Monday, July 28, 2008

The Stones of Venice--Part VI

"The shafts must therefore be, without exception, of one block in buildings of this kind (me--basically large ones); for the attempt in any place to incrust or joint them would be a deception...and would put an end at once to the spectator's confidence in the expression of wealth in any portion of the structure, or of the spirit of sacrifice in those whose raised it."

This sentiment could be properly applied at some level to all great enterprises. At least I thought so at one time. It may appear that I am having a difficult time writing of late. This is not quite the case. I am trying to suppress most of what comes out however; it is not edifying.

There is much talk of symmetry, or rather the notable absence of it, in the types of physically strong, high-spirited architecture Ruskin preferred: "...we must expect to see shafts introduced of size and proportion continually varying, and...dependent for its charm frequently in strange complexities and unexpected rising and falling of weight and accent in its marble syllables: bearing the same relation to a rigidly chiselled and proportioned architecture that the wild lyric rhythm of Aeschylus or Pindar bears to the finished measures of Pope." The comparison of the great manly Greeks to the rather more diminished specimen that was Pope (though I still like Pope quite a lot as a writer) was an excellent touch.

I was thinking last week about enlisting in the Army, which is a recurring idea I get about twice a year, though obviously it becomes a less viable option every day that passes. Also I am not wholly confident that they would be able to fulfill what would be my main motivations in going to them, which would be to make myself a more suitable person for functioning in this society, to develop a character that others would find acceptable, and that many claim to have themselves attained as a result of military service, and to discover something I might be competent at which would identify me at least to a few people as a man of above-average capabilities, though this last may be pushing it. A few years back I went to a career counselor, to whom I paid a considerable sum and underwent a battery of questioning and personality assessments. I cannot find the report that was made from the results; my wife appears to have done something with these papers. By the end of the sessions however it was evident even to me that I was likely not going to excel in professional life. I would not be able to manage/lead a group of people, I would never make big money, my female co-workers were never going to fall hopelessly in love with me, unless of course I would be able to change behavioral habits and attitudes of long duration; indeed, why wouldn't I? That is the elsuive question. My top ten list of suitable jobs, according to this assessment, included things like librarian. I can't remember the rest. I think college professor was #6. Writer may actually have been on the list too, and while flattering to my ego, it is a rather vague category for someone looking for somewhat more precise advice as to how he might go about getting on in the world. The thing is after all that expense, I never really even looked at the reports and how they were arrived at. I felt like I might as well have gone to a fortune teller--none of the information seemed to mean very much in reality, except to cast my major problems, namely a terrible work ethic and a disagreeable personality, into harsher relief. Joining the Army at this point would obviously be ridiculous, given my age, my physical and psychological state, and the seriousness of military life, for which I would appear to be most unsuited. Then again they don't seem to pay too much either. And then Sabrina my wife claims she would divorce me if I ever really did it. I know real men are unmoved by the threats of women if it interferes with their fulfillment of a manly function; but I think it is acceptable to acknowledge them. Obviously I am not going to do it, so why even think or write about it? Because something has to be done, and little else plausible presents itself.

"...ignorance is liable to be deceived, and has no right to accuse anything but itself as the source of the deception." We are back to Ruskin now. A fitting quote in response to that last bit I wrote. "...the truth reveals itself in proportion to our patience and knowledge, discovers itself kindly to our pleading, and leads us, as it is discovered, into deeper truths." The use of the word kindly is the striking thing here; we are accustomed, it seems to me, to speak and conceive of truth as something harsh, which is going to crush most of our little psyches when we have the misfortune to be caught up by it; perhaps this is how most people, being too ignorant or foolish to understand it for what it really is, experience it though. The kindly revelation would require, it seems to me, a particularly fine and well-developed mind to find a proper reception.

There is a very useful explanation, both practical and ideological, of the method of incrustation. I liked it. I liked what it revealed about the possibilities of the human imagination.

"Wherever sculpture can be solid, the nobler characters of the human form at once lead the artist to aim at its representation, rather than at that of inferior organisms; but when all is to be reduced to outline, the forms of flowers and lower animals are always more intelligible, and are felt to approach much more to a satisfactory rendering of the objects intended, than the outlines of the human body."

"...there has never been a true or fine school of art in which colour was despised...I know it to be one of the first signs of death in the Renaissance schools, that they despised colour." Did they?

"...there is not, as far as I am aware, in Europe, any monument of a truly noble school which has not been either painted all over, or vigorously touched with paint, mosaic and gilding in its prominent parts."

"Every motive thus concurred in urging him (i.e., the Venetian) to the study of chromatic decoration, and every advantage was given him in the pursuit of it...the whole edifice (St. Mark's) is to be regarded less as a temple wherein to pray, than as itself a Book of Common Prayer, a vast illuminated missal, bound with alabaster instead of parchment, studded with porphyry pillars instead of jewels, and written within and without in letters of enamel and gold."

"But exactly in proportion to the nobility of any work, is the difficulty of conveying a just impression of it..." That is certainly the case with most of this blog.

I Missed the Blog's 2-Year Anniversary

That was on Friday.

It isn't very original to use this song to commemorate an anniversary. I shudder to think of the scads of boring people who must have done it, imagining someone would think them interesting for it. However I had forgotten about it until recently, and I quite like it. I feel like many people around my age wanted to hit on the exact effect that this song makes and failed to conceive of what it would consist, because their creative imaginations, as it went, or perhaps their very souls, were much too confined.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

In Which I Continue to Generate Much Buzz For Myself and My Career

Summer is not traditionally my most dominating time of the year. I am inevitably afflicted by impressions and thoughts somewhat less than completely joyous and positive at some juncture during this easy season, and whatever more desirable presentation I have been working so hard (or so assiduously, if you can endure this word) to cultivate is swept quite away. I have not myself been on a school schedule for many years, but the damp, the humidity, the bugs, the flowers, the grass that grows too fast, the roar of motorcycles, call up the old feeling of school being out, and my being temporarily lost as a result; of many long hours passed sitting in my room or wandering over the empty, wiltingly hot streets and dusty ballfields of my old town. This is because I experience life as a stream of events in which everything that occurs, especially if it is in some way disappointing, is directly correlated with everything else that has previously occurred, even if these events ought properly to have nothing to do with the present. I would be much better off if I could experience life as a series of actions, each one unrelated to the one before it and a fresh opportunity to make a positive mark. I never am able to do so, however.

Frequently I attempt to compensate for being depressed by thinking cruel thoughts about other people from whom I would be especially solicitous to distance myself. There was a story in the New York Times last week about the serious medical problems morbidly obese women, some up to 500-600 pounds, face during pregnancy. The story was uninteresting because it neglected too fastidiously to explore the real story that suggested itself, indeed almost burst with the desire to scream itself out, which was of course to identify who is going around impregnating 600 pound women, and what goes on in the minds of people who do so--perhaps they see a 600 pound woman as the equivalent of having 4 or 5 normal sized girls--who knows? This was not an instance that called for either subtlety or restraint. This was a freak show posing as a medical issue. Now I know as well as anyone that the dating scene out there can be brutal for the weak and inferior, and that loneliness and frustration for months or even years on end grow unbearable in a very short time. Indeed I am sympathetic, far too much so indeed, I know, to almost all variety of lovers. But come on.

Then I have some idea of talking about the younger generation--not my children, but the immediate younger generation, the people who are in their twenties now. I mostly only know about them, or at least the educated, or perhaps it is better to say highly self-aware part of them, through the Internet, since almost no one of this type in this age group lives where I do. I do see a bit of this crowd in Brattleboro, which for some reason has managed to attract a decent-sized coterie of young people who have had some kind of intense relation with the idea of college even if only in rejecting it, enjoy free love, super left-wing politics, stores where everything is used, and hanging out in bars and cafes where the customers, to paraphrase what was said of Bernini, provide the photographs, paint the pictures, write the poetry, grow the food, and play the music. My beautiful wife Sabrina claims to find these people annoying, and I can't say that they are exactly my ideal either--they aren't terribly witty, they are a little overly health-conscious, et al, for my taste--but at this point I am so desperate to hang out with anybody who is remotely interested in anything I am interested in, that I have come to rather look forward to seeing them about, dropping into their haunts for a couple of minutes if I have the chance, and eavesdropping on their conversations.

But my purpose is not really to talk about this particular scene. I was watching the internet "TV series" We Need Girlfriends, which chronicles the romantic shortcomings and modest triumphs of a trio of nice, introspective Jewish boys and recent graduates in New York in a series of 11 short (6-14 minute) episodes over the last couple of days. The show was an internet hit of sorts and was even picked up by CBS to develop a pilot (I don't see the realist ethos that makes the Internet show mildly interesting transferring to a network production though). I admit there were some things in it that amused me. I like the expression "You scammed my squirrel" quite a lot, and wish I had invented it myself--actually I think I did invent it myself, at least I went through a period where I employed the word squirrel when thinking of certain girls I liked. The naturalistic filming on location on the streets of Astoria, Queens (home by the way of the only Czech restaurant and beerhall I have been able to find on the East Coast--alas the beer is still "Import" and has the fizzy, cold-pasteurized American taste) was a welcome departure from the usual rather sterile cinematic depictions of New York. Several of the squirrels were pretty cute, too cute for me, but then far too cute for the geeky characters in the show as well. Their general inferiority as men, when the writers chose to address it, was rather convincingly and even painfully portrayed (though I thought the show should properly have ended with them all utterly alone and realizing in horror how inferior they were and contemplating suicide, in reality most schmucks really do find some decent girl to take them on if that's all they want; still I wish the cutie-pie blonde whose pathetic boyfriend suggested he didn't deserve her and that she ought to find someone better had taken him up on the offer). Still, I don't want to give the impression that it was actually good. I was interested mostly in seeing how the kids that age live now, what their world is like. I don't think the kinds of guys in this show are going to like being 38 very much, because most of them almost certainly won't have done anything that amounts to much in their mind, or anyone else's, and by the time you're 38 that's all anyone cares about, and by extension it becomes all that you care about. But a few other quick observations:

1. Computers, cell phones, etc. These have obviously changed life as a twentysomething a lot--I didn't discover the Internet until I was already married and far away from any kind of youth culture, and I still don't have or see any necessity for a cell phone. My car broke down about a month ago between two interstate exits fairly late at night and I simply did what I would have done in 1990. I walked 2 and a half miles back to a gas station that had a phone booth and called a tow truck, which walk I should add was very restorative to my spirits. Granted, it could have been winter, but I have walked long distances in temperatures as low as 10 degrees when I lived in Maine and felt quite robust at the end of it. But as regards the present generation I cannot see myself getting in on all the cellphone fun the kids have, with their messaging and calling each other incessantly. I have gotten maybe 10--maybe 20--social phone calls in my entire life, and this is spread out over a 25 year period. The level of connectedness is something I can't really imagine. Also I had imagined that the Internet would have been a great aid in my attempt to find some girl to go out with me when I was a teenager and no one at my high school was giving any signs of being interested, but apparently the opposite effect has happened--the girls have had exposure to more cool guys now than they had before and are even less willing to go out with normal people than they were before.

I am going to end this post here. There were other points, but they aren't really worth the time it takes to go into them. Plus there is a lightning storm outside my window and my computer is about to get blown up.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Stones of Venice--Part V

From Volume I, Chapter IV, "St Mark's". I have a lot to comment on/insert from this chapter.

He compares the sculptures on the arches and porches to the effect which the earliest light made among the branches of Eden. This ecstatic sort of writing reminds me of a kind of attitude I used to pick up from certain people at my college when contemplating a certain representation of ideas that especially pleased them. I am not going to claim that it happened all the time but it happened enough to be in the general atmosphere, and it was something very satisfying to encounter.

"Between that grim (generic) cathedral of England and this, what an interval! There is a type of it in the very birds that haunt them; for, instead of the restless crowd, hoarse-voiced and sable-winged, drifting on the bleak upper air, the St. Mark's porches are full of doves, that nestle among the marble foliage, and mingle the soft iridescence of their living plumes, changing at every motion, with the tints, hardly less lovely, that have stood unchanged for seven hundred years." This contrast obviously no longer holds. "And what effect has this splendour on those who pass beneath it? You may walk from sunrise to sunset, to and fro, before the gateway of St. Mark's, and you will not see an eye lifted to it, nor a countenance brightened by it." Half the greatness of Ruskin, or any writer, I think more and more, lies in their capacity to be absolutely certain they are the only person currently living who is able to see anything for what it really is, which therefore renders them and their work necessary; (obivously many disturbed and delusional people feel this same way, and to be honest I do not think there is much of a difference between the two cases, only that the successful writer's intellect is more forceful and his vision more persuasive).

Ruskin did not dig the cafe scene that had sprung up in the square all around the cathedral, and which the tourists are still loving unto the present day, either:

"...there is almost a continuous line of cafes, where the idle Venetians of the middle classes lounge, and read empty journals; in its (the square's) centre the Austrian bands play during the time of vespers, their martial music jarring with the organ notes..."

"Yes, verily: to be baptized with fire, or to be cast therein; it is the choice set before all men...Venice has made her choice." Needless to say, she did not choose wisely. The section in which this is discussed, about the serenity and religious seriousness evident in the least details of tombs, brickwork, mosaics and so forth in the old part of the cathedral, is well done.

Incrustation is a pretty word. It is used a lot in this book. I believe the sense in which he uses it refers to primary building materials (brick, tufa) being supplemented by different, often more ornamental ones (marble). It is a prominent feature of many old buildings in Italy.

"...he has no more right to complain of treachery than a savage would have, who, for the first time in his life seeing a man in armour, had supposed him to be made of solid steel." Is this a reference to the famous pubic hair incident?

"The perception of colour is a gift just as definitely granted to one person, and denied to another, as an ear for music; and the very first requisite for true judgement of St. Mark's, is the perfection of that colour-faculty which few people ever set themselves seriously to find out whether they possess or not." Something tells me that I lack this talent to a pretty unsalvageable degree.

"If, therefore, the reader does not care for colour, I must protest against his endeavor to form any judgement whatever of this church of St. Mark's." O.K. "But if he both cares for and loves it, let him remember that the school of incrusted architecture is the only one in which perfect and permanent chromatic decoration is possible..." I thought this was important to make a note of because I never think of things in this way. I could not have come up with the basic premises of these last two sentences on my own.

Monday, July 14, 2008

More Temporary Preoccupations

I sometimes try to post comments on other blogs that seem like they attract a crowd I could possibly relate to, hoping also in this way to draw some attention to my site, but I can't do it. I get halfway through my comment and it occurs to me that I don't know these people, that my comment is not really that important, or does not fit into the dialogue, or is not exciting (I do not know how to be simply aimiable and ingratiating, so my only hope is to go for the spectacular impression, which comes off), so I give it up. The form of the comment is conversation, a direct response to another person, and I just have no feel for that.

I have also been perturbed by some articles I happened to read, some by, and some about a guy I went to high school with and actually spent a lot of time with, though he and I were not exactly friends, who has sort of established himself in the New York writing and film scene, though he is not especially prominent or highly regarded. He has managed to get a couple of films financed and made, though neither of these achieved a wide distribution and the first one at least got pretty brutal reviews (I have not found any reviews of the second one). This guy was a twerp in high school, not well liked, obnoxious, and a very pushing sort of fellow; he doesn't appear to have changed much. I knew him because he had a habit of forcing his company on a couple of friends of mine who were fairly popular who he wanted to get in with, and they being generally good-natured did not dismiss him outright, as he himself certainly would have done to someone in his relative position, though they made fun of him a lot. He despised me especially, I suspect because he regarded me as deadweight in the group who was both of no use to his own plans for social advancement as well as occupying a position of pretty close intimacy with the actual cool guys that he craved and considered he would be able to put to much better uses than I did (which was probably true). I will admit that he was intrepid, if usually frustrated, in his pursuits, and had asked a number of girls out on dates, many of whom had said yes, though these had only been one time deals and nothing, even kisses, had come of them. He did use to boast to me about these dates because I was the only person who geuninely impressed by his feat; the cooler guys had mocked him for taking the girls to the movies and not being able, or even tried to grope their breasts or tongue-kiss them, but I was rather floored that the likes of Melissa S and Erin K, girls of the sort I often thought I might try to talk to someday if I should happen to gain thirty pounds of muscle and made all-league in some sport before graduation, had gotten in a car and sat in a movie theater alone with this dork. Erin K later got a boyfriend at another school who was good at surfing and other aquatic activities, but Melissa S--who had a kind of ethereal, high to late-Victorian (but not pre-Raphaelite) look going on--remained out there roaming dreamily through our halls and eating her apples unmolested in window seats in the back corner of the cafeteria, apparently unappreciated by anyone except for me and my 5'6" bright orange-Jew-fro'ed rival; I could not bring myself to speak to her however. On a somewhat humorous note my enemy who is now a filmmaker always claimed to have gotten laid once by a girl at summer camp, or kibbutz, or whatever it was he went to, in Israel. As you can imagine our cooler friends had a field day with this story, which they did not accept as true for a second, and it was a cause for great sport among all of us.

What made me angry however was that my old schoolmate was very condescending of our hometown (Portland, Maine, for the record), calling it a boring place to grow up and referring to the people in one place as ignorant lunkheads. As to the boring part, compared to most places where teenagers actually have to endure living in America, Portland is not especially boring by any reasonable standing. Manhattan and San Francisco and L.A. and Miami and a few places like that aside, though I know these are the standards by which everyone measures themselves, everyone who is cool thinks their hometown was lame. But then this guy isn't cool. If he had gone to the big suburban high school outside Philadelphia that I went to my first two years he sure as hell wouldn't have been going to the movies with cute girls on the level of Erin K and Melissa S, or going to any parties, or been able to play on the tennis team. From the minute I met him I thought that all the people at this school, and growing up in this town, you buddy, are the luckiest of the bunch. Really, in Philadelphia, somebody would have tossed this joker out of a window. The lunkhead comment was especially unforgivable. Portland is an unusual city in that there is a true mixture of social classes in the high school; however the top 75-100 students in each class must rank among the top 1-2% of all public high schools in the country in terms of academic achievements. This guy was hardly Newton among the illiterate farmers as he seems to like to give out, though I know the people one meets in New York are impressive and serious and all of that and can cloud your perspective, but if this guy is supposed to be an artist, it seems to me he has written off a lot of valuable experience and potentially interesting subject matter as nothing (a movie about Melissa S's secret life would have been ten times more interesting than the nerd chasing New York career girls thing he put out; I would have paid to see it anyway.) Again, compared, to most towns in America, large parts of Portland are old, beautiful, walkable leafy neighborhoods, our school was an elegant, in some ways gorgeous 1924 structure with lots of windows in the middle of one of these picturesque neighborhoods (it is to average public high schools approximately what Wrigley Field is to average baseball stadiums), both the smart and the dumb kids were in truth much more interesting, had more individual personalities, and had better senses of humor, and the smart kids were better and more diversely read, had less anxiety and social pathologies than in typical suburban high schools. I thought overall there were at least as many cute girls, too, after the scruffy New England manner, of course, but no one agrees with me on this.

I should add that another oddity about my relationship to this person is that both of us applied, without conferring with the other beforehand to Columbia University. Needless to say he was accepted, I was not, and the rest is, to this point at least, a very small piece of history. I was not a great candidate, I did not expect to get in, and of course I ended up going to St John's College, where I probably learned more things of a fundamental intellectual nature and had a more heartfelt experience than I would have at Columbia, although I do not seem to have learned how to be really successful in a worldly sense, which everyone seems to learn at these other kinds of colleges, though perhaps this is a quality that cannot really be taught. I thought I compared favorably to this other fellow in several important areas, including certain academic measures, though obviously he was able to impress on them that he had great drive, which clearly I lack, though I did not realize this was an important factor at the time. Indeed, when the announcements came, I had to say, that if this renowned institution, having been able to examine the both of us, really preferred to have him over me (being young and stupid, of course my opinion of my charms and abilities was inflated), there was nothing more to be done, for I would never want to be like him. Yet, he lives in New York, and writes and works in the arts, directs plays and so on for a living, which is like an unfathomable fantasy world now to me, and appears to have a lot of friends there in that community who appreciate him (though it is true he is not married), while I live in complete social and intellectual isolation in the middle of nowhere. So perhaps it is I who have missed the point of everything that is valuable to cultivate in a human mind and personality. The results would certainly seem to suggest that this is so.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Stones of Venice--Part IV

From Volume I, Chapter III ("Torcello"). This was a short chapter, and I only have a few notes on it. Torcello is an island seven miles north of the main islands of Venice that was settled as early, or even earlier, than they were, was home to a small population for close to a thousand years or thereabouts, and then abandoned, leaving a pair of churches, a tower and a few other odd ruins to fall into disrepair. These ruins revealed to Ruskin a character of the sort of human society of which he approved, and did not find anywhere among the men of his own time.

Ruskin calls the view from the top of the campanile "one of the most notable scenes in this wide world of ours." I wrote at the time that it was hard to submit to such claims of greatness without seeing the examples clearly, which evidently I felt I was not doing that day. I may also have been at the moment slightly weary of Ruskin's pronouncements, for he was a great, as well as a severe pronouncer, though I ought to remember that for all that he seems to have felt as if no one was ever really listening to him or understood what he meant, which made him even more furious and despondent. Besides, the scene he is writing about is quite obviously more than ordinarily beautiful and poignant with human meaning, so I do not know what I was being so haughty about.
"And though it may appear, at first sight, that the procedure is indicative of bluntness and rudeness of feeling, we may perceive, upon reflection, that it may also indicate the redundance of power which sets little price upon its own exertion." He is referring here to the marble sculpture work in the church.

"...the exertion of design is so easy to them, and their fertility so inexhaustible..." These fragments of course do not do the chapter justice--it is really a meditation on what are the indicators, as expressed through the arts, of a thriving, properly realized society of men. Artistic endeavor, he says repeatedly through the book, is a proper and natural activity of healthy men, which the modern (19th-century) world has fetishized and deprived the mass of men from any meaningful participation in.

"...whatever ornaments we admit ought clearly to be of a chaste, grave, and noble kind; and what furniture we employ, evidently more for the honoring of God's word than for the ease of the preacher." He is here praising the hard, unadorned but still graceful and eminently serviceable stone pulpit found in the church of Santa Maria Fosca on Torcello (pictured above). He goes on a bit of a rampage, lasting several pages, about overly elaborate and luxurious pulpits, and their inverse relationship to sermons of profound religious feeling and understanding being delivered from them.

I do hope the pictures on this page post, for they give a sense of how truly beautiful this place must be. I had no awareness of it whatsoever when I was in that neighborhood.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Necessary Periodic Self-Indulgence Post: Serious People You Have Been Warned

Most of the time the circumstance that my blog seems to have no, or virtually no, readership does not bother me that much. For whatever reason it amuses me to keep at it, always in the hope of course that something I put up will resonate, or connect, with somebody at some point, but usually content to consider that that point may not come until some time in the future, or that such demands on other people are not reasonable to expect. Occasionally however my mood is a little more despairing and I become for a day or two despondent of the whole enterprise, not merely of writing but of all forms of mental exertion. It is of course not any help to the greater project of life to have such thoughts, let alone specific and peculiar activities of it, but they will insinuate themselves nonetheless. One had thought of writing about an article he saw about a wedding, or a suspicious series of events in the world of professional chess, or about a dream he had (it is boring to read about people's dreams, but in this one I was supposed to be in Minneapolis, Minnesota, a place I have never been, at a sort of writer's conference but with a gift shop cashier I know and the young mother of a kid at my son's kindergarten and they were miffed at me because I found a paper in a library book saying that I had won $35 and was trying to claim it, which was considered gauche) but it occurs to him, on this particular occasion only, that no one is interested to hear his thoughts on such matters, that everyone he might tell it to knows everything he is inclined to think, and is capable of thinking, about them already. Not being habituated to or proficient in other activities, and unable to get away at the moment for a jaunt, one seeks consolation in drink. It would be fun to smoke a few cigarettes too, but that sort of thing really isn't done in the circles to which the subject is currently relegated, for reasons beyond just his personal wimpiness (though some commentators, who apparently don't adhere to any belief in the context of a situation beyond the will or failure of will of each individual actor, will not accept this--they will insist that you must direct all relevant context in your life to serve your personal ends). Perhaps he will find a welcome distraction in various forms of audio-visual media (the sight of any print or "text"--I have always hated that word--making him, temporarily, nauseous); but none of these is any solution to his real dilemma, which is that he cannot really stop himself from writing on his blog, or trying to write his stories, though they consume great portions of his life to no evident or necessary purpose.

What is really setting me off lately is that I have been thinking of publishing my novel, which I finished about 5 years ago and which has been languishing on old hard disks and in a cabinet while multiple advancements in word processing technology have since occurred, on one of the POD sites. I don't have any illusions that anyone in the world is going to buy or read the book this way, but the fact of its still being in my sole possession and not bound or anything seems to be weighing on my ability to move forward, and I like to imagine that if I were able to say it, or a handful of copies of it which, I don't know, I'll dump in the bins of cast-off books they have sometimes at grocery stores or something, exists out in the world, or on the internet, that I will be able to say, "I am done with it", and try to complete something else. It is 773 pages long, all stored on separate files on outmoded disks, and though I have managed to transfer it for the most part onto my new computer, which has OpenOffice, there are a number of things I cannot fix, like getting the page numbers in the proper places, and there are instances of small letters that should be capitalized and paragraph in 10-point instead of the desired 12-point type that I cannot get to change in the saved file no matter how many times I do it. Things like this send people like me very near to the line between being functional and being committed to an asylum. Then the cheap self-publishing sites want you to upload everything on PDFs and set your own margins and all of that--I have a terrible time with these computer things. In short, this process is something that should take a couple of hours and I have been trying to figure out how to do it now for almost a year, and I really don't know what I am going to do at this point. It is quite discouraging. The book anyway is, like most books are, ultimately a failure, but there are some parts in it obviously that I think are good, and worthy of publication, and it is the work--the only work that ever will be, now--of my youth, on which I toiled for many years, and obviously it is very hard for me to let it go.

To anybody who did read this I thank you for bearing with me. After this, the blog should go back to only being mildly despondent. I do feel somewhat better, though I liked the first paragraph better than the second, mostly because I lack the language to write coherently about computers, and this annoys me too.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

The Stones of Venice--Part III

From Volume I, Chapter II: "The Throne":

The first sentence of this chapter is long, but it is pertinent to the major themes of the book:

"In the olden days of travelling, now to return no more, in which distance could not be vanquished without toil, but in which that toil was rewarded, partly by the power of deliberate survey of the countries through which the journey lay, and partly by the happiness of the evening hours, when, from the top of the last hill he had surmounted, the traveller beheld the quiet village where he was to rest scattered among the meadows beside its valley stream; or, from the long-hoped-for turn in the dusty perspective of the causeway, saw, for the first time, the towers of some famed city, faint in the rays of sunset;--hours of peaceful and thoughtful pleasure, for which the rush of the arrival in the railway station is perhaps not always, or to all men, an equivalent,--in those days, I say, when there was something more to be anticipated and remembered in the first aspect of each successive halting-place, than a new arrangement of glass roofing and iron girder, there were few moments of which the recollection was more fondly cherished by the traveller, than that which, as I endeavored to describe in the close of the last chapter, brought him within sight of Venice, as his gondola shot into the open lagoon from the canal of Mestre."

I like 1850s-ish modernity of course--it has had time to be formed, packaged, what have you for my romantic imagination. That said, I also agree with the idea that speed and noise and crowds are not optimal conditions for beautiful and profound thinking, at least for certain types of highly sensitive and easily distractable people--obviously plenty of people have been able to thrive, at least artistically, to some degree in the new conditions. Still, lately I have been moving towards the viewpoint that museums, say, at least as they are used by most people, are not optimal settings in which to place good art, unless one is able to go to the museum repeated times, and to devote at least a couple of hours on every occasion to revisiting various works until they really insinuated themselves permanently into one's consciousness. I suspect when the first public museums opened in the late 18th and 19th centuries that it was anticipated that this was how they would work, and probably it is how they do work still for some people.
In his revisions later in life, Ruskin made many footnotes derogating the silly and foolish sentences he had written as a younger man. I can understand why he did not delete them though; a generally successful work (this does not apply to undisputed world masterpieces, but such works of course are extremely rare) often depends on a certain tone, or attitude, in its thinking, and sometimes to correct the occasional overexuberant or ill-considered thought in the sobriety of older age would be detrimental to the overall effect of the whole.

It is sometimes difficult for me to remember that Ruskin, and other authors who are like him (such as Proust), are not, despite their psychological problems and flirtations with romanticism, really people like me, but come from extremely wealthy and cultured backgrounds, the pervasive mental atmosphere of which would be something entirely foreign to me. While Ruskin makes it pretty clear in his writings that he thinks the elite owe it to the lower orders to create an aesthetic and spiritual environment for them in which their basic human natures are not degraded any more than they need to be, and even founded some institutions (which can still be seen today) which the intention of uplifting the common people, his intention seems to be to make them more pious men, better craftsmen, and so on, within the intellectual limitations that the mass of men are bound by. This is not an unsensible idea on the whole--its assumptions however are a little too off-puttingly aristocratic for me, since I interpret it as unequivocally excluding people like me from getting the full, the high view, the high education, the intellectually wider sense of life, the idea of which has seduced me, and probably not for the proper reasons. As it turns out I haven't gotten these things anyway, and I lack the simple piety and capacity to work nobly and skillfully at some beneficent task which is every man's proper lot.

"...though the noble landscape of approach to her can now be seen no more, or seen only by a glance, as the engine slackens its rushing on the iron line; and though many of her palaces are for ever defaced, and many in desecrated ruins, there is still so much of magic in her aspect, that the hurried traveller, who must leave her before the wonder of that first aspect has been worn away, may still be led to forget the humility of her origin, and to shut his eyes to the depth of her desolation."

"The impotent feelings of romance, so singularly characteristic of this century, may indeed gild, but never save, the remains of those mightier ages to which they are attached like climbing flowers; and they must be torn away from the magnificent fragments, if we would see them as they stood in their own strength."

"No prisoner, whose name is worth remembering, ever crossed that "Bridge of Sighs", which is the centre of the Byronic ideal of Venice; no great merchant of Venice ever saw that Rialto under which the traveller now passes with breathless interest: the statue which Byron makes Faliero address as of one of his great ancestors, was erected to a soldier of fortune a hundred and fifty years after Faliero's death..." O.K., I am sobered--a little. I still think there are worse things in the world than revelling in the Byronic ideal of Venice, especially if you have clearly distinguished it in your mind from the actual, or rather the more solidly demonstrable history. The point however is that this ideal is not merely a fiction, but it is vastly inferior in substance to what it obscures, which is its real crime. This I, perhaps more than most, should know better.

"The remains of their Venice lie hidden behind the cumbrous masses which were the delight of the nation in its dotage; hidden in many a grass-grown court, and silent pathway, and lightless canal, where the slow waves have sapped their foundations for five hundred years, and must soon prevail over them for ever. It must be our task to glean and gather them forth, and restore out of them some faint image of the lost city; more gorgeous a thousandfold than that which now exists, yet not created in the day-dream of the prince, nor by the ostentation of the noble, but built by iron hands and patient hearts, contending against the adversity of nature and the fury of man..."

I will have to remember that I can't steal pictures from the Gutenberg site.

On the unique and fortuitous circumstances of Venice:

"Had deeper currents divided their islands, hostile navies would again and again have reduced the rising city into servitude; had stronger surges beaten their shores, all the richness and refinement of the Venetian architecture must have been exchanged for the walls and bulwarks of an ordinary seaport. Had there been no tide, as in other parts of the Mediterranean, the narrow canals of the city would have become noisome, and the marsh in which it was built pestiferous. Had the tide only been a foot or eighteen inches higher in its rise, the water-access to the doors of the palaces would have been impossible..."

Saturday, July 05, 2008

More Paulette Goddard
This is just a dream sequence of course in the movie, but this is remarkably like breakfast is at my house every day. Surely it cannot, it will not last much longer, will it?
My Goodness, It Worked
I have been trying to figure out for a while how to put a video in the post. I have the video in, now I am trying to write some words. It is a strange kind of typing, the words jump all around the image and all that. Should you type first & put the video in last?
I've been on something of a Charlie Chaplin kick for about the past year. I may write something about that at some point if I have anything to say about it. He was a great ladies' man, of course, and he liked them young. Personally I think he had about the best taste in women of all the great directors. Paulette Goddard (seen here)! What. A. Dreamboat. False eyelashes are truly the most underutilized accessory in the modern girl's bag of tricks. Paulette Goddard is my latest dead movie star love interest. Increasingly I find myself only able to love people who are dead, or who at least haven't been current for a long while. Charlie Chaplin's last wife, Oona (Eugene O'Neill's daughter) was a gorgeous creature too. These are honest-to-God ice cream and Coca-Cola raised American girls too. Now I don't know if I like Paulette Goddard's personality as much as say, Teresa Wright's--I don't think Paulette was much of an actress, certainly she was never going to play Desdemona on the stage--but who cares? (I apologize for the writing here, but it is late, I have wasted at least an hour figuring out how to embed a video--few people I think have been more thoroughly humbled by the ascendancy of computers as I have--and my 'text' is flying all over the page here around this box so I can't see it.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

The Stones of Venice--Part II

From Volume I, Chapter I, "The Quarry":

"Let the reader therefore conceive the existence of the Venetian state as broadly divided into two periods: the first of nine hundred, the second of five hundred years, the separation being marked by what was called the 'Serrar del Consiglio'; that is to say, the final and absolute distinction of the nobles from the commonalty, and the establishment of the government in their hands to the exclusion alike of the people on the one side, and the authority of the Doge on the other." A familiar pattern.

"To him no matter, or to her; the real question is, not so much what names they bore, or with what powers they were entrusted, as how they were trained; how they were made masters of themselves, servants of their country, patient of distress, impatient of dishonour; and what was the true reason of the change from the time when she could find sviours among those she had cast into prison, to that when the voices of her own children commanded her to sign covenant with Death."

"Venice (i.e. Venice circa 1200)is superficially and apparently commercial;--at heart passionately heroic and religious; precisely the reverse of modern England, who is superficially and apparently religious; and at heart, entirely infidel, cowardly, and dishonest."

"There had indeed come a change over Venetian architecture in the fifteenth century; and a change of some importance to us moderns; we English owe to it our St. Paul's Cathedral, and Europe in general owes to it the utter degradation or destruction of her schools of architecture, never since revived."

"This Roman Christian architecture is the exact expression of the Christianity of the time, very fervid and beautiful--but very imperfect; in many respects ignorant, and yet radiant with a strong, childish light of imagination, which flames up under Constantine, illumines all the shores of the Bosphorus and the Aegean and the Adriatic Sea, and then gradually, as the people give themselves up to idolatry, becomes corpse-light."

The physical strength or enervation of nations are often referred to, and how the rising strong absorb in some degree the culture of the lands they have usurped or inherited, which thenceforth live and mutate under the energy of the dominant nation. By physical strength Ruskin means an irresistible energy and will to live in and master the Earthly realm without, in the beginning at least, a blatant intellectual component. It is not the product of technological advantage, nor is it a capacity for mindless and undisciplined violence, but a sense of purpose disseminated through a vast swathe of the people. Though European intellectuals have a hard time comprehending the United States as a nation with any cultural continuity of substance across generations, the United States was practically the definition of a body politic propelled by physical strength leavened with absorbed and mutated culture for at least 300 years; most conservative consternation as regards matters of culture is a reaction to the sense of this physical strength being weakened and the people therefore degraded, and the more intellectual the critic is the more inclined he will be to add, and degraded before we have been able to properly marry the development of our intellects and our bodily vigor at the very highest levels.

"The Ducal Palace of Venice contains the three elements in exactly equal portions--the Roman, Lombard and Arab (see strength above: "...the fierce swords of the Lombard and Arab were shaken over its [the religion of the Roman Empire's] golden paralysis'"). It is the central building of the world." " his intense love of excitement (the Arab) points the arch and writhes it into extravagant foliations; he banishes the animal imagery, an invents an ornamentation of his own (called Arabesque) to replace it." I do not whether this development is related to the Arab's intense love of excitement or not, but I thought it was a nice observation on some basic, but still subtle differences between two schools of art.

"The noblest buildings of the world, the Pisan-Romanesque, Tuscan (Giottesque) Gothic, and Veronese Gothic, are those of the Lombard schools themselves, under its close and direct influence; the various Gothics of the North are the original forms of the architecture which the Lombards brought into Italy, changing under the less direct influence of the Arab." I suspect this is all somehow completely wrong, not that I have any idea what form the truth would take--a serious problem for me--but because all Victorian theories of history seem to be held to be wrong, or at least wildly inaccurate, now.

"I dated (Venice's) decline from the year 1418; Foscari became Doge five years later, and his reign the first marked signs appear in architecture of that mighty change...the change to which London owes St Paul's, Rome St Peter's, Venice and Vicenza the edifices commonly supposed to be their noblest, and Europe in general the degradation of every art she has since practised... This change appears first in a loss of truth and vitality in existing architecture all over the world."

"Gods without power, satyrs without rusticity, nymphs without innocence, men without humanity, gather into idiot groups upon the polluted canvas, and scenic affectations encumber the streets with preposterous marble." One could go on and on for some time with quotes in this vein.

"Claude and the Poussins were weak men, and have had no serious influence on the general mind...they may be left without grave indignation to their poor mission of furnishing drawing- rooms and assisting stranded conversation." I have expressed some affection for Nicolas Poussin elsewhere on this blog. I am not familiar with any of the work of the other painters, though I am sure I would like them too given this description of the sort of mind to which they appeal. Ruskin needless to say was a very unhappy person--life and art only kept getting more depraved and gruesome, to his mind (he lived until 1900), and I think his arguments, while interesting and perhaps containing a morsel of truth in them, are a little extreme. The strength/weakness critique when judging works of art and artists is a valid one, and I can see where Poussin could be said not to project a great deal of strength, in the sense of a true and vivid and undeniable representation of life, in his paintings; but I personally do not require this effect from art, indeed if anything I probably recoil from it and examine it as though it were a trifle, admiring the pretty parts.

"...dominant evils of modern times--over-sophistication and ignorant classicalism; the one destroying the healthfulness of general society, the other rendering our schools and universities useless to a large number of the men who pass through them." The very end result of such a system must be people like me, who imitate over-sophistication and ignorant classicalism more poorly than these other offenders imitated the genuine manifestations of those things.

"I must again refer to the importance which I have above attached to the death of Carlo Zeno and the Doge Tomaso Mocenigo." Who knew? By the way I looked for a picture of either of these gentlemen to put up in this place but I was unable to find any. So I put up Effie instead.

On the law of right: " must enable us to reject all foolish and base work, and to accept all noble and wise work, without reference to style or national feeling; that it must sanction the design of all truly great nations and times, Gothic or Greek or Arab; that it must cast off and reprobate the design of all foolish nations and times, Chinese or Mexican or Modern European; and that it must be easily applicable to all possible architectural inventions of human mind." Obviously I cannot reasonably claim to appreciate Ruskin and still link to Youtube clips of American movie stars and pop songs. The two states of activity are not reconcilable. I am not sure what Ruskin's reasons are for considering China and (presumably pre-Columbian) Mexico to be foolish nations. He probably thought they did not properly understand their gods, or otherwise were lacking in the physical strength that gives art the sort of power he liked.