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From Four New Messages by Joshua Cohen

I recently picked up this collection of longish short stories on the advice of a friend who noticed that David Foster Wallace was sometimes featured on this blog.

It’s very good. Or rather the first story, “Emission”, is truly excellent, and while the other three are something of a mixed bag, I think there are enough beautiful passages to justify that “very good”.

It all feels very contemporary … more than contemporary, actually, but up-to-date—the word “contemporary” describing, say, the prose style, which is in fact somewhat reminiscent of Wallace, while by “up-to-date” I mean to describe the content. Or can the two be distinguished? Here is a sample from the first page:

Take a pen, write this on a paper scrap, then when you’re near a computer, search:

www.visitberlin.de

Alternately, you could just keep clicking your finger on that address until this very page wears out—until you’ve wiped the ink away and accessed nothing.

And if it’s the erotics of art that you want rather than hermeneutics …

They say in this industry you need a professional name because then it’s the profession who’s guilty and not you, then the profession is at fault and not you or your parents, your schools or the way you were raised.

This professional name—and no, it can’t be as rudimentary or flippant as “Professional Name”—becomes a sort of armor or shield, speaking in newer terms a version of what this industry in its more responsible incarnations requires: protection, a prophylactic.

A condom, a condom for a name.

We’ve had that conversation here at Korrektiv before, and of course pseudonyms have been around since Kierkegaard. Long before that.

But I don’t think I’ve ever seen the connection between anonymity (pseudonymity) and eroticism and their inevitable pitfalls quite so poignantly before. Poignantly and hilariously.

Within 24 hours, one Richard Monomian, drug courier to the children of the wealthy and successful, finds the story of his most bare-assed embarrassing moment fractaling in variations all over the internet. This might mean internet hell for poor Richard, but it’s all good fun for everybody else.

Within a week a hundredplus results all replicated his name as if each letter of it (those voluble, oragenital os) were a mirror for a stranger’s snorting—reflecting everywhere the nostrils of New York, Los Angelws, Reykjavik, Seoul, as thousands cut this tale for bulk and laced with detail, tapped it into lines, and his name became a tag for abject failure, for deviant, for skank.

To pull a Monomian.
To go Monomian.
Fucking Monomial.

No one, had you asked them, would have thought he was real. Only he knew he was real. And he only knew that, he thought, by his suffering.

Art is one way, maybe the most enjoyable way, of exercizing your empathy, or at least your capacity for empathy. Not a bad thing for a Wednesday in Lent.

FINTHEMATICS

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Carmina Mucronis: 6

stele

It has been nine months now since that first day: your debut
    an outstanding success among the togas and tent poles, when Linus
of the fat ass dragged you down to the Forum with him
    for all to gape and gawk. With you a veritable Galatea,
I, frozen as Parian marble where I stood, watched you take
    your mincing steps, a puppy hang-dogged and heeled in
the dreggy-dark shadow of a senator’s wide passing.
    How soon I found how the necessity of trouble is
multiplied when money’s involved; tripled when love is involved;
    quadrupled when money, love and beauty conspire to spin
like Nona, Decima, Morta: haggishly spinning, spanning,
    and spurning the bladed dross – namely ourselves daily watching
the sun and stars post their gains on the char-black stone
    of the weather-whittled stele – but never any shameful losses
are tacked on for public viewing – ourselves always the one deduction
    which our own vainglory accounts for but fails to delete.
But remember how I soon conducted things? Your onyx eyes, skittish,
    almond-shaped, precious – and plucked for me alone,
who devoured an acre of orchards but never enough, stealing away
    bushels from their owners, with nothing but figs paid in return.

From the YouTube Music Video Archives: Adoro te devote by Saint Thomas Aquinas, as sung by the Benedictine Monks of the Abbey of St. Maurice & St. Maur, Clevaux

The most abstract idea conceivable is the sensuous in its elemental originality. But through which medium can it be presented? Only through music. Kierkegaard, Either/Or

Adoro te devote, latens Deitas,
Quæ sub his figuris vere latitas;
Tibi se cor meum totum subjicit,
Quia te contemplans totum deficit.
Visus, tactus, gustus in te fallitur,
Sed auditu solo tuto creditur.
Credo quidquid dixit Dei Filius;
Nil hoc verbo veritátis verius.
In cruce latebat sola Deitas,
At hic latet simul et Humanitas,
Ambo tamen credens atque confitens,
Peto quod petivit latro pœnitens.
Plagas, sicut Thomas, non intueor:
Deum tamen meum te confiteor.
Fac me tibi semper magis credere,
In te spem habere, te diligere.
O memoriale mortis Domini!
Panis vivus, vitam præstans homini!
Præsta meæ menti de te vívere,
Et te illi semper dulce sapere.
Pie Pelicane, Jesu Domine,
Me immundum munda tuo sanguine:
Cujus una stilla salvum facere
Totum mundum quit ab omni scelere.
Jesu, quem velatum nunc aspicio,
Oro, fiat illud quod tam sitio:
Ut te revelata cernens facie,
Visu sim beátus tuæ gloriæ. Amen

Carmina Mucronis: 5

Censorinus_denarius

Take this two-hundred count
of donated denarii, my dear Dido
of golden Arabia. That’s two pounds
worth of purple – yes, wages enough
for two months. But this is not all.
I will return in a week’s time:
Don’t forget to leave your window
unlatched, open, inviting as usual,
with your scarf tied on, drenched
in the newly bought lavender
which my silver gift will allow you
to purchase. Then I will slip the sill
in silence and, holding my breath,
find you by your gentle panting
and the scent of your presence
awash upon the air. Meanwhile,
pocket my coins in the soft bed
of your purse: let it polish and buff
Apollo’s heads as if each were mine –
let it coddle each nude Marsyas too,
he who stands by Minerva as a vow
to share his wineskin with us two,
you and I, together – and let love make
of my sunny currency something
with a proper interest for you.

Four Short Poems About 19th Century American History

Lewis & Clark, November 3, 1805
Not very many have canoed
through such a vastitude.

On the Applegate Trail, April 10, 1845
When the Native Americans set fire
to the settlers’ covered wagon,
Zachariah tried to play flapdragon
with his own funeral pyre.

Cape Fear, Delaware, January 15, 1865: Confederate Lieutenant Colonel Ezekiel Abernathy Confronts General Robert Hoke During the Second Battle of Fort Fisher
“Snatch your saddle or pick your paddle,
but either way we’s got to skedaddle!”

The Battle of Little Big Horn, June 26, 1876
With every warrior he could muster,
Sitting Bull slaughtered General Custer.

Sappho and the New Victorians

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The New Yorker, which I gave up much as a heroin addict gives up his horse, has a great piece on Sappho (since we’re all in a retrospective mood), despite the neo-Victorianism, which declares you can’t NOT have sex of all flavors and stripes and be considered normal, and the faux-sexual sophistication that starts the piece – note, in particular, the usual and tritely libelous assumptions about the Church and her understanding of sexuality.

I found this in particular of note:

Indeed, the vision of Sappho as a solitary figure pouring out her heart in the women’s quarters of a nobleman’s mansion is a sentimental anachronism—a projection, like so much of our thinking about her, of our own habits and institutions onto the past. In “Sappho and Alcaeus,” by Lawrence Alma-Tadema, a Victorian painter much given to lush re-creations of scenes from Greek antiquity, the Poetess and four diaphanously clad, flower-wreathed acolytes relax in a charming little performance space, enraptured as the male bard sings and plays, as if he were a Beat poet in a Telegraph Hill café. But Lardinois and others have argued that many, if not most, of Sappho’s poems were written to be performed by choruses on public occasions. In some lyrics, the speaker uses the first-person plural “we”; in others, she uses the plural “you” to address a group—presumably the chorus, who danced as she sang. (Even when Sappho uses the first-person singular, it doesn’t mean she was singing solo: in Greek tragedy the chorus, which numbered fifteen singers, regularly uses “I.”)

Our Sappho remains, of course, “swallowed in the wake” of her own reputation, but I think the author shows a remarkable insight about the Greek understanding of the individual as a concept which really has little currency until the coming of Christ – and that wicked Church he founded which sought to stifle the poor gal once and for all… The observation also, incidentally, may help to explain why Aristotle didn’t think to say much about lyric poetry in his Poetics.

Carmina Mucronis: 4

K6.7Artemis

Knowing there is no true honor
in using a slave to cuckold her master,
I take the point equally from friend or foe:
wretched Actaeon running his hounds
among the meadows and groves
would do as well to learn another
avocation than hunting for harts
when a goddess has it out for him.
Tell me, friend or foe, that you
would have resisted a peek at that waist,
those thighs, that shapely neck,
her divine body curving, arching, reaching
for that placid pool, those lucid waters…
Thus, I still hold out hope of buying out
that smart senator who proposed
the streets of Rome be kept lit: “If only,”
he said, “to allow good citizens to find
their way home after sundown.”
Little did Linus the Lazy realize
his self-serving law – written and filed
to succor his baying, fawning public –
would light me a dogged path,
bright as noon, to his midnight door.

Carmina Mucronis: 3

venus

Your hair is flaxen dyed,
this I know, my Flavia,
as I know that you are
    an Arabian slave, dark at the root;

you, owned and controlled
in bed and out
by that fine ass
    Linus, who will never learn that

the more he speaks
out of turn the more
his bald stupidity becomes
    conspicuous to his constituents.

Listen, he farts
in the temple of Venus,
bellowing in echoes
    of bare-assed embarrassment.

But you and I, far away
from such pillared proceedings,
the gallery’s pillory,
    and Rome’s usual contumely,

we enjoy Cardea’s gentle breeze
as she wrestles the Venti
in liver and spleen, blowing
    past our bedchamber window.