Friday, December 31

I have seen many a bear led by a man, but I never saw a man led by a bear.
-- Margaret Boswell, on Samuel Johnson's influence over her husband, James Boswell.

Be Johnson.
-- James Boswell to himself

We work in the dark -- we do what we can -- we give what we have. Our doubt is our passion, and our passion is our task. The rest is the madness of art.

-- Henry James

Thursday, December 30


Uphold us, cherish, and have power to make
Our noisy years seem moments in the being
Of the eternal Silence: truths that wake,
To perish never;
Which neither listlessness, nor mad endeavor,
Nor Man nor Boy,
Nor all that is at enmity with joy,
Can utterly abolish or destroy!
Hence in a season of calm weather
Though inland far we be,
Our Souls have sight of that immortal sea
Which brought us hither,
Can in a moment travel thither,
And see the Children sport upon the shore,
And hear the mighty waters rolling evermore.

-- William Wordsworth Ode: Intimations of Immortality

Wednesday, December 29


To most persons, as to myself, the ethereal, suave, transparent timbre of the flute, with its placidity and its poetic charm, produces an auditive sensation analogous to the visual impression of the color blue, a fine blue, pure and luminous as the azure of the sky. The strings of the orchestra represent, as a class, the colors of the distance.

-- Albert Lavignac Music and Musicians

All the Time

Evenings, after others go inside,
my glance quietly ascends through leaves,
through branches. The night wind sighs once
and bends over. Far beyond my glimpse of sky
those friends now gone begin their chorus.

There's a reason for whatever comes,
their song says. Released into light one star
appears, another, and those patterns affirm
where they have been waiting dissolved in blue
but holding their place inside of time.

Every evening this happens, an arch and promise
renewed. Nobody has to notice: a breath
crosses the lawn, or outside the window
a spirit roams, as mysterious as any wanderer
ever was. And it is only the night wind.

-- William Stafford

Tuesday, December 28


stonemason's tools by Martha Cooper

To be able to control fully every tool on every piece of stone is, I think, tantamount to impossible. Each stone is formed a little differently. One's softer, one's harder. You have to be able to understand and read each stone. So if you've got that sort of whiteness, when the matrix tightens, you know your stroke has to be a little firmer, to cut that. And as you go to the softer part, you have to lighten your stroke. There's always a nice flow to the work. You're always reading the color and the difference in the makeup of the stone that you're cutting: that's all going through your mind. It's sort of eye-hand coordination with the mind. It's a three-way triangulation here that you're talking about. Reading stone is very important, and also listening to stone. The ring of that chisel, as it comes off.

-- Alan Bird

Iron hammer. Lead dummy. Wooden mallet. Hard and soft striking tools have been used on stone since Neolithic man cracked flints with a stone hammer. I, myself, use the same arc-shaped hammer as I have seen depicted in the mason's stained glass window at Chartres dating from the 13th century.

Our applewood mallets are carefully chosen with a truncated branch to withstand the endless beating on the steel tools. To strike on the wrong 'beat' of the mallet will destroy it, so a favorite will never be lent.

I once showed Sebastian, who worked here [Cathedral of St. John the Divine] a few seasons ago, how effective a stiff brush was for indicating with paint where shadows were needed. "Oh, but for fine lines you paint with a feather," he said.

-- Simon Verity

Monday, December 27

It is a matter of extreme difficulty to detect tangible themes in the second movement of Mahler's Fifth Symphony, and it is an almost impossible task to follow them through the tortuous mazes of their formal and contrapuntal development. One has to cling by one's teeth, so to speak, to a shred of theme here and there, which appears for an occasional instant above the heavy masses of tone, only to be jumped upon immediately by the whole angry horde of instruments and stamped down into the very thick of the orchestral fray. The fighting grows so furious toward the finish that one is compelled to unclose one's teeth on the morsel of them, and lo and behold! it is seized upon, hurled through the screaming and frenzied ranks of the combatants, and that is the last seen or heard of the poor little rag of a theme.

-- Musical Courier 21 February 1906

The Sun

All colors come from the sun. And it does not have
Any particular color, for it contains them all.
And the whole Earth is like a poem
While the sun above represents the artist.

Whoever wants to paint the variegated world
Let him never look straight up at the sun
Or he will lose the memory of things he has seen.
Only burning tears will stay in his eyes.

Let him kneel down, lower his face to the grass,
And look at light reflected by the ground.
There he will find everything we have lost:
The stars and the roses, the dusks and the dawns.

-- Czeslaw Milosz

Sunday, December 26


Love knows no virtue, no merit; it loves and forgives and tolerates everything because it must. We are not guided by reason, nor do the assets or blemishes that we discover tempt us to devotion or intimidate us. It is a sweet, mournful, mysterious power that drives us, and we stop thinking, feeling, wishing, we let ourselves drift along and never ask where we are drifting.

-- Leopold von Sacher-Masoch Venus in Furs
Translated by Joachim Neugroschel

Friday, December 24

star of wonder

Star of Wonder in the heavens
Wonder what you want of me
Should I follow you tonight
Star of Wonder, star of Wonder

I am just a lonely shepherd
Watching from a distant hill
Why do you appear to me
Star of Wonder, if you will

In the morning they'll come looking
For the shepherd on the hill
What would make her leave her flock
For surely she must love them still

Star of Wonder in the heavens
Are you just a shining star
Or should I follow you tonight
Star of Wonder, star of Wonder, shining bright

-- Terre Roche

Listen to a clip of this song here

Thursday, December 23

you better watch out

This afternoon I worked as an Exit Elf, telling people in a loud voice, "THIS WAY OUT OF SANTALAND." A woman was standing at one of the cash registers paying for her idea of a picture, while her son lay beneath her kicking and heaving, having a tantrum.

The woman said, "Riley, if you don't start behaving yourself, Santa's not going to bring you any of those toys you asked for."

The child said, "He is too going to bring me toys, liar, he already told me."

The woman grabbed my arm and said, "You there, Elf, tell Riley here that if he doesn't start behaving immediately, then Santa's going to change his mind and bring him coal for Christmas."

I said that Santa no longer traffics in coal. Instead, if you're bad he comes to your house and steals things. I told Riley that if he didn't behave himself, Santa was going to take away his TV and all his electrical appliances and leave him in the dark. "All your appliances, including the refrigerator. Your food is going to spoil and smell bad. It's going to be so cold and dark where you are. Man, Riley, are you ever going to suffer. You're going to wish you never heard the name Santa."

The woman got a worried look on her face and said, "All right, that's enough."

I said, "He's going to take your car and your furniture and all the towels and blankets and leave you with nothing."

The mother said, "No, that's enough, really."

-- David Sedaris "Santaland Diaries" Holidays on Ice


Watching quietly, anticipating nothing, I am open to what is here, now. I look at myself reading these words. I read slowly. I see the way I am sitting. I sense my body, the arising and the movement of thoughts, of feelings -- the way my breath comes and goes. I am the witness and the witnessing, passively watching and actively being watched.

I see that there can be a further letting go, a beginning relationship to an unchanging inner stillness. Like a white sheet of paper that retains its nature, I remain receptive but unstained, quietly in touch with what is taking place, attention wholly in the moment. Is there help in a stop? In an unfolding to a fresh time/ space? Is there a way to be without doing?

Listening to the silence which is present in the stillness I become aware of a new web of relationships, of a unity bringing the body/ mind structure to another threshold. I sense that there is another Reality that can be served. Again, a stop.

-- William Segal The Structure of Man

Wednesday, December 22

Love Calls Us to the Things of This World

The eyes open to a cry of pulleys,
And spirited from sleep, the astounded soul
Hangs for a moment bodiless and simple
As false dawn.
Outside the open window
The morning air is all awash with angels.

Some are in bed-sheets, some are in blouses,
Some are in smocks: but truly there they are.
Now they are rising together in calm swells
Of halcyon feeling, filling whatever they wear
With the deep joy of their impersonal breathing;

Now they are flying in place, conveying
The terrible speed of their omnipresence, moving
And staying like white water; and now of a sudden
They swoon down into so rapt a quiet
That nobody seems to be there.
The soul shrinks

From all that it is about to remember,
From the punctual rape of every blessèd day,
And cries,
"Oh, let there be nothing on earth but laundry,
Nothing but rosy hands in the rising steam
And clear dances done in the sight of heaven."

Yet, as the sun acknowledges
With a warm look the world's hunks and colors,
The soul descends once more in bitter love
To accept the waking body, saying now
In a changed voice as the man yawns and rises,

"Bring them down from their ruddy gallows;
Let there be clean linen for the backs of thieves;
Let lovers go fresh and sweet to be undone,
And the heaviest nuns walk in a pure floating
Of dark habits,
keeping their difficult balance."

-- Richard Wilbur


... for me, white is the most wonderful color because within it you can see all the colors of the rainbow. For me, in fact, it is the color which in natural light, reflects and intensifies the perception of all of the shades of the rainbow, the colors which are constantly changing in nature, for the whiteness of white is never just white; it is almost always transformed by light and that which is changing; the sky, the clouds, the sun and the moon.

White conventionally has always been seen as a symbol of perfection, of purity and clarity. If we ask why this is the case, we realize that where other colors have relative values dependent upon their context, white retains its absoluteness. At the same time, it may function as a color itself. It is against a white surface that one best appreciates the play of light and shadow, solids and voids. Goethe said "color is the pain of light." Whiteness is perhaps the memory and the anticipation of color. For me, the contrast becomes the definition -- that which is natural, organic, changing, contains at different times, all of the colors of the rainbow.

-- Richard Meier, on accepting the Pritzker Architecture Prize

Richard Meier designed the radiant High Museum of Art, in Atlanta, and other projects you can read about here.

Tuesday, December 21


Martin Buber by Andy Warhol

You wanted to descend like a storm wind
And to be mighty in deed like the tempest,
You wanted to blow being to being
And bless human souls while scourging them,
To admonish weary hearts in the hot whirlpool
And to stir the rigid to agitated light,
-- You sought me on your stormy paths
And did not find me.

You wanted to soar upward like a fire
And wipe out all that did not stand your test,
Sun-powerful, you wanted to scorch worlds
And to refine worlds in sacrificial flame,
With sudden force to kindle a young nothingness
To new becoming of blessed poem,
-- You sought me in your flaming abysses
And did not find me.

Then my messenger came to you
And placed your ear next to the still life of my earth,
Then you felt how seed after seed began to stir,
And all the movements of growing things encircled you,
Blood hammered against blood, and the silence overcame you,
The eternally complete, soft and motherly
-- Then you had to incline upon yourself,
Then you found me.

-- Martin Buber Elijah
Translated by Maurice Friedman


As a poet I hold the most archaic values on earth. They go back to the late Paleolithic; the fertility of the soil, the magic of animals, the power-vision in solitude, the terrifying initiation and rebirth; the love and ecstasy of the dance, the common work of the tribe.

-- Gary Snyder Earth House Hold


Poetry effects change by fiddling with the archetypes and getting at people's dreams about a century before it actually effects historical change. A poet would be, in terms of the ecology of symbols, noting the main structural connections and seeing which parts of the symbol system are no longer useful or applicable, though everyone is giving them credence. And out of his own vision and hearing of voices he seeks for new paths for mind-energy to flow.

-- Gary Snyder The Real Work: Interviews & Talks 1964-1979

Monday, December 20


He is dear to me, that man,
far away in his mountains

where the pepper-vine grows thick
and monkeys feed upon the tender leaves.

And now I wonder:
is the sorrow caused by those we love
not sweeter than the sweet joys
they say are found in heaven?

-- Kapilar Kuruntokai 288


Perhaps the making of this soup taught Karen Blixen something about telling stories. The recipe calls for you to keep the spirit but to discard the substance of your rough ingredients: eggshells and raw bones, root vegetables and red meat. You then submit them, like a storyteller, to "fire and patience." And the clarity comes at the end, a magic trick.

-- Judith Thurman Isak Dinesen: The Life of a Storyteller


In the middle of the day the air was alive over the land, like a flame burning; it scintillated, waved and shone like running water, mirrored and doubled all objects, and created great Fata Morgana. Up in this high air you breathed more easily, drawing in a vital assurance and lightness of heart. In the highlands you woke up in the morning and thought: Here I am, where I ought to be.

-- Isak Dinesen Out of Africa

Sunday, December 19

It's a Wonderful Life

re-enacted in 30 seconds by bunnies

(be sure to click the little bunny heads at the end)

To My Friends

Dear friends, and here I say friends
In the broad sense of the word:
Wife, sister, associates, relatives,
Schoolmates of both sexes,
People seen only once
Or frequented all my life;
Provided that between us, for at least a moment,
A line has been stretched,
A well-defined bond.

I speak for you, companions of a crowded
Road, not without its difficulties,
And for you too, who have lost
Soul, courage, the desire to live;
Or no one, or someone, or perhaps
only one person, or you
Who are reading me: remember the time
Before the wax hardened,
When everyone was like a seal.
Each of us bears the imprint
Of a friend met along the way;
In each the trace of each.
For good or evil
In wisdom or in folly
Everyone stamped by everyone.

Now that time crowds in
And the undertakings are finished,
To all of you the humble wish
That autumn will be long and mild.

-- Primo Levi
Translated by Ruth Feldman and Brian Swann

Saturday, December 18

Brahms's Lullaby

Lullaby and good night,
With roses bedight,
With lilies o'erspread,
Is baby's wee bed.
Lay thee down now and rest,
May thy slumber be blest.
Lay thee down now and rest,
May thy slumber be blest.

Lullaby and good night,
In the soft evening light,
Like a rose in its bed,
Lay down your sweet head.
When morning is near,
I will wake you, my dear.
When morning is near,
I will wake you, my dear.

Lullaby and good night,
You're your mother's delight,
Shining angels beside
My darling abide.
Soft and warm is your bed,
Close your eyes and rest your head.
Soft and warm is your bed,
Close your eyes and rest your head.

Sleepyhead, close your eyes.
Mother's right here beside you.
I'll protect you from harm,
You will wake in my arms.
Guardian angels are near,
So sleep on, with no fear.
Guardian angels are near,
So sleep on, with no fear.

Lullaby, and sleep tight.
Hush! My darling is sleeping,
On his sheets white as cream,
With his head full of dreams.
When the sky's bright with dawn,
He will wake in the morning.
When noontide warms the world,
He will frolic in the sun.

-- Johannes Brahms
Lyrics by Fritz Simrock


Our fine arts were developed, their types and uses were established, in times very different from the present, by men whose power of action upon things was insignificant in comparison with ours. But the amazing growth of our techniques, the adaptability and precision they have attained, the ideas and habits they are creating, make it a certainty that profound changes are impending in the ancient craft of the Beautiful. In all the arts there is a physical component which can no longer be considered or treated as it used to be, which cannot remain unaffected by our modern knowledge and power. For the last twenty years neither matter nor space nor time has been what it was from time immemorial. We must expect great innovations to transform the entire technique of the arts, thereby affecting artistic invention itself and perhaps even bringing about an amazing change in our very notion of art.

-- Paul Valéry "The Conquest of Ubiquity" in Aesthetics
Translated by Ralph Manheim

Friday, December 17

this world

At times the solitary One
grows out of the Many, at times
the Many out of the One:
Water, Fire, Earth
and the steeps of Air ...

The circle revolves
and the elements have their turn into power
fade into each other and grow in their places ...

It is through earth we perceive earth,
water through water, through aether
bright aether, consuming fire through fire,
love through love, and hate through grim
hate ...

a perfect sphere
in precise equipose
and exulting in its circling solitude.

-- Empedocles On Nature
Translated by Stanley Lombardo


All beauty is heightened by unity and simplicity, as is everything which we do and say; for whatever is great in itself is elevated, when executed and uttered with simplicity. It is not more strictly circumscribed, nor does it lose any of its greatness, because the mind can survey and measure it with a glance, and comprehend and embrace it in a single idea; but the very readiness with which it may be embraced places it before us in its true greatness, and the mind is enlarged, and likewise elevated, by the comprehension of it ...

The harmony which ravishes the soul does not consist in arpeggios, and tied and slurred notes, but in simple, long-drawn tones.

-- Johann Joachim Winckelmann The History of Ancient Art
Translated by G. Henry Lodge

Thursday, December 16

Fragment 31

fragment of Sappho's poetry

phainetai moi kênos îsos theoisin
emmen’ ônêr ottis enantios toi
isdanei kai plâsion âdu phonei-
sâs upakouei

He seems to me equal to gods that man
whoever he is who opposite you
sits and listens close
to your sweet speaking

kai gelaisâs îmeroen to m’ êmân
kardiân en stêthesin eptoaisen
ôs gar es s’ idô brokhe’ os me phônai-
s’ oud’ en et’ eikei

and lovely laughing - oh it
puts the heart in my chest on wings
for when I look at you, even a moment, no speaking
is left in me

alla kam men glôssa eâge lepton
d’ autika khrôi pur upadedromâken
oppatessi d’ oud’en orêmm’ epirom-
beisi d’ akouai

no: tongue breaks and thin
fire is racing under skin
and in eyes no sight and drumming
fills ears

kad de m’ idrôs kakkheetai tromos de
paisan agrei khlôrotera de poiâs
emmi tethnakên d’ oligô ‘pideuês
phainom’ em’ autai.

and cold sweat holds me and shaking
grips me all, greener than grass
I am and dead - or almost
I seem to me.

Alla pan tomaton . . .

But all is to be dared, because even a person of poverty

-- Sappho
Translated by Anne Carson

The image of the fragment is from this PDF document, where this poem can be found in the original Greek.

Wednesday, December 15


The call still sounding in the depths of the forest filled him with a great unrest and strange desires. It caused him to feel a vague, sweet gladness, and he was aware of wild yearnings and stirrings for he knew not what. Sometimes he pursued the call into the forest, looking for it as though it were a tangible thing, barking softly or defiantly, as the mood might dictate. He would thrust his nose into the cool wood moss, or into the black soil where long grasses grew, and snort with joy at the fat earth smells; or he would crouch for hours, as if in concealment, behind fungus-covered trunks of fallen trees, wide-eyed and wide-eared to all that moved and sounded about him. It might be, lying thus, that he hoped to surprise this call he could not understand. But he did not know why he did these various things. He was impelled to do them, and did not reason about them at all.

... he loved to run in the dim twilight of the summer midnights, listening to the subdued and sleepy murmurs of the forest, reading signs and sounds as man may read a book, and seeking for the mysterious something that called -- called, waking or sleeping, at all times, for him to come.

One night he sprang from sleep with a start, eager-eyed, nostrils quivering and scenting, his mane bristling in recurrent waves. From the forest came the call (or one note of it, for the call was many-noted), distinct and definite as never before -- a long-drawn howl, like, yet unlike, any noise made by husky dog. And he knew it, in the old familiar way, as a sound heard before. He sprang through the sleeping camp and in swift silence dashed through the woods. As he drew closer to the cry he went more slowly, with caution in every movement, till he came to an open place among the trees, and looking out saw, erect on haunches, with nose pointed to the sky, a long, lean, timber wolf.

... On the opposite slope of the watershed they came down into a level country where were great stretches of forest and many streams, and through these great stretches they ran steadily, hour after hour, the sun rising higher and the day growing warmer. Buck was wildly glad. He knew he was at last answering the call, running by the side of his wood brother toward the place from where the call surely came. Old memories were coming upon him fast, and he was stirring to them as of old he stirred to the realities of which they were the shadows. He had done this thing before, somewhere in that other and dimly remembered world, and he was doing it again, now, running free in the open, the unpacked earth underfoot, the wide sky overhead.

-- Jack London The Call of the Wild

Vocatus atque Non Vocatus

Before life was there a world?
When we take our life away, will fear
be anywhere -- the cold? the wind? those noises
darkness tries? We'll take fear
with us. It rides the vast night
carried in our breast. Then, everywhere --
nothing? -- the way it was again?

Across a desert, beyond storms
and waiting, air began to make
a wing, first leather stretched on bone
extended outward, shadow-quiet,
then whispering feathers lapped against
each other, and last the air itself,
life taken back, a knife of nothing.

There was a call one night, and a call
back. It made a song. All
the birds waited -- the sound they tried for
now over, and the turning of the world
going on in silence. Behind what happens
there is that stillness, the wings that wait,
the things to try, the wondering, the music.

-- William Stafford

Tuesday, December 14


Beauty is no quality in things themselves: it exists merely in the mind which contemplates them.

-- David Hume


The Palm Court was dim and quiet in the lull before dinner. An occasional shadowy waiter pussyfooted in the edges of light and sound, checking on tables, flowers, unlighted candles. Our small table was an island in a hushed sea. We drank slowly from almost invisible glasses, so thin, a blanc de blanc champagne ... M. Hérault scudded toward us with a plate in a huge napkin and then rushed off ... and we unveiled the prettiest pile of the tiniest sandwiches in the whole world, I am sure. They were delicately brown, very crisp, hot, and precisely the thickness and width of a silver dollar. Unbelievably, they were made of an inner and outer slice of white bread, with a layer of Parma ham and one of Gruyère cheese between. They were apparently tossed in a flash of sweet butter and rushed to be eaten. They seemed to evaporate in the mouth, like fried mimosa blossoms. They were an astonishing thing, in fact ... minute and complete.

... plainly M. Hérault was the last of the great chefs to have time enough to see that the titbits were properly constructed and then pressed under weights to the right thickness and then fried correctly so as not to gain a millimeter in height. It was, in other words, a historical moment.

I am glad it happened, just as I am glad that not long ago I went to a student self-service in Aix-en-Provence and pulled out from the glass counter a lukewarm lump labeled Croque-Monsieur, an inch-thick slab of bread overlaid with a dangling slice of pale ham and topped with a gluey cap of leathery melted cheese. I took it and a glass of tepid white wine out into the pure sunlight of a little courtyard and sat down under the leaves of a sickly palm tree, and part of me was back at the old Palace in the hushed gloom, reaching for another minute gilded dollar, sipping a finer wine in a thinner goblet, and I was happy for such a coincidence to warm my soul. It was not eery or funny or embarrassing. It was good. It is a fine thing that history repeats itself occasionally.

-- M.F.K. Fisher With Bold Knife and Fork

Monday, December 13


I mother you you father me vice versa:
take the exhausted person off, discard
the mom and dadness of who's child, whose child
means less than the warm back we each of us
lie against, the body where we anchor
ourself, the imprint deep as blood. Perpetual
stoas, arcades, and alleys
loom and dwindle, mark our mutual
distance, proceeding down the avenue
clutching a clue, love's puzzle
not yet, not ever done.

-- Rachel Hadas "Love"

Sunday, December 12

wooing jackdaw

All these different forms of self-presentation are addressed by the courting male always to one special female. But how does she know that the whole act is being performed for her benefit? This is all explained by the "language of the eyes," which Byron, in "Don Juan" calls:

The answer eloquent where the soul shines,
And darts in one quick glance a long reply.

As he makes his proposals, the male glances continually towards his love but ceases his efforts immediately if she chances to fly away; this however she is not likely to do if she is interested in her admirer.

Remarkable and exceedingly comical is the difference in eloquence between the eye-play of the wooing male and that of the courted female: the male jackdaw casts glowing glances straight into his loved one's eyes, while she apparently turns her eyes in all directions other than that of her ardent suitor. In reality, of course, she is watching him all the time, and her quick glances of a fraction of a second are quite long enough to make her realize that all his antics are calculated to inspire her admiration; long enough to let "him" know that "she" knows.

-- Konrad Z. Lorenz King Solomon's Ring

Saturday, December 11

identity and the sense of belonging

... there is no formula to teach us how to arrive at maturity ... Something ... has to be resolved between a man and himself ... but the results of the inner dialogue are evident to all, evident as independence, courage, and fairness in dealing with others ...

Maturity: among other things, a new lack of self-consciousness -- the kind you can only attain when you have become entirely indifferent to yourself through an absolute assent to your fate.

He who has placed himself in God's hands stands free vis-à-vis men: he is entirely at his ease with them, because he has granted them the right to judge.

We are not what we should be, we have not reached the full strength of our possible contribution, until we have managed to develop within ourselves, and in our relationships with others, the sense of belonging.

To be nothing in the self effacement of humility, yet, for the sake of the task, to embody its whole weight and importance in your bearing, as the one who has been called to undertake it. To give to people works, poetry, art, what the self can contribute, and to take, simply and freely, what belongs to it by reason of its identity ... Towards this, so help me, God.

-- Dag Hammarskjöld Markings
Translated by Leif Sjöberg and W.H. Auden

and Public Papers of the Secretaries-General of the United Nations, vols. II-V
Ed. Andrew W. Cordier and Wilder Foote

Friday, December 10


O living flame of love
that tenderly wounds my soul
in its deepest center! Since
now you are not oppressive,
now consummate! if it be your will:
tear through the veil of this sweet encounter!

-- Saint John of the Cross The Living Flame of Love

concept as function

The basic substance of art has become the protracted discourse in words and materials, echoed back and forth from artist to artist, work to work, art movement to art movement, on all aspects of contemporary civilization and of the place of creation in it ...

Begin by explaining a single painting (and the more empty of content it is the better) and if you continue describing it, you will find yourself touching on more subjects to investigate -- philosophical, social, political, historical, scientific, psychological -- than are needed for an academic degree ...

[The arts] have never been more indispensable than they are today. With its accumulated insights, its disciplines, its inner conflicts, painting (or poetry, or music) provides a means for the active self-development of individuals -- perhaps the only means. Given the patterns in which mass-behavior, including mass-education, is presently organized, art is the one vocation that keeps a space open for the individual to realize himself in knowing himself.

-- Harold Rosenberg The De-Definition of Art

Thursday, December 9

Curlews Lift

Out of the maternal watery blue lines

Stripped of all but their cry
Some twists of near-edible sinew

They slough off
The robes of bilberry blue
The cloud-stained bogland

They veer up and eddy away over
The stone horns

They trail a long, dangling, falling aim
Across water

Lancing their voices
Through the skin of this light

Drinking the nameless and naked
Through trembling bills

-- Ted Hughes


I dreamed that I floated at will in the great Ether, and I saw this world floating also not far off, but diminished to the size of an apple. Then an angel took it in his hand and brought it to me and said, "This must thou eat." And I ate the world.

-- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Wednesday, December 8


Then the moon like a new-lit lamp rose fast over the fields. A half world of lime-lit lakes and rivers formed under it, and the woods were changed into the foam of soundless waterfalls and shadowy cascades.

The moon commanded the hills, the valley and the fields. All things belonged to it. Each leaf was marked by it, it made its own shadows as strong as the shadows of the sun. The tiles of the roof were hardened by the light. One looked at it and lived only in that moment. But though the moon chalked his clothes and his hands and his face, yet Dunkley's body had the living day in it still. Upstairs in their room when he took off his clothes he could feel the warmth of the day in him. The light fell on her, making loops of shadows on her neck and her breasts, and her shoulders were cool but her body was as warm as bread. They lay down mouth to mouth. There was no other sound in the house but their sounds, no other sounds, no other selves (they felt) in all that countryside. 'The year is dying but we are making something beyond the year.'

-- V.S. Pritchett "A New World"

This partly-autobiographical story was found in the New York Public Library's Berg Collection by Jeremy Treglown and published for the first time in Granta #87.


The Doctor, Romana and Duggan rush frantically back to the Tardis to try to reach the Jaggeroth ship before the Count. As they reach the gallery the Tardis is being contemplated by two art critics, played by John Cleese and Eleanor Bron:

CLEESE: For me the most curious thing about the piece is its wonderful a-functionalism.

BRON: Yes -- I see what you mean. Divorced from its function and seen purely as a work of art, its structure of line and colour is obviously counterpointed by the redundant vestiges of its function.

CLEESE: And since it has no call to be here the art lies in the fact that it is here.

The Doctor and his companions rush past them and enter the Tardis. The door closes and, with the critics still contemplating it, the Tardis dematerialises.

BRON: (now staring at the empty gallery space left by the vanished Tardis): Exquisite. Absolutely exquisite.

Cleese nods sagely in agreement, and with a gesture signifies "superb."

-- Douglas Adams and Graham Williams Doctor Who "City of Death" Part Four

Tuesday, December 7


Boston: 2 Dec 2004, ©2004 JL

Slowly the west reaches for clothes of new colors
which it passes to a row of ancient trees.
You look, and soon these two worlds both leave you,
one part climbs toward heaven, one sinks to earth,

leaving you, not really belonging to either,
not so hopelessly dark as that house that is silent,
not so unswervingly given to the eternal as that thing
that turns to a star each night and climbs --

leaving you (it is impossible to untangle the threads)
your own life, timid and standing high and growing,
so that, sometimes blocked in, sometimes reaching out,
one moment your life is a stone in you, and the next, a star.

-- Rainer Maria Rilke
Translated by Robert Bly


The boon of language is not tenderness. All that it holds, it holds with exactitude and without pity, even a term of endearment; the word is impartial: the usage is all. The boon of language is that potentially it is complete, it has the potentiality of holding with words the totality of human experience -- everything that has occurred and everything that may occur It even allows space for the unspeakable. In this sense one can say of language that it is potentially the only human home, the only dwelling place that cannot be hostile to man. For prose this home is a vast territory, a country which it crosses through a network of tracks, paths, highways; for poetry this home is concentrated on a single center, a single voice, and this voice is simultaneously that of an announcement and a response to it.

-- John Berger And Our Faces, My Heart, Brief as Photos

Monday, December 6


The heart can think of no devotion
Greater than being shore to the ocean--
Holding the curve of one position,
Counting an endless repetition.

-- Robert Frost

Friday, December 3

turning point

It cannot be looked for and cannot be held; in every moment it is creation from nothingness as pure present, independent of the past as well as the future. The artist who turns and is transformed is a medium through which the divine passes and thus becomes its interpreter of symbols and expressions.

The creative process is generation and birth as well as transformation and rebirth. The perpetual self-renewal and the dependence on grace of the person who opens to create are a human parallel to the eternal rebirth of all that is created. The rapture of the flowing deathlessness of creativity is just as much at work in man as nature; indeed, it is only in our creative flowing that we become a part of nature.

-- Erich Neumann Art and the Creative Unconsciousness
Translated by Ralph Manheim

Thursday, December 2

the depths of the reality

Hedvig and Gregers

HEDVIG. No. Even the chickens have all the others that they were baby chicks with, but she's so completely apart from any of her own. So you see, everything is so really mysterious about the wild duck. There's no one who knows her, and no one who knows where she's come from, either.

GREGERS. And actually, she's been in the depths of the sea.

HEDVIG (glances at him, suppresses a smile, and asks). Why did you say "depths of the sea?"

GREGERS. What else should I say?

HEDVIG. You could have said "bottom of the sea" -- or "the ocean's bottom?"

GREGERS. But couldn't I just as well say "depths of the sea?"

HEDVIG. Sure. But to me it sounds so strange when someone else says "depths of the sea."

GREGERS. But why? Tell me why?

HEDVIG. No, I won't. It's something so stupid.

GREGERS. It couldn't be. Now tell me why you smiled.

HEDVIG. That was because always, when all of a sudden -- in a flash -- I happen to think of that in there, it always seems to me that the whole room and everything in it is called "the depths of the sea!" But that's all so stupid.

GREGERS. Don't you dare say that.

HEDVIG. Oh yes, because it's only an attic.

GREGERS. Are you so sure of that?

HEDVIG (astonished). That it's an attic!

GREGERS. Yes. Do you know that for certain?

(HEDVIG, speechless, stares at him open-mouthed)

more ...

-- Henrik Ibsen The Wild Duck
Translated by Rolf Fjelde

photo from Jean Cocteau Repertory

Wednesday, December 1


There is a goodness, a Wisdom that arises, sometimes gracefully, sometimes gently, sometimes awkwardly, sometimes fiercely, but it will arise to save us if we let it, and it arises from within us, like the force that drives green shoots to break the winter ground, it will arise and drive us into a great blossoming like a pear tree, into flowering, into fragrance, fruit, and song ... into that part of ourselves that can never be defiled, defeated or destroyed, but that comes back to life, time and time again, that lives -- always -- that does not die.

-- China Galland The Bond Between Women

Words Rising

To Richard Eberhart

I open my notebook, write some words with a green pen, something enters my chest, and the stars begin to revolve and pick up alligator claws from under the ocean, whatever we have lived, in the sunlit shelves of the Dordogne, what we sang among the skeletons of Papua, the many times we died wounded under the tent of an animal's sniffing, and the grassy nights we ran in the moonlight for hours, returns, there is a "welling up of watery syllables," the anger barking in the cave, the luminous head of wheat, growls from under fur, none of it is lost. The old earth fragrance remains in the word "and," "the" with its lonely suffering.

We are bees then; language is the honey. The honey lies now in caves beneath us, and the energies of words carry what we do not. When a man or woman feeds a few words with private grief, the shames we knew before we could invent the wheel, words grow, an instant later we slip out into the farmyards where rabbits lie stretched out on the ground for buyers, then the stored energies come to our ears as music, we see the million hands with dusty palms turned up inside a verb. There are eternal vows held inside the word "Jericho."

Blessings then on the man who labors in his tiny room on his poem on lambs, and on the woman who separates the black seeds of loneliness from the brown seeds of solitude, as the afternoon light slants in, blessing on the dictionary maker, huddled among his bearded words, and the setter of songs, who sleeps at night inside his violin case.

-- Robert Bly