<= 2017.07.10

Everything smells like burn, aircraft move around, there’s a brown haze in the north and the sun at dusk was a case of pinkeye. Hot autumn. I’ve done very little in the yard this year. A scrub jay mistakes poplar fuzz caught in a cobweb for an edible spider; it has a hard time scraping its beak clean once the mistake becomes clear.

Big Data came to the day job. (It was bound to.) Around three or four in the morning I found myself taking an online assessment that would measure my response to various artifacts and situations and plot them on a scale from “Baroque” to “Zen.” My final score was 100% Baroque and 0% Zen. “I am so far from what I wish!”

It’s a master class around here in lying down where all the ladders start.

I stayed up late finishing Oblomov. From the book’s reputation I was expecting a pure novelty piece about inaction, and that part was very funny; but two hundred pages in, Oblomov meets a young lady and the book puts on the full dress of a nineteenth-century novel.

“Olga,” he said, barely touching her waist with two fingers (she stopped), “you’re wiser than I am.”

She shook her head.

“No,” she said, “I’m simpler and more courageous.”

The love scenes are top-notch—Olga is fantastic—and for a long stretch it had the same forward pull that I get from Fanny Burney and the Brontës (naive and sentimental reader). The Magarshack translation is good too; it has that bit of starch that you want in your Russian books. Oblomov’s Russo-German friend is an Ideal of Conduct, and would get wearying except that Goncharov knows the Ideal of Conduct must always resign himself to being a bit of a jerk, and wrings sympathy out of it.

St Hugh’s College said [Aung San Suu Kyi’s] portrait had been replaced with a Japanese painting.

Other Things That Should Be Replaced with a Japanese Painting

—Coconut water billboards
—“Simply Albany” signs on San Pablo
—Photos of President and Vice President in federal offices
—Credit card offers from airlines
—Boxes of greeting cards received fifteen years ago
—Nation’s Giant Hamburgers
—The clot of chicken wire and poplar fuzz out back
—“Gamified learning”

Shadowed purple clouds, low and blown sideways, a scrim over the sunlit pink clouds farther up.

The monarch on the sidewalk in front of the library fanning its wings, fluttering, sometimes capsized by the wind was so vivid and dark that it might have just come out of the chrysalis. I moved it to the shrubs with a stick. But as soon as I set it down, its flapping and clambering took it back onto the pavement. Frangible soul. I’m writing this in the grocery store. By the time I walk back, it’s gone one way or another.

Time to get started, for real, chips a voice in me nearly every morning, optimistic goldfish brain that has no clue how long everything’s been in motion already.

In any case, the comment reveals the nature of Chinese estimations of Ch’iu [Ying]’s works. The Wu-sheng-shih shih describes them as “beautiful and elegant, full of delicate and graceful detail. The brushwork was so refined that the pictures looked as if they had been carved in jade.” This is a good description of the truly lapidary character of Ch’iu’s most polished productions, of which the Golden Valley Garden is certainly one. We might also, however, find the profusion and variety of jadelike detail in it a bit excessive and agree with Wang Chih-teng who (borrowing a phrase from the pre-Han work Chan-kuo t’e charged that Ch’iu, “when painting a snake, could not refrain from adding feet.”

—James Cahill, Parting at the Shore: Chinese Painting of the Early and Middle Ming Dynasty, 1368–1580

Jan van Goyen, Fishing Boats off an Estuary: the longer I looked at it, the more red I saw in the gray.

What I wanted to say about Velázquez goes back to my last London visit and Christ Contemplated by the Christian Soul, an allegory with no allegorical layering. There’s no landscape, no sky. The child and angel and Christ all occupy the same level, in the same close and dark interior space. And in a frightening frame-breaking, the streaked line of sight indicates not the child’s gaze on Christ but Christ’s gaze back on the child, piercing the heart under his clasped hands.

A personification is meant to flesh out the abstraction, but I can’t follow the child anywhere other than back to itself. It’s too much a child. The situation is too near what I remember as the child’s experience of Christianity, that inescapable presence before the mind is able to reason anything away. The tortured man and the instruments of his torture are right there, as in a dream. You’d see them if you opened your closet at night. And what are those dark, heart-piercing eyes asking, except that you intervene?

You don’t intervene. The angel over your shoulder sees to that.

I probably spent the most time in front of the Velázquez Kitchen Scene, a companion to the one I almost saw in Dublin, only no supper with Christ in the background. J. thinks a patron must have seen that painting and asked for a version with the supper left out: “That’s a bit intense... can you just do it in vanilla?” I thought the supper might still be going on behind the wall. Who’s to know? There’s something about the Counter-Reformation there; but either way the things were all so present, the light on the earthenware nothing like the light on the brass.

And yesterday I was in Chicago. I know, it’s not even that often that Courbet anticipates Cézanne, but when he does I forgive him all the embarrassments, at once and without thought.

<= 2017.07.10