A Kiev art museum contains a curious icon from St. Catherine’s Monastery on Mt. Sinai in Israel. It shows two robed Christian saints. Between them is a traditional Roman ‘pronubus’ (a best man), overseeing a wedding. The pronubus is Christ. The married couple are both men.
Is the icon suggesting that a gay “wedding” is being sanctified by Christ himself? The idea seems shocking. But the full answer comes from other early Christian sources about the two men featured in the icon, St. Sergius and St. Bacchus,2 two Roman soldiers who were Christian martyrs. These two officers in the Roman army incurred the anger of Emperor Maximian when they were exposed as ‘secret Christians’ by refusing to enter a pagan temple. Both were sent to Syria circa 303 CE where Bacchus is thought to have died while being flogged. Sergius survived torture but was later beheaded. Legend says that Bacchus appeared to the dying Sergius as an angel, telling him to be brave because they would soon be reunited in heaven.
While the pairing of saints, particularly in the early Christian church, was not unusual, the association of these two men was regarded as particularly intimate. Severus, the Patriarch of Antioch (512 - 518 CE) explained that, “we should not separate in speech they [Sergius and Bacchus] who were joined in life”. This is not a case of simple “adelphopoiia.” In the definitive 10th century account of their lives, St. Sergius is openly celebrated as the “sweet companion and lover” of St. Bacchus. Sergius and Bacchus’s close relationship has led many modern scholars to believe they were lovers. But the most compelling evidence for this view is that the oldest text of their martyrology, written in New Testament Greek describes them as “erastai,” or “lovers”. In other words, they were a male homosexual couple. Their orientation and relationship was not only acknowledged, but it was fully accepted and celebrated by the early Christian church, which was far more tolerant than it is today.
yes, I was introduced to this poem by Mad Men. what of it? my personality has never before felt like quite the catastrophe it does tonight. or these days, maybe is what I mean.
1 My heart’s aflutter! I am standing in the bath tub crying. Mother, mother who am I? If he will just come back once and kiss me on the face his coarse hair brush my temple, it’s throbbing!
then I can put on my clothes I guess, and walk the streets.
2 I love you. I love you, but I’m turning to my verses and my heart is closing like a fist.
Words! be sick as I am sick, swoon, roll back your eyes, a pool,
and I’ll stare down at my wounded beauty which at best is only a talent for poetry.
Cannot please, cannot charm or win what a poet! and the clear water is thick
with bloody blows on its head. I embraced a cloud, but when I soared it rained.
3 That’s funny! there’s blood on my chest oh yes, I’ve been carrying bricks what a funny place to rupture! and now it is raining on the ailanthus as I step out onto the window ledge the tracks below me are smoky and glistening with a passion for running I leap into the leaves, green like the sea
4 Now I am quietly waiting for the catastrophe of my personality to seem beautiful again, and interesting, and modern.
The country is grey and brown and white in trees, snows and skies of laughter always diminishing, less funny not just darker, not just grey.
It may be the coldest day of the year, what does he think of that? I mean, what do I? And if I do, perhaps I am myself again.
While content and language form a certain unity in the original, like a fruit and its skin, the language of the translation envelopes its content like a royal robe with ample folds…
Unlike a work of literature, translation does not find itself in the center of the language forest but on the outside facing the wooded ridge; it calls into it without entering, aiming at that single spot where echo is able to give, in its own language, the reverberation of the work into the alien one…
A simile may help here. Just as a tangent touches a circle lightly and at but one point, with this touch rather than with the point setting the law according to which it is to continue on its straight path to infinity, a translation touches the original lightly and only at the infinitely small point of the sense, thereupon pursuing its own course according the the laws of fidelity in the freedom of linguistic flux.
-Walter Benjamin, “The Task of the Translator,” 1923 (introduction to his translation of Baudelaire), translate by Harry Zohn, 1968
thanks, fairest, for reminding me of this song! I listened to it a lot when I was broke and at loose ends in Seattle my first year out of college. I remember vividly the first time I heard it, waiting for a bus in the snow in the dark at 5 AM.
"For the loneliness you foster, I suggest Paul Auster…"
When I was seventeen, I followed my dream, Up into a high-rise block. The adventures of Augie March, By Saul Bel-low, Was all I had for company. At night time I’d lie In Beckenham Park, With tears like flashbulbs. And recall my treasure- Searching days, In the rock pools as a kid.
Julie says, “Tell them there are no holes for your fingers in the masks of men. Tell them how could you ever hope to love what you can’t grab onto.”
Julie turns in her makeup chair and looks up at Faye. “That’s when I love you, if I love you,” she whispers, running a finger down her white powdered cheek, reach to trace a line of white onto Faye’s own face. “Is when your face moves into expression. Try to look out from yourself, different, all the time. Tell people that you know your face is least pretty at rest.”
She keeps her fingers on Faye’s face. Faye closes her eyes against tears. When she opens them they’re shiny. Julie is still looking at her. She’s smiling a wonderful smile. Way past twenty. She takes Faye’s hand.
"You asked how poems informed me," she says. Almost a whisper—her microphone voice. "And you asked whether, we, us, depended on the game, to even be. Baby?" lifting Faye’s face with one finger under the chin. "Remember? Remember the ocean? Our dawn ocean, that we loved? We loved it because it was like us, Faye. The ocean was obvious. We were looking at something obvious, the whole time." She pinches a nipple, too softly for Faye even to feel. "Oceans are only oceans when they move," Julie whispers. "Waves are what keep oceans from just being very big puddles. They’re just waves. And every wave in the ocean is finally going to meet what it moves toward, and break. The whole thing we looked at, the whole time you asked, was obvious. It was obvious and a poem because it was us. See things like that, Faye. Your own face, changing expression. A wave, breaking on a rock, giving up its shape in a gesture that expresses that shape. See?"
It wasn’t at the beach that Faye had asked about the future. It was in Los Angeles. And what about the anomalous wave that came out of nowhere and broke on itself.
Julie is looking at Faye. “See?”
Faye’s eyes are open. They get wide. “You don’t like my face at rest?”
-David Foster Wallace, “Little Expressionless Animals,” from Girl With Curious Hair. This passage incorporates some lines of a John Ashbery poem. Julie is a Jeopardy! contestant. Her lover, Faye, writes questions for the show.
Things I will never forget: reading this story, my first DFW experience, in The Paris Review Book of Heartbreak, Madness, etc. etc. in the middle of the night on my parents’ futon during spring break junior year of college. Hearing him give That Speech at Commencement that year (after hearing a friend complain that other schools get famous speakers and we got some “obscure short story writer.”) Leaving there changed. How my friend wrote him a letter and he wrote back, a real thoughtful response. Sitting at the kitchen table before my 25th birthday party, two years ago, a month after my own Jeopardy! experience, reading Harry Potter 4, the part about the gillyweed, and getting a text from another friend that read “David Foster Wallace just hanged himself.” This person, who gave us a real reason to live, to do what we do, was dead. Never forget, for real.
“Let yourself be inert, wait till the incomprehensible power… that has broken you restores you a little, I say a little, for henceforth you will always keep something broken about you. Tell yourself this, too, for it is a kind of pleasure to know that you will never love less, that you will never be consoled, that you will constantly remember more and more.”—Marcel Proust (1907 letter) quoted by Roland Barthes in his journals on 29 July 1978, translated by Richard Howard and published in the most recent New Yorker. see also: some of the journals in Barthes own handwriting.
“I have such crazy heartbreak that its just, too much emotion and I can’t focus it. I feel like that’s part of the thing that keeps me going with music. It’s something to filter the feelings into. I didn’t expect there to be so many lows in life. I expected there to be a lot more highs and I expected it to be a little bit easier. I guess I’m just real sensitive but I’m also at the age that I’m not embarrassed about that anymore, what can I do? It’s who I am. I really think that it takes crisis to grow. It takes failure and pain. I have this life where everything is always unknown, I never have any money, I have no partner, no security, it’s all unknown, career unknown, question mark. Question mark. Question mark. And while that’s exciting because I never have to question whether I took the safe route at the same time it’s exhausting. Sitting there writing, coming up with the song is the security, trying to nail down something good, when I do it, I’ve done something.”—
I’ve read a lot of chatter on the webternetz about this Pitchfork "Top 200 Songs of the ’90s List." the whole idea of lists like this is so absurd to me. you can really only read them for the blurbs. smart people writing about music they passionately love? lay it on me. I was going to post most of the “Hyperballad” one (#11), and then I read #7, “Holland, 1945” by Neutral Milk Hotel, as fawned upon by one Mike Powell:
I was a teenager possessed by lust and here was “Holland, 1945”, a song that sounds like talent-show Nirvana hooking up with a marching band, led by a Georgia hermit wailing about Anne Frank. Terminally unmarketable— and to me, real punk.
Jeff Mangum’s lyrics… didn’t dwell on his own specific space and time, but space and time in general: How they warp, refract, and continue indefinitely. This is how he comes to love a dead girl. This is how he sings a line like “It was good to be alive.” This is how he sees the bedsheets for who used to sleep there. Science lies: In the heart, everything exists all at once. Teenagers deserve to learn this from amateurs, and to believe it as long as the world lets them.
It’s both lament and anthem. He tries to hug the world despite the world’s cruelty…
i.e., as in every paper I wrote as an undergraduate, Mangum simultaneously reinscribes and problematizes ________. (blah blah the human condition) …dude, it’s all about paradox. because isn’t true genius, or at least true insight, the ability to hold two seemingly opposite ideas in your head/heart AT THE SAME TIME?! just like Anne Frank did. and that is why we love her. end transmission.
p.s. did you know that from the ages of like, 11-14 I began every diary entry “Dear Anne”? true story.
originally posted 15 April 2002, about 2 months before I graduated from high school. as I’ve mentioned before, it was a very spiritual time for me. I was full of declarations in those days. this is one of them, edited for 2010 accuracy.
obviously, my love of Walt Whitman sprang from my love of Dead Poets Society.
A Declaration—dedicated to Uncle Walt. Baby, I’m with you in Manhattan. Before I open my mouth I am a young, queer, white, middle-class, Midwestern female[*] of working-class, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant descent. I am someone who does well on standardized tests, smokes only socially[occasionally] and goes to church.