18 September 2014

"How dark is the foundation on which our lives rest!"

To me the converging objects of the Universe perpetually flow
All are written to me, and I must get what the writing means.
– from Song of Myself by Walt Whitman (1855)

In Whitman's world there is much sunlight and few shadows. But sometimes what seem like signs and symbols can lead towards darkness:
...As for those hieroglyphics that gave him no moment's peace, they were to be found on the shell of a medium-sized conch from New Caledonia, set in pale reddish-brown against an off-white background.  The characters, as if drawn with a blush, blending into purely decorative lines toward the edge, but over large sections of the curved surface, their meticulous complexity gave every appearance of intending to communicate something. As I recall, they displayed a strong resemblance to early Oriental script, much like the strokes of Old Aramaic...
– Doctor Faustus by Thomas Mann (1947)

Image: Harpago chiragra juvenile; Phillipines. Guido Poppe via stromboidea.de

The quote at the top of this post is Gustav Mahler speaking to Bruno Walter, as reported by Richard Powers in Orfeo (2014)

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