Friday, December 31, 2010

Then, when one couldn't possibly be more clean

the peace of it


To Our
New Year

Do you suppose it would be polite to tell Valéry Lorenzo

.. that he's wandering around, 
living one's boyhood dream? 

To be in jeans and a shirt 
and tennis shoes in Europe, 
with a 28mm lens.

River Viiperi in Spain for Men's Health

Inside the phrases

Whenever the sunlit rain
has trawled its trickling meshes
on the dark hills back of the brain,
I keep hearing a Wales
so windswept it refreshes.

.. if song is the first submission,
I was humming inside the phrases
of my childhood's faith as I went
in the wake of the rainlit sun
to the lambs and wet hills of Wales in
the harp-grass of Taliesin.

Derek Walcott
Streams, fragments
The Arkansas Testament
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1987©

Thursday, December 30, 2010

My favourite clothespin ii

The readership of this blog has fallen off 20 percent in recent days, with the lack of boytummy. This daunting statistic calls to mind his trust officer's warning to Charles Foster Kane, that his newspaper was losing money. Well. It's going to get worse before it gets better.

I have always anticipated discussing the great masterpiece in film on what I regard as the most unremunerated rôle in life, Vittorio de Sica's awesomely beautiful Ladri di biciclette. I probably will do that, but (like everyone, I hope) I believe I was raised with the best of amateurs in the part in question, fatherhood. In his first boy, David, and in oneself, I remark more and more on the evenness of his hand, on his genius for not inflating a natural sibling rivalry. He was getting even with his past, and he won. We loved him and, vastly worse, we admired him. He was our winner of games.

In this portrait, my favourite among the few that survive of him, his cigarette is in one hand, his lighter in the other; and he would love to bring them together. His second boy has lately been born, and his mother has come to investigate this circumstance. She has not been an intimate of his since his 16th year, yet she commands great respect from him, and even love if she would like it. But now he is invulnerably happy, a flicker of play crosses his face, which she has begun to assimilate as the shutter is snapped. In the open shade of his own garden, he is a man in full.

Young father with his mother
Mid 20th C
San Marino 

"Who reads that stuff?"

One night when the beautiful light of the moon
poured into my room ... imagination, taking
something from life: some very scanty thing -
a distant scene, a distant pleasure -
brought a vision all its own of flesh,
a vision all its own to a sensual bed.

It's hard on the Classics scholars, because they are, after all, immersed in a world whose schoolmarm was Plato. This means, for them, when they encounter a passage of awkwardness of translation, its text will not have been policed by hypocrites. It takes a very good school, and very well run at that, to furnish a climate of trust - the body and blood of learning, in any event - where a boy or girl can wander down the hall and ask an honest question. This poem, written in the katharevousa, poses that challenge.

The catastrophe is self-evident where the boy may not inquire, in that setting of zombie piety that will be left of a culture gone not merely mad with denial, but stupid by choice. Parents who know better have been willing to raise dumb children - did I say that, clearly enough? - in a society where speculation is more urgent than conservation. Look at the debris of Brooke Astor's portfolio, if you doubt it.

I write from a polity horsewhipt into innumerable wars and horrendous fiscal follies, on the strength of arguments a 9th grade Classics student would denounce as Sophistry. It's what the whole, bitterly comic interview with the priests was about, in Henry V's deliberately unjust war - the scene Olivier's revolting revamp had to cut. Day after day after day, we still endure that masterpiece of passive-aggressive denial, the Manichaean heresy - the binomial false alternative - by crescendoes from our public rostrums and from Mr Murdoch's media. 

Who cares? 
Who knows? 
There is our ballot box.

It follows: the study of the Classics is an indispensable channel for caring about one's country

First, let's see the boy. 
That's a start. 
Now, let's try saying this: I honestly don't intend for this boy to be stupid.

You understand the risk, of course. We won't elect a Governor of Virginia who tells us the misogynistic, homophobic thesis he wrote to get a degree at a seaside sectarian hate-tank is something he never meant to say.

Constantine Cavafy
Birth of a Poem, 1922
Daniel Mendelsohn, translation
C.P. Cavafy: The Unfinished Poems,
  The First English Translation
Knopf, 2009©

Daniel Mendelsohn
Commencement Address, 2009

Tassos Paschalis
Moments to remember
Image suite, 30 Dec 10

The Washington Post
29 Aug 09

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

La prise de pouvoir par George Herbert Walker Bush

Staging a dramatic scene
means finding conflicts.
It's mathematical: change
a rhythm, immediately you
have an emotion.

   Roberto Rossellini on
   La prise de pouvoir par
      Louis XIV, 1966

The American head of state came to the city of San Francisco for a mid-day levée at the St Francis Hotel, on February 28, 1990, to extract money from partisan nobles willing to watch him eat lunch. 

A great change in the rhythm of the most thriving and open public square in the United States was staged, to lend the requisite drama to the dynast's nourishment. The people needed to sense the power; the nobles needed to worship the glory. Millions were spent to barricade the people; Saks, Hermès, Gucci, Magnin, Macy's, Tiffany were locked for the duration. The sun, itself, beamed obsequiously.

The most extreme health emergency in the history of the city was decim-ating it without notice from the head of state, apart from relief there was no threat to "the general population." The majesty of his serenity remained unblemished through lunchtime jests about a government he destroyed in Nicaragua.

Yet, gaily, unabashedly, the nobles filled the hall, paid-up in advance and cashed out to their toes to treat themselves to his approving glance. The cable cars fell silent to their stride across the tracks, the moated palace opened to their glossy, clinking slippers.
Every street was emptied to facilitate escape; several contingencies were available to the vast and armored Cadillac. But lads with buttons in their ears and on their jackets will chat with a tidy fellow. He'd head up Post, and then to Nob Hill. He'd pass the Bohemian Club.

We'd be there, at Sutter and Taylor. The reason there is no image of yet another limousine on this roll of film is that the hand was readied for a different gesture of commemoration, steady and vivid in its offering of a solitary finger of god-speed. And as the well-fed occupants of the con-veyance's back seat sped up the hill, it was delightful to see the gesture reprised from the sheltering window at their back.

Roberto Rossellini
The Taking of Power by Louis XIV

Tag Gallagher, film essay
  The Criterion Collection, 2008©

Photography Laurent
Leica M-6, 50mm Summicron
Ilford Ultra Pan

Monday, December 27, 2010

Les bienveillantes (2006)

One very considerable problem of antisemitism, as a subject to comprehend responsibly as a citizen of coffee, is its infuriating mutability. The horror of the canny molecular mutation, in the back of every retrovirologist's mind, is nothing more than the quotidian face of this desperate sociopathic infection. Even its most notable incidents of inflammation under the twelve-year Reich, 1933-45, have defied comprehension, at their most fundamental level; and yet nobody can be content to resign himself to this protracted enigma, in the way we accept the intractable mystery of heterosexuality. There is the fact that antisemitism is a choice.

The judeocide of the late War in Europe drew breath from the structuring of a choice which was assented to, in various modes and degrees and for various ostensible reasons, with breathtaking multilateralism. These layers of permission have stood in the way of historiography, despite the production of a plethora of sub-masterpieces on one or more of its moving parts. The most urgent first-person narratives and the assaults of poetry, too, have acquiesced in some way to an abiding resistance to comprehension of the whole, as if that would be pretentious, or an exhibition of blasphemy. Now, however, it feels as if a mighty fortress has all but finally fallen to prose fiction.

Jonathan Littell's fictional work, The Kindly Ones, written in French and published in France in 2006 as Les bienveillantes, is notorious for its baggage of literary prizes, exhausting length, and exhaustive catalogue of depravities. The book's existence restored itself to my attention in 2010 and occupied a couple of weeks of my reading calendar, gaining for itself the serious impression that one cannot understand the Holocaust without wading through it.

Remember how little you found you actually wanted to know, about whales? The book, itself, and the best review of the book remark explicitly on that sensation, of reading Moby-Dick. And that review is excellent on the book's self-conscious references to Aeschylus, the Oresteia. You will want to revisit the plays, and when you do, you will gain a necessary vantage point on their fearsome framing relevance in Robert Fagles' introductory essay to his own translation. You will not need to re-read Melville, because The Kindly Ones, itself, will steep you in recollection that Melville could not have 'quarreled with God' any other way. But you will have to read this Augean labour of an absorbingly researched, minutely crafted, fully anatomising book, all the way, to arrive outside the belly of the beast. There is no shortcut, no speed-read, no synopsis to its catharsis. There is no other exit. This is a great achieve-ment.

.. no war, no force, no prayer
can hinder the midnight Fury stamped
with parent Fury moving through the house.
                                Agamemnon, Chorus, 758-60

Only one material element in the judeocide eludes Littell's grasp - antisemitism. Of course this only purifies his accomplishment, to thrust it upon the stage as Aeschylus had done, confiding its human qualities.  

Jonathan Littell, Y'89
The Kindly Ones
  Charlotte Mandell, translation
Harper Collins, 2009©

Robert Fagles
  Late Professor of Comparative Literature
  Princeton University
The Serpent and the Eagle,
  A Reading of the Oresteia
Princeton, 1976©

The Libation Bearers
The Eumenides
  All 458 BC
Robert Fagles, translation
Penguin Classics, 1977©

Sunday, December 26, 2010

An augury

the saltimbanques
though late, have
been learning

To be read is heaven.
To be seen through is better.

Photography W. Scott Martin,
  schoolmate of Laurent's father,
  bookseller to his mother,
  Laurent residence, Telegraph Hill

The latest in rowing?

I may well never know.
And why?

The Owner's Manual.

Oh, I'm as keen as the next guy - don't get me wrong - for the hot new thing, and (if that did not dishearten you) I can even get past a lurid font, an un-linear printing, a fuzzy illus-tration. It's the sequence of the assembly, that I don't think I could master, before it were time to take on the next inven-tion. Still, there must be a Customer Service department, surely?

Dawn, Aegean

Unambiguous glory.
Refulgent, radiant.

We think of the youth -
  aren't they obvious -

How they are stirred.

Tassos Paschalis