The poem that foretold modernism

Mallarmé and modernism — "Consider its title. Bloch points out that Jamais (Never) is out of sequence for an ordinary French sentence, where it would conventionally follow the verb. What then motivates this terrible “Never,” with its abnormal, jarring priority? What is this extreme of negativity that cannot be gainsaid?" (The New Republic)

"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.

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."

Mallarmé: Homage to Richard Wagner

The silence now funereal of a pallSpreads more than one fold on this furniture Which must with lack of memory bestir A collapsing of the central pedestal.

Our old triumphal sport of the magic book, Hieroglyphs exciting many still To spread with wings a too familiar thrill! -- Bury it rather in a cupboard-nook.

From smiling loathed original uproar To those of mighty splendors has sprung forth In temple courtyard for their image fashioned,

Loud golden horns aswoon on vellum, the god Richard Wagner glittering consecration Ill silenced even by ink in sibylline sobs.

Knowing the time and manner of our death

Samir Chopra — "Answering this question could be an introspective and retrospective exercise, forcing not just a look inwards at our beliefs and desires, but also a look backwards at the lives we have lived thus far, an act likely to be imbued with an ethical and moral assessment. Such an examination of our beliefs and our plans for our lives, and the manner in which we would choose to live them, seems a fairly fundamental philosophical activity, perhaps even of the kind that Socrates was always urging on us."

On the death of David Foster Wallace

The Point in 2009 -- "Wallace’s method was rooted in the conviction that literature ought to address the paradoxes and confusions of its moment. His moment was late capitalist America, which he knew from his own life manufactured nothing so surely as a sense of fraudulence and despair. This was especially true for the young and jaded readers of literary fiction, a demographic whose acute discomfort with meaning, emotion and value Wallace considered symptomatic of a broader unease in the culture. He saw how we despised ourselves for being persuaded by the same advertisements we parodied and ridiculed; how we settled for pleasure in lieu of fulfillment; how our achievements tended to multiply our dissatisfaction. Of all the people writing fiction in the Nineties, only Wallace spoke directly to us."

The Point on death

Death, as Hamlet tells us, is endless silence. But it is also noise: the sounds of mourning, of a casket lowered into the ground, or—if the dead happened to be famous—of constant keyboard clatter. An actor dies and within hours eulogies fly in from all corners of the country, from Twitter effusions to highly wrought magazine elegies. Depending on your sensibilities, this media spectacle is either heartening or grimly predictable. “The words of a dead man,” Auden wrote upon the death of Yeats, “are modified in the guts of the living.” Death’s disarming vacancies are filled by the doings of the survivors. But, in the recent case of Robin Williams, the frenzied reaction seems oddly appropriate. After all, was there ever a comedian who tried harder to outstrip and outshout despair by sheer volubility?