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data  (pl.n.)  Factual information, information that has been organized for analysis or use, or translated into a form that is more convenient to move or process.

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Tuesday
Oct212014

Certain Librans

Watteau Oct 10, 1684Putin Oct. 7, 1952

Eminem 17 October 1972
Jacques Tati 9 October 1907

Giacometti 10 October 1901Wallace Stevens 2 October 1879

Saturday
Oct182014

Hands of Gemini 15: Irving Penn

Photographer Irving Penn (June 16, 1917)

Two women with tarot cards and hand-reading chart.

One of them was his wife, model Lisa Fonssagrives.

Thursday
Oct162014

Hands of Gemini 14: The Case of Aby Warburg

The great bibliomane and iconologist Aby Warburg was born on June 13, 1866, under Gemini, sign of the Twins. Scion of a wealthy family of German Jewish bankers, he ‘famously made a deal with his brother Max to forfeit his right, as the eldest son, to take over the family firm, in return for an undertaking on Max’s part to provide him with all the books he ever needed’. His brother Max was precisely one year younger, also born on June 13, thus also a Gemini, as if a twin displaced by one yearly cycle. Warburg’s great accomplishment, the creation of the Warburg Institute (now threatened) was achieved in spite of psychological disabilities including an often incapacitating dread of astrological coincidences, which he believed pursued him as he himself pursued the scholarly study of the persistent life of classical imagery. To this day the staff of the Warburg repels approaches from practicing astrologers. Perhaps the Institute would be in better shape if it participated in the reality of ancient imagery rather than sequestering it in musty antiquarianism. The campaign to save the Warburg Institute has adopted as its emblem one of the most popular images in the collection, a hand apparently engulfed in dire circumstances, waving for help, bearing the letter W in its sinews. In the classic melathesia of Zodiac to parts of the body, the Hands are of course the Twin’s. More Geminian Hands are here:http://astrodreamer.squarespace.com/blog/category/hands-of-gemini

Saturday
Oct112014

Leos are too much.


Two Leos,  Melanie Griffith and Antonio Banderas are divorcing. They met on the set of "Too Much" and they made one last film together, "Automata".  They will remember each other always tho as they bare matching heart tattoos. (The heart is, of course, the bodily organ ruled by Leo.) Griffith's predeliction to share her bed with lions showed up early. Here she is, age 17, with her family's pet lion, Neil.

Doing the mane thing.

Saturday
Sep202014

Lee Hoiby's THE TEMPEST

         THE TEMPEST, opera in three acts by LEE HOIBY, libretto after William Shakespeare by Mark Shulgasser        

 Prospero & Ariel, USC 2012

         2008 SUNY PURCHASE OPERA, SYMPHONY SPACE NY   ALBANY CD (Troy 1106-07)

Lee Hoiby's beautiful, stimulating opera The Tempest: Shakespeare's magical, otherworldly play makes frequent reference to music and its transformative powers; Hoiby picks up on all the cues, and then some. His musical language has been described as conservative and tonal — even Romantic — but there's far too much variety and imagination on display here to make such a facile categorization. Even in lush, melodious passages — of which there are many — he shows a genuine affinity for the natural music implied by Shakespeare's elevated, ornate language, coupled with an artistic personality of his own strong enough to transfigure it for his own clear-eyed purposes. His enormous skill in differentiating his characters musically also contributes to the success of this work. . . .Caliban, the island native enslaved by Prospero . . . gets to deliver the wonderfully incantatory Act II aria, "Be not afeard," which has the feel of a modern classic. . .  The luxuriant trio for the three goddesses, with its Wagnerian overtones, is another memorable one.        OPERA NEWS CD review

 In the opera of American composer Lee Hoiby (1926)  we step straight into Shakespeare’s dream. Hoiby’s version is more traditional, more easily receivable: There is in it a huge portion of neo-romantic élan and film-like plasticity. . . . Hoiby’s Ariel is fairytale-lyrical, the prime mover of the plot, a character painted with splendid colors, that has no trace of inapproachability . . . Of Prospero’s exhibitions of stage magic, Hoiby creates an almost separate island on the island.  A splendid example of this is the fantastic, enchanting scene in the third act trio of the three goddesses -- which, in my opinion, is the most successful part of the work:  from here on the music surges with irresistible naturalness toward the finale, which arrives with the jeweler’s precision to which we are accustomed from Hoiby.  Zoltan Csehy, UJ SZO Bratislava

When Mr. Hoiby starts out, his music smells of the sea, and the strange events to come. It is full of anticipation and promise. As the opera continues, it is by turns sprightly, heroic, gracious, coarse. In other words, it conforms to the drama unfolding. The score may put you in mind of Debussy and Britten, among others. … But mainly the score is Hoibyesque. And it ends with a stirring ensemble — 10 soloists, plus chorus. . . . .                                                                   Jay Nordlinger, NEW YORK SUN   

 The [production] documented on this recording took place in 2008 at Purchase College in Purchase, New York. I had the pleasure of attending that production, from which I exited in a state of near ecstasy . . . .  I would also go so far as to assert that Hoiby’s adaptation is one of the great Shakespearian operas. Gripping right from its opening moments, this is a work that should not be overlooked by anyone with an interest in American opera.             Walter Simmons, FANFARE Critic's Want List 2009

 Hoiby’s neo-Romantic language is in full bloom from the very opening moments, and just when one thinks it couldn’t get any better, some of the most beautiful and moving music is saved for the reconciliation scene of the final act. I believe this to be one of the greatest American operas and urgently recommend it.    Carson Cooman, FANFARE Critic's Want List 2009

Since its 1986 premiere, The Tempest has undergone two revisions, each further streamlining the work to its essentials. This third version is perhaps the charm. The drama was taut without seeming truncated, and the musical flow seemed natural.   OPERA NEWS

 

2004   PACIFIC OPERA VICTORIA

 . . . a lush and wistful score. It has moments of absolute brilliance, like bolts of lightning that split the sky over the island.. . . The opera is easy on the ears but still manages to evoke the dark and lonely secrets of the heart-jealously, envy and longing.                                         CBC RADIO

Hoiby's score sidesteps angular modernism in favor of richly textured melodies, tonality and conventional structure. There is a gentleness and sweetness to this music, which seems shot through with a pervasive sense of nostalgia. The orchestration is subtle, complex and clever, and follows Shakespeare's original text with a great deal of reverence for the story and language. . . . The beauty of the language is foremost. Typically, he wrapped up the famous "We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep," with the sweetest of string lines. His music heightens, rather than diminishes… [With] challenging roles and notable duets, nothing really tops the finale or the siren-like wedding masque. The vocal harmonies are absolutely seraphic, . . . Hoiby and the POV succeed in conjuring up a magical island suffused, in Shakespeare's words, by the "sounds and sweet airs of a thousand twangling instruments."                      VICTORIA TIMES COLONIST

 . . . one of the most theatrically satisfying nights at the opera POV has ever mounted. MONDAY MAGAZINE

 

         1996    DALLAS OPERA

Hoiby’s mysteriously neglected 1986 The Tempest is a beautifully written modern masterpiece, Dallas Opera’s most enjoyable contemporary effort in memory. The Tempest is a real opera, melodious and sensitively orchestrated. The music is rock solid and absorbing. . . and enhances the text instead of competing with it. . . . Caliban’s Act 2 aria “Be not afeard” may be the most beautiful aria written into an opera for nearly 50 years.                                                                   OPERA NEWS

The real star of the show is Hoiby’s music, always beautifully and colorfully orchestrated around a constant flow of melody, a fluid lyricism pulling into some magnificent set numbers – including a sweeping ensemble built around the song “Full fathom five” in Act I.                FORT WORTH STAR TELEGRAM

Hoiby’s opera’s, like his songs, are written so that words can be heard and understood. In The Tempest the climate is appropriately stormy, sunny, joyful or eerie. Though there are plenty of moment of harmonic acerbity and dissonance the prevailing musical atmosphere is sweetly harmonious. The music is intriguingly constructed, with leitmotifs entwining and surfacing throughout in ways that continually appeal to the imagination.  NOTES, Journal of the Music Library Association

        

         1989    USC LONG BEACH HOIBY FESTIVAL

A generous sampling of vocal music by Lee Hoiby made a long evening at the last program of the Hoiby Festival at Cal State Long Beach on Thursday night. . . . . Not to waffle: Hoiby writes wondrous, not just funny, songs--songs as touching, communicative, poignant, vocally effective and pungent as any written in this century. For those unfamiliar with the whole range of his output, this small survey was revelatory. The major discovery, however, came in the excerpts from "The Tempest," with Shakespearean libretto by Hoiby's associate, Mark Shulgasser. These showed the composer's thorough mastery of literary and musical language in the service of dramatic point. Hoiby himself, resourceful and virtuosic pianist that he is, played the orchestral part on a grand piano; one can imagine the full effect of the complete instrumental complement, especially in the great finale of the opera.          Daniel Cariaga, LA TIMES

 

1987    KANSAS CITY OPERA

 …lushly melodious, dramatically cogent setting of Shakespeare’s lyrical fantasy that ought, if there is any sense at all to the Byzantine world of opera companies, to enter the repertoire and remain there…. The setting of Prospero’s “We are such stuff as dreams are made on / And our little lives are rounded with a sleep” gave away the sage magician’s whole character and illuminated the entire evening.    KANSAS CITY STAR

 

         1986 DES MOINES METRO OPERA (PREMIERE)

Hoiby’s unabashedly extravagant spectacle attests to the composer’s passion for the genre and courage to preserve its cherished traditions. . .  The score is crammed with musical events . . a feast of arias, ensembles, choruses and fourteen roles, comic, poignant and otherworldly, each given its due according to its relative importance in the original.                                                                                     OPERA NEWS

  . . .Caliban, the monster –creature of tremendous dignity has extended moments of uncommon poignancy that convey the anxiety as well as the tragedy of his life in this story.  …Ariel’s music is especially memorable, the storm music is consistently effective, those preludes and interludes I recall with pleasure, the duets for Miranda and Ferdinand, Caliban’s arias, the act iii masque, and so many other moments are superbly singable and downright beautiful.   Thor Eckert Jr.,  CHRISTIAN            SCIENCE MONITOR

The Tempest is an elegant, masterful expression of American musical conservatism. This was especially true during the conventional set pieces: the quartet in Act I; detachable arias such as tenor Caliban’s show-stopping “Be not afeard,” which stands dramatically at the center of the second act; Ariel’s songs that have entered into the consciousness of all literary people (”Come unto these yellow sands,” “Full fathom five thy father lies”);  and the flowing finale. The wonderful wedding masque in Act III, in which Iris, Ceres and Juno bless the young lovers has always proved a stumbling block for stagings of the play, since it feels dramatically superfluous . . . but Mr. Hoiby writes as beautifully for three female voices as Richard Strauss (a major influence throughout) does in “Der Rosenkavalier”, and gives us as well as the lovers a sumptuous gift. One could detect echoes of Beethoven and Elgar, musical colorations of which Debussy and Ravel would have been proud, off-stage choruses like  something from a Speilberg film, and Mozartian overtones everywhere . . . Mr. Hoiby captured the wonder and magic implicit in the Bard’s last romance.                                         WALL STREET JOURNAL

Where others have failed, Hoiby has succeeded. With a series of brilliant solo set pieces, with hymn-like choral writing of Verdian sonority, with layered orchestral texturing that echoes the lush beauties of Richard Strauss, Hoiby has met the challenge of making musical magic of Shakespeare’s complex last comedy. The memorable finale – its main theme echoing in the mind long after the opera’s end – must surely have been written under Prospero’s “auspicious star”. It’s the most beautiful moment of a beautiful opera.                DES MOINES REGISTER

A three hour evening in the theater that was both memorable and all too short. . . an eminently workable libretto  complemented  eloquently by the score. There was a wealth of melody . . .set arias, duets, ensembles and music for each of the characters that gave them individual identification and importance.… a rich orchestration brightened from time to time with delightfully imaginative and humorous touches. OPERA (Canada)

Jacque Trussel (Caliban) was the undisputed star of the production. Not only did he sing masterfully, with diction worthy of a Shakespearean actor, but he gave an incredibly acrobatic performance, and dramatically as well as vocally, made his big aria the lyric highpoint of the evening. . . The young coloratura Constance Hauman was also a favorite. She negotiated Ariel’s music, including a fiendishly difficult vocalise, with brilliant, clear and breathtakingly secure vocalism, while flitting about the stage like a dancer, much of the time on point. . . . The evening began with orchestral sounds redolent of Das Rheingold and contained many moments when the influence of Richard Strauss was apparent. Even so the music was melodically, harmonically and musically pure Hoiby.                                     OPERA (London)

 Over thirty composers have written versions of [The Tempest] and this latest . .  may be the culminating one… Hoiby has fitted the work with  advanced tonal harmonies, fascinating timbres, effective recitative and silken lyricism. His expressive range is complete, and from the tempestuous orchestral prelude to the transcending lyricism of Caliban’s aria “Be not afeard”, his music continually heightens and colors the story.                                L'OPERA (Italy)   

You could argue that while Mr. Hoiby’s writing never lacks potency or passion, his idiom is too conservative to realize Shakespeare’s strange, magical world properly. There are exceptions; one is the raging storm of a supremely evocative overture. Another is the role of Ariel, a stratospheric coloratura part reminiscent of Zerbinetta’s in Strauss’s “Ariadne auf Naxos.”                                                  Steve Smith, NYTIMES

The obvious complaint against Hoiby’s music is his seemingly blissful refusal to acknowledge the very existence of musical modernism.           JOHN ROCKWELL, NYT

 

 

Sunday
Aug312014

Houdini: Red Aries # 39

Did Houdini (26 March 1874) actually favor a bright red robe? I don't know, but he started his career as a child magician in red woolen stockings. He and Brody (14 April 1973) are both Aries; Brody has been obsessed him since childhood. Houdini edited a newspaper supplement called Red Magic printed entirely in red ink. The escape imagery is, of course, a reiteration of the birth experience, Aries being the first sign . . .


Lady Gaga, b. 28 March 1986

 



David Blaine, b. 4 April 1973

Friday
Jun132014

Gemini show of hands (12)

Updating Hands of Gemini


Damien Hirst -- his signature camera pose (7June65)

Tom Daley (21May94)

Durer: May 21, 1471

 a self-portrait and his 

iconic praying hands.

more Durer hands below

 


Elsa Maxwell (24May1883)


Jim Dine (16June1935)  

Jim Dine diptych


Boyfriends and Instagram buddies:

Andy Cohen (2June68) & Anderson Cooper (3June67)


Continued at Hands of Gemini 

Wednesday
Oct102012

A Ramble with Aries Philosopher

Tuesday
Apr102012

Red Aries #38

Bette Davis, 5 April 1908

Marc Jacobs, 9 April 1963

Tuesday
Apr102012

Red Aries #37: Lips

James Franco, 19 April 1978

Tim Curry, 19 April 1946

Heath Ledger, 4 April 1979

Marcel Marceau, 22 March 1923

Monday
Apr022012

Red Aries #36: Francisco Goya

Another great court portraitist, (like Anthony VanDyck, Red Aries #18), Francisco Goya, born on March 30, 1746, had a penchant for bright red, especially as an accent: red cape, red ribbon, red collar, red corsage, red boutonniere, red cuff, feather, box, flag, flame, hat, pants, ember, blood. He painted the Duchess of Alba twice, once in a white dress and once in a black one, each with a red sash. The painting above, Goya's most beloved, unites the color with his favorite theme, childhood. At the lower left, his frequent touch of the macabre, the three cats ready to pounce on the bird.

Here he equates the Aries bodypart, the head, and the Aries color.

The haunting portrait of Count Floridablanca is profound meditation on identity. The ostensible Subject is the central figure in bold red, but his existence is diffused, appearing also in his oval portrait dimly looming above him. There is also a self-portrait of the artist, humbly dressed on the left, whose profile is 'fortuitously' highlighted, while the individuality of an insignificant secretary seems to have struck the artist as more interesting than the Count, who is comparing his painted image with his image in a mirror. So there are at least six self-images present or implicit. Other important Aries images in Goya's work: Boy on a Ram, The Disasters of War series, The Massacre, and the hacked and bloody butcher's still life, "Head and Quarters":




Monday
Apr022012

Red Aries #35: Grayson Perry

Grayson Perry (born 24 March 1960), provocative English artist /perfomer, here in male costume -- note: the Aries sign is a phallus!

 

Red bow!


Red shoes! (c.f. Aries in Red #21: Hans Christian Andersen)

"Himself"

Sunday
Apr012012

Red Aries #34: Brenda Starr

Brenda Starr, flaming red-head reporter, created by cartoonist Dale Messick, born April 11, 1906.

Sunday
Apr012012

Red Aries #33: Cynthia Nixon

Taking a page from Lady Gaga's (#32) playbook, Cynthia Nixon (April 9, 1966) in a red leather dress!

Monday
Nov142011

Lunar menstrual synchronization

This paper: Knight, Chris; Camilla Power & Ian Watts (1995). "The Human Symbolic Revolution: A Darwinian Account" (PDF). Cambridge Archaeological Journal 5 (1): 75–114. presents this interesting diagram:

to demonstrate how the synchronization of the human menstrual cycle with the lunar cycle led to the development of symbolization and civilization. In fine scientific fashion, the theory led to an hypothesis and a prediction: something arcane about the use of red ochre in imitation of menstrual blood, and where it would be found at Paleolithic sites. The prediction came true, like a wish in a fairy tale, hence the entire anecdote has been printed in the Cambridge Archeological Journal and is a respected scientific concept, and a plausible element in a theory of the relationship between astronomology and early hominid development.

The authors consider themselves "radical archeologists".  They were arrested in England last April for trying to upstage the Royal Wedding with a public orgy.

Wednesday
Aug242011

A ramble with Aries philosophers

 

 1. Aries, the first sign, the pioneer, the warrior, the bully, Miles Gloriosus, the planet Mars, the color red.

         The first thing I bring forth about Descartes is his Mars quality. He carries a silver sword, unenlisted he attends battlefields, he philosophizes in the barracks, he contributes to the science of ballistics, the technology of munitions. On the Orleans road he disarms a rival lover.  Famously, on a ferry in the Lowlands he disarmed brigands who were plotting his murder. As De Quincey put it in his immortal essay On Murder, Considered as One of the Fine Arts: ". . . if ever one could say of a man that he was all but murdered—murdered within an inch—one must say it of [Descartes]. . . "

      Frans Hals paints him as a dashing swashbuckler,  his simian brow concealed in bangs, a veritable D'Artagnan with blazing eyes, a confident sneering smile and intimidating eyebrows. He has contempt for the past, the intellectual authority of the scolia, Aristotle, dead languages, books in general.

 

[....Not that I really give a shit about the horoscope crap but I did notice that all of the coolest MFers on this site are Aries. All of you Aries people come in here and show yourselves and the board will see what I mean.   http://www.boxingscene.com ]

 

         In the Discourse, Descartes uses the metaphor of battle: "Or perhaps we should make the comparison with army chieftains.... for to try to conquer all the difficulties and errors which stand in our way when we try to reach the truth is really to engage in battle; and to reach a false conclusion on an important issue is to lose the battle."

         To facilitate the goal "to make ourselves masters and possessors of nature" he calls for this, perhaps his most tangible forecast of modernity, the organized campaign of science:

 "Truth can be discovered only little by little . . . . It is true that as far as the related experiments are concerned, one man is not enough to do them all; but he could not usefully employ other hands than his own, unless those of workers or other persons whom he could pay. Such people would do, in the hope of gain, which is a very effective motive, precisely what they were told."

 

          In other words, he calls for a mercenary army of researchers. He rejects volunteers, whose assistance would be "at a net loss" for among other reasons "they would infallibly expect to be paid . .  in compliments and useless conversation which would necessarily consume much of the time needed for investigation."

         There is a touch of testy impatience; it's also the Generalissimo barking Do it now! He feels pressure to see the practical results that will alleviate and transform Humanity. He's particularly concerned to expand human lifespan "as much as a thousand years," if not "prevented by the brevity of life." Descartes's contemporary, Aries Andrew Marvell gives a vivid glimpse of this side of the Aries temperament: "But at my back I always hear/Time's winged chariot hurrying near."

         Blood flows around him. For a time, he purposely lives near a slaughterhouse. "I have spent much time on dissection during the last eleven years, and I doubt whether there is a doctor who has made more detailed observations than I." He is joined in this pursuit by several other Aries natives of genius and energy excited to pioneer in studying the mechanism and vitality of the physical body. Sanctorius, the widely published physician born 35 years before Descartes, proposed that the body is a machine, and measures its temperature, rejects scholasticism. William Harvey, 18 years Descartes's senior establishes the circulation of the blood. Descartes, disagreeing with Harvey about the heart's activity, cuts out part of the heart of a live dog and measures the pulsations along the aorta with this bare hand. He vigorously defends vivisection. He is credited with writing the first textbook of physiology but it follows on Sanctorius and Harvey; a team of Aries invade the body.

         He frightens his neighbors and is thought to be an atheist. Pascal seems to takes him for such (for practical purposes) in his well-known remark:

"I cannot forgive Descartes; in all his philosophy, Descartes did his best to dispense with God. But Descartes could not avoid prodding God to set the world in motion with a snap of his lordly fingers; after that, he had no more use for God."

 

2. Cogito ergo SUM

         Descartes himself admits that the Cogito is not a piece of reasoning. Paul Valery calls it "a fist coming down on a table . . . . the explosion of an act, a shattering blow . . . If the cogito turns up so often in Descartes work, if it is found again and again in the Discourse, the Meditations, the Principles, it is because it is an appeal to his essential egotism. He takes it up as the theme of the lucid Self; it is the clarion call to his pride and the resources of his being. . . . . I say that the real method of Descartes ought to be called egotism: the expansion of consciousness for the purposes of knowledge."

          Aries comes infant naked and with the passionate energy of newly discovered self-hood it must clothe itself in individuality, and defend its unique, unshareable position in space-time, and its creativity is born of that need. Aries is urgent and distinct, never bland, often noisy.

I shall never be silent. Never.   Samuel Beckett

I am here to live aloud.    Emile Zola

         It is a truism that Descartes introduces the Subject to philosophy. Aries invokes the immediacy of the nascent I, the human being-as-subject, im-mediately in agonic relations with both the source-of-being, Nothing, and the context-of-being, the World, striding frantically forth with a cry in a state of emergency (and usually picking up the nearest weapon).

         Astrology does not presuppose a simplicity of origin, but recognizes in birth the agony and terror, as well as the miracle. In choosing a point representing the start on a circle or cycle, the necessary arbitrariness is a violence which provokes or uncovers a crisis-state. Descartes's I AM immediately confronts the Other, (or does he defer the encounter by creating this) Doubt, the all-powerful Demon, and then opens a Pandora's box of dualisms, which are dealt with for centuries: mind/body, subject/object, self/other, conscious/unconscious, certainty/doubt.  Not the least of them is progress/regress. The terror of regression, back into an imprisoning non-being, fuels Aries pre-emptive aggression with pre-rational force.

         This first-person singular Descartes, this "I" that was born and thinks, that dissects eyeballs and fetuses (competing, again with Harvey, for a "father of embryology" award), who dreamed of living a thousand years and determining the "cause of the position of every fixed star" is the hero figure of intellectual modernity. Or the villain: overreaching, insecure, power-mad fantast, imperialist colonizer of infinity, self-declared origin. At any rate, for the next 250 years after Descartes's birth, there was no need for another Aries in the philosophical sphere.

         Not until the Aries Edmund Husserl (born 4/8/1859), who explicitly embarks on a new Cartesian-style beginning (and is similarly forced to deal with solipsism). That Husserl’s philosophy goes straight back to Descartes is widely accepted. Descartes is "the original founding genius of all modern philosophy," he wrote. (See The Cogito in Husserl’s Philosophy, Gaston Berger, 1972. And Paul MacDonald, in Descartes and Husserl: The Philosophical Project of Radical Beginnings, refers to “Husserl’s repeated insistence on the importance of the Cartesian point of departure” and “the abundance, even superfluity, of commentaries on this avowed influence." 

         The next Aries of highest regard is J. L. Austin: Is the Cogito not par excellence the speech-act, or performative utterance, inaugural of European thought for 300 years . . . sort of?  (A cadre of language philosophers and logical positivists exist in the Taurus/Scorpio polarity. Austin is the only one who wanders into neighboring Aries territory. In a list of the 40 most important philosophers of the last 200 years, compiled from 600 contributors Husserl and Austin are the only Aries.)

         On the other hand, outside philosophy, Descartes's researches into the mathematical physics of motion, force, energy, heat, light were extended rapidly by crucial figures born under Aries: Huygens, Euler, Laplace, and Fourier. I doubt that four names of equal importance to the development of theories of physical energy can be found together under any other zodiacal sign, certainly not within 200 years of Descartes's birth.

         There is, however, one other canonical philosopher born under Aries, and contemporary with Descartes, namely the "menacingly terse" Thomas Hobbes, whose long life encompassed Descartes birth and death. If Descartes originates the philosophical Subject, Hobbes does so for the political Subject. Hobbes is the man of two clear and distinct . . . not even sentences, clauses only: "And the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short" and "the warre of each against all".  At the same time that Descartes is devising methodical doubt in the Meditations, Hobbes assumes the same strategy in his Human Nature: "intending not to take any principle upon trust, but only to put men in mind what they know already, or may know by their own experience." They each dissect primitive concepts of physical extension, motion and force. Hobbes regrets coming too late to a familiarity with geometry. Extended discussions of similarities between these two figures that reinforce the Aries theme occur in Hoffman, Piotr, The Quest for Power: Hobbes, Descartes, and the Emergence of Modernity and Farrell, John, Paranoia and Modernity, Chapter 7: "The Demons of Descartes and Hobbes".  From Farrell I would quote this about Hobbes: "Hobbes is one of the style-setters of paranoid modernity . . .  His ironic empiricism and satirically reductive materialism were to become central instruments in the arsenal of the modern, perennially available for deployment against idealistic opponents whenever they might emerge."

         I think of Hobbes as Descartes's henchman. De Quincey's quintessential essay examines a list of major philosophers on the point of their 'murderability'; Hobbes he calls "a man who was always dreaming of murder."

"Hobbes, but why, or on what principle, I never could understand, was not murdered. This was a capital oversight of the professional men in the seventeenth century; because in every light he was a fine subject for murder, except, indeed, that he was lean and skinny; for I can prove that he had money, and (what is very funny,) he had no right to make the least resistance; for, according to himself, irresistible power creates the very highest species of right, so that it is rebellion of the blackest die to refuse to be murdered, when a competent force appears to murder you. However, gentlemen, though he was not murdered, I am happy to assure you that (by his own account) he was three times very near being murdered. . . . . "


3. Aries and atheism

         It can hardly be denied that Cartesian, mathematical, scientific materialism is implicitly atheistic. Aries Laplace famously remarked to Napoleon of God, "I have no need of that hypothesis." Laplace, like Descartes, is accompanied by his Demon, and the demonic is one version of atheism, in its most simplistic form. The Demon is lively; Aries atheism is not so much a logical position as an expression of rebellion, contrariety, anti-authoritarianism, pugnacity, and can have an underlying streak of vitalism or animism.

Like Descartes, and with even more justification is Hobbes pursued for atheism, called "the monster of Malmsbury". (". . . the K. hath at length banisht from his court that father of Atheists, Mr Hobbes".)

         Aries pugnacity produces a unique style of hard-line atheism.  All of the four so-called Horsemen of the New Atheism, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett and Sam Harris are Aries and notably belligerent. Dawkins with his selfish gene theory promotes a Hobbesian position, and as Oxford's Professor for Public Understanding of Science, he carries the sword of Descartes and the cudgel of Hobbes into the battle for the hegemony of science. At the same time his attitude towards DNA is distinctly animistic and even mystical.

         Aries atheists seem to clump together like clotting red-blood cells. Hitchens biographizes Thomas Jefferson, atheist author of a secular Bible (supernaturalism removed).  Another Aries, British philosopher John Grayling recently gave us his own secular Bible, and is himself biographer of the pugnacious Aries atheist William Hazlitt (best known for his classic essay "On Boxing"), as well of Rene Descartes himself. Another Aries philosopher I've noticed is John N. Gray, with much in common with Hobbes. Certainly, being of one particular sign does not force one to a particular side of any issue. That said, Gray's evisceration of Grayling was clear, distinct, nasty, and not too long. Madalyn Murray O'Hair was an Aries.

 

4. Aries and parturition

         I've noticed that Aries often has something to say or hide about the circumstances of her birth that is formative of her concept of herself.  We know quite a bit about the earliest days of both Hobbes and Descartes.  Hobbes told Aubrey that  "His mother fell in labour with him upon the fright of the invasion of the Spaniards." He told it himself in Latin verses (here is a contemporary anonymous translation):

 

In Fifteen hundred eighty-eight, Old Style,

When that Armada did invade our Isle,

Call'd the Invincible; whose Freight was then,

Nothing but Murd'ring Steel, and Murd'ring Men;

Most of which Navy was disperst, or lost,

And had the Fate to Perish on our Coast,

April the Fifth (though now with Age outworn)

I'th' early Spring, I, a poor worm, was born.             (l. 1-8)

 

 . . . .  For Fame had rumour'd, that a Fleet at Sea,

Wou'd cause our Nations Catastrophe;

And hereupon it was my Mother Dear

Did bring forth Twins at once, both Me, and Fear.   (l. 25-8)

( . . .  geminos, metque metumque simul.)

         Hobbes clearly situates his emergent self with the scene of murder, drowning, catastrophe, and the great early modern spiritual rift of Catholic vs. Protestant forces. Early maternal symbolizations arise in any psychological parsing of Aries. The neofreudian discourse of the role of the pre-Oedipal mother  (the good-enough mother, the good breast/bad breast mother, the dismembering, cannibalistic mother), in the formation of the Self, derives from two Aries head-shrinkers,  Melanie Klein, and D. S. Winnicott.

         Descartes's birth circumstances present parallels: his father, a Protestant of Poitou, his mother a Catholic of neighboring Touraine, the two families separated by the often crossed river Creuse. Descartes reported that his mother died at his birth. He seemed to have forgotten that she died when he was fourteen months old, after giving birth to a short-lived brother. A forgetting as good as a remembering, poignantly evoking  a distressing infancy of unutterable loss and fratricidal fantasy. At any rate, there is a suggestion of some emotional wreckage around the Cartesian womb. Attention is drawn to the re-enacted birth experience, the enigmatic episode of the visionary dreams in the "stove". Even his life-long idiosyncrasy, the inability to get out of bed in the morning, has been traced by psychoanalytic students of Descartes to a mother-fixation.

         The greatness then of both Descartes and Hobbes derives in part from  their opportunity and ability to be shaped by the alignment of the purely personal agony of birth (from which Aries never entirely dissociates), with the geo-political agon of his time: Protestant vs. Catholic

         Of course, the philosophy of mind is rooted in Descartes's Aries self-discovery or assertion. Consciousness, self, mind-body dualism, etc. I'll try not to get in over my head, but observe that, to a layman, the top-seeded players on this court are Daniel Dennett and David Chalmers. Stepping back a bit, the first scientist to programmatically measure subjective processes? Aries Gustav Fechner. And the first to measure processes inside the human body, Aries Sanctorius. Fechner was a vitalist, and so in a way are Chalmers and Dennett with their various approaches to "emergence" and the Will, some sort of unceasing birthing or creation "to emerge" etym: 'out of mother or ocean'). I would sidestep neurophilosophical tangles here and give some Aries illustrative of emergence:

 

Vincent Van Gogh, an inexhaustible self-portraitist, writes: "There is only a constantly being born again . .  a constant going from darkness into light."

Harry Houdini  with his compulsion to repeat the act of escape, especially from water (along with an abnormal attachment to his aged mother).

Poet Paul Verlaine. In a drunken rage against his mother, he once smashed the glass jars containing the preserved fetuses of his still-born siblings.

Lady Gaga, flamboyantly re-enacting her birth from a gigantic egg.

         Touching on the present, we must now call a spade a spade, a sword a phallus, thanks in part to the most prominent neo-neo Cartesian, Jacques Lacan, solipsistically absorbed in the subject of the Subject that is always already split, defective, in conflict, dismembered, yet-to-have-been mirrored, and so forth. He and his Aries acolyte Slavoj Zizek continually interrogate the Subject, Zizek bringing the violence of Hobbes back into the picture. Casting a backward glance on the portrait of  Descartes as a swashbucking swordsman, from the viewpoint of Lacan's panphallicism, I am reminded of a string of record-breaking Aries rakes: Aretino, Casanova, John Wilmot Earl of Rochester, Lacan himself, Marlon Brando, Warren Beatty, Hugh Hefner.

 

5. Aries the macabre.

 

         If Descartes set walking the powerful illusion of the unified ego, Lacan sets out to ambush it in any way possible, for instance with the shadow concept of the fragmented body.  "The infant perceives its own body, which lacks motor coordination, as divided and fragmented. His anticipation of a synthetic ego is constantly threatened by the memory of this sense of fragmentation which manifests itself in images of castration, emasculation, mutilation, dismemberment, dislocation, evisceration, devouring, bursting open of the body which haunt the human imagination.” (An Introductory Dictionary of Lacanian Psychoanalysis, Dylan Evans, pg. 67)

         Among David Chalmers many colorful maneuvers is his philosophizing about zombies, repeating the idea of the mechanical body of Descartes and Sanctorius, not to mention the spooky legend of Descartes's mechanical daughter. There is a creepy, ghoulish vitality to Aries, in its affiliation with demons, zombies, automata, self-replicating DNA, selfish genes, ceaselessly activity and strife. It sometimes manifests in the separate  career of severed body-parts: Van Gogh’s ear (in the mail), Gogol’s nose. Charlie Chaplin’s body (robbed from its grave), the memorial bust on Houdini’s tomb (stolen).  Pieces of the body of the outspoken 17th century Aries Spanish mystic, Teresa of Avila, spread throughout the catholic world immediately after her death and now reside in  reliquaries all over Europe and South America. The skulls of both Haydn and Raphael were stolen and became peripatetic momenti mori. Philoprogenitive J. S. Bach’s skeleton disappeared. Madalyn Murray O'Hair was dismembered, along with her son and granddaughter.

          Descartes himself was virtually canonized in the 18th century, a sort of rationalist saint, and, like Teresa's, his skeleton and skull were circulated, moved several times in Sweden shortly after his death there, divvied up and carted around northern Europe and France, ideologically freighted, and finally cherished as relics of the new religion of rationalism. (See Descartes' Bones, by Russell Shorto.)

Other aspects of this topic: on Aries, atheism and violence, here:

http://www.philosophical-investigations.org/The_Four_Horsemen_of_Aries_essay

 

 

 

Monday
Aug012011

Some Gemini poets and Joseph Brodsky's Urania.

" I believe in the fable that the Fates fell in love with Hermes. "  Emerson

" Mediator. Mediation. There is nothing else; there is no Immediate known to us. "    Emerson

" A good symbol is the best argument. . .  The value of a trope is that the hearer is one; and indeed Nature itself is a vast trope, and all particular natures are trope ... All thinking is analogizing, and 'tis the use of life to learn metonymy. "    Ralph Waldo Emerson

  "O please don't start in on the Zodiac."  Joseph Brodsky, Gorbunov and Gorchakov


         The Twins, the third sign of the zodiac, first one of the element Air, associated with the Messenger Deity Mercury/Hermes, houses the Sun at the births of many writers. It is the first sign that has language at its disposal.

         The symbol of the Twins denotes any and all copula, their functions and manifestations,  from the intimate to-and-fro of personal interaction, to any generalized form of mediation, transition, re-presentation, specularity, iteration, duplication or multiplication, mimesis or similarity. Hieroglyph, stylus and pen, typeface, word, the mirror and the mirror neuron, metaphor, language, dialogue, translation, figuration, photography, all spring from the Twin's mutual address. Gemini, the third sign, looks back and sees only two things, the majestic parental binary of Aries and Taurus, and channels all its creativity through the revelation of AND.

         Dante Alighieri  in Paradise honored the "glorious Twins" thus:

                                          . . . .  o stars
   

                           impregnate with great strength,

                  to whom I owe whatever genius

                  I possess, with you the sun
   

                           arose and set when first

                  I 
breathed sweet air of Tuscany.

          Each of the three books of the Divine Comedy ends with the word "stelle." Dante taxes us to experience pre-Copernican astronomy and astrology not yet fully separated.  In Dante's comprehensive vision anything believed of the heavens, mythological or geometrical, signifies spiritually.

          Ralph Waldo Emerson, a translator of Dante, reaches for the stars continually:

         "Astrology interested us, for it tied man to the system. Instead of an isolated beggar, the farthest star felt him, and he felt the star. However rash and however falsified by pretenders and traders in it, the hint was true and divine, the soul's avowal of its large relations, and, that climate, century,  remote natures, as well as near, are part of its biography."                                                                (The Conduct of Life: Beauty)

         "Every astronomical fact interested him," Emerson's nephew recalled, but his perspective was entirely symbolic. "I think," he wrote, " I could have helped the monks to belabor Galileo for saying the everlasting earth moved." According to a friend: "The majesty of planets and suns and systems, in their ordered courses, especially appealed to Emerson from youth. . . .  In the years between 1835 and 1845 his journals, and the scattered fragments of "The Poet" show how constantly he sought "the sweet influence of the Pleiades" and "Arcturus and his sons."

                                    Divine inviters, I accept

                           The courtesy ye have shown and kept

                           From ancient ages for the bard.

                           .     . .     . .     . .     . .     . .     .

                           I watch your course,

                           Who never break your lawful dance

                           By error or intemperance.

                           O birds of ether without wings!

                           O heavenly ships without a sail!

                           O fire of fire! O best of things!

                           O mariners who never fail!

                           Sail swiftly through your amber vault,

                           An animated law, a presence to exalt.

 "I am part of the solar system. Let the brain alone, and it will keep time with that, as the shell with the sea-tide." Emerson  looks to the stars with a philosophical yearning and a poetical mood and a downright belief in sympathetic influence that have little to do with astronomy. 

     America's first popuylar astrologer, William Chaney, adopted Emerson's "Hitch your wagon to a star" as his motto.

 W. B. Yeats casts horoscopes obsessively. His Geminian Sun murmurs "Mirror on mirror mirrored is all the show." He was enamored by the idea of a generative principle which he called the "antithetical self", as unreachable as the image in the mirror. (cf. A Vision)

                Gay Gemini poet Walt Whitman reaches out to "Poets to come!" Gay Gemini poets reply in echo: Garcia Lorca (Ode to Walt Whitman), Allen Ginsberg ("What thoughts I have of you tonight, Walt Whitman . . ") and Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa (Salutacion a Walt Whitman), who left trunkloads of unpublished astrological papers, pleads (in English):

          With the higher trifling let us world our wit

         Conscious that, if we do it, that was the lot

                  The regular stars bound us to, when they stood

                  Godfathers to our birth and to our blood.

 

          Somehow Gemini Joyce Carol Oates added a name, or two, to the list of Pessoa's hundred-odd heteronyms. In a Yeatsian trance, a "real or imagined 'possession'", she "translated" fully 22 stories (a satisfying Gemini number) by (yet another) imaginary Portuguese author, Fernandes de Briao, collected in the volume "A Poisoned Kiss". In explanation Oates cryptically invokes Yeatsian antitheses.   "Everything about her had two sides to it," Oates wrote in her most famous story, and in her natus the Gemini itself is one side balanced against another, a powerful Persephone archetype). Her novel based on the life and death of Marilyn Monroe, also a Gemini, was written under the working title Gemini, then renamed Blonde; Oates' antithetical autobiography in a way.  

      Allen Ginsberg relished his birthstars, as here:

          This universe a thing of dream
               

                  substance naught & Keystone void
                                                              

vibrations of symmetry  Yes   No
                                              

                  . . . . all the way down to the first Wave
               

                  making opposite Nothing a mirror

         which begat a wave of Ladies marrying

         waves of Gentlemen till I was born in 1926
 

                  in Newark, New Jersey under the sign

                                                               sweet Gemini ---

            .          .          .          .          .          .

          . . .  I correspond with hopeful

          messengers in Detroit, I am taking drugs

and leap at my postman for more correspondence, Man is leaving

          the earth in a rocket ship,

there is a mutation of the race, we are no longer human beings,

          we are one being, we are being connected to itself,

it makes me crosseyed to think how, the mass media assemble

          themselves like congolese Ants for a purpose

                  .          .          .          .          .                                                     

          communicate with me

          by mail post telegraph phone street accusation or scratching at my window

          and send me a true sign I'll reply special delivery

             DEATH IS A LETTER THAT WAS NEVER SENT   

                                                                                Allen Ginsberg

         As promised by its title, Joseph Brodsky's "To Urania: Collected Poems 1965-1985" inclines to astrology. The title poem responds to the 1960 "Homage to Clio" of Brodsky's mentor, W. H. Auden (n. b. not a Gemini). Late Auden is permeated with this discouraging shibboleth: 'poetry makes nothing happen'. In "Homage to Clio" Auden submits to the realpolitic  of history (whose Muse is Clio), to rationalization and disenchantment.  He rejects Zodiacal illusions for good: "We may dream as we wish / Of phallic pillar or navel stone // With twelve nymphs twirling about it, but pictures / Are no help".

         In Brodsky's youthfully Geminian, optimistic counterview the very ubiquity of limitation and division in the sub-lunary world privileges Urania's  transcendental exploration over Clio's scrolled archive. Gemini is ever the gadfly to the realist. Urania's profounder Self ("the/body's absence") is a spiritual giant who strides the upper atmospheres like Dante ascending (or a passenger in an airplane), observing Earth's majestic shifts from above.

To Urania

          Everything has its limit, including sorrow.

A windowpane stalls a stare. Nor does a grill abandon

a leaf. One may rattle the keys, gurgle down a swallow.

Loneliness cubes a man at random.

A camel sniffs at the rail with a resentful nostril;

a perspective cuts emptiness deep and even.

And what is space anyway if not the

body's absence at every given

point? That's why Urania's older than sister Clio!

In daylight or with the soot-rich lantern,

you see the globe's pate free of any bio,

you see she hides nothing, unlike the latter.

There they are, blueberry-laden forests,

rivers where the folk with bare hands catch sturgeon

or the towns in whose soggy phone books

you are starring no longer; farther eastward surge on

brown mountain ranges; wild mares carousing

in tall sedge; the cheekbones get yellower

as they turn numerous. And still farther east, steam

dreadnoughts or cruisers,

and the expanse grows blue like lace underwear.

 

         So Brodsky rejects Auden's dispiriting obeisance to necessity. Having known prison he is not one to chip away at the possible meanings of freedom, but will keep faith even if narrowed to a twinkling point.

         Auden doesn't think Clio reads his poems, or should, while Urania leans over Brodsky's shoulder as he writes. She pops up often, indirectly in the collection's first poem, May 24, 1980, which is the poet's fortieth birthday -- and two days before Pushkin's birthdate. (Urania implicitly attends all births.) The brotherhood of Brodsky and Pushkin is common critical currency. They are the Castor and Pollux of Russian literature, as the two Geminis, Emerson and Whitman, are of American, and May 24, 1980 is a compendium of Pushkin/Brodsky resemblances, in tone, meter, rhyme scheme and incident. The Dantesque enters as well: "From the height of a glacier I beheld half a world, the earthly / width."

          In Lithuanian Nocturne Brodsky plunges into the most obvious Gemini terrain. In a teleported visitation, with allusion to Girenas and Darius, a legendary pair of doomed Lithuanian airmen, Brodsky address fellow poet his distant friend Thomas Venclova on the subject of their shared literariness: "Our inkpot alliance! It's splurge!/ . .  Our imprints!" Then a full outcry of the Twin's need to pair:

  Thomas, we are alike;

We are, frankly, a double:

. . . We're a mutual threat,

Castor looming through Pollux,

We're a stalemate, no-score,

Draw, . .

Echoes tracing in vain the original cry . . .

In Stanza XV Urania appears in her glory (and to the disadvantage of Clio). Brodsky's thoughts of Venclova, transcending political boundaries, unite in the upper atmosphere with Venclova's thoughts of Brodsky to become 

  A specter . . .

simply note in this faint apparition a kin

or an aspect of air--like these words, with their fear of the morning,         

Scattered thinly at midnight by some slurring voice --

. . . . but in which

ever-naked Urania is to rejoice!

In Stanza XVII, Brodsky addresses Urania  again: "Muse of dots lost in space! Muse of things one makes out / Through a telescope only!") and sings to her  a "little aria," actually four dithyrambic stanzas, on the subject of Air, Breath and Speech, which resounds with the afflatus, pneuma or prana of the element Air at the roots of indo-European astrological imagery.

  In the kingdom of air!

In its equality of

gulps of oxygen to our syllables! . . .

. . . our O's

shape the vault of the palate,

where a star gets its shine from the vat

of the throat! That's how the universe

breathes.

          Two memorable times in his youth, Brodsky experienced "astronomical illuminations" while gazing at the stars, and he regretted (to an interviewer in 1988) that they had never recurred. In The Fifth Anniversary, a dejection ode, the poet tries to talk himself out of silly beliefs. It opens:

                   A falling star, or worse, a planet (true or bogus)

                  Might thrill your idle eye with its quick hocus-pocus.

                  . . .  there are no enigmas, signs in heavens."

Yet Gemini is compelled optimistically to his Penmanship: "Scratch on, my clawlike pen, my pilgrim staff, my salvage!"

Again, in one of his Christmas poems he is disillusioned with the stars: "well after hours, blinking . . . and a thoughtful gaze can be rested on none of these." 

         Astrology is confrontational in Gorbunov and Gorchakov, Brodsky's important novel-in-verse, a poetic genre which few but Geminis attempt. (I name Pushkin, of course, coupleted Pope ("Why did I write? What sin unknown / Dip't me in ink, my parents or my own?"), Thomas Moore, more recently Vikram Seth, Anne Carson.) The most extended of Brodsky's several conversation poems, it contains the astonishing Canto V of "He said"s (A Song in the Third Person), an x-ray of dialogue. The subject of Canto X is the primacy of language:

                           "And so it's not the sea that surges in-

                           to shore, but words are overlapping words."

                           "And words are sort of holy relics." "Yes."

The two protagonists are political prisoners in a mental ward. Gorchakov is Brodsky, an intellectual, Gorbunov, his antithetical self, a peasant. Gorbunov consults the stars, Gorchakov mocks them. Gorbunov describes himself in astrological terms, then asks

                                             "And you, What is

                           your sign?" "Well, I belong to Gemini.

                           Born under Gemini, in May."  "I guess

                           that makes you warm."  "I guess." . . .

  Our normally garrulous and provocative Gorchakov is suddenly laconic, unresponsive. His contempt for astrology is belied by his all-too obvious Geminian qualities. He knows Gemini fits him to a T, a final blow, it  stops his words. Gorbunov argues with Uranian metaphor (she always represented with a compass):

                                                               "You're

                           forgetting that, although the radius

                           is scorned in life, the compass will endure

                           forever, Gorchakov."

          The usual allowances for problems of translation aside, Brodsky still makes good points, often with fabulous, if slightly accented language.  Nothing perishes faster in translation than the sheen of an intricate rhyme scheme, except perhaps delicate conversational gradations of Slavic irony and mood. The notorious "untranslatability" of Brodsky (echoing that of Pushkin) is a fitting part of his Geminian literariness, and added to his labors and his substance as a personage.  He was not only his own translator, but editor and collaborator with a stable of colleagues. Brodsky is a hero of border-crossing, so charmingly grateful for the freedom offered by the West that we English reader generously excuse the inevitable awkwardness. We lean forward to understand -- what communicator could ask for more? 

                           "Indeed, a star that climbs above the field

                           seeks out a brighter interlocutor."

To unite the beginning and the end of this essay, and justify my eccentric practices, I submit quotes from Brodsky and Emerson:

"The surest defense against evil is extreme individualism, originality of thinking, whimsicality, even — if you will — eccentricity."   JB

"I would write on the lintels of the doorpost, Whim. I hope it is somewhat better than whim at last, but we cannot spend the day in explanation."  RWE

Addendum: Other poets born under Gemini: Thomas Moore, Mark van Doren, Harry Crosby, Josephine Miles, Gwendolyn Brooks, Nikki Giovanni, John Yau, Lucie Brock-Broido, Paul Muldoon, David Lehman, Anne Carson

 

                                                               --- Mark Shulgasser

 

                                                      astrodreamer.squarespace.com

                                                               wkkbooks@localnet.com

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Saturday
Apr022011

LEE HOIBY 1926 - 2011

   

 New York Times obituary   

 

"Where the Music Comes From" words & music by LH

"Evening"  from 'Evening without Angels' by Wallace Stevens

"Jabberwocky" by Lewis Carroll

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wednesday
Feb162011

Aquarian poet Elizabeth Bishop

            Born on February 8, 1911, a hundred years ago last week, Elizabeth Bishop wrote about her sudden, sickening childhood identifications with the sky-permeating female scream, and the dizzying awareness of her unavoidable fate: being human, "one of them," accompanied by "the sensation of falling off / the round, turning world / into cold, blue-black space." Of this never forgotten inward trauma, her cosmic fall into identity and time, she solemnly notes the date in these lines from her poem "In the Waiting Room":  "I said to myself: three days / and you'll be seven years old. . . ./ And it was still the fifth of February, 1918."             

          The poet's first conscious creative act, then, was to establish the birthdate as synecdoche of origin, identity and fate. This fetishistic attitude toward the birthdate is in a sense universal and unavoidable, and a source of both the attraction and the antipathy to astrology.

          Thirty years later Bishop commemorated her orphan's birthday with a stoical dejection ode, pivoting hopefully only on the very last word.

          Some readers take Bishop’s prized, meticulous objectivity for the obverse of confessionalism, a betraying concealment of the authorial self in shambles. Her fingerprints: geographical dislocation, abrupt changes of scale and perspective, eccentrically perched vision and spiraling irony, any-and-all adduced to an adrift identity.

          I did a quick search for qualifiers to the term "Self" in some recent books about Elizabeth Bishop, and came across "dismantled,"  "disunified,"  "shipwrecked,"  "fluid and unfixed,"  "unstable,"  "only arbitrarily bounded,"  "denied,"  "questioned,"  "lost,"  "obfuscated," "decentered,"  "abnegated," and  "fractured".

           The poet's famous attentive objectivity originates in self-effacement. The motives for effacement are well-known: female, homosexual, alcoholic, chronically ill, the American gothic childhood. Fortunately, directly opposite confident, sun-ruled Leo, Aquarius deplores egotism. Not so much a self as a constellation of problems, Bishop dedicated herself at whatever cost to a true poet's life of "no regular hours, so many temptations," reading, writing (mostly letters), affections, drinking, and travel.

          Bishop's cold-blooded menagerie, her semi-alive lichen and moss, her wraith-like atmospherics, measure alienation from a solid core of solar identity. With Aquarian Hugo Hofmannsthal she would agree "We are no more than dove-cotes." Her multi-hued mineral grains, the iridescences, her attention to every color playing no favorites, and the triple rainbow epiphany which is central to her reputation, are shining peripheries of hope, the refraction of unendurable singularity.

                   *                 *                 *

        Aquarius, centrifugal of the autocratic heart, circulates democratically, directs the oxygenation of the blood, and identifies with all aspects of the atmospheric cycle  Thus Bishop's asthma , which chronically threatened her life, but stimulated her highest identification. Her work is crafted in a death struggle and is as necessary as cortisone. She breathes easiest when uncrowded before the detailed panorama. Continents, rivers, waterfalls, harbors, mists, moonlight, cities are seen from the slopes.

--- Mark Shulgasser, The Blue Zenith


 

From Best American Poetry blog.

See Astrological Profiles there for my pieces on Sagittarian and Capricorn poets as well.

Wednesday
Feb022011

Poet James Dickey, 2/2/23: He moves among stars. 

Here are some excerpts from James Dickey's wonderful long poem The Zodiac, published in 1976.

He moves among stars.

                                    Sure.      We all do, but he is star-crazed, mad

            With Einfuehling, with connecting and joining things that lay their meanings

                        Over billions of light years

                                                            Eons of time--Ah,

                        Years of light:   billions of them:   they are pictures

                        Of some sort of meaning.   He thinks the secret

                        Can be read.   But human faces swim through

            Cancer   Scorpio   Leo   through all the stupefying design,

And all he can add to it or make of it, living or dead:

                        *                        *                        *

                                                            Only one way beyond

The room.

                        The Zodiac.

                                    He must solve it   must believe it   learn to read it

                        No, wallow in it

As poetry.

                        *                        *                        *

            He has to hold on to the chair: the room is pitching and rolling--

                        He's sick   seasick with his own stars,

                        Seasick and airsick   sick

            With the Zodiac.  .  .  . 

 

                        He knows he's not fooling himself    he knows

                                    Not a damn thing of stars   of God   of space

Of time   love night death sex fire numbers signs words,

Not much of poetry.   But by God, we've got a universe

Here

                        Those designs of time are saying something

                        Or maybe something or other.

                                                                        Night--

                        Night tells us.   It's coming--

            Venus shades it and breaks it.    Will the animals come back

            Gently, creatively open,

            Like they were?

                                                            Yes.

            The great, burning Beings             melt into place

            A few billion-lighted inept beasts

            Of God--

                        What else is there?   What other signs   what other symbols

                        Are anything beside these?   If the thing hasn't been said

            This way,   then God can't say it.

                        *                        *                        *

                        What animal's getting outlined?

                        All space is being bolted

            Together:   eternal blackness

                                                            Studded with creatures.

            Stars.

                        Beasts.   Nothing left but the void

                                    Deep-hammering its creatures with light-years.

            Years made of light.

                                                            Only light.

                                                                                    Yes.

                        *                        *                        *

            Look, stupid, get your nose out of the sky for once.

There're things that are close to you, too. Look at that!

                        Don't cringe: look right out over town.

Real birds. There they are in their curves, moving in their great element

            That causes our planet to be blue and causes us all

                        To breathe.  Ah, long ghostly drift

            Of wings.

                                                Well, son of a bitch,

                                                                        He sits and writes,

                        And the paper begins to run

                                                                        With signs.

                                                But he can't get rid of himself enough

                        To write poetry.   He keeps thinking Goddamn

                                    I've misused myself   I've fucked up   I haven't worked--

I've traveled and screwed too much,

                                                But   but by dawn, now    NOW

            Something   coming   through-coming   down-coming   up

To me   ME!

                        His hand reaches, dazzling with drink   half alive,

            For the half-dead vision.   That room and its pages come in and

                                                                                                            Out

Of being.   You talk about looking:  would you look at that

Electric page!  What the hell did I say?   Did I say that?

                        You bastard, you. Why didn't you know that before?

            Where the hell have you been with your head?

You and the paper should have known it, you and the ink:   you write

 

                                                Everybody writes

 

With blackness. Night. Why has it taken you all this time?

                                    All this travel, all those lives

                        You've fucked up? All those books read

            Not deep enough? It's staring you right in the face.    The

                                                                                                            secret--

 

            Is whiteness.   You can do anything with that.   But no--

                        The secret is that on whiteness you can release

                        The blackness,

                                                The night sky.  Whiteness is death   is dying

                        For human words to raise it from purity   from the grave

                                    Of too much light.   Words must come to it

                        Words from anywhere   from   from

Swamps  mountains  mud  shit  hospitals  wars  travels  from

                                    Stars

From the Zodiac.

 

            You son of a bitch, you! Don't try to get away from yourself!

I won't have it! You know God-damn well I mean you! And you too,

            Pythagoras! Put down that guitar, lyre, whatever it is!

You've driven me nuts enough with your music of the spheres!

                        *                        *                        *

                                    You know that from the black death,

                                                            The forest of beast-

            Symbols, the stars are beaten down by drunks

Into the page.

                                    By GOD the poem is in there   out there

                        Somewhere    the lines that will change

                        Everything, like your squares and square roots

                                    Creating the heavenly music.

                        *                        *                        *

                                    the stars are gasping

                        For understanding.  They've had Ptolemy,

                        They've had Babylon

                                                            But now they want Hubbell

            They want Fred Hoyle and the steady-state.

                                                            But what they really want   need

                                                            Is a poet   and

            I'm going to have to be it . . . .

 

                                                                        WHEN?

                        In all this immensity, all this telescope-country,

                        Why this microscopic searching

                                                Of the useless human heart?