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





March 25, 2024: I do not remember the exact wording, and I attribute the words to both Charles Olson the Yankee poet (who came up with the notion, it seems) and to William Hoffer the infamous Canadian bookseller who, I guess, had come across them in between his forays into pulp fiction whilst on the john, and he decided to swear by those words, and the words were something to this effect: we do not change, we just stand more revealed. I do not accord well with Mr Olson on most counts, but his thoughts as to whether we are capable of changing our natures has stayed with me. The Comptroller of the Universe thinks otherwise. We had been watching one of those family saga dramas in which a man of finance becomes a sweetheart in his old age, and I suggested that kindliness and generosity had always been in him: the two qualities just needed a field on which to play. Comptroller of the Universe harrumphed. But the harpies in the drama stayed harpies; the arseholes never saw any reason to behave otherwise. Only the ‘sweethearts’, as it were, showed any true movement towards fulfillment and grace. Whatever, eh?

I have been reading Proust. I mention this at the risk of repeating myself not once, but too many times. I am reading the man fifty some years after my first reading of him, and he is not the same author I read in my late teens and early twenties. It is not even close. Moreover, as I read along (from one cinderblock passage of prose to the next), I have conversations with the man. They have, more or less, sprung out of nowhere, these little ‘talks’, though I am sure there are reasons, and perhaps I am certifiable. At one point, Proust having been very health-conscious in his own life, as he was asthmatic, suddenly he was talking to me like Alan would at Charlie in the sit-com Two and a Half Men, Alan going on about his bowel movements, his carbuncles, his hair loss, the glare on Charlie’s face saying, “Enough already.” What I mean to say is that, whatever the image I have in my mind of Proust’s facial features, it was replaced by the grinning mug of Mr Cryer who played to the comic hilt the character Alan whom Charlie just barely tolerated, though they were brothers. I have stalled on those passages that deal with the death-agony of young Marcel’s beloved grandmother, passages that are painful to read. A woman very much alive one moment is a sack of bones in the next. Proust does not mince words on this score, young Marcel at a loss to explain this slow transference of life to a miserable death. I have half a mind to skip over this part, but that would be cheating, would it not? And then I receive a letter from a good friend whose wife has been revisited by cancer, and though this is not the place to make commentary on it, still I might remark: what can one say? It is one thing to know in one’s intellect all things to do with fairness or the decided lack of fairness in life; it is another to feel that lack sharply in one’s gut.

Lunar and I found ourselves in agreement recently. A certain people, when it comes to Gaza, are going to wake up one of these days appalled at what they have permitted: absolute vengeance. The C of U who threatens to relinquish her title as such said that, no, people everywhere are turning strange; there will be no people waking up appalled. She did not venture to say why, just that people seemingly everywhere want to punish in as many grisly ways as possible. She shrugged. What are you going to do? Lunar and I moved on. Instances of humour in the Bible? Lunar suggested that the incident of the loaves and fishes was likely played to laughs. Christ in the garden, a snoozing Peter? Situational comedy? Mary Surratt did not appear anywhere in the Bible, but she was the first woman to die by the hangman’s rope in the U.S. of A. She may well have been innocent of the charge for which she was hung, that she was an accomplice in the assassination of President Lincoln. Evidence seems to have been suppressed that would have helped her case. Nothing comic here. The hangman never believed it would come to a hanging, that is, with respect to ‘a woman’, and had only done five turns of the knot as opposed to the usual seven with respect to the rope that was to be the instrument of her death, and what do you know, he discovered that five turns would do very nicely. She gagged for a couple of minutes or so, and then one might say the sentence had been carried out.

Postscript I: Carpenter

Postscript II: On the existence of God, a god or gods, Cornelius W Drake of Champaign-Urbana has nothing novel to add. Me too, and I always feel that such conversations at bottom are sophomoric. I had them when I was twelve. To have them again at age seventy-something… But in the meanwhile let Mr Drake carry the mail. ‘"God" is the ultimate unknowable, thus anyone speaking as though knowledgeable becomes the ultimate folly. Religionists brush this aside by replacing "knowledge" with "faith," which is merely a semantic dodge. On the other side are atheists committing roughly the same intellectual silliness: they "know" there is no God. Hence my agnosticism, the very definition of "I've no idea. How could I? It's all unknowable." And those brilliant philosophers? I wouldn't say he's brilliant but a few months back a professor of "moral philosophy" at the University of Chicago posted on Twitter that there is no God, period. I responded with: see above. He replied with some sort of irrelevance which I've forgotten. The exchange went on, possibly two responses from moi before I wrote, in effect, Your argument is in tatters, why not gracefully concede and put this to rest. Whereupon this world-class "professor of philosophy" said I suffered from the Dunning-Kruger effect — and then he blocked me. So there you have it, the one surefire way to win any argument: Get in the last word — defame your interlocutor — then rig the discussion so that said interlocutor can't reply. I did learn something new in that exchange, however. That's the way some professional philosophers play the logic game.’ To which Lunar responded: ‘There is so much bad feeling in the air. If it weren't for God I reckon [Drake's] professor would have been out of a job.’

Postscript III: Talking Avocado: ‘During the Klondike gold rush (1896-99) there may have been more ‘culture’ in Dawson City than in Toronto, more ‘art performances’, more exchanges of ideas, more anything ‘civilized’, and there was hockey too, though the surrounding land was being ravaged; though miners were being mined by such a one as a Trump making a fortune off the backs of whores. Thought I’d get in my two cents worth. I went into a bookstore—always a mistake unless it’s a second-hand one—and left even more depressed and disheartened… …. Thought I’d go for a whole two-bits. Looks like I’ll have to reread Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, seeing as in the title of one of his other novels, he has a racial epithet in it, impolitic word, and he is now being hung by a rope with thirteen knots or coils slicked with grease.’

Postscript IV: The poet James Sutherland-Smith somewhere in Slovakia: ‘I'd like to be polytheistic and I do hug trees and murmur along with the two streams which form two sides of the quadrilateral round our cabin. I have meaningful conversations with the cat, too. However, there are falsifiable explanations for natural phenomena which inspire as much wonder in me as the great unknown which may be marvellous and terrifying, but no reason to invoke god. … … I can stand the thought of "a godless universe." It's better off without a prime mover. Tomorrow, I go to renew my permanent stay and I hope to [go to] the synagogue to remember the deportation of Jews from Presov on 25 March 1942 to [the]Terezin concentration camp.'

The I’m Not So Sure About This Department: We pity what is like ourselves, and the greater and the clearer our sense of its likeness with ourselves, the greater the pity. And if we may say that this likeness provokes our pity, it may also be maintained that it is our reservoir of pity, eager to diffuse itself over everything, that makes us discover the likeness of things with ourselves, the common bond that unites us with them in suffering. From Tragic Sense of Life, Miguel di Unamuno, 1912… …. Pity? I see a lot of high-fives and end zone spiking after every happening big or small, and you can talk about short-sightedness and hubris and the ugliness of all that crowing, and you will hear So what? Don’t care. We'll go it alone. &c.

Books Received: A box of them among which are a book of translations, the ones to do with Horace’s satires impressive, though I do not know why the insistence on matching the Latin meter in English blow by blow; it leads to unnatural line breaks. Well, had to get that off my chest. The book in question: The Complete Works of Horace, Frederick Ungar Publishing Co. New York, 1983

March 17, 2024: Is there such a word as disheartenment? If not, then Lunar has coined the word, saying, ‘Disheartenment is at the very centre of our mighty cause’. I am unable to say exactly what cause he has in mind, though I suspect he has literary endeavour on the brain. If not, he has been losing at the races. Someone tells me that ‘down’ is in. I reckon that she means down as in ‘downer’ or down as in ‘what a bummer’, and it all relates to the art world making sense of the world-world, and, so far as I know, this someone does not play the horses or depend too much on the turn of a river card. One of the city signs of spring approaching is a cranked up stereo, loud rock music muffled by glass and distance, but recognizable as such, paean to some holdover god. No doubt, an aging hippy-hipster-punker-Z’er-whatever is feeling optimism. Soon the boidies will be singing, the flowers riz, and sap in the body that has been down in the mouth will happily run again, zipping along with cane or walker. Or else he-she-it has been playing the slots….

In another city, another time, another literary practice, anthropomorphism was a great evil. One could be censured for it even as one was crossing the street enroute to the mart without a thought in one’s head as to the suggestive possibilities of various fruits and vegetables. But in the prose of Proust-Montcrieff (Proust being the author, Montcrieff the translator), as young Marcel’s grandmother is being subjected to a doctor’s ministrations, as she is feeling unwell, and the thermometer, thing of glass and mercury, is suddenly… well, it has acquired semi-human characteristics: …. like a Weird Sister momentarily vanquished by some more ancient god, held motionless her silver spindle…. … Or else the thing was a ‘little sybil’, but one not given to arbitrary measurements, meaning that if the temperature read a 101, there was cause for anxiety, and there would be no bribing it so as to obtain a more favourable result. I have been going on about Proust a great deal these past months, as I had set myself the task to reread all of his seven volume À la recherche du temps perdu, and I am not quite halfway through the opus yet, but getting there. I find myself having conversazione with the works, idle conversazione, if you will, and it seems to have range, this chit-chat, everything from a casual how-do-ye-do-today to a what-do-you-mean-Berma [,] had had for me then a sort of absolute existence? Lunar finds himself saying, “We do seem to have reached a blank wall thicker and taller than the Great Wall of China, which renders human (dare I say ‘heart-to-heart’?) communication impossible.” Too many devices, perhaps, mobiles? Otherwise, otherwise… Proust, who had life-long ailments with which to contend as well as a syndrome, suggested that our bodies talk in foreign languages, a word or two of which we do understand just well enough that we are constantly alarmed, as we would suss out what our bodies are telling us…

And I would say that, in The Guermantes Way, one of the seven volumes of the work mentioned above, the Duc de Guermantes has a languid ego. His regard of self is so elevated that he need never busily, let alone aggressively apply his ego to any one being or any given situation; he knows he will be gratified sooner or later on some need or other. One might abhor such people, yet never really dislike them, as they are not usually exercised enough to step on you and grind you up with their heels (unless, of course, you have some class hatred to deploy along the lines of an incursion). Or he will let the duchess run interference for him, and she chew up all the pretenders to ‘class’ and ‘distinction’, whatever is on hand that permits her to feel superior to the hoi polloi which is everyone else – banker, footman, WC attendant, or human being acting as a remote control device. (Were she to fall upon hard times, would she have recourse to Trump for a propping-up? Or did the aristocracy, too, have red lines, certain values?) And seeing as you asked, the origins of my sensibility as pertains to poetry? They would have appalled the duchess, or worse, she would not have been in the least bit interested. But: reading Lorca by candle in the dirt basement of a coffeehouse as a 15-year-old runaway. Listening to Charles Potts, Idaho poet, go on about Pound and Olson and the rest of the ‘motley crue’ though I did not understand a word of it, as when we were all of us long-haired and mustachio’d and reeked of campfires and various weeds and Southern Comfort. Kind of like a yout’ movement. Not to mention reading Yeats in taxicabs some of which I drove in the interests of maintaining bed and board. And so forth and so on. Such rigours will not get me invited to royal lunches. Not even though I bumped into Proust-Montcrieff and was hip-checked by Edward Gibbon, and then was scruff-necked (collared) by Tacitus and chucked into the Promised Land of Pessimism. Or that, when things look bleak, they generally are, never mind ‘downers’. The guitar renderings of John Fahey… The balladeering of Kris Robinson who, years later, in the Orkney Islands, became Rowan Hill…

Postscript I: Carpenter

Postscript II: The Art of Mary Harman

Postscript III: Diplomatique-ese or Proust: Even supposing that the partiality of an old lover, the habit of flattering people, the critical standard admissible in a small circle, had dictated this speech to the ex-Ambassador, it proved upon what an absolute vacuum of true taste the judgement of people in society is based, so arbitrary that the smallest trifle can make it rush to the wildest absurdities, on the way to which it is stopped, held up by no genuinely felt impression. Dunno if even a smidgen of sense in the words immediately above may apply to a Trump or a Putin on a tear, or an RFK out of his freakin’ mind, but as Lunar will have it, dance for me, Marjorie Taylor Greene.

Postscript IV: Talking Avocado: “Well, Sibum, if you’re thinking that the assassination of a single man, one who happened to be Abraham Lincoln, did more harm to a country that the body count of its civil war (casualties in the 700,000 range), then I suppose I have a set of Don DeLillo’s to sell you. There’s Crocidium multicaule on the island which can only signify one thing: spring, you know.”

Postscript V: I assume that Adenoid Hynkel is a reference, by way of Charlie Chaplin, to Hitler, and perhaps there is in this a direct feed to Trump, but be all that as it may, here more ‘spring talk’ follows, Miss Jewett’s voice doing the honours: ‘Mind you, I stood on the deck day before yesterday,  ankle deep in the lingering white stuff,  listening to the convention of birds gathering in the pines, hoping for some inspiration.  Beside me, Miss Kitty’s tail switches impatiently. [We are talking the ‘vale’ here, which is de facto on some maps and a mystical presence on others….] Damn birds!!!  Friggin’ squirrel!   Temptation abounds.  The cardinals have left.  Too much company for their liking.  They've retreated into the fir groves.  Chickadees, juncos, finches and wrens provide a cacophony of twitters, whistles, chirps - cheerful bird chatter.  From a distance a faint caw echoes that a "meet and greet" of early arrivals is now underway.  No rowdiness tolerated here.  Much excited posturing and preening, fluttering, and showing off the newly coloured wings lining up to establish pecking order. The French call the early deepening of pink in purple finch plumage his "couleurs nuptial" or wedding colours.  I am captivated by perfectly calculated landings on the bird feeder...some gliding, some slewing, sliding to a halt on a perch.  Feeding is all very polite, and respectful - no bullying, no allowing crowding to over-ride taking turns.  The devilish little squirrel keeps a respectful distance and a sharp eye out for Miss Kitty's watchfulness. Talk about respect!  Nothing goes to waste.   Not even energy.   Such is life in the boon-docks.’

Postscript VI: We had been talking about human monsters and what people are at bottom, given certain less than life-affirming conditions. Cornelius W Drake had his inning: ‘… …. there are now more than 8 billion people on earth. And what, maybe a dozen or two or three of them are the real troublemakers keeping the world in turmoil, heartache and blood. The 8 billion just want to work, feed their families and be happy. So the monstrosity ratio is a tad lopsided: 8 billion to 12, 24, maybe 36. The ideal solution to the world's turmoil is that the 8 billion whack the dozen or so. They'd quickly be replaced by new tyrants, of course, at which point the 8 billion should whack them, too. And they should keep on whacking them until they get the point. The one essential piece of knowledge the world's billions of non-monsters have yet to acquire is that there's immense strength in numbers. Maybe someday they'll learn…’ … …. [Then again] as Gore Vidal once said, and I'm paraphrasing, Every time a friend of mine succeeds, a little piece of me dies.’ There is always that.

March 12, 2024: Were you to enter a party-down room and encounter someone referring to themselves as a plumitive, you, while considering an extra ration of whatever booze was available, might say, “Oh right, writer,” (or perhaps ‘scribbler’). I do not know where all this arises from – Proust-Montcrieff, perhaps, this plumitive team (writer-translator) having itself a lark. The word seems to have more sway in French, in any case, but I lead such a sheltered life, I can say I have never before been exposed to the word. Otherwise, as per Lincoln quoting William H Seward, Lincoln’s Secretary of State, with respect to the civil war, there was always just enough virtue in the republic to save it; sometimes none to spare, but still enough to meet the emergency… …. Gives one pause.

I posed myself a question: ‘What does a conversation sound like when there is a know-it-all in the room, when this entity knows everything there is to know in science, the reason, for example for that zit on that there person’s nose, and they also know who’s boinking whom down one side of the boulevard and up the other. And my answer is: the duchess de Guermantes ensconced in a salon, society gathered, in Proust’s The Guermantes Way, her curled pinkie providing you with all the polling data you could possibly handle should you wish to assess a political horse race, be you a Dreyfusard, be you against the man. I believe she also characterized a woman not as a cow, but as a herd of cows. I assure you I didn’t know what to do when I saw a herd of cows come marching into my drawing-room in a hat and heard them ask how I was… …. Could Melania on Marjorie get her tongue that far up her cheek?

There is in The Guermantes Way not so much a development of plot as a succession of narratival waves, all of them connected by watery troughs. Well, it is all water under the bridge, is it not? Being a reader situated in one of those salons that go on forever in Proust’s prose, it is a bit like sitting in a boat on a lake, one that is rocked fairly gently on occasion by passing wakes…. I had occasion to be at a supper party in the Townships. The talk was very political. It was very locally political. It was very internationally political. It surprised me – the vehemence with which some opinions were expressed. Gaza. Ukraine. Some neighbour’s claim to a right-of-way. Is snobbery snobbery or does the quality of it take its colours from local players and the conditions in which they find themselves? Is there a vaccine with which to treat it?

Postscript I: Carpenter ... .... Go on, have a look.

Postscript II: The Art of Mary Harman

Postscript III: Talking Avocado: “I don’t see you as a country boy, Sibum. Tree-falling and grey water matters? Not your usual concerns. Otherwise, just spinning my wheels here as I’ve nothing to say. Nothing for a good salted crisp. Nothing for apocatastasis. It’s one thing to nail a superstition (like a fact-checker with Trump on his hands), but it’s another thing… let's drop it, eh? And the truth is that we feel God less [as a] superhuman consciousness than as the actual consciousness of the whole human race, past, present, and future… …. These words popped into my head as I was on the beach looking for interesting bits of detritus and an eagle flew over…gotta go. The Recyling Depot calls. I have a shift. Which means I'll eat…”

Postscript IV: There was a European ‘take’ on the recent State of the Union speech. Cornelius W Drake took it on as follows: ‘Rarely have I read a smugger, more ill-informed, partly delusional and frightfully addlepated piece of sophomoric virtue signaling — which assaults others' virtue signaling. This, ahem, [plumitive] can't seem to grasp how it was we got here. It for damn sure wasn't mostly the fault of the one actual governing party. Trumpism has been building a head of foul steam since at least Goldwater, and at last the country is seeing its poisonous fruits. This [plumitive], however, can't see it. He or she is too busy preening about how virtuous America could be if only America were populated by people as virtuous as he or she. Good grief I knew the U.S. was exporting far too much of its domestic supply of political shallowness’… …. And take it from me, the ‘for instance’ is not worth quoting.

Postscript V: Lunar: ‘Awful news from Pompeii. What they thought was a pizza in a recently uncovered fresco turns out to be focaccia. So those poor buggers never enjoyed a pizza. Kangaroos stampede a Melbourne golf course. Good. I detest golf courses. More seriously, though’, &c… ….
Postscript VI: No, I have not often put this question to myself, but Miguel de Unamuno did address the void in his Tragic Sense of Life, 1912: ‘But where does religion end and superstition begin, or perhaps rather we should say at what point does superstition merge into religion? What is the criteria by means of which we discriminate between them?’ Well, an idle question, perhaps, getting so much idler, these days, especially as I consider much of what passes for religiosity down there to the south of here as not religion so much as narcissism, which in itself is a species of superstition.

March 5 , 2024: A faint, strange vegetation, green and pink, was invading her chin. Perhaps another winter would level her with the dust.

From Marcel Proust’s The Guermantes Way, published 1920. Wherein Proust put on the page an old woman – the Marie Antoinette lady with the piled up white hair, perhaps a society luminary in another era. But now, she was just a has-been in Mme de Villeparisis’s salon, just another old cat hissing at other old cats. As I read, I was immediately put in mind of a recent item of news. Somewhere, in New Guinea perhaps, a toad was come across, a mushroom growing out of its skin. The first known instance of such… Free associating along, the unwanted image of a certain presidential contender flashed before my eyes until I swept him away with a mental broom… “Gadzooks!” as per Berta the maid of a certain sit-com. Johnny Wilmot’s (the Earl of Rochester) Merry Gang, with all their poncey curlicue wigs and frills, would have made short work of the alpha male nit…

McGravitas deigned to drop into the neighbourhood. Ah, from unimaginable heights, he heady with the first flush of his retirement from the ‘ministry’, he now an ex-bureaucrat. We met up in Nikas, my old haunt. He had somehow come by the rights of old woodcuts that once embellished a 1921 edition (French) of Rimbaud’s Drunken Boat (written in 1871). McGravitas was feeling right literary. Like he might even translate the poem. We wished him well in this endeavour. He drank all our wine.

And I have been reading along in Chernow’s massive biography of Ulysses S Grant. I have been telling myself that I have known since I was a tadpole how horrific that little war was that was the ‘war between the states’, the American civil war. But when an entire state (Virginia) was basically one mass grave, and a shallow grave, at that, and there was no air that man, woman, child, and dog could breathe that did not stink of cadavers, then you think again. You linger on the scenario with all your senses, you say to yourself that whatever you knew, you did not know…. It is a commonplace to say that that war still festers a 160-odd years later, but being commonplace does not make it less true….

I have it in mind to return to Robert Browning’s The Ring and the Book, the bravura verse introduction to which really got to me once upon a time, and I thought that if people really want language to go zip-zippety-zip along, this is how to do it. It is reasonable to suppose that I may be the last goof hanging around to have read the poem in its entirety, 21,000 lines, but I am likely incorrect. Then I went and Googled ‘Hang it all, Robert Browning’. Which was Pound’s objection to Browning’s Sordello, and as I recollect, I could not get through that poem myself. The ‘Hang it all, Robert Browning’ may have been one of the more pivotal moments in English language literature, or perhaps of any literature, and thereafter, literature was going to achieve a lean, mean, fighting machine condition. Either the jury is still out on this or it has long since dozed off into oblivion.

Postscript I: Carpenter

Postscript II: The Art of Mary Harman

Postscript III: Talking Avocado: “Hey, Sibum, I’ll quote you some Browning. Thus:
My business is not to remake myself,/But make the absolute best of what God made. Should one, you know, object to identity politics and pickaninny rationalism, as did Bishop Blougram in his apology (see Browning’s poem, a 1000 liner: Bishop Blougram’s Apology), in his supper à deux with Gigadibs the journo, and the latter man was not a gigabyte on the loose, he was, what, I suppose he believed in progress and a three cent cigar. What has this to do with Proust? Not a damn thing. Just that, in The Guermantes Way, when Proust gets around to Marcel the narrator’s buddy Saint-Loup and his mistress, and they’re spatting, those two lovebirds (except that she's, well, a hooker), and Marcel is the odd man out, something lightens up in the prose, and we could be in American Graffiti. But were there a stricture obligating Proust to a plot and a twist and a hair of my chinny-chin-chin, we wouldn’t have the pages…. How paranoid would you think me to be were I to mull getting my passport renewed, and I repair to some fishing village in Borneo? Though you prove me doomed…. Sometimes I think this island of mine isn't far enough off the beaten interchange.”

Postscript IV: For the merely and exclusively rational man is an aberration and nothing but an aberration. From Miguel de Unamuno’s Tragic Sense of Life, 1912.

Postscript V: Cornelius W Drake: ‘You should have talked to my cousin, uh, when he was alive. He ate and breathed Civil War history. When as an undergraduate I took a course on military history the professor, first day, said he once had a student who could tell you the name of every Civil War soldier who ever pissed behind a tree and he could identify the tree's location as well. I knew right off he was talking abut Charlie, my cousin. The prof said he excused the student from the course's remainder — giving him an "A" — since there was nothing he could have learned in the class. He added, If YOU are one like that student, take off. He wanted to teach the ignorant, like me, not spend the semester rehashing knowledge with student experts. I loved that class. The prof was a Southerner, and only half-jokingly referred to the war as The War of Northern Aggression.’       

Postscript VI: Lunar: … …. ‘She is one of those women who try to change men and with me she has failed spectacularly, which perhaps allows for a smidgen of respect.’