Friday, December 28, 2007

September 1, 1939

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.

Accurate scholarship can
Unearth the whole offence
From Luther until now
That has driven a culture mad,
Find what occurred at Linz,
What huge imago made
A psychopathic god:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.

Exiled Thucydides knew
All that a speech can say
About Democracy,
And what dictators do,
The elderly rubbish they talk
To an apathetic grave;
Analysed all in his book,
The enlightenment driven away,
The habit-forming pain,
Mismanagement and grief:
We must suffer them all again.

Into this neutral air
Where blind skyscrapers use
Their full height to proclaim
The strength of Collective Man,
Each language pours its vain
Competitive excuse:
But who can live for long
In an euphoric dream;
Out of the mirror they stare,
Imperialism's face
And the international wrong.

Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.

The windiest militant trash
Important Persons shout
Is not so crude as our wish:
What mad Nijinsky wrote
About Diaghilev
Is true of the normal heart;
For the error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love
But to be loved alone.

From the conservative dark
Into the ethical life
The dense commuters come,
Repeating their morning vow;
'I will be true to the wife,
I'll concentrate more on my work,'
And helpless governors wake
To resume their compulsory game:
Who can release them now,
Who can reach the dead,
Who can speak for the dumb?

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

Defenseless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.

"September 1, 1939", W.H. Auden

Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Implied Author

I make the new world from the stuff of the known world. Here we come to the heart of the matter. To write well, I must first be bored to distraction; to be bored to distraction, I must enter into life. It is when I am bombarded with noise, sitting in an office full of ringing phones, surrounded by friends and loved ones on a sunny seashore or at a rainy funeral - in other words, at the very moment when I sense the heart of the scene unfolding around me - that I will suddenly feel as if I'm no longer really there but watching from the sidelines. I'll begin to daydream. If I'm feeling pessimistic, I think only about how bored I am. Either way, a voice inside urges me to go back to the room and sit down at the table.

"The Implied Author," Orhan Pamuk
Other Colors, 2007

Shah of Shahs

The causes of a revolution are generally sought in objective conditions - general poverty, oppression, scandalous abuses. But this view, while correct, is one-sided. After all, such conditions exist in a hundred countries, but revolutions erupt rarely. What is needed is the consciousness of poverty and the consciousness of oppression, and the conviction that poverty and oppression are not the natural order of this world. It is curious that in this case, experience in and of itself, does not suffice. The indispensible catalyst is the word, the explanatory idea. More than petards or stillettoes, therefore, words - uncontrolled words, circulating freely, underground, rebelliously, not gotten up in dress uniforms, uncertified - frighten tyrants.

Shah of Shahs, Ryszard Kapuscinski

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Our Band Could Be Your Life

The night of their appearance at the huge Pandora's Box festival in the Netherlands, Kramer went to fetch Haynes for sound check. "It is firstly most important to state that, on this night, Gibby had eaten an entire handful of four-way acid tabs and drank an entire bottle of Jim Beam before the sound check had even begun," Kramer notes.
Leary was furious at Haynes for getting wasted for such an important show. "Fuck that stupid-ass motherfucker," he snarled to Kramer. "I hate this fucking band. I swear to fucking Christ on a stick, I hate this fucking band more than I hate myself. And that's a lot. I don't even care if we ever play again. If you can't find him, fuck it. FUCK IT!!!!" With that, he began smashing a couple of guitars with his bare fists.
The festival featured several stages, and Kramer eventually found Haynes at a Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds show. As Kramer tells is Haynes was completely naked, repeatedly fighting his way onto the stage and charging at Cave as hulking security guards punched and kicked him off the ten foot high stage and back into the audience, where he would remain for a few seconds before trying to claw his way back onstage again. Finally, guitarist Blixa Bargeld came forward and kicked Haynes in the groin with a pointed German boot. This time Haynes did not get up.
Kramer pushed his way through the crowd to come to the aid of his bandmate, only to find him laying unconscious. "I bend ove rto see if he is still alive, but he seems not to be breathing," KRamer says. "I poke him in the shoulder. Suddenly, like a volcano, he bursts to life and swirls his fists in every direction, clipping me but good, along with a few innocent girls, and drawing the ire of their boyfriends and the enraged security guards, who are now motivated to leave Mr.Cave to his own devices, descend the stage and join the boyfriends in administering a thorough and none-too-subtle beating upon Gibby's face, head, and shoulders, until he is once again unconscious on the floor.
Or so it seemed. Actually, Haynes was only pretending he'd been kocked out, and as the hired thugs walked away, he rose to his feet and began screaming a them, "DUTCH FAGGOTS!!! GODDAMN FUCKING DUTCH FAGGOTS!!! A WHOLE FUCKING COUNTRY FILLED WITH NOTHING BUT FUCKING TURD BURGLING FAGGOTS!!!! I FUCK YOUR ASS IN HEAVEN AND HELL!!!! FUUUUUUUCK YOOOOOOOOU!!"
"The ensuing chase and capture as the stuff dreams are made of," Kramer says, "Stark naked like the day he was born, beaten, bruised, bloody, and tripping, this icon of modern music ran like Jesse Owens through the entire complex, down the halls, up the stairs, grabbing beer bottles from people's hands as he went and throwing them down on the concertgoers below. A hail of beer cans, bottles and miscellaneous garbage rained down upon the Dutch persons as I finally caught up with Gibby just as a throng of the biggest security guards I had ever seen caught up with him too.
"At this time there were perhaps twenty hands upon him, holding him down, and although Gibby is completely crazy, he is not stupid. 'I'M SORRY!!! I'M FUCKING SORRY!!! PLEASE DON'T BEAT ME ANYMORE! I HAVE A BRAIN TUMOR!!! I CAN'T HELP THE WAY I AM!!! PLEASE DON'T HIT ME AGAIN!!! IT'S AGAINST MY RELIGION!!!!"
Haynes then made a successful run for the dressing room and slammed the door behind him. Kramer could hear Leary and Haynes screaming at each other inside, and when he finally worked up the courage to open the door, he found the two of them smashing guitars, bottles and chairs in what Kramer calls "the most potent example of bad behavior I have ever seen. To this day, more than fifteen years later, I have no more vivid memory of the effect a life in music can have on a human being."
Just before they went onstage, Haynes chugged an entire bottle of red wine; moments into the set he dived straight into the horrified crowd, which parted like the Red Sea. Haynes knocked himself unconscious on the floor, to warm applause from the theater's security team. "I look down at Gibby," recalled Kramer, "He tried to move, but then collapses as vomit begins to pour from his mouth."
After the show Haynes was irate about having been unconscious for most of the show and insisted on getting paid within five minutes or he'd be "taking it out on your Dutch testicles!" Haynes snatched up the fistfuls of guilders and stuffed them in a pair or pants in his guitar case, but almost immediately forgot that he had een paid and went on yet another rampage, streaking through the festival complex and screaming that he had been ripped off."

-Michael Azerrad, Our Band Could Be Your Life; from the chapter on the Butthole Surfers

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Literary Criticism

Literary criticism--unlike, say, music criticism or art criticism--enjoys the advantage of existing in the same medium (language) as the art it explores or esteems. This can give literary criticism a delicacy and an inwardness that are harder to achieve elsewhere. But, at the same time, this may be why literary critics are given to competitive envy.

Dylan's Visions of Sin
Christopher Ricks

Monday, November 19, 2007

After Yeats

When I am old and using Revlon hair dye
and am sucking up my pharmacopoeia,
and can drink but Sanka--
when I don't have too many friends anymore
and the bathroom is a place of loneliness--

Yes, when I am old and Revloned and hypnogogic
and nodding at the wheel,
take down this book
and read of one who phoned you less and less,
but who dug you and remembered
your elegant hand
and somewhat geeky look.

A Defense of Poetry -- Gabriel Gudding

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

What is written without effort is in general read without pleasure.

Samuel Johnson

Monday, October 29, 2007

Stephen, struck by his tone of closure, reopened the discussion at once by saying:

—I fear many things: dogs, horses, firearms, the sea, thunderstorms, machinery, the country roads at night.

—But why do you fear a bit of bread?

—I imagine that there is a malevolent reality behind those things I say I fear.

—Do you fear then, Cranly asked, that the God of the Roman catholics would strike you dead and damn you if you made a sacrilegious communion?

—The God of the Roman catholics could do that now, Stephen said. I fear more than that the chemical action which would be set in in my soul by a false homage to a symbol behind which are massed twenty centuries of authority and veneration.

—Would you, Cranly asked, in extreme danger commit that particular sacrilege? For instance if you lived in the penal days?

—I cannot answer for the past, Stephen replied. Possibly not.

—Then, said Cranly, you do not intend to become a protestant?

—I said that I had lost the faith, Stephen answered, but not that I had lost selfrespect. What kind of liberation would that be to forsake an absurdity which is logical and coherent and embrace one which is illogical and incoherent?

A Potrait of the Artist as a Young Man, James Joyce

Wednesday, October 17, 2007


"Back in the mid-'80s, every time the Celtics walked off an opposing floor after a hard-fought road victory, a giddy Kevin McHale clenched his fists, raised his Frankenstein arms above his head and showed off his victorious armpits. This was the hairy victory cigar of the Bird era."
-Bill Simmons, ESPN
(I read this in class last night and started to laugh, which was hard to hide as there are only six of us in there)

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Carmelo Anthony and a Nation at War

"Carmelo Anthony and a Nation at War"

It's a familiar story, but I'll tell it again. The year is 1993, and the Knicks have taken a 2-0 lead over the Bulls in the Eastern Conference finals. Starks has made history with a single dunk, the power forwards stalk the paint like hunger stalks men, and Ewing's patrol of the baseline has never been more inscrutable. Then…Charles Smith. That anyone not debilitated or otherwise womanly can miss 4 consecutive lay-ups is enough to strain credulity. That a professional basketball player in his franchise's most defining game can do it strains a whole lot more.
At twelve years old, I had lost my faith. Just as the Israelites of my Torah portion wandered a godless desert, and so judged the sky likewise without, I looked up that night with tears in my eyes and saw nothing but the empty dark. If God wasn't in game five, where was he? Months later, this was the question I asked before Jerusalem's Wailing Wall. And so a boy became a man, and a faith was forged in the cold heart of America's greatest game.

That was a time when professional basketball, eschatology, and the human experience were one indivisible whole. We shivered together in the wake of the cold war, and discovered both our doubts and our solace in the singularity of a game. But as the 1990's dragged on, basketball became as pedestrian as our president's lies. Michael Jordan may have been born again, but the game remained atrophied in its nation's perpetual peace. And so I do not believe it a coincidence that in the fear and trembling of 9/11 we should find the kernel of sport's renewal.

In the preemptive hagiography of Lebron, the whispering prophecy of Darko's otherness, and, most importantly, the heroic cheeks of Carmelo, America is searching for its new religion. And so do I, a man who had turned his back on the game, likewise search. Indeed, it was Carmelo's performance in Syracuse's improbable March – my senior year of college, and a time of great angst and worry – that once again reminded me of Basketball's healing grace. He is a symbol of what the game once was, and a soothsayer of what it might be again. He is my signature player. Thank you. (thanks to MDD for pointing in me in the site's direction)

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Flaubert's Parrot

Books say: she did this because. Life says: she did this. Books are where things are explained to you; life is where things aren't...Books make sense of life. The only problem is that the lives they make sense of are other people's lives, never your own.

Flaubert's Parrot, Julian Barnes

Saturday, September 29, 2007

The Use of Passions

Reason therefore will have us believe that there is but one passion; and that hope and fear, sorrow and joy are the motions or properties of love.

The Use of Passions, Jean Francois Senault

Bouvard and Pecuchet

On a horizon that receded further each day, they glimpsed things at once strange and wondrous. Admiring an old piece of furniture, they regretted not having lived at the time it was used, even though they knew absolutely nothing about the period. Certain names evoked images of countries that were all the more beautiful in that they could say nothing specific about them. Books whose titles were unintelligible to them seemed to contain untold mysteries. And, having more ideas, they suffered more acutely.

Bouvard and Pecuchet, Gustave Flaubert
Unfinished at his death in 1880

Friday, September 28, 2007

During an open practice for season-ticket holders in 2005, Robert Levy (a season-ticket holder) testified he witnessed Thomas placing his arm around Browne Sanders' shoulders and remarking, "it was distracting working with someone easy on the eyes" as an uncomfortable Browne Sanders pulled away. In Isiah's defense, he pulled the exact same routine with Rick Mahorn in 1989.
-Bill Simmons, ESPN


We are the old, dishonoured ones,
the broken husks of men.
Even then they cast us off,
the rescue mission left us here
to prop a child's strength upon a stick.
What if the new sap rises in his chest?
He has no soldiery in him,
no more than we,
and we are aged passed ageing,
gloss of the leaf shrivelled,
three legs at a time we falter on.
Old men are children once again,
a dream that sways and wavers
into the hard light of day.

Agamemnon, Aeschylus
Translated by Robert Fagles

Monday, September 24, 2007

Thoughts for the Times on War and Death

The individual in any given nation has a terrible opportunity to convince himself of what would occasionally strike him in peace-time -- that the state has forbidden to the individual the practice of wrongdoing, not because it desired to abolish it, but because it desires to monopolize it like salt and tobacco. The warring state permits itself every such misdeed, every such act of violence, as would disgrace the individual man. It practices not only the accepted strategems, but also deliberate lying and deception against the enemy; and this, too, in a measure which appears to surpass the usage of former wars. The state exacts the utmost degree of obedience and sacrifice from its citizens, but at the same time treats them as children by maintaining an excess of secrecy, and censorship of news and expressions of opinion that renders the spirits of those thus intellectually oppressed defenceless against every unfavourable turn of events and every sinister rumour. It absolves itself from the guarantees and contracts it had formed with other states, and makes unabashed confession of its rapacity and lust for power, which the private individual is them called upon to sanction in the name of patriotism.

"Thoughts for the Times on War and Death," Sigmund Freud

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Sound and Symbol

The hearing of a melody is a hearing with the melody....It is even a condition of hearing melody that the tone present at the moment should fill consciousness entirely, that nothing should be remembered, nothing except it or beside it be present in consciousness....Hearing a melody is hearing, having heard, and being about to hear, all at once....Every melody declares to us that the past can be there without being remembered, the future without being foreknown.

"Sound and Symbol," Victor Zuckerkandl

Thursday, September 20, 2007

A Void

Black Bird, by Arthur Gordon Pym.

'Twas upon a midnight tristful I sat poring, wan and wistful,
Through many a quaint and curious list full of my consorts slain -
I sat nodding, almost napping, till I caught a sound of tapping,
As of spirits softly rapping, rapping at my door in vain.
"'Tis a visitor," I murmur'd, "tapping at my door in vain -
Tapping soft as falling rain."

Ah, I know, I know that this was on a holy night of Christmas;
But that quaint and curious list was forming phantoms all in train.
How I wish'd it was tomorrow; vainly had I sought to borrow
From my books a stay of sorrow - sorrow for my unjoin'd chain -
For that pictographic symbol missing from my unjoin'd chain -
And that would not join again.

Rustling faintly through my drapings was a ghostly, ghastly scraping
Sound that with fantastic shapings fill'd my fulminating brain;
And for now, to still its roaring, I stood still as if ignoring
That a spirit was imploring his admission to obtain -
"'Tis a spirit now imploring his admission to obtain -"
Murmur'd I, "- but all in vain."

But, my soul maturinng duly, and my brain not so unruly,
"Sir," said I, "or Madam, truly your aquittal would I gain;
For I was in fact caught napping, so soft-sounding was your rapping,
so faint-sounding was your tapping that you tapp'd my door in vain -
Hardly did I know you tapp'd it" - I unlock'd it but in vain -
'twas dark without and plain.

Staring at that dark phantasm as if shrinking from a chasm,
I stood quaking with a spasm fracturing my soul in twain;
But my study door was still as untowardly hush'd and chill as,
Oh, a crypt in which a still aspiring body is just lain -
As a dank, dark crypt in which a still surprising man is lain -
Barr'd from rising up again.

All around my study flapping till my sanity was snapping,
I distinctly caught a tapping that was starting up again.
"Truly," said I, "truly this is turning now into crisis;
I must find out what amiss is, and tranquility obtain -
I must still my soul an instant and tranquility obtain -
For 'tis truly not just rain!"

So, my study door unlocking to confound that awful knocking,
In I saw a Black Bird stalking with a gait of proud disdain;
I at first thought I was raving, but it stalk'd across my paving
And with broad black wings a-waving did my study door attain -
Did a pallid bust of Pallas on my study door attain -
Just as if 'twas its domain.

Now, that night-wing'd fowl placating my sad fancy into waiting
On its oddly fascinating air of arrogant disdain,
"Though thy tuft is shorn and awkward, thou," I said "art not so backward
Coming forward, ghastly Black Bird wand'ring far from thy domain,
Not to say what thou art known as in thy own dusk-down domain!"
Quoth that Black Bird, "Not Again".

Wondrous was it this ungainly fowl could thus hold forth so plainly,
Though, alas, it discours'd vainly - as its point was far from plain;
And I think it worth admitting that, whilst in my study sitting,
I shall stop Black Birds from flitting thusly through my door again -
Black or not, I'll stop birds flitting through my study door again -
What I'll say is, "Not Again!"

But that Black Bird, posing grimly on its placid bust, said primly
"Not Again", and I thought dimly what purport it might contain.
Not a third word did it throw off - not a third word did it know off -
Till, afraid that it would go off, I thought only to complain -
"By tomorrow it will go off," did I trustfully complain.
It again said, "Not Again".

Now, my sanity displaying stark and staring signs of swaying,
"No doubt," murmur'd I, "it's saying all it has within its brain;
That it copy'd from a nomad whom Affiction caus'd to go mad,
From an outcast who was so mad as this ghastly bird to train -
Who, as with a talking parrot, did this ghastly Black Bird train
To say only, `Not Again.'"

But that Black Bird still placating my sad fancy into waiting
For a word forthcoming, straight into my chair I sank again;
And, upon its cushion sinking, I soon found my spirit linking
Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of Cain -
What this grim, ungainly, gahstly, gaunt, and ominous bird of Cain
Sought by croaking "Not Again."

On all this I sat surmising, whilst with morbid caution sizing
Up that fowl; its tantalising look burn'd right into my brain;
This for long I sat divining, with my pain-rack'd back inclining
On my cushion's satin lining with its ghastly crimson stain,
On that shiny satin lining with its sanguinary stain
Shrilly shouting, "Not Again!"

Now my room was growing fragrant, its aroma almost flagrant,
As from spirits wafting vagrant through my dolorous domain.
"Good-for-naught," I said, "God sought you - from Plutonian strands God brought you -
And, I know not why, God taught you all about my unjoin'd chain,
All about that linking symbol missing from my unjoin'd chain!"
Quoth that Black Bird, "Not Again."

"Sybil!" said I, "thing of loathing - sybil, fury in bird's clothing!
If by Satan brought, or frothing storm did toss you on its main,
Cast away, but all unblinking, on this arid island sinking -
On this room of Horror stinking - say it truly, or abstain -
Shall I - shall I find that symbol? - say it - say it, or abstain
From your croaking, `Not Again'."

"Sybil!" said I, "thing of loathing - sybil, fury in bird's clothing!
God's radiant kingdom soothing all man's purgatorial pain,
Inform this soul laid low with sorrow if upon a distant morrow
It shall find that symbol for - oh, for its too long unjoin'd chain -
Find that pictographic symbol missing from its unjoin'd chain."
Quoth that Black Bird, "Not Again."

"If that word's our sign of parting, Satan's bird," I said, upstarting,
"Fly away, wings blackly parting, to thy Night's Plutonian plain!
For, mistrustful, I would scorn to mind that untruth thou hast sworn to,
And I ask that thou by morn tomorrow quit my sad domain!
Draw thy night-nibb'd bill from out my soul and quit my sad domain!"
Quoth that Black Bird, "Not Again."

And my Black Bird, still not quitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On that pallid bust, still flitting through my dolorous domain;
But it cannot stop from gazing for it truly finds amazing
That, by artful paraphrasing, I such rhyming can sustain -
Notwithstanding my lost symbol I such rhyming still sustain -
Though I shan't try it again!

A Void, G_org_ P_r_c
Translation by G. Adair, 1994

Wednesday, September 19, 2007


The mirror's reflection grows faint, or perhaps the face itself does, taking on an acrid, fastidious look like that of a cobwebbed old daguerreotype set by sentimental hands on a headstone. In the pupil of the eye tiny, swimming dots appear: they are rowboats steered by melancholy boatmen conveying luggage and traveler -- departing life -- from the shore to the vast old bark awaiting.

Sunflower, Gyula Krudy

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Nobel Acceptance

I decline to accept the end of man. It is easy enough to say that man is immortal simply because he will endure: that when the last dingdong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound: that of his puny inexhaustible voice, still talking. I refuse to accept this. I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet's, the writer's, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet's voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.

Nobel Acceptance Speech, William Faulkner
December 10, 1950

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Reflections of a Wise Man

Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher,
vanity of vanities! All is vanity.
What do people gain from all the toil
at which they toil under the sun?
A generation goes, and a generation comes,
but the earth remains forever.
The sun rises and the sun goes down,
and hurries to the place where it rises.
The wind blows to the south,
and goes around to the north;
round and round goes the wind,
and on its circuits the wind returns.
All streams run to the sea,
but the sea is not full;
to the place where the streams flow,
there they continue to flow.
All things are wearisome,
more than one can express;
the eye is not satisfied with seeing,
or the ear filled with hearing.
What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done;
there is nothing new under the sun.
Is there a thing of which it is said,
"See, this is new"?
It has already been,
in the ages before us.
The people of long ago are not remembered,
nor will there be any remembrance of people yet to come
by those who come after them.

Ecclesiates 1:2-11

Saturday, September 15, 2007


To be hopeful in an artistic sense it is not necessary to think that the world is good. It is enough to believe that there is no impossibility of its being made so. If the flight of imaginative thought may be allowed to rise superior to many moralities current amongst mankind, a novelist who would think himself of a superior essence to other men would miss the first condition of his calling.

"Books," Joseph Conrad

Friday, September 14, 2007

Correspondence with his wife

I am not fooling myself with dreams of immortality, know how relative all literature is, don't have any faith in mankind, derive enjoyment from too few things. Sometimes these crises give birth to something worthwhile, sometimes they simply plunge one deeper into depression, but, of course, it is all part of the same thing.

Letter from Stefan Zweig to his wife Frederike
August 3, 1925

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Lack of Character

For example, taking situationism [as a theory of personality] seriously might inhibit the experience of a certain unreserved love; the situationist might be less able to feel, as Wittgenstein put it, "absolutely safe" in a relationship. But the loss of such experiences is a cost people should be willing to pay. For the costs on the other side are greater: Commitment to globalism [of traits within personality] threatens to poison understandings of self and others with disappointment and resentment on the one hand and delusion and hero-worship on the other.

In fact, engaging situationism can enable loving relationships, because affection for others would not be contingent on conformity to unrealistic standards of character. With luck, a situationist tuning of the emotions could increase our ever-short supply of compassion, forgiveness, and fair-mindedness. And these are things that are worth having in greater abundance.

Lack of Character: Personality and Moral Behavior, John M. Doris

Survival in Auschwitz

We have learnt that our personality is fragile, that it is much more in danger than our life; and the old wise ones, instead of warning us "remember that you must die," would have done much better to remind us of this great danger that threatens us.

Survival in Auschwitz, Primo Levi

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

For the Anniversary of My Death

Every year without knowing it I have passed the day
When the last fires will wave to me
And the silence will set out
Tireless traveler
Like the beam of a lightless star

Then I will no longer
Find myself in life as in a strange garment
Surprised at the earth
And the love of one woman
And the shamelessness of men
As today writing after three days of rain
Hearing the wren sing and the falling cease
And bowing not knowing to what

"For the Anniversary of My Death," W.S. Merwin

Art Class

While it is the métier of middle-class intellectuals to propose intellectual, individual solutions to problems that are in fact social and collective, it must be acknowledged that these tensions rest on real social antagonisms. They relate to the vast inequality in the distribution of material -- and thus cultural and intellectual -- resources in the world. And the pressures they represent are therefore sure to grow more unmanageable until something changes materially. In this sense, what art needs is not a "new theory" at all, but rather new initiative in relating practically to the actual forces that affect it.

"Art Class," Ben Davis
August 24, 2007

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Nobel Acceptance

A writer talks of things that everyone knows but does not know that they know. To explore this knowledge, and to watch it grow, is a pleasurable thing; the reader is visiting a world at once familiar and miraculous. When a writer shuts himself up in a room for years on end to hone his craft - to create a world - if he uses his secret wounds as a starting point, he is, whether he knows it or not, putting a great faith in humanity. My confidence comes from the belief that all human beings resemble one another, that others carry wounds like mine - that they will therefore understand. All true literature rises from this childish, hopeful certainty that all people resemble one another. When a writer shuts himself up in a room for years on end, with this gesture he suggests a single humanity, a world without a center.

Speech to the Swedish Academy, Orhan Pamuk
December 11, 2006

Friday, September 7, 2007

Five by Kafka

A book should serve as the ax for the frozen sea within us.

Youth is happy because it has the ability to see beauty. Anyone who keeps the ability to see beauty never grows old.

By believing passionately in something that still does not exist, we create it. The nonexistent is whatever we have not sufficiently desired.

Every revolution evaporates and leaves behind only the slime of a new bureaucracy.

It is not necessary that you leave the house. Remain at your table and listen. Do not even listen, only wait. Do not even wait, be wholly still and alone. The world will present itself to you for its unmasking, it can do no other, in ecstasy it will writhe at your feet.

Franz Kafka (1883-1924)

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Genius of Culture

If anyone wanted to imagine a genius of culture, what would the latter be like? He would manipulate falsehood, force, the most ruthless self-interest as his instruments so skilfully he could only be called an evil, demonic being; but his objectives, which here and there shine through, would be great and good. He would be a centaur, half beast, half an, with angel's wings attached to his head in addition.

Human, All too Human: A Book for Free Spirits, Friedrich Nietzsche


This life is a perpetual chequer-work of good and evil, pleasure and pain. When in possession of what we desire, we are only so much the nearer losing it; and when at a distance from it, we live in expectation of enjoying it again.

We like so much to hear people talk of us and of our motives, that we are charmed even when they abuse us.

Marie de Sevigne
Letter dated September 22, 1680

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Heauton Timorumenos

Homo sum, humani nil a me alienum puto.

(I am human, I consider nothing human alien to me.)

Heauton Timorumenos, Publius Terentius Afer
(Terence, 195-159 BC)

Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Moral Ecology of Markets

The social philosopher Michael Walzer has argued that justice itself cannot be based on a simple one-size-fits-all understanding of what just behavior entails. In his book Spheres of Justice, he argues that different kinds of 'goods' (i.e., things people value) have different social meanings and that the proper rule for just distribution of those goods depends on their meanings. Thus, for example, simple economic commodities are distributed by the rule of the market: Each will receive as income what others are willing to offer to get the things he originally owned. But other social goods must be distributed by other rules. Honors should go to those who deserve them, not those who can pay the most for them. Even though the criteria for deserving a Nobel prize in physics are quite different from those for a gold medal in the hundred-meter dash at the Olympics, it would be unjust to buy (or sell) either honor. Essential goods and services, whether that is the help of the police when one has been robbed or sufficient food to feed one's family when one is unemployed, should be distributed in accord with needs. Offices (jobs that have a political import of some kind) are distributed in accord with the criteria that define them. Similarly, citizenship, education, love, and political power are all distributed by different principles.

Walzer's point is that different kinds of goods ought to be distributed under different rules because their diverse meanings should be respected. Thus one of Walzer's fundamental critiques is directed at libertarians and a number of other market proponents who see no problem in extending the logic of the market - one person makes an offer and the other decides whether or not to accept it - into other areas of life where this market mentality undermines widely accepted views of justice. From this perspective, whether or not economic self-interest in the sphere of money and commodities is morally attractive, it is morally quite offensive as it pushes into other spheres of life.

The Moral Ecology of Markets, Daniel K. Finn

Monday, August 27, 2007

The Influence of Darwin on Philosophy

Old ideas give way slowly; for they are more than abstract logical forms and categories. They are habits, predispositions, deeply ingrained attitudes of aversion and preference. Moreover, the conviction persists - though history shows it to be a hallucination - that all the questions that the human mind has asked are questions that can be answered in terms of the alternatives that the questions themselves present. But in fact intellectual progress usually occurs through sheer abandonment of questions together with both of the alternatives they assume, an abandonment that results from their decreasing vitality and a change of urgent interest. We do not solve them; we get over them.

"The Influence of Darwin on Philosophy," John Dewey

The Waves

'Now to sum up,' said Bernard. 'Now to explain to you the meaning of my life. Since we do not know each other (though I meant you once, I think, on board a ship going to Africa), we can talk freely. The illusion is upon me that something adheres for a moment, has roundness, weight, depth, is completed. This, for the moment, seems to be my life. If it were possible, I would hand it to you entire...

'But unfortunately, what I see (this globe, full of figures) you do not see. You see me, sitting at a table opposite you, a rather heavy, elderly man, grey at the temples. You see me take my napkin and unfold it...But in order to make you understand, to give you my life, I must tell you a story - and there are so many, and so many - stories of childhood, stories of school, love, marriage, death, and so on; and none of them are true...How tired I am of stories...'

The Waves, Virginia Woolf

Saturday, August 25, 2007

The Way of the World

Of those few fools, who with ill stars are cursed,
Sure scribbling fools, called poets, fare the worst:
For they're a sort of fools which Fortune makes,
And after she has made 'em fools, forsakes.
With nature's oafs 'tis quite a different case,
For Fortune favors all her idiot race.

The Way of the World: Prologue, William Congreve

Thursday, August 23, 2007

In the Freud Archives

We are all perpetually smoothing and rearranging reality to conform to our wishes; we lie to others and to ourselves constantly, unthinkingly. When, occasionally—and not by dint of our own efforts but under the pressure of external events—we are forced to see things as they are, we are like naked people in a storm. There are a few among us—psychoanalysts have encountered them—who are blessed or cursed with a strange imperviousness to the unpleasantness of self-knowledge. Their lies to themselves are so convincing that they are never unmasked. These are the people who never feel in the wrong, who are always able to justify their conduct, and who in the end—human nature being what it is—cause their fallible fellow-men to turn away from them.

In the Freud Archives, Janet Malcolm

A Dilettante's Guide to Art

The dilettantes are always right, because paintings are for looking at, and because every claim about what painting “should be” gets shriveled and old and academic even before the canvas does. The dilettante doesn’t care much about what painting “should be,” only about what it is and has been. And the thing that keeps this standpoint from being utterly trivial is the hint of melancholy in it. The dilettante is interested in all things equally because in the long eye of time all things are equally transient. Looking can become delightful again from that perspective, but it is tinged with the mark of death. The dilettante acknowledges this mark, and then goes about the business of living.

"A Dilettante's Guide to Art," Morgan Meis
The Smart Set, August 22, 2007

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The Enamoured Knight

For by the end of the novel Cervantes has pricked the balloon of reader certainty over and over again. For example, the reader never knows exactly what happened in the cave of Montesinos, and later, the Don Quixote impostor, who enters the novel as a fictional character in the spurious second volume, erupts into Don Quixote itself as a real if debased double of the old knight himself. The latter is an instance of the bookish games Cervantes plays with the logic of reality, text and fiction. In other passages he discusses the composition of the book, talks about its critical reception, and otherwise tries to seduce the reader into the relativized universe of his characters, just as his characters become readers.

This reader abuse is quite clearly meant as an antidote to the kind of lazy, simple-minded reading that drives Alonso Quixano insane. Novels that present themselves as illusions, as substitute realities, are false; only books that advertise their bookish nature, that foreground their technological role in the production of illusion, are true.

The Enamoured Knight, Douglas Glover

Monday, August 20, 2007

Dark Back of Time

The time-honored aspiration of any chrnoicler of survivor - to tell what happened, give an account of what took place, leave a record of events and crimes and exploits - is, in fact, a mere illusion or chimera, or, rather, the phrase and concept themselves are already metaphorical and partake of fiction. "To tell what happened" is inconceivable and futile, or possible only as invention. The idea of testimony is also futile and there has never been a witness who could truly fulfill his duty. Anyway, you always go forget far too many moments and hours and days and months and years, and the scar on a thigh that I saw and kissed every day for years during its known and lost time. You forget whole years, and not necessarily the least important ones.

Dark Back of Time, Javier Marias

The Art of the Novel

Indeed, it's important to understand what a novel is. A historian tells you about events that have taken place. By contrast, Raskolnikov's crime never saw the light of day. A novel examines not reality but existence. And existence is not what has occured, existence is the realm of human possibilities, everything man can become, everything he's capable of. Novelists draw up the map of existence by examining this or that human possibility.

The Art of the Novel, Milan Kundera

Sunday, August 19, 2007

The Enamoured Knight

When we read we mime loss repetitively and in the process it seems to accrete meaning, the sense of being planned, fated or the will of the gods; we enjoy the sense of participating in a larger story, we experience the passion of the hero and, after, the generous perspective of pity and distance. What does come with repetition is a sense of mastery and control. This is the essence of repetition as a cognitive tool; it's the reason children play house or tennis players stand in front of ball machines endlessly hitting backhand shots. In the experience of reading, which is emotional rather than cognitive, we somehow find loss easier to bear.

The Enamoured Knight, Douglas Glover

Friday, August 17, 2007


When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
I summon up remembrance of things past,
I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,
And with old woes new wail my dear time's waste:

Then can I drown an eye, unused to flow,
For precious friends hid in death's dateless night,
And weep afresh love's long since cancell'd woe,
And moan the expense of many a vanish'd sight:

Then can I grieve at grievances foregone,
And heavily from woe to woe tell o'er
The sad account of fore-bemoanèd moan,
Which I new pay as if not paid before.

But if the while I think on thee, dear friend,
All losses are restored and sorrows end.

"Sonnet 30," William Shakespeare

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Tell it slant

Tell all the Truth but tell it slant---
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth's superb surprise
As Lightening to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind---

Emily Dickinson

The Mutability of Literature

There rise authors now and then who seem proof against the mutability of language because they have rooted themselves in the unchanging principles of human nature. They are like gigantic trees that we sometimes see on the banks of a stream, which by their vast and deep roots, penetrating through the mere surface and laying hold on the very foundations of the earth, preserve the soil around them from being swept away by the ever-flowing current, and hold up many a neighboring plant, and perhaps worthless weed, to perpetuity. Such is the case with Shakespeare, whom we behold defying the encroachments of time, retaining in modern use the language and literature of his day, and giving duration to many an indifferent author, merely from having flourished in his vicinity. But even he, I grieve to say, is gradually assuming the tint of age, and his whole form is overrun by a profusion of commentators, who, like clambering vines and creepers, almost bury the noble plant that upholds them.

"The Mutability of Literature," Washington Irving

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

On the Distance Between Literary and Real-Life Narratives

One serious danger in modelling real-life narratives on literary ones is that a kind of mysticism is encouraged which assigns meanings to facts in the world. A misplaced functionality might encourage this but also, and worse, a misplaced teleology. The Teleology Principle in literature seeks explanations of literary events in their contribution to artistic structure. When real-life narratives take on the appearance of artistic structures - and again biographies and autobiographies sometimes aspire to this - they can easily foster the illusion of seeing lives themselves as works of art. Narratives are dangerous and distorting when they appear to offer false explanations: 'that first meeting was no coincidence, it was meant to happen', 'the seeds of a tragic life were there from the beginning', and so on. Narratives find patterns in people's lives and give structure. There is nothing wrong with that. But the literary model, where patterns are deliberately created and can determine (and thus explain) fictional content, is entirely inappropriate for narratives of real lives. Explanations for non-fictional events must stay in the realm of causes and reasons. Nothing in the real world happens because some structured design determines that it must happen.

"On the Distance Between Literary and Real-Life Narratives," Peter Lamarque


I sometimes feel as if I were a child who opens its eyes on the world once and sees amazing things it will never know any names for and then has to close its eyes again. I know this is all mere apparition to what awaits us, but it is only lovelier for that. There is a human beauty in it. And I can't believe that, when we have all been changed and put on incorruptibility, we will forget our fantastic condition of mortality and impermanence, the great bright dream of procreating and perishing that meant the whole world to us. In eternity this world will be Troy, I believe, and all that has passed here will be the epic of the universe, the ballad they sing in the streets. Because I don't imagine any reality putting this one in the shade entirely, and I think piety forbids me to try.

Gilead, Marilynne Robinson

Tuesday, August 14, 2007


To crave and to have are as like as a thing and its shadow. For when does a
berry break upon the tongue as sweetly as when one longs to taste it, and when is the taste refracted into so many hues and savors of ripeness and earth, and when do our senses know anything so utterly as when we lack it? And here again is foreshadowing -- the world will be made whole. For to wish for a hand on one's hair is all but to feel it. So whatever we may lose, very craving gives it back to us again. Though we dream and hardly know it, longing, like an angel, fosters us, smooths our hair, and brings us wild strawberries.

Housekeeping, Marilynne Robinson


But I've developed a great reputation for wisdom by ordering more books than I ever had time to read, and reading more books, by far, than I learned anything useful from, except, of course, that some very tedious gentlemen have written books. That is not a new insight, but the truth of it is something you have to experience to fully grasp.

Thank God for them all, of course, and for that strange interval, which was most of my life, when I read out of loneliness, and when bad company was much better than no company. You can love a bad book for its haplessness or pomposity or gall, if you have that starveling appetite for things human, which I devoutly hope you never will have.

Gilead, Marilynne Robinson

Sunday, August 12, 2007

The Moviegoer

Ours is the only civilization in history which has enshrined mediocrity as its national ideal. Others have been corrupt, but leave it to us to invent the most undistinguished of corruptions.

The Moviegoer, Walker Percy

Saturday, August 11, 2007


She said: 'Rejoice, for God has brought you to your fiftieth year in the world!' But she had no inkling that, for my part, there is no difference at all between my days which have gone by and the distant days of Noah about which I have heard. I have nothing in the world but the hour in which I am: it pauses for a moment, and then, like a cloud, moves on.

Samuel Hanagid, 996-1056
Vizier to the King of Granada

Friday, August 10, 2007

Human, All too Human

Brave, carefree, mocking, forceful - this is how wisdom wants us to be.

Human, All too Human: A Book for Free Spirits, Friedrich Nietzsche

Thursday, August 9, 2007


So long as my spirit still
Is glad of breath
And lifts its plumes of pride
In the dark face of death;
While I am curious still
Of love and fame,
Keeping my heart too high
For the years to tame,
How can I quarrel with fate
Since I can see
I am a debtor to life,
Not life to me?

"Debtor", Sara Teasdale

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Under the Sign of Saturn (x2)

The ethical task of the modern writer is to be not a creator but a destroyer - a destroyer of shallow inwardness, the consoling notion of the universally human, dilettantish creativity, and empty phrases.

The hard truth is that what may be acceptable in elite culture may not be acceptable in mass culture, that tastes which pose only innocent ethical issues as the property of a minority become corrupting when they become more established. Taste is context, and the context has changed.

Under the Sign of Saturn, Susan Sontag

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

On Bullshit

It is impossible for someone to lie unless he thinks he knows the truth. Producing bullshit requires no such conviction. A person who lies is thereby responding to the truth, and he is to that extent respectful of it. When an honest man speaks, he says only what he believes to be true; and for the liar, it is correspondingly indispensible that he consider his statements to be false. For the bullshitter, however, all these bets are off: he is neither on the side of the true nor on the side of the false. His eye is not on the facts at all, as the eyes of the honest man and of the liar are, except insofar as they may be pertinent to his interest in getting away with what he says. He does not care if the things he says describe reality correctly. He just picks them out, or makes them up, to suit his purpose.

"On Bullshit," Harry Frankfurt

Monday, August 6, 2007

The Uses of Philosophy

Empty is that philosopher's argument by which no human suffering is therapeutically treated. For just as there is no use for a medical art that does not cast out the sickness of bodies, so too there is no use in philosophy, unless it casts out the suffering of the soul.

Epicurus (341-271 BCE)

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Against Theory

The theoretical impulse, as we have described it, always involves the attempt to separate things that should not be separated: on the ontological side, meaning from intention, language from speech acts; on the epistemological side, knowledge from true belief. Our point has been that the separated terms are in fact inseparable. It is tempting to end by saying that theory and practice too are inseparable. But this would be a mistake. Not because theory and practice (unlike the other terms) really are separate but because theory is nothing else but the attempt to escape practice. Meaning is just another name for expressed intention, knowledge just another name for true belief, but theory is not just another name for practice. It is the name for all the ways people have tried to stand outside practice in order to govern practice from without. Our thesis has been that no one can reach a position outside practice, that theorists should stop trying, and that the theoretical enterprise should therefore come to an end.

"Against Theory," Steven Knapp and Walter Benn Michaels

Saturday, August 4, 2007

A Winter's Tale

What you do
Still betters what is done. When you speak, sweet,
I'd have you do it ever; when you sing,
I'd have you buy and sell so; so give alms;
Pray so; and, for the ordering your affairs,
To sing them too: when you do dance, I wish you
A wave o' the sea, that you might ever do
Nothing but that; move still, still so, and own
No other function: each your doing,
So singular in each particular,
Crowns what you are doing in the present deeds,
That all your acts are queens.

A Winter's Tale, William Shakespeare
Act IV, Scene IV

Thursday, August 2, 2007

After the End of Art

With modernism, the conditions of representation themselves become central, so that art in a way becomes its own subject. This was almost precisely the way in which Clement Greenberg defined the matter in his famous 1960 essay "Modernist Painting." "The essence of modernism," he wrote, "lies, as I see it, in the use of the characteristic methods of a discipline to criticize the discipline itself, not in order to subvert it but in order to entrench it more firmly in its area of competence." Interestingly, Greenberg took as his model of modernist thought the philosopher Immanuel Kant: "Because he was the first to criticize the means itself of criticism, I conceive of Kant as the first real Modernist." Kant did not see philosophy as adding to our knowldge so much as answering the question of how knowledge was possible.

After the End of Art, Arthur C. Danto

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Home Land

"A sorcerer?" said Gwendolyn, one of the few times I told her this tale. "Just because she ate your candy bar? My mom guzzled rye and beat us. My uncle put his dick in my armpit while I slept. My cousin hid my college acceptance letter until it was too late to reply. Your mother ate your candy bar?"
"It's symbolic."
"That's what people say when they know they've come with the weak shit."
"Fuck you," I said.
"Excuse me?"
"I said Fuck you," I said. "I've been meaning to say it for a long time. I just couldn't find the right words."
Yes, this exchange occurred during a particularly frenzied juncture in our unraveling, but I always thought Gwendolyn missed the point of my story. The candy bar incident, aside from its obvious revelations regarding my character, or the deformation thereof, imparts a tremendous lesson about life's treats in general: munch immediately! Maybe that could be a chapter in the self-help book I've been meaning to write, The Seven Habits of Highly Disappointed People, which I could probably bang out in an afternoon if I weren't so busy updating you fine people on the latest in the life of me.

Sam Lipsyte, 2004

Quasi Sonnet

There is nothing that leads to nothing.
Even to sit in a room, quiet and nude
as Blaise Pascal, will have some effect

on Tanzania maybe, or on New Guinea,
just as the beating wings of a lepidopter–
according to the proverb about butterflies in Peru–

could incite a tidal wave in Shanghai,
or knock down an Iraqi helicopter.

And so we become ourselves, hypocrite lecteur,
at the very least accomplices, you and I.

"Quasi Sonnet," Paulo Henriques Britto
Translated from Portuguese by Idra Novey, 2007

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Cultural Amnesia

But perhaps, if one could remember everything, one would be damned indeed. In the last few weeks of a slow dying, it might be better to forget. One hopes that there will be a saving mechanism to it, a kind of mental economy. In my prime I thought that H.L. Mencken's fate -semantic aphasia- was the most cruel affliction for a man who had given his life to words: a punishment for love. But from the inside looking out it might have felt like a release.

A release from memories of beauty might be just the ticket: what else, after all, would they do, except long for what you can't have, more life? Perhaps we will forget what was lovely and remember what was true. Already, at no great age, I sometimes fancy that I can feel that happening.

"Eugenio Montale," Clive James
Cultural Amnesia, 2007

What Are Years?

What is our innocence,
what is our guilt? All are
naked, none is safe. And whence
is courage: the unanswered question,
the resolute doubt -
dumbly calling, deafly listening - that
in misfortune, even death,
encourages others
and in its defeat, stirs

the soul to be strong? He
sees deep and is glad, who
accedes to mortality
and in his imprisonment rises
upon himself as
the sea in a chasm, struggling to be
free and unable to be,
in its surrendering
finds its continuing.

So he who strongly feels,
behaves. The very bird,
grown taller as he sings, steels
his form straight up. Though he is captive,
his mighty singing
says, satisfaction is a lowly
thing, how pure a thing is joy.
This is mortality,
this is eternity.

"What Are Years," Marianne Moore

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Journal Entry

Idea for a frightening story: It is discovered that the only remedy for cancer is living human flesh. Consequences.

The Notebooks of Paul Valery

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Four Poems

If there is something to desire,
there will be something to regret.
If there is something to regret,
there will be something to recall.
If there is something to recall,
there was nothing to regret.
If there was nothing to regret,
there was nothing to desire.

"Four Poems," Vera Pavlova
Translated by Steven Seymour, 2007

The Return

Thus Alvan Hervey and his wife for five prosperous years lived by the side of one another. In time they came to know each other sufficiently well for all the practical purposes of such an existence, but they were no more capable of real intimacy than two animals feeding at the same manger, under the same roof, in a luxurious stable. His longing was appeased and became a habit; and she had her desire - the desire to get away from under the paternal roof, to assert her individuality, to move in her own set (so much smarter than the parental one); to have a home of her own, and her own share of the world's respect, envy, and applause. They understood each other warily, tacitly, like a pair of cautious conspirators in a profitable plot; because they were both unable to look at a fact, a sentiment, a principle, or a belief otherwise than in the light of their own dignity, of their own glorification, of their own advantage. They skimmed over the surface of life hand in hand, in a pure and frosty atmosphere - like two skillful skaters cutting figures on thick ice for the admiration of the beholders, and disdainfully ignoring the hidden stream, the stream restless and dark; the stream of life, profound and unfrozen.

The Return, Joseph Conrad

Sunday, July 22, 2007

The First Book

Open it.

Go ahead, it won't bite.
Well...maybe a little.

More a nip, like. A tingle.
It's pleasurable, really.

You see, it keeps on opening.
You may fall in.

Sure, it's hard to get started;
remember learning to use

knife and fork? Dig in:
You'll never reach bottom.

It's not like it's the end of the world -
just the world as you think

you know it.

"The First Book," Rita Dove

Communist Manifesto

A similar movement is going on before our own eyes. Modern bourgeois society, with its relations of production, of exchange and of property, a society that has conjured up such gigantic means of production and of exchange, is like the sorcerer who is no longer able to control the powers of the nether world whom he has called up by his spells. For many a decade past the history of industry and commerce is but the history of the revolt of modern productive forces against modern conditions of production, against the property relations that are the conditions for the existence of the bourgeois and of its rule. It is enough to mention the commercial crises that by their periodical return put the existence of the entire bourgeois society on its trial, each time more threateningly. In these crises, a great part not only of the existing products, but also of the previously created productive forces, are periodically destroyed. In these crises, there breaks out an epidemic that, in all earlier epochs, would have seemed an absurdity — the epidemic of over-production. Society suddenly finds itself put back into a state of momentary barbarism; it appears as if a famine, a universal war of devastation, had cut off the supply of every means of subsistence; industry and commerce seem to be destroyed; and why? Because there is too much civilisation, too much means of subsistence, too much industry, too much commerce. The productive forces at the disposal of society no longer tend to further the development of the conditions of bourgeois property; on the contrary, they have become too powerful for these conditions, by which they are fettered, and so soon as they overcome these fetters, they bring disorder into the whole of bourgeois society, endanger the existence of bourgeois property. The conditions of bourgeois society are too narrow to comprise the wealth created by them. And how does the bourgeoisie get over these crises? On the one hand by enforced destruction of a mass of productive forces; on the other, by the conquest of new markets, and by the more thorough exploitation of the old ones. That is to say, by paving the way for more extensive and more destructive crises, and by diminishing the means whereby crises are prevented.

The Communist Manifesto, Karl Mark & Frederick Engels

Saturday, July 21, 2007

The Stone Raft

As they conversed around the fire after they had eaten, it suddenly occurred to Joaquim Sassa to ask, Where did you get this name Guavaira, what does it mean, and Maria Guavaira told him, As far as I know there is no one else with this name, my mother dreamed it when I was still inside her, she wanted me to be called Guavaira and nothing else, but my father insisted that I should be called Maria, so I ended up with a name I was never meant to have, Maria Guavaira. So you don't know what it means, My name turned up in a dream. Dreams always have some meaning. But not names that turn up in dreams, now the rest of you tell me your names. They told her, one by one. Then, poking the fire with her stick, Maria Guavaira said, The names we possess are dreams, what will I be dreaming about if I should dream your name.

The Stone Raft, Jose Saramago

Friday, July 20, 2007


"And then he went back to his job, as if nothing had happened." A sentence that strikes one as familiar from any number of old stories - though it might not have appeared in any of them.

The Zurau Aphorisms, Franz Kafka
Translated by Michael Hofmann, 2006

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Interrupted Forms

In dreams
insubstantially you have come before my eyes'
expectations, and, even in waking,
taking over the field of sight fleetingly
stronger than what my eyes see,
the thought of you has eyes to see
has eyes to meet your answering eyes
thought raises. I am speaking of a ghost
the heart is glad to have return, of a room
I have often been lonely in, of a desertion
that remains even where I am most cherisht
and surrounded by Love's company, of a form,
wholly fulfilling the course of my life, interrupted,
of a cold in the full warmth of the sunlight
that seeks to come in close to your heart
for warmth.

"Interrupted Forms," Robert Duncan

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Economic Development and Democracy

Marx believed that the proletariat was a revolutionary force because it had nothing to lose but its chains and could win the whole world. But Tocqueville, analyzing the reasons why the lower strata in America supported the system, paraphrased and transposed Marx before Marx ever made his analysis by pointing out that "only those who have nothing to lose ever revolt."

"Economic Development and Democracy," Seymour Martin Lipset
Political Man: The Bases of Politics, 1960

Happiest Moment

If you ask her what is a favorite story she has written, she will hesitate for a long time and then say it may be this story that she read in a book once: an English language teacher in China asked his Chinese student to say what was the happiest moment in his life. The student hesitated for a long time. At last he smiled with embarrassment and said that his wife had once gone to Beijing and eaten duck there, and she often told him about it, and he would have to say that the happiest moment of his life was her trip, and the eating of the duck.

"Happiest Moment," Lydia Davis
Samuel Johnson is Indignant, 2001

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The End of History

The end of history will be a very sad time. The struggle for recognition, the willingness to risk one's life for a purely abstract goal, the worldwide ideological struggle that called forth daring, courage, imagination, and idealism, will be replaced by economic calculation, the endless solving of technical problems, environmental concerns, and the satisfaction of sophisticated consumer demands. In the post-historical period there will be neither art nor philosophy, just the perpetual caretaking of the museum of human history. I can feel in myself, and see in others around me, a powerful nostalgia for the time when history existed. Such nostalgia, in fact, will continue to fuel competition and conflict even in the post-historical world for some time to come. Even though I recognize its inevitability, I have the most ambivalent feelings for the civilization that has been created in Europe since 1945, with its north Atlantic and Asian offshoots. Perhaps this very prospect of centuries of boredom will serve to get history started once again.

"The End of History," Francis Fukuyama


Foremost among the larger issues at stake in the Eichmann trial was the assumption current in all modern legal systems that intent to do wrong is necessary for the commission of a crime. On nothing, perhaps, has civilized jurisprudence prided itself more than on this taking into account of the subjective factor. Where this intent is absent, where, for whatever reasons, even reasons of moral insanity, the ability to distinguish between right and wrong is impaired, we feel no crime has been commited. We refuse, and consider barbaric, the propositions ‘that a great crime offends nature, so that the very earth cries out for vengeance; that evil violates a natural harmony which only retribution can restore; that a wronged collectivity owes a duty to the moral order to punish the criminal’ (Yosal Rogat). And yet I think it is undeniable that it was precisely on the ground of these long-forgotten propositions that Eichmann was brought to justice to begin with, and that they were, in fact, the supreme justification for the death penalty. Because he had been implicated and had played a central role in an enterprise whose open purpose was to eliminate forever certain ‘races’ from the surface of the earth, he had to be eliminated.

Eichmann in Jerusalem, Hannah Arendt

Works on Paper

All of painting, but also literature and all that goes with it, is merely a process of going round and round something inexpressible, round a black hole or a crater whose center one cannot penetrate. And those things one seizes on as subject matter, they have merely the character of pebbles at the foot of the crater -- they mark out a circle which, one hopes, draws ever closer to the center.

Works on Paper, Anselm Kiefer

Monday, July 16, 2007


Those blessed structures, plot and rhyme -
why are they no help to me now
I want to make
something imagined, not recalled?
I hear the noise of my own voice
The painter's vision is not a lens
it trembles to caress the light.
But sometimes everything I write
with the threadbare art of my eye
seems a snapshot,
lurid, rapid, garish, grouped,
heightened from life,
yet paralyzed by fact.
All's misalliance.
Yet why not say what happened?
Pray for the grace of accuracy
Vermeer gave to the sun's illumination
stealing like the tide across a map
to his girl solid with yearning.
We are poor passing facts,
warned by that to give
each figure in the photograph
his living name.

Collected Poems, Robert Lowell

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Flesh and Stone

Moving around freely diminishes sensory awareness, arousal by places or the people in those places. Any strong visceral connection to the environment threatens to tie the individual down. This was the premonition at the end of The Merchant of Venice: to move freely, you can't feel too much. Today, as the desire to move freely has triumphed over the sensory claims of the space through which the body moves, the modern mobile individual has suffered a kind of tactile crisis: motion has helped desensitize the body. This general principle we now see realized in cities given over to the claims of traffic and rapid individual movement, cities filled with neutral spaces, cities which have succumbed to the dominant value of circulation.

Flesh and Stone: The Body and the City in Western Civilization, Richard Sennett

Friday, July 13, 2007


may my heart always be open to little birds
who are the secrets of living
whatever they sing is better than to know
and if men should not hear them men are old

may my mind stroll about hungry
and fearless and thirsty and supple
and even if it's sunday may i be wrong
for whenever men are right they are not young

and may myself do nothing usefully
and love yourself so more than truly
there's never been quite such a fool who could fail
pulling all the sky over him with one smile

Other Seasons, Other Creatures, e.e. cummings

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The Work

Inaki Echevarne, Bar Giardinetto, Calle Granada del Penedes, Barcelona, July 1994. For a while, Criticism travels side by side with the Work, then Criticism vanishes and it's the Readers who keep pace. The journey may be long or short. Then the Readers die one by one and the Work continues on alone, although a new Criticism and new Readers gradually fall into step with it along its path. Then Criticism dies again and the Readers die again and the Work passes over a trail of bones on its journey toward solitude. To come near the work, to sail in her wake, is a sign of certain death, but new Criticism and new Readers approach her tirelessly and relentlessly and are devoured by time and speed. Finally the Work journeys irremediably alone in the Great Vastness. And one day the Work dies, as all things must die and come to an end: the Sun and the Earth and the Solar System and the Galaxy and the farthest reaches of man's memory. Everything that begins as comedy ends as tragedy.

The Savage Detectives, Roberto Bolano


The method of writing smooth narrative can’t be right. Things don’t happen in one’s mind like that. We experience, all the time, an overlapping of images and ideas, and modern novels should convey our mental confusion instead of neatly rearranging it. The reader must sort it out.

The Diary of Virginia Woolf
February 12, 1927

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Dreams of a Final Theory

At the other end of the spectrum are the opponents of reductionism who are appalled by what they feel to be the bleakness of modern science. To whatever extent they and their world can be reduced to a matter of particles or fields and their interactions, they feel diminished by that knowledge…I would not try to answer these critics with a pep talk about the beauties of modern science. The reductionist worldview is chilling and impersonal. It has to be accepted as it is, not because we like it, but because that is the way the world works.

Dreams of a Final Theory, Steven Weinberg

Monday, July 9, 2007

Doctor Faustus

Was I not correct in saying that the artist's states of depression and productive elation, his illness and health, were not sharply separated from one another, but rather that in his health and under its aegis, so to speak, elements of health were at work, while those elements of illness that contribute to genius were being transferred to health? It is beyond dispute, and I thank a friendship that brought me great sorrow and dismay, but always filled me with pride, for the insight: Genius is a form of the life force that is deeply versed in illness, that both draws creatively from it and creates through it.

Doctor Faustus, Thomas Mann

Saturday, July 7, 2007

The Heroism of Vision

It is common for those who have glimpsed something beautiful to express regret at not having been able to photograph it. So successful has been the camera's role in beautifying the world that photographs, rather than the world, have become the standard of the beautiful. House-proud hosts may well pull out photographs of the place to show visitors how really splendid it is. We learn to see ourselves photographically: to regard oneself as attractive is, precisely, to judge that one would look good in a photograph. Photographs create the beautiful and - over generations of picture-taking - use it up. Certain glories of nature, for example, have been all but abandoned to the indefatigable attentions of amateur camera buffs. The image-surfeited are likely to find sunsets corny; they now look, alas, too much like photographs.

"The Heroism of Vision," Susan Sontag
On Photography, 1977

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Waking the Lion

I shall end with an allegory. We know that the lion is stronger than the lion-tamer, and so does the lion-tamer. The problem is that the lion does not know it. It is not out of the question that the death of literature may help the lion to awaken.

Literary Theory: An Introduction, Terry Eagleton


But now I found writing such hard going that it often took me a whole day to compose a single sentence, and no sooner had I thought a sentence out, with the greatest effort, and written it down, than I saw the awkward falsity of my constructions and the inadequacy of all the words I had employed. If at times some kind of self-deception nonetheless made me feel that I had done a good day's work, then as soon as I glanced at the page next morning I was sure to find the most appalling mistakes, inconsistencies, and lapses staring at me from the paper. However much or little I had written, on a subsequent reading it always seemed so fundamentally flawed that I had to destroy it immediately and begin again. . . . There was not an expression in the sentence but it proved to be a miserable crutch, not a word but it sounded false and hollow. And in this dreadful state of mind I sat for hours, for days on end with my face to the wall, tormenting myself and gradually discovering the horror of finding that even the smallest task or duty, for instance arranging assorted objects in a drawer, can be beyond one's power.

Austerlitz, W. G. Sebald
Translated by Anthea Bell

Wednesday, July 4, 2007


"What would cure him, if if were to arrive, will be love. He may not believe in God but he does believe in love and the powers of love. The beloved, the destined one, will see at once through the odd and even dull exterior he presents to the fire that burns within him. Meanwhile, being dull and odd-looking are part of a purgatory he must pass through in order to emerge, one day, into the light: the light of love, the light of art. For he will be an artist, that has long been settled. If for the time being he must be obscure and ridiculous, that is because it is the lot of the artist to suffer obscurity and ridicule until the day when he is revealed in his true powers and the scoffers and mockers fall silent."

J.M. Coetzee, 2002

Independence Day

A fundamental mistake of the Americans has been that they considered the revolution as completed when it was just begun.

Noah Webster, 1789

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

The Cocktail Party

Ah, but we die to each other daily
What we know of other people
Is only our memory of the moments
During which we knew them. And they have changed since then.
To pretend that they and we are the same
Is a useful and convenient social convention
Which must sometimes be broken. We must also remember
That at every meeting we are meeting a stranger.

The Cocktail Party, T.S. Eliot

The Dyer's Hand

Much as I loathe the typewriter, I must admit that it is a help in self-criticism. Typescript is so impersonal and hideous to look at, if I type out a poem, I immediately see defects which I missed when I looked through it in manuscript.

The Dyer's Hand, W.H. Auden

Monday, July 2, 2007

ABC of Reading

The reader will often misjudge a condensed writer by trying to read him too fast.

ABC of Reading, Ezra Pound

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Boring People

We know only four boring people. The rest of our friends we find very interesting. However, most of the friends we find interesting find us boring: the most interesting find us the most boring. The few who are somewhere in the middle, with whom there is reciprocal interest, we distrust: at any moment, we feel, they may become too interesting for us, or we too interesting for them.

"Boring People," Lydia Davis
Samuel Johnson is Indignant, 2002

Saturday, June 30, 2007


De puro taciturno el techo escucha
Caer antiguas lluvias deshojadas,
Plumas, lo que la noche aprisionó:

Y así te espero como casa sola
Y volverás a verme y habitarme.
De otro modo me duelen las ventanas.

(Out of sheer taciturnity the ceiling listens
to the fall of the ancient leafless rain,
to feathers, whatever the night imprisoned:

so I wait for you like a lonely house
till you will see me again and live in me.
Till then my windows ache.)

Cien Sonetos de Amor, Pablo Neruda
Translated by Stephen Tapscott, 1986

Doctor Faustus

You are a person of rich gifts, and you know it - how could you not know it? You also know that He who sits on high and from Whom everything comes has entrusted you with those gifts, since indeed you intend to offer them to Him. And you are right: Natural merits are God's merits on our behalf, and not our own. It is His adversary, having himself come to grief out of pride, who strives to make us forget. He makes a wicked guest and is a roaring lion who walketh about seeking whom he may devour. You are among those who have every reason to be on guard against his wiles. This is a compliment I'm paying you - or rather, to what you are with God's help. Be that in all humility, my friend, not with strut and bluster; and always bear in mind that self-satisfaction is itself apostasy and ingratitude to the Spender of every mercy.

Doctor Faustus, Thomas Mann

Friday, June 29, 2007

Doctor Faustus

But Bach had almost been lost to the memory of the period, and particularly in Vienna people still had no wish to hear about Protestant music. For Beethoven, Handel had been the king of kings, though he had a great fondness for Cherubini, whose Medea overture (when he could still hear) he could not hear often enough. He had owned only a very few works by Bach: a couple of motets, The Well-Tempered Clavier, a toccata, and some odds and ends, all collected into one volume. Into that volume had been inserted a note, written in an unknown hand, with the dictum: "One cannot better examine the depth of a man's musical knowledge that by attempting to learn how far he has come in his admiration for the works of Bach." At both sides of this text, however, the owner had used his thickest musical quill to draw an emphatic, vehement question mark.

Doctor Faustus, Thomas Mann

Thursday, June 28, 2007


Suddenly the full long wail of a ship's horn surged through the open window and flooded the dim room--a cry of boundless, dark, demanding grief; pitch-black and glabrous as a whale's back and burdened with all the passions of the tides, the memory of voyages beyond counting, the joys, the humiliations: the sea was screaming. Full of the glitter and the frenzy of night, the horn thundered in, conveying from the distant offing, from the dead center of the sea, a thirst for the dark nectar in the little room.

Tsukazaki turned with a sharp twist of his shoulders and looked out toward the water.

It was like being part of a miracle: in that instant everything packed away inside Noboru's breast since the first day of his life was released and consummated. Until the horn sounded, it was only a tentative sketch. The finest materials had been prepared and all was in readiness, verging on the unearthly moment. But one element was lacking: the power needed to transfigure those motley shreds of reality into a gorgeous palace. Then, at a signal from the horn, the parts merged into a perfect whole.

Assembled there were the moon and a feverish wind, the incited, naked flesh of a man and woman, sweat, perfume, the scars of a life at sea, the dim memory of ports around the world, a cramped breathless peephole, a young boy's iron heart--but these cards from a gypsy deck were scattered, prophesying nothing. The universal order at last achieved, thanks to the sudden, screaming horn, had revealed an ineluctable circle of life--the cards had paired: Noboru and mother--mother and man--man and sea--sea and Noboru...

He was choked, wet, ecstatic. Certain he had watched a tangle of thread unravel to trace a hallowed figure. And it would have to be protected: for all he knew, he was its thirteen-year-old creator.

"If this is ever destroyed, it'll mean the end of the world," Noboru murmured, barely conscious. I guess I'd do anything to stop that, no matter how awful!

The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With the Sea, Yukio Mishima


The history of soccer is a sad voyage from beauty to duty. When the sport became an industry, the beauty that blossoms from the joy of play got torn out by its very roots. In this fin-de-siecle world, professional soccer condemns all that is useless, and useless means not profitable. Nobody earns a thing from that crazy feeling that for a moment turns a man into a child playing with a balloon, like a cat with a ball of yarn; a ballet dancer who romps with a ball as light as a balloon or a ball of yarn, playing without even knowing he's playing, with no purpose or clock or referee.

Play has become spectacle, with few protagonists and many spectators, soccer for watching. And that spectacle has become one of the most profitable businesses in the world, organized not for play but rather to impede it. The technocracy of professional sport has managed to impose a soccer of lightning speed and brute strength, a soccer that negates joy, kills fantasy and outlaws daring.

Luckily, on the field you can still see, even if only once in a long while, some insolent rascal who sets aside the script and commits the blunder of dribbling past the entire opposing side, the referee and the crowd in the stands, all for the carnal delight of embracing the forbidden adventure of freedom.

Soccer in Sun and Shadow, Eduardo Galeano



The same process, declares the prophet, is taking place in the area of spiritual goods as well, since the monstrous machine of civilization, its screws having worked loose, has turned into a mechanical milker of the Muses. Thus it fills the libraries to bursting, inundates the bookstores and magazine stands, numbs the television screens, piling itself high with a superabundance of which the numerical magnitude alone is a deathblow. If finding forty grains of sand in the Sahara meant saving the world, they would not be found, any more than would the forty messianic books that have long since been written but were lost beneath strata of trash.

"Pericalypsis," Stanislaw Lem
A Perfect Vacuum, 1971

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Tin Drum

Today I know that everything watches, that nothing goes unseen, and that even wallpaper has a better memory than ours. It isn't God in His Heaven that sees all. A kitchen chair, a coat-hanger, a half-filled ash tray, or the wooden replica of a woman named Niobe, can perfectly well serve as an unforgetting witness to every one of our acts.

The Tin Drum, Gunter Grass

Philosophy of Mathematics

Socrates, in Plato's Republic, requires the guardians of the ideal city-state to study mathematics for ten years before proceeding to dialectic, philosophy, and political theory, as part of their training to become philosopher-kings. Plato reportedly ran afoul of Dionysius II, the tyrant of Syracuse, when he tried to convince the willful young ruler that to become a philosopher-king, as he was inspired by Plato's writings to do, he would first need to spend many years studying geometry. After a few impatiently received lessons in mathematics, Plato is supposed to have fled for his life to escape the tyrant's wrath. Socrates' pedagogical progression, reflected in Plato's analogy of the divided line, embodies the conviction that after their gymnastic and musical training has prepared them for serious education as soldiers and leaders, the guardians will be best able to govern if the have first grasped the Form of the Good. To attain this distant goal, the guardians must come to understand the nature of Forms generally through a recognition of other Forms, made possible through the study of mathematics. As Socrates says of mathematics in learning to grasp the Forms, the study of calculation 'draws the soul toward the truth.'

"Mathematics and Philosophy of Mathematics," Dale Jacquette
Introduction to Philosophy of Mathematics: An Anthology, edited by Jacquette

Tuesday, June 26, 2007


And the decline of humanism was logical because humanism had gotten itself into a blind alley precisely because it had achieved its aims and asserted its own values of freedom, individualism, pluralism, transparency, etc. And the humanists were reaping what they had sown - an individualist and interactive and positive and translucid and operative world that expired in its own simulation and whose final solution was to substitute hyperreality for reality.

Europeana, Patrik Ourednik


I am not lazy.
I am on the amphetamine of the soul.
I am, each day,
typing out the God
my typewriter believes in.
Very quick. Very intense,
like a wolf at a live heart.
Not lazy.
When a lazy man, they say,
looks toward heaven,
the angels close the windows.

"Frenzy," Anne Sexton
The Awful Rowing Toward God, 1975

Monday, June 25, 2007

Heart's Desire

It has increasingly come to the point that the actual distinction between person and computer depends less upon different ways of thinking than on different ways of life. The shaping of the human personality is a drawn-out process governed by a large number of complex, poorly understood and, in their effects, often difficult-to-judge factors. Primary is the experience of one’s own body in its successive stages–the helplessness of the infant, the establishment of contact with one’s surroundings, the discovery of the body’s kinetic possibilities, the daily routines of many years, getting dressed, chewing, defecation, the need for air, the need for touch, the sexual instinct–these primary, personality-forming experiences are dependent upon our human physiology such as it is constituted. A computer has a different physiology. However much its psychic conditions may resemble a human’s, it still seems impossible to let a computer live through the human experience. It is not the soul that separates the computer and the human; it is the body.

"Heart's Desire," Willy Kyrklund
Translated from Swedish by Paul Norlen, 2007
From 8 Variations, 1982
Found by MDD at

By Night in Chile

...a room with oak floorboards and teak-panelled walls and a large crystal chandelier hanging from the ceiling and soft armchairs in which I had spent so many happy hours, absorbed in the works of the classic Greek authors and the classic Latin authors and my Chilean contemporaries, having at last regained my passion for reading, my literary instincts, completely cured, while the ship went in parting the waves, faring on through ocean twilight and bottomless Atlantic night, and, comfortably seated in that room with its fine wood, its smell of the sea and strong liquor, its smell of books and solitude, I went on happily reading well into the night, when no one ventured on to the decks of the Donizetti, except for the sinful shadows who were careful not to interrupt me, careful not to disturb my reading, happiness, happiness, passion regained, genuine devotion, my prayers rising up and up through the clouds to the realm of pure music, to what for want of a better name we call the choir of the angels, a non-human space but undoubtedly the only space we humans can truly inhabit, and uninhabitable space but the only one worth inhabiting, a space in which we we shall cease to be but the only space in which we can be what we truly are, and then I stepped onto dry land, on to Italian soil, and I said goodbye to the Donizetti and set off on the roads of Europe, determined to do a good job, light-hearted, full of confidence, resolution and faith.

By Night in Chile, Roberto Bolano

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Political Institutions and Social Power

Rather than as a result of individual decisions or founding acts, they [institutions] evolved and came into being as a result of some collective manifestation of 'communicative power'. As widely observed practice, they 'emerge' anonymously under certain conditions and contexts, which later historians then usually explain as having created a specific institutional pattern. There may have been heroes, protagonists, or prophets, as well as theorists who elaborated and explained the reasons for the validity of an institution. But any ascription of an institution to a personal and hence mortal creator would expose it to the risk of being later denounced as arbitrary or self-interested...Anonymity is also a defining element of institutions in that they refer to actors in terms of offices, rules, resources, and so forth, never in terms of persons and names of persons.

Institutions such as the school, the family, the joint stock company, the political party, the state and its bureaucracy owe their robustness and proclaimed timelessness to the fact that we cannot tell who 'invented' them. In that sense, 'fatherlessness' is an asset, as is the myth of parthenogenesis in the case of the founder of Christianity. Similarly, human reason itself, rather than some personal founder, is held to be...the source of the state as an institution.

"Political Institutions and Social Power," Claus Offe
April 11, 2003
Found in Rethinking Political Institutions: The Art of the State
Published by NYU Press, 2006

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Geometric Regional Novel

Above the entrance doors of these establishments the following proverb could often still be read:

Geometric Regional Novel, Gert Jonke

The Count of Monte Cristo

Until the day God deigns to reveal the world to man, the sum of all human wisdom will be contained in these two words: Wait and Hope.

The Count of Monte Cristo. Alexandre Dumas

Wednesday, June 20, 2007


We generally value athletes for what they symbolize. Sports aren't important, they remind us of things that are. Allen Iverson is the indomitable human spirit, Kobe Bryant the Faustian pursuit of perfection, Tim Duncan modesty in brilliance. It's our everyday experience with these themes that make these players so evocative. They stylize, or streamline, these ideals like art or fiction. In the end, though, they are only as meaningful as we need them to be. Marveling at moves and basketball IQ, or rooting for your team, only explains half of why these figures loom so large in public consciousness.

Here's why McGrady is different: at this point, his story is just plain sad. The injuries, the numerous lost loved ones, the depression, and the playoff woes—all of it together will get you down even if you're not looking for it. While Iverson or Garnett certainly take losing seriously, to some degree they leave that angst on the court. With McGrady, though, there's no separation between what we know of his personal life and the miserable cliche his career has become. In fact, his "can't get out the first round" tag is so heavy, so stark, that it alone would probably tug at the non-sports heartstrings.

I've been mildly obsessed with the Warriors' accessibility. They play basketball that can be understood by anyone, and as individuals sparkle with comforting imperfection. The Warriors are Ornette Coleman, but they've actually managed to transcend basketball (Coleman couldn't do the same with jazz). McGrady is the dismal mirror image of this: the emptiness and pain of his career are much bigger than quibbles over his game or teammates. If there's no reassurance to be found, it's because the ballad of Tracy McGrady is immune to sports. See him on the streets, and you'd probably try to hug him. And on some level, I'm sure he'd appreciate it.

"The Color of Pigeons," Bethlehem Shoals, May 6, 2007

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Other Voices, Other Rooms

The brain may take advice, but not the heart, and love, having no geography, knows no boundaries: weight and sink it deep, no matter, it will rise and find the surface: and why not? any love is natural and beautiful that lies within a person's nature; only hypocrites would hold a man responsible for what he loves, emotional illiterates and those of righteous envy, who, in their agitated concern, mistake so frequently the arrow pointing to heaven for the one that leads to hell.

Other Voices, Other Rooms, Truman Capote


...and life went on and on and on, like a necklace of rice grains, on each grain of which a landscape had been painted, tiny grains and microscopic landscapes, and I knew that everyone was putting that necklace on and wearing it, but no one had the patience or the strength or the courage to take it off and look at it closely and decipher each landscape grain by grain, partly because to do so required the vision of a lynx or an eagle, and partly because the landscapes usually turned out to contain unpleasant surprises like coffins, makeshift cemeteries, ghost towns, the void and the horror, the smallness of being and its ridiculous will, people watching television, people going to football matches, boredom circumnavigating the Chilean imagination like an enormous aircraft carrier. And that's the truth. We were bored.

By Night in Chile, Roberto Bolano

Sunday, June 17, 2007

The Precession of Simulacra

The simulacrum is never that which conceals the truth - it is the truth which conceals there is none.

The simulacrum is true.


The Precession of Simulacra, Jean Baudrillard
(Note : the epigraph Baudrillard uses for his work does not appear in Ecclesiastes.)

Other Voices, Other Rooms

The trio on the porch were figures in a woodcut engraving; the Ancient on his throne of splendid pillows, a yellow pet relaxed in his lap gazing gravely in the drowning light at the small servant bowed at its master's feet, and the arms of the black arrow-like daughter lifted above them all, as if in benediction.

But there was no prayer in Joel's mind; rather, nothing a net of words could capture, for, with one exception, all his prayers of the past had been simple concrete requests: God, give me a bicycle, a knife with seven blades, a box of oil paints. Only how, how, could you say something so indefinite, so meaningless as this: God, let me be loved.

"Amen," whispered Zoo.

And in this moment, like a swift intake of breath, the rain came.

Other Voices, Other Rooms, Truman Capote