"For that which befalls man, befalls beasts"

From Gustav Ophüls in his Memories of Johannes Brahms: "... It was more an intensified recitation of Biblical text in tones, which he gave us in his hoarse voice; and what we heard was entirely different than an art song. Since then, no singer, not even Meschaert himself, has been able to awaken the same mighty impression in me, which the improvised rendition of these songs by their creator made on me at that time. It was actually no different than if the prophet himself had spoken to us ... The third song, 'O death, how bitter thou art,' plainly gripped him so strongly during its delivery, that during the quiet close, 'O death, acceptable is thy sentence,' great tears rolled down his cheeks, and he virtually breathed these last words of the text, with a voice nearly choked with tears. I shall just never forget the moving impression of this song."

With neither beginning nor end

[Leonard Bernstein's account of his visitation of Mlle. Boulanger.] I was ushered into her bedchamber by the angelic and anxiety-ridden Mlle. Dieudonné, who, with forefinger to lips, and seconded only by an attending nurse, whispered a sharp order: Ten minutes only. As it turned out, the visit lasted closer to one hour.

Nadia was beautifully dressed and groomed, as if for the coffin. Her crucifix gleamed at her throat; her eyes and mouth were closed; her whole face seemed closed in coma. I knelt by the bed in silent communion. Suddenly there was the shock of her voice, deep and strong as always (how? her lips did not seem to move; how?) "Qui est là?" I could not respond for shock. The Dieudonné forefinger whipped to the lips. Finally I dared speak: "Lenny. Léonard..." Silence. Did she hear, did she know? "Cher Lenny..." She knew; a miracle. Encouraging signal from Dieudonné. I persevered: "My dear friend, how do you feel?" Pause. Then that basso profundo (through unmoving lips!): "Tellement forte." I drew a deep breath. "Vous voulez dire ... intérieurement?" "...Oui. Mais le corps--" "Je comprends bien," I said hastily, to shorten her efforts. "Je pars. Vous devez être très fatiguée." "Pas de fatigue. Non. Point. ..." A protracted pause, and I realized she had drifted back into sleep.

Signals from the astonished attending ladies suggested my departure, but I was held there, unable to rise from my knees. I knew there was more to come, and in a few minutes it did come: "Ne partez pas." Not a plea, but a command. I searched my mind anxiously for the right thing to say, knowing that anything would be wrong. Then I heard myself asking: "Vous entendez la musique dans la tête?" Instant reply: "Tout le temps. Tout le temps." This so encouraged me that I continued, as if in quotidien conversation: "Et qu'est-ce que vous entendez ce moment-ci?" I thought of her preferred loves. "Mozart? Monteverdi? Bach, Stravinsky, Ravel?" Long pause. "Une musique ... [very long pause] ... ni commencement ni fin ..."

She was already there, on the other side.

The rewriting of David Foster Wallace

"Among the more dispiriting aspects of the Wallace canonization is how much it has been built out of his suffering — the way the cult has revived, for precisely the post-therapy, post-Romantic, self-help-soaked culture Wallace described and intermittently deplored, the Romantic picture of the depressive as a kind of keen-eyed saint."

Heine and forgiveness

As quoted in Freud's Civilization and Its Discontents: "Mine is a most peaceable disposition. My wishes are: a humble cottage with a thatched roof, but a good bed, good food, the freshest milk and butter, flowers before my window, and a few fine trees before my door; and if God wants to make my happiness complete, he will grant me the joy of seeing some six or seven of my enemies hanging from those trees. Before death I shall, moved in my heart, forgive them all the wrong they did me in their lifetime. One must, it is true, forgive one's enemies -- but not before they have been hanged."

Great moments in luxury cruise ennui

From the eponymous essay in David Foster Wallace's A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again: "This one incident made the Chicago news. Some weeks before I underwent my own Luxury Cruise, a sixteen-year-old male did a Brody off the upper deck of a Megaship -- I think a Carnival or a Crystal ship -- a suicide. The news version was that it had been an unhappy adolescent love thing, a shipboard romance gone bad, etc. I think part of it was something else, something there's no way a real news story could cover.

"There is something about a mass-market Luxury Cruise that's unbearably sad. Like most unbearably sad things, it seems incredibly elusive and complex in its causes and simple in its effect: on board the Nadir -- especially at night, when all the ship's structured fun and reassurances and gaiety-noise ceased -- I felt despair. The word's overused and banalified now, despair, but it's a serious word, and I'm using it seriously. For me it denotes a simple admixture -- a weird yearning for death combined with a crushing sense of my own smallness and futility that presents a fear of death. It's maybe close to what people call dread or angst. But it's not these things, quite. It's more like wanting to die in order to escape the unbearable feeling of becoming aware that I'm small and weak and selfish and going without any doubt at all to die. It's wanting to jump overboard."

Nietzsche on the "tyranny of the actual"

"What antiquated thoughts I harbour in my breast toward such a complex of mythology and virtue! But they must out for once, and may everyone have a good laugh. I would say the following: history always inculcates: "once upon a time," the moral: "you ought not" or "you ought not to have." So history becomes a compendium of actual immorality. How grievously he would err who would at the same time view history as the judge of this actual immorality! That a Raphael had to die at the age of thirty-six, for example, is offensive to morality: such a being ought never to die. If now you want to come to the aid of history, as apologists of the actual, you will say: he expressed all he had to say and given a longer life he would always only have produced beauty as the same beauty, not as new beauty, as things of this sort. Thus you are advocates of the devil, namely by making of success, of fact, your idol: while a fact is always stupid and has at all times resembled a calf more than a god." (From Nietzsche's On the Advantage and Disadvantage of History for Life, section 8. Translation by Peter Preuss.)

Matthew Rothenberg's "Unindexed" web project

From Matthew Rothenberg's portfolio, a beguiling publishing experiment:

Unindexed was a website that continuously searched Google for itself over and over. The moment it found itself in the search results it would irrevocably securely delete itself, making the precise instant of algorithmic discovery the catalyst of destruction.

The site was discovered by Google after 22 days on Tue Feb 24 2015 21:01:14 GMT+0000 (UTC) and consequently instantly destroyed. Prior to the automatic deletion it it had hundreds of visitors and dozens of contributions. No backups were kept.

Scientism and the future of the humanities

Leon Wieseltier in the New York Times — "And even as technologism, which is not the same as technology, asserts itself over more and more precincts of human life, so too does scientism, which is not the same as science. The notion that the nonmaterial dimensions of life must be explained in terms of the material dimensions, and that nonscientific understandings must be translated into scientific understandings if they are to qualify as knowledge, is increasingly popular inside and outside the university, where the humanities are disparaged as soft and impractical and insufficiently new. The contrary insistence that the glories of art and thought are not evolutionary adaptations, or that the mind is not the brain, or that love is not just biology’s bait for sex, now amounts to a kind of heresy. So, too, does the view that the strongest defense of the humanities lies not in the appeal to their utility — that literature majors may find good jobs, that theaters may economically revitalize neighborhoods — but rather in the appeal to their defiantly nonutilitarian character, so that individuals can know more than how things work, and develop their powers of discernment and judgment, their competence in matters of truth and goodness and beauty, to equip themselves adequately for the choices and the crucibles of private and public life. ... ..."Is all this — is humanism — sentimental? But sentimentality is not always a counterfeit emotion. Sometimes sentiment is warranted by reality. The persistence of humanism through the centuries, in the face of formidable intellectual and social obstacles, has been owed to the truth of its representations of our complexly beating hearts, and to the guidance that it has offered, in its variegated and conflicting versions, for a soulful and sensitive existence. There is nothing soft about the quest for a significant life. And a complacent humanist is a humanist who has not read his books closely, since they teach disquiet and difficulty. In a society rife with theories and practices that flatten and shrink and chill the human subject, the humanist is the dissenter. Never mind the platforms. Our solemn responsibility is for the substance."

Remembrance of translations past

From the Public Domain Review — "Although Charles Kenneth Scott Moncrieff’s translation of À la recherche du temps perdu is considered by many journalists and writers to be the best translation of any foreign work into the English language, his choice of Remembrance of Things Past as the general title alarmed the seriously ill Proust and misled generations of readers as to the novelist’s true intent. It wasn’t until 1992 that the title was finally changed to In Search of Lost Time. “Remembrance of Things Past” is a beautiful line from William Shakespeare’s sonnet 30, but it conveys an idea that is really the opposite of Proust’s own. When Scott Moncrieff chose this title, he did not know, of course, where Proust was going with the story and did not correctly interpret the title, which might indeed be taken to indicate a rather passive attempt by an elderly person to recollect days gone by."

Life as allegory: a study of Walter Benjamin

Benjamin’s was a life of allegory in part because it was so often removed from so-called life: a world teeming with books and images and commodified things, the commodity being “the bias of the world,” as Shakespeare wrote well before the fiercest era of commodification. These things, literal and otherwise, are all of the order of “second life,” even if they were also a kind of life. And an intense one at that. Before he had read in 1924 Lukács’s History and Class Consciousness (whose analysis of reification deeply impressed him), Benjamin already had a sense, via Novalis and the Romantics he read for his doctoral dissertation, that the object can eerily return our gaze. When Marx, in Capital, has commodities talk, it’s pretty darn funny. Benjamin lets Marx’s serious point kick in and re-orient some of his pre-Marxist but “romantic anticapitalist” leanings more concretely to the left. When Keats said of Shakespeare that he led “a life of allegory,” he meant partly that the great dramatist could do the voices of others, able to imagine, in negatively capable fashion, what it was to be in another’s head and skin and to speak just like them. There is something of this chameleon-like behavior in Benjamin, as he exposes himself differently to different friends, most famously to the not-so-compatible forces of Gershom Scholem, Asja Lacis, Brecht, and Adorno. So it is good to know, apropos of any project, with whom Benjamin is hanging around, corresponding, or reading. Not that Benjamin was incapable of drawing the line or bristling (or worse) at this or that suggestion or critique from another. He was a difficult friend to many friends. And mostly unsatisfactory as a lover, despite the fascination he could evoke. One woman who got close described him as “incorporeal.” According to his first and only wife, this historian of the historicity of perception was, around the time of their divorce, “all brains and sex.”