EPHEMERIS

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July 17, 2024: One can, I suppose, hope. May imbecility and incompetence get in the way of these peoples’ purposes. There have been events, events such as will likely tip the scales in favour of slimeballs who like to trophy hunt, who like to strut trophy wives before slimeball cameras; who enjoy playing a hand in rendering news channels unwatchable; who could a give toss about anything or anyone not directly beneficial to their bottom lines, conspiracy theories the soft, mucky centre of the national psyche to the south of here. The bog from which, a thousand years from now, people will say, of the old bones they have been digging up, that they bear all the telltale marks of having been ravaged by cheesy predators. Of having been shamefully wrong-footed. Moreover, I see (at first blush) in the vice-presidential nominee for the Republican Party a Sejanus, a Roman politico who happily rode the coattails of one Tiberius and ran his show for him (getting a lot of people killed in the process) until the power went to his head and he began to run things for himself, and then Tiberius had to have him eliminated, one little piece of history that is not likely to repeat itself, as Trump, if he remains alive, will be too enfeebled to do or to care that much, though our Sejanus will have his rivals, threats to his well-being, institutions too broken to deal with the ensuing chaos. But already I am getting somewhat far-fetched in the head with this analogizing, this attempt to find a mirror to hold up to ‘events’, and reflect, what, my own sorry self?

I did choose to wait a while before venturing to say anything with respect to ‘events’, and besides, I am not, willy-nilly, political. That much the mirror can tell me. Still, for once I can say that the signifier ‘Orwellian’ may be properly applied to the current situation, as when MAGA mouthpieces turn everything upside down, and hairy moths flood the zone from the bottom of the jar as opposed to from the top: something to the effect that Democratic rhetoric sparked the violence that triggered one of the events alluded to above. Good God, where is post-structuralism when you need one? Oh and, any chance the ‘event’ was staged, massaged, managed? Was this what is meant by ‘jumping the shark’? And sometimes my favourite bits in the histories of Tacitus involve his reports of unnatural doings: two-headed animals, snakes showing up in a baby’s crib, lightning striking certain landmarks, orange men haunting golf courses, and yesterday, it seems that a meteor passed right over the Statue of Liberty, and when I read this news, a brain cell flashed, one that had‘augury’ stamped on it. Turning point, but in which direction?

Otherwise, the young Marcel (in Cities of the Plain, volume four of the seven volume À la recherche du temps perdu by Proust has either been getting to dinner parties by way of train; has been weathering those dinner parties by way ‘grinding it out’; or has been getting around by way of motor-car, and it is a big deal, getting around by motor-car early in the last century and so, how speed, then, alters one’s relations with time and space, a discussion of which I cannot recall ever happening so far as I am concerned, perhaps because we all of us grew up with the car as an established fact, ditto for how we viewed time and space before social media collapsed all that even further, and plane travel was just a way of getting to a different sort of corner store. Over the years, I have had occasion to look at a few critical passages (such as are written by none other than critics) in which was stated that Proust had ‘spiritual aims’ in his prose, and perhaps he did, who am I to begrudge the man that? Perhaps what was (or is) spiritual in Proust was his attention to detail. Ah, those interminable dinner parties. And while the young Marcel is on occasion hinting that he would like to cop a cheap feel at Albertine’s expense, one kind of wishes he would do just that so as to vary things up a bit.

And there is ‘sleep’ time. There is ‘dream’ time. There is ‘wake’ time. And in which time are coups engendered and in which do coups come to fruition? In which time does a newly rich woman (who used to be a hotel servant in one of Proust's passages) deposits little steaming nuggets, little treasures in wardrobe drawers for the maid to have to clean up? Which is my metaphor, via Proust, and to him I am indebted, for the current political situation as besets the world.

Postscript I: Carpenter

Postscript II: Lunar presents me with the ‘European perspective’. Putin, not Trump, is the clear and present danger to the world. And Lunar has a point, and he will carry it all the way from the well to his dinner table and the almond chicken that sits upon it. Still, there is this: You can't walk into a secondhand bookshop here [in Londontown] without seeing ‘Hillbilly Elegy’. Well, I have not read the Vance book myself. I have seen that there are mixed reviews (none of which I have acquainted myself with nor have any wish to). I think the sort of ‘libs’ that Vance would ‘own’ do have some blood on their hands, inasmuch as blinkers of all sorts, not just the ideological kind, have blinkered eyes to commonsense and even reality itself, and thrown a particular kind of octane on already raging fires and so, have done a great deal of political damage, contributing to all the wrong-footedness in the face of what I am afraid we are going to have to call evil. And one can see that they will never hold themselves to account for this, those particular sort of libs more taken with cosmetics than with substance. Iconography for Dummies would be the title of the next Lunarian screed, if there is to be a screed with this in mind: the fist, the flag, the blood, the lip-synching of the word ‘fight’. And so, in a word, galvanizing.

Postscript III: As for Drake, one Cornelius W Drake of Champaign-Urbana, stranded in a Chicago airport whilst enroute to Seattle, and the event broke, something in Drake also broke, and he found himself weeping. He made mention of this to me, and for the first time in years, I felt a connection to an American that required no words, no explanations, and while an Estonian in Estonia may have more reason to fear Putin as opposed to Trump-Vance, and while I certainly understand that and would never gainsay it, it is not something I understand in my gut, whereas… but never mind ‘whereas’… There are some things that do not require a talking-about, let it stand. I hope Drake got to Seattle. I hope he is having a beer for me at the Athenium, a café in which market (Pike’s Market) I used to hang around, and where I acquired my particular notions of small ‘d’ democracy, and it was a place I loved, and it was a place whose soul may have been ruined by gentrification, and then again, perhaps not. A miracle may have obtained.

Postscript IV: From Talking Avocado, nothing. I would have thought he would have a remark or two for me in light of recent doings. For instance: SCOTUS cloaking Trump in the shield device of immunity. But nothing. Perhaps he has melded into the woodwork, the driftwood on his island beaches. Perhaps he is doing yoga in sight of little ocean waves. Perhaps he is at work on a novel, a useless but necessary gesture. Perhaps, he is completely gassed, that is, blind drunk, next stop reflections on mortality.

Postscript V: Large peoples come out, and almost all have come out, from the country of Scythia [southern Russia], cold and poor places. Because there are very many men there and the country is of the quality that cannot nourish them, they are forced to come out of there, having many things to expel them and nothing that retains them. … …. From Machiavelli’s Discourses on Livy, Machiavelli being a 15th century political philosopher, and Livy being the ancient Roman historian…. The quote itself has absolutely nothing to do with anything, unless, very very obliquely, we are on about Ukraine, or hey, Florida where there is a brain drain in progress. But the quote did strike something like a funny bone in me, not a ha-ha funny bone, but a ‘funny bone’, as in familiar but strange.

July 11, 2024: I am not going to make heavy weather out of the words ‘war’ and ‘slavery’, but while reading a couple of recent posts by Heather Cox Richardson (on her Letters from an American site), it hit me that it is quite possible that, over my lifetime, I have taken my understanding of those two words too much for granted. It is one thing to know that on July 9, 1868, as per HCR, ‘Americans changed the U.S. Constitution for the fourteenth time, adapting our foundational document to construct a new nation without systematic Black enslavement.’ But that, as things turned out, politically, and in virtually every other sense, though slavery was now against the law, black people were still up against it, at the mercy of men who had ‘organized the Confederacy’ in the first place…. My point being, I can follow along as certain words are being bandied about in an intellectual discussion of this, that, and the other thing, but as to what it feels like, what it means to be ‘enslaved’ I have not the foggiest. War? True enough, ‘war’ has had an outsized influence on my life. Both my parents were more than directly shaped by WWII and its aftermath. Then, as it happened for me, there was Vietnam. Then, speaking somewhat loosely, and skipping over a lot of conflict, the Bush-Cheney years. Now Ukraine and the obscenity in Gaza which, though distant, are immediate enough… But like I said at the top, I am not going to make heavy weather out of the words ‘war’ and ‘slavery’, just that, so it seems to me, one has to stop every now and then, disengage from the back and forth between the various punditocracies, and ask, “What are we really saying and why?” &c.

Machiavelli in his Discourses on Livy is obsessed with how republics come to be ‘ordered’, how they are governed, and whether men of war or men of peace are best for the job, and what effects can ‘two weak princes in a row’ have on a republic, and what, in any given situation, is a virtue and what a detriment. And so forth and so on. Sometimes, as I am reading Machiavelli’s words (in translation) I have a dim memory of the childhood sandbox. Yes, what is to be done with So-and-So the bully on the block? Kick him in the nuts, run and hide? … …. orders and laws made in a republic at its birth, when men are good, are no longer to the purpose later, when they have become wicked… …. Gosh, of whom could Machiavelli possibly be writing? And can a ‘corrupt’ state remain a ‘free’ state? … …. But when the citizens have become bad, such an order becomes the worst, for only the powerful propose laws, not for the common freedom but for their own power … …. Minutes from a session of Spanky and our gang?

In any case, My Very Best Friend asked me why I was reading Proust, saturating myself in Proust-Montcrieffian prose, and she implied that it had to be for reasons of snobbery, and me the son of an army sergeant, which makes me veritably of working-class origins. (Still, strictly speaking, my father who had managed officer’s clubs in his 20-year military stint, lived above his paygrade.) I responded somewhat along these lines: “All the better to twit the arty-farty types who have wanted me to stay in my lane. You want snobs. There are your snobs.” My Very Best Friend was pleased with my answer, and she, not having much use for academics herself, and arty-farty types, and for her own reasons, raised her wine glass as a toast to… whatsowhomsoever. We were celebrating birthdays, and there was the somewhat alarming sight of McGravitas’s bare feet on the coffee table, he going on about Breughel the Elder and Rimbaud. … …. We have seen more than enough of those intellectuals worshiping art with a big A, who, when they can no longer intoxicate themselves upon Zola, inject themselves with Verlaine… …. A quote from Proust’s Cities of the Plain. In which I was rather surprised he would make a joke out of the King of Diamonds, or that, because the king is one-eyed, the king is excused his military service. The kind of joke as might amuse an eight-year-old… He saw how little was to be expected of human affection, and resigned himself to it. Well, a dinner party under the auspices of the Verdurins is winding down, and Charlus the baron is speaking bad French….

And perhaps John Huston made a forgettable movie, and perhaps that movie was The Bible, to do with the first 12 stories in Genesis, but I will never be able to rid my mind of John Huston as the voice of God and of Noah or other Notables, and I did watch it for a while, and rather enjoyed the Eve-being-tempted-in-the-garden-scene and sentience breaking across the land like a menacing thunderstorm, and it now dawns on Adam-as-Frankie Avalon that he is in for a lot of crap. With humankind it is always one step forward, two back, and I could care less what the believers in progress have to say for painless dentistry.


Postscript I:
Carpenter

Postscript II: We had had a little back and forth as to the madness of the times and how much crazier can they get, each of us with the sneaking suspicion that we have not seen anything yet, and Lunar says: ‘Craziness, you say. Yesterday's news almost made me retch. Man with crossbow ties up his ex-girlfriend, her mother and sister and kills all three. All three died slowly. Bad things happen always, but I wonder if this kind of thing has not become in the sick mind a kind of media grab, a form of pornography. Whomsoever commits such a crime must have some inkling of the ensuing headlines.’ Not that the immediately above springs on the mind like any sort of revelation, but porn in a thousand forms, does rule our civilization. Lunar went on to comment on the miracle goal that put England in the finals against Spain (Euro Cup), and the recent election, the results of which, in both England and France, provide a bit of a reprieve from the machinations of the far-right, not that anyone should be taking their eye off the ball; not that anyone should be thinking that ‘hey, we’re shot of the rough seas, the one-eyed-leading-the-blind through plague, famine, war, and the insanities of Mussolini-like cretins.’ Alright then, and a pause for breath... Moving on...

Postscript III: Cornelius W Drake of Champaign-Urbana which is, in effect, a state of mind, be it crazy going for crazier, be it collective psychosis, a wave of lemming-come-to-papa moments: ‘Yes. Yesterday was sort of otherworldly, in my mind, that is. I felt discombobulated, as though what I was doing and needed to do — were somehow foreign to me. Bizarre, no? I think that's passed, most of it, anyway. Perhaps it was a signal that I'm entering Biden territory…. …. just another day of Adventures in New Maladies… How 'bout you and the poetry and all things worrisome about POTUS?’ … …. Yes, seeing as what has been in the news that cannot quite catch its breath is Biden and cognitive decline, not much going on about the other fellow, his sh-t-for-brains…

Postscript IV: Talking Avocado. I never know what the man is going to throw at me, though generally, it is I who initiates our conversations, somewhat strange conversations, as we have never set our gazes on each other. I can tell you that, to some extent, he can be pegged as follows: published author, recluse, Socratic humanist sort, as when, ‘sure, we’re human, but let’s not get carried away with ourselves’. The man is that skeptical, and, as for myself, I will always spell skeptical with a 'k'. Then he says: ‘Am currently rereading Travels With My Aunt and enjoying it immensely. As for Trump, forgive me for being jaded and or myopic, but I don't think that [n]either he, nor Pierre Polyvinyl [Justin T] up here, will make a bit of difference in anything. They're mere balloons with faces painted on them waving in the wind at the end of strings while the glacier-like legislatures do the real work, which is as slow as a school of minnows turning a garbage barge against a current.’ Nice stretch of verbiage. Upon which I could never improve. Although I beg to differ with the view of Trump. OFTEN MEN DECEIVE THEMSELVES BELIEVING THAT THROUGH HUMILITY THEY WILL CONQUER PRIDE… Which it is in caps because a chapter heading in Machiavelli’s Discourses on Livy, and because I was looking for a segue somewhat aslant of a most un-excellent prince, and just because.

July 2, 2024: So, what does it sound like, the sound of the final nail being pounded into a coffin? One overhears the chatter of dinner guests, a fair number of them in attendance at la Raspelière, vegetable etymologies the subject under discussion. It would seem that this or that village has the name it has because of the kind of trees found within its boundaries, as in Oakville or Elmvale, Ontario, however far from Proustian France those locales are. In any case, a couple of wretches at table, in their attempts to come off amusing and float their boats and pad their creds, are floating their little seminar in word-origins and then ducking for cover, the withering looks of their hostess – one Madame Verdurin – directed at them with every intention of having them sunk. Her working principle: too much knowledge is mighty boring. To allay your suspicions or to add to them, I borrow the above scenario from Proust, his Cities of the Plain, volume four of À la recherche du temps perdu, although Proust, so far in the volumes I have read, has not seemed unduly worried about the health of the Third Republic, France’s government of the day. Also, I have just heard from Lunar who said, ‘it was ever thus: kings and football players living above the law.’ What am I on about? It is reasonable to assume that he means to give me the gears for being excessively exercised by the news: immunity for a sack of the proverbial. I whizzed off a response, or that, never mind learned disquisitions, the man ought to write dialogue for sit-coms. For the instinct of imitation and absence of courage govern society and the mob alike. Yes, well, the italics are attributable to Proust. Then some ensuing patter: … …. People ought not to dine out if they can’t speak properly… ….

Machiavelli, in his discourse on Livy, concerns himself with the problem of order in relation to the maintenance of a republic, and the role religion plays in it all, and that there is a right and a wrong way to do all this with respect to religion and law and arms and all the rest of it, and what the people will respect and what they will not; and I suppose this presupposes that the people pay attention. But whatever Machiavelli had to say, and whether any of it has any bearing on a present day crisis, it is all going bad, or has already gone that way, note the stench on almost every front. I have a dim memory of me as a seventh or eighth grader addressing a student body in the course of a general assembly. I was slated to deliver some remarks on the nature of democracy and why it was a good thing, and I fell into some kind of semi-extemporaneous harangue on what happens when a democracy is lost, as if I knew precisely what happens when a democracy is lost; as if I knew the meaning of the word ‘democracy’ (because I can pretty well state that I had not the foggiest, nothing that would pass muster in your basic civics class), and where the harangue came from beats me now, out of what niche in my brain. Also confusing were the puzzled looks on the faces of the teachers and the students in the auditorium, and the year was… no, I did not care to remember what year it was, though it probably predated, by a good stretch, Sinatra’s it was a very good year. Even so, no one gave me a hard time for my little speech. I was a good athlete, which is what mattered.

And furthermore … …. Not only were the auguries the foundation, in good part, of the ancient religion of the Gentiles, as was discoursed above, but also they were the cause of the well-being of the Roman republic. Hence the Romans took more care of them than of any other order in it, and used them in consular assemblies, in beginning enterprises, in leading out armies, in making battles… …. Certain orders of augurs they called chicken-men… …. or them what took the auspices, as some Dickensian character might phrase it. And so, it would seem Biden has to rid himself of his chicken-men and get a new crew in, if he intends to ever win a debate… …. (The italics just above? Me quoting Machiavelli in his Discourses on Livy, and I am reminded that I have been superstitious all my life, and perhaps I now know why. Logic is a great thing, but it does not always rub out or otherwise cancel a nagging intuition. Lunar, by the way, has just chimed in to say I, too Americentric, ought not ignore Britain, that she has her troubles, what with her sleaze politics, what with Putin’s fighter planes buzzing it every day, so much so, these occurrences no longer make the news. Alright then: England, my England getting ‘trampier’, which it is a made-up word.)


Postscript I: Carpenter

Postscript II: I already forget the question (something to do with the recent debate?) to which this response by Cornelius W Drake of Champaigne-Urbana would appear to be the answering field holler: ‘Fact-loading was said to be Reagan's problem in an '84 debate. That may be, in Biden's case too. It's a fair observation; unfair is omitting what's entirely non-speculative: Your typical president possesses America's largest ego and generally he's resolute. In the vernacular, "He knows his own mind." (Reagan and Biden, two examples.) Often he's so damn resolute the characteristic transmogrifies to pigheadedness, and that gets him into trouble. With staff Biden has always been known for a hot temper and loud sessions of reproach. That alone leads me to suspect, which has no more verifiable basis than any other suspicion or speculation, that Biden would have put his foot down if he thought he was being harmfully overcoached. But here, I think, is the counterargument guaranteed to destroy the first one (excessive fact-loading as partial blame): Presidents wield ultimate power when in the White House, meaning their every decision is singularly and wholly owned. Deflecting blame on anyone else or any thing doesn't cut it, same with Navy captains, still known as the only true dictators left on earth. I did get a kick out of [Miss}Jewett's "slim suited piss ants who think they know politics." Times I have written that? Decried in discussions? Countless. On the other hand — you knew this was coming, right? — I've scribbled or screamed that very thing but best of memory informs it's always(?) been directed at down-ballot pissants. They are legion. Excepting Trump's, presidential campaign staffers are politicos who with MLK have gone up to the mountaintop, and by and large stayed there. These are the genuinely knowledgeable but of course as fallible as anyone else. Included in the knowledgeable category and positively aglimmer with high honors noted by several of Trump's exclamation marks were those pioneers of egregious fallibility Mike Dukakis' Susan Estrich, Al Gore's Donna Brazile and John Kerry's Mary Beth Cahill. Sense a pattern? I won't say it. I will say that in presidential politics there is absolutely no room for sentimentality, tenderness, nurturing instincts or inflamed impulses short of anything but homicidal intent. If you were looking for my opinion of presidential culpability and slim-suited pissants — what a charming, keepable and theft-worthy phrase — there you have it, though I'm certain you would have preferred a synopsis of my synopsis, not a novella.’ Drake, just so you know, I was able to stay on the bronc long enough to get the gist. Oh and, I came across an on-liner (not one-liner, but on-liner) on your favourite political site, the one you love to slag for its incessant virtue-signalling, that the American people always come through a crisis, will never vote that 'sack of the proverbial' into presidential office, no matter how hard Marjorie Taylor Greene does the shimmy. Sleep well.

Postscript III: Talking Avocado: ‘Have you got it out of your system yet, Sibum? Have you considered laxatives? Perhaps a vacation stay in Punta del Este, best in Uruguay’s summer months (the reverse of ours), and best to avoid the party beaches unless you’re into that sort of thing. You’re not, are you?’