Compare and Contrast (15)

1. Stephen Dunn: The Imagined.
2. Shakespeare: Sonnet 138.

The Imagined

If the imagined woman makes the real woman
seem bare-boned, hardly existent, lacking in
gracefulness and intellect and pulchritude,
and if you come to realize the imagined woman
can only satisfy your imagination, whereas
the real woman with all her limitations
can often make you feel good, how, in spite
of knowing this, does the imagined woman
keep getting into your bedroom, and joining you
at dinner, why is it that you always bring her along
on vacations when the real woman is shopping,
or figuring the best way to the museum?

                     And if the real woman

has an imagined man, as she must, someone
probably with her at this very moment, in fact
doing and saying everything she’s ever wanted,
would you want to know that he slips in
to her life every day from a secret doorway
she’s made for him, that he’s present even when
you’re eating your omelette at breakfast,
or do you prefer how she goes about the house
as she does, as if there were just the two of you?
Isn’t her silence, finally, loving? And yours
not entirely self-serving? Hasn’t the time come,

                     once again, not to talk about it?

Sonnet 138

When my love swears that she is made of truth
I do believe her, though I know she lies, 
That she might think me some untutor’d youth, 
Unlearned in the world’s false subtleties. 
Thus vainly thinking that she thinks me young, 
Although she knows my days are past the best, 
Simply I credit her false speaking tongue: 
On both sides thus is simple truth suppress’d. 
But wherefore says she not she is unjust? 
And wherefore say not I that I am old? 
O, love’s best habit is in seeming trust, 
And age in love loves not to have years told: 
   Therefore I lie with her and she with me,
   And in our faults by lies we flatter’d be.

My brain’s desktop (4)

My semi-regular house-cleaning of links, desktop jpegs, miscellaneous likes and dislikes I might not otherwise post…

1. Steven Soderbergh, list-maker

A compulsive list-maker myself, I could relate to the impulse that led director Steven Soderbergh to keep track of all the movies, books, tv shows, plays, etc, he took in over the course of a year. I’ve done the same thing with books for the past four years and, together with my friend, for the same length of time, all the movies we’ve watched. Soderbergh seems to be a real student, watching The Social Network around six times, and Raiders of the Lost Ark - in black and white no less - three times in a week. On the last page there are also lists of essential books on film, films notable for their cinematography, screenplays, and editing.

2. This cartoon
(from Crimes Against Hugh’s Manatees)

3. A Roberto Bolano piece…

Roberto Bolano piece in the New York Review of Books from the forthcoming (did it get pushed back?) book of essays, Between ParenthesesSome folks are already reading it, reviewing it.

4. Amazon now selling reduced-price Kindle with ads

A pretty supportive New York Times piece about this nauseating new idea. One little mention of its downside…

Still, books are one of the last ad-free zones, and by showing ads on an e-reader, Amazon risks alienating some users, he said.

“There’s been research that shows that if you put an ad in an environment where people are highly engaged, that kind of intrusiveness can really backfire,” he said.

Part of me hopes it does backfire, that there is a backlash against this kind of thing. I have a kindle. It’s a nice toy. But I can already see it won’t be a satisfying long-term replacement for books for me. And it’s true: books represent a kind of retreat, both in terms of mental space and physically - the clean, uncluttered pages themselves, with only the odd, forgivable ad for the publisher’s other titles, from electronic devices, ie. ad distribution machines. I’m leery.

5. Lil’ Kim / Nicki Minaj / Ganguro

Speaking of branding, here’s Lil’ Kim (thanks for the correction, AJ) selling herself body and soul to Louis Vuitton, and then Nicki Minaj on the cover of V. 1) This is how the Gaga generation pop stars deal with a corrupt, capitalist culture - not just by joining it, but binging on it, making everyone want to vomit on it. 2) I can’t say that’s not a powerful, disturbing portrait. Pretty radical femininity. 

It reminds me of Japanese Ganguro fashion…

6. The Brooklyn Rail / John Yau / Tom Burkhardt

I mentioned Brooklyn Rail and its interviews (specifically John Yau’s) not that long ago but it’s still on my desktop, as it were. This month’s issue has three interviews with painters, none of which I knew about before and all worth checking out. (I love that they prioritize painting, when museums are on this installation bender).

One artist interviewed this month, Tom Burckhardt, seems to be in that flirtatious place between abstraction and figuration that a lot of artists, the try-anything type, are thriving in right now. What he says about wanting to have to really work to make his paintings art and wanting to start from the assumption that painting is dead made sense to me:

"My thought for that work, which carries over to this work, is that I feel that when a painting is hung on the wall in a gallery with nothing on it, it has this assumption of quality, it’s already 50 percent on the way to being a work of art. Sometimes I find I am dissatisfied with looking at art where I feel like there’s only another small percent added to that scenario. You know there’s an atmosphere, a context of the whole thing, which builds it up to a point where the person, the maker, doesn’t have to participate very much farther. I want to find a way that’s work intensive and Calvinist about really putting something into it that matters to me; that is time, and process, and things like that. I like this idea of beating the premise down to the ground somehow, in a good natured way, where the very idea of painting is kind of squashed down flat somehow and I am almost endorsing this idea of painting being dead. That seems like a great starting point. Rather than taking that pronouncement as an insult, I think that it is terrific because then it all becomes available to me in a way, from the starting point of painting perhaps being so-called dead."

I like the look of this Rorschachy color/shape/variety set of his, too - a little like Ellsworth Kelly or Helio Oiticica…

7. This poem - it’s been making the rounds on Tumblr and it’s pretty good: Courtship, by Mark Strand


There is a girl you like so you tell her
your penis is big, but that you cannot get yourself
to use it. Its demands are ridiculous, you say,
even self-defeating, but to be honored, somehow,
briefly, inconspicuously in the dark.

When she closes her eyes in horror,
you take it all back. You tell her you’re almost
a girl yourself and can understand why she is shocked.
When she is about to walk away, you tell her
you have no penis, that you don’t

know what got into you. You get on your knees.
She suddenly bends down to kiss your shoulder and you know
you’re on the right track. You tell her you want
to bear children and that is why you seem confused.
You wrinkle your brow and curse the day you were born.

She tries to calm you, but you lose control.
You reach for her panties and beg forgiveness as you do.
She squirms and you howl like a wolf. Your craving
seems monumental. You know you will have her.
Taken by storm, she is the girl you will marry.

(thanks youmightfindyourselftowerofsleep)

8. Diane Fawcett illustration

One of the kids I teach on Saturdays showed me a book he’d been reading with these really great, kind of scary illustrations in it by someone named Diane Fawcett. She has a website with everything from textbook diagrams to Twilight shit on it.

9. This sketch of Swinburne

…a reminder of a time when real men walked the earth, and promptly caught pneumonia.

Two quotes tied with a thin string here…

I’ve been having a great time reading poetry lately, specifically 17th century poetry, wading (very slowly) through William Empson’s lovingly, comically difficult Seven Types of Ambiguity and Harold Bloom’s 2004 poetry anthology from the end of whose introduction I wanted to quote this nice passage:

"Ultimately, we seek out the best poems because something in many, if not most, of us quests for the transcendental and extraordinary, however secular, however well within the realm of the natural. We long, as Wordsworth wrote, for "something evermore about to be." The marvelous comes to us, when it comes, in very different forms: ideally in another person, but sometimes by an otherness in the self."

It’s a big enough anthology as it is, I guess, at around a thousand pages, but no matter how big, any attempt to digest the whole of English poetry is going to seem skimpy. I cringe whenever I see the italicized from such and such, if only because I feel the instant temptation then to add more books to an ever-growing Amazon queue so I’ll be able to read whatever it is in its unabbreviated form - I’m that kind of anal, completist type. A scant three or four poems for Donne, for Marvell? An introduction and not more than a few lines of Pope’s Rape of the Lock? What good is that, just to whet the appetite? Not all of us, Harold, like yourself I suppose, have already memorized the poem.

(This picture of the New York Public Library I took from the immensely popular, adult-oriented blog, Bookshelf Porn)

One 17th c. writer not in the anthology (because not precisely a poet), Thomas Browne, I read in university but hadn’t thought of much more until being reminded of him - both explicitly and, in general outlook, implicitly - reading W. G. Sebald’s Rings of Saturn a few weeks ago. Borges also had a big thing for him. He said his own books were not worthy of sharing space on his own bookshelves with Browne’s. I like this passage of his Religio Medici, which finds him in unusually uplifted spirits, waxing almost Whitmanesque, (which doesn’t get in the way of him calling the world a “hospitall”), summing up, in a way, one of the dominant themes of the whole period, the parallel expansions of the inner and outer worlds:

"Now for my life, it is a miracle of thirty yeares, which to relate, were not a History, but a peece of Poetry, and would sound to common eares like a fable; for the world, I count it not an Inne, but an Hospitall, and a place, not to live, but to die in. The world that I regard is my selfe, it is the Microcosme of mine owne frame, that I cast mine eye on; for the other, I use it but like my Globe, and turne it round sometimes for my recreation. Men that look upon my outside, perusing onely my condition, and fortunes, do erre in my altitude; for I am above Atlas his shoulders. The earth is a point not onely in respect of the heavens above us, but of that heavenly and celestiall part within us: that masse of flesh that circumscribes me, limits not my mind: that surface that tells the heavens it hath an end, cannot perswade me I have any; I take my circle to be above three hundred and sixty, though the number of the Arke do measure my body, it comprehendeth not my minde: whilst I study to finde how I am a Microcosme or little world, I finde my selfe something more than the great."

Hard to know where to cut this off…

"There is surely a peece of Divinity in us, something that was before the Elements, and owes no homage unto the Sun. Nature tels me I am the Image of God as well as Scripture; he that understands not thus much, hath not his introduction or first lesson, and is yet to begin the Alphabet of man. Let me not injure the felicity of others, if I say I am as happy as any, Ruat coelum Fiat voluntas tua, salveth all; so that whatsoever happens, it is but what our daily prayers desire. In briefe, I am content, and what should providence adde more? Surely this is it wee call Happinesse, and this doe I enjoy, with this I am happy in a dreame, and as content to enjoy a happinesse in a fancie as others in a more apparent truth and reality. There is surely a neerer apprehension of any thing that delights us in our dreames, than in our waked senses; without this I were unhappy, for my awaked judgement discontents me, ever whispering unto me, that I am from my friend, but my friendly dreames in the night requite me, and make me thinke I am within his armes. I thanke God for my happy dreames, as I doe for my good rest, for there is a satisfaction in them unto reasonable desires, and such as can be content with a fit of happinesse; and surely it is not a melancholy conceite to thinke we are all asleepe in this world, and that the conceits of this life are as meare dreames to those of the next, as the Phantasmes of the night, to the conceit of the day. There is an equall delusion in both, and the one doth but seeme to bee the embleme or picture of the other; we are somewhat more than our selves in our sleepes, and the slumber of the body seemes to bee but the waking of the soule. It is the ligation of sense, but the liberty of reason, and our awaking conceptions doe not match the fancies of our sleepes. At my Nativity, my ascendant was the watery signe of Scorpius, I was borne in the Planetary houre of Saturne, and I think I have a peece of that Leaden Planet in me. I am no way facetious, nor disposed for the mirth and galliardize of company, yet in one dreame I can compose a whole Comedy, behold the action, apprehend the jests, and laugh my self awake at the conceits thereof; were my memory as faithfull as my reason is then fruitfull, I would never study but in my dreames, and this time also would I chuse for my devotions, but our grosser memories have then so little hold of our abstracted understandings, that they forget the story, and can only relate to our awaked soules, a confused & broken tale of that that hath passed. Aristotle, who hath written a singular tract of sleepe, hath not me thinkes throughly defined it, nor yet Galen, though hee seeme to have corrected it; for those Noctambuloes and night-walkers, though in their sleepe, doe yet enjoy the action of their senses: wee must therefore say that there is something in us that is not in the jurisdiction of Morpheus; and that those abstracted and ecstaticke soules doe walke about in their owne corps, as spirits with the bodies they assume, wherein they seeme to heare, see, and feele, though indeed the organs are destitute of sense, and their natures of those faculties that should informe them. Thus it is observed that men sometimes upon the houre of their departure, doe speake and reason above themselves. For then the soule begins to bee freed from the ligaments of the body, begins to reason like her selfe, and to discourse in a straine above mortality.”

Simic Relief

Someone shuffles by my door muttering: “Our goose is cooked.”
Strange! I have my knife and fork ready. I even have the napkin tied around my neck, but the plate before me is still empty.
Nevertheless, someone continues to mutter outside my door regarding a certain hypothetical, allegedly cooked goose that he claims is ours in common. 

- Charles Simic, The World Doesn’t End.

Saint Passionate


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