Friday, July 15, 2005

A Reader’s Report

Since Fobsie’s posts have knocked my last one off the front page; since Fobsie’s always on asking what the heck I’m about, not turning up at Salon for so long; since the pale shadow of insomnia is lurking in the corner; since I feel too lazy to say anything for myself, here are a few excerpts from my reading over the last couple of months:

[Describing Leonardo’s ‘La Giaconda’, or ‘Mona Lisa’:] ‘All the thoughts and experience of the world have etched and moulded there, in that which they have of power to refine and make expressive the outward form, the animalism of Greece, the lust of Rome, the mysticism of the Middle Age with its spiritual ambition and imaginative loves, the return of the Pagan world, the sins of the Borgias. She is older than the rocks among which she sits; like the vampire, she has been dead many times, and learned the secrets of the grave; and has been a diver in deep seas, and keeps their fallen day about her; and trafficked for strange webs with Eastern merchants, and, as Leda, was the mother of Helen of Troy, and, as Saint Anne, the mother of Mary; and all this has been to her as but the sound of lyres and flutes, and lives only in the delicacy with which it has moulded the changing lineaments, and tinged the eyelids and the hands.’
- Walter Pater, Studies in the History of the Renaissance

‘Who […] cares whether Mr Pater has put into the portrait of Mona Lisa something that Leonardo never dreamed of? The painter may have been merely the slave of an archaic smile, as some have fancied, but whenever I pass into the cool galleries of the Palace of the Louvre, and stand before that strange figure “set in its marble chair in that cirque of fantastic rocks, as in some faint light under sea,” I murmur to myself, “She is older than the rocks among which she sits; like the vampire, she has been dead many times, and learned the secrets of the grave; and has been a diver in deep seas, and keeps their fallen day about her; and trafficked for strange webs with Eastern merchants, and, as Leda, was the mother of Helen of Troy, and, as Saint Anne, the mother of Mary; and all this has been to her as but the sound of lyres and flutes, and lives only in the delicacy with which it has moulded the changing lineaments, and tinged the eyelids and the hands.” And I say to my friend, “The presence that thus so strangely rose beside the waters is expressive of what in the ways of a thousand years man had come to desire”; and he answers me, “Hers is the head upon which all ‘the ends of the world are come,’ and the eyelids are a little weary.”’
- excerpt of dialogue from Oscar Wilde’s The Critic as Artist

‘One walks the streets [of Paris] knowing that he is mad, possessed, because it is only too obvious that these cold, indifferent faces are the visages of one’s keepers. Here all boundaries fade away and the world reveals itself for the mad slaughterhouse that it is. The treadmill stretches away to infinitude, the hatches are closed down tight, logic runs rampant, with bloody cleaver flashing. The air is chill and stagnant, the language apocalyptic. Not an exit sign anywhere; no issue save death. A blind alley at the end of which is a scaffold. … The cradles of civilization are the putrid sinks of the world, the charnel house to which the stinking wombs confide their bloody packages of flesh and bone.’
- Henry Miller, Tropic of Cancer

‘As [the would-be knight errant Don Quixote] fails, again and again, on a progressively grander scale, each defeat is a greater indictment of what defeats him. … Even Sancho Panza, the solid peasant of the all-but-closed mind, discovers that to lift one’s eyes once to the vision is to spoil forever contentment with the mediocre. Don Quixote, who refused to see the world as nothing more than the dust and rags of its surface, is forced to recant, finally, and, as Menendez-Pidal puts it, “dies of the sadness of life on discovering that reality is inferior to him,” but only after he has become, for all time, the charismatic image of the human will to achieve.’
- Basil Busacca, on Cervantes’ Don Quixote

‘And may God deny you peace, but give you glory!’
- last line of Miguel de Unamuno’s The Tragic Sense of Life, which has been characterized as ‘the deification of Don Quixote’

‘Man has, as it were, become a kind of prosthetic God. When he puts on all his auxiliary organs he is truly magnificent; but those organs have not grown on to him and they still give him much trouble at times….’
- Sigmund Freud, Civilization and its Discontents

‘If the intellectuals in the plays of Chekhov who spent all their time guessing what would happen in twenty, thirty, or forty years had been told that in forty years interrogation by torture would be practiced in Russia; that prisoners would have their skulls squeezed by iron rings; that a human being would be lowered into an acid bath; that they would be trussed up naked to be bitten by ants and bedbugs; that a ramrod heated over a primus stove would be thrust up their anal canal (the “secret brand”); that a man’s genitals would be slowly crushed under the toe of a jackboot; and that, in the luckiest possible circumstances, prisoners would be tortured by being kept from sleeping for a week, by thirst, and by being beaten to a bloody pulp, not one of Chekhov’s plays would have gotten to its end because all the heroes would have gone off to insane asylums.’
- Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956: An Experiment in Literary Investigation, Part I, Chapter 3: ‘The Interrogation’
slq

2 comments:

fobsie said...

welcome back clement

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