Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Faulkner #4, Apocalypse #5, Art #4

Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear so long sustained by now that we can even bear it. There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only the question: When will I be blown up? Because of this, the young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat.

He must learn them again. He must teach himself that the basest of all things is to be afraid; and, teaching himself that, forget it forever, leaving no room in his workshop for anything but the old verities and truths of the heart, the old universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed - love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice. Until he does so, he labors under a curse. He writes not of love but of lust, of defeats in which nobody loses anything of value, of victories without hope and, worst of all, without pity or compassion. His griefs grieve on no universal bones, leaving no scars. He writes not of the heart but of the glands.

Until he relearns these things, he will write as though he stood among and watched the end of man. I decline to accept the end of man. It is easy enough to say that man is immortal simply because he will endure: that when the last dingdong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound: that of his puny inexhaustible voice, still talking. I refuse to accept this. I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet's, the writer's, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet's voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.

Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech, Nobel Banquet, City Hall, Stockholm (December 10, 1950)

Memory #4

Un être humain qui rêverait son existence au lieu de la vivre tiendrait sans doute ainsi sous son regard, à tout moment, la multitude infinie des details de son histoire passé.

A human being who dreamed his existence rather than living it would undoubtedly have within his grasp, at every moment, the infinite multitude of details of his past history.

Henri Bergson, Matière et mémoire (1896)

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Mathematics #2

[I]t is impossible to write a cube as the sum of two cubes, a fourth power as the sum of two fourth powers and in general any power beyond the second as the sum of two similar powers. For this I have discovered a truly wonderful proof, but the margin is too small to contain it.

Pierre de Fermat, note written in the margin of Arithmetica by Diophantus of Alexandria. First published in 1670: a.k.a Fermat’s Last Theorem

Monday, August 28, 2006

Lines Taken Out of Context #3, Mathematics #1

Is he not the celebrated author of The Dynamics of an Asteroid, a book which ascends to such rarified heights of pure mathematics that it is said that there was no man in the scientific press capable of criticizing it?

Arthur Conan Doyle, The Valley of Fear

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Godard #3, Dance #1, Scopitone #5

Bande à part (1964)

Friday, August 25, 2006

Gardens #3, Foreign Lands #4

          …he saw an orchard
closed by a pale—four spacious acres planted
with trees in bloom or weighted down for picking:
pear trees, pomegranates, brilliant apples,
luscious figs, and olives ripe and dark.
Fruit never failed upon these trees: winter
and summer time they bore, for through the year
the breathing Westwind ripened all in turn—
so one pear came to prime, and then another,
and so with apples, gigs, and the vine’s fruit
empurpled in the royal vineyard there.
Currants were dried at one end, on a platform
bare to the sun, beyond the vintage arbours
and vats the vintners trod; while near at hand
were new grapes barely formed as the green bloom fell,
or half-ripe clusters, faintly colouring.
After the vines came rows of vegetables
of all the kinds that flourish in every season,
and through the garden plots and orchard ran
channels from one clear fountain, while another
gushed through a pipe under the courtyard entrance
to serve the house and all who came for water.

Homer, The Odyssey, Book XI (trans. Robert Fitzgerald)

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Opening Lines #2

It was about eleven o’clock in the morning, mid October, with the sun not shining and a look of hard wet rain in the clearness of the foothills.

The Big Sleep

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Faulkner #3

How do our lives ravel out into the no-wind, no-sound, the weary gestures wearily recapitulant: echoes of old compulsions with no-hand on no-strings: in sunsets we fall into furious attitudes, dead gestures of dolls.

As I Lay Dying

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Foreign Lands #3

It takes eight hours to get from Paris to Lyons. On the way there is a very sudden change in the landscape. You come out of a tunnel into an abruptly southerly scene. Precipitous slopes, split rocks revealing their inner geology, a deeper green, soft, pale-blue smoke of a stronger, decidedly cerulean hue. A couple of clouds stand idly and massively on the horizon, as if they weren’t haze but dark stone. All things have sharper edges; the air is still; its waves don’t flatter the fixed forms. Each has its unalterable contours. Nothing hovers and havers between here and there. There is perfect conviction in everything, as if the objects were better informed about themselves and the position they took up in the world. Here you don’t wonder. You don’t have a hunch. You know.

Joseph Roth, Frankfurter Zeitung, September 8, 1925

Monday, August 21, 2006

The Plant Kingdom #1

The crustaceous liverworts are the first foundation of vegetation.

Benjamin Stillingfleet, Biberg's Economy of Nature No. 78 (1759)

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Godard #2, Love #5, Scopitone #4

Pierrot le fou (1965)

Alcohol #4

[As I make it a point, never to publish any thing (under my editorial head) but what I can explain, i fhall not hefitate to gratify the curioufity of my inquifitive correfpondent: Cock tail, then, is a ftimulating liquor compofed of fpirits of any kind, fugar, water, and bitters--it is vulgarly called bittered fling, and is fupposed to be an excellent electioneering potion inafmuch as it renders the heart ftout and bold, at the fame time that it fuddles the head. It is faid alfo, to be af great ufe to a democratic candidate: becaufe, a perfon having fwallowed a glafs of it, if ready to fwallow any thing else. Edit. Bal.]

Balance and Columbian Repository, Hudson, New York, May 13, 1806, one week after the word "cock tail" appeared in a drink recipe:

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Last Lines #1, Memory #3

But I didn't, and hardly had I turned in at the lodge gates, wondering how I should say what I had come to say, when the south-west prospect of the Hall, long hidden my memory, sprang into view.

L.P. Hartley, The Go-Between

Friday, August 18, 2006

Cinema #1

My film is born first in my head; dies on paper; is resuscitated by the living persons and real objects I use, which are killed on film, but, placed in a certain order and projected on to a screen, come to life again like flowers in water.

Robert Bresson, Notes sur le cinématographe

Word of the Day #7


Thursday, August 17, 2006

Book Titles Without Context #1

When the Cathedrals Were White: A Journey to the Country of Timid People

Le Corbusier (1937)

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Organizations #2

Society for the Propagation of Horse Flesh as an Article of Food

(Founded 1868)

Time #1, Apocalypse #4, America #1, Melville #1

(The poor old Past,
The Future’s slave.
She drudged through pain and crime
To bring about the blissful Prime,
Then—perished. There’s a grave!)

Power unanointed may come—
Dominion (unsought by the free)
And the Iron Dome.
Stronger for stress and strain,
Fling her huge shadow athwart the main ;
But the Founders’ dream shall flee.
Age after age shall be
As age after age has been,
(From man’s changeless heart their way they win) ;
And death be busy with all who strive—
Death with silent negative.

Herman Melville, “The Conflict of Convictions” [excerpt]
Battle-Pieces and Aspects of the War

Organizations #1

The Sublime Society of Beefsteaks

(Founded 1735)

Food #3

Take this pudding away: it has no theme.

Sir Winston Churchill

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Word of the Day #6


Word of the Day #5


Christianity #2, Art #3, Auden #5, Science #1

Art is compatible with polytheism and with Christianity, but not with philosophical materialism; science is compatible with philosophical materialism and with Christianity, but not with polytheism. No artist or scientist, however, can feel comfortable as a Christian; every artist who happens also to be a Christian wishes he could be a polytheist; every scientist in the same position that he could be a philosophical materialist. And with good reason. In a polytheist society, the artists are the theologians; in a materialist society, its theologians are the scientists. To a Christian, unfortunately, both art and science are secular activities, that is to say, small beer.

from "Postscript: Christianity & Art" in The Dyer's Hand

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Memory #2, Love #4, Hitchcock #1

He wrote me that only one film had been capable of portraying impossible memory—insane memory: Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo. In the spiral of the titles he saw time covering a field ever wider as it moved away, a cyclone whose present moment contains motionless the eye.

In San Francisco he had made his pilgrimage to all the film's locations: the florist Podesta Baldocchi, where James Stewart spies on Kim Novak—he the hunter, she the prey. Or was it the other way around? The tiles hadn't changed.

He had driven up and down the hills of San Francisco where Jimmy Stewart, Scotty, follows Kim Novak, Madeline. It seems to be a question of trailing, of enigma, of murder, but in truth it's a question of power and freedom, of melancholy and dazzlement, so carefully coded within the spiral that you could miss it, and not discover immediately that this vertigo of space in reality stands for the vertigo of time.

He had followed all the trails. Even to the cemetery at Mission Dolores where Madeline came to pray at the grave of a woman long since dead, whom she should not have known. He followed Madeline—as Scotty had done—to the Museum at the Legion of Honor, before the portrait of a dead woman she should not have known. And on the portrait, as in Madeline's hair, the spiral of time.

The small Victorian hotel where Madeline disappeared had disappeared itself; concrete had replaced it, at the corner of Eddy and Gough. On the other hand the sequoia cut was still in Muir Woods. On it Madeline traced the short distance between two of those concentric lines that measured the age of the tree and said, “Here I was born... and here I died.”

He remembered another film in which this passage was quoted. The sequoia was the one in the Jardin des plantes in Paris, and the hand pointed to a place outside the tree, outside of time.

The painted horse at San Juan Bautista, his eye that looked like Madeline's: Hitchcock had invented nothing, it was all there. He had run under the arches of the promenade in the mission as Madeline had run towards her death. Or was it hers?

From this fake tower—the only thing that Hitchcock had added—he imagined Scotty as time's fool of love, finding it impossible to live with memory without falsifying it. Inventing a double for Madeline in another dimension of time, a zone that would belong only to him and from which he could decipher the indecipherable story that had begun at Golden Gate when he had pulled Madeline out of San Francisco Bay, when he had saved her from death before casting her back to death. Or was it the other way around?

Sans Soleil d: Chris Marker (1982)

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Lines Taken Out of Context #2

G.T.O.: Those satisfactions are permanent.

Two-Lane Blacktop (1971) d: Monte Hellman sc: Rudy Wurlitzer, Will Corry

Friday, August 11, 2006

Apocalypse #3

For the moment, the insuperable philosophy of our time is contained in the Pac-Man. I didn’t know when I was sacrificing all my 100 yen coins to him that he was going to conquer the world, perhaps because he is the perfect graphic metaphor of man’s fate. He puts into true perspective the balance of power between individual and the environment, and he tells us soberly that though there may be honor in carrying out the greatest number of victorious assaults, it always comes a cropper.

Sans Soleil d: Chris Marker (1982)

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Lines Taken Out of Context #1

De vrais oiseaux.

La Jetée
(1962) d: Chris Marker

The Automobile #2

G.T.O.: Well, here we are on the road.
THE DRIVER: Yup, that’s where we are all right.

Two-Lane Blacktop (1971) d: Monte Hellman sc: Rudy Wurlitzer, Will Corry

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Music #4

If I were to be asked what would be my greatest ambition as a Mozart player, I should reply: “Life-size Mozart.” It is so easy, in looking at Mozart from the dizzy cliffs of nineteenth-century instrumental sound, to see it as through the wrong end of an opera glass. And in holding in check the enormous resources of the modern grand piano it is easy to give the impression of walking tiptoe, lace-beruffled, on eggs. On the other side, habits of over-inflated sound and unceasing overstatement can lead to a notion of Mozart as a kind of colossus, unsuccessful perhaps because of his early death in reaching the proper size. (As a harpsichordist I am often grateful for the privilege of being able to look forward to Mozart from the other side of the eighteenth century, with fresh perceptions of his contribution to music, rather than like most of us, backwards at him through a haze of Beethoven.)

Ralph Kirkpatrick

Monday, August 07, 2006

Memory #1

He wrote to me: I will have spent my life trying to understand the function of remembering, which is not the opposite of forgetting but rather its lining. We do not remember; we rewrite memory much as history is rewritten. How can one remember thirst?

Sans Soleil d: Chris Marker (1982)

Love #3

My stare drank deep beauty that still allures.
My heart pumps yet the poison draught of you.
Poise of my hands reminded me of yours.

You are still kind whom the same shape immures.
Kind and beyond adieu. We miss our cue.
It is the pain, it is the pain endures.
Poise of my hands reminded me of yours.

William Empson, “Villanelle” (excerpt)

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Alcohol #3

Italy yeeldes excellent Wines, and the common red wine is held very nourishing, so as the fairest Women will dine with the same, and a sop of bread dipped in it, thinking it will make them fat, (which kind of Women the Venetians most love, all things being equall), yea, and more faire: So as they Proverbially say; Che beve bianco, piscia bianco, a chi beve rosso, avanza il colore. He that drinkes white, pisses white, he that drinkes red, gaines the colour.

An Itinerary, Fynes Moryson, 1605-1617

Word of the Day #4


Word of the Day #3


Word of the Day #2


Thursday, August 03, 2006

War #1

Those who live by the sword die by the sword, and those who give up the sword die on the cross.

Simone Weil

Art #2

Art is a mission demanding fanaticism.

Adolf Hitler

Opening Lines #1

The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new.

Samuel Beckett,

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Word of the Day #1


Music #3

Old songs are more than tunes. They are little houses in which our hearts once lived.

Ben Hecht

Manhattan #3, Foreign Lands #2, Music #2

In the English-speaking Negro world of the Americas, Harlem is Rome, St Louis might be Athens or Alexandria, and Port of Spain is Byzantium: Jazz; Blues; Calypso.

Patrick Leigh Fermor, The Traveller's Tree

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Foreign Lands #1

Decidedly the chief attraction of Southern California is the climate—but not all California is alike—take for instance, an August afternoon in San Francisco, and at Indio, in the Colorado desert. In the former place, the inhabitants will be found attired in heavy overcoats and sealskin wraps, or seated around large, open coal fires; at the latter, a thin shirt and overalls are too warm for comfort. Los Angeles occupies a happy position between these two extremes.

Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, 1899