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At one level the point is simple. We don’t expect systems of representation to replace one another. They help each other out; they interest themselves in what one system can do that the other can’t, or can do only limpingly; they go on thinking about what it is in the human condition that calls up—calls on—such a diversity of languages. A performance of a painting is no doubt aware that in the end it is nothing but words on a page, and will be judged as such; but judged (at any rate, this is how I respond to Williams on Bruegel) by some new kind of arrest or movement in the words, brought on by a reaching out—an exposure—to what in the world can’t be said. New phrasing, a new tempo, new kinds of rubato. A performance of a painting ought also to signal ar every point […] that it’s a rendering of something that is being looked back at, time after time as the performance continues, and being found incomprehensible. […]

Go back to the idea that a poem about a painting is, at its best, something like a performance. The analogy is worth proposing, at least as counter to the ekphrasis line of thought, but of course it breaks down. Music is (mostly) composed to be performed, pictures are (mostly) not. A musical performance is of the notes on the page, maybe later traditions of rendering and so on. A poetic performance is not of notes at all, but of an existing complete (anti-)text—a performance that has already taken place, and whose sound is inaudible. Nonetheless poems about paintings regularly seem to want the kind of closeness—the obedience, the accuracy, the technicality—of great non-virtuoso interpretations. But interpreting what is the question.

T.J. Clark, “What Is the Burglar After?”

[P]eople just aren’t meant to talk to one another this much. They shouldn’t have that much to say, they shouldn’t expect to receive such a large audience for that expression, and they shouldn’t suppose a right to comment or rejoinder for every thought or notion either. From being asked to review every product you buy to believing that every tweet or Instagram image warrants likes or comments or follows, social media produced a positively unhinged, sociopathic rendition of human sociality. That’s no surprise, I guess, given that the model was forged in the fires of Big Tech companies such as Facebook, where sociopathy is a design philosophy.

Ian Bogost, “The Age of Social Media Is Ending”

Housework and a book review or two are not effective substitutes for sixteen hours of classes a week.

Mary McCarthy, letter to Frani Blough, in Mary McCarthy, Novels and Stories 1942–1963, edited by Thomas Mallon

Reading was such a wonderful thing that to have made a life around the experience was almost criminal it was so fortunate.

Elizabeth Hardwick, in Maggie Doherty, “Elizabeth Hardwick’s Master Class on Literature and Life”

Imagine an Andrea [Dworkin] who had, somehow, set it all aside, all the violence and assaults on her dignity: an Andrea who had simply got on, as Dworkin had planned to do as a young girl, with the business of writing poetry, of making something beautiful. This is an Andrea, I think we can say, who would have failed to rise to her moment. But she would have also been, in some ways, freer.

Amia Srinivasan, “Andrea Dworkin’s Conviction”

I think training is mis-pitched: it should be called “teaching.” It is not about tricks; it is about a worldview. We encourage—even expect—some kind of teaching of children, and for a good reason: so that they can understand the world into which they have been born and the civilization in which they are going to be a participant. So, too, for dogs: teaching should be about what they need to know to live in the world of humans, and what they need to learn in order to more fully enjoy life. The behaviors taught today are a mash-up of those important for safety, important for the sanity of the human, totally unimportant for any reason, possibly offensive, and actually fun for dog and person. What I want to teach Quid, most of all, is how to be a dog in this family in this place in this time—while still letting her be her unruly self. Maybe that last part is something I have to learn.

Alexandra Horowitz, The Year of the Puppy: How Dogs Become Themselves

              Not the bell, I said—one of us did;
Not the bell, but the smaller sounds, barely noticeable,
trapped inside it. It seemed the kind of thing I might say
to remind myself, when I’ve forgotten again, what I want
to believe, even now, matters most—precision; though it’s hard,
these days, to know for sure what’s true. Isn’t every season,
no matter what we call it, shadow season? Didn’t timothy
use to mean a meadow—a common name, back then at least,

              for the sweetest grass? I keep making the same avoidable
few mistakes that I’ve always made, and then regretting them,
and then regretting them less. Think of all the suffering
happening everywhere, all the time, for nothing.
What if memory’s just the dead, flourishing differently
              from how they flourished alive?

Carl Phillips, “Stop Shaking”

[T]he money and the secret selection process aren’t the most novel things about the MacArthur Fellowship. The most novel thing is that it is really, really hard to game. Sure, going to an Ivy League institution helps. Solving an intractable global problem doesn’t hurt. But fellows have been community workers and artists, chroniclers of small stories and scholars doing the slow work of math, science and the humanities. There are not many awards that invest in and confer legitimacy on people from all walks of life. There are even fewer still that look so widely for people who are thinking about our world in divergent ways. The MacArthur Fellowship is unique in that way. When you select for that kind of meaningful diversity, you don’t choose geniuses. You grow them.

Tressie McMillan Cottom, “What a MacArthur Foundation ‘Genius Grant’ Gave Me”

To enter Babel, one must follow Hebrew Babhel on the way from Akkadian bab-ilu, the Gate of God—but only ruins remain of mankind’s attempt to converse one on One. A shorter journey ends at Merriam-Webster, the monument of an heretical sect that attempted to define all of His creation. The orthodoxy noted its curious feature: a word’s meaning is determined by how it is used in relation to other words, whose meanings are found likewise: the monument was built on no foundation. A search ensued for the loose word that, if pulled out, would cause indescribable destruction.

Walter Ancarrow, in “Three from Etymologies

Sometimes the land turns into words; sometimes into proverbs.

As we hiked, what we saw—pines and oaks, grasses and lilies, coyotes and golden trout, root fungus and moss and the grace of deer—was just the beginning of what was before us. It was, and is, to the reality of the Sierra what the skin of a peach is to a peach; what the flashing of light on the surface of a river is to the whole surging river; what the first paragraphs of a beautiful book are to the finished and intricate story within.

This is true for everyone, wherever we are: what we see is the preface to what we can see. Beyond that preface, with work and love, is what we can come to understand.

If we can understand, then we can live.

In the Sierra, we understood that we might, after all, belong here with tree and rock and time and light. We might, for a brief spell of years, have the luck to find a home here by following the beauty that beckons us. We are spellbound here.

Steven Nightingale, in Richard J. Nevle and Steven Nightingale, The Paradise Notebooks: 90 Miles across the Sierra Nevada

I’ve lived in three suicidal nation-states,
counting the one I was made in, not counting
the country choked off from the maps
but which wants to live, and does, and so,
admittedly, my sample size is small, but still,
the triumphant self-demolishing urge does seem,
you know, alive and well around these parts, the general
memorial-museum-erected-atop-the-ruins-
of-massacred-village vibe that characterizes
what I’ve come to understand as citizenship, or at least
the embossing on the bill. “Did you kill him
                yourself?” grinned a bebuttoned patriot
on my first domestic flight once back
from Palestine, extending a hand across the aisle,
as it were, to his neighbor’s fatigues the day
Bin Laden tipped into the ocean. Every empire
                rears up in the anticipatory exultation of denying
it’s offing itself, is what I think, but what
do I know, I’m just one person whose blood is stamped
with the concurrent tin-foil seals of a Marxist philosopher
and a CIA operative, and that’s
just two of the men.

Robin Myers, “Parts”

I am Kilamuwa, son of Hayya. I sat upon the throne of my father. During the reigns of the former kings, the muškabim were living like dogs. But I was to some a father; and to some I was a mother; and to some I was a brother. Whoever had never possessed a sheep, I made a lord of a flock. Whoever had never possessed an ox, I made owner of a herd and owner of silver and lord of gold. Whoever from his childhood had never seen linen, now in my days wore byssos-cloth. I took the muškabim by the hand and they showed [me] affection like the affection of a fatherless child toward [its] mother.

Inscription, Stele des Fürsten Kilamuwa, S 6579, Pergamon Museum, translated by K. Lawson Younger