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ARCHIVED ENTRIES FOR AUGUST 2012

August  31,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

In historical writing some facts must be included, whereas in fiction this is completely a matter for the writer to decide.  It is hard to imagine a biography which did not, for instance, include an account of the subject's parentage.  But many novels make no mention of their principal characters' parents (or, to put it another way, the novelist did not bother to invent these characters) simply because such information would have been irrelevant to the work's narrative content and design.

--The Year of Henry James: The Story of a Novel by David Lodge

August  30,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

In historical writing every discrete, documented facts about the subject has a certain value, but in fiction 'facts' are redundant if they do not have a literary function (metonymic, symbolic, thematic, didactic, etc.).

--The Year of Henry James: The Story of a Novel by David Lodge

August  29,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

The writer of fiction is quite differently situated.  He must draw a circle and then fill it with invented facts which connect interestingly, plausibly and meaningfully with each other to make a narrative which had no previous existence.  Because his tory is not in the ordinary sense 'true', it requires a much greater degree of patterning to satisfy the reader.

--The Year of Henry James: The Story of a Novel by David Lodge

August  28,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

The historian or biographer describes a circle which contains the facts he considers necessary for a proper understanding of his subject, and excludes an infinity of other connected facts.  Skillful writers in these genres are able to give their narratives a satisfying form, with elements of suspense, enigma and irony such as are found in novels, but their liberty to shape their narratives in this way is limited by a duty to historical truth-telling and the availability of evidence.  The solution to the enigmas may be irrecoverable; the great climactic moments in the subjects' lives may never have been recorded.

--The Year of Henry James: The Story of a Novel by David Lodge

August  27,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

But if all novels were like Tristram Shandy we should soon become bored with them.  The human mind demands pattern, order, cohesion and a certain degree of closure in narrative discourse, and can only occasionally be teased into accepting a radical departure from these conventions.

--The Year of Henry James: The Story of a Novel by David Lodge

August  26,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

Relations stop nowhere because the existence of each human being, and every action and every thought of each human being, are determined by pre-existing circumstances which themselves were subject to the same kind of determinations, and to trace the chains of cause and effect which extend outwards in space and time from even the most trivial event, in a complex web of connections, is a task which if, per impossibile, it were pursued exhaustively would eventually encompass the history of the universe.  Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy discovers this to his cost when he sets out give a faithful and comprehensive account of his 'Life and Opinions', starting with his own conception.

--The Year of Henry James: The Story of a Novel by David Lodge

August  25,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

I began to get a much clearer idea of the shape of each man's life.  But that did not give me the shape of my novel - 'life being all inclusion and confusion, and art being all discrimination and selection', as Henry James himself observed, in the Preface to The Spoils of Poynton in the New York Edition.  No one wrote or spoke more eloquently about the connections and discontinuities between life and art, but of his many remarks on the subject the one that seemed most relevant to my task is in his Preface to Roderick Hudson:

Really, universally, relations stop nowhere, and the exquisite problem of the artist is eternally but to draw, by a geometry of his own, the circle within which they shall happily appear to do so.

--The Year of Henry James: The Story of a Novel by David Lodge

August  24,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

Each of the novelists had their own 'take' on the subject, and their own starting point.  A more important factor, in my view, is that the biographical novel - the novel which takes a real person and their real history as the subject matter for imaginative exploration, using the novel's techniques for representing subjectivity rather than the objective, evidence-based discourse of biography - has become a very fashionable form of literary fiction in the last decade or so, especially as applied to the lives of writers.

--The Year of Henry James: The Story of a Novel by David Lodge

August  23,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

Subsequently the tabloids made much of our different backgrounds, the working-class Jewish boy from the East End and the Catholic aristocrat with her title. . . . Again technically, since my father was an earl and my mother a countess, I could be argued to be an aristocrat.  But my father, born Frank Pakenham, only succeeded to the Earldom of Longford when I was nearly thirty; my childhood was spent in a modest North Oxford house, my father, with no private income, teaching at the University.  My mother, being a Harley Street doctor's daughter, was in any case convinced (and thus convinced us) that the middle classes were the salt of the earth whereas the aristocracy was feckless, unpunctual and extravagant, an assumption that our beloved father's attitude to life did nothing to discourage.

--Must You Go? by Antonia Fraser

[N.B.:  Hmmm, "technically" I guess if one's father is a human being and one's mother a homo sapiens then one might be one as well--although if one wishes hard enough one could be a donkey instead.]

August  22,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

I considered myself to be happily married, or at any rate happy in my marriage; I admired Hugh for his cavalier nature, his high spirits, his courage - friends nicknamed him 'Fearless Fraser' after some 1930s trapeze artist - his independence, his essential decency and kindness.  I even admired him for his detachment, although his lack of emotional intimacy - he once told me that he preferred families to individuals - was with hindsight probably what doomed us.  I on the other hand was intensely romantic and always had been since early childhood; the trouble with romantics is that they tend to gravitate towards other like-minded people, or people they choose to regard as such.  So there had been romances.  But I had never for one moment envisaged leaving my marriage.

--Must You Go? by Antonia Fraser

[N.B.:  But, of course, she did leave her marriage--and six small children--for the "dark, brooding" Harold Pinter.  There is much uncomfortable truth in this description--particularly with respect to the self-identified "romantic" personality.]

August  21,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

This clumsy process had to be refined for the Michelangelo Pietà, and the only way of doing this was to deprive its audience of the ability to choose its own contemplation speed.  It was therefore necessary to make the crowd flow past it on a moving walkway.  Coming in from the harsh light of day, you were streamed into a sort of twilit antechamber and then found yourself on a conveyor belt, not unlike the belts used to carry animals into slaughterhouses.  No need to move: indeed, with someone right in front of you and someone else right behind you, to move or to delay was impossible.  And there, in front of your eyes, was the Pietà, displayed within a proscenium arch (designed, in fact, by the famed "Broadway" Jo Mielziner, who had done the sets for many productions, including the first one of Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman).  The sculpture was bathed in a pinkish light that made it look unfortunately like an enormous chunk of Ivory soap, and rising behind it--lest you didn't get the point of Michelangelo's concetto--was a large black cross, draped in a purple penitential cloth.  On either side of the mourning Virgin and dead Christ stood a security guard, in plain view, all brown leather and gleaming badges, each with a pistol holstered on his hip, just in case you had notions of hopping over the rail and stealing or damaging the statue.  It was too far away to be seen in detail.  Actually, it may have been no worse off than it was, and still is, in its setting in St. Peter's, where its baroque environment of gaudily colored and figured marble overwhelms it, and its elevation on a high plinth entirely disobeys Michelangelo's intention, rendering Christ's beautiful face invisible.  Be that as it may, by the time the moving footpath had carried me past the stage and out the other side I thought I knew what I had seen, and I hurriedly ran back outside the pavilion to rejoin the line at the other end.  The second time through, I was sure.  I had been granted a prophetic vision of the future of American ideas about the museum: the as yet undeveloped blockbuster, with its swarms of passive art-imbibers lining up to be processed with brief but therapeutic culture shots.

--Things I Didn't Know by Robert Hughes

August  20,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

During the month it spent at the Met (February 7 to March 5, 1963), the Mona Lisa was seen, or viewed, or glimpsed, or passed in front of, by 1,077,521 people, not counting the museum's own staff.  This was twice the attendance in Washington (518,535), and it gave an average "exposure time" of 0.79 seconds per person, which must be multiplied by ten, since the queue moved toward the picture ten abreast.  Obviously, there is not much use in showing anyone a painting for eight seconds.  And yet this was a singular experiment in museological crowd control--the first time a museum in America (or anywhere else) had tried to treat a "traditional" image, meant for long and steady looking, as though it were a reproduction itself--like a photo in a magazine or a newspaper, to be quickly scanned and discarded.  When Andy Warhol, who in 1963 was just at the outset of his career but had already done several silk-screen repeat images of the Mona Lisa, heard that the painting was coming to New York, he asked, "Why don't they just have someone copy it and send the copy?  Nobody would know the difference."

--Things I Didn't Know by Robert Hughes

August  19,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

Did I believe that art could contribute to the advancement of proletarian interests, or be rebuked for not doing so?  Did I think that art--smearing colored muds on cloth or paper--was, when you came down to it, likely to stay the murderer's hand or the tank treads of the oppressor?  Emphatically not.  I thought all beliefs in the socially reformatory powers of the plastic arts were pious hogwash, to put it stridently, and my book reflected this. 

--Things I Didn't Know by Robert Hughes

[N.B.  And that, my friends, is why Robert Hughes will continue to attract readers generations from now while the likes of Arthur Danto won't (though I'm guessing that when Danto passes from this dialectical materialistic plane to merge into the ultimate fulfillment of man (i.e., compost) he will get a bigger obit in the New York Times than Robert Hughes; O Tempora! O Mores!)].

August  18,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

And I was lucky, too, because Bryan had commissioned me to write its catalog introduction, which was the first long, serious piece I had ever published outside Australia.  Rereading it, I cannot say that I am very proud of it--only that it was okay for a twenty-three-year-old.  In it I made the error of trying to turn Australia's inadequate contact with the currents of contemporary art, and the poverty of collections that nominally represented European traditions, into some kind of a virtue or even an advantage, as though they had forced an inventiveness from Australian artists that they might not otherwise have had.  This, I came to realize--partly because it was sternly pointed out to me by Bernard Smith and other critics--was nonsense.  Ignorance is never a spur to creativity (only the desire to overcome it is), and an inadequate grasp of traditions is not necessarily a step toward transcending them.

--Things I Didn't Know by Robert Hughes

August  17,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

But there is, to me, something a little suspect about an art critic who has never painted and who cannot claim to grasp even the rudiments of intelligent drawing.  Even clement Greenberg could draw--no so very well, admittedly, but at least he drew.  The great merit of one's own painting, for a critic, is that it teaches a somewhat negative but important lesson.  It shows you how incredibly difficult certain effects that one sees in the work of real masters can be to achieve.  It demonstrates that nothing, not even facility itself, is easy.  Without knowing about such matters, one cannot write usefully about art.  Ars celat artem, ran the Latin tag: art conceals the art.  One of the critic's tasks is to unmask, in some degree, the fact of that concealment.  Which is one of the reasons that so much of the best twentieth-century writing on art in English was done by people who were chiefly known as practicing artists: by Patrick Heron, for instance, in The Changing Forms of Art; by Walter Sickert, whose marvelous essays were collected in a book now long out of print, A Free House!; by the painter and sculptor Michael Ayrton; and by the American artist Fairfield Porter.

--Things I Didn't Know by Robert Hughes

August  16,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

As time went by, Tucker's paintings became increasingly repetitious.  His "Antipodean Head," that rugged and expressionless profile that looked rather like a map of Australia turned on its side, devolved into a mere trademark.  Sometimes its owner carried a gun, sometimes not.  Sometimes it had birds clambering and pecking on it, and was entitled Explorer Attacked by Parrots.  (As a matter of ornithological fact, parrots never have attacked explorers: they are too shy and they eat nuts, insects, and seeds, not human flesh.)  But whatever Tucker did to it, it was still the same image with trivial variations.  This did not prevent him from issuing blasts of invective against anyone who failed to detect in his latest show some significant reinvention or new departure.  He was, in sum, a bore with an ego the size of Uluru, that huge red rock in the middle of the continent, and one dreaded bumping into him within the small confines of Australia's art world.

--Things I Didn't Know by Robert Hughes

[N.B.:  Tucker?  Never heard of him.  The artists we honor would never be guilty of such thematic reductionism.]

August  15,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

Today, at least in American academe, the prevalent mode [of art criticism] is an abstract, colonial parody of French post-structuralist jargon, thickened with gobbets of decayed Marxism.  But in the early sixties, one had to contend with an airy-fairy, metaphor-ridden kind of pseudo-poetry, which infested the art magazines and made reading about art a bore and a trial.  Orwell's prose, in all its plain straightforwardness, its no-nonsense attachment to verifiably meaning, was a wonderful counter to this.  His essay on the use of the English language, advising the neophyte writer never to use a Latinate word where an Anglo-Saxon one would do, to prefer the short word to the poly-syllable, to employ the active rather than the passive voice, and so on, should be mandatory reading for all young cultural critics, and it became so for me.  Politics and the English Language is one of the great instruments of truth-seeking in English or any other tongue.  In this, as elsewhere, Orwell rose to the level of his unsurpassable model, Jonathan Swift.

--Things I Didn't Know by Robert Hughes

August  13,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

When I was sixteen or so, I had come across a book in my brother Tom's library.  It belonged to his then wife, Joanna Fitzgerald, a part-time journalist.  It was entitled The Unquiet Grave, and its author, Cyril Connolly (1903-74), had edited one of the great (if relatively short-lived) literary magazines of the twentieth century, Horizon, which survived from 1939 to 1949.  It was a collection of finely honed reflections on art and life, written under the spell of such French aphorists as Chamfort, pessimistic and elegiac in tone, lamenting what Connolly feared was the wartime disappearance and perhaps the destruction of Europe.  It had been published under the pseudonym Palinurus, the name of Aeneas' helmsman in Virgil, who is swept overboard from the flagship on its way from Troy to the future site of Rome and whose corpse is washed up on the future Côte d'Azur. 

--Things I Didn't Know by Robert Hughes

August  12,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

The best thing fishing taught me, I think, was how to be alone.  Without this ability no writer can really survive or work, and there is a strong relationship between the activity of the fisherman, letting his line down into unknown depths in the hope of catching an unseen prey (which may be worth keeping, or may not) and that of a writer trolling his memory and reflections for unexpected jags and jerks of association.  O beata solitudo--o sola beatudo!  Enforced solitude, as in solitary confinement, is a terrible and disorienting punishment, but freely chosen solitude is an immense blessing.

--Things I Didn't Know by Robert Hughes

August  11,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

But with anything carnal, Mum was good.  Her roasts, usually lamb embellished with mint sauce, were always the centerpiece of Sunday lunch, accompanied with the golden sagging domes of "Yorkey pudding"; they were overcooked to grayness (Barnsley had never known about pink lamb) but delicious nonetheless.  She made a formidable steak-and-kidney pie.  But what I really loved was her offal: the kidneys and bacon, and especially the lambs' brains.  She would blanch them in cold water, gently poach and cool them to firm them up, cut them in pieces the size of a walnut, dip them in beaten egg, roll them in bread crumbs, and fry them golden-brown in sweet Allowrie butter.  To eat these morsels fresh from the pan, sprinkled with a little lemon juice, was like biting through crispness into a hot white cloud.  The fried brain is still my madeleine.

--Things I Didn't Know by Robert Hughes

August  10,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

Being the youngest by ten years, I was in some crucial respects an only child, and there is much to be said for a lonely childhood--particularly if it instills in you the taste for reflection and soliloquy, as well as self-amusement, the best of grounds for a writer's peculiar life.  I used to constantly talk to myself, although it was horribly embarrassing if an adult overheard me and joked about it.  But this, although I did not realize it then, was good background for my later forays into TV, because when you talking to the camera you are not talking to anyone--just a machine and a disc of glass, on which you focus your whole attention.  There is no one behind the machine.

--Things I Didn't Know by Robert Hughes

August  9,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

There were also such oddities and then-obscure classics as a Victorian edition of Robert Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy, written in the seventeenth century as the first medical study of depression but, to me, an immense storehouse of miscellaneous learning and discursive opinion whose winding, ceremonious language I loved but did not fully grasp.  Probably the strongest influence on me was a shelf of cloth-board editions of Rudyard Kipling, both the verse and prose: I learned some of the former ("Danny Deever," "Mandalay," and "Gunga Din") by heart, although I doubt if I could recite more than snatches of them by now; and I reveled int he latter, his great novel Kim and especially his tales for children--The Jungle Book, Just So Stories.  I still think, sometimes, how lucky I was to have read them in their authentic original forms as a child, rather than be exposed to the watered-down, politically correct trash that Disney made of The Jungle BookThe Jungle Book was written at a time when England and Europe were full of stories about lost, savage children: children who, abandoned by their natural parents, defied the odds by surviving without clothes, shelter, or fire in deep forests, growing up without language or any normal relations to human parents and siblings.  Kipling brilliantly posited that such a child--"Mowgli," the man-cub, he christened him--fell into an entire animal society governed by such wise creatures as Bagheera, the black panther; Baloo, the benign and slightly comic bear; Kaa, the python; and a vicious proletariat of thieving, jabbering, cowardly, unproductive monkeys, the permanent inferior race of the jungle, known as the Bandar-Log.  My father, a Kipling devotee, used sometimes to refer to the members of the Australian Labour Party as the Bandar-Log.  And Just-So Stories, with Kipling's own peculiar and bizarre illustrations, utterly fascinated me; later I would come to realize that they were a halfway house on the road to Surrealism, betokening a weird savagery.  Like Lewis Carroll, Kipling found writing for children a means of complete imaginative release.

--Things I Didn't Know by Robert Hughes

August  8,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

For of course I am completely an elitist, in the cultural but emphatically not the social sense.  I prefer the good to the bad, the articulate to the mumbling, the esthetically developed to the merely primitive, and full to partial consciousness.  I love the spectacle of skill, whether it's an expert gardener at work, or a good carpenter chopping dovetails, or someone tying a Bimini hitch that won't slip.  I don't think stupid or ill-read people are as good to be with as wise and fully literate ones.  I would rather watch a great tennis player than a mediocre one, unless the latter is a friend or a relative.  consequently, most of the human race doesn't matter much to me, outside the normal and necessary frame of courtesy and the obligation to respect human rights.  I see no reason to squirm around apologizing for this.  I am, after all, a cultural critic, and my main job is to distinguish the good from the second-rate, pretentious, sentimental, and boring stuff that saturates culture today, more (perhaps) than it ever has.  I hate populist kitsch, no mater how much of the demos loves it.  To me, it is a form of manufactured tyranny.  Some Australians feel this is a confession of antidemocratic sin; but I am no democrat int he field of the arts, the only area--other than sports--in which human inequality can be displayed and celebrated without doing social harm.

--Things I Didn't Know by Robert Hughes

[N.B.:  The King is dead.  But there is no king to take his place--just a bunch of naked emperors.]

August  7,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

The alleged progression from mainstream to modern jazz, with bebop as the intermediary, had a political component as well an aesthetic one, and it was the political component that made it impossible to argue against at the time, and makes it difficult even now.  The aesthetic component was standard for all the arts int he twentieth century: one after another they tried to move beyond mere enjoyment as a criterion, a move which put a premium on technique, turned technique into subject matter, and eventually made professional expertise a requirement not just for participation but even for appreciation.  (In architecture, the turning point came with Le Corbusier: laymen who questioned his plans for rebuilding Paris by destroying it were told by other architects that they were incompetent to assess his genius.)  The political component, however, was unique to jazz.  It had to do with black dignity, a cause well worth making sacrifices for.  Unfortunately the joy of the music was one of the sacrifices.  Dignity saw enjoyment as its enemy.

--Duke Ellington from Cultural Amnesia by Clive James

August  6,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

But if too much money is made on the job, it can be almost as dangerous as an inheritance.  When popular musicians turn to self-indulgence, it is because they can at last afford to do what they would have done anyway.  Their early hits, written under the constriction of compulsory crowd-pleasing, are usually seen in retrospect to be their best work, and often the most adventurous as well.  (With the singers, it is always a very bad sign when they start to talk instead of sing.  Diana Ross's recorded speeches became the litany of Tamla-Motown in its downhill phase.  she was proving that she no longer needed to please the public: a point all too easily made.)  Higher up the scale, serious artists are too often exempt from enquiries about the role of money.  Tom Stoppard was refreshingly candid when, after the successful premiere of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, he was asked what the play was about: "It's about to make me a lot of money."

--Miles Davis from Cultural Amnesia by Clive James

August  5,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

The departure point for inspiration is the obstacle

--GIANFRANCO CONTINI, VARIANTI

This idea, variously expressed, comes up in almost every article Contini wrote about Dane.  The emphasis is on a principle: that lyricism, for Dante, was the opposite of an indulgence.  Though the principle is especially true of The Divine Comedy, Contini isn't just saying that for Dante the terza rima was a necessary discipline.  Contini means that for Dante the whole business of writing poetry was a discipline.  In Italian a rhyme scheme, even a constantly demanding one like the terza, is no great challenge, because Italian is so rich in rhymes.  An English poet who tries to write even a short stretch of terza rima in his own language will soon find out how poor in rhymes it is: even Louis MacNeice, an awesomely competent verse technician, was driven to the half rhyme in his long terza rima composition Autumn Sequel.  His results were distressingly approximate.  He would have done better to stick with the flexible forms, firmly based on classical measures, that he developed for his earlier work Autumn Journal, but perhaps they were too demanding to be repeated.  Autumn Journal, which he wrote in the year following the Munich crisis, is the best thing of its kind in the twentieth century, and one of the reasons for its supremacy is confidence of its interior movement, which depends entirely on a seemingly free choice of rhythms being held together overall by a classically trained sense of form.  No discursive poetry has ever seemed more liberated, or been less loose.  The whole poem, in all its richness of incident and observation, fully conforms to Eliot's proviso that no verse is entirely free to someone who wants to do a good job.

--Gianfranco Contini from Cultural Amnesia by Clive James

August  4,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

Reading Shelley, you can see that in the last of his few allotted years he had saturated his rhythmic sense with the forms of Dante and Petrarch.  He doesn't echo their meanings: he echoes their structures.  Similarly, Racine absorbed the structures of Latin poetry; and it is a nice question whether he is closer to Catullus, some of whose lines he mirrors property for property, than to Virgil, whom he does not materially transpose so much as imitate in his pulse and balance.  These sonic templates, as they might be called, are transferable through time even when an instigator is unknown to a beneficiary.  Dante gets effects from Virgil that Virgil got from Homer, but if we didn't know that Virgil had come in between, we would have to swear that Dante knew the Homeric poems intimately, whereas he couldn't, in fact, read them.  It is doubtful whether poets, in order to know each other at this level, need to set out to memorize poems.  The memorizing comes automatically with the intensity of engagement.  And so, ideally, it ought to do with all of us.  We memorize something because we can't help it, and the thing we memorialize was written with that result in mind.  Poetry is written the way it is in order to be remembered.

--Gianfranco Contini from Cultural Amnesia by Clive James

August  3,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

There is an untranslatable Italian word for the mental bank account you acquire by memorizing poetry: it is a gazafilacio.  Contini believed that an accumulation of such treasure would eventually prove its worth even if it had to begin with sweated labour.  He confessed that not all of the teachers who had made him memorize a regular ration of Tasso's epic poetry had been inspired.  Some of them had held him to the allotted task because they lacked imagination, not because they possessed it.  But in the long run he was grateful.  Most readers of this book will spot the sensitive point about modern pedagogy.  Readers my age were made to memorize and recite: their yawns of boredom were discounted.  Younger readers have been spared such indignities.  Who was lucky?  Isn't a form of teaching that avoids all prescription really a form of therapy?  In a course called classical Studies taught by teachers who possess scarcely a word of Latin or Greek, suffering is avoided, but isn't it true that nothing is gained except the absence of suffering?  In his best novel, White Noise, Don DeLillo made a running joke out of a professor of German history who could not read German.  But the time has already arrived when such a joke does not register as funny.  What have we gained, except a classroom in which no one need feel excluded?

--Gianfranco Contini from Cultural Amnesia by Clive James

August  2,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

The proof that the English critic Frank Kermode and the Australian poet Peter Porter inhabit the same mental world--the same civilized tradition and the same literature--is in the treasure chamber of memorized poetry that each carries with him, in the number of valuable items that each gazofilacio holds in common with the other.  Either of them could supply the next line to any poem by Auden or Empson or Wallace Stevens that the other quoted.  It is on the basis of such universally shared memories that a generation builds its range of allusion.

--Gianfranco Contini from Cultural Amnesia by Clive James

August  1,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

She'd come at just the right time.  This was her atmosphere.  This was the light for her, for sad, pale skin below the tanned neck and above the rough elbows, for a virgin martyr's poise, for her unexpectant waiting--her right calf, rather thick and like a peasant's, dangling from the bed and the foot plunged into shadow near the floor, which was of old wood, the other leg akimbo and the sole of its foot against the other knee, making a number 4 with her legs as she lay back on the bed, her hand across her breasts, the other behind her head--pond-light, church-light.  Had she known how he stared, she'd never have allowed it.  But she turned her eyes to him and looked at him full on as if he didn't matter, without any change of her expression.  She wasn't, herself, beautiful.  Her moments were beautiful.

--Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson