Graciously Effaced: Saintseneca’s Dark Arc

Guest post by Isaac Anderson

Last August, Billy Corgan, of Smashing Pumpkins fame, got some press for declaring God the “great, unexplored territory” of rock music.

I’ve thought about Corgan’s comment of late, while listening to the record that’s been on repeat in my apartment the last month. Saintseneca’s Dark Arc is a meditation on doom, according to Zac Little, the band’s frontman and lyricist. Though that word may mislead, for this record is bleak at times, but luminous too. Nods to death or impermanence are often met with a resistance to the same:

If only the good ones die young
I pray your corruption come
Swift like a thief in the night
Right I pluck my right eye right out

Little is a fighter, of sorts—When I crave a split lip, he sings in “Happy Alone,” I’ll get it quick—and the doom expressed here wakes the listener to the appetites bucking beneath apathy, the desire to not go down without a fight.

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What We Wish For, What We Think Is True, Part 2

Guest Post

By Isaac Anderson

Continued from yesterday.

After we’ve gone our separate ways to work, the philosopher comes by my apartment for a beer. In addition to Descartes, this afternoon he taught Shakespeare, Sonnet 40. We walk out to the side yard, to a gazebo ringed with wood chips and dead leaves, gaze at the oaks wrapped in kudzu. I smoke American Spirits and he smokes a pipe and tells me about reading lines aloud to his students from that desolate verse: Take all my loves, my love, yea take them all.

It’s a poem reckoning with betrayal. The speaker’s mistress has taken up with his best friend. The word love repeats plaintively—love, love’s, loves—ineffectually, like a dead lighter that won’t produce a flame. Or as one commentator has it, like a spell cast to keep love from flying away.

I picture my friend reciting the sonnet’s lines aloud to his class, reciting and remembering the times he and his wife read to each other from old Russian novels (how different it feels now reading alone at night). I wonder if any of his students suspect how close Shakespeare is to describing the backdrop of their professor’s life.

Do they think about what lay behind his intensity? What makes him grip his pencil hard enough while reading that it accidentally snaps like a piece of straw in his hand?

We sit under the gazebo as he runs through the sonnet’s arc, recalling phrases. Lascivious grace, that’s a good one. His voice has a rarefied quality, hard to interpret, something beyond anger or self-recrimination, but with traces of each. The tree-lined neighborhood is quiet. Plumes of smoke become like thought-bubbles between us.

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