Thursday, March 28, 2013

John Donne: Love's progress

Who ever loves, if he do not propose
The right true end of love, he's one that goes
To sea for nothing but to make him sick.
Love is a bear-whelp born: if we o'erlick
Our love, and force it new strange shapes to take,
We err, and of a lump a monster make.
Were not a calf a monster that were grown
Faced like a man, though better than his own?
Perfection is in unity: prefer
One woman first, and then one thing in her.
I, when I value gold, may think upon
The ductileness, the application,
The wholsomeness, the ingenuity,
From rust, from soil, from fire ever free;
But if I love it, 'tis because 'tis made
By our new nature (Use) the soul of trade.
All these in women we might think upon
(If women had them) and yet love but one.
Can men more injure women than to say
They love them for that by which they're not they?
Makes virtue woman? Must I cool my blood
Till I both be, and find one, wise and good?
May barren angels love so! But if we
Make love to woman, virtue is not she,
As beauty's not, nor wealth. He that strays thus
From her to hers is more adulterous
Than if he took her maid. Search every sphere
And firmament, our Cupid is not there;
He's an infernal god, and under ground
With Pluto dwells, where gold and fire abound:
Men to such gods their sacrificing coals
Did not in altars lay, but pits and holes.
Although we see celestial bodies move
Above the earth, the earth we till and love:
So we her airs contemplate, words and heart
And virtues, but we love the centric part.
Nor is the soul more worthy, or more fit,
For love than this, as infinite is it.
But in attaining this desired place
How much they err that set out at the face.
The hair a forest is of ambushes,
Of springs, snares, fetters and manacles;
The brow becalms us when 'tis smooth and plain,
And when 'tis wrinkled shipwrecks us again—
Smooth, 'tis a paradise where we would have
Immortal stay, and wrinkled 'tis our grave.
The nose (like to the first meridian) runs
Not 'twixt an East and West, but 'twixt two suns;
It leaves a cheek, a rosy hemisphere,
On either side, and then directs us where
Upon the Islands Fortunate we fall,
(Not faint Canaries, but Ambrosial)
Her swelling lips; to which when we are come,
We anchor there, and think ourselves at home,
For they seem all: there Sirens' songs, and there
Wise Delphic oracles do fill the ear;
There in a creek where chosen pearls do swell,
The remora, her cleaving tongue doth dwell.
These, and the glorious promontory, her chin,
O'erpassed, and the straight Hellespont between
The Sestos and Abydos of her breasts,
(Not of two lovers, but two loves the nests)
Succeeds a boundless sea, but yet thine eye
Some island moles may scattered there descry;
And sailing towards her India, in that way
Shall at her fair Atlantic navel stay;
Though thence the current be thy pilot made,
Yet ere thou be where thou wouldst be embayed
Thou shalt upon another forest set,
Where many shipwreck and no further get.
When thou art there, consider what this chase
Misspent by thy beginning at the face.
Rather set out below; practise my art.
Some symetry the foot hath with that part
Which thou dost seek, and is thy map for that,
Lovely enough to stop, but not stay at;
Least subject to disguise and change it is—
Men say the devil never can change his.
It is the emblem that hath figured
Firmness; 'tis the first part that comes to bed.
Civility we see refined; the kiss
Which at the face began, transplanted is,
Since to the hand, since to the imperial knee,
Now at the papal foot delights to be:
If kings think that the nearer way, and do
Rise from the foot, lovers may do so too;
For as free spheres move faster far than can
Birds, whom the air resists, so may that man
Which goes this empty and ethereal way,
Than if at beauty's elements he stay.
Rich nature hath in women wisely made
Two purses, and their mouths aversely laid:
They then which to the lower tribute owe
That way which that exchequer looks must go:
He which doth not, his error is as great
As who by clyster gave the stomach meat.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Un réseau de luttes personnelles d'intérêts

‘’ Les forces sociales n’apparaissent jamais chez Balzac comme des monstres romantiques et fantastiques, comme des symboles surhumains, tels que Zola les représentera. Au contraire, Balzac décompose toute l’institution sociale en un réseau de luttes personnelles d’intérêts, d’oppositions concrètes entre des personnes, d’intrigues, etc. ‘’

G. Lukacs, Balzac et le réalisme Français, Paris, F.  Maspéro, 1967

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Who is accusing me?

"What I mean is...," said K. without delaying a second time, "that, yes, I am very surprised but when you've been in the world for thirty years already and had to make your own way through everything yourself, which has been my lot, then you become hardened to surprises and don't take them too hard. Especially not what's happened today."  "Why especially not what's happened today?"  "I wouldn't want to say that I see all of this as a joke, you seem to have gone to too much trouble making all these arrangements for that.  Everyone in the house must be taking part in it as well as all of you, that would be going beyond what could be a joke. So I don't want to say that this is a joke."  "Quite right," said the supervisor, looking to see how many matches were left in the box.  "But on the other hand," K. went on, looking round at everyone there and even wishing he could get the attention of the three who were looking at the photographs,  "on the other hand this really can't be all that important.  That follows from the fact that I've been indicted, but can't think of the slightest  offence for which I could be indicted. But even that is all beside the point, the main question is: Who is issuing the indictment?  What office is conducting this affair?  Are you officials?  None of you is wearing a uniform, unless what you are wearing" - here he turned towards Franz - "is meant to be a uniform, it's actually more of a travelling suit.  I require a clear answer to all these questions, and I'm quite sure that once things have been made clear we can take our leave of each other on the best of terms."   The supervisor slammed the box of matches down on the table.  "You're making a big mistake," he said. "These gentlemen and I have got nothing to do with your business, in fact we know almost nothing about you.  We could be wearing uniforms as proper and exact as you like and your situation wouldn't be any the worse for it.  As to whether you're on a charge, I can't give you any sort of clear answer to that, I don't even know whether you are or not.  You're under arrest, you're quite right about that, but I don't know any more than that.  Maybe these officers have been chit-chatting with you, well if they have that's all it is, chit- chat.  I can't give you an answer to your questions, but I can give you a bit of advice: You'd better think less about us and what's going to happen to you, and think a bit more about yourself.  And stop making all this fuss about your sense of innocence; you don't make such a bad impression, but with all this fuss you're damaging it.  And you ought to do a bit less talking, too.  Almost everything you've said so far has been things we could have taken from your behaviour, even if you'd said no more than a few words.  And what you have said has not exactly been in your favour."

(Kafka, The Trial, 1925, translated by David Wyllie)

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Conrad Aiken: Lovely Things

All lovely things will have an ending,
All lovely things will fade and die,
And youth, that's now so bravely spending,
Will beg a penny by and by.

Fine ladies soon are all forgotten,
And goldenrod is dust when dead,
The sweetest flesh and flowers are rotten
And cobwebs tent the brightest head.

Come back, true love! Sweet youth, return!—
But time goes on, and will, unheeding,
Though hands will reach, and eyes will yearn,
And the wild days set true hearts bleeding.

Come back, true love! Sweet youth, remain!—
But goldenrod and daisies wither,
And over them blows autumn rain,
They pass, they pass, and know not whither.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

About hallucination

Everything that happens in my life at this point is the consequence of hallucination. I am the one who identifies some people as being different from other people and from trees, as it were. And I am the one who characterizes those bizarre beings resembling people with human qualities: a body, forms, colors, movement, even feelings and intentions. If I hadn’t invented these ghosts and started to pay attention to them as if they were real and behaved as caring and beautiful human beings behave from time to time I would be left alone in a nightmare. As everybody else I need to love and to be loved, what is not so difficult to understand. Loving ghosts is not the worst solution for the misery of life.

I am aware of my life’s unreality. But would you consider me more reasonable if I said that I am God or Napoléon or the King of Spain - and behaved accordingly? You wouldn’t listen to me either way and you would immediately try to send me to everybody knows where. I prefer to stay here for the moment. I am in good company anyway.

Being aware that I am living in a state of hallucination saves me from ordinary madness. To say that I enjoy it would be an exaggeration. I don’t think I really do. But let me tell you one thing: deprived of unreality, life is unbearable.

Love in particular is the most frequent type of hallucination. And I am not talking just about myself right now. I am just saying what I cannot avoid stating: my resolutely accepted and in some way enjoyed hallucination of some moments is not very different from other forms of hallucination that in the past characterized my most natural behavior and which is the very normal condition of many people. It keeps me (and them too, I guess) entertained. The big difference for me is that now I am totally aware of my feverish game and do not expect ghosts to behave like a woman in love, for example, would behave.

I observe the ghosts from the distance aware of the hallucination. The secret hope that my hallucination is not a hallucination but a correct understanding of reality never completely leaves me however. That’s why I wouldn’t be surprised if the ghost started suddenly talking to me, started kissing me or just placed her hands on my shoulder with some sort of devotion and tenderness.

And learn this too: ghosts tend to enjoy their own form of unreality (they even happen to smile at you from the distance) and to force them to join you in real life is something exceeding my talent, my will maybe, my reserves of energy for sure. That’s why having come to the conclusion that they are unreachable as true human beings in what we call real life I decided to join them in their own world so we could have something to share in times of despair. I hear you saying: in a hallucinatory way, my friend, jaja. So what? Is there a visible difference between reality and hallucination? It all comes to what you believe. And don’t worry about my well being: I can get out of any hallucinatory state easily, I am well trained on that exercise.

J. E. Soice

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Le vrai et le faux

Ce qui est vrai et ce
qui est faux marchent
la main dans la main
sur le sentir qui mène
à la forêt de la confusion.

Une fois arrivés ils
essaient de se séparer,
s’éloignent l’un de
l’autre et s’assoient
par terre à méditer.

La forêt les a accueilli,
un peu mécontente de
leur arrivée. Mais
elle a cru, après,  que
tout s’arrangerait pour

le meilleur et qu’elle
en profiterait aussi.
Ils sont restés là,
le vrai et le faux,
assis pendant des

heures à essayer
de pénétrer les
profondeurs de leur
propre désarroi. Puis
ils se sont fatigués de

ne pas arriver à une
conclusion, le désespoir
les a envahis. Ils se sont
levés, se sont regardés,
se sont rapprochés, se

sont donné la main
comme auparavant.
Ils avaient compris :
ils ont besoin l’un de
l’autre, rien ne peut

pour le moment
les séparer. Tant pis.
Et ils sont repartis
sur le sentier qui
mène à la ville, leur
troublante demeure.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Ce qui est profond

Tout ce que tu as dit
sera mal interprété.

L’amour n’a-t-il
toujours, oiseau
écervelé, finit par
s’écraser contre les
vitres de la fenêtre ?

Tu ne traverseras
jamais les murs,

Et les paroles
n’étaient-elles pas
plus vraies lorsque,
en sortant de ta bouche,
elles semblaient en
désaccord avec tes
sentiments les plus
profonds ? Ce qui
est profond on
n’a pas le pouvoir
de l’atteindre. Ce
qui est clair nous
éblouit et, aveuglés,
nous ne voyons pas.

Ce qui est hors de la
portée de notre désir
on ne devrait pas lui
permettre d’assombrir
nos nuits, de rendre
nos matins si peu
remplis de joie.

Faute de pouvoir
posséder et de
comprendre et de
savoir aimer, nous
parlons. Les paroles
prennent la place de
ce qui jamais ne pourra
être dit ; et elles changent
peut-être notre destin. Mais

c’est quoi le destin ? Nous
marchons sur une corde
au bord d’un précipice.
Nous ne quittons pas du
regard l’objet de la passion.
Parfois nous nous mettons
à courir, oubliés de la
fragilité du chemin. Nos
pieds peuvent trébucher

mais nous  ne voulons rien
entendre. De toute façon
nous n’arriverons jamais
nulle part , l’illusion du
mouvement nous trompe
et nous laisse parfois
entrevoir la proximité de
ce qui toujours restera

lointain. Nous marchons
sur place, ivres de notre
propre mouvement.

Jacques Rigaut (1898 –1929)

“I have had in my mouth the cold of a revolver barrel and I have heard the click of the hammer crashing down on the cartridge…” “Suicide and all the corruptions find their origin in ennui.” “Suicide must be a vocation” “You are all poets and I’m on the side of death.” “Dilemma. One of two things: to not speak, to not be silent. Suicide.” Jacques Rigaut

Schumann: Dichterliebe, Op. 48

Wednesday, March 13, 2013


Comment interpréter les
signes ? Sur le bord du
chemin un arbre soudain
agite ses branches. Un
nuage cache le soleil.

Quelqu’un t’appelle,
tu regardes et il n’y a
personne en vue.
Au bord de la mer
un oiseau s’envole.

Et toi tu reposes
sur ton destin, dans
l’attente toujours du
miracle. Où se trouve
le chemin qui mène à

la grande ville, là
où tous les rêves
s’accompliront ?
(N’est-ce pas, Madame
Emma Bovary ?)

Quel est le sens caché
de toutes les paroles ?
Tu partiras, mais tu
n’arriveras pas.
Silencieux, les dieux

te regardent. Leurs
visages te sont cachés.
Tu maudis ceux qui font de
toi le personnage
de leurs folles histoires.

Un jour tout sera effacé,
tu le sais. D’avance
n’avons-nous pas douté
de l’éternité ? Éteins
ta cigarette, ne lis pas

dans la fumée l’annonce
de l’amour ni de la mort.
Toutes nos histoires sont
insensées. Il ne restera
de nous rien, ni souvenir

ni poussière. Les cendres
se sont éclipsées au bord
de l’océan. Éclats d’étoile.
Regarde, il n’y a plus
d’eau dans le puits.

Et les enfants ne
sourient plus. Enragé,
un chien aboie dans le
ventre de la nuit. Les
chats gémissent, noirs,

dans leur insupportable
solitude. Les comètes
tombent du ciel à une
vitesse vertigineuse. Et
nos larmes se sont

dispersées dans la Voie
Lactée. Tu ne réponds pas,
tu n’as plus rien à dire ?
Ignore ceux qui semblent
t’aimer, ne réponds pas

à leur désir injustifié.
Qu’ils apprennent à
se contenter de leur
misérable sort. Il n’y
aura pas de miettes

sous la table après
le repas du soir. Reste
insensible, ne souris pas.
Toute émotion est une
trappe. Les rois et les

femmes, dans leur
splendeur, s’apprêtent à
entrer dans la cathédrale.
Des voix, des chantes
s’élèvent dans les cieux.

Messages imprécis.
Tout n’est que passager. 
Pleurer ne changera
rien à l'affaire. Tu 
peux t’en aller, ça

reviendra au même.
Il n’y aura pas de
célébration quand
le néant aura récupéré
sa place. Résigne-toi. 

Mozart: Kyrie (Mass in C)

Mozart: Mass in C Minor, K 427 (Gabrieli, McCreesh)

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Sans bruit

Le soir arrive, la nuit
tombe. Et tu te souviens
des jours lumineux, quand
le rire des enfants dans la
maison, leur rude tendresse,
réchauffait ton cœur. Mais

la mort viendra, l’amour
n’a été qu’une saison tôt
disparue. L’amour. Tu y
penses encore, le doux
souvenir des jours heureux
n’a pas été oublié. À quoi

ont servi les longs voyages,
les rêves de plénitude, l’espoir ?
Nous ne durons pas, ne durent
pas nos émotions, n’être que
le passager anxieux ou
distrait du bateau que

traverse le fleuve est notre
destin. Ceux qui dans le rivage
nous font des signes savent-ils
qu’arriver nous laissera, déçus,
au bord, à nouveau, du gouffre
insatiable du désir ? Nous les

avons regardés avec tendresse,
sachant que nul voyage ne
nous emmènera loin de notre
destin. Eux ils peuvent rêver
de traversées et de l’arrivée
dans les paradis lointains.
C’est leur façon de croire à la

joie. Mais nous savons que tout
mouvement, tout déplacement
n’est qu’illusion. La mort toujours
nous a menacé et nous n’avons
pas cru à ses menaces, lointaine
et incertaine était sa cruauté. Et

maintenant, quand le soir arrive
et la nuit tombe, nous remplit de
tristesse la certitude de la fin.
Les jours heureux et les blessures
du cœur s’effaceront quand, sans
bruit, se fermeront nos lèvres dans
un sourire que la trahison emplit

d’une tendre ironie. Nous n’avions
rien demandé, la vie nous a été
accordée comme une punition.
N’avons-nous pas fait de notre
mieux pour mener à bien la tâche
ardue ?


Whom are they talking to, those who talk to God? He never answers. He may feel uncomfortable with all the love messages he receives and prefers to keep silent. He is not a character in a bad novel or in an soap opera. He may even feel harassed, but He is polite and prefers to keep silent.

Gabriel Fauré: Pavane

Friday, March 8, 2013

Love and pride

A former student of mine is in love with a girl in Japan, where he is teaching English. He behaved badly with the girl and she ran away from him. Then he asked my advice. I may be unable of helping myself on these matters but it looks like I already helped him a bit. The girl just sent him a message asking him if he still wants to be friends with her. What would I answer, he asks. He had an idea: Of course I do, I think about you all the time. I didn't like it. He needs to rebuild his reputation at her eyes (she stopped to see him because she understood that he is a womanizer). He needs to behave more formally, he can't be so fast and direct after a break.  I suggested this instead:

Anna dear, thank you so much for your message. Your friendship is for me a precious gift of the gods. Yes, let's be good friends.

He doesn't like it, he says that it's too poetic and ridiculous and he would not be sincere, he can't talk like that. I tease him: you know nothing about girls and about love, boy. He protests, he knows a lot about girls and love, I am the one who talks about gods as if we were still in old Greece, it's ridiculous. I agree. But he goes on:  for example, girls keep 4 or 5 guys on the line until they meet the right guy, maybe she was evaluating other offers before she wrote to me again. I say: probably. Meanwhile he kept thinking about my suggestion. We may use it if we make some changes: Ok, take out the gift from the gods part and replace it with something a little more modern and less cliche. More modern and no cliché? OK. To make fun of him I had already find something better:

Please stay on the line. Your business is important to me.

Gosh! He almost took it as a serious alternative! But no, in the end he doesn't like it either. She would not understand the joke. But I already had a third, more convincing, text message ready to go:

Anna dear, thank you so much for your message. There is nothing I want more than to be good friends with you. I am happy to see that you trust me.

I avoided using "again" at the end of the message so she would not be reminded of his former erratic behavior. Even so he doesn't like it either. He is not sure, he comments, that she trusts him. I say: she wrote to you and asked you if you want to be friends with her, isn't that trusting you? Yes, maybe, he says. But anyway he doesn't want to look humble, he refuses to write "thank you" in his message. As you like, I say. And he wants to talk about the great love he feels for her immediately (last week he was already thinking about dating other girls), when in fact she just talked about being friends. She means it, he says, she loves me. She didn't say it, I answer, she just asked you if you want to be her friend. That's the way girls are made, he says, they talk in code. I answer, a bit tired of this too long debate: I would rather stay for the moment as close to literal meaning as possible, the situation is far from being clear, you didn't arrive at any destination for the moment. He is not convinced.

We discuss other possibilities but he doesn't want her to think that being friends with him again is a favor she is doing him. A week or two ago he was the most unhappy boy because she was not even answering his messages, she was ignoring him and making him feel miserable. Now because she asked  him if he wants to be friends with her again he resuscitated as the king of a magnificent kingdom - and he needs her to understand his royal "grandeur" without ambiguity. I try to explain better: when you express your gratitude you are only being a great guy, you are not renouncing your pride. He doesn't get it and after a while I just abandoned him to his own fate. We cannot teach love to other people anyway. They will learn (or not) making the mistakes they enjoy so much making.

But why does he think that he needs my help? I can't even help myself in difficult situations.

Gabriel Fauré: Requiem (Agnus Dei)

Elisa's husbands

I was told some moments ago by two students that the beautiful Elisa, José Matias' sweetheart, was married to a guy called John Seco - and that José Matias also was her husband. If you are unable to understand the difference between a husband and a lover what did you learn at school? I think I need a drink.

Concubine or whore

Héloïse to Abelard:

"And if the name of wife appears more sacred and more valid, sweeter to me is ever the word friend, or, if thou be not ashamed, concubine or whore. "

"If there is anything that may properly be called happiness here below, I am persuaded it is the union of two persons who love each other with perfect liberty, who are united by a secret inclination, and satisfied with each other's merits. Their hearts are full and leave no vacancy for any other passion; they enjoy perpetual tranquillity because they enjoy content."

"But if you do not continue your concern for me, if I lose your affection, what have I gained by my imprisonment? What recompense can I hope for? The unhappy consequences of our love and your disgrace have made me put on the habit of chastity, but I am not penitent of the past. Thus I strive and labour in vain. Among those who are wedded to God I am wedded to a man; among the heroic supporters of the Cross I am the slave of a human desire; at the head of a religious community I am devoted to Abelard alone. What a monster am I! Enlighten me, O Lord, for I know not if my despair or Thy grace draws these words from me! I am, I confess, a sinner, but one who, far from weeping for her sins, weeps only for her lover; far from abhorring her crimes, longs only to add to them; and who, with a weakness unbecoming my state, please myself continually with the remembrance of past delights when it is impossible to renew them."

Abelard to Héloïse:

"I hate you! I love you! Shame presses me on all sides. I am at this moment afraid I should seem more indifferent than you fare, and yet I am ashamed to discover my trouble. How weak are we in ourselves if we do not support ourselves on the Cross of Christ. Shall we have so little courage, and shall that uncertainty of serving two masters which afflicts your heart affect mine too? You see the confusion I am in, how I blame myself and how I suffer. Religion commands me to pursue virtue since I have nothing to hope for from love. But love still preserves its dominion over my fancies and entertains itself with past pleasures. Memory supplies the place of a mistress." 

""Regard me no more, I entreat you, as a founder or any great personage; your praises ill agree with my many weaknesses. I am a miserable sinner, prostrate before my Judge, and with my face pressed to the earth I mix my tears with the earth. Can you see me in this posture and solicit me to love you? Come, if you think fit, and in your holy habit thrust yourself between my God and me, and be a wall of separation. Come and force from me those sighs and thoughts and vows I owe to Him alone. Assist the evil spirits and be the instrument of their malice. What cannot you induce a heart to do whose weakness you so perfectly know? Nay, withdraw yourself and contribute to my salvation. Suffer me to avoid destruction, I entreat you by our former tender affection and by our now common misfortune. It will always to show none; I here release you from all your oaths and engagements. Be God's wholly, to whom you are appropriated; I will never oppose so pious a design. How happy shall I be if I thus lose you! Then shall I indeed be a religious and you a perfect example of an abbess."

Abelard and Héloïse

Thursday, March 7, 2013


When Vera Williams first noticed
that I was interested
in wild mushrooms,
she told her children
not to touch any of them
because they were all
deadly poisonous.

A few days later
she bought a steak
at Martino’s and
decided to serve it
smothered with mushrooms.

When she
started to cook the mushrooms,
the children
all stopped whatever they
were doing and watched
her attentively.

When she served
they all burst into tears.

The two monks and the young lady

You probably know the one about the two

monks, but I’ll tell it

anyway. They were

walking along one day when they came to

a stream where a young lady was

waiting, hoping that someone

would help her across.

Without hesitating, one

of the monks picked her up and carried

her across, putting her

down safely on the other side.

The two monks continued walking along,

and after some time,

the second one,

unable to restrain himself,

said to the first,

“You know we’re not

allowed to touch women.

Why did you carry that woman

across the stream?”

The first monk replied,

“Put her down.

I did two hours ago.”

Monday, March 4, 2013

John Donne: The Triple Fool

I am two fools, I know—
For loving, and for saying so
In whining poetry;
But where's that wiseman that would not be I,
If she would not deny?
Then, as th' earths inward narrow crooked lanes
Do purge sea waters fretful salt away,
I thought, if I could draw my pains
Through rhymes vexation, I should them allay.
Grief brought to numbers cannot be so fierce,
For he tames it that fetters it in verse.

But when I have done so,
Some man, his art and voice to show,
Doth set and sing my pain,
And, by delighting many, frees again
Grief, which verse did restrain.
To Love and Grief tribute of verse belongs,
But not of such as pleases when 'tis read;
Both are increased by such songs,
For both their triumphs so are published;
And I, which was two fooles, do so grow three;
Who are a little wise, the best fools be.

Chet Baker - But Not For Me

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Der Vogelfänger bin ich ja - Simon Keenlyside

Marshall Berman: All that is Solid Melts into Air

At the climax of Max Weber's The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, written in 1904, the whole "mighty cosmos of the modern economic order" is seen as "an iron cage." This inexorable order, capitalistic, legalistic and bureaucratic, "determines the lives of all individuals who are born into this mechanism ... with irresistible force." It is bound to "determine man's fate until the last ton of fossilized coal is burnt out." Now, Marx and Nietzsche-and Tocqueville and Carlyle and Mill and Kierkegaard and all the other great nineteenth-century critics also understood the ways in which modern technology and social organization determined man's fate. But they all believed that modern individuals had the capacity both to understand this fate and, once they understood it, to fight it. Hence, even in the midst of a wretched present, they could imagine an open future. Twentieth-century critics of modernity almost entirely lack this empathy with, and faith in, their fellow modern men and women. To Weber, his contemporaries are nothing but "specialists without spirit, sensualists without heart; and this nullity is caught in the delusion that it has achieved a level of development never before attained by mankind." Thus, not only is modern society a cage, but all the people in it are shaped by its bars; we are beings without spirit, without heart, without sexual or personal identity ("this nullity ... caught in the delusion that it has achieved ... ") - we might almost say without being. Here, just as in futurist and techno-pastoral forms of modernism, modern man as a subject - as a living being capable of response, judgment and action in and on the world - has disappeared. Ironically, twentieth-century critics of "the iron cage" adopt the perspective of the cage's keepers: since those inside are devoid of inner freedom or dignity, the cage is not a prison; it merely furnishes a race of nullities with the emptiness they crave and need.

All That is Solid Melts into Air

H. D. : Eurydice


So you have swept me back,
I who could have walked with the live souls
above the earth,
I who could have slept among the live flowers
at last;

so for your arrogance
and your ruthlessness
I am swept back
where dead lichens drip
dead cinders upon moss of ash;

so for your arrogance
I am broken at last,
I who had lived unconscious,
who was almost forgot;

if you had let me wait
I had grown from listlessness
into peace,
if you had let me rest with the dead,
I had forgot you
and the past.


Here only flame upon flame
and black among the red sparks,
streaks of black and light
grown colourless;

why did you turn back,
that hell should be reinhabited
of myself thus
swept into nothingness?

why did you glance back?
why did you hesitate for that moment?
why did you bend your face
caught with the flame of the upper earth,
above my face?

what was it that crossed my face
with the light from yours
and your glance?
what was it you saw in my face?
the light of your own face,
the fire of your own presence?

What had my face to offer
but reflex of the earth,
hyacinth colour
caught from the raw fissure in the rock
where the light struck,
and the colour of azure crocuses
and the bright surface of gold crocuses
and of the wind-flower,
swift in its veins as lightning
and as white.


Saffron from the fringe of the earth,
wild saffron that has bent
over the sharp edge of earth,
all the flowers that cut through the earth,
all, all the flowers are lost;

everything is lost,
everything is crossed with black,
black upon black
and worse than black,
this colourless light.


Fringe upon fringe
of blue crocuses,
crocuses, walled against blue of themselves,
blue of that upper earth,
blue of the depth upon depth of flowers,

if I could have taken once my breath of them,
enough of them,
more than earth,
even than of the upper earth,
had passed with me
beneath the earth;

if I could have caught up from the earth,
the whole of the flowers of the earth,
if once I could have breathed into myself
the very golden crocuses
and the red,
and the very golden hearts of the first saffron,
the whole of the golden mass,
the whole of the great fragrance,
I could have dared the loss.


So for your arrogance
and your ruthlessness
I have lost the earth
and the flowers of the earth,
and the live souls above the earth,
and you who passed across the light
and reached

you who have your own light,
who are to yourself a presence,
who need no presence;

yet for all your arrogance
and your glance,
I tell you this:

such loss is no loss,
such terror, such coils and strands and pitfalls
of blackness,
such terror
is no loss;

hell is no worse than your earth
above the earth,
hell is no worse,
no, nor your flowers
nor your veins of light
nor your presence,
a loss;

my hell is no worse than yours
though you pass among the flowers and speak
with the spirits above earth.


Against the black
I have more fervour
than you in all the splendour of that place,
against the blackness
and the stark grey
I have more light;

and the flowers,
if I should tell you,
you would turn from your own fit paths
toward hell,
turn again and glance back
and I would sink into a place
even more terrible than this.


At least I have the flowers of myself,
and my thoughts, no god
can take that;
I have the fervour of myself for a presence
and my own spirit for light;

and my spirit with its loss
knows this;
though small against the black,
small against the formless rocks,
hell must break before I am lost;

before I am lost,
hell must open like a red rose
for the dead to pass.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Margaret Atwood: Orpheus (2)

George Frederic Watts

Whether he will go on singing
or not, knowing what he knows
of the horror of this world:

He was not wandering among meadows
all this time. He was down there
among the mouthless ones, among
those with no fingers, those
whose names are forbidden,
those washed up eaten into
among the gray stones
of the shore where nobody goes
through fear. Those with silence.

He has been trying to sing
love into existence again
and he has failed.

Yet he will continue
to sing, in the stadium
crowded with the already dead
who raise their eyeless faces
to listen to him; while the red flowers
grow up and splatter open
against the walls.

They have cut off both his hands
and soon they will tear
his head from his body in one burst
of furious refusal.
He foresees this. Yet he will go on
singing, and in praise.
To sing is either praise
or defiance. Praise is defiance.

Resten Swondo: Orpheus and Eurydice

Nicolas Poussin

Tender love was all I had
Soft touches, subtle gazes, lingering
Moments in embrace
A smile of stupor
Given in mind-addling love.
She was everything,
A world with hope,
A taste of the divine,
A wish of the sublime.
My home was empty
She was gone, forever,
But I would find her in
All things, in hooded sun,
In the name-whispering
breeze scented with her perfume,
in the dreamless darkness
in which she walked.
I would find her in all moments
Filled with joy and tears,
But in darkness, even in darkness,
I would look back
And she would be gone,
Lost to the world,
A hopeless world
Built without dreams.
Dreams live only for the future.

Resten Swondo