Green and Seasonal

Autumn is descending upon this city: suddenly, my long runs have ended in dusk, while they begin hued in gold, as if all plants and objects have become especially receptive to these last rays. As I ran around a bend yesterday, at once freed from lines of trees, the sun struck my eyes without blinding, and in the few wisps of cloud beside it, I saw a tiny rainbow.
It seems particularly intelligent or inspiring to write about the seasons, it is also to step in that river that is the past. There are Virgil's Georgics; seasons as metaphors in Ovid's Metamorphoses (e.g. the line I now relate to: "Autumn comes, when the ardour of youth has gone, ripe and mellow, between youth and age, a scattering of grey on its forehead."); Petrarch's sonnet to Laura.
British poets to address the seasons include Chaucer and Shakespeare, of course, but perhaps most significantly, James Thomson, whose The Seasons straddles the age marking perhaps the (temporary?) end of formal metaphysical, encyclopedic poetry and the beginning of something more subjective. He predates Romantics like Keats and Wordsworth.
The poem is at once located "in the tradition of idealized epic encyclopedism" for its implications of Newtonian physics, Spenserian romance, Miltonic epic, geology, but, because of its "subordination of an individualized poetic vision and the exclusion of conventional organizational mechanisms", it sought a different kind of complete knowledge (Seth Rudy, Literature and Encyclopedism in Enlightenment Britain, 78). The poem includes even political themes: questions of human rights, liberty on the national as well as individual level, patriotism, the historical role of Scotland, which had been unified with England during his lifetime. The book remained popular for decades, in part because booksellers were able to repackage it given its Romantic appeal by playing down the multiple levels of meaning the poem contains (Rudy, 80).
Samuel Johnson's criticism of the work, that it was lacking a clear method that would synthesize its disparate parts, seems to have been part of the reason for its continued popularity. And it is this lack of "proper arrangement" allowing ready absorption of diverse elements (ibid.) that brings us to the colour green.

And so we reach our final book of poems about seasons, The Book of the Green Man, by Ronald Johnson (via). The blurb by the publisher's reads: "Ronald Johnson described The Book of the Green Man as his 'attempt, as a brash American, to make new the traditional British long seasonal poem.' This Poundian endeavor to 'make it new' stemmed from a visit that he ... made to the UK in the autumn of 1962, in search of all things 'most rich, most glittering, most strange.'"
Perhaps more exciting, we learn that he walked the landscapes - as well as gardens and grottoes, and, most notably to me at least, Gilbert White's Selborne. White is best known for his The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne, written just a few years after Thomson's death, and a model for natural historians and writers. As a bird-lover, I find his ornithological description movingly astute, and who does not love the phrase "birds of passage" - observed throughout.
Part of one of Johnson's August poems reads: "'August is by much the most mute month', yet, the air may be so strongly electric that bells may ring & sparks be discharged in their clappers: ... Gilbert White quotes from the Latin: He preferred the sounds of birds to those of men..." In these lines, similarities can be seen with Thomson: individualized poetic visions, breadth over formal unity, emphasis on eye and ear.
Scope can be seen in Johnson's lines above where he writes of White, who indeed quotes from the Latin, in Letter LVI. The passage is by French philosopher, mathematician and astronomer (connected to Kepler, Galileo, Descartes) Pierre Gassendi, whose The Life of Peiresc immortalized his patron. White identifies with Peiresc: "This curious quotation [of preferring birdsong] strikes me much by so well representing my own case ... When I hear fine music I am haunted with passages ... elegant lessons still tease my imagination, and recur irresistibly to my recollection at seasons, and even when I am desirous of thinking of more serious matters."
The British Library offers a recording of birdsong rivalling instrumental music, so we might recollect it at seasons, have our imaginations teased, and contemplate what it means to be "green" - infused with nature? But seeing that Johnson also wrote a cookbook that I'd love to get my hands on, The American Table, any lack of unity encountered while walking through, writing of, and eating greens, is at least individualized: the individual being modernity's season of man.
This post (like 1, 2, 3, 4, 5) was inspired by Susannah Conway's August Break.

Magazine in background: Marie Claire Idees;
brush: misprinted type, via Pugly Pixel (we will be sad to see go).

Sweet Delight

It is a strange moment to be writing about sweetness as thunder shakes the windows and lightning calls to the eyes. But maybe not, if it is nature that connotes it. My first association with sweetness is honey: and from there, my mind wanders to antiquity, the nectar of the gods. I found Horace in those thoughts, and will note some of what he writes on sweetness, specifically, where it is connected to figurative literary inspiration and/or described more literally in connection with food, but ultimately where it connotes absence from worry.
And about Horace. It is amazing to read some of his lines and relate to them so deeply that, all these centuries and cultures apart, one wishes to have written them oneself. In I. xxxiii, he writes that he hopes to write sweet calming work that will endure: "We are now called upon. If in idle amusement in the shade with you, we have placyed any thing that may live for this year and many, come on, assist me with alyric ode in Latin, my dear lyre, - first tuned in Greek by the Lesbian citizen Alcaeus … O thou ornament of Apollo, charming shell, agreeable even at the banquets of supreme Jupiter! O thou sweet alleviator of anxious toils, be propitious to me, whenever I duly invoke thee."
Similarly, in I. xxvi, which translator C. Smart introduces as, "That free from all care and anxiety, he celebrates the praise of Lamia", Horace writes: "O sweet  Muse, who art delighted with pure-fountains, weave together the sunny flowers, weave a chaplet for my  Lamia. Without thee my praises profit nothing." Note the flattery involved in his invocation! In IV.ii, he writes: "With lavish labor hiving thrifty sweets; Lowly, by Tibur's grove and dewy banks, I seek the honey that I store in song, Kneaded with labour."
Despite such depth of meaning in imagery, he also writes of food like a true gourmand, but in multiple registers. In satire II.iv, a man struggles to remember the lessons he got from a professor about food - containing such detail of how to dine well! Our sweetness here comes from the section of the professor's counsel that reads: "Some there are whose talent lies only in finding new sweets; 'tis by no means enough to spend all one's care on a single point — just as if someone were anxious only that his wines be good, but cared not what oil he poured upon his fish."

Though displaying knowledge of a good spread, Horace writes in favour of a more modest lifestyle, like in II.xvi, in which he writes of a nobelman who lives simply. I will be generous with how much I quote because I particularly like these lines about the needlessness of pursuing other shores when one has (sweets) enough before one: "Why crave new suns? What exile from his country Flies himself also? Diseased Care ascends the brazen galley,  And rides amidst the armed men to the battle, Fleeter than stag, and fleeter than, when driving Rain-clouds, the east wind. The mind, which now is glad, should hate to carry Its care beyond the Present; what is bitter With easy smile should sweeten: nought was ever Happy on all sides."
In those last few lines, he resolves the eternally-relevant philosophical problem of how to find happiness in difficulty, his words acting as the balsam he wrote of aspiring towards in I.xxxiii. We shall conclude on this soothing note with two more excerpts.
The beautifully sentimental "To Virgil" (IV.xii), which translators cannot agree upon (compare this translation), is a call to a feast (to a living/departed the/another Virgil). Let us imagine ourselves as Virgil invited in this way: "These, O my Virgil, are the days of thirst;  But if, O client of illustrious youths, Calenian juices tempt, bring thou the nard,  And with it earn my wine;...— Cask large enough to hold a world of hope, And drown a world of care. Quick! if such merriments delight thee, come With thine own contributions to the feast; Not like rich host in prodigal halls — my cups  Thou shalt not tinge scot-free. But put aside delays and care of gain, Wamed, while yet time, by the dark death-fires; mix  With thought brief thoughtlessness; to be unwise In time and place is sweet."
Reading those lines, one becomes imbibed by his song, it is so potent, affording the same effect as wine. In epode xiii he writes, "From thy bosom be lifled by wine and by song; Soothers they of a converse so sweet, it can charm All the cares which deform our existence away."
That is my definition, in response to today's prompt in the August Break, of sweet delight, particularly the part about song. But to emulate Horace's breadth and end this post on literal sweetness is the photo, depicting blender ice-cream of frozen banana and berries, sweetened with vanilla and honey. Perhaps I am that very 'professor' cited in the satire.

Brush: pfefferminzchen at DeviantART

Look Up

Marcus Aurelius in his Meditations, or To Himself as it is alternatively translated, writes about looking up and looking down (in the first entry of Book 7): the purpose of this looking is to remove sensations of shock when one sees something bad, which is disturbing. I was myself disturbed today and shocked at my disturbance when on my long run, I saw groups and groups of refugees, clustered on park benches, some sitting while others stood a close distance away, just like how people act in airports. I think of them all the time, but it is different to see them; how strange it is that consideration of fate becomes harder with faces on. The vice one considers is whatever duress uproots such people from their homes. It occurred to me how bizarre it is that I should have longed this summer to leave my home for vacation, when some are unable to ever go back to their own.
The first few entries in Aurelius' Book 7 are related to observation with the goal to maintain or regain inner peace. Thence the observation of looking up and down and realising that "there is nothing new to be met with" and whatever happens "will be over soon" (which some translators note as connected to Eccles. 9 and 2 Cor. 4:17-18). I compared four translations (1, 2, 3, 4), but another that I can't find now added in to the idea that what happens is quickly over, "this too shall pass" - which wikipedia writers note appears in a Sufi tale about a King who wished to be happy when he was sad, so his sages presented him with a ring with that phrase inscribed on it, which made him curse when he was happy.
Aurelius is not so fickle. In 7.2 (which I understood best in the Loeb translation), he writes about how one is not to waver in one's principles, no matter what might happen. The wavering comes from losing ideas of the principles and not cultivating them. It also comes from considering things that are beyond what one knows. He suggests one stick to what one knows - which is a contrast to what popular culture suggests today, namely that one is to support what one encounters. Instead, Aurelius suggests something quite Tao (e.g. 4, 5, 65, etc.), which is to simply let things be, and to keep to one's own sphere (e.g. 55, 63, especially 47, etc.).

Aurelius refers to different spheres. There is that of the self (which he writes is like one's house one's field, where one goes to retire "lapped in ease") and there is that of circumstance, which one is to filter before letting it get to one. In 7.4 he writes that one is to be wary of what people say and do: looking for the significance of their words and the design of their actions. If only it were possible to take what people say at face value, but no.
Just like it is possible for the soul to "teaze and put fetters upon herself" - and so block oneself from peace of mind (7.16).
So, one can retain the right to not concieve of calamity as calamity (7.14). I do not think that this means to be unfeeling and suffer no pain, but rather that this is a form of dammage control. I write these things out as my own future is being toyed with by those higher up than myself. And to one who may be in a toxic environment, Aurelius recommends: "Let people talk and act as they please; I must be an emerald, and I must keep my colour."
It was noted at the beginning that if one is faced with vice, one is to look up and down and conclude that bad happenings are nothing new, and that they will pass. Another principle applicable in such situations is part of the psalm (121) that was the motto of my first boarding school: Lift up thine eyes. But it never occurred to me before today that these are words uttered by those that need help.
Some learning is like training for difficult times. Without building muscle in separate exercises, running is less fun; when one is injured, if one does not do dull exercise, one will not be fit enough later to run again. And without exercise, one has a greater likelihood of needing to use all the senior products advertised on the billboard outside the pharmacy: diapers, memory-boosting pills. It seems like a good idea to practice principles just for those times, for if those products are needed, one would hopefully, at least occasionally, remember to look up.
This post was inspired by today's topic set by the August Break. If this post has failed, at least I put a bird on it. See it below? Look up! Hardy har.

Brush: pferfferminzchen at DeviantART.
Restaurant in Μικρολίμανο (Mikrolimano) , 
I think Μπαχάλικο (Bachaliko) - it's an old photo.


There was a period in adolescence when my growth was inhibited at one of my boarding schools, which I might illustrate best by my having received a blank stare (and more silence) by the librarian when I asked to be given a list of particularly edifying books. It was in college that I got this dream list (the point being that it contains books one has yet to discover) from one of my roommates. As I collected a few incipit thoughts before writing this post, I realised that it has been one of my life's ambitions to have a solid enough knowledge of great extant books that I would know where to look for certain ideas when the need for them arose. This probably makes me a kind of philosophical eclectic though not "woo woo" (a word I learned this week). I wonder about this difference sometimes, and think it lies in the presence of self-doubt, but also another mechanism lined with questioning: an attempted exploration that is not smoothly paved.
Exemplary of this approach, aside from Cicero and Seneca, is John Ruskin: he was classically inclined but also engaged with modernity. My favourite example of this includes where he compared the edifices built for the idol of "the goddess of [not everybody's but somebody's!] Getting-on" with the Athenian goddess of Wisdom. A pertinent illustration he gives is about how Athena's Gorgon and mantle represent the "chilling horror and sadness (turning men to stone, as it were,) of the outmost and superficial spheres of knowledge—that knowledge which separates, in bitterness, hardness, and sorrow, the heart of the full-grown man from the heart of the child. For out of imperfect knowledge spring terror, dissension, danger, and disdain; but from perfect knowledge ... strength and peace, in sign of which she is crowned with the olive spray, and bears the resistless spear." ("Traffic"). This is a good illustration of eclecticism vs. woo woo: discernment of consequences.
But I meander, and there is a set course for this post, which began with the dream list of books I got from a roommate in college. One of the books on this list was Philosophical Investigations, which I quickly acquired when I worked briefly at The Strand bookstore, where I got many other gems that I have since lost to circumstance and struggle to restore to memory.

The book is important if we are to talk about books because it demonstrates something important about words, namely, that meaning is gleaned from use, as opposed to the idea that words are essentially rooted in meaning. In some ways, Investigations is similar to Deleuze's paper on Plato and the Simulacrum, where he contrasts essence with appearance, originals with copies, model and simulacrum.
To be or feel removed from essence, does it mean that it is not there? What if the use of the word essence is consistently corrupted by the circles of people one is surrounded by? Isn't looking for essence also dangerous because in the hall of mirrors of use, there is so much deception?
If some words are symbols using iconic augmentation to gather together a hierarchy of metaphors that together constitute meaning, one may never be sure that one has pinned down their meaning during a lifetime. I am thinking now of words like love.
"We are only with the help of recent investigation beginning to penetrate the depth of meaning couched under the Athenaic symbols" Ruskin writes in "Traffic".
To use Bakhtinian words, we could say that we are talking here about centripital vs. centrifugal meanings. But now I will complicate things and say that for ecclecticism, it is not enough only to journey inwards, because of those times when one might have the word, like accord, but be lacking relevant explanation of how to realise it.
To complicate things further, the conventions of use hinder one on the quest, because knowing another essence does not release one from the obligations of Ps and Qs.
Which is a funny phrase to use now, in today's age, because, ostensibly, standards are being obliterated and the law of use, which can turn into relativity, is supreme. And where there is no essence, there will be no coherent wholes.

Which brings this post to its final note: fragmented fiction. Jazz critic and music historian Ted Gioia has gathered some interesting comments on the form. And who better to understand fragmented literature than one versed in jazz? We note here that the secret to jazz is in the standard, and the beauty of solos to return to a melody/rhythm with the rest of the band. But we may prefer to reflect on the solo and the fact that the melody is, after all, cut up.
Once upon a time, during the summers at the backwater boarding school I attended, I used to sneak into a jazz club between sets, when non-conoisseurs would have abandonned their expensive tables. It sounds hackneyed to say that the music spoke to aspects of my experience. So I'll write that it was for me a tiny hall of mirrors of use. We want to see ourselves, our surroundings, reflected back at us: "[our] railroad mounds, prolonged masses of Acropolis; [our] railroad stations, vaster than the Parthenon, and innumerable; [our] chimneys, how much more mighty and costly than cathedral spires! [our] harbour-piers; [our] warehouses; [our] exchanges!—all these are built to [our] great Goddess of 'Getting-on;'" ("Traffic"). New things keep getting added to this list, so imagine how long it will take to tire of those complex fragments, before they become puzzle pieces.
Adding to the complication of fragments is that they masquerade as holistic wisdom. One of my favourite parts of Gioia's "Fractious Fiction" is where he talks about Wittgenstein's Tractatus: "If fragmentation were more than just a game storytellers played and could actually stake a claim for its superior grasp of reality, then Wittgenstein was the prophet and systematizer who provided a philosophy to complement the fractured narratives of the postmodern novelists."
What is at stake is a grasp of reality. Even essence has a stake in it, though it moves beneath its surface. Lives can be lost due to a single poor interpretation.
While eclecticists value use (i. e. concrete example), they also value books for pointing to something that cannot always be readily seen. And as it is impossible, and superficial, to inhabit the invisible (i.e. abstract essence), the point here has to do with harmonising (i. e. the golden mean). Where the use that surrounds us will be limited whether because of epoch, social status, circumstance, books can extend beyond. Except, because things are complex, some books curtail. More important than books is the reader. This post was written in response to today's prompt for an August Break.

Book in background: Francois Boucher's 10,000 Years of Fashion
Brush: foliage by Creature Comforts.


In keeping with the August break, today's topic is fire. Accompanying text shall be selections from Johann Joachim Winckelmann, an inspiration to Walter Benjamin (and Lessing, Herder, Goethe and Kant). According to the The Classical Tradition, Winckelmann was influential on "late Enlightenment and early 19th century thought concerning the aesthetic and ethical ideals embodied in classical Greek culture". His History of the Art of Antiquity was once considered, though reworked, to be the fullest extant compendium on the subject, taking "the step to elaborate a speculative history that attempted to integrate the commentaries on the history of ancient Greek and Roman sculpture in the ancient literature with the existing material remains of this art excavated in Italy" (emphasis added, contributor Alex Potts notes the sparcity of archaeological evidence available then: Winckelmann gains through his enthusiasm what he loses in accuracy).
In the History of Ancient Art, Winckelmann writes that Persian religious service was not favourable to the arts as "the visible heavens and fire were the highest objects of their adoration" (314) - interesting to contemplate in a culture that expects ideals to be materialised.
In The History of Ancient Art Among the Greeks, he writes that "ancient artists" depicted the expression of passions such that it "always corresponds to what we should look for in a man of disciplined mind, who prevents his feelings from breaking forth, and lets only the sparks of the fire be seen; who seeks to penetrate the latent motives of him who comes to honor him, or to play the spy." (163) In this context, greatness of mind is represented as "noble simplicity" betraying neither frivolity nor craft but innocence and a "trustful nature". An interesting contrast to the jaded perhaps even corrupt hero of today.
Winckelmann compares beauty to essence extracted from matter by fire, "it seeks to beget unto itself a creature formed after the likeness of the first rational being designed in the mind of the Divinity" (ibid., 44). Were that all we wrote such an essential phoenix emerging from the flames.

Brush: pfefferminzchen paper via DeviantArt.
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