February 2022

Curzio Malaparte, choice cuts of The Skin with photos by Lieutenant Wayne Miller illustrating

the moon broke the edge of the crater like an eggshell

— Malaparte, The Skin, translated brilliantly by David Moore, New York Review Book publication, 2013. Original work published as La pelle, 1949. p. 36

All of us, officers and men, vied with one another to see which of us could throw our arms and flags in the mud most “heroically.” We threw them at the feet of everyone, victors and vanquished, friend and foe, even at the feet of the passersby, even at the feet of those who, not knowing what it was all about, stopped and looked at us in amazement. Laughingly we threw our arms and our flags in the mud, and immediately ran to pick them up so that we could start all over again.

— Ibid., p.58

We marched with heads high, singing, proud at having taught the peoples of Europe that in these days the only way to win wars is to throw one’s arms and one’s flags heroically in the mud.

— Ibid., p.59

Naples, Italy, August 1944. Ensign K. Dimin, (left), and Lieutenant Fritz Plumer, relax in former Royal Palace at Naples, Italy. Steichen Photograph Unit: Photographed by Lieutenant Wayne Miller, August 1944. TR-11092. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. (2015/12/08).

Jimmy was an honest fellow, socially of the middle class, and of moderate culture. In civil life he was a clerk in an insurance company. His culture was of a standard far lower than that of any European of his station. It was certainly not to be expected that a little American clerk, who had landed in Italy for the purpose of fighting the Italians and punishing them for their sins and their crimes, should set himself up as the Christ of the Italian people. It was not even to be expected that he should know essential facts about modern civilization—for instance, that a capitalist society (if one disregards Christian pity, and weariness of and disgust with Christian pity, which are sentiments peculiar to the modern world) is the most feasible expression of Christianity; that without the existence of evil there can be no Christ; that capitalist society is founded on the conviction that in the absence of beings who suffer a man cannot enjoy to the full his possessions and his happiness; and that without the alibi of Christianity capitalism could not prevail.

— Ibid., pp.62-63

Naples, Italy, August 1944. Children in Naples. Little boy helps one-legged companion across the street. Steichen Photography Unit: Photographed by Lieutenant Wayne Miller, August 1944. TR-11306. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.

Malaparte on his dog, Febo:

“His mere presence helped me to acquire that contempt for mankind on which the serenity and wisdom of a human being primarily depend.”

— Ibid., p.165

Naples, Italy, August 1944. Children in Naples, Italy. A group of little Italian boys pose. Steichen Photograph Unit: Photographed by Lieutenant Wayne Miller, August 1944. TR-11307. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. (2015/12/08).

The edges of those dreadful wounds were held apart by thin steel wires, wound round wooden pegs of the kind that in musical instruments serves to keep the strings taut. One could see the naked heart beating; the lungs, with the veins of the bronchial tubes looking like the branches of a tree, swelling exactly as the foliage of a tree does when the wind blows; the red, shining liver very slowly contracting; slight tremors running through the pink and white substance of the brain as in a steamy mirror; the coils of the intestines sluggishly disentangling themselves like a heap of snakes waking from their deep slumber. And not a moan came from the half-open mouths of the tortured dogs.

And suddenly I saw Febo.

He was lying on his back, his stomach exposed and a probe buried in his liver. He was staring at me; his eyes were full of tears, and they had in them a wonderful tenderness. He was breathing gently, his mouth half-open, and his body was trembling horribly. He was staring at me, and an agonizing pain stabbed at my heart. “Febo,” I said in a low voice; and Febo looked at me with a wonderfully tender expression. In him I saw Christ, in him I saw Christ crucified, I saw Christ looking at me with eyes that were full of a wonderful tenderness. “Febo,” I said in a low voice, bending over him and stroking his forehead. Febo kissed my hand, and not a moan escaped him.

They all had a wonderfully tender expression in their eyes, and not the faintest moan escaped them.

Suddenly I uttered a cry of terror. “Why this silence?” I shouted. “What does this silence mean?”

It was a horrible silence—a vast, chilling, deathly silence, the silence of snow.

The doctor approached me with a syringe in his hand. “Before we operate on them,” he said, “we cut their vocal cords.”

— Ibid., pp.170-172

Naples, Italy, August 1944. Children in Naples, Italy. Little girl holds her apparently blind baby brother. Steichen Photograph Unit: Photographed by Lieutenant Wayne Miller, August 1944. TR-11308. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.

General Cork asked what Germany, France and Sweden were really like. “The Comte de Gobineau,” I replied, “has described Germany as les Indes de l’Europe.” “France,” I replied, “is an island surrounded by land.” “Sweden,” I replied, “is a forest of fir trees in dinner jackets.” “That’s funny!” they all exclaimed, looking at me in amazement. Then, blushing, he asked me whether it was true that in Rome “there were bro…hm…I mean…a maison de tolerance for the priests. “They say there’s a very smart one in Via Giulia,” I replied. “That’s funny!” They all exclaimed, looking at me in amazement. Then he asked me why the Italian people had not had a revolution before the war to throw out Mussolini. “So as not to displease Roosevelt and Churchill, who were great friends of Mussolini before the war,” I replied. “That’s funny!” they all exclaimed, looking at me in amazement. Then he asked what a totalitarian State was. “It’s a State in which everything that isn’t forbidden is compulsory,” I replied. “That’s funny!” they all exclaimed, looking at me in amazement.

— Ibid., p.206

Naples, Italy, August 1944. Children in Naples, Italy. Boys on cart. Steichen Photograph Unit: Photographed by Lieutenant Wayne Miller, August 1944. TR-11320. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. (2015/12/08).

I like to remain detached from danger—to be able to stretch out my arm blindly and lightly touch it, as one touches something cold with one’s hand in the dark.

— Ibid., p.247

Naples, Italy, August 1944. Children play while mother works. Steichen Photograph Unit: Photographed by Lieutenant Wayne Miller, August 1944. TR-13030. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. (2015/12/08).

As always, the populace ascribed to that awful scourge the character of a punishment from heaven … [for the] sins, the corruption and viciousness of men. And side by side with repentance, with a melancholy desire to expiate their misdeeds, with the eager hope of seeing the wicked punished, with an ingenuous confidence in the justice of a Nature that was so cruel and unjust—side by side with shame at their own wretchedness, of which the people are sadly conscious, there was growing up, as always, in the minds of the populace a base feeling of impunity, the origin of so many deeds of wickedness, and a miserable conviction that in the midst of such great destruction, such widespread chaos, anything is lawful and just. And so men were seen in those days to perform deeds both base and sublime, inspired by blind fury or by cold reason, almost by a wonderful desperation.

— Ibid., p.263

Naples, Italy, August 1944. Reading notices. Steichen Photograph Unit: Photographed by Lieutenant Wayne Miller, August 1944. TR-13034. U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. (2015/12/08).

if there’s one chapter you must read of this The Skin, it’s the one called The Flag, “the flag of the country of all peoples and all men,” “It was a flag made of human skin”.

Naples, Italy, August 1944. Older woman holds baby. Steichen Photograph Unit: Photographed by Lieutenant Wayne Miller, August 1944. TR-13038. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. (2015/12/08).

more of Lieutenant Wayne Miller’s photographs, here. (Wayne F. Miller, 19 September 1918 – 22 May 2013)

Naples, Italy, August 1944. Boy enjoying fruit. Steichen Photograph Unit: TR-13050. Photographed by Lieutenant Wayne Miller, August 1944. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. (2015/12/08).

Tom Clark liked a bit in Malaparte I too liked, again about Febo, here.


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Enola Gay

Tinian Island, August 1945. Boeing B-29 Superfortress, Enola Gay, returns after strike at Hiroshima, August 6, 1945, entering hard sand. Official photograph of the Office of Chief of Engineers, now in the collection of the National Achives. (2015/08/25).


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two things worth saying

that Max Richter says, plus the beginning of a third, in the liner notes for The Blue Notebooks, last first, since it considers the music:

“I come from a high-modernist classical music training, … where maximum complexity, extreme dissonance, asymmetry and impenetrability were badges of honour. If you wrote a single tonal chord–even by accident–people would mock you, and concerts were more like the issuing of manifestos. I wrote a lot in that tradition, but came to feel that, for all its technical sophistication, this language was basically inert.”

[worth pausing there, for a minute.]

“It reached almost nobody beyond the new music cliques. I didn’t want to talk to just those people. I deliberately set out to be as plainspoken as possible.”

The third thing, left here hanging for its suggestiveness:

“I chose the texts … to reflect on my sense of the politics of the time. Facts were beginning to be replaced by subjective assertions”…

And the first last:

“I wanted to invite the listener in, allowing them space to reflect rather than be beaten into submission. The world is tough enough, and I don’t want to add to the brutality.”

[another pause is called for.]

“Over the years, I’ve ralised there’s a balance to strike, and that actually, as our world spins into something quite threatening, increasingly based on loud and vicious rhetoric, I want to talk about quiet protest.”


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oblique strategy for today, by Brian Eno & Peter Schmidt


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this poem departs (introduction to poems that don’t exist #3)

       This poem departs from the idea which is not my own that all that we think of as objective knowledge is subjective knowledge.

       I suppose I can call it a poem, I am introducing poems that don’t exist. It doesn’t exist, this poem.

       When we think of the object of knowledge we think of it as outside ourselves. Someone told us. Or we saw for ourselves. Most often it’s someone, teachers, friends, parents, parents rarely. They are hardly believable. It’s even difficult to think of their existence, of them being objectively real.

       Why would I not call it a poem should it not exist and not if it should? I think in my first introduction, if you go back there, this was the case.

       Most often, more often than not it’s a body, giving out what then becomes public knowledge. That is, publishing, but as such bodies are in the business, they sell it, are selling it. That is, publicity. So they are private bodies, businesses; and even if public institutions, like schools and libraries, and institutions of government, they think of themselves as businesses. They have adopted the business model; even organs of government, those organs telling us what’s going on in our own society, what new laws have been made, these are not, as is sometimes thought, political mouthpieces, organs of propaganda: they are private companies or separate departments engaged in public relations, that is, PR.

       I wouldn’t call my writing all through these years poetry, because it has never been published as poetry for a start. But it has been read as poetry... but not like, and this is where these introductions to poems that don’t exist come in, it has not been read like those people I hesitate to call poets because I all too readily recognise their voices. Yes, I all too readily hear in the voices of those who read their poetry who know it to be poetry, poems, they are reading, who are for the most part published poets, and those who aspire to be published, to have their poetry published, I all too readily hear in their voices other voices. Other voices which all come down to one voice. One voice that we know to be the voice of poetry, which, in other words, serves, pays exactly lip service, to our knowledge of what poetry already is.

       The change from public to private organs of knowledge we recognise as participating in the change from knowledge to information. But this part is exaggerated when we, as some do, maintain the change from knowledge to information to be to the former’s detriment. Or go as far as to say it marks the demise of knowledge. Or complete symbolic breakdown.

       When I read poetry I read it in my own voice. So I’ve never been concerned about what my voice is on the page. It shifts, drifts. I can’t go as far as to say I have multiple voices. I am not Fernando Pessoa.

       There are those informing us of what we take to be the case. With some practice we can separate out commentary from exact description. We can separate the facts from opinion, or from the taint of subjectivity. We suppose we can. I don’t intend in the poem that follows to be gainsaying this supposition. This is not the reason for my poem.

       Without too great an uncertainty, and despite the inroads made into the world of poetry, of poetry publishing, a large part of which relies on its own PR, its own good publicity, in allowing those inroads to be made, by black people, by coloured people, by people belonging to ethnic minorities and by women, queer, trans people, those who are in the middle of transitioning and those whose identities are fluid, among whom I do not count myself, we may call the voice of poetry despite this progress, despite the progress made by all these factors, we may call it his master’s voice.

       This poem then is not so concerned with the passage to privatisation of knowledge where knowledge equals power and the globalisation of that power. It’s not so concerned with the politics of knowledge. It’s not that idea, the idea of science and civilization going hand in hand and then knowledge being taken out of the hands of the civilizing process, siphoned off into privately owned silos, it’s not this idea that it departs from; and neither is it the idea of there being some good attached to the history of knowledge in its relation to power, nor is it the idea of some bad, of the process of civilization being one of conquest, of colonisation, of empire, of slavery or of emancipation.

       His master’s voice takes up poetry in a way that ruins it for me. And it does so for the slam-poetry poet-performer as well as for the academic poet-teacher: the little chat introducing the poem over, he, she, they, launch in, with a change in voice, a change in speech to what is in quotation marks. His master’s voice.

       The following poem, that, remember, does not exist... is not about freeing knowledge or of planting and harvesting it, of stockpiling or of weaponising it in some kind of economic arms race... It’s not about its advantage or disadvantage. It’s not above it. It departs from this... at that point when... all that we think of as being objectively known becomes subjective. That is, the point at which we, any one of us, either stupid or smart, poor or rich, powerful or powerless, grasp it, understand and know. What do we know?

       I’m not saying hear me, I am an authority on this, you can bet the academic poet-teacher of poetry does her best not to write, in fact and defensively tries to avoid writing, poetry suited to the seminar. And you can bet the slam-poetry performer does not try to avoid writing and presenting the stuff suited to the society of slam poets: he, she, they, want to belong. The poet-teacher disowns. She, he is, they are uncomfortable in their professional skins. That’s why we laud the laureate’s appointment who manifests to us the inroads poets have made into the poetry business who have different skins: we appreciate their struggle with having to wear them that can only mean progress for poetry, and be filtered back into the process of teaching it, the civilizing process.

       What I am saying, and it’s not an original thought, it’s not an original thought and it’s not because it’s not that this poem departs from it, is, what I am saying is that because all we think of as being objectively known is only ever subjective, is that the poem has to depart. Knowledge is always this departure. And a poem is too.

       I am not saying I have altogether avoided his master’s voice by calling it out. My failure to publish poetry is my failure. It’s not turn-around-able into a successful strategy to avoid his master’s voice that I don’t call my work, my pieces of work, writing, poems... except those, like the following, that doesn’t exist.

       What I am talking about in the poem that doesn’t exist is not freedom from slavery. What I am talking about in the poem is a new I. The new I that follows the departure that to know is and that a poem is.

       I am he who—

       I am she who—

       I am they who—

       Language is a found object.

       I hear its murmuring. A background to the world. And forming it into words...

       It’s said. Is not enough. As if the fault lay with language.

       The impossible to express.

       It does not. And changing it or knowing how to is simply irresponsible.

       The proper response is to let him go let her go let them go

       It’s called this poem departs

luz es tiempo
point to point
thigein & conatus

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