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

Friday, July 22, 2011

Tomas Transtromer's "Further In"

And marks = tracks = poems remind me of Transtromer's "Further In": Walk in the tracks of the badger.



It's the main highway leading in,
the sun soon down.
Traffic backs up, creeps along,
it's a torpid glittering dragon.
I am a scale on that dragon.
The red sun all at once
blazes in my windshield,
pouring in,
and makes me transparent.
Some writing shows
up inside me--words
written with invisible ink
appearing when the paper
is held over a fire.
I know that I have to go far away,
straight through the city, out
the other side, then step out
and walk a long time in the woods.
Walk in the tracks of the badger.
Growing hard to see, nearly dark.
Stones lie about on the moss.
One of these stones is precious.
It can change everything.
It can make the darkness shine.
It's the light switch for the whole country.
Everything depends on it.
Look at it . . . touch it . . .

translated by Robert Bly

badger tracks Pictures, Images and Photos

Rae Armantrout & Language Poetry

Let's consider all of the people, above and below ground, in the country of Poland: Poles, Russians, Kashubes, Balts, Germans, Jews, Proto-Indo-Europeans, etc.

Now let's consider the same people in another way (intimacy will perhaps move us closer to essence): Ania, Kasia, Andrzej, Wiktor, Katya, Vladimir, Anja, Ludwiga, Birgit, Konrad, Leopold, Abdiel, Abira, etc.


A History of Modern Poetry by David Perkins (Copyright 1987) touches on the '70s--with poets like Baraka, Ashbery, and Merrill--but is silent on Language poetry and its poets.

What is Language poetry? Perhaps historical origins will give us a hint?

An excerpt from Wikipedia (
There is more than one origin of this highly decentered movement. On the West Coast, an early seed of language poetry was the launch of This magazine, edited by Robert Grenier and Watten, in 1971. Coming out of New York, L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E, edited by Andrews and Bernstein, ran from 1978 to 1982, and featured poetics, forums on writers in the movement, and themes such as "The Politics of Poetry" and "Reading Stein." Equally significant for the understanding of this movement of divergent, though interconnected, poetry practices that emerged in the 1970s was Ron Silliman's poetry newsletter Tottel's (1970–81),[2] and Bruce Andrews's selection in a special issue of Toopick (1973), as well as Lyn Hejinian's editing of Tuumba Press and James Sherry's editing of ROOF magazine. The first significant collection of language-centered poetics was "The Politics of the Referent," edited by Steve McCaffery for the Toronto-based publication, Open Letter (1977). In an essay from the first issue of This, Grenier declared: "I HATE SPEECH". Grenier's ironic statement (itself a speech act), was, in the context of the essay in which it occurred, along with a questioning attitude to the referentiality of language evidenced even in the magazine's title, later claimed by Ron Silliman, in the introduction to his anthology In the American Tree, as an epochal moment—a rallying cry for a number of young U.S. poets who were increasingly dissatisfied with the poetry of the Black Mountain poets and Beat poets.

Within this frame we are to look for Rae Armantrout and her poetry (the same Wikipedia article above links Armantrout with the "first wave of Language poetry"). Will we find either? Probably not. But in reading through Versed I can say I've studied a few of the marks = poems she'll leave behind.

Coffee Spoons, Coffeehouse Friends, & Rae Armantrout

Given: 1 life; measure in whatever units you like: coffee spoons (T. S. Eliot), full moons (Paul Bowles), morning walks to Peets (R L Swihart).


Coffeehouse friends are a different brew: commerce can be as lean as greetings, first names, the names of authors and books. From one such friend I received an unexpected (though long expected) gift this morning: Rae Armantrout's Versed (Signed: For Rex, From Rae Armantrout, 3-12-2011).

Other than a few glimpses I know next to nothing of Armantrout's poetry (see links below to Breytenbach's quote on "leaving a few marks"; to the reader reviews on Versed at Amazon), but eventually I'll try to post a fave poem(s) from this collection.

An initial reaction to the cover art: Sci-Fi (some robotic sculpture with a view onto an apocalyptic landscape, or the mountains around San Diego).

One of the four backcover blurbs:
"Armantrout's poetry has always been turned to the present moment. Its formal lineage is from William Carlos Williams and the Objectivists, with their enjambments of modern experience.... Poetically, Armantrout has always aimed at knowing life by isolating it from narrative. Written under a diagnosis of cancer ('I just called / to fill you in'), Versed is a major and moving addition to a life's work in many-angled reflections."
--Jeremy Noel-Tod, Times Literary Supplement 


On Breytenbach's "leaving a few marks":

An array of reader reviews of Versed at Amazon:

coffee spoons Pictures, Images and Photos

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Kindle's Packed with Some Irish Lit

With a little luck (how Irish) I'll be in Eire by this coming Sunday (the backup plan is England). We fly standby which, especially in summer, is a hard row to hoe. Been there before (from Joyce's tower to Yeats' Sligo and Drumcliff), but the girls haven't and I'm glad to go again.

To that end I've decided to give John Banville's novel The Sea another try (I've got it on Kindle with a host of other Irish greats: Yeats, Joyce, Synge). I'd read his The Book of Evidence some while ago (I'd also read a blurb somewhere that compared him to Nabokov--which IMO is a big NOT)--I'll give it a "B"--and so thought The Sea would be a breeze (didn't it win the Booker?).

When I initially downloaded it I believe I started reading it before Herta Muller's The Appointment. Long story short: I couldn't get into the flow of it (was it pushing too hard to be "literary"? was it me?) and switched over to her.

Now I'm back and I've managed to get off to a good start (Kindle says 10%): i.e. I think I'm beyond the point of giving it up.

James Joyce's Tower and Museum in Sandycove, Dublin, Ireland
From Wikimedia Commons
Author YvonneM

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

"Foe": Writing As Literary Colonialism

Or at least that seems to be part of the point Coetzee is trying to make.

Barton speaking to Foe:
   You err most tellingly in failing to distinguish between my silences and the silences of a being such as Friday. Friday has no command of words and therefore no defense against being re-shaped day by day in conformity with the desires of others. I say he is a cannibal and he becomes a cannibal; I say he is a laundryman and he becomes a laundryman. What is the truth of Friday? You will respond: he is neither cannibal nor laundryman, these are mere names, they do not touch his essence, he is a substantial body, he is himself, Friday is Friday. But that is not so. No matter what he is to himself (is he anything to himself? -- how can he tell us?), what he is to the world is what I make of him.


Another good quote--very similar to something Coetzee has written elsewhere (I can't track it down--was it in Summertime, In the Heart of the Country, or Youth?--and if the words and context were slightly different, the images evoked "in me" were identical)--is Foe speaking to Barton re "a life of writing books":
   In a life of writing books, I have often, believe me, been lost in the maze of doubting. The trick I have learned is to plant a sign or marker in the ground where I stand, so that in my future wanderings I shall have something to return to, and not get worse lost than I am. Having planted it, I press on; the more often I come back to the mark (which is a sign to myself of my blindness and incapacity), the more certainly I know I am lost, yet the more I am heartened too, to have found my way back.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Coetzee's "Foe": The Art of Writing

A little more than half way through Coetzee's Foe. The second part (more than half the book page-wise) is a marked departure from DeFoe's novel. It's largely about Susan Barton in England (Friday is with her; Cruso died on the way back), her give and take with Mr. Foe, perhaps something about Art and the process of writing.

Through Barton we hear:
Teasing and braiding can, like any craft, be learned. But as to determining which episodes hold promise (as oysters hold pearls), it is not without justice that this art is called divining. Here the writer can of himself effect nothing: he must wait on the grace of illumination.

Last Wolves of Europe

Finished Crusoe.

Wondered about all the wolves they encounter going through France (the severe winter brought them down out of the mountains looking for food): Crusoe estimates 300 (says they killed "scores").

Apparently the wolves in France disappeared some time ago but are now making a comeback (possibly crossing into France from Italy).

wolves Pictures, Images and Photos

How Will I Know?

Is he mad or not? How will I know? Even a madman modifies his dress, changes his hair, becomes fat or thin, reads Kafka.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

"Biutiful" and Javier Bardem as Charon

Perhaps Biutiful is a bit OTT (I never saw that side of Barcelona) in its portrayal of an urban dystopia, but it's hard to fault Bardem.

Once I caught on (I'm slow but tenacious) I was especially taken with Bardem as a type of Charon (a spiritual medium who can communicate with and somehow help those who have passed on), and the gathering of dark moths = souls on his stained ceiling (once his own death is certain the moths disappear).

Javier Bardem Pictures, Images and Photos

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Friday Names His God: Benamuckee

Friday's salvation was a bit unbelievable but I still enjoyed it (suspending disbelief) and I know Crusoe needed someone to talk to.

This morning I got a little more on the island's geography:
I afterwards understood it was occasioned by the great draft and reflux of the mighty river Orinoco, in the mouth or gulf of which river, as I found afterwards, our island lay; and that this land, which I perceived to be W. and NW., was the great island of Trinidad, on the north point of the mouth of the river.

I also got the name of Friday's mountain god:
He told me, "It was one Benamuckee, that lived beyond all;" he could describe nothing of this great person, but that he was very old, "much older," he said, "than the sea or land, than the moon or stars."
The clergy who serve Benamuckee are also old: Friday called them "Oowokakee."

And Benamuckee can be prayed to: "All things say O to him."

Robinson Crusoe and Man Friday, Carl Offterdinger (1829-1889)
From WikiMedia Commons

The Wider Circuit

Begins and ends with the corner of 4th and Park: Filene's Basement twixt yellow house and curb. It's a lawn sale even though the sign says: GARAGE SALE. The construction at the edge of the driveway is a piece of art: seven or eight step ladders (all different), with pipes threaded through laterally at the tops to make racks for a rainbow of used clothes.

I hope GARAGE SALE isn't a euphemism for the more final-sounding estate sale. That could mean the old lady (she is/was probably 90+) has passed away. Though kitty-corner from the action I couldn't see her shuffling about. She once gave me a huge persimmons from her loaded tree. Said she and her husband (an implied: he's already deceased) planted the tree back in the 40s or 50s.


Also, I'll mention the Colorado Lagoon (Colorado Lung) and a few of its early risers. There's the egret with yellow spats (elegantly pacing the low-tide shore); with waders and the whole nine yards: the urban rendition of A River Runs Through It  (I think he's only rehearsing); and the never resting (always resting), sumo wrestler of a sea slug (aka sea hare).

California Sea Hare, Catalina Island Pictures, Images and Photos

Toilet Seat Covers & California: The Challenge of a Better Design

A little surfing seems to say they're not a law (and they can also have a down side: e.g. plugging the pipes),  but I've always liked the fact (whether purely a psychological comfort or no) that California public restrooms tend to have toilet seat covers.

As a consumer (porcelain pony rider) my biggest complaint is the design: I'd like to see someone do it better. You've got to time it just right--paper down, pants down: just so; quickly get on the seat--or the dang thing goes sliding in and you have to begin again.

Anyone up for the challenge?

1/2 Fold Paper Toilet Seat Cover Pictures, Images and Photos

Friday, July 15, 2011

Blogmark, Blogbuoy: Sergei Nabokov & Sebastian Knight

Although my hands are Foe I wanted to blogmark/blogbuoy this for when I reread The Real Life of Sebastian Knight.

I know only a little bit about Nabokov's brother Sergei (gay, died in a concentration camp), but I didn't really know to look for him while reading the novel. The question is: How much of Sergei is in Sebastian?

Nabokov hardly mentions his brother elsewhere. In Nabokov's Selected Letters Sergei occupies a half-line and a footnote (letter is written to Nabokov's sister Elena in 1945): "What a joy that you are well, alive, in good spirits. Poor, poor, Seryozha . . . !" I believe (but I won't comb my closet for it) he's also briefly mentioned in the Nabokov-Wilson letters. And of course he's "in every corner" of Speak, Memory.

( See also "The gay Nabokov": )

Hermann Hesse & Psychoanalysis

Rilke is one example; Hesse another. For Hesse psychoanalysis--of the Jungian ilk--was an inestimable boon.

From Joseph Mileck's Hermann Hesse: Life and Art:
Toward the end of April, Hesse left for Sonnmatt, a private clinic near Lucerne. Here he was referred to J. B. Lang, an analyst who had been one of C. G. Jung's students. He was able to return to Bern at the end of May after some electrotherapy and but twelve three-hour analytical sessions. Sixty more visits to Lucerne took place from June 1916 to November 1917. Some of Hesse's anxieties were dispelled, he learned to cope more ably with his frustrations, and he slowly emerged from his deep depression.
   Hesse's personal encounter with psychoanalysis had a profound effect upon his life and art. It provided him with the incentive necessary to appraise himself and his adjustment to life, and afforded him the insights needed to begin his long inward path (Weg nach Innen), that tortuous road that he hoped would lead to self-knowledge and ultimately to greater self-realization.


It's been a long while (1993) since I've read Soul of the Age: Selected Letters of Hermann Hesse (1891-1962) [translated by Mark Harman], but I thought there might be some interesting "bits" re psychoanalysis so I dug it out of my closet. Sure enough there are letters to both C. G. Jung and J. B. Lang. The one to Jung (1934, long after Hesse's sessions with Lang) is a reply to a letter from Jung to Hesse (not in the book) and, re psychoanalysis, is the more interesting.

Excerpt #1 (on the linguistic quibble re "sublimation"):
  Your remarks about sublimation go to the heart of the problem, and demonstrate the difference between your view and mine. We're dealing, first of all, with an incidence of the linguistic confusion so prevalent nowadays--so many people use the same term but mean something different. You regard sublimation as a term best employed by chemists; Freud means one thing by it, and I have something else again in mind. Maybe some chemist originally conceived of the word sublimatio, I have no idea, but there's nothing esoteric about the word sublimis (or even sublimare): it's classical Latin.  
   There would be no difficulty resolving that particular point. But this time there are real issues at stake behind the linguistic quibble. I agree with your interpretation of the Freudian concept of sublimation. I wasn't trying to defend Freud's notion, but rather the actual concept itself. I feel that it's an important concept where cultural issues are concerned. And this is where we part company. As a physician, you regard sublimation as something volitional, the transference of a drive to an alien sphere of activity. In the last resort I, too, regard sublimation as a form of "repression," but I only use that lofty term in cases where it's possible to speak of "successful" repression--i.e., the effects of a drive on a sphere that is no doubt alien, but also extremely significant in the cultural sphere, art. 

Excerpt #2 (on the possible dangers--in Hesse's opinion--of psychoanalysis for an artist):
That is why psychoanalysis is such a difficult  and dangerous experience for artists. Those who take it seriously might easily have to refrain from all artistic activity for the rest of their lives. That is fine if the person is just a dilettante, but in the case of a Handel or a Bach, I feel we could do without psychoanalysis if we got Bach in return.

[NB: Though I personally know next to nothing about the psychoanalytic "process," I think Excerpt #2 especially interesting re the fears that Rilke had of psychoanalysis stripping away his ability to create art.]

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Still Reading "Crusoe" & Starting "Foe"

Little more than half way through Robinson Crusoe.

Crusoe first saw a single human foot mark; then he saw the body parts. He waffled like crazy re what to do, and then pretty much decided to play defense.

Morally he had a hard time playing judge:
I debated this very often with myself thus: "How do I know what God Himself judges in this particular case? It is certain these people do not commit this as a crime; it is not against their own consciences reproving, or their light reproaching them; they do not know it to be an offense, and then commit it in defiance of divine justice, as we do in almost all the sins we commit. They think it no more a crime to kill a captive taken in war than we do to kill an ox; or to eat human flesh than we do to eat mutton."


Just started Coetzee's Foe and already I'm a third through (most of Coetzee's texts are quick reads).

The curtain opens with three characters: Susan Barton (she gets thrown up on Cruso's island after getting thrown off a mutinous ship--set afloat in a rowboat with the body of the murdered captain), Cruso (a 60-ish version of DeFoe's Crusoe), and a tongueless, dog-loyal Friday (he doesn't understand the word wood, but he understands firewood ).

Many similarities; some differences. In Foe we encounter a Cruso/Crusoe who has been "king" of his island for some while (he gets irritated when Sally asks Why). Also, Cruso (different than Crusoe) is subject to malaria-like fevers that he simply has to "live through" (in one instance, Sally sleeps with him, covers him, to help him through). Eventually (and remember: I'm only a third through) the fever--perhaps together with the fact that he is removed from his island--will lead to Cruso's death.

Three more things I'll mention about Foe: 1.) There are an abundance of apes on the island (not the case in DeFoe's version); 2.) There are mysterious terraces (Cruso only tells Susan that they are for those who come after them: perhaps they'll have the seed to sow); and 3.) Providence plays a lesser but perhaps more sinister role:
"If Providence were to watch over all of us," said Cruso, "who would be left to pick the cotton and cut the sugar-cane? For the business of the world to prosper, Providence must sometimes wake and sometimes sleep, as lower creatures do."

Rilke & Wrestling Jacob

Walked the wider circle today: Peets (where I breakfasted and read Crusoe)--along Second and Bay Shore--Marine Stadium and Park (everyone already had chairs and blankets down to reserve their spots for tonight's Municipal Band)--Colorado Lagoon and home again.

Two names that seemed to coalesce into a single thought: Rilke and the biblical Jacob.

As I recall Rilke forwent psychoanalysis largely because he didn't want his daemons--aka his poetic inspirations, both good and bad--exorcized.

Here's to the Poet of Possibility (from The Book of Hours):
Ich lebe mein Leben in wachsenden Ringen,
die sich uber die Dinge ziehn.
Ich werde den letzten vielleicht nicht vollbringen,
aber versuchen will ich ihn.
Ich kreise um Gott, um den uralten Turm,
und ich kreise jahrtausendelang;
und ich weiss noch nicht: bin ich ein Falke, ein Sturm
oder ein grosser Gesang.

I live my life in widening circles
that reach out across the world.
I may not complete this last one
but I give myself to it.
I circle around God, around the primordial tower.
I've been circling for thousands of years
and I still don't know: am I a falcon,
a storm, or a great song
translated by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy

I live my life in expanding orbits
in order to take things in.
Perhaps I will not achieve the last
but I will try

I am circling around God, around the ancient tower,
and I've been circling for thousands of years.
I still don’t know whether I’m a falcon, a storm
or a great song 
translated by R L Swihart

rilke Pictures, Images and Photos


Genesis 32: 24 - 30 (NASB):

24 Then Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak.

25 And when he saw that he had not prevailed against him, he touched the socket of his thigh; so the socket of Jacob's thigh was dislocated while he wrestled with him.

26 Then he said, "Let me go, for the dawn is breaking." But he said, "I will not let you go unless you bless me."

27 So he said to him, "What is your name?" And he said, "Jacob."

28 And he said, "Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel; for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed."

29 Then Jacob asked him and said, "Please tell me your name." But he said, "Why is it that you ask my name?" And he blessed him there.

30 So Jacob named the place Peniel* for he said, "I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been preserved."

*Hebrew for Face of God.

Jacob Wrestling the Angel by Gustave Dore

Jacob Wrestling with the Angel Pictures, Images and Photos

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A Lifelong Crusoe and Wittgenstein's Private Language Argument

Undoubtedly Robinson Crusoe has been around for some time and he'll be around for some time to come: he's very much a part of us now. Even if we haven't read the story, we know the basic outline. Crusoe is shorthand for man-alone-on-an-island.


I forget--or have lost track of--where I first ran into the idea of a "lifelong Crusoe," but almost certainly it was in relation to Wittgenstein's Private Language Argument.

From Mark Addis's Wittgenstein: A Guide for the Perplexed:
   A controversial issue is whether a solitary individual could follow a rule. It should be observed that this is not the matter of whether an individual can follow rules which are particular to himself and unknown to the rest of the linguistic community. Instead the question is whether it is possible for an individual to follow a rule in the absence of a community. This problem is usually cast in terms of a lifelong Crusoe who is characterized as an individual isolated from birth with a language devised for his own purposes but without having first learnt a language from another. The received view is that it is highly doubtful whether a lifelong Crusoe would engage in activities which would appropriately be termed rule-following. Some commentators, such as Baker and Hacker (1985), oppose the standard position in holding that such a lifelong Crusoe could follow his own rules agreeing over time with himself in judgements and behaviour. Even if not psychologically possible it is conceivable that a lifelong Crusoe should employ some kind of language and follow rules in doing so. 


I've not been able to trace the term "lifelong Crusoe" back to Wittgenstein (I've looked in his Philosophical Investigations--where much of the material on the so-called Private Language Argument can be found--but to no avail), but here is an excerpt from early in his Philosophical Investigations in which he seems to be touching on this eventually controversial idea of a Private Language (from PI, Part I, 243):
   But could we also imagine a language in which a person could write down or give vocal expression to his inner experiences--his feelings, moods, and the rest--for his private use?----Well, can't we do so in our ordinary language?--But that is not what I mean. The individual words of this language are to refer to what can only be known to the person speaking; to his immediate private sensations. So another person cannot understand the language.

Crusoe Is in His Eleventh Year

I'm roughly half way through the book and Crusoe is in his eleventh year on the island. He tried to sail around the island but almost got carried out to sea by a strong current. Now he is contemplating the idea of how to raise goats because his ammunition is growing low.
   But being now in the eleventh year of my residence, and, as I have said, my ammunition growing low, I set myself to study some art to trap and snare the goats, to see whether I could not catch some of them alive; and particularly I wanted a she-goat great with young.

Image from the Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Art of Katia Swihart

Katia is my oldest daughter and she has just turned 16 (July 2nd). She is also the young artist who has created the cover art for my forthcoming first book of poems.

Other than the cover art, the two pieces below are IMO her best efforts to date (she is slated to take AP Studio Art next school year):

"Crusoe" & Cannibalism

Cannibalism, Brazil. Engraving by Theodor de Bry, 1562
(Image from Wikimedia Commons)

Crusoe took a large part of his second year to explore the other side of the island. From the abundance of wild life (turtles, fowls of many kinds, including penguins) he concludes that he has taken up his lot "on the worst side of the island."

On his way to the other side, past "the vale where his bower stood," Crusoe could view the sea to the west and see land--"whether an island or a continent I could  not tell." Further he posits that this land "must be near the Spanish dominions, and perhaps was all inhabited by savages." Lastly, he concludes that the inhabitants of this land could very well be the worst kind of savages:
Besides, after some thought upon this affair, I considered that if this land was the Spanish coast, I should certainly, one time or other, see some vessel pass or repass one way or other; but if not, then it was the savage coast between the Spanish country and Brazils, where are found the worst of savages; for they are cannibals or men-eaters, and fail not to murder and devour all the human bodies that fall into their hands. 

My question then became: Where did DeFoe get his inspiration for these cannibals?

Though what follows isn't necessarily DeFoe's source, it does indicate that in and before DeFoe's time the fact (or fiction) of cannibalistic peoples is already in place.

The Wikimedia picture above is supposedly an engraving done for Hans Staden's account of his 1557 captivity. Note the title: Cannibalism, Brazil. [The word cannibal is from the Spanish Canibales (pl.), a form (recorded by Columbus) of the name Caribes a people of the W. Indies (SOED).]

According to Wikipedia Hans Staden was a German soldier and mariner who voyaged to South America. On one voyage he was supposedly captured by the Tupinamba people of Brazil whom he claimed practiced cannibalism. He wrote a fairly popular book which related his experiences.

NB: Though some scholars defend the importance and reliability of Staden's work, others have questioned it and leveled charges of sensationalism.


Monday, July 11, 2011

Szymborska's "Miracle Fair"

Miracles (strictly defined as events whose occurrence defy natural laws) and Providence are our ways of explaining the inexplicable. Which brought to mind Szymborska's lovely and miraculous "Miracle Fair."

Miracle Fair

The commonplace miracle:
that so many common miracles take place.
The usual miracles:
invisible dogs barking
in the dead of night.
One of many miracles:
a small and airy cloud
is able to upstage the massive moon.  
Several miracles in one:
an alder is reflected in the water
and is reversed from left to right
and grows from crown to root
and never hits bottom
though the water isn't deep.
A run-of-the-mill miracle:
winds mild to moderate
turning gusty in storms.
A miracle in the first place:
cows will be cows.
Next but not least:
just this cherry orchard
from just this cherry pit.
A miracle minus top hat and tails:
fluttering white doves.
A miracle (what else can you call it):
the sun rose today at three fourteen a.m.
and will set tonight at one past eight.
A miracle that's lost on us:
the hand actually has fewer than six fingers
but still it's got more than four.
A miracle, just take a look around:
the inescapable earth.
An extra miracle, extra and ordinary:
the unthinkable
can be thought.
translated by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh

Rhimes For Big Kids - Wislawa Szymborska Pictures, Images and Photos

"Crusoe" & Providence

Providence (SOED): The foreknowing and protective care and government of a spiritual power; spec. (a) that of God; (b) that of nature.


Robinson Crusoe (in some sense an Everyman) is constantly turning to Providence to explain his circumstances.

In one instance he resorts to list-making (using the rubrics of Evil and Good) to help himself see the good in Providence (see two examples below):

Evil                                                                Good

I am cast upon a                                              But I am alive;
horrible,                                                           and  not drowned,
desolate island, void                                         as all my ship's
of all hope                                                        company were.
of recovery.

I am singled out                                               But I am singled out,
and separated,                                                 too, from all the ship's crew,
as it were, from all                                           to be spared from death;
the world                                                        and He that miraculously saved
to be miserable.                                               me from death can deliver
                                                                       me from this condition.

In another instance he discovers a few stalks of grain growing (barley and then rice) and initially believes "God had miraculously caused His grain to grow without any help of seed sown, and that it was so directed purely for my sustenance on that wild, miserable place" (Crusoe had earlier labeled the island "The Island of Despair"). Later it occurs to him that he had "shook a bag of chickens' meat out in that place" and that was the probable reason for the grain. Does this make him shake the idea of Providence? For a short while, perhaps, but soon he simply sees that Providence took another, if less fantastic, path: "for it was really the work of Providence to me, that should order or appoint that ten or twelve grains of corn should remain unspoiled, when the rats had destroyed all the rest, as if it had been dropped from heaven."

Barley Pictures, Images and Photos

James Joyce on "Crusoe"

Apparently in some lectures delivered in Trieste, Italy (1912) Joyce had this to say about DeFoe's Robinson Crusoe and how it reflects the English mindset:
. . . the manly independence, the unconscious cruelty, the persistence, the slow but effective intelligence, the sexual apathy, the practical and well-balanced religiosity, the calculating silence [of Robinson Crusoe].

And further:
The true symbol of the British conquest is Robinson Crusoe, cast away on a desert island, in his pocket a knife and a pipe, becomes an architect, a knife-grinder, an astronomer, a baker, a shipwright, a potter, a saddler, a farmer, a tailor, an umbrella-maker, and a clergyman. He is the true prototype of the British colonist, as Friday (the trusty savage who arrives on an unlucky day) is the symbol of the subject races. The whole Anglo-Saxon spirit is in Crusoe.

NB: These quotes are translations from Italian originals. Ergo alternate translations exist. See the following link for further (if scant) discussion on this topic.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Where was Robinson Crusoe?

He had been prospering in Brazil, but had agreed to sail to the coast of Africa (Guinea) to obtain slaves for himself and other plantation owners. By his own account when the storm hits he is around the mouth of the Orinoco River (northeast coast of Venezuela) and within sight of Tobago. This would seem in accord with what he "roughly" reckons later on the island (making use of the autumnal equinox):
. . . ; for I reckoned myself, by observation, to be in the latitude of nine degrees twenty-two minutes north of the line.


Though Crusoe is fiction he may be partly based on a real castaway by the name of Alexander Selkirk. Selkirk was stranded for four years on an island, Mas a Tierra (since renamed Robinson Crusoe Island), off the coast of Chile. Due west of Santiago this island of course does not accord with the details given in the novel.

Map Of Venezuela Pictures, Images and Photos

Saturday, July 9, 2011

DeFoe's "Crusoe" & Coetzee's "Foe"

Finished with Pale Fire. If I wait another 5 to 10 years, I'll have forgotten much of it and it'll read like a brand new story. That's the richness of Nabokov.


Have begun a Kindle version of DeFoe's Robinson Crusoe (I've never read it; never thought to read it until now) as prep/preface to Coetzee's Foe (apparently DeFoe's surname was originally just Foe). I'll read a good chunk of the first before dipping into the second.

So far there's a lot about listening to your father and taking the middle path (safer; better chance for happiness) and Crusoe's desire for sailing and adventure, despite the dangers.

The only bit I've highlighted in my Kindle thus far is a few interesting lines re Crusoe's observations on mankind, especially youth:
--viz. that they are not ashamed to sin, and yet are ashamed to repent; not ashamed of the action for which they ought justly to be estimated fools, but are ashamed of the returning, which only can make them be esteemed wise men.

Daniel DeFoe (c. 1659 - 1731)
Daniel Defoe Pictures, Images and Photos

Friday, July 8, 2011

"Pale Fire": Line 1000 = Line 1: I was the shadow of the waxwing slain

I'm almost at the end (and the end is somewhat coming back to me: Memory says: Now I remember): Gradus (Mr. Gray) has fired and hit Shade instead of Kinbote = Commentator = Zemblan King (once he's recovered, with the help of a good-looking gardener, Kinbote dials 11111).

I think today I'll just highlight a few fantastic phrases (why I keep coming back to Nabokov) I've highlighted via Kindle (great for that and notetaking).

Re the writing process (specifically Shade's):
. . . so that he could plunge back into his chaos and drag out of it, with all its wet stars, his cosmos?
Re history:
Shade: "True, sir. In due time history will have denounced everybody. . . ."
Re Lines 939 - 940: Man's life, etc.:
. . . our poet suggests here that human life is but a series of footnotes to a vast obscure unfinished masterpiece.
Re Gradus and a cup of coffee (he's on his way; he's in the Big Apple):
He had a brimming cup and half a saucerful of coffee at a crowded and wet counter and spent the rest of the smoke-blue morning moving from bench to bench and from paper to paper in the westside alleys of Central Park.
Re Gradus and  his first paper (The New York Times):
His lips moving like wrestling worms, . . .
Re some verbal silliness by Carl Sandburg:
Asked about the Soviet exhibition at the New York Coliseum, Carl Sandburg, a poet, replied, and I quote: "They make their appeal on the highest of intellectual levels."
Re Gradus (aka Jacques d'Argus) and Kinbote's godlike perspective on his day in NYC:
From my rented cloudlet I contemplate him with quiet surprise: here he is, this creature ready to commit a monstrous act--and coarsely enjoying a coarse meal!
Re the miracle of the written word:
We are absurdly accustomed to the miracle of a few written signs being able to contain immortal imagery, involutions of thought, new worlds with live people, speaking, weeping, laughing.

I was the shadow of the waxwing slain
Waxwing Pictures, Images and Photos

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Nabokov & Lewis Carroll

I know there's a  connection. Didn't early Nabokov translate Alice into Russian? (I want to say somewhere--perhaps Strong Opinions--Nabokov claims there's a photo that definitively proves Carroll a pedophile. Or am I wrong?)

Anyway, seems in word golf (aka's are word ladder, word-links, and doublets) we have another connection.

Lewis Carroll

lewis Pictures, Images and Photos

Et in Arcadia ego: "Pale Fire" & the Importance of Art = Play = Stratagem

Et in Arcadia ego by Poussin
Et in Arcadia Ego Pictures, Images and Photos


On a more practical note Art = Play = Stratagem may keep Alzheimer's at bay.

Example #1 (Kinbote):
A newspaper account of a Russian tsar's coronation had, instead of korona (crown), the misprint vorona (crow), and when next day this was apologetically "corrected," it got misprinted a second time as korova (cow). The artistic correlation between the crown-crow-cow series is something that would have, I am sure, enraptured my poet. I have seen nothing like it on lexical playfields and the odds against the double coincidence defy computation.
Example #2 (Kinbote):

My illustrious friend showed a childish predilection for all sorts of word games and especially for so-called word golf. He would interrupt the flow of a prismatic conversation to indulge in this particular pastime, and naturally it would have been boorish of me to refuse playing with him. Some of my records are: hate-love in three, lass-male in four, and live-dead in five (with "lend" in the middle). 

Nabokov as Anti-Freudian

He never tired of denouncing/poking fun of Freudians or other Quacks.

Through Kinbote:
Alas, I find only two items preserved in my notebook:

   By picking the nose in spite of all commands to the contrary, or when a youth is all the time sticking his finger through his buttonhole . . .  the analytic teacher knows that the appetite of the lustful one knows no limit in his phantasies.
        (Quoted by Prof. C. from Dr. Oskar Pfister, The Psychoanalytical Method, 1917, N.Y., p. 79)

   The little cap of red velvet in the German version of Little Red Riding Hood is a symbol of menstruation.
        (Quoted by Prof. C. from Erich Fromm, The Forgotten Language, 1951, N.Y., p. 240)

   Do these clowns really believe what they teach?

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Speaking of Pale Fires

Twice now I've missed incredible moons. When was it--some time in spring--that I missed, except in poem, the perigee moon (driving down 4th early in the morning I thought I'd be crushed). Last night I was walking the dog and an incredible waning crescent moon--west on 4th,  low on the horizon--was begging to be captured. The dog took forever (yes, Lucie), and by the time I returned with my camera it was gone. I walked all the way to the corner liquor store hoping to get a shot. No luck.

Perigee Moon 19.3.11 Pictures, Images and Photos

Crescent Moon Pictures, Images and Photos

"Pale Fire": Diogenes the Cynic & an Anti-Soviet Jab

Nabokov was a Cynic (a good thing IMO)--in the sense that he shunned group affiliations and was never shy about questioning accepted beliefs.

Though it's always dangerous to equate author and author's creation, certainly parts of Emma are Flaubert and parts of Shade and Kinbote are Nabokov. Connecting all the dots of course is impossible.

Here's Kinbote on a good Zemblan Christian:

In fact, a good Zemblan Christian is taught that true faith is not there to supply pictures or maps, but that it should quietly content itself with a warm haze of pleasurable anticipation.
Here's Shade on the afterlife:
SHADE: Life is a great surprise. I do not see why death should not be an even greater one.
And here's Kinbote again (only a fraction of the whole foray), gently pushing against the idea of suicide as sin:
The ideal drop is from an aircraft, your muscles relaxed, your pilot puzzled, your packed parachute shuffled off, cast off, shrugged off--shootka (little chute)! Down you go, but all the while you feel suspended and buoyed as you somersault in slow motion like a somnolent tumbler pigeon, and sprawl supine on the eiderdown of the air, or lazily turn to embrace your pillow, enjoying every last instant of soft, deep, death-padded life, with the earth's green seesaw now above, now below, and the voluptuous crucifixion, as you stretch yourself in the growing rush, in the nearing swish, and then your loved body's obliteration in the Lap of the Lord. If I were a poet I would certainly make an ode to the sweet urge to close one's eyes and surrender utterly unto the perfect safety of wooed death.


Hard to say exactly where the country of Zembla is, but my guess is that it's no more than a stone's throw away from Russia.  Here's Kinbote = Nabokov (this connection is quite certain) taking a swipe at the Soviet regime:
Ideas in modern Russia are machine-cut blocks coming in solid colors; the nuance is outlawed, the interval walled up, the curve grossly stepped.

Diogenes by John William Waterhouse

Diogenes in his tub Pictures, Images and Photos

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Cezanne & Picasso

History = God has lauded them both--one for perfecting a single method, the other for passionately seeking "another method."

[Of course the above is overly facile (I will always be a novice). I'm just giving voice (coalesced in me) to something expressed by a friend long ago.]

Saturday, July 2, 2011

"Pale Fire": A Possible Easter Egg & Nabokov/Shade on Student No-No's

Of course I only imagine an easter egg. What if Nabokov somehow had a sneakpeek at O'Brien's masterpiece?

From Pale Fire:
After the last guest had gone (on bicycle), and the ashtrays had been emptied, all the windows were dark . . .
The imagined easter egg is buried in the deep grass of a parenthetical: on bicycle.


Speaking through Shade and Kinbote, Nabokov reveals loads about his personal tastes and intolerances. For example, here is Shade (poet/prof) discussing with Kinbote the grading of students' papers.
"I am generally very benevolent [said Shade]. But there are certain trifles I do not forgive." Kinbote: "For instance?" "Not having read the book. Having read it like an idiot. Looking in it for symbols; example: 'The author uses the striking image green leaves because green is the symbol of happiness and frustration.' Pictures, Images and Photos

Friday, July 1, 2011

Back to Two Questions re "Pale Fire"

I think I can answer the first question now: Yes, Pale Fire is very much connected to Nabokov's work in translating "Eugene Onegin." I dug up this lengthy essay (by Molly Lehman) pointing to that conclusion rather quickly:

A quote from her text:
We can begin to see, then, how Nabokov’s exploration of the literary footnote in Eugene Onegin could expand itself into a fictional work like Pale Fire. The novel appeared in print for the first time in 1962, five years after he finished the translation, and indeed, John Lyons has noted that “He [Nabokov] worked on his edition of Eugene Onegin and Pale Fire simultaneously, and no doubt the first was in large part the inspiration of the second.”  For Nabokov, spurred by his work on Eugene Onegin to experiment further with the possibilities of literary annotation, Pale Fire seems to have been a way to continue his investigations in a different venue, one which allowed him greater control of the interactions between text and commentary.  In Pale Fire Nabokov could construct a fantasy version both of the commentator in Charles Kinbote and of the poet in John Shade.  By operating within the realm of fiction, Nabokov was freer to make his discoveries about the links between author, reader, text, and commentator.

Re Question #2: Though I quickly found others talking about the similarities between Nabokov's Pale Fire and O'Brien's The Third Policeman, I was unable to find anything about a direct connection.

And chronologically perhaps it was an impossibility (I just checked: though written around 1940, The Third Policeman wasn't published until after O'Brien's death in 1966--and Pale Fire first appeared in 1962).

Oh, well.

"Pale Fire": More Choice Bits

Just a great image:
The pool of opalescent ditch water had grown in length; along its edge walked a sick bat like a cripple with a broken umbrella.

And a nice bit re the "other reality" of Art:
Eystein had also resorted to a weird form of trickery: among his decorations of wood or wool, gold or velvet, he would insert one which was really made of the material elsewhere imitated by paint. This device which was apparently meant to enhance the effect of his tactile and tonal values had, however, something ignoble about it and disclosed not only an essential flaw in Eystein's talent, but the basic fact that "reality" is neither the subject nor the object of true art which creates its own special reality having nothing to do with the average "reality" perceived by the communal eye.

Two Questions (but No Answers) re "Pale Fire"

Question #1: Did the lengthy commentary of "Eugene Onegin" inspire, plant the seed for, Pale Fire = Poem + Commentary?

Questioin #2: Did Flann O'Brien's De Selby (whose footnotes eventually dominate the page) contribute to the genesis of Pale Fire?

Answers: I have none. Rereading Pale Fire brought these questions to mind. I have no idea if there's evidence out there to take a stab at the answers. Certainly Nabokov liked to claim: No influences.

I'll get back to it if I can dig anything up.