“ ‘The Gothic typface.’
‘What about it?’
‘I was thinking about the masthead on The New York Times.’
‘The New York Times.’
Well, that’s Gothic. Many newspapers use it. That’s because it looks like Hebrew. All newspapers are a sort of Scripture. Gothic type must have evolved from monks trying to duplicate the look of the sacred texts.’ ”
(Stanley Elkin, The Franchiser, p. 188.)
Let’s get on with it
But what about the past
Because it only builds up out of fragments
Each evening we walk out to see
How they are coming along with the temple
There is an interest in watching how
One piece is added to another.
At least it isn’t horrible like
Being inside a hospital and really finding out
What it’s like in there.
So one is tempted not to include this page
In the fragment of our lives
Just as its meaning is about to coagulate
In the air around us:
“Father!” “Son!” “Father I thought we’d lost you
In the blue and buff planes of the Aegean:
Now it seems you’re really back.”
Only for a while, son, only for a while.”
We can go inside now.
(John Ashbery, from Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror. Wikipedia on Stuart Merrill.)
The mystery of things, where is it?
Where is that which never appears
To show us, at least, it’s a mystery?
What’s the river know about it and what, the tree?
And I, being no more than they, what do I know about it?
Whenever I look at things and think what men think of them,
I laugh like a brook freshly sounding off a rock.
Because the only hidden meaning of things
Is that they have no hidden meaning at all.
This is stranger than all the strangenesses,
And the dreams of all the poets,
And the thoughts of all the philosophers—
That things really are what they appear to be
And that there is nothing to understand.
Yes, here’s what my senses learned all by themselves:
Things have no meaning – they have existence.
Things are the only hidden meaning of things.
(Fernando Pessoa, writing as Alberto Caeiro, p. 97 in Edwin Honig & Susan M. Brown’s edition of The Keeper of Sheep.)
“The next accurate information we obtained was from C. R. W. Nevinson, who had met him at a luncheon with Grant Richards, Firbank’s publisher. Nevinson had once divined in him an amusing character. He described his appearance to us, I remember, and related how after the meal Firbank, rising willowly to his feet, observed, ‘Now I must go to the Bank.’ ‘But they are all shut. You won’t be able to get in!’ objected Richards; to which Firbank, displaying his long, unmuscular arms and thin fingers, replied anxiously, ‘What? Not even with my crowbar?’ ”
(Osbert Sitwell, pp. xi–xii in his introduction to the New Directions edition of Ronald Firbank’s Five Novels.)
“And it’s just the same with the inner life of man. Anyone can know about it nowadays. How the devil am I to prove to my counsel that I don’t know my murderous impulses through C. G. Jung, jealousy through Marcel Proust, Spain through Hemingway, Paris through Ernst Jünger, Switzerland through Mark Twain, Mexico through Graham Greene, my fear of death through Bernanos, inability to ever reach my destination through Kafka, and all sorts of other things through Thomas Mann? It’s true, you never even have to read these authorities, you can absorb them through your friends who also live all their experiences second-hand.”
(Max Frisch, I’m Not Stiller, trans. Michael Bullock, p. 158.)
(Émile Bernard, Still Life with Flowers, 1887, Norton Simon Museum.)
(Michael Sweerts, Plague in an Ancient City, ca. 1652–4, LACMA)