03.03.02 – Sunday
Sometimes I go into bookstores to fortify myself with a few judicious excerpts from favored novels, viz.:
- ‘Persuaded as Miss Bingley was that Darcy admired Elizabeth, this was not the best method of recommending herself; but angry people are not always wise; and in seeing him at last look somewhat nettled, she had all the success she expected’ (Pride & Prejudice, ch. 45).
- ‘We mortals, men and women, devour many a disappointment between breakfast and dinner-time; keep back the tears and look a little pale about the lips, and in answer to inquiries say, ‘Oh, nothing!’ Pride helps us; and pride is not a bad thing when it only urges us to hide our own hurts—not to hurt others’ (Middlemarch, I.6).
- ‘Moreover the figure at hand suffers on such occasion because it shows up its sorriness without shade; while vague figures afar off are honoured in that their distance makes artistic virtues of their stains. In considering what Tess was not he overlooked what she was, and forgot that the defective can be more than the entire’ (Tess of the d’Urbervilles, ch.39).
05.03.02 – Tuesday
From Mo Tzu:
- ‘If there were a man who, on tasting a little bit of bitterness, called it bitter but, on tasting a lot, called it sweet, we would conclude that he could not distinguish between bitter and sweet’ (p. 51, §17).
- ‘This is simply to destroy what one does not have enough of for the sake of what one already has in excess!’ (p. 55, §19).
- ‘Such deeds were recorded on bamboo and silk, engraved on metal and stone, inscribed on bowls and basins, and handed down to posterity in generations after. Why was this done? It was done so that men would know how these rulers hated and injured others…’ (p. 91, §27).
I stopped in at the grocer’s to buy some milk and honey (that honey which I so lamentably forgot the other day). The clerks were friendly, the aisles were clear, and Marlene Dietrich singing ‘You do something to me’ played low in the background. Everything was caught in a blur of warm colors, and as I stepped outside I was greeted by blue skies, twittering birds, and budding leaves. So I put on my best smile, the one that causes the engines in the cars of little old ladies to die and never start again, added an extra slouch to my shoulders and shuffle to my step, and crept back to the safety of my apartment.
06.03.02 – Wednesday
The professor wept today in Latin class; over the death of Priam. I must admit, for once it is poetry. Here. Priam has just lobbed a spear at Pyrrhus, but it caught on the boss of the shield and dangles there, useless:
Cui Pyrrhus: ‘Referes ergo haec et nuntius ibis
Pelidae genitori; illi mea tristia facta
degeneremque Neoptolemum narrare memento.
Nunc morere.’ Hoc dicens altaria ad ipsa trementem
traxit et in multo lapsantem sanguine nati,1
implicuitque comam laeva, dextraque coruscum
extulit, ac lateri capulo tenus abdidit ensem.
Haec finis Priami fatorum; hic exitus illum
sorte tulit, Troiam incensam et prolapsa videntem
Pergama, tot quondam populis terrisque superbum
regnatorem Asiae. Iacet ingens litore truncus,
avolsumque umeris caput, et sine nomine corpus. (547-58)
Then Pyrrhus thus: ‘Go thou from me to fate,
And to my father my foul deeds relate.
Now die!’ With that he dragg’d the trembling sire,
Slidd’ring thro’ clotter’d blood and holy mire,
(The mingled paste his murder’d son had made,)
Haul’d from beneath the violated shade,
And on the sacred pile the royal victim laid.
His right hand held his bloody falchion bare,
His left he twisted in his hoary hair;
Then, with a speeding thrust, his heart he found:
The lukewarm blood came rushing thro’ the wound,
And sanguine streams distain’d the sacred ground.
Thus Priam fell, and shar’d one common fate
With Troy in ashes, and his ruin’d state:
He, who the scepter of all Asia sway’d,
Whom monarchs like domestic slaves obey’d.
On the bleak shore now lies th’ abandon’d king,
A headless carcass, and a nameless thing.
Dryden overdoes it just a bit; still, I think one gets the picture. Indeed, here, in fragments, one can see Pyrrhus attacking Priam with the corpse of Astyanax.
- This line, in particular, seemed to be particularly moving to all involved. [↩]
07.03.02 – Thursday
This is the way things are, then. Writing mediocre, unimportant essays, listening to Verdi and hoping they’ll all just stop singing & die already. Either that, or reading Boccaccio’s Famous Women. Which I enjoy. A great deal. However. It is procrastination. Yes. How reading medieval Latin texts came to be a form of procrastination I’m not sure I’d like to know, but it’s true.
Read a book this morning. Quote: ‘Erôs is a verb’ (p. 17). Because, you see, it’s all about desire. Desire is that space between where you are now and that thing (or person) you think you want. Except you don’t really want it. You want to want it. This space, by the way, is triangular. There’s you, there’s the thing (or person), and then there’s that other thing (or person) that prevents you from ‘having’ the thing (or person) you desire. And you want to stay, eternally, in this state of wanting this want of this thing (or person). So you want to stop time. And that, of course, is foolish, unwise, and unnatural. Or at least I think that’s what she said. Anyway, the book’s about archaic Greek poetry (you know, Sappho, et al.) though it manages to quote Sophocles, Aeschylus, Plato, the Palatine Anthology, Homer, Basho, Rilke, Auden, Foucault, Virginia Woolf, and a bunch of ancient Greek novels, among other things.
And it’s about sex. So — if such things are of any interest, go out, read it, enjoy.
I am being deliberately obnoxious this week. It’s a pity, really
09.03.02 – Saturday
10 a.m. – overcast – damp concrete and asphalt – buildings and cars reduced to slick darkness.
The taste of old coffee settles, permanent, in my mouth, ashen, dull.
I woke up late and my only desire was to read about history – Chinese history, architectural history: history.
Then, after noon. Appeareth the sun, and blue skies, and a pale light on the byways. Also people who do not trudge, but walk with something akin to energy and spirit.
I am not one of them. For I sit inside and stare at the ever blankening walls and try to form sentences that do not seem to fit. Which is just how I like it.
12.03.02 – Tuesday
The heaviness behind the eyes – which at present comes of wanting to read.
I would like tomorrow to be done with, complete, perfected. That seems to me the most horrible thing a person could wish – the negation of possibilities.
Aimless drifting. The steadfast refusal of the orders to resolve. Crumbling. Tottering.
The words for noises. Fourth foot caesura. Hiatus. Focus.
Summoned, at last, to sleep.
14.03.02 – Thursday
Slept late. How much information is behind those two little words: slept late. Falling asleep just after nine, waking just before one, then sleeping still more until seven-thirty. It sounds appalling, very like laziness; but it isn’t.
Suffering from a blight of coffee-stains. The surface of one of the tables is, if not quite Olympian in spirit, very much interested in the graphic potential of circles both truncated and whole.
A truncated circle. There’s a phrase I have not thought of for some time. Three years. For three years ago, not quite around this time, I gave my friend M. a birthday card which was, as you might have guessed, a circle slightly flattened on one side. After reading it, she looked at the card for quite some time, then observed, ‘It’s not quite circular, is it?’
‘No,’ said I, ‘but it’s not everyday you meet someone who deserves a truncated circle.’
This met with satisfaction on all sides, and we had a very pleasant dinner.
15.03.02 – Friday
Most mornings, when I wake, I stumble to the kitchen to make myself an espresso. This has, by now, become a habit so ingrained that the very smell of strong coffee causes me to feel as though I were wearing pajamas and had just rolled out of bed. It’s a comfortable feeling. If I were virtuous, I would refrain from such self-indulgence; but I figure my heyday shall soon pass and no more shall I be able – to say nothing of the will – to pursue my pleasures without stint.
This cloudy morning
I sat beside the window
and watched as time passed.
Soon turning away,
I return to idle things
and neglect all else.
What did Mallarmé say about prose?
A metrical bewilderment, an awe-inspiring complication. Alexandrines. Cretics. Alexandrian critics. The ravings of Cassandra. With disheveled hair.
17.03.02 – Sunday
And when young dawn with her rose-red fingers walks o’er the dew of yon high eastern hill, the night had waned and with it their allotted time among the shades. Of course we merely allude to avoid making any statement of our own. Everything else is indeterminate. Notes of wandering scientist:
It seems sad that on the one hand such exquisite creatures [as the bird of paradise] should live out their lives and exhibit their charms only in these wild inhospitable regions, doomed for ages yet to come to hopeless barbarism; while, on the other hand, should civilized man ever reach these distant lands, and bring moral, intellectual, and physical light into the recesses of these virgin forests, we may be sure that he will so disturb the nicely-balanced relations of organic and inorganic nature as to cause the disappearance, and finally the extinction, of these very beings whose wonderful structure and beauty he alone is fitted to appreciate and enjoy. This consideration must surely tell us that all living things were not made for man. Many of them have no relation to him. The cycle of their existence has gone on independently of his, and is disturbed or broken by every advance in man’s intellectual development; and their happiness and enjoyments, their loves and hates, their struggles for existence, their vigorous life and early death, would seem to be immediately related to their own well-being and perpetuation alone, limited only by the equal well-being and perpetuation of the numberless other organisms with which each is more or less intimately connected.
– Alfred Russel Wallace, from
The Malay Archipelago,
qtd. in Peter Raby. Bright Paradise:
Victorian Scientific Travellers.
Princeton UP, 1996, p. 159.
26.03.02 – Tuesday
Now there’s a word I don’t like: spiritual. Heard in these contexts: ‘I’m not religious or anything, but I am very spiritual…’ -or- ‘yeah, you know, he’s all spiritual and shit.’ Spritual people supposedly tap into the grand essence that is, the great non-materialistic who-knows-what, all without the aid of organized religion. In general, they are rather wheat-grassy, herbal, and unwashed. Only the last adjective is essential. Spiritual people are the Great Unwashed. But that, of course, is hitting rather below the belt.
It’s supposedly about truth, justice, and the beauty of things, inner oneness and all that crap, but really, it’s just about getting a bigger piece of the pie. Yes, in the cosmic bakery that is beyond human understanding, there is the pie of holy consequence – usually reserved for gun-toting Christians, political parties, and other fundamentalists, it has of late become of especial interest to the Spiritual.
Don’t get me wrong. There are sincerely spiritual people. Just few that I’ve met.
28.03.02 – Thursday
Woke this morning to the chiding of the sun. One always knows that it shall be a bad – or, at the very least, trying – day when distant instances of extreme combustion seem to have gained the power of speech.
Moving on, however, to other things. Why is it that, as I read some few of Aemilia Lanyer’s (thought by some to be Shakespeare’s ‘Dark Lady’ – my copy had been annotated by a student with feminist leanings, who had not yet learnt to avoid the ballpoint pen when marking up books) poems in the bath this morning, I had the sudden desire to read Horace? Me nec femina nec puer iam nec spes animi credula mutui nec certare iuvat mero nec vincire novis tempora floribus…
29.03.02 – Friday
Spent an hour-and-a-half wandering around the Bridge St. Cemetery yesterday afternoon, obviously taking pictures. It was sunny, relatively warm, and faintly breezy – the sun was still a few hours from setting and an amiable solitude had settled over everything and if I’d had a lighter book than C. Starr’s The Economic and Social Growth of Early Greece: 800-500 B.C., I might have sat down and done a bit of reading.
31.03.02 – Sunday
Still reading Waley’s translation of Genji, with which we ‘are not best pleased,’ to borrow Waley’s idiom. (There are also several printers’ errors sprinkled liberally throughout the text, tho’ in our generous spirit we pretend not to mind them — but I hear there’s a new translation on the market…) However:
A simple Chinese verse is surely not much to ask of a professional poet; but they all wore an expression of the deepest gloom. One expects elderly scholars to be somewhat odd in their movements and behaviour, and it was amusing to see the lively concern with which the Emperor watched their various but always uncouth and erratic methods of approaching the Throne (171f.).