Category Archives: literature

Ozymandias

Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Ozymandias (1818)

ozymandias1I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert
. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shatter’d visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamp’d on these lifeless things,
The hand that mock’d them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains: round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Ozymandias is the Greek name for the Egyptian king, Ramses II (1304-1237 BC), third pharaoh of the nineteenth dynasty of ancient Egypt, perhaps most popularly known by his portrayal by Yul Brynner in Cecil B. de Mille’s 1956 melodramatic (read, kitsch) epic (read, grandiose) film, The Ten Commandments.

ozymandias-stanley-marsh-parody In keeping with those biblical proportions, one will find a statue in honor of Ozymandias, located on W. Sundown Lane, off of route 27, in Amarillo, Texas.
It was created around 1997 by Lightnin’ McDuff who was commissioned by eccentric millionaire, Stanley Marsh, 3 (uses the Arabic numeral “3” ithinking the traditional Roman numeral “III”  pretentious.)  He is also the creator of Cadillac Ranch on Old Route 66.
The statue, which consists of two giant legs (one 34′ tall, the other 24′ tall), however, is a parody on Percy Bysshe Shelley’s much anthologized sonnet of the same name.  There is an official-looking plaque with the sonnet that inspired this “road art” preceded with the inscription:  “In 1819 while their horseback trek over the great plains of New Spain, Percy Bysshe Shelley & his wife, Mary Wollstonecraft (Author of “Frankenstein”), came across these ruins, [actually, Shelley was in Italy at the time] here Shelley penned these immortal lines: “Ozymandias”.  Needless to say, this is risible “fractured history”.  Just as humorous are the athletic socks which were painted on the legs  in 2006  (subsequently sandblasted away).

It (the sonnet & the original statue) still “stands” as a metaphoric reminder of Lord Acton’s (John Emericozymandias-matthew-goodeh Edward Dalberg) anti-Ultramontanist eponym that “Power tends to corrupt, & absolute power corrupts absolutely,” & that humanity’s hubris cannot withstand the shifting sands of time.

Those who follow the comic book genre, are undoubtedly familiar with the character of “Ozymandias,”  who is the alter ego of Adrian Veidt, the costumed vigilante character appearing in the “Watchmen,” a comic book series written by Alan Moore & illustrated by Dave Gibbons. Originally published by DC Comics as a monthly limited series from 1986-87, & recently released in a film version by Warner Bros, where the character is portrayed by Matthew Goode.

Dan Ellis-Killian

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Montaigne’s Blog

“Where I have least knowledge, there do I use my judgment most readily.” Thus Montaigne himself adds credence to the facile observance that the only difference between today’s blogger & his Essays is the medium. Well, let’s not overlook the fact that Montaigne was brilliant & most of us are not. But, that’s okay because, to borrow another commonplace observance: if we were all brilliant, Montaigne wouldn’t have been. Brilliance is brilliance only because of its rare appearances upon the human stage. As Emerson noted of Montaigne’s writing: “Cut these words, and they would bleed; they are vascular and alive”. (Emerson’s“Montaigne or, the Skeptic”)

Contrary to the assumption that Montaigne ‘invented’ the essay form, according to Terence Cave of St. John’s, Oxford, the essay for Montaigne is not just a literary genre – that came later with the likes of Charles Lamb, et.al. Les Essais, however, represents a mode thinking, of indeterminate thoughts, trials, soundings; which enables one to review thought processes over time – much like the hypomnemata of Stoicism repopularized as the commonplace book by Erasmus. Montaigne thus describes himself as “an unpremeditated & accidental philosopher.”

Another observance of conventional wisdom is that Montaigne was the sceptic’s sceptic, especially given the influence of Pyrrhonist skepticism behind Les Essais, not to mention popping up on the Vatican’s best sellers list of prohibited books. Now, according to a new book by Ann Hartle [Michel de Montaigne: Accidental Philosopher CUP, 2007], The Essay transforms skeptical doubt into dialectical reflection, in which “the world is presented as radically contingent but where the divine is present in an incarnational & sacramental way.”

Daniil Kharms: Back to the Future

Daniil Kharms [aka, Daniil Ivanovich Yuvachov] (1905-42)

There lived a redheaded man who had no eyes or ears. He didn’t have hair either, so he was called a redhead arbitrarily. He couldn’t talk because he had no mouth. He had no nose either. He didn’t even have arms or legs. He had no stomach, he had no back, he had no spine, and he had no innards at all. He didn’t have anything. So we don’t even know who we’re talking about. It’s better that we don’t talk about him any more. “10,” January 7, 1937  from The Blue Notebook, translated by Matvei Yankelevich

“I am interested only in ‘nonsense’; only in that which makes no practical sense. I am interested in life only in its absurd manifestation.”

kharms

Born in St. Petersburg, Kharms was part of an avant-garde, modernist group of writers & artists who embraced much of Marinetti’s earlier manifesto of Futurism [“Fondazione e Manifesto del Futurismo”].
However, literary, artistic & political differences developed between the Italian & Russian Futurists.  The later, although exhibiting an aggressive character in their art, were less enamored with the aggrandizement of war, & more interested with the function of language.  Although both had political leanings, the Italian Futurists aligned themselves to the right with Mussolini & Fascism; the Russians to the left with the Bolsheviks.
Abhorring the symbolist movement & distaste for all  things traditional including the current literary establishment, they advocated throwing Pushkin, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy et al. from the “Steamship of Modernity”.  They often utilized arbitrary words free of syntax, & logical sequence, & an “expressive” use of typography (ala Guillaume Apollinaire’s Calligrammes). Indeed, Bakhtin’s identification of the disruptive function of the novel, in contrast to the “high literature” of epic or tragedy, is reflective of the anarchic, disruptive elements which characterized Russian Futurism.
While little of his work was published in his lifetime, Kharms produced several works for children, which seems ironic for one who would proclaim: “I don’t like children, old men, old women and the reasonable middle-aged. To poison children — that would be harsh. But, hell, something needs to be done with them!”
In 1931, Kharms was charged with anti-Soviet activities & briefly exiled. In 1941, he was arrested & incarcerated in the psychiatric ward of a prison hospital where he died of starvation the following year, during the siege of Leningrad.  It wasn’t until the late 1970s that Kharms’s work began to appear in mainstream publications in Russia & recently translated into English.

Dadswell, Sarah  “Re-approaching Russian Futurism: The Inter-Revolutionary Years, 1908-1915,” Studies in Slavic Cultures
Yankelevich, Matvei   Today I Wrote Nothing: The Selected Writings of Daniil Kharms (Overlook, 2007)

Thoreau, Henry David

Thoreau courted Ellen Sewall, the daughter of Edmund Sewall, minister of First Parish UU, Scituate, MA. [Charles Chauncy (1592-1672) 2nd president of Harvard had been its pastor]. She eventually rejected his marriage proposal & he later retreated into the woods of Concord

Schneider, Alan

Alan Schneider, who directed first American production of Samuel Beckett’s, Waiting for Godot (En attendant Godot) was killed crossing London’s Finchley Rd. to mail a letter to Beckett. Stepping off the pavement, he looked to the right for oncoming traffic, forgetting that motor vehicles in Britain travel on the left side of the road. He was struck and killed by an oncoming motorcycle.

Knopf, Alfred A.

For almost a century, Alfred A. Knopf Inc. has been the gold standard in the book trade, publishing the works of 17 Nobel Prize winning authors & 47 Pulitzer Prize winning volumes of fiction, nonfiction, biography & history. In 1950, Knopf turned down the English language rights to a Dutch manuscript. Knopf wasn’t alone. The Diary of a Young Girl, by Anne Frank, would be rejected by 15 others before Doubleday published it in 1952. More than 30 million copies are currently in print, making it one of the best-selling books in history. David Oshinsky, history prof at the Univ of Texas, Austin. “No Thanks, Mr. Nabokov,” NYT Sunday Book Rev. 9/9/2007

Chesterton, Gilbert Keith

  • Tradition may be defined as an extension of the franchise. Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about.” Orthodoxy.
  • “‘My country, right or wrong’ is a thing that no patriot would think of saying, except in a desperate case. It is like saying ‘My mother, drunk or sober’.” The Defendant
  • “The test of good religion is whether or not you can joke about it.”

Chekhov, Anton

  • “Man [sic] has been endowed with reason, with the power to create, so that he can add to what he’s been given. But up to now he hasn’t been a creator, only a destroyer. Forests keep disappearing, rivers dry up, wild life become extinct, the climate is ruined & the land grows poorer & uglier every day.” (Uncle Vanya, 1897)
  • “Any idiot can face a crisis.  It is this day-to-day living that wears you out.”