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ARCHIVED ENTRIES FOR DECEMBER 2007

December  25,  2007

Patrick: Lagniappe

Do you actually believe in the bottom of your heart that Homer, writing the Iliad and the Odyssey, ever thought of the allegories pulled and tickled out of him by Plutarch and Heraclides Ponticus and Eustachius and Cornutus the Stoic--or by Politican, who stole his arguments from all the rest of them?  If you do, you don't come within a step--no, not even a hand's breadth--of my opinion, because I solemnly swear that Homer no more dreamed of them than Ovid's Metamorphoses are all bout the mysteries of the Gospel, which that idiot Friar Lubin (a true parasite) has tried to prove.  Maybe he thinks he'll meet someone as stupid as he is, someday--as the proverbs says, another lid for the same pot.

But if you don't believe it, why don't you do as much for these merry new tales of mine--because, writing them, I never once though of stuff like that any more than you did, probably drinking your wine, just as I was.  In fact, while working away at this noble book, I never spent (or lost) time over it except when I was also working away at my bodily refreshment, drinking and eating.  Which is the right time for writing about such exalted matters, such profound truths, as Homer knew perfectly well--he, the very model for all our learned literary people--and Ennius, too, father of Latin poets, as Horace bears witness, though some swine has said that his poems had more to do with lamp oil than wine.

--Gargantua and Pantagruel by Francois Rabelais (tr. Burton Raffel)

December  24,  2007

Patrick: Lagniappe

On the theory, given to the world by my brother-author, William Shakespeare, that it is the lean and hungry-looking men who are dangerous and the the fat, the sleek-headed men and such as sleep o' nights, are harmless, R. Jones should have been above suspicion.  He was infinitely the fattest man in the west-central postal district of London.  He was a round ball of a man, who wheezed when he walked upstairs, which was seldom, and shook like a jelly if some tactless friend, wishing to attract his attention tapped him unexpectedly on the shoulder.  But this occurred still less frequently than his walking upstairs, for in R. Jones' circle it was recognized that nothing is a greater breach of etiquette and worse form than to tap people unexpectedly on the shoulder.  That, it was felt, should be left to those who are paid by the Government to do it.

--Something Fresh by P.G. Wodehouse

[N.B.:  Needless to say (so I'll write it instead), R. Jones is the only sinister character in Something Fresh, a work penned in 1915 and representing the literary debut of that delightful, yet absent-minded, character, Lord Emsworth.  What?  You don't know about Lord Emsworth?  Or his pig?  Well, if pigs have wings, surely readers can as well and should fly to their bookseller for a dose or two or three of Lord Emsworth's adventures.  As for the squib above, I  thought it worth repeating because it begins with one of my favorite quotes from Shakespeare (now, listen here young man, it is improper to question one about one's embonpoint).  Toodles.  OH, and have a very, Merry Christmas and such not.]

December  23,  2007

Patrick: Lagniappe

. . . .  And of these emotions the strongest, perhaps, is that which most of those who travel today go seeking; the enchantment of mountains: the air by which we know them for something utterly different from high hills.  Accustomed to the contour of downs and tors, or to the valleys and long slopes that introduce a range, we come to some wider horizon and see, far off, a further line of hills.  To hills all the mind is attuned: a moderate ecstasy.  The clouds are above the hills, lying level in the empty sky; men and their ploughs have visited, it seems, all the land about us.  Till, suddenly, faint but hard, a cloud less varied, a greyer portion of the infinite sky itself, is seen to be permanent above the world.  Then all our grasp of the wide view breaks down.  We change.  The valleys and the tiny towns, the unseen mites of men, the gleams or threads of roads, are prostrate, covering a little watching space before the shrine of this dominant and towering presence.

It is as though humanity were permitted to break through the vulgar illusion of daily sense, and to learn in a physical experience how unreal are all the absolute standards by which we build.  It is as though the vast and unexpected had a purpose, and that purpose were the showing to mankind in rare glimpses what places are designed for the soul--those ultimate places where things common become shadows and fail, and the divine part in us, which adores and desires, breathes its own air, and is at last alive.

--The Inn of the Margeride from Selected Essays by Hilaire Belloc

December  22,  2007

Patrick: Lagniappe

By late 1922, his friends were obliged to take him or leave him as an eccentric, someone who refused to be squeezed by rules, and many of them even believed he had married Polly for no other reason than to spite them and their conventions.  He hated holidays because they were arbitrary periods of freedom which were given rather than taken, and because they were occasions for artificial merriment.  He was an authentic dandy.  He never let Polly wear false pearls; he wouldn't wear false anythings.  He dressed impeccably, always in black, shaved scrupulously every morning, was repelled by the touch of strangers.  He found it "disheartening to consider the ugly bodies that have washed in one's bathtub, to imagine the people who have been born, who have made love, or have died in one's bed. . . ."

--Black Sun: The Brief Transit and Violent Eclipse of Harry Crosby by Geoffrey Wolff

December  21,  2007

Patrick: Lagniappe

The nightingale has a lyre of gold,

     The lark's is a clarion call,

And the blackbird plays but a boxwood flute,

     But I love him best of all.

 

For his song is all of the joy of life,

     And we in the mad, spring weather,

We two have listened till he sang

     Our hearts and lips together.

--To A. D. by W. E. Henley

December  20,  2007

Patrick: Lagniappe

"On trains, you remember, when one asked what time lunch was served, one was told, 'Just after Reading'.  Time is really space after all."

--A Vision of Battlements by Anthony Burgess

December  19,  2007

Patrick: Lagniappe

'But I know just how you feel, sir.  Who steals my purse steals trash; 'tis something, nothing; 'twas mine, 'tis his, and has been slave to thousands.  But he who filches my good name robs me of that which not enriches him and makes me poor indeed.'

'Neat, that.  Your own?'

'No, sir.  Shakespeare's.'

'Shakespeare said some rather good things.'

'I understand that he has given uniform satisfaction, sir.  Shall I mix your another?'

'Do just that thing, Jeeves, and with all convenient speed.'

--Much Obliged, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse

December  18,  2007

Patrick: Lagniappe

Our ship groans, as if shouldering yet more burdens and cares.  I like this sound.  But when the doors to the galley blat open I hear the music from the boombox (four beats to the bar, with some seventeen-year-old yelling about self-discovery), and it comes to my ears as pain.  Naturally, at a single flicker of my eyelid, the waiters take the kitchen by storm.  When you are old, noise comes to you as pain.  Cold comes to you as pain.  When I go up on deck tonight, which I will do, I expect the wet snow to come to me as pain.  It wasn't like that when I was young.  The wake-up: that hurt, and went on hurting more and more.  But the cold didn't hurt.  By the way, try crying and swearing above the Arctic Circle, in winter.  All your tears will freeze fast, and even your obscenities will turn to droplets of ice and tinkle to your feet.  It weakened us, it profoundly undermined us, but it didn't come to us as pain.  It answered something.  It was like a searchlight playing over the universe of our hate.

--House of Meetings by Martin Amis

[N.B.:  This is the monologue of the novel's protagonist, a survivor of the gulag.  Amis is almost pitch perfect here--although he does stumble over the cliche, "take the [fill-in-the-blank] by storm."  He easily recovers, though, with that wonderful simile at the end of the paragraph.  Why can't Americans write like this?  Oh, that's right, they've all learned their "craft" in pottery--oops, I mean, creative-writing--class.]

December  17,  2007

Patrick: Lagniappe

The enemy headquarters was in a farmhouse a few hundred yards down a by-road that ran close to the railway, and as I was the bearer of the despatches and obviously a ringleader of some sort, I was packed off with a soldier at either side and a third man with a drawn revolver behind.  He was still smarting under my abuse and he fired at my heel.  The little soldier on my left dropped his rifle, threw up his hands, and fell.  When I knelt beside him he was unconscious, and the man with the revolver went into hysterics, rushed to the other side of the road, and clutched his head and wept.  The third soldier went to console him, so, as it was obvious that no one else would do anything practical for the unconscious man, I opened his tunic to look for a wound.  What I would do with it if I found it was more than I had thought of, but at least I was better qualified as a hospital orderly than my one-=man medical service, for he only shouted into the prostrate man's ear what he thought was an Act of Contrition but was really the Creed.  I had my hand on the solder's heart when he opened his eyes and said: "--ye all!"  It was simple and final.  Then he rose with great dignity, dusted himself, buttoned his tunic, shouldered his rifle, and resumed his march.  Like myself he wasn't much of a soldier, but he had savoir faire.

--An Only Child by Frank O'Connor

December  14,  2007

Patrick: Lagniappe

So much for the unhappy beginning of Jude's career as a book.  After these verdicts from the press its next misfortune was to be burnt by a bishop--probably in despair at not being able to burn me--and his advertisement of his meritorious act in the papers.

Then somebody discovered that Jude was a moral work--austere in its treatment of a difficult subject--as if the writer had not all the time said in the Preface that it was meant to be so.  Thereupon many uncursed me, and the mater ended, the only effect of it on human conduct that I could discover being its effect on myself--the experience completely curing me of further interest in novel-writing.

--Postscript to Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy

December  13,  2007

Patrick: Lagniappe

At some dinner parties he would also auction tickets for prizes of most unequal value, and paintings with their faces turned to the wall, for which every guest present was expected to bid blindly, taking his chance like the rest: he might either pick up most satisfactory bargains, or throw away his money.

--Augustus from The Twelve Caesars by Suetonius (tr. Robert Graves)

December  12,  2007

Patrick: Lagniappe

All these annoyances and dozens like them had to be soothed at once, then Grandmother's attention was turned to the main house, which must be overhauled completely.  The big secretaries were opened and shabby old sets of Dickens, Scott, Thackeray, Dr. Johnson's dictionary, the volumes of Pope and Milton and Dante and Shakespeare were dusted off and closed up carefully again.  Curtains came down in dingy heaps and went up again stiff and sweet-smelling; rugs were heaved forth in dusty confusion and returned flat and gay with flowers once more; the kitchen was no longer dingy and desolate but a place of heavenly order where it was tempting to linger.

--The Source from The Old Order: Stories of the South by Katerine Anne Porter

[N.B.:  Now you know where Truman Capote swiped what little bit of style he was able to dredge up from the smithy of his soul to fashion the uncreated Christmas squib for his magazine's readers.  Note also that of the list of author's names, two no longer appear to belong with the others as exemplars of greatness: Scott and Thackeray.  Scott's reputation has rightfully dimmed as he was the progenitor for the historical bodice ripper (not to mention that late unpleasantness between the States).   Thackeray's downfall, on the other hand, is less obvious. Certainly, obeisance is still paid to the altar of Vanity Fair but all else is cast into outer darkness (Henry Esmond anyone, anyone at all?).  My own pet theory is that his place was usurped by academics who developed a toothsome appetite for the mechanical profligacy of Anthony Trollope, a master at grinding out one undistinguished product after another (much like the unread output of modern academia--or the prose of John Updike, another professor's favorite).]

December  10,  2007

Patrick: Lagniappe

Today I found a withered stem of honesty, and shelled the pods between my thumb and finger; silver pennies, which grew between the fragrant currant-bushes.  Their glistening surfaces, seeded, the very faint rustle they make in the wind--these sensations come direct to me from a moment thirty years ago.  As they expand in my mind, they carry everything in their widening circle--the low crisp box-hedge which would be at my feet, the pear-trees on the wall behind me, the potato-flowers on the patch beyond the bushes, the ivy-clad privy at the end of the path, the cow pasture, the fairy rings--everything shimmers for a second on the expanding rim of my memory.  The farthest tremor of this perturbation is lost only at the finest edge where sensation passes beyond the confines of experience; for memory is a flower which only opens fully in the kingdom of Heaven, where the eye is eternally innocent.

--The Innocent Eye by Herbert Read

December  7,  2007

Patrick: Lagniappe

The Art of Writing, by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, the anthologist who compiled the Oxford Book of English Verse, is a collection of lectures delivered at Cambridge in 1913-14--in itself a poignant thought; how many of his adoring and gifted students (as I imagine them) perished shortly thereafter in the First World War, never to put into practice his cogent teachings?  The lectures, as Sir Arthur makes clear in his "Inaugural," were a complete departure from the dry dronings-on of pedagogues, standard fare served up to students in those days.  I detect that Sir Arthur had deliberately set out to be something of an iconoclast who would disrupt the calm and even flow of traditional academic instruction.  He combines erudition and informality, depth and humor, in the most entertaining fashion.  To cite just one sample passage that struck home to me: "Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it--whole-heartedly--and delete it before sending your manuscript.  Murder your darlings."  A marvelous piece of advice; thanks to Sir A. Q.-C., my wastepaper basket is a veritable Herod's graveyard of slaughtered innocents.  (Editor: Please delete last sentence.)

--Introduction to Poison Penmanship: The Gentle Art of Muckraking by Jessica Mitford

December  6,  2007

Patrick: Lagniappe

The churchyard was always present to me, in that worst of awful periods, as an uncannily unbelievable place which, with all my elaborate deviations, I could never avoid landing up at; drawn by Dylan's rotting remains.  And I would try to envisage how much was left of him; how much had started to crumble; and an impotent rage against the vile crudeness of nature daring to infringe on him, of all people, made me long to tear open that shoddy grey, speechless mound; ferret down to the long locked cold box, and burst it apart.  There to press my headlong hot flesh into his, to mangle him with my strong bones, mingle, mutilate the two of us together, till the dead and the living would be desired One.

--Leftover Life to Kill by Caitlin Thomas

December  5,  2007

Patrick: Lagniappe

'If only,' they whispered, and hissed in kitchen corners and back room bars malignantly, their bridling better-than-thou-ness glowing reassuringly in their wilting bird-caged breasts; 'she could have waited a decent anonymity of years.'

Years; did you hear that; how much time do they think I have, and how do they propose that I should kill that deposited squeamishly out-of-sight shelf of years?  If I waited a million years, I could not forget Dylan: he will not come blundering down the path again, all misshapen, forgettable poems and glowing miracles of tomorrow singing, stifled, out of them; his pockets sagging with bottles and goodies, and bang at the door impatiently and shout, 'Cait, come down quick and let me in.'  There will be nobody to bang at the door for he is in already.

--Leftover Life to Kill by Caitlin Thomas

December  4,  2007

Patrick: Lagniappe

You have only to look at my hands; the very reverse of Dylan's; square, gnarled, awkward, unwieldy, chunks of flesh; as though born to the soil, and only fit for planting spuds.  And the nails: a shameful reproduction of my mind: torn, bitten, bleeding; the dead skin unfurling in grotesque corrugations.  My worst vice at the bottom of all my troubles, and disquietingly part of me.  And I fail to stop; and God knows I've tried.

--Leftover Life to Kill by Caitlin Thomas