Hacer de Tripas Corazón


Facts don’t speak for themselves. They’re spoke by the folks that make ‘em up.

(Marjorie Lauren Zayphod-Beeblebroxx, “When Your Gut Talks to Ya,” Podex Press, 2022)

“Marjorie Lauren” is a made-up person (cap doff to Douglas Adams). Don’t take her seriously. Her figment came to mind when a New Mexican in the news said recently something like, “All I need to know is what my gut tells me.” Good buddy, check in with a piece of you that’s north of your intestines if you can find it. The gut’s a chute for you-know-what. Jazz god Louis Armstrong honored it with a plaque on his toilet that read: Leave It All Behind You.

A Spanish metaphor does more justice to the organ: hacer de tripas corazón. It means literally “to make heart from guts.” Maybe akin to Hemingway’s “grace under pressure,” it’s summoning toughness and nerve when you’re gripped by visceral dread. The Ukrainians are doing it as we speak.

Natalie Angier’s brisk account of the thrilling odyssey undertaken by three resolute bitches gives a comparable view of indomitable pluck against forbidding odds:

Three sisters braved lions, crocodiles, poachers, raging rivers and other dangers on a 1,300-mile transnational effort to forge a new dynasty.

(Natalie Angier, “The Incredible Journey of Three African Wild Dogs,” NYTimes, 6-20-22)

Take heart, sisters.

(c) 2022 JMN — EthicalDative. All rights reserved

Posted in Commentary | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lone Star Statecraft in Action

The scaffolding that supports the letter of the edifice of the law erected for the citizenry by the solons of the state of the land of the brave in which we live is the prepositional phrase.

In May, 2022, Texans voted Yay or Nay on an amendment to the state constitution. In abridged form it read like this on the ballot:

A constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to… for… of… of… on… of… that may be imposed for… and… on… of… who is elderly or disabled to… from… in… of the maintenance and operations taxes imposed for… on the homestead.

(Proposition 1 of Senate Joint Resolution 2)

To assist voters in making their decision, the secretary of state, one John B. Scott, mailed out the following “Explanatory Statement” prior to the election. In abridged form it read like this:

SJR 2 proposes a constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to… for… of… of… on… of… that may be imposed for… and… on… of… who is elderly or disabled to… from… in… of the maintenance and operations taxes imposed for… on the homestead from the preceding tax year.

(John B. Scott’s “Explanatory Statement” [Bolding is mine — JMN]

The “Explanatory Statement” differed from the wording on the ballot in the particulars I bolded. The secretary of state’s value added is indelible.

Postscript: For the incredibly curious, here’s the full wording of the amendment that appeared on the ballot:

A constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to provide for the reduction of the amount of a limitation on the total amount of ad valorem taxes that may be imposed for general elementary and secondary public school purposes on the residence homestead of a person who is elderly or disabled to reflect any statutory reduction from the preceding tax year in the maximum compressed rate of the maintenance and operations taxes imposed for those purposes on the homestead.

(c) 2022 JMN — EthicalDative. All rights reserved

Posted in Commentary, Quotations | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Is There an Exception Rule for ‘a Anti-abortion’?

From a poem by Asiya Wadud, https://ethicaldative.com/2022/05/10/cry-the-beloved-reader/ .

The pro-life movement is inevitably bound to some kind of conservatism, insofar as a anti-abortion ethic is hard to separate from a conservative ethic around sex, monogamy and marriage. [The bolding is mine. —JMN]

(Ross Douthat, “The End of Roe Is Just the Beginning,” NYTimes, 6-25-22)

The NYTimes sets a high editorial bar for style, and scrupulous rhetorician Ross Douthat is always a good model for tight writing. Hence my slight intake of breath when I met the phrase “a anti-abortion ethic” instead of “an anti-abortion ethic.” I surmised that the adjacency of the indefinite article to a word starting with “an” might have triggered the slip. These things happen even in journals we depend on to keep the language sharp.

It crossed my mind that perhaps there’s an exception rule I’m unaware of that now endorses the “a an-“ combination (“a antique,” “a anagram,” “a anarchist,”…) responding to a repugnance for the collision of “an an-.” If so, phrases such as “a antithesis” would still sound discordant to my conservative ear.

(c) 2022 JMN — EthicalDative. All rights reserved

Posted in Commentary, Quotations | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Allez-y, Braves Gens! — French Lesson

British LBC radio presenter Nick Abbott explains the Tory lock on governance in the UK like this: During elections, factions on the Left wrestle each other to the ground in feuds over ideological purity. Meanwhile, the monolithic Right, comprised of a minority bent only on retaining power, steps nimbly over them into office time and again. It evokes Will Rogers’ famous quip: I am not a member of any organized political party. I am a Democrat.

The French may be challenging this paradigm.

For the first time since 1997, France’s major left-wing parties put aside their differences and ran a single slate of candidates. The coalition, known as NUPES, for Nouvelle Union Populaire Écologique et Sociale, soared last week… Shrewdness and an instinct for self-preservation are two of the biggest factors making unity possible… The coalition needs its base to turn out in much greater numbers than it did in the first round — which featured historically low participation across the board — but especially among low-income voters and young people. If these groups do deliver a majority to NUPES, the effects would be truly seismic.

(Cole Stangler, “Something Extraordinary Is Happening in France,” NYTimes, 6-16-22)

Allez-y in Texas dialect is “Get after it!”

(c) 2022 JMN — Ethical Dative. All rights reserved

Posted in Quotations | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

‘It’s This Old, Fatal Love for the Landscape’

A bucolic landscape – with barbed wire … Chalk Paths, by Eric Ravilious. Photograph: foxtrotfilms.com.

The quotation in my title is from nature writer Robert Macfarlane. His book The Old Ways featured British war artist Eric Ravilious, killed in a plane crash in 1942. In the book, Macfarlane “points to the way the artist would frame bucolic watercolours of the rolling southern English countryside with strands of barbed wire.” Chinese artist Ai Weiwei states that, although Ravilious’ paintings “seem like an understatement, they are profound, rigorous and meticulous.” (All these citations are from the Guardian article echoed here.)

Two Women in a Garden, by Eric Ravilious. Photograph: Fry Art Gallery/foxtrotfilms.com.

Words that are powerful with understatement were written by Ravilious’ widow Tirzah Garwood, herself an artist, in her autobiography, Long Live Great Bardfield. Marooned in a dank Essex farmhouse with her three young children in the hell of war, she typed out her book after putting them to bed, and bequeathed it to posterity “should it have survived”:

“… All I ask of you is that you love the country as I do, and when you come into a room, discreetly observe its pictures and its furnishings, and sympathise with painters and craftsmen.”

(Claire Armitstead, “‘He died in his 30s living the life he had dreamed of’: artist Eric Ravilious,” theguardian.com, 6-24-22)

Ravilious’s work and Garwood’s words evoke for me the art of two blogs that I admire:

Sue Grey-Smith (https://suegreysmithartist.wordpress.com) and Outside Authority (https://outsideauthor.wordpress.com)

(c) 2022 JMN — EthicalDative. All rights reserved

Posted in Commentary, Quotations | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

‘Telescope’ by Louise Glück

Occasionally a poem is so frictionless it stabs without hurting. My second reading of “Telescope” by Louise Glück was to someone far away over FaceTime. You’ve gotta hear this! I chirped.

There is a moment after you move your eye away / when you forget where you are / because you’ve been living, it seems, /somewhere else, in the silence of the night sky.

The speaker describes how you lose yourself in contemplation of the indifferent.

You’ve stopped being here in the world./ You’re in a different place, / a place where human life has no meaning. // You’re not a creature in a body. / You exist as the stars exist, / participating in their stillness, their immensity.

I read the poem slowly to my distant friend. The slowness is counterintuitive, because Glück favors workaday diction in her poems, as opposed to words like “incarnadine”; she has said so in an essay. Her contractions convey casualness. She chisels her lines with scrupulous attention to capitals and punctuation. The marked rests, as in music, let the verses and the reader breathe.

Then you’re in the world again. / At night, on a cold hill, / taking the telescope apart.

Here, suddenly, I wept, taken apart myself. The terrible beauty of simple words about emptiness and distance, the lack of distortion, made unbearable sense. I’ve looked at the sky through a scope on dark nights, haven’t I? — feeling closer to the constellations than to any person.

You realize afterward, / not that the image is false, / but the relation is false. // You see again how far away / each thing is from every other thing.

The ending has a weightless purity that makes you cry. Glück is never sappy, and doesn’t try to be uplifting — thank God! The speaker in “Telescope” trains a gaze cold as interstellar space on glittering delusions of nearness, consigning facile pieties to stardust.

(c) 2022 JMN — EthicalDative. All rights reserved

Posted in Anthology | Tagged , | 3 Comments

A Lash of Good Tongue

“Bucked,” oil on canvas, 24 x 36 in. (JMN 2020)

“To sit fast badly is better than to be thrown easily.”
(Wright, A Grammar of the Arabic Language, p. 124)

[sū’(u)-l-istimāk(i) ẖair(un) min ḥusn(i)-ṣ-ṣirƸaẗ(i)]

Wright cites the phrase to illustrate the formation of the [ism(u)-n-nūƸ(i)], noun of kind, aka nomina speciei in the abounding Latin of fin de siècle philology boffins.

[ism(u)-n-nūƸ(i)] noun of kind

[The noun of kind] “indicates the manner of doing what is expressed by the verb… [It may] be used in a passive sense, as [ṣirƸaẗ(un)], way of being thrown (from horseback)….”

[ṣirƸaẗ(un)], way of being thrown (from horseback)….”

The literal translation of Wright’s phrase is: “Badness of the clinging is better than goodness of the being thrown down.”

It has the ring of a homily anomaly that sounds almost wise. One thinks of the daring young fools of the American rodeo who try to park their asses, pardon the language, on an exploding beast for eight seconds.

(c) 2022 JMN — EthicalDative. All rights reserved

Posted in Anthology, Commentary | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

‘To Translate Is to Look into a Mirror…’

“To translate is to look into a mirror and see someone other than oneself,” Lahiri writes. Credit… Liana Miuccio.

Benjamin Moser reviews Jhumpa Lahiri’s book “Translating Myself and Others.” The book deals with her decision at age 45 to begin writing in Italian, which for her was an entirely learned language.

“Art is not — should not — be an instrument for change of any kind,” she writes. “Once art weds itself to a social or political purpose it is bled of its true purpose, which is not to change the world but to explore the phenomenon and the consequences of change itself.” The book, instead, is about the consequences of the apparently simple act of choosing one’s own words.

(Benjamin Moser, “Jhumpa Lahiri Leaves Her Comfort Zone,” NYTimes, 5-17-22)

Lahiri’s first sentence would better read: “Art is not — and should not be — an instrument for change of any kind.”

One ponders what it means to “explore the phenomenon and the consequences of change” while not being wedded to a social or political purpose. The phrase from Auden’s elegy to Yeats comes to mind: For poetry makes nothing happen…. But the verse continues: it survives / In the valley of its making…etc.

Poetry survives! At least some of it does. Undoubtedly much (most?) of what aspires to be poetry (and art) does not.

Wallace Stevens, in the 1940s, sounded a note similar to Lahiri’s :

… He told one interviewer, the poet could not “allow himself to be absorbed as the politician was” in the moment, for to do so would sabotage the poet’s freedom to write anything of real significance.

(Paul Mariani, “The Whole Harmonium”)

Poets, when called upon, want to rise grandly and memorably to a tragedy or a celebration, but their verses must punch through the circumstance somehow, or else remain occasional. That’s what I hear Lahiri and Stevens implying.

An undying instance of punching through the occasion with language that is terse, torqued, and true, soaring beyond its moment, is the Gettysburg Address:


Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation…
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation… can long endure…
… In a larger sense, we can not… consecrate… this ground. The brave men… who struggled here, have consecrated it… The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here…

(Lincoln, 1863)

(c) 2022 JMN — EthicalDative. All rights reserved

Posted in Commentary, Quotations | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The American Week

Guadalupe River [Credit: Victoria Advocate]

Monday: A law is born in the House of Representatives
Tuesday: The law dies in the Senate
Wednesday: A mass shooting occurs
Thursday: The scene is taped off and sealed
Friday: Thoughts and prayers

Monday: A law is born in the House… etc.

(c) 2022 JMN — EthicalDative. All rights reserved

Posted in Commentary | Tagged , | 4 Comments

Bah-BOOM-BOOM Riff Ripped

Sketch by James Thomas “Tom” Jones (1920-2000), born in San Antonio, Texas.

First published as https://ethicaldative.com/2022/05/22/bah-boom-boom-riff/ .

To Her, Still

One’s home is her castle,
a refuge from hustle
and bustle, the jostle of mobs;
nest in which refuge to seek
from the insults that bristle
in digital wallows
and rants of apostles of doom,
by the wherry that’s painted on wood
on a wall of the room.

Kitchen to mortar and pestle
the herbs for the grub
that she rustles,
remove all the gristle,
leave only the muscle
of meats she imagines she eats.

A nook where to nestle
in comfort and wrestle with issues,
indite her epistles,
ensconced at the trestle desk
cunningly made from a door,
delight in the whistle
of blackbirds, bristle of brushes,
the thistle-and-mistletoe theme
of the rug on the floor.

(c) 2022 JMN — EthicalDative. All rights reserved

Posted in Anthology | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments