Saturday, January 2, 2016

Saturday commute cxix: Persia without end

The building of Alexandria 
proceeded, and copied or mag-
nified forms from the perish-
ing peninsula overseas. Dino-
crates planned Greek temples
and market places, and they
were constructed not slavish-
ly but with intelligence, for
the Greek spirit still lived.

But it lived consciously, not
unconsciously as in the past.
It had a mission, and no mis-
sionary shall ever create.

And Alexander, the heroic
chaos of whose heart surged
with desire for all that
can and can not be, turned
away from his Hellenic town-
planning and his narrow lit-
tle antiquarian crusade, and
flung himself again, but in
a new spirit, against the
might of Persia.

He fought her as a lover now. 
He wanted not to convert but 
to harmonize, and conceived 
himself as the divine and im-
partial ruler beneath whom 
harmony shall proceed.

That way lies madness. Per-
sia fell. Then it was the
turn of India. Then the turn
of Rome would have come and
then he could have sailed
westward (such was his ex-
pressed intention) until he
conquered the Day. He was
never - despite the tuition
of Aristotle - a balanced
young man, and his old 
friends complained that in
this latter period he some-
times killed them.

                But to us, who cannot have the peril-
                ous honour of his acquaintance, he
                grows more lovable now than before.
                He has caught, by the unintellectual
                way, a glimpse of something great, 
                if dangerous.. He had tried to lead
                Greece, then he had tried to lead 
                mankind. He had succeeded in both.
                But was the universe also friendly,
                was it also in trouble, was it call-
                ing on him, on him, for his help and
                his love?


The artistic progress 
in the works of David
Hockney and Morgan For-
ster displays a natural 
resemblance in their 
gathering confidence 
to test their nemesis,
their resistant Persia.
The site offers no tri-
umph, except in their
residual refusal to be
drawn into conflict
with their art. Resis-
tance without end lays
a cornerstone of West-
ern art, and it follows,
of sanity as we know it.
Let us see how we may
thrive by this constraint.

E.M. Forster
Pharos and Pharillon
  The Return from Siwa
Creative Arts Book Co., 1980©

David Hockney
Nude, Santa Monica
Sur la terrasse
Peter Schlesinger

Michael Beck
Walter Hill
The Warriors

Andrés Nieto Porras
Sea, Iceland


Friday, January 1, 2016

Resolved: to part with the post-card

I found myself glancing through
a catalogue I've had for many
years, of works in the Art In-
stitute [of Chicago, it may be
superfluous to add], searching
through their Rembrandts, which
hold such a welcoming position
in their collection. Out popped
a post-card addressed in my hand
to my father, then a widower in
La Jolla, who had grown up in
Chicago until his early teens,
going west to school and stay-
ing on. With my favorite pen,
I noticed, I'd begun by saying,
this museum is fantastic. I say,
I'd begun this way, no saluta-
tion, Dear .. I never completed
the note, I never shared the 
picture or the sentiment, which
plainly had been intended to be
given. That meaning, that act
were forever lost.

I know very little of res-
olutions; I know ambitions,
I know expectations. But I
have learned a little bit
about communications. What-
ever else they convey, of
minor, trifling, passing in-
terest, they impart a qual-
ity of the personality. It
is necessary to discover,
this is not trifling, and
to persist in the transmit-
tal despite everything else.

Last year, the Rijksmuseum
mounted a "once in a life-
time" exhibition of later
works by Rembrandt, assem-
bled with the co-operation
of the leading collections
of the world. It had a can-
did purpose - to present a
privilege beyond valuation,

When I saw this photograph,
I confess I drew the most
sardonic and astonished con-
clusion; yes, it also struck
me as hilarious, for how the
genders spontaneously coagu-
late, seemingly molecularly.

But I do not question the
power of The Night Watch,
the canvas then undoubtedly
saturating the internet in
diligent flights of postal
surrogates. I see them hud-
dled in declaring what de-
lighted them, thinking what
they'd say, selecting their
recipients, hoping to show
what made one grateful. Not
failing to give it away. It
must be sent.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Chimes have rung at Windsor

Our sun's quaint custom,
of always setting upon one
outpost or another of the
English language, is some-
times a great convenience
to the timely mixing of a
dry martini, more or less
at will. It's from that
amusingly distributed ton-
gue that we now recite our
happy news, of the jury's
successful completion of
another tonsorial tourney,
selecting the Haircut of
the Year in a single, u-
nanimous ballot. First,
the runner-up ~ a player
of distinction in the
texts celebrated by the
champ. For our part, it
will make for a fine af-
ter dinner treat to re-
visit his best work in
film, of that very kind.

And now we learn with
great delight, that 2016
will see a 50th anniver-
sary screening in several
American cities, of that
infinitely rich tapestry
of Bolingbroke selfies,
The Haircut jurors plain-
ly reasoned, that if deso-
lation is the inevitable
backdrop for the winning
haircut, the bearer need
not be the one to wear it.

Time to go and play.

                 Now comes in the sweetest morsel
                 of the night, and we must hence
                 and leave it unpicked ..

William Shakespeare
King Henry IV
  Part II
II, iv, 364-365
The Arden Shakespeare
A.R. Humphreys
Methuen & Co., Ltd., 1966©

River Phoenix
My Private Idaho
Gus van Sant

Jeanne Moreau
  Doll Tearsheet
Orson Welles
  Sir John Falstaff
Orson Welles
  art direction
Chimes at Midnight

Bridget Gellert Lyons
Rutgers Films in Print
  Chimes at Midnight
  Orson Welles, director
Rutgers University, 1988©

We still have time for entries

  The prize for Haircut
  of the Year is not a-
  warded every year; it
  is bestowed on a ton-
  sorial performance as
  the sole redeeming a-
  menity within a field
  of view. The drawback
  here was an incontro-
  vertibly well-planted
  urn. A bit more deso-
  lation, a little less
  botanical vitality, a
  new entry could sweep
  the field of all pre-
  tenders, by midnight.

   How wittily fu-
   nerary the urn,
   dripping acrid-
   ity to burn, as
   toxic a turn as
   terned, so pit-
   iable to spurn.

   Suspicion gathered for-
   cibly among the jurors,
   of the alien intruder's
   exploitation of desola-
   lation in self-inflict-
   ed melodrama of transit.
   Still, undeniable hair.

                      With brick and mortar
                      so passé in a virtual
                      shopping day, jurors
                      sensed a true hoo-ray
                      welling up in judging
                      play, and sought out
                      moral guidance: if de-
                      light found no subsid-
                      ence, might they call
                      it all a day by award-
                      it to hay?

Dorothy Wilding
Noel Coward

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

High Noon

 We watch Frank 
 Miller's bunch
 out there, and
 the town's too
 willing to emp-
 ty the streets
 for their lit-
 tle Party. The
 story rides on
 a terror surge
 and the snarl-
 ings of intim-
 idation. Where
 is Katy Jurado?  

Carl Foreman
High Noon

Charles Simic

Sticking to our Guns
New York Review
  of Books
December 4, 2015©

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Anyone have a year without Eliot?

   Aye, and poets send out
   the sick spirit to green
   pastures, like lame hor-
   ses turned out unshod to
   the turf to renew their
   hoofs. A sort of yarb-
   doctors in their way, po-
   ets have it that for sore
   hearts, as for sore lungs,
   nature is the grand cure.
   But who froze to death my
   teamster on the prairie?
   And who made an idiot of
   Peter the Will Boy?

I was at breakfast yesterday
with a learned and accomplish-
ed couple of my acquaintance
of the past dozen years or so,
and in exchanging good news of
what we're reading, Crawford's
biography of Eliot (up to the
publication of The Waste Land)
came up, as would be normal.
It turns out, they hadn't read
the poem yet, but insofar as I
had paid it serious attention
(within my usual limits) only
in very recent years, I hold
no scorn for this revelation,
only the profoundest excite-
ment for their sake, to have
reserved that extraordinary
experience. They go all over
the world, they do whatever
they want (they are young),
and they're acutely alert in-
dividuals. I did mention the
usual assurance, that if they
had heard any Dylan (or heavy
metal or Alban Berg), they'd
been standing at the starting
gate long enough, to let them-
selves go; and in any good edi-
tion (I like the one cited be-
low), footnotes and the like
would look after them - not,
in any musical sense, that
they're needed.

As they then joined his fam-
ily, to see an afternoon of
Star Wars, I went looking for
a decent edition for them, on-
ly to find there wasn't one
in town. By "town," I mean
the site of the university
Jefferson designed for our
illumination, not far from
his own house. Of course, 
the library must hold a copy,
and probably it is available
for nothing online. 

We all do live with this poem;
but not to know it, is peculi-
ar. As our conversation over
the division of coffees and
pastries had ranged over read-
ings in poetry, in general, so
I opened a new volume from a
poet cited here before, scan-
ned some lines which could
have come only from Mark Doty,
and realized, much was going
on in them that would not be
there without The Waste Land.

With great regard for a poet
I will always read, and usu-
ally with gratitude (some,
morally obligatory), I sug-
gest he has deeply imbibed
Eliot's praise of Chaucer's
nostalgic sense, of April -

April is the cruellest month ..

           We began to think the white fish individual
           - the one of the pair who'd struggled, after all,
           when our pond's cold water shocked

           and he lay pulsing in the shallows
           till we thought him all but gone ...
           Then simply he drew himself up,

           if that were something a fish
           could do, and swam away.
           A heron ate his mate.

           He surfaced in March,
           after his first season
           entombed in the bottom mud,

           unscathed, a four-inch emperor
           in his white silk coat,
           insignia of the kingdom

           splashed over his back
           the color of candied orange rind.
           He'd nose up out of the lily-murk

           when our shadows crossed his borders,
           push to the edge to open the translucent
           white ring of his mouth over and over

           as if begging ... As if! Seems to want,
           seems to feel. But as we knew him
           semblance fell away: We felt the presence

           of the soul of him, if soul could be
           understood as specificity,
           so that when he himself was swallowed

           - white appetite perched on the roof,
           bill raised to the air, the throat unrelenting -

           the absence in the pond grew resonant,
           a sort of empty ringing. Where were the details then,
           the gestures that had marked him?


Herman Melville
The Confidence-Man
  His Masquerade
Cited in:
John Williams
Butcher's Crossing
New York Review Books, 2007©

Robert Crawford
Young Eliot
  From St Louis to 
  The Waste Land
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2015©

T.S. Eliot
The Waste Land
I, i
Michael North
Norton Critical Edition, 2001©

Mark Doty
Deep Lane
  Deep Lane iii
Norton, 2015©