Roving thoughts and provocations

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Spring Is Far Behind

Jonas Bendiksen/Magnum Photos
Reydarfjordur, Iceland, 2007

It is spring… Coal is beginning to be dug again
where the fern forests stood last night…

                    —William Carlos Williams

The first coyote of spring.

The story of Noah’s Ark as a parable of global warming: because of human depravity all the animals have to die. I know, I know. Not quite all the animals. But still, what a slaughter of innocents!

Climate change: Noah and NOAA.

Simone Weil thought Noah and Dionysus were linked. “Noah apparently was the first, like Dionysus, to plant a vineyard.” But what does wine have to do with the Flood? Disaster relief?

A piece of the World Trade Center? No, thanks. If I were the mayor of Tenafly, I’d ask for a traffic cone.

Complete the series: Prague Spring, Arab Spring…Springtime for Putin?

Khrushchev’s Thaw: Solzhenitsyn publishes A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. Putin’s Thaw: the half-pipe at Sochi.

“Pussy Riot Horsewhipped by Cossacks”: a headline for our time.

February: the fear that Putin can’t keep terrorists out of Sochi. March: the fear that NATO can’t keep Putin out of Kiev?

It’s so hard to be original these days. At 4 AM I think: “Crimea River.” Delighted with my brilliance, I go back to sleep. At 5 AM I Google it. It’s fucking everywhere.

In The Waste Land, Madame Sosotris, a “famous clairvoyante,” is equipped with “a wicked pack” of Tarot cards. “Here, said she, /Is your card, the drowned Phoenician Sailor.” Her advice: “Fear death by water.” But wait a second. There is no Phoenician Sailor in the Tarot deck.

Tempted to get a Tarot reading. Tempted to get a screening for Alzheimer’s. On second thought…

Chaucer says, “Aprille with his shoures soote” is the time when “longen folk to goon on pilgrimages.” I myself long to goon on a pilgrimage.

For many years I longed to read the Japanese philosopher Watsuji’s Pilgrimages to the Ancient Temples in Nara, first published in 1919 and never translated into English. Watsuji is known for a book called Climate, which aims to correct Heidegger’s overemphasis on time. Watsuji argued that space was equally important for the human condition. (Put them together and you get climate change.)

So much of reading is anticipation. So much of spring is the longing for spring.

I imagined Watsuji’s book as a phenomenology of pilgrimages: sore feet, a scallop shell in the pocket, the romance of walking sticks. Then I happened to check Amazon—the book was translated into English and published, in 2012, by MerwinAsia. The book is mainly about art; someone else will have to write about the phenomenology of pilgrimages.

Watsuji compares a statue of a bodhisattva in the Yakushiji temple with a Greek statue of Venus. “This Venus statue is one without a head, shoulders, arms, or half of the chest, but the remaining torso and lower body are enough to convince us that this is a divine work of art,” Watsuji writes. “All points within the body spurt out from within and come at us.” This sounds so much like Rilke’s sonnet about the headless Apollo that I wonder if Watsuji could have known the poem. But then I start worrying about the translation. “Spurt out.” Really? “Come at us.” Huh? And I’m back in anticipation mode. If only I could read the book in Japanese…

He was always in front for fear of being left behind.

Did Ham have sex with Noah? Oh, that’s just a theory. But there it is in The New Oxford Annotated Bible.

Phenomenology of pilgrimages, continued. Sarah Orne Jewett in The Country of the Pointed Firs: “there are paths trodden to the shrines of solitude the world over.” Then this: “In the life of each of us… there is a place remote and islanded, and given to endless regret or secret happiness; we are each the uncompanioned hermit and recluse of an hour or a day; we understand our fellows of the cell to whatever age of history they may belong.”

Kipling’s signature in Just So Stories: an Ark beneath an A, shaped like the gate to a Japanese shrine. Ark+A=RK.

Aphrodite and her sister Erudite.

I can’t wait for spring-cleaning so I can start hoarding again.

If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind? Yes.

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