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Thursday 31 December 2009



File:White shark.jpg

The young sharks feed peaceably in the shallow waters.
Because they are strong and proud, they get a chance to be silly.
The old sharks move out to the deeps, hungry, restless and driven.
They are only serious.


Carcharodon carcharias (Great white shark), Isla Guadalupe, Mexico: photos by Terry Goss, 2006

Wednesday 30 December 2009

The Song of the Drowned Ghost in the Pool


File:Carcharhinus longimanus 1.jpg

The song of the drowned ghost in the pool's
heard as an admission that the soul's
three thousand years bereft in you.
Toy ships or pilot fish are floating memories.
And as the song drifts and echoes down
through the still translucent glass
like water, a helmsman compels
these memories on, filling out
Ulysses' bellying
and fluttering sails.

Shivering sail killendes Segel.gif

Oceanic white tip shark (Carcharhinus longimanus) with pilot fish (Naucrates ductor)
: photo by Peter Koelbl, 2006
A shivering sail: photo by Segler1982, 2007

Haneke's The White Ribbon: A Further Note


File:Michael Haneke.jpg

"I'm now convinced the poor guy is a bit of a sick mutt. With courage." -- Bob Arnold

It must be conceded that Haneke's films are not much fun. But maybe fun's overrated anyway. Life's not all fun; still it's very strange and complicated and compelling, bright and then dark, all on the surface and then suddenly, in unexpected telling moments, striking deep. Working in the large and intricate canvas of ambiguous relations that is The White Ribbon, Haneke attends upon those moments; he captures a good deal of that uncanny problematic depth and complexity; in a small community a whole society is implied; very few artists can really manage that kind of scope. This is a director who understands how much in the human world lies hidden, how many secrets there are, how these secrets can never be fully revealed, how nonetheless the effort to conceal them is always finally overcome by the impulse to reveal them, and how that moment of attempted revelation is the prey for which art works lurk in waiting.

Here is Jennifer Szalai, talking about the open-endedness of Haneke's films. She suggests it implies a kind of optimism.

"[Haneke] once told a reporter that he considered himself a 'realist. That doesn't mean I'm a pessimist. The pessimists are those who make purely escapist films, because they believe people are so stupid that it's useless to make a film about anything serious. But someone who points to wounds in society is also trying to change things, even just a bit.'

"The prospect of a change comes from introducing possibilities rather than covering up the open wound. A therapeutic mantra of closure has insinuated itself into our idea of almost everything, including art; we assume we should be able to walk away from one experience and simply move on to the next. Haneke's films, however, force us to slow down, not just to look but to see, and they reverberate in the mind long after one has left the theater. They are a protest against the kind of complacency that would allow us to behave like the family in The Seventh Continent, so caught up in their daily rituals that they don't really live." (Harper's Magazine, November 2007)

Michael Haneke: photo by Thomas Steiner, 2007

Tuesday 29 December 2009

Grimly Grimm: Haneke's The White Ribbon


File:White ribbon.jpg

"Film is 24 lies per second at the service of truth, or at the service of the attempt to find the truth." -- Michael Haneke

It is 1913, 1914... a quiet rural Protestant village in northern Germany, on the eve of the First World War. Mysterious and ominous incidents are inexplicably occurring, unsettling the inhabitants of the small isolated community.

The town doctor, coming home from his appointed rounds, is thrown from his horse by a trip-wire concealed in the road. The local baronial landowner's son disappears, then is found bound and whipped. The baron's cabbage crop is destroyed. A window is left open, letting cold night air into the room where the steward's newborn child sleeps. The wife of a tenant farmer falls through rotted floorboards of a sawmill and perishes. The barn of the manor house is set ablaze in the night and burns to the ground. A farmer hangs himself. The local pastor's beloved pet canary is killed.

At the center of the bizarre events are the children who attend the local church and school, their families, and the village schoolteacher. Suspicion falls upon the children -- our suspicion, that is; as well as that of the schoolteacher, who, a typical Haneke character, equivocates in this knowledge. The events take on eerie aspects of ritual punishment. But the mystery remains unsolved... who is responsible for the transgressions? What motives or forces underlie these strange happenings?

The restrictions and disciplines imposed by the parents upon the children of the village are humiliating and cruel. The pastor forces two of his children to wear a white ribbon, visible symbol of their lost innocence. He whips his oldest son behind closed doors, and orders his hands tied at night to keep him from masturbating. In an especially unsettling cut we are given briefly to think we are seeing the pastor sodomizing his son. Instead the next shot reveals that what we are seeing is the doctor having sex with the midwife. (If this hint of incest proves a false one, we are shortly given sure evidence of the real thing occurring between different parties on the doctor's examining couch.)

In The White Ribbon, as often with Haneke, guilt is the subject. And it is not merely left to the spectator to determine where the guilt may lie; there is also a persistent, nagging sense that the direction of accusation has been reversed, and the audience itself has become anxiously complicit in some central unsolved crime. It was Haneke's leaving open this possibility of a shared responsibility for a crime that caused audiences to depart so uneasily from his masterpiece Caché.

File:Bundesarchiv Bild 133-393, Worms, Luftschutzübung der Hitlerjugend.jpg

Michael Haneke is a filmmaker of great aesthetic austerity. There is a cold surgical rigor about his films. They routinely invert the normal kind of movie/audience relations, upsetting the customary expectation of the viewer that s/he may remain a passive recipient of the moviewatching experience. Haneke is an exacting and demanding master who requires his audiences to become intellectual and moral participants in the aesthetic event.

With most movies, one stares at the images, thus remaining in control of the viewing experience. With Haneke's movies it is as though the film were staring at its viewers, putting a series of difficult questions, insisting that what is being seen and heard be taken as the beginning of a thought process that will continue well after the viewing experience itself has ended.

The repressions, hypocrisies, deceptions and self-deceptions of the characters in Haneke's films have a way of uncomfortably mirroring the interior convolutions of the psyche of the viewer; one imagines that unexpected reflection to be a large part of the point of the films, in fact. Haneke has said he expects audiences of his films always to know when a character is lying. He imposes a similarly stringent self-knowledge upon the viewer, who is forced to scrutinize her/his responses in a way few other directors dare ask of audiences. To have fully experienced a Haneke film is not only to have been implicated in something but to have survived a self-inquisition.

The White Ribbon is shot in starkly magnificent black and white monochrome, tonally resonant with its often grimly Grimm-like parabolic subject matter. (Its German sub-title is Eine Deutsche Kindergeschichte, or "A German Children's Story"; the child actors in the film are mostly nonprofessionals, chosen for their resemblance to a desired historical "look"; Haneke has said 7000 schoolchildren were interviewed for the fifteen children's roles in the film.) The films it most closely evokes in tone and visual style are Dreyer's Ordet and certain works of Bresson like Pickpocket and Diary of a Country Priest. But the exalted spiritual dimensions of a Dreyer or a Bresson have no corollary in Haneke's frigid, fallen universe. (Asked about whether he believes in God, the director is to have said he would no more answer such a question than speak about his private sexual practices.)

The film is the product of an idea Haneke has shaped over two decades. It is plain that the children we are seeing are to be understood as the generation who would become the audience of Hitler. In interviews the Austrian director has made no secret of the fact that he constructed his film as a study of the origins of Fascism. "I chose this period in this country because I think it offers the [sources of] the most prominent horror in any country at any time. I think German people should see it as a film about Germany. But in other countries people should see it as a film about their own countries."

It's a film about the growth of "absolute ideologies," Haneke says. "A children's choir in Protestant Germany elevates their parents' preachings to the level of an absolute ideology and then judges their parents on the basis of that ideology."

As always with Haneke, the problematics of the work are meticulously applied at the level of scene construction. The audience, Haneke assumes, wants to know who's guilty. "I always try to construct my stories in such a way that a number of different explanations [of events] are possible. I give the spectator all possible freedom to construct the story."

Haneke's method is identifiable from film to film. Show only what is essential. Come into a scene late, exit early. Leave out more than you put in. A Haneke ellipsis can be a precipice that slips off into an abyss of uncertainty. "I excite the imagination of the spectator through everything I don't show, all the questions I don't answer."

The White Ribbon's Narrator (the village schoolteacher, looking back in later years) reveals at the outset of the film that he too may be in the dark about the events which he is to unfold for us:

"I don't know if the story I'm about to tell you is true in all respects. Some of it I know only from hearsay..."

It must be honestly admitted that the extended durations and hanging questions of the work, the resolute refusal of solution and closure, the studied wide-angle framings and the chilly black and whites, render The White Ribbon somewhat less than... a New Years Eve date movie?

Haneke's film is nearly three hours long and builds slowly. In its last hour an intensity accumulates and the always coolly distanced camera eye gradually achieves a cruelty and coldness similar to that warily trained upon one another by the villagers themselves: capturing them without mercy, as in a petri dish. This is a town where "apathy, envy, brutality and malice" (as the baron's unhappy wife, taking her departure, puts it) are all there is.

In the final scenes of the film many takes are extended. In Haneke's hands the inherent melancholy of the time-expanding long take is complicated by shivers of irony. As the damned children of the village of the damned lounge by a stream in carefully feigned nonchalance between violent depredations, we are perhaps seeing tomorrow's Hitler youth in their first expectant days. The film ends with the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand at Sarajevo, sutured into history by Michael Haneke with brilliance and care and reverberating unanswered questioning.

The White Ribbon (directed by Michael Haneke), 2009: theatrical poster (Sony Pictures Classics)
Hitler Youth, c.1933, training with gas masks: photo from German Federal Archive
The Alliance of Work and People, April 1934: photo from German Federal Archive

Sunday 27 December 2009

Remembering Dreams


File:Gekko Emperor Godaigo.jpg

You only dream any dream once. If you choose not to linger
Abed awhile to snatch from
Forgetfulness the wandering images which darkness
Has projected -- a confused miniaturist's
Curious masque -- will you get another chance? But then:

Having arrived in your mist-shrouded brain as you slept,
Slipping in under hooded robes as the gatekeeper
Was snoozing, cautiously secretive
Every silk slippered step of the way,
Do these phantom images really wish to be kept? Recalling

That Imperial Forgetter of his dreams
Who needed a seer at dawn to remind him of the form
Meaning assumes all over again every livelong day,
One can imagine why the dreams of a Caesar
Might not want to be remembered. Figures

A-skulk 'mid slinky shadows, materializing
From and then fading back into the dark banks of the Tiber.
Morning passes over the mind vaguely, a coating
Of wax that gums up the works of the biological timepiece.
Therefore you dally with your visions. You can only have them once.

File:Vittore Carpaccio 050 DreamofStUrsula.jpg

Emperor Godaigo, dreaming of ghosts at his palace in Gaigo: Gekko Ogata, 1890
The dream of St. Ursula: Vittore Carpaccio, c. 1495-1500 (Galleria dell'Accademia, Venice)

Saturday 26 December 2009

The Shadows


File:Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn - An Old Man in Red.JPG

There's many a good tune played on an old fiddle
Said Samuel Butler to his shadow

The shadows of old men in entirely different centuries
Go ever with me now

An Old Man in Red: Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, 1652-1654

Scraps (The Messenger)


Film-Szenenbild zu The Messenger

Woody Harrelson in The Messenger (directed by Oren Moverman): production stills via Osclloscope Laboratories, 2009

I wanted to tell you about a film called The Messenger. You've probably missed it; almost everybody has. A couple of soldiers, veterans of the two Iraq wars, drive around unappealing residential communities in New Jersey delivering notifications of combat deaths to next of kin. They're not tasked with delivering compassion; they are not angels bearing consolation to the aggrieved; they wear crisply starched uniforms but display no flags; all they bring the desolated loved ones is the bitter scraps. It's a very, very bad job, consisting mostly of long periods of anxious dead time, pure terrible duration, waiting for the signal to gear up and head out to knock at that next unwelcoming door.

And it's a bleak, yet curiously believable film, picturing quite credibly an America that is pretty much all downside; that is, the depressed America of long meaningless losses in long meaningless wars; the America of this millennium. It contains few lies and a great deal of slow, stretched out time. What "happens" is the realistic representation of the experience of temporality under great stress, and not much else; moments of friendship, love, grief, anger, despair, loyalty, rage, sorrow, loss, guilt, confusion are among the scraps of feeling snatched from this pure experience of duration; the mix feels real, like a sample from life itself. The takes are long and tense with contained emotion which remains finally unexpressed, a genie of wish fulfillment that remains corked in a dark, dark bottle. The violence that we feel might explode at any time never arrives. The restraint of the acting performances, the austerity and minimalism of the camera style and sound track, the understated and careful writing, the subdued humor that punctuates the painful exploration of difficult subject matter with moments of grim comedy, all add up to a movie that has virtually no holiday box office potential whatsoever. Reviewers have been made uncomfortable, some have even claimed to be bored. To each her/his own. I thought it was terrific, maybe the best American movie I've seen since There Will Be Blood. Both these movies are about that miserable thing, the ultimate meagreness of the tragedy of the American dream. Oren Moverman and Paul Thomas Anderson have one thing in common. They are both brave enough (or audacious enough) to keep looking at a scene until it begins to hurt.

Thursday 24 December 2009

Wallace Stevens: The Snow Man


File:Cat dancing in the snow-Tscherno.jpg

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

The Snow Man: Wallace Stevens, from The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens

Cat dancing in snow: photo by Matthias Zirngibl, 2006

The Christmas Fire-Dance


File:Boots 1 by wax115.jpg

My great-grandfather told another story about writing poetry in Dakota. It seems that early one Christmas morning he was at a kind of poetry bazaar. There were fewer boots available than there were poets. So a poetry conference was arranged. The one who made up the best poem got the boots. The winners were going away quite contented reciting the losing poems. They said, "Oh, it's no matter. When these boots are worn out we'll have to go barefoot. Then one more of us will get a chance to do the Christmas fire-dance, and so on."

File:Kandy Fire dance.jpg

Boots 1: photo by Carlos Paes, 2005
Kandy fire dance: photo by chikuado, 2005

Stevie Smith: Bog-Face


File:Zygocactus truncatus 01.JPG

Dear Little Bog-Face,
Why are you so cold?
And why do you lie with your eyes shut? --
You are not very old.

I am a Child of this World,
And a Child of Grace,
And Mother, I shall be glad when it is over,
I am Bog-Face.

File:Stevie Smith.jpg

Bog-Face: from The Collected Poems of Stevie Smith

Christmas cactus in bloom (Zygocactus truncatus): photo by Nayana Sondi, 2006
Florence Margaret ("Stevie") Smith: photo by Jorge Lewinski, 1966 (National Portrait Gallery, London)

Wednesday 23 December 2009



File:Narcissus poeticus.jpg

Hélas! My narcissi are stinky

after only two weeks: 2:52 a.m.

twenty one is it? degrees on the mercury ball

a serious shivering within the spiritual timbers

in the town named after the bishop

who argued away the existence of the material

why then doth it weigh so

(contra the hypostasis of the individual)

upon us all

File:George Berkeley by John Smibert.jpg

Narcissus poeticus: photo by Jean-Jacques Milan, 2004
George Berkeley: John Smibert (d. 1751) (National Portrait Gallery, London)

Portrait of Author as Politely Homicidal Child


File:'Bartlett - Taj Mahal, Twilight', c. 1919.jpg

How pleasant an existence is. In the night
That is still to be silent images splash

Their lakes across the wall of a dark cafe:
Upon this screen appears a turquoise sea

With minarets distant. Laps upon red clay
This sea. Shimmer reflects this and that in it.

In the sea there prinks, bathed in moonlight,

The young emerald, Platonic evening star,

Wondering homunculus, one day
To become disdainful emperor of this or that.

File:'Prayers at Sunset, Udaipur, India', woodblock print by Charles W. Bartlett, 1919, Honolulu Academy of Arts.jpg

Taj Mahal, Twilight: Charles W. Bartlett, 1919 (private collection)
Prayers at Sunset, Udaipur: Charles W. Bartlett, 1919 (Honolulu Academy of Arts)

Monday 21 December 2009

The Mutabilitie of the Englishe Lyrick


File:And now for something completely different - A Scotsman being hit by a pie.png

Alexander Pope (1688 - 1744)


Is there no bright reversion in the sky
For those who prefer cake, but accept pie?


William Wordsworth (1770 - 1850)

Thoughts in Repression

It is as if, as toward the silent tomb we go,
We feel that we are greater than we know we know.


Walter Savage Landor (1775 - 1864)

The Porcupine

Ah, what avails the sceptred race,
Ah, what the form divine,
What every virtue, every grace,
Compared to the porcupine?

File:Coendou prehensilis 2 - Buffalo Zoo.jpg

A Scotsman being hit by a pie: Adam Cuerden, 2006
Cakes, Serbia: photos by Ctpyjajoe, 2009
Brazilian porcupine (Coendou prehensilis)
: photo by Dave Pape, 2007

Sunday 20 December 2009



Cold floating days, difficult to keep body

Temp. up as planet cools off mysteriously

This P.M. two small grey birds bump

About in the rose bush for a while

A capella (no rush hour for once)

In last rays of tinny Christmas sun

While voluntary trumpets are quietly

Emitted by radio into Jerusalem foiled sky

Far off and to our great astonishment

O blue earth sounds your golden flower

From the bell of its silver horn

I didn’t think it would ever come back on

File:French horn front.png

House sparrow (Passer domesticus) with winter plumage: photo by 3268zauber, 3 January 2009

French horn: photo by BenP, 2006

Darwish: I'm From There



Sky: photo by Seth Ilys, 2004


انا من هناك
محمود دروي

أنا من هناك. ولي ذكرياتٌ . ولدت كما تولد الناس. لي والدة
وبيتٌ كثير النوافذِ. لي إخوةٌ. أصدقاء. وسجنٌ بنافذة باردهْ.
ولي موجةٌ خطَِفتها النوارس. لي مشهدي الخاص. لي عُشْبةٌ زائدهْ
ولي قمرٌ في أقاصي الكلام، ورزقُ الطيور، وزيتونةٌ خالدهْ

مررتُ على الأرض قبل مرور السيوف على جسدٍ حوّلوه إلى مائدهْ.
أنا من هناك. أعيد السماء إلى أمها حين تبكي السماء على أمها،
وأبكي لتعرفني غيمةٌ عائدهْ.
تعلّمتُ كل كلام يليقُ بمحكمة الدم كي أكسر القاعدهْ
تعلّمتُ كل الكلام، وفككته كي أركب مفردةً واحدهْ
هي: الوطنُ...

I'm from
have memories. Like

any other
was born.

I come
there. And I go

to return the sky
its mother,

it cries


Mahmoud Darwish at University of Bethlehem: photo by Amer Somali, 2006

Friday 18 December 2009

Multiverse (Blanqui: L'éternité par les astres)


File:Pleiades large.jpg

The Pleiades: open cluster of stars in the constellation Taurus: images from Schmitt Telescope, Palomar Observatory

(Blanqui: L'éternité par les astres)

The entire universe is composed of stellar systems. In order to create them nature has only one hundred simple bodies at its disposal. Despite the prodigious profit it knows how to make from its resources, and the incalculable number of combinations these allow its fecundity, the result is necessarily a finite number, like that of the elements themselves. And in order to fill the entire expanse nature must infinitely repeat each of its original or generic combinations.

Every star, whatever it might be, thus exists in infinite number in time and space, not only in one of its aspects, but as it is found in every second of its duration, from birth until death. All the beings spread across its surface, big or little, animate or inanimate, share in this privilege of perennity.


Multiverse (cyclic progressions of the universe): image by KronicTOOL, 2009

File:The sun1.jpg

The sun, as seen from the surface of earth through a camera lens: photo by Lykaestria, 2005

The earth is one of these stars. Every human being is thus eternal in every second of its existence. What I write now in a cell in the fort of Taureau I wrote and will write under the same circumstances for all of eternity, on a table, with a pen, wearing clothing. And so for all.

One after another all these earths are submerged in renovatory flames, to be re-born there and to fall into them again, the monotonous flowing of an hourglass that eternally turns and empties itself. It is something new that is always old; something old that is always new.


Talking it over the next morning he told me that he had had many visions lately — he had seen the figure of himself which met him as he walked on the terrace & said to him — "How long do you mean to be content" — No very terrific words & certainly not prophetic of what has occurred. But Shelley had often seen these figures when ill; but the strangest thing is that Mrs Williams saw him. Now Jane, though a woman of sensibility, has not much imagination & is not in the slightest degree nervous — neither in dreams or otherwise. She was standing one day, the day before I was taken ill, at a window that looked on the Terrace with Trelawny — it was day — she saw as she thought Shelley pass by the window, as he often was then, without a coat or jacket — he passed again — now as he passed both times the same way — and as from the side towards which he went each time there was no way to get back except past the window again (except over a wall twenty feet from the ground) she was struck at seeing him pass twice thus & looked out & seeing him no more she cried — "Good God can Shelley have leapt from the wall? Where can he be gone?" Shelley, said Trelawny — "No Shelley has past — What do you mean?" Trelawny says that she trembled exceedingly when she heard this & it proved indeed that Shelley had never been on the terrace & was far off at the time she saw him.

(The Letters of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley)

File:Betelgeuse star (Hubble).jpg

Betelgeuse (Alpha Orionis), red supergiant: Hubble Telescope image (NASA/ESA)

Those curious about extra-terrestrial life will nevertheless smile at a mathematical conclusion that grants them not only immortality but eternity. The number of our doubles is infinite in time and space. In all conscience, we can hardly ask for more. These doubles are of flesh and blood, or in pants and coats, in crinoline and chignon. These aren’t phantoms: they are the now eternalized.

There is nevertheless a great defect: there is, alas, no progress! No, these are vulgar re-editions, repetitions. As it is with editions of past worlds, so it is with those of future worlds. Only the chapter of bifurcations remains open to hope. Never forget that all we could have been here, we are somewhere else.


Two days after their arrival there, Mr. Donne was left alone, in that room in which Sir Robert, and he, and some other friends had dined together. To this place Sir Robert returned within half an hour; and, as he left, so he found Mr. Donne alone; but, in such ecstacy, and so altered as to his looks, as amazed Sir Robert to behold him in so much that he earnestly desired Mr. Donne to declare what had befallen him in the short time of his absence? to which, Mr. Donne was not able to make a present answer: but, after a long and perplext pause, did at last say, I have seen a dreadful Vision since I saw you: I have seen my dear wife pass twice by me through this room, with her hair hanging about her shoulders, and a dead child in her arms: this, I have seen since I saw you. To which, Sir Robert: Sure Sir, you have slept since I saw you; and, this is the result of some melancholy dream, which I desire you to forget, for you are now awake. To which Mr. Donnes reply was: I cannot be surer that I now live, then that I have not slept since I saw you: and am, as sure, that at her second appearing, she stopped, looked me in the face, and vanished.

(Izaak Walton: Life of Dr. John Donne)

File:Sirius A and B artwork.jpg

White dwarf star in orbit around Sirius: artist's impression: G. Bacon (NASA/ESA)

Progress here is only for our nephews. They are luckier than us. All the beautiful things that our globe will see our future descendants have already seen, see now, and will always see in the form of doubles who preceded them and who follow them. Children of a better humanity, they have already scoffed at us and mocked us on dead earths, passing there after us. From living earths from which we have disappeared they continue to condemn us; and on earths to be born, they will forever pursue us with their contempt.

They and we, as well as all the guests of our planet, are born over again as prisoners of the moment and place that destiny assigns us in its series of avatars. Our perennity is an appendix of its perennity. We are but partial phenomena of its resurrections. Men of the 19th Century, the hour of our apparition is forever fixed, and we are returned always the same, at best with the possibility of happy variants. There is nothing much there to satisfy the thirst for what is better. What then is to be done? I haven’t sought my happiness; I have sought after truth. You will find here neither a revelation nor a prophet, but a simple deduction from the spectral analysis and cosmogony of Laplace. These two discoveries make us eternal. Is this a godsend? We should profit from it. Is it a mystification? We should resign ourselves to it.

A dream or illusion had haunted Lincoln at times through the winter. On the evening of his election he had thrown himself on one of the haircloth sofas at home, just after the first telegrams of November 7 had told him he was elected President, and looking into a bureau mirror across the room he saw himself full length, but with two faces. It bothered him; he got up; the illusion vanished; but when he lay down again there in the glass again were two faces, one paler than the other. He got up again, mixed in the election excitement, forgot about it; but it came back, and haunted him. He told his wife about it; she worried too. A few days later he tried it once more and the illusion of the two faces again registered to his eyes. But that was the last; the ghost since then wouldn't come back, he told his wife, who said it was a sign he would be elected to a second term, and the death pallor of one face meant he wouldn't live through his second term.

(Carl Sandburg: Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years)

File:Crab Nebula.jpg

Crab Nebula: mosaic image taken by Hubble Telescope (NASA)

But isn’t it a consolation to know ourselves to constantly be, on millions of planets, in the company of our beloved, who is today naught but a memory? Is it another, on the other hand, to think that we have tasted and will eternally taste this happiness in the shape of a double, of millions of doubles! Yet this is what we are. For many of the small minded this happiness through substitutes is somewhat lacking in rapture. They would prefer three or four supplementary years of the current edition to all the duplicates of the infinite. In our century of disillusionment and skepticism we are keen at clinging to things.

But deep down this eternity of man through the stars is melancholy, and sadder still this sequestration of brother-worlds through the barrier of space. So many identical populations that pass each other without suspecting their mutual existence! But yes! It has finally been discovered at the end of the 19th Century. But who will believe it?

Amid all this pressure and confusion I could not forego seeing Frederica once more. Those were painful days, the memory of which has not remained with me. When I reached her my hand from my horse, the tears stood in her eyes; and I felt very uneasy. I now rode along the foot-path toward Drusenheim, and here one of the most singular forebodings took possession of me. I saw, not with the eyes of the body, but with those of the mind, my own figure coming toward me, on horseback, and on the same road, attired in a dress which I had never worn, — it was pike-gray, with somewhat of gold. As soon as I shook myself out of this dream, the figure had entirely disappeared. It is strange, however, that, eight years afterward, I found myself on the very road, to pay one more visit to Frederica, in the dress of which I had dreamed, and which I wore, not from choice, but by accident. However, it may be with matters of this kind generally, this strange illusion in some measure calmed me at the moment of parting. The pain of quitting for ever noble Alsace, with all I had gained in it, was softened; and, having at last escaped the excitement of a farewell, I, on a peaceful and quiet journey, pretty well regained my self-possession.

(The Autobiography of Wolfgang von Goethe)

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Mira, oscillating red giant : Margarita Karovska, 1997 (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics/NASA)

And in any event, up till now the past represented barbarism to us, and the future signified progress, science, happiness, illusion! This past has seen brilliant civilizations disappear without leaving a trace on all our double-worlds; and they will disappear without leaving anymore of them. On millions of earths the future will see the ignorance, stupidity, and cruelty of our former ages.

At the present time the entire life of our planet, from birth until death, is being detailed day by day with all its crimes and misfortunes on a myriad of brother-stars. What we call progress is imprisoned on every earth, and fades away with it. Always and everywhere in the terrestrial field the same drama, the same décor; on the same limited stage a boisterous humanity, infatuated with its greatness, believing itself to be the universe, and living in its prison as if it were immense spaces, only to soon fall along with the globe that carried — with the greatest disdain — the burden of its pride. The same monotony, the same immobility on foreign stars. The universe repeats itself endlessly and paws the ground in place. Eternity infinitely and imperturbably acts out the same performance.

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Level II Multiverse ("Bubble Universes"): original image by K123456789y, 2006; vectorisation by Lokal Profit, 2008


The reflection nebula NGC 1999 illuminated by V380 Orionis (NASA)

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Louis Auguste Blanqui, L'éternité par les astres, Librairie Germer Bailliére, 1872, Paris; trans. Mitch Abidor for marxists. org (with variants).

Thursday 17 December 2009

Feeling for the Ground


MV Pasha Bulker grounded on Nobby's Beach, near Newcastle (Australia): photo by Web107, 2007

At first, and perhaps for a very long time, I existed as if at sea, drifting, and did not know what if anything lay under me.

Then came a change.

When my elders named some object, and accordingly moved towards something, I saw this and vaguely grasped that that the thing was called by the sound they uttered when they meant to point it out.

I glimpse myself in baby photos, attending curiously to such sounds, pensive, ignorantly wondering.

It all comes back to me now.

Adrift in my wordless sea, I was trying to read their minds, as if feeling for the ground.

What did they mean, when they uttered these strange sounds?

Their intention was shown by their bodily movements: the expression of their faces, the play of their eyes, the movement of other parts of their bodies, and, especially, the tones of their voices; which, I dimly now perceived, expressed their states of mind in seeking, having, or rejecting something.

In this way, as I heard words repeatedly used in their proper places in various sentences, I gradually learned to understand what objects they signified; and after I had trained my mouth to form these signs, I used them to express my own desires.

It was then I began to have a feeling for the ground. I walked a great deal, mostly alone, perhaps mostly on a hill, or then again it may have been a small mountain. Certainly it seemed solid enough.

As the scenery passed by, I could now put words to it; there was a sense of dwarf mastery in this; the achievements of the mind have their own satisfactions. However minor, however transitory.

But before very much more time had passed, I realized I retained a powerful longing for the open sea from which I had come.

This feeling of longing has remained with me to this day.

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Mixed deciduous forest, Stara Planina, Bulgaria: photo by Snezana Trifunovic, 2007

Tuesday 15 December 2009

Clouds, moon...


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File:Bundesarchiv Bild 183-1990-0206-324, Berlin, Passanten im Wind.jpg

Moon and clouds: photo by SR4001, 2007
Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata), Algonquin Provincial Park, Canada: photo by Mdf, 2005
Rain falling on creek, with sun shining: photo by Michael Gomez, 2005
Passers-by in wind, Karl-Marx-Allee, Berlin: photo by Ralph Hirschberger, 1990 (Deutsches Bundesarchiv)