Saturday, August 10, 2013

Saturday commute lxxxvi: the smell test of daydreams

Circumstances confer upon us all,
if we care to notice, a recurring
exposure to youth under varying
degrees of intellectual trial and
release, and I find it fascinat-
ing to witness how the habits of
one of these modes influence the
conduct of the other. Not, I sup-
pose, that the comparison would
be much different among their el-
ders, except for their mastering
of escape from both estates.

A persistent threat of humour is
a great hazard to the occupation
of observing the young in compul-
sory study of philosophy and psy-
chology, but this has been so
since The Symposium and it would
only be vulgar to deny it. For a
Saturday commute, I thought some
compassion for that captivation
might be more seemly for the day,
and I beg not to be taken unser-
iously. Even you and I return to
Albert Camus.

That this writer was a specialist in the unthinkable has had a way of sustaining his vogue, regard-less probably of compulsion; but to win credits for the pursuit of temptation is not the least of the great lessons of the academy, per se. He remains as much at home on the escapist mountain peak as in the great fluorescent baths of academic sweatshops. Back in the day of reading in coffee houses, he was as ubiquitous as cinnamon, tincture of not a little allure of raciness, and succulent as a stick. What is the aromatic imprint of the Macbook Air?

The first thing to be noticed in the experience of reading Camus, not that anyone is willing to give the secret away, is the impression of being cast under observation, ourself, without apparent mercy or compassion, by invitation to examine morbidities which depend precisely on their suspension. In this frame of reference it would be indelicate to imply a bilateral seduction, with its telltale aromatic of appealing to the susceptible; but that Camus is a pleasure for the young while Nietzsche is not, I can neither deny nor fathom. He is, however, a poet, to Nietzsche's raconteur.

What I know, what is certain, 
what I cannot deny, what I cannot 
reject - that is what counts. 
I can negate everything of that part 
of me that lives on vague nostalgias, except this desire for unity, 
this longing to solve, 
this need for clarity and cohesion. 
I can refute everything in this world surrounding me that offends 
or enraptures me, 
except this chaos, 
this sovereign chance 
and this divine equivalence 
which springs from anarchy.

Consciousness and revolt, these re-jections are the contrary of renun-ciation. Everything that is indomitable and passionate in a human heart quickens them, on the contrary, with its own life. It is essential to die unreconciled and not of one's own free will.. 
The absurd man can only drain everything to the bitter end, and deplete himself. The absurd is his extreme tension, which he maintains constantly by solitary effort, for he knows that in that consciousness and in that day-to-day revolt he gives proof of his only truth, which is defiance.

I can understand 
only in human terms. 
What I touch, what resists me -
that is what I understand.

 As I suppose is well known,
 or ought to be, Gallimard
 published this essay in 1942,
 under a heinous occupation of
 France, made even more exquis-
 itely cruel by its permission
 to the arts to flourish, and
 contribute to illusions Camus
 took pains to refute elsewhere.
 But the open agitations in this
 work powerfully trigger a smell
 test of temptations it so forth-
 rightly addresses. It is stren-
 uous and arduously aloof, a tex-
 tual embodiment of the bread of
 indifference on which man feeds
 his greatness. I could trust a
 youth to get it.

Albert Camus
Le Mythe de Sisyphe
Éditions Gallimard, 1942©
Justin O'Brien, translation
Knopf, 1955©
Penguin, 1975©

Frederic Spotts
The Shameful Peace
  How French Artists and
  Intellectuals Survived the
  Nazi Occupation
Yale University Press, 2008©

And why was I not told?

  I think we have it
  wrong when we com-
  plain of the death
  of the past. Even-
  tually we deserved
  some revenge for a
  lack of toile cam-
  ou in our own play.

  We certainly could
  have worn it well.
  the end, to make a
  secret of Viet Nam?

Friday, August 9, 2013

Drench, the belovèd country

Beautiful and somber,
why does an emergency
deepen awe for places
we inhabit, as a gift
we can not fathom? Do
I know a way to spare
my home my mortality?

The New York Times
  via The Associated Press
J.C. Hong, photograph©

Banning, California

Suppose it were Friday lxxiv: would one be there for it

He knows better than
anyone how to use the
apparent nonchalance
of true strength to
give an impression of
drifting, and advances
with a half-open eye.

  And if one'd heard
  Orson Welles, what

              Had they given birth to
              an ordinary child, they
              would in any case have
              provided him with that
              refined liberal education
              in which the precocity 
              of the young prodigy was
              given the power to explode. 

i    Jean Cocteau 
       on Welles, in

ii  André Bazin
     Orson Welles
       A Critical View
    Foreword by François Truffaut
    Les Éditions du Cerf, 1972©
    Harper & Row, 1978©

André Kertész, archer, undated

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

We interrupt this lugubrious enterprise in favour of Fintan

Like you, dear reader,
I squirm at assertions
of personal privilege,
among those who assert
an empathy for customs
in common. Just now on
the other hand, Fintan
executed his signature
flying leap into a dir-
ector's chair which or-
dinarily accommodates
only your devoted ser-
vant, at this Louis XV
desk snaffled from the
auction of Mrs Hunting-
ton's things, eons ago.
My mother's cigarettes
embellish its descent.

But if you, as I some-
times do in Summer, re-
pair to the pantry for
a revivification of a
moderate gin and tonic,
and find your English
dog contesting your sin-
ecure in a bound which
tumbles it over into a
sarouk that shouldn't be
there, you are left with
the choice of marveling
at the élan of his geste,
or scolding an innocent
for his love.

Ah. Your verdict?

Ambiguity is an epithet

And usually off the
mark. It's an allu-
sion to a deferred
choice between two
possibilities. In-
stinctively, we re-
coil from ambiguity,
not with impatience,
but dissatisfaction. 
Its binary predicate
is inherently dogmat-
ic; it has nothing
to do with seeing,
nothing to do with
being, and degrades
a mind by coercion,
to adopt its habits.

I like the first 
photograph. The
flow of the white,
the black plinth,
belong to dynamics,
not dichotomy. Be-
low, the regularity
in the stitching is
offset, not opposed,
by natural symmetry,
articulately recep-
tive. Liquidity is

Is this fashion, or
is it freshening by
possibility? Is taste
craft and play be our
are there fairer hab-

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Summer Liebling iii

A peril of the text.

Summer allows us all
a gainful lull in the
deliberations of our
elegant judiciary: a
time to kick back and
marvel at the valida-
tion of Senator Roman
Hruska's immortal pro-
phecy of the Nixon era,
defending his nomina-
tion of G. Harrold Cars-
well, a T-room hero of
the Larry Craig school
of redneck sanctimony.
How soothingly our ham-
mock sways in the wheeze
of antisemitism, usher-
ing in reconsiderations
of affirmative action,
school desegregation, 
one man one vote, and
gender equality in the

Even if he were mediocre,
there are a lot of medi-
ocre judges and people
and lawyers. They are en-
titled to a little rep-
resentation, aren't they,
and a little chance? We
can't have all Brandeises
and Frankfurters and Car-

Not that the afflicted
aryan male is not over-
due for sympathy, the
Court cannot apply that
balsam directly, with-
out courting complaint
of affirmative action.
And so, it finds (out
of thin air, and the
denying soul of its
openly confessed con-
stituency) that things
are better, now, and
so bordering on spiffy
as to end the redistri-
bution of blonds. Not
that there were ever
so many, as Senator
Hruska warned, to go
around. The thinnest
sampling is all the
austere republic can
spare, and they must
be reserved for impor-
tant occasions.

Scholars ask, what be-
came of this successor
of Warren Buffett's fa-
ther in Congress, this
guardian of the judici-
ary, this Nixonite ally
of discrimination's fav-
ourite syllogism? Radi-
antly fittingly, he is
remembered in a great of-
fice of our government,
the Federal Meat Animal
Research Center [sic],
in his native Nebraska:
getting big government
to do the heavy lifting
for private capital again.
How grateful we all must
be, for Clarence Thomas'
opinion for the Court 
last Term, against the
patenting of genes. We
might be cloned to blond-
ness, and its victimhood.

A.J. Liebling

The Eternally
  Kicked in the Pants
March 26, 1955
The New Yorker©

The Library of America, 2008©

Monday, August 5, 2013

Dans le pays d'un homme condamné ii

Manohla Dargis, one of the
most saturatingly compen-
sated critics of our time,
has actually written, and
the Library of America has
enshrined, literally, this:

Movies, Mr Cronenberg un-
derstands, make meaning:
they entertain, therefore
we are.

No one takes pleasure in
the embarrassment of his
readership, in a disclo-
sure of this prohibitive
extent of what our spe-
cies may wring, at any
given moment, of the 
gift of life as we know
it. And who among us is
not accustomed, nay inur-
red, to allocations of
reward only the gods may
understand, as a parlour
game of blindman's bluff?

And who could care, that
Manohla Dargis might be
wafted in her limousine,
to the head of the line
at Le Bernardin, thence
to prattle over nages of
dismissed caring?

But I was going to write
about cinema, because it
holds the means of being
about being, as the pre-
vious entry asserted, as

Confusion, risk, redemp-
tion. You know: getting
out of jail isn't free.
It isn't even in the
deal. It is always pur-
sued, as Dickens made
plain, for someone else.

Manohla Dargis
Once Disaster Hits, It
  Never Seems to End
Phillip Lopate, editor
American Movie Critics:
  An Anthology from the
  Silents until Now
The Library of America, 2006©

Charles Le Clainche, left
François Leterrier, right
Robert Bresson, director
Un condamné à mort s'est échappé
Criterion Collection, 2013©