Making sugar out of light

[A weekly compilation of random things]

A poem

“‘The trees, good Seraphim,
begin to sing

at dawn
about making sugar

out of light’


(Rae Armantrout, ‘Traffic’. Granta, December, 5th, 2016)

Arnon Grunberg on the rise of populism

“(…) Voters do not pick populist parties for want of more democracy but rather the opposite. See Wilders and his “fake parliament” claims. To many voters, the inherent ambiguity and imperfection of any democracy is a thorn in the side; Populism offers the delirium of destruction as an alternative.

Those who see salvation in this delirium aren’t looking for a listening ear but for an enemy.

The idea that voters of populist parties wouldn’t know what they are voting for is christian but also paternalistic.

They could know, but they don’t want to know.”

(Arnon Grunberg, Voetnoot. Volkskrant, November 17th, 2016)

A Short Talk with Anne Carson


CB: The first book that you published, Eros the Bittersweet (1986), was a study of Eros in the work of ancient Greek writers. Did you come to poetry from critical writing, to poetry from prose, or were you exploring these different forms concurrently? Were you looking for ways to wed an academic interest in ancient Greece with creative pursuits?

AC:  These distinctions are obscure to me, in practice. People worry a lot about them, why? The boundaries between “forms” (poetic, prosaic) are invented by us. The separation of “academic” from “creative”  enterprise is  demonstrably false and futile. Why pretend to respect categories like these?


CB: Do you approach language differently when writing poetry and prose?

AC: No, I approach thought differently.

CB: You’ve used the interview format in your own work, often ironically, sometimes as an exercise in what cannot be revealed. Do interviews make you queasy?

AC: Interviews are useless.”

(by Catherine Bush, 2000. Here)

Another poem


I would like a poem to be post-country
having decided that the most
significant change
humanity can make
is a complete flush
of borders. (…)”

(Natalie Eilbert, ‘From the Lake’, PEN America)

The Symphony No. 9 by Gustav Mahler (IV – Adagio)

Rosa Parks Says No

Rosa Parks
Rosa Parks

“I was not tired physically, or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day. I was not old, although some people have an image of me as being old then. I was 42. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.”

(On December 1st, 1955 Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat)

More Anne Carson


Here, just to give the flavor, are some excerpts from the e-mails of Anne Carson.

On writing: “we’re talking about the struggle to drag a thought over from the mush of the unconscious into some kind of grammar, syntax, human sense; every attempt means starting over with language. starting over with accuracy. i mean, every thought starts over, so every expression of a thought has to do the same. every accuracy has to be invented. . . . i feel i am blundering in concepts too fine for me.”


On contradiction: “i realize all this sounds both chaotic and dishonest and probably that is the case. contradiction is the test of reality, as Simone Weil says.”


When I asked Carson what appealed to her so much as a teenager about Greek, she answered, “It just seemed to me the best language.” I asked her to elaborate. “It’s just intrinsic,” she said. “Just a different experience.” I asked her to describe the nature of that experience. “It’s just like what it is,” she said. “If it were like something else, you could do the other thing. It’s just like itself. I really can’t analogize.” This launched us into a five-minute circular conversation that felt like an allegory of the futility of all human language. “That’s as far as we can go with that,” she said.

Carson did admit, in the end, that part of her desire to learn Greek came from her childhood desire to be Oscar Wilde — classically educated, elegantly dressed, publicly witty.

I asked her when she stopped wanting this.

“I didn’t,” she said. “Who could stop? It’s unachieved, as yet.”

The most animated moments in my discussions with Carson came when she spoke about boredom, which she can’t stand. (“I will do anything to avoid boredom,” she once wrote. “It is the task of a lifetime.”) When she writes, she has a constant drive to feel as if she’s doing something new with every sentence. When she lectures, regardless of the subject, she wants to uproot people.

“I’m really trying to make people’s minds move, you know, which is not something they’re naturally inclined to do,” she told me. “We have a kind of inertia, sitting and listening. But it’s really important to get somehow into the mind and make it move somewhere it has never moved before. That happens partly because the material is mysterious or unknown but mostly because of the way you push the material around from word to word in a sentence. And it’s that that I’m more interested in doing, generally, than mystifying by having unexpected content or bizarre forms. It’s more like: Given whatever material we’re going to talk about, and we all know what it is, how can we move within it in a way we’ve never moved before, mentally? That seems like the most exciting thing to do with your head. I think it’s a weakness to fall back into merely mystifying the audience, which anybody can do. You know, throw in a bit of Hegel. Who knows what that means? But to actually take a piece of Hegel and move it around in a way that shows you something about Hegel is a satisfying challenge.”

There is hardly a pause before she added, in her usual deadpan, “So maybe I didn’t make any clear point there, but I was impassioned.”


Toward the end of “Red Doc >,” the story leaps into tragic territory: the death of Geryon’s mother. They are some of the saddest pages I’ve ever read. “And the reason he cannot bear her dying is not the loss of her (which is the future) but that dying puts the two of them (now) into this nakedness together that is unforgivable. They do not forgive it. He turns away. This roaring air in his arms. She is released.” When I told Carson how devastating this was, she seemed surprised. She said she couldn’t quite tell.

“I somehow wrote that book without having any relation to it,” she said.

In the days that followed, I thought about this statement and realized I had no idea what it meant. Carson was back in Michigan by then, so I sent her one last e-mail, asking her to explain. This, in its entirety, was her response:


1 a particle is a thing in itself. a wave is a disturbance in something else. waves themselves are probably not disturbed.

2 there are some big particles inside Red Doc> — of information (ice), of grief (mother), of caprice (musk ox mind) — but by the time i wrote them down i had moved out to the condition of wave.

3 maybe i’m just saying that i’m a tough old bugger.

4 remember Monica Vitti saying, I can’t watch the sea for a long time or what’s happening on land doesn’t interest me anymore


(by Sam Anderson. The New York Times Magazine, March, 14th, 2013)

Strange Things

Maria Sybilla Merian
Maria Sybilla Merian

Maria Sibylla Merian (2 April 1647 – 13 January 1717) was a German naturalist and scientific illustrator. I like the strangeness of her illustrations.

One of Susan Sontag’s lists

“1. Not to repeat myself
2. Not to try to be amusing
3. To smile less, talk less. Conversely, and most important, to mean it when I smile, and to believe what I say + say only what I believe
4. To sew on my buttons (+ button my lip)
5. To try to repair things which don’t work
6. To take a bath every day, and wash my hair every ten days. Same for D.
7. To think about why I bite my nails in the movies
8. Not to make fun of people, be catty, criticize other people’s looks, etc. (all this is vulgar and vain)
9. To be more economical (because the carefree way I spend money makes me more dependent on earning this much money)”

(Sontag, 1961, in: Reborn: Journals and Notebooks, 1947-1963)

Judith Butler out loud

“If a group of right-wing racists get together and say that they have been excluded from a public space that does not accommodate racists, then they are actually asking for a right to exclude others. They are trying to assemble and achieve public space for the expressed purpose of a racist and exclusionary project. That is hardly democratic in intent or in effect.
Those who lay claim to white privilege, for instance, may claim that they are “excluded” by migrants, but they actually worry about losing their privilege. That is the context and that has to be the context by which we understand all of these gestures, movements and verbal claims.
Sometimes a right-wing group might feel that they are excluded, but what they really mean, is that their privilege has been lost. Their privilege, their white presumption, is being shaken. And you know what: Yes they are losing their privilege, they are losing their white privilege. They are losing a former world in which white privilege could be assumed. Yes, they are losing and it is their job to adjust, to accept their loss and to embrace a larger, more democratic and heterogeneous world.
I think they have an enormous rage. Not just against women, not only against racial minorities or against migrants – they are thrilled that that their rage is being liberated by his public and uncensored speech. We on the left, we are apparently the superego. What Trump has managed to do, rhetorically, is to identify not just the left, but liberalism – basic American liberalism and the left – as just a bunch of censors. We are the instruments of repression and he is the vehicle for emancipation. It is a nightmare.
They just think: He will close the borders, he will go to war, or he will cut through the red tape in government. But the fact is: they are willing to live with the hateful things he says. They don’t necessarily agree, but they accommodate it, which means that they do not object. They are implicitly lending their consent to that discourse.
the United States can’t make a war in the other side of the world without suffering the repercussions on its own territory, because we do, in fact, share a world, even with those we have sought to destroy. I think those of us, who live in first world situations, where we enjoy our freedom and our relative safety from direct violence, really like it. We are shocked when it gets close to us: What is this doing here, this is Brussels, this is Paris, this is London, this is New York. Those who target those cities seek to attack our presumption that we can take distance from the kinds of destruction that others are made to suffer.”

(Zeit Online, October 28th 2016)

Rita Streich singing Das Lied im Grünen (Franz Schubert)

Christina Rossetti turns 186

(She was born on 5th December 1830)

My heart is like a rainbow shell
                  That paddles in a halcyon sea;
 (Christina Rossetti, ‘A Birthday’)

Another List

or Tracing Octavia Butler’s Footsteps:

Octavia Butler's list of what is sexy.
Octavia Butler’s list of what is sexy.


The thing that has surprised me most was really how cash poor she was. She’d journal just about every single day. She would write something in her journals and then she would work on her novels or a story or whatever. She would be doing calculations in the margins — word counts and how much she would be paid per word for something, how much money she had to get through the week, or how much or how little food she could purchase. Her shopping lists down to the penny. Which meant she had to go without a lot of things to produce the writing that we have been gifted. And it was kind of heartbreaking. And I wouldn’t use the word surprising.


(Ayana Jamieson, interviewed by Rachel. Thomas. Los Angeles Review of Books, December, 2nd, 2016)

Mary Beard When Words Lose All Meaning

“What is more, resentment at “the elite” has morphed into a proud contempt for truth, expertise and knowledge – not unlike Michael Gove’s jibe at “experts” before the Brexit vote. And in the broader context of political rhetoric, the idea that he won’t be as bad as he claimed is more, rather than less, worrying. I thought that the conciliatory speech was the worst thing I had heard all evening. The idea that he could be thanking Clinton for her service to the country (“I mean that very sincerely”) and be speaking of “binding the wounds of division” – when only the day before he’d promised to impeach her and poured salt into the very wounds he was now promising to heal – beggars belief. It has nothing to do with being “gracious” (as the television pundits had it), and everything to do with words not meaning anything. It was precisely what ancient rhetorical and political theorists feared almost more than anything else: that speech might not be true, and the corrosive effect of that on popular power.
So if we have a big job in a Trump (and Brexit) world, it is not simply to limit the damage. It is also to restore the place of knowledge as necessary for the political process, and not as something that merely reeks of privilege – and to revalue the nature of rhetoric, from “Crooked Hillary” to “taking back control”. Politicians may always have lied, but at least the Greeks and Romans worried about that. We have come almost to take it for granted.”

(The Times Literary Supplement, November 9th 2016)

The Book I am Currently Reading

“All across the country, people felt it was the wrong thing. All across the country, people felt it was the right thing. All across the country, people felt they’d really lost. All across the country, people felt they’d really won. All across the country, people felt they’d done the right thing and other people had done the wrong thing. All across the country, people looked up Google: what is EU? All across the country, people looked up Google: move to Scotland. All across the country, people looked up Google: Irish Passport Applications. All across the country, people called each other cunts. All across the country, people felt unsafe. All across the country, people were laughing their heads off. All across the country, people felt legitimised. All across the country, people felt bereaved and shocked. All across the country, people felt righteous. All across the country, people felt sick. All across the country, people felt history at their shoulder. All across the country, people felt history meant nothing. All across the country, people felt like they counted for nothing. All across the country, people had pinned their hopes on it. All across the country, people waved flags in the rain. All across the country, people drew swastika graffiti. All across the country, people threatened other people. All across the country, people told people to leave. All across the country, the media was insane. All across the country, politicians lied. All across the country, politicians fell apart. All across the country, politicians vanished…”

(Ali Smith, Autumn, 2016)

My diary was enraged

We are so further down the path of normalization, that, apparently, the act of speaking up against anti-Semitism, racism, misogyny, censorship and climate change denial – to put it mildly – has now been dismissed as ‘self-righteousness’. Can one counter a moral claim without, at the same time, being accused of asserting another? I wonder if it is too self-righteous of me to consider self-righteous the ones who proudly accuse others of self-righteousness. Oops, now I am lost. Help me.


Visiting the Neue Pinakothek in Munich

»From Goya to Picasso«, on December 4th.

“Gracias a la vida”, by Violeta Parra


“Thanks to life, which has given me so much.
It gave me two stars; when I open them,
I can perfectly distinguish black from white
And, in the sky above, its starry backdrop,
And, within the multitudes, the man I love.
Thanks to life, which has given me so much
It has given me my hearing; in all of its reach, it
Records night and day crickets and canaries,
Hammers and turbines, bricks and storms,
And the tender voice of my beloved.
Thanks to life, which has given me so much.
It gave me sound and alphabet
With them the words I think and declare:
“Mother,” “Friend,” “Brother” and the light shining down on
The road of the soul of the one I love
Thanks to life, which has given me so much.
It gave me the steps of my tired feet.
With them I have traversed cities and puddles
Valleys and deserts, mountains and plains.
And your house, your street and your garden.
Thanks to life, which has given me so much.
It gave me this heart that shakes its frame,
When I see the fruit of the human brain,
When I see good so far from evil,
When I look into the depth of your light eyes
Thanks to life, which has given me so much.
It gave me laughter and it gave me tears.
With them I distinguish bliss from pain
The two elements that make up my song,
And your song, as well, which is the same song.
And everyone’s song, which is my very song.”

6 thoughts on “Making sugar out of light

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