Saturday, October 31, 2009

Quotes Pour l'Avenir

The seed you sow does not come to life unless it has first died…
xxxx~ 1 Corinthians 15:36

When should one lend oneself to action? What constitutes an act? And may it not be that not to act is sometimes a higher form of action? Jesus was silent before Pontius Pilate. The Buddha delivered his greatest sermon by holding a flower up to the multitude to behold.
xxxx~ Henry Miller, Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch

If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own; but because you do not belong to the world…for that reason the world hates you.
xxxx~ John 15:19

That’s the whole trouble. You can’t ever find a place that’s nice and peaceful, because there isn’t any. You may think there is, but once you get there, when you’re not looking, somebody’ll sneak up and write “Fuck you” right under your nose. Try it sometime. I think, even, if I ever die, and they stick me in a cemetery, and I have a tombstone and all, it’ll say “Holden Caulfield” on it, and then what year I was born and what year I died, and then right under that it’ll say “Fuck you.”
xxxx~ J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye
Photo credit

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Rants: It's Only a Game?

World Series, Game One:

Instead of trotting out one wounded vet, with a missing left hand, to throw out the first pitch right-handed, why didn't they truck in a couple hundred of the brain-damaged vets in their diapers and bibs to show us what the war is REALLY like?

Liars! Propagandists!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Readings: When Baby Fae Went Down to Graceland

As I was surfing the net the other day, taking brief glances at the stories on various news sites, one of those which caught my attention was a notice "on this day in history" of the 25th anniversary of the implantation of a baboon heart in a human infant, whom the world came to know as “Baby Fae.” This in turn brought back to me the Paul Simon song, “The Boy in the Bubble” from Simon’s hit album “Graceland” (1986), in which Baby Fae is alluded to:

Its a turn-around jump shot
Its everybody jump start
Its every generation throws a hero up the pop charts
Medicine is magical and magical is art
The boy in the bubble
And the baby with the baboon heart

As the lyrics of that song played silently in my head, it next occurred to me how little our world, as it inspired Simon’s lyrics, has changed during the intervening years. As the French say, Plus ça change, plus c’est le même chose, the Americanized, colloquial translation of which is usually rendered, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

Just as the Baby Fae case gave rise to questions in the area of medical ethics twenty-five years ago, today medical science is embroiled in controversy over such things as stem cell research and human cloning.

Another headline announced the deaths of several UN workers and ever more American military personnel in the Middle East, where IEDs are nothing new. How little our current world differs from the one that inspired this stanza of Paul Simon’s song, back in the mid-Eighties:

It was a slow day,
And the sun was beating
On the soldiers by the side of the road,
There was a bright light,
A shattering of shop windows
The bomb in the baby carriage
Was wired to the radio...

And the rest of the lyrics of “The Boy in the Bubble”* seem equally relevant, even prophetic, when considered against the backdrop of current events in the 21st century:

And I believe
These are the days of lasers in the jungle
Lasers in the jungle somewhere
Staccato signals of constant information
A loose affiliation of millionaires
And billionaires and baby
These are the days of miracle and wonder
This is the long distance call
The way the camera follows us in slo-mo
The way we look to us all
That is dying in a corner of the sky


These are the days of miracle and wonder
And dont cry baby, dont cry
Dont cry

Check it c’est le même chose.


*See the excellent video.


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Quote(s) du Jour: Some Assembly Required

Creation is a fiction of God’s
xxx~ Simone Weil

Sometimes I come home on the double-quick, my mind so saturated with ideas and impressions that I feel I must hasten to make a few notes—for the morrow. If I have been writing, these thoughts and sensations have to do with pure irrelevancies. Useful ones, however, since they are often completed thoughts which had made themselves known in embryonic form months, even years, ago. This experience, which happens over and over, only convinces me the more that “we” create nothing, that “it” is doing it for us and through us, and that if we could really tune in, as it were, we would do as Whitman said—make our own Bibles.
xxx~ Henry Miller, Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Quote du Jour: Like Simone

I have an intuition that Simone Weil would have nothing to say against this:

xxxThe longing for paradise, whether here on earth or in the beyond, has almost ceased to be. Instead of an idée-force it has become an idée fixe. From a potent myth it has degenerated into a taboo. Men will sacrifice their lives to bring about a better world—whatever that may mean—but they will not budge an inch to attain paradise. Nor will they struggle to create a bit of paradise in the hell they find themselves. It is so much easier, and gorier, to make revolution, which means, to put it simply, establishing another, a different, status quo. If paradise were realizable—this is the classic retort!—it would no longer be paradise.
xxxWhat is one to say to a man who insists on making his own prison?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

R.I.P. - Joseph Wiseman


Joseph Wiseman is one name that I am proud to drop. I knew Joseph Wiseman not as an actor and “movie star,” but as the loving and attentive husband of dancer and choreographer, Pearl Lang. Our brief acquaintance occurred about 35 years in the past. I was at that time married to a dancer in Pearl Lang’s company, and was briefly employed as an assistant to her business manager. In the intervening years, I have never forgotten Joe’s kindness, or the tear that ran down his cheek as we stood together at the back of a theater, watching his beloved Pearl dance the role of the Bride in Martha Graham’s classic ballet, Appalachian Spring. Pearl Lang died several months ago. Now they are again united. Peace be with them both.


Saturday, October 17, 2009

Readings: ...but not yet.

Give me chastity and continence, but not yet. ~ Augustine of Hippo

Below is a representative excerpt from The Time of the Assassins, the notorious Henry Miller’s excellent, highly personal, and almost brutally insightful sketch of the meteorically brief, brilliant career of French poet, Arthur Rimbaud:

One thing is certain, God does not want us to come to Him in innocence. We are to know sin and evil, we are to stray from the path, to get lost, to become defiant and desperate; we are to resist as long as we have the strength to resist, in order that the surrender be complete and abject. It is our privilege as free spirits to elect for God with eyes wide-open, with hearts brimming over, with a desire that outweighs all desires. …In destroying man’s innocence God converted man into a potential ally. Through reason and will He gave him the power of choice. And man in his wisdom always chooses God.

While what Miller has to say here undoubtedly constitutes a scandal to the kind of Sunday school orthodoxy that prevails in our world today, unadulterated honesty would compel one to admit that he makes a plausible argument. Can one truly said to be free if one has never tested the moral limits of that freedom? And can one have true knowledge of the Good, without an equivalent knowledge of that which opposes it? It can be argued that one can know Evil without actually committing evil acts oneself. But there is a counter-argument to be made, that this would be like claiming to have obtained a knowledge of engineering through the casual observation of the construction of a bridge from a promontory overlooking the river.

However one chooses to evaluate this particular issue, this little book is a mighty good read, and I strongly recommend it to any person who is in the market for such a thing.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Reflections: Time Outed

It is time that tortures us. Man’s whole effort is to escape from it, that is to say, to escape from past and future by embedding himself in the present, or else by inventing a past and a future to suit himself. ~ Simone Weil, First and Last Notebooks

Perhaps you are still young, at an age where time seems to be a restless waiting for things to happen, every minute, every hour, every day, week, month, year, one more obstacle on a long and winding road that surely leads to some vague, but special, event that is always coming, always about to manifest itself as your own, unique, reward. Just for being. Just for that.

Or maybe you are no longer so very young and have learned to ignore horizons and to stare only toward those things which present themselves within your reach. Perhaps your vision, your perception of time, has become the radius of a comfortable circle, within the familiar confines of which alternating bouts of work and entertainment join forces to distract your attention, so that time hardly seems a factor in your busy, your important, your so very centered, life.

But, then again, perhaps maturity, or—as is the case w/r/t the precocious observations of David Foster Wallace which follow—an abnormally acute gift for pattern recognition, has rendered you vulnerable to recognition of time’s literal, rather horrible, realities:

I am now 33 years old, and it feels like much time has passed and is passing faster and faster every day. Day to day I have to make all sorts of choices about what is good and important and fun, and then I have to live with the forfeiture of all the other options those choices foreclose. And I’m starting to see how as time gains momentum my choices will narrow and their foreclosures multiply exponentially until I arrive at some point on some branch of all life’s sumptuous branching complexity at which I am finally locked in and stuck on one path and time speeds me through stages of stasis and atrophy and decay until I go down for the third time, all struggle for naught, drowned by time. It is dreadful. But since it’s my own choices that’ll lock me in, it seems unavoidable – if I want to be any kind of grownup, I have to make choices and regret foreclosures and try to live with them.*

Keep this phrase in your mind: “…like a thief in the night.”

Dig it.

* David Foster Wallace, A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Readings: Golden Silence

I've already forgotten where I saw Brazilian writer Clarice Lispector's name dropped that prompted me to read her. But I can say where the great joy of reading her, as expressed in several posts below, has sent me next. The poetic quality of Lispector's philosophically-loaded fiction has reminded me of the thought of Simone Weil, on the one hand, and of the poetry of Arthur Rimbaud, on the other. Weil, of course, I was already reading on a regular basis. Rimbaud, however, I hadn't contemplated for years. I therefore went to my shelves and took down a translation of A Season in Hell, which I had purchased years ago and never read. My perception of correspondences between Rimbaud and Lispector persisted in that reading. I next went to the stacks of the university library and borrowed Henry Miller's study of Rimbaud, The Time of the Assasins. I think that I had read this in the past. Henry Miller was an early enthusiasm of mine, but one that became satiated sometime in the 1970s or early 1980s. I can now say that what I have learned in the interim has enabled me to get a lot more out of reading "Assassins" today than I was equipped to absorb in that early first reading.

In the course of these studies I was struck by the correspondences intrinsic to the following excerpts, each being a comment on the function of poetic language. The first is Lispector, from "The Foreign Legion":

Since one feels obliged to write, let it be without obscuring the space between the lines with words... The word fishes for something that is not a word. And when that non-word takes the bait, something has been written. Once the space between the lines has been fished, the word can be thrown away with relief.

And here is Miller, from The Time of the Assassins, writing about the sensibility of the poet, as exemplified by Rimbaud:

The signs and symbols which the poet employs are one of the surest proofs that language is a means of dealing with the unutterable and inscrutable. As soon as the symbols become communicable on every level they lose their validity and effectiveness.

In his study, The Religious Metaphysics of Simone Weil, Miklos Veto expounds upon Simone Weil's conception of beauty:

Weil is careful to specificy that "[t]he world's beauty is not an attribute of matter in itself. It is a relation of the world to our sensibility." The beautiful is...the sensible experience of the order of the world.

That is, just as the effective beauty of the poem is not in the formal necessity of the word, but rather in that which the word inspires in our hearts, so the beauty of the world is not in objects in the world, but rather in the fact that, as Veto says, because [the world] appears beautiful to us, we can feel all the sweetness of obedience through the iron links of necessity. The beauty of the world, like that of poetry, adds immeasurable value to our ontological state. It makes life in the material world bearable, even joyous.

Miller goes on to say the following of the "uncompromising pitch" of Rimbaud's symbolic language:

Unlike our latter-day poets, be it noted, he did not make use of the symbols used by the mathematicians and scientists. His language is the language of the spirit, not of weights, measures and abstract relations.

In the introduction of his book, Simone Weil: Interpretations of a Life, author George Abbott White quotes Weil's brother, noted mathematician, Andre Weil, of saying of this sister:

[T]here is no doubt that in many ways she transcended [her] philosophical training. She never uses technical philosophic language, for example, and she wrote in very simple and beautiful French. Some have said they find her hard reading, however, since her thought is sometimes difficult...

It is this capacity in Clarice Lispector, in Arthur Rimbaud, and in Simone Weil, to transcend concrete words and the formal sterility of mere technique, in order to expose to the sensibilities of the human heart the transcendent intelligibility of the essentially Real, that has made a rewarding constellation of their works in my recent contemplative reading.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Reflections: Nausea

God help me, I'm an American.

Quote du Jour: At the Brink

To live at the edge of death and of the stars is a vibration too tense for our veins to endure. There isn't even the child of a star and a woman as a compassionate intermediary. The heart must present itself alone before nothingness, and alone it must beat loud in the darkness.
XXXX~ Clarice Lispector, Soulstorm, "Silence" (tr. Alexis Levitin)

If you can write like that, you don't need to go to church.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Readings: The Inside-Out

Below are three brief excerpts from three books that I’ve been reading in the past few days. Each of these excerpts struck me as interesting, even instructive. They may, or may not, be thematically related. Think about them and see what you decide:

But my mind is asleep, I can tell.
If it could stay wide-awake from this moment on, we would soon arrive at the truth, which may even now surround us with its weeping angels.*

xxxxx~ Arthur Rimbaud, A Season in Hell, “The Impossible” (tr. Paul Schmidt)

The form of the horse exemplifies what is best in the human being. I have a horse within me who rarely reveals himself. But when I see another horse, then mine expresses himself. His form speaks.
xxxxx~ Clarice Lispector, Soulstorm, “Dry Point of Horses”

One must destroy that intermediate, uneasy part of the soul…in order to expose the vegetative part directly to the fiery inspiration that comes from beyond the heavens. Strip oneself of everything above vegetative life. Bare vegetative life and turn it violently toward the heavenly light. Destroy everything in the soul not attached to the light. Expose naked to the heavenly light the part of the soul that is practically inert matter. The perfection offered to us in the direct union of the divine spirit with inert matter. Inert matter seen as thinking is a perfect image of perfection.
xxxxx~ Simone Weil, First and Last Notebooks

Weeping angels, equine form, mud thinking: in each case, attention is being paid by the subject to transcendent interior states—or to the desire to achieve same—states that normally we ignore, distracted as we are by ego trips and daydreams. Purified, such attention is true prayer, in and of itself.
*--Mais je m’aperçois que mon esprit dort.
S’il était bien éveillé toujours à partir de ce moment, nous serions bientôt à la vérité, qui peut-être nous entoure avec ses anges pleurant!
~ Arthur Rimbaud, Une Saison en Enfer, “L’Impossible”

Monday, October 5, 2009

from Rodak's Writings

Clichés de la Boue

Le travail

Buck naked in our billboard rags, we squat in the gleaming rubble of cathedrals and malls, toiling to construct malls and cathedrals using shards of detritus and lopsided pots of library paste.


The natives stare, they pinch our women, for we are strangers here. They take strong drink and teach our little sons things of which we must not speak. Others speak for us. We call them prophets. We call them dead men walking. We bank on our deafness and continue to delve, for the labor is many and the time is few.

La hauteur

Even as we slave we convert the sweet rain into dark salty urine. With alchemical pride we transmute the tender bled flesh of throat-cut kids into elegant feces, which we shape with our hands into sun-dried briquettes. As the sky goes opaque, we light anxious fires.

Les divertissements

Banging and rattling our rude tambourines, we dance for a spell, then we hunker down moistened, enthralled by such narrative tableaux—such crackling distractions from the toxic frost of the angry stars—as we imagine we see woven throughout that leaping light.


We huddle and stink, giving off gasses like a low-water swamp. We moan at the horror of our own looming shadows, as the strobe-like eyes of circling pariahs pierce the illusory stockade of shimmering flame. We roll and we crawl, we snatch and we clutch, tumescent with throbbing, redundant, desire.


We passively shiver in our dissipating heat as though need alone would ward off the stalking jaws of growling darkness.


And we pray for the sun to return.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Quote du Jour: Empty Nest Blues

XXXXXXXXXIt got lonely too early this morning
XXXXXXXXXLonely was laying like dirt
XXXXXXXXXIt got lonely too early this morning
XXXXXXXXXBefore I was ready to hurt
XXXXXXXXXXXxxxxxxxxxxxxx~ Merle Haggard

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Rants: Rest in Pieces, Uncle Sam

That whiff of carrion that you catch on the breeze is the corpse of Uncle Sam rotting in the sun, neither side of his family being willing to take responsibility for providing him with a decent burial.

This country is fucked. It's giving off the same vibes given off by a dysfunctional family; the kind of vibes once described by Hannah Arendt as "the banality of evil": ordinary folk, trapped in bad behavior that they view as "normal."

In the case of America today, however, the term "the banality of failure" (although this "failure" is driven by the same engines as "evil") might be more to the point.At the banal heart of this evil-failure is greed: greed for power, shored up by wealth. Ho-hum. 'Twas ever thus.

Right-wingers want unlimited power, wealth, and enforced security for the individual. Left-wingers want power and wealth for the state, with universally guaranteed—and sufficient—measures of each provided to all individuals by that state. For Americans—although, mysteriously, not for Europeans—this would seem to be an irreconcilable conflict; a conflict which, being banal, is by definition not even interesting.

Watching the reportage yesterday of widespread glee on the political right over President Obama's failure to secure the Olympic Games for his home town of Chicago, and for America, was something like watching the wife in a failed marriage express glee that her unemployed husband has failed to get the job for which he was interviewed, even though it hurts the family as a whole: his individual defeat is the trump. It is nothing but pointless, and--yes, banal--vindictiveness.

Hatred is self-defeating. Stick a fork in America, she is done.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Readings: Pair o' Phrases

Je pense, donc je suis. ~ Descartes

Je me crois en enfer, donc j'y suis. ~ Rimbaud