Saturday, October 22, 2011

Saturday commute xliv: as spectacles


Part of the pleasurable melancholy of beachcomb-ing comes from speculat-ing about where the ob-jects came from, how long they took to arrive. Hav-ing been in the sea, jet-sam, like wrecks, becomes pickled in agelessness.. I picked this last object out of the scum to look for a trademark which might give a clue to its origin.

It was not a training shoe but the sole of a human foot, perhaps half an inch thick and trimmed of the toes. Its pulpy upper side, long since leached of blood and colour, was threaded with nematodes. On the under-side were the callosities and scars of a life lived barefoot. 

Although it smelt I sat with it a while, wondering when and how each scar had been acquired .. It was hard to see how a shark would snip off the toes and leave the remainder .. But they are strange and beautiful creatures whose acute olfactory sense makes for impetuosity and abrupt switches of attention rather than thoroughness. Probably .. the animal had found a surfeit of food. I threw the sole back into the sea and rinsed my hands.

Out under the waves would be sleek stomachs and powerful alimentary canals digesting a cigarette lighter, tatters of denim, a pair of spectacles.

James Hamilton-Paterson
Seven-Tenths: The Sea and
  Its Thresholds
Europa Editions, 2009©

Living barefoot


                      as we do

     catching up on weekends.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Suppose it were Friday xliii: it will be a long day



Fritzi and I

I had an exotic infancy. Rejecting, they say, ordinary nourishment, I was dispatched to a German nurse in Santa Barbara, Aunt Kiki, who raised me on her farm on goat's milk, and whom I would visit every Summer and Christmas. At home in San Marino, family would visit and modify their codicils, cooing at my resemblance to my grandfather, who had roundly been despised. His ex-wife, my grandmother, is said to have wept. I wouldn't know.

But underneath my crib there lay my friend for life, Fritzi - an adorable ball of fuzz as I see his portraits now, who grew quickly into that gorgeous destiny of his own. Fritzi did not welcome interlopers, and his notion of alienation included too many in the household for the conven-ience of the dilletanti. He and I were separated. Always in my life, I have gratefully reached out to this breed, as they know.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

It was the best of times, claimed the White House

I know this feeling, 
of feeling marvelously 
good. It's very, very 
Virginia fratboy. You 
can still check out 
Ceaucescu's slaughter, 
and probably George Bush 
will let you heft 
Saddam Hussein's handgun, 
for a donation to his

Now we have a Libyan to feed 
to naïve idiots, who think 
the acts of their suffering 
will deliver them from it. 
How stark, the sight of 
endless White Houses, 
ever since Hiroshima, 
applauding the charity, 
the progressiveness of murder. 

You know? 

Life didn't come to life 
to be a part of this. So, 
what are we supposed to do: 
pretend another President 
on his watch? Show Givenchy 
at his best, sunsets 
in their bloom, French 
lit at another turning
point of genius? 

Or listen to some delegate
of our responses, steeped
in the flux of the Manichaean
Heresy: better him than me.
What then is the difference?
Are we here for nothing?

I'm of 2 minds on the structured sweater

      now I have somewhat forgotten
      the one I came in with.

Who is Jean-Jacques Rousseau iii

I was destined to be rejected by every profession. Although M. Gâtier gave the least unfavourable account of my progress that he possibly could, it was obvious that my results .. did not serve to encourage me in my further studies [in seminary]. The bishop and the superior, therefore, lost interest in me, and I was returned to Mme de Warens as a creature not even fit to be trained as a priest. I was a nice enough lad otherwise, they said, and had no vices; which was her reason for not abandoning me even in the face of so many discouraging judgements against me.

You and I have just been introduced to one of the indispensable women in the history of literature, who did not write a thing but whose benign influence on this 'sweetest lever ever' of modernity wrought irreversible change in expectations of the novel and in discussions of female sexuality. Everywhere one turns, in the education and various rustications of the young Jean-Jacques Rousseau, accident and happenstance keep pointing the great rocket miraculously away from custom and practice, to that radical concept so few could imagine yet, without his writings - human equality.

At the age of 19, in 1732 - the year of the birth of Beaumarchais - Rousseau effectively flunked out of the lowest order of intellectual training a gentleman could pursue in France, but he clung to his benefactress' music text, describing himself precisely in the terms Beaumarchais would employ to characterise Cherubino in Le Mariage -

I have a passionate temperament, and lively and headstrong emotions. Yet my thoughts arise slowly and confusedly, and are never ready till too late. It is as if my heart and my brain did not belong to the same person .. I feel everything and I see nothing .. 

So there I was, settled at last in her house, Rousseau recalled of returning to Mme de Warens, a pensioned favourite of the Sardianian court, whom he would refer to as Mamma even when the difference in their ages 'made no difference'. Here, the young man who saw nothing and felt everything would discover the substance of the cornerstone of feminist literature in the French language, which he would write, himself: thinking as a woman at an age when males are obsessed with discovering how to seem to think as themselves. The turmoil he underwent in his passion for his benefactress was prodigal, the result is Julie, ou la nouvelle Héloïse, 1761.

The novel reconstitutes the story of Héloïse and Abélard from her point of view, observing and expressing her feelings as richly diffuse and infinitely multifaceted in affection. In a pointed footnote in the passages of the Confessions from 1732, Rousseau explicitly compares his gladness to be received in the house with that of his novel's hero, returning to his former lover's home after 4 years, shared with her husband and children. Rousseau would think for 29 years, before the novel would come to him. 

I will venture to say that anyone who feels no more than love misses the sweetest thing in life. For I know another feeling, less impetu-ous perhaps but a thousand times more delightful, which is sometimes joined with love and sometimes separate from it. This feeling is something other than friendship, something less temperate and more tender. 

Jean-Jacques Rousseau
The Confessions
op. cit.

Denis Hollier, editor
A New History of French Literature
  Ronald Rosbottom
  The Novel and Gender Difference
Harvard University Press, 1989©

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Turning to friends i

source unknown

Who is Jean-Jacques Rousseau ii

.. although lazy, I was industrious when I wished to be, and my indolence was not so much that of an idler as of an independent man, who only likes to work in his own time.

No, no, I have always felt that the profession of author is not and never could be an honourable and illustrious one except in so far as it is not a trade.

In 1756, the year of the birth of Mozart, Rousseau settled into a bespoke guest house with a staff of 4, on the estate of an indulgent patron, not 15 miles from Paris. Here he played out the myth of the autonomous artisan-savant to which these lines and others in the Confessions lend such seductive authority. But by then he was preposterously no example of an ordinary man; he was on terms of sufficient intimacy with the most notorious and blazing stars of the French Enlightenment, as to revel in his repudiation of their regard: As for Diderot, all my talks with him always tended, I do not know why, to make me more satirical and caustic than I was by nature ..

But what Rousseau asserted, human nature is loathe to put asunder. The man who gave Émile to the world, the first and still the most unrepentant demand for the rational education of youth, can not have been entirely wrong in his observation that the least self-interested writing is likely to be the best and most humane. Although Swiss, the world still sees Jean-Jacques Rousseau as the Kid Rossignol of his time, the sweetest lever ever against the persistence of the old régime. It is a joy and a luxuriance to read in his memoir, and a blast to re-call that he lived. 

That's a battle good enough for writing, which has to be engaged again. The great treasure in Rousseau is his faith in the sharing of human experience, and in this he strikes one as utter-ly right. I considered this in-direct method of teaching them these truths the best calculated to spare the pride of the citizens and to secure me forgiveness .. Rousseau's gift for teaching by sparing pride distinguishes even his disputes, and of course strains the soul. An education in morals is better left to example than to dogma; in this, he is our man.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau
The Confessions
op. cit.


Tuesday, October 18, 2011


Derek, our friend at Beggars, has posted grave news for every blogger I know. We, who contribute to expectations of the fulfillment of life's promises, are sometimes the last to calibrate the pace with which they may unfold. At the same time, because we read each other, we have become the swiftest conduit on the web, whence this relay of his news. I cannot, and if I could, I would not add a word to it. It frames a caution on the power and also the impotence of our device for communication, a call for the resurgence of the original one, in every living being. All beg.

i Franck

Who is Jean-Jacques Rousseau

I have some friends who read, and I'm glad I do, because their sense of play is therefore not only multifaceted, but conscious. They are ready to respect it and know its naturalness; they are able to recognise it in themselves. These are the people who teach me things, and those must always be my favourite people. I do not always find myself reading of play, as in Sterne or Henry Fielding, but I sometimes find myself reading of play where I least expect to, as in Rousseau, one of the more playful writers I have encountered. To me such people are the natural heirs of the earth; I think of Tassos and Kermit Lynch, but also of Ivan Terestchenko and Daniel, Beth and Barbara. Gravity, too, is the play of natural forces.

The play of natural forces, as Heraclitus and naughty Wittgenstein have reminded us here, is a way of approaching physics, one of the signal neglects of my formal studies. This will explain much of the irreverence sometimes encountered here, which is less political than respectful of play. It follows that this influences the company we keep so often in these entries, of others who seem to know what's in these natural forces, and share an appetite for it. Little by little, we find in the blogging world those accompanists of learning whose disposition is missing from much other publishing.

Play is the brightest traversal of space as well as of time; it is not play's fault, if it is also the prettiest. The hiker, the portageurs, the protester, the mechanic, the apache, the showerers, the beach roper are not at the water's edge, to stay there. Rousseau is for them.                                          

Jean-Jacques Rousseau
The Confessions
1770 (published 1781)
J.M. Cohen, translation
Penguin, 1953©

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The seduction of boys vi: Excuses, excuses never die

The spoon went in
just right,
stirred the coffee,
was removed and lay
on the saucer, silent.

The lost library
books fantasised
about where they'd end up,
realising they already had.


He can't have been bothered
by next year's list of things,
places left unplanted.
The government went in.
That's why there isn't room.

John Ashbery
A Worldly Country
  A November
Harper Collins, 2007©