Saturday, November 5, 2011

Having acquiesced in Betty Commilfaux's invitation to the Races ..

A notable social conquest on the compellingest occasions, Thornhill was known for abjuring them all on the grounds of mal de muse when their folly lay already too exposed for his flair for le mot juste. But, owing Betty as he did, for borrowing her Mercedes for that bourboned escape from the Townsends' when he thought he might die from Bernard Herrmann's sound track, Thorny admonished his dog to awaken him early, to be able to outfit himself appropriately. Raking through the long week's detritus of his memory for elements of his last equine experience, he applied himself to their retrieval from those hampers and footlockers his lawyer had begged him to throw out, or at least donate to Science.

Reckoning against all odds, on a flicker of humour at Montpelier, Thornhill thought that if he could make any sense of the occasion it would be by the bareback expedients of Mame Dennis on Meditation. "A harness unhinged," it came to him, might just get him past the stirrup cups at Betty's tent, in time to excuse himself from the paddock tea. Yet, as for the horror of all those hooves, concentrated on one ever-narrowing compass of ground, and lain so proximately to his hostess' hellishly gossamer clos, he knew not how to make provision. Earphones, he knew, could scarcely deflect the prodigious bass notes of 30 tons of cavalry, massed for his bespoke annoyance.

"Oceans!" he exclaimed. "Oceans it is, Spiffy," he chortled to himself. He remembered reading somewhere in Knowles as a schoolboy - or was it in White? - how oceans would flood the senses at the least misadventure of the face, thence to insulate the cranium from the thud of country sport. Surely Betty would invite someone to lend a hand.

Who knows, what labial musings so captured poor Thornhill on that occa-sion, that he found him-self lost in fond rehearsal, and missed the Races entirely? Torn between a thank-you note and one of contrition, he calibrated his missive with the strictest avoidance of fanny, and hoped the blotter of time would handle the rest.

Alfred Hitchcock
North by Northwest

Morton da Costa
Auntie Mame

Jean-Luc Godard
À bout de souffle

Friday, November 4, 2011

I really just haven't ever done this, so I don't know what to say

Yet it happens: it's Friday evening, and you've run into an old school acquaintance from some time ago. You reason, well, we hadn't known each other well before, and we certainly had every chance; but, then again, it's Friday, and it's cold out, and you don't happen to know anyone else in the place, either.

He mentions a thing he used to like to do, and wonders if you mightn't want to try it; it was kinda neat. One leans against a window in an ill-fitting brief, chilling one's back and scorching one's legs on the radiator. But I don't have a radiator, you reply. Oh, that's OK. I do.

Suppose it were Friday xliv: morning's ration

Thursday, November 3, 2011

I don't mind a man who wears his sleeping habits on his sleeve

Especially if they're mine; but there we are. There's a new habit born every minute, and so few of them which can be fitted to the wrist can be indulged asleep. We have, then, a new genre, the sleeve habit, per se. It suits the web: a cuff without a sleeve. Can an app for sleep be far off?


    a row of awful ideas


Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Burst of the technocratic bubble

It hasn't been unamusing to see the editors of The New York Times framing reports from Athens this week as representing the "return of politics" to the otherwise chaste preserve of monetary policy. Der Spiegel, naturally, has been apoplectic

Policy is political, or the term is a non sequitur. The very assertion, that a possible referendum in Athens amounts to an incongruous intrusion, is not without merit, however: it's a concession that the wrong people might exert an influence in the shaping of policy. 

What is a non sequitur, is the assumption that a technocracy can be apolitical, much less technically disciplined. It's why Henry V consulted his monks on Salic Law; he wanted Burgundy, whatever the excuse. A technocracy is merely an interpolation, of one set of voices, insiders all, into a game which was never theirs. Show us a technocracy in finance which is not a handmaiden of plutocracy, and we'll show you an invisible hand.

William Shakespeare
King Henry V
 Act I, Scene ii
J.H. Walter, editor
The Arden Edition of
  the Works of William
Methuen, 1954©

Scotch hopper

Having established the existence
of this figure last year on this
recall elements of our play, so
often - as befitted our sharing
of an academic class and the in-
terests it cultivated - conduct-
ed in the surrogacy of words.

A figure of volatile spirit and
irresistible radiance, he manif-
ested the deepest obliviousness
to clothes; and became infamous
for navigating among us in the
broodingestly inapposite shade
of outer coat, which I dubbed
his coat of storms. The laugh
with which he accepted this
tease, the first time he heard
it, led all of us to doubt its
irony; but it was the lever,
the laugh was, that let us see
him better. And this was not
the case with most of us. His
was our acquaintance with that
kind of laughter.

We did play, and gratefully
with words. We would eat fid-
dleferns at the Four Seasons
together, for their coiled wit,
and oysters, too, as everyone
does. On my marriage, his gift 
to me was the entire Oxford 
English Dictionary, pieces
we'd known and hadn't known,
to be there when I need them.

scotch hoppers. A play in
which boys hop over lines
or scotches on the ground.

Samuel Johnson
Dictionary of the
  English Language
op. cit.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Home again, home again, jiggety-jog

The defect of a referendum
is that it presents a bin-
ary question, crafted by a
magistrate and polluted by
demagoguery. But they have
where the frame is not the


Monday, October 31, 2011

We don't get much call for hibiscus down here

Hallowe'en greetings

This festival comes rather naturally
to the Old Dominion. A xenophobic 
culture gives one plenty of practice, 
it can safely be said, in surprise by 
the frightful and extortion by the oc-
cult. Equally, our children's susten-
ance on sugar and salt is so advanced
that the frenetic orgy this night is 
in healthy places would make it almost 
courtly, here, but for our vigilance
against menace, per se. Yet you may
count on us to carry it off in that
accent we have made world-famous.

The passive-aggressive negative
is the default voice of Virginia.
Every fratboy has mastered this
dialect before matriculation;
and this accounted for a good
deal of George Bush's natural
popularity here. One began to
lose count of the wars he started
with the phrase, Ah doant much
appreciate.. But it has its uses.
It keeps the place mercifully
ignorant, because its rhetor-
ical structure is rejection. If
something is not absolutely in
one's face universally in Vir-
ginia, it is resented. A squint
forms, the jaw sets, a glance
around the room for recruiting's
sake ensues, and an arch soft-
ness wafts the admonition, We
don't get much call down heah
for hibisciss.

Like pilgrims in Chaucer, I can see
your Hallowe'en parade receding in-
to time, whilst Virginia must always
be with us, encouraging even the
sweetest costume to take heart: 
Don't worry, you scare us.

A grape at the beach

I wash the grapes I have brought with me. They are the little early grapes, delicately freckled green, and of a pouting teat shape. The sun has penetrated their shallow skins and has confused the sweetness with its own warmth; it is like eating something alive.


      Then after Eden,
      was there one surprise?
      O yes, the awe of Adam
      at the first bead of sweat.

      Thenceforth, all flesh
      had to be sown with salt,
      to feel the edge of seasons,
      fear and harvest,
      joy that was difficult,
      but was, at least, his own.

O Sea, give me news of my loved ones.

Were it not for the chains of the faithless, I would have dived 
into you, 
And reached my beloved family, or perished in your arms.

Lawrence Durrell
Prospero's Cell
  Landscape with Olive Trees
Faber & Faber, 1945©

Derek Walcott
Sea Grapes
  New World
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1971©

Ibrahim al Rubaish
  Ode to the Sea
  Poems from Guantánamo
  Mark Falkoff, editor
University of Iowa Press, 2007©

Sunday, October 30, 2011


     We say of the disseminating
     effect of infusions, that
     they are steeped. But what
     is the substance that is
     steeped when we say one is
     steeped in learning, or in
     bigotry? Is it dissolved, 
     or embodied?

     On the occasion, however, 
     of being second to fall
     asleep, it amounts to the 
     same thing. I don't know
     what to call this suspen-
     sion, but I have known it.


I saw the reflection in the mirror
And it doesn't count, or not enough
To make a difference, fabricating itself 
Out of the old, average light of a college town,

And afterwards, when the bus trip 
Had depleted my pocket of its few pennies 
He was seen arguing behind steamed glass, 
With an invisible proprietor. What if you can't own

This one either? ..

      For it seems that all 
Moments are like this: thin, unsatisfactory
As gruel, worn away each time you return to them.
Until one day you rip the canvas from its frame

And take it home with you. You think the god-given 
Assertiveness in you has triumphed 
Over the stingy scenario: these objects are as real as meat, 
As tears. We are all soiled with this desire, at the last moment, 
the last.

   I am always in Hanover,
   New Hampshire, in the old
   college town, when I read
   this poem. Such associations
   are illegitimate grounds
   for criticism, and arbitrary
   to confide. But the isolated
   vitality of the place fits 
   the imagery, and the immedi-
   acy and distance in this poem, 
   very well. I have grown to
   admire the shocking final
   phrase unreservedly, the more
   I've understood how the last
   reflects the most precious and
   constant, persistent and con-
   sistent, likely and quotidian,
   in a contingency always at the
   last. What we call a masterpiece 
   we would love, anyway. Sometimes,
   it is.

John Ashbery
Shadow Train
  Drunken Americans
Penguin, 1981©