• Buttons and String

  • Without Journalistic Infection

    Stephen Crane had arrived in prose, apparently without having read Maupassant or knowing anything of the school of Flaubert, at precisely their objective method and their ironic point of view, and in poetry, at a terse vers libre which at its best has scarcely been surpassed by any of the more profuse vers librists who have since received more liberal publicity; and he managed to practice his art without any journalistic infection. — “A Vortex in the Nineties: Stephen Crane” from The Shores of Light by Edmund Wilson.

  • The Sound and the Glory

    Whoever, in the pursuit of science, seeks after immediate practical utility may rest assured that he seeks in vain. — Herman von Helmholtz’ Academic Discourse (Heidelberg 1862)

    August 31st is the birthday of Herman von Helmholtz (1821 - 1894). Von Helmholtz invented inventor of the ophthalmoscope, the tool that physicians (or anyone who has one) use to look into the eye, to look at the retina. Holding this up and squinting into a patient’s head, it sometimes feels like I’m looking for the patient’s mind, which is curiously apt.

    Von Helmholtz was interested in oscillations, in sound waves and light waves. He invented his “resonator” that was able to identify various pitches in a pure sine wave containing several tones. He then showed that different combinations could mimic vowel sounds. Alexander Graham Bell, incapable of reading the original German manuscript of von Helmholtz’ work, misconstrued the scientific diagrams. And, in attempting and failing to reproduce what he thought von Helmholtz had accomplished, Bell’s experiments led to the invention of the telephone.

    von Helmholtz also wrote a book on optics, Handbook of Physiological Optics (Handbuch der Physiologischen Optik) that investigated empirically based theories on depth perception, motion perception, and color vision, theories that were among the first to imply the existence of an unconscious mind.

  • No Entrance

  • The plums growing on the tree in our yard are popular.

  • Sugar on the Stoop

  • Thursday the Thirteenth

    In my book of diaries, I read about the thirteenth of February. There was much about movement and the body and the three-sidedness of it all. On this day, the Cappadocian fathers first dreamt a trinity. “Cleanse only my face and not my soul,” did plead the three heads of god. Or perhaps I have the palindrome wrong? On the same day, though, did someone approach Christopher Wren to build a cathedral library. Naturally a Wren library would be housed in a cathedral. And just as natural it is that the far away Earl of Singapore would marvel that day upon a pink commode in the home of a Mr Shaw of Burma and Hong Kong, whose Christian name was none other than Run Run.

    This was the day of John Hunter FRS, who stole the body of a dead giant in the days when the Irish learned English and Christmas roses paled.

    More to the point, Josephine Baker danced in Berlin, her arms and feet moving in small, repetitive arcs, finding endless variations on the theme. Count Kessler called this “unerotic.” Not unlike Degas’ ballet dancers, perhaps, whom the painter used for their soft tints as much as for their movements. The Brothers Goncourt called them “monkey girls” and were as taken by his washerwomen, each steeped in the arcana of laundering, as by the seemingly silent dancers. Nowhere is music mentioned. Nowhere is there sound.

    On this day, Steinbeck lamented the paucity of neologisms in the Book of the Dead.

  • Waiting in Denver

  • Denver

  • On Re-Reading The Fall of the House of Usher in Preparation for Attending the Ballet

    There is something about a story like this that begs for interpretation. And running alongside that, when reading Poe, there is the temptation to read past the deep purple of its prose, as though that were an encumbrance, an idiosyncratic, stylistic authorial tic. In any case, Usher employs the usual Poeian devices: live burial, Doppelgänger, “madness,” alcohol as a calmative, and the blurred lines between “history” and “romance.”

    When I resisted the urge to read the way I learned in college, however, and allowed myself to approach the story on its own terms, I cannot say I understood it but I did enjoy it. It was more like reading poetry than reading prose. (Do we read poetry differently from the way we read prose? I mean there are the obvious differences in the forms, but I wonder whether there the brain functions differently reading or, actually, listening to poetry as opposed to prose. Ideally in my proposed schema, reading poetry engages the part of the brain that hears music.)

    In any case, rather than say Usher is “about depression” — I wonder whether Poe was himself self-medicating his bipolar brain — I prefer to say it reminds me of Keats. The story is not accountable to anyone or anything. Poe defies accountability.

  • Blown Rose

  • Ice Cubes

  • Indecent

  • Mint Tea

  • Stairwell

  • Birthday Bowl

  • Not Pepperoni This Time

  • Pisgah

  • Blue Cheese, Mangoes, & Diet Coke

  • Ambrosia

  • This does not make coffee.

  • Pepperoni Forever

  • Once in a While

  • Working

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