Monday, July 14, 2008

mon 14 july 08: cleaning, cookies, genocide

today i interspersed my house-cleaning and baking cookies with continuing to read philip gourevitch's we wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families, an account of the rwandan genocide of 1959-1996. (it's inadequate to simply write 1994, which marked the height--but not the extent--of the extermination campaign.) i started reading when i woke up, with my fuzzy morning brain, and picked it up again during breaks--lunch, while waiting for a mopped floor to dry, etc. it was an uncomfortable feeling, attending to this solidly middle class life of scented candles, carpet refresher, & houseplants while reading about a boy who carried a double bed on his head as he fled his native land, or a woman who lost her entire family to a man and his machete, only to find the killer return from exile to inhabit next-door. (303 "A certain Girumuhatse is back") a chief in the resistance who operates from his 'office' of a gazebo covered with UN plastic sheeting: "'Truly, he said, 'the Hutus want to exterminate all the Tutsis.' His own people, too where having a hard time protecting themselves: their fighters included boys of six and seven, and their arsenal consisted largely of spears, bows, and arrows, and homemade rifles that fired nails. 'It's not an automatic,' the Mwami said of such a gun, 'but it kills.'" (288) not cognitive dissonance proper, no, but it gave me an unsettled pause nonetheless.

middle-class frivolities abounded later this evening, when i started baking vegan chocolate chip cookies for my boyfriend and his roommate arthur. for brian's i bought a special bar of fair-trade chocolate--he admirably rejects the blood variety (learn more here)--and used fair-trade dark brown sugar. i spent at least an hour reading and researching recipes and the results, thus far, have been divine. i'm letting the cookies rest in the fridge for 12, 24 hours and then sprinkling the tops with sea salt--this may be my new "secret". the cookies are a bit overly sweet (even with 70 per cent chocolate) so the salt should counterbalance. sweet + salty is ne'er a miss, though, from normandy's savoury sablé to french fries dipped in wendy's frosties.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

sat 12 july 08: jamie stewart

jamie stewart, lead singer of my favorite band xiu xiu, keeps a blog at http://xiuxiu.org/ that i visit not infrequently. today i enjoyed this bit:

(I already typed this once, but I accidentally pulled the plug out of
my ancient laptop whilst chasing a moth around my bedroom and now I
can't really remember what I said... maybe the moth was sent to
prevent me from making an idiot of myself via the internet ((again??))
It happens too much. The Moth is dead now and I am full of guilt!)

and

favorite device that makes sound is probably my viola ...
my favorite creatures what make sound are my cats. my cat Nani meeps and mews to wake me up in the morning and purrs near face before we fall asleep. Osgrr, cat #2, barks and quacks - he is a supreme weirdo cat.
my favorite place is the house i live in and the thugs that live in it - they both collectively and respectively all make such good noisy conversational music.

My favorite thing that makes sound was my cat Harry, he was a talker and would meow perpetually until he was fed or got attention. This ment he doubled as a great alarm clock and sometimes as a good excuse to get out of a two hour phone call from aunt Mildred. Alas he died last month so I had to buy a real alarm clock, the alarm clock's shit at keeping me warm and loving me though thus far.

Friday, July 11, 2008

fri 11 july 08: italo calvino

"dream-like story-telling at the twilight of an empire" advertises the back cover enticingly. though a short work--only 165 pages--calvino's invisible cities took me an awfully long time to finish because

one, i kept falling asleep while reading it--curiously enough, the young venetian traveller polo's fantastical stories seem to invite the reader to set the book aside to succumb to one's own reveries and oh, i am weak-willed

two, i had to look up a lot of words--astrolabes, halberds, chrysophrase, chalcedony, windlasses, norias, cuirass, barracans, & so on & so forth

three, i simply started to feel as though i was disrespecting the book by trying to read it quickly. this goes with pt 1, regarding the mood of the book. the stories are told in khan's garden, where polo and the emperor spend much of their time reclining on pillows smoking long amber pipes. the prose beseeches you to slow down and luxuriate with them from your own couchant position, to savor polo's stories and linger over them, to digest at a depressed rate, as through an opium-cloud. not only irreverent to rush through it, then, but damned near impossible.

from invisible cities:

Finally the journey leads to the city of Tamara. You penetrate it along streets thick with signboards jutting from the walls. The eye does not see things but images of things that mean other things: pincers point out the tooth-drawer's house; a tankard, the tavern; halberds, the barracks; scales, the grocer's. Statues and shields depict lions, dolphins, towers, stars: a sign that something--who knows what?--has as its sign a lion or a dolphin or a tower or a star. Other signals warn of what is forbidden in a given place (to enter the alley with wagons, to urinate behind the kiosk, to fish with your pole from the bridge) and what is allowed (watering zebras, playing bowls, burning relatives' corpses). From the doors of the temples the gods' statues are seen, each portrayed with his attributes--so that the worshipper can recognise them and address his prayers correctly. (13)

This city which cannot be expunged from the mind is like an armature, a honeycomb in whose cells each of us can place the things he wants to remember: names of famous men, virtues, numbers, vegetable and mineral classifications, dates of battles, constellations, parts of speech. Between each idea and each point of the itinerary an affinity or a contrast can be established, serving as an immediate aid to memory. So the world's most learned men are those who have memorized Zora. (15)

Travelers return from the city of Zirma with distinct memories: a blind black man shouting in a crowd, a lunatic teetering on a skyscraper's cornice, a girl walking a puma on a leash. Actually man of the blind men who tap their canes on Zirma's cobblestones are black; in every skyscraper there is someone going mad; all lunatics spend hours on cornices; there is no puma that some girl does not raise, as a whim. The city is redundant: it repeats itself so that something will stick in the mind. (19)

Newly arrived and totally ignorant of the Levantine languages, Marco Polo could express himself only with gestures, leaps, cries of wonder and horror, animal barkings or hootings, or with objects he took from his knapsack-ostrich plumes, pea-shooters, quartzes--which he arranged in front of himself like chessmen. (21)

CITIES AND EYES (3)
After a seven days' march through woodland, the traveler directed toward Baucis cannot see the city and yet he has arrived. The slender stilts that rise from the ground at a great distance from one another and are lost above the clouds support the city. You climb them with ladders. On the ground the inhabitants rarely show themselves: having already everything they need up there, they prefer not to come down. Nothing of the city touches the earth except those long flamingo legs on which it rests and, when the days are sunny, a pierced, angular shadow that falls on the foliage.
There are three hypotheses about the inhabitants of Baucis: that they hate the earth; that they respect it so much they avoid all contact; that they love it as it was before they existed and with spyglasses and telescopes aimed downward they never tire of examining it, leaf by leaf, stone by stone, ant by ant, contemplating with fascination their own absence. (77)

POLO: perhaps all that is left of the world is a wasteland covered with rubbish heaps, and the hanging garden of the Great Khan's place. It is our eyelids that separate them, but we cannot know which is inside and which outside. (104)

***

i'm working on COSMICOMICS now, also beautiful and slow-going.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

weds 9 july 5:19pm

Natasha was walking along the very edge of the water, so that the childsize waves of the lake plashed up to her feet. Somewhere beyond the woods a train passed, as if it were travelling along a musical string, and both of them stopped to listen. The day had become a bit more golden, a bit softer, and the woods on the far side of the lake now had a bluish cast.
Near the train station, Wolfe bought a paper bag of plums, but they turned out to be sour. Seated in the empty wooden compartment of the train, he threw them at intervals out the window, and kept regretting that, in the cafe, he had not filched some of those cardboard disks you put under beer mugs.
"They soar so beautifully, Natasha, like birds. It's a joy to watch."
--from "Natasha" by Vladimir Nabokov

the end is breathtaking--a fact especially felt by this reader, who was jogging a nine-min mile when her eyes scanned the triumphantly eerie verses that threw her whole body into a cold sweat.

***

this afternoon a friend came over for tea & company while we read together. what better way to spend a lazy afternoon than in the richly contented presence of a fellow book-lover? each up to his or her own interest, yet still connected by a busy mind? i chose poetry--gwendolyn brooks' BLACKS, in fact. here's one i like, that made me think of another of my best friends, jina:

at the hairdresser's

Gimme an upsweep, Minnie,
With humpteen baby curls.
'Bout time I got some glamour.
I'll show them girls.

Think they so fly a-struttin'
With they wool a-blowin' 'round.
Wait'll they see my upsweep.
That'll jop 'em back on the ground.

Got Madam C.J. Walker's first.
Got Poro Grower next.
Ain't none of 'em worked with me, Min.
But I ain't vexed.

Long hair's out of style anyhow, ain't it?
Now it's tie it up high with curls.
So gimme an upsweep, Minnie.
I'll show them girls.

tues 8 july 08

today's diet

kundera, slowness--a re-read
adorno, the culture industry--introduction and first essay
adorno, prisms--the essay on walter benjamin, "a portrait of"

more on the adorno later. here's an indulgent bit from slowness:

Why has the pleasure of slowness disappeared? Ah, where have they gone, the amblers of yesteryear? Where have they gone, those loafing heroes of folk song, those vagabonds who roam from one mill to another and bed down under the stars? Have they vanished along with footpaths, with grasslands and clearings, with nature? There is a Czech proverb that describes their easy indolence by a metaphor: 'They are gazing at God's windows.' A person gazing at God's windows is not bored; he is happy. In our world, indolence has turned into having nothing to do, which is a completely different thing: a person with nothing to do is frustrated, bored, is constantly searching for the activity he lacks.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

7 july 08, arthur's birthday

in honor of a friend's birthday i re-read the book that i planned to give him so that i could mark it up with my special marks. (he hasn't yet had the fortune to borrow a book i'd actually marked.) i enjoy reading marked-up books, so long as said marks are discreet. mine happen to be. (i realized i haven't entertained the thought that arthur might dislike marked-up books; but their being my marks, i do not expect him to be too miffed.)

anyway, as i said, my system is discreet:
1. checks: where i laugh
2. a single straight line: by a passage i'd like to revisit
3. two straight lines (parallel): by something particularly powerful
4. i write words i don't know at the top of the page, so that i can look them up later (i fill in the definition at the top of the page).

laughable loves by milan kundera registered (appropriately) a surfeit of checks; the parallel lines, too, were no laughing matter. only two words escaped me, and both begin with the letter S:

superannuated: retired because of age or infirmity; to old for use, work, service, or position; antiquated or obsolete. (i believe i once knew this word.)
slivovits: (slivovitz) a dry, usually colorless, slightly bitter plum brandy from E Europe.

my favorite story was "the golden apple of eternal desire", no question. i can see how it might become arthur's as well, in the way that he might see a bit of himself in the narrator. (not to mention the fact that i probably enjoy it more to see my beloved friend in it.) for instance, when the narrator's friend steals his book on Etruscan culture in order to flirt with a girl by way of dropping it into her bag, he fumes:

What sense was there in this. The book, which I'd been looking forward to for so long, suddenly found itself in a faraway place. When you came to think of it, it was quite annoying. But nonetheless a certain lunacy happily uplifted me on the wings it promptly provided.

for you see, the book-stealing was done for the benefit of the narrator, who isn't naturally inclined to see the instrumental value of sacrificing his dear book to get a date--he must be cajoled. its preciousness becomes a motif throughout the rest of the story, and during my read kept calling my mind back to a man who loves his books.

***

apparent upon this read and not my first was some blatant mysogyny in a couple of the stories. blame was appropriately assigned to the speaker character, rather than the author--but i do wonder how he could write so incisively such dubious remarks. but oh, they are good!

"Fortunately women have the miraculous ability to change the meaning of their actions after the event." (from "the hitchhiking game")

zing!
adrienne

Sunday, July 6, 2008

sunday 6 july 2008 8:08pm

last night, i read books instead of sleeping.
this afternoon, i bought books instead of sleeping.
i drove home and read some of those books instead of sleeping.
this evening, i read books while my boyfriend is sleeping.
tonight, i will sleep.
(unless i am reading.)

here's what i found that i liked:
(from the best american nonrequired reading 2006 collection)

the introductory essay by matt groening, which you can read here
who knew!

***

"Finally, I am also convinced, but cannot prove, that we humans have an instinct to collaborate, and that we have rational reasons for collaborating. I am convinced that ultimately this rationality and this instinct for collaboration will prevail over the shortsighted egoistic and aggressive instinct that produces exploitation and war. Rationality and the instinct of collaboration have already given us large regions and long periods of peace and prosperity. Ultimately, they will lead us to a planet without countries, without wars, without patriotism, without religions, without poverty, where we will be able to share the world. Actually, maybe I am not sure I truly believe that I believe this, but I do want to believe that I believe this."
--Carlo Rovelli, physicist, Institut Universitaire de France and Universite de la Mediterranee; author of Quantum Gravity

***

"But he was no longer afraid. Numbers aren't the important thing, he told himself. The countdown has no meaning. Now he knew: what matters is deciding in your heart to accept another person completely. When you do that, it is always the first time and the last.

One morning, the doctor notices that the dark kidney-shaped stone has disappeared from her desk. And she knows: it won't be coming back."
--Haruki Murakami, from "The Kidney-Shaped Stone that Moves Every Day" (which I read for the first time in 2006 or so)

***

"If you want to really hurt your parents, and you don't have the nerve to be gay, the least you can do is go into the arts. I'm not kidding. The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practising an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven's sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something."
--Kurt Vonnegut, "Here is a Lesson in Creative Writing" from A Man Without a Country

<3 adrienne