Saturday, July 16, 2011

Saturday commute xxxii: doux de montagne

between the ranch of Leland Stanford
and the beach of immigrant fishermen
there is King's Mountain Road

Friday, July 15, 2011

Suppose it were Friday v: if there were a Party of the quiet places

It would not be

workout in red


Big mouth.
Remember it took three of you to kill me.
A god, a boy, and, last and least, a hero.
I can hear Death pronounce my name, and yet
somehow it sounds like 'Hector'.
And as I close my eyes I see Achilles' face
With Death's voice coming out of it.

Saying these things Patroclus died.
And as his soul went through the sand
Hector withdrew his spear and said:

Christopher Logue
War Music: An account of Books 1-4
  and 16-19 of Homer's Iliad
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1997©

Le jour se lève

It's 10:38 in the morning on a 15th of July; the St Cyr cadet reconciles him-self to dawn with that diffuse contrition which comes of passing une nuit blanche in the cellar of one of those countless Romanovs, who've held such receptions since their relief from duty. We urge no fear for the glistening delt, the moistened brow; they stack towels as de la Rentas stack pillows.

But could I really have agreed 
to tennis at noon?

Thursday, July 14, 2011

"Laurent, what is a bastille?"

Has anyone else, who blogs pseudonymously,
had to deal with this phase, yet? I refer
to a naughty air that seems to surface at 
a certain age of the endeavour, as if the
antecedent had some sort of sense of its
own momentum. Only this morning, trying to
be civil toward the national day of France,
encouraging Laurent to apply himself to his 
posting brought about this exchange:

Laurent, now focus: what is a bastille?

A dull compound with a baccalaureate.

It wasn't so much what he said, but the cheek
with which he amused himself, unheard of, that
took even Whit aback, and promptly sat him down.
To be held over a barrel by an insubordinate
sobriquet is not, may we say, what brought us
to this page; and it sets a poor incentive for
others to bring something to life, with any as-
piration of sustaining its gentility. We've
half a mind to task him to study china.

Adam François Parcel de Saint Cristau, 19 Floréal Year II

I do not know what immemorial power
Leaves crime in peace, harasses innocence.
Whenever in my life I turn my eyes,
I see misfortunes that condemn the gods.
Let's justify their hate, deserve their wrath. 
Let crime's reward precede its punishment.

.. who had taken a liking to me
who often sent his servant to fetch me
  to eat with him
You were destined to perish
  you  were  rich
My speeches to the assembly
everything I did to win people over
  to your side all came to nought
The decent man pitied you
  but held his tongue

The memoirs of Jacques-Louis Ménétra, born 1738, are especially captivating for taking the form of a lifelong journal, and were historiography's most exciting discovery of the 1980s, 331 folio sheets of unpunctuated witness - and fantasy - found in the Bibliothèque Historique by Daniel Roche of the University of Paris. It is an impress of great liveliness and vital diversity of subject. Ménétra was a working man, a glazier, of the class that would produce the sans-culottes; Paris had about 500 free elementary schools, one for every 1200 inhabitants, in the eighteenth century .. 98 percent of the domestic servants who left wills were literate, two-thirds owned

writing desks complete with inkstands, pens, and papers kept on file. The stuff, in other words, was always there. Only the same presumptions denounced by Cecil in his life of Cowper, had precluded this discovery. It changed our under-standing of France, and invigorated her renown for inquiry.

Saint Cristau, age 44, appears on page 486 in Volume II of the Liste Générale de Toutes les Personnes meticulously maintained by the Revolutionary Tribunal of Paris. He died on May 8th, 1794, with 30 other substantial landholders, scarfed up as jacks for the bouncing blade in a prosecution of identity. 

More and more, historians have come to understand the indispensable rôle of contingency in the saddest pages they survey. That the Terror is not France must come as a disappointment to Thomas Carlyle and Edmund Burke; but to everyone else it comes as an admonition to understand it. I cite again a great teacher under whom I did not study but was influenced, who guided one away from passivity toward tradition, at a place where such things are suspected of flourishing. That the worst that can happen, is reproducible, is constantly voiced to us first by demagogues, who'd only hasten its appearance. Irrationality thrives on historical presumption. And it will always get itself a Party.

To approach France, then, as a teacher, is not to diminish Saint Cristau by the celebration of Ménétra. Rather, we learn from them as structures in thought, each desired - the adamant and the volatile in juxtaposition on a given page of time. We know all hunger, attentive and critical, to be for understanding.  

In order to show you where your desire is, Barthes wrote, it is enough to forbid it to you a little. This would be the structure of the couple: a little prohibition, a good deal of play; to designate desire and then to leave it alone, like those obliging natives who show you the path but do not insist on accompanying you on your way. 

No partisan of fresh-caught trout with a vibrant spätlese on a Summer's day can possibly feel it isn't under-standing, he desires. This day of France coin-cides with monstrosity rampaging in umbrage against reason in the U.S., disinformation as its hook, because it still exists.

Where do we go, to say we're sorry for Saint Cristau; where do we go to learn the path of which we are the native? Except to turn with love to the experience of our Mother, fount of real security, of information needed for immunity from distemper. A reader in France writes in, to celebrate the croissant, another to praise particular hills at home. They are right. She teaches us desire before all else.

Jean Racine
  III, i, 773-778
  Orestes to Pylades
John Cairncross, translation
Penguin, 1967©

Jacques-Louis Ménétra
Journal of My Life
Arthur Goldhammer, translation
Daniel Roche, editor and commentary
Robert Darnton, foreword
Columbia University Press, 1986©

Le Tribunal Révolutionnaire de Paris
La Liste Complète des Personnes
  qui ont comparu devant le tribunal
Paris Plon, 1866
Internet source

Henri Thirion
La vie privée des financiers
  au XVIIIième siècle
Paris Plon, 1895
Internet source

Arno J. Mayer
The Furies: Violence and Terror
  in the French and Russian Revolutions
Princeton University Press, 2000©

Roland Barthes
A Lover's Discourse
Richard Howard, translation
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1978©

Gustave Courbet
The Man with the Leather Belt
  Self-Portrait [detail]
  ca 1845
  Musée d'Orsay, Paris
The Trout
  Kunsthaus, Zurich

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Thinking about France

Something the French I've met, are too aware to do. If you have had a lover from France, to pluck an example from thin air, and you've lapsed into a bodily compliment, you were met with a whisper, but that isn't me. One goes, figuratively or not, to France for this very kind of rejoinder; where does it come from? 

On the following day, most of the world as we know it, will ask itself this question about the existence of France. The answers that explain the great states of the world are on the tip of our tongue; and in regard to France, we know the wonderful people who've done everything they can to explain it to us, ever since all of Gaul was divided into three parts.

I, for my part, do not care to hear of tomorrow's celebration, it was the best of times, it was the worst of times. That mantra belongs to one work of art which needs no justification from us, one masterpiece of passion we do not interrogate with history. 

I, Laurent, know I have no French blood but that Paris figures in the conception, gestation, death, education, and delectation of my forbears, as the ground zero it is to almost everyone I know with a mind and heart. That Paris is not France, I, Laurent, do not need to be told; but that it has other consequential crossroads, we have already published, in a motorcyclist's choice between Meursault and Puligny. Moreover, we know, then, that the claim of the name of France has more than once been hostile to other provinces, other faiths, others living next door; it exists only in that void sustained by the very arrangement of its parts, Barthes suggested.

There exists an idea of France and an elastic place and an elastic mode, that are called by that name. What accounts for the constancy of the one, with so little surety of the others? I will agree, that it is too multifaceted for an answer, but that if you turn the thing just so, you may see what you lack for there. And the first of these is what you learned on your pillow, in an embrace that changed your heart.

Roland Barthes
Richard Howard, translation
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1987©

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

An elegant mind on the myth of elegant time

.. who, after a severely classical four years at Eton, left England for the Grand Tour in his Berlne; was speechless with shyness at Madame du Deffand's parties in Paris, bought Guideo Renis in Bologna; who admired Frederick William I's Guards in Potsdam, stepping together like giant marionettes controlled by one hand; 

who came back to England; married the daughter of a nobleman as Whig as himself or a relation; attacked Walpole or maybe Carteret; played Loo; made rotund orations, studded with Latin quotations; collected curious antiquities; laid out his gardens in accordance with the grandiloquent plans of Capability Brown; who spent half the year lounging in the windows of Brooks's and half among the oaks and elms of his country seat; who was painted in youth by Allan Ramsay, and in age by Romney; who was brought up to like Pope, but grew to prefer Ossian; who patronised Dr Johnson; who talked and wrote voluminous letters and composed compliments in verse; who laughed at the royal family and drank too much port and died.

[This] is the land of their dreams; but it is not at all like the England of the eighteenth century, the teeming, clamouring, irregular, enthralling England of the eighteenth century. In order to mould the age they love nearer to their heart's desire, they have successfully shattered it to bits. For one thing, their idea is too homogeneous. Only countries of the mind are so much of a piece. The past does not, any more than the present, escape that incompleteness, that inconsistency which is the essential characteristic of life as we know it, as opposed to life as we should like it to be.

Where better to go for a soothing shower of faith in the human mind, than to one which is so generous to the crisis of its disorder, as to have brought Cowper from the shadow of Wordsworth and restored our respect for the authenticity of his rural feeling in a cosmopolitan age. The flower of his generation of one of England's greatest families, Cecil's was a gift for the elegance of inquiry. It can be read, felt, assimilated, exercised in his legacy. Can be, ought to be, needs to be.

Lord David Cecil
The Stricken Deer
  The Life of Cowper
Constable & Co., Ltd, 1929©

i, ii  Lachowski
iii    Lauridsen

Monday, July 11, 2011

The sound that wasn't wanted

Mlle de l'Espinasse: Once I have seen inert matter change into something sensitive, there is nothing left to marvel at .. You have two great phenomena, the transi-tion from a state of inertia to one of sensitivity, and spontaneous generation; let them satisfy you, and draw correct conclusions from them and in a natural order, where nothing is great or small, permanent or variable in the absolute. Beware of the fallacy of the ephemeral .. Doctor, what is the fallacy of the ephemeral?

Dr Bordeu: That of a transient being who believes in the immutability of things.

Mlle de l'Espinasse: Like Fontenelle's rose, who declared that no gardener had ever been known to die? .. Why can't these philosophers of yours express themselves as gracefully as Fontenelle? We should understand them then.


Denis Diderot
D'Alembert's Dream
Leonard Tancock, translation
Penguin, 1966©

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Garagiste in Merisi red

Garage wine doesn't come from garages,
it comes from the earth, like all the
others. It draws the eliciting hand, 
like all the others, where it may.

Knowing ours to be a talky sort of page

It hasn't been unheard of, for readers to send in a photo relic for commentary or interpretation, knowing how we do go on from time to time. Early on, and more than once, the appeal to put on a pretty record was heard, to extenuate conjecture on the self-incrimination clause, or the eschatology of clavicles. A bafflement we owned, with some of this charity, was with the context of its application. But now, more usually, we find this same befuddlement to have prompted our correspondent, to demand a clue as to the thing's provenance, as if we were some boardwalk apppraisal stand for beachcombers.

I give you the beachdrinker, as the perfect example. Is he a kind of tautology in some Star Chamber narrative, in the history of the Fifth Amendment, or a kind of self-calumnising species of entrapment, striding along in surreptitious good cop/bad cop boardwalk interrogation? Anything you say can and will .. And where now are our paranoids, when we really need them? Or does this effigy descend from the clavically savvy discussions in Homer, showing the practicality of that apparatus for hoisting a rider by the tip of a lance, in even-Steven contest? All we can infer, is that it's not a telephone self-portrait, and that's not a Glock in his pocket.

As you might suppose, in eleven months quite a lot of this stuff can pile up, and we are sorely tempted to come up with a form letter of acknowledgment, or to publish our response, wholesale. Yet we haven't decided whether to disclaim expertise or to patronise everything with a treacly compliment. Still young, or passably so, in our own little project, we wonder if there mightn't be a creative - dare we say, in the opiate of the App Era, inter-active - mode of processing these inquiries, while giving offense to the smallest number? Might the genius of our readers not be rallied to explain the deconstructed sweater, the style of stone best suited to a piercing?

Now that you mention it, who among us can not recall those days, when a well-knitted ratatouille might depend upon a parity of freshness in its constituents, perhaps a lighter hand in their assemblage in woven stages, responsive to their texture yet integral to a general whole? Now, is it possible, anywhere, not to dine out on deconstructions of this heretofore coherent collation, as if to say, now you must extract the essence of this delt, and here this pec, while at any moment a morsel of some papillae might draw its own balsamic intervention, exquis-itised for context to be crushed?

And were we, for our part, not more stout in our resistance to entreaties of that trade, the restaurants of our time might well entail a tasting note to publish on the spot, provided enough exotica in their offerings or remoteness in their locale, as to cover any blemish of our palate, or arcana of conceit.

But we stray. We see the flow of images submitted for our testing as a gathering flock of fantasies, focused in their plumage on a flattering presumption of some solution we possess for their dispatch. On the contrary. Living in the country, we see our share of birds, but less of restaurants than you'd think, and are therefore quite out of touch with the latest degradation of taste. We shouldn't wonder if a perturbation in one's healthy vasculation were the price of tasting so capriciously, where any thumb could play the sum of what is missing so deliciously. We're reluctant to speculate in complications of what an image is.

Will this make the difference?

Who doesn't tread with trepidation in the blogland of style and snobbery, acquisition and exhibition, that it might someday all implode upon the perfect pair of shoes? Oh, dear lord, suddenly no more exquisite effect, excruciating detail, indenture to anguished compulsion, corrosive disdain, pretense of patronage. A Listerine heiress once bought 11 canvases from Mark Rothko on a morning walk; have we heard if any of them worked?

Then it was all true. I saw the skins of tigers flaming in his palace on the Grand Canal; I saw him opening a chest of rubies to ease, with their crimson-lighted depths, the gnawings of his broken heart.

And here we are. 4 paintings would miss the point, suggesting they were trifles; 5 would sound uncritical. 10 would be obscene, as if there'd been a discount. Yet who could live with only 9, while 12 might sound like muffins? And any more, my god, you'd notice them.

Superb taste as always, Mr. Siegel.

F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Great Gatsby
Charles Scribner's Sons, 1925©

James Toback, screenplay
TriStar Pictures, Inc., 1991©