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ARCHIVED ENTRIES FOR DECEMBER 2013

December  28,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

If we are too young our judgement is impaired, just as it is if we are too old.

Thinking too little about things or thinking too much both make us obstinate and fanatical.

If we look at our work immediately after completing it, we are still too involved; if too long afterwards, we cannot pick up the thread again.

It is like looking at pictures which are too near or too far away.  There is just one indivisible point which is the right place.

Others are too near, too far, too high, or too low.  In painting the rules of perspective decide it, but how will it be decided when it comes to truth and morality?

--Pensées by Blaise Pascal (tr. A. J. Krailsheimer)

December  27,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

There is something about leaving a place on a small boat--something about the movement of the waves, the noise of the engine: it is like you are leaving your life behind and yet, since you are part of the life you have left behind, part of you is still there.  Dying, at its best, might be something like this.  Everything was a memory, and everything was still happening in some extended present, and everything was still to come.

--Yoga for People Who Can't Be Bothered to Do It by Geoff Dyer

December  26,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

"I have an idea for a self-help book, " I said.  "Yoga for People Who Can't Be Bothered to Do It."

"But you can't be bothered to write it, right?"

"You stole my punch line," I said.

--Yoga for People Who Can't Be Bothered to Do It by Geoff Dyer

December  25,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

When I was younger I had a predatory attitude to women, but these days I could no longer bear the exertion, the stress, the single-mindedness it required.  I was trying to be passive, to put myself at the mercy of events rather than willing them to happen.  I tried, as the four of us sat there, not to do any of the things that I dislike men doing when they are obviously interested in a woman.  I tried not to talk too much, tried not to impress, tried to talk to Gareth and Jake rather than directing all my attention at Kate.  I listened but tried not to listen with that "Look how hard I'm listening" look on my face to which I am sometimes prone (especially if I'm not listening).  And yet, however hard I tried to take a disinterested, even sceptical view of things, it did seem that Kate was leaning towards me, that I was getting slightly more than my fair share of her attention, that her eyes whenever I looked her way, were always there, waiting to meet mine.  It was like those odd occasions when you are playing cards and are dealt one good hand after another.  It may be luck but it feels like the opposite, it feels like destiny.

--Yoga for People Who Can't Be Bothered to Do It by Geoff Dyer

[N.B.:  Good advice here--although it's coming from an old, greyback lion gazing longingly out at the gazelle on the veldt and letting the younger lions know that, sure, he could run down there and catch one, but he doesn't feel like bearing the exertion, the stress, the single-mindedness it required.]

December  24,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

On my first afternoon I met Jake from Austin, Texas.  Feeling very much like a self-conscious new arrival, I was relieved when he introduced himself and sat down next to me on the beach.  H had rock star hair and biker tattoos--women, a dagger, serpents--down his back and arms.  Actually, pretty much everyone on Ko Pha-Ngan had some kind of tattoo; you tended to notice people who didn't have one, but Jake's were not easily overlooked.  I asked him about them and he told me what they signified, but as far as I could see most of them signified nothing but their own ugliness.  The last one he'd had done--a rose bursting into flame--was slightly nicer and symbolised redemption from the bad things he'd done in his past (like getting himself covered in repulsive tattoos).  He had changed his entire belief system since then, he said as we sat on the beach, pouring coarse sand through our fingers.  Now he was "into the whole self-journey thing."

--Yoga for People Who Can't Be Bothered to Do It by Geoff Dyer

[N.B.:  I wish I could refute Dyer and loudly denounce this description as a crude caricature of Austinites, but, being a native myself, I will take the advice of Wittgenstein.]

December  23,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

All visitors to the developing world, if they are honest, will confess that they are actually quite keen on seeing a bit of squalor: people living on garbage dumps, shantytowns, that kind of thing.  In India we met a Swede who had strayed into one of the worst slum districts of Bombay.  To elicit his sympathy and money a woman who was begging shoved her dead baby in his face.  There was a group of about six of us listening to this story; we were all horrified and, I think, more than a little envious.

--Yoga for People Who Can't Be Bothered to Do It by Geoff Dyer

[N.B.:  Ho, ho, ho and a Merry Christmas to you too--is there another writer who could away with that sentiment?  Nope, I didn't think so.  That's just what makes Dyer great: he's so politically correct that he winds up being politically incorrect, and doesn't care.]

December  22,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

We were under the impression that a taxi was taking us from the Mahogany guest house to the boat, but the taxi turned out to be a pickup, and by the time it had finished making all its pickups, twelve of us were crammed into the back and four in the front with the driver.  As we headed out of Siem Reap the road did what all roads in Cambodia: it deteriorated.  The sun came up, boiling, undeterred, right on time.  The pickup lurched and bucked over the ruts and holes and craters of the road that was barely a road.

--Yoga for People Who Can't Be Bothered to Do It by Geoff Dyer

December  21,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

Tankers went by, full of slow purpose, between us and the cranes of Algiers, across the water.  There was no fog, but the sound of foghorns is a part of my memory of the scene.  Every now and again the fullish moon was obscured by clouds making their way to the sea.  The river did not seem like a strong brown god; it just seemed like a huge river, so old and heavy it had long ago lost all interest in making it to the Gulf of Mexico or wherever.  Only the weight of implacable habit impelled it onwards.

--Yoga for People Who Can't Be Bothered to Do It by Geoff Dyer

December  20,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

I call it spondee for lack of a better tem.  "Spondee" means strictly two long syllables, but two English syllables may succeed each other, one of which is not long in the sound but halted by the nature of the consonant--for instance, the phrase "bad lot" although "a" and "o" are both short.  "Bad" might be long anyhow, because there is the "d" and the "l" after it, but "lot" does not become short, as it would be by itself; it becomes long by finding itself in this association.

Consider in the fine sonnet "When the assault was intended to the city," the fifth and sixth lines:

"He can requite thee, for he knows the charms

That call fame on such gentle acts as these."

The rhythm of the first line sinks and rises admirably, and then at the beginning of the second you get the nasty stumbling check of the spondee "call fame."  It is impossible to pronounce that line so that it fits in: it stops the whole movement.  And this is remarkable because the rest of the piece is a trophy of superlative rhythm.  Read it again.  The very punctuation suits the singing of this great song; and the three last lines have all the appeal of a sighing wind coming at evening over fields and trees.  In those lines the word "repeated" is the pivot of the measure; and no one but Milton would have hit instinctively upon that word.

--The Sonnets of Milton  collected in Selected Essays by Hilaire Belloc

[N.B.:  This malady afflicts not just great poets, or great writers, but anyone who relies on his rhetoric for his reputation.]

December  19,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

[A new uncritical pride] happened to Tennyson.  It was in middle life that he did his worst, and pretty bad it was.  And the reason seems to me explicable.  Your good poet in youth is diffident, because he is, by the nature of his calling, sensitive.  He is athirst for fame, he has heard the unmistakable note of his great predecessors, he despairs of rivalling them, he keeps back what he writes, he is abashed by the least discouragement, even from the most incompetent.  Then in time, perhaps in the late thirties or after, he finds that men begin to praise him; he beings to worship his own work.  As he approaches middle age he is flattered by the parrot repetition of these praises among the rich, who have heard from their betters below them that he has a reputation.  He is too much pleased also by the adulation which now also begins to be paid to him by certain juniors.  His old diffidence is altered into a new confidence and, since poets are as vain as they are sensitive, an over-confidence.  He comes to think that such as he are permanently inspired.

The error increases through the falsity of fashionable praise.  His worst lines, his mannerisms, are dwelt upon enthusiastically by fools; he snuffs the incense, and though he may have known on writing it that this or that passage was weak, this or that line pedestrian, yet he reads into them, after a while, a subtle beauty which they do not contain, and prints what he ought to have suppressed.

--The Sonnets of Milton  collected in Selected Essays by Hilaire Belloc

[N.B.:  This malady afflicts not just great poets, or great writers, but anyone who relies on his rhetoric for his reputation.]

December  18,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

As for any man who quarrels with the bad history of it, and thinks by that to diminish Milton's triumph--he knows nothing of the Poet's trade.  Bad history makes good verse--witness the Song of Roland--and verse more powerful than this has never been written in the English tongue.  It not only sounds, it burns; it not only burns, it engraves.  It is one thing; complete in its noise and in its meaning, from its surface to its depths, in its under and its over tones and in the immediate full sweep of its being.  It is a living thing.

--The Sonnets of Milton  collected in Selected Essays by Hilaire Belloc

December  17,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

The splendour of this piece of verse lies (if you will forgive my saying it) in its sound.  And it is folly indeed to belittle sound in verse, as though it were a secondary thing.  It is primary.  It is by the sound of verse that you know it.  Good verse is a music, shrill or deep, calm or ecstatic--but it is music always if it is to be poetry, and when the music fails the poetry fails with it.

See how John Milton has, not without art, but more by some sudden inspiration of anger, produced music here.

It is the rolling of an organ, sustained, modulated, appealing, over-awing from the first line to the last.  It has such inspiration that what should be in any other a defect (the assonance of all the last syllables in the first eight lines) here passes unperceived--or rather enhances their value.  For those long syllables, and the images they call up, "moans," "roll," "old," "bones" and "soul" make a recurrent noise like the waters of the Alpine hills, and give the full note required.

--The Sonnets of Milton  collected in Selected Essays by Hilaire Belloc

[N.B.:  Oh, I know--it is quaint to actually refer to the "music" of verse, but keep in mind this was written at the turn of the last century and Belloc, simple soul that he was, thought the original purpose for a form of writing was necessarily its highest and best use.  He could not appreciate that just about anyone, even a rank novice, can use an instrument as it was intended.  But only a genius--or, just as well, an academic--could show how the instrument could be used in novel ways never intended by its inventor.  Anyone can learn to drive a car.  But not just anyone can look at a car and think it would be much more striking to have it sticking up out of the ground like a modern kitschy Stonehenge.]

December  16,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

Praise a man for his best, and praise Milton for that glorious gift to immortality, "Avenge, O Lord, thy slaughtered saints whose bones Lie scattered on the Alpine mountains cold."

"Avenge, O Lord, thy slaughtered saints, whose bones

Lie scattered on the Alpine mountains cold;

Even them who kept thy trust so pure of old,

When all our fathers worshipped stocks and stones,

Forget not: in thy book record their groans

Who were thy sheep, and in their ancient fold

Slain by the bloody Piedmontese, that rolled

Mother with infant down the rocks.  Their moans

The vales redoubled to the hills, and they

To heaven.  Their martyred blood and ashes sow

O'er all the Italian fields, where still doth sway

The triple Tyrant; that from these may grow

A hundred fold, who, having learnt thy way,

Early may fly the Babylonian woe."

--The Sonnets of Milton  collected in Selected Essays by Hilaire Belloc

December  15,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

It is not to be denied that in Milton's treatment of the sonnet he ignores what is most essential to its effect--especially in the English tongue.  He ignores the contrast of the octave with the sextet.  A sonnet has been called the expression in verse of a single thought.  That definition is insufficient: a sonnet is rather the expression in verse of a thought and the consequence of that thought.  "If this . . . then that."  "How is this . . . it is thus."  "Is this so? . . . No, it is otherwise."  "Though . . . yet," etc.: and this duality appears in the division of the sonnet into two parts.

This double formation is of the essence of the sonnet, as Shakespeare intimately understood.  If the sonnet is divided into its octave and its sextet--which division makes it what it is--there is a reason for the separation of the two and for contrast between them.  The first eight lines make a unity which asks a question to which the last six lines give the reply; or the first eight state an unfinished mood which the last six follow up and determine; or the first eight express some complaint which the last six relieve by denunciation; or the first eight announce the subject of strong love, which the last six proceed to adorn and confirm.  The sonnet to work with full force must have this central hinge.  For the sonnet is feminine and needs a waist: the limber must be followed by its gun.

--The Sonnets of Milton  collected in Selected Essays by Hilaire Belloc

December  14,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

The reason is this: that the sonnet is the prime test of a poet.  The writing of verse, like all activity, is strengthened by limitation, and the poetry of a mind classical is braced up (and thus strengthened) by fixed form and rule.  Thus those who shall come to question the greatness of Shakespeare--and a reaction sooner or later will certainly do that--can be answered abruptly by the example of the sonnets.  In that mould he excelled himself--and all others. 

--The Sonnets of Milton  collected in Selected Essays by Hilaire Belloc

December  13,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

Thus there is the destruction of an Inn by gluttony of an evil sort--though to say so sounds absurd, for one would imagine that gluttony should be proper to Inns.  And so it is, when it is your true gluttony of old, the gluttony of our fathers made famous in English letters by the song which begins:

I am not a glutton,

But I do like pie.

But evil gluttony, which may also be called the gluttony of devils, is another matter.  It flies to liquor as to a drug; it is ashamed of itself; it swallows a glass behind a screen and hides.  There is no companionship with it.  It is an abomination, and this abomination has the power to destroy a Christian Inn and to substitute for it, first a gin-palace, and then in re-action against that, the very horrible house where they sell only tea and coffee and bubbly waters that bite and sting both int he mouth and in the stomach.  These places are hot-beds of despair, and suicides have passed their last hours on earth consuming slops therein alone.  

--On Inns  collected in Selected Essays by Hilaire Belloc

[N.B.:  Even Belloc peering into the misty future could perceive that rough, foul thing slouching, ever slouching, towards . . . Starbucks.]

December  12,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

The strict design of such a thing weighs upon one as might weigh upon one four great lines of Virgil, or the sight of those enormous stones which one comes upon, Roman also, in the Algerian sands.  The plan of such an avenue by which to lead great armies and along which to drive commands argues a mixture of unity and of power as intimate as the lime and the sand of which these conquerors welded their imperishable cement.  And it does more than this.  It suggests swiftness and certitude of aim and a sort of eager determination which we are slow to connect with Government, but which certainly underlay the triumph of this people.  A road will give one less trouble if it winds about and feels the contours of the land.  It will pay better if it is of earth and broken stones instead of being paved, nor would any one aiming at wealth or comfort alone laboriously raise its level, as the level of this road is raised. But in all that the Romans did there was something of a monument.  

--The Roman Road  collected in Selected Essays by Hilaire Belloc

December  11,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

When one has pushed one's way through the brambles and the rounded great roots which have grown upon this street--where no man has walked perhaps for about a thousand years--one gets to the place where it tops the hill, and here one sees the way in which the line of it was first struck out.  From where one stands, right away like a beam, leading from rise to rise, it runs to the cathedral town.  You see the spot where it enters the eastern gate of the roman walls; you see at the end of it, like the dot upon an "i," the mass of the cathedral.  Then, if you turn and look northward, you see from point to point its taut stretch across the weald to where, at the very limit of the horizon, there is a gap in the chain of hills that bars your view.

--The Roman Road  collected in Selected Essays by Hilaire Belloc

December  10,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

'It's a pretty arresting thought, not being anything, not being anywhere, and yet the world still being here.  Simply having everything stopping for ever, not just for millions of years.  And getting to the point where that's all there is in front of you.  I can imagine anyone finding themselves thoroughly wrapped up in that prospect, especially since it's where we're going to get to sooner or later, and perhaps sooner.  Of course, it's not really true to say that that's all that's going to be in front of you.  There are all sorts of other things thrown in, like waiting to see the doctor, and fixing up to have a test, and waiting for the test, and waiting for the result of the test, and fixing up another test, and waiting for that, and waiting for that result, and going in for a period of observation, and being kept in, and waiting for the operation, and waiting for the anaesthetist, and waiting to hear what they found, and waiting for the second operation, and waiting to hear how that went, and being told they can unfortunately do nothing radically curative but naturally all measures will be taken to prolong life and alleviate suffering, and that's where you start.  A long way to go from there before you get to the first lot of things that are turning up for the last time, like your birthday and going away and going out to dinner, and then the rest of those things, like going out anywhere and going downstairs and getting into bed and waking up and lying down and shutting your eyes and beginning to feel drowsy.  And that's where you start too.'

--The Green Man by Kingsley Amis

December  9,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

I knew this would be nowhere good enough for Diana in her present mood, indeed in the only mood I had ever seen her in in the three years I had known her.  Glumly, I tried to run up in my mind a spontaneous-sounding remake of the standard full answer--reproductive urge, power thing, proving one's masculinity (to be introduced one moment and decisively rejected the next), restlessness, curiosity, man-polygamous-woman-monogamous (to be frankly described as old hat but at the same time not dismissible out of hand) and the rest of it, the whole mixture heftily spiked with pornographic flattery.

--The Green Man by Kingsley Amis

December  8,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

'But what's at the back of it all, Maurice?  What makes you so determined to make love to me, for instance?'

'Sex, I should imagine.'

--The Green Man by Kingsley Amis

December  7,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

I am too old a hand to be put off pleasure by even the certain prospect of not enjoying it.

--The Green Man by Kingsley Amis

December  6,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

I missed out the artichoke, a dish I have always tended to despise on biological grounds.  I used to say that a man with a weight problem should eat nothing else, since after each meal he would be left with fewer calories in him than he had burnt up in the toil of disentangling from the bloody things what shreds of nourishment they contained.  I would speculate that a really small man, one compelled by his size to eat with a frequency distantly comparable to that of the shrew or the mole, would soon die of starvation and/or exhaustion if locked up in a warehouse full of artichokes, and sooner still if compelled besides to go through the rigmarole of dunking each leaf in viniagrette.

--The Green Man by Kingsley Amis

December  5,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

After three quick double whiskies I felt better: I was drunk, in fact, drunk with that pristine freshness, that semi-mystical elevation of spirit which, every time, seems destined to last for ever.  There was nothing worth knowing that I did not know, or rather would not turn out to know when I saw my way to turning my attention to it.  Life and death were not problems, just points about which a certain rather limited type of misconception tended to agglutinate.  By definition, or something of the kind, every problem was really a non-problem.  Nodding my head confidentially to myself about the simple force of this perception, I left the pub and made for where there was a fair case for believing I had left the Volkswagen.

--The Green Man by Kingsley Amis

December  4,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

As I walked over to where my Volkswagen was parked in the yard, I told myself that I would soon start to relish the state of being alone (not rid of Amy, just alone for a guaranteed period), only to find, as usual, that being alone meant that I was stuck with myself, with the outside and inside of my body, with my memories and anticipations and present feelings, with that indefinable sphere of being that is the sum of these and yet something beyond them, and with the assorted uneasiness of the whole.  Two's company, which is bad enough in all conscience, but one's a crowd.

--The Green Man by Kingsley Amis

December  3,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

On the television screen, a young woman was denouncing an older one who was keeping her back turned throughout, not so much out of inattention or deliberate rudeness as with the mere object of letting the audience see her face at the same time as her accuser's.  For a moment I watched, in the hope of seeing them do a smart about-turn at the end of the speech, and wondering to what extent real life would be affected if there were to grow up a new convention that people always had to be facing the same way before they could speak to each other.

--The Green Man by Kingsley Amis

[N.B.:  Such a convention did exist once:  it was known as traditional Mass (pre-Vatican II).]

December  2,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

I was expecting two private guests, Dr and Mrs Maybury.  Jack Maybury was the family doctor and a personal friend, or more precisely, somebody I could bear to talk to.  Among that tiny proportion of humanity more entertaining than very bad television, Jack stood high.  Diana Maybury made television seem irrelevant, dull; an enormous feat.

--The Green Man by Kingsley Amis

December  1,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

"I agree with the opinion of the majority," Vdovichenko inserted in a rumbling bass.  "to put it poetically, it's precisely like this.  Civil institutions should grow from below, on democratic foundations, the way tree layers are set in the ground and take root.  They can't be hammered in from above like fenceposts.  That was the mistake of the Jacobin dictatorship, which is why the Convention was crushed by the Thermidorians."

--Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak (tr. Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky)

[N.B.:  Why, what preposterous nonsense--just look at how successful the United States was at nation building in Iraq.]