Saturday, February 5, 2011

Boygifts for the neediest

Has anyone not been dazzled by a certain gender's endless vorac-ity for thingamajigs? There can't be a finer format for portraying this, naturally, than the 'tumblr' blogging system, which allows an unalloyed drench of image glop to inundate the tendrils of desire, neither edifying nor dampening them. 

An almost frighteningly endearing exhibit of this system's strange facility is called, paraphrasingly, "10 Slices." I can't say how I ran into it, only the other day, researching contemporary mores from this rural redoubt. By all means, the familiar brandings of one's own more vulnerable years were plushly still in evidence, yet the 'tumblr' system's mode of ubiquitous, eclectic transfu-sions of 'liking' and reblogging mean not only that the cultiva-tion of a style is reassuringly not the point, but that the recurrence of certain articles of consumption allows a very coherent cri de coeur to emerge, of candidly advanced neurosis. 

At this particular spot, timepieces without num-erals seem to frame the core of necessity. And who should wonder, where their articulation is secondary to their ag-gregation? Compulsion doesn't care what time it is, it's simply in a hurry. I had a rat like this, in Psych 101.

But how does that go again, about boys' being what they are? I don't mean the one about the price of their toys - we all know that to be vital - but some other one, that escapes me just now. The other mania, larger even than indifferent clocks, is cupcakes. How Mr Clemens' treacherous genius for gender typification did wash back to mind from chapter 11 in Huck Finn, as our fugitive closed his legs to catch a sweet in his lap, while disguising himself as a girl. Is the boypassion for personal pastry to be that saving grace by which - who knows - Huck's raft might yet escape this steady river of requisites? We gaze upon the emerging generation, with wonder's currants of nostalgic hope.


"And through the whole appearance runs some continuity" iii

This innocuous boy, whom we have seen before, bore the name David, and a middle name drawn from his mother's family, implicating him in privilege. He found this easy to wear as a dis-creet initial, much to his advantage. On his father's side, notoriety also would have attended his name, except for its diffusion into so many families. He was able to be, and was, a boy about one boy, although firmly embodying a principle he drew from a founder of his fortune. This date is his birthday, and this posting opens what one knows to be his favourite gift, after life. But what of that principle, what had been its tool?

"The journal that does nothing 
but paddle along with public opinion, 
without breasting the current of popular errors, 
is of no value -- none whatever."

Each year, his father would find a time to be alone with him to ask, What can I give you, for your birthday? This early-selected present came to represent one of his father's most cherished in-timations of fulfillment, in the scant years they knew each other, and for the many, after the boy had been taken away under a cruder imprint, of folly, vanity, and popular error. 

If it remains a sweet mystery to this day, which has simply to be preserved, what this boy saw in his birthday present, no one can doubt what his father saw. It isn't to intrude upon their rapport - of such expired significance - that one celebrates this day. It's that there's stuff of their kind to be said while men are living.

If, in the light of things, you fade
real, yet wanly withdrawn
to our determined and appropriate
distance, like the moon left on
all night among the leaves, may
you invisibly delight this house;
O star, doubly compassionate, who came
too soon for twilight, too late
for dawn, may your pale flame
direct the worst in us
through chaos
with the passion of
plain day.

San Marino, photo ca 1955

Remark of a publisher
Publisher's first press
Document of the U.S. Navy

Yosemite, photo 1952

Derek Walcott
  The Gulf and Other Poems, 1969©
  Collected Poems, 1948-1984
The Noonday Press
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1986©

Photo rights reserved

Friday, February 4, 2011

"And through the whole appearance runs some continuity" ii

To one's edified surprise, a belated glance at search terms drawing the most viewers to this page, reveals that the title, Les bien-veillantes, from 2006 tops the list, even above the page's name. (Now, that is not surprising). One winces to think that a thirst for any writing on some of the darker subjects of human experience might introduce this page.

To put it somewhat narrowly, but nevertheless correctly, that novel is about the misconduct of warfare. To put it correctly, if somewhat summarily, that phrase may be an incurable taut-ology. Warfare presents itself, first, as the state's seduction of one's gender to be raised as beasts, per-suading them to view their metamor-phosis with pride. To be commingled, in the state's great dirigible of blood; to be prodded about by discipline and morale to prick another dirigible until the latter empties sooner, is an exper-ience not shared with other herds of the Earth, only with predators. Sup-pose, 'though, we carry them in life, more than any child they could have?

The sea canes by the cliff flash green and silver;
they were the seraph lances of my faith,
but out of what is lost grows something stronger

that has the rational radiance of stone,
enduring moonlight, further than despair,
strong as the wind, that through dividing canes

brings those we love before us, as they were,
with faults and all, not nobler, just there.

Derek Walcott
Sea Canes
  Sea Grapes, 1976©
Collected Poems, 1948-1984
The Noonday Press
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1986©

"And through the whole appearance runs some continuity"

In 1913 an English youth visited North America, sending letters home which were published in the Westminster Gazette. He returned home in 1914, and would die while sailing to Gallipoli, 1915. 

Class by class they paraded, beginning with the veterans of the '50s, down to the class of 1912. I wonder if English nerves could stand it. It seems to bring the passage of time so very pres-ently and vividly to mind. To see, with such emphatic regular-ity, one's coevals changing in figure, and diminishing in num-ber, summer after summer!

Perhaps it is nobler, this deliberate viewing of oneself as part of the stream. To the spectator, certainly, the flow and transiency become apparent and poignant. In five minutes 50 years of America, of so much of America, go past one. The shape of the bodies, apart from the effects of age, the lines of the faces, the ways of wearing hair and beard and moustaches, all these change a little decade by decade, before your eyes. And through the whole appearance runs some continuity, which is Harvard.

The orderly progression of the years was unbroken, except at one point. There was one gap, large and arresting. Though all years were represented, there seemed to be nobody in the procession between 50 and 60. I asked a Harvard friend the reason. "The War," he said. He told me there had always been that gap. Those who were old enough to be conscious of the war had lost a big piece of their lives. With their successors a new America began. I don't know how true it is. Certainly, the dates worked out right.

Rupert Brooke
Letters from America
Sidgwick & Jackson, 1916©
Alan Sutton, 1984©

Thursday, February 3, 2011

One more gorgeous page at these places ..

.. and one shall feel constrained to object. 
   Meanwhile, our context never falters.

Ancient Industries

Style et mat

Our Daniel

Yale Center British Art

As we know

Supposing that you are a wall
And can never contribute to nature anything
But the feeling of being alongside it,
A certain luxury, and now,
They come to you with the old matter
Of your solidity, that firmness,
That way you have of squaring off
The maps of distant hills, so that nature
Seems farther apart from itself because of you.

Is it this you have done?
And a certain grassy look, the color
Of old semi-precious stones, has to be
What's coming out of you, for the two of you.

And the mechanical reverie
is cut up by fits
Of blaring trumpets and alarms, in the night.

John Ashbery
The Litany, II
  As We Know
Penguin Classics, 1979©
Collected Poems, 1956-1987
Mark Ford, editor
The Library of America, 2008©

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

"The Prelude," a poem unfinished

Egypt, now.
Despite everything.

Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,
But to be young was very heaven

William Wordsworth
The Prelude, 1805

House of our light

"Within a gift economy.. objects in exchange form a kind of connective tissue between giver and receiver.. The reciprocal character of the connection is implied in its reversible termin-ology: in Greek the word xenos can mean either guest or host, xenia either gifts given or gifts received.. Such an object carries the history of the giver into the life of the receiver and continues it there."

So remarks poet Anne Carson in The Economy of the Unlost, a scholarly and imagined poetic confrontation between Paul Célan and Simonides of Keos - dealing with problems of grief and survivorship which she addresses again in Nox, reviewed by Dan Chiasson in The New York Review of Books, where these statements were encountered. Readers are probably aware that she has titled her recent transla-tions of Euripides, published by New York Review Books, Grief Lessons (2008).

There are artists who work with inheritance in part, consciously, to honor it, feeling a recompense in their motivations. In Western civilisation so much of that inheritance has passed through Alexandria as to have made of that city both a magnet to poets for thousands of years, and a metaphor in their creativity's self-conscious domicile in a space in which they have faith. This paradigm of redemptive reciprocity is embedded in the language, and the literacy of xenia.

The Bibliotheca Alexandrina is in the life of all its recipients. The lighthouses are gone. The house of our light is ours still.

House, coffeehouses, neighborhood: setting
that I see and where I walk; year after year.
I crafted you amid joy and amid sorrows:
out of so much that happened, out of so many things.
And you've been wholly remade into feeling; for me.

Snøhetta Architects
Hamza Associates
Aga Khan Award for Architecture

Edmund Keeley
Cavafy's Alexandria
  Study of a Myth in Progress
Harvard University Press, 1976©

Constantine P. Cavafy
In the Same Space, 1929
  Collected Poems
Daniel Mendelsohn, translator & editor
Knopf, 2009©

Dan Chiasson, The Unfolding Elegy 
The New York Review of Books, LVII, 15
October 14, 2010

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

What do you say, we contend for the truth of it

The cold passed reluctantly from the earth, and the retiring fogs revealed an army stretched out on the hills, resting. As the landscape changed from brown to green, the army awakened, and began to tremble with eagerness at the noise of rumours.

Stephen Crane (1871-1900)
Opening sentences -
The Red Badge of Courage
D. Appleton & Company, 1895

The Red Badge of Courage
  and Other Stories
Gary Scharnhorst, editor
Penguin Books, 2005

Monday, January 31, 2011

Monday's terminus

in the guise 
of coffee

Jeremy Young

Yet into every day

a little fatuousness 
must fall?

I hope this page has not been stingy with its regard for this young professional. But if this is not Joe Gargery’s notion of how to dress for calling on Pip in London, then David Lean did not film Great Expectations, Addison did not write the Coverley Papers, and little rotters are not famous for out-growing a season's sailor suit. 

Mind you, this comes to us from Gucci, so it may be excused an air of hand-me-down, given its heirloom price. If ever a chance to condemn the celebration of this gender at its apogee were to present itself more openly, Whit offers to pay for the duds from his own trust. Meanwhile, at least we have ankles to nip.

Mathias Lauridsen
Paris, 2011

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Titian, fashion, fathers

David Toms

We are as concerned to under-stand the eye we were given as the one we acquired, which is often so well kept for us by others that redundancy is a continuing risk. Thrust back, then, upon intimacies seldom deserving extended develop-ment, we're better off to be brief. Why was it, David, that my father's favourite painting was this one; why was it that he told me so; why was it that he did so, fearlessly? These are not your concerns; for-
give me the impression that you need no introduction to this canvas. If we are to speak of it, what can we say?

We would rather not be fatuous about Titian, if only not to drive down the value of the esteem we enjoy wearing about our neck. Yet we'd rather not focus on his genius for fashion, either, sensing the immodesty of some of its costs. The sapphire on this chain would educate a perfectly respectable neurosurgeon, and we all know their worth these days. What would the pearl bring, rash as it might be to sub-divide the legacy? By the way, have you seen a finer blue against a black, yet still enthrallingly a stone?

We enjoy evening dress - which this is not - but the detailing of a shirt for such occasions has more than once returned to this well. If you were adoles-cent, as my father was when he first saw this painting, you may be at school with your horses, and you may be more interested in the gloves. What do you see if you're a boy, the flagrant splendour of the luscious textures, or the bold orthogonal of the wrist? What are you to make of the ease of this grasp, these luxuriant hides, these flashing high-lights, beyond their signature of sensuous comfort?

We've learned the rhet-oric of gesture in that self-conscious time, and the security of signets. But this is when we study skeletal scale with imag-inative, interpretive in-terest, and vasculature with new familiarity. There's power, and yet it reads like praise. Whose?

A very great deal of black in this painting would make it difficult to extract the figure from the field, but for line and light. We are forced, are we not, David, to greet his emergence at the neck, by the stroke of adopting the rota-tion of his collar as our lever, laid easy across the bone. For the third time, the delicate, and by now plainly treasur-ing cloth is his entrance, not merely his frame. We are 14 years old in the Palais du Louvre and have just discovered some-thing we can not forget: the figure's greater than the frame. Now the coincid-ing of the cleft in his chin with the line of his cloak divests itself of coincidence. He is drawn out.

Surely, you remember, David, how taxed you've been to make a study of a more famous smile, on this same afternoon. How notably bright, the corner of this mouth is, as if made damp. But easy, once again, generously amiable, dis-creet, alert. The eyes said that, but not this.

You see the clasp now, David. You've appreciated the casualness of the mode, but now you know this detail is not accidentally supplied. But your mother has chalices like this, all about the house. And they are full of flowers, aren't they? You're a boy of 14, and he is not a chorister.

The father is notoriously written about, from Ackerley to Nicolson, to Waugh and way beyond; and one thing I am not going to submit mine to, is the demand to tell me things he does not mean to say. He never did that to me - after infancy, that is. But there is nothing little, nothing idle in a man's remembering for 30 years, one painting he can call his favourite; no concession more generous to curiosity; no confidence more estimable to a boy.

He left me with all the choice a man could want, and I still can't be sure mine isn't his. I can't see a shirt well cuffed without thinking of what he taught me about frames. I can't see hands and soft leather against a field of black without recalling Titian; 
I can't evaluate a white shirt worn casually without seeing what it holds.

When people come to you, David, to denounce beauty as gratuitous, do you ask them what they can accept in a man? Would you give it to them?

I didn't think so.

Man with a glove
Venice, ca 1520