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[JANUARY 2009.]

Always the need to have projects, to be up and doing, sticking your hands into everything. My body is always giving off too much heat, the cold mornings are actually refreshing, and at midday I lie on the bed and think: what a blue sky, I didn’t think it got so blue at sea level, how much blue sky am I going to get in my life? If my class still isn’t going badly, why can’t I sleep the night before? The feeling that all my academic work has painted me into a strange narrow corner and all I can do now is gauge the distance to the open window across the room, testing my own weight before I make the leap.

 

failure gives us a marvellous excuse to disengage from attachments we have but wish we didn’t

I think there is an imp in me that wants to get booted out of the academy for good, and keeps returning with surprise when it doesn’t happen.

A Christmas or two ago J.’s mother gave me some medieval polyphony that had come by chance into her hands: Ockeghem’s Missa mi-mi, sung by the Dutch, which I now listen to when I’m agitated for no reason. Or I go for a walk. Today is cold and bright and fairly dry, which reminds me of something, and that’s the weird thing about getting older, that suddenly all you can do is be reminded of things.

 

How One Becomes What One Is

There are so many things more fearsome than “success” or “failure” it’s hard to understand even how they’d be noticed.

There you go. Abstraction gets no satisfaction!

Anyway success and failure are complicated machines, and probably the best thing is to take them apart and lay out their pieces side by side and understand that none of them does anything on its own. A paratactic life, one damn thing after another, must be one route into the healthy stoicism that lets you sleep at night. It’s not like I’m still waiting for adulthood—though graduate school is an easy place to forget that.

Once this teaching stint is up I’ve signed a contract to go work for a mining company during the three summer months, for more money than I’ve ever seen collected in my life. And that will my last chance at this kind of thing for a good while, because mining companies like everyone else are in the land of layoffs and my job is more or less to set up their office to run without me, so they will never have to pay someone like me that kind of money again. Class traitor....

 

Uh, maybe you’re afraid of success?

That phrase always baffles me a little. I know our culture has particular odious ideals of success that always threaten to spoil Rock Hunter; but taken as a general, more benign concept, why is it frightening? Or maybe the problem is that I always pictured success as being left alone.

Yesterday, at the Attiko. A full house, an atmosphere of political demonstration. Party leaders are applauded as they enter. ?luard: “La po?sie pour tout le monde.” As he speaks, many read newspapers; they don’t want to waste their time until the moment of the translation. Kazantzakis and Sikelianos each read at the start a greeting to the poet, first in French and then in Greek. But what meaning does this polyglotism have? I find it humiliating. Kazantzakis says: “Now love is armed” (Amour arm?). Why “now?” Sikelianos bursts into an exuberant speech. It all makes me sick.

Today Leroa’s lecture about Sikelianos at the French Institute with ?luard presiding. While we are waiting to go to Symmachidis’ house, I walk with Charidemos into the garden. Suddenly ?luard, all by himself, almost staggering from exhaustion, comes straight toward us asking if there’s a seat or bench anywhere. I bring him a chair. Mrs. S. seeing me carrying it says to me, “Oh! Don’t take ?luard away from us!” As if I were about to take him to my house. They’ll squeeze the poor thing like a lemon. He’s a wreck. Tired. Tired. He gazes at the stars with dull eyes: “Five receptions this afternoon,” he whispers, “I can’t take any more!” “I wonder how you can stand the life you lead,” I said to him.

—George Seferis, journals, 27 May 1946

 

Today on the second meeting my class went inexplicably well; now what am I supposed to do? I am eighty percent sure that academia can’t be the place for me—but this is the tormenting thing, the reason I haven’t left: that if it were somehow the place for me, if I could learn to enjoy it, then everything would be so much simpler—I would have a place in the life-world instead of eternally grousing from under the floorboards—

...they landed in Sicily and were building the walls of a city without guarding themselves against the harpasos, which is the most hostile of birds for builders if not followed by a heron; for it has an evil influence on a rising tower and on the measuring cord, as the surveyors stretch it out to lay a narrow alley and a flat street.... may you go... the wings of a hawk... if you ever lead people to a colony (in a foreign land).

Callimachus frag 43, 60-68

 

I said that this was too little too late and J. said the real question was whether he would pull a ”Mein Führer... I can walk!” during the inauguration—

Well, happy eve of history.

 

Battle Mountain, Nevada: six and a half years ago I crashed my car here and failed to charm the cop by joking about the armpit of America. For red-blooded Americans the best place to eat in Battle Mountain would be the steakhouse; for liberal arugula wusses like me it must be the Aguila Real (pronounced aggilla reel?), who turn out to do okay veggie enchiladas and refried beans that taste better than my custom because they obviously partake of the pig. People eat early in Battle Mountain—when I stepped in at 5:30 the place was packed, and everyone turned to look at me as in the classic saloon scene—”walkin’ in with Sir Thomas Wyatt under his arm—you’re not from around here....”

Now back at the Super 8 the whole building smells like fried chicken. There are pockets of snow between the sagebrush, the sky was very clear, J. sent me an m4a by the Walkabouts.

 

Geisteswissenschaften

Last night J. brought home, along with her bad self, a package from the doorstep which turned out to be The Meters of Greek and Latin Poetry, rev. ed., by some learned dudes. It’s a sensibly priced alternative to M.L. West’s Greek Metre or Bruno Snell’s Griechische Metrik, for which one can only pine in the specialty bookshop; and I swear on my honor, it is the first guide I’ve seen that actually makes sense of this stuff. I’ve been practicing on the beginning of the Odyssey and finding all kinds of things I didn’t remember, like the gratuitous slam at the beginning against Odysseus’s men—

νήπιοι, οἳ κατὰ βοῦς Ὑπερίονος Ἠελίοιο
ἤσθιον

“dumbasses, who ate the cattle of Hyperion the Sun,” but κατὰ doesn’t seem to have a prepositional function, so I think it must intensify ἤσθιον: “ate up” or “devoured” instead of just “ate.” Dumbasses!

 

”But I like complexity, challenge, ambiguity, abstraction.”

Alackaday—

 

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