EPHEMERIS

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November 30, 2023: Lunar was in no way attempting to define the bardic, but he did manage to say, as an aside: ‘The only thing I've been reading sporadically is Timothy Neat's The Voice of the Bard which actually is a collection of autobiographical pieces by the bards themselves, most of them crofters, fishermen and the like, all of them close to nature, and virtually all of them speaking plain, no up-your-own-arse literary theory there, and although one has to take their poems on trust, because it is only in Gaelic that they truly sing, one does get a sense of something we have got to get back to, which is shorn of litcrit and PC attitudes. Simplicity rather than simple-mindedness. I am talking about a fresh kickstart. How though? Maybe it's too late.’

And yet there is this, from Colleen McCullough’s The First Man in Rome (1990), a work of historical fiction, partly to do with Sulla who was something of a monster, the first man in Republican Rome (that is to say, in a Rome without kings) to take power through force and from whom the first Caesars took their cues: At the end of his (Sulla’s) life, when he owned thousands of books and half a hundred models of the universe, he still would dwell upon the lost library of Quintus Gavius Myrto, and his grief. Myrto had been one of those rare things – a beloved tutor, and in Myrto’s library the young Sulla had read his Greeks and Latins. And literate, his love of ‘books’ genuine (papyrus scrolls), he could not, at the same time, be considered overly cultured and, how shall we put it, so morally angelic that his body wastes were odour-free, as he had been a politician, a general, and a prime time debaucher in the bargain with actors and clowns, girls and boys. My, but what are we saying? Well, Henry, as in Kissinger, is dead. And Bourdain was right (the celebrity, globe-trotting chef, perhaps a silly man), and I paraphrase: ‘Travel to Cambodia, have a look-see, and you just want to wrap your hands around Kissinger’s throat, and…” For every chess piece Kissinger moved on the board, how many thousands, if not millions paid a price?

And this may be as good a time as any to say it: or that there is something programmatic in Colleen McCullough’s treatment of Sulla and Gaius Marius and the elder Gaius Julius Caesar (father to you-know-who) that does her material a disservice. But I will give her grasp of the history with which she concerned herself its due; in this she seems formidable, and her wit and her depiction of her characters is down-to-earth, and I am, for the most part, won over, inasmuch as I will put up with anything that purports to tell a story of Rome. I suppose the book has been growing on me, and I am only just beginning to notice. Her sex depictions, her sense of the macabre – they seem to kick her prose into a higher gear when they occur….

And that ‘high culture’ was killed off by way of over-weening sincerity and pomposity – yes, I have been wanting to say as much, and for a long time, too. And it is what I was thinking as, dinnertime viewing, I watched the theatre scenes in Cyrano de Bergerac (the 1990 film), the dregs of Parisian society mixing it up with foppish nobles, boredom banished, pickpockets in their element, Depardieu in the traces as Cyrano. Was his Cyrano better than Ferrer’s?

But for all that Sulla was intelligent and literate (which in Rome meant he knew his way around Greek) he was, as stated above, a monster. He set about – with lethal panache – to proscribing his enemies after he had murdered his way to the top. As dictator for life (he did retire, walked away from power), he ‘reformed’ the senate. It is argued that by his law-making, he extended the life of the republic; it might well have broken up in the course of the civil war he won. He returned to the senate some of its lost powers and privileges with a view toward defanging the power of the tribunes in their take-no-prisoners battles with the patricians. There it is then: yet another complicated human being with a taste for vengeance on a large scale…. Surely, the film production that carried Depardieu was better than the one that featured Ferrer….

But in any case: overly cultured… Or can one read too many books?

By way of an answer, I had intended to draw on something from Proust’s Within a Budding Grove Part Two and the appearance of M. de Charlus on Proust’s stage, but I seem to have lost the thread and the pith of a few notes I jotted down in my notebook. A question did occur to me; was Charlus to Proust what Harold Skimpole was to Dickens in Bleak House, a man whose only justification for living was to be the embodiment of some aesthetic however misconstrued and misapplied? (No, obviously not… alright, damn fool question…) But I recently read somewhere that the capacity one might have for denying reality speaks to how much power one is able to wield (think what the Trumpers have been up to for far too long) and yet, Skimpole the perpetual child, man who has no notion of money and therefore, has no notion of debt, and that the fact that he is a sponge and owns to no sense of responsibility – is this behaviour in the same class as that of the MAGA types bent on destroying the republic? (So there is a thread here: Lunar, bards, monstrous Sulla, Cyrano, M. de Charlus, Skimpole, Trump, Armenians, and a world of misery as fiendishly orchestrated by all the congressional MTGreenes, cretins extraordinaire who will happily make of the Hôtel de Bourgogne – Cyrano’s theatre – a place fit for a Putin-abetted drone strike. That is to say, having made of Congress a shit show, they will turn true culture into an endless Leni Riefenstahl flick…. Or am I batting way out of my league here?)


Postscript I: Talking Avocado: “I don’t think on it that much, but I guess, push to come to shove (and I would think it hardly worth a mention, seeing as these are truly strange days), I’m what you’d call a small ‘d’ democrat, my sympathies with the underdog – as it was with my father, but that I feel at home with certain elites, not through class, but through affinity, if we define ‘elite’ as people who’ve attained some genuine intellectual or artistic distinction, and I’m not saying I have it. Just that I respect it. I’m all for the mechanic who can talk Plato. You know, there are some. I’ve met them. I’m all for the university lecturer who can chat up Heidegger so long as he or she doesn’t automatically disqualify me from the conversation at some level, because I neglected to get a degree. I’ve met them and have been disqualified, turned out on my ear. The sods. I’m all for the guy who, fishing by the river, could care less what Socrates had for lunch (hemlock), and what the UN Secretary-General is on about – climate change? – not on your Nelly – just wants to be left alone and he’ll leave the world in peace. Though he might shoot you if he thinks you’re about to impound his fishing rod. I’m planning to open up a book I first read in the Bush-Cheney years: Harold Nicolson’s Diaries and Letters 1930-39. Because the man, a diplomat and author, a traveller in some pretty refined circles, who had little patience with the unlettered, was nonetheless reasonably intelligent and sufficiently anti-fascist, had lived through and experienced firsthand some very dark days in human history. What were his thoughts again? Might they give me reason to be a little less pessimistic about our little patch of time? Or not? There are plenty of other men and women I could read for some kind of perspective, but I just happened to come by the book through the recycling depot, a venue that has never failed to provide me texts. But hey, how can you not weep at the end of Cyrano, and he’s dying, and Roxane finally ’gets it’, and, with his failing strength, Cyrano starts slashing with his sword at all the falsehoods and hypocrisies, and the cowardice, all the bogeymen that do nothing but cause people needless suffering and…?”

Postscript II: Lunar on folk memory, and I expect more on this to follow in coming days: ‘I am bogged down with the writing, trying to sort out stories that clearly contradict each other, the old business of folk memory as set against [the] factual and how one story can seep into another. I always thought folk memory was more accurate than that or is it that things have changed [so much] over the course of a couple of thousand years?’

Postscript III: The American novelist and literary critic Ralph Ellison once remarked that, “Whenever we as Americans have faced serious crises we have returned to fundamentals; this, in brief, is what I have tried to do.” Me too. On that gray Wednesday morning after the presidential election of 2016, I woke up with a series of questions: What just happened? What kind of nation do we now have? Is this what was designed or intended by the nation’s founders? First paragraph of the prologue to Thomas E Rick’s First Principles, a book about how the Greeks and Romans influenced the thinking of the so-called founding fathers. 2020. HarperCollins Publishers. Some leftie-type critics might consider the book enemy territory. On one of its pages, in bold type, the words ‘Revolutionary Classicism’ flashed me, like, you know, in the way a flasher in a raincoat does. The possible import of those two words has, at times, so I confess, appealed to me. But then there ensue endless back alley brawls as to what those words actually mean semantically as well as politically. Exhausting. And in any case, just now trying to relocate the section for which those two words provided the header, and I cannot find it. Perhaps I dreamed it. Would not put it past me. Flashed. Good god.

Postscript IV: People are ashamed, not of the injustices they do, but of those they receive. And so, in order that the unjust person should be ashamed, there is no other way than to give as good as one gets. From Leopardi’s Pensiere. No, it is not the current round of Israel-Gaza hostilities, but it is not far off. Hostilities that two Armenians at my local stationer’s describe as ‘not a war’ but a ‘blank’, or that I missed the word that was spoken, but that I think I got the sense, it being: a war implies a struggle between two armies, and here it is all bombs and civilians. Not that this is anything new. The Romans had a high old time wiping entire towns off the parchment map just by swordplay, and you could literally drown in the streets from all the blood surging about, but even so… They were watching a Galatasaray-Manchester United match on a computer screen, those two Armenians. If eyes could shrug, they shrugged – not at the quality of the match but at me, as if I could believe that any other reality was possible besides the one seen daily on one’s TV screen: Gazan news footage.

Postscript V: Cornelius W Drake is having himself a Ferris Buellerian day off. Get the man some driving gloves. PM Carpenter on the other hand... The Carpentariat

 

November 27, 2023: Erratum: I wrote (in paragraph four of the November 26th post below) that Proust preferred 'Remembrance of Things Past' as a title for the English translation of his novel. I should have written 'In Search of Lost Time'. I got my titles reversed. Mr Cornelius W Drake pointed out my error. He then added a quote he had come across: 'In Search of Lost Time is a pretty direct translation of the novel’s original French title: À la recherche du temps perdu. When the work first appeared in English, however, it was under the title Remembrance of Things Past. Translator C.K. Scott Moncrieff had borrowed the expression from Shakespeare’s Sonnet 30, which starts like this: “When to the sessions of sweet silent thought / I summon up remembrance of things past."' Mr Drake did not say where he came across this statement, but I am not going to press him.

November 26, 2023: I dreamed I was sitting at table with a group of women (the whole thing had a distinct ‘last supper’ feel) to it, and then one of the women broke into an invective-laden harangue which was not shrill so much as impassioned. She finished. Silence all around. And then I said: “Well, that was, on your part, a rhapsodic episode, wasn’t it? It was the beating heart of language, not modern theory-schtick.” I had meant it as a compliment. It was received as such. The dream continued, but those ensuing ‘acts’ of which the dream was comprised are lost to wherever it is dreams go after they have played themselves out, unremembered.

A few nights later, and there I am dreaming the ‘start of a book’: frontispiece and title page. (Does anyone besides antiquarian bookdealers know, these days, what a frontispiece is?) In any case, the ‘illustration’ that would normally appear on such a page refused to form. Was it so awful, so repugnant? Moreover, the title was missing on the title page opposite, though Trump was, indeed, the butt of the joke that did appear on the page in question, and the whole world would know it and happily laugh away – upon publication of the book. The ‘dream voice’ said: “In addition, you’ve had this dream many times before. You’ll have this dream and its joke before your eyes when you wake up in the morning, and it will indicate that you’ve been paying attention.” It would seem I was misinformed. Whatever the joke was, it eludes my memory. A judgment on unpublished manuscripts of mine? A commentary on our parlous political situation? Or that politics is no longer a choice to be made among bad choices but an effing abyss?

… …. So ridiculous had he found the lines of that talented but extravagant writer who had acquired the title of ‘Major Poet’ only by virtue of having struck a bargain, and as a reward for the not disinterested indulgence that he shewed to the dangerous errors of the Socialists… ….

A bit of cattiness here on Proust’s part with respect to some fellow author or authors, this sample to be had in Within a Budding Grove Part Two (page 28 of the Chatto & Windus edition 1970-something), second volume of Proust’s seven volume À la recherche du temps perdu often translated into English, over Proust’s objections, as In Search of Lost Time (“they’ve gone and ruined it”) when perhaps Remembrance of Things Past is to be preferred. Well, Proust certainly knew how to be catty without coming off victimized and spiteful about it, all knickers in a twist &c. Worth saying, I think. Some 20 or so pages later, and he is having a bit of fun ribbing a fellow Jew for his snobbery, something not all that noteworthy. Just that in light of the current horror underway in Gaza, and because Proust's prose passage put me in mind of the ‘Dreyfuss Affair’, of what was the 12 year long trial of a Jewish officer in the French army, the officer being, as it were, scapegoated, deemed treasonous a little over a century ago, and it was a political scandal which Proust lived through, it has to be said that the ability or the inability to see a person as a ‘person’ has yet again come into question, if due to altogether different causes, the effects being the same. As ever. That ‘individuals’ are neither seen for what they are, nor for what they are not; they are lost to a vilified horde. Monster and saint and genius, Average Joe and Jane, are alike buried in the demonization process. When the times come for an accounting, I am thinking that the only people who will pay a price are those who have already paid it: the civilians of either side. Over and over, it gets said that truth, as such, is the first casualty of war. But hey, war is not the only slayer of truth. There are plenty of peacetime villains in it up to here in their zeal to score debating points on cable news. Still, what truth or truths would we be talking about? That which involves seeing one’s own kind with some objective clarity?

Somewhere in all this is the fact of the 60th anniversary of JFK’s assassination (as he was surely not just shot – but assassinated), the 60th, no less, if I am counting right. And quite by chance I came upon a remark spoken by Ladybird Johnson, wife to Lyndon Baines Johnson, one of the presidents the Vietnam war chewed up and left in tatters. She noted that, after the deed was done, ‘Jackie’ in her blood-splattered pink dress, looked like a ‘drifting blossom’. Had the woman a poetic streak? Were more people in general back then in possession of a poetic streak than is the case now? Does this sentence even make sense? Did the Rolling Stones, the Creedance Clearwater Revival have poetic streaks in their rock-and-roll quivers? Were the Beatles Elizabethans with stratocasters and amps? Are we already AI’d parodies of ourselves? And so forth and so on.

Received: The First Man in Rome, by Colleen McCullough, a novel set in late Republican Rome. I have started in on it, and I can see forthwith that I am reading it for the history and not for the author’s ear. Also: The Grass Crown, by the same author, and the same setting and period. Also, a massive biography of Ulysses S Grant, called, natch, Grant as done up by Ron Chernow, and if for no other reason then this: that there it was in a discount bin outside my local bookstore, selling for a Canadian loony. A buck to you Yanks.

Postscript I: And for what the following has to say, if anything, for social climbing, that engine that has always driven civilized life along (which was the point of Roman existence back in Rome’s late Republican times), from Cornelius W Drake of Champaigne-Urbana we have this: ‘Jane Austen delved into that poor patrician thing, which she generally solved by marrying the impecunious to old and still-secure money. Both genders played the game, which spiked in the interwar years, as the British aristocracy began falling apart. Except the new pigeons were Americans and their new money. Nothing like marrying a title, though. Mencken used to ridicule the American "aristocracy" as ignorant, bumbling, unsophisticated and yet positively certain of their provincial political views, which Mencken also laughed at. I taught for a year… grad school at Kansas City's exclusive "day school" for boys. Most of them came from merely upper-bourgeois families, and they by and large were ok. But there were others, I suspect from older and far larger bank accounts, whom I could tell were growing into insufferable grownups; they had already latched onto the concept that daddy's big money made them superior human beings. That school was awash in cash because of its clientele, and it paid its teachers less than starvation wages.'

Postscript I-2: As Mr Cornelius W Drake would further have it, speaking to the diploma mills (such as Blake might have taken exception to – dark, satanic mills and all that): ‘Hypotheses are always proved by research; amazing, that.’

Postscript II: Lunar, fresh off his latest Italian sojourn: ‘There is a class of Italian (person) that is unbearable.’

Postscript II-2: And for good measure, this immortal Lunarian line: ‘…. and I said I'd never met a woman at a petrol station before.’

Postscript III: As humankind is in the habit of upbraiding present things, and praising those which are past, so most travellers, while they are travelling, love their native place and somewhat angrily prefer it to wherever they find themselves. Having returned to their native place, with the same anger they value it less than all the other places where they have been. From Giacomo Leopardi’s Pensieri. I doubt that the quote has much to do with what has been the state of Lunar’s travelling mind, but the quote is quotable, even so, and Leopardi has much to say to our current lot that he may well have seen coming nearly two centuries ago. Time certainly does pass. And on certain days, does it not seemingly collapse on itself as when Leopardi in Naples, say, 1836, seems more remote in time than Sulla in Rome, 110 B.C., than the 1946 NBA championship finals (the first of them) as won by the Philadelphia Warriors. Check out the team photo and you will see what I mean.

Postscript IV: Talking Avocado tells me he had a dream in which I figured. Strange, seeing as he has never laid eyes on me nor I on him. The dream apparently verged on a nightmare, and I did not want to know, or so he said. Be that as it may, it involved his reading of a manuscript of mine.

November 19, 2023: At times I was not sure what I was reading. Ostensibly, R K Narayan’s The English Teacher (published in 1945 and not to be confused with a movie of the same name, next century) is a novel. Sometimes it had the feel of a documentary. Sometimes it seemed the sort of thing that could be classified as ‘humour’. Sometimes not, and it was as chilly as death. In any case, I have finished the thing.

And near the novel’s end, a light flashed as I read the sentence: ‘The kitchen is the deadliest arsenal a woman possesses.’ Why the light, it flashing as if a detection device that unseemly verbiage sets off? Given the current culture wars, no such sentence may now be conceived and put to the page, not even with comic intent, without undergoing penalties, the words spoken by a man who loved children but loved not his wife, she a seriously unpleasant creature. He had spent an evening expecting to die, an astrologer having predicted his demise on that date. But of course, he lived, and in the morning, he knew that he had had enough of his wife and would leave the home fires and live out the rest of his days at the school of which he was the headmaster, and where, as the vernacular might have it, he was going to let kids be kids. She – the harpy spouse, flummoxed, ‘chastened’, as it were, by the fact that he was, of a sudden, asserting himself – would win his attentions back through food, no mention of sex.

Another light flashed at the novel’s concluding paragraph. A man (the protagonist Krishna) has been mourning the death (due to typhoid) of the woman to whom he had been married and had come to dearly love. He has been trying to maintain with her, she now apparently in the spirit world. And despite how trashy this all sounds, new-agey and all the rest of it (we are somewhere in the 40s of 20th century India) Krishna is nonetheless rewarded when, at last, there is communication between him and Susila. He has finally managed to empty his mind of all that might get in the way of contact, his grief, for instance, and his inability to accept the fact of her death, and the fact that he is essentially alone in the universe in any case, and there is no use fighting it. He has long been disenchanted with his work as an academic; that he ought to be on a different path…. Still, some kind of contact comes about in the course of the night, and now the sun is rising, and it does not seem to matter where Susila is – in the room with him, in his head, as scattered ash somewhere in the neighbourhood: We stood at the window, gazing on a slender red streak over the eastern rim of the earth. A cool breeze lapped our faces. The boundaries of our personalities suddenly dissolved. It was a moment of rare, immutable joy – a moment for which one feels grateful to Life and Death.

I have mentioned Narayan in previous posts. I have neglected to state (and I think I have my reasons) that he was an Indian writer writing in English, and that he is regarded as being one of India’s leading novelists, and that he has come under criticism for failing to take any note of British colonial rule in his fictions, and that his characters are ‘simplistic’, as if hopelessly ordinary and irrelevant to the prevailing ‘scene’, as if no one may have a ‘character’ on his or her own volition without accounting for who or what rules them. I had wanted to take Narayan’s novels and his authorship at face value, without his words being filtered and strained and squeezed through a bottomless pit of exegesis. Whatever the man’s political views, in The English Teacher Narayan did take up a cudgel or two. He took exception, for instance, to how Shakespeare was taught in his country, not that he had anything against Shakespeare (he considered it foolish to have anything against the premier poet in the English language), just that Shakespeare, as taught, was but another product of a literary industry, all living relevance thereby expunged from his words, and that this lifeless Shakespeare came at the expense of Narayan’s own culture &c. Not culture wars here but something like common sense in Narayan’s objection… And: “Hooray and huzzah,” I thought to myself as I read along, I who once had to suck up Shakespeare in high school, but that Shakespeare ‘took with me’ even so, despite all that a teacher could have done ‘to have it otherwise’, and despite the fact I did not understand half of what I was being asked to recite and yet, the music in the words, the music in the words… my ears were literally vibrating…. And one could go on a rant lasting weeks to do with the Literary Industrial Complex in 2023, western sector, and the business of the subtext of this or that subtext, and you go at it until you are blue in the face and no closer to understanding a damn thing than when you started, but I will spare you…. Narayan was still writing into his nineties, the poor deluded fool….

Speaking of which Literary Industrial Complex, I have started in on Within a Budding Grove Part Two, the second part of the second novel of Proust’s seven volume À la recherche du temps perdu or In Search of Lost Time or some such, and yes, let us get all this titling out of the way. The secondhand copy I have is a Chatto & Windus paperback, and I am not sure of the year of the imprint – 1970 something – but that I like the feel of it, and the look of the typeface. It says: “We are not messing around nor are we slick and pitching a product at the lowest common denominator….” And not for the first time a near illegible inscription on a flyleaf (this inscription dated the 6th of April, 1972, Montreal), produces a chain of questions. It gives what I assume to be the name of one of the book’s previous owners, a W John Something or Other, as the cognomen, as I have just said, defies comprehension. But one wonders: who is this person? Or perhaps the question could as easily be: who was this person, this W John, how did he live, love, die, the calligraphy somewhat florid and tilted to the left? (The first words that come to mind is ‘a person who was stuck on himself’.) But anyway… 1972… between worlds, the decencies (hypocrisies) hoisted on their own petards, Reagan on the way to mind the store… So yes, what did the inscriber believe? What was his politics, if any? Had he been loved? Had he loved anyone? Not everyone dips into Proust on a casual basis. Perhaps it was all a misunderstanding: Proust was famous, ergo, the author adds to one’s street creds.

Right off the bat, Marcel the young narrator, his grandmother supervising, has gone to Balbec for his health. Balbec (fictional) is a resort town by the sea. One day, on a carriage ride a couple of things happen, one of which involves trees and the other a ‘fisher-girl’. And as I read, I have a silly thought, as follows: due to the speed at which we go from A to B, modern transit, one: we no longer talk to trees, and they no longer talk to us. What you fail to learn from us today, you will never know. And two: our bodies no longer talk as they used to. Marcel sees the girl, and there is very little doubt, none whatsoever, as to what he wants to do with her. And she is not necessarily adverse. No word we use now to depict the act of lovemaking gets it across: that it is not just the body in play. It seemed to me that I had succeeded in touching her person with invisible lips, and that I had pleased her. It is not just a shag. It is more than ego talking. And that ‘immaterial possession’, as opposed to material possession of a peson, comes with its own problems. A diminishment of the mystery?… All the while the trees are talking and the horse ambles along…

All the while I was watching a thing called Sherman’s March. A long, amateur documentary film shot in the early 80s. A young man had it in mind to retrace Sherman’s march to the sea during the American civil war, the march that was so devastating to the south – total warfare, not unlike what goes on just now in Gaza. Only the would-be filmmaker’s girlfriend left him. His ‘project’ turned into something else. Wound up filming women instead, women he met on his travels and was attracted to.

The first of these women was a young woman who would become a movie star at any cost. She was lovely and naïve. Naïve and lovely. The second? A young woman who would rid the country of its nuclear reactors. She was lovely and less naïve. She did not quite know it yet, but she was disillusioned. The third? She would become a somebody in the music world – country and blues. She was lovely and, if not naïve, then stubborn. Very, very single-minded. New York, however, might just chew her up and spit her out. The fourth? She, too, was lovely. What else would she be? A cabin dweller in the South Carolinian outback by the Atlantic, she seemed to subsist on talk of sex and linguistics – endlessly. She lived sex and linguistics, as it were, existentially. She could drive a guy crazy and it might well be worth it. The fifth? Another lovely young woman (in Boston where the filmmaker at the outset had been living and working). Taught music history, was something of a performer (though perhaps a little less ambitious, and probably content with where she was in her life), and hints were dropped that, with her, a relationship might possibly form. Sherman, however, was not forgotten. 1980s, mention his name, and he was still a hated figure in the south. I have done a little reading up, and the jury is out as to whether Sherman was a monster, albeit a Union Army monster. It seems an open question: how many civilians he may or may not have knocked off while he was going about, obliterating military and civilian infrastructure. His aim: to deny the south the resources with which to wage a war, hence: total war. Modern concept. Where am I going with all this? No idea. Sherman took up watercolours in his last years.


Postscript I:
People are not ridiculous except when they wish to seem or be what they are not. …. From Leopardi’s Pensiere… …. And: Generally, wanting to be what we are not spoils everything in the world. Very many people are unbearable for no other reason, although they would be very likeable if only they would be content to be themselves. …. I suppose Trump is perfectly content to be himself….And half of America is perfectly content that he be content to be himself....

Postscript II: Cornelius W Drake of Champagne-Urbana: ‘Even if your fear comes to fruition, at least we'll know. And I'll make every attempt to bring the thugs in jackboots to my door.’ (The man was responding to my mention of the fact that I can only watch the news in two-or three-minute driblets, then either fury or nausea sets in. My ‘fear’ concerned the obvious, or a Trump electoral victory and his subsequent campaign of vengeance.)

Postscript III: More Cornelius W Drake of Champagne-Urbana: … …. ‘As in, despairing? Could be. Mostly because it's going to be a long, torturous year. We can't know until Nov 2024 how the rest of the decade, or century, will proceed: either America as we've known it or some fascistically bastardized version of it. My latest greatest hope is that Trump's brain continues to deteriorate with blinding velocity — enough that even his disciples realize the messiah has lost his mind.’

Postscript IV: Yes, but…

Postscript V: Of Talking Avocado… I think the man, on his island hideaway, is back to building his root cellar, in which sanctuary he may well read his Henry Fielding and some contemporary lady poet currently in the ascendancy, a bottle of Mexican beer on the go, a smell of turnips pervading.

 

November 14, 2023: I can report that, in the past few days, I have not managed to blow anything up. I have not spoken ill of any member of the human species (though I have come close). I have certainly broached, what to call them, critiques in my thoughts, a few unflattering characterizations following. I can also report that I have concluded my re-read of Within a Budding Grove Part One (which itself sits inside an overarching opus generally entitled À la recherche du temps perdu or In Search of Lost Time) as written by Proust and as translated by Montcrieff. Perhaps, a Trump-infused imbecile might consider the ‘Within a Budding Grove’ title as part and parcel of the prattle of a ‘snowflake’, as something awfully precious, but he or she would do so in ignorance, given Proust’s toughness of mind, which is not that of a trifler or pretender or alpha clown. Otherwise, I can also report that I am near done with R K Narayan’s The English Teacher which, in the broadest of strokes, is the story of a man who mourns his deceased wife.

It seems I have nothing much to say for either book at this point, though I wish to be clear: this not having much to say is not a criticism. Sometimes all one can say of excellent writing is that, well, sure is awfully good, and you move on; you enjoy, you savour the writing in question. Although Proust, in the course of his seven volume opus, makes such a big deal of time and memory especially as recapitulated through one’s sense of smell, Narayan has a shot at that too.

So, speaking of Narayan's married couple, shortly after the wife’s death (of typhoid fever) the husband comes across vials of perfume amongst her effects. He has a sniff. Whereupon, in an instant, his wife's living body is brought back to him... .... ‘the essence of her personality, the rustle of her dress, her footfalls, her laughter, her voice, and the light in her eyes, the perfume of her presence’... Forgive the reviewese. And later, the husband will have contact with his wife through a medium, and she will say she is happy where she is - on her side of things where the dead are, and that he (her husband) ought to get a grip. She states this case with a great deal of affection for the man she married. This is worth remarking on, seeing as, given the manner in which Narayan handled it, it is the most natural thing in the world, this exchange between a corporeal husband and an ephemeral wife, never mind any discussion of spectres and whether or not it is possible for the living to communicate with those who are gone. It is how the husband, in his grief, comes to accept death as an inseparable part of the business of living. It is not cheap psychology. But well, I suppose you had to have been there.

But that ‘acceptance of death as an inseparable part of the business of living’ is one thing; and human-induced mass death is quite another. One is resigned to it, but in the resignation, there is no peace of mind. There is no acceptance. There is fury, however impotent, with respect to the perpetrators of a slaughter, the excuse for it venegance, the justification for payback long since superseded by something akin to a feeding frenzy. God knows that, since the end of the Second World War, countless books have been written on genocide and ethnic cleansing and all related matters, and I am not going to pile on with cheap and facile commentary that only insults the dead, irrespective of who they might be, irrespective of what flag they might claim as theirs. Even so, I am having trouble grasping the fact of it happening now, after everything that has been said and done. Israel-Gaza: the world's longest running sore, one that has roots in the deep, deep past. Old Testament past. (The Carpentariat has commentary on the current outbreak of hostilities.)

Postscript I: … …. This goes so far that in social life noble actions need to be dissimulated more carefully than base actions. Everyone is base, and so that is at least pardoned. But nobility goes against the custom and seems to indicate presumption, or beg praise, which the public, and acquaintances particularly, do not like to give with sincerity. From Giacomo Leopardi’s Pensieri. And so, we are all of us scumbags, eh. It is just that some of us are worse than others in our scumbaggery, and then are sanctimonious in the bargain….

Postscript II: I wonder if Talking Avocado will get around to writing his play, that one to do with Tallulah Bankhead. It seems the woman led, well, a rather colourful life, and had a capacity for colourful speech. Recently, I had occasion to view an anthology of ‘TV bloopers’. It was a revelation, Carol Burnett cussing up a blue streak. Now I am wondering if Talking Avocado will wish to continue having words with me, given that I have sunk to such depths as ‘bloopers’. Part of the revelation is to find that some of the comedians one thinks of as having been ‘witty’ on camera were even wittier off screen.

Postscript III: For some time now, Lunar has been abroad and incommunicado. That is to say, he got himself to Basilicata, and then to Naples. I expect he has had his teeth rattled by all the recent tremor-ing in the area. Earthquakes. Naples, of course, is where Leopardi died in 1837 during an outbreak of cholera. (His heart had packed it in.) This is remarked upon because Lunar is one of Leopardi’s champions; Leopardi does not have much of a press outside Italy. Lunar has lived most of his mature life amongst Brits. Brits put a lot of stock in ‘wit’. (Though Jimmy Durante went over there once to teach them the English language. Har.) As for Naples in general, and its very long history in particular, here is a worthwhile link, Mr Matthews an American expatriate who has resided in that city these past forty years: http://www.naplesldm.com

November 11, 2023: I was reading along in R K Narayan’s The English Teacher when I was stopped by this sentence: ‘Death and its associates, after the initial shock, produce callousness.’ The impact the sentence made on me was immediate, though after a second read, and the sentence struck me as slippery. Who are death’s associates in this instance? Everything and anything that has to do with death? As if death were a conspiracy?

In any case, Narayan’s protagonist had been, for quite some time, nursing his wife through a serious illness. She up and died. He was left beyond grief. Condolences and sympathy? He had had so much of it throughout the ordeal that he was now indifferent. As I read the pages in question, Gaza was (and still is) in play, and the more horrific the images on the TV screen, the more that rage and numbness metamorphosed into a weird sort of apathy. Resignation aside, one was an accomplice to the horror simply by taking in the news of it. There had been that other war: Russia-Ukraine. And when that war brought one to consider how perfidious a thing humankind is, one was wrong to think that one had now seen how low it (humankind) can sink. But one had not been anywhere near the dregs of any cup of evildoing, as if death by drone and death by missile and death by bomb and death by mine, and death by sniper bullet and death by execution (think Russian deserters and what was and most likely is still happening to them – a bullet in the back of the head), and death by disease and starvation induced by blockade and siege are somewhat different in kind and degree, and members of some UN council can, say, sort all that out and produce graphs and talking points for smart phone texts, so that one might now see the situation ‘rationally’, and thereupon call the situation ‘complicated’ – oh, for sure, Gaza, like, really complex, as if we were watching a rom-com and some smug actress and some smug actor would appeal to us on the strength of their ‘humanity’ and capacity for feel-good, by being tres amusant in a complicated bed. The mind does not reel; it retches.

And I have been reading along in À la recherche du temps perdu. Proust. Near the end of the opus’ second volume: Within a Budding Grove Part One, Marcel the narrator has been travelling by train to Balbec – a resort town (fictional) by the sea in Normandy. Memories of his childhood summers. &c. I am reading along, and what comes to mind is not Gaza or Ukraine, but the poet Rilke.

And I cannot remember where in Rilke I read it, but the words had something to with a well in some village square, women drawing water from this well &c, as they would, of course, every day, all the while talking to one another about this, that, and the other thing. The point of it all, what Rilke was attempting to get at was this: the well, the village, the women, a way of life - it was all going to disappear, and in some cases, sooner rather than later, due to this or that nefarious circumstance, like war, like corporate overreach. One door among others into one’s soul is memory, and to remember the well and what took place there, to remember the women &c, was to take it all into one’s soul, and to take it all into one’s soul was to make it eternal. (Perhaps, more fanciful words have never been written, but nothing ever felt truer to me. Or else I only dreamed this bit from Rilke, as I still cannot recall where I came across this discussion of the soul and what it is for. And perhaps there are things of which one might say: "This is the last thing I'd want in my soul, this or that bout of 'ethnic cleansing, this or that instance of mass poisoning." Five minutes of news just now, and these words came to mind: the Nuremberg Trials, and what a big deal humankind made of all that, even to the extent of thereafter hiding behind the rhetoric that the trials produced, as if hiding behind a smokescreen of alleged virtue and resolve whilst bombing the hell out some wretches or other somewhere, you know where, makes you, what, kind of clever…)


Postscript I:
Jean Jacques Rousseau says that true courtesy consists in habitually showing oneself to be kind. This sort of courtesy may perhaps preserve you from hatred, but it will not gain you love, except from those few to whom other people’s kindness acts as a stimulus to reciprocate. Whoever wishes, as far as one can with manners, to make people his friends, or his lovers even, should show them that he esteems them. Just as contempt hurts and displeases more than hatred, so esteem is sweeter than kindness, and generally men take more care, or certainly have more desire, to be esteemed than loved. From Giacomo Leopardi’s (19th century Italian poet and thinker) Pensieri. I am not sure what the words have to do with anything just now, but when the media cites ‘hatred’ as being a cause and or an effect of certain hostilities of the moment, I see ‘contempt’ as the instigator and the consequence, deeper hells to follow.

Postscript II: I know nothing about Tallulah Bankhead save that she was an actress, considered a fine one in her day. So I was a little taken aback when Talking Avocado resurfaced and announced that he aims to write a play based on her life. He said, and I paraphrase: “I happened to catch, quite by accident, a little pre-code thing in which Ms TB had the female lead. The movie was nothing to write home about, the less said the better, but she caught my interest right off. I wouldn’t say that she was a great beauty, but something about the way she carried herself got my attention. Something about the way she turned a phrase, not so as to milk a phrase past the point of any genuine sense, but so as to refract light at a slightly different angle than perhaps the phrase was intended for. I did a little research. I walked the beach every evening running through possible scenarios in my mind that might make for a play. Smelled the mudflats. Heard the gulls. Whatever. A couple of more evenings like this and I will talk myself out of writing the play. How’s by you?”

Postscript III: Cornelius W Drake of Champagne-Urbana: … … “I work online only and yet I hate reading online stuff instead of newspapers, books and manuscripts. I consider this not a prejudice, but a virtue … …. Speaking of gods and epics, I've always admired Milton's Lost Paradise because of his initial take on Satan. It's a bit like Shakespeare's objective "overhearing" of Richard III. ‘Here I am. I'm telling honestly you what I am — because I have good reason for it’… …. What turned me off of poetry decades ago was that every volume I picked up [at] the bookstore seemed to be one solipsistic, alienated cri de coeur after another. The world, oh what a terrible place. Which, as I have noted before, is what caused Wilde to remark that all bad poetry is sincere.” &c.

Postscript IV: But if you wish to hear a cri de coeur or two with respect to ‘what gives’ of late, have a go at The Carpentariat.


November 5, 2023: Proust goes on and on, and then on some more, his verbal excursions, his rambles seemingly endless, and then it hits you – shazam! Life. And all your senses are engaged. A woman’s cut of dress, a flower in a ditch, a face glimpsed through a train window, the light on a church steeple – all of it or any of it hits you, smack dab, full frontal, and yet nothing is explained, as there is no explaining it. It happens to you; it is what you live. There is beauty in it, and the beauty overwhelms. There is what renders a soul stale to itself and to other souls, and one goes about unloving and unloved, until it is over. Finito. Though there will be another flower, another ditch for someone somewhere at some other time. Proust. À la recherche du temps perdu. Seven volumes.

But then, in Two and a Half Men, the comedy hit show (which I never saw when it was aired – when? twenty years ago?), there are explanations. Lots of them. It is a world that continually explains itself – thusly: Alan is a douchebag; his teen son a garburator, and Charlie, though he has kind impulses, is a womanizing cad. His mother is a hell creature. And so forth and so on. Now you know. You know all you need to know. Sit back. Prepare yourself for the next guffaw.

As you can see, I am still amusing myself, drifting between these, as it were, diametrically opposed worlds – Proust, and that other world of gags and venal laugh tracks. Perhaps comedy is what it is because in comedy everything is explained or else, there would be no laughs. Proust, and you can pretty well count on the fact that, though some people will put up a brave front and acquit themselves fairly well in this life, the laws of nature and human nature will beat them down. Something of this consciousness is in Two and a Half Men as well, but with a difference, or that laughs, not tears or silent admonitions, have priority. There is a streak of realism in the show that does not capitulate to ‘feel-good’, which is what, I suppose, makes the show watchable, otherwise the inherent puerility of the ‘gags’ would shut down one’s sentience, and for good. Which, in fact, is what happens once the show kills Charlie off, which then gives Rose no reason to exist; which then allows that cretin Kutcher (or the cretinous character he plays, season nine) to napalm the action and slather everything with some glutinous ick that then goes and eats through everything worthwhile. As for Proust, it is not that there is a lack of humour in the writing; there is plenty of it, plenty of what is ludicrous, but the humour is not the point, the point being the transience of our lives, and when Proust (through his narrator Marcel) goes on and on about Mme Swann in the park and what she is wearing, it is as if this woman is going to exist forever and yet, she is only an instant, among others, in time. Perhaps no woman and what she is wearing has ever been described in such detail in all of fiction…. (Within a Budding Grove, Part One.)

Whereas, to throw a switch in the works, in R K Narayan’s The English Teacher, there is a passage describing a household alcove. In it are little silver gods and flowers. A young married woman is having a conversation with those gods, all the while her bemused husband looks on, his love for his wife deepening. It is just that he wants to know what she is saying to those gods, and she, smiling, intimates that it is her business, her secret. And then, having read the passage and having moved on, one is nonetheless gripped by a tiny suspicion, a truly tiny one, that certain ‘pagan’ notions of worship did redound to a deep and abiding happiness – if only for an instant in time.

Postscript I: Whither Talking Avocado? Perhaps he has gotten himself to some place where he is obliged to use his ‘Christian’ name. Perhaps he is so appalled he wishes not to see or speak to anybody. Why so appalled? Why, consult your news. Or have a go at The Carpentariat. Or else consider that what we regard as ‘civilized’ is very thin stuff, always has been, a kind of on-going vanity project. Me, I have been applying myself to learning Tàrrega’s ‘Capricho Arabe’ on the guitar. I lack, as it gets said, the chops for it, but even so, slowly, through much trial and error and a kind of grim doggedness, I have been ‘getting it’, and it all seems a little absurd, and it has been rewarding. Civilized, eh? One ought not put too much stock in it, but one ought not sneer at it, either. Ana Vidovic having at ‘Capricho Arabe’ – it is worth the price of admission anywhere, that she plays without the supercilious emoting of a ham, but with a thorough-going attention… enough. It is just one of those things, her guitaring, one of those things by which one checks oneself before descending full-bore into an unrelieved pessimism about ourselves.

Postscript II: In this world men who are remarkable for their integrity are those from whom, if you are on friendly terms with them, you can, although not hoping for any service, not fear any disservice. I would put these words in the mouth of Cornelius W Drake of Champagne-Urbana, for no reason perhaps, but that he might have had the gist, if not the words themselves. They are in fact words from a collection of words called Pensieri, or Thoughts, words from Leopardi, Giacomo Leopardi, that is, who died in the early part of the 19th century, who was a hunchback, about whom Marius Kociejowski wrote a poem, having the man sit at a café table outdoors in Naples, and eating an ice, all the while musing on things. The thing is, I read the words cited above and there immediately forms in my mind images of shuttle diplomacy as per news footage, a certain Secretary of State going about trying to stave off the formation of new brush fires out of what is already a conflagration, one that has the potential to bring down a great deal of the world as it rages away, if not disappear an entire people into the sea.