Monday, October 24, 2005


The Coal Cart, New York, by Alvin Langdon Coburn (1911)
Sontag. The Cavaliere (William Hamilton, British envoy to Naples) in Pompeii:
. . . it would have been he who had recalled the line from the Aeneid the excavators found that someone had written on the wall of his house: Conticuere omn . . . (“All fell silent”). Gasping for breath, he had not lived to finish it.
He was waiting for catastrophe. This is the corruption of deep melancholy, that its sense of helplessness reaches out to include others, that it so easily imagines (and therefore wills) a more general calamity.
        . . . Every visitor wanted the volcano to explode, to “do something.” They wanted their ration of apocalypse.
(See Bernadette Mayer, in “On Sleep”: “I worry about why the masses sort of love disasters”)

And, the Cavaliere’s “savory discovery of traces of an ancient priapic cult still existing under the cover of Christianity”:
There he was taken to a festival in a nearby village honoring Saints Cosmas and Damian which culminated in a church service to bless a foot-long object, much revered by barren women, known as the Great Toe.
The Last Days of Pompeii, by Karl Briullov (1833)
Learn’d that my hero-auspice and adversary Pliny the Elder “succumbed to the noxious smoke” of Vesuvius, researching no doubt.

And that the philosopher Empedoclus “jumped into the boiling crater [at Etna] to test whether he was immortal.”

And that Goethe got snooty, bestaked himself high above the frivolity, at social gatherings chez the Cavaliere. No monkey he.