Thursday, May 31, 2012

Three by Reverdy

The Book

The white paper leaf new-grown on the fence. One climbs up and climbs down.
     The mountain is a book whose heroes travel the wind. The pages turn. Words often fall.
     The sound of thunder rolls over the paving stones. That’s where the accident happens. The book is done. Men climb up, one section of it under each arm.
     Leaning against the wall, the anxious author watches the world live and does not follow.

Fruit Bowl

A hand reaches toward the arrangement of fruit and, like a bee, hovers over it. The circle where the fingers glide is drawn tight as a trap – then they resume their flight, leaving at the bottom of the dish a bright red scar. A drop of blood, of honey, on the fingertips.
     Between light and teeth, the web of desire weaves the bowlful of lips.


The bottle in the middle of the fire, at arm’s length or on the table. In the shape of hands, in the source of pockets – there is silver and gold – there’s a spirit up the sleeve. When color runs freely, when air is tangled in branches. The heart goes farther than the eyes, flame is reborn from ash. Between the flowing thread and the stroke of light, words stop making sense.
     No more need of words to make ourselves understood.

- Pierre Reverdy
Translated by Dan Bellm

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Two by Borges

Borges and I

The other one, the one called Borges, is the one things happen to. I walk through the streets of Buenos Aires and stop for a moment, perhaps mechanically now, to look at the arch of an entrance hall and the grillwork on the gate; I know of Borges from the mail and see his name on a list of professors or in a biographical dictionary. I like hourglasses, maps, eighteenth-century typography, the taste of coffee and the prose of Stevenson; he shares these preferences, but in a vain way that turns them into the attributes of an actor. It would be an exaggeration to say that ours is a hostile relationship; I live, let myself go on living, so that Borges may contrive his literature, and this literature justifies me. It is no effort for me to confess that he has achieved some valid pages, but those pages cannot save me, perhaps because what is good belongs to no one, not even to him, but rather to the language and to tradition. Besides, I am destined to perish, definitively, and only some instant of myself can survive in him. Little by little, I am giving over everything to him, though I am quite aware of his perverse custom of falsifying and magnifying things.

Spinoza knew that all things long to persist in their being; the stone eternally wants to be a stone and the tiger a tiger. I shall remain in Borges, not in myself (if it is true that I am someone), but I recognize myself less in his books than in many others or in the laborious strumming of a guitar. Years ago I tried to free myself from him and went from the mythologies of the suburbs to the games with time and infinity, but those games belong to Borges now and I shall have to imagine other things. Thus my life is a flight and I lose everything and everything belongs to oblivion, or to him.

I do not know which of us has written this page.

- Jorge Luis Borges


Everything and Nothing

There was no one in him; behind his face (which even through the bad paintings of those times resembles no other) and his words, which were copious, fantastic and stormy, there was only a bit of coldness, a dream dreamt by no one. At first he thought that all people were like him, but the astonishment of a friend to whom he had begun to speak of this emptiness showed him his error and made him feel always that an individual should not differ in outward appearance. Once he thought that in books he would find a cure for his ill and thus he learned the small Latin and less Greek a contemporary would speak of; later he considered that what he sought might well be found in an elemental rite of humanity, and let himself be initiated by Anne Hathaway one long June afternoon. At the age of twenty-odd years he went to London. Instinctively he had already become proficient in the habit of simulating that he was someone, so that others would not discover his condition as no one; in London he found the profession to which he was predestined, that of the actor, who on a stage plays at being another before a gathering of people who play at taking him for that other person. His histrionic tasks brought him a singular satisfaction, perhaps the first he had ever known; but once -the last verse had been acclaimed and the last dead man withdrawn from the stage, the hated flavor of unreality returned to him. He ceased to be Ferrex or Tamberlane and became no one again. Thus hounded, he took to imagining other heroes and other tragic fables. And so, while his flesh fulfilled its destiny as flesh in the taverns and brothels of London, the soul that inhabited him was Caesar, who disregards the augur's admonition, and Juliet. who abhors the lark, and Macbeth, who converses on the plain with the witches who are also Fates. No one has ever been so many men as this man who like the Egyptian Proteus could exhaust all the guises of reality. At times he would leave a confession hidden away in some corner of his work, certain that it would not be deciphered; Richard affirms that in his person he plays the part of many and Iago claims with curious words "I am not what I am". The fundamental identity of existing, dreaming and acting inspired famous passages of his.

For twenty years he persisted in that controlled hallucination, but one morning he was suddenly gripped by the tedium and the terror of being so many kings who die by the sword and so many suffering lovers who converge, diverge and melodiously expire. That very day he arranged to sell his theatre. Within.. a week he had returned to his native village, where he recovered the trees and rivers of his childhood and did not relate them to the others his muse had celebrated, illustrious with mythological allusions and Latin terms. He had to be 'someone: he was a retired impresario who had made his fortune and concerned himself with loans, lawsuits and petty usury. It was in this character that he dictated the arid will and testament known to us, from which he deliberately excluded all traces of pathos or literature. His friends from London would visit his retreat and for them he would take up again his role as poet.

History adds that before or after dying he found himself in the presence of God and told Him: "I who have been so many men in vain want to be one and myself." The voice of the Lord answered from a whirlwind: "Neither am I anyone; I have dreamt the world as you dreamt your work, my Shakespeare, and among the forms in my dream are you, who like myself are many and no one."

- Jorge Luis Borges 

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Amoral poetry vs moral prose

Prose is all about accumulation (a morality of work), while poetry as it is practiced today is about the isolation of feelings (an aesthetics of omission). Among other things, prose is principally an ethical project, while poetry is amoral, a tampering with truths which the world of prose (and its naturalistic approach to mimesis) takes for granted. Poetry creates its own truth, which at times is the same truth as the world’s, and sometimes not. Whatever the case, its mimesis is always a rearrangement, at a molecular level, of that axis between the “seen” and the “felt” (that coal chute which connects the childish eye to the Socratic heart), which, were it not for poetry, with its misguided elenchus, would remain obscured.
- via Martin Earl and the Poetry Foundation

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

In a Chinese Encyclopedia

Animals are divided into:

(a) belonging to the Emperor
(b) embalmed
(c) tame
(d) sucking pigs
(e) sirens
(f) fabulous
(g) stray dogs
(h) included in the present classification
(i) frenzied
(j) innumerable
(k) drawn with a very fine camelhair brush
(l) et cetera
(m) having just broken the water pitcher
(n) that from a long way off look like flies

- via Michel Foucault via Jorge Luis Borges

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

A Different Schooling

Not to find one's way in a city may well be uninteresting and banal. It requires ignorance - nothing more. But to lose oneself in a city - as one loses oneself in a forest - that calls for a quite different schooling. Then, signboard and street names, passers-by, roofs, kiosks, or bars must speak to the wanderer like a cracking twig under his feet in the forest.
- Walter Benjamin

Monday, May 14, 2012

Our idealizing power that beautifies

Leave a lover with his thoughts for twenty-four hours and this is what will happen: At the salt mines of Salzburg, they throw a leafless wintry bough into one of the abandoned workings. Two or three months later they pull it out covered with a shining deposit of crystals. The smallest twig, no bigger than a tom-tit's claw, is studded with a galaxy of scintillating diamonds. The original branch is no longer recognizable. What I have called crystallization is a mental process which draws from everything that happens to new proofs of the perfection of the loved one. - Stendhal

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Our mixed-up condition

Something now leaves me; something goes from me to meet that figure who is coming, and assures me that I know him before I see who it is. How curiously one is changed by the addition, even at a distance, of a friend. How useful an office one's friends perform when they recall us. Yet how painful to be recalled, to be mitigated, to have one's self adulterated, mixed up, become part of another. As he approaches I become not myself but Neville mixed with somebody - with whom? - with Bernard? Yes, it is Bernard, and it is to Bernard that I shall put the question, Who am I? - Virginia Woolf, The Waves

Monday, May 7, 2012

"Introduction" by Anne Carson

Early one morning words were missing. Before that, words were not. Facts were, faces were. In a good story, Aristotle tells us, everything that happens is pushed by something else. Three old women were bending in the fields. What use is it to question us? they said. Well it shortly became clear that they knew everything there is to know about the snowy fields and the blue-green shoots and the plant called "audacity," which poets mistake for violets. I began to copy out everything that was said. The marks construct an instant of nature gradually, without the boredom of a story. I emphasize this. I will do anything to avoid boredom. It is the task of a lifetime. You can never know enough, never work enough, never use the infinitives and participles oddly enough, never impede the movement harshly enough, never leave the mind quickly enough.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

An entranceway into a more complex and vertiginous scope of being‏

It's in my nature to question, to look at the opposite side of a story, a theory, a leaf. Whatever is present, its opposite is almost always present as well. I believe that good writing also does this. Great literature does not take sides. It is not partisan, small minded, or narrow. Art tells us that where there is sorrow, there will be joy, and where there is joy, there will be sorrow. A uni-dimensional poem would be unbelievably dull and boring. Sometimes the other side is so deeply buried, you really have to part the grasses of the poem to find it, but in good poetry, that second dimension is always there. The poems we remember hold in themselves something startling and unexpected, some undertow, some magnetic pull toward a fuller, subtler truth. This offered entranceway into a more complex and vertiginous scope of being is why good art thrills. - Jane Hirshfield