Tuesday, December 27, 2011

this purpose we take

Twelve months ago I finished the year by posting a list of favourite quotes poached from books I'd been reading and the year before I did the same, but this year I have so many candidates that instead of choosing favourites I'm going to take the first sentence of the first book I finished in January, and a sentence from the book I'm reading now, and between them I'm going to put fragments from the rest of 2011 and see what comes out -- like so -- and Merry Christmas, by the way, and a relaxed Boxing Day in retrospect, and a Happy New Year -- so -- starting with The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt --

Many still consider it an accident that Nazi ideology centred around this secret in me from which I am separated and which is like my own separation, a precise spot that a human sometimes enters rolling bales of hay, bowing and scraping and flourishing his hat left and right. Dust is plural: infinite dust. This structure we shall call the metaphysical purport of all intuitive revelation of being; and this is precisely what we ought to achieve and disclose by lengthy supplications at passers-by. One of them breaks out in a low howl every time he senses the potential largesse of a deep and complex thing propped up with a stake in the middle. The primitive mind sees disorder in itself and enlists every discipline to keep from contaminating the world. We, says Levi-Strauss, see all disorder outside ourselves, in the world and in other people; our anxiety is that they will contaminate us, a phenomenon that one American commentator rightly saw as "such an unaffected tribute of admiration as few other authors have ever obtained." My own literary work on the contrary was always done as quietly and methodically as a partly dismantled giraffe. People who expect sentiment from children of six years old will be disappointed, and will probably teach them affectation which can only sweat and stare at its own hooves -- a scrawled-over bit of paper becoming a person with a past and a future! The mighty future is as nothing, being everything! the past is everything, being the Englishman, who made his name training bees, who walked about the countryside covered with them, even to his face and hands, and caressed them and let them drink from his eyes. Children at this age give us no such information of themselves; and at what time were we dipped in the sheer quantity of his reading. Reading has not merely deformed his imagination, it has put it in a Drawer. You are to note, that in March and April he is usually taken with worms, in May, June, and July, he will bite at any fly, or at cherries, or at beetles with their legs and wings cut off, or at the pet of the household, thrusting Sir Christopher's favourite bloodhound of the day, Mrs Bellamy's two canaries, and Mr Bates' largest Dorking hen, into a merely secondary position for four years, at the end of which he died in excruciating pain from cancer of the jaw as his facial bones disintegrated. Not insincerity, but a translated sincerity, is the basis of all art. For this purpose we take a scrap of paper and we write the truth down: "Here is the chalk."

(Maurice Blanchot, Awaiting Oblivion translated by John Gregg; Cole Swensen, Anamorphosis from Ours and also The Invention of Automata from Goest; Ruth Stone, her poem Always on the Trains from In the Next Galaxy (Stone died this year and one of the obituaries quoted that same poem); Samuel Beckett, The End; Brenda Shaughnessy, Epithalament from Interior With Sudden Joy; Jean-Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness translated by Hazel E. Barnes; Walter Benjamin, Moscow Diary translated by Richard Sieburth; Macedonio Fernández , The Museum of Eterna's Novel (The First Good Novel) translated by Margaret Schwartz; Virginia Woolf, The Years; Guy Davenport, What Are Those Monkeys Doing? from his book of essays, Every Force Evolves a Form; Michael Slater, Charles Dickens; John Ruskin, Praeterita; Jean Sprackland, Tilt, a poem from the book of the same name; Maria Edgeworth, Belinda; John Cowper Powys, Maiden Castle; Charles Lamb, Oxford in the Vacation from the Essays of Elia; Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Biographia Literaria; Susan Sontag, DQ, an essay from Where the Stress Falls; Emily Dickinson, You Cannot Put a Fire Out from her Complete Poems; Izaak Walton, The Compleat Angler; George Eliot, Mr. Gilfil's Love Story from her Scenes of Clerical Life; Barbara Goldsmith, Obsessive Genius; Fernando Pessoa, The Selected Prose of Fernando Pessoa translated by Richard Zenith; Martin Heidegger, What is a Thing? translated by W. B. Barton, Jr & Vera Deutsch)


  1. Very good DKS ... I think you could work this up into a treatise for modern living. I do like the notion of dust intuitively revealing my being - it certainly did on Xmas Day when I noticed, as I served pre-dinner nibbles, a rather thick layer of dust on the coffee table. If the guests - more than mere passers-by they - noticed they were too polite (or too in/sincere perhaps?) to say and, after all, why would they, they were getting the free meal. And that is the real truth!

    Hope your Nevadan Christmas was fine and that someone celebrated Boxing Day with you!

  2. If they notice it then you say, Of course that's magic pixie dust from Santa's elves, I ordered it straight from the North Pole and they are instantly impressed, or alternatively, not fooled at all, but the nibbles win them over.

    Christmas in this part of Las Vegas was amazingly quiet. I've never seen the streets so empty.

  3. I'll try that next year ... though of course next year I'll be MUCH more organised and will have done the dusting! Ho Ho.

  4. Dust isn't much of a problem here but I have a blue furry dressing gown and the blue fur comes off (and yet the thing never goes bald or patchy; I don't know how it does it; somehow it has infinite fur) and mouses itself in corners and beds down in our small patch of carpet, making it speckled, like a sort of fleece or chicken. But dust on tables is annoying too, because there's always things that have to be moved, and I hate moving things, taking them off, putting them somewhere else, dusting, putting them back -- it's the bathroom sink that really gets me there; we have a whole forest of cups, tubes, liquid soap bottles, nail clippers, etc, etc, etc, and somehow a bit of liquid soap always sinks down behind the bottle and you don't know it's there, and then you lift the bottle, and there it is --

  5. Oh yes, yes, yes. I don't mind the actual task so much as all the preparation to do it. I try to dustor clean around objects shuffling them backwards and forwards but I should know better and just move them off at the beginning... Such are the challenges of a civiliseded life.

  6. I used to live in a house with a mantlepiece that was at exactly the wrong height for getting things off easily, and we covered it with candlesticks. Every few months they'd put on sets of furry socks.