"I am not one who was born in the custody of wisdom. I am one who is fond of olden times and intense in quest of the sacred knowing of the ancients." Gustave Courbet

31 January 2016


You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you.

C.S. Lewis


This extreme psychic vulnerability confirms that we’re entering a new and quite terrifying era of censorship. Once we had ideological censorship, designed to elevate a particular political outlook by suppressing others. We had religious censorship, designed to protect a certain belief system through crushing blasphemy. Now we have therapeutic censorship — censorship which aspires to squash or at least demonise anything that any individual finds aggressive, uncomfortable, or wounding to their worth. It is a tyranny of self-regard.

This censorship is more insidious than the old censorships. It is vast and unwieldy and can turn its attention to almost anything: magazines, clothing, monuments, jokes, conversational blunders. It’s as if students feel they deserve their own personal blasphemy law to protect them from scurrilous comments or images or objects. We have a generation of little Jesuses, threatening menaces against anyone who says something that stings their psychic health.

Campus censors can’t be held entirely responsible for this therapeutic censorship. In fact, in many ways they are the products of a culture that has been growing for decades: a culture of diminished moral autonomy; a culture which sees individuals as fragile and incapable of coping without therapeutic assistance; a culture which treats individual self-esteem as more important than the right to be offensive; a culture that was developed by older generations — in fact by the fortysomethings and fiftysomethings now mocking campus censors as infantile and ridiculous.
Yes, we should mock these little tyrants who fantasise that their feelings should trump other people’s freedom. But we must go further than that. We must remake the case for robust individualism and the virtue of moral autonomy against the fashion for fragility; against the misanthropic view of people as objects shaped and damaged by speech rather than as active subjects who can independently imbibe, judge and make decisions about the speech they hear.

The Safe Space is a terrible trap. It grants you temporary relief from ideas you don’t like, but at the expense of your individuality, your soul even. If you try to silence unpopular ideas, you do an injustice both to those who hold those unpopular views, and also to yourself, through depriving yourself of the right and the joy of arguing back, taking on your opponents, and in the process strengthening your own mental and moral muscles. Liberate yourself — destroy the Safe Space.

Thank you, Kurt.


Schall, Vendeur de fromages de chevre, Paris, 1935

A silence fell at the mention of Gavard. They all looked at each other cautiously. As they were all rather short of breath by this time, it was the camembert they could smell. This cheese, with its gamy odour, had overpowered the milder smells of the marolles and the limbourg; its power was remarkable. Every now and then, however, a slight whiff, a flute-like note, came from the parmesan, while the bries came into play with their soft, musty smell, the gentle sound, so to speak, of a damp tambourine. The livarot launched into an overwhelming reprise, and the géromé kept up the symphony with a sustained high note.

Émile Zola


For the kings and queens of England, a trumpet fanfare or crash of cymbals could be as vital a weapon as a cannon. Showcasing a monarchy’s power, prestige and taste, music has been the lifeblood of many a royal dynasty.  From sacred choral works to soaring symphonies, Music and Monarchy looks at how England’s character was shaped by its music. 

"Crown and Choir"


"Great British Music"



'This is the place of my song-dream, the place the music played to me,' whispered the Rat, as if in a trance. 'Here, in this holy place, here if anywhere, surely we shall find Him!'

Then suddenly the Mole felt a great Awe fall upon him, an awe that turned his muscles to water, bowed his head, and rooted his feet to the ground. It was no panic terror— indeed he felt wonderfully at peace and happy— but it was an awe that smote and held him and, without seeing, he knew it could only mean that some august Presence was very, very near. With difficulty he turned to look for his friend. and saw him at his side cowed, stricken, and trembling violently. And still there was utter silence in the populous bird-haunted branches around them; and still the light grew and grew.

Perhaps he would never have dared to raise his eyes, but that, though the piping was now hushed, the call and the summons seemed still dominant and imperious. He might not refuse, were Death himself waiting to strike him instantly, once he had looked with mortal eye on things rightly kept hidden. Trembling he obeyed, and raised his humble head; and then, in that utter clearness of the imminent dawn, while Nature, flushed with fulness of incredible colour, seemed to hold her breath for the event, he looked in the very eyes of the Friend and Helper; saw the backward sweep of the curved horns, gleaming in the growing daylight; saw the stern, hooked nose between the kindly eyes that were looking down on them humourously, while the bearded mouth broke into a half-smile at the corners; saw the rippling muscles on the arm that lay across the broad chest, the long supple hand still holding the pan-pipes only just fallen away from the parted lips; saw the splendid curves of the shaggy limbs disposed in majestic ease on the sward; saw, last of all, nestling between his very hooves, sleeping soundly in entire peace and contentment, the little, round, podgy, childish form of the baby otter. All this he saw, for one moment breathless and intense, vivid on the morning sky; and still, as he looked, he lived; and still, as he lived, he wondered.

'Rat!' he found breath to whisper, shaking. 'Are you afraid?'

'Afraid?' murmured the Rat, his eyes shining with unutterable love. 'Afraid! Of Him? O, never, never! And yet— and yet— O, Mole, I am afraid!'

Then the two animals, crouching to the earth, bowed their heads and did worship.
Sudden and magnificent, the sun's broad golden disc showed itself over the horizon facing them; and the first rays, shooting across the level water-meadows, took the animals full in the eyes and dazzled them. When they were able to look once more, the Vision had vanished, and the air was full of the carol of birds that hailed the dawn.

As they stared blankly. in dumb misery deepening as they slowly realised all they had seen and all they had lost, a capricious little breeze, dancing up from the surface of the water, tossed the aspens, shook the dewy roses and blew lightly and caressingly in their faces; and with its soft touch came instant oblivion. For this is the last best gift that the kindly demi- god is careful to bestow on those to whom he has revealed himself in their helping: the gift of forgetfulness. Lest the awful remembrance should remain and grow, and overshadow mirth and pleasure, and the great haunting memory should spoil all the after-lives of little animals helped out of difficulties, in order that they should be happy and lighthearted as before.

Kenneth Grahame, from Wind in the Willows

30 January 2016


That our endless and impossible journey toward home that is in fact our home ... that finally the door opens ... and it opens outward.  We've been inside what we wanted all along.

David Foster Wallace



A young Douglas MacArthur ...


A daydream is an evasion.

Thomas Merton


Poortvliet, Woodland Gnome, 1975

Lully, The Days at Versailles

Hervé Niquet leads Le Concert Spirituel ...



Vermeer, The Geographer, 1669

Publications of archival documents and other sources notwithstanding, mysteries continue to surround Vermeer’s artistic career. Who was his master? Did he have any pupils? What caused his death, at the age of forty-three, leaving behind paintings of his own and others he may have been selling, no drawings, a house full of children, and huge debts? Did he rely on a camera obscura, or other novel optical devices, to compose his paintings? These unanswered questions do not prevent wondering admiration for his work, however. When its home, the Mauritshuis in The Hague, was under renovation recently, the “Girl with a Pearl Earring” travelled the world. On exhibit in Japan in 2013, it drew over a million visitors. The “Mona Lisa of the North” is as widely known, and often viewed, as it is reticent as regards the conditions of her creation or raison d’être. A student once described his encounter with the “Girl with a Pearl Earring” as tantamount to meeting the love of his life and forgetting to ask her name. She is as engaged with our seeing her as she is absolutely oblivious to it, and in this sense she is an appropriate emblem for Vermeer’s work as a whole: what we know, and what we think is familiar, is forever vexed by its remaining unknowable and inaccessible.

Posed already in the late nineteenth century, the question of whether or to what degree Vermeer depended on such optical devices as a camera obscura in his studio has recently been the focus of intense speculation. His many ladies in light, caught in the act of doing nothing particularly dramatic – donning a pearl necklace, pouring milk, writing, reading or dozing at a table – are so many portraits of moments in time. His paintings are characterized by thick silence, keen attention to the qualities of light, and optical phenomena that are symptomatic of the use of viewing lenses. Indeed, the absence of any narrative flexion whatsoever in so many of his paintings encourages studying them as renderings of conditions of light and spatial configurations – taking them at face value, as it were, seeking clues to how they were made rather than, for example, why. There is so little documentary evidence to go on that the paintings themselves serve as (mute) testimony to speculation about them.





Thank you, Kurt.


This week marked Holocaust Remembrance Day as well as the 71st anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau.

When much of the world closed its eyes to the terrors of Nazi Germany, one American couple risked everything to save Jewish children from an unimaginable fate.

50 CHILDREN: THE RESCUE MISSION OF MR. AND MRS. KRAUS tells the dramatic, previously untold story of Gilbert and Eleanor Kraus, a Jewish couple from Philadelphia who followed their conscience, traveling to Nazi-controlled Vienna in spring 1939 to save a group of children. Amidst the impending horrors of the Holocaust, they put themselves in harm’s way to bring what would become the single largest-known group of children allowed into the U.S. during that time.



As for poets
The Earth Poets
Who write small poems,
Need help from no man.

The Air Poets
Play out the swiftest gales
And sometimes loll in the eddies.
Poem after poem,
Curling back on the same thrust.

At fifty below
Fuel oil won't flow
And propane stays in the tank.
Fire Poets
Burn at absolute zero
Fossil love pumped backup

The first
Water Poet
Stayed down six years.
He was covered with seaweed.
The life in his poem
Left millions of tiny
Different tracks
Criss-crossing through the mud.

With the Sun and Moon
In his belly,
The Space Poet
No end to the sky-
But his poems,
Like wild geese,
Fly off the edge.

A Mind Poet
Stays in the house.
The house is empty
And it has no walls.
The poem
Is seen from all sides,
At once.

Gary Snyder

Chopin, Prelude in A Major, Op. 28, No. 7, Andantino

Performed by Michael Glenn Williams ...


[We] live with mystery, but we don’t like the feeling. I think we should get used to it. We feel we have to know what things mean, to be on top of this and that. I don’t think it’s human, you know, to be that competent at life. That attitude is far from poetry.  

An experience of total immersion in mystery that I once had was reading the first half of Heidegger’s Being and Time. You know, it was really totally up to you to sort of create this world in your own head, and whether what was in your head was what was in Heidegger’s head—who could possibly guess?  

Well, when I read poetry I can’t imagine that what’s in the reader’s head is ever what was in the poet’s head, because there’s usually very little in the poet’s head.  

You mean . . .  

I mean, I think the reality of the poem is a very ghostly one. It doesn’t try for the kind of concreteness that fiction tries for. It doesn’t ask you to imagine a place in detail; it suggests, it suggests, it suggests again. I mean, as I write it. William Carlos Williams had other ideas.  

But do you suggest something that you yourself have already pictured?  

I’m picturing it as I’m writing it. I’m putting together what I need to have this thing be alive. But sometimes it’s more complete than at other times.  

When you say that when you write language takes over, and then you follow it, you’re implying that the experience of writing is one in which at least to some extent you’re in a passive role. Something is coming to you from somewhere, and you’re receiving it. But where is it coming from? Is it just the unconscious? That would be psychoanalysis. It’s coming from somewhere else, isn’t it? Or . . .  

I don’t know where it comes from. I think some of it comes from the unconscious. Some of it comes from the conscious. Some of it comes from . . . God knows where.  

I think the “God knows where” part is quite . . .  

Poems aren’t dreams. They just aren’t. It’s something else. People who write down their dreams and think they’re poems are wrong. They’re neither dreams nor poems.  

As you write, you’re listening for something. But then you at some point take an active role in creating the poem.  

I get caught up in where it’s going because I don’t know where it’s going. I want to know, I want to push it ahead, a little. I add a few words, and then I say, Oh no—you’re on the wrong track.  

But the type of poetry you’re describing can be frustrating to the reader. A lot of people I know would have to admit that their basic model for what reading is would be something like the experience of reading The New York Times. Each sentence is supposed to match up to a particular slice of reality. If that’s a person’s expectation about reading, then your poems might be . . .

Well, sometimes poems aren’t literal representations of anything. Sometimes a poem just exists as something else in the universe that you haven’t encountered before. If you want a poem to say what it means, right away, clearly—and of course the poet who writes that kind of poem is usually talking about his or her own experiences—well, what happens when you read that kind of poem is that it puts you back in the world that you know. The poem makes that world seem a little more comfortable, because here is somebody else who has had an experience like yours. But you see, these little anecdotes that we read in these poems and that we like to believe are true, are in fact fictions. They represent a reduction of the real world. There’s so much in our experience that we take for granted—we don’t need to read poems that help us to take those things even more for granted. People like John Ashbery or Stevens do just the opposite—they try to explode those reductions. There’s a desire in Ashbery, for example, to create perfect non sequiturs, to continually take us off guard. He creates a world that is fractured. It doesn’t imitate reality. But, looking at it from another point of view, you could say that it’s simply a world that is as fractured and as unpredictable as the world in which we move every day. So there’s an element of delight in these people who rearrange reality. We usually hang on to the predictability of our experiences to such an extent . . . and there’s nowhere else where one can escape that as thoroughly as one can in certain poets’ work. When I read poetry, I want to feel myself suddenly larger . . . in touch with—or at least close to—what I deem magical, astonishing. I want to experience a kind of wonderment. And when you report back to your own daily world after experiencing the strangeness of a world sort of recombined and reordered in the depths of a poet’s soul, the world looks fresher somehow. Your daily world has been taken out of context. It has the voice of the poet written all over it, for one thing, but it also seems suddenly more alive—not as routinely there.

Good riddance, Beatles.

On this day in 1969, The Beatles mercifully performed in public for the last time on the roof of their Apple Records headquarters in London.

I know that I'm in the minority in my feelings about this band, but I remain in good company ...

The Beatles are not merely awful. They are so unbelievably horrible, so appallingly unmusical, so dogmatically insensitive to the magic of the art, that they qualify as crowned heads of anti-music.

William F. Buckley Jr.

29 January 2016


Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven" was published on this day in 1845.

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—
    While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
“’Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door—
            Only this and nothing more.”

    Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December;
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
    Eagerly I wished the morrow;—vainly I had sought to borrow
    From my books surcease of sorrow—sorrow for the lost Lenore—
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore—
            Nameless here for evermore.

    And the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me—filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
    So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating
    “’Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door—
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door;—
            This it is and nothing more.”

    Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
“Sir,” said I, “or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
    But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
    And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you”—here I opened wide the door;—
            Darkness there and nothing more.

    Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;
    But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token,
    And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, “Lenore?”
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, “Lenore!”—
            Merely this and nothing more.

    Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.
    “Surely,” said I, “surely that is something at my window lattice;
      Let me see, then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore—
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore;—
            ’Tis the wind and nothing more!”

    Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore;
    Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
    But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door—
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door—
            Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
“Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,” I said, “art sure no craven,
Ghastly grim and ancient Raven wandering from the Nightly shore—
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!”
            Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

    Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning—little relevancy bore;
    For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
    Ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door—
Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
            With such name as “Nevermore.”

    But the Raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
    Nothing farther then he uttered—not a feather then he fluttered—
    Till I scarcely more than muttered “Other friends have flown before—
On the morrow he will leave me, as my Hopes have flown before.”
            Then the bird said “Nevermore.”

    Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
“Doubtless,” said I, “what it utters is its only stock and store
    Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful Disaster
    Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore—
Till the dirges of his Hope that melancholy burden bore
            Of ‘Never—nevermore’.”

    But the Raven still beguiling all my fancy into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird, and bust and door;
    Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
    Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore—
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore
            Meant in croaking “Nevermore.”

    This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom’s core;
    This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining
    On the cushion’s velvet lining that the lamp-light gloated o’er,
But whose velvet-violet lining with the lamp-light gloating o’er,
            She shall press, ah, nevermore!

    Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by Seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.
    “Wretch,” I cried, “thy God hath lent thee—by these angels he hath sent thee
    Respite—respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore;
Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!”
            Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

    “Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil!—
Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
    Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted—
    On this home by Horror haunted—tell me truly, I implore—
Is there—is there balm in Gilead?—tell me—tell me, I implore!”
            Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

    “Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil!
By that Heaven that bends above us—by that God we both adore—
    Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,
    It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore—
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore.”
            Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

    “Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend!” I shrieked, upstarting—
“Get thee back into the tempest and the Night’s Plutonian shore!
    Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
    Leave my loneliness unbroken!—quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!”
            Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

    And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
    And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,
    And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
            Shall be lifted—nevermore!

Edgar Allan Poe

Christopher Walken reads  ... here.

28 January 2016


Few figures in British history have captured the popular imagination as much as the outlaw. From gentleman highwaymen, via swashbuckling pirates to elusive urban thieves and rogues, the brazen escapades and the flamboyance of the outlaw made them the antihero of their time - feared by the rich, admired by the poor and celebrated by writers and artists.

In this three-part series, historian Dr Sam Willis travels the open roads, the high seas and urban alleyways to explore Britain's 17th- and 18th-century underworld of highwaymen, pirates and rogues, bringing the great age of the British outlaw vividly to life.

Sam shows that, far from being 'outsiders', outlaws were very much a product of their time, shaped by powerful national events. In each episode, he focuses not just on a particular type of outlaw, but a particular era - the series as a whole offers a chronological portrait of the changing face of crime in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Part 1, Highwaymen ...

Part 2, Pirates ...


Happy birthday, Pollock.

Pollock, Convergence, 1952

Jackson Pollock was born on this day in 1912.

I don't use the accident. I deny the accident.  There is no accident, just as there is no beginning and no end.  I have no fears about making changes, destroying the image ... because the painting has a life of its own. I try to let it come through. It is only when I lose contact with the painting that the result is a mess. 

Jackson Pollock


Waiting to go on that night seemed like an eternity. Mixed emotions were flowing – fear, excitement, and a lot of “what ifs” were running through my head, when the door suddenly opened and in walked Glenn Frey.

Happy birthday, Baskerville.

John Baskerville was born on this day in 1706.


A huge alien world orbits 600 billion miles (1 trillion kilometers) from its host star, making its solar system the largest one known, a new study reports.

Astronomers have found the parent star for a gas-giant exoplanet named 2MASS J2126, which was previously thought to be a "rogue" world flying freely through space. The planet and its star are separated by about 7,000 astronomical units (AU), meaning the alien world completes one orbit every 900,000 years or so, researchers said. (One AU is the average distance from Earth to the sun — about 93 million miles, or 150 million km).

27 January 2016


On January 26th (1978), the barometric pressure dropped to 28.46 inches of mercury at Columbus, 28.68 inches at Dayton, and 28.81 inches at Cincinnati. These readings set new records for the lowest sea level pressures ever recorded at each station. Even more impressive was Cleveland's record low pressure reading of 28.28 inches, which remains the lowest pressure ever recorded in Ohio and one of the lowest pressure readings on record within the mainland United States (not associated with a hurricane).


U.S. Forest Service's The Story of a Forest Ranger, from 1954 ...

Happy birthday, Carroll.

Lewis Carroll was born on this day in 1832.

A boat beneath a sunny sky,
Lingering onward dreamily
In an evening of July —

Children three that nestle near,
Eager eye and willing ear,
Pleased a simple tale to hear —

Long has paled that sunny sky:
Echoes fade and memories die:
Autumn frosts have slain July.

Still she haunts me, phantomwise,
Alice moving under skies
Never seen by waking eyes.

Children yet, the tale to hear,
Eager eye and willing ear,
Lovingly shall nestle near.

In a Wonderland they lie,
Dreaming as the days go by,
Dreaming as the summers die:

Ever drifting down the stream —
Lingering in the golden gleam —
Life, what is it but a dream?

Lewis Carroll 

The Secret World of Lewis Carroll ...