December 22nd, 2004


in memoriam isaak zelyony, m.d.

March 26, 1923 — March 1, 2004
    Dear friends,
    We are gathered today to commit to the ground the mortal remains of my father Isaak Zelyony. There will be no religious ceremony. Three years ago, my father and I attended nearby the funeral of his elder brother Joseph. The rabbi officiating at that event offered thanks to God for a swift and easy death. My uncle’s death was anything but easy. He lingered at the hospital for eighteen months suffering from a panoply of grave ailments, delirious and inane, fed through a breach in his stomach. My father and I agreed then that no clergyman would officiate at our funerals. As born and bred Soviets, we have no religion. My father did not believe in God. I am unsure of my own beliefs, but such God as I believe in surely is no one that owns a character of any kind, in particular not of the kind that wills for any outcome or cares about his creatures, let alone heeds their prayers. My God is akin to the indifferent jailor of a GULAG prison camp, and as his inmates we are well advised to abide by the traditional admonishment of Soviet prisoners: Wait for nothing. Be afraid of nothing. Ask for nothing.
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nocturnal auscultation

    George Spiggott: In the words of Marcel Proust — and this applies to any woman in the world — if you can stay up and listen with a fair degree of attention to whatever garbage, no matter how stupid it is, that they’re coming out with, till ten minutes past four in the morning... you’re in!

Judith Leyster, The Proposition, 1631

    Rachel Wang: I wonder there were something missing in you, you don’t feel disturbed and annoyed easily. […] You are too pure and you are too spoiled.
Michael’s Inbox at ten minutes past four in the morning

    Rachel calls and emails. She complains that she cannot sleep. She complains that Michael does not really like any woman. She complains that Michael envies men. She complains that Michael regards women as something to rely upon. She wants Michael to marry an old and successful lady whose husband left her a big fortune. She wants Michael to find himself a same sex lover to admire and love. But Rachel is a good woman. She still has that tender feeling towards Michael. When she meets her ex-husband, she calls him Michael. And vice versa. Rachel is lonely now. She misses her family. She cannot go back to China to face them the way she is. She is tired. She wants a warm body to hold. She wants to be held. She is 2,462 miles away. She had to leave town because she couldn’t stay away from Michael otherwise. She can’t stay away from him anyway. She hates him.

two parables on relativity and respect

    Two schnorrers [Jewish hobo-beggars] are discussing Einstein’s theory. One explains to the other patiently that, “All it means is that everything is relative. It’s like this, but it’s also like that. It’s entirely different, but it’s the same thing. You understand?” “No,” says the other schnorrer; “could you give me an example?” “Of course. Let’s say I fuck you in the ass. I have a prick in the ass, and you have a prick in the ass. It’s entirely different, but it’s the same thing. Now do you understand?” “Ah-hah!” agrees the other; “but I got one question: this way Einstein makes a living?”
— Gershon Legman, origamist and cunning linguist extraordinaire, Rationale of the Dirty Joke, Second Series

German Jewish Dueling Fraternity, 1907
    A schnorrer addresses his prospective benefactor outside of a tavern: “Tell me, reb Schmuel, why is it that when I piss, it sounds like a rusty faucet leaking, but when you piss, it sounds like a mighty river flowing?” The pillar of his community glances down and replies: “I say, Moishe Pipik, could it be because when I piss, I aim into the gutter, but when you piss, you aim at my sable coat?”
— MZ

Manneken Pis, Brussels, Belgium

0. rien de louche

    Il n’existe que trois êtres respectables :
    Le prêtre, le guerrier, le poète. Savoir, tuer et créer.
    Les autres hommes sont taillables et corvéables, faits pour l’écurie, c'est-à-dire pour exercer ce qu'on appelle des professions.
    — Charles Baudelaire, Mon cœur mis à nu
    There exist but three respectable beings:
    The priest, the warrior, the poet. To know, to kill, to create.
    The rest of men are malleable, fit for the fatigue party, made for the stables, in other words for the practice of that, which is called professions.
    — Charles Baudelaire, My heart laid bare, translated by MZ

Charles Baudelaire in 1855, photograph taken by Nadar
Je suis fier d’une chose, et très fier. C’est que mes enfants, si Dieu m’en donne, n’auront pas du sang de marchand dans les veines. Leur grand-père n’aura pas mis le matin un pain à cacheter sous la balance pour qu’elle pèse un centigramme de plus et qu’elle livre un centigramme de mélasse de moins; lequel centigramme répété vingt fois dans la journée fait un cinquième de gramme, et au bout de cinq jours un gramme, de sorte qu’après avoir pendant un mois mérité six cents fois d’aller en prison, on gagne un sou — six grammes de mélasse valant un sou. Voilà le commerce.
    Avant d’épouser une femme riche tout honnête homme doit dire : Cet argent a-t-il été gagné en faisant des livres, en enseignant, en travailllant avec une plume à la main ? Au grand soleil ? Point de pièces qui aient sonné dans un comptoir !
    Sentir dans mes cheveux une main qui a roulé des cornets ! Boire l’infini dans un œil qui pendant dix ans ait épié l’instant où l’acheteur se retournait pour enlever une pincée de sucre an poudre ! Pouah !… Si ce n’est elle qui l’eût fait, c’eût été son père. Si ce n’est son père, son grand-père, si ce n’est son grand-père, son bisaïeul.
    J’ai pour devise : Rien de louche — et tout commerce est louche. Je méprise autant la veuve Clicquot que la mère Grégoire. On vole en grand, voilà tout. Ils sont nécessaires ces gens-là? oui, comme les lacquais. Je donnerai mes bottes à mon lacquais, mas pas la main de ma fille.
    — Stéphane Mallarmé à Henri Cazalis, octobre 1862
There is one thing I am proud of, and I am very proud of it. It’s that my children, if God gives me any, will not have the blood of merchants in their veins. Their grandfather will not have placed one morning a piece of sealing-wax under his scales, so that they weigh a hundredth of a gram more and deliver a hundredth of a gram of molasses less, which hundredth of a gram repeated twenty times a day makes a fifth of a gram, and after five days a whole gram, so that after having deserved imprisonment six hundred times in a month, you make one sou’s profit — six grams of molasses being worth one sou. That’s business for you.
    Before getting married to a rich woman, every honest man should ask — was that money earned by producing books, by teaching people, by living by the pen? Out in the open air? No coins that have rang on the counters!
    To feel running through my hair a hand that has rolled pastry! Drink the infinite in the eyes that for ten years watched for the moment when a customer’s back was turned to remove a pinch of powdered sugar! Phew! Even if she had not done it herself, her father would have. And if not her father, her grandfather; if not her grandfather, her great-grandfather.
    I have for a motto: Nothing suspect, and all business is suspect. I despise the Veuve Clicquot as much as Mother Grégoire [a saloon-keeper in an operetta by Scribe and Boisseaux]. It’s stealing big, that’s all. Is this kind of people necessary? Yes, just like servants. I will hand over my boots to my servant, but not my daughter’s hand in marriage.
    — Stéphane Mallarmé to Henri Cazalis, October 1862, translated by MZ

Édouard Manet, Stéphane Mallarmé, 1876, oil on canvas 27x36cm, Musée d’Orsay