Saturday, February 12, 2011

"Still I will not have you suffer longer" i

With this he told Paiêôn to attend him,
and sprinkling anodyne upon his wound
Paiêôn undertook to treat and heal him
who was not born for death.

As wild fig sap
when dripped in liquid milk will curdle it
so quickly as you stir it in, so quickly
Paiêôn healed impetuous Arês' wound.
Then Hêbê bathed him, mantled him afresh,
and down he sat beside Lord Zeus,
glowing again in splendour.

The Iliad
  Book Five: A Hero Strives ..
  Lines 1021 et seq.
Robert Fitzgerald, translation
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1974

Lionel André
Tree detail, 90 degree rotation

Friday, February 11, 2011

Watching Egypt

 John .? We could do that ..  

11 ii 11

Long drive, good question

The question of outfitting oneself for a long-ish, solitary drive can lead to listening to the fabulous story-telling voice of John Le Carré in his own work or Elisabeth Schwarzkopf's in anyone else's, to the considerable sustenance of one's attention. I find myself setting out today on such a venture, testing whether a matter which has occupied one's mind for a couple of days, now, can gain from any concentration at the wheel. The trouble is, the more I consider it, the larger the question becomes. As we so often find in such challenges, there is only Ivan Terestchenko to blame.

I refer to his recent object lesson in living with a wall. Ostensibly a query on the reduction of an art collection, the image calls out a demand for consciousness of the wall. Even after framing and perspective have been taken into account, and admitting their power, we're left with the presentation of a wall - indeed, of two walls - which projects their physical presence with high metaphysical penetration. The portrait - for, such it is - goes to the heart of how to prize the wall, how to live with the wall, how to illuminate it, how to elicit what it is. 

We don't overlook the intervention of sculpture - engaging, obviously, the ceiling and floor - but this is a only a more eloquent wall, for all that. It is a wall to which, were it one of mine, I would return with a keen admiration and sense of debt for what it is. This is one of the most absorbing architectural statements I have ever seen. I wonder what Carlo Scarpa would have done any differently.

Photograph ii, Terestchenko
By kind permission

Carlo Scarpa
Castelvecchio, details

Thursday, February 10, 2011

With apologies to my Meissen, my Dresden, my Sèvres, too

A lady one thinks of, first, as a mother, wrote in not long ago on the matter of a fashion she thought to be extinguished. But it is not. The cigarette still burns, as we have once before averred; and flourishes in blogs we literally cherish, but for their prosperity by its imagery. They know who they are, and it is on the matter of their presenting intrigue in its vapour or character with its inhalation that we put our better china, the comity of blogging's generous relations, at some hazard by any indelicate remark in this entry. Still, blog for yourself, they say, and so we turn to the failure of style in narcotic imagery.

The other day, a fellow rued in the comment space, the absence of a half-generation from the beaches where he played in a not-very distant youth.

If there is an instrument calculated to achieve that barricading consequence for his nephews, it is the cigarette. It has no virtue but the capacity to acquire dominion over the span of life, no dint of energy in its promise of premature death by disfiguring agony and unrelieved cruelty, and no lack of blessing by those same evangelists from the tobacco states who exalted and profited from HIV's ascendancy. 

If anyone is nostalgic for the health crisis of 1980-99, then he should light up immediately. If anyone coming near the subject of humanity presents a cigarette as an amenity, he should be cured of any self-deception that his act is immunised by morally neutral observation or artistry; if his subject is not humanity, his observations and his dreams lack the stature of smoke.
That an artist, even to marvel or to typify, should dilate upon this unambiguous menace is simply an unsustainable betrayal of humanism. There is no having of it, both ways, as suicide is countenanced.

What lesion would the artist have us find this morning, on that proving ground of his device? What form is it that never freshens, but feasts upon the others with such greed? I wasn't there, I didn't do it, he replies, lifting glossies from their fixer bath, to mount them for our wonder.

The last thing good china can tolerate, is the form, should. We detest it, too, as incongruous in a city of coffee. And this is a nasty little jeremiad, of the most sus-piciously bitter kind. We all happen to know, however, youths who have something to offer on this point.

This is our china, stacked in our shelves for generations of cancer, emphysema, heart disease, grief. Our idea is no less brittle, but it has a provenance of greater antiquity - to ask of our own Gainsboroughs -

Don't you care for him at all?

Jeremy Young as Jonathan Buttall

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

What we wish to discourage, we send to our poets

Who does not know recital's object lesson, from his youth, of discomfort to be heard? I wonder what genius first perceived the young's undefended tendency to own the first person voice of a sonneteer, and so be held up to ridicule for his words. Experience of the classroom is not far from Abu Ghraib's celebrated humiliations, as a mode of raising sheep. Was a revolt against indignity absent from the scholar's sense of self under these mocking compulsions? In every class of anxious lambs, we know some culling by a text will backfire in precocious assimilation, steeling the exile in its isolating glory.

William Shakespeare
Sonnet 53
Alex Jennings
Naxos, 1997©

Was a rustic Fiorucci really out of the question?

Many visitors, as taken as we were by a Fiorucci shirt's aberrant Brummellism, have wondered if the politics of the style could be expunged to clothe an honest rustic. Here, a prototype has been run up for the innocent, favouring that very thirst for Reform. Does this shirt suggest of its wearer, that he had asked his servant on going out, Where do I dine today, John? Is he the sort of man who might confess, Madame, I once ate a pea? George Brummell's remarks such as this - so deeply etched upon le beau monde as to have left it frantic, to this day, not to fail their affect - cast no shadow on this admittedly blank accoutrement. But in losing much coher-ency, have we lived up to our leeks?

William Hazlitt
Selected Writings
Jon Cook, editor
  London Weekly Review
  2 February 1828
Oxford University Press, 1991©

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Une ange a vingt-cinq ans

Someone, someday is going to account for the persistent derivation of some of our sublimest sights and readings, from the southernmost parts of France. 
Such delicacy of concen-tration, acuity of dis-cretion. Limpid, lambent, eloquent. Some modern-day Henry Miller, navigating his way down the Dordogne to embark for an appoint-ment with a colossus, will weigh up, delivered from his hurry by descent of silence. 

Last week we learned that Fanny Cavin was celebrat-ing her 25th birthday with the online opening of her atelier of hand-wrought porcelains.

Good news for the spirit was good news for the table. Especially sweet for apples. Why would it not be called, Halo?

Logotypes & table©
Les contours du silence

Monday, February 7, 2011

Do you share our dismay for Fiorucci?

for our leeks

We never know the full price of dull rustication until we encounter a victim of its opposite. Rip van Winkle of space as well as time, we had to consult the summa theologica internetam to discover a Fiorucci to be not only a parody, but a person, and an enterprising one at that. Here, the natural reflex is sympathy for the bearer's dismay at what's been thrust upon him. What could be bleaker, than to linger in open shade in attire objectifying the other, fairer gender in a lurid mode? It all began, we find, with bright galoshes. Yet, if we could but be a gardener in a blither monde, how becoming they might be among the shoots ..

Monday's strings

from the window
of the TGV, 
Chambéry to Paris

Lionel André

Sunday, February 6, 2011

On longing for a world

What a cool thing it was for legs, when someone discovered we could use them to run. From that astounding, unattributed observation, there emerged the consolations of sport, the gathering of people to do a similar thing at the same time in their own way with their own means, but associating them to accept a common path, a common end. It couldn't have been long before affinities in ways and means brought us little squads of the like-limbed, the like-striding. For those who ran for the quality of the act, this was not a happy event.
Now by happenstance we are at this page, and we are reading for ourselves but we are reading about each other. Suspicion wafts from the page - these are not my ways, this is not my squad - but we come back to see who has red hair today, or back to see who wears what brand. Some people can not trust their own engagement in our race enough to see themselves through our means. Some people feel we are subscribing a new squad.

But anyone can readily see the advantage in the underlying discovery: legs, admittedly useful prehensile instruments for our forebears, offer us a mode of locomotion even more efficient than theirs. What we lost in delight in dangling, we gained in freedom to clasp other things, such as baccalaureate certificates, batons in Nature's great relay.


The jellyfish
float in the bay shallows
like schools of clouds,

a dozen identical--is it right
to call them creatures,
these elaborate sacks

of nothing? All they seem
is shape, and shifting,
and though a whole troop

of undulant cousins
go about their business
within a single wave span

every one does something unlike:
this one a balloon
open at both ends

but swollen to its full expanse,
this one a breathing heart,
this a pulsing flower. ..

What can words do
but link what we know
to what we don't,
and so form a shape? 

Nothing but style.

What binds
one shape to another 

also sets them apart
--but what's lovelier
than the shapeshifting

transparence of like and as:
clear, undulant words?
We look at alien grace,

by any determined form,
and we say: balloon, flower ..

Hear how the mouth,

so full
of longing for the world,
changes its shape?


Mark Doty
  My Alexandria
University of Illinois Press, 1993©

"A reliable partner"

Does anyone not relish the whole kabuki lexicon of euphemism in which Americans' discourse is steeped, against what even poor John McCain would term, facts on the ground? Now, we did know what we meant, when we started to say, for example, that what we value in Egypt's government is that we have a reliable partner, in what we have been calling, since 1948, peace talks. But do we remember what we meant, or do we know only what Orwell was right to call, our own swindles and perversions in the language?

This is a portrait of reliability in partnership, drawn from the experience of Egypt of only this week. Egypt's reliable partner turns out to be Egypt; and in this photograph we cannot suppose ourselves to be alone in hearing brightly tinkling fractures in whole herds of the glass menagerie of American policy, on their way out the window. It would be a start, if not for government-speak, then for glaziers.

February, 2011

Eric Blair / George Orwell
Politics and the English Language
  Why I Write, 1946
Penguin Books, 2005©