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Showing posts from February 1, 2009

the image of LI's art

The symbol of Irish art, for Stephen Daedelus, was the “cracked looking glass of a servant.” Ah, those mirrors – surely Buck Mulligan’s was related to Stendhal’s, who wrote, in The Red and the Black, that a novel is a mirror that one walks along a street. But such handling of mirrors requires care – they so easily slip out of one’s hands. And once they get a crack in them, the crack will leap out, like an imp, from realism to the real. For instance, Stendhal’s phrase is actually attributed to someone else – Saint-Réal. And who was Saint-Réal? Some critics say that he was no person, but Stendhal himself – who thus quotes a saint of reality who doesn’t exist, carrying a mirror in which he doesn’t look at himself - for what would he see - down a street. Lawrence Scher, in his book on French realism, writes: “by all accounts, the reference to Saint-Réal is spurious, for the quote has never been found in Saint-Réal’s work; thus we can immediately consider the remark to be an ironic commen

spies from the house of love

In Gunzberg, on his itinerary down the Danube, Claudio Magris was reminded of one of its most famous citizens, Joseph Mengele. Mengele was hidden by the monks at Gunzberg after WWII, who then helped him ratline it to South America. In 1959, he was so confident that Adenauer’s Germany wasn’t too interested in his ass that he returned for his father’s funeral. Upon Mengele’s story – the banal bureaucrat who used to “hurl babies into the fire, tear infants from their mother’s breast and dash their brains out, extract fetuses from the womb… gouge out eyes, which he kept threaded on strings and hung on the walls of his room, and then sent to Prof. Otran van Vershauer (Director of the Berlin Institute of Anthropology, and a professor at Munster University even after 1953)”, Magris hangs his complaint about the cult of transgression. Magris starts by laying down a liberal principle that perhaps two thirds of Americans would disagree with – “As long as transgression is applied to codes of s

Jan Potocki among the Khazars

“… we arrived at last at [the aoul] of Din-Islam, where we saw from a long ways off a crowd that parted before us. Our first homage was for the troop of young girls who had gathered together on a hillside around a swing; but at our approach these savage persons quit their games, and in advancing we saw no more than a pile of silk veils. Then Tumen addressed himself to them in the Nogai language, making them a compliment in the following sense: that they need have no fear of us, seeing that we had not come to do them any harm, but only to ask them to dance. The gentle words, accompanied by the music of the kabour, tamed these young beauties, who deigned to lift their veils and show us the ends of their flat noses; then, two got up and advanced towards us. A musician lifted their veils, and at that signal they began to dance; but their eyes were so cast down that I believed they were completely shut. Besides, they lacked neither an ear for the measure nor grace in the arms. When they


Alphone de Lamartine, who knew Joseph de Maistre, described him, after he was dead, as being “large [d’une grande taille,], handsome and male of form and face.” Madame Swetchine, who also knew de Maistre, was taken aback by those lines: “M. de Lamartine says that he saw a lot of M. de Maistre. The number of those meetings makes it all the more surprising that his description of the man was misleading to such a degree. Not one touch was precise or faithful to the original. Count de Maistre was of middling size, and his features were irregular. There was nothing incisive in his eye, to which his short sightedness lent something lost in his gaze. This irregular, and not very brilliant face nevertheless had a majestic radiance.” The witnesses summoned by the historians are all fed their lines by someone, usually the insatiable self, the vulgarian whose dirty fingers are even in our hot tears. Leaving fingerprints. Lamartine is the biggest goose of French literature, with his tedious lyric

the prophets of baal in the zona

20So Ahab sent unto all the children of Israel, and gathered the prophets together unto mount Carmel. 21And Elijah came unto all the people, and said, How long halt ye between two opinions? if the LORD be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him. And the people answered him not a word. 22Then said Elijah unto the people, I, even I only, remain a prophet of the LORD; but Baal's prophets are four hundred and fifty men. 23Let them therefore give us two bullocks; and let them choose one bullock for themselves, and cut it in pieces, and lay it on wood, and put no fire under: and I will dress the other bullock, and lay it on wood, and put no fire under: 24And call ye on the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of the LORD: and the God that answereth by fire, let him be God. And all the people answered and said, It is well spoken. 25And Elijah said unto the prophets of Baal, Choose you one bullock for yourselves, and dress it first; for ye are many; and call on the nam


I came across the story of Jacob Frank in Czeslow Milosz’s History of Polish Literature. I was looking up Jan Potocki (whose Turkish valet, Ibrahim, is, for some reason, given the name Osman by Milosz – out of such small deviations in the constant rain of microscopic facts come our free will and our myths). Milosz wrote that Frank came from a family of Sabbateans – Jews who followed the heretical beliefs of the Sabbatai Zevi. His family fled to Turkey, which is where he had a vision of Poland as the promised land. “Upon his return there, he was greeted enthusiastically, mostly by poor folks opposing the rabbis, but also by some Jewish notables. Frank, as a new messiah, proclaimed the end of Jewish law and, as a matter of fact, of all law – “I have come to abolish all laws and religions in order to bring life to the world.” The ascent to the kingdom of freedom and wealth was to be accomplished by a descent into abomination and perversion. A Manichean tradition, so strong in the Balkans,

chop off the heads of the bankers and kick them down the street - a modest suggestion

Read Paul Krugman's column today . I didn't think it would be too long before the odious Summers (did I say the guy was the worst, the very worst, for the job? I couldn't believe Obama appointed him head of the economic council - a mistake that he is going to regret, I think) pissed off Krugman. When I read recent remarks on financial policy by top Obama administration officials, I feel as if I’ve entered a time warp — as if it’s still 2005, Alan Greenspan is still the Maestro, and bankers are still heroes of capitalism. “We have a financial system that is run by private shareholders, managed by private institutions, and we’d like to do our best to preserve that system,” says Timothy Geithner, the Treasury secretary — as he prepares to put taxpayers on the hook for that system’s immense losses. Meanwhile, a Washington Post report based on administration sources says that Mr. Geithner and Lawrence Summers, President Obama’s top economic adviser, “think governments make poor

the talking royal heads -1

In September, 1783, the visitor in search of virtuoso curiosa could go to see the two bronze talking heads designed by Abbè Mical on display at Rue de Temple, Marais, in Paris. Mical had been working on his design for thirty years, or so we are told by Antoine de Rivarol, who wrote an enthusiastic report about the heads in the Journal de Paris that evidently benefited from some inside information. “These two bronze heads speak and pronounce clearly entire phrases.” According to Rivarol, Mical had designed a kind of keyboard (clavier) which responded to pins attached to a cylinder in the same way you turn a crank to get a sound out of music box. And what did the two heads say? “The king has just brought peace to Europe.” “The peace crowns the king with glory.” “Peace makes for the happiness of the people.” [Memoires de la Societe de Linguistique de Paris, 1878 3:5 259] Mircal had apparently made a previous head or two, but, as they weren’t good enough, he destroyed them. He presented

back to the universal history - of infamy

In 1810, Jan Potocki sent Joseph de Maistre an essay in which Potocki speculated that there were several floods that happened in several regions at several epochs of the earth’s history. De Maistre sent back a letter defending Biblical chronology. He divided his defense into sections, beginning with the metaphysical. About which he says: “It [metaphysics] teaches that everything has been made by and for the intelligence; that man began with science, and not in a state of barbarity, as all of the 18th century school falsely and stupidly supposed; that the perfectibility of man and his taste for science is only the secret instinct of his nature, which moves him to return to his native state; that the state of the savage, which one has called the state of nature, is precisely the contrary of nature and the last degree of human degredation; that it is thus impossible to reason worse than those have done who argue the state of sciences at a point in time distant from antiquity in order to s

zona mashup

Let us suppose the following case, Sâriputra. In a certain village, town, borough, province, kingdom, or capital, there was a certain housekeeper, old, aged, decrepit, very advanced in years, rich, wealthy, opulent; he had a great house, high, spacious, built a long time ago and old, inhabited by some two, three, four, or five hundred living beings. O N Jan. 12, Richard Goodwin, who made a fortune building condominiums, publicly lamented his own real estate woes. In a letter to The Fisher Island Voice, an online forum for residents of this tiny, gilded island less than a mile off Miami, he wrote, “I have $1.2 million invested” in property here, and “I am suffering under a 40 percent meltdown of my net worth.” The house had but one door, and a thatch; its terraces were tottering, the bases of its pillars rotten, the coverings and plaster of the walls loose. On a sudden the whole house was from every side put in conflagration by a mass of fire. Let us suppose that the man had many littl