Sunday, March 30, 2008
face has been defaced into faces,
various and beautiful
instead of being one and true.
If anything is true, this is true:
we love all that are not unbroken,
for they bore the brunt of beautiful
blows, reflected in our scarred faces.
The city, from this hill, has many faces
in its glass, neither good nor true,
but multitudinously beautiful,
quickening, twinkling in the broken
light falling like hail, broken faces
so beautiful and so untrue.
Thursday, March 27, 2008
but the boots of coordinated action.
The hardhats flash in the falling dust.
The shovels ring when striking rock.
Far from the scene, deep in a rock,
the telephone waits for the next cough
to decide where the falling dust
resettles, and the public reaction:
Disaster averted by swift action
United, we are solid as a rock
Beware of breathing in falling dust
Look how we shake when the world coughs.
The phone coughs: No further action.
The dust has fallen. The rock's unbroken.
In my chest the lungs are losing air.
The spider orchids freeze to hear
the little breathing machine cough.
The machine coughs and the cough
sounds muffled behind some huge hand.
The spider orchids freeze to hear
the music of lungs losing air.
How meek is the music of losing air.
It's courteous as a muffled cough
the spider orchids freeze to hear.
Some air is held in a cup of hands,
in vice-like hands you hold no air.
When bombs explode you hear no cough.
Monday, March 24, 2008
or, better still, the pure white flag,
I will devote my life to the bomb,
be the bomb in God's right hand.
Everywhere I see the devil's hand.
This city is a party branch,
carrying his well-keeled bomb,
supporting his troops, flying his flag.
Some nights, heavy with rain, a flag
hangs like a rag from heaven's hand.
Then every streetlight glitters like a bomb,
every street splits into a branch
and a branch, every flat becomes a flag,
and the bomb goes silent in my hand.
Saturday, March 22, 2008
the bird lands where it started,
in its steel beak an olive branch
for all that is hostile to bird.
This city has no love for birds
that dip out of its glass encasing,
that disdain its golden branch,
that deny the egg where they started,
or deign, This is just where I started,
the egg that comes before the bird,
the necessary staging branch
for flight out of the wooden case. Sing,
sing against the city where one started
till the bird becomes the olive branch.
Thursday, March 20, 2008
with ten thousand long-stemmed tulips,
Apricot Parrots, Coronas, Black Ties,
all categories of floral encasing,
I stand in this garish window casing,
and, with a flair for hamming it up,
pull at a loose green stem, and untie
the long timeline of growing tulips
from growing tulips from growing tulips,
rolling slowly the long green casing
round my right hand untying the ties
unloosening and tightening up
up my arm, my shoulder, the tulips
retying the entire floral encasing.
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
called One Hundred Masterpieces,
or The Golden Age Of The Dutch,
or How We Pulled Ourselves Up
By Our Bootstraps, lighted up
like the Kadoshim of the Temple,
burned the desires of the Dutch,
before the empire went to pieces.
I prophesized the fiery pieces—
after the victorious heady build-up,
the vicious decline of the Dutch
burned spices and Muslim temples.
In this temple, lament is of a piece
with Dutch gents and ladies all laced up.
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
the chambers echo in the heart,
the hiding place in the storehouse,
the give-away twitch in the temple.
On the glass wall Shirley Temple
giggles from a faraway city.
The strawberries in the house
are strawberries of the heart.
Listen! Someone is at the heart,
someone has broken into the temple,
someone is removing from their house
all the strawberries of the city.
I’m told there is a City of the Heart,
where lives a House in a Temple.
Monday, March 17, 2008
that leaps, over bridges, to the sky.
I’m waiting for a glass-topped boat,
a bilingual guide, and a glass city.
Deep in the red-light district of this city,
out of the waters of a green canal,
the Oude Kerk is moored like a boat,
its steeple steered towards the sky.
The rain is falling out of the sky.
The bicyclists are crossing the city.
The green water is bearing the boats.
The bridges are limping over canals.
Where is the canal? What is the sky?
When is the boat? Why the glass city?
The Glass Bead Game, an article by Alexander Sidorkin.
Sunday, March 16, 2008
We looked into Entre Nous, just across the street, but it was empty. I remembered reading that the partying crowd here moved together from bar to bar, and so guessed it was not time for Entre yet. We walked down Reguliersdwarsstraat and tried Soho. Soho was done up in a poshed-up English pub style. It was jam packed with muscular guys bulging in tee-shirts and jeans. We went next door to ARC, which looked very much like a bigger version of NYC's G Lounge. The men there were quite well-dressed too, but in a casual way. I had a Corona and appreciated the very good-looking men.
Our last stop for the night was the dance club Exit. It played different music on its three levels, but the music was all American. The second level was done up in kitschy Chinese Buddhist decor. The clientele was younger and more ethnically diverse. The Quarterback and I had a good time dancing on the main dance floor before walking back home.
I woke up at eleven this morning, and we got some lunch at another brown cafe along Utrechtsestraat. The server/bartender served us the wrong orders, and gave us our second order of coffee and cappucino free. We walked along the Prinsengracht towards the Museumplein. While lining up to enter Van Gogh Museum, we saw, as we had been warned, horizontal rain. Both of us were outraged by the fact that only one out of the three ticket counters was open, though the line snaked round the entire block.
The van Goghs were sublime. Arranged in stages of the artist's life, the paintings showed clearly his artistic development. I wished the curatorial notes gave less biography, and more art criticism and history. For example, a section displayed paintings which copied the black-and-white prints of Masters he admired, like Remebrandt, Millet and Delacroix. But that section was silent on what he admired about those painters, and how his own differed from theirs. A peasant woman harvesting, and a boy binding sheafs of corn, in two paintings copied after Millet, reminded me of Michelangelo due to their statuesque figures. That strength is seen over and over again in other paintings, in the vigorous brushstrokes and in the energetic embrace of the world.
The sunflowers are mouths and eyes and fangs, but they are not surrealist. They are not nightmarish symbols of our unconscious, but sunflowers. Their power lies in this. This van Gogh is familiar. A van Ggoh new to me is one of great delicacy, as can be seen in this painting given to his brother Theo on the birth of his son, Vincent Willem.
The special exhibition was on John Everett Millais, a nice contrast with van Gogh. Van Gogh learned to draw and paint late in life, whereas Millais' artistic gift was recognised very young. Van Gogh painted mostly rural figures whereas Millais painted high society portraits. Van Gogh did not sell a single painting in his lifetime, but Millais was rewarded with critical praise and commissions. Van Gogh painted nature whereas Millais painted art. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the Millais exhibition. His realism is breathaking, his insight into human psychology acute.
A Huguenot on St. Bartholomew's Day refusing to shield himself from danger by wearing a Roman Catholic badge, 1852
Oil on canvas, 36.5 × 25.25 in
A Huguenot impresses by the extreme economy with which it depicts the couple's love and difference. The sumptuousness of the clothes matches the detail of the plants.
Another painting I liked very much is The Order of Release, 1746. The Scottish wife is tired but triumphant in securing the release of her husband from the English prison. The dog is left alone to express its animal joy.
The Order of Release 1746, 1852-3
Oil on canvas
Saturday, March 15, 2008
The house on the Nieuwe Prinzengracht, like most houses in the Centrium, had a narrow front. To take the most advantage of the sunlight coming in through the two front windows, the ground-floor apartment had three levels. On the highest was the kitchen, on the middle level was the study, and on the lowest level was the master bedroom. The kitchen led into a deep living space, accented by green-gray walls and wooden flooring, and into a backyard flushed with palms. The study was small, but its open design made it less claustrophobic. Shelves of books ran round the walls here, and among them were copies of two novels the woman published. (She is visiting NYC, with her partner and their daughter, to research for her new novel, and then is flying to Las Vegas to marry her partner of 12 years quietly, with no family fusss.) Zadie Smith, Jonathan Safran Foer, Kafka, Dickens, Marquez, Sartre, Stephen Hawking were familiar names on unfamiliar covers. A low bed with a wide frame took up most of the space in the master bedroom. No sheets.
In our first walk together, we strolled along Nieuwe Prinzengracht (roads and canals were called Nieuwe on the east side of the Amstel) to the Skinny Bridge which crossed the Amstel. We walked up Utrechtsestraat and found a nice bar and restaurant for coffee and pancakes. The girl serving had a sweet smile. We sat outside because the bar was smoky, and looked at the canal while we ate. Then the sun broke through the clouds. The check was for EU19, which to my mind was way too expensive for what we had. Walking up Utrechtsestraat after brunch, we came to Rembrandtplein where an imposing statue of the artist towered over a sculptural re-creation of his famous painting, The Night Watch. We walked around Reguliersbreestraat to recce a few of the gay bars in that area, before turning back home.
In the afternoon we wanted to hear the carillon of the Oude Kerk. We strolled up to Waterlooplein, walked through an open air flea market there, passed Rembrandthuis, and went up St Antoinesbreestraat. On that street, we popped into a bakery and had a spinach and a sausage pastry. We walked across Nieuwmarkt Square, and into Chinatown. Hearing the church bells, we walked towards the sound, and found ourselves in the red light district. Directly across from the church was a coffeeshop and juicebar offering weed, and diagonally across were the shop windows in which the sex workers stood. The church itself seemed cobbled together, with distinctive late additions.
We went to the Web to get a drink, but did not stay there very long. We were hungry by then, and the Quarterback led us to a tapas place called Joselito, by the Singel. We had pork fried with Spanish sauce, grilled squid, lamb and vegetables. The portions were decent, and the taste good, especially the grilled squid. After dinner, we walked along the Singel and then decided to visit the private gay club, 21. A young black man opened the door, and led us up a steep flight of stairs to a small bar with a heavily furnished lounge area. A young Columbian man came to chat us up, and then the young black man, who told us that he was visiting from London. He is London-born. His parents were from Jamaica.
We left after finishing our drinks, after the Quarterback explained to me the difference between seltzer and soda water. The latter has salt in it. We walked through the Oude Kerk area again. Groups of men had gathered in front of the sex workers to joke with, mock, or just stare. We retraced our steps, the streets now looking more unknowable, and the plazas more desolately romantic than in the day. I said to the Quarterback that we sure worked the Centrium thoroughly today, and he agreed and added that it was the arsehole of Amsterdam.
Friday, March 14, 2008
One of the recent surprises has been the use of particular proteins for two or more entirely different biochemical functions. Crystallins, which are proteins found at high concentrations in the lens of the eye, provide one of the most dramatic examples. Joram Piatigorsky has made a lifetime study of crystallins, in the course of which he discovered that these proteins have dual lives. Many of them are identifical to well-known enzymes, which serve "housekeeping" functions in metabolism throughout the body, but they also perform an additional optical task in the lens, apparently unconnected with their metabolic activities. This is extraordinary; it is as if, while wandering through an unfamiliar house, one came upon a wall made out of telephones instead of bricks. . . .
Moonlighting has significant evolutionary consequences, because a gene encoding a protein with a single function can evolve under natural selection so as to maintain optimality, but a gene encoding a protein with two functions is likely to get pulled in two directions at once.
Genes procide instructions for generating form and pattern de novo, but they do not directly describe the pattern itself. Growth and morphogenesis must involve physiology, and homeostatic mechanisms that ensure stability during growth are operational throughout development. Turner's hero is the great nineteenth-century physiologist Claude Bernard, who emphasized the importance for lie of "la fixite du milieu interieur"; and Turner would like to put agents of homeostasis, referred to as Bernard machines, on an equal footing with agents of variation and natural selection, or Darwin machines. . . .
. . . one can respond by pointing to evolution itself. The genome changes only in tiny amounts, from generation to generation, and that fact along tells us that the effects of physiology are read back into the germline only slowly and indirectly. Within the lifetime of an animal or plant, a great deal happens at a physiological level that does affect gene expression within its millions of somatic cells, often in profound ways, but these changes in gene activity are almost never propagated to the next generation. Darwin, and not Lamarck, is still the king.
Books to read:
Shakespeare's Poems, edited by Katherine Duncan-Jones and H. R. Woudhuysen.
Everything Is Conceivable: How assisted reproduction is changing men, women and the world, Liza Mundy.
Thursday, March 13, 2008
from Celan, Paul. "Speech on the Occasion of Receiving the Literature Prize of the Free Hanseatic City of Bremen." Collected Prose. Trans. Rosemarie Waldrop. Manchester: Carcenet Press, 1986. 33-35.
"Only one thing remained reachable, close and secure amid all losses: language. Yes, language. In spite of everything, it remained secure against loss. But it had to go through its own lack of answers, through terrifying silence, through the thousand darknesses of murderous speech. It went through. It gave me no words for what was happening, but went through it. Went through and could resurface, 'enriched' by it all.
In this language I tried, during those years, and the years after, to write poems: in order to speak, to orient myself, to find out where I was, where I was going, to chart my reality.
It meant movement, you see, something happening, being en route, an attempt to find a direction. Whenever I ask about the sense of it, I remind myself that this implies the question as to which sense is clockwise.
For the poem does not stand outside time. True, it claims the infinite and tries to reach across time - but across, not above.
A poem, being an instance of language, hence essentially dialogue, may be a letter in a bottle thrown out to sea with the - surely not always strong - hope that it may somehow wash up somewhere, perhaps on the shoreline of the heart. In this way, too, poems are en route: they are headed toward.
Toward what? Toward something open, inhabitable, an approachable you, perhaps, an approachable reality."
The foreign word takes us to a different level, where its embodied character, its sound and shape, act more directly on our physical receptors because they are freed from intelligibility. The physicality of a word grows lighter and less substantial when we know what it means without having to think. How to avoid this attenuation, with its corresponding drying up of the aesthetic response, becomes the writer's task.
Jee: This line of thinking is alluring, but wrong, I think. A word does not become attenuated when it is intelligible. The problem does not lie in intelligibility, but in the quality of the attention brought to bear on the word. There is an instrumental attention, what we do to survive the day-to-day, and there is an aesthetic attention, which we bring to a work of art. In her first essay in Proof and Theories, Gluck explains she uses simple diction in her poetry, such as the word "field," because simple words have such rich meanings. Warner in her piece discussed Beckett's use of "quaqua," as an example of nonsense words whose physicality defies semantics. While the word "quaqua" has the fiery sparks of novelty and transgression, they are mere sparks compared to the steady fires of the intelligible word "quack."
Beckett seemed to feel the same way when he commented on Mallarme's poetry (as quoted in Warner's piece):
I don't know why the Jesuitical poem that is an end in itself and justifies all the means should disgust me so much. But it does--again--more & more. I was trying to like Mallarme again the other day, & couldn't, because it's Jesuitical poetry . . . . I suppose I'm a dirty low-church P.[rotestant] even in poetry, concerned with integrity in a surplice. I'm in mourning for the integrity of a pendu's emission of semen, what I find in Homer & Dante & Racine & sometimes Rimbaud, the integrity of the eyelids coming down before the brain knows of grit in the wind.
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
The emotions on parade last night were bliss, embarrassment, lust, terror, pain, regret, ease, vengefulness, despair, tenacity, obsession, anger, and pride. Jack Wiler read a wonderful poem on the last emotion. I read a poem for every other emotion. Click on one to read the poem I read last night.
Monday, March 10, 2008
but our bodies are dark with sleep, and heavy
as if we're running for the uptown bus.
Habituated to hours of daylight saving,
our dark bodies are slow to become body,
slower, in the new dark, to become us.
This is your chest, firm, hairy, and your chest
tells me this crook of feeling is my hand,
hair-tickled fingers, muscle-matching palm.
And this nail brush scratching down to my, yes,
crotch, this gentle catch, it is your hand.
You are the morning's first mindful alarm.
The door opens. We settle in our seats
and try to catch our breath with all that running.
Familiar places, people also, flash
past--tall plane trees, homeless men, cross streets--
stones to an ascetic, to artists stunning,
to unobstrusive love, first, light, then, ash.
Sunday, March 09, 2008
"I've decided that mixing is a key term. It's better than suggestion, which is one-sided. It explains what people rarely talk about, because we define ourselves as isolated closed bodies who bump up against each other but stay shut. Descartes was wrong. It isn't: I think, therefore I am. It's: I am because you are. . . ."
She goes on, after an interruption from Leo,
"What matters is that we're always mixing with other people. Sometimes it's normal and good, and sometimes it's dangerous. . . . Bill mixes in his paintings, Writers do it in books. We do it all the time."
A child is, in a sense, a mixture of two people, and loving parenting means a deeper stirring in of oneself into the child, at the same time as one is stirred by the growing being. How could the loss of the child not feel like the loss of something given, and the loss of something received?
The dark side of this mixing is seen in the case of Mark who, faced with his parents' divorce, learns to be whoever the other person wants him to be. I am because you are. Not only does he not have a stable identity, he also does not understand empathy and responsibility.
But it is not right, even if it is possible, to stop mixing with the world. Violet who is writing a book on hysterics retells many accounts of people who eat too much in order to form protective layers against the world, and of people who eat too little in order to fall back on a bare-boned identification of the self. Both kinds of sickness warn against the understandable desire to withdraw from mixing.
If sickness provides the metaphor for the dangers of mixing, art is the novel's trope for good, though not untroubled, mixing, or for necessary mixing. At the beginning of the novel, Leo describes Bill's painting, Self-Portrait, in which the central figure is that of a young woman lying on the floor in an empty room. I am because you are. The painting's "mixed styles and shifting focus" provide the aesthetic equivalent of its mixed subject.
The description of this and other paintings is another great achievement of the novel. I don't think the descriptions of the later sculptural installations work as well. The multiple meanings of Bill's glass cubes and his doors series seem to be reduced to the single dimension of prose, perhaps inevitably. The depiction of the friendship between Leo and Bill, praised by many of the novel's reviewers for its sensitivity and intelligence, does not feel convincing to me. Leo sees Bill through feminine eyes.
The theater's faded elegance was in sharp and productive contrast with this high-tech revival of Sunday in the Park with George. Seurat's painting Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte was not only projected onto the white walls and doors on stage, it came alive in animation, blurring the line between life and art, the blurring a theme of the musical. The director Sam Buntrock worked as an animation director on numerous commercial and corporate projects, besides creating animation for BBC and HBO. The great moment in the animation came for me right at the end. After our eyes had been awashed with Seurat's colors, the return to the white walls in the finale came as a startling shock. White, as the musical's Seurat emphasizes, represents all kinds of possibilities.
The first act of the musical felt distended. Its leisurely telling of the stories of different people in the painting lacked direction and dimension. The main conflict, the love between Seurat and his mistress Dot, gained urgency only towards the end of the act, when Dot left Seurat for keeping a part of himself from her, and for his art. Jenna Russell was a convincing Dot. Daniel Evans looked the part of painter, but was otherwise less persuasive. Mary Beth Peil was a formidable stage presence as Seurat's mum.
The second act was updated to 1984 at an American art museum, where Seurat's descendant, another George, displayed his light installation work, Chromolume #7. The satire against the art world was spot-on, but felt laborious. The human need to connect with others was shown to have degenerated into networking for self-promotion. Only when the latter-day George returned to the island of La Grande Jatte, and met the ghost of Dot did he realize afresh the meaning and aim of his art.
The orchestration felt thin. An interesting dot motif did not develop into a governing structure. None of the musical numbers was particularly memorable, although Dot's song "Everybody Loves Louis," in which she compared the popular baker with the isolated painter, was fun, and the duet "We Do Not Belong Together" was moving while it was sung by the lovers.
Saturday, March 08, 2008
The trouble with truss bridges--with all their girders and criss-crossing stays and struts--is that they have never been at ease with conventional ideas of the beautiful. They cannot be seen as aspiring. They may exhibit their workings to the world, but the world seldom wishes to know. Unfair really. Many sturdy girder bridges that carry, say, a railways over a river have the appeal of a well-developed scaffolder, whose bared and suntanned torso reveals the muscles that enable him to do his job.
As I treated their son in a Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) hospital in Zalingei, Darfur, one family told me how they had watched their three-year-old son grow increasingly ill, developing severe acute malnutrition. They had to leave the relative safety of their home and travel through the conflict-ridden countryside in a desperate attempt to save their son's life.
Thanks to your support, they were able to find help at a Doctors Without Borders medical center and the little boy received the care he urgently needed. This family's story illustrates the human impact of the deterioration in security and nutrition in Darfur, where more than two million internally displaced people (IDP) are living in an extremely unstable environment.
When I arrived to work each morning at the hospital's emergency department, where I was on an assignment with Doctors Without Borders, there was always a line of people waiting to be seen. It was as intense a working situation as I have ever been in, with up to 25 or 30 admissions in an eight-hour period, which is a heavy volume for any emergency room. In Zalingei our medical teams run the hospital's emergency department, pediatrics unit, and therapeutic feeding center. We responded to a wide variety of ailments such as malaria, meningitis, pneumonia, diarrheal disease, and malnutrition.
We found a growing number of children with severe acute malnutrition throughout the second half of last year. The number of severely malnourished children admitted between July and September 2007 tripled compared to the same period in 2006. To deal with this increase, we reinforced the capacity of our inpatient department. We also opened nutrition programs in Halamedia and Tayba, two IDP camps in Zalingei. In Halamedia camp we received 400 malnourished children in the first week of operation. Eight weeks later, 1,300 children suffering from malnutrition were receiving care in our program.
Doctors Without Borders' projects are vital to the survival of thousands of people in Darfur, Sudan. Your gift will help us save lives in Darfur and in nearly 60 countries around the world. Please support our programs today.
Darin Portnoy, MDMSF USA Board President
P.S. Right now our teams are providing emergency medical aid to people all over the world who have no other access to care. Please help us save more lives today.
Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is an international independent medical humanitarian organization that delivers emergency aid to people affected by armed conflict, epidemics, natural and man-made disasters, and exclusion from health care in nearly 60 countries. New York Office: 333 Seventh Avenue, New York, NY 10001
Friday, March 07, 2008
Jo, the Beautiful Irishwoman, 1866
The seascapes are powerful. They threaten with real, primitive force, as if the waves are about the crash over me, and draw me out to the sea.
The Wave, 1869
And most moving, in a most precise way, is his painting of the trout, displayed in the last room of the retrospective. You can still see the line, and the hook in its mouth.
The Trout, 1872
Thursday, March 06, 2008
. . . Carlyle's much-disputed definition of genius as "the transcendental capacity for taking pains, first of all", . . .
from John Peter's review of performances of Harold Pinter's "The Lover", "The Collection", and "The Homecoming":
Most of Pinter's characters have two personalities but do not know this, deny it, or observe it with hostility, or fear, or both. But your personality is not your character, not your identity. Personality is what reveals your character, recommends it, covers it up or gives it away. It can suggest that you have no definable character, no central self, no concrete identity.
Tuesday, March 04, 2008
Sunday, March 02, 2008
It was at Sarimbun scout camp,
where forty years ago the Japanese divisions landed,
where I killed a chicken
with my bare hands.
I grabbed the hen by the neck,
under the feathers tubular
like a stethoscope,
swung the feathered globe around and with a wrist flick snapped it to the ground.
The hen squawked, scrabbled in circles, and shat.
Only mine got up,
not the others
at the pit fires of Kestrel, Eagle, Merlin, Falcon, Hawk.
My patrol watching me, I grabbed the hen again
and this time did my job as a patrol leader should.
Someone else plucked the bird in hot water.
We baked it in mud, ate it with salt, and pronounced it good.
Saturday, March 01, 2008
Working at the very dawn of internal antomy, [Jan] Swammerdam lacked the words to explain what he saw, so his descriptions were full of imagery. When dissecting a beetle, he described how the optic nerve left the compound eye: "In that part these nerves are enclosed and surrounded by the interior of the eye, and when greatly maginified resemble the head of a Dutch sailor covered with a shaggy cap such as sea-faring persons use to wear".
Swammerdam's description of mating behavior in the hermaphrodite snail is detailed in the extreme, before concluding with a powerful and effective piece of anthropomorphism: "After all is finished, the little creature, having wantonly consumed the strength of life, becomes dull and heavu; and thence calmly retiring into its shell, rests quietly without much creeping, until the furious lust of generation gathers new strength, and effaces the memory of the uneasiness suffered after the former coition".
. . . Swammerdam had developed a party trick in which he would cut open a ilkworm caterpillar, shortly before it pupated, and would reveal the silk moth's wings and antennae within the body of the caterpillar. This amazing piece of dissection proved that the butterfly was the same organism as the caterpillar, and had not been generated from the decay of the dead larva, as had been previously thought.
The ludicrously reductionist explanations of complex structures and behaviors in terms of "the gene for", which have flourished in both the popular and the scientific press, are beginning to be superseded by an understanding of how environment and genes interact throughout the lifetime of the organism to produce structures and networks that are both plastic and determining.
from Denis Feeney's review of Gian Biagio Conte's The Poetry of Pathos: Studies in Virgilian epic, tranlated by Elaine Fantham and Glenn Most and edited by Stephen Harrison:
Conte acknowledges with open eyes that we can no longer accept the Romantic construction of Hommer as "pure nature", "spontaneity without art". He argues, however, that "we can still make use of the historical dialectic between the 'naive' and objective poet Homer, on one side, and 'sentimental' and reflective, artfully conditioned poetry, on the other". He does so on the grounds that Virgil was himself working with some such vision of Homer, in order to motivate his own differing style of complexity and disturbance. Turning the prism in this way does indeed shed new light on Virgil's innovations, particularly in Conte's wonderful example of how Virgil modifies Homer's description of Priam's palace: here Virgil reduplicates the first half of Homer's line ("fifty bridalchambers"), but in the second half of the line he replaces Homer's physicality ("of polished stone") with sentimental pathos ("such great hope of grandchildren").
Conte's philological commitment pays off most dramatically in his extended discussion of the rhetorical figure of "enallage" (or "hypallage") . . . . Virgril regularly produces similar effects, describing the site of a massacre as being "a place recent with warm slaughter and rivers foaming with full blood" instead of "a place warm with recent slaughter and rivers full with foaming blood". Building from such apparently unpromising starting point, Conte splendidly demonstrates that this deceptively obvious figure animates Virgil's style throughout the Aeneid and is chiefly responsible for giving it its distinctive sublimity.
He brings out the special power of enallage in the Aeneid by comparing its use in Greek tragedy and in Virgil's own earlier works, the Eclogues and Georgics. Enallage is common in tragedy, yet it works by transferring among elements which are already marked as elevated in register; in Virgil, on the other hand, the wors mobilized are regularly not from an elevated inherited store of poetic diction, but rather from the realm of common vocabulary. . . . Further, Conte shows how extremely rare the figure of enallage is in Virgil's work before the Aeneid, and he is therefore on firm ground when he shows how the new epic is pressing enallage into service in order to produce a style that is intense, taut, defamiliarized and impressionistic.
The chapter on enallage ends with a characteristic shift in gear, as Conte puts the search for this newly constructed sublime style into the context of Virgil's ambition to be "the poet of an entire community" in a period of national crisis and redefinition. Here one is brought again to apprehend Conte's most distinctive contribution to Latin studies, namely, the intuition that formal choices are never neutral, but are always "a response to an ideological need" in a particular historical frame.