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"Well now, I suppose you're very happy and all that sort of thing."
Isabel answered with a quick laugh; the tone of his remark struck her almost as the accent of comedy. "Do you suppose if I were not I'd tell you?"
"Well, I don't know. I don't see why not."
"I do then. Fortunately, however, I'm very happy."
"You've got an awfully good house."
"Yes, it's very pleasant. But that's not my merit--it's my husband's."
"You mean he has arranged it?"
"Yes, it was nothing when we came."
"He must be very clever."
"He has a genius for upholstery."

From Henry James, The Portrait of a Lady
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Perhaps writing is really filling in the blank spaces in existence, that nullity which suddenly yawns wide open in the hours and the days, and appears betwen the objects in the room, engulfing them in unending desolation and insignificance. Fear, as Canetti has written, invents names so as to distract itself. The traveller reads and takes note of the names, of stations his train passes through, at the corners of the streets where his footsteps lead him; and he goes on his way with a breath of relief, satisfied with that rhythmic order of nothingness.

~ from Danube, by Claudio Magris
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January First

The year's doors open
like those of language,
toward the unknown.
Last night you told me:
tomorrow
we shall have to think up signs,
sketch a landscape, fabricate a plan
on the double page
of day and paper.
Tomorrow, we shall have to invent,
once more,
the reality of this world.

I opened my eyes late.
For a second of a second
I felt what the Aztec felt,
on the crest of the promontory,
lying in wait
for time's uncertain return
through cracks in the horizon.

But no, the year had returned.
It filled the room
and my look almost touched it.
Time, with no help from us,
had placed
in exactly the same order as yesterday
houses in the empty street,
snow on the houses,
silence on the snow.

You were beside me,
still asleep.
The day had invented you
but you hadn't yet accepted
being invented by the day.

--Nor possibly my being invented, either.
You were in another day.

You were beside me
and I saw you, like the snow,
asleep among appearances.
Time, with no help from us,
invents houses, streets, trees
and sleeping women.

When you open your eyes
we'll walk, once more,
among the hours and their inventions.
We'll walk among appearances
and bear witness to time and its conjugations.
Perhaps we'll open the day's doors.
And then we shall enter the unknown.

~ Octavio Paz (translated with Elizabeth Bishop)

blue magic

Dec. 3rd, 2011 11:58 pm
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We are absurdly accustomed to the miracle of a few written signs being able to contain immortal imagery, involutions of thought, new worlds with live people, speaking, weeping, laughing. We take it for granted so simply that in a sense, by the very act of brutish routine acceptance, we undo the work of the ages, the history of the gradual elaboration of poetical description and construction, from the treeman to Browning, from the caveman to Keats. What if we awake one day, all of us, and find ourselves utterly unable to read?...Although I am capable, through long dabbling in blue magic, of imitating any prose in the world (but singularly enough not verse--I am am miserable rhymester), I do not consider myself a true artist, save in one matter: I can do what only a true artist can do--pounce upon the forgotten butterfly of revelation, wean myself abruptly from the habit of things, see the web of the world, and the warp and weft of that web....for a moment I found myself enriched with an indescribable amazement as if informed that fireflies were making decodable signals on behalf of stranded spirits, or that a bat was writing a legible tale of torture in the bruised and branded sky.


~ Nabokov, Pale Fire
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On the lake, the night was very clear, and filled with shooting stars. The mild water sparkled, phosphorescent, around our prow. Fish leaped, shone, and fell again. The shore lay softly, peaceful, half-divined. I was in that as it were tertiary state of fatigue where the nerves and senses lie bared to direct contact with the world and there is no longer distance or matter between the vision and the absorption, where the mind races, recording, lucid but empty, and beauty can become ours through osmosis.

~ from Sybille Bedford’s A Visit to Don Otavio, A Traveller’s Tale from Mexico
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“Our spread over the earth was fuelled by reducing the higher species of vegetation to charcoal, by incessantly burning whatever would burn. From the first smouldering taper to the elegant lanterns whose light reverberated around eighteenth-century courtyards and from the mild radiance of these lanterns to the unearthly glow of the sodium lamps that line the Belgian motorways, it has all been combustion. Combustion is the hidden principle behind every artefact we create. The making of a fish-hook, manufacture of a china cup, or production of a television programme, all depend on the same process of combustion. Like our bodies and like our desires, the machines we have devised are possessed of a heart which is slowly reduced to embers. From the earliest times, human civilization has been no more than a strange luminescence growing more intense by the hour, of which no one can say when it will begin to wane and when it will fade away. For the time being, our cities still shine through the night, and the fires still spread. In Italy, France, and Spain, in Hungary, Poland, and Lithuania, in Canada and California, summer fires consume whole forests, not to mention the great conflagration in the tropics that is never extinguished. A few years ago, on a Greek island that was wooded as recently as 1900, I observed the speed with which a blaze runs through the vegetation. A short distance from the harbour town where I was staying, I stood by the roadside with a group of agitated men, the blackness behind us and before us, far below at the bottom of a gorge, the fire, whipped up by the wind, racing, leaping, and already climbing the steep slopes. And I shall never forget the junipers, dark against the glow, going up in flames one after the other as if they were tinder at the moment the first tongues of fire licked at them, with a dull thudding sound like an explosion and then promptly collapsing in a silent shower of sparks.”

~ from The Rings of Saturn by W.G. Sebald

{edited to fix typo}
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I love to write, and not speak, and when I write it’s by hand, not on a typewriter. Several factors contribute to this choice. First there is a refusal: my body refuses to speak out loud to . . . nobody. Unless I’m certain that another body is listening to me, my voice gets stuck, I can’t get it out. If, in a conversation, I notice that that somebody isn’t listening to me, I stop speaking, and it is simply beyond my power to leave a message on an answering machine (I don’t think I’m alone in this). Voices are made to reach out to the other; to speak alone, with a tape recorder, strikes me as terribly frustrating. My voice is literally cut off (castrated). There is nothing to be done, it is impossible for me to be on the receiving end of my own voice, which is the only thing the tape recorder has to offer me. My writing, meanwhile, is immediately destined for everybody. Its slow pace protects me: I have the time to dangle the wrong word from the tip of my pen, the word that “spontaneity” never ceases to generate. There is a great distance between my head and my hand and I take advantage of it in order to avoid saying the first thing that comes to me. Finally, and this is probably the real reason, the challenge of tracing words on paper has a truly sculptural jouissance [une véritable jouissance plastique]. If my voice brings me pleasure, that is only out of narcissism. Writing comes from my muscles. I abandon [jouis] myself to a kind of manual labor. I combine two “arts”: the textual and the graphic.

~ Roland Barthes, from this article on his writings and ideas about "paperwork."
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....The water seems suspended
above the rounded gray and blue-gray stones.
I have seen it over and over, the same sea, the same,
slightly, indifferently swinging above the stones,
icily free above the stones,
above the stones and then the world.
If you should dip your hand in,
your wrist would ache immediately,
your bones would begin to ache and your hand would burn
as if the water were a transmutation of fire
that feeds on stones and burns with a dark gray flame.
If you tasted it, it would first taste bitter,
then briny, then surely burn your tongue.
It is like what we imagine knowledge to be:
dark, salt, clear, moving, utterly free,
drawn from the cold hard mouth
of the world, derived from the rocky breasts
forever, flowing and drawn, and since
our knowledge is historical, flowing, and flown.

~ from "At the Fishhouses," Elizabeth Bishop

*

Happy Birthday, Elizabeth.

Elizabeth Bishop is, so far, the second heavyweight lady author born this month; last week saw the birthday of Muriel Spark. Any others, I wonder? And ironically, today is the eleventh anniversary of Iris Murdoch's death. And thus ends Today in Lady Author Minutiae! Good day to you!
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"Pooh!" said des Hermies. "Dust is good for you. It tastes like stale biscuits and has the musty odour of old books; and that is not all, it has a velvety texture which cushions hard surfaces and, like a thin film of rain, it removes the harshness from colours which would otherwise be too bright or garish. It is simply the veil of oblivion, the membrane of neglect. With the exception of those wretches whose lot you have occasionally decried yourself, who could possibly mind dust?"

~ from The Damned (La-Bas), by J.-K. Huysmans
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I was the attendant or page of Queequeg, while busy at the mat. As I kept passing and repassing the filling or woof or marline between the long yarns of the warp, using my own hand for the shuttle, and as Queequeg, standing sideways, ever and anon slid his heavy oaken sword between the threads, and idly looking off upon the water, carelessly and unthinkingly drove home every yarn: I say so strange a dreaminess did there then reign all over the ship and all over the sea, only broken by the intermitting dull sound of the sword. that it seemed as if this were the Loom of Time, and I myself were a shuttle mechanically weaving and weaving away at the Fates. There lay the fixed threads of the warp subject to but one single, ever returning, unchanging vibration, and that vibration merely enough to admit of the crosswire interblending of other threads with its own. This warp seemed necessity; and here, thought I, with my own hand I ply my own shuttle and weave my own destiny into these unalterable threads. Meantime, Queequeg's impulsive, indifferent sword, sometimes hitting the woof slantingly, or crookedly, or strongly, or weakly, as the case might be; and by this difference in the concluding blow producing a corresponding contrast in the final aspect of the completed fabric; this savage's sword must be chance--aye, chance, free will, and necessity--no wise incompatible--all interweavingly working together. The straight warp of necessity, not to be swerved from its ultimate course--its every alternating vibration, indeed, only tending to that; free will still free to ply her shuttle between given threads; and chance, thought restrained in its play within the right lines of necessity, and sideways in its motions directed by free will, though thus prescribed to by both, chance by turns rules either, and has the last featuring blow at events.

~ from Moby-Dick, Herman Melville

{all typos mine}
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The prompt Paris morning struck its cheerful notes--in a soft breeze and a sprinkled smell, in the light flit, over the garden-floor, of bareheaded girls with the buckled strap of oblong boxes, in the type of ancient thrifty persons basking betimes where terrace-walls were warm, in the blue-frocked brass-labelled officialism of humble rakers and scrapers, in the deep references of a straight-pacing priest or the sharp ones of a white-gaitered red-legged soldier. He watched little brisk figures, figures whose movement was as the tick of the great Paris clock, take their smooth diagonal from point to point; the air had a taste as of something mixed with art, something that presented nature as a white-capped master-chef. The palace was gone, Strether remembered the palace; and when he gazed into the irredeemable void of its site the historic sense in him might have been freely at play--the play under which in Paris indeed it so often winces like a touched nerve. He filled out spaces with dim symbols of scenes; he caught the gleam of white statues at the base of which, with his letters out, he could tilt back a straw-bottomed chair....It hung before him this morning, this vast bright Babylon, like some huge iridescent object, a jewel brilliant and hard, in which parts were not to be discriminated nor differences comfortably marked. It twinkled and trembled and melted together, and what seemed all surface one moment seemed all depth the next.

~ from Henry James, The Ambassadors
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So National Poetry Month is almost over, and I haven't posted a single poem! My bad. The clip below is kind of a rerun of sorts for me, because I posted the text of this Frank O'Hara poem, "Having a Coke with You," for the missus's birthday a couple years ago. Here we have O'Hara himself reading it:



And Don Draper reads from "Mayakovsky". Just posting this so [livejournal.com profile] psimilarity and I can swoon over his voice.

AND, finally, some audio of Elizabeth Bishop reading three poems.
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1. Happy Birthday to [livejournal.com profile] ralst! I present to you one of the finest stories ever written. It's not femslash, but it is deep, profoundly moving, and probs many of us could take a lesson in brevity and plot simplification from it--I'm sure you'd agree, particularly on the nights when you're cross-eyed from looking at submissions.

2. qotd:

"...but everywhere life was on the rampage, pushing up from underneath like a shadowy leviathan, forcing cries out of the depths, driving flies to plague open wounds, pushing out of the earth millions of anemones and wild tulips that within a few weeks would cover the hills with their fleeting beauty. And constantly drawing one in. It was impossible to remain aloof from the world, even if you wanted to be. Winter bellowed at you, spring soaked your heart, summer bombarded you with falling stars, the autumn vibrated in the harp-strings of the poplars, and its music left no one untouched. Faces lit up, dust flew away, blood ran; the sun turned the dark heart of the bazaar to honey, and the sound of the town--a web of secret connivances--would either galvanize or destroy you. But no one could escape it, and in this fatalism lay a sort of happiness."

~ from Nicolas Bouvier's The Way of the World

vn & vd

Feb. 14th, 2010 12:47 pm
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...We luncheoned on damp grass.
Our teacher of geology discussed
The cataract. Its roar and rainbow dust
Made the tame park romantic. I reclined
In April's haze immediately behind
Your slender back and watched your neat small head
Bend to one side. One palm with fingers spread,
Between a star of trillium and a stone,
Pressed on the turf. A little phalange bone
Kept twitching. Then you turned and offered me
A thimbleful of bright metallic tea.

Your profile has not changed. The glistening teeth
Biting the careful lip; the shade beneath
The eyes from the long lashes; the peach down
Rimming the cheekbone; the dark silky brown
Of hair brushed up from temple and from nape;
The very naked beck; the Persian shape
Of nose and eyebrow, you have kept it all--
And on still nights we hear the waterfall.

~ from Pale Fire

woman

Jan. 10th, 2010 02:01 pm
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He walked down the street, falling in love with its sweet tableau of rising stars, of dense trees that stretched in long straight rows, and the peacefully ambulating people, the evening's splendor, the deep, restless inklings of night....In the evening it was no disgrace to put on a dreamy appearance when all were involuntarily compelled to dream in this atmosphere filled with the scent of the early summer twilight. Many women were strolling about with small elegant little bags in their gloved hands, with eyes in which the evening light went on glowing, in narrow dresses cut in the English style or voluminous dragging skirts and robes that filled the streets with their marvelous breadth. Woman, Simon mused, how she glorifies the image of the city street. A woman is made to promenade. You can feel her parading, enjoying her own swaying, beautiful gait. At sunset, women determine the tone of the evening, their figures being well suited to this with these arms full of melancholy and ampleness and these breasts full of breathing mobility. Their hands in gloves look like children wearing masks, hands with which they beckon, and in which they are invariably holding something. Their entire bearing translates the evening world into sonorous music...you already belong to them in your thoughts, in sentient oscillations, in breaking waves that crash against your heart....They do not beckon, and yet they do beckon you. Though they carry no fans, you can see fans in their hands, flashing and glinting like embossed silver in the fading, blurred evening light. Mature, voluptuous women go particularly well with such an evening, just as gray-haired old women go with winter, and blossoming girls with the newly arisen day, as children go with dawn and young wives in the heat of midday when the sun shows itself to the world at its most glowing.

~ from The Tanners, Robert Walser

chrysalis

Aug. 11th, 2009 10:30 am
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We found it on a bunch of grapes and put it
In cotton wool, in a matchbox partly open,
In a room in London in wintertime, and in
A safe place, and then forgot it.

Early in the cold spring we said "See this!
Where on earth did the butterfly come from?"
It looked so unnatural whisking about the curtain:
Then we remembered the chrysalis.

There was the broken shell with what was once
The head askew; and what was once the worm
Was away out of the window, out of the warm,
Out of the scene of the small violence.

Not strange, that the pretty creature formalized
The virtue of its dark unconscious wait
For pincers of light to come and pick it out.
But it was a bad business, our being surprised.

~ Muriel Spark
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A yellow-headed, gold-hammered, sunflower-lanterned
Summer afternoon: after the sun soared
All morning to the marble-shining heights of the marvelous blue
Like lions insurgent, bursting out of a great black zoo,
As if all radiance rode over and roved and dove
To the thick dark night where the fluted roots clutched and gasped
As if all vividness poured, out poured
Over, bursting and falling and breaking,
As when the whole ocean rises and rises, in irresistible, uncontrollable
    motion, shaking:
The roar of the heart in a shell and the roar of the sea beyond the
    concessions of possession and the successions of time's continual
    procession.

~ Delmore Schwartz
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For those who don't know, a member of my friend's list, [livejournal.com profile] badtyler, passed away several weeks ago. Her name was Mollie. We never met in person, but we shared a lot of laughs and a lot of good times online. She was a talented writer, a true wit, and a remarkably kind friend. One of the first comments she made here (at least the one I remember) was about an Elizabeth Bishop I had posted. So I thought I would post a couple Bishop poems today; sadly, she won't be able to comment on them, but I thought she would like them.

The first one is a poem that Bishop wrote in memory of her friend Marjorie Carr Stevens.

Anaphora )

This one because Mollie was a map aficionado

The Map )

qotd

May. 9th, 2009 08:43 pm
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Fucking virgin and child! I'm so sick of the fucking virgin and child!

~ (not so) anonymous Ph.D. candidate in the field of art history
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My return to the old house in the hills every night was a perpetual joy: not only to know that a new outwork of bricks or a windowframe had been laid in my absence, but also to have the excited uncertainty about whom I should find already there, sitting in the firelight, waiting for me. Sometimes it was Marie, freshly back from Paris or London, loaded with books: or Ines with her falcon's beauty strumming the guitar and singing some magical passage from flamenco; or Sir Harry gravely discoursing on chapters in Cyprus history which lay outside the dull dusty present--the severed head of Oneseilos buzzing with honeybees, or Berengaria being crowned in Limassol, or that odd King of Neo-Paphos who invented an early form of fan by anointing himself with Tyrian oil, which his doves adored, in order that their fluttering wings should keep him cool during meals.

And the Abbey itself was there, fading in the last magnetic flush from the horizon, with its quiet groups of coffee-drinkers and card-players under the Tree of Idleness. At full moon we dined there, barefooted on the dark grass, to watch the lights winking away along the fretted coast and the great bronze coin shake itself free of the sunset-mist and climb with slow, perfectly punctuated steps into the nether heaven, bubbling into the great rose-window of the eastern wall like a visitant of the Gothic world. Here in the striped darkness, dotted with pools of luminous moonlight, we walked and talked, the smell of roses and wine and cigars mingling with the humbler scent of the limes, or the whiffs of bruised sage coming to us from the face of the mountain behind where Buffavento rose slowly to meet the moon, like a mailed fist. And somewhere upon the outer silence would come the haunting liquid music of a flute perhaps, its five-tone scale like a thread spun upon the silent air between the pines.

How could such a sun-bruised world be transformed, be any different?

~ from Lawrence Durrell, Bitter Lemons

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