Dialogue on the Threshold

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Monday, 4 September 2017

Stink, or stench

Then humming thrice [Dr L----n] (1) assumed a most ridiculous solemnity of aspect, and entered into a learned investigation of the nature of stink. He observed that stink, or stench, meant no more than a strong impression on the olfactory nerves; and might be applied to substances of the most opposite qualities; that in the Dutch language, stinken signifies the most agreeable perfume, as well as the most fetid odour, as appears in Van Vloudel's (2) translation of Horace, in that beautiful ode, Quis multa gracilis etc. (3) -- The words liquidis perfusus odoribus, he translates van civet & moschata gestinken: that individuals differed toto coelo (4) in their opinion of beauty; that the French were pleased with the putrid effluvia of animal food; and so were the Hottentots in Africa, and the Savages in Greenland; and that the Negroes on the coast of Senegal would not touch fish till it was rotten; strong presumptions in favour of what is generally called stink, as those nations are in a state of nature, undebauched by luxury, unseduced by whim and caprice: that he had reason to believe the stercoraceous (5) flavour condemned by prejudice as a stink, was, in fact, most agreeable to the organs of smelling; for, that every person who pretended to nauseate the smell of another's excretions, snuffed up his own with particular complacency [...] he affirmed, the last Grand Duke of Tuscany, of the Medicis family, who refined upon sensuality with the spirit of a philosopher, was so delighted with that odour, that he caused the essence of ordure to be extracted, and used it as the most delicate perfume: that he himself (the doctor) when he happened to be low-spirited, or fatigued with business, found immediate relief and uncommon satisfaction from hanging over the stale contents of a close-stool (6), while his servant stirred it about under his nose; nor was this effect to be wondered at, when we consider that this substance abounds with the self-same volatile salts that are so greedily smelled to by the most delicate invalids, after they have been extracted and sublimed by chemists. 

Tobias Smollett, The Expedition of Humphry Clinker (1771)

(1) Diederich Wessel Linden, German physician who practised at Bristol Hot Wells, author of A Letter to Dr Peter Shaw, concerning a very useful Discovery and considerable improvement in the black epileptical powder (pulvis epilepticus niger), London , 1746, and other works concerning the therapeutic properties of spa water
(2) i.e. Joost van den Vondel (1587-1679)
(3) Horace, Odes I.5: Quis multa gracilis te puer in rosa / perfusus liquidis urget odoribus / grato, Pyrrha, sub antro? (What slender youth drenched in perfume clasps you, Pyrrha, in heaps of roses within a delightful cave?)
(4) utterly, lit. by the whole heavens
(5) Lat. stercoraceus, from stercus dung, faeces
(6) a piece of furniture enclosing a chamber pot, typically a type of chair or small chest having a lid concealing a seat with a hole used in the same way as a toilet (OED)

Sunday, 3 September 2017

Infernal compositions

Well, there is no nation that drinks so hoggishly as the English -- What passes for wine among us, is not the juice of the grape. It is an adulterous mixture, brewed up of nauseous ingredients, by dunces, who are bunglers in the art of poison-making; and yet we, and our forefathers, are and have been poisoned by this cursed drench, without taste or flavour -- The only genuine and whole-some beveridge in England, is London porter, and Dorchester table-beer; but as for your ale and your gin, your cyder and your perry, and all the trashy family of made wines, I detest them as infernal compositions, contrived for the destruction of the human species. 

Tobias Smollett, The Expedition of Humphry Clinker (1771)

Friday, 1 September 2017

European man

Commerce and industry, traffic in books and letters, the commonality of all higher culture, quick changes of locality and landscape, the present-day nomadic life of all nonlandowners - these conditions necessarily bring about a weakening and ultimately a destruction of nations, or at least of European nations, so that a mixed race, that of the European man, has to originate out of all of them, as the result of continual crossbreeding. The isolation of nations due to engendered national hostilities now works against this goal, consciously or unconsciously, but the mixing process goes on slowly, nevertheless, despite those intermittent countercurrents; this artificial nationalism, by the way, is as dangerous as artificial Catholicism was, for it is in essence a forcible state of emergency and martial law, imposed by the few on the many, and requiring cunning, lies, and force to remain respectable. It is not the self-interest of the many (the people), as one would have it, that urges this nationalism, but primarily the self-interest of certain royal dynasties, as well as that of certain commercial and social classes; once a man has understood this, he should be undaunted in presenting himself as a good European, and should work actively on the merging of nations. 

Friedrich Nietzsche, Menschliches, Allzumenschliches (1878), section 475
(Human, All Too Human, trans. Marion Faber and Stephen Lehmann)

Monday, 14 August 2017

The shadow

[T]he tide that rose in the unconscious after the first World War was reflected in individual dreams, in the form of collective mythological symbols which expressed primitivity, violence, cruelty: in short, all the powers of darkness. When such symbols occur in a large number of individuals and are not understood, they begin to draw these individuals together as if by magnetic force, and thus a mob is formed. Its leader will soon be found in the individual who has the least resistance, the least sense of responsibility and, because of his inferiority, the greatest will to power. He will let loose everything that is ready to burst forth, and the mob will follow with the irresistible force of an avalanche. 
[...]
The Germans wanted order, but they made the fatal mistake of choosing the principal victim of disorder and unchecked greed for their leader. [...] He was the most prodigious personification of all human inferiorities. He was an utterly incapable, unadapted, irresponsible, psychopathic personality, full of empty, infantile fantasies, but cursed with the keen intuition of a rat or a guttersnipe. He represented the shadow, the inferior part of everybody's personality, in an overwhelming degree, and this was another reason they fell for him. 

Carl Gustav Jung, "The Fight with the Shadow", 
first published in The Listener (London), XXXVI (1946), no. 930, 615-16.

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Alternative facts

À qui vit de fiction, la vérité est infecte. Qui a soif de flatterie revomit le réel, bu par surprise.

Victor Hugo, L'Homme qui rit (1869)

To him who lives on fiction, the truth is vile. He who thirsts for flattery vomits back up the real when drunk by mistake.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Chimerical wish-fantasies

Rational argument can be conducted with some prospect of success only so long as the emotionality of a given situation does not exceed a certain critical degree. If the affective temperature rises above this level, the possibility of reason's having any effect ceases and its place is taken by slogans and chimerical wish-fantasies. That is to say, a sort of collective possession results which rapidly develops into a psychic epidemic. In this state all those elements whose existence is merely tolerated as asocial under the rule of reason come to the top. Such individuals are by no means rare curiosities to be met with only in prisons and lunatic asylums. For every manifest case of insanity there are, in my estimation, at least ten latent cases who seldom get to the point of breaking out openly but whose views and behaviour, for all their appearance of normality, are influenced by unconsciously morbid and perverse factors. (...) But even if their number should amount to less than ten times that of the manifest psychoses and of manifest criminality, the relatively small percentage of the population figures they represent is more than compensated for by the peculiar dangerousness of these people. Their mental state is that of a collectively excited group ruled by affective judgements and wish-fantasies. In a state of "collective possession" they are the adapted ones and consequently they feel quite at home in it. (...) Their chimerical ideas, upborne by fanatical resentment, appeal to the collective irrationality and find fruitful soil there, for they express all those motives and resentments which lurk in more normal people under the cloak of reason and insight. 

Carl Gustav Jung, The Undiscovered Self (translation of Gegenwart und Zukunft, 1957), 
Routledge, London, 2002, pp. 2-3

Monday, 14 November 2016

Pseudologia phantastica

A more accurate diagnosis of Hitler's condition would be pseudologia phantastica, that form of hysteria which is characterized by a peculiar talent for believing one's own lies. For a short spell, such people usually meet with astounding success, and for that reason are socially dangerous. Nothing has such a convincing effect as a lie one invents and believes oneself, or an evil deed or intention whose righteousness one regards as self-evident. At any rate they carry far more conviction than the good man and the good deed, or even the wicked man and his purely wicked deed. Hitler's theatrical, obviously hysterical gestures struck all foreigners (with a few amazing exceptions) as purely ridiculous. When I saw him with my own eyes, he suggested a psychic scarecrow (with a broomstick for an outstretched arm) rather than a human being. It is also difficult to understand how his ranting speeches, delivered in shrill, grating, womanish tones, could have made such an impression. But the German people would never have been taken in and carried away so completely if this figure had not been a reflected image of the collective German hysteria. It is not without serious misgivings that one ventures to pin the label of "psychopathic inferiority" on to a whole nation, and yet, heaven knows, it is the only explanation which could in any way account for the effect this scarecrow had on the masses. A sorry lack of education, conceit that bordered on madness, a very mediocre intelligence, combined with the hysteric's cunning and the power fantasies of an adolescent, were written all over this demagogue's face. 

Carl Gustav Jung, "After the Catastrophe", Essays on Contemporary Events, 1936-1946
translated by R. F. C. Hull, Routledge, London, 2002, pp. 70-71

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Collective narcissism

In order to allow narcissistic identification, the [fascist] leader has to appear himself as absolutely narcissistic, and it is from this insight that Freud derives the portrait of the ‘primal father of the horde’ which might as well be Hitler’s.
He, at the very beginning of the history of mankind, was the Superman whom Nietzsche only expected from the future. Even today, the members of a group stand in need of the illusion that they are equally and justly loved by their leader, but the leader himself need love no one else, he may be of a masterly nature, absolutely narcissistic, but self-confident and independent. We know that love puts a check upon narcissism, and it would be possible to show how, by operating in this way, it became a factor of civilization.

One of the most conspicuous features of the agitator’s speeches, namely the absence of a positive programme and of anything [he] might ‘give’, as well as the paradoxical prevalence of threat and denial, is thus being accounted for; the leader can be loved only if he himself does not love. Yet Freud is aware of another aspect of the leader image which apparently contradicts the first one. While appearing as a superman, the leader must at the same time work the miracle of appearing as an average person, just as Hitler posed as a composite of King Kong and the suburban barber. […] Even the fascist leader’s startling symptoms of inferiority, his resemblance to ham actors and asocial psychopaths, is thus anticipated in Freud’s theory. For the sake of those parts of the follower’s narcissistic libido which have not been thrown into the leader image but remain attached to the follower’s own ego, the superman must still resemble the follower and appear as his ‘enlargement’. Accordingly, one of the basic devices of personalized fascist propaganda is the concept of the ‘great little man’, a person who suggests both omnipotence and the idea that he is just one of the folks, a plain, red-blooded American, untainted by material or spiritual wealth. Psychological ambivalence helps to work a social miracle. The leader image gratifies the follower’s twofold wish to submit to authority and to be the authority himself. 

Theodor W. Adorno, "Freudian Theory and the Pattern of Fascist Propaganda", The Culture Industry. Selected essays on mass culture, ed. J. M. Bernstein, Routledge, London, 1991, pp. 141-142

Sunday, 27 March 2016

On popping one's head up from Hades

In dialogue with Theodorus (Plato, Theaetetus, 168e-171d), Socrates criticises the philosophy of Protagoras ("man is the measure of all things") and concludes with a startling, almost cartoon-like, image, in which he pictures Protagoras popping his head up from Hades to refute his arguments and Theodorus' replies before ducking back down again:

καὶ εἰ αὐτίκα ἐντεῦθεν ἀνακύψειε (1) μέχρι τοῦ αὐχένος (2), πολλὰ (3) ἂν ἐμέ τε ἐλέγξας ληροῦντα, ὡς τὸ εἰκός, καὶ  σὲ ὁμολογοῦντα, καταδὺς (4) ἂν οἴχοιτο ἀποτρέχων (5).

Plato, Theaetetus, 171d

And if he could only just get his head out of the world below, he would have overthrown both of us again and again, me for talking nonsense and you for assenting to me, and have been off and underground in a trice.
trans. Benjamin Jowett

Suppose now he were at this very moment to raise his head and shoulders up from the floor (*), he would very likely scold us roundly, me for talking nonsense and you for assenting to it, and then suddenly disappear and be off before we could stop him.
(*) Like a ghost from the ἀναπίεσμα of a theatre, or a spirit conjured up by necromancy.
trans. F. A. Paley

And if he could at this juncture poke his head up out of the under-world, he might accuse me of many foolish things and upbraid you for falling in with them, and then vanish underground again instanter.
trans. S. W. Dyde

And if he could at once pop up his head where we are, he would not sink down and run away again, until, probably, he had convicted me of talking much nonsense, and you of agreeing to it.
trans. Benjamin Hall Kennedy

And if at this moment he could pop his head up through the ground there as far as to the neck, very probably he would expose me thoroughly for talking such nonsense and you for agreeing to it, before he sank out of sight and took to his heels.  
trans. F. M. Cornford

And if, for example, he should emerge from the ground, here at our feet, if only as far as the neck, he would prove abundantly that I was making a fool of myself by my talk, in all probability, and you by agreeing with me; then he would sink down and be off at a run. 
trans. Harold North Fowler

Notes

(1) ἀνακύπτω: raise the head (the opposite of κύπτω, hang the head). In the Phaedo (109d), Plato employs the image of a denizen of the ocean depths lifting his head (ἀνακύψας) out of the water, in order to convey the human condition of living in the lower air but not being able to lift our heads above the surface of the upper air into the realm of metaphysical reality.
Cf. comical figurative use of the same verb in Aristophanes, Ranae, 1068: περὶ τοὺς ἰχθῦς ἀνέκυψεν "he popped up around the fish markets" and van Leeuwen's note thereon (*): "Verbum ἀνακύπτειν (ut nostrum weder opduiken)" is used "de iis qui inexpectato loco vel tempore conspiciuntur" (The verb ἀνακύπτειν (like the Dutch weder opduiken) is used of those who turn up in an unexpected place or at an unexpected time). Mitchell remarks (†): "Instances of this formula are not much to be expected in the Tragic writers." 
(*) J. van Leeuwen, Aristophanis Ranae cum Prolegomenis et Commentariis
Leiden: A. W. Sijthoff, 1896. 
(†) T. Mitchell, The Frogs of Aristophanes with Notes Critical and Explanatory,
London: John Murray, Albemarle-Street, 1839, p. 235.

(2) μέχρι τοῦ αὐχένος: as far as or up to the neck or throat.

(3) Jowett, Paley, Cornford and Fowler read πολλὰ as modifying ἐλέγξας, Dyde and Kennedy as modifying ἐμέ ληροῦντα.

(4) καταδύω: go down, sink, set. Found in Homer particularly with reference to the sun: ἠέλιον κατέδυ "the sun sank", but also used of making the descent into Hades: καταδυσόμεθ' εἰς Ἀΐδαο δόμους "we shall do down into the halls of Hades" (Odyssey 10, 174). In De facie quae in orbe lunae apparet (943d), Plutarch describes not fully purged souls as reaching the Moon, the realm of Persephone, only to be repelled, as if sinking back down into the deep (εἰς βυθὸν αὖθις καταδυομένας). 

(5) ἀποτρέχω: run off or away. When referring to men, the meaning of τρέχω is "run", but when used of things it simply means "move quickly". Fowler ("be off at a run"), Cornford ("took to his heels") and Kennedy ("run away again") inappropriately apply the notion of running to the head of a shade which simply sinks down and swiftly vanishes: καταδὺς ἂν οἴχοιτο ἀποτρέχων, literally "having sunk down would depart moving off quickly". 

Monday, 1 February 2016

A man fishing behind a gas works

I discover already the first phase—Phase 23—of the last quarter in certain friends of mine, and in writers, poets and sculptors admired by these friends, who have a form of strong love and hate hitherto unknown in the arts. It is with them a matter of conscience to live in their own exact instant of time, and they defend their conscience like theologians. They are all absorbed in some technical research to the entire exclusion of the personal dream. It is as though the forms in the stone or in their reverie began to move with an energy which is not that of the human mind. Very often these forms are mechanical, are as it were the mathematical forms that sustain the physical primary—I think of the work of Mr Wyndham Lewis, his powerful ‘cacophony of sardine tins’, and of those marble eggs, or objects of burnished steel too drawn up or tapered out to be called eggs, of M. Brancusi, who has gone further than Mr Wyndham Lewis from recognisable subject matter and so from personality (…) I find at this 23rd Phase which is it is said the first where there is hatred of the abstract, where the intellect turns upon itself, Mr Ezra Pound, Mr Eliot, Mr Joyce, Signor Pirandello, who either eliminate from metaphor the poet’s phantasy and substitute a strangeness discovered by historical or contemporary research or who break up the logical processes of thought by flooding them with associated ideas or words that seem to drift into the mind by chance; or who set side by side as in Henry IV, The Waste Land, Ulysses, the physical primary—a lunatic among his keepers, a man fishing behind a gas works, the vulgarity of a single Dublin day prolonged through 700 pages—and the spiritual primary delirium, the Fisher King, Ulysses’ wandering. It is as though myth and fact, united until the exhaustion of the Renaissance, have now fallen so far apart that man understands for the first time the rigidity of fact, and calls up, by that very recognition, myth—the Mask—which now but gropes its way out of the mind’s dark but will shortly pursue and terrify. 

W. B. Yeats,  A Vision, ed. Catherine E. Paul and Margaret Mills Harper, Scribner, New York, 1925

Friday, 29 January 2016

Metaphor of a bad mind

I am inclined to suspect, that all these several finders of truth are the very identical men, who are by others called the finders of gold. The method used in both these searches after truth and after gold, being, indeed, one and the same, viz. the searching, rummaging, and examining into a nasty place; indeed, in the former instances, into the nastiest of all places, A BAD MIND.
But though in this particular, and, perhaps, in their success, the truth-finder and the gold-finder may very properly be compared together; yet, in modesty, surely, there can be no comparison between the two: for who ever heard of a gold-finder that had the impudence or folloy to assert, from the ill-success of his search, that there was no such thing as gold in the world? Whereas the truth-finder, having raked out that jakes, his own mind, and being there capable of tracing no ray of divinity, nor any thing virtuous or good, or lovely or loving, very fairly, honestly, and logically, concludes, that no such things exist in the whole creation.

Henry Fielding, The History of Tom Jones, A Foundling (1749), Book VI, Chapter One, Of Love.

Note
A gold-finder was one who emptied privies.

Monday, 18 January 2016

Ruin is the throne where he sits

(...)
wrd.bt ḫpṯt
arṣ.tspr.by
rdm.arṣ
idk.al.ttn
pnm.tk.qrth
hmry.mk.ksu
ṯbth.ḫḫ.arṣ
nḥlth. (...)

(...) and go down to the charnel house of the / nether world. Be counted among them / that went down into the nether world. / Then, indeed, set face [towards El's son / Mot], midst his city / "Slushy". Ruin is the throne / where he sits, infernal filth / his inheritance. (...)

Fragment of an Ugaritic text from the Baal-cycle, describing the mission of Baal's two messengers to the abode of Mot, the god of death and drought, quoted and translated in:

Nicholas J. Tromp, Primitive Conceptions of Death and the Nether World in the Old Testament, Biblica et Orientala (Sacra Scriptura Antiquitatibus Orientalibus Illustrata) 21, 
Pontifical Biblical Institute, Rome, 1969, pp. 7-8.

Thursday, 7 January 2016

Die Sprache des Traumes

Im Traume, und schon in jenem Zuſtande des Deliriums, der meiſt vor dem Einſchlafen vorhergeht, ſcheint die Seele eine ganz andre Sprache zu ſprechen als gewöhnlich. Gewiße Naturgegenſtände oder Eigenſchaften der Dinge, bedeuten jetzt auf einmal Perſonen und umgekehrt ſtellen ſich uns gewiſſe Eigenſchaften oder Handlungen, unter dem Bilde von Perſonen dar.

 Gotthilf Heinrich von Schubert, Die Symbolik des Traumes, Bamberg, 1814
 
In dream, and even in that state of delirium which generally precedes falling asleep, the soul seems to speak a very different language than usual. Certain natural objects or properties of things all of a sudden signify persons and conversely certain qualities or actions present themselves to us in the form of persons.

Gotthilf Heinrich von Schubert, The Symbolism of Dreams, quoted in Albert Béguin, L'Ame romantique et le rêve. Essai sur le romantisme allemand et la poesie française, Librairie José Corti, Paris, 1939

Friday, 1 January 2016

Crepitus ventris essetne spiritualis?

 Crepitus ventris essetne spiritualis?

R. Ita, probatur sic: 1. Quæ invisibilia sunt, spiritualia sunt. Atqui crepitus sunt invisibiles. Ergo spirituales sunt: minorem probo, dum vos oro ut insignem crepitum emittatis, mihique indicatis cujus coloris sit, vel metimini mihi ulnam unam, sicuti metiri solent pannus, & vobis, ut in concursu lampada tradam. [2.] Quæ habent agilitatem, ut nullus hominum possit eorum ictus evitare sunt spiritualia. Sed tale sunt crepitus. Ergo, &c. His adde, etiamsi crepitus proveniunt ex spelunca & nascantur sine visu, sicuti talpæ, attamen non sunt palpabiles, sicuti tenebræ Ægyptiorum. Ergo, &c. 3. Fides ex auditu est. Crepitus sunt ex auditu & odoratu. Ergo crepitus spirituales sunt.

Nugae Venales, sive Thesaurus Ridendi & Jocandi.  
Anno 1689. Prostant apud Neminem; sed tamen Ubique.  

Are farts spiritual?

Answer. Yes, proven thus: 1. That which is invisible is spiritual. Farts are invisible. Therefore they are spiritual: I prove the minor so long as I ask you to let fly with a blatant fart and you show me what colour it is or measure out an ell for me, as one might measure out a length of cloth, in which case I shall yield the point to you. [2.] That which is so swift that no man can avoid its impact is spiritual. Such are farts. Therefore, etc. Moreover, even if farts originate from a cavern and are born sightless, like moles, they are nonetheless impalpable, like the ghosts of Egypt. Therefore, etc. 3. Hearing is believing. With farts, hearing and smelling are believing. Therefore farts are spiritual.

Jokes for Sale, or Treasury of Laughing and Jesting.  
Anywhere: Nobody, 1689. Page 9.

Note

minorem probo / I prove the minor: joco-serious parody of the language of logical disputation. The respondens (respondent) puts forward a thesis which is then contradicted by the objiciens (objector) through a syllogism. The respondent may either concede the major and/or minor premise of the syllogism, qualify them by finding both truth and falsehood therein, or deny them. If the respondent denies the major or minor premise, then the objector will proceed to prove his proposition, saying: probo majorem/minorem negatam (I prove the major/minor denied). 

Quid est crepitus?

Quid est crepitus?

R. Crepitus est flatus ventris, quem natura provida sanitatis tuendæ causa per podicem ejicit: materia ejus existens paulum crassa. Hæc est definitio essentialis & quidditativa, constat enim ex genere, quod est flatus, & differentia, quæ est ventris, nisi velis nos æque per os ac per podicem pedere.

Nugae Venales, sive Thesaurus Ridendi & Jocandi.  
Anno 1689. Prostant apud Neminem; sed tamen Ubique.  

What is a fart?

Answer: A fart is the breath of the belly, which provident nature expels through the arse for the sake of preserving the health, its matter being slightly dense. This is the definition according to essence and quiddity, since it corresponds to the genus, which is of the breath, and the species, which is of the belly, unless you would wish us to fart both through the mouth and through the arse.

Jokes for Sale, or Treasury of Laughing and Jesting.  
Anywhere: Nobody, 1689. Page 11. 


Saturday, 12 December 2015

Deus nocturnus

Nocturnum deum Varro in saturis perpetuo sopore et ebrietate torpidum introduxit. 

M. Terentius Varronis Saturarum Menippearum Reliquiae
edidit F. Oehler, Quedlinburg and Leipzig, 1844, p. 239.  

In the Satires, Varro presented the God of Night as stupefied with deep sleep and drunkenness. 

(Remains of Terentius Varro's Menippean Satires, edited by F. Oehler)

Oehler provides the following note on this spurious fragment:  

Popma citat hunc locum ex Augustini libris de Civ. Dei; sed mihi, opere hoc paene sexcenties pervoluto, reperire eum non evenit. 

[Ausonius van] Popma [1563-1613] quotes this passage from Augustine's The City of God; but having reread the work nearly six hundred times, I have not happened to find it.


Thursday, 3 December 2015

Originaux et excentriques

En Angleterre (surtout en Écosse), les hommes domptés par une religion de fer et courbés sous le puritanisme, ne peuvent s'évader que par cette demi-rupture avec le réel, cette demi-folie qu'on appelle l'excentricité. Ce sont les maniaques écossais qui ont accrédité en Europe le type du lord spleenétique et maboul. Mais voici qu'à l'autre bout du continent, dans une ambiance clémente et sous un clergé non-interventioniste, des excentriques naissent tout aussi nombreux ; l'aimable Roumanie en engendre au moins autant que la lugubre Écosse. Je leur trouve un grand air de famille entre eux : Anglais ou Roumains, ils ont cette assurance dans l'extravagance, cette imperméabilité à l'opinion des gens, cette insularité morale qui ne se développe que dans l'isolement forcé ou dans la liberté totale. Excès de frein ou absence de frein.

In England (and in Scotland especially), men curbed by an iron religion and bent under the weight of puritanism find their only escape in that semi-rupture with the real, that semi-madness known as eccentricity. Such are the Scottish maniacs who have made familiar throughout Europe the type of the splenetic, barmy lord. But here at the other end of the continent, in a clement setting and under a non-interventionist clergy, eccentrics are born in equal numbers; easy-going Romania engenders at least as many as dour Scotland. I find a great family resemblance between them: Englishmen or Romanians, they have that assurance in their extravagance, that impermeability to others' opinions, that moral insularity that can only develop in enforced isolation or in complete freedom. An excess of restraint or the absence of restraint. 

Paul Morand, Bucarest, Librairie Plon, Paris, 1935, pp. 235-6.


Wednesday, 11 November 2015

The decay of learning

The abolition of Latin as the universal learned language, and the introduction in its place of the parochialism of national literatures, has been a real misfortune for science and learning in Europe, in the first place because it was only through the medium of the Latin language that a universal European learned public existed at all, to the totality of which every book that appeared directed itself; and in all Europe the number of heads capable of thinking and forming judgements is moreover already so small that if their forum is broken up and kept asunder by language barriers their beneficial effect is infinitely weakened. (...) A vile practice appearing with more impudent blatantness every day which deserves special reproof is that in scholarly books and in specifically learned journals, even those published by academies, passages from Greek and even (proh pudor) from Latin authors are cited in German translation. Devil take it! Are you writing for tailors and cobblers? If this is what it has come to, then farewell humanity, noble taste and cultivation! Barbarism is returning, despite railways, electricity and flying balloons. (...) It should here be remarked in passing that patriotism, when it wants to make itself felt in the domain of learning, is a dirty fellow who should be thrown out of doors. For what could be more impertinent than, where the purely and universally human is the only concern, and where truth, clarity and beauty should alone be of any account, to presume to put into the scales one's preference for the country to which one's own valued person happens to belong, and then, with that in view, do violence to truth and commit injustice against the great minds of other nations in order to puff up the lesser minds of one's own?

Arthur Schopenhauer, "Ueber Gelehrsamkeit unde Gelehrte", Kap. XXI,  
Parerga und Paralipomena. Kleine philosophische Schriften. Zweiter Band: Vereinzelte, jedoch systematisch geordnete Gedanken über vielerlei Gegenstände, Berlin, 1851.
(Essays and Aphorisms, trans. R. J. Hollingdale, Harmondsworth, 1970, pp. 227-229)  


Sunday, 27 September 2015

Hegelianism

Wherever the spirit of God is extruded from our human calculations, an unconscious substitute takes its place. In Schopenhauer we find the unconscious Will as the new definition of God, in Carus the unconscious, and in Hegel identification and inflation, the practical equation of philosophical reason with Spirit, thus making possible that intellectual juggling with the object which achieved such horrid brilliance in his philosophy of the State. Hegel offered a solution of the problem raised by epistemological criticism in that he gave ideas a chance to prove their unknown power of autonomy. They induced that hybris of reason which led to Nietzsche's superman and hence to the catastrophe that bears the name of Germany. (...) A philosophy like Hegel's is a self-revelation of the psychic background and, philosophically, a presumption. Psychologically, it amounts to an invasion by the unconscious. The peculiar high-flown language Hegel uses bears out this view: it is reminiscent of the megalomanic language of schizophrenics, who use terrific spellbinding words to reduce the transcendent to subjective form, to give banalities the charm of novelty, or pass off commonplaces as searching wisdom. So bombastic a terminology is a symptom of weakness, ineptitude, and lack of substance. But that does not prevent the latest German philosophy from using the same crackpot power-words and pretending that it is not unintentional psychology. 

Carl Gustav Jung, "Theoretische Überlegungen zum Wesen des Psychischen," Von den Wurzeln des Buwusstseins, Rascher, Zurich, 1954
  
On the Nature of the Psyche, trans. R. F. C. Hull, Routledge, 2001, pp. 94-95.

Thursday, 24 September 2015

De quelques phénomènes du sommeil

Il peut paroître extraordinaire, mais il est certain que le sommeil est non seulement l’état le plus puissant, mais encore le plus lucide de la pensée, sinon dans les illusions passagères dont il l’enveloppe, du moins dans les perceptions qui en dérivent, et qu’il fait jaillir à son gré de la trame confuse des songes. (…) Il semble que l'esprit, offusqué des ténèbres de la vie extérieure, ne s’en affranchit jamais avec plus de facilité que sous le doux empire de cette mort intermittente, où il lui est permis de reposer dans sa propre essence, et à l’abri de toutes les influences de la personnalité de convention que la société nous a faite. 

Charles Nodier, "De quelques phénomènes du sommeil",
Rêveries littéraires, morales et fantastiques, Brussels, 1832


As extraordinary as it might seem, it is certain that sleep is not only the most powerful, but also the most lucid state of mind, if not in the transient illusions in which it envelops itself, then at least in the perceptions that derive from it, and which it causes at will to gush from the vague weft of dreams. (...) It seems that the spirit, offended at the shadows of exterior life, never releases itself from it with greater ease than under the sweet influence of that intermittent death, when it is permitted to fall back on its own essence, sheltered from all the influences of the conventional personality that society imposes on us.

Sunday, 20 September 2015

The plurality of hells

According to these manifold distinctions in evil, and their nearer or more remote distances from one another, are the several hells divided and regulated with the utmost exactness and congruity. There are also hells under hells, communicating with one another, some by passages, and some by exhalations, according to the agreement or affinity betwixt evil and evil. That the hells are so many and various appears from its being given me to know, that under every mountain, hill, rock, plain and valley, there were particular hells of different extent in length, breadth, and depth. In a word, both heaven and the world of spirits may be considered as convexities, under which are arrangements of those infernal mansions. So much concerning the plurality of hells. 

Emanuel Swedenborg, Treatise Concerning Heaven and Hell, Containing a Relation of many Wonderful Things therein, as heard and seen by the Author. 
 London: Printed and Sold by James Phillips, George Yard, Lombard Street, 1778.

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

The regression of listening

In one of his essays, Aldous Huxley has raised the question of who, in a place of amusement, is really being amused. With the same justice, it can be asked whom music for entertainment still entertains. Rather, it seems to complement the reduction of people to silence, the dying out of speech as expression, the inability to communicate at all. It inhabits the pockets of silence that develop between people moulded by anxiety, work and undemanding docility. Everywhere it takes over, unnoticed, the deadly sad rôle that fell to it in the time and the specific situation of the silent films. It is perceived purely as background. If nobody can any longer speak, then certainly nobody can any longer listen.

Theodor W. Adorno, "On the fetish character in music and the regression of listening",  
The Culture Industry, ed. J. M. Bernstein, Routledge, 1991, p. 27

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Occasionall Melancholie

And for her, some sicknesses, in the declination of her yeeres, had opened her to an overflowing of Melancholie; Not that she ever lay under that water, but yet, had sometimes, some high Tides of it; and, though this distemper would sometimes cast a cloud, and some halfe damps upon her naturall cheerfulnesse, and sociablenesse, and sometimes induce darke, and sad apprehensions . . . Occasionall Melancholy had taken some hold in her; Nevertheless, that never Ecclipst, never interrupted her cheerfull confidence, and assurance in God. 

John Donne, A Sermon of Commemoration of the Lady Danvers, 1 July 1627

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Hives in hell

His firm stanzas hang like hives in hell
Or what hell was, since now both heaven and hell
Are one, and here, O terra infidel.

Wallace Stevens, Esthétique du Mal (1944)

Saturday, 13 June 2015

Plutonis Regia

Socrates. On this account, Hermogenes, let us say, that not one of those there is willing to come hither, not even the Syrens themselves; but that both they, and all others, are enchanted; such beautiful discourses does Pluto, it seems, know how to utter. And by this reasoning this god is both a perfect sophist, and a great benefactor to those with him; and who sends up to those here such good things; so many things does he have in superfluity; and from hence he has the name of Pluto. And on the other hand, through his unwillingness to associate with men invested with bodies, but only to have an intercourse with them, when the soul becomes cleansed from all the evils and desires which were around the body, does he not appear to you to be a philosopher, and to have well considered this, that he should thus detain them, by binding them with the desire for virture; but that if they possessed the flutterings and mad feelings of the body, not even his father Kronos would be able to detain them with him, in those bonds with which he was said to be bound.

Plato, Cratylus, 403d-404a

George Burges, The Works of Plato. A New and Literal Version, London: Henry G. Bohn, York Street, Covent Garden, 1850. Vol. 3, pp. 320-321

Monday, 25 May 2015

The library of Nara

Apud Japonios, in civitate Narad, vel Nara, templum est augustissimum, quod Cobocui nominatur, Xacae sacrum, a cujus latere Bonzii, eorum sacerdotes, sua atria et cubicula habent, quorum unum, 24. columnis rotundis innixum, Bonziorum bibliothecam continet, tanta librorum copia refertam, ut ipsae etiam fenestrae, libris, quasi lateribus, obstructae sint. 

Jean Lomeier, De bibliothecis liber singularis, second edition, Utrecht, Ex officina Johannis Ribii, Bibliopolae, 1630, p. 352.



In the land of the Japanese, in the city of Narad, or Nara, there is a most majestic temple, called Cobocui [Kōfuku-ji?], sacred to the Buddha, next to one of whose walls the Bonzes, their priests, have their halls and their cells, one of which, resting on twenty-four round columns, houses the library of the Bonzes, crammed with such a multitude of books that even the windows themselves are obstructed with them, like walls.

Sunday, 24 May 2015

The libraries of Hell


Frontispiece, Eloge de l'enfer. Ouvrage critique, historique, et moral. A la Haye, Chez Pierre Gosse Junior, Libraire de S. A. R. 1759.


Epigraph:  

Descendant in INFERNUM Viventes, ne descendant Morientes.
S. Bernardus, Lib. de Vitâ Solitariâ.

Let them descend into Hell being alive, lest they descend being dead.
St Bernard, On the Solitary Life.


Traumworte

Im Traum, & auch lange nach dem Erwachen, können uns Traumworte die höchste Bedeutung zu haben scheinen. Ist nicht die gleiche Illusion auch im Wachen möglich? Es kommt mir so wor, als unterläge ich ihr jetzt manchmal. Bei Verrückten scheint es oft so. 

In a dream, & even long after we wake up, dream words can seem to us to have the greatest significance. Isn't the same illusion possible too in waking life? It seems to me as though I am sometimes subject to it these days. It often appears to be like this with the insane.

Ludwig Wittgenstein, Culture and Value. A Selection from the Posthumous Remains
ed. Georg Henrik von Wright, trans. Peter Winch, Blackwell, Oxford, 1998, p. 75

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Our present Patriotism

Since Nonsense files with greater Celerity, and makes greater Impression than Reason; though no particular Species of Nonsense is so durable. But the several Forms of Nonsense never cease succeeding one another; and Men are always under the Dominion of some one or other, though nothing was ever equal in Absurdity and Wickedness to our present Patriotism.

David Hume, letter to William Strahan, Edinburgh, 25 of March 1771



Monday, 4 May 2015

La biblioteca

Si el honor y la sabiduría y la felicidad no son para mí, que sean para otros. Que el cielo exista, aunque mi lugar sea el infierno. Que yo sea ultrajado y aniquilado, pero que en un instante, en un ser, Tu enorme Biblioteca se justifique.

Jorge Luis Borges, "La biblioteca de Babel", 1941

If honour and wisdom and happiness are not for me, let them be for others. Let heaven exist, though my place be in hell. Let me be outraged and annihilated, but for one instant, in one being, let Your enormous Library be justified.

trans. James E. Irby

Sunday, 26 April 2015

The sole proof of our heterogeneity

Diese Angst in der Welt ist aber der einzige Beweis unserer Heterogenität.

This anxiety in the world is, however, the sole proof of our heterogeneity. 

J. G. Hamann (1730-1788), letter to J. G. Herder (1744-1803), 3 June 1781, quoted by Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) in a loose-leaf note dating from 1842, quoted by Leonid Dimov (1926-1987) in "Dostoevski în trei personaje", Luceafărul, no. 33, 17 August 1968, p. 3 and p. 6 (Momentul oniric. Antologie, ed. Corin Braga, Cartea Românească, Bucharest, 1997, p. 52)

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Plenty of time

In einem Tag kann man die Schrecken der Hölle erleben; es ist reichlich genug Zeit dazu.

In one day you can experience the horrors of hell; that is plenty of time.

Ludwig Wittgenstein, Culture and Value. A Selection from the Posthumous Remains
ed. Georg Henrik von Wright, trans. Peter Winch, Blackwell, Oxford, 1998, p. 30

Friday, 27 March 2015

Form and mere matter

It is hardly an exaggeration to say that in Plato, in spite of his wonderful savour of literary freshness, there is nothing absolutely new: or rather, as in many other very original products of human genius, the seemingly new is old also, a palimpsest, a tapestry of which the actual threads have served before, or like the animal frame itself, every particle of which has already lived and died many times over. Nothing but the life-giving principle of cohesion is new; the new perspective, the resultant complexion, the expressiveness which familiar thoughts attain by novel juxtaposition. In other words, the form is new. But then, in the creation of philosophical literature, as in all other products of art, form, in the full signification of that word, is everything, and the mere matter is nothing.

Walter Pater, Fellow of Brasenose College, Plato and Platonism. A Series of Lectures, Second Edition, 1895, Macmillan and Co., Limited, London, 1902, p. 8

Saturday, 14 March 2015

His manner of life

Aut lego vel scribo, doceo scrutorve sophian:
obsecro celsithronum nocte dieque meum.
vescor, poto libens, rithmizans invoco musas,
dormisco stertens: oro Deum vigilans.
conscia mens scelerum deflet peccamina vitae:
parcite vos misero, Christe, Maria, viro.

Sedulius Scottus (d. after 874)


The Oxford Book of Medieval Latin Verse, ed. F. J. E. Raby, 
Oxford at the Clarendon Press, 1959, p. 130.

Whether reading or writing, whether teaching or prying into philosophy, / I make entreaty to my [Lord's] high throne both night and day. / I eat, I freely drink, I invoke the Muses in verse, / Snoring I doze off: awake in the night I pray to God. / Aware of its wickedness my mind bewails my life's sins: / Christ, Mary, have mercy on a wretched man.

trans. Alistair Ian Blyth

Monday, 2 March 2015

Russia

'In my day,' said the Sergeant, 'half the scholars in the National Schools were walking around with enough disease in their gobs to decimate the continent of Russia and wither a field of crops by only looking at them. That is all stopped now, they have compulsory inspections, the middling ones are stuffed with iron and the bad ones are pulled out with a thing like the claw for cutting wires.'

'The half of it is due to cycling with the mouth open,' said Gilhaney.

'Nowadays,' said the Sergeant, 'it is nothing strange to see a class of boys at First Book with wholesome teeth and with junior plates manufactured by the County Council for half-nothing.'

'Grinding the teeth half-way up a hill,' said Gilhaney, 'there is nothing worse, it files away the best part of them and leads to a hob-nailed liver indirectly.'

'In Russia,' said the Sergeant, 'they make teeth out of old piano-keys for elderly cows but it is a rough land without too much civilisation, it would cost you a fortune in tyres.'

Flann O'Brien (1911-1966), The Third Policeman (1967), Chapter Six


Sunday, 8 February 2015

The level of paroxysm

First of all, nationalism is paranoia—collective and individual paranoia. As a collective paranoia, nationalism is born out of fear and envy. But above all, it appears as a result of an individual’s lost consciousness. Therefore, collective paranoia is nothing else but a summary of many individual paranoias brought together to a level of paroxysm. (…) a nationalist, almost by rule, as a social being and individual, is a negative figure—a nothingness. That is, by definition, he is a cipher. (…) A nationalist is, by definition, ignorant. Nationalism is therefore a stage of spiritual laziness and conformity. For a nationalist everything is easy because he knows, or thinks that he knows, his qualities, values, and abilities. That is, he knows the qualities of his nation, he knows his nation’s ethical and political values. And of course he is not interested in and does not care about the others. The others are hell (other nations, other tribes). And he does not need any information about them. The nationalist sees and recognizes in the others only himself—the nationalist.

Danilo Kiš, “On Nationalism”, Performing Arts Journal, Vol. 18, No. 2 (May, 1996, pp. 13-17

Friday, 19 December 2014

Love and Wheat / Wheat and Death

GRUSHENKO: To die . . . before the harvest. The crops, the grains, fields of rippling wheat. Wheat. All there is in life is wheat. . . . Oh, wheat! Lots of wheat! Fields of wheat! A tremendous amount of wheat. . . . Yellow wheat. Red wheat. Wheat with feathers. Cream of wheat.
SONJA: The last traces of the shimmering dusk are setting behind the quickly darkening evening, and it’s only noon. Soon we shall be covered by wheat.
NATASHA: Did you say . . . wheat?
SONJA AND NATASHA: Wheat . . .
GRUSHENKO: Wheat! I’m dead, they’re talking about wheat.
In its historical setting, plot, characters and atmosphere, Woody Allen’s feature film Love and Death (1975) parodies the nineteenth-century Russian novel in general and Tolstoy in particular. At the time of the film’s release, this would have been obvious to many viewers who had not necessarily read War and Peace from cover to cover: King Vidor’s spectacular big-screen adaptation of the novel, starring Audrey Hepburn and Henry Fonda among other famous names, had been released less than two decades previously, in 1956. And by the mid-1970s, when Woody Allen shot his film in Hungary, there were more than a half a dozen cinematic versions of Anna Karenina in existence. Through the names of its characters, their morbid love lives, their frequent agonising over the existence of God, and in verbal allusions such as a madcap dialogue involving wordplay on the titles of Dostoevsky’s novels, Love and Death also makes reference to Russia’s other towering nineteenth-century literary figure. Nor were Hollywood versions of Dostoevsky’s novels lacking; they included a 1958 MGM production of The Brothers Karamazov, starring Yul Brynner as a bald Dmitri Karamazov.

In general, Love and Death employs comic versions of the types and situations one might expect to find in a classic Russian novel. Although they are obviously important as somehow a quintessentially Russian leitmotiv, the film’s allusions to wheat would seem harder to pin down, however. On the eve of his duel with aristocrat and marksman Anton Lebedekov (Harold Gould), the bumbling Boris Grushenko (Woody Allen), who since boyhood has had visions of a white-robed, scythe-wielding Death, waxes lyrical about fields of rippling wheat and dying before the harvest. At the end of the film, Grushenko, having been executed by firing squad for his botched attempt to assassinate Napoleon, is being led away by the aforementioned Grim Reaper when his cousin Sonja (Diane Keaton) and Natasha (Jessica Harper) fall into a trance and begin uttering the word “wheat” in a droning threnody. What Russian novel might these ecstatic evocations of wheat be alluding to?

In Love and Death, the wheat motif occurs at liminal moments, on the threshold of death, between this world and the next, when the characters’ gaze seems to be fixed on some plane beyond the visible. In Tolstoy, however, the references to wheat would seem to be firmly rooted in this world rather than the next. For Tolstoy’s characters, wheat has an economic and an agronomic sooner than a metaphysical meaning. For example, in War and Peace, after giving his wife a thrashing, Yakov Alpatych, Bolkonsky’s estate manager, takes tea with innkeeper and grain dealer Ferapontov, and they talk about the price of wheat and how the weather is likely to affect the harvest. In Anna Karenina, Levin takes pleasure in the “velvety” vistas of green wheat he sees when out riding on his estate. Although Tolstoy does not explicitly mention the fact, we may assume that the said velvety vistas of wheat ripple. But otherwise, Levin’s interest is pragmatic: the harvesting of the wheat, the delivery of the wheat, how much money the wheat is expected to fetch at market.

It is to Dostoevsky that we must turn if we are to glean hints as to the mystical meaning of wheat that is seemingly parodied in Grushenko’s ecstatic vision. The epigraph to The Brothers Karamazov is the parable of the grain of wheat from the Gospel according to St John: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit” (John 12:24). Elder Zosima quotes the verse to Alexey Karamazov when he tells him of the terrifying fate he has foreseen looking in his brother Dmitri Karamazov’s eyes. Symbolist poet Vyacheslav Ivanov suggested a link between the name of the character Dmitri, who in the novel makes a spiritual descensus ad inferos, and Demeter, the goddess of the grain, whose daughter Persephone is abducted by Hades/Pluto and becomes queen of the underworld (i).
Notwithstanding the eschatological corn of wheat in The Brothers Karamazov, in Dostoevsky’s novels fields of wheat, rippling or otherwise, are wholly absent. Unlike landed aristocrat Count Leo Tolstoy, Dostoevsky “nearly never attempts to describe a rural landscape or the open country” (ii). The rural landscapes of boundless Russia do figure prominently in the novels of Ivan Turgenev, however. In Fathers and Sons, for example, the sight of rippling fields (a “waving sea”) of ripening wheat and whitening rye dispel Bazarov’s friend Arkadi’s melancholy thoughts. The natural world is part of the immanent reality within which Turgenev’s characters develop. But it is very much an eschatological wheat field that can be found in After Death (После Смерти, 1915), Yevgeny Bauer’s silent film adaptation of Turgenev’s short story “Clara Militch”. Yakov Aratov, a young, melancholy and rather reclusive man of twenty-five, a photography enthusiast who lives with his maiden aunt, rejects impetuous actress Clara Militch when she unexpectedly declares her love. She goes on to commit suicide by poison, dying on stage during a performance, and subsequently appears to Aratov in a dream, beckoning him to follow her. In Turgenev’s story, the landscape of the next world is barren, lifeless: Aratov dreams he is “on a bare steppe, strewn with big stones, under a lowering sky” (iii). But in Bauer’s film, the ghost of Clara Militch—wreathed with flowers, like Persephone when Hades snatches her down into the underworld—approaches Aratov through a field of ripe wheat.
Aratov becomes obsessed with Clara Militch, falling in love “with a dead woman, whom he had not even liked in her lifetime” (iv). In the story, she appears to him again in his sleep, this time at the end of a convoluted dream, which shifts from a sinister manor-house to a withered orchard and then to a lake, which symbolises the waters over which the dead cross to the other world. The dream (of the kind that Jung was to call the adumbratio) foreshadows Aratov’s death: he awakes to find the ghostly presence of Clara Militch in his room, he is enraptured and goes to her, they are united in a kiss, and he falls into a delirium, later dying with a rapturous smile on his lips. In the film, however, the scene of the second dream is the same wheat field as in the first vision. This time, Aratov is asleep in the corn; Clara Militch awakens him and they embrace, their eyes eerily fixed on some point above and beyond the frame, rather like Grushenko and Sonja in the scene in Love and Death where Woody Allen’s character, likewise on the threshold of death, is transported by his vision of fields of rippling wheat and cream of wheat.

One and a half decades after After Death, wheat fields were to be central to the imagery of a rather un-Chekhovian outburst appended to the text of Uncle Vanya in Jed Harris’s 1930 production of the play, whose cast included major silent film-era star Lillian Gish, in the rôle of Helena. The production had a twelve-week run at the Cort Theatre on Broadway and then toured Boston, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Chicago, before returning in triumph to New York. The Chekhovian awkward pause was deemed to be too subtle for American theatregoers, and so the play’s translator, Rose Caylor, padded out the silences with additional dialogue of her own invention. And nor were Chekhov’s ambiguous, muted endings to the taste of Americans accustomed to emotionally rousing Hollywood climaxes: Caylor expands and embellishes on Sonya’s final line, “We shall rest,” with the result that, as Laurence Senelick puts it in his history of Chekhov in performance, her words are “edulcorated into sentimental gush” (v):
We shall be happy because we shall have everything . . . The wheat fields will be there, and the blue cornflowers – And the woods in the spring! And Mother, and those we loved . . . and who loved us in return . . . And those who, in this existence, didn’t love us. She sobs suddenly. They’ll love us . . . They’ll want us . . . She weeps passionately, agonizedly. This is the suffering about which, in that future, she will speak to God. This, and not the other, is the truth. And so she weeps. (vi)
Sonja’s closing speech in Love and Death could almost be an indirect parody of Sonya’s effusion in Caylor’s sentimentalised version of Chekhov. A contemporary account of the Jed Harris production describes the “Chekhov spirit” as a “sad, amusing dream”; like the male cast of Love and Death, Astroff, Serebrakoff and Uncle Vanya are accoutred with the visual signifiers of nineteenth-century Russianness: “long whiskers” and “tall boots” (vii). The “wheat fields” are the culmination of this nostalgic vision of the pre-Soviet Russian spirit, one that can be found in almost every film and costume drama set in the period of the classic Russian novel.

Expressing vaguely mystical yearning, maudlin tragedy and premonition of death in an image that conjures up the boundless expanses of Mother Russia, the wheat motif in Love and Death ultimately alludes to and parodies not the Russian novel or drama but the reception of Russian literature in the western imagination and popular culture, a highly stylised and simplified version of nineteenth-century Russianness.

(i) Ksana Blank, Dostoevsky’s Dialectics and the Problem of Sin, Northwestern University Press, Evanston, 2010, p. 41.
(ii) George Steiner, Tolstoy or Dostoevsky, Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1967, p. 90.
(iii) Ivan Turgenev, Dream Tales and Prose Poems, translated by Constance Garnett, Macmillan and Co., New York, 1897, p. 54.
(iv) Ibid, p. 75.
(v) Laurence Senelick, The Chekhov Theatre. A Century of the Plays in Performance, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1997, p. 181.
(vi) Anton Chekhov, Uncle Vanya, translated and adapted by Rose Caylor, Covici Friede Inc., New York, 1930. 
(vii) Arthur Bigelow Paine, Life and Lillian Gish, The Macmillan Company, New York, 1932, p. 276-277. 


Cartea de grâu, ed. Șerban Anghelescu, Cosmin Manolache, Lila Pasima, Editura Martor, Bucharest, 2014, pp. 37-41.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

The venom of our age (2)

Nationalism is the venom of modern history. Nothing is more bestially absurd than the readiness of human beings to incinerate or slaughter one another in the name of nationhood and under the infantile spell of a flag. Citizenship is a bilateral arrangement that is, that ought always to be subject to critical examination and, if need be, abrogation. The death of Socrates outweighs the survival of Athens. Nothing dignifies French history more surely than the willingness of Frenchmen to go to the brink of communal collapse, to weaken the bonds of nationhood drastically (as they in fact did) over the Dreyfus case. (...) Dr Johnson (...) defined patriotism as the last refuge of a scoundrel. It seems to me doubtful whether the human animal will manage to survive if it does not learn to do without frontiers and passports, if it cannot grasp that we are all guests of each other, as we are of this scarred and poisoned earth. 

George Steiner, "The Cleric of Treason," The New Yorker, 8 December 1980; George Steiner: A Reader, Penguin: Harmondsworth, 1984, pp. 195-96.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Ego diurnus / ego nocturnus

Language of Dreams. [...] It is a language of Images and Sensations, the various dialects of which are far less different from each other, than the various Day-Languages of Nations. Proved even by the Dream Books of different Countries and ages. 2. The images either direct, as when a Letter reminds me of itself, or symbolic -- as Darkness for Calamity. Again, either anticipation or reminiscence. 3. These latter either grounded on some analogy, as to see a friend passing over a broad and deep water = Death, or seemingly arbitrary, as in the signification of Colors, different animals etc. 4. Frequently ironical: as if the fortunes of the Ego diurnus appeared exceedingly droll and ridiculous to the Ego nocturnus -- Dung = Gold etc. So in Nature, Man, Baboon, Horse, Ass. Cats' love and Rage--. 5. Probably a still deeper Dream, or Ὑπερόνειρος, of which there remains only an imageless but profound Presentiment or Boding [...] 6. The Prophets, and the Laws of Moses, the most majestic Instances.-- 7. Prophetic combinations, if there be such, = the instincts previous to the use and to the organ [...] 9. The Conscience -- the Unity of Day and Night [...] Are there two Consciences, the earthly and the Spiritual? -- 10. The sensuous Nature a Lexicon raisonné of Words, treating of, not being, spiritual things -- Our fall at once implied and produced a resistance, this a more or less confused Echo, and this a secondary Echo etc. -- And thus deeming the Echo to be the Words, the Words became Things -- Ἐιδολολατρεῖα. [...] 10. [...] The importance of the Gastric and especially the hepatic -- and the paramouncy of the Ganglionic over the Cerebral in Sleep. The Liver, and lower Abdomen -- the Engastrimuthi, and the prophetic power of diseased Life in the ancient Oracles, hard by Streams and Caverns of deleterious influences -- these numerous in early Paganism, then decreased and with them the Oracles.
Entry 4409, May 1818, The Notebooks of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, ed. Kathleen Coburn, Volume 3 (Text): 1808-1819, Bollingen Series 50, Princeton University Press, 1973.