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, part two

"There is in the pointing out of patterns something that is opposed to life and art, an ungraciousness which artists in particular feel and resent. Readers feel it too, even critics: for every new moment, every new line or touch, is a triumph of opportunism, something snatched in from life beyond expectation and made design beyond design. And yet the fact remains that it is as we see the design that we see design outdone and brought alive."

- C. L. Barber, Shakespeare’s Festive Comedy.


"When Flaubert told Turgenev about his project for Bouvard and Pécuchet, the Russian urged him strongly to keep the work short. Perfect advice from an old master. For the story can only maintain its comical effectiveness in the form of a short tale; length would make it monotonous and irritating, if not completely silly. But Flaubert persisted; he explained to Turgenev: “If [this subject] is treated briefly, in a light, concise way, it will be a fairly witty fantasy, but without import and without plausibility, whereas in giving it detail and development I would appear to believe in my story, and I could make it something serious and even frightening.”

- Milan Kundera, The Curtain.


"Today the only modernism worthy of the name is antimodern modernism."

- Milan Kundera, The Curtain.


"Both ages make art that succeeds by failing , but each exploits failure in different ways. Jazz presumes that it would be nice if the four of us—simpatico dudes that we are—while playing this complicated song together, might somehow be free and autonomous as well. Tragically, this never quite works out. At best, we can only be free one or two at a time—while the other dudes hold onto the wire. Which is not to say that no one has tried to dispense with wires. Many have, and sometimes it works—but it doesn’t feel like jazz when it does. The music simply drifts away into the stratosphere of formal dialectic, beyond our social concerns. 

Rock-and-roll, on the other hand, presumes that the four of us—as damaged and anti-social as we are—might possibly get it to-fucking-gether, man, and play this simple song. And play it right, okay? Just this once, in tune and on the beat. But we can’t. The song’s too simple, and we’re too complicated and too excited. We try like hell, but the guitars distort, the intonation bends, and the beat just moves, imperceptibly, against our formal expectations, whetehr we want it to or not. Just because we’re breathing, man. Thus, in the process of trying to play this very simple song together, we create this hurricane of noise, this infinitely complicated, fractal filigree of delicate distinctions. 

And you can thank the wanking eighties, if you wish, and digital sequencers, too, for proving to everyone that technologically “perfect” rock—like “free” jazz—sucks rockets. Because order sucks. I mean, look at the Stones. Keith Richards is alwayson top of the beat, and Bill Wyman, until he quit, was always behind it, because Richards is leading the band and Charlie Watts is listening to him and Wyman is listening to Watts. So the beat is sliding on those tiny neural lapses, not so you can tell, of course, but so you can feel it in your stomach. And the intonation is wavering, too, with the pulse in the finger on the amplified string. This is the delicacy of rock-and-roll, the bodily rhetoric of tiny increments, necessary imperfections, and contingent community. And it has its virtues, because jazz only works if we’re trying to be free and are, in fact, together. Rock-and-roll works because we’re all a bunch of flakes. That’s something you can depend on, and a good thing too, because in the twentieth century, that’s all there is: jazz and rock-and-roll. The rest is term papers and advertising.” 

- Dave Hickey, Air Guitar: Essays on Art and Democracy.

My Year on Youtube, part 3

This is the last of three posts of youtube videos I was into this year.

David Suchet with Trevor Nunn, workshopping a Shakespeare sonnet. Some people might not be able to stomach this kind of thing, and understandably. But, what can I say - I like watching it not just because I like Shakespeare, but because it’s always interesting to me to see professionals take time on something they care about doing well, even if it’s just for the camera here.

A gentle, plainspoken man with an impossible name became a youtube sensation and then, it seems, went away as quickly as he’d appeared: Urgelt. He read poems in a slow deliberate voice and gave health advice, based on his considerable experiece, in multi-part treatises. I think I - like everybody else - found myself listening to him because of his measured phrasing, unpretentious first-person guidance, and because he seemed like the lone sincere man on youtube, with nothing to hide and not wanting anything back from it. And he did things like read a poem, by request, for a little girl in the hospital, and seemed to care enormously about doing it.

But don’t take my word for it… Embedding is disabled for Urgelt videos, so you’ll have to follow the links to see them. They all bear the same qualities, so why not On Insomnia to get you started.

William Buckley steers Norman Mailer into a corner like a chess master (above, and in five more parts - follow them if you’re interested). The guy is as arrogant as Mailer and his mannerisms of speech and posture are lavishly affected. But the man is unquestionably erudite and can argue anyone under the table. What’s more, and - you’ll find it in comment sections wherever Buckley is, but it’s true - it’s instructional to compare conservative discourse now to when Buckley was leading it, both in terms of substance and in terms of the tone in which it’s done. (Also compare television then and now). I wish there were more Firing Line videos on youtube.

Last but not least, the amazing Sylvie Guillem. See also: Wet Woman.


"Speaking for myself, I sure did turn away; I got back to Shakespeare eventually, but not because of anything I learned about his plays in high school—and this, despite having had terrific English teachers. In college, it was (somewhat) different: the insights offered by my film professor, Gilberto Perez, still spring to mind daily, though I benefited from most of them as an auditor. Yes, movies are art; but the virtue of art is to be, at the same time, culture and counterculture, and the passionate, personal way in which sensitive and thoughtful young people find their lifeline in art is inimical to pretty much all the classroom paraphernalia, other than the possibility of talking with others about work that matters to them. All the rest is drudgery.”

- Richard Brody

Saint Passionate


priceless anecdotes drawn from my real experiences and souvenir jpegs of lost time


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