Sunday, June 26, 2011


Living in LA breeds a keener sense of style in the population.  We simply lack this sartorial panache back home.

He wants nothing of a god
But eternity and a heaven to throne in.

Saturday, June 25, 2011


The only proscriptions in the pankration were eye-gouging and biting.  (The nicely positioned Pieta and Last Supper are a bonus.)

Housman's Dirty Pride

Bernard Knox.  "Closet Modern." in Essays Ancient & Modern.  (Baltimore : The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1990), 198.
Whatever the reasons, Housman went into the examination rooms totally unprepared.

He was of course not the first nor the last to do so.  Many an Oxford or Cambridge undergraduate has spent the pleasant spring months of his last year idling on the river, staying up late with friends, and staving off the awful prospect of disaster with apocalyptic visions--the world may come to an end, war may break out.  When the examination date came and the world was still there and at peace, some few made away with themselves, as Housman apparently was tempted to do.  "For me, one flowery Maytime," he wrote later, "It went so ill that I/ Designed to die."  But most have managed to scrape a Second or a Third by filling sheet after sheet with shameless guesswork and barely relevant material cunningly combined with what solid stuff they could summon from the well of memory.

Housman didn't even try.  On some papers he wrote "practically nothing."  "Short and scrappy . . . practically no answers at all," was how one of the examiners later remembered his philosophy papers.  "Proud and angry dust" are the words he used much later to describe human nature, and the adjectives certainly describe his own character.  He was too proud, too angry to make the ignominious effort that would have allowed the examiners to give him a Third and his degree. 
"Nothing," T. E. Lawrence exclaimed, "is written." 

I spent a very pleasant evening in my final year of college watching that movie, dodging the spectre of my senior thesis.  A thousand diversions occupied my penultimate semester; I became particularly skilled with the proximity mines in Goldeneye.  My free moments, however, were wretched and forlorn on my joyless path, and my doom ever lived, ever flitted around me.  The product of my industry at the New Year equated to a lovely bibliography and a dread of the coming months (I had, in my defense, checked many of the books in the bibliography out of the library).  But nothing, O Lawrence, was written.

Fortunately or not, I lacked the blustering tenacity of Housman and surrendered myself to the ineluctable ordeal.  To propitiate my daemon I performed a midnight ritual of glancing wearily at my notes, scribbling a hurried paragraph on the back of some journal article, and reconsecrating the folder in my desk drawer until my next nocturnal session.  I wound up with sixty febrile pages, a BA, and a raccoonish visage.  My dust was neither proud nor angry, but content, like most dust, to repose unburdened and unnoticed. 

I sometimes regret the time wasted on simple pleasures and puerilities, my salad days.  So it goes.  At least something was written.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Unjust Dessert

My fortune cookie proclaims:

"You have inexhaustible wisdom and power."

I strongly doubt this mocking confection.

Classical Psychoanalysis

Herodotus 3.34-35 (tr. Aubrey de Selincourt):

'Master,' Prexaspes replied, 'you are highly praised by them, and they have but one criticism to make: they say you are too fond of wine.'  This enraged Cambyses.  'So now,' he said, 'the Persians say that excessive drinking has driven me mad.  They said something quite different before; but I see it was a lie... I'll soon show you if the Persians speak the truth, or if what they say is not a sign of their own madness rather than of mine.  You see your son standing there by the door?  If I shoot him throught the middle of the heart, I shall have proved the Persians' words empty and meaningless; if I miss, then say, if you will, that the Persians are right, and my wits are gone.'

Without another word he drew his bow and shot the boy, and then ordered his body to be cut open and the wound examined; and when the arrow was found to have pierced the heart, he was delighted, and said with a laugh to the boy's father: 'There's proof for you , Prexaspes, that I am sane and the Persians mad.  Now tell me if you ever saw anyone else shoot so straight.'

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Weeks Without Internet/My Favorite Editorial Abridged

The Life*

So ends an internetless interlude spent splashing in two frigid oceans and an over-chlorinated swimming pool.  I return now to my neglected blog with a breezy reminiscence of the greatest editorial ever written.  (Editor's note: this may not be the greatest editorial ever written, but I love it.

I am forever grateful to Mayor Fernando Wood.  Near the outset of the American Civil War, Mayor Wood floated a dubious scheme to cut the Big Apple out of the Union.  Retort, oh silver-tongued editor:

To any dyspeptic sufferer, who requires a good laugh to put his blood
into more active circulation, we recommend the moderate perusal of
Mayor Wood's Message to the Common Council.  It will be found a
somewhat violent remedy, but if no more than three paragraphs be taken
at one sitting, there can be no danger of bursting a blood vessel.
Taken, however, in homeopathic doses of one paragraph at a time, the
document will prove a mild and perfectly harmless stimulant of smiles.
 It commences with what it terms a "prophetic quotation," in which
there is no prophecy,--and has for its bulk a string of "arguments,"
in which there is no logic...
The whole drift of the document, so far as it can be said to have any,
is an incitation to rebellion on the part of the citizens of New York
against the authorities of the State and of the United States, for the
purpose of declaring Manhattan Island an independent sovereignty,
subject to no control outside of her own borders, and with liberty to
import foreign goods to any extent and in any quantities, "free of
duty..."  Verily, if his Honor's description of the good time that is
coming could by any stretch of fancy be regarded as a "prophetic
quotation," we might believe that the juvenile millennium of streets
paved with gold and houses thatched with pancakes was at hand...
Secession Gone to Seed.  New York Times (1857-Current file); Jan 8, 1861; ProQuest Historical
Newspapers The New York Times (1851 - 2003) pg. 4 

So it goes. 

*Image from the talented Famous Dinosaurs.