Thursday, October 9, 2014
...the principle that children tell little more than animals,
for what comes to them they accept as eternally established.
- Edmund Wilson, The Wound and the Bow
- Robert Bresson, Au Hasard Balthazar
Monday, September 15, 2014
It was so utterly wonderful to find I could go so heartily & headily mad; for you know I had been priding myself on my peculiar sanity! And it was more wonderful yet to find the madness made up into things so dreadful, out of things so trivial. One of the most provoking and disagreeable spectres was developed out of the firelight on my mahogany bedpost - and my fate, for all futurity, seemed continually to turn on the humor of dark personages who were materially nothing but stains of damp on the ceiling. But the sorrowfullest part of the matter was, and is, that while my illness at Matlock encouraged me by all its dreams in after work, this one has done nothing but humiliate and terrify me; and leaves me nearly unable to speak any more except of the natures of stones and flowers.
- John Ruskin, from a letter to Thomas Carlyle, 23 June 1878
- Pressed flower from Rosa Luxemburg's Breslau Penitentiary Herbarium. In: Rosa's Letters. Mousse Publishing, 2011
Thursday, September 4, 2014
In Walser, an absolute sense of decency about language does not let agony express itself. The reality is made manifest, the fact of agony, not agony. It is necessary to speak of things, not of words. Marvelously, everything that is utterable is said when one simply states the case.
- Massimo Cacciari, Songs of the Departed in POSTHUMOUS PEOPLE. Vienna at the Turning Point. Stanford University Press, 1996
- Walser in Herisau, 1949 image taken from 50 Watts
Saturday, February 22, 2014
Jorge Luis Borges - Benedetto Croce
Friday, May 3, 2013
On the evening before that most important day of my life, in Würzburg, I went for a walk. When the sun went down, it seemed as though my happiness were sinking with it. I was horrified to think that I might be forced to part with everything, everything of importance to me. I was walking back to the city, lost in my own thoughts, through an arched gateway. Why, I asked myself, does this arch not collapse, since after all it has no support? It remains standing, I answered, because all the stones want to fall down at the same time - and from this thought I derived an indescribable heartening consolation, which stayed with me right up to the decisive moment: I too would not collapse, even if all my support were removed.
Heinrich von Kleist, Letter to Wilhelmine von Zenge, November 16, 18, 1800
Image: Ravenna, Kirche San Vitale. Geweiht 547, byzantinisch. Kapitell im Chor.
Saturday, April 13, 2013
At the age of ten he constructed a working model of a sewing machine out of bits of wood and wire.
It was not true that he couldn't hear, simply that he wouldn't listen.
He took The Brothers Karamazov to the front.
Continued to wear his uniform for many years after the war.
His sense of humor was "heavy".
And this is how it is: if only you do not try to utter what is unutterable then nothing gets lost. But the unutterable will be - unutterably - contained in what has been uttered!
I am not a religious man but I cannot help seeing every problem from a religious point of view.
What we say will be easy, but to know why we say it will be very difficult.
The solution of the problem of life is to be seen in the disappearance of the problem.
The inexpressible (that which seems mysterious to me, geheimnisvoll, and that I am not capable of expressing) provides the ground upon which all that I am able to express acquires meaning.
The sense of the world must lie outside the world.
What is good is also divine. Queer as it sounds, that sums up my ethics.
A whole generation of disciples was able to take Wittgenstein for a positivist because he has something of enormous importance in common with the positivists: he draws the line between what we can speak about and what we must be silent about just as they do. The difference is only that they have nothing to be silent about. Positivism holds - and this is its essence - that what we can speak about is all that matters in life. Whereas Wittgenstein passionately believes that all that really matters in human life is precisely what, in his view, we must be silent about. (Paul Engelmann)
I ought to have done something positive with my life, to have become a star in the sky.
His last words were: "Tell them I've had a wonderful life."
- Text and images from:
Ludwig Wittgenstein The Duty of Genius by Ray Monk
Letters from Ludwig Wittgenstein with a Memoir by Paul Engelmann
Saturday, March 9, 2013
I should like to erect here a modest stele to the memory of Sir Arthur Helps (1813-1875), a secretary and confidant of Queen Victoria. It was probably he who invented the marvelously useful verb to disinvent. The only illustration of this word in the Oxford English Dictionary (Vol. III) is a quotation from Helps dated 1868: "I would disinvent telegraphic communication." The word is not listed in Vol. I of the Supplement (1972), but a recent use will be found s.v. fantasy in the same volume. If I were younger, I would found the Coverers' and Disinventors' Club.
Erwin Chargaff, HERACLITEAN FIRE. Sketches from a Life before Nature.
(Footnote in the Trembling of the Balance chapter)
Image from the German edition: Das Feuer des Heraklit (KLETT-COTTA, Vierte Auflage, 1988)
Thursday, February 14, 2013
A MILLION NIGHTINGALES ARE SINGING
The Stars. Blue. Expanse.
Flaming song of stars!
A million nightingales are singing.
Springtide light is flashing.
Myriads of eyelashes are flaring up in quivers.
The green happiness of spring-night banquets
Commences its own rutting shine.
Balmy showers take their magic turn:
Millions of nightingales are singing.
Do I recognize a friendly ghost?
I will earnestly contend for it.
The sign wants to be carved into perceiving:
Who knows when my dream-life will be blazing?
Ghosts resemble our gentle animals,
They are fast to sense the nature of attraction.
They heave and hover and weave about
And keep us very gingerly under their spell.
I do not want to lose this light-swarming silence.
An old theurgy must stir here soon from gentleness.
Millions of nightingales are singing.
Kindred voices are urging us through the night.
It seems a moon is smoldering arcanely.
But the night she is too warm, so full of breathing pleasure!
Myriads of sparks fly as if in rut to seek each other.
They whirr back and forth and yet still as a part of spring.
The ghost of spring, the ghost of spring is prowling in the wood-lot!
The broad-leaved forest can wander and anticipate itself,
It sways and waltzes to all the old ways of transformation;
The night is laughing: Big Dipper's daring, Libra is keeping watch.
Here are flashing myriads of dance-besotted queries -
Millions of nightingales are singing.
Millionen Nachtigallen Schlagen
Translated from Theodor Däubler's DAS STERNENKIND.
For my Kirston, on this day, and for bringing his book to me.
An edition of Däubler's poems in letterpress available from us soon.
An edition of Däubler's poems in letterpress available from us soon.
Wednesday, January 9, 2013
The successive thump of logs on the paving of the courtyards. They were unloaded from carts, house by house, as the cold weather loomed. The wood fell on the ground and announced winter. Baudelaire stayed awake. There was no need of anything else but that sound - dull, repetitive. The sun already knows that soon it will be imprisoned "in its polar inferno." It is as if auscultating labored breathing: "Trembling. I listen to every log that falls."
Anatole France, with the amiable skepticism that sometimes prevented him from understanding, recounted that one day a sailor showed Baudelaire an African fetish, "a monstrous little head carved out of a piece of wood by a poor negro." It's really ugly, said the sailor. And he threw it away in scorn. "Watch out!" said Baudelaire anxiously. "It might be the one true god!" It was his firmest declaration of faith.
The two last fragments from LA FOLIE BAUDELAIRE
by Roberto Calasso
(Image: Félix Nadar - Charles Baudelaire au Fauteuil, 1855 - Paris, Musée d'Orsay)
Monday, June 4, 2012
Tuesday, December 27, 2011
Your letter has drawn me from the solitude in which I had shut myself up for nearly nine months, and from which I found it hard to stir. You will not guess what I have been about. I will tell you for such things do not happen every day. I have been making a list of from two to three hundred radical words of the Russian language, and have had them translated into as many languages and jargons as I could find. Their number exceeds already the second hundred. Every day I took one of these words and wrote it out in all the languages which I could collect. This has taught me that Celtic is like the Ostiakian: that what means sky in one language means cloud, fog, vault, in others; that the word God in certain dialects means Good, the Highest, in others, sun or fire...I asked Professor Pallas to come to me, and after making an honest confession of my sin, we agreed to publish these collections, and thus make them useful to those who like to occupy themselves with the forsaken toys of others.
- Letter from Catherine the Great, dated 9 May 1785, from Curious Versions of Modernity, D.l. Martin, MIT Press 2011
Thursday, November 10, 2011
Mayer André Marcel Schwob was born into a family of rabbis and doctors. The mother, Mathilde, was a Cahun, descendant of Caym de Sainte-Menehould, who had followed Joinville across the sea and — it is said — had, in the presence of the holy Jean de Acri, nursed and healed him from cholera. Through his mother's grandfather Anselm, Rabbi of the Jewish community Hochfelden, Schwob had inherited the wide brow, sensual mouth, and a half-sad smile in his eyes. Marcel had the pride of his clan and frequently preferred not to consort with some people of his race. Names, words, and legends were rushing through his brain. At three years of age he spoke German and English. There was a great silence in the house at Rue de I Eglise in Chaville. The mother tiptoed up the stairs, and even the Prussians, as they were stealing wine from the cellar, behaved very tenderly towards the all too precocious child, who was suffering from brain fever. During his sickness, while he was lying in bed with closed shutters, Marcel continued to set out on long journeys. He was somewhat rachitic and dreamed of swimming across the English Channel. Upon his arrival, there was Jules Verne, who embraced him. Another friend, with whom he had conversations as soon as he had scared off the German tutor, was Edgar Allan Poe. He put his little table in order, prepared his room for the encounter. He immersed himself in conversations with Edgar and Jules and, consequently, he despised his peers and their childlike stammering. His concentration was so great, that during these soliloquies he did not notice the hours that passed, nor the years. All of a sudden he was fifteen years old and devoured the Grammaire Comparee of Auguste Brachet. His uncle, Léon Cahun, author of the Vie Juive, became his protector and teacher. Who, incidentally, could be Schwob's teacher if not a Cahun. Conservator at the Bibliothèque Mazarine, he knew the histories of adventurers, of sailors and soldiers, he had traveled through Asia Minor, along the Euphrates. He knew very much, even in Uygur.
At the Lycée, Marcel met Georges Guieysse, a strange and melancholic classmate. They quickly became inseparable and worked together. Each of Marcel’s pages goes through Georges’ hands, and like a renaissance humanist Marcel writes him letters in Greek, with greetings in Arabic, or just a simple shake hands. Marcel confides in him that he is often incredibly tired, thoughts slip away, memory is gone. Why not go as kitchen boys to Australia or Canada? Regrettably, George had seemed absent for some time. When they saw each other, he left it to Marcel to invent itineraries, which they would have embarked upon eventually. He sat huddled in a corner and watched the scholar, prey to the spleen. On 7 May 1889 Georges Guieysse shot a bullet into his heart. He was twenty years old.
From then on Marcel resided in the sober and often empty halls and archives of the Bibliothèque Mazarine, where he unearthed documents about Villion and the Coquillards. He became a writer. One evening in autumn, when the rain is already cold, he encounters a little working girl of childlike intellect, Louise, and falls in love. She is thin, haggard from consumption, a poor little girl with chestnut colored hair and vague, mocking eyes, who writes letters to him in colored pencils. Marcel is delighted by the little silly things that Louise always tells him. For example: My Loulou, my hair has fallen out, cover your nails, which grow, and the little flakes of your skin, which are falling. I have a tummy ache. I have sown back the nose of my doll, now it is shorter and also thicker, and I forgot to leave holes for the nostrils. I will continue my silhouettes later, but I must have lost my scissors. Don’t forget to bring me another pair when you come, that you may help me perhaps. Pichciquinki.
The scholar had become addicted to playing. His pockets were filled with cotton, nails, and colorfully hemmed fabric. He spoke in falsetto with the publishers of magazines, whom he despised, and he smiled a lot. Meanwhile Marcel worriedly took care of the girl, for her condition was serious. The doctors were dismayed by Louise's surroundings, the little room without a breath of air, and only one small window that was always closed. Louise smoked one cigarette after another, cigars, Marcel’s pipe, and always drank coffee. Soon Louise was dead. After the burial the unhappy writer returns to the room, bedding all the dolls into a trunk, he takes them home. His friends watch over him, for as soon as Marcel is alone he becomes afraid of the dead one dying again. He sees her ghost laugh in the corners of the house. His tearful eyes keep suggesting new appearances. Marcel locks the scissors and the pocket knife into a little box and throws the nails and cotton scraps away. He becomes superstitious and longs for sleep. But sleep brings the echo of arrant laughter to him. Did the girl grow up in death, have the tomfooleries gone? The next morning, in the mirror, he finds that his hair has fallen out overnight, that his forehead has become wider still.
He becomes accustomed to morphine. These are moments of magnificent solitude. When the friends have left, he bolts the doors and windows, no sound gets through. They are the everlasting hours, eternity piled in layers in his room. Afterwards he became the great sheik of knowledge and of the grimoires, as Doctor J.C. Madrus called him, dedicating the fifteenth volume of his translation of The Book of the Thousand Nights and One Night to him. Madrus has a honey-sweet voice and his laughter makes Schwob lose his patience now and then. He was dressed in long coats with patched seams and dangling buttons, but the inside pockets were filled with gold. In the remarkable stories that Madrus was telling, tales of money kept recurring. Schwob soon preferred to restrain this friendship. He thought of writing Vies Imaginaires, of men that lived like dogs and holy women fooled by cunning monks, and those who curse themselves, yearning to fall lower still. This was the society that Schwob now mingled with. He noticed that he smiled when he read his lines: “Don’t embrace the dead, for they suffocate the living…the dead bring pestilence.” Schwob was already sick and knew that he would never get well again.
In a pavilion at the 1900 Exposition Universelle in Paris, Marcel saw a Chinaman named Ting, and he employed him. He resolved to set out for the places of Robert Louis Stevenson, “55 percent artist, 45 percent adventurer,” with whom he had corresponded. Schwob and Ting set sail on board the Ville de la Ciotat on course for the Australian sea. When he heard of Schwob's departure, Jules Renard, one of his acquaintances, noted: “He will live his stories before he dies.’ Greasy functionaries strolled upon the ship, colonial civil servants who kept entering into conversations, and a not very tidy family with four thickset daughters with heavy red braids and an albino son, who looked like a plump farm-girl, dressed like a man. The journey soon seemed much too long. In Colombo he beheld, fatigued, the Babel of religions. He watched caravans of men praying in a cave and saw the feast of the Tamils. Increasingly more tired, he was breathing laboriously, the warm wind covering him with dust, gnats tacked to his skin. The landscape often appeared ominous to him, Australia’s long beaches white as death, with shrubs that swayed like scalped hair. They call him tulapala, talk-man in Samoa, coercing him to tell them tales deep into the night. He shakes the hand of king Mataafa, who resembles Bismarck. Schwob did not see Stevenson’s grave, on top of Mount Vaea, between the flowers. He found not what he was seeking. A certain captain Crawshaw showed him postcards from Stevenson. In one of them he advises secrecy and digression, asking him to catch Wurmbrandt in Toga, and to bring him. Wurmbrandt was an Australian adventurer who appealed to Stevenson. This pilgrimage to the shadows of enchantment had come to nothing. What remained was a catalog of aimless wanderings. He had met whiny swindlers, who dragged themselves about, suggesting business, wrecks of charlatans, and wormy duplicates of the rogues and criminals who he had always been so familiar with. Thus offended by the crowd, he yearned for his room in Paris.
He locked himself up in the house to breathe in his return. Océanide, Vaililoa, Captain Crabbe were the titles of the books he would never write. And never did he want to leave again. He felt like a “vivisected dog.” Why don’t the dead return, to converse for half an hour with the invalids? His face changed color a little, became a golden mask. The eyes remained imperiously open. Nobody succeeded in closing them. The room reeked of mourning.
Translated by Herbert Pfostl from Isabel Matthes’ German version of Fleur Jaeggy’s essay - published in DER PFAHL I, Matthes & Seitz Verlag, 1987
Dedicated to my Kirston.
Friday, October 21, 2011
...der Heilige gibt den halben Mantel, die Gottheit den ganzen Schleier.
...the holy man gives half of his coat, divinity the whole veil.
- Franz Hessel, Ermunterung zum Genuss.
- Southern Netherlands, Reliquary of the Virgin's Veil, early 15th century, detail
thank you, woolgathersome, for bringing this image to me.
Saturday, October 15, 2011
There on the pier, stabbed by an ice pick, the Empress Elizabeth, symbol of the oldest European monarchy, which must die at the villainous hand. The contemptible Lucheni raved about making noise and killing someone in the public eye. But it was really the enduring vagabond melancholy of Elizabeth Wittelsbach that, in the mysterious dialogue of souls, summoned the madman to Geneva from Piedmont and anointed him as her assassin. For that matter, even the Italian government was a Lucheni. (Perhaps in its death wish, Vienna itself summoned him.)
- Guido Ceronetti, The Silence of the Body
Tuesday, October 11, 2011
I have read now quickly, now slowly through the whole of your wonderful book.
What at first would appear to be an Ars Morendi
Suddenly shifts into alternative contemplations
On history, literature, religion:
All products of the Self.
The resonance is of one who, because of age,
Contemplates his own mortality
And tries to persuade himself
That though the end is the end
Life is not pointless.
The art of book-making shines on every page
Reflecting the author’s own claim to immortality
With rare choices and artful placement
On beautiful paper softly radiating a luminous sepia.
- Glenn Watkins on To Die No More
Glenn Watkins is the coeditor of the complete works of Gesualdo and author of Gesualdo: The Man and His Music (1973) and The Gesualdo Hex: Music, Myth and Memory (2010). He is also the author of Soundings: Music in the 20th Century (1988); Pyramids at the Louvre (1994); and Proof Through the Night: Music and the Great War (2003).
Monday, April 25, 2011
If one of those little flakes of micasand, hurried in tremulous spangling along the bottom of the ancient river, too light to sink, too faint to float, almost too small for sight, could have had a mind given to it as it was at last borne down with its kindred dust into the abysses of the stream, and laid, (would it not have thought?) for a hopeless eternity, in the dark ooze, the most despised, forgotten, and feeble of all earth's atoms; incapable of any use or change; not fit, down there in the diluvial darkness, so much as to help an earth-wasp to build its nest, or feed the first fibre of a lichen;
— what would it have thought, had it been told that one day, knitted into a strength as of imperishable iron, rustless by the air, infusible by the flame, out of the substance of it, with its fellows, the axe of God should hew that Alpine tower; that against it—poor, helpless, mica flake! — the wild north winds should rage in vain; beneath it— low-fallen mica flake —the snowy hills should lie bowed like flocks of sheep, and the kingdoms of the earth fade away in unregarded blue; and around it—weak, wave-drifted mica flake! — the great war of the firmament should burst in thunder, and yet stir it not; and the fiery arrows and angry meteors of the night fall blunted back from it into the air; and all the stars in the clear heaven should light, one by one as they rose, new cressets upon the points of snow that fringed its abiding place on the imperishable spire?
John Ruskin, Modern painters, Volume 4
/Portrait of Miss Rose La Touche, 1874.
dedicated to kirston of woolgathersome.
Saturday, October 30, 2010
“He became frightened of flowers because they grew so slowly that he couldn’t tell what they planned to do.”
These wine-leaf-brown prose fragments need no page numbering, these chance discoveries connect one's own feelings to those of kindred spirits and now fill the room, a place of chamotte-golden daylight, they vibrate and swing, are highly vivacious attractors of thought, grains of salt to garland the sting of death, nourishing light set against the dark premonition of a final end to the godless Western world and its consuming despair.
They can be found in a sensuous treasure chest of similar dimensions, weight, and texture as a smallish cigar-case, one that might hold five Havanas. A deliberate piece of art, a vignette of death, sways in relief at the cover’s middle: the stylized figure of a doomed little ship on calm seas, emblem and symbol of the human soul equipped for certain death.
Its cross is proud and questioning simultaneously- though ever dependent on a deeper center, from which its perpendicularity is derived and its echo resounds.
From its pale blue frame, it partakes in the triumph of the already-dead: Nevermore will we die.
Calm and silence, time’s greatest tools, heal everything- because time gets lost in itself, recedes completely, forgets itself- only thus is the wide sea of soul released.
That is the promise kept by this little book, this compendium of thoughts and images materialized from realms of the in-between.
Toward the end of the book, mysterious credits embrace the thinkers who brought forth its fruit. There are great names, who here withdraw behind the greatness of their words- as if all of them were written by one single man, one single soul expressing itself in the book.
Whoever is willing to take it up, gains the self and the silence to confront horror.
The blossoms of a black spring: the intimation that the very first things will be met again at the very end.
And not as religion would have these things, but as they are held commonly, as every person may perceive them, coming into flower so "slowly that he couldn't tell what they planned to do..."
Here everything is true and deep. No idea harasses, no image squints in judgment at an observer. They are sufficient to their own ends and, self-sustaining, reach far into open space- even into one’s own thinking!
They give themselves freely to one who understands love. One who searches using the same questions, scouring the immeasurable for faint traces, clues which are held dearer than one’s own decay. For ars moriendi has always begun with the first heartbeat, and they who make life ravishing, exuberant, and worth living belong to a unique school of magic, whose alumni are only reared correctly on a diet of the entirely other-than-ordinary - the Different required by death.
A reliable friend is death, his companions reliable friends. In each present, passing moment, the dead and the living mold this world jointly. This view is the only possible basis for action in a world so nearly blind.
The hide of the blind pony acts as blanket to the gathered people. Together they acquire the horse’s strength- unending fortitude and vigor. Oh, they stagger in the lurching movements of purposeful action, they climb, they copulate, they shelter within themselves, they dis-mean, they mis-live, they cannot recognize the conditions of their existence.
Death finally removes the blanket, allowing them to see freely.
The images in the book show such sights. Out of the mist - out of these white shadows surrounding the self-searcher - emerge dark forebodings- aquarelles possessing the soul's tenderness, violence and loving clear-sight.
Again and again, the animals in the paintings, who seem quite unloosed from mortality, are envoys of the other side.
If they die, they die only allegorically, calmly.
If there is drama, it is only in our eyes, the eyes of the human spectator.
Perhaps such is required for us to empathize and to understand their message.
Again and again, the ships, which we ourselves are.
Again and again, man in all his magnificence and sorrow, his doubts and wild errors.
And - surprising and novel - this whole book intrinsically rubs against the grain: nevermore will we die...
Much more than a book. A rescinding of time and space, of reason and logic, limitation and finitude, of the lust for a future and validation by a past.
There is a totally different and new space-time continuum in these pages, breathing eternity out into eternity. Whoever wills is in the heart of it: nave, navel, naval, ship.
Where we come from and where we go remain numinous.
But in tender arms we sway and are secure.
This book will accompany me until I see the archetypes of its images.
It is - to stout hearts - everything in a nutshell. It is - to the rational - a font of steady confrontation. To the dying - a treasure hoard beyond description. To the most vital among us - a very, very good compass.
Compass? Yes. A compassion they must dare to aim inward.
"Among the dead are thousands of beautiful women."
- Susanne Bummel-Vohland
translated from the German by Kristofor Minta and Susanne Bummel-Vohland