Saturday, December 10, 2011

A City of Coffee Mug to another northern place

No doubt, the text of this tribute
would sooner leap from one's hands
than linger in their provenance,
and in deference to the crockery,
I shall be brief. 

The City of Coffee Mug has been
awarded once before, as a mutation
of a blogging prize dispensed here
some time ago. Poetically, the
Canadian of our first recognition
is no longer publishing; but he cer-
tainly must again, and for all we
know, could well be.

This vessel means to encourage
that blogger who is generously
creative and unarbitrary, aware 
of an artistic exertion in self-
presentation, and of humane intent. 
These risks bear a price, and are 
fundamental to the city of coffee.

These few characteristics but 
superficially describe the blog
we know as Linnea. I'll not im-
pose a quiz because all readers 
are aware that this is a project 
of a med student musician from 
a cold climate, famous for
posting spontaneous "graffiti"
from her home city, which turn
out to be elegant aperçus of
more than its surfaces; notes
on human health which go to
the bottom line of the human
condition; reminiscences and
reports from a romantic rela-
tionship of already transpar-
ent trust; reflections on music
of enormously sociable enthus-
iasm; to say nothing of tender
whenever she feels like it,
which uncannily have to do

She is exempt from snobbery's
intimidations and immune to its
seductions; she is capable of
and disarmingly charitable in
remarking on her preferences.
She has never cited privilege 
as a feature of taste, dropt
a name, or exhibited glamour -
all infallible ways of drawing
our attention, just not hers.
She's what a doctor or recital-
ist has to be: she's fearless

All very good, you may be
thinking; but with these
omissions, how can one be-
lieve there is any there,

Because she knows a good
story will depict desire
without the anticlimax of
possession; but that its
narrator will experience
credibly, and conjure the
defeat of, the cruelest bar 
to pleasure.

There's a little Sidney Carton
in every such acknowledgment.
Maybe there needs to be - the
rule, praising the exception. 
have no illusion of escap-
ing that rule; I am grateful 
that she lightens it. 

A City of Coffee Mug to Linnea, 
of warmth.

Photographs©  Linnea

Was she wrong?

  International Human
  Rights Day

And to people of all nations, I say, supporting human rights is your respon-sibility too. The lives of gay people are shaped not only by laws, but by the treatment they receive every day from their families, from their neighbors. Eleanor Roosevelt, who did so much to advance human rights worldwide, said that these rights begin in the small places close to home – the streets where people live, the schools they attend, the factories, farms, and offices where they work. These places are your domain. The actions you take, the ideals that you advocate, can de-termine whether human rights flourish where you are.

I have read, with interest, some refusals of Mrs Clinton's advice in Geneva this week, anticipating this day's marking of Human Rights. I have read Mr Perry's statements; I have read fear that Mr Perry would state them. She was right to press forward.

Refusal of her advice amounts to a capitulation to a loy-alty oath, engendered by the Star Chamber (which condemned Thomas More) to incriminate one's own conscience. I grew up in a generation which suckled at the teat of self-dread on that very pretext of wisdom which conceded the indictment of deviancy, and sustained the deadly lie of voluntary identity. I watched fear corrupt every mentor I ever knew, and destroy almost every friend I ever had. It does not work. The young don't know the carrion stench of misplaced reticence. I don't want them, ever, to.


The Secretary of State
  of the United States
Palais des Nations, Geneva
December 6th, 2011

Friday, December 9, 2011

Suppose it were Friday xlvii: De Prospectiva Pingendi on a weekend

The only solution, in Piero's mind, was to go outside geometry .. Piero was right: one shouldn't use the perspective construction to degrade things seen at a grazing angle .. But the theory is also right: such constructions will be seen correctly if the eye is positioned in just the intended place. 

It is only that our tolerance for being in the wrong place is now rather small.

Mark A. Peterson
Galileo's Muse
  Renaissance Mathematics
  and the Arts
Harvard University Press, 2011©

i    Silvano Mangana

      Armani Hotel, Milan
      Elle Decor Italia©

A word of caution on elation in élites


The famously self-protective
American President has wan-
dered into Bloody Kansas, at
who knows what incalculable
mime the histrionics of the
aristocrat of Sagamore Hill,
and all the Critical Left is
but agog to speak its thrill.
How awesomely soon they for-
get the rhetorician's first
and only task, which is to 
give voice to the lower or-
ders, not to describe them
in the syntax of a social en-
gineer. This was one of the
saddest proofs of alien
disdain of human life, of

cold unfitness to be found in campaign diction since the first Bush's immortal, Message: I care. But you saw the delirium over this illusive populism, throughout the print media: the editorial boards of both The Times and The Post adored the genius of invoking The Middle Class in the third person - Michael Tomasky at The Daily Beast counting 25 such hearteningly aloof descriptions of his listeners. The man who can't bring himself to the first person plural in public discourse is going to be rejected as a tight-assed Thomas Dewey, and richly deservedly so. 

Where is Peggy Noonan when she's needed, who could make Caligula sound innocent and quaintly sweet? He sounded like a pedagogic oncologist, touring a ward of the suffering with his retinue of readers, declaring right before their upturned faces what to do about their pain as if they were not there.

Yesterday, this man needs to go to the movies; he needs to go to the drugstore for a cherry soda; he needs to skin his knee and yes, quite frankly and urgently, he needs to lose at something, or take himself off the road.

From the writer of the preface to our book of the year i

 imagine a literature
 of power without force

He made her loneliness and her
isolation into a longing to meet
someone, for a face at the window,
a figure in the distance.

                 This longing, he knew, would in
                 time come to him, too, as the
                 garden door creaked, or the 
                 branches of the trees beat against
                 the window as he read by lamplight,
                 or lay awake in that old house, and
                 in one of those seconds before worth-
                 ier thoughts could surface, the first
                 thought would be to welcome what was
                 coming now ..

The person looking in through the window was the person who had appeared to her. He was the same. His face was close to the glass and his stare into her face was deep and menacing until she realized something that she would never cease to believe: the added shock of certitude went through her fiercely that it was not for her he had come. He had come for the children.

Colm Tóibín
The Master
  Chapter Six
Scribner, 2004©

Thursday, December 8, 2011

From our book of the year i

  imagine a literature
  of power without force

   .. as I remount the stream of composition
   I see it faintly coloured again: with the
   bright protection of the Normandy coast
   (I worked away a few weeks at Êtretat);
   with the stronger glow of southernmost
   France, breaking in during a stay at Bay-
   onne; then with the fine historic and 
   other "psychic" substance of Saint-Ger-
   main-en-Laye, a purple patch of terraced
   October before returning to Paris ..

Henry James
The American
  from the Preface to the
  New York Edition
The Art of the Novel
  Critical Prefaces
Scribner's, 1934
Preface by Colm Tóibín
University of Chicago Press, 2011©

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Square One

                                               There are paths in the fog, even in the dark,                           and they fork, even in the light. 

                                               I had talked for hours with him and Isaac. But he couldn't tell me how I got there.

Mark Rudman
Provoked in Venice
  Not Normalissimo
  [extracts, pp 81, 87]
Wesleyan University Press, 1999©

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

"The god of soldiers .. inform thy thoughts with nobleness .."

In the scene of partings
with his mother, wife and
son, Coriolanus addresses
the boy in terms republics
have constantly cited for
exempting soldiers of the
vices of their principals.
He urges the boy to virtue
made impossible by orders,
by policy inherently cor- 
rupted by the very idea of 

Shakespeare has written a
play involving the deep
genesis of the military-
political distinction, 
obliterating it and, with
it, the fallacy of capital 
sanctions. This lends a
double horror to his por-
trayal of ambitious moth-
ering; with this closing
of the natural last res-
ort, he shows the inescap-
able appeal of force. Pat-
ting our fanny in our jam-
mies on our way upstairs
to bed, why did she sing 
to us, Onward, Christian 

Tell me not wherein I 
seem unnatural, he says,
denying clemency to Rome.

Manohla Dargis’ appreciative review of the screen’s new Coriolanus summarises, in her praises, enough reasons for revoking one’s earlier vow to go and see it. Its writer is the author of the excellent play on Mark Rothko, Red, and this may well be an excellent movie in the same way - exploiting notoriety for its notorious elements, and spinning off an entertainment without other indebtedness. This will not have been the first time the Weinstein Company - the film’s producer - has parodied Shakespeare to great critical delight and gain, or the first time a Fiennes was involved in the undertaking. But we may as well start there.

The film has engaged the wrong Fiennes in the rôle of Coriolanus. He is, as more than one critic has stressed, youthful; and if nothing else, the Weinstein Company’s first Fiennes nailed that quality, cold. But he is not only youthful, he is mocked for the qualities of youth, and he is undone by his rage to be found out in them. A production of Coriolanus which misses the boy, misses the play. That would be enough, but the sight of Vanessa Redgrave, camping again as she did in Mission: Impossible over violence and betrayal - as we are assured she does in the part of Volumnia - would only further tarnish a hereditary credit to the stage. Volumnia is not a vamp for blood, she’s for the power to spill it.

I have suggested that the Sonnets are an especial key to this play, and this is not only for the aching loyalty in their roiling reservoir of passion - the sine qua non of any decent portrayal of Coriolanus - but fundamentally for their elective logic. They were written in the decade preceding this final tragedy, but were published close upon its production. I embrace internal evidence that they were written by the same man. In general comparison, I have never seen anything more fertile than Auden's treatment of the Sonnets in his lectures on the plays in their chronology. Coriolanus is that play in which the parti pris of Shakespeare's experience infuses the dramatic work with its defining moral energy. I do not accuse Shakespeare of pacifism; I accuse him of being one man.

The weak self that desires to be strong is hungry. The lonely self desires to be attached. The spirit desires to be free and unattached, and not at the mercy of the natural appetite. It also desires to be important, and that conflicts with its desire for freedom. The weak self wants other things to exist so it may encroach on them, the lonely self wants other existences to hold on to .. But the spirit wants to be only "I," wants its attachment to other things to be its free choice.

Something is more important than the allure of any film. This play has a tragic hero because its logic contests the sanctions of war and execution, never arguing for adapting to them with sophis-tication, much less with pop-ular consent. Those sanctions represent a specter whose im-manence, not treachery, is the chill behind his indif-ference to whom he serves. His wounds are not ornaments of the State, and their ache is not its to exalt. That is precisely the reason why Coriolanus is endowed with the Achilles heel of naïveté - of all things - so that his anger with his honours can be traced to a universal, in-trinsic, and all but divine. He craves approval he can trust, but lives in a world without it, where trust is embedded in the power to decide who dies.

This great theme, simmering beneath every speculation on republics, and boiling over in American debates in the adoption of their Constitution, is given point by the struggle of a destroyed child, for a mind that would be true and free, where such constraints would not shape its range. (A substantial body of opinion, sees his ideal as inherently anti-social, anti-communitarian. But these are con-structs rooted in approbation of force; and this Coriolanus plainly withholds, even as he wields it). There’s another one born, all the time, and still the question goes begging. 

Where is this god of soldiers?

William Shakespeare
Coriolanus, V, iii
op. cit.

W.H. Auden
Lectures on Shakespeare
op. cit.

Simone Weil
The Iliad, or
  The Poem of Force
op. cit.


Blue has come out for household abs

                   It wasn't so much
                   that it would be
                   unlikely, given
                   the Hermès scarf.
                   (We deploy a bath

                   It was the rising
                   inflection with
                   which it happened.

                   A fount of good
                   humour got funny.
                   Guys who read need
                   to go there.