Wednesday, November 30

something that is bigger

...for thousands and thousands of years, all our fears, all our hopes, the sighs and longings have crystallized a certain religious feeling inside, an eternal gift from all those generations. So when you hear certain works of art, suddenly the roof opens up to something that is bigger than the limitations of the human being. That makes me very happy. That is a treasure we carry within us. To make a film is to try to open the roof -- so we can breathe.

-- Ingmar Bergman, in Life 15 October 1971

Monday, November 28


Love, poetry, art, it's only through their resilience that confidence will return, that human thought will succeed in setting sail again.

-- André Breton Arcanum 17
Translated by Zack Rogow

Sunday, November 27

we are surrounded

We are surrounded by a rich and fertile mystery. May we not probe it, pry into it, employ ourselves about it — a little? To devote your life to the discovery of the divinity in Nature or to the eating of oysters: would they not be attended with very different results?

-- Henry David Thoreau Wild Fruits

Friday, November 25


Artists have many signatures. Conventionally they supply name and date in lower corner, an indication that the painting is finished and ready for its public career. Another kind of signature... can be read not in a a single painting but in the recurrence of certain objects or combinations of details through a whole series... [the] tendency of the artist to include a few familiar items in painting after painting: the cupped candle in the best of Georges de la Tour's works, the smokestacks on the horizon of Degas's race-track paintings, the ubiquitous cow that wanders in and out of Chagall's dreams. Such a repeated detail can easily become a mannerism: for example, certain letter combinations in cubist collages, like journal and vins, went through such an evolution. Or... it can be incorporated into the normal signature: Whistler's butterfly. Used discreetly or unconsciously, these details are best described as emblems, objects whose recurrence gives them heightened significance. They are like tiny still lifes carried over into landscape and portraiture and noticeable only to the unhurried eye.

-- Roger Shattuck The Banquet Years

from Machine with Wishbone by Arthur Ganson 
from Machine with Wishbone, by Arthur Ganson

FAT (Friday After Thanksgiving) Chain Reaction

at MIT Museum

choreographed by Arthur Ganson

watch Machine with Wishbone (and others) here

via SuperNaturaleUsually these contraptions are quite elaborate, involving spinning Barbies, rolling jars of honey, Lego ramps and falling marbles, balloons inflating to cause a weight to drop, causing a rabbit to amble down an incline... 

Thursday, November 24


For an hour there is nothing
but rain on the stones, trillings of light
that signal a world into being.

For an hour there is only this hunger --
twilight settling into the trees, a bird
whose song I do not know, vanishing.

In an hour I will be home,
my jacket thrown onto the couch,
my wet shoes kicked off at the door.

Later, sipping wine in the kitchen,
watching candlelight refract in the
burn-sienna prisms of Chilean cabernet,

I will lift the large knife and lean
into the apple, fruit of New Zealand,
fruit of Madagascar, halving, quartering.

eighth- and sixteenth-ing it open--
this good, widely divisible world.
The walnuts from Jerusalem, green onions

from Spain, and then, if ripe, that visceral avocado.
I will sing to my daughter while stirring
the balsamic into the first cold-pressed
pressing of oil, grinding the pepper
as my voice grinds out the song,
doing the artichoke dance that she loves.

And when I say to my daughter say grace
she says grace, gracefully, gratefully,
a word for it sung into the air.

That we eat of what is given, these few
resilient gifts of a day, that we bow and eat
and watch the world for signs of who we are:

vanishing bird, circles and circles,
the rain perhaps slowing, perhaps
gaining on us all over again.

-- Ralph Black

Wednesday, November 23

making contact

The bumpers filled, Mr. Blandois, with a roystering gaiety, clinked the top of his glass against the bottom of Mr. Flintwich's, and the bottom of his glass against the top of Mr. Flintwich's, and drank to the intimate acquaintance he foresaw.

-- Charles Dickens Little Dorrit

Clinking glasses -- rapping them to call everyone present to attention, or tapping them together when toasting -- has always given people pleasure. Clinking one glass against another is making contact, an action we perform precisely because we are not sharing one cup; in doing it we remind ourselves that the wine, now separated into glassfuls, is still one, and we reach out to each other even though we do not hand our glasses on. Russians go one further and smash their glasses after particularly fervent toasts, vows, or oaths. The half-Russian poet Apollinaire loved using the image of a smashed glass to express exultant joy. People have often felt that disposing of the wine in a toast was really not sufficient: the cup should go too -- either broken or given away -- otherwise the words symbolized in drinking are not finalized, and the action is lacking in generosity. Smashing the glass also ensures that no less worthy toast shall ever be made in that glass.

-- Margaret Visser The Rituals of Dinner

Tuesday, November 22

Point Lobos by Edward Weston
Point Lobos by Edward Weston

Edward Weston

It was an obsession with the formal perfections of the image that led Weston "inside" those onions and artichokes. What mattered finally was the photographic look of the thing, its imageness. His cloud studies of 1936 were the most enthusiastic and brilliant expression of that impulse. The tonal consistencies in any one image might run from flaked, jagged slate to silky marble. The textures of immateriality go from leather to rock to foam. In the cloud studies, and also in the images of those broad, eddying, scalloped stone formations at Point Lobos, Weston succeeded in expressing emotion with every nuance of line and light. His best subjects, in other words, were those that stood at the frontier where resemblance becomes abstract transparency.

-- W.S. Di Piero Out of Eden

Monday, November 21

movement in balance

No mind was so good that it did not need another mind to counter and equal it, and to save it from conceit and blindness and bigotry and folly. Only in such a balance could humility be found, humility which was a lucid speed to welcome lucidity whenever and wherever it presented itself. How much he owed to Quentin! How much — not pride but delight urged the admission — Quentin owed to him! Balance — and movement in balance, as an eagle sails up on the wind — this was the truth of life, and beauty in life.

-- Charles Williams The Place of the Lion

Saturday, November 19

things that mattered

And here, now, by night, with this huge clock ticking on my right hip and the flashlight in my hand and sneakers on my feet, I feel as if everything had been unreal. It is as if the past had never existed. The things I thought were so important -- because of the effort I put into them -- have turned out to be of small value. And the things I never thought about, the things I was never able either to measure or to expect, were the things that mattered.

-- Thomas Merton The Search for Solitude

a great work

Self-transformation is precisely what life is, and human relationships, which are an extract of life, are the most changeable of all, rising and falling from minute to minute, and lovers are those in whose relationship and contact no one moment resembles another...

Like so much else, people have also misunderstood the place of love in life, they have made it into play and pleasure because they thought that play and pleasure were more blissful than work; but there is nothing happier than work, and love, just because it is the extreme happiness, can be nothing else but work. -- So whoever loves must try to act as if he had a great work; he must be much alone and go into himself and collect himself and hold fast to himself; he must work; he must become something!

For believe me, the more one is, the richer is all that one experiences. And whoever wants to have a deep love in his life must collect and save for it and gather honey.

-- R.M. Rilke Rilke on Love and Other Difficulties
Translated by John J.L. Mood

Friday, November 18

center and cause

Just as a stone flung into the water becomes the center and cause of many circles, and as sound diffuses itself in circles in the air: so any object, placed in the luminous atmosphere, diffuses itself in circles, and fills the surrounding air with infinite images of itself. And is repeated, the whole everywhere, and the whole in every smallest part.

-- Leonardo da Vinci Leonardo's Notebooks ed. H. Anna Suh

take me by the hand

And this it does not seem unreasonable or ungrateful to demand, that the artist should pierce the soul; should command; should not sit aloof & circumambient merely, but should come and take me by the hand and lead me somewhither...

-- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Thursday, November 17

Alfred Jarry

He was stubborn, shy, arrogant, incredibly proud, a rebel who liked to show off but was fundamentally mild and good-tempered. He loved the country, exercising, bicycling, fishing, and had a reputation for being able to catch fish where there were none...

He lived in a picturesquely filthy room on a floor called the second-and-a-half; the ceiling had been lowered and the room was a sort of cupboard between the second and third floors. He lived with two owls, (originally alive, later stuffed), a guitar, stinking flowers, masses of dirty papers, a stone phallus. Jarry's personal décor sounds familiar. He was certainly different from the bourgeois, but perhaps not so different from those who differ from the bourgeois. But his brilliance and wit were uncommon. Giving a lecture on art and artists he spoke of everything from Turkestan to Bergson, from Fragonard to angling. Afterwards one of his friends told him that he had found it very interesting but hadn't understood a word of it. Jarry answered: 'That's exactly what I wanted. Talking about things that are understandable only weighs down the mind and falsifies the memory, but the absurd exercises the mind and makes the memory work.'

-- Barbara Wright, in the preface to her translation of Ubu Roi by Alfred Jarry

Wednesday, November 16


Galileo... saw a church lamp swinging and was led to find the laws by which a body swings. He did not see that the laws that made his experience comprehensible were of his creation. He did not simply discover some natural process, but in fact added to the world an act of his own true individuality. I am not saying that Galileo impressed his subjectivity onto the world; rather the breakthrough was an act of his individuality uniting with the world. The point of individuality is that by creating, it creates what is actually there -- albeit not there in the form of comprehension, but only in the form of perception, until the creative act of comprehension takes place. Then the world rejoices, for it has become more whole; perception and comprehension together reveal the world more fully. The mistake of the natural sciences is that, until very recently, scientists believed they simply discovered the laws of the natural world, not recognizing that their observations were also creating in part what was being observed.

-- Robert Sardello Love and the World

Tuesday, November 15


There is a certain lawless freedom to the song of the Catbird, for he does not entertain any regard for set rhythm, and he proceeds with a series of miscellaneous, interrupted sentences which bear no relationship with one another. His music set on paper in a thoroughly complete manner would appear thus:
Catbird Song by F. Schuyler Mathews

It is like some long rigmarole, which is humorously incomprehensible, though the bird apparently considers his strophes both serious and important. Listen to him sometime while he is singing in the shadowy tangles of the briers and willows through which winds the brook with gurgling, petulant impatience, and you will hear some unmistakable tuneful expostulations, persuasions, and remonstrances... The fact is, he is an imitator. He can imitate anything from a squeaking cartwheel to the song of a Thrush. He intersperses his melodic phrases with quotations from the highest authorities -- Thrush, Song Sparrow, Wren, Oriole, and Whip-poor-will. The yowl of the cat is thrown in anywhere, the guttural remarks of the frog are repeated without the slightest deference to good taste or appropriateness, and the harsh squawk of the old hen, or the chirp of the lost chicken, as always added in some malapropos manner. All is grist which comes to the Catbird's musical mill, and all is ground out according to the bird's own way of thinking.

-- F. Schuyler Mathews Field Book of Wild Birds and Their Music

Monday, November 14

When His Mouth Faced My Mouth

When his mouth faced my mouth, I turned aside
And steadfastly gazed only at the ground;
I stopped my ears, when at each coaxing word
They tingled more; I used both hands to hide
My blushing, sweating cheeks. Indeed, I tried.
But oh, what could I do, then, when I found
My bodice splitting of its own accord?

-- Amaru
Translated by John Brough

Sunday, November 13


If, having fixed the original form in our mind's eye, we ask ourselves how that form comes alive and fills with life, we discover a new dynamic and vital category, a new property of the universe: reverberation (retentir). It is as though a well-spring existed in a sealed vase and its waves, repeatedly echoing against the sides of this vase, filled it with their sonority. Or again, it's as though the sound of a hunting horn, reverberating everywhere through its echo, made the tiniest leaf, the tiniest wisp of moss shudder in a common movement and transformed the whole forest, filling it to its limits, into a vibrating, sonorous world.

-- Eugene Minkowski Vers une Cosmologie
Translated by Maria Jolas

Friday, November 11

the Atlájala

In the early morning the restless Atlájala would move through the halls of the monastery. The dark rooms sped past, one after the other. In a small patio, where eager young trees had pushed up the paving stones to reach the sun, it paused. The air was full of small sounds: the movements of butterflies, the falling to the ground of bits of leaves and flowers, the air following its myriad courses around the edges of things, the ants pursuing their endless labors in the hot dust. In the sun it waited, conscious of each gradation in sound and light and smell, living in the awareness of the slow, constant disintegration that attacked the morning and transformed it into afternoon. When evening came, it often slipped above the monastery roof and surveyed the darkening sky: the waterfall would roar distantly. Night after night, along the procession of years, it had hovered here above the valley, darting down to become a bat, a leopard, a moth for a few minutes or hours, returning to rest immobile in the center of the space enclosed by the cliffs. When the monastery had been built, it had taken to frequenting the rooms, where it had observed for the first time the meaningless gestures of human life.

And then one evening it had aimlessly become one of the young friars. This was a new sensation, strangely rich and complex, and at the same time unbearably stifling, as though every other possibility besides that of being enclosed in a tiny, isolated world of cause and effect had been removed forever. As the friar, it had gone and stood in the window, looking out at the sky, seeing for the first time, not the stars, but the space between and beyond them. Even at that moment it had felt the urge to leave, to step outside the little shell of anguish where it lodged for the moment, but a faint curiosity had impelled it to remain a little longer and partake a little further of the unaccustomed sensation. It held on; the friar raised his arms to the sky in an imploring gesture. For the first time the Atlájala sensed opposition, the thrill of a struggle. It was delicious to feel the young man striving to free himself of its presence, and it was immeasurably sweet to remain there... When he had finished and said a prayer, he crawled to his pallet and fell asleep weeping, while the Atlájala slipped out obliquely and entered into a bird which passed the night sitting in a great tree on the edge of the jungle, listening intently to the night sounds, and uttering a scream from time to time.

-- Paul Bowles "The Circular Valley"

Thursday, November 10

Nur nimm sie wieder aus der Städte Schuld

Only retrieve them from the cities guilt,
where everything for them is anger and confusion,
and wounded patience sucks them dry.

Has the earth, then, no room for them?
Whom does the wind seek? For whom
is the wet glistening of streams?

Is there by the banks
of the pond's deep dreaming
nowhere they can see their faces reflected?

They need only, as a tree does,
a little space in which to grow.

-- R.M. Rilke
Translated by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy

Read it in the original German here

Wednesday, November 9

penetrating the hollow

When we oppose proximate to distant vision, we do not mean that in the latter the object is farther away. To look means here, speaking narrowly, to focus both ocular rays on a point which, thanks to this, becomes favored, optically privileged. In distant vision we do not fix the gaze on any point, but rather attempt to embrace the whole field, including its boundaries. For this reason, we avoid focusing the eyes as much as possible. And then we are surprised to find that the object just perceived -- our entire visual field -- is concave. If we are in a house the concavity is bordered by the walls, the roof, the floor. This border or limit is a surface that tends to take the form of a hemisphere viewed from within. But where does the concavity begin? There is no possibility of doubt: it begins at our eyes themselves.

The result is that what we see at a distance is hollow space as such. The content of perception is not strictly the surface in which the hollow space terminates, but rather the whole hollow space itself, from the eyeball to the wall or the horizon.

This fact obliges us to recognize the following paradox: the object of sight is not farther off in distant than in proximate vision, but on the contrary is nearer, since it begins at our cornea. In pure distant vision, our attention, instead of being directed farther away, has drawn back to the absolute proximate, and the eyebeam, instead of striking the convexity of a solid body and staying fixed on it, penetrates a concave object, glides into a hollow.

-- José Ortega y Gasset, "On Point of View in the Arts" Partisan Review 16:8
Translated by Paul Snodgrass and Joseph Frank

Saturday, November 5

on possibility

The sea boils and pigs have wings because in poetry all things are possible— if you are man enough. They are possible because in poetry the disparate elements are not combined in logic, which can join things only under certain categories and under the law of contradiction; they are combined in poetry rather as experience, and experience has decided to ignore logic, except perhaps as another field of experience.

-- Allen Tate Reason in Madness

Thursday, November 3


...I arrived at another hall, the roof of which was of a pale blue, spangled with constellations of silver stars, and supported by porphyry pillars of a paler red than ordinary... The whole of the floor of this hall, except a narrow path behind the pillars, paved with black, was hollowed into a huge basin, many feet deep, and filled with the purest, most liquid and radiant water. The sides of the basin were white marble, and the bottom was paved with all kinds of refulgent stones, of every shape and hue. In their arrangement, you would have supposed, at first sight, that there was no design, for they seemed to lie as if cast there from careless and playful hands; but it was a most harmonious confusion; and as I looked at the play of their colours, especially when the waters were in motion, I came at last to feel as if not one little pebble could be displaced, without injuring the effect of the whole. Beneath this floor of the water, lay the reflection of the blue inverted roof, fretted with its silver stars, like a second deeper sea, clasping and upholding the first... Led by an irresistible desire, I undressed, and plunged into the water. It clothed me as with a new sense and its object both in one. The waters lay so close to me, they seemed to enter and revive my heart. I rose to the surface, shook the water from my hair, and swam as in a rainbow, amid the coruscations of the gems below seen through the agitation caused by my motion. Then, with open eyes, I dived, and swam beneath the surface. And here was a new wonder. For the basin, thus beheld, appeared to extend on all sides like a sea, with here and there groups as of ocean rocks, hollowed by ceaseless billows into wondrous caves and grotesque pinnacles. Around the caves grew sea-weeds of all hues, and the corals glowed between; while far off, I saw the glimmer of what seemed to be creatures of human form at home in the waters. I thought I had been enchanted; and that when I rose to the surface, I should find myself miles from land, swimming alone upon a heaving sea; but when my eyes emerged from the waters, I saw above me the blue spangled vault, and the red pillars around. I dived again, and found myself once more in the heart of a great sea. I then arose, and swam to the edge, where I got out easily, for the water reached the very brim, and, as I drew near washed in tiny waves over the black marble border. I dressed, and went out, deeply refreshed.

-- George MacDonald Phantastes

Wednesday, November 2

The Gateway

Now the heart sings with all its thousand voices
To hear this city of cells, my body, sing.
The tree through the stiff clay at long last forces
Its thin strong roots and taps the secret spring.

And the sweet waters without intermission
Climb to the tips of its green tenement;
The breasts have borne the grace of their possession,
The lips have felt the pressure of content.

Here I come home: in this expected country
They know my name and speak it with delight.
I am the dream and you my gates of entry,
The means by which I waken into light.

-- A.D. Hope

Tuesday, November 1

what is

The art of art, the glory of expression and the sunshine of the light of letters is simplicity. Nothing is better than simplicity....nothing can make up for excess or for the lack of definiteness. To carry on the heave of impulse and pierce intellectual depths and give all subjects their articulations are powers neither common nor very uncommon. But to speak in literature with the perfect rectitude and insousiance of the movements of animals and the unimpeachableness of the sentiment of trees in the woods and grass by the roadside is the flawless triumph of art. If you have looked on him who has achieved it you have looked on one of the masters of the artists of all nations and times. You shall not contemplate the flight of the graygull over the bay or the mettlesome action of the blood horse or the tall leanings of sunflowers on their stalk or the appearance of the sun journeying through heaven or the appearance of the moon afterward with any more satisfaction than you shall contemplate him. The greatest poet has less a marked style and is more the channel of thoughts and things without increase or diminution, and is the free channel of himself. He swears to his art, I will not be meddlesome, I will not have in my writing any elegance or effect or originality to hang in the way between me and the rest like curtains. What I tell I tell for precisely what is... What I experience or portray shall go from my composition without a shred of my composition. You shall stand by my side and look in the mirror with me.

-- Walt Whitman Preface to Leaves of Grass