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 AE Reiff
 AE Reiff
by AE Reiff  FollowFollow
There is writing to touch like silk, which produces the finest translucency of light, as if it weren’t word but transparency. This more however melts in the fire, slumps around forms like the folds of Balzac’s cloak. Only that state telescopes. Other writing has rigors that never melt. Initially soft it turns brittle and stiff as though there were only one too soft, the other too hard. Another holds itself after the soft to malleable the impasto and shave, roll coat thin, one atop another, palimpsest gratefully to accept the translucent undercarriage that allows the shine. Writing must pass the fire twice, the first prepares to receive the second. Those that enter a second time will not change. Purified as silver, not intellect at all, the shrinkage of one losing water and vanity of mind before anointing with fine oil. Writing wants to receive impression, resist correctly and give form of the formless, the shape of the shaper.
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Electrosmog lights up the smoke, out of order, out of time, like a poem moved by dilemmas for its own sake, but no easy kinship for the desolate sweep. Stephen Spender gets out his Poems of 1933. It is inscribed as an oracle "For Horst Keller as a  souvenir of Oxford London Berlin from Stephen Spender / March 11, 1933." Spender writes in his Journal "I met [Horst] on the Hook of Holland boat once, shortly before Hitler’s rise to power,twelve days after the Reichstag fire (27 Feb 1933).

Fast forward to the Colorado late at night, edge of a lunar eclipse, Halloween with fires, rooftops aflame amid calls on civilization to surrender to what it does not believe, that bizarre Earth burrowers, mole prophets claim.  Who can  understand an illiterate analogy of seventy five postwar German years to manufacture American peace? Time, upset by its recurrence, brings Weimar out of the smoke with the same "unhappy, pained, gentle creatures who represent the heart of another Germany, and do not understand what is happening to them… peculiar whiteness and stillness of their eyes which seem to have been drained of pigment…How closely I press upon a secret! Why am I always attracted by these desolate spirits?" (Stephen Spender, Journals, 1939-1983, 30).

Which do you prefer, 20th century prewar Germany or 21st century prewar America? Stephen says, Watch the hawk with an indifferent eye, that almost won War on the sun until the hands, wings, are found (Poems, 1933, 11). As if it were the best of all possible worlds with the Trojan Horse outside the gate, Leviathan come to land, we find the eyes and hands, and then the tongue.

Hitler's "rise" ended in March 1933 after the Reichstag adopted the Enabling Act of 1933. President Paul von Hindenburg appointed Hitler Chancellor on 30 January 1933 after elections and intrigues. Then Hitler used The Enabling Act to constitutionally exercise dictatorial power without legal objection. 

Spender says, "Horst was the son of a general. And now at least four names crowd on to me I remember. Many are aristocrats and often close to the higher ranks of the army. This boy called Horst had a round face with very well-formed features, delicate lips, light blue eye, and brown hair of an almost feathery lightness. He was very quiet and polite and he had some small, out-of-the-way interest – playing the flute or making musical instruments or something. There’s really nothing much more to it than that. He had a scholarship at Oxford and I used to call on him there; we went for walks and I introduced him to Isaiah Berlin. But he never in the least became part of the life at of those unhappy, pained, gentle creatures who represent the heart of another Germany, and do not understand what is happening to them. I have touched a deeper chord than I knew here, for Have I not met two or three? Didn't I know very well the peculiar whiteness and stillness of their eyes which seem to have been drained of pigment? These poor ghosts are really beautiful in a sexless way, because, if one is a young man of another country, an exile in one's own, one cannot expect to be virile. How closely I press upon a secret! Way am I always attracted by these desolate spirits?" (Journal. 1985, 30)

Keller is dismissed. "Always just as gentle, just as isolated [with] a restlessness that never ceased." But the poor ghosts, Stephen later says, stand as oracles for Americans of  "peculiar whiteness, drained of pigment."  "Most of these poets and writers...delivered their sad advice on the literary life which I was now just about to enter, like ghosts in purgatory, conscious of the relative failure of their illusions" (World On Worlds, 89). As if appointing a board of directors Auden had assigned Spender to be the poet at Oxford, and Isherwood got to be the novelist, grasping at illusion not compulsion. Escape from the Weimar illusion fell to Dylan Thomas, drunk all the time, and Faulkner too, or Edith Sitwell immersed in some depth psychology of esoteric Jung. The lords of lit dismiss its victims as Americans dismiss the present, Spender says, with "the sustained gentle sense of unhappiness" (31). So much signifying of Horst Keller naked, dismissed for lack of philosophic depth as all poets and critics scourge each another. Pound called Yeats The Tower putrid. Hemingway called Spender squeamish, and why not?  It is the counterpart of the bullying Stephen  received, "My parents kept me from children who were rough…their knees tight on my arms. / I feared the salt coarse pointing of those boys" (Poems XII).  

Cloistered Stephen and Keller prophesy how we live in Weimar before the fall, "coracles with faces painted on" (Spender, Poems, III). Even if the Reich-stag burns in the Twin Towers morphed to a propaganda tool, these are just mirages of the digital, like a new species of  digitalis that poisoned Van Gogh's brain which he was given for seizures. His brain saw a color shift which produced the yellow period, haloes around lightsXanthopsia fools like propaganda. Our seizures, after creation of the group mind, when the news is offered by Yahoo headlines, have no word for who will destroy the world. Oracle ambiguous. Electronic designs "more beautiful and soft than any moth / With burring furred antennae feeling its huge path" (Poems, XXVII).  This is Weimar's Childhood’s End, catalyzed by the beast that comes from its ship in 50 years!  

So it’s not just England naked and the world where "all things are naked and opened unto the eyes" as the saint in Stephen would say. He could have written a Psalm, "I am poured out like water and all my bones are out of joint…I may count all my bones." (Psalm 22.14). England is America without water to cross. England echoes America and America China, India, Ukraine, Egypt, Japan. The Globe is the world, the splendid coracle says, absolutely guarded in its superiority of being, "three stand naked: the new, bronzed German, / the communist clerk, and myself, being English" (Poems, XIV in 1929). All for one and one for all. HBO. "I’m haunted by these images, /  I’m haunted by their emptiness" (Poems, XVI). Who in Wii America lives in the shadow of war? None! Just like Weimar. QED!  Spender, a decade before, sees "The prisoners / Turned massive with their vaults and dark with dark" (Poems, XX). The oracle "throws up strange shapes, broad curves / And parallels clean like the steel of guns" (Poems, XXVI). Everybody feels empowered by the need not to remember. Maps, addresses, time are no more. Weimar does not believe the porcelain words of "Slanting iron hair pattern no stigmata" (Poems, XXXI), "that program of the antique Satan / Bristling with guns on the indented page" (Poems, XXXIII). The machine of war in three worlds: apocalypse heaven, earth and hell. Choose at least one. That’s what you get when their knees are tight on your arms and they hold you down, while Chomsky thinks its Hitler from the right with the forces marching, left, right, left, right. It's not Hitler coming, or Weimar just back from the Danube,  Marlene Dietrich singing, hyperinflation, Balkanization. It's four angels loosed from the Euphrates.


-Electrosmog. Reviews of Electrosmog. The Diaries of Kurk Wold.

-Poems. Stephen Spender (Faber and Faber, 1933).

-"All things are naked and opened unto the eyes." Hebrews 4.13

-Xanthopsia. A deficiency of the optical media of the eye, predominating yellow.

-"Putrid." The Paris Review interview with Stephen Spender, Winter/Spring 1980.

-Chomsky, see



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