India—something of a madhouse with a touch of anarchy, yes, but an asylum in which strangers are wel come, even inquisitorial ones like me; where anything is possible, the weather is often pleasant, and the spicy food clears your sinuses. Most of India embodies Blake’s dictum that “energy is eternal delight.” All you need is a strong stomach, a little money, and a tolerance for crowds.
The austere torpor of the Stans had been wearing me down—the humorlessness and paranoia of a police state, no outward indication of struggle, a kind of beaten-down acceptance. Acceptance is not an Indian trait. In India, no one takes no for an answer: policemen are jeered at, authority exists to be defied, walls are erected to be defaced, and everyone is talking, often in English.
Detroit City Is the Place to Be: The Afterlife of an American Metropolis by Mark Binelli :
A few days after the new city council was elected in the fall of 2009, it was reported that five of its nine members had CCW (carry a concealed weapon) permits and regularly carried firearms. Around the same time, a robber made the mistake of breaking into the Westside Bible Church—where he was promptly shot by the pastor. A resourceful AP reporter had followed up on the gunslinging minister story by conducting a quick poll of Detroit churches and managed to turn up a number of other armed men of the cloth, including Holy Hope Heritage’s Rev. William Revely, who admitted to occasionally preaching while wearing his .357 (and who kept in practice by target shooting at a gun range with a fellow pastor), and Greater Grace Temple’s Bishop Charles Ellis III, who insisted he didn’t wear his concealed weapon during services, but then again, he didn’t have to, as the church had its own armed, eighteen-member Ministry of Defense present at all major functions.
I soon learned that country rules applied here, too—if you smiled and gave a little wave or a head nod, you’d generally get the same back, saving, of course, the dope boys, whose hard-gazed dedication to radiating inscrutability and menace convinced me to drop the smiling part. Mostly, though, the menace was due to the absence of people, and thus far more rural than urban, putting me in mind of Seventies exploitation movies like The Hills Have Eyes or Texas Chainsaw Massacre, in which naive cityfolk venture down the wrong dirt road and find themselves on the business end of a meathook.
Corine turned down the only street not barred with cement barricades. Strewn with detritus, at points nearly impassable, the block made me think of Humvee footage from the early days of the invasion of Baghdad. We maneuvered around shredded tires, jagged stacks of roofing tile, torn panels of Sheetrock, neat little mounds of broken glass, busted pallets, tangles of tree branches, unspooled cassette tapes, VHS tapes still in the box, a broken television, an empty purse, a pair of blue jeans. You could no longer see the sidewalks, the grass had grown so tall. There were one or two stop signs left, and a light post so stripped to the frame a person from a part of the world without light posts would have been hard pressed to discern its purpose.
The takeaway from the census stories revolved around Detroit plummeting to nineteenth place on the U.S. city-size list, behind Austin, Jacksonville, and Columbus. (Columbus!)
There were shady no-bid contracts; kids had to bring their own toilet paper to school. The principal of Finney High got his jaw broken after being punched by a student wearing brass knuckles...The new emergency manager was a polished bureaucrat who spoke in tough-sounding platitudes; his opposition, meanwhile, came in the form of shouting inner-city parents and a board that included the dimwitted “Reverend” David Murray, who had legally changed his first name to Reverend as an adult, and Otis Mathis, the board president who graduated from a DPS public school with a D-plus average, took fifteen years and a lawsuit against Wayne State University in order to receive his bachelor’s degree (claiming in his lawsuit that an English proficiency test required for graduation discriminated against African Americans), was forced to resign after fondling himself in front of a female school superintendent, and whose emails, leaked to the Detroit News, suggested a literacy on par with the majority of his failing students.
My Struggle: Book 2: A Man in Love by Karl Ove Knausgaard:
They’re Pentecostalists. I grew up there and was riddled with guilt about everything, the tiniest little thing. But they’re good people. It’s their life’s work. When the snow melts and sand is left on the pavement after the winter do you know what they do?” “No,” I said, since it was me she was looking at. “They sweep it up and give it back to the highways department.” “Is that true?” Anders asked. “Ha ha ha!” “They don’t drink alcohol, that goes without saying. And my father doesn’t drink tea or coffee, either. If he wants a treat in the morning he drinks hot water.” “I don’t believe that,” Anders said. “But it’s true,” Geir said. “He drinks hot water and they leave the sand by the gate for the highways department. They’re so good it’s almost impossible to be there.
Before Dostoyevsky, the ideal, even the Christian ideal, was always pure and strong, it was part of heaven, unattainable for almost everyone. The flesh was weak, the mind frail, but the ideal was unbending. The ideal was about aspiring, enduring, fighting the fight. In Dostoyevsky’s books everything is human, or rather, the human world is everything, including the ideals, which are turned on their heads: now they can be achieved if you give up, lose your grip, fill yourself with non-will rather than will. Humility and self- effacement, those are the ideals in Dostoyevsky’s foremost novels.
I found everything subterranean fascinating, it was like an adventure, I suppose this must have originated in my childhood when a cave was absolutely the most exciting find we could have made. One winter, I remembered, more than two meters of snow had fallen, it must have been in 1976 or 1977, and one weekend we dug small dens connected by tunnels stretching right across the garden to the neighbor’s. We were like creatures possessed and totally enchanted by the result when evening fell and we could sit chatting deep beneath the snow.
You can spend twenty pages describing a trip to the bathroom and hold your readers spellbound. How many people do you think can do that? How many writers would not have done that if only they could? Why do you think people spend their time touching up their modernist poems, with three words on each page? It’s because they have no other option.
Paul Celan’s mysterious, cipher-like language has nothing to do with inaccessibility or closedness, quite the contrary, it is about opening up what language normally does not have access to but that we still, somewhere deep inside us, know or recognize, or if we don’t, allows us to discover. Paul Celan’s words cannot be contradicted with words. What they possess cannot be transformed either, the word only exists there, and in each and every single person who absorbs it.
Collected Poems by Jack Gilbert:
The old women in black at early Mass in winter are a problem for him. He could tell by their eyes they have seen Christ. They make the kernel of his being and the clarity around it seem meager, as though he needs girders to hold up his unusable soul.
Why the mouth? Why is it the mouth we put to mouth at the final moments? Why not the famous groin? Because the groin is far away. The mouth is close up against the spirit. We couple desperately all night before setting out for years in prison. But that is the body’s goodbye. We kiss the person we love last thing before the coffin is shut, because it is our being touching the unknown. A kiss is the frontier in us.
We are given the trees so we can know what God looks like. And rivers so we might understand Him. We are allowed women so we can get into bed with the Lord, however partial and momentary that is.
The intimate body of the Valerie I know is not the secret body my friend knows. The luster of her breasts is conditional: clothed or not, desired or too familiar. The fact of them is mediated by morning or the depth of night when it’s pouring down rain. The reason we cannot enter the same woman twice is not because the mesh of energy flexes. It is a mystery separate from both matter and electrons.
It started when he was a young man and went to Italy. He climbed mountains, wanting to be a poet. But was troubled by what Dorothy Wordsworth wrote in her journal about William having worn himself out searching all day to find a simile for nightingale. It seemed a long way from the tug of passion. He ended up staying in pensioni where the old women would take up the children in the middle of the night to rent the room, carrying them warm and clinging to the mothers, the babies making a mewing sound. He began hunting for the second-rate. The insignificant ruins, the negligible museums, the back- country villages with only one pizzeria and two small bars. The unimproved.