EPHEMERIS

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

      

  HOME  

ARCHIVES

 

April 18, 2024: I was reading along in one of Horace’s epistles, Book One, when these words caught me up: … …. if our desire is to live and be friends to ourselves and our country…. …. The words did not at first register. It was as if I was hearing unidentified gnawing sounds from inside a wall. Mouse? Giant insect? A rolling of the eyes ensued until a couple of adjectives reared their snitty little heads. The conclusion was: the words in question are innocuous, even risible. On account of the fact that, having lived in the twentieth century, I have soldiered on into the twenty-first....

But wait a minute. A bit of context please. There had been, for Horace, that little matter of the civil wars. And the proscription (not the first in Roman history) as cooked up by the triumvirs Octavian, Mark Antony, Lepidus, 43 BC. Here is the how-to. You draw up a list of your enemies; you send soldiers out to hunt them down; you relieve them of their heads. You acquire their land and money. You fatten up the treasury. You solve nagging little problems, just that you create a host of new ones, blowback being one of them. The unending angling for power… (At least with Sulla some forty years before, his victims had each the consolation of a show trial, a la Stalin, I suppose.) Further context, or all the hazards of ancient life from which the poet was, to some extent, shielded, given that, courtesy of Maecenas, Caesar’s consigliere and arts patron, Horace had his dacha in the country and fairly easy living...

Even so, Horace, I am certain, meant every word in a serious, straightforward way, no irony: if our desire is to live and be friends… …. Alright then. If we can take some of the sting out of everyday conflict… If we can play nice, eh? I look back through our own times and see again a plethora of events rolled up in a single package, from Korea to Iraq by way of Vietnam and Afghanistan. And all the little wars in between those big cracks. Another American civil war on the horizon? Not likely but possible. A bit close for comfort, scores piling up that will want their settling. Domestica that is half mass shooting, half floor of the House rhetoric...

Meanwhile, here is another ‘eh’. What’s a poet good for, eh? Says Horace, or Quintus Horatius Flaccus: … a poet is only rarely addicted to greed; he loves poetry; nothing else matters; house-fires and losses and runaway slaves are disasters to smile at; fraud with a partner in business or cheating an orphan would never enter his mind; he exists on the bread made of chaff and the seconds; misfit and sluggard in warfare, he graces the City in peace time … …. (Does anyone know if Trump rhymes, that is, in his twittings?)

Gad, those words immediately above, two thousand some years old, have a familiar ring. The 60s? The 60s were replete with poets who tried to live ‘pure’ lives. With poets who thought those poets dim of wit. Smug poets who had a foot in both camps… To some extent, Horace had the ear of Caesar. Horace knew that Caesar was going to do what Caesar was going to do: he would keep power in his grubby little hands. But it was possible some good would come of it. Horace would be what we call a whisperer. Over the years I have flattered myself that I have heard some of those whispers in his verses. For all that, it has been a long, long while since poets last sat at a banquet table that has nothing to do with winning prizes. They do not even sit where the servants hunker down. It is all ‘seen but not heard’ at some tyke-sized trencher…. Just how much closer to us than he was to Ennius, say, was Horace when he said that dramas that are merely beautiful will not cut it? As when Babe Ruth (1932 World Series, Wrigley Field, fifth inning) called his shot and hit his home run, like so Horace claimed his immortality – he’d outlive bronze. I read his bit of graffiti (rendered as verse) when I was young. I said, “Sure. Right.” Now I think he was one of those cheeky buggers who do, now and then, apply the mallet and ding the bell.

Otherwise, I have yet to get myself clear of Proust’s endless dinner party viz. The Guermantes Way. The young Marcel is no longer infatuated with the duchess. To be sure, he is disappointed with her and yet, he allows that she has wit, and she uses it surgically, decimating those whom she disdains. Here comes the knife, but you will not feel it enter your body. I read in other sources that any reader of Proust is meant to see host and hostess and assorted guests at the Guermantes table as the ‘aristocracy’ well on the way to its irrelevance. Pathetic excuses for consumers of oxygen. But I wonder if Proust wants me to feel that there is something grand in the genealogy (with respect to the Guermantes name) that comes out of the mouth of the duke at any mention of Cousin So-and-So or Auntie that or Uncle this. History is history. How does Proust wish me to see the duchess? As intelligent, as all too aware of the abyss she straddles? As a girl git who thinks the fun is going to last forever?

Postscript I: Carpenter

Postscript II: Cornelius W Drake of Champaign-Urbana is a committed pragmatist. He on occasion watches BBC. Recently, as he was watching, some association or other on his part with what was being said, conveyed him to the year 1948. To Truman and his foreign policy advisers, or that Truman was asked to think twice about Israel, that such a little, insignificant relationship could … and fill-in-the-blank and add: this is how history works and so,76 years later…. And then the segue, or that ‘pragmatism’, as a philosophy (America’s only original philosophy), must, even so, be undergirded with first principles. Mr Drake: ‘Without them, governmental pragmatism would quickly slide into fascism. After all, police states can resolve a lot of problems. In fact they defend the system by pointing out just how problem-free their societies are. The only problem they won't admit to is that life there [in those societies] is a living hell. It's what Trump would establish if he could. But we're not Russians.’ Really? Mr Drake, the pragmatist, is also somewhat generous in his estimation of the body-politic, although the man is capable of the following remark: Israel? If there's some sort of celestial, metaphysical idiocy that has never occurred to even the most psychotic among us to commit, unquestionably it will occur to Netanyahu & Cabinet. And they'll put a rush on it.       

Postscript III: Lunar has been more than trenchant of late. He has been pointedly pointed. He says that verse drama has mostly failed, including that of T.S. Eliot. He knows this because I sent him my effort.

Postscript IV: I do not know when Talking Avocado is going to come out of hiding. It is not as if he has squirreled himself away from the tax police, or so I figure. Could be he is in a state of dread scalp to toe: it might occur to me to send him something, like a verse drama.

Postscript V: For what it is worth: … …. the elegance of her manners has been attested by surviving friends; and my aunt Porten could descant for hours on the talents and virtues of her amiable sister. A domestic life would have been the choice, and the felicity of my mother, but she vainly attempted to check with a silken rein the passions of an independent husband…. From Edward Gibbon’s Memoirs of My Life c. 1780. And for a very strange moment, as I read Gibbon’s words, and you may recall that he is the man who wrote The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, the most famous work of history no one reads, I thought I had slipped into a bit of sit-com back-and-forth, as dreamed up by a man or woman strung out on a stimulant. As if Jane Austen had showed up on Desperate Housewives

April 9, 2024: I intended to read through the lengthy page load with respect to the longest dinner party in the history of literature, and then have something to say about it, but as it turns out, I have little to say. A hundred or more pages into it, and I have even forgotten whose dinner party it is, who the hosts are, if you can believe it, though I suspect it has something to do with the Guermantes as are depicted in Proust’s The Guermantes Way, which is both a path in the literal sense, a country path, and a mode of conduct, though ‘royal’ and generally upper crust society is falling apart, what with the war and all that. (WWI.) At last count, the duchess (whose wit is celebrated all over town – Paris) has hatched a pun that, like Delillo’s baseball in Delillo’s novel Underworld, will pass from hand to hand, and the pun, as it passes, will create factions in society. It is, this pun, Teaser Augustus, ‘Teaser’; being a bit of wordplay on Caesar. Some will find the play delicious; some will find it silly, even offensive, just as Trump’s pussy-grabbing offends mightily, though in certain quarters, even among women, the thought of it all charms. So goes the swagger, no doubt, in certain salons. And ‘dance for me’ Marjorie Taylor Greene, she is one of the great utterers of ‘hooah’. But this disappearance of politeness in a reconstructed society is by no means certain, and we are at times too ready to believe that the present is the only possible state of things. From Proust’s The Guermantes Way, volume three of his seven volume epic À la recherche du temps perdu. Make of the quote what you will. And can a society of silly twits, blue blood in them, and despite themselves, uphold a set of standards as pertains to art and the intellect, and the answer, in some weird, twisted way, seems to be yes.

And I was going to put myself in mind of other infamous dinner parties. As when Tantalus served up his son Pelops to the gods at a banquet, the purpose of which was to disprove godly omniscience, and only Demeter failed the test: she had a nibble. The Last Supper, is, after a fashion, infamous. How about the ten course meal on the Titanic? (One might think that, in certain instances, to ‘eat and run’ is more conducive to one’s longevity.) As remarked in the previous post, the young Marcel was going to have what we would call a date, a date with a certain Mme de Stermaria, but he was stood up. But never mind. One thing will always lead to another, and now he has been supping and observing throughout what shapes up to be a novel within a novel. He has been toying with notions of desire, what it is and what it is not, and to what extent is a desire to be honoured or ignored in the interests of a greater spiritual health. And what about Trump’s shadow government, while we are at it? I watched the flick It Happened in L.A. I say to myself, “It’s satire, so I am being led to suppose, and it is dedicated to the proposition as to whether happiness can ever be attained in Coupledom.” But did Molière die like a trouper on the stage or of cocaine abuse in a luxury car? Horace’s 16th epode treats with civil war, the Roman strain. Can it be read with a view toward what is happening in a certain nation-state to the south of here? Otherwise, there is no other thread that runs through everything broached in this paragraph. Molière bought it by way of tuberculosis perhaps on a stage. He had had trouble paying his bills (play bills, get it?) though no pun is intended here, as taken under advisement.


Postscript I: Carpenter

Postscript II: I asked some people for a word that indicates that one has gone beyond a state of revulsion (the news, you know), and passed on to another state, but what single word might cover that state? From Lunar I got ‘execrable’. I thought the offering weak. (He always figures I am being merely rhetorical at him, like two old dodderers in an assisted-care facility flicking peas at one another.) But from Cornelius W Drake of Champaign-Urbana, an agnostic (which means he does not hold with organized religion) I got ‘despair’. Despair is not a word that gives off much by way of shock and awe, but I thought about it – ever so briefly, yes, and I believe Mr Drake has a point. He says, ‘I can think of no lower state than despair. Christians believe it's not only ill-advised but blasphemous: it rejects, or gives up on, God's grace and all that. Oh by the way, Jesus loves you too, [Sibum]. … …. Jonathan Haidt — psychologist of fame — would argue I suppose that [ ] some [of] a certain age have been afflicted by iPhone mental illness. He may have a point, and if he does, they're not at fault. He argues that every youthful generation lived through some crisis, e.g. the Great Depression, WW II, the Vietnam war. And they fared rather well. But with the introduction of smart phones the levels of mental illness among the young skyrocketed. His critics say he confuses correlation with causation and hell I don't know. I read a NYT piece on Haidt and his work and there was so much I had to say about it. You want despair? I immediately thought, yes I could spend a couple hours in deep thought as I typed out those thoughts in maybe 1,000 words — and no one would read it. Too long, no political butchering, no blood spilling off the page. I would have wasted two hours when I could have written three or four short posts full of butchering. And that's a goddamn shame.’

Postscript III: And I asked the renowned Talking Avocado for a word. I got the finger in return.

April 1, 2024: Now and then I am privy to conversations that go something like this: Proust, as in Marcel, author of À la recherche du temps perdu, was a creep. So as I read the man, I look for this less than salutary entity while the whole world seems to be turning Creepsville. For instance, there is some kind of two-legged toad out there just now hawking bibles so that he might finance his political career, which is the same thing as his campaign to keep himself out of jail. His long red tie is a continuation of his prehensile tongue, the lies awfully funky, getting funkier. If it is Creepsville you want, you have got it. You know of whom, of what I speak.

In any case, halfway through The Guermantes Way, volume three of the seven volume opus that Proust wrote, and the young Marcel, Protagonist-in-Chief, has moved on in his life from the death of his beloved grandmother. He is attempting to seduce Albertine or she him. He would resort to having her tickle him as a way of expediting matters on the bed. She seems agreeable. But somehow, now that she is receptive, she is not the roseate creature he once saw on a Balbec beach. She is, well, rather real, his fantasy diminished. The origins of the Spin the Bottle game may go back as far as the 1500s, Italy.

And the young Marcel is even growing out of his infatuation with the Duchess de Guermantes. She, too, has become somehow human (less than perfect) in his demanding eyes. She is not the goddess he had first seen in a theatre box situated above a motley crew of arts lovers. Perhaps he is now ‘de-fatuated’, and I guess I just coined a word. The energies in him bent on infatuation have been transferred to a certain Mme de Stermaria, and there will be breaking news on this matter in the coming days. Young Marcel’s erotic experiences are analogous to a collection of marbles. He holds each sphere to a source of light (the light of a beach resort, a dining salon, a city park &c) so as to capture the glitter of their qualities. In the 60s I knew a young hipster who was so given to an itemization of his every sensation when in the pursuit of sexual liaisons that he could never stop talking about it: his conquests, his rejections. His – you bet – sensations. I was often hauled along by the slipstream of his fiendish verbal energy (he was a budding poet) and his good nature. That is, he was a Prince of the Self-Referential and yet, he did not wish ill of anyone. It was just that he was so self-involved no one else but himself figured much in his life anyway. So that, now and then, as I am reading along in Proust, I hear myself saying, “Come on, buddy, get on with it. Get over yourself.”

The thing is, the young Marcel was capable of love and friendship; he was not a cold fish. Women were more than just objects to possess and discard. But, halfway through The Guermantes Way, and it is now past arguing: what the young Marcel cares most about is ‘society’. He cares about it in the abstract and in the particulars. In the particulars are questions and answers that have to do with his relations to society and the people who comprise it, people who cannot be seen with just anyone. The ability to read a room is akin to reading the sky for signs of weather good or bad, one’s life depending on it. I have known people for whom society is the only thing that matters (and they are all Anglicans, as it happens). All else is beside the point, even one’s bodily needs. I am not one of those people. It seems to me that there are people one likes and there are people one avoids. And then there are people one puts up with, who are, as it were, unavoidable. And now I sound not a little self-involved myself.

I have been meaning to say that at some point in the Bush-Cheney years, I had the sense that the wingnut Right was going to do the USA in, and that a self-righteous, uncritical (of itself) liberal-Left would not be helpful. Perhaps things have improved since then as people more clearly appreciate the dangers that the wingnut Right poses &c. Then again, maybe not. But this is the reason why I started up the Ephemeris posts some years ago, to try and write in good faith about things without falling into the traps as are everywhere in discourse (some of which have claimed friends); as when, in objection to some silly notion of the Left, one prances about in a wingnut silly suit of the Right. I did shut down Ephemeris for a while, as one, what was sillier than shouting in a vacuum along with tenmillion other shouts? And two, I tired of the sound of my yodel. The intellectual world? It was a pond in a thunderstorm accommodating ten million frogs on ten million lily (key) pads. I'll see your ribbit and raise you a blog. What was the point? Some years later, and I was contending with a voice in me saying, and it was not a sweet sound; it was not a particularly pleasant sound, but it was saying, as if a siren call to go and be a proper fool and even more perfectly useless: “And you thought things were parlous before? But don’t let the bastards shut you up.” Who are the bastards? Trumpers. And the oily oligarchical. Orbán-ites. Born-again narcissists. And all the wunderkind who would sell you out in a second if it meant one more hour of their day in the sun. Well, moving on…


Postscript I:
Carpenter

Postscript II: Cornelius W Drake and I have been discussing evil. We have jointly concluded that we have no more to say on the matter than we had when we were chain-smoking teens and fending off acne. That is to say, it is an argument that falls into the Futility of Trying to Prove that God Exists or Does Not category. To wit, and Mr Drake has the floor: ‘I hung out with, drank with, played poker with and became friends with several inhabitants whom most people would classify as evil: professional criminals, mainly. Their origins? My best friend Joe Juarez, whose fate was to be shot and killed in a bar, was not the criminal type, though his older brother, Gilbert, with whom I also became a friend, spent four years in the state pen for shooting a cop while robbing a warehouse. Anyway, I never saw Joe's dad sober. And from the stories I heard he never had been. One night, for instance, he came home (drunk, of course) and, annoyed by the kids' dog, stabbed and killed it with a pair of scissors. The last time I saw him was in an emergency room; he himself had been stabbed in bar and the kids and I had taken him to get stitched up. Now I ask you, with a father like that, is an offspring who becomes a violent criminal an evil person? Or is he merely a natural product of his upbringing and environment? To me the answer is both, but that doesn't really answer the question, in that it's kind of a chicken and egg thing, and more than that, a cop-out that avoids committing to an answer.’        

Postscript III: Lunar, who has been running around somewhere in the Kentish countryside and having dream episodes in his sleep: ‘As this seems to be the running subject of our e-mails, yesterday Donald Tusk announced that Europe is presently in a pre-WW3 situation. Poland was spot on about WW1 and WW2 well in advance of everyone else.'

Postscript IV: Talking Avocado has often regaled me with his remarks on culture, politics, travel; on being a solitary island dweller and close observer of the local recycling depot from he which he gets his culture and politics, if not travel.

Postscript V: Nothing is so capable of overturning a good intention as to show distrust of it; to be suspected for an enemy is often sufficient to make a person become one. Marie Rabutin-Chantal De Sevigne, The Letters of Madame De Sevigne to Her Daughter and Friends.