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ARCHIVED ENTRIES FOR FEBRUARY 2011

February  28,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

Zero.  A shrill whistle.  The wave of a cap.  Men clamber up ladders.  Many are clumsy -- because of the load, from fear, or by nature.  Over the top!  Physical nakedness is the first sensation.  The body is now exposed, tense, expectant, awaiting direct violence upon it.  Even if one is to follow the "creeping barrage" - the practice by 1917 - of one's own artillery toward the enemy trenches, that first moment of exposure reduces him to innocence.  "A man who stepped out of the trenches at that moment and lived through has never in all the ensuing years faced such a climax," wrote a survivor.

--Rites of Spring: The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age by Modris Eksteins

February  27,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

A parable, related in The New Statesman in 1913, told of a passenger, on an express train that had made an unexpected stop at a suburban station, who decided that he would descend from the train.  "You can't get off here," said the conductor to the passenger, who was already standing on the platform.  "But," came the reply, "I have got off."  "The train doesn't stop here," insisted the conductor.  "But," said the former passenger, "it has stopped."  The critic and poet Gerald Gould used this story to illustrate his point about the privileged position of the artist in relation to morality, but an equally important point that might have been drawn from the story is that the rebel's fellow passengers failed to comprehend, much less follow, his initiative.  That interpretation of the parable certainly applied to the British public.

--Rites of Spring: The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age by Modris Eksteins

February  26,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

The fascination with primitivism, or, in another sense, the desire to establish contact with the elemental in the German spirit, reached many levels in Germany, particularly within the middle classes.  The youth movement, with its urge to escape from an urban civilization of mere form and sham back into nature, was replete with such associations.  It venerated Turnvater Jahn, the man who had founded gymnastic societies in the German states during the wars of liberation against Napoleon and who for a time in his own youth had lived in a cave and later had walked the streets of Berlin dressed in a bear skin.

--Rites of Spring: The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age by Modris Eksteins

February  25,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

If self-criticism and self-hatred were evident in German idealism, there was still an underlying optimism embedded in a metaphysical or romantic faith that Germany represented the essential dynamic of the age, that she was in the vanguard of movement and change in the world of the early twentieth century, and that she was the foremost representative of a Hegelian World Spirit--a view captured in a line of doggerel that became the main claim to posthumous fame of one Emanuel Geibel of Lübeck, a contemporary of Bismarck: Denn am deutschen Wesen soll die Welt genesen.*

*  By the German soul the world will be made whole.

--Rites of Spring: The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age by Modris Eksteins

February  24,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

German Kultur, by contrast, was said to be concerned with "inner freedom," with authenticity, with truth rather than sham, with essence as opposed to appearance, with totality rather than the norm.  German Kultur was a matter of "overcoming," a matter of reconciling the "two souls" that resided in Faust's breast.  Richard Wagner's contribution to the German perception of Kultur in the last quarter of the nineteenth century was of particular importance.  His vision of grand opera aimed not only at uniting all the arts but also at elevating his Gesamtkunstwerk, his total art work, to a position where it was the supreme synthesis and expression of Kultur, a combination of art, history, and contemporary life in total drama, where symbol and myth became the essence of existence.  Even politics were subsumed into theater.  Wagner's influence on German consciousness and his role in the emergence of a modern aesthetic as a whole are difficult to exaggerate.  Bayreuth became a shrine to the transcendence of life and reality by art and the imagination, a place where the aesthetic moment was to encapsulate all the meaning of history and all the potential of the future.

--Rites of Spring: The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age by Modris Eksteins

February  23,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

Fate appeared to be taking a malicious pleasure in making things as difficult for him as possible.  Now that the girl was well enough to leave her bed, she spent her time sitting in a chair on the sun-sprinkled porch, and James had to read to her - and poetry, at that; and not the jolly, wholesome sort of poetry the boys are turning out nowadays, either - good, honest stuff about sin and gas works and decaying corpses - but the old-fashioned kind with rhymes in it, dealing almost exclusively with love.

--Meet Mr. Mulliner by P.G. Wodehouse

[N.B.:  Why is P.G. Wodehouse one of the great writers of the English language?  Just read that last sentence again and weep.]

February  22,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

'Good!' said James absently.  'Good!  McKinnon, do you remember my aunt, Leila J. Pinckney?'

'Remember her?  Why, I was her agent all her life.'

'Of course.  Then you know the sort of tripe she wrote.'

'No author,' said Mr McKinnon reprovingly, 'who pulls down a steady twenty thousand pounds a year writes tripe.'

--Meet Mr. Mulliner by P.G. Wodehouse

[N.B.:  This is such a quaint view nowadays.  If a writer can produce a steady stream of income for his or her publisher not only is the writer not producing tripe but may very well be producing filet mignon.  Stephen King's short stories are not being published in the New Yorker as ironic commentary on the tastes of the middlebrow subscriber for "shockers."  Nor was John Updike's art criticism published in the New York Review of Books as the final proof of the incoherence of aesthetic discourse.  These are literary giants--who just happen to "pull down a steady twenty thousand pounds a year."]

February  21,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

To begin with, it was a rule with him, and one which he never broke, to allow no girls to appear in his stories.  Sinister landladies, yes, and naturally any amount of adventuresses with foreign accents, but never under any pretext what may broadly be described as girls.  A detective story, he maintained, should have no heroine.  Heroines only held up the action and tried to flirt with the hero when he should have been busy looking for clues, and then went and let the villain kidnap them by some childishly simple trick.  In his writing, James was positively monastic.

--Meet Mr. Mulliner by P.G. Wodehouse

February  20,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

Naturally I had heard of Leila J. Pinckney.  Her death some years ago has diminished her vogue, but at one time it was impossible to pass a book-shop or a railway bookstall without seeing a long row of her novels.  I had never myself actually read any of them, but I knew that in her particular line of literature, the Squashily Sentimental, she had always been regarded by those entitled to judge as pre-eminent.  the critics usually headed their reviews of her stories with the words:-

ANOTHER PINCKNEY

or sometimes, more offensively:-

ANOTHER PINCKNEY!!!

And once, dealing with, I think, The Love Which Prevails, the literary expert of the Scrutinizer had compressed his entire critique into the single phrase 'Oh, God!'

--Meet Mr. Mulliner by P.G. Wodehouse

[N.B.:  Somehow, I prefer Wodehouse's term, the "Squashily Sentimental," to the current vogue tag, "Hysterical Realism."  I guess it must be one of those class-things.  The "Squashily Sentimental" used to be reserved for the middle-brow, middle-class reader whereas today's "Hysterical Realism" is the exclusive habitat of the high-brow intellectual.  Oh, how the lowly have risen!]

February  19,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

'If life's a flower, I choose my own.  'Tis Love in Idleness.  When beauty fires the blood, how love exalts the mind!  Come, Angela, let us read together in a book more moving than the Koran, more eloquent than Shakespeare, the book of books, the crown of all literature - Bradshaw's Railway Guide.'

--Meet Mr. Mulliner by P.G. Wodehouse

February  18,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

The discovery of the North Pole was inevitable.  It is a light seen by all eyes, especially blind ones.  It is a sound heard by all ears, especially deaf ones.  It is an idea grasped by all brains, especially those no longer capable of grasping anything.  The North Pole had to be discovered some day, because for centuries the human mind had penetrated elemental forces of stupidity.  The road is marked witht he blood of those countless people who again and again dared to battle a torpid humanity for the sake of an intellectual deed.  How many pioneers of thought have starved to death and been consumed by those real beasts of the polar sea whose very existence signifies the limit of the intellectual zone?  Human imagination has not wrested one inch away from the realm of the white death at a place where even the hope of transforming the world of human forces into a realm of reason foundered.  Poems were read to walruses until they finally accompanied the discovery of the North Pole with knowing nods.  For it was stupidity that reached the North Pole, and its banner waved victoriously as a sign that it owns the world.  But the ice fields of the intellect began to grow, and they moved and expanded until they covered the whole earth.  We who thought, died.

--The Discovery of the North Pole collected in In These Great Times by Karl Krauss (tr. Harry Zohn)

February  17,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

Every parasite of the age is left with the pride of being a contemporary.  they print the newspaper column "Conquest of the Air" and ignore the adjoining heading "Earthquakes"; and in the year of Messina and daily tremors of the earth man proved his superiority over nature and flew to Berlin.  In 1909 the idealists sacrificed macaroni to the ungracious elements and created a substitute for their lost ideals on the North Pole.  For it is the style of idealism to console itself for the loss of something old with the ability to gape at something new; and if the world goes to ruin, man's feeling of superiority triumphs in the expectation of a spectacle to which only contemporaries are admitted.

--The Discovery of the North Pole collected in In These Great Times by Karl Krauss (tr. Harry Zohn)

February  16,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

And a jacking up of all values and meanings begins, an inflation which those who once had value and meaning cannot even imagine.  "The greatest man of the century" is the title of the hour; the next hour bestows it upon someone else.  "We've done it!" is no sooner the slogan of a type of moustache that points ad astra than it is a greeting offered to bolder, though no less controversial, inventions.  Progress, with its head down and its legs up, kicks away in the atmosphere and assures all crawling spirits that it dominates nature.  It annoys nature and says it has conquered it.  It has invented morality and machinery in order to rid nature and man of nature, and it feels sheltered in a structure of the world which is held together by hysteria and comfort.  Progress celebrates Pyrrhic victories over nature.  Progress makes purses out of human skin.

--The Discovery of the North Pole collected in In These Great Times by Karl Krauss (tr. Harry Zohn)

[N.B.:  This was written in 1909 and is an eerie prophecy of the horrors to engulf Europe in general and Germany in particular.  Krauss himself died in 1936 so he lived long enough to see the rise of the Nazis but not the end result.]

February  15,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

For centuries man had lacked a final something in order to be happy as it constantly marched forward and, despite the bunions of progress, did not take a rest.  What could it have been?  What was it that feverishly filled days and dreams?  What was the paradigm of all desire?  The trump of ambition?  The Ultima Thule of curiosity?  The substitute for paradise lost?  The big sausage on which science sicked all sled dogs at the earthly fair?  Alas, mankind was not content to stay at its daily labors; the idea that up there there were a few square miles on which human feet had never trodden seemed unbearable.  Before people had finally succeeded in finding that "desolate area," life was more desolate than said area.  It was a disgrace that we, the owners of the world, should have let ourselves be deprived of its last little slice.  Since the discovery of America we had been ashamed, and all that time we had hoped that America would reciprocate.  It was no pleasure to live in a world about which one was not completely informed, and many a suicide out of unknown motives may have happened because even on earth there is an undiscover'd country from whose bourn no traveler returns.  And in the nursery of mankind the question "What would you like to be when you grow up?" always drew this resounding answer:  "The discoverer of the North Pole!"  But a child learns to discard his ideals, whereas a grown-up never wears out his short pants.  he really has to have the North Pole!  His favorite dream, that the North Pole is discovered, does not suffice him; he presses for fulfillment of that dream.  But with all the ingratitude of an idealist whose wishes are gratified he does not hesitate to deny his respect to virgin nature as soon as it has surrendered to his wooing.  Mr. Cook cries "I was disappointed!" and calls the idol of mankind a desolate area.  For the only valuable thing about the North Pole was that it had not been reached.  Once it has been reached, it is just a pole from which a flag waves--thus worse than nothing, a crutch of fulfillment and a barrier to imagination.  The modesty of the human spirit is insatiable.

--The Discovery of the North Pole collected in In These Great Times by Karl Krauss (tr. Harry Zohn)

February  14,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

Anyhow the thing was unthinkable.

And he'd better stop thinking about it.

Someone had said that if you thought about the unthinkable long enough it became quite reasonable.

--Brat Farrar by Josephine Tey

February  13,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

I think she'd been energetically lazy, had lazily succumbed to a series of energetic associations--Si's birthday, got to get him something, left it ate, late, well, here I am in Peter Jones (she was in Peter Jones every other afternoon, it was her favourite shop for being in, even when she had no money), trying on shoes for herself, shoes, Si, football, Eton, boots, boots, yes, boots!--'excuse me, I want a pair of football boots for my son, he's playing for his school First Eleven, Westminster, you know, against Eton, needs a new pair of boots, not too expensive, size eight, what would you recommend.  Westminster.  Against Eton, you see.'  'These, madam, I recommend these!  Only pair left in size eight, it's by far and away the best boot of its kind on the  market, especially for Westminster against Eton, nothing else like it, and going at a discount.'  'Taken.  Taken and done!' cries Mummy.  'And at a discount too!' she would say later to James, because, quite simply, that was her way with presents, first priority - take no trouble; second priority, cheap as possible; third priority, please wrap it for me; and at the bottom of the list, if under consideration at all, actual suitability.  And yet, as I've mentioned often enough, she had a generous spirit, our mother - but also a hasty, can't be bothered, slapdash spirit - and the carefulness with money was in fact against that spirit, a matter of necessity, she had so little at that time.  If she'd had lots and lots, she'd have spent lots and lots, and the presents would have been lavishly inappropriate, instead of cheaply inappropriate.

--The Smoking Diaries by Simon Gray

February  12,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

The inhabitants of Schwabing retreated, or progressed, to the community of saints, artists, and nature-lovers on the Mountain of Truth, the Monte Verità, in Ancona, beside a Swiss lake.  Here in 1900 came Gusto Gräser, a poet who played with his name, which meant grasses, and said he was in search of roots, the roots of plants, roots to eat, the roots of words, the roots of civilisations and mountains.  He eschewed not only meat, but metal, which he believed should be left inside the earth, in its place, inside rocks.  He lived in caves and slept in wayside chapels.  His brother, also believing that the use of metal implied mines, miners, foundries, armaments, guns and bombs, made a house of wood, using its natural sproutings and forkings as forms.  He lived there with Jenny Hoffman, who wore date stones, for buttons, on her clothes.   They danced there.  Rudolf Laban later led his chain of naked maenads celebrating sunrise by the lake, in the meadows.  Lawrence and Frieda came there, Hermann Hesse and Isadora Duncan.  The anarchist Eric Mühsham came and the psychoanalyst Otto Gross, whose father, a criminologist, wanted him locked up for lewdness and drugs.  Everyone wore sandals, like pilgrims, like apostles, like ancient Greeks.

--The Children's Book by A.S. Byatt

February  11,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

German earth is different, though Germans at this time, in a largely landlocked country, under its Kaiser with maritime ambitions, also felt the huge pull of earthly nostalgia.  Germans, until the twentieth century, had lived in small walled cities, between which extended their Wald--not Robin Hood's hiding-place in the greenwood, but miles and miles of Black Forest, sombre forest, alien forest, haunted by creatures and presences altogether more dangerous and threatening than Pucks, boggarts and that squat nasty fairy, Yallery Brown, stuck in the Lincolnshire mud.  Germans went back to the earth.  They went hiking and singing up the mountains, into the Wood.  They were Wandervögel, going back to Nature (an ambivalent goddess).  They too, camped by lakes and plunged naked into their depths.  They became vegetarians, and wandered the streets of Munich and Berlin in earthy garments, wholesomely constructed by killing only vegetables.  They worshipped the Sun, and the earth mothers who had preceded patriarchy.

--The Children's Book by A.S. Byatt

February  10,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

What angered her was the lie.  Those who are lied to feel diminished, set aside, misused.  So Dorothy felt.  But she was also discovering that knowing about lies that have been told is a form of power.  She had power over both Humphry and Olive, because they had lied to her, and she knew.  And they did not know how much she knew, and they were fearful.

--The Children's Book by A.S. Byatt

February  9,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

Knowledge is power, but not if it is only partial knowledge and the knower is a dependent child, already perturbed by a changing body, squalling emotions, the sense of the outside world looming outside the garden wall, waiting to be entered.  Knowledge is also fear.

--The Children's Book by A.S. Byatt

February  8,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

Julian had been to Paris several times before.  He knew the museums and galleries: he had been in cafés, and ridden in a rowboat on the Seine.  Charles had stayed in the best hotels, and ridden in the Bois de Boulogne.  Tom had been on a family holiday, some time ago with Violet in charge, and had a vague recollection of Notre-Dame and aching feet.  Fludd had spent time in attic lodgings in his misspent youth, drinking, smoking and exploring women.

Only Prosper Cain was at all prepared for the effect of the Grande Exposition Universelle.

--The Children's Book by A.S. Byatt

[N.B.:  Again, note the extreme economy in "classical writing" of telescoping the characters' experiences and feelings into a few, well-chosen words.  Those who practice "creative writing" are taught that old shibboleth to "show, don't tell" and so would spend pages describing what A.S. Byatt dispatches with a few short, sharp sentences.]

February  7,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

He sat down on the pebbles, which were warm, and ate the bread and cheese and apple he had brought.  He thought he must take a stone back with him.  It is an ancient instinct to take a stone from a stony place, to look at it, to give it a form and a life that connect the human being to the mass of inhuman stones.  He kept picking up, and discarding them, charmed by a dark stain, or a vein that glittered, or a hole bored through.  He held them, and looked at them, put them down and lost them, gathered up others.  The one he finally chose--almost irritably by now, feeling anxious about the huge accumulated bank of rejects--was egg-shaped, with white lines on it, and narrow little bore-holes that didn't come all the way through.  Hiding places for tiny creatures, sand-spiders or hair-thin worms.

--The Children's Book by A.S. Byatt

[N.B.:  The above is a good example of what I think of as "classical writing" as opposed to "creative writing" as championed in the modern English butcher shops.  It is "classical" in the sense of its spare tone, a lack of ostentation and rejection of wordly fussiness.  It seems so simple--deceptively so--whereas "creative writing" seems so complex--again, deceptively so.]

February  6,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

"I saw you enchanting those men.  You can't help it.  The German and the don, the playwright and the soldier from the Museum, you gave them all a look--"

"There's no harm in that.  Whereas it really isn't proper to tell little girls like Griselda, that green dresses were for prostitutes, because they were tumbled in the grass."

"Did I do that?  I have seriously drunk too much.  I shouldn't think Griselda knows what a prostitute is.  She doesn't live in reforming circles."

--The Children's Book by A.S. Byatt

February  5,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

They were about to see the Sternbild Marionettes, from Munich, perform E.T.A. Hoffmann's Der Sandmann.  August wanted to offer a word or two about marionettes.  Many of those present would know Punch and Judy.  He himself had his own Punch and Judy.  They, and their German cousin, Kasperl, were honest artists, with ancient traditions.  They were glove puppets, and glove puppets were of the earth, earthy.  They spring up from below, like underground beings, gnomes or dwarves, they belabour each other with cudgels and go back into the depths, of their booths, of our human consciousness.  Marionettes, by contrast, are creatures of the upper air, like elves, like sylphs, who barely touch the ground.  They dance in geometric perfection in a world more intense, less hobbledehoy, than our own.  Heinrich von Kleist, in a suggestive and mysterious essay, claims daringly that these figures perform more perfectly than human actors.  They exhibit the laws of movement; their limbs rise and fall in perfect arcs, according to the laws of physics;  They have--unlike human actors--no need to charm, or to exact sympathy.  Kleist goes so far as to say that the puppets were in fact gods, the presences of gods.

--The Children's Book by A.S. Byatt

February  4,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

"Ah, yes, m-m-m," said Tartarinov.  "Fyodor Dostoevsky's definition of utopian socialism, m-m-m, the pleasant and frangible vista on a teacup.  Porcelain socialism."

"Maybe that is all we are," said Humphry, ruefully.  "Porcelain socialists, or in the case of Etta, earthenware socialists.  When the just society comes, we will have quite other ideas of beauty.  I agree with Morris, Sèvres is an abomination.  I am shocked at you, August."

"To be frivolous is to be human," said August.  "To be pointlessly skilful is to be human, as far as I can see.  I hope you would not consider legislating to prevent me from having a Sèvres vessel."

Humphry frowned.  "We must hope to make a society where nobody wants anything so absurd."

--The Children's Book by A.S. Byatt

February  3,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

Dorothy believed that if you told someone something truthfully, and honestly, you were giving them something, a kind of respect.

--The Children's Book by A.S. Byatt

February  2,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

Basil remarked to the surrounding bushes that women's education simply made them dissatisfied.  He did not say with what.

--The Children's Book by A.S. Byatt

February  1,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

"Grown-ups always think we don't know things they must have known themselves.  They need to remember wrong, I think."

--The Children's Book by A.S. Byatt

February  1,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

The Wellwoods' Midsummer was a slightly movable feast.  Humphry explained to Philip that midsummer day--that is, the longest day of the solar year--is in fact June 21st.  But the European Feast of St. John is the evening of June 23rd leading to St. John's Day on June 24th and that also is called Midsummer.  "In practice," said Humphry, who believed in talking to the young as though they were fellow men, "in practice, we have been somewhat eclectic with our own celebrations, choosing true midsummer, or St. John's day, depending on the convenient day of the week for holding a party.

--The Children's Book by A.S. Byatt