Archive for February, 2013

Wax / gnat-like torments

February 27, 2013

Although beneath mentioning, I was surprised not to see footnoted this apparent factual error in the blue octavo notebooks (kaiser/ Wilkins translation, pp.19):

“In order to be safe from the Sirens, Odysseus stopped his ears with wax and had himself chained to the mast.”

The siren adventure of the Odyssey is at book 12, lines 153-200 –Odysseus was tied to the mast, but it was his companions’ ears that were plugged.

It’s an error similar in kind to the one in America with the Statue of Liberty wielding a sword but.. on the subject of this being beneath mentioning, this humorous Pierre passage is offered:

As every evening, after his day’s writing was done, the proofs of the beginning of his work came home for correction, Isabel would read them to him. They were replete with errors; but preoccupied by the thronging, and undiluted, pure imaginings of things, he became impatient of such minute, gnat-like torments; he randomly corrected the worst, and let the rest go; jeering with himself at the rich harvest thus furnished to the entomological critics.

“ambiguities” in “Pierre; or, The Ambiguities”

February 25, 2013

1.4 “In the country then Nature planted our Pierre; because Nature intended a rare and original development in Pierre. Never mind if hereby she proved ambiguous to him in the end; nevertheless, in the beginning she did bravely.”

2.2 “Whereupon, the young officers took it upon themselves to think—though they by no means presumed to breathe it—that they had authoritatively, though indirectly, accelerated a before ambiguous and highly incommendable state of affairs between the now affianced lovers.”

3.2 “Ay; but then, in ten minutes after your leaving them, all the houses in Saddle Meadows would be humming with the gossip of Pierre Glendinning engaged to marry Lucy Tartan, and yet running about the country, in ambiguous pursuit of strange young women. That will never do.”

3.2 “In such an hour it was, that chancing to encounter Lucy (her, whom above all others, he did confidingly adore), she heard the story of the face; nor slept at all that night; nor for a long time freed her pillow completely from wild, Beethoven sounds of distant, waltzing melodies, as of ambiguous fairies dancing on the heath.”

4.2 “And then, in her heart, she wondered how it was, that so excellent a gentleman, and so thoroughly good a man, should wander so ambiguously in his mind; and trembled to think of that mysterious thing in the soul, which seems to acknowledge no human jurisdiction, but in spite of the individual’s own innocent self, will still dream horrid dreams […]”

4.4 “[…]and the face in the picture still looked at them frankly, and cheerfully, as if there was nothing kept concealed; and yet again, a little ambiguously and mockingly, as if slyly winking to some other picture […]”

4.4 ” […] yet the cunning analysis in which such a mental procedure would involve him, never voluntarily transgressed that sacred limit, where his mother’s peculiar repugnance began to shade off into ambiguous considerations, touching any unknown possibilities in the character and early life of the original.”

4.5 “Consider this strange, ambiguous smile, Pierre; more narrowly regard this mouth. Behold, what is this too ardent and, as it were, unchastened light in these eyes, Pierre?”

4.5 “Consider; for a smile is the chosen vehicle for all ambiguities, Pierre. When we would deceive, we smile; when we are hatching any nice little artifice, Pierre; only just a little gratifying our own sweet little appetites, Pierre; then watch us, and out comes the odd little smile.”

4.5 “[…] thus sometimes stood Pierre before the portrait of his father, unconsciously throwing himself open to all those ineffable hints and ambiguities, and undefined half-suggestions, which now and then people the soul’s atmosphere […]”

4.5 “But now, now!—Isabel’s letter read: swift as the first light that slides from the sun, Pierre saw all preceding ambiguities, all mysteries ripped open as if with a keen sword, and forth trooped thickening phantoms of an infinite gloom. Now his remotest infantile reminiscences—the wandering mind of his father—the empty hand, and the ashen—the strange story of Aunt Dorothea—the mystical midnight suggestions of the portrait itself; and, above all, his mother’s intuitive aversion, all, all overwhelmed him with reciprocal testimonies.”

5.1 “He looked up, and found himself fronted by the no longer wholly enigmatical, but still ambiguously smiling picture of his father.”

8.3 “For over all these things, and interfusing itself with the sparkling electricity in which she seemed to swim, was an ever-creeping and condensing haze of ambiguities.”

10.3 “But here we draw a vail. Some nameless struggles of the soul can not be painted, and some woes will not be told. Let the ambiguous procession of events reveal their own ambiguousness.”

12.3 “Face up, it met him with its noiseless, ever-nameless, and ambiguous, unchanging smile.”

12.3 “And as his father was now sought to be banished from his mind, as a most bitter presence there, but Isabel was become a thing of intense and fearful love for him; therefore, it was loathsome to him, that in the smiling and ambiguous portrait, her sweet mournful image should be so sinisterly becrooked, bemixed, and mutilated to him.”

12.3 “[…]now I know this, that in commonest memorials, the twilight fact of death first discloses in some secret way, all the ambiguities of that departed thing or person […]”

15.1 “Pierre thanked him kindly; but in certain little roguish ambiguities begged leave, on the ground of cloying, to return him inclosed by far the greater portion of his present […]”

15.2 “BUT little would we comprehend the peculiar relation between Pierre and Glen—a relation involving in the end the most serious results—were there not here thrown over the whole equivocal, preceding account of it, another and more comprehensive equivocalness, which shall absorb all minor ones in itself; and so make one pervading ambiguity the only possible explanation for all the ambiguous details.”

16.3 “The fellow—maliciously diverted by what had happened thus far—made some ambiguous and rudely merry rejoinder.”

18.2 “In the operative opinion of this world, he who is already fully provided with what is necessary for him, that man shall have more; while he who is deplorably destitute of the same, he shall have taken away from him even that which he hath. Yet the world vows it is a very plain, downright matter-of-fact, plodding, humane sort of world. It is governed only by the simplest principles, and scorns all ambiguities, all transcendentals, and all manner of juggling.”

19.1 “This dreary posture of affairs, however, was at last much altered for the better, by the gradual filling up of the vacant chambers on high, by scores of those miscellaneous, bread-and-cheese adventurers, and ambiguously professional nondescripts in very genteel but shabby black, and unaccountable foreign-looking fellows in blue spectacles; who, previously issuing from unknown parts of the world, like storks in Holland, light on the eaves, and in the attics of lofty old buildings in most large sea-port towns.”

23.3 “Pierre spoke not; he but listened; a terrible, burning curiosity was in him, that made him as heartless. But still all that she had said thus far was ambiguous.”

25.2 “And when these things now swam before him; when he thought of all the ambiguities which hemmed him in; the stony walls all round that he could not overleap; the million aggravations of his most malicious lot; the last lingering hope of happiness licked up from him as by flames of fire, and his one only prospect a black, bottomless gulf of guilt, upon whose verge he imminently teetered every hour;—then the utmost hate of Glen and Frederic were jubilantly welcome to him; and murder, done in the act of warding off their ignominious public blow, seemed the one only congenial sequel to such a desperate career.”

26.1 “With the aspect of the Cenci every one is familiar. “The Stranger” was a dark, comely, youthful man’s head, portentously looking out of a dark, shaded ground, and ambiguously smiling. There was no discoverable drapery; the dark head, with its crisp, curly, jetty hair, seemed just disentangling itself from out of curtains and clouds. But to Isabel, in the eye and on the brow, were certain shadowy traces of her own unmistakable likeness; while to Pierre, this face was in part as the resurrection of the one he had burnt at the Inn. Not that the separate features were the same; but the pervading look of it, the subtler interior keeping of the entirety, was almost identical; still, for all this, there was an unequivocal aspect of foreignness, of Europeanism, about both the face itself and the general painting.”

26.6 “‘Here, then, is the untimely, timely end;—Life’s last chapter well stitched into the middle! Nor book, nor author of the book, hath any sequel, though each hath its last lettering!—It is ambiguous still.'”

“Directions scene” / Late Spring [6]

February 21, 2013

refers to a scene in Chapter 6 of the criterion collection edition.

Onodera asks, Is the sea on this side? and points across his body to his right. Shukichi says no, it’s on that side, nodding to his own right. And the shrine is that way, right? says Onodera, pointing sort of up and to his left. No, says Shukichi, and he points with his right arm ahead of him and to his left. Where’s Tokyo, says Onodera. Shukichi points with his right arm to his right, a bit behind him. So East is that direction, says Onodera pointing straight ahead. No that direction, says Shukichi, pointing with his right arm, ahead and to his right.

A difficulty I’m having with this is that looking at a map of Kamakura and environs [map] it seems as if Tokyo and the ocean should be on basically opposite sides, north and south, while Shukichi wants to have them on the same side and to the south (I don’t know whether I’m confused, which is likely, or if there is some other intention at work.) Perhaps interesting as well, this scene occurs between Noriko and Shukichi’s trip to Tokyo on the one hand and Noriko and Hattori’s trip to the seaside on the other (– incidentally, our first image of the sea, which is also the movie’s concluding image.)


(n.b. It doesn’t quite makes sense to say “orientation according to Onedera” in this chart, as probably Onodera’s sense of orientation changes with each new piece of information he gets from Shukichi as to the true location of things. Nevertheless, the above does indicate his expressed guesses about where things are –guesses which might be better than Shukichi’s.)


February 19, 2013

Plato’s Symposium, 189 A5:

πανυ γαρ ευθυς επαυσατο επειδη αυτω τον πταρμον προσηνεγκα.

πταρμος, m. A Sneeze… [For all at once it stopped when a sneeze came on]? (for it stopped directly when I brought a sneeze to it) (perseus)


February 15, 2013

Light in August, William Faulkner, pp.35

…………The newcomer turned without a word. The others watched him go down to the sawdust pile and vanish and reappear with a shovel and go to work. The foreman and the superintendent were talking at the door. They parted and the foreman returned. “His name is Christmas,” he said,
…………“His name is what?” one said.
…………“Is he a foreigner?”
…………“Did you ever hear of a white man named Christmas?” the foreman said.
…………“I never heard of nobody a-tall named it,” the other said.
…………And that was the first time Byron remembered that he had ever thought how a man’s name, which is supposed to be just the sound for who he is, can be somehow an augur of what he will do, if other men can only read the meaning in time.

watch chain, respice finem, Tolstoy, Wallace

February 12, 2013

The mention of a medallion hanging from a watch chain with the inscription respice finem in Tolstoy’s Death of Ivan Ilyich reminded me of a watch with the same inscription in Wallace’s Good Old Neon. (Quotes Below). Perhaps the authors simply hit upon the same trope, but there are also thematic parallels to the stories (the falsity of living and of oneself, the revelation of death) which may indicate that Wallace, in making this reference, was consciously alluding to Tolstoy’s work.


“This falsity around and within him did more than anything else to poison his last days.”~Death of Ivan Ilyich

watch chain quotes. “Another of my stepmother’s treasured antiques was a silver pocket-watch of her maternal grandfather’s with the Latin RESPICE FINEM inscribed on the inside of the case.” (Good Old Neon.)

“Ilych ordered himself clothes at Scharmer’s, the fashionable tailor, hung a medallion inscribed respice finem on his watch-chain” (Death of Ivan Ilyich)

Kafka/ Burrow/ Milena

February 8, 2013

Probably not related but this part of a letter from Kafka to Milena (June 12, 1920) brought to mind his story The Burrow, which was written three years later. “What a terrible story,” he writes (speaking of something Max Brod had written him about)–

Once I caught a mole and carried him into the hops garden. When I tossed him on the ground he plunged into the earth like a madman, disappearing as if he had dived into water. That is how one would have to hide from this story.

And, a couple months later, pp. 138 of the Boehm translation, he writes these lines (speaking of his dashed hopes of seeing her):

I wouldn’t have to mention this at all, it’s just that I was so happy to find this narrow tunnel leading out of the dark apartment to you. I had thrown myself into it with all my soul, into this passageway which could […] lead to you but which instead runs smack into the impenetrable stone of Please-don’t-come. So now I have to turn back, again with all my soul, slowly return though the passage I had dug so quickly, and fill it in. That hurts a little, you see, but it can’t be all that bad, since I’m able to write about it in such a tedious manner. In the end one always finds new tunnels to burrow, old mole that one is.

Brothers Karamazov, The Wild Palms, Psalm 137

February 4, 2013

From psalm 137:

5 If I forget thee, O Jerusalem,

let my right hand forget her cunning.
6 If I do not remember thee,

let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth;
if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy.

Because I’ve never understood Faulkner’s naming of If I Forget Three Jerusalem, I wonder if this Brothers Karamazov quote might have had to do with it. (Its themes of conception/ abortion contrasted with grief for a child’s death in Dostoyevsky). Garnett:

“I don’t want a good boy! I don’t want another boy!” he muttered in a wild whisper, clenching his teeth. “If I forget thee, Jerusalem, may my tongue….” He broke off with a sob and sank on his knees before the wooden bench. Pressing his fists against his head, he began sobbing with absurd whimpering cries, doing his utmost that his cries should not be heard in the room.

(Other literary references to Psalm 137.)

February 1, 2013

banausic netball weltanschauung
“I buy but few things,
and those till not lo
ng after I begin to w
ant them, so that whe
n I do get them I am
prepared to make a pe
rfect use of them and
extract their whole s
weet.”~Thoreau (Journ