Saturday, February 26, 2011

Saturday commute xvi: staying away and coming back

I have learned - but again and again I forget - that abstraction is a bad thing, innumerable and infinitesimal and tiresome, worse than any amount of petty fact. The emotion that comes from blurring my retrospect is warmer and weaker than the excitement of whatever happened, good or bad. It is like a useless, fruitless vegetation, spreading and twining and fading and corrupting; even the ego disappears under it .. 

Therefore I scarcely noticed how long my dear friend stayed away in her bedroom; and therefore I was glad when she came back. 

For me, putting a stop to so-called thought is one of the functions of friendship.

Today we cap a visibly strenuous week, between the lines of the page, with commendation of a very brief novel which reads as a literate guest's observations of an afternoon in the country house of a good friend. This is far from the most acute passage in the book, but it cor-responds with the day. I can think of several valued readers who would like it very much; I think it's pretty fancy work, myself. But I cite this passage for its quiet intelligence, and I adopt this image to carry it because of the expression and the figure - attentive, curious, receptive, uncensorious; eleg-ant, not grand; perceptive and fluent. An interesting phrase, isn't it - the functions of friendship.

Glenway Wescott
The Pilgrim Hawk
 A Love Story
1940, 1968©
New York Review Books, 2001©

Friday, February 25, 2011

We've been late to issue protocols on the buttering of toast

Have you noticed, how desperately we have been failing our undoubted destiny, to preach to the choir a new Rule or several dozen, on the lactic anointment of one's charred and chosen morning slab of grain? Yet here we are, having crossed not less than the inaugural bi-annum of this page, without having issued the slightest ukase on preserving our regard. Can this be continued, much less condoned, given the reader's anxious appetite for the humiliation of the humble? Our pastorship weighs heavy on the hour, our flock in prurient lowing, growing weary of delay. Meanwhile, society's first line of defense, the breakfast table, tips toward anarchy.

Bring us, then, dear readers, your tired and musty paddles of that spreadship, and we shall assay them with such gratifying contempt, as to lower you to the Crown's abandoned vaults at Garrard, for something grotesque enough to salve diurnal bread with the supplest churnings of Normandy. And in glazing's quiet gavotte we shall command you, in sallies forth and back of lapping's soft acoustic, so that the much impasto'd ceiling of the simplest breakfast nook, and of the fêted cranium, might stir more gently to cessation of the fast. It galls us worthily to've left you to a crude dispatch of dawn.

Gather, darlings. The treacle of our testament is warm to waft delight, impartial and more provident in ormolusive light. Delicious shall our edicts be, of anechoic gush, that swells to fill the golden bowl, expedient to flush. Exult to hear how we consult the substance of your tears, translating them to hubris you may stuff between your ears. We offer regulation, thus, to soothe the direst need, for codes of frantic cognizance t'identify the breed.

How perfectly unclotted, then's, our ration of life's cream, to let its variegation represent the striver's dream. We pour it, copious, from the tap to salve our boredom's scream, reluctant to beat back against the silly, frilly stream. Bring now, the loaf, we should with butter, toast; we'll score it with the riddle of the griddle that we boast. Belovèd is that implement with which we flame the host, to rest upon our plate to mark the way we love to coast. 

I'll favour you with codicils of rules from time to time, to keep abreast of others in the nursery that they mime.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

James in the mild machine

A commission for the expurgation of the universities has lately been appointed by Parliament to look into it - a commission armed with a gigantic broom, which is to sweep away all the fine old ivied and cobwebbed improprieties. Pending these righteous changes, one would like .. to attach oneself to the abuse, to bury one's nostrils in the rose before it is plucked. At the college in question there are no undergraduates. This delightful spot exists for the satisfaction of a small society of Fellows who, having no dreary instruction to administer, no noisy hobbledehoys to govern, no obligation toward their own culture, no care save

for learning as learning and truth as truth, are presumably the happiest and most charming people in the world. The party invited to lunch assem-bled first in the library of the college, a cool, gray hall, of very great length and height, with vast wall spaces of rich looking book titles and statues of noble scholars set in the midst. Had the charming Fellows ever anything more disagree-able to do than to finger these precious volumes 

and then to stroll about together in the grassy courts, in learned com-radeship, discussing their precious contents? Nothing, apparently, unless it were to give a lunch at Commemor-ation in the dining hall of the college. When lunch was ready there was a very pretty procession to go to it. Learned gentlemen in crimson gowns, ladies in bright finery, paired slowly off and marched in a stately diagonal across the fine, smooth lawn of the quadrangle, in a corner of which they passed through a hospitable door. But here we cross the threshold of privacy; I remained on the further side of it during the rest of the day.

But I brought back with me certain memories of which, if I were not at the end of my space, I should attempt a discreet adumbration .. the air of liberty to care for the things of the mind assured and secured by machinery which is in itself a satisfaction to sense.

Henry James
English Hours
  'Two Excursions'
Heinemann, 1905©

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Valéry Lorenzo has managed to do it

I don't think I can endure much more of this guy without hopping a plane to Toulouse, to demand what makes him tick. I do not, for a moment, mean to accuse him of one's own sentiments, but naturally, this only adds to his mystery. Like anyone, I abhor enigma in his gender, for tending toward instability, confusion, crisis, and a long night of solitary anguish. It is incongruous - not in the moral sense, but in that of equanimity, which we all prize without reser-vation - for erotic subversion to emanate from the distant quarter of one's own gender. And now he has done it.

M Lorenzo has laid upon a suavely stressed bottom-sheet an artifact of a man, allowing it to adopt that histrionic import he knows we read into it. But we were not born to that dread, and take the ges-ture, rather, as a natural toss of a conspicuously fashionable relic of himself, in its double prongs, illuminated by exposure of its eyelets. Here, is the warmth and the scent of the figure at the waist, the resilient, malleable torsion of the form at its fulcrum, we embrace.

I'm impressed by his depicting the real attachment, the form we observe as everyone else does, only to make sense of it in a treasuring, grateful way.

i, Valéry Lorenzo

We sometimes forget, Rabelais and Castiglione were contemporaries

I can safely say, I wouldn't give up the experience of growing up in the ostensibly free gender in a time of transformation, for any privilege ever indulged by Mrs Winston Guest - merely to pluck from the air another adherent of dogs. At a very early age, my generation had the bracing experience of being dipped, as mellifluously as could be done, into the mind of George Bernard Shaw. To this day, alumni remark on this rite as their discovery of My Fair Lady (1956), a musical adaptation of Pygmalion (1912, 1916), which had already been very gainfully filmed by Tony Asquith (1938).

Not to put too fine a point on this scintillating immersion, it was as if one had been held at the font by Pantagruel and the Courtier, fused in the singular mind of the great Irish genius of the skewer, Mr Shaw. But this is a nice description of the immediate families into which my playmates and I were born. The timing of My Fair Lady's emergence on the stage - scarcely more than a decade after the War, which had amalgamated society in a permanently but undefined new way - gave its satire the fairest form that mode can take, consolation. But to the ribald stratum of that family, the tenants of the garçonnier, the endless revolutions of the Long Playing record lent the encouragement of seeing impeccable figures in transit of mirth. Nothing one can see, can serve so well to hold the mind together.

Shaw's antecedents never met but were very close contemporaries. You may pick a favourite between them, but you'd be mistaken to ignore the other. François Rabelais (1494-1553) grew up in the Loire and is beloved by me for at least one of the right reasons: for growing Cole Porter's grapes, Cabernet Franc, and naming them aptly, his little raspberries. The blogger at Style et matière will guide you through a visit to one of its monuments in Saumur; the night when Le Duc Tho and Henry Kissinger signed an armistice in Paris (1974), called for a Château Ausone '61 at Ernie's, which you may visit still in Vertigo. Rabelais gave his name, as Shaw did, to a disposition of positive irreverence, which is absolutely central to the Hasty Pudding provenance of Alan Lerner's lyric tone in MFL. But the bard of the Loire was no buffoon; his work is the quest of learning's adaptation to a radically changing world.

Baldessare Castiglione (1478-1529) will appeal to many for the wrong reasons. Raphael painted his portrait, after all, which is aspic enough for any terrine of taste. His Book of the Courtier (1528) is not, however, an enforcement of morals, but a chart for navigating their shifting currents. The courtier is as aware as Rabelais of internal dissonance, and survives by means of agile adjustment, which looks remarkably like grace.

The French don't care what you do, actually, as long as you pronounce it properly. My mother was educated at an impressionable age by a governess-tutor in the Luxembourg gardens, from whom she acquired a quick reflex against a poor accent. My father was educated half on horseback at a boys' lyceum in Montecito, and kept an earthy side. More than the Episcopal Church I believe My Fair Lady kept them together. Rabelais and Castiglione agree, laughter emerges from pressure, its puncture is irresistible. Only its timing will vary.

Here you will sometimes read at length, through pacings of a chuckle; at other times, a guffaw will burst, unprepared. But I was flung into Shaw that way, and can't help it if it shows.

François Rabelais
Gargantua et Pantagruel
1532 et seq.

Baldessare Castiglione
The Courtier

George Bernard Shaw
1912 staged, 1916 published

Alan Jay Lerner
Frederick Loewe
My Fair Lady

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Panic is the swiftest stream of praise

We celebrate the undef-ended senses for their pathway to the mind, probably most of all in their portrayal of readi-ness and approachability, estimable estates for a man to cultivate. From time to time we're taken to task, ostentatiously or surreptitiously, for presenting readiness of limb, as if extolling its exploitation, not its use. How monstrous should we be held, to be seen to praise the open mind? We would rather build it.

i  Another Country
ii The beach house, La Jolla

Hedgie adopts a bloggie

Now, are you going to be a goddy little bloggie, and do as Hedgie says? Or is Hedgie going to have to be baddy-strict with you, and take away your biscuit? Meanwhile, gimme babycuddles. Hedgie will let you have a sip from his preshylishy saucer! Now make Hedgie all gladdy by not being a bloggy little bloggie, so he can let you down.

Monday, February 21, 2011

And you are, some kind of friend of mine

Jesse Dobson

          . .

          But it was not easy to tell in what direction
          the permanence tended, whether it was
          Easy decline, like swallows after the rough
          Business of the long day, or eternal suspension
          Over emptiness, dangerous perhaps, in any case
          Not the peaceful cawing of which so much had been
          Made. I can tell you all
          About freedom that has turned into a painting;
          The other is more difficult, though prompt - in fact
          A little too prompt: therein lies the difficulty.


John Ashbery
The Double Dream of Spring, 1970
  John Ashbery: Collected Poems, 1956-1987
Mark Ford, editor
The Library of America, 2008©

Monday gut check

In wearing haste to dress for the office, it takes but a second to record the weekend's wear and tear on the waistline, and note the requisite course corrections, if any, for lunchtime. Download the document in media res, and circul-ate it at once to your trainer for independent review, with cc to your topiarist. In most cities, you can expect a return comment right away. Remember: silence is not golden in regard to such questions, in cities akin to New York or San Francisco, where networks are friable, or in Dixie, where translation is incred-ibly time-consuming. Bring the gun, leave the cannoli.  

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Kerouac does read better as a scroll

For City Lights
his bookstore

In 2007 the executors of the estate of Jack Kerouac approved the publication of On the Road (1957) in its original scroll version, and to one's way of thinking the anarchic layout made the work more coherent than ever before. Its debt to Whitman, always acknowledged in its frontispiece quotation, leapt constantly off the page, along with the influences of his renowned contemporaries and friends.

At the same time, I noted a discovery of this book in the present generation which one's own had never accorded it. Undoubtedly, we had resisted his milieu as his literature, an extremely common mis-take in American youth. They were no different, but Kerouac had slipped into the unthreatening past. And the culture had sunk into that torpor and denial which originally inspired his project. So they discovered Whitman:

                      I give you my hand!
                      I give you my love
                      more precious than

                      I give you myself
                      before preaching or law;
                      Will you give me

                      Will you come travel
                      with me?
                      Shall we stick to each other
                      as long as we live?

Allen [Ginsburg] was queer in those days, experimenting with himself to the hilt, and Neal saw that, and a former boyhood hustler himself in the Denver night, and wanting dearly to learn how to write poetry like Allen, the first thing you know he was attacking Allen with a great amorous soul such as only a conman can have. I was in the same room ..

The purity of the road. The white line in the middle of the hiway [sic] unrolled and hugged our left front tire as if glued to our groove. Neal hunched his muscular neck, T-shirted in the winter night, and blasted the car along. In no time we were at the approaches of Philadelphia. Ironically we were going over the same road to North Carolina for the third time; it was our route. I kept wondering what it was that I had forgotten to do back in New York; it unrolled behind me more and more and I forgot more and more what it was. I brought it up. Everybody tried to guess what I had forgotten. It was no use.

Walt Whitman
Song of the Open road
  final lines
Leaves of Grass
  1891-92 edition
Justin Kaplan, editor
Library of America, 1982©

Jack Kerouac
On the Road
  The Original Scroll
  excerpts, pp 113 and 235
Howard Cunnell, editor
Viking Penguin, 2007©