Thursday, August 26, 2004

More Slavic wisdom

It's a particularly good day at Terry Teachout's place; not only do you get a spot-on parody of A. E. Housman, but also this choice excerpt from Teachout's own upcoming biography of George Balanchine.
Having come so close to death at so young an age, he determined instead to spend the rest of his days living in the present. It was a resolution from which he never wavered. Of all his oft-repeated refrains, the most familiar was Do it now! "Why are you stingy with yourselves?" he would ask his dancers. "Why are you holding back? What are you saving for—for another time? There are no other times. There is only now. Right now." His ruthlessly practical approach to running a dance company was rooted in the hard-won knowledge that his next breath might be his last. He worked within the means available at the moment, using them to the fullest, never wasting time longing for better dancers or a bigger budget: "A dog is going to remain a dog, even if you want to have a cat; you’re not going to have a cat, so you better take care of the dog because that’s what you’re going to have." He ran his private life along the same lines: when he had money, he spent it lavishly, on himself and others, and when he didn’t, he lived frugally. "You know," he said, "I am really a dead man. I was supposed to die and I didn’t, and so now everything I do is second chance. That is why I enjoy every day. I don’t look back. I don’t look forward. Only now." This dance, this meal, this woman: that was his world.

The mind set free

Good op-ed today in the Times about Czeslaw Milosz (please mentally insert little slashes on those "l"s).
By maintaining a stubborn loyalty to his language and his native province, he had become a world poet. By cleaving to seemingly outmoded convictions of his childhood and youth - belief in reason, love of nature, the cosmopolitan views of his uncle Oscar Milosz, an important French poet - he survived the lethal ideologies of Nazism and Soviet Communism. By tending to his work, and by the turns of fortune, he had now somehow, beyond his own expectation, outlasted the great brutal monolith and its attempts to edit him out of history.

One of my favorite quotes is Milosz's epigraph to The Captive Mind:
When someone is honestly 55% right, that's very good and there's no use wrangling. And if someone is 60% right, it's wonderful, it's great luck, and let him thank God. But what's to be said about 75% right? Wise people say this is suspicious. Well, and what about 100% right? Whoever says he's 100% right is a fanatic, a thug, and the worst kind of rascal.

Sunday, August 22, 2004

I'm Esme of Ample Hills, and I approved this message

Without being a huge Kerry fan, I'm pretty annoyed that a man who seemingly was AWOL from the National Guard during Vietnam has decided it's a good thing to go after the credentials of someone who actually went and fought. But I'd be even happier if both parties were to focus on other issues - like, oh, I don't know, making sure that one of Islam's holiest sites doesn't get blown up? Or - what the hell - providing some comfort that no Manhattan skyscrapers will get blown up in turn? Just a thought.

Found art in Brooklyn

On a sidewalk in Cobble Hill:
  • Several pairs of high-heeled ladies' boots, marked "size 7 1/2"
  • An old humidifier in its box, with an attached note: "It works!"
  • A box of Manischewitz sponge cake mix (kosher for Passover)
  • Several books, including a do-it-yourself guide to divorce in New York.

On envy

My eye was caught the other day by this quote in Terry Teachout's blog:
"Apart from emulative envy, the only aspect of envy that does not seem to me pejorative is a form of envy I have myself felt, as I suspect have others who are reading this book: the envy that I think of as faith envy. This is the envy one feels for those who have the true and deep and intelligent religious faith that sees them through the darkest of crises, death among them. If one is oneself without faith and wishes to feel this emotion, I cannot recommend a better place to find it than in the letters of Flannery O'Connor. There one will discover a woman still in her thirties, who, after coming into her radiant talent, knows she is going to die well before her time and, owing to her Catholicism, faces her end without voicing complaint or fear. I not long ago heard, in Vienna, what seemed to me a perfect rendering of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, and was hugely moved by it, but how much more would I have been moved, I could not help wonder, if I were in a state of full religious belief, since the Ninth Symphony seems to me in many ways a religious work. Faith envy is envy, alas, about which one can do nothing but quietly harbor it."

Joseph Epstein, Envy
I would certainly second the recommendation of O'Connor's letters. But I'm wondering whether it would be worthwhile to read more of Epstein's original text to understand more of his concept of "emulative envy." I certainly have that in abundance; I envy Cosma Shalizi his extensive notebooks, for example. Yet my guess is that any project undertaken in the spirit of "emulative envy" alone would have a disturbing undertone of being imitative or rivalrous. (Those who wish can insert references to the "anxiety of influence" here. So how does Epstein's theory actually work?

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Turkmenbashi strikes again

Meanwhile (since this is the blogosphere's leading source for combined fertility and Turkmenbashi news), let us note what the great man has done for us lately:
Turkmenistan's authoritarian president, whose recent decrees have included banning gold teeth, has told television presenters to stop wearing make-up because he had difficulty telling the men from the women.

"You put too much make-up on female TV presenters whose faces would be paler without it. Her own, natural color is better," President Saparmurat Niyazov said.

"Sometimes you even put make-up on the lads. Then I really cannot tell the two apart," he said at a meeting with cultural and television representatives shown on state TV on Thursday.

Since post-Soviet independence, Niyazov has cut the gas-rich Central Asian state's ties to the outside world, stamped out dissent, and built up a bizarre personality cult around himself with golden statues and idiosyncratic decrees.

Other recent decrees by the president, who calls himself Turkmenbashi the Great (Father of all Turkmen), include the ban on gold teeth, making his book on morality part of the driving test, and opening a leisure center for horses.

What kind of fool am I?

The kind, apparently, who's suffered repeated miscarriages; who swears to herself that she will not do any tests, etc. 'til day 42; who then proceeds to do a home test on day 31, and again on day 34; who gets the blood test done on day 35, and a sonogram on day 43. Praise God everything so far seems normal. "Normal," by the way, now means feeling queasy on the 4/5/6 train pretty much every morning. Beware of the pale blonde with overstuffed briefcase, reading her Times with a glassy-eyed look.