…………… a story, a poem a recollection of 77 summer solstices bundled into a single thought of when a young carpenter with muscles, sweating, carries a 2 by 10 joist from lumber pile to house, its skeleton being assembled in the sun, a thought that segues into a later solstice down the line, along the way, a solstice of love and its making, a tale with math & science thrown in: physics, geometry, stuff he’d read somewhere, picked up, stuff that fits and shifts, some good ……………..and not so—
C.S. Lewis, the Evangelical icon who would be thoroughly nauseated by Evangelicals, once wrote we should not kid ourselves into believing the Reformation had anything to do with religious freedom. Once he escaped the stake, John Calvin had no problem watching Michael Servetus burn. Although he did ask for a beheading instead. Full of tender, predestined mercies was Calvin. The Reformation makes much more sense when viewed as a political and theological battle over who gets to light the matches.
But for true clarity, we must of course turn to Monty Python and the Holy Grail. When the crowd wants to burn a woman as a witch (“She turned me into a newt. I got better.”), the question never arises as to the legitimacy of burning witches or even their existence but whether the mob’s superstition or Sir Bedivere’s “science” (If she weighs the same as a duck, she’s made of wood, and therefore a witch) should determine the case. The lighting of matches gets turned into a question of process; let’s make sure we’re burning people for the right reasons.
Both situations, one historical and one fanciful, existed because a worldview, that certain sins (heresy, witchcraft) must be eliminated through the death of the transgressors, had triumphed and stood beyond question. Only later would a debate arise as to whether we should be killing people over matters of faith and religion. That debate continues in certain cultures. Read more »
Short Talk on Why Some People Find Trains Exciting / Anne Carson
It is the names Northland Sante Fe Nickle Plate Line Delta Jump Dayliner Heartland Favourite Taj Express it is the long lit windows the plush seats the smokers the sleeping cars the platform questions the French woman watching me from across the aisle you never know the little lights that snap on overhead the noctilucal areas the cheekwary page turning of course I have a loyal one at home it is the blue trainyards the red switch lights the unopened chocolate bar the curious rumpled little ankle socks speeding up to 130 kilometres per hour black trees crowding by bridges racketing past the reading glasses make her look like Racine or Baudelaire je ne sais plus lequel stuffing their shadows into her mouth qui sait même qui sait.
I have been married for ten years this week.
We check online and learn together that the traditional material for tenth anniversary gifts is tin. This keeps us entertained for a while, cracking jokes about our marriage as a rusty tin can. Our average age is forty, far from officially old, but officially not-young. The morning of our anniversary goes up in prosaic flames of frustration, as we try—mostly fail—to contain the screams of a three-and-a-half year old who has been offered his breakfast muesli in the panda-bear-bowl instead of the cloud-bowl; whose commandment “the dinosaur t-shirt” was misinterpreted to mean the black shirt with the white dinos instead of the other way around (white shirt, black dinos). Ritual morning miscommunications like the itch on a leg covered with a dozen two-day old mosquito bites.
Almost fourteen years ago, you went to Germany for a year of studies. The summer before the academic year started, we traveled together in Europe. My mother was not ready to have her youngest daughter away for so long with a man she—my mother, that is, but she probably thought I also—didn’t really know that well. And so I found myself playing the age-old part, shouting at her “I am going to marry this man” with the conviction of a young person unaware of how young (and ridiculously archetypal) she sounds, years before you and I actually talked about marriage. But your mother was with us at the airport saying goodbye, because you were leaving for longer than just the summer.Read more »
Jungle-blooms unfold shiveringly out of sun-baked stretches and creases in the streets where round-hipped women wear second-hand silk dresses over bodies that have been worn and worn again.
In the motel, we leave handprints griming the glass behind factory-weave curtains. We leave handprints just to leave something like roamers heading to another country where I’ve heard the land is so open it can make a man soul-sick for a horse.
If we try to walk there, we’ll fall into the swarm of blossoms tripped by thin tendrils of roots unfurling before we even reach the edge of town.
If we know just one just god one cruel god, we too will be worn down in this rented room with its two bibles beside a TV remote with rubbed-off buttons in a broth of stale-conditioned air.
Where the cold knifes in below our collarbones at night long after the whiskey that’s half melted ice by the leaf-strewn pool on Friday afternoon— where the proprietress rasps can you hear the beasts out back— yowling with pity—
and a guest says, don’t I look like something in this dress—don’t I feel a new life churning in me, like a brand new galaxy where blue stars are sparking up in clusters, even as we speak. And can you hear the animals out back—howling with glee. While the jungle blooms unfounded, blooms outward into the desert—
When I studied philosophy as an undergraduate in the UK in the late seventies, Nietzsche was pretty much off limits. None of his texts were included on any of the course syllabi. We devoted an entire term to Gilbert Ryle’s The Concept of Mind, but not even during a year-long course on Phenomenology and Existentialism was Nietzsche so much as mentioned. Such was the analytic insularity of academic philosophy in Britain at the time.
Things have changed since then. Today, in any book store with a genuine philosophy section, the shelf space occupied by books by or about Nietzsche is likely to be greater than that devoted to any other thinker. There are now reliable English translations of all his published works along with his notebooks and letters. And philosophy students will usually have many more opportunities to encounter his texts in the course of their studies.
Exactly why Nietzsche’s star has risen so high over the last few decades is a complex question. Many factors could be cited. His notorious association with Nazism was shown (by Walter Kaufmann and others) to be largely based on a misrepresentation. His seminal ideas about morality, religion, human nature, art, culture, truth and knowledge increasingly seemed to chime with the times. A broadening conception of philosophy within academic departments made room for a writer who had previously attracted the attention of literati rather than philosophers.
But more important than these, I believe, are three further reasons. Read more »
In giving an account of the aesthetic value of wine, the most important factor to keep in mind is that wine is an everyday affair. It is consumed by people in the course of their daily lives, and wine’s peculiar value and allure is that it infuses everyday life with an aura of mystery and consummate beauty. Wine is a “useless” passion that has a mysterious ability to gather people and create community. It serves no other purpose than to command us to slow down, take time, focus on the moment, and recognize that some things in life have intrinsic value. But it does so in situ where we live and play. Wine transforms the commonplace, providing a glimpse of the sacred in the profane. Wine’s appeal must be understood within that frame.
Thus, wine differs from the fine arts at least as traditionally conceived. In Western culture, we have demanded that the fine arts occupying a contemplative space outside the spaces of everyday life—the museum, gallery, or concert hall–in order to properly frame the work. (A rock concert venue isn’t a contemplative space but it is analogous to one—a separate, staged performance designed to properly frame music that aims at impact and fervor rather than contemplation) With the emergence of forms of mechanical reproduction this traditional idea of an autonomous, contemplative space is fast eroding, allowing fine art (and just about everything else as well) to invade everyday life.
But wine, even very fine wine, is seldom encountered in such autonomous, contemplative spaces. It is usually encountered in the course of life, in spaces and times where other activities are ongoing. Formal tastings exist but are the exception. It’s rare to taste wine in a context where casual conversation or food consumption is discouraged as would be the case at a concert hall or museum. Read more »
There is no hope for me but poetry. —Rafaël Newman
1. Toronto in the Seventies was still a filthy city. I was a teen then and because I dropped out of school I got to know the city very well at all hours and in all weathers. I would walk the day into the ground looking at buildings, birds and people. Sometimes I would stop to sketch one of these sights. Charcoal and India ink suited Toronto. Any picture blurred or ran right into its subject matter: grimy, monochromatic. What was my mistake and what was a demonstrable aspect of the scene was materially indistinguishable. When I stood still flakes of ash could be perceived falling at leisure from the sky. Seeping lake freighters corroded lengthwise alongside cracked concrete quays. Guano was caked deep under the Gardiner Expressway as on any Funk Island. I routinely got so tired I couldn’t worry about the future. Every pedestrian knows that the future can be outwalked quite easily on a daily basis. Anxiety does not have much stamina really. I was charitable enough to decant it regular cups of black coffee, but this beverage availed my happiness as much as my misgiving. I worked in the evenings. I was solitary to a degree retrospection finds shocking.
Despite the dirt, it remained a city filled with birds. Chimney swifts twitched, tacked to and fro, chattered, crowded their crescent flocks into the stems of old smoke stacks. Nighthawks stooped on café terraces with grimy, precipitous, monochromatic glamour: Torontonians by plumage, by nature. Their voices were mistakable for traffic sounds. Yet in ancient oaks and beeches, peewees and orioles, and even vireos, sang. Downtown ravines then hosted nesting wood thrushes, as they no longer do. Sometimes my family went netting smelt halfway between the harbour and the beaches. Night herons and bank swallows pursued their respective repertoires (static, antic) where nightfall anglers kindled red and saffron fires in black oil barrels. Gulls bawled like chickens educated in tragic theatre.
Just as I was dropping out of Jarvis Collegiate, I met a nervous person resettled from Vancouver, Rafaël Newman. Read more »