Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Recognition



Walking a woodland trail the other day through an area with a number of dramatic rock outcroppings, I zeroed in on this particular boulder incised with what, to my eye at least, very much resembled the profile of a crow, a raven, or perhaps a buzzard, with a second, more ambiguous profile directly behind it. The resemblance — the protruding beak, the circular eye — became more convincing the longer I looked.

It's at least dimly possible that a human hand has been at work here, perhaps in adding detail to a stone that originally looked only vaguely avian, but I suspect it's entirely the chance work of nature. With different light, from a different angle, on a different afternoon, the "profile" might not be evident at all. But our psychological impulse to find facial figures even in inert matter must be very strong, and lies, I suspect, at the origin of many things — art, language, religion. The ability to recognize a pattern, to transform that pattern into an information-bearing symbol, is surely the first step down the road to reading. And yet the ability must long predate us; animals too know instinctively what a face is, and even if differences in vision and psychology make it unlikely that they would see anything at all in this particular boulder, they are alive to all kinds of signs — visual, aural, olfactory — whose interpretation is a key part of their mental world.

Below are two more woodland presences: a stone cat (with a bit of imagination), and a howling Ovidian wood-beast.

Sunday, March 05, 2017

Evidence


A man accidentally time-travels back to 1959, and is arrested on suspicion of counterfeiting when he attempts to buy lunch with a five-dollar bill dated decades in the future. His story is disbelieved until police open his wallet and find a photograph of a woman sitting under the completed Gateway Arch in St. Louis, ground for which has only recently been broken.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Tout va (très) bien



I'm in the early stages of a long slow re-read of Cortázar's Hopscotch, and this time I'm making a point of annotating some of the many allusions scattered through the pages of the novel, allusions which would have been time-consuming to identify in the pre-internet when I read it for the first time (c.1978?), but which can now generally be tracked down in a matter of seconds. (There's even at least one Spanish-language blog specifically devoted to the task, Mi Rayuela.)

More on that project, perhaps, another time; this morning I looked up a scrap of French that can be found in Chapter 71: Tout va très bien, madame La Marquise, tout va très bien, tout va très bien. Here's a performance of the song from which those words were taken:

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

"No Amount of Walls"



"At the extreme, if climate change wreaks havoc on the social and economic fabric of global linchpins like Mexico City, warns the writer Christian Parenti, 'no amount of walls, guns, barbed wire, armed aerial drones or permanently deployed mercenaries will be able to save one half of the planet from the other.'" — Michael Kimmelman, "Mexico City, Parched and Sinking, Faces a Water Crisis," the New York Times, February 17, 2017

Also this week, Mike Males writes, in the Los Angeles Times:
Over the last two decades, California has seen an influx of 3.5 million immigrants, mostly Latino, and an outmigration of some 2 million residents, most of them white. An estimated 2.4 million undocumented immigrants also currently live in the state...

And yet, according to data from the FBI, the California Department of Justice, and the Centers for Disease Control, the state has seen precipitous drops in every major category of crime and violence that can be reliably measured. In Trump terms, you might say that modern California is the opposite of "American carnage."...

Before the early 1990s, California had one of the country’s highest rates of violent death. It has since fallen by 18%, and did so as the average rate of violent death across the rest of the country rose 16%. Overall, Californians are 30% less likely to die a violent death today than other Americans.

In fact, compared with averages in all other states, California now has 33% fewer gun killings, 10% fewer murders overall, and 30% fewer illicit-drug deaths. When overdoses from illicit drugs rose 160% in the rest of the country, between 1999 and 2015, they rose only 27% in California.

In nearly every respect, California’s statistics contradict the image of America painted by Trump in his inaugural address — a place of rampant violence, drugs and crime, all stoked by liberal immigration policies.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Refuge (Harry Mathews)


The attractions: solitude and secrecy—the orchard in the hills like a kingdom, the forbidden manufacture of liquor a prowess all my own, blessed with the contemplation of fir and beech, wild plum and cherry, and the company of the shy marten and jay as well as of cocky wrens and wagtails; the challenges of hiking, labor, and barter; the relief of exhaustion; the reassurance of a smartly contracted horizon; the refuge of my dwelling, small, neat, and warm, with its pots of flowering wallpepper and thyme, my pet dormouse staring around the thyme, and the new ikon over my writing stool whose wood shines in the clear frame of stenchless fresh oil; soft if short hours in the lamplight, pen in hand, showered with the random amber of phantasmal summers, abundances, triumphs of art; visits from the widow.
The title section of the late Harry Mathews's Armenian Papers: Poems 1954-1984 purports to be an adaptation of an Italian translation of a lost Armenian original, "a manuscript of medieval poems that had mysteriously and irrevocably disappeared during the decade preceding the First World War," whose existence was revealed to Mathews, Marie Chaix, and David Kalstone in 1979 during a visit to the Armenian monastery of San Lazzaro in Venice by a certain Father Gomidas. San Lazzaro does in fact exist, and the three writers may well have made such a visit; the rest is made up out of whole cloth, perhaps inspired by a package of papier d'Arménie.

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Beasts of the Northern Wild



This morning I crossed paths with a foraging possum. I'm not sure which of us was the more startled (the trail was otherwise deserted), but I took my pictures and went on my way.


Elsewhere, I found the decaying skeleton of a great horned wood-beast.