Thursday, August 31, 2006

Cutty, One Rock

is the name of a collections of essay by August Kleinzhaler I'm reading right now. It's great - particularly the title essay, but others such as Eros and Poetry are very fine as well. The dust jacket tells me that most of them first appeared in the London Review of Books, but a more 'merican group of vignettes you will not find. Consider these sentences from the title piece, a memoir of his brother that reads very much like a 1970ish, Jersey version of A River Runs Through It:
They didn't look like hoods, more like midcareer bureaucrats, fortyish, chubby, thick glasses. But they'd brought two good-looking molls with them; I can't imagnine they were even eighteen: blonds, Marty and Will. It fell to me to keep the boys entertained while my brother retired to his bedroom with the two Mafiosi for what was to be a very, very serious conversation. My brother had warned me that there was a good chance they'd kill him, and, without spelling it out, that if I was on hand my own health might be in jeopardy. We were very close at that stage. I loved my brother more than anyone in the world, and didn't have anywhere else to go.
Yes, you are correct - those good looking molls are boys. It's a crazy world, the one his older brother moved in through the late hours. Much, much crazier than yours or mine. The younger brother knew that world pretty well himself, by association anyway, and for an hour or so while reading, so do we.

Kleinzhaler's real job is poetry, which is the only way he could have come up with such an oft-quoted passage as this:
I'll spare you the funeral and mourning rituals. It was pretty horrible. The spectacle of a parent grieving for a child is togh to watch, especially when it's your own parent. Ther was an amimal sound coming out of my mother, like a dog wailing, but softer. I'd never seen a corpse up close before. I wasn't thrilled that the first one belonged to my brother. Then there was the makeup and his icy-cold cheek.
The other essay in the book I really enjoyed was Eros and Poetry. Roughly chronological, it takes a look at Love that is sometimes scientific, sometimes folksy, and sometimes even loving. The first of these, for example:
Dr. J. N. MacKenzie, surgeon to the Baltimore Eye, Ear and Throat Charity Hospital, asserted in 1884 that the respiratory and olfactory mucosa has a structure analogous to the spongy central body of the penis and is equally erectile.
Bet you didn't know that, did you? Aren't you glad you do now?

Referencing Stoddart's The Scented Ape (though aren't apes scented too?):
Perfumes can be analyzed in their parts: the upper notes are made from the sexual secretions of flwoers, produced to attract animals for the purpose of cross-pollination and often formulated as mimic of the animal's sex pheremones. Many of these contain compounds with a fecal odor.
Towards the end he blends Martha Nussbaum and Proust.
Nussbaum writes about katalepseis, about the cataleptic impression having the power, through its own felt quality, to convince us that things could not be otherwise. "But this knowledge, which the shrewdest perceptions of the mind would not have given me, had now been brought to me, hard, glittering, strange, like a crystallized salt, by the abrupt reaction of pain" (Proust, Remembrance of Things Past).
It's a short book, just 155 pages, and you can read the last two essays while standing in a bookstore. You should.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Modern Times

What can anybody say about the new Dylan album? A lot of people are tired of hearing superlatives, especially those who don't care for him, or are familiar with only Like a Rolling Stone and Blood on the Tracks. Well, you either get it or you don't. If you don't, no big deal. It's only music, after all. If you're more favorably disposed, nothing anybody writes is going to mean a thing while you're listening. Here's a few of my favorite lyrics after a few listens:
from Thunder On The Mountain

Gonna raise me an army, some tough sons of bitches
I'll recruit my army from the orphanages
I been to St. Herman's church, said my religious vows
I've sucked the milk out of a thousand cows

I got the porkchops, she got the pie
She ain't no angel and neither am I
Shame on your greed, shame on your wicked schemes
I'll say this, I don't give a damn about your dreams

from Spirit On The Water

They brag about your sugar
Brag about it all over town
Put some sugar in my bowl
I feel like laying down

fromWhen The Deal Goes Down

Well, the moon gives light and it shines by night
When I scarcely feel the glow
We learn to live and then we forgive
O'r the road we're bound to go
More frailer than the flowers, these precious hours
That keep us so tightly bound
You come to my eyes like a vision from the skies
And I'll be with you when the deal goes down

from Workingman's Blues #2

Well, they burned my barn, and they stole my horse
I can't save a dime
I got to be careful, I don't want to be forced
Into a life of continual crime
I can see for myself that the sun is sinking
How I wish you were here to see
Tell me now, am I wrong in thinking
That you have forgotten me?

from Nettie More

Well, the world of research has gone berserk
Too much paperwork
Albert's in the graveyard, Frankie's raising hell
I'm beginning to believe what the scriptures tell

I've gone where the Southern crosses The Yellow Dog
Get away from all these demagogues
And these bad luck women stick like glue
It's either one or the other or neither of the two

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Blaise Saise

Had Cleopatra's nose been shorter, the whole face of the world would have changed.

Monday, August 28, 2006

The Cruise

A documentar portrait of Tim "Speed" Levitch, a tour guide on Gray Line double-decker buses in Manhatten. The man is one incredible talker, spicing his commentary with sentences like this:
Creativity I think of as the pursuit for the original exuberance that we all came into this world with, the exuberance that we all had until it was taken off to an abandoned dock somewhere and shot in a gangster assassination by the outside world. With that said, I've always thought of myself as a renaissance man and I'm pouncing with avarice on all opportunities and doing my best to experience complete self-expression and pursue the fullest applications of self. Yeah!
My favorite one in the movie has him staring up at the facade of a building and giving orgasmic shouts in a fem voice as he describes the way the light hits the sandstone.

Lektionen in Finsternis

Werner Herzog finds a subject to match his ego in this documentary about Saddam Husein's Gotterdammerung in the oil fields of Kuwait following the first Gulf War. Works well as a Halberton promotional film. My favorite part: the firefighters stop for smoke break in the middle of a hellish oil field fire. Great soundtrack.

Sunday, August 27, 2006


As if eternally entangled in a reel of the Hitchcock film, my fretful life creeps forward from one restless encounter to the next. Here I attempt to exorcize the dark forces that haunt my twisted life. Twisted by the spirits incarnate in Crows.

Episode Two: The Dog, the Kitten . . . and the Crow

It was an incredibly beautiful dawn; the heat from the previous day had dissipated entirely during the night and the clouds in the eastern sky looked like cotton candy piled high with some sort of golden yellow wrapping paper holding it up underneath. I was taking my morning constitutional around the neighborhood, much as I always do, and as I turned the corner to walk past one of the city parks I heard a plaintive cry.

Read about the rest of my adventure here.

Thursday, August 24, 2006


θυμέ, θύμ᾽ ἀμηχάνοισι κήδεσιν κυκώμενε,
ἄνα δέ, δυσμενέων δ᾽ ἀλέξευ προσβαλὼν ἐναντίον
στέρνον, ἐν δοκοῖσιν ἐχθρῶν πλησίον κατασταθείς
ἀσφαλέως· καὶ μήτε νικῶν ἀμφαδὴν ἀγάλλεο

μηδὲ νικηθεὶς ἐν οἴκωι καταπεσὼν ὀδύρεο.
ἀλλὰ χαρτοῖσίν τε χαῖρε καὶ κακοῖσιν ἀσχάλα
μὴ λίην· γίνωσκε δ᾽ οἷος ῥυσμὸς ἀνθρώπους ἔχει.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

How You Found Quotidian Quintilian X

Holy Moses! Maybe the pope himself is checking up on me. If it's about all those "excerpts" from Introduction to Christianity, Your Eminence, just say the word and I'll take them all down. And thank you for reading.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Gouttes d'eau sur pierres brûlantes

That's French for "Water Drops on Burning Rocks". This film is based on a Fassbinder play and directed by François Ozon. It's pretty good, but to think that this was written when Fassbinder was just 19 years old just floors me. It has themes that Fassbinder would continue to rework in his movies for the remainder of his career, most of which I won't bother to list here. Suffice to say that the film takes a fairly mordant look at sexual role playing, homo and heterosexual alike. In general, the mood seems like a cross between The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant and Fox and his Friends, with Bernard Giraudeau doing an imitation of Karlheinz Böhm's aging gay gentleman in Fox that is spot on. The rest of the very small cast is excellent: Ludivine Sagnier, Malik Zidi, and Anna Levine. Ozon's direction is very good; the movie very studiously follows Fassbinder's three act structure, and there are several nifty camera moves that pay homage to the German master. It's certainly not so great as Under the Sand, and definitely not as mainstream. But very well done.

Sunday, August 20, 2006


Introduction: My Strange Affinity With Crows

My life has several times been marked by an eery connection with the beyond; once or twice even with back of beyond. Not with the presence of poltergeists or anything that goes bump in the night, but with birds, and in particular, crows. Let me capitalize that: Crows. As if eternally entangled in a reel of the Hitchcock film, my fretful life creeps forward from one restless encounter to the next. Forthwith, I here attempt to exorcize the very forces that haunt my twisted life. Twisted by spirits incarnated in Crows.

Episode One: Crow Attack!

I'm walking down the street, minding my own business and trying not to inhale all the fumes from the local restaurants as best as I possibly can. No, this was not a dream. Burger King in particular smells like a rendering plant on a hot summer day, and it's hard not to keep that famous scene from In a Year With 13 Moons out of my head. Anyway, this Crow starts dive bombing me like a kamikaze pilot heading towards the Lexington. But this crazy bird actually lands on my head and starts tearing up my hair. Or at least scratching my scalp. Overwhelmingly Freaky. Or perhaps it was just looking for more food; evidently these crows are pretty well fed by the locals. Or . . . maybe it was the devil, making a bird's nest in my hair.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Der Rosenkavalier

I saw this last night at the McCaw Dome and was absolutely mesmerized for the entire 4 hours I was there. I guess that includes the chicken Caesar salad I had at the first intermission (excellent), as well as all the gawking I did at the second (why all the tee-shirts and sweat pants?), but my point is that this is one fine opera. I've been a big fan of Sir Georg Solti's Decca recording for years, but having only listened to it I had no idea what a dramatic tour de force it really is. I'm really not qualified to say anything about the musicianship, but I thought it sounded fine and the entire production as a whole really was impressive. The lighting and the sets were amazing. The acting was great, Peter Rose as Baron Ochs was especially brilliant: the perfect blend of Don Giovanni and Falstaff. As for the Marschellein, Octavian, and Sophie, the pathos was there, but the farce was in full force as well. Hopeful towards the end, which is something considering the satire dished out in the 2nd and 3rd acts. The decadence of the last days of the Austro-Hungarian empire is brilliantly skewered (the opera was first performed in 1911), and I shudder to think what Strauss thought of what happened to the German speaking world over the next 35 years. What a brilliant composer. Sheer genius.

How You Found Quotidian Quintilian IX

We've just recorded the 281nd visitor in search of 'Dark Eyes' on AltaVista. I hope they enjoyed Bob and Patti's duet version of the great song from Empire Burlesque, but it'd be nice my fellow music thieves checked out the profile once in a while. My stats are hurting.

Friday, August 18, 2006


St. Helena Empress mother of Constantine the Great. She was a native of Bithynia, who married the then Roman general Constantius I Chlorus about 270. Constantine was born soon after, and in 293, Constantius was made Caesar, or junior emperor. He divorced Helena to marry co Emperor Maximian’s stepdaughter. Constantine became emperor in 312 after the fateful victory at Milvian Bridge, and Helena was named Augusta, or empress. She converted to Christianity and performed many acts of charity, including building churches in Rome and in the Holy Land. On a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, Helena discovered the True Cross. She is believed to have died in Nicomedia. Her porphyry sarcophagus is in the Vatican Museum. Geoffrey of Monmouth, England, started the legend that Helena was the daughter of the king of Colchester, a tradition no longer upheld. In liturgical art Helena is depicted as an empress, holding a cross.

Bl. Thomas Guengoro (1620) Japanese martyr. A Japanese native, he was arrested and crucified at Kokura along with his wife and young son for giving aid to Blessed Simon Kiota.

Bl. Mary Guengoro Martyr of Japan. The wife of Blessed Thomas Guengero, she was crucified at Kokura with her husband and son, James. She was beatified in 1867.

St. Hugh the Little (1255) Martyred nine year old of Lincoln, England, reportedly a victim of ritual killing by English Jews. King Henry III conducted the investigation of the crime which resulted in eighteen or nineteen Jews being hanged. Hugh had been scourged, crowned with thorns, and crucified. Miracles supposedly accompanied the recovery of the lad’s body from a well, and the martyrdom became part of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. The feast of the saint is no longer kept by the Church, and the entire account of the young saint is considered an example of the anti Semitism which was rampant throughout the Middle Ages. In art, he was depicted bound in cords, kneeling before the Blessed Mother.

Bl. Raynald of Ravenna Archbishop of Ravenna. Born at Milan under the name Raynald Concorrezzo, he entered the Church as a canon in Lodi and was later appointed bishop of Vicenza in 1296. In 1303 he was named archbishop of Ravenna, from which post he was a friend and supporter of the Knights Templar until their dissolution and annihilation in 1312.

Thursday, August 17, 2006


Thanks, Jonathan, for laying down what probably marks the end of this session of the Summer Reading Klub. One person made it, anyway. Perhaps I will give it a go this weekend. Devote all of Sunday to finishing the Frater Taciturnus section. But Taciturnus shouldn't feel too badly; I myself take my lack of readers as a sign of extreme rarification. Actually, I think he does too. Since I haven't read the end of the Stages, I'll offer what I can here in the way of a few reflections on the metaphysical tradition that Kierkegaard is drawing on, and how it evolved, or perhaps 'devolved', after him.

FT writes:
There are three existence-spheres: the aesthetic, the ethical, the religious. The metaphysical is abstraction, there is no man who exists metaphysically. The metaphysical, ontology, is but does not exist; for when it exists it is in the aesthetic, in the ethical, in the religious, and when it is it is the abstraction of or the prius for the aesthetic, the ethical, the religious.
The remark about ontology not existing seems to be derived from Aristotle:
Since a definition is a formula, and a formula has parts, and as the formula is to the thing, so is the part of the formula to the part of the thing, the question is already being asked whether the formula of the parts must be present in the formula of the whole or not. Aristotle Metaphysics, book Zeta, chapter 10
'Formula' here is to Aristotle here what 'Definition' is to Aquinas when he writes:
The term quiddity, surely, is taken from the fact that this is what is signified by the definition. But the same thing is called essence because the being has existence through it and in it.
So for Aristotle, or at least Aquinas, existence is dependent on essence, and perhaps this is why for Kierkegaard "the metaphysical, ontology" doesn't exist. They've certainly inherited the conception of the Platonic ideal. Of course it was Aquinas who drew on this metaphysical to establish what can and can't be said about the supreme being. I find this division between essence and existence the most interesting problem in all philosophy, although I'm still not exactly sure how the latter is covered by the word is while the former is not.

It's certainly a long ways from St. Thomas to Sartre and his phrase 'existence precedes essence'. Am I wrong, or has Sartre completely inverted the order of being here? Sartre is perhaps most famous for writing the words "existence precedes essence", and in fact what we now take to be "existentialism" is inextricably bound up with this inverted metaphysic. And we wonder how he became an atheist and a communist. But we're not reading Sartre. We are reading Kierkegaardand, and his attempt at putting Aristotelian metaphysics and Thomistic theology together with Hegel's dialectic to come up with his own tripartite theory of existence. Notice that Kierkegaard writes:
for when it exists it is in the aesthetic, in the ethical, in the religious, and when it is it is the abstraction of or the prius for the aesthetic, the ethical, the religious.
Here, for example, the distinction seems to be between "is" and existence, while my understanding is that in a sentence such as "the chair is in the dining room" the word "is" is just shorthand for 'exists'. There just doesn't seem to me to be a useful distinction there. Kierkegaard writes the "is" (that which has essence but not existence) as the prius for the aesthetic, ethical and the religious, and I'm not sure what that means, except perhaps that essence, or God, isn't bound by these categories as all existing things are bound. But of course Aquinas wouldn't claim that God doesn't exist. Quite the contrary. Wouldn't he rather claim that God does exist? Perhaps the point is that God exists as pure essence. Or perhaps that God exists for us as pure essence. I'm certainly not an expert on this. What makes sense in the Kierkegaardian scheme of things is that existing things - chairs, personalities - must exist within the aesthetic, ethical or religious, or some mixture of the three. I'm just not sure how this is tied to the metaphysical tradition; maybe it's significant enough that he wanted that connection to be there. I wonder if it is part of his reaction to Hegel.

So what to make of what Kierkegaard has made of the metaphysical tradition. It isn't the mess that Sartre made of it; Aquinas' and Aristotle's work seems relatively intact, if unreferenced. That's my opinion. I like it, and as difficult as it is to read, I think there's a lot of value in trying to bring Aristotelian distinctions (especially those emphasized by Aquinas: "essence signifies something common to all natures") to bear on Hegel ("Essence is mere Identity and reflection in itself only as it is self-relating negativity, and in that way self-repulsion") in order to form his own, extremely personal vision of what it means to be a Christian.

I believe it all works as well as it does because of his psychological insights, which I think are pretty formidable. This is where some of his most beautiful metaphors come into play. These are why, after reading page after page of such extremly obscure prose in search of even more obscure ideas, the clouds part and the sun finally shines through. I think he used literature and philosophy the way we use space flight: after estranging himself as much as possible and putting himself at further and further remove from the life lived every day by most other citizens, possibly at even furhter and further remove form his own life, he was then able to turn around and see himself anew. Over and over again. The Latin for "turn around" is convertere, and while it's kind of cheesy to say it was this conversion that became his life project, I'll say it anyway.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Blaise Saise

"It is the heart which perceives God and not the reason." Pensées

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

A Fair More Milky Way

Hark! She is call'd. The parting hour is come.
Take thy farewell, poor world! Heav'n must go home
A piece of heav'nly earth, purer and brighter
Than the chaste stars, whose choice lamps come to light her
While through the crystal orbs, clearer than they,
She climbs and makes a fair more milky way.
She's called. Hark how the dear immortal dove
Sighs to his silver mate, 'Rise up, my love!
'Rise up, my fair, my spotless one!
'The winter's past, the rain is gone.

from On the Glorious Assumption of Our Blessed Lady by Richard Crenshaw

Monday, August 14, 2006

How You Found Quotidian Quintilian VIII

Those saints have done it for me again! Unfortunately, this visitor didn't even stay for a full second; I hope it wasn't because they read that the word 'tawdrey' actually comes from Saint Audrey. I didn't make it up, I swear! I just stole it from!

Aiding and Abetting

is a novel by Muriel Spark I'm reading now. It's very good, and the beginning has quite a hook. Here are the first couple of pages:
The receptionist looked tinier than ever as she showed the tall, tall Englishman into the studio of Dr. Hildegard Wolf, the psychiatrist who had come from Bavaria, then Prague, Dresden, Avila, Marseilles, then London, and now settled in Paris.

"I have come to consult you, " he said, "because I have no peace of mind. Twenty-five years ago I sold my sould to the Devil." The Englishman spoke in a very forgein French.

"Would you feel easier," she said, "if we spoke in English? I am an English speaker of a sort since I was a student."

"Far easier," he said, "although, in a sense, it makes the reality more distressing. What I have to tell you is an English story."

Dr. Wolf's therapeutic methods had been perfected by herself. They had made her virtually the most successful psychiatrist in Paris, or at least the most sought-after. At the same time she was tentatively copied; those who tried to do so generally failed. the method alone did not suffice. Her personality was needed as well.

What she did for the most part was talk about herself throughout the first three sessions, turning only casually on the problems of her patients; then, gradually, in an offhand way she would induce them to begin to discuss themselves. Some patients, angered, did not return after the first or at least second session, conducted on these lines. Others remonstrated, "Don't you want to hear about my problem?"

"No, quite frankly, I don't very much."

Many, fascinated, returned to her studio and it was they who, so it was widely claimed, reaped their reward. By now her method was famous and even studied in the universities. The Wolf method.

"I sold my soul to the Devil."

"Once in my life," she said, "I had a chance to do that. Only I wasn't offered enough. Let me tell you about it . . ."

He had heard that she would do just this. The friend who had recommended her to him, a priest who had been through her hands during a troubled period, told him, "She advised me not to try to pray. She advised me to shut up and listen. Read the Gospel, she said. Jesus is praying to you for sympathy. You have to see his point of view, what he had to put up with. Listen, don't talk. Read the Bible. Take it in. God is talking, not you."
What I like about these pages is the way our (my!) usual expectations have been up ended by this woman. Instead of playing the good listener, as would be expected of any ordinary psychiatrist, Dr. Wolf (and what a great German name for a shrink) pronounces that she will do the talking for the first couple of sessions. Heterodox, to say the least. Nor is all this up-ending limited to the medical sphere. To a priest who comes to consult her, she advises him not to pray. That's pretty extraordinary.

So we're prepared (I was prepared) to like this Dr. Wolf, but then it's soon revealed that she's a total fraud. Does that mean that her patients weren't actually healed? To the contrary, she has enjoyed tremendous success. Well, that's okay, I say; the whole mental health industry is basically an elaborate scheme to make us all poorer, isn't it? Maybe yes, more probably no, actually, but then it doesn't really matter anyway, because it so happens Dr. Wolf formerly pretended to be a stigmatic before she started up all the medical fakery. Brilliant. Throw in a little soul-selling and exotic locales such as Prague, Avila, and Paris, and what we have is the beginning of a very good read.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

The Chuck Norris Bridge

As longtime readers know, Budapest is one of my very favorite cities, and the Danube one of my very favorite rivers. Buda and Pest are connected by such marvels of engineering as Arpad hid, Margit hid, and the wonderful Szechenyi Lanchid (Chain Bridge). Chuck Norris is, of course, one of my very favorite actors; right up there with Christopher Lambert. Anyway, imagine the sheer joy I felt when I found out that the Hungarian Ministry for the Economy might just name a bridge after him. They're having an election, and right now Chuck is up to 11 percent. Imagine: Erzsebet hid (Elisabeth Bridge), Szabadsag hid (Freedom Bridge), and Chuck Norris hid. The mind boggles.

Vote Now! Or at least by September 8th!

(Thanks, Lapped Catholic.)

Saturday, August 12, 2006

How You Found Quotidian Quintilian VII

Just goes to show that putting up reams and reams of text from other sites is bound to bring some people here. I hope they found everything they needed to know about King Henry, or any of the Saints they came across in their search.

For Sale: '82 Camaro

No tires. Or wheels. Or a working engine. Otherwise mint (the picture was taken before the wheels were stolen, and our neighbors got the police to make me to put 'Mary Jane' back in the garage).

Well, I'm back. I haven't sold the car yet, and now I'm out in the garage with it. If someone is willing to buy it, I should be able to get my old bed in here and stop sleeping in the back seat. Mom has eased up a little, and she's leaving the power on in the garage for a couple of hours every day (our fuse box is in the basement, and previously under my control). Anyway, I should be able get out a daily post. I said 'quotidian', and I mean it. Pretty much. Every other day, at least. Today I'll have two posts. At least.