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ARCHIVED ENTRIES FOR DECEMBER 2008

December  30,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

MESSAGE TO THE LIVING

I'm dead, but waiting for you, and you'll wait for someone:

The darkness waits for everyone, it makes no distinctions.

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

December  29,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

But there was a fatal flaw in Julien's character.  Insolence from these coarse beings had caused him a great deal of pain; their abasement of themselves left him disgusted.  There was nothing pleasant about it.

Toward midday, Father Pirard left his pupils, but not before making a stern speech: "Is it worldly honors you want?" he said to them.  "All the social advantages?  The delights of giving orders, of paying no attention to the law and being safely insolent to everyone?  Or is it eternal salvation you long for?  Even the least advanced among you need only open his eyes, to see the difference between these two paths."

--The Red and the Black by Stendhal (tr. Burton Raffel)

[N.B.:  Here, in a nutshell, Stendhal explains the meaning of his book's title, theme and main character.]

December  28,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

In these Franche-Comt peasants' eyes, not to smile respectfully, when the governor's name was mentioned, was sheer recklessness.  After all, a poor man's recklessness is quickly punished by an absence of food.

--The Red and the Black by Stendhal (tr. Burton Raffel)

December  27,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

"Oh," he exclaimed, "God obviously sent Napoleon for the youth of France!  Who can take his place? What will they do without him, those miserable ones--richer by far than me--who have precisely enough money to get themselves a good education, but not enough, at age twenty, to pay off the right people and push themselves into a career!"

--The Red and the Black by Stendhal (tr. Burton Raffel)

[N.B.:  And in these parlous economic times who will the youth of America turn to? What Anointed One will step in to Napoleon's place?]

December  26,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

High and thin and heartless sang the fiddles and the chanter; deep and turgid and lachrimose sang the bearded choristers.  Lax and supine sprawled the soldiers; rigid and erect sat the royal women.  Softly the page stepped from couch to couch with the mead-bowl; heavily the District Commander stumbled once more to the vomitorium.

--Helena by Evelyn Waugh

December  25,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

"You look perfectly charming, child," said her aunt, adjusting the fillet on Helena's brow.  "We won't go in quite yet.  The gentlemen have just gone to be sick."

--Helena by Evelyn Waugh

December  24,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

The novelist deals with the experiences which excite his imagination.  In this case the experience was my desultory reading in History and Archaeology.  The resulting book, of course, is neither History nor Archaeology.  Where the authorities are doubtful, I have often chosen the picturesque in preference to the plausible; I have once or twice, where they are silent, freely invented; but there is nothing, I believe, contrary to authentic history (save for certain wilful, obvious anachronisms which are introduced as a literary device), and there is little that has not some support from tradition or from early documents.

--Helena by Evelyn Waugh

December  23,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

The scandale of the 1912 season was the premire in Paris on May 29 of Debussy's L'Aprs-midi d'un faune, inspired by Mallarms poem, choreographed and danced by Nijinsky, with art nouveau sets and costumes by Bakst.  The story is about a Roman deity, a faun, with horns and a tail, who falls in love with a young wood nymph.  Nijinsky, dressed in leotards at a time when skin-tight costumes were still thought to be improper, provoked in the audience a collective salivation and swallowing as he descended, hips undulating, over the nymph's scarf, and quivered in simulated orgasm.  That was simply the culmination of a ballet that broke all the rules of traditional taste.  The entire work was staged in profile in an attempt to reproduce the images of classical bas-reliefs and vase paintings.  Movements, both walking and running, were almost entirely lateral, always heel to toe, followed by a pivot on both feet and a change of position of arms and head.  Gaston Calmette, editor of Le Figaro, refused to publish the review prepared by the regular dance correspondent, Robert Brussel, and instead penned a front-page article himself in which he denounced Faune as "neither a pretty pastoral nor a work of profound meaning.  We are shown a lecherous faun, whose movements are filthy and bestial in their eroticism, and whose gestures are as crude as they are indecent.

--Rites of Spring by Modris Eksteins

December  22,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

Of the literary genres, biography is perhaps the strangest.  It is certainly the genre that contains the most replicated, recycled material.  After the initial pioneering biography of a subject, subsequent biographies are obliged to repeat a very high percentage of the original biographer's historic facts and significant documents, with forays into "new" territory and interpretations to justify the new project.  The same key photographs must be used, especially when the subject, like Willa Cather, lived at a time in which images were less plentiful and promiscuous than they are today.  In some biographies the subject is viewed as in the crosshairs of a rifle scope; voyeurism and moralism conjoin in a seemingly respectful, even self-less undertaking of exposure.  Like a disembodied eye the omniscient biographer hovers about the unsuspecting subject, bringing to bear scrupulous moral standards (presumably practiced by the biographer) and the devastating power of hindsight to reveal the smallest hint of hypocrisy, venality, delusion.

--Catherizing Willa collected in Uncensored: Views and (Re)views by Joyce Carol Oates

December  21,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

W.H. Auden said it most memorably, and bluntly: "The words of a dead man / Are modified in the guts of the living" ("In Memory of W.B. Yeats").  The metaphor is a striking one, and if we pursue it, disturbing.  For "art" is here perceived as something to be consumed by the survivor, digested, "modified," and presumably excreted.  The living make pragmatic use of the past, taking what can be modified and appropriated, and discarding the remainder.  There is no art in itself, only appropriated art, now an attribute of the living.

--Catherizing Willa collected in Uncensored: Views and (Re)views by Joyce Carol Oates

December  20,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

It's naive to assume that even a writer of genius can't profit from the intervention of astute editors; if nothing else, an editor's query provokes a writer to re-think something of which he may have had initial doubts.  Any serious writer wants to bring into print the very best text of which he's capable; simply to defend what he has written, because he has written it, is hardly the point.

--"Restoring" Willie Stark collected in Uncensored: Views and (Re)views by Joyce Carol Oates

December  19,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

Gabriel Syme was not merely a detective who pretended to be a poet; he was really a poet who had become a detective.  Nor was his hatred of anarchy hypocritical.  He was one of those who are driven early in life into too conservative an attitude by the bewildering folly of most revolutionists.  He had not attained it by any tame tradition.  His respectability was spontaneous and sudden, a rebellion against rebellion.  He came of a family of cranks, in which all the oldest people had all the newest notions.  One of his uncles always walked about without a hat, and another had made an unsuccessful attempt to walk about with a hat and nothing else.  His father cultivated art and self-realisation; his mother went in for simplicity and hygiene.  Hence the child, during his tenderer years, was wholly unacquainted with any drink between the extremes of absinth and cocoa, of both of which he had a healthy dislike.  The more his mother preached a more than Puritan abstinence the more did his father expand into a more than pagan latitude; and by the time the former had come to enforcing vegetarianism, the latter had pretty well reached the point of defending cannibalism.

--The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton

December  18,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

"There again," said Syme irritably, "what is there poetical about being in revolt?  You might as well say that it is poetical to be sea-sick.  Being sick is a revolt.  Both being sick and being rebellious may be the wholesome thing on certain desperate occasions; but I'm hanged if I can see why they are poetical.  Revolt in the abstract is--revolting.  It's mere vomiting."

The girl winced for a flash at the unpleasant word, but Syme was too hot to heed her.

"It is things got right," he cried, "that is poetical!  Our digestions, for instance, going sacredly and silently right, that is the foundation of all poetry.  Yes, the most poetical thing, more poetical than the flowers, more poetical than the stars--the most poetical thing in the world is not being sick."

--The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton

December  17,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

"Nonsense!" said Gregory, who was very rational when anyone else attempted paradox.  "Why do all the clerks and navvies in the railway trains look so sad and tired, so very sad and tired?  I will tell you.  It is because they know that the train is going right.  It is because they know that whatever place they have taken a ticket for that place they will reach.  It is because after they have passed Sloane Square they know that the next station must be Victoria, and nothing but Victoria.  Oh, their wild rapture! oh, their eyes like stars and their souls again in Eden, if the next station were unaccountably Baker Street!"

--The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton

December  16,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

Oddly, the flash of tactical insight came first.  If I were to betray any comrades, it shouldn't just be those who had acted insultingly toward me, because someone might spot the pattern.  Besides, anyone can destroy enemies.  It takes a special freedom to destroy friends.

--The Autobiography of Joseph Stalin by Richard Lourie

December  15,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

Otherwise, the Second Moscow Trial was a bit dull.  There were no major figures in the dock, no memorable lines as there'd been in the first trial, in which Lenin's comrade-in-arms Zinoviev had confessed in a statement that managed to be both concise and slobbering: "My defective Bolshevism became transformed into anti-Bolshevism and through Trotskyism I arrived at fascism."

--The Autobiography of Joseph Stalin by Richard Lourie

December  14,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

This morning, Poskryobyshev has set three files on my desk: the list of those sentenced to the Highest Measure of Punishment; a specially prepared information bulletin marked World and Domestic Situation, April 2, 1937; and a report on Trotsky's latest activities, his writings included.

Breakfast was good and the pipe drew well.  So, on the list of those to be executed, next to the name of Yuri Grishin, who always knew the latest jokes, I write: "Ten years."

This I do as an allusion to a joke:

A new prisoner comes into a cell and is asked, What sentenced did they give you?

Fifteen years, he says.

For what? they ask.

For nothing! he says.

Couldn't be, they say, for nothing they give ten.

I hope Grishin will appreciate the allusion, along with being spared his life.

--The Autobiography of Joseph Stalin by Richard Lourie

December  13,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

The tide of smoke, names, voices, drinks taken quickly down rose then, the heat rose swiftly, insidiously, lapping first at the ankle, mounting the leg until the knees were weak with the palsy of drink and the air thickened, slow as sugar, moved from place to place in the room, laughing, snickering, leaning on a shoulder or the timber ribs, gasping with laughter.  Even the air in the room went from mouth to mouth asking for breath, moving towards the portholes of night as if the smoke would part and let them open, asking in a voice gone high and weak with laughing for a way into the darkness, for a way out of the sound of music playing on the radio and the light.

People had begun dancing in the bedroom, people had put their arms around each other and drawn their bodies close.  The nap of the velvet stood like a caterpillar's coat against the white arms of the woman in her bed and the blue veins that lashed turquoise under her flesh.

--My Next Bride by Kay Boyle

December  12,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

"In the bourgeois regime," he was saying, "there's the idea of the wife and being faithful to her.  But for men like me, if you stay faithful to your art and your own needs, that's all posterity asks of you.  I'm faithful to one thing in Gabrielle and to another thing in Cina and I could be faithful to another thing in somebody else."

--My Next Bride by Kay Boyle

December  11,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

But the inequalities of intellect, like the inequalities of the surface of our globe, bear so small a proportion to the mass, that, in calculating its great revolution, they may safely be neglected.  The sun illuminates the hills, while it is still below the horizon; and truth is discovered by the highest minds a little before it becomes manifest to the multitude.  This is the extent of their superiority.  They are the first to catch and reflect a light, which, without their assistance, must, in a short time, be visible to those who lie far beneath them.

--John Dryden collected in Macaulay's Essays by Lord Macaulay

December  10,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

If I go home I shall go with a new love of the intimate little things of life, a new hate of words and messianic man.  The big things for which we said we would die have passed like a forest fire, leaving nothing but desolation in their wake.  All spent..  Look upon this sea of broken bodies.  The intimate little things remain.  The sight of mountain flowers gently shaking their coloured heads in the breeze, the sheen of meadow grass yielding to the wind, the pitch of the farm roof at home.  Little things.  Do you remember a staircase of a large department store in Munich?  How long ago?  Watching the assistants take down the cheap pictures of Christ and His Apostles and use the same nails to hang the portraits of Germany's political leaders.  And the crowds running upstairs and downstairs, pushing us aside, not caring, snatching.  And I wondered why my father was so moved!

--Vessel of Sadness by William Woodruff

December  9,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

A little whitewashed, ramshackle peasant farm made of plastered stone.  A hard bench by an old cracked wall; a red tiled roof; a midden in the yard, festering; a crude, makeshift door: an earthen floor, where man and beast live together; a single room, low and dark, with little ventilation; dried food hanging from the walls and the rafters; a corner to sleep; a box, a board, a bench; low wooden partitions.  A wrinkled, dark-clad, old woman sitting with her dead sow and its litter, lamenting.  She wrings her hands, shrieks, screeches, screams, pulls at her white hair and appeals, to the heavens.  She is past consoling.  She hides her old, deeply-etched face in her black skirt and howls.

--Vessel of Sadness by William Woodruff

December  8,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

In the rear of the drawer there was a stack of old papers that he had not examined very thoroughly during his first search through the desk.  Placing the papers in his lap, he thumbed through them one by one and found that they were, as he had imagined, principally unreturned essays that had accumulated over a period of more than five years.  As he turned over one essay, his eye fell upon a rough, yellowed sheet of Big Chief tablet paper on which was printed with a red crayon:

Your total ignorance of that which you profess to teach merits the death penalty.  I doubt whether you would know that St. Cassian of Imola was stabbed to death by his students with their styli.  His death, a martyr's honorable one, made him a patron saint of teachers.

Pray to him, you deluded fool, you "anyone for tennis?" golf-playing, cocktail-quaffing pseudo-pedant, for you do indeed need a heavenly patron.  Although your days are numbered, you will not dies as a martyr--for you further no holy cause-but as the total ass which you really are.

                                                               ZORRO

A sword was drawn on the last line of the page.

"Oh, I wonder whatever happened to him," Talc said aloud.

--A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

[N.B.:  Well, dear reader, you and I know whatever happened to ZORRO a/k/a Ignatius Reilly.  He became one of the brightest, eternal stars in the literary firmament.]

December  7,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

'Well,' said Lord Ottercove, 'my original thesis was in the negative.  But now I have come to think that, for a series of Sunday articles in which I want to incorporate my philosophy, the notion that we are the Dreamer and everything unpleasant in life the dram, about to be dissolved in the reality of our awakening, is rather more cheerful and more suitable from a journalistic point of view, and I will pursue the Dreamer as against the Dream course.'

'But is that a ground?'

'Certainly.  A journalistic ground.'

'But I thought you were going to write philosophy.'

'Journalism, as I was going to explain, is philosophy.  Life is a dream, according to my philosophy, a dream of illusions.  And this faculty of creating illusions in a world of appearances is, I claim, the function of the journalist.'

'Make-belief?'

 'If you lie to--to put it so crudely,' said Lord Ottercove, evidently hurt.  It seemed strange to see this rich, successful, powerful, middle-aged, newspaper magnate, once Cabinet Minister, hurt.

--Doom by William Gerhardie

December  6,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

'A policy is only a policy if it is a promise.  A difficulty is only a difficulty if it needs overcoming.  A difficulty overcome is like your last year's birthday present.  You cannot talk of it with any credit to yourself.  And in politics you must boast in order to get credit, and, though you cannot boast of what you have done, you can boast of what you will do, if they let you do it for them.'

--Doom by William Gerhardie

December  5,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

His introduction to Gnomonism came one Saturday morning when he was poking about in an old bookstore and ran across a cast-off trove of Gnomon pamphlets and books, including a copy of 101 Gnomon Facts, one of the rare unsigned copies. 

--Masters of Atlantis by Charles Portis

December  4,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

Early in the term he had flung a book at Adrian's head in irritation at some crass comment.  Adrian had caught it and been shocked to see that it was a first edition of Les Fleurs du Mal.

'Books are not holy relics,' Trefusis had said.  'Words may be my religion, but when it comes to worship, I am very low church.  The temples and the graven images are of no interest to me.  The superstitious mummery of a bourgeois obsession for books is severely annoying.  Think how many children are put off reading by prissy little people ticking them off whenever they turn a page carelessly.  The world is so fond of saying that books should be "treated with respect".  But when are we told that words should be treated with respect?  Form our earliest years we are taught to revere only the outward and visible.  Ghastly literary types maundering on about books as "objects".  Yes, that does happen to be a first edition.  A present from Nol Annan, as a matter of fact.  But I assure you that a foul yellow livre de poche would have been just as useful to me.  Not that I fail to appreciate Nol's generosity.  A book is a piece of technology.  If people wish to amass them and pay high prices for this one or that, well and good.  But they can't pretend that it is any higher or more intelligent a calling than collecting snuff-boxes or bubble-gum cards.  I may read a book, I may use it as an ashtray, a paperweight, a doorstop or even as a missile to throw at silly young men who make fatuous remarks.   

--The Liar by Stephen Fry

December  3,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

Trefusis's quarters could be described in one word.

Books.

Books and books and books.  And then, just when an observer might be lured into thinking that that must be it, more books.

Barely a square inch of wood or wall or floor was visible.  Walking was only allowed by pathways cut between the piles of books.  Treading these pathways with books waist-high either side was like negotiating a maze.  Trefusis called the room his 'libranith'.  Areas where seating was possible were like lagoons in a coral strand of books.

--The Liar by Stephen Fry

[N.B.  Is this not the loving description of a veritable paradise?]

December  2,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

Cartwright of the sapphire eyes and golden hair, Cartwright of the Limbs and Lips: he was Petrarch's Laura, Milton's Lycidas, Catullus's Lesbia, Tennyson's Hallam, Shakespeare's fair boy and dark lady, the moon's Endymion.  Cartwright was Garbo's salary, the National Gallery, he was cellophane: he was the tender trap, the blank unholy surprise of it all and the bright golden haze on the meadow: he was honey-honey, sugar-sugar, chirpy chirpy cheep-cheep and his baby-love: the voice of the turtle could be heard in the land, there were angels dining at the Ritz and a nightingale sang in Berkeley Square.

--The Liar by Stephen Fry

December  1,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

I never could quite understand why these Jezebels like to insinuate the dreadful truth against themselves; but they do.  Is it the spirit of feminine triumph overcoming feminine shame, and making them vaunt their fall as an evidence of bygone fascination and existing power?  Need we wonder?  Have not women preferred hatred to indifference, and the reputation of witchcraft with all its penalties, to absolute insignificance?  Thus, as they enjoyed the fear inspired among simple neighbours by their imagined traffic with the father of ill, did Madame, I think, relish with a cynical vainglory the suspicion of her satanic superiority.

--Uncle Silas by Sheridan le Fanu