I began the day recalling my bath of the previous night, which was scolding hot as usual and reaching the point where soon I would have to get out or faint as I sweated through another page of Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping. It was often when I was in the bathtub that my most cogent ideas struck me; yesterday was no different. When I reached the point where to read another sentence would probably have resulted in cardiac arrest, I laid the book down and leaned back — this was the last phase of the nightly bath — and as I was doing this, there came an exciting new thought: if I was no longer going to write, as I had begun to worry that I wouldn’t, then I should at least write about not-writing. And was so struck by the idea that I rose from the tub, dripping, to jot it down, which I was now doing. I was writing down the idea “I no longer wish to write” by writing down that I was writing it down. I wanted a threshold to open that also would be like a question, something that asked me about my living in such a way that I could finally understand it. I couldn’t understand why my days unfolded the way they did and why they took me away from writing. I was writing “I no longer wish to write” repeatedly, and, in making this gesture, uncovered distant, repeated scribbling from my childhood: “I will not tell a lie”; “I will not leave the top off the peanut butter”, “I will never raise my voice.” Each declaration filling tens of pages, and this was a kind of writing similar to what I believed I’d been doing for some time— a writing so as not to write, so to find the limit (that last line) beyond which the body is free to roam outside once more. Renee Gladman, Five Things, The Paris Review, Summer 2016
Monthly Archives: June 2016
“To be miniature is to be swallowed by a miniature whale.”
This is wisdom I gleaned from experience. And when I say gleaned I mean picked up off the ground after the commercial harvesters had come through. This is wisdom nobody much wanted; I surely didn’t. Of course, much wisdom is things we never wanted to know. (Itself an additional piece of wisdom, again demonstrating how discouraging wisdom is.)
Kay Ryan, The Miniature, The Threepenny Review, Spring 2016 (from here)
One summer . . Borges’ mother gave a doll to a farmhand’s daughter where they were staying. A year later, when she called on him, she found the girl’s father nailed it to the wall. To him, it was as precious as a religious icon, clearly too fine a thing for the little girl to ever hold. He thanked Senora Borges profusely, “What a delight the doll has been to her!” Elizabeth Hyde Stevens (from here)
. . . W.H. Auden famously said—after seeing the Spanish Civil War—that “poetry makes nothing happen.” And it doesn’t, when the “something” desired is the end of hostilities, a government coup, an airlift, or an election victory. But those “somethings” are narrowly conceived. The cultural resonance of the characters of Greek epic and tragedy—Achilles, Oedipus, Antigone—and the crises of consciousness they embody—have been felt long after the culture that gave them birth has disappeared. Gandhi’s philosophical conception of nonviolent resistance has penetrated far beyond his own country and beyond his own century. Music makes nothing happen, either, in the world of reportable events (which is the media world); but the permanence of Beethoven in revolutionary consciousness has not been shaken. We would know less of New England without Emily Dickinson’s “seeing New Englandly,” as she put it. Books are still considering Lincoln’s speeches—the Gettysburg Address, the Second Inaugural—long after the events that prompted them vanished into the past. Nobody would remember the siege of Troy if Homer had not sung it, or Guernica if Picasso had not painted it. The Harlem Renaissance would not have occurred as it did without the stimulus of Alain Locke, Harvard’s first black Rhodes Scholar. Modern philosophy of mind would not exist as it does without the rigors of Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations, nor would our idea of women’s rights have taken the shape it has without Woolf’s claim for a room of her own.
Helen Vendler (from here)
We stick to the wrong thing quite often, not because it will come to fruition by further effort, but because we cannot let go of the way we have decided to tell the story and we become further enmeshed even by trying to make sense of what entraps us, when what is needed is a simple, clean breaking away. To remove our selves entirely and absolutely, abruptly and at times uncompromisingly is often the real and radically courageous break for freedom. Unsticking ourselves from the mythical Tar Baby, seemingly set up, just for us, right in the middle of our path; we start the process of losing our sense of falsity, of ridding ourselves of illusions, of letting go of our self manufactured enemies, and even our false friends, and most especially the false sense of self we have manufactured to live with them: we make ourselves available for the simple purification of seeing our selves and our world more elementally and therefore more clearly again. We withdraw not to disappear, but to find another ground from which to see; a solid ground from which to step, and from which to speak again, in a different way, a clear, rested, embodied voice we begin to remember again as our own.
– David Whyte, Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words
. . . . the world seems to be going faster and faster, and our attention seems to be more and more fragmented on these various, in various ways. And threatening the inner life. And what I would say is that poetry is a bulwark against these things. That I think people will realize, in the midst of all this, that they need some way of putting up resistance to it. And reading a poem can be an act of resistance, because it can be an act of individual consciousness in this onslaught of information that’s coming at us.
Christian Wiman, interview with Bill Myers, (from here)
City of Fog: Passing the Flower – The Chinese Resource Pyramid Scheme behind the Three Gorges Dam
A story about finding gold: a man bought a flock of ducks to raise tuition money for his two sons. One summer, the boys were tending the ducks by the pond and saw something gold shimmering under the water. They couldn’t swim so they set out to find their father. The father was busy playing cards, and he ignored the boys. The older son, out of patience, returned to the pond. The younger son appraised the situation, and had an idea. He went to his father and said, “My brother broke his leg”. His father ran frightened to the edge of the pond, and saw that his eldest son was fine. Angry, he slapped his younger son. The child, rubbing his sore face, said “Father, just look at the water!” The father looked, and saw something gold and shiny. He couldn’t reach it, so he drained the pond. When he picked up the object, he saw that it was a golden bowl of the type used by county magistrates in the Tang Dynasty, an extremely valuable object. He got a friend to sell it for him, and received over a million Yuan. When someone asked how he got so rich so quickly, he looked at the dried out pond, rubbed his son’s hair and said, “My son’s smarts, a lie with good intentions and a dried-up pond are what made me my fortune.” Chen Jiagang Smog City
Wrapping paper for soap superimposed over the cover of a book of photographs, Smog City by Chen Jiagang.
“The true photographer only shoots for his inner mind. Sometimes he gets lost, and focuses on the issues that politicians and sociologists worry about. But once he satisfies his moral responsibility, he will feel empty and return to the mind.’ Chen Jiagang