02 December 2010

Appendix to Part I: Blind Prophets

This is an appendix to the previous post. See also: Part II.

In research for the previous post, I came across this 1885 translation of Oedipus the King by E. D. A. Morshead. (As an aside, his Wikipedia entry is rather amusing.) The translation holds a strict meter, which I find infinitely preferable to the overly Americanized Fagles translation that is so common.

Walter Kaufmann's translation of the epigram (see image above) from Goethe:
Experience it deep in your mind,
As with a curse I now descend!
The human being is, his life long, blind;
Thus, Faustus, you shall meet your end.

Max Ernst, Oedipus Rex, 1922 (click for larger image).
Exhibit A:
Alack, alack, how deadly to be wise
Where wisdom profits not!
Exhibit B:
Thou, foster-child of timeless night, nor me
Nor any man who sees the sun canst harm.
(This in particular shows the inferiority of Fagles, who has: "Blind, / lost in the night, endless night that nursed you! / You can't hurt me or anyone else who sees the light-- / you can never touch me.")

Exhibit C:
A gale of seeming fortune sped thee on
But to a hell for harbour.

Two images of Homer, another blind prophet:

William-Adolphe Bouguereau, Homer and his Guide, 1874. Someone has paired this painting with a musical piece from The Thin Red Line: click here. (Also a larger version of the painting on that site.)

The idea that Homer was blind may have something to do with the similarity of the name to the word homeros, which meant "blind" in some ancient dialects.

Click for larger image. Photo source unknown.

22 November 2010

Part I: Blindness

This is part 1 of a multi-part post. See also: Appendix to Part I, Part II.

corneal abrasion

The following is from a letter sent by Voltaire to the Marquise du Deffand, who had gone blind shortly before.
Colmar, March 3, 1754
Your letter, madam, touched me more deeply than you can imagine, and I assure you my eyes were wet when I read what had happened to yours. I had gathered, from M. de Formont's letter, that you were, so to speak, in the dusk but not in complete darkness...

Therefore, dear madam, I only regretted that your eyes had lost their beauty: and I was sure you were enough of a philosopher to console yourself for that: but, if you have lost your sight, I pity you very deeply...I agree with you that life is not worth much: we only endure it from an almost invincible instinct which nature has planted in us: to this instinct she has added the bottom of Pandora's box--hope.

Only when hope is absolutely lacking, or when an unbearable depression settles down upon us, do we triumph over the natural impulse to hug the chains that bind us to life: and gather courage to leave an ill-built house which we can never hope to repair. Two people in the country where I now am have elected to do this.
One of these two philosophers is a girl of eighteen, whose brain had been turned by the Jesuits, and who, to rid herself of them, set out for the next world. That is a thing I shall not do, or at any rate not yet, for I am in receipt of annuities from two potentates, and I should be inconsolable if by my death I enriched two crowned heads.

If you, madam, have a pension from the King, be exceedingly careful of yourself, eat little, go to bed early, and live to be a hundred.

Paul Strand, 'Blind', 1916When I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days, in this dark world and wide,
And that one Talent which is death to hide,
Lodged with me useless, though my Soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, least he returning chide,
Doth God exact day-labour, light denied,
I fondly ask; But patience to prevent
That murmur, soon replies, God doth not need
Either man's work or his own gifts, who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best, his State
Is Kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed
And post o're Land and Ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait.

-John Milton, "On His Blindness," 1655

Image: "Blindness" by Paul Strand, 1916

From Diderot's Letter on the Blind, 1749. Diderot describes an interview with a blind man from Puiseaux [emphasis added]:

He asked us if only persons who were called naturalists could see with the microscope, and if only astronomers could see with the telescope; if the instrument for enlarging objects were bigger than that for diminishing them; if that which brings them nearer were shorter than that for removing them farther off. But what puzzled him was that the other self, which according to him the mirror represents in relief, should not be tactile.

"So this little instrument," said he, "sets two senses to contradict one another; a more perfect instrument would perhaps reconcile these contradictions, without the object being ever more real for that, and perhaps a third instrument, still more perfect and less illusory, would cause these contradictions to disappear and show us our error."

the 400 blows / les quatrecents coups / 400 batow / polish movie poster 1959
Polish poster for Francois Truffaut's The 400 Blows, 1959
Designed by Waldemar Swierzy

10 November 2010

30,000 feet

GOOSE, n. A bird that supplies quills for writing. These, by some occult process of nature, are penetrated and suffused with various degrees of the bird's intellectual energies and emotional character, so that when inked and drawn mechanically across paper by a person called an "author," there results a very fair and accurate transcript of the fowl's thought and feeling. The difference in geese, as discovered by this ingenious method, is considerable: many are found to have only trivial and insignificant powers, but some are seen to be very great geese indeed.
-Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary

Bar-Headed Geese

21 October 2010

Nuestro Señor de La Mancha

In honor of the Festival Internacional Cervantino, currently in its 38th year, and in honor of Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, whose celebration needs no occasion, the following:

Detail of sculpture in Alcalá de Henares, Cervantes' birthplace. [Source]

If by chance these gentlemen should wish to know who is the valorous one that served them so, let your worship tell them that it is the famous Don Quixote of La Mancha, who is otherwise called the Knight of the Rueful Figure.

Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, Alcalá de Henares

Madrid, 1979 [Source]

Detail of the above.

Don Quixote of Havana

Detail of above.

Don Quixote, relief by Anna Hyatt Huntington, Audubon Terrace, New York

Guanajuato, Mexico, home of Cervantino. (The full sculpture includes Sancho Panza, but there seems to exist no good photo of the entire thing online.)

28 September 2010

On Scholarship

Albrecht Dürer, Saint Jerome in his Study, 1514
Albrecht Dürer, Saint Jerome in his Study, 1514

A Graduate Record Examination (GRE) "Issue task" matching game. The test takers were to present their perspectives on the following issue:

It is unfortunate that today's educators place so much emphasis on finding out what students want to include in the curriculum and then giving it to them. It is the educator's duty to determine the curriculum and the students' duty to study what is presented to them.

Below, sample phrases come from essays that received scores of 5 and 6 (6 is the highest possible score). Five of the comments relate to those two essays, and one comment relates to a third essay, which received a score of 1 (the lowest).

Phrase from sample essay
Grader's comment
1. As an elementary educator, I believe this stance is extremist. Educators and the public must come to a middle road.
A. The discussion is generally confusing and barely addresses the central issue presented in the topic.
2. Hard work must be lauded, while freeloaders are punished.
B. This is an insightful, well-articulated discussion of curricular responsibility and the larger issue of academic responsibility.
3. Content and performance standards (i.e. curricula) need to be developed by the district's educators as a map for teachers. When educators provide students with choices WITHIN the map of curriculum, students relish in the freedom and take ownership for their learning.
C. Language use is generally precise and effective, and sentence structure is well controlled.
4. Of course, any school in which the students decide "what goes" is bound to have problems controlling students. Once the educators, be they administrators or teachers, are under the control of students, even a democratic situation would be like holding royalty acountable to the mob.
D. The examples are varied and used effectively to further support the writer's position.
5. Presently, students hear for hours that they should not forget to use a condom in the heat of the moment, and educators think the message gets through, while half the kids can't even remember to bring a pencil to class.
E. The careful choice of words and carefully structured paragraphs help unify the structure of the argument.
6. I do NOT think it is unfortunate that today's educators emphasize students' interests. It IS our duty, however, to provide the parameters for their education.
F. This response presents a well-developed analysis of the issue and displays strong control of the elements of writing.

Essay 1 (scored 6): 2, 4, 5, & B, C, D
Essay 2 (scored 5): 1, 3, 6, & E, F
Essay 3 (scored 1): A

The young scholar was praised by friends and acquaintances as one of the clearest, most powerful, and most incisive writers living. It was inexplicable, therefore, that he continued to receive low scores on the writing sections of the Examination, and all the more so given that his scores on the verbal and quantitative multiple choice sections were among the highest achievable. Tragically, there was no way to circumvent the Examination, and the young scholar was barred from living the life he had imagined for himself. Settling for a life of intellectual isolation, he took up a manual craft, which provided a meager existence and afforded some time for private study. The scholar died, when, soon afterward, his lungs began to turn to glass. When he drew his last breath, the glass shattered, leaving no part of him intact for scrutiny.

Johannes Hevelius, Foot-powered Lathe, from Selenographia, sive Lunae descriptio, 1647

07 September 2010

Here am I shedding one of my life-skins, and all they will say is, 'Bernard is spending ten days in Rome.'

Painting: Virginia Woolf by Vanessa Bell, 1912
"Now I sit on a stone seat in these gardens surveying the eternal city, and the little man who was shaving in London five days ago looks already like a heap of old clothes. [...] I sit here like a convalescent, like a very simple man who knows only words of one syllable. 'The sun is hot,' I say. 'The wind is cold.' I feel myself carried round like an insect on top of the earth and could swear that, sitting here, I feel its hardness, its turning movement. I have no desire to go the opposite way from the earth. Could I prolong this sense another six inches I have a foreboding that I should touch some queer territory. But I have a very limited proboscis. I never wish to prolong these states of detachment; I dislike them; I also despise them. I do not wish to be a man who sits for fifty years on the same spot thinking of his navel. I wish to be harnessed to a cart, a vegetable-cart that rattles over the cobbles."

- Virginia Woolf, The Waves
Image: "Virginia Woolf" by Vanessa Bell, c. 1912

I expose myself to that risk voluntarily.

I have but one passion: to enlighten those who have been kept in the dark, in the name of humanity which has suffered so much and is entitled to happiness. My fiery protest is simply the cry of my very soul. Let them dare, then, to bring me before a court of law and let the enquiry take place in broad daylight! I am waiting.

- Émile Zola, J'accuse!

Painting: The Prisoner by Nikolai Alexandrovich Yaroshenko, 1878
"The Prisoner" by Nikolai Alexandrovich Yaroshenko, 1878 [1]

A man cannot live intensely except at the cost of the self. Now the bourgeois treasures nothing more highly than the self (rudimentary as his may be). And so at the cost of intensity he achieves his own preservation and security. His harvest is a quiet mind which he prefers to being possessed by God, as he does comfort to pleasure, convenience to liberty, and a pleasant temperature to that deathly inner consuming fire.

- Hermann Hesse, Steppenwolf

Painting: Zola Insulted by Henry de Groux
"Zola Insulted" by Henry de Groux, date unknown [2]

It appears to be an inborn and imperative need of all men to regard the self as a unit. However often and however grievously this illusion is shattered, it always mends again. The judge who sits over the murderer and looks into his face, and at one moment recognizes all the emotions and potentialities of the murderer in his own soul and hears the murderer's voice as his own, is at the next moment one and indivisible as the judge, and scuttles back into the shell of his cultivated self and does his duty and condemns the murderer to death. And if ever the suspicion of their manifold being dawns upon men of unusual powers and of unusually delicate perceptions, so that, as all genius must, they break through the illusion of the unity of the personality and perceive that the self is made up of a bundle of selves, they have only to say so and at once the majority puts them under lock and key, calls science to aid, establishes schizomania and protects humanity from the necessity of hearing the cry of truth from the lips of these unfortunate persons.

- Hermann Hesse, Steppenwolf

Antonin Artaud, La Pendue (The Hanged), 1945
"La Pendue" ("The Hanged") by Antonin Artaud, 1945 [3]

[1] Image taken from this page, where an oddly-phrased comment is good for a laugh: "[Yaroshenko's] genre paintings depict torture, struggles, fruit, bathing suits, and other hardships faced in Russia."

[2] From Dreyfus Rehabilitated: "painting by Henri Degroux depicting the hatred of the masses, a present to the writer from his admirers".

[3] Image taken from an excellent blog called A Journey Round My Skull; includes a link to a larger version of the image.

13 July 2010

Thy Real Friend and Loving Neighbour

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There is nothing of which we are apt to be so lavish as Time, and about which we ought to be more solicitous; since without it we can do nothing in this World. Time is what we want most, but what, alas! we use worst; and for which God will certainly most strictly reckon with us, when Time shall be no more.

- William Penn

Susquehanna River, Pennsylvania, Cumberland Valley Railroad Bridge, 1855, Postcard


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, PA



19 June 2010

Schiele, Miller, Matisse

Egon Schiele, Zurückgelehnte Frau, or Two Women, 1915
Egon Schiele, Zurückgelehnte Frau, or Two Women, 1915

I have never seen a place like Paris for varieties of sexual provender. As soon as a woman loses a front tooth or an eye or a leg she goes on the loose. In America she'd starve to death if she had nothing to recommend her but a mutilation. Here it is different. A missing tooth or a nose eaten away or a fallen womb, any misfortune that aggravates the natural homeliness of the female, seems to be regarded as an added spice, a stimulant for the jaded appetites of the male.

I am speaking naturally of that world which is peculiar to the big cities, the world of men and women whose last drop of juice has been squeezed out by the machine--the martyrs of modern progress. It is this mass of bones and collar buttons which the painter finds so difficult to put flesh on.

henri matisse, la bonheur de vivre (the joy of life), 1906
Henri Matisse, La Bonheur de Vivre (The Joy of Life), 1906

It is only later, in the afternoon, when I find myself in an art gallery on the Rue de Sèze, surrounded by the men and women of Matisse, that I am drawn back again to the proper precincts of the human world. On the threshold of that big hall whose walls are now ablaze, I pause a moment to recover from the shock which one experiences when the habitual gray of the world is rent asunder and the color of life splashes forth in song and poem. I find myself in a world so natural, so complete, that I am lost.
In every poem by Matisse there is the history of a particle of human flesh which refused the consummation of death. The whole run of flesh, from hair to nails, expresses the miracle of breathing, as if the inner eye, in its thirst for a greater reality, had converted the pores of the flesh into hungry seeing mouths. [...] He is a bright sage, a dancing seer who, with a sweep of the brush, removes the ugly scaffold to which the body of man is chained by the incontrovertible facts of life. He it is, if any man today possesses the gift, who knows where to dissolve the human figure, who has the courage to sacrifice an harmonious line in order to detect the rhythm and murmur of the blood, who takes the light that has been refracted inside him and lets it flood the keyboard of color. Behind the minutiae, the chaos, the mockery of life, he detects the invisible pattern; he announces his discoveries in the metaphysical pigment of space.

Henri Matisse, La Leçon de Musique (The Music Lesson), 1917
Henri Matisse, La Leçon de Musique (The Music Lesson), 1917

Text: Henry Miller, Tropic of Cancer

16 June 2010

The Storm & The Calm

gustave courbet the calm sea
Gustave Courbet, The Calm Sea

After brief search, I was unable to find John Donne's The Storm and The Calm presented together anywhere online. The Calm appears to be more famous than The Storm, though the two form a sort of poetic diptych. In the versions presented below (in which the English has been modernized), I have taken the liberty of emboldening several of my favorite passages.


(To Mr. Christopher Brooke)

The Storm

Thou which art I, ('tis nothing to be so)
Thou which art still thyself, by these shalt know
Part of our passage; and, a hand, or eye
By Hilliard drawn, is worth an history,
By a worse painter made; and (without pride)
When by thy judgment they are dignified,
My lines are such: 'tis the preeminence
Of friendship only to impute excellence.
England to whom we owe, what we be, and have,
Sad that her sons did seek a foreign grave
(For, Fate's, or Fortune's drifts none can soothsay,
Honour and misery have one face and way)
From out her pregnant entrails signed a wind
Which at th' air's middle marble room did find
Such strong resistance, that itself it threw
Downard again; and so when it did view
How in the port, our fleet dear time did leese,
Withering like prisoners, which lie but for fees,
Mildly it kissed our sails, and, fresh and sweet,
As to a stomach starved, whose insides meet,
Meat comes, it came; and swole our sails, when we
So joyed, as Sara her swelling joyed to see.
But 'twas but so kind, as our countrymen,
Which bring friends one day's way, and leave them then.
Then like two mighty kings, which dwelling far
Asunder, meet against a third to war,
The south and west winds joined, and, as they blew,
Waves like a rolling trench before them threw.
Sooner than you read this line, did the gale,
Like a shot, not feared till felt, our sails assail;

And what at first was called a gust, the same

Hath now a storm's, anon a tempest's name.

Jonas, I pity thee, and curse those men,

Who when the storm raged most, did wake thee then;

Sleep is pain's easiest salve, and doth fulfil

All offices of death, except to kill.

But when I waked, I saw, that I saw not.

I, and the sun, which should teach me had forgot

East, west, day night, and I could only say,

If the world had lasted, now it had been day.

Thousands our noises were, yet we 'mongst all
Could none by his right name, but thunder all:
Lightning was all our light, and it rained more
Than if the sun had drunk the sea before.
Some coffined in their cabins lie, equally
Grieved that they are not dead, and yet must die.
And as sin-burdened souls from graves will creep,
At the last day, some forth their cabins peep:
And tremblingly ask what news, and do hear so,
Like jealous husbands, what they would not know.
Some sitting on the hatches, would seem there,
With hideous gazing to fear away fear.
Then note they the ship's sicknesses, the mast
Shaked with this ague, and the hold and waist
With a salt dropsy clogged, and all our tacklings
Snapping, like too high stretched treble strings.
And from our tottered sails, rags drop down so,
As from one hanged in chains, a year ago.
Even our ordnance placed for our defence,
Strive to break loose, and 'scape away from thence.
Pumping hath tired our men, and what's the gain?
Seas into seas thrown, we suck in again;
Hearing hath deafed our sailors; and if they
Knew how to hear, there's none knows what to say.
Compared to these storms, death is but a qualm,
Hell somewhat lightsome, and the Bermuda calm.
Darkness, light's elder brother, his birth-right
Claims o'er this world, and to heaven hath chased light.
All things are one, and that one none can be,
Since all forms, uniform deformity
Doth cover, so that we, except God say
Another Fiat, shall have no more day.
So violent, yet long these furies be,
That though thine absence starve me, I wish not thee.


The Calm

Our storm is past, and that storm's tyrannous rage,
A stupid calm, but nothing it, doth 'suage.
The fable is inverted, and far more
A Block afflicts, now, than a stork before.
Storms chafe, and soon wear out themselves, or us;
In calms, heaven laughs to see us languish thus.
As steady as I can wish, that my thoughts were,
Smooth as thy mistress' glass, or what shines there,
The sea is now. And, as those Isles which we
Seek, when we can move, our ships rooted be.
As water did in storms, now pitch runs out
As lead, when a fired church becomes one spout.
And all our beauty, and our trim, decays,
Like courts removing, or like ended plays.
The fighting place now seamen's rags supply;
And all the tackling is a frippery.
No use of lanthorns; and in one place lay
Feathers and dust, today and yesterday.
Earth's hollownesses, which the world's lungs are,
Have no more wind than the upper vault of air.
We can nor lost friends, nor sought foes recover,
But meteor-like, save that we move not, hover.
Only the calenture together draws
Dear friends, which meet dead in great fishes' maws
And on the hatches as on altars lies
Each one, his own priest, and own sacrifice.
Who live, that miracle do multiply
Where walkers in hot ovens, do not die.
If in despite of these, we swim, that hath
No more refreshing, than our brimstone bath,
But from the sea, into the ship we turn,
Like parboiled wretches, on the coals to burn.
Like Bajazet encaged, the shepherd's scoff,
Or like slack-sinewed Samson, his hair off,
Languish our ships. Now, as a myriad
Of ants, durst th' Emperor's loved snake invade,
The crawling galleys, sea-goals, finny chips,
Might brave our Venice's, now bed-rid ships.
Whether a rotten state, and hope of gain,
Or to disuse me from the queasy pain
Of being beloved, and loving, or the thirst
Of honour, or fair death, out pushed me first,
I lose my end: for here as well as I
A desperate may live, and a coward die.
Stag, dog, and all which from, or towards flies,
Is paid with life, or prey, or doing dies.
Fate grudges us all, and doth subtly lay
A scourge, 'gainst which we all forget to pray,
He that at sea prays for more wind, as well
Under the poles may beg cold, heat in hell.
What are we then? How little more alas
Is man now, than before he was! he was
Nothing; for us, we are for nothing fit;
Chance, or ourselves still disproportion it.
We have no power, no will, no sense; I lie,
I should not then thus feel this misery.

john donne

13 May 2010

Musical Signatures

Here are the signatures of several (though by no means an exhaustive list of) great classical composers, presented in reverse chronological order. Please comment with omissions and I will try to add any requests to this collection.

  • John Cage

  • George Gershwin

  • Sergei Prokofiev

  • Igor Stravinsky

  • Béla Bartók

  • Maurice Ravel

  • Gustav Holst

  • Arnold Schoenberg

  • Sergei Rachmaninoff

  • Erik Satie

  • Jean Sibelius

  • Richard Strauss

  • Claude Debussy

  • Gustav Mahler

  • Pyotr Tchaikovsky

  • Johannes Brahms

  • Richard Wagner

  • Franz Liszt

  • Robert Schumann

  • Frédéric Chopin

  • Hector Berlioz

  • Ludwig van Beethoven

  • Wolfgang Mozart

  • Joseph Haydn

  • George Handel

  • J. S. Bach

  • Antonio Vivaldi

  • Johann Pachelbel