Thursday, August 31, 2017

Support DACA

More information on DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program, can be found here.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Lal Waterson: To Make You Stay

Mike Waterson's songs on Bright Phoebus, like the title track or "Rubber Band," which contains such whimsical lines as "just like margarine our fame is spreading," tend to be fairly jaunty major-key sing-alongs with simple lyrics. His sister Lal's compositions, on the other hand, are more brooding and cryptic (I can't, for instance, make much sense of "Never the Same," pretty as it is), and they're also odder musically.

"To Make You Stay," which seems to be addressed to a child, is one of the lovelier ones. I'm no musicologist, but the melody, with its chant-like descent and sudden swerve at the end of the verse, doesn't seem to fit conventional Anglo-American song styles at all, and that fact is a tribute to this "folk" artist's originality. (Lal's singing is also much stranger than Mike's, which is earthy and distinctive but nevertheless not unfamiliar.)
Dear, dear, dear, I once had a starling
Dear, dear, dear, a pretty little darling
Dear, dear, dear, but she flew away in the nighttime
From under me right hand
This unofficially posted version, by the way, is not the remastered one recently made available on CD from Domino Recording [and subsequently withdrawn]. The album as a whole is well worth a listen.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

The Coral Garden of the Forest

Coral reefs aren't doing all that well these days, and in any case there are none within range of a day trip where I live, but on the other hand we have these coral and club fungi, which seemingly mimic some of the same shapes and colors.

These species aren't particularly rare, but on the other hand they're easily overlooked. Most of these examples were found in one small area a bit off the trail. The deer, which are plentiful in these woods, seem to have stripped off the undergrowth from this particular patch of ground, which just makes the fungi easier to spot.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Public Service Announcement

Some practical advice for eclipse-watchers, from Peter Blegvad and Andy Partridge.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Lal & Mike Waterson: The Scarecrow

A beautiful, melancholy song with a sinister twist of child sacrifice in the third verse, "The Scarecrow" first appeared on an LP called Bright Phoebus in 1972. The artists, siblings Lal and Mike Waterson, were one half of the popular English folk quartet the Watersons, who were known for their a cappella renditions of carols and other traditional songs, but the LP, which featured original compositions and instrumental accompaniment, was poorly received at the time and has been largely unavailable since. It has now been remastered and released in the UK by Domino Records. Update (2021): The Domino release is no longer available due to legal action by the copyright holder. There appears to be no current release.

At least one of the other songs on Bright Phoebus ("Child among the Weeds") is said to have been prompted by the stillbirth of one of Lal Waterson's twins. The third verse of "The Scarecrow," however, was reportedly Mike Waterson's contribution.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

On Rayuela

Every novel is philosophical, in that it consciously or (more usually) unconsciously embodies a theory of being. We know that this is true because novels are, by definition, fictive, that is, false. The rules by which a novel elaborates its false world (the "true" one being, in all likelihood, unknowable in any case) constitute its theory of how things are.

Interesting novels embody interesting theories of being, banal ones banal theories. Rayuela, as an antinovel, is antiphilosophical; it questions (by first thoroughly exploring) the very possibility of understanding, the possibility that any theory of being capable of expression in words (and how would it be a theory if it were not?), could ever be valid or even meaningful. Language is seen as self-refuting by nature. The real nature of being — if such a thing even exists — is irredeemably contaminated by the act of referring to it. A lemon may be adequately named by the word "lemon," at least for utilitarian purposes, but "love" (to choose just one example) is an idea whose referent is fatally entangled with its linguistic sign. To grasp what love is without taking into account how it has been named would require us to revert to a prelinguistic state. Such a project would, naturally, be self-defeating.

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

The Purpose of Things

Guy Davenport, on family expeditions to gather arrowheads, when he was a child:
What lives brightest in the memory of these outings is a Thoreauvian feeling of looking at things – earth, plants, rocks, textures, animal tracks, all the secret places of the out-of-doors that seem never to have been looked at before, a hidden patch of moss with a Dutchman’s Breeches stoutly in its midst, aromatic stands of rabbit tobacco, beggar’s lice, lizards, the inevitable mute snake, always just leaving as you come upon him, hawks, buzzards, abandoned orchards rich in apples, peaches or plums...

I learned from a whole childhood of looking in fields how the purpose of things ought perhaps to remain invisible, no more than half known. People who know exactly what they are doing seem to me to miss the vital part of any doing. My family, praises be unto the gods, never inspected anything that we enjoyed doing; criticism was strictly for adversities, and not very much for them. Consequently I spent my childhood drawing, building things, writing, reading, playing, dreaming out loud, without the least comment from anybody. I learned later that I was thought not quite bright, for the patterns I discovered for myself were not things with nearby models. When I went off to college it was with no purpose whatsoever: no calling in view, no profession, no ambition...

I know that my sense of place, of occasion, even of doing anything at all, was shaped by those afternoons. It took a while for me to realize that people can grow up without being taught to see, to search surfaces for all the details, to check out a whole landscape for what it has to offer. My father became so good at spotting arrowheads that on roads with likely gullies he would find them from the car. Or give a commentary on what we might pick up were we to stop: "A nice spearhead back there by a maypop, but with the tip broken off."

And it is all folded away in an irrevocable past. Most of our fields are now the bottom of a vast lake. Farmers now post their land and fence it with barbed wire. Arrowhead collecting has become something of a minor hobby, and shops for the tourist trade make them in a back room and sell them to people from New Jersey. Everything is like that nowadays. I cherish those afternoons, knowing that I will never understand all that they taught me.
"Finding," in Antaeus 29.