Image: John Marin, Movement: Sky and Grey Sea, 1941. Collection of the Museum of Modern Art.
The Song dynasty Chinese poet Su Shi lies on his back in a boat:
I greet the breeze that happens along
And lift a cup to offer to the vastness:
How pleasant — that we have no thought of each other!
I like to think of this as Su Shi’s Wildean riposte to Thoreau:
We might try our lives by a thousand simple tests; as, for instance, that the same sun which ripens my beans illumines at once a system of earths like ours. If I had remembered this it would have prevented some mistakes. This was not the light in which I hoed them.
An aphorism for starting grad school last week (the Modern European Studies MA at Columbia):
Freshman year at Yale I did a kind of great books program called Directed Studies. The second author on the syllabus after Herodotus was Thucydides. The week we read the section about the civil war at Corcyra, everyone got really excited about the line, “Words had to change their ordinary meaning and to take that which was now given them.” It became this thing people would bring up at every opportunity all the way through the western canon to T.S. Eliot—“This is like Corcyra guys! Words are being given new meanings!”
When I graduated in 2010, the classicist Mary Beard had a review in the NYRB mentioning that the “words had to change their ordinary meaning” passage was an artifact of our 19th century translation. A more accurate rendering would be pretty banal and not at all Orwellian-sounding. I thought that was the end of Thucydides and words changing their ordinary meanings.
Three years later I go to my first political theory seminar at Columbia. The professor brings up the same line and quotes the same 19th century Orwellian-sounding translation. But then he mutters something about how the whole section is apocryphal and wasn’t written by Thucydides.
Anyways, excited to be doing academic work for the near future.
I spent the summer in Southeast Alaska making a video essay as part of the Sitka Fellows Program — here’s my studio, which consisted of an ever-evolving configuration of white pedestals. Not pictured: twisted little alpine trees on mountaintops, estuaries jammed with belly-flopping salmon, swimming at the base of an airport runway, Ben playing drone music at dawn, a smoky bar lined with photos of the boats of the fishermen who frequent it, innumerable Bald Eagles circling overhead. I was looking for a Horned Puffin all summer, but the closest I got was a Rhinoceros Auklet.
In my first few days in Sitka I did a Tedx talk about "How Economic Disparity Has Changed the Art World," which digests and condenses a few things I’ve learned working in art the past couple years. I also got to do an interview on the quirky and awesome local public radio station KCAW (aka Raven Radio).
I exhibited a draft of the video at the end of the fellowship, after a sleepless night sanding down rough spots. I guess I’d describe it as a dérive through Sitka, NYC, and art history? I’ll share it again once I’ve had time to revisit it with refreshed eyes and make revisions.
I was invited to DJ a donut-themed (!) (?) concert at McKibbin last weekend! Played this Metro Area/Giorgio Moroder/Italo Disco set (thanks to Ted for the expert Italo Disco consultation). Got two rather timid requests: “some TLC” and “some real grimy disco.” Actually I thought my disco was pretty grimy already, so I wish I’d asked him to clarify that one.
Dr. Bashford Dean: Curator of Fishes at the American Museum of Natural History, founder of the department of Zoology at Columbia, founding curator of the Metropolitan Museum’s Arms and Armor Department, designer of protective helmets for trench warfare.
Douglas Steere remarks very perceptively that there is a pervasive form of contemporary violence to which the idealist fighting for peace by nonviolent methods most easily succumbs: activism and overwork. The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything is to succumb to violence. More than that, it is cooperation with violence. The frenzy of the activist neutralizes his work for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of his own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.
-Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander
Born thirty years ago
I’ve traveled countless miles
along rivers where the green rushes swayed
to the frontier where the red dust swirled
I’ve made elixirs and tried to become immortal
I’ve read the classics and written odes
and now I’ve retired to Cold Mountain
to lie in a stream and wash out my ears
-Cold Mountain (Hanshan), translated by Red Pine
Brice Marden, Cold Mountain Studies 10, from a series of thirty-five sheets, 1988-90, ink on paper, 8 1/16 x 9 7/16 in.
Then Tchaikovsky got married, quite on the spur of the moment. The explanation for this rash action is open to a broad range of speculation and interpretation. Perhaps it had to do with anxiety about his quite overt homosexuality; perhaps it was an act of filial devotion to an 81-year-old father, who viewed marriage as the principal goal of a man’s life. Whatever the reason, Tchaikovsky fled in panic two weeks after the wedding, had a nervous breakdown, remained unconscious for two weeks, and woke up to a life that would no longer include his wife (although they would never divorce).
-New York Philharmonic Concerts in the Parks Playbill (July 11-17, 2012)