Thursday, April 19, 2007

Bicycle Day

From Wikipedia: History of LSD:

Three days later, on April 19, 1943 (known as Bicycle Day), Dr. Hofmann intentionally ingested 250 µg of LSD, which he hypothesized would be a threshold dose, based on other ergot alkaloids. In reality, this is a fairly substantial dose and the threshold would actually be around 25 µg. Hoffman wrote:

"By now it was already clear to me that LSD had been the cause of the remarkable experience of the previous Friday, for the altered perceptions were of the same type as before, only much more intense. I had to struggle to speak intelligibly. I asked my laboratory assistant, who was informed of the self-experiment, to escort me home. We went by bicycle, no automobile being available because of wartime restrictions on their use. On the way home, my condition began to assume threatening forms. Everything in my field of vision wavered and was distorted as if seen in a curved mirror. I also had the sensation of being unable to move from the spot. Nevertheless, my assistant later told me we had traveled very rapidly."

Dr. Hofmann summoned a doctor, who could find no abnormal physical symptoms other than extremely dilated pupils. After spending several hours terrified that his body had been possessed by a demon, that his next door neighbour was a witch, and that his furniture was threatening him, Dr. Hofmann feared he had become completely insane.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Orson Welles :: Moby-Dick

Call me Ishmael

""That same image selves see in all rivers, in oceans, in lakes and in wells, the images of the ungraspable, the phantom of life... and that is the key to it all."

The Afterdeck - A Fair Morning

"His splintered helmet of a brow... old Ahab drops a tear into the sea... how does the vast Pacific hold such wealth as that one drop?"

Cut No Good

"Bad omen... Omen... Omen... If the gods would speak to men they'll speak outright... not shake their heads and give an old wife's darkling hint. Hands off! Ye two are of mankind! Old Ahab stands alone among the millions of the peopled earth nor gods nor men his neighbors! Cut no good!

From the New York Times: That Great White Whale Through a Wellesian Lens By Jason Zinoman - March 10, 2007

It takes a fool or perhaps a genius to adapt one of the greatest American novels for the stage -- and Orson Welles was a bit of both. He chased ''Moby-Dick'' through much of the 1950s. After writing and starring in ''Moby Dick -- Rehearsed'' in 1955, he made his own film version of that Melville classic for British television before starring in John Huston's. But Welles still wasn't finished, returning to the novel at the end of his life, filming scenes of himself reading it in one of his many unfinished works. (There are remarkable excerpts on YouTube.)

Welles may never have caught the big fish in the same way that he captured, say, William Randolph Hearst in ''Citizen Kane,'' but this gripping revival of ''Moby Dick -- Rehearsed,'' presented by Twenty Feet Productions with a Shakespearean sweep, proves that this was a perfect marriage of man and material.

It's easy to forget that Welles was first a man of the theater, and this ferocious drama, a poetic examination of one man's obsession, is, among other things, a celebration of the stage. It begins almost offhandedly with a group of actors filing into the theater where they are to perform ''King Lear.''

In a light, almost documentary style, Welles satirizes backstage small talk: the complaints about critics, pay and academics. When one performer talks about the need for theater, another corrects him: ''Nobody ever needed the theater -- except us. Have you ever heard of an unemployed audience?''

When the vain star (Seth Duerr) enters, he informs the ensemble that they will be performing ''Moby-Dick'' instead of ''Lear,'' and that he will play Ahab. This framing device provides a justification for the bare-bones adaptation (everyone wears casual clothes and mimes the props), but the director, Marc Silberschatz, is smart to avoid hammering home the theatrical themes, since the play-within-a-play conceit has become a cliché.

Instead, he concentrates on suspending our disbelief, relying on a direct, simple staging that tells the story with gusto and clarity. The cramped theater, a black box with bad sightlines, actually helps give a sense of being trapped on a rickety ship.

Welles, who ruthlessly edited Melville's novel down to two hours, would no doubt have approved of Dana Sterling's moody lighting design. But this play rises and falls on the strength of Ahab, and Mr. Duerr is happily up to the challenge. With sunken eyes that betray a touch of madness, he looks like a man losing a battle but refusing to give up.

He doesn't perform off his fellow actors so much as recite his lines to the heavens, which makes perfect sense, since he's playing a dictatorial actor playing a dictatorial captain. At his best, Mr. Duerr's booming baritone even brings to mind Welles himself. Call me impressed.

Thanks to

Monday, April 16, 2007

The Soothsayings of the Sibyl Lost

Dante was a man of great learning but little intellect; he ignored vast treasures of ancient culture rediscovered prior to the Renaissance. He was hopelessly behind his own time in philosophy and religion; he was a serious adherent to dogmas and doctrines that many people were abandoning in his own day. No poem contains more versified hopeless speculation than the Paradiso. Much of this section is no longer considered of any aesthetic import and is studied by commentators who wish to know the beliefs entertained by the poet. From the very first canto where the universe is vaguely described as something like unto God, to the last where the poet actually tells us that he caught a glimpse of God Himself, we marvel as we read that his intellect was so limited. His power as a poet is corroded by his weakness as a thinker.

In the Divine Comedy we having [sic] living before us again all the bigotry and fatuity of the medieval ages; we have a summing up of all the speculation which rational men to-day reject; all the superstition, darkness and intolerance of a millennium are crystallized in this poem.

From the Appendix: Adverse Views on Dante:

Goethe registered this opinion in his Italian Travels: "The hell was to me altogether horrible, the purgatory neither one thing nor another, and the paradise dreadfully slow."

Leigh Hunt says: "Such a vision as that of his poem (in a theological point of view) seems no better than the dream of a hypochondriacal savage and his nutshell a rottenness to be spit out of the mouth."

To Nietzsche Dante was "the hyena poetising in the tombs."

- Dante and other Waning Classics by Albert Mordell, 1915

When you read Dante or Shakespeare, you experience the limits of art, and then you discover that the limits are extended or broken. Dante breaks through all limitations far more personally than Shakespeare does, and if he is more of a supernaturalist than Shakespeare, his transcending of nature remains as much his own as Shakespeare's unique and idiosyncratic naturalism.
- The Western Canon by Harold Bloom

To fall in love is to create a religion that has a fallible god. That Dante professed an idolatrous adoration of Beatrice is a truth that does not bear contradicting; that she once ridiculed him and another time rebuffed him are facts recorded by the Vita nuova. Some maintain that those facts are symbolic of others. If that were true, it would strengthen even more our certainty of an unhappy and superstitious love. Dante, when Beatrice was dead, when Beatrice was lost forever, played with the idea of finding her, to mitigate his sorrow. I believe that he erected the triple architecture of his poem simply to insert that encounter. Then what usually happens in dreams happened to him. In adversity we dream of good fortune, and the intimate awareness that we cannot attain it is enough to corrupt our dream, clouding it with sad restraints. That was the case with Dante. Refused forever by Beatrice, he dreamed of Beatrice, but he dreamed her very austere, but he dreamed her inaccessible, but he dreamed her in a chariot drawn by a lion that was a bird and was all bird or all lion when reflected in her eyes (Purgatorio, XXXI, 121). Those facts can be the prefiguration of a nightmare, which is set forth and described in the following canto. Beatrice disappears; an eagle, a vixen, and a dragon attach the chariot; the wheels and the pole are covered with feathers; then the chariot ejects seven heads (Transformato cosi'l dificio santo Mise fuor teste); a giant and a harlot usurp Beatrice's place.

Infinitely Beatrice existed for Dante; Dante existed very little, perhaps not at all, for Beatrice.

- Other Inquisitions by Jorge Luis Borges

It is in the spirit and intellect of Dante, more closely than in that of any other western presence of whom we have certain record, that the three semantic fields of 'creation' and 'creativity' - the theological, the philosophical and the poetic - are organically made one. Dante is our meridian. To turn to him is neither academic philology, nor literary criticism nor simple delight, legitimate and fertile as these are. It is to measure with the greatest possible precision the distance from the center, the length of our current afternoon shadows - though, assuredly, these shadows announce a new and different day, what Dante himself would have called a vita nuova. To repeat about Dante what others may have said already, and said better, but in the context of my argument, is a necessity. His 'triplicity' informs that argument. For he organizes, makes irreducibly vital, the reciprocities of religious, metaphysical and aesthetic codes in respect of being and of generation. Dante's apprehension of theology is schooled and profound. No faith is more innervated by thought. He engages with philosophical issues at the highest level of general perception and technicality. (Dante was a logician of the intuitive.) There is - banality - no greater poet, none in whom the summa of knowledge, of imagining, of formal construction is made to reveal itself in language more commensurate to its purpose. Thus any reflection on the intersecting spheres of creation in the religious, metaphysical and aesthetic senses, is, at one level, a rereading of Dante.

- Grammars of Creation by George Steiner

Così la neve al sol si disigilla;
così al vento ne le foglie levi
si perdea la sentenza di Sibilla.

Even thus the snow is in the sun unsealed,
Even thus upon the wind in the light leaves
Were the soothsayings of the Sibyl lost.

- Paradiso, Canto XXXIII, Longfellow Translation

Saturday, April 14, 2007

That Lives In Us: Where I Am Today

That Lives in Us - Rumi

If you put your hands on this oar with me,
they will never harm another,
and they will come to find
they hold everything you want.

If you put your hands on this oar with me,
they would no longer lift anything to your mouth
that might wound your precious land -
that sacred earth that is your body.

If you put your soul against this oar with me,
the power that made the universe will enter your sinew
from a source not outside your limbs,
but from a holy realm that lives in us.

Exuberant is existence, time a husk.
When the moment cracks open,
ecstasy leaps out and devours space;
love goes mad with the blessings, like my words give.

Why lay yourself on the torturer’s rack
of the past and future?
The mind that tries to shape tomorrow
beyond its capacities will find no rest.

Be kind to yourself, dear - to our innocent follies.
Forget any sounds or touch you knew
that did not help you dance.
You will come to see that all evolves us.

If you put your heart against the earth with me,
in serving every creature, our Beloved
will enter you from our sacred realm
and we will be, we will be so happy.

From Love Poems From God by Daniel Ladinsky
(I ask forgiveness for altering the line breaks.)

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

R.I.P.: Kurt Vonnegut - So It Goes.

When a Tralfamadorian sees a corpse, all he thinks is that the dead person is in a bad condition in that particular moment, but that same person is just fine in plenty of other moments. Now, when I myself hear that somebody is dead, I simply shrug and say what the Tralfamadorians say about dead people, which is 'So it goes'.
- Slaughterhouse-Five

Thursday, April 05, 2007

His ideas are like the lumber and trash of an old furniture-shop, collected together from all quarters

A sublime parable from the equally sublime Varieties of Unreligious Experience:

"I had a dream. I was a youth once more: my hair was flaxen, and my heart full of yearning. The Pessimist was my lover, and often I would see him strolling the market and town streets. I plucked geeseblooms with my fingers, singing to myself the liebeslieder he had taught me. The Grillen, who were once men, but now chirred their seed into the ground, were humming volubly overhead. I sang:

For true culture in the humanities it is absolutely necessary that a man be many-sided and take large views; for a man of learning in the higher sense of the word, an extensive acquaintance with history is essential. He, however, who wishes to be a complete philosopher, must gather into his head the remotest ends of human knowledge: for where else could they ever come together?

He loves me. I beamed, and the sun flowered me with kisses.

A man should not read too much, lest his mind become accustomed to the substitute and thereby forget the reality. Least of all should a man withdraw his gaze from reality for the mere sake of reading; as the impulse and the temper which prompt thought of one's own come far oftener from the real world than from that of books. . . The man of books lets it be seen that everything he has is second-hand; that his ideas are like the lumber and trash of an old furniture-shop, collected together from all quarters. Mentally, he is dull and pointless—a copy of a copy.

He loves me not. At this I let fall silver tears, swiftly becoming a brook, in which I saw reflected my own verlorn countenance. The Pessimist awoke me from my dream. I consider this ironical, as he is known in these parts for his exaltation of slumber, and still carries on his person that enchanted chalice with which men are led so often to dream. The Pessimist was agitated—he swatted about himself, as if covered with flies. 'Whatever is the matter?' I asked him. 'It is all the noise that bothers me so,' he said, and—

I must denounce as the most inexcusable and scandalous noise the truly infernal cracking of whips in the narrow resounding streets of towns; for it robs life of all peace and pensiveness. Nothing gives so clear an idea of the apathy, stupidity, and thoughtlessness of men as their toleration of this whip-cracking. The short sharp crack that paralyses the brain, tears and rends the thread of reflection, and murders all thoughts, must pain anyone who carries in his head anything resembling an idea.

Just then the Pessimist's truant son danced by, splashing in a marble fountain with a young flirt garlanded in exotic scents. Overhearing his father's words, he called out to his tanzliebchen: 'You shall dance and also scream to my whip-crack's brisk tempo! I did not forget the whip, did I?—No!'

The pretty girl, whose name was Life, chided him—'Please don't crack your whip so terribly! For well you know: noise murders thoughts'. What a terrible turn of events, I remarked to myself—that Life should agree with the Pessimist! Down the street, just at that very moment, a landsknecht was seen flogging his horse—and the truant son, no longer laughing but now in anguish, raced towards the beast, flinging his arms around its neck with a sob. He, too, could not bear the noise. Was it only I—I wondered—who not only could bear the noise of the whip, but—enjoyed it? Do I not, after all, take a whip to my mistress on a frequent basis? How she craves its schnalzing crack! She grows more loyal daily, and now and then she returns my blow with a comment or two. Is it true, then, that all lumber and trash is dull and pointless, a copy of a copy?"

From The Case of Lou Salome:

Nietzsche's next meeting with Lou was quite soon, in Lucerne. She was "detached." Nietzsche proposed marriage again, this time personally; Lou rejected the idea. Nietzsche was at last suspicious that Ree and Lou were lovers and that they were merely using him to legitimize the affair. It was within this mood that Nietzsche orchestrated a "photo opportunity" with Jules Bonnet (a famous Swiss photographer) that has become quite famous. In the photo, as Nietzsche supposedly choreographed it, Lou kneals in the front of a small farmer's cart, holding a whip, while Ree and Nietzsche stand in front of the cart, linked to Lou's hand by ropes. Nietzsche himself looks out of the picture to the right, somewhat disengaged. The picture speaks a lot of what Nietzsche must have felt. It was not long after this that Nietzsche wrote, "You go to women? Don't forget the whip."

From the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

On the morning of January 3, 1889, while in Turin, Nietzsche experienced a mental breakdown which left him an invalid for the rest of his life. Upon witnessing a horse being whipped by a coachman at the Piazza Carlo Alberto, Nietzsche threw his arms around the horse's neck and collapsed, never to return to full sanity. Some argue that Nietzsche was afflicted with a syphilitic infection (this was the original diagnosis of the doctors in Basel and Jena) contracted either while he was a student or while he was serving as a hospital attendant during the Franco-Prussian War; some claim that Nietzsche's use of chloral hydrate, a drug which he had been using as a sedative, deteriorated his already-weakened nervous system; some speculate that Nietzsche's collapse was due to a brain disease he inherited from his father; some maintain that a mental illness gradually drove him insane. The exact cause of Nietzsche's incapacitation still remains unclear. That Nietzsche had an extraordinarily sensitive nervous constitution and took an assortment of medications is well-documented as a more general fact.