Saturday, August 13, 2011

Saturday commute xxxvi: Venice to Cyprus on a salade niçoise

   I'm to have lunch today with a fellow who goes around the world, looking at things, from whom we last heard in a garden in Mougins, addressing a steak tartare. Possibly, in the open shade of a garden in the Piedmont, we'll resort to a salade niçoise and Sancerre, but I'd be hopeful for a fine Chablis. I remember this fellow because he went to La Fenice for me to hear the Schubert 8th, whence I gave him dinner in Venice, too, because I wanted to see what to do with a good Amarone. He reminds me that it's useful to have a few palates out there to travel for one, and I recommend this expedient unreservedly, not to banish them, particularly, so much as to keep in touch with one's dog.

The commute from Venice to Cyprus is really nothing, these days, but it was of consequence to the Moor, who must also play his part at lunch. My friend tells me - insisting, it's coincidence - that he is taking up Shakespeare; and of course it's coincidence, the way one might barge into the sea between Point A and Point B. Far be it from anyone, to detain a fellow who goes around the world, looking at things, from looking at things. Hence, Othello, I think, more than Prospero at this embarkation on the marine experience.

I'll hand him two copies of the play, and Mr Welles' interesting movie about it. He can have the pristine and unmarked Pelican, staple of my college days - costing, I note, 65 cents, new; and my heavily marked up copy in the Arden edition, from hanging out with actors. 

If nothing else, one is conscious in Othello of a story that is simply going nowhere in the world or in time, but onward; and every time one looks upon it, one is watching something remorseless and vast, going past. I'm a slowly educated man, but I can think of extremely few products of the mind which embody such inextin-guishable energy, that they never need - like the Parthenon - to be resummoned to contempla-tion as something excellent - but, rather, have a pulse you can see, receding in the distance.

And yes, it seems it's all Iago's fault - but isn't everything, you were about to interject. I'd have to think about that. I'm not sure that would allow the play to be a tragedy. I may not be able to go so far.

She loved me for the dangers I had passed,
And I loved her that she did pity them.

ii Andrew Cooper

William Shakespeare
The Tragedy of Othello,
  The Moor of Venice, I, iii, 167-8
Alice Walker and
  John Dover Wilson, editors
The New Shakespeare
Cambridge University Press, 1957©

Friday, August 12, 2011

Suppose it were Friday vii: the waiting room of daylight

  In the waiting room of daylight
  there are alarming reports
  of the imagination.

You can't hear them, but they're infamous and they are true. Everyone's his own armourer, buckling a cuirass he would see dismantled;

  Discovering, unfurling something 

ii, v  Bolshoi youth
         Benjamin A. Huseby, photography

Thursday, August 11, 2011

My favourite clothespin iv

  One clothespin of a 
  quality of lighting
  we enjoy in language, 
  to apply a sense of 
  touch to a fact which 
  can lift it off the 

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

A friend a friend will know

I would like guys in their youth to adopt William Shakespeare as a matter of ordinary weekly refreshment. There will come a time when less and less will make sense, or even be observed unless there is that frame of reference; but that's only for judgment's sake. For engagement's sake there could be few truer conduits between the minds of friends than in his plays. Plato is superb for conjecture; Virgil is much more like his sonnets. His plays portray lives in layers, beyond the circumstantial, of life as it is certain to be lived again. And when they turn to each other I want them to have seen those wafers in the kaleidoscope which turn with every thought they will exchange.

It's possible to lose a friend and it's possible to recall a friend by other means; but I have never lost a friend, in the sense of being unable to say I knew him any longer, who has sat with me to speak of William Shakespeare. 

I did not invent this expedient, hedging my bets at the time; but now I can look through decades and bright lights, and bring right here to the ground beside me, the essence of these friends in conversations he convened between us.

Yet with everyone, Shakespeare invigorates engagements, in all their permutations, which we deserve to understand in feeling at the time, and never lose.

Meter and syntax are his bones, words and words and words for senses, endings and beginnings shifting every gesture of thought; lines of supple texture every time we touch them, shape and substance certain in his grasp, yet fluid and prolific, always saying there'll be more. And there will be, whenever one goes back. Our language gave us a fortune.

I don't know if the President of the United States is reading Richard II now. At the close of Act III, a Gardener takes the stage and gives instructions to assistants, which have lain on that page for more than 400 years, for every student of a State to know by heart, placed there as plain as day for the young. Such interventions by spontaneous innocents in Shakespeare are like choral odes, laid out for no dramatic gain but for moral assessment. Richard has been inadequate in his part, and several things this President is not, but one thing that he is. Complaisant; pathetically so, toward his usurpers.

Go, bind thou up young dangling apricocks,
which like unruly children make their sire
Stoop with oppression of their prodigal weight,
Give some supportance to the bending twigs.
Go thou, and like an executioner
Cut off the heads of too fast growing sprays,
That look too lofty in our commonwealth:
All must be even in our government.
You thus employed, I will go root away
The noisome weeds which without profit suck
The soil's fertility from wholesome flowers.

Why should we, in the compass of a pale,
Keep law and form and due proportion,
Showing, as in a model, our firm estate,
When our sea-walled garden, the whole land,
Is full of weeds, her fairest flowers chok'd up,
Her fruit-trees all unprun'd, her hedges ruin'd,
Her knots disordered, and her wholesome herbs
Swarming with caterpillars?

Hold thy peace 
.. O what pity is it,
That he had not so trimm'd and dress'd his land
As we this garden! We at time of year
Do wound the bark, the skin of our fruit trees,
Lest, being over-proud in sap and blood,
With too much riches it confound itself; 
Had he done so to great and growing men,
They might have liv'd to bear, and he to taste 
Their fruits of duty ..Had he done so, himself had borne the crown,
Which waste of idle hours 
hath quite thrown down.

A sordid sight is not a happy one to blog, a sorry view is not our favourite way of bringing something that exists into being, so that it may be seen. Very few of the blogs I admire permit themselves to do this; and their resolution to present some beauty and to eschew advice is exemplary. I offer no excuse, and in fact a mild apology. As is obvious, this is a page of occasional advocacy, and it has a constituency. We know the beautiful and we know the good, but they are also something else: an inheritance to be looked after from time to time, even for us to affirm to each other.

  Just sayin'.

William Shakespeare
King Richard II
  Act III, iv
Peter Ure, editor
The Arden Edition of the Works
  of William Shakespeare
Richard Proudfoot, general editor
Methuen, 1955©

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The little river through Horace's estate was called, Digentia

I, once handsome in delicate clothes and sleek hair .. addicted once to rich wine as early as noon, I now love brief dinners and naps in the grass by the stream. I'm not ashamed of my fun ..

There is so much to love about one's entry into quiet water, that it may seem strange to be especially taken by the awareness that it is always deliberate. Plainly Horace loved the experience of this deliberate act as much as what he was comparing it to, in this Epistle - the racier play of life in Rome. I would guess, we all have the highest sense of fellow feeling for those who are so conscious of a choice to change their experience - Rossellini, again: change a rhythm, you get an emotion - as we are, in our own preferred pursuits. We clasp one spine from among many on our shelf, and consent to immersion in that one book; we slip the lead into our dog's collar for an evening walk; we pull the chain of the lamp by our bed to enter into sleep, and these enactments feel proportionate to the transformation we accept. I have no memory of any lover which is not framed by this consciousness of a deliberate movement, as in stepping into quiet water.

Gilbert Highet
Poets in a Landscape
op. cit.

Satires and Epistles
  Epistle I, 14
John Davie, translation
op. cit.

Waiting for the bigotry bus

The best thing about Republican bigotry is the ecstatic release it promises in hard times. Its technique is first to lacerate with horror, next to wallow in indignation, and last to raise its fist in triumph. That its specialty is lawful abuse, under colour of religious, patriotic scruple, gives deniability to the suicide it inflicts, the spousal abuse it shields, the substance abuse it propagates, and the infinite suppression it achieves of social progress. It's designed to keep the sharecropper class where it belongs, and it works. They exploit terror to promise dominance, and they get away with it in plain sight of their exploitation of their own constituents. Here they come again.

I think we should go out and meet it. The Party has been on a joyride of immunised hysteria since the campaign of Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew in 1968. It worked, because times were hard. They lied; and led with praise of righteousness, to drive a 40-year stake through the heart of progress, called fear. Now they have destroyed the nation, and they want people to be frightened of making love? We shall see. 

I've been spending some time this summer in the bloodlands

The historian Tim Snyder has finally published in book form, findings previously exhibited in The New York Review, on the conduct of the Soviet Union's and Germany's war in the 1940s. Together with Max Hastings' broader history of the last year of the war, Peter Longerich's meticulous tracing of decisions leading to the judeocide, and Vasily Grossman's writings from within the belly of the Stalinist beast, I find a prejudice being strongly reinforced, which germinated for me at a tender age. 

I refer, as a lifelong historian, to my regret that the discipline exists. If it did not, the facts of the Second World War, which destroyed progressivism in the United States, led directly to a state of chronic war for 50 years, and which recast the very identity of the American republic as a perpetual parody of its worst original elements, would have had to have been assimilated by everyone and as early as possible in life, rather than optionally and by the few, whenever they felt like fitting it in between Austen and Ayn Rand. Instead of denouncing the ignorance of these generations, I denounce its cause, in the retirement of data to a priesthood.

You can come to the same despondency by happier means, of course - my original means, in fact. I refer to an enthusiasm for its method and its enormous lev-erage of related discoveries, which stipulates that history is a fit subject for well-bred conversation. As a naïf, I'm always the last to believe we desire ignorance. I'm trying, therefore, to see if shirt-lessness can help, because I still believe in the pertinence of facts, and they still seem urgent to me to know, when yet another campaign for the Presidency of the United States bids fair to turn on terror and phobia, misrepresentation and op-pressive, cynical expenditure.

The campaign boarding a bus this day, to scare the people of Iowa into catatonic obliviousness to the sucker punch of fascism once again, is really not one's cup of history. But this should be an easy call; and that for who-knows-how-many millions, it isn't, is more than perplexing. It spoils the chapter in Twain on the King and the Duke; and that really isn't nice to do, in a state lying on the Mississippi.

One never knows. The Summer can be a gainful season of growth; and for that matter, who does not recall with special fondness, the histories one learned to trust and to treasure, in that most blissfully autodidactic of intervals. If so few as 1,000 copies of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn have been read in Iowa this Summer - a not unreasonable assumption, in a State of 3 million - that's bad news for demagogues, bad news for bigotry, bad news for hypoc-risy, and bad news for folks who think they can mess with a boy's heart. It may just be that Iowans might love the family and the friends they really have.

Tim Snyder
Bloodlands: Europe 
  between Hitler and Stalin
Basic Books, 2010©

Sunday, August 7, 2011

A man who was supposed not to exist, Rudolf Brazda, 1913-2011

for Franck

   Rudolf Brazda, a native of Germany of Czech descent, died this past Wednesday in Alsace, at present a part of France. The fact of his existing at all, came to light only by his self-identification to German officials in 1998, on the occasion of the dedication of a national monument in Berlin. At his death, confirmed this past week by numerous agencies of historical record-keeping, it is thought that the life of the last person who was interned in German custody under Section 175 of the Reichsgesetzblatt, an amendment to the national penal code adopted by the German parliament on the 28th of June, 1935, has passed into the reliable hands of historians.

  Having studied such hands, I am not content to accept this escheat. The parliament which was supposed to protect him, did not; the institutions set up to guard him, did their job miserably; the entities purporting to know of him were oblivious to his existence; and the profession charged now with his memory is, itself, testimony to society's chronic distaste for remembering anything of its actual self. 

   Why is it necessary today, to print in a blog Crèvecoeur's own witness to the barbaric murder of a slave in the American South, while not 15 minutes from this residence there stands a repulsive monument in front of the County courthouse urging the persistence of a "cause" built on captivity, torture, and frivolous execution; where capital punishment is practiced at the most rapid pace per capita in this union, humiliating even Texas in its carnage?

   Section 175 was adopted to codify as national policy, those ad hoc repressions which were considerably more widespread in Germany than fanciers of Weimar mythology have led us to suppose. It provided for the detention of gay men, not lesbians, to eliminate their ostensible threat to the institution of the family, and joined several amendments dating from 1933, which touched upon marriage and the rights of persons of Jewish descent. This Section was revoked entirely by the German parliament only in 1994, upon reunification with the more secular East.

   Taken together, these statutes in defense of marriage are simply broader in their reach and more elaborate in their constraint, than the policies promoted so actively today in the United States by Michelle Bachmann. These laws were instituted less to repress behaviour of persons - which their authors know to be irrepressible - than to assert the sovereignty of ideology over all of their liberties. In this respect, Ms Bachmann's program of governing domestic sexuality from Washington, DC is indistinguishable from the most infamous legislation in human history.

   In propounding that legislation, the German minority movement which finally achieved it after only 10 years of agitation, did so on the basis of restoring security to the people. With the right lie, the German minority found, you can get the co-operation of the Church, to furnish the necessary majority. In Michelle Bachmann's movement, too, terror is cultivated as an asset, and her appeal is fed by waving her ersatz Baby Jesus doll, with that exact zeal for intimidation which any assertion of falsehood requires. You want war, you want repression, you need a lie of ideological coherency. Hers is that humanity is a threat to her toy, and through it, the safety of all babies. Yet in her movement's persistent denial of the legitimacy of resistance and indeed, of any fact conducive to it, a restoration of the people's security is openly demanded and promised. Her credentials as a threat to the safety of babies are impeccable, and I urge readers to grant her the recognition she deserves.  

   From the point of view of this page, there is nothing about Mr Brazda's passing which marks the slightest change, so long as a minority movement can dominate the will and the acts of a republican people through their own representation, whether or not the hysteria they propagate relies on recitals of homophobia. Mr Brazda's ordeal under the protections of his nation has been documented, as has the resiliency and pride of his indomitable spirit. Those facts - themselves, virtues, reviled in the big lie of Michelle Bachmann - have honourably been preserved, and their implications recalled at the leading human rights page in our Context, Another Country. 

   With the United States being subjected now to the politics which undid the German republic in the 1930s, no wonder gay men stand again as the jugular of authoritarian opportunism. No wonder Christianity is being twisted again as the yoke of fascism. Yet if anyone believes Ms Bachmann will be satisfied merely to control sexuality of interest to a disposable few, let him consult her financial statement. I mourn the suffering and passing of Rudolf Brazda. But plainly, history is too remote a place for him.




Hector St John Crèvecoeur
Letters from an 
  American Farmer
op. cit.

Peter Longerich
  The Nazi Persecution ..
op. cit.