plane of nothingness

From the foot of the Great Khan’s throne a majolica pavement extended. Marco Polo, mute informant, spread out on it the samples of his wares he had brought back from his journeys to the end of the empire: a helmet, a seashell, a coconut, a fan. Arranging the objects in a certain order on the black and white tiles, and occasionally shifting them with studied moves, the ambassador tried to depict form the monarch’s eyes the vicissitudes of his travels, the conditions of the empire, the prerogatives of the distant provincial seats. Continue reading “plane of nothingness”

exceptional cities

“From now on, I’ll describe the cities to you,” the Khan had said, “in your journey you will see if they exist.”

But the cities visited by Marco Polo were always different from those thought of by the emperor. Continue reading “exceptional cities”

gestures, grimaces, glances

… Newly arrived and quite ignorant of the language of the Levant, Marco Polo could express himself only by drawing objects from his baggage – drums, salt fish, necklaces of war hogs’ teeth – and pointing to them with gestures, leaps, cries of wonder or of horror, imitating the bay of the jackal, the hoot of the owl.

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Introduction (to “The Best American Noir of the Century”)

We created it, but they love it more in France than they do here. Noir is the most scrutinized offshoot of the hard-boiled school of fiction. It’s the long drop off the short pier, and the wrong man and the wrong woman in perfect misalliance. It’s the nightmare of flawed souls with big dreams and the prices how and why of the all-time sure thing that goes bad. noir is opportunity as fatality, social justice as sanctified shuck, and sexual love as a one-way ticket to hell. Noir indicts the other subgenres of the hard-boiled school as sissified, and canonized the inherent human urge toward self-destruction.

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ear peace

Kafka, incidentally, was a dedicated user of Ohropax (or ‘ear peace’) earplugs, the invention in 1908 of Maximilian Negwer, a Germany pharmacist who was initially inspired by the same episode of the Odyssey [where Odysseus used kneaded, sun-softened wax to block the ears of his crew as a protection against the song of the Sirens]. Continue reading “ear peace”