Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Task

1) From "Pirke Avos," Chapter 2, Mishnas 20-21

Rabbi Tarfon said: The day is short, the task is great, the laborers are lazy, the wage is abundant and the master is urgent.

He used to say: It is not incumbent upon you to finish the task. Yet, you are not free to desist from it. If you have studied much in the Torah much reward will be given you, for faithful is your employer who shall pay you the reward of your labor. And know that the reward for the righteous shall be in the time to come.

2) From "The Middle Years," by Henry James (1893)

“A second chance — that’s the delusion. There never was to be but one. We work in the dark — we do what we can — we give what we have. Our doubt is our passion, and our passion is our task. The rest is the madness of art."

Friday, July 30, 2010

REPOST: A nervous wild thing

1. From "The Fox," by D.H. Lawrence (1921)

"She lowered her eyes, and suddenly saw the fox. He was looking up at her. His chin was pressed down, and his eyes were looking up. They met his eyes. And he knew her. She was spellbound — she knew he knew her. So he looked into her eyes, and her soul failed her. He knew her, and he was not daunted.

"She struggled, confusedly she came to herself, and saw him making off, with slow leaps over some fallen boughs — slow, impudent jumps. Then he glanced over his shoulder, and ran smoothly away. She saw his brush held smooth like a feather, she saw his white buttocks twinkle. And he was gone, softly, soft as the wind."

2: From “Dictation,” by Cynthia Ozick, 2008

“From the alley below her bedroom window — the flittering panes that sheathed her in a dusky mist of almost-light — Lilian heard a sharp clatter: a metal trash barrel overturned. The fox again, scavenging. A sly fox out of a fable, a fox that belonged in a wood—but there are sightings of foxes in the outlying streets of London, and once, coming home in the winter night from her mother’s, she had glimpsed a brown streak under the lamppost; and then it was gone. And another time, in the early morning — the woman and the animal, both of them solitary, two stragglers separated from the pack, transfixed, staring, panicked into immobility. The fox’s eyes were oddly lit, as if glittering pennies had got into its sockets; its ears stood straight up; its white tail hung low, like a shamed flag; its flanks trembled. A nervous wild thing. It twitched the upper muscle of its long snout—she saw the zigzag glint of teeth, the dangerous grin of ambush. How beautiful it was!"

3: Wes Anderson on Fresh Air, Nov. 23, 2009

“Meryl Streep, she told me that she had a moment just before we started recording this where she saw a fox on her doorstep in England, and the fox looked up and saw her, and they just stared at each other for five minutes. And she sort of had this sort of mesmerizing moment with this animal, and she said she sort of thought about that.”

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

March toward a goal

1) From “November,” by Gustave Flaubert (1910)

“What are we supposed to do here on earth? What should we dream of? What should we build? Tell me, then, you who find life entertaining, you who march towards a goal and torment yourself to achieve some particular aim!”

2) From “The Boy with the Thorn in his Side,” by The Smiths (1985)

“And when you want to live, how do you start? Where do you go? Who do you need to know?”

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


1) From “Strait is the Gate,” by Andre Gide (1909)

“I have torn up all the pages that seemed to me to be well written. (I know what I mean by this.) I ought to have torn up all those in which there was any question of him. I ought to have torn them all up. I could not.

“And already, because I tore up those few pages, I had a little feeling of pride… a pride that I should laugh at if my heart were not so sick.

“It really seemed as though I had done something meritorious, and as though what I had destroyed had been of some importance!”

2) From “The Way of Man,” by Martin Buber (1950)

“A hasid of the Rabbi of Lublin once fasted from one Sabbath to the next. On Friday afternoon he began to suffer such cruel thirst that he thought he would die. He saw a well, went up to it, and prepared to drink. But instantly he realized that because of the one brief hour he had still to endure, he was about to destroy the work of the entire week. He did not drink and went away from the well. Then he was touched by a feeling of pride for having passed this difficult test. When he became aware of it, he said to himself, ‘Better I go and drink then let my heart fall prey to pride.’ He went back to the well, but just as he was going to bend down to draw water, he noticed that his thirst had disappeared. When the Sabbath had begun, he entered his teacher’s house. ‘Patchwork!’ the rabbi called to him, as he crossed the treshhold.”

Saturday, May 08, 2010

A similar vibe

1) “Reelin’ In The Years,” by Steely Dan (1972)

2) “The Boys Are Back In Town,” by Thin Lizzy (1976)

3) “So It Goes,” by Nick Lowe (1976)

Saturday, May 01, 2010

One's best powers

1) From “The Hound of Heaven,” by Francis Thompson (1893)

I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter.
Up vistaed hopes I sped;
And shot, precipitated,
Adown Titanic glooms of chasmed fears,
From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.
But with unhurrying chase,
And unperturbed pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
They beat--and a Voice beat
More instant than the Feet--
"All things betray thee, who betrayest Me."

2) Saul Bellow, in a letter to Alfred Kazin, (March 25, 1944)

“The rest is a hash, a mishmash for which I deserve to be mercilessly handled. But it’s so hard now to find a way to use one’s best powers. What can be done? Isaac [Rosenfeld] labors with the same difficulty. He has not reached the level where he can thunder. Like myself he is still somewhere in the trees. In the trees one rustles. You know whence thunder comes.”

3) From “Hounds of Love,” by Kate Bush (1985)

It’s in the trees
It’s coming

When I child
running in the night
afraid of what might be
hiding in the dark
hiding in the street
and of what was following me

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A life of its own

1) David Byrne on Envisioning Emotional Epistemological Information (2003)

"I began this project making fun of the iconography of PowerPoint, which wasn't hard to do, but soon realized that the pieces were taking on lives of their own. This whirlwind of arrows, pointing everywhere and nowhere — each one color-coded to represent God knows what aspects of growth, market share, or regional trends — ends up capturing the excitement and pleasant confusion of the marketplace, the everyday street, personal relationships, and the simultaneity of multitasking. Does it really do all that? If you imagine you are inside there it does."

2) Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal on Power Point (2010)

“When we understand that slide, we’ll have won the war."

Monday, April 19, 2010

The amazing thing

1) From “Solar,” by Ian McEwan (2010)

“The silence in the room was not so much stunned as embarrassed. Meredith stared helplessly as Beard brought his fist down hard on the table. ‘So come on. Tell me. Let’s hear you apply Heisenberg to ethics. Right plus wrong over the square roots of two. What the hell does it mean? Nothing!'

“Barry Pickett intervened to move the discussion on.

“That was an isolated discordant note. What was memorable and surprising came every evening, usually late on, in the bright tones of a marching brass band or the sound of massed voices in unison, elated in common purpose and obliterating for a while all disappointment, all bitterness. Beard would not have believed it possible that he would be in a room drinking with so many seized by the same particular assumption, that is was art in its highest forms — poetry, sculpture, dance, abstract music, conceptual art — that would lift climate change as a subject, glid it, palpate it, reveal all the horror and lost beauty and awesome threat and inspire the public to take thought, take action of deamd it of others. He sat in silent wonder. Idealism was so alien to his nature that he could raise an objection.”

2) From “Art Made at the Speed of the Internet: Don’t Say ‘Geek’; Say ‘Collaborator’” by Randy Kennedy in the New York Times (April 18, 2010)

“When Robert Rauschenberg and a buttoned-down Bell Labs engineer named Billy Kluver began thinking, in the mid-1960s, about ways that people from the world of technology could help artists make art, Mr. Kluver surveyed the mighty gulf between the two groups and almost thought better of the idea. ‘I was scared,’ he said once in an interview. ‘The amazing thing was that it’s possible for artists and scientists to talk together at all.’”

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

A leafy afterlife

1) “Red Virigina Creeper,” by Edvard Munch (1898-1900)

2) “Creeper,” by John Updike (December 2008)

With what stoic delicacy does
Virginia creeper let go:
the feeblest tug brings it down
a sheaf of leaves kite-high,
as if to say, To live is good
but not to live—to be pulled down
with scarce a ripping sound,
still flourishing, still
stretching toward the sun—
is good also, all photosynthesis
, quite quits. Next spring
the hairy rootlets left unpulled
snake out a leafy afterlife
up that same smooth-barked oak.

Monday, April 12, 2010

You are in it

1) From the episode “The Gold Violin,” Mad Men (Sept. 7, 2008)

image by Dyna Moe

“I don’t think it’s supposed to be explained.”

“I’m an artist, okay? It must mean something.”

“Maybe it doesn’t. Maybe you’re just supposed to experience it. Cause when you look at it, you do feel something. Right? It’s like looking into something very… deep. You could fall in.”

“That’s true… Did someone tell you that?”

“How could someone tell you that?”

“This is pointless. Let’s go.”

2) From “Escape Artist,” by John Lahr (April 12, 2010)

"The Red Studio," by Henri Matisse

"For a month in 1949, Rothko went to the Museum of Modern Art to stand in front of Matisse’s 'The Red Studio,' which the museum had newly acquired. Looking at it, he said, 'you became that color, you became totally saturated with it.' Rothko turned his transcendental experience into an artistic strategy; his work demanded surrender to the physical sensation of color. 'Compressing his feelings into a few zones of color,' Rosenberg wrote, 'he was at once dramatist, actor, and audience of his self-negation.' Rothko escaped from the hell of personal chaos into the paradise of color. 'To paint a small picture is to place yourself outside your experience,' he said. 'However, you paint the large picture, you are in it.'"