“Intertextuality” is the pretentious Lit Crit word for the dependency of texts upon other texts…

… for the way in which the meaning we’re deriving from reading any one particular text – a poem, a short story – has as much to do with the somehow related texts we’ve already read as it does with the text we’re right now taking in… We bring to the reading of any “new” work a lifetime of encounters with precursor works, and this readerly past is always in play in any readerly present. Literary experience, from this point of view, is personal pastiche, consciousness-patchwork, the piling up of language then onto language now, a remembrance of written things past.

And this is a marvelous thing, if you ask UD, because it’s not merely about the pleasure of feeling one’s reading become enriched over … well, over years of reading. (A similar sort of operation occurs with the act of re-reading.) It’s also – more intimately – about discovering one’s personal truths through intuiting one’s literary recurrences. By this I mean that if you live long enough and read long enough you notice yourself circling certain poems, novels, pieces of music (this doesn’t have to be just literary, obviously); and that if you think about your own recurrences you can sort of intuit important things about yourself.

UD‘s using weasel words (sort of intuit…) for the knowledge literature yields because she believes, along with James Merrill, that art is as much about a sort of saving oblivion, a tactical and beautiful evasion of life’s stark truths, as it is a vehicle of those truths. Iris Murdoch calls art “close dangerous play with unconscious forces.” Play, you see. We all know there’s something childish about the pretend business of stories and, well, plays… They aren’t reality; they’re fable and metaphor and wild and crazy imaginings… And yet of course as cultures and individuals we tend to derive our most serious understandings of reality from these unreal entertainments; and this is arguably because they give us these truths in the only form most of us can accept them. Make them too stark and we look away; aestheticize them and we’ll give them a look. We’ll maybe even (this is Aristotle, on catharsis) allow ourselves – vicariously – to undergo the ultimate emotions relative to human fate while we’re engrossed in a dramatic tragedy on stage…

It’s all push and pull, I mean to say. Art – our experience of art – enacts at once our embrace and our evasion of difficult truths. And indeed our personal intertextual history, our particular eccentric reading life, can tell us a great deal about what we’re personally up against, what we’re resisting by way of existential instruction. Our reading history can tell us about our peculiar internal cost/benefit economy, about the complicated ways in which each of us works to sustain energy and happiness throughout our lives.

So for instance whenever I’m at the beach I think about my peculiar defensive relationship to a particular poem – Berck-Plage, by Sylvia Plath. It’s been important to me over many years not to understand this poem, to find it an impervious verbal surface. Yet I keep circling it – or it keeps circling me… When I was writing, a few years ago, about The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, I suddenly realized that its author, Jean-Dominique Bauby, encased in locked-in syndrome at a hospital on the French Atlantic coast, is gazing from its balconies at Berck-Plage. And then – odd coincidence – my friend and colleague Tom Mallon not only reviewed this book for the New York Times, but began by noticing the same Plath/Bauby intertextuality:

“This is the tongue of the dead man,” Sylvia Plath wrote in “Berck-Plage,” her poem set in a French hospital complex by the Channel coast. “How far he is now, his actions / Around him like livingroom furniture, like a decor.” A year and a half ago, following a catastrophic stroke and weeks of deep coma in that same hospital, Jean-Dominique Bauby gradually “surfaced” into a new existence as a victim of “locked-in syndrome,” mentally alert but deprived of movement and speech.

So… the poem insinuates itself, erodes my resistance, especially of course when I’m at the beach. It pressed itself upon me, an obscure intertext, when I read Bauby (I read him here, years ago, at Rehoboth Beach); and now it’s back again on a beautiful day on the Atlantic shore, and I’m listening to the YouTube I linked you to earlier in this post, of Plath, with her flat angry voice, reciting it.

The core problem, I suppose, is that this particular poem (I adore almost all of Plath’s poems) is insufficiently evasive; it is out there in the way of reality itself, and, really, who wants that? In “Berck-Plage” there’s nothing tempering Plath’s disgust and horror at our painful lives and our dreadful deaths; she simply contrasts the happy-making aspect of vacation beaches, the fully sunlit life, the smooth-limbed physical joy of children at the supreme play of beach play (On my morning beach walk today, I paused as a young boy streaked across the boardwalk in front of me on his way to the sand. BEACH! he shouted. BEACH!), with the disfigurement and debility that await us.

These children are after something, with hooks and cries,
And my heart too small to bandage their terrible faults.

We can do nothing for one another as our weak fallible selves devolve toward the end; we are all too small-hearted and afraid.

The scene shifts, in the poem, from the beach to a man’s deathbed. The poet looks at the dead man:

This is what it is to be complete. It is horrible.
Is he wearing pyjamas or an evening suit

Under the glued sheet from which his powdery beak
Rises so whitely unbuffeted?

They propped his jaw with a book until it stiffened
And folded his hands, that were shaking: goodbye, goodbye.

Now the washed sheets fly in the sun,
The pillow cases are sweetening.

He’ll be unstuck from the bed just as the lovers she’s seen at the beach “unstick themselves” after “obscene,” hidden sex. Once he’s gone he’s gone and it’s just a matter of resweetening his pillow cases for the next case.

They are flying off into nothing: remember us.
The empty benches of memory look over stones,

Marble facades with blue veins, and jelly-glassfuls of daffodils.
It is so beautiful up here: it is a stopping place.

“Berck-Plage” is a beautiful stopping place. Only one doesn’t want to stop.

“Oh God, not another…

… fucking beautiful day,” as Alice de Janze memorably says in White Mischief, and it’s just like that here for the third day in Rehoboth Beach. Morning, afternoon, and night, all flawless. UD‘s sister the Morrissey fanatic is just back from Miami Beach (Morrissey concert) and reports it’s unpleasantly hot there.

Haha. As Gore Vidal memorably said, It’s not enough to succeed. Others must fail.

Because he refuses to waste a moment driving around until the weather changes, Mr UD has not yet gone food shopping, so Les UDs are surviving on pastries from Papillon and dinners out.

Quiet, Smoke-Free (You Can’t Smoke on the Beach; You Can’t Smoke on the Boardwalk; You Can’t Smoke Along Rehoboth Avenue), Shoulder Season Rehoboth Beach…

… is all that Les UDs had hoped. The short drive from ‘thesda featured spectacular skies over the Chesapeake Bay as we crossed the long bridge.

Gist of conversation during the drive:

UD: Isn’t the idea – merely as first principle – that we’re so grubby God has to come down and be tortured to death to redeem us from our grubbiness a pretty convoluted – not to mention pretty rank – idea?

Mr UD: Not when you take the correct approach to it.

So far the weather’s been perfect: Big sun, mild air. Cloudless skies over the ocean. The horizon line has a piercing clarity; container ships seem to skate on a knife-edge. Shoulder season means it’s late enough to be warm (even hot), but too early for the low-flying planes advertising cheap beer. The almond cookie smoothness of the beach is only slightly undone by beach-goers, among whom we have already noticed some doppelgängers. One couple in particular… We walked by them as they unloaded their car into our building on arrival. They drove a Prius, looked about our age, had OBAMA stickers on their car (we don’t do stickers, but we do Obama) … Later, we saw them on the beach looking very Soltanesque — each reading what looked like a not very beachy book…

On her morning walk UD was reminded of one of many beach scenarios she enjoys: Children are incredibly intense about their sand castles. They have to be, because they’re building with an eye toward the structure being gradually flooded as they finish, so their timing has to be pretty exact. Thus no shrieking and running to and fro, but trancelike mindfulness upon the passage of all things…

Well, and UD likes very much the way beaches – especially beaches in the June sun – subdue us, channel us, create “the miniature gaiety of seasides.”

More Dogs from Sunday’s Rehoboth Beach Dog Parade

Click on the images
for a good view.

piratesdogs

marie

***********************

[Courtesy UD's sister.]

Dog Parade Insta-blogging.

It’s cold and sunny on the hot tub deck of our hotel. Les UDs are swinging gently on a padded porch swing overlooking the boardwalk. Across from us, on the other side of the boardwalk, people have lined up plaid, hunter green, and American flag-lined folding chairs. Directly across from me, a beefy sixtyish man with a face red from the wind off the ocean is clutching a tiny white dog and wearing a baseball hat that says somethingsomethingsomething (this part is in small letters and I can’t make it out) and then (in very big letters) SHIT. The parade begins in ten minutes.

The event is overseen by friendly people wearing orange vests that read MONSTER POLICE.

“I think it’s coming! I see a banner!” UD‘s sister gets excited.

Here comes a phalanx of people in maroon jerseys. The Rehoboth Beach Animal Hospital brigade.

Now – uh – men wearing yellow cardboard hats? The effect is knights-who-say-ni-ish. Fronted by a banjo player and then by a crazed old drunk who might or might not be part of their group. He engages parade-viewers in surrealistic conversation. “AH SEE YOU AH LOVE YOU AH LOVE YOU AH SEE YOU.”

Now human jesters lead bull dogs done as devils through the throng.

Irish setters as bumblebees. Yorkies as witches. A strange female humanoid all in white – polar bear?

VIVA DOGS VEGAS is an elaborate float with bad sequined dogs; the Miley Cyrus float features a dog with a chained naked Barbie on its back. The Miley Cyrus float is a huge hit when people finally figure it out.

Many pirate dogs; many skeleton dogs. CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS DOGBONI. What does it mean?

Extremely beautiful Collie Zorro; extremely beautiful large white poodle on which gray circles have been charcoaled. Really nice effect.

“A predominance of micro-dogs,” says Mr UD, disapprovingly.

RETIRED HOOTERS DOGS.
No one really gets it, but the word hooters is always a guaranteed laugh-getter.

***********************

photo(2)

Rehoboth Beach Dog Parade About to Begin

I’ll instablog it, assuming
the wifi connection in our hotel
room cooperates. It’s been ornery.

37021_2614076670878_1756044077_n

La Kid holding a puppy.

UD leaves in a few hours…

… for the dog parade

bluemanbluedog

at Rehoboth Beach.

(UD‘s friend Tamara
took this photo two
years ago.)

Of course she will
blog from there.

Just home from the beach…

UD will unpack, pull herself together, and do some blogging later.

Most important thing to relate right now, though: She won one of these, because her horse came in first at one of these.

Snapshot from Rehoboth

UD‘s sister took this picture of
World War Two observation towers

observationtowersrehoboth

along the beach at Rehoboth.

Pods, tripods…

… and the pounding of the boardwalk by runners – these are the elements, so far, of morning at the beach. Dolphins, photographers, runners.

It’s overcast enough to allow me to sit here, on the balcony, and see my screen in order to type this.

The sun emerged about an hour ago but almost immediately looked red-faced and hid in the clouds. The clouds were thin and let out some rays, but that didn’t last long.

In other words, today’s mariner’s tale hasn’t gained much traction. One dolphin pod; one photographer trying to capture the pod and the pallid rays; the boardwalk runners.

****************************

Flat ocean, sandflats. And the water and horizon gray. There’s none of last night’s antics under the supermoon, the cartwheeling and kiting that seemed a dance to the moon. Two beach weddings, set off by lines of streamers, went on during the revels. The guitarist sitting by one of the canopies played Pachelbel. You could hear the ground bass.

White streamers and wedding parties on moon-blanch’d sand on the longest day of the year. Now it’s Sunday and solitary and pensive with no sun and no moon.

I woke up with Schubert’s Litanei in my head. All souls rest in peace.

HAMBURG SUD…

… runs, rather close to our shore,
big red container ships.

hamburgsud

With my small binoculars, this afternoon, I read Hamburg Süd, in white letters, along the side of a vessel. I could see its massive containers, on their way to the port of Philadelphia I guess, lined up on board. This is a thing I do from my Rehoboth Beach balcony; I follow the movements of container ships as they balance on the edge of the horizon.

Mr UD joined me on the balcony, looked through the binoculars, and said Brian Barry wrote his long review of A Theory of Justice from a Greek freighter bound for Africa.

I said Tony Judt, when he lived on a kibbutz, used to go to Haifa whenever he could, to gaze longingly at freighters bound for “Famagusta, Izmir, Brindisi, and other cosmopolitan destinations.”

This was the longest day of the year; we stood on a balcony that would remain clear and light for hours. We thought of dolphin-torn gong-tormented seas.

But this, right now, was a calm sea. On the almond sand in front of it, huge ridiculous kites tethered into the sand twisted and swelled.

***********************

We love this child’s garden of light. It is one of Joan Didion’s Blue Nights, and we are just as grateful for it as she was.

These pictures from a few days ago in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware…

… are pretty remarkable. Les UDs head over there today for a couple of weeks of who knows what sort of weather… Though it’s one of UD’s convictions that with very few exceptions there’s no such thing as bad weather at the beach. It’s all good there – vast sky, vast water, and a chance to watch the convoluted things they do together. The stars, the sun, the contrails and the cargo ships. What’s not to like? The way it feels on your skin is whipped up wind and warmth. Long fields of gulls sit there when you walk the beach in the morning. There’s the business of spotting dolphins. You can keep your head down and look for striated stones – a particular mania of mine. Between the quiet hours of early morning and late evening there’s of course the main show, the blue-umbrella’ed broilers, among whom Les UDs sit, reading, squinting, broiling.

In our little apartment overlooking the boardwalk, there’s the setting up of the mini-domesticity of the short vacation – the one big trip to the supermarket, the exploration of the apartment’s towels and sheets, the phone call to our old friends the Elkins (they’ve bought an apartment across the street from the one we rent) to arrange some socializing. If the weather’s truly bad, we’ll play a lot of Scrabble, pausing mid-game to stare together at the witchy sky.

Naturally, blogging continues apace, whatever the weather.

UD on the Beach…

photo(1)

… a few hours ago.

On January 20 of this year…

UD went to Rehoboth Beach and watched the city replenish the beach. Now, from an apartment in Germantown, Maryland, she watches images of that just-dredged beach overwhelmed by waves, and she wonders if all that money was wasted.

So many of the Sandy images we’re seeing – of the Chesapeake Bay, Rehoboth Beach, Ocean City – show places flooded, if you will, with memories for old UD. Her father graduated from Ocean City High School. He spent summers working at his family’s businesses along the beach. Later, he bought a house on the Chesapeake, and UD went out fishing with him. Most of UD‘s summers for the last twenty years have taken place in Rehoboth Beach (see this blog’s category, Snapshots from Rehoboth). All of those boarded-up shops with their defiant messages to Sandy scrawled on window boards — she knows those shops, and the people who own them.

The storm was quiet here – some wind, some sound from the trees. UD’s Garrett Park house had a little basement flooding. No treefalls.

Insta-Rise

Sunrise blogging begins…

now, with a pink horizonal swelling that tells me and the person in a folding chair on the beach that the thing is about to pop. I’m watching, jammied, on the balcony.

The burning circle rises – fast – over the pewter sea. A container ship glides across the path the sun’s making on the water.

All the way up. Took less than a minute.

There’s the usual cheering section: Gulls, crows, joggers, policemen in light blue shorts. Praying section? I figure the guy on the beach is at the very least meditating

Me? I’m thinking I will never really believe the universe of which the burning circle is apparently a teeny teeny teeny teeny part… Ever since I was eight everybody’s been showing me diagrams of the solar system, and I don’t really believe that either… Everybody’s been impressing on me the awesome massive violence out there while giving this particular place a pathetic spin… And as to spin: I’ve never really been able to feel the rotational breeze, as it were, on my face… If you know what I mean.

I mean, as Buck Mulligan puts it in Ulysses:

When I makes tea I makes tea… And when I makes water I makes water …

Squinting my brain to see The First Three Minutes is one thing; leaning my arms on a railing and feeling the sufficiency of sun earth and moon is another. Gimme that old time cosmology. It’s good enough for me.

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