Tuesday, April 29
And what is beauty? a mere quintessence,
Whose life is not in being, but in seeming;
And therefore is not to all eyes the same,
But like a cozening picture, which one way
Shows like a crow, another like a swan;
And upon what ground is this beauty drawn?
-- George Chapman All Fools 1605
The Works of George Chapman
Posted by rb at 4/29/2008
Monday, April 28
When the colored thing is something whose color appearance changes as the quality of the daylight changes, e.g. the sea, there may be no simple answer to questions which seek to pinpoint the real color. Is the sea really green or grey or blue? Or greenish-blue or bluish-grey or grayish-bluish-green? Again we should not be too perturbed by indeterminacy.
-- Mark Johnston "How to Speak of the Colors" Readings on Color ed. Alex Byrne and David R. Hilbert
Posted by rb at 4/28/2008
Thursday, April 24
Wednesday, April 23
As she said this, she looked down at her hands, and was surprised to see that she had put on one of the Rabbit's little white kid gloves while she was talking. "How can I have done that?" she thought. "I must be growing small again." She got up and went to the table to measure herself by it, and found that, as nearly as she could guess, she was now about two feet high, and was going on shrinking rapidly: she soon found out that the cause of this was the fan she was holding, and she dropped it hastily, just in time to save herself from shrinking away altogether.
"That was a narrow escape!" said Alice, a good deal frightened at the sudden change, but very glad to find herself still in existence; "and now for the garden!" and she ran with all speed back to the little door: but alas! the little door was shut again, and the little golden key was lying on the glass table as before, "and things are worse than ever," thought the poor child, "for I never was so small as this before, never! And I declare it's too bad, that it is!"
As she said these words her foot slipped, and in another moment, splash! she was up to her chin in salt water. Her first idea was that she had somehow fallen into the sea, "and in that case I can go back by railway," she said to herself. (Alice had been to the seaside once in her life, and had come to the general conclusion, that wherever you go to on the English coast you find a number of bathing machines in the sea, some children digging in the sand with wooden spades, then a row of lodging houses, and behind them a railway station.) However she soon made out that she was in the pool of tears which she had wept when she was nine feet high.
"I wish I hadn't cried so much!" said Alice, as she swam about, trying to find her way out. "I shall be punished for it now, I suppose, by being drowned in my own tears! That will be a queer thing, to be sure! however, everything is queer to-day."
Just then she heard something splashing about in the pool a little way off, and she swam nearer to make out what it was: at first she thought it must be a walrus or hippopotamus, but then she remembered how small she was now, and she soon made out that it was only a mouse, that had slipped in like herself.
"Would it be of any use, now," thought Alice, "to speak to this mouse? Everything is so out-of-the-way down here, that I should think very likely it can talk: at any rate there's no harm in trying." So she began: "O Mouse, do you know the way out of this pool? I am very tired of swimming about here, O Mouse!" (Alice thought this must be the right way of speaking to a mouse: she had never done such a thing before, but she remembered having seen in her brother's Latin Grammar, "A mouse—of a mouse—to a mouse—a mouse—O mouse!") The mouse looked at her rather inquisitively, and seemed to her to wink with one of its little eyes, but it said nothing.
"Perhaps it doesn't understand English," thought Alice. "I daresay it's a French mouse, come over with William the Conquerer." (For, with all her knowledge of history, Alice had no very clear notion how long ago anything had happened.) So she began again: "Ou est ma chatte?" which was the first sentence in her French lesson-book. The Mouse gave a sudden leap out of the water, and seemed to quiver all over with fright. "Oh, I beg your pardon!" cried Alice hastily, afraid that she had hurt the poor animal's feelings. "I quite forgot you didn't like cats."
"Not like cats!" cried the Mouse, in a shrill, passionate voice. "Would you like cats if you were me?"
...It was high time to go, for the pool was getting quite crowded with the birds and animals that had fallen into it: there was a Duck and a Dodo, a Lory and an Eaglet, and several other curious creatures. Alice led the way, and the whole party swam to the shore.
-- Lewis Carroll Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
Posted by rb at 4/23/2008
Saturday, April 19
You see, I think Mussorgsky was accurate in his observation and wrong in his concept: I think his observation that Mendelssohn was a strait-laced man who liked nice, tidy sixteen-bar paragraphs was quite correct. What he forgot to notice was that Mendelssohn was inventive on another level altogether. In order to comprehend his invention, one has to first accept that placidity that is the most abundant feature of his music. Having accepted that, Mendelssohn can then surprise you by the gentlest movement; he needs only the tiniest change, as they say in the jazz field, to make his effect felt. Whereas in the case of Mussorgsky, he has to hit you over the head with a forte-piano contrast, or a quasi-modal moment or something—I happen to like Mussorgsky, by the way, I really do. He wasn't very competent technically, of course, but then neither were the Beatles. However I think that the point was indicative of a misunderstanding—and this wouldn't apply just to composers—that has always muddied the waters for artists who assume that invention has something to do with the noise you make while breaking rules. Needless to say, I don't think it does. I think it has to do with the subtlety with which you adhere to premises somewhat different from those that may be expected of you.
-- Glenn Gould, in Conversations With Glenn Gould by Jonathan Cott
Posted by rb at 4/19/2008
Friday, April 18
And here is a magic whose fragrances liberate the initiated hero's soul from all the bonds accumulated by reason. It ransacks reason and inertia, to leave in its place, in his heart, nothing besides Love.
An abyss thousands of years deep engulfs all visible materiality in the impalpable realm of sound; it heaves up the immortal spirit, only to plunge it into a fatality of delight.
Now an invincible element, he approaches the meadows of dream, the ladders of incense, the glades of the Western constellations, the blessed fields of beans in flower, in the dew of the world's first dawnings. He is on the peaks. He is in the empire of ecstasy. All is clear: the Idea is diamantine.
Before the eyes of his spirit, the hieroglyphic alphabet of the Intelligible World scintillates in scattered stars against the crystal horizons. The fragrances of music are columns of magic smoke. A young lake of perfumes, blossoming with water-lilies, rises out of the subterranean night and becomes for him the whole sea.
And here a note springs forth in purity from the invisible sources of the land of life. It is the fountain of the Infinite. It is a new language. Like the light, it is the daughter of the breath which gave it birth.
But leaning close to him appeared the face of the "Beloved": a divine being, having in herself the gifts of expression and of silence—even more expressive by silences than by tones or accents, more lively in rhythms and syncopations than in ornaments and grace-notes, more moving by subtle modes than by sheer power...
And he himself...now holds in his right hand the key of power and of happiness. By the irresistible force, rightly directed, of the harmonies of sound—that is to say, of the electronic rhythm which, as modern science puts it, ensures with a perpetual movement the cohesion of molecules in all bodies, in animal, vegetable, and mineral life—he can flatten the menace of Jericho's impregnable walls, or raise serenely, like Amphion with the sound of his lyre, the walls of Thebes whose stones came and placed themselves in rhythm and in meter, one on top of the other.
-- Joseph-Charles-Victor Mardrus La Toute-Puissance de l'Adepte
Quoted by Joscelyn Godwin in The Mystery of the Seven Vowels
Posted by rb at 4/18/2008
Wednesday, April 16
Do not be an embodiment of fame; do not be a storehouse of schemes; do not be an undertaker of projects; do not be a proprietor of wisdom. Wander where there is no trail. Hold on to all that you have received from Heaven but do not think you have gotten anything. Be empty, that is all. The Perfect man uses his mind like a mirror - going after nothing, welcoming nothing, responding but not storing.
via Franklin Einspruch
Posted by rb at 4/16/2008
Sunday, April 13
More than for any other writer, Shakespeare's words stand separate from his life. This was a man so good at disguising his feelings that we can't ever be sure that he had any. We know that Shakespeare used words to powerful effect, and we may reasonably presume that he had feelings. What we don't know, and can barely even guess at, is where the two intersected.
-- Bill Bryson Shakespeare: The World As Stage
Quoted by Terry Teachout here
Posted by rb at 4/13/2008
Saturday, April 12
Like a drop of water is my heart
Laid upon her soft and rosy palm,
Turned whichever way her hand doth turn,
Trembling in an ecstasy of calm.
Like a broken rose-leaf is my heart,
Held within her close and burning clasp,
Breathing only dying sweetness out,
Withering beneath the fatal grasp.
Like a vapoury cloudlet is my heart,
Growing into beauty near the sun,
Gaining rainbow hues in her embrace,
Melting into tears when it is done.
Like mine own dear harp is this my heart,
Dumb, without the hand that sweeps its strings;
Though the hand be careless or be cruel,
When it comes, my heart breaks forth and sings.
-- Sarah Williams, from "Youth and Maidenhood"
Twilight Hours, a Legacy of Verse by Sarah Williams
Posted by rb at 4/12/2008
Friday, April 11
The artist in particular has always been someone who had to get away in order to understand what he was part of. One must leave town, says Nietzsche, to see how high its towers are. (Remember Wordsworth's rowboat, in The Prelude: it had to carry him away a distance before he saw the dimensions of the crag he'd been anchored under.)
But Nietzsche's Zarathustra grows lonely, and contemplates returning from self-imposed exile into the human community. (It is ourselves we humans are farthest away from, Nietzsche will write elsewhere.) And it is apparent that, while the seer may be solitary, the sayer requires an audience. This double impulse, both to and from others, drives—and divides—writing as it does writers. Not only do we have the feeling that every man is an island. But also, since Heidegger, an extra loneliness arises: even when we find conversant company, we come to entertain a modern suspicion: that language is the only one doing the talking.
-- Heather McHugh Broken English: Poetry and Partiality
Posted by rb at 4/11/2008
Thursday, April 10
I think also finally
Of the silk-noise, solitary, subtle
Of a fire creating a whole room
By a self-devouring.
It speaks to itself.
Or, almost for its own sake,
It speaks to me.
-- Paul Valéry
Translated by Hilary Corke
(Quoted by Heather McHugh in Broken English: Poetry and Partiality)
Posted by rb at 4/10/2008
Wednesday, April 9
"The rest I leave to silence," says the watchman at the outset of Aeschylus's Agamemnon. And then he adds, in a translation English audiences might take to be directed at the very presence of an audience: "The house itself, could it take voice, might speak aloud and plain. I speak to those who understand, but if they fail, I have forgotten everything."
What paradoxes of time arise here! If the listeners (in that watchman's future) will not understand, then he (the one whose job it is to pass on signs) has already forgotten what he knew. This seems an odd forgetting, a consequence of something that happens after it—a forgetting caused not by the forgetter's incapacity but by an incapacity in potential co-rememberers. It argues, by implication, for an odd kind of memory—a memory contingent on its seconding in others, cognition needing recognition, according needing recording. Such memory is collective memory, contingent on comparison, confirmation, consensuality—something prefixed with a with. The co-knower, the receiver, is needed to keep the signaller's art and meaning from atrophy.
The memory the watchman speaks of, then, is not only contingent (on his speaking being heard and understood, a theme which will arise again and again in this play) but also expedient. For a shared understanding is a less dangerous one, and some threats make forgetting safer, for the understander who must otherwise stand it all alone...
The watchman is speaking about the perennial condition of art (the muses' mother was Mnemosyne, memory). If we don't participate with the watchman, with the reader and conveyer of signs, he will forget the art of relaying, relating: and he will forget for all of us.
-- Heather McHugh Broken English: Poetry and Partiality
Posted by rb at 4/09/2008
Sunday, April 6
Saturday, April 5
Hic. On the grey sand beside the shallow stream
Under your old wind-beaten tower, where still
A lamp burns on beside the open book
That Michael Robartes left, you walk in the moon
And though you have passed the best of life still trace
Enthralled by the unconquerable delusion
Ille. By the help of an image
I call to my own opposite, summon all
That I have handled least, least looked upon.
Hic. And I would find myself and not an image.
Ille. That is our modern hope and by its light
We have lit upon the gentle, sensitive mind
And lost the old nonchalance of the hand;
Whether we have chosen chisel, pen or brush
We are but critics, or but half create...
Hic. Why should you leave the lamp
Burning alone beside an open book
And trace these characters upon the sands;
A style is found by sedentary toil
And by the imitation of great masters.
Ille. Because I seek an image, not a book.
Those men that in their writings are most wise
Own nothing but their blind, stupefied hearts.
I call to the mysterious one who yet
Shall walk the wet sands by the edge of the stream
And look most like me, being indeed my double,
And prove of all imaginable things
The most unlike, being my anti-self,
And standing by these characters disclose
All that I seek; and whisper it as though
He were afraid the birds, who cry aloud
Their momentary cries before it is dawn,
Would carry it away to blasphemous men.
-- William Butler Yeats, lines from "Ego Dominus Tuus"
I think that all happiness depends on the energy to assume the mask of some other self; that all joyous or creative life is a re-birth as something not oneself, something which has no memory and is created in a moment and perpetually renewed. We put on a grotesque or solemn painted face to hide us from the terrors of judgment, invent an imaginative Saturnalia where one forgets reality, a game like that of a child, where one loses the infinite pain of self-realization. Perhaps all the sins and energies of the world are but its flight from an infinite blinding beam.
-- William Butler Yeats Per Amica Silentia Lunae
Michael Robartes and the Dancer
Ego Dominus Tuus
Posted by rb at 4/05/2008
Friday, April 4
To wake into the afternoon for you
Is a familiar gesture. Upon the eye,
As dawn to the shade-embroidered fountain brings
The young fern's wisdom, the first world takes shape
Where shadow and light on a white ceiling meet;
And the late garden builds its trellises
And the machinery of light begins.
To wake is to become what one first sees.
So, waking upon beaches, one is a shell,
A tide; or, afternoons in an apartment
Above a garden, levels of shade and sun
Through which you wade like eyes in tapestries
That wake only when struck by light and take
Advantage of this grace to change our sleep
Or plant an image of our wakening.
So you, with a Medici smile, becoming not
A twilight personage but the danceable gloom
And music of all shade, wake trailing song
As in an hour of hot brilliance what
Happens is a wrung memory of light
And all shade is what music we have rung.
-- James Merrill
Posted by rb at 4/04/2008
Thursday, April 3
He fell to thinking, among other things, about his epileptic condition, that there was a stage in it just before the fit itself (if the fit occurred while he was awake), when suddenly, amidst the sadness, the darkness of soul, the pressure, his brain would momentarily catch fire, as it were, and all his life's forces would be strained at once in an extraordinary impulse. The sense of life, of self-awareness, increased nearly tenfold in these moments, which flashed by like lightning. His mind, his heart were lit up with an extraordinary light; all his agitation, all his doubts, all his worries were as if placated at once, resolved in a sort of sublime tranquility, filled with serene, harmonious joy, and hope, filled with reason and ultimate cause. But these moments, these glimpses were still only a presentiment of that ultimate second (never more than a second) from which the fit itself began. That second was, of course, unbearable. Reflecting on that moment afterwards, in a healthy state, he had often said to himself that all those flashes and glimpses of a higher self-sense and self-awareness, and therefore of the "highest being," were nothing but an illness, a violation of the normal state, and if so, then this was not the highest being at all but, on the contrary, should be counted as the very lowest. And yet he finally arrived at an extremely paradoxical conclusion: "So what if it is an illness?" he finally decided. "Who cares that it's an abnormal strain, if the result itself, if the moment of the sensation, remembered and examined in a healthy state, turns out to be the highest degree of harmony, beauty, gives a hitherto unheard-of and unknown feeling of fullness, measure, reconciliation, and an ecstatic, prayerful merging with the highest synthesis of life?" These vague expressions seemed quite comprehensible to him, though still too weak. That it was indeed "beauty and prayer," that it was indeed "the highest synthesis of life," he could not doubt, nor could he admit of any doubts. Was he dreaming some sort of abnormal and nonexistent visions at that moment, as from hashish, opium, or wine, which humiliate the reason and distort the soul? He could reason about it sensibly once his morbid state was over. Those moments were precisely only an extraordinary intensification of self-awareness—it there was a need to express this condition in a single word—self-awareness and at the same time a self-sense immediate in the highest degree. If in that second, that is, in the very last conscious moment before the fit, he had happened to succeed in saying clearly and consciously to himself: "Yes, for this moment one could give one's whole life!"—then surely this moment in itself was worth a whole life. However, he did not insist on the dialectical part of his reasoning: dullness, darkness of soul, idiocy stood before him as the clear consequences of these "highest moments." Naturally, he was not about to argue in earnest. His reasoning, that is, his evaluation of this moment, undoubtedly contained an error, but all the same he was somewhat perplexed by the actuality of the sensation. What, in fact, was he to do with this actuality? Because it had happened, he had succeeded in saying to himself in that very second, that this second, in its boundless happiness, which he fully experienced, might perhaps be worth his whole life. "At that moment," as he had once said to Rogozhin in Moscow, when they got together there, "at that moment I was somehow able to understand the extraordinary phrase that time shall be no more. Probably," he had added, smiling, "it's the same second in which the jug of water overturned by the epileptic Muhammad did not have time to spill, while he had time during the same second to survey all the dwellings of Allah."
-- Fyodor Dostoevsky The Idiot
Translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky
Posted by rb at 4/03/2008
Wednesday, April 2
Pasternak considered that "when any man dies there remains some of that undying subjectivity which was part of him when alive and which constitutes his contribution to human existence." He believed that this deathless subjectivity, which is separate from the individual, "this patch, this fragment of the universal soul common to all mankind, represents a timeless cycle of action and is the principal matter of art." In other words, "while the artist, like everyone else, is mortal, the joy of existence that he experiences is deathless and, with some approximation of his personal and immediate experience, can be experienced by others centuries later through his works." Pasternak spoke in a letter to Rilke about the poet "who is himself always the essence of poetry, called though he may be by different names at different times."
The four lines of poetry Rilke wrote on the flyleaf of the copy of the Duino Elegies he presented to Tsvetayeva at Pasternak's request may be seen as a paraphrase of these words:
We touch each other. How? With wings that beat,
With very distance touch each other's ken.
One poet only lives, and now and then
Who bore him, and who bears him now, will meet.
-- Yevgeny Pasternak, Yelena Pasternak, and Konstantin M. Azadovsky (eds.), in the introduction to Letters: Summer 1926 by Boris Pasternak, Marina Tsvetayeva, and Rainer Maria Rilke
Translated by Margaret Wettlin, Walter Arndt, and Jamey Gambrell
Posted by rb at 4/02/2008