(Yesterday’s office. Making a fire is all about leaving space, letting it breathe. In Walter Benjamin’s diary he thinks about writing novels and telling stories as akin to making a good fire: the plot should be as loosely arranged as the logs, and as ready to be consumed, keeping the reader warm and fascinated over a long evening. Writing: finding the intervals, the pace, the right shape that can draw air and burn bright.
When the fire is going in its small circle of stones, night has come on: I watch the wood lick with bright flames, letting out decades of accumulated sunlight in one searing flourish. Overhead, the stars recede to the limits of visibility, a mosaic of light from different times: Aldebaran light from 65 years ago, Deneb light more than two thousand years old, everything intersecting in what Emily Dickinson called “still just now.”)
(Talking with C.: he tells me about skiing down frozen rivers at night in the White Mountains, the ribbon of snow gleaming in the moonlight for miles. About skiing in the early morning and seeing the snow shudder where, all at once, up come partridges, beating the ice crystals off their wings. During the day, when the snow is softer, the partridges fly up and then plummet straight down, like gannets plunge-diving to get fish, burrowing in for warmth, nestled in fluffed-out feathers and silent snow.)
In 1786 Goethe went to Italy. With that touch of wonderful, unnecessary drama that never left him, he departed Carlsbad as though fleeing a crime: almost no luggage, three in the morning, under an alias (“Möller”). In Rome and Naples, he learned to draw, collected minerals, hung out with the German arts colony, and went to botanical gardens. “This set me off again on my botanical speculations.” He drew flowers and trees. “It is fascinating to observe how a vegetation behaves when its lively growth is never interrupted by severe cold.” In the gardens of Venice: “Here, where I am confronted with a great variety of plants, my hypothesis that it might be possible to derive all plant forms from one original plant becomes clearer to me and more exciting.”
He always believed that the point of origin contained or prefigured, somehow, everything that was to come from it. A seed has a tree in it; Wilhelm Meister falls in love with Mignon, and an adult life unfolds from a single encounter in youth. There must be, he thought, a primal plant – an Urpflanze – which has in it every plant: every leaf, every flower, every fruit. It has all remedies (every ginger and feverfew) and all poisons, the fountain of hemlock, belladonna, foxglove. And every plant that could be was present in this one; it was washed with the rain of future storms. On his way to Sicily, he became convinced that this plant really existed, that it was still alive, and that it would be growing somewhere on the island – where else but in the volcanic Sicilian afternoon would the primal plant thrive?
He went around the island for a month looking for it, as though you could track down the one moment (that glance) that made you who you are now and what you will be. He went back to Weimar empty-handed.
Ramona Lisa’s cover of “The Orchids,” an old Psychic TV song that means a lot to me. Her cover opens the song, ventilates it, lets a cold breeze blow through the song’s lucid morning after.
A fascinating, incredibly detailed history of the cassette tape underground, then and now.
(Thanks for reading, as ever.)
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