EPHEMERIS

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

      

  HOME  

ARCHIVES

 

February 25, 2023: What to do about those flamingos? (See Sorrentino’s The Great Beauty, 2013, near the film’s conclusion.) Those flamingos showing up on a terrace in Rome… proof, perhaps, that something like the divine is present and all around us, and with a loony sense of humour into the bargain… What to with the mad accordionist? (See Fellini’s Amarcord.) He, with extravagant poses, is at every important occasion in the town, some numinous. What to do with Ezra Pound?

Now did Circe swear under her breath “Holy moly” when Odysseus did not succumb to her spell, seeing as he had been fortified against Circe’s spell-casting, given the protection of an herb by Hermes, the ‘moly’ herb? Or perhaps at a moment of the subsequent intimacy between Odysseus and the goddess witch, ‘holy’ entered into the proceedings, or… It is a poet’s job to trace and track, as it were, the presence of the ‘divine’ in the vicinity, and the rest is journalism. Last night I dreamed that the divine was a young and scholarly woman in jeans and heels; she may have wanted a shower and a change of clothes. Her near identical twin, similarly garbed, was ‘anti-matter’, an equilibrium struck in the universe. It might have something I ate. But back to Pound…

One Michael T Glover, poet, journalist and feature writer on matters of art over the years (he has written for London newspapers and for online venues, including his own, The Bow-Wow Shop, for example, and is now an independent) wants to write a book about Ezra Pound. I quote:

Let me begin by making a confession. Every few years, I have found myself in the grip of what I can only describe as a psychological spasm of sorts. Some urge seizes hold of me that feels quite familiar when it strikes. It is an urge to write a book about Ezra Pound. His face, with that grizzled beard, probably at the age of sixty or thereabouts, swims into the mind’s eye, as if beckoning me to pay it some attention. When that happens, I am usually thinking about a photograph of Pound in early old age by Richard Avedon that I used to have propped up in front of me on the desk of my study in Clapham, and which at some point disappeared, emerging years later from behind a central heating radiator, looking almost as bruised and battered as that image of the poet himself.

Mr Glover goes on to say that Pound’s face is a poet’s face, ‘enthrallingly inscrutable’. But why would Mr Glover write about Pound? Well then, another quote:

Why should I want to add my voice to the chorus of attention that he continues to receive from poets and critics, in spite of the fact that he has been dead for more than fifty years? (Pound died in 1972. The two of them, Glover and Pound, came from unpromising backgrounds. They both wound up 'caring' and writing about poetry, Pound going from diffident student to Mentor to the World, Glover from a balladeer pounding on a 12-string to the Baudelaire of the London arts scene.

And this:

There was something wild, erratic, untameable about Ezra from first to last. He was a provincial who wanted to slough off the dreary mediocrities of provincialism. And yet he never smoothed away the rougher edges of the pioneer. He wanted sophistication, but he flung his punches like a sullen kid in a rough house. His letters were wild from first to last, his spelling eccentric to the point of ridiculousness. Some of his earliest letters to his parents, written when he was little more than a child, are already eccentric, with evidence of a strange wilfulness that seems almost indistinguishable from ignorance or even stupidity. He was no infant prodigy. All this has always intrigued me about him, the fact of his being such an oddball. If he had been more conventionally clever, less wayward altogether, he would not have been half so interesting.

Was Pound just that – an oddball, hence, dismissible as an eccentric, not to mention that, at one point, he supported the fascisms of both Mussolini and Hitler? (Just so you know, I do not have it in for the poet. I have seen enough poets in my lifetime go off the deep end, and to grandmother’s house we go, that I can safely aver that ‘it can happen to anyone’.)

It occurs to me that when Circe says to Odysseus (in T E Lawrence’s prose translation of The Odyssey): “The evil of your wanderings”, she euphemizes the passage of time, defines what time is, as it were. I cannot say where Pound figures in all this, but it seems to me we analyze the old stories (the myths and ancient poems) so as to bend them to our liking and service – understandable enough, but we rarely analyze those stories so as to know the gods for themselves (if that were possible) as well as the minds of the men and women who believed in them or, if they did not, accepted them as making up their ‘culture’, as if what pasta is to Italians and hot dogs to Americans explains everything. What did ‘culture’ as a word mean to Plutarch, or Cicero before him, seeing as neither man was able to speak fine words to the Indy 500 or Nashville or M&Ms in addition to snake healing and all the glories of reality TV? As per Lunar: “Why does a painting or a piece of music bring me closer to religion than any sermon?” (And then Lunar goes on to discuss Poussin’s Seven Sacraments in Edinburgh….)

But pellucid Ithaca? (As per T E Lawrence’s attempt to paint a picture of Odysseus’ island…) Unless a limestone mass is translucent… So perhaps Lawrence had seen for himself the island’s clear shoreline water, and ‘pellucid’ popped up in his mind… It seemed to me that Lawrence redeemed himself shortly thereafter with ‘Zeus the cloud marshal’…. And yet I went and checked, and more than a few translators have served up a Zeus who ‘marshals’ thunderheads &c. One could drive oneself crazy in order to establish just who did emplace ‘cloud’, ‘marshal’ plus ‘Zeus’ in the same sentence and not go away babbling forthwith. Lawrence could get a little fustian, said the joker to the thief.

And here he is again, Mr Glover, writing on state of the art ‘art’, to wit:

Conceptual art is suffering its death throes because it depends upon huge amounts off funding upon which there will be no financial return. Painting is on the rise because paintings are saleable. What kind of paintings? Figurative painting, with a surrealist-cum-fantastical twist. Young women are being signed up by the likes of White Cube. You don't have to be a good painter. Many are not. They are not even being taught the skills. And subject matter? The self. Identity. Self-creation, self-recreation and self-manipulation, in the interests of polyvalent sexual routines. The world as subject matter is out. No one wants to look outside themselves.

I do not know how right Mr Glover is or how profoundly wrong with respect to the phrase no one wants to look outside themselves, but those words ring a bell with me. Myself, I have invented a word, if ‘to invent’ does not stretch a notion past its due date: embubbled. Not a great word, true. It is even a sorry-ass word, but it is meant to describe our mental states (and Putin’s too) in a world where everything is at our fingertips except what matters, or ought to.


Postscript I: The people over at Oxford English Dictionary have so far declined to take on board Cornelius W Drake’s conjugation for ‘text’, i.e. text, taxt, tuxt. Would one hear these items of speech, say in a Champaign-Urbana coffeeshop, the town once the subject of a Carl Perkins song with input from Dylan? Otherwise, Mr Drake has duly noted that Russian, Chinese and American officials have been making ‘spooky’ comments of late, pre-emptive warnings flying all over the place like bats out of hell….

Postscript II: As Talking Avocado has been maintaining radio silence, I am guessing he is somewhere in Nebraska angling for Manitoba or Saskatchewan. Once he had been tempted by the Amazon and a session with ayahuasca there, which it is an hallucinogenic brew, but he chickened out, discretion being the better part of valour, at least on Sundays.

What It’s Worth Department: ‘Good sense and method’, or that which is 'the sum total of all intellectual excellence'… So wrote Coleridge in his Biographia Literaria. Also this: What is poetry? is so nearly the same question with, what is a poet? that the answer to the one is involved in the solution of the other. Oh and, that a poem of any length neither can be, or ought to be, all poetry. Yet if an harmonious whole is to be produced, the remaining parts must be preserved in keeping with the poetry….

February 21, 2023: I reckon I have two choices with respect to The Odyssey as T E Lawrence translated it, in English prose, 1932. One: I give myself over to the words, even to the archaic use of them and the near preciousness, or I fight it every syllable of the way. Or just not read it at all, bail on the text, and take my grotty soul elsewhere – to another book. But I am curious, and already Lawrence has served up, early on, a couple of particulars I do not recall from other translations. I will have to compare, if I can rouse myself. Otherwise, in a world all smartphone and party rave, cheap with strongarm rule, its smiling celebrants might wonder why I would bother. Life is too short for academic bickering, for playing the scholar, let alone perusing, good God, yet another tome. I would mostly agree, just that life is also too short for empty chatter and sensation and displays of poolside etiquette. Pouty Telemachus does not put one off as much all that. And Nestor’s best wine – it must have been pretty good.

And, surely there is a point of contact at some level, nodal access between, say, the film Christ Stopped at Eboli and P M Carpenter’s Political Low Roads: American Demagoguery and the Rise of the New Right, as when a segue connecting Mussolini to Trump would seem as natural an occurrence as call and response sessions between two male sea lions, albeit the barking would span nearly a century. Once again, ‘cheap’ is the operative word, everything in life sucked up by a dictator’s harangue reduced to a dictator’s reductive logic, though without the efficacy of nursery rhyme.

Nursey rhyme. It is as when, in the film, Levi’s housekeeper teaches him how to address a star (star star, not a celebritous celebrity) by way of verse so as to effect a good outcome on some matter or other. Sympathetic magic, say what? It is the year 1935, and Carlo Levi, Turin intellectual, anti-fascist, exiled for his politics, sent south far out of his ‘comfort zone’ to live among back country peasants and the very minor but pompous enough functionaries of a small Basilicata town, has the grace not to laugh or too rudely challenge the woman’s belief in magic, as she is marginalized herself due to her relations with men. She has not been outright ostracized by the more respectable denizens of her world, but she has been assigned, as it were, ‘a place’ in the town’s social network, and she must keep to it, and perhaps she is something of a strega, a witch, one who knows when to throw slops out the door – in the morning, say, when the angels are not around….

Whereas in Carpenter’s book, in truth, a doctoral dissertation, Trump has yet to ride a Manhattan escalator and come it as annunciating Godzilla in wingtips, but his virgin birth (in politics), his candidacy is imminent. In which case, arguing in good faith has long since left the building. It is all about the shouting now and the sex that was always louche but is now a brand, and bad faith actors attract bad faith actors plus the clowns and imbeciles who always show up at any Mar-a-Lago party rave regardless of which century we are talking about, be it Nebuchadnezzar’s or Putin’s, Trump’s bosom pal. We are not exactly sure why Tiberius loathed the Roman senate even when he occupied the imperial chair, but we assume that it was for the same reason that Trump still loves, eh (see Italian hand gesture) members of Congress: the multi-tasking to be had among congressional people, as when one ritually presents one’s posterior for the purpose of submission (to Trump) while talking with forked tongue (about Trump). Intricate ventriloquism. Yes, what species of female still insists that toxic masculinity cannot talk, chew gum, walk (or run – for office, or get the hell out of Dodge) and ‘submit’ all at the same time even while washing one hand with another that wants its pay-off?

Harman was moved by the film Christ Stopped at Eboli (based on the book Carlo Levi wrote.) The air one breathed in Eboli was purely pagan, a world without Christian mercy and the niceties of health clinics or mobile libraries, though the saints might be appealed to on some calendar occasion or other. The book was published, I believe, in 1945. The film – touchingly characterized as a costume drama – hit the screens in 1979.

Harman was moved for a simple reason: she liked the guy, or rather the man who, forced from his ‘bubble’, lived for a year among people who knew no petit bourgeoise perks, who were, in the most immediate sense, at the mercy of both nature and the whims of the ‘state’, in this case, a fascist one, and who, despite the superstitions they embraced and the religion they practiced – amalgam of magic and the Evil Eye and Our Lady and saint worship – still saw ‘life’ with a great deal more clarity than any Ivy League alumni. Levi could never again toss Hegel’s maxims around with a juggler’s aplomb at the dinner table. ‘Reality’ had exposed him to, well, reality.

Postscript I: Cornelius W Drake, commenting recently on P M Carpenter’s book mentioned above, had this to say to me: ‘You are certainly correct as to his intention. And I agree that the "implications inherent" are most unlikely to vanish in our lifetimes. If I were younger, though, I believe they would. What Republicans are doing is unsustainable. They have neither the demographics nor the state power to enforce their lunacy throughout the century. The American electorate may be as loony as Rick Scott from time to time, but it won't accept a Trump-like system of neofascism for long. Such acceptance is just not in the American character. My highest, current, and somewhat more modest hope is that I live long enough to finish The Brothers Karamozov. My reading has slowed down since grad school. Then, I read a book a day, no matter its length, for the argument. But these days I read for style. And that has retarded my reading velocity considerably.’ I answered back, Western Union-like: ‘I am not reassured. Best of luck on the Karamozov.’

Postscript II: Talking Avocado has escaped the gravitational pull of St Louis, which it is in Missouri. Once in my childhood, I lived there – briefly. Then ‘Jeff City’ the capital, then Lebanon on the way to Springfield (old Highway 66). My memories of those three places have gotten confused, all jumbled together over time, just that I know that those years shaped me in ways I have yet to fully appreciate, and I have had decades with which to effect the appreciating. St Louis, and persimmons rotting on the sidewalk out front of the house… loved the smell. Years later, and I was in St Louis again, passing through on my way to the deep south. How suddenly the ‘air of the north’ was the ‘air of the south’ as we crossed over the river into Kentucky. It was a richer air to breathe, but an air packing crimes and tragedy (or else springtime blossom scent). I was seventeen at the time. What did I know of crimes and tragedy and uneasy ghosts? Even so, the body may sense such presences long before the mind is equipped to grapple with them as concepts.

Postscript III: Gramsci. One Antonio Francesca Gramsci. Or that Levi paid the man a compliment, ennobling him with the honorific of ‘peasant’. Which is to say, despite Gramsci’s considerable learning, his head was not in the clouds or up his arse. And that is all I know of Gramsci as, by the time I got around to him, I had already been party to a great deal of conversational discourse as to the this’s and that’s of revolution and social change and cultural this and cultural that, and I was weary of pontification. 1986. Went to Italy. Florence, and a banana split at midnight in the Piazza della Signoria (within spitting distance of the fake David) struck me between the eyes, gobsmacked me, that is, and set my priorities straight. Ah, sì, plaisir. True civilization is not true without it, though if we were to speak of snuff porn, we will have punctured that balloon, shot it right out of the sky.

Postscript IV: Yellowstone. Harman has remarked to me that there is a lot of chatter attending this TV show, that it is, for instance, Trumpian. Watched the first four seasons and enjoyed them, in sympathy with the seemingly reactionary rancher who, nonetheless, sees through the hypocrisies of financier sophisticates who wish to transmogrify Montana into a playground for Californians. I have been very much fearful that season 5 however, will shore up the charge that Dutton is a proto-fascist &c. And, whereas I could view the first four seasons without extra charges to my streaming account, season 5 seems to come with a rate hike and so, forget it. When something is popular does not always mean that something is devoid of substance. On the other hand, might I raise up a tired old word: exploitative, and bring it to the party? Price-gouging, eh (see Italian hand gesture)?

Postscript V: O DIVINE POESY/GODDESS-DAUGHTER OF ZEUS/SUSTAIN FOR ME/THE SONG OF THE VARIOUS-MINDED MAN/&c &c/…MAKE THE TALE LIVE FOR US/IN ALL ITS MANY BEARINGS/O MUSE… the opening lines of the Odyssey poem made an invocation, in caps, from T E Lawrence’s The Odyssey.

As opposed to Lombardo’s: Speak, Memory/Of the Cunning hero/The wanderer, blown off course again and again/&c &c/… Speak, Immortal One,/and tell the tale once more in our time… once again, a rendering of the poem’s opening lines but as a translator’s invocation to his false starts and such?

As opposed to Fagles’: Sing to me of the man, Muse, the man of twists and turns/driven time and again off course/&c &c/…Launch out on his story, Muse, daughter of Zeus,/start from where you will—sing for our time too…. For, yes, we have got this….

As opposed to Chapman’s: The Man, O Muse, inform, that many a way/Wound with his wisdom to his wished stay;/that wandered wondrous far…/&c &c/…These acts, in some part left/Tell us, as others, deified seed of Jove… Deified seed? Innuendo in 1616, the first Odyssey translation in English?

As opposed to Fitzgerald’s: Sing in me, Muse, and through me tell the story/of that man skilled in all ways of contending… &c for three lines worth for a grand total of five, seven lines less than the above examples, hasty cut to the chase, the start of the story…. Could go on for many pages with a legion of translators over the centuries and how they handled the openers, and come to know – what? That what might seem high flown and high road at first blush has all the aesthetic qualities of ratty sneakers. To translate a poem, let alone an epic from another language – it humbles, humiliates. Consider the prelude of Browning’s The Ring and the Book in Mandarin Chinese; I should imagine it is not possible. Bad enough that the tumbling, kinetic lines be rendered in German though, back in 1927, it was done.

Postscript VI
: The Tree of The Wooden Clogs, film directed by Ermanno Olmi, 1978. Once again, I am 50 years late to a viewing. Got on the wrong bus, I figure. But it is a beautiful film, no question, and, as it were, ‘moving’, and perhaps it does not sit squarely enough on some soap box or other to satisfy a doctrinaire leftie, what with the film’s inherent religiosity, but I have always sensed, as a poet, not a new-agey flake, that a purely secular world is not going to answer either, and may well prove far worse than what we have had thus far, even with religion’s sorry histories still playing out on every continent. In any case, North American evangelicals do not come off well in comparison to some half-pagan half-Catholic illiterate peasant (as portrayed in the film) with more love in his or her pinkie for family and community than any Jesus-loves-me narcissist can muster. The smugness of all that. Moreover, I doubt that we will ever live in any kind of harmony with nature again, if ever we did as a species, as we are that profoundly alienated from her, as we do not even know what nature qua nature is; it is not a pretty picture postcard of the Alps or the Rockies or a cockatoo. Perhaps we can avoid entirely encasing this earth in concrete. But enough. Some shrill element in my voice that I dislike. I do not trust the film I saw, but I would like to. And why not Bach and church bells while a pig, squeals at full decibels, is knackered, butchered, bled? Perhaps, I misheard. Either the ‘divine’ is absolutely nowhere or it is absolutely everywhere at all times.

February 15, 2023: What follows is as unprepossessing a sentence as you could ever wish to read, on a par with ‘see Spot run’, but somewhat more trenchant: ‘In abstract love of humanity one almost always only loves oneself.’ (From Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot, as translated by Magarshack.)

But I suppose this is old news, the sentiment expressed above. Moving on, the question occurs: how much wounded vanity is there in humanity? Well, how much oxygen lurks in the atmosphere? As for the oxygen, we learn that the figure is around 21 per cent, volume-wise. I further suppose that Molière had his eyes on a goodly number that might quantify vainglory.

Look, it is one thing to be a mediocrity. It is another to come it mediocre and sensible, that is, be averse to behaving crazy-wild, invading Iraq, invading Ukraine, standing in front of a moving bus, so Dostoyevsky would have us consider. Does such a MO best describe the constituents of certain voting blocs? The triumph of the middle classes? Whether a jury will hang a Murdaugh? (Murdaugh: cognomen of a man currently on trial in South Carolina for the murders of his wife and progeny.) Can respect for farce save the environment from the poisons we pour into it, and now it is too late to be wise? No doubt, Murders at Barlume (Italian cop show cum comedic anarchy) is more Goldoni than Molière when it gets down to skewering pretentions and taking on enlightened narcissists. For one thing, Goldoni’s outlook was not as dark as Molière’s. Does Gogol’s Podkolyosin and his tailcoat point to another comic metaphysic altogether?

In Patrick Leigh Fermor’s Mani, he mentions the island of Cythera as being both the birthplace of Aphrodite and Lafcadio Hearn (1850-1904). My knowledge of Hearn is scanty, downright negligible, but he seems to have been a surprisingly stable mix of crusader, satirist, mystic, all-round writer, one chiefly known for having introduced pre-industrial Japanese culture into the west. Greece, Ireland, Cincinnati, New Orleans, Japan – he breathed all those atmospheres and stayed sane, even with the wonky iris in one of his eyes, so that he only posed for photographs in profile. He did not want to frighten the natives.

Fermor himself got around, all the while marvelling at how mobile whole populations were in the ancient Greek world. Undocumented, free and unregimented, people wandered where they liked between the Thames, the Danube, the Euphrates and the upper Nile—anywhere, in fact, that was free of the Barbarian menace…. Customs everywhere, these days, would have a collective coronary episode at the prospect…. But should you wish to rag on Christianity with all the deadpan of a Bertrand Russell or a Woody Allen, Brad Pitt bringing up the liberal flank, blame them there Greeks. Fermor: The Christian church was the last great creative achievement of classical Greek culture. For extent and influence in the world the dual message of Greek philosophy and the Greek interpretation of the Christian revelation stands alone. Where would Aquinas have been without Aristotle? So one might have asked in 1958, though Oral Roberts was around to Jesus everyone to death, evangelicals not yet pounding their chests on every street corner and running for Congress. Furthermore (see immediately below):

Common words derived from the names of ancient gods in modern Greek are more evocative of their origins, perhaps by their freshness on a foreign ear, than their Latin equivalents in English. ‘Venereal’, for instance, never suggests Venus, but ‘the Aphrodisiac diseases’ in modern Greek are immediately and painfully suggestive of baleful aspects of Aphrodite Pandemos. ‘Erotikos’ merely connotes ‘pertaining to love’, and summons up the innocent and youthful Eros; unlike the word ‘erotic’ in English. But there is no English equivalent of divine Latin origin – it would be ‘cupidinous’; Amor’s derivatives strike a more suspect note; and, strangely, though ‘Mercury’ is the fluid metal compound in English, the Greek word hydragyros (watersilver) fails to commemorate Hermes. He only survives, as he does with us, in the word ‘hermetic’, recalling not so much the messenger of the gods’ swiftness and volatility, as Hermes Trismegistus or the Egyptian Thoth and all that is sealed up and arcane. (It seems I cannot resist a quote that contains in it Hermes Trismegistus. Who was a fiction, albeit an alchemist often cited.)

Fermor goes on to treat with Byzantine ikon-painting, how eastern religious art profoundly differs from the religious art of the west, namely in the differences between the relations of man to God and vice versa, and it is a complicated argument that requires a book, not a couple of run-on sentences. But seeing as we are doing all this supposing, I suppose I am neither atheist nor hardcore believer; I am, as it were, agnostical, as when standing in front of a moving bus will likely get you killed and yet, in a consideration of Mexican walking fish one is likely to believe (for a moment or two) that if God has no sense of humour, He nonetheless is playful in a rococo sense.

 

Received: Political Low Roads: American Demagoguery and the Rise of the New Right, P.M. Carpenter, Ladder Press Publishing, 2007. Mr Carpenter has said that humour was banned in the university department from whence he obtained his doctorate, but that humour, on occasion, erupts on his pages powder dry and menacing.

Postscript I: Reading along in Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot, and it would seem that, in the place of plot, almost anything may happen, though the relations between cause and effect are not as tenuous as all that; but that what is pre-ordained on the page is the author’s mind, as mercurial as it was, or obsessive.

Postscript II: And GB: ‘Nothing like the aroma of an old Penguin.’ &c. No, not the creatures but the paperbacks. (Eric Ormsby the poet once testified to me as to how ripe penguin guano gets, having smelled it firsthand.) And just how far north can poultry go and survive? Pick up a Penguin (Fermor’s Mani), open it, and inhale – so as to know the answer.

Postscript III: It was not a balloon the Yanks recently shot down over the Yukon, it was a bloated moose. Or a delivery system bringing Molson’s Canadian (which it is beer, not sprizzini) to some isolated community… So says Lunar who is not normally troubled by aliens or extreme northerners or an Italian drink part sparkling water, part prosecco, part some other ingredient or ingredients. Now was Louis XIV (the Sun King) a great man, a bewigged extraterrestrial, or another ponce with a bottomless expense account, though the love of his subjects for him had its limits?

Postscript IV: Just in from Slick Williams who apparently put his Benedetto archtop aside and picked up a cartoon in its stead. Cartoon shows an image of a man in a window tearing a piece of paper to pieces. Above the window is a shop sign. It reads: Albert’s Bad Idea and Confetti Co. Perhaps one has to live in Ottawa… Which reminds me (see below):

Postscript V: Talking Avocado in St Louis… What to do? The Museum of Westward Expansion then… He may detour and drop in on Cornelius W Drake in Champaign-Urbana, which it is in Illinois. They may well make mention of Walter Pater and T.S. Eliot. They may well smoke cheroots. H L Mencken is within the realm of possibility, he who wrote: ‘Puritanism: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.’ Otherwise, I would not give a snowball’s chance in hell for Margaret Atwood, Grammarly, Vanilla Fudge.


February 8, 2023
: Continuing from the previous post, as with ‘roving disquiet’ or Ippolit’s fevered state of mind (from Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot), as with Detective Cohle’s bleak assessment of the worth of humankind (True Detective – TV series), a plain and simple truth:

‘The whole place was, in short, a terrible mess. I could see at the first glance that both of them, the man and the woman, were decent people who had been reduced by poverty to that degrading condition in which disorder at last gets the better of every attempt to cope with it, and even drives people to the necessity of deriving from the increasing disorder a sort of bitter and, as it were, vindictive satisfaction—’ These are words Ippolit speaks in Dostoyevsky’s opus mentioned above, Ippolit a tubercular young man, age eighteen, one eye open staring at his imminent demise. One wonders which character – Ippolit or the prince – the author most wanted scored on the brain cells of the reader.

And one wonders to what extent Jonathan Swift, if at all, figured in the novel’s discussion of cannibalism, as when it was concluded that fat monks, not babies, were the best source of nutrients in a time of famine. It seems that the publication of The Idiot and the completion of the transcontinental railway (in America) occurred in the same year – 1869, and that one of Dostoyevsky’s characters calls railroads in general a curse. Champagne figured in this avowal as well as mention of the Wormwood Star (or that which in Revelations fell to earth and made the waters bitter). What, otherwise, is a normal law of humanity? Fending off cosmic interlopers, as in self-preservation? Making the trains run on time? Self-sabotage?

Myself, I had meant to say, before I came across one of the more grotesque passages in all of fiction, and here The Idiot figures again: that showdown between Newfie dog and scorpion which features in a dream Ippolit has. Dog is described as having ‘supernatural fear’ when confronted with the advancing ‘reptile’ (just to be sure, scorpions are not reptiles). But can dogs know supernatural fear? In any case, dog bites scorpion in two while scorpion stings the tongue of said canine and, well… all best intentions and views of paved roads to hell, at that point, were driven from my mind. Grossed out. Moreover, the dog answered to the name of Norma. Was the dog named after the opera by Bellini? Just asking. I cannot say I know which master Dostoyevsky was serving in relating the dream. I can say that love has many registers, and I am not speaking of voices. But are any of us worthy of any of those registers at any given time? Will Ippolit settle for a cheap pharmaceutical ad’s version of lovey-doveyness or go out of existence coughing and hacking and obstreperously alienated?

But that I meant to say that it is one thing when philosophers past and present argue, quibble and worry to death what truth is, what is truly true, but then, when John and Jane Q Public, proxy-wise in social media mode, dicker and calumniate and harangue with God’s truth on their side or the not-God truth of, say, Voltaire or Dawkins, or the God-loves-me-best truth of a Trump minion; when man or woman shouts the loudest and is hence the most truthful, satisfying, in this way, ‘individual egoism’ (from The Idiot), what you have is but sensation. One has the sensation of opening one’s mouth; one has the sensation of supposing one exists; one has the sensation that one has cogitated. One has been reported about in the news. I am, despite appearances, tight-lipped.

But if I were the prince in The Idiot, I would be running for the hills by now, though there was not even a hint of the cellphone-selfie in 1869. Still, the telegraph had already been around a while, the railroads too, and the Roman empire did have a postal service. Slave said to master: “You have mail.” Beware birthday greetings.

Females dominate in the society of ring-tailed lemurs. (Madagascar.) Orca mothers sacrifice for Orca sons. Otherwise, not everything can be explained. ‘In every serious human idea born in anyone’s brain, there is something that cannot possibly be conveyed to others, though you wrote volumes about it and spent thirty-five years in explaining your idea…’ Ippolit once more, though I can hear in these words a weary pundit surveying the political scene. And from what I can gather, as I continue reading, Ippolit is about to try his hand at suicide, and he will funk it.

Well, this Ippolit and Detective Cohle (of True Detective) put me in mind of one another. They are kissing cousins. The latter man is quite capable of quoting French poets. The former does reel off the words of a poet en francais. And this, too, but in his own words: What do I care for all this beauty when every minute, every second I have to – indeed am forced to – recognize that even that tiny little gnat buzzing in the sunlight beside me now is taking part in this banquet and chorus, knows its place in it, loves it and is happy, and that I alone am an outcast, and have refused to realize it till now only out of cowardice! Either man is capable of this pique and self-pity and self-considered alienation from humankind and nature &c. But Ippolit has, perhaps, two weeks to live, while Cohle has it in him to sober up and nail a serial killer. To what end? He can quote Keats, perhaps, and he does, but otherwise he can’t really say. Then again, twenty or so years after losing his daughter to a car crash, he is finally able to express his grief… Feel-good ending on a positive note? One might say he had reclaimed his humanity. Would Dostoyevsky (who survived a firing squad by way of a last minute reprieve) hoot at a sentimental notion or offer to buy the man a beer?

Book on Waiting to Be Read List: Bleak House. Charles Dickens. God help me.

For the Hell of It (and Because It Captures Something)
: These verse lines are from Grant Buday’s Airstream Elegies, Spud Point Press, 2017, and the poem is called Involuntary Solitude.

It’s not a mess it’s a new direction,
an inversion of loss rich in possibility,
the essence of a midden slow-cooked
in time’s oven where the past asserts
its will to be reborn as the stone
of the new Rome rising slowly,
column by column and arch by arch,
a resurrection of the soul of the mad
widow emerging in stately progress
from her Airstream boudoir bedraped
in Dime Store pearls and shower curtain
gown of a terrible empress who opens
her red mouth to sing the day’s new order
.

Postscript I: Lunar figures Russia has a missile aimed at London. Something about jets. Cornelius W Drake says, “What? Me worry? Putin is nuts but not insane, though he might very well knock off his obligatory thousands with a dirty bomb.” Meanwhile, I dreamed that my old Russian landlady (of whom I was very fond, before she was shipped to an old folk’s home and I was renovicted) was Putin’s mother. Problem Child liked to hear the word ‘victory’ whispered in his ears. I was unable to even pretend I could manage such a whisper and so, was at peril. It is not so much that art imitates life but that dreams… Art? Harman is over the moon, having discovered a Russian landscape painter. She, at first blush, considers him a master, the name of whom escapes me just now…. Got it: Isaac Levitan. Was on the receiving end of some Russian bigotry. Friend of Chekhov.

Postscript II: I was going to say and forgot to say that Dostoyevsky gives off an air of one who is wise to all of humanity’s tricks and then some. How so? His addiction to gambling…

Postcript III: One man’s sacred moment is another man’s excuse for shabbiness. These words popped into my head while I was in the bath, and I think they are my words, but who knows, my mind has been so corrupted by literature they could be anyone’s proverbial.

Postscript IV: Howling Jaws, eh? It is the moniker of a rock-and-roll band currently in service. Retro garage French. It is just that I am not sure the name rings true, whereas one does not do a doubletake with Howlin’ Wolf.

Postscript V: I surmise that Talking Avocado is in Mississippi now, angling for Missouri, perhaps to go and piss on Rush Limbaugh’s grave, once he realizes that Mark Twain is buried in New York. Will the Buick hold up? Is there life after noxious rhetoric? Look vaguely north and one might discern a green comet against the red backdrop of Mars, one last seen by a Neandertal, a sestina the outcome.

Postscript VI: I have it from Lunar who has it from Doris Kareva, Estonian poet, that tree worship still exists in Estonia, 'trees being vessels for souls'. I have never managed to rid my consciousness of the grove that figures in the worship of Diana Nemorensis, Diana of the Wood that Frazer wrote about in The Golden Bough. It was his intent to explain the origins of the yearly rite which saw the slaughter of a king by the sword of a king wanna-be. This was not pretend murder, and one imagines that the king-to-be-slain did not sleep a wink throughout his term of office. Montreal maples in the summertime bring it all back to me, as did the pines in Rome though I never made it to the Alban hills and the grove at the northern end of Lake Nemi. The area is famous for its strawberries. For all that, I still have yet to get on board with The White Goddess of Robert Graves and his so-called alphabet of the trees, as much as I respect the man for his mythography and history and poetry.

February 7, 2023: Where people of an evening once bayed at the moon to pass the time, there is now Wi-Fi. I have in mind the Deep Maniots, subject of a book entitled Mani, written by Patrick Leigh Fermor, 1958 the year of publication. The Mani are Greeks (southern Peloponnese all stone, salt and dust) that Fermor described as illiterate and un-cultured and impoverished and yet, he managed to render them attractive.

And their history is a turbulent one. Quel turbulence. Centuries of feuding, not to mention fending off the Turks and other interlopers and the nationalists who would have had them ‘get with the national program’, to modernize, at least… Mountain people. Apart from their music which I, for the most part, love, would I find Kentucky mountain folk as salubrious? What with all the polarization, the culture war fracases? May you have the Good Hour. Or that this is how a young Mani woman bade Fermor farewell after he had spent time in her company, recouping from a hard slog up some hot mountain side. It was a desolate place, where he sat with her, sharing prickly pears. She was shy and not accustomed to talk. "Who sees nothing but God". Or so a guide said of her, goats her society.

And, as I continue to follow the fortunes of the prince in Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot, and how sudden wealth seems to have made him more vulnerable to the ways in which the world and the worldly might infect a person with contaminants, I have in mind certain people of Louisiana. (As depicted in True Detective, TV show, the first season of which deals with a mismatched pair of detectives partnering while incensing one another.) Those ‘unassimilated’ people in the boonies. ‘Crackers’. Not gotten with the national program. Women paying the penalty for fathomless ignorance and superstition, women suffering mutilation and death… ‘Trouble, poison and bitterness, in dream language…’ A quote from Mani, the chapter entitled ‘Shallow Graves and Brackish Water’… As if these worlds, that of the Mani and Louisiana back country, on some level, intersect…

And I still figure that, in Dostoyevsky’s mind, man or woman capable of telling the truth, say, five times in a lifetime, ought to be accorded sainthood. Detective Cohle, ruminating in the unmarked cruiser early on, Detective Hart at the wheel, says something to the effect that humankind is a freak show, an evolutionary error, life, in any case, a swindle. Or, when being interviewed some years later by two other detectives, the Messrs Hays and Papania, Cohle – now suspect – gets effusive about eternity, that it is the absence of time; that, with the introduction of time into the scenario, death comes, and death genuflects to dreaded rebirth, that the re-borning slots one back into the same old same old over and over again, as when the abused will always find themselves abused at the hands of those who always abuse….The only nearness to God is in silence…. Detective Hart would rebut this thesis. He would swear by family values as the way out of a fix, love the way out of a locked-in contract, just that the flesh is weak, and he offends against wife and ‘family’… Can’t win for losin’, and there’s them apples… but, hell, sure, anyone might have a few good years of luvvvv, as per Carol Burnett’s Eunice. And then, years of the not so good stuff…

Soul-brotherhood, or psychadelphosyne: it was, on occasion, a reprieve for feuding Mani. In their battles fought in hillside towns (described by Fermor as petrified asparagus, what with the stone towers), the combatants might call for a cessation of hostilities, exchange toasts with another, drink deep, and quite often it seems the ceasefires held. Though all atrocities were legit in their wars, there was honour and there were rules. 1958, and Fermour imagines that the anarchy in certain American cities was even worse than the anarchy that, for centuries, obtained in the Peloponnese. It was pure lawlessness in the U.S. of A., he reckoned, and he had not seen anything yet.

Well, they were a fatalistic people, and perhaps still are, those Peloponnesians. But surely the fatalism is nothing like Detective Cohle's bleak, bleaker, bleakest sense of the human condition. It says there is no point. There is no point in even saying there is no point. Cohle will not compromise, ease up in any way with respect to the House of Cards that is every self, and one’s imagined virtue is but a sensation, even an orgasmic one, and one sensation will lead to the next, self-loathing the hangover while some evangelist promises eternal reward just for showing up…. An online critic dissed all the ‘religion talk’ of the show; to me that chatter is why the show is worth watching. Otherwise, it is just psychopaths running around and a couple of flatfoots trying to catch them up…. The price to pay for absolute mental health and absolute assimilation is the loss of poetry.


The You-Never-Know-What-You’ll Find-in-Your-Local-Bookstore Dept.: On cue: one DVD set of True Detective, Season One. It had winked at me, and sucker that I am, I relented. But, damn, still no Camilleri, and no sign of Victor Serge…

Postscript I: GB writes that he ‘staggered and groped, groggy and exhausted, through the last forty pages of theorizing re power and the various concepts of historical agency… War and Peace. Whereas Lunar, in his words: ‘Meanwhile, I listen to the news and I realize that the human race has done it - it has entered its own science fiction. Something on the radio about the ethics with respect to recreating dead actors for films and here's the thing. Scientists think they have the wherewithal to resurrect the Dodo. What about resurrecting that puny figure with the toothbrush mustache while we're at it. Personally, I wouldn't mind the odd pterodactyl.’ Is there a moral centre on the fritz in the above? Montreal, and the artic freeze came and went. In the Oxford Café lounge guitar noodled in the speakers, and at three separate tables, any one of a number of patrons would have loved to expatiate on what has gone to the dogs, but they bit their tongues. Canadians will gather in their earnest groups, even in hockey arenas, but they are hermetically sealed in each their personhoods. Who wants to be sitting pretty in American crosshairs?

Postscript II: Talking Avocado is going radio silent. He has had enough of Florida. The semi-Cathedral of Light atmosphere even in a dive. The war against Mickey Mouse. Fascismo as an aesthetic. The bad grace everywhere. He will angle his way back across the continent, giving the east coast a wide berth as well as the drive around the Great Lakes, long, long, looping slog. He may have a book to write when he reaches his Neverland. He may take up metal detecting.

Postscript III: Too Tall Poet still walks among us, having survived his heart surgery. He and I hardly ever see eye to eye on literary matters, but in a way he wins the argument as, in his company, I am forced to fess up to the fact that I do have aesthetic scruples. At any rate, give it up for the man. May he return to his usual spot at Nikas soon, a plate of fillet of sole set before him along with the feta salad and Greekified spuds.

Postscript IV: Mini-lecture courtesy of Cornelius W Drake in Champaign-Urbana with a view toward lightening my load of puzzlement as to what makes Academia tick: ‘”University” is a catch-all word, though there are research universities vs. teaching universities. The lifestyle in each is considerably different; in the former, enormous pressure to publish. But one mustn't write for the general public. It must instead contain highly academic gibberish and focus on ever-smaller areas of interest (to somebody). You likely know all this already, but there it is. I would have never survived in an academic atmosphere; I would have choked on the petty politics, endless meetings and demands for obscure specialization. My political attitude — one of pragmatism over ideology — would also have put me in danger. Thank you, no. On the other hand, had I somehow suffered through it all, I'd now be pulling down at least $150,000 a year, with a windowed corner office. And…’ What follows is not fit for polite company, but has a lot to do with creature comforts of a kind.

Postscript V: A brief note from Jaffa testifying to rising tensions in that neck of the woods, something about a theocracy in the making.


February 01, 2023: Put Jane Austen in the same room with Dostoyevsky, and, what? will we resort to lightbulb jokes? While they drive one another crazy or get on like a house on fire? While one of them sings: Well there's flat-foot Louie/Sittin' on his front stoop/He caught five rounds in the belly/He looked like a messed-up bowl of minestrone soup…. (From ‘Zip Gun Bop’, old song, and for the life of me I cannot recall how I came by these lyrics.)

From Austen’s Persuasion these words however: Anne wondered whether it ever occurred to him now, to question the justness of his own previous opinion as to the universal felicity and advantage of firmness and character; and whether it might not strike him that, like all other qualities of the mind, it should have its proportions and limits. Are not such words the essence of Austen, the beating heart of her, as it were? Just saying. Whereas Dusty? What I get from his drawing rooms is not so much claustrophobia as fug, albeit in tandem with sweeping mysticism.

The world of Persuasion is more remote to me than the Rome of Tiberius Caesar. The Canada I knew and loved is long gone, the strangers I met in beer parlours who were travelling the world, laying-over in Vancouver to pick up some work on the docks so as to replenish depleted purses; the men and women down from the bush to spend their earnings, and I was driving them around in my cab and hearing their idle chatter as to what was what ‘up there’ in the northern interior and whether So-and-So was still kicking the can down the road here in the city. “Last I heard he was holding court in the Patricia and still had brain cells left….” (The Patricia: hotel and beer parlour on East Hastings, Vancouver, popular with a certain portion of the body-politic and bunkhouse cooks.) Parked outside in the cab, Indians and I would play a game: stare-down contest. If I blinked first, their ride was free…

T.E. Lawrence’s Homer (who may or may not have written The Odyssey) was a city-slicker. Whatever he knew of war and sailing was thirdhand. The Odyssey is nowhere near the equal of The Iliad whose Homer knew a thing or two… With that assessment I beg to differ. Be that as it may, I can see why El ‘Awrence might claim for himself the distinction of not serving up a ‘poncy’ translation of the world’s ‘first novel’, melodrama basically, lacking the gravitas of The Iliad, Odysseus, moreover, a cold man, opportunist, unattractive. Again, I beg to differ, though the evidence is damning. He did kind of like his wife, did he not? I will submit that even city-slickers can ‘get’ the world, that is, comprehend its workings beyond the urban bubble. I figure Austen understood a great deal more than she let on, but that it was bad manners to ‘let on’. Whereas modern and contemporary novels are a sweepstakes in how much ‘letting on’ there can be and still have enough leftover for a doomsday hour or a whole rainy day…

I am taking Austen’s use of or invention of the word ‘re-perusal’ under advisement. I seem to be doing a lot of re-perusing. Well, I will get back to you.

Now, do the cats of Rome (if they are still there) lounging amongst the ruins have any sense of the uniqueness of their kind as opposed to that of the humans who gawk at them, like I once did for long periods of time? So much noise in all that silence…

The essence of Dostoyevsky? I cannot, off the top of my head, point to anything, just that I figure, in his way of thinking, a human being is only likely to tell the truth once in a lifetime; all the rest is lies merciful or not. In the sense that there is truth and then there is ‘truth’, one that truly cuts it…

Austen seemed to swear by the minutiae of human relationships – a glance here, the pressure of a fingertip there and… However: … she had to struggle against a great tendency to lowness… (From Persuasion…) It was as if those words were chirped out when Austen wrote them. I did a double-take a la Daffy Duck upon reading those words, too many perhaps for a plug for some anti-depressant on a news outlet, but enough to fit the Ohio Valley in their purview. What would Propertius’ Cynthia have smoked at the approach of the Black Dog? In Dusty’s realm, oddly Sophoclean, a man’s intelligence will betray his intelligence, and he is on the royal road to doom. Ditto for the women.

I have no criticism to bring to bear on Austen, certainly no critique as would broaden anyone’s understanding of her work, having only read the three books: Pride & Prejudice, Sense & Sensibility, and Persuasion, and no biographical or pedagogical material, just that I sometimes find her drawing rooms a little close. No wonder her characters go on so many excursions out of doors. With Dusty’s drawing rooms, sometimes the fug cited above colours it all, both the grand passions and the pettiness of the human lot. The vicious civilities. Snow melt and wool mittens and close quarters – stuffy room, is a childhood smell that stays with me, and, as we speak, Montreal is all about snow, the silent church bells, the murder rate thus far, and will the crows survive the coming week of artic freeze.

Postscript I: Talking Avocado’s aim in driving to Key West was always Hemingway. He has nothing to say for or against the writer one way or the other. He reckons Hemingway is too much the whipping boy for a certain kind of critic, and that if the tables are turned, said critics will more than likely whine. In any case, he would sit with silly men sporting their Hemingway beards in Sloppy Joe’s, Hemingway’s hangout back when, and perchance discover that some of those men might, indeed, be serious men. He is, as we speak, sitting in Sloppy Joe’s with silly men, but whether he has found any of them serious or literarily-minded, I cannot tell you. The daquiris mean business though.

Postscript II: Seems a young man, recently discovering poetry as legitimate activity for various members of our species, came across the verses of one Eric Ormsby, read, and pronounced Ormsby to be a ‘badass poet’. Ormsby, so I hear, hearing of it, glows. An example then of what the young man read, opening stanza from the poem The Egyptian Vulture as collected in The Baboons of Hada, Carcanet Press, 2011: The Egyptian Vulture is the least/discriminating of the scavengers. /He sucks up eyeball juice of wildebeest/as though it were iced Bollinger.

Postscript III: I understand Cornelius W Drake has recommended to Lunar a read-through of Marcus Aurelius, his Meditations. I find it vaguely comic, Lunar tearing around London streets, bringing his wheelchair to a screeching halt just so he can mull the import of: The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts. Mr Drake also notes that God has thanked him for his abstinence from organized religion. Lunar, on the other hand, may take up metal-detecting.

Book Lying Around Awaiting Its Turn for a Full Read: Homer’s The Odyssey as translated by T.E. Lawrence who authored The Seven Pillars of Wisdom which I have, to date, only partially read and may never finish. Of Lawrence, my old friend-nemesis, bookseller to boot, William Hoffer, said: “The worst of the human lot: a right-wing mystic.” Or have I mentioned this already? My apologies then. But would Hoffer have broken bread with Wyndham Lewis, before or after Lewis broke with the ‘Hitler cult’? The British literary class seems to have treated with Lewis as they might have treated with a hot spud. Lewis thought rather highly of FDR.


 

Web Analytics Made Easy - Statcounter