Saturday, June 30, 2007

A Prediction

"Across the Universe," directed by Julie Taymor (of "Titus Andronicus" fame) will be the greatest film of the year. Not to mention a complete ripoff of "Moulin Rouge," but the best pop art is always guilty of pillage.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

To Brooklyn Bridge

A strikingly antique sounding ode to a strikingly modern edifice. Hope you enjoy.

How many dawns, chill from his rippling nest
The seagull's wings shall dip and pivot him,
Shedding white rings of tumult, building high
Over the chained bay waters Liberty-
Then, with inviolate curve, forsake our eyes
As apparitional as sails that cross
Some page of figures to be filed away;
-Till elevators drop us from our day. . .
I think of cinemas, panoramic sleights
With multitudes bent toward some flashing scene
Never disclosed, but hastened to again,
Foretold to other eyes on the same screen;
And Thee, across the harbor, silver-paced
As though the sun took step of thee, yet left
Some motion ever unspent in thy stride-
Implicitly thy motion staying thee!
Out of some subway scuttle, cell or loft
A bedlamite speeds to thy parapets,
Tilting there momently, shrill shirt ballooning,
A jest falls from the speechless caravan.
Down Wall, from girder into street noon leaks,
A rip-tooth of the sky's acetylene;
All afternoon the cloud-flown derricks turn. . .
Thy cables breathe the North Atlantic still.
And obscure as that heaven of the Jews,
Thy guerdon. . . Accolade thou dost bestow
Of anonymity time cannot raise:
Vibrant reprieve and pardon thou dost show.
O harp and altar, of the fury fused,
(How could mere toil align thy choiring strings)
Terrific threshold of the prophet's pledge,
Prayer of pariah, and the lover's cry,-
Again the traffic lights that skim thy swift
Unfractioned idiom, immaculate sigh of stars,
Beading thy path, condense eternity:
And we have seen night lifted in thine arms.
Under thy shadow by the piers I waited;
Only in darkness is thy shadow clear.
The City's first parcels all undone,
Already snow submerges an iron year. . .
O Sleepless as the river under thee,
Vaulting the sea, the prairies' dreaming sod,
Unto us lowliest sometime sweep, descend
And of the curveship lend a myth to God.
-Hart Crane-

Monday, June 25, 2007

An Explanation of the Title of That Last Post

For anyone who's wondering, the pop cultural half of the title of the last post will get its explanation when I have World Enough and Time.

Pop Culture and the Arrangement of History

Much of the confusion that ensues from the study of history is due to the fact that we take it upon ourselves to arrange the subject into those supremely annoying quantities called "centuries." As a matter of mathematical convenience, I've got nothing against centuries, though I may have a number of things against math. But as a strictly practical contrivance, the century is not without its benefits, and Gregory, Julius or whoever it was that suggested the device in the first place undoubtedly merits a slightly higher position amid the Nine Circles for having done so. At first glance, the century charms us with its neatness. Any division of time is a supreme artifice by its very nature, and the partition of epochs into quantities of a hundred is one sufficiently fascile to appease both the lazy and the choleric minded among us, which two categories probably account for the greater majority of contemporary historians.

A more attentive inspection, however, proves that history ought not be divided up into anything as neat, moderate and dismissive of events as the century; and this because history is neither neat nor moderate, and if she is dismissive, it is only of practitioners of the second quality. History is naturally imbalanced, discordant and messy. The century fails to take these marks into its accounting of her.

Consider, for example, the Gothic Era; the Fall of the Western Empire, Odoacer, the deposition of Romulus Augustulus, etc., at 476 A.D. The end of that same period, say, at the Battle of Tours, the inauguration of the Carolingian Rennaisance, 732 A.D. No clean division of centuries here, but historians nonetheless feel it devolves upon them to mark each century with a characteristic of its own, like a group of fastidious authors that pay too much attention to minor characters; the twentieth century becomes the century of spiritual ennui (a quality equally prevalent in the nineteenth) and aesthetically the era of theoretical decenteredness (appicable also to the eighty year period in English letters between Mallory and Shakespeare). The measurment of history in terms of defining events is also a pebble in the shoe of any advocate of The Century; properly speaking, the twentieth century begins in 1900, but in actuality, 1914 is a more acceptable date, as is September 11th, 2001, rather than January 1st, 2000, for the date of its expiration. Almost every preceeding "century" is beset with the same inconvenience; the 19th century, as it turns out, was actually 125 years long (1789-1914) and the century prior to that even more difficult to estimate; it begins with the end of the Thirty Years' War, and ends with the French Revolution, making it 141 years in length. The Thirty Years' War, in turn, was merely the final evolution in the religious wars which, along with uglier churches and abominable fashion developments in Puritan circles, had been the primary product of the Reformation, which all testifies to the fact that the Thirty Years War was a more truly a part of the Sixteenth Century than to the following one, ergo the century that followed didn't actually happen.

It's really quite simple if you think it over for a minute.

Thursday, June 21, 2007


I found this rendition of the last stage in the Ulysses cycle and found it to be an attractive performance. Especially captivating if you read "Ulysses" by Alfred, Lord Tennyson in the same sitting.

Run out the boat, my broken comrades;
Let the old seaweed crack, the surge
Burgeon oblivious of the last
Embarkation of feckless men,
Let every adverse force converge-
Here we must needs embark again.

Run up the sail, my heartsick comrades;
Let each horizon tilt and lurch-
You know the worst: your wills are fickle,
Your values blurred, your hearts impure
And your past life a ruined church-
But let your poison be your cure.

Put out to sea, ignoble comrades,
Whose record shall be noble yet;
Butting through scarps of moving marble
The narwhale dares us to be free;
By a high star our course is set,
Our end is Life. Put out to sea.

-Louis Macneice-

Friday, June 15, 2007

Proverbs and Stereotypes

I've been thinking lately that stereotypes, ethnic, political or other, are self-evidently valid categories in which the greater portion of humanity registers itself. Stereotypes, for better and for worse, reveal a great number of incontrovertible truths of human behavior to us, and if most of these seem distasteful to us, it's only because human behavior, more often than not, also is, or ought to be. When I write "for better and for worse" I have in mind the following premises; firstly, that an examination of mankind that acknowledges the value of stereotypes promotes in us a more comprehensive realism. Secondly, and on the negative side, it also causes us to assess people more as a sequence of predictable actions and reactions than as fellow human beings.

Nevertheless, these typifications of human nature cannot be denied wholesale, or if they can, we may as well throw out the greater part of our proverbs, commonplaces and aphorisms along with them.

More on this in a bit.

Friday, June 8, 2007

An Irish Airman Forsees His Death

I know that I shall meet my fate
Somewhere among the clouds above;
Those that I fight I do not hate,
Those that I guard I do not love;
My country is Kiltartan Cross,
My countrymen Kiltartan's poor;
No likely end would bring them loss
Or leave them happier than before;
Nor love nor duty bade me fight,
Nor public men, nor cheering crouds,
A lonely impulse of delight
Drove to this tumult in the clouds;
I balanced all, brought all to mind,
The years before seemed waste of breath,
A waste of breath the years behind,
In balance with this life, this death.

-William Butler Yeats-

Monday, June 4, 2007


Dante Rossetti is the most underrated poet in English literature. Period. I can't think of any other poet that combined an outstanding ear for melifluous syntax and pictorial sense of physical description with an attractive, if messy set of aesthetic principles that resulted in poems that seem both mystical and hopelessly enamored of their objects, yet who commonly merits only a few pages in most anthologies.

The following lines are from his 1870 collection, which has behing it one of the more rousing stories in poetic history; in 1862, Rossetti's wife Lizzie died of an opium overdose, and he, wracked with a mixture of grief and guilt, (and a notoriously manic personality) buried the manuscripts of several dozen of his poems in her coffin. Several years later, regretting that he had squandered some of his best work in the throws of the sort of macabre personal drama common amongst 19th century English poets, he exhumed her body in order to recover the poems. He subesequently published them and went on to fame, if not fortune, a laudanum addiction, bouts of paranoia, adultery with his best friend's wife, and death at the age of 54.

Here is some of his better work:

From "The Portrait":

Here with her face doth memory sit
Meanwhile, and look on day's decline,
'Til other eyes shall look from it,
Eyes of the spirit's Palestine,
Even than the old gaze tenderer;
While hopes and aims long lost with her
Stand round her image side by side,
Like tombs of pilgrims that have died
About the Holy Sepulcher.
"The One Hope":
When vain desire at last and vain regret
Go hand in hand to death, and all is vain,
What shall assuage the unforgotten pain
And teach the unforgetful to forget?
Shall peace be still a sunk dream long unmet-
Or may the soul at once in a green plain
Stoop through the spray of some sweet life fountain
And cull the dew-drenched flowering amulet?
Ah! When the wan soul in that golden air
Between the scriptured petals softly blown
Peers breathless for the gift of grace unknown-
Ah! Let none other alien spell soe'er
But only the one Hope's one name be there-
Not less nor more, but even that word alone.
Ah! Let not hope be still distraught
But find in her its gracious goal,
Whose speach Truth knows not from her thought,
Not Love her body from her soul.