Serviceable sentences, 24/10,000

Moral convictions alter with the decades, while strong representations of perennial experiences and compelling arrangements of artistic form remain to speak, in astonishingly different ways, to each decade.
—John Pistelli, “In Defense of Aesthetic Criticism” (23 April 2017)

(Technically it’s a violation of my protocol—single sentences serviceable as units or quanta of influence by virtue of an axiomatic, gnomic, knowingly elliptical, or willfully evasive quality—but I append the sentence that follows the above because it points out that quality: “This is so obviously—and even empirically—true that I do not really see how anyone can deny it, unless you find Oedipus the King incomprehensible or unendurable because we no longer expose infants.”)


Serviceable sentences, 23/10,000

Thus like a Sayler by the Tempest hurl’d / A shore, the Babe is shipwrack’d on the World.
—John Dryden, “From Lucretius, Book the Fifth,” Sylvæ: or, the Second Part of Poetical Miscellanies (1685)

(Cf. Wordsworth’s translation of the same lines from De rerum natura: “Like a shipwreck’d Sailer tost / By rough waves on a perilous coast, / Lies the Babe ….” Dryden carries it away here.)


Davenport on Davidson

I picked up a copy of Avram Davidson‘s Rork! a few days ago, on the strength of Peregrine PrimusThe Phoenix and the Mirror, & that one Wolfe blurb. Pick up any and every copy of Davidson that crosses your path. (EDIT: Found & purchased a copy of Mutiny in Space a week later—I practice what I preach.) They seem to be on the wane these days, and far fewer of them cross my path here in TX than in other places I’ve lived. (How does that accord with your experience of Davidson on the shelves, gentle readers?)

Guy Davenport is another champion of Davidson, and I found the following comments in his letters to James Laughlin. If you’re not a reader of Davidson—and so not interested in Davenport’s glasperlenspiel, playing him alongside Tolstoy, Perelman, Twain, Burton, Pliny the Elder, Montaigne, & Hakluyt—the anecdote in the first letter about nonrecognition & dead mafioso is well worth your time.

Lovely as your letter is today, and the jacket design, I was most pleased to have a letter from Avram Davidson, dictated to a hospital orderly, and brief but pithy. Avram on his 70th birthday a month ago collapsed with a diabetic attack and lay on his floor for two days before he was found. I’d tracked him (I believe I said in my last letter) to a Bremerton WA hospital. He sounds brave and chipper. I’d talked last week with his nurse, and told her Avram was a very distinguished writer, “just a notch or two below Tolstoy,” which I’d thought was a practical hyperbole. The nurse got this all mixed up, and thought Avram lived in Bremerton near the Tolstoys, and asked what kind of neighbors they were.
Nonrecognition of the great always causes high comedy. Do you remember the Mafioso who was executed by fellow business partners on his doorsteps in NY (back in WW II)? He has in his pocket a list of names (presumably to buy art books as Xmas presents for a daughter). Anyway, the FBI sent out an all-points alert to bring in Caravaggio, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Duccio di Buoninsegna. Shoot on sight.
—Guy Davenport, “[Letter to James Laughlin],” (7 May 1993; my emphasis)

One of the things in today’s mail was Avram Davidson’s Adventures in Unhistory (Owlswick), signed. Avram died four days ago, just beyond his 70th birthday. He had a diabetes attack, went into a coma, lay on his floor for 2½ days, but had been dismissed from a hospital and put in a nursing home. I had a scrawled letter from him, which I’m still trying to decipher, and a dictated one. He was reading my Drummer. He must have signed my copy of his new book just before the collapse. I wonder if the Times did an obit? I would place him beside Perelman as a humorist and close to Mark Twain as a compounder of the fantastic and the absurd.
—Guy Davenport, “[Letter to James Laughlin]” (13 May 1993)

I’ve finished Avram’s book—Studies in Unhistory—that came out while he was dying. It’s for people who delight in Burton (Robt, of the Anatomy), Pliny the Elder, Montaigne, and Hakluyt. Each essay comes up with an unlikely origin for the mandrake, dragons, mermaids, werewolves, and such. A book for bright teenagers, and old codgers nodding by the fire.
—Guy Davenport, “[Letter to James Laughlin]” (17[-18] May 1993; my emphasis)

(All letters excerpted from Guy Davenport and James Laughlin: Selected Letters [2007].)

Serviceable sentences, 22/10,000

Don’t take yourself so darn seriously.
J. Reuben Clark; qtd. by Henry B. Eyring, “Walk with Me,” 187th Annual General Conference (1 April 2017)

(This is J. Reuben Clark’s Rule No.6:

“Don’t forget Rule No.6?”
“What’s Rule No.6?”
“Don’t take yourself so darn seriously.”
“What are the other five rules?”
“There aren’t any.”

Note that Rule No.6 is itself six words long.)


Serviceable sentences, 20/10,000

We are to aim at getting observations without aim, to subject to thought things seen without thought.
—Ralph Waldo Emerson, from Journal B (31 May 1836), in Selected Journals 1841-1877 (ed. Lawrence Rosenwald)

(Cf. Graham Harman: “We know without knowing, and think without thinking, by alluding to a thing rather than reducing it to a model contained within thought.”)


Bromwich & Green on two “personifications of psychic forces”

In Leviathan Hobbes said that what we call the ‘deliberation’ of the will is nothing but ‘the last appetite, or aversion, immediately adhering to’ an action. Whatever the general truth of the analysis, Trump’s process of thought works like that. If Obama often seemed an image of deliberation without appetite, Trump has always been the reverse. For him, there is no time to linger: from the first thought to the first motion is a matter of seconds; the last aversion or appetite triggers the jump to the deed.
—David Bromwich, “Act One, Scene One,” London Review of Books (16 February 2017)

Indeed this was ever Loki’s way, for he took such a delight in mischief that he would often do whatever came into his head, without counting the cost.
—Roger Lancelyn Green, Myths of the Norsemen (1960)

(The headnote quotes Jung’s “Essay on Wotan“; quoted in Corey Pein’s “Donald Trump, Trickster God.”)

Inside-out vs. outside-in, pt. 3

Alastair Reid‘s bio, from the back of Ounce Dice Trice:

Alastair Reid is a poet, translator, essayist, and scholar of Latin American literature. He had been on the staff of The New Yorker since 1959 and has translated works by Pablo Neruda and Jorge Luis Borges. Among his many books for children are A Balloon for a Blunderbuss, I Keep Changing, and Millionaires (all illustrated by Bob Gill), and Supposing (illustrated by Abe Birnbaum). In 2008 he published two career-spanning collections of work, Inside Out: Selected Poetry and Translations and Outside In: Selected Prose. [my emphasis]

Cf. Since I know nothing of Reid except his Borges translations & the book quoted above, here’s cento of outsides for rapid orientation: Continue reading “Inside-out vs. outside-in, pt. 3”

Inside-out vs. outside-in, pt. 2

Emerson is matchless for telepathic reading experiences.* Not the sense that a book, or the human being behind it, is addressing you. Not even that you, and you alone, are directly hailed by it. But the sensation of someone else reading a script that you wrote, controlled by thoughts of yours that never quite became words in your head. (“Unexpected majesty” gets at it better than “alienated majesty.”)

And it happens in such a way that a response from you is no longer required. It is preempted. All you can do is enjoy that realization. Occasionally you can document it.

On January 19th I wrote:

Perhaps the need to write comes not from the subject matter, from its importance working outside-in, but from vanity, from the inside-out.

On January 20th, I read:

The difference between talent & genius is in the direction of the current: in genius, it is from within outward; in talent, from without inward. Talent finds its models & methods & ends in society, and goes to the soul only for power to work: genius is its own end & derives its means and the style of its architecture from within & only goes abroad for audience or spectator, as we adapt our voice & our phrase to the distance & to the character of the ear we speak to.
—Ralph Waldo Emerson, from “Journal E” (1841), Selected Journals 1820-1842 (2010; my emphasis)

While my preoccupation with the theme of inside-out vs. outside-in needs further meditation, this is a start. With telepathic reading, the secrets inside ourselves are out on the paper in front of us, and those of others outside ourselves are interiorized.

*Rarely  has it happened to me outside of Emerson. Once recently: watching Matthew Barney’s River of Fundament. I know Mailer’s Ancient Evenings well, but I was repeatedly unsettled by how closely Barney’s adaptation met my desire for what scene or image should come next. Barney, I learned later, based his film more on Harold Bloom’s review of the book, one of my favorite Bloom essays, than on Mailer’s novel, which is where the shared orientation of our thoughts probably starts.