Zachary’s Pizza in north Berkeley has a new piece of fan art up. It seems to have been done by quite a young artist. Sitting at a table are several celebrated East Bay authors, whose wobbly faces might get in the way of identification if they weren’t, luckily, all holding books printed with their names. At the table are Maxine Hong Kingston, Ursula K. LeGuin, Michael Chabon, Jack London, Gertrude Stein and Philip K. Dick. Eating pizza.
I think that trying to imagine the progress of this dinner illuminates the problems with canons.
“János Starker,” said my cello teacher, “who only just died, said the fourth finger should always rest here” and pointed to an unlikely spot on the bow.
“Starker is dead?”
He was my favorite cellist because he was a gemcutter. The cello always tempts you to excessive sweetness, to flourish and sway. To hold that sweetness in reserve is to enter the clear water, but only at an altitude of technique such that the technique ceases to tint the music. You should see thisreallyfor the first few seconds if nothing else: anticipation, anticipation, commencement. And that tone! So smooth and bright you’d swear it was coming through Fender pickups: just sound being sound.
“A lot of confusing things happen and then you die.” Middlemarch; Lanark. Not, say, Proust.
I want, for a moment, to emphasize that word "adjustment." It is almost a forgotten word just as some of you, once upon a time, were forgotten men. As you know, a great many of the high and mighty, with special axes to grind, have been deliberately trying to mislead people who know nothing of farming by misrepresenting - no, why use a pussyfoot word? - by lying about the kind of farm program under which this Nation is operating today.
A few leading citizens have gone astray from other causes - such as ignorance. I must admit that. For example, a few years ago in the countryside where I live, I was driving with a prominent city banker. Everything was brown. The leaves were off the trees. And all of a sudden we passed a beautiful green field. He asked me what it was. I told him it was winter wheat. He turned to me and said, "That is very interesting. I have always wondered about winter wheat. What I don't understand is how they are able to cut it when it gets all covered up with snow."
The other example was down in Georgia. An editor of a great metropolitan paper was visiting me down there in the summertime when I showed him my farm with 40 or 50 acres of cotton, when the cotton was nearly grown but before the bolls had formed. Looking out over the cotton fields he said to me:
"What a large number of raspberries they grow down here."
Well, raspberries was right. Because, at four and a half cents a pound for cotton his mistake was, perhaps, a natural one.
FDR on the Agricultural Adjustment Act, May 14, 1935
In the afternoon Christ died, our tongues turned thick, we forgot our sentences and fell asleep.
Palaz of hoon
With my bare hands I broke up some ramifications of dead wood, chucked them into the green waste bin and carted it out to the curb. It was warm dusk and mockingbirds were burbling. I do enjoy my little empire.
Every few years, a new step in this awkward dance of privacy and revelation. We're trying a new arrangement in which www.metameat.net persists as an expansive subset of these entries, especially as they relate to Books and their Writers, thus serving as public mask and Google decoy, while atem.metameat.net is the same as ever, plus the odd item I wish to share not with the world but with you. I don’t think it much matters which versions are linked to, or put in blogrolls, if there are any blogrolls now.
Two days ago I had a bad spell chopping potatoes. The act of severing the potato from itself became all at once metaphysically stupid and horrible, I fell down on the linoleum and shouted that I couldn’t go on. My daughter made dinosaur noises in sympathy from the next room. I love my daughter. I gave her a hug, my wife took over and I went to bed.
Today I took the train. Electric white bay under clouds. That was new. Jeden Tag was Neues.
Metaphysics is jealous of food & always has been. Smile, nod, let it go its way.
In the Moat
an unsolicited preface to Mind and World
The way that a journal degenerates into a to-do list must be one more deformation from all those years in school. Think of the hours you sat at that table or a desk, pen in hand, someone else’s words clouding the air, with the sense of a weight of lumber to be cleared away but no room to start, and nothing to do but count and recount the unbudged planks. That sense follows you out of the classroom and into the office, the car, the train compartment, the bed before dawn. The wants are so gaping and the means so scarce that even to mark out a starting position is tantamount to squaring the circle. You operate at a loss. You fail to keep what you have, and never pay down the principal on what you owe to yourself, or to the great causes that you claim to believe in. My daughter understands that there are shapes and there are apertures, and she has seen one pass through the other, but they won’t be led, they won’t give up their brute obstinacy in her hands.
The mind is free, says Epictetus, and many after him. The mind has a moat; this is your side, that is theirs, and nothing crosses the bridge without your assent. Again and again we’re driven back into that bunker, with all its melancholy fantasies. Think of Borges, for instance, in “The Secret Miracle”that dream of freezing in time before the firing squad is a commensurate picture for the freeway commute, the continuing-education seminar. The only possible freedom of conscience under such circumstances is the backward plunge into what John McDowell calls “frictionless spinning in the void.”
The claim of “The Secret Miracle” is that one can always be making poetry. The cost is only that the poem cannot cross the moat, and is therefore lost even to its maker; a devotion sub specie aeternitatis has no recipient (“no trabajó para la posteridad ni aun para Dios, de cuyas preferencias literarias poco sabía”). The elision of that eternity, in Borges, into the narrator who recounts the story from a later time is that bit of circle-squaring sophistry we allow our fictions to get away with.
And suppose such a poema play in verse, we are told, written in hexametershad somehow crossed the moat? To write as a devotional was already the practice of the modernists, who found all the other envelopes returned to sender; and before and after that time we all have heard entropy’s dull wings at our backs. The problem isn’t to fill the moat, nor to cross the moat once it’s filled. The problem is to be easy enough in the world that the moat ceases to be interesting.
Bay area families on single incomes
What’s for dinner?
J.: “I was prepared to be pretty annoyed at this article until she started talking about the evictions, 10 or so paragraphs in, and then it abruptly switched to WHOSE SIDE ARE YOU ON, MOTHERFUCKER? WHOSE SIDE?”