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Showing posts from September 2, 2007

the triumph of happiness: a tragedy

Running yesterday, I came up with a brilliant title for my little livret on happiness. Check this out: The triumph of happiness: a tragedy. W..well, at least it seemed brilliant at the one mile sweat point. I meant to organize my notes and begin my essay while I was in Atlanta, but this didn’t happen. While the great midnights sometimes happen in guest bedrooms, or in clinics, or at desks so unfamiliar as not to be invisibly chained with the thousand and one reminders of failure and projects half finished, my great midnights now happen, usually, between eleven a.m. and two p.m. I grow old, I grow old, I will wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled. Now, in my last two posts, I translated bits of an essay by Stendhal to recall us to a historical factum: that a sharp, or even brilliant observer of the four most developed European societies in 1830 – those of England, France, Italy and Germany – registered a distinct change in the intellectual atmosphere of the time, and connected that cha

After a midnight inspiration - Stendhal, 1829

Stendhal had a very busy year in 1829. He was finishing up his book, Walks in Rome. He was involved, according to his first biographer, R. Colomb, in the conclave that elected Pius VIII. And he had a famous night of inspiration on October 25 – one of those great midnights. It was on such a midnight that Kafka wrote The Judgment. Any writer would give up years for such midnights. They don’t come often. He had read an anecdote in the Gazette des Tribunaux about the attempted murder of a married woman, and it suddenly leaped out at him that this murder was ‘the real thing’. As with James, Stendhal’s inspirations came from anecdotes. Stendhal, then, is at his intellectual height when he wrote his sardonic article on Transcendental Philosophy. It was published in the Revue de Paris, in response to an attack on Stendhal as a partisan of Helvetius – an old “perruque”, as he puts it. The figure of Louaut, the old Napoleonic conscript crippled by attacks of rheumatism and left to suffer in s

lieutenant louaut - Stendhal's story

Okay, campers. I promised this a month ago. In 1829, Stendhal wrote a pieced entitled “Transcendental philosophy”. In a note under the title, he wrote that the phrase was a ‘pleasantry”, and that he valued clarity too much to begin with an obscurity. Which, of course, clues us in: Stendhal was ever the child of the Revolution, which meant the child of Rousseau and Helvetius. Hegel, for him, was a mystagogue. The piece consists of a letter written by an old conscript of the Emperor’s armies, the son of a fisherman who swam, when he was younger, like a fish. He includes this revelation in the first paragraph for a reason: he has a story to tell about swimming. Here’s how it goes: “The other day, I was walking towards the Jena bridge, on the side of the champ de Mars. There was a heavy wind, making waves on the Seine and reminding me of the sea. I was following a little boat filled with sand up to the brim, which was attempting to traverse the last arch of the bridge. Suddenly it

zazie dans la banlieue

Well, I’m back chez the shambles I call home. Of course, my suitcase is out there on its own, in that black hole called American Airlines, but I hope with all my pea pickin’ heart that I get the fucking thing at some point in the near future. LI has always been an urban guy. Right, we did our Thoreau time in Pecos New Mexico, but the horror the horror of heating the place – a house that originally aspired to be a restaurant, developing an odd allergy to insulation along the way – and the distance I had to drive, me and my tithe of CO2 for the fifty mile roundtrip into Santa Fe to support my unpublished masterpieces, plus of course the curse of the House of Usher that seemed to dog me, D. and H. as we fumbled through the outlier lifestyle of artists, will keep me from ever repeating that mistake. Probably that sentence will bring down all kinds of curses on my head, by the way. The sacrifices I make to amuse, god damn it! But mainly, from the sprout time, I was attuned to urban locale

lawn 2: last hydromulching season at marenbad

Lawn 2 Myself, I was a grassman a long time ago. I got a job in Shreveport with an alcoholic Jehovah’s Witness landscaper, a man with a permanent keg in his kitchen, a warehouse full of fire ant infested sod. However, where my man was really 20th century was the pride and joy of his small business, the hydromulch truck. Now, I’d done landscaping time before, in Atlanta. Back in the pre-Reagan era, landscaping was the post-hippy job to have. My first day on the crew, I hopped into the pickup, which was loaded up in back with push mowers, blowers, rakes and shovels, and the guy at the wheel casually rolled up a doobie and offered me a hit. A fine way to take in the glories of the unfurling Atlanta morning. Yes, in those days LI would actually spring out of bed at, like, six thirty or something to get to work before eight. Clearly, now, I can see this as a form of abuse, although one alas that has still not been organized and baptized in the DSM-IV. Fuck rosy fingered aurora, give me a

lawn 1

In Michael Pollen’s memoir, Second Nature: A Gardner’s Education, which is an account of his experience gardening in an old bit of Housatanic Valley farm he and his wife bought in the eighties, while they were living in Manhattan, begins with the ur-suburban experience of lawn mowing…. At least, ur-suburban for a certain generation. LI’s old man was a farmer wantabee from the day the farm he owned, outside of Syracuse, New York, arm wrestled him into bankruptcy, two out of three falls. Fate shoved him into the heating and air field, and the rest was history – actually, a history that placed him and his family, Yankees, in the suburbs of a Dixie city during the sixties, when the South was breaking out of its apartheid slumbers, and large numbers of Yankees were changing the demographic. So, coming home from another day of dealing with idiots who hadn’t checked the pressure on the lines, miscalculated roof tonnage for their units, or had otherwise fucked up, as was the wont of the whole