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

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Robert Walser: Selected Stories

Started him yesterday evening. Did I see his name first in Kafka?

Anyway, when I read somewhere he was a softer, kinder Beckett, I thought, yeah, I've got to read him.

Actually, according to Susan Sontag's foreward, it's a bit more complicated than that:
   Anyone seeking to bring Walser to a public that has yet to discover him has at hand a whole arsenal of glorious comparisons. A Paul Klee in prose--as delicate, as sly, as haunted. A cross between Stevie Smith and Beckett: a good-humored, sweet Beckett. And, as literature's present inevitably remakes its past, so we cannot help but see Walser as the missing link between Kleist and Kafka, who admired him greatly.
Haven't read much yet, but this ending to "Flower Days" is fantastic:
All the same, one has to do one's duty as a citizen, nobody should make a face, nobody think he has a right to pass the flower days off with a quiet smile. They are a fact of life; but one should respect facts. Should one really?

robert walser Pictures, Images and Photos

Marina Tsvetaeva: I don't live to write, I write to live

Nabokov slights Tsvetaeva in Verses and Versions (there's not one of her poems there and, if I'm not mistaken, he calls her a mediocrity or the equivalent)--not to mention Mandelshtam (he at least gets a single poem)--but one reading of Nabokov's The Original of Laura sees a suffering, dying, writer trying to "hang on" via the power of the written word, i.e., Nabokov wrote to live.

Finished (for now) with Laura. I'll have to let it sit for a while; read it again. Fragmented, yes, but thought-provoking all the same: a writer approaching death, writing to live, writing as erasure, an author not really himself (approaching a caricature of himself), the index card method, etc.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Efface, expunge, erase, delete, rub out, [something scibbled out], wipe out, obliterate

The Title today is from the final index card (I assume according to Dimitri Nabokov). As to how it fits in I'm not yet sure: I'm not finished. Will I know when I'm finished? The cards are getting sketchier and sketchier (curiouser and curiouser).

According to Dimitri's somewhat self-serving Intro, Nabokov, toward the end, suffered "incessant inflammations under and around his toenails." And the "echoes" of this in the text arise largely from the I's desire to erase himself from the toes up. Or at least (so far as I've gotten) erase his toes. This urge may also inspire, or somehow lead to, the last card.

Will say more when I (know) more.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Nabokov's "The Original of Laura" & My "FLaura"

I've had The Original of Laura in my closet for some while. Maybe even a year. I read Nabokov's Verses and Versions and reread Pale Fire first; I read a whole lot of other stuff before finally deciding to dig in and get through it. Why? Hard to say. I suppose it's because I knew it wasn't a finished product. I suppose it's because he himself wanted it to be burned (a la the book burning in Pale Fire). I suppose it's because I knew from reviews that it wasn't the Nabokov I knew and loved.

It'll be a quick read: it's more package than content. One index card per page (writing only on one side). It's terribly unfinished.


There's lots of reviews (mostly mixed) out there re the book and "Dmitri's Dilemma." Though I love much of Nabokov's oeuvre, and I'm sure Laura (hobbling Laura) will have some "zings," I found myself pretty much in accord with this:


I guess this will be a good place to insert my poem related to/inspired by Laura. As soon as I heard about the sketchy novel's existence, and its pending publication, I wrote this poem (I'd have to backtrack to find the article that inspired me and some of the details -- though it's been years since I wrote this poem, I'm thinking now that the after-painting below must've been dancing in my head.) The poem was never published published, so what can it hurt.


Tenacious: you bet.  Like muskrats guarding their musk.  Dying is fun and we wanted to know the authorial order of the index cards

Swiss vault: Séance

Banner (letters inked in blue neon): DIRECTION, PLEASE   

Once the lights were off, the thirty cards in question turned a ghastly green, the table lifted, and a telegraphic clicking, issuing from and muffled by a luminous cloud above the table, clacked to no decipherable end

On auto-shuffle, the cards dealt themselves into a ménage à trois of narrative fans, pausing between hands only long enough for me to jot down scant synoptic features:

  1. Phil, an ageing writer of large note and a hatha yogi, is erasing himself from the toes up     
  2. Phil, an ageing writer of large note and a hatha yogi, is erasing himself from the head down
  3. FLaura, in an outlandish attempt to outdo Laura and Flora, playfully twitches a bared nipple while coyly gazing at her twisting sister in an oval mirror
A day later someone—apparently the Transparent Umber Umber—ethered into our e-boxes this odd little follow-up:

How fitting (or knot, ornate) that you should query me in all caps and I should answer in italics—and that a double-Dutch (double-dunce) Monkey in the Middle should play pat ball to my taps

Ecole de Fontainebleau, Portrait présumé de Gabrielle d'Estrées et de sa soeur la duchesse de Villars

Ecole de Fontainebleau, Portrait présumé de Gabrielle d'Estrées et de sa soeur la duchesse de Villars

vers 1594,
96 x 125 cm,
Musée du Louvre, Paris

Sunday, August 28, 2011

"Beware of Pity": How Does It End?

Perhaps as one might expect: Edith finally does do herself in (over the balustrade). But there's a feverish back-and-forth to the whole ride that makes the read quite exhilarating.

The ending is wonderfully fused with the events of WWI (e.g., Hofmiller is trying to get through to Condor by phone when Archduke Ferdinand is murdered), and Hofmiller loses himself in the frenzy of the war:
   Melodramatic phrases revolt me. So I am not going to say that I sought death. I shall only say that I did not fear it, or at least feared it less than most people, for there were moments when the thought of returning home, where I should meet those who shared the knowledge of my guilt, was more horrible to me than all the horrors of the front. 
And after the war? Hofmiller's surprised that he can go on living, and the hell of war has somehow provided him with new standards of measuring guilt:
   When those four interminable years came to an end, I discovered to my own astonishment that, despite everything, I was able to go on living in my former world. For we who had returned from hell measured everything by new standards. To have the death of a human being on one's conscience no longer meant the same to a man who had been to the front as to a man of the pre-war era. In the vast blood-bath of the war my own private guilt had been absorbed into the general guilt; for I was the same  person, it was the same eyes, the same hands, that had, after all, set up the machine-gun at Limanova which had mown down the first wave of Russian infantry to advance on our trenches, and I myself had afterwards seen through my field-glasses the hideous eyes of those whom I had been instrumental in killing, . . .
The AUSTRIAN ROYAL FAMILY with the Heir to the Austrian Throne, ARCHDUKE FRANZ FERDINAND, who was assasinated in sarejevo, which was the catalyst that started World War I. Pictures, Images and Photos

The Austrian Royal Family

Saturday, August 27, 2011

No Facts, Only Interpretations

Assuming the author pours something of himself into his creation (think Flaubert & Emma, think Tolstoy & Anna, think...), do we find in Doktor Condor and Anton Hofmiller two battling forces within Zweig?

The good Herr Doktor is prepared to wear himself thin in service to Humanity. He lives to help others. He has married a blind woman.
'But one must try,' he said, with a glance at me. "That's what one lives for. For that alone.'
Hofmiller's initial response to Edith's crush on him is to run away. He did not court her affection; he does not want it. Only in talking to Condor--and only under the persuasive powers of the older man--does the young Hofmiller agree to stay and "play along." According to Condor, Hofmiller's running away would be the equivalent of a death sentence for the young girl:
'I take it that after what I have said to you you are fully aware of the consequences. We have just decided that the effect on the child of your running away would be murder -- or would lead to suicide . . . and you are, I assume, quite clear as to the fact that your . . . your flight involves not only your resignation but a sentence of death on the poor child.'

I've still not read the novel's denouement (I've just under 100 pages left), so I don't yet know how it will turn out. Neither have I read Zweig's last will and testament, Die Welt von Gestern (The World of Yesterday).

On the back cover of Beware of Pity is a blurb by Salman Rushdie: "Stefan Zweig was a dark and unorthodox artist; it's good to have him back." In light of the above assumption (granted, I'll need to gather more pieces to this jigsaw), I'm wondering if the dark side won out.

The Barber's Not the Catch-all He Used To Be But Still...

The usual weekend "circuit," with one exception: I stopped at the spinning helix. No bloodletting, I went early to avoid  the social aspect, it was just me and the early-opening barber.

"What'll it be?" "Number 2 all over."

We talked business mostly. "The new place won't be competition for me. They have their followers, I have mine."

I thanked him and paid. He said, "Maybe I'll see you at the car show."

Barber Pole Pictures, Images and Photos

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

"Beware of Pity": Black Love

The young narrator, Hofmiller, ruminating on the fact that Edith has fallen in love with him:
Even if I had sometimes been stirred by Ilona's sensual beauty, I had never even thought of Edith as a member of the opposite sex; it had never even so much as crossed my mind that her crippled body was possessed of the same organs, that her soul harboured the same urgent desires, as those of other women. It was only from this moment that I began to have an inkling of the fact (suppressed by most writers) that the outcasts, the branded, the ugly, the withered, the deformed, the despised and rejected, desire with a more passionate, far more dangerous avidity than the happy; that they love with a fanatical, a baleful, a black love, and that no passion on earth rears its head so greedily, so desperately, as the forlorn and hopeless passion of these step-children of God, who feel that they can only justify their earthly existence by loving and being loved. That it is precisely from the lowest abysses of despair that the  panic cries and groans of those hungry for love ring out most gruesomely -- this was the dread secret which I, in my raw inexperience, had never ventured to suspect. It was not until this moment that the knowledge penetrated my consciousness like a red-hot knife.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

"Beware of Pity": Before You Can Say Jack Robinson

Jack Robinson not Jackie Robinson (I didn't realize he died so young: 53).

"Before you can say Jack Robinson" (or similar) has occurred at least twice thus far in the translation of Zweig's Beware of Pity. What does it mean? Where did the phrase come from?


According to my SOED it means: very quickly or suddenly.

According to various sources the idiom is quite old (18th century) but we can't with any certainty tie "Jack" to a historical person:

It would be pleasing to be able to point to a historical figure called Robinson who was the source of this expression. Regrettably, we can't. It could well be that there was an actual Jack Robinson who was reputed to be quick in some way, but, if that's the case, any reliable record of him has disappeared. It is just as likely that Jack Robinson was a mythical figure and no more real than Jack Tar, Jack Frost or Jack the Giant Killer.
It is known that the phrase was in circulation by the end of the 18th century as Mme. Frances D'Arblay (Fanny Burney) used it then in her romantic novel Evelina, or the history of a young lady's entrance into the world in 1778:
"For the matter of that there," said the Captain, "you must make him a soldier, before you can tell which is lightest, head or heels. Howsomever, I'd lay ten pounds to a shilling, I could whisk him so dexterously over into the pool, that he should light plump upon his foretop and turn round like a tetotum."
"Done!" cried Lord Merton; "I take your odds."
"Will you?" returned he; "why, then, 'fore George, I'd do it as soon as say Jack Robinson."
Sir John Robinson was the Constable of the Tower of London for several years from 1660 onward. Some have suggested that he was the source of the phrase and have bequeathed him a reputation for hastily chopping off people's heads. There's no evidence to link the phrase with Sir John, or that he was in any way unusually quick in dispatching the Tower's inmates. That suggested derivation also fails to account for the hundred year gap between Sir John Robinson's career and the first appearance of the phrase in print.
The lexicographer Francis Grose had the advantage of working around the time that the phrase appears to have been coined and he believed that the derivation related to an actual person. Grose's 1811 edition of the Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue defines 'Jack Robinson' thus:
"Before one could say Jack Robinson; a saying to express a very short time, originating from a very volatile gentleman of that appellation, who would call on his neighbours, and be gone before his name could be announced."
The lack of any detail about Jack Robinson beyond being a 'volatile gentleman' doesn't encourage any confidence in that account.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Minneapolis Skyline with Spoonbridge and Cherry

"Spoonbridge and Cherry" has always delighted me: can't say exactly why. Perhaps it's something about a rare visit to Minneapolis (airports don't count as visits), a brisk autumn day, a chat with an old friend.

Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen
Spoonbridge and Cherry 1985­–1988
aluminum, stainless steel, paint
Collection Walker Art Center
Gift of Frederick R. Weisman in honor of his parents, William and Mary Weisman, 1988

Minneapolis Skyline with Spoonbridge and Cherry by meetminneapolis

Zweig's "Beware of Pity"

I'm back to my usual school routine: on the weekends (shorter than short) I walk to Peets, read, and usually take the long way home: down 2nd to Bay Shore; along Marine Stadium and the Lagoon; past the green bandage of recent seeding (the old Red Car rail bed); home.


The fictional narrator has just met the doctor (Condor). They are now walking toward the little town where Condor must catch a train. The narrator has been given a mission by Edith's father (Mr. Kekesfalva): find out from the doctor how serious Edith's condition is (Edith was crippled by some unsaid disease as a child). The doctor is on the verge of telling the narrator more about Kekesfalva (up till now the N. only knows/thinks: Kekesfalva is a rich, generous aristocrat with a sick daughter).
'Listen, Herr Leutnant! Things half done and hints half given are always bad; all the evil in the world comes from half-measures. Perhaps I've let slip too much already, and I should not, in any case, like you to be shaken in your generous outlook. On the other hand, I've aroused your curiosity too much for you not to make inquiries of other people, and I am, unfortunately, bound to fear that the information you get will not be very favourable. And then, too, it's an impossible situation for anyone to go on visiting a house without knowing who the people are -- probably you wouldn't feel any too easy about going there again now that I've inadvertently gone and upset you. If it would really interest you, therefore, to learn more about our friend, I'm at your disposal.'

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Zbigniew Herbert's Mr. Cogito

First week back at school. Though I'm an early riser in general, 5 a.m. + the stress of working with the mathematically challenged will slowly (rapidly) take its toll.

Surprisingly, perhaps, my creative juices tend to flow more when I'm in school. Guess it's all the stimuli. Had some vision (some truth) alight yesterday in the middle of class: something I was trying to get the kids to do made me think. Art and Truth (or simply art and truth).

Maybe I'll start chipping away at the poem inside the rock this weekend. Maybe it'll emerge.


I loved all of Herbert's Cogito poems from the get-go.

Mr. Cogito's Soul
In the past
we know from history
she would go out from the body
when the heart stopped

with the last breath
she went quietly away
to the blue meadows of heaven

   Mr. Cogito's soul
   acts differently

   during his life she leaves his body
   without a word of farewell

   for months for years she lives
   on different continents
   beyond the frontiers
   of Mr. Cogito

   it is hard to locate her address
   she sends no news of herself
   avoids contacts
   doesn't write letters

   no one knows when she will return
   perhaps she has left forever

Mr. Cogito struggles to overcome
the base feeling of jealousy

He thinks well of his soul
thinks of her with tenderness

undoubtedly she must live also
in the bodies of others

certainly there are too few souls
for all humanity

Mr. Cogito accepts his fate
he has no other way out

he even attempts to say—my own soul mine
he thinks of his soul affectionately

he thinks of his soul with tenderness
therefore when she appears
he doesn't welcome her with the words
—it's good you've come back

he only looks at her from an angle
as she sits before the mirror
combing her hair
tangled and grey

Translated by John and Bogdana Carpenter

Monday, August 15, 2011

Stefan Zweig: "Beware of Pity"

I'd heard about him for years before I read him: Austrian, Jewish, commits suicide with his young wife in Brazil between the wars. Read some of his short stories/novellas--notably The Royal Game (also called Chess Story)--and liked them, so I picked up his novel Beware of Pity (pretty much a steal at a closing Borders).

I've also found an interesting essay about Zweig online (The World of Yesterday, which I've not yet read, is Zweig's autobiography, supposedly sent to his publisher just before he died):


stefan Zweig Pictures, Images and Photos

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Hamburg, Germany: Temporary Home to a Giant Mermaid

Of course she's not really a mermaid, but that's what some are calling her. The giant woman is floating in Alster Lake in Hamburg, Germany (the display is temporary so her little skinny dip may already be over). Although she looks great in any light, I think she's spectacular at night. The artist responsible for this glorious girl (apparently built in three pieces): Oliver Voss.

mermaid visited Binnenalster in Hamburg

Photo Credit: Catenius

Dublin's Samuel Beckett Bridge

Photograph by H. Steinberg

Impossible to Measure Influence: Zbigniew Herbert

Hard to believe I haven't mentioned him yet. Hard to say how much the apprentice has taken from the master.

Silk of a Soul
did I speak with her
either about love
or about death
only blind taste
and mute touch
used to run between us
when absorbed in ourselves
we lay close
I must
peek inside her
to see what she wears
at her centre
when she slept
with her lips open
I peeked
and what
and what
would you think
I caught sight of
I was expecting
I was expecting
a bird
I was expecting
a house
by a lake great and silent
but there
on a glass counter
I caught sight of a pair
of silk stockings
my God
I'll buy her those stockings
I'll buy them
but what will appear then
on the glass counter
of the little soul
will it be something
which cannot be touched
even with one finger of a dream
Translated by Czeslaw Milosz and Peter Dale Scott

Saturday, August 13, 2011

"Boyhood": A Hefty Mandate for a Young Boy

Boyhood ends with Aunt Annie's death and funeral. She was the aunt who had made it her life's mission to sell/distribute her father's eccentric book Ewige Genesing (Eternal Healing).

The close is something of an edict from self to self. The young Coetzee has taken it upon himself to remember things no one else will. An impetus for writing?
He alone is left to do the thinking. How will he keep them all in his head, all the books, all the people, all the stories? And if he does not remember them, who will?

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The First Genocide of the 20th Century

Germany's colonial rule of what became modern Namibia was not only responsible for killing 10,000 Nama (a subgroup of Khoi people), it was also responsible for the deaths of thousands of Herero people (part of the Bantu group).


Germany has only recently (2004) apologized for this massacre, but it is doubtful that monetary compensation is forthcoming.

Who Are/Were the Hottentots?

Coetzee speaks of them in various books (especially in his autobiographical works; some essays): I believe he uses both the Dutch term: Hottentot (now considered offensive), and the name these people called themselves: Khoikhoi or Khoi. I believe he also says that these natives have pretty much disappeared, or were largely absorbed into the "coloured"  of South Africa.

Here's part of what Wikipedia says:

The Khoikhoi ("people people" or "real people") or Khoi, in standardised Khoekhoe/Nama orthography spelled Khoekhoe, are a historical division of the Khoisan ethnic group, the native people of southwestern Africa, closely related to the Bushmen (or San, as the Khoikhoi called them). They had lived in southern Africa since the 5th century AD.[1] When European immigrants colonized the area in 1652, the Khoikhoi were practising extensive pastoral agriculture in the Cape region, with large herds of Nguni cattle. The European immigrants labeled them Hottentots, in imitation of the sound of the Khoisan languages,[2] but this term is today considered derogatory.[3]
Archaeological evidence shows that the Khoikhoi entered South Africa from Botswana through two distinct routes – traveling west, skirting the Kalahari to the west coast, then down to the Cape, and travelling south-east out into the Highveld and then southwards to the south coast.[4] Most of the Khoikhoi have largely disappeared as a group, except for the largest group, the Namas. 


Apparently the Germans (they were colonizing Namibia) massacred 10,000 Nama (a subset of the Khoikhoi) from 1904 to 1907. The photo below was released to Wikipedia Commons by the Deutsches Bundesarchiv (German Federal Archive):

Deutsches Bundesarchiv (German Federal Archive), Bild 146-1981-157-15

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

"Boyhood": When Does Coetzee Become a Vegetarian?

At what point does Coetzee become a vegetarian? I can't say. He is eating meat at the farm in the Karoo (mutton with gravy), loves to hunt, but even as a child he seems to have some Tolstoyan moments.
   Sometimes when he is among the sheep--when they have been rounded up to be dipped, and are penned tight and cannot get away--he wants to whisper to them, warn them of what lies in store. But then in their yellow eyes he catches a glimpse of something that silences him: a resignation, a foreknowledge not only of what happens to sheep at the hands of Ros behind the shed, but of what awaits them at the end of the long, thirsty ride to Cape Town on the transport lorry. They know it all, down to the finest detail, and yet they submit. They have calculated the price and are prepared to pay it--the price of being on earth, the price of being alive.

"La Dolce Vita": Marcello to Sylvia

Marcello (Mastroianni) to Sylvia (Ekberg): You are the first woman on the first day of creation. You are mother, sister, lover, friend, angel, devil, earth, home.

mastroianni Pictures, Images and Photos

Anita Ekberg Pictures, Images and Photos

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Difference: Foucault vs. Chomsky

   No, but I don't want to answer in so little time. I would simply say this, that finally this problem of human nature, when put simply in theoretical terms, hasn't led to an argument between us; ultimately we understand each other very well on these theoretical problems.
   On the other hand, when we discussed the problem of human nature and political problems, then differences arose between us. And contrary to what you think, you can't prevent me from believing that these notions of human nature, of justice, of the realisation of the essence of human beings, are all notions and concepts which have been formed within our civilisation, within our type of knowledge and our form of philosophy, and that as a result form part of our class system; and one can't, however regrettable it may be, put forward these notions to describe or justify a fight which should-and shall in principle--overthrow the very fundaments of our society. This is an extrapolation for which I can't find the historical justification. That's the point. ..

Coetzee's "Boyhood": Afrikaans Potty Lingo

Re reading material: I had to make a decision: With the clock ticking down (I have to report back to school on 8/12, the kids start 8/15), what do I read: more Coetzee or Stefan Zweig's Beware of Pity (my Kindle was lost/stolen in Europa)? I chose the easier read, Boyhood (I'm already on p. 65 of 166), and will begin Beware of Pity next. As those two books are my only "new" reads, I'll have to resort to "rereads" (don't worry I've lots of good stuff: perhaps I'll try to dig up Tolstoy's What Men Live By or some vintage Max Frisch) until I replace my Kindle (perhaps on my not-so-far-away birthday in September).


Re the naughty Afrikaans words Coetzee mentions in Boyhood (most of which are not explained: they are just given as examples of how filthy young boys can be): Just for fun I'll first see what Google Translate says, then, if that doesn't make sense, I'll Google around for a better answer:

1.) fok seems to speak for itself but Google Translate says "foresail." Googling for a list of naughty Afrikaans terms, I find (as expected) fok = fuck.  As a kid this word really mystified me too. Wasn't quite sure what it meant but I knew it was one of the worst.

2.) piel according to Google Translate is "dick," which sounds like a winner. The naughty list I pulled up prefers "cock."

3.) poes is pretty much explained by Coetzee at chapter's end (and, once he explains it, it makes sense). Google Translate says "puss," and the naughty list has "cunt."

4.) gat according to Google Translate is "hole." The list didn't have gat, except in combination: gat gabba = homosexual, but I'm sure the cruder meaning is simply "asshole."

5.) poep-hol looks partly familiar and sure enough Google Translate says "poo-hole." The list seems to have a variant, poepol, which it translates as "asshole."

6.) Google Translate doesn't recognize effies or FLs, and the list doesn't mention them either.  A bit more Googling and I've got effies = condom (apparently) and FLs = French Letters = condoms (so related to effie and somehow related to the prejudice of anything that's French is bad).

From Coetzee to The Chomsky-Foucault Debates

Can't totally explain the progression of thought (mental gymnastics) that led me to, reminded me of, these debates (which I've never heard or read in toto): prejudice = what we take for granted (Heidegger), the legacy of Socrates = Ventriloquism (Coetzee's Age of Iron), what "coloured" means in the milieu in which a young Coetzee (or the subject/object of the narrator's gaze in Coetzee's Boyhood) grows up:
. . . Coloured, which means that he has no money, lives in an obscure hovel, goes hungry; it means that if his mother were to call out 'Boy!' and wave, as she is quite capable of doing, this boy would have to stop in his tracks and come and do whatever she might tell him (carry her shopping basket, for instance), and at the end of it get a tickey in his cupped hands and be grateful for it. And if he were angry with his mother afterwards, she would simply smile and say, 'But they are used to it!' 

Anyway, found this debate transcript (the third?) online, scanned it, and admired Foucault = Devil's Advocate, and the way he kept chipping away at Chomsky's notions of "human nature" and "justice."

Monday, August 8, 2011

"Age of Iron": Vercueil as Death Angel

OK, to some extent Vercueil is Mrs. Curren's guardian angel (one might say: With a guardian angel like that who needs one). But in the end he becomes her Death Angel:
  "Is it time?" I said.
   I got back into bed, into the tunnel between the cold sheets. The curtains parted; he came in beside me. For the first time I smelled nothing. He took me in his arms and held me with mighty force, so that the breath went out of me in a rush. From that embrace there was no warmth to be had.

"La Dolce Vita": Eros vs. Thanatos

La Dolce Vita is a long film and I hadn't seen it in years (I also had to give in to the girls and their need to remain au courant, i.e., they wanted to watch Beastly, which means I didn't get to finish it).

Much of what I saw reminded me of Eros vs. Thanatos (see link below that claims Fellini was heavily influenced by Jung, Freud, and psychoanalytic theory) and, certainly stooping to oversimplification, I'll tag Sylvia (Anita Ekberg) as Eros and Steiner (Alain Cuny) as Thanatos.


The stunner for me was Maddalena (Anouk Aimee), whom I didn't know or remember and so had to look up.  I thought: The epitome of Italian Beauty, but it turns out she's French/Jewish. She plays the bored aristocrat who utters something like "Only love gives me strength."

Anouk Aimée Pictures, Images and Photos

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Irish Soda Bread

I tried making it the last time I returned from Ireland (20 years ago) and it was an utter failure: hard as rock. Back then you saw it sitting in just about every Irish pub; this time I only saw and had it once (in Slane, just north of Dublin: we had a wonderful lunch in the old post office). That might be because we spent so little time in Ireland (only 2.5 days) and barely escaped Dublin (our one day to Knowth, Newgrange, Slane, and the coast north of Dublin).

Googling around for a recipe today, I saw little that looked like the Irish soda bread I remember from Ireland: course, brown bread, no raisins. Finally, coming to an interview with an Irish chef (from Cork, I believe), I learned a bit about the history of Irish soda bread and had several recommended recipes to choose from. OK, so I chose one that deviates a bit from the simpler, more traditional fare, but the addition of toasted walnuts sounded too good to resist.

I thought surely I'd ruin it (like my last effort 20 years ago), but it actually turned out pretty good.

Irish Soda Bread Pictures, Images and Photos

Kensington Gardens: The Long Water

Our hotel was near Heathrow. We tried to drive in to London by car and had only moderate success. After circling around in some British labyrinth we finally found ourselves driving along Bayswater Road, north of Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens. We parked along Bayswater and ambled in near the Italian Gardens. We walked as far as the Peter Pan statue before turning back. Apparently we were walking along The Long Water and not The Serpentine. The two bodies of water are separated by The Serpentine Bridge (see photo below). It was getting dark. On the way back I saw a great bird I couldn't identify. Others were looking too; I tried to get a good photo but failed. It was out in the middle of The Long Water perched on some raised, circular pad.

Staying along Bayswater we moved closer to a street humming with pedestrians and lots of eateries. It took us a while to agree on a place. We finally settled on Chinese noodles. They couldn't take a US credit card (swipe), only a chip and pin. I paid cash, used the below-street-level john. We did much better--probably because we bought a more detailed map--getting back.

2 August - Kensington Gardens - The Long water and the Serpentine Bridge Pictures, Images and Photos

Saturday, August 6, 2011


Though various circular traffic junctions were used before the modern roundabout, the term "roundabout" is chiefly British (in the US "traffic circle" is also common) and was coined in the 20th century. We have them in the US--and they are apparently becoming more popular (supposedly they're more energy efficient)--but still they are much more common in certain countries in Europe, e.g., the UK.

In the UK, where the mix also includes "driving on the left," roundabouts (oftentimes sign deficient) can create more than a little frustration for the tourist.

roundabout Pictures, Images and Photos

Ode to British Phone Booths

We had fun with two in Chester (see earlier post), but I wanted to give them one more page.

Phone Booths in Rochdale Pictures, Images and Photos

London Phone Booths Pictures, Images and Photos

Phone booth and mailbox in England Pictures, Images and Photos

Coetzee's "Age of Iron": Vercueil

For me at least it has been hard to accept the relationship between Mrs. Curren and Vercueil. It's been difficult to suspend disbelief. Their relationship seems like a non-starter: he is a filthy, homeless, drunk. Supposedly there's a connection between their story and Tolstoy's What Men Live By (about a shoemaker and an angel = destitute man), but I've not read it (or haven't read it in years).

Perhaps this section (p. 131) has shed a little light on things: i.e., We proceed through life--fumbling through the dark--even though we do not understand why we do what we do.

Here's Mrs. Curren trying to make sense out of their relationship:
   I give my life to Vercueil to carry over. I trust Vercueil because I do not trust Vercueil. I love him because I do not love him. Because he is the weak reed I lean upon him.
   I may seem to understand what I say, but, believe me, I do not. From the beginning, when I found him behind the garage in his cardboard house, sleeping, waiting, I have understood nothing. I am feeling my way along a passage that grows darker all the time. I am feeling my way toward you; with each word I feel my way.

Coetzee's "Age of Iron": How Can We Judge? How Can We Know?

The cancer-stricken narrator, Mrs. Curren:
   As the other car drove off at last, the woman turned to glare at me. Her face not unattractive yet ugly: closed, bunched, as if afraid that light, air, life itself were going to gather and strike her. Not a face but an expression, yet an expression worn so long as to be hers, her. A thickening of the membrane between the world and the self inside, a thickening become thickness. Evolution, but evolution backward. Fish from the primitive depths (I am sure you know this) grew patches of skin sensitive to the fingerings of light, patches that in time became eyes. Now, in South Africa, I see eyes clouding over again, scales thickening on them, as the land explorers, the colonists, prepare to return to the deep.
   Should I have come when you invited me? In my weaker moments I have often longed to cast myself on your mercy. How lucky, for both our sakes, that I have held out! You do not need an albatross from the old world around  your neck; and as for me, would I truly escape South Africa by running to you? How do I know the scales are not already thickening over my own eyes? That woman in the car: perhaps, as they drove off, she was saying to her companion: "What a sour old creature! What a closed-off face!"

Friday, August 5, 2011

Coetzee's Female "I"

I've noticed it in three of the novels I've read recently -- In the Heart of the Country (1977), Foe (1986), and Age of Iron (1990) -- and wondered (and sometimes thought Is it authentic?).

Here's one slant that I pulled from the Net:
But what are the feminist concerns of white South African women who, instead of finding themselves caught within two systems of patriarchal oppression, find themselves in between, stranded on literal and figurative islands as both colonial dominators (white) and subjected, second-class citizens (women)? I would argue that these two conflicting tensions serve, if not to effectively cancel each other out, to create a tension around the act of testimony that serves to silence a white South African feminist agenda -- and South African author JM Coetzee's female narrators, Magda in In the Heart of the Country (1977), Susan Barton in Foe (1986), and Elizabeth Curren in Age of Iron (1990), through the presentation of their continually self-negating narratives, serve to illustrate such a position.
Wright, Laura (2008), "Displacing the Voice: South African Feminism and JM Coetzee's Female Narrators"


Another interesting article I quickly pulled up is by Sue Kossew: "Women's Words": A Reading of J.M. Coetzee's Women Narrators (

This excerpt is from a section titled Authorship/Authority:

Perhaps it is no coincidence that the castaway image of his first female narrator should be taken up and developed by Coetzee, in a literalisation of the metaphor, in the person of his second female narrator, Susan Barton, whose first word of direct speech in her text is "Castaway" (Foe: 5).8 Susan is the narrating consciousness of all but the final section of Foe, in which Coetzee once more interrogates the questions of power, author/ity and colonialism. This text, as has been widely discussed, is a "writing back" to Defoe's Robinson Crusoe: by using a female narrator, Coetzee is inscribing difference.9 He is also introducing the notion of the woman silenced by both "history" and "fictions" written by men as Susan herself discovers "that the problems of writing history are not unlike those of writing fictions . . . that is, lies and fabrications" (Hutcheon 1987: 288).10 Both Susan and Friday are seen as colonised Others whose silence is filled by the male, patriarchal, colonising voice of the author, in this case, Foe (Defoe), the enemy. Susan's initial confidence in the power of her veto on the narrative: "If I cannot come forward, as author, and swear to the truth of my tale, what will be the worth of it?" (Foe: 40) is replaced, at the end, with increasing uncertainty as to what constitutes "reality" and "fiction" and the boundaries between substantial "self" and "character", so that, no longer trusting in her own authorship or authority, she says to Foe:
In the beginning I thought I would tell you the story of the island and, being done with that, return to my former life. But now all my life grows to be story and there is nothing of my own left to me. I thought I was myself ... but now I am full of doubt. Nothing is left to me but doubt. I am doubt itself. Who is speaking me? Am I a phantom too? To what order do I belong? And you: who are you? (Foe: 133)

Coetzee's "Age of Iron": The Legacy of Socrates

Western thought--is it a dead end? And shouldn't it be: Human thought. Anyway, this passage reminded me a bit of Heidegger's Holzwege: How will we find our way forward? Is forward even the right word? And isn't it always a fumbling in the dark?
He is a teacher, I thought: that is why he speaks so well. What he is doing to me he has practiced  in the classroom. It is the trick one uses to make one's own answer seem to come from the child. Ventriloquism, the legacy of Socrates, as oppressive in Africa as  it was in Athens.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Peter Pan, Mailboxes, and Chester

My oldest daughter, Katia, also had some bad luck on the trip. Disembarking from the MS Ulysses (see Joyce portrait below; on the way back to Wales we sailed the HSC Jonathan Swift, the faster ferry) in Dublin's port, she dropped her camera. Even though the floor was rubberized the camera broke; but she had a few good photos from London to Dublin, including several from Chester (a beautiful little town I'd been in before and wanted the girls to see).

The Peter Pan statue in Kensington Gardens, London:

The Chester Clock:

"A Celebration of Chester" by Stephen Broadbent:

Twin telephone booths in Chester (close to the sculpture above):

The James Joyce wall portrait (engraved in wood):

What Is a Cornish Pasty?

Being a Michigander I'm somewhat familiar with pasties (they're all over Michigan's UP and you can also find them in the Mitten). In Llandudno we got the Cornish pasties because they looked big and fresh (they were extremely hot!), and also because the locals had pretty much cleaned up on the other varieties.

So the question is: Exactly what is a Cornish pasty? (After all: we were in Wales.)

Answer: I'm not sure the "innards" we had are in accord with this defintion (I remember peas), but here's what Wikipedia says:
A Cornish pasty, as defined by the Protected Geographical Indication awarded by the European Union on 20 July 2011, should be shaped like a ‘D’ and crimped on one side, not on the top. It should include uncooked beef, swede (called turnip in Cornwall),[6] potato and onion, with a light seasoning of salt and pepper - keeping a chunky texture. The pastry should be golden and retain its shape when cooked and cooled.[7] The pasty has been described as a "functional food" as it is appears to be designed with the purpose of being easily carried, retains its heat for a long time and can be eaten with the hands.

And here's some nice looking Cornish pasties:

Cornish Pasty Pictures, Images and Photos

Alice in Llandudno

Returning to Wales from Dublin, we stayed near Conwy and Llandudno. We spent a whole morning touring the Conwy castle and checking out the Smallest House in Great Britain (quayside in the very quaint town of Conwy). After the castle we went to Llandudno, a beautiful seaside resort in Wales, where Alice Liddell (aka Alice in Wonderland) stayed with her family on summer holidays. We walked to the pier (Welsh kitsch and arcades; I guess someone in Wales loves American country music); walked a ways along the boardwalk (crammed with old hotels); lined up behind a long line of locals knowing something ahead must be good (we had hot Cornish-style pasties).

Along the boardwalk I talked to a local official (not sure of his title) about the location of Alice's hotel (apparently called Penmorfa in her day, it was later renamed the Gogarth Abbey Hotel).  Pointing to his little hutch, where he and a partner were lunching, he said, "Not here." He then went on to tell me that the hotel had been on the west side of the penisula (we were on the east and more populated side) and he was 99% certain it had been torn down a few years ago (I've since checked and it's true: maybe 2009).

Anyway, here's Alice (shot by Dodgson himself, I believe):

Alice Pictures, Images and Photos

Here's Llandudno (what we saw: the east side: a bit of the boardwalk and the Grand Hotel):

Llandudno Pictures, Images and Photos

Here's a bit more of the pier (with Grand Hotel in front):

Pier Grand Hotel Pictures, Images and Photos

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Book of Kells: The Chi Rho and The Cats and Mice

My eyes are really bad. How did those monks ever do it? My daughter (12) saw it right away but I had to get a blow up via Google. Then I tried to blow it up myself.

What We Saw in Dublin: The Spire,The Beckett Bridge, and The Joyce Plaques

We stayed in a hotel with a fake swimming pool and no lift (I remembered the endless staircases from before). We were very close to Trinity College and so quite close to a few thins worth seeing. There were a million coffee shops to choose from (I tried three) and we were close to Grafton Street (shopping and good street entertainment).

A few of the photos I lost I found on Photobucket.

The Spire:

Dublin Pictures, Images and Photos

The Samuel Beckett Bridge:

Samuel Beckett bridge Pictures, Images and Photos

Brass Joyce plaques (quoting Ulysses) scattered along the sidewalks:

'Ulysses' quote on plague Pictures, Images and Photos

What We Saw in Dublin: The Book of Kells and The Long Room

When I was in Dublin twenty years ago I didn't see The Books of Kells (can't remember if I got there too early, or if the exhibit was temporarily closed): this time I nabbed it.  Not sure what the tickets cost (we got some free tickets from a friend), but you see The Book of Kells along with a few other illuminated manuscripts, and you get a nice tour of The Long Room (my girls thought "Hogwarts"). We didn't spend too much time looking at everything displayed in The Long Room (we had to get to the port and return to Holyhead) but I do remember two things very well: a replica of Cornelius Magrath's skeleton (he suffered from gigantism) and Jonathan Swift's death mask.

Perhaps the most famous page of The Book of Kells is the Chi Rho:

Book of Kells Pictures, Images and Photos

The Long Room:

Trinity College - Long Room Pictures, Images and Photos

Death Mask of Jonathan Swift:

jonathan swift death mask Pictures, Images and Photos

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

What We Saw near Dublin: Slane Abbey

After a fantastic lunch (I had soup and Irish soda bread) we looked for and found this old abbey. The abbey shares some gorgeous hills with the local cows (watch out for the pies as you climb the hill).

I took some great photos (now in digital heaven); the views and weather were breathtaking; we climbed and looked (I was first to see the dragon plaque) for close to an hour.

From Photobucket:

Slane Abbey Pictures, Images and Photos

Slane Abbey Pictures, Images and Photos

Dragon/Griffin at Slane Abbey Pictures, Images and Photos

What We Saw in Dublin: There's Also a Howth

Howth of course is not one of the tumuli of ancient Ireland. It's a penisular suburb of Dublin and an impressive seaside resort (we thought "somewhere between Sopot and Morro Bay"). We ended a day here: took a walk along the seawall; shooed the gulls while we ate our fish and chips.

Two shots from Photobucket:

Howth Pictures, Images and Photos

Howth - Lighthouse Full Pictures, Images and Photos

What We Saw near Dublin: Dowth, Knowth, Newgrange

Dowth, Knowth, and Newgrange are just three of the more prominent ancient tumuli located in Ireland (these funeral monuments were erected ca. 3000 BC by a still-little-known-about people). Currently, if I heard right, Dowth is not accessible to the public. Buying two tickets, we were able to see both Knowth and Newgrange.

These are not my photos (again: my photos were taken somewhere between Brussels and Amsterdam): I selected them from Photobucket.

Two from Newgrange:

Newgrange Pictures, Images and Photos

newgrange entrance Pictures, Images and Photos

Two from Knowth:

Knowth Pictures, Images and Photos

Knowth Pictures, Images and Photos

 The macehead* from Knowth:

Knowth macehead Pictures, Images and Photos

*[Note: The macehead was discovered in the tomb at Knowth. We were unable to view this because it's in a Dublin museum and, well, we just ran out of time.]

Just Started Coetzee's "Age of Iron"

I know: I'm on a real Coetzee kick.

Just a few excerpts that struck me this morning (they struck me so I struck/marked them with a pen):

1.) After our little trip to Europe (remember: gold and dross) I was thinking about Leibniz's "best of all possible worlds" and mentally revising it to read "best because it's all we got." Under that light I was reading the cancer-struck narrator of Coetzee's Age of Iron:
  We sicken before we die so that we will be weaned from our body. The milk that nourished us grows thin and sour; turning away from the breast, we begin to be restless for a separate life. Yet this first life, this life on earth, on the body of earth -- will there, can there ever be a better? Despite all the glooms and despairs and rages, I have not let go of my love of it. 
2.) The narrator is reading Tolstoy:
Read Tolstoy -- not the famous cancer story, which I knew all too well, but the story of the angel who takes up residence with the shoemaker.
[Note: The famous story must be The Death of Ivan Ilyich (which I've not read in years). The other story is apparently What Men Live By (if I've read it I've forgotten it and I will certainly run it down: I'm sure I've got it somewhere).]

3.) There's over a billion ways to imagine heaven.  Here's one:
Heaven. I imagine heaven as a hotel lobby with a high ceiling and the Art of Fugue coming softly over the public-address system. Where one can sit in a deep leather armchair and be without pain.
[Note: Though it is the fictive narrator speaking, I can't help but hear the Bach-loving Coetzee here. Apparently the Art of Fugue (originally Die Kunst der Fuge)  is an unfinished masterpiece by Bach.]

England, Ireland, Wales, and Beyond: An Improvisation

The itinerary strayed far from our original intent (it's called flying standby in summer), but we saw and did a lot of what we wanted to and now we're home again (jiggity jig). The barebones trip went: London -- Chester -- Holyhead -- Dublin -- Holyhead -- Conwy and Llandudno -- London -- Brussels -- Amsterdam. 

We're thinking about making our own little film: Planes, Trains, Automobiles, and Ferries. The trains would include London undergrounds (tubes) and overgrounds, the Eurostar from London to Brussels, and an IC from Brussels to Amsterdam. The title's already too long but I suppose we could throw in taxis, shuttles, and a lone bike (the last night I biked from our hotel near Schiphol to a small village to use the only ATM).

The Eurostar and IC only because we couldn't get out of Heathrow so we trained down to Amsterdam to have a better shot: it worked.

Among the gold there was some dross: driving in England (we finally got used to driving on the left side and roundabouts), as already said: the frustrations of flying standby in high season, a stolen backpack (lifted unintentionally or by a roving pack of Dutch boys?), . . .

Enough for now but the whole (dross and gold) will I'm sure come back in further posts (unfortunately, as my camera was in my backpack, most images will be gleaned from the net).

Conwy Castle, Wales

conwy castle Pictures, Images and Photos

The Smallest House in GB, Conwy, Wales

Conwy Pictures, Images and Photos