Archive for January, 2009

Home improvement

January 14, 2009

fish trolley

D is relocating the fishpond which he managed in the first instance to dig in the only really sunny patch of garden bed in our back yard.

An abandoned shopping trolley which had been sitting at the top of our street for about a fortnight has been borrowed and adapted to serve as a temporary fish tank pending completion of the works.

Notwithstanding my qualms about and indeed my objections to the appropriation of the trolley (D refused to tell me beforehand why he had brought it in off the street), I have to admire the ingenuity. It’s not a use which I would ever have thought of.

Fish are shy. You will have to take my word for it that the flash of orange in the picture below is one.

fish trolley 2

Weltanschauungskunst für alle Weltanschauer

January 11, 2009

Life has been in holiday mode. I’m finding it hard to return to work and its cares. Time for a meta-blogging post, in this case on the subject of a blog by or ostensibly by Douglas Robertson, The Philosophical World View Artist.

Robertson started this very idiosyncratic blog in June 2004, with a short series of posts on C Wright Mills’ The Power Elite (1959), and a single post “Weltgeist” which is best described by its opening:

I’ve just become acquainted with Bernd Alois Zimmermann’s Die Soldaten courtesy of Kultur’s video of the Stuttgart Opera’s production from 1989. Before my viewing I reflected on something Adorno had said with typically Adornonian heavyhandedness in his 1969 essay “Opera and the Long-Playing Record”: “It has been more than thirty years since any operas have been written for opera houses that–if one is allowed to insist on such high standards–manifested something of world spirit [Weltgeist].” Now, as the premiere of Die Soldaten had taken place in 1965, and Adorno had almost surely at least heard of it, I wondered whether he was lumping in Zimmermann’s opus in with these latter-day Weltgeist-benighted operas. I can now only guess that he was. Yes, at the level of compositional technique Die Soldaten seemed to be modern enough, at least to my my relatively unschooled ears, inasmuch as I noticed passages that obviously showed the imprint of Webern (passages in which, for example, a woodwind solo phrase would be followed by a col legno ensemble string phrase bearing no obvious resemblance to it in melody or phrasing). But practically from curtain rise to curtain fall the Weltgeist remained elusively out of reach.

That’s just about half of the first paragraph, by the way.

At about the same time, “partly inspired by Phil Gyford’s Pepys Diary blog,” Robertson started “a blog version of Addison and Steele’s Spectator.”  This was posted as a separate blog from June to August 2004. It is a substantial anthology of essays, though I have to confess that the sheer volume of the material has so far deterred me from dipping into it on-screen. An initially-projected companion blog does not appear to have been persisted with.

In September 2004, having abandoned or completed his anthology of Spectator extracts, Robertson seems to have resolved to assay an essay or two of his own, and burst forth with O my Friendster, there is no need, on the subject of Friendster and friendship. Robertson writes that:

although I had nursed a mild curiosity about Friendster ever since first learning of its existence about a year earlier, this curiosity had always been overpowered first by my impression, formed on the basis of my reading of a single article in the New Statesman, that the median age of its users was just shy of 16; and second by a certain frisson of moral and aesthetic revulsion that came over me whenever I tried to imagine myself putting into practice the Friendsterian project of collecting friends.

As to the frisson:

I can trace the initial stimulus to this frisson back to a micro-epoch in which Friendster itself—and for that matter the very interweb itself—could at most have constituted a gleam in a software developer’s eye, to wit, the micro-epoch of the early 90s, and it had been brought into being by an anecdote concerning a person I knew only by sight, related for my amusement by an acquaintance or near-friend of mine who had been involved in a standoff with him that had threatened to erupt into an outright altercation. “You’d better watch out,” this person had yelled menacingly over his shoulder at my acquaintance or near-friend as he retreated, seemingly content to postpone the fisticuffs until such time as he could count on the support of a sufficiently large retinue of supernumerary fists and cuffs, “I have 10 friends.” Subsequently, my recollection of this moment in all of its risibility has sufficed to check every temptation to tally or even vaguely estimate the number of my friends.

In other words, when Robertson (born 1972) heard of someone saying, as a parting shot “I have 10 friends” he resolved that such friend-counting was ridiculous.

Later in that essay, Robertson turns to the theme of friendship as a free social relationship, untrammelled by the bonds of, say, marriage or “(ugh!) life partnership:”

For whatever reason, I have found it worthwhile and practical to stay in touch with a certain individual—let us call him Jeff Stuckenschmidt—over a period of more than a decade. My presentation of my affiliation with Mr. Stuckenschmidt to the world is entirely at my discretion. I am permitted to refer to him, at one extreme of estimation as my oldest friend, or my closest friend, or one of my lead homies, while at the other extreme I may choose to refer to him as this guy I know or simply elect to avoid any allusion whatsoever to his existence in the presence of other people. Mr. Stuckenschmidt is likewise free to represent his affiliation with me to the world just as he chooses. He may choose to represent me as his oldest and closest friend in the course of every conversation at which I am not present or he may never mention me at all to a single soul; none of this is relevant to the material character of our friendship, none of this matters a whit as far as he and I qua friends are concerned. And the specific material content that Mr. Stuckenschmidt and I impart to our friendship is likewise entirely up to the two of us. I can spend as much or as little time with Mr. Stuckenschmidt as I choose in any setting that I choose, and when I have become weary of his company I can take my leave of him. If Mr. Stuckenschmidt is a passionate lepidopterist and he knows that the sight of butterflies makes my skin crawl he will never dream of inviting me along to a butterfly hunt, while if I am a passionate oenophile and know that Herr Stuckenschmidt is a teetotaler I will never dream of inviting him to a wine tasting; and neither of us will feel snubbed for having been excluded from the other’s pastime. (Contrast this latitudinarian atmosphere with the factionalism that prevails in most marriages, in which each party squanders thousands of hours a year on alternately humoring the other party’s tastes and trying to cure her of them.) If I take offense at something Mr. Stuckenschmidt has said or done, I am not required on the spot to figure out whether I am justified in feeling so offended; that is, to figure out whether my resentment arises out of an on-the-mark intuition of some irremediable flaw in his character or from some blameworthy trait of my own (such as, say, an inclination toward envy). I can wait for my resentment to cool to such a point at which it will no longer cloud my judgment, and at that point I can decide whether it was I or he who was at fault. If in the end I decide in favor of Mr. Stuckenschmidt, I may subsequently call him up without reservation; if in the end I decide against him, I must subsequently decide, based on a general consideration of the history of his conduct, whether the flaw in his character that gave rise to the insult precludes my enjoyment of his company—whether it is a peripheral vice outweighed by certain central virtues or a central vice insufficiently counterbalanced by peripheral virtues. I am in no way obliged in such a case to yield to my resentment by picking a quarrel with him, for the sake of “clearing the air,” of “getting things out in the open,” as I am so obliged whenever I feel rising within my breast the faintest tremor of ill-feeling toward my (ugh) life-partner, my wife, or one of my children. Within friendship it is still possible to maintain simultaneously a genuinely ethical disposition toward the other person that is, correlatively, a genuinely ethical disposition toward oneself, a disposition that gives free scope to other person’s subjecthood without impinging on one’s own subjective freedom.

That is only a fragment of a paragraph. Robertson hates to draw breath, and it he is a difficult writer to extract.

Not long after this, Robertson took a long break from the blog. He returned in August 2005 with a short series of literary pastiches – a theme to which he has subsequently warmed. This phase of the blog’s life lasted until October 2005, after which the blog hibernated again until July 2006, when the blog resumed until January 2007, including with a lengthy essay on Proust. Adorno and Evelyn Waugh and Dr Johnson all make an appearance in this period.

In July 2007 the blog relaunched in what I take to be its current incarnation, with the post “Every Man His Own Eckermann.” Following on from minor hints in previous posts, this inaugurated a theme of stylized pastiched quasi-auto-reflection/biography. The title is an allusion to a self-interview by Edmund Wilson published in the second issue of the New York Review of Books in 1963: Eckerman (at the risk of sounding like an annotator to the Dunciad) was, if this clarifies anything, Goethe’s Boswell.

Part of the current incarnation includes The Stuckenschmidtian Ethics, a post seemingly addressed to a friend of the author, Jeff Stuckenschmidt (which is why I posted the previous reference to “Stuckenschmidt”: keeping up with a possible running gag is exhausting!):

Annual tally of ‘thank-yous’ addressed to Suzy Stuckenschmidt, 10,548; annual tally of ‘fuck-yous’ addressed to Suzy Stuckenschmidt, 10,547. Net result: Love for Suzy Stuckenschmidt. Annual tally of ‘thank-yous’ addressed to Suzy Stuckenschmidt, 10,547; annual tally of ‘fuck-yous’ addressed to Suzy Stuckenschmidt, 10,548. Net result: Hatred for Suzy Stuckenschmidt.


True grit is nurture to advantage pressed,
What oft was fought but ne’er so well redressed.

– and that is really just to confine myself to the most easily quotable parts of that post.

Finally, in August 2007, Robertson embarked on the first of his series of translations of texts from German Romanticism (though he has strayed as late as Hofmannsthal) which, via his translation of Hoffmann’s Don Juan, first brought his blog to my attention. These really are impressive.

There is also an interesting series of posts called “Constellations” where Robertson juxtaposes different authors on particular subjects.

Most recently, Robertson has replaced Eckerman with George D Painter as his chosen medium to posterity. Painter is the author of the standard English-language biography of Proust. A pastiche of Painter is indirectly a pastiche of Proust if only because Proust looms so large as a source for Painter. It is an elaborate joke, but if you can enter into it, it really is very funny and I am very much enjoying it. Here is the latest (relatively brief) instalment, “Even Still More from ‘Every Man his own George D Painter’:”

During another visit to Brooker Creek, when Douglas was nine years old, the family took a dip in nearby Lake Tarpon with some hangers-on. On the way in he capitulated to an access of flatulence, and seemed on the point of being born again before the nose of his nauseated mother. His lifelong love-affair with farting had begun. Medically speaking, his pastime was voluntary and affected; and flatulence, we are often told, is often closely linked to superconscious resolutions and aversions, and for Robertson it was to be an insouciant valet de chambre and a capricious mistress to boot. In his dalliances with flatulence the same effects were at play as in his later, equally equanimous accesses of spermatic ejaculation; his superconscious organism was peremptorily demanding his mother’s contempt and his father’s hatred; and his windiness certainly anticipated the hours of testicular dilation that needs must eventuate in either urinary or spermatic release. He lived like a saint through his intestines, and from the beginning his intestines imparted life to him. Other writers, like Kafka and Bernhard, trifled with tuberculosis, which stood in a wholly effectual if contingent relation to their art. Flatulence was Robertson’s tuberculosis. In early years, it was an antidote to his similarity to others, his authoritarian demand for hatred, his refuge in pleasures that were organic to his conscious sense of purposelessness; and in later “life” it helped him to immerse himself in the world and yet produce a work “des si longs vents.” From the beginning, however, he was every inch the little boy farting and tensing in the tannic-acid stained water above the brown leaves, in the life-giving lake of summer.

That’s the whole post and maybe it’s a bit rich for me to quote the whole thing like that, but I am very conscious that people don’t click through links. In my further defence, I can only say that I am offering it as a relatively small extract of the much larger body of work which this blog presents.

Douglas Robertson (whoever you are) I dips me lid.

Finally, an apology to the few who read this post in its embryo form when I inadvertently published it part-way through its drafting yesterday.

A machine for living

January 2, 2009


Our house is normally home to just D and me. Over Xmas it has housed my two sisters and my nephew. My father, who slept elsewhere, also attended daily.

At any time this would be a challenge to the household resources of sleeping accommodation, and for gathering, storing and preparing food and all the other incidents of what might broadly be called the consumption and excretion function of a house. At Christmas it was even more so.

One of my sisters has become a (quite unlikely, in view of what I know about her domestic past) champion of hygiene. As long-disused bed-linen has been pressed (though definitely not ironed) into service, remarks have been made. A towel was described as “manky.” To top it all off, cause was identified for what we hope was early intervention against nepotal nits.

This is the fourth time my sisters and my nephew have stayed with me in this way at this house, and I am grateful that my sisters do not presume on any dignity as guests. They both pitch in. I spot vestigial traits of my mother’s housekeeping. The sister who made the “manky” accusation, for example, has a particular zeal for hanging up towels to dry in the sun which I recognize as coming from our mother, even though it’s a habit I now only intermittently observe. Incidental to their pitching in, they make their own little contributions to domestic order. Some of these have just involved putting in order little often-overlooked spots or aspects; the most spectacular has been the finishing touches required to restore the back yard to its proper role as a living space. This transforms the house, and the extra space helps us cope with the extra numbers.

And of course, all the other functions of the household – laundry, tidying, cooking, had to be ramped up a notch or three. [Can you ramp up in notches? Just wondering, but too lazy to rewrite.]

There were temporary crises: in the picture above you can see the old Atomic coffee machine brought out from retirement when the espresso machine packed up shop. The one new year’s resolution I am prepared to disclose is that I have resolved to attend more regularly to that machine’s maintenance.

The storm has temporarily abated whilst my sisters and nephew travel to Canberra to spend time with father and step-mother. Our house as machine-for-living has coped with the load, but when I contemplate myriad other possible new year’s resolutions I can’t escape the conclusion that the most important machine for living is the one inside your own head.