Saturday, January 7, 2012

"Nothing ever dies."

I am indebted to the Belgian, 
Pierre Ryckmans, writing in
The New York Review as Simon
Leys, for this quotation from
the recently published letters
of George Orwell, writing as
Eric Blair. I am indebted to
his selectivity and to his
gift for building the predic-
ate for this summary state-
ment, so that I could cite it
for this extraordinary portrait.

Orwell's remark, from his final
illness to a sweetheart from
his youth, is an escalation,
in the same vein, of an early
confession of one's own, we
forget nothing. I'm very glad
to be reminded, too, of things
I had seen Orwell saying, I do
not want completely to abandon
the world-view I acquired in
childhood .. I think that by
retaining one's childhood love
of such things as trees, fishes,
butterflies and toads, one makes
a peaceful and decent future a
little more probable.

Have you seen, today, a more
charming portrait than this one?
I was pitched into something re-
sembling embarrassed enchantment
(whatever that could be) simply to
catch it from the corner of my eye
on a brisk tour d'horison of the
web as I awaited the debate in New 
Hampshire. I do not expect the
question to be asked, What do you
think of toads; I do not expect 
serious journalism tonight.

But I expect this question from 
every estimable moral voice ever
to open its mouth, from Heraclitus
to Beethoven, to Einstein to my
friend Tassos' infant nephew, pos-
sibly now walking. I'd interrogate
anyone who sought power to shape
the experience of this life, with 
this question.

Simon Leys
The New York Review
  of Books, LVIII, 9
  The Intimate Orwell
NYREV, Inc., 2011©

Saturday commute lii: Aftermath of the gallery going

Who has ever known it to fail,
for a Friday evening of gal-
lery-going to revive that aes-
thetic spirit so many of us
have dutifully laid by, in our
obeisance to the genius, all
week, of free enterprise? Nor
could we bear, really, for the
aesthetic response to invade
that getting act, much as we
may suppose it would be seemly
to order our affairs along the
lines of der Stijl.

But we never really know, do we, that our suppressions of the ill-timed aesthetic spark and of the lingering entrepreneurial impulse are dependable, so that the oddest overlay between admiring and getting persistently surfaces without warning. You can find factory workers at shift changes responding as they might at Wildenstein, and denizens of upper Madison circling each other in the plainest vestiges of the acquisitive dance. 

Nor is this confusion any less acute in west Los Angeles, where the worlds of art and of commerce are so seam-lessly miscegenated as to arouse the most active concern among the shirt-less, as to which of these ostensibly discrete motives has precipitated the slightest passing glance. I freely admit, that if you are Norwegian, say, or Greek, these categories may well strike you as artificial; but when is it not in the nature of a category to be artificial? I'm actively concerned that such a question draws us to the precipice of reading Whitman, but it surfaced only yesterday in Montale; and one does wish to run a blog where one can feel safe to know where one is.

The Friday swirl of gallery going and the kiss at the factory gates portray the problem of the category well enough, as being that of the neck with two pen-dants, where every pendant really is a conch revealing no more than one of its rotations at a time, denying or celebrating a semblance as the occasion may warrant. The existence of the semblance is some-thing religion is invented to mediate, either in dismissing its importance as frivolously mortal, or in reinforcing every hallucinatory category as divinely mandated. This is not a mind/body problem; it is a humanity problem.

Many have remarked, that the celebra-
tion of the semblances between cate-
gories and their permeability is an 
act of aesthetic response. Certain
mentalities are subjected to great
anxiety by this conduct, seeing it
as quite voluntary, and therefore 
quite naughty, and therefore quite 
incompatible with the survival of 
the republic. We shall hear this
anxiety unanimously affirmed again 
this evening, even under the pre-
tense of debate. As they marshall
their genius to articulate how we
must be administered, they will
be discussing how we must be


Friday, January 6, 2012

Mitt, sweetie, you were right. I loved losing my job for America.

I did, my love, because I knew I was doing the right thing, in giving my boost to the rational allocation of capital. When your Staples closed all the musty stationery stores in every small town for miles around, the savings from salaries and benefits killed there almost offset the prodigious fuel costs of getting to your big box, where crappy merchandise could be repurchased every couple of years, and we would not be distracted by good fountain pens, desk accessories, monogramming services, to say nothing of greetings from family shopkeepers we'd known since school.

So it was rational, and more than right that you should be so boastful of how rich this made you, to extinguish intangibles we paid too much for, to sell tangibles at massive margins. I was an engraver. I moved to West Virginia and got a job collecting nails from abandoned barns, of organic farms polluted out of existence, uncompetitive with steroid agribusiness. What it doesn't pay, I don't need, because we have no stores. We don't have cell service either, because your oligopolies reason there aren't enough of us. But we hear word, that you know about jobs. So maybe we should plan to move again? 

Please don't let them say, dear Mitt, that you were nasty to scoff at me for not being born in Bloomfield Hills, for practicing my engraving instead of buying an MBA, and for not using it to gouge my fair share from thousands and thousands of stupid families like mine. You have never been nasty, dear Mitt; your fortune has made us proud, kept us warm to see it flaunted on the stage of public life, as a model for all to marvel at in pondering your genius. It extends far beyond the orderly consoli-dation of wealth, dear Mitt, to the rational uprooting of families, the efficient emptying of towns, eliminat-ing impediments to accumulation by eradicating obligation. May we offer you a day off?

Suppose it were Friday L: "ero intriso di te"

S'empì d'uno zampettìo
di talpe la limonaia ..

The lemon-house was being over-ridden by the moles' stampedes ..


  Oh resta chiusa
  e libera nell'isole
  del tuo pensiero
  e del mio,
  nella fiamma leggera
  che t'avvolge ..

  Oh stay locked 
  and free
  in the islands of your thought 
  and mine,
  in the gentle flame that 
  folds you in ..


  Rapito e leggero ero intriso
  di te, la tua forma era il mio
  respiro nascosto, il tuo viso
  nel mio si fondeva, e l'oscuro

  pensiero di Dio discendeva
  sui pochi viventi, tra suoni
  celesti e infantili tamburi
  e globi sospesi di fulmini

  su me, su te, sui limoni ...

Rapt, weightless, I was drenched with you,
my hidden breathing was your form,
your face was merging into mine,
and the dark idea of God

descended on the living few
to celestial tones
and children's drums
and globes of lightning strung above

the lemons, and me, and you ...

Eugenio Montale
Collected Poems, 1920-1954
  i    Nella serra 
  ii   Incantesimo
  iii  Nella serra
Jonathan Galassi, translation
op. cit.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

You know this, Johnny. Mitt is using Santorum as Luca Brazzi.

Listen to me, Johnny. They know Santorum's only a pezzonovante, but they want you to fear him so that Mitt will look benign. You know, how simply the fear of Luca Brazzi got that bandleader to sign that contract? Remember, Johnny, this isn't personal with them. It's strictly business. Mitt might have the spinelessness of Fredo, but they're gonna make him the Don. Then they can get him to do anything, because - remember, Johnny? - it's been Barzini, all along.

In a darling and endearing way, there's no doubt that the Tea Party feels that Santorum is its own Luca Brazzi against poor Mitt - their enforcer of his morals, if you will. But this thing's been bought and paid for since the Bush Supreme Court's Citizens United case, and all that remains is the spending.

If you're coming from Iowa, the way you get to New Hampshire is through Vermont. But I don't think Santorum will haul his gaudy misanthrope bus across that humane terrain. I think he'll descend by air, on the tweets of Rupert Murdoch. And he will have Michelle's maniacs behind him now, beefing up demand for teen suicide.

We'd rather they didn't do that. We have a history and we have a culture to show that history, of what these people's crimes are. But the smart money says that the terror they'll propagate this year will be nakedly financial, frightening everyone they can to be unfair in order, once again, to be safe. I have to believe that the lewd irony escapes no one, that our high priests of entrepreneurial risk in the coddling arms of the tax code are our extremest fetishists for the pipedream of security. We shall not hear fascism; we shall hear job creation.

But you know, for this very reason, that this one will be more strenuous than all the rest before. If they have to come out from behind the defunct screens of anti-communism, welfare queens, Willie Horton, islamofascist [sic] bogeymen, and all the other phony tempests in their demagogic teapot over time, and fight tooth and nail for the liberty to screw the United States to the dungeon floor with inequality till hell freezes over, they are going to put everything they have into making quite sure that they do it. They will call up all of their courts and all of their 'journalists' to remember what they owe their Don, because now they are exposed.

But first, we'll have to wade through the muck of Santorum's stalking horse campaign. This too, we've seen before: the disease of phobia, sowing the disturbance of doubt, for the vulnerable to be isolated, to suffer, and drop out, and the rest to soldier on in patriotic resignation. 

Our history condemns them all, from Nixon through the second Bush al-ready. And still they don a new mask, and still they boast they are the first day of history. Yet still a bandleader doesn't want to hire a nasty front for the mob. It leads all but ineluctably to one giddy notion: what if there were 6 of these defiant bandleaders, or make that 16? There can't be that many rounds in Luca's 38. And if there were 16 million bandleaders, even Murdoch would get the news. And then if there were 60, who knows what chance there'd be, for the same old story? 


Francis Ford Coppola, director
Francis Ford Coppola and
  Mario Puzzo, screenplay
The Godfather
op. cit.

vii   Jeremy Young
viii  Photograph Alfred Eisenstaedt

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Pss-sst! Mitt, darling, we saw your movie

I don't know what the government's coming to! Instead of protecting businessmen, it's poking its nose into business. Why, they're talking now about having bank examiners .. as if we didn't know how to run our own banks. I actually had a letter, from some popinjay official, saying they were going to inspect my books! I have a program, gentlemen, that should be blazoned on every newspaper in the country.

America for Americans! Don't let the government meddle with business! Reduce taxes! Our national debt is shocking .. What the country needs is a businessman for President!

Hélas, mesdames et messieurs, they repaired the telegraph wires, and word got through. Our hero Gatewood was apprehended when the stage reached Lordsburg. We agree with Vito Corleone: how a man makes his living, is no concern of ours; and Mitt has made a lovely living for himself by feasting on others', lending that helping hand to the ration-al allocation of capital we admired as Gatewood stuffed his customers' whole lives into his valise. 

No; what galls is that he cut the telegraph wire. A hero cannot be ashamed. We want our Mitt to run, with-out covering his tracks with doilies and maids in the media. We want, we need the whole exegesis of jackal economics to resound in full throated bellowings of its voracious rage to claw, to gnaw, to drool and not to drain the cistern for our sake, of its gorgeous scavenging ache. On our stage to Lordsburg, we had a gambler, a whore, a whiskey drummer, a sawbones and a very pregnant powermommy. Gatewood would have fit in, but he cut the telegraph wire. We need a passenger who can stand who he is.

John Ford, director
Dudley Nichols, screenplay
Ernest Haycox, book
Walter Wanger Productions, 1939©

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

I saw a skateboarder on a flat street


I saw a skateboarder on a flat street. I heard my dog on the kitchen floor. 

They were waiting for the pasta to come to a boil, the street to change its slant. Yet they were still, wishing for a thing to be true, they couldn't make true. I could hear my dog, desiring in some despairI could not hear this in the skateboarder, nor could I tell which element were missing, if that was what I could not hear.


We have been practicing, "firm, but not disagreeable"

A candid word among readers
on the menace of kryptonite.

The path in us is not natively slippery, between being firm and fair; but we find that the element of disagreeableness, which is so alien to nature, is inimical to both qualities at once; so that no sooner is the one infected, than the other degenerates as well. It is not merely the business, not merely the sanctified purpose and secular sport of many who lay siege to the highest levels of public life, but indeed sometimes their raison d'être, to wreak this degradation in our culture as a lingering, dilatory wasting death, to which they can turn in periodic revival of their career, to entrench the brutality that pays them. With what relief then, we receive reports of fine defenses to kryptonite.

We surmise (on some evidence of the hour) that 2012 may turn unsportingly contentious, a tone we find enervating and distracting. But apart from these wasteful qualities, its effects upon the brow can be quite severe, whence my cosmetician sent me home with this tonsorial compress, as a kind of rhet-orical brise-soleil; and I'm admon-ished to leave it on until retiring for the evening. Who knew, by the way, that monastic bangs would make a comeback so unanimously these days, as the parrying device that they are to brusque remark of all kinds? I'm reluctant to affect the tonsure that goes with this prophylaxis, but that would expand the zone for ink, if one were so inclined. What should one inscribe there, I wonder? Semper fi? 

One can get used to these helmets, almost, but there is the question of the tanline to consider. For my part, I am adamantly committed to the elegance of the tanline; but I've never contemplated that demar-cation of the face which must tran-spire from this present course of treatment. I think a sudden swath of white might place too great a burden on the eyes to harmonise with each sector, as some demilitarised zone, and not as the very fount of one's appeal. Probably already my cosmetician is confecting some nice paste to blend (blowing one's chance to say, meld) one's features into some comparatively coherent frame, should they happen to be exposed.

It almost seems to me that it might be more expedient, in the end, for some wildly butch establishment like Lagerfeld's or Dior, to improvise a prêt-a-porter wordscreen for guys against the shards of politics this season. I would hate to give up swimming, just because some Republican might become audible without warning; and one can't linger, like some mortgage of their invention, underwater all the time. I wonder if there's a dietary supplement to blanch the tirades of talkshows, before they enter the system; but I resist emulating their depen-dency. Yet the cloister, too, is plainly not a place for me. Tell me, do they still grin and bare it where you are?

vii  photograph Bruce Weber

Monday, January 2, 2012

The year is young, Mitt Romney, but I warn you, so am I

             I will not 
             go down easily.
             My name is not, Boy.
             It is, One who thinks.
             Soon, you will come to my 
             country. Then, you will see.

Fire, Terestchenko

The rapturething

always out there    

Go to any academy in the median swath of North America on any weekend day of the slightest clemency, and see if there's a quad where the air isn't filled with these things, implicating 2 hobbledehoys at a time in divine endangerment of the peace. We used to call these things the Pluto Platter, but the underworld conno-tation didn't stick, and the invention was sold to two fellows who called it, the frisbee.

To think, one could have been born into a world (as I was), where this thing did not exist, must almost be counted as desolating as my father's existence before the discov-ery of Pluto (now shamefully downgraded, as you know). But Pluto arrived at the right time for him, in his teens; and my infancy, likewise, took flight with the arrival of this toy. Now, several multiples of that age later, I can say that while the putter has sometimes infuriated me, and the tennis racquet maimed me repeatedly, the rapturething and I enjoy an unbreakable bond; and so does it, I think, go so much deeper, so much faster to inculcate a rapport between men, than the wine this 6th Century BC tondo would have floated. It's as essential to one's kit as any wine key.

The genius of the rapturething lies in its gift to everyman, of the power to overlay his imprint of joy upon the sight of any day. We observe, societies have conceived of means to compete with it, but this is not any signature of its own. It is the ultim-ate device for the recip-rocating inscription of bliss in thin air.

I know many who cultivate a style with it, a flick this way or that, a dancing catch, one way or the other. These gestures, too, exploit its genius, whence we see our public furnishings adapted to exertions for its praise. At Eliot House, we hear, they set the whole thing to Petipa, holding the line gamely against Balanchine. But in truth what we find is that the air is sovereign in this matter, and at least subliminally welcome to be. And who should be asked to tire of those excuses, the elements afford, now that we know Perth has entered Summer, or the other way around? How topsy, how turvy, the navy cured of scurvy are we like, the tarter to be carters of this news, they're tossing lambent flicker-ings in colours to amuse.

You may encounter someone while out surfing, who hasn't a board, or at Deauville, who's down on his luck. But you can not run into a guy at ease in any setting, who doesn't stir to the sight of the rapturething in flight. Oh, well we know, we may be hauled up for some infamy or other, to have mentioned it; such are the times, I suppose. Yet, as we speak, the air is brighter some-where for its toss, and everyman is glad to scan its arc from either end.

Tricouleur, Terestchenko