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ARCHIVED ENTRIES FOR APRIL 2009

April  30,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

I think of an actor in the ancient world.  He is a veteran of the Attic drama, a spear-carrier, an old trouper.  The crowd knows him but cannot remember his name.  He is never Oedipus, but once he has played Creon.  He has his mask, he has had it for years; it is his talisman.  The white clay from which it was fashioned has turned to the shade and texture of bone.  The rough felt lining has been softened by years of sweat and friction so that it fits smoothly upon the contours of his face.  Increasingly, indeed, he thinks the mask is more like his face than his face is.  At the end of a performance when he takes it off he wonders if the other actors can see him at all, or if he is just a head with a blank front, like the old statue of Silenus in the marketplace the features of which the weather has entirely worn away.  He takes to wearing the mask at home, when no one is there.  It is a comfort, it sustains him; he finds it wonderfully restful, it is like being asleep and yet conscious.  Then one day he comes to the table wearing it.  His wife makes no remark, his children stare for a moment, then shrug and go back to their accustomed bickering.  He has achieved his apotheosis.  Man and mask are one.

--Shroud by John Banville

April  29,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

Everything had been taken from me, therefore everything was to be permitted.  I could do whatever I wished, follow my wildest whim.  I could lie, cheat, steal, maim, murder, and justify it all.  More: the necessity of justification would not arise, for the land I was entering now was a land without laws.  Historians never tire of observing that one of the ways in which tyranny triumphs is by offering its helpers the freedom to fulfill their most secret and most base desires; few care to understand, however, that its victims too can be made free men.

--Shroud by John Banville

April  28,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

Yet for the best part, the worst part, of two years, we were frightened almost all of the time.  Fear burned in us unquenchably.  There were periods when it was no more than a smouldering coal lodged at the base of the breast bone, then suddenly it would leap up in jagged sheets of flame, leaving behind a hot fall of cinders.  These were the poles of existence for us: consuming, irresistible terror, or a sort of gluey apathy, with intervals of futile rage in between.

--Shroud by John Banville

April  27,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

And so the old high-sounding phrases--'the moral law', 'the will to this, that and the other' and a hundred like them--begin to sound a bit hollow, and I begin to realize that quite the most important thing in life is to possess the vague qualities of, and be upon every occasion, a 'gentleman'.  If you ask: what is a gentleman? you have asked the hardest question of life.  It is a question you can only answer by the intuition of your own mind.  Personally I 'get at' the ideal somewhat if I separate the word--a gentle man.  But that is only vague.

But if one cannot define a gentleman, much of the difficulty disappears by the ease with which we can distinguish his opposite.  God, how many we must brand: how few we can elect!

Must one's standards of judgement be necessarily personal and egotistic? or are there universals in the matter? I haven't thought it out yet.  This I know: The gentle man, unconsciously as often as consciously, fulfils our finest ideals.

--A War Diary 1915-18 collected in The Contrary Experience by Herbert Read

April  26,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

Frank Rutter is the one I know best and he is a very sincere friend of mine.  Age 42: married (to a wife whom men like and women hate); no children: the most charming conversationalist I ever met.  Something like this in looks--(picture)--very like R.L.S. as a matter of fact.  Has the most wonderful memory I ever met.  Can remember every character of every novel he has read--and that is every novel that is worth reading.  It is my delight to get him into a quiet corner in some cafe and over coffee and cigarettes to listen to him whilst he talks Meredith and Henry James by the hour.  I think it was our common enthusiasm over H.J. that first brought us together.

--A War Diary 1915-18 collected in The Contrary Experience by Herbert Read

April  25,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

It is one of my aims--to restore poetry to its true role of a spoken art.  The music of words--the linking of sounds--the cadence of phrase--unity of action.  Each poem should be exact, expressing in the only appropriate words the emotion experienced.  The fact of emotion unites the art to life.  Any 'idea', i.e. ethical or critical, or philosophy should only be basic-ground from which the beauty springs.  Or perhaps the unifying principle of a man's art viewed as a whole.

--A War Diary 1915-18 collected in The Contrary Experience by Herbert Read

April  24,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

"Plagiarized.  That's beautiful.  Can one plagiarize oneself?  Plunder, yes; recycle, certainly; but plagiarize?"  When he laughed, his chest emitted a discreet rumble, as though a digger were turning over the earth inside him.  "Do you really imagine," he said eventually, "that there are enough words in the world for them always to be new?  Novelty among the young is greatly overrated.  If you've worked to find the right words for what you want to say, then surely it would be foolhardy to discard them merely because of some sense of etiquette--some sense that it was rather shabby to repeat yourself.  Do I ever give a lecture twice?  Of course I do.  Do I have the same conversation more than once?  It goes without saying.  I am guilty of the tedium of repetition.  I'm sorry--you're disappointed to find you uncle is an old bore.  Alas."

--The Emperor's Children by Claire Messud

April  23,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

Reveille, in camp, was achieved as follows: a metal bludgeon, wielded by a footlike hand, would clatter up and down for a full minute between two parallel iron rails.  This you never got used to.  Each morning, as you girded yourself in the yard, you would stare at the simple contraption and wonder at its acoustical might.  I now know that, for some barbarous reason (the quicker detection, perhaps, of even the tiniest animal), hunger sharpens the hearing.  But it didn't just get louder--it grew in shrillness and, somehow, in articulacy.  The sound seemed to trumpet the dawn of a new dominion (more savage, more stupid, more certain) and to repudiate the laxity and amateurism of the day before.

--House of Meetings by Martin Amis

April  22,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

I supposed that if he ever stopped to think about it, Lev would have found me much reduced, humanly.  And this is what he seemed to be doing.  To me, by now, violence was a neutral instrument.  It wasn't even diplomacy by other means.  It was currency, like tobacco, like bread.

--House of Meetings by Martin Amis

April  21,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

There is a Western phenomenon called the male midlife crisis.  Very often it is heralded by divorce.  What history might have done to you, you bring about on purpose: separation from woman and child.  Don't tell me that such men aren't tasting the ancient flavors of death and defeat.

In America, with divorce achieved, the midlifer can expect to be more recreational, more discretionary.  He can almost design the sort of crisis he is going to have: motorbike, teenage girlfriend, vegetarianism, jogging, sports car, mature boyfriend, cocaine, crash diet, powerboat, new baby, religion, hair transplant.

Over here, now there's no angling around for your male midlife crisis.  It is brought to you and it is always the same thing.  It is death.

--House of Meetings by Martin Amis

April  20,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

Like Mr Micawber in David Copperfield I always assumed something would turn up, and it always did, right up until it didn't, and never did again.

And like David Copperfield, in David Copperfield, I was expert at the kind of hallucinatory economics that turned every snake into a ladder--whenever I dined in a fairly expensive restaurant, for instance, I calculated that I'd saved money by not dining in a very expensive one, and the money saved I tacked on to my inner bank account, as if it were money earned.  Thus I became richer every time I ate out at my own expense, and twice as much richer when I ate out at someone else's expense.  House champagne was a huge earner in the last days of my alcoholism, four bottles a day at a mere twelve quid a bottle, compared to the champagne I'd once drunk, Veuve Clicquot my favorite, at thirty-odd quid a bottle, so every time I put aside an empty bottle of house I was up another twenty-odd quid, courtesy of Veuve--calculations of this sort sustained me psychologically against al the portents, the chief of which were seemingly inexplicable surges of panic that were sometimes accompanied by little visions of humiliation, having my credit cards scissored, my cheques returned with insults, and then of larger visions, of a tramp-like figure roaming the streets, or sleeping in shop doorways . . . .

--The Smoking Diaries by Simon Gray

April  19,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

He also doesn't like to let on that he can't understand much of what you're saying--another characteristic of academics--the vanity of  stupidity, or the stupidity of vanity--and so a real mess of a muttered conversation ensued . . . ."

--The Smoking Diaries by Simon Gray

April  18,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

The Germans were greatly given to crowing and, just as the British delighted in caricatures of sauerkraut-guzzling Germans, the effete Englishman was a figure of fun in Germany and this character was the leitmotiv of a smash-hit comedy that had been playing for months in a score of theatres in cities as far apart as Hamburg and Breslau, Munich and 'Stettin.  In Frankfurt, where no theatre was large enough to contain the audiences clamouring to see it, it had transferred to the amphitheatre of the Circus Schumann which could seat four thousand people.  It was packed out almost every night.  With heavy irony the play was entitled Wir Barberen (We Barbarians) and the comedy leaned heavily on ridiculing tales of atrocities committed by the German Army which had been widely published abroad and reprinted in the German press.  No one in Germany believed them.

--1915: The Death of Innocence by Lyn MacDonald

April  17,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

What I remember most is going up to the line, and Ypres was burning. I was crossing number 2 pontoon bridge across the Yser Canal, and just a bit half-right was Wipers on fire.  I'll never forget it.  It was wonderful.  For the moment everything was quite still, no war on so to speak.  There was this town on fire with flames and smoke reflected in the waters of the canal, shimmering.  It was a wonderful picture.  Frightening too, but beautiful.  The whole place seemed to be on fire.

--1915: The Death of Innocence by Lyn MacDonald

April  16,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

There were few other battalions in the British Army which boasted a sergeant who quoted Cato (in Latin!) to raw recruits on the parade ground or, when they assembled for a night exercise, addressed them in the words of Catullus, 'Vesper adest, juvenes, consurgite [Rise up, lads, evening is coming]."  There were not many Battalions who had a quartermaster-sergeant who amused himself off-duty by turning King's Regulations into perfect iambics, and there was none in which so many legal minds were bent on dissecting these sacrosanct military laws in search of legal niceties that would admit of novel and more advantageous interpretations.

--1915: The Death of Innocence by Lyn MacDonald

[N.B.:  Here lies the kernel of a good middle-brow play in the mode of a Tom Stoppard.]

April  15,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

The highlight of one concert in Jedburgh was a rendering by the local doctor's wife of 'My Little Grey Home in the West'.  It had a recognisable tune, it came as a welcome change after a programme of cultural music and heroic poems, and the troops encored it three times.  They were the 1/7th Battalion of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and most of them had recently left some little grey home in the west of Scotland at Lord Kitchener's behest.

The tune, if not precisely catchy, was easy to play on a mouth organ and it was equally popular with soldiers holding the miserable outposts of the British line in Flanders.  But the words were not appropriate, and in Flanders they had adopted their own version:

I've a little we home in a trench,

Where the rainstorms continually drench,

There's a dead cow close by

With her feet towards the sky

And she gives off a horrible stench.

 

Underneath, in the place of a floor,

There's a mass of wet mud and some straw,

But with shells dropping there,

There's no place to compare

With my little we home in the trench.

--1915: The Death of Innocence by Lyn MacDonald

April  14,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

Why the 'This is all you are ever going to have' thought?

Perhaps, he thought, sitting staring at the blue plate where the biscuits had been, it was just that childhood's attitude of something-wonderful-tomorrow persisted subconsciously in a man as long as it was capable of realisation, and it was only after forty, when it became unlikely of fulfilment, that it obtruded itself into conscious thought; a lost piece of childhood crying for attention.

--The Franchise Affair by Josephine Tey

April  13,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

Charlotte looked at him in a teacherly fashion.  "You know what 'liberal arts' means?"

Pause.  Rumination.  ". . . No."

"It's from Latin?"  Charlotte was the very picture of kind patience.  "In Latin, liber means free?  It also means book, but that's just a coincidence, I think.  Anyway, the Romans had slaves from all over the world, and some of the slaves were very bright, like the Greeks.  The Romans would let the slaves get educated in all sorts of practical subjects, like math, like engineering so they could build things, like music so they could be entertainers?  But only Roman citizens, the free people?--liber?--could take things like rhetoric and literature and history and theology and philosophy?  Because they were the arts of persuasion--and they didn't want the slaves to learn how to present arguments that might inspire them to unite and rise up or something?  So the 'liberal' arts are the arts of persuasion, and they didn't want anybody but free citizens knowing how to persuade people."

--I Am Charlotte Simmons by Tom Wolfe

April  12,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

Screams rose up from the courtyard, the unmistakable screams, once more, of girls singing their mock distress over the manly antics of boys.  Very loud they were, too.  The boys sang their choral response of manly laughs, bellows, and yahoos.  To Charlotte, this bawling had become the anthem of the victors, namely, those girls who were attractive, experienced, and deft enough to achieve success at Dupont, which, as far as she could tell, was measured in boys.

--I Am Charlotte Simmons by Tom Wolfe

April  11,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

[H]e is Lusios, "the Liberator"--the god who by very simple means, or by other means not so simple, enables you for a short time to stop being yourself, and thereby sets you free.  That was, I think, the main secret of his appeal to the Archaic Age: not only because life in that age was often a thing to escape from, but more specifically because the individual, as the modern world knows him, began in that age to emerge for the first time from the old solidarity of the family, and found the unfamiliar burden of individual responsibility hard to bear.  Dionysus could lift it from him  For Dionysus was the Master of Magical Illusions, who could make a vine grow out of a ship's plank, and in general enable his votaries to see world as the world's not.  As the Scythians in Herodotus put it, "Dionysus leads people on to behave madly"--which could mean anything from "letting yourself go" to becoming "possessed."  The aim of his cult was ecstatsis--which again could mean anything from "taking you out of yourself" to profound alteration of personality.  And its psychological function was to satisfy and relieve the impulse to reject responsibility, an impulse which exists in all of us and can become under certain social conditions an irresistible craving.

--The Greeks and the Irrational by E. R. Dodds

April  10,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

The Greeks believed in their Oracle, not because they were superstitious fools, but because they could not do without believing in it.  And when the importance of Delphi declined, as it did in Hellenistic times, the main reason was not, I suspect, that men had grown (as Cicero thought) more sceptical, but rather that other forms of religious reassurance were now available.

--The Greeks and the Irrational by E. R. Dodds

April  9,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

We cannot see into the minds of the Delphic priesthood, but to ascribe such manipulations in general to conscious and cynical fraud is, I suspect, to oversimplify the picture.  Anyone familiar with the history of modern spiritualism will realise what an amazing amount of virtual cheating can be done in perfectly good faith by convinced believers.

--The Greeks and the Irrational by E. R. Dodds

April  8,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

First, I do not expect this particular key, or any key, to open all the doors.  The evolution of a culture is too complex a thing to be explained without a residue in terms of any simple formula, whether economic or psychological, begotten of Marx or begotten of Freud.  We must resist the temptation to simplify what is not simple.  And secondly, to explain origins is not to explain away values.  We should beware of underrating the religious significance of the ideas I have discussed to-day, even where, like the doctrine of divine temptation, they are repugnant to our moral sense.  Nor should we forget that out of this archaic guilt-culture there arose some of the profoundest tragic poetry that man has produced.  It was above all Sophocles, the last great exponent of the archaic world-view, who expressed the full tragic significance of the old religious themes in their unsoftened, unmoralised forms--the overwhelming sense of human helplessness in face of the divine mystery.

--The Greeks and the Irrational by E. R. Dodds

[N.B.:  Dodds (who beat out Bowra for the Greek studies chair at Oxford) gave the lectures that were collected in The Greeks and the Irrational at Berkeley in 1949, a year that arguably marked the height of influence for both Marx and Freud.  Now that both thinkers have been discredited, they are easy enough to dismiss.  But to have done so in such an offhanded manner as Dodds does here demonstrates either an exceptional intelligence or arrogance.  Fortunately, with Dodds, it is the former.  And The Greeks and the Irrational is rightfully regarded as his greatest work.]

April  7,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

'Ashe! What are you doing?'

Ashe paused for a moment to reply.

I am kissing you,' he said.

'But you musn't.  There's a scullery-maid or something looking out of the kitchen window.  She will see us.'

Ashe drew her to him.

'Scullery-maids have few pleasures,' he said.  'Theirs is a dull life.  Let her see us.'

--Something Fresh by P.G. Wodehouse

April  6,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

'"She travels fastest who travels alone,"' misquoted Joan.

'What is the good,' said Ashe, 'of travelling fast if you're going round in a circle?  I know how you feel.  I've felt the same myself.  You are an individualist.  You think that there is something tremendous just round the corner, and that you can get it if you try hard enough.  There isn't.  Or, if there is, it isn't worth getting.  Life is nothing but a mutual aid association.  I am going to help old Peters: you are going to help me: I am going to help you.'

'Help me to do what?'

'Make life coherent instead of a jumble.'

--Something Fresh by P.G. Wodehouse

April  5,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

Such was the story that occurred in the northern capital of our vast country!  Only now, on overall reflection, we can see that there is much of the implausible in it.  To say nothing of the strangeness of the supernatural detachment of the nose and its appearance in various places in the guise of a state councillor--how was it that Koralev did not realize that he ought not to make an announcement about the nose through the newspaper office?  I'm speaking here not in the sense that I think it costly to pay for an announcement: that is nonsense, and I am not to be numbered among the mercenary.  But it is indecent, inept, injudicious!  And then, too--how did the nose end up in the baked bread and how did Ivan Yakovlevich himself . . . ? no, that I just do not understand, I decidedly do not understand!  But what is strangest, what is most incomprehensible of all is how authors can choose such subjects . . . I confess, that is utterly inconceivable, it is simply . . . no, no, I utterly fail to understand.  In the first place, there is decidedly no benefit to the fatherland; in the second place . . . but in the second place there is also no benefit.  I simply do not know what it . . .

And yet, for all that, though it is certainly possible to allow for one thing, and another, and a third, perhaps even . . . And then, too, are there not incongruities everywhere? . . . And yet, once you reflect on it, there really is something to all this.  Say what you like, but such incidents do happen in the world--rarely, but they do happen.

--The Nose collected in The Collected Tales of Nikolai Gogol (tr. Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky)

April  4,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

Kovalev entered just as he stretched, grunted, and said:  "Ah, now for a nice two-hour nap!"  And therefore it could be foreseen that the collegiate assessor's arrival was quite untimely; and I do not know whether he would have been received all that cordially even if he had brought him several pounds of sugar or a length of broadcloth.  The commissioner was a great patron of all the arts and manufactures, but preferred state banknotes to them all.  "Here's a thing," he used to say, "there's nothing better than this thing: doesn't ask to eat, takes up little space, can always be put in the pocket, drop it and it won't break."

--The Nose collected in The Collected Tales of Nikolai Gogol (tr. Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky)

April  3,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

"How shall I approach him?" thought Kovalev.  "By all tokens, by his uniform, by his hat, one can see he's a state councillor.  Devil knows how to go about it!"

He began to cough beside him; but the nose would not abandon his pious attitude for a minute and kept bowing down.

"My dear sir," said Kovalev, inwardly forcing himself to take heart, "my dear sir . . ."

"What can I do for you?" the nose said, turning.

"I find it strange, my dear sir . . . it seems to me . . . you should know your place.  And suddenly I find you, and where?--in a church.  You must agree . . .."

"Excuse me, I don't understand what you're talking about . . . Explain, please."

"How shall I explain it to him?" thought Kovalev, and, gathering his courage, he began:

"Of course, I . . . anyhow, I'm a major.  For me to go around without a nose is improper, you must agree.  Some peddler woman selling peeled oranges on Voskresensky Bridge can sit without a nose, but, having prospects in view . . . being acquainted, moreover, with ladies in many houses: Chekhtareva, the wife of a state councillor, and others . . . Judge for yourself . . . I don't know, my dear sir . . ."  (Here Major Kovalev shrugged his shoulders.)  "Pardon me, but . . . if one looks at it in conformity with the rules of duty and honor . . . you yourself can understand . . ."

"I understand decidedly nothing," replied the nose.  "Explain more satisfactorily."

"My dear sir . . ." Kovalev said with dignity, "I don't know how to understand your words . . . The whole thing seems perfectly obvious . . . Or do you want to . . . But you're my own nose!"

The nose looked at the major and scowled slightly.

"You are mistaken, my dear sir,.  I am by myself. Besides, there can be no close relationship between us.  Judging by the buttons on your uniform, you must serve in a different department."

Having said this, the nose turned away and continued praying.

--The Nose collected in The Collected Tales of Nikolai Gogol (tr. Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky)

April  2,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

He hastened into the cathedral, made his way through a row of old beggar women with bandaged faces and two openings for the eyes, at whom he had laughed so much before, and went into the church.  There were not many people praying in the church: they all stood just by the entrance.  Kovalev felt so upset that he had no strength to pray, and his eyes kept searching in all corners for the gentleman.  He finally saw him standing to one side.  The nose had his face completely hidden in his big standing collar and was praying with an expression of the greatest piety.

--The Nose collected in The Collected Tales of Nikolai Gogol (tr. Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky)

April  1,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

I discovered that China and Spain are absolutely one and the same land, and it is only out of ignorance that they are considered separate countries.  I advise everyone purposely to write Spain on a piece of paper, and it will come out China.  But, nevertheless, I was extremely upset by an event that is going to take place tomorrow.  Tomorrow at seven o'clock a strange phenomenon will occur: the earth is going to sit on the moon.  This has also been written about by the noted English chemist Wellington.  I confess, I felt troubled at heart when I pictured to myself the extraordinary delicacy and fragility of the moon.  For the moon is usually made in Hamburg, and made quite poorly.  I'm surprised England doesn't pay attention to this.  It's made by a lame copper, and one can see that the fool understands nothing about the moon.  He used tarred rope and a quantity of cheap olive oil, and that's why there's a terrible stench all over the earth, so that you have to hold your nose.  And that's why the moon itself is such a delicate sphere that people can't live on it, and now only noses live there.  And for the same reason, we can't see our own noses, for they're all in the moon.  And when I pictured how the earth is a heavy substance and in sitting down may grind our noses into flour, I was overcome with such anxiety that, putting on my stockings and shoes, I hurried to the state council chamber to order the police not to allow the earth to sit on the moon.  The shaved grandees, great numbers of whom I found in the state council chamber, were all very intelligent people, and when I said, "Gentlemen, let us save the moon, because the earth wants to sit on it," they all rushed at once to carry out my royal will, and many crawled up the wall in order to get the moon; but just then the lord chancellor came in.  Seeing him, they all ran away.  I, being the king, was the only one to remain.  But, to my surprise, the chancellor hit me with a stick and drove me to my room.  Such is the power of popular custom in Spain!

--The Diary of a Madman collected in The Collected Tales of Nikolai Gogol (tr. Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky)

[N.B.:  Oh, and happy April Fool's Day!]