Bonnie Marranca in her preface to a collection of food writing entitled A Slice of Life offers this anecdote.

[T]wo summers ago in Nova Scotia, we stopped by the side of the road to have a picnic lunch with our traveling companions, a couple from Sardinia. The sea and air and sun were glorious. After we had eaten, everyone looked forward to a cup of coffee, even though there was only a jar of instant with us. But not a drop of water was to be had anywhere. Our friends were so desperate that they simply opened the coffee jar and took a deep breath, temporarily satisfying themselves with the aroma of memory.
One remove from a Barmecide feast.

And so for day 808

Fantasy Machines

Just what will replace the telephone book as a stimulus?

Whenever I'm asked what book I would take with me to a desert island, I reply, "The phone book: with all those characters, I could invent an infinite number of stories."
Umberto Eco from the Charles Eliot Norton Lectures Six Walks in the Fictional Woods

And so for day 807

Laying Tracks Seizing Spaces

There is something akin to a mixture of imaginative labour in seizing through an almost casual and chance-like operation, the perfect occasion in Leonard Lawlor's book on Derrida and Ricoeur. It is there in the summarizing he does at the end of Part I. He looks forward.

Thus, we are going to have to examine the explicit term Derrida substitutes for dialectic, dissemination. When we examine the notion of dissemination, as it is developed in "The Double Session," we shall see that chance displaces imagination. This displacement is the difference between Ricoeur and Derrida.
And the sentences coming at the end of Part II perform a similar gesture in a retroactive mode.
The empty space between, what Ricoeur's hermeneutics, perhaps hermeneutics in general, does not account for; empty space, what Derrida's deconstruction, perhaps deconstruction in general including that of Heidegger, counts on. This brings us to one more difference between the thought of Ricoeur and Derrida: hermeneutics, the endless questioning of the one principle, of the monarch; deconstruction, the infinite response to the lack of a principle, to anarchy.
Both passages lifted in an almost aleatory manner to be presented to the luck of the reader: from Imagination and Chance: the Difference between the Thought of Ricoeur and Derrida.

And so for day 806

On Bait

I like how the quest for appreciation takes shape in this remark from James Merrill. I can imagine the archness in the voice (Unfortunately I only have the print booklet from the Random House AudioBooks volume in the series "The Voice of the Poet" and it's not clear that these clever bits set in grey text boxes were part of the recording as one assumes the poems were). In any case one can hear the meaningful pause...

Think what one has to do to get a mass audience. I'd rather have one perfect reader. Why dynamite the pond in order to catch that single silver carp? Better to find a bait that only the carp will take. One still has plenty of choices. The carp at Fontainebleau were thought to swallow small children, whole.
What a blast!

And so for day 805

Spirit-Made Flesh

Edmund White City Boy on Balanchine and the art of choreography:

In a quite different way I suppose he was showing us how the supreme manifestations of the mind require sweat and muscles, how the spatial and temporal meditations of an old man can be realized only by willing young bodies with flushed cheeks and taut rumps and long necks and a good turnout.
The implied Platonism is only superficial. This is about dedication to craft and guidance.

And so for day 804


Taking this celebration of the interesting bits as an injunction to pay attention to details, I lifted it out of the specific context of not concentrating "either exclusively or primarily on those points that appear to be the most 'important,' 'central,' 'crucial.'"

Rather, I deconcentrate, and it is the secondary, eccentric, lateral, marginal, parasitic, borderline cases which are 'important' to me and are a source of many things, such as pleasure, but also insight into the general functioning of a textual system.
Of course this sentence from Jacques Derrida Limited Inc does not mention "details".

And so for day 803


The epigraph to Rabih Alameddine Koolaids: The Art of War

I wonder if being sane means
disregarding the chaos of life
pretending only an infinitesimal segment of it is reality.
Of course compulsively obsessing about a segment is a form of madness hence the delightful ironic twist of the epigraph.

And so for day 802

Weather Watching

The characters in Jane Austen's novels are susceptible to changes in the weather. Indeed, their ability to read the weather or talk about the weather proves important in plotting. Two examples.

Take Marianne's proclivity for bracing walks hampered in Sense and Sensibility:

[...] and an evening merely cold or damp would not have deterred her from it; but a heavy and settled rain even she could not fancy dry or pleasant weather for walking.
Our second example, upon re-reading the novel, provides warning against the facile charm of conversing about the weather — Elizabeth in Pride and Prejudice:
Mr. Wickham was the happy man towards whom almost every female eye was turned, and Elizabeth was the happy woman by whom he finally seated himself; and the agreeable manner in which he immediately fell into conversation, though it was only on its being a wet night, and on the probability of a rainy season, made her feel that the commonest, dullest, mot threadbare topic might be rendered interesting by the skill of the speaker.
Sunshine does not generate such attention.

And so for day 801

Taking the Call

A character in Koolaids: The Art of War by Rabih Alameddine has a glorious rant about cellphone use. I suspect, and hope, that the phenomenon it lambasts is peculiar to a specific time and that courteous behaviour reigns in public spaces.

June 17th, 1996
Dear Diary,

I am not sure I can stand this city anymore. If I never see another cellular phone for the rest of my life, it would be too soon. Everybody has one and everybody uses them all the time. It is so irritating. We went to a restaurant tonight and phones just kept ringing. Every table averaged about three phones. Not a minute went by without one phone ringing. The ringers are all set to weird songs. You are nobody if you don't own a cellular. I refuse to touch one. I heard a fight erupted at the Rabelais two nights ago and the men started hitting each other with their cellular phones. One man needed seven stitches over one eye.
Talk about your need for cell phone etiquette!

And so for day 800

Moonlit Shoulders

In the midst of Mary Di Michele's poems about the youthful love interests of Pier Paolo Pasolini, one comes across a set of lines, attached by punctuation to what precedes and what follows, yet by the grace of spacing forming a unit unto itself.

            listening to silence.
That moon, I said, used to shine
            on Sappho's shoulders,
Note the pause induced by the period after silence. And the running on hinted by the comma after the mention shoulders. What is also remarkable is that the connectedness through the continuity of the shinning moon is achieved by a speech act. The connection with the past passes through words and the images they conjure. A tad ironic to find such a passage in a book entitled The Flower of Youth

And so for day 799

Specimen Collector

Bathtubs and computers don't mix and e-books would not catch on. It's a line of defense we hear less and less given the new generation of specialized screen readers for e-books. But there are some uses still left for the paper-bound volumes, especially big fat dictionaries. Witness Roo Borson's poem "Dictionary" collected in Rain; road; an open boat which gives the reader new appreciation for an old technology.

In one corner of the room, beneath the open window, lies an unabridged dictionary becalmed on its stand. Pressed between its pages are buttercups, sage blossoms, several summers' lavender and rose petals, even a small moth that fluttered in haphazardly one evening just as the book was being closed. These mementoes have stained the pages brown, becoming light and friable, more insubstantial over time. The book itself is a code, a key, a lock, an implement that stands for an earlier time and other customs, containing only those things that need not exist, but do so nonetheless, carrying them forward as a maple seed is carried forward by the wind.
Just what are "only those things that need not exist" remains a mystery that is best meditated upon by turning the pages of a book or by its equivalent — the turn to the search engine to find others who have been captivated by the same lines.

And so for day 798

States of Salt

In what I consider a tour de force Adam Mars-Jones gives us in The Waters of Thirst a narration with a single point of view for pages and pages. From beginning to end of this novel, our author animates a narrator who has a kidney condition who happens to be an excellent cook who in his comments on his cookery laments the limitations imposed on his ability to season and does so in terms of the raw and the cooked.

It grieved me to cook without salt, and to leave my guests to season their food at table individually. It felt uncivilized. But more than that, the two tastes are quite different, cooked salt and raw. Raw salt is brash and unsubtle; it has had no chance to permeate a dish. I felt I was shortchanging our guests by offering only the crudest form of seasoning, as if I didn't know better.
So very tempting to read metaphor at work. (And shades of Levi-Straus). But this is the same narrator that anatomizes nicely the various pieces of a porn collection (in much the same fashion as he comments on the niceties of seasoning).

And so for day 797

Special Spoiler

Sometimes one reads the after-word or the note before completing the parts that come first. Sometimes what we read afterward reverberates. For example, the simple statement:

Some sources contend that the war ended differently.
Once you've read the book, this sounds like exquisite understatement. The war in question being the Trojan; the story that of Pyrrhus as told by Mark Merlis in An Arrow's Flight [Pyrrhus in the U.K.] And the strife between life ways is caught in that verb — to contend — always attentive to the alternative.

And so for day 796

Awe, Piety and the Contingent

Like three embers there are three passages in Ursula K. Le Guin's Lavinia that touch upon the theme of awe. The first puts the word in the ambit of the notion of piety and refers to a receptiveness. Lavinia, our narrator and protagonist, is speaking of a woman being considered for an honourable task and indicates that she is pious.

By that word I meant responsible, faithful to duty, open to awe.
The second encounter with the theme of awe follows a lovely section where our narrator is in conversation with the wraith of a poet and they trade notions of Venus, one a personified goddess, the other an elemental being. Vergil, the poet in question, in considering Lavinia's take on Venus calls her the foremother of Lucretius (and thus references the opening invocation to Venus at the beginning of the Nature of Things — of course behind Vergil is Le Guin). This provides some delicious texture to Lavinia's musings about her state of being.
We are all contingent. Resentment is foolish and ungenerous, and even anger is inadequate. I am a fleck of light on the surface of the sea, a glint of light from the evening stare. I live in awe.
And towards the end of her storytelling, she brings awe into relation with the sublime.
At Albunea [...] I was always spared from fear. Or rather I felt fear but it was entirely different from the sharp dread of losing Silvius, and from the endless alarms and anxieties of living; it was the fear we call religion, an accepting awe. It was the terror we feel when we look up at the sky on a clear night and see the white fires of all the stars of the eternal universe. That fear goes deep. But worship and sleep and silence are part of it.
And now I ponder what "worship" might mean beyond its etymological roots as the acknowledgement of worth.

And so for day 795

Elements and Craft

If after the catalogue of ships in Book 2 of the Iliad one comes upon these lines from Medbh McGuckian in "Lighthouse with Dead Leaves" collected in On Ballycastle Beach, one is in mind of the power to create wrecks and hulks.

As if a ship that opened her planks
To the carpentry of the sea
It is that suggestive "carpentry of the sea" that harkens to Homeric simile.

And so for day 794

Fricative Frivolities

I had the pleasure of encountering a classmate who remembered me from first year English literature (Grant Sampson's class at Queen's in the academic year '78-'79) and our encounter was the happy occasion of a recollection, one indelible moment from that class: our professor's cheerful explanation of the ending of Dryden's Mac Flecnoe. We were called upon to pay attention to alliteration, context and parallelism or risk missing the joke.

The mantle fell to the young prophet's part,
With double portion of his father's art.
The last lines of Mac Flecknoe I may from time to time forget but the last word, not.

And so for day 793

Viewing Trees

Tall thin grove. The one single line can stand alone. Evocative.

Poplars stilt for dawn.
from Eavan Boland's "Domestic Interiors" in Outside History: Selected Poems 1980-1990

And so for day 792

Wit and Wisdom

The alimentary is elementary in this take on chewing on it by Northrop Frye.

[A]n open mind, to be sure, should be open at both ends, like the foodpipe, and have a capacity for excretion as well as intake.
from The Great Code: The Bible and Literature

And so for day 791

Garden Inhabitants

I like how the tricolon trips up on the enjambement.

Then all our goblins would turn out to be elves,
Our vampires guides, our demons angels
In that garden.
Lines from Ted Hughes "Stubbing Wharfe" in Birthday Letters. I like how the proposed metamorphosis depends upon location.

And so for day 790


It is a figure that is in some respects the equivalent of the illusion of parallel lines merging on some vanishing point on the horizon like railway tracks. It is parallelism.

women of work, of leisure, of the night,
in stove-colored silks, in lace, in nothing,
with crewel needles, with books, with wide-open legs,
Lines from Eavan Boland's "The Women" collected in her selected poems 1980-1990 Outside History in which it is difficult to keep the various women separate — their lines cross and converge and again part.

And so for day 789

Railway Hotels

It is still a prominent part of the skyline of Quebec City: the Chateau Frontenac. It wasn't always there and am reminded so by this brief aperçu of the view from Northrop Frye's preface to The Bush Garden: Essays on the Canadian Imagination:

As a student going to the University of Toronto, I would take the train to Montreal, sitting up overnight in the coach, and looking forward to the moment in the early morning when the train came into Levis, on the south side of the St. Lawrence, and the great fortress of Quebec loomed out of the bleak dawn mists. I knew much of the panorama was created by a modern railway hotel, but distance and fog lent enchantment even to that.
Romantic and ironic almost within the same breath.

And so for day 788

The Good Death

Rifting on Boswell's reaction to Hume's death, Michael Ignatieff writes in The Needs of Strangers [published in 1984]

For Hume, spiritual need of Boswell's sort was a kind of pride, a yearning for certainties beyond the reach of human capacity. In this sense, these needs were a form of alienation. He said we could face the worst if we simply renounced our yearning for certainty. But who among us is capable of that renunciation?
Again let us recall the date (1984) and understand that the question raised is caught in a moment of time. Earlier in the chapter Ignatieff comments on Boswell's reaction to Hume's death:
The death that shocked Boswell is ours now, and yet we still do not understand it. We are still coming to terms with what it means to die outside the fold of religious consolation.
A gay man who came of age in the 1980s and survived the 1990s cannot easily identify with that "we". It is easy to dismantle the representative "we". It is no doubt more difficult to leap over its barriers and identify in some sense with the speaking voice.

I am grateful for the small thoughtful book that presents itself as "An essay on privacy, solidarity and the politics of being human". I am even more grateful for Ignatieff's descriptions of Boswell being haunted by Hume's death and furthermore the need to keep the teaching moment alive.
We owe it to Hume's death to keep alive its capacity for instruction. Yet this is not easy. To the extent that most of us die now without religious consoloation, we may fail to understand Boswell's terror when he watched a man die in this new way.
Hume would be but one of my teachers. And Boswell too as a conveyor for terror in the face of serenity.

And so for day 787

Pre-genital Crush

Mark Merlis in An Arrow's Flight [published in the U.K. under the title Pyrrhus] has the narrator meditate on a notion of desire that captures the spirit of boyhood that is a country unto itself. Our narrator says

Do you know how sometimes you see a man, and you're not sure if you want to get in his pants or if you want to cry? Not because you can't have him; maybe you can. But you see right away something in him beyond having. You can't screw your way into it, any more than you can get at the golden eggs by slitting the goose. So you want to cry, not like a child, but like an exile who is reminded of his homeland. That's what Leucon saw when he first beheld Pyrrhus: as if he were getting a glimpse of that other place we were meant to be, the shore from which we were deported before we were born.
And of course the narration pursues this theme throughout the course of the narrative. Until the very end when there is mention of someone in their seventies assuring Leucon that we never grow up. Or rather we never abandon the emotional landscape that is our home.
This was what being a grown man was like. Though he would never stop feeling like a youth inside — his friend Amyclas assured him, and Amyclas had to be seventy, you never stopped feeling like a kid, playacting at being a grownup.
And the novel rings its changes all about the theme of becoming a man. And what it means to assume one's destiny and exercise true freedom.

And so for day 786

Fearlessness and Allied Emotions

Linda Hutcheon concludes her introduction to Northrop Frye's The Bush Garden: Essays on the Canadian Imagination with a quotation from an article by Jon Slan. He wrote that Frye had "the courage to confront the present without distaste, the past without nostalgia, and the future without fear." All marks of a generous critic.

And so for day 785

Ravaging Beauty

Alessandro Baricco in "Another Kind of Beauty: Note on War" the afterword to An Iliad

For this reason, today, the task of a true pacifism should be not to demonize war excessively so much as to understand that only when we are capable of another kind of beauty will we be able to do without what war has always offered us. To construct another kind of beauty is perhaps the only route to true peace.
He goes on "To give a powerful meaning to things without having to place them in the blinding light of death."

It is perhaps music that leads the way.

And so for day 784


Some lines, here rearranged. There is something interesting in the repetition of the "p" sound.

pet the scorpion
needle the point
prick the blindness
This is in some ways a piece about persistence. And also in some ways about an habituation to poison, a particular poison that is scrutiny which of course threatens to dissolve what it examines. It is an intellectual invitation to take risks and learn more. To gain by losing.

And so for day 783

Cixous on Shakespeare

On the worthiness of certain characters for theatre:

All of Shakespeare's characters are like that, every one of them is already his own little theater. Every one of them gets up on his own stage. Every one of Shakespeare's individuals has his little kingdom, his micro-kingdom. We could say that each inhabitant (let us not say character) of Shakespeare is exceptional; he is rich, he affects us, he fascinates us, he is not a person without a kingdom [...]
As I reread this I gradually come to understand "kingdom" as a zone of influence. I smirk less and less from the recollection of the lines from Richard III. Little by little I begin to see a concern for sovereignty in the use of the term "kingdom". And from such a perspective I find it difficult to imagine people without a kingdom notwithstanding Cixous asserting "There are many people without a kingdom". Those people must be rich in horses (there's that reference to Richard III again). But then those people or characters would be of some place other than the theatre.

The passage in question appears in an interview (initially appeared in Hors Cadre) and was edited and translated by Verena Andermatt Conley and included in Conley's Hélène Cixous: Writing the Feminine and it was reprinted in Timothy Murphy ed. Mimesis, Masochism and Mime: The Politics of Theatricality in Contemporary French Thought.

And so for day 782

Ryoko Sekiguchi

This bit from Two Markets, Once Again translated by Sarah Riggs has Sapphic overtones, especially given the italicized fragments that follow.

The texts of our forgotten sisters, deformed in girlish songs, fan out in a flight of diaphanous shadows. Already this reading act far from that of constructing of edifice, even by reading out loud they couldn't provoke a city into being, and from this market, however much we might wish it, it's not easy to step into another text. Migrating being only possible within images. Tossing, the flat surface so lively, a sea where to dive in doesn't exist, the cliff being a means to fly and not to fall; in whirling air currents, we would come across words and little agile consonants, and mark each one of them with fluorescent signals akin to the traces of kisses.

A mellow voice ... my tongue ... rasping ... on their soft cushions ... ephemeral ... Attis, Lydia, golden-outlined lips ... saffron colored ... by the dew ... born away ... of Artemis .. from the Phrygian lands ...
Ryoko Sekiguchi concludes this gathering of prose pieces with a paragraph that sums up what it means to inhabit a construction of words, or rather marks, which being read bring a place into being.
Living in this place, with eyes open, sure to stay here longer, we have written texts by pencil and hand in our notebook. So it is that we can say: the market, present from the beginning of our reading, begins finally to exist in this place, once again.
There is more to discover in this small book and the sisterhood extends in many directions.

And so for day 781