Thursday, July 24, 2008

Some things to read in your ample free time

[Forgive this tardy welcome to visitors from Lance's place. I am slow of (site-stat) study]

(from Don Quixote, Chapter II):

Thus setting out, our new-fledged adventurer paced along, talking to himself and saying, "Who knows but that in time to come, when the veracious history of my famous deeds is made known, the sage who writes it, when he has to set forth my first sally in the early morning, will do it after this fashion? 'Scarce had the rubicund Apollo spread o'er the face of the broad spacious earth the golden threads of his bright hair, scarce had the little birds of painted plumage attuned their notes to hail with dulcet and mellifluous harmony the coming of the rosy Dawn, that, deserting the soft couch of her jealous spouse, was appearing to mortals at the gates and balconies of the Manchegan horizon, when the renowned knight Don Quixote of La Mancha, quitting the lazy down, mounted his celebrated steed Rocinante and began to traverse the ancient and famous Campo de Montiel;'" which in fact he was actually traversing. "Happy the age, happy the time," he continued, "in which shall be made known my deeds of fame, worthy to be moulded in brass, carved in marble, limned in pictures, for a memorial for ever. And thou, O sage magician, whoever thou art, to whom it shall fall to be the chronicler of this wondrous history, forget not, I entreat thee, my good Rocinante, the constant companion of my ways and wanderings." Presently he broke out again, as if he were love-stricken in earnest, "O Princess Dulcinea, lady of this captive heart, a grievous wrong hast thou done me to drive me forth with scorn, and with inexorable obduracy banish me from the presence of thy beauty. O lady, deign to hold in remembrance this heart, thy vassal, that thus in anguish pines for love of thee."

(from A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Chapter IV):
A girl stood before him in midstream, alone and still, gazing out to sea. She seemed like one whom magic had changed into the likeness of a strange and beautiful seabird. Her long slender bare legs were delicate as a crane's and pure save where an emerald trail of seaweed had fashioned itself as a sign upon the flesh. Her thighs, fuller and soft-hued as ivory, were bared almost to the hips, where the white fringes of her drawers were like feathering of soft white down. Her slate-blue skirts were kilted boldly about her waist and dovetailed behind her. Her bosom was as a bird's, soft and slight, slight and soft as the breast of some dark-plumaged dove. But her long fair hair was girlish: and girlish, and touched with the wonder of mortal beauty, her face.

She was alone and still, gazing out to sea; and when she felt his presence and the worship of his eyes her eyes turned to him in quiet sufferance of his gaze, without shame or wantonness. Long, long she suffered his gaze and then quietly withdrew her eyes from his and bent them towards the stream, gently stirring the water with her foot hither and thither. The first faint noise of gently moving water broke the silence, low and faint and whispering, faint as the bells of sleep; hither and thither, hither and thither; and a faint flame trembled on her cheek.

-- Heavenly God! cried Stephen's soul, in an outburst of profane joy.

He turned away from her suddenly and set off across the strand. His cheeks were aflame; his body was aglow; his limbs were trembling. On and on and on and on he strode, far out over the sands, singing wildly to the sea, crying to greet the advent of the life that had cried to him.

Her image had passed into his soul for ever and no word had broken the holy silence of his ecstasy. Her eyes had called him and his soul had leaped at the call. To live, to err, to fall, to triumph, to recreate life out of life! A wild angel had appeared to him, the angel of mortal youth and beauty, an envoy from the fair courts of life, to throw open before him in an instant of ecstasy the gates of all the ways of error and glory. On and on and on and on!

Still have some time--like, oh, ten minutes or so? Then go read this.


jmsloop said...

Hi John B.

I came here from XARK, where you left a comment. Very nice blog. Great insights.

I don't know that I have a lot to add here, but I've always been taken with the way "ugliness" or disruption can work this way. In "On Photography," Susan Sontag noted--as almost an aside--that no one ever takes a photo of something ugly unless they find the "ugly thing" beautiful (p. 85). I was always taken by that comment because it seemed to be endlessly translatable to any sensory response (e.g, your bloggy friend's discussion of drawing imperfect bodies, the Sigur Ros song). It's the same thing that makes all Thelonius Monk solo piano endlessly fun, endlessly delightful. There's something sublime in the way such a sound doesn't fit and yet the melody itself carries on along.

I have no idea how to parallel sound with sight, touch, smell on these levels, but surely there must be ways in which ugliness, or a certain type of discordance, works in all the senses.

John B. said...

Thanks for coming by, and for the kind words.

As I was reading your comment here, I found myself thinking that another way of getting at this would be to say that "ugliness" might be a kind of hyperbole for "variation," that thing that contrasts with "repetition" to make rhyme and all those folk tales and jokes with 3 entities in them so endlessly appealing to us. "Ugliness" is that which breaks the surface of (in the case of the Sigur Ros song) the listening experience.

Wasn't it Monk who said, "There are no wrong notes"?