Tuesday, February 28

traveling bag

I still treasure an elegant, elegantly scuffed piece of luggage once owned by my mother. Its travels through space are finished, but it still hums gently through time for I use it to keep old family letters and such curious documents as my birth certificate. I am a couple of years younger than this antique valise, fifty centimeters long by thirty-six broad and sixteen high, technically a heavyish necessaire de voyage of pigskin, with "H. N." elaborately interwoven in thick silver under a similar coronet, it had been bought in 1897 for my mother's wedding trip to Florence. In 1917 it transported from St. Petersburg to the Crimea and then to London a handful of jewels. Around 1930, it lost to a pawnbroker its expensive receptacles of crystal and silver leaving empty the cunningly contrived leathern holders on the inside of the lid. But that loss has been amply recouped during the thirty years it then traveled with me -- from Prague to Paris, from St. Nazaire to New York and through the mirrors of more than two hundred motel rooms and rented houses, in forty-six states. The fact that of our Russian heritage the hardiest survivor proved to be a traveling bag is both logical and emblematic.

-- Vladimir Nabokov Vogue interview (April 1972)

Monday, February 27

Marine Surface, Low Overcast

Out of churned aureoles
This buttermilk, this
herringbone of albatross,
floss of mercury,
déshabille of spun
aluminum, furred with a velouté
of looking glass,

a stuff so single
it might almost be lifted,
folded over, crawled underneath
or slid between, as nakedness-
caressing sheets or donned
and worn, the train-borne
trapping of an unrepeatable

this wind-silver
rumpling as of oatfields,
a suede of meadow,
a nub, a nap, a mane of lustre
lithe as the slide
of muscle in its
sheath of skin,

laminae of living tissue,
mysteries of flex,
affinities of texture,
subtleties of touch, of pressure
and release, the suppleness
of long and intimate

new synchronies of fingertip,
of breath, of sequence,
entities that still can rouse,
can stir or solder,
whip to a froth, or force
to march in strictly
hierarchical formation

down galleries of sheen, of flux,
cathedral domes that seem to hover
overturned and shaken like a basin
to the noise of voices,
from a rustle to the jostle
of such rush-hour

no loom, no spinneret, no forge, no factor,
no process whatsoever, patent
applied or not applied for,
no five-year formula, no fabric
for which pure imagining,
except thus prompted,
can invent the equal.

-- Amy Clampitt

Monday, February 20


...a forest on the outskirts of the light-strung field. The magic show music plays as Sandy is seen running, running; some of the field people follow him in the distance. He calls after someone, as if trying to delay him from leaving. He stands by a clearing, talking to an offscreen strange-looking creature named Og. Science-fiction-like sounds buzz in the background.

SANDY (Gesturing, calling offscreen) Wait a minute! Don't go! I've got some questions.

OG (Offscreen, speaking in a vibrating spacelike voice) We can't breathe your air.

SANDY Yeah, at the rate we're going, we're not gonna be able to either. Do you-you guys gotta tell me, why is there so much human suffering?

The camera cuts to Og, the creature Sandy was addressing. Og is a Martian, wearing a robotlike suit and concealing helmet. Behind him are other space creatures; a large white light, the spaceship, sits near the trees in the wood's clearing.

OG (In a vibrating voice) This is unanswerable.

SANDY Is there a God?

OG (In a vibrating voice) These are the wrong questions.

SANDY Look, here's my point. If nothing lasts, why am I bothering to-to make films, or do anything, for that matter?

OG (In a vibrating voice) We enjoy your films. Particularly the early funny ones.

SANDY But the human condition is so discouraging.

OG (In a vibrating voice) There are some nice moments, too.

[skipping ahead]

SANDY (Gesturing) But shouldn't I stop making movies and do something that counts, like-like helping blind people or becoming a missionary or something?

OG (In a vibrating voice) Let me tell you, you're not the missionary type. You'd never last. And-and, incidentally, you're also not Superman, you're a comedian. You want to do mankind a real service? Tell funnier jokes.

-- Woody Allen Stardust Memories

Saturday, February 18

The Statues

Pythagoras planned it. Why did the people stare?
His numbers, though they moved or seemed to move
In marble or in bronze, lacked character.
But boys and girls, pale from the imagined love
Of solitary beds, knew what they were,
That passion could bring character enough,
And pressed at midnight in some public place
Live lips upon a plummet-measured face.

No! Greater than Pythagoras, for the men
That with a mallet or a chisel' modelled these
Calculations that look but casual flesh, put down
All Asiatic vague immensities,
And not the banks of oars that swam upon
The many-headed foam at Salamis.
Europe put off that foam when Phidias
Gave women dreams and dreams their looking-glass.

One image crossed the many-headed, sat
Under the tropic shade, grew round and slow,
No Hamlet thin from eating flies, a fat
Dreamer of the Middle Ages. Empty eyeballs knew
That knowledge increases unreality, that
Mirror on mirror mirrored is all the show.
When gong and conch declare the hour to bless
Grimalkin crawls to Buddha's emptiness.

When Pearse summoned Cuchulain to his side.
What stalked through the post Office? What intellect,
What calculation, number, measurement, replied?
We Irish, born into that ancient sect
But thrown upon this filthy modern tide
And by its formless spawning fury wrecked,
Climb to our proper dark, that we may trace
The lineaments of a plummet-measured face.

-- William Butler Yeats

Friday, February 17


Hello, Boris! Six in the morning, with everything blowing and howling. I just ran to the well between rows of trees (two opposite pleasures: an empty pail, a full pail) and I greeted you with my whole body, and with the wind in my face. Back at the house (now with a full one -- the second in the parentheses), everyone was still asleep. I stopped and lifted my head to see you. Thus I live with you, morning and evening, getting up in you, lying down in you.

-- Marina Tsvetayeva, Letter to Boris Pasternak (26 May 1926), from Letters: Summer 1926
Translated by Margaret Wettlin

We are deep in a dark wood.
I warm you with my blood.
Listen to me as I lean against you!
Surely this is far more true

Than poetry.

-- Marina Tsvetayeva, from "Poem of the End"
Translated by Paul Schmidt

more on Marina Tsvetayeva

Thursday, February 16

Mont Sainte-Victoire by Paul Cézanne
Mont Sainte-Victoire by Paul Cézanne
larger image)

Cézanne's perception

... It is the appleyness of the portrait of Cézanne's wife that makes it so permanently interesting: the appleyness, which carries with it also the feeling of knowing the other side as well, the side you don't see, the hidden side of the moon. For the intuitive apperception of the apple is so tangibly aware of the apple that it is aware of it all round, not only just of the front. The eye sees only fronts, and the mind, on the whole, is satisfied with fronts. But intuition needs all-aroundness, and instinct needs insideness. The true imagination is for ever curving round to the other side, to the back of the presented appearance.

... When he makes Madame Cézanne most still, most appley, he starts making the universe slip uneasily about her. It was part of his desire: to make the human form, the life form, come to rest. Not static -- on the contrary. Mobile but come to rest. And at the same time he set the unmoving material world into motion. Walls twitch and slide, chairs bend or rear up a little, clothes curl like burning paper. Cézanne did this partly to satisfy his intuitive feeling that nothing is really statically at rest -- a feeling he seems to have had strongly -- as when he watched the lemons shrivel or go mildewed, in his still-life group, which he left lying there so long so that he could see that gradual flux of change: and partly to fight the cliché, which says that the inanimate world is static, and that walls are still. In his fight with the cliché he denied that walls are still and chairs are static. In his intuitive self he felt for their changes.

And these two activities of his consciousness occupy his later landscapes. In the best landscapes we are fascinated by the mysterious shiftiness of the scene under our eyes; it shifts about as we watch it. And we realize, with a sort of transport, how intuitively true this is of landscape. It is not still. It has its own weird anima, and to our wide-eyed perception it changes like a living animal under our gaze.

-- D.H. Lawrence Phoenix: The Posthumous Papers of D.H. Lawrence, 1936

Wednesday, February 15

getting lost

Woolf was not a romantic, not a celebrant of that getting lost that is erotic love, in which the beloved becomes an invitation to become who you secretly, dormantly, like a locust underground waiting for the seventeen-year call, already are in hiding, that love for the other that is also a desire to reside in your own mystery in the mystery of others. Her getting lost was solitary, like Thoreau’s.

-- Rebecca Solnit A Field Guide to Getting Lost

via The Atlantic

Tuesday, February 14

that light

It had been a cool day and the sky had been open and there was the light of a thousand winters; it was short, penetrating and expansive; it went with you everywhere, it wouldn't leave you. Like perfume, it was in the most unexpected places; it seemed to have entered into the most secret corners of one's being. It was a light that left no shadow and every shadow lost its depth; because of it, all substance lost its density; it was as though you looked through everything, through the trees on the other side of the wall, through your own self. Your self was as opaque as the sky and as open. It was intense and to be with it was to be passionate, not the passion of feeling or desire, but a passion that would never wither or die. It was a strange light, it exposed everything and made it vulnerable, and what had no protection was love. You couldn't be what you were, you were burnt out, without leaving any ashes and unexpectedly there was not a thing but that light.

-- J. Krishnamurti Krishnamurti's Notebook

Monday, February 13

listening for something

You may be sitting in a room reading this book. Imagine one note struck on the piano. Immediately that one note is enough to change the atmosphere of the room ...

My own belief is that all music has an expressive power, some more and some less, but that all music has a certain meaning behind the notes and that that meaning behind the notes constitutes, after all, what the piece is saying, what the piece is about. This whole problem can be stated quite simply by asking, "Is there a meaning to music?" My answer to that would be, "Yes." And "Can you state in so many words what the meaning is?" My answer to that would be, "No." Therein lies the difficulty.

-- Aaron Copland What to Listen for in Music

Thursday, February 9


S'pose for a moment that we could excise Weight-Lifting from the events of the Vocal Olympics -- and substitute Musical Feathers.

S'pose the gold medal were given not for kilograms of decibels, but rather to the team which could keep afloat the greatest number of Musical Feathers. S'pose those feathers could pilot themselves lightly through Time and Tonal Space in the most exacting, elaborate and labyrinthine of contrapuntal maneuvers, never at less than the full speed of sound, and never obstructing, obscuring or deflecting other feathered rights of flight, until they finally floated to common rest in a scarcely audible millisecond of mutual fulfillment.

S'pose what this world really needs is a still small voice?

-- Robert Shaw, on rehearsing Bach The Robert Shaw Reader (ed. Robert Blocker)

Wednesday, February 8

unruly love

Ay me! for aught that I could ever read,
Could ever hear by tale or history,
The course of true love never did run smooth.

-- William Shakespeare A Midsummer Night's Dream

Tuesday, February 7

the well

When Andreas was a child he had asked his mother where he had come from. And his mother answered him by showing him the well near their house. In his solitudes, the child returned to the well. His reveries in front of the well would sound the origins of his being. The child's mother would come and tear him away from this obsssion with the origin, this obsession with the water lost in the depths of the earth. The well is too strong an image for a dreaming child.

-- Karl Philipp Moritz Andreas Hartknopf

When, at the pinnacle of age, at the end of age, one sees such reveries, he draws back a bit, for he recognizes that childhood is the well of being. Dreaming this way about unfathomable childhood which is one archetype, I am well aware that I am taken by another archetype. The well is an archetype, one of the gravest images of the human soul.

-- Gaston Bachelard The Poetics of Reverie
Translated by Daniel Russell

Monday, February 6


A box of teak, a box of sandalwood,
A brass-ringed spyglass in a case,
A coin, leaf-thin with many polishings,
Last kingdom of a gold forgotten face,
These lie about the room, and daily shine
When new-built ships set out towards the sun.

It they had any roughness, any flaw,
An unfamiliar scent, all this has gone;
They are no more than ornaments, or eyes,
No longer knowing what they looked upon,
Turned sightless; rivers of Eden, rivers of blood
Once blinded them, and were not understood.

The hands that chose them rust upon a stick.
Let my hands find such symbols, that can be
Unnoticed in the casual light of day,
Lying in wait for half a century
To split chance lives across, that had not dreamed
Such coasts had echoed, or such seabirds screamed.

-- Philip Larkin

Collected Poems by Philip Larkin

Sunday, February 5


Chartres interior
image from l'Association Chartres, sanctuaire du Monde

It seems that the knowledge of the Golden Mean was greatest at Chartres. It is the largest gothic span that was done up to that date; nobody knows how they calculated it, nobody knows how they had the audacity to think it would stand up, and it has not shifted in seven hundred years. The curvature of the huge interior is based precisely on a five-pointed star and therefore embodies the Golden Mean. The height above the ground has to do with the delayed action of the voice going out and coming back. So, it's the old Sufi saying -- if you ask "Where is God?" the response is, "Here I am." So the whole experience of the chanting rising to the vaulting and returning or coming back down is like the angels replying to you and yet of course it is yourself. It's an amazing experience. You can have that experience if you go very early in the morning and do some personal chanting. Then you can hear this delayed action. It is good to remember that it was constructed for Gregorian chanting; it was not constructed for the organ, or for orchestras; it was constructed for plainchant, and when plainchant is sung there the whole thing suddenly has life; it's staggering. That shape is not only the shape that your body is subtly drawn into, but of the way the sound is returned to you.

-- Keith Critchlow "The Golden Proportion" Parabola 16:4

more on the architecture of Notre-Dame of Chartres

Friday, February 3

what is love?

What is love? For all that I have read every word that certain self-styled sages have written concerning its nature, for all that I have philosophized on it myself as I have grown older, I will never admit that it is either a trifle or a vanity of vanities. It is a kind of madness over which philosophy has no power; a sickness to which man is prone at every time of life and which is incurable if it strikes in old age. Inexpressible love! God of nature! Bitterness than which nothing is sweeter, sweetness than which nothing is more bitter! Divine monster which can only be defined by paradoxes!

-- Giacomo Casanova History of My Life
Translated by Willard R. Trask

on Giacomo Casanova

Thursday, February 2

The Stolen Branch

In the night we shall go in
to steal
a flowering branch.

We shall climb over the wall
in the darkness of the alien garden,
two shadows in the shadow.

Winter is not yet gone,
and the apple tree appears
suddenly changed
into a cascade of fragrant stars.

In the night we shall go in
up to its trembling firmament,
and your little hands and mine
will steal the stars.

And silently,
to our house,
in the night and the shadow,
with your steps will enter
perfume's silent step
and with starry feet
the clear body of spring.

-- Pablo Neruda
Translated by Donald D. Walsh

Wednesday, February 1

honey in the lamplight

Vigil of my fiftieth birthday. A bright, snowy afternoon, delicate blue clouds of snow blowing down off the frozen trees ... The past: I am inarticulate about it now ... I suppose I regret most my lack of love, my selfishness and glibness (covering a deep shyness and need of love) with girls who, after all, did love me, I think, for a time. My great fault was my inability really to believe it and my efforts to get complete assurance and perfect fulfillment ... What I find most in my whole life is illusion. Wanting to be something of which I have formed a concept. I hope I will get free of that now because that is going to be a struggle. Yet I have to be something that I ought to be -- I have to meet a certain demand for order and inner light and tranquillity ... Snow, silence, the talking fire, the watch on the table. Sorrow. What would be the use of going into all of this? I will get cleaned up (my hands are dirty) ... [S]o many misunderstand the meaning of contemplation and solitude and condemn it. But I no longer have the slightest need to argue with them. I have nothing to justify and nothing to defend. I need only defend this vast simple emptiness from my own self, and the rest is clear... The beautiful jeweled shining of honey in the lamplight. Festival!

-- Thomas Merton (b. 31 January 1915), from journal entries for 30 January 1965 and 31 January 1965 Dancing in the Water of Life