Monday, July 27, 2009

R.I.P. - Merce Cunningham


I'm quite certain that I've never posted two obituaries in succession. But what am I to do? My former involvement with the world of dance and with the world of New York City combine to make this post a necessity.
Here, then, is an obituary worth reading of a life worth having been lived.


Friday, July 24, 2009

R.I.P. Marmaduke - a vulgar flashback


The flaming yoots of my glory days (ladies, I was fucking cute back then; you would’ve tumbled for me) are dying off—much too young—one by one.

Ask me to tell you sometime about the Thanksgiving dinner I enjoyed at the Essex House in New York City with the New Riders of the Purple Sage, while running the mean streets of midtown with my Ann Arbor homeboys, Commander Cody and his Lost Planet Airmen.*

In lieu of sending flowers to commemorate Mr. Dawson’s passing, please enjoy my favorite New Riders tune, their cover of Rick Nelson’s classic "Hello Mary Lou." Pedal steel maestro, Buddy Cage, brought down the house with his break on this number when I saw the band live at the Academy of Music on 14th Street, once upon a time in the ‘seventies…**

*Due to the then ubiquitous curse of controlled substances none of these facts can be confirmed. It may not have been the Essex House; it may not have been Thanksgiving dinner. But somehow it all happened, nonetheless.

**Similarly, it may not have been the Academy of Music, it may not have been 14th Street, but it was "Hello Mary Lou," it was the ‘seventies, and he did bring down the house: that much is gospel.


Sunday, July 19, 2009

Reflections: Existence Is a Trip

You may be aware that my profile avatar is a portrait of the great Japanese haiku master, Bashō. In the "Translator’s Introduction" to his translation of Bashō’s classic spiritual travelogue, Narrow Road to the Interior, Sam Hamill gives us these thought-provoking words :

Bashō knew well the Samantabhadra-bodhisattva-sutra and its primary teaching: “Of one thing it is said, ‘This is good,’ and of another it is said, ‘This is bad,’ but there is nothing inherent in either to make them ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ The ‘self’ is empty of independent existence.”

Later in the same introduction, Hamill gives us this advice of Bashō on the nature of creativity:

“Learn the rules well, and then forget them.”


“When a great act presents itself, it does so without rules.”


Saturday, July 18, 2009

Readings: A Sop for Philosophers

Here is an excerpt from author Robert Coover’s exemplary postmodernist book of fictions, Pricksongs and Descants, presented here as a critical comment on hyper-philosophizing bloggers and hairsplitting combox nitpickers—not excluding myself—and the tangled argumentative webs we all weave. The excerpt is from part 5, entitled “Klee Dead” of the narrative, Seven Exemplary Fictions.

As for Wilbur Klee, I’ve not much more to say about him either, you’ll be glad to know, just this: that he jumped from a high place and is now dead. I think you can take my word for it. The proof is, as it were, in the pudding. Need I tell you from what high place? Your questions, friend, are foolish, disease of the western mind. On the other hand, if you wish to assume a cause-and-effect relationship—that he is dead because he jumped from a high place—well, you are free to do so, I confess it has occurred to me more than once and has colored my whole narration. Certainly, there is some relationship: the remains of Klee, still moist, are splattered out in their now several and discontinuous parts from a point directly below the high place from which he jumped only a moment before. But that’s as far as I’ll go, thank you. I refuse to be inveigled into any of the almost endless and no doubt learned arguments which so gratify and absorb the nation’s savants. I don’t mean to belittle, a man must take his pleasures where he finds them, it’s only that, if I weren’t careful, one would think before they’d had done with me that Klee had died to save physics. That Klee is dead, however, leaves less room for dissent: he’ll never be the same again and only the worst sort of morbid emotionalism could imagine a suitable future for him in his present condition. So here is where I’ll stand my ground: Klee is dead. As for the rest of it, if you wish to believe as I do that he took his own life, fine! It certainly will make it easier for me as we wind this up. But I won’t be dogmatic about it.

NB: the phrase “disease of the western mind”.

Also consider, as a core element in my use of this excerpt as a critical comment on typical blog comment threads, Coover's clause, " would think before they'd had done with me that Klee had died to save physics."

Do you catch my drift here?

Monday, July 13, 2009

Reflections: Bedfellas

Hear the Good News! If you can rid yourself politically of those butchers who advocate reproductive rights for women, you will rid yourself at the same time of fairies in the barracks and at the altar; you will purge those peaceniks who would rather live under a caliphate than defend their nation’s honor; you will cleanse this land of the godless socialists who would use YOUR money to feed, house, clothe and heal the undeserving poor, and who would force your children to swim with Negroes and hear Spanish spoken in the public schools by illegal aliens.

Best of all, each of these things can be accomplished without your ever having to even think about the face on the poster taped to the inside of the closet door in that dark back room of the place where you live...

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Readings: Don't Look Back

Franz Kafka’s Zürau Aphorisms differ from most of his other writings in several ways. Two important deviations from Kafka’s normal practice found in these aphorisms are that: 1) the aphorisms deal directly with matters of the spirit; and 2) while Kafka normally wrote in notebooks, in great run-on bursts of prose, the aphorisms were discovered to have been neatly inscribed, one to a page, on separate, loose sheets of paper, and consecutively numbered.

This morning I encountered the aphorism numbered 106. It is more wordy than most of the others. Also, unlike the majority of the others, it is divided into two sections.

In contemplating the meaning of aphorism number 106, I have found it instructive to go back and to consider the first section in light of the second, reversing their order. The second section is:

Can you know anything that is not deception? Once deception was destroyed, you wouldn’t be able to look, at the risk of turning into a pillar of salt.

Tough stuff. So, keeping that under your tongue, consider the longer first section:

Humility gives everyone, even the lonely and the desperate, his strongest tie to his fellow men. Immediately and spontaneously, too, albeit only if the humility is complete and lasting. It does so because it is the language of prayer and is both worship and tie. The relationship to one’s fellow man is the relationship of prayer; the relationship to oneself is the relationship of striving; out of prayer is drawn the strength with which to strive.

Can you know anything that is not deception? Once deception was destroyed, you wouldn’t be able to look, at the risk of turning into a pillar of salt.

Well, can you, huh?

No, I didn’t think so. Neither you, nor I.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Reflections: On Humility and Bathroom Etiquette

The following two excerpts seem to be complementary:

1. Description of the work-life of a men’s room attendant, from Brief Interviews with Hideous Men by David Foster Wallace:

The trick of his demeanor is to appear only provisionally there, to exist all and only if needed. Aid without intrusion. Service without servant. No man wants to know another man can smell him. Millionaires who do not tip. Natty men who splatter the bowls and tip a nickel. Heirs who steal towels. Tycoons who pick their noses with their thumb. Philanthropists who throw cigar butts on the floor. Self-made men who spit in the sink. Wildly rich men who do not flush and without a thought leave it to someone else to flush because this is literally what they are used to – the old saw Would you do this at home.

2. A briefer, but more universal, description of the proper attitude towards man's lot in life, from The Zürau Aphorisms of Franz Kafka, No. 52:

In the struggle between yourself and the world, hold the world’s coat.

In other words, in this life, a little humility is called for.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Readings: On Cosmic Distance

Having previously conjoined the names of Franz Kafka and Simone Weil here, I was struck—when reading the essay on Kafka in the Joyce Carol Oates book, New Heaven, New Earth—by the similarity of the following passage excerpted from Kafka’s "A Message from the Emperor," to the passage below it, from Simone Weil’s Gravity and Grace.

First, Kafka:

The emperor…has sent a message to you, the humble subject, the insignificant shadow cowering in the remotest distance before the imperial sun…The messenger immediately sets out on his journey; a powerful, an indefatigable man; now pushing with his right arm, now with his left, he cleaves a way for himself through the throng… But the multitudes are so vast; their numbers have no end. …how vainly does he wear out his strength… Nobody could fight his way through here, least of all one with a message from a dead man. But you sit at your window when evening falls and dream it to yourself.

Now, Weil:

God wears himself out through the infinite thickness of time and space in order to reach the soul and to captivate it. If it allows a pure and utter consent (though brief as a lightening flash) to be torn from it, then God conquers that soul. And when it has come entirely his he abandons it. He leaves it completely alone and it has in its turn, but gropingly, to cross the infinite thickness of time and space in search of him whom it loves. It is thus that the soul, starting from the opposite end, makes the same journey that God made towards it. And that is the cross.

…the sense of distance; the sense of cosmic loneliness; the sense, nonetheless, of the urgency of the journey that each passage evokes…

Friday, July 3, 2009

Quote du Jour: A Shadow World?

This is worth thinking about:

The joys of this life are not its joys, but our fear of climbing into a higher life; the torments of this life are not its torments, but our self-torment on account of this fear.

~ Franz Kafka, Zürau Aphorisms, No. 96; tr. Michael Hofmann