Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Endless Things

Last fall, September or maybe October or early November, I started reading a book called The Solitudes I had picked up on the library sale shelf for two or three dollars. I was quickly hooked by the meandering mystic tale of protagonist Pierce Moffett, a historian who plumbs various depths of history, astrology and love in his travels outward from the Faraway Hills to Europe and in his travels inward through the depths of his own mind, heart and soul.

The novel, written by John Crowley, is potent fiction, interwoven with a rich variety of histories, fictions and occasional appearances by Shakespeare, Giordano Bruno and John Dee, among others. There are also witches and werewolves, spirits who live in a crystal globe and a Christian religious cult. I soon ordered Love and Sleep and then Daemonomania and finally Endless Things from my local bookstore.

Last night I finished Endless Things, the final book in the visionary quartet known as the Aegpyt Cycle. It was a long journey of reading and pondering that brought me through another Maine winter and distracted me through a relocation in December. Long as this journey is for the reader, the novels were twenty years in the writing and thirty years in the planning and pondering for the writer.

At the end of the last page of Endless Things I felt adrift. Wasn't there yet another book waiting for me at Longfellow Books, a continuation of Pierce Moffett's quixotic life? Yet in the end I felt satisfied to finish where it ended, quenched. Of course, such books are truly endless things.

Here are some of my favorite excerpts from the 1,787 pages I just read:

From The Solitudes:

"Rosie had begun to feel a little odd. It's all true. As though the actors in a play were to drop their roles, and then turn out to be in fact the characters they played, and turn to face their audience for real."

"Angels, linked in sequence like the weave of a garment, hand to hand, mouth to ear, eye to eye to eye, ascending and descending forever on the world's business with a sort of taffeta rustle that can be heard, if you stand silent enough, in the most silent places of the earth, or in the depths of a coiled shell."

"Translate your intentions into a speaking bird, and let the bird speak of your intentions; encode your message in a book on automata, and the automaton when built will trace the message with a clockwork hand. Write (as Abbot Trithemius had done) a book on how to call down angels, and if you do so correctly, you will instruct the angels how to write the Abbot's book themselves, in a tongue of their own, which when used will translate into works, miracles, sciences, peace on earth."

"Mind, at the center of all, contains within it all that it is the center of, a circle whose circumference is nowhere, stretching out infinitely in every direction he could look in or think about, at every instant."

"That year she walked continually in her life carrying another life, the one inside books, the one that engaged her the more intimately; her living was divided in two, reading and not reading, as completely and necessarily as it was divided into sleeping and being awake."

"For one kingdom is all kingdoms: a hill, a road, a dark wood; a castle to come to; a perilous bridge to cross."

"He thought: Is the universe one thing? And is the whole of it contained in every part?"

"Only this extraordinary colored toy theater of unhistory."

"He thought: there is not only more than one history of the world, one for each of us who studies it; there is more than one for each of us, there are as many as we want or need, as many as our heads and wanting hearts can make."

"The mind makes itself visible in the act of thinking, just as God makes himself visible in the act of creating."

"It was as though when he read Copernicus's placements of the planets, he felt the same planets in the heavens he kept within him (and their tutelary gods and spirits) open their eyes, and move to their proper places. And then the earth moving, too, and all its contents."

" 'A hero sets out,' Barr said, not turning back to his students but facing the sparkling quad and the air. 'To find a treasure, or to free his beloved, or to capture a castle or find a garden. Every incident, every adventure that befalls him as he searches, is the treasure or the beloved, the castle or the garden, repeated in different forms, like a set of nesting boxes--each of them however just as large, or no smaller, than all the others. The interpolated stories he is made to listen to only tell him his own story in another form.' "

". . . for it if was infinite outside, then it must be infinite inside as well."

"You made yourself equal to the stars by knowing your mother Earth was a star as well; you rose up through the spheres not by leaving the earth but by sailing it: by knowing that it sailed."

From Love & Sleep:

"One way magic really could be said to work, bad magic, was in convincing others that physical laws were bendable, even breakable, and that you knew how to do it, when you didn't at all."

"O pitiless chaste eyes regarding him, she whom no god as touched. Actaeon senses the soul within him, satisfied and ravenous at once, leap from his own eyes to dissolve in hers, even as her gaze pierces him. He has already lost his own form, unwanted anyway, and grown another. He feels the heavy horns like a crown spring from his fortunate brow. And the hounds that once coursed for him turn on him, knowing their duty, and set upon him to rend him. For Actaeon has become what he pursued."

"She offered him her hand in its figured glove (black kid, worked with small flowers: strawberry, pansy, violet, almost too small to see, only when her hand was kissed did the eye come close enough to perceive the gilded fly, pismire, polished beetle in amid the thicket, where the jewels of her rings were cast away)."

"Her forepart was worked with a forest, fountains, stubs of dead trees, moss of deep velvet pile; a forest fire too, astonishing, animals fleeing it, ermine, squirrel, fox and hart. Water earth air and fire."

"Love in God is endless fecundity, the continual, generous, unstinting production of things; love in Man is the endless hunger for the products of Infinity, never satisfied."

"Magic is love: nothing but the power of love in the heart of the operator can move the souls of others; nothing but love can command the intelligences of the air. Without love even the simplest Art of Memory could not operate; without attraction and revulsion, what attaches the soul to images?"

"But every Mass [he came with elation to see, it was years ago now, the stern Asturian mountains] was the whole History of the World as well, not simply pictured or rehearsed but having in its center precisely the same miracle, repeated daily throughout the churches of Christendom: Creation Fall Incarnation Passion Resurrection. Acts. End of the World."

"Every rising moment contains every older moment within it, contains them all even as it is itself contained in the next to arise."

From Daemonomania:

". . . the autumn darkness within him. . . "

"The dandelion is the sun's child. Pierce pointed out one that had come out by mistake in her brief shabby lawn, dazed by the weirdly warm October. Look at its golden head, a sunburst--which is a lion's mane too, and the lion, golden and noble, is the sun-beast above all. And the green leaves, dentate, fierce, dent-de-lion. Now cut its stem and see the sun's sign, which places it for sure among the sun's things, with the lion, and gold, and the goat and the honeycomb and the heliotrope and a thousand other things great and small. Read a book of such signatures and commit them to memory and you can use them for making medicines, say, or telling small futures; imagine the signatures in your heart, discover new ones, and open a way upward for yourself toward the heavens and the gods."

"Up in his vast castle on the hill above the silted river the black-clothed Emperor Rudolf had immured himself, King Saturn on his throne; around him in his galleries and closets and Kunstkammern was the rest of the world in small, earth air fire and water: precious stones heating the fires of distant planets in their tiny bodies; waterworks and clepsydras, pneumatic statues, hubble-bubbles that sang; the skins of birds and animals and fish, all in their orders and ranks; monsters too, snails found with jewels embedded in their shells or the names of saints or demons written on them, the skin of the little bear that a Jewish woman of Prague once gave birth to, which 'ran around the room and scratched itself behind the ear and died,' says the chronicler."

"Rudolf loved tiny things, worlds sculpted on cherrystones, clockwork insects, the life inside diamonds."

"What was odd was that as their neural fibers fire and grow warm and the parts that are most crowded with them enlarge even further, their eyes adjust the rest in proportion, though never quite catching up; so they both grow gigantic, as measured by the details of their largest parts, the flocked and dark and blood-rich parts: the purple-brown lips filmed with shining liquid, the tender eye-corner where the great globular tear forms, the drop of clear syrup in the blind cyclops eye of."

"Love is magic, Giordano Bruno said; magic is love. The magician and the lover are both venatores animarum, hunters of souls; by emblems and by arts, the magician draws down into his heart the powers of heaven, that is the star-persons through whom the whole of nature and the spirits of men and women are ordered, and have their meaning. He ranges these powers within him and asks: teach me to bind, with bonds, like love's the things of this world and the hearts of others. And they do, they can. And thus we become like gods."

"Using tricks he had neglected so long he had to knock on his brow to recall how to do them--tricks the common people thought devilish, but which were natural, natural--John Dee passed out of the tower room at evening, arm in arm with his wolf, and down and out. . . "

"For a moment they jostled; then without a word Dee whirled twice around widdershins, and Bruno cried out, for he faced not an elderly Englishman but a tall pillar of adamant.
But in a moment Brono, fired by fear and need, had changed himself to a jug of red wine, and poured himself out and around the pillar's base.
But the pillar became a flopping marble dolphin that drank the wine."

From Endless Things:

"Right now, this moment, he'd said, and he sat up and stretched out his arms and closed his eyes: just now, as I open my eyes. all time and history, all my own history, too, right up to the very memory I have just now closing my eyes--it all never existed before, and would all, right now, come into being.
Now. And he opened his eyes on her."

"What he hadn't known, and would never learn later, was that by then the thing lost had already been found. It had been found by him and others, and redeemed from the place where it was hidden and at threat, and restored to the place it should possess; and this even, small and unimportant though it seemed, had stopped the decline of the whole world toward dissolution, toward frozen inanition and repetition such as Pierce had experienced in the cold halls and hot rooms of Rose. The world--"the world," all this, day and night, self and others, things and other things, inside and out--had been coasting to a stop, and just in time had been put back in a forward gear again. And then it could continue, and would, until all traces of that moment of redemption were erased from all hears and memories. . . New-wakened Adam would then open his eyes again, the beautiful circle would close, and roll on forever into the future and the past at once."

" 'So then I'd consider how such other worlds are made or were made,' he said. 'How does one world turn into another, become the next. How are they, you know, cast.'
"Cosmoporia,' said Barr. 'World-making.'
"Um yes.'
"That poria being the root of our word poetry, of course. Poets being makers. Makers of poems, and of the worlds in them.' "

"Beau Brachman once told him. . . that there is no history. The world, he said, is like a hologram: break apart the photographic plate on which a hologram has been printed, and you can show that every part of it contains the whole image, if you look at it with laser light. Every part of every part, down to the smallest resolvable crumb. In the same way (Beau said) our original situation is present in every divisible moment of all succeeding situations, but (he said and smiled that smile) you need a special light to see it."

"Fellowes Kraft liked empires that were so old, and grown so complex, that they could be named, and belonged to, and traveled in, but not controlled: that had frontiers, but inside were limitless."

"Nothing, in fact, is finite except as it is perceived by the limiting categories of the mind."

"For what was being told was not so much a story as a situation, a circumstance endlessly elaborating itself without ever unfolding any further, like an infinite carpet in which the central figure is surrounded by the same figure in a larger size, and that by the same figure in a still larger size, over and over.
And all those figures, Dr. Pons taught him, earthly and heavenly and above the heavens, are wrapped around a single infinitesimal spark of light at the center of being, like the layers and layers of pearl with which an oyster coats the grain of sand that irritates him so. That grain of light, irreducible, eternal, infinite even in being infinitesimal, is simply the cetermost point of your heart."

". . . that it is not unreasonable after all to believe that one's own subjectivity is bound up in the nature of things; that really we have no independent evidence of how the world is; that if our consciousness contributes to making the world, then our consciousness can alter it."

"No one could read the words, though, for a great dead calm prevailed, as still and clear as glass, here and elsewhere; in the light of dawn the opposing army seemed suddenly shockingly close to them, as though they saw themselves in an unexpected mirror at the turning of a corridor."

". . . the infinitesimals that composed them, in their transmigration across the infinite universe, will form other beings just as strange and plain and wonderful."

". . . we call them gods because they are within us, because they made our bodies and our minds for us too, because we recognize their faces from long ago, because we love and need and fear them, every one."

"With Bruno's refusal. . . all the gods, angels, monsters, powers, and principalities of that age began their retreat into the subsidiary realms where they reside today, harmless and unmoving, most of them anyway, for most of us most of the time."

"When the Labyrinth of the World comes disguised as the Paradise of the Heart, that's when it becomes terrible."

". . . Pierce's own Golden City as it was everyone's; the best city, toward which we all strive and which we never reach, because it is the city only of the past and of the future, where the labyrinth of the world is exactly coextensive with the paradise of the heart, and how then could it ever be traveled to?"

"He had always known the secret of those stories in which heroes set out in search of precious hidden things; everybody knows it. The journey is itself what brings the jewel or the stone or the treasure or the prize into being; the act of seeking is the condition by which the thing sought comes to be. In fact the search isn't different from the thing sought."

"It was as though the sources of certain events lay not in their antecedent causes but in mirror or shadow events that lay far in the past or in the future; as though by chance a secret lever on a clockwork could be pressed that made it go after being long still, or as though a wind blowing up in one age could tear leaves from trees and bring down steeples in another."

"So the way to defeat power is to propose new laws, laws conceived in the secrecy of the heart and enacted by the will's fiat: laws of desire and hope, which are not fixed but endlessly mutable, and unimposable on anyone else. They are the lawas of another history of the world, one's own."

"For readers, time in a novel goes only one way: the past told of int he turned pages is fixed, and the future inexistent till read. But actually the writer, like God, stands outside of time, and can begin his creation at any moment in it. All the past and all the future are present in his conception at once, nothing fixed until all of it's fixed. Then he keeps this secret from the reader, as God might keep his secret from us: that the world is as though written, and erasable, and rewritable. Not once but more than once: time and again."

"Jesus seemed to grow less sure of himself the nearer the agony came. Just a frightened human after all. What have I done."

". . . and the wood did seem to be gazing on her or looking away from her with that unsettling indifference that accumulates in wild places as marks of human habitation get left behind. . . "

". . . she had in fact gone through to where the same things occurred in a different place and that was the place she now was."

"The two profoundest words there are: remember and her brother forget."

"Life is dreams, checked by physics."

"Mercy. Because there is an end to justice and to fairness, when everything is paid out, and all accounts are settled: but there's no end to mercy."

"The eye is the mouth of the heart."

"Just another day," Pierce said, loading his car, the Festina wagon. "Another day of living and striving in the fields of the actual and the possible."

"And for the first time he had seen where he stood, and that he might go on by turning around, by turning back: might find, on his own, an exit from the labyrinth of the heart, his heart, and a way out into the paradise of the world: the fragile, sorrowing, inadequate, endless paradise of the world, the only one he or anyone could ever know."

"You knew what harmonies were possible because of how you strung the instrument, but not what harmonies you'd get."

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Two Great Films

I recently had the pleasure of watching two great films.

Wendy and Lucy
, by Kelly Reichhardt, is the story of a young girl on her way to seek her fortunes working at a cannery in Alaska. Her car breaks down and a variety of troubles ensue. It is a delicate, emotional film, a snapshot of frailty and strength, sorrow and determination.

I saw it at Frontier Cafe, a stunning movie theater and restaurant located in an rehabbed old mill. Frontier is a huge open space with panoramic views of a dam, waterfalls and a bridge. The food is healthy and delicious. It has vast ceilings, large tables and a little comfy living room area with sofas. The movie theater has long tables in front of the seats so you can eat while you watch eclectic movies. When I was there I had Vietnamese Pho soup with soba noodles, onions, snow peas, and other vegetables. The movie theater has long tables in front of the seats so you can eat while you watch movies.

The second great movie I saw was the documentary, The Genius of Lenny Breau, a movie produced by Emily Hughes, the daughter who barely knew him.

Lenny Breau (1941-1984) was a prodigal genius, a jazz guitar player who at the age of 14 was fronting his parents' band. His mom and dad toured Canada as Lone Pine and Betty Cody, playing country western tunes. Lenny eventually shifted into a unique jazz sound that combined flamenco, classical, and country. He was good friends with Chet Atkins, whose fingerpicking style influenced him tremendously. Lenny was also a drug addict, with a tenacious habit that often sent him home to his mom's place in Auburn, Maine, to dry out. He died in mysterious circumstances in 1984, though clean at the time.

The movie has some amateurish touches, with occasional lapses into schmaltz, but it's a great overview of Lenny and his work, with wonderful archival footage and interviews with an eccentric cast of characters, including Chet Atkins, Randy Bachman, Pat Metheny, Andy Summers, music critic, teacher and performer Ted Greene, George Benson and more.

There are excerpts from the movie and other videos of Lenny performing available on You Tube, such as this one, which demonstrates Lenny's incredible versatility and style.

"The sound of silence is intense." -- Lenny Breau

Friday, March 20, 2009

Spring Equinox Sights


Faces in Belfast

How to Tie Knots in Belfast

The Belfast Co-op (Best Co-Op in Maine!)

An Oil Tank Disguised As Giant Watermelon in Camden

Christmas Boat in Camden

The Mystery Book Shop

Collapsed Bicycle

Beauty Wreath

Edna St. Vincent Millay's Home Town

Mount Battie

Giant Anchor

Face in the Window

Walnut Cream Pie at Moody's Diner: WOW

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Bach Cello Concertos by Yo-Yo Ma

On February 26 I had the great fortune to attend a solo cello performance by the master Yo-Yo-Ma at Merrill Auditorium, presented by the Portland Concert Association's Great Performances series. The program was Suite No. 1 in G Major, Suite No. 5 in C Minor and Suite No. 3 in C Major, three cello concertos by J.S. Bach. Yo-Yo Ma slipped in a couple of surprises, including Mark O'Connor's "Appalachian Waltz" and "Partita for Solo Cello" by the late Turkish composer Ahmed Adnan Saygun. Some audience members expressed their disappointment that he had changed the program in reviews and blogs after the concert. I didn't at all mind his innovative, eclectic selections and admire a master who can spontaneously add some surprises to a rigid program.

The cello is my favorite instrument and to hear this musical prodigy perform solo pieces was an absolute dream come true. It was a transportive, otherworldly spiritual experience for me and I was enraptured by every single note which opened up entire worlds through the intricate and difficult passages of Bach's complex landscapes.

I had purchased tickets last fall when I first heard about the concert, and they were expensive for my budget, but the experience was priceless. An added bonus was experiencing Ma's friendly, down-to-earth rappor with the audience.

For the encore he played a mysterious and haunting piece by Ennio Morricone, from the soundtrack to The Mission. I didn't recognize this piece and was surprised and amused to hear what it was.

All in all, this concert was a once in a lifetime experience for me. I can only hope I get to hear him play live again someday.

I would love to hear the upcoming Toumani Diabaté and the Symmetric Orchestra in May.