Friday, April 28, 2017

Trifling with the soul of sacrifice

Seeing off the President of Ar-
gentina this week, the American
head of state and his present
wife graciously conducted them
to the diplomatic portico, guard-
ed as a matter of honor, always,
by a United States Marine. Here,
the humiliation we all enjoy as
private citizens is experienced
as an arrestingly undisciplined
abuse by an inconceivably negli-
gent commander. One doesn't ever
pet a Marine on the lats in one
hand, and grasp his waist with
another, for doing his duty to
his Commander in Chief. May no
one say, this just isn't done?

Condescension, as if to a car
hop, is not acceptable there.
How hideously he extends this
pat, for service which isn't
remotely personal. Back-slaps
and caresses, for the soul of
service? Insult, of degenerate
shallowness, for that radiance?

It is this idiot's occupation,
now, to be certain of the dis-
cipline of the forces of this
republic, and to direct them,
wholly unsentimentally and ut-
terly unsensually, to protect,
preserve, and defend the state.
He plainly cannot discharge it. 

Possibly, Catherine the Great,
who assassinated her sovereign
for toying with their soldiers,
could drop into his fantasies
of munificence, and edify them.
He could cut her a deal on used
Marines; she could get a refund.

Go tell Aunt Rhody
Go Tell Aunt Rhody
Go tell Aunt Rhody
                         That dignity is dead.

Kevin Lamarque, photo
April 27, 2017©
The Washington Post
April 28, 2017

Off to do the reading

  Five years ago I suspended activity
  here briefly, for a series of sur-
  geries of no particular consequence,
  apart from affecting the subsequent
  years. Now I would rather claim the
  same prerogative for doing the read-
  ing, as we all used to say, under no
  compulsion of being examined for it.

  I always liked that stuff, anyway,
  but the settings which imposed that
  obligation also remained high in my
  regard, until I collegially drew no
  distinction, as I do not do now,
  between McCosh Hall and Shelley, or
  Dickinson Hall and Trevor-Roper, to
  cite just two people of respect for
  a language which interests me for a
  way of touching one's imagination,
  and schoolhouses where the inmates
  thrived in parsing their challenges.

  The innovation most affecting the
  maintenance of a public journal in
  the present is the ascent of a dis-
  missal of discovery. I don't see a
  private celebration of the travels
  of that disposition as a defection,
  only a timely resort to restoration.
  This, the headlines report again,
  of those who've not met Tacitus -

  Plunder, slaughter, dispossession:
  these they misname government; 
  they create a wilderness and call 
  it peace.

  Still the pull of collegiality - a
  term to exploit for its overtones
  of obligation as well as of comity -
  means that public reflections have
  Mr Shelley's double parentage. We 
  know what is that direction we re-
  sume, to afford a backward glance
  upon such hordes in our own time,
  and extinguish their distraction:

  See the mountains kiss high heaven
  And the waves clasp one another . .

Percy Bysshe Shelley
Love's Philosophy

Thursday, April 27, 2017

An urgent, global curiosity

Shakespeare brought it up too of-
ten to be confident of denying it.
It's true. Nobody really likes to
look upon derangement in a nominal
head of state even today, for fear
of being taken for a snob, assert-
ing sanity as yet another elitist
foible. Is this timidity now some
further triumph of deviant play, a
canny ploy of misdirection? Juries
are mulling this question openly,
at least, in more and more places
known for critical self-awareness.

As the subject of their study was
heard to remark to the Associated
Press, one doesn't like to look.

Adam Gopnik
The New Yorker
April 22, 2017

Aaron Blake
The Washington Post
April 24, 2017

Amy Davidson
The New Yorker
April 25, 2017

Jeet Heer
The New Republic
April 21, 2017

Masha Gessen
The New York Review
  of Books
April 17, 2017

Lee Krasner
Rose Stone

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Gift of a prior class

       And if I can't speak about my love -
       if I don't talk about your hair, your lips, your eyes,
       still your face that I keep within my heart,
       the sound of your voice that I keep within my mind,
       the days of September rising in my dreams,
       give shape and color to my words, my sentences,
       whatever theme I touch, whatever thought I utter.

       Constantine Cavafy wrote at precisely
       the right time, in precisely the right
       dialect to be ignored, in precisely
       the most advantageously unregulated in-
       stant in the history of a chronically
       despotic kingdom, to coincide with the
       Class at my university, who gave their
       gift of the dormitory of my final three
       years there. Everyone knew where we were,
       and might have read Greek with his trans-
       lator. The poetry already'd become ours.

       Who, but the poet, lets go of his time?



C.P. Cavafy
Collected Poems
  December, 1903
George Savidis
Edmund Keeley and
  Philip Sherrard
Princeton University Press, 1975©

Class of 1903 Hall

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Rules for the duration

Guardedly, we resume the gentle game,
despite the ill repute to which it's
plummeted of late, in the question-
able company it's been keeping at Mar-
a-Lago. Yet even warfare, we note, is
not immune from vulgarizing bounders,
of which we are teased to expect more,
any time the spirit moves the tiny fin-
gers of fate to rend another butterfly.
As we wait, we study rules of precedent.

Likeliest by far, needless to say,
is the occasion invoked by Article
5, which is such a daily feature of
morbidly fitful TV mood swings, 
as to give substance abuse a good 
name. Perpetually petulant moving of
the ball has taken on that antic
unpredictability associated with an
infant's swatting of a toy suspend-
ed over his crib, so that to speak 
ever of defining the lie has become 
purely conditional. We are expected,
it seems, to become so bored by this
behavior, as no longer to notice it.

But the macabre has its moments, as
in trekking through a fog of buoyant
munitions, fleeing natural light. It
is, after all, only for the duration.


Childe Hassam

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Full of hope this day for France

Pablo Picasso
Message to Jean Cocteau
Ink and watercolor on card

Ivan Terestchenko

Lately discovered not to be Diderot

The impact of re-appraisals like
this depends in part on when they
are delivered. One can well ima-
gine the inconvenience in lining
up a putt, for example, or some
skewering bon mot in an essay on
Neil Gorsuch's tie-breaking vote
to slaughter an Arkansas convict,
when crushing news of such mis-
attribution made its way to us.
Happenstance, in this period of
hysterical paranoia, would then
have to account for its offense.

But now we come to observe lèse-
majesté of greater mercy in the
timing of scholarship's finding,
that an insouciant blue-eyed wit,
so long adorning the dust jacket
of every schoolboy's Jacques the
Fatalist, a Fragonard hero incar-
nate, is actually an only lately
identified sitter named Ange-Gab-
riel Meusnier de Querlon, who led
his own merry if discreet liter-
ary existence as a contemporary
of Denis Diderot. Again, just as
we witness the most consumptive
obsession with personal branding
at the highest echelons of daily
news, to be discovered as no Di-
derot must bring the greatest an-
guish. In the present case, that
candidate expired in 1780, and
must be deemed to possess a per-
spective to cope with being un-
masked as who he is. But can so
much be said of a current poseur,
who positively shreds the very
meaning of Enlightenment, with
every bruited burst of spittle?

Yet, to return to poor old Meus-
nier, of spare but golden, swept-
back locks and oranged counten-
ance, do we not discover anew
their commanding power, even in
our time, to inspire a molten
impersonation of a great philo-
sophe, for whom he sacrificed
his own identity to history's
mistake? Could it be, at long,
deferred last, that in freeing
the brow of Denis Diderot from
cruel misrepresentation, some
huge and heated claimant to his
stature is exposed, as shadowing
the forgotten man?

Colin B. Bailey
Fragonard: The Heights
  of Drawing
  A review of an exhibition
  and catalogue from the
  Metropolitan Museum of Art
The New York Review of Books
February 9, 2017©