Thursday, June 9, 2011

On Madness, Parts VII-X, or Poetry & Survival, Part III

Magic is the crown or nightmare of the law of cause and effect, not its contradiction. Miracles are no less strange in this universe than that of astronomers.

Magic, in which every lucid and determined detail is a prophecy. In the novel, I think this [is] the only possible integrity
… Borges, in “Narrative Art & Magic”

On Madness, Parts VII-X or Poetry & Survival, Part III


Whitman’s mind-numbing excess. His over-the-top-ness. Big wide-open bear hug embracing the whole world with a wet kiss! Awkward. Unconventional. Precocious. Unpredictable. Spontaneous. Offensive. Bold. Rash. Rude. Surprising. Child-like. Affectionate. Loving. Open. Wide open…

I cannot define my satisfaction… yet it is so,
I cannot define my life… yet it is so.

Quoth the white-bearded bard in the 1855 edition of Leaves of Grass.

In one page of Whitman are (un)contained entire and infinite universes!

Consider: O love and summer! You are in my dreams and in me…
(The ecstatic romantic Walt).

The myth of heaven indicates the soul (the spiritual mystic walt)

The soul is always beautiful…
It comes from its embowered garden…
Perfect and clean the genitals jetting, and perfect and clean the womb cohering…

(the sensual compassionate big-hearted lover of the whole wide world Walt!)

Whitman and Byron. Bernstein. Ginsberg. Mozart, et al.

Lovers of life. Suckers of the marrow out of it.

Walt’s current companions with me are Dante & Borges. But could be Cervantes, Shakespeare, Hölderlin, Smart, Heaney or Hughes, Goethe or Schiller, Beckett, Coleridge, Rilke, Joyce, Campbell, Benjamin and / or Baudelaire…

Censorship would not exist in human history if art were not dangerous.

Fascinating how resistant to a single interpretation, of all the books of the Bible, the book of Job is. Scholars do agree, however, on this mind-enhancing illumination: “the extraordinary beauty of the poetry is part of its meaning.”From The New Oxford Annotated Bible (A true “study” Bible).

Borges trenchant, insightful & engaging, brilliantly discursive essays.

Like “The Art of Verbal Abuse.” A priest’s last words to the Inquisition show defiance, resolve, courage amidst adversity: I will burn, but that is a mere event. We shall continue our discussion in eternity.

Bold speech is itself a courageous act.



The first words of Don Giovanni are not grandiose, foreboding or lascivious. They are the seemingly banal & benign utterances of the lackey, Leporello. “I no longer want to be a servant.” The prologue, the author / composer himself speaking?!?

Mozart, magic mysterious soul he is, expresses the passionate desire for freedom that is the intense and life-long longing for freedom shared by every artist…

Few artists can articulate that desire so clearly. Which is another reason we love opera, its characters expressing themselves so freely, so passionately, the emotions writ large…

The sublime and haunting duet between the dying Commendatore and the murderous Don at the end of the first scene. Such poetry, rich with symbolism and esoteric depth.

His soul departs him / My soul departs me
I see his soul depart / He sees my soul depart (my paraphrase).

There are so many signs, once one starts looking, noticing, listening, opening.

On banality and wit. Poulenc’s great Apollinaire set, Banalités. Rustic Haydn, bohemian impolitic Mahler, sardonic Shostakovich, give us all a wicked scherzo!

(Is the Poulenc set really Eluard poetry? They are virtually interchangeable in Poulenc. So he himself said, wanting his twin poets mentioned on his tombstone).

The proximity of the wickedly banal humor of the scherzo to the wicked duende humor of spirits & demons & souls, oh my!….Mahler & Shostakovich, encore…

John Macurdy’s tales of the Golden Age, at the Met and beyond. The privilege of meeting & working with such colleagues. The bonus of hearing such stories first-hand!

Rudolf Bing. The famous Don Giovanni film by Losey. Raimondi’s Don to John's Commendatore.

The good ol’ days.
The relish of real-life tales of the tape. Or tales from the trenches?

True stories. Adventure stories. Love tales. Tall tales.

To be clear, which were I mimicking Bernhard would be expected, thus predictable, and everyone knows how over Bernhard I am, have been, and by the grave of Mahler’s thrice-exiled tomb, I cannot imagine what multi-synapse brain lapse could have caused such a veritable degrading—a soiling, if you will—of cherished standards. Unforgiveable.



The visual poetry of Chinese film—and Asian cinema in general—in particular Hero of Zhang Yimou.

Whose Met debut came directing Tan Dun’s opera for the new millennium, The First Emperor. With roles created by Placido Domingo, Elizabeth Futral and Paul Groves, among other luminaries.

Stars. Astral fields. Fields of light. Planets. Moons.

What metallic element might a singer’s voice be?
Gold (Price, Freni)
Silver (Pavarotti, Sutherland)
Bronze (Domingo, Kiri)
Brass (Corelli, Horne)

And what material best fits a melody? A filament of silk? A streak of velvet? A smooth patch of cotton? A tune as liquid as pure water…fine & thin as the early summer morning mist?

Rilke’s Book of Images just fell open to “Evening.” As if I needed to read it. Needed to become more accustomed to hearkening to the oracles life offers one at every turn…

You watch: the land divides from you
one going heavenward, one that falls;
and leave you, to neither quite belonging…
and leave you (inexpressibly to untangle)
your life afraid and huge and ripening
so that it, now bound in and now embracing
grows alternately stone in you and star.

Like all genres of art, some poetry gets better with age. As we age. Rilke means more to me as I grow. The paired image of “stone and star” resonates in a new way, carries now a specific weight heavy with life. This is a shift from even a few years ago.

“Was his life really so alien to him? Supposing after all that he did deserve the sort of life he had? Supposing that contrary to the accepted view, men always have the sort of lives they deserve? We must look more closely into the matter,” Sartre says about his subject, Baudelaire.

How sad so many references are lost. Lost and found?

References lost like the false trails in the lyric labyrinthine noir crime dramas of the French Nouvelle Vague maestro, Jean-Pierre Melville.

Who adopted the name of his favorite American author (the poet of Billy Budd, for example).

Le Cercle Rouge. Le Samourai. Army of Shadows.

It is high praise to say Melville elevates style to almost the level of soulful.

Which Bernhard novel now? Old Masters. Wittgenstein’s Nephew. The Loser. The Voice Imitator. Woodcutters. Concrete. Correction. Have I left out more than a few?

Naming. Aides-de-memoire. Cultivating memory. Practice. Discipline.

10,000-hour rule or 100,000 hours? Seven times seven or 70 times 7 or infinity…

I appreciate Anne Carson more with age. Margaret Atwood. Rita Dove. August Wilson. Carl Philips. Tony Kushner. Daniel Mendelsohn, and the list gets queerer…

Men in the Off Hours. Decreation: Poetry, prose, opera. Nox.

Alain Delon’s poised tightrope walk balancing flair and depth. Demeanor is style. Eyes become the clichéd window into the soul…Le Samorai. Melville’s myth inspired noir mystery from 1967.

From the current Paris Review, “Five poems of Kabbalah.”
“To Rise on High” includes these images:

to know the meaning
of the living
and see the vision
of the dead…

to ford rivers of fire
and know lightning.

“Fording rivers of fire” requires expert coordination, mate. Like that of the “cosmic dancer.” Quite specialized. Individual. Eccentric.

Another heat / energy-generating Kabbalah image:

The soul stirs and burns…
To be freed from the wick
or the wood to which it clings.

One never outgrows the precocious need for freedom. Mozart. Picasso. Bernstein. Stoic?

Manguel quoting Seneca: “Is time now present? He makes use of it. Is it still to come? He anticipates it.” Stoic and visionary. Affirmative.

Manguel reminds us “what we know of reality is an imagination made of language.” Yes, what an affirmation of the central role the creative plays in all human existence! A fitting conclusion to an affirming book about the infinite variety, beauty and necessity of the library.

Manguel also channels Penelope Fitzgerald’s brilliant evocation of Novalis and the mad visionary romantic poet in her novel, The Blue Flower.

If a story begins with finding, it must end with searching…


X. …mad pathways to bliss…

“A person who can give to humanity the images to help it live” according to Joseph Campbell (in Pathways to Bliss) is “a poet or an artist.”

Mythology begins where madness starts.

“He that loseth his life for my sake shall find it,” Campbell quotes Christ’s invitation for someone to “give himself entirely to his myth.”

Calling. Vocation. Passion. As opposed to a job. Or career.

The need for repeated experiences of “the awakening to awe.”

“Mythic seizure” is that awakening to awe, “that awakening of zeal” which serves “to activate your imagination.”

Thus one can be struck, like Dante beholding the manifestation of beauty. His idealized, idolized and imagined beauty “struck [Dante] with what James Joyce called esthetic arrest.”

“The job of the contemporary poet and artist” is to recharge and reactivate “the world in which we live.”

To become “transparent to transcendence” by being fulfilled through this strange and unpredictable, endlessly fascinating and wonderful life…

Becoming transparent often means getting unstuck. As out of traffic. Or a sticky relationship. A job. Or a vocation that turned out to be just a career.

Constipation is a physical symptom of this problem. Sometimes, our stuff just gets stuck inside.

Reminder of Twain’s aphorism “there’s nothing overrated as sex, or underrated as a healthy crap.” Taught me, with typical relish, by my father.

An imagined poem from an Icelandic saga might resemble the recently discovered anonymous poem thought to be in that style. Herewith is the first known appearance in modern English of “Egil’s defecation:”

A foul fight it was
through laborious trails
that hardly felt advances
but for the final
strenuous push and heave
and ho forth came
the painful moments of birth!

Behold the spiral,
the snake of poison from the guts,
the throne of labor where kings sit
Behold the fought-for & hard-won giant shit!

Perhaps we can take consolation such-was-thus in so-and-so faraway land, or "as our ancestors once sang of yore..."

Is it madness or genius to follow such bards as guides through the centuries, like Dante’s Virgil, Odysseus’ deities across the wine-dark seas, Beethoven’s angels (surely the deaf must be gifted with the most creative angels of the inner ear)! And what of Borges’ wide-eyed wonder for the world only the blind could so rapturously and originally affirm!

(Why has Borgesian become a more popular word than the words of Borges himself?)

Where is Whitman’s oracular miracle of a voice to lead this chorus!?!

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