Saturday, July 9, 2011

Saturday commute xxxi: summer reading


Saddle Meadows

face
     off
         limits

summer reader

do you

live with words.



.. those dark bay steeds are still extant; not in themselves or in their issue; but of the two descendants of stallions of their own breed. For on the lands of Saddle Meadows, man and horse are both hereditary; and this bright morning Pierre Glendenning, grandson of the grand old Pierre, now drives forth with Lucy Tartan, seated where his own ancestor had sat, and reining steeds, whose great-great-great-grandfathers grand old Pierre had reined before.

How proud felt Pierre: In fancy's eye, he saw the horse-ghosts a-tandem in the van; 'These are but wheelers' - cried young Pierre - ' the leaders are the generations'.


But Love has more to do with his own possible and probable posterities, than with the once living but now impossible ancestries in the past. So Pierre's glow of family pride quickly gave place to a deeper hue, when Lucy bade love's banner blush out from his cheek.




'Why, Pierre, thou art transfigured; thou now lookest as one who - why, Pierre?'

'As one who had just peeped in at paradise, Lucy; and - '

'Again wandering in thy mind, Pierre; no more - Come, you must leave me, now. I am quite rested again. Quick, call my aunt, and leave me. Stay, this evening we are to look over the book of plates from the city, you know. Be early; - go now, Pierre'.

'Well, good-bye, till evening, thou height of all delight'.







Herman Melville
Pierre or
  The Ambiguities
1852
Volume Seven, The Writings
  of Herman Melville
Harrison Hayford, Hershel Parker
  and G. Thomas Tanselle, editors
Northwestern University Press and
  The Newberry Press, 1971©




Weaving spiders, come not here iii



What was so funny about Still-man's movie about disco, was its sublime obliviousness to what disco was about. You can't do disco on the predicate that it fills a kind of gap in a student-centered experience of life. It has to be done as in Tannhaüser, with sex as quite marvelous spectacle, for all who are willing to endure proximity to a great deal of talent for it. Stillman's entire cast would lampoon our hero as some refugee from breedingYet we own an agitation against a falsity that arrests him. This is pretty nervy picturewriting. Guests, escaping trades and guilds whose following frames the mind, may take heart in the sensible motto of the Bohemian Club, and visit as often as they like. 


There's something very Melvillian in a man's resort to a club, which the founders of Bohemia understood very well. Sometimes more honoured in the breach than not, the motto is a sound one for our Ishmael. Immune from care on steep old Taylor Street, his lyric for that gathering, speaks of a true place no proud man ever knew.




Always upon first boarding a large and populous ship at sea, especially a foreign one .. the impression varies in a peculiar way from that produced by first entering a strange house with strange inmates in a strange land. Both house and ship .. hoard from view their interiors till the last moment: but in the case of the ship there is this addition; that the living spectacle it contains, upon its sudden and complete disclosure, has, in contrast with the blank ocean which zones it, something of the effect of enchantment. The ship seems unreal; .. a shadowy tableau just emerged from the deep, which directly must receive back what it gave.


In weaving spiders we have favoured liberty, and then equality. Yet rights are but ships for obligation. Melville was not oblique for discretion's sake, he was oblique for distinction's sake, for definition. He wrote from obligation, not effrontery, of the texture of the sensibility he possessed. How like the shadowy tableau, disco was, in its emergence and in its borrowing of time; but what does he say? Any effect of enchantment is inevitable where a sea would be zoned; a spider's filigree to be brushed aside.








Herman Melville
Benito Cereno
  The Piazza Tales
1856
Doubleday, 1961©





Friday, July 8, 2011

Weaving spiders, come not here ii


The figure occupies a well-worn shirt, bespeaking a familiar, easy comfort he cherishes; a hue, assigned, he absorbs without objection. But his features mark him out for mis-adventure, unexpected: his glance belies a wish he hasn't seen fulfilled, an oversight he thinks should not go on. This is a studio pose by an expensively paid professional, which makes us easy in our protest for his sake. Yet we own an agitation against a falsity that arrests him. This is pretty nervy picturewriting. Guests, escaping trades and guilds whose following frames the mind, may take heart in the sensible motto of the Bohemian Club, and visit as often as they like. 


There's something very Melvillian in a man's resort to a club, which the founders of Bohemia understood very well. Sometimes more honoured in the breach than not, the motto is a sound one for our Ishmael. Immune from care on steep old Taylor Street, his lyric for that gathering, speaks of a true place no proud man ever knew.


We had lain thus in bed, chatting and napping at short intervals, and Queequeg now and then affectionately throwing his brown tattooed legs over mine, and then drawing them back; so entirely sociable and free and easy were we; when at last .. what little nappishness remained in us altogether departed, and we felt like getting up again, though day-break was yet some way down the future.




For 170 years, weaving spiders of taxonomy have been confounded by an implacable masterpiece that everyone under-stands. The fault of the disturbance is not in its imagery, but in showing that the marking of a man will simply never hold. We accept this as the inheritance of all persons ever born; and we have seen, that while it is only with their diverse demand that we are entitled to approach it, it is also the only way to understand it. 










Herman Melville
Moby-Dick, or
  The Whale, Chapter 11
Volume Six, The Writings
  of Herman Melville
Harrison Hayford, Hershel Parker
  and G. Thomas Tanselle, editors
Northwestern University Press and
  The Newberry Press, 1988©


Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick
(1950-2009)
Between Men
  English Literature and
  Male Homosocial Desire
  Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and
  Columbia University Press, 1985©
Epistemology of the Closet
  University of California Press, 
  A Centennial Book, 1990©


i  Jan Siegmund







Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Weaving spiders, come not here


The figure occupies an artifice, a room which either isn’t one, but a studio improvisation, or which is a room, shot from an angle giving a false compression by juxtaposition of incongruous planes and decorative elements. This pathetic, not to say hostile context underscores his posture and expression but with open causation, as so many punctures in a study of St Sebastian. We are aware of an agitation against the falsity that arrests us. This is pretty nervy picturewriting. Guests, escaping trades and guilds whose following frames the mind, may take heart in the sensible motto of the Bohemian Club, and visit as often as they like.


There's something very Melvillian in a man's resort to a club, which the founders of Bohemia understood very well. Sometimes more honoured in the breach than not, the motto is a sound one for our Ishmael. Immune from care on steep old Taylor Street, his lyric for that gathering, speaks of a true place no proud man ever knew.













Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Our circuses come on Tuesday


the eye of 



I live in a country, agrarian, where, every day, men and women past the age of childhood get up in the morning and go to bed in the evening with the clearest expectation that tomorrow must be like today. I am a stranger where I live, and keep a dog who knows with me, and voices under Context, that this simply will not be. We have spoken enough of this place, but must again of course as the great political menace of its despair leaps headlong upon its trust, and uses it to savage you and I. In any eleven months of satire there will be opportunities not taken, to celebrate a common likeness. In the aggregate, it emerges on its own.

But we haven't cited Heraclitus to justify ourselves; or Howells, Horace, Virgil, James, Woolf and Joseph Addison, except to show the obvious. They gird us all against a common menace, coming now again to give us fear, rage, and self-destructive pleasure. That's right. Pleasure. They are the galloping perversion of our like-ness, incarnate. 

I have listened to their foppish ornament, Eric Cantor, rant against the dissipation of equality, the malignancy of justice as I've stood in line to shake the loather's hand, a guest of friends who do what they are told. But these aren't soft targets; the power behind them is prodigious and it's won our Court's approval to outvote us with our own money. If they carry the next cycle in our States and in the nation, the orgy that they plan will drown us all - and not in shame alone. A culture that could give us George Bush a second time can and will do anything, properly fellated. I speak of their behaviour, to honour limits they don't know.


A friend of mine, a third my age, with whom I used to talk about the classics, is creating a poster on Seamus Heaney's version of Antigone. A despot brought down his whole house for security's sake. Let's start the week with gratitude for poison, and serve it in our saucer of the week. The thing that will save us is the thing they mock the loudest. Whose will it be; and where were we, when our debt to it was distributed? The tocsin of their outrage, the example of humanity, is the toxin they can't bear. I can't wait to see that poster. That's the kind of show and tell a boy can gain respect for, and justify society for all.







Bruce Barone
  Field Work, 2010©

Supreme Court
  of the United States
Citizens United v. FEC
558 U.S. 08, 2010

Seamus Heaney
The Burial at Thebes
  A Version of Sophocles' Antigone
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2004©

Sophocles
Antigone
ca 450 BC
David Franklin and
  John Harrison, translation
Cambridge University Press, 2003©




Monday, July 4, 2011

How green was my valley, the asphalt jungle




Up there, not very high - nothing in San Francisco is very high, it would be indecent - you could get a sense of it. The cool breeze from the bay, the bright, clear sun, the benign light helped you to count, at ease, the pedestrians on California's real street of dreams, and make your move. The game was not chess, it was business and it was played for keeps. Hyman Roth always made money for his partners. And 25 percent of the people down below would pay their rent to him. But it's perfect: it's not really their money. What's not deducted is expensed, and does not go near the bottom line. Most of them don't even know it's happening. And you, my friend, have just come to what you may think is the most beautiful street on the Coast, without the least idea of its cost. But what's really cool is this: every unsheltered taxpaying dolt in America is footing the bill, from wages that haven't risen since his adolescent child was born - and guess who wants it that way.


Now, the only way for this thing to work, to go on, for this power to be sustained and its leverage to be felt, is to keep on building; and if you can't build, you buy - with somebody else's cash, of course. I'll never forget, sitting in a meeting with representatives of the largest food corporation in the world, and a lawyer for the firm where I'd invited them. They wanted to see the loan documents on the 320 million dollar edifice of which they were to lease a few thousand square feet. "There aren't any," was the courteous reply. And they believed what they had sensed, without a word.


And so these people on the street found lives at the end of the transit lines, for the pezza novante to come in, and pay, and pay more for glittering amenities - Philip Johnson's client, Hines, was famous for his bordello marble elevators; and now the slot machines are noted for their greenery - because the game that isn't chess cannot come to a draw. Laurent was not only in the heart of this; he was in his jammies in its kitchen to learn from the master, himself - to push the button, to bring the pot to boil. 


Those were not his days, not his California.












Francis Ford Coppola, director
Mario Puzo and
  Francis Ford Coppola, screenplay
The Godfather: Part ii
Paramount, 1974©


John Huston, director
Ben Maddow and
  John Huston, screenplay
The Asphalt Jungle
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1950©







Capriole for Samuel Barber









Here the wetback crab and the mollusk are citizens
and the leaves have green cards.










Derek Walcott
Midsummer
  Part I, xxvii
The Noonday Press
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1989©



















Before we go any further, then, with this independence thing






Did anyone see if
we have enough Scotch?









  happy 4th, 
  Laurent









Sunday, July 3, 2011

You've seen it happen ii: architecture of a generous man



Had he been born in Jerusalem under the shadow of the Temple and circumcised by his uncle the high priest, under the name of Israel Cohen, he would scarcely have been more distinctly branded, and not much more heavily handicapped in the races of the coming century..;
but, on the other hand, the ordinary traveller, who does not enter the field of racing, finds advantage in being, so to speak, ticketed through life, with the safeguards of an old, established traffic. Safeguards are often irksome, but sometimes convenient, and if one needs them at all, one is apt to need them badly.


Why would such a man, so ticketed, trouble himself to master fatherhood, much less to two sons whose distinctions he did nothing to discourage? If Laurent had a conviction of the existence of God, he would not dream of taxing Him with this riddle. But he has to think; something in him says, Laurent, let us play in the field of understanding, and he exerts himself quite beyond precaution. He gets this from our father, whom we never saw exploiting his ticket in our life. He was born this day with a pithy name, and not as the first one. He called himself, Nick.


The plural possessive pronoun may throw one, so let us make it clear. This was never a father of sons who would be divided, as he had been from his brother; this was a man who could play the very diverse games of each of them, with astoundingly unlimited empathy and skill. He can not be discussed, except as our father. Where does this come from? The floor beneath the Wrigleys', at 1500 Lake Shore? That would not seem pertinent.


          If springing things be any jot diminished,
          They wither in their prime, prove nothing worth.


It comes from a man, amazed in youth, by participating in a flux of civilisation much vaster than his branding, above any squabble of fraternity and without limit in its gift of nourishment. This was the ticket he gave his boys. It is certain, of course, that the ineradicability of the other ticket drove one of his boys to the most extravagant risks, and the other to repeated experiments in renunciation. Unfailingly, he was there to understand, and - how did he know this - to be our father.


The gorgeous trajectory which steadied him will never again bear his name. But it never did. The other one, cosseting him as eponymous nuisance, got his boys schools wherever they grew, rooms wherever they traveled, tables wherever they ate, homes wherever they moved, ladies wherever they strode, anything they could want, except what he showed them they need. To be created so poor, exceeded their wildest dreams. And there he met them.




We all know the safeguards Henry Adams was talking about, and in fact we're seldom able to say - that though a man might have had them, they never got the better of him. I don't claim this for myself but I can't deny it when I see it. Most such men are known for their club, few are known for their swing. Henry Adams went on to endure his safeguards and create probably the most brilliant biography ever written, even though of himself. His caustic chapters since the Grant Administration foretold the scalding shock of a blogosphere saturated in the self-diminishing conceit of bearing privilege, an exhibitionists' bacchanale of heartbreaking feeble-ness. But to believe that the proliferation of these preening blogs represented anything more than a tangling of magpies on a common coxcomb, would lend such sterility to the mortal project that, at least, we could dispense with fathering. Hence the distaste here, for those frauds upon a legacy that so favour the trappings of descent over its endowing hunger. They flatter us with a name for earnest lark, pimped as a lewd riposte:





We owe our debt to Adams, rather, to the modesty of our father, an act of will but also of style, innately borne and sometimes rough, of carrying forth what he won from his boyhood, to press into the veins of his own get. We think of this giving motive as uncanny, laughably incongruous, but those who inherit it are in no doubt. Here, strapping my sunburnt wrist is the watch my brother wore to his death, and I'll wear to mine. Beneath it, keeping time I'll not forget, I see some blue I'm living with, and treasure where I got it. I don't claim to deserve it. I claim to need it.




Let's have raspberries this morning, then, and Beethoven tonight. He loved the Rondeau's end of the Dance of the Furies. And so does your child. It's where Laurent was born, a spit of sand for dancing.
















Henry Adams
The Education of Henry Adams
  An Autobiography
Massachusetts Historical Society, 1918
Houghton Mifflin, 1961©


William Shakespeare
Venus and Adonis
1593
Alfred A. Knopf, 1992©


Calumny
Internet source


Painting extract, Titian
op. cit.


Photo, courtesy Beth Nelson