Saturday, May 21, 2011

The LTA Suite ii: what frames the flux of perfect play?

For better than a week, a question has recurred here lightly - am I going to understand. One arrives at a new school, attends a party in an unfamiliar part of town. Asked repeatedly of pictures, how commonly is it asked as a picture?  

We confront the unfamiliar with arduous suppression of preconception but with lavish enrichment of self-conception. Who can suppose that Socrates' complaint of unresponsive texts, pictures, would assume the unanimated self? 

Greene had remarked on the gift for sensing the unfamiliar, in Loser Takes All. What diminishes the natural endowment of inquiry? But what can provoke the questioner? Who, then, is the outsider, if there is no frame of perfect play?

Graham Greene
Loser Takes All
op. cit.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Suppose it were Friday?

I don't know about you.
I love the constituency
for red mug, blue linen.

Flotation discovered


If really we are fated, Socrates, to dwell in the impenetrable nonsense of pictures and texts, there is always a certain leave to be begged for memory, itself, to indulge our taste for dialogue. A reader brought one of our earliest interlocutors to mind the other day, with the gift of a picture (no less) of swimmers of a certain time and indefinite place. One was carried back to finding one's own buoyancy, a subject deferred here while trying to plant feet on the ground, but probably never to be accounted for, by terms and punctuations such as these. 

So let us talk of arms of burnished warmth and solace that would lift a lad in water, giving harbour and permission to be brave at one's own pace. Looking back, one counts the repeal of knowing nothing as beginning in those days, with a patient sibling and a lifeguard called Tony at a pool they still call the Coral Casino. But this was light years ago, and nothing remains the same except our parturition in the flux of perfect play. That will always need a patient watch, and courage drawn from gentleness and strength.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Resources of the blogger

A blogger who ventures from home incurs a double risk, as our readers might not have considered, but of which they might be warned. To the universal hazard, of forgetting what one was about to say, there is added an abiding terror of losing the car keys - which is to say, of not finding one's way back, from an errant outing. Needless to say, the very best bloggers are the ones who've taken care to insulate themselves from this occupational risk, with a consistency of knowing what their subject will be. They achieve this either by not leaving home at all, or by not caring where they go. Those of us in the middle are constantly exposed to an anxiety, however, of which we probably are not the first to speak.

The urban reader may be familiar enough with the phenomenon, of awakening in a strange place. A piquancy of surprise is not untoward, so much as yet another phase of the dream state of the orig-inal adventure. But the constant blogger on urban lofts, say, or garden vistas, is never out of sorts where he is found, his resources unmislaid.

Our agrarians enjoy that other, simplifying assurance, of never leaving home. To the urban reader's insulation against surprise, they bring the solace of insularity, and manage that luxury with the serenest embrace of redundancy. A wit we know, who thrives by splitting the riparian difference of Manhattan, being on the East River 4 nights and the Hudson, 3, has essentially adopted this agrarian mode, as one might expect of an observer of rank. But in the doing of the common thing, the agrarian perceives himself the discovering if not avenging angel, and so might show us stacks of dishes shaped for that single, multi-bathed necessity ~ the drying, say, of a bar of soap.

Whereof it must be plain, the better blogs resemble most their readers. No one has to ask, on enter-ing their terrain, Am I going to understand? But there are blogs, just as there are persons, whose resort is comfort in no answer. You see them cited here from time to time, albeit through no fault of theirs. What makes theirs, the 'middle ground' alleged above?

To answer that, would take a naughty Wittgenstein, indeed. We can only suppose, that there comes a very broadly distributed time at last, where the experience of a question is savoured for its thirst, per se. The urbanist, afflicted by so many answers, is anxious to consume the brightest ones he can. The agrarian's complacency speaks for itself. But surprisingly few of us live in such places, after all, and would not go back. I don't know where my car keys are; what was I about to say?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

At a distance from the city

                  I cannot help feeling, Phaedrus,
                  that writing is unfortunately like
                  painting, for the creations of the
                  painter have the appearance of life,
                  and yet if you ask them a question
                  they preserve a solemn silence.

Benjamin Jowett, translation
Dialogue of Socrates
ca 360 BC

David Hilliard
Beth Nelson, citation

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The curator at Windsor i: all in a day's elation

In the mornings I was lecturing on Borromini at the [Courtauld] Institute - what a sense of urgency and profound pathos was lent to these occasions by the sound of bombs falling on the city - and in the afternoons I was at my desk in the Department [MI5]. The cryptanalysts at Bletch-ley Park had broken the Luftwaffe signal codes and I was able to pass a great deal of valuable information to Oleg .. 

I was, I realised, happy. Amidst the schoolroom smells of the Department - pencil shavings, cheap paper, the mouth-drying reek of ink - or pacing under the great windows of the Institute's third floor lecture room, looking down on one of Vanbrugh's finest courtyards and paying out to an attentive handful of students the measured ribbon of my thoughts on the great themes of seventeenth-century art, I was, yes, happy. As I have already remarked, I did not fear the bombing; I confess I even exulted a little, in secret, at the spectacle of such enormous, ungovernable destruction. 

Are you shocked? My dear, you cannot imagine the strangeness of those times. No one now speaks about the sense of vast comedy that the Blitz engendered. I don't mean the flying chamber pots or the severed legs thrown up on to the rooftops, all that mere grotesquerie. 

But sometimes in the running rumble of a stick of bombs detonating along a nearby avenue one seemed to hear a kind of - what shall I call it? - a kind of celestial laughter, as of a delighted child-god looking down on the glory of these things that he had wrought. 

Oh, sometimes, Miss Vandeleur - Serena - sometimes I think I am no more than a cut-price Caligula, wishing the world had a single throat, so that I might throttle it at one go.

The recreation of lives is treacherous, but treachery inspires that risk. Literature caught up with Anthony Blunt in the soul of John Banville. Others have tried - Alan Bennett for the stage, Miranda Carter in biography. Finally, everything clicks, as Brick used the term to Big Daddy, in Banville's burning fiction. 

John Banville
The Untouchable
  Uncorrected Proof before publication
  Gift of Tillman Place Bookshop
  San Francisco
Knopf, 1997©

Alan Bennett
A Question of Attribution
Alan Bennett, 1988©

Miranda Carter
Anthony Blunt: His Lives
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2001©

Monday, May 16, 2011

Shaving mirror memory







Coffee detail, Chris Armenta photo

Sunday, May 15, 2011

What we know when we know nothing

None of my brother’s things came home, apart from the wristwatches and his last sports car. Nothing. Not to hold and read, not to throw on and casually wear, not to polish, not to hang; not to harbour some trace of him. As to that, there are two scents. His natural scent, which permeates memory without diminishment; and, almost hilariously, Noxzema. Does anyone know Noxzema, anymore? We would summer in Santa Barbara, after the La Jolla years; and our father would come up on weekends, sometimes for a week. 

These were the years when we knew nothing. The evenings were so quiet, you could hear the distant trains, and fall asleep at once. The first day or two, he and I would be sunburned; and the garçonnier we shared in summers would reek of sharp Noxzema in the evening, and in the morning, of eucalyptus and the Channel fog.