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, June 16, 2017

Reading: Szymborska's "Brueghel's Two Monkeys"

Brueghel's Two Monkeys
This is what I see in my dreams about final exams:
two monkeys, chained to the floor, sit on the windowsill,
the sky behind them flutters,
the sea is taking a bath.

The exam is History of Mankind. 
I stammer and hedge.

One monkey stares and listens with mocking disdain,
the other seems to be dreaming away --
but when it's clear I don't know what to say
he prompts me with a gentle
clinking of his chain.

Two Monkeys by Brueghel
[From Wikipedia]

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Knight-Errants: Time to Fly

More "Clips" from Zagajewski

Re the painter/writer Jozef Czapski:
He had many friends, who loved and admired him unreservedly to the end. He was in essence, though, a solitary man. He was my friend and master.

The master of my not-knowing. And what is not-knowing but thought?
Re an "inner life":
Contemporary mass culture, entertaining and at times harmless as it may be, is marked by its complete ignorance of the inner life. Not only can it not create this life; it drains it, corrodes it, undermines it. Science, caught up in other problems, likewise neglects it. Thus only a few artists, philosophers, and theologians are left to defend this fragile, besieged fortress.

Defending the spiritual life is not merely a sop thrown to the radical aesthetes. I see the spiritual life, the inner voice that speaks to us, or perhaps only whispers, in Polish, English, Russian, or Greek, as the mainstay and foundation of our freedom, the indispensable territory of reflection and independence shielding us from the mighty blows and temptations of modern life.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Reading: Zagajewski Essays

Two "clips":

Our great reality obviously contains many other elements as well. Can we count them all? Should we?  
They include not only darkness, tragedy, and madness but also joy. Not long ago I was rereading the essays of Jerzy Stempowski, a major Polish essayist who spent the second half of his life as a humble √©migr√© in Switzerland, in Berne, where he died in 1969. And I came upon a surprising quotation from Maupassant—surprising, since you don’t expect metaphysical gifts from naturalists! I must have come across it earlier, but its force struck me this time.

From time to time I experience strange, intense, short-lived visions of beauty, an unfamiliar, elusive, barely perceptible beauty that surfaces in certain words or landscapes, certain colorations of the world, certain moments … I’m not able to describe or communicate it, I can’t express it or portray it. I save these moments for myself … I have no other reason for continuing, no other cause for keeping on …

“Strange, intense, short-lived visions of beauty”—how could we live without them! “I can’t describe it,” Maupassant says. And we discover in his account something very familiar that is also very difficult to convey. In such moments one experiences something incomprehensible and piercing, both extravagant and absolutely fundamental.


My first readings of Nietzsche endure in my memory as a festival of freedom; there was something liberating in their message. After all, who’s better equipped than a young poet to respond to the young Nietzsche, whose strongest defense was his intoxicating solitude, his sense of his own genius, his inner freedom, and finally—perhaps most important—his sense that the essential energy of any human creation, cultural or otherwise, escapes the notice of the age’s learned authorities. These great scholars, who seem to know everything, who’ve counted the disks of the vertebrates and the syllables in Archilochus’ poems, can’t manage to identify whatever it is that catalyzes human minds and creativity. They analyze the outcome, but are blind to its essence; they study the fire but can describe only its ashes. And as we know, Nietzsche gleefully calls this principle that the scholars overlook none other than life itself.