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





October 26, 2023: A remark Proust made in his Within A Budding Grove Part One, novel number two in his seven volume opus À la recherche du temps perdu, struck me, and I do not why it struck me, but that there was a time in Mme Swann’s life, before she became Swann’s épouse, that she wore not clothes so much as a civilization. The remark set off a flood of thoughts in my noggin, which I should have jotted down immediately but did not, just that I suppose women in this moment, our moment, also wear ‘civilization’ on their backs. Then again it is arguable that perhaps tattered denims are not so civilized, though fashionable, or else the nature of civilization has seriously changed, and the past seems to us a tiresome joke, or else what is preferred to ‘civilization’ has become anarchy, seeing as not much seems to be in working order anyway.

In any case, with respect to where I am in the opus, Swann who was Mrs Swann’s lover in her ‘courtesan’ days, appears to have lost what was his apparent ascendancy over the woman, even if he had been mostly mired in his jealousy of the other men in her life. Now in his capacity as a husband, he comes off as meek, whilst his wife is busy establishing herself as the equal, if not the superior of women who ‘run’ literary and arts-inclined salons (are there any other kind?) in something of a competitive spirit, and his purpose in life seems to be that of a background helping hand, as if Mrs Swann has decided to operate a chain of motels on the way to her respectability, and Swann is to be her silent partner, and it is his responsibility to treat with the hired help. Otherwise, I have gotten weary of Marcel’s agonizing over Gilberte, who happens to be the daughter of Swann and Mrs Swann, who seems to have some spirit, who is, perhaps, a spoiled brat, but I do not doubt for a moment the accuracy of the portrayal of Marcel’s mind in which he continually analyzes how he can cut his losses in his unsuccessful pursuit of the girl’s attentions. Cost-efficient love. Love at affordable rates.

Now Cornelius W Drake, famously of Champagne-Urbana, which is somewhere in Illinois, and, you know, I do not know that much about the man though we ‘correspond’, sent me a passage of John Dryden (which I will present in the postscript section below), and I believe he is either hinting, not so subtly at my mistaken notions of poesy, or thinks I need something of a cure from the same. He certainly means well. In the meantime, there is talk of Taiwan and China. There has been a mass shooting in Maine, high casualty figures. There is the bombing of Gaza. The Hamas death wish. There has been selected another cretin for House speaker. He seems to have all the confidence in the world, seeing as he is all nervous system and no brain, some species of reptile. You pick a warm rock, and you park it there. Does anyone else see a coup down the road? There is the damnable temptation to say something, anything, about it all, but that it will only expose one’s lack of understanding about it all, and the more loudly one speaks, the less likely any of it will go away. One retreats to Proust, to Leopardi, to hundreds of writers and poets and painters and composers such as are familiar beachheads on our assault upon our own destiny, and a flame-out, if nothing else, will decide – the sun going cold; one takes what one can. There is no virtue to be had in the experience of time passing by, but it is our panic at the fact of the passing that makes us human, and that, now and then, we manage to value something – not as obscene wealth but as an aid to living well, and living well means living with some regard for the earth and for humankind.

Postscript I:

Philosophers and poets vainly strove
In every age the lumpish mass to move:
But those were pedants, when compared with these,
Who know not only to instruct, but please.
Poets alone found the delightful way,
Mysterious morals gently to convey
In charming numbers; so that as men grew
Pleased with their poems, they grew wiser too.
Satire has always shone among the rest,
And is the boldest way, if not the best,
To tell men freely of their foulest faults;
To laugh at their vain deeds, and vainer thoughts.

From Mr Dryden’s An Essay upon Satire sometime in the 18th century. Just that he, Mr Drake, left out the first and introductory couplet:

How dull, and how insensible a beast
Is man, who yet would lord it o'er the rest!

The lines seem to the point, n’est-ce pas?

Postscript II: A few lines from Giacomo Leopardi’s famous poem, The Broom (La Ginestra) which, as he was seeing it then, was a yellow flower growing in a volcanic wasteland. From 1836, Naples, and the poet had Vesuvius, and what it can get up to, on his mind, but at any rate, as translated by J G Nichols:

… …. Here he may see
And really accurately
Appraise the authority of humankind
Whom the hard nurse, when people least expect it,
Can with one movement damage partially,
Or no less suddenly
With movement not so slight annihilate.
It is not hard to see
Depicted in this place
The impressive destiny
And fated progress of the human race.

In other words, but never mind…

October 24, 2023: It is embarrassing, I know, but there it is: I have returned to Inspector Montalbano, sixth time around. What has this to do with high-end discussions of high-end art? Nothing. Blessedly so. Who watches a cop show six times through? Someone like me who finds everything else in the genre formulaic. There is going to be a male detective who has a drinking problem. There is going to be a female detective trying to get some respect from sexist pigs. Or else she is single-mothering on top of catching serial killers. Or else the guy-detective’s best friend is a dog. &c. The Montalbano show lazily sprawls. From episode to episode. Count them: 37 of the suckers. There is structure of a kind but no formulas, although the behaviours of some of the characters are predictable, as when Catarella has yet another adventure with an office door; as when Augello cheats on his wife yet again or Montalbano’s gluttony (or sleep) is interrupted by yet another phone call, and often enough that call will consist of his girlfriend’s vituperations, she on a harpy tear about his selfishness. &c. Familiarity may breed contempt, but it also reassures. Often enough, Montalbano would like to shoot the language-mangling Catarella (who is the man at the cop shop switchboard) but he also knows he can trust Catarella with his life, though the goof with a somewhat noble nature is all thumbs.

But why? Why six times through? Because of Montalbano’s capacity to evince both empathy and disgust simultaneously at the worst of human behaviours. It does not answer necessarily to my own bewilderments and confusions, but it just might mean I am not entirely alone… Well, you know… as in ... But the way in which Montalbano guards his integrity against the sleazebags everywhere and the horrors they bring (to children especially), and then he will feed lies to Livia... It is as if any of us to a man and a woman can both judge and not be judgmental when confronted with evil doing, and the show does not equivocate; there is no cheap sociological parsing going on in it: evil exists, over and out. Moreover, Montalbano’s loneliness is not even discussed, much less highlighted (magic marker) as existential virtue, as it would be in so many American cop procedurals. Eh, then. What on earth did you expect? A commendation and a bag of something chewy? In any case, although I know it not to be true, strictly speaking, but that I can aver that to watch this series is not unlike reading the Old Testament and the homilies therein in times of trouble, and though all times have their troubles, there are troubles and then there are troubles…

You will notice that I have begun this post without mentioning Proust and his monumental opus, as I have done in recent posts. But talk about reading ‘trouble’ in times of trouble. Bastien has it: ‘I think Joyce [as in James] is often seen as a "self taught workingman" to use Virginia Woolf's phrase and Proust as an elite. I agree: Proust was more clear-headed.’ Well, Bastien is in Bhutan, I mean, Ontario, and the snowy heights there may afford a man some perspective on the human condition. At any rate, Proust is Proust is Proust – in ways that I wonder if Gertrude Stein could ever have dreamed. Marcel analyzing his frustrations with Gilberte, and Charlie Harper and his with Mia, and there is the briefest, the briefest possible connecting corridor between Within a Budding Grove Part One and Two a Half Men, both of which comic effusions, to do with the male psyche, acknowledge puerility as an active force in said psyche. (Enough. Lest I give some academic reason to engage a hissy fit and spill his or her drink.) Bergman, maker of such high-end cinema as The Seventh Seal, watched a great deal of trash, unapologetically it would seem.

Otherwise, Cornelius W Drake of Champagne-Urbana, who has no expertise whatsoever in 15th century French poetry, worries over another quagmire for the US in the Middle East and the repercussions. I will spare you the quote, but he did say: ‘a two-state explosion was bound to come’. Make of that what you will. 15th century French poetry? There was Villon whom I, at some point, have read and liked. He was a bit of a punk, a thorn in the side of the law, until he, in his early 30s, was turfed out of 1400s Paris never to be heard from again. Perhaps, like Rimbaud, he went gun-running in Ifriqiyyah.

Postscript I: Talking Avocado? Talking Avocado who? Just saying that he has been on the mum side of things of late. Talking Avocado and the tidal flood of Trumpers… I think I read somewhere that Rilke regretted his silence about the ascent of the Nazis. But wait a minute… he died in 1926. Perhaps then I dreamed that I read this somewhere, and that, Rilke, had he lived on, would have disapproved of the Nazis on grounds of fashion, not trendiness, but fashion-fashion, as in the effers were gauche, Rilke into exquisite frippery. Was Brecht the better poet? Who was all for bar room brawls, or so one imagines, and for all that he was monstrous when it came to women, even a creep? But that he was smarter than the platitudes he gave out with respect to communism, so a critic like Clive James stated, and a magician with language… Rilke? Moments of cringe-worthy sentimentality such as might indicate glitches in the intellects-system?

Postscript II: Shrewdness, which belongs to the intellect, is employed most often to make up for a scarcity of intellect, and to overcome a greater abundance of intellect in others. Leopardi on Trump. From Giacomo Leopardi’s Pensieri or Thoughts, Leopardi having died in 1837.

Postscript III: And Lunar, gotten out of the Hebrides despite the epochal storm that hit the area, and who intends to be in Naples soon, is alarmed. There have been a great lot of ‘tremors’ in the area. Says he: ‘They do say that with natural disasters there is a magnetism that draws people towards and not away from the destructive forces.’

Postscript IV: Talking Avocado? There is this just off the wire, his reading on a history of drug use: … …. ‘I guess something had to step in and fill God's shoes. Interestingly, there are frequent references to Wordsworth, citing his practice of communing with nature as a path into the mystic, or at least out of the mundane. As always, I am naively surprised to find that people back then had functioning brains and sensitive souls, many suffering from urban malaise, jadedness, disaffection, neurasthenia, their skull's ringing from the din of factories and train whistles and the larger question of just what it all means. The frequent references to Wordsworth have inspired me to reread his poems, the shorter ones at any rate.’


October 19, 2023: Somewhere in Proust’s seven volume opus À la recherche du temps perdu, the ‘narrator’ suggests that the soul of a writer is to be found in his or her writing. Perhaps he was having the reader on. I read, and wondered about writers who have no souls. I chided myself. Catty, catty. On that same day, deep in the evening, in R K Narayan’s novel The Vendor of Sweets, I read how the son of the novel’s protagonist went from India to America, hung about, returned home with the idea of inventing a machine which would, with the spins of a few dials, spew out, what else? novels. You had only to feed the machine sufficient data to do with character and plot and the usual stuff, and bingo! Bestseller. By way of a hugely efficient process. No more blood, sweat and tears and gnashing of teeth as the putative novelist grinds his or her way to an ‘outcome’ somewhat American in tone. Genius without the pain. Sans suffering. In lieu of having to think. Seems to me we are already there. AI or whatever. We have been the dominant species on this earth for a very long time, so much so we are well on our way to making ourselves irrelevant, or letting the techies do that for us. In any case, the publication date given for Narayan’s book is 1967. Perhaps he was on to something.

The diminution of the human soul – assuming that there is something in that to belittle, trash, and render beside the point – strikes me on good days as the main driver of the current agenda, and on bad days, but of course… what soul? One way or the other, the ‘soul’ has been hamstrung by our extremism and hypocrisies. Either there is no such animal or there is nothing but – in the sense that it, and only it, matters. And today’s current agenda was yesterday’s, and it looks to be tomorrow’s, and there is not a thing to be said or done about said agenda, but that, perhaps it answers to some extent as to why I would wish to bother myself with a rereading of all that is Proust. I have not been particularly reverential of the man these many years, certainly not as much as I have been of Homer, and, at times, Dante and Shakespeare, but there is something to be said for the claim that his work is one of the major works of the imagination in our history. In the course of which he may preach, but he does not sermonize. It is a given: human beastliness. He provides a stage, and there it is - in all its beastly glory. The human soul, whatever it is, is not sweetness. There is fetor. Otherwise, I hear from Bastien.

He worries for himself, Bastien does, seeing as, in his thoughts, he keeps going on about haunted houses and alien spacecraft. He is hiding out in some ‘academy’ in the Ontario bush. He is a serious young man. He would concern himself with serious things. I liken him to one who has gone off to Tibet or someplace similar so as to wean himself from distractions, and he empties his mind, and then – of a sudden, what fills the void? The heady notions of Ridley Scott? Ontario as Bhutan is perhaps a stretch, but it might well be, given the proper mind-set, that anywhere, even Ontario, can be a happy place on this misery-ridden earth. Watch Gladiator enough times and…

Cornelius W Drake of Champagne-Urbana has got me interested in Emily Wilson’s translations of Homer (The Odyssey in 2017, The Iliad just out or soon to be). It seems she has aced them, and I would like to see if the raves are borne out. Meanwhile, Lunar in the Hebrides… Lunar in the Hebrides… well, he has discovered the soul of bad weather and the soul of whisky, and village gossip. There is the local distrust of strangers. Moreover, unlikely sorts from all parts of the world seem to be holing up in such remote places, expatriated, getting away from God knows what, and probably from a thing or two such as any of us might like to get away from, but no bard. Lunar has not managed to hit upon a bard. That the last bard died twenty-five years ago or so… (But I think we touched upon this in the previous post.) What is a bard? He or she is certainly not a hall monitor, but he or she will very likely have their tribe and its doings in mind…

Proust again. A few months back someone remarked to a friend (who relayed it to me) that in Proust there is something of a creep. I have reread the first novel in his seven novel opus and am halfway through a reread of the second, and I cannot so far say that I have identified anything resembling creepiness, just that, in the young narrator’s infatuation with the young Gilberte (Within a Budding Grove, Part One), one is brought awfully close to the awful egotism (and creepiness) of it all: you in your love-fit, and not the Beloved, suck up all the oxygen in the room, are the point of it all, and a great many of us have been there.

Israel-Gaza. It is not as if we here at Ephemeris do not know what is in play, the horrors of it – we do, but Mr Carpenter over at The Carpentariat says it better.

Postscript I: Continuing silence from Talking Avocado. I am assuming the man is appalled for any one of a thousand reasons.

Postscript II: No one becomes a man before he has had considerable experience of himself which, revealing himself to himself, and determining his own opinion of himself, in some ways determines his fortune and his state in life. From Giacomo Leopardi’s Pensieri or Thoughts. J G Nichols translation. Leopardi died in 1837, and unthinkably to us, probably died a virgin. In some respects, the thought quoted above is neither here nor there. A man, or a woman, for that matter, is going to go on and become a talk-show host even if only in the fastness of one’s kitchen, the tool shed perhaps less secure.


October 11, 2023: Guilted out. That is to say, it has been a while since I last ‘posted’. As if to ‘post’ is the primary birthright of a brave new world and so, best I exercise it. Instead, I would direct your attention to The Carpentariat, to Mr Carpenter and his sources. Otherwise, I have my excuses.

One, I have been writing. I keep getting bucked off the horse. Or bull. Or I have been flying upside down.

Two, some of my funny-named interlocutors are silent, though Slick Williams of the Benedetto archtop, would have me know of Elsa Morante and Sicilian family life. No, I did not know of Else Morante the novelist, but of family life, sure, I know a little.

Three, Lunar has been in the Hebrides. He has been in the hunt for the ‘bardic’. The trail has gone cold, stone cold on him. Says he, “The things that can disappear overnight, that have had centuries of ‘exercising’ behind it.”

Four, I have been reading or rereading. Within A Budding Grove, Part One, is one return to a book once read. (And I am still having a go at Narayan, R K). Someone said to me of late, Too Tall Poet, I think, that Joyce was not half the writer Proust was, and there you have it, what will strike some as fighting words in some quarters. The man, Too Tall Poet, delivered judgment; it conduced to an increase of his stature….

Five, there has been a wretched business going on, and in my mind, it is as if some crypt or closet has been pried opened. Whatever rattled in it is now released - to dance a dance of death. Which is why this post shall be brief, no postscripts, no Cornelius W Drake who, I would wager is planning his riposte to me, or that upcoming election, that one to determine the next prez, is not a sideshow, it is the game. ‘Its outcome will determine the odds of better, or worse, troubles. Happy poeming.’ Hate is the game, so I have been arguing, Trump the delivery system.

But what a thing about which to argue, even if in the spirit of ‘I only wish to point out’…

And six, and is it not plain by now? I just have not been in the mood. Too much rattling going on, the thud thud thud of arms. Media unwatchable.

Which would be excuse the seventh, my disbelief.

October 3, 2023: We are late to the party this time around, and I ask for your indulgence: the flesh is always weak, but the spirit is sometimes distracted. I have been pursuing other aims, one of which is to finally learn, after threatening to do so for the past thirty years, the ‘St Louis Tickle’ on the guitar. Oh, and to write the odd poem or two, and to gesticulate at Lunar. For those of you unfamiliar with Celtic mythology, Lunar is a minor moon deity who happens to find himself steaming his hat and drinking whisky (as in 'whisky transcendence') in an exotic place, name of South Uist, somewhere in the remote hinterlands of the soul, and some say Scotland. Lunar had to cross over from Maillaig, which seems to have had its start as a fishing town in a previous century or two. Among other things, Lunar is hot on the trail of a trail going cold: bardic poetry. Also, I have been scanning the horizons for signs of a campus revolt against the phenom Trump. That is to say, for signs that his own ‘spawn’ as it were, have had enough. Well, we will see. Carpenter at The Carpentariat keeps citing polls (as well as serving up judicious prose). They, the polls and the words, are not necessarily encouraging.

Also, the notes I keep as I read and cogitate and otherwise involve myself in the rigours of sentience seem unusually indecipherable. I am not sure… but I may have read somewhere that handwriting changes with age, and, if so, mine has become seriously flamboyant. Worrisome. I thought, at long last, I had gotten my ego under control. But in the scratchings on the page, I make out prompts, if barely so. And one of them would have me apologize to a woman I never met, with whom I never communicated, over remarks she made in a magazine essay.

Well, I had been in Verona in Italy. Ronald Reagan was president. That man seemed faintly ridiculous to me. That a man who had some silly movie roles could, nonetheless, be seen as a moral and intellectual paragon… I had wandered into an English language bookstore. I had picked up said magazine of a literary bent. I had read that whilst one is reading Shakespeare one is Shakespeare. I was infuriated - in the town in which Shakespeare set two of his plays.

Now, to square a less than perfect circle… Or that I have been reading Proust. That somewhere along the line I got it into my head that it might be a good thing to reread Proust, every last sucker of a volume he wrote in a cork-lined room that comprised his opus À la recherche du temps perdu, seven of them. But at least I can say that while reading Proust I have not become the man. I may, on the other hand, have become somewhat Proustian, hence the apology to the aforementioned woman with respect to what I took, back then, as yet more post-modern drivel. One can be ‘altered’ just a little and for a brief spate of time by what one reads, if in a pliable enough frame of mind, or if one has no choice but to surrender to the aims and the voice of the writer. For instance, usually when I am reading Joyce, as in James, save for a few passages here and there that are worth the price of admission, I am in a state of open revolt.

And based on random readings I have undertaken over the years, there always seems to be someone out there who concerns him or herself with the true nature of Medea, and whether she was a bad actor from the get-go or a victim of bad actors in Greek myth &c. All I can say, as I read, over the course of a few late night readings recently, The Voyage of Argo as given to us by Apollonius of Rhodes a couple of millennia ago; and as I endeavoured to detach her from any hint of contemporary theory as to what boots it for Medea and her character; as I tried to take what the words were giving me, and nothing more, bearing in mind that Apollonius could well have been indulging liberties (as did Ovid and Seneca with their Medeas), I came to a conclusion. Perhaps it is an unforced error, this conclusion. But that there is something, as we might say, creepy-strange in the poem, as if something was ’introduced’ into the story of Jason and the argonauts and the Golden Fleece et al, and then allowed to fester without, as it were, medical attention, without a moral or ethical salve of any kind, nothing that any plot line or other modern device in modern storytelling might remedy or counterbalance so as to achieve a feel-good effect. And that something had a lot to do with Medea about which Orpheus and his lyre could also do nothing. As if life is blood lust, no more, no less, and bad magic. Though it was good, near the epic’s end, to read that on a certain island, name of Anaphe, or as the translation has it, Revelation, man and woman can set about to chaffing one another, and ‘a light-hearted exchange of insult and repartee’ ensue, because, well, given the fact of the murder of Apsyrtus, Medea having betrayed her little brother to Jason’s sword, and then he goes and chops the guy to bits, perhaps some comic relief was in order even as far back as then.

Medea then. And but a few minutes ago, as I interrupted this post to have a little petit déjeuner, a scenario flashed through my brain. In it a man said to a therapist, “These male poets treating with Medea – as if to give women a hard time… but who’s to say that there wasn’t some Medea in Pinochet, in Papa Doc, in Pol Pot, in Eichmann (though as Arendt had it, he was too bland for that), in Dahmer and the like, in a cast of thousands. Eh?” Even so, I have to say, if she fascinated Seneca (and one would like to know why), Medea never unduly fascinated me, just that these mentions of her have come about purely by chance, through random readings, unless, as Lunar will have it, everything is synchronicitous. Enough. Comptroller of the Universe has complained about the length of my posts.

Postscript I: Cornelius W Drake of Champagne-Urbana: ‘I had never even heard of prose poetry - a true oxymoron that makes the idea interesting.’

Postscript II: Again, nothing from Talking Avocado. Perhaps he has been worshiping a new deity named Mum’s the Word.