Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Bell Wheel- Museum of Jurassic Technology

Locus Solus- Jurassic Technology

Picture 1 from:
The Museum of Jurassic Technology.

picture 2 from Tom Kidd's art website:

The surrealists call Roussel the "Proust of dreams" and after reading this heavily detailed novel of his, I can concur. We meet the main, and one of the only characters of this strange novel, Martial Canterel, on a tour of his estate. The reader is part of an unnamed group who views enigmatic scenes. The scenes are vividly described to the reader. After viewing the insensible scenes, Canterel then elucidates what has been shown.

Locus Solus, by Raymond Roussel, has no real plot except for this. There are no characters except for Canterel and some minor characters named, but never fleshed out. There are stories within the stories which build up the novel. We (and the character that represents us) are always outside. There are those who are convinced that clues are strewn within Roussel's works, and by some key, a mystery can be solved. Reading Locus Solus, one might be tempted to take this view in consideration to make sense of it. Perhaps.

While reading Locus Solus, I had deja vu, a sense of slippage. In December 2006, I took my first and only trip to L.A. A friend highly recommended a place to visit, this was confirmed by some guide books that I consulted. So on our first full day in L.A., I organized our day. First we were to stop at the Museum of Jurassic Technology. Of course, we arrived too early and went to visit some avantgarde architecture which is also in Culver City.

A little after 10AM, we arrived at the nondescript storefront that is the entrance of the museum. We spent a half-hour in the entrance were bookstore is to be found just looking at all the fascniating books. We wandered through this strange and hypnotizing place. I was particularly entranced by the bell-wheel, which I heard tinkling as soon as I entered the museum. I tracked it down by listening, ever curious by the falling sound. I finally found it inthe dark Athanasius Kircher exhibit. Later, around 1Pm, I think, we were allowed upstairs to have tea and cookies. We looked at the Cat's Cradle exhibit along with another, which I cannot remember.

Reading the narrator's tour in Locus Solus reminded me of this visit. We wander undecipherable scenes with little clues to understand what we are seeing or how we are to interpret such scenes. Of course, at the museum's bookstore I purchased Lawrence Weschler's book to try to grasp more meaning. I am not the only one to make this connection.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007


Kypros is an ancient Greek perfume mentioned by Theophrastus . It contained cardamon and a sweet-scented material called aspalathus which had first been steeped in sweet wine. It is used by men and was used to counter lassitude. -Nigel Groom, The New Perfume Handbook

It is times like these that I feel my thoughts are pressed like leaves between pages of the texts I read.

Friday, August 24, 2007


"Every reader, as he reads, is actually a reader of himself. The writer's work is only a kind of optical instrument he provides the reader so he can discern what he might never have seen in himself without this book. The reader's recognition in himself of what the book says is the proof of the book's truth." -Marcel Proust

I read, I read incessantly. I read partially to escape this world which brutalizes me, but I also read to glean clues and insights about this place I am forced to inhabit. I read to gain comprehension. I am often horrified by the people of this world and their behaviour, yet I am flooded with insatiable curiosity to peer into their motives. Yes, I attempt to construct a world in texts parallel to the world I see outside my window. I want my mind to be re-ordered, yet the words intact.

Contrarily though, I wonder if all this reading puts me out of sync with the rest of humanity? Reading alters time; I wander the passages of someone else's thoughts and mental departures.

"Artists' fame is the most monstrous of all, for it implies the idea of immortality. Every novel created with real passion aspires quite naturally to a lasting aesthetic value. This is the novelist's curse: his honesty is bound to the vile stake of his megalomania." -Milan Kudera

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

scent of Vienna?

More stolen pictures: 1. Ernst Haas- Photographer, born in Vienna 1921
2. A photo by Ernst Haas- and yes, that is Marilyn Monroe, from Arthur Miller's The Misfits, 1960

More thoughts on Vienna, I was imagining, what would a perfume inspired by Vienna smell like?

Like Diorella?

"Start with the obvious: Diorella is a profoundly strange perfume. A Frenchman I said this to became very defensive and replied, ''Diorella is a classic!'' Which was not only irrelevant -- it also missed the point entirely. Can you describe Diorella? People say, ''Intensely flowery''; they say, ''Fresh yet weightless''; they say, ''Notes of citrus and ripe fruit'' and blah-blah-blah. O.K., fine. All of this is wrong: what is wonderful about Diorella is that it smells like a new fur coat that has been rubbed with a very creamy mint toothpaste. Not gel. Paste. It is a great, great fragrance. It was created for Dior by the legendary perfumer Edmond Roudnitska in 1972, and it feels like 1932 and 2022 at the same time."

No- Maybe more like Nombre Noir:

"The flower at the core of Nombre Noir was half-way between a rose and a violet, but without a trace of the sweetness of either, set instead against an austere, almost saintly back-ground of cigar-box cedar notes. At the same time, it wasn't dry, and seemed to be glistening with a liquid freshness that made its deep colors glow like a stained-glass window."
-Luca Turin

This scent would follow the end song of the plays and stories of Arthur Schnitzler- Wiener Moderne writer.

"Schnitzler's final stories are, inevitably, elegies for a vanished world. It is surely significant that several of them end in suicide, as if the self-destruction of individuals embodied the disaster of a whole society rushing into oblivion. In the novella "Night Games," a young officer, Lieutenant Wilhelm Kasda—precisely the sort of person Schnitzler would once have satirized—is ruined in a game of baccarat. He has a day to raise the money or his honor as an officer will be lost and suicide his only option. Few writers could hope to equal the intensity with which Schnitzler imagines Kasda's desperation as he begs for money, first from a rich uncle and then from a woman he slept with once and then neglected. When the suicide comes, however, the narration switches to a tragicomic mode that is almost Chekhovian. The uncle, arriving too late with the money, cuts a painfully foolish figure beside the corpse."

Friday, August 17, 2007


Stolen pictures- left side- from this website:

the right, Hiroshi Sugimoto, from this site-

Sugimoto is currently being exhibited at the De Young Museum in San Francisco, I saw the exhibit, it covers the variety of his photos; from the minimalism (as shown in this photo) to his faux-figuratives.

Today's obsessions:

What would ancient perfume smell like? "Extracts of anise, pine, coriander, bergamot, almond, and parsley "

Joseph Conrad:

"To survey with wonder the changes of one's own self is a fascinating pursuit for idle hours. The field is so wide, the surprises so varied,the subject so full of unprofitable but curious hints as to the work of unseen forces, that one does not weary easily of it. I am not speaking here of megalomaniacs who rest uneasy under the crown of their unbounded conceit--who really never rest in this world, and when out of it goon fretting and fuming on the straitened circumstances of their last habitation, where all men must lie in obscure equality. Neither am I thinking of those ambitious minds who, always looking forward to some aim of aggrandizement, can spare no time for a detached, impersonal glance upon them selves"

The Estonian language:

"The majority of European languages belong to the Indo-European language group (e.g. Spanish, Polish, Lithuanian, Norwegian, Albanian, Romany, Greek or Welsh). Of the ancient European languages, once so widespread throughout the continent, Basque in the Pyrenees, the Finno-Ugric languages in the North and Central Europe, and Caucasian languages (e.g. Georgian) in the southeastern corner of Europe have managed to survive.

The Estonian language belongs to the Finnic branch of Finno-Ugric group of languages. It is not therefore related to the neighbouring Indo-European languages such as Russian, Latvian and Swedish. Finnish, Hungarian and Estonian are the best known of the Finno-Ugric languages; rather less known are the following smaller languages of the same language group: South Estonian, Votic, Livonian, Ingrian, Veps, Karelian, Sami, Erzya, Moksha, Mari, Udmurt and Komi, spoken from Scandinavia to Siberia. The relations between languages can often be seen from the similarities in numeric systems:

Estonian differs from its closest large related language, Finnish, at least as much as English differs from Frisian. The difference between Estonian and Hungarian is about as significant as between German and Persian.

Along with Icelandic, Estonian is at present one of the smallest languages in the world that fulfils all the functions necessary for an independent state to 'perform' linguistically. Teaching, at both primary school and university level, is in Estonian; it is also the language of modern science (molecular biology, astronomy, computer science, semiotics, etc.). Estonian is used in the army, in the theatre, aviation, journalism - in all walks of life. Estonian is the only official language in Estonia in local government and state institutions.

Estonian is spoken by approximately 1 100 000 people throughout the world. About 950 000 of them live in Estonia, and more than 150 000 are scattered over Sweden, Canada, USA, Russia, Australia, Finland, Germany and other countries. The first attempts to describe the Estonian language scientifically were undertaken in the early 17th century. In 1803, a lectureship of the Estonian language was established at what was then the German-language University of Tartu, founded in 1632. With the spread of the ideas of Enlightenment, the interest of the Baltic German Estophiles in the local language and culture increased. During the 19th century, the first educated Estonians began publishing scholarly research of their mother tongue. The first doctor of the Finno-Ugric languages of Estonian origin was Mihkel Veske who did research into the history of the Estonian language in the 1870s; the Estonian Writers' Union, established in 1871, undertook the task of standardising the common language. "

Tuesday, August 14, 2007


I read it with relish, I started on Sunday and finished this morning (Tues.) on BART, on my way to work. I felt uncomfortable reading it while having breakfast. I felt deranged while reading it at a full cafe in Berkeley on a Monday afternoon. I walked by two or more cafes, filled with Berkeley students studying diligently for the summer semester. When I finished the book, I wondered if all my readings of such depraved characters were going to drive me to lunacy. I guess we will find out, since I do not see myself eliminating such literature from my reading list any time soon.

Here's one excerpt I found when I randomly opened the book, it is tame, comparatively.

"Not a sound came to disturb me-the soft dark had hidden the whole world from me, and buried me in a wonderful peace- only the desolate voice of stillness sounded monotonously in my ear. And the dark monsters out there wanted to pull me to themselves as soon as night came, and they wanted to take me far far over seas and through strange lands where no human being lives. " -Hunger Knut Hamsun

Here's a New Yorker article on Hamsun from December 2005:

"...Isaac Bashevis Singer argued that "the whole modern school of fiction in the twentieth century stems from Hamsun, just as Russian literature in the nineteenth century ‘came out of Gogol’s greatcoat.’ ” In Scandinavia, though, Hamsun meant trouble. During those months in Copenhagen, I occasionally walked into one of the antiquarian bookstores that could be found all over the city’s Latin Quarter. Several times when I asked about Hamsun’s works, the man behind the counter (it was always a man) would shake his head and declare, “He was a traitor!” I’d try to remember the shop so as not to embarrass myself again."

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

ghastly, indeed

More clues about Europe before the World Wars, about the maps above: 1. Europe roughly after the Congress of Vienna 2. The corresponding language groups. From this website.

Congress of Vienna, on October 2, 1814

"What struck them first was the light. Sixteen thousand candles and thirty-two chandeliers lit up two ballrooms in the imperial palace, where the glass windowpanes had been replaced with mirrors, redoubling the splendor.

Geographically, the problem at Vienna was roughly the same as the one facing the Allies at Potsdam in 1945. Russia, which bore the brunt of the war against Napoleon, had marched its armies across Europe and was now effectively in control of Poland and much of Prussia. Alexander, who had a messianic dream of restoring Poland to the map as a kingdom under his control, refused to give back the parts of Poland that had formerly belonged to Prussia. As a result, Prussia sought compensation to the west, demanding to annex the independent kingdom of Saxony. Austria, meanwhile, under the wily conservative Metternich, hoped to maintain a balance of power, to rein in Alexander's ambitions, and to keep Prussia from dominating the smaller German states. It was a thoroughly unedifying spectacle, in which the great powers swapped cities and provinces like horse-traders, while the claims of small nations were ruthlessly ignored."

"Indeed, the Walser tone, hovering between beatific quietism and a burlesque of conventionality, is detectable in the immortal reply he gave a man who visited him at an asylum and asked about his writing: 'I am not here to write, but to be mad.'"

"Nancy Cunard paid a high price for her nonconformity. She was disinherited, arrested, beaten, institutionalized and eventually declared insane. Her legacy includes her refusal to regret, or attempt to explain, any of it.

Cunard was like "some invention, ghastly or not, of her own.... She didn't fit anywhere." That inconsistency or "passionate inconstancy," as William Carlos Williams called it, consisted of, as one male friend described it, "baffling contradictions"--she was passionate but unromantic, loyal but unforgiving, unconventional but fastidious, emotional but unsentimental, hedonistic but anorexic. Huxley summed her up as "one of those women who have the temperament of a man." Ghastly indeed."

"Characters die from humiliation in Max Ophuls or, to put it cruelly, they die from frustration. {…}Absorbed totally in passion, nothing else exists, as Stendhal says again, and frustrated passion crystallizes like crazy, becomes obsession, and dominates us totally. {…}Passion makes us prisoners first, then criminals."

Then, in the interest of getting away......

"The problems started when I put down my fork. Unable to find it among the plates, wine glasses, and baskets of bread, I resorted to shovelling steak into my mouth by hand - but I didn't worry about offending the well-mannered Parisians seated nearby. They couldn't see a thing."

Monday, August 06, 2007

Books read in July

Books I read in July and why I read them.

1. Bâtarde- Violette Leduc

I read this essay in Context, a newsletter which I would pick up for free in Diesel Bookstore. I was seduced into the sensual and emotionally overwrought material this novel/memoir promised to cover. Since the book was out of print, I did not expect to easily come across it, so I kept it in the back of my mind as a book to keep an eye out for. On one of my rare Green Apple visits, I wandered around, and there was Bâtarde, tottering on top of a haphazard, yet standing, pile of books. Thus, there, I purchased it. It took me another few years to get around to reading it. The book's heft and personal subject kept me at an arm's length.

It was not as good as I wanted it to be. But I'm beginning to think this is the theme of my life, perhaps it can be my epitaph: "It was never as good as she wanted it to be." Sadly, I won't have a grave, or a gravestone, maybe it can be carved into a plaque above my favourite haunt.

There are beautifully written moments in this work: including a fantastic passage describing an endive salad and her enticing account of her black-marketing during WWII.
Most of the time, however, I felt mucked down by her barrage of emotional tumult.

I was having lunch at a Chinese restaurant one day, reading the book intently, trying to finish it. A man who was dining next to me asked me how the book was. My answer:" It's like being in a relationship you want out of, but you are committed to the end." That is how I felt about reading La Bâtarde, after 187 pages I felt committed, but I was quite relieved when it ended.

2. A Stranger in a Strange Land - Robert Heinlein

This book has somehow stayed with me despite the great book purge of 2005, when I had to move, and I rid myself of at least a few huge boxes of books. I must have picked it up for free from some giveaway pile because it is a cheap, grungy little paperback. I'm not even sure what could have compelled me to pick it up in the first place. I really didn't know anything about this book or the author. I decided to read it after seeing it in a book called 1001 Books You Should Read Before You Die, which, by the way, I don't agree with all the choices. Since I had Stranger around, I thought I would at least read it so I could get rid of it.

It is not too bad for a dated science-fiction utopian paperback. The dialogue conveys the characters well, but the free-love, cult storyline chippers into martyr-fantasy cheesiness. There are some novels where the writer's desired take on reality gets worn on the page; this novel is such an example.

3. Three Years- Anton Chekhov

I was delusional enough to think I might start reading Don Quixote this summer. So I ambled to my local library to check it out. While I was in the C's, I saw this slim novelette by Chekhov, since I had read another of his small novels (Story of Nobody) I knew I would enjoy it, plus I could read it easily in case the Cervantes fell through (which it did). But I will read Don Quixote before I die, even if I die while reading it. It is my folly, this desire to read the greatest novels of all time. Plus I feel rather embarrassed that I have not read it yet, I can't even believe I'm admitting it here.

Chekhov writes about disappointment and mundane life, but he does it without sentiment. He says a lot in a little amount of pages, it inspires me.

4. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter - Carson McCullers

Again, I was in another public library, this time in Berkeley. I decided that I wanted to read another book by Moravia, on passing through, I came across McCullers' book, and on an impulse I decided to check it out as well. I think I heard of this McCullers' book because it is #17 on the MLA, and as I mentioned before, I'm a sucker for those listed books. For the record, it is not in the 1001 Books, so I think it has lost some of its appeal through time, after all it was published in 1941 when McCullers was only 23.

It does have some juvenile character developments; it feels as though Mc Cullers wanted to bring all the misfits she could imagine together in a sleepy Southern town. The misfits have so much to say that it is bursting right out of them but they are unwilling to listen.

Overall, July was not as productive as I would have liked, hopefully August will be a better read.

Friday, August 03, 2007


Ok- That's it, everyone can packup and leave now.

Interactions like that make me want to move to Belgium and never talk to anyone and never know anyone ever again. And there are some who want to make it seem a lot better than it ever could be:

“I struggled to come to terms with this new knowledge,” Goodall later wrote. She would wake in the night, haunted by the memory of witnessing a female chimpanzee gorging on the flesh of an infant, “her mouth smeared with blood like some grotesque vampire from the legends of childhood.”

Wednesday, August 01, 2007


I encountered a strange and sad story yesterday, which fits the overall uncanniness of this week, another and another.

Curious blog exchange with the deceased.

Things I've been thinking about:

1. The intellectual history of books.

2. Western history, especially how the events that caused WWI which led us to our current state. I started reading Jacques Barzun's Dawn to Decadence to hopefully enlighten me. I have to say, his writing style is quite peculiar and it has taken time for me to adjust to it.

3. The taxonomy of friendships and that very fluid nature of intimacy

4. The subjective appreciation and naming conventions of colors-example: When is mauve a mauve?

5. Nocturnes- an excerpt from Grove Music:

"A piece suggesting night, usually quiet and meditative in character, but not invariably so. The Italian term Notturno occurs frequently as a title in 18th-century music, but the French form of the word was not used until John Field applied it to some lyrical piano pieces written between about 1812 and 1836 Field’s nocturnes are historically important as antecedents of Chopin’s. The writing is clearly idiomatic, exploiting the sounds available on the newer pianos; the sustaining pedal, in particular, enabled Field to expand the range of the harmonic accompanying patterns beyond those of the Alberti bass, which of necessity lay under the hand. The melodies of his nocturnes transferred to the keyboard the cantilena of Italian opera, to which he had been exposed in Russia in the early 1800s (see ex.1). According to Liszt, who wrote a preface to the first collected edition of Field’s nocturnes (Leipzig, 1859), they ‘opened the way for all the productions which have since appeared under the various titles of Songs without Words, Impromptus, Ballades, etc., and to him we may trace the origin of pieces designed to portray subjective and profound emotion’.
Although the emotional range of most of Field’s nocturnes is not wide, and the phrase structure sometimes tediously predictable, the restrained elegance of his musical language and imaginative keyboard figuration made a great impression on subsequent Romantic composers, especially Chopin, who admired both Field’s playing and his compositions. Nocturnes were composed by most pianist-composers of the time, including Liszt (whose famous Liebesträume song transcriptions were subtitled ‘nocturnes’), Schumann (Nachtstücke op.23), J.B. Cramer, Czerny, Kalkbrenner, Thalberg, Henri Bertini and Theodor Döhler among them. Chopin’s 21 nocturnes, however, hold a pre-eminent place in the history of the genre. The celebrated Nocturne in E♭ op.9 no.2 is perhaps the most similar to Field’s nocturnes, showing the influence of two of his nocturnes in the same key in both melody and accompaniment patterns. It was, however, Field’s Nocturne no.4 in A major, with its agitated, harmonically more complex, central section, that proved more inspirational for Chopin’s expansion of the form in his op.9 no.3 and later pieces.
Chopin’s nocturnes (especially op.48 no.1) display an intensity well beyond the range of Field and a high degree of melodic invention (ex.2). His remarkable harmonic sophistication, too, is often couched in keyboard textures of a contrapuntal complexity that never seems redundant or forced. Moreover, several diverge from Field’s basic ABA formal outline. The otherwise suave op.32 no.1 in B major ends unexpectedly in B minor with an abrupt, recitative-like coda that appears in emotional terms to contradict all that has gone before, while op.15 no.3 in G minor is in a highly unusual AB form with no recapitulation of the initial material.
Although the apogee of the pianistic nocturne was reached with Chopin, it continued to be a popular genre. French composers were particularly attracted to the form: Fauré wrote 13 nocturnes, and Satie, d’Indy and Poulenc contributed to the repertory. Liszt’s late works include the nocturne En rêve (1885) and celebrated nocturnes were also composed by Glinka, Balakirev, Tchaikovsky (op.10 no.1 in F major and op.19 no.4 in C♯ minor), Rimsky-Korsakov (Nocturne in D minor), Skryabin and Grieg (Notturno in C major op.54 no.4). Nocturnes were also written for orchestra; a well-known example is in Mendelssohn’s incidental music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream, where the tone-colour of the horn is used, as in the 18th-century notturno, to evoke the image of night. Bizet wrote an unpublished nocturne for orchestra, and Debussy’s Trois nocturnes (Nuages, Fêtes and Sirènes, the last with a female wordless chorus) are among the finest achievements of French impressionist music; Fêtes, a vigorously rhythmic and extrovert piece, considerably expands the usual associations of the term ‘nocturne’ to portray nocturnal festivities."