One has just been sent out as a biblical dove, has found nothing green, and slips back
into the darkness of the ark -- Kafka

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Memorial Day Photos, Day #2: Rainer Maria Rilke

I know Memorial Day is a one time thing, but in my e-world a day can last for multiple human days. We'll see how long this holiday lasts, but more than likely it'll end by your Friday, if not before.

Day #2 belongs to Rainer Maria Rilke. I visited his gravesite--in Raron, Switzerland--once in autumn (early 90's) and once in winter (I'm guessing 5 to 7 years ago).

Autumn Shots:


Rilke's Self-Penned Epitaph:

Rose, oh reiner Widerspruch, Lust
Niemandes Schlaf zu sein unter soviel

Rose, oh pure contradiction, joy
of being No-one's sleep, under so
many lids
(translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Old Church in Raron (Rilke's stone faces the valley)


Rilke's Valley View

Winter Shots:


Muzot (down the road, near Sierre)

Since we're remembering Rilke, I'll throw in a picture of Duino Castle (near Trieste, Italy). I also went there on the first trip (early 90's). It was raining like crazy as I took the Rilke Path along the ragged Adriatic coast; could've swore I saw and heard a few dark angels. I could only get so close, because the castle was fenced off. I could be mistaken (my memory is fading) but I think at that time it was some sort of school. I escaped the rain by ducking into a small grotto or niche. A young boy, who said he attended the school, was also seeking shelter there. Or have I made it all up? Twisted it for story's sake?

Anyway, a quick google suggests the park has been reopened to the public since 2003.

Duino Castle

Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day Photos, Day #1: Paula Modersohn-Becker

Memorial Day got me thinking along these lines.

Day #1 goes to the memory (and great art) of Paula Modersohn-Becker. I suppose I first learned of her through Rilke (in his "Requiem for a Friend"). I kept "chipping away" at knowledge of her and her art. I've been to her museum in Bremen and her gravesite in Worpswede (see below); have also visited her husband Otto Modersohn's museum in Fischerhude.


Sunday, May 29, 2011

I'm Not an Artist (Not Even Sure I'm a Poet)

In digging through my photos to find David Cerny's Upside-down Horse I found a few old "art objects" of mine. Long ago, far far away. When I was still single and had nothing else to do. I think I've culled out the "best of."

David Cerny's St. Wenceslas Statue in Prague

My friend Martin told me to go see this. In a rather dingy little mall off of St. Wenceslas Square. It was the last thing I "shot" before leaving Prague and boarding the train to Poland.

Since I've Brought Up Leopold Staff (1878-1957)

A few words from Milosz on Staff (from Milosz's The History of Polish Literature):

He had the good fortune to have been always accepted, sometimes admiringly, sometimes reluctantly. Since his death in 1957, many scholarly treatises on Staff and his work have appeared, but the assessments of his position in the history of Polish poetry vary. In all probability, Staff will be assigned the place of a model humanist, a perfect craftsman, one of the major influences shaping poetry in Poland, but not himself a major poet, unless we consider the great bulk of his output a necessary preparation for a relatively small number of lyrics which figure in every anthology of Polish poetry.

And the only other poem I have of Staff's (also, presumably, translated by Milosz):

The Bridge

I didn't believe,
Standing on the bank of a river
Which was wide and swift,
That I would cross the bridge
Plaited from thin, fragile reeds
Fastened with bast.
I walked delicately as a butterfly
And heavily as an elephant,
I walked surely as a dancer
And wavered like a blind man.
I didn't believe that I would cross that bridge,
And now that I am standing on the other side
I don't believe I crossed it.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

"Duckweed" as Hyperlink

Or madeleine.

Coming across the word in another text, I inadvertently "clicked" on it and within a fraction of a second I was at the edge of Leopold Staff's green-covered pond.

My only version comes from Milosz's The History of Polish Literature (and, because I find nothing in the text to say otherwise, I assume the translation is by Milosz himself):


In an old, deserted park
I stood at a pond
Covered with the thick fur of duckweed.
That the water here had once been transparent
And that it ought to be so now.
With a dry twig picked up off the ground
I began to rake away the green patina
And conduct it to the outlet.

I was found at this activity
By a quiet wise man
Whose brow was incised by thought,
And he said with a gentle smile
Of condescending reproach:
"Don't you regret wasting the time?
Every moment is a drop of eternity,
Life is the twinkling in eternity's eye.
There are so many matters of the  utmost importance."

Ashamed, I walked away
And all the day long I thought
Of life and death,
Of Socrates,
Of the immortality of the soul,
Of the pyramids and Egyptian wheat,
Of the Roman Forum and the moon,
Of the mammoth and the Eiffel Tower...
But nothing came of it.

Returning the next day
To the same place
At the pond
Covered with thick green fur,
I saw the wise man with his brow now smooth.
With the twig I had left,
He raked the duckweed from the surface of the water
And conducted it to the outlet.

The trees rustled,
In their branches, birds were singing.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Shestov on Kierkegaard

The chain of being/reading goes: Milosz was told (commanded) to read Shestov by Sorana Gurian; Shestov was told (forced) to read Kierkegaard by Husserl (according to Shestov, Kierkegaard was not yet a big deal in the the France of the 1930's); R L Swihart was told (armtwisted) to read Shestov by Milosz.

Anyway, certainly Shestov found a kindred reflection in Kierkegaard.

To close the week, and the week of the Absurd, I leave a few words from Shestov on Kierkegaard (in "Kierkegaard as a Religious Philosopher," see

  I concluded the previous section with those words of Kierkegaard's that are never to be forgotten if you wish to penetrate into the essence of his philosophy: "Only terror reaching despair develops a person to his highest." That is why Kierkegaard was so irresistibly drawn by the Book of Job which, in his view, is the most human book of the whole Bible. That is why he also made the decision, unheard-of in its absurdity and for us completely incongruous, to set Job as a thinker over against Hegel and the Greek symposium. After all, Job also decided to throw down a challenge to all of our indisputable truths only when the terrors and misfortunes befalling him surpass all imagination. Here is how Kierkegaard tells of this in his Repetition: "The greatness of Job is therefore not that he said, 'The Lord hath given, the Lord hath taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord' - what he indeed said at first and did not later repeat... The greatness of Job lies in the fact that the passion of freedom is not choked or calmed in him by any false expression... Job demonstrates the compass of his world view through the firmness with which he knows how to eschew all crafty ethical evasions and cunning wiles." Everything that Kierkegaard says of Job can also be said of himself. And here is the closing passage in which Kierkegaard says, "Job is blessed and received everything back again double. This is what people call a repetition... Thus there is a repetition. When does it come? When did it come for Job? When all conceivable human certainty and probability was on the side of impossibility." And, according to Kierkegaard's deep conviction, this repetition will "obtain a very important role in the newer philosophy," for "the new philosophy will teach that all of life is a repetition."

     The new philosophy means the existential philosophy. This philosophy begins where all conceivable human certainty and probability bears witness to impossibility, i.e., the end, and where speculative philosophy falls silent. For Hegel, for the participants in the Greek symposium, there is here nothing more to do - they can neither begin anything nor continue anything. They do not wish and do not dare to oppose the instructions and commandments of reason. They are completely under the power of the conviction that to reason and only to reason is it given to define the boundaries of the possible and the impossible. They do not even dare to ask from where this unshakable certainty of the omnipotence of reason came to them. This seems to them tantamount to the readiness to place absurdity and nonsense in the place of reason. Could one decide to take such a step? Could a person sacrifice his reason? Could he forget the divine Plato's warning that the greatest misfortune that can happen to a man is to become a misologos, i.e., a hater of reason?

     But is it really a question of sacrifice here? It turns out that Plato did not foresee everything. Reason is indeed necessary, very necessary for us. Under the ordinary conditions of our existence it helps us to cope with the difficulties, even the very great difficulties, that we run up against on our life-path. But it also happens that reason brings man the greatest misfortune, that from a benefactor and liberator it is transformed into a jailer and hangman. To renounce it does not at all mean to sacrifice anything. Here there can be only one question: How is this hated power to be thrown off? Indeed, even more than this: man ceases completely to ask, as if he sensed that in the very asking a concession to the boundless pretensions of the truths disclosed to us through reason is hidden. Job does not ask: he cries, weeps, curses (could Pascal perhaps have had Job in mind when he said, "je n'approuve que ceux qui cherchent en gémissant"?); in a word, he raves, and the edifying speeches of his friends who came to comfort him provoke in him attacks of fury. He sees in them only an expression of human indifference- and human cowardice which cannot bear the sight of the terrors that have befallen him and which cloak their perfidy with exalted words of morality and wisdom. Reason attests "passionlessly" to the end of every possibility, and ethics, which always follows on the heels of reason, comes with its pathetic exhortations and edifying speeches that man is obliged humbly and meekly to bear his fate, no matter how terrible it may be. To this Kierkegaard, just like Job, has only one answer: it is necessary to kill, to annihilate the repulsive monster that has usurped for itself the right to pass sentences in the name of reason over the living person and to demand of him, in the name of morality, that he consider the sentences that have been passed as eternally indissoluble and holy. "My unforgettable benefactor, much-plagued Job!" writes Kierkegaard.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Enemy is Reason

I thought I'd shortlist Shestov. 

It's been a while since I've read Shestov (thus far I own none of his hard-to-come-by books: give me time , and the little I have read I downloaded from the online Shestov library:, and much of my understanding of him (meager as it is) is through the filter of Czeslaw Milosz and his essay in To Begin Where I Am.

I'll start with a quote from the end of Milosz's essay "Shestov, or the Purity of Despair":

To Sorana [she had demanded that Milosz read Shestov] the God of the Scriptures defended by the stern priest Shestov would probably not have meant an afterlife and a palm tree in Heaven. He must have appeared to her as He did to the Russian author, as pure anti-Necessity. The question was not the existence of Heaven and Hell, not even the "existence" of God Himself. Above any notions, but revealed by His voice in the Scriptures, He is able to create anything, even a personal heaven and earth for Sorana Gurian. Or for each one of us.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

I Think Kierkegaard Worth Another Day

What I really need is to be clear about what I am to do, not what I must know, except in the way knowledge must precede all action. It is a question of understanding my destiny, of seeing what the Deity really wants me to do; the thing is to find a truth which is truth for me, to find the idea for which I am willing to live and die.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Since I've Started: Why Not Have a Week Praising the Absurd

Today's laudatory gesture goes to that crazy Dane: Soren Kierkegaard. If you wade through him I guarantee you'll find some golden nuggets. 

Like a thunderstorm, the genius goes against the wind.
It is the path we all take -- over the Bridge of Sighs into eternity.
One thought succeeds another; no sooner have I thought it and am about to write it down than there's a new one --hold it, grasp it -- madness -- insanity!

I'm also here to praise his longing for Repetition:
When this experience had been repeated for several days I became so exasperated, so tired of repetition, that I resolved to make my way home again. My discovery was of no importance, and yet it was a strange one, for I discovered that there is no such thing as repetition, and I had  convinced myself of this by trying in every possible way to get it repeated.

Monday, May 23, 2011

For No Other Reason Than the Absurd, I'm Announcing That Today Is Franz Kafka Day

By chance, I was looking through a few photos from a recent Prague trip (2009) and thought Why not.


Celebratory Photo #1: The Cafe Franz Kafka in Prague (which I ran into on the way to Photo #2).

Celebratory Photo #2: The Kafka Statue (inspired by an early Kafka short story, "Description of a Struggle") by Jaroslav Rona (see his "Parable with Skull" also on my blog).  Look behind the statue and you'll see part of the Spanish Synagogue in Prague's Jewish Quarter.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Breytenbach on Francois Krige and Art = Leaving a Few Marks

As I am currently rummaging through my closet of earlier poems (perhaps separating the keepers from the chaff, perhaps doing a little Audenesque retouching, possibly shaping another book), I found this Breyten bit (Dog Heart, section titled FRANCOIS KRIGE) semi-apropos:
I think to myself: Is it just as well he's too weak to destroy his own work. I talk to him about Kafka's instructions to Max Brod. He answers quietly. Maybe he wants to say: Go on, talk--you don't know what you're saying. What is quality? Who but the person confronting his own work will ever know? Is it not ultimately about the dignity of leaving a few marks?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

"Dog Heart" Isn't "Speak, Memory," But It Still Has Some Good Licks

Being a memoir it makes sense that "memory" would pop up a lot.  From one of the many sections called MEMORY:

Like starlings, memory devours everything. We live, we move forward as if travelling through a landscape, continually sharpening the eye--on the cusp of passing into oblivion--and immediately, constantly, inexorably the experience topples into the domain of memory. One instantly, constantly, inexorably turns to past tense. I am my own defecation.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

From Point C to Point B

Left Sentimental Education (I sometimes jump back and forth between countries) for Breyten Breytenbach's Dog Heart. From Point C to Point B: From Coetzee to Breytenbach. The surprise rain (who would've thought) kept me in the coffee shop reading longer than usual, but I've still only taken a small bite: I got to page 25. Would I have thought "painterly composition" (this is memoir, not his poetry) if I hadn't known already that he was also a painter? Hard to say.

From the opening section: BEGINNING, FOR THE READER:

To cut a long story short: I am dead.
   Do you think I'm joking? Am I not lurking behind these rustling words--perhaps a little thicker around the waist, a little darker in the mind? Am I not the writer sitting in the dappled light of the pepper tree, pursing my lips and closing my eyes to the glare of a yellow fire baking the valley?
   My mind fumbles for a buried reference; I'm on the verge of remembering the odour of ancient clods. Can one touch the moon?

Saturday, May 14, 2011

From Flaubert's "Sentimental Education"

Will Frederick get the girl or not? Which girl? Anyway, I'm progressing through Sentimental Education and found this ode to La Ville-Lumière enticing:

But there was only one place in the world where this could be turned to account--Paris; for to his mind, art, science, and love (those three faces of God, as Pellerin would have said) were associated exclusively with the capital.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Handke's "Slow Homecoming" and Balzac

From Part II: The Lesson of Mont Sainte-Victoire:

I sat near them, reading Balzac's story "The Unknown Masterpiece," about Frenhofer, the unsuccessful painter, with whose longing for a perfect and therefore real picture Cezanne identified himself, and discovered that French culture had become the home I had always longed for.

Of course this sent me running to read Balzac's story (I have a ton of Balzac on Kindle but have yet to read anything but this story).  A short and ok story which not only Cezanne but apparently Picasso identified with

Friday, May 6, 2011

Coetzee's Reading of Gordimer

   Gordimer has throughout her career held to the belief that the artist has a special calling, a talent that it is death to hide, and that his art tells a truth transcending the truth of history. Though this position has become increasingly old-fashioned, Gordimer has, to her credit, remained tenaciously faithful to it. At the same time, however, she has been concerned to give her work, a social justification, and thus to support her claim to a place inside history, a history which she herself has to some extent been successful in shaping, as, in her fictional oeuvre, she has written the struggle of Africa against Europe upon the consciousness of the West.


The above excerpt is from Coetzee's essay, "Gordimer and Turgenev."  I squeezed the essay in between classes and found much of the content thought-provoking (e.g., I'll have to reread Turgenev's Fathers and Sons now).

I've not read Gordimer, so it's hard to say if this is more "reading" or "misreading" (which, to some extent, is always the case) on Coetzee's part. Will have to give her a chance to speak. 

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Lazarus Syndrome


Nice idea. Just something that popped into my head. Now the question is: What to do with it?

Sunday, May 1, 2011

On the Amalgamation of Disparate Things

The Terrorist, He’s Watching
By Wislawa Szymborska

The bomb in the bar will explode at thirteen twenty.
Now it’s just thirteen sixteen.
There’s still time for some to go in,
and some to come out.

The terrorist has already crossed the street.
The distance keeps him out of danger,
and what a view—just like the movies:

A woman in a yellow jacket, she’s going in.
A man in dark glasses, he’s coming out.
Teenagers in jeans, they’re talking.
Thirteen seventeen and four seconds.
The short one, he’s lucky, he’s getting on a scooter,
but the tall one, he’s going in.

Thirteen seventeen and forty seconds.
That girl, she’s walking along with a green ribbon in her hair.
But then a bus suddenly pulls in front of her.
Thirteen eighteen.
The girl’s gone.
Was she that dumb, did she go in or not,
we’ll see when they carry them out.

Thirteen nineteen.
Somehow no one’s going in.
Another guy, fat, bald, is leaving, though.
Wait a second, looks like he’s looking for something in his pockets and
at thirteen twenty minus ten seconds
he goes back in for his crummy gloves.

Thirteen twenty exactly.
This waiting, it’s taking forever.
Any second now.
No, not yet.
Yes, now.
The bomb, it explodes.

(Translated by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh)


Bernini's St. Teresa