There was once a man (reputed to be the wisest in the world) who . . .

There was once a man (reputed to be the wisest in the world) who, although living to an untold age, confined his teaching to the one word of advice: “Endure!” At length a rival arose and challenged him to a debate which took place before a large assembly. “You say ‘Endure,’ ” cried the rival sage, “but I don’t want to endure. I wish to love and to be loved, to conquer and create, I wish to know what  is right, then do it and be happy.” There was no reply from his opponent, and, on looking more closely at the old creature, his adversary found him to consist of an odd-shaped rock on which had taken root a battered thorn that presented, by an optical illusion, the impression of hair and a beard. Triumphantly he pointed out the mistake to the authorities, but they were not concerned. “Man or rock,” they answered, “what does it matter?” And at that moment the wind, reverberating through the sage’s moss-grown orifice, repeated with a hollow sound: “Endure!”

— from The Unquiet Grave : A Word Cycle by Palinurus.  Cyril Connolly. c1945. Compass Books Edition, 1957. p. 53.

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“The lint of heroes, the powder of saints, the remnants of stars, grit of meteors. To the Bohemian, dust is a cosmic confectioners’ sugar, softly acting all objects and surfaces in myopic finery. Dust obscures edges and reality, newness and pretense. Dust imbues a room with an aura of unself-conscious enchantment. Dust is egalitarian — all objects are equally blurred.

“The Bohemian understands the historic, poetic and melancholy nature of dust. The the Bohemian, dust is powder from the wings of moths, ash of Vesuvius, cremains of Joan of Arc, atomic fallout, debris of bombed Berlin, soot brushed from the boots of blue-eyed, black-lunged pubescent chimneysweeps in nineteenth-century London. Dust is the dander of a raja’s tiger, the erosion of stones, Aztec temples, sphinxes and palaces, the wayward atoms once part of Pericles, Napoleon, Casanova and Geronimo, the pulverized manuscripts of Debussy, Goethe, Coleridge and Zola, the crumbs of Marie Antoinette’s breakfast, powder from her hair, molecules from Cleopatra’s black eye kohl and residue from John Wayne Gacy’s clown white. Dust is the desiccated petals of poppies and the once flamboyant orchids that grow along the Amazon, it is the spent smoke of opium pipes, the fur of monkeys, literary particles from the Alexandria Library, the dust feathered from the furniture of queens.

“Romantic Bohemians take the old-world view of dust and see it as beggar’s velvet or house moss…

. . .

“…Bohemians are not interested in repetitive tasks; they seek adventure, art, iconoclastic expression. Dusting is a Sisyphean venture. Why bother?”

pp. 90-92, Bohemian Manifesto, a Field Guide to Living on the Edge, by Lauren Stover. Bullfinch Press, c2004.

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“But they are not the only minerals, these precious ones…”

“But they are not the only minerals, these precious ones, these objects of old association, whose names, Almandine and Emerald, Topaz and Garnet, Jargoon and Diamond, Amethyst and Ruby, so ring and so sparkle in the darkness of the mind. All of them, all the jewels in the jewel rooms of emperors, czars, sultans, dwarfs, dragons and merchants of Hatton Gardens, viewed by the dog, are no more, again, than ordinary stones, no more than crystallizations of common chemical elements or extracted and polished fragments of the crust of the earth we live on.

“Should we not look also at the more vulgar minerals, some of which in shape and arrangement, if not in color, are revealed so astonishingly in the photographs of this book? And revealed as friends, no less than Ivan the Terrible’s rubies and amethysts, to grace and to virtue? They may have no associations, we may have to look at them as at neutral objects; but we should look at them with our own human eye, and not with the dog’s eye, which I have mentioned less to cry down or disallow precious stones or dull their authentic strangeness and glory, than to emphasize the kinship of treasured and untreasured, of the minerals with history and the minerals without. Everyone knows what to say in front of a Botticelli, but in front of a painting by an unknown artist from Balham or Skibbereen it is our own eye we have to trust.”
— from “The Past in Stone” by Geoffrey Grigson, in the 1957 British photo book about rocks, all illustrated in glorious black & white: The Living Rocks. Preface by Andre Maurois of the Academie française with a commentary by Geoffrey Grigson, and photos and magnifications by Stévan Célébonovic. Translations by Joyce Emerson & Stanley A. Pocock. London: Phoenix House [1957]. p. 8. 
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About Stone: An Ecology of the Inhuman

Excerpts from Hunter Dukes’ review of: Stone: An Ecology of the Inhuman, by Jeffrey Jerome Cohen (University of Minnesota Press, June 2015. 376 pp.): 


In an Empire of the Dead

Los Angeles Review of Books – July 17th, 2015

“. . . [Jeffrey Jerome Cohen’s book] Stone seeks liveliness in what might be the most mundane of substances. For too long, the lithic has been thought of as cold and inert, the unchanging foil to life’s rapid evolution. If our historic engagement with stone is the story of cave painting, toolmaking, and home building, Cohen wants to recover a secret history that moves beyond such utilitarian domination. His version is about collaboration and gregarious commingling between humans and stones. Look closely at ammonite and watch the borderline between the organic and inorganic quietly dissolve. Contemplate a gem to reveal medieval lapidary magic, global trade routes, and the humbling scale of deep time. Cohen zooms out from a pebble to a planet and finds ‘a durable link to a dynamic cosmos . . .’ ”

“. . . The most interesting sections of Cohen’s book are the places where stone appears alien, only to suddenly reveal a glossy sheen. Look closely enough and see two eyes staring back. That face gazing out from the world of objects is our own distorted reflection, made strange enough to clearly see . . .

“. . . Jane Bennett, coiner of concepts like ‘thing-power,’ suggests that we need animistic rhetoric to combat the way our language inherently privileges the human: “We need to cultivate a bit of anthropomorphism— the idea that human agency has some echoes in nonhuman nature— to counter the narcissism of humans in charge of the world . . .

“. . . One day we too will leave this dervish dance behind. Our bodies will be buried or burned, returning troves of elements to the earth. Carbon, nitrogen, and magnesium will feed a new generation of plants, which will nourish animals, including human beings. We might become part of subducting plates, plunging deep into the planet’s mantel[sic]. What enters as a loose confederation, will emerge as ordered, igneous stone.”

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The Old Sluice Box — a poem from 1880

via the California Digital Newspaper Collection — “A Freely Accessible Repository of Digitized California Newspapers from 1846 to the Present” — try it out!

Daily Alta California, vol. 32, No. 10883 – San Francisco, Saturday, Jan. 31, 1880.

At the Pioneer banquet, given at Bodie [California] New Year’s evening, the following pretty poem, written by Maurice Gregory, was recited. Its sentiment will appeal to all the “Old Boys:”


Where rocks are gray and the mountains steep,
And the gulch below was dark and deep ;
Where the gnarled pines in their rugged pride
Loom gloomily up on either side ;
Where the manzanita is crooked and thick,
Where once was heard the shovel and pick ;
Where the shadows lie heavy upon the rocks,
There lies, half-buried, the old sluice box.

The idle stream through it lazily glides,
Gently washing its mouldering sides —
Sides that once were muddy and dim
From the yellow dirt that was cast within ;
While across the stream, on the gravel heaps,
The agile squirrel silently leaps ;
And the crested quail, fluttering drops
For its evening drink from the old sluice box.

Oh, many a day, with a weary hand,
Have I tossed in its bed the glittering sand ;
And dreamed, as I leaned on its rotting side,
Raking the depths of its turbid tide,
Of father’s gray hairs and dear mother’s smile,
And loved ones at home who were waiting the while
The wanderer’s return. But time sneeringly mocks
At the days that I toiled at the old sluice box.

From the moss-green rock on which I lean,
I gaze down into the sluggish stream ;
The face that I see has graver grown,
And my voice it seems has a soberer tone ;
And the wanton winds with my hair at play
Shows that my locks have all turned gray.
Still I love to think of the days gone by,
When my spirits were light, and my hopes were
I could welcome again the rough, hard knocks
To be mining once more with the old sluice box.

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A Survival: Gold and the Imperishable Rock

“A man never knows what tiny thing will startle him to such ancestral and impersonal tears. Piles of superb masonry will often pass like a common panorama; an on this grey and silver morning the ruined towers of the cathedral stood about me somewhat vaguely like grey clouds. But down in a hollow where the local antiquaries are making a fruitful excavation, a magnificent old ruffian with a pickaxe (whom I believe to have been St. Joseph of Arimathea) showed me a fragment of the old vaulted roof which he had found in the earth; and on the whitish grey stone there was just a faint brush of gold. There seemed a piercing and swordlike pathos, an unexpected fragrance of all forgotten or desecrated things, in the bare survival of that poor little pigment upon the imperishable rock.”

— G.K. Chesterton, Alarms and Discursions, chap. 15, “The Gold of Glastonbury,” pp. 116-117. Reprinted in: The Quotable Chesterton, the Wit and Wisdom of G.K. Chesterton, ed. Kevin Belmonte (Nashville: Thomas Nelson c2011)

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Past the Screens of Words and Signs . . . are Stones

“Une des caractéristiques de la littérature contemporaine est d’être animée par le désir de dépasser les écrans de mots et de signes pour renouer avec une expérience immédiate du monde, avec l’élémentaire, dont la minéralité offre l’image la plus radicale.”

Livres de Pierre : Segalen, Caillois, Le Clézio, Gracq / by Bruno Tritsmans. Tübingen : G. Narr, c1992. p. 126.

“One of the characteristics of contemporary literature is to be animated by the desire to get beyond the screens of words and signs to reconnect with an immediate experience of the world, with the elementary, of which minerality offers the most radical picture.”

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