Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Raw Youth’d

In the Grasses

At play in the aster-stalk’d fields. I want to say “terebinth’d,” not knowing the terebinth. Guy Davenport uses it (with “dog rose, and oleander”) in a sentence about Knossos, “deafened by crickets.” In the early ’seventies, one took a shabby bus out of

Iraklion, and hardly a traveler descended. Terebinth equals “turpentine tree,” a Biblical shrub. One (unprepared, “a raw youth”) assumed the frescoes—polychrome and near-garish—lately “brushed up” and heeded little. Obvious patchwork in the stones.

Davenport: “There is no warning posted that they are twentieth-century reconstructions, yet they are, like practically all of the surrounding stage set. The charred originals, themselves pieced together by painted plaster to eke out the

design, are in Iraklion. “Eke out” does not adequately describe. Some frescoes are a tenth Knossan, as blackened as Sappho’s papyrus fragments, nine-tenths the extrapolation of the reconstructor. And these columns, rooms, stairs, balconies?

They are so much the work of Sir Arthur Evans, the Stalin of archeology, that one despairs of knowing Minoan from Victorian architecture.” Thus, the Sapphic fragments: “Wet handkerchief.” Or:
“The gods [                 ] tears [         ] / [                                 ].”
That’s one kind of gap. Another: “Not all Greek words have an equivalent in English. In a poem of Theocritus a goat is eating something. Look up what he’s eating in a Greek-English dictionary. The definition is “a plant eaten by a goat in Theocritus.”

So one stone is piled on another, though it—the first—go lacking. So whatever evanescence my first line comes up out of (Peter Matthiessen, of course, though why Peter Matthiessen one particular November morning arriving here—unprepared, “a raw youth”—

having squander’d my twilight hours yesterday reading and defiantly not scribbling against the glowering midshipmen of Time, its darker gloaming fallen “furth”—that is a mystery). A sentence squandering itself in explication of

itself. In my reading (Binelli’s Sacco and Vanzetti Must Die!), learning of the commedia dell’arte’s lazzi. A lazzo being a known routine, a gag. Rather akin to the epithets of oral-formulaic compositions. Moveable blocks.

Binelli (he refers to an “excellent reference book Lazzi: The Comic Routines of the Commedia Dell’Arte, edited by Mel Gordon”): “The section of Illogical Lazzi collects some of the book’s strangest routines. For instance, there

is the Lazzo of “There is No Knowledge!” In toto:
“Pantaleone, confused by the strange events and tricks around him, begins to go crazy, shouting after each bizarre action, ‘There is no knowledge!’”
And indeed, there is. Here in the swashbuckler’s paradise of flowers, dead flowers. Here in Senza Pantaleone.

Anonymous, eighteenth century, “Capitan Babbeo e Cucuba (scena di commedia dell’arte)”
(Museo teatrale della Scala, Milan)