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ARCHIVED ENTRIES FOR FEBRUARY 2009

February  28,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

'I love you.'  For a start, we'd better put these words on a high shelf; in a square box behind glass which we have to break with our elbow; in the bank.  We shouldn't leave them lying around the house like a tube of vitamin C.  If the words come too easily to hand, we'll use them without thought; we won't be able to resist.  Oh, we say we won't but we will.  We'll get drunk, or lonely, or--likeliest of all--plain damn hopeful, and there are the words gone, used up, grubbied.  We think we might be in love and we're trying out the words to see if they're appropriate?  How can we know what we think till we hear what we say?  Come off it; that won't wash.  These are grand words; we must make sure we deserve them.  Listen to them again: 'I love you.'

--A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters by Julian Barnes

February  27,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

And you think it makes you a fraud, the tiny fraction anyone else ever sees?  Of course you're a fraud, of course what people see is nver you.  And of course you know this, and of course you try to manage what part they see if you know it's only a part.  Who wouldn't?  It's called free will, Sherlock.  But at the same time it's why it feels so good to break down and cry in front of others, or to laugh, or speak in tongues, or chant in Bengali--it's not English anymore, it's not getting squeezed through any hole.

--Good Old Neon collected in Oblivion by David Foster Wallace

February  26,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

Think for a second--what if all the infinitely dense and shifting worlds of stuff inside you every moment of your life turned out now to be somehow fully open and expressible afterward, after what you think of as you has died, because what if afterward now each moment itself is an infinite sea or span or passage of time in which to express it or convey it, and you don't even need any organized English, you can as they say open the door and be in anyone else's room in all your own mutiform forms and ideas and facets?

--Good Old Neon collected in Oblivion by David Foster Wallace

[N.B.:  Perhaps DFW got his wish and, maybe, he's opened all of our own doors and is with us, too, experiencing our mutiform forms and ideas and facets.  A comforting thought, at least.  Rest in Peace.]

February  25,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

Plus often being the one in the front row whose voice in the responses was loudest and who waved both hands in the air the most enthusiastically to show that the Spirit had entered me, and speaking in tongues--mostly consisting of d's and g's--except not really, of course, because in fact I was really just pretending to speak in tongues because all the parishioners around me were speaking in tongues and had the Spirit, and so in a kind of fever of excitement I was able to hoodwink even myself into thinking that I really had the Spirit moving through me and was speaking in tongues when in reality I was just shouting 'Dugga muggle ergle dergle' over and over.  (In other words, so anxious to see myself as truly born-again that I actually convinced myself that the tongues' babble was real language and somehow less false than plain English at expressing the feeling of the Holy Spirit rolling like a juggernaut right through me.)

--Good Old Neon collected in Oblivion by David Foster Wallace

[N.B.:  I believe we were all shouting 'Greenspan Greenspan Greenspan Greenspan' over and over for the last several years and now something else is rolling like a juggernaut right through us.]

February  24,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

She's grown up to be a very poised, witty, self-sufficient person, with maybe just the slightest whiff of the perfume of loneliness that hangs around unmarried women around age thirty.  The fact is that we're all lonely, of course.  Everyone knows this, it's almost a cliché.  So yet another layer of my essential fraudulence is that I pretended to myself that my loneliness was special, that it was uniquely my fault because I was somehow especially fraudulent and hollow.  It's not special at all, we've all got it.  In spades.

--Good Old Neon collected in Oblivion by David Foster Wallace

February  23,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

[H]er cute little face, mid-forties, I'd guess, possibly fifty, the age at which I now think women are growing towards their most very attractive . . . .

--The Smoking Diaries by Simon Gray

February  22,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

Harold's poems are better than I thought - probably not - after all, a dozen decent poems is as much as a man should expect to write in a lifetime, and as Harold's life is quite distinctly not yet over, there may be one - or even two -more.  And Hardy wrote his greatest poems when he was Harold's age.  But Hardy had a spirit that nourished itself on pain, most of it inflicted by himself, much of it on himself.  One wonders what he felt after he'd written 'After a Journey' - so much yearning, remorse, grief so powerfully and perfectly expressed might have left him with a feeling of placid triumph, yes, done it again, and a special thank-you to the dead wife for serving first as victim, then as subject, and what an alchemist I am, turning the dross of my behaviour into the gold of my verse, and talking of dross, what about that dress of hers, the blue - wasn't it? - dress, yes, there's a poem in that somewhere, do I see it, don't I, that dress?  No, gown, gown, air-blue gown and off - 'Woman much missed, how you call to me, call to me . . .' - was his remorse intensified by expressing it, in fact added to by knowing he was going to enhance his reputation by publishing it - he was, after all, a professional.  Sometimes, these days, when I've spent hours on the typewriter I feel that I'm a reverse alchemist, no, a negative reverse alchemist, in that I take the dross of my life, of my understanding of life, and turn it into something drossier.

--The Smoking Diaries by Simon Gray

February  21,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

Aunt Chin was serious about this story.  It sprang from her belief in feng-shui, the magical science of Geomancy which Peking had depended on for centuries.  Until recent times, no building in Peking was constructed without its builders' first making sure that it would conform to and magnify the natural luck inherent in the land it was to stand on.

Feng-shui is essentially a magic of terrain and direction, whose ancient practitioners were among the world's first surveyors and mapmakers.  Every private home of any size in Peking has always had its own special feng-shui.  In the Yu mansion, for instance, certain gates were kept closed to prevent luck from running out, and other gates were kept open to allow luck to run in.  Unimportant outbuildings were built in the southwest corner of the property because southwest was the least lucky direction.  Even the mansion's sewers conformed to its feng-shui.

--Peking Story by David Kidd

[N.B.:  Science and magic have always seemed to me to be nodding acquaintenances.  Isaac Newton, one of the last of the great magi, developed calculus, some might say, in order to more speedily divine the nature of the Philosopher's Stone.  And here, in ancient China, we owe the venerable art of mapmaking to the discipline of discerning luck in the land.]

February  20,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

' . . . .   Divorce proceedings are hell, you've got to think, you've got to decide, you've got to lie.  I believe she's got another chap, I don't want to know.  She goes away a lot, I only wish she didn't keep coming back, I suppose it's convenient.  The sheer endless destructive bloody spitefulness, the wanton breaking of all the little tentacles of tenderness and joy, all the little spontaneous nonsenses that connect one human being with another.  I do try to communicate with her sometimes, and she says the most hurtful thing she can think of in reply.  One's soul becomes numb with the endless blows--and of course one becomes a sort of fiend oneself, that goes without saying, one becomes ingenious in evil.  I've seen it in other cases, the spouse who feels guilty, even irrationally, is endlessly the victim of the whims of the other, and can take no moral stand.  That leads to mutual terrorism.  And oh, when we still used to sleep together, lying awake at night and finding one's only consolation in imagining in detail how one would go downstairs and find a hatchet and smash one' partner's head in and mash it into a bloody pudding on the pillow!  Ah, Charles, Charles, you know nothing of these marital joys.  Have some more whisky.'

--The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch

February  19,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

'Every persisting marriage is based on fear,' said Peregrine Arbelow.

--The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch

February  18,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

He was a sweet man.  And he was generous, he liked to be the cause that wit is in other men.

--The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch

February  17,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

All this led me back to the now somehow central question: is she happy?  Of course I knew enough about the mystery of marriage to be aware that this may be a frivolous question to ask about a married person.  People may be settled into ways of life which preclude continued happiness, but which are satisfactory and far to be preferred to alternatives.

--The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch

February  16,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

Only one thing never changes--the human heart.  Revolutions and ideologies may lacerate it, even break it, but they cannot change its essence.  After Fascism and Communism and Capitalism and Socialism are over and forgotten as completely as slavery and the old South, that same headstrong human heart will be clamoring for the old things it wept for in Eden--lover and a chance to be noble, laughter and a chance to adore something, someone, somewhere.

--Lanterns on the Levee by William Alexander Percy

February  15,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

Mur's reading was not condescending; she loved it as much as I did.  She cried at the same places I did, and when she laughed she shook till her glasses fell off.  Of course, when we cried--say at the story of the Frog Prince or the Little Boy with Ice in His Heart--we said nothing about it to each other, though Mur sometimes had to stop and blow her nose.  Perhaps a diluted course in Lenin and Marx with passages from Mein Kampf or a handbook on electricity and aviation would have better prepared a youngster for life as it is.  But not, I think, for life as it should be.

--Lanterns on the Levee by William Alexander Percy

February  14,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

Every afternoon she took a nap (which should be compulsory in the interest of sanity), and after her nap she took a walk.

--Lanterns on the Levee by William Alexander Percy

February  13,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

Over the somber levels of the water pours that great voice, so long prolonged it is joined by echoes from the willowed shore, a chorus of ghosts, and, roused from sleep, wide-eyed and still, you are oppressed by vanished glories, the last trump, the calling of the ends of the earth, the current, ceaselessly moving out into the dark, of the eternal dying.  Trains rushing  at night under the widening pallor of their own smoke, bearing in wild haste their single freightage of wild light, over a receding curve of thunder, have their own glory.  But they are gone too quickly, like a meteor, to become part of your deep own self.  The sound of the river-boats hangs inside your heart like a star.

--Lanterns on the Levee by William Alexander Percy

February  12,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

A different, and more detailed, account of how Harris obtained his first editorship is given in a novel by Frederic Carrel, called The Adventures of John Johns, published in 1897.  The first time I saw this novel was in Dan's bookshop.  Harris, who was with me, threw it a glance, and murmured, in a gloomy, repressed voice: 'That's supposed to be about me.'  Afterwards I heard that it had a great success in the late 'nineties and that Harris, who was always coming upon it wherever he went, claimed to have impounded and destroyed five hundred copies.

The book is modelled, more closely at the end than at the beginning, on Maupassant's Bel Ami.  Like Bel Ami, John Johns uses women as the means to money and power.  Arriving almost penniless from Australia, he forces himself on an elderly newspaper proprietor, seduces his wife, and with her support manoeuvres the editor out of his job, stepping into it himself.  The paper is Radical, but Johns sheds his Radicalism when his acquaintance with a Lord Stanfield gives him the chance of marrying a very rich and well-connected widow.  Helped by Lord Stanfield, he becomes the editor and part-proprietor of a literary monthly; his wife dies, and he elopes with the daughter of a millionaire, who is forced to consent to a marriage as the only means to save his daughter's reputation.

'the sketch of Frank Harris in John Johns is superb,' Oscar Wilde said in a letter to Robert Ross, in July 1897.  'Who wrote the book?  It is a wonderful indictment.'

--Frank Harris by Hugh Kingsmill

February  11,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

The seduction of virgins, the most revengeful form of sexual vanity, was the branch of love-making in which Harris specialised, and he used to disclaim any attraction towards or experience of adultery, although his first recorded affair was with the wife of a man who gave him a job during his early days in Lawrence.  His withers are unwrung, he says, after quoting Chaucer on the hell in which adulterers burn, he had never coveted another man's wife.  But when Chaucer condemns fornication on the authority of 'Seint Poule,' and continues, 'another sin of lecherie is to bereven a maid of hire maidenhead,' Harris comments, 'I smile, for this sweet pleasure is not specially forbidden by Seint Poule.'

--Frank Harris: A Biography by Hugh Kingsmill

February  10,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

Nancy says that music to her is delicious manure.  At a concert this evening at Mentone I realised that to me it is like a drink or a drug.  It accentuates the mood of the moment.  If one is writing, or in love, it inspires one to write or love better.  This afternoon I had been annoyed by two letters from England.  Throughout the concert I was inspired with the most devastating retorts, which now an hour later have fled from me.

--Diaries, 1942-1954 by James Lees-Milne (abridged and introduced by Michael Bloch), entry for Thursday, 11th February 1954

February  9,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

Hilaire Belloc has died.  I used to meet him staying with Mary Herbert at Pixton during the war.  He was ailing and querulous.  He seemed to exist only on wine, then very difficult to get.  But Mary somehow provided it and he sipped it all day long, smacking his lips and complaining how indifferent it was.  From time to time he warmed up, and talked and talked and talked.  Was sardonic, but brilliant.  Was very class-conscious, referring to himself as the epitome of the middle class and Mary that of the upper.  He wasn't wrong.  He always wore the same dirty old cloak.  One night there was a great noise.  Mr Belloc going to the bathroom with a candle set himself ablaze.  Mary put him out after filling the bathtub with water.  Then she called me for help.  There was a smell of burning next morning and the bathroom was full of ash from his rusty old cloak.  In similar circumstances he died recently.

--Diaries, 1942-1954 by James Lees-Milne (abridged and introduced by Michael Bloch), entry for Wednesday, 19th August 1953

February  8,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

There ensued a terrible hour, poor Mama on her knees at his bedside, talking to him who understood not a word and beseeching him to give up the struggle.  This he did a little before 11 o'clock.  The nurse, Mama and I were present.  The breathing became a little easier, stopped, his mouth moved, then his throat, and then nothing.  Swiftly the nurse with great dexterity, her hand over his heart, pulled the sheet over his head, and I led Mama away, prostrate with grief.  It was a terrible, harrowing experience, yet one which nearly every human being has to undergo, once if not twice a lifetime.  I hope never again to go through another like it.  The very worst things about death are disrespect, the vulgarity, the meanness.  God should have arranged for dying people to disintegrate and disappear like a puff of smoke into the air.  There are many other scraps of advice I could have given him.

--Diaries, 1942-1954 by James Lees-Milne (abridged and introduced by Michael Bloch), entry for Wednesday, 30th November 1949

February  7,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

Mr C. has cultivated a deafness which he turns on like a tap when he is bored: an excellent form of defence and one adopted by many old people to whom time is precious.

--Diaries, 1942-1954 by James Lees-Milne (abridged and introduced by Michael Bloch), entry for Wednesday, 23rd November 1949

February  6,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

'Do you ever get moods when life seems absolutely meaningless?  It's like a badly-constructed story, with all sorts of characters moving in and out who have nothing to do with the plot.  And, when somebody comes along who you think really has something to do with the plot, he suddenly drops out.  After a while you begin to wonder what the story is about, and you feel that it's about - just a jumble.'

'There is one thing,' said Ashe, 'that knits it together.'

'What is that?'

'The live interest.'

--Something Fresh by P.G. Wodehouse

February  5,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

As Agent-General of the Clergy, solicitous of the interests both of Clergy and people, he suggested one other reform of an equally practical and popular nature.  The State was rapidly going bankrupt, the Church was still extremely rich.  One important source of State revenue was the government lottery.  Talleyrand, we may assume, had no strong moral objection to gambling, since throughout his life he was a devotee both of the stock exchange and of the card table.  But he realised, as every economist has realised, that, for the welfare of the State, the gambling instinct should be discouraged, and, as a member of the Church, he saw how that body could gain prestige, and at the same time assist the Government and benefit the community.  He suggested that the Church should purchase from the Government for a large sum the right of raising lotteries and should then abolish them.  In the light of subsequent events it appears an admirable suggestion, but such suggestions, however admirable, fall upon deaf ears when revolutions are impending. 

--Talleyrand by Duff Cooper

[N.B.:  What a maroon!  Is history nothing but a rag-bag of false starts and blind alleys?  Imagine the benighted ignorance behind the claim that the lottery is injurious of the State.  In these enlightened times all States worship at the foot of the Mighty Powerball.  Who are they to infringe on the rights of their citizens to willingly submit to this voluntary form of regressive taxation?]

February  4,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

A life of idle pleasure, even such pleasure as eighteenth-century Paris could provide, is incapable of satisfying the aspirations of a very intelligent man.  And the reason of this is that work is a form of pleasure, and that a man who has never worked has missed one of the greatest pleasures of life.

--Talleyrand by Duff Cooper

February  3,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

"I am king beast.  A big muscular Yank.  Hear that?  I know you would all like to beat me up.  O there are a lot of them would like to do that.  But tonight I was in the Lombard Street to get the feel of investment.  Now I have it from good sources that some of you own pig sties and I must confess that the rearing of pigs to me is extremely distasteful except at the breakfast table when it is tasteful.  But I know you people have bacon hidden in your attics and beef and hides in the cellar and the best of clarets and brandies.  But I'm a man for bedlam.  What about bedlam?  Do you ever relish the broken dish or twisted chandelier?  I'm taking my host's champagne home for the morning away from you horse lovers.  Bye-bye now.  I know you have bacon in the attic and beef and hides in the cellar."

--The Ginger Man by J.P. Donleavy

February  2,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

The next day we all went out hunting.  The Radletts loved animals, they loved foxes, they risked dreadful beatings in order to unstop their earths, they read and cried and rejoiced over Reynard the Fox, in summer they got up at four to go and see the cubs playing in the pale-green light of the woods; nevertheless, more than anything in the world, they loved hunting.  It was in their blood and bones and in my blood and bones, and nothing could eradicate it, though we knew it for a kind of original sin.  For three hours that day I forgot everything except my body and my pony's body; the rushing, the scrambling, the splashing, struggling up the hills, sliding down them again, the tugging, the bucketing, the earth and the sky.  I forgot everything, I could hardly have told you my name.  That must be the great hold that hunting has over people, especially stupid people; it enforces an absolute concentration, both mental and physical.

--The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford

February  1,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

The program in writing is just one of the many subdivisions - which is also, on the whole, good.  On the good side, there were (and are) people on the regular faculty and among the regular Ph.D. candidates who understood and cared for Breece and his work.  On the bad side of life in the department, there is a neurotic cancellation of direct, open expression, perhaps out of self-consciousness about how one's opinion will be regarded, since opinion is that chief commodity.  Sometimes it's hard to get a straight answer.  And sometimes it's clear that some people hold that criticism is the highest bloom of the literary garden, and that actual stories or novels or poems are the compost.

--Afterword by John Casey from The Stories of Breece D'J Pancake

[N.B.:  There, in a nutshell, is the evil of creative writing courses: they desiccate, and finally deaden, an author's promising aesthetic literary gifts in a compost of criticism.  Hence, most of the interesting fiction is coming from abroad (unless it's from the ever-thinning herd of elderly writers who learned their craft before being forced to take a class).  England still produces its fair share of talent since the professionalization of creative writing is only beginning to take hold there.  Soon enough, though, all of the best writing will have to be read in translation by us monoglots.  Curse our quarter-educated intellects!]