Thursday, May 26, 2016

The Inferno of Dante (Pinsky Verse Translation): Response II

The Inferno of Dante: A New Verse Translation by Robert Pinsky, Bilingual Edition, Illustrated by Michael Mazur with Notes by Nicole Pinsky and Foreword by John Freccero. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1994, 1995 printing.

Let's run down a few more touchstones from Dante's Disco Inferno, shall we?

From Canto XIV (page 141): 

". . . All over the sand
Distended flakes of fire drifted from aloft
Slowly as mountain snow without a wind." 

Compare a snippet from the devilish 1969 Stooges song, "I Wanna Be Your Dog:"

"And now I'm ready to close my mind
And now I'm ready to feel your hand
And lose my heart on the burning sand
And now I want to be your dog . . ."
Dante Running from the Three Beasts by William Blake, 1820s
Tales of Brave Ulysses (Odysseus).

Canto XXVI (page 277):  

"You were not born to live as a mere brute does . . .

Turning our stern toward the morning light,
We made wings of our oars, in an insane
Flight . . ." 

Moonlight Mile

Canto XXIX (page 305):

"'. . . And already the moon
Is under our feet: the time we are allowed
Has now grown short, and more is to be seen

Than you see here. . .'"

Down in the Bottom / The Wishing Well.

Canto XXXII (page 341):

"It is not jokingly that one begins
To describe the bottom of the universe --
Not a task suited for a tongue that whines

Mamma and Dadda . . ."*

The Cooling Board.

Canto XXXII (page 347):

"'. . . down where the sinners are put
To cool . . .'"

The Stooges, "Real Cool Time" (1969):

"We will have a real cool time tonight,
Tonight . . ."

*"Mamma o babbo" in the original Italian (page 340). Bottom Line: the influence of Dante on fellow artists during the past 700 years is demonstrably effervescent and plentiful.  

Today's Rune: The Mystery Rune.

Monday, May 23, 2016

The Inferno of Dante (Pinsky Verse Translation): Response I

The Inferno of Dante: A New Verse Translation by Robert Pinsky, Bilingual Edition, Illustrated by Michael Mazur with Notes by Nicole Pinsky and Foreword by John Freccero. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1994, 1995 printing.

Dante's Inferno still packs heat 700 years into its publication. A salute to Dante Alighieri (circa 1265-1321) via this lively translation by Robert Pinsky (b. 1940).

A few snippets about Hell and Writing, beginning in Year 1300.

This is pertinent to many a tale, embracing nonfiction and fiction alike:

For my demanding theme so pulls my story,
To multiply the telling would be too little
For the multitude of fact that filled my journey.
(Canto IV, page 43).

Wow. So, Less must be More, More or Less, as so, too, would say the architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969). One can only provide so many telling details. James Joyce's Ulysses (1918-1922) takes readers on a crazy romp through a single day -- June 16, 1904 -- in a mere 700 pages of text. Even so, there are still gaps. Do these catch Dante's drift?

"Why do you squander?" and "Why do you hoard?" 
(Canto VII, page 67). 

Good question. We do people squander?  Why do people hoard? Human nature, very sinful. Simple as pie or a stye in the eye.

And he said more that I don't remember now --
(Canto IX, page 89).

This nifty statement covers a multitude of sins and omissions, no doubt. Handy at times in writing specifically and throughout life in general.

More to come, or in Dante's words as spoken by Virgil, refashioned by Pinsky,

". . . it pleases me
To go now; for above us in the skies
The Fish are quivering at the horizon's edge,
And the whole Wagon lies over Caurus -- and this,
Farther ahead, is where we descend the ridge." 
(Canto XI, page 115).

In the next post, we'll go deeper. 

Today's Rune: Defense. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Searching for Sappho (2016)

Philip Freeman, Searching for Sappho: The Lost Songs and World of the First Woman Poet (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2016). 

An easy to read overview of the life, times and art of Sappho (circa 630-570 B.C.), and Freeman makes it all seem easy, translating from ancient Greek into modern English. We learn that in Classical Greek marriages, men were generally ten or twelve years older than their brides. Mystery cults and religions abounded. Sensuality was then, as now, complex. The biggest hope -- and danger -- for many woman was pregnancy. Heterosexual men could -- and did -- supplement their love lives with regular courtesans and hetaira, "the companions often pictured on drinking cups. . . skilled not only in giving sexual pleasure, but also in music and conversation" (page 55).

Women of pregnancy age had to be more clever than men if they wished to supplement or compliment their marriages. Relations with other women made a lot of sense, as in the case of Sappho, who was at least for a time married to an older man (probably) and had one daughter that we know of (per Freeman). Why avoid pregnancy?  It was very dangerous, riskier than fighting in a war, to the mother, who could easily die in childbirth. Men could also turn to other men, if so wired or inclined.

We also learn that Sappho probably sang most of her poems, a sort of trobairitz with a lyre. Freeman has her performing at weddings and other ceremonies, and put in exile at least twice due to power struggles on Lesbos.

Freeman pieces together what he can, but most of Sappho's poetry is known only in beautiful fragments. Still, there is hope that more verses will continue to be recovered, as has been the case during the past century. 

And of time, how we measure it can be confusing and misleading. We may tend to think of ancient times as one big suck hole, but consider this: "By the time of Sappho [2600 years before this post], the pyramids were almost as ancient to her as she is to us . . ." (page 99)! 

Finally, Freeman notes that there are about one hundred known women poets of Classical Greco-Roman times -- there are many more to explore. Like Sappho, much of their so far rediscovered poetry is in the form of fragments. And let us imagine new finds among other civilizations and cultures as well. Let's hope, let's seek, let's find!

Sappho #147.  "Someone, I say, will remember us in time to come" (page 278).  And we do, as others will remember us. 

Today's Rune: Initiation.   

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The Secret Lives of Bats

Merlin Tuttle, The Secret Lives of Bats: My Adventures with the World's Most Misunderstood Mammals (Boston, New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015).

There's something to the idea that people with unique names are inspired to do unique things. Certainly that's the case with Twyla Tharp, and judging from this book, so, too, with Merlin Tuttle. In his case, it's saving bats from decimation around the globe and advocating for greater appreciation of them.

In The Secret Lives of Bats, we see his dedication to conservation and ecology almost to the point of artistic madness, yet with very practical and demonstrable results. I was already pro-bat going into this, but within a few pages, Tuttle had convinced me of the critical importance of bats within the world ecosystem (along the lines of birds, bees and butterflies). Pollination is just one of their contributions, though a crucial one.

Tuttle comes across as highly driven and also a little "barmy" at times. "We had learned the first and biggest secret to successful bat photography: overcoming fear is paramount, and the best way to a bat's heart is through its stomach" -- on bribing bats with food so they'll allow their pictures to be taken (The Secret Lives of Bats, page 79). His caving adventures are downright wacky.

We learn a lot about Tuttle's often wild adventures, but even more about the wide variety of "flying foxes," including their use of echolocation to track down various types of potential food. 

In one of Tuttle's photographic adventures, he's exploring in Big Bend Park near the Texas-Mexican border. One of his party comes across a new sight: "At a glance, I could see it was a ghost-faced bat (Mormoops megalophylla). This bat is unmistakable. Like some dogs, it's so strange, it's endearing" (page 116).

Tuttle started Bat Conservation International in 1982. This book serves as a marvelous introduction to the ecology of bats. 

One way to think of bats: in general among flying critters, birds are the day shift and bats, along with owls and such, are the night shift. Can you dig? 

Today's Rune: Breakthrough.   

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Vicksburg by Cell Phone

Four shots taken by HTC for Windows cell phone camera at the Vicksburg National Military Park (in Mississippi) on Sunday, May 8, 2016. Here's the main draw at the USS Cairo Gunboat and Museum -- quite impressive. The artifacts in the museum showcase very modern-looking tableware and plenty of other still-functional items recovered from the sunken vessel.
The high bluffs of Vicksburg overlooking the Mississippi River from inside Confederate lines.
High bluff, several paces closer to the Mississippi River and its diversions.  
Artillery sweeping the landward approaches to Vicksburg from inside Confederate defenses. Click on images to see full scope, though seeing these vistas in person is a more mind-blowing experience.

Today's Rune: Fertility.  

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

The Melting Pot

Traveling to and around Vicksburg, Mississippi, this past weekend was an eye-opening experience. Here, a wooden church in Grand Gulf slowly sinks into oblivion. (All photos taken with my HTC M8 for Windows mobile phone in the universal spirit of Alberto Korda). 
Slumping door, Edwards, Mississippi.
Hunting & Fishing Supply Store, Mississippi Highway 467, Raymond, Mississippi. 
Melting House, downtown Jackson, Mississippi. 
Highway 61 Business, Natchez, Mississippi, where business is sporadic.

As the guy who runs the Rhythm Night Club Memorial Museum in Natchez put it, there's "history on top of history" in Mississippi, much of it wild and tragic.

Today's Rune: Defense. 

Thursday, May 05, 2016

'The Path' (2016): Journey III

Michael Puett and Christine Gross-Loh, The Path: What Chinese Philosophers Can Teach Us About the Good Life (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2016).

Like poetic fragments left by Sappho, here we go for Journey III.

". . . boundless curiosity about all that exists . . ." (page 150).

"Trained spontaneity means freeing ourselves of a conscious mind that is by definition restricted to a single self. Our mind gets in our way, causing us to battle against rather than flow with the Way . . . (pages 150-151). 

"What would it be like if I looked at the world as if I were a butterfly dreaming I am a human being? . . . (page 152).

". . . constantly cultivating . . . ability to imagine transcending our own experience . . ." (page 152.)
"The opposite of mindlessness and complacency is not mindfulness. It is engagement" (page 194).

"In this fractured and fragmented world, it's up to us to generate order. We are the ones who construct and give pattern to the world . . ." (page 197). 

Simplified 气 (Qi) from Stroke Order Project, Wiki Commons. 

Today's Rune: Movement.