Thursday, May 21, 2020


Ascension of Christ, Salvador Dali (1958)

Eucatastrophe is a neologism coined by J.R.R. Tolkien from Greek ευ- "good" and καταστροφή "destruction".
"I coined the word 'eucatastrophe': the sudden happy turn in a story which pierces you with a joy that brings tears (which I argued it is the highest function of fairy-stories to produce). And I was there led to the view that it produces its peculiar effect because it is a sudden glimpse of Truth, your whole nature chained in material cause and effect, the chain of death, feels a sudden relief as if a major limb out of joint had suddenly snapped back. It perceives – if the story has literary 'truth' on the second plane (....) – that this is indeed how things really do work in the Great World for which our nature is made. And I concluded by saying that the Resurrection was the greatest 'eucatastrophe' possible in the greatest Fairy Story – and produces that essential emotion: Christian joy which produces tears because it is qualitatively so like sorrow, because it comes from those places where Joy and Sorrow are at one, reconciled, as selfishness and altruism are lost in Love."
― Letter 89

Friday, May 15, 2020

Dogfight in the Sky

After consultation, the elderly squadron leader
knew he would be fighting for survival:
hormone therapy as back-up – thirty-seven sorties
of carefully targeted external beam radiotherapy
homing in on the prostate and surrounding area.
When he leaves the briefing room he’s kitted out,
hands shaking, stomach churning, bladder full.
Morning sunshine floods across the tarmac.
This could be Biggin Hill in 1940. He can’t wait
to take off, destroy the enemy, get the job done.
The other chaps have their own stories: one
couldn’t climb up; another peed in the cockpit.
He remembers those who didn’t come back:
ditched; burnt; “some corner of a foreign field,”
but, with the latest equipment, he should be fine.
He’s in the cockpit, no longer troubled by nerves.
Above him – a spotless blue sky: the face of heaven;
the growl of the engines is music; a slight vibration,
the gun carefully aimed, the button ready to press.
He closes his eyes. It’s all over in minutes.
On the runway a nurse is smiling at him.
He climbs down and smooths his moustache –
relief – the fuselage undamaged – no friendly fire.
He slips off his gown and opens his log book:
mission accomplished – one down, thirty-six to go.
Walking across the tarmac he passes more pilots,
one – no more than a boy, some – hardened veterans.
He recalls that day in July 1940 when he was nearly
shot down – saved for another kind of dogfight;
another kind of enemy; another kind of war.
~ A. K. Shaw

Sunday, May 10, 2020


"She often thought back to the court theater in Whitehall. She thought of the small gestures of the actors, of the long sentences, their ever-varying, nearly musical rhythm, now swift and clattering along, now dying gradually away, now questioning, now bristling with authority. There had been theater performances whenever she came to the court to visit her parents. People stood on the stage and dissembled, but she had grasped at once that this was not so at all and that the dissembling too was merely a mask, for it was not the theater that was false, no, everything else was pretense, disguise, and frippery, everything that was not theater was false. On the stage people were themselves, completely true, fully transparent. In real life no one spoke in soliloquies. Everyone kept his thoughts to himself, faces could not be read, everyone dragged the dead weight of his secrets. No one stood alone in his room and spoke aloud about his desires and fears, but when Burbage did so on the stage, in his rasping voice, his very thin fingers at eye level, it seemed unnatural that men should forever conceal what transpired within them. And what words he used! Rich words, rare, shimmering like cloth of gold—sentences so perfectly constructed that they were beyond anything you yourself could ever have managed. This is how things should be, the theater told you, this is how you should talk, how you should hold yourself, how you should feel, this is what it would be like to be a true human being."
~from TYLL, a novel by Daniel Kehlmann, translated from German by Ross Benjamin

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Let My People Go!

John Martin, Seventh Plague of Egypt (1823)