Thursday, July 1, 2010

Behind the Seen


Édouard Manet, Baudelaire’s Mistress— Jeanne Duval Reclining, 1862.

Mother of memories, mistress of mistresses, O you, all my pleasures! O you, all my duties! You will remember the beauty of caresses, the sweetness of the hearth and the charm of the evenings. Mother of memories, mistress of mistresses.

The evenings aglow with the heat of the coals, and the evenings on the balcony, veiled with rose mist; how soft your breast was to me! how kind your heart! We often said imperishable things on evenings aglow with the heat of the coals.

How beautiful the sun is on warm evenings! How deep space is! How powerful is the heart! Bending over you, queen of adored ones, I thought I breathed the perfume of your blood. How beautiful the sun is on warm evenings!

Night deepened like a wall, and my eyes in the darkness sensed your eyes, and I drank your breath, O sweetness! O poison! And your feet slumbered in my brotherly hands. Night deepened like a wall.

I know the art of evoking happy moments, and live again my past curled up in your lap. For what is the good of seeking your languorous beauty elsewhere than in your dear body and in your so gentle heart? I know the art of evoking happy moments.

Those vows, those perfumes, those infinite kisses, will they be born again from a gulf we may not sound as rejuvenated suns rise up to heaven after being bathed in the depth of deep seas? — O vows! O perfumes! O infinite kisses!

Baudelaire’s poem “The Balcony”, addressed to Jeanne Duval.


در پُشت مُشتای اینجا


A portrait of Gluck, painted in 1775 by Joseph Siffred Duplessis (1725-1802); in the collection of the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

‘Berenice che fai!’, from Act III, scene VII of L’Antigono, dramma per musica, composed by Christoph Willibald Gluck (born 2 July, 1714; died 15 November, 1787), based on a libretto by Pietro Metastasio, and which had its premiere in Rome in 1756; performed here by Cecilia Bartoli, mezzo-soprano, with the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin

Berenice che fai! More il tuo bene,
stupida, e tu non corri… Oh dio vacilla
l’ incerto passo; un gelido mi scuote
insolito tremor tutte le vene;
e a gran pena il suo peso il piè sostiene.
Dove son! Qual confusa
folla d’ idee tutte funeste adombra
la mia ragion! Veggo Demetrio; il veggo
che in atto di ferir… Fermati; vivi;
d’ Antigono io sarò. Del core ad onta
volo a giurargli fé. Dirò che l’ amo,
dirò… Misera me! S’ oscura il giorno!
Balena il ciel! L’ hanno irritato i miei
meditati spergiuri. Oimè lasciate
ch’ io soccorra il mio ben, barbari dei.
Voi m’ impedite e intanto
forse un colpo improviso…
Ah sarete contenti; eccolo ucciso.
Aspetta anima bella; ombre compagne
a Lete andrem. Se non potei salvarti,
potrò fedel… Ma tu mi guardi! E parti!

Non partir bell’ idol mio!
Per quell’ onda all’ altra sponda
voglio anch’ io passar con te.
Voglio anch’ io…

Me infelice!
Che fingo! Che ragiono!
Dove rapita io sono
dal torrente crudel de’ miei martiri!
Misera Berenice, ah tu deliri.

Perché, se tanti siete
che delirar mi fate,
perché non m’ uccidete
affanni del mio cor.

Crescete, oh dio, crescete,
fin che mi porga aita
con togliermi di vita
l’ eccesso del dolor.


Born on the 2nd of July, 1923 - Wisława Szymborska, Polish poet and Nobel Laureate (1996)…

Pi by Wislawa Szymborska

The admirable number pi:
three point one four one.
All the following digits are also just a start,
five nine two, because it never ends.
It can’t be grasped, six five three five, at a glance,
eight nine, by calculation,
seven nine, through imagination,
or even, three two three eight, in jest, or by comparison,
four six, to anything,
two six four three, in the world.
The longest snake on earth ends at thirty-odd feet.
Same goes for fairy tale snakes, though they make it a little longer.
The caravan of digits that is pi
does not stop at the edge of the page,
but runs off the table and into the air,
over the wall, a leaf, a bird’s nest, the clouds, straight into the sky,
through all the bloatedness and bottomlessness.
Oh how short, all but mouse-like is the comet’s tail!
How frail is a ray of starlight, bending in any old space!
Meanwhile, two three fifteen three hundred nineteen,
my phone number your shirt size
the year nineteen hundred and seventy-three sixth floor
number of inhabitants sixty-five cents
hip measurement two fingers a charade and a code,
in which we find how blithe the trostle sings!
and please remain calm,
and heaven and earth shall pass away,
but not pi, that won’t happen,
it still has an okay five,
and quite a fine eight,
and all but final seven,
prodding and prodding a plodding eternity
to last.


Born on the 2nd of July, German-Swiss author and 1946 Nobel Literature Laureate, Hermann Hesse (1877 - 1962), author of many fine novels, including 1960s cult classic, Steppenwolf

Photo: Gret Widmann, 1927


Franz Kafka (born 3 July, 1883; died 3 June, 1924), pictured above in an 1896 photograph

‘As a small child he was well dressed; as a boy he totally lost faith in his appearance. His parents bought clothes for him from customers at their shop [Kafka’s parents owned a ‘fancy-goods’ store], and he learned to be extraordinarily aware of how people were dressed-clothes would figure prominently in his dreams-but not to take any pleasure in his own appearance. “I was convinced it was only on me that clothes assumed this board-like stiffness and later this crumpled droopiness. New clothes I didn’t want at all … So I let the shabby clothes affect even my posture, walked around with a hunched back, drooping shoulders, unrelaxed arms and hands. I was afraid of looking-glasses because they reflected an ugliness which seemed inescapable.” He knew that posture was partly a matter of choice, but keeping his back straight made him feel tired, and he failed or refused to see what harm a crooked back could do him in the future …

Kafka loved swimming and took pleasure-probably not unmixed with pain-in the sight of other people’s half-naked bodies. The love of swimming-pools was to persist through his life, and once he would stay at a nudist colony. But the pleasure was in seeing, not in being seen. Once summer, holidaying on the Elbe, he longed to go bathing in the river, but dreaded the crowded bathing establishment. “I roamed about alone like a lost dog on the narrowest paths on the hills alongside the river, watching the little bathing establishment for hours in the hope it would suddenly empty and be accessible for me.” Mostly he bathed in the evenings when the desire to swim had almost left him.’

—from Kafka: A Biography, by Ronald Hayman (1981) (the quotations from Kafka above are taken from his notebooks)

Der wahre Weg (Hommage-message à Pierre Boulez), from the Kafka-Fragmente (Op. 24), composed between 1985 and 1986 by György Kurtág, setting to music fragments from the notebooks of Franz Kafka (born 3 July, 1883; died 3 June, 1924); performed here by Juliane Banse, soprano, and András Keller, violin, on a 2005 recording for ECM

From Kafka’s notebooks:

‘Der wahre Weg geht über ein Seil, das nicht in der Höhe gespannt ist, sondern knapp über dem Boden. Es scheint mehr bestimmt stolpern zu machen, als begangen zu werden.’

‘The true path goes by way of a rope that is suspended not high up, but rather just above the ground. Its purpose seems to be more to make one stumble than to be walked on.’


I have always been afraid of ink
and besides I wonder if it is not some
drop from the river of the dead.

It doesn’t reflect the same thing to anyone.
We hardly know where it comes from
and we wonder where it’s going to.

Jean Cocteau
Letters to my American friends, 1958

Jean Cocteau (born 5 July 1889; died 11 October, 1963), pictured above with the principal dancers in his 1924 musical-theatre work, Le train bleu (with music by Darius Milhaud)

‘Maintenant, connaissez-vous la surprise qui consiste à se trouver soudain en face de son propre nom comme s’il appartenait à un autre, à voir, pour ainsi dire, sa forme et à entendre le bruit de ses syllabes sans l’habitude aveugle et sourde que donne une longue intimité? Le sentiment qu’un fournisseur , par exemple, ne connaît pas un mot qui nous paraît si connu, nous ouvre les yeux, nous débouche les oreilles. Un coup de baguette fait revivre le lieu commun. Il arrive que le même phénomène se produise pour un objet, un animal. L’espace d’un éclair, nous « voyons » un chien, un fiacre, une maison, « pour la première fois ». Tout ce qu’ils présentent de spécial, de fou, de ridicule, de beau nous accable. Immédiatement après, l’habitude frotte cette image puissante avec sa gomme. Nous caressons le chien, nous arrêtons le fiacre, nous habitons la maison. Nous ne les voyons plus. Voilà le rôle de la poésie. Elle dévoile, dans toute la force du terme. Elle montre nues, sous une lumière qui secoue la torpeur, les choses surprenantes qui nous environnent et que nos sens enregistraient machinalement.’

‘Now, understand the surprise that consists in finding oneself suddenly faced with one’s own name as if belonged to another— that is to say, to see its form and to hear the sound of its syllables without the blind and deaf habit that comes with long intimacy? The confusion of a shopowner, for example, who doesn’t understand a word that seems to us so clear forces us to open our eyes, unplug our ears. It then takes a touch of a wand to bring us back to the commonplace. The same phenomenon may be produced with any object or animal. In the space that suddelny opens, we see a dog, a carriage, a house, for the first time. We become overwhelmed by the way everything appears peculiar, or mad, or ridiculous, or beautiful. Immediately afterward, the eraser of habit rubs away the powerful image. We pet the dog, we stop the carriage, we live in the house— we no longer see them. This is the role of poetry. It unveils, in every meaning of the word. It shakes us out of our torpor by showing us things in all of their nakedness, the surprising things that surround us, and which, normally, our senses register mechanically.’

—from Rappel À L’Ordre (1926)


Gustav Mahler (born 7 July, 1860; died 18 May, 1911), pictured above in a photograph made when the composer was a young boy (precise date not known)

‘Daydreaming and lack of attention were not the only reasons for the low grades Gustav Mahler received in the colleges of Iglau and Prague. When this “quiet” child became an adolescent, he began to feel within himself the demons of fanaticism and impatience which later on caused him to be called a “tyrant” and a “monster.” The following anecdote reveals his childish impatience.

One day Gustav was waiting at the door of the Iglau Gymnasium for the distribution of the monthly report cards. The wait seemed endless, for he was eaten up with curiosity to know what his card would say: he felt an urge as if to jump out of his skin. Having withstood this impatience for a long while, he suddenly decided that the time had come for self-control, and addressed his own spirit in the following terms: “Control yourself and drive out this impatient demon! Someday, when this moment will be long past, when you will be an adult, you will often feel as if impatience for some ardently desired event will kill you; then remember this day, and say to yourself: as that moment ended, so the most disagreeable will pass.”


According to Alma Mahler, Mahler dreamed his way through the places and lands of his childhood, and even in the heart of his family he dreamed away his youthful years. If any one event woke him from this endless dream and plunged him into brutal reality, it was certainly the death of his beloved brother [Ernst, born in 1861; died of pericarditis 13 April, 1875]. That day—which was perhaps the last of childhood—was essential for his discovery of the world and of himself. A few months later he left Iglau and took the first step up the difficult ladder that was to lead him to fame.’

—from Mahler, by Henry-Louis de la Grange (1973)

46 Plays

Symphony No. 5 (1901-02)

Gustav Mahler

  • IV. Adagietto. Sehr langsam

Leonard Bernstein; Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Recorded: 9/8/1987: Frankfurt am Main, Alte Oper


Um Mitternacht, one of the Rückert Lieder that Gustav Mahler (born 7 July, 1860; died 18 May, 1911) composed during the summers of 1901 and 1902, setting five poems by Friedrich Rückert (1788-1866); performed here by mezzo-soprano Christianne Stotijn, with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Yasuo Shinozaki, in a live recording made in Glasgow in 2006

Um Mitternacht…

Um Mitternacht
Hab’ ich gewacht
Und aufgeblickt zum Himmel;
Kein Stern vom Sterngewimmel
Hat mir gelacht
Um Mitternacht.

Um Mitternacht
Hab’ ich gedacht
Hinaus in dunkle Schranken.
Es hat kein Lichtgedanken
Mir Trost gebracht
Um Mitternacht.

Um Mitternacht
Nahm ich in acht
Die Schläge meines Herzens;
Ein einz’ger Puls des Schmerzes
War angefacht
Um Mitternacht.

Um Mitternacht
Kämpft’ ich die Schlacht,
O Menschheit, deiner Leiden;
Nicht konnt’ ich sie entscheiden
Mit meiner Macht
Um Mitternacht.

Um Mitternacht
Hab’ ich die Macht
In deine Hand gegeben!
Herr! über Tod und Leben
Du hältst die Wacht
Um Mitternacht!

At midnight
I was awake
and looked up to the heavens;
Not one of the whole host of stars
smiled down at me
at midnight.

At midnight
my thoughts went out
to the bounds of darkness.
No thought of light
brought me comfort
at midnight

At midnight
I heeded the beating of my heart;
but one pulse of pain
throbbed, burning,
at midnight.

At midnight
I fought the battle
of your suffering, mankind!
I could not decide it
with all my strength
at midnight.

At midnight
I resigned all power
into Thy hand.
Lord! Over death and life
Though keepest watch,
at midnight.

(translated by S. S. Prawer)


Verner von Heidenstam (July 6, 1859 - 1940) was a Swedish poet and novelist - Nobel Prize Laureate in Literature in 1916.

The Shifting Self - from Thoughts in Loneliness

Each night my old self in the grave I lay
And get me another on waking.
With a hundred thoughts I begin the day,
Not one to my slumber-time taking.

‘Twixt sorrow and joy I roam without pause ;
I seem like a riddle, none dafter.
But lucky is he who for any cause,
Can burst into tears or laughter.

(Photo of the poet at around age 20, c. 1879)


Born on the 6th of July: Frida Kahlo (1907 - 1954), vibrant Mexican painter and activist


La Llorona :: Chavela Vargas

Todos me dicen el negro, Llorona
Negro pero cariñoso.
Todos me dicen el negro, Llorona
Negro pero cariñoso.
Yo soy como el chile verde, Llorona
Picante pero sabroso.
Yo soy como el chile verde, Llorona
Picante pero sabroso.

Ay de mí, Llorona Llorona,
Llorona, llévame al río
Tápame con tu rebozo, Llorona
Porque me muero de frió


Ziba Karbassi ( Iranian Poet) Born On the 7th of July

Love is Lemony

Now that you draw the pink veil
Off my face
Love is this very lemon
That goes lemon lemon to the orange

Lashes and neck, long
Lashes and neck, bent
Lashes back, neck askew

My head cockeyed out the nook
Over the shoulder, behind sight
Shoulders like square houses
Childhood doodle houses

We stand facing each other
Two mad souls
Neck to neck
Shoulder to shoulder
Lashes and neck

And then
A bit bent
Bend a bit to roll over
Let me blaze on your shoulder and eyes
Your eyes that kiss kiss wet my lips
Your eye that kisses wets my lips
Your eye that plunges
Into the furrow and once again we see
Nothing and coil like vine
And whirl in noise and rapture

Come! Come!
If you draw the soft pink
Love is this very lemon
That somewhat sour
Lemon lemon
To the orange!

Read the original Persian poem here.

Love is Lemony-a poem by Ziba Karbassi in performance
This poem was performed in the theatrical show, ICARUS/RISE. Here is the audio of the performance. Music composed and performed by Bobak Salehi; translation and narration by yours truly (Niloufar Talebi)

Marc Chagall (July 7, 1887 – 1985), was a Jewish artist, born in Belarus (then Russian Empire) and naturalized French in 1937, associated with several key art movements and one of the most successful artists of the twentieth century. He forged a unique career in virtually every artistic medium, including paintings, book illustrations, stained glass, stage sets, ceramics, tapestries and fine art prints. Chagall’s haunting, exuberant, and poetic images have enjoyed universal appeal, and art critic Robert Hughes called him “the quintessential Jewish artist of the twentieth century.” (Wiki)


Jean de La Fontaine (born 8 July, 1621; died 13 April, 1695), pictured above in the marble sculpture by Pierre Julien (1731-1804), first exhibited in 1785; in the collection of the Louvre

L’homme et son image
Pour M. le Duc de La Rochefoucauld

Un homme qui s’aimait sans avoir de rivaux
Passait dans son esprit pour le plus beau du monde:
Il accusait toujours les miroirs d’être faux,
Vivant plus que content dans une erreur profonde.
Afin de le guérir, le sort officieux
Présentait partout à ses yeux
Les conseillers muets dont se servent nos dames:
Miroirs dans les logis, miroirs chez les marchands,
Miroirs aux poches des galands,
Miroirs aux ceintures des femmes.
Que fait notre Narcisse? Il se va confiner
Aux lieux les plus cachés qu’il peut s’imaginer,
N’osant plus des miroirs éprouver l’aventure.
Mais un canal, formé par une source pure,
Se trouve en ces lieux écartés:
Il s’y voit, il se fâche, et ses yeux irrités
Pensent apercevoir une chimère vaine.
Il fait tout ce qu’il peut pour éviter cette eau;
Mais quoi? Le canal est si beau
Qu’il ne le quitte qu’avec peine.

On voit bien où je veux venir.
Je parle à tous; et cette erreur extrême
Est un mal que chacun se plaît d’entretenir.
Notre âme, c’est cet homme amoureux de lui-même;
Tant de miroirs, ce sont les sottises d’autrui,
Miroirs, de nos défauts les peintres légitimes;
Et quant au canal, c’est celui
Que chacun sait, le livre des Maximes.


The Man and His Image
To M. The Duke De La Rochefoucauld

A man, who had no rivals in the love
Which to himself he bore,
Esteem’d his own dear beauty far above
What earth had seen before.
More than contented in his error,
He lived the foe of every mirror.
Officious fate, resolved our lover
From such an illness should recover,
Presented always to his eyes
The mute advisers which the ladies prize;—
Mirrors in parlours, inns, and shops,—
Mirrors the pocket furniture of fops,—
Mirrors on every lady’s zone,
From which his face reflected shone.
What could our dear Narcissus do?
From haunts of men he now withdrew,
On purpose that his precious shape
From every mirror might escape.
But in his forest glen alone,
Apart from human trace,
A watercourse,
Of purest source,
While with unconscious gaze
He pierced its waveless face,
Reflected back his own.
Incensed with mingled rage and fright,
He seeks to shun the odious sight;
But yet that mirror sheet, so clear and still,
He cannot leave, do what he will.

Ere this, my story’s drift you plainly see.
From such mistake there is no mortal free.
That obstinate self-lover
The human soul doth cover;
The mirrors follies are of others,
In which, as all are genuine brothers,
Each soul may see to life depicted
Itself with just such faults afflicted;
And by that charming placid brook,
Needless to say, I mean your Maxim Book.

(translated from the French by Elizur Wright [1804-1885])

Marcel Proust (born 10 July, 1871; died 18 November, 1922), pictured above in his military uniform, in a photograph made circa 1896

‘Involuntary memory is explosive, “an immediate, total and delicious deflagration.” It restores, not merely the past object, but the Lazarus that it charmed or tortured, not merely Lazarus and the object, but more because less, more because it abstracts the useful, the opportune, the accidental, because in its flame it has consumed Habit and all its works, and in its brightness revealed what the mock reality of experience never can and never will reveal—the real. But involuntary memory is an unruly magician and will not be importuned. It chooses its own time and place for the performance of its miracle. I do not know how often this miracle recurs in Proust. I think twelve or thirteen times. But the first—the famous episode of the madeleine steeped in tea—would justify the assertion that his entire book is a monument to involuntary memory and the epic of its action. The whole of Proust’s world comes out of a teacup, and not merely Combray and his childhood.’

—from Proust, by Samuel Beckett (1931)

‘Even though he wrote later of his months in the army as a ‘paradise’, there must have been bad moments as well as good, physical and temperamental; discomforts, notwithstanding an understanding Commanding Officer who excused early morning parades, and jumping ditches during training in equitation. Those who have had any direct contact with the French army are familiar with an excellent tradition—on the whole to be admitted superior to our own—of having a good time when a good time is on offer. None the less British army regulations lay down certain basic standards of comfort pooh-poohed by the French. For example, the French ratio of man-to-room space is—or was—a modified version of the Black Hole of Calcutta; and, eighty years ago, in Proust’s day, sanitary conditions in barracks may have been less than ideal. In this last connection , when, with incredible appropriateness, Alfred Jarry was appointed latrine orderly during his military service, he remarked of such duties: “It is no mere bow to rhetoric to designate the word ‘brush’ these objects known in civilian life as brooms. They are, in reality, exceptionally suited for sketching decorative designs on the ground …”, so that cloacal deficiencies may have been amply compensated by the graphic art of the author of Ubu Roi. That, however, was a year or two after Proust’s own tour of duty.

Jarry was of course, a conscript; Proust, a volunteer […] In 1889, the year he joined the army, administrative changes were taking place in the law governing conscription. Hitherto, service had been in theory for five years; in practice, few, if any, of the conscripts being retained so long. To make absolutely sure the period was no more than a year, it was possible to “volunteer”; such an opening being available only to those of baccalaureate level in education, together with ability to call on a sum of about sixty pounds to pay for uniform […]

Proust’s own health was naturally far too precarious for there to be any question of serving again in the army. That did not prevent the routine requirements of medical boards, which he accepted—one recalls the great to-do D. H. Lawrence made in similar circumstances—as inevitable consequence of a world war . All the same, there was one of them that was exceedingly troublesome to Proust—the time the boards took place. He dreaded these orders to present himself, merely because they threatened the hour or two’s sleep he could achieve only during the daytime. By one of those clerical errors endemic to military administration, certainly a classical one, he was ordered on one occasion to report to the Invalides for medical examination at 3:30 a.m., instead of the same hour in the afternoon. To many people such an instruction would have been disturbing. Proust was charmed. This nocturnal summons seemed just another example of how accommodating the military authorities could sometimes show themselves.’
—from “Proust as Soldier,” by Anthony Powell, in Marcel Proust, 1871-1922: A Centennial Volume, edited by Peter Quennell (1971)


The Légende in G minor (Op. 17), composed c. 1860 by Henryk Wieniawski (born 10 July, 1835; died 31 March, 1880); performed here by Ida Haendel with the Capella Cracoviensis, conducted by Stanisław Gałoński, in a May 2006 concert at Chelm, the small city in Poland where Haendel was born (roughly eighty years ago), and where she began playing the violin at the age of three


Birthday of Luis de Góngora, Spanish poet and card-shark (July 11, 1561 – 1627)…

Not All Sweet Nightingales

THEY are not all sweet nightingales
That fill with songs the flowery vales;
But they are little silver bells,
Touched by the winds in the smiling dells;
Magic bells of gold in the grove,
Forming a chorus for her I love.

Think not the voices in the air
Are from the wingéd Sirens fair,
Playing among the dewy trees
Chanting their morning mysteries;
Oh! if you listen, delighted there,
To their music scattered o’er the dales,
They are not all sweet nightingales
That fill with songs the flowery vales;
But they are little silver bells,
Touched by the winds in the smiling dells;
Magic bells of gold in the grove,
Forming a chorus for her I love.

Oh! ‘twas a lovely song — of art
To charm — of nature to touch the heart;
Sure ‘twas some shepherd’s pipe, which played
By passion fills the forest shade;
No! ‘tis music’s diviner part
Which o’er the yielding spirit prevails.
They are not all sweet nightingales
That fill with songs the flowery vales;
But they are little silver bells,
Touched by the winds in the smiling dells;
Magic bells of gold in the grove,
Forming a chorus for her I love.

In the eye of love, which all things sees,
The fragrance-breathing jasmine trees—
And the golden flowers — and the sloping hill—
And the ever melancholy rill—
Are full of holiest sympathies
And tell of love a thousand tales.
They are not all sweet nightingales,
That fill with songs the cheerful vales;
But they are little silver bells,
Touched by the wind in the smiling dells,
Bells of gold in the secret grove,
Making music for her I love.
Till I too shared thy heavenly rest.

—Translated by John Bowring


Pablo Neruda (born 12 July, 1904; died 23 September, 1973) pictured above with Matilde Urrutia (1912-1985), on Isla Negra, Chile, where Neruda and and Urrutia lived, for the most part, from 1955 to 1959, when they had a house built in Valparaíso

From the Cien sonetos de amor (100 Love Sonnets), dedicated to Matilde Urrutia:


Del mar hacia las calles corre la vaga niebla
como el vapor de un buey enterrado en el frío,
y largas lenguas de agua se acumulan cubriendo
el mes que a nuestras vidas prometiò ser celeste.

Adelantado otoño, panal silbante de hojas,
Cuando sobre los pueblos palpita tu estandarte
Cantan mujeres locas despidiendo a los ríos,
los caballos relinchan hacia la Patagonia.

Hay una enredadera vespertina en tu rostro
que crece silenciosa por el amor llevada
hasta las herraduras crepitantes del cielo.

Me inclino sobre el fuego de tu cuerpo nocturno
y no sòlo tus senos amo sino el otoño
que esparce por la niebla su sangre ultramarina.

The vague fog flows from the sea toward the streets
like the steam-breath of cattle buried in the cold,
and long tongues of water gather, covering the month
that our lives had been promised would be heavenly.

Autumn on the march, whistling honeycomb of leaves,
when your standards fly over our towns
crazy women sing good-bye to the rivers,
horses whinny toward Patagonia.

On your face is an evening vine,
climbing silently, that love lifts
up toward the crackling horseshoes of the sky.

I bend toward the fire of your nocturnal body, and I love
not only your breasts but autumn, too, as it spreads
its ultramarine blood through the fog.

(translated by Stephen Tapscott)

Nikolai Chernyshevsky (born 12 July, 1828; died 17 October 17, 1889), pictured above in an engraving made in 1859

One of my favorite aspects of Chernyshevsky’s only novel, What Is to Be Done?, written in a four-month period in 1862-63 while the author was in prison (for opposing serfdom), is the way in which Chernyshevsky mocks his reader. In the excerpts below, Chernyshevsky attacks the reader for failing to understand why the author has had a new character (probably the most famous character of the book, Rakhmetov) enter late in the story, simply in order to have a long (and fascinating) conversation with the novel’s heroine, Vera Pavlovna. (Kirsanov is Vera Pavlovna’s former companion, now dead, and Lopukhov is Vera Pavlovna’s husband, for whom she left Kirsanov.)

’ “Ah, then!” thinks the reader with the penetrating eye, “so Rakhmetov is to be the principal personage and master of all, Vera Pavlovna is to fall in love with him, and we are to see the story of Lopukhov begun over again with Kirsanov as the hero.”

Nothing of the sort, reader with the penetrating eye. Rakhmetov will pass the evening in conversation with Vera Pavlovna, and I will not keep from you a single word of what they say. You shall soon see that, if I had not chosen to communicate this conversation to you, I could very easily have kept from doing so, and the course of events in my story would not have been changed in the least. I also tell you in advance that, when Rakhmetov, after talking with Vera Pavlovna, shall go away, he will go away for ever from my story, that he will be neither a principal nor a secondary character, and that he will not figure further in my romance. Why have I introduced him into the romance and described him in such detail? There is an enigma for you, reader with the penetrating eye. Can you guess it? It will be solved for you in the following pages. But guess now what will be said farther on. It should not be difficult, if you had the slightest idea of art, about which you are so fond of chattering; but it is Greek to you. Stop, I will whisper in your ear half of the solution of the enigma. I have shown Rakhmetov in order to satisfy the most essential condition of art, and simply for that.


That was the plan, which Lopukhov devised, and Rakhmetov was only his agent. You see, my good reader with the penetrating eye, what sly dogs honest people are and how their egoism works; their egoism is different from yours, because they do not find their pleasure in the same direction that you do. They find their greatest pleasure, you see, in having people whom they esteem think well of them, and that is why they trouble themselves to devise all sorts of plans with no less zeal than you show in other matters. But your objects are different, and the plans that you devise are different. You concoct evil plans, injurious to others, while they concoct honest plans, useful to others.

“Why! How dare you say such insulting things to me?” cries the reader with the penetrating eye; “I will bring a complaint against you; I will proclaim everywhere that you are a man of evil disposition.” Pardon, my good sir, how could I dare to say insulting things to you when I esteem your character as highly as your mind? I simply take the liberty to enlighten you concerning art, which you love so well. In this respect you were in error in thinking that Rakhmetov appeared to pronounce sentence on Vera Pavlovna and Lopukhov. No such thing was necessary. He has said nothing that I might not have given you as thoughts, which, without Rakhmetov’s intervention, would have come to Vera Pavlovna in time. Now, my good sir, a question: why, then, do I give you Rakhmetov’s conversation with Vera Pavlovna? Do you understand now that when I give you, not the thoughts of Lopukhov and Vera Pavlovna, but Rakhmetov’s conversation with the latter, I thereby signify the necessity of giving you, not alone the thoughts which constitute the essence of the conversation, but the actual conversation itself? Why is it necessary to give you the precise conversation? Because it is Rakhmetov’s conversation with Vera Pavlovna. Do you understand now? No, not yet? What a thick head! How weak-minded you are! I am going to make you understand…’

—from What Is to Be Done? (published originally in 1863; translated from the Russian by Benjamin R. Tucker)


The third movement, Elegia; Adagio, from the Piano Trio No. 1 in d minor (Op. 32), completed in 1894 by Anton Arensky (born 12 July, 1861; died 25 February, 1906), in memory of Karl Davidoff (1838-1889), a ‘cellist and director of the St. Petersburg Conservatory while Arensky studied there; performed here by the Beaux Arts Trio (Menahem Pressler, piano; Ida Kavafian, violin; and Peter Wiley, ‘cello), in a 1994 recording for Philips


Amedeo Modigliani (July 12, 1884 – 1920) was an Italian artist who worked mainly in France. Primarily a figurative artist, he became known for paintings and sculptures in a modern style characterized by mask-like faces and elongation of form…


By a strange coincidence two good friends share July 12 as their birthday:

Max Jacob (1876 - 1944) & Amedeo Modigliani (1884 - 1920)…

Max Jacob was a French poet, painter, writer, and critic - and an important link between the symbolists and the surrealists, as can be seen in his prose poems Le cornet à dés (Dice Box, 1917, illustrations by Jean Hugo) and in his paintings, exhibitions of which were held in New York City in 1930 and 1938…


Achrome, a 1960 work by Piero Manzoni (born 13 July, 1933; died 6 February, 1963) (courtesy of Studio La Città Gallery, Verona)


Isaac Babel (born 13 July, 1894; died 27 January, 1940), pictured above in a photograph dating from the 1930s, by Georgii Petrusov

‘The old man drank vodkas out of an enameled teapot and ate his meatball, which smelled of happy childhood. Then he picked up his whip and walked out the gates. Basya came out after him. She had put on a pair of men’s boots, an orange dress, and a hat covered with birds, and sat down next to him on the bench. The evening slouched past the bench; the shining eye of the sunset fell into the sea beyond Peresip, and the sky was red, like a red-letter day on a calendar. All trading had ended on Dalnitskaya Street, and the gangsters drove by on the shadowy street to Joska Samuelson’s brothel. They rode in lacquered carriages and were dressed up in colorful jackets, like hummingbirds. They were goggle-eyed, one leg resting on the running-board, their steel hands holding bouquets of flowers wrapped in cigarette paper. The lacquered cabs moved at a walking pace, and in each carriage sat one man with a bouquet; the drivers, sticking out on their high seats, were covered in bows like best men at weddings. Old Jewish women in bonnets lazily watched the flow of this everyday procession—they were indifferent to everything, these old Jewish women, it was only the sons of shopkeepers and dockworkers who envied the kings of the Moldavanka.’

—from “The Father,” in The Odessa Stories (first published as a collection in 1931; translated from the Russian by Peter Constantine)


American Hero: Woody Guthrie (July 14, 1912 - 1967) - born on Bastille Day…

When the sun came shining, and I was strolling,
And the wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling,
As the fog was lifting a voice was chanting:
This land was made for you and me.

Photo: Woody in New York City, 1943 - Eric Schaal, LIFE

While in New York City, Woody Guthrie met and vigorously courted a young dancer with the Martha Graham Dance Company named Marjorie (Greenblatt) Mazia. Sharing humanist ideals and activist politics, Woody and Marjorie were married in 1945 and over the years had four children: Cathy, (who died at age four in a tragic home fire), Arlo, Joady, and Nora Lee…

Woody Guthrie - Jesus Christ


The great Swedish film director, Ingmar Bergman - was born July 14, 1918 (d. 2007)…

Gustav Klimt (July 14, 1862 - 1918) was an Austrian Symbolist painter and one of the most prominent members of the Vienna Art Nouveau (Vienna Secession) movement…

The Kiss, Gustav Klimt (1908).


Walter Benjamin (born 15 July, 1892; died 27 September, 1940) pictured above:Uncle Walt/Reb Benjamin (Photo by Gisele Freund)

In One Way Street (Einbahnstraße), Benjamin’s 1928 collection of short reflections, dreams, thoughts, and aphorisms, he famously included some advice for writers:

Post No Bills

The Writer’s Technique in Thirteen Theses

I. Anyone intending to embark on a major work should be lenient with himself and, having completed a stint, deny himself nothing that will not prejudice the next.

II. Talk about what you have written, by all means, but do not read from it while the work is in progress. Every gratification procured in this way will slacken your tempo. If this regime is followed, the growing desire to communicate will become in the end a motor for completion.

III. In your working conditions avoid everyday mediocrity. Semi-relaxation, to a background of insipid sounds, is degrading. On the other hand, accompaniment by an étude or a cacophony of voices can become as significant for work as the perceptible silence of the night. If the latter sharpens the inner ear, the former acts as a touchstone for a diction ample enough to bury even the most wayward sounds.

IV. Avoid haphazard writing materials. A pedantic adherence to certain papers, pens, inks is beneficial. No luxury, but an abundance of these utensils is indispensable.

V. Let no thought pass incognito, and keep your notebook as strictly as the authorities keep their register of aliens.

VI. Keep your pen aloof from inspiration, which it will then attract with magnetic power. The more circumspectly you delay writing down an idea, the more maturely developed it will be on surrendering itself. Speech conquers thought, but writing commands it.

VII. Never stop writing because you have run out of ideas. Literary honour requires that one break off only at an appointed moment (a mealtime, a meeting) or at the end of the work.

VIII. Fill the lacunae of inspiration by tidily copying out what is already written. Intuition will awaken in the process.

IX. Nulla dies sine linea – but there may well be weeks.

X. Consider no work perfect over which you have not once sat from evening to broad daylight.

XI. Do not write the conclusion of a work in your familiar study. You would not find the necessary courage there.

XII. Stages of composition: idea – style – writing. The value of the fair copy is that in producing it you confine attention to calligraphy. The idea kills inspiration, style fetters the idea, writing pays off style.

XIII. The work is the death mask of its conception.

—from One Way Street (1928; translated from the German by Edmund Jephcott and included in Reflections: Essays, Aphorisms, Autobiographical Writings, by Walter Benjamin, edited by Peter Demetz [1975])

Pictured above, a 1904 postcard depicting the study of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) in Weimar, a locale that features (albeit negatively) in the piece below from One Way Street (Einbahnstraße), a collection of short writings composed from 1924 to 1928 by Walter Benjamin (born 15 July, 1892; died 27 September, 1940)

As Peter Demetz, a Benjamin scholar, has said about One Way Street, ‘the title suggests, in its urban metaphor, the fortunate turn of a street that opens into a striking view of an entire new panorama, and indicates to readers that they should confront each of the little pieces as an abruptly illuminating moment of modern experience—intimate, literary, and political.’

No. 113

The hours that hold the figure and the form
Have run their course with the house of dream.

Cellar. We have long forgotten the ritual by which the house of our life was erected. But when it is under assault and enemy bombs are already taking their toll, what enervated, perverse antiquities do they not lay bare in the foundations. What things were interred and sacrificed amid magic incantations, what horrible cabinet of curiosities lies there below, where the deepest shafts are reserved for what is most commonplace. In a night of despair I dreamed I was with my first friend from my school days, whom I have seen for decades and had scarcely ever remembered in that time, tempestuously renewing our friendship and brotherhood. But when I awoke it became clear that what despair had brought to light like a detonation was the corpse of that boy, who had been immured as a warning: that whoever one day lives here may in no respect resemble him.

Vestibule. A visit to Goethe’s house. I cannot recall having seen rooms in the dream. It was a perspective of whitewashed corridors like those in school. Two elderly English lady visitors and a curator are the dream’s extras. The curator requests us to sign the visitors’ book lying open on a desk at the farthest end of a passage. On reaching it, I find as I turn the pages my name already entered in big, unruly, childish characters.

Dining Hall. In a dream I saw myself in Goethe’s study. It bore no resemblance to the one in Weimar. Above all, it was very small and had only one window. The side of the writing desk abutted on the wall opposite the window. Sitting and writing at it was the poet, in extreme old age. I was standing to one side when he broke off to give me a small vase, an urn from antiquity, as a present. I turned it between my hands. An immense heat filled the room. Goethe rose to his feet and accompanied me to an adjoining chamber, where a table was set for my relatives. It seemed prepared, however, for many more than their number. Doubtless there were places for my ancestor, too. At the end, on the right, I sat down beside Goethe. When the meal was over, he rose with difficulty, and by gesturing I sought leave to support him. Touching his elbow, I began to weep for emotion.’

—from One Way Street (1928; translated from the German by Edmund Jephcott and included in Reflections: Essays, Aphorisms, Autobiographical Writings, by Walter Benjamin, edited by Peter Demetz [1975])



Jorge Luis Borges & Jacques Derrida

Jacques Derrida (July 15, 1930 - 2004) & Walter Benjamin (July 15, 1892 - 1940, suicide)…

Above: Frère Jacques/Reb Derrida

“I have a very complicated rapport with my image. There is a mixture of, how should I say this, a narcissistic horror – I don’t like my image.”

To return to the question of narcissism, they are, paradoxically, the parts that we see the least easily. We can look in a mirror and see ourselves and have a reasonably accurate sense of what we look like. But it’s very difficult to have an image of our own act of looking or to have a true image of our own hands as they are moving. It’s the Other who knows what our hands and eyes are like. These - how do you say - these gestures of the hands, are seen better by the Other than myself.
Jacques Derrida


1 comment:

Zohreh Khaleghi said...

Share the time
Share the moment
Shear the time of
In between
on the thorn
of between
shore up
to share the time
the moment