Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Dancers, New York (1956)

Roy DeCarava via Twitter

Friday, March 19, 2021

Emily Dickinson, " Of Bronze — and Blaze" (319)

 Of Bronze — and Blaze —
The North — tonight —
So adequate — it forms —
So preconcerted with itself —
So distant — to alarms —
An Unconcern so sovereign
To Universe, or me —
Infects my simple spirit
With Taints of Majesty —
Till I take vaster attitudes —
And strut opon my stem —
Disdaining Men, and Oxygen,
For Arrogance of them —

My Splendors, are Menagerie —
But their Competeless Show
Will entertain the Centuries
When I, am long ago,
An Island in dishonored Grass —
Whom none but Daisies — know.

Thursday, March 18, 2021

With all that's going on where are we getting?


Donald Byrd, "Where Are We Going?"

Control and yielding

The pandemic has afforded me more time (perhaps - lol, no, definitely - too much time) to revisit bits of my adolescence and early adulthood, books and albums and poems and things, I guess as a way of seeing what still resonates. I'm currently rereading Paul Woodruff's translation of Euripides' Bacchae - which I have not read since my early 20s - as a way of preparing for reading Anne Carson's translation from 2017 and thinking anew about this passage, from Woodruff's introduction (bolding my own to indicate the author's non-title italics):

Initiation occurs in many cults, but is especially appropriate in the case of Dionysus, the god who has a gift for combining opposites. It is not merely that he is gracious to his votaries and cruel to his enemies; that is said of many gods. Dionysus is a god who takes human form, a powerful male who looks soft and feminine, a native of Thebes who dresses as a foreigner. His parentage is mixed between divine and human; he is and is not a citizen of Thebes; his power has both feminine and masculine aspects. He does not merely cross boundaries, he blurs and confounds them, makes nonsense of the lines between Greek and foreign, between female and male, between powerful and weak, between savage and civilized. He is the god of both tragedy and comedy, and in his presence the distinction between them falls away, as both comedy and tragedy are woven into this extraordinary play. Most disturbing of all, Dionysus blurs the lines between the magnificence of a god, the petty angers of a human being, and the savage power of a lion or wild bull.

We might say, then, that Dionysus appears mysterious because he is mysterious, because it is his special role to undermine the boundaries set by human culture. But Dionysus is not a god of mystery; he is the god of what is known as a mystery religion. Characters in the play are mystified by Dionysus because they are not initiated in his religion, and therefore do not have the clarity of vision that comes through the Bacchic experience. Generally, Greek gods present themselves obscurely to those who are not their favorites, and they blur the vision of those whom they wish to destroy. Dionysus carries this to an extreme in the myth dramatized by the Bacchae.

Initiation is a journey by way of symbolic death and rebirth, from darkness into light, indicating the passage from ignorance to joyful knowledge. The candidate is expected to resist, and is led by a guide through much of the journey. Initiation requires passive acceptance, then, and its clarity cannot be achieved by one's own active powers.

What the initiate comes to know about Dionysus is not his appearance. When Pentheus asks, "You say you saw the god clearly. What did he look like?" Dionysus in human form answers, "Whatever way he wanted. I had no control of that" (477-78). Initiates are beyond the level of appearances; they know Dionysus simply for the power that he is. The chorus is not aware that the young man they follow is actually their god in disguise; but that takes nothing away from their knowledge of the god. They know him well through their common experience of him in the practice of their religion.

If Dionysus is an enigma, he is one to which the chorus of Bacchae knows the answer - and so does the Athenian audience. We modern readers are left in ignorance, partly because of the secrecy surrounding the actual rituals of Dionysus-worship, and partly because even if we knew every detail, we would not have the clarity claimed by initiates because we cannot claim to have felt the god's presence.

The point of the play is not that we should be content with mystery and give up on our ambition for a clear understanding. It is a peculiarly modern error to prize the mystery or ambiguity of Dionysus for its own sake. The point, rather, is that clear understanding comes only by way of initiation, and not by active intellectual efforts. If a deity strikes you as mysterious, that is because you have not been initiated into his or her mysteries. The mystery will only deepen if you try to lead yourself to a solution.

The play keeps before us a running contrast between wisdom and cleverness, a contrast by which modern scholarship (as Nietzsche saw) would be on the wrong side. The chorus would pity or fear us modern scholars, if they could know us through a reversing time machine. Our hard-won knowledge would be mere cleverness in their eyes.

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

I embrace a cloud, but when I soared it rained


Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Tan Lin, Seven Controlled Vocabularies and Obituary 2004, The Joy of Cooking

 "A painting like a poem is just a space that is showing up somewhere else."

Friday, November 20, 2020

Retroactive COVID-19 report part 3


Nick Drnaso, Beverly

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

All our springs and falls and now rolls over our limpness

Selfishly missing travel - specifically plane rides - and thinking about this lil thing I wrote elsewhere last year when I thought I was sick, which I am not (yet!) but still:

"So it turns out that it was mostly my occasionally debilitating allergies wot done it, and now I’m sitting on my bed post-doctor experiencing something I’ve only really felt during my best-planned long-haul flights, where a not-entirely-terrible meal has been served, the lights have been dimmed, I’ve face-wiped and moisturized and changed into my plane socks and I’m nursing half a Xanax and a whiskey-ginger ale and sitting back in my window seat, always the window seat, looking out at what usually is the last little bit of sun setting. It’s a contentedness that I don’t experience often, but I’m feeling it now except now the plane is my bed and the whiskey-ginger ale and Xanax are a beer, a tall Hydro Flask of water, a kombucha, and my arsenal of allergy pills and sprays, and maybe a bit of Ativan for bed later. I think the message is, you’ve got everything you need, and you’re precisely where you need to be, and because of this you will be fine."

Thursday, April 30, 2020

COVID-19 report part 2

Thursday, March 26, 2020

John Yau, "After I Turn Sixty-Nine"

I don’t imagine that a chariot is hurrying near but that a sleek car is speeding up
I have started a list of the costumes I want to be buried in, beginning with horny centaur
I try to put aside obituaries but I am unable to do so for very long (maybe ten minutes)
I eat the same meal every night while reading recipes of dishes I have never tasted
I shudder nearly every time I read the phrase “Lifetime Guarantee or Your Money Back.”
I no longer find it necessary to stop and look at what is going on at a construction site
I decide I won’t tell people to stop sending me books even if I will never read them
I stop and watch ambulances trying to get past cars that don’t want to move aside
I begin thinking about different methods I might use to remove myself from the story
I know what my friend meant when he said his dog would take his place on the couch
I think about the cities I will never return to, including Cadaqués and Caracas
I wonder when I will no longer begin a sentence with the words “if” and “when”
I dream that my ashes will be scattered in a remote spot in Ireland that no one visits
I admit that shrinking into myself is not as unpleasant as I once thought
Maira Gall