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ARCHIVED ENTRIES FOR DECEMBER 2006

December  30,  2006

Patrick: Lagniappe

Notes for My Son

Remember when you hear them beginning to say Freedom

Look carefully--see who it is that they want you to butcher.

 

Remember, when you say that the old trick would not have

fooled you for a moment

That every time it is the trick which seems new.

 

Remember that you will have to put in irons

Your better nature, if it will desert to them.

 

Remember, remember their faces--watch them carefully:

For every step you take is on somebody's body.

 

And every cherry you plant for them is a gibbet

And every furrow you turn for them is a grave

 

Remember, the smell of burning will not sicken you

If they persuade you that it will thaw the world

 

Beware.  The blood of a child does not smell so bitter

If you have shed it with a high moral purpose.

 

So that because the woodcutter disobeyed

they will not burn her today or any day

 

So that for lack of a joiner's obedience

The crucifixion will not now take place

 

So that when they come to sell you their bloody corruption

You will gather the spit of your chest

And plant it in their faces.

 

--by Alex Comfort

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December  29,  2006

Patrick: Lagniappe

Mother played by ear, though by whose ear we were never quite sure, but she was a dauntless lady and would sail into anything if she'd heard it twice.  It was all great fun, though it left Father with the idea that music, while admittedly the food of love, came close to giving him an ulcer.

--I Like What I Know by Vincent Price

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December  26,  2006

Patrick: Lagniappe

[T]he Viennese café is a particular institution which is not comparable to any other in the world. As a matter of fact, it is a sort of democratic club to which admission costs the small price of a cup of coffee. Upon payment of this mite every guest can sit for hours on end, discuss, write, play cards, receive his mail, and above all, can go through an unlimited number of newspapers and magazines. In the better-class Viennese cafes all the Viennese newspapers were available, and not the Viennese alone, but also those of the entire German Reich, the French, English, Italian, and American papers, and in addition all the important literary and art magazines of the world, the Revue de France no less than the Neue Rundschau, the Studio, and the Burlington Magazine. And so we knew everything that took place in the world, at first hand, we learned about every book that was published, and every production no matter where it occurred; and we compared the notices in every newspaper. Perhaps nothing has contributed as much to the intellectual mobility and the international orientation of the Austrian as that he could keep abreast of all world events in the café, and at the same time discuss them in the circle of his friends. For, thanks to the collectivity of our interests, we followed the orbis pictus  of artistic events not with two, but with twenty and forty eyes. What one of us had overlooked was noticed by another, and since in our constant childish, boastful, and almost sporting ambition we wished to outdo each other in our knowledge of the very latest thing, we found ourselves actually in a sort of constant rivalry for the sensational. If, for example, we discussed Nietzsche, who then was still scorned, one of us would suddenly say with feigned superiority, "But in the matter of egotism Kierkegaard is superior to him," and at once we became uneasy: "Who is Kierkegaard, whom X knows and of whom we know nothing?" The next day we stormed into the library to look up the books of this time-obscured Danish philosopher, for it was a mark of inferiority not to know some exotic thing that was familiar to someone else. We had a passion to be the first to discover the latest, the newest, the most extravagant, the unusual, which had not yet been dwelt upon at length, particularly by the official literary critics of our daily papers. I personally was a slave to this mania for many years. Anything that was not yet generally recognized, or was so lofty as to be attainable only with difficulty, the new and radical times, provoked our particular love.

--The World of Yesterday by Stefan Zweig

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December  21,  2006

Patrick: Lagniappe

So arose the situation, incomprehensible today, that youth was a hindrance in all careers, and age alone was an advantage. Whereas today, in our changed state of affairs, those of forty seek to look thirty, and those of sixty wish to seem forty, and youth, energy, determination and self-confidence recommend and advance a man, in that age of security everyone who wished to get ahead was forced to attempt all conceivable methods of masquerading in order to appear older. The newspapers recommended preparations which hastened the growth of the beard, and twenty-four- and twenty-five-year-old doctors, who had just finished their examinations, wore mighty beards and gold spectacles even if their eyes did not need them, so that they could make an impression of "experience" upon their first patients. Men wore long black frock coats and walked at a leisurely pace, and whenever possible acquired a slight embonpoint, in order to personify the desired sedateness; and those who were ambitious strove, at least outwardly, to belie their youth, since the young were suspected of instability.

--The World of Yesterday by Stefan Zweig

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December  20,  2006

Patrick: Lagniappe

My new method is strictly biopsychological. I locate in the various organs of the body the psychological disorder and I treat the patient strictly on the basis of the defective organ. Right now I’m treating a patient who suffers from schizophrenia of the pancreas. I have a gentleman with hyperintrospective bladder complicated by euphoria of the liver. I have under my care a manic-depressive kidney, a cardiac superego, a case of hallucinations of the diaphragm and a libidinal spleen. Fixations of the reproductive organs are common. A person can suffer from egomania of the toenails. You name it, I can therapeutise it.

--The Hothouse by the East River by Muriel Spark

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December  19,  2006

Patrick: Lagniappe

The Security Officer, Colonel Tylden, has been appointed sagely. He is a military man with a limited imagination which, even in its limited capacity, he seldom uses. Consequently he is less likeable, less highly regarded but more just and more efficient than other, more brilliant and subtle, investigators whose courteous looks and hysterical hearts combine to put up a brilliant performance in the course of interrogation, but who probe so often in directions deviating from facts to which they never return.

--The Hothouse by the East River by Muriel Spark

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December  18,  2006

Patrick: Lagniappe

"Whatever I am, I am that thing, right now, and nothing else makes the least bit of difference, nothing! I don’t care about reasons—you sound like the Professor, do you know that? He doesn’t ask questions but he has the answers, a theory for everything. Who cares about all that, anyhow? If it has to be what it is, why ask questions? The answers are always wrong, I can tell you that! Always wrong! The old man knows how wrong, because he never makes the mistake of asking—he just does whatever he likes, he knows that you can give yourself a hundred reasons on each side of any problem and in the end do what you wanted anyhow, reason or no reason. Why do you want to have the reason for everything? Take what you can, or even that’ll be stolen while you’re arguing with yourself!"

--The Party by Rudolph von Abele

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December  16,  2006

Patrick: Lagniappe

She suffered him to take her hands, and at last allowed herself to look at him with eyes that he found serious and troubled. But what she said a little belied the expression she presented. "Just don’t say you love me," she remarked with a tinge of bitterness. "I think I would scream if you said that."

"I wasn’t going to say I love you," Steinbaum answered quite truthfully. "How can I? I don’t know whether I love you or not."

"Ah, then he can be honest!" She smiled at him now. "Of course, honesty is the last thing most women ask for in a man. Did you know that?"

"I know you think I’m a child," he said. "I have learned a few things in my life, though. It’s not only women who don’t want honesty. Nobody does—one’s self least of all."

--The Party by Rudolph von Abele

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December  15,  2006

Patrick: Lagniappe

Without heat he observed, eying the Professor askance, "You are the most long-winded pedagogue I think I have ever known, do you know that? I don’t suppose at your age you can help yourself any more, but it would have been an improvement if you had been born without a tongue . . . . What happened? I can tell you in one word: nothing. Nothing happened, my dear Professor. Nothing at all—except that I came down with some incredible attack of the cramps, and left a large and stinking souvenir on top of the mountain. Veni, vidi, cackendi, Professor! Is that right? My Latin is—well, it is what it is, you know." He shifted to a querulous tone which Steinbaum could not be sure was not assumed for the purpose of gulling the Professor as he had done before. "I can’t be expected to know Latin as well as you professors, after all," he said. "In the modern world, Latin is essentially useless—who needs to know it? Tell me that?"

--The Party by Rudolph von Abele

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December  14,  2006

Patrick: Lagniappe

"Old age, Colonel—two hideous words, don’t you agree? I hate old age! No, that isn’t correct—I don’t hate it, I am insulted by it. I tell you—if I ever get to the point where I feel like this every morning, Colonel, I take out my revolver and—Piff! No nonsense—I don’t intend to be strapped to a wheelchair and rolled in and out of the nursing home! Eh, Colonel? What do you say? You think that lunatics should be kept alive, like things in bottles, don’t you? Permit me to say, that’s the idea of a desperate man. I love life too much, my friend, to be able to contemplate life as a vegetable! It’s a mistaken form of pity, let me tell you. No, Colonel," he repeated, with what Steinbaum fancied was almost a wistful note in his voice, "when I reach that stage that I am no longer able to enjoy myself or take care of myself—I take out the scissors and cut the thread myself, with my own two hands! Like that!" And he snapped his fingers almost under Steinbaum’s nose.

--The Party by Rudolph von Abele

 

In Praise of Anthony Lane

Since I’m a subscriber to the New Yorker, I’ve always receive my weekly issue in the mail a week late. So, let me recommend to you an article in last week’s New Yorker, which, I’m sure, has since been pulped, called "Wonderful World." It’s about the life and artistry of Walt Disney.  I know, I know: how middle-brow, how trashy, how, well, Mickey Mouse.  But the article is by Anthony Lane who is yet another export to these shores of the witty, waspish British ex-pat who writes like an angel but opines like a demon.  Indeed, the only example of this species still alive on fair Albion’s shores is A. N. Wilson.  Although Lane can be very, very funny, his humor is not merely all blast and bombast signifying nothing:

Indeed, to criticize the Disney corpus as pap ignores the fact that pap was the thing that Disney, at his best, did worst of all. What lodges in the brain, after Snow White has been yanked out of her glass casket, is the macabre punch of the buildup: the poisoned apple rolling from her outstretched hand, the witch transfigured from a snotty Joan Crawford figure to something yet more disturbing. (Her voice was provided by Lucille La Verne, who is said to have managed the transition to a cackle by the simple expedient of removing her false teeth.) As for the sight of the threatened girl haring through the forest, pursued by a posse of swirling leaves, with the branches clawing at the clothes, it possesses not just the sharp-toothed, half-Teutonic atmosphere that Disney could reliably conjure from his artists; it also edited with a violent sophistication that chops straight into children’s dreams. For a moment, it looks like Eisenstein.

Although there’s plenty of well-directed denunciation of the on-going grammar experiment to verbalize all nouns ("Let’s network next week and then interface with management concerning the results"), the use of "haring" in the above context is quite breath taking.  Oh, and of course, Lane doesn’t give you a bunch of blather—well, except for that bit, perhaps, about chopping into children’s dreams; that would be with an axe, I suppose, since it is a fairy tale and all.  As Kathryn pointed out to me some time ago, he regularly reviews movies for the New Yorker in an archly acerbic manner.  Pace Pauline Kael, reviewing movies, a crassly commercial product, is a bit like reviewing the latest kids’ breakfast cereal ("Although Chunk O’ Crunch doesn’t have quite the same definitive crunch of Classic Captain Crunch, it still provides a satisfying crunchatonic experience.")  But Lane makes it fun. You can see from Kathryn’s picks that she’s recommending Lane’s book of culled articles.  I’d recommend it, too.  He’s one of only two features that I read regularly in the New Yorker. The other is more visual—some might say, cartoon-like—typically followed by a one-liner (as in: "th-th-th-th-th-that’s all folks"; ooops, wrong cartoon studio).

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December  13,  2006

Patrick: Lagniappe

"Well, Pastor," he said at last, "whatever I look for from the world, it isn’t water! I see you are asking what is to you the Most Important Question. You want nothing less than a statement out of me! What is this, a press conference? But let it go. Some people would expect me to say that my happiness is the welfare of my nation—but they will be disappointed. Some people would expect me to say that my happiness is having power—but they will be disappointed too! No, Pastor, all that is fine and good, and even necessary, but it doesn’t lead to happiness. I am no fool, I know that much! Haven’t I said the world is not Paradise? Most of what one does is work, Pastor—work; and work, in spite of what the pastors say, is not happiness. I know everybody is going to disagree with me, whether he says so or not, but that is unimportant. I speak the truth! No, Pastor, what I look for from the world is peace, and five minutes I can call my own—an evening like this, my dear Pastor, good wine, good food, pretty women, some talks—that’s what I call happiness. It’s very unoriginal, isn’t it? You are surprised—tell me that you’re surprised at what I say! I know you expected something else entirely. But I am not a noble character, you understand. What I do I do because I have to, eh? And if I didn’t do it, some riffraff or other would come in and take away from me my wine, my food, my pretty women! And my appetite is very large, Pastor, as you can see! Therefore I am condemned to work very hard for my five minutes of amusement! A pity, Pastor, a great pity—mais, c’est la vie, n’est-ce pas?"

--The Party by Rudolph von Abele

 

Where Are the Funny American Writers?

I was pondering this conundrum, after having read the 537th installment in the New Yorker of David Sedaris’s continuing series, "Upper-Middle-Class Metrosexuals Say the Darnedest Things!," when I came across this paragraph from the Spectator by some obscure British writer that goes by the moniker of Simon Baker:

The celebrity life story departs slightly from the norm in that it dispenses whit a few of the traditional tents of biographical writing—elegance, quality of analysis, attention to detail, balance, and worthiness of subject are some of the more common omissions. Once the preserve of actors, it has over the last few years grown to the point where every footballer, chef and pop star produces one. You don’t even have to be a celebrity any more; ‘reality’ TV participants and members of the public who have suffered traumatic events are also in on the act. When not helping my two-year-old daughter write Tales from the Potty, a heartbreakingly honest account of one baby’s fight to control her bladder, I do find myself worrying about the fact that almost all new releases in my local bookshop are trashy life stories, and that, meanwhile, there is no poetry section.

Indeed.  I’ve noticed that the poetry section should be placed on the endangered-subject list for most new book stores.  Is modern poetry that bad?  Don’t answer that question.  Any way, I don’t want to pick on Mr. Sedaris—I think he’s funny, too—it’s just that the British seem to not help themselves but be droll and witty. And us Americans?  Drool and sweaty.

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December  8,  2006

Patrick: Lagniappe

This uncle had served in the cavalry during the First World War, and had killed a young Russian soldier, a "beautiful" youth leading a reconnaissance patrol; as the young Russian had come up over a slight rise in the ground, and reined in for a moment while fumbling for the strap of his field glasses, Steinbaum’s uncle, taking him in the sights of his rifle, where he sat, "beautiful, my boy, as Adam in the morning of the world," had pulled the trigger and shot him directly through the heart. And when Steinbaum, at that time a child of ten, had asked how, if the Russian was so "beautiful," he had been able to kill him, hi uncle, stroking the bloodstained little Testament he had recovered from the Russian’s body, had said with a peculiarly gentle ferocity, looking intently into Steinbaum’s eyes, "It was because he was so beautiful, my boy—too beautiful to let live!" And in that moment, innocent as he was, Steinbaum had understood that killing, to his uncle at any rate, was also a kind of love; and he had felt frightened and a little queasy, being alone in the big house with his uncle, and not sure whether he himself was looked upon as "beautiful" or not.

--The Party by Rudolph von Abele

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December  7,  2006

Patrick: Lagniappe

Steinbaum had visited the Commandant’s camp, all too often: in addition to the other things that he had seen there, he had seen something of the diet on the basis of which the prisoners were expected to perform the tasks exacted from them in the Superintendent’s terrace workings. The discrepancy between that diet and the buffet before him was, if he had cared to think about it actively, beyond belief, almost beyond protest. And he had thought about that diet actively; he had thought about it many times, more often than he liked in reference to Eleonora, lost in just such a tawdry hell as that one. But once again his horror of deliberately allowing himself to suffer about what he could not redress took charge of him. "The thing has been done," he said to the Superintendent. "The food is here. If we don’t eat it, others will—What good will it do the poor people in your mines for us to pretend to a nobility we really don’t have?"

--The Party by Rudolph von Abele

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November  28,  2006

Patrick: Lagniappe

You know, Colonel, you know how it is, anything one disapproves of is all right as long as one can do it oneself!

--The Party by Rudolph von Abele

 

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November  27,  2006

Patrick: Lagniappe

"You are an intelligent man, Colonel," the Pastor had once remarked, gazing mildly at him from the dark, claw-footed armchair in which he sat, "but you are suffering the typical malady of our time, which is sloth disguised as pride pretending to humility."

--The Party by Rudolph von Abele

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November  26,  2006

Patrick: Lagniappe

He looked at me, without saying anything, for a long time, and then he leaned toward me, Colonel, and said this—I shall never forget his words, I have often dreamed them in my bed at night—‘I know you,’ he said, ‘I went to school with you in Prague, we took the ore-dressing laboratory together, I dropped a shovel on your toes once. Now listen to me what I say to you: when this war is over, if I am still alive, I am going to find you out wherever you may run to hide yourself, and I will strangle you with these two hands, these two!’ And he kept looking at me, Colonel, until I had to turn away and sit down on a boulder, I was so shaken. The hate of that man toward me, Colonel—it was like looking into a blast furnace! Yet what had I done to him, I ask you? I came here ten years ago, in good faith, and what am I supposed to do? Am I supposed to shoot the guard? Give myself up, become a prisoner myself, take up a pick and scratch away at this damn mountain? Turn the other cheek? Colonel, for God’s sake tell me, am I supposed to be a Christian? A Christian, Colonel? A Christian?

--The Party by Rudolph von Abele

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