In Ways of Seeing, John Berger answers:
When in love, the sight of the beloved has a completeness which no words and no embrace can match: a completeness which only the act of making love can temporarily accommodate.
I also thought of knocking on the door of our old house, explaining that I was born there, that I lived there until I was eleven, and wanted to look around. I abandoned the idea as soon as I’d thought of it. Houses have no loyalty. We can live in a place ten years and within a fortnight of moving out it is as if we have never been there. It may still bear the scars of our occupancy, of our botched attempts at DIY, but it vacates itself of our memory as soon as the new people move their stuff in. We want houses to reciprocate our feelings of loss but, like the rectangle of unfaded paint where a favourite mirror once hung, they give us nothing to reflect upon. Often in films someone goes to a house where he once spent happier times and, slowly, the screen is filled with laughing. This convention works so powerfully precisely because, in life, it is not like that. It testifies to the strength of our longing: we want houses to be haunted. They never are.
In The Selfish Gene, Richard Dawkins answers:
A stable thing is a collection of atoms that is permanent enough or common enough to deserve a name. It may be a unique collection of atoms, such as the Matterhorn, that lasts long enough to be worth naming. Or it may be a class of entities, such as rain drops, that come into existence at a sufficiently high rate to deserve a collective name, even if any one of them is short-lived. The things that we see around us, and which we think of as needing explanation—rocks, galaxies, ocean waves—are all, to a greater or lesser extent, stable patterns of atoms. Soap bubbles tend to be spherical because this is a stable configuration of thin films filled with gas. In a spacecraft, water is also stable in spherical globules, but on earth, where there is gravity, the stable surface for standing water is flat and horizontal. Salt crystals tend to be cubes because this is a stable way of packing sodium and chloride ions together. In the sun the simplest atoms of all, hydrogen atoms, are fusing to form helium atoms, because in the conditions that prevail there the helium configuration is more stable. Other even more complex atoms are being formed in stars all over the universe, ever since soon after the ‘big bang’ which, according to the prevailing theory, initiated the universe. This is originally where the elements on our world came from.
White paper in full moonlight is darker than black satin in daylight, or a dark object with the sun shining on it reflects light of exactly the same colour, and perhaps the same brightness, as a white object in shadow. ‘Grey in shadow looks like white’ ([P.H. Emerson,] p. 110). The whiteness of paper and the blackness of satin are not absolutes: their values can be reversed to the darkness of white paper and brightness or even pallor of black satin according to the relative intensities of the light both reflected and falling upon them. Or the antithesis between dark and white can be cancelled out by the intensity of light in one case and shadow in the other. Or bright light brings out the brightness of some objects as dark of dark objects. In addition ‘Atmosphere greys all things‘ (p. 111). ‘[T]o all these difficulties are added those dependent on the subtleties of light reflected into shadow, and the thousand-and-one changes of colour due to the numerous shadows cast by objects in nature’ (p. 113). Wittgenstein’s understanding that a natural history of colour would be temporal, examining the juxtaposition of snow on white paper (which would look grey), or hazarding different words for matt and shiny black, is latent in Emerson’s theory, which presupposes that thought animates the camera lens.
I treasure ruefully some memories of W.H. Auden that go back to the middle 1960s, when he arrived in New Haevn to give a reading of his poems at Ezra Stiles College. We had met several times before, in New York City and at Yale, but were only acquaintances. The earlier Auden retains my interest, but much of the frequently devotional later poetry does not find me. Since our mutual friend John Hollander [to whom The Anatomy of Influence is dedicated] was abroad, Auden phoned to ask if he might stay with my wife and me, remarking on his dislike of college guest suites.
The poet arrived in a frayed, buttonless overcoat, which my wife insisted on mending. His luggage was an attaché case containing a large bottle of gin, a small one of vermouth, a plastic drinking cup, and a sheaf of poems. After being supplied with ice, he requested that I remind him of the amount of his reading fee. A thousand dollars had been the agreed sum, a respectable honorarium more than forty years ago. He shook his head and said that as a prima donna he could not perform, despite the prior arrangement. Charmed by this, I phoned the college master–a good friend–who cursed heartily but doubled the sum when I assured him that the poet was as obdurate as Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest. Informed of this yielding, Auden smiled sweetly and was benign and brilliant at dinner, then at the reading, and as he went to bed after we got home.
“Naming” (as in Theodor Adorno and Walter Benjamin) is closer to the real concerns of literature. I am moved here by my own splendid name of “Bloom,” particularly since my personal favorite among Whitman’s poems is “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d.” Charmed as I also am by Stevensian derivatives (“stopped / In the door-yard by his own capacious bloom” and “Our bloom is gone. We are the fruit thereof”), it seems to me the most literary of names, though a price is paid. Whenever I teach Joyce’s Ulysses I refer to the hero as Poldy, since my name has been confiscated–for a time. I never feel that my name comes from the outside. In the cold April in which I write any snatch of fresh bloom cheers me. There is little logic to a self-delighting name, but I gasp when told this is a creation by catastrophe.
What is your personal experience? Has your name been ‘confiscated’?
|Christmas decoration from Joan in 2009.|
What is your favourite ‘snowflakes’ moment in literature? Tell me.
London. Michaelmas term lately over, and the Lord Chancellor sitting in Lincoln’s Inn Hall. Implacable November weather. As much mud in the streets as if the waters had but newly retired from the face of the earth, and it would not be wonderful to meet a Megalosaurus, forty feet long or so, waddling like an elephantine lizard up Holborn Hill. Smoke lowering down from chimney-pots, making a soft black drizzle, with flakes of soot in it as big as full-grown snowflakes—gone into mourning, one might imagine, for the death of the sun. –from Charles Dickens’s Bleak House.
Also see Mary A. Spytz’s beautiful handcrafted snowflakes at Fractal Snowflakes.
Interestingly, one day after I wrote the above, I saw this:
W.H. Mallock’s A Human Document (1892).
The quotes below are from the shorter New York version.
|“Odysseus and Penelope” (1563) by Francesco Primaticcio|
For built into the well-constructed bedstead
is a great symbol which I made myself
with no one else. A long-leaved olive bush
was growing in the yard. It was in bloom
and flourishing—it looked like a pillar.
I built my bedroom round this olive bush,
till I had finished it with well-set stones.
I put a good roof over it, then added
closely fitted jointed doors. After that,
I cut back the foliage, by removing
branches from the long-leaved olive bush.
I trimmed the trunk off, upward from the root,
cutting it skillfully and well with bronze,
so it followed a straight line. Once I’d made
the bedpost, I used an augur to bore out
the entire piece. That was how I started.
Then I carved out my bed, till I was done.
In it I set an inlay made of gold,
silver, and ivory, and then across it
I stretched a bright purple thong of ox-hide.
And that’s the symbol I describe for you.
Kim Newman in Anno Dracula (2011 ) answers:
The Chinese movie tradition of the hopping vampire (jiang shi or geung si) is one of the odder strains of vampirism. I saw Ricky Lau’s Mr Vampire (1985) in London’s Chinatown before the film and its many spinoffs, sequels and variants had made much impact outside its home territory. A lingering aftereffect of this cycle is that, from Buffy and Blade on, even Western vampires tend to know kung fu.
James Joyce in Ulysses (1922) answers:
A softer beard: a softer brush if intentionally allowed to remain from shave to shave in its agglutinated lather: a softer skin if unexpectedly encountering female acquaintances in remote places at incustomary hours: quiet reflections upon the course of the day: a cleaner sensation when awaking after a fresher sleep since matutinal noises, premonitions and perturbations, a clattered milkcan, a postman’s double knock, a paper read, reread while lathering, relathering the same spot, a shock, a shoot, with thought of aught he sought though fraught with nought might cause a faster rate of shaving and a nick on which incision plaster with precision cut and humected and applied adhered which was to be done.
–from Episode 17, “Ithaca”
He would have to exist to be sad, wouldn’t He? I know, she said, giving his shoulder a little slap. That’s why I was asking, so I might finally know if you believed! Well, let me leave it at this: if God does exist, He would have a great deal to be sad about. And if He doesn’t exist, then that too would make Him quite sad, I imagine. So to answer your question, God must be sad. p. 78-79
…………………………..by Robert Creeley
I have never
clearly given to you
you have for me, you
divided presence my dream
does not show
you. I do not dream.
I have compounded
these sensations, the
accumulation of the things
left me by you.
tits, not breasts, but
harsh sudden rises
of impatient flesh
on the chest–is it
against the vagueness
of the air you move in.
such a shortness
of intent strides, your
height is so low,
in my hand
I feel the weight
of yours there,
one over one
of both, as you
pivot upon me, the
same weight grown
as the hair, the
second of your attributes,
cover us. We
couple but lie against
no surface, have
lifted as you again
against myself, into
the air. The
air the third of
the signs of you
are known by: a
quiet, a soughing silence,
the winds lightly
mouth, it opens not
wet, on me. Then
I scream, I
sing such as is
given to me, roar-
like stark sight
I feel around
you have left me
with, wetness, pools
of it, my skin
[Y]ou may think a bed is a peaceful thing, Sir, and to you it may mean rest and comfort and a good night’s sleep. But it isn’t so for everyone; and there are many dangerous things that may take place in a bed. It is where we are born, and that is our first peril in life; and it is where the women give birth, which is often their last. And it is where the act takes place between men and women that I will not mention to you, Sir, but I suppose you know what it is; and some call it love, and others despair, or else merely an indignity which they must suffer through. And finally beds are what we sleep in, and where we dream, and often where we die.
*Picture of cucumber sandwiches from here. * Oh yes, of course that wasn’t ‘Cha’. That was ‘tea’.
That was a memorable day to me, for it made great changes in me. But it is the same with any life. Imagine one selected day struck out of it, and think how different its course would have been. Pause you who read this, and think for a moment of the long chain of iron or gold, of thorns or flowers, that would never have bound you, but for the formation of the first link on one memorable day.
Kyoko Mori answers in One Bird (1995):
I raise my left arm and begin to wave as the birds disappear over the neighbor’s houses, and my eyes ache from staring into the sky. I know they will be back among the flocks of sparrows in Dr. Mizutani’s yard–eating the seeds from the feeders, splashing noisily in the birdbath. Only I will never again be able to tell them apart from all the other young sparrows, the hundreds of this spring’s babies with their streaky breasts and pinkish legs. So even after I can no longer see my sparrows, I keep waving in the direction of their flight. If they could look back, they would see the blurred motion of my arm–a rough, repeated outline in the air, the closest thing I can manage to a wing.
|Leo and Nick from the BBC adaptation of The Line of Beauty, 2006|
There are two ways of walking through a wood. The first is to try one or several routes (so as to get out of the wood as fast as possible, say, or to reach the house of grandmother, Tom Thumb, or Hansel and Gretel); the second is to walk so as to discover what the wood is like and find out why some paths are accessible and others are not. (p. 27)
Eco might have picked up this metaphor from Frost, who we all know applied walking in a wood to life. Which kind of walker are you?
Speaking of Red Riding Hood, Eco mentions an ‘alchemical interpretation’ of it:
[A]n Italian scholar has tried to prove that the fable refers to the process of extracting and treating minerals. Translating the fable into chemical formulas, he has identified Little Red Riding Hood as cinnabar, an artificial mercury sulfide which is as red as her hood is supposed to be. Thus, within herself, the child contains mercury in its pure state, which has to be separated from the sulphur. […] The wolf stands for mercurous chloride, otherwise known as calomel (which means “beautiful black” in Greek). The stomach of the wolf is the alchemist’s oven in which the cinnabar is transformed into mercury. (pp. 91-92)
However, Eco points out a flaw in this theory, which was identified by Valentina Pisanty. Why is Red Riding Hood still wearing a red hood instead of silver hood when she comes out of the beast’s belly?
1Eliot’s collection of essays, published in 1922, was titled The Sacred Wood: Essays on Poetry and Criticism.
“The superiority of intellectual to sensual pleasures consists rather in their filling up more time, in their having a larger range, and in their being less liable to satiety, than in their being more real and essential.”
“Intemperance in every enjoyment defeats its own purpose. A walk in the finest day through the most beautiful country, if pursued too far, ends in pain and fatigue. The most wholesome and invigorating food, eaten with an unrestrained appetite, produces weakness instead of strength. Even intellectual pleasures, though certainly less liable than others to satiety, pursued with too little intermission, debilitate the body, and impair the vigour of the mind. To argue against the reality of these pleasures from their abuse seems to be hardly just. Morality, according to Mr Godwin, is a calculation of consequences, or, as Archdeacon Paley very justly expresses it, the will of God, as collected from general expediency. According to either of these definitions, a sensual pleasure not attended with the probability of unhappy consequences does not offend against the laws of morality, and if it be pursued with such a degree of temperance as to leave the most ample room for intellectual attainments, it must undoubtedly add to the sum of pleasurable sensations in life. Virtuous love, exalted by friendship, seems to be that sort of mixture of sensual and intellectual enjoyment particularly suited to the nature of man, and most powerfully calculated to awaken the sympathies of the soul, and produce the most exquisite gratifications.”
“Urged by the passion of love, men have been driven into acts highly prejudicial to the general interests of society, but probably they would have found no difficulty in resisting the temptation, had it appeared in the form of a woman with no other attractions whatever but her sex. To strip sensual pleasures of all their adjuncts, in order to prove their inferiority, is to deprive a magnet of some of its most essential causes of attraction, and then to say that it is weak and inefficient.”
“In the pursuit of every enjoyment, whether sensual or intellectual, reason, that faculty which enables us to calculate consequences, is the proper corrective and guide. It is probable therefore that improved reason will always tend to prevent the abuse of sensual pleasures, though it by no means follows that it will extinguish them.”
“It is a truth, which history I am afraid makes too clear, that some men of the highest mental powers have been addicted not only to a moderate, but even to an immoderate indulgence in the pleasures of sensual love.”
“All that I can say is, that the wisest and best men in all ages had agreed in giving the preference, very greatly, to the pleasures of intellect; and that my own experience completely confirmed the truth of their decisions; that I had found sensual pleasures vain, transient, and continually attended with tedium and disgust; but that intellectual pleasures appeared to me ever fresh and young, filled up all my hours satisfactorily, gave a new zest to life, and diffused a lasting serenity over my mind. If he believe me, it can only be from respect and veneration for my authority. “
“At some future time perhaps, real satiety of sensual pleasures, or some accidental impressions that awakened the energies of his mind, might effect that, in a month, which the most patient and able expostulations might be incapable of effecting in forty years.”