Borges, Milton, and the Rose

“A Rose and Milton”

“A Rose and Milton”

What do these writers have in common: Homer, John Fante, Benito Pérez Galdós, John Milton, and Jose Luis Borges? For at least part of their lives, all were blind. So when Argentinian poet Jorge Luis Borges honors Milton, it is by way of acknowledging a common fate. The name of this poem is “A Rose and Milton”:

A Rose and Milton

From the generations of roses
That are lost in the depths of time
I want one saved from oblivion,
One spotless rose, of all things
That ever were. Fate permits me
The gift of choosing for once
That silent flower, the last rose
That Milton held before him,
Unseen. O vermilion, or yellow
Or white rose of a ruined garden,
Your past still magically remains
Forever shines in these verses,
Gold, blood, ivory or shadow
As if in his hands, invisible rose.

Of course, Milton could not see the color of that last rose he beheld. He could not see whether that last rose was spotless and perfect. Whatever that rose was, it was unperceived by the great poet who held it in his hands; it might as well have been invisible, or, just as well, resplendent in its glory.

The poet talks about being allowed by Fate to handle that last rose that Milton held. I could just see the ironic smile playing on Borges’s face. Very Zen, in effect.

Meanwhile, Back in the Ukraine

Battle on January 10, 2014 at Kiev’s “Euromaidan”

Battle on January 10, 2014 at Kiev’s “Euromaidan”

The one Ukrainian author I have read is Andrey Kurkov, a Russian who lives in Kiev and considers himself Ukrainian. He is best known for three mystery novels, the first two of which feature a penguin named Mischa: Death and the Penguin, Penguin Lost, and The Case of the General’s Thumb.

During the 2013-2014 revolution that sent President Viktor Yanukovych to Russia requesting asylum from Putin, Kurkov kept a diary of daily events in Kiev, the Crimea, and Eastern Ukraine. It was published in 2014 as Ukrainian Diaries: Dispatches from Kiev. His mystery novels have a wry sense of humor which also carries over to this diary:

Posters and signs have been put up all over the country with images showing that all Ukrainians, after the signature of the Association Agreement with the EU, will become homosexuals. Even in the metro, each time you take an escalator, you have to pass dozens of these posters. In Kiev, he propaganda campaign is considered laughable, but I am afraid that in the east and in the provinces, people will naively believe that universal conversion to homosexuality is the condition imposed by Europe on Ukraine for the signature of the treaty. (November 28, 2013)

And: “Yesterday, Parliament announced an open forum day. Everyone was given the chance to speak. Or, in other words, no one listened.” (February 5, 2014)

Ukrainian Author Andrey Yuryevich Kurkov

Ukrainian Author Andrey Yuryevich Kurkov

Since it declared its independence from the former Soviet Union in 1991, the Ukraine has had a succession of governments that could only be described as a combination of thuggery and rapine—in fact, pretty much the sort of governing we could expect from a Donald J. Trump. You can see in Kurkov’s penguin mysteries the dysfunctionality of Ukrainian politics at work. Now, in the diaries, we see Kurkov losing sleep whether he would be dragged out of his flat by security forces, tortured, and killed.

Fortunately for us, he wasn’t. I look forward for his other works to be translated from Russian to English.


Getting Ready for Halloween

On Reading Ghost Stories

On Reading Ghost Stories

For several years now, I have been reading collections of horror stories published by Dover Publications. Apparently, there are so many of them, that I haven’t come anywhere near reading all of them. Here is a partial list of titles in this series:

  • Algernon Blackwood: Best Ghost Stories
  • J. Sheridan LeFanu: Best Ghost Stories
  • Bram Stoker: Best Ghost and Horror Stories
  • Arthur Conan Doyle: Best Supernatural Tales
  • Robert Louis Stevenson: The Body Snatcher and Other Tales
  • Hugh Lamb (ed.): A Bottomless Grave and Other Victorian Tales of Terror
  • Horace Walpole: The Castle of Otranto
  • Charles Dickens: A Christmas Carol
  • John Grafton (ed.): Classic Ghost Stories (I just finished this one tonight)
  • Algernon Blackwood: The Complete John Silence Stories
  • Bram Stoker: Dracula
  • E. F. Bleiler (ed.): Five Victorian Ghost Novels
  • Mary Shelley: Frankenstein (In four editions!)
  • Hugh Lamb (ed.): Gaslit Horror and Gaslit Nightmares
  • J. Sheridan LeFanu: Ghost Stories and Mysteries
  • M. R. James: Ghost Stories of an Antiquary
  • Ambrose Bierce: Ghost and Horror Stories
  • James Reynolds: Ghosts in Irish Houses

And this only takes us through the letter “G” in the alphabetical list of ghost titles. I have read almost all of these, and I have yet to find a bad collection (though some individual short stories may not be up to the general level).

I strongly recommend that you check out the excellent website of Dover Publications. The books are relatively inexpensive to begin with, but once they have our e-mail address, you will receive many attractive offers.

Then you, too, can shudder and shake your way through the dread month of October.


Dark Light Verse

Another Discovery of Great Material from the Futility Closet

Another Discovery of Great Material from the Futility Closet

I am always amazed by what I find on the Futility Closet website. The following are light verses with a somber subject by Jocelyn Henry Clive “Harry” Graham (1874-1936)—journalist, military hero, lyricist for light operas, and humorous verses employing the darkest of humor. Here are a few selections  taken from Futility Closet’s posting of June 9, 2011:


Little Willie, in the best of sashes,
Fell in the fire and was burned to ashes.
By and by the room grew chilly,
But no one liked to poke up Willie.

Aunt Eliza

In the drinking-well
(Which the plumber built her)
Aunt Eliza fell–
We must buy a filter.


I had written to Aunt Maud,
Who was on a trip abroad,
When I heard she’d died of cramp
Just too late to save the stamp.


Weep not for little Léonie,
Abducted by a French Marquis!
Though loss of honour was a wrench,
Just think how it’s improved her French.

Mr. Jones

“There’s been an accident,” they said,
“Your servant’s cut in half; he’s dead!”
“Indeed!” said Mr. Jones, “and please
Send me the half that’s got my keys.”

He wrote in one preface:

Fond parent, you whose children are
Of tender age (from two to eight),
Pray keep this little volume far
From reach of such, and relegate
My verses to an upper shelf,–
Where you may study them yourself.


The Term Comes from Professional Wrestling

The Term Comes from Professional Wrestling

The word kayfabe is new to me. I learned about it from reading Nathan Rabin’s 7 Days in Ohio: Trump, the Gathering of the Juggalos and the Summer Everything Went Insane. According to TVTropes:

“Kayfabe” is a carny term thought to have originated from the Pig Latin for “be fake,” possibly originally by pronouncing it backward (“kay-feeb”). Professional Wrestling adopted the term as a reference to the standard Fourth Wall features of separating the audience from the action. It is meant to convey the idea that, yes, pro wrestling is a genuine sport, and yes, this is how people act in real life. It is essentially Willing Suspension of Disbelief specifically for pro wrestling.

Back in the old days, though, kayfabe was much more; it was pro wrestling’s real life Masquerade. Wrestlers, promoters, and everybody else involved with the business alike resorted to any means necessary to guard the secret that wrestling was rigged, from wrestlers roughing up any reporters who dared ask, “It’s all fake, right?” to (alleged) death threats towards anybody who threatened to expose the secret, through contacts with the Mafia and other organized crime. Heels [villains] and faces [heroes] weren’t allowed to travel, eat, or be seen with their “enemies” in public, and changed in separate locker rooms. Wrestlers lived their gimmicks 24/7 and those playing Wild Samoans or Foreign Wrestling Heels could not speak English in public if their characters didn’t. There are even rumors that some wrestlers would lie under oath in court to maintain the illusion, and some old-time heels tell stories about carrying guns for their own protection from those fans who took it just a bit too seriously. To get an idea of just how important kayfabe was, it’s interesting to watch shoot interviews with old-time wrestlers filmed in the modern era, even decades later when everyone knows that wrestling is fake, they often start speaking as if various angles and feuds were real and tend to dance around actually saying that wrestling is staged if pressed….

Now the only concept of kayfabe fakery is highly transferable to politics. In the 2016 Presidential Election, Donald Trump is obviously the heel. But the parallel breaks down somewhat with Hillary Clinton, whom Trump is trying to portray as the real heel. Using the language of kayfabe, this is one election in which there are no faces.

Not Quite Inca, Yet Very Inca-Like

Inca Ruins at Ingapirca, Ecuador

Inca Ruins at Ingapirca, Ecuador

Are the indigenous peoples of Ecuador Incas? Well, yes and no.

Although the tale of Juan Pizarro’s conquest of the Incas is set partly in Ecuador—Atahualpa, “the” Inca ruled from Quito and was engaged in a civil war with Huáscar, his half brother in Cusco—the peoples of Ecuador were mostly conquered by the Incas.

According to historian and ethnologist Frank Salomon, the non-Inca peoples suffered a fate similar to the Incas, whereby they lost much of their identity:

From the Cañari side, the attack on Cañari ancestors [by way of grave robbing] may have set into motion a process that the Inca state would not have allowed even if Cañaris had desired it, namely, the retrospective grafting of Cañari genealogy onto Inca descent. In order to understand how it occurred, one must remember that in Quechua [the common linguistic group of both peoples] thinking a dead person is considered to be present and active so long as he or she has physical existence. When the Cañari dead were taken from their tombs and exposed, broken and impoverished, they ceased to be rich, honored, and potent ancestors, and became dishonored, defeated, and disinherited ones. Neglected pre-Columbian ancestor mummies (gentiles) today form a class of hungry ghosts who pervasively haunt Quechua folklore in various regions. When the Spanish vandalized the Cañari dead and disposed of their bodies as garbage, they created a new common condition for Inca and non-Inca peoples alike, that of descendants of destroyed persons.

So the Cañari and some other conquered Ecuadorian people share a common fate with their Inca conquerors. Both are descended from “discarded” ancestors, so they feel a bond of sympathy with the Incas, who were primarily Peruvian.

The Photographer and the Cañar

St. Anthony Day Parade

St. Anthony Day Parade

In preparation for my trip, I am reading Judy Blankenship’s excellent Cañar: A Year in the Highlands of Ecuador. Although the text is excellent, what impressed me the most were Judy’s photographic portraits in black and white of the Cañar villagers she and her husband Michael got to know in the time they spent in the indigenous Andean area some two hours north of Cuenca. Unfortunately, these portraits must be well protected, because I was unable to hijack any of them to show you. (I guess you’ll just have to get your hands on the book.)

Below is one of Judy’s pictures in black and white of the Carnaval parade in Curreucu:

Carnaval Parade in Curreucu

Carnaval Parade in Curreucu

Although Judy Blankenship is not a professionally trained ethnologist, she could have fooled me. Her description of marriage, entrada (betrothal), funeral, and other rituals makes for delightful reading—not to mention her photography workshops for indigenous women and even a few nuns. Below is a photograph of the author:

Judy Blankenship

Judy Blankenship

At this point, I have not read anything else by her; but I do believe it would be worth hunting down some of her other work, most especially her photographs.

Pining for the Andes

There Is No Place Like the Andes

There Is No Place Quite Like the Andes

In less than a month’s time, my brother Dan and I will be landing in Quito, Ecuador. After a few days in the capital, we will rent a car and take to the Pan-American Highway north to Otavalo and south to Cuenca. The photo above is from my 2014 trip to Peru and taken in the town of Chivay, near Colca Canyon.

Unlike most of my solo trips, I am not planning all accommodations in advance. For one thing, we will have a car. For another, Dan always thinks I am the opposite of spontaneous. That’s all right with me, because there are compensations being with my brother. Anyhow, he will leave after two weeks, and I have a whole week to be unspontaneous in my own inimitable way.

I see Ecuador as being very similar to Peru, except not quite as high up and therefore not quite so cold. At Chivay and Patapampa, I was close to 15,000 feet (4,600 meters). When I got out of the van, I felt like pitching forward and planting my face on the rocky ground. Fortunately, our guide Luis grabbed me by the shoulder and urged me to remain vertical.

Currently, I am reading Cañar: A Year in the Highlands of Ecuador by Judy Blankenship. Tomorrow, at the L.A. Central Library, I will be looking for an Ecuadoran novel called Huasipungo by Jorge Icaza Coronel. As the departure day approaches, I get more excited.


Quisquilian Diversivolence

The New Face of American Politics?

The New Face of American Politics?

The term come from a Futility Closet posting entitled “In a Word.” “Quisquilian” means worthless or trivial. “Diversivolence” is the noun form of an adjective meaning desiring strife. Those two words together pretty much summarize the 2016 election—most especially if you add Hillary’s phrase, “Basket of Deplorables.”

Obviously new terms are welcome, if the standard old ones put us in the mess we are in. Since the news media have signally failed to make any sense out of the this grim period, we need new ways to describe the, uh, situation.

I will attempt to search out new terms and bring them to your attention. Perhaps it will entertain you as well as add new shades of meaning.

American Moralist

Chris Hedges

Chris Hedges

You are not likely to see him on television unless you get RT, the Russian-owned English-language news channel. There he has a weekly show called On Contact, during which he conducts interviews with economists and social and political figures.

He has a way of looking as if he were fiercely uncomfortable. During his interviews, which are excellent, he rarely laughs or even smiles.

Before he cut loose from the corporate-owned world of news media, he was a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist for the New York Times, the Dallas Morning News, The Christian Science Monitor, and National Public Radio. He traveled around the world such global hot spots such as El Salvador, Lebanon, and Bosnia.

The son of a Presbyterian minister, Chris Hedges aimed to follow in his father’s footsteps, but found that the reality of Christian charity in the slums of Boston’s Roxbury ghetto was affecting his own survival. But he never forgot what he learned at Colgate and Harvard Divinity School about morality, personal and political. One effect was to make him a confirmed pacifist. When he gave an anti-war graduation address at Rockford College during the gung-ho days after the 2003 invasion of Iraq, he was heckled and booed by the “patriots” in the audience.

Hedges is the author of some of the most painfully truthful books about life in our time. The titles below which I have read are marked with an asterisk (*):

  • War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning (2002)
  • Losing Moses on the Freeway: The 10 Commandments in America* (2005)
  • American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America (2007)
  • I Don’t Believe in Atheists* (2008)
  • Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle* (2009)
  • Death of the Liberal Class (2010)
  • Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt (2012) with Joe Sacco
  • Wages of Rebellion: The Moral Imperative of Revolt (2015)

You can find a weekly column by Chris Hedges at Truthdig.Com, whose politics are very close to my own.