field report: bridges

For once the speakers outside Hard Rock Cafe are playing a song I want to hear so I stand leaning against the bricks and listen to the lengthy bridge from ‘How Soon Is Now?’ It’s the part of the song I have always particularly loved. Just as Morrissey starts to sing for the last time ‘I am human and I need to be loved’ a generic man in fancy slacks and blazer walks by mouthing the words. The song fades out and I walk to the suspension bridge that always buckles in the wind. As I reach the bridge a man visibly down on his luck addresses me. He asks me if there is a mission where he and his wife can get a hot meal and I tell him there is one on the Fallsway. He replies that it’s closed. So I say there’s also one on Gay Street. He responds that it too is closed. I have no money with me so I tell him I can’t help him and wish him luck. He says nothing and turns away. I continue across the bridge and then I walk across the map of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, sometimes cordoned off and sometimes not, that is etched into stone in front of the fish prison. I make a halfhearted attempt to look for birds in the habitat islands but I feel like I have experienced way too much in the past few minutes so I return to the office and read a few more pages of Konwicki.

at the border of writing

It was almost easy for him, there where he lived, to live almost without a sign, almost without a self, as if at the border of writing; close to this word, barely a word, rather a word too many, and in that nothing but a word from which, one day in the past, gently welcomed, he had received the salute that did not save, the summons that had awakened him. That could be told, even if, and especially if, nobody were there to hear it.

Maurice Blanchot, The Step Not Beyond [translated by Lycette Nelson]

three friends

There were three friends
Discussing life.
One said:
“Can men live together
And know nothing of it?
Work together
And produce nothing?
Can they fly around in space
And forget to exist
World without end?”
The three friends looked at each other
And burst out laughing.
They had no explanation.
Thus they were better friends than before.

Then one friend died.
Confucius
Sent a disciple to help the other two
Chant his obsequies.

The disciple found that one friend
Had composed a song.
While the other played a lute,
They sang:

“Hey, Sung Hu!
Where’d you go?
Hey, Sung Hu!
Where’d you go?
You have gone
Where you really were.
And we are here—
Damn it! We are here!”

Then the disciple of Confucius burst in on them and
Exclaimed: “May I inquire where you find this in the
Rubrics for obsequies,
This frivolous carolling in the presence of the departed?”

The two friends looked at each other and laughed:
“Poor fellow,” they said, “he doesn’t know the new liturgy!”

—Thomas Merton. The Way of Chuang Tzu [vi. II.]. New York: New Directions, 1969.

luxuriant leprosy of the vegetable kingdom

Soon began the glorious days of autumn particularly unmistakable in the melancholy curve that the sun, already noticeable lower over the horizon, drew across the sky in whose calm expanses, as though constantly swept by a wonderfully pure wind, its golden trace seemed to linger like a magnificent ship’s wake, and hardly had it turned its course toward the horizon than the moon, as though suspended to the beam of a celestial balance, appeared against the blue light of day with the ghostly glow of an unexpected star, whose malignant influence would now, of itself alone, explain the sudden, strange, and half-metallic alterations of the leaves of the forest whose surprising red and yellow brilliance burst out everywhere with the irrepressible vigour, the fulminating contagion of a luxuriant leprosy of the vegetable kingdom.

Julien Gracq, The Castle of Argol (a most curious book, and one filled with what would become Gracq’s signature lush descriptions of Nature as a possibly supernatural force. In particular he seems to have a thing for forests…reading his forested prose turns hypnotic after a time. See also: A Balcony in the Forest.)

[Review here.]

virginia woolf’s summer madness

The only thing in this world is music–music and books and one or two pictures. I am going to found a colony where there shall be no marrying–unless you happen to fall in love with a symphony of Beethoven–no human element at all, except what comes through Art–nothing but ideal peace and endless meditation. The whole of human beings grows too complicated, my only wonder is that we don’t fill more madhouses: the insane view of life has much to be said for it–perhaps its the sane one after all: and we, the sad sober respectable citizens really rave every moment of our lives and deserve to be shut up perpetually. My spring melancholy is developing these hot days into summer madness.

Source: The Letters of Virginia Woolf Volume 1: 1888-1912 (from a letter dated April 23, 1901 to Emma Vaughan)

(thanks: lost fun zone)

100 Years of Leonora Carrington

As they rode along the edge, the brambles drew back their thorns like cats retracting their claws.

This was something to see: fifty black cats and as many yellow ones, and then her, and one couldn’t really be altogether sure that she was a human being. Her smell alone threw doubt on ita mixture of spices and game, the stables, fur and grasses.

Riding a wheel, she took the worst roads, between precipices, across trees. Someone who’s never travelled on a wheel would think it difficult, but she was used to it.

Her name was Virginia Fur, she had a mane of hair yards long and enormous hands with dirty nails; yet the citizens of the mountain respected her and she too always showed a deference for their customs. True, the people up there were plants, animals, birds; otherwise things wouldn’t have been the same. Of course, she had to put up with being insulted by the cats at times, but she insulted them back just as loudly and in the same language. She, Virginia Fur, lived in a village long abandoned by human beings. Her house has holes all over, holes she’d pierced for the fig tree that grew in the kitchen.

—from ‘As They Rode Along the Edge’ by Leonora Carrington

This story is now available in The Complete Stories of Leonora Carrington published in the USA by The Dorothy Project, and in The Debutante and Other Stories published in the UK by Silver Press. Both titles have been published as part of a 2017 centenary celebration of Carrington’s birth, which also includes the NYRB republication of her asylum memoir Down Below and her children’s book The Milk of Dreams, as well as Joanna Moorhead’s biography The Surreal Life of Leonora Carrington.

For a breakdown of the differences between the two supposedly ‘complete’ collections of Carrington’s short stories, read ‘Hyenas, Horses, and Rabbits, Oh My!‘ by Selena Chambers at Weird Fiction Review. Over time Chambers will be reviewing each of Leonora’s stories found in the two collections, as well as evaluating the other books listed above.

There could hardly be a better time to be reading and appreciating Leonora Carrington!

(Click here to read my review of the out-of-print collection House of Fear, which includes a selection of her stories, the novella Little Francis, and the memoir Down Below, and here for my review of The Seventh Horse and Other Tales, which paired another batch of her stories with an abridged version of her novel The Stone Door).

leonora and gabriel – an instant

it’s never just about the weather

I do not want to bore you but I need to mention the weather. How it changes so often. Grey one day, yellow the next. Warm then cold then warm again. The brightness, the whiteness, the way the light shifts inside a room. And the way to compensate with the artificial. Our lamps. Our electric manipulation of the shadows.

I am reading this book wherein the main character feels inauthentic. He keeps trying to capture the feeling of being real. He goes to elaborate lengths using methods only possible due to the generous settlement he received following a traumatic accident. He wants to relive his body’s response to the trauma. The natural opioids flowing through his body. That tingling serenity. But he doesn’t know this. So he keeps trying. He exerts control in an effort to manifest a desired outcome. He too is concerned with how the light moves across a room. Yet he cannot control it for the Earth is always changing its position relative to the Sun. He cannot count on it always being the same. I want him to know that it’s all real. That it’s not a matter of recapturing a feeling of being real. That he must awaken to it.

In March the weather changed so often. Now it is almost April and I am learning to walk again. It has been a long and strange winter in more ways than the most obvious one.

I wonder if the world is really different. Is it really changing. Or do we just perceive it to be doing so. A person can pretend that it is not. Quite easy to do that. Everything is happening all at once and one can only choose to pay attention to so much of it. What will catch your attention. A call to action, perhaps. But there are no more manifestos. They cannot breathe in this information-choked environment. So maybe the world is different. Maybe it is different in how words have become both so much less and so much more important. Words spew out around us at light speed. Our eyes and ears are bombarded by them. Words are cheap and they pile up around our feet by day’s end. But there are a few diamonds in that pile. Which of these will we choose to hear? Which ones will we allow to penetrate the filters now affixed to our eyes. And how will we respond.

I continue to ruminate on the act of writing and what purpose it serves, if any. The consensus among writers I admire is that the point of writing is not to say something. As the writer of the book I refer to above quotes Kafka:

I write in order to affirm and reaffirm that I have absolutely nothing to say.

To take it to the furthest extreme, I’m reminded of Enrique Vila-Matas and his novel Bartleby & Co., which chronicles an array of “artists of refusal,” those who chose not to write. Now Vila-Matas clearly wrote his book with tongue firmly planted in cheek, and yet there are indeed writers who have chosen not to write. One can certainly see the appeal, especially when confronted with the dread of the empty page.

In his short story “The Library of Babel”, Jorge Luis Borges wrote:

The certitude that everything has been written negates us or turns us into phantoms.

Even taken out of context from a piece of fiction that sounds harsh. And I don’t agree (nor do I think Borges did). While this certitude can get me down, I refuse to be negated and I am certain of my realness. I am not a phantom. At one time I may have believed I was, but no longer. Writing for me now is an attempt to perpetuate this realness. Of figuring out a way to convey actuality in prose. Of removing the filters and exposing the words in all of their stark, fragile beauty. It is likely an impossible task, but it is the striving that fills the pages.

‘the source we have forgotten’

The road. When I could drive no more for weariness I huddled in the back of the car and uneasily dreamed for a few hours but I did not do that often, I was in a frenzy that precluded rest. I felt that I was in a great hurry but I did not know I was speeding toward the very enigma I had left behind–the dark room, the mirror, the woman. I did not know this destination exercised a magnetic attraction on me. I did not know I could not stop.

In the mornings, the ground was white with hoar frost for it was now late October and a crimson sun rose over plains that rolled as far as the pale hem of the sky. There were no trees. The radio in the car fed me an aural pabulum of cheapjack heartbreak; this nasal country music was interspersed with voices that sang the praises of innumerable articles of consumption and sputtered out frequent news bulletins. The Harlem Wall grew longer, taller, thicker; the National Guard was on permanent call. Riots, incendiarism. I could not have picked a worse time for my trip. Only fatality could have possessed me to go high-tailing off in such troubled times, fatality and the unknowable impulsion of the destination ahead of me, a destination of which I was entirely ignorant although it had chosen me long ago for our destinations choose us, choose us before we are born.

And exercise a magnetic attraction upon us, drawing us inexorably toward the source we have forgotten. Descend lower, descend the diminishing spirals of being that restore us to our source. Descend lower; while the world, in time, goes forward and so presents us with the illusion of motion, though all our lives we move through curvilinear galleries of the brain towards the core of the labyrinth within us.

—Angela Carter, The Passion of New Eve

a profile of the translator ‘red pine’

Bill Porter

Bill Porter (“Red Pine”). translator of Chinese texts and poetry, and author of the 1993 book Road to Heaven: Encounters with Chinese Hermits

(click image to read the article; found via The Hermitary see also: Lion’s Roar article)

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