Actor! What do you know about death?
The mechanics of cheap melodrama! 

Cheap melodrama.

You can't do death!
On the contrary,
it's what we do best.
We have to exploit
whatever talent is given to us
and our talent is for dying.
We can die heroically, comically, 
ironically, sadly, suddenly, slowly
disgustingly, charmingly 
or from a great height.
Audiences know what to expect,
and that is all they are 
prepared to believe in.
- Tom Stoppard (1966)
Nevertheless—and this point is most important—however bitter their distress and however heavy their hearts, for all their emptiness, it can be truly said of these exiles that in the early period of the plague they could account themselves privileged. For at the precise moment when the residents of the town began to panic, their thoughts were wholly fixed on the person whom they longed to meet again. The egoism of love made them immune to the general distress and, if they thought of the plague, it was only in so far as it might threaten to make their separation eternal. Thus in the very heart of the epidemic they maintained a saving indifference, which one was tempted to take for composure. Their despair saved them from panic, their misfortune had a good side. For instance, if it happened that one of them was carried off by the disease, it was almost always without his having had time to realize it. Snatched suddenly from his long, silent communion with a wraith of memory, he was plunged straightaway into the densest silence of all. He’d had no time for anything.  

— Albert Camus
The Plague (1947)
recrudesce  (ˌriːkruːˈdɛs)
— vb
intr (of a disease, trouble, etc) to break out or appear again after a period of dormancy; 
[C19: from Latin recrūdēscere  to become raw again, from re-  + crūdēscere  to grow worse, 
from crūdus  bloody, raw; see crude]

- noun
breaking out afresh or into renewed activity; revival or reappearance in active existence.


A stolen painting is a strange thing. Whatever the fate of the Kunsthal's missing art, we will always know what Freud's "Woman With Eyes Closed" looked like. Vestigial images of the work will remain, in books and on computer servers. But those copies can never fully communicate the tenderness of the original. 

Freud's subject was Henrietta Edwards. When she sat for him in 2002, she was young, beautiful and recently married. She also had terminal cancer. Edwards died in 2006, Freud in 2011. What remains of their relationship is contained in that painting and the flush of color in her cheeks. When a work this beautiful is stolen or destroyed, something is lost that cannot be counted in dollars. In the world of art and insurance, however, counting in dollars is the only way to make sense of a loss…

- Ed Caeser (2013)


'The crayfish thrives in troubled waters.'
-Nikolai Gogol (1843)
The modern man is very often oppressed by indescribable anguish, and facing the daily problems his unconscious mind suggests him a refuge which  had once protected and nurtured him: the mother’s womb.

For this man who has lost his own personality, even love becomes a lamenting search for a protective womb.


‘The small changes will inevitably destroy us.’
-Jean Luc-Godard


Catullus 85 revisited

I’m repelled and I love. Maybe you do have to know why.
I don’t know, but I feel it happening and I’m crucified. 
- Art Beck
I hate, I love (Audrey)

I know nothing,

I feel it happening:

the torment (mine). 
- Joseph Campana 


"The past cannot be quarantined from the present." 
- Edward Said (1935-2003)


'Confusion will be my epitaph.'
In the Court of the Crimson King an Observation by King Crimson (1969)


The ultimate melancholic experience is the total loss of desire. 
- Slavoj Žižek


‘The wasteland grows; woe to him who harbors wastelands within.’
— Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (1844-1900)


It is impossible to give a clear account of the world, but art can teach us to reproduce it--just as the world reproduces itself in the course of its eternal gyrations. The primordial sea indefatigably repeats the same words and casts up the same astonished beings on the same sea-shore.
- Albert Camus (1913-1960)


The whole notion of admiring Nature, and feeling a sort of religious awe in the presence of glaciers, deserts or waterfalls, is bound up with the sense of man's littleness and weakness against the power of the universe. The moon is beautiful partly because we cannot reach it, the sea is impressive because one can never be sure of crossing it safely. Even the pleasure one takes in a flower – and this is true even of a botanist who knows all there is to be known about the flower – is dependent partly on the sense of mystery. 

But meanwhile man's power over Nature is steadily increasing. With the aid of the atomic bomb we could literally move mountains: we could even, so it is said, alter the climate of the earth by melting the polar ice-caps and irrigating the Sahara. Isn't there, therefore, something sentimental and obscurantist in preferring bird-song to swing music and wanting to leave a few patches of wildness here and there instead of covering the whole surface of the earth of the with a network of Autobahnen flooded by artificial sunlight?

The question only arises because in exploring the physical universe man had made no attempt to explore himself. Much of what goes by the name of pleasure is simply an effort to destroy consciousness. If one started by asking, what is man? What are his needs? How can he best express himself? one would discover that merely having the power to avoid work and live one's life from birth to death and electric light and to the tune of tinned music is not a reason for doing so. Man needs warmth, society, leisure, comfort and security: he also need solitude, creative work and the sense of wonder. If he recognized this he could use the products of science and industrialism eclectically, applying always the same test: does this make me more human or less human? He would then learn that the highest happiness does not lie and relaxing, vesting, playing poker, drinking and making love simultaneously. And the instinctive horror which all sensitive people feel at the progressive mechanization of life would be seen not to be a mere sentimental archaism, but to be fully justified. For man only stays human by preserving large patches of simplicity in his life, while the tendency of many modern inventions – in particular the film, the radio and the aeroplane – is to weaken his consciousness, dull his curiosity, and, in general, drive him nearer to the animals.

– George Orwell (Pleasure Spots 1946)


Is it unethical to pretend to be ethical when you are not? Wouldn’t it be better to act in your true nature, even if said nature is inherently unethical? 

I dig what you’re trying to do here. You’re trying to create an equation wherein the conclusion contradicts the premise: “If we agree that the ethical man is honest, the man must act in a manner that reflects that honesty, even if his honest reaction is to act unethically.” (This is a little like asking if an all-powerful God could create a rock he couldn’t lift.) Unfortunately, your logic is off. Ethical behavior is not an inherent human quality. There is nothing natural about internalizing a collective framework for how people should operate within a culture. It’s learned behavior.

If you walk into a bakery, your natural impulse might be to gobble every cookie in the store and walk out without paying a penny. If you choose instead to purchase only one cookie and thank the girl behind the counter when she gives you your change, you could argue that you w1ere merely pretending to act like a civilized person and that your actions contradict your motives. The outside world, however, is not necessarily interested in the authenticity of your motives. Behaving ethically is the process of separating yourself from whatever your “true nature” desires and accepting that the world involves people who are not you.

- Chuck Klosterman 


I am a man; nothing human is alien to me. 
– Terence (185159 BC)

Are We There Yet? by Robert Yarber


Venice (1889) by Friedrich Nietzsche
At the bridge I stood
lately in the brown night.
From afar came a song:
as a golden drop it welled
over the trembling surface.
Gondolas, lights, and music –
drunken it swam out into the twilight.
My soul, a stringed instrument
sang to itself, invisibly touched,
a secret gondola song,
quivering with iridescent happiness.
– Did anyone listen to it?


"Think of the seed of your creation. You were not born to live as brutes, but to follow virtue and knowledge...Night then saw all the stars. We were filled with gladness, which soon turned to tears until the sea closed upon us." 
Dante via Godard
“The cinema substitutes for our gaze a world more in harmony with our desires.” 
―André Bazin (1918-1958)


cacoethes  (ˌkækəʊˈiːθiːz) 
— n
an uncontrollable urge or desire to do something bad, harmful; mania: a cacoethes for smoking
from Gk. kakoethes "ill-habit, wickedness, itch for doing(something)," from kakos "bad" + ethe- "disposition, character". 

Most famously, in Juvenal's insanabile scribendi cacoethes "incurable passion for writing."


The fateful question for the human species seems to me to be whether and to what extent their cultural development will succeed in mastering the disturbance of their communal life by the human instinct of aggression and self-destruction. It may be that in this respect precisely the present time deserves a special interest. Men have gained control over the forces of nature to such an extent that with their help they would have no difficulty in exterminating one another to the last man. They know this, and hence comes a large part of their current unease, their unhappiness and mood of anxiety. And now it is to be expected that the other of the two "Heavenly Powers", eternal Eros, will make an effort to assert himself in the struggle with his equally immortal adversary. But who can foresee with what success and with what result?

- Sigmund Frued, Civilsation and Its Discontents


Where do we find ourselves? In a series of which we do not know the extremes, and believe that it has none. We wake and find ourselves on a stair; there are stairs below us, which we seem to have ascended; there are stairs above us, many a one, which go upward and out of sight. But the Genius which, according to the old belief, stands at the door by which we enter, and gives us the lethe to drink, that we may tell no tales, mixed the cup too strongly, and we cannot shake off the lethargy now at noonday. Sleep lingers all our lifetime about our eyes, as night hovers all day in the boughs of the fir–tree. All things swim and glitter. Our life is not so much threatened as our perception. Ghostlike we glide through nature, and should not know our place again. Did our birth fall in some fit of indigence and frugality in nature, that she was so sparing of her fire and so liberal of her earth, that it appears to us that we lack the affirmative principle, and though we have health and reason, yet we have no superfluity of spirit for new creation? We have enough to live and bring the year about, but not an ounce to impart or to invest. Ah that our Genius were a little more of a genius! We are like millers on the lower levels of a stream, when the factories above them have exhausted the water. We too fancy that the upper people must have raised their dams.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)


We can take precautions against all sorts of things; but so far as death is concerned, we all of us live like the inhabitants of a defenseless citadel...We spend our lives in waiting, and we are all condemned to die. I have escaped your ambush, O destiny, I have closed all paths by which you might assail me. We shall not be conquered either by you or by any other evil power. And when the inevitable hour of departure strikes, our scorn for those who vainly cling to existence will burst forth in this proud song: 'Ah, with what dignity we have lived.'

 Epicurus (341 BC – 270 BC)

Lucy please be still and put your madness in a jar
But do beware, it will follow you, it will follow you.

- Brian Eno


“Do you not know that there comes a midnight hour when everyone has to throw off his mask? Do you believe that life will always let itself be mocked? Do you think you can slip away a little before midnight in order to avoid this? Or are you not terrified by it?...
Or can you think of anything more frightful than that it might end with your nature being resolved into a multiplicity, that you really might become many, become, like those unhappy demoniacs, a legion, and thus you would have lost the inmost and holiest thing of all in a man, the unifying power of personality.”
  - Søren Kierkegaard (Cemetery Man)


In the middle of a forest
In the middle of our life’s way, I found myself in a dark wood where the straightway was lost.
What kind of middle of the way is this, where forward motion hits a dead-end?
Where life’s vital energies come to a terrifying standstill, where every step you take could be your last step?
This is the midpoint.
The midpoint is a strange and uncanny place.
It’s not the halfway mark on a straight finite line. It’s not equidistant from the beginning and the end. No, it’s a path without issue. A place where all footing is lost and where, if there is to be any resumption of motion, it will have to be on a different footing all together.
That’s what it means to begin in the middle of the way. To find a new footing and in so doing, to undergo a curve, a swerve rather than to continue on the same rectilinear course.
The midpoint marks a turning point. Look, there’s the mountain, there’s the path that leads upward toward the light. But those three beasts block the way.

If you don’t turn yourself around at the midpoint, if you don’t turn around the midpoint, you’ll stand there and petrify.

-Dante's Inferno Canto I (as translated by Robert Harrison)


"Freedom, that terrible word inscribed on the chariot of the storm."
Philothée O'Neddy (1811-1875)


It's time to get serious.... I was often alone, but I never lived alone. When I was with someone I was often happy. But I also felt it's all a matter of chance. These people are my parents, but it could have been others. Why was that brown-eyed boy my brother, and not the green-eyed boy on the opposite platform? The taxi driver's daughter was my friend, but I could just as well have embraced a horse's head. I was with a man. I was in love. But I could just as well have left him there, and continued on with the stranger who came toward us.... Look at me, or don't. Give me your hand, or don't. No, don't give me your hand, and look the other way.... I think there's a new moon tonight. No night is more peaceful. No blood will be shed in the whole city.... I never toyed with anyone. And yet, I never opened my eyes and thought: 'This is it.'... It's finally getting serious. So I've grown older. Was I the only one who wasn't serious? Is it our times that are not serious? I was never lonely. Neither when I was alone, nor with others. I would have liked to be alone at last. Loneliness means at last I am whole. Now I can say it because today I am finally lonely. No more coincidence.... The new moon of decision. I don't know if destiny exists, but decision does exist. Decide. Now we are the times. Not only the whole city, but the whole world is taking part in our decision. We two are more than just two. We personify something. We are sitting in the People's Plaza, and the whole plaza is filled with people, who all wish for what we wish for. We are deciding everyone's game. I am ready. Now it's your turn. You're holding the game in your hand. Now or never. You need me. You will need me. There's no greater story than ours. That of man and woman. It will be a story of giants. Invisible, transposable. A story of new ancestors. Look. My eyes. They are the picture of necessity, of the future of everyone on the plaza. Last night I dreamt of a stranger. Of my man. Only with him could I be lonely. Open up to him. Completely open, completely for him. Welcome him completely into myself. Surround him with the labyrinth of shared happiness. I know it is you. 

Wings Of Desire (1987)


“I mean it to,” Ménalque's went on. “If only these people around us could be convinced. But most of them believe they get nothing good out of themselves except by constraint; they’re only pleased with themselves when they’re under duress. If there’s one thing each of them claims not to resemble it’s himself. Instead he sets up a model, then imitates it; he doesn’t even choose the model—he accepts it ready-made. Yet I’m sure there’s something more to be read in a man. People dare not—they dare not turn the page. The laws of mimicry—I call them the laws of fear. People are afraid to find themselves alone, and don’t find themselves at all. I hate all this moral agoraphobia—it’s the worst kind of cowardice. You can’t create something without being alone. But who’s trying to create here? What seems different in yourself: that’s the one rare thing you possess, the one thing which gives each of us his worth; and that’s just what we try to suppress. We imitate. And we claim to love life.” Another long silence, and then he went on: “Regret, remorse, repentance—they’re all former joys, reversed. I don’t like looking back, and I leave my past behind me the way a bird leaves its shady tree in order to fly away. I tell you, Michel, each joy still awaits us, but must find the bed empty, must be the only one, so that we come to it like a widower. Oh Michel, each joy is like manna in the desert, which spoils from one day to the next; or like water from the fountain of Ameles which Plato says no pitcher could preserve. Let each moment carry away whatever it has brought.” Ménalque's talked on much longer; I cannot repeat here everything he said; yet many of his phrases were etched into my mind, the more deeply because I wanted to forget them; not that they told me much that was new, but they suddenly laid bare my own mind: thoughts I had covered with so many veils I almost believed they were smothered. And so the vigil passed.
— André Gide (1869-1951)
Is it possible to find a rule of conduct outside the realm of religion and its absolute values? 
That is the question raised by rebellion. 
Albert Camus (1913-1960)

‘For mark you, Phaedrus, beauty alone is both divine and visible; and so it is the sense’s way, the artist’s way, little Phaedrus, to the spirit. But, now tell me, my dear boy, do you believe that such a man can ever attain wisdom and true manly worth, for whom the path to the spirit must lead through the senses? Or do you rather think – for I leave the point to you – that it is a path of perilous sweetness, a way of transgression, and must surely lead him who walks in it astray? For you know that we poets cannot walk the way of beauty without Eros as our companion and guide. We may be heroic after our fashion, disciplined warriors of our craft, yet are we all like women, for we exult in passion, and love is still our desire – our craving and our shame.  And from this you will perceive that we poet can be neither wise nor worthy citizens. We must needs be wanton, must needs rove at large in the realm of feeling. Our magisterial style is all folly and pretence, our honourable repute a farce, the crowd’s belief in us is merely laughable. And to teach youth, or the populace, by means of art is a dangerous practice and ought to be forbidden. For what good can an artist be as a teacher, when from his birth up he is headed direct for the pit? We may want to shun it and attain to honour in the world; but however we turn, it draws us still. So, then, since knowledge might destroy us, we will have none of it. For knowledge, Phaedrus, does not make him who possesses it dignified or austere. Knowledge is all-knowing, understanding, forgiving; it takes up no position, sets no store by form. It has compassion with the abyss – it is the abyss. So we reject it, firmly, and henceforward our concern shall be with beauty only. And by beauty we mean simplicity, largeness, and renewed severity of discipline; we mean a return to detachment and to form. But detachment, Phaedrus, and preoccupation with form lead to intoxication and desire, they may lead the noblest among us to frightful emotional excesses, which his own stern cult of the beautiful would make him the fist to condemn. So they too, they too, lead to the bottomless pit yes, they lead us thither, I say, us who are poets – who by our natures are prone not to excellence but to excess. And now, Phaedrus, I will go. Remain here; and only when you can no longer see me, then do you depart also.’
– Thomas Mann (1875-1955)


The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats        5
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question….        10
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
Let us go and make our visit.
In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.
The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,        15
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,        20
And seeing that it was a soft October night,
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.
And indeed there will be time
For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,
Rubbing its back upon the window panes;        25
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;        30
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.
In the room the women come and go        35
Talking of Michelangelo.
And indeed there will be time
To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”
Time to turn back and descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair—        40
(They will say: “How his hair is growing thin!”)
My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,
My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin—
(They will say: “But how his arms and legs are thin!”)
Do I dare        45
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.
For I have known them all already, known them all:
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,        50
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.
  So how should I presume?
And I have known the eyes already, known them all—        55
The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,
And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,
Then how should I begin
To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?        60
  And how should I presume?
And I have known the arms already, known them all—
Arms that are braceleted and white and bare
(But in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair!)
Is it perfume from a dress        65
That makes me so digress?
Arms that lie along a table, or wrap about a shawl.
  And should I then presume?
  And how should I begin?
.      .      .      .      .      .      .      .
Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets        70
And watched the smoke that rises from the pipes
Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows?…
I should have been a pair of ragged claws
Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.
.      .      .      .      .      .      .      .
And the afternoon, the evening, sleeps so peacefully!        75
Smoothed by long fingers,
Asleep … tired … or it malingers,
Stretched on the floor, here beside you and me.
Should I, after tea and cakes and ices,
Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?        80
But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed,
Though I have seen my head (grown slightly bald) brought in upon a platter,
I am no prophet—and here’s no great matter;
I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,        85
And in short, I was afraid.
And would it have been worth it, after all,
After the cups, the marmalade, the tea,
Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me,
Would it have been worth while,        90
To have bitten off the matter with a smile,
To have squeezed the universe into a ball
To roll it toward some overwhelming question,
To say: “I am Lazarus, come from the dead,
Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all”—        95
If one, settling a pillow by her head,
  Should say: “That is not what I meant at all;
  That is not it, at all.”
And would it have been worth it, after all,
Would it have been worth while,        100
After the sunsets and the dooryards and the sprinkled streets,
After the novels, after the teacups, after the skirts that trail along the floor—
And this, and so much more?—
It is impossible to say just what I mean!
But as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns on a screen:        105
Would it have been worth while
If one, settling a pillow or throwing off a shawl,
And turning toward the window, should say:
  “That is not it at all,
  That is not what I meant, at all.”
.      .      .      .      .      .      .      .
No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,        115
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous—
Almost, at times, the Fool.
I grow old … I grow old …        120
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.
Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.
I do not think that they will sing to me.        125
I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.
We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown        130
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.

- T.S. Eliot (1888-1965)