Saturday, October 31, 2015

Resuming natural time

   Amid amazing meteorological accidents
   A young couple moves away from the others on the ark,
   -- Is this ancient, pardonable shyness? --
   And sings and takes up the watch.

Jean-François-Arthur Rimbaud
Les illuminations
John Ashbery
op. cit.

Urs Stooss
Provincetown, 2014

Friday, October 30, 2015

Glimmer, glimmer, pants on simmer

The Defense of Marriage Act,
lately ruled unconstitution-
al by the Supreme Court of
the United States, rested on
a bit of statutory hubris a-
kin to the Fugitive Slave
legislation of the 19th Cen-
tury, except in reverse. It
declared that no marriage
obtained in one State may be
regarded as valid in another
if contrary to the latter's
policies. Like the Fugitive
Slave laws, it was a marvel-
ous obliteration of that Uni-
on which crushed the Confed-
eracy of the 1860's, and was
yet another vestige of the
losers' indignation.

President Clinton signed the
legislation outside of camera
range and at that hour, albeit
dull for the news cycle, which
corresponds most widely with a
freedom of association, Satur-
day night.

Until just this week, a little
shame accrued to the name of
that otherwise pristine Admin-
istration, which even its tit-
ular leader confessed as indis-
putable. With what rapture, 
then, did a sudden and innocu-
ously unself-interested revi-
sionist portrayal of it, reach
adherents of Mrs Clinton, via
radio. She declared the Defense
of Marriage Act to have been a
defense of the Constitution, it-
self, from phobic reinscription.

The great power of this lady,
to align the stars of the past
to the exigencies of her pres-
ent, has never been known to 
fail her stalwart imagination,
and to exempt her followers
from a crushing by hypocrisy.

It would be a pity if her hus-
band, the highest court in the
land, the ineradicable memory
of contemporaries of the act,
and an absolute tidal wave of 
commentary already document-
ed, should now be interposed
between this sunlike beacon
and the understanding of hu-

Yet with this wholly unnec-
essary invention, given that
humanity has moved beyond
that most fugitive flight
from moral duty, Mrs Clin-
ton defies again the devil
in the microphone, we always
knew was there - the bewitch-
ing instrument, an indefatig-
able temptation, even to the
noblest who confront its power,
only to succumb to its genius 
for drawing them out. Her cour-
age under fire - even, infamous-
ly, invented fire - is boldest 
under pressure to prove every-
body wrong.

Hugh Trevor-Roper
The Crisis of the Seventeenth
  Century: Religion, Reforma-
  tion, and Social Change
    The European Witch-craze
    of the Sixteenth and Seven-
    teenth Centuries
Secker & Warburg, 1984©

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Origins of Wednesday xviii: Omnia mutantur, nihil interit

Not long ago, I defended
having weathered another
Summer without Proust, 
as escaping a kind of in-
tellectual nuisance, like
his great translator's
trench fever at the Wes-
tern Front, that threat-
ens never entirely to go
away. I recognize an os-
tentation in renouncing
a notable treasure, and,
yes, I agree with the but-
ler in Sturges' Sullivan's
Travels, that an affecta-
tion of impoverishment is
as low a gesture as a man
can make. But, as I men-
tioned at the time, I do
not welcome lightly the
irritations of a master-

Now I incline suddenly
to relent, as an even
better season for stor-
ies approaches on the
calendar; but now I do
so for a reason which
pretty well goes to the
heart of what I'm doing
here. I'm going to en-
gage M. Proust in some-
one else's restatement.

I've admitted doing this
a fair amount. To me, the
affecting element of a
great translation is its
generous sociabiity, its
fulfillment of an obliga-
tion our schools demanded
of us all, to give our
peers our best contribu-
tion to their understand-
ing. In any case, it is
idle to pretend we read
alone - except possibly
in the gulag of I0S 9.

This explains our weakness
for the experience of the
Classics, which are only
social discourses; and why
it is natural to approach
even Proust from the hands
of a prodigy in Ovid. When
commanded in his entrance
exam for Winchester in 1903, 
to render some lines of Ovid
into serviceable English, the
schoolboy C.K. Scott Moncrieff
proposed the following ~

               Omnia mutantur, nihil interit ..

               Everything is changed but nothing
               perishes. The spirit wanders, going
               hence, thither, coming thence, hith-
               er, and takes possession of any limbs
               it pleases. With equal ease it goes
               from beasts into human bodies and from 
               us into beasts, nor in any length of 
               time does it fail. And as wax is easily 
               moulded in new shapes, nor remains as 
               it had been before, nor keeps the same 
               form, but yet is itself the same; so do 
               I teach that the soul is ever the same, 
               but migrates into different shapes.

I don't distrust precocity on
this scale, intuition so ener-
getic, yet so calm in its respect
for a finished work's composure.
I don't distrust the image of an 
approachable other consciousness.
I don't distrust the gift for af-
fection in a discovery of its dis-
cipline. It refreshes everything.
Is this style, or is it taste?

I can regret an aristocracy all
I want, but it's hopeless to de-
nounce its virtues, rare as their
embodiment may be. Some examiner
at Winchester must have wept to
find his exercise in translation
translated as a manifesto on its
obligations and its promise. In
this prospectus taste is in good
hands. What wax is this, moulded 
to bring nuisance to our Winter?

Jean Findlay
Chasing Lost Time
  The life of CK Scott Moncrieff
  Soldier, Spy and Translator
Chatto & Windus, 2014©

Walter Kaiser
A review of Findlay
The New York Review
June 4, 2015©

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Dancing home

The papers are full of an ex-
citement one can well imagine,
that Colm Tóibín's Brooklyn is
now playing on the screen. He
requires no introduction, but
if he did, I think it could 
be reduced to the sentence he
assigns to his heroine, mid-
way through the novel at page
137, after she had become at
ease with a partner with whom
she would meet for dancing on
Fridays, and movies another
night each week. Or here, at
least, is the overture his
readers hear, to the dimming
of the cineplex, for him - 

   She thought it was
   strange that the mere
   sensation of savouring
   the prospect of some-
   thing could make her
   think for a while that
   it must be the prospect
   of home.

In the previous thirty pages
he has allowed this improbable
equation to imply itself, per-
sistently, with the subtlest 
application, allowing his prose
the patient assurance of an al-
most perfect dancing partner.
In the pleasantly lengthening
shelf of his books which we all,
probably, share repeatedly with
friends, we find this faculty
unfolding constantly. Simply to
gather in straight lines of text 
the multifaceted nuances of a 
partnering's becoming home, is
a choreography rare enough to
see if cinema can pull it off.

Of course there is excitement.

Colm Tóibín
  A Novel
Scribner, 2009©