“János Starker,” said my cello teacher, “who only just died, said the fourth finger should always rest here” and pointed to an unlikely spot on the bow.
“Starker is dead?”
He was my favorite cellist because he was a gemcutter. The cello always tempts you to excessive sweetness, to flourish and sway. To hold that sweetness in reserve is to enter the clear water, but only at an altitude of technique such that the technique ceases to tint the music. You should see thisreallyfor the first few seconds if nothing else: anticipation, anticipation, commencement. And that tone! So smooth and bright you’d swear it was coming through Fender pickups: just sound being sound.
I want, for a moment, to emphasize that word "adjustment." It is almost a forgotten word just as some of you, once upon a time, were forgotten men. As you know, a great many of the high and mighty, with special axes to grind, have been deliberately trying to mislead people who know nothing of farming by misrepresenting - no, why use a pussyfoot word? - by lying about the kind of farm program under which this Nation is operating today.
A few leading citizens have gone astray from other causes - such as ignorance. I must admit that. For example, a few years ago in the countryside where I live, I was driving with a prominent city banker. Everything was brown. The leaves were off the trees. And all of a sudden we passed a beautiful green field. He asked me what it was. I told him it was winter wheat. He turned to me and said, "That is very interesting. I have always wondered about winter wheat. What I don't understand is how they are able to cut it when it gets all covered up with snow."
The other example was down in Georgia. An editor of a great metropolitan paper was visiting me down there in the summertime when I showed him my farm with 40 or 50 acres of cotton, when the cotton was nearly grown but before the bolls had formed. Looking out over the cotton fields he said to me:
"What a large number of raspberries they grow down here."
Well, raspberries was right. Because, at four and a half cents a pound for cotton his mistake was, perhaps, a natural one.
FDR on the Agricultural Adjustment Act, May 14, 1935
Palaz of hoon
With my bare hands I broke up some ramifications of dead wood, chucked them into the green waste bin and carted it out to the curb. It was warm dusk and mockingbirds were burbling. I do enjoy my little empire.
In the Moat
an unsolicited preface to Mind and World
The way that a journal degenerates into a to-do list must be one more deformation from all those years in school. Think of the hours you sat at that table or a desk, pen in hand, someone else’s words clouding the air, with the sense of a weight of lumber to be cleared away but no room to start, and nothing to do but count and recount the unbudged planks. That sense follows you out of the classroom and into the office, the car, the train compartment, the bed before dawn. The wants are so gaping and the means so scarce that even to mark out a starting position is tantamount to squaring the circle. You operate at a loss. You fail to keep what you have, and never pay down the principal on what you owe to yourself, or to the great causes that you claim to believe in. My daughter understands that there are shapes and there are apertures, and she has seen one pass through the other, but they won’t be led, they won’t give up their brute obstinacy in her hands.
The mind is free, says Epictetus, and many after him. The mind has a moat; this is your side, that is theirs, and nothing crosses the bridge without your assent. Again and again we’re driven back into that bunker, with all its melancholy fantasies. Think of Borges, for instance, in “The Secret Miracle”that dream of freezing in time before the firing squad is a commensurate picture for the freeway commute, the continuing-education seminar. The only possible freedom of conscience under such circumstances is the backward plunge into what John McDowell calls “frictionless spinning in the void.”
The claim of “The Secret Miracle” is that one can always be making poetry. The cost is only that the poem cannot cross the moat, and is therefore lost even to its maker; a devotion sub specie aeternitatis has no recipient (“no trabajó para la posteridad ni aun para Dios, de cuyas preferencias literarias poco sabía”). The elision of that eternity, in Borges, into the narrator who recounts the story from a later time is that bit of circle-squaring sophistry we allow our fictions to get away with.
And suppose such a poema play in verse, we are told, written in hexametershad somehow crossed the moat? To write as a devotional was already the practice of the modernists, who found all the other envelopes returned to sender; and before and after that time we all have heard entropy’s dull wings at our backs. The problem isn’t to fill the moat, nor to cross the moat once it’s filled. The problem is to be easy enough in the world that the moat ceases to be interesting.
Bay area families on single incomes
What’s for dinner?
J.: “I was prepared to be pretty annoyed at this article until she started talking about the evictions, 10 or so paragraphs in, and then it abruptly switched to WHOSE SIDE ARE YOU ON, MOTHERFUCKER? WHOSE SIDE?”
Said Shuvalkin to the dolomite cliffs: “Sirs, I contract for three years of adult life in this collapsing republic before I finish with an aneurysm.”
The dolomite cliffs mocked him with echoes. To show he was serious, he threw himself from the cliffs, but he was already standing at the base; and he threw himself into an ocean that was a trick of light and warm air; and he threw himself south of a northbound train that whistled with his own laughter, returned as the cliffs’ prisoner.
“Stoicism was perhaps the best,” as Henry Adams said to himself, but you can’t get over the worry that there is something ridiculous in building this citadel around your heart, and that once behind the wall, all you can do is pay off debts to yourself in currency with your own face printed on it.
The other idea is what the Zen masters seem to recommend, so far as we understand the Zen masters, which is to take down the wall entirely and throw the bricks into the sea. You could spend a lifetime in trepidation, staring at those bricks and wondering which to pull out first. Is there not the ocean on the other side? The void? Yes, it is possible to spend a lifetime with your hands in your pockets, and as Simone Weil said to herself, “if he does not lose courage, if he goes on walking, it is absolutely certain that he will finally arrive at the center of the labyrinth. And there God is waiting to eat him.”
Hints for Don J which appears to me a soliloquy upon his own ill-luck Ungraceful & selfish like a beggar hawking his own sores about and which create disgust instead of Pity.
Claire Claremont, journals, 1 February 1820
sweating like Judas
tired of dying
tired of policemen
feet in marmalade
heart in marmalade
Samuel Beckett, “Enueg II”
I wondered for a long time about the marmalade, thinking he must have felt some cloy packed under his breastbone, a sticky runoff from what the world calls happiness; but finally someone pointed out the French en marmelade: “crushed to a pulp, smashed up.”
Young poets, and poets who refuse to grow up, insist on a principle of possibility or unreality out of fear of pressing on the lever of the real world. Not because they think the lever won’t move. The fear is that it will move just barely, opening the narrowest of cracks. They would then be forced to claim that crackit’s what you’ve made, the best that was in youand slide their narrow hearts inside, to beat sideways the rest of their days.
Most of the fish I have known if they had had bicycles wouldn’t have been eaten.
By the day what is the record for bank robberies in New York?
Can you believe some English actually made his homage to the BEACH
BOYS by cutting an electronic collage of their seminal work?
No, of course you can’t. But a California girl is a potential song.
Music becomes gilt. Glom onto some redolent creep and pretend
that you are in love. I’m sick of daylight. I want God.
My name is Gaston and I would like you to make it out to cash.
The opportunities of this world have become so scarce
that people have stopped applying for them.
The result is that periods of deprivation
have become much longer. People who used to spend
a few weeks or a month seeking a job or a place
to live, or a lover, now are looking for years,
or not bothering to look at all because they know
it’s not there, or it’s too expensive, or they can’t
have it because they haven’t already got it.
When breakdowns occur under this kind of UPPED ANTE
(or you could say people are sitting at a table where
there are no longer any cards being dealt),
they are likely to be much more severe
it is altogether a cruel and unusual turn of events,
but out of it we should not expect a new Constitution.
Stephen Rodefer, from “Words in Works in Russian”