Dialogue on the Threshold


09 May 2023

Into the hollow halls of the Underworld must every poet venture

Weil vom Wohllaut deiner Lieder 
Selbst das Totenreich erbebte, 
Kam's, daß die Geliebte wieder 
In den lichten Äther schwebte.
Hättest du nur nicht so zweifelnd 
Deinen Blick züruckgewendet, 
Wäre ihr ein neues Leben 
Durch des Liedes Kraft gespendet.
In der Unterwelt Gehäuse
Muß sich jeder Dichter wagen,
Um wie Orpheus Eurydiken
In das Licht emporzutragen.
Meines Weinbergs Hyazinthen,
Welche Muskatduft verhauchen,
Haben ohne Zweifel Wurzeln,
Die bis in den Hades tauchen.
Dieser Duft ist wie ein Schlüssel
Zu den allerfernsten Räumen,
Wo die Geister aller Blumen
Ihre Liebesträume träumen.
Charons schwarzer Nachen kann nicht
Nach dem andern Ufer finden,
Ohen daß die lichten Horen
Hier ein Rosensträußchen winden.
 Friedrich Georg Jünger (1898-1977)

 At the euphony of your songs, the kingdom of the dead itself did tremble. It came about that the beloved did float once more into the bright upper air. / Had you not so doubtingly turned back your gaze, to her would have been granted new life through the power of song. / Into the hollow halls of the Underworld must every poet venture, that like Orpheus he might carry Eurydice up into the light. / There is no doubt that my vineyard hyacinths, which exhale a scent of musk, have roots that plunge into Hades. / This fragrance is like a key to the farthermost spaces, where the spirits of all flowers dream their dreams of love. / Charon's swart boat cannot reach the other shore unless here the bright hours wind a garland of roses.

22 April 2023

The horrors of Sleep

Hell? but whence came the descriptions of its Torments? From the imagination? But who having experienced what can be suffered in distempered Sleep, will compare the imaginative unsensational power of the man awake with the imagination that the Soul produces & suffers in Sleep?---One of the most horrible of these states of Morbid Sleep is the Sensation that counterfeits Remorse---& actual Remorse we know, when intense, realizes all the horrors of Sleep & seems indeed the identity or co-inherence of Sleep & Wake, Reality and Imagination.---If then Hell mean, & I know no more rational meaning, the state & natural consequences of a diseased Soul abandoned to itself or additionally tortured by the very organic case which had before sheltered it, and the force of the blows & blunted the point and edge of the daggers---it must contain---& surpass all the description of Hell, that were the portraits of the disturbed imagination---/---To consider the proper consequences an Act or Course of Action is to consider the Act itself, and no way inconsistent with the hatred of Sin for its own sake. 

Entry 4846, The Notebooks of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Vol. 4: 1819-1826, ed. Kathleen Coburn and Merton Christensen, London: Routledge, 2002.

31 March 2023

A paskudnyak

He turned out to be the ultimate swindler, a phoney, a lecher, a conman, a sleazeball, an out-and-out scoundrel: if there’d been a Nobel Prize for all that, he’d definitely have won it.

Haim Goldenstein, Regn-Boygns. Dertzeylungen [Rainbows. Short Stories], Bucharest: Verlag Kriterion, 1981, p. 119.

Er hot zikh aroysgevizn der letster aferist, a gots-ganev, a khamereyzl,(*) an opnarer, a paskudnyak, a vos-in-der-kort, volt men far dem ales gegebn dem nobel preyz, volt er im zikher geven gekrign.

ער האָט זיך אַרויסגעוויזן דער לעצטער אַפֿעריסט, אַ גאטס־גנבֿ, א כאַמעראייזל, אַן אָפּנארער, אַ פּאַסקודניאַק, אַ וואָס־אין־דער־קאָרט, וואָלט מען פֿאַר דעם אַלעס געגעבן דעם נאָבעל פּרייז, וואָלט ער אים זיכער געווען געקריגן

חיים גאָלדענשטיין
רעגן־בויגנס (דערציילונגען)
פארלאג קריטעריאָן, בוקאַרעשט 1981

(*) Khamereyzl כאַמעראייזל [sic = חמור־אייזל] ‘lecher, womaniser, libertine, debauchee, oysgelasener’, lit. ‘donkey-donkey’. A bilingual tautology, the expression compounds the Yiddish words for ‘donkey’, khamer (< Hebrew חֲמוֹר khamor) and eyzl (< German Esel), to create a humorous term of abuse—in its figurative sense of ‘chucklehead’, the word khamer is inherently humorous.

19 January 2023




Wagner (2)

Wagner's operas tend towards magic delusion, to what Schopenhauer calls 'The outside of the worthless commodity', in short towards phantasmagoria. This is the basis of the primacy of harmonic and instrumental sound in his music. The great phantasmagorias that recur again and again occupy a central position in his work (...) The phantasmagorical nature of the Venusberg music can be analysed technically. Its characteristic sound is created by the device of diminution. A diminished forte predominates, the image of loudness from afar. (...) The Venusberg appears to Tannhäuser diminished in size. It is reminiscent of the distorting mirror effects of the Tanagra theatre that can still be found in fairgrounds and suburban cabarets. (...) the concept of illusion as the absolute reality of the unreal grows in importance. It sums up the unromantic side of the phantasmagoria: phantasmagoria as the point at which aesthetic appearance becomes a function of the character of the commodity. As a commodity it purveys illusions. The absolute reality of the unreal is nothing but the reality of a phenomenon that not only strives unceasingly to spirit away its own origins in human labour, but also, inseparably from this process and in thrall to exchange value, assiduously emphasizes its use value, stressing that this is its authentic reality, that it is 'no imitation' and all this in order to further the cause of exchange value. In Wagner's day the consumer goods on display turned their phenomenal side seductively towards the mass of consumers while diverting attention from their merely phenomenal character, from the fact that they were beyond reach. Similarly, in the phantasmagoria, Wagner's operas tend to become commodities. Their tableaux assume the characters of wares on display.

Theodor Adorno, Verssuch über Wagner (1952),  
In Search of Wagner, trans. Rodney Livingstone, Verso, 2005, pp. 74-79

Entrance to the Venusberg

16 January 2023


At that time I was a great Wagnerian. I never lost an opportunity to hear Wagner's music either in the theatre or at concerts. Today I have lost my love for that music in which I feel something mawkish and immoral, something which is also perhaps bad. 
Giorgio de Chirico, Memorie della mia vita (1962),  
The Memoirs of Giorgio de Chirico, trans. Margaret Crosland, 
Peter Owen, London, 1971


11 January 2023

Library-cities (2)

If the world lasts another thousand years and as many books are written as today, then I think entire library-cities will come into being; but time's attrition and various causes will destroy many of them. 
Godfrey William Leibnitz, Otium Hanoveranum, ed. Joachim Friedrich Feller, 
Leipzig: Johann Christian Martin, 1718.
Si mundus adhuc mille annos durabit, et tot libri, ut hodie, conscribentur, vereor, ne e Bibliothecis integræ civitates fiant; Sed iniuria temporum et casus varii multas perdent. 
Otium Hanoveranum, Sive, Miscellanea, Ex ore et schedis Illustris Viri, piæ memoriæ, Godofr. Guilielmi Leibnitii, S. Cæs. Maj. Consiliarii, et S. Reg. Maj. Britanniarum â Consiliis Justitiæ intimis, nec non à scribenda Historia, Quondam notata et descripta, Cum ipsi in colligendis et excerpendis rebus ad Historiam Brunsvicensem pertinentibus operam navaret, Joachimus Fridericus Fellerus, Secretarius Ducalis Saxo-Vinariensis. Additæ sunt coronidis loco Epistolæ Gallicæ amoebeæ Leibnitii et Pelissonii de Tolerantia Religionum et de controversiis quibusdam Theologicis, jampridem editæ, nunc recusa. Quibus præmissum est supplementu vitæ Leibnitianæ. 
Cum Privilegio Reg. Polon. et Elect. Saxon. Lipsiæ M DCC XIIX. 
Impensis Joann. Christiani Martini.

24 December 2022


Die Bibliotheken werden endlich Städte werden, sagt Leibniz. [C 212]

Wenn, was Leibniz geweissagt hat, dereinst die Bibliotheken Städte werden, so wird es auch düstere Straßen und Schindergäßchen geben so wie jetzt. [J 861]

Georg Christoph Lichtenberg (1742-1799), Sudelbücher
Libraries will finally become cities, says Leibniz. 
If, as Leibniz prophesied, libraries one day become cities, there will still be dismal streets and back alleys as there are now.

20 December 2022

Infinite divisibility

Nothing is more pleasant to the fancy, than to enlarge itself, by degrees, in its contemplation of the various proportions which its several objects bear to each other, when it compares the body of man to the bulk of the whole earth, the earth to the circle it describes round the sun, that circle to the sphere of the fixed stars, the sphere of the fixed stars to the circuit of the whole creation, the whole creation itself to the infinite space that is every where diffused about it; or when the imagination works downward, and considers the bulk of a human body, in respect of an animal, a hundred times less than a mite, the particular limbs of such an animal, the different springs which actuate the limbs, the spirits which set these springs a-going, and the proportionable minuteness of these several parts, before they have arrived at their full growth and perfection. But if, after all this, we take the least particle of these animal spirits, and consider its capacity of being wrought into a world, that shall contain within those narrow dimensions a heaven and earth, stars and planets, and every different species of living creatures, in the same analogy and proportion they bear to each other in our own universe; such a speculation, by reason of its nicety, appears ridiculous to those who have not turned their thoughts that way, though, at the same time, it is founded on no less than the evidence of a demonstration. Nay, we might yet carry it farther, and discover in the smallest particle of this little world, a new inexhausted fund of matter, capable of being spun out into another universe. 

Joseph Addison, The Spectator, No. 420

06 December 2022


Qu’il soit fondé sur un fait ou librement inventé, de toute façon ce n’est pas le sujet qui fait le roman, à plus forte raison ne peut-on lui demander de débrouiller les relations du « vrai » et du « feint », dont la complexité outrepasse de beaucoup l'opposition tranchée admise par les articles des dictionnaires. A strictement parler, en effet, tout est « feint » dans un monde créé de toutes pièces pour être écrit : quelque traitement qu'elle subisse et sous quelque forme qu’elle soit suggérée, la réalité romanesque est fictive, ou plus exactement, c’est toujours une réalité de roman, où des personnages de roman ont une naissance, une mort, des aventures de roman. En ce sens on peut dire qu’il n’y a ni plus ni moins de réalité dans les Voyages de Gulliver que dans Madame Bovary, dans le Château que dans David Copperfield, dans Don Quichotte que dans un roman des Goncourt ou de Zola. Le Prague de Kafka n’est pas plus irréel que le Londres de Dickens ou le Saint-Pétersbourg de Dostoïevski, les trois villes n’ont que la réalité empirique des livres où elles sont créées, celle d’objets dont rien ne tient lieu et qui ne remplacent rien, mais qui viennent un jour s’ajouter réellement aux autres objets réels du monde. Le degré de réalité d’un roman n’est jamais chose mesurable, il ne représente que la part d’illusion dont le romancier se plaît à jouer.

 Marthe Robert, Roman des origines et origines du roman, Éditions Bernard Grasset, 1972


12 November 2022

Mundus mortuorum

When you get to the end of this book [The Third Policeman] you realise that my hero or main character (he's a heel and a killer) has been dead throughout the book and that all the queer ghastly things which have been happening to him are happening in a sort of hell which he has earned for the killing. Towards the end of the book (before you know he's dead) he manages to get back to his own house where he used to live with another man who helped in the original murder. Although he's been away 3 days, this other fellow is 20 years older and dies of fright when he sees the other lad standing in the door. Then the two of them walk back along the road to the hell place and start going thro' all the same terrible adventures again, the first fellow being surprised and frightened at everything just as he was the first time and as if he'd never been through it before. It is made clear that this sort of thing goes on forever - and there you are. It's supposed to be very funny but I don't know about that either. If it's ever published I'll send you a copy. I envy you the way you write just what you want to and like it when it's finished. I can never seem to get anything just right. Nevertheless, I think the idea of a man being dead all the time is pretty new. When you are writing about the world of the dead - and the damned - where none of the rules and laws (not even the law of gravity) holds good, there is any amount of scope for back-chat and funny cracks. 
Flann O'Brien to William Saroyan, 14 February 1940

15 August 2022

The dark star

Quare ex particulis hic mundus constat, ac ille

Ex totis, vivis per se, distantibus a se,

Singula nonnulli credunt quoque sidera posse

Dici orbes, terramque appellant sidus opacum,

Cui minimus divum praesit: quia nubibus infra

Imperium teneat, producatque omnia solus,

Corpora, quae aequor habet, tellusque infimus aër:
Umbrarum dominus, simulacraque viva gubernans, 
Cui data sit rerum cura et moderamen earum:
Quae quia non durant, sed tempore corrumpuntur

Exiguo, prope nil possunt, umbraeque vocari.

Hic reor est Pluton, a quo tenebrosa teneri
Regna canunt vates: namque infra nubila nox est,

Supra autem lux clara nitet, splendorque perennis:

Huic igitur, tanquam minimo, Deus ille deorum
Rex genitorque dedit vilissima regna, aliosque

Ut quisque est melior, melioribus addidit astris,

Imperiumque suum natis divisit habendum.

Marcellus Palingenius Stellatus,  Zodiacus vitae (1536), Liber VII

By reason of the fact that this world consists of parts, and that world(*) of wholes, living through themselves, separate from each other, some believe that each star may be said to be a world, and they call the Earth the dark star, over which reigns the least of the gods,(†) for he wields power underneath the clouds, where he alone generates all things, the lord of shadows, governing the living simulacra that are the bodies which exist in sea, on land, and in lower air. To him is given the care and management of these things which, since they do not last, but waste away in a short time, scarcely deserve to be called even shadows. I deem him to be the same Pluto who, so the ancient bards sing, rules the dark kingdom, for underneath the clouds it is night, whereas up above pure light and eternal splendour shine. To him, therefore, as the least of them all, the God of gods, King and Creator, gave the basest realms. The other gods, in order of which was the better, He joined to better stars, dividing the rule of his kingdom among his sons.

* The preceding lines lay out a Platonic hierarchy of Being in descending order, from the higher world of the noumenal to the lower world of the phenomenal, from light to darkness, from indivisible wholes to sundry parts.

† Quoted by Burton in The Anatomy of Melancholy ( 'The air is not so full of flies in summer as it is at all times of invisible devils: this Paracelsus stiffly maintains, and that they have every one their several chaos; others will have infinite worlds, and each world his peculiar spirits, gods, angels, and devils to govern and punish it. Singula nonnulli credunt . . .  Cui minimus divum praesit.'

10 August 2022

Words and things

I wish you to write a book on the power of words, and the processes by which human feelings form affinities with them—in short, I wish you to philosophize Horn Tooke’s system, and to solve the great Questions—whether there be reason to hold, that an action bearing all the semblance of pre-designing Consciousness may yet be simply organic, & whether a series of such actions are possible—and close on the heels of this question would follow the old “Is Logic the Essence of Thinking?” in other words—Is thinking impossible without arbitrary signs? &—how far is the word “arbitrary” a misnomer? Are not words &c parts & germinations of the Plant? And what is the Law of their Growth?—In something of this order I would endeavour to destroy the old antithesis of Words & Things, elevating, as it were, words into Things, & living Things too. 
Samuel Taylor Coleridge, letter to William Godwin, September 1800

08 June 2022

Tout est crasse

Nicolas Poussin, Le Triomphe de Cthulu (1633)

Mercredi 10 juillet [1957]

Bref nous vivons au milieu de crétins, en plein crétinisme, chez les sourds et chez les aveugles, que la prétention rend impardonnables puisqu’elle les prive des bénéfices de la naïveté, propre aux limites d’un organisme qui ne se transcende que pour prendre les mauvaises routes. Prêtrise, police, tout cela dans un monde où, s’il existait un humour supérieur au lieu de puissances atroces et bestiales, les hommes seraient sans cesse giflés et bottés par des mains et par des pieds énigmatiques. Mais hélas, tout est crasse, l’éternité, l’infini comme le reste, et la puanteur dont Lovecraft accompagne les manifestations de l’inconnu illustre à merveille la terrible parole de Renan : « Il se pourrait que la vérité fût triste. » Devenue pour moi : « La vérité est triste. D’autant plus triste qu’il n’y a même pas de vérité. »

Jean Cocteau, Le Passé défini, vol. 5, 1956-1957, eds. Pierre Caizergues, Francis Ramirez, Christian Rolot, Paris: Gallimard, 2006, p. 621

In short, we live in the midst of idiots, in complete idiocy, among the deaf and the blind, whose pretension makes them unforgivable because it deprives them of the benefits of the naïveté peculiar to the limits of an organism that goes beyond itself only to take the wrong path. Priesthood, police, all this in a world in which, if there existed some higher humour instead of atrocious, bestial powers, people would be constantly slapped and kicked by enigmatic hands and feet. But unfortunately, all is crass, eternity, infinity the same as everything else, and the stench which in Lovecraft* goes along with the manifestations of the unknown perfectly illustrates the grim words of Renan: ‘It may be that the truth is bleak.’ Which for me becomes: ‘The truth is bleak. All the bleaker for there not even being any truth.’

* In 1954, Cocteau had remarked on the stench emanated by Lovecraft’s entities of cosmic evil, when reading Jacques Papy's newly published translations La Couleur tombée du ciel (Paris: Denoël, 1954) and Dans l’abîme du temps (Paris: Denoël, 1954):

[24 octobre 1954] Importance olfactive chez Lovecraft. Son invisible pue. (Ce qui est étrange car il se dénonce par une infecte odeur.) 

Importance of the olfactory in Lovecraft. His invisible [world] stinks. (Which is strange since it gives itself away by a vile odour.)

[14 novembre 1954] L’aspect qu’il donne à ses abominable entités et l’odeur infecte qu’elles répandent autor d’elles ne varient guère d’un conte à l’autre.

The aspect that he lends his abominable entities and the vile odour that they give off varies barely at all from one story to another.

In October 1954, on learning that Hemingway has won the Nobel Prize for Literature, Cocteau remarks on the triumph of mediocrity (‘Le médiocre marche tout seul’) and the epoch of journalists who think themselves great modern writers, whereas it took many years for Lovecraft to be translated into French and there are no publishers or translators to be found for Bierce, Arthur Machen, Algernon Blackwood, Lord Dunsany, M. R. James, Sheridan Le Fanu.

Claude Gellée (Le Lorrain), Paysage avec le dieu Cthulu (1634)

03 June 2022

A sleep deeper than death

Ich brauche zu meinem Schreiben Abgeschiedenheit, nicht „wie ein Einsiedler“, das wäre nicht genug, sondern wie ein Toter. Schreiben in diesem Sinne ist ein tieferer Schlaf, also Tod, und so wie man einen Toten nicht aus seinem Grabe ziehen wird und kann, so auch mich nicht vom Schreibtisch in der Nacht. 

Franz Kafka, Brief an Felice Bauer, 26.vi.1926

I need isolation for my writing, not ‘like a hermit’, that would not be enough, but like a dead man. Writing in this sense is a sleep deeper than death, and just as one would not and could not drag a dead man out of his grave, so too I will not and cannot be dragged from my writing desk in the night.

30 May 2022

Somnial or Morphean Space

Now I propose to note down the characteristics of Dreams, especially my infernal Dreams, as they occur to me—as so many parts of the Problem to be solved. [...]
    The first point of course is the Vision itself—that we see without eyes and hear without Ears.—
    The second (& which I have never seen noticed) is—that we live without consciousness of Breathing. You never suppose the Men & Women of the Dream to breathe—<you do not suppose them not to breathe>—the thought is wholly suspended—and absent from your consciousness. 
    The third concerns the qualities & relations of Somnial or Morphean Space— [...]
    The fourth is the spontaneity of the Dream-personages—Each is its own centre—herein so widely differing from the vivid thoughts & half-images of poetic Day-dreaming. —In sleep you are perfectly detached from the Dramatis Personæ—and they are from you.
    The 5th is the whimsical transfer of familiar Names and the sense of Identity and Individuality to the most unlike Forms & Faces. [...]
    6th. Conversion of bodily Pain into some passion of the Mind—Heart-burn becomes intense Grief, with bitter Weeping; Pain in the Umbilical Region becomes Terror [...]
    7th. Imaginary Air-piercing, Air-shooting, skimming, soaring by successive Jerks of Volition or rather a nisus-analogue of inward volition./
    8. & most interesting—the apparent representative character of particular Forms and Images, repr. I mean, each of some particular organ or structure—Ex. gr. I have never of later years awaked, desiderio mingendi*, but the preceding Dream had presented some water-landskip, Lake, River, Pond, or Splashes, Water-pits. [...]
    9. The frustration most common in Dreams.
    10. Non-descript & yet not composite Animals—the magnificent Fassades [sic] of Architecture. 
    11. The occasional sui generis Elysean Sunshine—/ 
Entry 5360, The Notebooks of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Vol. 4: 1819-1826, ed. Kathleen Coburn and Merton Christensen, London: Routledge, 2002.

 * desiderio mingendi - with the urge to urinate


23 May 2022

Dark reflections from below all life

Habitually to dream magnificently, a man must have a constitutional determination to reverie. This in the first place; and even this, where it exists strongly, is too much liable to disturbance from the gathering agitation of our present English life. Already, what by the procession through fifty years of mighty revolutions amongst the kingdoms of the earth, what by the continual development of vast physical agencies,steam in all its applications, light getting under harness as a slave for man, powers from heaven upon education and accelerations of the press, powers from hell (as it might seem, but these also celestial) coming round upon artillery and the forces of destruction,the eye of the calmest observer is troubled; the brain is haunted as if by some jealousy of ghostly beings moving amongst us; and it becomes too evident that, unless this colossal pace of advance can be retarded (a thing not to be expected) [...] left to itself, the natural tendency of so chaotic a tumult must be to evil; for some minds to lunacy, for others a reagency of fleshly torpor. How much this fierce condition of eternal hurry upon an arena too exclusively human in its interests is likely to defeat the grandeur which is latent in all men, may be seen in the ordinary effect from living too constantly in varied company. The word dissipation, in one of its uses, expresses that effect; the action of thought and feeling is consciously dissipated and squandered. [...]
Among the powers in man which suffer by this too intense life of the social instincts, none suffers more than the power of dreaming. Let no man think this a trifle. The machinery for dreaming planted in the human brain was not planted for nothing. That faculty, in alliance with the mystery of darkness, is the one great tube through which man communicates with the shadowy. And the dreaming organ, in connexion with the heart, the eye, and the ear, compose the magnificent apparatus which forces the infinite into the chambers of the human brain, and throws dark reflections from eternities below all life upon the mirrors of the sleeping mind. 

Thomas de Quincey, Dreaming, Suspiria de Profundis, 1845

19 May 2022

The harmfulness of knowledge

Scientiæ suntne inutiles?
R. Ita probatur. I. Rhetorica est ars mentiendi, ex albo facit nigrum, hominem candidæ vitæ atramento & meris carbonibus denigrat. Theologia superat captum nostrum. Medicina boletos venenatos & artem intoxicandi nos docuit; Ars conquinaria gulositatem inducit. Imo Historiographicus quidam tradit nescio in quo libro coquos in causa fuisse ut dives ille helluo Evangelicus ad inferos descenderit. Nisi enim cibos opipare conditos illi apposuissent non ita genio indulsisset; summa summarum scientia multa incommoda procreat, inducit vigilias, parit catharros, &c. Qualis autem effectus talis causa. Ergo conferamus nos omnes ad Abbatem fratrum ignorantiæ, missos faciamus alchymistas cum suo auro imaginario, Philosophos cum ente rationis, &c. Arrigite aures auditores sicuti lepores; hoc enim scriptum inveni in vocabulo Reformatorum, quam pravam imaginationem tum perversis quibusdam hominibus ademeris, cum crepitum ex asino mortuo extruseris.  
Nugæ Venales, sive Thesaurus Ridendi et Jocandi. Ad Gravissimos Severissimosque Viros, Patres Melancholicorum Conscriptos. Anno 1689. Prostant Neminem; sed tamen Ubique. 


Is knowledge harmful?

Answer. Yes, proven thus: 1. Rhetoric is the art of lying, it makes white black, with ink and bare coals it dyes black the man whose life is pure white. Theology soars above our ken. Medicine teaches us deadly mushrooms and the art of poisoning. The art of cookery leads to gluttony. There's even a historian who puts forward in some book or other that it was because of cooks that the gourmandising rich man of the Gospel descended to hell. If they hadn't set those lavishly seasoned meals before him, he wouldn't have indulged in such good living; all in all, much knowledge begets inconveniences, it keeps you up at night, it gives you a runny nose, etc. As the effect, so the cause. Therefore let all us join brother Abbot of Ignorance, let us send packing the alchemists and their imaginary gold, the philosophers and their ens rationis,* etc. Listeners, pluck up your ears like rabbits, for I have devised this text in the name of the Reformers: you would as much deprive certain bad men of their mistaken mental image as you could squeeze a fart out of a dead donkey.
* ens rationis - entity that exists only in the mind. Entia rationis are opposed to entia realia, beings that have a real existence outside the mind. 

26 April 2022

Toad-imp whispers

26 April 1826. Wednesday Night. This Morning a little before three suffered one of my most grievous and alarming <Scream->Dreams—and on at length struggling myself awake found just such a focus of Ferment just above the Navel as if the Dæmon of Aqua Fortis had just closed in with the Genie Magnesia, or as if a Chocolate Mill were making a Water-spout dance a reel in dizzy-frisk.—It is strongly impressed on my mind, that I shall imitate my dear Father in this as faithfully as Nature imitates or repeats him in me in so many other points—viz. that I shall die in sleep […]
    Since I first read Swedenborg’s De Coelo et de Inferno ex Auditis et Visis, every horrid Dream, that I have, my thoughts involuntarily turn to the passage […] (indeed to the whole Book I am indebted for imagining myself always in Hell, i.e. imagining all the wild Chambers, Ruins, Prisons, Bridewells, to be in Hell)—Sunt Spiritus, qui nondum in conjunctione cum Inferno sunt: illi amant indigesta et maligna, qualia sunt sordescentium Ciborum in Ventriculo*—Swedenborg had often talked with them, and driven them away, & immediately the poor Sleeper’s frightful Dreams were removed, they being the spiritual Linguifacture of these Toad-Imps’ whispers. 
Entry 5360, The Notebooks of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Vol. 4: 1819-1826, ed. Kathleen Coburn and Merton Christensen, London: Routledge, 2002.
* There are spirits that are not yet conjoined with Hell: they love things undigested and malignant such as befouled victuals in the belly.

17 April 2022

Privy matters (4)

Quænam in mundo admiranda?
Resp. Quod omnes cornices sint nigræ; quod ratti æque cito currant ac mures; quod canes ossa arrodant et duglutiant; quod rusticus armaturam induat, galeam capiti imponat, hastam arripiat ad defendendum pullos gallinaceos, cum singulis diebus tam diligenter observentur a vulpium orphanis. Mirabile quod feles nequam post cœnam, densis existentibus tenebris, sine lumine, sine gladio, sine pileo, nudis auribus pedibusque, absque crepidis calopodiisque audeant aggredi ingentem exercitum honestorum murium et glirium. Mirabilius quod hiems nunquam ita caleat sicuti æstas; uti legitur apud Quinquarillam,* sine perspicillo in libro per omnia albo, in illis verbis pata, pata, pon.§ Mirabilissimum omnes fœminas hoc vitio laborare, ut per unum idemque foramen mingant et cacent, cum (scilicet) latrinæ podicem obverterint.
Nugæ Venales, sive Thesaurus Ridendi et Jocandi. Ad Gravissimos Severissimosque Viros, Patres Melancholicorum Conscriptos. Anno 1689. Prostant Neminem; sed tamen Ubique. 

What things in the world are to be marvelled at?

Answer. That all crows are black; that rats run as fast as mice; that dogs gnaw and suck bones; that the peasant dons armour, puts a helmet on his bonce, lays hold of a spear to defend his hens’ chicks, as noted by orphaned fox cubs every day. It is a marvel that rascally cats, emerging in post-prandial pitch darkness, without a light, without a sword, without a cap, their ears and feet bare, dispensing with sandals and clogs, dare to attack the vast army of noble mice and dormice. More marvellous still is that winter is never as hot as summer, as may be read in the Quinquarilla, without eyeglasses, a book completely blank, worded tappity-tappity-tap. Most marvellous of all is that all women labour under the fault that they micturate and defecate through the same orifice, as is obvious from the fact that in both cases they turn their rump to the privy .

* Quinquarilla (fem. sing.) - ‘Five-Basket’, a hapax legomenon, derived from quasillum, the diminutive of qualus ‘wicker basket’, and perhaps with an echo of Quinquatria (neut. pl.), a Roman festival of Minerva thus named, according to Varro, because it began five days after the Ides of March. The anonymous author of the Nugae Venales (first published in 1632), a work steeped in the Latin-speaking student (sub)culture of the German universities, here provides an inventive translation of the phrase ‘the first Shrove Tuedsay basket’, found in Bruscambille’s ‘Autre prologue & discours’ (Fantaisies, 1612): ‘Comme li se lit sans lunettes au premier pannier de Mardy gras en ces mots pata, pata, pon.’ On borrowings from Bruscambille in the Nugae Venales, see: Annette Tomarken, ‘Borrowed Nonsense: The Nugae Venales and the Prologues of Bruscambille’, Humanistica Lovaniensia, Vol. 64 (2015).

perspicillus - the word for telescope used by Galileo in the Sidereus Nuncius (1610) and which in subsequent early modern texts was also used in the sense of ‘eyeglasses’.

§ pata, pata, pon - onomatopoeic. ‘Mot inventé pour exprimer le bruit d’un tambour’: Philibert-Joseph le Roux, Dictionnaire Comique, Satyrique, Critique, Burlesque, Libre et Proverbial. Avec une Explication très-fidèle de toutes les manières de parler Burlesques, Comiques, Libres, Satyriques, Critiques & Proverbiales, qui peuvent se rencontrer dans les meilleurs Auteurs, tant Anciens que Modernes. Le Tout Pour faciliter aux Etrangers, & aux François mêmes, l’intelligence de toutes sortes de Livres (Lyon, 1735).


16 April 2022

Une maison onirique

La poésie, dans sa grande fonction, nous redonne les situations du songe. La maison natale est plus qu'un corps de logis, elle est un corps de songes. Chacun de ses réduits fut un gîte de rêverie. Et le gîte a souvent particularisé la rêverie. Nous y avons pris des habitudes de rêverie particuliere. La maison, la chambre, le grenier où l'on été seul, donnent les cadres d'une rêverie interminable, d'une rêverie que la poésie pourrait seule, par une œuvre, achever, accomplir. Si l'on donne à toutes ces retraites leur fonction qui fut d'arbitrer des songes, on peut dire [...] qu'il existe pour chacun de nous une maison onirique, une maison du souvenir-songe, perdue dans l'ombre d'un au-delà du passé vrai. 

Gaston Bachelard, La poétique de l'espace, Presses Universitaires de France, 1957

The great function of poetry is to restore to us the situations of the dream. The house of our birth is more than an embodiment of home, it is an embodiment of dreams. Its every corner was a refuge for reverie. And often the refuge placed its distinguishing mark on the reverie. It was here that we acquired the habits of distinctive reverie. The house, the bedroom, the attic where we were alone furnished the frameworks of endless reverie, of a reverie that only poetry, through a poetic work, would otherwise be able to accomplish, to attain. If we grant to all these refuges their function of having arbitrated dreams, we may say that there exists for each of us an oneiric house, a house of dream-memory, lost in the shadow of an otherworld of the real past.

13 April 2022

Quis nasus est optimus?

Quis nasus est optimus?

R. Magnus. Vide catalogum Imperatorum Romanorum, omnes fuerunt nasuti. Numa secundus rex Romanorum sesquipedalem nasum habebat, ideoque nominatus fuit Pompilius, quasi dicas, nasus in superlativo gradu. Lycurgus et Solon habebant insignem nasum, si fides sit adhibenda Plutarcho. Summa omnes reges Italiae fuerunt nasuti, excepto Tarquinio superbo, qui ideo etiam urbe et regno pulsus fuit. Quisque apprehendat nasum suum, et videat, num possit fieri Imperator. Qui habent magnum nasum cæteris sapientiores sunt, et melius exercent animi functiones, quia melius excrementa exeunt. Unde Homerus quia era sapiens nasutus dicitur. Et proverbio illi dicuntur prudentes qui e longinquo odorantur, et de stupido dicitur, non habet nasum. 

Nugæ Venales, sive Thesaurus Ridendi et Jocandi. Ad Gravissimos Severissimosque Viros, Patres Melancholicorum Conscriptos. Anno 1689. Prostant Neminem; sed tamen Ubique.

Which nose is best?

Answer. Big. See the list of Roman Emperors: all had big noses.* Numa, the second king of the Romans, had a one-and-a-half-foot nose, on which account he was named Pompilius, as if to say 'nose in the superlative degree'. Lycurgus and Solon had prominent noses, if that which Plutarch reports is reliable. In the main, all the kings of Italy were big-nosed, with the exception of Tarquin the Proud, who for that very reason was expelled from the city and kingdom. Whoever can grasp his own nose in his hand, whoever can see the end of his own nose, might be made Emperor. Those who have big noses are wiser than anybody else and better able to exercise the mental faculties, because they are better able to pass mucus. Whence Homer was said to be big-nosed because he was wise. Also, the intelligent are proverbially those who can smell from afar, whereas it is said that the stupid have no nose. 


* Cf. Dante, Purgatorio, Canto 7, where, in listing the late-repentant negligent rulers, Sordello dwells on their nasal appendages: Philip III of France is 'quel nasetto', or 'the snub-nosed one' (Purg. 7, 103), Peter III of Aragon is 'colui dal maschio naso', or 'he of the manly nose' (Purg. 7, 113), Peter, son of Charles I of Anjou, is 'nasuto', or 'big-nosed' (Purg. 7, 124).

† Pompilius, the name of a Roman gens, derives from the Greek πομπίλος, the pilot-fish (Gasterosteus ductor), a term sometimes also applied to the nautilus, but here it is humorously taken to derive from the early modern Dutch pompe or Middle Low German pompe, pumpe, a wooden water pipe or ship's pump.

10 April 2022

Privy matters (3)

 —then the fantastic puppet-old-man that threw himself in my way and under my feet where ever I went—my intreatng some one to take him away—and a huge bloater fat fellow came & sat on him, saying, there was no other way—I went it—and a villainous little dog contrived to fly at me & bit me, with a sharp nip (the nearest imitation of proper pain, that I have found occur in sleep—Some one of the half-friendly Inhabitants of the Sleep-world observed, that the little old man had contrived to let the dog slip in the moment, the fat fellow sate on him—then the Drama of Puppets—& that I must stay it out before I could go to relieve myself—but I grew angry—& stole away down a hollow lane that led to a river, on the other side of which was a field or plot with a number of rather pretty yet fear-inspiring Child-men, with sheaves, as in a harvest field, of dry exceedingly light <Bean> Halms or the dried out Rushes in a dry summer ditch/ —I was on a sloping hillock or bank of the River—& said to myself—These are Tieck’s Fairies / alluding in my mind to the exquisite tale of the Girl who passed from Childhood to Womanhood among the Fairies & supposed she had been only a few hours / —and then a white-faced Boy came on the left of the harvest field but the other side of the Stream, as if to watch what I was about to do—and as I thought, to bring the natives about me, should I persist in profaning the place by letting down my small clothes— —& in this uneasy feeling I awoke—.. P.S. I had deferred taking my regular quantity of Mustard Seed till the moment, that I was undressing—three hours later than my wont—& in consequence, had to undergo all the process in sleep / But from these dreams (and no week occurs in which I have not one or two; always originating in the Kidneys, or Bladder, or Intestinal Canal) I derive convincing confirmation of the diversity between Reason & Understanding. The latter we retain in Dreams—it is “I” still, & the Understanding belongs to “I”—but Reason is a Loan, a Light.—The memory is lost: for it is objectivity that differences Memory from Fancy—and Objectivity, the offspring of Reason, is by divine ordinance connected with the Senses in our present fallen state—We have not God within; but must look out of ourselves for him.
Entry 5641, November 1827,  The Notebooks of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Volume 5: 1827-1834, ed. Kathleen Coburn and Anthony John Harding, Routledge, 2002

03 April 2022

01 April 2022

An somnus mortis frater sit

As for Sleep, which the dying Philosopher called the Brother of Death,* I do not see how it argues the Soul’s Mortality, more than a man’s inability to wake again: but rather helps us to conceive, how that though the stounds† and agonies of Death seem utterly to take away all the hopes of the Soul’s living after them; yet upon a recovery of a quicker Vehicle of Air, she may suddenly awake into fuller and fresher participation of life than before. But I may answer also, that Sleep being only the ligation‡ of the outward Senses, and the interception of motion from the external world, argues no more any radical defect of Life and Immortality in the Soul, than the having a man’s Sight bounded within the walls of his chamber by Shuts, does argue any blindness in the immured party; who haply is busie reading by candle-light, and that with ease, so small a Print as would trouble an ordinary Sight to read it by day. And that the Soul is not perpetually employ’d in Sleep, is very hard for any to demonstrate; we so often remembring our reams merely by occasions, which, if they had not occurr’d, we had never suspected we had dream’d that night.

Henry More, The Immortality of the Soul (1659), Book III, Chap. xiv

* ὁ ὕπνος θανάτου ἀδελφὸς. Aelian, Var. Hist. lib. 2, cap. 35. With reference to pre-Socratic philosopher Gorgias Leontinus.

stound - state of stupefaction or amazement

ligation - condition of being bound, suspension (of the faculties)

26 March 2022

The deities of dream

Offenser la pudeur des divinités du songe. (...) S'entretenir d'idées pures et saines pour avoir des songes logiques. Prenez garde à l'impureté qui effarouche les bons esprits et qui attire les divinités fatales. Quand vos rêves sont logiques ils sont une porte ouverte ivoire ou corne sur le monde extérieur.

Gérard de Nerval, feuillet détaché

To offend the modesty of the deities of dream. (...) To have to do with pure and healthy ideas in order to have logical dreams. Beware the impurity that frightens away the good spirits and brings down the fatal deities. When your dreams are logical they are an open portal of ivory or horn to the exterior world.

03 March 2022

Au cœur du rêve

Au cœur du rêve, je suis seul. Dépouillé de toutes mes garanties, dévêtu des artifices de langage, des protections sociales, des idéologies rassurantes, je me retrouve dans l’isolement parfait de la créature devant le monde. Plus rien ne subsiste du moi construit ; c’est à peine si, en cet instant où je ne suis plus que moi-même, j’ai encore la conscience d’être quelqu’un. Je suis un être humain, n’importe lequel, semblable à mes semblables. Mais il n’y a plus de semblables dans cette solitude. Il ne reste de moi que la créature et sa destinée, son inexplicable et impérieuse destinée. Avec stupeur, je découvre que je suis cette vie infinie : un être dont les origines remontent au delà de tout ce que je puis connaître, dont le sort dépasse les horizons où atteint mon regard. Je ne sais plus autour de quelles pauvres raisons j’ai organisé la petite existence de cet individu que j’étais. Je suis seulement que m’apparaissent maintenant les raisons de ma vie véritable : elles demeurent innomées, mais présentes ; elles sont ce que jéprouve, l’immensité de mon étendue réelle. 
 Albert Béguin, LAme romantique et le rêve, 1939


At the heart of the dream, I am alone. Stripped of all my guarantees, disrobed of the artifices of language, social protections, comforting ideologies, I find myself in the perfect isolation of the creature before the world. Nothing more remains of the constructed self; in the instant when I am no more than I myself, barely am I aware of being someone. I am a human being, any human being, a fellow to my fellow men. But there are no more fellow men in this solitude. All that is left of me is the creature and its destiny, its inexplicable and imperious destiny. With bewilderment, I discover that I am this infinite life: a being whose origins go back beyond all that I am capable of knowing, whose fate extends farther than the  horizons of my gaze. I no longer know the paltry reasons around which I organised the petty existence of the individual that I was. I have being only because it is now that the reasons of my true life appear to me: they dwell unnamed, but present; they are what I experience, the vastness of my real expanse.