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ARCHIVED ENTRIES FOR AUGUST 2008

August  29,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

He went into the peroration.  The year 2000 was coming.  A great period of celebration and joy at being alive in America was ahead.  "I see a day," he began to say, as Martin Luther King had once said, "I have a dream."  Every orator's art which had lately worked would become Nixon's craft.  So he said "I see a day" nine times.  He saw a day when the President would be respected and "a day when every child in this land, regardless of his background has a chance for the best education . . . chance to go just as high as his talents will take him."  Nixon, the Socialist!  "I see a day when life in rural America attracts people to the country rather than driving them away. . . ."   Then came a day he could see of breakthrough on problems of slums and pollution and traffic, he could see a day when the value of the dollar would be preserved, a day of freedom from fear in America and in the world . . . this was the cause he asked them all to vote for.  His speech was almost done, but he took it around the rack again.  "Tonight I see the face of a child . . . Mexican, Italian, Polish . . . none of that matters . . . he's an American child."  But stripped of opportunity,  What pain in that face when the child awakes to poverty, neglect and despair.  The ghost of J. M. Barrie stirred in Nixon's voice, stirred in the wings and on the catwalks and in the television sets.  "Let's all save Peter Pan," whispered the ghost.  Then Nixon saw another child tonight, "He hears a train go by.  At night he dreams of faraway places where he'd like to go . . . he is helped on his journey through life . . . a father who had to go to work before he finished the sixth grade . . . a gentle Quaker mother with a passionate concern for peace . . . a great teacher . . . a remarkable football coach . . . courageous wife . . . loyal children . . . in his chosen profession of politics, first there were scores, then hundreds, then thousands, and finally millions who worked for his success.  And tonight he stands before you, nominated for president of the United States.  You can see why I believe so deeply in the American dream . . . help me make that dream come true for millions to whom it's an impossible dream today."

Yes, Nixon was still the spirit of television.  Mass communication was still his disease--he thought he could use it to communicate with masses.

--Some Honorable Men by Norman Mailer

August  28,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

And he went on to call for progress, and reminded everyone that progress depended on order.  He was of course in these matters shameless, he had no final passion for the incorruptible integrity of an idea; no, ideas were rather like keys to him on which he might play a teletype to program the American mind.  And yet the American mind was scandalously bad--the best educational system in the world had produced the most pervasive conditioning of mind in the history of culture just as the greatest medical civilization in history might yet produce the worst plagues.  It opened the thought that if the Lord Himself wished to save America, who else could he possibly use for instrument by now but Richard Nixon?  Of course if the Devil wished to push America over the edge--well, for that, Humphrey would serve as well.

--Some Honorable Men by Norman Mailer

August  27,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

Then came a memory of James Baldwin and Diana Sands on a show called "Night Line" where television viewers could make a telephone call to the guests.  Baldwin had received a call from a liberal which went, "I'd like to help, and I'm asking you how."  "Don't ask me, baby," said Baldwin, "ask yourself."  "You don't understand," said the liberal, "I know something about these matters, but it's getting confusing for me.  I'm asking you in all sincerity where you think my help could be best offered."  "Well, baby," said Baldwin, "that's your problem."  And Diana Sands, pinky extended in total delicate Black-lady disgust, put the receiver back in the cradle.  "You see," said Baldwin, talking to Les Crane, the master of ceremonies, "I remember what an old Negro woman told me once down South.  She said, 'What the white man will someday learn is that there is no remission of sin.' . . ."

--Some Honorable Men by Norman Mailer

[N.B.:  And what was Norman Mailer's response to this?  Well, of course, it was provocative, but you'll just have to read the book to find out.  I'm not Mailer's Apostle, unless I'm akin to the Apostle Paul who held everyone's cloak while they stoned Stephen.  Even stoned, though, Mailer is a more interesting writer than the rice-water commentators of today.]

August  26,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

Anywhere but in politics the speed with which the position had been shifted would be sign of a monumental instability.  But politics was the place where finally nobody meant what they said--it was a world of nightmare; psychopaths roved.  The profound and searing conflicts of politicians were like the quarrels between the girls in a brothel--they would tear each other's hair one night, do a trick together the next.  They had no memory.  They had no principles but for one--you do not quit the house.  You may kill each other but you do not quit the house.

--Some Honorable Men by Norman Mailer

[N.B.:  Marvel at the many contemporary parallels between this short passage and the current political scene.  Note that Norman, in a pithy, earthy image, even explains why the Democrats now loathe Lieberman--although he might retort that the house left him, not vice versa.]

August  25,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

To be a delegate and stick with the loser is a kind of life, but no delegate can face the possibility of going from a winner to a loser; the losses are not measurable.  People are in politics to win.

--Some Honorable Men by Norman Mailer

[N.B.:  So, will Clinton's delegates stick with her?  Magic-Eight-Ball Norman says, "No."]

August  24,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

I want you to pick all the fruit this year and see that nothing is wasted.  There's always someone who can use it.  Don't let good things rot for want of using.  You waste life when you waste good food.  Don't let things get lost.  It's bitter to lose things.

--Katherine Anne Porter from The Jilting of Granny Weatherall collected in The Old Order

August  23,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

"you don't care about me any more, do you baby?"

Andy kept his back turned.  At first he had enjoyed her calling him "baby."  These days it made him shiver, as if in fear.  He hesitated, then a listless determination came over him.  He dug the knife harder.  "A bit.  Not much.  I don't know.  What you feel about me?"

"I don't know.  Something.  Something or other.  I've never stayed with anyone as long as I've stayed with you."

"Me neither."

"Do you want to forget it?"

Andy shrugged.  "Up to you."

"No it is not up to me."

Andy shrugged.  "I don't mind going on.  See how it goes."

--Dead Babies by Martin Amis

August  22,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

FOLDING A SHIRT

Folding a shirt, a woman stands

still for a moment, to recall

warmth of flesh; her careful hands

 

heavy on a sleeve, recall

a gesture, or the touch of love;

she leans against the kitchen wall,

 

listening for a word of love,

but only finds a sound like fear

running through the rooms above.

 

With folded clothes she folds her fear,

but cannot put desire away,

and cannot make the silence hear.

 

Unwillingly she puts away

the bread, the wine, the knife,

smooths the bed where lovers lay,

 

while time's unhesitating knife

cuts away the living hours,

the common rituals of life.

--Denise Levertov (from New British Poets: An Anthology)

August  21,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

August, the aureate month, draws to its blazing close--a month of sun, if ever there was one.  Gold in the grain on the round-backed hill fields.  Gold in the wood sunflowers, and in the summer goldenrod waving plumes all through the woodlot, trooping down the meadow to the brookside, marching in the dust of the roadways.  Gold in the wing of the wild canaries, dipping and twittering as they flit from weed to bush, as if invisible waves of air tossed them up and down.  The orange and yellow clover butterflies seek out the thistle, and the giant sulphur swallowtails are in their final brood.  The amber, chaff-filled dust gilds all the splendid sunsets in cloudless, burning skies.  Long, long after the sun has set, the sun-drenched earth gives back its heat, radiates it to the dim stars; the moon gets up in gold; before it lifts behind the black fields to the east I take it for a rick fire, till it rises like an old gold coin, that thieves have clipped on one worn edge.

--An Almanac for Moderns by Donald Culross Peattie (entry for August 31st)

August  20,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

Yes, the life of politics and the life of the myth had diverged too far.  There was nothing to return them to one another, no common danger, no cause, no desire, and, most essentially, no hero.  It was a hero America needed, a hero central to his time, a man whose personality might suggest contradictions and mysteries which could reach into the alienated circuits of the underground, because only a hero can capture the secret imagination of a people, and so be good for the vitality of his nation; a hero embodies the fantasy and so allows each private mind the liberty to consider its fantasy and find a way to grow.  Each mind can become more conscious of its desire and waste less strength in hiding from itself.  Roosevelt was such a hero, and Churchill, Lenin and de Gaulle; even Hitler, to take the most odious example of this thesis, was a hero, the hero-as-monster, embodying what had become the monstrous fantasy of a people, but the horror upon which the radical mind and liberal temperament foundered was that he gave outlet to the energies of the Germans and so presented the twentieth century with an index of how horrible had become the secret heart of its desire.  Roosevelt is of course a happier example of the hero; from his paralytic leg to the royal elegance of his geniality he seemed to contain the country within himself; everyone from the meanest starving cripple to an ambitious young man could expand into the optimism of an improving future because the man offered an unspoken promise of a future which would be rich.  The sexual and the sex-starved, the poor, the hard-working and the imaginative well-to-do could see themselves in the President, could believe him to be like themselves.  So a large part of the country was able to discover its energies because not as much was wasted in feeling that the country was a poisonous nutrient which stifled the day.

--Some Honorable Men by Norman Mailer

August  19,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

America was also the country in which the dynamic myth of the Renaissance--that every man was potentially extraordinary--knew its most passionate persistence.  Simply, America was the land where people still believed in heroes: George Washington; Billy the Kid; Lincoln, Jefferson; Mark Twain, Jack London, Hemingway; Joe Louis, Dempsey, Gentleman Jim; America believed in athletes, rum-runners, aviators; even lovers, by the time Valentino died.  It was a country which had grown by the leap of one hero past another--is there a county in all of our ground which does not have its legendary figure?

--Some Honorable Men by Norman Mailer

August  18,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

Since the First World War Americans have been leading a double life, and our history has moved on two rivers, one visible, the other underground; there has been the history of politics which is concrete, factual, practical an unbelievably dull if not for the consequences of the actions of some of these men; and there is a subterranean river of untapped, ferocious, lonely and romantic desires, that concentration of ecstasy and violence which is the dream life of the nation.

--Some Honorable Men by Norman Mailer

[N.B.:  Some Honorable Men collects all of Mailer's journalism (a label not meant as a slur by me--but it certainly is if used by him (which, by the bye,  is why he will be forgotten: he denigrated his best work as somehow not worthy of a potential novelist)) regarding his reporting of various Democratic and Republican conventions from 1960 to 1972.  The above excerpt is from the earliest convention Mailer covered--the 1960 Democratic convention which nominated JFK.  It seems to me that many of his observations take on an eerie prescience when compared to this year's Presidential election so please indulge me as I offer up the bloody bits for your delectation.]

August  17,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

It was arranged that the Queen Mother would meet Nostradamus with no fuss  or fanfare, and he suggested he 'move about and meet Her Majesty away from the vulgar people'.  Suffering from gout, the old man walked up to the chateau to meet the King and Queen Mother.  Moving slowly with a malacca cane in one hand and his velvet cap in the other, he was eventually presented to the royal party.  After greeting the King properly in Latin, a long conversation ensued during which the prophet pronounced that Charles would not predecease the Constable; this hardly gave cause for celebration since Montmorency was already in his seventies.  Catherine gave Nostradamus 200 cus and made him a royal councillor and king's physician.  

--Catherine de Medici: Renaissance Queen of France by Leonie Frieda

August  16,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

The Court arrived at Troyes on 23 March to an exotic greeting by people dressed as savages and satyrs riding goats, donkeys and 'unicorns'.  The welcome was an allusion to the French exploration of the Americas where they had founded colonies in Florida and Brazil; indeed, Admiral de Coligny had sent three expeditions there recently.  During their stay at Troyes Charles touched the feet of the scrofulous and washed those of thirteen child paupers.  He then served them at dinner, which as a young boy he had seen his father do at Fontainebleau.  Catherine meanwhile did the same for thirteen mendicant women.

--Catherine de Medici: Renaissance Queen of France by Leonie Frieda

August  15,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

On January 31 the party set out for Fontainebleau where Catherine had ordered that each of the most important nobles give a reception or ball.  Both the Constable and the Cardinal de Bourbon gave suppers at their lodgings, and on Dimance Gras, Catherine threw a banquet at the dairy of Fontainebleau which lay a little way out from the palace, near a meadow.  The courtiers dressed as shepherds or shepherdesses for this fte champtre, a precursor of the Petit Trianon parties thrown by Marie Antoinette nearly two centuries later.  Everyone judged the day a huge success; the nobles having enjoyed their little afternoon of pastoral simplicity, albeit in February.  Later in the early evening the guests attended a comedy in the great ballroom, followed by a ball at which 300 'beauties dressed in gold and silver cloth' performed a specially choreographed dance.  Henri of Anjou gave his banquet the next day, after which a mock battle was held between twelve young knights.  On Mardi Gras an enchanted castle had been built in which six maidens were held captive damsels.  At the sound of a bell, Cond led the defenders out of the castle to fight a superb mock battle and the scantily-clad nymphs were rescued by their gallants.  The royal children also played a role in the festivities giving a performance of a pastorale written by Ronsard.

--Catherine de Medici: Renaissance Queen of France by Leonie Frieda

August  14,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

One of the reasons that most literary artists are contemptuous of Sigmund Freud--whose thought Vladimir Nabokov once characterized as no more than private parts covered up by Greek myths--is that his extreme determinism is felt to be immensely untrue to the rich complexity of life, with its twists and turns and manifold surprises.

--A Literary Education by Joseph Epstein in New Criterion (June 2008).

August  13,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

At nineteen, I read with genuinely heated excitement Max Weber's great essay "The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism," quite blown away by the astonishing intellectual connections made by its author.  I felt my spirit scorched reading Freud's Civilization and Its Discontents.  Weber's and Freud's are ideas to the highest power, yet they were--and here I hope I do not sound condescending--ideas merely.  They were ideas used in the sense that T. S. Eliot used the word when he said of Henry James that he "had a mind so fine no idea could violate it."

--A Literary Education by Joseph Epstein in New Criterion (June 2008).

August  12,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

Almost everyone of any imagination wishes he could do a second draft on his education.  The reason for this, I suppose, is that we are put through our education well before we can have any grasp on what education is really about.  The Duc de Saint-Simon, the greatest writer of memoirs the world has known, noted, with chagrin, that "I had a natural love for reading and history. . . .  I have often thought that, had they encouraged me to make it my serious study, I might have made something of myself."

--A Literary Education by Joseph Epstein in New Criterion (June 2008).

August  11,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

One could laugh at day-dreams, but so long as you had the capacity to day-dream, there was a chance that you might develop some of the qualities of which you dreamed.  It was like the religious discipline: words however emptily repeated can in time form a habit, a kind of unnoticed sediment at the bottom of the mind--until one day to your own surprise you find yourself acting on the belief you thought you didn't believe in. 

--The Ministry of Fear by Graham Greene

August  10,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

[T]heir logic chopping was a public nuisance, found bad for the morale of the -verts (con- or per-).

--Guide to Kulchur by Ezra Pound

August  9,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

Approaches governed by very general ideas tend to bypass the individual work or author: understanding is replaced by what W. T. Mitchell called "overstanding".  The capacious frame of reference in which the work is located--evident to the critic but not to the author--places the former in a position of knowing superiority vis-a-vis the latter.  The work becomes a mere example of some historical, cultural, political, or other trend of which the author will have been dimly aware, if at all.  The differences between one author and another are also minimized.  Like hypochondriacs, theory-led critics find what they seek: so Jane Austen and the Venerable Bede are alike in representing the hegemony of the colonizer over the colonized, the powerful over the powerless, or the voiced over the voiceless; or in their failure to acknowledge the fictionality of the bourgeois fiction of the self.  The fashions have moved on.  Structuralist, post-structuralist, pychoanalytical (Freudian, Lacanian), historical materialist, Marxist approaches look pretty dated.  "Literary studies" at the cutting edge has woken out of some of its most ambitious appropriations, though they are still inflicted on students.  Dreams of explaining or even overthrowing Western capitalism by unmasking its discourses of power through an embittered analysis of Shakespeare look simply daft.  The reign of Theory seems to be over.  Unfortunately the habit of approaching literature through ideas assimilated uncritically from other disciplines, and of examining individual works through an inverted telescope, has not yet been kicked.

--License my roving hands by Raymond Tallis in The Times Literary Supplement from April 11, 2008

August  8,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

For an academic, there are many reasons for going "interdisciplinary".  You can, as John Bayley once said, "rise between two stools".  Most of the time you will be selling your product to an audience that is not in a position to judge the correctness, the validity, or even the probable veracity of the claims you are making about the guest discipline you exploit.  Ingenious, not to say flaky, interpretations will pass unchallenged.  A new paradigm also means lots of conferences and papers, and other ways of enhancing the path to professional advancement.  It may also help you to overcome a crisis of confidence in the value of way you are doing.  To modify what Ernest Gellner once said, "When a priest loses his faith, he is unfrocked, when critics lose theirs, they redefine their subject".

--License my roving hands by Raymond Tallis in The Times Literary Supplement from April 11, 2008

August  7,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

We are war.  Because we are soldiers.

I have burned all the cities,

Strangled all the women,

Brained all the children,

Plundered all the land.

I have shot a million enemies,

Laid waste the fields, destroyed the churches,

Ravaged the souls of the inhabitants,

Spilled the blood and tears of all the mothers.

 

I did it, all me.--I did

Nothing.  But I was a soldier.

--A Stranger to Myself by Willy Peter Reese (tr. Michael Hofmann).

August  6,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

The was began, and we saw God and his stars perish in the West.  Death rampaged over the earth--he took off his mask, and his skull face grinned, chiseled with dementia and pain.  We set out into no-man's-land, saw him dance in the distance, and heard the throb of his drums at night.  And so he brought in his harvest of corn and tares.

He transformed us with his being.  He showed us other names and dimensions, and his dreams marked the picture of our time.  His shadow fell across our path.  His thoughts filled the spirit of the seeker, and sadness, suffering, and fear sprang up from the seed he had sown.

Forced marches and dangers gave rise to adventure, but the conversation of the angels stopped at our graves.  We, the nameless and the unknown, the solitary and the lover, the wise man and the fool, the rich and the poor, took up the fight with our destiny, and under the constellation of necessity, we found a role for ourselves in resurrection and carrion.  We danced around his altar like will-o'-the wisps: the killer, the doomed man, and the victim.  We yearned to know his secrets, the purpose of his riddles, and the meaning of his games with masks and disguises.  We talked in our sleep like dreamers, and such things as hope, faith, and love acquired weight once more.  From the hell of storms of steel, faith in destiny, astral solitude, and out of readiness to die, we plunged into the abyss of eternity, and at the bottom we found God's face among the wreckage and dust of our years.

In this way, death grew into our lives.  In no-man's-land, he kept watch.

--A Stranger to Myself by Willy Peter Reese (tr. Michael Hofmann).

[N.B.:  This is the opening of a remarkable memoir written by a German soldier, Willy Peter Reese, serving at the Eastern Front during World War II.  As mentioned in the preface by Max Hastings, Willy was no nazi and he felt deep regret for many of the things he did.  Until, like every other soldier in his squad, he, too, was engulfed in that most merciless of all engagements (indeed, after the war, Stalin exiled and killed his own troops because, by victoriously marching across Eastern Europe, they became necessarily contaminated by the West and must therefore be quarantined and the contagion cut out).]

August 5,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

POLITICS

He wants power

He has power

He wants more

And his country will break in his hands,

Is breaking now.

--Alkaios from Pure Pagan (tr. Burton Raffel)

August 4,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, "Do not worry.  You have always written before and you will write now.  All you have to do is write one true sentence.  Write the truest sentence that you know."  So finally I would write one true sentence, and then go on from there.  It was easy then because there was always one true sentence that I knew or had seen or had heard someone say.  If I started to write elaborately, or like someone introducing or presenting something, I found that I could cut that scrollwork or ornament out and throw it away and start with the first true simple declarative sentence I had written.  Up in that room I decided that I would write one story about each thing that I knew about.  I was trying to do this all the time I was writing, and it was good and severe discipline.

--A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway

August 3,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

This is the way people speak, she thought, when love is not a name any more but has been recognized alive in somebody else's flesh.  Because of her he walks into strange places, stops people in the street, carries books under his arm to implicate strangers into what they are together.

--My Next Bride by Kay Boyle

August 2,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

"Now here's a distinguished pair for you," she tells Kate and watches her carefully; she is not paying any attention to us.  "The barbarians at the inner gate and who defends the West?  Don John of Austria?  No, Mr Bolling the stockbroker and Mr Wade the lawyer.  Mr Bolling and Mr Wade, defenders of the faith, seats of wisdom, mirrors of justice.  God, I wouldn't mind if they showed a little spirit in their debauchery, but look at them.  Rosenkranz and Guildenstern.

--The Moviegoer by Walker Percy

August 1,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

It had never occurred to him, even in his most forgiving moods, that the reason Mary had that first love-affair was that he made her feel so very inferior (morally, intellectually, in every way except socially) that life with him turned into a constant reproach.  In a perverse way, it was as though he wanted her to do it in order to show that he was the more virtuous partner.  He wanted to build up an unsurpassed knowledge of manuscripts in order to spike the dons' guns.  That was doing a good thing for an evil purpose.  But by the time of Mary's first infidelity he had moved into the more dangerous waters of longing for an evil thing for an entirely evil purpose.  He longed for everyone to see how patiently he, how woefully she, was behaving.  The wounded bitterness, the anger, was something that he had wanted to express almost since he met her, to stamp upon all the good impulses, all the natural sweetness of their love.

--Wise Virgin by A.N. Wilson