Monday, November 1, 2010

Behind the Seen


Andre Breton and his Surrealist Group at the Gates of the Desert

این دور و برِ رندان

Alfred Jarry, French Ubu’ist writer, cyclist and pataphysicist - died this day in 1907 of tuberculosis, aggravated by drug and alcohol use (he worshipped absinthe, the “green goddess”).


Photo of Jarry by Felix Vallotton


work by William Merritt Chase, American artist, born Nov. 1, 1849 - d. 1916: Blue Kimono, c. 1888 - Oil on canvas (Parrish Art Museum, Southampton, New York)

Charlie Kaufman, one of the finer screen-writers and directors of our day: b. Nov. 1, 1958…

His oeuvre, in part: Being John Malkovich (1999; writer); Adaptation (2002; writer); Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002; writer); Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004; writer); Synecdoche, New York (2008; writer, director)…


Edward Said, the radical leftist academic and Palestinian activist, would have been 75 today. He died of leukemia in 2003…

In the provocative early formulation of his theory on Orientalism, Said said:

“Since the time of Homer every European, in what he could say about the Orient, was a racist, an imperialist, and almost totally ethnocentric.”


Nov. 1, 1871 was the birthday of American novelist and short story writer, Stephen Crane.

Crane brought new life to American prose in the Naturalist vein, fusing it with a form of Impressionism and rough lyricism hitherto unknown. Crane’s novella Maggie: A Girl of the Streets is an example of social issues being thematized without undue sentimantalism - and his master-piece The Red Badge of Courage stands as one of the most complex depictions of war and battle ever produced in English…

“The line, broken into moving fragments by the ground, went calmly on through fields and woods. The youth looked at the men nearest him, and saw, for the most part, expressions of deep interest, as if they were investigating something that had fascinated them. One or two stepped with overvaliant airs as if they were already plunged into war. Others walked as upon thin ice. The greater part of the untested men appeared quiet and absorbed. They were going to look at war, the red animal—war, the blood-swollen god. And they were deeply engrossed in this march.” — STEPHEN CRANE, The Red Badge of Courage

Stephen Crane succumbed to tuberculosis at the young age 28 in 1900…


Hannah Höch (Nov. 1, 1889 – 1978) was a German Dada artist. She is best known for her work of the Weimar period, when she was one of the originators of photomontage…

Above: Self-Portrait, c. 192


Luchino Visconti, Italian master director, was born Nov. 2, 1906 (d. 1976)…

Among his many sensitive studies of human psychology, perhaps none is finer than his adaptation of Death in Venice, where the homoerotic fascination buried in Thomas Mann’s novel is brought to the fore…


Birthday of a movie star - Burt Lancaster, a man with his heart in the right place: Nov. 2, 1913 - 1994…

Photo w. splodge and signature, via NYPL


k.d. lang - fine Canadian singer and songwriter, b. Nov. 2, 1961…

k.d. lang: Helpless, from Hymns of the 49th Parallel, 2004


Giuseppe Sinopoli was an Italian conductor and composer, b. Nov. 2, 1946 (d. 2001)…

Sinopoli studied composition under Stockhausen, but also found time to take a medical degree. His single most famous composition is perhaps his opera Lou Salomé, which received its first production in Munich in 1981. His books include Masterpieces of Greek Ceramics from the Sinopoli Collection

I remember the shock of hearing of his death by heart-attack in the middle of a performance of Aïda, on April 20, 2001 (my birthday) I had just seen him perform a superb concert staging of Puccini’s Turandot a few days before…


Monumental minimalist artist Richard Serra is 71 today…

Richard Serra - Sculptor: “Tilted Arc,” New York, N.Y. Photographed in New York, N.Y. © 2009 Oliver Morris


Russion-born surrealist artist, Boris Margo, b. Nov. 2, 1902 (d. 1995) lived in New York City since 1930…

Above, from the so-called Portfolio, No. 1: Floating Objects Illumined #4, 1940 - color cellocut on paper (Smithsonian)


Mississippi John Hurt, blues performer and soft-spoken gentleman - died this day in 1966 from a heart attack…

Photo: Rowland Scherman

Mississippi John Hurt: Make Me A Pallet On Your Floor


Greek poet Odysseas Elytis, 1979 Nobel Literature Laureate was born Nov. 2, 1911 (d. 1996)…

Here then am I
created for the young Korai and the Aegean islands,
lover of the deer’s leaping,
initiate in the Mystery of olive leaves,
sun-drinker and locust-killer.
Here am I, face to face
with the black shirts of the ruthless
and of the years’ empty belly that aborted
its own children, in heat!
Wind releases the elements and thunder assaults the mountains.
Fate of the innocent, alone again, here you are in the Straits!
In the Straits I opened my hands.
In the Straits I emptied my hands
and saw no other riches, heard no other riches
but cool fountains running.
Pomegranates or Zephyr or Kisses.
Each to his own weapons. I said:
In the Straits I’ll open my pomegranates.
In the Straits I’ll post Zephyrs as sentries.
I’ll unleash the old kisses canonized by my longing!
Wind releases the elements and thunder assaults the mountains.
Fate of the innocent, you are my own Fate!

Translation: Edmund Keeley and George Savvidis
From: The Axion esti


Pipes et vases à boire, also known as La tabagie, painted c. 1737 by Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin (born 2 November, 1699; died 6 December, 1779); in the collection of the Musée du Louvre, Paris


Lucan (born 3 November, 39 AD; died 30 April, 65 AD) pictured above in the antique bust in Cordoba, his birthplace

‘By envious fate’s decrees
Abide not long the mightiest lords of earth;
Beneath too heavy a burden great the fall.
Thus Rome o’ergrew her strength. So when that hour,
The last in all the centuries, shall sound
The world’s disruption, all things shall revert
To that primaeval chaos, stars on stars
Shall crash; and fiery meteors from the sky
Plunge in the ocean. Earth shall then no more
Front with her bulwark the encroaching sea:
The moon, indignant at her path oblique,
Shall drive her chariot ‘gainst her brother Sun
And claim the day for hers; and discord huge
Shall rend the spheres asunder.
On themselves
Great powers are dashed: such bounds the gods have placed
Upon the prosperous; nor doth Fortune lend
To any nations, so that they may strike
The sovereign power that rules the earth and sea,
The weapons of her envy. Triple reign
And baleful compact for divided power —
Ne’er without peril separate before —
Made Rome their victim. Oh! Ambition blind,
That stirred the leaders so to join their strength
In peace that ended ill, their prize the world!
For while the Sea on Earth and Earth on Air
Lean for support: while Titan runs his course,
And night with day divides an equal sphere,
No king shall brook his fellow, nor shall power
Endure a rival. Search no foreign lands:
These walls are proof that in their infant days
A hamlet, not the world, was prize enough
To cause the shedding of a brother’s blood.’

—from the Pharsalia (written 61-65 AD; translated from the Latin; translator unknown)


Vivien Leigh (Nov. 4, 1913 – 1967) was an English actress. She won two Best Actress Academy Awards for playing “southern belles”: Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind (1939) and Blanche DuBois in the film version of A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), a role she had also played on stage in London’s West End…

Photo above: Vivien Leigh by Madame Yovende, 1936 - colour dye transfer print (NPG, London)

Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy,(3 February 1809 – 4 November 1847),German Romantic composer, conductor and musicologist - died this day in 1847 in Leipzig after a series of strokes…

There is one god — Bach — and Mendelssohn is his prophet.” — Hector Berlioz

Mendelssohn: Piano Trios No.2 in C Minor (Op. 66, III), Scherzo- Molto Allegro Quasi Presto - Yo-Yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman, Emanuel Ax - from Mendelssohn Piano Trios (2010)


Clara the Rhinoceros, a painting by Pietro Longhi (born 5 November, 1701; died 8 May, 1785); first exhibited in 1751; in the collection of the Ca’ Rezzonico, Venice


Georges Cziffra (born 5 November, 1921; died 15 January, 1994), here performing the Valse-Impromptu, composed some time between 1842 and 1852 by Franz Liszt (1811-1886)

I believe that this performance was recorded in the early 1960s. One can easily see in this footage the leather wristband that Cziffra wore, as a remembrance of his time in labor camp, from 1950 to 1953, as punishment for trying to leave Hungary.


Walter Gieseking (born 5 November, 1895; died 26 October, 1956), performing nos. 2 through 4 of the Lieder ohne Worte (Songs Without Words), Book Four, composed between 1839 and 1841 by Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847); I believe this recording was made in the early to mid 1950s


Robert Musil (born 6 November, 1880; died 15 April, 1942) pictured above in a 1918 photograph

Transport of wounded men. Coming from Poland, days, nights, nights, days; a goods wagon with cots carries the most severely wounded who are not expected to survive the journey. A man with a severe bullet wound in the lung, and another whose hip joint has been smashed are carrying on eristical dialogues. One is Tyrolean, the other Viennese. The Viennese insists that the Tyroleans were no good at all in the war, the Tyrolean gets worked up about it. The Viennese with the bullet wound in the lung is constantly chipping away at him. Often the whole wagon can’t stop laughing. Thus some minor matter in the foreground can hold up death itself. On arrival, the Viennese is dead. [Even better, have them quarrel over which is better, the Viennese or Bohemian cuisine. That’s what nationalism is all about!]

When the train stops most of them start to bellow like animals, feel unbearable pain, and relieve themselves. Officers and men.’

—from a notebook Musil kept during the First World War, published in Diaries: 1899-1941


Gottlob Frege (born 8 November, 1848; died 26 July, 1925), pictured above, I believe, in the first decade of the 20th century

‘Your discovery of the contradiction caused me the greatest surprise and, I would almost say, consternation, since it has shaken the basis on which I intended to build my arithmetic…. It is all the more serious since, with the loss of my rule V, not only the foundations of my arithmetic, but also the sole possible foundations of arithmetic seem to vanish.’

—from Frege’s famous letter to Bertrand Russell, in response to Russell’s letter of June, 1902, in which Russell pointed out a paradox in Frege’s Grundgesetze der Arithmetik (The Basic Laws of Arithmetic), which obtains when one posits the set of all sets that do not contain themselves


John Milton,(9 December 1608 – 8 November 1674) blind English poet, known for his grand epic poem Paradise Lost - died of kidney failure on this day in 1674…

The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a heav’n of hell, a hell of heav’n.

Painting of Milton, c. 1629 - oil on canvas, feigned oval (NPG, London)


Alain Delon, b. Nov. 8, 1935 - 75 today!

Delon was one of the best-loved European actors of the 60s and the 70s, and a specimen of charismatic masculine beauty…

Delon starred in numerous French and Italian films directed by some of the best in the business, including Michelangelo Antonioni, Luchino Visconti and Louis Malle…

Photo: Alain Delon in “costume” as Tom Ripley (in Plein Soleil, 1960 - Dir. René Clément)


One of the best English writers of the 1980s and ’90s is Japanese-born Kazuo Ishiguro - b. Nov. 8, 1954 - who was among the wave of so-called ‘Spicy Brits’ that dominated the re-invigoation of the English novel in that period.

Ishiguro won the Booker Prize in 1989 for Remains of the Day, a novel set in a large English country house, where servants and masters alike have to resist the temptation of Fascism, and also come to terms with self-sacrifice versus fulfilment - a classic carpe diem theme…

Later works include The Unconsoled (1995), When We Were Orphans (2000), Never Let Me Go (2005)…

Photo by Sally Soames, 1989 - bromide print (NPG, London)


Arnold Bax, English composer - Nov. 8, 1883 - 1953 - whose musical style blended elements of romanticism and impressionism, often with influences from Irish literature and landscape…

Photo: Arnold Bax, c. 1922 - photogravure; Herbert Lambert (NPG, London)

Arnold Bax: Elegiac Trio for flute, viola and harp (1916)

The Nash Ensemble: Philippa Davies, flute; Roger Chase, viola; Skaila Kanga, harp


One hard-boiled lady:

Martha Gellhorn, Nov. 8, 1908 - 1998 - war correspondent and novelist, famous perhaps chiefly for being Hemingway’s third wife in the 1940s. She, of course, resented reflected fame and notoriety and preferred to be judged on her own merits as a writer, which were considerable…

She reported on the Spanish Civil War, World War II (where Hemingway had appropriated her press credentials, so that she had to sneak around, talking only to non-ranking soldiers), the Vietnam War, The Six-Day War in 1967 and several other minor conflicts…

Gellhorn was a leftist in terms of politics, but she sympathised with the state of Israel (after witnessing the liberation of Dachau in 1945). Both her parents were secular half-Jews, and Gellhorn was an atheist…

Photo: Martha Gellhorn with Ernest Hemingway on their honeymoon in Honolulu in 1940.


Ivan Turgenev (born 9 November, 1818; died 3 September, 1883), pictured above in an 1872 portrait by Vasily Perov (1834-1882)

‘Us two in the room; my dog and me…. Outside a fearful storm is howling.

The dog sits in front of me, and looks me straight in the face.
And I, too, look into his face.
He wants, it seems, to tell me something. He is dumb, he is without words, he does not understand himself—but I understand him.
I understand that at this instant there is living in him and in me the same feeling, that there is no difference between us. We are the same; in each of us there burns and shines the same trembling spark.
Death sweeps down, with a wave of its chill broad wing….
And the end!
Who then can discern what was the spark that glowed in each of us?
No! We are not beast and man that glance at one another….
They are the eyes of equals, those eyes riveted on one another.
And in each of these, in the beast and in the man, the same life huddles up in fear close to the other.’

—February 1878; translated from the Russian by Constance Garnett


Jimmy and Liz, a 1963 painting of Elizabeth Porter and James Schuyler (born 9 November, 1923; died 12 April, 1991) by Fairfield Porter (1907-1975)


If you’ve ever been in a car
that was hit by a train
(a tearing like metal shears)
flip spin
“Why I’m perfectly OK!”
this streaming blood
a euphoric sweat of thanksgiving
and later
a hunk of scrap iron
just there on the turnpike
for no reason
flies up and
it goes on your new underneath
well, it’s like you were thrown
grabbed by the scruff of the neck
head over heels right into Proust’s steamy cup
just another crumb
of scalloped cookie
odious and total memory
(of the cells, no doubt)
in prickle-green, speed-lashed

—from Freely Espousing (1969), dedicated to Anne and Fairfield Porter

In late 1965, Schuyler’s close friend Fairfield Porter was driving his van to a sculpture studio in Bridgehampton, Long Island. On Scuttlehole Road, just off the Montauk Highway, Porter came to a railroad crossing, with a train approaching. Porter had a bad habit of racing across crossings in front of coming trains, and he tried to do that here. His van was hit, was turned upside down and was cut in half. Amazingly, Porter survived with cuts and bruises. The police report states that Porter was found walking in circles in a state of shock, holding his car keys, and repeating, ‘My wife told me not to do this.’

(this information is taken from Justin Spring’s Fairfield Porter: A Life in Art [2000])


Anne Sexton (Nov. 9, 1928 - 1974), brilliant American poet, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1967, troubled by a bipolar disorder, suicide…

Anne Sexton: The Room of My Life

in the room of my life
the objects keep changing.
Ashtrays to cry into,
the suffering brother of the wood walls,
the forty-eight keys of the typewriter
each an eyeball that is never shut,
the books, each a contestant in a beauty contest,
the black chair, a dog coffin made of Naugahyde,
the sockets on the wall
waiting like a cave of bees,
the gold rug
a conversation of heels and toes,
the fireplace
a knife waiting for someone to pick it up,
the sofa, exhausted with the exertion of a whore,
the phone
two flowers taking root in its crotch,
the doors
opening and closing like sea clams,
the lights
poking at me,
lighting up both the soil and the laugh.
The windows,
the starving windows
that drive the trees like nails into my heart.
Each day I feed the world out there
although birds explode
right and left.
I feed the world in here too,
offering the desk puppy biscuits.
However, nothing is just what it seems to be.
My objects dream and wear new costumes,
compelled to, it seems, by all the words in my hands
and the sea that bangs in my throat.

— from The Complete Poems of Anne Sexton (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1981)


Velimir (Viktor Vladimirovich) Khlebnikov (Nov. 9, 1885 - 1922) was a poet and prose writer, an outstanding figure of Russian avant-garde art, one of the initiators of Russian futurism, a reformer of poetic language, and an experimentalist in word creation and “zaum” (roughly translated as “trans-sense” or “trans-rational”), i.e. the ultimate poetic language, devised by him…

A Refusal

It is far more pleasant
to gaze at the stars
than to sign
a death sentence.
I am far more pleased
to listen to the voices of flowers
whispering “It is he!”
lowering their headlets
while I pace the garden
than to view dark rifles
of the guards killing
those who want
to kill me.
And this is why I will never,
No, never be, a leader.

—January, April 1922

(Transl. Alex Cigale)

(Photo of Khlebnikov, 1908)


Couperin, in a portrait made c. 1730 by a painter now unknown (Chateau de Versailles)

The Pompe funèbre, from the Suite pour violes de gambe No. 2 in A, composed in the late 1720s by François Couperin (born 10 November, 1668; died 11 September, 1733); performed here by Wieland Kuijken, playing a 1690 viola da gamba; Kaori Uemura, playing a 1700 viola da gamba; and robert Kohnen, playing a harpsichord manufactured in 1755

Couperin, a great keyboardist, published his two suites for the viola de gamba in 1728, the year his good friend, Marin Marais, unexpectedly died.

‘The funeral [i.e. the Pompe funèbre] is often interpreted as a tombeau for Marais, but Couperin could not have known that Marais was to die so suddenly and he would probably have preferred it if the master had been able to play the suites to him. However, maybe it was indeed an adieu, a farewell to the great period of the viol—and therefore also to Marais.’

—Pieter Andriessen, in the liner notes for the above-referenced CD


Fyodor Dostoyevsky (born 11 November, 1821; died 9 February, 1881 [New Style dates]), pictured above in an 1872 portrait by Vasily Perov (1834-1882); in the collection of the Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow

’ “Ha, ha, ha! You will be finding enjoyment in toothache next,” you cry, with a laugh.

“Well, even in toothache there is enjoyment,” I answer. I had toothache for a whole month and I know there is. In that case, of course, people are not spiteful in silence, but moan; but they are not candid moans, they are malignant moans, and the malignancy is the whole point. The enjoyment of the sufferer finds expression in those moans; if he did not feel enjoyment in them he would not moan. It is a good example, gentlemen, and I will develop it. Those moans express in the first place all the aimlessness of your pain, which is so humiliating to your consciousness; the whole legal system of nature on which you spit disdainfully, of course, but from which you suffer all the same while she does not. They express the consciousness that you have no enemy to punish, but that you have pain; the consciousness that in spite of all possible Wagenheims you are in complete slavery to your teeth; that if someone wishes it, your teeth will leave off aching, and if he does not, they will go on aching another three months; and that finally if you are still contumacious and still protest, all that is left you for your own gratification is to thrash yourself or beat your wall with your fist as hard as you can, and absolutely nothing more. Well, these mortal insults, these jeers on the part of someone unknown, end at last in an enjoyment which sometimes reaches the highest degree of voluptuousness. I ask you, gentlemen, listen sometimes to the moans of an educated man of the nineteenth century suffering from toothache, on the second or third day of the attack, when he is beginning to moan, not as he moaned on the first day, that is, not simply because he has toothache, not just as any coarse peasant, but as a man affected by progress and European civilisation, a man who is “divorced from the soil and the national elements,” as they express it now-a-days. His moans become nasty, disgustingly malignant, and go on for whole days and nights. And of course he knows himself that he is doing himself no sort of good with his moans; he knows better than anyone that he is only lacerating and harassing himself and others for nothing; he knows that even the audience before whom he is making his efforts, and his whole family, listen to him with loathing, do not put a ha’porth of faith in him, and inwardly understand that he might moan differently, more simply, without trills and flourishes, and that he is only amusing himself like that from ill-humour, from malignancy. Well, in all these recognitions and disgraces it is that there lies a voluptuous pleasure. As though he would say: “I am worrying you, I am lacerating your hearts, I am keeping everyone in the house awake. Well, stay awake then, you, too, feel every minute that I have toothache. I am not a hero to you now, as I tried to seem before, but simply a nasty person, an impostor. Well, so be it, then! I am very glad that you see through me. It is nasty for you to hear my despicable moans: well, let it be nasty; here I will let you have a nastier flourish in a minute….” You do not understand even now, gentlemen? No, it seems our development and our consciousness must go further to understand all the intricacies of this pleasure. You laugh? Delighted. My jests, gentlemen, are of course in bad taste, jerky, involved, lacking self-confidence. But of course that is because I do not respect myself. Can a man of perception respect himself at all?’

—from Notes from the Underground (1864; translated from the Russian by Constance Garnett)


Mexican novelist Carlos Fuentes - a giant in contemporary Latin American letters - was born Nov. 11, 1928…

Born in 1928 in Panama City, the son of a Mexican diplomat, Fuentes was raised in Washington, D.C., Buenos Aires, Argentina, and Santiago, Chile. His major works include: Where the Air is Clearer (1958); The Death of Artemio Cruz (1962); A Change of Skin (1967); Terra Nostra (1975); The Hydra Head (1978); The Old Gringo (1985); and The Campaign (1990)

“Perfect order is the forerunner of perfect horror.” — C.F.


Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. (Nov. 11, 1922 - 2007) was one of my very favourite writers, and of course still is - despite the fact that he is dead (so it goes…)

“I tell you, we are here on Earth to fart around, and don’t let anybody tell you different.” — Kurt Vonnegut

Photo: Jack Mitchell, 1970


A view of the north pole of the Moon (showing the Mare Imbrium in the upper left), assembled from photographs made by the Galileo spacecraft in 1992 (NASA Images)

A poem written by Antoni Słonimski (born 15 November 1895; died 4 July 1976) following the news of the launch of Sputnik 1 and the beginning of the ‘space race’:

The Defence of the Moon

The friend of lovers, the poets’ companion
Has faithfully brightened the night for centuries.
It is with you who love, with you who dream,
Who should defend the moon if not poets?

Let it swim in silver sleep. Is Earth not sufficient
For the eternal task of Sisyphus and Antigone’s despair?
Must we also have that target, that superearthly shield,
Which turns the sky into a firing range?

Gluttonous eater of animal corpses, lewd
Murderer and destroyer, fertile beyond measure,
Motivated by Nature’s two imperatives:
To save one’s own hide and to propagate the species,

He grows already, he arms himself, an astral hero.
The Mare Imbrium, the quiet Mare Tenebrarum,
The Valley of Herodotus and Tycho’s Crater
He will fill with human agony and the nightmare of Earth.

Moral law is in me and the starry sky
Is above me. So what, if Law is disgraced by Oppression?
Let the moons turn unchanged in their courses,
Let at least the sky remain pure.

translated from the Polish by Peter Dale Scott and Czesław Miłosz


MA In Cambridge, 1963

Margaret Atwood (born 18 November, 1939), pictured above in a 2006 photograph for Vanity Fair

Rat Song

When you hear me singing

you get the rifle down

and the flashlight, aiming for my brain,

but you always miss

and when you set out the poison

I piss on it

to warn the others.

You think: That one’s too clever,

she’s dangerous, because

I don’t stick around to be slaughtered

and you think I’m ugly too

despite my fur and pretty teeth

and my six nipples and snake tail.

All I want is love, you stupid

humanist. See if you can.

Right, I’m a parasite, I live off your

leavings, gristle and rancid fat,

I take without asking

and make nests in your cupboards

out of your suits and underwear.

You’d do the same if you could,

if you could afford to share

my crystal hatreds.

It’s your throat I want, my mate

trapped in your throat.

Though you try to drown him

with your greasy person voice,

he is hiding / between your syllables

I can hear him singing.

—first published in Poetry, 1974

Carl Maria von Weber, in an 1824 portrait by Sir Thomas Lawrence (1769-1830)

The second movement, Andante con moto, from the Piano Sonata No. 3 in d minor, published in 1816 by Carl Maria von Weber (born 18 or 19 November, 1786; died 4 or 5 June, 1826); performed here by Sviatoslav Richter (1915-1997), for a 1993 recording for Decca


Nazim Hikmet was a Turkish poet of international acclaim. He was born Nov. 20, 1901 (d. 1963). A ‘romantic revolutionary’ of temperament, he was persecuted and imprisoned in Turkey for his Communist affiliation. He was forced into exile in Russia and died in Moscow of a heart attack.

Nâzım Hikmet: On Living, pt. 3

This earth will grow cold, a star among stars
and one of the smallest,
a gilded mote on blue velvet -
I mean this, our great earth.
This earth will grow cold one day.
not like a block of ice
or a dead cloud even
but like an empty walnut it will roll along
in pitch-black space.
You must grieve for this right now
- you have to feel this sorrow now -
for the world must be loved this much
if you’re going to say “I lived”…

February 1948


André Gide, French writer and Nobel Laureate, was born Nov. 22, 1869 (d. 1951). Giving Gide the Prize in 1947 may well have been the most courageous choice ever made by the Swedish academy: a homosexual, a critic of colonialism, a former Communist…

In his acceptance speech Gide observes acutely: “It seems to me, gentlemen, that your votes were cast not so much for my work as for the independent spirit that animates it, that spirit which in our time faces attacks from all possible quarters.”

André Gide: “Believe those who are seeking the truth; doubt those who find it; doubt everything, but don’t doubt of yourself.” — So Be It, or The Chips Are Down


Paul Celan, one of the most complex of all 20th C. European poets, was born Nov. 23, 1920 (d. 1970, suicide)

Quote: “There is nothing on earth that can prevent a poet from writing, not even the fact that he’s Jewish and German is the language of his poems.”


Paul Celan: In Prague

The half death,
suckled plump on our life,
lay ash-image-true all around us –

we too
went on drinking, soul-crossed, two daggers,
sewn onto heavenstones, wornblood-born
in the night bed,

larger and large
we grew through one another, there was
no more name for
what drove us (one of the thirty-
how many
was my living shadow
that climbed the madness stairs up to you?),

a tower
the Half built itself into Wither,
a Hradčany
out of pure goldmakers-No,

Bone Hebrew,
ground down to sperm,
ran through the hourglass
we swam through, two dreams now, tolling
counter time, in the squares.

— From Breathturn

(First published in Selected Poems and Prose of Paul Celan, translated by John Felstiner, New York: W.W. Norton, 2001 - reprinted in Janus Head, Vol 10, No. 1)


Alfred Schnittke, in a photograph made in the mid-1970s

The first movement, Lento, from the String Quartet No. 4, composed in 1989 by Alfred Schnittke (born 24 November, 1934; died 3 August, 1998); performed here by the Kronos Quartet, on a 1998 recording for Nonesuch


Baruch Spinoza (born 24 November 1632; died 21 February, 1677), pictured above in a c. 1665 portrait in the Gemäldesammlung der Herzog-August-Bibliothek, Wolfenbüttel, Germany)

‘Men are deceived if they think themselves free, an opinion which consists only in this, that they are conscious of their actions and ignorant of the causes by which they are determined.’

—from The Ethics (Ethica Ordine Geometrico Demonstrato), 1677


Laurence Stern (born 24 November, 1713; died 18 March, 1768), pictured above in a 1760 portrait by Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792); in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery, London

‘Digressions, incontestably, are the sunshine; —& they are the life, the soul of reading; — take them out of this book for instance, — you might as well take the book along with them.’

—from The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (1760-1767)


In the Salon of the Rue des Moulins, painted circa 1894 by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (born 24 November, 1864; died 9 September, 1901); in the collection of the Musée Toulouse-Lautrec, Albi, France


The third and fourth movements, Minuetto and Caccia, from the Trio Sonata No 6 in C by Gaetano Pugnani (born 27 November, 1731; died 15 July 1798); performed here by L’Astrée


Born Nov. 27, 1942 - burned brightly - died Sept. 17, 1970: Jimi Hendrix…

Photo: Gered Mankowitz, 1967 - bromide fibre print (NPG, London)

The Jimi Hendrix Experience: Hey Joe, 1966


Life Mask of William Blake (age sixty-five) by J.S. Deville, 1823

Poet, painter and mystic William Blake was born Nov. 28, 1757 (d. 1827). Considered a madman by his contemporaries his work received little attention while he was alive and for decades after his death. To Symbolists and neo-Romantics, however, Blake is a transcendent figure…

Love's secret

Never seek to tell thy love,
Love that never told can be;
For the gentle wind doth move
Silently, invisibly.

I told my love, I told my love,
I told her all my heart,
Trembling, cold, in ghastly fears.
Ah! she did depart!

Soon after she was gone from me,
A traveller came by,
Silently, invisibly:
He took her with a sigh.

William Blake


Mark Twain (pen-name of Samuel Clemens) (born 30 November, 1835; died 21 April, 1910), pictured above in an 1850 photograph by G. H. Jones

‘It was a big river, below Memphis; banks brimming full, everywhere, and very frequently more than full, the waters pouring out over the land, flooding the woods and fields for miles into the interior; and in places, to a depth of fifteen feet; signs, all about, of men’s hard work gone to ruin, and all to be done over again, with straitened means and a weakened courage. A melancholy picture, and a continuous one;—hundreds of miles of it. Sometimes the beacon lights stood in water three feet deep, in the edge of dense forests which extended for miles without farm, wood-yard, clearing, or break of any kind; which meant that the keeper of the light must come in a skiff a great distance to discharge his trust,—and often in desperate weather. Yet I was told that the work is faithfully performed, in all weathers; and not always by men, sometimes by women, if the man is sick or absent. The Government furnishes oil, and pays ten or fifteen dollars a month for the lighting and tending. A Government boat distributes oil and pays wages once a month.’

—from Life on the Mississippi (1883)


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