Monday, January 15, 2007

Pour faire fuir le froid

HAVING FINALLY FINISHED Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, having celebrated by racing through Irène Némirovsky’s Suite Francaise, I’ve been s l o w l y , s l o w l y enjoying a little book given me by a friend last year: Solar Margins, by the poet Michael Kincaid.

It’s a perfect Janus book — a book for the close of an old year, the start of a new one. The margin of the solar cycle. It seems to be — I haven’t finished it yet; it’s a book to savor and meditate over, though it’s only sixty-nine pages long — it seems to be a collection of observations on life, Nature, science, Art; carefully polished until they are almost aphoristic.

Solar Margins is profound, precise, oracular. I can’t find anything in it to argue with. It seems to consider and examine and depict — one can’t say “analyze” or even “discuss” — matters of such urgency and profundity as to be inescapable, and to express the resulting thought with such clarity and poetics as to be irrefutable. He writes things I’ve long thought and felt, without realizing it until reading him; and writes them with a skill so superior one can’t feel envy.

I’ve read the first 172 of these statements. They’re divided into sections: History of History; History of Religion; Art and the Artist; Art, Utility, and Power; Sciece and Metaphysics; Listening to the Logos; History of Nihilism.

Nihilism? Yes: Solar Margins< takes as its subtitle Nietzschean Meditations, and is dedicated
Pour Némésis,
à l’honneur d’Albert Camus,
disciple du déesse


1. A Prejudice of Time. —Clarity, simplicity, and unity are effects of retrospect; before the event, nothing is so designed. Such clarity as science and history attain is the passive submission to rule of that which has already happened.
19. Original Religion. — The hunter keeps faith with the invisible. All subsequent worship builds upon this theme.
40. The Pride of Self-Defeat. —Satan and Samson are Milton’s self-personae: the defeated hero, the hero in chains. Milton indeed "wrote in fetters," as Blake put it. His greatness is heard in their clanking.

And so on. Of course Kincaid attracts me; he sees through Milton; lauds Blake, appreciates Char and Rimbaud, decries Descartes, scorns Socrates. I can’t follow him into Nietzsche and Heidegger; haven’t dealt enough with them. Kincaid is a philosopher: or, rather, knows that philosophy is a branch of Poetry, and is a Poet.

(He appreciates another hero of mine, Wallace Stevens, who he describes as “a beast in a cage of patience.” May I allow H. James visiting hours?)

Number 19 above reminds me that, to me at least, by far the finest writing in Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma are the pages on hunting, and especially the disquisition on the heightened awareness that accompanies the hunt; I think I’ll have to follow Pollan to Ortega y Gasset next.

And applying Kincaid to Suite Francaise, Némirovsky is a poet, a tragic one:
84. Mortality’s Trophy. —The poem is your death, skinned alive.

Michael Pollan The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals. New York: Penguin Press, 2006. The facts, theory, and sensations behind fast food, supermarket food, organic-sustainable food, hunted and foraged food.

Irène Némirovsky: Suite Francaise: a novel. Translated by Sandra Smith. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2006. The horrors of the flight from Paris, 1940, and life in a Pétain French village under the Nazi occupation.

Michael Kincaid: Solar Margins. Minneapolis: Nemesis, 2003. The facts of life, mapped from within.

My advice is, read them; read them while there’s time.