Saturday, June 18, 2011

Sometimes Whit, invited for a walk, will momentarily forget his vb

   Tassos is
   on Paros,
   . .

   I'm there,

A little while back, fearing
boredom in our eavesdroppers,
Whit suggested irony to give
them something to do. Our
code for glad adventure is
inherent in the pattern of
his thought, but then he is
a tassic sort of dog. We
miss our friend on the long
vac, yet we know it is a
good time for the breed.

Claus Bender Mortensen, actor

Saturday commute xxix: if I consult a face

If I consult a face, as we were lately reminded by Montaigne's question of play with his cat, how shall I know that what I see is not consulting mine? Morever, what shall I be looking for: what I find, or what I seek? If what I see is what I sought, what becomes of what I didn't find?


Thus must I look
for what I find.

Unless I desire
to walk in sleep,
misperceive, mis-
judge, misuse; 

Now, what is it,
this Tea Party
feigns to see?

A world where the poor 
are taxed for the rich
where justice is 
Calvinist dogma
where quite a lot less 
than all retain a place.

At long last this rabid mink indecency is campaigning by confession, one decayed bicuspid at a time.
Call for 
a vote 
on that.


Friday, June 17, 2011

After a week of Angela Merkel screwing Greece again

and Michelle Bachmann,
the rest of us, it's
been a lot like Cabaret 
without Joel Grey.

I can understand turning one's back on the Weimar Republic. I cannot understand German amnesia.

      But after Bachmann, 
      I really need a douche.
      Her xenophobia betrays 
      a familiar, vicious lust.

¡ no pasarán !

To me, the West stands for a set of ideas and institutions, for a certain period of history, for the Enlightenment and for liberalism tout court. National Socialism had been the triumph of Germany's long partial war against the West. A diminished commitment to the West strikes me as dangerous.

To this reader, it has become incoherent and escapist to discuss the Tea Party movement in the United States except in terms of a rejectionism of the West, itself. That this monstrous movement is the legacy of Reaganism in a now hypercorporatised world, no one even troubles himself to deny. They got all the war and plunder they prayed for, and it isn't enough, because it never could be. No wonder they've discovered their country as their natural enemy. May it always be so.

Motto of the Spanish
anti-fascist resistance,
a banner this week in
Syntagma Square, lower
left in red and gold.

Fritz Stern
Five Germanys I Have Known
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2006© 

Harold Brodkey
Sea Battles on Dry Land
  Notes on American Fascism
Henry Holt, 1999©

Comps of a hot curatorship

Once I was a fig tree's trunk
a useless piece of wood

  when a carpenter

unsure whether to make
a pedestal of me or a Priapus
chose that I should be a god.

Satire viii
John Davie, translation
op. cit.


How would you prefer this: straight, or with a chaser?

I know an entire tumble of rather spiffy little college boys, who'd break into childish smiles and classic goosebumps at the sound of that sobriquet; and god help me, I'm one of them. For this reason I'm happy to recall her to our Friday schemes, where she has always granted us a nod, in her natural concentration of the ideal animal, which somebody, sane, finally put into words. I think of her often, because I love movies and am willing to call them that; because she resembles the mode and features adopted and inherited by our mother; because the qualities of her consort suggest not only enthusiasms and the mode, but the smoke, textures, and stamina of our father. I grew up, observing their combustion. So many of us did. We hypothesise a personal life for her, and pray that it has been kind; but what she gave us on the screen, we will not relinquish.

Her masterpiece, is open to amiable and tussling debate. But the finest picture of her career is rather uniformly conceded. I'm not surprised that our father loved it; our mess of guys, certainly does. It's the monstrous, the incomprehensible, crazy, headlong, irrational race called, The Big Sleep. Nessun dorma.

We understand and adore this movie. There's Pa, stylish as shit, tipping his hand of victimhood. She has him: hook, line, and both sinkers. And she's sweet about it; but she has him. This is so true for them; and right here, we see Howard Hawks, genially giving us this immortal chemistry, the wonderful thing they know about.

One could go on. One could demonstrate why she's the precursor of Faye Dunaway's mother/daughter/lover for Polanski, the reigning presence behind every memorable exertion of private dicks since the 1940s. One could talk about the voice, so obviously indebted to consumption. But this is not that kind of page, and nobody comes here for it to be otherwise. Rather, let's meet for drinx chez Eddie Mars; let's let her scratch her knee, dropping her driving gloves when it's itching; let's pour ourselves a drink in her bedroom when she won't, let's let her lie to us with that forelock not tumbling, let's let her accuse us of going too far, let's sit there in our bonds and let her gnaw us free with her knife. She is the boydreamt, silken omnivore of our warfare. God help us, there will be another some day. There must be. But she'll do. God bless you, Baby:

(i) 'The Big Sleep' is a violent, smoky cocktail shaken together from most of the printable misdemeanors and some that aren't .. The picture is often brutal and sometimes sinister, but I can't bring myself to mind this sort of viciousness, far less to feel that it shouldn't be shown ..

(ii) .. wakeful fare for folks who do not care what is going on, or why, so long as the talk is hard and the action harder. The message, if any, seems to be that the life of a private detective is ill-paid, full of social embarrassment, yet not without its compensations.

Actually, the plot's crazily mystifying, nightmare blur is an asset, and only one of many. By far the strongest is Bogart, who can get into a minor twitch of the mouth the force of a slug from an automatic .. A round dozen minor players help him out with great efficiency - not to mention Miss Bacall, who is like an adolescent cougar.

Howard Hawks, director
William Faulkner,
  Leigh Brackett, Jules Furthman, screenplay
Raymond Chandler, book
Sidney Hickox, cinematography
Christian Nyby, editor
Carl Jules Weyl, art direction
Max Steiner, music
Howard Hawks, producer
Warner, 1946©

James Agee 
(i) The Nation
(ii) Time
Film Writing and
  Selected Journalism
The James Agee Trust©
The Library of America, 2005

Robin Wood
Howard Hawks
British Film Institute, 1983©

Gerald Mast
Howard Hawks: Storyteller
Oxford University Press, 1982©

Joseph McBride
Hawks on Hawks
University of California Press, 1982©

i-iii  The Big Sleep

Thursday, June 16, 2011

A City of Coffee Mug for someone to watch

sea death flower star moon

He does his homework. There isn't an unqualified illustration in his oeuvre. He has begun to quote from Valéry Lorenzo, not the mark of a flippant gadfly. He seems to have re-appraised everything in the canon of literature and cinema addressing "Laurent," and especially gainfully in works of his own time. Without prejudgment he is risking being seen as the coming thing that he could well be, Horace's true client in his Odes and Virginia Woolf's in The Common Reader. Now he's impregnating tumblr with adventurous, sometimes hilarious, and thoughtful, brilliant text. One can watch time, tak-ing a generous turn. I don't care that he's a tumblr, not a blogger; we take our saltimbanques where they are. His page is called, ciné.

Some while ago, this page was ambivalently made the object of a cheeky honorarium, for "style." Abruptly as that patronage was withdrawn the prize stayed here, for irony's sake. As the page approaches its first birth-day, it's not premature to remark on the year's finer discoveries in internet expres-sion, by presenting to him our first City of Coffee Mug, for extending a distinctive sensibility toward humane ends, and exhibit-ing this as necessary. No strings. I wish him well.

Aeschylus thus will not give, as Sophocles gives, the very words that people might have spoken, only so arranged that they have in some mysterious way a general force, a symbolic power, nor like Euripides will he combine incongruities and thus enlarge his little space, as a small room is enlarged by mirrors in odd corners. By the bold and running use of metaphor he will amplify and give us, not the thing itself, but the reverberations and reflection which, taken into his mind, the thing has made; close enough to the original to illustrate it, remote enough to heighten, enlarge, and make splendid.

Virginia Woolf
The Common Reader
  On Not Knowing Greek
Andrew McNeillie, translation
  introductory words from Woolf
Harcourt, 1925©

i, iii  ciné

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

A letter home

We forget nothing

Things we are trying to tell you, past your fears. Things we want you to know because we love you: just like all the gentle things, the safe and the good things, you wanted for us, because you wanted them still. We know where this caring comes from in you, this desire. We have gone there, and you were right.

It's in the ground of all of us. It's OK.

You see the provocateur, and you think, he leads us. No, no. You do, with your cour-age; the sweet, open courage of your wanting.

Bob Dylan
  I was young 
  when I left home
No Direction Home
Sony Music, 2006©

i, liber scriptus

Oh, I can see it will be another withering Wednesday

You mean, he just doesn't know

who to fight.

"The envelope halves,"
Mr Ashbery. That was

Montgomery Clift 
  to Walter Brennan
Howard Hawks, director
Borden Chase, screenplay
Charles K. Feldman, producer©
Red River

John Ashbery
The One Thing ..
op. cit.

Mark Rothko
Canvas for the Seagram Building
Gift to the Tate Gallery

liber scriptus

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Dona nobis waistline

a birth in bits

I have commented before, on the tumblr style. I'm put in mind of Bernard MacLaverty's description of the fate of calves in the ab-batoire in Cal, his unforgettable novel and film set in Ireland - Helen Mirren capturing her first acknowledgment at Cannes. For a blogger playing with rocks, the tumblr mode, also experimented in by two enormously generous blogging friends of this page, is a venue of Jungian riches and Socratic prods akin to a lecture series without benefit of preceptorials. Yet, cumulatively, I suspect that the tumblr world projects that city of coffee pursued here, with intuit-ive genius. I am not brave enough to present testimony without parol evidence - as Valéry Lorenzo does, most of the time - but I feel I have a fine jury there; and I thank those jurors and those effusive sources for their gift of disinterestedness. 

Bernard MacLaverty
Blackstaff Press, 1983©

"I was hungry, and it was your world"

The long-deferred biography of a chair and masthead motto of this page converge in origin with a portrait which the architect would intimately recognise, who designed the restaurant of Mark Rothko's ostentatious resistance. Possibly the most naturalistically trashy image ever exhibited on this page, its contemporaneity with my introduction to that place only adds another layer of legitimacy to its posting here. Sometimes, we are blessed to let the nannies of our minds scatter in their dread. They did well.

The restaurant known as Four Seasons recurred continuously in my youth, as a space of primordial revelation; it has always been an extremely sharp irony, to me, that Mark Rothko read the place so prosaically. I can remember every moment I spent there, even the one when a kindly bartender declined me a Delamain, at an hour too late for another. But I did not come to the Four Seasons for that kind of nourishment; I came to be restored by the presiding genius of Philip Johnson. I was indeed, hungry, yet even Philip Johnson, to whose sensitivity to procession through space this restaurant and that block of Park owe so much, could never have anticipated my progress to its door.

That clos was not where I first met Philip Johnson. This took place upstairs in his offices, somewhat perfunctorily but amiably. It was there that I met the gaze through those glasses, of one's own kind of humour but of penetrating curiosity. A pale gray suit, a strong face, athletic. As a freshman college boy one May, I was invited by a friend's uncle in the AIA to join him for drinks at a reception at that office, and for dinner afterward. I took a lively interest in architecture, never expecting to pursue it as a career, but to acquire a fluency to which I was simply drawn by my mind. I recall dashing into the late Langrock's for a fresh seasonal suit, and hopping the train for Penn Station - alas, the new one. But, what did I know; and where else was there to go?

Drinks at Mr Johnson's pass through the mind as vanishing, non sequitur stimulants beside this Warhol, that project rendering. Here is that part of the collection he hasn't given yet to the museum he designed, MoMA, or taken home to New Canaan. The other views, should I want them, are framed by the most-remarked mullions in 20th Century architecture. Only the sunset defies the space. I stroll. It's a party, but it's quiet. I greet no one, I recall nothing but T-squares of latent hypotheses, and paintings that see originality from the other side. I think of myself less than at any party I have ever attended. I do not think, I notice. It is all so familiar, as if dreamt. I must be very young.

A diselevation, to the Picasso tapestry for de Falla in the lobby, finds us turning toward the plaza given back by Phyllis Bronfman to the city of New York. Out there, the Avenue flows in a distant hush, the fountain sparkles where my mother would dance on the night of my wedding, and we head toward the bar to relax with a drink. In a chair, if we can find one.

Title, Bob Dylan
Just Like a Woman

Andy Warhol and
Paul Morrissey
Joe Dallesandro

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Vesperae Solennes
  Laudate Dominum
Dame Kiri Te Kanawa
Sir Colin Davis, LSO

Monday, June 13, 2011

There will never be an end to it

the white shirt

Now in his 80s, John Ashbery has undertaken a translation of Les Illuminations of Arthur Rimbaud, discussed in last Sunday's book review. I have, deeply, never been drawn to inquire into Rimbaud, for the reason I'm usually put off by anything, the white shirt aside - an intense popularity; but in Rimbaud there was always the additional disincentive of an impracticable affectation in his privileged admirers. Rimbaud was not about a beautiful life. It's possible to respect inspiration and craft in a work without caring for it - patronising as that sounds, it isn't meant that way - but it isn't possible to do justice to it as a translator, on such a meagre appetite. And one would be a translator in Rimbaud's case, gauging his work alongside anyone else's gloss.

Now Ashbery changes all that, it's certain. I understand from my bookseller, that the French is given on facing pages, and this is all one could want, to assay this extraordinary and possibly his-toric literary encounter. It sets aside expectations completely, except acute excitement, to anticipate the confrontations combined in this new project.

It has the éclat of the white shirt, the hush of illumination.


Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Rothko play: parturition in Greek space

Mother, dance

     Yearning hurts,
     and what release
     may come of it
     feels much like death.

                                  The best choose progress
                                  toward one thing, a name
                                  forever honored by the gods,
                                  while others eat their way
                                  toward sleep like nameless oxen.

What use are these people's wits,
who let themselves be led
by speechmakers, in crowds,
without considering
how many fools and thieves
they are among, and how few
choose the good?

Infamously, the most dramatic publicity stunt in painting since Michelangelo Merisi juxtaposed decay and menace with the glossiest ripeness ever gathered in a basket, Mark Rothko's renunciation of the Four Seasons commission wrought a second and ironic monumentalising of a chronic-ally ordinary kitchen. Destined for the "shelf life" of Park Avenue, itself - whatever Henry Miller may have judged it to be - the restaurant gained instant conflation with its space, which happens to be one of the most luminous enclosures in the New World, at the foot of its most iconic edifice. Then, no sooner had it opened than it drew this imprimatur of scorn from the crackpot hired to decorate its walls. Had this act ever any chance of not coming to the stage? 

The citations, above, are fragments from Heraclitus. One of the enthralling aspects of this small textual legacy is that frag-mentation, and its hundred-plus interstices of such evident, we think, integration. These we must fill for ourselves, and this is yearning as we know it. Yet so close to what we don't know, are the shards we have, that we half dread a progress toward knowing nothing again, a loss of one within the other. For all the bravado of moral disapproval in Rothko's conversion from Court Painter to Rich Apos-tate, his motivating need had been awakened by that plum commission, and chastened to revive itself. This was not the act of a hypocrite; only his words were unknowing.  

I know that, and have no more than circled for endless months about a play, which was certainly good enough to have in-spired innumerable entries of this page from its conception. But this page, mounting its own stage, has made me aware that my struggle with it is alive, constructive, and illuminating to me. That people may look on, is also part of why it is here. To one hot layer within this drama to which I resisted being reconciled, I am.

I am joining fragments,
I know the fields are shifting. 

Brooks Haxton, translation
op. cit.

Henry Miller
The Colossus of Maroussi
op. cit.

Restaurant Associates, Inc.
Four Seasons Restaurant, logo

John Logan
Oberon Books, Ltd, 2009©

Mark Rothko
Violet, Green, and Red

Basket of fruit


Horace at your back iii


I should prefer to be thought 
a deluded and incompetent 
writer, provided my defects 
please or a least escape me, 
rather than to have my wits 
and bare my teeth in frustration.

And yet I shall also wish to know how much the open and genial giver is distinct from the spendthrift, and how much the man of thrift is at odds with the miser. For it makes a difference whether you scatter your money indiscriminately or whether, neither reluctant to incur expense nor eager to make more money, but rather as you used to do as a lad when Minerva's holiday came round, you snatch enjoyment of the brief but welcome time.

Epistles, II
Epistle to Florus
ca 35 BC
John Davie, translation
Oxford University Press, 2011©