above words is Fotis (or Photis), a beautiful maid ‘merrily disposed’. Lucius, our wandering hero, has become smitten with her.

It has been a revelation to me as I read the Adlington pages: some rhetorically charged language can, even so, come off erotic. … “…unbrace thy hair and come and embrace me lovingly…” (Those old Brits, eh.) Or come off emphatic: … “Now,” quoth she, “is come the hour of jousting, now is come the time of war, wherefore shew thyself like unto a man, for I will not retire, I will not fly the field; see then thou be valiant, see thou be courageous, since there is no time appointed when our skirmish shall cease….” Like I said, this is a story, though some might contend it is fantasy.

And some books – you get them into your hands, and almost immediately they are, as it gets said, busting your chops: “You should’ve read me years ago.” I do not know if The Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia is going to be one of those books, but it well might. A lulu of a book at first blush. As written by one Sir Phillip Sidney, sonneteer (b. 1554), whose defense of poetry (The Defence of Poesy) is the only writing of his I have read, save for some of the verse, and this was way, way back when, when I barely had any idea of what poetry was, just that it rhymed, or was supposed to. I know better now, but that is another story. (It should be noted that Sidney’s sister, who was, in fact, a countess of Pembroke, or was the Countess of Pembroke) had a great deal to do with the writing of the book, as it seems she altered or otherwise wrote parts of it herself after Sidney's death. I might also say that I would have liked to make such a book wherein prose and poetry and verse dialogue intermix….

And if any slack opens up in the intent behind ‘pumpkin-headed sots’, we might address that slack by way of Chapter 40 in Dickens’ Bleak House. We might avail ourselves of Coodles and Doodles – men, one assumes, behind whom political factions have formed, and with their combined if mutually held antipathies to one another, they will drive the country to ‘hell in a handbasket’. It is their great pleasure. But if Charles Dickens here was having a little fun at the expense of the Conservatives of his day, Coodles and Doodles, when applied to the current run of American politics, has nothing whatsoever to do with having fun: it is all the viciousness of a cock fight, in the course of which some of the women, some of the female politicos, are deadly birds, indeed. I have always understood that the ‘hustings’ has to do with electioneering, but I did not understand that the word, as per Bleak House, had to do with the platform on which the candidates in question stood, and from which they delivered their policy positions, their speechifying.

Postscript I: Talking Avocado has heard of yet another poet who is ‘heartily sick’ of the poetry scene. I do not know whether to laugh or cry; whether to consider this good news or bad. What would Dryden have made of it all? Or Young Master Keats worrying a flower in his buttonhole (a dash of Oliver – the tie-twiddler – in him, or perhaps Stanley), unsure whether the politics is something one is required to play or not, that is, if one should wish to get some traction. With the recent death of Martin Amis the novelist, Talking Avocado is reminded of how much he disliked Christopher Hitchens for his banging the drums for the Iraqi invasion (which seems another lifetime now), and for his polemicizing against religion. Talking Avocado is not a believer; he is not fond of evangelicals. He is doubly not fond of abusive clergy. But when atheist and believer are heavy into the cant, how is the one any different from the other? And even the saying so, even the formulating of the question is tedious business, and thought has already gone stale before the necessary thought-supporting words are even formed and mustered into sentences.

Postscript II: Cornelius W Drake of Champaign-Urbana could care less about loving or hating poetry scenes. However, he will trounce religion whenever a suitable occasion presents itself, but otherwise, he plays the agnostic card. Out of prudence, we might say. But not the prudence by which one hedges a bet, but the prudence by which one suggests that one does not ‘ultimately know’, does one? Moreover, he asks if the Romanticals, by way of what they thought, did not wittingly or unwittingly help bring about fascism? (He has been rummaging about in Isaiah Berlin.) The centrality of the individual. The ascendancy of ideals over custom. Liberty. And sure, bang on about the plight of the poor. All this as stacked up against evidence-based thinking and rationalism and all the rest of it, such as drove the Enlightenment along its merry way. I do not know if all these things can be so easily separated out to the extent that one can categorically state that he is a Romantical, and she is all enlightened mentation. Identity politics? Twitter as hustings? And if the Missouri ladybug is not the same creature as her Illinois counterpart, what about the priests of either state? At which point, Mr Drake throws up his hands. At which point he takes up a Patrick O’Brian novel (the second in a twenty volume series drawing on the exploits of the contending navies, Napoleonic era). Captain Aubrey and Mr Maturin (surgeon-spy)? Or the Romantical and the rationalist as per the Enlightenment? I confessed that when I read the series, who is the Romantical and who professes Enlightenment values is the farthest thing from my mind.

Postscript III: Lunar has had surgery for that back of his which went south a long time ago, and so as to stave off a condition called cauda equina, or what he calls ‘that horsey thing’, which is a prime medical emergency, and it appears that it went well, the op. Fingers crossed, he might could ditch the wheelchair.

Postscript IV: From The Analects of Confucius: The Master said, ‘Surely when one says “The rites, the rites,” it is not enough merely to mean presents of jade or silk. Surely when one says, “Music, music,” it is not enough merely to mean bells and drums.’


May 19, 2023: Were I, in the same breath, to say ‘capitalism’ and Bleak House, Chapter 39, would I have a match, and the bells and whistles of a game show go berserk? We have a winner! Come on over, winner, and park it… And were I to say the ‘Vholes Effect’, would I be striking at the heart of Capitalism Run Amok? What is the ‘Vholes Effect’? It is all that is predatory camouflaged by a veneer of respectability, as in lawyer man, be lawyer man a him or her. I think Mr Vholes goes all the way back to Uruk (fourth millennium BC) and its grain surplus, wherever there was a lawsuit to spin to one’s undeclared interests. But never mind. Next up on a hit parade of shady dealers and dealings would be the preacher man inveighing against the Almighty Dollar and Related Degeneracies, his or her coffers swelling, like blisters on the Body Politic. Grace. Now there is something that Capital C Capitalism has not quite managed to entirely subsume, or Soviet Realism for that matter.

Grace. It is both a rare and an everyday quality in human affairs. Precisely what it is I have not the capacity to state. If I had that capacity, I might be reluctant to employ it in the interests of expediting a conversation. Be that as it may, persons of whom it can be said they have this ‘grace’ are not always aware they have it. It is more than some physical bearing brought to a situation; it is not about just being ‘graceful’. Does Esther Summerson (Bleak House) have it? Perhaps she has a bit of it. I suspect Lady Dedlock had it, despite her upper class privilege, but then her life came to a bad end. I am not even sure the source of grace is ‘spiritual’ but it is something of the soul that permeates the body and what surrounds this body. Whenever I have been in the presence of it, I have felt it as a force. It is akin to feeling charmed by someone, but no, that is only part of the picture. Psychopaths often exude charm.

I suppose I first became aware of grace as such on the baseball diamond, the basketball court, and other athletic arenas. But most of that grace could be attributed to athletic prowess; it was not necessarily an indication of character, of someone’s inner nature. As I became more aware of the arts, I could think to myself (speaking of what I liked in a book or painting or concerto) that here was ‘grace’; but I have since realized that complete and utter jerks can occasionally write a decent poem, paint a decent painting, compose something listenable.

Grace then: what in hell is the thing? And whatever I have read of a religious nature, whatever I have read in history, whatever I have read in biographies and autobiographies; whatever I have found in the canon, in the paintings, in the music, in the statuary, in architecture (even in what remains of Nero’s Golden House where the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end as I took in a very faded fresco of Hector and Andromache) – it just does not fully explain it, not to my satisfaction, at any rate. Why, in the company of certain people, do I feel awe, and that awe has nothing to do with what is being said, with what is being done. I am too old to be intimidated anymore by someone’s intellect (and ain't that a blessing), though I might be impressed by what used to get called valor, and we seem to be in want of some of that, given the rising tide of evil in this world, good old fashioned fascism with new toys to play with coming into its own. This grace of which I would speak (and not very well, at that, I grant you) is not the exclusive province of any one gender, though I reckon I have come across it more often in women, women who seem to command a room not by playing hardball or by being sexual, but by the mere fact of presence… And here I do not mean to undercut this chatter with unwarranted levity, but yes, I have seen it in dogs. I think I have seen it in horses, but only at a remove, by way of film…

And if it is a mystery, perhaps it should stay that way, seeing as, so often, so-called demystification just causes things to die.

And what brings me to this question of grace, of what it is or is not? A dream I had. It is a recurring dream. Inasmuch as in these dreams, I am at the wheel of an eighteen-wheeler, semi-truck to you. I am in this situation because I am filling in for someone who, for one reason or another, cannot be at the wheel of this here said vehicle. I am, as it were, a rookie put to work on account of an emergency, a shortfall in drivers, say. Complicating matters is the fact that I am not fully qualified to operate said vehicle. It is not even clear if I can put the truck in reverse and back onto a loading dock. Or handle myself at close quarters with a truck stop. But I can drive the machine, as it were, down the highway and whistle a tune while I am at it.

So then, in this particular dream I bring whatever it is I am hauling to a certain location that is distinctly Pacific Northwest. The place is village-sized or even smaller. It is a place far removed from Chapter 39 of Bleak House. Or is it? And, as whatever it is I have hauled from A to B is being off-loaded by enthusiastic young hellraisers (contraband?), I am engaged in a rather earnest discussion with a man, in his hands a book of verse, one written by a fellow he knows and reveres.

I start to speak of grace. In so doing, I put my interlocutor off his feed; he thinks I am some sort of Christian wacko. How could I insult his friend’s poetry so by bringing up ‘grace’? I try to mollify. Grace, I say, is not the sole property of the church holy or unholy or otherwise. Christian saints or thinkers and such &c do not have exclusive rights to whatever it is that grace is. They did not invent the notion, though they will bang on about being in a state of grace &c…. He backs off a little. He discerns in my words something like a drift in another direction. In the meantime, though I have never met the man who wrote the poetry in question, I begin to have a mental image of him all the same, and he does seem somewhat familiar. He may even be someone with whom I have quarrelled as to what good or bad poetry is. Ought one listen to Mozart while one would rhyme?

And then I wake up, and the first thought or thoughts that flood my brain are these: poets I knew once who thought that the way to escape the snares of language was more ‘language’ or more ingenious constructs of language or ‘language-based poetry’ and the like, and you will have outfoxed The Establishment &c. And it seemed to me that, rather than as liberation, it amounted to a deeper enslavement to the thing and a deepening of one's impotence (political); and what this has to do or not do with ‘grace’ I cannot say... Or else, I am unwilling to say it…. Because ‘grace’ so easily vanishes, and it does not generally return, once disappeared… I look at a sparrow on a picket fence. It regards me. My shoulder twitches. And there it is: it is gone. Its flight is grace of a kind, to be sure. Sometimes I discuss these things with Lunar. Oh, he will get all pontifical. But he knows.


Received: The Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia, Sir Phillip Sydney (b. 1554). Plus, The Golden Ass, Apuleius (b. 124 AD) which I have read before, just that I think I am due for a revisit, especially after the dream I had concerning grace.

Postscript I: Lunar insisting: ‘We watched a production of Macbeth recently filmed at one of the theatres here, one of the very rare cases I've seen of a modern production working, very visceral to say the least and with perhaps the most extraordinary MacDuff I've seen, which usually is a smallish role and usually his response to the murder of his wife and children is baffled. (????) This was taken to the heights of Greek tragedy. The actor playing Macbeth was pretty astounding, the Lady Mac maybe just a bit less so, and the witches were like three older besuited women from the accounts department. They were more like a Greek chorus, onstage throughout, watching watching watching .... There was deep menace throughout. Well, sometimes they get it right although I wouldn't want it to be the only Macbeth. …. A musician played cello throughout, always deeply disturbing. I've never seen anything quite like it.’

Postscript II: But do I remember The Dave Clark Five? Herman's Hermits? Continuing with Lunar: ‘Therein lies the true history of 1960s music along with "Monster Mash"’…. Ah well, too much wine. Lunar’s wife had her book group session from which Lunar is generally barred (for being disruptive) but this time around – special dispensation. Pity for a man in a wheelchair? The book under discussion? Lunar: ‘The Lost Stradivarius (1895) by John Meade Falkner. I wish I'd known about it before because it is large (ly) set in Naples where he lived in the 1890s, a very dark, very supernatural Naples.’

Postscript III: P M Carpenter in his The Carpentariat (see my links page, and once on Carpenter's site, scroll down to the May 15th entries under the heading of 'The Intellectual Struggle of an American Historian - Me') had something of a recantation in a recent post. He is no longer a card-carrying member of what was called The School of Consensus – ‘the historical theory that Americans, by and large, have always been roughly unified in their sociopolitical beliefs, and thus national conflict took a backseat. But the School was mistaken.’ &c. Because I have been following Mr Carpenter for some years in his writings on the American political scene, I find the words immediately above rather significant, he being a social-democrat and not one given to flightiness.

Postscript IV: Tzu-lu asked about the way to serve a lord. The Master said: ‘Make sure that you are not being dishonest when you stand up to him.’

Postscript V: Seems Talking Avocado is talking less and less and writing more. That he is at work at three novels-in-progress, three novels in-the-process-of-being-realized, and he seems indifferent to the notion of publication, could give a rat’s ass if anyone sees them; that the writing is a ‘waking dream’ from which he will, one day, waken. He would quote Lucian at me, something along the lines of ‘not every story is a happy one, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth telling’, but then he thinks twice about it, and tells me to get a life. What can I say? The man lives on an island. He has Salish blood in him, or so he believes. But that that is not saying much, as the Salish peoples are a conglomerate of many, many groups, and patrilinear. If he were not on the road or operating his chainsaw or writing novels, he would be reading Balzac.

May 13, 2023: Sometimes it is good to go back to the original meaning of a word. A for instance in this case is the word ‘utopia’. It is yet another word I have taken for granted over the years, thinking of it only in terms by which someone who has always wanted to run the world according to his or her own specs gets to do just that. It is a word Thomas More borrowed from the Greek way back in 1519, and in his hands the word is a pun; it was to mean ‘no place’, if for no other reason than this: perfect worlds cannot be said to exist. Well, I am glad we got that out of our system.

And I hear that somewhere in this our nation-state the paintings of Picasso have been banned, as the man was a womanizer. I have never been overly fond of Picasso’s work, but then, art-wise, I am clueless. I am persuaded he was a genuine artist who, perhaps, got caught up in the art game on account of the fame that came to him, flick of the wrist, and you know: superb production; but somehow, I do not believe that having a gander at one of his paintings is going to corrupt me and ruin me for polite society. And then, of a sudden, as if infected, I start chasing women around? But why restrict myself to women? Why not the inclusionary order of things? Start chasing around anything that is not nailed to cement? I suppose I am in a mood. But how many people can then say, by way of one’s final words: “I have not understood the world, and the world has not understood me.” The words, in this case, were those of a deposed pope, early 15th century. Pope? Ah, as such, the man brings it on himself, his automatic disqualification from all sentient discourse. Or that it is not enough that his pious carcass has been dead for centuries. But no matter… Picasso then, but one denied an audience...

I was going to say, before I was interrupted by the above, or the rude off-tangent thoughts that whizz about in my brain and clamor for attention continually… I was going to say that chapter 37 of Bleak House, whereupon it was written by Charles Dickens in another universe somewhat parallel to our own (only that the rivets are popping, and what was parallel is now hanging off like a loose sliver of skin… I was going to say that chapter 37 is one of the better expositions I have read that testifies to life’s chanciness and living in error, even as one reckons that one is right. It is an argument for prudence. Not prudence in some repressive way, but prudence in the sense that one ought to bear in mind that, in addition to cause and effect, as when every action invites a reaction, that you never know. All that lurks &c. You cannot always judge a cover by its book….

Well then, Lucretius, as follows in words that would interpret his thinking: ‘In the lives of all sentient creatures, human and animal alike, the random swerve of elementary particles is responsible for the existence of free will. For if all of motion were one long predetermined chain, there would be no possibility of freedom. Cause would follow cause from eternity, as the fates decree. Instead, we wrest free will from the fates.’ (From The Swerve, Stephen Greenblatt, W. W. Norton & Co, 2012, and it snagged a Pulitzer) … Brave, responsible words, but I am not so sure. The Big Bang and then, what with the first nano-second in occurrence, and it seems to me that things are then pretty well set for the next kazillion years, though there may well be a kazillion chains of a kazillion realities… Perhaps I ought to get out more.

And then Lunar sends me a piece of music: ‘Pampeana No.2, Rhapsody for Cello and Piano, Op. 21’, composed by one Alberto Ginastera, an Argentinian. And it strikes me that, were the music a reflection on fate vs free will, it, as music, could easily cut both ways; and indeed, in the middle part one hears, or at least, I hear, hear something funereal, hear something that is suspiciously akin to a lament, a time-out that says, “Well, we just don’t know, do we? We’re ignorant…” One discerns in the cello’s pause, and as the piano digresses, ancient Greek tragedians and perhaps even a Christian or two trying to extricate themselves from the revolving wheel of Fortune by which it is all so damn predictable (you are going to die), though Lucretius is saying, “Chill, man, just go with it. And in the meantime, have a nice day.”

All the while Cornelius W Drake would have me know that Atlantis was Minoa, and I hear myself saying, “Minoa? Which Minoa? There was a bunch of Minoas, it seems, all port towns gesturing hypnotically for trade, and by the way, Plato placed Atlantis out beyond the Pillars of Hercules, which is to say, in the Atlantic Ocean, hence… but never mind. Confucius says: The Master said: ’I have no hopes of meeting a sage. I would be content if I met someone who is a gentleman.’


Received: DVDs, one to do with Sicilian mob action; one to do with Roman Holiday (romance-comedy); one to do with Jeremiah Johnson; all of which I intend to view sometime or other, before hell freezes over. In fact, I did watch the Audrey Hepburn-Gregory Peck chestnut, and their shenanigans of a day in Rome, and sure, I cannot say it is great art or a major piece of cinema-making, it is only what it is; and that, if I were a hidebound Marxist or whatever stripe has, these days, X-offed that stripe, I would have to say, “What a colossal piece of capitalist horse puckey” but that it charms. What is the value of something that genuinely charms, I ask you; charms in a way that one, having been charmed, never wishes to commit undue violence against anyone or anything ever after? Or was the viewing tantamount to a lobotomy?

Postscript I: As for CNN and that wretched townhall with You-Know-Who, Cornelius W Drake reports that he felt his bowels reaching up for his throat, and he could not but get past a few minutes of this latest form of water torture, and he had to leave off…. For a few awful seconds, I myself (though I steered clear of the pseudo-event), upon hearing the outrage as to why, why, why… why air the damn thing in the first place?, I thought: “Perhaps we need to be reminded of the awfulness of the man and what’s at stake”. But then, who needs such reminding? Not unless you have had that aforementioned lobotomy, and you are in want of replacement brain tissue. Check in at your nearest Mayo Clinic.

Postscript II: One of my esteemed sisters told me on the telephone that one of my bros-in-law had died, and had taken a very long time to do so, after many years of living in chronic pain. Her voice was very subdued, and it seemed all the more subdued when, in the next breath, she remarked upon the political climate in her backyard – Olympia, Washington, and she said you can cut it with a knife, the hostilities, and that ‘something has to give’. Well, we have all been saying this for years, have we not? (I had nothing intelligent to say to her one way or another. Brother-in-law was devout, but even so, a good man, and that is that. He was not judgmental of others, or if he was, he kept it to himself.) But anyway, intelligence does not seem to obtain anymore, in any case. As if what is out there is unanswerable. The dying that comes as a matter of course. And the dying that comes of imbeciles who are Chosen.

Postscript III: And Talking Avocado, at least, agrees with me: we have been dancing around a great number of things (or, as it were, issues) with a view toward restraining ourselves from pouring high-test octane on an enormous flash fire, lest that fire become an institution and sanctified by law, but it is getting harder not to vent. Talking Avocado never wants to leave his island again, so he intimates at me, not even to collect a Pulitzer or some such, not even to take in the Cirque du Soleil, great ticket prices.


May 5, 2023: Lunar has been making pronouncements again. Beware the man in the wheelchair. ‘There is something about (eating?) fruit in the small hours that gives hope.’ Or: ‘I mean most installation art is about the selling of the idea of an idea of an idea, so why not do the same with writing. Just think of how much happier we will be. You feed a character and some snippets of conversation into a machine, go for a coffee, come back and there is your new poem waiting for you.’ I do not know why I put up with the man. But you see someone walking along, cell phone held out in front of them, as if it featured an app that might detect a source of water underneath the pavement, or else a god is being beseeched, or else, someone feeling lonely, someone just wants to receive a text, any old text. A Lunar scenario, just as every Fellini scenario contains the sound of blowing wind. How many more of these before we may as well all chuck it in and more bank ads lie to us?

"You are an antinomian," said Jack. "I am a pragmatist," said Stephen. (From Master and Commander, Patrick O’Brian, HarperCollins, 1996, first novel of ‘what is regarded by many as the greatest series of historical novels ever written’ as per the back blurb. The little snippet of dialogue follows upon a thinking-out-loud-bit on the part of Stephen Maturin, ship’s surgeon and intelligence agent, as when he says, more or less, that laws are the prime source of unhappiness. "It is not merely a case of born under one law, required another to obey – you know the lines: I have no memory for verse. There are parallel sets of laws in different keys that have nothing to do with one another and that are even downright contradictory"…. Maturin had been pom-pom-pomming, that is, messing about on his cello, just prior to his disquisition. It was the Napoleonic era. There was a war on. One can imagine the thespian Charlton Heston delivering Maturin’s words to some convention or other of Republicans, or as part of an address to the NRA in days of yore, but nowadays? Whatever is philosophical in those words immediately above would now cause present-day Republican pols to scratch their heads. General Bewilderment, not included in the price of admission. Or disdain of the hifalutin. Just saying. And then: …"the moral law, the civil, military, common laws, the code of honour, custom, the rules of practical life of civility, of amorous conversation, gallantry, to say nothing of Christianity for those who practice it"… … I read those words and it seems I am on a planet different from the one on which those words were conceived…. I have nothing intelligent to say with respect to AI. But man, is it ever troubling.

I have been asking myself why I have been bothering to read Bleak House (as written by Charles Dickens, whom else?), let alone comment on the thing. I remind myself, or attempt to, at any rate, that literature is a conversation, one generally held between the writer and the reader, and that the novel in question here is, for the most part, what one might call ‘reader-friendly’, written as it was in the mid-nineteenth century. (That the author appears to be on good terms with his readers.) As we come farther ahead in time, however, it certainly feels like novels get progressively less reader-friendly, and it is as if the writer, and the writer alone,would set conditions to any author-reader relationship, or else go as far as to shut down the reader, the reader barred altogether from the author's book in the first place. How dare you set foot on my driveway.... I much appreciate the fact of the reader-friendly novelist. I have some sympathy for the writer who does not much care what the reader thinks or might come to think upon perusal of his or her difficult work. Is it a novelist’s business to entertain? Is it a novelist’s business to make a world, and some worlds are, in fact, forbidding? Is it nothing but voyeurism, and the writer encourages it, the arty-farty peephole experience? A phone call from Putnam County, Ohio…

Yes, the Comptroller of the Universe was checking in. Said she: “Sure is a different air they breathe down here.” (I had gathered that from the recent travels of Talking Avocado who, in order to survive, had shut off a part of his brain; had convinced himself that his travels were all about literary pilgrimage: Key West and Hemingway. Said the Comptroller of the Universe with respect to one of her siblings who is a mathematics whiz: “He has a bad feeling about things. And he’s not a conspiracy theorist. They’d paid him to go to college back in the day, when computers were a thing, not just ubiquitous.” Well, Putnam County. You know what is apparently true there? It may boast of having the highest concentration of Trump supporters in the solar system. So spaketh Comptroller of the Universe. She did not seem that unnerved.

Myself, I had had a dream. In it I approached a rather large wooden house, painted brown on the outside. It was the only structure on its block, and it was set back from the street a ways. I entered. (I may have been looking to rent the place ….) I entered and saw a landing of sorts on the second storey, with stairs descending at each end. A middle-aged woman, rather tall, severe in manner, appeared. She directed me to a wall. On it a mural had been painted in pastel colours, lots of pale green. The imagery was ‘raised’ or rather, embossed. Images of the American Revolutionary War… I believe one of the figures was George Washington doffing his hat. Alright then. Che significa? Hell if I know, and I return you to regular broadcasting.

I am onto my fourth Andrea Camilleri novel (the Inspector Montalbano series.) It is reading qua reading; I have nothing to say one way or the other for the books. I read them to satisfy a bit of curiosity I have, as if there might be more to some detective fiction than your average bear, and that I have already tried this out with Georges Simenon and did not get very far, my apologies to Maigret. Occasionally there is a lovely flash of wit in the Camilleri, Italian style, and perhaps the wit that most resembles it is that American mid-west sort of wit, the homely, very down-to-earth side-swipe of reality. By which one is persuaded that Average Joe or Average Jane is still possessed of sentience. Ebullient pessimist that I am, perhaps I am overly optimistic.

 

Postscript I: What ho, The Analects. (Confucius, a Penguin Classics edition). Bought at my local bookstore in hopes of confusing its proprietor that I do not just purchase trash. Turned at random to page 113 and got: 'Tzu-Chang asked about perspicacity. The Master said, ‘When a man is not influenced by slanders which are assiduously repeated or by complaints for which he feels a direct sympathy, he can be said to be perspicacious. He can at the same time be said to be far-sighted.’ Think about it. The remarks have some bearing on a few remarks made above.

Postscript II: Cornelius W Drake, since he gave me the gears for having watched The Tin Drum last week, has been more circumspect of late. Even so, his idea of good cinema is that of some sci-fi flick in which a tin can with ‘meaningless blinking lights and funky equipment’, sails to Mars and finds maidens there ready to procreate. Sounds to me like a metaphor for the current Ship of State and all its voyagers stuffed in the hold. Cannot have enough of them blinking lights…

Postscript III: Otherwise, in The Swerve, Stephen Greenblatt, W.W. Norton & Company, 2012, and Poggio Bracciolini, early 1400s, hunter of books, finds himself in Baden where there are baths. ‘Playfully, unconscious behaviour.’ Girls ‘good-looking and well-born and in manner and form like a goddess’ singing, dancing or floating in the water, ‘winged Venuses’… the point being that here on display was a capacity for some aspects of Epicureanism. Sure, there was drinking, even heavy drinking, but no ‘quarrelling, bickering, or cursing.’ Not your average Hollywood poolside afternoon, I reckon, but something, or else it had all been a one-off, and some classical text or other was still just beyond Bracciolini’s reach….