Monday, June 23, 2008


"I look at it this way... For centuries now, man has done everything he can to destroy, defile, and interfere with nature: clear-cutting forests, strip-mining mountains, poisoning the atmosphere, over-fishing the oceans, polluting the rivers and lakes, destroying wetlands and aquifers... so when nature strikes back, and smacks him on the head and kicks him in the nuts, I enjoy that. I have absolutely no sympathy for human beings whatsoever. None. And no matter what kind of problem humans are facing, whether it's natural or man-made, I always hope it gets worse."

-George Carlin (1937-2008)

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Sheep Circle

"When man approaches, sheep are timid and stupid; they have known the beatings and stones of his insolence. But if he stands stock still and stares into the distance, they forget about him. They stick their heads together then, ten or fifteen of them, and form the spokes of a wheel, with the big, heavy center-point of heads and the otherwise-colored spokes of their backs. They press their skulls tightly together. This is how they stand, and the wheel that they form won't budge for hours. They don't seem to want to feel anything but the wind and the sun, and between their foreheads, the seconds striking out eternity that beats in their blood and signals from head to head like the hammering of prisoners on prison walls."

-Robert Musil ("Posthumous Papers of a Living Author," trans. Wortsman)

(p.s. In case you didn't know, I've decided June shall be quotation month).

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Le Secret Changement

Les morts cachés sont bien dans cette terre

Qui les réchauffe et sèche leur mystère.

Midi là-haut, Midi sans mouvement

En soi se pense et convient à soi-même

Tête complète et parfait diadème,
Je suis en toi le secret changement.

The dead lie easy, hidden in earth where they
Are warmed and have their mysteries burnt away.
Motionless noon, noon aloft in the blue
Broods on itself -- a self-sufficient theme.
O rounded dome and perfect diadem,
I am what's changing secretly in you.

-Paul Valéry (from Le Cimitière marin, "Cemetery by the Sea," trans. Lewis)

Monday, June 09, 2008

Alex Ross Bait (Me-Bait, too)

It looks to be almost certain that at a Vienna performance of Rienzi Hitler stood or perched in the top gallery while Theodore Herzl sat in the stalls. Hitler drank in, from the marching choruses, the programme for the Nuremberg rallies and the Wehrmacht's bellowing surge across Europe. Herzl tells us that these very same choruses, and Rienzi's ascent to the leadership of his Volk, sparked in him the vision of Zionism and of a return to a Jewish nation in Palestine. The dialectic of that evening is inexhaustible. It affirms that in all art which is beyond good and evil. It makes a mockery of censorship, let alone of the infantilism of 'political correctness'. It tells us of our near-total ignorance of the ways in which music invades, infects, energizes, elevates human consciousness. Israel on the one hand, the Shoah on the other, the founder of Zionism and the ultimate Jew-killer gathered up in the identical hour of musical magic. Thrust into opposite directions (or, God help us, were these directions all that opposite ?). The State of Israel continues to prohibit performances of Wagner. Do its Spartan guardians know about Herzl's Rienzi ?

The anatomy of Vienna was concentric. Its disproportionate contribution to modernity resulted from an implosive density of contact and encounter. The famous cafes were only one instrument of this daily creative collision. Its sexual parable is that of Schnitzler's Reigen or La Ronde. It was nearly impossible not to meet in that bustling centre and on the Ring. This means that, spatially, statistically, it is all but inconceivable that Hitler did not cross paths with, say, Mahler or Freud or Wittgenstein or Schoenberg, be it on the pavements, be it in a tram (when he could afford one). His eyes must have met the eyes of the shapers of that central European humanism, so richly Jewish, which he would reduce to ash.

George Steiner ( "Hitler's Vienna," Salmagundi: Summer 2003, Iss. 139/140, pg. 64)

Sunday, June 08, 2008


Despite its importance for an understanding of the religious phenomenon, we shall not here discuss the problem of "hominization." It is sufficient to recall that the vertical posture already marks a transcending of the condition typical of the primates. Uprightness cannot be maintained except in a state of wakefulness. It is because of man's vertical posture that space is organized in a structure inaccessible to the prehominians: in four horizontal directions radiating from an "up"-"down" central axis. In other words space can be organized around the human body as extending forward, backward, to right, to left, upward, and downward. It is from this original and originating experience-feeling oneself "thrown" into the middle of an apparently limitless, unknown and threatening extension-that the different methods of 'orientatio' are developed; for it is impossible to survive for any length of time in the vertigo brought on by disorientation. This experience of space oriented around a "center" explains the importance of the paradigmatic divisions and distributions of territories, agglomerations, and habitations and their cosmological symbolism.

-Mircea Eliade ("A History of Religious Ideas: Volume One, From the Stone Age to the Eleusinian Mysteries," pg. 3)