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ARCHIVED ENTRIES FOR DECEMBER 2011

December  28,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

It's like preaching to the converted I say.  You can't corrupt the corrupt, sir.

--The Human Factor by Graham Greene

December  27,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

'Is this your wife?'

'No. My daughter.'

'Pretty girl.'

'My wife and I are separated.'

'Never married myself,' Percival said.  'To tell you the truth I never had much interest in women.  Don't mistake me--not in boys either.  Now a good trout stream . . . Know the Aube?'

--The Human Factor by Graham Greene

December  26,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

'John,' Lady Hargreaves called down the table, 'wake up.'

He opened blue serene unshockable eyes and said, 'A cat-nap.'  It was said that as a young man somewhere in Ashanti he had inadvertently eaten human flesh, but his digestion had not been impaired.  According to the story he had told the Governor, 'I couldn't really complain, sir.  They were doing me a great honour by inviting me to take pot luck.'

--The Human Factor by Graham Greene

December  25,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

Few things are harder to write than a sincere treatment in the style of 'more sorrow than anger'.  The sincerity is bound to get in the way of both the sorrow and the anger, and vice versa.  One will be suspected, perhaps, of masking (beneath the regret) a covert relish.  The fulsome style of the obituarist may creep in, causing one to be sanctimonious about the virtues in order to appear generous about the backsliding.  Hypocrisy waits at every intersection.

--The Cruiser collected in Unacknowledged Legislation by Christopher Hitchens

[N.B.:  Will Christopher Hitchens last?  Of course not--but he is a great stylist and highly entertaining.  And I'd gladly read him in preference to a whole bushel full of Roths and Updikes and Mailers, who together, compared to him, are decidedly RUM.]

December  24,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

A melancholy lesson of advancing years is the realisation that you can't make old friends.  This is redeemed somewhat by the possibility of making new ones, and in his late maturity - some might say that like the medlar fruit he went rotten before becoming ripe - Podhoretz had found companionship and solidarity with his new chums.  He mentions them shyly, as if he were back in his lonely childhood and his mother had secretly bribed them to play with him. . . . The purpose of recruiting these new chums is clear: to enlist them in the urgent task of pissing on the graves of the old ones.  This makes them more like cronies, or accomplices, than actual friends.  But perhaps that's better than nothing.

--Unmaking Friends collected in Unacknowledged Legislation by Christopher Hitchens

December  23,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

There are two key words in [The Great Gatsby].  They are 'pointless' (and its analogues) and 'careless'.  They recur with striking and mounting emphasis as the narrative shakes off its near-permanent hangover.  A dog biscuit at Tom Buchanan's adulterous and nasty gathering is represented as 'decomposed apathetically' in a saucer of milk; Myrtle on the same horrid occasion 'looked at me and laughed pointlessly'.  At Gatsby's bigger but even hollower party, there's a cocktail table - 'the only place in  the garden where a single man could linger without looking purposeless and alone'.

--The Road to West Egg collected in Unacknowledged Legislation by Christopher Hitchens

December  22,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

Why does the mystique of Sherlock persist?  Auden supplies only part of the answer but, I think, the most important part.  comparable authors in the middlebrow English market - John Buchan, say, or 'Sapper' with his Bulldog Drummond - have dated badly because they  made uncritical assumptions about the British Empire, and because they encoded social and racial prejudices that were questionable even in their own time.  (In the case of Bulldog Drummond, one might add that there was a shocking element of sadism, while the bigoted and semi-literate pulp produced by Agatha Christie raises only the uninteresting mystery of its own success.)  With Holmes and Watson, however, Conan Doyle achieved something closer to the ageless if not the transcendent.  The two men can be ranked fictionally with Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, or Jeeves and Wooster, and (since many people subconsciously refer to them as if they were, in fact, real) with Samuel Johnson and James Boswell.  They are wholly anchored in time and place, to be sure.  But the gaslight and the fog and the hansom cab are not enough on their own to explain the numinous appeal.

--The Case of Arthur Conan Doyle collected in Unacknowledged Legislation by Christopher Hitchens

[N.B.:  I think this is actually a timeless formula for success: two well-rounded men and friends of very different backgrounds interacting with one another upon a backdrop of adventure.  A more modern example would be Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin naval series set during the Napoleonic wars.]

December  21,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

The truth of the matter is that a number of unemployable cultural nationalists from the 1960s have found a form of employment in the educational bureaucracy of our less Athenian inner cities.  One West coast Activist is Ron Karenga (now known as Maulana, which he believes to be Swahili for 'master teacher'), whom I remember distinctly as the leader of an Africanist nut group called Us - later found to be partially supported by the FBI - and who in 1966 gave us the exciting concept of Kwanzaa.  Mr Karenga's slogan in those days was 'Anywhere we are, Us is!'  I liked the slogan then, and I like it even more now.

--Hooked on Ebonics collected in Unacknowledged Legislation by Christopher Hitchens

[N.B.:  Maulana Karenga is a larger-than-life character straight out of Dickens (and his life would make a terrific bio-pic).  His is a redemption story of sorts as he is now known as the founder of Kwanzaa.  But in the seventies he was convicted and imprisoned for torturing two women with an electrical cord and a soldering iron.  Life, indeed, is stranger than fiction.]

December  20,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

If this point is as simple as it seems, then what's the problem with December's resolution of the Oakland School Board?  Describing Ebonics as 'genetically based' and derived from the tongues of the Niger-Congo, it advocated recognition of the distinct language of local black schoolchildren 'for the combined purposes of maintaining the legitimacy and richness of such language and to facilitate their acquisition and mastery of English language skills'.

Well, there are actually three problems.  The first is that the resolution itself is composed in no known language though there are traces of bureaucratese, therapese, legalese, and business English to be found within it.  The second is that 'Ebonics' is a made-up term stressing two things - colour and phonetics - which have absolutely nothing to do with the structure or definition of a language.  The third is that language by its nature cannot be 'genetically based'.  If the black kids in Oakland are in fact speaking a different tongue, then it's because of their real lives and not because of any notional ancestral connection to the Niger-Congo.  The essence of language is its transmissibility, which cannot be through the bloodstream.  So that's that for the Oakland School Board, which seems to have been interested in picking up some 'bilingual' subsidy dough and which has since hastily reversed itself, stating for the record that Black English will only be honoured as part of a campaign to make it disappear.

--Hooked on Ebonics collected in Unacknowledged Legislation by Christopher Hitchens

[N.B.:  Given Mr. Hitchens's untimely death, I thought I'd post a few examples of his famous knack for demolitions--as well as praise, on occasion.  R.I.P.]

December  19,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

The difficulty with Berlin's views on political matters is that they are vulnerable to the charge not so much of contradiction as of tautology.  (And perhaps of want of originality: Berlin's favourite, Benjamin constant, proposed a distinction between the 'liberty of the ancients' and the 'liberty of the moderns'; T. H. Green spoke of liberty in the 'positive' and 'negative', and the same antithesis is strongly present in Hayek's Road to Serfdom - the title page of which quoted Lord Acton saying that 'few discoveries are more irritating that those which expose the pedigree of ideas'.)  The greatest hardship experienced by a person trying to apprehend Berlin's presentation of 'two concepts' of liberty is in remembering which is supposed to be which.  I know of no serviceable mnemonic here.  When Berlin delivered his original lectures on the subject, at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania in 1952, he divided ideas about liberty between the 'liberal' and the 'romantic'.  Positive and negative were successor distinctions.  To be let alone - the most desirable consummation in his own terms - is negative.  To be uplifted by others, or modernised or forcibly emancipated, is, somewhat counter-intuitively, the positive.  Yet it is readily agreed, even asserted, that laissez-faire can lead to the most awful invasions and depredations of the private sphere, while an interventionist project like the New Deal can be a welcome aid to individual freedom.

--Goodbye to Berlin collected in Unacknowledged Legislation by Christopher Hitchens

[N.B.:  Given Mr. Hitchens's untimely death, I thought I'd post a few examples of his famous knack for demolitions--as well as praise, on occasion.  R.I.P.]

December  18,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

The time travelling of the Pulcinella ballet probably provided the impetus for Stravinsky's neo-classical period, which, apart from the adoption of eighteenth-century forms and titles, is chiefly noticeable for its attempt to create melody by synthetic means.  Unfortunately melody cannot be learnt like counter-point, nor is it capable of either dissection or synthetic manufacture.  Once cannot create a creature of flesh and blood out of fossil fragments.

--Music Ho! by Constant Lambert

December  17,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

One of the more deplorable results of the so-called speeding up of modern life is the credit for vitality given to an artist who satisfies the jaded appetite of his mondaine public by frequent changes of style.  In any other age but the present it would be a truism to point out that frequent changes of styles argue a low vitality and undeveloped personality on the part of the artist--an inability to exploit more than the surface texture of his medium.

--Music Ho! by Constant Lambert

[N.B.: Although this is written with Stravinsky in mind--a figure who will be every bit as important as Delius in the evaluation of future generations--it could describe an artist in any medium such as, oh, I don't know, maybe Picasso.]

December  16,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

Although a melodic gift does not force a composer to change his style it places no bounds on his developments, as does harmonic and rhythmic specialization.  Delius obviously reached the extreme limit of what he could express by harmonic means by the time he had written The Song of the High Hills--or even earlier--and Stravinsky obviously reached the extreme limit of rhythmic expression in Les Noces.  But a composer like Verdi, whose strength lay in his melodic line, arrived at no such cul-de-sac, either technical or emotional.  He was not reduced to repeating his earlier manner like Delius, or to reacting against it like Stravinsky.  He was able to pursue a logical process of development which resulted in those two masterpieces of expressive force and technical skill--Otello and Falstaff--both written in his seventies.

--Music Ho! by Constant Lambert

December  15,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

An artist must take part in action or withdraw from it entirely.  He cannot glorify it from outside.  One can sympathize with the artist who enters with gusto into warfare and also with the artist who is a conscientious objector.  But the artist who puts not himself but his art at the service of warfare, the composer who writes battle hymns, and the novelist who indulges in bellicose propaganda--those are figures who should rightly incur the dangers of the trenches and the rigours of solitary confinement.  When the death of some thousands seems to serve no other purpose than to inspire figures like Lord Northcliffe and James Douglas to an even purpler prose, and the sound of gunfire can be heard at the breakfast table, it is small wonder that the artist should turn aside to write lullabys for his cat or to record the adventures of the old colonel who never succeeded in shooting anything.

--Music Ho! by Constant Lambert

December  14,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

Before the war [Diaghileff] created a vogue for the Russian ballet, but after the war he merely created a vogue for vogue.  All art became divided into 'chose fades' and 'chose vivantes'--'chose vivantes' meaning any novelty however futile, that he could use as a knout with which to lash the jaded public into enthusiasm.  There was always the danger, though, that the knout might prove a fragile switch, easily broken and revealed only too plainly a 'chose fade'.  He thus became pledged to the sterile doctrine of reaction for reaction's sake, a doctrine which was well summed up by his henchman Stravinsky in the revealing phrase 'Toute réaction est vraie'.

--Music Ho! by Constant Lambert

December  13,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

In the past the minor artist without any intense or personal vision usually relapsed into a minor form of academicism; today he is offered the exhilarating outlet provided by deliberate incongruity.  In painting this is most simply achieved by a plain visual statement, and when an artist can satisfy both his conscience and his patrons by an unexpected arrangement of realistically painted objects it would be churlish to demand an equally unexpected development in their actual painting.

Music can offer no direct parallel to this type of surrealism for the very simple reason that realistic representation, except of the farmyard order, cannot be recognized without the aid of a programme.  Strauss, the most accomplished master of photographic suggestion in music, can, it is true, suggest a flock of sheep by a bleating on muted trombones, a couple of monks by a modal passage on two bassoons, and a boat on the water by the usual aqueous devices; but it is highly improbable that by a combination of the three he could bring before the eyes a picture of two monks in a barge with a lot of sheep.

--Music Ho! by Constant Lambert

December  12,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

The various elements in painting being less easy to separate from each other than the various elements in music, it is obviously a little difficult to evoke deliberately more than one period at once, or to combine two periods of style, in any given painting.  Picasso may change his style every five years, but during that five years each picture is strictly within its limited 'epoch'.  Even in literature it is difficult to evoke more than one period in a given paragraph.  James Joyce in the medical-student section of Ulysses gives us a brilliant pastiche of successive epochs of English literature, but it is a separate tour de force and does not represent the general texture of the book.  As a pastiche it has a symbolic purpose and, moreover, the epochs succeed each other in logical and historical order.  It can in no way be compared to the random and scrapbook methods of Diaghileff.

In music, though, the various elements, such as melody, rhythm, and counterpoint, all taking place in practically the same moment of time can--though it is highly undesirable that they should--be so dissected and separated from each other, that a composer with no sense of style and no creative urge can take medieval words, set them in the style of Bellini, add twentieth-century harmony, develop both in the sequential and formal manner of the eighteenth century, and finally score the whole thing for jazz band.  Similarly, in ballet it is possible to have décor, choreography and music in different periods and tastes, to throw abstract films on the back cloth while the orchestra turns out a laborious pastiche of Gluck and the dancers revive the glories of the nineteenth-century Excelsior.

--Music Ho! by Constant Lambert

December  11,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

One part of the culture was indeed about pop and drugs and happenings, and Marianne Faithfull and Mars Bars and free love, but the other, if anything far larger, section of the community was still looking back to the 1950s, back towards a traditional England, where behaviour was laid down according to the practice of, if not many centuries, at least the century immediately before, where everything from clothes to sexual morality was rigidly determined and, if we did not always obey the rules, we knew what they were.  It was, after all, less than ten years previously that this code had reigned supreme.  The girls who wouldn't kiss on a first date, the boys who were not dressed without a tie, those mothers who only left the house in hat and gloves, those fathers wearing bowlers on their way to the city.  These were all as much a part of the sixties as the side of it so constantly revived by television retrospectives.  The difference being that they were customs on the way out, while the new, deconstructed culture was on the way in.  It would, of course, prove to be the winner and as with anything it is the winner who writes history.

--Past Imperfect by Julian Fellowes

December  10,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

[H]e had one day discovered his personal vocation would be to keep the Season alive, when Her Majesty's decision to end Presentation in 1958 had seemed to condemn the whole institution to immediate execution.  We know now that it was instead destined to die a lingering death, and maybe simple decapitation might have been preferable, but nobody knows the future and at that time it seemed that Peter, single-handedly, had won it an indefinite reprieve.  The Monarch would play no further part in it, of course, which knocked the point and the stuffing out of it for many, but it would still have a purpose in bringing together the offspring of like-minded parents, and this was the responsibility he took on.  He had no hope of reward.  He did it solely for the honour of the thing, which in my book makes it praiseworthy, whatever one's opinion of the end product.  Year by year he would comb the stud books, Peerage and Gentry, writing to the mothers of daughters, interviewing their sons, all to buy another few months for the whole business.  Can this really have been only forty years ago? you may ask in amazement.  The answer's yes.

--Past Imperfect by Julian Fellowes

December  9,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

This is a distinction lost on the modern world, where people who have shaken hands and nodded a greeting will tell you they 'know' each other.  Sometimes they will go further and assert, without any more to go on, that so-and-so is 'a friend of mine.'  If it should suit the other party they will endorse this fiction and, in that endorsement, sort of make it true.  When it is not true.  Forty years ago we were, I think, more aware of the degree of a relationship.

--Past Imperfect by Julian Fellowes

December  8,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

In my world, parents in the early Sixties still arranged their children's lives to an extraordinary extent, settling between themselves when parties would be given and at which houses during the school holidays, what subjects their offspring would study at school; what careers they should pursue after university; above all, what friends they would spend time with.  It wasn't, on the whole, tyrannical but we did not much challenge our parents' veto when it was exercised.  I remember a local baronet's heir, frequently drunk and invariably rude, and for these reasons beguiling to me and my sister and repulsive to our parents, who was actually forbidden entry to our house by my father, 'except where his absence would cause comment.'  Can such a phrase really have been spoken in living memory?  I know we laughed about this rule even then.  But we did not break it.  In short, we were a product of our backgrounds in a way that would be rare today. 

--Past Imperfect by Julian Fellowes

December  7,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

Bridget FitzGerald was my current . . . I was going to say 'girlfriend' but I am not sure one has 'girlfriends' when one is over fifty.  On the other hand, if one is too old for a 'girlfriend,' one is too young for a 'companion,' so what is the correct description?  Modern parlance has stolen so many words and put them to misuse that frequently, when one looks for a suitable term, the cupboard is bare.  'Partner,' as everyone not in the media knows, is both tired and fraught with danger.  I recently introduced a fellow director in a small company I own as my partner and it was some time before I understood the looks I was getting from various people there who thought they knew me.  But 'other half' sounds like a line from a situation comedy about a golf club secretary, and we haven't quite got to the point of 'This is my mistress,' although I dare say it's not far off.  Anyway, Bridget and I were going about together.  We were a slightly unlikely pair.  I, a not-very-celebrated novelist, she, a sharp Irish businesswoman specialising in property, who had missed the boat romantically and ended up with me.

--Past Imperfect by Julian Fellowes

December  6,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

The English, as a rule, would rather not face a situation that might be rendered 'awkward' by the memory of earlier behaviour.  Usually they will play down any disagreeable past episodes with a vague and dismissive reference: 'Do you remember that frightful dinner Jocelyn gave?  How did we all survive it?'  Or, if the episode really cannot be reduced and detoxified in this way, they pretend it never took place.  'It's been far too long since we met,' as an opener will often translate as 'it does not suit me to continue this feud any longer.  It was ages ago.  Are you prepared to call it a day?'  If the recipient is willing, the answer will be couched in similar denial mode: 'Yes, let's meet.  What have you been up to since you left Lazard's?'  Nothing more than this will be required to signify that the nastiness is finished and normal relations may now be resumed.

--Past Imperfect by Julian Fellowes

December  5,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

Nothing ever embittered the German people so much--it is important to remember this--nothing made them so furious with hate and so ripe for Hitler as the inflation.  for the war, murderous as it was, had yet yielded hours of jubilation, with ringing of bells and fanfares of victory.  And, being an incurably militaristic nation, Germany felt lifted in her pride by her temporary victories; while the inflation served only to make it feel soiled, cheated, and humiliated; a whole generation never forgot or forgave the German Republic for those years and preferred to reinstate its butchers.

--The World of Yesterday by Stefan Zweig

December  4,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

Nothing was more tragi-comic in this riotous carnival than the attitude of the elder intellectuals who, in a panic of fear of being considered behind the times, rushed desperately to the cover of an artificial egregiousness and dragged themselves through devious paths in the hope of keeping up with the procession.  Respectable, proper, grey-bearded academicians painted over their now unsaleable still life with symbolic cubes and dice, because the young curators--they had to be young, and the younger the better--regarded all other pictures as too "classic" and were removing them from the galleries to the basements.  Writers who had used plain, direct language for decades obediently hacked their sentences apart and excelled in "activism," complacent Prussian Privy Councillors expounded Karl Marx from their lofty university seats, old-time ballerinas in a state of undress performed stylized gyrations to Beethoven's Appassionate and Schönberg's Verklärte Nacht.  Bewildered old age everywhere pursued the latest fashion; the paramount ambition was to be "young," to discover in some new and unheard-of and more radical tendency a substitute for the outmoded tendency of yesterday.

--The World of Yesterday by Stefan Zweig

[N.B.:  Unfortunately for the Baby Boomers, when the revolt of Generation Ouch occurs, they will not even have this strategy to fall back upon since they founded their careers on precisely these shifting sands.  They already are on the cutting edge--so all that remains is the final cut.]

December  3,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

Was it not intelligible that the new generation lost every trace of respect?  It doubted parents, politicians, teachers; every decree, every proclamation of the state was read with a dubious eye.  The post-war generation emancipated itself with a violent wrench from the established order and revolted against every tradition, determined to mould its own fate, to abandon bygones and to soar into the future.  It was to be a quite new world in which fresh regulations were to govern every phase of life; and, as was to be expected, the new life began with gross excesses.  Anybody or anything older than they were was put on the shelf.  Children as young as eleven or twelve went off in organized Wandervögel troops which were well instructed in matters of sex, and travelled about the country as far as Italy and the North Sea.  Following the Russian pattern, "pupils' councils" were set up in the schools and these supervised the teachers and upset the curriculum, for it was the intention as well as their will to study only what pleased them.

--The World of Yesterday by Stefan Zweig

[N.B.:  The irony for the Baby Boomers is that they revolted in their youth during a time of prosperity but now the worm has turned and Generation Ouch, during a time of scarcity, will visit upon them the same enormities--and then some--that they themselves perpetrated upon their (relatively innocent) forefathers.]

December  2,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

Then, at the instigation of the German Government, a border control was established to stop Germans from buying their supplies in Salzburg where a mark fetched seventy Austrian crowns.  Merchandise coming from Austria was strictly confiscated at the custom house.  One article, however, that could not be confiscated remained free of duty: the beer in one's stomach.  And the beer-drinking Bavarians would watch the daily rate of exchange to determine whether the falling krone would allow them five or six or ten litres of beer in Salzburg for the price of a single litre at home.  No more superb enticement could be imagined, and so they would come in hordes with their wives and children from near-by Freilassing and Reichenhall to enjoy the luxury of gulping down as much beer as belly and stomach would hold.  Every night the railway station was a veritable pandemonium of drunken, bawling, belching humanity; some of them, helpless from over-indulgence, had to be carried to the train on hand-trucks and then, with bacchanalian yelling and singing, they were transported back to their own country.  The merry Bavarians, did not, to be sure, suspect how terrible a revenge was in store for them.  For, when the krone was stabilized and the mark in turn plunged down in astronomic proportions, it was the Austrians who traversed the same stretch of track to get drunk cheaply, and the spectacle was duplicated, but this time in the opposite direction.  This beer war between two inflations remains one of my oddest recollections because it was a precise reflection, in grotesque miniature, of the whole insane character of those years.

--The World of Yesterday by Stefan Zweig

December  1,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

An economist who knew how to describe graphically all the phases of the inflation which spread from Austria to Germany, would find it unsurpassed material for an exciting novel, for the chaos took on ever more fantastic forms.  Soon nobody knew what any article was worth.  Prices jumped arbitrarily; a thrifty merchant would raise the price of a box of matches to twenty times the amount charged by his upright competitor who was innocently holding to yesterday's quotation; the reward for his honesty was the sale of his stock within an hour, because the news got around quickly and everybody rushed to buy whatever was for sale whether it was something they needed or not.  Even a goldfish or an old telescope were "goods," and what people wanted was goods instead of paper.  The most grotesque discrepancy developed with respect to rents, the government having forbidden any rise; thus tenants, the great majority, were protected but property owners were the losers.  Before long, a medium-size apartment in Austria cost its tenant less for the whole year than a single dinner; during five or ten years (for the cancellation of leases was forbidden even afterwards) the population of Austria enjoyed more or less free lodgings.  In consequence of this mad disorder the situation became more paradoxical and unmoral from week to week.  A man who had been saving for forty years and who, furthermore, had patriotically invested his all in war bonds, became a beggar.  A man who had debts became free of them.  A man who respected the food rationing system starved; only one who disregarded it brazenly could eat his fill.  A man schooled in bribery got ahead, if he speculated he profited.  If a man sold at cost price he was robbed, if he made careful calculation he yet cheated.  Standards and values disappeared during this melting and evaporation of money; there was but one merit: to be clever, shrewd, unscrupulous, and to mount the racing horse rather than be trampled by it.

--The World of Yesterday by Stefan Zweig

[N.B.:  Just a little preview of coming attractions.  It seems fashionable nowadays for some commentators to recommend that all this moribund economy needs is a good dose of inflation.  The problem with getting a dose is that you can't get rid of it.]