I'll let you in on a secret
about how one should pray the sunset prayer.
It's a juicy bit of praying,
like strolling on grass,
nobody's chasing you, nobody hurries you.
You walk toward your Creator
with gifts in pure, empty hands.
The words are golden
their meaning is transparent,
it's as though you're saying them
for the first time.
If you don't catch on
that you should feel a little elevated,
you're not praying the sunset prayer.
The tune is sheer simplicity,
you're just lending a helping hand
to the sinking day.
It's a heavy responsibility.
You take a created day
and you slip it
into the archive of life,
where all our lived-out days are lying together.
The day is departing with a quiet kiss.
It lies open at your feet
while you stand saying the blessings.
You can't create anything yourself, but you
can lead the day to its end and see
clearly the smile of its going down.
See how whole it all is,
not diminished for a second,
how you age with the days
that keep dawning,
how you bring your lived-out day
as a gift to eternity.
-- Jacob Glatstein
Translated by Ruth Whitman
Saturday, December 31
I'll let you in on a secret
Posted by rb at 12/31/2005
Friday, December 30
The Protheros were part-time neighbors of Henry James in Rye, Sussex, and Mrs. Bryan was their housekeeper.
Dear Mrs. George!
Just as black despair was seizing us -- that is 10 minutes ago -- the Devotee to the interests of the Idol (though we won't say who the Idol in this case is) arrived with an "I hope you don't mind me coming" & a nice little fat-faced boy. I said "Oh dear no, Mrs. Bryan: always so glad to talk with you about them" & then she broke it that she had just had a postcard & that they would be with us tomorrow. You could have knocked me down with a feather -- the revulsion was so violent. For you see we had, the others of us, met of late in such at last almost deathly tension. It had been, it had become, more & more this kind of thing.
"Have you heard --?["]
"Oh yes -- one 'hears': that's the bitterness of it. She is clearly indisposed --"
"Indisposed? Don't tell me!"
"Indisposed, I mean" -- this very gravely indeed -- ["] to come."
Oh, that? Don't call it indisposed. Call it firmly resolved, call it fundamentally determined."
"Well -- since you go straight to the terrible truth of it -- there we are. But she professes --!"
"Oh, she dresses it with ribbons & gardens: you know her enchanting way -- !"
"Ah yes, her enchanting way is the bitterness of it. She does deck it out -- !"
"As with streamers & a band of music! But all the while -- "
"Yes -- but don't too awfully say it -- !"
I must -- for we must face the worst! She has cooled."
"Aïe!" -- as of a nerve in anguish. "Not cooled, put it -- only just a little (in this weather) lowered her temperature."
"Oh, weather me no weather! She has frozen!"
"Let us then melt her!"
"We can't -- all our tears won't. It's the icy smile."
"yes, that smile! It muddles, but it means -- "
"It 'means' -- ?" (hanging on one's lips.)
"That she will never come again."
"Aïïee!" -- the shriek of ten thousand wincing nerves -- a piercing wail, a heavy fall & silence; from my gloomy gaze on the prostrate presence of which imagine the revulsion, as I say, of Mrs. Bryan's breathless approach to yours in ecstasy
-- Henry James Letter to Mrs. George Walter Prothero 18 October 1907
Posted by rb at 12/30/2005
Thursday, December 29
She gave birth to a small stuffed bear, which she protected with extraordinary savagery from predators like Victoria and myself. When she wasn't crouched snarling over it, she was drooling over it and cuddling it, and then would suddenly rampage around the house screaming... The worst was Christmas... Toto in a frenzy because somehow her stuffed bear of a baby had vanished and she decided that she had delivered herself of all the presents under the Christmas tree, and crouched, snarling among them—this meant that no one could approach the tree without being threatened—a mad dog is a mad dog, however charming to look at and sweet her nature, and her shows of teeth, saliva dripping from her muzzle, were terrifying among the pink and gold and silver and scarlet packages—when she went on one of her looping, screaming runs, we tried to gather up the presents, but either she would be back before we'd done, or if we shut her out she would patrol the hall screaming—so when it came down to it there was nothing we could do but leave them under the tree and let her embed herself. Eventually the stuffed bear was found on a high shelf in the kitchen and was placed on the floor some way from the presents. Toto ran to it, buried her face in it, licked it, stroked it and rolled it about, then carried it gently down to the basement, and put it to bed—and so, apart from sudden rushes upstairs to check briefly on her other family, under the tree, and other rushes through the flap and screaming circuits of the garden—which led to a petition from some of the neighbours asking us to confine her to the house, her garden screams were too distressing, and set their own dogs off—the situation held through to Boxing Day... In the New Year we got canine Prozac from the vet.
-- Simon Gray, in "Wish You Were Here" Granta 91
Posted by rb at 12/29/2005
Wednesday, December 28
Hope and sadness produce a line whose direction is faith, whose sound is love. In the instant of making its mark, the line knows what to say... The line can begin on the point of a pencil, on the tip of a brush, at the edge of a chisel, in a cup of tea... So much comes together here. The line is fragile and wants to disappear, but the ending of it is made new each moment. Here is real hope, real sadness. The line advances; at the vanishing end of it, creation takes place.
-- Harry Remde, in "Sadness in Art" Parabola 11:3
Posted by rb at 12/28/2005
Tuesday, December 27
Where Does the Dance Begin,
Where Does It End?
Don't call this world adorable, or useful, that's not it.
It's frisky, and a theater for more than fair winds.
The eyelash of lightning is neither good nor evil.
The struck tree burns like a pillar of gold.
But the blue rain sinks, straight to the white
feet of the trees
whose mouths open.
Doesn't the wind, turning in circles, invent the dance?
Haven't the flowers moved, slowly, across Asia, then Europe,
until at last, now, they shine
in your own yard?
Don't call this world an explanation, or even an education.
When the Sufi poet whirled, was he looking
outward, to the mountains so solidly there
in a white-capped ring, or was he looking
to the center of everything: the seed, the egg, the idea
that was also there,
beautiful as a thumb
curved and touching the finger, tenderly,
as he whirled,
oh jug of breath,
in the garden of dust?
-- Mary Oliver
Posted by rb at 12/27/2005
Thursday, December 22
It was not there that we saw it:
it was here.
The mass of the sun is three-hundred thousand times the mass of the earth,
yet it is on the earth that you have whippoorwills, hollyhocks, the poems of Catullus, ripe strawberries, the sonatas of Scarlatti...
I have walked the long hillsides
singing to myself deep songs: I did not know where they came from.
There were blue windflowers and deep grasses and in the distance the similar blue of the sea.
The songs were of special things: you had become very exact to me...
The ending of expeditions:
what was discovered in all that?
Can we say that at a certain place we did arrive at love?
Cannot we realize that that was enough?
O shining ones! O shining ones!
-- Peyton Houston, from XVI Complex Songs at the Borders of Silence
Posted by rb at 12/22/2005
Wednesday, December 21
Tuesday, December 20
Few things are more directly beautiful than winter trees: stripped of all ornament, clearly etched against the changing sky, moving in the stiff manner of wood into and then back against the wind. If leaves can be compared to clothing, then the deciduous tree in winter is naked. If clothing can be deceptive, then the tree in winter is true. If leaves represent an extreme profusion of form that is more finally articulated than the eye can register, much less language describe, then the form of the tree in winter is stark, particularly against the steel gray monochrome of the sky as snow comes.
But the form of a winter tree, though it may be stark and withered, is liable also to be extraordinarily complex. The bare bark is channeled and cracked, and the directions of growth frozen into the form of each branch include saggings, twistings, splinterings, angles at which the branch has reached out or up. The form of the tree is a register of its history. The coloring, too, becomes as subtle as our approach is proximate: all the grays, blacks, and browns of wabi, with perhaps the weathered white of dead lichen or the blasted green of last year's moss.
-- Crispin Sartwell Six Names of Beauty
Posted by rb at 12/20/2005
Monday, December 19
I do not know how to distinguish between our waking life and a dream. Are we not always living the life that we imagine we are?
-- Henry David Thoreau Journal 12 November 1859
This quote comes from a small hardback compilation of Thoreau's writings called Thoreau on Man and Nature assembled by Arthur G. Volkman and printed by the Peter Pauper Press in 1960. I was curious to see where it originated and in the process discovered that Thoreau has two blogs, one I visit occasionally here and another one here.
Posted by rb at 12/19/2005
Friday, December 16
Thursday, December 15
Then she is leaning, facing north & numberless in pleated light. How the sheets appear as driven by a scurvy wind, the bedclothes end in quivering, the red lead of their folds asail, Northumbrian. Her face is primitive & spare, her neck an ill illumination, unnatural, prolonged — Are missing not no things. One morning I woke in the garden, night's lanterns snuffed & hung in alder trees, & was surrounded like an English leopard quartered on a coat of arms, the night gone in the glass eye of its final thirteen hours. Above — a bird, half cut off from the binder of the sky, flies north. At west, a calendar, a corridor, scriptorium.
And took the book & opened it, to this — a flinched life where nature has no place or folio. The adversaria were gold & partially erased; in the margin there, the furnishings of falcons glaired, their jesses & their tiny bells & hectic hoods. The glove is flanged, a color I will never know. He puts on his one right cuff. The rustre of two raptors, fisted, sit on a stone, a blush of iron, wonder, drear. At left, a hound is whistled up, & bounds. Above the sequence are two copper birds, the one in flight, the other perched. The first is prey; flies upward.
And thou not there -- a miniature of dread. Nothing is not not there.
-- Lucie Brock-Broido The Master Letters
Posted by rb at 12/15/2005
And into these dreams Josephine's piping drops note by note; she calls it pearl-like, we call it staccato; but at any rate here it is in its right place, as nowhere else, finding the moment — wait for it — as music scarcely ever does. Something of our poor brief childhood is in it, something of lost happiness that can never be found again, but also something of active daily life, of its small gaieties, unaccountable and yet springing up and not to be obliterated. And indeed this is all expressed not in full round tones but softly, in whispers, confidentially, sometimes a little hoarsely. Of course it is a kind of piping. Why not? Piping is our people's daily speech, only many a one pipes his whole life long and does not know it, where here piping is set free from the fetters of daily life and it sets us free too for a little while.
-- Franz Kafka , from "Josephine the Singer, or the Mouse Folk"
Translated by Willa and Edwin Muir
Posted by rb at 12/15/2005
Tuesday, December 13
We stand on the peak of the consciousness of previous ages, and their wisdom is available to us. History — that selective treasure house of the past which each age bequeaths to those that follow — has formed us in the present so that we may embrace the future. What does it matter if our insights, the new forms which play around the fringes of our minds, always lead us into virginal land where, like it or not, we stand on strange and bewildering ground? The only way out is ahead, and our choice is whether we shall cringe from it or affirm it.
For in every act of love and will — and in the long run they are both present in each genuine act — we mold ourselves and our world simultaneously. This is what it means to embrace the future.
-- Rollo May Love and Will
Posted by rb at 12/13/2005
Monday, December 12
the spirit need not be spare
The spirit or soul -- should we say the self, once perceived, becomes the soul? -- This I was keeping "spare" in my desire for the essential. But the spirit need not be spare: it can grow gracefully and beautifully like a tendril, like a flower.
-- Theodore Roethke On Poetry and Craft
A Light Breather
The spirit moves,
Stirs as a blossom stirs,
Still wet from its bud-sheath,
Turning in the light with its tendrils;
Plays as a minnow plays,
Tethered to a limp weed, swinging
Tail around, nosing in and out of the current,
Its shadows loose, a watery finger;
Moves, like the snail,
Taking and embracing its surroundings,
Never wishing itself away,
Unafraid of what it is,
A music in a hood,
A small thing,
-- Theodore Roethke
Posted by rb at 12/12/2005
Any one who has common sense will remember that the bewilderments of the eyes are of two kinds, and arise from two causes, either from coming out of the light or from going into the light, which is true of the mind's eye, quite as much as of the bodily eye; and he who remembers this when he sees any one whose vision is perplexed or weak, will not be too ready to laugh; he will first ask whether that soul of man has come out of the brighter life, and is unable to see because unaccustomed to the dark, or having turned from darkness to the day is dazzled by excess of light.
-- Plato The Republic
Translated by B. Jowett
Posted by rb at 12/12/2005
Friday, December 9
that should be enough
"I am beautiful, O mortals, like a dream of stone," says
Beauty, in Baudelaire's sonnet "La Beauté," where Baudelaire, in
Fewer words than I, has set down his ideas on the subject. Essentially he
Sees Beauty as eternal and pure, an enslaver of poets.
Rilke says that we love beauty because it "so serenely
Disdains to destroy us." In making works of art, then,
Is the excitement we feel that of being close to the elements of
Destruction? I do not want any mystery in this poem, so I will
Let that go. Or, rather, I want the mystery to be that it is clear
But says nothing which will satisfy completely but instead stirs to action
As beauty does -- that is, I wish it to be beautiful. But why I want that,
Even, I do not entirely know. Well, it would put it in a class of things
That seems the highest, and for one lifetime that should be enough.
-- Kenneth Koch, from "On Beauty"
In line with recent breakthroughs in neurological brain research, I fancy that one day the mental event that is an experience of beauty will be X-ray photographed. I predict that the photograph will show the brain lit up like a Christmas tree, with simultaneous firings of neurons in many parts of the brain, though not very brightly. It will show a suddenly swelling diffused glow that wanes gradually.
-- Peter Schjeldahl, in "Notes on Beauty" Columns and Catalogues
Posted by rb at 12/09/2005
Thursday, December 8
The great naturalist, Linnaeus, once said that he could spend a lifetime in studying as much of the earth as he could cover with his hand. However small the patch we investigate, it will lead us back to the sun at last. There is nothing too minute or too trivial. I have often remembered with a pang, how, long years ago, I once gave pain by saying, with the arrogance of boyhood, that it was foolish to tell one's dreams. I have done penance for that remark since. 'Il faut cultiver notre jardin,' said the wise philosopher of the eighteenth century. I have cultivated, so far as I care to, my garden of dreams, and it scarcely seems to me that it is a large garden. Yet every path of it, I sometimes think, might lead at last to the heart of the universe.
-- Havelock Ellis The World of Dreams
John Lennon's #9 Dream
Posted by rb at 12/08/2005
Still Life with Apples by Lawrence Gowing
APPLE: Try and remember what I am. I am alive, not a studio property or a figment of thought, or a peg to hang tone values on. I am an apple.
APPLE: And an apple is an organism of some dignity, greater perhaps than a painter's, and with a longer history.
PAINTER: I am afraid there is no question of painting your history.
APPLE: I reminded you of it in passing.
PAINTER: And your dignity, you thought I needed reminding of that? I respect your dignity.
APPLE: But even your respect, your bare respect is not immoderate.
PAINTER: What more is due to you?
APPLE: I am a fruit, a feast, a reproductive organ.
PAINTER: Shall I sell you or eat you, if you prefer it, or sow your pips?
APPLE: I would prefer not to forgo my functions merely in order to be judiciously measured until I wrinkle and rot.
PAINTER: Come, come. I am very fond of you, you know. If your fate disturbs you ...
APPLE: Does my ripeness, my round lustre, mean nothing to you? A summer has done its best to make me an attractive prize, make my shape an irresistible invitation. And yet you resist me.
PAINTER: I am quite distressed.
APPLE: Look at your picture and at me. I offered you a taste of the ravishment to which the ages have not been indifferent. I gave you a clue to a receding perspective of life which men have found good, of work done and appetites satisfied. But you have seen only a cultivated commonplace, an artistic impression. Really the Greek painter who deceived the birds did better.
PAINTER: I am sorry, you must believe me ...
-- Lawrence Gowing Painter and Apple
Posted by rb at 12/08/2005
Tuesday, December 6
For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives
In the valley of its making where executives
Would never want to tamper, flows on south
From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs,
Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives,
A way of happening, a mouth.
-- W. H. Auden, from "In Memory of W. B. Yeats"
Posted by rb at 12/06/2005
But the poet, Aristotle says, never makes any real statements at all, certainly no particular or specific ones. The poet's job is not to tell you what happened, but what happens: not what did take place, but the kind of thing that always does take place. He gives you the typical, recurring, or what Aristotle calls universal event. You wouldn't go to Macbeth to learn about the history of Scotland -- you go to it to learn what a man feels like after he's gained a kingdom and lost his soul. When you meet such a character as Micawber in Dickens, you don't feel that there must have been a man Dickens knew who was exactly like this: you feel that there's a bit of Micawber in almost everybody you know, including yourself. Our impressions of human life are picked up one by one, and remain for most of us loose and disorganized. But we constantly find things in literature that suddenly co-ordinate and bring into focus a great many such impressions, and this is part of what Aristotle means by the typical or universal human event.
-- Northrop Frye The Educated Imagination
Posted by rb at 12/06/2005
Monday, December 5
Absolute pitch is as much a quandary for philosophers as it is for neuropsychologists. Is there really such a thing as F-sharpness? The analogy to color, and to color blindness, doesn't really make sense. Whatever the color red may "be," it corresponds to a particular range of wavelengths of light, just as an adjacent range corresponds to the color orange. The brain finds distinct color experiences within the two ranges. If we were to begin referring to the spectrum differently, so that what we called "red" extended from the middle of normal red to the middle of normal orange, our brains would not obligingly regard the reddish orange at the center of the new range as a distinct color. But we do just this with absolute pitch. As we've seen, the tuning of instruments has shifted markedly over centuries. Mozart's D is not our D. Yet somehow the absolute-pitcher hears quintessential D-ness in today's D just as Mozart did in the D of his time.
-- Robert Jourdain Music, the Brain, and Ecstasy
Posted by rb at 12/05/2005
Sunday, December 4
The moth’s kiss, first!
Kiss me as if you made believe
You were not sure, this eve,
How my face, your flower, had pursed
Its petals up; so, here and there
You brush it, till I grow aware
Who wants me, and wide ope I burst.
The bee’s kiss, now!
Kiss me as if you entered gay
My heart at some noonday,
A bud that dares not disallow
The claim, so all is rendered up,
And passively its shattered cup
Over your head to sleep I bow.
-- Robert Browning, from "In a Gondola"
(A re-posting for the sublime Anne-Carolyn)
Posted by rb at 12/04/2005
Saturday, December 3
Then much more vaguely I remember subsequent half-furtive moments when I would absorbedly scribble at verse for an hour or so, and then run away from the act and the production as if it were secret sin. It seems to me that "knowing oneself" was a sin and a vice for innumerable centuries, before it became a virtue. It seems to me, it is still a sin and a vice, when it comes to new knowledge. – In those early days – for I was very green and unsophisticated at twenty – I used to feel myself at times haunted by something, and a little guilty about it, as if it were an abnormality. Then the haunting would get the better of me, and the ghost would suddenly appear, in the shape of a usually rather incoherent poem. Nearly always I shunned the apparition once it had appeared. From the first, I was a little afraid of my real poems – not my "compositions," but the poems that had the ghost in them. They seemed to me to come from somewhere, I didn't quite know where, out of a me whom I didn't know and didn't want to know, and to say things I would much rather not have said: for choice. But there they were. I never read them again.
-- D.H. Lawrence, in the Foreword to Collected Poems
Posted by rb at 12/03/2005
Thursday, December 1
When I sit alone in a theatre and gaze into the dark space of its empty stage, I'm frequently seized by fear that this time I won't manage to penetrate it. And I always hope that this fear will never desert me. Without an unending search for the key to the secret of creativity, there is no creation. It's necessary always to begin again. And that is beautiful.
-- Josef Svoboda The Secret of Theatrical Space
Translated by J.M. Burian
Posted by rb at 12/01/2005
Wednesday, November 30
...for thousands and thousands of years, all our fears, all our hopes, the sighs and longings have crystallized a certain religious feeling inside, an eternal gift from all those generations. So when you hear certain works of art, suddenly the roof opens up to something that is bigger than the limitations of the human being. That makes me very happy. That is a treasure we carry within us. To make a film is to try to open the roof -- so we can breathe.
-- Ingmar Bergman, in Life 15 October 1971
Posted by rb at 11/30/2005
Monday, November 28
Sunday, November 27
We are surrounded by a rich and fertile mystery. May we not probe it, pry into it, employ ourselves about it — a little? To devote your life to the discovery of the divinity in Nature or to the eating of oysters: would they not be attended with very different results?
-- Henry David Thoreau Wild Fruits
Posted by rb at 11/27/2005
Friday, November 25
Artists have many signatures. Conventionally they supply name and date in lower corner, an indication that the painting is finished and ready for its public career. Another kind of signature... can be read not in a a single painting but in the recurrence of certain objects or combinations of details through a whole series... [the] tendency of the artist to include a few familiar items in painting after painting: the cupped candle in the best of Georges de la Tour's works, the smokestacks on the horizon of Degas's race-track paintings, the ubiquitous cow that wanders in and out of Chagall's dreams. Such a repeated detail can easily become a mannerism: for example, certain letter combinations in cubist collages, like journal and vins, went through such an evolution. Or... it can be incorporated into the normal signature: Whistler's butterfly. Used discreetly or unconsciously, these details are best described as emblems, objects whose recurrence gives them heightened significance. They are like tiny still lifes carried over into landscape and portraiture and noticeable only to the unhurried eye.
-- Roger Shattuck The Banquet Years
Posted by rb at 11/25/2005
from Machine with Wishbone, by Arthur Ganson
FAT (Friday After Thanksgiving) Chain Reaction
at MIT Museum
choreographed by Arthur Ganson
watch Machine with Wishbone (and others) here
via SuperNaturale: Usually these contraptions are quite elaborate, involving spinning Barbies, rolling jars of honey, Lego ramps and falling marbles, balloons inflating to cause a weight to drop, causing a rabbit to amble down an incline...
Posted by rb at 11/25/2005
Thursday, November 24
For an hour there is nothing
but rain on the stones, trillings of light
that signal a world into being.
For an hour there is only this hunger --
twilight settling into the trees, a bird
whose song I do not know, vanishing.
In an hour I will be home,
my jacket thrown onto the couch,
my wet shoes kicked off at the door.
Later, sipping wine in the kitchen,
watching candlelight refract in the
burn-sienna prisms of Chilean cabernet,
I will lift the large knife and lean
into the apple, fruit of New Zealand,
fruit of Madagascar, halving, quartering.
eighth- and sixteenth-ing it open--
this good, widely divisible world.
The walnuts from Jerusalem, green onions
from Spain, and then, if ripe, that visceral avocado.
I will sing to my daughter while stirring
the balsamic into the first cold-pressed
pressing of oil, grinding the pepper
as my voice grinds out the song,
doing the artichoke dance that she loves.
And when I say to my daughter say grace
she says grace, gracefully, gratefully,
a word for it sung into the air.
That we eat of what is given, these few
resilient gifts of a day, that we bow and eat
and watch the world for signs of who we are:
vanishing bird, circles and circles,
the rain perhaps slowing, perhaps
gaining on us all over again.
-- Ralph Black
Posted by rb at 11/24/2005
Wednesday, November 23
The bumpers filled, Mr. Blandois, with a roystering gaiety, clinked the top of his glass against the bottom of Mr. Flintwich's, and the bottom of his glass against the top of Mr. Flintwich's, and drank to the intimate acquaintance he foresaw.
-- Charles Dickens Little Dorrit
Clinking glasses -- rapping them to call everyone present to attention, or tapping them together when toasting -- has always given people pleasure. Clinking one glass against another is making contact, an action we perform precisely because we are not sharing one cup; in doing it we remind ourselves that the wine, now separated into glassfuls, is still one, and we reach out to each other even though we do not hand our glasses on. Russians go one further and smash their glasses after particularly fervent toasts, vows, or oaths. The half-Russian poet Apollinaire loved using the image of a smashed glass to express exultant joy. People have often felt that disposing of the wine in a toast was really not sufficient: the cup should go too -- either broken or given away -- otherwise the words symbolized in drinking are not finalized, and the action is lacking in generosity. Smashing the glass also ensures that no less worthy toast shall ever be made in that glass.
-- Margaret Visser The Rituals of Dinner
Posted by rb at 11/23/2005
Tuesday, November 22
Point Lobos by Edward Weston
It was an obsession with the formal perfections of the image that led Weston "inside" those onions and artichokes. What mattered finally was the photographic look of the thing, its imageness. His cloud studies of 1936 were the most enthusiastic and brilliant expression of that impulse. The tonal consistencies in any one image might run from flaked, jagged slate to silky marble. The textures of immateriality go from leather to rock to foam. In the cloud studies, and also in the images of those broad, eddying, scalloped stone formations at Point Lobos, Weston succeeded in expressing emotion with every nuance of line and light. His best subjects, in other words, were those that stood at the frontier where resemblance becomes abstract transparency.
-- W.S. Di Piero Out of Eden
Posted by rb at 11/22/2005
Monday, November 21
No mind was so good that it did not need another mind to counter and equal it, and to save it from conceit and blindness and bigotry and folly. Only in such a balance could humility be found, humility which was a lucid speed to welcome lucidity whenever and wherever it presented itself. How much he owed to Quentin! How much — not pride but delight urged the admission — Quentin owed to him! Balance — and movement in balance, as an eagle sails up on the wind — this was the truth of life, and beauty in life.
-- Charles Williams The Place of the Lion
Posted by rb at 11/21/2005
Saturday, November 19
And here, now, by night, with this huge clock ticking on my right hip and the flashlight in my hand and sneakers on my feet, I feel as if everything had been unreal. It is as if the past had never existed. The things I thought were so important -- because of the effort I put into them -- have turned out to be of small value. And the things I never thought about, the things I was never able either to measure or to expect, were the things that mattered.
-- Thomas Merton The Search for Solitude
Posted by rb at 11/19/2005
Self-transformation is precisely what life is, and human relationships, which are an extract of life, are the most changeable of all, rising and falling from minute to minute, and lovers are those in whose relationship and contact no one moment resembles another...
Like so much else, people have also misunderstood the place of love in life, they have made it into play and pleasure because they thought that play and pleasure were more blissful than work; but there is nothing happier than work, and love, just because it is the extreme happiness, can be nothing else but work. -- So whoever loves must try to act as if he had a great work; he must be much alone and go into himself and collect himself and hold fast to himself; he must work; he must become something!
For believe me, the more one is, the richer is all that one experiences. And whoever wants to have a deep love in his life must collect and save for it and gather honey.
-- R.M. Rilke Rilke on Love and Other Difficulties
Translated by John J.L. Mood
Posted by rb at 11/19/2005
Friday, November 18
Just as a stone flung into the water becomes the center and cause of many circles, and as sound diffuses itself in circles in the air: so any object, placed in the luminous atmosphere, diffuses itself in circles, and fills the surrounding air with infinite images of itself. And is repeated, the whole everywhere, and the whole in every smallest part.
-- Leonardo da Vinci Leonardo's Notebooks ed. H. Anna Suh
Posted by rb at 11/18/2005
And this it does not seem unreasonable or ungrateful to demand, that the artist should pierce the soul; should command; should not sit aloof & circumambient merely, but should come and take me by the hand and lead me somewhither...
-- Ralph Waldo Emerson
Posted by rb at 11/18/2005
Thursday, November 17
He was stubborn, shy, arrogant, incredibly proud, a rebel who liked to show off but was fundamentally mild and good-tempered. He loved the country, exercising, bicycling, fishing, and had a reputation for being able to catch fish where there were none...
He lived in a picturesquely filthy room on a floor called the second-and-a-half; the ceiling had been lowered and the room was a sort of cupboard between the second and third floors. He lived with two owls, (originally alive, later stuffed), a guitar, stinking flowers, masses of dirty papers, a stone phallus. Jarry's personal décor sounds familiar. He was certainly different from the bourgeois, but perhaps not so different from those who differ from the bourgeois. But his brilliance and wit were uncommon. Giving a lecture on art and artists he spoke of everything from Turkestan to Bergson, from Fragonard to angling. Afterwards one of his friends told him that he had found it very interesting but hadn't understood a word of it. Jarry answered: 'That's exactly what I wanted. Talking about things that are understandable only weighs down the mind and falsifies the memory, but the absurd exercises the mind and makes the memory work.'
-- Barbara Wright, in the preface to her translation of Ubu Roi by Alfred Jarry
Posted by rb at 11/17/2005
Wednesday, November 16
Galileo... saw a church lamp swinging and was led to find the laws by which a body swings. He did not see that the laws that made his experience comprehensible were of his creation. He did not simply discover some natural process, but in fact added to the world an act of his own true individuality. I am not saying that Galileo impressed his subjectivity onto the world; rather the breakthrough was an act of his individuality uniting with the world. The point of individuality is that by creating, it creates what is actually there -- albeit not there in the form of comprehension, but only in the form of perception, until the creative act of comprehension takes place. Then the world rejoices, for it has become more whole; perception and comprehension together reveal the world more fully. The mistake of the natural sciences is that, until very recently, scientists believed they simply discovered the laws of the natural world, not recognizing that their observations were also creating in part what was being observed.
-- Robert Sardello Love and the World
Posted by rb at 11/16/2005
Tuesday, November 15
There is a certain lawless freedom to the song of the Catbird, for he does not entertain any regard for set rhythm, and he proceeds with a series of miscellaneous, interrupted sentences which bear no relationship with one another. His music set on paper in a thoroughly complete manner would appear thus:
It is like some long rigmarole, which is humorously incomprehensible, though the bird apparently considers his strophes both serious and important. Listen to him sometime while he is singing in the shadowy tangles of the briers and willows through which winds the brook with gurgling, petulant impatience, and you will hear some unmistakable tuneful expostulations, persuasions, and remonstrances... The fact is, he is an imitator. He can imitate anything from a squeaking cartwheel to the song of a Thrush. He intersperses his melodic phrases with quotations from the highest authorities -- Thrush, Song Sparrow, Wren, Oriole, and Whip-poor-will. The yowl of the cat is thrown in anywhere, the guttural remarks of the frog are repeated without the slightest deference to good taste or appropriateness, and the harsh squawk of the old hen, or the chirp of the lost chicken, as always added in some malapropos manner. All is grist which comes to the Catbird's musical mill, and all is ground out according to the bird's own way of thinking.
-- F. Schuyler Mathews Field Book of Wild Birds and Their Music
Posted by rb at 11/15/2005
Monday, November 14
When his mouth faced my mouth, I turned aside
And steadfastly gazed only at the ground;
I stopped my ears, when at each coaxing word
They tingled more; I used both hands to hide
My blushing, sweating cheeks. Indeed, I tried.
But oh, what could I do, then, when I found
My bodice splitting of its own accord?
Translated by John Brough
Posted by rb at 11/14/2005
Sunday, November 13
If, having fixed the original form in our mind's eye, we ask ourselves how that form comes alive and fills with life, we discover a new dynamic and vital category, a new property of the universe: reverberation (retentir). It is as though a well-spring existed in a sealed vase and its waves, repeatedly echoing against the sides of this vase, filled it with their sonority. Or again, it's as though the sound of a hunting horn, reverberating everywhere through its echo, made the tiniest leaf, the tiniest wisp of moss shudder in a common movement and transformed the whole forest, filling it to its limits, into a vibrating, sonorous world.
-- Eugene Minkowski Vers une Cosmologie
Translated by Maria Jolas
Posted by rb at 11/13/2005
Friday, November 11
In the early morning the restless Atlájala would move through the halls of the monastery. The dark rooms sped past, one after the other. In a small patio, where eager young trees had pushed up the paving stones to reach the sun, it paused. The air was full of small sounds: the movements of butterflies, the falling to the ground of bits of leaves and flowers, the air following its myriad courses around the edges of things, the ants pursuing their endless labors in the hot dust. In the sun it waited, conscious of each gradation in sound and light and smell, living in the awareness of the slow, constant disintegration that attacked the morning and transformed it into afternoon. When evening came, it often slipped above the monastery roof and surveyed the darkening sky: the waterfall would roar distantly. Night after night, along the procession of years, it had hovered here above the valley, darting down to become a bat, a leopard, a moth for a few minutes or hours, returning to rest immobile in the center of the space enclosed by the cliffs. When the monastery had been built, it had taken to frequenting the rooms, where it had observed for the first time the meaningless gestures of human life.
And then one evening it had aimlessly become one of the young friars. This was a new sensation, strangely rich and complex, and at the same time unbearably stifling, as though every other possibility besides that of being enclosed in a tiny, isolated world of cause and effect had been removed forever. As the friar, it had gone and stood in the window, looking out at the sky, seeing for the first time, not the stars, but the space between and beyond them. Even at that moment it had felt the urge to leave, to step outside the little shell of anguish where it lodged for the moment, but a faint curiosity had impelled it to remain a little longer and partake a little further of the unaccustomed sensation. It held on; the friar raised his arms to the sky in an imploring gesture. For the first time the Atlájala sensed opposition, the thrill of a struggle. It was delicious to feel the young man striving to free himself of its presence, and it was immeasurably sweet to remain there... When he had finished and said a prayer, he crawled to his pallet and fell asleep weeping, while the Atlájala slipped out obliquely and entered into a bird which passed the night sitting in a great tree on the edge of the jungle, listening intently to the night sounds, and uttering a scream from time to time.
-- Paul Bowles "The Circular Valley"
Posted by rb at 11/11/2005
Thursday, November 10
Only retrieve them from the cities guilt,
where everything for them is anger and confusion,
and wounded patience sucks them dry.
Has the earth, then, no room for them?
Whom does the wind seek? For whom
is the wet glistening of streams?
Is there by the banks
of the pond's deep dreaming
nowhere they can see their faces reflected?
They need only, as a tree does,
a little space in which to grow.
-- R.M. Rilke
Translated by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy
Read it in the original German here
Posted by rb at 11/10/2005
Wednesday, November 9
When we oppose proximate to distant vision, we do not mean that in the latter the object is farther away. To look means here, speaking narrowly, to focus both ocular rays on a point which, thanks to this, becomes favored, optically privileged. In distant vision we do not fix the gaze on any point, but rather attempt to embrace the whole field, including its boundaries. For this reason, we avoid focusing the eyes as much as possible. And then we are surprised to find that the object just perceived -- our entire visual field -- is concave. If we are in a house the concavity is bordered by the walls, the roof, the floor. This border or limit is a surface that tends to take the form of a hemisphere viewed from within. But where does the concavity begin? There is no possibility of doubt: it begins at our eyes themselves.
The result is that what we see at a distance is hollow space as such. The content of perception is not strictly the surface in which the hollow space terminates, but rather the whole hollow space itself, from the eyeball to the wall or the horizon.
This fact obliges us to recognize the following paradox: the object of sight is not farther off in distant than in proximate vision, but on the contrary is nearer, since it begins at our cornea. In pure distant vision, our attention, instead of being directed farther away, has drawn back to the absolute proximate, and the eyebeam, instead of striking the convexity of a solid body and staying fixed on it, penetrates a concave object, glides into a hollow.
-- José Ortega y Gasset, "On Point of View in the Arts" Partisan Review 16:8
Translated by Paul Snodgrass and Joseph Frank
Posted by rb at 11/09/2005
Saturday, November 5
The sea boils and pigs have wings because in poetry all things are possible— if you are man enough. They are possible because in poetry the disparate elements are not combined in logic, which can join things only under certain categories and under the law of contradiction; they are combined in poetry rather as experience, and experience has decided to ignore logic, except perhaps as another field of experience.
-- Allen Tate Reason in Madness
Posted by rb at 11/05/2005
Thursday, November 3
...I arrived at another hall, the roof of which was of a pale blue, spangled with constellations of silver stars, and supported by porphyry pillars of a paler red than ordinary... The whole of the floor of this hall, except a narrow path behind the pillars, paved with black, was hollowed into a huge basin, many feet deep, and filled with the purest, most liquid and radiant water. The sides of the basin were white marble, and the bottom was paved with all kinds of refulgent stones, of every shape and hue. In their arrangement, you would have supposed, at first sight, that there was no design, for they seemed to lie as if cast there from careless and playful hands; but it was a most harmonious confusion; and as I looked at the play of their colours, especially when the waters were in motion, I came at last to feel as if not one little pebble could be displaced, without injuring the effect of the whole. Beneath this floor of the water, lay the reflection of the blue inverted roof, fretted with its silver stars, like a second deeper sea, clasping and upholding the first... Led by an irresistible desire, I undressed, and plunged into the water. It clothed me as with a new sense and its object both in one. The waters lay so close to me, they seemed to enter and revive my heart. I rose to the surface, shook the water from my hair, and swam as in a rainbow, amid the coruscations of the gems below seen through the agitation caused by my motion. Then, with open eyes, I dived, and swam beneath the surface. And here was a new wonder. For the basin, thus beheld, appeared to extend on all sides like a sea, with here and there groups as of ocean rocks, hollowed by ceaseless billows into wondrous caves and grotesque pinnacles. Around the caves grew sea-weeds of all hues, and the corals glowed between; while far off, I saw the glimmer of what seemed to be creatures of human form at home in the waters. I thought I had been enchanted; and that when I rose to the surface, I should find myself miles from land, swimming alone upon a heaving sea; but when my eyes emerged from the waters, I saw above me the blue spangled vault, and the red pillars around. I dived again, and found myself once more in the heart of a great sea. I then arose, and swam to the edge, where I got out easily, for the water reached the very brim, and, as I drew near washed in tiny waves over the black marble border. I dressed, and went out, deeply refreshed.
-- George MacDonald Phantastes
Posted by rb at 11/03/2005
Wednesday, November 2
Now the heart sings with all its thousand voices
To hear this city of cells, my body, sing.
The tree through the stiff clay at long last forces
Its thin strong roots and taps the secret spring.
And the sweet waters without intermission
Climb to the tips of its green tenement;
The breasts have borne the grace of their possession,
The lips have felt the pressure of content.
Here I come home: in this expected country
They know my name and speak it with delight.
I am the dream and you my gates of entry,
The means by which I waken into light.
-- A.D. Hope
Posted by rb at 11/02/2005
Tuesday, November 1
The art of art, the glory of expression and the sunshine of the light of letters is simplicity. Nothing is better than simplicity....nothing can make up for excess or for the lack of definiteness. To carry on the heave of impulse and pierce intellectual depths and give all subjects their articulations are powers neither common nor very uncommon. But to speak in literature with the perfect rectitude and insousiance of the movements of animals and the unimpeachableness of the sentiment of trees in the woods and grass by the roadside is the flawless triumph of art. If you have looked on him who has achieved it you have looked on one of the masters of the artists of all nations and times. You shall not contemplate the flight of the graygull over the bay or the mettlesome action of the blood horse or the tall leanings of sunflowers on their stalk or the appearance of the sun journeying through heaven or the appearance of the moon afterward with any more satisfaction than you shall contemplate him. The greatest poet has less a marked style and is more the channel of thoughts and things without increase or diminution, and is the free channel of himself. He swears to his art, I will not be meddlesome, I will not have in my writing any elegance or effect or originality to hang in the way between me and the rest like curtains. What I tell I tell for precisely what is... What I experience or portray shall go from my composition without a shred of my composition. You shall stand by my side and look in the mirror with me.
-- Walt Whitman Preface to Leaves of Grass
Posted by rb at 11/01/2005
Sunday, October 30
I closed my eyes, but could still see through my eyelids. (It is wonderful what tricks our dreams play us, and how conveniently we can imagine.) The mist grew thicker and thicker and I could see now how it came in, for I could see it like smoke, or with the white energy of boiling water, pouring in, not through the window, but through the joinings of the door. It got thicker and thicker, till it seemed as if it became concentrated into a sort of pillar of cloud in the room, through the top of which I could see the light of the gas shining like a red eye. Things began to whirl through my brain just as the cloudy column was now whirling in the room... Suddenly the horror burst upon me that it was thus that Jonathan had seen those awful women growing into reality through the whirling mist in the moonlight, and in my dream I must have fainted, for all became black darkness.
-- Bram Stoker Dracula
Posted by rb at 10/30/2005
Saturday, October 29
As Ichabod jogged slowly on his way, his eye, ever open to every symptom of culinary abundance, ranged with delight over the treasures of jolly autumn. On all sides he beheld vast store of apples; some hanging in oppressive opulence on the trees; some gathered into baskets and barrels for the market; others heaped up in rich piles for the cider-press. Farther on he beheld great fields of Indian corn, with its golden ears peeping from their leafy coverts, and holding out the promise of cakes and hasty pudding; and the yellow pumpkins lying beneath them, turning up their fair round bellies to the sun, and giving ample prospects of the most luxurious of pies; and anon he passed the fragrant buckwheat fields, breathing the odor of the beehive, and as he beheld them, soft anticipations stole over his mind of dainty slapjacks, well buttered, and garnished with honey or treacle, by the delicate little dimpled hand of Katrina Van Tassel.
-- Washington Irving The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
Posted by rb at 10/29/2005
The clear, kingly effulgence that had characterized the majority expressed a heath and furze country like their own, which in one direction extended an unlimited number of miles: the rapid flares and extinctions at other points of the compass showed the lightest of fuel -- straw, beanstalks, and the usual waste from arable land. The most enduring of all -- steady unaltering eyes like planets -- signified wood, such as hazel-branches, thorn-faggots, and stout billets. Fires of the last-mentioned materials were rare, and, though comparatively small in magnitude beside the transient blazes, now began to get the best of them by mere long-continuance. The great ones had perished, but these remained. They occupied the remotest visible positions -- sky-backed summits rising out of rich coppice and plantation districts to the north, where the soil was different, and heath foreign and strange.
...the next circumstance of which the beholders were conscious was a vision of the matron's broad form whisking off towards the space whereon the fire had been kindled. She was lifted bodily by [his] arm, which had been flung round her waist before she had become aware of his intention. The site of the fire was now merely a circle of ashes flecked with red embers and sparks, the furze having burnt completely away. Once within the circle he whirled her round and round in a dance. She was a woman noisily constructed; in addition to her enclosing framework of whalebone and lath, she wore pattens summer and winter, in wet weather and in dry, to preserve her boots from wear; and when [he] began to jump about with her, the clicking of the pattens, the creaking of the stays, and her screams of surprise, formed a very audible concert.
"I'll crack thy numskull for thee, you mandy chap," said Mrs. Nunsuch, as she helplessly danced round with him, her feet playing like drumsticks among the sparks... and in half a minute all that can be seen on Rainbarrow was a whirling of dark shapes amid a boiling confusion of sparks, which leaped around the dancers as high as their waists.
-- Thomas Hardy The Return of the Native
Posted by rb at 10/29/2005
Friday, October 28
A good relationship has a pattern like a dance and is built on some of the same rules. The partners do not need to hold on tightly, because they move confidently in the same pattern, intricate but gay and swift and free, like a country dance of Mozart's. To touch heavily would be to arrest the pattern and freeze the movement, to check the endlessly changing beauty of its unfolding. There is no place here for the possessive clutch, the clinging arm, the heavy hand; only the barest touch in passing. Now arm in arm, now face to face, now back to back -- it does not matter which. Because they know they are partners moving to the same rhythm, creating a pattern together, and being invisibly nourished by it.
The joy of such a pattern is not only the joy of creation or the joy of participation, it is also the joy of living in the moment. Lightness of touch and living in the moment are intertwined. One cannot dance well unless one is completely in time with the music, not leaning back to the last step or pressing forward to the next one, but poised directly on the present step as it comes. Perfect poise on the beat is what gives good dancing its sense of ease, of timelessness, of the eternal.
-- Anne Morrow Lindbergh Gift from the Sea
Posted by rb at 10/28/2005
Thursday, October 27
changing; things are starting to
spin, snap, fly off into
the blue sleeve of the long
afternoon. Oh and ooh
come whistling out of the perished mouth
of the grass, as things
turn soft, boil back
into substance and hue. As everything,
forgetting its own enchantment, whispers:
I too love oblivion why not it is full
of second chances. Now,
hiss the bright curls of the leaves. Now!
booms the muscle of the wind.
-- Mary Oliver
Posted by rb at 10/27/2005
Wednesday, October 26
from directions in a recipe:
Put the dough in a big, lightly oiled bowl, and cover with plastic wrap for three hours. Turn it out once again, cut it in half, spank it on the counter to get the extra air bubbles out. Let it rest for another fifteen minutes. Then slide your fingers beneath the dough, palm up, so that you're vaguely shaping it into more of a ball again. Pick the balls up and place each into a lightly floured bowl -- preferably something that breathes...
Cut an X or a C or whatever makes you happy into the top of the loaf with a super-sharp razor blade, slide it into the oven with a nice clean-and-jerk movement, and shut the door. Turn the temperature down immediately to 450 degrees, spray some water on the walls of the inside of the oven, and, quick, shut the door...
Have a glass of wine or three. Give it a good forty to fifty minutes. Take the loaves out when they are the way they should be. You know how it is -- the way you like them. Good and custy, but airy and cloudlike inside. When you knock on the bottom of the loaf, you know it's done when it sounds to your dog like somebody's at the door. Let them cool down, and then give them to people you love...
-- Matthew Batt, "The Path of Righteousness" Tin House 7:1
Posted by rb at 10/26/2005
Tuesday, October 25
Artists have to find ways to pull the audience in, for only when people come to understand that within a painting or a sculpture they can find a time that is outside of time will they want to keep looking. Only then will they see that although nothing in a painting moves -- at least in the sense that sound moves in music or bodies move in dance -- everything in a painting is alive. And then the surface opens up, and effects multiply, and you see more and more. You enter into an intimate imaginative collaboration with the artist. If the very idea of instantaneous unity comes out of a feeling that in the world things can happen with this much speed, a more circuitous and layered way of looking suggests a release from the compressed, fast-forward pace of daily life, which has always troubled people, and surely does today. If you can unlock a moment, you can enter a realm of freedom. Artists show the way. To look long is to feel free.
-- Jed Perl Eyewitness: Reports from an Art World in Crisis
Posted by rb at 10/25/2005
Monday, October 24
Listen to these violinists: the one who lets true musical harmony be heard is the one who gets close to the brink of catastrophic noise, he pokes around with his bow on this threshold. He is stirring up the flame in which the rosin would melt.
-- Michel Serres Genesis
Translated by Geneviève James and James Nielson
Posted by rb at 10/24/2005
Saturday, October 22
The notion of revelation describes the condition quite simply; by which I mean that something profoundly convulsive and disturbing suddenly becomes visible and audible with indescribable definiteness and exactness. One hears -- one does not seek; one takes -- one does not ask who gives: a thought flashes out like lightning, inevitably without hesitation -- I have never had any choice about it. There is an ecstasy whose terrific tension is sometimes released by a flood of tears, during which one's progress varies from involuntary impetuosity to involuntary slowness. There is the feeling that one is utterly out of hand, with the most distinct consciousness of an infinitude of shuddering thrills that pass through one from head to foot; -- there is a profound happiness in which the most painful and gloomy feelings are not discordant in effect, but are required as necessary colors in this overflow of light. There is an instinct for rhythmic relations which embraces an entire world of forms (length, the need for a widely extended rhythm, is almost a measure of the force of inspiration, a sort of counterpart to its pressure and tension). Everything occurs without volition, as if in an eruption of freedom, independence, power and divinity. The spontaneity of the images and similes is most remarkable; one loses all perception of what is imagery and simile; everything offers itself as the most immediate, exact, and simple means of expression. If I may recall a phrase of Zarathustra's, it actually seems as if the things themselves came to one, and offered themselves as similes. ("Here do all things come caressingly to thy discourse and flatter thee, for they would fain ride upon thy back. On every simile thou ridest here to every truth. Here fly open before thee all the speech and word shrines of existence, here all existence would become speech, here all Becoming would learn of thee how to speak.") This is my experience of inspiration.
-- Friedrich Nietzsche Ecce Homo
Translated by Clifton Fadiman
Posted by rb at 10/22/2005
Friday, October 21
Over the sheer stone cliff-face, over springs and star clusters
Of maidenhair giving in and in to the spray
Through thorn-clawed crookshanks
And gnarled root ends like vines where the sun has never from dawn
To noon or dusk come spilling its cascades,
The stream is falling, at the brink
Blue-green but whitening and churning to pale rain
And falling farther, neither as rain nor mist
But both now, pouring
And changing as it must, exchanging all for all over all
Around and past your shape to a dark-green pool
Below, where it tumbles
Over another verge to become a stream once more
Downstream in curving slopes under a constant
Cloud of what it was
And will be, and beside it, sharing the storm of its arrival,
Your voice and all your words are disappearing
Into this water falling.
-- David Wagoner
Posted by rb at 10/21/2005
Thursday, October 20
Spray of Dead Oak Leaves by John Ruskin
All this difficulty, however, attaches to rendering merely the dark form of the sprays as they come against the sky. Within those sprays, and in the heart of the tree, there is a complexity of a much more embarrassing kind; for nearly all leaves have some lustre, and all are more or less translucent (letting light through them); therefore, in any given leaf, besides the intricacies of its own proper shadows and foreshortenings, there are three series of circumstances which alter or hide its forms. First, shadows cast on it by other leaves, -- often very forcibly. Secondly, light reflected from its lustrous surface, sometimes the blue of the sky, sometimes the white of clouds, or the sun itself flashing like a star. Thirdly, forms and shadows of other leaves, seen as darknesses through the translucent parts of the leaf; a most important element of foliage effect, but wholly neglected by landscape artists in general.
The consequence of all this is, that except now and then by chance, the form of a complete leaf is never seen; but a marvellous and quaint confusion, very definite, indeed, in its evidence of direction of growth, and unity of action, but wholly indefinable and inextricable, part by part, by any amount of patience. You cannot possibly work it out in facsimile, though you took a twelvemonth's time to a tree; and you must therefore try to discover some mode of execution which will more or less imitate, by its own variety and mystery, the variety and mystery of Nature, without absolute delineation of detail.
-- John Ruskin Elements of Drawing (1857)
Posted by rb at 10/20/2005
Tuesday, October 18
Petruchio. O monstrous arrogance!
Thou liest, thou thread, thou thimble,
Thou yard, three-quarters, half-yard, quarter, nail!
Thou flea, thou nit, thou winter cricket thou!
Braved in mine own house with a skein of thread!
Away, thou rag, thou quantity, thou remnant,
Or I shall so bemete thee with thy yard
As thou shalt think on prating whilst thou liv'st.
I tell thee, I, that thou hast marred her gown.
Tailor. Your worship is deceived. The gown is made
Just as my master had direction.
Grumio gave order how it should be done.
Grumio. I gave him no order; I gave him the stuff.
Tailor. But how did you desire it should be made?
Grumio. Marry, sir, with needle and thread.
Tailor. But did you not request to have it cut?
Grumio. Thou hast faced many things.
Tailor. I have.
Grumio. Face not me. Thou hast braved many men; brave not me. I will neither be faced nor braved. I say unto thee, I bid thy master cut out the gown, but I did not bid him cut it to pieces. Ergo, thou liest.
Tailor. Why, here is the note of the fashion to testify.
Petruchio. Read it.
Grumio. The note lies in's throat if he say I said so.
Tailor. "Imprimus, a loose-bodied gown."
Grumio. Master, if ever I said loose-bodied gown, sew me in the skirts of it and beat me to death with a bottom of brown thread. I said, a gown.
Tailor. "With a small compassed cape."
Grumio. I confess the cape.
Tailor. "The sleeves curiously cut."
Petruchio. Ay there's the villainy.
Grumio. Error i' the bill, sir, error i' the bill. I commanded the sleeves should be cut out and sewed up again, and that I'll prove upon thee, though thy little finger be armed in a thimble.
Tailor. This is true that I say. And I had thee in place where, thou shouldst know it.
Grumio. I am for thee straight. Take thou the bill, give me thy mete-yard, and spare not me.
Hortensio. God-a-mercy, Grumio, then he shall have no odds.
Petruchio. Well, sir, in brief, the gown is not for me.
Grumio. You are i' th' right, sir, 'tis for my mistress.
Petruchio. Go, take it up unto thy master's use.
Grumio. Villain, not for thy life! Take up my mistress' gown for thy master's use!
Petruchio. Why, sir, what's your conceit in that?
Grumio. O, sir, the conceit is deeper than you think for.
Take up my mistress' gown to his master's use!
O, fie, fie fie!
-- William Shakespeare The Taming of the Shrew
Posted by rb at 10/18/2005
At dawn she lay with her profile at that angle
Which, when she sleeps, seems the carved face of an angel.
Her hair a harp, the hand of a breeze follows
And plays, against the white cloud of the pillows.
then, in a flush of rose, she woke, and her eyes that opened
Swam in blue through her rose flesh that dawned.
From her dew of lips, the drop of one word
Fell like the first of fountains: murmured
'Darling', upon my ears the song of the first bird.
'My dream becomes my dream,' she said, 'come true.
I waken from you to my dream of you.'
Oh, my own wakened dream then dared assume
The audacity of her sleep. Our dreams
Poured into each other's arms, like streams.
-- Stephen Spender
Posted by rb at 10/18/2005
Monday, October 17
A body tends by its weight towards the place proper to it -- weight does not necessarily tend towards the lowest place but towards its proper place. Fire tends upwards, stone downwards. By their weight they are moved and seek their proper place. Oil poured over water is borne on the surface of the water, water poured over oil sinks below the oil: it is by their weight that they are moved and seek their proper place. Things out of their place are in motion: they come to their place and are at rest. My love is my weight: wherever I go my love is what brings me there.
-- Augustine Confessions
Translated by Francis J. Sheed
Posted by rb at 10/17/2005
Light is fixed, immaterial, central. At once fire and ice, it is the symbol of both objectivity and eternity. It is heaven's gaze itself. Clear and serene, it traces outlines, delimits, distributes space into symmetrical areas. It is justice, but it is also the Idea, the archetype engraved upon a cloudless sky... Light: the essence, the realm of the intemporal. Water is diffuse, elusive, formless. It evokes time, carnal love; it is the tide itself—death and resurrection—and the gateway to the elemental world. Everything is reflected in water, everything founders in it, everything is reborn in it. It is change, the ebb and flow of the universe. Light separates, water unites... In the center, the precious stone... As light passes through it, the humid landscape... becomes an immense jewel: a golden sun, a silver moon, trees of jade. Light makes water a precious stone. It turns time into a mineral, makes it eternal. It congeals it into an impartial, uniform splendor and... it freezes its pulse. At the same time light transmutes stone. Thanks to light, the opaque stone—a symbol of gravity: a heavy fallen weight—takes on the transparency and dancing swiftness of water. The stone sparkles, twinkles, quivers, like a drop of water or blood: it is alive. A moment later, mesmerized by the celestial flash of lightning, it becomes motionless: it is light now, time arrested, a fixed gaze.
The precious stone is an instant of equilibrium between water and light. Left to itself, in its natural state, it is opacity, inertia, brute existence. The dreamless slumber of stone. But the moment it becomes luminous and translucid, its moral nature changes. Its limpidity is as treacherously deceiving as that of water... This ambiguity should not surprise us. Life per se is neither good nor bad: it is sheer vitality, an appetite for being. In life at the most elementary level, we discover the same unity as in spiritual meditation... The precious stone shares this indifference of life. A nexus of contrary meanings, it oscillates between water and light.
-- Octavio Paz Alternating Current
Translated by Helen R. Lane
Posted by rb at 10/17/2005
Sunday, October 16
Early Sunday Morning by Edward Hopper
Early Sunday Morning, which Hopper painted in 1930, has haunted me as no other New York painting ever has. Hopper brought to the silent street -- the barber pole, the fire hydrant, the uneven line of window shades, the awnings over the shop fronts -- the intensity of his own perception. Every time I come back to it, Early Sunday Morning seems larger than I remembered it. Since nothing is so typical of New York as the certain disappearance of something we once loved, the doggedness of Hopper's attachment had to be painted large. Why does that row of low brick houses on lower Seventh Avenue rivet me? It is because the street has entered into Hopper's consciousness in a way that transcends realism. He has made the drab and the commonplace beautiful through the force of belonging. Every detail in the street belongs to us and we to it.
-- Alfred Kazin "The Art City Our Fathers Built," The American Scholar 67:2
Posted by rb at 10/16/2005
Saturday, October 15
Insistently through sleep -- a tide of voices --
They meet you listening midway in your dream,
The long, tired sounds, fog-insulated noises:
Gongs in white surplices, beshrouded wails,
Far strum of fog horns...signals dispersed in veils.
And then a truck will lumber past the wharves
As winch engines begin throbbing on some deck;
Or a drunken stevedore's howl and thud below
Comes echoing alley-upward through dim snow.
And if they take your sleep away sometimes
They give it back again. Soft sleeves of sound
Attend the darkling harbor, the pillowed bay;
Somewhere out there in blankness steam
Spills into steam, and wanders, washed away
-- Flurried by keen fifings, eddied
Among distant chiming buoys -- adrift. The sky,
Cool feathery fold, suspends, distills
This wavering slumber....Slowly --
Immemorially the window, the half-covered chair
Ask nothing but this sheath of pallid air.
And you beside me, blessèd now while sirens
Sing to us, stealthily weave us into day --
Serenely now, before day claims our eyes
Your cool arms murmurously about me lay.
While myriad snowy hands are clustering at the panes --
your hands within my hands are deeds;
my tongue upon your throat -- singing
arms close; eyes wide, undoubtful
drink the dawn --
a forest shudders in your hair!
The window goes blond slowly. Frostily clears.
From Cyclopean towers across Manhattan waters
-- Two --three bright window-eyes aglitter, disk
The sun, released -- aloft with cold gulls hither.
The fog leans one last moment on the sill.
Under the mistletoe of dreams, a star --
As though to join us at some distant hill --
Turns in the waking west and goes to sleep.
-- Hart Crane
Posted by rb at 10/15/2005
Friday, October 14
There is something mysterious about the stimulating effect of rhythm. You can explain what it is that creates rhythm but you have to experience it yourself to know what it is like. A person listening to music experiences the rhythm as something beyond all reflection, something existing within himself. A man who moves rhythmically starts the motion himself and feels that he controls it. But very shortly the rhythm controls him; he is possessed by it. It carries him along. Rhythmic motion gives a feeling of heightened energy. Often, too, it occupies the performer without any conscious effort on his part so that his mind is free to wander at will -- a state very favorable to artistic creation... The person who hears music or watches dancing does none of the physical work himself but in perceiving the performance he experiences the rhythm of it as though it were in his own body... Often the man who forms architecture also works rhythmically in the creative process itself. This results in a regularity which may be very difficult to express in words but which is spontaneously felt by those who have the same sense of rhythm.
-- Steen Eiler Rasmussen Experiencing Architecture
Posted by rb at 10/14/2005
Thursday, October 13
The well rising without a sound,
the spring on a hillside,
the plowshare brimming through deep ground
everywhere in the field --
The sharp swallows in their swerve
flaring and hesitating
hunting for the final curve
coming closer and closer --
The swallow heart from wingbeat to wingbeat
counseling decision, decision:
thunderous examples. I place my feet
with care in such a world.
-- William Stafford
Posted by rb at 10/13/2005
That gasp of which I spoke comes from the chest, which in the Kundalini Yoga is the place of the heart chakra. There, the sudden unexpected comings and goings of feelings are imaged by the fleeting gazelle glimpsed only rarely in its quick, startling movements and its absolute frozen stillness as it stands watching and listening, senses acute. Unless this chakra comes to life, unless the heart is opened and the gazelle awake, we remain deaf and blind, repressing despite our best intentions, simply because the organ that perceives beauty, that emits the gasp of the aesthetic response has not been stirred. The gazelle hides in the dense thickets of the soul or sleeps in innocence. So, above all else I have said... let the heart be stirred.
-- James Hillman, "The Practice of Beauty" in Uncontrollable Beauty, Eds. Bill Beckley and David Shapiro
Posted by rb at 10/13/2005
Wednesday, October 12
A friend of a friend chops and sautées
morel mushrooms leeks and celery root
punctuating the narrative of her life's journey
with Sufi epigrams such as
The candle is not there to illuminate itself
Deft with a knife and light on her feet
she decants a sauterne and declares
that she only cooks for strangers
food unlike love tenderness or true passion
so easy to give so readily received
For most men she says the more elaborate
the meal the greater the illusion of fulfillment whereas
If you are entertaining a dervish, dry bread is enough
-- Nicholas Christopher, from "14 rue Serpentine: a Paris Notebook"
Posted by rb at 10/12/2005
Tuesday, October 11
During the shooting of a scene the director's eye has to catch even the minutest detail. But this does not mean glaring concentratedly at the set. While the cameras are rolling, I rarely look directly at the actors, but focus my gaze somewhere else. By doing this I sense instantly when something isn't right. Watching something does not mean fixing your gaze on it, but being aware of it in a natural way. I believe this is what the medieval Noh playwright and theorist Zeami meant by "watching with a detached gaze."
-- Akira Kurosawa Some Random Notes on Filmmaking
Posted by rb at 10/11/2005
Monday, October 10
Now constantly there is the sound,
quieter than rain,
of the leaves falling.
Under their loosening bright
gold, the sycamore limbs
Now the only flowers
are beeweed and aster, spray
of their white and lavender
over the brown leaves.
The calling of a crow sounds
loud -- a landmark -- now
that the life of summer falls
silent, and the nights grow.
-- Wendell Berry
Posted by rb at 10/10/2005
Sunday, October 9
Magenta mist outside the windows. A cock crows over at Boone's. Last evening, when the moon was rising, saw the warm burning soft red of a doe in the field. It was still light enough, so I got the field glasses and watched her. Presently a stag came out, then I saw a second doe and, briefly, another stag. They were not afraid. Looked at me from time to time. I watched their beautiful running, grazing. Everything, every movement, was completely lovely, but there is a kind of gaucheness about them sometimes that makes them even lovelier. The thing that struck me most: one sees, looking at them directly in movement, just what the cave painters saw -- something that I have never seen in a photograph. It is an awe-inspiring thing -- the Mantu or "spirit" shown in the running of the deer, the "deerness" that sums up everything and is saved and marvelous. A contemplative intuition! Yet perfectly ordinary, everyday seeing. The deer reveals to me something essential in myself! Something beyond the trivialities of my everyday being and my individuality. The stag is much darker, a mouse gray or rather a warm gray-brown, like a flying squirrel. I could sense the softness of their coat and longed to touch them.
-- Thomas Merton Dancing in the Water of Life
Posted by rb at 10/09/2005
Saturday, October 8
No sooner do we start to fall asleep than space relaxes and falls asleep, too -- doing so a little ahead of us, losing its struts and fibers, losing its structural forces and its geometric coherence. The space in which we shall spend our nocturnal hours has no perspective, no distance. It is the immediate synthesis of things and ourselves. If we dream of an object, we enter into that object as into a shell. Our oneiric space always has this central coefficient. Sometimes in flying dreams we think we are very high up, but we are no more then than a little bit of flying matter. And the skies we soar through are wholly interior -- skies of desire or hope or pride. We are too astonished at our extraordinary journey to make of it an occasion for spectacle. We ourselves remain the center of our oneiric experience. If a star shines, it is with the sleeper's radiance: a tiny flash on the sleeping retina evokes an ephemeral constellation, conjuring confused memories of a starry night.
-- Gaston Bachelard The Right to Dream
Translated by J.A. Underwood
*oneiric: Of or relating to or suggestive of dreams
Posted by rb at 10/08/2005
Friday, October 7
Nelly, I am Heathcliff -- he's always, always in my mind -- not as a pleasure, any more than I am always a pleasure to myself -- but as my own being.
-- Cathy, in Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights
Posted by rb at 10/07/2005
Probably one of the most private things in the world is an egg until it is broken.
Until then, you would think its secrets are its own, hidden behind the impassive beautiful curvings of its shell, white or brown or speckled...
Basic French Omelet
3 tablespoons butter (good oil if absolutely necessary)
salt and pepper
Be sure that the frying pan (8 or 10 inches) is smooth on the inside. Heat the butter in it until it gives off a nutty smell but does not brown. ("This will not only lend an exquisite taste," Escoffier says, "but the degree of heat reached in order to produce the aroma will be found to ensure the perfect setting of the eggs.") Roll the pan to cover the sides with butter.
Beat eggs lightly with a fork, add seasoning, and pour into pan. As soon as the edges are set, run a spatula under the center so that all the uncooked part will run under the cooked. [By now I know, fatalistically, that if I am using a pan I know, and if I have properly rolled the precise amount of sweet butter around that pan, and if the stars, winds, and general emotional climates are in both conjunction and harmony, I can make a perfect omelet without ever touching a spatula to it. Such occasions are historical, as well as accidental.] Do this once or twice, never leaving it to its own devices. When it is daintily browned on the bottom and creamy on top, fold it in the middle (or roll if you are a master), slide it onto a dish, and serve speedily.
-- M.F.K. Fisher , from How to Cook a Wolf
Posted by rb at 10/07/2005
Thursday, October 6
Wednesday, October 5
Only -- but this is rare --
When a belovèd hand is laid in ours,
When, jaded with the rush and glare
Of the interminable hours,
Our eyes can in another's eyes read clear,
When our world-deafen'd ear
Is by the tones of a loved one caress'd --
A bolt is shot back somewhere in our breast,
And a lost pulse of feeling stirs again;
The eye sinks inward, and the heart lies plain,
And what we mean, we say, and what we would, we know.
A man becomes aware of his life's flow,
And hears its winding murmur; and he sees
The meadows where it glides, the sun, the breeze.
-- Matthew Arnold, from "The Buried Life"
Posted by rb at 10/05/2005
Tuesday, October 4
Mix half a pound of white sugar with a pint of fine cider or of white wine, and grate in a nutmeg. Prepare them in a large bowl, just before milking time. Then let it be taken to the cow, and have about three pints milked into it, stirring it occasionally with a spoon. Let it be eaten before the froth subsides. If you use cider, a little brandy will improve it.
-- Miss Mary Deas Ravenel Charleston Receipts (1950)
Posted by rb at 10/04/2005
A man's conscious wit and will, so far as they strain towards the ideal, are aiming at something only dimly and inaccurately imagined. Yet all the while the forces of mere organic ripening within him are going on towards their own prefigured result, and his conscious strainings are letting loose subconscious allies behind the scenes, which in their way work towards rearrangement; and the rearrangement towards which all these deeper forces tend is pretty surely definite, and definitely different from what he consciously conceives and determines. It may consequently be actually interfered with (JAMMED, as it were, like the lost word when we seek too energetically to recall it), by his voluntary efforts slanting from the true direction...
When the new center of energy has been subconsciously incubated so long as to be just ready to burst into flower, 'hands off' is the only word for us; it must burst forth unaided.
-- William James The Varieties of Religious Experience
Posted by rb at 10/04/2005
Monday, October 3
The fighter turned to her suddenly and asked, "Mrs. Moore, what have you been doing lately?"
"I have been subduing my apartment," she said in her high, thin voice. "I have just moved in from Brooklyn to a new apartment which is strange to me and needs taming."
"Is that so?" The champion ordered a glass of water. "Yes," he said to the waiter. "We is tiptop at Toots." He turned back to Miss Moore. "Well, I am considering farming, myself," he said. "I'd like to sit and look across the fence at the biggest bull in the world -- just sit and rock back and forth and look at him out there in the middle of the field, feeding."
"Oh yes," Miss Moore said. She was quite shy with him, ducking her head and peeking at him. "Can we come and look with you?"
"You can sit on the porch with me, Mrs. Moore," Ali said.
She made a confused, pleased gesture and then had a sip of her tea. He ordered a bowl of beef soup and a phone. He announced that if she was the greatest poetess in the country, the two of them should produce something together -- "I am a poet, too," he said -- a joint effort sonnet, it was to be, with each of them doing alternate lines. Miss Moore nodded vaguely. Ali was very much the more decisive of the pair, picking not only the form but also the topic: "Mrs. Moore and I are going to write a sonnet about my upcoming fight in Houston with Ernie Terrell," he proclaimed to the table. "Mrs. Moore and I will show the world with this great poem who is who and what is what and who is going to win."
"We will call it 'A Poem on the Annihilation of Ernie Terrell,' " Miss Moore announced. "Let us be serious but not grim."
"She's cute," Ali commented.
A pen was produced. Ali was given a menu on which to write. He started off with half the first line -- "After we defeat" -- and asked Miss Moore to write in Ernie Terrell (which she misspelled "Ernie Tyrell" in her spidery script) just to get her "warmed up." He wrote most of the second line -- "He will catch nothing" -- handing the pen over and expecting Miss Moore to fill in the obvious rhyme, and he was quite surprised when she did not. She made some scratchy squiggles on the paper to get the ink flowing properly. The fighter peered over her shoulder.
"What's that say?" he asked.
"It doesn't say anything. You could call them 'preliminaries.' Terrell should rhyme nicely with 'bell,' Miss Moore said tentatively. I could see her lips move as she fussed with possibilities. Finally, Ali leaned over and whispered to her, " 'but hell,' Mrs. Moore."
"Oh yes," she said. She wrote down "but hell," but then she wrestled with it some more, clucking gently, and murmuring about the rhythm of the line, and she crossed it out and substituted, "he will get nothing, nothing but hell."
After we defeat Ernie Terrell
He will get nothing, nothing but hell,
Terrell was big and ugly and tall
But when he fights me he is sure to fall.
If he criticize this poem by me and Miss Moore
To prove he is not the champ she will stop him in four,
He is claiming to be the real heavyweight champ
But when the fight starts he will look like a tramp
He has been talking too much about me and making me sore
After I am through with him he will not be able to challenge Mrs. Moore.
-- George Plimpton Shadow Box
Posted by rb at 10/03/2005
Sunday, October 2
BŒLDIEU: May I ask you something? Why do you make an exception for me by inviting me to your quarters?
RAUFFENSTEIN in close-up: Why? Because your name is Bœldieu, career officer in the French army, and my name is Rauffenstein, career officer in the imperial German army.
BŒLDIEU in close-up: But ... all my friends are officers too.
RAUFFENSTEIN disdainfully: You call Maréchal and Rosenthal ... officers?
BŒLDIEU: They are very good soldiers.
RAUFFENSTEIN with contempt: Yes! ... [Modern warfare, the nation in arms!] ... The charming legacy of the French Revolution.
BŒLDIEU smiling: I am afraid we can do nothing to turn back the clock.
RAUFFENSTEIN rises and puts out his cigarette by the window.
RAUFFENSTEIN: I do not know who is going to win this war, but I know one thing: the end of it, whatever it may be, will be the end of the Rauffensteins and the Bœldieus.
BŒLDIEU: But perhaps there is no more need for us.
RAUFFENSTEIN: And don't you find that is a pity?
RAUFFENSTEIN seems thoughtful as he looks at the window which opens on a sheer drop of one hundred and thirty feet. The pot of geraniums stands on the inner ledge, next to a small watering can.
BŒLDIEU: I do admire the way you look after your geranium.
RAUFFENSTEIN turning back to him: Do not think that I have turned into a botanist, but it's the only flower in the castle... He sits by BŒLDIEU ... Ivy and nettles are the only plants growing here.
-- Charles Spaak and Jean Renoir Grand Illusion
Translated by Marianne Alexandre and Andrew Sinclair
Posted by rb at 10/02/2005
Saturday, October 1
Of course, it is impossible to state objectively that everyone can find this transcendence in certain specific works of art. It suffices to note that the level exists and it is possible to experience it in some works of art. One of us will find it in a landscape by Leonardo or a poem by Goethe; another will find it elsewhere. But in any event we may say that this experience can be gained... only by those who are open and prepared for it. For even when the highest form of artistic reality has achieved objective existence in a work, it must be reborn in subjective human experience.
And it seems to us that one of the principal functions of all art is precisely... to bring the individual himself to transcendence -- that is, to raise him above time and epoch and also above the limited eternity realized in any limited archetypal form -- to lead him to the timeless radiant dynamic that is at the heart of the world.
In this sense the greatest art is a learning to see in the way described by Rabbi Nachman of Bratislava: "Just as a hand held before the eyes conceals the greatest mountain, so does petty earthly life conceal from view the vast lights and mysteries of which the world is full, and he who can withdraw it from his eyes, as one withdraws a hand, will behold the great light of the innermost world."
-- Erich Neumann Art and the Creative Unconscious
Translated by Ralph Manheim
Posted by rb at 10/01/2005