Posts tagged ‘Notebooks’

March 27, 2014

“Only the useless is pleasurable” and other notes from Chekhov

by Biblioklept

* * * * *

The hen sparrow believes that her cock sparrow is not chirping but singing beautifully.

* * * * *

When one is peacefully at home, life seems ordinary, but as soon as one walks into the street and begins to observe, to question women, for instance, then life becomes terrible. The neighborhood of Patriarshi Prudy (a park and street in Moscow) looks quiet and peaceful, but in reality life there is hell.

* * * * *

These red-faced young and old women are so healthy that steam seems to exhale from them.

* * * * *

The estate will soon be brought under the hammer; there is poverty all round; and the footmen are still dressed like jesters.

* * * * *

There has been an increase not in the number of nervous diseases and nervous patients, but in the number of doctors able to study those diseases.

* * * * *

The more refined the more unhappy.

* * * * *

Life does not agree with philosophy: there is no happiness which is not idleness and only the useless is pleasurable.

* * * * *

The grandfather is given fish to eat, and if it does not poison him and he remains alive, then all the family eat it.

* * * * *

A correspondence. A young man dreams of devoting himself to literature and constantly writes to his father about it; at last he gives up the civil service, goes to Petersburg, and devotes himself to literature—he becomes a censor.

* * * * *

–From Anton Chekhov’s Note-Books.

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February 26, 2014

“To poison a person or a party of persons with the sacramental wine” and other ideas from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Note-Books

by Biblioklept


  1. A house to be built over a natural spring of inflammable gas, and to be constantly illuminated therewith. What moral could be drawn from this? It is carburetted hydrogen gas, and is cooled from a soft shale or slate, which is sometimes bituminous, and contains more or less carbonate of lime. It appears in the vicinity of Lockport and Niagara Falls, and elsewhere in New York. I believe it indicates coal. At Fredonia, the whole village is lighted by it. Elsewhere, a farm-house was lighted by it, and no other fuel used in the coldest weather.
  2. Gnomes, or other mischievous little fiends, to be represented as burrowing in the hollow teeth of some person who has subjected himself to their power. It should be a child’s story. This should be one of many modes of petty torment. They should be contrasted with beneficent fairies, who minister to the pleasures of the good.
  3. Some very famous jewel or other thing, much talked of all over the world. Some person to meet with it, and get possession of it in some unexpected manner, amid homely circumstances.
  4. To poison a person or a party of persons with the sacramental wine.
  5. A cloud in the shape of an old woman kneeling, with arms extended towards the moon.


From Nathaniel Hawthorne’s American Note-Books.

January 20, 2014

“By the by, a pretty riddle or fable might be made” | More Notes From Nathaniel Hawthorne

by Biblioklept
  1. Dandelions and blue flowers are still growing in sunny places. Saw in a barn a prodigious treasure of onions in their silvery coats, exhaling a penetrating perfume.
  2.  How exceeding bright looks the sunshine, casually reflected from a looking-glass into a gloomy region of the chamber, distinctly marking out the figures and colors of the paper-hangings, which are scarcely seen elsewhere. It is like the light of mind thrown on an obscure subject.
  3.  Man’s finest workmanship, the closer you observe it, the more imperfections it shows; as in a piece of polished steel a microscope will discover a rough surface. Whereas, what may look coarse and rough in Nature’s workmanship will show an infinitely minute perfection, the closer you look into it. The reason of the minute superiority of Nature’s work over man’s is, that the former works from the innermost germ, while the latter works merely superficially.
  4. Standing in the cross-road that leads by the Mineral Spring, and looking towards an opposite shore of the lake, an ascending bank, with a dense border of trees, green, yellow, red, russet, all bright colors, brightened by the mild brilliancy of the descending sun; it was strange to recognize the sober old friends of spring and summer in this new dress. By the by, a pretty riddle or fable might be made out of the changes in apparel of the familiar trees round a house adapted for children. But in the lake, beneath the aforesaid border of trees,–the water being not rippled, but its grassy surface somewhat moved and shaken by the remote agitation of a breeze that was breathing on the outer lake,–this being in a sort of bay,–in the slightly agitated mirror, the variegated trees were reflected dreamily and indistinctly; a broad belt of bright and diversified colors shining in the water beneath. Sometimes the image of a tree might be almost traced; then nothing but this sweep of broken rainbow. It was like the recollection of the real scene in an observer’s mind,–a confused radiance.
  5. A whirlwind, whirling the dried leaves round in a circle, not very violently.
  6.  To well consider the characters of a family of persons in a certain condition,–in poverty, for instance,–and endeavor to judge how an altered condition would affect the character of each.
  7.  The aromatic odor of peat-smoke in the sunny autumnal air is very pleasant.

Notations from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s American Note-Books.

January 7, 2014

Old worm-eaten aristocracy (Nathaniel Hawthorne)

by Biblioklept

In the cabinet of the Essex Historical Society, old portraits.–Governor Leverett; a dark mustachioed face, the figure two thirds length, clothed in a sort of frock-coat, buttoned, and a broad sword-belt girded round the waist, and fastened with a large steel buckle; the hilt of the sword steel,–altogether very striking. Sir William Pepperell, in English regimentals, coat, waistcoat, and breeches, all of red broad-cloth, richly gold-embroidered; he holds a general’s truncheon in his right hand, and extends the left towards the batteries erected against Louisbourg, in the country near which he is standing. Endicott, Pyncheon, and others, in scarlet robes, bands, etc. Half a dozen or more family portraits of the Olivers, some in plain dresses, brown, crimson, or claret; others with gorgeous gold-embroidered waistcoats, descending almost to the knees, so as to form the most conspicuous article of dress. Ladies, with lace ruffles, the painting of which, in one of the pictures, cost five guineas. Peter Oliver, who was crazy, used to fight with these family pictures in the old Mansion House; and the face and breast of one lady bear cuts and stabs inflicted by him. Miniatures in oil, with the paint peeling off, of stern, old, yellow faces. Oliver Cromwell, apparently an old picture, half length, or one third, in an oval frame, probably painted for some New England partisan. Some pictures that had been partly obliterated by scrubbing with sand. The dresses, embroidery, laces of the Oliver family are generally better done than the faces. Governor Leverett’s gloves,–the glove part of coarse leather, but round the wrist a deep, three or four inch border of spangles and silver embroidery. Old drinking-glasses, with tall stalks. A black glass bottle, stamped with the name of Philip English, with a broad bottom. The baby-linen, etc., of Governor Bradford of Plymouth County. Old manuscript sermons, some written in short-hand, others in a hand that seems learnt from print.

Nothing gives a stronger idea of old worm-eaten aristocracy–of a family being crazy with age, and of its being time that it was extinct–than theseblack, dusty, faded, antique-dressed portraits, such as those of the Oliver family; the identical old white wig of an ancient minister producing somewhat the impression that his very scalp, or some other portion of his personal self, would do.

From Nathaniel Hawthorne’s American Note-Books.

December 25, 2013

Journal entry, December 25, 1854 (Nathaniel Hawthorne)

by Biblioklept

December 25th.–Commodore P—- called to see me this morning,–a brisk, gentlemanly, offhand, but not rough, unaffected, and sensible man, looking not so elderly as he ought, on account of a very well made wig. He is now on his return from a cruise in the East Indian seas, and goes home by the Baltic, with a prospect of being very well received on account of his treaty with Japan. I seldom meet with a man who puts himself more immediately on conversable terms than the Commodore. He soon introduced his particular business with me,–it being to inquire whether I would recommend some suitable person to prepare his notes and materials for the publication of an account of his voyage. He was good enough to say that he had fixed upon me, in his own mind, for this office; but that my public duties would of course prevent me from engaging in it. I spoke of Herman Melville, and one or two others; but he seems to have some acquaintance with the literature of the day, and did not grasp very cordially at any name that I could think of; nor, indeed, could I recommend any one with full confidence. It would be a very desirable task for a young literary man, or, for that matter, for an old one; for the world can scarcely have in reserve a less hackneyed theme than Japan.

This is a most beautiful day of English winter; clear and bright, with the ground a little frozen, and the green grass along the waysides at Rock Ferry sprouting up through the frozen pools of yesterday’s rain. England is forever green. On Christmas Day, the children found wall-flowers, pansies, and pinks in the garden; and we had a beautiful rose from the garden of the hotel grown in the open air. Yet one is sensible of the cold here, as much as in the zero atmosphere of America. The chief advantage of the English climate is that we are not tempted to heat our rooms to so unhealthy a degree as in New England.

I think I have been happier this Christmas than ever before,–by my own fireside, and with my wife and children about me,–more content to enjoy what I have,–less anxious for anything beyond it in this life. My early life was perhaps a good preparation for the declining half of life; it having been such a blank that any thereafter would compare favorably with it. For a long, long while, I have occasionally been visited with a singular dream; and I have an impression that I have dreamed it ever since I have been in England. It is, that I am still at college,–or, sometimes, even at school,–and there is a sense that I have been there unconscionably long, and have quite failed to make such progress as my contemporaries have done; and I seem to meet some of them with a feeling of shame and depression that broods over me as I think of it, even when awake. This dream, recurring all through these twenty or thirty years, must be one of the effects of that heavy seclusion in which I shut myself up for twelve years after leaving college, when everybody moved onward, and left me behind. How strange that it should come now, when I may call myself famous and prosperous!–when I am happy, too!

From Nathaniel Hawthorne’s English Note-Books.


December 1, 2013

“The journal of a human heart for a single day in ordinary circumstances” and other ideas from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Note-Books

by Biblioklept


  1. A young man and girl meet together, each in search of a person to be known by some particular sign. They watch and wait a great while for that person to pass. At last some casual circumstance discloses that each is the one that the other is waiting for. Moral,–that what we need for our happiness is often close at hand, if we knew but how to seek for it.
  2. The journal of a human heart for a single day in ordinary circumstances. The lights and shadows that flit across it; its internal vicissitudes.
  3. Distrust to be thus exemplified: Various good and desirable things to be presented to a young man, and offered to his acceptance,–as a friend, a wife, a fortune; but he to refuse them all, suspecting that it is merely a delusion. Yet all to be real, and he to be told so, when too late.
  4. A man tries to be happy in love; he cannot sincerely give his heart, and the affair seems all a dream. In domestic life, the same; in politics, a seeming patriot; but still he is sincere, and all seems like a theatre.
  5. An old man, on a summer day, sits on a hill-top, or on the observatory of his house, and sees the sun’s light pass from one object to another connected with the events of his past life,–as the school-house, the place where his wife lived in her maidenhood,–its setting beams falling on the churchyard.
  6. An idle man’s pleasures and occupations and thoughts during a day spent by the seashore: among them, that of sitting on the top of a cliff, and throwing stones at his own shadow, far below.
  7. A blind man to set forth on a walk through ways unknown to him, and to trust to the guidance of anybody who will take the trouble; the different characters who would undertake it: some mischievous, some well-meaning, but incapable; perhaps one blind man undertakes to lead another. At last, possibly, he rejects all guidance, and blunders on by himself.

Notations from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s American Note-Books.

November 15, 2013

“An article on fire, on smoke” and Other Ideas from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Note-Books

by Biblioklept
  1. An article on fire, on smoke. Diseases of the mind and soul,–even more common than bodily diseases.
  2. Tarleton, of the Revolution, is said to have been one of the two handsomest men in Europe,–the Prince of Wales, afterwards George IV., being the other. Some authorities, however, have represented him as ungainly in person and rough in manners. Tarleton was originally bred for the law, but quitted law for the army early in life. He was son to a mayor of Liverpool, born in 1754, of ancient family. He wrote his own memoirs after returning from America. Afterwards in Parliament. Never afterwards distinguished in arms. Created baronet in 1818, and died childless in 1833. Thought he was not sufficiently honored among more modern heroes. Lost part of his right hand in battle of Guilford Court House. A man of pleasure in England.
  3. It would be a good idea for a painter to paint a picture of a great actor, representing him in several different characters of one scene,–Iago and Othello, for instance.
  4. A description of a young lady who had formerly been insane, and now felt the approach of a new fit of madness. She had been out to ride, had exerted herself much, and had been very vivacious. On her return, she sat down in a thoughtful and despondent attitude, looking very sad, but one of the loveliest objects that ever were seen. The family spoke to her, but she made no answer, nor took the least notice; but still sat like a statue in her chair,–a statue of melancholy and beauty. At last they led her away to her chamber.
  5. Observation. The effect of morning sunshine on the wet grass, on sloping and swelling land, between the spectator and the sun at some distance, as across a lawn. It diffused a dim brilliancy over the whole surface of the field. The mists, slow-rising farther off, part resting on the earth, the remainder of the column already ascending so high that you doubt whether to call it a fog or a cloud.

Notations from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s American Note-Books.


November 5, 2013

“The artist who realizes himself inside art will never be creative” (Witold Gombrowicz)

by Biblioklept


October 25, 2013

“There Is Evil in Every Human Heart” and Seven Other Story Ideas from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Note-Books

by Biblioklept
  1. Our body to be possessed by two different spirits; so that half of the visage shall express one mood, and the other half another.
  2. An old English sea-captain desires to have a fast-sailing ship, to keep a good table, and to sail between the tropics without making land.
  3. A rich man left by will his mansion and estate to a poor couple. They remove into it, and find there a darksome servant, whom they are forbidden by will to turn away. He becomes a torment to them; and, in the finale, he turns out to be the former master of the estate.
  4. Two persons to be expecting some occurrence, and watching for the two principal actors in it, and to find that the occurrence is even then passing, and that they themselves are the two actors.
  5. There is evil in every human heart, which may remain latent, perhaps, through the whole of life; but circumstances may rouse it to activity. To imagine such circumstances. A woman, tempted to be false to her husband, apparently through mere whim,–or a young man to feel an instinctive thirst for blood, and to commit murder. This appetite may be traced in the popularity of criminal trials. The appetite might be observed first in a child, and then traced upwards, manifesting itself in crimes suited to every stage of life.
  6. The good deeds in an evil life,–the generous, noble, and excellent actions done by people habitually wicked,–to ask what is to become of them.
  7. A satirical article might be made out of the idea of an imaginary museum, containing such articles as Aaron’s rod, the petticoat of General Hawion, the pistol with which Benton shot Jackson,–and then a diorama, consisting of political or other scenes, or done in wax-work. The idea to be wrought out and extended. Perhaps it might be the museum of a deceased old man.
  8. An article might be made respecting various kinds of ruin,–ruin as regards property,–ruin of health,–ruin of habits, as drunkenness and all kinds of debauchery,–ruin of character, while prosperous in other respects,–ruin of the soul. Ruin, perhaps, might be personified as a demon, seizing its victims by various holds.

Notations from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s American Note-Books.

October 11, 2013

“Memory” — Two Notes from Samuel Butler’s Note-Books

by Biblioklept



Memory is a kind of way (or weight – whichever it should be) that the mind has got upon it, in virtue of which the sensation excited endures a little longer than the cause which excited it.  There is thus induced a state of things in which mental images, and even physical sensations (if there can be such a thing as a physical sensation) exist by virtue of association, though the conditions which originally called them into existence no longer continue.

This is as the echo continuing to reverberate after the sound has ceased.


To be is to think and to be thinkable.  To live is to continue thinking and to remember having done so.  Memory is to mind as viscosity is to protoplasm, it gives a tenacity to thought – a kind of pied à terrefrom which it can, and without which it could not, advance.

Thought, in fact, and memory seem inseparable; no thought, no memory; and no memory, no thought.  And, as conscious thought and conscious memory are functions one of another, so also are unconscious thought and unconscious memory.  Memory is, as it were, the body of thought, and it is through memory that body and mind are linked together in rhythm or vibration; for body is such as it is by reason of the characteristics of the vibrations that are going on in it, and memory is only due to the fact that the vibrations are of such characteristics as to catch on to and be caught on to by other vibrations that flow into them from without – no catch, no memory.

—From Samuel Butler’s Note-Books.

October 5, 2013

Ten Notes from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Note-Books

by Biblioklept
  1. Anciently, when long-buried bodies were found undecayed in the grave, a species of sanctity was attributed to them.
  2. Some chimneys of ancient halls used to be swept by having a culverin fired up them.
  3. At Leith, in 1711, a glass bottle was blown of the capacity of two English bushels.
  4. The buff and blue of the Union were adopted by Fox and the Whig party in England. The Prince of Wales wore them.
  5. In 1621, a Mr. Copinger left a certain charity, an almhouse, of which four poor persons were to partake, after the death of his eldest son and his wife. It was a tenement and yard. The parson, headboroughs, and his five other sons were to appoint the persons. At the time specified, however, all but one of his sons were dead; and he was in such poor circumstances that he obtained the benefit of the charity for himself, as one of the four.
  6. A town clerk arranges the publishments that are given in, according to his own judgment.
  7. To make a story from Robert Raikes seeing dirty children at play, in the streets of London, and inquiring of a woman about them. She tells him that on Sundays, when they were not employed, they were a great deal worse, making the streets like hell; playing at church, etc. He was therefore induced to employ women at a shilling to teach them on Sundays, and thus Sunday-schools were established.
  8. To represent the different departments of the United States government by village functionaries. The War Department by watchmen, the law by constables, the merchants by a variety store, etc.
  9. At the accession of Bloody Mary, a man, coming into a house, sounded three times with his mouth, as with a trumpet, and then made proclamation to the family. A bonfire was built, and little children were made to carry wood to it, that they might remember the circumstance in old age. Meat and drink were provided at the bonfires.
  10. To describe a boyish combat with snowballs, and the victorious leader to have a statue of snow erected to him. A satire on ambition and fame to be made out of this idea. It might be a child’s story.

Notations from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s American Note-Books


September 30, 2013

“Recycling one’s own life with books” |Thirteen Notes on Susan Sontag’s Notebook Collection, As Consciousness Is Harnessed to Flesh

by Edwin Turner


1. “In my more extravagant moments,” writes David Rieff in his introduction to Susan Sontag’s As Consciousness Is Harnessed to Flesh, “I sometimes think that my mother’s journals, of which this is the second of three volumes, are not just the autobiography she never got around to writing…but the great autobiographical novel she never cared to write.”

2. In my review of Reborn, the first of the trilogy Rieff alludes to, I wrote, “Don’t expect, of course, to get a definitive sense of who Sontag was, let alone a narrative account of her life here. Subtitled Journals & Notebooks 1947-1963Reborn veers closer to the “notebook” side of things.”

As Consciousness Is Harnessed to Flesh is far closer to the ‘notebook’ side of things too, which I think most readers (or maybe I just mean me here) will appreciate.

3. I mean, this isn’t the autobiographical novel that Rieff suggests it might be (except of course it is).

Consciousness/Flesh offers something better: access to Sontag’s consciousness in its prime, not quite ripe, but full, heavy, bursting with intellectual energy,  her mind attuned to (and attuning) the tumult of the time the journals cover, 1964 through 1980.

It’s an autobiography stripped of the pretense of presentation; it’s a novel stripped of the pretense of storytelling.

4. Sontag’s intellect and spirit course through the book’s 500 pages, eliding any distinction between lives personal and professional. “What sex is the ‘I’?” she writes, “Who has the right to say ‘I’?” The journals see her working through (if not resolving, thankfully) such issues.

5. An entry from late 1964, clearly background for Sontag’s seminal essay “Notes on Camp” (itself a series of notes), moves through a some thoughts on artists and poets, from Warhol to Breton to Duchamp (“DUCHAMP”) to simply “Style,” which, Rieff’s editorial note tells us, has a box drawn around it. The entry then moves to define

Work of Art

An experiment, a research (solving a “problem”) vs. form of a play

—before turning to a series of notes on the films of Michelangelo Antonioni.

6. A page or two later (1965) delivers the kind of gold vein we wish to discover in author’s notebooks:


Redemptive friendship (two women)

Novel in letters: the recluse-artist and his dealer a clairvoyant

A voyage to the underworld (Homer, Vergil [sic]Steppenwolf)


An assassination

A collective hallucination (Story)

A theft

A work of art which is really a machine for dominating human beings

The discovery of a lost mss.

Two incestuous sisters

A space ship has landed

An ageing movie actress

A novel about the future. Machines. Each man has his own machine (memory bank, codified decision maker, etc.) You “play the machine. Instant everything.

Smuggling a huge art-work (painting? Sculpture?) out of the country in pieces—called “The Invention of Liberty”

A project: sanctity (based on SW [Simone Weil]—with honesty of Sylvia Plath—only way to solve sex “I” is talk about it


7. The list above—and there’s so much material like it in Consciousness/Flesh—is why I love author’s notebooks, We get to see the raw material here and imagine along with the writer (if we choose), free of the clutter and weight of execution, of prose, of damnable detail.

There’s something joyfully cryptic about Sontag’s notes, like the solitary entry “…Habits of despair” in late July of 1970—or a few months later: “A convention of mutants (Marvel comics).”

If we wish we can puzzle the notes out, treat them as clues or keys that fit to the work she was publishing at the time or to the personal circumstances of her private life. Or (and to be clear, I choose this or) we can let these notes stand as strange figures in an unconventional autobiographical novel.

8. Those looking for more direct material about Sontag’s life (and really, why do you want more and what more do you want?) will likely be disappointed—everything here is oblique (lovely, lovely oblique).

Still, there are moments of intense personal detail, like this 1964 entry where Sontag describes her body:

Body type

  • Tall
  • Low blood pressure
  • Needs lots of sleep
  • Sudden craving for pure sugar (but dislike desserts—not a high enough concentration)
  • Intolerance for liquor
  • Heavy smoking
  • Tendency to anemia
  • Heavy protein craving
  • Asthma
  • Migraines
  • Very good stomach—no heartburn, constipation, etc.
  • Negligible menstrual cramps
  • Easily tired by standing
  • Like heights
  • Enjoy seeing deformed people (voyeuristic)
  • Nailbiting
  • Teeth grinding
  • Nearsighted, astigmatism
  • Frileuse (very sensitive to cold, like hot summers)
  • Not very sensitive to noise (high degree of selective auditory focus)

There’s more autobiographical detail in that list than anyone craving a lurid expose could (should) hope for.

9. For many readers (or maybe I just mean me here) Consciousness/Flesh will be most fascinating as a curatorial project.

Sontag offers her list of best films (not in order),her ideal short story collection, and more. The collection often breaks into lists—like the ones we see above—but also into names—films, authors, books, essays, ideas, etc.

10. At times, Consciousness/Flesh resembles something close to David Markson’s so-called “notecard” novels (Reader’s Block, This Is Not a NovelVanishing Point, The Last Novel):

Napoleon’s wet, chubby back (Tolstoy).


Wordsworth’s ‘wise passiveness.’


Nabokov talks of minor readers. ‘There must be minor readers because there are minor writers.’


Camus (Notebooks, Vol. II): ‘Is there a tragic dilettante-ism?’”


‘To think is to exaggerate.’ — Valéry.

and so on…

11. Sometimes, the lists Sontag offers—

(offers is not the right verb at all here—these are Sontag’s personal journals and notebooks, her private ideas, material never intended for public consumption, but yes we are greedy, yes; and some of us (or maybe I just mean me here) are greedier than others, far more interested in her private ideas and notes and lists than the essays and stories and novels she generated from them—and so no, she didn’t offer this, my verb is all wrong)

—sometimes Sontag [creates/notes/generates] very personal lists, like “Movies I saw as a child, when they came out” (composed 11/25/65). There’s something tender here, imagining the child Sontag watching Fantasia or Rebecca or Citizen Kane or The Wizard of Oz in the theater; and then later, the adult Sontag, crafting her own lists, making those connections between past and present.

12. While Reborn showcased the intimate thoughts of a nascent (and at times naïve) intellect, Consciousness/Flesh shows us an assured writer at perhaps her zenith. In September of 1975, Sontag defines herself as a writer:

I am an adversary writer, a polemical writer. I write to support what is attacked, to attack what is acclaimed. But thereby I put myself in an emotionally uncomfortable position. I don’t, secretly, hope to convince, and can’t help being dismayed when my minority taste (ideas) becomes majority taste (ideas): then I want to attack again. I can’t help but be in an adversary relation to my own work.

13. Readers looking for a memoir or biography might be disappointed in Consciousness/Flesh; readers who seek to scrape its contours for “wisdom” (or worse, writing advice) should be castigated.

But As Consciousness Is Harnessed to Flesh will reward those readers who take it on its own terms as an oblique, discursive (and incomplete) record of Sontag’s brilliant mind.

I’ll close this riff with one last note from the book, a fitting encapsulation of the relationship between reader and author—and, most importantly, author-as-reader-and-rereader:

Recycling one’s own life with books.

As Consciousness Is Harnessed to Flesh is new in trade paperback from Picador; you can read excerpts from the book at their site.

September 26, 2013

Seven Jests from Leonardo da Vinci’s Notebooks

by Biblioklept


When wine is drunk by a drunkard, that wine is revenged on the drinker.


An artizan often going to visit a great gentleman without any definite purpose, the gentleman asked him what he did this for. The other said that he came there to have a pleasure which his lordship could not have; since to him it was a satisfaction to see men greater than himself, as is the way with the populace; while the gentleman could only see men of less consequence than himself; and so lords and great men were deprived of that pleasure.



A man wishing to prove, by the authority of Pythagoras, that he had formerly been in the world, while another would not let him finish his argument, the first speaker said to the second: “It is by this token that I was formerly here, I remember that you were a miller.” The other one, feeling himself stung by these words, agreed that it was true, and that by the same token he remembered that the speaker had been the ass that carried the flour.


It was asked of a painter why, since he made such beautiful figures, which were but dead things, his children were so ugly; to which the painter replied that he made his pictures by day, and his children by night.


An old man was publicly casting contempt on a young one, and boldly showing that he did not fear him; on which the young man replied that his advanced age served him better as a shield than either his tongue or his strength.



A man was desired to rise from bed, because the sun was already risen. To which he replied: “If I had as far to go, and as much to do as he has, I should be risen by now; but having but a little way to go, I shall not rise yet.”


A man, seeing a woman ready to hold up the target for a jousting match, exclaimed, looking at the shield, and considering his spear: “Alack! this is too small a workman for so great a business.”

From the Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci.


September 19, 2013

Eight Images and Ideas from Anton Chekhov’s Note-Books

by Biblioklept

A schoolboy treats a lady to dinner in a restaurant. He has only one rouble, twenty kopecks. The bill comes to four roubles thirty kopecks. He has no money and begins to cry. The proprietor boxes his ears. He was talking to the lady about Abyssinia.

* * * * *

A man, who, to judge from his appearance, loves nothing but sausages and sauerkraut.

* * * * *

Terrible poverty, desperate situation. The mother a widow, her daughter a very ugly girl. At last the mother takes courage and advises the daughter to go on the streets. She herself when young went on the streets without her husband’s knowledge in order to get money for her dresses; she has some experience. She instructs her daughter. The latter goes out, walks all night; not a single man takes her; she is ugly. A couple of days later, three young rascals on the boulevard take her. She brought home a note which turned out to be a lottery ticket no longer valid.

* * * * *

Two wives: one in Petersburg, the other in Kertch. Constant rows, threats, telegrams. They nearly reduce him to suicide. At last he finds a way: he settles them both in the same house. They are perplexed, petrified; they grow silent and quiet down.

* * * * *

An officer and his wife went to the baths together, and both were bathed by the orderly, whom they evidently did not consider a man.

* * * * *

A government clerk gave his son a thrashing because he had only obtained five marks in all his subjects at school. It seemed to him not good enough. When he was told that he was in the wrong, that five is the highest mark obtainable, he thrashed his son again—out of vexation with himself.

* * * * *

A very good man has such a face that people take him for a detective; he is suspected of having stolen shirt-studs.

* * * * *

A serious phlegmatic doctor fell in love with a girl who danced very well, and, to please her, he started to learn a mazurka.

* * * * *

—From Anton Chekhov’s Note-Books.

September 14, 2013

Four Story Ideas from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Note-Books

by Biblioklept
  1. A girl’s lover to be slain and buried in her flower-garden, and the earth levelled over him. That particular spot, which she happens to plant with some peculiar variety of flowers, produces them of admirable splendor, beauty, and perfume; and she delights, with an indescribable impulse, to wear them in her bosom, and scent her chamber with them. Thus the classic fantasy would be realized, of dead people transformed to flowers.
  2. Objects seen by a magic-lantern reversed. A street, or other location, might be presented, where there would be opportunity to bring forward all objects of worldly interest, and thus much pleasant satire might be the result.
  3. A missionary to the heathen in a great city, to describe his labors in the manner of a foreign mission.
  4. To show the effect of gratified revenge. As an instance, merely, suppose a woman sues her lover for breach of promise, and gets the money by instalments, through a long series of years. At last, when the miserable victim were utterly trodden down, the triumpher would have become a very devil of evil passions,–they having overgrown his whole nature; so that a far greater evil would have come upon himself than on his victim.
September 10, 2013

Facts, Questions, and Images from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Note-Books

by Biblioklept
  1. The Abyssinians, after dressing their hair, sleep with their heads in a forked stick, in order not to discompose it.
  2. At the battle of Edge Hill, October 23, 1642, Captain John Smith, a soldier of note, Captain Lieutenant to Lord James Stuart’s horse, with only a groom, attacked a Parliament officer, three cuirassiers, and three arquebusiers, and rescued the royal standard, which they had taken and were guarding. Was this the Virginian Smith?
  3. Stephen Gowans supposed that the bodies of Adam and Eve were clothed in robes of light, which vanished after their sin.
  4. Lord Chancellor Clare, towards the close of his life, went to a village church, where he might not be known, to partake of the Sacrament.
  5. In the tenth century, mechanism of organs so clumsy, that one in Westminster Abbey, with four hundred pipes, required twenty-six bellows and seventy stout men. First organ ever known in Europe received by King Pepin, from the Emperor Constantine, in 757. Water boiling was kept in a reservoir under the pipes; and, the keys being struck, the valves opened, and steam rushed through with noise. The secret of working them thus is now lost. Then came bellows organs, first used by Louis le Débonnaire.
  6. After the siege of Antwerp, the children played marbles in the streets with grape and cannon shot.
  7. A shell, in falling, buries itself in the earth, and, when it explodes, a large pit is made by the earth being blown about in all directions,–large enough, sometimes, to hold three or four cart-loads of earth. The holes are circular.
  8. A French artillery-man being buried in his military cloak on the ramparts, a shell exploded, and unburied him.
  9. In the Netherlands, to form hedges, young trees are interwoven into a sort of lattice-work; and, in time, they grow together at the point of junction, so that the fence is all of one piece.

From Nathaniel Hawthorne’s American Note-Books.


September 5, 2013

Susan Sontag’s List of Novels with Cinematic Structure

by Biblioklept

Novels with cinematic structure:

Hemingway, In Our Time


[Horace] McCoy, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?

Robbe-Grillet, Les Gommes [The Erasers]

[Georges] Bernanos, M. Ouine

I[vy] Compton-Burnett,

V Woolf, Between the Acts

Philip Toynbee, Tea with Mrs. Goodman

des Forêts, Les Mendiants

his first novel—multiple pov [points of view]

[Barnes,] Nightwood

Reverzy, Le Passage


[John] Dos Passos

Firbank, CapriceVainglory; and [Inclinations] (trilogy)

Jap[anese] writer [Yasunari Kawabata] (N.B. visual sense, suppleness of changing scenes)—Snow Country, etc.

Dickens (cf. Eisenstein)—

There are people who thought with camera eye (a unified p-o-v that displaces itself) before the camera

N[athaniel] West,


“new novelists”: Claude Simon, Le Palace

Claude Ollier, La Mis-en-Scène

(all based on organization of a decor (N[orth] Africa)

–From an entry dated 6/26/66 Paris in Susan Sontag’s notebook, published as part of As Consciousness Is Harnessed to Flesh. (I’ve maintained the bracketed editorial intrusions of the published text, even with they did not seem necessary).

September 3, 2013

“Perhaps the universe is suspended on the tooth of some monster” (Thoughts from Anton Chekhov’s Note-Books)

by Biblioklept

* * * * *

A scholar, without talent, a blockhead, worked for twenty-four years and produced nothing good, gave the world only scholars as untalented and as narrow-minded as himself. At night he secretly bound books—that was his true vocation: in that he was an artist and felt the joy of it. There came to him a bookbinder, who loved learning and studied secretly at night.

* * * * *

But perhaps the universe is suspended on the tooth of some monster.

* * * * *

Keep to the right, you of the yellow eye!

* * * * *

Do you want to eat? No, on the contrary.

* * * * *

A pregnant woman with short arms and a long neck, like a kangaroo.

* * * * *

How pleasant it is to respect people! When I see books, I am not concerned with how the authors loved or played cards; I see only their marvelous works.

* * * * *

To demand that the woman one loves should be pure is egotistical: to look for that in a woman which I have not got myself is not love, but worship, since one ought to love one’s equals.

* * * * *

The so-called pure childlike joy of life is animal joy.

* * * * *

—From Anton Chekhov’s Note-Books.

August 31, 2013

Salem, August 31, 1836 — Nathaniel Hawthorne

by Biblioklept

Salem, August 31, 1836.–A walk, yesterday, down to the shore, near the hospital. Standing on the old grassy battery, that forms a semicircle, and looking seaward. The sun not a great way above the horizon, yet so far as to give a very golden brightness, when it shone out. Clouds in the vicinity of the sun, and nearly all the rest of the sky covered with clouds in masses, not a gray uniformity of cloud. A fresh breeze blowing from land seaward. If it had been blowing from the sea, it would have raised it in heavy billows, and caused it to dash high against the rocks. But now its surface was not all commoved with billows; there was only roughness enough to take off the gleam, and give it the aspect of iron after cooling. The clouds above added to the black appearance. A few sea-birds were flitting over the water, only visible at moments, when they turned their white bosoms towards me,–as if they were then first created. The sunshine had a singular effect. The clouds would interpose in such a manner that some objects were shaded from it, while others were strongly illuminated. Some of the islands lay in the shade, dark and gloomy, while others were bright and favored spots. The white light-house was sometimes very cheerfully marked. There was a schooner about a mile from the shore, at anchor, laden apparently with lumber. The sea all about her had the black, iron aspect which I have described; but the vessel herself was alight. Hull, masts, and spars were all gilded, and the rigging was made of golden threads. A small white streak of foam breaking around the bows, which ware towards the wind. The shadowiness of the clouds overhead made the effect of the sunlight strange, where it fell.

From Nathaniel Hawthorne’s American Note-Books.


August 28, 2013

Fascination and Voyeuristic Attraction (Notes from Susan Sontag’s Notebook, 8/28/65)

by Biblioklept

My fascination with:

Disembowellment [sic]

Stripping down

Minimum conditions (from Robinson Crusoe to concentration camps)

Silences, muteness

My voyeuristic attraction to:

Cripples (Trip to Lourdes—they arrive from Germany in sealed trains)



—Notes from Susan Sontag’s notebook dated 8/28/65 Marseilles; published as part of the collection As Consciousness Is Harnessed to Flesh.




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