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revery on transcendence

  Borachio, thou art read In nature and her large philosophy. Observ'st thou not the very self-same course Of revolution, both in man and beast? -          The Atheist’s Tragedy   What is the state of transcendence today? -          One of Derrida’s favorite gambits was to open an article with a totally queer or off kilter sentence: Que vais-je pouvoir inventer encore? For instance. This seems a phrase broken off from a first draft, or an interior monologue, or something eavesdropped upon. Some event to which one was not privy. It sets us, if we are not so irritated that we do not read further, on the path of estrangement, which means hopping, skipping and jumping to an unfamiliar rhythm. -          “They are like unto children sitting in the marketplace, and calling one to another, and saying, We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned to you, and ye have not wept.” -          So: what is the state of transcendence today – as opposed to, say, on
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variations on the pathetic fallacy

  Although we were going upriver to Blois, that day, we had a couple of hours to kill, so we decided to take the train downriver to Saumur and poke around. We got out at the station and headed up the hill to the bridge, which is mighty long. Its left flank crosses one branch of the Loire river, then it runs through an island, then it crosses the right bank of the river. Saumur is a physically capacious town, with an infrastructure, as a newspaper article in the Petit Temps, December 9, 1893, noted, that could easily support 100,000 people – but like the clothes of   a person who has some wasting disease, the infrastructure is much too large for its current size. What happened to Saumur was that Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes, which had the effect of outlawj g or severely restricting Protestantism. Since half of Saumur at that time was Protestant,   most of the population left. It was the worst thing ever to happen to Saumur. Even the owners of the story-book castle above the t

a perfect novel: Queneau's A Hard Winter

  In Obitor , Mircea Cartarescu’s Proust-like novel of growing up in Bucharest, the narrator describes watching a small bug cross the expanse of two pages of Doestoevsky’s The Double.   The bug is, of course, unaware of the characters in The Double, its living space: It patiently makes its way over the hillocks and ravines of the bad quality paper, tunnels into the pages, then reappears in the yellow light without according the least attention to the complicated psychological processes of Goliadkin, to the black print, larger than it, which codifies them.” There is a kind of novel I love that does something like this with its characters. In Joyce’s Ulysses, the characters traverse the Odyssey without having any idea that this is how their motions on that June day in 1904 are being accorded – at the most, some of them think they are role-playing Hamlet. In Under the Volcano, a whole astrological, alchemical and numerological world is expressed in the drunken journey towards death o

the time is here

  In the Dictionary of Untranslateables – a title that doubles down on the oxymoron – the section on Times, as temps in French, describes, although it doesn’t explain, the remarkable doubleness of the term for both time and weather. The “time and the weather” – when I was a kid in Atlanta, you could call a number and a recorded voice would tell you both the time and the weather. The time, in English, is connected by the most obscure of routes to weather – in as much as it is connected to the sun, divided into A.M. and P.M. However, most philosophers who have approached time ignore the weather. That the Latin tempestus and the English Tempest have, ticking in them, a term for time is one of those etymological chances, as meaningless, to the philosopher, as   the chance meeting, on a dissecting table, of a sewing machine and an umbrella. But this decade is proving that time, human time, and the weather are so connected that one can feel the juncture in one’s blood. We’re in Montpelli

a metaphor from Shklovsky

  In the book of interviews that Serena Vitale  conducted with Viktor Shklovksy, he says a wonderful thing about poetry, quoting Mandelstam: “… poetry is the “deep joy of recognition.” That’s it. The poet searches, gropes in the dark, and my dear contemporaries, so prolific in words, the structuralists, who filled the world with terminology . . . You see, they don’t know this thing, this affliction of the presentiment of art and the joy of recognition. Only the great poets do. They know they’re going to write. They don’t know what will come out, whether it will be a boy or a girl, they only know that it will be poetry. Only the poet knows this tortuous search for the word, the physical joy of “recognition,” and sometimes, also the anguish of defeat. Again, take Mandelstam: “I have forgotten the word I wanted to say. A blind swallow returns to the palace of shadows . . .” I knew Mandelstam, I remember him rushing down the stairs of the House of Arts declaiming these verses. You see, a p

two cheers for the inventor of the underground: Constance Garnett!

  Monroe Beardsley wrote a long and rather brilliant essay about the Underground metaphor in Dostoevsky in which he acknowledges, as an aside, that Doestoevsky’s Notes from the Underground was actually named something like Notes from under the Floorboards, or from a Mousehole. I bow down to Dostoevsky, but sometimes a translator should be her due. It was Constant Garnett who “mistranslated” that title. I believe Nabokov somewhere takes a shot at Garnett. Frankly, Garnett’s title is an improvement. Dostoevsky’s reputation worldwide depends, in part, on the fact that the “Underground” is a much more powerful image than “the Mousehole.” True, one of Kafka’s great short stories is called “The Burrow”, but it is not one of Kafka’s most known short stories, I think. How did Constance Garnett bring the Underground to Dostoevsky – a pairing that seems absolutely appropriate? I imagine – I have no letter or diary entry about this – but I imagine this is a case of cross-pollination. Consta

Our little crew of relativists and scoundrels

  I am among the crew of nominalists, relativists and other scoundrels, who think that universals are made, not given. This crew is often accused of being insufficiently condemnatory of the Holocaust and the Gulag – although the people who make these accusations often shuffle their feet when it comes to the genocide in the Trans-Atlantic slavery trade and the wholesale mass slaughter of indigenous people and the theft of their territory. The latter group often wants us to remember the good things about, say, Thomas Jefferson, and not the fact that he lived on a kidnapped and enslaved work force, and chose his mistress, aka raped, among that work force. The idea is you absolutely condemn Hitler and Stalin, on the one hand, and eyeroll about giving America back to the Indian nations, on the other. Nominalists can be as excited in their denunciations of Auschwitz as anyone else. It is just that they don’t see the invocation of the absolute, here, as doing any real moral work. Not that t