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

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Nabokov: Verbal Antics in "Pale Fire"

Nabokov is all about style and wordplay.

He loved to poke fun at Freud and Freudians; and, though perhaps not as often, Dostoevsky (he accused "Dusty and Dusky" of sloppy writing and poshlost).

From the poem in Pale Fire:

Fra Karamazov, mumbling his
All is allowed, into some classes
crept; . . .

And a fun example of Nabokov's wordplay/love-of-words (from the commentary):
What the obituarist does not know is that Lukin comes from Luke, as also do Locock and Luxon and Lukashevich. It represents one of the many instances when the amorphous-looking but live and personal hereditary patronymic grows, sometimes in fantastic shapes, around the common pebble of a Christian name.

lolita Pictures, Images and Photos

A Short Walk Down Memory Lane: To MacCready Reserve and Back

Didn't go far: from Mom & Dad's to MacCready Reserve (now in the guiding hands of Michigan State University), and back again. Didn't do any trails; just stopped and relieved myself, then made the return trip.

Tiger lilies are in bloom; blackberries and black raspberries aren't ready (though many are sporting pink or reddish caps). Besides the pervasive green of early summer, there were very few other colors. Except maybe the "snot flowers" (at least that's what we call them) which dotted the green shoulders and ditches with bluish purple (one neighbor even encourages these "weeds" to grow in her roadside garden).

The usual friends (though many are growing old and decrepit): oak, maple, walnut, and hickory. The sassafras with its indecisive hands (seems three fingers are dominant but it also does one and two). The invasive charlie--roadside and yardwide--which I don't remember in childhood.

The corn I passed will not be knee-high by the Fourth.

Sassafras Leaves

Sassafras Leaves Pictures, Images and Photos

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Nabokov's "Pale Fire" & the Mourning Cloak Butterfly

Finished Emma (singing the De profundis I buried her yesterday); have a few more pages left on Emants' A Posthumous Confession; started a Kindle version (hope the commentary has hyperlinks back to the poem) of Nabokov's Pale Fire (read it last maybe 7 or more years ago).

Re Pale Fire's Preface (ghost written by Charles Kinbote), I'll only copy out the wonderful sentence evoking the mourning cloak butterfly (where I live there's a few stands of cottonwoods that lure them in: I wait every year for the little mummies to evict the ashen tenants fringed with yellow):

As a rule, Shade destroyed drafts the moment he ceased to need them: well do I recall seeing him from my porch, on a brilliant morning, burning a whole stack of them in the pale fire of the incinerator before which he stood with bent head like an official mourner among the wind-borne black butterflies of that backyard auto-da-fe. 

Mourning Cloak; Cascade Canyon, Jackson Hole, Wy; 06/22/11 Pictures, Images and Photos

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

What is a "Cheminot"?

I ran across this word in Madame Bovary. The literal translation seems to be something like "railway worker, railwayman."

In Bovary it is a pastry or bread of some sort:

Madame Homais was very fond of these small, heavy turban-shaped loaves, that are eaten in Lent with salt butter; a last vestige of Gothic food that goes back, perhaps, to the time of the Crusades, and with which the robust Normans gorged themselves of yore, fancying they saw on the table, in the light of the yellow torches, between tankards of hippocras and huge boars' heads, the heads of Saracens to be devoured.


The very little I found on "cheminot" (alternate spelling "chemineau") on line seems to confirm Flaubert's description: a special cake or roll eaten at certain festivals (Western France).

Monday, June 27, 2011

On Flaubert's "Madame Bovary": Leon's Allusions

First a good quote (what Leon saw in Emma):
She was the mistress of all the novels, the heroine of all the dramas, the vague "she" of all the volumes of verse.

Following the above quote, Leon goes on to compare Emma to two paintings (at least seemingly from my Kindle version): "Odalisque Bathing" and "Pale Woman of Barcelona."

However, a quick Google suggests that Flaubert intentionally made Leon's allusions incorrect or vague.  The first may be an allusion to Ingres' La Grande Odalisque:

Ingres - La grande Odalisque Pictures, Images and Photos

The second allusion is apparently to a poem not a painting: Alfred de Musset's L'Andalouse (The Andalusian), which begins thus:

Have you seen in Barcelona
An Andalusian in brown?
Pale as a beautiful autumn evening!
It is my mistress, my lion!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Scarlet Tanager & Lake Michigan's Southeast Coast

Linear and parabolic dunes. An unbroken forest with tall oaks. I saw the oriole, cowbird, and many cardinals, but did I see the true graal: the scarlet tanager?

A flash of red in a green canopy: maybe.

Scarlet Tanager Pictures, Images and Photos

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Yeats's "The Second Coming"

Yeats's "The Second Coming" (below is a version published in 1920) is a great poem. Today, this morning, it came to mind. Can't say exactly why, but it seemed to describe a wide swath of feeling in me (the centre cannot hold).

    Turning and turning in the widening gyre
    The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
    Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
    The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity.
    Surely some revelation is at hand;
    Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
    The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
    When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
    Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
    A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
    A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
    Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
    Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.
    The darkness drops again but now I know
    That twenty centuries of stony sleep
    Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
    And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
    Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

William Butler Yeats Pictures, Images and Photos

Friday, June 17, 2011

A Play without Words: A Play with Words: An Aborted Play.

Another Question w/o an Answer: Identity


T. S. Eliot (caricature)
Friedrich Dürrenmatt (caricature)
Mr. Anonumos (teacher)
Teen of Rhetoric (hypothetical student)
Two parrots (human-sized birds)
Numerous extras

There is no curtain (how could there be), but as the lights go from nil to dim a caricature of T. S. Eliot appears and quotes the real Eliot (commenting on a production of Stravinsky’s ballet Le Sacre du printemps).

Eliot: Whether Stravinsky’s music be permanent or ephemeral I do not know; but it did seem to transform the rhythm of the steppes into the scream of the motor horn, the rattle of the machinery, the grind of wheels, the beating of iron and steel, the roar of the underground railway, and the other barbaric cries of modern life; and to transform these despairing noises into music.

While Eliot is finishing his lines, and before he turns to exit the stage, another actor awkwardly squeezes out of the prompter’s box: he is a caricature of Friedrich Dürrenmatt. Eliot and Dürrenmatt exchange glances (preoccupied); Eliot exits. Dürrenmatt turns to the audience to quote an excerpt from his novel The Assignment.

Dürrenmatt: D. had listened to F.’s report and absently ordered a glass of wine, even though it was just eleven o’clock, gulped it down with an equally absent air, ordered a second glass, and remarked that he was still pondering the useless problem of whether the law of identity A = A was correct, since it posited two identical A’s, while actually there could only be one A identical with itself, and anyway, applied to reality it was quite meaningless, since there was no self-identical person anywhere, because everyone was subject to time and was therefore, strictly speaking, a different person at every moment, which was why he, D., sometimes had the impression that he was a different person each morning, as if a different self had replaced his previous self and were using his brain and consequently his memory, making him all the more glad that he was a logician, for logic was beyond all reality and removed from every sort of existential mishap, . . .

Dürrenmatt stops reading from his novel, slowly does a 360°, and exits through the prompter’s box (awkwardly). Since there is no curtain the bare-bones stage crew can be seen bringing in a projector and screen, a large number of tables and chairs. This change should take roughly 15 minutes. After roughly 15 minutes, voiceless extras come in to fill up the chairs. Fans are whirring because it is hot. Mr. Anonumos is standing in the wings with a couple of large parrots. Once everyone is seated Mr. Anonumos and the parrots enter and stand in the front. They turn to address the voiceless extras. They are here to announce the opening of a new school.

Mr. Anonumos: . . .

Mr. Anonumos: . . .

Parrot #1: . . .

Parrot #2: . . .

Mr. Anonumos: And, as I was saying, the Apprentice Model means I train the student to take over my job. I want to retire. Minus the bird’s nest and used car jargon, I’m his Donald Trump.

The two parrots have retrieved a metal cart with a large soup tureen on top. The large tureen is filled with Western Canon Soup (from Dante Alighieri to Algebra 2). Mr. Anonumos grabs the ladle and ladles a generous portion of the watery liquid into a plastic bowl. He makes a production of it. He wants the voiceless extras to see everything involved with ladling the soup and putting it into the bowls. He turns to the voiceless extras but is talking to the Teen of Rhetoric.

Mr. Anonumos: I want to be your Donald Trump, young man. Do you understand? I do not want you to be white; I do not want you to be like me; I want you to be yourself. Whatever that means. I want you to replace me some day. He offers the Teen of Rhetoric a bowl of soup.

Teen of Rhetoric: Of course he cannot take the bowl of soup, nor can he speak, because he is the Teen of Rhetoric. He just stands there with his hands behind his back.

Eliot's "The Waste Land": What Does It Matter Who Is Speaking

Foucault, echoing Beckett: What does it matter who is speaking. This came to mind in re-reading Eliot's first few lines (1-18) of "The Waste Land."

And the pronouns "searching for antecedents" in the first few lines are continued and compounded throughout the consciously fragmented text, especially in the last strophe where a string of disembodied voices (from Weston's Fisher King to the Upanishads: Shantih   shantih   shantih) brings the poem to a close.


This morning I will only highlight one of those disembodied voices: Line 430 is a single line from Gerard de Nerval's sonnet El Desdichado ("The Disinherited"): Le Prince d'Aquitaine a la tour abolie.

Here is the entire sonnet:

El Desdichado

I am the man of gloom -- the widower -- the unconsoled,
the prince of Aquitaine, his tower in ruins:
My sole star is dead -- and my constellated lute
bears the Black Sun of Melancholia.

In the night of the tomb, you who consoled me,
give me back Posilipo and the Italian sea,
the flower that so pleased my desolate heart,
and the arbour where the vine and the rose are entwined.

Am I Amor or Phoebus? . . . Lusignan or Biron?
My brow still burns from the kiss of the queen;
I have dreamed in the grotto where the siren swims . . .

And I have twice victorious crossed the Acheron:
Modulating on Orpheus' lyre now
the sighs of the saint, now the fairy's cry

(translated by Richard Sieburth)

Another excerpt: "A Posthumous Confession"

This excerpt is re the narrator's initial thoughts about Anna (he's hoping she will become his wife):

For my part, I did not find her in the least attractive; but a lover of clear lines would probably have come to a different conclusion. The blue of the eyes was too light for me, the almost imperceptible lashes and eyebrows did not set the eyes off, the small, tilted nose gave her a childlike quality, and the cool, marbled skin aroused not the slightest sensual desire in me. If at that moment I had been permitted to give her a kiss, I would not have done it, or have done it without pleasure. Outdoors in a crowd she would certainly have passed me entirely unnoticed;  in these stuffy domestic surroundings we saw each other as two prisoners who could escape only by combining forces. 

Thursday, June 16, 2011

"A Posthumous Confession" by Marcellus Emants

I found this novel via Coetzee (in fact he's the translator of the version I bought) and, though a bit slow-going and very reminiscent of Dostoevsky's Notes from Underground, it is keeping my interest.

    My wife is dead and buried.
    I am alone at home, alone with the two maids.
    So I am free again. Yet what good is it to me, this freedom?
I am within reach of what I have wanted for the last twenty years
(I am thirty-five), but I have not the courage to grasp it, and would
anyhow no longer enjoy it very much.


I've also got plans to dig into T.S. Eliot's "The Waste Land" again this summer. The "Notes" have always intrigued me, because I'm not sure they go very far toward elucidation.  Maybe I just need to read Weston's book, as T.S. suggests, but I'll probably save that for another time. Instead, I've printed out various essays and perspectives from the Net. I'll start here.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

"Signs" by Marina Tsvetaeva

If you've still not read Letters: Summer 1926 (letters between Pasternak, Tsvetaeva, and Rilke) you're missing something BIG.  Maybe Marina's "Signs," which I loved from the very first read and is included in the Epilogue, will entice you to pick up the book (it reads like a love story between three great poets).


As though bearing a mountain in my skirts--
My whole body hurts!
I recognize love by the pain
My whole body's length.

As though a field in me had been rent
For the least deluge.
I recognize love by the distance
Of everything nearest.

As though a lair had been dug inside me,
To the core, the tar.
I recognize love by the vein
Moaning my body's

Length. Fanning out like a mane,
Sudden gust, a Hun:
I recognize love by the crack
Of all the truest

Throat strings; rust in the throat
Crevices. Live salt.
I recognize love by the cleft,
No, by the trill,
My whole body's length!

(translated by Jamey Gambrell)

Grass, Celan, & Todtnauberg II

Grass's My Century is an oleagenious mix of fact and fiction. Strategically placing his anonymous narrator at the center of the action, he laces a discussion of the famed meeting between Celan and Heidegger with the troubled narrative of the '60's (Chapters 1966 & 1967).

One detail that is apparently a fact is that Celan altered the text, at some point deleting the parenthetical ungesaumt kommendes (Felstiner's "undelayed coming") and simply writing kommendes.

Via his narrator, here is part of Grass's account:

     Although I imparted these and other reminiscences to the students, I could respond to the question posed by the inquisitive one among them about what I thought had or had not been spoken of in the cottage only by referring to the poem "Todtnauberg" itself. I pointed out many clues. The plant name "arnica," which the poet also calls Augentrost, "comfort for the eyes," allows of many interpretations. The well in front of the cottage with its three-dimensional star is likewise rich in associations. Then too there is the guest book, which plays a central role in the poem--serves as its heart, one might say--and which the poet signs, wondering fearfully "whose name it had before mine," yet surely full of "hope, today, for a thinker's coming word in the heart"; moreover, the words in parentheses, "forthwith coming," later deleted by the poet, lend a certain urgency to the wish, which, as we know, was never granted. What we do not know, what remains conjecture, can scarcely be surmised and therefore keeps the wound open is what was put into words or kept silent in the cottage....

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Rilke, Rodin, Balzac, and the Hotel Biron (now Musee Rodin)

I went to the Musee Rodin largely because of Rilke (he often stayed there when it was a hotel). Very impressive array of sculptures and a beautiful garden (of course my memories are now 17 years old).

Anyway, I snapped this mountain of a Naked Balzac:

Paul Celan's "Todtnauberg"

I've already mentioned the meeting between Celan and Heidegger in relation to Grass's My Century (maybe I'll turn to that next or soon), but I thought it worthwhile to post Celan's own cryptic account: "Todtnauberg" (see below).

I'll also throw in an interesting exegesis of the poem (one of many, I'm sure) I unearthed on Google this morning. Though I've personally only skimmed it today (I spent a few hours with this essay, or a similar one, a couple years ago), I particularly liked the admission at the end: "A translation of a poem has to be a poem."



Arnica, Eyebright, the
drink from the well with the
star-die on top,

in the

into the book
-- whose name did it take in
before mine? --
the line written into
this book about
a hope, today,
for a thinker's
delayed coming)
in the heart,

woodland turf, unleveled,
Orchis and Orchis, singly,

crudeness, later, while driving,

the one driving us, the man
who hears it too,

the half-
trodden log-
paths on high moorland,


Knock the
light-wedges away:

the floating word
is dusk's.

(translated by John Felstiner)

Sunday, June 12, 2011

"The Monkey" by Vladislav Hodasevich

Read Verses and Versions: Three Centuries of Russian Poetry (a bilingual text selected and translated by Vladimir Nabokov) a few months ago. Picked up some new names; even tried to decode the Cyrillic with the help of Nabokov's translations.

One of the best poems in the entire collection (IMO) is Hodasevich's "The Monkey."

The Monkey

The heat was fierce. Great forests were on fire.
Time dragged its feet in dust. A cock was crowing
in an adjacent lot.
                           As I pushed open
my garden-gate I saw beside the road
a wandering Serb asleep upon a bench
his back against the palings. He was lean
and very black, and down his half-bared breast
there hung a heavy silver cross, diverting
the trickling sweat.
                            Upon the fence above him,
clad in a crimson petticoat, his monkey
sat munching greedily the dusty leaves
of a syringa bush; a leathern collar
drawn backwards by its heavy chain bit deep
into her throat.
                      Hearing me pass, the man
stirred, wiped his face, and asked me for some water.
He took one sip to see whether the drink
was not too cold, then placed a saucerful
upon the bench, and, instantly, the monkey
slipped down and clasped the saucer with both hands
dipping her thumbs; then, on all fours, she drank,
her elbows pressed against the bench, her chin
touching the boards, her backbone arching higher
than her bald head. Thus, surely, did Darius
bend to a puddle on the road when fleeing
from Alexander's thundering phalanges.

When the last drop was sucked the monkey swept
the saucer off the bench, and raised her head,
and offered me her black wet little hand.
Oh, I have pressed the fingers of great poets,
leaders of men, fair women, but no hand
had ever been so exquisitely shaped
nor had touched mine with such a thrill of kinship,
and no man's eyes had peered into my soul
with such deep wisdom . . . Legends of lost ages
awoke in me thanks to that dingy beast
and suddenly I saw life in its fullness
and with a rush of wind and wave and worlds
the organ music of the universe
boomed in my ears, as it had done before
in immemorial woodlands.
                                       And the Serb
then went his way thumping his tambourine:
on his left shoulder, like an Indian prince
upon an elephant, his monkey swayed.
A huge incarnadine but sunless sun
hung in a milky haze. The sultry summer
flowed endlessly upon the wilting wheat.

That day the war broke out, that very day.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Coetzee's Harem (from "Youth"): I Knew 2 of 3

Like Coetzee I fell  in love with Monica Vitti via the films of Antonioni (Once, shortly before he died, I was in the same room as Antonioni at UCLA's Film School--I believe I saw The Passenger that night).

Monica Vitti

Photo by Christopher Matson

I recently reread Ingeborg Bachmann's The Collected Poems: Songs in Flight (and how many poems have I written after or about Bachmann?).
Here's a Bachmann poem I marked up a bit (I guess that means I liked it):


Within the trees I no longer can see any trees.
The branches are bare of leaves, carried off by the wind.
The fruits are sweet, but empty of love.
They do not even satisfy.
What shall happen?
Before my eyes the forest flees,
bird song no longer reaching my ears,
and for me no pasture will become a bed.
I am full with time
yet hunger for it.
What shall happen?

Nightly upon the mountains the fires will burn.
Shall I prepare myself to draw near to them all again?

I can no longer see on any path a path.

(translated by Peter Filkins)

I did not know of Anna Karina (a young Coetzee is watching her in Godard's Bande a part = Band of Outsiders):

Anna Karina Pictures, Images and Photos


I Returned to Flaubert Because of Kafka

Not because of Pound or Coetzee or...

For some time I'd kept this notion in my head: In his diaries Kafka oftentimes uses Flaubert as a measuring rod (in going back I see now that he keeps using Flaubert and Grillparzer--a writer I know next to nothing about--in the same breath). There are also several allusions to L'Education sentimentale, which is why I started there.

Here's Kafka writing about Moses and the ending of  Sentimental Education:

19 October.  The essence of the Wandering in the Wilderness. A man who leads his people along this way with a shred (more is unthinkable) of consciousness of what is happening. He is on the track of Canaan all his life; it is incredible that he should see the land only when on the verge of death. This dying vision of it can only be intended to illustrate how incomplete a moment is human life, incomplete because a life like this could last forever and still be nothing but a moment. Moses fails to enter Canaan not because his life is too short but because it is a human life. This ending of the Pentateuch bears a resemblance to the final scene of L'Education sentimentale.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Now for the Literary Grass

I prefer his shorter works (My Century, Cat and Mouse, Headbirths: Or the Germans Are Dying Out,...) to the longer ones (Tin Drum, Dog Years, The Flounder, The Rat,...), but did you know that Gunter also writes poetry? What will this guy do next?


Too bad Grass and Handke (another fave) can't get along:


There's lots of good stuff in My Century (e.g., the meeting between Celan and Heidegger), but I'll settle for the last chapter (1999) in which a loving son (Gunter) resurrects his mother:

He didn't force me into it, he talked me into it, the rascal. He was always good at that. I always said yes in the end. So now he's brought me back to life supposedly: I'm over a hundred and in decent health because he wills it. 

Oh, yes, the poetry. Lesser known, for sure, but still some good stuff here.  Here's a short one:
Stadium at Night

Slowly the football rose in the sky.
Now one could see that the stands were packed.
Alone the poet stood at the goal
but the referee whistled: Off-side.
(translation by Michael Hamburger)

Which certainly must've been behind a long-ago and never-published piece of mine:

Soccer Field in the Afternoon

From green through blue to yellow nest
sailed the oblong ball

Yawping parents dotted
the sidelines

Behind the goal a duple Danzig
headbirthing in the Grass


Here's to a Blog like a Scrapbook: Lubeck, Grass, and Barlach

Of course Lubeck means marzipan and Buddenbrooks, but today it means the Holsten Tor, the Gunter Grass Museum, and Ernst Barlach's statues at St. Catherine's.  So, get something hot at Balzac's Coffee and let's go...

Holsten Tor

Barlach's Statues outside St. Catherine's

Two shots in the courtyard of Gunter Grass's Museum

A Final Few Fave Quotes from "Sentimental Education"

Finished the Kindle version yesterday, and have moved on to Madame Bovary (I tried her years ago, in a beautiful leatherbound edition, and gave up about halfway through: this time I'm determined to have her via Kindle).

Frederick has returned home. As far as he knows he'll never see Madame Arnoux again (little does he know that she's lurking around the corner of the next page):
He mingled in society, and he conceived attachments to other women. But the constant recollection of his first love made these appear insipid; and besides the vehemence of desire, the bloom of the sensation had vanished.
The corner/page has turned. Madame Arnoux has come to see him. Frederick is getting quite sentimental:
"All that people have found fault with as exaggerated in fiction you have made me feel," said Frederick. "I can understand Werther, who felt no disgust at his Charlotte for eating bread and butter."
Frederick reveals his foot fetish:
"The sight of your foot makes me lose my self-possession."
She has to go:
There is a moment at the hour of parting when the person that we love is with us no longer.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Instead of Coetzee's Dancing = Ersatz Sex, I'll Opt for Flaubert's Hearts of Women

I'm almost finished with Sentimental Education. I'm glad I've stuck it out--IMO it could be halved w/o losing too much--because the wind-up has caught my attention.

Out of context--perhaps even "in"--this quote sounds a bit sexist, but I liked it all the same:
The hearts of women are like little pieces of furniture wherein things are secreted, full of drawers fitted into each other; one hurts himself, breaks his nails in opening them, and then finds within only some withered flower, a few grains of dust--or emptiness! 

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Coetzee's "Youth": Love Affairs as Landmarks

Even roadsigns. Hard to say.

Youth has this in common with Summertime: the story of Coetzee's young Coetzee is largely told via the love affairs collected (stumbled onto) along the way. Given the times ('60s), the boredom of working at IBM (and wanting something more, other), the isolation that comes with being a foreigner, and the protagonist's credo: I don't believe in God, but I believe in love (maybe Coetzee states it more eloquently; maybe it's a little more complicated than that) -- perhaps it all makes sense.

An excerpt:
What of the woman who is to be his fate? Is her shadow already stored in his inner darkness? How much longer before she reveals herself? When she does, will he be prepared?
     What the answer is he cannot say. But if he can meet her as an equal, her, the Destined One, then their lovemaking will be unexampled, that he is sure of, an ecstasy bordering on death; and when he returns to life afterwards it will be as a new being, transformed. A flash of extinction like the touching of opposite poles, like the mating of twins; then the slow rebirth. He must be ready for it. Readiness is all.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Paul Celan and Pont Mirabeau

Though I lent my copy of John Felstiner's book (Paul Celan: Poet, Survivor, Jew) to a neighbor and it never returned, I found this snippet (pretty much what I'd remembered: i.e., Celan jumped from Pont Mirabeau and was reading about Holderlin just before he died) online:

A biography of Holderlin was found then on Celan's desk, open to an underlined passage: "Sometimes this genius goes dark and sinks down into the bitter well of his heart." Celan did not, I noticed, underline the rest of the sentence in the Holderlin biography: "but mostly his apocalyptic star glitters wondrously."

Pont Mirabeau

Coetzee's "Youth"

Just started it this morning (even though I've still got a ways to go before finishing Sentimental Education). A reward for finishing up the school year in one piece.

Notables thus far:

1.) The Goethe epigraph:

Wer den Dichter will verstehen
muss in Dichters Lande gehen.

2.) The flame/fire metaphor which also stood out in Summertime (here applied to the artist not the educator).

3.) His mandate to read Pound's Cantos (maybe I'll move them to a "more pressing" mental notepad); his (and Pound's) advice to keep reading Flaubert. (Not sure Coetzee would still give the same advice as his youthful and autobiographical double.)

Monday, June 6, 2011

Paul Celan: "Zurich, at the Stork"

Wasn't sure what to post today, if anything. Then I thought of this poem by Paul Celan (he is certainly one of my faves).

What does it mean? Or what does it mean to me? Having read most of his poems, and the letters between him and Sachs, what I'm thinking is "of two minds re faith, hope, etc."

I always (usually) try to see that gold coming across the water.

(for Nelly Sachs)
Our talk was of Too Much, of
Too Little. Of Thou
and Yet-Thou, of
clouding through brightness, of
Jewishness, of
your God.

On the day of an ascension, the
Minster stood over there, it came
with some gold across the water.

Our talk was of your God, I spoke
against him, I let the heart
I had
his highest, death-rattled, his
wrangling word—

Your eye looked at me, looked away,
your mouth
spoke toward the eye, I heard:

really don’t know, you know,
really don’t know

(translation by John Felstiner in Selected Poems and Prose of Paul Celan)

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Among Other Things: Kafka's "The Great Wall of China"

   For the work had not been undertaken without thought. Fifty years before the first stone was laid, the art of architecture, and especially that of masonry, had been proclaimed as the most important branch of knowledge throughout the whole area of a China that was to be walled around, and all other arts gained recognition only insofar as they had reference to it. I can still remember quite well us standing as small children, scarcely sure on our feet, in our teacher's garden, and being ordered to build a sort of wall out of pebbles; and then the teacher, girding up his robe, ran full tilt against the wall, of course knocking it down, and scolded us so terribly for the shoddiness of our work that we ran weeping in all directions to our parents. A trivial incident, but significant of the spirit of the time.
(from Everyman's Edition of Franz Kafka: Collected Stories)

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Which Reminds Me of Max Frisch's Questionnaires

Among other things.

Here are a few excerpts from "Questionnaire 1987" (published in the German Library's Max Frisch: Novels, Plays, Essays):


Question 1: Are you sure you are really interested in the preservation of the human race, once you and all the people you know are no longer living?

Question 2: And, if yes: Why don't you act differently than you have so far?

Question 3: What has changed human society more: the French Revolution, or a technical invention such as electronics, for instance?

Question 4: Considering everything we owe today to technological super-mobilization--take for example the sector of kitchen hardware, etc.--do you think one really has to be grateful to the technologists and therefore also to the defense ministers who put our tax money at their disposal?

Question 5: As a layman, what would you like to see invented in the near future? Briefly state why.

Question 6: Could you still imagine a human existence (that is: in the First World) without the computer?

Question 7: If so: does the mere thought of it seize you as cold terror, or rather as nostalgia, or as nothing, since nothing cannot be seized by the computer.


Question 9: The dinosaurs survived for 250 million years; how do you picture economic growth extending over 250 million years? (State briefly)


Question 16: Can you picture a society in which scientists are made responsible for crimes that have become possible only through their inventions, a theocracy, for example?


Question 18: Now that the Apocalypse can be technically realized, how do you relate to the biblical metaphor of the forbidden apple from the tree of knowledge?

a) do you believe in the freedom of research?
b) do you agree with the pope who forbade Galilei to have the earth turn around the sun?


Question 22: Can  you imagine that the human spirit we have trained is programmed for self-destruction of the species?

Question 23: What, except for wishful thinking, speaks against it?


Progress is Another Word for Some Will Win and Some Will Lose

Maybe too Bobby McGee-ish? With a little Journey thrown in?


Question: How many people are buried beneath the Great Wall of China?

Answer: No one really knows for sure, though one estimate is more than a million.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Memorial Day Photos, Final Day: Old and New

Just two more photos: a classic poet and an iconic rocker.

Dante's tomb in Ravenna (his cenotaph is in Florence)

The John Lennon Wall in Prague (circa 1992)

Thursday, June 2, 2011

On a Lighter Note I Just Finished Coetzee's "In the Heart of the Country"

I know: I can't seem to shake him. I'm going back to Kindle and Flaubert before moving on to Coetzee's Youth.

This one, an early novel (1977), started off a little slow. But by the time the protagonist buries her father in a porcupine den--or does she?--the story starts to reel nightmarishly to a very bizarre close.

Parts so graphic I wasn't sure it was on the page.

Toward the end she hears godlike voices--speaking in Spanish--coming from the sky. This is bullet #259 (there's a total of 266 first person journal entries):

259.     Then last night the voice would not be stilled, but spoke on and on, no longer in tight little epigrams but in flowing periods, such that I wondered whether it were not a new god speaking, riding over my protesting clamour. "Leave me, I want to sleep!" I shouted, drumming my heels. It is in order that we shall not fall victim to the assassin, said the voice, that we consent to die if we ourselves turn assassin. Every man born in slavery is born for slavery. The slave loses everything in his chains, even the desire to escape from them. God loves no one, it went on, and hates no one, for God is free from passions and feels no pleasure or pain. Therefore one who loves God cannot endeavor to bring it about that God should love him in return; for, in desiring this, he would desire that God should not be God. God is hidden, and every religion that does not affirm that God is hidden is not true. "Go away," I shouted, "Spanish filth!" Desire is a question that has no answer, went on the voice -- I know now for sure that they do not hear me --  The feeling of solitude is a longing for a place. That place is the centre of the world, the navel of the universe. Less than all cannot satisfy man. Those who restrain desire do so because theirs is weak enough to be restrained. When God accomplishes through the wicked what he has decreed in his secret counsels, the wicked are not thereby excusable. Those whom God leaves out of his election he is also reproving, and for no other reason than that he wills to exclude them.

Memorial Day Photos, Day #4: William Butler Yeats

Why Yeats? Why not? T.S. Eliot was probably the first poet I fell in love with (I've not been to his gravesite yet, but for his sake I did visit St.Magnus the Martyr in London), but Yeats--or should I say: some of Yeats--was probably second.

And when I visited Ireland (nearly 20 years ago) it makes sense that I beelined to Sligo (from there it's a short walk to Drumcliff) to see his grave.

From "Under Ben Bulben":

Under bare Ben Bulben's head
In Drumcliff churchyard Yeats is laid.
An ancestor was rector there
Long years ago, a church stands near,
By the road an ancient cross.

No marble, no conventional phrase;
On limestone quarried near the spot
By his command these words are cut:

Cast a cold eye
On life, on death.
Horseman, pass by!

Ben Bulben

The ancient cross

The grave stone and epitaph

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Memorial Day Photos, Day #3: Franz Kafka

Funny how Kafka keeps popping up at Without Lifting a Finger. Anyway, he's being celebrated (remembered) again this week.

Kafka's grave is in what is called the New Jewish Cemetery, a little outside of Prague's Old Town.  Seems like I took the underground to get there. Apparently he's buried on the same site as his mother and father (Hermann and Julie); has no epitaph.

3 New Poems: Box I, II, & III

I've 3 new poems up at kill author: Issue Thirteen: Orwell.