Friday, 18 April 2014

we only live in the shadows

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"but please do put everything away when you are done playing", i told her, as she busied herself with transforming the entire living room floor into a ship, using wooden bricks, vases, books, glass beads and every other imaginable object she would find around. 

"but i want to keep my ship here as it is, even as i am away at my grandparents'".

"no, this won't do - we will stumble upon these things, besides guests might come and then what".

"no problem, we will invite them onto the ship, no?"

"well..." - i wanted to say something but then i realized i didn't exactly find any tenable argument as to why we couldn't do that. she looked at me, then to her ship again, sprawling over the floor as we were speaking: 
"it is so boring to live as you do. your grown-up world is so boring. you only have rooms, and no ships hidden in them any longer". 
i couldn't make out the expression on her face when she said this, something between sadness and bewilderment. 

(perhaps it is true that, as we grow old, we only live in the shadows of what once was a luminous world filled with being)

Sunday, 6 April 2014

because the earth is full of ancient rumour

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Yes, and in that month when Proserpine comes back, and Ceres' dead heart rekindles, when all the woods are a tender smoky blur, and birds no bigger than a budding leaf dart through the singing trees, and when odorous tar comes spongy in the streets, and boys roll balls of it upon their tongues, and they are lumpy with tops and agated marbles...

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and there is blasting thunder in the night, and the soaking millionfooted rain, and one looks out at morning on a stormy sky, a broken wrack of cloud; and when the mountain boy brings water to his kinsmen laying fence, and as the wind snakes through the grasses hears far in the valley below the long wail of the whistle, and the faint clangor of a bell...

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and the blue great cup of the hills seems closer, nearer, for he had heard an inarticulate promise: he has been pierced by Spring, that sharp knife.

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And life unscales its rusty weathered pelt, and earth wells out in tender exhaustless strength, and the cup of a man's heart runs over with dateless expectancy, tongueless promise, indefinable desire. Something gathers in the throat, something blinds him in the eyes, and faint and valorous horns sound through the earth.

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from Look Homeward, Angel, by Thomas Wolfe

Thursday, 27 March 2014


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there is the fear of waking up in the middle
of the night and not knowing what to do
and also the fear of never being able
to fall asleep again
there is the fear that life turns suddenly still
and one looks behind not knowing where
the past has gone and how it was lived, and by whom
there is also the fear
of failed encounters, even (or especially so) those
one has long dreamt of
there is the fear that the phone will ring
to let one know the child is sick again
and also the fear that the stranger one passes by 
suddenly turns around and the last thing one sees
is the silver flash of an unexplainable knife
(or, for variation, the fear of a temple blow leaving one
lying there calmly and almost gracefully, accomplished, 
as one has never been able to, 
while alive) 
there is the fear that the other has already departed, or will
soon leave, without notice
the fear that this body will never again know lust
it will be too frail to contain
that last overwhelming wave of desire

there are so many fears
and yet
above all these fears
there rises the soft gleam of the birch 
when spring is almost 

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Tuesday, 11 March 2014

i have always wanted

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i had always wanted to see everything, in every detail possible, and to hold on to what was seen.  
(oh and how unabated and fiery i was in my passion)

it was only in the end that i realized that grace was to be found somewhere else 
(if it could be found at all).

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Thursday, 27 February 2014

searching for beauty

as i was playing with my lens to have the frail dry leaves in focus, curiously glued unto the windowpane because of the extreme condensation in the room, i accidentally changed the depth of field and suddenly got an image of the outside world, where, rummaging through the garbage behind the block of flats, two homeless people were collecting plastic bottles, or so i imagined (they usually do this, taking them to plastic collection centers where they get paid a couple of cents for each bottle). the first, instinctive response was irritation: their ugly apparition had ruined the perfect composition for my image! then i stopped and pondered the entire situation: the sheer ridiculousness of my attempt at "capturing the beauty" of two deep red leaves against the frame of a winter window, when outside people were dying of hunger and cold that very minute. only by a generous twist of fate had i been allowed to be inside, to enjoy the warm room and all the other privileges going together with it, allowed the luxury of "searching for beauty"...

i remembered Sei Shonagon's dismay at the view of moonlight ruined by the shabbiness of poor people's huts (dwelling for a moment on the plausibility of my being her late 21st-century avatar):

Snow on the house of common people. This is especially regrettable when the moonlight shines down to it.

as Jeffrey Angles stresses in his comment of these lines, it is not only class-based elitism which motivates such a view, but her appreciation for the ability to produce poetry, art, out of this scene: "the beauty of moonlight on a snowy roof would be wasted on a poetically unskilled member of the lower classes". this moral naïveté is of course justified by the social conditions defining class and class behaviour at that time. but we still perceive poverty and suffering as "ugly", don't we? thus the mixed response to Salgado's photographs, Susan Sontag writes, which portray the lives of the powerless in images which are nevertheless compelling works of arts which seem "beautifully staged": "Transforming is what art does, but photography that bears witness to the calamitous and the reprehensible is much criticized if it seems "aesthetic"; that is, too much like art. The dual powers of photography—to generate documents and to create works of visual art—have produced some remarkable exaggerations about what photographers ought or ought not to do. Lately, the most common exaggeration is one that regards these powers as opposites. Photographs that depict suffering shouldn't be beautiful, as captions shouldn't moralize. In this view, a beautiful photograph drains attention from the sobering subject and turns it toward the medium itself, thereby compromising the picture's status as a document. The photograph gives mixed signals. Stop this, it urges. But it also exclaims, What a spectacle! ..."

(Regarding The Pain Of Others )

is it possible to accept the paradox of such an existence where contemplation of a red leaf and aesthetic pursuits go hand in hand with the awareness of the pain of others? mostly, we end up living by closing our eyes and turning our backs to this essential issue, otherwise living wouldn't be bearable at all. Brecht's lines sum this up, as actual now as they have been in 1938, as they have always been:

It is true: I still earn my keep
But believe me: that is only a coincidence. Nothing
Of what I do entitles me to eat my fill.
Only coincidentally am I spared. (If my luck fails, I am lost.)

People tell me: Eat and drink! Be happy that you have!
But how can I eat and drink, if
What I eat, I take from the hungry, and if
My glass of water deprives the thirsty?
And yet, eat and drink I do.

(To our posterity, trans. by Arden Rienas)

Levinas is quite radical on this: "There is something vicious and egoistical and cowardly in aesthetic pleasure. There are times when one should feel ashamed of it, as if one celebrated during the plague". 

and yet: what if such celebration were the only possible way of surviving, without - to put it simply - going mad?

Thursday, 20 February 2014