“Gaze we for nought in one another’s eyes?
Is not life teeming
Around the head and heart of you,
Weaving eternal mysteries
Seen and unseen, even at your side?
Oh, let them fill your heart, your generous heart,
And, when you lose your being in that bliss,
Give it what name you will-
You joy, love, heart, your God.
For me, I have no name
To give it: feeling’s surely all.
Names are but noise and smoke,
Obscuring heavenly light.”—Faust by Goethe
“Now, what a stupid threat! Well, really, all death threats are stupid and ridiculous. In what way can one be threatened other than with death? It would be truly clever or original to threaten someone with immortality!”—Interviews with Jorge Luis Borges by Roberto Alifano
“Before we go any further here, has it ever occurred to any of you that all this is simply one grand misunderstanding? Since you’re not here to learn anything, but to be taught so you can pass these tests, knowledge has to be organized so it can be taught, and it has to be reduced to information so it can be organized do you follow that? In other words this leads you to assume that organization is an inherent property of the knowledge itself, and that disorder and chaos are simply irrelevant forces that threaten it from the outside. In fact it’s the opposite. Order is simply a thin, perilous condition we try to impose on the basic reality of chaos …”—JR by William Gaddis
“People? They usually ask only stupid questions, forcing you to reply with equally stupid answers. For instance, they ask you what you do, not what you would have liked to do. They ask you what you own, not what you’ve lost. They ask about the woman you married, not about the one you love. About your name, but not if it suits you. They ask your age, but not how well you’ve lived those years. They ask about the city you live in, not about the city that lives in you. And they ask if you pray, not if you fear God.
So I’ve gotten used to answering these questions with silence. You know, when we shut up, we force others to reconsider their mistakes.”—Chaos of the Senses by Ahlam Mosteghanemi
overcome by the stink of mildewed wash, i have been three months behind in my rent for thirty years, my countrymen do not love me. even my lines have lines. we are getting old in a city where the old are invisible, i have nothing new to eat and barely five minutes to use the jane. and less time than that to revisit my father’s grave, i’ve worn the same underwear for fifteen of those thirty years and some pieces longer than that
writing friends is a luxury, enemies a necessity, my car was stripped and stolen months ago and i have no money with which to repair or replace it. my mentors have exiled me to the outskirts of nappy literacy, my wallet is dying of militant brain cancer, my lust for my country is frigid, the light excludes me and there is no degree for what is learned in the dark
i am too clumsy to steal big. there is a boogieman in New York City who conspires against and spreads rumors about my lost lip. i am so economically crippled even my begging cup has mold sprouting in its well. my son has mistaken me for a dragon and his history teachers keep trying to hose out these flames in my mouth, i do not attend my high school class reunions because too many of my classmates died in Vietnam or in the liquor lockers of America or in those classrooms long ago. there is a boogiewoman in Oberlin who conspires against me, her jealousy inspired by my imaginary imaginings
i am trapped in the hold of my greedy grief and expect to keep circling, i expect my son to escape and my husband to die during exquisite crisis, the federal bureau of pajamas is after my hot cross buns. i expect to awaken from sleep soon. i expect my banana nut bread to go stale and uneaten, i expect to die poemless and to be cremated in state ovens, i expect my ashes to be scattered like pollen, to take wing on the wind like buddhaflies
Attention African-American apparitions hung, burned or drowned before anyone alive was born:
please make a mortifying midnight appearance before the handyman standing on my porch this morning with a beard as wild as Walt Whitman’s.
Except he is the anti-Whitman, this white man With confederate pins littering his denim cap and jacket. (And by “mortify” I mean scare the shit out of him.)
I wish I were as tolerant as Walt Whitman waltzing across the battlefield like a song covering a cry of distress, but I want to be a storm
covering a confederate parade. The handyman’s insistence that there were brigades of black confederates is as oxymoronic as terms like “civil war,” “free slave.” It is the opposite of history.
Goodbye plantations doused in Sherman’s fire and homely lonesome women weeping over blue and gray bodies. Goodbye colored ghosts.
You could have headed north if there was a south to flee. In Louisiana north still begins with Mississippi, as far as I know. East is Alabama, west is Texas,
and here is this fool telling me there were blacks who fought to preserve slavery. Goodbye slavery. Hello black accomplices and accomplished blacks.
Hello Robert E. Lee bobble head doll on the handyman’s dashboard whistling Dixie
across our post racial country. Last night I watched several hours of television and saw no blacks. NASDAQ. NASCAR. Nadda Black.
I wish there were more ghost stories about lynched negroes haunting the mobs that lynched them. Do I believe no one among us was alive between 1861 and 1865?
I do and I don’t. We all have to go somewhere and we are probably always already there.
I know only one ghost story featuring a brother in Carrolton, Alabama, dragged to the center of town in a storm for some crime he didn’t commit.
As he was hung lightening struck a window on the courthouse he’s been haunting ever since.
Attention apparitions: this is a solicitation very much like a prayer. Your presence is requested tonight when this man is polishing his civil war relics and singing “Good Ol’ Rebel Soldier”* to himself.
Hello sliding chairs. Hello vicious whispering shadows. I’m a reasonable man, but I want to be as inexplicable as something hanging a dozen feet in the air.
“Now, welcome, twilight, weave you silken skein
Within this homely simply sanctuary,
And bring my heart the bitter-sweet of pain
That lives on dewy hope of love-to-be.
Her stillness breathes through every listening sense”—Faust by Goethe
Today I turned twenty-three. It has been a beautiful weekend. My love reaches around all of you. The people in my life form a composite without which I’m nothing. Anticipate hearing everyone’s stories. In the words of Clarice Lispector, “Amen for all of us.”
It is where you retreat to after tired conversations and hollow laughter with the caps lock turned on. It is space: Emotional vacuum to rest the heaviest of hearts, just for a while. It is the conscious disregard of repercussions behind breaking social rules. Like white noise and the blue screen of death emerging, it is a sign for you to go to bed. Perhaps a void was never meant to be filled in the first place.
“The stars go up and down before my only eye – seasons come round to see me alone. I cannot lean so hard on any arm as on a sunbeam – so solid men are not to my sincerity as is the shimmer of the fields.”—Journal: Volume 1 (1837-1844) by Henry David Thoreau
“To be obsessed with the mystery of a person to the point of seduction and even annoyance might offer the chance to write a beautiful novel - if you were a writer. But if you were a lover, the riddle was your curse, pure torture. Love turned us into crime inspectors and investigation became a secondary career. Like every lover, you want to know everything about him, his past and present, the names of those he has loved and those who have loved him, the cities he has visited, the houses he has inhabited, the jobs he has done, and the places he has frequented. We chase our lovers with questions to find out their signs, hobbies and identities to the point that we borrow a book of his purely for the pleasure of spying on his thoughts.”—Ahlam Mosteghanemi in Chaos of the senses. (via n1mra)
You are earth and death. Your season is darkness and silence. Nothing alive is more distant than you from the dawn.
When you seem to wake you are nothing but grief, it’s in your eyes, your blood, but you don’t feel it. You live like a a stone lives, like the enduring earth. And you are dressed in dreams gestures agonies that you ignore. Grief like the water of a lake trembles and encircles you. There are rings on the water. You allow them to vanish. You are earth and death.
“What is fame to the living man – If he live aright the sound of no man’s voice will resound through the aisle of his secluded life. His life is a hallowed silence – a fane. The loudest sounds have to thank my little ear that they are heard.”—Journal: Volume 1 (1837-1844) by Henry David Thoreau
We’re walking down a dim street in the Chiado. Something about tonight feels so right. I stop for a moment to knell down and tie my shoelace and I see her standing over me. A wall with crumbling plaster is behind her. It must be something about how she has her scarf wrapped around her…
Alifano: One of the most beautiful definitions of the aesthetic act comes from you, Borges. In one of your essays you state: ‘The aesthetic act is the imminence of a revelation which is never fulfilled.’
Borges: Ah, yes. I did say that. It’s true. Certain sundowns, certain dawns, some weathered faces are at the point of revealing something to us, and this imminence of a revelation which is not fulfilled is, for me, the aesthetic act. Now, language itself is also an aesthetic creation. I believe this is indisputable; a proof is that when we study a foreign language, when we are compelled to look at words closely, as though with a magnifying glass, we see them either as beautiful or not. This doesn’t happen with one’s own language, since we see and feel our words as integral to our expression.
Alifano: You have said that metaphors exist from out very beginnings. Could you expound on that concept, Borges?
Borges: Yes, certainly. I believe that metaphors, if they are truly metaphors, exist from the beginning of time. I don’t believe it is easy to invent them or to discover affinities that have not already been perceived. But we express them differently. I have occasionally thought of reducing all metaphors to five or six which seem to me to be the essential metaphors.
Alifano: What are those metaphors?
Borges: Well, time and a river; life and dreams; death and sleep; stars and eyes; flowers and women. These would be, I believe, the essential metaphors that are found in all literatures; and then there are others that are whimsical. I believe that the poet’s task is to discover metaphors, even though they may already exist. I think that a metaphor doesn’t come to a poet as a revelation of a similarity between disparate things: a metaphor is revealed to the poet in its wholeness, in its form, in its intonation. I don’t think that Emily Dickinson thought: ‘This quiet dust was men and women,’ and that afterward she changed the latter phrase to ‘gentlemen and ladies’; that seems unlikely to me. It is more likely that all this was given to her by someone–whom we could call the spirit, the muse–as a single even, at a single time. I don’t believe that one arrives at poetry by means of progressions, by searching all possible variations of words. I believe that one comes upon the proper adjective or adjectives. I remember a verse by Rafael Obligado which reads, ‘Estalla el cóncavo trueno’ (the concave thunder bursts). And I am sure that he didn’t arrive at such an expression by trying several adjectives accented on the antepenultimate syllable; I think he came directly upon the word cóncavo, which is the precise word, the word we feel as proper, and it is the one that gives the verse its beauty.
”—Twenty Four Conversations with Borges: Interviews by Roberto Alifano 1981-1983
This may seem out of context but it came to mind because my little brother is reading To Kill A Mockingbird in school right now:
I have strong feelings about public schools’ reading curriculum in America and one of them is this book. In my opinion To Kill A Mockingbird should be white out from that curriculum, especially for high school students. It’s harsh because many people have attachment and fondness towards books and characters and Harper Lee’s book appears to have a large and appreciative following.
I have never had any fondness towards this book and have no qualms dissing it. When I was a small kid literature on the civil rights movement was my equivalent of Marvel or the Power Rangers and people like Malcolm X were the equivalent of my superheroes. By the time I read To Kill A Mockingbird in high school I could recognize the bastardization of how civil rights were fought for and against–with blood and with questions of conscience and of the soul. It’s a real point to say that black Americans may not have made as much progress (as fast) against injustice without a number of white Americans fighting with them. It’s another thing to propose, as Lee’s book and movies such as The Help do, that white Americans were the sole leaders in the fight against injustice, that white Americans were needed for black Americans to understand their plight and to fight against injustice. Overall the book’s depiction of this battle is neutered and either ignorant or dishonest. There’s also no moral conflict in the book; as you read it there’s no engagement with the questions of the time, the era is a simple backdrop for Atticus’ “wisdom” Lee’s precious pap. And lastly, the book is boring and is most rightly assessed by Flannery O’Connor who described it as a “children’s book.”
All this to say that maybe someday we will actually replace this self-congratulatory pulp with a really great work like The Autobiography of Malcolm X or the stories of O’Connor or Ellison or Welty or Faulkner or the writings of DuBois. Almost anything else.
Refugees who fled Iraq and came to settle in Lowell have found guardian angels in two Vietnam veterans from North Andover and Billerica. Pat Scanlon and Bruce Macdonald are members of the Greater Boston chapter of Veterans For Peace. Most of the Iraqi refugees in Lowell are educated professionals who struggle now to find minimum wage work since their degrees are not recognized in this country. Many had to flee their country to avoid being killed for assisting coalition forces during the Iraq War. Scanlon and Macdonald help find furniture, clothes, and food for the families, and help with the language barrier. The work with the refugees has “put a face on the victims of war,” Macdonald said.
“the sun lives in an abandoned Cadillac, and waits for Apollo to return
with gas money. she has been waiting for years, and won’t burn
without his lips behind her neck, at the roots where the peroxide
fries her blonde. he likes her better that way. besides
why not be yellow?”—“the poet writes the poem that will certainly make him famous” by Douglas Kearney (via themountingsun)
It must be admitted that there exists in truth no more solid foundation for morality than the foundation of the Catholic ethic. The end of man is eternal happiness, which consists in the vision and enjoyment of God in sæcula sæculorum. Where it errs, however, is in the choice of the means conducive to this end; for to make the attainment of eternal happiness dependent upon believing or not believing in the Procession of the Holy Ghost from the Father and the Son and not from the Father alone, or in the Divinity of Jesus, or in the theory of the Hypostatic Union, or even in the existence of God, is, as a moment’s reflection will show, nothing less than monstrous. A human God—and that is the only kind of God we are able to conceive—would never reject him who was unable to believe in Him with his head, and it is not in his head but in his heart that the wicked man says that there is no God, which is equivalent to saying that he wishes that there may not be a God. If any belief could be bound up with the attainment of eternal happiness it would be the belief in this happiness itself and in the possibility of it.
And what shall we say of that other proposition of the king of pedants, to the effect that we have not come into the world to be happy but to fulfil our duty (Wir sind nicht auf der Welt, um glücklich zu sein, sondern um unsere Schuldigkeit zu tun)? If we are in the world for something (um etwas), whence can this for be derived but from the very essence of our own will, which asks for happiness and not duty as the ultimate end? And if it is sought to attribute some other value to this for, an objective value, as some Sadducean pedant would say, then it must be recognized that the objective reality, that which would remain even though humanity should disappear, is as indifferent to our duty as to our happiness, is as little concerned with our morality as with our felicity. I am not aware that Jupiter, Uranus, or Sirius would allow their course to be affected by the fact that we are or are not fulfilling our duty any more than by the fact that we are or are not happy.
Such considerations must appear to these pedants to be characterized by a ridiculous vulgarity and a dilettante superficiality. (The intellectual world is divided into two classes—dilettanti on the one hand, and pedants on the other.) What choice, then, have we? The modern man is he who resigns himself to the truth and is content to be ignorant of the synthesis of culture—witness what Windelband says on this head in his study of the fate of Hölderlin (Praeludien, i.). Yes, these men of culture are resigned, but there remain a few poor savages like ourselves for whom resignation is impossible. We do not resign ourselves to the idea of having one day to disappear, and the criticism of the great Pedant does not console us.
The quintessence of common sense was expressed by Galileo Galilei when he said: “Some perhaps will say that the bitterest pain is the loss of life, but I say that there are others more bitter; for whosoever is deprived of life is deprived at the same time of the power to lament, not only this, but any other loss whatsoever.” Whether Galileo was conscious or not of the humour of this sentence I do not know, but it is a tragic humour.
But, to turn back, I repeat that if the attainment of eternal happiness could be bound up with any particular belief, it would be with the belief in the possibility of its realization. And yet, strictly speaking, not even with this. The reasonable man says in his head, “There is no other life after this,” but only the wicked says it in his heart. But since the wicked man is possibly only a man who has been driven to despair, will a human God condemn him because of his despair? His despair alone is misfortune enough.
”—Tragic Sense of Life by Miguel de Unamuno [x] (via tinynoose)
“Degli amori mancati per un soffio non ne parla mai nessuno.. Nessuno capisce che non sempre si continua a vivere come prima se pure il proiettile ti schiva e cambia traiettoria, che ciò che ferisce a volte non è mai accaduto, non sempre è il prodotto di una fine. È solo troppo difficile da raccontare per essere credibile e così diventa un segreto che muore con te…”—Gli amori difficili da Italo Calvino
"My short existence shall enter the long life that flows in this stone. Neither my name nor my age will be engraved as I shall use the stone as it is. Only those who know about it will recognize it as my tombstone. Everyone else will walk by after sparing a minute to observe its quiet beauty. And when the time comes that no one recognizes my grave, my tombstone will be there still, standing beautifully…".
Volunteer tourism, or ‘voluntourism’, is one of the fastest growing areas of the tourism industry. However new evidence suggests that it may be doing more harm than good in developing countries, as Kerry Stewart reports.
There’s a lot of people who do voluntourism at my school, especially during Spring Break. I don’t want to say to someone, “Don’t try and help,” but the article is right in many senses. There is also *often, but now alway* an observable people’s attitudes towards “poor people” in other countries versus their attitudes towards poor people in the United States.
“You white women speak here of rights. I speak of wrongs. I as a colored woman have had in this country an education which has made me feel as if I were in the situation of Ishmael, my hands against every man, and every man’s hands against me.”—Frances Ellen Watkins Harper delivering her “We are all bound up together” speech to the Eleventh National Women’s Rights Convention in New York City, 1866.
Welcome. My name’s Calvin Peppercorn, just like it says on the poster. (Point to the entrance of the ballroom, pause for laughter.) I will not thank you for coming to this event, but I will tell you that it’s the best decision that you’ve ever made. Once this afternoon is over, your career is…
“The train was waiting under the open sky alongside the platform, which extended like a narrow jetty into the inky blackness of the night. A line of gas lamps ran along it like a string of little smoky stars. It had just stopped raining, and there was a cold, damp chill in the air. A mist had gathered. Through it, across the vast, open space beyond, could be seen the little pale lights of the houses in the Rue de Rome. There was a sombre grandeur about it all. Everything was wet from the rain; here and there a red light pierced the night like a splash of blood; dark shapes loomed out of the mist - locomotives, freight wagons and rows of empty carriages waiting in the sidings. The locomotive waiting at the head of the express released a great jet of steam from its safety valve, which rose high into the night sky and dispersed as tiny flecks of cloud drifting like white tears across the funereal blackness that draped the heavens.”—La Bête Humaine by Émile Zola
Deborah Treisman:In the story ("Somewhere Else"), Paley seems to be affectionately making fun of a certain kind of do-good, political fervor that was reasonably common at the time and that doesn't exist in that form now. Does that make the story feel dated at all to you?
Nell Freudenberger:Well I think the amazing thing about the story is that it still operates just the way it would have in 1978 when it was published and I think that's because her goals as a writer of fiction are different then they would've been–I mean, it's really hard for a reporter to write about a trip like this and not to feel in retrospect that they missed the point. And I know that Barbara Ehrenreich has been criticized for what she wrote about this trip because of course, going in 1974, they would have not known what had been going on during the Cultural Revolution. They would have only had hints of what had been happening in the 50s in China. I think the way that Grace Paley focused on how we fail to understand, how we fail to communicate, is what makes this story so great and still timeless.
Treisman:She's quite ironic about it.
Freudenberger:She's really funny, she makes fun of her characters but she does it in a way that's totally without scorn even when they're being sort of foolish, including the first person narrator. She talks about how she's waiting for the political guidance councilor to give his criticism of them and she talks about how she hoped that they were not going to suffer a socialist injustice because 'we loved socialism.' And of course there's a little bit of self-mocking in that.
Treisman:How did these two halves (of the story) connect for you?
Freudenberger:I think at first you're sort of baffled by the transition and then Joe Larson, who was one of the tourists in the group says that he –he does this work in the Bronx and he also films the kids that're doing the work because he's trying to get them to see, not that anybody actually sees. And then you realize that this is the second story that engages the first story and makes the conflict. I think that when you write a story that takes place in another country, and it's basically about a tourist, the conflict can't come from that country because as a tourist you don't engage deeply enough to have the kind of experience that you can write a story about. You kind of have to bring your conflict along from home.