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Mar. 23, 2011

Vol. 111, No. 9

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Selections from 'Jeffbook'

Recent Facebook postings by Professor Jeff Nunokawa

Posted on March 23, 2011


For the past six years, English professor Jeff Nunokawa has been working on an unusual and very public writing project: Each day he posts a short essay (or essays) on a wide range of subjects, seeking the right mix of "obliquity and transparency" to encourage his readers to think. Presented here are 10 essays from February 2011; the subjects range from love to trust to time to death, and take flight from there.

3163. "a small and almost secret sea" (Chesterton).

by Jeff Nunokawa on Wednesday, February 9, 2011 at 9:50am

such keys were given to him to bind and loose when he was a poor fisher in a far province, beside a small and almost secret sea (Autobiography).

When my spirits are low, my mind confused, and my heart is full of fear, I like to remember that all my keys were given to me somewhere near "an almost secret sea". The depths that draw me down and scare me so: dark, but not forever so; the tides that pull me in: mysterious, but not always so; the terror that takes me far away from where I want to be: awful, but not endless, so.

Such keys as we are given to bind and loose, we must first be apply to ourselves. And then, who knows, once we are bound and loosened enough: maybe then we can get all helpful to others with the binding and unloosening--maybe, once we get our own lines straight, we can become our own variorum version of what someone somewhere called fishers of men.

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Notes:

1. And the seas of pity lie. Locked and frozen in each eye (Auden).

2. But not at all tides and times. More than one Almanac reports that such seas (almost like keys) are melted and unlocked, [a]s kingfishers catch fire (Hopkins).

3167. "a true love [d'un véritable amour]" (Racine)

by Jeff Nunokawa on Saturday, February 12, 2011 at 12:45pm

(Je crois, depuis cinq ans jusqu'à ce dernier jour,

Vous avoir assuré d'un véritable amour.

Ce n'est pas tout: je veux, en ce moment funeste,

Par un dernier effort couronner tout le reste.

Je vivrai, je suivrai vos ordres absolus.

Adieu, Seigneur. Régnez: je ne vous verrai plus.

[I think for five years till today, I have

Assured you a true love. That is not all.

I wish, at this tragic time, by a last effort

To crown the rest. I shall go on living now.

I shall obey your absolute commands.

Farewell, my lord. Reign. I shall see you no more] ('Bérénice).

A love as resolute as the Imperial Demand to which it submits itself; a love that coronates itself at the moment of its self banishment--Love like that: as Absolutely Awesome as anything ever seen or unseen, put together; an Acre as affluent as any Estate ever deeded by devotion to a Hidden God or the generosity of your Mother's Gift.

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Notes:

1. (L. Goldmann, Le dieu caché ; étude sur la vision tragique dans les Pensées de Pascal et dans le théâtre de Racine).

2. When I had written Le dieu caché ; étude sur la vision tragique dans les Pensées de Pascal et dans le théâtre de Racine, on Jansenism, Pascal's Pensées and Racine's plays, which set out there structural interconnection in the France of the seventeenth century. . . a very well-known literary historian, . . . became very cross, exclaiming that he could see no relationship whatever between the Christian thought of Port-Royal (the stronghold of Janenism in France) and the pagan characters of Racine's plays before Esther. I had to answer that he was doubtless right to point out the differences, but these differences were of the same order as those which exist between a work and its translation into a foreign language: the Christian God was seen by the Janenists as a hidden god who demands absolute obedience to contradictory obligations . . . In Racine's plays, the absolute requirements of morality are personified by Hector and Astyanax, Berenice and the Roman people or, again, the Sun and Venus (L. Goldmann, "'Genetic Structuralism' in the Sociology of Literature").

3. Some stories will tell themselves over and over again in our heads; sometimes they will best tell themselves by translating themselves, altering, even over and above, the original by scene or syllable--like the one (you've heard some version a million times before) about the mother saying goodbye to a child whom she's loved as much as she's ever loved anyone. They're at the airport, he's going away to college, and thus going away forever. At the gate I hesitated, suddenly scared and sad. I looked back at her. She pointed to the plane. She sent me on my way.

4. Paradox of the Double Address: Aloha or Adieu:

inspired by strong desire to bind myself to you (N. Merchant).

5. Acre: Arabic: عكّا ‎, ʻ Akk ā ; Hebrew: עַכּוֹ ‎‎, Akko.

3168. "He distrusted her affection; and what loneliness is more lonely than distrust?"

by Jeff Nunokawa on Sunday, February 13, 2011 at 9:46am

(George Eliot, Middlemarch).

So when did I start trusting your affection for me? Oh wait-- I remember: it was just around the time when I started trusting mine for you.

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Note: [T]he faith of one man in another . . . belongs in the category of religious faith. Just as nobody has ever believed in God on the basis of any "proof in the existence of God," . . . so one "believes" in a particular man without justifying this faith by proofs of his worthiness, and often even in spite of proofs to the contrary (G. Simmel).

"just love"

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Note: See "Love", "Self-Justified".

3169. Now every February You'll be my Valentine,

by Jeff Nunokawa on Monday, February 14, 2011 at 3:57am

Valentine (K. Perry, "Teenage Dream").

As the years pass, your Talent for sustaining some forms of affection fades, just as your Talent for sustaining others takes wing. You're always true to you[r Love in your] fashion (high-flier or otherwise):

It's all for love, all the way; whatever the time of Night or Day:

From the thousand responses of my heart never to cease,

From the myriad thence-aroused

Out of the mocking-bird's throat ,the musical shuttle-- 

(smale foweles maken melodye. That slepen al the nyght with open Iye): 

Now every February

You'll be my Valentine, Valentine

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Notes:

1. "To regard with parental tenderness" . . . "To be pleased with" . . . "To regard with reverent unwillingness to offend" ("Love"--Third, Fourth and Fifth entries of Johnson's Dictionary of the English Language). Hey, love by any other name would smell as sweet;, right?

2. Other voices, un-drowned and shored up on the shore of this, my Valentine Present to You--just you: Dryden, Dickens, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Whitman, Cole Porter (of course!), the Tide of the Heart, Sometime past its Height--oh and wait, right here at the beginning of this sentence there's the beachcomber leavings of that Anglican from Saint Louis!.

3. Everyone wants in! The lines are jammin' with callers! Radio signals abounding! Who would have it any other way? No regrets just love

3172. "the immense simutaneity of the world" (Merleau-Ponty)

by Jeff Nunokawa on Tuesday, February 15, 2011 at 9:41am

The ancients read in the heavens the hour to wage the battle. We no longer believe that it is written down anywhere. But we do and always will believe that what takes place would not be entirely real for us if we did not know at what time. Its hour is no longer destined in advance for the event, but whatever it be, the event appropriates it to itself; the event would not be entirely itself if we did not situate it in the immense simultaneity of the world and within its undivided thrust ("Interrogation and Dialectic").

Time of your life and of mine: a time out back, or up front; in one of a million secret places, or under the siege of the single spotlight--times as different (despite the fact that the clock says they are the same time) as individuals with the same name or nationality can be--all at once absorbed by a single event, or the march of mere eventuality, into One Standard Bearing Time; various times suddenly confederated, at a speed past the sound of all warning shots, as The Time. The community so clocked by such a splitting of the husks: imagined, such a sense of continuity, perhaps, but no less or more imaginary than the feeling of the heart and of history that it knows or cannot know what appointments lie in wait to open it or close it.

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Notes:

1. Big Ben was beginning to strike, first the warning, musical; then the hour, irrevocable (Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway).

2. The word 'time' split its husk; poured its riches over him (Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway).

3. S. Zemka on Time and Temporality in George Eliot.

4. B. Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism.

5. For the canonical reading of the once conventional counter-clockwise wisdom, which takes the sense of temporal universality (the sense that it is the same time everywhere constitutes an existential equivalence; the sense that it is the same time everywhere constitutes an existential simultaneity) as a social and not a natural fact, see  Louis Althusser, Étienne Balibar "Marxism is not an Historicism" in Reading Capital.

3176. "We have become more modest about our own achievements,

by Jeff Nunokawa on Saturday, February 19, 2011 at 9:31am

and hence more willing to learn from the past (Paul Oscar Kristeller, Renaissance Thought: The Classic, Scholastic and Humanist Strains).

When my friends and I were young, we thought we were at least as smart as most of our Professors. Oh sure, they may have had a few more volumes of facts and figures going for them, but when it came to deeper dimension--forget about it: come on, we got all the "quick bright things" Parts, and thus the edge inclined enough to discern and deride the least rumor of an already received idea emanating from those Old Masters, speaking to us across all kinds of distance--our powers of detection and dismissal thus saving us the trouble of getting or staying out of bed to hear a Pressed Repeat.

Now that we are old ourselves, not so much. Now, it seems like even the most received ideas shine in new ways that no one can predict, and it may well be worth the trouble of an early rising to see them.

Take the one about the new kid, able and willing (whether she knows it or not) to do her part to Advance Learning; to Expand the Circle of Light; to become a Leader on the Path of Getting Better. Sooner or later, that's the Old Standard that'll do most of the Lifting that gets you up to the morning.

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Note: Alfred Knopf gave quite a party to celebrate my birthday . . . There were a lot of people there whom you would have enjoyed quite as much as I did, including young James Merrill, who is about the age which you and I were in New York (Wallace Stevens, in a letter to Witter Byner, December 20, 1954).

3177. "Dr. Johnson smiled benignantly at this, and did not appear to disapprove of the notion".

by Jeff Nunokawa on Sunday, February 20, 2011 at 2:01am

Having fallen into a very serious frame of mind, in which mutual expressions of kindness passed between us, such as would be thought too vain in me to repeat, I talked with regret of the sad inevitable certainty that one of us must survive the other. JOHNSON. 'Yes, Sir, that is an affecting consideration. I remember Swift, in one of his letters to Pope, says, "I intend to come over, that we may meet once more; and when we must part, it is what happens to all human beings."' BOSWELL. 'The hope that we shall see our departed friends again must support the mind.' JOHNSON. 'Why yes, Sir.' BOSWELL. 'There is a strange unwillingness to part with life, independent of serious fears as to futurity. A reverend friend of ours (naming him) tells me, that he feels an uneasiness at the thoughts of leaving his house, his study, his books.' JOHNSON. 'This is foolish in *****. A man need not be uneasy on these grounds; for, as he will retain his consciousness, he may say with the philosopher, "Omnia mea mecum porto".  BOSWELL. 'True, Sir: we may carry our books in our heads; but still there is something painful in the thought of leaving for ever what has given us pleasure. I remember, many years ago, when my imagination was warm, and I happened to be in a melancholy mood, it distressed me to think of going into a state of being in which Shakspeare's poetry did not exist. A lady whom I then much admired, a very amiable woman, humoured my fancy, and relieved me by saying, "The first thing you will meet in the other world, will be an elegant copy of Shakspeare's works presented to you.'" Dr. Johnson smiled benignantly at this, and did not appear to disapprove of the notion (Boswell, Life of Johnson).

For the sake of the conversation, let's forget for a minute the wondering about an Other Side, and what, if there is an Other Side, we get to carry with us there, assuming we get to carry anything, and assuming that there's a there, there; for the sake of the conversation, forget for a minute (again, assuming a there, there) whom, if anyone, we get to meet there.

That's a lot of forgetting, I know, but I wouldn't ask you to do it, if I didn't think it for a Worthy Cause. Sometimes when you mute the most voluminous Tales of Transport, the background stories of smaller movings--usually rendered mere background murmur by the Bigger Ones, closer to the Mike--become distinct enough to make out. Not much these stories, maybe, next to the Full Sound Stage Tellings of Essential Constancy of Consciousness or Epiphanic Reunions through all Conceivable or Inconceivable Contingencies, but still pretty great in their own way--like one about the censorious old man, who softens a little when someone he loves, by means of a nocturnally admitted fairy tale, all but confesses a form of wishful thinking that the old man has just finished calling so much foolishness.

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Notes:

1. On the centrality of sidebar conversations, see E. Goffman, Behavior in Public Places, Forms of Talk, inter alia.

2. little, nameless, unremembered, acts [o]f kindness and of love (Wordsworth).

3179. "Certain images of architecture in their proper context, formal and poetic, are romantic"

by Jeff Nunokawa on Monday, February 21, 2011 at 3:07pm

(Geoffrey Scott, The Architecture of Humanism: A Study in the History of Taste).

As a Column, Repeated, works just like a Rhyme,

So he told you he loved you, just barely in Time

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Notes:

1. This note recurs to its author's foundational romantic history with an Architect.

2. the ironic jostle by which plebeian "span" gives a lesson in human values to aristocratic "gentilman"   (W. K. Wimsatt, "One Relation of Rhyme to Reason").

3180. Love and Architecture

by Jeff Nunokawa on Tuesday, February 22, 2011 at 7:55am

Rhymes Galore! A Virtual Party of Rhymes: Columns of Columns have come from Miles and Miles away: from Hilo, New Haven, Princeton, Atlantic City and the North Shore of O'ahu! How to start the head count? I guess at the ground floor: base structure columns, tropical mirrorings of New Deal Muralings. Oh, and then look! Rafael Viñoly's screens, all high class, low gloss, lipstick pretty; then Paul Rudolph's bad ass boys (still got their rough edge after all these years); then those palm trees, made by God, or some other artist worthy to receive the Golden Palm from most Holy Palmer, and then of course (how discourage h[im]?), there's "Landslide" Lyndon (or the delegates selected to hold the State Banners at his Coronation, also known as the 1964 Democratic National Convention).

And then, later, when the cheering has stopped a little, listen to the rhymes that linger near,

just barely out of earshot (heard rhymes--sweet; those half heard, sweeter still):

--the last, or next to last, of three loved matriarchs (the Author's Favorite Aunt--she lived most her life in the upper right corner of her Adopted State, but that's her in the upper left corner of the Picture), her gaze fixed on the man (not pictured), cultivated, but from rather rougher parts, she loved (Mon [mostest] oncle d'Amérique)

--her gaze as fixed as any Capitol Passion I've ever seen myself or foreseen for others; the Capitol Passion that gets its start where design and desire most merge--her gaze as fine as the Course of True Love that will Pass By (at a canter, at least, conducted in the solid and supple style of a Trained and Talented Rider), all impediment of caste and class.

The Romance Rhyme--hear it? Oh buddy, yes, you say, yes you say, yes you say I do. Here, it? Oh baby, Of Course!

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Notes:

1. See note 3179.

2. When Adam dalf, and Eve span,

Who was thanne a gentilman? (John Ball).

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1 Response to Reading 'Jeffbook'

Karlene Wood Says:

2011-03-28 09:22:18

Mentioned in the Sunday paper today so wanted to read some essays -- want to read more.
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