EPHEMERIS

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May 26, 2024: Who now reads Dante and the speeches of FDR? Well, John Cheevers. Back in the day. In any case, I do not wish to read his short stories; I will pass on his novel, but I will continue to read the collected letters of his that I have on hand. They were written not for posterity but to charm the socks off his addressees. I particularly like the missives he wrote in the persona of his labrador retriever, mutt who complained – mildly – of his master’s drinking. Otherwise, good old Proust.

Indeed, good old Proust. So I pronounced to myself – spontaneous outburst – as I returned to Cities on the Plain, Montcrieff the translator, after a few days of having put it aside so as to catch up on other reading. Good old Proust. As if speaking of a person who has just reaffirmed one’s faith in this, that, and the other thing. Good, old Proust and his rotten socialites and his reactionary anti-Dreyfusards (though the Duc de Guermantes, or Basin, unaccountably switches to the colors of the other team). Good old Proust. Because pettiness is universal. You find it in every culture, every class. Petty concerns writ large as if they are the only things worth dying for, and perhaps, after all, they are. I wonder if Proust would have written any differently were he to have written in an age when novelists have their eyes on movie contracts and a seemingly inexhaustible supply of prizes to harvest? But then, he was financially independent and so, the man was free to write as he pleased and as he saw it. Cheevers, on the other hand, seemed to have been owned by The New Yorker, an arrangement he did not mind, from the sound of it. His letters to Eleanor Clark bring back to mind the fact that she wrote one of the finest books I have ever read, my copy of which has gone missing: Rome, and a Villa.

I have also been reading Rostovtzeff’s history (1927) of Rome. In one chapter, as he treats with Augustus and the peace and prosperity Rome enjoyed after years of civil war, with particular attention to the poets Horace and Virgil, he writes of the ‘pessimism’ that showed up in the work of the poets of the time. If pessimism is, among other things, knowledge of a kind, here pessimism must have had something to do with knowing how awful a price was paid for that peace and prosperity. Meanwhile, Augustus and Maecenas (Augustus’s consigliere and an arts patron) seem to have understood how poetry gets made and so, they did not force a poet’s hand unduly, but still, something was expected. (There is always a Stalin grinning through the telephone wire at a Pasternak quaking at the knees.) So then,Horace wrote a few patriotic odes in addition to his other verses, and Virgil mythologized Rome’s origins in the figure of Aeneas. I have crossed paths with critics who have taken those two poets to task as enablers of empire, and would have them shot at dawn if they could roust them from their graves, and I have put it to them: “You think you would’ve behaved any differently, written any differently, were you in their shoes, or sandals, or whatever? Do you think you would’ve produced anything other than the trash they managed not to write?” Shrugs all around. More beer.

Innocently enough, and as it was available at the price of a loony in a bin at the entrance to my local bookstore, I bought the DVD, the movie entitled Bobby which was a looksee at the assassination of Robert Kennedy through the eyes of people who, for various reasons, had been ‘there’, there being Los Angeles, the Ambassador Hotel, 1968. What stunned me was not the movie itself (it was decent but not great cinema, though it had its moments or two, to be sure); but that it brought up emotions in me I could only have assumed were long dead. There is a critic on-line who critiques the movie for portraying Kennedy as a saint when he was not terribly saintly, and, no doubt he was not, but there was an idealism in the air then that one could not sully for being remote from reality, could not disparage as naïve, and Kennedy embodied it, politician that he was. It died at the moment when he was shot. It does not come around very often, this sort of idealism that is fairly simple, unencumbered with shrill voices, shrill minds. Here, in the Trumpian universe, I thought to myself, watching the flick go through its paces, that the worst already happened. It was that shooting. The worm has been turning these last 56 years.


Postscript I: Carpenter

Postscript II: Cornelius W Drake of Champaign-Urbana: ‘If you're speaking only of American politics and not the world, I'd mark 1979-80 as the turning point, or certainly 1990, when Gingrich whipped out his "word list" for GOP pols to use. Reagan began destroying the country's socioeconomic base but Newt turned politics abnormally vicious. [Otherwise, storm?] I saw large bullfrogs dropping from the heavens but no tortoises, and that, I suppose, is a good thing, even though I'd rather have one of the latter as a houseguest. [Huge storm?] We might have [had a huge one], but my "situational awareness" isn't quite up to Green Beret standards. In fact I live totally in the dark, unaware of anything but mein laptop.’ Sibum: I have never set eyes on Mr Drake, but sometimes I see him as a munchkin-leprechaun figure in a trench coat, enigmatic creature acting in some capacity as a courier between isolated pockets of sanity in a wasteland of which Eliot could never have dreamed, even with Pound’s helping hand.

Postscript III: (Lunar being political): ‘Hammersmith… such a safe Labour seat… The local MP is a good fellow, better than those whom he serves. Again, I don't trust Starmer. Somebody commented on the sheer improbability of Churchill losing the election right after World War Two to which somebody else commented on the improbability of Starmer winning the election just before World War Three. Ouch, that bites.’

Postscript IV: ‘So where do you think you’re going with all this, all this reading? Buenos Aires on a skateboard? But have you ever skateboarded? I did once and nearly self-immolated: encounter with a sanitation truck. I do love the title of Proust’s number two chapter in Cities of the Plain: “The Heart’s Intermissions”. (My eyes register the words, and I see eagles gripping salmon with their talons.) I’ve been watching scary flicks of late. Scary and dark and with social messages. Why the scary? Why the dark, the social messages? Well, I don’t expect you to answer. You may be so close to the forest you can’t see the bush. What is so confoundingly dumbfounding is that dumber than dumb movies, always popular, just get dumber and dumber and are everywhere. How do I know? Because my eyeballs are seared, and here it is I live in nature, the smell of the sea in my nostrils every day. There’s been nothing interesting at the recycling depot by way of books. Not even poetry books that people throw out, unable to fob them off on their local libraries. You know the ones. There’s always the photo of a grinning author on the back blurb. As if a coup has just floated his or her boat. As if scared you-know-whatless, staring down a firing squad. Hell, that was me once upon a time, grinning like all get out. Well, back to my chores. You can, you know, eat mussels in June.’


May 20, 2024: You would think we had explored all the barbarities by now, but every day always a new wrinkle by which to mangle the bodies of others, a new gimcrack set of mind put to work, and presto! slaughter freshly justified, and I am not a pacifist, not in any strict sense. But the greatest carnage seems to come from countries, nation states, polities that, on a collective basis, lie to themselves.

In me there are two monsters one of which I call Herr Professor. He requires no explanation. It is not that he is a know-it-all, he is anything but; in fact, he is a university drop-out (a cast of mind sometimes situated in the genes as opposed to experiential dislike of organized religion or rather education), just that he likes a good discussion, and sometimes a discussion necessitates some book reading. The other monster? He has been coming on strong of late. I have no easy epithet for this incubus, but I dub him Mr Fingershaker. He would rather not be up and about; he would rather tuck in with a good movie; he would rather get on with his reading. He would rather hunker down on some terrasse and watch the world go by, knowing that whichever course it is on, whichever route it appears to take, it will go as it goes, and, as my father might have said in his Brooklyn days back in the 40s, the devil take the hindmost.

Only that there is this relentless sense that we are in full out four wheel drift, and a ‘shaking finger’ acts not so much as censure (a pox on all your condominiums) but as a stabilizer. Get my drift?

In any case, I have yet to befriend Mr Fingershaker or it me, as I am lazy, somewhat feckless, prone to taking my pleasures where I can. And there is always in my mind that image of Orson Welles as Father Mapple in Moby Dick (1956 movie), he sermonizing, Jonah his theme, the congregation exhorted to flout their own interests in the interests of ‘God’. But be advised: one has no desire whatsoever to be Orson Welles as Father Mapple. One cringes at the onset of the finger-shaker monster every time he gets frisky. But whenever Trump opens his rotten maw and then is exalted as a god; whenever some pundit on TV extols the hardhead politics of power and leverage, and all things Trumpian are thusly made palatable, my finger gets restless, even as it comes off looking foolish. For there is no guarantee that life beats death, that the good carries the day over and against evil, and that love has anything to do with anything. That cartoon I saw this morning in which a brain-eating worm crawls back out of an ear and says, “That was a waste of time”… damn near chucklesome, as if the cindery Book of Revelations dispenses jokes.

Oh well then, and to change the subject, on tap now Mircea Eliade (in his No Souvenirs, Journal, 1957-1969) with respect to the ‘underground press’ of the 60s: … …. It could be that even the uninhibited sexual life that this young generation of rebels praises is part of the (unconscious) process of the rediscovery of the sacredness of life. I think I know why I am coming away from this book with mixed feelings, see immediately below.

Yes, as it also used to get said, there is more than one way to skin a cat. Hedonism is one thing, and by all means, but to flatter hedonism with pretentions to the sacred is another. (There is a ‘sacred’ in all this... Dionysus, Eros, Thanatos, Aphrodite... but carrying on with those entities is not as easy as baking cornbread.) A neighbour I had – 70s, Vancouver – made mention to me of something she called ‘spiritual materialism’. She was studying to be a shrink, and I remember thinking then that she was too good for such doings, but anyway… She was the daughter of an important player in the Black Mountain poetry-making scene and the politics thereof, and while she was loyal to her father, she seemed to have her own mind, and I have sometimes wondered what she really thought of it all, the gurus and guru wannabes, whether poetry or the selling of used cars comprised the day jobs. A lot of people wearing beads went in and out of that house at all hours, and I suppose they thought themselves spiritual, cocaine the sacrament, and they had all been to Carlos Castaneda, which is a state in Mexico. And Eliade fell for it, a man who should have known better, because, even if America always had time for old timey religion, the sacred was something else entirely, save for the Emily Dickinsons perhaps or the Walt Whitmans, and even if there is something of the seeking of the sacred in a Bob Dylan lyric here and there, I think he would frown on the use of the word. America is more likely to produce flakes than true mystics. It produced hippies, did it not, and God knows I was one of them for a while, laid back, fatuous, a little uneasy.

Otherwise: The sufferings of Italy in the first ten years of civil war, however dreadful, were but the beginning of a yet longer and more bloody conflict; they served rather to inflame than allay the rage of faction in Rome and Italy. From M. Rostovtzeff’s Rome, which it is a history of the Roman empire first published in 1927. The rage of faction. The words come off in the mouth like a chunky candy bar, like peanut brittle. It goes without saying that I read them and then had thoughts, the import this: “Come on, tell me again: there is no America-Rome analogy to be had in nature. Cast about in the New Testament and you won’t find it there either. Maybe in some back issue of Esquire.” “Yes but—” “Yes, but nothing. So say we academics whose backs resemble two-lane highways, as we’ve been tread upon.” I suppose I must defer – for a hundred reasons, one of which, and I am not tired of saying it, is that I am no scholar, much less a gentleman. But it sure seems that way, the Sullan-Marian phase of the empire a strong prelude to worse to come along similar lines, seeing as the outstanding problems of the day became the outstanding problems of the next day, and so forth and so on. The rage of factions. Tell me there is no such thing in play now in you-know-where-to-the-south-of-here. Or shall I direct your attention to a letter John Cheever wrote at some unspecified date, but that it reflected on the 30s and how, in 1931, he, on a walking tour of Germany, and he, noting the onset of the Nazis, predicted then the war that was to come, 1939. Some things are discernible even without crash courses in political science.


Postscript I: Carpenter

Postscript II: Cornelius W Drake of Champaigne-Urbana whose only walking tour saw him in some back alley of a Kansas City nightclub, looking for a game of craps: ‘My questions are if Trump loses, and I think he will, how many Proud Boys and the like will be stupid enough to assault swing-state capitol buildings? They'll be killed or jailed. If he wins, how many mass protests outside the White House will occur? They'll get ugly, since counter protesters will show. Will persistent protests of his dictatorial powers be enough to intimidate the administration? I've no idea.’   

Postscript III: Talking Avocado: ‘Waded halfway through Lord Jim and gave up in exhaustion. Found a Richard Brautigan novel and gave up on it as well, despite the tiny chapters and short sentences. Rereading Leskov which, some clunky translation notwithstanding, has me hooked. I was taken to task by a group of women for writing a book from the point of view of a woman. But I seem to be able to speak of it, so I guess I’m okay. Got all my teeth. Cheevers, eh? You’ve never been able to warm to Bellows and Updike and Roth though they all wrote well enough – what makes you think you’ll warm to him? Oh, it’s just a random thing. You got the book for a buck, you had Alice Munro on the brain, and it’s not that these things are in any way connected, and your dad had been a New Yorker once, and the book has old photographs, though not of Lampedusa and Palermo. What, no Proust? Just stop me when you’ve a mind to.’ … ….

Postscript IV: Lunar in his Bob Dylan mode: insanity smashing up against my soul

 

May 16, 2024: I had an opening line for this post, but as I neglected to make a note of it, it is now gone. Perhaps, last evening after supper, the little walk I took to my local park swallowed it up, that the squirrels and the dogs and the dandelions and parents packing their new-born around, and picnickers and couples and loners and smokers, all chilled, as it were, relaxed, put it to flight. Doom? On such an evening as this? Well then, in lieu of the line gone AWOL on me, I have a pair of isolated quotes, isolated contexts. Firstly: Strauss asked the scholars if the exact and rigorous sociological analysis of a concentration camp expressed the deep meaning of this social phenomenon. Secondly: How important is “what happened after”—that is, what, in a spiritual creation, has been retained, assimilated, put to use, developed. Zalmoxis, for example, is more original, more profound, more “true” than many of the Greek gods—but we do not know what happened after him. Did he disappear? Was he forgotten? Was he transformed and camouflaged afterward into one of the figures of Rumanian folklore? Zalmoxis? Who the hell is Zalmoxis? Did he pitch for the Léon Braves in Guanajuato, Mexico? In any case, the source of these two quotes is Mircea Eliades’ No Souvenirs, Journal, 1957-1969. Some of the little conversations I overhead in the park were downright bizarre and I was not in the least disturbed. Ought I to worry?

Ah, there it is! My opener. Shocking news: Lunar wears lederhosen. Otherwise, he mentioned the deep respect he had for Alice Munro the writer who died the other day. ‘She got things right with respect to village Canadiana and she did it with extraordinary economy.’ Or, as Cornelius W Drake of Champaign-Urbana has it, taking aim at some publisher or editor or other by way of a poem-submission act: ‘My idea of art is what comes genuinely from the independent mind. But [dear editors] do hang on to this poem, file it under “future use” — that being those hallowed days when mass artistic opinion, springing from a minuscule segment of this nation's most pretentious, no longer dictates what is publishable.’ Naturally enough, editor and or publisher has only to reply: ‘Yes, but my pocketbook and my grants.’ Or, as Talking Avocado has it: ‘I can’t tell if I have Aspergers or some form of neurodivergency. Maybe I’ve been overly optimistic, thinking I can get my novel into the light of day.’

I have not forgotten the Proust I have been going on about these past months. I am reading slowly – a few pages at a time, and it is still early days for Cities of the Plain, volume four of the seven volume Remembrance of Things Past, and there is something so painfully human about the dying Swann as seen through the eyes of the young Marcel who, in the book, runs interference for Proust the author. That some of the characters are having to deal with the fact that Swann is not only cashing out, but that he is a Dreyfusard (and Jewish, to boot), and they are not, just that Swann is socially distinguished and that counts for something. The Dreyfus trial (the Dreyfus affair) was one of those scandals and trials that can divide a country, and it divided France at the turn of the last century, and I would have to write a book to do the subject properly, and hey, this is a technological age, so I hear tell, and you are probably a whiz – look it up. Eliade kept threatening to expatiate on Proust and the recapture of time, or a certain kind of time, at any rate, and if not primordial time and innocence, then time qua time, childhood, when things were a little less absurd. As far as I know, Eliade did not write in any major way about Proust. But then this – Eliade: I have never read the history of the conquest of Mexico without being ashamed of being European and Christian. Gadzooks, I think the man meant it at the time he wrote it, and even if he had, in his yout’, flirted with fascism. He was not being merely ‘woke’. On his way to the capital of Mexico, Cortés stopped at Cholula, the most famous sanctuary of the pre-Columbian world, and there, in less than two hours, he killed six thousand persons gathered in the inner court of the temple. Well then, what gives in Gaza at the moment is nothing new, but it appals even so (an appallingly useless word, that word ‘appal’), especially on the Nakba anniversary, and what with the rhetoric that came out of the mouths, yesterday, of various government ministers on the lines of: sure, let’s do Nakba again, only better. And if any reader of this post thinks I am merely engaged in a spot of virtue-signalling, I will be happy to come and attend to the kneecaps of said reader. Eliade: There is not a single street bearing the name of Cortés in all of Mexico. Perhaps one of my Mexican correspondents can verify this, as Eliade made his observation in the 60s when Mexicans tended to identify with the Aztecs, not the Spanish so much…

Not one, but several writer friends of mine have written me to the effect that they are fed up with writing and the ‘writing scene’. (I withhold their names to protect the innocent.) Their reasons are various. I chanced on a remark Lunar made some years ago that writing is an avocation, not a profession which obliges one to ‘perform’. Like a dancing bear? A seal in tap-dance shoes? It was precisely the same remark I received from one of those above-mentioned friends. I do have it under consideration that there are writers who regard themselves as ‘professionals’; it is how they make a living, journalism comes to mind, does it not, and fantasists, and bearing in mind that Homer was a ‘professional’ of sorts – he had warlords to entertain. Horace the Roman poet was his own man, just that he answered to Caesar, and if Caesar wanted a poem to celebrate some aspect of Roman history and the state, what Caesar wanted Caesar got; but still there is a point to be made: the so-called ‘professional poets’ of this day (and every poetry press in the western world has them in their stables) are more interested in padding their CVs then in getting on with their craft. Eliade: In a certain sense, I believe in the future of ‘the literature of the fantastic’. For the moment, at least, the classical realistic or psychological novel is no longer interesting: first of all, it no longer interests the younger generations. But the nouvelle vogue cannot last either…. These words hit a journal's page in 1966, and then perhaps vamoosed, knowing what they were in for. I wonder if there is any point to them now. Segue of sorts, speaking of horror: the most horror-inducing cinema I have seen to date was not from any horror flick, but from a deathbed episode in Zorba the Greek, and as Madame Hortense the foreigner is succumbing to her pneumonia, eyes wide open, the village harpies, toothless, in black, shrieking, ecstatic, flitting from object to object like locusts, strip her rooms of her possessions, basically saying, “Hey, you’re dead, sister. What do you care? Otherwise, the government gets all this.” … ….


Postscript I: Carpenter

Postscript II: Talking Avocado: ‘I’ve got nothing for you, Sibum. So suck it up.'

Received I: The Civilizing Discourse, Interviews with Canadian Poets, Vehicule Press, 2024, Evan Jones. A better than expected book of interviews. Well done, Mr Jones.

Received II: The Drunken Boat, famous, well, iconic poem by Arthur Rimbaud and nicely translated by Donald McGrath, Canadian poet and raconteur, his twin brother Jerry McGrath coming through with the book design, typography and imprint logo, as well as illustrations of his own. A fine little number, available, I believe, at The Word Bookstore next door to the McGill campus, and if not, and if you desire a copy, e-mail me at sibum@videotron.ca and let us see if we can arrange something. A sample:

I knew no Monitor or Hanseatic ship/would ever come to salvage the sodden cadaver/of such a one as I, just one more keel lost/beneath the trailing tresses of some cove, or tossed/by hurricanes into the birdless ether/but one who was free, steaming in the violet/haze of fog shimmering up its masts who’d worn/holes in the red wall of the sky…. …

Raising a Toast Department: So we raised a toast of Canadian whisky, McGravitas and I, to the spirit of Alice Munro enroute somewhere. We were seated at the Oxford Cafe terrasse, a pile of books on the tabel, and damn if we did not look literary.

May 9, 2024: “Did a bumblebee ever miss the 3:10 to Yuma?” Lunar and I had been bandying back and forth. Do animals have a sense of the future? Lunar was emphatic: “Damn right they do”, he snorted, invoking cats that he knew personally – his own, and the news, recently reported, that an orangutan had healed his face wound with some homemade poultice, no human intervention involved here, the point being that the creature must have been able to foresee a time when the ‘treatment’ would take effect. Neolithic man, without high tech, had an exquisite sense of time, given that they were keen followers of the stars, and very likely had abilities that we have long since lost. In any case, Lunar, whether he knew it or not, was taking issue, after a fashion, with Mircea Eliade (whose journal I have been reading) who said that an animal’s sense of time is an ‘ever-present’, and pass the salt, please. Thank you very much.

In paradise, Adam knew nothing of religious experience, nor of theology, that is, the doctrine of God. Before ‘sin’, there was no religion: Eliade, with Freud on deck, batting clean-up… But perhaps this has some bearing on a discussion of time, as if ‘sin’ (the fall) rendered humankind time conscious. I figure that humankind, from its earliest days, had a sense of ‘sin’ (taboo) or rather do’s you did and don’ts you did not do lest your family or your tribe go down for the count, well-being having been compromised. In other words, religion, however one defines it, religion of a kind, was there from the very beginning. The time of purely zoological existence? To quote a fragment from Eliade’s journals… Or that, primordial time, and perhaps there had been a sort of overarching god until it all broke apart and became the pagan gods, Dionysiac revelry the attempt to recapture the earlier timelessness… And then Christianity and running the clock… I think I had better put all this to rest for the time being….

It appears that the move on Rafah has begun….

The Homeric gods – they disappeared from ‘religious experience’. They have survived in ‘culture’. For good or ill. And it is very hard to say ‘loss of the sacred’ without sounding infinitely precious. Nonetheless, the more that ‘time’ overtakes the ‘timelessness of, for example, baseball’ – pitch clocks and all that – the more likely that some hardcore fan of the game somewhere will lament the loss of a sacred thing. ‘If you keep repairing a boat, replacing its planks one by one, will it be, in the end, the same boat? The question is easy, the answers infinitely complex, well, at least in the hands of the Greek philosophers.’ That was Lunar calling, as he is wont to do at times, all because he was writing something about a boat that was also a historical legacy. And that his great aunt worked on What’s New, Pussycat? as a voice coach. There is legacy for you, say what.

I have always said that human perversity is the well-spring of poetry, and here it is that Eliade said that any renaissance in literature will come about by a ‘rediscovery of the function of myths, of religious symbols, and of archaic behaviour.’ Five will get you ten that he was more right than wrong, and he wrote those words in the year 1960, the year of the ‘New Frontier’, and the arc of justice would bend like a rainbow over all the iniquities. Hector, of course, knew that Troy was doomed and that he would die – at the hands of Achilles; knew that Paris was a scumbag, that frivolity, let the good times roll, has its downside. Then again, if life is nothing more than ‘simple randomness’, if life has no meaning, best be careful what you wish for, or, deus ex machina, come what may… and, ah, a ‘superbomb’, and now one has the means to put an end to the farce and settle the hash of unreadable philosophical tracts. 3 a.m. in the morning and Cornelius W Drake of Champaign-Urbana, he is hit on the head with Poetry in America and Sylvia Plath, and what do I think, and I answer that ‘you’re on your own, buddy, but the trouble with critics, these days, is that they tend to micromanage literature, and well, this has been going on for quite a while, as has reality TV standing in for Finnegan’s Wake.’

Postscript I: Carpenter

Postscript II: Talking Avocado: ‘You know, of course, that Eliade went on a fair bit with respect to Proust, that Proust was caught between time as “irreversible duration” and time as “cyclical regeneration”. How’s that for having a sex life? Just joshing with you. Playing with your head. Yes, let Orestes be sadly depressed…. It’s clear here with periodic cloud.’

May 5, 2024:‘The ignorance of the stupid is as nothing compared to the ignorance of the intelligent’. A direct quote from Lunar parked in front of his computer in the hinterlands of Hammersmith. I thought I had found something to contemplate in the journal writings of one Mircea Eliade, but I did not know (or else it long since slipped my mind, and now I owe Lunar one for reminding me) that Eliade in the 1930s was sympathetic to far-right movements in Romania, in particular the Iron Guard, a Christian-fascist organization. Whether he had anything to do with the Nazis, I cannot say, though Lunar says he did, and moreover, he was an anti-Semite. So, damn. That is what I can, in fact, say. Damn, damn. And here I thought I had found something to get excited about when it comes to the ‘loss of the sacred and the possible recovery of it’ without getting all New-Agey Flaky. I had been asking myself what is a poet good for, and then, seemingly serendipitously, I come across the Eliade journal in a nearby bookshop in the course of a power outage; I read, and it seems that Eliade has an answer or two that suits me. But then perhaps the only honourable intellectual position one can have these days (and this seems to have been the case for a long, long while now) is one of thorough-going skepticism bordering on the pessimistic. I will continue reading through the man’s journal if for no other reason than my curiosity, and because I am interested in what was going through people’s minds in those days, the days of my grandfathers, and how it applies or does not apply to the present moment, what with Trump, what with far-right movements gathering pace in far too many places, and what with Gaza (and Ukraine and Sudan). Which it does look like an upending, a monumental betrayal of something written in stone not that long ago, and then the stone was smashed so as to enable some Old Testament Entity to say: “Thou shalt kill and kill some more, and still more, any way you can.”


Postscript I: Carpenter

Postscript II: Talking Avocado: “I was going to wax enthusiastic about a flick I saw recently, but maybe, this is not a good time: you have other things on your mind. But when have I ever let that stop me? Big Bad Love (2001). One of those low-budget American indie things which are often little gems or close enough to it, and this is one of them. The critics panned it without seeming mercy. Alkie writer up to his eyeballs in rejection slips keeps drinking, keeps writing, keeps fantasizing sexually about an editor who keeps encouraging him to write, suffers a couple of tragedies, one involving his young daughter, and then backs into his redemption almost Clouseau-like, it certainly has nothing to do with virtue or a hero’s heroic effort, and the film, flick, movie ends on a near upbeat note, as near upbeat as upbeat can be without cloying: the man is going to clean up his act. &c. Just saying. Too bad about Eliade. I could have told you what Lunar told you, but I thought you knew. Or else I was feeling mischievous.” Yes, well, TA, grazie.

Postscript III: Cornelius W Drake chipping in: ‘It's complicated, this business of Eliade and antisemitism and fascism. I just read long stretches in Wikipedia on the topic. It all comes down to whom do you believe, his critics or Eliade himself. His participation in Romania's Iron Guard seems reasonable to [him???them???] since its foundation was Orthodox Christianity and mysticism (the latter having attracted real nutjobs like Naziism's Alfred Rosenberg.’)   

May 4, 2024: When exactly did humanism, as a system of thought, as a way of being in the world, die? I put the question to Drake (Cornelius W Drake of Champaign-Urbana, shadowy figure who may moonlight as a graveyard shift janitor at some city hall or other). He answered that he did not know, but that, in his words: ‘Offhand I'd say humanism croaked circa 1910-1950. We had shaken off the supernatural, all right, but in its place we elevated technology above the human, and it's been running us ever since. In a lot of ways we're just bystanders now.’

So perhaps it is why I have been on a Proust kick this past year. What was it like to hold a thought in one’s head before the advent of social media? Does my question even signify? Perhaps, I have to re-immerse myself in Montaigne, take another run at Plotinus, unless those two philosophes cancel each other out like matter and anti-matter. London Lunar says he does not think anymore, has no interest in cogitating. But so far as I know he does not watch rom-coms, ergo, he has yet to switch off his brain altogether. Just that it amuses him to hear that, post-Brexit, and Poland is wealthier than Britian. And that he is sick to death of Shakespeare staged in battle fatigues.

Yesterday, the power went out for what seemed an inordinate amount of time. I went for a walk. Wound up at a nearby bookstore where, in the dark, I played ‘pin the tail on the donkey (book)’ and my hand rested on some journal writing by one Mircea Eliade, and I said to myself: “This doesn’t happen everyday.” The book in question: No Souvenirs. Journal, 1957-1969. I paid the flirty proprietor and wondered whose library she had plundered for the book, and she did have some serious stock on her shelves, in addition to the usual genre fiction paperbacks and so forth and so on. I took the book home, the power still out, and commenced to read.

And so, page 15, and the man is already at it: I could write an entire book on this phenomenon of regression to the amorphous and the chaotic which is discernible in the history of all the arts in modern times. … …. We are expressing this rejection by abolishing the worlds of the past, by shattering the forms and leveling the rough places, by dismantling all forms of expression… …. It is yet another way to protest against the world as it is today and to manifest a nostalgia for another world, dawnlike, fresh, untouched. It’s very clear: a coherent, poetic language no longer has any interest for those who are put off by any form that would simply be a reminder, however vague, of the spiritual universe in which they no longer believe. So then, a meaningful, organized world – not in the cards? A my-way-or-the-highway-world seems to be what has been shaping up, off-ramps barricaded.

Well, I figure Eliade had the early part of the 20th Century in mind when he had those thoughts; but he would have fit right in with our present-day urge for some primordial innocence, or rather, oblivion; and that, what the fascists and the artists of the day did not destroy then, our high tech brainiacs are attending to now, and, besides, from the looks of it, those old fascists are on the comeback trail, but with new appanage or the latest apps. Eliade immediately proceeds to the question of the myths such as the ancient Greeks had on their minds, and that the critics, understanding everything else, because they are absolutely free of any vestige of any superstition or prejudice, having been superbly educated and endowed with fully functioning brain cells fixed up with inalienable rights, fail to understand that myths are but tales the function of which is to ‘reveal how something came into being’. What up, Traditional Novel?

Speaking of which: Proust. Cities of the Plain and another narration to do with one of his Parisian get-togethers without end. Some society woman, blue blood perhaps, is at the party, her sole reason for being there to recruit the guests she will invite to her own next shindig. And I am reading along, and I am thinking that Proust himself, not just the young Marcel who runs interference for Proust in the novel, enjoys the little cruelties that the gathered crowd dishes out and distributes among its various parts, duke part, duchesse part, prince, princess, ambassador, distinguished doctor, some ingenue in a supporting role, but then, enter the dying Swann perhaps on cue, and something like humanity returns to the narration, Swann in for some rough handling on account of the fact that he is perceived as a Jew and a ‘Dreyfusard’ when, in sensibility, he is Catholic to his fingertips, but that, in any case, he is living on fumes. Eliade would have seen in the man, doomed as he is to irrelevance, a living example of one for whom art mattered, not as fetish objects but as a continuum, one extending from the world’s first bit of ornament to Cezanne’s apples by way of a clay tablet, Sumerian, the oldest known musical instruction written down.


Postscript I: Carpenter

Postscript II: I seem to have mislaid the missive in which Cornelius W Drake of Champaign-Urbana went on about ‘cultural turns’ and the hows and whys of what gets rewarded and what gets discouraged in the realm of discourse and so, we might be looking at the world through a magnifying glass of some sort or other, but that the damn thing is cracked or cursed with inexpungable smudges, and I suppose I could ask the man to ‘resend’ it, but then I would have to interrupt his viewing time, Killer Klowns from Outer Space on tap.

Postscript III: Talking Avocado: ‘About Thespis, Sibum, and despite what some people have said is the origin of Greek drama, be it Dionysiac ritual, be it some goat’s bladder, be it a death cult, Thespis and his crew wandered Greece to “pass the time and make some money”. And yes, I have that book you make mention of, Eliade’s journal. I extricated it from the local recycling depot years ago. Anyway, Oppenheimer, you know, the atomic bomb guy and the lead character of the movie that’s been all the rage of late (not great cinema, but you might find it of interest), he seems to have been part of that crowd that wandered all over the earth (as Eliade did) in our grandfather’s day looking for some understanding of things, and that physicists, at that time, just happened to be the most daring thinkers of the day, risk-takers (but that this is no longer true), and, well, I should stop here… getting ahead of myself and into regions I don’t really know anything about. And there’s no way you’re going to get me to read Finnegan’s Wake, I’d rather read Valley of the Dolls, but hey, have you got to that part in the Eliade journal where he goes on about Jules Verne as a supreme mythologist’ that “only a historian of religions, experienced in symbolism, could penetrate and describe the dream worlds of [the man]”???

Quote too Good to Pass Up Department 1: … …. Because I have felt this to be true since I was twelve, and though I have not consciously read anything that could advertise itself as negative theology, but still, in any case… negative theology: of God nothing can be said. The more adequate a definition seems (God is good, powerful, the Creator, etc.) the more false it is. And especially dangerous: because, in that case, man imagines that he has understood God, that he knows something specific about him. … …. From No Souvenirs, Journal, 1957-1969, Mircea Eliade.

Quote too Good to Pass Up Department 2 and Dedicated to One Cornelius W Drake: … …. The socioeconomic explanations of historical phenomena sometimes seem to me exasperatingly simplistic. It’s because of these platitudes that original, creative minds are no longer interested in history. Reducing historical phenomena to lower ‘conditioning’ is to empty them of all exemplary meaning: thus, everything that is still valid and significant in human history disappears. The terrible banalization of history has been the fatal consequence of the systematic banalization of the world, accomplished especially in the 19th century. But, at that time, banalization of the world at least had a historical justification: modern, Western man was emptying the world of all extranatural meaning in order to give himself the means of ‘knowing it objectively’ and mastering it. Today, even this historical justification can no longer be invoked. From No Souvenirs, Journal, 1957-1969, Mircea Eliade.