Tuesday, December 27, 2011

the forsaken toys of others.

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

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

a vagabond melancholy.

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

such moments in gestures.

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

too light to sink, too faint to float.

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.