Two Short Poems About Fashion Designers

Fashion Their Passion
“Well! You certainly have a fine
looking tie, M. Blass,” said M. Saint
Laurent, fluffing his own pavonine
ascot, he himself looking très bien.

Fashionable Exclamation
When the models walked
out on the runway, dressed
so tastefully in Vera Wang,
the audience wore a shocked
expression, represented best
with a boldface interabang.

Help Get This “Bat Out of Hell”

Thirty-five days to go.

“the sensuous in its elemental originality”

I don’t have anything else to post today, so I’m bringing up one of my comments from the Mahalia Jackson post below. Because it’s so important that everything I write has at least a chance of being read …

Rufus had mentioned that Mahalia Jackson made for an interesting pairing with the Kierkegaard quotation, which got me thinking about what exactly he meant (Kierkegaard, that is; Rufus is clear enough).

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

I include it with all those Music Video posts because I imagine some kind of justification is needed. Kierkegaard wrote it in Either/Or, about the opera Don Giovanni specifically, which makes perfect sense given the Don’s erotic proclivities.

What I think he means by “the sensuous in its elemental originality” is longing or even appreciation, not yet described or perhaps even consciously understood, and fundamentally erotic in nature. The “sensuous”, or the source of feeling—waves on the beach, a bird in flight, the opposite sex—is certainly physical, but the feelings aroused are abstract. Even if science now teaches us that these feelings are basically material, the rush of blood and chemicals in the brain, they are initially felt as something that beyond their material being.

Music is the medium that seems least material and is therefore best suited to express the abstract. And this makes sense if we consider that, even if music has a material basis in acoustic vibrations, it is for all intents invisible—the mathematical nature of rhythm, counterpoint, melody, harmony and all the rest are often described as form, but what the content actually is is a little more mysterious. With lyrics there are at least images inferred by words, and the nature of those images is the subject of much debate these days. For Kierkegaard, it was enough for the libretto to match “the sensuous in its elemental originality”.

The sensuous is most strongly felt as an erotic force, and Kierkegaard’s point, I think, was not only that music was ideally suited for Don Giovanni, but that Don Giovanni as a subject was the highest expression for music. Whether it’s the Don singing Finch’ han dal vino or Taylor Swift singing Style, the love song is primal because it’s about love and ideal because it is a song.

What then do we make of Mahalia Jackson singing Take My Hand, Precious Lord, much less I Know that My Redeemer Liveth or Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme? There’s a tendency now to emphasize the essentially erotic nature of religious feeling, and I think because Kierkegaard was similarly trying to sublimate his own erotic longing to attain the sublime, he tended to emphasize the destructive side of that longing. Somewhere else on this blog I wrote that Kierkegaard would have been an entirely different philosopher if he had take Le Nozze de Figaro as a model instead of Don Giovanni. It’s no less concerned with the havoc wreaked by the erotic, but much, much more forgiving of the human actors so tangled up in blue.

And in the same way Le Nozze is forgiving, Wachet Auf might be in search of something much different than the erotic. Or it might just be an entirely different order of sublimation.

On Valentine’s Day Artur Rosman made a slightly different point on the nature of the erotic and it’s relationship to song. It’s more Catholic, and includes twerking, and you can read it here.

Potter Sighting

I haven’t seen much of Potter lately, but a mutual friend sent me this clip from his 50th birthday party:

Looks like he may be finally getting around to that midlife crisis.

Bat Out Of Hell: Here we go again.

Bat Out of Hell Kickstarter from Matthew Lickona on Vimeo.

Apparently, I will never learn. C’mon people, let’s make this one happen. It’s like Peanuts, but in hell! Kickstarter page here. Please spread the word if you think it worthwhile.

From the YouTube Music Video Archives: Take My Hand, Precious Lord, as sung by Mahalia Jackson

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

There’s a great moment in Selma when MLK is up in the middle of the night, anxious about a speech he has to give the next day, or maybe the march. So he does what many of us might do, which is listen to music. Except instead of putting his earbuds in and queueing up the iPod, he calls up Mahalia Jackson at 4AM and asks her to sing a spiritual for him. She accepts this as a perfectly normal thing to do, or at least something that makes perfect sense, given the times. So she sits up on the edge of bed and sings Take My Hand, Precious Lord. It’s quite the moment, so much so I assume it has to be true. Apparently a vocalist named Ledisi actually sings it in the movie, which I have to say is pretty amazing too. Don’t want to say it’s more amazing than Mahalia, but it’s worth a listen. Lastly, here is the studio version by Mahalia Jackson, which is … something. Seems like a good song for the first Friday of Lent.

Hard Questions


In the comments to the previous post, Duffer asks some hard questions of writers and maybe a few readers of Korrektiv.

Can we please get over Walker Percy? How many Walker Percy conferences must one attend in a lifetime?

As for myself, I can only say to the first, “Not yet, I guess”, and to the second, “Well, three anyway. Three and a half, if we count the opening of the WPC back in 2010 (or thereabouts).

Not that I haven’t tried. There was that decade reading the classics of Greek and Latin literature, not to mention a number of extended trips to such exotic locales as Zembla and McLean Hospital (in search of the ghosts of Vladimir Nabokov and Robert Lowell, respectively). But for reasons I can’t quite fathom, I always find myself back with other dissenters from the dissent, in the scrambled geography of Feliciana Parish.

For instance, I’ve just started reading The Innovators by Walter Isaacson, author of the Steve Jobs biography and a former editor at Time. Isaacson himself explains the Percy connection here, and I suppose that’s one of the things that sparked my interest in the book. It’s pretty great so far, beginning with a chapter on Ada Lovelace, the daughter of Lord Byron and something of prophet of modern computers. A prophet and, as she herself would have it, a poet.

Her reengagement with math, she told her mother, spurred her creativity and led to an “immense development of imagination, so much so that I feel no doubt if I continue my studies I shall in due time be a Poet.” The whole concept of imagination, especially as it was applied to technology, intrigued her. “What is imagination?” she asked in an 1841 essay. “It is the Combining faculty. It brings together things, facts, ideas, conceptions in new, original, endless, ever-varying combinations….It is that which penetrates into the unseen worlds around us, the worlds of Science.” The Innovators, p18

This sounded awfully familiar to me. Where had I read this before? Oh, yes, of course … Percy wrote something similar to this in his last novel, The Thanatos Syndrome.

Little things can be important. Even more important is the ability——call it knack, hunch, providence, good luck, whatever——to know what you are looking for and put two and two together. A great scientist once said that genius consists not in making great discoveries but in seeing the connection between small discoveries. The Thanatos Syndrome, p3

Could that “great scientist” have been Ada Lovelace? Probably not, but the connection here is intriguing (to me, anyway). Ada Lovelace has an insight into the relationship between imagination and science in the early 19th century. Percy makes a comment based on a similar idea in a novel in 1987, by which time we might suppose Lovelace’s insight to be more commonplace——possibly picked up on by other mathematicians and scientists, some of whom Percy might have read.

But maybe an actual connection isn’t all that intriguing. Maybe it’s just true, or even a capital T Truth, but a Truth so general that anyone could make it, at almost any time. Causality and contingency be damned, maybe connections just are——between some things and other things, between people, between ideas, between propositions, between people and ideas and propositions … between anything and everything, so much so that I suppose there’s a possibility that in the end, none of it is much more than mildly interesting. Maybe it isn’t interesting at all.

But connections can take on a seemingly divine importance, as I was trying to get at in that poem last week, or as Catholics might more readily understand as the basis of the laying on of hands——we think, or at least hope that the Holy Spirit is guiding our way through these connections. Those we recognize, and probably many more that we don’t. Dash that “seemingly”!

Anyway, that’s one reason I can’t get over Walker Percy.

Diaries, a Call for Papers, and a Sample Topic


Time put away your diary and the pen with a pom-pom, just for a few minutes, anyway, and write that abstract for the upcoming Percy Conference. The one you’ve been putting off for the better part of a year, while faithfully professing ton grand amour

CALL FOR PAPERS: The third biennial Walker Percy Conference will take place October 16-17, 2015 at Loyola University in New Orleans. The conference will focus on Percy’s 1966 novel The Last Gentleman, its literary, cultural, and philosophical themes, and its place in Southern and American Literature, but is open to the full spectrum of possible topics as they relate to Percy and his work, including but not limited to psychology, exile, place, travel, philosophy, semiotics, postmodernism, suicide, medicine, and religion.

Here’s an idea. If it really is a diary you’re after, here’s a sample topic: Analyze diary-keeper and ex-suicide Sutter Vaught in light of the following comment by Percy …

“I like to think of beginning where Faulkner left off, with a Quentin Compson who didn’t commit suicide. Suicide is easy. Keeping Quentin Compson alive is what I am interested in doing.”

And the comments section seems as good a place as any for a show of hands for those planning to attend the conference next October

Soon and very soon…

…I’ll be starting a Kickstarter campaign on behalf of my latest assault on mortality. Trying to get it put together before this thing starts on Thursday. (“I got your future of the Catholic literary imagination right here.”) But in the meantime, the New Yorker has the third chapter of Joseph Mitchell’s unpublished memoir, which prompted this very interesting response from our friend Mr. Elie.

UPDATE: Zadie Smith weighs in!

On Haru’s Journey

Haru’s Journey is one of the latest in a long line of Japanese films that take a close look at a world changing so quickly that one generation is barely able to provide the next with the manners and mores necessary for sensible living. Yasujirô Ozu was the master, who in films such as Tokyo Story and Late Spring revealed both the way time unravels family traditions and the necessity of abandoning security for the creation of a new life.

At the beginning of story, eighteen year old Haru and her grandfather, Tadao, are off to a rocky start on their journey to visit his elderly siblings. The two have evidently lived together in a fishing village on Hokkaido since the death of Haru’s mother. Since the school where Haru works is about to be closed, and she dreams of moving to Tokyo to start a new life, it will be necessary to find a new home for her grandfather (Tatsuya Nakadai, who was in several classic Kurosawa movies). Director Masahiro Kobayashi takes his time to develop even the cursory outlines of this story, but it eventually becomes clear that the siblings have no use for a brother they regard as a solitary dreamer who has avoided them for years. Haru is as selfless as the grandfather seems selfish, so much so that she is willing to forsake the sympathy of others to see that he is taken care of.

Will she be able to take the seemingly necessary step of emancipating herself from a life of confinement? As the money runs out and the two are no closer to finding a solution, their predicament takes on a new urgency. Haru seems on the verge of making a decision when another mystery begins to loom even larger: that of her mother’s early death, as well as the reason for her estranged father’s long absence. Haru’s Journey is worthwhile viewing for anybody, but it’s a must-see for fans of Japanese cinema.