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Showing posts from February 8, 2015

who killed cock robin

When I grew up in the suburbs, the nights, at least during the school season, were quiet. You’d hear, outside the window, in your bed, maybe the slur of a car leaving or entering a driveway. No voices. In the summer, when the nights were long and people were out in their lawn chairs, then there’d be voices. In the city, this changed. When I lived in a dubious section of New Haven, there were days when very threatening loud people would be going down the street. In Austin, in the parking lot that was right beneath the window of my cheap efficiency, sometimes there would be fights, or the sound of broken glass. Also, since the highway was near by, the sound of traffic. Not very insistent. In Paris, we can hear the sounds of cafes, sometimes singing. Singing! Cafes! Paris! This is real. Here in Santa Monica, there is the perpetual late night hobo drama – someone is always pissed off, screaming, exhausted by a life without shelter. There are people parking in the street, the sound of


When Djuna Barnes read the manuscript of Nightwood to her ex lover, Thelma Wood (who was depicted in it somewhat as the character Robin Vote), Wood expressed her criticism of the book by throwing a cup at Barnes and then landing a right and a left to her face. Apparently, she didn't like it. Since then, a lot of people haven't liked Nightwood for its decadence, obscurity, modernism, or whatever. Lately, I've been reading it and finding the reading slow, which is what Barnes,  I think, intends. The danger of slow reading is that the reader will give up. What keeps one going is the truly amazing, even if maddening, prose, the sort of thing Edward Gibbon would have produced if he'd taken acid: it has the glazed, marmoreal finish of some imperial decline and fall while accelerating and decelerating to the barbarian clangor of to a quite non-Gibbonesque fever dream. Plus the famous, skewed aphorisms that stud the thing: "I tell you, Madame, if one gave birth to a heart

Our gags

Gag is a strangely ugly word. Its repetition of the g seems to enact the throttling that is the meaning accorded to it primitively by the lexicographers. In fact, until the late eighteenth century, the nominal and verbal forms of gag all referred to the notion of some foreign matter either in the mouth and throat (and the physiological reaction thereto) or some matter barring the mouth. When Anthony Wood tells us about the punishment accorded to the Leveler, John Lilburne, for insubordinant speech, he tells us he was whipped while being dragged down a London street at the hind end of a cart, and then put in the pillory in a courtyard, where he continued to rail at the authorities until he was “gagged”. The association of gagging with speaking was clear in law and practice. In Pope’s Dunciad, the triumph of dullness would not be complete without the display of the tortures undergone by her victims: Beneath her footstool, science groans in chains And Wit dreads exile, penalties and