Friday, November 17, 2017

Suppose it were Friday cxlii: And one wouldn't give satisfaction

    Prisoners, it would appear,
    never belong, or are never
    permitted to belong, merely
    "to humanity and to them-

    That is the condition be-
    ing thought to be one of
    gender, not of misrule.

Michael Walzer
  Essays on Disobedience,
  War, and Citizenship
Harvard University Press, 1970©

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Glad news of Masha Gessen

Buried somewhat beneath reports
of a bawdy spree at the auction 
brothels for da Vinci - beneath,
even, pixels of our President's
delight in being petted abroad -
was news from New York overnight
that Masha Gessen has won the
National Book Award for her re-
markably intimate portrayal of
the restoration of totalitarian
rule in its native land. In a
season of much remembrance of
the birth of that governing sys-
tem, some of it noted here, the
state of its resurgence famous-
ly eludes the White House, we
would rather say, than seduces
it. We have reason only to pass
along the information. The prize
it deserves is in our politics.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Origins of Wednesday lix: Protocols of Ryan

It has been the greatest
transformation in the
history of the world.

Preobrazhensky at the
Seventeenth Party Con-
gress, Moscow, 1934

Rykov - who had fought against Preobrazhensky when Preobrazhensky was on the left while he was on the right but thought he was at the center - felt the same way. His opposition to Comrade Stalin filled him with 'an enormous sense of guilt before the Party,' a guilt he would 'try to expiate, come what may.'

Stalin had become, as Bukharin put it, "the personal embodiment of the mind and will of the Party." The mind and will of the Bolshevik Party had been formed around Lenin. Lenin's death and the NEP retreat had produced great disappointment, dissension, and doubt. The revolution from above had restored faith and unity by performing the miracle of rebirth. The man who had presided over that revolution was a new Lenin - a reincarnation of what Koltsov had called 'not a duality, but a synthesis,' a human being who embodied the fulfillment of the prophecy.

Exchange the name, "Reagan," for the name, 
"Lenin," and "Republican" for "Bolshevik," 
so that a Speaker of the American House of 
Representatives bears not merely a vivid
resemblance to the century's most desper-
ate apologists for "the greatest transfor-
mation in the history of the world," but 
the undegraded echo of that rapture. There
are grown men whose warp in the magnetic
field of the strongman is so repugnant to
contemplate that it is an affront simply
to mention it. It throws off one's focus
on the paperwork of single-Party pillage,
to the source of the greater stench: the
inherent decadence of ideology, or the
anxiety to flog it to life for oneself.

Yuri Slezkine
The House of Government
  A Saga of the Russian
  13: The Ideological Substance
Princeton University Press, 2017©

Marijn van Asten

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Nicely done, Australia

One imagines a government conducted
in the kitchen, in the plain generos-
ity Van Gogh taught us of old, not of
haute cuisine, but of the potato eat-
ers. Presumably, the Prime Minister
of the continent known as Australia
can rally for himself and his wife,
a little help in the kitchen, when
it comes time to govern: command a
vast wedge of some iceberg lettuce,
sprinkled bacon bits, and bottled
slush to dress it all. But I'm not
so sure that the palate is not the
last idealist, and that we convene
in the kitchen because we can con-
fess ourselves there, in a playing
field of trust. Now I forget myself.

This is the first head of state, in
the first telephone calls in the af-
terglow of the gathering of greater
crowds than North America had ever
known, to have received the insults
of the American President. We note
in reassurance, how lightly they fell
upon that certain sense of fair play,
for which a continent might open.

Nicely done, Australia. Y'all come.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Tell me of Aeneas, David Ferry

The stream still flows through the meadow grass,
As clear as it was when I used to go in swimming,

Not good at it at all, while my father's voice
Gently called out through the light of the shadowy glade,
Trying to help me learn. The branches hung down low
Over those waters made secret by their shadows.
My arms flailed in a childlike helpless way.

And now the sharp blade of the axe of time
Has utterly cut away that tangle of shadows.
The naked waters are open to the sky now 
And the stream still flows through the meadow grass.

David Ferry
Of no country I know
  New and selected
  poems and translations
  "The Lesson"
    from the Latin of Samuel Johnson
University of Chicago Press, 1999©

Marijn van Asten

Alexander Calder
Maelstrom with Blue

Man Ray

Josef Albers

Sunday, November 12, 2017

The next Aeneid

There is that moment of naïve exultation
in graduating from some grade or other
of institutionalized learning, when one
celebrates finally leaving examination
behind. This impression of release is so
short-lived that it is truly remarkable
that it can be remembered, at all. On
any given day, someone is bound to con-
clude the ten or eleven-year project of
harvesting The Aeneid, and there one 
will find oneself again, launched upon
the most undying quest for understanding
a man might have thought he'd escaped.

The Aeneid
University of Chicago, 2017©

Salvatore Piermarini

Jean Arp