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More metaphor &c

Monday, October 22nd, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — continuing the series, with a choice gobbet of Updike ]
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from Meet the Press, 10/21/2018

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I continue to find the close reading of metaphors an invaluable analytic tool, and one that is also of interest to me personally, for writerly, poetic purposes. I’ve expanded my search from its original focus on games — specifically including sports, theater, war games &c as metaphors for politics — to cover something I’ll characterize as fine writing — giving me the ability to note and quote across a wider range of topics and usages.

My last post in the series ran to 18 comments, each one containing a couple of dozen or so instances of metaphor or fine writing, and I don’t expect my expanded search criteria to expand my actual collection — if anything I hope to cut back in favor of writing other things. But when MSNBC’s Meet the Press splashes a great End Game banner on my screen, as it did today, see above, I still won’t be able to resist.

**

On the subject of fine writing, though, how’s this?

Dorothy Dotto, thirty-eight, happily married for nineteen years, the mother of three, a member of the Methodist Church, the Grange, and the Ladies’ Auxiliary. She lives, and has lived all her life, in the town of Elm Corners, somewhere in the Corn Belt; as a child, she won seven consecutive pins for perfect Sunday school attendance, and she graduated with good grades from a public school where the remarkable truthfulness of George Washington and the durable axioms of Benjamin Franklin were often invoked. Her father, Jesse, who is retired but still alive (bless him), for forty years kept above his desk at the feed mill a sign declaring, “Honesty Is the Best Policy.”

That’s John Updike, describing “the unimaginably tactful and delicate process whereby the housewife next door was transmogrified into a paid cheat” in what in retrospect looks like a major turning point in the American psyche — the loss of innocence that occurred when it was revealed that many hundreds of Dorothy Dottos had been suborned into a grand cheating system in what’s now known as the 1950s quiz show scandals:

The American quiz show scandals of the 1950s were a series of revelations that contestants of several popular television quiz shows were secretly given assistance by the show’s producers to arrange the outcome of an ostensibly fair competition. The quiz show scandals were driven by a variety of reasons. Some of those reasons included the drive for financial gain, the willingness of contestants to “play along” with the assistance, and the lack of then-current regulations prohibiting the rigging of game shows.

Back to Updike:

Now, as we remember the flavor and ethos of that innocent era, we realize that the contestants, aside from their freakish passion for Hittite history or skeet-shooting statistics, were meant to be us — you and me and the bright boy next door. This was America answering. This was the mental wealth behind the faces you saw in a walk around the block.

**

Okay, game shows, in addition to Updike’s undoubtedly fine writing, that’s a game reference. But a loss of American innocence? That’s not nothing. That’s something worth pondering..

In fact, a loss of innocence is fundamentally a loss of the default assumption of trust — and isn’t it precisely the loss of trust that leads to all those conspiracist theories of a mysterious “They” who run “our” world, Skull and Bones, the Bohemian Club, No Such Agency, whoever — and the ensuing distrust of and between political paetiues, leading us eventually to today’s:

**

And how’s that for a delicious paradox? The United States are now Divided as to whether they’re divided or united — with divided in the majority..

Okay, loss of innocence, let alone loss of virginity, may be strong language to describe the impact of those 1950s quiz show scandals on the American psyche — but something broke, a ratchet slipped, and perhaps we haven’t been quite the same since.

In any case, I’ll be collecting my usual snippets and gobbets of this and that — often sports, politics, war or strategy related, but also just plain curious or fine stuff — here in the comments section. And oh, btw, I’ve been misspelling gobbet as gobbit for years hereabout: forgive me, it’s spelt (spelled?) with an e, and means a chunk, primarily of meat or writing — no Gandalfian echo intended.

Ad now, as my friend David Ronfeldt would say, Onwards!

Sunday surprise, the wind bloweth

Monday, September 17th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — when inspiration is in the air — Sister Rosetta and Kathleen Raine ]
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Two very different artworks, each beginning with an attempt to express where inspiration comes from.

My friend and sometime mentor Kathleen Raine‘s great poem, Invocation:

Invocation:

There is a poem on the way,
There is a poem all round me,
The poem is in the near future,
The poem is in the upper air
Above the foggy atmosphere
It hovers, a spirit
That I would make incarnate.
Let my body sweat
Let snakes torment my breast
My eyes be blind, ears deaf, hands distraught
Mouth parched, uterus cut out,
Belly slashed, back lashed,
Tongue slivered into thongs of leather
Rain stones inserted in my breasts,
Head severed,

If only the lips may speak,
If only the god will come.

**

Compare the early gospeller Sister Rosetta Tharpe‘s Music in the air:

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Sister Rosetta sings, Up above my head / music in the air, and Kathleen Raine elaborates, “There is a poem all round me, / The poem is in the near future, / The poem is in the upper air”.. I could go on to describe how Kathleen’s prayer then builds, in rhythm, rhyme, and agony, her description of what she would offer in sacrifice if the divine wind should answer her prayer with a poem — the poem we are in fact reading — and there’s surely no need for me to express further the joy that Sister Rosetta’s song itself invokes and embodies

But I would like to note that commonality between them — of the inspiration waiting, for Kathleen “in the upper air”, for Rosetta, “above my head” — and to say that “upper” and “above” here indicate a metaphorical rather than a physical dimension..

**

And “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.”

In this verse, the word for wind and spirit, pneuma, is also the word for breath — wind outside as part of the weather, inner wind as breath, and inspiration (literally, in-breathing) as what the inner wind carries with it — while the verb form, blow, is also related.

Thus we may read the verse as meaning “wind blows where it wants, and nobody can tell where it comes from, or where it will go next” — or “breath breathes of its own accord, and no-one knows where it comes from or when it will cease” — or “inspiration cannot be forced, it touches down and takes off at its own pleasure, not at our command”..

Like grace, it floats in possibility space, alighting at will, ever spontaneous, unmerited, never to be predicted.. Fortunate Sister Rosetta, fortunate Kathleen to have been visited.

Sunday surprise 2, for Sally B, poetic afflatus

Monday, September 3rd, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — a romantic attribute of poets, close to the holy spirit ]
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Poetic afflatus is the term for a private wind of inspiration which follows a poet around — on fortunate days. That photo of Donald Hall which Sally Benzon so much admired, I believe illustrates the afflatus — Hall has allowed his hair to stray wherever the whim of wind may take it, while the urbane Obama has curated his to stay close to the skull in all weathers — a remarkable juncture of opposites.

Here, then, for Sally B and all, is the only example I know of, presenting that private wind in a motion picture — here surrounding the person of Richard Burton, ruffling his hair and scarf while all else in the room is still — in an unforgettable clip from Christian Marquand‘s 1968 film Candy, itself a loose (not to say libertine) update of Candide:

McCaining it now McCain is gone..

Sunday, September 2nd, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — heartbreaking, what this man endured and left us as his legacy ]
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Donald Hall with President Obama, a parable in image form

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The questions before us are:

  • how shall we McCain it now John McCain is gone?
  • and:

  • who shall McCain it now John McCain is gone?
  • **

    How?

    I think the answer to that question can be found in McCain’s reputation as a maverick — and if I may clarify that with a few additional quotes, I’d suggest you can find the same quality deployed in Emily Rales‘ declaration of her strategy for the Rales’ Glenstone Museum:

    We always go against the grain.

    It is likewise implicitly in Jami Miscik‘s celebrated comment on CIA analysts:

    To truly nurture creativity, you have to cherish your contrarians, and you have to give them the opportunities to run free.

    Above all, it seems to me, it is present in that photograph of poet Donald Hall — aptly captioned:

    Barack Obama presents the National Medal of Arts to the poet Donald Hall, who seemed to know something about the solace on the other side of grief, and how to get there.

    But I’ll come back to that.

    **

    Who:

    In politics, in the wake of John McCain, there’s an obvious churn, an uncertainty as to who next will forcible remind us of McCain, and while the question remains open, a couple of recent candidatea can be discerned for the role — one being Mitt Romney — largely, I suspect because he was willing to stand up to Trump with a devastating analogy:

    Here’s what I know. Donald Trump is a phony, a fraud. His promises are as worthless as a degree from Trump University.

    You may or may not agree with the first half of that statement, but the worthlessness of a Trump University diploma is hard to argue with. I don’t believe anyone from Trump on down has been able to come up with a satisfactory “return” to that serve, which to my mind gives game. set and match to Romney.

    and then there’s Beto O’Rourke — I’ll let him speak for himself:

    **

    I don’t know the who of it,

    Saxophonist Bill Clinton is eulogizing Aretha Franklin on my TV the day after pol Joe Biden together with oval officers Barack Obama and George W. Bush eulogized McCain — and given how riveting and solemn McCain’s lying in state and memorial service in Arizona and then his arrival in Washington and lying in state in the US Capitol had been for the last longest time, remembering the exuberance of Aretha Franklin is both a surprise and a bit of a relief:

    Both Bush and Obama’s eulogies for McCain wre worth hearing or reading in full, but here I’ve selected some choice moments.

    Bush:

    A man who seldom rested is laid to rest and his absence is tangible, like the silence after a mighty roar.

    For John and me, it was a personal journey—hard fought political history. Back in the day, he could frustrate me and I know he’d say the same thing about me, but he also made me better. In recent years we sometimes talked of that intense period like football players, remembering a big game. In the process, rivalry melted away. In the end I got to enjoy one of life’s great gifts, the friendship of John McCain and I’ll miss it.

    He saw our country not only as a physical place or power but as the carrier of enduring human aspirations.

    Obama:

    John liked being unpredictable. Even a little contrarian. He had no interest in conforming to some pre-packaged version of what a senator should be, and he didn’t want a memorial that was going to be pre-packaged either.

    But for all our differences, for all of the times we sparred, I never tried to hide — and I think John came to understand — the long-standing admiration that I had for him.

    By his own account, John was a rebellious young man. In his case, that’s understandable, what faster way to distinguish yourself when you’re the son and grandson of admirals than to mutiny.

    Others this week and this morning have spoken to the depths of his torment and the depths of his courage there in the cells of Hanoi when, day after day, year after year, that youthful iron was tempered into steel.

    And we never doubted the other man’s sincerity. Or the other man’s patriotism. Or that when all was said and done, we were on the same team. We never doubted we were on the same team.

    For more, see:

    The most poignant (and political) excerpts from Meghan McCain’s fiery eulogy for her father

    **

    And for the rest, let me just say that while it is desirable for politicians to have the moral fortitude — which corresponds directly to the maverick nature — of a John McCain, it is essential in the artist, ass the photo of poet Donald Hall at the top of this page illuminates:

    **

    It is no mistake that the poet’s countenance so vividly proclaims his fidelity to self. and if we wish to see more McClain influence in our lives, we should look to our oiets, painters, filmmakers — not the shallow but the deep, the profound among us. As the presiding bishop at the funeral noted, the Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins has the essential prescription for us:

    Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
    Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
    Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
    Crying Whát I dó is me: for that I came.

    I say móre: the just man justices;
    Keeps grace: thát keeps all his goings graces;
    Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is —
    Chríst — for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
    Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
    To the Father through the features of men’s faces.

    That’s from the poet — the priest’s — poem As Kingfishers Catch Fire.

    **

    And now if you’ll permit, in John McCain’s honor and my father’s, the Navy Hymn — precious to all those whose very lives have cast them against the unfathomable waters:

    and the hymn of the higher patriotism, I vow to thee, my country:

    Sunday surprise, crying sky blues

    Sunday, August 19th, 2018

    [ by Charles Cameron — an interdisciplinary meditation on what falls like rain — savor these two at a time, and take your time ]
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    Gary BB Coleman:

    Guillaume Apolinnaire:

    Prose version, Roger Shattuck:

    It’s raining women’s voices as if they had died even in memory
    And it’s raining you as well marvellous encounters of my life O little drops
    Those rearing clouds begin to neigh a whole universe of auricular cities
    Listen if it rains while regret and disdain weep to an ancient music
    Listen to the bonds fall off which hold you above and below

    **

    Clearly drums fall like rain. Hammer blows?

    C.B. Cook and gang:

    Tangle Eye:

    **

    Portia, in Merchant of Venice:

    The quality of mercy is not strained;
    It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
    Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest;
    It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:

    Eddie Turner:

    **

    Like I said, listen to these, two by two —

    The second one here, at four hours, will likely outlast you — but do listen to a minute or three..

    **

    And a grace-note, gifted us from Friday’s New Yorker:

    As my fingers began to manipulate over keys, words began to fall in place on the melody like drops of water falling from the crevice of a rock,” Dorsey later said. He gave the first performance of “Precious Lord” at his church shortly after his wife and baby’s death, and the act of uninhibited spiritual praise was forever changed.

    Here:


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