The Review of Arts, Literature,
Philosophy and the Humanities
The Best of
[Issues 194 - 200]
Early Summer 2010The DervishThere was a famous dervish in the neighborhood known as the best philosopher in Turkey. They went to consult him. Pangloss acted as spokesman and said, "Master, we come to pray you tell us why such a strange animal as man was created."
"Why should you care?" said the dervish. "Is it any of your business?"
"But my Reverend Father," said Candide, "there is so horribly much evil in the world."
"So what if there's good or evil in the world?" said the dervish. "When His Highness sends a ship to Egypt, does he worry if the mice on board are comfortable or not?"
"Then what should we do?" said Pangloss.
"You should shut up," said the dervish.
"It would make me so happy," said Pangloss, "to reason a little with you about some effects and causes, the best of all possible worlds, the origin of evil, the nature of the soul, and predestination."
At these words, the dervish closed the door in their faces.--- From Candide by Voltaire
David Tucker, Translator
The Exploding EyeA detached retina consists of a nightmare that does not go away when you fully awaken. Half of one's vision turns into a big black bobble, looming in (in my case) from the lower right-hand side of the right eye.
These things mostly happen on weekends, as you know ... but the vision-gods were on our side this Tuesday, and since I live not so far from my eye doctor's office, I got in my car and keeping one eye on my retina and the other on the road, I drove directly to his office without passing Go (or Goa) and was, within a half an hour, without the usual appointment, in his examination chair. Within another hour, he had me in the hands of a nearby retina specialist, Dr. Ojo, a rather nervous man, humming as he examined me, humming, as I recall, "Please please me."
I think we should pause here and give tribute to an army of unsung heroes: that is, those of us geezers who find ourselves sitting in an uncomfortable chair in a darkened room as a doctor prepares to stick a ten- or fifteen-inch horse-needle directly into one of our orbs. An even more special tribute, perhaps a medal of honor, should be awarded to those of us who make the choice not to bolt, nor shriek, nor beg for mercy, nor simply have an heart-attack and pass on ... but who sit gamely on, idiotically, bathed in sweat and terror as the moment comes when...
§ § §
Something that twenty years ago would have put one in the hospital for a week is now replaced with four hours in room 3-A with an eye-stick, followed by a twenty-minute stapling routine (complete with Bondo), and with, as a final gift, a bubble.
Now I have always been fond of bubbles. My older brother was for some unexplained reason given the nickname "Bubbles" until he suddenly and vehemently renounced it when he turned fourteen. In addition, in the late 1940s, the synonym for all that was lascivious in our North Florida world appeared at the Windmill Club over on Blanding Blvd., a lady who danced in the near-dark, accompanied by a ragtag band and a groaning soap-machine. She was known by the name of "Bubbles LaMone" (or "LaMoan" --- accounts differ). Other naughty pleasures which I will not bore you with at this time also transpired in the bathtub at home filled with warm water into which a package of pink powder had been dumped which turned it into a "bubble bath."
Dr. Ojo gave me a large bubble inside my eyeball which was to stay around for six or seven weeks. Because it was injected directly into my eye (and into my life) now it floated there and held the errant retina in place until it could re-solder itself to the roof of my mouth or whatever it is that retinas attach themselves to nowadays.
Because the eye is upside down, I mean, because you and I see the world as inverted, this new addition to my life and vision floated up but appeared to be down: just around groin level or, worse, at the exact level where one holds a book or tries to see the computer keyboard.
It was quite colorful, this (what the Spanish call) burbuja. It was a luminous blue-gray-green-black with occasional undertones of red. "Wow," I said as Dr. Ojo completed sticking it in my eye. "That's beautiful," I said. "Is this laughing gas or what?"
It wasn't laughing gas or what, but it was quite lovely. I mean, if you had to have a bubble stuck in your eye, better this colorful one than one that was just black or red or white or green. At times, it looked beguilingly like the moon in total eclipse; at other times it was the morning sun, rising from the dark floor of the sea.
Or, depending on my mood, I could see it as the planet Uranus viewed through the Hubble telescope. Later on, as it diminished (the gas slowly adsorbed into the system) it looked less like Uranus and more like one of the planets of Jupiter. In its last stages, it shrank down to the size of a billiard-ball, then a ball-bearing, until, at last, it was no more than a blue-black BB bopping about at the edge of my vision every time I looked around.
Dr. Ojo advised me not to go on any airlines while the bubble was in place, telling me nonchalantly that my eye would explode if I did so. I asked him if it was OK to visit his offices in a submarine. He allowed that there would be no danger of an exploding eye underwater but that his office had, unfortunately, no docking space for submarines, even yellow ones.--- L. W. Milam
The Day We Found the Universe
(Pantheon)--- Polaris (also known as the North Star) is not a star: it is "a three star system" including a Cepheid, a star with a dim/bright cycle (in this case, it varies every four days);
--- In the sixteenth century, Giordano Bruno said, presciently, "the center of the universe is everywhere, and the circumference is nowhere." (Buddhist philosophers --- before and after --- substitute the word "the soul" for "the universe;")
--- It is assumed by many that Fred Hoyle coined the phrase The Big Bang in 1949. But almost three decades before that, the British astronomer, Arthur Eddington, specifically said that he "did not believe that the present order of things started off with a bang;"
--- A hundred years ago, our place in the universe was considered the universe; those dim clusters of stars --- now known as galaxies --- were considered minor offshoots of the Milky Way;
--- The concept of the ever-increasing "balloon" universe didn't start with Edwin Hubble, nor even Albert Einstein ... nor any of the other heroes of the turn-of-the-20th-century universe such as George E. Hale, Percival Lowell or Adriaan van Maanen. Rather it came from a quiet, shy priest named Georges Lemaître, who wrote about it in 1927.
§ § §
Bartusiak has the reputation of a "popularizer" of scientific matters, but I suspect that she writes more profoundly than that. Way back in 1996, RALPH published an extremely silly review of her Thursday's Universe [see www.ralphmag.org/ universe.html]. We called her "a crackerjack writer." We also headlined her wonderful quote from Edward Tryon: In answer to the question of why it happened, I offer the modest proposal that our Universe is simply one of those things which happen from time to time.
Bartusiak is indeed a crackerjack presenter. She is also opinionated. She tells us, for example, that Edwin Hubble had the unscientific habit of fudging his past. He said that he had practiced law in Louisville, Kentucky; he probably never did. He claimed to have fought in the trenches in WWI --- but the U. S. Army has no record of such. He was also taken with smoking pipes, wearing plus-fours, and speaking with a fake English accent.
Bartusiak's real heroes are the silent laboring types, like Milton Humason, who worked with Hubbell on Mount Wilson, heroically posted at the top of the 100-inch telescope ... in the cold, exposing plates night after night, keeping extensive and careful notes. Or Percival Lowell's associate, Vesto Silpher, "An unassuming and dignified man who always wore a suit and tie to work when not observing."
He preferred to correspond with his peers rather than travel and often had others present his findings.
Then there is Lemaître, who wrote up his startling concept of an ever-expanding universe in an obscure Belgian journal eighty years ago. Rephrasing his theory brings Bartusiak to new heights, making something unbearably complex into words that even I can almost understand: "The galaxies are not rushing through space but instead are being carried along as space-time inflates without end. The embedded galaxies are simply going along for the ride."
That's why the recession occurs in a specific way: A galaxy twice as far from us recedes twice as fast; a galaxy three times farther travels three times faster, and so on.
Lemaître's conclusions "offered an astounding vision of how the universe operates. But no one noticed --- no one at all."
Lemaistre was a bit of a poet himself. In 1950 he wrote in his final book, The Primeval Atom,
The evolution of the world can be compared to a display of fireworks that has just ended: some few red wisps, ashes, and smoke ... Standing on a well-chilled cinder, we see the slow fading of the suns, and try to recall the vanished brilliance of the origin of the worlds.--- Richard Saturday
[READING]A Friend in ZagrebOne day, I am reading alone at a table. Though most of Zagreb's restaurants now cater to the emerging bourgeoisie, a few Socialist Realism diners like this one survive. Decorations are sparse, the radio is loud, and the traditional fare is better than at the pretentious places, at a third of the price. When the tables are full, patrons stand at a counter in the middle of the room.
An older but not elderly man walks over with his cane and sits with me quietly, and when I ask him about his beer, he tells me it is good. Listing off all the other beers, which are also good, he says the newspaper is all lies for ignorant people. It is good that I am young and need little and that the world is mine, he says, and he knows I have many girlfriends since I have no wife.
Looking at the book in my hand, he tells me he has never heard of Joseph Conrad because he didn't finish school. Though people in the Balkans are open and warm, they are all people with deep roots. It is good to have a history, which America doesn't, but --- his hands pause with gravity --- we must remember that we are all children of Mother Earth. He too has seen many beauties of the world, the mountains of Colorado and the cathedrals of Paris. He tells me that he is an old man because he almost forgot his hat, but, with the same smile both deep and wide, and the same genteel stare into my eyes, that I should not forget to live well, and it was a pleasure to meet me but he has to go home now that his beer is finished.--- From Shuffled How It Gush:
A North American Anarchist in the Balkans
©2009 AK Press
QuestionBody my house
my horse my hound
what will I do
when you are fallen
Where will I sleep
How will I ride
What will I hunt
Where can I go
without my mount
all eager and quick
How will I know
in thicket ahead
is danger or treasure
when Body my good
bright dog is dead
How will it be
to lie in the sky
without roof or door
and wind for an eye
With cloud for shift
how will I hide?--- ©1949 May Swenson
e. e. cummings
George J. Firmage,
(Norton)He probably changed forever the way many of us saw the world (the world of love, the world of poetry). To this day there are countless of us who write their names in lower case (i do) in homage to him, write to still the harsh artificial command of the Germanic first person singular, turn it soft, caring,
Lady,i will touch you with my mind
Touch and touch and touch
until you give
me suddenly a smile,shyly obscene
Love was his job, and he wrote it with love. Love passion bodies, love in charity and goodwill, love that provoked ("i fill her hips with boys and girls"), love that was aware that we were at times garish
between the breasts
Marj lie large
men who praise
Marg's cleancornered strokable
all the while love so honest that grotesqueries of it peered through in a trash-strewn Greenwich Village walk-up at dawn,
she got up
with a gashing yellow yawn
and tottered to a glass bumping things.
she picked wearily something from the floor
Her hair was mussed,and she coughed while tying strings
For thirty-seven years he burnished our love with none but the simplest words, passion in a world that didn't take easily to writings about passion ... yet he made do, words he learned to fold here and there, fold them and our loves so that the Moral Police would leave him (and us) (and our love) alone,
anyone lived in a pretty how town
(with up so floating many bells down)
spring summer autumn winter
he sang his didn't he danced his did.
He was a man who knew how to touch us (and our secrets) with just the right touch,
when by now and tree by leaf
she laughed his joy she cried his grief
bird by snow and stir by still
anyone's any was all to her
§ § §
I once saw him read, back in 1955. There must have been 200 of us in the audience and I presume we were all in love with him; I certainly was.
It was at Bryn Mawr College, just outside Philadelphia. It was early evening. He looked like he just got off the tennis court. His way of speaking was elegant; his style impeccable. He was wearing an open soft white cotton shirt, long sleeves, just open enough to hint we just wanted a hint of such poetic force. His was a tanned Ivy League sort of ease and I most remember the freckles and his husky voice, the way he leaned easily into the words ... and my heart thrashing about.
He read simply and didn't comment on what he wrote and said. He didn't have to. I wanted him all for me to live with and have his babies so I would have followed him about that night (or any other night) all night if he so wished but I was terribly outnumbered.
§ § §
I can't think of any writer who as he writes offers more contrast between the page and the word. It's his print tricks ... the visual play where he can take "both at once and brought all of her trembling to a dead standstill" and turn it into
brought allofher tremB
It's typographical trickery but it's more. It is taking the simplest words and turning them around in the heart, kneading them in the fire inside our souls, siting love everywhere, for
her hand is five flowers
upon her whitest belly there is a clever dreamshaped flower
and her wrists are the merest most wonderful flowers my
lady is filled
Love's a coach with gilt hopeless wheels mired
where sits rigidly her body's doll
you said Is
there anything which
is dead or alive more beautiful
than my body,to have in your fingers
(trembling ever so little)?
your eyes Nothing,i said,except the
air of spring smelling of never and forever.
Love I tell you was his forte, the gentle explosion of love-words that he rained on us his loving fans there in the downpour, words enmeshed with every print-tool in the box colons semicolons dashes periods commas spaces lack-of-spaces sprinkled apparently randomly yet concisely exactly where he wanted the tricks of the page that could turn the page and love anywhere he wished, telling us (he did!)
(lady i will
touch you with my mind.)Touch
you,that is all,
lightly and you utterly will become
with infinite ease
the poem which i do not write.--- Pamela Wylie
True Tales from Gleaners,
Scavengers and Dumpster Divers
Laura Pritchett, Editor
(Oklahoma)Editor Laura Pritchett tells us not to "get depressed" when you dumpster dive: "So many beautiful things get thrown away." She and twenty-four divers and gleaners tell you how to do it without hurting yourself. Wear gloves and old clothing that covers everything. Bring a small stepladder. Go at the end of the month, and, in college towns, especially at the end of the semester.
Look behind the townhouses (they prefer dumpsters to cans). And bring a ski pole ... "to use as a stick to bring things up or to poke through bags." The key word, apparently, is "gleaning." The painter Jean Millet is cited in Linda Hasslestrom's "Gleaning with Mac." She roams the back alleys of Cheyenne, tells us that she has found "shovels, rakes, tomato cages ... watering cans, rolls of fence wire, cake pans, dozens of canisters with tight-fitting lids, and rugs I use for mulch around trees."
Jack Collom teaches school in Boulder, has his kids write essays on "Things to Save." This is what Juli Koski (fifth grade) wrote,
I'd like to save the sweet chocolaty chewy candy bars that melt in your mouth, the warm cozy pillow that you can't wait to sleep on, I'd like to save green meadows that you run barefoot across running and running until you collapse on the wet soft grass, the hot days when you try to eat ice cream but it melts and plops on your foot, I'd like to save the amusement parks where you go on a twisty ride and throw up all over yourself but that's just what you thought would happen, I'd like to save the little green bug my big brother viciously killed six months ago, I'd like to save the world all green and blue and beautiful, I'd like to save the little things that everyone enjoys.
Charles R. Boning
(Pineapple Press)As we demonstrated in our recent review of Ichetucknee [see www.ralphmag.org/FU/florida-rivers.html] --- we are entranced by the wetlands, lakes, and rivers of that luckless state, beset as it is by hurricanes, northerners, Pentecostals, palmetto bugs, hucksters and the likes of Jeb Bush.
Recently we flew up --- in a prop plane no less --- from Miami to Jacksonville, and despite the dark words from those death's-head ecologists, we were astounded at the sheer number of lakes and rivers and creeks and bogs and swamps and ponds and lagoons and water life up and down the state.
Mr. Boning has collected sixty rivers here, including those that should be part of any Anacrostics puzzle, including the Loxahatchee, the Withlacoochee, the Homosassa, the Ocklawaha, the Sopchoppy, the Choctawatchee --- not to mention Fisheating Creek and the very gentle Peace River.
Each river is graded according to type, substrate, length and watershed, and is given stars for "Ecological Condition." Most get four stars, but the Econfina is awarded five, possibly because of its name. Thanks to the influx of all those nitwits from the Upper Middle West, the Miami River gets one.
Dredging, dams and the U. S. Corps of Army Engineers have done their best to degrade the Caloosahatchee near Ft. Myers to two stars, and the great 300-mile-long St. Johns river where I grew up is down to three. When I was a tad, it was filled with beautiful hyacinth plants with purple flowers. But there were, also, streams of people poop and used, tired condoms. (We always tried to get that dummie Timmy Rodgers to fish the condoms out and blow up the floating baby-stoppers like they were mere balloons.) We also did our best to destroy the hyacinths, not knowing that they were a natural poop fighter.
In the summers, we spent our weekends out on the Nassau River, where the brute lessons of ecology began. The paper people had put in a giant pulp mill upstream, and soon the trout, groupers, sheepshead and drum were dead gone. There were no more blue-point oysters, and even the hardy blue crab had disappeared. "You have to pay a price for progress," said our not-too-wise elders.---Irving Spivack
Ninety-Six-Year-Old EstonianJust before World War II I was smuggled into America on a tramp freighter. There were a hundred of us and only one toilet on the stormy seas. We were never allowed up on deck during our entire passage. The dark was good practice for twenty-five days because a job had been arranged for me in a basement in Brooklyn, twelve hours a day seven days a week so that I didn't see America in the daylight for five months since I arrived in November. In fact I only saw daylight in the late spring, summer, and early fall for ten years. I was held there by fear, working for a Chinaman who had paid my passage. My job was stamping out rubber guns and knives for novelty stores. After a decade of this I strangled the Chinaman and stole his money and consequently had a happier life working on freighters between New York City and ports in Central and South America as a deckhand, taking extra shifts to get daylight hours. For a while I was a thief and gambler but quit this profitable life because it was night work. It was far better to work on vegetable farms in New Jersey, all in the wonderful daylight. Now that I can barely move I have this small room in my nephew's junky house in Nyack. I spend every day from dawn to dusk sitting in this chair watching the light off the Hudson River, which changes every second.--- From In Search of Small Gods
©2009 Copper Canyon Press(A review of Harrison's book can be found at www.ralphmag.org/FU/harrison.html)
Hello, attached to a review of the book --- The Black Room At Longwood --- Napoleon's Exile on Saint Helena --- the portrait of Napoleon that is used has my attention, because I am in possession of a similar portrait. Do you have any information about its copyright holder? Who the artist was? Anything?
Just looking for some leads on how to track this information down. Thanking you in advance...--- Kate Kobylarz
§ § §Hi, Kate:
This review was published over nine years ago, long before we mounted the roost here at RALPH. We've looked through the notes accumulated by our predecessors, but they were a slovenly bunch, never giving credit where credit was due, especially in matters of artwork. Thus, we are as much in the dark as you are. All we can suggest is that you contact the publisher (Four Walls, Eight Windows) to see if they have the malign plate of the man they called Napoleon.
Louis H. Sullivan
And the 19th-Century Poetics
of Naturalized Architecture
Lauren S. Weingarden
(Ashgate)I've told you about my heart before, haven't I? About the problems I have with it? Banging around, sometimes going absurd, the bird in the ivory cage.
Interesting what sets it off. A perfect sunset. A great meal. Falling in love. And books on architecture.
Especially architecture from a hundred or more years ago. Before they invented all those see-through cubes. Before they tore down the great old buildings of New York and Chicago and Washington and Philadelphia and Denver and San Francisco, those dandied-up constructions like wedding cakes, with arches and curves, relief panels and capitals and overhangs; brackets, mansards, trusses; Queen Anne, Italianate, Second Empire, Gothic Revival, Neoclassical.
§ § §
Unlike the box builders of the 20th Century, Louis H. Sullivan was no simple blind, tasteless architect. He studied the art of art, "the useful arts." The theory of the International School of architecture was formlessness follows function; Sullivan's was the opposite. Sullivan, according to Lauren Weingarden, came under the spell of John Ruskin, who saw the function of art not merely as delight, but as a fount of wisdom, and, at the same time, usefulness.
If you make a painting, it should move the heart; if you build a building, it should do the same. Sullivan saw a building as not just a place to do business, or to get people out of the sun, rain, and wind, but as a visual representative of mankind's aspirations, and the beauty of those aspirations. In one essay, "The Tall Office Building Artistically Considered," he claimed that a building should be "a living form of speech, a natural utterance."
The skyscraper must be tall, every inch tall ... rising in sheer exultation from bottom to top without a single dissenting line.
He called it "the eloquent peroration of most bald, most sinister, most forbidding conditions."
Ruskin might have influenced Tolstoi, Proust, Gandhi, and Sullivan ... but sometimes it's not easy for us plain folk to follow, much less comprehend, his words. He said that art "comes from organic and spiritual unity." Specifically for the likes of Sullivan, he wrote that "No man can be an architect who is not a metaphysician."
§ § §
I once ran into a hand-lettered sign on a door in the science building at UC Berkeley: "Help stamp out reality. Practice a little metaphysics every day." Ruskin would never offer us such a mot. He was far too serious. And architecture for him was a serious business. "The great architect," he said, "must also be a sculptor or a painter. If he is not a sculptor or a painter, he can only be a builder."
Ruskin's favorite bit of architecture was The Ruin. Especially Gothic ruins, ones that had fallen apart, were covered with "the golden stain of time." Like Wordsworth's Tintern Abbey:
For I have learned
To look on nature, not as in the hour
Of thoughtless youth; but hearing oftentimes
The still, sad music of humanity,
Nor harsh nor grating, though of ample power
To chasten and subdue. And I have felt
A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused...In Louis H. Sullivan and Naturalized Architecture, Ms. Weingarden focuses on several Sullivan structures built in Chicago: The Auditorium Building, the Stock Exchange Building, the Guaranty Building, and the Walker Warehouse, the Schiller Building, and the Transportation Building built for the 1893 Chicago World's Fair. (She also includes the Wainwright Building in St. Louis.)
We can admire these as best we are able, but since four of these have been demolished, some of us find ourselves frothing at the mouth. In fact, research for this review led us to photographs of dozens of office buildings and skyscrapers built in the beginning of the twentieth century which have been demolished.
I am a grown man, not given to weeping or excessive gnashing of the teeth, but the idea of these gorgeous "very tall" sculptures being wrecked for the grotty glass boxes that have taken their places did turn me quite morbid and sullen ... made me snarl at the wife, scold the children, kick the dog.
As Jerome K. Jerome would put it, I found myself "quite vexed." I wanted to find the graves of those responsible for demolishing the Chicago Stock Exchange Building or the Schiller Building, to do something vulgar and not very profitable on their very graves; something that you don't even want to know about.--- Elliot Addams
FaulknerOn one occasion, a young man went to visit him and found him standing with his pipe, which had gone out, in one hand and, in the other, the bridle of the pony that his daughter Jill was riding. To break the ice, the young man asked if the little girl had been riding long. Faulkner did not reply at once. Then he said: "Three years," adding: "You know, a woman should know only how to do three things." He paused, then concluded: "Tell the truth, ride a horse, and sign a cheque."
Jill was not the first daughter Faulkner had with his wife, Estelle, who brought with her two children from a previous marriage. The first daughter they had together died only five days after being born. They called her Alabama. Her mother was still weak and in bed, and Faulkner's brothers were out of town at the time and never saw the child. Faulkner could see no point in holding a funeral, since in those five days the little girl had only had time to become a memory, not a person. So her father put her in a tiny coffin and carried her to the cemetery on his lap. Alone, he placed her in her grave, without telling anyone.
When he received the Nobel Prize in 1950, Faulkner was, at first, reluctant to go to Sweden. However, in the end, he not only went, he travelled throughout Europe and Asia on "a State Department mission." He did not much enjoy the endless functions to which he was invited. At a party given in his honour by Gallimard, his French publishers, it is said that after each succinct reply to questions put by journalists, he would take a step backward. Step by step, he eventually found himself with his back to the wall, and only then did the journalists take pity on him or else give him up as a lost cause. He finally sought refuge in the garden. A few people decided to venture out there too, announcing that they were going to talk to Faulkner, only to come straight back in again, proffering excuses in faltering voices: "It's awfully cold out there." Faulkner was a taciturn man who loved silence, and went to the theatre only five times in his entire life: he had seen Hamlet three times, A Midsummer Night's Dream, and Ben Hur, and that was all. He had not read Freud either, at least so he said on one occasion: "I have never read him. Neither did Shakespeare. I doubt if Melville did either and I'm sure Moby Dick didn't." He read Don Quixote every year.
But then he also said that he never told the truth. After all, he wasn't a woman, although he did have a woman's love of cheques and horseback-riding. He always said that he had written Sanctuary, his most commercial novel, for money: "I needed it to buy a good horse." He also said that he didn't visit big cities very often because you couldn't go there on horseback. When he was getting older, against the advice of both his family and his doctors, he continued going out riding and jumping fences, and kept falling off. The last time he went riding he suffered just such a fall. From the house, his wife saw Faulkner's horse standing by the gate, with its saddle still on and the reins hanging loose. When she didn't see her husband there with the horse, she called Dr. Felix Linder and they went out looking for him. They found him over half a mile away, limping, almost dragging himself along. The horse had thrown him and he hadn't been able to remount, having fallen on his back. The horse had walked on a few paces, then stopped and looked round. When Faulkner managed to get to his feet, the horse came over to him and touched him with its muzzle. Faulkner had tried to grab the reins, but failed. Then the horse had headed off towards the house.
William Faulkner spent some time in bed, badly injured and in great pain. He had still not fully recovered from the fall when he died. He was in the hospital, where he had been admitted for a check-up on his progress. But legend refuses to accept that the fall from his horse was the cause of his death. He was killed by a thrombosis on July 6, 1962, when he was not quite sixty-five.
When asked to name the best American writers of his day, he would say that they had all failed, but that Thomas Wolfe had been the finest failure and William Faulkner the second finest failure. He often repeated this over the years, but it is worth remembering that Thomas Wolfe had been dead since 1938, that is, during nearly all the years that Faulkner used to give this answer and was himself alive.--- From Written Lives
Margaret Jull Costa,
©2006 New Directions
The Fall of the Soviet Empire
(Pantheon)Back when I was at university, there at the beginning of the Cold War, some of us history buffs were fascinated by the Soviet Union. It was a sure thing that any information coming in on radio or television was vastly skewed. Those were the days of Joseph McCarthy and Pat McCarren; it was impossible to visit Russia or indeed, any of the Soviet bloc; one could be suspected of disloyalty by just asking questions about those places.
A professor at my school, Dr. Schulke, was considered one of the leading experts, but his classes were sparsely attended. The first day I signed up, I found out why. He had a speech impediment, a fairly big one. For "Soviet" he said "Thoviet." For Russia he said "Ruthea." For "said" he said "thaid."
Once, a few weeks later, when I was in conference with him, he said to me, "I don't know how you can thand it." And I said, "Thand what?"
No, I didn't: I said, "I don't know what you mean." "The clath," he said. "It's a great class," I said. And I meant it. He was such a good teacher, pulling together strands here and there --- Ivan the Terrible and Josef Stalin; the peasants and American slaves; the Boyars and the Tsars --- he was so good that within a week most of us, his prize students, I swear, were beginning to talk like him. I tell you, he was that inspiring.
§ § §
Good teaching like good writing is a matter of life, facts and rhythm. Schulke's classes began gently, soared in the middle, and by the end, came to an artistic close.
And that is just the way that Victor Sebestyen handles the last days of the Soviet Empire. He knows his stuff. His facts --- many obtained by personal interview --- are impeccable. The pacing is compelling, jumping, as he must, from Moscow to Warsaw to Gdansk to the Kremlin ... going as far as Pripyat in the Ukraine, to Washington D. C., and back again.
He can be devilishly funny. The awful Nicolae Ceausescu, Party leader of Romania, decided that the women of the country weren't having enough babies, so women "were forced to undergo compulsory medical examinations every three months to be sure they were not having abortions."
They were rounded up from their work places and taken to clinics by armed squads of officials --- dubbed the menstrual police.
The Czech Communist Milos Jakes was known as "Dumpling Face" because of "his heavy build." In the early eighties, Ronald Reagan said that he wanted to talk to the Russian leaders, but, "They kept dying on me." (They did: three of them died in quick succession). The Russian Ambassador to Portugal had a phrase for Gorbachev's policy regarding the satellite states. "The Brezhnev Doctrine, he said, was dead. Now the Soviets proceeded on the Sinatra Doctrine."
"You know the song," 'My Way.' Well ... these countries --- they can all do it Their Way."
There are some surprises here, and not all of them are pleasant. In November of 1983, all of us who were alive at the time almost didn't make it. The reason: Yuri Andropov, the Russian leader, was convinced that the United States and NATO "were about to mount a surprise nuclear attack against them and ordered the Soviet military to begin a countdown." It was just as bad --- maybe worse --- than the Cuban Missile Crises (worse because hardly anyone knew it was happening; thus, there were no countervailing forces inside or outside the Russia and the U. S.)
It started with the shooting down of Korean Air Lines Flight 007 and a heavier than usual series of NATO maneuvers --- called the Able Archer exercise --- and included the unwillingness of Reagan and his advisors to believe or accept the fact that the Russians had gone into full red alert. Sebestyen says convincingly that "through a series of misunderstandings and miscalculations, Armageddon was averted more by luck than sound judgment towards the end of 1983."
He also believes that the crises "radically" changed Ronald Reagan into a covert peacenik, that many of his efforts in his second term in office were aimed at dousing the nuclear fuse. "The realization turned him from a harsh Cold Warrior into a far more emollient statesman."
§ § §
Revolution 1989 is not only well written, and a model of pacing, it contains some moments so moving as to bring a chill: the Velvet Revolution, accomplished with "music, wit, humour, laughter and a little absurdity." (One of the music groups that inadvertently caused the fall of the Communists was named "The Society for a Merrier Present.")
We also find out that the fall of the Berlin Wall was not caused by a conscious decision in the hard-core East Berlin Communist leadership. It was a certain Lieutenant-Colonel Jager who decided that the crowds at the Bornholmer Strasse checkpoint simply could not be controlled (or murdered ... as they had been so often in the past). Said Jager,
There were so many people and they didn't have space to move. If a panic started, people would have been crushed. We had pistols. I had given instructions not to use them, but what if one of the men had lost his nerve? Even a shot in the air ... I cannot imagine what reactions that would have provoked. I told my superiors that I couldn't hold the checkpoint any longer.
"He ordered two of his men to lift the red and white gate --- and waved the crowds through, to rapturous applause."
And if you ever have doubts about the CIA, Revolution 1989 will redouble them: this on the events in the late fall of 1989 East Germany, from the senior analyst on the Soviet bloc, Milt Bearden: "The harsh fact is that we didn't have any spies in place who could give us much insight ... into plans in East Germany, or, for that matter, in the Kremlin." It was
CNN rather than the CIA that would keep Washington informed of the events in Berlin --- The CIA had no human intelligence on events ... none of our assets in the capitals of Eastern Europe, and in the Soviet Union, were in a position to tell us what was going on.
Your tax dollars at work.--- Lolita Lark
The McPoemI must confess that I, too, like it:
the poem that's filed up flat and fast with condiments
on a sesame seed bun. Steamy, grease-spattered,
and juicy, fluent with salt, piping hot
from the grid, glazed with bubbling oil.
A poem you can count on always to be
the same --- small, domestic, fun for the whole
family. Economical. American. Free
of culinary pretension. I used to have to ride
ten miles or so out to the suburbs to find
one back in 1956 when poems were
more expensive, reserved for connoisseurs.
Now everyone is welcome to the griddle.
(I also like toads, and all this fiddle.)--- From Long for This World
©2003, University of
Pennsylvania PressApollo: Through the Eyes
Of the Astronauts
Robert Jacobs, et al, Editors
(Abrams)They say that a quarter of the world watched the America astronaut step on the moon. The other three-quarters of the world were either without television, or too preoccupied with work or lack of money, or were put off by the whole thing. Me? I shudda stood in bed.
The seventeen Apollo Missions cost America $145,000,000,000 (in 2008 dollars). They ran from 1961 - 1975. As D. M. Ashford reported in a recent TLS,
Apollo was not driven by military necessity or by the prospect of commercial gain. It was a political project. President Kennedy was far more interested in parrying the Soviet threat than in exploring the moon. He also wanted to demonstrate the benefits of large government programmes.
The Apollo moon landing was called "the greatest technological achievement in human history." Probably not. That doubtful honor should go to the Manhattan Project, the invention of the atomic bomb between 1942 - 1945, in which the U. S. Government put together the equivalent of a General Motors Corp. to build three squatty, little, and rather evil bombs. We are still living with the consequences of that turkey. Perhaps, like Harry Lime, we should give higher honors to the inventor of the cuckoo clock.
Those of us who were disinterested at the moon walk resisted the military ambiance of it all: burr-headed soldiers with their rigid little flags and their other-worldly machines, voices shorn of all human excitement ("A-OK"), locked mechanically in to what should have been the thrill of a lifetime. Why, we wondered, didn't they take someone interesting to the moon: a poet (Allen Ginsburg, Phillip Larkin); an artist (Ralph Steadman, Lucian Freud); a musician (John Cage, Dizzy Gillespie); a philosopher (Miguel de Unamuno, Roland Barthes, Jacques Derrida), or --- best --- a novelist (Norman Mailer, Philip Roth, Vladimir Nabokov)? We paid for it but felt no kinship with those frozen-face, stiff-backed military types.
[GREAT REVIEWS OF THE PAST]The Art of Rockefeller Center
(Norton)It all started in 1928 with John D. Rockefeller, Jr., twenty-two acres in the middle of Manhattan, and a plan to turn those acres into twelve unified buildings. The construction would utilize the services of four architectural firms and thirty-nine artists creating decorative design and color ... from murals and statues down to carpets, mirrors, wall hangings, and elevator doors.
The artistic themes were drawn up by a professor of philosophy at Scripps College, Dr. Hartley Burr Alexander. They embodied the likes of "The March of Civilization," "Man's Progress in Industry and the Character of the Nation," and --- one to be stolen latter by JFK --- "New Frontiers." Since all of these are pretty silly, we can dispense with them at once.
Some of the resultant art was pretty silly too. Four stone carvings on the International Building by Leo Lentelli look to be something the cat brought up after breakfast, especially a bull with hand-grenades fastened to each ear which the artist said represented "The Americas."
Some of the art-work --- and some not so easy to see from street level --- has turned out to be delightful. Lee Lawrie was one of the principal artists involved. Twelve of his great bas-reliefs and intaglios were completed between 1933 and 1937, including the carved limestone panel of St. Francis of Assisi over the entrance to the International Building.
There was something of a to-do with a fresco by Diego Rivera. Rivera was offered a wall and $21,000 for "Man at the crossroads" who "looks uncertainly but hopefully towards the future." He was hired on in 1933 by Abby Rockefeller, despite the fact that just a few months before he had raised the ire of the respectable families of Detroit when he stuck the Holy Family in the middle of a panel named "Vaccination," though god knows what the mother and father of the divine --- complete with horse and cow --- would be doing in the city clinic getting our Holy Babe inoculated against small pox and diphtheria.
Rivera was given a large wall in the Grand Lobby at 30 Rockefeller Plaza --- sixty-three feet wide, seventeen feet high --- and promptly sketched in faces around a large centrifuge under what appears to be the engine (with propeller) of a DC3. What was not acceptable was the visage of Nikolai Lenin off there to the right holding hands with several auto workers, though presumably the hand-hold was a sign of mere solidarity, not affection.
Three weeks into the project Rivera was given his walking papers, his fresco was papered over and within a year it was painted over (being named "The Wailing Wall" by the architects who were entreated to come up with something a little less sprightly.) Rivera got his revenge by hurrying back to Mexico City and painting a fresco at El Prado with Trotsky, Marx, and Rockefeller in an awkward dance.
In a photograph taken at the time, the artist looks like the cat that ate the canary but the sketches left behind suggest that the cover-up was no great loss. Rivera and his contemporaries from Mexico were not given to subtlety in any form. The hideous replacement fresco by José María Sert does make one wish that Rivera had simply surrendered and stuck a fright mask on Lenin so that the original would be there to this day. We might suggest that the current owners of Rockefeller Center find an energetic youngster just out of the Rhode Island School of Design who could study the photographs and "cartoons" from Rivera's fresco and simply paint it back entire over María Sert's abortion. In place of Lenin's face (which would but evoke a yawn nowadays) he could paint in a portrait of someone more dreadful. Donald Rumsfeld, perhaps.
§ § §
This is a fine volume. There are over 200 photographs of the art ... along with works in progress and photographs of the creators at work. Some of the later sculptures, especially those of Michio Ihara and Isamu Noguchi make you wish the Rockefellers and their heirs and assigns had stopped while they were ahead, but the color photographs --- plus the black-and-white shots of the original process of creation --- make this collection a dream. And for this critic, the discovery of Lee Lawrie's fragrant blend of color, form, and contrast make it all worth it, with or without that pesky Lenin.--- Carlos AmanteaJeff in Venice,
Death in Varanasi
(Pantheon)I had to buy this one from ABE books --- I couldn't get one for free from the publisher --- and after wandering through Part One, Venice, Jeff Atman at the Biennale, him doing coke, crawling in and out of bed with the all-too-lovely Laura Freeman, drinking it up at Haig's Bar, getting back in bed with lovely Laura with the standard gorgeous body along with a standard act of congress ...
Well, after all that I wasn't so sure about the rave reviews I had read.
Finally, thank god, randy Jeff gets disentangled from her and her arms and legs and arrives in Varanasi, India, once known as Benares. Suddenly from Dearth in Venice and the decadent arts scene everything explodes into life as Jeff comes to spend more and more time at the burning ghats, there on the Ganges: not bodies in bed but bodies dead, the smoke and the stink and the crowds "here for death."
were as keen to see corpses being burned at Manikarnika ghat as the next person --- me, for example, I'd never seen a dead body before, but in Varanasi the procession of death was endless.
§ § §
The crowds, the filthy kids, the monkeys, the river, the bodies, the smoke, the shit, the driving, the traffic, "the rickshaws, tuk-tuks, cars, bikes, carts, rickshaws, motor-bikes, trucks, people, goats, cows, buffalo and buses were all herded together," along with the gods, and the ways they get about. Much better than the people stuck in Varanasi traffic.
The gods "all have their consorts, and the gods and their consorts all have their own private form of transport:"
Vishnu travels by eagle (Garuda), Shiva by bull (Nandi), Kartikeya by peacock ... The list and the permutations of the list are endless...
"Garunda occasionally rides an owl or a tortoise. And Ganesh, the elephant, how does he travel? By mouse, of course."
Whether it is Geoff Dyer or Jeff Atman --- the word "atman" in Hindu means, roughly, the soul, the spiritual part of us --- soon enough Jeff is overwhelmed by India, "the millions of gods," the animals. Atman ends up jawing with the monkeys, talks to a goat (who tries to give him a ride in a boat), watches dogs eating a dead man ... gets poisoned by a cow. Shortly afterwards, he dons a dhoti, shaves his head, begins to bathe in the Ganges, despite all the trash and the bodies floating by and smelly marigolds in their plastic bags.
I think I haven't read a better tale of a man being seduced. Not by lovely Laura in Venice; no, by this whole other culture. And what a culture, what a vision, what a seduction! One that makes us envious. Atman is no longer the English writer on assignment from the Telegraph, sickened by the carcasses, the filthy kids, the crap everywhere ... appalled by all he sees. No, he has become a part of Varanasi, turning thoughtless (can that be the right word?), a disciple of the otherness that is India.
"Thought bore a curious resemblance to a headache," he thinks. When he gets sick,
At first, I'd kept wishing I was better. Then, after a while, my notion of what feeling better felt like grew a little hazy ... If I felt only slightly ill, then I felt perfectly well.
"There was no such thing as being ridiculous in Varanasi. The very idea was ridiculous." It has to do with all the animals, and the bodies burning in the ghats, the ritual breaking of cadaver skulls, the ashes dumped in the river, the chanting.
And gradually, we watch Jeff go crazy. But, then, we wonder --- is it really crazy, is he any crazier than the guru who sits in the ghats, whispering to himself, meditating under an umbrella that is no longer an umbrella, only ribs: can one be called "crazy" here; or is all "normal?"
The previously laconic Jeff starts talking to anyone who will talk with him, putting off strangers, worrying his new friends, obviously falling off the train, yet making --- at least to the readers --- perfectly good sense as he blithers on, "All of time is here, in Varanasi, so maybe time cannot pass. People come and go, but time stays. Time is not a guest."
A kangaroo appears, but can anyone else see it? A kangaroo that "caused quite a stir, as you can imagine, but, in the hospitable Hindu way, it was immediately welcomed and absorbed into the pantheon of interesting events." A kangaroo? On the Ganges? Is Jeff Atman totally potty? Or has he gone enlightened? Is there any difference?
I bought this one because it got rave reviews in the TLS and the LRB. The New Yorker listed it as one of twenty-two "Best Year's Reading." I was sure during the time Jeff was in Venice that we wuz robbed. Once we got to Varanasi, however, I found that that was where we belonged; there where we heard our first raga: a note
stretched out as long as possible and then a little longer; it continued, somewhere, long after it was capable of being heard. It is still there, even now.
After that, I knew we were home.--- Deb DasTo: firstname.lastname@example.org
Subject: The Maxim Gun
I would like to use the picture above for a publication.
I found it in you Number 104.
Could you be so kind to send me further details, if possible.--- Thomas Kolnberger
University of Luxembourg
§ § §Hi, Professor Kolnberger:
And thanks for your enquiry.
The photograph you are asking about is apparently a demonstration, complete with tie, fedora, and winter coat, of the use of a Maxim machine gun --- lodged, as you will note, just so between the gentleman's legs along with a bevy of spent shells.
The photograph may have come from the book under review, Empire: The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power by Niall Ferguson [at www.ralphmag.org/CH/empire.html]. It came to us from Basic books, so you might ask them if the picture belongs to them.
Other than that, since it was published a rather long time ago (Fall, 2003) we are as baffled as you. Though we do remain more or less entranced with the pose of this bearded, becoated man, and his beloved Maxim.--- Ed
Subject: Old Fassenden supporter revived, and,
Re: excerpts used as teasers
I was thrilled to find you after many years. Issues of the paper Fassenden Review brighten up an otherwise tedious bookshelf here...
Anyway, I think the book review excerpts you're picking to draw people deeper in don't capture the oddly restrained quality of the complete reviews. I think you'd do better using the actual first paragraphs of the reviews --- they really are intriguing.
I can't believe that Fassenden lives. Are you on the west coast? in NY? Using a NY analogy, I'm OK with Ralph but like Avenue of the Americas could not bury 6th Avenue, so the mispelled, misunderstood Fassenden will outlive the acronym.--- Bill Gottlieb
§ § §Hi, Bill:
Fessenden (the correct spelling) was a good-hearted Canadian crackpot who, it is said, invented radio. Or helped invent it. (Like the Internet, it has many fathers and mothers ... and a few million babies).
The reason we pick and choose sentences from the body of the reviews to put on our home page is that our reviewers tend to be wandervögel. Sometimes they meander all over the place before they get down to business. Thus to protect the reader from (as one recent review did) starting out with reflections on the author's early movie experiences and ending up with a diatribe on Latvia ... we begin at the middle and go until we get to both ends, simultaneously.--- Ed
[ANOTHER GREAT REVIEW FROM THE PAST]Bryson's Dictionary of Troublesome Words
A Writer's Guide to Getting it Right
(Broadway Books)The great curmudgeons on the use and abuse of the English language were Samuel Johnson, H. W. Fowler, and H. L. Mencken. They were brilliant stylists, persnickety to the point of parody, and deeply in love with one of the most complex, hag-infested languages of the 55 or so major tongues on the face of the earth.
Melvyn Bragg artfully showed us in his recent The Adventure of English that our language suffers from the same lack of class as a dug-heavy and mangy street bitch. During its early history, English had to go underground, into the world of country bumpkins, studs, whores, actors, pimps, ministers and other low-lifes. Only by hiding with the ruffians was it possible for the language to survive the French invasion of 1066.Thus, the language was forced to create a plethora of low-class great-great-grandfathers, great-grandmothers, grandfathers, grandmothers and disreputable cousins: Anglo-Saxon, Low German, Low Latin --- all to help hide from three hundred years of pretentious French.
In the process, English became a magpie, needing (for no good reason except possibly avarice) to steal nouns, adjectives, verb forms and constructs from every language on earth, including Nilo-Saharan, Sino-Tibetan, Dravidian, Oto-Manguean, and Tupian, not to say the original Indo-European.
Now, seven centuries later, we find ourselves stuck with that hotch-potch, along with the constant fiddling of scholarly monks and university drones trying to make this bastard language more "standard," more "respectable."
It is no wonder that the King's English is filled with enough pronunciation and structural bug-a-boos to drive a simple student bonkers, especially some poor drone only wanting to get ahead by learning the international language of commerce, not suspecting when he begins that he will run the gauntlet of a glorious minefield of tricks, booby-traps, lingual explosives --- a composite lingual madness.
Try to explain to some poor chump from Singapore or Algiers who's trying to study the practice of English mercantilism ... try to summarize for him the difference between would, should, and could; or why through is pronounced "throo," rough is "ruff," and ought is "awt."
Or why even those who grew up in the language still agonize over whether to say "It is I" or "It is me;" or why some, trying to sound cultured, will whisper "between you and I."
Or, even, bless us all, why it's nerve-racking and not nerve-wracking, why nincompoop and not nimcompoop, numskull not numbskull; why it's spelled perceptible and not perceptable, why extraneous not exteraneous, why extrovert not extravert, why irregardless is not even a word, why hopefully is a stinker, why the ^ is called caret not carat, and the ever-befuddling difference between lay and lie (You don't "go upstairs and lay down." You "go upstairs and lie down.")
Oh, it's a jungle in there, in this capacious, crapulous, crafty, cranny-filled enigma we call English.
§ § §
We've been a long-time fan of the most recent Language Curmudgeon, Bill Bryson, since he brought out the feisty and funny Mother Tongue in 1990. With his newest, he is on the warpath again: spelling, usage, the horrors of those who are careless with his language. And Bryson is not citing the checkout stand rags or the penny dreadfuls. His targets include the snooty, supposedly oh-so-
careful New Yorker, the New York Times, the Economist, the Los Angeles Times, the Times of London, and the Independent.
This is a direct quote from the latter: "In an attempt to diffuse panic over the disease, he spelled out the ways in which it was spread." Bryson's commentary:
Defuse, diffuse: Occasionally confused. The he here refers to the Archbishop of Canterbury, who is hardly likely to wish to scatter panic, however thinly.
§ § §
Bryson is not a bit afraid to give his reader a bit of discomfort on, for instance, the use of shall vs. will:
Authorities have been trying to pin down the vagaries and nuances of shall and will since the seventeenth century. In The King's English, the Fowler brothers devote twenty pages to the matter. The gist of what they have to say is that either you understand the distinctions instinctively or you do not; that if you don't, you probably never will; and that if you do, you don't need to be told anyway.
Bryson concludes, "The rule most frequently propounded is that to express simple futurity you should use shall; in the first person and will in the second and third persons, and to express determination (or volition) you should do the reverse."
But by that rule Churchill blundered grammatically when he vowed, "We shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender " As did MacArthur when he said at Corregidor, "I shall return." As have all those who have ever sung "We Shall Overcome."
Over the past few days, we have found ourselves dipping in, here or there, into The Dictionary of Troublesome Words, unwilling to lay it aside. His offerings are fun rather than frumpy. His ideas are in no way hidebound. Bryson is in love with etymology and even the shades of Lewis Carroll ("Dormouse for the small rodent, which isn't actually a mouse at all. The name is thought to be a corruption of the Norman French dormeus, meaning sleepy. The plural is dormice.)
This one stays at my side when I am trying to spice up a review, especially when I am dealing with the nincompoops and numskulls who continue to publish books filled with "tautology, redundancy, pleonasm" --- all three of which, Bryson tells us, "mean using more words than necessary to convey an idea."--- A. W. Allworthy
[READING]In the Time of the Lime TreesThere are lime trees lining the Highway leading from Jeszkotle to Kieice. They looked the same at the beginning, and they will look the same at the end. They have thick trunks and roots that reach deep into the earth, where they meet the foundations of everything that lives. In winter their mighty boughs cast sharp shadows onto the snow and measure the hours of the short day. In spring the lime trees put out millions of green leaves that bring sunlight down to the earth. In summer their fragrant flowers attract swarms of insects. In autumn the lime trees add red and brown to the whole of Primeval.
Like all plants, the lime trees live an eternal dream, whose origin lies in the tree's seeds. The dream does not grow or develop along with it, but is always exactly the same. The trees are trapped in space, but not in time. They are liberated from time by their dream, which is eternal. Feelings do not grow in it, as they do in animals' dreams, nor do images appear in it, as they do in people's dreams.
Trees live thanks to matter, by absorbing juices that flow from deep in the ground and by turning their leaves to the sunlight. The tree's soul rests after going through many existences. The tree only experiences the world thanks to matter. For a tree, a storm is a warm-and-cold, idle-and-violent stream. When it gathers, the whole world becomes a storm. For the tree there is no world before or after the storm.
In the fourfold changes of the seasons the tree is unaware that time exists and that the seasons come in succession. For the tree all four qualities exist at once. Winter is part of summer, and autumn is part of spring. Cold is part of hot, and death is part of birth. Fire is part of water, and earth is part of air.
To trees people seem eternal --- they have always been walking through the shade of the lime trees on the highway, neither frozen still nor in motion. For trees people exist eternally, but that means just the same as if they had never existed.
The crash of axes and the rumble of thunder disturb the trees' eternal dream. What people call their death is just a temporary disruption of the dream. What people call the death of trees involves coming closer to the anxious existence of animals. For the clearer and stronger consciousness becomes, the more fear there is in it. But the trees never reach the kingdom of anxiety occupied by animals and people.
When a tree dies, its dream that has no meaning or impression is taken over by another tree. That is why trees never die. In ignorance of their own existence, they are liberated from time and death.--- From Primeval and
On the Death of Mr Barker of Hammon,
and his wife who dyed both together
George HerbertHere lye two Bodyes happy in their kinds
the rich Apparel of two noble minds
All blessings they familiarly did know
Wch either earth or Heaven could bestowe.
The first deceased. He for a little try'd
to live without her, likt not & dy'de.
They had noe children, whence we truly say
the good of all their offspringe in them laye
ffor they ingross'd thir Heyres right, & did prove
their owne Inheritors in Grace, in love.
Neither to others nor themselves a trouble
Whose soules are one, & yet reward is double.--- From an article on George Herbert
TLS, 19 February 2010Note: A follow-up letter to the TLS
offers the thought that the first word in the fifth line
might be "She" rather than "The."
We like it both ways.
GalanteMy great-great-grandfather, Reb Elijah Joseph Galante, was the rabbi of Rasanovka in the pale of settlement. He was also a renowned author of discourses, allegories, and homiletics. This is a lost art today, and it is not even clear what Homiletics actually were. Reb Isidor of Plonsk maintains that Homiletics were distilled from that part of the wisdom of the prophets which was thought, but not uttered. Modern scholars of Judaica, on the other hand, believe that Homiletics, poor relatives of hominy, were prepared from buckwheat kernels too tough to make kasha, and were quite inedible unless drowned in gravy.
I was led to muse about my family's history two decades ago when I went to buy a new automobile. A Mitsubishi agency advertised '89 sedans for the dealer's wholesale cost plus 89 cents. Two features of this ad intrigued me. First, I wondered how even the Japanese, frugal people though they are, could keep body and soul together on a profit margin of 89 cents. Second, the advertised sedan bore my family name. I first reviewed the history of the long-lost Japanese branch of my family, and then set off to examine and test-drive a Mitsubishi Galant.
§ § §
Life was stern in the pale of settlement, but rumors, letters, and even picture post-cards drifted back from the adventurous souls who had emigrated to America. They described the wonders of the new world in glowing terms, especially a fabulous region called the lower East side, and more and more people joined the emigation. My grandfather, Reb Avraham Naftali Galante, reached Ellis Island in 1912, where Immigration officials changed the name's spelling to Gallant. Another branch of the family, more unworldly, steeped in discourses and Homiletics, thought they could reach the lower East side by simply heading due East from Rasanovka. After about 7000 miles, they found themselves in the land of the rising sun.
At first they were deeply puzzled by the fact that the people there didn't look Jewish. "Only in Amerika," they told themselves, and assumed that the locals were red Indians. In any case, they had been led to expect all kinds of strangeness in the new world. Even today, after four generations in Japan, they are still under the impression that Long Island is one of the Japanese islands, and that they themselves live near Montauk.
They soon became accustomed to the strange practices of the new world, and set up a family business. It was a typical Jewish commercial success story. Starting with a pushcart in the Tokyo business district called the Ginzberg, they branched out into ladies' hats, coats, alterations, dry goods, shipbuilding, petrochemicals, steel, airplanes, and automobile engines. They also developed a line of gefilte raw fish which became such a success that the company took its name from this product: Mitzvasushi.
The name gradually changed to Mitsubishi, because the locals could not pronounce the letter "v", and to take advantage of the vast American market for all things with an unmistakably Japanese name. Scholars of automobilica have long known that the engine of the Dodge Dart was, in fact, exported to the U.S. from Japan. It is less well-known that the name Dart is a corruption of the Yiddish-Japanese word dortn which means "over there."
Eventually, the company decided to manufacture a complete Mitsubishi automobile bearing the family name. It combines the slanty aerodynamic design typical of Japanese cars with a unique fuel injection system based on chopped liver with onions. Motor Trend magazine says of the Mitsubishi Galant: "vigor, style, and level of world-class technology that advances the benchmark, although there is also a touch of heartburn."
§ § §
The one I drove felt just right. You might almost say that it had my name on it. I made a feeble attempt to play hard-to-get, but the vehicle began to rub up against my leg like a cat, and in a trice I had turned over my wallet, my pocket watch, and my aged mother as a deposit. I am now its official owner, although the agency is keeping it for another week in order to clear my pocket watch and aged mother with the bank. They will also install cruise-control and something called an undercoat, which I believe is something like the long black coat worn by the car's relatives in Brooklyn.
Above its undercoat, my sedan is a sleek silver-grey colour, like the Tokyo-Osaka bullet train. It had a tiny scuff-mark on the rear bumper, for which the salesman apologized profusely, intimating that the manager would commit hari kiri if it offended me. I bowed deeply, and reassured him that my honorable ancestors would take no offense, particularly if the scuff-mark was carefully repaired while we took tea. In any case, I pointed out, the sale of a Galant to a Gallant was essentially a family affair, or, as we say in Tokyo, all in the mishpokha. The salesman bowed more deeply still, and inquired whether my honorable ancestors included Reb Elijah Joseph Galante, the renowned gaon of Rasanovka. Then, he peered closely at me: "Funny," he said, "you don't look Japanese."--- Jon Gallant
©1990 "Exquisite Corpse" Magazine
The Little Black Book
Of Grisélidis Réal
Days and Nights of
An Anarchist Whore
(Semiotext(e)/MIT)Hennig's job is working as a whore. 'Tis pity she's a whore? Perish the thought. She loves it, and after it is all over, before her clients get out the door, she hands them pamphlets of Prudhomme and Bakunin. Some of these tricks, apparently, don't get it. They're not interested in politics when they're involved in the beast with two backs.
Hennig may be a lady of the night, but she has a few strictures. She doesn't like being woken up too early to go to work. She doesn't like the guys who go on too long, without getting off: she gets bored. Yes, she washes them all down thoroughly before she begins operations, and she keeps a little black book, with a list of their preferences, what they prefer her to do, upside or downside, those little artful things she does with her hands ... the red whip, too, hanging there on the wall.
We do wonder, sometimes, though, what William Barton Rogers, the founder, some 200 years ago, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology ... we wonder exactly what he would make of all this stuff, this world that Hennig describes so exactly, the stuff she does with her hands, and the washrag, and the red riding crop, etc., being distributed by MIT Press and all.
§ § §
From: MIT Press
I am the publicist for Semiotext(e). Thank you for the review of one of our books, The Little Black Book of Grisélidis Réal in your Briefs section.
I just wanted to point out, however, that in the review, the author/editor of the book, Jean-Luc Hennig, is being confused with the name of prostitute (Grisélidis Réal).
Hennig is not the whore; that honor belongs to Grisélidis Réal.--- Diane H. Denner
The MIT Press
When I DieDress in black for a month.
Dress in black on my birthday every year.
Bring me flowers to make up for
the roses you didn't get me on my Sweet Sixteen.
Say a prayer for me.
Bend down and kiss my cold cheek.
That is what kissing me on
a February morning would have felt like.
Give my mother a hug.
Don't let any of our friends date my sister.
Teach my brother how to play ball.
Whatever you do, don't talk to my dad.
Keep all the bad love poems
I wrote for you.
Use them to woo your future wife.
Name your daughter after me.--- Carol Chou, from When We Were Countries
Poems and Stories by Outstanding High School Writers
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