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

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Nocturne: Twin Bandits and a Shadowy Someone

Nothing much to report. Certainly no proof. I rounded the usual corner with Chimp (our old chihuahua) and saw them clear as day (@ 8:30 PM): twin raccoons sitting side by side on the sidewalk like lost dogs. They didn't move; they stared at me and I at them. Before Chimp saw them or caught their smell I turned him around and we headed home.

I ran and got my camera: no luck. They'd melted into the trees, ivy, darkness. Instead I snapped a picture of a shadowy someone.


Sunday, September 25, 2011

A New Poem in "Right Hand Pointing"

I knew it was coming out this month (read the "proofs" a few days ago), just didn't know when.

Anyway, "Thank You, No" is up at Right Hand Pointing:

Two Poems by Eugenio Montale

Both of these poems are from The Storm & Other Poems (my copy is a slick little book: black and white cover design from Gustave Dore's illustrations to Dante's Inferno).


Now a glance no longer sustains me
as once it did, when you would lean out at my whistle
and I could hardly see you. A boulder, a deep, splayed
furrow, the black flight of a swallow,
a lid clamped on the cauldron of the world . . .

Bread to me is that velvet bud
which opens out to a mandolin's glissando,
water your rustle flowing;
your deep, deep breath is wine.


The ancients said that poetry
is a stairway to God. Maybe it isn't so
if you read me. But I knew it the day
that I found the voice for you again, loosed
in a flock of clouds and goats
bursting out of a ravine to browse the slaver
of thorn and bulrush; the lean faces
of the moon and sun became one face,
the car was broken down and an arrow
of blood on a boulder pointed
the way to Aleppo.

[Both poems above translated by Charles Wright]

Stefan Zweig: "The Post-Office Girl"

Yes, I'm still reading. I hope to get back to Hoffmansthal's Ein Brief (kicked up by Coetzee), but in the meanwhile I've already tackled half (Zweig doesn't cut the text into chapters but parts: Part 1 & 2) of The Post-Office Girl.

It started a bit slow for me (but I suppose it was also just hectic life). Then yesterday, while waiting at the Honda dealer, I really got sucked into it: I could almost slip into Christine's skin.

A lower middle class girl gets a taste of the "high life" (she visits her rich American aunt in Switzerland), and then, really through no fault of her own, she must leave abruptly and return to her drab job and existence.


Re a taxi dancer:
   She handed in her coat at the cloakroom, feeling better when the hated carapace was gone and she could hear the fast, aggressive music coming from below. She went down to the cellar. Disappointingly, it was mostly empty. Some white-jacketed lads in the orchestra were giving it all they had, apparently trying to make the few people sitting self-consciously at the tables get up and dance, but there was only a taxi dancer--plainly for hire, with hints of black eyeliner, a bit too soigne and too mincing in his dancing style--guiding one of the barmaids listlessly up and down the middle of the square dance floor.

From Wikipedia:

A taxi dancer, or taxi for short (the word has been used since circa 1927), is a paid dance partner in a partner dance. For official purposes in the US, their occupation was referred to as "dancer", when they worked in taxi-dance halls that had all the necessary business permits. But there were some professional secretaries who did moonlighting, or who worked part-time legally as a "dancer". Taxi dancers are hired to dance with their customers on a dance-by-dance basis. The term "taxi dancer" comes from the fact that, as with a taxi-cab driver, the dancer's pay is proportional to the time he or she spends dancing with the customer.
Joan Crawford Pictures, Images and Photos

Joan Crawford (circa 1927)
[She starred in a silent film called The Taxi Dancer]

I Turned My New Toy Loose on Belmont Shore

For my birthday two things that were lost (stolen) came back to me: my Kindle (my friends were all waiting for me in Archive), and my camera. The Kindle is exactly the same (I'm just waiting for the cover now), the camera is a little fancier (e.g., I can send photos via WiFi to Photobucket).

Below are a few photos I snapped on my walk this morning:





















Saturday, September 24, 2011

Cyprian Norwid: September 24, 1821

Turns out Cyprian Norwid, Polish Romantic Poet (1821 - 1883), has a very special birthdate: September 24.

From Milosz's The History of Polish Literature we get a little glimpse of Norwid's philosophy on history and his sense of mission:
A man is born on this planet to give testimony to the truth. He should, therefore, know and remember that every civilization should be considered as a means and not as an aim--thus, to sell one's soul to a civilization and at the same time to pray in church is to be a pharisee.
Probably because I'm still so near (in time) to Coetzee's Elizabeth Costello Norwid's first sentence reminds me a little of Milosz's "secretary of the invisible" which Coetzee admittedly lifted (and filled with his own wind) for Costello.


From Wikipedia:
On 24 September 2001, 118 years after his death in France, an urn containing soil from the collective grave where Norwid had been buried, from the Paris cemetery of Montmorency, was enshrined in the "Crypts of the Bards" at Wawel Cathedral. There, Norwid's remains were placed next to those of fellow Polish poets Adam Mickiewicz and Juliusz Slowacki.

The cathedral's Zygmunt Bell, heard only when events of great national and religious significance occur, resounded loudly to mark the poet's return to his homeland. During a special Thanksgiving Mass held at the cathedral, the Archbishop of Kraków, a cardinal Franciszek Macharski said that 74 years after the remains of Juliusz Slowacki were brought in, again the doors of the crypt of bards have opened "to receive the great poet, Cyprian Norwid, into Wawel's royal cathedral, for he was the equal of kings".[3]


Cyprian Norwid
[from the Wikimedia Commons]


Mischance, ferocious, shaggy, fixed its look
On man, gazed at him, deathly grey,
And waited for the time it knew he took
To turn away.

But man, who is an artist measuring
The angle of his model's elbow joint,
Returned that look and made the churlish thing
Serve his aesthetic point.
Mischance, the brawny, when the dust had cleared
Had disappeared.

Translated by Jerzy Peterkiewicz and Burns Singer

Friday, September 23, 2011

The B-Day Thing: Eliot, Fitzgerald, Moi

I've known (and quietly celebrated) T. S. Eliot's Birthday for some while: Sept. 26; not until Paul (a Fitzgerald fiend) told me did I know that F. Scott and I share a little something: Sept. 24.

The three amigos?


F Scott Fitzgerald Pictures, Images and Photos

T. S. Eliot Pictures, Images and Photos


Sunday, September 18, 2011

Zingerman's Deli at Night

Zingerman's Deli at Night by anikarenina
Zingerman's Deli at Night, a photo by anikarenina on Flickr.

Speaking of A-Squared landmarks. I suppose I didn't really start going to Zingerman's much until after I graduated (didn't have the cash to eat out much). After graduation (1981) I hung out for another two years or so, living in Ann Arbor, working in Southfield (Giffels Associates)--and then I went there every chance I got. Anyway, they've got the best turkey reuben in the world.

The Original Borders Book Shop

Being a U. of M. alum (BSCE in 1981) I'll always remember the 303 S. State location (a little south of the State Theater)--small, quaint, a bit cluttered, just like a bookstore should be.

Couldn't find any good photos of this location (apparently even earlier, at its genesis, it occupied another location on State St.), so I'm putting up a rather recent photo of State St. Borders Book Shop, as it was called then, was, if memory serves, on the same side of the street as the theater.

Ann Arbor, Michigan Pictures, Images and Photos

Hollywood Bowl: I Can't Cancan

Went to the Hollywood Bowl last night (my eldest, Katia, would've preferred the Arctic Monkeys playing next weekend) and had the City of Lights (Paris) musically brought to us.

A lot I could say but I'll just mention the wonderful autumn evening, Thomas Wilkins (the enthusiastic African-American conductor), the spectacular fireworks, and the cancan (or can-can).

My SOED says cancan comes from a reduplication of the French word for duck: canard. Doesn't explain more than that.

My wife knew (but I didn't) the music typically associated with the cancan: The Galop from Jacques Offenbach's Orpheus in the Underworld.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1895)
[from the Wikimedia Commons]

Coetzee's "Costello": Hugo von Hofmannsthal's Ein Brief (1902)

Ein Brief (also called "Letter of Lord Chandos to Lord Bacon") is a fictitious letter written by the Austrian writer Hugo von Hofmannsthal.

Gutenberg has the entire letter in German:

Here is the section of the letter (it's jpeg thus a bit blurry) that prefaces Coetzee's postscript (another fictitious letter authored by Coetzee--or is it Coetzee's Costello--and titled "Letter of Elizabeth, Lady Chandos, to Francis Bacon):

And here is Coetzee's translation (presumably):

At such moments even a negligible creature, a dog, a rat, a beetle, a stunted apple tree, a cart track winding over a hill, a mossy stone, counts more for me than a night of bliss with the most beautiful, most devoted mistress. These dumb and in some cases inanimate creatures press toward me with such fullness, such presence of love, that there is nothing in range of my rapturous eye that does not have life. It is as if everything, everything that exists, everything I can recall, everything my confused thinking touches on, means something.

Hugo von Hofmannsthal (1893)
(from the Wikimedia Commons)

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Coetzee's "Costello": A Cryptic Confession?

Is Coetzee cryptically admitting regret for writing some of his darker books, e.g., In The Heart of the Country? And wouldn't it have been better to simply "come out with it" instead of beating up on Mr. West?
   Yet she does the same kind of thing, or used to. Until she thought better of it, she had no qualms about rubbing people's faces in, for instance, what went on in abattoirs.
And from Lesson 8: At the Gate, a couple of quotes.

To get through the gate you must state your beliefs:
   Belief. Is that all? Not a statement of faith? What if I do not believe? What if I am not a believer?
Defending herself as a writer (which doubles as a defense for unbelief):
   I am a writer, and what I write is what I hear. I am a secretary of the invisible, one of many secretaries over the ages. That is my calling: dictation secretary. It is not for me to interrogate, to judge what is given me. I merely write down the words and then test them, test their soundness, to make sure I have heard right.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Coetzee's "Costello": Koba the Bear and Paul West

Lesson 6: The Problem of Evil. Ok, but not my fave chapter: traverses an age-old subject and doesn't turn up much that is new (I mean Hannah Arendt new).

One bit I dog-eared (also threw a Howgarthian line in with an exclamation mark) because I liked it so much (especially if I could widen its scope). The underlining is mine:
   The routine censorship paper is liberal in its ideas, with perhaps a touch of the Kulturpessimismus that has marked her thinking of late: the civilization of the West is based on belief in unlimited and illimitable endeavour; it is too late for us to do anything about that, we must simply hold on tight and go wherever the ride takes us. It is on the subject of the illimitable that her opinions seem to be undergoing a quiet change. Reading West's book has contributed to that change, she suspects, though it is possible the change would have happened anyway, for reasons that are more obscure to her. Specifically, she is no longer sure that people are always improved by what they read. Furthermore, she is not sure that writers who venture into the darker territories of the soul always return unscathed. She has begun to wonder whether writing what one desires, any more than reading what one desires, is in itself a good thing.

Stalin is called the older brother and mentor of Hitler:

Stalin Pictures, Images and Photos
Koba the Bear

Paul West, a real author, is alluded to (Coetzee never lets him speak) in this work of "non-non-fiction":

Paul West
[From the Wikimedia Commons.
Source: Paul West's Literary Assistant, Liz Butler]

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Dublin: Gerard Manley Hopkins' Grave

I had planned to walk or drive here also (the Jesuit plot is a bit out of the city). Didn't get the chance. Apparently G. M. Hopkins lies in an unmarked grave; his name is inscribed at the bottom of this large granite crucifix.

Jesuit plot where Gerard Manley Hopkins lies Pictures, Images and Photos

Pied Beauty
Glory be to God for dappled things –
   For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
      For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
   Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough;
      And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
   Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
      With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
                                Praise him.

Dublin - James Joyce

I was only a few blocks away, but I'll be honest: I never got to it. I saw several of the Ulysses plaques on the sidewalks, but not this.

Dublin - The Five Lamps.

Dublin - The Five Lamps. by D3man1
Dublin - The Five Lamps., a photo by D3man1 on Flickr.
Another Dublin landmark I remember. Wouldn't have known it was special unless my wife's brother (a Dublin denizen) had pointed it out. Not totally sure of the significance (you can look it up), but he pointed it out as we came back into the city after spending the day at New Grange, Knowth, and Howth.

Dublin - Potato Famine

Dublin - Potato Famine by mmmkeyboards
Dublin - Potato Famine, a photo by mmmkeyboards on Flickr.
I didn't see these until we took a cab back to the ferry. The cab driver told me what it was: the potato famine memorial. It was very close to the Beckett Bridge. Then he started pointing to all the new construction (much of which has been halted because of the poor economy).

Coetzee's "Costello": I'm Not a Vegetarian Yet

Ok, I'm in Chapter 3: The Lives of Animals. I guess I knew this before (read it in a review): each chapter hinges on the main character Elizabeth Costello and a speech or speeches she is giving (supposedly real speeches once delivered by Coetzee). Chapter 1: A speech she gives on Realism (in which a story by Kafka figures in: "A Report to an Academy"); Chapter 2: A speech she gives on a cruise ship titled "The Future of the Novel" (an African writer gives a speech too: "The Novel in Africa"); and Chapter 3: Returning to Kafka's ape (Red Peter), and again meeting up with her son (he was absent from Chapter 2), she delivers a speech comparing our handling of animals (factory farms, drug-testing labs, abattoirs = slaughterhouses) to the Third Reich's handling of Jews and other "undesirables."


Here's Coetzee attacking reason (with reason I presume) in Chapter 3:
   How is it that humankind throws up, generation after generation, a cadre of thinkers slightly further from God than Ramanujan but capable nevertheless, after the designated twelve years of schooling and six of tertiary education, of making a contribution to the decoding of the great book of nature via the physical and mathematical disciplines? If the being of man is really at one with the being of God, should it not be cause for suspicion that human beings take eighteen years, a neat and manageable portion of a  human lifetime, to qualify to become decoders of God's master script, rather than five minutes, say, or five hundred years? Might it not be that the phenomenon we are examining here is, rather than the flowering of a faculty that allows access to the secrets of the universe, the specialism of a rather narrow self-regenerating intellectual tradition whose forte is reasoning, in the same way that the forte of chess players is playing chess, which for its own motives it tries to install at the centre of the universe?
All very good (IMO), all very thought provoking. I especially like the analogy to chess (a reasonable metaphor for reason). That said there are probably as many unanswered questions arising from Coetzee's text than there are answers, e.g., Why bring "nearness to God" into the equation? Would most scientists or mathematicians today (or even Coetzee himself) really think that way?

A bigger, yea, impossible, nut to crack is reason itself. Coetzee or Costello says, "Reason is the being of a certain spectrum of human thinking." Ok, so far as it goes (I guess the rest of the spectrum would consist of things like love, empathy, compassion, self-preservation,...). But is that really all it is: reason on one side, non-reason (if you'll allow that term) on the other? Is it really that easy?

I mean: Can human beings set aside non-reason to practice reasoning, and vice versa? And, no matter what the tool (and can we use a tool without the other tools vying for attention?), what will we use to measure "correctness"?

Anyway, let's continue. Reading Coetzee at least provokes thought (that whole fuzzy ball).

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Coetzee's "Elizabeth Costello"

I know: more Coetzee. Haven't I almost emptied his oeuvre?

Elizabeth Costello (why do I keep thinking Elvis Costello) is again Coetzee in woman's guise; the son is another avatar of Coetzee; the narrator directs them both; but of course all of this is an oversimplification. Taking another stab at it, maybe it'd be better to say: Coetzee's creations with a few appendages/characteristics of Coetzee thrown in?

Elizabeth Costello is a famous author who's not so impressive close-up (i.e., she's human); her son (at least in chapter one) is her travel companion.


Anyway, little to say since I've only started. Maybe that I'm reminded a bit of Summertime. And the landscape (or at least Elizabeth's landscape) is Australia not South Africa.

When did Coetzee move to Australia?

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Robert Walser: "A Biedermeier Story"

Excluding the exceptional "The Walk," Walser's stories in this collection are just a few pages long. "A Biedermeier Story" is less than two pages. The amazing thing is how much he slips into less than two pages (typically with a salute or nod to the Absurd).

The ending:
   The maid, true, though this emphasis is only incidental, had a habit of eating Schabziger, as they call it, a variety of herb cheese. More and more difficult did it become for him to kiss her on the lips. He once took the risk of indicating disapproval thereof; she begrudged him this.
   With a nobly casual air as befitted his rank as a war lord, General Gorchakov, who only comes into this sketch of mine for local color, commanded his armies.
   Once the housemaid had performed her tasks, instead of going out for a walk, which certainly would have done her no harm, she went to her room, sat down at the table, and started to write.
   If it was letters she wrote that reached her lover safely every time, perhaps the window was open and a sparrow, or chaffinch, would be fluttering on the sill.
   All the songs of singing birds heard by people such a long, long time ago!

Note: On the term "Biedermeier" see

Monday, September 5, 2011

Balzac and Emmanuelle Beart

I have written about Balzac's "Unknown Masterpiece" some time ago, in the context of Handke's Slow Homecoming.


Only recently have I asked myself: Was this Balzac story related to a French film I saw years ago: La Belle Noiseuse?

Apparently the answer is Yes (see link below). Though the film is an updated (and I'm sure modified) version of the Balzac story, the artist's name is the same: Frenhofer.


Of course the film has the additional advantage of showcasing the always-lovely (clothes on, clothes off) Emmanuelle Beart.

Emmanuelle Beart Pictures, Images and Photos

A Bit More on Robert Walser

Found this article "A Gentle and Angry Instrument: Robert Walser's Short Fiction" while googling for the second topic (see below). Along with more on Walser's "Microscripts" (what he called his "pencil method") , and his writings in general, there's a lot of good biographical info.


In Walser's "Selected Stories" (NYRB) the name Brentano has come up at least twice (thus far). Apparently the German Romantic poet/writer Clemens Brentano (1778 - 1842) is in view. The above article takes its title from something Walser wrote (about himself) in writing about Brentano:
Writing in 1926, in one of several pieces he composed about the German Romantic writer Clemens Brentano, Walser opined, “what a gentle and angry instrument I am.”
Brentano was also the brother of Bettina (von Arnim), an enthusiastic fan and correspondent of Goethe.

Clemens Brentano from 1818-1824 remained at the foot of the bed of Anna Katharina who dictated her visions Pictures, Images and Photos

Clemens Brentano

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Didn't Know This Szymborska Poem Till Now: "Photograph from September 11"

Photograph from September 11

They jumped from the burning floors—                                      
one, two, a few more,
higher, lower.
The photograph halted them in life,
and now keeps them  
above the earth toward the earth.
Each is still complete,
with a particular face
and blood well hidden.
There’s enough time
for hair to come loose,
for keys and coins
to fall from pockets.
They’re still within the air’s reach,
within the compass of places
that have just now opened.
I can do only two things for them—
describe this flight
and not add a last line.

Translated by Clare Cavanagh and Stanislaw Baranczak

Prague: Stare Mesto: The Astronomical Clock

Prague: Petrin Hill: Observation Tower

On the Hill 

From our Window near the Castle

From our Window (at Night)

Prague: Petrin Hill: Speaking of the Mirror Maze

I think "yours truly" is in here somewhere.