Leopardi wrote that, in the eyes of the young, the future is a monstrous, empty space. It is a thing inherently absurd and to be dreaded on all counts. But what the young lack, by way of perspective, is a past such as the old have, one of experiences good and bad; and as the old have had enough of life they will have had enough of undue expectations &c. Well, nice of the man to say so. Leopardi wrote that lives of philosophical reflection play into the hands of tyranny. Lives that have a penchant for action are what the tyrant fears. He also wrote that literary glory is sweet when it can be savoured in ‘the silence of the study’, because the silence conserves the power of the illusion; whereas the glory to be enjoyed in public, in society ‘turns out to be nothing, or very small, or incapable, in short, of fulfilling the spirit and satisfying it.’ But then Leopardi was not writing of the peculiarities of our prize culture.
And he did not write of the world one sees in the cinematic bravura of The Man with a Movie Camera, a celebration of Soviet life from the late 1920s. He did not write of the world that was the antithesis of his pessimism, as he predeceased it by 90 years. The film was a butcher’s cleaver intent on separating cinema from theatre and literature; on knocking away the crutches on which bourgeoisie states of mind depend. (Facebook did not yet exist, and even Wordsworth in his day – early 19th century days – regarded the news cycle as much too quickly paced, and it was going to tip the people into all sorts of manias which, apparently, it has.) It is undeniable that the experiment in film captured the faith of a proletariat in a workable future by way of their capacity for industrial endeavour and sport and play and drinking lots of beer. They lived by their hands, which is to say that, among other things, they could pretty much see the worth of their labour; it was not something that would instantly disappear into a virtual la-la land via the computer. There is a lot of poetry leaping about Nijinsky-like in the film, the camera eye sweeping from heavy machinery to trains to dressing oneself in the morning to nap-time on a park bench; to getting on and off a great many trams, to clinking beer mugs. Urban rhythms, urban energies. Still, it is arguable that it was left to the offices of literature and theatre to tell the story of the failure of the worker’s state and the concomitant disillusion, the Stalin era crowning all that with its purges and slaughters and repressions; and then there were all those millions lost on the battlefronts of the Second World War. In any case, Leopardi’s Zibaldone, in the 2013 Farrar, Giroux and Strauss translation, maxes out at some 2000 plus pages, all of them, as with the aforementioned cinema, eschewing fiction—
London Lunar more than once has written me to the effect that the new fiction eschews fiction too. I have avoided reading a great deal of it over the years in favour of reading unalloyed history texts and such. But can odoratus, which means sweet-smelling, and is an adjective in usage, be anything but a participle? Well, there you have it, the sort of thing that Leopardi employed against spiritual exhaustion and a little education—
I recently woke one morning thinking that the world’s sleaze factor had increased exponentially from the day before, what with the primaries in progress, what with Syria and the Ghomeshi trial. And what about comedians in cars getting coffee and effecting the equivalence of the agora as per Socrates cracking wise with his set-up men? Did I truly want to get out of bed for that? I read in Froissart of a rich person who, in Middle Ages times, his town besieged, offered his life in exchange for the lives of the lesser well-off townspeople. I reread the passage several times so as to make sure I was not dreaming. Although I am usually late in getting around to sampling what is on offer in the public sphere by way of Arts and Entertainment, I finished a viewing of Oliver Stone’s Untold History of the United States in ten episodes and two prequels. Despite what mixed feelings I have about Mr Stone’s cinematic efforts, this documentary series is more thoughtful than I was expecting; and it was two days worth of unmitigated horror, that and Harry S Truman.
I also had occasion to view a Brit flick of the life of John Fahey, the so-called American primitive guitarist, and it was a ghastly business, how the flick made of the man some cult parody of genius. The production was God-awful poor, in any case, as if it was the cooler, hipper, more authentic thing to do to not really give a rat’s ass for the subject of one’s subject matter. In Search of Blind Joe Death is the flick’s working title. (Blind Joe Death was a soubriquet Fahey used so as to throw folklorists off the scent. A pity it proved ineffective after his demise.) An old friend wrote me to say that she had seen Fahey perform way back when at the Queen E in Vancouver, and either he was warming up for Van Morrison or it was the other way around; but that in her estimation he stole the march, bare feet, cargo pants, horizontally-striped jersey and all—
Morning. Nikas. Irish Harpy asks me if I was out and about the night before, that is to say, drinking. Come to think of it, I had been up to no good. Bugatti Don and the Moesian were my accomplices in the madness, in the various social scenarios swirling about Hurley’s such as could have been painted (group portraits of late-stage capitalists up-and-coming or down-and-going) by Rembrandt. One such group of young’uns at a large table was arrayed just so against a wall, was perfectly poised for a Rembrandtian venture, except perhaps for the baseball caps. Our conversation was kicked off with a foray into quantum cosmology and more or less ended with the Ghomeshi trial, the female defense lawyer of which intrigued Bugatti Don more than is healthy. Now Brussels has no soul; its technocrats would dictate to, say, Catalonians who have no desire to let Barcelona represent them at the European parliament. Facebook makes us tribally rabid, and democratic institutions are being bashed apart by forces no one seems to understand irrespective of all the opining. Pornography is declared a health crisis here and there. And all of the immediately above is just a way to indicate that the Ghomeshi trial, and we here have no doubt as to the man’s sleaziness whether or not he is guilty of rape, is an undertaking that puts new spin on the notion of ‘show trial’ inasmuch as its constituents have a limelight to play to; inasmuch as justice is not likely to be served but that there will be plenty of ‘law’, and the new Puritanism that has been the CBC will continue to camouflage who knows what hanky-panky in the elevator and the parking lot. Later, having repaired to Bugatti Don’s lair, more beer was quaffed and grotty poets were read aloud, among them Auden, Lowell, Larkin, Gilbert, and Capshaw the ukuleleist, all the while the ethereal-earthy voice of Emmy Lou Harris augmented the silences between the grotty passages rendered up and played havoc with our hearts.
Norm Sibum's first novel, The Traymore Rooms, is available here.