The Great Through The Small

There are these lines from the handsome edition (designed by Tim Inkster and typeset at The Coach House and published by Exile Editions) of Gwendolyn MacEwen's translation of Helen, a poem by Yannis Ritsos, these lines that take on the mystery of what is remembered...

Now and again I can still sense that aroma — I mean, I remember it;
isn't it strange? — those things we usually consider great, dissolve, fade away —
some other things remain, unimportant, meaningless things; I
     recall seeing one day
a bird perching on a horse's back; and that baffling thing
seemed to explain (especially for me) a certain beautiful mystery.
And between these two observations is a description of a necklace sent to Helen. The necklace which our speaker claims as being forgotten came to her after the slaughter of Clytemnestra, a necklace she never wore but is able to describe in minute detail "made / from small golden masks, held together by links / from the upper tips of their ears". What would appear to be a dichotomy between the great and the meaningless becomes upon closer examination a relation of accessibility: access to the great comes through remembering small details. It is all that remains.

And so for day 1184

From Framework to Frame

Amusing anecdote.

Jonathan Warren. "The Lessons of the Living Dead: Marcel's Journey from Balbec to Douville-Féterne in Proust's Cities of the Plain: Part Two". Studies in 20th Century Literature Volume 19, Number 2, Summer 1995.

Note 5

I am grateful to Fran├žois Lachance who first suggested the alignment of Lot's wife and Kristevan statuary character to me.
How I did so involved a wee bit of mischief. I was one of the translators of Julia Kristeva's lectures for the Special Seminar in Comparative Literature: Proust and Perceptible Time held at the Centre for Comparative Literature, University of Toronto, in 1992. I dutifully translated but added a running set of footers (very easy to do in a document-centred program like Wordperfect; less so in a page-centred program like Microsoft Word). Sometime later I published those running footers as lines in a poem called Metropole in Tracking the Remembrance of Touch. The lines reference Lot's wife as "but a pile / of dysfunctional electrolytes / the unnamed wife" and make of her a forerunner of Antigone who also is not named in the poem. The poem also plays with the notion of foreclosure. As I recall Jonathan was a student in the seminar and liked the trick with the footers and he very kindly sent me an autographed off-print of his article which has surfaced among my Proust books and led me to recall those days of the early 90s where and when we worked the interstices.

And so for day 1183

Directions Separations

In this odd little text set in courier there is a neat trick of severing words with «guillemets» (French quotation marks). There are only two instances.

(details, the rest

s » weep
The next and final instance swerves almost to rewind.
I was s « aying
what is interesting is that in this boundary challenging use of quotation (never really opening or closing) nathalie stephens in Species: Ex(hib)it is working through a kind of s ‹ addness to arrive at yes and affirmations and a set of ampersands & & & built upon syllables so s ‹ light and labile

And so for day 1182

Fluctuations in Verbal Moods

What struck me in the poetry of Alice Burdick is the mixing of verbal moods. She shifts within one poem or another between the indicative and the imperative. I will not quote her but will note here that the title of one of her collections (Flutter) can be read both as a noun describing a type of action and as a verb inciting us to that action. Instead here is a little homage.

Water freezes.
Freeze water.

To observe
To intervene
What I have learnt in in the end is that what subtends the shifting between imperative and indicative is the infinitive. And what one learns from the surreal moments of Burdick's poetry is fluidity in even the what appear to be the most stable monuments. Monument betokens movement. Burdick launches us as she arrests. Witness the ending of "I circuit hot foot"
All closed doors shall eventually open. Stale time shall go. Corners of dust shall release old secrets into tunnel of sunshine. Large murderous buildings shall tilt and bend and lighten up. Why did we take it all so seriously?
We are frozen as we freeze. Erode is the principal mode.

And so for day 1181

Taming the Cultural Beast

Adam Gopnik in The Museum Today (Eva Holtby Lecture on Contemporary Culture No. 1) adopted for a piece in Walrus as "The Mindful Museum" arrives at his masterful proposal for the experience and the institution through a contrast between two types.

The secular ritual of museum-going historicizes art, even as it humanizes anti-art.
The key here is "secular ritual" and what follows is a sort of "apprivoisement" which to the discerning eye is not the equivalent of domesticization.

And so for day 1180

Naming Names

It was upon a second reading of Mark Merlis American Studies that it struck me that a key chapter is built upon a structure of "naming names" which is of course in keeping with the theme of the book which looks back to the years of witch hunting during the McCarthy era. The exquisite pain of the inquisition is heightened by the mock gentility offered by the academic setting: the disclosure is orchestrated in the office of the president. He asks the informant, a professor reporting on the dalliance of another faculty member with a student:

"Of course these are unusual times. As we were saying. Maybe the most important thing, just now, is finding someone who'll put the interests of the university ahead of anything else." He lets that sink in a moment. "This student, I suppose you could find out his name if you wanted to."

Fuzzy swallows. "I suppose I could."
And so the curtain is drawn on that interrogation only to be followed later in the chapter by the the revelation of the name of the student when a recording is played back to the subject of presidential scrutiny. This concludes in good tragic fashion the chapter:
"I think you had better start by saying your name."

"Do we really need to —" Tom cannot identify the voice. Which member of the study group is it? He just cannot place the voice squawking out of that primitive machine.

"What is your name, please."

"James Stivers."
So oddly formal since previous to this the readers knew him as "Jimmy" sans surname. There is more detail about the creation of the recording and the reaction to the betrayal elsewhere in the novel but this naming moment starkly stands out.

And so for day 1179

Reputation Rich Cash Poor

Under the sign of Petronius, the arbiter of taste, we place this quotation for your delectation:

Places like the Waldorf [New York] or Drake [Chicago], even thought they're desired by wealthier people, tend never to appear on the Top 10 lists, while the creative class, many of whom make much less money and have precarious employment, enjoy, at least the spoils of social capital that come with being tastemakers, and attend the restaurants that do get the attention. Too bad social capital can't be transferred into a pension or property.
Shawn Micallef. The Trouble with Brunch: work, class and the pursuit of leisure.

And so for day 1178

Wheat Landscapes

From a finger exercise ... "The wheat fields of the plain may appear monotonous but from the correct perspective appear to possess the sublimity of waves."

"I don't know what you want / but I can hold the window open / while you leant out and grab strands of wheat and sand." Alice Burdick in "Strands of wheat and sand" Flutter

"One day the road is a zipper / and as you drive / you zip and uncover / the hairy blonde chest of Saskatchewan." David O'Meara "Trans-Canada" in Storm still

And so for day 1177

History Through Hockey

It is with hard-earned composure that the hero of the story tells his story in the proper setting where there is comfort and the memories of a well-loved game.

We settled for sitting in the stands while the rink man cleaned the ice. [...] I was at a loss where to begin. In the end, he did it for me.

"You're one of those kids, aren't you? One of the ones the schools fucked up. My dad told me some of what he went through. When they said they wanted to bring you out of there, I guess I kinda knew why, even then. Knew it wasn't all about the game.

"I didn't know," I said. "Not for a long time. Not until just this past year."


"Don't think he had anything to do with it, really."

He turned in his seat. "I know. I'm sorry. Crap choice of words."


I told him about the rage that built in me that I had never understood and how it corroded everything, even the game. I told him about the road, the jobs, the towns, and then I told him about the booze.
The laconic tone — that remark about Jesus — almost lulls you but that is because as a reader you have heard the story before and its rehearsal here between friends is a kind of triumph of demons overcome. A quiet triumph. Not boastful. A shared moment so like the passes our hero was renowned for when he was making himself a name in the game.

For the full story, see Richard Wagamese Indian Horse.

And so for day 1176

Didactic Dragon

John Gardner describes an encounter between Grendel and a dragon which provides the occasion for an exquisite disquisition.

After another long pause, he said: "Approach it this way. Let us take this jug." He picked up a golden vessel and held it toward me, not letting me touch it. In spite of himself, as it seemed, he looked hostile and suspicious, as if he thought I might perhaps be so stupid as to snatch the thing and run. "How does this jug differ from something animate?" He drew it back out of reach. "By organization! Exactly! This jug is an absolute democracy of atoms. It has importance, or thereness, so to speak, but no Expression, or, loosely, ah-ha!-ness. Importance is primarily monistic in its reference to the universe. Limited to a finite individual occasion, importance ceases to be important. In some sense or other — we can skip the details — importance is derived from the immanence of infinitude in the finite. Expression, however — listen closely now — expression if founded on the finite occasion. It is the activity of finitude impressing itself on its environment. Importance passes from the world as one to the world as many, whereas expression is the gift from the world as many to the world as one. The laws of nature are large average effects which reign impersonally. But there is nothing average about expression: it is essentially individual. [...] "
Nothing average here located a pivotal moment in the novel Grendel. As the dragon continues it becomes evident that Grendel does not follow entirely and soon they part ways. But the distinction between importance and expression hovers at the edge of memory and colours the following scenes.

And so for day 1175