The School of Pure Conversation

February 17, 2019

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The Entire of Elsinore

February 16, 2019

A gravedigger need not be grave. Nor need
He be alone. Horatio stood alone and grave;
Hamlet had wanted him to ‘stay center stage,’
As he put it. ‘Sententious, stentorian
And smiling.’ Elsinore was a war.

Now he wanted more. ‘A play is the thing.
To kill a king’. He wanted real proof before
He and Yorick could ‘off the fool’. He wanted
‘A truth with truth’. And more. Horatio knew
What was wrong. That fucking ghost could be

Just about anything, a stray specter,
A glint of light in the wrong eye, a rip in
In God’s fabric, anything. Anselm’s proof
Of God had proved it all. Existence was
That which cannot be allowed to fall.

But soft…for a mise-en-abysm to work—
And this is surely what Hamlet must have had
In mind—a crazy quilt of reflections
Would have to be in place. The entirety
Of Elsinore’s sin would be needed. El-sin-ore.

 


Valentine’s Day is just around the corner

February 12, 2019


A Most Excellent Fancy

February 12, 2019

I

Horatio believed the laws of heaven
Should be obsequious to the laws of earth.
God coughed. Only the lonely holy boy
Believed that god was stretched beyond Himself.
God loomed. God boomed. The land began to pitch…

The ghost was unhouseled, disappointed,
And unannealed when he died. He was
Condemned to walk the earth in chains, plagued
By illusions. He needed the night to end.
Horatio needed indulgences for the king.

In a cloud made radiant by the sun.
Like a turtle digging a nest for eggs.
Only to release them into the frenzy.
Of sinful murdering crows. Dependent
On tides, on winds, the moon: gravity. .

Few turtles escaped into the sea.
On horseback Horatio escaped to Rome.
You could buy an Indulgence for the dead there.
He would free Hamlet if he could crown
Hamlet’s fathet dead—a most excellent fancy.


The Bird of Dawning Singeth All Night Long

February 10, 2019

 

Horatio dreamed indifferently when
He slept alone—which was most nights. His bed
In Wittenberg was narrow and spartan,
but his dream this night was more like a song
made special by the maid, Ophelia. He dreamed

of Hamlet’s face, wounded and bleeding and poisoned.
Ophelia sang in a hushed whisper:
The bird of dawning Singeth all night long.
The bird of dawning Singeth all night long.
Over and over, she sang: a sentence too short

for the very reflexiveness the words
implored—Horatio’s dream tragedy
of Hamlet’s dream of Ophelia.
The very artifice of her bright song
would lead them to their death.

The cock began to crow. All was not right
in Denmark. Horatio lay panting.
He had come all this way to witness
his friend’s death. Barnardo awaited,
Hamlet awaited, Silence awaited.


Applause, Applause

February 7, 2019

The sun was fast approaching.  Horatio
Saw the curlicues of clouds as they licked
Both the horizon and the distant sea.
The tide in Denmark always smelled of fish,
The kind Hamlet used to eat at the castle

For breakfast, a ‘hamlet omelet’, as poor
Yorick would say, cracking jokes as he cracked
The eggs. Horatio silently smiled, in spite of
The horror he’d just seen. Hamlet, the king,
Still walked the earth, or his ghost did, a man

They once owed fealty to, now a ghoul
Left haunting windy moors, his face a mask
Kissed by death. Horatio knew he was bound
To tell the Kings son, Hamlet. He must come here
And see and talk with this strange apparition.

A quickening: a noise: a rustle of feet:
A voice calls out, ‘Who’s there?’
A trumpet: applause: applause:
But look, the sun in russet mantle clad
Walks o’er the dew of yon high eastward hill.


Catch and Release

February 5, 2019

Just as fish hang in scales, their weight to be
Determined by the pull of gravity,
Their sales reflect what fishmongers must see
Belongs to a season’s inclemency.
And you propose to reason so…to fish!
To me, it’s a calamity, served cold,
Like a revenge plot that becalms a wish
instead of a smile winsome, wise and bold.
But wait, a tug. The line is running out!
Saint Walton preserve us, I may be hooked
on my own petard. By god, it’s a trout
just in season, declaimed, weighed, booked.

     The poem makes catch-and-release seem pale
next to my trout, so much more like a whale.


Long and Hard

January 30, 2019

Oh boy,  is this a good essay. First published in 2010 it is still clean and crisp as ever. Read and enjoy.

 

Start with a few titles: Albert Einstein’s The Meaning of Relativity, Paul Samuelson’s Foundations of Economic Analysis, Hannah Arendt’s The Human Condition, Nathan Glazer and Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s Beyond the Melting Pot, John Rawls’s A Theory of Justice, Terry Eagleton’s Literary Theory. Have you read all these?    How about this group? Donald Mackenzie’s An Engine, Not a Camera: How Financial Models Shape Markets, John Seeley Brown and Paul Duguid’s The Social Life of Information, Henry Petroski’s Success Through Failure: The Paradox of Design, James R. Beniger’s The Control Revolution: Technological and Economic Origins of the Information Society. Okay, then these: Noam Chomsky’s Language and Mind, Walter Jackson Bate’s Criticism: The Major Texts, Cleanth Brooks and Robert Penn Warren’s Modern Rhetoric, Lewis A. Coser’s Masters of Sociological Thought, and Peter Brown’s The World of Late Antiquity…

So, raise your hands, who’s read them all? Seventy-five percent? Fifty percent? Come on, anybody read one? Good, thank you. Me too—but I read it a long time ago, and well, I didn’t do it justice, which is seems fitting because I’m talking about the Rawls’ book. Lately, I’ve fingered it a few times in the book store—did you know there’re actually two editions, the one published in 1971 and a later edition—so it’s daunting, a long hard read and not immediately relevant to anything I’m doing right now, and, you know, do you have to read both volumes? Did John change his mind on some key points? Turns out, reading Rawls is just a start; as a citizen I should be reading at least some if not all of the above. Democracy demands it.

A book matches perfectly the ideal of reflection. The tougher the text, the more reflective we must be in absorbing it. This suggests the importance of reading books that are difficult. Long books. Hard books. Books with which we have to struggle. The hard work of serious reading mirrors the hard work of serious governing—and, in a democracy, governing is a responsibility all citizens share. And if we are willing to work our way through difficult texts, we are far more likely to be willing to work our way through our opponents’ difficult ideas. An important lesson of serious reading is that ideas need not be correct to be important.

This quote comes from Stephen Carter and the above list of books comes from Peter J. Dougherty and, to be fair, his reading list is only suggested reading. You can choose your own hard book to take to the beach this summer—just so long as it’s hard and it’s a book.

Kierkegaard has a passage somewhere in the Concluding Unscientific Postscript (no, I’m not going to try and find it) where he’s sitting in a café smoking a cigar and thinking about his particular place in the world. Everyone is busy explaining things, everyone is making things comprehensible, everyone is making things easy.  What was he to do with himself? He lights a second cigar (Sören, this is not good for you) and thinks that there is danger here: The danger of making things too easy, the danger of making things too readily comprehensible, of eliding past real difficulties and not dealing with the hard, harsh complex reality of things. Perhaps, he thinks, it is necessary to make things difficult again. Make things hard. Like Socrates.

Wallace Stevens ventures a similar point:

The poet does not speak in ruins
Nor stand there making orotund consolations.
He shares the confusions of intelligence.
Giovanni Papini, by your faith, know how
He wishes that all hard poetry were true.

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January 27, 2019


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January 23, 2019