I Memorize My First Lines As A Young Hitler
Saturday, April 14, 2012
While I have a very good memory for names and historical facts my memory for remembering lines has always been very poor. I recall my days at St. Ed’s High School in Austin, Texas when Brother Edwin Reggio, C.S.C. would tell us at the end of the class that if we remembered the day’s gospel by heart for the next we would get 10 extra points. I was always doomed for failure in this. I was extremely jealous of my friend Howard Houston who could and would memorize anything on sight. He always got those 10 extra points.
In school plays I was profoundly afraid of being asked to participate in any kind of play. To simply stand up on a stage and recite lines was to me the most fearsome kind of activity. Luckily, since I was in the school band (I played the alto saxophone) I could stay out of trouble by providing musical accompaniment for Brother Dunstan Bowles's, C.S.C. school plays. One in particular I have a fond memory for since it was The Nutcracker
and I had to learn to play Tchaikovsky which for me was quite a challenge. My saxophone was, at most, efficient. My fond memory is that one of the females in the cast was Judy Reyes (a 5 ft tall cheerleader who was stacked). I admired her from afar.
All this avoiding of memorizing lines ended one day. I suspect that the librarian (very German he was) Brother Myron Bachenheimer, C.S.C. was the man responsible for my sudden travails. Brother Myron was the school librarian. He wore a cape and hat and walked with an umbrella or cain. Most thought he was a creature of the undead. But I had resorted to his help when Brother Dunstan had warned me he would fail me in his English Lit class if I did not improve my handwriting. He told me he could not read anything I handed in. Brother Myron had suggested that if I learned to write with Italic pens my handwriting not only would be legible but beautiful, too. He dispatched me to town on a weekend to buy two Italic nibs. One was for red ink for the capitals, the other for black for the rest. Soon my essays that I presented to Brother Dunstan resembled medieval manuscripts. I learned to like Brother Myron who one day told me that I had a passing resemblance to Hitler even though my ears stuck out a bit too much. I did not know how to take this. Was this a compliment or an embarrassing insult?
|Brother Myron Bachenheimer, C.S.C.|
I soon found out that there was more to this. A few days later Brother Dunstan informed us that there would be a new school play. It was an unusual play by a now obscure Italian writer called Edmondo De Amicis
. He had written a play, only recently having been translated by our polyglot Brother Myron (aha!) from Italian into English. The play was called Hitler - The Young Philosopher
. Looking into my direction Brother Dunstan informed me that I was going to play the lead part.
All I will reveal here is that what followed was a month of hell where every night I would stay awake to remember lines. There was a love interest in the play, a young girl who coincidentally was called Eva. Would you believe that they cast my Judy Reyes for the part? It made my memorizing of lines and declaiming on stage all the more difficult as every time I happened to look at her I could feel my face burning. In those days I easily blushed.
Now I am not bragging as I don’t think anybody should ever brag about playing Hitler. I did. And in the end I remembered all my lines.
And I had a couple of dates with Judy, my first ever dates with a girl. I had successfully gone from being a nerdish wall-flower to a young man who would shuffle in my socks on the basketball gym with my 5 ft bombshell of a girlfriend to the tune of A Summer Place which then was the ultimate slow dance to hold on tight.
Not On Google Images? It Does Not Exist
Friday, April 13, 2012
Jean-Léon Gérôme (French, Vésoul 1824–1904 Paris)
Medium: Oil on canvas
Dimensions: 31 3/4 x 26 in. (80.6 x 66 cm)
Credit Line: Gift of Mrs. Charles Wrightsman, 2008
Accession Number: 2008.547.1
Metropolitan Museum of Art
From my NY Times Fine Arts Leisure Weekend Arts
, Friday April13, 2012 I read in a fine essay by Ken Johnson that the Met has a new Guide (The Metropolitan Museum of Art Guide
, which is distributed by Yale University Press, $24.95). It displays in its 449 pages 600 of the museum’s works of arts. Johnson writes of the curious choice of the cover which is the work by by French painter Jean-Léon Gérôme. He mentions that the artist has not received much respect from modern scholars. Johnson also criticizes that the cover is cropped so that you cannot see that the Bashi-Bazouk (a Turkish name for certain mercenary soldiers of the time) has the barrel of a musket on his left shoulder and pistols cradled in one arm.
Because of a book in my library which I purchased in 1989, Michael Gill’s Image of the Body
I am not a stranger to the excellence of Gérôme. I have used Gill’s book as a reference to many of my photographic classes and in particular the ones that deal with the nude human figure. There is a particular image in the book (all in b+w) which I go back to, over and over because of its impact. It is called The Slave Market and Gill writes:
Among lesser artists the overheated emotions of Romanticism can seem bathetic. Many of the exotic themes reveal a sexual sadism that is only a little less that the general mayhem of Sardanopalus [by Delacroix]. Suitable subjects were easy to find in Egypt and the Near East, A French Painter, who paid many visits there was Jean-Léon Gérôme. A generation younger than Delacroix, the photographic realism of his style and his provocative choice of imagery ensured popular success. The inspection of a potential slave girl entails her being stripped naked under the searching gaze of a number of fully clad men. A prospective purchaser pushes his hand into her mouth to feel her teeth.
It is only recently that through Google Images I was able to find the full colour version of The Slave Market
For many the new Met Guide will be their only chance to visit the museum’s fine collection. I feel lucky that I have been to the museum three times and that in all three cases I took my time and a few days to see as much as I could. At the same time as I mention the names of my favourite artists and photographers to my students at Focal Point and notice that the names do not register in their memory I understand well that the instant satisfaction of finding The Slave Market in colour on Google Images has a more ominous side. If you do not know the existence of the image (in my case a b+w image in a book) how would you ever know of it?
The Lasting Effect Of The Arts Club's Scar Tissue
Thursday, April 12, 2012
Theatre can be entertaining and fun. It can challenge and like the original ancient Greek intention serve as a catharsis. The folks at the Arts Club Theatre Company like to serve their theatre much like that and in some cases even offer the kind of stuff that makes you relish the cleansing that violence can work on you (Straw Dogs
fashion) as they did back in March in Morris Panych’s Gordon
. The nailing of a hand on to a kitchen table left me spent with the relief of being alive and that my problems were all minor.
But the Arts Club Theatre Company will not rest nor allow us theatre goers to rest and come up for air either. In April 1011 Nicola Lipman, in a brilliant monologue, took us through Another Home Invasion
into the horrific territory of having to deal with a spouse’s degeneration into Alzheimer’s disease. During the play my wife Rosemary whispered into my ear, “This is much too realistic to bear.”
Before my spirited grandmother Lolita went to Cairo in the mid 60s to visit my Uncle Tony she had become forgetful. We thought it was funny. My abuelita dispatched me to homeopathic pharmacies to purchase glutamic acid which was said to help in curtailing memory loss. When she came back to our home in Veracruz, Mexico she looked at me and I knew she was not there. Every day, she prepared to go to bed for the night by taking her shower and putting on her nightgown, earlier and earlier. Bedtime soon became two in the afternoon. Eventually my mother could not handle her and we put her in a special institution run by Roman Catholic nuns. One day we received a call that she had died. Before that event I had taken my new wife Rosemary to visit her in the hopes that my abuelita would somehow recognize my new love. That never happened. Rosemary and I were affected by it, but particularly Rosemary who has often told me how her grandmother once threw out of her bed the man she said was a stranger. Rosemary’s grandfather was never able to return.
Rosemary and I are serious gardeners and we often remark to our friends that our memory for the correct name of our plants fades during winter but comes back in the spring. I argue with Rosemary that we forget because we don’t see the plants nor mention their names for several months. Come May we can note the progress of Hosta
‘Tokudama Flavo Circinalis’ or comment that our Corylopsis passiflora’s
little yellow flowers (that emerge before the leaves) are quite fragrant. But we do not deny that our memory is deteriorating.
We know that we could go for tests to determine if we are headed into nature’s oblivion. But we try the technique that if you ignore it, it will go away.
With my friend, architect Abraham Rogatnick, who died a couple of years ago I used to discuss the fact that neither of us seemed to fear the idea of death. We both were moving into the idea that after death nothing much would happen. It was Rogatnick who remarked that the oblivion before birth, birth until some sort of self-awareness materialized at age four or five was nicely symmetrical with the oblivion, through gradual memory loss and self-awareness of old age sped up along the way by Alzheimer’s. It was indeed symmetrical and it almost seemed right until you considered how this affected those loved ones surrounding the affected person.
While I am not yet sure that Alzheimer's is affecting me I cannot recall that our almost liberal prime minister, Michael Ignatieff’s novel (autobiographical I was soon to find out) Scar Tissue
was short listed for the Man Booker prize in 1993.
Vancouver’s Dennis Foon adapted the novel into the play, Scar Tissue
(directed by Craig Hall) that Rosemary and I went to see on the opening performance on Wednesday, April 11 at the Art Club’s Revue Stage on Granville Island.
This brutal play (hands need not be nailed on to a kitchen table to be so) has a cast that is terrific, Craig Erickson (the sensitive son David), Kelk C.D. Jeffrey (the nerdish matter-a-fact son Jack) Megan Leitch as Craig Erickson’s wife, Anna, Tom McBeath as the sons’ father, Alex, Haig Sutherland as Leitch and Erickson’s young son Nick, and of course Gabrielle Rose as Mary, Alex’s wife who is suffering from Alzheimer’s.
For me the only competition to Gabrielle Rose’s believable performance is the cool one by Kelk C.D. Jeffery. He is so removed, so objective to be almost scary. And more so when the plays dramaturg, Rachel Ditor
, asked me, after the performance, which of the sons was the one based on Ignatieff. I guessed correctly that it was indeed Jack.
I wonder if Ignatieff, as Prime Minister could possibly have been scarier than our present one!
This is the sort of play that propels me to the idea that if I am to serve my family as best as I can I should make sure that if I am to go the path of slow oblivion that I make it as easy as possible for them. If that is the case then we can add one more quality to the Arts Club’s service to Vancouver, and that is usefulness.
Max Krewiak, Lauren Mulcahy & Why I Like To Teach At Focal Point
Wednesday, April 11, 2012
|Max Krewiak - Photograph by Lauren Mulcahy|
Yesterday was my last class at Focal Point for a few days when I begin again, this time teaching the school’s full-time students as opposed to the part timers I imparted something called Contemporary Photographic Techniques.
The last day for me is always a sad day. I know that in most cases that I will not see my students again even in this smallish town that our city of Vancouver really is. But my chances are good at being able to see Max Krewiak seen here and subject of my other student Lauren Mulcahy. I am bound to see Max as he works at Leo’s on Granville where this old-fashioned photographer (me) still buys film.
I enjoy teaching at Focal Point because it is a small school with small classes. Our classes are intimate and our studio sessions involve at most 8 or 9 students. The school has three studios but, two of them are joined by a door so that I like to split my classes, get two models and then I run back and forth supervising my class. I am usually exhausted after the three hour sessions but I go home with a warm feeling that I am indeed doing something useful and that my students, mostly taciturn at most times, appreciate what they might learn in my class.
For many years Rosemary told me I would need to buy a digital camera if I planned to keep teaching photography. I am glad that for once (and yes, once) my wife was wrong. Most of my students assume I own a top-of-the-line DSLR but are flabbergasted when they find out it is only an iPhone 3G!
The bulk of what I teach has to do with what, to me, has always been the principal factors in my pursuit of photography. They are contrast (its awareness), exposure, composition, but mostly to learn to communicate with one’s subjects. Key to photography is our ability to associate disparate subjects. In fact I believe that to associate is what makes us human. With the help of association one can study former artists, photographers, novelists, architects, dancers, musicians and somehow relate them to what one is doing or wanting to do. Important too is awareness in being faithful to accurate reproduction of colour so that when one is not, it is for an important reason. Fundamental to my classes is to gain knowledge through an interest in art history.
If the just finished class was called Contemporary Techniques, I told my students many times, that all it involves is understanding past techniques and applying them, re-inventing them, modifying them to one’s own tastes.
The photograph of Max Krewiak was taken by Lauren Mulcahy with my Mamiya RB-67 with a body cap modified with a pinhole. The film was Fuji FP-3000B Professional Instant Print Film. Mulcahy used the quartz modeling light of a studio flash on a 2x3 ft softbox. Her exposure was 8 seconds. By accident I had fogged the film. Because of this fogging, the negative (what you see here is the negative print scanned on an Epson V700 Photo) “suffered” the Sabattier effect and somehow became partly positive to, I believe wonderful effect. The second image is the actual Fuji print.
Turning Point Ensemble's Jump For Joy! - Oblivion Can Wait.
Tuesday, April 10, 2012
|François Houle |
On April 1, 2012 I went to a concert of the Turning Point Ensemble
at the Fei & Milton Wong Experimental Theatre –Goldcorp Centre for the Arts at SFU Woodwards. The concert was called Jump for Joy!
I can literally write here that the music I listened to with my good friend Graham Walker (I know of nobody else in my circle of friends willing to go to concerts of the avant-garde) was music to almost die for.
It featured Igor Stravinsky, Duke Ellington (arranged by UBC composer/arranger Fred Stride), Brad Turner and Dave Douglas. More on that later as I regress to the dying part.
Earlier on Sunday April 1st I was working in the garden with Rosemary and I was lifting heavy bags of manure and compost. Soon I could not lift my arms as my psoriatic arthritis had taken over my joints. I felt short of breath so I told Rosemary I was going inside. Such was my pain that I took two Tylenols and decided to see if a hot bath would help. While in the tub I felt a big knot across my chest. I had listened to a CBC Radio program a few weeks later where I learned that more women who go to hospital in heart related emergencies die than men do. The reason is that chest pains affect men but not necessarily women. By the time women decide a heart attack is in progress it can be too late!
While in that tub I told myself I did not want to drown like Whitney Houston. I started calling for Rosemary. She could not hear me as she was in the garden. I shouted but that did not help. Finally she did come in for something else and heard me. I left the tub and got into bed. She brought me a large mug of tea and suddenly I felt no pain and a wonderful peace. I told rosemary that I really did not feel like going to the Turning Point Ensemble concert that evening but I had to go as I had two tickets and I did not want to disappoint Graham Walker.
From my mother (who in the family was given the nick name of Sarah Bernhardt) I inherited that penchant for being a tad overdramatic. I told her, “If I don’t return tonight call emergency. I will probably be there!”
That was not to be. My doctor asked me if I wanted to take some sort of stress test but I told him I would wait a bit. I don’t think I had any kind of heart activity to worry about. And besides as my friend Abraham Rogatnick said a few weeks before he died, “After me, oblivion.” I am not worried.
As for the music I will splurge here in my positive enthusiasm at being able to listen to good Duke Ellington. Where else in our Vancouver could this happen except in a concert by the Turning Point Ensemble? Not only were Stride’s arrangements wonderful the surprise of the evening was vocalist Jennifer Scott ( a good friend of my friend bassist Rene Wurst) who was just right.
Stravinsky’s Octet for wind instruments
made me think that an emergency/ambulance was going to have to be called (but not to me) as the wicked parts for bassoonists Ingrid Chiang and Jesse Read had them not being able to gasp for air as there were no pauses in the written music!
For the beautiful Ellington The Clothed Woman
a shortish man was incorporated into the orchestra. He had the smallest bass drum I have ever seen. All he seemed to do was to use his brushes on the snares every once in a while. His smile was boyish and engaging. I knew who he was!
It was in Brad Turner’s Seven Scenes From Childhood
(ample proof that contemporary music can be so without losing any lyrical elements, warmth and humour) that I watched the brush artist’s mouth expressions which were funny. You see the man was the composer himself, Brad Turner. Turner plays several instruments but it was in the sixth movement, Imagine How Good You’d be (If You Would Practice!)
that he taxed the trumpet players (Tom Shorthouse and Jim Littleford and the pianist Jane Hays) as these must be his two favourites.
Jane Hays played a remarkably Argentine-sounding Tango
by Stravinsky that had me wanting to give her Argentine Tango lessons ( I don’t dance too badly) in exchange of suggesting that she not manhandle me as she usually does the pianos she almost always manages to demolish, but not quite. Her playing reminded me of my being the only customer for dinner sometime in 1964 in the then worse for wear but once glorious hotel Gloria in Rio de Janeiro ( scene in Fred Astaire and Dolores del Rio and Ginger Rogers 1933 film Flying Down To Rio). A stiff and serious man in tails walked in and sat at a Steinway and played old tangos. A waiter came up to me to ask we if all was right. It was!
Dave Douglas’s piece Sand Hill had several sections of the orchestra in charge while director Owen Underhill lowered his baton. These sections would interrupt other sections with improvisations and they used urgent hand signals to signal off. It made Charles Ives’s The Unanswered Question (for two conductors) seem like a Strauss waltz. It was just the right amount of dissonance to clear my palate in preparation for the final number Igor’s Blues
And of course for anybody who loves trombones, I am one of them, there was plenty of that all evening with Jeremy Berkman and Sharman King (on bass trombone). Not to mention, but I will, lots of glorious clarinet by François Houle, whose performance of Stravinsky's composition Three Pieces for Clarinet
made me wonder why the VSO (Vancouver Symphony Orchestra) does not hire this busy man as a soloist.
As I drove home I thought of Abraham Rogatnick and I told him (even if he is nowhere) that oblivion can wait, at least for a while.
Turning Point Ensemble
Jorge Luís Borges - The Library of Babel & A North Vancouver Librarian
Monday, April 09, 2012
On a lark I decided to look for bibliotecaria (female librarian in Spanish) on Google en Castellano (Spain). First up was a joke:
A man enters a library and asks a female librarian, “Can you help me find a book?” “Sir, please give me the title of the book.” “The title is Men – The Strong Sex.” “The science fiction section of the library is downstairs, sir.”
Knowing that Jorge Luís Borges was a librarian, I knew of many stories on libraries written by this favourite Argentine author of mine. Below you will find his Library of Babel
. It is far more serious than the joke above but many suspect that Borges himself took the whole thing far less seriously. The handsome woman you see here is called Corinne McConchie. She is a librarian in one of the branches of the North Vancouver Public Library. I have been taking her pictures of late. Since I can remember I have been fascinated by libraries, books and in my imagination I always had the idea of someday sparring with a female librarian who wears dark, horn-rimmed glasses. Alas! McConchie would rather squint than wear glasses. And I will not, in the forseeable future, saunter up to her desk and ask her where I can find D.H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover.
My foreseeable future will be better spent with Miss McConchie facing my camera.
The Library of Babel
By Jorge Luís Borges
By this art you may contemplate the variations of the 23 letters...
The Anatomy of Melancholy, part 2, sect. II, mem. IV
The universe (which others call the Library) is composed of an indefinite and perhaps infinite number of hexagonal galleries, with vast air shafts between, surrounded by very low railings. From any of the hexagons one can see, interminably, the upper and lower floors. The distribution of the galleries is invariable. Twenty shelves, five long shelves per side, cover all the sides except two; their height, which is the distance from floor to ceiling, scarcely exceeds that of a normal bookcase. One of the free sides leads to a narrow hallway which opens onto another gallery, identical to the first and to all the rest. To the left and right of the hallway there are two very small closets. In the first, one may sleep standing up; in the other, satisfy one's fecal necessities. Also through here passes a spiral stairway, which sinks abysmally and soars upwards to remote distances. In the hallway there is a mirror which faithfully duplicates all appearances. Men usually infer from this mirror that the Library is not infinite (if it were, why this illusory duplication?); I prefer to dream that its polished surfaces represent and promise the infinite ... Light is provided by some spherical fruit which bear the name of lamps. There are two, transversally placed, in each hexagon. The light they emit is insufficient, incessant.
Like all men of the Library, I have traveled in my youth; I have wandered in search of a book, perhaps the catalogue of catalogues; now that my eyes can hardly decipher what I write, I am preparing to die just a few leagues from the hexagon in which I was born. Once I am dead, there will be no lack of pious hands to throw me over the railing; my grave will be the fathomless air; my body will sink endlessly and decay and dissolve in the wind generated by the fall, which is infinite. I say that the Library is unending. The idealists argue that the hexagonal rooms are a necessary form of absolute space or, at least, of our intuition of space. They reason that a triangular or pentagonal room is inconceivable. (The mystics claim that their ecstasy reveals to them a circular chamber containing a great circular book, whose spine is continuous and which follows the complete circle of the walls; but their testimony is suspect; their words, obscure. This cyclical book is God.) Let it suffice now for me to repeat the classic dictum: The Library is a sphere whose exact center is any one of its hexagons and whose circumference is inaccessible.
There are five shelves for each of the hexagon's walls; each shelf contains thirty-five books of uniform format; each book is of four hundred and ten pages; each page, of forty lines, each line, of some eighty letters which are black in color. There are also letters on the spine of each book; these letters do not indicate or prefigure what the pages will say. I know that this incoherence at one time seemed mysterious. Before summarizing the solution (whose discovery, in spite of its tragic projections, is perhaps the capital fact in history) I wish to recall a few axioms.
First: The Library exists ab aeterno. This truth, whose immediate corollary is the future eternity of the world, cannot be placed in doubt by any reasonable mind. Man, the imperfect librarian, may be the product of chance or of malevolent demiurgi; the universe, with its elegant endowment of shelves, of enigmatical volumes, of inexhaustible stairways for the traveler and latrines for the seated librarian, can only be the work of a god. To perceive the distance between the divine and the human, it is enough to compare these crude wavering symbols which my fallible hand scrawls on the cover of a book, with the organic letters inside: punctual, delicate, perfectly black, inimitably symmetrical.
Second: The orthographical symbols are twenty-five in number. (1) This finding made it possible, three hundred years ago, to formulate a general theory of the Library and solve satisfactorily the problem which no conjecture had deciphered: the formless and chaotic nature of almost all the books. One which my father saw in a hexagon on circuit fifteen ninety-four was made up of the letters MCV, perversely repeated from the first line to the last. Another (very much consulted in this area) is a mere labyrinth of letters, but the next-to-last page says Oh time thy pyramids. This much is already known: for every sensible line of straightforward statement, there are leagues of senseless cacophonies, verbal jumbles and incoherences. (I know of an uncouth region whose librarians repudiate the vain and superstitious custom of finding a meaning in books and equate it with that of finding a meaning in dreams or in the chaotic lines of one's palm ... They admit that the inventors of this writing imitated the twenty-five natural symbols, but maintain that this application is accidental and that the books signify nothing in themselves. This dictum, we shall see, is not entirely fallacious.)
or a long time it was believed that these impenetrable books corresponded to past or remote languages. It is true that the most ancient men, the first librarians, used a language quite different from the one we now speak; it is true that a few miles to the right the tongue is dialectical and that ninety floors farther up, it is incomprehensible. All this, I repeat, is true, but four hundred and ten pages of inalterable MCV's cannot correspond to any language, no matter how dialectical or rudimentary it may be. Some insinuated that each letter could influence the following one and that the value of MCV in the third line of page 71 was not the one the same series may have in another position on another page, but this vague thesis did not prevail. Others thought of cryptographs; generally, this conjecture has been accepted, though not in the sense in which it was formulated by its originators.
Five hundred years ago, the chief of an upper hexagon came upon a book as confusing as the others, but which had nearly two pages of homogeneous lines. He showed his find to a wandering decoder who told him the lines were written in Portuguese; others said they were Yiddish. Within a century, the language was established: a Samoyedic Lithuanian dialect of Guarani, with classical Arabian inflections. The content was also deciphered: some notions of combinative analysis, illustrated with examples of variations with unlimited repetition. These examples made it possible for a librarian of genius to discover the fundamental law of the Library. This thinker observed that all the books, no matter how diverse they might be, are made up of the same elements: the space, the period, the comma, the twenty-two letters of the alphabet. He also alleged a fact which travelers have confirmed: In the vast Library there are no two identical books. From these two incontrovertible premises he deduced that the Library is total and that its shelves register all the possible combinations of the twenty-odd orthographical symbols (a number which, though extremely vast, is not infinite): Everything: the minutely detailed history of the future, the archangels' autobiographies, the faithful catalogues of the Library, thousands and thousands of false catalogues, the demonstration of the fallacy of those catalogues, the demonstration of the fallacy of the true catalogue, the Gnostic gospel of Basilides, the commentary on that gospel, the commentary on the commentary on that gospel, the true story of your death, the translation of every book in all languages, the interpolations of every book in all books.
When it was proclaimed that the Library contained all books, the first impression was one of extravagant happiness. All men felt themselves to be the masters of an intact and secret treasure. There was no personal or world problem whose eloquent solution did not exist in some hexagon. The universe was justified, the universe suddenly usurped the unlimited dimensions of hope. At that time a great deal was said about the Vindications: books of apology and prophecy which vindicated for all time the acts of every man in the universe and retained prodigious arcana for his future. Thousands of the greedy abandoned their sweet native hexagons and rushed up the stairways, urged on by the vain intention of finding their Vindication. These pilgrims disputed in the narrow corridors, proferred dark curses, strangled each other on the divine stairways, flung the deceptive books into the air shafts, met their death cast down in a similar fashion by the inhabitants of remote regions. Others went mad ... The Vindications exist (I have seen two which refer to persons of the future, to persons who are perhaps not imaginary) but the searchers did not remember that the possibility of a man's finding his Vindication, or some treacherous variation thereof, can be computed as zero.
At that time it was also hoped that a clarification of humanity's basic mysteries -- the origin of the Library and of time -- might be found. It is verisimilar that these grave mysteries could be explained in words: if the language of philosophers is not sufficient, the multiform Library will have produced the unprecedented language required, with its vocabularies and grammars. For four centuries now men have exhausted the hexagons ... There are official searchers, inquisitors. I have seen them in the performance of their function: they always arrive extremely tired from their journeys; they speak of a broken stairway which almost killed them; they talk with the librarian of galleries and stairs; sometimes they pick up the nearest volume and leaf through it, looking for infamous words. Obviously, no one expects to discover anything.
As was natural, this inordinate hope was followed by an excessive depression. The certitude that some shelf in some hexagon held precious books and that these precious books were inaccessible, seemed almost intolerable. A blasphemous sect suggested that the searches should cease and that all men should juggle letters and symbols until they constructed, by an improbable gift of chance, these canonical books. The authorities were obliged to issue severe orders. The sect disappeared, but in my childhood I have seen old men who, for long periods of time, would hide in the latrines with some metal disks in a forbidden dice cup and feebly mimic the divine disorder.
Others, inversely, believed that it was fundamental to eliminate useless works. They invaded the hexagons, showed credentials which were not always false, leafed through a volume with displeasure and condemned whole shelves: their hygienic, ascetic furor caused the senseless perdition of millions of books. Their name is execrated, but those who deplore the ``treasures'' destroyed by this frenzy neglect two notable facts. One: the Library is so enormous that any reduction of human origin is infinitesimal. The other: every copy is unique, irreplaceable, but (since the Library is total) there are always several hundred thousand imperfect facsimiles: works which differ only in a letter or a comma. Counter to general opinion, I venture to suppose that the consequences of the Purifiers' depredations have been exaggerated by the horror these fanatics produced. They were urged on by the delirium of trying to reach the books in the Crimson Hexagon: books whose format is smaller than usual, all-powerful, illustrated and magical.
We also know of another superstition of that time: that of the Man of the Book. On some shelf in some hexagon (men reasoned) there must exist a book which is the formula and perfect compendium of all the rest: some librarian has gone through it and he is analogous to a god. In the language of this zone vestiges of this remote functionary's cult still persist. Many wandered in search of Him. For a century they have exhausted in vain the most varied areas. How could one locate the venerated and secret hexagon which housed Him? Someone proposed a regressive method: To locate book A, consult first book B which indicates A's position; to locate book B, consult first a book C, and so on to infinity ... In adventures such as these, I have squandered and wasted my years. It does not seem unlikely to me that there is a total book on some shelf of the universe; I pray to the unknown gods that a man -- just one, even though it were thousands of years ago! -- may have examined and read it. If honor and wisdom and happiness are not for me, let them be for others. Let heaven exist, though my place be in hell. Let me be outraged and annihilated, but for one instant, in one being, let Your enormous Library be justified. The impious maintain that nonsense is normal in the Library and that the reasonable (and even humble and pure coherence) is an almost miraculous exception. They speak (I know) of the ``feverish Library whose chance volumes are constantly in danger of changing into others and affirm, negate and confuse everything like a delirious divinity.'' These words, which not only denounce the disorder but exemplify it as well, notoriously prove their authors' abominable taste and desperate ignorance. In truth, the Library includes all verbal structures, all variations permitted by the twenty-five orthographical symbols, but not a single example of absolute nonsense. It is useless to observe that the best volume of the many hexagons under my administration is entitled The Combed Thunderclap and another The Plaster Cramp and another Axaxaxas mlö. These phrases, at first glance incoherent, can no doubt be justified in a cryptographical or allegorical manner; such a justification is verbal and, ex hypothesi, already figures in the Library. I cannot combine some characters
which the divine Library has not foreseen and which in one of its secret tongues do not contain a terrible meaning. No one can articulate a syllable which is not filled with tenderness and fear, which is not, in one of these languages, the powerful name of a god. To speak is to fall into tautology. This wordy and useless epistle already exists in one of the thirty volumes of the five shelves of one of the innumerable hexagons -- and its refutation as well. (An n number of possible languages use the same vocabulary; in some of them, the symbol library allows the correct definition a ubiquitous and lasting system of hexagonal galleries, but library is bread or pyramid or anything else, and these seven words which define it have another value. You who read me, are You sure of understanding my language?)
The methodical task of writing distracts me from the present state of men. The certitude that everything has been written negates us or turns us into phantoms. I know of districts in which the young men prostrate themselves before books and kiss their pages in a barbarous manner, but they do not know how to decipher a single letter. Epidemics, heretical conflicts, peregrinations which inevitably degenerate into banditry, have decimated the population. I believe I have mentioned suicides, more and more frequent with the years. Perhaps my old age and fearfulness deceive me, but I suspect that the human species -- the unique species -- is about to be extinguished, but the Library will endure: illuminated, solitary, infinite, perfectly motionless, equipped with precious volumes, useless, incorruptible, secret.
I have just written the word ``infinite.'' I have not interpolated this adjective out of rhetorical habit; I say that it is not illogical to think that the world is infinite. Those who judge it to be limited postulate that in remote places the corridors and stairways and hexagons can conceivably come to an end -- which is absurd. Those who imagine it to be without limit forget that the possible number of books does have such a limit. I venture to suggest this solution to the ancient problem: The Library is unlimited and cyclical. If an eternal traveler were to cross it in any direction, after centuries he would see that the same volumes were repeated in the same disorder (which, thus repeated, would be an order: the Order). My solitude is gladdened by this elegant hope.
1 The original manuscript does not contain digits or capital letters. The punctuation has been limited to the comma and the period. These two signs, the space and the twenty-two letters of the alphabet are the twenty-five symbols considered sufficient by this unknown author. (Editor's note.)
2 Before, there was a man for every three hexagons. Suicide and pulmonary diseases have destroyed that proportion. A memory of unspeakable melancholy: at times I have traveled for many nights through corridors and along polished stairways without finding a single librarian.
3 I repeat: it suffices that a book be possible for it to exist. Only the impossible is excluded. For example: no book can be a ladder, although no doubt there are books which discuss and negate and demonstrate this possibility and others whose structure corresponds to that of a ladder.
4 Letizia Álvarez de Toledo has observed that this vast Library is useless: rigorously speaking, a single volume would be sufficient, a volume of ordinary format, printed in nine or ten point type, containing an infinite number if infinitely thin leaves. (In the early seventeenth century, Cavalieri said that all solid bodies are the superimposition of an infinite number of planes.) The handling of this silky vade mecum would not be convenient: each apparent page would unfold into other analogous ones; the inconceivable middle page would have no reverse.
Ian Mulgrew - Columnist , Vancouver Sun
Sunday, April 08, 2012
My Mother's Red Shawl - El Rebozo Colorado
Ian Mulgrew - Vancouver Sun Columnist
I thought immediately of a small, faded-burgundy volume of Robert Burns poetry when Alex told me of his mother’s red, red rebozo. Innumerable unique expensive objets d'art have come my way — a 1920s art deco lamp, a signed Beatles poster, a first-edition Proust. Most significant mementoes I’ve lost — some appropriated by old loves, others sold in hard times.
I've misplaced more keepsakes, meaningful tchotchkes, emotionally charged trinkets and soulful souvenirs than I care to remember. But, like Alex, I do have an heirloom that I cherish, a handed-down artifact that I would give a hand to save, the only material possession I have obsessively salvaged from break-ups, natural disasters and assorted train wrecks: a book I treasure as a jewel.
It's a small, tiny volume measuring roughly 3 inches by 5 inches, about an inch-and-a-half thick, bound in threadbare cloth. Titled The Poetical Works of Robert Burns, with A Memoir of the Author's Life, and A Copious Glossary, the minuscule text was published in Glasgow by G. & J. Cameron, 67 Virginia St., in 1854. Its pages are brittle and yellowed with age.
I grew up in Scotland where Burns is a veritable saint: This is equivalent to a relic of the one true cross. My great-granny, Flora Harper, born in the 19th century, scoured antiquarian bookstores and found it in the 1920s. She bought it and bequeathed it to her son, my Granda Willie, who handed it down to his oldest daughter, my mother Marion, who gave it to me. My sisters remain peeved.
When Alex asked me to pose with his mother’s shawl, I had to bring the Burns book. I was thinking of an off-hand portrait of Toulouse-Lautrec in some brasserie wearing a broad-brimmed hat and a dashing scarlet scarf; instead my photograph has a religious cast.
Statesman, Flag Designer
Vancouver Sun Columnist
Lauren Elizabeth Stewart