Saturday, January 31, 2009

Get lost!

Norman Brown to me is intensely post-Romantic, and the power of his speech comes, more often than not, from his erudition in the classics, including those key literature of Christianity.

Already in mid-20th c. he writes against those who preach "the crisis of identity" the following little pep-talk kind of passage. I like it very much:

But the breakdown is to be made into a breakthrough; as Conrad said, in the destructive element immerse. The soul that we can call our own is not a real one. The solution to the problem of identity is, get lost. Or as it says in the New Testament: "He that findeth his own psyche shall lose it, and he that loseth his psyche for my sake shall find it." (Brown, Love's Body)

The only remaining question is this "my sake."

To explore is...

On reading this passage by Norman Brown's Loves Body I bursted out laughing; he states, following Melanie Klein, what follows:

To explore is to penetrate; the world is the inside of mother. "The entry into the world of knowledge and schoolwork seemed to be identified with the entry into the mother's body." (...) Geography is the geography of the mother's body (...) Geography; or geometry, as in FINNEGANS WAKE.

Norman O. Brown, Love's Body (1963)

Well, well. In the geography of dreams, it may be true. But this sounds only like somebody who has never really explored geography OUT THERE.

Yet Brown is interesting, and what interests me most is his being born in El Oro, Mexico, in 1913, as a son of a mining engineer. His view of "geography" may after all be the best illustration of the oedipal situation.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Blanchot's Chroniques

Between April 1941 and August 1944, Blanchot published 173 articles in the Journal des débats. Almost weekly! He was between 33 and going on 37 years of age.

This is probably something I should have done in my Southwest days... Now I am turning more and more reluctant to read new authors. I'd rather get to know better the writers I have already read. The process is definitely that of re-reading. But then, is there such a thing as first-time reading properly speaking, not in any way a re-reading?

Youngish Blanchot's variety of reading is astonishing, and his perspicacity dazzling.

Maurice Blanchot, Chroniques littéraires (2007)

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Literature in translation

Translation made Susan Sontag who she is. "Translations were a gift, for which I would always be grateful," says she. "What--rather, who--would I be without Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy and Chekhov?"

Then comes this paragraph:

My sense of what literature can be, my reverence for the practice of literature as a vocation, and my identification of the vocation of the writer with the exercise of freedom--all these constituent elements of my sensibility are inconceivable without the books I read in translation from an early age. Literature was mental travel: travel into the past... and to other countries. (Literature was the vehicle that could take you ANYWHERE.) And literature was criticism of one's own reality, in the light of a better standard.

Susan Sontag, At the Same Time (2007)

Criticism of life by way of others' reflexions. Translation and transformation of the self occuring at the same time. This practice, in its totality, is called literature. But then, the practice of learning foreign languages, in its totality, is also nothing less than literature.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

On the Boyasch

[Y]ou run into two breeds of gypsies, the nomad coppersmith and the Boyasch...The Boyasch are what you might call Serbo-Rumanian gypsies... They are small and dark and strange, and if you saw some on the street you'd notice them but it probably wouldn't occur to you they were gypsies. They're cleaner and neater than the nomads, and their women don't dress gypsy style any more, although a few of the real old ones still wear gold-coin necklaces. At the same time, they're tougher-looking. I guess hard is more the word. They look hard. It's something in their eyes. They have curious cold, hard eyes, and they watch you every second, and they rarely ever smile.

Joseph Mitchell, Up in the Old Hotel (1992)

Joseph Mitchell is wondeful, wonderous. The blurb says: "His accounts are like what Joyce might have written had he gone into journalism." I sense in him a precurser of Chatwin's. (Especially Chatwin's earlier, short pieces on strange encounters.) This book was sent me by my friend Q in NYC. She's one of the most interesting philosophers working today. Thank you, Q, for your continuous enlightment of my ignorance!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Avec Keats

Helen Vendler is wonderful, superb. Her remarks about Stevens' debts to Keats have been on my mind:

Stevens had so absorbed Keats that Keats acted in his mind as a perpendicular from which he constructed his own oblique poems: what we see as a secrecy of allusion was for Stevens no secrecy but rather an exfoliation of a continuing inner dialogue with Keats. Stevens' allusions, in his briefer poems, are more often to content than to language. If Keats says "tree," Stevens will say "pinetrees," "junipers," "spruces." If Keats says "the north...with a sleety whistle," Stevens will say "the sound of the wind." And if Keats says "crystal fretting" and "frozen time," of ice, Stevens will say "frost," "snow," "ice." If Keats says "not to feel," Stevens says "not to think."

Helen Vendler, Wallace Stevens: Words Chosen Out of Desire (1984)

And this passage of astonishing condensation:

Stevens' poetry is a poetry of feeling pressed to an extreme; the pressure itself produces the compression and condensation of the work. The pressure of the imagination pressing back against reality, as Stevens called it, is very great: If you confine Greece, Keats, and Tennessee in the same chamber of your mind for a time, the amalgam solidifies into the famous stoneware jar and its preposterous sulky stanzas-- "Tell me, what form can possibly suit the slovenly wilderness?"

Back in 1989 I was talking to Michael Fischer, then chair in the Department of English at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, about my possible plans for a Ph.D. in American Literature there.I said I'd choose either one of the following three authors as my subject: Stevens, Faulkner, and Kenneth Burke. I didn't know what field to concentrate in: poetry, the novel, or criticism. I could have been an American critic; but it didn't happen. At that time my other plan was to move to Baton Rouge and LSU to write a dissertation on Edouard Glissant under his own supervision (Glissant was there at that time before his relocation to CUNY). And this didn't happen, either. I finally chose Seattle, the first American city I had set my foot on in 1972 and a city that I've been in love to this day. And the twenty years' detour began.

On immediacy

This from Gareth Stedman Jones's introduction to The Communist Manifest (Penguin Classics):

Like Feuerbach, Marx's aim was wholly to remove Hegel's mediations and return to immediacy. According to Feuerbach, the great defect of Hegel's philosophy was that it lacked 'immediate unity, immediate certainty, immediate truth'. In place of Hegel's process of bifurcation, mediation and reunion, what was needed was a philosophy of man as an immediate whole.

This notion of immediacy is utterly incomprehensive to me! To me, every unity, certainty, or truth need mediation of some kind. Man is incapable of grasping such without mediation. Hard to say, but in this respect Hegel seems to be right.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

On being funny--in an Irish way?

I am not a good reader of Beckett's, but occasionally I open an earlier work, Murphy, for example, and read a couple of pages. This to taste Sam's crazy style. Any one page contains such a paragraph as:

For an Irish girl Miss Counihan was quite exceptionally anthropoid. Wylie was not sure that he cared altogether for her mouth, which was a large one. The kissing surface was greater than the rosebud's, but less highly toned. Otherwise she did. It is superfluous to describe her, she was just like any other beautiful Irish girl, except, as noted, more markedly anthropoid. How far this constitutes an advantage is what every man must decide for himself.

Samuel Beckett, Murphy (1938)

An abominable sense of humour!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

An earlyriser

Picture this Derrida as an earlyriser, just like Valéry well before him:

Et il a toujours travaillé tôt le matin: levé à quatre, cinq heures, il écrit jusqu'à dix.

Max Genève, Qui a peur de Derrida? (2008)

I should follow his example, too.

A flight from meaning

Bersani and Dutoit write this:

In the modern period, various strategies have been adopted to reduce--ideally, to eliminate--this contamination of literature by the semantic promiscuity of its own materials: Mallarmé's radical reordering of syntax, Joyce's attempted reinvention of English in Finnegans Wake, and the modernist experiments (following the lead of Mallarmé's Un Coup de dés) with the visual representation of meaning in the page's design. These strategies are all intended to block or control the word's signifying power, to impede the otherwise inescapable production of meanings alien to this work of art.

Leo Bersani and Ulysse Dutoit, Arts of Impoverishment

A work of art trying to run away as far as possible from its inevitable meaning... this also is a very strange picture. Because in attempting to reduce meaning it is aiming at MEANING DIFFERENTLY than its original, "naturalistic" semanticity.

Interesting, but does it lead to anything interesting? If boredom is what they want, then I'd go for the Boredoms, rather. I mean, music is always there to avoid literal meanings.Why use language, in the first place?

Friday, January 23, 2009

O, saisons, o, SHADOWS!

Richard Holmes is one author I wanted to be, if I had another life, that is. His Footsteps surely belong to our list for the WALKING exhibition. Here is Holmes on Shelley:

In Act One of Prometheus Unbound, there is a haunting passage in which Shelley describes the "two worlds of life and death." Combining classical ideas of Hades, Platonic notions of the interne dreary spheres of daemons and the Dantean vision of the Christian Inferno, he suggests the existence of a world of "doubles," of "shadows" which repeat or mirror everything on earth, "all forms that think and live". These are not so much ghosts of the dead as ghosts of the living. We all have our doubles in this second world (the idea is most familiar nowadays in science fiction rather than poerty). Only at the moment of death or destruction are the real and the double united, "and they part no more." Thus to meet your double, or to see it attacking someone, signified imminent peril: death perhaps, or the invasion of the real, normal world by the world of shadows.

Richard Holmes, Footsteps (1985)

So that world co-exists with this one, not anywhere else but here, and it repeats everything that's happening here. The two are united only at the time of the former's destruction. Why then does the second exist? Only to show that the frist can never claim unicity. They are identical but for the fact that they are not the same. And this doubleness is the proof that you are alive... when dead, the two merges into one.

A very strange idea, indeed. Our life, being one, abhors its unicity. Or life, by its nature, needs constant differenciation. DIFFERANCE. We know how much Derrida was interested in British Romanticism.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Being inevitable, or as if

Here is what Bloom writes about the sublime:

The ancient idea of the sublime, as set forth by the Hellenistic critic we call "Longinus," seems to me the origin of my expectation that great poetry will possess an inevitability of phrasing. Longinus tells us that in the experience of the sublime we apprehend a greatness to which we respond by a desire for identification, so that we will become what we behold. Loftiness is a quality that emanates from the realm of aspiraion from what Wordsworth called a sense of something evermore ABOUT TO BE.

Harold Bloom, The Art of Reading Poetry (2004)

The process of a lingustic arrangement's becoming itself; the reader's identification with the process; the sense of anticipation that's exhilarating; and its postponed fulfillment---hence, the sublime.


Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Leonard Cohen

Bought a copy of Beautiful Losers by Leonard Cohen at Page One, Taipei, last week and read this page and that, without even guessing what this book is about. Some very intriguing passages such as:

It was a lovely day in Canada, a poignant summer day; so brief, so brief. It was 1664, sunny, dragonflies investigating the plash of paddles, porcupines sleeping on their soft noses, black-braided girls in the meadow plaiting grass into aromatic baskets, deer and braves sniffing the pine wind, dreaming of luck, two boys wrestling beside the palisade, embrace after embrace. The world was about two billion years old but the mountains of Canada were very young. Strange doves wheeled over Gandaouagué.

Beautiful Losers (1966)

Why am I attracted to such a passage? Of course I know the reason, and I wouldn't dare tell anybody. Because the mountains of Canada were very young, probably. Or shoud I say this manipulation of chronology?

Further on near the end is this remarkable sentence:

Let it be our skill to create legends out of the disposition of the stars, but let it be our glory to forget the legends and watch the night emptily.

Superb, Leo, superb, superb.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Dragnet Girl

Films this year:

8. Hijosen no onna (Dragnet Girl), Yasujiro Ozu (1933)

This is Ozu's silent masterpiece, set in Yokohama and conceived as a mélange of a gangster movie and a melodrama. Neatly done and thoroughly enjoyable. Ozu was not quite thirty years old, and the scenery depicted is not quite Japan, but not quite US either; a noman's land of cultural migration.

The sister of would-be gangster Hiroshi, Kazuko (?), is very lovely. Interestingly, the actress (name?) who portrayed her retired soon after and not much is known about her anymore but an attempted suicide...

Implicit theodicy

The following bit about the basic theodicy of modernity sounds true:

This implicit theodicy of all social order, of course, antecedes any legitimations, religious or otherwise. It serves, however, as the indispensable substratum on which later legitimating edifices can be constructed. It also expresses a very basic psychological constellation, without which it is hard to imagine later legitimations to be successful. Theodicy proper, then, as the religious legitimation of anomic phenomena, is rooted in certain crucial characteristics of human sociation as such.

Peter Burger, The Sacred Canopy (1967)

Monday, January 19, 2009

Sauf en moi, and yet

Some statements in this world are simply impossible to follow. Especially when it comes to matters of faith. This from the French poet-translator Jean Grosjean:

Dieu est partout sauf en moi et en même temps il me semble qu'il est plus en moi qu'autre part, plus en moi par son austérité et par sa miséricorde. Pourquoi si sévère? Et pourquoi si peu?

Jean Grosjean, Si peu (2001)

God is everywhere but in me. At the same time, one has the impression that God is in one's self than elsewhere. The logic is out of reach. God, as an absolute other, is by His austerity and compassion, also infiltrates me. This is the aldilà of transcendence / immanence question. Very strange. Very intriguing.

Misericordia! C'est ce que j'ai besoin...

Sunday, January 18, 2009

On sounding different

Here is an impressive passage from Richard Poirier:

The American writers I have been discussing have made the value of sound explicitly a subject of their work, and explicitly a resource for eccentricity. They suggest that the individual voice has in fact little else to depend on beyond the sounds it makes and, decidedly, those it refuses to make. [...] And yet, it should be apparent by now that in pressing their case the Americans simply SOUND different. They sound altogether less rhetorically embattled, less culturally ambitious than do any of these European cousins.

Richard Poirier, Poetry and Pragmatism (1992)

So it's all about becoming simple, wild, and... strange.

The Galaxy Train / Atanarjuat

Films this year:

6. Ginga tetsudo no yoru (The Night of the Galaxy Train), Gizaburo Sugii (1985).
7. Atanarjuat (The Fast Runner), Zakharias Kunuk (2001)

Last tuesday watched 6 with a couple of second-year students. Based on a hyper-famous story by Kenji Miyazawa, this animation is after Hiroshi Masumura's lovely all-cat characters comics version. Well-made, faithful, and as touching as the original. This term my undergraduate seminar students are expected to write on the story and I have my own theory about the whole structure of it, but will keep my mouth shut for a while.

7 is an EXTREME, TRULY OUTRAGEOUS masterpiece. This is the second time I watch it, but I still can't figure out the pre-history (one generation before, that is) part of the rivalry between Oki and Atanarjuat. All Inuit film based on an Inuit legend that calls for a GA (Eric Gans's generative anthropology, itself a development from René Girard's originary anthropology) kind of reading. Actually, I will write up my analysis one of these days, time permitting.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The war went on

Again from Henry Green's Pack My Bag:

The war went on, more and more people were killed. When our mothers visited us they often had news of relatives who had lost their lives. When they came down they were allowed to take us out to tea in the town and it was a rule we had made between ourselves that each of these times we should take a friend with us. This rule was unbreakable and it so happened that when a friend's father lost his life and his mother came down to read out his last letters home I went out with them and after tea we sat in that park I have described and they both cried over his letters as we sat with our backs against a tree. You would have thought this rule could be relaxed at such a time but there was no question of it. We always had boiled eggs when out for tea.

The passage talks about the unbreakable rules and its last sentence, "We always had boiled eggs when out for tea," is surprisingly efficient and fresh. Such is his power of mind that you are caught breathless. The kind of style I'd love to emulate.

Friday, January 16, 2009

On style

Some people's really got style. It comes so naturally to them, or so it seems. Henry Green is one such person. This from his mid-life autobiography:

They say the fox enjoys the hunt but the sound of the horn as he breaks covert must set great loneliness on him. When he knows by the cry of the pack at his heels that the huntsman has put the hounds on then surely in so far as animals can be expected to have feelings and however cruel they may be by nature fear must enter into it, he must fear for his life.

Henry Green, Pack My Bag (1940)

It's this great loneliness, beyond human loneliness, that sounds so true.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

In Taipei

For the first time since 1985 I am in Taipei. Visited National Chengchi University and was impressed by the level of facility and students' work at the School of Communication. A million thanks to Prof. Lu and his assistant Victor for showing me around.

Later I went atop the famous Taipei 101; the view was awesome. Then visited two quite nice bookstores: Eslite and Page One. Their selections of English books are much better than any bookstores in Tokyo, Kinokuniya or Junkudo.

Bought two books, both at Page One, after all:

Bill McKibben, Enough (2003)
Leonard Cohen, Beautiful Losers (1966)

I guess I will repeat the visit often in the pragmatically near future. Taiwan I think is one of the most interesting areas in the world. Luckily, I have several friends here. I got to be more serious about picking up as much Chinese as I can.

In the evening Martin Su treated me to a nice dinner with his family. Our encounter last time was back in 2004 in Tokyo. Next time I'll go south to Taichun to see Lee Shuen-shin, my friend and novelist. It's so nice that our orbits come across from time to time, if only for at most less than ten times a life.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Hazlitt on Burke

I really don't know what good prose is. But in English and when I think about finesse, Hazlitt comes to mind among the old-timers. For Hazlitt, it was Burke who showed the way. Here is what Hazlitt says on Burke's prose:

It has always appeared to me that the most perfect prose-style, the most powerful, the most dazzling, the most daring, that which went the nearest to the verge of poetry, and yet never fell over, was Burke's. It has the solidity, and sparkling effect of the diamond: all other fine writing is like French paste or Bristol-stones in the comparison. Burke's style is airy, flighty, adventurous, but it never loses sight of the subject; nay, is always in contact with, and derives its increased or varying impulse from it.

William Hazlitt, On the Prose-Style of Poets (1822)

"Airy, flighty, adventurous",I'd like to say the same for the most perfect prose fiction in American English in the latter half of the twentieth century: Marilynne Robinson's sublime Housekeeping.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Ah, les anglais...

Read pages from Jeremy Paxman's The English. Quite interesting. It gives me a very different picture of the English than I had in mind. I was talking to a friend from London this evening and now that's the city I'd like to visit most of all cities.

Here is Paxman:

Travel to England by the cross-channel train fron Paris to London and you can see the English indifference to the nation state at once. It is a journey from a city that, with its grand boulevards and avenues, proclaims a belief in central planning, to one that has just grown like Topsy. Paris remains a city when the government can still plough ahead with grands projets like La Défense or the Bastille Opera, whereas London can scarcely agree on a new statue.

Jeremy Paxman, The English (1998)

Two old world-cities... I'll see you both again soon, or so I hope.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Simon on Ted

What Simon has to say on Ted:

Hughes's magic was his writing. He made little black marks against clean white pages, marks that somehow detailed the absolute matter and manner of a bird or an eel or a foal or a wolf or a bear. At later dates and in distant locations, when we looked at those marks, when we read the poems, those creatures came to life. Out of nothing. Has any other magician ever pulled off a greater trick?

Simon Armitage's Introduction to Ted Hughes, Poems (2000)

Well put. I was not paying attention to Armitage but for this introduction, but the Japanese translation of his Kid appeared late last year and it read pretty good. An authentic successor to Hughes? Surely. I will read them side by side this year.

Rio Branco/Moriyama

Went to see a very interesting exhibition of photography; Miguel Rio Branco takes Tokyo and Daido Moriyama takes São Paulo. Together, they hold this show called A Quiet Gaze, Echoing Worlds. (But shouldn't the "gaze" be plural?)

Rio Branco's highly bio-chromatic (word? you know what I mean) images are dazzling. Moriyama is his usual self, but no less powerful than his Hawaii collection. Short documentary videos projected near the exit reveals the two photographers at work.

Watching it, I am very initerested in acquiring a GR21.

The chiasm rules!

Here is what Lawler says on the figure of chiasm:

Since the chiasm is a figure of great antiquity, shaping the Hebrew mentality according to N.W. Lund and functioning classically as a device suggesting completeness or closure and, in the Petrarchan tradition, as a convention of variety, it would perhaps be naive to read any intensely personal torment into Marvell's agonizing over his mistress's tyranny.

Celestial Pantomime (1979)

Quant à moi, I love chiasms. Chiasms, oxymorons, paradoxes... give an essential bite to any poetry.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

A penchant for failure?

Now I know it; only those artists who tend to fail interest me. Here is Lawler's passage on Stevens:

E.A. Robinson has a sonnet called "Credo" which, like a few of Stevens's poems, seeks almost by an act of will to affirm the capability of the finite imagination's attaining the infinite reality---the very large difference between the two poets is that Stevens usually resigns himself to failure, whereas Robinson, as in the disastrous sestet to this sonnet, blindly and like a mechanical optimist affirms fulfillment.

Justus George Lawler, Celestial Pantomime (1979)

Resigning to fail, choosing to fail, whatever. I need more time to work on Stevens...

Friday, January 09, 2009

Extremely up close

Steven Shaviro talks about Godard's extremely close-up images: a pebble held in a hand in Weekend, and of coffee swirling in a cup in Deux ou trois choses que je sais d'elle.

Here is Shaviro:

The abberant scale and unfamiliar lighting of these images defamilializes their objects---or, better, forces us to stop regarding them AS referential objects. They appear in fixed shots, held for a long time: duration has become an independent dimension of the image, and is no longer a function of the time needed for cognition and action. The pebble and the coffee are neither useful nor significant; they work neither as things nor as signs. They are nothing but images, mutely and fascinating soliciting our attention. The pebble rests, the coffee swirls, filling the screen.

Steven Shaviro, The Cinematic Body (1993)

Shaviro is one person I failed to take a course with in Seattle in early 1990s. My friend Tsu-Chung Su from Taiwan had him as dissertation director. I often saw Shaviro at Eliott Bay (Book Company) in Seattle, but I don't think he remembers me at all. A missed encounter.


Films this year

5. Mondo, Tony Gatlif (1995)

Watched with some of my students Gatlif's heartbreaking Mondo, based on a short story by Le Clézio. This is my fourth or fifth viewing; this film is a gem. I like every bit of it. The cinematography is also excellent.

I'd like to review all of Gatlif, my favourite director, in the course of 2009.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

The Women's Sutra, The Munekata Sisters

Films this year:

3. Jokyo (The Women's Sutra), Masumura, Ichikawa, Yoshimura (1960).
4. Muneka kyodai (The Munekata Sisters), Yasujiro Ozu (1950).

3 is a very enjoyable omnibus film by three masterful directors, each using a star actress of the day. Yasuzo Masumura with his regular Ayako Wakao, Kon Ichikawa with fox-like Fujiko Yamamoto, and Kozaburo Yoshimura with demoniac Machiko Kyo. Each episode runs for 30 to 40 minutes, all of them very well-made, and occasionally very beautiful with real sceneries of Tokyo, Shonan, and Kyoto.

4 is narrated as a comedy but there is an undercurrent of something sinister. Madness is lurking at unexpected corners. The sisters are portrayed by two great actresses Kinuyo Tanaka and Hideko Takamine. Takamine with her funny face and essentially comic character is brilliant and lovable. The story is woven around the grave, cats, and chairs. You'll know what I mean when you see it.

Scapegoating Artaud

What exactly was society for Artaud? In his vision of the artist, that culminated in Van Gogh as a suicidee of society, the artist could not but be a scapegoat, whether s/he knew it or not.

L'art a pour devoir social de donner issue aux angoisses de son époque. L'artiste qui n'a pas ausculté le cœur de son époque, l'artiste qui ignore qu'il est un BOUC EMISSAIRE, que son devoir est d'aimanter, d'attirer, de faire tomber sur ses épaules les colères errantes de l'époque pour la décharger de son mal-être psychologique, celui-là n'est pas un artiste.

Antonin Artaud, "L'Anarchie sociale de l'art"

It may be more interesting if we read the verb in the phrase "scapegoating Artaud" both as transitive and intransitive. An artist is scapegoated, but at the same time it is s/he who chooses to become a scapegoat.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

On failure

It is interesting how Leo Bersani talks of Beckett's aesthetic of failure. For Bersani, Beckett "has yearned to fail more explicitly and more consistently than any other artists we know."

Here is the beginning of Bersani's essay on Beckett:

Perhaps the most serious reproach we can make against Samuel Beckett is that he has failed to fail. Failure is the ideal of nearly all Beckett's characters, and, in one of his rare theoretical statements, Beckett himself has said that "to be an artist is to fail, as no other dare fail, that failure is his world and the shrink from it desertion, art and craft, good housekeeping, living."

Leo Bersani and Ulysse Dutoit, Arts of Impoverishment (1993)

But this quotation from Beckett is hard to grasp. It's from "Three Dialogues" in Disjecta. Let me spend some time pondering on it.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Skin that coon!?

There are some racoons in my neighborhood and it's surprising considering the density of human population in the area. How do they survive, nobody knows. Wild animals. I hope one day they prevail in Tokyo.

Harold Rosenberg is widely considered a founding father of modern art criticism in the US. His seminal The Tradition of the New is dated, undeniablly, and some of the points are rather tedious, yet the style is still pretty funny and fresh. This bit about "coonskinism" is unforgettable:

[...] I call this anti-formal or trans-formal effect Coonskinism. The fellows behind the trees are "men without art," to use Wyndam Lewis' label for Faulkner and Hemingway. This does not mean that they do not know how to fight. They have studied manoeuvers among squirrels and grizzly bears and they trust their knowledge against the tradition of Caesar and Frederick. Their principle is simple: watch the object--if it's red, shoot!

Harold Rosenberg, The Tradition of the New (1959)

What we learn from this passage may only be a way to be funny in one's writing. But it's enjoyable. Strange, too.

Monday, January 05, 2009


Anything edible by ritualistic standards is KOSHER, which means literally fit or suitable. Anything forbidden is denominated TEREFAH; a word signifying originally a living thing that had fallen victim to a beast or bird of prey and hence unacceptable as a food, but subsequently extended to cover all unacceptable foods.

Milton Steinberg, Basic Judaism (1947)

How did this originate? To forbid being a scavenger? To avoid possible sickness caused by it? There is no way to tell, but rather intriguing. Is there any kind of psychological anthropomorphism working in all this?

A born outsider

Some people have naturally strong, powerful voices. They can be murmurs and rather ordinary in their explicit contents, yet curiously strong. One such person is Leslie Marmon Silko, undoubtedly one of the greatest American novelists living.

Here is what she says about her childhood:

My earliest memories are of being outside, under the sky. I remember climbing the fence when I was three years old, and heading for the plaza in the center of Laguna village because other children passing by had told me there were KA'TSINAS there dancing with pieces of wood in their mouths. A neighbor, a woman, retrieved me before I ever saw the wood-swallowing ka'tsinas, but from an early age I knew I wanted to be outside: outside walls and fences.

Simon Ortiz ed., Speaking for the Generations (1998)

OUTSIDE is really the keyword. Personally, I would never want to die INSIDE any human-made structure, let alone a hospital. I want to leave this world outside, under the sky, in the immediacy of the elements.

Thus I belong to Leslie's pack.

The Burmese Harp (Kon Ichikawa)

Watched two versions consecutively. Ichikawa's popular The Burmese Harp was first released in 1956, when the memory of war was not alien to the Japanese ethos. Then after so many years he self-remade the film in 1985. This, too, was popular enough, suitable to his well-established statue as master film director.

The 1985 version is in color and slightly longer. It's got some good moments of cinematography, yet the 1956 original is infinitely better.

One big blunder of the story (not the director's fault but the novelist's) is that in local buddhism music is prohibited to monks! Tant pis! Yet the framework of the story is convincing enough and it's not hard to imagine that it responded to the collective trauma left by the war.

Not much is depicted about local people, though. Knowing this weakness I think Ichikawa tried to present, although remaining silent, as many local faces as possible in the 1985 version. But the production was supported by a major TV company and it must have lead to some easy mise-en-scène here and there.

Still, it was interesting to watch the two in this fashion.

Films this year
1. Biruma no tategoto (The Burmese Harp), Kon Ichikawa (1956).
2. Biruma no tategoto (The Burmese Harp), Kon Ichikawa (1985).

Chestov according to Bonnefoy

On reading an interview, I found it interesting that Yves Bonnefoy was initially influenced by Léon Chestov (1866-1938). Russian born philosopher who is not read anymore but Chestov was a crucially important figure for those who were interested both in literature and philosophy, or, in short, existentialist reading of texts. He was from Kiev and his real name was Jehuda Schwarzmann. Sounds like Robert Zimmerman turning to Bob Dylan.

Here is what Bonnefoy says:

Chestov, avec Le Pouvoir des clefs, puis Athènes et Jérusalem, m'aida brusquement à voir ce que doit être l'objet, le seul objet de la conscience et de sa parole: un être qui est, là, devant nous, en son instant et son lieu. Mais je lisais aussi Kierkegaad--Les Quatre étapes sur le chemin de la vie--, aidé par les admirables Etude kierkegaardiennes de Jean Wahl, que je puis dire mon maître. Et bientôt j'avais découvert Eros et Agapé, de Nyguen, qui analysa avec une vigueur et une clarté avant lui, me semble-t-il, inconnue la nature complexe et même contradictoire du mouvement qui nous porte vers, justement, ce qui est.

Yves Bonnefoy, Entretiens sur la poèsie (1990)

An aspect of Chestov that's so intriguing is that he was a great traveller. His life was a seris of displacements, especially before he installed in Paris. He also had a passionate interest in Palestina. What would he have said, if he were to see the current state of affairs in the area?

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Kenner on McLuhan

In my old copy of Hugh Kenner's Mazes, this paragraph is highlighted. I must have done it in 1992 or thereabouts, in Seattle:

What always saved him was his ability to get interested in something else. Nothing was too trivial. "Let us check on this," he would say, and steer the two of us into a movie house, where we stayed for twenty minutes. "Enough." Out in the light he extemporized an hour of analysis.

Hugh Kenner, Mazes (1989)

This kind of restlessness I surely share, which has caused me a lot of trouble in life. But the skill to extemporize I still need to elaborate, if only to keep these two great, mad Canadians company!

Marshall's got his style, Hugh's got his style. I seek my own in their shadows.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Narrating Julien

Here is what Peter Brooks says about Stendhalian narrators:

The narrator constantly judges Julien in relation to his chosen models, measuring his distance from them, noting his failures to understand them, his false attributions of success to them, and the fictionality of the constructions he builds from them. As Victor Brombert has so well pointed out, the Stendhalian narrator typically uses hypothetical grammatical forms, asserting that if only Julien had understood such and such, he would have done so and so, with results different from those to which he condemns himself.

Peter Brooks, Reading for the Plot (1984)

The narrator's pedagogic desire aimed both at Julien and the readers?

Friday, January 02, 2009

Spinoza & co.

[...] many rabbis kept their distance from the Judaizing Marranos, refusing to recognize them as Jews. It is ironic that while these Marranos were risking their lives in order to be faithful to what they thought was the religion of their forefathers, the official Jewish world refused to welcome them as brethren, at least not without misgivings and thorough examination.

Yirmiyahu Yovel, Spinoza and Other Heretics (1989)

Yovel's book is one that I've been meaning to read in earnest, but haven't been able to find time to do so. Full of dazzling moments. My knowledge of Spinoza is only rudimentary, this will one day be my Spinoza 101 (more than Deleuze's books).

Another very attractive paragraph:

Spinoza was not the first philosopher of immenence; pre-Socratics, Epicureans, and Stoics had preceded him in ancient times. But with Spinoza the idea of immanence, powerfully systematized, re-emerged after having been discredited and repressed by the overpowering weight of medieval Christianity.


Spinozism is so different from what we usually picture on hearing the word Judeo-Christian monotheism. Something to be done on its affinity with some aspects of hinduism and buddhism. That, of course, must have been done already, but I, this I, have not. Hence this note.

*Yovel is the founder of the Jerusalem Spinoza Institute and professor (former?) at New School for Social Research in New York.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Reconsidering inhabitation

Happy new year to y'all.

The year 2009 marks the twentieth anniversary of my moving to Nuevo Mexico and to my beloved Albuquerque... Time has passed, I got older, but no wiser. It's so nice to start anew anyways, or to pretend to do so, at this beginning of the year. On recommence toujours, and that's (as Stanley Cavell once said) very American. This possiblitiy of renewal is at the core of what is America.

This year I will daily update this blog with notes from my personal library, in view of connecting various strains of thought seemingly unrelated one from the other. This will be an experimental field of the CONNECTIVE HUMANITIES, or so I hope.

"As a result, the philosophers who followed Plato and Aristotle, if they still sought balance and fullness of life, no longer dared to seek it in the city. They betrayed their own creed by dodging their civic responsibilities or by turning to an idealized empire or a purely heavenly polity for confirmation; whereas those who took on the burdens of commerce, politics, and war had no place in their muddy routine for the highest possibilities of personal development. The monuments of Greek art, which we now prize, were valid expressions of this life at its loftiest moments. But in part they were likewise material substitutes for a spirit that, had it known the secret of its own perpetuation, might have made an even more valuable contribution both to urbanism and to human development."

Lewis Mumford, The City in History (1961)

Mumford will definitely be a chapter in my future project on American thoughtscape, along with Loren Eiseley, Rachel Carson, Gary Snyder among others. This also has been on my mind for a couple of decades without materializing itself... But I sense that things are beginning to take shape. By 2018 this will see the day (promises, promises...).