Saturday, December 18, 2010

Intellect, Craft, Property

Les photographies publiées sur ce blog ne peuvent pas être reproduites ailleurs, même sur Internet, sans mon autorisation explicite.
footnote in true scale, at a 

drawing by the late
Professor of Architecture
William Feay Shellman, Jr

unattributed by its
own beneficiary

"If music be the food of love," then shut up, Orsino, and clothe your pucky boybreast in a shirt upon my copyright.

This, I thought, had gone too far. There one lay, furnishing receptive surfaces for some incisive stenograph, only to be barred from its display without exquisite ceremony of creative consent. Who knew, which had come first, the chicken or the egg? 

So much for Cuius regio, eius religio - "my tits, my terms" - where loquation may be licensed by the hour, and one's flesh alienated beyond Portia's wildest justice. Oh, bother, this homespun web of endlessly spinning derivatives, dripping shadlike chads of provenance.
What is shelf-life, in a sphere of no shelves? But I stray. I post this notice to admonish all readers, in sympathy, to allow nothing discovered here the slightest assimilation in your thoughts or expression by your infinite means of expulsion, without prior application to every being or other entity ever named (or not) in this non-existent space, and those known to them, past or future in unknowable time. I exempt myself from this seigneurage; I haven't the slightest thought of being bound to what matter passes through here.

Princeton University
  a privately held fiction

Leandro Okabe
  the image,
  ownership unknown

Anonymous other deities

Saturday commute ix

To another country.

I would like to bring into the fold of this posting certain tireless readers of the page, who may have become less enchanted with it, as I have done, in some of its establishing postings. One could only reiterate that this is a city of coffee, meaning, all stirpes of the enthralling family (whence it has never been one's purpose to extricate oneself), autonomous elements within its flux as we are, are contemplated with more than hypothetical welcome. Friday's discovery of readership by the blogger at Another Country makes this perspective all the more timely to recall; for, it is a signal project of that blog, to elevate awareness of capital punishment. 

Patient readers of this page will readily apprehend that the subject fails to give rise to pretty pictures, the tedious vehicle for what we wish to say. But now I may tell you that the youth, Laurent, switched law schools in order to study under the most activist faculty against that convention, then assembled in the United States. That their classes were conducted on the radiantly aromatic sub-maritime ranch of Leland Stanford had surprisingly less to do with it than the willingness of the émigré to see their warfare accomplished.

That it is not, is plainly not the only raison d'être of that estimable blog, but it is reason enough to acknowledge the blogger's courtesy with the prodigal's humility. We have to gather our sensibilities, as the city of coffee must, to observe in our debts to each other how vacant this convention is of justice, ignoring our common law's own stricter prohibition against a penalty based on any doubt whatsoever. We accepted the obligation not to turn away, when we confided the need to be heard, and asserted the privilege of publication.
In this week one needs to confess to the ultimate presence of oneself in the handiwork of others, fractional as it may be, involuntary as it may be, and recognise that what one extracts from them is a strengthened resolution to accept the human life. Now we hear testimony that a god had done so. 

Who can believe, the Example was set only for himself?

Alexander Agricola
(1446 - 1506)
Nobis Sancti Spiritus
San Francisco Chanticleer
Chanticleer Records, 1992©

4th portrait, another country

Friday, December 17, 2010


Clément Chabernaud, i
Mathias Lauridsen, iii, v

Namur, St Denis, and an uncle in gestation

I hope it is tiresomely plain, that this blog takes opportune juxtaposition as its moderate form of scholarship and as its natural voice. This is the tactic of uncles. A blogger friend of mine, occasionally cited in these pages, confides to me that unclehood is gathering gainfully in his future, even as we speak. And I say to him, he's been practicing the part, fuh-evah.

Is not the rawest exploiter of the child's credulity, the uncle? Is not the cardinal saboteur of family order, the uncle? Is not the thrillingest visitor who can be announced at any home, the uncle? 

I'm missing something marvelous of life, if my own corruption by uncles is an exception: the guy who'll get down on the floor and draw with one in crayons, the one who'll arrive with a basketball in one's recovery from a broken leg, the fellow who defends one's stack of Mad magazines to a fretting mother, as the height of satire, when one loved them for their naughtiness. The boy who was sent down from school to set an immortal example to his nephew's awe.

One could go on, but what could be less necessary? The crayonneur turns out to be the draughtsman of a turtle with a lantern on his back, acquainting the boy in his mockery with bigotry, for his entire life. The connoisseur of satire turns out to be teaching compassion. Fair enough, you say, but the uncle has Crusoe's advantage, of lighter responsibilities. And I answer, there you are: "And who will ride with me, in my little car," is both the funniest and the darkest line in the entire Philadelphia Story. Yet, the film is unthinkable without Uncle Willie.

If you think this is the indirect route to the Battle of Namur, then you haven't been introduced to Everyman's uncle. His name is Toby, his nephew is Tristram Shandy. Uncle Toby spends his life (and everyone else's beneath the same roof) convulsing the household in reliving a military campaign of his youth - indoors, on his hands and knees - and annihilating, along the way, much of the furniture, all of his fortune, and the foundations of linear discourse. The book is not merely hilarious; I'm not sure hilarity existed before it. Tristram, by the way, observes all this from the ostensible imperviousness of the womb; but he could be the sleepless child upstairs to hear his uncle to his father, down below: O brother! 'tis one thing for a soldier to gather laurels - and 'tis another to scatter cypress. This style of invention anticipates the post-modern as modernity is being invented.

Sterne happened to hit upon a universal childhood antic, in his depiction of Uncle Toby, to draw the very same conclusions respecting the structure of narrative, which the architectural historian John Summerson arrived at in his study of the Gothic. I owe it to an Oxonian (of all things), Peter Conrad, to have put the perception as succinctly as can be done: 

Sublimity contemplates, awestruck, the vastness of nature; irony inverts that perception.. aware that the small is as infinite as the vast, the ironist recreates sublimity in miniature.

Summerson rests Heavenly Mansions: An Interpretation of Gothic cogently and exhaustively on the child's delight in structuring his play, exactly as Uncle Toby does, within an aedicule, a fortress scaled for him, from the overhanging parapet of a piano or within the lower cavity of an armoire. The suggestion no sooner is made than the reader can extrapolate the cathedral as both a rational and ecstatic protraction of this sanctuary; and this remains, one of the durable architectural essays of the past century. 

Sterne's book, not in an identical way but in a sympathetic one, is the romantic ironist's answer to structures of fiction. The aedicule, miming the structure of gestation, is the kernel of the story's jest but also of its proliferation.

In many ways, when you think of the other authorities on the Gothic cathedral you may have read, or been blessed to study under, Summerson's aedicular theory occupies the slant of an uncle's perceptions; it makes emotional sense, in historic and artistic terms as well as in Freudian theory. It is intuitive, learned, and expert, without resorting to the vernacular of expertise. Do not, however, try this at home. 

Felix qui potuit rerunt cognoscere causas, Virgil said in the Georgics, fortunate is the man who knows the causes of things. Distinctly blessed is the uncled child, who will learn them with delight, and never forget.

Laurence Sterne
The Life and Opinions of
  Tristram Shandy, Gentleman
Everyman's Library,
J.M. Dent & Sons, Ltd., 1912©

The Philadelphia Story
Donald Ogden Stewart, screenplay
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1940©

John Summerson
Heavenly Mansions
  and other Essays on Architecture
Norton, 1963©

Peter Conrad
Sterne: Tragedy, Comedy, Irony
  The History of English Literature
J.M. Dent & Sons, Ltd., 1985©

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Make it desirable

for Victoria

.. and you won't lose it.

The most important book published in English in 2010 is about something vital this nation has abandoned, for something delusional that no god can give. But no one will ever be persuaded to reclaim one's birthright, much less be restored to one's rightful place in life, if one hasn't been shown that it's safe to love it. We had better start with the 5-year-olds, and we had better waste no more of them.

Endpaper note to Laurent's older brother
  Kenneth Grahame
  The Wind in the Willows
  Heritage Press, 1940©

Paul D. Halliday
Habeas Corpus
  From England to Empire
Belknap Press, Harvard, 2010©

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Every Advent since coming to Virginia

Every Advent since coming to Virginia, we re-read a little Dryden. This custom is not one of design but of discovery. The Piedmont, the perpendicular strip of rolling land which faces the littoral slope of the Blue Ridge, is a bucolic enough terrain for most seasons, but in the longest, desolate nights of December the ground can show its hard-bitten and infamous meagreness.

"Too strong," in Marcia Davenport's phrase, "for fantasy" in most of its guises, the landscape buckles beneath Advent's demand for jubilation; and unless one is the kind to seek one's comfort in stores and restaurants, hunger and chill turn for delectation to deeper legacies. We have a Winter to get through. Plus, there are the Occasions to observe. And what are they all about, if not the existence of something fine.

How widespread, I'm astounded to find in the blogs, resort is taken to one's favourite reading lists at such times, whether on the solace of other chairs, other gardens, other kitchens or other romances. Many of these proferred Lists are of interest, both for their common testament to an aspiration for something fine, and for the depth of reward they undoubtedly afford. 

But, what is notable about these Lists is their offering of Society in a common undertaking - the structuring act of a sound mental life, the preceptorial in the readings of a week in college. An hour of rowing responsively in a professor's study, with peers. Orally, aurally.

I discover what I love with exertion and with concentration. There is no doubt that this feels like play, because at the end of the day, love is active; it is sociable or it is stillborn. Look to your left, look to your right. Does Terestchenko really blog, to throw away his photographs? 
Is Tassos really not embarked upon a Socratic escapade? Will David Johns not keep looking? 

I keep several versions of the poem whose theme is this exercise. The Fitzerald and the Fagles translations alternate movingly in their beauty, a new one by Sarah Ruden is an education in its spareness. But Advent is for pulling out the stops, and letting the great thing take hold, for achieving poetry's reach to stretch demand within it far. Jubilation. The game, all-out.

Far in the Sea, against the foaming Shoar,
There stands a rock; the raging Billows roar
Above his head in Storms; but when 'tis clear,
Uncurl their ridgy Backs, and at his foot appear.
In peace below the gentle Waters run;
The Cormorants above, lye Basking in the Sun.

On this the Heroe fix’d an Oak in sight
The mark to guide the Mariners aright.
To bear with this, the Seamen stretch their Oars;
Then round the rock they steer, and seek the former Shoars..
With shouts the Sailors rend the starry Skys,
Lash'd with their Oars, the smoaky Billows rise;

The Aeneid
  Book Five: The Argument
John Dryden, translation
Frederick M. Keener, editor
Penguin Group, 1997©

Georg Frideric Händel
Alexander's Feast
  The many rend the skies
Ode by John Dryden
  for St Cecilia's Day, 1697
  Oratorio adaptation, 1736
Harry Christophers
The Sixteen
The Symphony of Harmony and Invention
The Sixteen Productions, Ltd., 2005©

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Our Chartres, our Louvre

Convention Ctr, Portland, Oregon
.. to Adams the dynamo became a symbol of infinity.. he began to feel the 40-foot dynamos as a moral force, much as the early Christians felt the Cross. The planet itself seemed less impressive in its old-fashioned, deliberate, annual or daily revolution, than this huge wheel.. On one side, at the Louvre and at Chartres.. was the highest energy ever known to man, the creator of four-fifths of his noblest art, exercising vastly more attraction over the human mind than all the steam engines and dynamos ever dreamed of.. and yet this energy was unknown to the American mind. An American Virgin would never dare command; an American Venus would never dare exist. (Chicago Exposition, 1900)

Only with the instinct of despair could one force oneself into this old thicket of ignorance after having been repulsed at a score of entrances more promising and more popular.. The secret of education still hid itself behind ignorance.. In such labyrinths.. the pen becomes a sort of blind man's dog, to keep him from falling into the gutters. The pen works for itself, and acts like a hand, modelling the plastic material over and over again to the form that suits it best. The form is never arbitrary, but is a sort of growth, like crystallization..

Henry Adams
The Education of Henry Adams
  The Dynamo and the Virgin
Massachusetts Historical Society, 1918©
Charles Francis Adams, 1946©
Houghton Mifflin, 1961©

If it moves, grab it

negotiate from strength

Geordie & ball
San Francisco Bay

Monday, December 13, 2010

Monday's chance

One Monday in Advent

apologies to D-H and MS

It could hardly have been worse

First the silver disappeared
Then the family portrait fell from the wall

Then it rained through the roof 
on Grandpa

Then Dorothy disgraced herself with the chauffeur

Then the piano teacher
stiff as a pole
was found beneath the concert grand

Then the car spluttered and stopped

The toy train was derailed

The chickens clucked their last

All the bulbs exploded

Someone started playing 
the trombone

That really was too much

Alfred Brendel
One Finger Too Many
Richard Stokes, English language assistant
Random House, 1998©

Ludwig van Beethoven
Opus 126, Allegro in G major
Alfred Brendel
Philips, 1984©