Thursday, August 31

surfaces of light

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

Tuesday, August 29

always the same

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

about Eugène Delacroix

Friday, August 25

one day

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

Kilimanjaro 2006 Blog

(Simon Winnall and Ian Winstanley are raising money for ME research by climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in September)

Thursday, August 24

visible current

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

Monaldi: A Tale

Friday, August 18

some nights

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.

-- Rumi
Translated by John Moyne and Coleman Barks

Thursday, August 17

under every deep

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'


Wednesday, August 16

everything is said

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

Roland Barthes

Cy Twombly's Wilder Shores of Love

Tuesday, August 15

a ripple of wind

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

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

Mark Doty

Friday, August 11

the letters of your name

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

Wednesday, August 9

repetition and difference

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

Visions and Voices

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

Saturday, August 5

a pure accord

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

Wednesday, August 2

carried away

. . . 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

Tuesday, August 1

In the Mist

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