August 31, 2009

I wasted time, and now doth time waste me

I have never really read Shakespeare much but lately am finding a few lines here and there through the internet and finding great delight in his lines. Here is one from Richard II, Act V, Scene V which I found looking at some quotations about time.
When time is broke and no proportion kept!
So is it in the music of men's lives.
And here have I the daintiness of ear
To cheque time broke in a disorder'd string;
But for the concord of my state and time
Had not an ear to hear my true time broke.
I wasted time, and now doth time waste me;
For now hath time made me his numbering clock:
My thoughts are minutes; and with sighs they jar...
Like the poet Mark Strand writes in a book I am currently reading (The Weather of Words), poetry is not all about...
"...the dark or the unknown at the center of our experience. Some try not to, choosing to speak of what is known, of common experiences, in which humanness is most powerfully felt, experiences that we share with those who lived hundreds of years ago."
Perhaps the Bard wrote for some of us...traipsing around through life centuries later! As Strand writes later in that para:
"This is the secret life of poetry. It is always paying homage to the past, extending a tradition into the present."
Latter in the essay (which he penned as an Intro to the Best American Poetry, 1991), Strand writes:
"The way poetry has of settling our internal house in order, of formalizing emotion difficult to articulate, is one of the reasons we still depend on it in moments of crisis and during those times when it is important that we know, in so many words... Read More, what we are going through. ... Without poetry, we would have either silence or banality, the former leaving us to our own inadequate devices for experiencing illumination, the latter cheapening with generalization what we wished to have for ourselves alone, turning our experience into impoverishment, our sense of ourselves into embarrassment."
Elsewhere, Strand writes:
"… it's not that poetry reveals more about the world — it doesn't — but it reveals more about our interactions with the world than our other modes of expression. And it doesn't reveal more about ourselves alone in isolation, but rather it reveals that mix of self and other, self and surrounding, where the world ends and we begin, where we end and the world begins." 
Much delight to be sought through poetry and the words of poets!

August 30, 2009

Alienated gorillas

Found an interesting quote (emphasis mine):
A zoologist who observed gorillas in their native habitat was amazed by the uniformity of their life and their vast idleness. Hours and hours without doing anything. Was boredom unknown to them? This is indeed a question raised by a human, a busy ape. Far from fleeing monotony, animals crave it, and what they most dread is to see it end. For it ends, only to be replaced by fear, the cause of all activity. Inaction is divine; yet it is against inaction that man has rebelled. Man alone, in nature, is incapable of enduring monotony, man alone wants something to happen at all costs—something, anything.... Thereby he shows himself unworthy of his ancestor: the need for novelty is the characteristic of an alienated gorilla.  - E.M. Cioran (b. 1911), Rumanian-born French philosopher. The Trouble with Being Born, ch. 11, trans. by Richard Howard, Seaver Books (1976).
Something to think about next time you crib about being bored, as I was doing this afternoon. What do I know -- I am an alienated gorilla!

Also: "Boredom and fear keep us working and obeying the laws." - Mason Cooley, who also opined that

Also, Nietzsche said:
Only the most acute and active animals are capable of boredom.
and also that:

One receives as reward for much ennui, despondency, boredom—such as a solitude without friends, books, duties, passions must bring with it—those quarter-hours of profoundest contemplation within oneself and nature. He who completely entrenches himself against boredom also entrenches himself against himself: he will never get to drink the strongest refreshing draught from his own innermost fountain.  
So, drink from the refreshing draught of my innermost fountain I have to. There is nothing else to salvage this despondency and ennui.

August 13, 2009

A qualified unhappiness

I might have blogged this when I read Nonconformity couple years back:
"The natural state of the sentient adult is a qualified unhappiness. I think also that in an adult the desire to be finer in grain than you are only adds to this unhappiness in the end" - F. Scott Fitzerald, as quoted in Nonconformity by Nelson Algren
And so it goes...

Labors under a curse

This excerpt from William Faulkner's Nobel lecture:
Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear so long sustained by now that we can even bear it. There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only the question: When will I be blown up? Because of this, the young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat.

He must learn them again. He must teach himself that the basest of all things is to be afraid; and, teaching himself that, forget it forever, leaving no room in his workshop for anything but the old verities and truths of the heart, the old universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed - love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice. Until he does so, he labors under a curse. 
It's a short Banquet speech... but so wonderful to read! Go read it in its entirety or better still

The voice of the emptiness below us

I ran into this quote from Kundera and wanted to share it here:
"Anyone whose goal is 'something higher' must expect someday to suffer vertigo. What is vertigo? Fear of falling? No, Vertigo is something other than fear of falling. It is the voice of the emptiness below us which tempts and lures us, it is the desire to fall, against which, terrified, we defend ourselves." - Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being
I had fervently read a lot of Kundera novels in the mid-90s when I was first introduced to his oeuvre by a friend. I so enjoyed them that I went and bought 4-5 of his novels during a trip to India in 1998! I should probably re-read a few of them some day soon -- it's been 10+ years and I am sure the books are tired waiting in anticipation on the book shelf behind me, hoping that some day someone will pick them up and read them!

August 12, 2009

A magnificient evanescent dream

Just ran into these lines:

The American nation drives passionately toward comfort. The aim of the frenzied practical life in which it engages is to attain material ease, and the symbols of its paradise are significant... Naturally, in paradise one would not wish to be annoyed by a suspicion that all was a brilliant fake, a magnificient evanescent dream, but rather, to refine upon one's luxurious means of existence. This is where in America the artistic intelligence may enter and play, elaborating, colouring, bedecking, adding splendour to the circumstances of one's comfort. - Gorham B. Munson
For the record, these lines were not written in writing about American life, in general but are from an essay that appeared in The Dial in November 1925 about "The Danadyism of Wallace Stevens" - which can be read, if interested at page 78 of this book, via Google Books! This was an essay published two years after the publication of Wallace Stevens' first ground-breaking book of poems, Harmonium.


Picked up a book with previously unpublished articles (and a few uncollected short stories) by Nelson Algren yesterday. Its called Entrapment and Other Writings; Entrapment being Nelson's unfinished novel.

Reading the introduction, I came upon this paragraph from a 1953 essay in the Nation that Nelson penned, which, as the editors write could well have been, 'with a few changes of detail', written in 2008:
Five years have passed since we began, once again, to rearm. Do we therefore feel more free from attack than we did five years ago? Have we thereby established an abiding trust in the hearts of other peoples? Do we therefore find ourselves with more friends in the world? Are our rights as free men thus made more secure? Or have we not once more demonstrated that keeping industries that depend for profit upon war and the preparation for war (such has the aviation industry) in private hands is equivalent to putting a hot-car thief in charge of a parking lot? So it must be that, in the present senatorial passion for investigation, the reason nobody investigates the men who are trading off our freedoms for private enrichment is that they are the very ones who are doing the investigating.”
I had read this couple years back when I read Algren's book Non-Conformity, a book which allegedly the FBI pressured the then-publisher, Doubleday, to not publish when it was written in the early 1950s [1].

Also, in a brief interview from 1957 included at the end of the book (Entrapment & Other Writings, that is), I glean this gem:
Life (magazine) wants writing that's so hygienicized and so cellophanized that it's lost all its vitality. This kind of writing breeds of sort of spiritual isolationism. There is something more to our shouldn't be merely a collection of gadgets and nothing more, two cars in a neat arage. So many lives are made up of gadgets and nothing more.
Once again, as true today, (perhaps moreso!), as it was in the 50s! He continues:
There are all these myths, you know. Our society is full of them: the General Motors myth, the gray flannel suit myth. And the biggest myth of all is that of the gadget, gadgets everywhere, a collection of things: two Fords in the garage, a deep freeze in the basement, and an all-purpose wife in the kitchen. There was never a time when men lived more tidily in such disorder. There were never more analysts telling other analysts what to do. There was never a more rigid moral code adopted so much abundance with so little satisfaction.
With a few changes and updates to the collection of things we surround ourselves with in the 21st century (as compared to the 1950s), the above paragraph rings so true!

To quote some more:
Q: You think, then, that Americans are deceiving themselves most of the time?
A: We live in an age where self-deception is at its height. Nowhere is there such discrepancy between people's lives and what they hear every day about their lives. Magazines like Life exist by fostering this kind of self-deception.
Instead of berating certain magazines, I'd update the above to TV channels and the media of today... but this self-deception sure does continue today too!

Leave you with this gem from later in the interview:
Q: “What do you think is the relation of the church to the people you write about—the accused, the underprivileged?
A: “I’d say the church does gently what the police do roughly.”
Now I've got to get around to reading Nelson Algren's Paris Review interview from 1955!

[1] Notes from the 1998 publication have this to say:
As Algren was writing Nonconformity, his affair with Simone de Beauvoir was coming toan end and the FBI was compiling an extensive file on him. Both of these developments exerted an influence on the resulting essay. Finally, the FBI found two informants of "known reliability" to denounce him as a former Communist. Doubleday, his New York publisher, which had pressed Algren to let them publish Nonconformity, then canceled his contract.

August 11, 2009

Downward to darkness, on extended wings

We live in an old chaos of the sun,
Or old dependency of day and night,
Or island solitude, unsponsored, free,
Of that wide water, inescapable.
Deer walk upon our mountains, and the quail
Whistle about us their spontaneous cries;
Sweet berries ripen in the wilderness;
And, in the isolation of the sky,
At evening, casual flocks of pigeons make
Ambiguous undulations as they sink,
Downward to darkness, on extended wings.
               - from the poem, Sunday Morning by Wallace Stevens
Also, earlier in the poem, these lovely lines:
What is divinity if it can come
Only in silent shadows and in dreams?
Shall she not find in comforts of the sun,
In pungent fruit and bright green wings, or else
In any balm or beauty of the earth,
Things to be cherished like the thought of heaven?
Divinity must live within herself:
Passions of rain, or moods in falling snow;
Grievings in loneliness, or unsubdued
Elations when the forest blooms; gusty
Emotions on wet roads on autumn nights;
All pleasures and all pains, remembering
The bough of summer and the winter branch.
These are the measure destined for her soul.

I had to go read Sunday Morning after reading 4 pages about this poem in a book I randomly picked up at Boston Public Library earlier today: Revolution and Convention in Modern Poetry: Studies in Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, Wallace Stevens, Edwin Arlington Robinson, and Yvor Winters  by Donald E. Stanford. I lot of this critical writing about poetry goes over my head and yet reading critics write about poetry tells me how complex poetry can be and how we are mere hacks and poseurs who think we write poetry!
In any case, I had a little exposure to Wallace Stevens' and William Carlos Williams' poetry in April this year when I was celebrating National Poetry Month with tweets about poetry....and so am delighted to be reading and finding gems like these in their poetry.

August 7, 2009


Just ran into a lovely collection of pictures, from Woodstock (August 15 to August 18, 1969), which were contributed to NYT by readers.

(This iconic picture is not from the Reader gallery at NYT linked above [1].)

40 years later, I bet it all feels like a magical moment to all those that were there. More pictures at this link.

Related: Video of the entire concert of Jimi Hendrix performing at Woodstock.

and Jimi Hendrix playing The Star Spangled Banner on his guitar.

Stupendous stuff!

Also this link to a video of Janis Joplin at Woodstock.

[1] Btw, seems the couple embracing in this iconic Woodstock photo are still together. Here is a snapshot of them now!

Beauty in Simplicity / Order in Chaos

I got introduced to the topic of chaos and the beauty and order implicit in chaos in 1991 when I did a senior year project on the order seen in fractal agglomerates and through the mid-90s, I read many articles and books about chaos theory. Though I do not claim to understand all the math behind it, there is something about the topic of chaos that draws me to it every few years.

So, I recently got two books from the library: Complexity: The Emerging Science at the Edge of Order and Chaos by M. Mitchell Waldrop and Deep Simplicity - Bringing Order to Chaos and Complexity by John Gribbin.

Prefaced in the second book, I found this wonderful quote from Richard Feynman.
‘It always bothers me that, according to the laws as we understand them today, it takes a computing machine an infinite number of logical operations to figure out what goes on in no matter how tiny a region of space, and no matter how tiny a region of time. How can all that be going on in that tiny space? Why should it take an infinite amount of logic to figure out what one tiny piece of spacetime is going to do? So I have often made the hypothesis that ultimately physics will not require a mathematical statement, that in the end the machinery will be revealed, and the laws will turn out to be simple, like the chequer board with all its apparent complexities.’  - Richard P. Feynman, The Character of Physical Law, November 1964 Cornell Lectures, broadcast and published in 1965 by BBC, pp. 57-8. 
[Also, seems Bill Gates has now put the full video of the lectures online, as part of Project Tuva.]

Leave you with these words from Feynman in the same lecture series:
‘Nature has a simplicity and therefore a great beauty.’
Indeed! And how many of us live our lives completely oblivious to the great beauty of nature!

Updates: Couple more quotes about chaos -- though not necessarily in the scientific sense:
“Chaos in the world brings uneasiness, but it also allows the opportunity for creativity and growth.”   Tom Barrett

“Our real discoveries come from chaos, from going to the place that looks wrong and stupid and foolish.” - Chuck Palahniuk“
Chaos is a friend of mine.” - Bob Dylan
“When tempest tossed, embrace chaos” - Dean Koontz 
"Chaos is the score upon which reality is written.” -  Henry Miller

“Chaos is a name for any order that produces confusion in our minds.” -  George Santayana

“Chaos often breeds life, when order breeds habit” - Henry Brooks Adams
In short, in chaos, there can be an opportunity to be creative, to grow, and to even flourish!

Not one more refugee death, by Emmy Pérez

And just like that, my #NPM2018 celebrations end with  a poem  today by Emmy Pérez. Not one more refugee death by Emmy Pérez A r...