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The Agon of Call and Response

I remember it from the movie as a devastating truth-telling moment but on the page it seems to fall flat. Harold's speech to Michael in The Boys in the Band by Mart Crowley:

You are a sad and pathetic man. You're a homosexual and you don't want to be. But there is nothing you can do to change it. Not all your prayers to your God, not all the analysis you can buy in all the years you've got left to live. You may very well one day be able to know a heterosexual life if you want it desperately enough — if you pursue it with the fervor with which you annihilate — but you will always be homosexual as well. Always. Michael. Always. Until the day you die.
What sets this up is the game frame.

     [Calmly, coldly, clinically]

Now it is my turn. And ready or not, Michael, here goes.

     [A beat]

You are a sad and pathetic man. You're a homosexual and you don't want to be. But there is nothing you can do to change it. Not all your prayers to your God, not all the analysis you can buy in all the years you've got left to live. You may very well one day be able to know a heterosexual life if you want it desperately enough — if you pursue it with the fervor with which you annihilate — but you will always be homosexual as well. Always. Michael. Always. Until the day you die.
Ready or not - sounds like the declaration from a children's game. But as set up earlier the stakes are high. There was an exchange of warnings between Michael and Harold in which Harold declares

Are you now? Are you warning me? Me? I'm Harold. I'm the one person you don't warn, Michael. Because you and I are a match. And we tread very softly with each other because we both play each other's game too well. And I play it very well. You play it very well too. But you know what, I'm the only one that's better at it than you are. I can beat you at it. So don't push me. I'm warning you.
Well worth noting that Michael's reaction is to laugh. The querying of laughter is part of Harold's entrance. Michael asks "What's so fucking funny?" and Harold replies "Life. Life is a goddam laff-riot. You remember life." The laughter circulates across characters and across the play's divide of acts (Harold is laughing at the end of Act 1 and is still laughing at the beginning of Act 2 — a peculiar temporal hiatus the film cannot replicate).

Already combative from the entrance... Harold's reply to Michael's accusation of being late and being stoned is a model of self-acceptance (the power of his game playing).
What I am, Michael, is a thirty-two-year-old, ugly, pockmarked Jew fairy — and if it takes me a while to pull myself together and if I smoke a little grass before I can get up the nerve to show this face to the world, it's nobody's goddam business but my own.

     [Instant switch to chatty tone]

And how are you this evening?
That later salvo seems a little less flat given the set up. The power of self-deprecation carries through.

And so for day 2442

Skipping and Slinging

Neil Gaiman
Forward to Shaun Tan The Singing Bones

There are stories, honed by the retelling, simplified by the people who recorded them and transmitted them, old stories, with the edges rubbed off them, like the pebbles on a beach, each story the perfect size and heft to send skimming over the water or to use to strike an enemy.
Not so far off as these are Grimm offerings....

And so for day 2441

Decidedly Dedicated

for the family,
related and unrelated,
living and dead
Joyce Nelson. Dedication to Battlefronts (Toronto: Coach House Press, 1977).

And so for day 2440

Tension and the Cinematic Checklist

1935 Movie Tale of Two Cities

Just prior to the beginning of the dramatic action of the film, a written "Bibliography" is presented that cites the following books: The French Revolution by Thomas Carlyle, Journal of the Temple by M. Clery, The Memoirs of Mlle. des Echerolles and The Memoirs of M. Nicholas.

Could this last piece be the following?

Monsieur Nicolas, ou Le Cœur humain dévoilé, est un ouvrage autobiographique écrit par Nicolas Edme Restif de La Bretonne et paru en 1796-1797.

There is a 1930 English edition:

Monsieur Nicolas, or, The human heart unveiled translated by R Crowdy Mathers with an introduction by Havelock Ellis (London : John Rodker, 1930).

Havelock Ellis provides often amusing insight into the contradictions of the author an this century.

[on setting regulations for brothels] To the end Restif cherished his moral enthusiasm in this cause. His friend Bonneville once reproached him with describing too minutely the pleasures of prostitution. Restif defended himself. "Yes," he said with heat, "I am the friend and protector of these houses treated with such contempt. I would far rather go to see a pretty courtesan than make a baby with the wife of my friend or my neighbour." I do not dispute Restif's honesty, but the method he so highly approved had never saved him from making love copiously in the houses of friends and neighbours, and he seems to have exaggerated the number of babies he thus made.


Since men possess both moral impulses and immoral impulses it may well be that it is precisely this harmonious combination of the two which gives the eighteenth century in one of its numerous aspects, — "that atrocious eighteenth century," as Hugel used to call it, — the high rank it takes as a manifestation of the human spirit. Restif, whose devotion to the moral happiness of mankind we cannot doubt, and to whose own fundamental goodness all who knew him testify, yet lived and moved and had his whole being from first to last in an atmosphere which was, pungently and luridly, immoral. With his morbidly sensitive and impetuous temperament he was able to carry this seemingly incompatible combination to so high a point of extravagance that even the eighteenth century itself was sometimes shocked.
Intrigued to view the film again with this tension in mind ...

And so for day 2439


Natalie Zemon Davis. A Life of Learning Charles Homer Haskins Lecture for 1997. (American Council of Learned Societies, ACLS Occasional Paper No. 39)

When it came time to pack up my 100s of 3 x 5 cards, I realized that I had a powerful memory association with the Lyon archives, one that I would have many times again whenever I worked in a local archival setting. The room itself became closely identified with the traces of the past I was examining: the smell of its old wood, the shape of its windows, the sounds from the cobblestone streets or running stream. The room was a threshold in which I would meet papers that had once been handled and written on by the people of the past. The room was like Alice's mirror, the Narnia wardrobe, or — to give the Huron metaphor — the mysterious hole under the roots of a tree through which one falls for a time into another world.
For more on the Huron metaphor, see her article "Iroquois women, European women" in American encounters : natives and newcomers from European contact to Indian removal, 1500-1850 edited by Peter C. Mancall, James H. Merrell (New York : Routledge, 2007) or Women, 'race,' and writing in the early modern period edited by Margo Hendricks and Patricia Parker (London ; New York : Routledge, 1994)
Models for abrupt change were also available. One was metamorphosis, the sudden and repeated change from bear to man to bear. [...] A second model was the sudden fall to a totally different world. The first fall was at creation, when the pregnant woman Aataentisic plunged from the sky through the hole under the roots of a great tree (according to one version recounted to the Jesuit Brébeuf), landed on the back of a great turtle in the waters of this world, and after dry land had been created, gave birth to the deity Yoscaha and his twin brother. Falls through holes, especially holes under trees, are the birth canals to experiences in alternative worlds in many an Indian narrative.*
*Brébeuf, JR [Jesuit Relations] 19:126-9. Erodes and Ortiz discuss the "fall through a hole" as a motif in American Indian Myths and Legends 75, and there are several examples analysed in Lévi-Strauss Histoire de lynx.
And so we plunge ...

And so for day 2438

Ever Ready To Converse

In the Penguin Books Great Ideas series, Seneca On the Shortness of Life translated by C.D.N. Costa.

You should rather suppose that those are involved in worthwhile duties who wish to have daily as their closest friends Zeno, Pythagoras, Democritus and all the other high priests of liberal studies, and Aristotle and Theophrastus. None of these will be too busy to see you, none of these will not send his visitor away happier or more devoted to himself, none of these will allow anyone to depart empty-handed. They are at home to all mortals by night and by day.
Cover of Penguin Seneca
The cover design supplies an additional message: Life is Long If You Know How to Use It.

And so for day 2437

Ever Green In the Archive

From ad copy from the London Review of Books

Spring is here, but the LRB, like cypress, pine, fir, cedar, spruce, hemlock, juniper, eucalyptus and magnolia trees, is evergreen. Which is to say that pieces and issues from a month, or a year, or a decade ago can be as riveting and unmissable as last week’s.
I like the enumeration that leads to the comparison. It reminds me of Chaucer and the trees listed in The Parliament of Fowls
The byldere ok, and ek the hardy asshe;
The piler elm, the cofre unto carayne;
The boxtre pipere, holm to whippes lashe;
The saylynge fyr; the cipresse, deth to playne;
The shetere ew; the asp for shaftes pleyne;
The olyve of pes, and eke the dronke vyne;
The victor palm, the laurer to devyne.
From The Riverside Chaucer

In our climate magnolia shed their leaves (here in Toronto).

And so for day 2436


Tugging at my reading of this aphorism is the title of a book of interviews with Michel Foucault: Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings, 1972-1977

Reading is knowledge, but writing is power.

Dave Eggers

From an interview in The Guardian
Power comes before knowledge. Reading is a form of power. Parsing. Decisions about how to traverse the textual space. If reading is on the side of acquisition and writing, distribution, wherefore that "but"? Who reads without writing?

Learning to read and learning to handle a pencil (punch a screen) are contemporaneous. Pointing is their foundation. Pointing and vocalization lead to the mutual imbrications of power and knowledge.

And so for day 2435

fragile tissue of time

Parenthesis 31
The Journal of The Fine Press Book Association
"First Principles, Second Thoughts and Final Answers"
Robert Bringhurst

[p. 35]

Writing encyclopedia articles pays very poorly when it pays at all. Yet the challenge posed by the genre — stating all the essentials of a subject with the greatest possible clarity in the shortest possible space — has tempted many writers. So has the intangible reward: the short-lived, giddy illusion that one has attained the status of Recognized Authority. These considerations or others tempted Stanley Morison when the editors of the Encyclopedia Britannnica asked him to contribute to their 14th edition, published in 1929. He was assigned three subjects: Calligraphy, Printing Type, and Typography.

Morison viewed the undertaking through a narrow lens. His was the only discussion of calligraphy in the entire encyclopedia, yet he neglected even to mention that calligraphy existed in Chinese, Japanese, Arabic, Turkish, or Persian. In the other two articles, he also gave no hint that books had been handsomely printed from moveable type in China and Korea before Gutenberg.


[The Typography article ...]
It began with the finest Morisonism of all and continued with an admission that there was not just one right answer after all:
The printer must never distract, even with beauty, the reader from his text. In the printing of books there is less room for individuality of style than in the typography of propaganda. The laws of typography in books intended for general circulation are based upon (a) the essential nature of alphabetical writing; (b) the force of tradition. But strict as the conventions are, there is not, and never can be, a rigid character to typography applicable to all books printed in Roman types. The strength of tradition expresses itself in the details of book arrangement and these vary widely. Certain laws of linear composition are, however, obeyed by all printers who use the Roman letter.

[p. 39]

Van Krimpen's own form of eloquence lay just next door to writing: in calligraphy and in the designing of type and books. Like Morison, he was searching for the One Right Answer, the one that would nail history down and show the rest of us the error of our ways — but van Krimpen's answers were visual rather than verbal [...] His type is of lasting value, like Morison's prose, because of that search. What he found was never exactly what he was looking for. It was never the One Right Answer, but it was very often one of the many right answers. Again and again he captured something timeless, weaving both it and himself into the fragile tissue of time.
Interesting how a discourse on a specialized context of craft turns to universal considerations of pursuit and making in the ethical milieu of a commitment to value.

And so for day 2434