Tag Archives: Blaise Pascal

A bit of Baudelaire

As my November sonnet binge approaches, I apparently feel the need to limber up.

Among our dog Nessie’s amusing quirks is her terror of holes covered by grids. A couple of years ago, I was delighted when she sniffed warily at such a hole and had her terror justified when the darkness just beneath the grid turned out into a hissing cat. That gave rise to this:

She looks down
Wherever Nessie goes she takes her fear
of what might lie beneath the solid ground.
She doesn’t shrink from cliffs, she’ll gladly bound
down hillsides, but she comes all over queer
when asked to walk on grids that cover holes –
no matter if mere centimetres deep.
She turns to stone, responds to no controls
as one afraid of dreams recoils from sleep.

At times, off leash, ears pointing, she will dare,
tout pleine de vague horreur, and so so slow,
creep to the edge and, fascinated, stare
at unseen demons, the nothing-space below.

Today, green eyes stared back from an abyss,
and scared her silly with a black cat’s hiss.

A special prize if you noticed the references to Baudelaire’s poem Le Gouffre, itself referring back to Blaise Pascal’s existential terror. Now it’s not as if I’ve been abyss-obsessed myself, but I was thinking about Baudelaire’s poem recently and spent a couple of hours doing a version of it. My reading of the last line seems to be the opposite of everyone else’s, but maybe I’m the only one in step. Here it is:

The abyss
Pascal travelled with his own abyss.
Poor Blaise! all’s horror: deeds, desires, dreams,
and words! My nape too feels the screams
of bristles at the breath of Fear’s soft kiss.
Above, below, all round, on banks, in streams,
in silence, in great captivating space …
my night’s a wall for God’s hand to deface
with take-no-prisoners spray, where nightmare teems.

I fear my sleep, a door that opens wide
to formless horror on who knows what tide.
Infinity is every window’s view.

My heart, forever dizzy for a fall,
yearns for a void, for numbness over all.
Ah! Not to leave what’s solid, two plus two.

Bill Willingham’s Bad Doings and Big Ideas

Bill Willingham (writer and artist), and Mark Buckingham, Zander Cannon, Duncan Fegredo, Peter Gross, Paul Guinan, Nico Henrichon, Adam Hughes, Phil Jimenez, Michael Wm Kaluta, Jason Little, Marc Laming, Shawn McManus, Linda Medley, Albert Monteys, Kevin Nowlan, David Peterson, Paul Pope, Eric Powell, Ron Randall, John Stokes, Jill Thompson, Daniel Torres, Bernie Wrightson (artists), John Costanza and Todd Klein (letterers), Bad Doings and Big Ideas: A Bill Willingham Deluxe Edition (Vertigo 2011)

As I continue on my intermittent re-entry into the world of comics, which I abandoned at roughly 12 and came back to in my late 50s, it’s the non-fiction that I respond to most, and after that – oddly, since I don’t care for it in non-graphic narratives or movies – it’s fantasy-horror. Or maybe it’s not so odd, as it was Neil Gaiman’s epic Sandman that re-piqued my interest.

This hefty hardback full of horror was a Christmas gift, and one that gave me a lot of pleasure. Bill Willingham, I gather from his entertaining interstitials here, is a writer and artist best known for a series of comics called Fables. This is not that. It’s a collection of Other Stuff, including a number of adventures of minor characters from the Sandman universe. I don’t know what the uninitiated would make of these, with their injokes and unexplained walk-ons, but the stories stand up by themselves, especially the 60 or so pages of Thessaly the witch (the second half of which I read in its own book, also a gift, a while back).

The opening story, Proposition Player, is the longest (130+ pages) and most interesting. Willingham tells us it was the first thing he wrote for Vertigo, having been an artist with them for some time. It must have been quite a debut: the hero starts out working for a casino and ends up through a series of poor choices and successful gambles as the most powerful God (capital intended) in the cosmos. The gambles are much grander than Pascal’s bet, and I wonder if the story’s cheerful blasphemy does more damage to the cultural authority of established religion than the humourless argumentation of, say, Richard Dawkins.

I’m currently leading a double life as a reader. In one life, I’m reading a number of huge books, and in the other a whole lot of smaller ones as counterpoint. When I was reading Reamde, which is great fun but far too big to lump around in a shoulder bag, I read poetry books and literary journals, physically but not intellectually light. Now I’m a third of the way through Frank Moorhouse’s Cold Light, not as physically weighty as Readme, but quite a slog – the slogginess doesn’t make me want to give up on the book, but it does make me cry out for something lively to relieve the pain. Bad Doings and Big Ideas was perfect for the part. And I have a couple more Christmas present comics that are also looking good.