Friday, April 30, 2010

Chienne de vie


Odysseus’s dog is call’d Argos. Betick’d and listless, it nevertheless thumps its tail at its master’s long-delay’d return, seeing through the big O’s Athena-provided get-up. Virginia Woolf, in 1933, wrote a story call’d Flush, a biography of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s cocker spaniel. Flush hates the sight of intruder Robert Browning’s yellow gloves. Paul Valéry: “Animals, who do nothing uselessly, refuse to comtemplate death.” Charlie Chaplin the tramp’s dog is call’d Scraps. Romain Gary had a dog―who regard’d humans severely, reproachfully―by the name of Pancho, hit by a car in Majorca. In my scuffling days, one chum had a little black tuft of a dog, some wee terrier breed, he call’d Snatch. Stendahl, in Citavecchia, writes to a friend: “I have two dogs, which I love tenderly. One is a black English spaniel, a handsome dog, but sad and melancholic. The other, Lupetto, is café au lait, gay, lively―a young Burgundian, in short. It made me sad to have nothing to love.” Adolf Hitler’s dog: Blondi. Joséphine de Beauharnais’s dog: Fortuné, a pug. Napoléon Bonaparte had to share Joséphine’s bed with it. Apollinaire (writing filler for the Mercure de France) claim’d that Suening—a dog of uncertain breed—’d been proclaim’d king of Norway circa 230 AD. Martial, regarding Publius’s pooch Issa: “naughtier than the sparrow of Catullus.” And: “et desidero coacta ventris / gutta pallia non fefellit ulla / sed blando pede sucitat toroque / deponi monet et rogat levari.” “Compell’d by bladder-pressure, not a drop befouls the covers, with a paw-nudge it warns one that it needs to be put down . . .” (One wag suggests—“levari”―“and asks next to be wiped off.”) Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Fala, a Scottish terrier. Nixon: Checkers (and a poodle call’d Vicky). Another Scottish terrier is Valery Larbaud’s Barty. Samuel Butler: “The great pleasure of a dog is that you may make a fool of yourself with him and not only will he not scold you, but he will makes a fool of himself, too.” Picasso: Elft, a fox terrier; Frika, a dachshund; Loump, a Dalmation; Yane, a boxer. And an Afghan hound call’d Kazbek. Thomas Bernhard: no dog. (Thomas Bernhard hated dogs, and, in Concrete, accused Schopenhauer—who loved dogs—of having a dog for a head: “I don’t have to be demented to assert that Schopenhauer had a dog on his shoulders and not a head.”) Gertrude Stein’s dogs: Basket. I, II, and III. In Tender Buttons Stein writes “A Dog”:
A little monkey goes like a donkey that means to say that means to say that more sighs last goes. Leave with it. A little monkey goes like a donkey.
A. R. Ammons had a mule call’d Silver. André Gide had “the most neurotic dog imaginable”: Toby. Herodotus, of animals in Egypt: “In whoever’s house a cat dies naturally, those who dwell in the house all shave their eyebrows, but only this; if the dead animal is a dog, they shave all their body and head.” Edward Dahlberg’s orphanage buddies: “Mugsy, Prunes, Shrimp, Bah, Mooty, Spunk, Pummy, Bonehead Balaam, Moses Mush Tate, Phineas Watermelonhead, Mushmelonhead, Sachemhead. . . .” Nick and Nora Charles’s dog in The Thin Man (1934), with William Powell and Myrna Loy: Asta. Ask’d by a waiter to leave a restaurant:
nick: Oh, it’s all right, Joe. It’s all right. It’s my dog. And uh, my wife.
nora: Well, you might have mentioned me first on the billing.
nick: The dog’s well-trained. He’ll behave himself.
Racine’s The Litigants is a staging of “a satiric and burlesque trial of the dog Citron, accused of having eaten a capon.” Mimicking Aristophanes’s Wasps wherein a dog call’d Labes (or “Brigand”) is accused of devouring a Sicilian cheese (or “a pot of money”). Used to be, drunk, I liked to bellow out, “Je m’appelle Anubis, dog-head’d warrior, bodyguard of Osiris!” Alexander’s dog, so little known next the horse Bucephalus: call’d Peritas. Alexander founded a city at its death and gave it the dog’s name. (“Sotion says he got that from Potamon the Lesbian.”) Virginia Woolf’s dog Tinker: “He is a human dog, aloof from other dogs.” Robert Southey’s spaniel Phillis: “And they have drown’d thee then at last! Poor Phillis! / The burden of old age was heavy on thee / And you thou should’st have lived!” “The Greeks had a word kunosparaktos, meaning ‘torn apart by dogs.’” Groveling in a Jacques Brel’s “Ne Me Quitte Pas”: “Laisse-moi devenir . . . / L’ombre de ton chien” (“Just let me be the shadow of your dog.”) The French word for riffraff: canaille (out of L. canis, dog.) Dog, n. 7. A name given to various mechanical devices, usually having or consisting of a tooth or claw, used for gripping or holding. “To Barnard the Smyth for x doggs of Iryn for the Steple weying lxx lb.” “An instrument called a Dog for the more easy drawing the Poles out of the ground.” “He saw the defenders throw a dogg at each other.” “Monsieur Du Boysaimé, a graduate of the École Polytechnique who participated in Bonaparte’s expedition to Egypt, devised an equation for “the curve made by a dog running after its master. His memoirs, published in 1811, are referred to both by Lautréamont and Jules Verne.” In Faust, Goethe’s got Mephistopheles springing forth in the form of a water spaniel (or a poodle). Dogging it.

Largely out of Roger Grenier’s The Difficulty of Being a Dog (University of Chicago Press, 2000), Alice Kaplan’s translation of Les larmes d’Ulysse.

Roger Grenier