Wednesday, December 31, 2014

With whom is ours a Common Era?

Nightingales, Swallows, your admirers, who
Discovered each their signal songs in you,
Voiced rival dirges from opposing glades,
And one flock chafed the other: Milksop maids,
You call that grieving? Well, we're grieving, too.

Sicilian Muses, croon your sad old song.

Master thrice missed, what arrogant upstart
Would lip your pipes in mockery of your art?
Your mouth still sounds them, they still breathe your air,
And your own echoes still are straying there.
Bequeath your song to Pan? No, even Pan
Would back off, yielding mastery to a man.

Sicilian Muses ..

She lately planted on the dying Adonis.

                  Then in the incarnadine darkness
                  a great slow pulse began to beat.

  Early one summer morning when he was a boy he had watched from the kitchen a snail crawling up the window outside. The moment came back to him now, wonderfully clear, the washed sunlight in the garden, the dew, the rosebuds on the tumbledown privy, that snail. What had possessed it to climb so high, what impossible blue vision of flight reflected in the glass? The boy had trod on snails, savouring the crack and then the soft crunch, had collected them, had raced them and traded them, but never before now had he really looked at one. Pressed in a lavish embrace upon the pane, the creature gave up its frilled grey-green underparts to his gaze, while the head strained away from the glass, moving blindly from side to side, the horns weaving as if feeling out enormous forms in air. But what had held [him] was its method of crawling. He would have expected some sort of awful convulsions, but instead there was a series of uniform small smooth waves flowing endlessly upward along its length, like a visible heartbeat. The economy, the heedless beauty .. baffled him.

Moschus of Syracuse
ca 150 BC
Aaron Poochigian
The Greek Poets
  Homer to the Present
Peter Constantine
  Rachel Hadas
  Edmund Keeley
  Karen Van Dyck
W.W. Norton & Co.
op. cit.

John Banville
  A Novel
  III  Dioptrice
Secker & Warburg, 1981©

iii  John Coltrane
iv   Karlis Adlers
v    Glenn Gould
vi   Native passage
      Edward S. Curtis
      cf., Timothy Egan
             Short Nights of the
                Shadow Catcher
             Houghton Mifflin, 2012©

Tuesday, December 30, 2014


An idiomatic phrase, denot-
ing desire-window, connot-
ing to us, window-shopping, 
became lately a category of 
posting at a web page I know, 
which is concerned with tex-
tiles and other tissues of 
taste among people of deco-
rating interests in France.

My observation is that all
are born with decorating in-
terests, but that France pre-
serves a wider demilitarised
zone for us than most Western
cultures. It is a wonder, if
one thinks about it, that we
never hear of a depletion in
taste in the culture most of-
ten cited as disseminating it, 
and with such little regard
for who exercises it. Can it
be, that the human right is
not rebellious when embraced?

Not that this cultural and
psychological reality lacks
for historical derivation,
in feudalism, Catholicism,
and openly ironic absolut-
ism. The Protestant, plu-
tocratic, and capitalistic 
societies haven't synthe-
sized it, and would not
if they could. No one is
to blame for this acciden-
tal cultural injury, but
its legacy proliferates -
to make taste, dangerous.

Is this ever sustainable?
Who will mind if it isn't?

Monday, December 29, 2014

Recondita armonia

To an artist who 
suggested being
linked in.

     Scarpia. What are you
     going to do about it?

A backstage sign can't stop it.
The challenge in social media,
for lack of a better defining
phrase, is less in the quality
of their painting than in their
audience's seeing. I realize
that these things overlap, but
poor work has always existed -
with the best, often ill-served.
What's new is its distribution,
and rapidity of assimilation.
Is this temperature, reductive?

So much imbalance and unrefine-
ment are in self-reinforcing ex-
change, so that the likelihood
of their acceptance only rises,
while the excellent is suspect.
Nations panic, societies unrav-
el, friendships fray in such a
climate. Gresham's Law shows it-
self a scourge to every quality, 
irreconcilables flourish madly.
Any day, there may be Cézanne.

Because, we see, standards fail
by testing, not by neglect. If
an unharmonious way is tried,
it will nevertheless be tested.
Does art, as Cavaradossi sang,
blend contrasting beauties, to-

Is this a risk we're ever spared?
Something is always not supposed
to be shown.

Giacomo Puccini
Giuseppe Giacosa

Paul Cézanne
Houses in Provence
ca 1880
Collection Paul Mellon
National Gallery of Art

Richard Shiff
Cézanne and the
  End of Impressionism
op. cit.

Frederik Ruegger
i, ii

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Ah, our horrid half-times

                  just the
                  time for

There can be no question
but that a lot of people
believed that painting
was in trouble ..

Jed Perl
New Art City
  From Ready-Mades
  to Cut-Outs
op. cit.

See also, especially,
Jed Perl
Magicians & Charlatans
  Essays on Art and Culture
  The Opportunist
op. cit.

Alexander Vandepuite
Niki de St Phalle
Jasper Johns

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Has the rage for washing gone too far?

We all awoke to happy news of our 
dear Yale, a university near water, 
in Connecticut. Sterling Library has 
been scrubbed spanky clean, which cuts 
down considerably on the lighting bill, 
as you can see; but there were those 
who wondered if the glare were very 
wholesome, or especially conducive to 
reading. That said, The Times illus-
trated the triumph of the bucket bri-
gade with a portrait of undergraduates, 
browsing in laptops in the eaves. Even 
happilier, this was free money anyway.

Somberer, however, is the
heart that greets Martin
Filler's latest alarm -
so fresh, from our losing
battle for Park Avenue -
of the scrubbings gone
amok at Chartres. And, yes, I do mean that Chartres, not in Connec-ticut at all, whose dis-covery we attribute to a Harvard man. Now a cabal of that college is dis-covered, veritably bleaching the place, rectitude again drowning faith in its own cradle. 

Now we don't think unclean, a rev-
erence that's enhanced by manifes-
tations of permanence. An artist,
a generation, is entitled to an
idea, but not to its immunity. To
repair is one thing. To eliminate
centuries of dialogue and its con-
text from our experience of such
things, is a cremation of their
extant life. This seems arrogant.

Just sayin'. 

Friday, December 26, 2014

My jacket for winter

     and how I like to
     hang my shirt out 
     in the wind 

Tom Wells

Thinking outside the Arsenal

When was it, last year, the
year before? I was standing
in front of the Arsenal in
Venice, looking at your sta-
tue. You nearly always stand
slightly turned away in your
statues, looking to one side,
as though you wish to avoid 
a conversation.. That after-
noon I had read something a-
bout the divine in a book a-
bout Plato, about how the
Greeks, in moments of terrify-
ing catastrophe or delirious
joy, those moments when every-
thing about our lives becomes
dazzlingly visible in a light
of almost unbearable intensity,
would have an experience of the
divine.. Some gods are still
feared and worshipped, others
languish in books and museums..
they can still rely on their
beauty, but no longer on their
power. Where did the problem be-
gin for you Olympians? With Soc-
rates, who, by constantly think-
ing aloud, began the process of
removing magic from the world,
even though he believed in the
immortality of the soul? 

Or was it earlier, with Xeno-
phanes, who accused Hesiod and
Homer of having given the gods
all manner of negative human 
habits - adultery, jealousy, 
deceit ..? Did you ever devote
any attention to such thoughts?

Of course, that means my writing
to you is a paradox, because the
letter assumes you still exist,
but please allow me my questions..

 Cees Nooteboom
 Laura Watkinson
 Letters to Poseidon
   Letter xx [fragment]
 Maclehose Press, 2014©

Thursday, December 25, 2014


  of swells.

  Astound me
  with some-
  thing obvi-


Wednesday, December 24, 2014

My stocking stuffer

  Ethernet des-
  ert boots and
  languid laces.

  Lawrence, eat
  yr heart out.


Frederik Ruegger
Banana / Paris

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Season for stories

I've been asked to be a
book reviewer, and I've
been asked to be a book
writer, but I've never
been asked to be a book
seller. By all means it
calls for the highest
refinement of our more
admirable capacities,
and I think the tenden-
cy to test this postu-
late is at its most in-
tense in Advent because
of our heightened sen-
sitivity to the seduc-
tiveness of stories. To
gauge their comparative
power and appraise their
taste in means, for spe-
cific thirsting strangers 
is a gift, situating lit-
erature where it belongs,
and weaves a gratitude no
sommelier or tailor can a-
spire to. Now this Christ-
mas my bookseller reveal-
ed the reason for this to
me with stunning panache:
a tolerable progression
toward one's bethlehem of
knowing is the measure of
our pleasure. I demur from
any revelation's blazing
terminus, but I greatly
enjoy the journey, and its 
offer of becoming closer.

On the telephone with him
the other day, admitting
one was shopping only for
oneself, I requested four
or five diverse attrac-
tions from the shop's sea-
sonal list, balancing ex-
perience with a writer or
a subject with an assess-
ment of probabilities for
a "tolerable progression,"
interlaced with frames of
gastronomy and similar ar-

I then allowed, this would
all be fine with me, but
that I hadn't yet asked if
he thought I might be over-
looking something I should

Ah, yes. Well, he's an in-
teresting figure, Scott
Moncrieff, and there is a
fine study of him now -- .

And then, well, of course
he sounds a little familiar,
but in a way he isn't: Homer.

Gorging myself on chunks now 
of both recommendations, I'm
refreshed by pure generosity.
Here the character of lyric-
ism, itself, is approached
with a physical persistence,
revealed as a moral function.
I think if E.M. Forster had
been weaned from Cambridge,
he might have made a jour-
neyman bookseller. Possibly
this is what he's trying in
A Passage to India and How-
ard's End. He's asserting, 
with diffidence; he's meter-
ing out his invention to se-
cure a taste for it, not a 
habit. But the bookseller 
knows something that nobody
ever suspected of Forster, 
who never cared for teaching. 
He knows how I can be quieted.

Merry Christmas, in every-
one's own generous way.

Jean Findlay
Chasing Lost Time
  The Life of C.K. Scott Moncrieff
  Soldier, Spy and Translator
Chatto & Windus, 2014©

Adam Nicolson
The Mighty Dead
  Why Homer Matters
William Collins, 2014©