May 1995. Mission accomplished.
The Ernst Robert Curtius Society. The Walter Benjamin Society.
Two imaginary literary endeavors the potential fruits of which. . . But as usual, it is for me a matter of two figures I much admire who are supposed to stand in stark opposition to one another.
I am always pitting such "opposites" together like this, and then projecting in my mind how one, then the other, approach at the level of writing what is the essential for me. Here it is a matter of projecting the imaginary work of two different societies: two different societies that, ideally, would overlap each other in the same manner the stages of the development of Rome overlap each other in the metaphor erected by Freud in Civilization and its Discontents.
Not an intellectual, but a scribe.
Not an intellectual, nothing quite so glorious. No program.
Rimbaud will be exiled to Cyberia. It is there that his legacy will be played out.
Mallarmé's Tombeaux for Poe and Baudelaire appear to be written more than anything under the aegis of the latter's brief biography of Poe and his epigraph from Gautier at the head of this biography.
"Celui qui veut aller à Dieu sans passer par le Christ qui est 'le chemin,' celui-là va au Diable, disait énergiquement Luther." --de Rougemont
Et celui qui veut reçevoir la grâce de Dieu sans passer par son Église qui est le chemin de cette grâce, celui-là va à Luther, dit énergiquement le Diable.
"On a coutume de déclarer inexplicable le succès prodigieux de l'Astrée." --de Rougemont
Cette phrase est d'un genre que l'on rencontre souvent quand il s'agit des grands succès du 17e siècle. Et pour raison: ce "grand siècle" français nous parait comme une pays impossible peuplé de poupées ridicules. Et pour raison. . .
Je pense comme une fille enlêve sa robe. --BatailleMOI: J'enlêve des robes des filles comme Bataille, d'habitude, pensait.
BATAILLE (là, dans ma chambre): Hah! Et vous pensez comme Simone Weil enlêve sa robe à elle!
BATAILLE: C'est-à-dire à peine, monsieur, à peine.
MOI: Vous avez raison. Peut-être. Néanmoins, j'écris comme Benjamin.
BATAILLE (pensif): Benjamin, le pauvre. C'est un esprit d'ange. C'est lui, la vraie pierre angélique. (Et Bataille, il n'est plus là.)
de Rougemont, p. 202.
The necessity of formulating toute une doctrine: "une action, une mise en ordre, une purification." I have known this necessity already, and have done much, perhaps the essential, in the Testament. My work hereafter should be but an elaboration and strengthening of this blueprint, a reading of it in the form of study and writing in its margins.
Certain figures fall in my estimation. It is perhaps strange that although I recognize in Nietzsche and Bataille the most stunning insight, the most impressive intellectual powers, I have for some time sensed in the former a kind of immaturity, and now sense in the latter a kind of irrelevant hypocrisy that only becomes more and more annoying as one studies him. How this great admiration of mine for the powers of these two writers (admirare) is to be reconciled with the fact that, in some more significant manner, I look down on them as evident products of ressentiment (!), how these can be reconciled I do not know.
Why should I attribute the deafness of Nietzsche and Bataille to ressentiment? This requires elaboration.
The phenomenology of the Chinese world.
That the Chinese do not feel the world is coming to an end, as so many Westerners do.
[. . .] house and home? My own distress in this face of this situation is probably partly responsible for these misanthropic fantasies. I imagine a careful realist who can represent, and thus somehow master, the city's ruin.
The hotels in which one can take a room for two-hours. I find this a mark of civilization. I believe it's illegal in the States for hotels to offer rooms for less than 24-hours. The stiff idiocy of triumphant Protestantism.
Swift on clers et secula: ". . .[whether these bishops] had never been compliers with the times while they were common priests, or slavish prostitute chaplains to some nobleman, whose opinions they continued servilely to follow after they were admitted into that assembly." (104)
The King of Brobdingnag on the British: "I cannot but conclude the bulk of your natives to be the most pernicious race of little odious vermin that nature ever suffered to crawl upon the surface of the earth." (107)
Does one find such dense and rhythmic fury before the early modern period? If one does not, is it perhaps a sign of our modern shallowness?
The conte philosophique: from 1) intellectual conundrum to 2) objective correlative to 3) writing.
Gulliver's Travels, III, v. The Grand Academy of Lagado. Satire after my own heart! Swift's work gets more impressive as it progresses. Can it reach any higher than this intellectual summit of Laputa?
Master Ah-Ming's Southern Estate, on the outskirts of Kaohsiung. I always end up in places like this. The structure seems somehow suspended in air, it looks more than anything like a huge and dilapidated cement houseboat. Our host, Ching-Ling's friend, is around sixty, and has a perfectly straight white beard hanging loosely from his chin. Ah-Ming's shrimp ponds are visible from the back of the mansion, and cover four or five acres.
Upon arrival, we are all invited to be seated, Ah-Ming cuts up a watermelon for us, then he positions himself at the first of the four organs, playing with great feeling a magnificent protestant hymn. The heat is stifling, there are four revolving fans on the ceiling, dozens of lizards scampering about the walls, and at least a hundred chickens rummaging through the chaotic gardens visible through huge open windows. In this setting, it is hard for me to describe the impression of these staid protestant hymns droning forth from the organs as if they were lamenting their exile from some Norwegian Lutheran church in Minnesota. The word wacky comes to mind, or the word crackpot, and the sentence: "I always end up in places like this."
At the end of each hymn drone the two long and familiar notes of the protestant Aaa-aa-ahhh-men-nn-nn, and these two notes, drifting out the windows and wrapping themselves round the palms, seem the most incongruous of all. Tired from the ride, I can only hear them as Aaa-aa-ahhh-Mingggg. With the heat and the rest of it, I feel I am beginning to go crazy.
Later I realize that this reaction is clearly based on my own naïveté. In fact nothing is more characteristic of the fruits of missionary work than this tropical scene I suddenly entered. It is just that I had never experienced tropical Calvinism first-hand. Even in the most sweltering climes, the early protestant missionaries clung to their salted European food, their thick European clothing, and this dour musical genre, bringing along with them, whenever possible, the cumbersome instruments on which it was played. Though nominally iconoclastic when it came to much of the Church's art, they demonstrated nevertheless a dogged fetishism when it came to these particular accoutrements of European life and faith: as if the black coat, or dried and salted meat, were objects necessary to the glory of the cult. The early protestant missionaries were not likely to undertake anything like the Jesuit Matteo Ricci's strategy of cultural mélange: they would not put on Chinese clothes or try to become Chinese so as to convey the Word. Better to die of sunstroke clutching an English Bible to one's breast!
After finishing several hymns, Ah-Ming begins to discourse in Taiwanese upon his philosophy of music. Music is a metaphysical language more powerful than speech. It addresses itself directly to the heart and carries the heart where mere discourse cannot take it. For Ah-Ming, music is a representation of life lived in faith.
Though I don't know traditional Chinese music theory, all of this seems particularly European, most particularly Romantic in fact.
Later in the evening, Ah-Ming took us out to his shrimp ponds to explain the trade, netting us a handful of shrimp fry and demonstrating a little blue and yellow "feeding boat" that cruises around one of the ponds, mechanically spraying food out of its sides according to a set timing device.
Ah-Ming is an excellent host. After the shrimp pond tour, we all cleaned up and he sent us in a taxi to the best seafood restaurant in the area, himself following behind on a motorbike. At the restaurant, where he is well known, he spent some time at the counter ordering dishes. The staff did its work with consummate speed and accuracy, and we were served an endless succession of dishes each more succulent than the last, all of it prepared from the freshest seafood, much of which was still swimming around its tank when we arrived. There was squid, sashemi, patties of fried fish roe, soups with fish, shrimp and crab. There were mussels, pork kidneys, escargot, fresh bamboo, and more. We found later than the meal was surprisingly cheap (given what we had consumed), but that our host had still spent almost $100 on us.
Ah-Ming apparently spends his money only on what gives him pleasure. As a good Taiwanese, he places good eating among the highest priorities. His garden is another of these priorities. Maintaining his mansion, however, is not. The whole of it is hopelessly dilapidated, and many of the rooms are cluttered beyond use, except, that is, for the use the chickens put them to as fine roosting territory. While I am here, I do not even intend to look in the basement, the floor of which is below the level of the ponds. Ah-Ming's windows are always open, there are no screens, and sparrows and bats fly in and out regularly, as do his dozen or so pet songbirds which come and go from their open cages. The varnish is wearing off on the plank floors, which warp here and there from exposure to water. A rather serious bees-nest is situated in the wall just behind the sink where we do the dishes.
Ah-Ming explains all of this with a smile: "Ahh! I've lived the single life for some years now."
The minute the sun dips below the horizon, the bats begin their careening around. And really, they must get quite hungry hanging upside down in the dark all day. Which gives me an idea for a new diet book.
In a characteristic gesture, Ah-Ming said that he would have five of the chickens caught and prepared for tonight's meal. This would mean one chicken for each of us. I don't know if this meal is going to come about. We'll see. But our host doesn't seem to be one not to carry out such an offer.
During the first hours of darkness, when the lights go on, lizards climb up and cover the powder-blue ceiling. They gobble up the insects attracted by the lights. At 8:30, there are perhaps seventy-five of them. But by 11:00, they have dropped in number to perhaps thirty, the rest having crawled back down to the nooks and crannies they came from. What seems to have happened is that by 10:00 or so the majority have gotten their fill of gnats and whatnot, and are now going to retire, calling it a day.
Missing the labyrinth already. --I'm reading Roberto Calasso's book on Greek religion. Though I was nearly ravished by the first fifty pages, I am sad to say that his arguments seem to get more and more gratuitous as the book moves on. The fall (with Greece as with Calasso's book) seems to come with the introduction of theory into the weave of things. All the facility of structuralist mythography starts spinning its wheels with the discussion of the Iliad. Rather troubling to see such a promising work drift into fast-paced, speculative typing, if that is what is happening here.
My other reading so far this summer: L'Amour et l'Occident, Hollier's book on Bataille, Baudelaire's essays on Poe, most of Poe's tales, Gulliver's Travels, and an irritating little book of art history called Sayonara Michelangelo.
The doctrine of the "natural goodness" of man is clearly among the early modern doctrines most to be blamed for the horrors of our century.
The satyr to Dionysos: "The only cure for the stings of love are the stings of a new love."
I have to face the fact that my work, culminating already in the Testament, weaves tightly together what is a very difficult mix of elements, among them my theological understanding of our existence, my understanding of the importance of writing, and my academic training in modern European thought. These are merely the basic elements, ignoring the voice which demands that they clash and meld together. Because of that voice, this culmination is for me a religion, after which there is no question of choosing to proceed with the study of any one of its elements to the neglect of any other. The weave of these elements is not simply a juxtaposition, but is something more perilous and luminous, a body that came forth from the flames. How could I now merely discourse about this body? I cannot, and should not try. Rather I should try to live according to this religion, as something opaque in itself, as if it were itself a doctrine whose mysteries I only partially know. Because in this doctrine the essential has already been vouchsafed to me.
We have been moving about, staying with friends. Nanto, Pou-Li, now Yuen-Lin. All cities situated around the same group of mountains.
At times I am overcome by a sentence like the one that hit me in the street this evening: I love this dismal place. And: I will always miss it when I am away. I immediately felt that the word dismal was not on the mark. For instance: East Berlin was dismal. The tangles of traffic and rubble, the heat and noise, do not quite make Taiwan dismal. Which is a wonder.
I love this dismal place. Such sentences do not come to me in Taipei. Perhaps because Taipei is nearly dismal.
I have already remarked that the Chinese do not seem to feel that the end of the world is coming. In general they seem to be content to live as well as they can on the surface of things. Which may not imply a criticism of the Chinese. Which may not even be a suggestion that they are epistemologically naïve compared to Westerners. The contrary may be true. In any case, those who live on the surface of things have a certain tenacity about them.
I oughtn't refer to this body that came forth from the flames as a doctrine. I know it to be rather--at least regards myself--a dispensation. The inauguration of a dispensation that needs to be worked out. This working out: writing; study; bringing my joy to others.
"Patient and erudite, Plutarch answered the question that he himself put: 'Who was Carila in Delphi?'"
A nightmare this morning. Somehow I had forgotten to leave the French department, and there I was, standing before my own section, having already taught the first week or so. Then I was outside, walking. A paper was due for Douglas Kelly, a paper I hadn't quite begun. The image of a few half-written paragraphs on a computer screen. In the place I was walking the ground was all torn up: a construction site.
That pathetic American phenomenologeme: that nothing has actually happened unless it makes it into the papers.
Interesting that Calasso's book begins to shimmer again when he leaves the Iliad.
Georges and Simone. A book of these two thinkers as they invade my thought. A long-term work.
The fragments begin as if lectures on their thought.
It is my family's wealth that has allowed me, in some measure, these researches. This is not to say that I have depended on it completely.
My family did not really approve of a life of thought and writing. There is nothing out of the ordinary in that, for they are, in a modest way, part of the bourgeoisie.
Nothing out of the ordinary, either, in the fact that they could not really articulate their disapproval according to some ethic appropriate to them, according to some philosophy. For in the particular class to which my family belongs, there is wealth with its attendant diversions, and non-wealth with its attendant stigma of failure. There is little articulation of anything beyond this dichotomy. And this dichotomy itself needn't be articulated, as it is signified everywhere one looks.
The idea of wise living, as a category of thought or endeavor, does not even exist in their heads. One is simply to waddle along, acquiring goods, gadgets, and prestige. And no one even bothers to defend this manner of living, which is taken to be self-evident. Even an infant will reach out to grab shiny and colorful things.
Principle of the book. One is not to present oneself, with one's concerns for this kind of work, as a neurotic outcast, a special case of bohemia. I am as healthy as the next man, if not more so. Which is to say? Which is to say: I am troubled, I am always on the verge of overflowing what I have learned are the prescribed limits of things, I feel I am the result of a formula, and that many other formulae are possible, certainly many that would overflow the limits in ways that are just the ways I intend.
[. . .]
Those close to Lycurgus (everyone and no-one) exclaim in exasperated whispers: What is to be done?
Inevitably a cover-up was the only possible course of action. This cover-up (along with the evident anachronism of the whole episode) is the reason we find no mention of the affair either in Herodotus or Plutarch.
The text of Lycurgus' Proust survived for some time, however, and a stylistic analysis by the little read late antique rhetorician [his name escapes me at the moment] reveals that Lycurgus would normally break up Proust's long French sentences with seven or eight Spartan sentences.
Noble and enviable laconism! Today we can only imagine what it was like to read this work.
Curiosity: desire for desire.
The question of the value of continuing the work Freud began.
"One is on the democratic left. Where else can one be?"
The acts of analysis, elaboration, play.
Literature is seen as a constant rescue operation.
A writer like Poe becomes a case of neurosis, to be cured. And the elements of that which the Poet revealed to us, they are each assigned their place under the tendentious gaze of the analyst. Tendentious? Why yes: for everything is on the way to a cure. The question of whether psychoanalysis is not inimical to literature.
Rand would read Poe's texts as first approaches toward a cure, as cries in the direction of a cure. Thus the place of the psychoanalytic critic: he is there to finish the work.
The question of whether or not psychoanalysis is not actually a new genre of literature.
Always remember the story of Mark, who eventually became a bicycle repair man. I knew him my first year in college. He had dropped out because of an existential crisis, or because of psychological problems. He didn't want to do anything. In fact, more than anyone I knew, he didn't want to do anything at all.
Mark's parents were on his case, "very concerned," and he didn't know how to tell his mother how dismal the world looked to him. He told her if she wanted to understand him, she should read Camus' The Stranger. And she did.
Soon after his mother calls him, hysterical, and his father is on the phone too, yelling at him. How could he do such a thing? They'd always treated him so well! How could he be so blatantly cruel to his mother?
Mark protested. He didn't know what their problem was. Finally his father read him the first few lines of the book: "Mother died today. Or maybe it was yesterday. I don't remember any more."
The father summarized: Obviously Mark wanted his mother off his back: he didn't even mind it if she died!
There was no escaping it now: Mark finally had to admit that he had never read The Stranger. Someone had told him about it, and he had gotten the impression that the book presented the same ideas he himself had. And this is perhaps true. For just as the mature Meursault would probably not have bothered to read The Stranger, neither did Mark.
Mark's father--mainly unhappy, I suppose, that he had had to put up with his wife's outburst--was doubly angered by his son's confession that he had never even read the book. After all, Mark had claimed his case was so hard to understand. He had put on airs. He thought he could play the intellectual based on half a semester of college. And he had claimed that this novel was the key to understanding him.
"At least," his father concluded, "at least when your aunt told you that reading the Bible could help bring you out of this state you're in--at least she was suggesting you read something she had taken the trouble to read herself!"
Hollier (157): "All of Bataille's reading of Hegel takes as its main line that the subject and knowledge are mutually exclusive."
The thick drape that has fallen over them. They cannot see through it. Only in certain times and places a tiny glimmer or spark of light. Their fatigue and confusion tell them they suffocate. Yet they cannot see the drape that has fallen over them. It has been there too long--they find it the normal state of things--it is thus invisible.
Only a glimpse of the sparks, followed by thought, can bring the drape into relief. But on the eyes of most this drape has come to weigh so heavily, they are so distracted in its darkness, how shall we get them to see what flickers so rarely through its weave?
Meph. I'll fetch him somewhat to delight his mind. (Dr. Faustus: II.i.82)
A fine epigraph for an age of diversion.
Interesting the nature of Faustus' desires: always to see, to see, to see. He would be a great traveler, and he would have his name admired. Rather modern.
The idea that one would fulfill one's lust by spending a day verifying mapmakers' work! Rather than indulge in them, he gets to see a morality play of the Seven Deadly Sins. Theorein. Marlowe's Faustus is a damned scholar indeed!
Reading Marlowe one appreciates all the more Shakespeare's genius for structure.
Faust. . . . I do repent and yet I do despair:
Hell strives with grace for conquest in my breast. (V.i.69-70)
In these lines, to repent is to have hope, whereas to despair is the path to hell. Admirable orthodoxy.
Meph. Thou traitor, Faustus . . .Yes, he who has hope is a traitor to hell. For hope is linked to faith.
Thus the danger orthodoxy sees in the via negativa. For on certain of its bypaths hope itself is abandoned.
Meph. ¬Therefore despair, think thou only upon hell . . . (V.ii.86)--.
Skelton becomes rector of the parish church at Dis. Oh, how fine!
My experience confirms what I felt some years ago concerning the "dull mugs" of my contemporaries. These dull mugs signify a lack of courage in the face of the world, a craven pragmatism.
I had wanted to read Tristram Shandy as well this summer. Ching-Ling has taken out a copy for me from the library at Tai-Da. But I haven't gotten it yet, and soon may be leaving.
On this visit I see for the first time in Taiwan a gay couple walking arm-in-arm through the night market. And a lesbian couple in one of the malls. Another male couple, eating dinner and, somehow, not concealing the signs of their homosexuality. Interesting how, suddenly, homosexuality is out and about here.
I remember when I was twelve looking through a catalogue of insects I had ordered. I was interested particularly in the large, exotic beetles, most of which came form a place far away, somewhere in the jungles of who-knows-where, a place called Formosa. I could order preserved specimens of these beetles for a price well beyond my allowance. One that I desired particularly was called, if I remember correctly, the Formosa Stag Beetle.
Now I am actually in Formosa. It is one of those dear ironies of growing up (and perhaps of the exotic as well) that I could now buy all the beetles I like, but that I no longer would know what to do with them.
I was recently in the mountains, by Sun-Moon Lake, and a shopkeeper had a terrarium full of Formosa Stag Beetles. I watched them battle each other, and asked
[. . .] After it, Curtius offers us Goethe as a stepping stone, as a possible link. What does this leave for us? It leaves us the possibility of living in this tradition, or the possibility of default.
But of course Curtius' view represents, already, a rather historicist manner of thinking. For the great writers who wrote between 1050 and 1750 were certainly not doing so in order to "preserve Western civilization." They were writing according to the accepted ideas of what was the true, the just, the Eternal. If Curtius would have us write in this tradition, he should demonstrate that, in fact, the traditional texts offer the most profound literary examinations of our experience as such.
Would we say that Curtius engages in a kind of "identity politics"? Does one who would study and valorize the origins of "our world" practice an identity politics? Where so much is put in terms of "the bases of," "the origins of," "the roots of"?
I am not one to suggest there is anything wrong with Curtius' conservatism. One senses a kind of radiant health in it. Curtius doesn't have to demonstrate anything for my sake. My questioning is along the following lines: Would there be a better way than his of going about this conservative polemic?
The case of Chaucer. A full involvement in the life of all classes of men, yet a detachment from faith in any particular class. He can write as a "bourgeois realist" and he can write in the high rhetoric of courtly love. He was ever busy in the world, here and there. He cultivated a talent for diplomacy.
Chaucer is certainly a fine model for a writer to follow.
The exemplary mood of Swift's Christianity, his Christian polemics.
The place of antique literature in Christian culture. The harmonistics of Calderón "in the sense of" the Christian Gnosticism of Clement of Alexandria. (Curtius, 244)
Against the Catholic poetry of Spanish "Baroque," we have "Italy, cramped by classicistic preoccupations, and France, infected with Jansenism." (245)
Gravity: "A mysterious carriage of the body to cover the defects of the mind." --Sterne quoting La Rochefoucauld.
I'm forced to recognize that much of my work exudes the tone so typical of contemporary writing, that tone which could easily be called cocky. What's unfortunate about this is that I myself am annoyed by this tone almost wherever I encounter it--and encounter it I do, everywhere.
Over the past few years I've begun to feel that this tone, this particular cocky tone, is something we need to escape from under. Because it has come to weigh upon us like a curse, or rather like the special sign that we are cursed. If one were to rewrite the Inferno now, one would have to add a special circle for the terminally ironic. But what would the punishment be?
One of Saíz's maxims, one that always returns to my consciousness, seems to remark this same predicament: "Irony is destiny."
Sterne's wonderful novel!
Everything about this work is congenial. I feel I am now in that privileged position of not yet having finished my first reading of it. And there are only so many works that can make one feel this way.
He gives me, under the heading, I would say, of vive la Bagatelle!, the following sentence: "his judgment, at length, became the dupe of his wit." So far--I am only at I, xix.--this most congenial formula characterizes no less than three of the work's major personages: Yorick, Shandy's father, and the narrator. A sign of its irresistibility for that magnanimous spirit Sterne.
And: "Digressions, incontestably, are the sunshine . . ."
"Jason was old now, shunned by everybody. People told his adventures to their children, with the result that he couldn't find anyone to tell them to himself." (Calasso, 334)
II, iii. --At this chapter--tsk, tsk--Ching-Ling takes back the novel: she must return it to that furnace of a library.
Worse than a special circle for the terminally . . .
The Homeric perception of what comes after death: "Not another life, and not even a punishment for their lives, but an enervated and delerious physiology, which stops short of life."
This is ghosthood, the lost state of one who has not known God, who has not been seized by his Word, who knows no communion with the source of that Word--the source-beyond-all-appearance.
This is also the ghosthood of those who in life had been "lukewarm"--those mentioned in Revelation. Those who had been lukewarm and were "spat out"--that is to say left in their ghosthood.
What, then, does this Homeric perception mean?
The Romans and the historical sense: "Does not precisely this pious [Roman] treasuring of the past exclude a historical view of the world?" (Curtius, 252, note)
Here in the middle of this reading on the "Ancients" and the "Moderns," in this Taipei café, I look up to see the name "Homer" placed as trademark on the grill of one of those omnipresent blue trucks. As Harry Levin testifies for Curtius' book itself: "an eloquent testimonial to the continuity of Western culture."
Blue--not quite "wine-dark"--but blue: that quintessentially Greek color.
Thalatta-ta-ta-ta-ta- - -
"The public will read only 'ancient' poets, Horace complains." (235)
For the Middle Ages, the Christian Revelation and the Fathers belong to Antiquity. Thus the "dividing line" was not placed at 1BC.
The formula from the Catalogue of Women: "Or like she who . . ."
Could be used in Exemplary Lives.
One way the spell may be broken. The beautiful patroness of the café in which I spend some of my afternoons. She is part--only part--of the reason I go there, and my eyes often watch her as she goes about her work. But then, today, a man shows up whom I don't notice at first. In fact I don't notice him until he answers the phone, thus brining attention to himself as someone connected with the café. Then I see--as he turns toward me--that he has the same face as the patroness. But he is ugly; he is frail; he is even a bit hunchbacked. It seems the man is her brother!
The reflection of the sister's face in his is uncanny. It immediately breaks the spell of her beauty, which suddenly seems as though it had always been only the most meager of spells in any case.
Such a sudden evaporation of beauty can only push one to questioning. What was her beauty to begin with that it can be so swiftly dissipated by a bad copy?
And there is an attendant observation, which may lead one toward a fine question for Socrates, or a paradox at least. As for this brother, even if he is four years older than the sister, he naturally will take on in my mind the character that a parody takes on in relation to its original. Thus he inevitably arrives second: he could not have been in existence first. He is the nasty and tendentious parody that breaks the spell of the original.
Calasso's dogged insistence on the fleeting, on betrayal, on the transitoriness of things. These are that which is Greek. He grinds it into the reader.
He throws all of them against Christian culture as so many reproaches.
"For us a temple is not a house; it is a construction site. For us religion is ever incomplete. In a way, our worship is our attempt to complete it. Of course we realize we are getting no closer to completing our religion, and all we can say with any confidence is that in our attempting to do so, we know we are in some way closer to doing so--to actually completing our religion--than if we were not to attempt it at all. This is because our attempts bring us ever up against incompletion and lack--this horrible incompletion we face. And isn't this knowledge of incompletion that we have--isn't it a step toward the work of completion? I call it a work. Maybe that isn't right. But isn't it us especially who realize the necessity of this work?
"If you think there is a kind of hilarity in this incompletion--I did notice you laughing during the rites--so be it. We know that our divinity is one who laughs, and we think that he even laughs mostly at us. I see you are laughing again. Well . . . Perhaps you should consider joining us. Yes, I've thought it for some time.
"You haven't seen everything today--that's for sure. Don't think you have. And we know many hilarious stories about the history of our religion, stories that are much funnier than I am. But of course we can only tell these stories to initiates, those who've reached a certain point. So you can put away your notebook. We don't want just anyone laughing at us, you know.
"That I've told you this much shows I have faith in you. You seem to be a good sort. I tell you what I'll do . . ."
Baudelaire's wounded and whimpering pride, his touchy arrogance. His is the arrogance that feels always compelled to explain the bases of its claims, to snub in a manner clear enough for any "educated reader" to understand. Flaubert, more essentially aristocratic, wasn't interested in this kind of thing. Who is he trying so hard to convince? It is as if he were writing: "You don't understand me. Yes, you, Sir! Pay close attention, and I will explain the nature of my superiority to you." Baudelaire's ivory tower flies a flag.
Baudelaire's admirable description of Delacroix the man (section IV).
The Cosmo texts, though part of the Testament, are nonetheless a kind of allegorization of what is essential in it. They are a celebration of the essential. This is to say? This is to say that my good fortune in meeting Cosmo di Madison gave me the possibility of writing a kind of menippean celebration of what was my greater fortune in suddenly knowing the presence of God.
Many "religious" people would find this strange. They would say that laughter is not a manner in which to celebrate God's grandeur. They would insist that satire is not the proper genre. I should be singing hymns.
Tant pis! I am humorous at heart, and I have always felt that laughter--at least the kind of laughter I love--was indicative of magnanimity. And such magnanimity--is it not more appropriate to the grandeur of God--to the celebration of this grandeur--than the kind of stiff gravity one associates with these "religious" people?
"A mysterious carriage of the body . . ."
On our flight out, I can see Taipei through the smog, and I try to locate the Grand Hotel--somewhere near the mountains to the East of the city--but cannot. Then with my eyes I follow the highway to Keelung, Ya-Pei's home, and finally, as we increase in altitude, I can see less and less clearly through the haze. The last thing I see of Taiwan is that small island of rock visible from Cho-Fen, the gold-mining community in the northeast.