Sunday, December 31
Midnight the year's last day the last
high hour the verge where the dancers comet
(loved water lapsing under the bridge
and blood dear blood by the bridged aorta
where the dreaming soul leans distant-eyed
long-watching the flood and its spoil borne seaward)
and I one fleck on the numbered face
one dot on the star-aswarming heaven
stand here in this street of all our streets
of all our times this moment only
the bells the snow the neon faces
each our own but estranged and fleeing
from a bar all tinkle and red fluorescence
a boy in a tux with tie uneven
puppy-clumsy with auldlangsyning
plaintive so droll came crying Sally
Salleee again and Saalleee louder
a violin teased he passed in laughter
yet under the heart of each up vein
up brain and loud in the lonely spirit
a-rang desire for Sallys name
or another name or a street or season
not to be conjured by any horn
nor flavored gin nor the flung confetti
o watcher upover the world look down
through gale of stars to the globes blue hover
and see arising in troubled mist
from firefly towns and the dark between them
the waif appeal from lackland hearts
to Sally's name or perhaps anothers
-- John Frederick Nims
Posted by rb at 12/31/2006
Saturday, December 30
But we: we vanish in our feelings. Oh, we breathe
ourselves out, and out; our smell dissolves
from ember to ember. It's true, someone may tell us:
"You're in my blood, this room, Spring floods
with you . . ." What good is it? He can't hold us.
We vanish in him and around him. And the beautiful,
oh, who can hold them back? Some look is always rising
in their faces, and falling. Like dew on new grass,
like heat from a steaming dish, everything we are rises
away from us. O smile, where are you going?
O upturned look: new, warm, the heart's receding wave --
it hurts me, but that's what we are.
-- R.M. Rilke, from Duino Elegies: The Second Elegy
Translated by A. Poulin, Jr.
Posted by rb at 12/30/2006
Friday, December 29
And here are trees and I know their gnarled surface, water and I feel its taste. These scents of grass and stars at night, certain evenings when the heart relaxes--how shall I negate this world whose power and strength I feel? Yet all the knowledge on earth will give me nothing to assure me that this world is mine. You describe it to me and you teach me to classify it. You enumerate its laws and in my thirst for knowledge I admit that they are true. You take apart its mechanism and my hope increases. At the final stage you teach me that this wondrous and multicolored universe can be reduced to the atom and that the atom itself can be reduced to the electron. All this is good and I wait for you to continue. But you tell me of an invisible planetary system in which electrons gravitate around a nucleus. You explain this world to me with an image. I realize then that you have been reduced to poetry: I shall never know. Have I the time to become indignant? You have already changed theories. So that science that was to teach me everything ends up in a hypothesis, that lucidity founders in metaphor, that uncertainty is resolved in a work of art. What need had I of so many efforts? The soft lines of these hills and the hand of evening on this troubled heart teach me much more. I have returned to my beginning.
-- Albert Camus The Myth of Sisyphus
Translated by Justin O'Brien
Posted by rb at 12/29/2006
Friday, December 15
Thursday, December 14
Tuesday, December 12
So the angel passed along thinking aloud to himself, doing his business, barely taking note of me, but taking note of me nonetheless. We recognized each other. Of course the other thing is that this "I" is not "I." I am not this body, this "self." I am not just my individual nature. Yet I might as well be, so firmly am I rooted in it and identified with it--with this which will cease utterly to exist in its natural individuality.
In the hermitage-- I see how quickly one can fall apart. I talk to myself, I dance around the hermitage, I sing. This is all very well, but it is not serious, it is a manifestation of weakness, of dizziness. I feel within this individual self the nearness of disintegration. (Yet I also realize that this exterior self can fall apart and be reintegrated too. This is like losing dry skin that peels off while the new skin forms underneath.)
And I suddenly remember absurd things. The song Pop had on the record forty-five years ago! "The Whistler and His Dog." Crazy! I went out to the jakes in the rain with this idiot song rocking my whole being. Its utterly inane confidence! Its gaiety. It is in its own way joyful--the joy of people who had not seen World War II and Auschwitz and the Bomb. Silly as it was, it had life and juice in it. Confidence of people walking up and down Broadway in derbies in 1910! Kings of the earth! Sousa's whole mad band blasting out this idiot and confident song! The strong, shrill whistle of the whistler! ("O fabulous day, calao, calay!" and the bark at the end (that I liked best). Brave Whistler! Brave Dog! (As a child I had this Whistler confused with the one who painted his mother!)
-- Thomas Merton, journal entry 4 December 1964 Dancing in the Water of Life
Posted by rb at 12/12/2006
Monday, December 11
When the time comes to you at which you will be forced at last to utter the speech which has lain at the center of your soul for years, which you have, all that time, idiot-like, been saying over and over, you'll not talk about joy of words. I saw well why the gods do not speak to us openly, nor let us answer. Till that word can be dug out of us, why should they hear the babble that we think we mean? How can they meet us face to face till we have faces?
-- C.S. Lewis Till We Have Faces
Posted by rb at 12/11/2006
Saturday, December 9
What's greater, Pebble or Pond?
What can be known? The Unknown.
My true self runs toward a Hill
More! O More! visible.
Now I adore my life
With the Bird, the abiding Leaf,
With the Fish, the questing Snail,
And the Eye altering All;
And I dance with William Blake
For love, for Love's sake;
And everything comes to One,
As we dance on, dance on, dance on.
-- Theodore Roethke
Posted by rb at 12/09/2006
Friday, December 8
I think we try to perfect ourselves, we try to learn, we try to work constantly, we discover things at each stage in a career. But the discoveries and the little we've learned are a bit like a battery, and we are not necessarily conscious of the electricity released from it. So we try to keep all of this inside ourselves, and we use it, hoping that it will come when we need it. It doesn't always come when we need it, however; that's the trauma of creation. Often, all that we've accumulated, all that we've tried to learn, comes too late or too early and not at the moment we need it. On the other hand, if we proceed in too orderly a fashion, that is, with notes, cards, with filed memories, and if we try to apply them mechanically and arbitrarily, I think we become removed from life. One must be very wary of knowledge and theories. One has to have them, but it is best to tackle each subject as if we knew nothing, as if we were completely new to it, and as if the subject were unexplored.
-- Jean Renoir, interview in Cahiers du Cinema 6.34 by Jacques Rivette and François Truffaut
Translated by C.-G. Marsac
Posted by rb at 12/08/2006
Thursday, December 7
These are the edgings and inchings of final form,
The swarming activities of the formulae
Of statement, directly and indirectly getting at,
Like an evening evoking the spectrum of violet,
A philosopher practicing scales on his piano,
A woman writing a note and tearing it up.
It is not in the premise that reality
Is a solid. It may be a shade that traverses
A dust, a force that traverses a shade.
-- Wallace Stevens, from "An Ordinary Evening in New Haven"
Wednesday, December 6
We know that gentians grow on the Alps, and olives on the Apennines; but we do not enough conceive for ourselves that variegated mosaic of the world's surface which a bird sees in its migration, that difference between the district of the gentian and of the olive which the stork and the swallow see far off, as they lean upon the sirocco wind, Let us, for a moment, try to raise ourselves even above the level of their flight, and imagine the Mediterranean lying beneath us like an irregular lake, and all its ancient promontories sleeping in the sun: here and there an angry spot of thunder, a grey stain of storm, moving upon the burning field; and here and there a fixed wreath of white volcano smoke, surrounded by its circle of ashes; but for the most part a great peacefulness of light, Syria and Greece, Italy and Spain, laid like pieces of a golden pavement into the sea-blue, chased, as we stoop nearer to them, with bossy beaten work of mountain chains, and glowing softly with terraced gardens, and flowers heavy with frankincense, mixed among masses of laurel, and orange, and plumy palm, that abate with their grey-green shadows the burning of the marble rocks, and of the ledges of porphyry sloping under lucent sand. Then let us pass farther towards the north, until we see the orient colours change gradually into a vast belt of rainy green, where the pastures of Switzerland, and poplar valleys of France, and dark forests of the Danube and Carpathians stretch from the mouths of the Loire to those of the Volga, seen through clefts in grey swirls of rain-cloud and flaky veils of the mist of the brooks, spreading low along the pasture lands: and then, farther north still, to see the earth heave into mighty masses of molten rock and heathy moor, bordering with a broad waste of gloomy purple that belt of field and wood, and splintering into irregular and grisly islands amidst the northern seas, beaten by storm, and chilled by ice-drift, and tormented by furious pulses of contending tide, until the roots of the last forests fail from among the hill ravines, and the hunger of the north wind bites their peaks into barrenness; and at last, the wall of ice, durable like iron, sets, deathlike, its white teeth against us out of the polar twilight. And, having once traversed in thought this gradation of the zoned iris of the earth in all its material vastness, let us go down nearer to it, and watch the parallel change in the belt of animal life; the multitudes of swift and brilliant creatures that glance in the air and sea, or tread the sands of the southern zone; striped zebras and spotted leopards, glistening serpents, and birds arrayed in purple and scarlet. Let us contrast their delicacy and brilliancy of colour, and swiftness of motion, with the frost-cramped strength, and shaggy covering, and dusky plumage of the northern tribes; contrast the Arabian horse with the Shetland, the tiger and leopard with the wolf and bear, the antelope with the elk, the bird of paradise with the osprey; and then, submissively acknowledging the great laws by which the earth and all that it bears are ruled throughout their being, let us not condemn, but rejoice in the expression by man of his own rest in the statutes of the lands that gave him birth. Let us watch him with reverence as he sets side by side the burning gems, and smooths with soft sculpture the jasper pillars, that are to reflect a ceaseless sunshine, and rise into a cloudless sky: but not with less reverence let us stand by him, when, with rough strength and hurried stroke, he smites an uncouth animation out of the rocks which he has torn from among the moss of the moorland, and heaves into the darkened air the pile of iron buttress and rugged wall, instinct with work of an imagination as wild and wayward as the northern sea; creatures of ungainly shape and rigid limb, but full of wolfish life; fierce as the winds that beat, and changeful as the clouds that shade them.
-- John Ruskin On Art and Life
Posted by rb at 12/06/2006
Tuesday, December 5
There need be nothing preternaturally sweet or homespun about the moods embodied in domestic space. These spaces can speak to us of the sombre as readily as they can of the gentle. There is no necessary connection between the concepts of home and of prettiness; what we call a home is merely any place that succeeds in making more consistently available to us the important truths which the wider world ignores, or which our distracted and irresolute selves have trouble holding on to.
As we write, so we build: to keep a record of what matters to us.
-- Alain de Botton The Architecture of Happiness
Posted by rb at 12/05/2006
Sunday, December 3
"Since why to love I can allege no cause,"
I will love instead, leaving reasons
to better minds than mine, those for whom laws
create allowance for the seasons
of feeling. I cannot create what creates
me, unless in loving, love begets love,
though in begetting that, what first mates
with love to get that which it wants more of?
And so on, ad infinitum.
Better to look out the window and ponder
the weather, how quickly autumn
left, how quietly winter
slipped into town. It was looking for us,
afraid, I think, thinking the obvious.
-- Roger Mitchell
Posted by rb at 12/03/2006
Friday, December 1
'Well, mace in one hand and Weena in the other, I went out of that gallery and into another and still larger one, which at the first glance reminded me of a military chapel hung with tattered flags. The brown and charred rags that hung from the sides of it, I presently recognized as the decaying vestiges of books. They had long since dropped to pieces, and every semblance of print had left them. But here and there were warped boards and cracked metallic clasps that told the tale well enough. Had I been a literary man I might, perhaps, have moralized upon the futility of all ambition. But as it was, the thing that struck me with keenest force was the enormous waste of labour to which this sombre wilderness of rotting paper testified. At the time I will confess that I thought chiefly of the Philosophical Transactions and my own seventeen papers upon physical optics.
'Then, going up a broad staircase, we came to what may once have been a gallery of technical chemistry. And here I had not a little hope of useful discoveries. Except at one end where the roof had collapsed, this gallery was well preserved. I went eagerly to every unbroken case. And at last, in one of the really air-tight cases, I found a box of matches. Very eagerly I tried them. They were perfectly good. They were not even damp. I turned to Weena. "Dance," I cried to her in her own tongue. For now I had a weapon indeed against the horrible creatures we feared. And so, in that derelict museum, upon the thick soft carpeting of dust, to Weena's huge delight, I solemnly performed a kind of composite dance, whistling The Land of the Leal as cheerfully as I could. In part it was a modest cancan, in part a step-dance, in part a skirt-dance (so far as my tailcoat permitted), and in part original. For I am naturally inventive, as you know.
-- H.G. Wells The Time Machine
Posted by rb at 12/01/2006
Thursday, November 30
Abstraction has been less a search for the ultimately meaningful . . . than a recurrent push for the temporarily meaningless: that is, things that are found not often in exotic realms but rather on the edges of banality, familiarity, and the man-made world. It is the production of forms of order that are not recognizable as order, but vehicles of feeling that appear utterly dumb. Abstract art is a symbolic game, and it is akin to all human games: You have to get into it, risk and all, and this takes a certain act of faith. But what kind of faith? Not faith in absolutes, not a religious kind of faith. A faith in possibility, a faith not that we will know something finally, but a faith in not knowing, a faith in our ignorance, a faith in our being confounded and dumbfounded, a faith fertile with possible meaning and growth.
-- Kirk Varnedoe Pictures of Nothing
Kirk Varnedoe video (Lecture at the National Gallery of Art )(Quicktime)
Posted by rb at 11/30/2006
Tuesday, November 28
The life we forget to live is our own. The craft most urgently needed is to attend life's unfolding with the same care as one has for the borrowed lamp on the living room table. It is priceless and must be returned in a while. It is a beauty (born the same day love was conceived) that stops the eye, even as nicks of time appear--a devil wind spilling it, overzealous polishing, a child's ball. That craft finds a way to love what comes, with joy or sorrow. Never forced or contrived, it remains in a fluid state. Never consumed, it is deprived of nothing, but rather increased, by its object. It remains forever in the background, a penumbral glow to the dawn and dusk of experience.
This craft, of love, of urgency, is that of real desire. Desire lives in the absence of its fulfillment and grows fuller. Since what it seeks can never be won, desire moves restlessly about, "a mighty hunter, and a master of device and artifice" (Plato, Symposium). Most energetic in a still moment of existence, its ceaseless pursuit of that which lives beyond--Life--nourishes the world. Its transit of the space of its longing opens a heart to what there is. A faintest glimpse of its object intensifies yearning, loosening bonds of petty thoughts and vain appetites. What is this craft, and how does a householder practice it? He carefully wipes dust from the window each morning to let the sun in. Shining through, the sun illuminates the care with which the home is kept.
-- David Appelbaum Everyday Spirits
Posted by rb at 11/28/2006
Thursday, November 23
You are the bread and the knife.
The crystal goblet and the wine.
-- Jacques Crickillon
You are the bread and the knife,
the crystal goblet and the wine.
You are the dew on the morning grass,
and the burning wheel of the sun.
You are the white apron of the baker
and the marsh birds suddenly in flight.
However, you are not the wind in the orchard,
the plums on the counter,
or the house of cards.
And you are certainly not the pine-scented air.
There is no way you are the pine-scented air.
It is possible that you are the fish under the bridge,
maybe even the pigeon on the general's head,
but you are not even close
to being the field of cornflowers at dusk.
And a quick look in the mirror will show
that you are neither the boots in the corner
nor the boat asleep in its boathouse.
It might interest you to know,
speaking of the plentiful imagery of the world,
that I am the sound of rain on the roof.
I also happen to be the shooting star,
the evening paper blowing down an alley,
and the basket of chestnuts on the kitchen table.
I am also the moon in the trees
and the blind woman's teacup.
But don't worry, I am not the bread and the knife.
You are still the bread and the knife.
You will always be the bread and the knife,
not to mention the crystal goblet and--somehow--
-- Billy Collins
Posted by rb at 11/23/2006
Wednesday, November 22
Posted by rb at 11/22/2006
There is a singular effect oftentimes when, out of the midst of engrossing thought and deep absorption, we suddenly look up, and catch a glimpse of external objects. We seem at such moments to look farther and deeper into them than by any premeditated observation; it is as if they met our eyes alive, and with all their hidden meaning on the surface, but grew again inanimate and inscrutable the instant that they become aware of our glances.
-- Nathaniel Hawthorne The Marble Faun
Posted by rb at 11/22/2006
Tuesday, November 21
Monday, November 20
You have observed quite rightly that my burghers are arranged according to their degree of valour. As you know, to emphasize this effect, I wanted to set my statues in a line at ground level right in front of the Calais town hall, like the beads in a rosary of suffering and sacrifice. My figures would thus have seemed to be heading from the Town Hall to the camp of Edward III. And the citizens of Calais today, almost rubbing elbows with them, so to speak, would have felt the traditional bond of solidarity that ties them to these heroes.
-- Auguste Rodin, quoted in Art: Conversations with Paul Gsell
Translated by Jacques de Caso and Patricia B. Sanders
The Burghers of Calais
Posted by rb at 11/20/2006
Friday, November 17
Dark clouds sailing overhead across the fields of the stars. Stars which are unusually bold and close, with an icy glitter in their light—glints of blue, emerald, gold. Out there, spread before me to the south, east, and north, the arches and cliffs and pinnacles and balanced rocks of sandstone (now entrusted to my care) have lost the rosy glow of sunset and become soft, intangible, in unnamed unnameable shades of violet, colors that seem to radiate from—not overlay—their surfaces. A yellow planet floats on the west, brightest object in the sky. Venus. I listen closely for the call of an owl, a dove, a nighthawk, but can hear only the crackle of my fire, a breath of wind.
-- Edward Abbey Desert Solitaire
Posted by rb at 11/17/2006
Wednesday, November 15
When the image mirrors the man
And the man mirrors the subject
Something might take over
When you try to photograph something for what it is, you have to go out of yourself, out of your way, to understand the object, its facts and essence. When you photograph things for what Else they are, the object goes out of its way to understand you.
No matter how slow the film, Spirit always stands still long enough for the photographer It has chosen.
-- Minor White, quotes from mirrors messages manifestations
Posted by rb at 11/15/2006
Tuesday, November 14
One lives within a pattern: to ignore this is to take many false directions, but the moment the hidden movement is respected, it becomes the guide, and in retrospect one can trace a clear pattern that continues to unfold . . . The director must have from the start what I have called a "formless hunch," that is to say, a certain powerful yet shadowy intuition that indicates the basic shape, the source from which the play is calling to him. What he needs most to develop in his work is a sense of listening. Day after day, as he intervenes, makes mistakes, or watches what is happening on the surface, inside he must be listening, listening to the secret movements of the hidden process. It is in the name of this listening that he will be constantly dissatisfied, will continue to accept and reject until suddenly his ear hears the secret sound it is expecting and his eye sees the inner form that has been waiting to appear.
-- Peter Brook The Open Door
Posted by rb at 11/14/2006
Friday, November 10
Color your dreams, not like a baby.
You can see further.
Of course, most paintings are about paint,
and it takes ignorant poets to claim
there are new colors coming:
colors like on a bubble bursting,
colors left when the invisible dries up.
Homer thought the Black Sea really was,
yet the Pacific was blue for Balboa
and, looking out at Catalina,
I'd say it's getting brighter.
The Hopi said the rainbows are growing.
Me, I'm eager for the nights more colored;
I imagine us all sitting transfixed
as by firelight
by things that now seem black.
I imagine me on my knees. I'm on my knees.
I imagine me standing, seeing further.
I imagine signs of life, unfinished.
I imagine man.
I imagine the light of man.
-- Randall Goodall, from The Rainbow Book, ed. F. Lanier Graham
Posted by rb at 11/10/2006
Thursday, November 9
Wednesday, November 8
Say, you are in the country; in some high land of lakes. Take almost any path you please, and ten to one it carries you down in a dale, and leaves you there by a pool in the stream. There is magic in it. Let the most absent-minded of men be plunged in his deepest reveries—stand that man on his legs, set his feet a-going, and he will infallibly lead you to water, if water there be in all that region.
-- Herman Melville Moby-Dick
Posted by rb at 11/08/2006
Monday, November 6
Saturday, November 4
One of the few things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water. Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.
-- Annie Dillard, via Whiskey River
Posted by rb at 11/04/2006
Friday, November 3
I am led into this conjecture, by having remarked, that though love, friendship, esteem, and such like, have very powerful operations in the human mind, interest, however, is an ingredient seldom omitted by wise men, when they would work others to their own purposes. This is indeed a most excellent medicine, and, like Ward's pill, flies at once to the particular part of the body on which you desire to operate, whether it be the tongue, the hand, or any other member, where it scarce ever fails of immediately producing the desired effect.
-- Henry Fielding Tom Jones
Posted by rb at 11/03/2006
Wednesday, November 1
Now, which are you anxious to see—
A bogie, a sprite, or a gnome?
If a spectre should drop in to tea,
Would you like him to find us at home?
Or a mermaid with mirror and comb,
In her have you plenary faith?
Or a lemur of classical Rome,
Or a common respectable wraith?
-- Andrew Lang, from 'Ballade of a Choice of Ghosts'
Andrew Lang's Fairy Books
Posted by rb at 11/01/2006
Monday, October 30
It has been said that trees are imperfect men, and seem to bemoan their imprisonment rooted in the ground. But they never seem so to me. I never saw a discontented tree. They grip the ground as though they liked it, and though fast rooted they travel about as far as we do. They go wandering forth in all directions with every wind, going and coming like ourselves, traveling with us around the sun two million miles a day, and through space heaven knows how fast and far!
-- John Muir, in The Wilderness World of John Muir, ed. Edwin Way Teale
Posted by rb at 10/30/2006
Friday, October 27
Through the bound cable strands, the arching path
Upward, veering with light, the flight of strings,—
Taut miles of shuttling moonlight syncopate
The whispered rush, telepathy of wires.
Up the index of night, granite and steel—
Transparent meshes—fleckless the gleaming staves—
Sibylline voices flicker, waveringly stream
As though a god were issue of the strings. . . .
And through that cordage, threading with its call
One arc synoptic of all tides below—
Their labyrinthine mouths of history
Pouring reply as though all ships at sea
Complighted in one vibrant breath made cry,—
"Make thy love sure—to weave whose song we ply!"
—From black embankments, moveless soundings hailed,
So seven oceans answer from their dream.
-- Hart Crane, from 'Atlantis,' final section of his long poem The Bridge
Posted by rb at 10/27/2006
Thursday, October 26
The mysteries I was referring to in music are overtones; when you strike a note, it is actually made up of many notes and you hear one. When you repeat that note, or a melodic pattern, you begin to hear these overtones and they become more apparent. There are other acoustic phenomena; within a repeating pattern you may hear part of it as a separate pattern divorced from the primary one, especially when played against itself. It's only human that different people in the room might be focusing, let's say, on the higher notes within the pattern, while another group of people would be focusing on the lower notes. This might be analogous to looking at a LeWitt grid of the period, first seeing it in terms of an overall geometric figure and then as you walk around it seeing all kinds of different patterns that shift as you move.
-- Steve Reich, to Mark Godfrey, in 'Harmonious Life' Frieze 102
Steve Reich Website
Carnegie Hall's insights (via Alex Ross)
Posted by rb at 10/26/2006
Tuesday, October 24
Creativity is a meeting, a conversation. When you listen to a symphony by Mozart, that is a conversation with Mozart . . . In this conversation . . . there is much that is intuitive and not spoken.
-- Jean Renoir to Digby Diehl, in Jean Renoir Interviews, ed. Bert Cardullo
Posted by rb at 10/24/2006
Friday, October 13
Tuesday, October 10
In every living thing there is the desire for love, or for the relationship of unison with the rest of things. That a tree should desire to develop itself between the power of the sun, and the opposite pull of the earth's centre, and to balance itself between the four winds of heaven, and to unfold itself between the rain and the shine, to have roots and feelers in blue heaven and innermost earth, both, this is a manifestation of love: a knitting together of the diverse cosmos into a oneness, a tree.
-- D.H. Lawrence Phoenix II
Posted by rb at 10/10/2006
Sunday, October 8
Friday, October 6
Tuesday, October 3
I lived in that circle of light, in great speed and utter silence. When the swans passed before the sun they were distant—two black threads, two live stitches. But they kept coming, smoothly, and the sky deepened to blue behind them and they took on light. They gathered dimension as they neared, and I could see their ardent, straining eyes. Then I could hear the brittle blur of their wings, the blur which faded as they circled on, and the sky brightened to yellow behind them and the swans flattened and darkened and diminished as they flew. Once I lost them behind the mountain ridge; when they emerged they were flying suddenly very high, and it was like music changing key.
-- Annie Dillard Teaching a Stone to Talk
Posted by rb at 10/03/2006
Sunday, October 1
I had dreamed once before the problem of the self and the ego. In that earlier dream I was on a hiking trip. I was walking along a little road through a hilly landscape; the sun was shining and I had a wide view in all directions. Then I came to a small wayside chapel. The door was ajar, and I went in. To my surprise there was no image of the Virgin on the altar, and no crucifix either, but only a wonderful flower arrangement. But then I saw that on the floor in front of the altar, facing me, sat a yogi—in lotus posture, in deep meditation. When I looked at him more closely, I realized that he had my face. I started in profound fright, and awoke with the thought: "Aha, so he is the one who is meditating me. He has a dream, and I am it." I knew that when he awakened, I would no longer be.
-- C.G. Jung Memories, Dreams, Reflections
Translated by Richard and Clara Winston
Posted by rb at 10/01/2006
Saturday, September 30
Through what quiet continents of your own
Are you now walking, and with whom for a friend?
How often am I forgot when you are alone
Standing upon that ultimate verge of consciousness
Which sheers to death: each is alone at the end
And wearied of all this challengeable world
Ready to droop into oblivion
Like a sleepy child: this, seeing your warm cheek
Pillowed so childlike I fain would bend
To kiss it but pity rebukes me.
Why should I hurry you back from yourself
Out of your own created kingdom:
And yet, and yet, I stoop to your ear and speak
My name in whispers: I who can see
You sleeping serene in your own loneliness
And made aware of myself standing here
Within a loneliness more lone than sleep.
-- William Soutar, from 'The Sleeper'
Posted by rb at 9/30/2006
Friday, September 29
What would a burst of laughter or anxious twitching signify if they did not find their visible echo in the universe?
One might say that art consists of giving each thing a name other than its own.
It is no longer important to sing of things but, rather, to make them sing themselves.
-- Eric Rohmer The Taste For Beauty
Translated by Carol Volk
about Eric Rohmer
Posted by rb at 9/29/2006
Wednesday, September 27
Color expresses something by itself. Let's say that I have to paint an autumn landscape with yellow leaves on the trees. If I see it as a symphony in yellow, does it matter whether the yellow that I use is the same as the yellow of the leaves? No, it doesn't.
-- Vincent Van Gogh, quoted in The Meanings of Modern Art by John Russell
Posted by rb at 9/27/2006
Monday, September 25
Saturday, September 23
Looking off into the forest, I now imagine that the moss and soil have magically become transparent, so I can crawl around like a kid on a frozen pond, peering down into the clear earth. All the imbedded things have become visible—the rotted tree trunk, the stump, and the knitted maze of living roots. Each root is revealed, from its thick beginnings at the base of the mother tree, snaking away and gradually becoming thin, branching and weaving through dozens of other roots like a single strand in an immense, sprawling net. The root becomes slender as a pencil, then a string, and finally a delicate thread with hairs so minute they're too small to see. At these far extremities I can no longer tell where the root ends and the earth begins.
-- Richard Nelson The Island Within
Posted by rb at 9/23/2006
Tuesday, September 19
Now the leaves rush, greening, back. Back now,
the leaves push greenward.—Some such song, or
close to. I forget the most of it. His voice, and
the words pooling inside it. And the light for once
not sexual, just light. The light, as it should be . . .
You can build for yourself a tower to signal from.
Can become a still life. A slow ruin. You can
walk away. They all say that. Sir, I see no way
out of it. I have put my spade to the black loam
that the mind at one moment lets pass for truth,
at the next, oblivion. I have considered. I know
what's buried there: emptiness and renunciation and
ash, and ash . . . Why, then, so suddenly—overnight
almost—all the leaves again? Why now, rushing back?
-- Carl Phillips
Posted by rb at 9/19/2006
Monday, September 18
It's probably vain
we watch them
thinking how much
we're needed, how little
our houses mean when compared
to warm straw and lantern light.
We remember our rural beginnings:
how streets were graveled—not paved
how the errant cow—routed by flood waters—
carries with it into daybreak some secret country
we once called home. How long into the
night we'll dream them, soft and full
of milk, cooing to us, chewing their cuds,
so much trust in their eyes
it makes us squirm.
-- Sandra Adelmund
Posted by rb at 9/18/2006
Saturday, September 16
Those feathers . . . farthest away from their points of attachment will be the most flexible.
-- Leonardo da Vinci The Notebooks of Leonardo do Vinci
Translated by Edward MacCurdy
Repetition makes us feel secure and variation makes us feel free.
-- Robert Hass Twentieth Century Pleasures
Posted by rb at 9/16/2006
Thursday, September 14
First, there is silence. Then we think we hear something, music. It is one note, E above middle C, played by the solo cello alone. This entrance, Ligeti writes, should be inaudible, "as though coming out of nothingness." To make sure, he writes pppppppp, has the cello muted, and directs that there be no vibrato and that the bow be over the fingerboard (sul tasto), which further veils the sound. For nearly two minutes, we hear only this E. Gradually, though, it seems to step forward, to take on flesh: The orchestral strings join in (ppppp at first), then a flute, then a clarinet, then another clarinet. The while, the string color has changed: the players begin to use vibrato, which gradually becomes more intense; the bows move away from the fingerboard toward the bridge (sul ponticello), which produces a creepily glassy, sometimes raspy sound; and the violins, violas, and orchestral cellos start to play dense tremolandos. And even within the confines of this single note, the pitch becomes more complicated: When the cello plays E as a harmonic on the C-string and the bass plays E as a harmonic on the A-string, the two notes are not perfectly in tune with each other, but Ligeti asks that the players not correct the discrepancy, even though those clearly audible vibrations or throbs called "beats" may result.
-- Michael Steinberg, on György Ligeti's Concerto for Cello and Orchestra, in The Concerto
Cello Concerto (BBC review with RealAudio)
RealAudio is one of many things these days that crashes my ailing computer (it's happening a lot, alas). If you can't listen to BBC's RealAudio, a Windows Media sample is available on Amazon with Siegfried Palm's emerging E.
Other Ligeti samples (mp3s) can be found here.
Posted by rb at 9/14/2006
Wednesday, September 13
In front of this fire which teaches the dreamer the archaic and the intemporal, the soul is no longer stuck in a corner of the world. It is at the center of the world, at the center of its world. The simplest hearth encloses a universe. At least, that expanding movement is one of two metaphysical movements of reverie before fire. There is another which brings us back to ourselves. And thus it is that before the hearth, the dreamer is alternatively soul and body, body and soul.
--Gaston Bachelard The Poetics of Reverie
Posted by rb at 9/13/2006
Tuesday, September 12
St. Thomas Aquinas says that art does not require rectitude of the appetite, that it is wholly concerned with the good of that which is made. He says that a work of art is a good in itself, and this is a truth that the modern world has largely forgotten. We are not content to stay within our limitations and make something that is simply a good in and by itself. Now we want to make something that will have some utilitarian value. Yet what is good in itself glorifies God because it reflects God. The artist has his hands full and does his duty if he attends to his art. He can safely leave evangelizing to the evangelists. He must first of all be aware of his limitations as an artist—for art transcends its limitations only by staying within them.
-- Flannery O'Connor Mystery and Manners
Posted by rb at 9/12/2006
Saturday, September 9
Night comes, an angel stands
Measuring out the time of stars,
Still are the winds, and still the hours.
It would be peace to lie
Still in the still hours at the angel's feet,
Upon a star hung in a starry sky,
But hearts another measure beat.
Each body, wingless as it lies,
Sends out its butterfly of night
With delicate wings and jewelled eyes.
And some upon day's shores are cast,
And some in darkness lost
In waves beyond the world, where float
Somewhere the islands of the blest.
-- Kathleen Raine
Posted by rb at 9/09/2006
Wednesday, September 6
What's great about this country is that America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest. You can be watching TV and see Coca-Cola, and you can know that the President drinks Coke, Liz Taylor drinks Coke, and just think, you can drink Coke, too. A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking.
-- Andy Warhol The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (1975)
I use naïve imitation. This is not because I have no imagination or because I wish to say something about the everyday world. I imitate 1. objects and 2. created objects, for example, signs, objects made without the intention of making 'art' and which naïvely contain a functional contemporary magic. I try to carry these even further through my own naïveté, which is not artificial.
-- Claes Oldenburg, in "Claes Oldenburg, or the things of this world" Art International 7:9 (1963)
Everybody has called Pop Art "American " painting, but it's actually industrial painting. America was hit by industrialism and capitalism harder and sooner and its values seem more askew . . . . I think the meaning of my work is that it's industrial, it's what all the world will soon become. Europe will be the same way, soon, so it won't be American; it will be universal.
-- Roy Lichtenstein, in "What is Pop Art? Interviews with Eight Painters" Art News 62:7 (1963)
Posted by rb at 9/06/2006
Tuesday, September 5
A station platform at night, the 'Underground-Overground' Steam Railway.
Housman, aged twenty-three, and Jackson, aged twenty-four, dressed as for 'the office', are waiting for the train. Housman has a Journal of Philology, Jackson an evening paper.
Jackson Wasn't it magnificent? A landmark, Hous!
Housman I thought it was . . . quite jolly . . .
Jackson Quite jolly? It was a watershed! D'Oyly Carte has made the theatre modern.
Housman (surprised) You mean Gilbert and Sullivan?
Jackson What? No. No, the theatre.
Housman (Oh, I see.)
Jackson The first theatre lit entirely by electricity!
Housman Dear old Mo . . .
Jackson D'Oyly Carte's new Savoy is a triumph.
Housman . . . you're the only London theatre critic worthy of the name. 'The new electrified Savoy is a triumph. The contemptible flickering gas-lit St James's –"
Jackson (overlapping) Oh, I know you're ragging me . . .
Housman '. . . the murky malodorous Haymarket . . . the unscientific Adelphi . . .'
Jackson But it was exciting, wasn't it, Hous? Every age thinks it's the modern age, but this one really is.
Electricity is going to change everything. Everything! We had an electric corset sent in today.
Housman One that lights up?
Jackson I've never thought of it before, but in a way the Patent Office is the gatekeeper of the new age.
Housman An Examiner of Electrical Specifications may be, but it's not the same with us toiling down in Trade Marks. I had sore throat lozenges today, an application to register a wonderfully woebegone giraffe – raised rather a subtle point in Trade Marks regulation, actually: it seems there is already a giraffe at large, wearing twelve styles of celluloid collar, but, and here's the nub, a happy giraffe, in fact a preening self-satisfied giraffe. The question arises – is the registered giraffe Platonic?, are all God's giraffes in esse et in posse to be rendered unto the Houndsditch Novelty Collar Company?
Jackson It's true, then – a classical education fits a fellow for anything.
Housman Well, I consulted my colleague Chamberlain – he's compiling the new Index – I don't think he's altogether sound, Chamberlain, he put John the Baptist under Mythological characters –
Jackson Do you know what someone said?
Housman – and a monk holding a tankard under Biblical Subjects.
Jackson Will you tell me what happened?
Housman Oh, we found for the lozenges.
Jackson Someone said you ploughed yourself on purpose.
Jackson No. But they had him in to ask about you.
Housman I saw Pollard in the Reading Room.
Jackson What did he have to say?
Housman Nothing. It was the Reading Room. We adjusted our expressions briefly.
-- Tom Stoppard, from The Invention of Love
about Tom Stoppard
Posted by rb at 9/05/2006
Friday, September 1
There's nothing out there but light,
the would-be artist said,
As usual just half right:
There's also a touch of darkness, everyone knows, on both sides of both horizons,
Prescribed and unpaintable,
Touching our fingertips whichever way we decide to jump.
His small palette, however, won't hold that color,
though some have, and some still do.
The two plum trees know nothing of that,
Having come to their green grief,
their terrestrial touch-and-go,
Out of grace and radiance,
Their altered bodies alteration transmogrified.
Mine is a brief voice, a still, brief voice
Unsubject to change or the will to change—
might it be restrung and rearranged.
But that is another story.
-- Charles Wright, from 'Lives of the Artists'
Posted by rb at 9/01/2006
Thursday, August 31
That summer I looked and looked as I had not done for years at the green of the chestnut trees and the ochre of walls, broken by patches of blue and cold grey. I was fascinated by the contrast between opaque surfaces of light, where sunlight is clotted on leaves or flesh, and the transparent darkness of shadows like brown and green glass pools, through whose coldness I could look deeply on to still darker shadows like rocks—the foundations and anchors of the opaque surfaces of light flying like kites in the sun.
-- Stephen Spender World Within World
Posted by rb at 8/31/2006
Tuesday, August 29
The outcome of my days is always the same; an infinite desire for what one never gets; a void one cannot fill; an utter yearning to produce in all ways, to battle as much as possible against time that drags us along, and the distractions that throw a veil over our soul . . .
-- Eugène Delacroix The Journal of Eugène Delacroix (19 August 1858)
Translated by Walter Pach
Posted by rb at 8/29/2006
Friday, August 25
One August day I was coming down from the hard, bitter region of whiteness, where gusts of sleet were swirling and storms were building up. I knew that all too soon various things would keep me from returning to that celestial country of jagged ridges dancing in the open sky; to the illusion of high and low places in the white cornices that were etched against the blue-black abyss overhead and slowly crumbled in the mid-afternoon silence; and to the slopes carved with ridges and glistening with ice where grapeshot suddenly explodes with the smell of sulphur. Once again I had wanted to sniff the greenish breath of a crevasse, explore a boulder's surface, slip between crumbling rocks, secure a rope, test the rise and fall of an uncertain wind, listen to the sound of steel on ice and the little crystalline clumps tumbling towards the pitfall of a hidden crevasse—a death trap powdered and draped with gems. I wanted to make a track in the diamonds and the flour, entrust myself to two strands of hemp, and eat prunes in the centre of space. Climbing down through a blanket of clouds, I had stopped level with the first saxifrage before a huge ice slide, a gigantic scarf with pearly folds that spiralled downward to the great desert of stones at the bottom.
-- René Daumal Mount Analogue
Translated by Roger Shattuck
(Simon Winnall and Ian Winstanley are raising money for ME research by climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in September)
Posted by rb at 8/25/2006
Thursday, August 24
Whither he was going he knew not; yet it seemed as if motion gave him the power of enduring what he could not bear at rest; and he continued to traverse street after street, till, quitting the city, he had reached Ponte Molle, where, exhausted by heat and fatigue, he was at length compelled to stop . . . A desolate vacancy now spread over him, and, leaning over the bridge, he seemed to lose himself in the deepening gloom of the scene, till the black river that moved beneath him appeared almost a part of his mind, and its imageless waters but the visible current of his own dark thoughts.
-- Washington Allston Monaldi: A Tale
Washington Allston at Poets of Cambridge
Posted by rb at 8/24/2006
Friday, August 18
Some nights, stay up till dawn.
As the moon sometimes does for the sun.
Be a full bucket pulled up the dark way
of a well, then lifted out into light.
Something opens our wings. Something
makes boredom and hurt disappear.
Someone fills the cup in front of us.
We taste only sacredness.
Translated by John Moyne and Coleman Barks
Posted by rb at 8/18/2006
Thursday, August 17
Our life is an apprenticeship to the truth that around every circle another can be drawn; that there is no end in nature, but every end is a beginning; that there is always another dawn risen on midnoon, and under every deep a lower deep opens.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson, from 'Circles'
Posted by rb at 8/17/2006
Wednesday, August 16
There exists what we might call a sublime form of what is drawn, sublime because stripped of any scribbling, any lesion: the drawing instrument (brush, crayon, or pencil) descends on the sheet, makes contact—or hardens—there, that is all: there is not even the shadow of an incision, simply a touch: to the quasi-Oriental rarefaction of the slightly soiled surface (this is what the object is) corresponds the extenuation of the movement: it grasps nothing, it deposits, and everything is said.
-- Roland Barthes, on Cy Twombly, in The Responsibility of Forms
Translated by Richard Howard
Cy Twombly's Wilder Shores of Love
Posted by rb at 8/16/2006
Tuesday, August 15
A ripple of wind comes down from the woods and across the clearing toward us. We see a wave of shadow and gloss where the short grass bends and the cottage eaves tremble. It hits us in the back. It is a single gust, a sport, a rogue breeze out of the north, as if some reckless, impatient wind has bumped the north door open on its hinges and let out this acre of scent familiar and forgotten, this cool scent of tundra, and of November. Fall! Who authorized this intrusion? Stop or I'll shoot. It is an entirely misplaced air—fall, that I have utterly forgotten, that could be here again, another fall, and here it is only July. I thought I was younger, and would have more time. The gust crosses the river and blackens the water where it passes, like a finger closing slats.
-- Annie Dillard Teaching a Stone to Talk
Posted by rb at 8/15/2006
Saturday, August 12
And here is something of how we understand ourselves, in the last century's twilight, our pleasures and our ambitions. And we understand then, perhaps without saying it to ourselves, that our moment's just as fleeting, just as certain to seem antique and quaintly lit; that we become, in time, one of those figures on the shore, not very detailed, not particularly individual, a representative of our era, when seen from such a distancing perspective. Oddly paradoxical, and oddly moving—to be reminded that we stand at the center of our own lives, and that those lives are historical, and fleeting. What could the effect be, then, but tenderness?
Now we stand on the wet street, Paul and I, in the center of a realm of light and shadow—reflections off wet cars, a "walk" sign distorted in a puddle over cobblestone—and anyway we step that world shifts around us, an optical paradox. Already I seem to be recognizing that the Panorama is better in memory—less quaint, more profound, more troubling, not a large bad painting but an accomplished chamber of recollection, a parable, something to keep. We're walking back toward the train station, carrying our souvenirs. Our shoulders keep touching as we walk along the sidewalk. I'm aware of our paired steps, this cool late afternoon, the physical fact of us, his body, mine, how even in motion we seem to stand in the center of circle after circle. Having been in a Panorama once, it seems we never entirely leave.
-- Mark Doty "The Panorama Mesdag"
Mesdag Panorama Website
Posted by rb at 8/12/2006
Friday, August 11
In the middle of this century we turned to each other.
I saw your body, casting the shadow, waiting for me.
The leather straps of a long journey
had long since been tightened crisscross on my chest.
I spoke in praise of your mortal loins,
you spoke in praise of my transient face,
I stroked your hair in the direction of your journey,
I touched the tidings of your last day,
I touched your hand that has never slept,
I touched your mouth that now, perhaps, will sing.
Desert dust covered the table
we hadn't eaten from.
But with my finger I wrote in it the letters of your name.
-- Yehuda Amichai, from 'In the Middle of This Century'
Translated by Chana Bloch and Stephen Mitchell
The Untranslatable Amichai
Posted by rb at 8/11/2006
Wednesday, August 9
The French philosopher Gilles Deleuze has said that perception is based on repetition and difference. And that's why I think it's necessary to have a certain form of repetition, because perception requires articulation fields to let you know where you are. And you can know where you are only when you can recognize similarities. But some things should only seem similar, because if they're too much alike then they'll repeat themselves, and the fourth time will be exactly the same as the third, and the third like the second. And if you can foresee this, the work is dead. Immediately. Because as soon as you can predict the combinations, it's superfluous for the composer to proceed with them. So why do it? For me what's interesting is to present material that is evolving and then, from time to time, to bring back the model . . . but not in exactly the same way. So that a listener has to wonder, "Do I recognize it? Don't I recognize it? I'm not sure anymore. But I know that it has something to do with it." And in this sense I like ambiguity . . . But the kind of ambiguity that's simply a matter of games and style doesn't interest me at all.
This, for me, is the difference between, for instance, the late Picasso and say, Jackson Pollock. You look at one of Picasso's later paintings for two minutes, and you know very well how it's been done, you've understood everything. But if you observe the best works of Pollock, you're puzzled and you try to see and explore his labyrinth; and that makes the work interesting and sustains your attention. Of course, you can be lost at first, but after a kind of acquaintance with the painting, you've lived with it and it changes. But the simplistic works, in their relationships with you, don't change. And that's their death.
Another example in this respect is Kafka, because he also constructs a kind of labyrinth where the logic is perfect, but it leads you into areas that are completely unexpected, such that you think you're going one way and then you wind up in the other direction. And I've found that when you're composing a work, it's exactly the same—you don't want to know at the onset where you'll be at the end of the score. You have a vague idea, of course, but it's not a matter of going in a straight line, you have all kinds of divagations.
You've spoken about the legendary Chinese landscape painter who disappeared into his canvas. And in many of your works, you seem to create moments of almost Oriental transparency and particularity that are then counterbalanced by moments of chaos--suggesting a movement from hyperconsciousness to the realm of the unconscious.
I myself like this kind of approach, so it's reflected in what I'm doing. And since this is what I like in painting and literature, I also want to express it in music, because it's certainly my personality—to be crystal clear in the sense that sometimes the crystal reflects yourself and other times you can see through the material. So the work suggests a hiding and opening at the same time. And what I want most to create is a kind of deceiving transparency, as if you are looking in very transparent water and can't make an estimation of the depths.
And when you stir things up . . .
That's when you begin to know.
-- Pierre Boulez, interviewed by Jonathan Cott in Visions and Voices
Posted by rb at 8/09/2006
Monday, August 7
What is aura? A strange web of time and space: the unique appearance of a distance, however close at hand. On a summer noon, resting, to follow the line of a mountain range on the horizon or a twig which throws its shadow on the observer, until the moment or hour begins to be a part of its appearance-- that is to breathe the aura of those mountains, that twig.
-- Walter Benjamin, from "A Short History of Photography" in Artforum 15
Translated by Phil Patton
Posted by rb at 8/07/2006
Saturday, August 5
If one starts from the total height of the nave (from the ground to the crown of the vault), the next smaller stretch of the 'golden section' is the height of the nave up to the beginning of the vault, then the above-mentioned height of the wall pillars (from the columns of the arcades to the beginning of the vault), then the height of the columns of the arcades themselves (from the plinth to the springing-stone of the arch), and finally the distance between the springing-stone and the lower cornice. To this harmonic cadence is linked, as in the groundplan, the simple proportion of two to one, emphasized by the upper cornice on the wall pillar . . .
For this is a clarity, a pure accord, which the observer 'sees' or 'hears' rather than reckons. And this explains why people in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, who used the term 'Gothic' to mean 'barbaric', liked to cover the all too widely-spread rhythm of the stone body with neo-classical stucco statues, which they were able to 'understand literally'. But who could tame the upsurge of these arches, which starts already in the wall-pillars, and even in the clustered columns of the arcades? The arches are not merely laid on the pillars, nor are the pillars merely placed in front of the walls. All these things—arches, walls, and pillars—constitute an organic whole, comparable to the calyx of a flower, with its sepals and petals. The lily-like miracle of the high Gothic style can already be seen in the steeply rising divisions of the vaulting, even if in Chartres the basic stone, with its edges and curves, still remains rough; its heaviness is overcome; and wherever the vault-coverings join with the arched ribs, the steeply rising girders, and the stilted arcaded arches, they resemble leaves that have grown a natural growth.
-- Titus Burckhardt Chartres and the Birth of the Cathedral
Translated by William Stoddart
Posted by rb at 8/05/2006
Wednesday, August 2
. . . the snow had almost stopped and the sun was out, glittering on the rivers and thaw-streams, illuminating the land so that what had seemed like grey, monotonous scrub a few minutes before was now full of subtle colour: the rich browns and soft purples of the birch twigs; the pale yellows and greens of Salix lapponica; the soft oranges and blue-greys and reds of the mosses and lichens . . . I wanted to go for a last walk in this sudden theatre of light and colour: just a short hike to carry home the silent chill of the tundra in my bones and my nervous system . . . I struck out, heading along a reindeer track beside a wide, frozen lake, picking my way through the snow, listening to the thaw-streams as they trickled down the gentle slopes . . . I skirted the lake for a while, letting the May sunshine warm my face, then I turned back. The great thing about the sub-Arctic is that a few days, or an hour, or even a couple of minutes can be enough: it is a land full of signs, a land of sudden, local miracles. All you have to do is learn how to find them. That day, I thought I'd had my gift, with the sun and the colours and the sound of the thaw-water; then, a few hundred yards from where I'd left the car, I disturbed a flock of ptarmigan and they flared up out from the snow-covered scrub, white birds in a field of white, their wings whirring, a sound like tiny wheels turning in my flesh—and suddenly, with no sense that anything out of the ordinary was happening, and perhaps for no more than a few seconds, I was rising too, flaring up into the air, just like the birds, wingless, dizzy, my head full of whiteness. I don't want to make of this any more than it was: it lasted less than a minute, and it was in no way mystical or even inexplicable. At the same time, though, I do want to give that moment its due, because I did take to the air, I did fly and, for a few moments, I was one of those birds, attuned to the flock, familiar with the sky. Some miracles are purely personal and may be entirely imaginary, but they are miracles, nonetheless. I'd disturbed ptarmigan like this more than once—it's difficult not to, out on the tundra—but I had never felt this sensation before. For the first time, I had come close enough, and I had been caught up, carried away, offered the gift of a moment's flight.
-- John Burnside, from 'How to Fly' Granta 94
Posted by rb at 8/02/2006
Tuesday, August 1
On cool, damp evenings
at the end of July,
you can walk into a mist;
and the mist
seems to disappear—
from the dirt road; from
the hill; from the trees . . .
But in the full moon,
you can begin to see it again—
it gets closer,
leaving a ring of clearness
around you, as you walk down the hill
toward the house with the light
left in the window.
-- Lloyd Schwartz
Posted by rb at 8/01/2006
Monday, July 31
If there were water
And no rock
If there were rock
And also water
A pool among the rock
If there were the sound of water only
Not the cicada
And dry grass singing
But sound of water over a rock
Where the hermit-thrush sings in the pine trees
Drip drop drip drop drop drop drop
But there is no water
-- T.S. Eliot, in "What the Thunder Said" (from The Waste Land)
The Waste Land
T.S. Eliot reading The Waste Land (audio)
Hermit thrush (including audio file of its song and call)
Posted by rb at 7/31/2006
Sunday, July 30
Adam: There is a voice in the garden that tells me things.
Eve: The garden is full of voices sometimes. They put all sorts of thoughts into my head.
Adam: To me there is only one voice. It is very low; but it is so near that it is like a whisper from within myself. There is no mistaking it for any voice of the birds or beasts, or for your voice.
Eve: It is strange that I should hear voices from all sides and you only one from within. But I have some thoughts that come from within me and not from the voices. The thought that we must not cease to be comes from within.
-- George Bernard Shaw In the Beginning
Posted by rb at 7/30/2006
Thursday, July 27
J’avais beaucoup ramé, d’un grand geste net assoupi, les yeux au-dedans fixés sur l’entier oubli d’aller, comme le rire de l’heure coulait alentour. Tant d’immobilité paressait que frôlé d’un bruit inerte où fila jusqu’à moitié la yole, je ne vérifiai l’arrêt qu’a l’éticellement stable d’initiales sur les avirons mis à nu, qui me rappela à mon identité mondaine.
I had been rowing for a long time with a sweeping, rhythmical, drowsy stroke, my eyes within me fastened upon my utter forgetfulness of motion, while the laughter of the hour flowed round about. Immobility dozed everywhere so quietly that, when I was suddenly brushed by a dull sound which my boat half ran into, I could tell that I had stopped only by the quiet glittering of initials on the lifted oars. Then I was recalled to my place in the world of reality.
Qu’arrivait-il, où étais-je?
What was happening? Where was I?
II fallut, pour voir clair en l’aventure, me rémemore mon départ tôt, ce juillet de flamme, sur l’intervalle entre ses vegetations dormantes d’un toujours étroit et distrait ruisseau, en quête des floraisons d’eau et avec un dessein de reconnaître l’emplacement occupé par propriété de l’amie d’une amie, à qui je devais improvisé un bonjour. Sans que le ruban d’aucune herbe me retînt devant un paysage plus que l’autre chassé avec son reflet en l’onde par le même impartial coup de rame, je venais échouer dans quelque touffe de roseaux, terme mystérieux de ma course, au milieu de la rivière: où tout suite élargie en fluvial bosquet, elle étale un nonchaloir d’étang plissé des hésitations à partir qu’à une source.
To see to the bottom of my adventure I had to go back to my early departure, in that flaming July, through the rapid opening and sleeping vegetation of an ever narrow and absent-minded stream, my search for aquatic flowers, and my intention of reconnoitering an estate belonging to the friend of a friend, to whom I would pay my respects as best I could. No ribbon of grass had held me near any special landscape; all were left behind, along with their reflections in the water, by the same impartial stroke of my oars; and I had just now run aground on a tuft of reeds, the mysterious end of my travels, in the middle of the river. There, the river broadens out into a watery thicket and quietly displays the elegance of a pool, rippling like the hesitation of a spring before it gushes forth.
-- Stéphane Mallarmé, from 'Le Nénuphar Blanc,' ('The White Water-Lily')
Translated by Bradford Cook and Kevin Regalbuto
'The White Water-Lily' in Janus Literary Journal
Posted by rb at 7/27/2006
Tuesday, July 25
tell me, is it the fog or is it me?
show a country, speak of a culture, in whatever way,
and you'll enter into fiction while yearning for invisibility
and the formation of identity
the skill of behaviour, the craft of framing time, the art of paths
why travel, I would say, if not to be in touch with the ordinary in non-ordinary ways; to feel and think ordinarily while experiencing what can later become the extra-ordinary in an ordinary frame
start in a room sealed with darkness
and a door or a window immediately etches itself onto the viewer's mind
again, it's that unbearable fellow
traveller who won't stay behind,
whom one cannot get rid of
opening at dawn, closing at dusk
sorrows forming and falling away
like drops of water from a lotus leaf
every day from a blossoming lotus
every day from deep in the mud
someone's being reborn
nothing is natural, for the natural in its most natural is carefully created
in the matted room
a solitary painting
barely line, barely shape
that frail shadow
of a bodhisattva
shading its human frame
-- Trinh T. Minh-ha, excerpts from The Fourth Dimension
Trinh T. Minh-ha
about The Fourth Dimension
Posted by rb at 7/25/2006
Saturday, July 22
Tuesday, July 18
I like to stand on my beach, watching a long wave start breaking in many places, and see the curling water run north and south from the several beginnings, and collide in furious white pyramids built of the opposing energies. Splendid fountains often delight the eye. A towering and deep-bellied wave, toppling, encloses in its volute a quantity of air, and a few seconds after the spill this prisoned and compressed vapour bursts up through the boiling rush in feathery, foamy jets and geyser plumes.
-- Henry Beston The Outermost House
Posted by rb at 7/18/2006
Monday, July 17
At two, Victor did not make little spiral scribbles to express buttons or portholes, as a million tots do, why not you? Lovingly he made his circles perfectly round and perfectly closed. A three-year-old child, when asked to copy a square, shapes one recognizable corner and then is content to render the rest of the outline as wavy or circular; but Victor at three not only copied the researcher's (Dr. Liza Wind's) far from ideal square with contemptuous accuracy but added a smaller one beside the copy. He never went through that initial stage of graphic activity when infants draw Kopffüsslers (tadpole people), or humpty dumpties with L-like legs, and arms ending in rake prongs; in fact, he avoided the human form altogether and when pressed by Papa (Dr. Eric Wind) to draw Mama (Dr. Liza Wind), responded with a lovely undulation, which he said was her shadow on the new refrigerator. At four, he evolved an individual stipple. At five, he began to draw objects in perspective -- a side wall nicely foreshortened, a tree dwarfed by distance, one object half masking another. And at six, Victor already distinguished what so many adults never learn to see -- the colors of shadows, the difference in tint between the shadow of an orange and that of a plum or of an avocado pear.
To the Winds, Victor was a problem child insofar as he refused to be one . . .
-- Vladimir Nabokov Pnin
Posted by rb at 7/17/2006
Saturday, July 15
We went to Laguna with the children and that night, Saturday, took a basket of food and piles of old coats to the cove north of Emerald Bay, where there is a deserted camp. Cliffward from a beached log, we made a little pit, and Dave threw down jagged stones for Al to line it with. Later, one stone exploded three times, showing its scar very white in the coals and blackness. Noni and I picked up wood, which lay untidily against the rocks under the point of land near our log and our fire. When we had deep coals, we broiled steak and put it into buttered round buns. I liked mine better in my fingers, hot and dripping and tasting delicately of wood and smoke as only broiled beef can. Just before the steaks were done, there was that still moment of no color, when all the things and the sky and all the hills seem to exist in some other way than the one we suppose. Then we saw Venus, and then two others -- stars they were, though . . .
-- M.F.K. Fisher Stay Me, Oh Comfort Me
Posted by rb at 7/15/2006
Friday, July 14
Remember what it was like to be sung to sleep. If you are fortunate, the memory will be more recent than childhood. The repeated lines of words and music are like paths. These paths are circular and the rings they make are linked together like those of a chain. You walk along these paths and are led by them in circles which lead from one to the other, further and further away. The field upon which you walk and upon which the chain is laid is the song.
-- John Berger About Looking
Posted by rb at 7/14/2006
Thursday, July 13
Maximus, to himself
I have had to learn the simplest things
last. Which made for difficulties.
Even at sea I was slow, to get the hand out, or to cross
a wet deck.
The sea was not, finally, my trade.
But even my trade, at it, I stood estranged
from that which was most familiar. Was delayed,
and not content with the man's argument
that such postponement
is now the nature of
that we are all late
in a slow time,
that we grow up many
And the single
is not easily
It could be, though the sharpness (the achiote)
I note in others,
makes more sense
than my own distances. The agilities
they show daily
who do the world's
And who do nature's
as I have no sense
I have done either
I have made dialogues,
have discussed ancient texts,
have thrown what light I could, offered
But the known?
This, I have had to be given,
a life, love, and from one man
But sitting here
I look out as a wind
and water man, testing
I know the quarters
of the weather, where it comes from,
where it goes. But the stem of me,
this I took from their welcome,
or their rejection, of me
And my arrogance
was neither diminished
by the communication
It is undone business
I speak of, this morning,
with the sea
from my feet
-- Charles Olson
Charles Olson Home Page
Posted by rb at 7/13/2006
Tuesday, July 11
I was not light myself, I knew that, but I bathed in it as an element which blindness had suddenly brought much closer. I could feel light rising, spreading, resting on objects, giving them form, then leaving them.
-- Jacques Lusseyran And There Was Light
Translated by Elizabeth R. Cameron
Posted by rb at 7/11/2006
Monday, July 10
Saturday, July 8
What is more beautiful than night
and someone in your arms
that's what we love about art
it seems to prefer us and stays
if the moon or a gasping candle
sheds a little light or even dark
you become a landscape in a landscape
with rocks and craggy mountains
and valleys full of sweaty ferns
breathing and lifting into the clouds
which have actually come low
as a blanket of aspirations' blue
for once not a melancholy color
because it is looking back at us
there's no need for vistas we are one
in the complicated foreground of space
the architects are most courageous
because it stands for all to see
and for a long time just as
the words "I'll always love you"
impulsively appear in the dark sky
and we are happy and stick by them
like a couple of painters in neon allowing
the light to glow there over the river
-- Frank O'Hara
A Frank O'Hara Exhibit
Posted by rb at 7/08/2006
Friday, July 7
An excess of childhood is the germ of a poem . . . From poetic reverie, inspired by some great spectacle of the world to childhood reverie, there is a commerce of grandeur. And that is why childhood is at the origin of the greatest landscapes. Our childhood solitudes have given us the primitive immensities . . . The child sees everything big and beautiful. The reverie toward childhood returns us to the beauty of the first images.
-- Gaston Bachelard The Poetics of Reverie
Translated by Daniel Russell
Posted by rb at 7/07/2006
Thursday, July 6
Friday, June 30
In Haitian voodoo, all you need to begin a ceremony is a pole and people. You begin to beat the drums and far away in Africa the gods hear your call. They decide to come to you, and as voodoo is a very practical religion, it takes into account the time that a god needs to cross the Atlantic. So you go on beating your drum, chanting and drinking rum. In this way, you prepare yourself. Then five or six hours pass and the gods fly in -- they circle above your heads, but it is not worth looking up as naturally they are invisible. This is where the pole becomes so vital. Without the pole nothing can link the visible and invisible worlds. The pole, like the cross, is the junction. Through the wood, earthed, the spirits slide, and now they are ready for the second step in their metamorphosis. Now they need a human vehicle, and they choose one of the participants. A kick, a moan or two, a short paroxysm on the ground and a man is possessed. He gets to his feet, no longer himself, but filled with the god. The god now has form. He is someone who can joke, get drunk and listen to everyone's complaints. The first thing that the priest, the Houngan, does when the god arrives is to shake him by the hand and ask him about his trip. He's a god all right, but he is no longer unreal: he is there, on our level, attainable. The ordinary man or woman now can talk to him, pump his hand, argue, curse him, go to bed with him -- and so nightly, the Haitian is in contact with the great powers and mysteries that rule his day.
In the theatre, the tendency for centuries has been to put the actor at a remote distance, on a platform, framed, decorated, lit, painted, in high shoes -- so as to help to persuade the ignorant that he is holy, that his art is sacred. Did this express reverence? Or was there behind it a fear that something would be exposed if the light were too bright, the meeting too near? Today, we have exposed the sham. But we are rediscovering that a holy theatre is still what we need. So where should we look for it? In the clouds or on the ground?
-- Peter Brook The Empty Space
Posted by rb at 6/30/2006
Thursday, June 29
I write diligently, but not so rapidly as I had hoped. I find the book requires more care and thought than the "Scarlet Letter"; -- also, I have to wait oftener for a mood. The Scarlet Letter being all in one tone, I had only to get my pitch, and could then go on interminably. Many passages of this book ought to be finished with the minuteness of a Dutch picture, in order to give them their proper effect. Sometimes, when tired of it, it strikes me that the whole is an absurdity, from beginning to end; but the fact is, in writing a romance, a man is always -- or always ought to be -- careering on the utmost verge of a precipitous absurdity, and the skill lies in coming as close as possible, without actually tumbling over.
-- Nathaniel Hawthorne, on the writing of The House of the Seven Gables, Letter to James T. Fields (3 November 1850)
Posted by rb at 6/29/2006
Wednesday, June 28
And still I gaze -- and with how blank an eye!
And those thin clouds above, in flakes and bars,
That give away their motion to the stars;
Those stars, that glide behind them or between,
Now sparkling, now bedimmed, but always seen:
Yon crescent Moon, as fixed as if it grew
In its cloudless, starless lake of blue;
I see them all so excellently fair,
I see, not feel, how beautiful they are!
My genial spirits fail;
And what can these avail
To lift the smothering weight from off my breast?
It were a vain endeavour,
Though I should gaze for ever
On that green light that lingers in the west:
I may not hope from outward forms to win
The passion and the life, whose fountains are within.
-- Samuel Taylor Coleridge, from "Dejection: An Ode"
Posted by rb at 6/28/2006
Monday, June 26
So it is with life, and especially with love. There is no point. There is nothing you can cut out, except falsity, which isn't love or life. But the love itself is a flow, two little streams of feeling, one from the woman, one from the man, that flow and flow and never stop, and sometimes they twinkle with stars, sometimes they chafe, but still they flow on, intermingling; and if they rise to a floweriness like a daisy, that is part of the flow; and they will inevitably die down again, which is also part of a flow. And one relationship may produce many flowerinesses, as a daisy plant produces many daisies; but they will all die down again as the summer passes, though the green plant itself need not die. If flowers didn't fade they wouldn't be flowers, they'd be artificial things. But there are roots to faded flowers and in the root the flow continues and continues. And only the flow matters; live and let live, love and let love.
-- D.H. Lawrence Phoenix II
Posted by rb at 6/26/2006
Saturday, June 24
Friday, June 23
The one great glory of the film is this language. The greatest credit I can assign to those who made the film is that they have loved and served the language so well. I don't feel that much of the delivery is inspired; it is merely so good, so right, that the words set loose in the graciously designed world of the screen, like so many uncaged birds, fully enjoy and take care of themselves.
-- James Agee, on Laurence Olivier's Henry V, in Agee on Film
Posted by rb at 6/23/2006
Thursday, June 22
Tuesday, June 20
...it seems to me that the boy I was, was aware of the dangers I have fallen into now — for didn't I read in many legends of purposes forgotten, of forests full of thorns, of grails unnoticed? My mistake was to think that my own nature would make everything easy. Perhaps I was less a child when the purpose was clearer, and now that I am old I am encumbered by many childish things. Yet the fact remains that I am and was the same person: when I was a child there were moments when I stood up within my whole life, as though it were a burning room, or as though I were rowing alone on a sea whose waves were filled with many small tongues of fire...
-- Stephen Spender World Within World
Posted by rb at 6/20/2006
Friday, June 16
Thursday, June 15
Speechlessness: that is the great sorrow of nature (and for the sake of her redemption the life and language of man -- not only, as is supposed, of the poet -- are in nature) ... Lament, however, is the most undifferentiated, impotent expression of language; it contains scarcely more than the sensuous breath; and even where there is only a rustling of plants, in it there is always a lament. Because she is mute, she mourns.
-- Walter Benjamin Illuminations
Posted by rb at 6/15/2006