Dialogue on the Threshold

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Tuesday, 1 December 2020

Windless pestilence


Luckless man

Avoids the miserable bodkin's point,

And, flinching from the insect's little sting, 

In pitiful security keeps watch, 

While 'twixt him and that hypocrite the sun, 

To which he prays, comes windless pestilence, 

Transparent as a glass of poisoned water

Through which the drinker sees his murderer smiling;

She stirs no dust, and makes no grass to nod,

Yet every footstep is a thousand graves,

And every breath of her's as full of ghosts

As a sunbeam with motes.


Thomas Lovell Beddoes (1803-1849), Death's Jest-Book

Monday, 23 November 2020

La pourtraiture de la dicte cisterne tant doloureuse


Si prist l'ame a regarder entour d'elle s'en aucune maniere elle pourroit veoir comment elle estoit la venue et en regardant ça et la, elle percheu une grant fosse toute quarree, tout ainsi come une cisterne. De celle fosse sailloit ung tourbillon de flambe grant, artant et puant a merveilles, et luy sembloit bonnement que la fumiere contremontoit jusques au chiel. En celle vapeur et tourbillon avoit si tres grant nombre de dyables et ainsi de ames ensemble quy aloient avec l'ayr tout en le flambe et en la fumiere, que c'estoit une tres horrible chose a regarder. Et quant icelles ames estoient montees en l'ayr moult hault, si recheoient tout a coup ou partont de la fournaise. Et quant 'ame du chevallier ot veu ce  tant douloureux tourment, elle s'en vouloit traire arriere, mais elle ne pouoit lever ses piés de la terre pour le grant paour qu'ell avoit. Et quant elle vey que sa voulenté ne pouoit accomplir, si se courrouça moult forment et dist: «Hellas! chaitisve, pourquoy ne vouloies tu croire les Escriptures?»

Les Visions du Chevalier Tondal de David Aubert 

(Los Angeles, Getty Museum, ms. 30, fo. 29ra)


Then his soul began to look around in an attempt to understand how it had come there and in so doing it saw a great pit, all square, just like a cistern. From this pit gushed an eddy of huge flame, blazing and stinking, and it was as if the smoke rose to the very sky. In that steam and eddy there was a very great number of devils and souls together that were lifted into the air within the flame and smoke, this being a most horrific thing to behold. And when these souls had been lifted very high in the air, they would all of a sudden tumble back down into the furnace. When the knight's soul saw this so pitiful torment, it would have turned away, but it could not raise its feet from the ground so great was the fear it felt. And seeing that it could not achieve its will, it was greatly angered and said, "Alas! wretched soul, wherefore wilt thou not believe in the Scriptures?"

Monday, 9 November 2020

Alistair Ian Blyth - Card Catalogue

 

Alistair Ian Blyth, Card Catalogue, Dalkey Archive Press, 2020 

ISBN-13: 978-1628972696

 

In the crepuscular Bucharest of the decade after the Revolution, the neurasthenic, amnesic narrator of Card Catalogue meets Obmanschi, a former political prisoner and unpublished writer of the pre-war avant-garde. Over many years, Obmanschi has compiled a minutely detailed card catalogue of the realia to be found in the classic Russian novel, whose categories include not only everyday material items, but also books as tangible objects and even the cockroaches whose rustling presence can be heard in Gogol, Goncharov, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Chekhov. Meanwhile, the narrator compiles his own catalogue of oneiric books and their insubstantial authors, one of whom, bewilderingly, may be Obmanschi himself. Obmanschi already leads a second, shade-like existence, having been reduced to an independent, fictional character in the informer’s reports submitted to the secret police over the decades by the superintendent of his building. In a series of dreamlike narratives linked by the subject of libraries—book hoarding, book hunting, dreams of infinite other books, past and future—Card Catalogue hints that fiction is ultimately an oneiric world unto itself, in which the characters lead their own tenuous, separate existence, like the shades in Hades.

Saturday, 11 July 2020

Imaginary Performances in Shakespeare

 
translated by Alistair Ian Blyth, 
Routledge, 2020

In Imaginary Performances in Shakespeare, visionary modernist theatre director Aureliu Manea analyses the theatrical possibilities of Shakespeare. Through nineteen Shakespeare plays, Manea sketches the intellectual parameters, the visual languages, and the emotional worlds of imagined stage interpretations of each; these nineteen short essays are appended by his essay ‘Confessions,’ an autobiographical meditation on the nature of theatre and the rôle of the director. 

Aureliu Manea (1945-2014) made his debut as a director with a production of Ibsen’s Rosmersholm at the Sibiu Theatre, which stunned Romania’s theatrical world with the originality of its staging, and the press hailed him as a unique new talent. Throughout his career, he created a large number of theatre and opera productions, as well as puppet shows, creating a repertoire of both Romanian and foreign plays, some of which had never before been performed in Romania, such as Sophocles’s Philoctetes. Manea is considered a Romanian director who revolutionised and reformulated theatre.

Macbeth, directed by Aureliu Manea, Ploiești Theatre, Romania, 1976

Friday, 13 March 2020

...ku glas amar...


Fresco, 1722, porch of the Kretzulescu Church, Calea Victoriei, Bucharest

Sunday, 8 March 2020

toothache

"Where the hell am I?"
A single point of rock, peak of a mountain range, one tooth set in the ancient jaw of a sunken world, projecting through the inconceivable vastness of the whole ocean--and how many miles from dry land? An evil pervasion, not the convulsive panic of his first struggles in the water, but a deep and generalized terror set him clawing at the rock with his blunt fingers.

William Golding, Pincher Martin, Faber and Faber, 1956; 1962, p. 30. 


Christopher Hadley Martin had no belief in anything but the importance of his own life, no God. Because he was created in the image of God he had a freedom of choice which he used to centre the word on himself. He did not believe in purgatory and therefore when he died it was not presented to him in overtly theological terms. The greed for life which was the mainspring of his nature forced him to refuse the selfless act of dying. He continued to exist separately in a world composed of his own murderous nature. His drowned body lies rolling in the Atlantic but the ravenous ego invents a rock for him to endure on. It is the memory of an aching tooth. Ostensibly and rationally he is a survivor from a torpedoed destroyer: but deep down he knows the truth. He is not fighting for bodily survival but for his continuing identity in face of what will smash it and sweep it away--the black lightning, the compassion of God. For Christopher, the Christ-bearer, has become Pincher Martin who is little but greed. Just to be Pincher is purgatory; to be Pincher for eternity is hell.

William Golding, 
quoted in Bernard S. Oldsey and Stanley Weintraub,  The Art of William Golding,
 Bloomington: University of Indiana, 1965, p. 94.




Friday, 6 March 2020

Dumitru Tsepeneag - The Bulgarian Truck




Even in the original, The Bulgarian Truck is a novel acutely conscious of its own translatedness. The narrator, who, like the author, is a Romanian émigré writer living in Paris, is still bound to his native language and culture, but knows that if his book is to stand any chance of being read by more than a handful of people on the fringes of Europe, it will have to be translated. But even as a writer in translation, he harbours no illusions as to the extent of his readership:

in Romania they’ll hardly be rushing out to read the book. Or in any other country, for that matter, in France, for example . . . How many readers have I had in France, my adopted homeland? I can count them on my fingers. Or maybe the translations have been to blame.

On the other hand, the narrator knows all too well that the average reader—or rather le grand public—is avid for a story, for that which can most readily be translated from the written to the audio-visual medium: ‘the kind of literature that is suited to film adaptations,’ he calls it. And so, although she is a writer he cannot stand, the narrator grudgingly takes inspiration from Marguerite Duras’ film Le Camion (1977) and sets about constructing a story involving a Bulgarian truck driver making his way westward across Europe.

The (generic) Bulgarian truck driver also happens to be a French political bogeyman, invented by Philippe Villiers, and thereby lends topicality to the narrator’s project for a novel. Press cuttings about nationalist discontent in Bulgaria and Bulgarian truck drivers undercutting their French counterparts are interspersed among the various other textual materials of what the narrator calls his ‘building site beneath the open sky.’ These include the unpunctuated and progressively oneiric (‘in dreams there are no commas’) narrative involving Tsvetan, the driver of the eponymous Bulgarian truck, and Beatrice, an erotic dancer, who, being literally impenetrable, as a character undermines the reading public’s demand for the inclusion of sex scenes in every novel; passages in which the narrator squabbles with his wife (a character from an earlier novel) over the telephone about the inconsistencies and shortcomings of the text in progress; and an exchange of e-mails with Milena/Mailena, the more successful Slovakian novelist with whom the narrator is having an extra-marital affair, but who ultimately turns out to be yet another textual construct.

In a way, we might also read the Bulgarian truck as a metaphor for east-European literature. Continental literary traffic is mostly one way, from West to East, with hundreds of western writers being translated in the languages of the erstwhile communist bloc annually. But like the ramshackle Bulgarian truck, with its dodgy brakes and uncategorisable, non-standard cargo, a few eastern writers still manage to make the journey in the opposite direction, even if, like Tsvetan, they don’t get to compete with the big trucks in the endurance race at Alès.

As an east-European novelist, the narrator writes both to be translated and to avoid translating, which, at the start of the novel, he compares to ‘play[ing] the part of Flea the Footman to some great writer or other (let’s see how they translate that allusion!).’ This parenthetical comment points to the insuperable untranslatability of cultural allusions when they come from ‘minor’ cultures, whose histories and stories have not entered global circulation, have not been ‘carried across’. Who outside Romania knows that Flea the Footman was a diminutive (hence the nickname) fifteenth-century Moldavian page who once famously crouched on the ground so that the heroic but equally pint-sized Stephen the Great could use him as a stool when mounting his horse? In other words, far from standing on the shoulders of giants, the writer clambers on the shoulders of midgets like himself. The translator might of course find an equivalent image to convey this meaning, but at the price of discarding the narrator’s resigned meta-textual comment on the impossibility of his original image being carried across into another language. But since The Bulgarian Truck is ‘a building site beneath the open sky’ rather than a novel, all the stages of the textual construction process are exposed to the reader’s view, even those that have been deleted, or rather placed sous rature.

At a number of points in the text, the narrator announces that he has deleted the sentence or paragraph we have just read. The computer has made the process of writing simpler because it has made the task of deletion simpler. As the narrator observes:

What I’ve written so far seems rather humourless. I’ve been ploughing the sands . . . If I don’t delete it, it’s because I have all the time in the world to do so. At a single click it will all vanish into nothingness. Nothingness helps us to exist. Which is to say, it helps us not to keep looking for a meaning to existence. Not to keep nit-picking.

The function of the computer is no longer to compute, to calculate, but to arrange and to organise; the writer tapping away at his computer keyboard brings order to his text, adding, expanding, embellishing, inserting, copying, pasting, annihilating where necessary: ‘That’s why the ordinateur was invented! More for deleting than for writing.’ It is also for this reason that the narrator insists on using the French ordinateur (in Romanian: ordinator, rather than the standard calculator, which is in any case steadily losing ground to computer, a loanword from English): ‘I don’t like the word computer, and not only because it comes from English: I just don’t think it’s an appropriate word for the tool in question, although maybe it used to be, long ago.’ In this context, it is significant that the term ordinateur, proposed in 1955 by Latin philologist Jacques Perret, once had a strong religious charge, having been used to describe God bringing order to the world.[1]

The narrator’s awareness of the translatedness and (un)translatability of the text he is in the process of writing is not abstract and theoretical, but intimately bound up with real translators in the real world, who are drawn into the fiction, absorbed by it, becoming characters in their own right. The narrator’s wife, who is away in New York, but whose cavilling advice on his novel under construction he seeks over the telephone, rails at him for including passages without punctuation, because, she says, they are ‘not good’: ‘Not for anybody! Neither for readers nor for critics. Not to mention the translator . . .’ And she should know, because it turns out that she has bumped into Dumitru Tsepeneag’s real-life translator, Patrick Camiller, in a bookshop. She only vaguely remembers the title of the book he has translated, however: ‘Wasn’t he the one who translated The Something-or-other Wedding?’ Such is her low opinion of her husband’s work that she only has a passing acquaintance with it and is not even sure which novels she herself appears in (‘“You are in Hotel Europa,”’ yells the narrator down the telephone in exasperation). The text of The Bulgarian Truck is therefore acutely aware of its own translatedness, but also of the fact that translations are contingent upon flesh-and-blood translators. And this is why the illness and finally the death of Alain Paruit, Tsepeneag’s French translator, cast an adumbratio over the novel. Paruit withdraws ever deeper into his own terminal illness, no longer interested in books or the world of the text, drawn into a fiction he will never translate.

Marianne herself is suffering from a mysterious, oneiric illness and has gone to New York to seek treatment. With the unassailable logic of a dream, she shrinks to the size of a schoolgirl, only then to grow so tall that she ends up too long for the conjugal bed. The illness is in fact an oneiric echo of one of Tsepeneag’s earliest short stories, ‘Confidențe’ (Confidences), published in his first collection of prose, Exerciții (Exercises) in 1966.[2] In the story, the narrator bumps into an acquaintance on the street (such chance encounters also play a part in The Bulgarian Truck). Together they go to an insalubrious tavern, where they drink vodka (oneiric echoes of Raskolnikov and Marmeladov). While the waiter stands by, idly picking his nose, the derelict acquaintance recounts how his wife has started growing shorter and then taller, but when he takes the incredulous and increasingly disgusted narrator to his grubby, evil-smelling flat to show her to him, she has disappeared. Similarly, Marianne, a strong presence throughout the first half of the novel, during which she relentlessly hectors and mocks the narrator in regard to the ineptitude of the novel he is struggling to write, slowly fades away and finally disappears. The narrator speaks to her briefly on the telephone, without knowing that it will be the last time, and then she is gone, without trace.

The two fictional protagonists that the narrator invents—Tsvetan and Beatrice—also spring from texts included in Exercises, texts which, their original punctuation having been washed away, now bob to the surface almost five decades later, as if from the depths of a dream. Tsvetan is inserted into the opening paragraphs of ‘La vizita medicală,’ an oneiric story describing the routine medical examination of pupils at a boys’ school. The oneiric element comes in the form of an understated detail at the end of the story, but which subverts the ‘reality’ of the rest of the text:

The boy groaned, no longer putting up any resistance, but his fat body quivered like a gelatinous mass. From the child’s belly button grew a white rose. The doctor raised his spectacles onto his forehead, cast a brief glance at the nurse, and then, without a word, pulled up the boy’s trousers, but with care, covering his belly. The nurse went to the window, leaning her elbows on the sill. She pressed her forehead to the pane. On the pavement, the children were playing hopscotch.[3]

Tsvetan becomes the unnamed lad earlier in the story who cracks a joke about another boy having dirty feet. Similarly, Beatrice becomes one of the children in ‘Amintire’ (Memory), the first story in the volume Exercises, which is set in a park hovering between the real and the unreal, haunted by indeterminate, elongated, distorted animals, like those which invade the re-occurring dreamlike marine landscape that foreshadows death throughout The Bulgarian Truck.

In The Bulgarian Truck, the narrator himself claims not to dream. Casting around for a subject and characters for his novel, he asks his more widely read wife to give him some ideas:

— Describe a dream . . .

— A dream?

— A dream. Or two dreams, combining them both. What do I know? You’re the writer. Or at least so you claim. A writer . . .

— All right, but I don’t dream.

(…)

— How can you not dream! Everybody dreams. If you don’t dream, it means you’re abnormal. How then can you have the gall to address normal readers? Readers that dream . . .

This, in essence, was the premise of oneirism, a literary and aesthetic movement led by Dumitru Tsepeneag and Leonid Dimov, which emerged in Romania in the late 1960s: the oneirist writer does not dream, but rather he lucidly structures his texts according to the logic of the dream. The surrealist, by contrast, describes/transcribes his dreams, mines his dreams for images, even writes while in a deliberately induced dream-like state. In a theoretical text published in 1968, two years after Exercises, Tsepeneag clearly states the difference between oneirism and surrealism: ‘for oneiric literature as I conceive it, the dream is neither a source nor an object of study; the dream is a criterion. The distinction is fundamental: I do not describe a dream (mine or somebody else’s), but rather I attempt to construct a reality analogous to the dream.’[4] Realities analogous to the dream, whether textual or otherwise, were anathema in the Socialist Republic of Romania, however. Oneirism, an unconventional and highly original literary movement that defied po-faced, duplicitous socialist realism (and realism in general), was viewed very dimly indeed by the communist authorities and was finally suppressed during the cultural crackdown that ensued after the publication in 1971 of Ceaușescu’s ‘July Theses’, which were inspired by the dictator’s recent visit to Maoist China, North Korea and Mongolia.

It is from oneiric writer Leonid Dimov (1926-1987) that the epigraph to The Bulgarian Truck comes: ‘In love, Dimov used to say, you have no choice but to exaggerate. It’s the only way you can be sure of getting your message across.’ Dimov was a Romanian[5] poet, essayist, and translator—the poets he translated include Giambattista Marino, whose love sonnets are remarkable for their exaggerated concettismo. It is also to Dimov that Tsepeneag’s first book, Exercises, is dedicated, simply: ‘To Leonid Dimov.’ The epigraph is one of the many intertextual allusions to be found in The Bulgarian Truck, allusions both to Tsepeneag’s own work, which now spans five decades, and to universal literature. Among the more obvious allusions are Beatrice, who has been transplanted from Paradise to the gates of Hell, and Milena, although unlike Kafka, who wrote letters to her, the more up-to-date narrator writes e-mails. For all its oneiric irruptions and despite the author’s humorous pretence that his bumbling narrator is making it up as he goes along, The Bulgarian Truck is constructed with consummate logical rigour. With the satisfaction of solving an intricate puzzle, we become aware of the full complexity of the novel’s structure as we read its closing pages, when the final pieces of the building site fall into place. But this is what the narrator told us at the very beginning: that he is interested in structure, rather than story. Each of Tsepeneag’s novels is unique in its structure. Think of the marvellous fugue structure of Vain Art of the Fugue, for example. But taken together, they might be said to form an even more complex hyper-structure, in which an entire series of motifs, devices and symbols recur with oneiric insistence. The Bulgarian Truck is thus part of a continuum, whose origins lie in 1960s Romania, where, for an all too brief period, one of twentieth-century Europe’s most remarkable literary movements arose.

© Alistair Ian Blyth


[1] Antoine Picon, “Ordinateur/Computer/Numérique/Digital”, in Barbara Cassin (ed.), Dictionary of Untranslatables. A Philosophical Lexicon, Princeton University Press, 2014, p. 628.


[2] Exerciții, Editura Pentru Literatură, Bucharest, 1966.


[3] Exerciții, p. 51.


[4] Dumitru Țepeneag, ‘În căutarea unei definiții’ (In search of a definition), Luceafărul, nos. 25-28, June-July 1968.


[5] In The Bulgarian Truck, Milena assumes, judging by his name, that Leonid Dimov must be Russian or Bulgarian. In fact, he was born in Bessarabia, then a province of Greater Romania, subsequently the Soviet Socialist Republic of Moldavia, and now the majority Romanian-speaking Republic of Moldova. The fluidity of east-European identities is a theme of The Bulgarian Truck. Milena (or is it Mailena?) oscillates between Czech and Slovak, Prague and Bratislava. Dimov is a Romanian writer with an obviously Slavic name. And as for Tsepeneag, it may ultimately derive from Turkish, or maybe from Hungarian, but nobody is sure.

Thursday, 5 March 2020

The odours in hell

καὶ καλῶς Ἡράκλειτος εἶπεν ὅτι αἱ ψυχαὶ ὀσμῶνται καθ᾽ ῞Αιδην.

and Heraclitus was right in saying that souls employ smell in Hades.

Plutarch, De Facie in Orbe Lunae 943e


[The odours in hell] are like those of the various wild beasts, of mice, cats, dogs, foxes, wolves, panthers, bears, tigers, or swine. Further, like the stench of the excrements of these beasts, and also of man; like the bad odour of stagnant waters, and marshes; like that of various dead bodies; like that of various putrid substances; like that of privies, urinals, and snakes; like the bad smell of dregs, and of vomit; like the smell of various he-goats. These they sniff in with their noses and by their eyes are led to the places whence they emanate. […] The infernals shun heavenly perfumes, and the inhabitants of heaven the stenches of hell. On this account all domiciles in hell are closed. For this reason the children of Israel were commanded to carry their excrements outside of their camp, and to bury them there. When the dwellings in hell are opened they excite nausea and a desire to vomit; which has been several times experienced by myself. […] All those who are in hell turn their backs towards heaven and cannot endure the least odour thence.

Documents concerning the Life and Character of Emanuel Swedenborg,
 
ed. trans. R. L. Tafel, Vol. 2, Part 2, London, 1877, pp. 768-9

Wednesday, 26 February 2020

The Moons of Saturn

Seat thyself sultanically among the moons of Saturn, and take high abstracted man alone; and he seems a wonder, a grandeur, and a woe. But from the same point, take mankind in mass, and for the most part, they seem a mob of unnecessary duplicates, both contemporary and hereditary.

Herman Melville, Moby-Dick; or The Whale (1851), 
Chapter 107, The Carpenter



Titan, Saturn VI. Katabasis.
Huygens probe, 14 January 2005

Monday, 17 February 2020

a curious involved worming

My hypothesis is this: that the spout is nothing but mist. And besides other reasons, to this conclusion I am impelled, by considerations touching the great inherent dignity and sublimity of the Sperm Whale; I account him no common, shallow being, inasmuch as it is an undisputed fact that he is never found on soundings, or near shores; all other whales sometimes are. He is both ponderous and profound. And I am convinced that from the heads of all ponderous profound beings, such as Plato, Pyrrho, the Devil, Jupiter, Dante, and so on, there always goes up a certain semi-visible steam, while in the act of thinking deep thoughts. While composing a little treatise on Eternity, I had the curiosity to place a mirror before me; and ere long saw reflected there, a curious involved worming and undulation in the atmosphere above my head. The invariable moisture of my hair, while plunged in deep thought, after six cups of hot tea in my thin shingled attic, of an August noon; this seems an additional argument for the above supposition.

Herman Melville, Moby-Dick; or, The Whale (1851),
Chapter 85, "The Fountain"

Friday, 7 February 2020

Lies

[P]seudologia phantastica [is] that form of hysteria which is characterized by a peculiar talent for believing one's own lies. For a short spell, such people usually meet with astounding success, and for that reason are socially dangerous. Nothing has such a convincing effect as a lie one invents and believes oneself, or an evil deed or intention whose righteousness one regards as self-evident. At any rate they carry far more conviction than the good man and the good deed, or even the wicked man and his purely wicked deed. Hitler's theatrical, obviously hysterical gestures struck all foreigners (with a few amazing exceptions) as purely ridiculous. [...] It is also difficult to understand how his ranting speeches, delivered in shrill, grating, womanish tones, could have made such an impression. But the German people would never have been taken in and carried away so completely if this figure had not been a reflected image of the collective German hysteria. It is not without serious misgivings that one ventures to pin the label of "psychopathic inferiority" on to a whole nation, and yet, heaven knows, it is the only explanation which could in any way account for the effect this scarecrow had on the masses. A sorry lack of education, conceit that bordered on madness, a very mediocre intelligence, combined with the hysteric's cunning and the power fantasies of an adolescent, were written all over this demagogue's face.
Carl Gustav Jung, "After the Catastrophe",  
Essays on Contemporary Events, 1936-1946
translated by R. F. C. Hull,
Routledge, London, 2002, pp. 70-71

Thursday, 30 January 2020

Potency imparted to idiot imbecility

For be a man's intellectual superiority what it will, it can never assume the practical, available supremacy over other men, without the aid of some sort of external arts and entrenchments, always, in themselves, more or less paltry and base. That it is, that for ever keeps God's true princes of the Empire from the world's hustings; and leaves the highest honors that this air can give, to those men who become famous more through their infinite inferiority to the choice hidden handful of the Divine Inert, than through their undoubted superiority over the dead level of the mass. Such large virtue lurks in these small things when extreme political superstitions invest them, that in some royal instances even to idiot imbecility they have imparted potency.

Herman Melville, Moby-Dick; or, The Whale (1851),
Chapter 33, The Specksynder

Monday, 27 January 2020

The incurable nature of the offence

Four young soldiers on horseback, machine guns under their arms, proceeded warily along the road that followed the perimeter of the camp. When they reached the fences, they paused to look, and, with a brief, timid exchange of words, turned their gazes, checked by a strange embarrassment, to the jumbled pile of corpses, to the ruined barracks, and to us few living beings. (…) They didn’t greet us, they didn’t smile; they appeared oppressed, not only by pity but by a confused restraint, which sealed their mouths, and riveted their eyes to the mournful scene. It was a shame well-known to us, the shame that inundated us after the selections and every time we had to witness or submit to an outrage: the shame that the Germans didn’t know, and which the just man feels before a sin committed by another. It troubles him that it exists, that it has been irrevocably introduced into the world of things that exist, and that his goodwill availed nothing, or little, and was powerless to defend against it. 

So for us even the hour of freedom struck solemn and oppressive, and filled our hearts with both joy and a painful sense of shame, because of which we would have liked to wash from our consciences and our memories the monstrosity that lay there; and with anguish, because we felt that this could not happen, that nothing could ever happen that was good and pure enough to wipe out our past, and that the marks of the offence would remain in us forever, and in the memories of those who were present and in the places where it happened, and in the stories that we would make of it. Since—and this is the tremendous privilege of our generation and of my people—no one could ever grasp better than us the incurable nature of the offence, which spreads like an infection. It is an inexhaustible source of evil: it breaks the body and soul of those who are drowned, extinguishes them and makes them abject; rises again as infamy in the oppressors, is perpetuated as hatred in the survivors, and springs up in a thousand ways, against the very will of all, as a thirst for revenge, as moral breakdown, as negation, as weariness, as resignation.

Primo Levi, The Truce (La tregua, 1963), Chapter One, The Thaw, trans. Ann Goldstein

Tuesday, 31 December 2019

Before Brezhnev Died



Iulian Ciocan, Before Brezhnev Died, Dalkey Archive Press, 2019

The time is the twilight of the decrepit Brezhnev regime, the place, the Soviet Socialist Republic of Moldavia: the "Latin periphery of empire." A pensioner seeks justice for his dead wife, crushed by a falling crane--the very symbol of the "construction of socialism"--but comes up against hostility from a cynical system at best indifferent, at worst contemptuous of human life. With a keen, Gogolian eye for the grotesque, often squalid, details of everyday life in the USSR, Iulian Ciocan paints darkly humorous but compassionate portraits of Homo sovieticus, from crusty war veterans and lowly collective farm workers to venal Party bigwigs, as each comes to the disturbing realization that the lofty ideals of Soviet society were lies all along. And for idealistic young pioneer Iulian, the biggest disillusionment of all will be the abrupt revelation of Brezhnev's mortality.

Înainte să moară Brejnev / Before Brezhnev Died

Living Tissue



Emilian Galaicu-Păun, Living Tissue. 10x10, Dalkey Archive Press, 2019

With each chapter embodying a separate Commandment, Living Tissue, 10x10 is both a Decalogue and a ribald, exuberant, deliriously inventive postmodern Decameron, which covers four decades in the life of the protagonist, unfolding against the backdrop of Soviet and post-communist Moldova, from the untimely death of Yuri Gagarin in 1968 to the so-called "twitter revolution" of 2009. Tens of tragical, comical, fantastical, historical tales intertwine, punctuated by the endless upheavals suffered by twentieth-century Moldova. But the narrative also takes euphoric flight, in episodes that travel as far afield as Paris, Moscow, and Tibet. In Living Tissue. 10x10, Emilian Galaicu-Păun engages in literary origami, bending and blending together real and fictional worlds, abolishing up and down, here and there, past and present, as if in an Escher engraving, alternating narrative techniques, braiding myth, history and literary allusion, transgressing the boundaries of languages and cultures to create a rapturously intricate novel in ten dimensions.

Saturday, 26 October 2019

Ulterior ends

Poetry may have also an ulterior value as a means to culture or religion; because it conveys instruction, or softens the passions, or furthers a good cause; because it brings the poet fame or money or a quiet conscience. So much the better: let it be valued for these reasons too. But its ulterior worth neither is nor can directly determine its poetic worth as a satisfying imaginative experience; and this is to be judged entirely from within. . . . The consideration of ulterior ends, whether by the poet in the act of composing or by the reader in the act of experiencing, tends to lower poetic value. It does so because it tends to change the nature of poetry by taking it out of its own atmosphere. For its nature is to be not a part, nor yet a copy, of the real world (as we commonly understand that phrase), but to be a world by itself, independent, complete, autonomous; and to possess it fully you must enter that world, conform to its laws, and ignore for the time the beliefs, aims and particular conditions which belong to you in the other world of reality. 

A.C. Bradley, "Poetry for Poetry's Sake" (1901),  
Oxford Lectures on Poetry, Macmillan, London, 1963, pp. 4-5

Delusional significance

A patient noticed the waiter in the coffee-house; he skipped past him so quickly and uncannily. He noticed odd behaviour in an acquaintance which made him feel strange; everything in the street was so different, something was bound to be happening. A passer-by gave such a penetrating glance, he could be a detective. Then there was a dog who seemed hypnotised, a kind of mechanical dog made of rubber. There were such a lot of people walking about, something must surely be starting up against the patient. All the umbrellas were rattling as if some apparatus was hidden inside them. . . . Something must be going on; the world is changing, a new era is starting. Lights are bewitched and will not burn; something is behind it. A child is like a monkey; people are mixed up, they are imposters all, they all look unnatural. The house-signs are crooked, the streets look suspicious; everything happens so quickly. The dog scratches oddly at the door. 'I noticed particularly' is the constant remark these patients make, though they cannot say why they take such particular note of things nor what it is they suspect.

Karl Jaspers, General Psychopathology, Volume One, 
translated by J. Hoenig and Marian W. Hamilton, 
Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London, 1997, p. 100

Sunday, 1 September 2019

a beam of light (2)

One morning, some eight or nine days after our arrival, I looked out of my window and saw the whole landscape transformed before me. The clouds had dipped low and hidden the mountain in the west; a southern wind was driving the rain in shifting pillars up the valley, and the little brooklet that burst the hill below the house now raged, a red torrent, down the river.  We were perforce obliged to keep snug within-doors; and when I had attended to my pupils, I sat down in the morning-room where the ruins of a library still encumbered an old-fashioned bookcase. I had inspected the shelves once or twice, but their contents had failed to attract me; volumes of eighteenth-century sermons, an old book on farriery, a collection of Poems by "persons of quality," Prideaux's Connection, and an odd volume of Pope were the boundaries of that library, and there seemed little doubt that everything of interest or value had been removed. Now however, in desperation, I began to re-examine the musty sheepskin and calf bindings, and found, much to my delight, a fine old quarto printed by the Stephani, containing the three books of Pomponius Mela, De Situ Orbis, and other of the ancient geographers. I knew enough of Latin to steer my way through an ordinary sentence, and I soon became absorbed in the odd mixture of fact and fancy--light shining on a little space of the world, and beyond, mist and shadow and awful forms.

Arthur Machen, "Novel of the Black Seal", The Three Imposters, 1895

Tuesday, 13 August 2019

a beam of light

As we have seen, purely intentional correlates of connected sentences can enter into manifold relationships and interrelations. And since among the sentence correlates there are also states of affairs which occur in the ontic range of one and the same object, as well as states in which events and interconnections between individual objects are represented, the represented objects also do not lie isolated and alien alongside one antother but, thanks to the manifold ontic connections, unite into a uniform ontic sphere. In doing so they always constitute--quite remarkably--a segment of a still largely undetermined world, which is, however, established in accord with its ontic type and the type of its essence, that is, a segment whose boundaries are never sharply drawn. It is always as if a beam of light were illuminating a part of a region, the remainder of which disappears in an indeterminate cloud but is still there in its indeterminacy. 

Roman Ingarden, The Literary Work of Art: 
An Investigation  on the Borderlines of Ontology, Logic, and Theory of Literature
trans. George G. Grabowicz, Northwestern University Press, Evanston, 1973, p. 218

Sunday, 28 July 2019

de statu post mortem

'Hell?' breathed Miss Lacey.

'"The state after death",' called Mr Sully, still peering into the gloom--and stepped back rather hurriedly in the intense pale lilac illumination of a sudden flickering blaze of lightning.

Thunder now clanged directly overhead, and still Mr Eaves gazed softly yet earnestly into nothingness, as if in deep thought.

'Whatever you like to call it,' he began again steadily pushing his way, 'that's how I take it. I sit with my wife, all just the same; cap and "front" and all, just the same; gas burning, decanter on the table, books in the case, marble clock on the mantelpiece, just the same. Or perhaps I'm walking in the street, just the same; carts and shops and dogs, all just the same. Or perhaps I'm here, same as I might be now; with Sully there, and you there, and him there,' he nodded towards the commissionaire. 'All just the same. For ever, and ever, and ever.' He raised his empty glass to his lips, and glanced almost apologetically towards his old friend. 'For ever, and ever,' he repeated, and put it down again.

'He simply means,' said Mr Sully, 'no change. Like one of those blessed things on the movies; over and over again, click, click, click, click, click; you know. I tell him it's his sentence, my dear.'

'But if it's the same,' Miss Lacey interposed, with a little docile frown of confusion, 'then what's different?' (...)

'Why,' said Mr Eaves, 'it seems as if there I can't change either; can't. If you were to ask me how I know--why, I couldn't say. It's a dream. But that's what's the difference. There's nothing to come. Now: why! I might change in a score of ways; just take them as they come. I might fall ill; or Mrs Eaves might. I might come into some money; marry again. God bless me, I might die! But there, that's all over; endless; no escape; nothing. I can't even die. I'm just meself, Miss Lacey; Sully, old friend. Just meself, for ever, and ever. Nothing but me looking on at it all, if you take me--just what I've made of it. It's my'--his large pale eyes roved aimlessly--'it's just what Mr Sully says, I suppose; it's my sentence. Eh, Sully? wasn't that it? My sentence?' He smiled courageously.

'Sentence, oh no! Sentence? You!' cried Miss Lacey incredulously. 'How could you, Mr Sully? Sentence! Whatever for, sir?'

Mr Eaves again glanced vaguely at the sleeper, and then at his friend's round substantial shoulders, rigidly turned on him. He fixed his eyes on the clock.

'You've never done no harm, Mr Eaves!' cried Miss Lacey, almost as if in entreaty.

'You see,' said the old gentleman, glancing over his shoulder, 'it isn't what you do: so I seem to take it.' Mr Sully half turned from the door, as if to listen. 'It's what you are,' said Mr Eaves, as if to himself.

'Why, according to that,' said Miss Lacey, in generous indignation, 'who's safe?'

Walter de la Mare, "The Three Friends"
First published in Saturday Westminster Gazette, 19 April 1913;
The Picnic and Other Stories, 1941;
Short Stories 1895-1926, ed. Giles de la Mare, London, 1996, p. 97-98

Saturday, 20 July 2019

tenebrae exteriores interioresque

'I see a huge city of granite,' he grunted; 'I see lean spires of metal and hazardous towers, frowning upon the blackness of their shadows. White lights stare out of narrow window-slits: a black cloud breathes smoke in the streets. There is no wind, yet a wind sits still upon the city. The air smells like copper. Every sound rings as it were upon metal. There is a glow--a glow of outer darkness--a glow imagined by straining eyes. The city is a bubble with clamour and tumult rising thin and yellow in the lean streets like dust in a loampit. The city is walled as with a finger-ring. The sky is dumb with listeners. Far down, as the crow sees the ears of wheat, I see that mote of a man in his black clothes, now lit by flaming jets, now hid in thick darkness. Every street breeds creatures. They swarm gabbling, and walk like ants in the sun. Their faces are fierce and wary, with malevolent lips. Each mouths to each, and points and stares. On I walk, imperturbable and stark. But I know, oh, my boy, I know the alphabet of their vile whispering and gapings and gesticulations. The air quivers with the flight of black winged shapes. Each foot-tap of that sure figure upon the granite is ticking his hour away.' My uncle turned and took my hand. 'And this, Edmond, this is the man of business who purchased his game in the city, and vied with all in the excellence of his claret. The man who courted your aunt, begot hale and whole children, who sits in his pew and is respected. That beneath my skull should lurk such monstrous things! You are my godchild, Edmond. Actions are mere sediment, and words--froth, froth. Let the thoughts be clean, my boy; the thoughts must be clean; thoughts make the man. You may never at any time be of ill repute, and yet be a blackguard. Every thought, black or white, lives for ever, and to life there is no end.'

'Look here, Uncle,' said I, 'it's serious, you know, you must come to town and see Jenkinson, the brain man. A change of air, sir.'

'Do you smell sulphur?' said my uncle.
 

Walter de la Mare, "A Mote"
First published in Cornhill Magazine, August 1896, 'by Walter Ramal';
Short Stories 1895-1926, ed. Giles de la Mare, London, 1996, p. 419



Sunday, 16 June 2019

la réalité la plus inférieure

[L]a « solidification » du monde, si loin qu'elle soit poussée effectivement, ne peut jamais être complète, et il y a des limites au delà desquelles elle ne saurait aller, puisque, comme nous l'avons dit, son extrême aboutissement serait incompatible avec toute existence réelle, fût-elle du degré le plus bas ; et même, à mesure que cette « solidification » avance, elle n'en devient toujours que plus précaire, car la réalité la plus inférieure est aussi la plus instable ; la rapidité sans cesse croissante des changements du monde actuel n'en témoigne d'ailleurs que d'une façon trop éloquente.

René Guénon, Le Règne de la quantité et les signes des temps, 1945

Wednesday, 29 May 2019

Stupidity and vulgarity

To discriminate schools, of art, of literature, is, of course, part of the obvious business of literary criticism: but, in the work of literary production, it is easy to be overmuch occupied concerning them. For, in truth, the legitimate contention is, not of one age or school of literary art against another, but of all successive schools alike, against the stupidity which is dead to the substance, and the vulgarity which is dead to the form.

Walter Pater, "Romanticism", Macmillan's Magazine, November 1876

Tuesday, 30 April 2019

Bottom




Where then will that soul hide itself, which to the eyes of so many spectators will have been suddenly exposed in all its shame? With what kind of body will it endure those endless and unbearable torments, where is the fire unquenched, and the endlessly punishing worm, and the dark and fearful nethermost reach (*) of hell, and bitter moans, and violent yelling, and weeping and gnashing of teeth, and horrors without end? From these there is no release after death, there is no device or means to escape these bitter punishments.

(*) πυθμὴν - base, foundation, root (of a tree), bottom (of a jar or cup), bottom (of the sea), socket, fundus of a univalve, the hollow beneath the foot of a goblet, stock of a family, base of an arithmetical series

ποῦ ἄρα ἡ ψυχὴ ἐκείνη καταδύσεται, ἡ ἐν ὄψεσι τοσούτων θεατῶν ἐξαίφνης ὀφθεῖσα αἰσχύνης ἀνάπλεως; ποίῳ δὲ σώματι τὰς ἀπεράντους ἐκείνας καὶ ἀνυποίστους ὑποστήσεται μάστιγας, ὅπου πῦρ ἄσβεστον, καὶ σκώληξ ἀθάνατα κολάζων, καὶ πυθμὴν ᾅδου σκοτεινὸς καὶ φρικώδης, καὶ οἰμωγαὶ πικραί, καὶ ὀλολυγμὸς ἐξαίσιος, καὶ κλαυθμὸς καὶ βρυγμὸς ὀδόντων, καὶ πέρας οὐκ ἔχει τὰ δεινά; τούτων οὐκ ἔστιν ἀπαλλαγὴ μετὰ θάνατον, οὐδέ τις ἐπίνοια, οὐδὲ μηχανὴ τοῦ διεκδῦναι τὰ πικρὰ κολαστήρια.

Epistola XLVI. Ad Virginem lapsam. Sancti Nostri Basilii Caesareae Cappadociae Archiepiscopi Opera Omnia Quae Exstant, Opera et Studio Monachorum Ordinis Sancti Benedicti, e Congregatione Sancti Mauri. Editio Parisina Altera, Emendata et Aucta. Tomus Tertius. Parisiis, apud Gaume Fratres, Bibliopolas, M. DCCC. XXXIX. [pag. 497]

Ubi itaque anima illa abscondetur, quae in oculis tot spectatorum subito visa fuerit dedecoris plena? Quali vero corpore infinita illa et intolerabilia perferet supplicia, ubi ignis inexstinctus, et vermis indesinenter puniens, et imum inferi tenebricosum et horrendum et ululatus amari, et ejulatus ingens, et ploratus, et stridor dentium, et ubi mala finem non habent? Ab his post mortem liberari non datus, neque est industria ulla, neque ars effugiendi amara supplicia.

Saturday, 27 April 2019

Narcissism

But self-love, or the love which reigns in Hell, and is the opposite of that in heaven, consists in a man’s loving himself supremely, and willing well to himself alone, and not to others except for the sake of himself. Such a man has no genuine love of the church, his country, society, or a fellow-citizen. He is not willing to serve them, but loves to have them serve him. And if he performs any uses, or confers any benefits upon others, it is for the sake of his own reputation, honor, or emolument that he does it;— thus for the sake of himself, and not from any regard to the good of his neighbor.
    Such is Hell as to its quality or essence—the complete opposite of Heaven. “The evils proper to those,” says Swedenborg, “who are in the love of self are in general contempt of others, envy, enmity against all who do not favor them, hostility thence derived, various kinds of hatred, of revenge, of cunning, of deceit, together with unmercifulness and cruelty.”

George Bush, From the Memorabilia of Swedenborg; 
Illustrative of His Doctrines and Disclosures
New York, 1848, p. 197

Friday, 19 April 2019

Congruence

Discrimen inter Ens reale et apparens, qualitatemque realem et apparentem examinatu dignum est. Et quidem quae in somniis apparent, dicimus falsa sive apparentia, non tam quia eorum causa intra nos est neque aliquid externi iis respondet (id enim ut alias dicam nihil obesset), quam potius quia neque cum aliis phaenomenis inter se congruentibus, neque inter se congruunt quae somniamus.

Leibniz, 1685 (?)


The difference between a Being that is real and a Being in appearance, between a quality that is real and a quality in appearance, is worthy of examination. The fact is that we call the things that appear in dreams false or appearances not because their cause is within us or because they are not in accord with anything external (which would be no hindrance, as I shall say elsewhere), so much as because the things that we dream are neither congruent among themselves nor congruent with other phenomena congruent among themselves.

Saturday, 13 April 2019

Somnia testificantur de futura vita

Somnia hoc distant a vita, quod phaenomena vitae sunt ordinata, et quod hinc sequitur universalia: neque enim mea satis ordinata essent, nisi alienis conspirarent. Quia tamen est aliquid in speciem inordinatum in hac vita, no physice quidem, sed moraliter, consentaneum est superesse aliam vitam, cui collata haec habet somnii instar, et morte nos evigilantes ad phaenomena demum pervenire, in quibus huic quoque perturbationi remedium afferatur, ubi praemia poenaeque corriget, quae in hac vita distorta videntur. 

Leibniz, c. 1698

Dreams are separate from life in that the phenomena of life possess an order and hence it follows that they are universal: for the phenomena of my life would not possess sufficient order unless they were in concord with the phenomena of others’ lives. Since in this life there nonetheless exists something lacking in order, not only physically, but also morally, it stands to reason that there is yet another life, compared with which this life has the appearance of a dream, and that awakening from death we at last arrive at phenomena wherein a remedy to this confusion is also brought about, where rewards and punishments will rectify those things that appear distorted in this life.

Sunday, 7 April 2019

Mitbürger des Himmels

. . . ich nicht von den bin so auff ihr Vaterland, oder sonst auff eine gewisse Nation, erpricht seyn; sondern ich gehe auf den Nutzen des gantzen menschlichen Geschlechts; denn ich halte den Himmel für das Vaterland und alle wohlgesinnte Menschen für dessen Mitbürger . . .

Concept eines Briefes von Leibniz an Peter den Grossen, 16. Jan. 1712.

Leibniz in seinen Beziehungen zu Russland und Peter dem Grossen: 
Eine geschischtliche Darstellung dieses Verhältnisses 
nebst den darauf bezüglichen Briefen und Denkschriften
Hrsg. W. Guerrier, Ord. Professor an der Universität Moscau.
St. Petersburg und Leipzig, 1873. 
N. 143. S. 208 

I am not one of those devoted solely to his native land or to one particular nation; rather, I pursue the interests of the whole human race, since I deem heaven my native land and all well-meaning men its fellow citizens.




Tuesday, 2 April 2019

tête de mouche

Les plus petits moucherons sont aussi parfaits que les animaux les plus énormes. Les proportions de leurs membres sont aussi justes que celles des autres; et il semble même que Dieu ait voulu leur donner plus d'ornements pour récompenser la petitesse de leur corps. Ils ont des couronnes, des aigrettes, et d'autres ajustements sur leur tête, qui effacent tout ce que le luxe des hommes peut inventer; et je puis dire hardiment que tous ceux qui ne se sont jamais servis que de leurs yeux, n'ont jamais rien vu de si beau, de si juste, ni même de si magnifique dans les maisons des plus grands princes, que ce qu'on voit avec des lunettes sur la tête d'une simple mouche.

Malebranche, De la recherche de la vérité (1674-75)

Saturday, 30 March 2019

écrivain et traducteur

Quand on écrit, il faut penser au martyre du lecteur et du traducteur. C'est en songeant à ce dernier surtout que l'écrivain devrait faire n'importe quel sacrifice pour être net et compréhensible. 

Emil Cioran, Cahiers 1957-1972, Éditions Gallimard, 1997, p. 644.

Wednesday, 9 January 2019

In somnio

[S]upposons qu'un homme songe fort longtemps; par exemple quelques années de suite, que pourroit il faire en ce temps; il ne pourroit pas lire dans les livres, ny chercher les plantes dans les champs, ny examiner les corps avec un microscope. Il ne pourroit même faire des experiences sur son corps; il ne luy resteroient que celles qui se peuvent faire sur l'espirt, or les experiences qui se peuvent faire sur l'esprit, ce sont elles, qui se font en examinant nos idées, et qui nous donnent des demonstrations en Geometrie, Arithmetique, Metaphysique.

Ainsi on m'avouera que celuy qui songe n'est capable d'autres verités que de celles qui se tirent de l'esprit même. Donc l'art d'inventer, et de perfectionner l'esprit en luy même, servant à tous les estats de l'ame, doit estre sur tout estimée. 

Leibniz, 1676


Sunday, 28 October 2018

Umbra

[T]he tide that rose in the unconscious after the first World War was reflected in individual dreams, in the form of collective mythological symbols which expressed primitivity, violence, cruelty: in short, all the powers of darkness. When such symbols occur in a large number of individuals and are not understood, they begin to draw these individuals together as if by magnetic force, and thus a mob is formed. Its leader will soon be found in the individual who has the least resistance, the least sense of responsibility and, because of his inferiority, the greatest will to power. He will let loose everything that is ready to burst forth, and the mob will follow with the irresistible force of an avalanche. [...] He was the most prodigious personification of all human inferiorities. He was an utterly incapable, unadapted, irresponsible, psychopathic personality, full of empty, infantile fantasies, but cursed with the keen intuition of a rat or a guttersnipe. He represented the shadow, the inferior part of everybody's personality, in an overwhelming degree, and this was another reason they fell for him. 
Carl Gustav Jung, "The Fight with the Shadow", 
first published in The Listener (London), XXXVI (1946), no. 930, 615-16.

Sunday, 27 May 2018

The sad horrour and mad aspect of this strange theatre

For that mankind is in a lapsed condition it cannot be denied, nor that a great part of the invisible powers are sunk into the animal life with them. Now that which is the most high and powerful in the animal life will not let its hold go so long as it can hang on. Whence the most active spirits in this region get the dominion over the more passive, and the kingdom of the prince of the air has proved very large over the nations of the earth, they being so deeply lapsed and immersed into the animal nature. Wherefore we cannot expect but that both the rulers and the ruled having fallen from the holy light and the divine benignity of the aethereal nature, that the effects of that government and the garb of their manners should be cruel, squalid, deformed and ridiculous; a judicious sense of true pulchritude and decency not being able to reside in so dark and distempered complexions, and their envious guardians caring more to tyrannize over them and to make sport with them than to spare them or to be true guides to them in any thing. All therefore that can be done is, to mitigate as well we can the sad horrour and mad aspect of this strange theatre, which strikes the fancy so strongly and so harshly. 
Third Dialogue, Henry More, Divine Dialogues 
 Containing Disquisitions Concerning the Attributes and Providence of God, 1668


Humanum enim genus in lapsa conditione esse constitutum non potest negari, mangamque Invisibilium Potestatum partem in vitam Animalem cum ipsis pariter subsedisse. Nunc vero illud quod supremum est et potentissimum in Vita Animali manus prensuram non laxabit, quamdiu potest inhærere. Unde maxime activi Spiritus in hac Regione Dominium obtinent in magis Passivos Regnumque Principis Aeris reperitur admodum longe lateque extensum super nationes Terræ quippe tam profunde in Animalem Naturam lapsas et immersas. Quamobrem cum tam Principes quam subditi e sacra Luce Divinaque Benignitate Naturæ Æthereæ ceciderunt, expectare non possumus quin effecta illius Regiminis, Morumque ratio crudelis sit, squalida, deformis ac ridicula, quippe quum judicium sensusque veræ pulchritudinis ac Decori in tam tenebroso maleque temperato Temperamento residere nequeat, invidique ipsorum Præsides Aerei id curent magis quo Tyrrannidem in ipsos exerceant misereque ludificentur, quam ut eis parcant aut præsidio sint, exemplove eis præeant in ulla re bona. Summa igitur rei quo collineatum oportet, est mitigare quantum possumus funestum horrorem, vesanumque aspectum miri hujus Theatri quod Imaginationem tam fortitur duriterque ferit. 

Dialogus Tertius, Dialogi Divini Per Autorem Latine redditi 
Disquisitiones Varias et Instructiones Continentes de Attributis et Providentia Dei
Londini, Typis J. Macock, impensis J. Martyn & Gualt. Kettilby, 1679

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Totus mundus verminosus

Sed age ducam te per vastum Macrocosmum, ut innumera vermium agmina, seu tamen excrementa eorum animata, vel seminia foecunda, aut ovula, sicque mortem vivam in quovis angello et rimula speculeris, vereque cum Drexelio dicas ubique mors est, omnibus locis, omnibusque momentis insidiatur: quaqua venies, paratam invenies, nusquam non praesto est, occurrit undique. Sic animarum omnia, τρόπον τίνα, quodammodo plena, i.e. totus mundus verminosus.

Christiani Francisci Paullini, Disquisitio curiosa an mors naturalis plerumque sit substantia verminosa? Frankfurt and Leipzig, 1703

But come, let me lead you through the vast Macrocosm, that you may observe the countless multitudes of worms, likewise their animate faeces, their fertile seed or ovules, and thus living death in every nook and cranny, and that you may affirm, like Drexel: "Death is everywhere, in all places, and at every moment it lies in wait: from whatever direction you come, you will find it ready, nowhere is it not at hand, everywhere does it attend." Hence, τρόπον τίνα [in a fashion], all things are full of living beings, that is, the whole world is vermicular.

Christian Franz Paullini, Painstaking Disquisition on whether Natural Death be Wholly a Vermicular Substance

Friday, 2 February 2018

Une duperie gigantesque

Le monde réel possède un aspect irréel, qu'on pourrait appeler «illusion cosmique». Les choses les plus matérialisées: la bourse, les billets de banque, les femmes de luxe, la table des rangs, tout cela est prodigieusement palpable mais en réalité sans consistance, et n'a d'existence que celle que notre appréciation lui attribue. L'homme est victime d'une duperie gigantesque dont il est à la fois auteur et acteur, au point de donner l'être au non-être qui le vampirise et le parasite. 

Paul Evdokimov, Gogol et Dotoïevsky. La descente aux enfers
Desclée De Brouwer, Paris, 1961

Monday, 4 September 2017

Stink, or stench

Then humming thrice [Dr L----n] (1) assumed a most ridiculous solemnity of aspect, and entered into a learned investigation of the nature of stink. He observed that stink, or stench, meant no more than a strong impression on the olfactory nerves; and might be applied to substances of the most opposite qualities; that in the Dutch language, stinken signifies the most agreeable perfume, as well as the most fetid odour, as appears in Van Vloudel's (2) translation of Horace, in that beautiful ode, Quis multa gracilis etc. (3) -- The words liquidis perfusus odoribus, he translates van civet & moschata gestinken: that individuals differed toto coelo (4) in their opinion of beauty; that the French were pleased with the putrid effluvia of animal food; and so were the Hottentots in Africa, and the Savages in Greenland; and that the Negroes on the coast of Senegal would not touch fish till it was rotten; strong presumptions in favour of what is generally called stink, as those nations are in a state of nature, undebauched by luxury, unseduced by whim and caprice: that he had reason to believe the stercoraceous (5) flavour condemned by prejudice as a stink, was, in fact, most agreeable to the organs of smelling; for, that every person who pretended to nauseate the smell of another's excretions, snuffed up his own with particular complacency [...] he affirmed, the last Grand Duke of Tuscany, of the Medicis family, who refined upon sensuality with the spirit of a philosopher, was so delighted with that odour, that he caused the essence of ordure to be extracted, and used it as the most delicate perfume: that he himself (the doctor) when he happened to be low-spirited, or fatigued with business, found immediate relief and uncommon satisfaction from hanging over the stale contents of a close-stool (6), while his servant stirred it about under his nose; nor was this effect to be wondered at, when we consider that this substance abounds with the self-same volatile salts that are so greedily smelled to by the most delicate invalids, after they have been extracted and sublimed by chemists. 

Tobias Smollett, The Expedition of Humphry Clinker (1771)

(1) Diederich Wessel Linden, German physician who practised at Bristol Hot Wells, author of A Letter to Dr Peter Shaw, concerning a very useful Discovery and considerable improvement in the black epileptical powder (pulvis epilepticus niger), London , 1746, and other works concerning the therapeutic properties of spa water
(2) i.e. Joost van den Vondel (1587-1679)
(3) Horace, Odes I.5: Quis multa gracilis te puer in rosa / perfusus liquidis urget odoribus / grato, Pyrrha, sub antro? (What slender youth drenched in perfume clasps you, Pyrrha, in heaps of roses within a delightful cave?)
(4) utterly, lit. by the whole heavens
(5) Lat. stercoraceus, from stercus dung, faeces
(6) a piece of furniture enclosing a chamber pot, typically a type of chair or small chest having a lid concealing a seat with a hole used in the same way as a toilet (OED)

Sunday, 3 September 2017

Infernal compositions

Well, there is no nation that drinks so hoggishly as the English -- What passes for wine among us, is not the juice of the grape. It is an adulterous mixture, brewed up of nauseous ingredients, by dunces, who are bunglers in the art of poison-making; and yet we, and our forefathers, are and have been poisoned by this cursed drench, without taste or flavour -- The only genuine and whole-some beveridge in England, is London porter, and Dorchester table-beer; but as for your ale and your gin, your cyder and your perry, and all the trashy family of made wines, I detest them as infernal compositions, contrived for the destruction of the human species. 

Tobias Smollett, The Expedition of Humphry Clinker (1771)

Friday, 1 September 2017

European man

Commerce and industry, traffic in books and letters, the commonality of all higher culture, quick changes of locality and landscape, the present-day nomadic life of all nonlandowners - these conditions necessarily bring about a weakening and ultimately a destruction of nations, or at least of European nations, so that a mixed race, that of the European man, has to originate out of all of them, as the result of continual crossbreeding. The isolation of nations due to engendered national hostilities now works against this goal, consciously or unconsciously, but the mixing process goes on slowly, nevertheless, despite those intermittent countercurrents; this artificial nationalism, by the way, is as dangerous as artificial Catholicism was, for it is in essence a forcible state of emergency and martial law, imposed by the few on the many, and requiring cunning, lies, and force to remain respectable. It is not the self-interest of the many (the people), as one would have it, that urges this nationalism, but primarily the self-interest of certain royal dynasties, as well as that of certain commercial and social classes; once a man has understood this, he should be undaunted in presenting himself as a good European, and should work actively on the merging of nations. 

Friedrich Nietzsche, Menschliches, Allzumenschliches (1878), section 475
(Human, All Too Human, trans. Marion Faber and Stephen Lehmann)

Monday, 14 August 2017

The shadow

[T]he tide that rose in the unconscious after the first World War was reflected in individual dreams, in the form of collective mythological symbols which expressed primitivity, violence, cruelty: in short, all the powers of darkness. When such symbols occur in a large number of individuals and are not understood, they begin to draw these individuals together as if by magnetic force, and thus a mob is formed. Its leader will soon be found in the individual who has the least resistance, the least sense of responsibility and, because of his inferiority, the greatest will to power. He will let loose everything that is ready to burst forth, and the mob will follow with the irresistible force of an avalanche. 
[...]
The Germans wanted order, but they made the fatal mistake of choosing the principal victim of disorder and unchecked greed for their leader. [...] He was the most prodigious personification of all human inferiorities. He was an utterly incapable, unadapted, irresponsible, psychopathic personality, full of empty, infantile fantasies, but cursed with the keen intuition of a rat or a guttersnipe. He represented the shadow, the inferior part of everybody's personality, in an overwhelming degree, and this was another reason they fell for him. 

Carl Gustav Jung, "The Fight with the Shadow", 
first published in The Listener (London), XXXVI (1946), no. 930, 615-16.

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Alternative facts

À qui vit de fiction, la vérité est infecte. Qui a soif de flatterie revomit le réel, bu par surprise.

Victor Hugo, L'Homme qui rit (1869)

To him who lives on fiction, the truth is vile. He who thirsts for flattery vomits back up the real when drunk by mistake.