Monday, 4 November 2019

Dramatick Verse, a Fragment : Horatius Holds the Bridge

             HORATIUS :       A rout no child would own!
                                      You speak catastrophe.
             MESSENGER :  They milled around in great alarm.
                                      No thought but for our missing.

             HORATIUS :      Scum!

             MESSENGER :  Sire!

             HORATIUS :      Animal invertebratum!
                                      Your duty was to find them!

The hero, Horatius, a junior officer in the army of the early Roman
Republic, who famously defended Rome at the Tiber Bridge from the
invading army of Etruscans in the late 6th century BC. By defending
the narrow end of the bridge, he — together with commanders
Herminius and Lartius — was able to ward off the attacking army
long enough to allow other Romans to destroy the bridge behind him,
blocking the Etruscans’ advance and saving the city. According to
Livy’s History of Rome (ii. 10.), Horatius’s ‘own men, a panic-stricken
troop, were deserting their posts and discarding their weapons’;  how-
ever, Horatius's courage manages to rally the defence of the bridge.


Saturday, 26 October 2019

Variation on a Theme by Edna St. Vincent Millay.

‘Man is a fish that swims in its own sperm.’
             Imagine then a clean white linen napkin
wound firmly round an eel so muscular
             and strong, plunging and twisting in the palm,
that it’s difficult to hold; whereupon
             the knife you take, with which you tried to kill the
bread, neither this sombre iridescence slays:
             The eel rears from your grasp and smites your face. 

                  Catherine Eisner
                  with respectful acknowledgements 
                  to the Restaurant du Chat qui Pêche
                  by Edna St. Vincent Millay
                  (Century Magazine 1923)

Edna St. Vincent Millay bathing
(circa 1927).

Monday, 21 October 2019

Miss Emily Dickinson Communes with the Great Dictator Mr John Milton . . .

‘Do you ever yearn,’
she was asked,
on a whim,
‘to have been firstborn to
 that Master of the Poem?’

‘Daughter of blind Milton?
Why, it’s true,’
she’d shrugged with the coyest of smiles,
‘for then
I would have intimately known
the Fiend’s bade angels
were verily my own.’ 

Blind Milton dictating Paradise Lost
to his Daughter
by Eugène Delacroix (circa 1826).

Miltonic Homophones Make Mischief.

In emulation of Milton’s daughter, Miss Dickinson transcribed correctly line 344 of Book 1 of Paradise Lost, in countless editions falsely rendered thus:

                             So numberless were those bad Angels seen                                                
                             Hovering on wing under the Cope of Hell

for she recognised, unlike most – if not all – Miltonian scholars, that this dictated masterpiece contains many homophones and bad angels for bade angels is surely an example of the grave pitfalls that lie in wait for orality in versification. 

Even a fair reading of the transcript by Milton’s daughter would not necessarily have singled out the fault, however acute the blind task-master’s ear. And she . . . ? Well, Milton’s daughter – as Emily suspected – may have allowed the error to stand to colour this stern, forbidding, Epic Voice with her own mischievous girlish descant. 

                             Blind Milton: The meaning’s not mistaken, child?
                             Meek Daughter: Bade angels, bade as bidden, Father.

Do you doubt Emily’s insights; those of a preeminent bardic practitioner? Consider Milton’s verses some forty lines earlier, a narrative in which Satan arises from the fiery deep to issue rousing orders, bidding his Fallen Angels in a call to arms.  

On Hell’s. . . 
                             . . . inflamed sea he stood, and called 
                             His legions, Angel forms, who lay entranced . . .
                             Awake, arise, or be for ever fallen . . .
                             . . . Yet to their general’s voice they soon obeyed
                             Innumerable. [In other words, Bade Angels.]

After all, for every Production Line worker (in this case, over 10,000 lines!) there are bound to be a few moments for a little idle diversion.

Empress of Calvary.
Though, it has to be added, anyone who personifies themselves as ‘Empress of Calvary’ is perhaps in an invidious position when presuming to find a bum note in one of Christendom’s authentic God-given masterpieces. Except, maybe, after all, an Empress of Calvary should command Bad Angels, for they would certainly deserve to be at her impious imperious bidding. 

Or is that exactly what Emily meant?

For Great Dictators: Henry James, Joseph Conrad, Barbara Cartland, Edgar Wallace and Co. . . . see . . .

Catherine Eisner believes passionately in plot-driven suspense fiction, a devotion to literary craft that draws on studies in psychoanalytical criminology and psychoactive pharmacology to explore the dark side of motivation, and ignite plot twists with unexpected outcomes. Within these disciplines Eisner’s fictions seek to explore variant literary forms derived from psychotherapy and criminology to trace the traumas of characters in extremis. Compulsive recurring sub-themes in her narratives examine sibling rivalry, rivalrous cousinhood, pathological imposture, financial chicanery, and the effects of non-familial male pheromones on pubescence, 
and Listen Close to Me (2011)

Friday, 18 October 2019

Shabby Chic – Choicest Colourways. The Bare Necessaries to Furnish a Cell for Solitude and Repose. Hadrian VII and Des Esseintes Share Know-How.


Drab is, actually, a colour. It’s a dull, shabby, light brown. 

A Subfusc Aesthetic. 

And let’s not forget that it is from gris (grey) that we derive grisette, the 19th Century French working woman, traditionally classified by the humble grey fabric she invariably wore.

The grisette pictured below is from Fécamp in the Normandy region of France. Her modest counter-colours are very much in evidence, as you can observe.

Grisette de Fécamp  

Such are the caste colours of subjection . . . yet, perversely, the muted colours of this subfusc aesthetic once appeared conspicuously desirable to its two arch proponents – Joris-Karl Huysmans and Frederick William Rolfe – whose all-consuming hypersensitive preciosity bears the same relation to humility as the masquerades of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette bore to the mock-heroic shepherds and shepherdesses of their pastorale in the rusticised hamlet they made their pleasure-ground at Versailles.

The Unassuming Palette of Pseudo-Monasticism?

So let’s be clear. The romance of transcendental monasticism and ritualism – including a fascination with self-mortification and martyrology of the grossest sort – continues to have a strong appeal for masochistic sensualists; particularly it holds an appeal for certain literary adherents drawn to the theatrics of a penitential Catholicism whose credo often may be likened to the highly selective self-denying practices of a sybaritic hermitage.

Agreed, this is my own rather jaded view of so-called fin-de-siècle Decadents . . . but, please, compare the not unrelated narratives of these two writers, Huysmans and Rolfe (Baron Corvo) – two laundry lists of indulgently fulfilled desires, emblematic of a new genre of ‘narcissistic asceticism’ – separated by exactly twenty years . . . 1884 and 1904 . . . and it’s for you to decide. A husk-mattress, anyone?

Imitations d’Humilité.

    . . . he had hung a disturbing sketch by El Greco in his bedroom. It was a Christ done in strange tints, in a strained design, possessing a wild colour and a disordered energy: a picture executed in the painter’s second manner when he had been tormented by the necessity of avoiding imitation of Titian.
        This sinister painting, with its wax and sickly green tones, bore an affinity to certain ideas Des Esseintes had with regard to furnishing a room.
        According to him, there were but two ways of fitting a bedroom. One could either make it a sense-stimulating alcove, a place for nocturnal delights, or a cell for solitude and repose, a retreat for thought, a sort of oratory.
        . . .  For the second instance,—and now that he wished to put behind him the irritating memories of his past life, this was the only possible expedient—he was compelled to design a room that would be like a monastic cell. But difficulties faced him here, for he refused to accept in its entirety the austere ugliness of those asylums of penitence and prayer.
        By dint of studying the problem in all its phases, he concluded that the end to be attained could thus be stated: to devise a sombre effect by means of cheerful objects, or rather to give a tone of elegance and distinction to the room thus treated, meanwhile preserving its character of ugliness; to reverse the practice of the theatre, whose vile tinsel imitates sumptuous and costly textures; to obtain the contrary effect by use of splendid fabrics; in a word, to have the cell of a Carthusian monk which should possess the appearance of reality without in fact being so.
        Thus he proceeded. To imitate the stone-colour of ochre and clerical yellow, he had his walls covered with saffron silk; to stimulate the chocolate hue of the dadoes common to this type of room, he used pieces of violet wood deepened with amaranth. The effect was bewitching, while recalling to Des Esseintes the repellant rigidity of the model he had followed and yet transformed. The ceiling, in turn, was hung with white, unbleached cloth, in imitation of plaster, but without its discordant brightness. As for the cold pavement of the cell, he was able to copy it, by means of a bit of rug designed in red squares, with whitish spots in the weave to imitate the wear of sandals and the friction of boots.
        Into this chamber he introduced a small iron bed, the kind used by monks, fashioned of antique, forged and polished iron, the head and foot adorned with thick filigrees of blossoming tulips enlaced with vine branches and leaves. Once this had been part of a balustrade of an old hostel’s superb staircase.
        For his table, he installed an antique praying-desk the inside of which could contain an urn and the outside a prayer book. Against the wall, opposite it, he placed a church pew surmounted by a tall dais with little benches carved out of solid wood. His church tapers were made of real wax, procured from a special house which catered exclusively to houses of worship, for Des Esseintes professed a sincere repugnance to gas, oil and ordinary candles, to all modern forms of illumination, so gaudy and brutal.

À Rebours by Joris-Karl Huysmans (1884) 

Let Us have all of the simplest, without ornament.

They went out into the corridor; and re-entered the apartment by the first antechamber. 
        ‘Cover all the walls and ceilings with brown-packing paper - yes, brown-packing paper - carta straccia,’ the Pope repeated. 
        ‘Stain all the woodwork with a darker shade of brown. The gilding of the cornices can remain as it is. No carpets. These small greenish-blue tiles are clean; and they soothe the eye. Curtains? You may hang very voluminous linen curtains on the doors and windows, greenish-blue linen to match the tiles, and without borders. Furnish all those ante-chambers with rush chairs and oaken tables. Remember that everything is to be plain, without ornament - In this room you may place the usual throne and canopy: and that crucifix from downstairs - (how exquisite the mother-of-pearl figure is!) - and the stools, and twelve large candlesticks - iron or brass - Now this room is to be a workshop. Let Us have a couch and three armchairs, all large and low and well-cushioned, covered with undyed leather. Get some of those large plain wooden tables which are used in kitchens, about three yards long and one and a half wide. Put writing-materials on one of them, there, on the right of the window. Leave the middle of the room empty. Put three small bookcases against that wall and a cupboard here - Make a bedroom of this room. Let the bed be narrow and long, with a husk mattress; and let the back of the head be toward the window. Put one of the large wooden tables here and a dozen rush-chairs -’ (He spoke to the bishop) ‘Do you know that there is no water here at all, except in little jugs?’ (He continued to the Major-domo) ‘Line the walls of this room with greenish-blue tiles, like those on the floor. Put several pegs on both doors. In this corner put a drainpipe covered with a grating; and, six feet above it, let a waterpipe and a tap project rectangularly two feet from the wall. Yes. Six feet from the floor, two feet from the wall; and let there be a constant and copious supply of water - rain water, if possible. Do you understand?’ 
        The Major-domo understood. The Master-of-the-Chamber shivered. 
        ‘And lamps. Get two plain oil-lamps for each room, with copper shades: large lamps, to give a very strong light. Paint over both doors of the bedroom, on the outside of each, Intrantes excommunicantur ipso facto. When We have finished here,’ He addressed the Master-of-the-Chamber again, ‘you will parade your staff; and We will select one person and provide him with a dispensation from that rule as long as he behaves himself well. He will have charge of the bedroom and the sole right to enter it.’ (The Pope passed into the next room: paused, and whispered explicit directions to the Major-domo; and moved on to the farther room.) ‘The clothes-presses from downstairs can be moved into this room. They will serve. And you had better make a door here, so that it can be entered from the corridor.’ (He went on again.) ‘This room is to be the vestry - and this the oratory. Let Us have a plain stone altar and the stations, and the bare necessaries for mass, all of the simplest. Let everything, walls, floor, ceiling, everything, be white - natural white, not painted; and make a door here, also leading into the corridor, a large double door convenient for the faithful who assist at the pontifical mass. The rooms beyond - you will take order about them at a convenient occasion.’ 
        Hadrian and the bishop returned to the pontifical apartments downstairs. 
        ‘Your Holiness will excuse me -’ 
        ‘- but have You ever contemplated the present situation?’’
        ‘No. Why?’
        ‘Well, Your Holiness seems to have everything cut and dried.’

Hadrian the Seventh by Frederick Rolfe (1904) 

The Psychopathology of Hedonistic Abasement.

The interior decorator manqué, His Holiness, claims he has not contemplated the ‘present situation’!? My eye! 
        Good artists borrow, great artists steal. This is almost certainly the case in Rolfe’s theft (from Huysmans) of the Psychopathology of Hedonistic Abasement to colour the idée fixe of his novel‘s eponymous hero, an undisguised self portrait.

The fetishisation of monastic self-denial, we might imagine, also displaces for both authors the anxieties of a co-existing obsession by substituting the psychical pain of libidinous neuroses with a convenient sublimation. 

I will not mention the present day pontifical inclination to shun residence in the apostolic apartments in favour of modest quarters in a sort hostel for visiting clergy, some distance from the papal palace, on the other side of the Vatican city state. 

Product Placement . . . the Keys of Saint Peter are British-Made.

However, Shabby Chic apart, I will note here that, according to Hadrian the Seventh, the Keys of Saint Peter, the symbol of papal authority, are manufactured to the highest specification by London's oldest and most prestigious lock manufacturer.

        ‘A master key, Holiness, I have just got one too.’ The bishop shewed his own ring.
        ‘‘Capital! Where do you get those things made?’
        ‘At a place in Band Street [sic] —Brahma [sic] I think the name is.’  
        Tell your Brahma people to fit all the doors upstairs with locks which have separate keys, . .  and also to send a man who is capable of making an episcopal ring for Us which shall contain a master key to all those locks.‘
        ‘Very well, Holy Father.’

Note: After 103 years in Piccadilly and Bond Street, Bramah Locksmiths have moved to 7 Goodge Place, Fitzrovia, London, W1T 4SF. 
The present Managing Director is a member of the Bramah family.

Sham Pain.

For The Pallette of Pain, an account of painter Francis Bacon’s use of ‘violence as an activity’, the ‘sham pain’ he proposed for his friends and rendered on canvases, regarded by the cognoscenti as transgressive art – yet expressive of a consummate passive-aggressive masochist with a bent for self-abasement – see also :

Catherine Eisner believes passionately in plot-driven suspense fiction, a devotion to literary craft that draws on studies in psychoanalytical criminology and psychoactive pharmacology to explore the dark side of motivation, and ignite plot twists with unexpected outcomes. Within these disciplines Eisner’s fictions seek to explore variant literary forms derived from psychotherapy and criminology to trace the traumas of characters in extremis. Compulsive recurring sub-themes in her narratives examine sibling rivalry, rivalrous cousinhood, pathological imposture, financial chicanery, and the effects of non-familial male pheromones on pubescence, 
and Listen Close to Me (2011)

O Fruit of that Forbidden Tree whose Mortal Taste Brought All Our Woe . . .

   . . . or did they misunderstand          
and neither heard the rattle 
of a serpentine warning
when Eve thrust the apple 
into Adam’s hand?

The Fall of Man
by Cornelis van Haarlem
(Newspaper report, 17 October 2019)         The true way for testing a ripe Cox’s Orange Pippin apple is to shake it. The pips should rattle in the core.

See also: 
Et vocavit Adam nomen uxoris suæ, Eva . . . de ligno autem scientiæ boni et mali ne comedas.
That space the Evil One abstracted . . . and attention gained with forked tongue . . .

Friday, 4 October 2019

A Young Girl Dressed Deeply in Black.

‘The finding of the missing girl was due to disciplined legwork,’ the Police Commander leading the investigation into the unnamed teenager’s disappearance explained last night. 

     The first bulletin released a description of the runaway, he went on, which stated, ‘Jane Doe, age fourteen years, eyes blue, blonde hair, height 5 ft 2 ins, slim build, scar on left elbow, quiet-spoken, and possibly amnesiac.’

     Acting on operational intelligence, however, after the grandmother of the runaway revealed certain details of the traumatic effects of a recent bereavement on the girl, a city-wide all-points police broadcast to patrolmen swiftly resulted in the subject of the search being traced.

     Since the tragic death of her parents, both killed instantly in a fatal multi-vehicle expressway crash in November last year, the teenager it was understood had become profoundly affected by her loss and she had vanished from her home. Investigators believed that the girl, due to profound grief, had lost her memory and according to latest reports this appears to be the case.

     The fact that the girl wore mourning attire of a distinct character meant that a large number of witnesses came forward who remembered vividly her last movements, as it unusual to see a young girl dressed deeply in black, and her whereabouts were soon known to close the case without undue delay, or distress to the missing teenager.

Anti-Chekhovian Sentiments.

‘Why do you always wear black?’
    This question recalled Masha’s famous opening line in the first act of The Seagull, Jane Doe later reminded a policewoman (she had studied Chekhov’s play at junior high school). 

      ‘But don’t think for all that I am in mourning for my own life,’ she insisted. ‘Let there be no doubt it is the lives of my devoted parents I devoutly mourn.’  In detention the grieving girl had also stated, ‘I can’t be treated as if I were any normal girl of fourteen.’

      Curiously, this run-in with a police squad, so early in Jane Doe’s formative years, would come to be seen as a significant precursor to a later encounter with NYPD patrolmen on the occasion of her sensational disappearance, age twenty-four, in the case once popularly known as the Nuke-Shelter Spy Nest Affair.

      In 2008, when a notice heralding the authorised account of the notorious case first appeared (Thought Police, see page 414 of Catherine Eisner’s Sister Morphine published by Salt), the announcement concluded that ‘. . . when, even the Press have so far failed to uncover clues to solve the mystery of her disappearance, tantalisingly, the publication of a full account of her astonishing story must be delayed until the next edition of this work [i.e. A Room to the End of Fall Salt 2014].’ 

      This earlier commentary observed that, frustratingly, the occasion of Jane Doe’s disappearance, corroborated by a number of witnesses, had been more closely documented and reported more faithfully than the bizarre circumstances of her discovery. 

The Second Disappearance . . . Burrowing Under the Floor . . .

In Thought Police there is a sketch of the scene outside Jane Doe’s city apartment house, the day before her disappearance, that gave rise to the narrative’s title. A police patrol car halts beside her as she stands immobile in an unseasonable flurry of snow, dressed in a thin housecoat, staring fixedly at a drain cover where the snowfall had melted in a perfect dish-shaped concavity.

      The cops are friendly and polite. 

      They had merely put to her one question: ‘Something on your mind, maybe?’  

      ‘No. It’s nothing,’ she answers dryly with a false smile. ‘Unless, perhaps, you’re a deputation from the Thought Police.’

      A day later she vanishes without a trace to reemerge half a decade later.

      In Thought Police in 2008 there are quoted a few key passages from her diary into which she had copied extracts from Chekhov’s sinister cautionary tale, The Bet, whose unnamed young hero has himself incarcerated voluntarily for fifteen years in a well-stocked library – in solitary confinement – to win a bet of two million roubles wagered by a banker.

      ‘The prisoner (writes Jane Doe), amazingly, in four years, reads over six hundred volumes and when, after fifteen years of confinement in which he imbibes the world’s classics, he emerges into daylight, his appearance is almost spectral. His face is yellow, his cheeks are hollow, his hair is streaked with silver, and no one can believe that he is only forty! He is a skeleton with the skin drawn tight over his bones and long matted curls like . . . like, well, like my own, if I’m honest. But what does the prisoner declare upon his release that I would not myself assert were I to meet that hateful unconscionable banker!?

      ‘ “Your books have given me wisdom. All man’s unresting thought from the ages is compressed into the small compass of my brain. I know that I am wiser than all of you. And I despise your books, as I despise wisdom and the blessings of this world. It is all worthless, fleeting, illusory, and deceptive, like a mirage . . . as though you were no more than mice burrowing under the floor . . .” ’

Anomie and related neurotica

‘Jane Doe’ evidently empathised strongly with Chekhov’s disillusioned bookish captive, but she herself denied at the time a Freudo-Marxist view of alienation to explain her own anomie and other related neurotica. 

     Despite admitting to severe psychological adjustment problems, she claimed her sense of dislocation from a once familiar world was due, essentially, to the extreme mistrust and suspicion with which she regarded her literary agent, Sherman Seymour Dane. Specifically, she falsely accused Dane of ghostwriting the major portion of her novel, An Auroral Stain, which was published to mixed reviews during her enforced absence. ‘For Seymour, it was more than a case of corpus delicti when I disappeared,’ Jane Doe alleged, ‘it was a case of a missing opus whose inconvenient absence was remedied when he presumed to “complete” the work without my authorisation.’ 

     That she was wholly misguided in this belief the narrative A Room to the End of Fall now happily remedies. See her unredacted text in A Bad Case, 2014. Please note: To allay suspicions of editorial tampering (spelling, punctuation, usage, etc.), which for very sound reasons this American narrator maintains, her native US orthography in this account remains unchanged.

Catherine Eisner believes passionately in plot-driven suspense fiction, a devotion to literary craft that draws on studies in psychoanalytical criminology and psychoactive pharmacology to explore the dark side of motivation, and ignite plot twists with unexpected outcomes. Within these disciplines Eisner’s fictions seek to explore variant literary forms derived from psychotherapy and criminology to trace the traumas of characters in extremis. Compulsive recurring sub-themes in her narratives examine sibling rivalry, rivalrous cousinhood, pathological imposture, financial chicanery, and the effects of non-familial male pheromones on pubescence, 
and Listen Close to Me (2011)

Sunday, 22 September 2019

Et vocavit Adam nomen uxoris suæ, Eva . . . de ligno autem scientiæ boni et mali ne comedas.

She gave him the

apple merely to

 sweeten his breath.

According to Dr. Yitzhaq Hayut-Man, scholar of Torah and Kabbalah,
we should pay regard to the picture of Creation ‘. . . drawn by Rabbi
Yitzḥaq of Acre (who lived in the 13-14th century, well before the late
Physicist Stephen Hawking) . . . [for the medieval Rabbi] combined
a Kabbalistic calculation: (1) as his predecessors already agreed there
were six cycles of seven thousand years making 42,000 years; (2) this
is multiplied by 1,000 “... for a thousand years in Thy sight are but
like yesterday when it is past . . .” [Book of Psalms, 90:2] and (3) this,
in turn, is multiplied by the 365 days in each divine year, yielding
15,330,000,000 of our years. Which accords with Hawking's estimate.’

See also: 
O Fruit of that Forbidden Tree whose Mortal Taste Brought All Our Woe :