Saturday, March 31, 2012

Saturday commute lx: all in stride

    I'm almost glad
    enough, just to
    believe it.

Memo on a dulcet man

You were my best man, we agreed it over quenelles de brochet and Corton. You thought it unexpected, and accepted so gladly, I was pleased. Do you remember, when we could hear Böhm conduct Fidelio at the Met or Serkin in the sonatas, that we chose Carnegie Hall? It was natural for us, for Beethoven's bicentennial; like sorrel soup in May out in your garden. I fear you must have known, it was an explosion of resistance that saw my father take your place, on the pretense, he'd expected it: the ladies of the moment were disturbed. In the way they read my Ansel Adams of the farmer behind a screen door, and made me take it down - her care-drawn face so beautiful in the filtered light - your mild and quiet elegance frightened them as if a property of mine, as if reproving them. Yet another signal to abhor what I admire, as I did, them; not done to show me weak, but then to what effect? Why should they want the promise that was left?

Now I am not free to praise your quiet soul, your brave and   sparkling intellect, still far from you, anonymous, without   remembered shame. Oh, show to me your sketches, my best man.

Martin Conte

"Can you define for us, please, the central horror of California?"

   Oh, my, yes.
   It will remind you
   of yourself.

Friday, March 30, 2012

For his final Friday in March

How very satisfactory: the demonstrably open scale of the v-neck warrants the same in the lenses. With his buttoned but daytime Henleys, no doubt, he resorts to optics more in the pince-nez dimensions of much familiarity these days, which would read the high French sleeve entirely wrong. 

Here, although the effect may strike us as equally studied, it's impregnably proportionate, and well on its way toward stimulating a sociable conjecture.  

Suppose it were Friday lix: Physics on my mind

Where were they, I find myself asking these days. I went to a college which was thought at the time to have the finest departments of math and physics in the country, but I never saw any of these people. Now that I find myself spending a fair amount of my free time, reading about them, I really wish we had held a mixer sometime, instead of for Vassar girls, where one could get to know a physics guy. I grant you, it would have felt unnerving, possibly like being on that bus coming down from Poughkeepsie: what on earth do I have to offer a physics guy? What do I wear? What do I say? Will I be just too stupid?

Oh, and what if they just wouldn't come? That's the big thing. Physics guys: would they turn up, just to meet a lot of people who simply can't help them at all, who can only speak French and look at paintings? And what do I do, just blurt out that I think it's only too terribly hot what they're doing, but would they please tell me what it is? What does it feel like, I always wondered, to think that way? When you walk along a path and the arch of your foot settles upon a twig, is this a sensation or some spontaneously clarifying solution to an anciently impenetrable conundrum? And how do you stand it when this hits you?

I never even shook a physics guy's hand, so far as I can recall. I shook my doctor's hand with thanks for her help the other day, and as I was walking away I turned to glance at her one more time, and saw her punching a wall dispenser to wash it immediately. I felt bad about this, but I understood the professional imperative. Would a physics guy have to wash if I touched him? I think maybe I want a physics guy to think something into my mind that I can feel in there, and follow how it moves, what it connects and what it eludes. I haven't had a physics thought and I think I'd like to have one, and maybe if I like it, many more.

But, yes. I want to know what this thing is that's so fine, so fair about physics thinking, that people who do it are as if always at St Barts or Guéthary, breathing different air and displacing time differently with their mind. I read my Larousse Gastronomique religiously, and I just know they know something about the fugitive whites of poached eggs that escapes me - and, but there you are: can you dream of having a physics guy for breakfast? I mean, has this ever been known to happen in the history of this college? "Physics Immortal Butters English Muffin to the Edification of Classicist." It's the headline of my dreams.

Friends say, you know, Try not to think about it so much. It makes one wonder, who are these people, to be so blasé about this phenomenal state of being? I don't see any of them, running around with a physics guy; nobody's ever texted me from any Spring break, that he'd found one - and believe me, I know they would. Possibly, I'm just overphysicsed; there's always someone around with a grin on his face, with that latest lollipop from abnormal psychology. But one can't be overphysicsed, when everything's already physics; even Heraclitus had that figured out. Am I, then, my physics guy?

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Against despair

Four entries ago, I proposed a resis-
tance to rapture misplaced by mis-
comprehension of a beautiful thing;
and I cannot think of anything more
profoundly the reason, to adopt a 
resistance to despair. It's trouble-
some, that these ostensible antipodes
are so alike in their derivation, and
so similarly an alienation in their
effect. In winespeak, a vain debris
blocks the arterial connection wine
has with human right and human hope,
in the form of exclusionary arcana
of often erroneous, merely prejudi-
cial judgment. In the desperate if
not compulsive travesty of affection
portrayed here, I think I need say
nothing more than that it should
excite a general sympathy, yet draws
promises of its extirpation from 
a political movement, to seize
power to rob society blind of its
capacity to govern itself humanely,
and to set a standard for corros-
to resist war and industrial rape.

But what is true of rapture's reformation
is true of despair's; there are people we
love to be looked out for, before we worry
about the legitimacy of other speech. This
pricelessly authentic image, we could say,
does not reflect our famous progress today;
but that is a denial with which I won't ev-
en trifle, so long as its legibility is as
instantaneous as it is. Anyone may listen,
anyone may read the papers, for transcripts
of the competition for this political move-
ment's leadership, to confirm their zeal to
restore this desolation.

It is a good thing, that one of our leading
Western religions has named despair, a sin;
it would have been wonderful if it had done
the same for rapture, that repulsive image
of certitude run amok in the verities of the
occult. But the problem of despair is left
to be ministered to by reinforcements of it-
self, so that despair is communicable while
rapture is only emulated. Despair is not on-
ly permitted to exist, it is propagated so
that it can be condemned; and tragically 
worse, palliated so that it can be pursued.

Everyone who is in a position to make these
observations knows that despair is not a
style, though it is clothed and conducted
as one; that it is not a preference, but
a historic bond of an entire social class. 
It is, like wine criticism's arcana, an ac-
cretion of blockage from style, blockage
from affection, blockage from truth.

We are all born to experience delight, yet
how far we have come, where rapture and
despair so plainly share a common face.
In the United States, conspicuously, all
of us have seen the falsehoods of rapture 
as well as those of despair, and we have 
observed their uncanny correlations more 
than many times. 

These are catastrophes of a cultural 
inheritance which have throttled the 
nation’s progress since long before
Patrick Buchanan urged Richard Nixon 
to devote himself to their exacerba-
tion. We know the rapture of those 
who exult in this, the despair of 
its recurring targets. The wretched
binomial is alive and well again in
this season, and there are those we
love, to be looked out for, in stren-
uous vigilance and prayer that the
beast will dissolve, some day. 

Yet we know there are private elec-
tions being held every day, uncon-
sciously, between these indistin-
guishable choices. To write it down, 
to speak it audibly, can be to think 
it out; the fresh page, the unseen 
listener, like the dog-eared Horace
and the sudden injury, are often 
better counselors than we know.

This land is your land ..    

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

"Against despair," out for editing

The edited version of this
entry will appear shortly.
The comparatively reason-
able desire for a timely
continuity between "rapture"
and "despair" represented no
undue pressure, but the un-
wonted challenges of select-
ing a necktie and scent for
a long day of medical amuse-
ments in town, splitting the
difference between exuberant
Spring and subdued patient-
hood, meant that this entry
took unsteadier flight from
the pan than the china could

  A pity to have come all this 
  way, Hercule, to find that Lucy
  had snatched the football away.

  Quite right, Auguste. Yet I've
  been hearing, he shouldn't have
  been up, kicking so soon.

  Too bad, even so. I'm told the
  illustration was quite racy.

  That's interesting, Auguste;
  I'd been thinking we might make
  some of our own pictures, this
  fine day.

I'm ready for my shake-up, Mr Romney

Monday, March 26, 2012

Against rapture

The other day I was called as if
to a meeting where ancient streams
composing soils of flint and lime-
stone, marl and precious sea fossil
have set the stage for the most ad-
mired castles in this world, and
graced us with fruit of treasured
delicacy, by a lady wishing to find
the prettiest wines from this land
where she has lately moved. I must 
say, slowly here recuperating from
a surgery on my bloodstream, to be
invited to survey the Loire from
this perspective was like being al-
lowed to audition a class of angels.

For me the beauty of a fine wine 
lies not in its autonomous excel-
lence, but in its capacity to con-
jure the image of the civilisation 
which produced it, from the vine 
that was tended, in the ground and 
in the year of its harvest. Wines 
report to us of that degree of care 
and comprehension, and of those pa-
rameters of fortune and technique; 
and it is only natural to be drawn 
to such confluences at their most 
articulate - even, as in the case 
of the Loire, their most graceful.

I do not refuse the natural perspective
to discover that the subject of wine 
is not merely my nourishment, my 
pleasure, my reverence for achieve-
ment, but rather that it is the won-
der which is our inheritance of this 
world, of which it is so revealing.
It is not an interest of this page,
to reform the rhetoric of experts in
their guilds, evangelists in their
wallows; but there are people whom
we love to be looked out for, and a
human right to beauty in this world.

For this reason, I resist, recoil 
from praises of wine which denote a 
perfected rapture in its own being,
the mantras of merchants conditioned
by covetousness of rarity and price, 
evoking the chase of the Maltese fal-
con or the deliriums of Kundry, be-
cause at best (and there is no mis-
taking it in the glass) wine is an
analogy of something which, perfect 
or not, is still to be extracted 
to our enlightenment and to our 
consolation, recompensing labour
first of all, to the credit of its

Enlightenment, because every vintage 
we could praise for its surpassing 
elegance of proportion -- the thing 
we are always really talking about 
and truly looking for, whether we 
know it or not -- says something to 
us by happenstance of factors as
arbitrary as fine weather, of how 
much of our civilisation is contin-
gent upon variation beyond our grasp. 
And to our consolation, because 
every vintage which can be praised 
for the beauty which men have been
able to husband, glows first with
their humility

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Beyond resemblance

Fraternity, at least in my life,
yields the original experience of
the memorisation of the body of a
peer. This begins upon arrival, is 
sustained through the entirety of 
youth - academic separations aside - 
and continues to be second nature, 
inextinguishable even by our eman-
cipations. Singular for not impos-
posing conditions of interest, the
fraternal body is the least aloof,
and is egalitarian, permissive, im-
partial, empirical, constant. The
cause of nothing.