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ARCHIVED ENTRIES FOR AUGUST 2009

August  31,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

'We can be fairly certain,' he said, 'that animals do not lie.  It has been both their salvation and their downfall.  Lies, fictions and untrue suppositions can create new human truths which build technology, art, language, everything that is distinctly of Man.  The word "stone" for instance is not a stone, it is an oral pattern of vocal, dental and labial sounds or a scriptive arrangement of ink on a white surface, but man pretends that it is actually the thing it refers to.  Every time he wishes to tell another man about a stone he can use the word instead of the thing itself.  The word bodies forth the object in the mind of the listener and both speaker and listener are able to imagine a stone without seeing one.  All the qualities of stone can be metaphorically and metonymically expressed.  "I was stoned, stony broke, stone blind, stone cold sober, stonily silent," oh, whatever occurs.  More than that, a man can look at a stone and call it a weapon, a paperweight, a doorstep, a jewel, and idol.  He can give it function, he can possess it.'

--The Liar by Stephen Fry

August  29,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

Everyone has their time, Adrian thought.  You can meet people of thirty and know that when their hair is grey and their face lined, they will look wonderfully at their best.  That Professor, for one, Donald Trefusis.  He must have looked ridiculous as a teenager, but now he has come into his own.  Others, whose proper age was twenty-five, grew old grotesquely, their baldness and thickening waistlines an affront to what they once were.  There were men like that on the staff at Chartham, fifty or sixty years old, but whose true characters were only discernible in hints of some former passion and vigour that would come out when they were excited.

--The Liar by Stephen Fry

August  28,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

'They're all getting firsts and married these days, if you'll forgive the syllepsis,' he had said once.  'Decency, discipline and dullness.  There's no lightness of touch any more, no irresponsibility.  Do you remember that damning description of Leonard Bast in Howard's End?  "He had given up the glory of the animal for a tail-coat and a set of ideas."  Change tail-coat to pin-stripe and you have modern Cambridge.  There's no lack of respect today, that's what I miss.

--The Liar by Stephen Fry

August  27,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

Jack Cade is a communist in the basic sense of the word: he believes in the abolition of private property (2 Henry VI, IV.vii 18-19).  Again the dominant logic is clear, and perhaps not to our taste: Cade is a grotesque, half-comic threat to all around him and deserves to be crushed.  His henchman's line, "The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers" (IV.ii6-7), must always, I suspect, have got a laugh and a sputtering of applause from some in the audience.  Yet there is no serious doubt that a society without law is a kind of horror, a jungle of random suffering and unchecked aggression.  We are all now pre-set, culturally, to warm to terms like "subversion" and to recoil from terms like "repression."  This automatic response may be a function of our luxurious security, as compared with earlier times in history.  Michel Foucault can rely on a similarly automatic charge of condemnation attaching to the word "policing."  I respond as others do to these signals.  Yet I can remember a time when I was in a dangerous part of the world and surprised myself with the sudden, unbidden thought, "If only they had a proper police force!"  A basic fact about the England of Elizabeth--one we should never forget--is that the sovereign had no effective police force and no standing army.

--Shakespeare the Thinker by A.D. Nuttall

August  26,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

The old scorn for gold that finds expression in Thomas More's Utopia--"Why revere a chunk of metal?"--sounds like earthy common sense but is in fact wilfully obtuse.  People who live in the real world know that a gold coin will buy bread for a child.  Thus signifiers, after an initially vacuous fiat--"Let this mean that"--acquire purchase upon real events.

--Shakespeare the Thinker by A.D. Nuttall

 [N.B.:  And with this backhanded observation, Nuttall dismisses Derrida--indeed, "wilfully obtuse" should have been carved on that deconstructionist's tombstone.]

August  25,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

We historians are fond of saying that the persecution of Catholics was fitful and inefficient, but Carey makes one see the real horror.  Perhaps the variability added to the fear-factor?  Franz Kafka knew how uncertainty exacerbates fear; both The Trial and The Castle turn on the psychological truth that an accused person will pass from pleading innocence to actively seeking conviction, if the nature of the charge is kept hidden; unclarity is itself felt to be worse than the imagined sentence.  In Elizabethan England, indeed, the punishment was so horrible that the full Kafkaesque paradox was unlikely to find realisation, but he circumambient uncertainty must, nevertheless, have made things worse--much worse.  These were the years of "the bloody question": "If the pope sent an army to invade England, would you obey pope or queen?"  Senator Joseph McCarthy's question, "Are you or have you ever been a communist?" destroyed lives but seems faint when set beside the bloody question of Shakespeare's time.  McCarthy never disembowelled a communist, making sure the victim remained alive until the process was complete.

--Shakespeare the Thinker by A.D. Nuttall

August  24,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

When I was well into writing this book I happened to meet an old friend in the street.  We exchanged civilities and he asked how I was occupying my time.  I said, "I'm writing an unforgivably long book on Shakespeare," and then added, "You know how there's a tradition whereby formerly lively minds produce in old age unduly mellow books on Shakespeare."  This was his cue to say, "Oh, yours won't be like that."  Instead, he looked gravely at me and said, "When you find yourself writing about his essential Englishness, you must stop."  The persistent reader will find that there is a point in this book where I come perilously close to what my friend darkly predicted.  But I stop, as instructed, at that point.

--Shakespeare the Thinker by A.D. Nuttall

August  21,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

Then a big man in a ready-to-wear suit came with a pad and a pencil and took the third chair.  His ears were enormous and stuck out straight from his skull and he had an odd air of muted shame like a bull who has begun to realise that he is out of place in a china shop.  When he held the pencil to the pad you expected one or the other to suffer in his awkward grasp, and you felt that he knew and feared the event.

--The Ministry of Fear by Graham Greene

August  20,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

Our heroes are simple: they are brave, they tell the truth, they are good swordsmen and they are never in the long run really defeated.  That is why no later books satisfy us like those which were read to us in childhood--for those promised a world of great simplicity of which we knew the rules, but the later books are complicated and contradictory with experience; they are formed out of our own disappointing memories--of the VC in the police-court dock, of the faked income tax return, the sins in corners, and the hollow voice of the man we despised talking to us of courage and purity.  The Little Duke is dead and betrayed and forgotten; we cannot recognise the villain and we suspect the hero and the world is a small cramped place.  The two great popular statements of faith are 'What a small place the world is' and 'I'm a stranger here myself.'

--The Ministry of Fear by Graham Greene

August  19,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

A murderer is regarded by the conventional world as something monstrous, but a murderer to himself is only an ordinary man--a man who takes either tea or coffee for breakfast, a man who likes a good book and perhaps reads biography rather than fiction, a man who at a regular hour goes to bed, who tries to develop good physical habits but possibly suffers from constipation, who prefers either dogs or cats and has certain views about politics.

--The Ministry of Fear by Graham Greene

August  18,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

He remembered theoretical conversations he had often had with the doctor on the subject of euthanasia: arguments with the doctor, who was quite unmoved by the story of the Nazi elimination of old people and incurables.  The doctor had once said, 'It's what any State medical service has sooner or later got to face.  If you are going to be kept alive in institutions run by and paid for by the State, you must accepted the State's right to economise when necessary . . .'

--The Ministry of Fear by Graham Greene

[N.B.  Too bad Greene can't be hired as a special consultant to the White House--or perhaps not.]

August  17,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

I would have lived more fully if I had been able to rattle off more old chestnuts--just as I would have if I had made more close friends.  Cultures with richer vocabularies are more fully human--farther removed from the beasts--than those with poorer ones; individual men and women are more fully human when their memories are amply stocked with verses.

--The Fire of Life by Richard Rorty in The View from Here in Poetry (November 2007)

August  16,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

"Hasn't anything you've read been of any use?" my son persisted.  "Yes," I found myself blurting out, "poetry."  "Which poems?" he asked.  I quoted two old chestnuts that I had recently dredged up from memory and been oddly cheered by, the most quoted lines of Swinburne's "Garden of Proserpine":

We thank with brief thanksgiving

Whatever gods may be

That no life lives for ever,

That dead men rise up never;

That even the weariest river

Winds somewhere safe to sea.

And Landor's "On His Seventy-Fifth Birthday":

Nature I loved, and next to Nature, Art

I warmed both hands before the fire of life,

It sinks, and I am ready to depart.

I found  comfort in those slow meanders and those stuttering embers.  I suspect that no comparable effect could have been produced by prose.  Not just imagery, but also rhyme and rhythm were needed to do the job.  In lines such as these, all three conspire to produce a degree of compression, and thus of impact, that only verse can achieve.  Compared to the shaped charged contrived by versifiers, even the best prose is scattershot.

--The Fire of Life by Richard Rorty in The View from Here in Poetry (November 2007)

August  15,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

Against Which

habit smacks

its dull skull

like a stuck bull

in a brick stall

 

and my version

of what I know

is like eye surgery

with a backhoe

 

on grace

so much beyond

my pitiful gray

sponge of a brain

 

I'd not believe it exists

except for such

doses of felicity

as this.

 

--Michael Ryan

August  14,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

'Her marriage may not have been happy, but it has survived a long time.  You think too much about happiness, Charles.  It's not all that important.'

'That's what she said.'

'There you are.'

'Titus,' I said, 'is happiness important?'

'Yes, of course it is,' he said, and looked at me at last.

'There you are,' I said to James.

'A young man's reply,' said James.

--The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch

August  13,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

Singing is of course a form of aggression.  The wet open mouths and glistening teeth of the singers are ardent to devour the victim-hearer.  Singers crave hearers as animals crave their prey.

--The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch

August  12,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

The propaganda proposals Gérard wrote for Darquier covered every contingency, categorising the French public like railway carriages.  There were first-class ("cultivated"), second-class ("this group does not have the same capacity for grasping complex issues as the first") and third-class persons ("the masses").  For the latter he proposed:

--fiction (crime, romance, swashbuckling stories) in which the Jew plays a pernicious role.

--Amusing radio shows (Jewish jokes, funny sketches etc.)

--theme films (e.g. the Jew SÜSS)

--special newspapers adapted to the intellectual level of the masses providing the information in a humorous format ("Le Canard enchaîné," "Le Rire" etc.)

--Bad Faith: A Forgotten History of Family, Fatherland and Vichy France by Carmen Callil 

August  11,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

Over six thousand children were sent to Auschwitz in 1942.  A thousand of them were less than two years of age.  The remainder were under seventeen.  Of those two and a half thousand were between six and twelve years of age.  There are no accounts of the experiences of these children.  We know that, whether aged nine months or thirteen, they had no food, no water, no air and no light on the journey to Auschwitz.  As they could not be put to work, it is most probable that the children who did not die on the way ere immediately exterminated, or taken, as so many children were, for medical experiments.  We do know that none of the Vel' d'Hiv' children returned to France.

--Bad Faith: A Forgotten History of Family, Fatherland and Vichy France by Carmen Callil 

August  10,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

At le Bourget station the cattle trains which took them were sealed.  For three days they lived in the dark, with no food, no water, and the usual bucket and straw.  The seven trains that went off between 17 and 31 August took seven thousand Jews to Auschwitz, and the children made up about half this number.  The youngest child sent in 1942 was Salomon Brojman, nine months old.

--Bad Faith: A Forgotten History of Family, Fatherland and Vichy France by Carmen Callil 

August  9,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

On 15 August the first trains set off.  Small legs found it difficult to walk from the camps to the trains that took them to Drancy, or to climb up to the freight cars.  French police lifted the babies and put them in.  The descriptions of the departure of the children are almost as famous as the "Marseillaise": ". . . Jacquot, a little five-year-old of whom I was particularly fond, started shouting for me: 'I want to get down, I want to stay with Mademoiselle . . .'  The door of the car was shut and bolted, but Jacquot pushed his hand through a gap between the two planks and continued to call for me, moving his fingers.  The adjutant . . . hit him on the hand."

--Bad Faith: A Forgotten History of Family, Fatherland and Vichy France by Carmen Callil 

August  8,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

On 26 August, the day the massive round-ups began in the south, Louis [Darquier] was in Vichy.  There he met Raymond-Raoul Lambert, in charge of UGIF in the southern zone.  To this Jewish leader--and future victim--surrounded as both men were by massive Jewish arrests, Darquier complained in lofty tones about Laval and his exclusion from these Bousquet round-ups.  "What a strange regime," wrote Lambert.  What a strange man, who has only his victims to listen to his complaints.

--Bad Faith: A Forgotten History of Family, Fatherland and Vichy France by Carmen Callil 

August  7,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

Rounded up by French police working with the préfets of each department, the Jews from the Vichy Zone were sent to Drancy in cattle trains, thirty Jews to a car, with only one bucket as a lavatory.  The heat of mid-August intensified the squalor and the terrible smell of the stinking straw.  Their first rain went to Auschwitz from Drancy on 10 August, exactly as promised by Bousquet.  Of that first thousand, 760 were gassed immediately, and one man survived at the end of the war.

--Bad Faith: A Forgotten History of Family, Fatherland and Vichy France by Carmen Callil 

August  6,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

At first Bousquet gave Jewish parents his version of Sophie's choice: they could leave their children under eighteen behind, or take them with them.  Most left them--with neighbours, with strangers, with whoever was there, with all those who tried to help: "Eyewitnesses will never forget the moment when these truckloads of children left the camps, with parents trying in one last gaze to fix an image to last an eternity."  The people of Béziers who watched these "atrocious separations" reacted with "profound indignation, for despite the early hours of the morning the population witnessed heartrending scenes."  When Bousquet changed the rules, after 18 August, he deported children over the age of two, and set about recalling those who had been let go before that date; he was particularly repetitive in his instructions about this.

--Bad Faith: A Forgotten History of Family, Fatherland and Vichy France by Carmen Callil 

August  5,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

The first trains left Drancy for Auschwitz on 19 July, and four more followed on 22, 24, 27 and 29 July, with over five thousand Jews, mostly those arrested on 16 and 17 July, so that in hundreds of instances Jews taken from the streets of Paris were dead within five days.  By 1945 all the rest were dead except for forty-seven survivors.  When the Drancy Jews had gone, it was the turn of those with children at Pithiviers and Beaune-la-Rolande.  Permission to send the children had not arrived, so the French authorities decided that parents and their children over fourteen should go immediately; the younger ones would follow later.  French police watched as the little ones saw their distraught parents and older brothers and sisters wrenched from them by "rifle butts, with truncheons, with streams of icy water."  Trains left the two camps on 31 July and 3, 5 and 7 August.  Four convoys, four thousand people. Of these, about two thousand were gassed immediately, and of those remaining, thirty-five survived.

--Bad Faith: A Forgotten History of Family, Fatherland and Vichy France by Carmen Callil 

August  4,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

At four o'clock in the morning of 16 July 1942 the round-ups began, and went on until one o'clock the following day.  Nine thousand French policemen and auxiliaries, working in teams, using the index cards, knocked on doors.  But Parisians knew what was going on.  Some Jews had been warned, and many survivors owe their lives to French policemen who did not do as they were told.  In the beginning many were unafraid; it did not occur to them that French police would arrest women and children, so the men fled, and their women and children took their places.  Illness made no difference: those who could not walk were taken on stretchers.  No children could be left with neighbours.  Children born in France of foreign parents were legally French; this made no difference.  Pregnant women were taken (some babies were born at the Vel' d'Hiv').  Twenty-four Jews were shot resisting arrest.  Some raced across the roofs of Paris to escape, and over a hundred committed suicide, one a woman who threw her two babies from a fifth-floor window first, then jumped herself.

--Bad Faith: A Forgotten History of Family, Fatherland and Vichy France by Carmen Callil 

August  3,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

The rest of the company on this account were obliged to put up with old packs for their round game, that had been lying by in a drawer ever since the time that Giles's grandmother was alive.  Each card had a great stain in the middle of its back, produced by the touch of generations of damp and excited thumbs, now fleshless in the grave; and the kings and queens wore a decayed expression of feature, as if they were rather an impecunious dethroned dynasty hiding in obscure slums than real regal characters.

--The Woodlanders by Thomas Hardy

August  2,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

She looked towards the western sky, which was now aglow like some vast foundry wherein new worlds were being cast.  Across it the bare bough of a tree stretched horizontally, revealing every twig against the evening fire, and showing in dark profile every beck and movement of three pheasants that were settling themselves down on it in a row to roost.

'It will be fine tomorrow,' said Marty, observing them with the vermilion light of the sun in the pupils of her eyes, 'for they are acroupied down nearly at the end of the bough.  If it were going to be stormy they'd squeeze close to the trunk.  The weather is almost all they have to think of, isn't it, Mr Winterborne?  And so they must be lighter-hearted than we.'

'I dare say they are,' said Winterborne.

--The Woodlanders by Thomas Hardy

August  1,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

Thus they rode on, and High-Stoy Hill grew larger ahead.  At length could be discerned in the dusk, about half a mile to one side, gardens and orchards sunk in a concave, and, as it were, snipped out of the woodland.  From this self-contained place rose in stealthy silence tall stems of smoke, which the eye of imagination could trace downward to their root on quiet hearthstones, festooned overhead with hams and flitches.  It was one of those sequestered spots outside the gates of the world where may usually be found more meditation than action, and more listlessness than meditation; where reasoning proceeds on narrow premises, and results in inferences wildly imaginative; yet where, from time to time, dramas of a grandeur and unity truly Sophoclean are enacted in the real, by virtue of the concentrated passions and closely-knit interdependence of the lives therein.

--The Woodlanders by Thomas Hardy