Monthly Archives: November 2015

The performance of music

. . .  just as I find it unbearable when I hear one of our big-bellied or thin-bellied singers kill the Winterreise with his singing, you understand, because that lieder-singing singer wearing tails and resting his hand on the piano while singing The Crow is always unbearable to me and ridiculous, he is a caricature from the outset, there is nothing more ridiculous, Reger said, than a lieder- or aria-singing singer leaning against the grand piano in tails. How magnificent is Schubert’s music when we do not see it being performed, when we do not see those abysmally dull-witted conceited curly-haired interpreters, but we do, of course, see them when we are in the concert hall and everything as a result becomes embarrassing and ridiculous and an acoustic and visual disaster. I do not know, Reger said, if the pianists are more ridiculous and more embarrassing than the singers by the piano, it is a question of the state of mind we happen to be in at the moment. Of course anything we see while music is being performed is ridiculous, a caricature, and therefore embarrassing, he said. The singer is ridiculous and embarrassing, he may sing as he will, no matter whether tenor or bass, and all women singers are invariably even more ridiculous and embarrassing, no matter how they are gowned or what they sing, he said. A person bowing or plucking on the podium — it is too ridiculous, he said. Even the obese smelly Bach at the organ of Saint Thomas’s Church was only a ridiculous and deeply embarrassing figure, there can be no argument about that. No, no, all artists, even if they are the most important ones and, as it were, the greatest, are nothing except kitschy and embarrassing and ridiculous. Toscanini, Furtwängler, the one too small and the other too tall, ridiculous and kitschy. And if you go to the theatre the ridiculousness and the embarrassment and the kitsch make you feel positively sick. No matter what or how the people speak, they make you feel sick. If they speak classical parts they make you feel sick, if they speak popular parts they make you feel sick. And what else are all those classical and modern so-called high or popular dramas but theatrical ridiculousness and kitschy embarrassment, he said. The whole world today is ridiculous and at the same time profoundly embarrassing and kitschy, that is the truth. Irrsigler was stepping up to Reger and once more whispering something in his ear. Reger stood up, looked about himself and left the Bordone Room with Irrsigler.

Thomas Bernhard, Old Masters:A Comedy

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To whom does one write?

One of the most revealing questions you can ask about any poet has to do with his sense of responsibility. To whom or what does he hold himself responsible in his writing? The poet who replies ‘Nothing’, who believes that the concept of responsibility is foreign to the totally free realm of art is likely to be a bad poet. If there is nothing – no reader real or imaginary, no idea, value, or principle with the right to hold the writer to account, then there is no way for her to know when she is writing better or worse, when she is getting closer to her ideal or straying from it.

That is why a genuine artist almost always wants to feel answerable to something. Not necessarily a person or a group, because any concrete audience is all too likely to constrict the imagination, to encourage flattery or evasion. But there is liberation in feeling responsible to an ideal reader the best poets of the past, perhaps, or the unbiased readers of the future; or to an ethical principle speaking truthfully, bearing witness, offering sympathy; or to an aesthetic ideal the radiance of beauty, the genius of the language. Not until you know what a poet feels responsible toward can you know how he wants and deserves to be read.

Adam Kirsch, Seamus Heaney: Digging with the Pen, Nov-Dec 2006, Havard Magazine   from here

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Visited by voices

My poetry has been called polyphonic, which is to say that I have always been full of voices speaking; in a way I consider myself an instrument, a medium. My friend Jeanne Hersch, who introduced me to the existentialism of Karl Jaspers, used to say, “I have never seen a person so instrumental,” meaning that I was visited by voices. There is nothing extraterrestrial in this, but something within myself. Am I alone in this? I don’t think so. Dostoyevsky was one of the first writers, along with Friedrich Nietzsche, to identify a crisis of modern civilization: that every one of us is visited by contradictory voices, contradictory physical urges. I have written about the difficulty of remaining the same person when such guests enter and go and take us for their instrument. But we must hope to be inspired by good spirits, not evil ones.

Czeslaw Milosz (InterviewThe Paris Review)    From here

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Our errors and our sins

What I learned from Jeanne Hersch:

That in our lives we should not succumb to despair because of our errors and our sins, for the past is never closed down and receives the meaning we give it by our subsequent acts.


Czeslaw Milosz

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The jade tap

Teju cole

Teju Cole from Instagram

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The death of a baby

But the story that haunted them most was that of the lost child. Jessie would remember it all her life, telling it again and again to her children and grandchildren, and to me. . . .

Born one month into the voyage, the baby was now some three months old and rarely stopped screaming with colic. He would fight the breast, gulping only a few swallows of milk before arching his back in rage, vomiting it up and howling for more. The little cabin could hardly contain the family, which included three older children as well as the screamer. Sometimes the mother shook him in exasperation, yelling that if he didn’t be quiet she would throw him out the porthole.

Her body was a mass of bruises from being buffeted against the walls, bunks and handrails. She had slipped many times on the wet deck, lying sprawled in the icy sea-foam then dragging herself back to the cabin, wet and freezing. For the past ten days, the ship had been bucketing east across the Southern Ocean in the tearing gales of those latitudes. In another week, the seamen told her, they would tack north towards the western coast of a land so alien and distant that it was known in Gaelic as ‘the country back of the sun’.

When the baby grew quiet from exhaustion, the mother laid him on the bunk under a blanket. She looked down at him with love and pity, at the dark smudges under his eyes, the snuffles and sobs that shook his body even in sleep. She hated herself for her bad temper. Cautioning the other children, she stepped outside to calm herself, perhaps to find her husband, or scrounge a little porridge for the others.

She returned to an unnatural stillness. She thought for a moment that one of the other women on the ship had taken the baby to give her a spell. But her three older children were smug, self-satisfied. ‘He cried again,’ they told her. ‘So we put him out the porthole.’

They had struggled to shove and twist him through the tiny hole, and he fought them. But at last he was out, spinning in the gale, where he was whirled into the mountainous seas behind the ship. He had wallowed for a moment or two, buoyed up by his clothes, then sank.

Impossible to imagine, that mother’s reaction. Her screaming must have shaken the very bones of the ship. Perhaps they tied her up so she could not harm herself, or the children. But then the Gaels had great reserves of stoicism. Their fatalism can easily be taken for passivity, but it was in truth a strength. Cover thy wound, fold down/Its curtained place, wrote the poet Mary Gilmore, herself a descendant of the Highlanders. Silence is still a crown,/Courage a grace. Perhaps the mother simply turned her face to the wall, pulled the blanket over her head to hide the tears, and rose later to go about her work. This is, I know, what Jessie herself would have done.

Shirley Walker, The Ghost At The Wedding (from here) 


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The death of a child

Dad was a very good timber worker. He knew a lot more about timber than his father did. His father resented this fact and his father wanted to be the champion of everything he put his hand to. He thought he was a better timber worker and he wasn’t, and there was a certain tree he wanted cut down and Dad said, ‘No you don’t want that cut down, that’s dangerous’.

He said, ‘It’s full of white ants and you put an axe into that it’ll fall all over you and kill you’.

So grandfather sneaked away and got his younger son Archie, Dad’s younger brother, to cut the tree down instead. Archie did. The tree fell to pieces and big lumps of it fell all over him and killed him; smashed his brains out. From then on, there was a great feud between Dad and his father.

‘You caused it.’ ‘No, you bloody caused it’.

They were that roused they would have screaming rows and you’d hear them all over the district. They never mentioned what they were rowing about but you knew. They were rowing about what was most on their mind, that was that they had killed their son/brother, and each blamed the other.”

from here 

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Captions under photographs


Les Murray’s father admonishing his blue  dog

(from here) 


Les Murray poses with chickens as a child

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lovely sentence

There were holes in her memory, so many holes it was like lace, or a cabbage leaf when the caterpillars have  been at it.’

p 132 Pat Barker, Noonday

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In his dreams

In his dreams he is running through a dark garden.

His grandfather is there but the pear tree is not where it should be,

And the little gate opens to a breaking wave.

Czeslaw Milosz, A Mirrored Gallery



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