van gogh writing his brother for paints
hemingway testing his shotgun
celine going broke as a doctor of medicine
the impossibility of being human
i remember clearly the deaths of three men. one was the richest man of the century, who, having clawed his way to wealth through the souls and bodies of men, spent many years trying to buy back the love he had forfeited and by that process performed great service to the world and, perhaps, had much more than balanced the evils of his rise. i was on a ship when he died. the news was posted on the bulletin board, and nearly everyone received the news with pleasure. several said, “thank god that son of a bitch is dead.”
john steinbeck (east of eden)
➴ a brief follow-up to so you think montparnasse is a badass? (hint: he’s not)
me miserable! which way shall i fly
infinite wrath and infinite despair?
which way i fly is hell; myself am hell;
and in the lowers deep a lower deep
still threat’ning to devour me opens wide,
to which the hell i suffer seems a heav’n
↳ milton, paradise lost 4.73-78
“la révolution française a eu ses raisons. sa colère sera absoute par l’avenir. son résultat, c’est le monde meilleur. de ses coups les plus terribles il sort une caresse pour le genre humain.”
❝in particular, les amis de l’abc — a “sort of family, by virtue of friendship” (sorte de famille, à force d’amitié) — comprises a close-knit group that doubles, yet is categorically opposed to, patron-minette. we learn their names and individual attributes, as we did those of the criminal band, and we are invited to judge their activities outside conventional law and order. like patron-minette, these “impassive miners” (mineurs impassibles) form a secretive, subversive association. their distinction is that “they develop the ideal underground” (ils ébauchaient souterrainement l’idéal), whereas others undermine society for selfish ends. many of the differences between the two “families” emerge during the siege of the barricade. here enjolras implicitly refutes thénardier when he declares that they must think of others, that they must not be “selfish” (égoïstes). paradoxically, one hears in this heroic place the chorus of “me! me! me!” (moi! moi! moi!) typical of villainy — except that the rebels are volunteering to die for their ideals. instead of serving themselves through the suffering of others, they will help others through their “sublime … suicide.” because this destruction of self must not, combeferre pleads, involve by (metonymic) extension that of their dependents, they will differ from the thénardiers consuming their children. when confronted with the tensions of the “raft of the méduse” (radeau de la méduse) — the recurrent image of rapacity — marius and his friends simply go hungry. the generous spirit that infuses the tavern where they meet contrasts sharply with the self-centeredness at the inn at montfermeil.
several other incidents enrich the distinction between heroes and malefactors. the insurgents hold javert prisoner, as patron-minette captures valjean. but, enjolras affirms, they are judges, not assassins. while they strive to wage an honorable battle, claquesous (under the alias of le cabuc) kills an innocent man and is in turn executed by enjolras. he has misunderstood the barricade’s function. enjolras then expands upon the meaning of his action: “the law of progress is that monsters disappear before angels, and that fatality vanish before fraternity (la loi du progrès, c’est que les monstres disparaissent devant les anges, et que la fatalité s’évanouisse devant la fraternité). in vanquishing satan-claquesous, the archangelic enjolras will help to bring about the age of brotherly love. to do so requires sentencing himself to death as well: “compelled to do what i did, but abhorring it,” he explains, “i have judged myself also (contraint de faire ce que j’ai fait, mais l’abhorrant, je me suis jugé aussi). he is magistrate and felon, the subject and object of his own conscience. as with valjean, the law that he takes into his hands is very carefully preserved. order, and the past, must be revered if the future is to be fruitful. yet he and his friends are also opposed to the oxymoronic “civilized advocates of barbarism” who perpetuate social misery through oppression and indifference. instead, these “barbarians of civilization” dream of a world free of political “dismemberment.” their unity in diversity counters the centripetal forces of both criminal and bourgeois egotism.
mabeuf is the first to declare his the revolutionaries’ alliance with past and future republics when he lifts their flag crying, “vive la révolution! vive la république! fraternité! égalité! et la mort!”. death is the means of operating a radical leap from the present. significantly, the only two kisses enjolras ever gives are bestowed not upon a woman but on the aged martyr — his “brother.” these kisses, placed on mabeuf’s hand and brow, remind us of marius’s kiss on éponine’s forehead and madeleine’s on fantine’s hand, linking the three generations of misérables — and their champions — in confraternity. in introducing enjolras, hugo emphasizes his equally pontifical and aggressive nature: “he was officiating and militant; from the immediate point of view, a solider of democracy; above the movement of his time, a priest of the ideal” (il était officiant et militant; au point de vue immédiat, soldat de la démocratie; au-dessus du mouvement contemporain, prêtre de l’idéal). the reactionary figures of soldier and priest receive one final redemption in this rebel chief fighting for the political ideal.
this is not a manuscript, it is just a draft: i know what victor hugo’s manuscripts look like, and i know that they are to be treated with reverence, because they are monuments. this is not a monument, not even a stone, just a rough bit of mortar, badly battered — trashcan material. in french, we would probably call it a “premier jet,” as if it were a kind of ink-jet, except that the french metaphor is probably less technological. its connotations are sexual, virile, ejaculatory, the literary equivalent of an absolute beginning. the modest piece of paper we have here, before our eyes, is a rare thing indeed, and an amazing one. what is most ephemeral has been transformed into a museum piece. it has also acquired a history. defaced, partially torn, almost illegible, it is both a faint trace of the creative act and a memento, which some fetishist decided to keep. hugo himself had no use for it.
again and again victor hugo preaches of the future. all of the violence, commotion, frustration, political mishap, escapes and near escapes of the action, which spans the first part of the century, will be made good in some indefinite future time. the narrator frequently promises as much in his own voice, but perhaps the most unrestrained faith in history is put in the mouth of enjolras. the doomed young man demands, “citoyens, où allons-nous?”. he does not pose this question in order to counter; on the contrary, he supplies an answer:
❝citizens, where are we going? to science become government, to the force in things become the sole public force, to natural law having its sanction and its penalty in itself and promulgating itself through evidence, to a dawn of truth corresponding to the dawn of day… citizens, the nineteenth century is great, but the twentieth century will be happy. then there shall be nothing like ancient history: there shall be no more fear, as today, of a conquest, an invasion, a usurpation, an armed rivalry of nations, an interruption of civilization because of the marriage of kings, a birth of hereditary tyrannies, a division of peoples by congress, a dismemberment by the collapse of dynasty, a combat of two religions butting each other like two goats of darkness on the bridge of infinity; there shall be no more fear of hunger, exploitation, prostitution through adversity, misery from unemployment, and the scaffold, and the sword, and battles, and all the brigandage of chance in the forest of events. we can almost say, there will be no more events. we shall be happy. the human race will achieve its law as the terrestrial globe achieves law… the human race will be delivered, relieved, and consoled! we affirm it on this barricade.
hugo and enjolras seem especially uncomfortable with the role of chance in human events — enjolras readily prophesies that the brigands will be driven from the forest.
enjolras’s revolutionary arguments depend on what m. h. abrams calls “apocalypse by cognition” rather than a knock-down struggle at the barricades. knowledge will drive away chance; in the larger view every event falls into its appropriate place, and this is what makes enjolras’s personal sacrifice worthwhile.
events move of their own accord, assimilating both successful and unsuccessful human efforts to control them; but they do not move forever, apparently since they move toward an obtainable goal. carried away by his thought, enjolras is tempted to predict that there shall be no more events (“on pourrait presque dire: il n’y aura plus d’événements”). he qualifies this prophecy even as he utters it because he is half aware that he is calling on history to destroy itself.
it is a precarious secularization of messianic beliefs. no such belief in the end of time can rescue a purely secular theory from contradiction and qualify enjolras’s call that “at the end of the marxist philosophy of history, lies the golden age of archaic eschatologies.” in general, any philosophy that construes human events in an endless sequence increases psychologically the need to envision an ending, more so than a philosophy that views events as cyclical, repeating themselves in distinct phases. neither attitude toward history completely rules out the other, however, as can be seen from the appeal to diurnal cycles in enjolras’s speech (“a dawn of truth corresponding to the dawn of day”) or in the verses at the end of les misérables (“as the night forms while the day fades”).
les misérables itself narrates a sizable number of nineteenth century events, real and imagined. hugo fills its pages with sermons, long and short, on progress — the main idea being that unhappy episodes like the affair on the barricades are merely temporary impediments to history. one such sermon he polishes off by calling attention to the progress of events in his novel, as if les misérables confirmed universal history and history.
among the insurgents, we find grantaire who combines the supposed incompatible traits of irony and friendliness — and is also the antithesis - “the backside, the reverse, the counterpart” (le verso, l’envers, le revers) - of enjolras. but this duality is again resolved on another level. because, victor hugo says, his name is always preceded by the conjunction ‘and’ (et), grantaire enters a both/and schema as the other’s twin.
in a magnificent game of doubling his heroes, hugo also pairs enjolras with combeferre, who “completes and rectifies him” ([le] complétait et rectifiait). enjolras is associated with revolutionary greatness; his friend, we are told, exemplifies the beauty of progress. these separate orientations encompass all reality: combeferre is “lower and broader” than enjolras, opening around the “steep mountain” a “vast blue horizon” (moins haut et plus large… montagne à pic… vaste horizon bleu). fusing vertical and horizontal axes, they repeat the paternal/fraternal patterns operating throughout the novel. yet both are subsumed by their utopian goal, so that they are angels, one with “swan’s wings” and one with “eagle’s wings” (ailes de cygne… ailes d’aigle). their two-pronged endeavor to enhance human liberty imitates genius’s “winging toward the sublime” (coup d’aile vers le sublime).
indeed, two souls take flight together, the shadow of one mingled with the light of the other (s’envolèrent ensemble, l’ombre de l’un mêlé à la lumière de l’autre).
however, it is enjolras and grantaire who fly away together in the execution/suicide scene.
→ after all, grantaire = R = révolution, romantisme, résurrection
→ Charles Baudelaire: ❝I have not found among the landscape painters the supernatural beauty of the landscapes of Delacroix nor the magnificent imagination which flows through the drawings of Victor Hugo. I speak of his drawings in India ink, for it is too evident that in words our poet is the k i n g of landscape painters.”
→ Théophile Gautier: ❝M. Hugo is not only a poet but a painter, and a painter whom Louis Boulander, Camille Roqueplan and Paul Huet would not disown as their brother. When he is travelling he sketches everything that strikes him. The contour of a hill, the lace-work outline of the horizon, a strange cloud-form, a curious detail in a door or window, a ruined tower, an antique belfry — these are his notes; then in the evening, at the inn, he retraces his outline with a pen, shades it, colors it, strengthens it, and gives an effect; and so the rough sketch, often drawn on the crown of his hat in a shaky diligence, becomes a drawing very like an etching, and of capriciousness and savor which surprise artists themselves.”
→ And yet, when a stranger who had seen Sardanapalus referred to Delacroix as the ‘Victor Hugo of painting’, the artist responded, ‘You are mistaken, Sir, I am a pure c l a s s i c i s t.’
❝think of how much benefit a timely death holds, how many have been harmed by living too long! if illness had disposed of gnaeus pompeius, that pride and support of the empire, at naples, he would have departed as the clear leader of the roman people. but instead, a miniscule extension of time removed him from his position of dignity… if marcus cicero had fallen at that time when he escaped the daggers of catiline, which were equally seeking the demise of the fatherland, if he had fallen as the preserver of the freed republic, if finally his funeral had trailed that of his daughter, even then he could have died happy… therefore, premature death has brought no evil to your son; in fact it has afforded him release from all evils
seneca’s consolatio ad marciam (20.4-6)
→ it is not the mors immatura that is lamented, but the mors permatura
I thought about how to answer this question for a while, anon. I thought about scratch-resistant glasses, and how their coating was first developed by NASA to protect astronaut helmet visors. I thought about ear thermometers, and how NASA’s Jet Propulsion lab helped adapt the same infrared technology they use to gauge the heat of stars to tell you if your child had a fever. I thought about the 200 communication satellites orbiting the Earth, and how NASA was responsible for the first. I thought about smoke detectors, water filters, LED lights, freeze dried food, solar energy, invisaline braces, safety grooves on the curbs of the highway, memory foam, baby food, the dustbuster…
Space travel, facing unique challenges, comes up with unique solutions. It is a shining example of innovation, of creative problem-solving, and how the ripple effects of such endeavors can benefit society as a whole.
But for me, this utilitarian argument isn’t truly satisfying. If space travel did nothing but took us into space, I would still consider it important, vital, worth doing. And it took a while for me to understand why.
I think my answer, the romantic answer, is “wanderlust.” Because 60,000 years ago, a small population of Homo sapiens crossed the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait from Africa into the Arabian Peninsula. Only 10,000 years later, Homo sapiens had reached Southeast Asia and Australia, mostly by island-hopping and hugging coastlines. 15,000 years ago, they braved massive ice shelves to travel across the Asian-Americas land bridge and down into Mesoamerica. Each generation moved a little further into the unknown—the profoundly unknown, untouched by any sort of humanity—and stayed. And the next generation moved a little further than that. Gene maps show that people went back as well as moving forward; that there was sailing and trade much earlier than anyone would ever have thought.
There is something in humanity that looks at a horizon and wants.
And then—well, then we looked up and saw the sky, we looked down and saw the depths of the ocean. Places no human being had ever been, never seen, never really known. But we had no way of going, and so we wrote stories about what was there, because imagination isn’t constrained by physics. (Don’t tell me that Icarus and Captain Nemo aren’t the same person; they typify the same human desire, to reach for something just beyond reach.) I don’t know whether the stories inspired the real-life inventors, or they were simply symptomatic of the same desire—I’m not sure it matters. Because we developed sonar and submarines and scuba diving, and descended to the deepest points of the ocean; we took to the sky on wings of steel.
And then we realized that there was a place beyond sky, that we still hadn’t quite reached the stars. So we built rockets and rovers, and we went. We wandered the surface of the moon, and sent satellites to be out eyes in the very distant corners of space. We could not see beyond our own solar system, and so we built better eyes—to see in every spectra, undreamed-of distances. Through them, we gazed at planets and nebulae and supernovae, we saw the universe without ever leaving our own tiny blue-and-green marble.
We stood in awe of the immensity of the universe, and never questioned that we had a place within it.
I am not trying to argue that space travel is some kind of manifest destiny. Only there are some things we do because we are human. Make art. Fall in love. Hunger for answers. Yearn for horizons. Asking why these things are important can be fruitless, because we do these things for themselves; the reason for art is ultimately art. For me, space exploration is the same, important because it is an expression of our humanity, because we have been wondering wanderers since the origin of our species, and show no signs of stopping.
Because space is there, vast and unknowable, and humanity has always loved a challenge.
menstruation in medical texts:
“The sudden lack of these two hormones [estrogen and progesterone] causes the blood vessels of the endometrium to become spastic so that blood ﬂow to the surface layers of the endometrium almost ceases. As a result, much of the endometrial tissue dies and sloughs into the uterine cavity. Then, small amounts of blood ooze from the denuded endometrial wall, causing a blood loss of about 50 ml during the next few days. The sloughed endometrial tissue plus the blood and much serous exudate from the denuded uterine surface, all together called the menstrum, is gradually expelled by intermittent contractions of the uterine muscle for about 3 to 5 days. This process is called menstruation.”
spermatogenesis in medical texts:
“The mechanisms which guide the remarkable cellular transformation from spermatid to mature sperm remain uncertain…. Perhaps the most amazing characteristic of spermatogenesis is its sheer magnitude: the normal human male may manufacture several hundred million sperm per day.”
so yea there is a problem that runs deep even in the blood of the intelligentsia and dont you ever forget it
Back then, Chávez would argue, France was very similar to today’s Venezuela—and even to Latin America as a whole. That’s what he explained during a Parisian press conference, in 2007. ❝You want to meet Jean Valjean?” he asked the crowd of reporters. ❝Go to Latin America. There are many Jean Valjeans in Latin America. Many: I know some. You want to know Fantine? There are many Fantines in Latin America—and in Africa too. You want to know little Cosette and all the others… you want to know Marius? They’re all down there in Latin America.”
As far as Hugo’s work is concerned, Chávez may have missed the fact that the French author wrote Les Misérables in part during his political exile, when he was protesting against Napoleon III’s autocratic leadership. Some of his other works, like the book of satirical poems Les Châtiments, are highly critical of authoritarian governments. As far I can tell, Chávez never read those poems.
friendly reminder that v hugo’s redemptive concerns are très complex and the title phrase “les misérables” was most dramatically used to describe the story’s most morally twisted thieves