Monday, June 21, 2010

The long rococo halls

The long rococo halls, giddy with plush and whorled designs in gold, were people with Roman fragments, white and disassociated; a runner's leg, the chilly half-turned head of a matron stricken at the bosom, the blind bold sockets of the eyes given a pupil by every shifting shadow so that what they looked upon awas an act of the sun. The great salon was of walnut. Over the fireplace hung impressive copies of the Medici shield and, beside them, the Austrian bird.

--Djuna Barnes, from Nightwood (1936)


Friday, April 30, 2010

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Diary of a Madman

The year 2000, 43rd of April.
This day—is a day of the greatest solemnity! Spain has a king. He has been found. I am that king. Only this very day did I learn of it. I confess, it came to me suddenly in a flash of lightning. I don’t understand how I could have thought and imagined that I was a titular councilor. How could such a wild notion enter my head? It’s a good thing no one thought of putting me in an insane asylum. Now everything is laid open before me. Now I see everything as on the palm of my hand. And before, I don’t understand, before everything around me was in some sort of fog. And all this happens, I think, because people imagine that the human brain is in the head. Not at all: it is brought by a wind from the direction of the Caspian Sea. First off, I announced to Mavra who I am. When she heard that the king of Spain was standing before her, she clasped her hands and nearly died of fright. The stupid woman had never seen a king of Spain before. However, I endeavored to calm her down and assured her in gracious words of my benevolence and that I was not at all angry that she sometimes polished my boots poorly. They’re benighted folk. It’s impossible to tell them about lofty matters. She got frightened, because she’s convinced that all kings of Spain are like Philip II. But I explained to her that there was no resemblance between me and Philip II, and that I didn’t have a single Capuchin…I didn’t go to the office…To hell with it! No, friends, you won’t lure me there now; I’m not going to copy your vile papers!

--The Diary of a Madman, Nikolai Gogol (1835)


Monday, September 21, 2009

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, p. 52

"A throng of bearded men, in sad-coloured garments and grey steeple-crowned hats, inter-mixed with women, some wearing hoods, and others bareheaded, was assembled in front of a wooden edifice, the door of which was heavily timbered with oak, and studded with iron spikes." 

"The founders of the new colony, whatever Utopia of human virtue and happiness they might originally project, have invariably recognised it among their earliest practical necessities to allot a portion of the virgin soil as a cemetery, and onother portion as the site of a prison. In accordance with this rule it may safely be assumed that the forefathers of Boston had built the first prison-house somewhere in the Vicinity of Cornhill, almost as seasonably as they marked out the first burial-ground, on Isaac Johnson's lot, and round about his grave, which subsequently became the nucleus of all the congregated sepulchres in the old churchyard of King's Chapel." 

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Master

The gondola swayed so gently that Henry was not aware of moving in any direction, merely staying still. As her underclothes sank, he imagined that the consignment lay directly beneath them, falling slowly to the ocean bed.

It was only when Tito reached to lift the pole that both of them at the same time caught sight of a black shape in the water less than ten yards away and Tito cried out.

In the gathering dusk it appeared as though a seal or some dark, rounded object from the deep had appeared on the surface of the water. Tito took the pole in both hands as if to defend himself. And then Henry saw what it was. Some of the dresses had floated to the surface again like black balloons, evidence of the strange sea burial they had just enacted, their arms and bellies bloated with water. As they turned the boat, Henry noticed that a grayness had set in over Venice. Soon a mist would settle over the lagoon. Tito had already moved the gondola towards the buoyant material; Henry watched as he worked at it with the pole, pushing the ballooning dress under the surface and holding it there and then moving his attention to another dress which had partially resurfaced, pushing that under again, working with ferocious strength and determination. He did not cease pushing, prodding, sinking each dress and then moving to another. Finally he scanned the water to make certain that no more had reappeared, but all of them seemed to have remained under the surface of the dark water.

-The Master (2004), Colm Tóibín


Monday, August 10, 2009

The Prospector

As far back as I can remember I have listened to the sea: to the sound of it mingling with the wind in the filao needles, the wind that never stopped blowing, even when one left the shore behind and crossed the sugarcane fields. It is the sound that cradled my childhood. I can hear it now, deep inside me; it will come with me wherever I go: the tireless lingering sound of the waves breaking in the distance on the coral reef, then coming to die on the banks of the Riviere Noire. Not a day went by when I didn’t go to the sea; not a night when I didn’t wake up with my back sweaty and damp, sitting up in my cot, parting the mosquito net and trying to see the tide, anxious and full of a desire I didn’t understand.
I thought of the sea as human, and in the dark all senses were alert, the better to hear her arrival, the better to receive her. The giant waves leapt over the reefs and then tumbled into the lagoon; the noise made the air and earth vibrate like a boiler. I heard her, she moved, she breathed.

-The Prospector (1985), J.M.G.Le Clezio


Sunday, August 9, 2009


Imagine a Carthage sown with salt, and all the sowers gone, and the seeds lain however long in the earth, till there rose finally in vegetable profusion leaves and trees of rime and brine. What flowering would there be in such a garden? Light would force each salt calyx to open in prisms, and to fruit heavily with bright globes of water-- peaches and grapes are little more than that, and where the world was salt there would be greater need of slaking. For need can blossom into all the compensation it requires. To crave and to have are as like as a thing and its shadow. For when does a berry break upon the tongue as sweetly as when one longs to taste it, and when is the taste refracted into so many hues and savors of ripeness and earth, and when do our senses know any thing so utterly as when we lack it? And here again is a foreshadowing-- the world will be made whole. For to wish for a hand on one's hair is all but to feel it. So whatever we may lose, very craving gives it back to us again. Though we dream and hardly know it, longing, like an angel, fosters us, smooths our hair, and brings us wild strawberries.

--Housekeeping (1980), Marilynne Robinson