Saturday, September 25, 2004 +

Notes 32

You did say you came to save those of us who need to be saved.


Pedagogy. The feat of teaching.

I'd rather write than be right.

The whole family: Darter, Martyr, and Farter.

Now it is safe to turn off your computer.

My wife swims like a fish out of water.

Saliva is the soul of spit.

Hannah Banana, Maya Papaya, and Kumquat May

"Fleas": Adam Had 'em.

"Flea": It Bit.

"Me": I? My!

"O": O

Father Cofi decoiffinated.

"No, no, Dot, he doesn't have nun experience!"

Ada's Enough

Feher is Feher.

Jennifer Donohue (Zakkai), a muse amused

Telford McAdam

John Taylor, Bel Ami

Sylvia Donohue

Leo never tells you anything you don't already know.

Friday, September 24, 2004 +


A selection from the selection "From the Pensées," translated by Jacques Barzun, in Arts Education Policy Review, Vol. 104, No. 3 (January/February 2003), pp 36-39:

4. Geometry, intuition. - True eloquence has no use for eloquence, true morality has no use for morality; that is to say, the morality of the judgment, which has not rules, has no use for the morality of the intellect.... To have no use for philosophy is truly to philosophize.

7. The greater one's mind is, the more one finds men of original mind. Ordinary persons find no differences between men....

11. All great amusements are dangerous to the Christian life; but among all those which the world has invented there is none more to be feared than the theatre. It is a representation of the passions so natural and so delicate that it excites them and gives birth to them in our hearts, and, above all, to that of love, especially when it is represented as very chaste and virtuous. For the more innocent it appears to innocent souls, the more they are likely to be touched by it. Its violence pleases our self-love, which immediately forms a desire to produce the same effects which are seen so well represented; and, at the same time, we quiet our scruples by relying on the decency of the feelings that we see there; and so pure souls are freed of any apprehension, since they imagine that it cannot hurt their purity to love with a love that seems to them so reasonable.

Thus we leave the theatre with our heart so filled with all the beauty and tenderness of love, the soul and the mind so persuaded of its innocence, that we are quite ready to receive its first impressions, or rather to seek an opportunity of awakening them in the heart of another, in order that we may receive the same pleasures and the same sacrifices as those we have seen so well represented in the theatre....

29. When we see a natural style, we are astonished and delighted; for we expected to see an author, and we find a man....

35. We should not be able to say of a man, "He is a mathematician," or "a preacher," or "eloquent"; but that he is "a gentleman." This universal quality alone pleases me. It is a bad sign when, on seeing a person, you remember his book. I should prefer you to see no quality till you meet it and have occasion to use it....

43. Certain writers, speaking of their works, say: "My book," "My commentary," "My history," etc. They resemble middle-class people who own their own house and always have "My home" on their tongue. They would do better to say: "Our book," "Our commentary," "Our history," etc., because there is in them usually more of other people's then their own [these days, ghost writers, research assistants, and "plagiarizees"].

Notes 31

We shall speak to each other with dignity - no contractions.

I must remember that I am in enemy territory. My obscurity protects me.

Thomas R. Kelly

God is at work in the world. It is not we alone who are at work in the world, frantically finishing a work to be offered to God.... He is at the helm. And when our little day is done we lie down quietly in peace, for all is well.

He is the center and source of action, not the end-point of thought.

Christian practice is not exhausted by outward deeds. These are the fruits, not the roots.

Placed in the shadows, we are happy to pick up a straw for the love of God. No task is so small as to distress us, no honor so great as to turn our heads.

Unless the willingness is present to be stripped of our last earthly dignity and hope, and yet still praise Him, we have no message in this our day of refugees, bodily and spiritual. Nor have we yielded to the monitions of the Inner Instructor.

The life that intends to be wholly obedient, wholly submissive, wholly listening, is astonishing in its completeness.

The energizing, dynamic center is not in us but in the Divine Presence in which we share. Religion is not our concern; it is God's concern. The sooner we stop thinking we are the energetic operators of religion and discover that God is at work, as the Aggressor, the Invader, the Initiator, so much the sooner do we discover that our task is to call men to be still and know, listen, hearken in quiet invitation to the subtle promptings of the Divine.

Count on God knocking.

Do you really want to live your lives, every moment of your lives, in His Presence?... If you do, then you can.

...I think it well not only to talk about the mystic's experience and the practice of the presence of God, but also to discuss the relation of the Sense of Presence to the will. I feel definitely that the significant factor in religion is a permanent attitude of the will, rather than a less permanent, more variable state of exaltation.... And as individual mystics who are led deep into the heart of devotion learn to be weaned away from reliance on special times of vision, learn not to clamor perpetually for height but to walk in shadows and valleys, and dry places, for months and years together, so must group worshipers learn that worship is fully valid when there are no thrills, no special sense of covering, but chiefly valleys and dry places. Misunderstandings, heartaches, and questionings have been caused by excessive demands for special experiences, for their enjoyment and for their prolongation. But I am persuaded that a deep sifting of religion leads us down to the will, steadfastly oriented toward the will of God. In that steadfastness of the will one walks serene and unperturbed, praying only, "Thy will be done."

Use what little obedience you are capable of, even if it be like a grain of mustard seed.

The main point is not that a new song is put into our mouths; the point is that a new song is put into our mouths.

Why want, and yearn, and struggle, when the Now contains all one could ever wish for, and more?

Is religion subjective? Nay, its soul is in objectivity, in an Other whose Life is our true life, whose Love is our love, whose Joy is our joy, whose Peace is our peace, whose Burdens are our burdens, whose Will is our will.

For surely all things of value are most certainly made secure through Him.

Letter to Lois Kelly, August 11, 1938:

My darling daughter, Lois Dear:

I wrote a letter just to Mother. Now I want to write a letter just to you. For I love my dear little daughter so very much, and I want to tell you so. Mother writes that you have been a sweet girl this summer. I hope you have had a wonderful time Macy. I can imagine the boat races you have seen, and the tramps through the woods, and the trips to Popham. And you have been singing in the choir! That is fine. I am so glad.

There are so many things here that I keep wanting you to see. If I were to describe them all, it would take up a book. But, more than that, there are people here I wish you could know, and experiences here I wish you could have. How I do wish you could come here for a year, and live in a German family of the finest kind, and we could take a girl from the same home for a year in America. Wouldn't you love that? There is a beautiful atmosphere to German life, when you get away from the noise of the big cities, something that you can never forget. There is a German Quaker family in Berlin who would be perfect, except that the girl is too grown-up. You would want a family with a daughter your own age. Then you would be with her here a year and then she came to us for a year....

They have beautiful songs here, and the young people wander in the forest (something like the Maine forests), and sing songs on their picnics. And they appreciate beautiful pictures. And, besides, dear little girl, a great cloud of sadness and sorrow lies over the world, and you are nearly old enough to understand more of it, from the inside. For sadness, and sorrow, and suffering are not things to run away from, but to live through, and understand. And if you are brave enough, and understanding enough, you will be a richer little girl, in your soul. For I see more and more that all the great souls must go through this shadow and find the sunlight beyond. But, my dear little Lois, you don't understand this yet, and don't try to. The time will come when you can....

Now, darling little girl, I must stop this letter, and get it in the mail to you. I love you so very, very much - and dear darling Mother, and precious Dickey. Give them all lots of kisses from me. I won't be long now, from the time you get this letter, till I get back. Won't that be great? Will any of you meet the boat? Oceans and oceans of dear love to you and all.

Your own Daddy

[Several friends]

began coming over to Thomas Kelly's home one evening each week to talk and read together of books of mutual interest. They lived on a mixed diet of St. Augustine's Confessions and Gibran's The Prophet for the first few weeks and had an easy time of silence together after the readings. During the next two years they read a number of books of devotional literature together: Père Grou, Meister Eckhart, Brother Lawrence, Letters by a Modern Mystic, The Little Flowers of St. Francis, and then, quite naturally, the New Testament and the Psalms. The group grew until it often had six or seven students. At times no one would appear. But Thomas Kelly was always on hand.
-- Douglas V. Steere, "A Biographical Memoir," in Thomas R. Kelly, A Testament of Devotion

Thursday, September 23, 2004 +

Notes 30

A truly religious person is never just "religious." He is a Catholic, or a Muslim, or a Jew, or a Hindu, etc.

My yearning for You does not mean that You exist. It means that I shall never be whole without You.

There is nothing so foreign to Your thought as proportionate reason.

To know myself and be known as You know me.

I would have been saved if You had been aborted or had been killed by Herod's men. But You wanted me to know You.

Partch and Varèse Meet

From Bob Gilmore, Harry Partch: A Biography:

A farewell gathering was held for Partch in New York on the evening of December 21, 1958, at the studio of Lenore Tawney, a tapestry-maker friend. Partch wrote to invite his old composer friend Quincy Porter and his wife, Lois, “to see a 20-minute color film on my instruments, and also some rhythmically swinging color (!), on three screens, by a man from Ann Arbor. Milton Cohen and his assistant perform—this is not a film—with various gadgets, and the result is a four-hand experience in rhythmically moving, dissolving, expanding color.” He reported the event to Bertha and Harold Driscoll, telling them of a distinguished guest who turned up at the gathering: the composer Edgard Varèse. Varèse “liked the film [Music Studio] so much he almost embraced me. This surprises me immensely, because his own music is so utterly different, even though I admire it and have frequently said so.” What had perhaps overwhelmed Varèse was his recognition that Partch had brought to life the very dream that had obsessed him for years: the building of new instruments free from the constraints of the tempered scale. Four years earlier, Varèse had emerged from some eighteen years of creative silence with his Déserts for orchestra and tape, finally having at his disposal the resources to produce electronic music and thus to expand the parameter of pitch: perhaps he felt a sense of kinship with that aspect of Partch’s work. Partch told the Driscolls: “Altogether, I shall hate to leave New York, because in people it is the [liveliest] place I’ve been in in a long long time.” After he left her penthouse, Anaïs Nin wrote to thank him for renewing her husband’s faith in human nature, and telling him that he was “the best and kindest guest” they had ever had.


Harry Partch

From Genesis of a Music, 2nd edition:

Finally, to bring at least a semicolon to the personal story, when I saw, in the late twenties, that it was necessary to devise instruments of my own, I did not find it a fearful step. Until his death in 1919, my father had always maintained a small woodshop; I was familiar with common tools.

When the index of doing went up, the index of theory went down....

Indeed we have magic - pre-packaged. Not only do we find ourselves with ever more imaginative devices servicing consistently trivial distractions, but in art the searching man must humble himself before banks of highly technical equipment, and cater to those technicians and administrators who have been chosen to preside. We have usurpation by an academically incestuous elite, and the rebellion against this sort of thing constitutes a thoroughly moral stand. How can it be misunderstood?

Wednesday, September 22, 2004 +

Notes 29

No artist, I now realize, can be satisfied with art alone. There is a natural craving for recognition that cannot be gainsaid. I have, let me confess in all humility, a pitiful human wish that someone should know just how clever I have been....
—Justice Lawrence Wargrave

A gloss on this is:

For a writer there is no substitute for being published and read.
—Charles Scribner, Jr.

Another is:

An artist has every right—one may even say a duty—to exhibit his productions as prominently as he can.
—Jacques Barzun

And indeed no work of art is complete unless it is appreciated.

Alexander Granach

From There Goes an Actor, translated by Willard Trask:

Suddenly Father threw the first handful of dirt on “Little Pity” and everyone did the same, and Father began to recite Kaddish, the prayer for the dead. But he did not get far. After the first words of the prayer, he broke off and said, quite simply, as if he were sitting over a glass of tea: “My son, this is against the rules; it should not be the father who says Kaddish over his son. You should have said Kaddish for me.” And the rest of the prayer was lost, for now everyone began to cry and sob aloud like a chorus, and the silence was broken by a storm of tears and lamentations. . . .

“Now do you understand why I don’t treat you like little children and pupils?” said our rabbi[‘-teacher, Schimshale from Milnitz, for whom you would do absolutely everything’]. “One can never know who is the pupil and who the teacher. One day one of you will be a great teacher and I his pupil. Now you sit and watch me and listen to me like real men, and I feel as if it were only yesterday that I first went to cheder. Then one day I went to bed a child and the next morning I got up with a beard, and now I have a roomful of children of my own. And now it is too late to learn a trade. Look at the carpenters, the cobblers, the tailors, the bakers. They don’t have to hold out their hands”—he used actually to have to go begging every Thursday, and he suffered from it. “Learn a trade, quickly, for tomorrow or some other day you will get up and find hair on your faces and have children yourselves and troubles, like me and your fathers”. . . .

In Kolomea I immediately went from one bakery to the other, and for the first time in my life spoke the bakers’ password, “Uschitz.” And the journeymen answered, “Lemschitz.” I believe that these two words of comradeship are corruptions of ohneschutz (“without shelter”) and nimmschutz (“take shelter”). Journeymen bakers frequently “traveled,” particularly in summer. In winter they settled down somewhere and earned a small salary, but with the coming of spring you would meet hundreds of baker-birds on the roads, and you called out “Uschitz” and were answered with “Lemschitz,” and you felt a homey bakery warmth and solidarity on the road. . . .

Then came the day before Passover, and I bought myself a new suit and a shirt and collar and a wide red Windsor tie with black dots like Czerniakoff, and kid shoes with rubber heels as I had envied Rosenkranz his rubber heels the year before. . . . Funny, now that I had that which I used to envy someone else for having, I longed to have someone envy me too. A curious emotion: you not only want to get what you desire, you want to be envied for having it, besides!. . .

Then suddenly one evening I was on the stage—an experience that I have never forgotten. I had never before been so conscious of my body. I could feel my fingertips and my scalp, my toes and my heart, but especially my stomach. The other members of the cast were no longer my personal friends or my enemies, but real relatives, my family: grandfather, father, mother, brothers. Then from the packed ranks of the spectators there came a something that is hard to describe. It was as if, from their eyes and their ears, from their breathing and their attention, there came an invisible force that penetrated me, that strengthened me, that poured into me, that I sent forth again intensified. The spell that I had felt the first time I went to the theater came over me now from a far different source, hypnotized me and bound me. At last! I tasted it, I relished it and now came the great hunger, the great thirst: theater! theater! theater!. . .

One evening in the theater something very exciting happened: The play to be performed was Chasja, the Orphan. Chasja comes from a Ukrainian village, is young, healthy, and very pretty, and she tells people exactly what she thinks. Her poor village father brings her to her rich relatives in the city, where she works hard as a maid and waits on everyone. She falls in love with the son of the house, a good-for-nothing. Now they are all dressed up and in great excitement. They, on the stage, are going to the theater! Then Chasja sees the son of the house, with whom she is in love, steal a gold brooch and hide it. The aunt wants to wear the brooch, and everyone looks for it. There is great confusion. Suspicion falls on Chasja. Now the wicked aunt asks Chasja if she knows where the brooch is. She says, “No!” “Swear by your dead mother that you do not know where it is!” But Chasja will not swear by her dead mother. The aunt is now convinced that Chasja is the thief, seizes her by her two long blond braids, ties her to the bed with them, and screams, “Where is the brooch?” And Chasja says, “I don't know!” And now the aunt gives her a left and a right and repeats the same question and gets the same answer and goes on hitting the poor orphan again and again. Chasja kneels there, tied by her braids, taking the blows and looking proud. The house is in tremendous excitment. We all hate the aunt and sympathize with Chasja. Now the aunt bellows even louder: “Where is the brooch? Where is the brooch?” and boxes the poor orphan’s ears without ever stopping. And suddenly a man who is standing near me in the gallery pulls a revolver out of his pocket and shouts out louder even than the people on the stage: “Beast! Untie her this minute or I’ll shoot you down like a dog!”

The blows on the stage cease. The house is in tumult. Everyone turns and looks at my neighbor, a devil-may-care youth of about twenty, who now was white as a sheet, has pocketed his revolver, and is trembling with excitement. . . .

The cloth wall has already been lowered. The lights are turned on in the house now. Groups are quarreling, arguing, all at once;—the young man has disappeared! Chasja’s poor father—Motje Schtrachl, otherwise Jidl Guttman—is standing before the curtain; he raises his hand. Little by little the people quiet down, and he begins to speak very softly: “My dear listeners, may I say something?” Some clap, others call: “Speak up, Guttman, speak up, Motje! Quiet! Quiet!” Gradually there is silence. And he begins again: “My dear friends, it is a hard thing for me to step out of my character, but I must say a few words in explanation.” And he begins, gently and quietly, like a father explaining something to his children: “You know that Madam Fischler is married to the famous Dr. Fischler and has a father and mother—God be thanked, and may they live to be a hundred and twenty! But art demands that, for this evening, she is an orphan. You know too that Madam Rosenberg has six children and is the best mother in the world and has a heart of gold—but art demands that tonight she is the wicked aunt and hits Madam Fischler. I myself am the president of the Bnai Jakob Synagogue—but art demands that this evening I am Motje Schtrachl, Chasja’s poor father. And so I could go on and tell you who all of us are in real life, and who we are obliged to be for art’s sake. Every afternoon around five o’clock you can see us all sitting in the Cafe Abazia, and we are the best of friends. Even our children are friends. And Madam Rosenberg and Madam Fischler are particularly intimate friends. Now here’s a young man—I’m sure he has a good heart, but he doesn’t know all these things I have been telling you—he gets excited and threatens to shoot his revolver. I ask you: Is that right?” “No!” shouts the house. “Throw him out! Bravo, Guttman! Bravo, Fischler! Bravo, Rosenberg!” Again and again there are shouts and thunderous clapping. The poor old father, the actor and president of a synagogue, Jidl Guttman, raises his hand, and there is quiet again: “Well,” he says, “shall we go on?” And again there is a thunder of applause and agreement and cheers! And the house is darkened, and the play begins again where it had stopped. Chasja’s wicked aunt, Madam Rosenberg, who is a mother herself and has a heart of gold, again asks Chasja, the orphan, who is really the wife of Dr. Fischler and —thank God—still has her parents: “Where is the brooch?” And she answers more loudly and strongly than before, “I don’t know!” “What, you don’t know?” says the wicked aunt and the good mother, Madam Rosenberg, and grabs Chasja the orphan, Dr. Fischler’s wife, by her braids, ties her to the bed again, just as before, and shouts threateningly, “Where is the brooch?” And Madam Chasja, the orphan, cries, “I don’t know,” and Aunt Rosenberg gives her a left and a right again! And again Chasja cries loudly and with pride, “I don’t know! I don’t know!” and lefts and rights land on her ears again and again and again!

So, that evening, because of an excitable young man, who surely had a good heart, the delicate, beautiful Madam Fischler was beaten twice over! Poor Madam Fischler.

But thought I, for art’s sake it is worth it to be beaten twenty times over. And it was a marvelous evening! . . .

I joined a group of carpenters who were heading for Bavaria. When I arrived in Munich, suddenly the placards announced the murder of the Austrian Archduke in Serbia. Austria declared war. The old Emperor said: “I am spared nothing.” The town seethed with excitement. Every half-hour there was a new extra. Notes were published, the kings and kaisers of Europe sent telegrams beseeching one another not to declare war. One could not make head or tail of it. No one wanted war, and everyone plunged into it.

I went to a theater and found some actors there whom I had known in Berlin. They bought me a ticket back.

Berlin was drunk with war enthusiasm. Students and soldiers entering the Army, half of them in civilian clothes, sang songs. The Kaiser shouted in the public square: “I know no more parties, only Germans! And now we shall trash them. I did not want this war!” I understood nothing of it at all.

I went to the theater. Everything was in confusion. Some of the actors were already in uniform. My best friend, Wangenheim, was one of them, and when I parted from him in the evening he asked me suspiciously whether I was not really a spy. Suddenly I was a foreigner. My best friend no longer trusted me. Rehearsals were interrupted—it looked as if the stream of life had stopped running—as if the whole of life had suddenly come to an end.

I went to the Austrian consulate, where I was accepted for military service. I was given orders to join the Austrian Army and a free railway ticket home.

Berlin suddenly swarmed with all sorts of news, gossip, rumors, spy scares. Two “nuns” were arrested—but they were not nuns, they were two disguised Russian officers who were trying to kill the Kaiser. The poor Kaiser! Every minute there were new extras, new decrees. Suddenly we heard that Belgium intended to betray Germany. But the German armies were already there. The fortress of Luettich (Lige) was stormed single-handed by General Emmich. The papers praised the general in verses:

Up then spoke Emmich:
“By God, I'll take it!”

There were other funny poems in the papers:

Every blow a Frenchman
Every shot a Russian
Serbs must die-ie-ien.

Ha, ha, ha, how funny! I was ready to leave and went to the theater to say good-by. My patron, Gersdorff, had fallen at Lige. I was deeply affected. Many actors were already in uniform. Reinhardt was at a rehearsal, serious and preoccupied. Suddenly the comedian Viktor Arnold appeared. The short, stout, whimsical man who, as Georges Dandin, wept real tears with his audience—he wept for grief, while his audience wept with joy and laughter; the eternal actor with the clown-mask of genius. He rushed on the stage, threw himself at Reinhardt’s feet, and wept desperately: “Herr Reinhardt, what now, what next? The world is destroyed, is going to ruin, this beautiful world, the deluge, the end of the world!”

Arnold the comedian sobbed and wept, no one could quiet him. He has taken home. When he was alone again, he broke a windowpane, cut his throat with a splinter of glass, and bled to death.

The kings and the kaisers lied when they said that they did not want the war! They had prepared it and created it and sent their people out to mutual slaughter. Here was a comedian, an artist, a man who felt in his heart the destructiveness of war. He had really not wanted it! He really could not bear it, the war, and he preferred death to living in a world in which men who believed in God, who had the Scriptures, who were the heirs of the great spiritual treasures of culture, could find no other way out but to shoot bullets into one another's skulls and stick bayonets into one another's bellies.

The great-hearted actor, the comedian who, laughing himself, made others laugh, Viktor Arnold, left such a world of his own free will. Alas for the artist Viktor Arnold, and alas for a beautful world! . . .

We formed in a wood, and there were handed over to a Captain Czerny. He was a short, robust man, with several medals; he spoke with a Czech accent and was notorious in the entire regiment as a torturer and tyrant. He had the platoon commanders and officers come forward at once, delivered a strong, rather drunken speech, and made the platoon commanders give some rifle drill to demonstrate their ability and show him the quality of the men.

A Lieutenant Schalk, from Gratz, who had been in the trenches since the beginning of the war—his mind was weakened and he had a perpetual tired smile—could not give his commands loudly enough. Captain Czerny bawled him out before the men, calling him “dung heap,” “milksop,” and “shirker.” Another officer with a Jewish name he called “Lieutenant Matzoth” and had the bugler play reveille in his ear to wake him up, because, in the captain's opinion, the man was still asleep.

Then when my turn came and I gave a couple of commands—it is true that I did it a little theatrically, I acted a little; in those days I went at everything as if it were a role—he instantly asked, “Hey, you latrine-platoon leader, what are you in civil life?”

“With your permission, Captain, I am an actor.”

“What are you? An actor, a Mr. Mimic, a clown, a stage fool?” he bellowed, as if I had murdered his only child. He doesn’t care much for the theater and actors, I thought. He bellowed on, “You barnstormer, you—in civil life you make fun of the Army, you play a colonel with a red nose—and here you want to be a reserve officer? You’ll be a turd as long as I’m captain!”

He yelled and bellowed, and I stood stiffly before him, looked obediently into his little, dancing, impudent eyes and thought, There’s a part, there’s a part—boy, boy, if I could only play you!

Suddenly some shrapnel burst over our heads—an artillery shell hit not far from us, directly upon a sitting group, and another and another. The wood had been found by the enemy artillery. The noise of the guns was uninterrupted, and columns of smoke kept rising into the air. Men screamed, crawled into hiding. But Captain Czerney was still cursing the theater. We were the only ones left standing. He scrutinized me sharply; I stood stiffly and did not stir. I would show him that an actor and a Jew was no coward. “Dismissed!” he yelled and disappeared himself.

I ran to a moaning man from my platoon who was calling my name desperately. There he lay, behind a rock, covered with blood and dirt, one hand pressed to his side, gasping, “Help, help me!” I undid his coat—a shell splinter had torn him open on one side; bloody, clammy things were falling out of his body, and I tried to hold them back with my bare hand. They gushed over.

I yelled for the stretcher-bearers. The shells kept landing. Not far from us a small donkey carrying two stew kettles was lifted into the air by the pressure of an exploding shell and was buried, the shattered bones together with the soldiers’ soup, under a heap of rubble. I still kept my hand against the open, damp place in the warm body that was already dead.

After a while the firing stopped. Stretcher-bearers came and laid a heap of flesh and bones with glazed eyes on a stretcher. The stretcher was bloody and dirty too. They took off his identification tag. An hour ago this thing on the stretcher had been a healthy, living man. I could not take hold of anything with my hand for weeks.

That was our first day at the front, before we had even seen the enemy, to say nothing of turning our bayonets round in his guts as the shaky general from the moth balls had told us the old Kaiser wanted us to. It had begun. While our own captain was cursing and reviling us as if we were patricides and infanticides, the enemy was killing us from the other side. We were in the middle. It was a fine prospect for the comman man! . . .

The Italians were now standing fully exposed in their trenches and in front of the barbed wire, shouting and beckoning. “Ol qua, Austriaco, vieni qua. Pane, aqua, vino, bella Italia! Vieni qua, vieni qua.” They shouted this for hours on end, and we wanted to go, but did not dare.

Then Slezak took the shirt he had found in the Italian’s pack the day before and fixed it on his rifle and planted it in front of our trench, and another stuck his rags of shoes on his rifle and did likewise, a third a handkerchief, a fourth a bit of canvas, a fifth a pair of dirty socks, a sixth an empty pack, a seventh his underdrawers. And in two minutes the whole battered trench, as far as you could see on either side, was decorated with these grotesque, comic flags, which only soldiers in their deepest need could have thought up.

The Italians yelled, “Bravo, bravissimo, Austriaco,” and laughed and beckoned and shouted again and again, “Come on, come on&mdashvieni qua, viene qua, Austriaco,” and began to throw things, and we ducked and were terrified. But they were not hand grenades. They were cans of food! Canteens of water! And bread—the enemy threw us real bread! We could not believe our eyes.

The men were suddenly alive; all their weariness had vanished. Both trenches shouted long explanations to each other in strange tongues. Our Rumanian shouted back in Italian and translated: “They say we have nothing to fear and want us to come over.” What an importance he suddenly attained among us! He became our interpreter, our mouthpiece, our leading man! Yes, everyone gets his big moment.

He stood up fully exposed, kicked aside a cheval-de-frise, and started off; a few others went with him. To left and right men did likewise. Some of them still clutched their rifles. The Italians knocked the rifles out of their hands and were just as frightened and excited as we were. And we all shouted at once, and we all threw our weapons away and held up our hands. But the Italians did the same. Then we all ran toward their rear together and suddenly slid down a rock hill.

There a detachment of Italians was encamped, several hundred soldiers. They jumped up, thought they had been surprised by the enemy, and yelled and ran with us. They ran with their hands in the air, alongside of us. Thousands of men, Italians and Austrians, were running with their hands up, frightened to death. A huge mob, an Austrian and Italian army, ran, panic-stricken, up and down the hills of that desolate rocky country. And no one knew who had captured whom!

Slezak was at my side. The Italians were afraid of him because he looked so big and strong. Several of them fell upon him. I shouted for help in German.

An Italian sergeant appeared, quieted the men, and, running over to our side, said in German, “Do you speak German?”

“Yes,” I said.

“My name is Stern from Naples. We have a brewery.”

“My name is Granach, from Berlin - I'm an actor.”

We introduced ourselves as if we were in the drawing room or traveling on a train, all the while running for our lives!

Then we ran into some Italian reserves. You could see wagon trains. Italian officers yelled and cursed, fired their revolvers into the air, stopped the racing herd, explained that it was we, the Austrians, who were prisoners. The hordes began to calm down, and Stern from Naples, whose father had a brewery because he had married the daughter of a brewer from Munich—for which reason he, an Italian sergeant, had been able to tell me all this in German—Stern took leave of me now with these words: “Well, congratulations! You have the stink behind you! I still have to take all that offal in the face.”

We were now separated from the Italians and got into formation and were taken still farther toward the rear.

On the way we saw a familiar sight. An Italian company stood in a field. An officer gave the command in Italian: “Helmets off for prayers.” An army captain blessed them, just as we had been blessed before we were sent in. For their weapons and for our weapons, prayers went up to the same God! What a dilemma!

“Even God has a hard time during a war,” said Slezak. “Who is He to help now?” . . .

Occasionally a prisoner would go mad and disappear. About that time, one suddenly dashed through the camp naked, dancing and shouting and laughing—he was caught and taken to the first-aid station; then we heard that he had been sent to Florence. In Florence there was a clearinghouse for prisoners who had gone insane. They were exchanged through the Red Cross and sent to a sanatorium in Switzerland.

I had been in the camp ten months, and a great restlessness and yearning came over me. Eight months at the front, ten months in camp —I had not seen a woman for eighteen months! I had wild dreams and abscesses, and, as if that were not enough, there was always Domenega with his rounded girlish figure and his coquettish child’s eyes! No! No! No! Something had to happen!

Slezak was still constantly with me. He was now extremely proud of me, ever since he had seen me on the stage. Of all the men in the camp, he remained the friend with whom I shared my secrets. One day I went for a walk with him and unfolded a brand-new plan: I would go mad one night! Whatever happened, he would be the only one to know that it was not real insanity. All I wanted was to be sent to Florence, and from there, through the Red Cross, to Switzerland. Once in Switzerland, I would simply jump off the train, confess that I had played a trick, and be a free man—able to act again, to follow my old profession, see women, instead of vegetating here.

Slezak was depressed over parting from me at first, but the plan was so wonderful, and he was so proud that I had entrusted no one else with my secret, that he promised to keep it to himself.

I began by speaking to no one. Domenega was hurt and stopped coming to visit me. When anyone spoke to me, I looked away and gave some senseless answer. I did not shave, sat by myself and shammed. I began falling down. The men looked at me suspiciously. Slezak came, full of anxiety. He told me that people were already whispering jokes about me, kept asking him what had come over me. “Good, Slezak! You know nothing. Tonight I’m off. Don't betray me. Now scram!”

That night about two o’clock, when everyone was in a deep sleep, I commenced to scream fearsomely. I began by demolishing my bed, throwing things around, tore off my shirt like Paul Wegener as Franz Moor.

“The graves give up their ghosts,” I yelled.

Everyone woke, men tried to quiet me. I hit anyone who game within reach. They grabbed me. I resisted with all my strength, was finally overpowered and tied.

Suddenly I was really screaming and crying. I no longer knew whether I was acting or had really gone insane. Really crazy, flashed through my mind; you’re really crazy, something within me said, a normal man doesn’t think such things. You’re crazy, my boy, the voice within me said. I began to feel horribly sorry for myself, completely miserable.

The stretcher-bearers came with a stretcher and carried me to the first-aid station. It was daylight now. Slezak stood by, weeping with me. Neither he nor I knew whether I was acting or really crazy. However that might be, I was certainly ill.

The doctor came, nodded as he read the report, remarked that mine was the eighth case that year, wrote down the particulars. I was shaking with real anxiety. When everything had been attended to, and he had even signed a railway pass to Salerno for me, he asked, “What is his occupation in civil life?”

“The theater—actor,” said Slezak proudly.

“What, an actor?” the doctor burst out, looked me in the eye as one horse thief looks at another, and went on: “Commediante! Povero misero! You're not crazy! Really clever of you to think this up! Untie him! Let him go!”

I was taken by surprise, got confused, stepped out of my role, and begged, “But, Doctor, really I am crazy, I am insane!”

Whereupon the whole room burst out laughing with the doctor, and the latter triumphantly explained: “There you are! A really insane person always insists that he is perfectly normal. Take him away!”

He gave me a kick in the behind, and I was back in the camp courtyard, so ashamed of my defeat that I got a real case of melancholia.

But for a few days I was the sensation of the camp. Everyone came to congratulate me on the performance I had put on for the men that night. Everything would have gone perfectly if my professon had not betrayed me. On the other hand, if I had not been an actor, I could not even have made the attempt. Even the Italians laughed about it, and called me “Grande Atore” (Grand Actor).

Giosuè Borsi

From A Soldier's Confidences with God: Colloquies of Giosuè Borsi, trans. Pasquale Maltese (NY: P. J. Kenedy & Sons, 1918):

The life of the saints is a constant rowing against the current. -- Friday, October 1, 1915

Behold how we shall serve Thee uninterruptedly - "day and night" - as now we indeed serve Thee only rarely and badly. -- Friday, October 8, 1915

Tuesday, September 21, 2004 +

Notes 28

To improve Mass, remove mics.

Robert K. Greenleaf

Not knowing that they had it, they were not aware when they lost it.

Much intellection is just noise.

Without a sense of history, one cannot know and really cannot be told.

Literary Criticism for Children

1. M. H. Abrams, The Mirror and the Night Light

2. Mortimer Adler, How to Chew a Book

3. Walter Benjamin, "The Work of Art in the Age of Diapers"

4. Jacques Derrida, On Grammatology

5. T. S. Eliot, The Sacred Binky

6. William Empson, Seven Tykes of Ambiguity

7. F. R. Leavis, Prevaluations

8. I. A. Richards, How to Hear a Page

9. Lionel Trilling, The Little Imagination

10. Edmund Wilson, The Wound and the Band-Aid

Monday, September 20, 2004 +

Notes 27

And let us now ask the question: what makes a piece of
writing interesting? I believe that Leibniz said it
forever: continuity of perception.
-- Lionel Abel, "Murder and the Intellectuals,"
Commentary, XXXII (Nov 1981), 65.

Since God exists, victory is certain. Since even our hairs
are counted, our place in that victory is certain.
Therefore forget about yourself and concentrate on doing
God's work.

G. C. Lichtenberg

From The Lichtenberg Reader: Selected Writings of Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, translated, edited, and introduced by Franz H. Mautner and Henry Hatfield, Boston, 1959.

There is a great difference between still believing something and believing it again. Still to believe that the moon affects the planets reveals stupidity and superstition, but to believe it again is a sign of philosophy and reflection.

I should try in vain to express in words what I feel when I whistle the hymn "In all my earthly doings" really well on a quite evening and think the words to it.

That I always compare the years of an author whose life I am reading, with my own - something I did even in my youth - is entirely within human nature.

Really to appreciate a seemingly unimportant piece of good fortune, we must always imagine that it was lost and we got it back this very minute. But some experience of all sorts of sorrows is needed to carry out these experiments successfully.

The critics instruct us to stay close to nature, and authors read this advice; but they always think it safer to stay close to authors who have stayed close to nature.

The first satire was assuredly written for vengeance' sake. To use it in order to better one's neighbor - against vice and not aginst the vicious - is already a thought which has been prettied up, cooled, tamed.

We shall not separate too much, not abstract too much: the great raffineurs have made the fewest discoveries, I believe. The usefulness of the human machine is precisely that it shows totals.

To do the opposite is also a form of imitation, and the definitions of imitation ought by rights to include both.

He has been so long at giving birth without anything coming of it that even now presumably nothing will come of it unless there's a Caesarean operation.

There is surely something genuine in religious hatred, therefore presumably something useful. I do wish that this element could be discovered. Our philosophers speak of religious hatred as something which could perhaps be argued away; but surely this is not the case.

The words divine service should be reassigned and no longer used for attending church, but only for good deeds.

He received very warm - rather burned - thanks.

In the last analysis we Christians are nothing more than a sect of Jews.

The priest: You are man-eaters, you New Zealanders.
New Zealander: And you are God-eaters, you priests.

How much depends on the way things are presented in this world can be seen from the very fact that coffee drunk out of wine glasses is really miserable stuff, as is meat cut at the table with a pair of scissors. Worst of all, as I once actually saw, is butter spread on a piece of bread with an old though very clean razor.

He kept continually polishing himself and finally became dull before he got sharp.

Is it really so absolutely certain that our reason can know nothing metaphysical? Might man not be able to weave his ideas of God with just as much purpose as the spider weaves his net to catch flies? Or, in other words: might not beings exist who admire us as much for our ideas of God and immortality as we admire the spider and the silkworm?

After a fire drove him from his bedroom at night:

On this occasion I found an observation confirmed which I had already made before. The danger of fire, and perhaps and presumably every danger, is more terrrible to the imagination than in re; we usually think of such things when body and soul are ill disposed. When the danger is actually at hand, brooding, the product of coddling and idleness, disappears, and one becomes a man of action who keeps his eye only on res facti. I was cautious and alert, completely calm, and ready for all eventualities.

To his godson, recently born:

...When you begin to walk, I, of course, allow you to fall down, for a regular boy falls at least three times a day. But just don't fall on your so-called pate, for that God gave you to write compendia; and not on your nose, for that serves to set spectacles on. Rather you will soon find that Nature equipped you in the middle of your body (N.B. towards the rear) with two cushions, which are called buttocks. Look, dear boy, these two things have no use in the world except the following, which can conveniently be arranged in four groups:

1) During the study of the Latin language and of Christianity, or when naughty, in the beginning to be whacked with the hand, and in more mature years with the rod.

2) To fall on it. So when you notice that you would fall on your head, you make a leap and fall on your respective falling-mats.

3) To let yourself down on them or, as one says, to sit down. For since the chairs of the Patriarchs were of wood or stone, Nature had to attach the cushions to the body. Today, when people, the upper class particularly, frequently lose these natural pillows, buttocks have been attached to the chairs themselves.

4) And the principal use. If some nasty fellow is reviling you and does not even have the guts to stand up to you until you've been able to box his ears, open your coat in the rear and show him your cushions. In learned controversies, this type of self-defense is not valid; scholars have a very special backside, usually called moral, which does not lie at the center of their system. How people show it to each other, you will learn at the universities, where there is abundant opportunity for mutual instruction; this science is called polemics.

From a Journal

13 XI 83. "The remedy is familiar intercourse with Jesus." So Father Eugene Boylan in Difficulties in Mental Prayer. And here an example of the disease: I have just read in Father Boylan's book that "desire is automatic and,therefore, outside the control of the will; it can never be a sin in itself. There can be no sin until the intellect recognizes the sinful nature of the object, and the will desires it." I walk into the living room to find out what M is watching on TV. The image is blurred and it is difficult to see. When a commercial comes on, I ask if I could flip through some other channels, and do so. I stop where I see a pretty girl. It is a movie I have seen before, a poor movie but one which shows a great deal of the pretty girl. I linger in front of the set. The passage I have just quoted comes back to me. I linger still. In desperation I ask M, "You'd rather watch the other station than this?" She says yes she would. I switch back to the original channel and while looking at the foggy image regret that I am not still looking at the girl in the movie. I know quite well what I would be watching if I were alone. Salve me.

16 XI 83. If you should come first with me, why haven't I written to you for two days? Perhaps because I disagreed or disliked some of the things Father Boylan said about prayer, I felt discouraged. Perhaps I was running away from you, though, in the panic I feel, I should be running to you - or rather, should allow you to share my panic, which I'm sure you do whether I allow you to or not. But little benefit do I get from your pain, unless I welcome it and you. Not welcome pain in itself, but the partaking with you of pain, thus making holy what is evil. My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me - let me never say that, whatever I feel, unless you crucify me with you, for I know it is I who forsake you.

But why speak of crucifixion, or even pain, when all I feel is panic: hot flashes, tense shoulders and arms, cold feet and hands, and fear - the running away mood?

What I really want, of course, is for you to take away these feelings: then, you can be sure, I won't bother you. All's well that ends well, forgive and forget. Well, then, I do ask you to remove my panic....

21 XI 83. I see how far I am from you, since I only ask of you and never give you anything in return. Please save me from myself.

You already know I shall act shamefully on Wednesday. At least my sins have no glory in them. The issue on Wednesday will be clear: me against you. Will I, as I do often, take the wide path? Already I can only voice my prayers, not really wanting to obey you.

26 XI 83. "I believe, O my God, that poverty is better than riches, pain better than pleasure, obscurity and contempt than name, and ignominy and reproach than honor. My Lord, I do not ask Thee to bring these trials on me, for I know not if I could face them; but at least, O Lord, whether I be in prosperity or adversity, I will believe that it is as I have said." How far, Lord, I am from praying thus, and how greatly I fear my trials. Save me.

"Spite of fears, pride rules my will." I could use some of that.

27 XI 83. "Suffering is the key to this world of mystification in which man lives since he lost his Paradise." So your friend Ronald Knox. Please help me to accept this truth. Knox: "The motives which dictate our actions from day to day are very largely worldly ones; the crucifix does not dominate our lives; it is only an occasional embarrassment." Knox: "You cannot despise yourself more thoroghly than by forgetting yourself altogether."

13 XII 83. Please let me accept you and all you give me. I know you have graced me with many gifts which I do not properly thank you for. Let me, then, accept gladly the little pain that comes to me. Probably I bring it on myself; let me then cheerfully carry it.

Let me suffer with you. Don't let me deny you. You know I pray to you to take my pain away. My prayer is always selfish. I do not want pain though I ask for it. Very well then: please remove my little sufferings. Let me not be anxious. Give me peace. But if I am not to have these, help me to accept.

I am so selfish.

Allow me to write to you daily. You know I think of you - at least a little - every day; but I don't write - even when I have time - because I have nothing (or always the same thing) to say. Literary conscience keeps me quiet. But I suppose you cannot be bored. I could complain to you till I die and you would listen (though disappointed). There is nothing so boring as two lovers in private. Therefore I shall be boring, illiterate, petty, repetitve, annoying, cloying, whining - in a word unreadable - in order to write to you often, with no reader over my shoulder: without even myself reading what I write to you. O God, please let me think always of you.

"...a hero in this world; - but what would they have called him in the next?" Melville, White-Jacket, chap. 74.

14 XII 83. "Seek first God's kingdom, then everything will be given you." But the mind finds it easier to think of many other things instead of you. I pray for health, and imagine what I would say to a doctor. I pray not to worry about money, and wonder how I should invest next. I pray to get away from myself, and my mind dwells on the concerns of my job. You must help me to forget myself and think about you only.

15 XII 83. Another round of tension and anxiety, The solution, I read, is to face, accept, float, and let time pass - and I believe it. But to do it - Lord, I believe, help my my unbelief! I suppose - I know - I lack patience and have an abundance of fear. I shall not ask you to relieve my tension and anxiety, but to help me to face, accept, etc. Will you give me this Christmas present?

28 XII 83. On Friday, I went to the doctor, who pronounced me in good health. Is that why I haven't gotten around to writing to you? Probably: I am a foul-weather friend.

Father O emphasized in his homily today that you felt 2000 years ago what many feel today: pain, anxiety, weakness, etc. This must be true, and if we today are your body, then you must feel today what we feel. To me this implies: 1) You feel our sorrows, and 2) We force you to become sin. The corollaries are not that you feel our happiness but that we feel our happiness in you, and not that we enable you to do good works but that our good works are done in you.

Sunday, September 19, 2004 +

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