Saturday, April 2, 2011

In which we do not offer a track from Fred Astaire

Do you not wonder, in our age of soi-disant Tea Party-ers, that Fred Astaire has not already been banned in cities? There is nothing more conducive to prodigal riot in such notoriously paved concentrations of persons, than the example of his music. At the same time, the most pathetic case of assimilated blackmail in office in our history, is hamstrung. Mr Obama, unctuous to a fault to portray himself as Punctilius Maximus, does all he can to squander the hottest mandate ever to trod the upper floors of his house since Ms Mercer buttered Roosevelt's toast. He is our third John Adams.

Never mind us, of course. You'll see. The mongrels will adduce the correlation between the spendthrift dancer and Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Harold Arlen and Con Conrad soon enough. It's like the slots, for this pack: stand enough of them up with a gavel, and eventually, they'll get around to smashing everything. They'll also write their immolation. You've all read your Euripides; Saturday evening's no time to cite The Bacchae.

This is the kind of fact history refuses to repudiate: when they begin the béguine, these worthies will be toast points, if not glistening little sturgeon berries, incarnate. I doubt very much that we've seen anything like the crest of their ascendancy, which means an excruciating endurance of Dark Ages. Yet such is the force of the béguine, that it is content to practice in the open, before our eyes. Even if that generation has no idea who its antecedents are, who can believe that music forgets?

I love the doom I anticipate from the young.

Saturday commute xxi: No strings

I've been thinking about “boys and their stuff." I don't mean our whim-sical collections of objets de vertu, but our assimilated, not always sequestered attachments, which another might regard as debris, or prizes of intolerable privity. 

Mr Berlin's existential lyric on the disposal of this innocent cache, which I've never known anyone to undertake for himself, is surely the acutest rumination I ever expect to read about it. Possibly, his song has never been considered in this light before. He posits a sharp schism as a predicate for levity, provided, it is fancy. 

We recover and reconsider such treasuries in plain sight; the least we can do, is to celebrate the good graces of those who happen by. We do.

Irving Berlin
No Strings
Fred Astaire
Top Hat
Mark Sandrich, director
RKO, 1935©

Friday, April 1, 2011

Delusions of self-government, revisited

 Oh, very well, 
but I want to know
how every penny is spent!

Alice Brady as Aunt Hortense
  emerging from Customs, Southampton
The Gay Divorcée
George Marion, Jr, Dorothy Yost,
  and Edward Kaufman, screenplay
Mark Sandrich, Director
RKO, 1934©

And what have we here?

Early drafts of Two Treatises from Mr Locke, written in the shadow - or shall we call it, a sunrise - of England's Glorious Revolution. In the first we assess the viability of parley-a-ments, as he scans the empty chamber of a state which would claim to be his heir, until Mr Reagan established the glory of forgetfulness, and Mr Bush accomplished his warfare by declaring the end of history.

In the second we adore the perfection of the parley-a-mentary principle in the façade of its international reductio ad absurdum in New York - a construction chosen to adopt the International Style by excluding the architects who invented it, Mies and Gropius. How coherently the democratic principle reveals itself in the flux of the looking glass.

Government is everywhere antecedent to records, and letters seldom come in amongst a people, till a long continuation of civil society .. And then [the people] begin to look after the history of their founders, and search into their original, when they have outlived the memory of it.

We apologise to our readers in Australia, who have had to get through their April Fool's Day without benefit of our truant publication.

John Locke
Second Treatise on Government
  VIII Of the beginning
  of political societies
Regnery, 1962©

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Horace at your back ii

Anger is what broke Thyestes' life

Calm your mind. Heat tempted
Me in my sweet early days, and sent
Me deeply mad to one-sided poems. Now

I want to replace those sour lines with
Sweet lines; now, having sworn off harsh
Attacks, I want you to become
My friend, and give me back my heart.

We see things which fit together for their workings to be fair.

Odes, I, 16
Robert Bly, translation
J.D. McClatchy, editor
  The Odes
  New Translations by
  Contemporary Poets
Princeton University Press, 2002©

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Nietzsche for pleasure, who for soundness

I hope we can all say - and I think life allows us to do this much - o my lord, what gifts have I been given. The ether is heavy with commemorators of their past, I am part of this dross. And here I will seem to go again, recalling a figure in Philosophy who did more for Friedrich Nietzsche than Nietzsche ever did bother to do for himself. The upper tiers of the faculty of one's college were absolutely saturated with character - there is no other word - of this kind, and one swam, knowing it at the time, a Hellespont of yin and yang every day one was there. There simply was not time to learn from them all, yet they were there for any one of us, before everything else, for they were teachers.

And what is this character? The teacher has the visceral urges without the expectation of seeing their fulfillment. I love these people. They were that gene that my conception had deferred, to be fitted to me when the time was right. And the magic of teaching is to make that time a rapture. In such a state, nevertheless, to portray struggles of Philosophy as irresistible, is to enlist the body as well as the mind in a conjugation to remain unforgotten. We were being invited to become ourselves.

Nietzsche clearly wanted to be read with a delighted awareness of nuances of style and thought. He wanted readers whose sense of his exceptional versatility does not keep them from feeling that their own convictions and values are at stake and must be reconsidered .. There is no work of Nietzsche's that does not say to us, like Rilke's Archaic Torso of Apollo: 'you must change your life.'

This is, of course, Walter Kaufmann, introducing his compendious translation and commentaries on Friedrich Nietzsche. One isn't to think this is hard, one isn't to think this is easy. One finds, as he promised and made plain: 
Nietzsche is one of the few philosophers since Plato whom large numbers of intelligent people read for pleasure.
I like to try to go to sleep with a gift for thought and writing just then embedded in my mind. I read Dickens, who never fails; I read the poets, I read the historians. When given another day, I will fondly turn to Nietzsche to remind me, I am naked.

In music the passions enjoy themselves.

Everyone remotely interested in style is, to that extent, interested in Nietzsche, whether one accepts it or not. Walter Kaufmann gave a comparatively short life to the practice of communicating Nietzsche's anatomy of delight, which made it long enough. He got through. 

What is the gift, in accepting the tedious task of knowing what one says? Is it the steadying habit of thinking about it? I doubt that one could go that far; yet, assuredly, to be acquainted with the import of choice in that process, is to be awakened to the origins of style.

Walter Kaufmann
1921 - 1980
Basic Writings of Nietzsche
  Translated and Edited, with
Random House, 1966©

Friedrich Nietzsche
Walter Kaufmann, translation
Beyond Good and Evil
ibid., p. 274

Monday, March 28, 2011

Andrew Cooper in gladder times

Possibly, it doesn't strain recall just yet, to reflect on Andrew Cooper's sad excursion to the wrong place for him. Whit and I go back a fair ways in this page, however, and like to recall how crisp his jammies were at dawn, hearts warming to the purity of repose they portrayed. But his most recent sighting but one, was of his merry gambol with a colleague, Will Chalker, as the two were found in Key West, sportive chums revising a narrative from one medium for another. None too soon, we've received another memento of that frolic, which we present to assuage recent memory, and restore the diptych introduced above.

But there you are, the miracle of the capacious Gulf: bathing, no waiting. No lines, no unseemly traffic, no tussling for the shower head, no remorse for the dropt bar of soap, no fretting the exhaustion of warm water before our turn, no slip-and-fall litigation to increase our premiums. No wonder these fellows seem agog in their exuberance, as if virtually free to disport in the watery amenity at the same time. Indeed there are pastimes to rival the achievement of crisp jammies, however incompatible with such perfection, they may be. But not even the exclusive shower head can lead to such ease, much less to the delight embraced in the Gulf. 

Our Daniel at Lago Maggiore

I decided I would return in May when everything was in full bloom then wandered onto the train heading back towards Milano. These whimsical days are always so special, and even more so for their spontaneity.

Nobody I know would not wait at the station for such company.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

In tearing haste

In opening and closing frames of Spottiswooode's film (1993) of Randy Shilts' history of the gay men's health crisis, And the Band Played On (1987), a human hand clutches the wrist of Matthew Modine with clawing tenacity before he tears it away in fear. A woman in central Africa, the last of her village to be swept away by a fever whose virus isn't known; and a forty-ish man, taken away by a virus that is. Rodin saw this, and Valéry Lorenzo reminded us.

I borrow the fashionably apologetic closing of a dutiful correspondence - the title of a recent compilation, worthy of any library - to test these terrible waters, because the sculpture simply commands the recollection, and the phrase captures a truth of it. The holding on is a digging in; we were designed to do it.

The part of haste comes to us all, but not since the Middle Ages has a generation been so educated in its urgency. The prehensile hand is such a convenience, as we fumble in our thornproof for the car keys, or secure the lead of an English dog, that its genius for our service in emergency is seldom on our mind. We draw on it as we draw a beer from a tap, a tea infuser from a cup, a razor through our whiskers, an oar in its arc; and the resistances we meet, are familiar to us, sometimes even pleasing, as in the weight of a face we lift to our own. Except in the latter instance, we seldom sense that it is our truest gesture; even now, even not gripping a pen, we dabble at indentations.

How sleekly the blade dispenses with resis-tance, we seldom think of as we sweep it all aside in our processions through the day. Much poetry, so much religion celebrate the gift of letting go, that you'd think the calling of our life were to prepare an exit in good taste.

I admit, this fastidious disposition is not a touchstone of this page. We portray the education we were given, in the ways that strike us as truest to our mentors. The truth is, we are the resistance to our own education; it is how we acquire it. What we know is nothing we've over-come, but taken in. We have acquired something deeper than a taste to seize what holds.

Yet our gyre is the one which is not the acquisitive funnel of current fashion, a compulsion to possess. It is a compulsion to know, defined as one to give. Time and again an exemplary tenacity has dug itself beneath our gaze, sometimes into ourselves, a pure and powerful center, holding. What hauls us back to this well? Is the prehensile grasp a reflex, or a cause?

The closing, in tearing haste, relies on a grant of permission in the end, and treasures the bark of the vigorous tree.