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Prize Titbits: Bloomsday Blooms Again

All kinds of Utopian plans were flashing through his (Bloom’s) busy brain. Education (the genuine article), literature, journalism, prize titbits, up to date billings, hydros and concert tours in English watering resorts packed with theatres, turning money away, duets in Italian with the accent perfectly true to nature and a quantity of other things…— from Ulysses, by James Joyce

I was just reading last year’s Bloomsday message (you can find it copied below) and reflecting on how much difference a year makes. Some say two or three, others just a half a year, but a good look at a calendar shows one plain year it has been. Have we reached Bloomusalem? No. Was the true Bloomusalem the one we kept in our hearts or met along the way or ran screaming from in nightmares we could not bear to remember? Yes, yes, and also sometimes yes. You knew that all along. Yes. But it is a beautiful day here in Charlottesville, the Dublin of Central Virginia, and our streets are humming with life. I almost missed being here today, due to obligations elsewhere. I am glad I made it back. It would have been my first Bloomsday away from Charlottesville since the first time I celebrated it, back when I was twenty-one and living in a summer sublet on Ivy Road. The way I celebrated then was simple: I poured myself a drink and began to read the book. I read by the light of the future, as it shone in through the windows of my room. 

Now the future has come and gone. Why not let it come again? What is Bloomsday but a tear in time along the earthly round?

Lionel Trilling writes: “The character of Leopold Bloom,who figures in the life of Joyce’s Poet much as the old men in Wordsworth figure in his life—met by chance and giving help of some transcendent yet essentially human kind—is conceived in Wordsworthian terms: in terms, that is, of his humbleness of spirit.” The italics are my own, for is this not the crux of the matter.? We take a chance and step into the world, this life, and meet what there is to find. What will we encounter with the next step, the following moment? Maybe a gift, maybe the help we need. Maybe the chance to be that to another.

This is the holiday of the wanderer, and we are all wanderers. But not so much recently. It has been a hard time for chance meetings. A hard time to live fully, to immerse ourselves in the world, the gorgeous mess, this gift of being. Even our imaginations have suffered, because they are not something different, elsewhere, an escape, but of the dirt and the blood and the air and must have something to touch. So I say we need Bloomsday more than ever now, as we try to recover and renew. Never has it meant more to say:


Happy Bloomsday!

 

 

On Tuesday, June 16, 2020, 01:06:05 PM EDT, alonzo subverbo <subverbox@yahoo.com> wrote:

My beloved subjects, a new era is about to dawn. I, Bloom, tell you verily it is even now at hand. Yea, on the word of a Bloom, ye shall ere long enter into the golden city which is to be, the new Bloomusalem in the Nova Hibernia of the future. —  from Ulysses, by James Joyce


Happy Bloomsday!


If you have been among the faithful since the beginning, since the first Subverbo Bloomsday message, it has now been twenty years that you have waited. Twenty years! The potatoes in our pockets grow restless. Our bodies rebel at the constant quaffing of Guinness and whiskey. Our copies of the Book grow worn and piss-stained. When will we finally be received into the long promised Bloomusalem?


My guess is soonish.


In the meantime, it is a hard year to celebrate a holiday of the city and its wanderers. Your favorite Bloomsday watering hole — mine would be the C&O here in Charlottesville, where the staff are all mimes pretending not be mimes — may be closed. Fortunately, your liquor store and potato vendor are probably not. Don’t even try to visit a maternity hospital for that genuine “Oxen of the Sun” experience. Or even a library to get into a “Scylla and Charybdis” mood. (What I would do to see the inside of a library! Maybe even break into a library.)


Thank you for all you have done in continuing to have an active email address. As usual I will direct you to the blog for more Bloomsday material. Having almost nothing else to do, I plan on being more active on it this summer, so please check it out later on as well.


We live in challenging times. Those of you who have read Ulysses all the way through to the end know that there is no challenge that you cannot overcome. To the rest of you I say, good luck.


Until next year in Bloomusalem!

A. Subverbo

Looker Looking

In the face the Other expresses her eminence, the dimension of height and divinity from which she descends.      

—Emmanuel Levinas, almost

 

Years ago I was in the habit of keeping all four CD’s of the Faces box set, Five Guys Walk Into A Bar, loaded into the CD player of my car. That was before the stereo decided to stop being the faithful replicator of the work of others and instead strike out on its own as a solo experimental act, creating a harsh unstoppable full-volume blare of off-white noise any time the car’s electrical system was on. Eventually this became too much and I had to kill it, unscrewing the stereo from the dash and finding the right power connection to pull out, silencing it forever. But before that I had an extravagance of Faces on deck, and one night when I forgot to lock my car, the person who liked to steal CD’s from the cars parked behind our house did so from mine, and along with three or four actual CD’s he, in his stealthy haste (or possibly she in hers), took the empty case of the Faces set, which was worthless to the thief but some small loss to me, and when it came time to finally eject those CD’s before pulling the plug on the CD player, well, they had no home to go to, and who knows where they are now.

But this post is not about those Faces.

At the beginning of the pandemic it occured to me that it might be a bad thing to go for days on end without seeing any other people at all. To see little of other people was something to which I was fairly accustomed; that was mere unhappiness. But complete and prolonged isolation might have more severe consequences. So I thought about trying one of Seth Roberts’ techniques.

Seth Roberts was an eccentric psychology professor with a passion for self-experimentation. He worked on lifehacks before that was a term, the quantified self before that was a thing. He is best known for his Shangri-La Diet, which involves ingesting a daily dose of flavorless calories that, the theory has it, gets the body to gradually lower its weight set-point. There is also an option called crazy spicing, which is as it seems. Many people have reported great results with the Shangri-La Diet, others not. Roberts also found ways to cure his acne and his insomnia, and did a lot of self-experimentation with the effects of omega-3’s. He was unorthodox but not a crank, a useful challenger to conventional science, and I found a lot of value in reading his blog. He died of heart disease at the age of sixty, which is sad for anyone but a particular misfortune for a health guru who made his body his laboratory.

The technique I thought of was one he used against depression. Roberts discovered that his mood improved if he looked at faces in the morning, right after waking up. Living alone he did not have the option of the real, but found that an image could do the job. It’s been years since I read about this but I think that method he ultimately settled on, as a matter of convenience, was looking at himself in the mirror for a prolonged period of time. I was not going to do that. But I thought that I should find some faces to look at, to get me through this thing. And so I thought of Andy Warhol’s screen tests.

Back in 2010 the musical duo Dean & Britta, formerly of Luna, recorded music to go along with thirteen of Andy Warhol’s screen tests from the mid-Sixties. I saw the resulting video, 13 Most Beautiful… Songs for Andy Warhol’s Screen Tests, streaming on Netflix and it deeply impressed me. The music is fine but the screen tests themselves, consisting of various scenesters looking into or around the camera for several minutes on end, struck me as the best things that Warhol ever did. I suppose this would mean more coming from somebody who generally liked his art. I tend to be indifferent. But not to these simple films of faces. They have power. Lou Reed is one of the subjects and he hides behind his shades and a bottle of Coke—Lou was smart and would not be caught—but everyone else ends up simply there, beheld. The screen tests are exercises in perfect sincerity coming straight out of a whirlwind of desperate artifice. You could do a complete reappraisal of the whole of Warhol’s career through the perspective of the tests.

Unfortunately the DVD of 13 Most Beautiful… is out of print and unavailable at any reasonable price. Nor is it available online in in its entirety, although I found some of the tests from it on YouTube, such as one of Edie Sedgwick, achingly young, beautiful, uncertain and—as we know—doomed. I am not sure what effect it would have on my mental health to stare at Edie every day after waking up. I did not try the experiment.

I survived, spring became summer, summer became fall, just as they had before. One day I was looking through the library of the streaming service Mubi. Mubi used to operate according to a simple plan: every day one new movie would become available and it would stay in their collection for exactly thirty days. But it has moved away from that elegant severity, and now it operates in a more standard way, with a poorly organized back catalog of films that they keep around for an indeterminate time. So I was browsing through what they had and found Abbas Kiarostami’s Shirin, a movie I had seen before and realized would be perfect for the Seth Roberts faces treatment.

Kiarostami shot Shirin in his home, using a few chairs, black curtains, lights, and a camera. He brought in a great many actresses, some very well known in Iran, and one—Juliette Binoche, who happened to be in the neighborhood—well known around the world. He shot them as if there were in a movie theater, directing their gaze and reactions, illuminating them with flickering lights. He occasionally placed a man in the background of a shot but reserved his close-ups exclusively for women. After building this collection of shots he moved on to the next part of the film, the soundtrack. He chose a classic Persian poem and adapted it into a cheesy melodrama, and then recorded the audio of it in a studio. Editing sound and picture together he created a movie of women watching a movie, watching a movie that did not exist. That is all there is to it.

The really unfortunate thing about Shirin is that there is no English audio for it. Unless you know Farsi you have to read subtitles to understand what is going on in the unseen film, and that means the fundamental structural division between eye and ear collapses. I feel that this is a real diminishment of the experience. Nonetheless it is well worth seeing, if only for the pleasure of gazing at the faces of so many beautiful Persian women (the director has a clear bias towards beauty). I cannot think of any other movie like it, though I did have a somewhat similar expierence many years ago. I was with a few female friends watching a movie. They all took seats on a futon on the floor, but there was no room for me so I sat on the only chair in the room, which a gave me a view of the girls but not of the televison screen. So I watched the movie by watching their reactions to it, just as in Shirin, and it was fun, and really quite moving. The title of the movie they had put on was Splendor in the Ass, which I suppose was an homage to the 1961 Elia Kazan picture, as well as to the joys of anal lovemaking.

Shirin seemed like a perfect vehicle for the face cure. So one day last fall upon waking up I put my laptop on top of my lap, bringing it close to get the faces looming large—strong medicine—and spent about half an hour looking at those women looking. And how could I say it did not do me some good? It was a nice way to spend the time. But I never did it again; it did not become a regimen of self-care. A lack of self-discipline really, I just didn’t bother, but I may as well go ahead and pretend to have made a principled rejection of such vulgar self-help, instrumentalism, and attempted trickery of my own poor honest innocent old brain. To say that I shall never again look at a face, or any other human part, in person or by image, for merely medical purposes, except upon grave emergency. And to place a quote from Levinas, the most celebrated and holy of all face philosophers, at the top of this post as sign of my depth and solemnity, though changing a he to a she as a matter of preference and as a tribute to the splendid women of Iran, and Juliette Binoche.

I survived my pandemic experience without incident. No mental health issues to speak of, just a complete waste of a year of my life. Just one year closer to death with nothing to show for it. Just blank time permanently unspooled and irretrievable. But if you have not been so lucky and are suffering from a persistent mood disorder, you might consider Seth Roberts’ method. And regardless of that, how happy or hurt, anyone can enjoy these works of Warhol and Kiarostami, for both men knew how to capture a gaze, and had absolutely no time for ugly people.

Fiery Steeds: An Argument Against Suicide

A little dog, a warm bath, and a daylit dappled spray of color — is this not enough? And I thought, well no, not for her. This woman had a tragic story, she took her own life, this muse of Bonnard, subject of Nude in Bathtub, which you can find in Pittsburgh now, a city that needs it. But I was wrong, I misremembered. One of Bonnard’s models did end up a suicide, but this painting is not of her but his wife Marthe, or the memory of Marthe (he painted her for nearly half a century but never let her age on canvas; she was a reverse Dorian Gray). The name of the dachshund I do not know. But I trust it lived as one with the Tao, seeking neither to extend nor extinguish its life, eating, sleeping, barking, playing, pooping little poops and, ultimately, achieving all the immortality that art has to offer.

I’ve thrown away most of my life now and I doubt I will ever get back to Pittsburgh to see this painting. But maybe. There is always some hope. It just gets smaller over time.

On the last full day of my friend Nathaniel’s life I went to see an exhibit at UVA’s art museum. By the time of his funeral the weather was beautiful, but that day, which was a Sunday, it was cold and rainy and I probably would have just stayed home if it hadn’t been my last chance to see the exhibit. But what exhibit was it? I cannot remember. Looking it up online I can only find this: Fiery Steeds: French Romantic Studies by Carle Vernet from the Ritzenberg Collection. That show did in fact close on March 14th, 1999, but it rings not the faintest bell for me and I don’t see why I would have been interested in the horse pictures of some Frenchman. Maybe there was something else there that has eluded my googling. It is unnerving not to be able to remember. I remember remembering everything from that time. I remember when life was memorable, and now that it isn’t, why can’t I at least get to remember when it was? Must all turn to cloud?

I did not invite Nathaniel to come with me, though he was at home in the house we shared. I saw almost nothing of him that day. Our paths crossed in the kitchen at some point and he told me that he had finished one of the books I had given him for his birthday the previous week, Bruce Chatwin’s Songlines, and that he had liked it. That copy now sits on my downstairs bookshelf next to the other book I gave him, Geoff Dyer’s But Beautiful, which he never got to read. I think he really would have liked that one too. Or disliked it in an interesting way. I also gave him the double CD of Sun Ra’s singles. After he died I took that back too, but later I loaned it to somebody and the discs were returned warped and unplayable, so right now I am listening to it on Spotify. I did a really good job with his birthday gifts that year. At least that’s something I don’t have to regret.

It was a couple years later that I took my first trip to Pittsburgh. That was also on a Sunday, Memorial Day weekend. We had two carloads of people driving from Charlottesville to see a big noise show there. It was just something to do, an adventure. After the show and a stop at Denny’s — where I first learned of the existence of the dish “Moons Over My Hammy” and therefore also of the song “Moon Over Miami” — we drove straight back. If Nathaniel had stuck around maybe he would have been with us, he might have enjoyed it. For a long time I would have thoughts like that. I hated that he was missing out on all the cool things that went on after him, that he did not get to see what happened and who turned up, to delight in the world’s display. I hated that I did not get to share experiences with him, did not get to hear what he thought of things. There was never anyone whose opinion I valued as much as his. He had a great gift of appreciation, a critical flair, a cool romantic intelligence that frayed to some freaky edges. And he was my friend.

The last book he read was Songlines. The last movie he watched was Withnail & I, a laserdisc that I had checked out from the library and put on in our living room that Saturday night, though I am not sure that counts because I think he was asleep for most of it. The last album was Blood On the Tracks, which I could hear coming from his room late into the night, played two or three times. Some of us measure our lives with these things but the measuring must come to an end someday.

It is getting late and I do not think I have time to get to that argument I promised you. I have gotten distracted. Not that it matters. The fiery steeds of our fates will carry us where they will regardless. Won’t they? That night I was lying on the living room couch reading a book. I heard Nathaniel in the kitchen. And I had a thought, just a little thought, like the thousand little thoughts you have in a day— maybe I should go talk to him. But I did not move. The moment passed, he went back into his room and started playing the Dylan album. And I never had the chance to see or speak to him again.

That moment is the one I regret more than any other in my life. It was a jewel of inestimable value, I had it in my hands, and I let it slip through my fingers. And ever since it has been too late.

My Dark Materials

After a brief interregnum, the war against The Authority has resumed.

To this effort I intend to give the better, albeit smaller, portion of myself. I will not cease from Mental Fight, nor shall my sword sleep in my hand, till we have built Jerusalem, in Virginia’s green & pleasant land. Probably somewhere in the vicinity of Bumpass. Some say Short Pump but I say Bumpass. We must keep a wary distance from Goochland, Goochland and its Gooches, and keep close to Mineral, Cuckoo, and Beaverdam. But these are mere details, and not mine to decide. Obviously Short Pump is a great shopping destination.

My job will be here, on this blog, as a blogger, blogging. Doing the unpaid, unrewarded, unwanted and unnecessary work of occasional feckless posting. It’s just my part of the Great Work ahead of us. For too long we have been layabouts, popinjays, queer plungers and, in some cases, oracular mountebanks. It was fun while it lasted. For days upon days, blurred and unbroken, I drifted through my home, first looking at one wall, then another, sometimes the ceiling, waiting out the hours until fitful sleep brought me to the brink of terror. No more! No more soft pageantry on the road to death. No more mint chocolate chip ice cream in the shower. No more imaginary podcasting while searching for lost treasures in the fridge. No more forgetfulness of Being or lapsed membership in the Triple-A. Our country has found its leader, regained its footing, and is once again ready to take up arms in the fight of all against All. The call has gone out to patriots everywhere, the call for keyboard warriors strong and true. I must answer that call.

So keep an eye on this space, fellow warriors, for strategic lessonry, tactical tips, and morale-boosting bravado. To begin with, I’d like to suggest the cucumber. Cucumbers make the perfect accompaniment to almost any meal. They are so refreshing! I like the lengthwise cut, but you can go with the moony discs if you prefer. Why not add some cukes to your next meal?

Our storm has come, storm of fire, storm of steel. Our Enemy above shall not long endure, freedom will prevail!

Exit Meatball

Meatball died the other day. Everybody said he was a good cat.

It has been eight years since I last saw him, eight years since I wrote the last Meatball post here (you can see them all by clicking the tab above, labeled “Meatball”). About a year and a half ago I received word from Ariel, who first brought him to Charlottesville, that he was alive and well, living not far from where I grew up in Northern Virginia. But for all their lordly languor, cats burn hot with life, and never for too long. So news of his death was no great shock. I am sure many were surprised he was still alive, before he died. Even when he was quite young he had an air of maturity about him, and I remember my own surprise, early in our acquaintance, when learning of his youth. Though he did enjoy some kid stuff that gave tell, like scampering up trees and that somewhat regrettable goth phase.

But though the news was no shock, our last meeting long ago, and though I had no expectation of ever seeing him again, Meatball was a pal of my mine, and he cannot pass unmourned.

We live in a time when people can barely even pretend to tolerate other people. And dogs have lost all credibility. They are like uncannily wholesome characters from a ’50s sitcom, all “Gee!” and “Howdy” and “Woof! Woof! Guess who? I’m a dog!” Who can believe in dog’s love? Who feels worthy of it? Or thinks that anyone could really be so happy to see you? Who among today’s humans can help but be suspicious, thinking the dogs are just mocking us with their affection, that when we are gone they go wild, masturbating with our shoes and committing obscenities with our toothbrushes and selling all our sensitive data to Russian hackers? But cats we can believe in. In our terrible loneliness we can reach out to their glorious solitude. You say to a cat, “It’s just you and me buddy,” and it is always true.

Meatball passed through the lives of many people. A few he graciously allowed to feed him. His natural home was the neighborhood, his natural role the hunter. Litter box? Hell, the whole world was his litter box. D.H Lawrence wrote, “The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic, and a killer.” Meatball was an American cat, and matched that description well enough. But he was also soft to the touch, and sometimes all he wanted was for someone to pet him. He was a cutie and people were glad to see him.

When I think of Meatball I think of windows. I already told the one story in “Meatball Memories,” when he came into my room through the open window. But there was also something from back when I first met him, the brief period when we were both living at Fort Summit. Two or three times at least, after spending the whole night out, he would come home at dawn, jump up on my windowsill, and cry out to me through the screen until I woke up and fetched him in. Much later, towards the end of his stay in Charlottesville, I remember being over at the house on Graves Street that had been his house, to the extent that he was housed at all. But at this point he had officially been moved to another place, not far away but beyond his usual territory. He did not accept the move and kept coming back. He was back that night but not allowed inside, so he just stood at the the window, looking in at us. I went over and put my hand on the glass and from his side he rubbed against that spot, as if rubbing against my hand. Not just for moment, he kept doing it, pressing the side of his head and neck against the windowpane. Like a prison visit in a movie, but without the phones, so I don’t know if he was purring.

So now the window is shut, shuttered, and barred forever. In that field of the imagination called life, mine and maybe yours, another beloved is lost for all to come, kept only in memory. I will cherish him there. He was a good friend, an admirable badass, and soft to the touch. To Meatball!

(yet even now the legend grows, of the ghost cat that haunts the street of Graves)

 

 

Mocks Nix

Melville Un Flic

If I were a New Yorker I probably would have gone with Mocks Knicks, but I am not a New Yorker and care nothing for that team or any of their teams, except the Lizards, who are unfailingly crispy with the rock but really a Long Island outfit.  (I do like that the word knickerbocker has been kept alive.) Mox Nix looks good to me. I have no interest in Nicks. Machts Nichts makes it seem like you don’t know it’s not correct German but an American bungle or, some think, jazzy improvement. I learned the phrase from my parents, who met in Germany. Did I ever use it myself? I can’t remember. I know I said “I don’t care” a lot as a child. “Mox nix” would have been a lot more charming but, for that very reason, perhaps inadequate as a form of self-expression. It does not sound sullen. I think of it as a cheerful phrase although the meaning of “makes no difference” can, in some circumstances, be a bit of a downer. For example, as the answer to the question “Should I attempt CPR?” “Machts nix, Mensch defunkt.”

Some of us are mox nix people, with an instinctively positive reaction to the shrug of whatever, while others are not. Almost all of the problems of the world are caused by those others, and nearly as many solutions. We mocks nixers just let go and live and then let go and die. None of this should be thought to have anything to do with the image above, which is from Melville’s Un Flic, and was chosen for its Contemporary Resonance. I have an untweeted tweet, which is the sweetest kind of tweet, and it goes like this: The real tragedy is how predictable this year’s Halloween costumes are going to be. I kept it to myself because I refuse to underestimate the human imagination and the skills of American crafters. And yet we will never be as chic as the French in our efforts to simultaneously protect public health and personal identity.

Happy Bloomsboxing Day!

“Nurse the hangover, eat the potato, read simple prose.”

So goes the traditional advice for Bloomsboxing Day. I have not followed any of it. The Green Spot whiskey I drank had worn off by the time I turned in, sad to say, and I woke up this afternoon as fresh as an Irish Spring commercial  The potato has evaded the pot. Instead I ate a couple of tuna fish sandwiches, brownies with ice cream, and a usual assortment of snacks and palate amusers: a slice of Camembert, a few dark scrapings from the rutabaga barrel, a skink too slow in its escape from being caught and skewered,  five grapes, a carton of Meat-On-The-Bottom brand yogurt (lamb), a few unconsecrated communion wafers spread with a tapenade just on the edge of spoilage, a few unconsecrated communion wafers spread with Nutella (which in some quarters is actually thought to count as a form of consecration superior to that provided by the Church), and a couple of handfuls of peanuts washed down with black cherry soda. The Camembert was stolen from an attorney, as per custom, but not by me.

For prose I have been reading Kathryn Davis’s The Thin Place, and although the writing is not what I would call difficult or complicated, it is not simple. Most of the sentences are quite straightforward, such as “Once Andrea managed to grow a blue Hubbard squash the size of a manatee, but did that constitute happiness?” You will not break your brain on anything in this book (so far in my reading) except maybe trying keep the characters and their relations straight. But it asks for a slow, relaxed, and very attentive reading, or else Kathryn Davis’s brilliance will be spilled to waste. And if you don’t believe me about her brilliance, believe the greatly brilliant Penelope Fitzgerald, who wrote “Kathryn Davis is brilliant” right on the back of the book, though she died a full six years before its  publication, an uncanny fact not unreminiscent of some of the elements of the story itself. And Anne Patchett blurbs “Davis, God bless her, assumes her readers are intelligent people who are interested in what they are reading.” (But I saw Anne Patchett not long ago in Charlottesville, right before the world shut down all happiness, and she was as super-nice as you would expect and even more, which does make her suspect as a blurber, so you might be better off just trusting the not super-nice me, although that is not quite relevant here, as, apart from the asking for a blessing from God (who has clearly already blessed Davis with genius and the patience to use it), the blurb is not so much nice as simply accurately descriptive, and in fact warns off the unintelligent readers Davis, like all writers, needs to buy her work if she has any hope of making a living at it.) Davis does not put you through an exhausting, maddening, invigorating course of mental athletics in the manner of Joyce, but her novel shouldn’t to be read by a less than a fully engaged reader, which I believe takes it out of the category of simple prose. It may be some of the best writing of our time.

Now I am looking forward to doing something that has a chance of becoming a Bloomsboxing Day tradition: watching a silent film. It just feels right for the day, doesn’t it? I will be starting Fritz Lang’s Spies. It is 150 minutes long so I am not so sure I will be finishing it.

After what may have been a disappointing Bloomsday, given current conditions, I hope that you at least enjoyed a pleasant Bloomsboxing Day. Next up we have Juneteenth and then Father’s Day. The mid-June holiday season is a crazy time for us all. Just remember: 1) you are an adult and you don’t have to take any shots you don’t want to; 2) facing up to Ulysses, slavery, and paternity all in one week is rough, you might want to take a few shots; 3) don’t drink anything you wouldn’t like to sip; 4) if you don’t drink you might want to try exercise or meditation, just remember that you are an adult and you don’t have to do any exercise or meditation that you don’t want to; 5) if you are not an adult I am so, so sorry that your youth has been ruined.

 

Bloomsday Eve Letter

Dear ______,

 

“There comes a time in the life of every man when his thoughts turn to his final Bloomsday.”

Is it that time for me yet? I haven’t done anything with my life but stuff my brain and drink Coca-Cola. Is that all there will be? I won’t ask this about you, I can’t believe there is a final anything for women. Death is such a male thing, that kind of drama. So puffed-up and vulgar and ultimately stinky. Look at the poems of Emily Dickinson: you never really believe she could die, it’s just a flirtation. You know she’s still out there. While Walt Whitman has definitely gone to ground, he’s under our bootsoles for sure, just take a look. Sylvia Plath… well she is dead, very. So I guess at least suicide can take the ladies, though commoner among men. I won’t speculate as to why.

What I mean by all that is that it is so good to be back with you, even in my imagination, on one side of this communication, in this particular situation. Bloomsday Eve! Yay. But what kind of Bloomsday in 2020? No, let’s give a cold shoulder to The Times. We love them not. We laugh at them. We laugh and we mock and they cannot touch us. Remember how it used to be? We never cared for the times, we just had our times. But that was long ago.

Bloomsday is a card that I take out of my pocket once a year to look at and it says YOU ARE ALIVE. But from year to year I never know if it will still say that. Maybe tomorrow it won’t, and I will realize that I have already had my last true Bloomsday. News of my demise would not surprise me.

But no one ever said that you could meet Bloomsday without apprehension, anxiety, melancholy, and terror. The unhappiness of the day is unique to the day and to be cherished for itself. But then that breaks like a fever and leaves you somewhere else, not usual but remembered and maybe where you belong. Joyce and Proust both wrote, each in his own way, to the same effect, although Proust lost out by not creating a plausible holiday. Both give readers an experience that loosens the shackles of time. Not through transcendence but the heightened imminence of literature, pushed on beyond what any before them imagined possible. Have I written that before? I probably have, but I will repeat it, because this is not a lesson or an entertainment but a letter of the heart, and the beats have to keep coming even if they sound the same.

Did I say before that Joyce was just a child playing with the doo doo of his pedestrian imagination? The reader comes along and sees him and says I can do that too how amazing! What a dumb thing to keep reading Ulysses when the whole point is that you could be writing Ulysses, or the whole point is you could be living Ulysses, or that you already are. See all the tricks Joyce uses, all the experiments he conducts, the high voltages and chemical baths he applies to poor Bloom & Co. And yet they always come out whole, these common Dubliners, these pedestrians, himself. His genius can never exceed the ordinary. It can only show us the ordinary.

Bloom endures, Stephen’s future is always ahead of him, and the stream of Molly’s consciousness is as ephemeral as the Milky Way. Time has no dominion here. Is it making or memory? Memory and imagination: the ways reality shows through the scrim of time. Do the memories of this Irishman mean more that yours or mine?

Do you ever think of those early days here in Charlottesville? I remember sitting down on the linoleum floor of the kitchen at some party, not too drunk to stand, just wanting to rest awhile, to get down a little closer to the ground, the steady holding thing.  And was it you who sat down next to me? Who appeared? You know I can write better than to say “like an angel”, that I would never use that word, but it was exactly like that, the way you appeared, like an angel, the word came from that moment and only then flew back to Bible times, then forward to treacle and slow-wits, ruined. But really it was just you, then. When you sat beside me.

If only I could remember tomorrow. Or imagine it like a memory. Maybe this is as close as I can come, a Bloomsday tomorrow. What is the path to an unfearful future, that I could cherish as much as memory and imagination? To meet the future as if its fulfillment were a promise not a threat. Like it was the morning before that party.

Now I just do this, put one word after another, into the future, towards you.

It looks like it will be a cool and cloudy day tomorrow, maybe some rain. It won’t be the same as an ordinary year, walking around town. Who will I give a potato to?

I hope you are doing okay. Obviously cancer and prison are both bad things, not to mention the news about your dog, but to look on the bright side, it is better to suffer these sorts of things concurrently rather than consecutively. No, really, I hope you are well, and I’d rather hear all about that than go on and on about Bloomsday again. But maybe you like that?

Happy Bloomsday,

A.S.

 

 

Kafka Days, Kafka Nights

“There is no need for you to leave the house. Stay at your table and listen. Don’t even listen, just wait. Don’t even wait, be completely quiet and alone. The world will offer itself to you to be unmasked; it can’t do otherwise; in raptures it will writhe before you.”

— Franz Kafka

Reader, I have tried it, it is true.

Popular Ejaculations Explained

People often ask how it came to be that certain words of a sexual nature, burning with sacred fire and dedicated to the glory of God as they are, became adopted as terms of abuse among English speakers. It is really a quite fascinating subject and I would like to present a few of the basics of it here. For more information please consult your librarian.

I think we’d best start with go fuck yourself. What is the foundation of this expression, the mental ur-text? Might it be, and yes it is, go kill yourself? Sad to say, that abhorrent sentiment is found quite often among English speakers, not only Americans but also Canadians, Australians, and even some Trinidadians and Tobogonians. Let us place ourselves in the mind of an angry man for whom this vicious thought, from some dark and fetid place in his nature, has arisen and is seeking expression. In his rage he starts with the go. A fine word, a safe word, no harm done yet. But now there is no stopping, the fatal word is next. He is horrified at himself. What a monstrous thing to say! And what if, God forbid, the target of this abuse has suicidal tendencies? No, this cannot be! The mind recoils, with furious energy. It shoots back across its semantic space all the way to the opposite extreme, to the most wonderful thing it can imagine, fuck. “Go…  FUCK yourself!” he shouts, in a convulsion of strange conflicting passions.  What victory! Here is man at his finest, tempted by the devil but shouting him down by rejoicing in God’s greatest gift. Evil conquered, sweetened away by a spoonful of fuck.

Of course this reminds us of our usual use of fuck as a balm for our daily round of hurts. Stub your toe and fuck! you shout, as a reminder of the blessings of life. Sadly, this mantra can sour for the lonely.

Now we can move on to the use of common genital terms and we see the same thing. Tempted to address someone in a terribly cruel way — as a parasite on the working class or Christ-denying fistula provoker — once again the mind recoils, in this case to the glory of manhood, and the fellow is called a dick or prick or big hard pillar of glistening man-meat. Or, in the case of a woman, we may call her a cunt, after her special place of holy joy, that rubyfruit jungle from which none who enter wish to return. We find a very interesting phenomenon among the English, notorious for their polite and gentlemanly nature. So considerate is the Englishman that when roused to anger he will often call another man a cunt. “I say, ho, you there, you irksome bounder, scurvy dog, you… eh… eh… CUNT! Most glorious of God’s creations! O the humanity!” Such a thing you might hear in any English pub after a few rounds have been served and tempers warm.

I will not go into the Briton’s use of the word bloody here, suffice to say it refers to menses, the cycles of life, and the divine fertility of Woman.

To call a person a pussy is a quite different matter. Contrary to what many believe, it does not come from that term of endearment for the female genitalia. Rather, it is a direct, recoilless reference to the pussy-cat, or, you might say, scaredy cat. As a cat lover myself I do find this usage a little offensive. It is true that your typical puss will choose prudence over valor nine times out of ten. But anyone who has ever seen a mama cat defend her kittens from a ravenous fox or junkyard dog will never confuse a pussy with a wimp.

Finally, we come to the asshole. This is a particularly interesting case. If we follow our principle of recoil to the good, and I think we must, the popularity of asshole as term of abuse indicates a far kinkier, queerer, or at least fecal-friendly body politic than many would suppose. And indeed, historically we find that the rise in the linguistic use of the asshole is quickly followed by a rise in its ecstatic use. In calling a person an asshole one reveals not just anger, but a secret source of joy.

I hope you have enjoyed this short but penetrating introduction to a deep and convoluted subject, and learned a little something about our beautiful language, and maybe even more about yourself. God bless!

Rev. M. Hugh Spackman, D.D.