Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Mikhail Gorbachev on Jesus Christ

’Jesus was the first socialist, the first to seek a better life for mankind.’

Friday, December 19, 2008

from Halldor Laxness, The Great Weaver From Kashmir (1927)

How in the world can Christianity, a nineteen-hundred year old ghost story from Asia, be expected to have any influence on contemporary Europeans?

Men live in reality, and there they are condemned to help themselves. God has sentenced man to help himself. God does not help him; that is evidenced everywhere. It is also evidenced everywhere that the more faith men put in God, the more liable they are to wallow in idiocy and penury, the less liable to rise up against their enemies, against lies and tyranny. In just a short time the holiest names of Christianity will not be seen upon anything other than fatted calves, lapdogs, soft drinks and laundries.


The older a man becomes, the more vain become the questions that he ponders, the more paltry the decisions that he makes. It is a rare exception to meet a man older than thirty who thinks. To grow older signifies a man's surrender to facts. He no longer changes water into wine, no longer gives orders, is no longer a creative philosopher. His cleverness from this point on is confined to taking a position toward things as they are, settling himself down in such a way that the flaws he fought against most often in his youth cause him the least amount of trouble possible. To grow older is to lose the nerve to try to untie the Gordian knot, to settle with whatever one wasn't able to conquer. The soul of a middle-aged man is solidified lava.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Wallace Shawn, Designated Mourner

There are ideas that are almost like formalized greetings. Everyone agrees with them, but we keep repeating them anyway, all day long. Everyone keeps saying, for example, "Human motivation is very complex." But if you stop and think about it, you have to admit that human motivation is not complex, or it's complex only in the same sense that the motivation of a fly is complex. In other words, if you try to swat a fly, it moves out of the way. And humans are the same. They step aside when they sense something coming about to hit them in the face. Of course, you do see the occasional exception-- the person who just stands there and waits for the blow.

Thom Gunn, Autobiography

The sniff of the real, that's
what I'd want to get
how it felt
to sit on Parliament
Hill on a May evening
studying for exams skinny
seventeen dissatisfied
yet sniffing such
a potent air, smell of
grass in the heat from
the day's sun

I'd been walking through the damp
rich ways by the ponds
and now lay on the upper
grass with Lamartine's poems

life seemed all
loss, and what was more
I'd lost whatever it was
before I'd even had it

a green dry prospect
distant babble of children
and beyond, distinct at
the end of the glow
St Paul's like a stone thimble
longing so hard to make
inclusions that the longing
has become in memory
an inclusion

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Roberto Bolano, 2666, p. 722

What was Ivanov afraid of? Ansky wondered in his notebooks. Not of harm to his person, since as a longtime Bolshevik he'd had many brushes with arrest, prison and deportation, and although he couldn't be called a brave man, neither could it fairly be said that he was cowardly or spineless. Ivanov's fear was of a literary nature. That is, it was the fear that afflicts most citizens who, one fine (or dark) day, choose to make the practice of writing, and especially the practice of fiction writing, an integral part of their lives. Fear of being no good. Also, fear of being over-looked. But above all, fear of being no good. Fear that one's efforts and strivings will come to nothing. Fear of the step that leaves no trace. Fear of the forces of chance and nature that wipe away shallow prints. Fear of dining alone and unnoticed. Fear of going unrecognized. Fear of failure and making a spectacle of oneself. But above all, fear of being no good. Fear of forever dwelling in the hell of bad writers. Irrational fears, thought Ansky, especially when the fearful soothed their fears with semblances. As if the paradise of good writers, according to bad writers, were inhabited by semblances. As if the worth (or excellence) of a work were based on semblances. Semblances that varied, of course, from one era and country to another, but that always remained just that, semblances, things that only seem and never are, things all surface and no depth, pure gesture, and even the gesture muddled by an effort of will, the hair and eyes and lips of Tolstoy and the versts traveled on horseback by Tolstoy and the women deflowered by Tolstoy in a tapestry burned by the fire of seeming.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Why? What for? For whom?

Jose Saramago, avid blogger, asked about why he blogs rather than writes in the newspaper: "Perhaps it's the feeling of being able to start over again: writing without limits. The papers would pay, of course. But look, Obama won and I'm happy about it so I sit myself down and write an article in my blog, and I demand outright that he shut Guantanamo and lift the trade embargo against Cuba. And I can do this sort of thing whenever I want. Of course you will be eventually integrated into the system. Basically you are just a morello cherry on a cake. They tolerate you, laugh at you – that Saramago again... But I refuse to give up. I wake up feeling like a libertarian communist every morning. There are three questions which we should never stop asking: Why? What for? For whom?"

Friday, November 21, 2008

november 21

1694: Voltaire is born in Paris. At 65 he will spend three days writing Candide.

1910: Leo Tolstoy, 82, dies of pneumonia contracted when he flees from his wife of 48 years and heads for the Caucasus.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Robert Frost, contribution to Esquire symposium on "What Worries You Most About America Today," 1958

Worries is a hard word for me. I am interested in strengthening the high schools of America, bringing them up. A little thing I want is named chairs in the high schools. Once you got it, you would be in it for life. This would enrich the position of the high school teacher. Their position is not dignified enough. The first chair, I'd have for mathematics. The other chair would be of the school's choosing. Instead of spraying money all over the colleges, I'd like to see something done for high-school teachers.

Passage from A.E. Housman's More Poems cited by Alan Bennett at dedication of Housman memorial, London, 17 Sept 1996

Shake hands, we shall never be friends, all's over;
I only vex you the more I try.
All's wrong that ever I've done or said,
And nought to help it in this dull head:
Shake hands. here's luck, good-bye.

But if you come to a road where danger
Or guilt or anger or shame's to share,
Be good to the lad that loves you true
And the soul that was born to die for you,
And whistle and I'll be there.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Kenneth Fearing, American Rhapsody (1938)

Tomorrow, yes tomorrow
there will suddenly be new success, like Easter
clothes, and a strange and different fate
and bona fide life will arrive at last, stepping
from a nonstop monoplane with chromium
doors and a silver wing and straight, white
staring lights

Tomorrow, yes tomorrow, surely we begin at last to live
with lots and lots of laughter
solid silver laughter
laughter, with a few simple instructions
and a bona fide guarantee

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Walt Whitman, Mediums

They shall arise in the States,
They shall report Nature, laws, physiology, and happiness,
They shall illustrate democracy and the kosmos,
They shall be alimentive, amative, perceptive,
They shall be complete women and men, their pose brawny
and supple, their drink water, their blood clean and clear,
They shall fully enjoy materialism and the sight of products,
they shall enjoy the sight of the beef, lumber, breadstuffs,
of Chicago, the great city,
They shall train themselves to go in public to become
orators and oratresses,
Strong and sweet shall their tongues be, poems and
materials of poems shall come from their lives, they
shall be makers and finders,
Of them and of their works shall emerge divine conveyers,
to convey gospels,
Characters, events, retrospections, shall be convey'd in
gospels, trees, animals, waters, shall be convey'd,
Death, the future, the invisible faith, shall all be

Friday, October 31, 2008

Umberto Saba, The Poet & the Conformist

How I envy you, Friend! Firmly
anchored to your faith, you live in peace
with men and gods. You talk and write
easily, true to the will
of your master. In exchange he gives you
bread and, as his thing, strokes you.
He doesn't point a weapon at you;
your smile fends off all threats. And you pass
among men and events almost unharmed.

There is one who thinks himself alone and defenseless.
He thinks his flesh has an excellent flavor.
Better, he thinks, in the hunter's sight
to be a sparrow than a partridge.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Sigur Ros, Ara bátur (English trans.)

Row Boat

You tried everything
Yes, a thousand times
Experienced enough
Been through enough
But you it was who let everything
Into my heart
And it was you who once again
Awoke my spirit

I parted, you parted

You stir up
In a blender
Everything in disarray
But it was you who was always
There for me
It was you who never judged
My true friend

I parted, you parted

You sail on rivers
With an old oar
Leaking badly
You swim to shore
Pushed the waves away
But to no avail
You float on the sea
Sleep on the surface
Light through the fog


Monday, October 13, 2008

Upon seeing Wong Kar-wai's In the Mood for Love for the third time

Among green willows and fragrant grass along the road of post stations
Youth discards you and slips away
In the tower the fifth watch bell shatters what's left of dreams
Beneath the blossoms, the sorrow of parting and March rain
More bitter to love than not--
One inch unravels to a thousand, ten thousand threads
Somewhere is an edge of heaven, an end of earth
But to longing, there is no end.

-- Hating Spring, Yen Shu

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Jay McInerney, from Brightness Falls

He could hear the scratching at his heart's door of a dog that needed to be walked.

Cormac McCarthy, from Suttree

"...Craven, half bald watchdogs yapped and slank."

Monday, September 29, 2008

Lewis Hyde, On the Grey Wolf River

little ouzel bird
cliffs of pillow lava
glacier rapids,
should I
go back to the university
or what?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Randall Jarrell, Girl in a Library

The ways we miss our life
are life.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Anita Brookner on competition

In real life, of course, it is the hare that wins. Every time. Look around you.

an italian proverb

Se non e vero, e bon trovato.

(Even if it isn't true, it's well-founded)

Max Schachtman on doubt

Doubts are bridges you cannot stand on for long. Either you go back to the old views or move on to the new.

Ted Solotaroff on writing

Writing itself, if not misunderstood and abused, becomes a way of empowering the writing self. It converts diffuse anger and disappointment into deliberate and durable aggression, the writer's main source of energy. It converts sorrow and self-pity into empathy, the writer's main means of relating to otherness. His wounded innocence turns into irony, his silliness into wit, his guilt into judgment, his oddness into originality, his perverseness into his stinger.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Barbara Pym, An Academic Question p. 137

Summer began to move toward autumn, and the September mornings were cool and bright. There was even a touch of frost in the air. It seemed a time for looking forward, and perhaps even for making resolutions to alter and improve one's life. The beginning of the new academic year was the most suitable time for us to think of change, and we knew that some would be forced upon us.

Hans Enzensberger's poem Karl Heinrich Marx

I see you betrayed
By your disciples
Only your enemies
Remained what they were.

overhard, Alterra Coffee, Sept 10 2008

The biggest problem I see in this world is that they don't teach personal finance in elementary school.

from David Benioff, City of Thieves

Talent must be a fanatical mistress. She's beautiful. When you're with her, people watch you, they notice. But she bangs on your door at odd hours, and she disappears for long stretches, and she has no patience for the rest of your existence: your wife, your children, your friends. She is the most thrilling evening of your week, but some day she will leave you for good. One night, after she's been gone for years, you will see her on the arm of a younger man, and she will pretend not to recognize you.

Flannery O'Connor on Jesus Christ

The ragged figure who moves around from tree to tree in the back of one's mind.

Rebecca Solnit

Once I loved a man who was alot like the desert. Before that, I loved the desert.


How small a thought it takes to fill a whole life.

Coetzee on the similarity between Pound and Benjamin

Both have investments in antiquarian bodies of knowledge whose relevance to their own times they over-estimate. And neither one knew when to stop.

Gary Snyder's 2000 May Day toast, Portland OR

Let's drink a toast to all those farmers, workers, artists and intellectuals of the last one hundred years who, without thought of fame and profit, worked tirelessly in their dream of a worldwide socialist revolution. Who believed and hoped a new world was dawning, and that their work would contribute to a society in which one class does not exploit another, where one ethnic group or one nation does not try to expand itself over another, and where men and women live as equals. The people who nourished these hopes and dreams were sometimes foolishly blind to the opportunism of their own leadership, and many were led into ideological absurdities, but the great majority of them selflessly worked for socialism with the best of hearts...The failure of socialism is the tragedy of the 20th century, and we should honor the memory of those who struggled for the dream of what socialism might have been. And begin a new way again.

Raphael Samuel, British communist, on the demands of marxism

Marxism: absolutes and totalities. It claimed jurisdiction over every dimension of experience, every department of social life.

- political economy showed how capitalism was a unified essence;
- socialism as "the science of society," an all-embracing determinism;
- a mode of reasoning with universal laws and prophetic authority;
- a philosophy of life that demanded subordination of the self to a higher cause.

Sol Lewitt's advice to Eva Hesse

Stop it and just do. Try to tickle something inside you, your "weird humor." You belong in the most secret part of you. Don't worry about cool, make your own uncool. You are not responsible for the world, you are only responsible for your work. So do it. And don't think that your work has to conform to any idea or flavor. It can be anything you want it to be.

from Edward St. Aubyn, Mother's Milk

America is just people in huge cars wondering what to eat next.

So much road and so little place. So much friendliness and so little intimacy. So much flavor and so little taste.

Javier Marias, Paris Review interview

Illusions are important. What you foresee or what you remember can be as important as what really happens. We usually tell our own story by mentioning only the positive things, but there is also the negative part of your life that forms you: what you didn't do, what you renounced, what you didn't dare to do, what you doubted and discarded, what you dreamt of, what you expected, what you left aside, what you didn't study but thought you would, the job you didn't take, the job they didn't give you even though you wanted it. The things you're not are a part of you as well.

the Hopi 2x2 Rule

See twice as much as you hear.

Hear twice as much as you say.

Bertolt Brecht, In Dark Times, 1936

However, they won't say:
The times were dark.
Rather: why were
Their poets silent?

Christopher Isherwood on Germany, 1931

Somehow the feeling that nothing catastrophic will really happen only makes it worse. I think everybody everywhere is being ground down by an enormous tool. I feel myself getting smaller and smaller.

Susan Sontag's rules for writers, from Journals 12/3/61

The writer must be four people:
1) the nut, the obsede
2) the moron
3) the stylist
4) the critic

1 supplies the material, 2 lets it come out, 3 is taste, 4 is intelligence.

A great writer has all four, but you can still be a good writer with only one and two- they're the most important.

Jonathan Lear, Radical Hope

In the Phaedrus, Socrates argues that writing can function as a form of forgetting rather than remembering: for it can lull one into thinking that one is remembering when one is only moving the phrases about.

Bookstores in Milwaukee Wisconsin, 1934

H.W. Brown & Co
87 E. Wisconsin Avenue

Casanova Bookstore
591 Downer Avenue

C.N. Caspar & Co.
454 E. Water Street

Childrens Book Shelf
391 Prospect Avenue

DesForges & Co.
143 E. Wisconsin Avenue

Herman J. Eggert
693 Forest Home Avenue

Sol Elbaum
709 Walnut Street

Emil Emmenegger
906 24th Street

Hampel's Book Shop
218 Wells Street

Charles F. Hermann
188 2nd Street

Edward A. Higgins
319 Wisconsin Avenue

Francis McLeod Bookseller
144 Mason Street

May McVann
1311 Prospect Avenue

Milwaukee Bookshop
417 Milwaukee Street

H. Niedecken Co.
337 E. Water Street

Richter Bros.
975 2nd Street

Southside Bookstore
402 Grove Street

Artlyn Bookshop
1700 N. Farwell

Aurora Bookshop
4424 W. North Avenue

Badger Bookstore
526 W. State Street

Callaghan & Co.
617 N. 2nd street

German Bookstore
2415 W. Fond du Lac Avenue

Happy Bookshop
3204 N. 27th Street

Marquette University Bookstore
1205 W. Wisconsin Avenue

Ye Olde Bookshop
1523 W. Mitchell Street

overheard conversation at the Carleton Theatre, Toronto, March 4 2006, waiting to see Why We Fight

-What's your girlfriend doing these days?
-Still writing poetry. Waitressing.
-Is she still working on that book?
-It's published.
-I didn't know that.
-It's in the top 15 across Canada.
-I didn't know that.


-What number?
-I don't know. Maybe 13?
-Is she making alot of money then?
-I don't know. I haven't asked her something like that.

from Your Face Tomorrow: Fever & Spear by Javier Marias

Some people can't forgive you for behaving decently towards them, for being loyal to them, for defending them and giving them your support, let alone doing them a favor or getting them out of some difficulty, that can, on occasions, sound the death knell for the benefactor. It's as if they felt humiliated by being the object of someone's affection and good intentions, or thought that this implied a degree of contempt towards them. It's as if they could not stand to be indebted, however imaginary the debt, or to be obliged to feel grateful...Some people are simply impossible, and the only sensible thing to do is to remove yourself from their presence and keep them at a distance, and not to let them near you for good or ill, or count on you for anything. Quite simply, to cease to exist for them, not even in order to fight them. (p. 176)

We forget what we say much more than what we hear, what we write much more than what we read, what we send much more than what we receive, and that is why we barely count the insults we hand out to others, unlike those dealt out to us, which is why almost everyone harbors some grudge against someone. (p. 199)

You never think to keep the unimportant things when they occur in your own time, when they exist naturally, you think of them as easily available and assume they always will be. Later, they become real rarities, and before you know it, they're relics. You just have to see the silly things they sell at auction nowadays, simply because they're not made anymore and can't be found. There are collectors of picture cards from 40 years ago which fetch the most exorbitant prices, and the people who bid on them like mad things are usually the same ones who collected them as children and who, as young adults, threw them out or gave them away, who knows, perhaps after a long journey, after the albums have passed through many hands, they're buying back the ones they themselves once collected with such childish perseverance. It's a curse, the present, it allows us to see and appreciate almost nothing. Whoever decided that we should live in the present played a nasty trick on us. (p. 326)

These mediocrities who rule over us in such a totalitarian spirit and who have more or less been given carte blanche to do so by the Twin Towers's insulting what these pusillanimous, authoritarian fools want to do and impose on us in the name of security, that prehistoric pretext. (p. 369)

James P. Cannon, "After the Maritime Strike"- Labor Action Feb 20, 1937

A conflict between workers and employers is not merely a misunderstanding between two elements who have a common general interest. On the contrary, it springs from an irreconcilable conflict of interest. It is an expression of a ruthless class struggle wherein power alone decides the issue. Viewed in this light, a dispute between workers and employers cannot be settled fairly by the government. The government is an instrument of one of the parties to the dispute- in this case, the capitalists. The class conflict cannot be handed over to "the public" to decide. The public is itself divided into classes with different interests and different sympathies regulated primarily by these interests. The polemics of Karl Marx against the conservative labor leaders of his day answered all these questions. All the experience of the labor movement since that time, including the recent west coast strike, speaks for the position of Marx and against all conceptions which overlook the class struggle.

Julian Barnes, Arthur & George

What does he [George] know? Does he finally know anything? What is the sum of knowledge he's acquired in his 54 years? Mostly, he has gone through his life learning and waiting to be told. The authority of others has always been important to him. Does he have any authority of his own? At 54, he thinks alot of things, he believes a few, but what can he really claim to know?

Walter Benjamin On Hashish

Always the same world, and yet one has patience.

Boundless goodwill. Falling away of neurotic obsessive anxiety complexes. All those present take on the hues of the comic.

One is aware of how very long one's sentences are.

A feeling of understanding Poe much better now.

You follow the same paths as before only they are strewn with roses.

Hollis Frampton, 1984

The mind is a labyrinth. Sometimes it's just one of those very dull labyrinths where the rat runs around one way and he gets an electric shock and the other way he gets a grain of corn; and then there are other days when it's a labyrinth that consists of a straight line....I have all the time the sense that there are perilous random seas that surround all our discourses. We really are on little rafts and maybe we make it to the Fiji Islands and maybe we don't. But in trying to bring back something of the quality of the journey, we have got to talk about more than the raft....If there is not in the tale something of the quality of the random seas as well, then you have essentially falsified have, in the phrase of an old friend of mine, snipped off all the necktie ends to make it look as though the suitcase closed neatly. And...something I'm more interested in now (as I'm perhaps older or more confident or less reticent or something like that) is getting a sense of that into my work.

Sign at Legacy Village, "lifestyle mall" in Shaker Heights

Attention: These Are Real Parking Meters

NSK at the Frye Museum, June 05

A retrospective futuristic negative utopia.
More state than the state.
We believe in the future and we will look for it in the past, if necessary.

Laura Nyro's address in 1968

145 W. 79th Street, 17th floor

A.O. Scott on Slavoj Zizek

In the post-communist, late capitalist world, social control is exercised not by the repression of desires, but rather by their creation and partial fulfillment.

Dennis Healey, on core philosophy of the Labour Party

To erode by inches the conditions that produce avoidable misery.

James Wechsler, The Age of Suspicion

We were convinced that although we were living on the edge of catastrophe, we had been uniquely blessed with a knowledge of what was happening to us.