Friday, June 22, 2012

We all know people who absolutely must have a tan

We do know such people. I can't recall if I were ever one of them, or if I simply reasoned one had to be exhibited, and acquired colour by default. Oh, yes. The which-comes-first thing, the chicken or the egg: sort of like, whether 'tis nobler to be at war, or merely be able to bomb. I, for my part, would always take my country's view: bombing is good enough. (And did you think, we would go in this direction? But possibly you'd underestimated the power of pec?). As Summer arrives, it's refreshing that our diplomatic choices redound upon first principles, without having to be spelled out.

I need hardly say, these diplomatic choices are only another way of framing the question, of what sort of friends one can get in any given season, with any given conduct. Has anyone noticed, the kind of people the United States has been hanging with, lately? Essentially, they're the gang Madeleine Albright used to trot out on Sunday as "warlords," when Bill Clinton noticed he hadn't conducted a war yet, and settled on Somalia for its simplified imagery. No Presidency in the lifetime of anyone living had not resorted to war to obfuscate its domestic excuses, and Clinton was running late. Not for the first time, would night follow day: losing Mogadishu, he went to Kosovo to bomb.

Inevitably (and there's no one to blame for this, of course), there's less fastidiousness about compan-ionship, when bombing options get a little thin on the ground. The need to hook up has always worked some strange society; but now that it's Summer again, there's no need to be partisan about it.

Is it dirty
does it look dirty
that's what you think of in the city

does it just seem dirty
that's what you think of in the city
you don't refuse to breathe do you

someone comes along with a very bad character
he seems attractive. is he really. yes. very
he's attractive as his character is bad, is it. yes

that's what you think of in the city
run your finger along your no-moss mind
that's not a thought that's soot

and you take a lot of dirt off someone
is the character less bad. no. it improves constantly
you don't refuse to breathe do you

Frank O'Hara
The Collected Poems
  of Frank O'Hara
Donald Allen, editor
op. cit.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

I did not miss our most beautiful Spring

I wish I could have commemorated
it better; the season was very fine
in the Piedmont this year, and this
is less usual than legend would have
it. For the past 105 days, if you
have seen this page, you may know
that I've been under prescription
narcotic medication, every day with
no interruption, and I have been all
but completely unambulatory without
incurring great inconvenience. But
in the 'day room' by a side door to
this farm house, where I've concen-
trated an existence that I share with
my English dog, I am surrounded by
a couple of hundred square feet of
eastern, southern and western facing
windows, and have been able to sur-
vey changes in woods and pastures,
and a stream and an expansive pond
without complication by any other
structures. So if I have been com-
pressed, mentally and physically,
I have been blessed by the loyalest
society and the least pressing of
all circumstances with which to ob-
serve, and still to imbibe this
most refreshing of all natural ex-

I have not been satisfied by the
blog's sharing of these advan-
tages, not to make too much of
them; but I have been able to
frame one or two postings of
greater clarity on a couple of
dilemmas which I had always
thought might never be expres-

Yet a debt I anxiously feel
toward myself, and by extension
to the readers of this page, has
been very regrettably unpayable.
I refer to the photographic en-
gagement with this world which
I enjoy and admire so much in 
the contributions of others,
and gives such pleasure to me
to pursue. It is, I think, the
pleasure of the making of pic-
tures which rebukes, to some
extent, my complaint of "let-
ting down the side," when there
is no more than one side, if
you will. (Here is Ivan's cam-
era, and sometimes Valéry's,
in place of my own; how I do
owe them, too).

An adjustment of 20 degrees F
in our mid-afternoon temperatures
in the last couple of days, has
signalled a new season as if we
might not have heard. Such is the 
presumption of that season, where
we are, that it is seldom willing
to suggest a chilling of our wine
without harangue; if Spring is a
fresh-faced Lieutenant then Summer 
is a drill Sergeant here. It may
be that the oppressions of narcot-
ics have been a timely training
for the capsule of refrigeration 
in which we conduct our exis-
tence here, for more than a
season's fair share of the cal-
endar. I awoke this morning, with
such enhanced respect for these
oppressions that I cannot hesi-
tate to report of them to sustain,
for this entry, the page's re-
nown for poor taste.

I believe I have now caught a
rather panoramic glimpse of the
psychosis of narcotic captivity,
and it came to me very hard this
morning as I drew my first waking
breaths, in daylight, which is
already suspiciously late for me.
I will tell you, bluntly, I am
frightened, I am scared, I feel
saddled by an enormous, suffocat-
ing weight. I can attribute this
novel orientation to nothing in
my experience but this sustained
regime of narcotic consumption.
Very great pain and confusion
have been replaced by terror,
not the heir one bargained for,
of going to sleep, itself.

I have known, I do not have
my body. I have written about
learning that I do not have
my mind. But I did not know
until this day, I do not have
my own breath. This, I must
admit, is enough to give
Summer a run for its money
in aggression, and cast a
pall against complaint with
my imagery of healthy people.
Who knew, we could be offend-
ed by fear we couldn't anatom-
ise, couldn't limn in blithe

I awoke with unprecedented short-
ness of breath, and it shortened,
of course, as one groped to ac-
count for it. I submitted to a
feeling of envelopment in an iron-
fisted grip, which I did then as-
cribe to my narcotics - dilaudid,
oxycodone in a couple of variations,
gabupentin, scads of tylenol, not to
mention the intravenous delights in
hospital which opened the space for
them. I had a physical sense of be-
ing subject to a formidable dictator-
ship, a squashing of hope, and a
feeling of smothering in my pillows
came over me as I lifted up, in new
pain at my incision. My body was the
Summer drill sergeant, demanding I
obey with drugs. A panic of drowning,
a sense of asphyxiation never known
to me before, lifted me angrily to
the pharmaceutically laden table 
across the room, abjuring my own 
dog's affectionate greetings.

I can lodge this report at this 
date on the calendar because I am
grateful to have seen the threat to
which I am exposed: a somewhat ill-
balanced regime of post-operative
treatments, I can redesign with my
surgeons when I meet with them on 
Monday. And I will. It is unseem-
ly of one to complain of a modest
tilt off-center, in a standard of
care which I still regard as in-
formed and diligent. I would rath-
er complain of Summer, and I'm not 
about to minimise it.

Is taste a human right?

This posting was originally issued
May 25th and was taken down for
revision. A friend was asking for it
lately, and allowed that it was OK
as it was. It should still be developed,
and in time I hope to do so.

Another excellent exchange
on taste was lately joined
at Blue Remembered Hills.

     A thousand postings in the same vessel at the same time,
and still we haven't identified the right to what is so often decried of this page, taste. It's a matter of important work, 
and then we can play.

     On almost every page of this blog, a right is asserted on behalf of the young, of which they were endowed by their creator but only haphazardly by society, if at all. The right to have Horace at one's back, Haydn in one's hospital, Heraclitus in one's curriculum is nothing more than the right to be formed in the legacy of one's birthright - and nothing less. Thousands of seagulls will crash into the Seagram Building before any ten pedestrians in a walking radius will know to preserve it. Yet, it was built for every man on the street for coherency's sake, for proportion's sake, for longevity's sake, and then for eloquence and elegance and inspiration's sake. And why is this, if not because no civilisation can stand without them?
     Is it possible to torture in good taste? Is it possible to tease others with oppression in good taste? Is it possible to exalt grandiosity in good taste? Is it possible to refuse the gifts of science in good taste? Is it possible to plan for New Orleans to drown in good taste? Is it possible for a fiduciary insider-trader to "bet" against his client in good taste?
     Could Mr Madison have fashioned the separation of powers without taste? Could Mozart have reconciled his finales without taste? Could a child's quadratic equation in algebra stand without taste? If we were conscious of the rôle of taste, in short, what would be obscure? 

     We are unalterably adamant, even in this nation, on the universal right of learning. We are at times tiresomely persistent at this page, on the universal obligation to commit the same act, at least on behalf of the young. Is it not probable, given grounding in Vitruvius and Palladio, Titian and Watteau, Haydn and Schubert, Virgil and Virginia Woolf, that some software program can be written, to infuse our domestic design with sympathy -- even if, as we read from time to time, nobody knows anything anymore?
     Coherency. Proportion. Longevity. Add whatever aioli we may want, this is our sandwich of taste. Of course it can be learned; it has only been learned, as regards comprehension if not execution. Let taste shape my herbaceous borders all it wants, it will incrementally shape my civilisation. Why, may an outsider ask, do we ever entertain the slightest doubt, that Syrie Maugham lives up to the Persian Letters of Montesquieu, and that David Adler should be taught in middle schools, along with Mr Emerson?

     The teaching of taste, the sharing of taste, the conserving of taste for the bequeathing of taste have been the subjects of this blog, just as the novelty of its projection of those purposes has struck some as paradoxical. The answer is, that the constituency for those purposes claims precedence here over examples of its achieve-ment, to lend resolution to a task which should feel like play. Something mad over something good, in a word, from the BRH exchange. We want there to be healing voices, we wish there to be a literature of power without force, but not merely because they are in good taste. The wanting of them gives the good sensation of their being, if one has the taste to dream of them. And this obliges us, once in a thousand blog entries, to declare their necessity. We want such things because there are people we love, to be looked after, and taste is their right, their ultimate protection.

I dedicate this posting
with thanks, to the
sharers of taste who
have been with Laurent.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Surveyors of our crawl


The tapestry of shell feet traces
Landscape poetry in hairy stone
Erecting a bone-pinnacle of the scampering faith.

Climbing the green summit, pincer spins
Slanting a leaf's eye, pyramidal scar
Skipping the bow-strung vine, twanging
Trapeze of serpent-grass, pins
An arrow-head to a mossy star.

Crossroads sliding sun,
Relentlessly the sawn light threads
The mountain-compass of a hidden world
Curling its tide of rushing toes, scything
A mud-hole spring, bubbles fungi, swelling
A toadstool tower;

Sometimes a mowed half-moon, bending,
Carves a skull-rooted Carib prairie.

Faustin Charles
Crab Track  [fragment]
James Berry, editor
News for Babylon
  The Chatto Book of West Indian-
  British Poetry
The Hogarth Press
Chatto & Windus, 1984©

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Library, Piedmont Virginia, early 21st Century

    amazing, what a night
    of quiet reading will
    turn up

  He can't mean what
  I think he means, 
  can he, Auguste?

  Of course not. No one
  could mean what you
  mean, Hercule.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Library, Pasadena, early 1950s

It was a rather wonderful weekend in the Piedmont, and surely it would not be chauvinism which called my mind back in place and time to my young uncle's residence in the year or two I knew him. It was, likelier, because my current read-ing has been a gainful blur touching upon Ameri-can culture in the '50s; but it was likelier, still, for my having chanced upon an old snap-shot, distilling that way of life of his that I do feel I understand.

At the same time, writing in the present issue of The New Yorker, that superlative chronicler of our war crimes, Jane Mayer, has taken up the disagreeable task of profiling another monstrous religious phony, with a peculiar penchant for injuring gay and lesbian Americans, including poor Mitt's one-day choice as his national security advisor. He evidently won that infamous little campaign by declaring that a gay male will have something like 500 partners - some McCarthyite number, such as that - in his genital career. Doing the math, somewhat roughly for a span of around 45 years or so, one's only response turns out to be along the lines of, "So?"

Domiciling a way of life then criminalised by the People of California, my young uncle's dwelling displayed that improvisa-tory air of the graduate student of happy family -- everything in more or less estimable taste, but nothing conspicuously permanent except for the accrued weight of literature. At the same time, there may be a fellow found "crashing" on the couch, a temporary expediency of mutual agreeableness.

Thinking merely selfishly about all this, I'd have been just as glad to have exchanged the inheritance of this library, at the time, for yet more years of his banditry, although a safer solution to it all would simply have been for the People of California to have allowed my uncle the life my parents indulged, of being somewhat less informed but more durably prop-ertied, along with such other vestigial joys as there may have been, to being publically known for their conjugal commitments. Yet even in my life, I cannot deny, the reading has been fine.

One likes to think, and one does tend to argue, that one reads with a responsibility toward the People of California's way of life, so to speak - to be competent, to exert those gestures of citizenship which even a bear republic calls upon one to contribute, with some-thing like humane cognition. Who could believe, that literature might have been abandoned to the disenfranchised, with a casual indigenous genius for what counts? We read our mentors and we hear them ask, Where does this concession come from?

  .. They'll
  never fence the silver range.
  Stars are out and there is sea
  enough beneath the glistening earth
  to beat me toward the future
  which is not so dark. I see.

Frank O'Hara
The Collected Poems
  of Frank O'Hara
  Digression on 'Number 1', 1948
Donald Allen, editor
op. cit.

Patrick, Lord Devlin
The Enforcement of Morals
Oxford University Press, 1965©

Charles de Secondat [Montesquieu]
The Persian Letters
J. Robert Loy, translation
Meridian, 1961©

Ralph Waldo Emerson
The Annotated Emerson
David Mikics, editor
The American Scholar
  An address before the
  Phi Beta Kappa Society
August 31, 1837
op. cit.

Albert O. Hirschman
The Passions and the Interests
  Political Arguments for Capitalism
  before its Triumph
Princeton University Press, 1977©

Bob Dylan
Chronicles, Volume One
Simon & Schuster, 2004©

Sunday, June 17, 2012

art science scissors

     shaping, always shaping
     our conferring of regard,
     our extraction of what we