Saturday, August 20, 2011

Saturday commute xxxvii: Reading with the abbé



  The courtiers were
  delightful, they
  were not snobs ..
  But they were pro-
  vincials. There was
  freedom of speech
  but no one to ex-
  change it with. In
  short, Lunéville 
  was not Versailles.


   Saint-Lambert behaved rather well.
   Having aroused this unwanted pas-
   sion, he did nothing to try and
   check it, he waited for it to die
   down again .. She only asked per-
   mission to go on loving and this
   Saint-Lambert graciously accorded.

Abbé Girard, quite the nicest of priests, who came here, asked for Voltaire Amoureux, so I said to Mme Costa what should I put comme dédicace. She said I think better put nothing or else when he is dead & they look at his books, he will be compromised. "You see you are such a beautiful young [sic] lady, it's not as though you were Mme de Pange." 

Can you wonder I like coming here!

There will be more of
this writer, whose works
gave buoyant delight and
sweetly ribald relief to
the household of one's
childhood. She has been
grievously exploited, as
she gaily anticipated.
Let's meet her anew,
with this observation:
the volume she proposes
to inscribe is the most
necessary study of Vol-
taire which he did not
write, himself; and he
is lucky to get it.

                   But do we need such a thing?

                   Does a vine need a season of

Nancy Mitford
Voltaire in Love
Hamish Hamilton, 1957©

Nancy Mitford and
Heywood Hill
John Saumarez-Smith, editor
The Bookshop at 10 Curzon Street
  Letters .., 1952-73
  NM to HH, 25 Oct 63
The Estate of Nancy Mitford, 2004©
Frances Lincoln, Ltd, 2004

ii Benjamin A. Huseby photography
   Bolshoi youth

Found not fishing, and lacking identification

From Melville,
in the large
book cited a-
bove, we hear
of loomings.

Now, when I say that I am
in the habit of going to
sea whenever I grow hazy
about the eyes .. I do 
not mean to have it in-
ferred that I ever go to
sea as a passenger.

v  Valéry Lorenzo

Friday, August 19, 2011

Dynamite news

  The President of 
  the United States 
  promises to become 
  a serious man, the 
  moment he leaves 
  Martha's Vineyard.

  Isn't that just

Suppose it were Friday ix: it's not as if you have to play golf

    So, Iago. You think a
    3 wood will give me
    enough loft to get 
    off this beach?

    The shore breeze
    will take care of
    the loft, sir. It's
    distance that you
    need, from this lie.

Possibly, it's not a bad idea to deal with that beach some other way.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Commuter traffic, Sneeden's Landing, Thursday

  Dire is the drill
  of August blogging

                               sumptuous the light
                               in which it plays.

Justice at the pace of war: Othello

The marriage of Othello
and Desdemona was con-
summated in two days,
in a revenge murder of
the innocent by a man
unhinged by deceit.

It had the provenance,
the pace and the wit
of a Tea Party.

                        .. Marry patience
                   Or I shall say you're all 
                                in all in spleen,
                   And nothing of a man.

William Shakespeare
  Iago, IV, i
op. cit.

ii Bruce Weber photography

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Oracles, Second Opinions, and The Separation of Powers ii

.. The real problem with Leslie
was that .. the basic thrust of
his metabolism had been slowed to
the cautions and circumambulations
of the law's delays .. he did not
know how to deliver justice at the
pace of war.

The extract is from a novel set primarily in battle conditions in World War I, written by the retired President of Amherst College only a few years ago. Sometimes a phrase stays with you, and this one seems to be the title of the ballad of our time, he did not know how to deliver justice at the pace of war. A wholly normal and more than tolerable circumspection is precisely what the radical right have now exploited to the virtual extinguishment of genuine popular government in the United States, such that they have rendered obsolete even the checks and balances of an independent Executive branch and the competition of another Party. They are the only faction on the field which is aware of the pace with which policy must be advanced.

Readers are urged to study a contribution by Timothy Snyder to the blog of The New York Review of Books for this date; they will remember references here to his war history, Bloodlands. Snyder's As Ohio Goes is a lament with plenty of cause, with rich and sickening explanation for the war footing on which the Tea Party places the prospect for a just nation in these borders, as dervish scavengers of the leavings of our oligarchs. He reminds one, implicitly but forcefully, that inequality is so extreme, injustice so structural in this nation because a Party was determined to see that it is. That its lower orders are now entrenching that achievement is squarely in the sharecropper tradition, with gay men arraigned to 'rouse the ghost of Jim Crow.

I reluctantly concur in the judgment of the millions of honest voters, that the wallflower we put in the Presidency against both castes of this single menace simply can not and will not hold. Yet it's plain that his inadequacy only masks an imbalance in the Separation of Powers, and that it is pointless to shame him from his tent. The contest for the House of Representatives is, rather, the unconditional priority for containing the damage of this war. 

Who'd have thought, Mr Hamilton, that the lower house would prove to be the Somme of sanity, in a cataclysm inflicted by your gods, themselves?

Peter Pouncey
Rules for Old Men Waiting
  A Novel
Random House, 2005©

Thing weighs an absolute ton, but it came with an annuity


I suppose I should reconcile myself to the Norman Bates in all of us, when various probates roll around. Sentiment is such an unattractive term, after Miss Austen anatomised it in plain sight, that I think what we'd like to suggest in its place is, courtesy. One doesn't sniff at a legacy, at least in chambers; and to be perfectly honest, one never knows what might turn out to be of interest, now that we blog.

But it's difficult to reckon with the floor-loading demands of all that silver, to say nothing of the crannies and nooks required for the blizzard of objets de vertù which keep getting handed down and handed down, as if nobody had the good sense to enjoy a shadow for a change. 

I did draw a line against Granny's Bugatti, which required a staff of 5 simply to serve it break-fast. Anyone acquainted with Italian carburetion at the best of times, will certainly tell you how foppish it truly was. Chafing dishes at White's couldn't have fed those cylinders.

Yet, when Uncle André's sewing room mannequin came down to me from Mama, I took pity on her remaindermen and hauled it on home. There was, at least, that purse to weigh in its favour.

We haven't discussed Uncle André by name, but he does figure in our development, as when we implored him not to go. I don't really think he sewed at all, but that he needed a space of his own with his mannequin, was thought only reasonable in view of its incongruousness everywhere else. Voilà, a legacy was born - along, by way of mitigation, with some dynamite Bobby Short LP's, and a vacuum tube pre-amplifier for which I drool to this day. Patiently, he watches from our music room, humming lieder to the rain.

Is this even a question of nourishment? The difference between experience and its conduits comes up in probate all the time, as cabriolets, carburetors, chafing dishes, pictures, purses, vacuum tubes, recordings. Everything disperses. 

So much to organise; they've made whole religions about it. But I have been left the sea, and how would it catalogue me? 

i         Thomas Isermann
iv       Douglas Keating

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Whit finally had to put his foot down

Yes, there's indecency, but then there's gross incompetence. Far be it from us to impugn the good name of Narcissus when one is bathed in the warm milk of texting. We don't allow these things in the house; if you want something to adore, there is Whit. If you want to converse, there is Whit. And if you want to play, there is infallibly Whit, because this is urgent.

Open any book

In the morning they scatter themselves among the alpenroses on the rocky slopes around, lie on the frosty bushes and take off their shirts to look for lice.

The deportment of literature, you were saying?

Stephen Crane? Hemingway? No; and what's worse, a translation at that. Open any book by Italo Calvino, and you shortly know where you are. He is the writer who would turn the soldier's tiresome hygiene into a delectation of spring, a paradox within a paradox. 

You know you've entered a world where the bigot from Minnesota and the fabulist from Texas will never go: the one would never open a book that isn't dogmatic, and the other prescribes delusional textbooks for a State he misrepresents. Deciders. 

But one of my favourite readers, too, is Calvino, partly because he is hard; his intricate mind is wholly attuned to two premises in volatile co-existence: that nothing beautiful does not precariously rely on the play of many facets, even - as in his view of Stendhal and Hemingway - of harmonious contradictions; and that what is really valuably literary, as in his view of Diderot's Jacques le fataliste, is in the residue of "life's accidents." 

Can one think of Perry or Bachmann, not fulminating against this humane prospect? They do every day.

Our friends from overseas must wonder at our occasional treasuring of civilisation alongside alarmist political references. It is becoming plainer to us all, that our Bolshoi is the one which hasn't been liberated from intimidation; we are, more and more, the remaining Soviet writers of the Cold War's deforming inhibitions. Our culture generates a flood of dissident rhetoric, invariably of despair, some-times masked with arch ennui, but this takes no courage and makes no gain, because it humours and affirms the beast. Calvino's way of reading is like that of his writing, and it is hard to say where he makes the greater case, against writing under the spell of the beast. Here, he is reading Emil Cioran:

While the Hemlock was being prepared, Socrates was learning a melody on the flute. 
'What use will that be to you,' he was asked. 
'At least I will learn this melody before I die.'

The ultimate non-Soviet, Socrates exemplifies how the non-Soviet will read: fearlessly, open to the melody without prejudice. Open any book, he certainly seems to say, with no reflex of condemnation - one can see, how futile that is. Who would not read and write, or govern, for that futility?

I'm happy to say, I owe these impressions to readers of this page, and I do not mean the ones who also blog. I'm thinking, rather, of the [scarcely visible, I admit] discipline of laying something before others. This eventually results in an awareness of creative shackles, which one cannot attribute to anyone else, but also not to accrued years. I certainly do not mean to implicate others in these terms, but I haven't been able to dismiss a general sense that my country at this time is less free in its minds, than it may have been before, and certainly could be. 

If one reads what Cioran is saying Socrates has said, recalling that his was obviously not a more im-practicably 'perfect' world, I don't think we can blame his unsovietness on the cliché of a footloose bachel-orhood. One is left with the feeling that it is possible to be alive in that way, which brings to mind that unnerving thing that Ford said about Tietjens, in still another imperfect world: a man could stand up.

Italo Calvino

The Path to the Nest
  of the Spiders
Archibald Colquhoun, translation
The Ecco Press, 1976©

Why Read the Classics?
Collected literary essays
Martin McLaughlin, translation
Random House, 1999©

iv  Benjamin A. Huseby
     Bolshoi youth

Monday, August 15, 2011

I realise, this will make us all think of "Brief Encounter"

The fact is, almost any Monday morning on a rail platform will put one in mind of Celia and Trevor, hounded by Rachmaninov from the peace of sweet retreat to the empty chores assigned to them by whistles screeching over gasps of steam. If there's anything at all about that movie which portrayed the railslave's anomie more perfectly than its sound effects, I confess it could only be the wit of Coward or Lean, to let us say so.

But we know how prosaic things really are, beneath it all, in the tea service in contemporary terminals. For this reason they are likelier to raise hope among only our newer rebels, of going someplace happier.

Yet there is gladder news of Monday than was suggested in our "lead," that journalistic whistle which persuaded Louise to respect Jack Reed in Reds. The New York Review is running a Summer sale on Mr Wilson's To the Finland Station. Seldom has the exile's ticket back home been so affordable. Possibly, more than the natural illustrations of the place, these references are a tableau of horrors for a brownshirt Republican's extirpation; and so, wishing not to nourish them rudely, we go to press today with the becomingest concealment of gluteal offense. Her famous migraine loves a spur, for the Minnesotan's rage; and Lawrence v. Texas bears revival, as an Alamo.

To isolate these dissonant sound effects, would only intensify them, in Bachmann and Perry's staging of Patrick Buchanan's Kulturkampf. We come as we are to the electoral station, and queue to board a train whose destination no one's ticket can control, or even designate.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Hey, I hear Michelle had a busy mornin'

I've been on the tip of the spear, she boasted to NBC. Time was, folks didn't use to figure they'd talk about that. Poor lady was trying to say how belligerent she is, and everybody heard her as passive aggressive. So here we go again, backing and filling, re-explaining what an innocent candidate really meant to say, after saying what she really meant to say, in front of all these horrifyingly biased microphones.

We're knee deep already in the aw shucks, it warn't nuthin' phase of Michelle's brownshirt arc of merriment. Check it out; asked about why she fought against any solution to the debt crisis, she declared it isn't what people want to hear about.

Got that right, Ma'am. And that was only last week. What more are we really not going to want to hear, when you and Rick Perry start claw-ing each other over who's more Christian? Who'd get tougher with libraries? And what's your back-up plan, for matching his body count with capital punishment? Not for lack of trying? Have faith in your intentions?

Tell ya whut, darlin'.
We do. We really do.

The seduction of boys iv: the gossamer-fine thread

Dmitry Petrovich had begun to take aim, and for a second everything had disappeared. There was no granite sky, no red lingonberries - nothing but two eyes, turned toward him. The elk was looking at him. He was, after all, the sole witness of the disaster that had that morning befallen her.

And with a sense of strength and happiness, with a hunter's accurate premonition of a fine shot, taking care not to disturb the gosammer-fine thread linking him and his target, he pressed slowly and smoothly on the trigger. 

Then, going up to the elk he had shot, Dmitry Petrovich realised what had happened. Her calf had damaged a front leg - it was caught in the split trunk of a fallen alder tree, and the calf was evidently terrified of being abandoned. Even after the shot, even after the mother had fallen to the ground, the calf had gone on trying to persuade her not to abandon him - and she had not abandoned him.

The writer is the great epistolary witness to the warfare between the Soviet Union and Germany in the 1940s; this story is from an invaluable collection of his fiction, essays, and journalism. An occasion he didn't witness, but whose remnants were scattered ubiquitously before him, was the ballistically meticulous judeocide of his entire home town, Berdichev, in the Ukraine, whence he deduced the disap-pearance of his mother by the shawl left on her chair.

This is not a page to be illustrated by artifacts. There will be no painter's impression of the Goyesquerie of the occasion, or snapshot souvenir inva-sions of the privacy of death. They simply cannot do what Grossman has done, to vitiate the illusion in any premonition that there can ever be, a fine shot. The courage of maternity is his profoundest rebuttal, and it is unanswerable; there is only lewd tran-sitory advantage. But then he follows that thread where it visibly draws itself: to the calf who was corrupted, with a sense of strength and happiness.

Vasily Grossman
The Road: Stories,
  Journalism and Essays
    The Elk, 1954-55
Robert and Elizabeth Chandler,
  and Olga Mukovnikova, translation
New York Review Books, 2010©

i         Lasse Pedersen
ii        Mathias Lauridsen
iv, v   Thomas Andreasson