Fifteen Great Readings

For lo these many years, this magazine has,
in each issue, put a up a reading or two.
These are often taken from a book under review,
something in a magazine or periodical of topical interest,
or a poem or essay that was included in a recent anthology.

We usually seek out passages by more obscure writers,
rare selections that may have been missed by our readers.
All of these, however, are items that are to be found
at the top of the list of pages called up most often
by our loyal readers.

Jenny Diski
I signed up for the Friendly Spider Programme at the Zoological Society of London. It made me cross: tell me, if you must, that spiders are not wholly devoted to terrorising me, but don't suggest they're friendly --- I don't want them around whatever they feel about me. Being loved was never on its own a satisfactory basis for taking a lover. I see no reason why it should be any different with spiders.

None of the 18 people on the four-hour course at ZSL headquarters across the road from the Zoo could say what tipped the scales and decided them finally to try and deal with their arachnophobia. Everyone had lived miserably with the problem for as long as they could remember. We were a range of ages and social classes and from all over the country. The only obvious thing we had in common (aside from our terror of spiders and of what was going to happen that afternoon) was that we were all women.

This, we were assured, was very unusual, unprecedented actually. John, the psychologist in charge, showed his acumen by suggesting it had something to do with it being June and therefore bang in the middle of the World Cup. It occurs to me that this might also explain why I finally decided to deal with my fear: between another afternoon of football mania and confronting spider phobia, the latter was the lesser of two evils --- chewing my own leg off was a similarly attractive option.

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From Three Poems
Langston Hughes
When I get to be a composer
I'm gonna write me some music about
Daybreak in Alabama
And I'm gonna put the purtiest songs in it
Rising out of the ground like a swamp mist
And falling out of heaven like soft dew.
I'm gonna put some tall tall trees in it
And the scent of pine needles
And the smell of red clay after rain
And long red necks
And poppy colored faces
And big brown arms
And the field daisy eyes
Of black and white black white black people
And I'm gonna put white hands
And black hands and brown and yellow hands
And red clay earth hands in it
Touching everybody with kind fingers
And touching each other natural as dew
In that dawn of music when I
Get to be a composer
And write about daybreak
In Alabama.
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The Smell of Death
We are nearing Luther Hines's room. I know. I can smell it. There are so many distinct smells in medicine: the mousy, ammoniacal odor of liver failure, an odor always linked to yellow eyes and a swollen belly; the urinelike odor of renal failure; the fetid odor of a lung abscess; the acetonelike odor of diabetic coma; the rotten-apple odor of gas gangrene; the freshly-baked-bread odor of typhoid fever. But this new smell that is not yet in the textbooks tops them all. Now, the redolence is so strong my nose wrinkles. I ask the students and residents if they smell it? They look at me strangely; one student, an obliging fellow, says, "I think I do."

It is the smell of unremittent fever in AIDS, fever that has gone on not for days or weeks, but for months. It is the scent of skin that has lost its luster and flakes at the touch, creating a dust storm in the ray of sunshine that straddles the bed. It is a scent of hair that has turned translucent, become sparse and no longer hides the scalp, of hair that is matted by sweat, and molded by a pillow.

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The Dada Manifesto
DADA knows everything. DADA spits everything out.

BUT . . . . . . . . .

      about Italy
      about accordions
      about women's pants
      about the fatherland
      about sardines
      about Fiume
      about Art (you exaggerate my friend)
      about gentleness
      about D'Annunzio
      what a horror
      about heroism
      about mustaches
      about lewdness
      about sleeping with Verlaine
      about the ideal (it's nice)
      about Massachusetts
      about the past
      about odors
      about salads
      about genius, about genius, about genius
      about the eight-hour day
      about the Parma violets

        NEVER        NEVER       NEVER

   DADA doesn't speak. DADA has no fixed idea. DADA doesn't catch flies.

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The Hindoo Fly
"I swatted a persistent fly this morning and it fell with a broken wing, and some internal rupture no doubt, and lay on the ground on its back, desperately moving its little black legs. I gazed down at it with something of an Indian conscience, or at any rate with that fearful fellow-feeling with which we are likely to regard even our worst enemy at the approach of the common foe.

Nearby, a colony of ants had its home, and there was a great coming and going round the entrance, where the colonists were taking in stores of the crumbs that had fallen from my table. Running hither and thither in their spasmodic spurting way, sometimes quite erratically it seemed, as though they relied upon some other sense than sight, they hurried off with their burdens into their mysterious underworld, the entrance to which was a narrow cleft between the flagstones of my verandah pavement, or emerged, often as many as a dozen at a time, suddenly, like a puff of dark smoke, or as though shot up in a lift.

The fall of the wounded fly, almost into their midst, with a pretty deafening thud one wouId have thought, did not seem to discompose them in the least, and one or two of them, unburdened, passed and repassed quite close to it on their indefatigable journeyings without appearing even to notice it, though above their own small noises, scuffle and patter of ant feet, shrill of ant voices, it must surely have been kicking up the most infernal rumpus.

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Mother Tongue:
English & How It Got That Way
This tendency to compress and mangle words was first formally noted in a 1949 New Yorker article by one John Davenport who gave it the happy name of Slurvian. In American English, Slurvian perhaps reaches its pinnacle in Baltimore, a city whose citizens have long had a particular gift for chewing up the most important vowels, consonants, and even syllables of most words and converting them into a kind of verbal compost, to put it in the most charitable terms possible. In Baltimore (pronounced Balamer), an eagle is an "iggle," a tiger is a "tagger," water is "wooder," a power mower is a "paramour," a store is a "stewer," clothes are clays, orange juice is "amjoos," a bureau is a "beero," and the Orals are of course the local baseball team. Whole glossaries have been composed to help outsiders interpret these and the many hundreds of other terms that in Baltimore pass for English. Baltimoreans may be masters at this particular art, but it is one practiced to a greater or lesser degree by people everywhere.

All of this is by way of coming around to the somewhat paradoxical observation that we speak with remarkable laxness and imprecision and yet manage to express ourselves with wondrous subtlety --- and simply breathtaking speed. In normal conversation we speak at a rate of about 300 syllables a minute. To do this we force air up through the larynx --- or supralaryngeal vocal tract, to be technical about it --- and, by variously pursing our lips and flapping our tongue around in our mouth rather in the manner of a freshly landed fish, we shape each passing puff of air into a series of loosely differentiated plosives, fricatives, gutturals, and other minor atmospheric disturbances. These emerge as a more or less continuous blur of sound. People don't talk like this, theytalklikethis. Syllables, words, sentences run together like a watercolor left in the rain. To understand what anyone is saying to us we must separate these noises into words and the words into sentences so that we might in our turn issue a stream of mixed sounds in response. If what we say is suitably apt and amusing, the listener will show his delight by emitting a series of uncontrolled high-pitched noises, accompanied by sharp intakes of breath of the sort normally associated with a seizure or heart failure. And by these means we converse. Talking, when you think about it, is a very strange business indeed.

And yet we achieve the process effortlessly. We absorb and interpret spoken sounds more or less instantaneously. If I say to "Which do you like better, peas or carrots?" it will take you on average less than a fifth of a second --- the length of an eye blink --- to interpret the question, consider the relative merits of the two vegetables, and formulate a reply. We repeat this process hundreds of times a day, generally with such speed that often we have our answer ready before the person has even finished the question. As listeners we can distinguish between the most subtle gradations of emphasis. Most people, if they are reasonably attentive, can clearly detect the difference between that's tough and that stuff, between I love you and isle of view, and between gray day and Grade A even though the phonics could hardly be more similar.

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Two Hundred Horse-
Power Cheeses

Jerome K. Jerome
I called for the cheeses, and took them away in a cab. It was a ramshackle affair, dragged along by a knock-kneed, broken-winded somnambulist, which his owner, in a moment of enthusiasm, during conversation, referred to as a horse. I put the cheeses on the top, and we started off at a shamble that would have done credit to the swiftest steam-roller ever built, and all went merry as a funeral bell, until we turned a corner. There, the wind carried a whiff from the cheeses full on our steed. It woke him up, and, with a snort of terror, he dashed off at three miles an hour. The wind still blew in his direction, and before we reached the end of the street he was laying himself out at the rate of nearly four miles an hour, leaving the cripples and stout old ladies simply nowhere.

It took two porters as well as the driver to hold him in at the station; and I do not think they would have done it, even then, had not one of the men had the presence of mind to put a handkerchief over his nose, and to light a bit of brown paper.

I took my ticket, and marched proudly up the platform, with my cheeses, the people falling back respectfully on either side. The train was crowded, and I had to get into a carriage where there were already seven other people. One crusty old gentleman objected, but I got in, notwithstanding; and, putting my cheeses upon the rack, squeezed down with a pleasant smile, and said it was a warm day. A few moments passed, and then the old gentleman began to fidget.

"Very close in here," he said.

"Quite oppressive," said the man next to him.

And then they both began sniffing, and, at the third sniff, they caught it right on the chest, and rose up without another word and went out. And then a stout lady got up, and said it was disgraceful that a respectable married woman should be harried about in this way, and gathered up a bag and eight parcels and went. The remaining four passengers sat on for a while, until a solemn-looking man in the corner who, from his dress and general appearance, seemed to belong to the undertaker class, said it put him in mind of dead baby; and the other three passengers tried to get out of the door at the same time, and hurt themselves.

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Arresting Those Who Arrested You
Alexander Weissberg
The mass arrests began in the late summer of 1937, but the arch-recruiters had already passed through the cells in 1936, and grass was growing on their graves. At first we had supposed that all our organizations were descended from the leaders of the opposition, the men who were physically exterminated in the big show trials, but later on a careful analysis of the stories of hundreds of my fellow unfortunates revealed that this was not so. Up to the spring of 1937, the G.P.U. arrested not only those who were directly or indirectly connected in some way with the great trials, but also everyone whose name was in its dossiers as in some way suspect or compromised from former days. By the spring of 1938, a very large section of the population was registered in the dossiers of the G.P.U. as "compromised" or "suspect" in some way or other. At that period it must have been easy to reckon by simple multiplication when the whole Russian people would finally be "recruited".

It was at this point that the G.P.U. began to become anxious, but it was not easy to call a halt. It was impossible not to arrest a man who had just been denounced as an agent of Hitler and a terrorist. The examiners knew, of course, that the whole thing was a grotesque invention, but they were unable to admit their knowledge, even to each other. A G.P.U. man who expressed the slightest doubt about the farce would himself have been arrested. In the summer of 1938 there was a widespread feeling among the prisoners that the more people they dragged into it the better it would be for them and the sooner the wretched farce would be played out, so that whereas in the beginning prisoners denounced other with a bad conscience, they now began to denounce all and sundry, and in particular they took a great pleasure in denouncing all those they believed to be orthodox Stalinists.

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Drilling for Boils
Charles Bukowski
He pushed the electric needle into my back. I was being drilled. The pain was immense. It filled the room. I felt the blood run down my back. Then he pulled the needle out.

"Now we're going to get another one," said the doctor.

He jammed the needle into me. Then he pulled it out and jammed it into a third boil. Two other men had walked in and were standing there watching. They were probably doctors. The needle went into me again.

"I never saw anybody go under the needle like that," said one of the men.

"He gives no sign at all," said the other man.

"Why don't you guys go out and pinch some nurse's ass?" I asked them.

"Look, son, you can't talk to us like that!"

The needle dug into me. I didn't answer. "The boy is evidently very bitter."

"Yes, of course, that's it."

The men walked out.

"Those are fine professional men," said my doctor. "It's not good of you to abuse them."

"Just go ahead and drill," I told him.

He did. The needle got very hot but he went on and on. He drilled my entire back, then he got my chest. Then I stretched out and he drilled my neck and my face.

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Letter to the Dead
Some astronauts stay in space,
six months or more, testing
equipment and solitude.
In each Olympics new records are predicted
and in the countries social advances and setbacks.
But not a single bird has changed its song
with the times.
We put on the same Greek tragedies,
reread "Don Quixote," and spring
arrives on time each year.
Some habits, rivers, and forests are lost.
Nobody sits in front of his house anymore
or takes in the breezes of afternoon,
but we have amazing computers
that keep us from thinking.
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Eskimos and the Long
Winter Darkness
If more than one family shared a snow shelter, as often happened, each possessed its own lamp, which kept family members warm and cooked their food. Its heat also dried their clothes and boots and was used to tan hides. Steam rising off the cooking pots helped the people to bend straps of wood and pieces of bone, from which they fashioned snowshoes and boxes. Most essentially, it gave them water to drink. Humans can't eat snow --- it isn't high enough in water content to prevent dehydration before it lowers the core body temperature to fatal levels. So those living in the farthest north had to melt snow for their drinking water, either directly over the flame or near it, where a chunk of snow or ice might lay on an inclined slab, its meltwater slowly running into a container.

As the lamp burned, it warmed the cold air coming through the entryway of an ice house; the heat rose and escaped through a vent in the ceiling. The walls continually thawed and froze, thawed and froze. When people placed animal skins over the interior walls to keep them from dripping, the lamp might throw enough heat that family members could sit shirtless in the house. In small, low ice houses, the lamp might smoke as the family slept, and they would wake covered with soot, suffering from headaches, and starved for oxygen. In the late 1960s, when scientists at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research examined the mummified remains of an Aleut (Aleutians also used seal oil lamps), they found the lungs to be coated with a thick, black substance. One of the scientists said, "Had he smoked I would have called him a three pack a day man."

However smoky, the lamp meant so much to families that in lean times, so as to have enough fuel for the fire, they were willing to go hungry. The fire was almost always kept alive, most often carefully guarded and tended by the woman of the household. She spent much of her day alongside it, cooking, preparing hides and skins, sewing winter clothing, and drying clothes. The flame, a few inches high, was difficult to keep clear and smokeless. In the late 1800s, anthropologist Walter Hough noted: "Lamp trimming only reaches perfection in the old women of the tribe, who can prepare a lamp so that it will give a good, steady flame for several hours, while usually half an hour is the best that can be expected. In an Eskimo tradition a woman takes down some eagle's feathers from a nail in the wall and stirs up the smoking lamp, so as to make it burn brightly." Elsewhere he wrote, "The Eskimo have no phrase expressing a greater degree of misery than 'a woman without a lamp.' After the death of a woman her lamp is placed upon her grave."

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The Rituals of
Anorexia Nervosa

Mara Selvini Palazzoli
By defining the patient as a pseudo-victim, we are avoiding the blind alley of moralistic psychiatry. It would appear that R. D. Laing and his school, precisely because they have adopted Sartre's distinction between praxis and process, have fallen into just this moralistic trap. By contrast, if we treat the family as a system in which no one member can hold unilateral sway over the rest, then praxis and process become synonymous. "Persecutor" and "victim" become so many moves in one and the same game, the rules of which neither one can alter from within --- all changes depend on strategic interventions from without.

In the particular case of a family with an anorexic patient, we find that the epistemological error of the whole group is that all of them believe that the patient, because of her symptom, wields power over the rest and renders them helpless. If we were to take a snapshot during the very first therapeutic session, we should see an anguished expression on the parents' faces, the patient sitting apart from the rest, straight as a statue, pallid and detached, her face showing utter indifference to the others' distress. Her behavior is a clear message, not least to the therapist:

If you think you can get me to break my fast, you'll have to think again. Just look at me: I am nothing but skin and bones and I might easily die. And if death is the price I have to pay for my power, then I shall willingly pay it.

This shows that the patient completely misjudges her own situation. To begin with, she is prey to a most disastrous Cartesian dichotomy: she believes that her mind transcends her body and that it grants her unlimited power over her own behavior and that of others. The result is a reification of the "self" and the mistaken belief that the patient is engaged in a victorious battle on two fronts, namely against: (1) her body and (2) the family system.

Now this error could not be called a mental illness, were the patient to adopt it voluntarily and were she to declare quite openly that she will take no food until she gets what she wants. This would constitute a rational choice on her part, not a "mental condition." Instead the anorexic sticks rigidly to the family rule that no one member may assume leadership in his own name. That is precisely why she derives her powers from an abstraction: her illness. It is the latter that wields power, afflicts her own body and makes others suffer for it. Like every mental symptom, the anorexic symptom, too, is a paradox oscillating between two illusory poles: spontaneity and coercion.

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The Mess of Love
We've made a great mess of love
Since we made an ideal of it.

The moment I swear to love a woman, a certain woman, all my life
That moment I begin to hate her.

The moment I even say to a woman: I love you! ---
My love dies down considerably.

The moment love is an understood thing between us, we are sure of it,
It's a cold egg, it isn't love any more.

Love is like a flower, it must flower and fade;
If it doesn't fade, it is not a flower,
It's either an artificial rag blossom, or an immortelle, for the cemetery.

The moment the mind interferes with love, or the will fixes on it,
Or the personality assumes it as an attribute, or the ego takes possession of it,
It is not love any more, it's just a mess.
And we've made a great mess of love, mind-perverted, will-perverted, ego-perverted love.

--- © 1929 D. H. Lawrence

Dual Micturation in Dublin
What visible luminous sign attracted Bloom's, who attracted Stephen's gaze?
In the second storey (rere) of his (Bloom's) house the light of a paraffin oil lamp with oblique shade projected on a screen of roller blind supplied by Frank O'Hara, window blind, curtain pole and revolving shutter manufacturer, 16 Aungier street.

How did he elucidate the mystery of an invisible person, his wife Marion (Molly) Bloom, denoted by a visible splendid sign, a lamp?
With indirect and direct verbal allusions or affirmations: with subdued affection and admiration: with description: with impediment: with suggestion.

Both then were silent?
Silent, each contemplating the other in both mirrors of the reciprocal flesh of theirhisnothis fellowfaces.

Were they indefinitely inactive?
At Stephen's suggestion, at Bloom's instigation both, first Stephen, then Bloom, in penumbra urinated, their sides contiguous, their organs of micturition reciprocally rendered invisible by manual circumposition, their gazes, first Bloom's, then Stephen's, elevated to the projected luminous and semiluminous shadow.

The trajectories of their, first sequent, then simultaneous, urinations were dissimilar: Bloom's longer, less irruent, in the incomplete form of the bifurcated penultimate alphabetical letter who in his ultimate year at High School (1880) had been capable of attaining the point of greatest altitude against the whole concurrent strength of the institution, 210 scholars: Stephen's higher, more sibilant, who in the ultimate hours of the previous day had augmented by diuretic consumption an insistent vesical pressure.

What different problems presented themselves to each concerning the invisible audible collateral organ of the other?
To Bloom: the problems of irritability, tumescence, rigidity, reactivity, dimension, sanitariness, pelosity. To Stephen: the problem of the sacerdotal integrity of Jesus circumcised (1st January, holiday of obligation to hear mass and abstain from unnecessary servile work) and the problem as to whether the divine prepuce, the carnal bridal ring of the holy Roman catholic apostolic church, conserved in Calcata, were deserving of simple hyperduly or of the fourth degree of latria accorded to the abscission of such divine excrescences as hair and toe-nails.

What celestial sign was by both simultaneously observed?
A star precipitated with great apparent velocity across the firmament from Vega in the Lyre above the zenith beyond the stargroup of the Tress of Berenice towards the zodiacal sign of Leo.

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The Rainmaker
There was a great drought where the missionary Richard Wilhelm lived in China. There had not been a drop of rain and the situation became catastrophic. The Catholics made processions, the Protestants made prayers, and the Chinese burned joss sticks and shot off guns to frighten away the demons of the drought, but with no result. Finally the Chinese said: We will fetch the rain maker. And from another province, a dried up old man appeared. The only thing he asked for was a quiet little house somewhere, and there he locked himself in for three days. On the fourth day clouds gathered and there was a great snowstorm at the time of the year when no snow was expected, an unusual amount, and the town was so full of rumors about the wonderful rain maker that Wilhelm went to ask the man how he did it.

In true European fashion he said: "They call you the rain maker, will you tell me how you made the snow?" And the little Chinaman said: "I did not make the snow, I am not responsible." "But what have you done these three days?" "Oh, I can explain that. I come from another country where things are in order. Here they are out of order, they are not as they should be by the ordinance of heaven. Therefore the whole country is not in Tao, and I am also not in the natural order of things because I am in a disordered country. So I had to wait three days until I was back in Tao, and then naturally the rain came."

--- From The Nature Writings of C. G. Jung
©2002, North Atlantic Books