XERXES



 


That's not me.  (I'm over here.)  It's Xerxes in her best Sunday dress.
This week she has been reading Marguerite Yourcenar's The Memoirs of Hadrian.
 
 
What a beautiful book!  Yourcenar was the first woman elected to the
Académie française (in 1980) and she has a fascinating life story.
Xerxes would like to have visited her and Grace Frick In Petite Plaisance.
 
In this novel she writes as Emperor Hadrian who is composing a letter to
Marcus Aurelius while nearing the end of his life and  looking (with honesty
and tremendous insight) over the whole.  She carries off the first-person
narrative with such a compelling performance Xerxes was astounded.
 
Here are a few pages from the first chapter that made it clear
to Xerxes that she had happened upon something really fine:
 
 
The cynics and the moralists agree in placing the pleasures of love among the enjoyments
termed gross, that is, between the desire for drinking and the need for eating, though at
the same time they call love less indispensable, since it is something which, they assert, one
can go without.  I expect about anything from the moralist, but am astonished that the cynic
should go thus astray.  Probably both fear their own demons, whether resisting or surrendering
to them, and they oblige themselves to scorn their pleasure in order to reduce its almost
terrifying power, which overwhelms them, and its strange mystery, wherein they feel lost.  I shall
never believe in the classification of love among the purely physical joys (supposing that any such
things exist) until I see a gourmet sobbing with delight over his favorite dish like a lover gasping
on a young shoulder.  Of all our games, love's play is the only one which threatens to unsettle the
soul, and is also the only one in which the player has to abandon himself to the body's ecstasy. 
To put reason aside is not indispensable for a drinker, but the lover who leaves reason in control
does not follow his god to the end.  In every act save that of love, abstinence and excess alike involve
but one person; any step in the direction of sensuality, however, places us in the presence of the
Other, and involves us in the demands and servitudes to which our choice binds us (except in the case
of Diogenes, where both the limitations and the merits of reasonable expedient are self-evident). 
I know no decision which a man makes for simpler or more inevitable reasons, where the object
chosen is weighted more exactly for its balance of sheer pleasure, or where the seeker after truth
has a better chance to judge the naked human being.  Each time, from a stripping down as absolute
as that of death, and from a humility which surpasses that of defeat and of prayer, I marvel to see
again reforming the complex web of experiences shared and refused, of mutual responsibilities,
awkward avowals, transparent lies, and passionate compromises between my pleasures and
those of the Other, so many bonds impossible to break but nevertheless so quickly loosened. 
That mysterious play which extends from love of a body to love of an entire person has seemed
to me noble enough to consecrate to it one part of my life.  Words for it are deceiving, since
the word for pleasure covers contradictory realities comprising notions of warmth, sweetness,
and intimacy of bodies, but also feelings of violence and agony, and the sound of a cry. 
The short and obscene sentence of Poseidonius about the rubbing together of two small pieces
of flesh, which I have seen you copy in your exercise books with the application of a good
schoolboy, does no more to define the phenomenon of love than the taut cord touched by the
finger accounts for the infinite miracle of sounds.  Such a dictum is less an insult to pleasure
than to the flesh itself, that amazing instrument of muscles, blood, and skin, that red-tinged cloud
whose lightning is the soul.  And I admit that the reason stands confounded in presence of the
veritable prodigy that love is, and of the strange obsession which makes this same flesh (for
which we care so little when it is that of our own body, and which concerns us only to wash
and nourish it, and if possible to keep it from suffering) inspire us with such a passion of
caresses simply because it is animated by an individuality different from one's own, and because
it presents certain lineaments of beauty, disputed though they may be by the best judges. 
Here human logic stops short, as before the revelations of the Mysteries.
 
 

***

 

Any comments you might have for Xerxes
can be sent to Hud[dot]Hudson[at]wwu[dot]edu.
I will see to it that she receives them.

***
 
 
Xerxes' Fifth Year
 
 
Last week Xerxes was reading Vladimir Nabokov's Laughter in the Dark
The week before Xerxes was reading Ivan Turgenev's First Love
The week before Xerxes was reading Muriel Spark's Memento Mori
The week before Xerxes was reading Ronald B. Shwartz's For the Love of Books
The week before Xerxes was reading E.H. Gombrich's The Story of Art
The week before Xerxes was reading Jonathan Swift's A Modest Proposal
The week before Xerxes was reading T.S. Eliot's The Wasteland
The week before Xerxes was reading Edwin Abbott Abbott's Flatland
The week before Xerxes was reading Harold Pinter's The Homecoming
The week before Xerxes was reading Carson McCullers's The Heart is a Lonely Hunter
The week before Xerxes was reading Arnold Lobel's The Adventures of Frog and Toad
The week before Xerxes was reading Robert and Richard Sherman's My Own Home
The week before Xerxes was reading Christopher McDougall's Born to Run
The week before Xerxes was reading Hermann Hesse's A Child's Heart
The week before Xerxes was reading Francesco Petrarch's Triumphs
The week before Xerxes was reading Percy Bysshe Shelley's The Triumph of Life
The week before Xerxes was reading William Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida
The week before Xerxes was reading Albert Camus's The Fall
The week before Xerxes was reading C.S. Lewis's Letters to an American Lady
The week before Xerxes was reading Stephen Prothero's God is not One
The week before Xerxes was reading Alvin Plantinga's Where the Conflict Really Lies
The week before Xerxes was reading Frederick Buechner's The Sacred Journey and Now and Then
The week before Xerxes was reading David Berlinski's The Devil's Delusion
The week before Xerxes was reading Philip Kitcher's Living with Darwin
The week before Xerxes was reading Bernard Suit's The Grasshopper: Games, Life and Utopia
 
 
Xerxes' Fourth Year
 
 
The week before Xerxes was reading Stanley Fish's Save the World on Your Own Time
The week before Xerxes was reading Mark William Roche's Why Choose the Liberal Arts?
The week before Xerxes was reading Thomas Hurka's The Best Things in Life
The week before Xerxes was reading a Carthusian monk's The Cloud of Unknowing
The week before Xerxes was reading Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist
The week before Xerxes was reading Eduardo Galeano's Mirrors: Stories of Almost Everyone
The week before Xerxes was reading Plato's Republic
The week before Xerxes was reading Elizabeth McCracken's An Exact Replica
The week before Xerxes was reading Saul Bellow's Ravelstein
The week before Xerxes was reading Henry David Thoreau's Reading
The week before Xerxes was reading Allan Bloom's The Closing of the American Mind
The week before Xerxes was reading Molière's Tartuffe
The week before Xerxes was reading Aristophanes's The Clouds
The week before Xerxes was reading Paulo Coelho's The Devil and Miss Prym
The week before Xerxes was reading Richard Russo's Straight Man
The week before Xerxes was reading Howard Jacobson's The Finkler Question
The week before Xerxes was reading Nicole Krauss's Great House
The week before Xerxes was reading Thomas Jefferson's Declaration of Independence
The week before Xerxes was reading Geshe Kelsang Gyatso's Universal Compassion
The week before Xerxes was reading Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go
The week before Xerxes was reading Hermann Hesse's Narcissus and Goldmund
The week before Xerxes was reading George Bernard Shaw's Back to Methuselah
The week before Xerxes was reading Elizabeth Strout's Olive Kitteridge
The week before Xerxes was reading God's The Book of Job
The week before Xerxes was reading Dennis Potter's Hide and Seek
The week before Xerxes was reading Iris Murdoch's The Time of the Angels
The week before Xerxes was reading Mervyn Peake's Collected Poems
The week before Xerxes was reading José Donoso's The Garden Next Door
The week before Xerxes was reading Shel Silverstein's The Giving Tree
The week before Xerxes was reading Lisa Genova's Still Alice
The week before Xerxes was reading G.K. Chesterton's Manalive
The week before Xerxes was reading David Orr's Beautiful & Pointless
The week before Xerxes was reading A.A. Milne's Winnie-the-Pooh
The week before Xerxes was reading Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart
The week before Xerxes was reading Douglas Hofstadter's A Person Paper on Purity in Language
The week before Xerxes was reading C.S. Lewis's The Screwtape Letters
The week before Xerxes was reading William Butler Yeats's He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven
The week before Xerxes was reading Jonathan Swift's The Battle of the Books
The week before Xerxes was reading Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air
The week before Xerxes was reading Niccolo Machiavelli's Letter to Francesco Vettori
The week before Xerxes was reading Henry David Thoreau's Life Without Principle
The week before Xerxes was reading Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman
The week before Xerxes was reading Mary Shelley's Frankenstein
The week before Xerxes was reading William Shakespeare's Measure for Measure
The week before Xerxes was reading George Orwell's Animal Farm
The week before Xerxes was reading Jonathan Safran Foer's Eating Animals
The week before Xerxes was reading Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's The Little Prince
The week before Xerxes was reading Muriel Barbery's The Elegance of the Hedgehog
The week before Xerxes was reading Joris-Karl Huysmans's Against Nature
The week before Xerxes was reading Sheridan Le Fanu's In a Glass Darkly
The week before Xerxes was reading Virginia Woolf's The Waves
The week before Xerxes was reading Mark Twain's Letters from the Earth
 
 
Xerxes' Third Year
 
 
The week before Xerxes was reading Mark Twain's A Dog's Tale
The week before Xerxes was reading Jean Anouilh's Becket
The week before Xerxes was reading James Goldman's The Lion in Winter
The week before Xerxes was reading Antonia Michaelis's Tiger Moon
The week before Xerxes was reading Pär Lagerkvist's The Dwarf, Barabbas, and The Sibyl
The week before Xerxes was reading Leonard Cohen's Dance Me to the End of Love
The week before Xerxes was reading Robin Robertson's Mortification
The week before Xerxes was reading Mark Twain's The Mysterious Stranger
The week before Xerxes was reading Jeffrey Burton Russell's Lucifer and Mephistopheles
The week before Xerxes was reading Jeffrey Burton Russell's The Devil and Satan
The week before Xerxes was reading Toni Morrison's Beloved
The week before Xerxes was reading Flann O'Brien's The Third Policeman
The week before Xerxes was reading Henry James's The Turn of the Screw
The week before Xerxes was reading C.S. Lewis's The Pilgrim's Regress
The week before Xerxes was reading Jeffrey Burton Russell's The Prince of Darkness
The week before Xerxes was reading Alexander McCall Smith's 2 1/2 Pillars of Wisdom
The week before Xerxes was reading Daniel Keyes's Flowers for Algernon
The week before Xerxes was reading Huston Smith and Philip Novak's Buddhism
The week before Xerxes was reading Michael Sells's Approaching the Qur'an
The week before Xerxes was reading Fyodor Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov
The week before Xerxes was reading Stephen Prothero's Religious Literacy
The week before Xerxes was reading Darby Conley's The Dog is Not a Toy
The week before Xerxes was reading T. Cathcart and D. Klein's Plato and a Platypus
The week before Xerxes was reading Rainer Maria Rilke's Stories of God
The week before Xerxes was reading Kazuo Ishiguro's Nocturnes
The week before Xerxes was reading Victor Hugo's Notre-Dame of Paris
The week before Xerxes was reading Leonard Nimoy's I Am Spock
The week before Xerxes was reading William Shatner's Up Till Now
The week before Xerxes was reading Charles Baudelaire's The Flowers of Evil
The week before Xerxes was reading Arthur Rimbaud's A Season in Hell
The week before Xerxes was reading Mikhail Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita
The week before Xerxes was reading Christopher Hitchens's God is not Great
The week before Xerxes was reading Philip Larkin's The Less Deceived
The week before Xerxes was reading J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit
The week before Xerxes was reading J.R.R. Tolkien's The Return of the King
The week before Xerxes was reading Voltaire's Candide
The week before Xerxes was reading Diane Setterfield's The Thirteenth Tale
The week before Xerxes was reading J.R.R. Tolkien's The Two Towers
The week before Xerxes was reading Mervyn Peake's Boy in Darkness
The week before Xerxes was reading A.E. Housman's A Shropshire Lad
The week before Xerxes was reading J.R.R. Tolkien's The Fellowship of the Ring
The week before Xerxes was reading William Shakespeare's The Tempest
The week before Xerxes was reading Owen Gingerich's God's Universe
The week before Xerxes was reading Jack Fincher's Lefties
The week before Xerxes was reading Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's The Children's Hour
The week before Xerxes was reading John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces
The week before Xerxes was reading Peter Beagle's The Last Unicorn and A Fine and Private Place
The week before Xerxes was reading Yann Martel's Life of Pi
The week before Xerxes was reading Hermann Hesse's The Glass Bead Game
The week before Xerxes was reading William F. May's A Catalogue of Sins
The week before Xerxes was reading Henry Fairlie's The Seven Deadly Sins Today
The week before Xerxes was reading Jorge Luis Borges's Ficciones
 
 
Xerxes' Second Year
 
 
The week before Xerxes was reading Gioconda Belli's Infinity in the Palm of Her Hand
The week before Xerxes was reading G.K. Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday
The week before Xerxes was reading Dante Alighieri's Purgatorio
The week before Xerxes was reading C.S. Lewis's The Four Loves
The week before Xerxes was reading Steven Schwartz's The Seven Deadly Sins
The week before Xerxes was reading Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett's Good Omens
The week before Xerxes was reading Neil Simon's Brighton Beach Memoirs
The week before Xerxes was reading Sy Safransky's Four in the Morning and Sunbeams
The week before Xerxes was reading Daniel Levitin's This is Your Brain on Music
The week before Xerxes was reading Alfred Lord Tennyson's In Memoriam
The week before Xerxes was reading Paul Woodruff's Reverence
The week before Xerxes was reading Richard Yates's Eleven Kinds of Loneliness
The week before Xerxes was reading Marilynne Robinson's Gilead
The week before Xerxes was reading Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking-Glass
The week before Xerxes was reading Jenny Bond and Chris Sheedy's Who the Hell is Pansy O'Hara?
The week before Xerxes was reading William Hjortsberg's Falling Angel
The week before Xerxes was reading Edward Gorey's Amphigorey: Fifteen Books
The week before Xerxes was reading Cornelius Plantinga's Not the Way It's Supposed to Be
The week before Xerxes was reading Mark Twain's A Cure for the Blues
The week before Xerxes was reading Herman Melville's Moby Dick
The week before Xerxes was reading G.K. Chesterton's Orthodoxy
The week before Xerxes was reading Frederick Buechner's Godric and The Alphabet of Grace
The week before Xerxes was reading Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung's Portraits of Vice
The week before Xerxes was reading Paul Johnson's Intellectuals
The week before Xerxes was reading David Foster Wallace's A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again
The week before Xerxes was reading Alexander Pope's An Essay on Man
The week before Xerxes was reading Edgar Lee Masters's Spoon River Anthology
The week before Xerxes was reading Sara Gruen's Water for Elephants
The week before Xerxes was reading Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God
The week before Xerxes was reading Ingmar Bergman's Images: My Life in Film
The week before Xerxes was reading William Trevor's The Story of Lucy Gault
The week before Xerxes was reading Anonymous's Everyman
The week before Xerxes was reading Eugene Field's Little Boy Blue
 The week before Xerxes was reading David Maine's Fallen
The week before Xerxes was reading Stephenie Meyers's Twilight and New Moon
The week before Xerxes was reading Gordy Slack's The Battle Over the Meaning of Everything
The week before Xerxes was reading Nicole Krauss's The History of Love
The week before Xerxes was reading Wallace Stevens's Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird
The week before Xerxes was reading The Dalai Lama's An Open Heart
The week before Xerxes was reading William Shakespeare's Henry IV, Part II
The week before Xerxes was reading William Shakespeare's Henry IV, Part I
The week before Xerxes was reading William Shakespeare's As You Like It
The week before Xerxes was reading William Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra
The week before Xerxes was reading William Shakespeare's Macbeth
The week before Xerxes was reading Jelaluddin Rumi's The Essential Rumi
The week before Xerxes was reading Harold Bloom's Where Shall Wisdom Be Found?
The week before Xerxes was reading Anne Fadiman's The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down
The week before Xerxes was reading Leo Tolstoy's The Devil
The week before Xerxes was reading Colin McGinn's Shakespeare's Philosophy
The week before Xerxes was reading Jon Krakauer's Into the Wild
The week before Xerxes was reading Stephen Greenblatt's Will in the World
The week before Xerxes was reading Martin Buber's I and Thou, Meetings, and The Way of Man
 

Xerxes' First Year
 

The week before Xerxes was reading Allan Chinen's Once Upon a Midlife
The week before Xerxes was reading G.K. Chesterton's St Francis of Assisi
The week before Xerxes was reading Jean Toomer's Cane
The week before Xerxes was reading Ikhwān al-Safā's The Animals' Lawsuit against Humanity
The week before Xerxes was reading Patrick Süskind’s Perfume
The week before Xerxes was reading Lewis Carroll's The Hunting of the Snark
The week before Xerxes was reading John Milton's Paradise Regained
The week before Xerxes was reading Dylan Thomas's The Force that Through the Green Fuse Drives the Flower
The week before Xerxes was reading Stephen Crane's The Blue Hotel
The week before Xerxes was reading Gore Vidal's Creation
The week before Xerxes was reading A.S. Byatt's Possession
The week before Xerxes was reading C.S. Lewis's The Great Divorce
The week before Xerxes was reading Mitch Albom's The Five People You Meet in Heaven
 The week before Xerxes was reading Dennis Potter's Blackeyes
The week before Xerxes was reading David Suzuki and Wayne Grady's Tree: A Life Story
The week before Xerxes was reading James Hogg's Confessions of a Justified Sinner
The week before Xerxes was reading Alexander Theroux's Theroux Metaphrastes
The week before Xerxes was reading Mervyn Peake's Titus Alone
The week before Xerxes was reading Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast
The week before Xerxes was reading Mervyn Peake's Titus Groan
The week before Xerxes was reading Walter de la Mare's The Three Royal Monkeys
The week before Xerxes was reading John Collier's His Monkey Wife
The week before Xerxes was reading Lois Lowry's The Giver
The week before Xerxes was reading Rudyard Kipling's Mandalay
The week before Xerxes was reading Ralph Helfer's Modoc
The week before Xerxes was reading Stuart McLean's Home From the Vinyl Cafe
 The week before Xerxes was reading Ossie Davis's Purlie Victorious
The week before Xerxes was reading George MacDonald's The Portent
The week before Xerxes was reading Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead
The week before Xerxes was reading Michael Phillips's George MacDonald - A Biography
The week before Xerxes was reading Christopher Moore's The Stupidest Angel
The week before Xerxes was reading Gordon Lightfoot's Minstrel of the Dawn
The week before Xerxes was reading Sun Tzu's The Art of War
The week before Xerxes was reading Robert Graves's I Claudius
The week before Xerxes was reading Philip Ardagh's A House Called Awful End
 The week before Xerxes was reading John Milton's Paradise Lost
 The week before Xerxes was reading Mervyn Peake's Mr Pye
The week before Xerxes was reading J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
The week before Xerxes was reading Riff Raff and Magenta's The Time Warp
 The week before Xerxes was reading William Shakespeare's Timon of Athens
 The week before Xerxes was reading J.R.R. Tolkien's The Silmarillion
The week before Xerxes was reading e.e. cummings's anyone lived in a pretty how town
The week before Xerxes was reading Sir Thomas Browne's Religio Medici
The week before Xerxes was reading C.S. Lewis's A Preface to Paradise Lost
The week before Xerxes was reading Stephanie Plowman's The Road to Sardis
The week before Xerxes was reading Alexander Theroux's Darconville's Cat
The week before Xerxes was reading Dennis Potter's The Singing Detective
The week before Xerxes was reading T.S. Eliot's The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
The week before Xerxes was reading Matthew Scully's Dominion
The week before Xerxes was reading Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray
The week before Xerxes was reading the Prologue in Heaven from Goethe's Faust
The week before Xerxes was reading Christina Rossetti's Goblin Market