Tuesday, November 24, 2015


Wallace Fowlie, Mallarmé. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1970; originally published in 1953.

Wallace Fowlie (1908-1998) romps through Stéphane Mallarmé’s life (1842-1898) and writings, providing English translations and comparisons with interconnected poet-writers like Edgar Allan Poe and Charles Baudelaire along the way. Not neglected are Paul Verlaine, Arthur Rimbaud, Joris-Karl Huysmans, Marcel Proust, or Paul Valéry, nor Symbolist painters such as Odilon Redon, or composers Richard Wagner, Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel, and others. 

Symbolism is oft the name given to Mallarmé’s “style,” which is related to all of the above.
I’ve chosen a handful of Fowlie’s quips that may or may not shed light on the creation of poems specifically and artistic impulses in general. It’s your call.  

“The poem is the surviving mystery.” (p. 188)

“The legend of Mallarmé’s life was the great work dreamed by him, the unique work destined to subsume all other works. But it was never composed.” (p. 194)
“A doubling of the consciousness is indispensable for the artist.” (p. 197)

“The struggle of the artist to create out of the chaos of experience is not unlike a tempest of nature. The mystery of all art is the seeming chance, a throw of dice . . . out of which an order of logic and construction is achieved.” (p. 218)

"Poetry is a game of risk, of magic and incantation. Its meaning is always hidden under the brilliance of its images and the unusualness of its analogies.” (p. 223)
“At some point or other in the fabrication of [a] poem the poet is helpless and useless before the gift of chance.” (p. 226)

“The experience of religion for Mallarmé seems to have been completely merged with that of art, and particularly joined with the experience of theatre and music .” (pp. 235-236)
“The dead move and have their being in the words they leave. To live is to endure dangers, to move from one disaster to another.” (p. 247)

“First as a man  [Mallarmé ] made himself different from other men. And then as a poet he celebrated language, the sanctity of language, as a new Orpheus.”  (p. 287)

And so adieu: a salute to Wallace Fowlie and Stéphane Mallarmé.

Today's Rune: Strength.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Roy Lichtenstein: New Orleans and Madrid

When you first come across this, you might think, "Aliens!"  At least I did -- looks like some kind of gigantic artifact from outer space. The setting is inside the vast covered courtyard (Nouvel Patio) connecting the old and new wings of the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid. Snapped this in the summer of 2014. It's a gigantic Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1997) sculpture called Brushstroke.

In New Orleans, there's a tall marauding demon creature carrying the exact same vibe -- or is that but a masked man striding around on stilts? Your choice. Go and see.
Last month, came across this sculpture and made the Madrid connection immediately. Here, Five Brushstrokes presides in front of the New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA) -- as it has since December 8, 2013. 

Today's Rune: Fertility.  

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

France and Spain in New Orleans: Part II

La Nouvelle-Orléans, founded in 1718, formally remained part of the Empire of France until near the end of the Seven Years War, in 1762; from 1762 until 1803, it became Nueva Orleans of the Empire of Spain. New Orleans was briefly ceded back to France under Napoleon I, at which point it was sold to the USA.

Whether under French, Spanish or American control, New Orleans never fell to the British Empire. 
Cathédrale Saint-Louis, Roi-de-France / Cathedral-Basilica of Saint Louis, King of France / Basílica de San Luis. Pictured here circa 1838 in the Spanish Colonial style (flanked by turrets). Since the beginning, there has been a Catholic Church on this site.
Same cathedral in October 2015, with accentuated spires, significantly modified. (Photo courtesy of SAB).  
In the Cabildo: portrait of Antoine Jacques Philippe de Marigny de Mandeville.
Butterscotch house in the Quarter.
Portrait of Napoleon I (1769-1821) at the New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA).
Mosaic in front of the Napoleon House, 500 Chartres Street -- in the Quarter.

To me, after traveling between Madrid, San Francisco and New Orleans, the Spanish, French and Catholic flourishes became very evident and interconnected. All of these cities are tributes to architecture and design, and all (in their centers) are quite walkable.

Today's Rune: Fertility.  

Monday, November 16, 2015

France and Spain in New Orleans: Part I

Joan of Arc: A Gift of the People of France. Present location: by the French Market, Peters and Decatur. Joan of Arc served with the victorious French forces defending "Old" Orléans (in 1428–1429) against English attackers during the Hundred Years War, which France ultimately won as well.
Fleurs-de-lis can be seen all over the Vieux Carré, the "old square" or French and Spanish Quarter.
A little map of the Quarter put out by the US National Park Service.
Barefoot bride in a wedding procession in the Quarter, close to the Place d'Armes, / Plaza de Armas / Jackson Square, October 2015. (Photo courtesy of SAB).
The jaunty primary colors of another house in the Quarter.

Today's Rune: Harvest. 

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Barrios to Burbs

Jody Agius Vallejo, Barrios to Burbs: The Making of the Mexican-American Middle Class (Stanford University Press, 2012). 

Vallejo provides us with a straightforward look at middle class Mexican American life and the process of its formation, through a combination of extensive interviewing and analysis. 

Vallejo's main focus is interesting, but for the purposes of this post, let's also consider American socio-economic class income and status in general.

Barrios to Burbs lays out the basic criteria and markers for defining middle class, or middle income. My variant response is that any three of the following four attributes will do the trick:

~~ College education (at least one member of the household).
~~Household income above national US median:  $50,221 in 2009. 
       (Closer to $55,000 in 2015.) 
~~White collar job or any-size business ownership.
~~Home ownership. 
       (Vallejo, p. 5).

Vallejo's conclusions about the Mexican American middle class include the following statement: "While some achieve rapid intergenerational mobility through business ownership, the majority in this study enter the middle class through the occupational advances that follow higher education." (p. 183).  

It's interesting because 2016 Republican presidential contender Senator Marco Rubio --  in Vallejo's terms, a 2.0 generation Cuban American -- advocates vo-tech, i.e. vocational-technical education, as does Democratic President Barrack Obama, who might be considered a 2.5 generation American. Obama advocates for all types of education, including vo-tech, community college and four year colleges and universities. 

American socio-economics are changing by generation. After the Great Recession of 2008, the importance of home ownership has declined in some spheres (at least culturally), while the idea of white collar jobs may also be morphing into other possibilities. Finally, it seems to me that one must cross-check household income with per capita income to locate a better sense of socio-economic class. For instance, a household of one to three people living within the means of a $55,000 household income threshold must be less challenging in terms of daily tradeoffs than a household of more than four or five people under the same roof, with that same household income.

As far as upper income levels, the top ten percent to the top one percent, one might consider a household income baseline of $500,000 per year. 

The poverty  line is a household income of about $25,000 per year, and a "living wage" is considered to be about $30,000 per year. 

Going into 2016, there is a perfect set-up for the clash between hiking the minimum wage and "trickle-down" economics, in which leftover pocket change falls from the upper income classes like pennies from Heaven. 

p.s. Everything is subject to change. Anyone trying to stop time is doomed to fail. Too, anyone trying to speed up time may be disappointed by the actual pace of things.

Today's Rune: Fertility. 

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

A Reading of Proust: Take III

Wallace Fowlie (1908-1998), A Reading of Proust (London: Dennis Dobson, 1967; originally published in 1964).

Let's bring this show to a close, for now, with a few more observations:

"No one knows exactly what anyone else is thinking or plotting. Every one knows only partially, or suspects, or believes he [or she] knows. Such approximations of knowledge and ignorance account for the human comedy and . . . tragedy. These two terms have to be used simultaneously, because in Proust comedy is always tragic." (p. 128).

"According to Proust's canon, only the artist, when functioning as artist, is fully conscious." (p. 147).

"A work of art is the life of the artist. Marcel has just made the momentous discovery that a record of this life resides in the deepest part of himself . . . And he is the only one able to read this book, or to decipher it." (p. 262)

"The milieu, the world described by the novelist, is not important. What is important is the reflective power of the novelist, his [or her] ultimate value as a mirror." (p. 265). 

I think what he means by this is that choice of setting, world, genre, etc., can be anything, if it's done well. Whatever works. 

Finally: "An individual life is so bound up with the lives of the men [and women] of his [or her] time, and with the very existence of the world, that there is no end to his [or her] mystery, no clue to his [or her] absolute reality. Analogy is the only principle by which we begin to understand the mystery of human life." (p. 268). 

Today's Rune: Harvest. 

Monday, November 09, 2015

A Reading of Proust: Take II

Wallace Fowlie (1908-1998), A Reading of Proust (London: Dennis Dobson, 1967; originally published in 1964).

There's so much to cover here that I'll compress these ideas into three snippets, with brief responses.

"[W]hat is communicated between two individuals is at best fragmentary and usually susceptible of radical misunderstanding." (p. 100). 

This reality is both comic and tragic. Anyone can know -- even from social media alone -- how often glancing is our actual communication, usually coming down to Iggy Pop's cartoon news watcher, reducing most responses to either "Approval" or "Frown." (Social media time is like a roadrunner). One's immediate circle will understood much more, but such deeper understanding will still be incomplete -- while our self-understanding will probably also remain incomplete and subject to change. 

“[W]riting is not a transcription but a reordering of life . . . [O]bjective reality is never fully knowable. All that we can hope to have from it is illusions, and the artist’s work is the record of these illusions.” (p. 109).

This is true regardless of genre, format, or intention. We simply cannot transcribe real (or fictional) lives -- even our own -- or events -- with anything close to full accuracy in the sense of chronicle or diary. If we tried, we'd be spending more time writing about one day than in having lived it in the first place. (See James Joyce, Ulysses, 1918-1920). 

“The artist looks at the world freshly and does not see it in the same way as others, trained by habit and custom, see it. . .”  (p. 109).

This is the best part of artistic impulse, no doubt. Even if there may very well be a lag time (if ever, except for the sporadic and blessed peregrine) before this freshness is understood by anyone else beyond a small coterie, it's worth the effort of trying.

Today's Rune: Signals.