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ARCHIVED ENTRIES FOR JANUARY 2010
 

 

 

January  31,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

Saw Barrire who told us this striking anecdote.  On the Place de Grve he had seen a condemned man whose hair had visibly stood on end when he had been turned to face the scaffold.  Yet this was the man who, when Dr. Pariset had asked him what he wanted before he died, had answered: 'A leg of mutton and a woman.'

--Pages from the Goncourt Journal (ed. and tr. by Robert Baldick), 29 January 1860

January  30,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

'Oh!' said Lafontaine.  'The Empress was charming.  When my manager told her that I was very hoarse, she said: "We shall come back another time."'

'That's just like the Bonapartes!' said Scholl.  'They always imagine they're going to come back!'

--Pages from the Goncourt Journal (ed. and tr. by Robert Baldick), 25 January 1860

January  29,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

We talk about his Carthaginian novel, which he is in the midst of writing.  He tells us of his research, his studies, the reading he has done, the piles of notes he has made, and the incomprehensibility of the words involved, which is forcing him to paraphrase all his terms.  'Do you know the full extent of my ambition?' he asks.  'I just want an intelligent man to shut himself up for four hours with my book, so that I can give him a feast of historical hashish.  That's all I ask. . . . After all, work is still the best means of whiling away one's life.'

--Pages from the Goncourt Journal (ed. and tr. by Robert Baldick), 12 January 1860

January  28,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

Then we remark how few people there are who can appreciate something well done and beautiful in itself, like the rhythm of a sentence.  'Can you imagine anything more stupid', Flaubert asked, 'than struggling to eliminate the assonances from a sentence or the repetitions from a page?  For whom?  And then, even when the book succeeds, the success you obtain is never the kind you wanted.  It was the farcical bits in Madame Bovary that made it a success.  Success is always off the mark.  As for style, how many readers enjoy and appreciate it?  And remember that style is what makes us suspect in the eyes of the law, for the courts are all for the classics. . . . But in reality nobody has read the classics!  There aren't eight men of letters who have read Voltaire, and I mean really read him.  And there aren't five who could tell you the titles of Thomas Corneille's plays.  Art for art's sake?  It received its greatest consecration in the address delivered to the Academy by a classical writer, Buffon, when he said: "The manner in which truth is enunciated is more useful to humanity than the truth itself."  If that isn't art for art's sake, what is?  And how about La Bruyre, who says: "The art of writing is the art of defining and depicting."'

--Pages from the Goncourt Journal (ed. and tr. by Robert Baldick), 12 January 1860

January  27,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

Noticeable, too, is the re-emergence of sentiment as the prince of the critical utensils.  Commentators respond, not to the novel, but to its personnel, whom they want to "care about," in whom they want to "believe."  Such remarks as "I didn't like the characters" are now thought capable of settling the hash of a work of fiction.  This critical approach will eventually elicit what it fully deserves--a literature of ingratiation.  And we will then have reached the destiny that Alexis de Tocqueville predicted for American democracy: a flabby stupor of mutual reassurance.

--The Second Plane by Martin Amis

January  26,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

The old enemy was a superpower; the new enemy isn't even a state.  In the end, the U.S.S.R. was broken by its own contradictions and abnormalities, forced to realize, in Martin Malia's words, that "there is no such thing as socialism, and the Soviet Union built it."  Then, too, socialism was a modernist, indeed a futurist, experiment, whereas militant fundamentalism is convulsed in a late-medieval phase of its evolution.  We would have to sit through a Renaissance and a Reformation, and then await an Enlightenment.  And we're not going to do that.

--The Second Plane by Martin Amis

January  25,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

I was once asked: "Are you an Islamophobe?"  And the answer is no.  What I am is an Islamismophobe, or better say an anti-Islamist, because a phobia is an irrational fear, and it is not irrational to fear something that says it wants to kill you.  The more general enemy, of course, is extremism.  What has extremism done for anyone?  Where are its gifts to humanity?  Where are its works?

--The Second Plane by Martin Amis

January  24,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

There is an obvious end to the amount of purely physical experiment in music, just as there is an obvious end to geographical exploration.  Wyndham Lewis has pointed out that when speed and familiarity have reduced travelling in space to the level of the humdrum those in search of the exotic will have to travel in time, and this is what has already happened in music.  The Impressionist composers vastly speeded up the facilities for space travel in music, exploring the remotest jungles and treating uncharted sea as though they were the Serpentine.  Stravinsky, at one time the globe trotter par excellence can no longer thrill us with his traveller's tales of the primitive steppe and has, quite logically, taken to time travelling instead.  He reminds one of the character in a play be Evreinoff who lives half in the eighteenth century, half in the present.

--Music Ho! by Constant Lambert

January  23,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

But today every composer's overcoat has its corresponding hook in the cloakroom of the past.  Stravinsky's concertos (we have it on the composer's own authority) are 'like' Bach and Mozart; Sauguet's music is admired becase 'c'est dans le vrai tradition de Gounod'; another composer's score is praised because in it 'se retrouvent les graces tincelleantes de Scarlatti'.  The composer can no longer pride himself on being true to himself--he can only receive the pale reflected glory of being true to whichever past composer is credited at the moment with having possessed the Elixir of Life.

It would be a mistake, I think, to put this attitude down to a spiritual humility comparable to the quite natural inferiority complex a modern sculptor might feel in the presence of some early Chinese carving.  It is more in the nature of a last refuge, comparable to the maudlin religiosity of a satiated rake.  After the debauches of the Impressionist period nothing is left to the modern composer in the way of a new frisson save a fashionable repentance.

--Music Ho! by Constant Lambert

January  22,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

This extraordinary speeding up in technical experiment gives a pleasantly vertiginous quality to the Impressionist period, which distinguishes it from all other experimental periods in music; and in spite of the fact that much of their experiment leads us to a blind alley there is an exhilaration of the barricades about the Impressionist composers that imposes a certain gratitude.  'Pioneers, O Pioneers!' we feel as we listen to Iberia, Pierrot Lunaire, and Le Sacre du Printemps.  To be a pioneer is not necessarily the proudest of boasts for a composer--but it is at least something to boast about.  We cannot turn to the present generation and sing: 'Pasticheurs, O Pasticheurs!' with the same grateful enthusiasm.

--Music Ho! by Constant Lambert

January  21,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

Pierrot Lunaire, moreover, cannot be considered an isolated example of the fin-de-sicle quality in Schnberg's music.  Die Glckliche Hand, with its great black cat crouching like an incubus or succubus on the hero, and its green-faced chorus peering through dark violet hangings is in the purest Edgar Allan Poe tradition, while Erwartung, with its vague hints of necrophily, brings in the Kraft-Ebbing touch (Jung at the prow and Freud at the helm) which is the twentieth century's only gift to the 'nineties.  I am not suggesting for a moment that Schnberg rises no higher than the weak decadence of Giraud.  There is in his music a fierce despair, an almost flamelike disgust which recalls the mood of Baudelaire's La Charogne and places it far above the watercolour morbidities of the chosen text.  But at the moment I am not trying to determine the purely musical value of Schnberg's various works--I merely wish to indicate the undoubted neurasthenic strain that is symptomatic of his period, and which can be found in works like Stauss' Salome and Elektra which, musically speaking, are widely differentiated from Schnberg's in technique.

--Music Ho! by Constant Lambert

January  20,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

The 'humanities' : perhaps this was the key word for the 1780s.  It was astonishing how much the upper classes knew.  Fox was an authority on Cassandra of Lycophron, known to scholars as 'the Obscure' : Walpole could read a blazon or print a fine edition or write about the history of Richard III: the classics had been flogged into everybody, so that the Latin poets were quoted as familiarly as educated people now quote Shakespeare: Greek was spouted in the House of Commons, though with no great success: it was in the royal library that Dr Johnson met the bibliophile king: the main legacy of the coarse Sir Robert Walpole was a fabulous collection of pictures: all society went nightly to hear Handel or the Opera: the business of the country had actually been transacted between George I and his First Minister in dog Latin: an Irish earl had possessed the temerity to argue with Bentley: Selwyn, who was an ignoramus, wrote his unimpressive letters instinctively in a mixture of English, French and Italian: in Paris, at Madame de Deffand's and at other salons, the visiting English talked almost as easily in the foreign tongue: and the scandalous Wilkes, who had belonged to the Hell-fire Club and who had set all Britain by the ears in Parliament, retired gracefully to edit Theophrastus.

--The Age of Scandal by T.H. White

January  19,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

The Prince de Kaunitz, who wore satin stays, passed a portion of every morning in walking up and down a room in which four valets puffed a cloud of scented powder, but each of a different colour, in order that it might fall and amalgamate into the exact nuance that best suited their master's taste (CAPTAIN JESSE)

--The Age of Scandal by T.H. White

January  18,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

It is useless to whine.  It has happened.  It is the logical result of our half-baked Victorian humanitarianism.  All men are not equal.  That ridiculous idea of English democracy was invented in the reign of Queen Victoria, and it has now become bureaucracy.

--The Age of Scandal by T.H. White

January  17,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

Well, we have lived to see the end of civilisation in England.  I was once a gentleman myself.  When I was an undergraduate at Cambridge, the Master of a college was a fabulous being, who lived in a Lodge of breath-taking beauty and incalculable antiquity, tended by housemaids, footmen and a butler.  There he consumed vintage port, wrote abstruse treatises if the spirit moved him, and lived the life of an impressive, cultivated gentleman.  Such posts were among the few and noble rewards rightly offered to scholarship by the civilisation which then existed.

When I last stayed in Cambridge, I lunched with two Masters of colleges.  Both of them had to help with the washing-up after luncheon.

--The Age of Scandal by T.H. White

[N.B.:  These are the opening lines to T.H. White's idiosyncratic work about the culture of late-eighteenth century England (that is, right before the Regency).  It is consciously written in the spirit of Lytton Strachey and is as well constructed as a work of well-wrought fiction (no surprise, since T.H. White wrote, among other marvelous things, The Sword in the Stone).  I highly recommend it.]

January  16,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

The cemetery is divided in two halves: French crosses on one side, English headstones on the other.  A place where time and silence have stood their ground.  In the distance, wheat fields and low hedges, trees.  I walk along rows of crosses on each of which is written the single word: INCONNU.  Row after row.  On the English side there are the pale headstones:

A SOLDIER

OF THE GREAT WAR

KNOWN UNTO GOD

In front of each grave there are flowers: flame-bursts of yellow, pink, red, orange.  Apart from roses I recognize none of the flowers; the rest remain unknown, unnamed.

The only sound is of humming bees, of light passing through trees, striking the grass.  Gradually, I become aware that the air is alive with butterflies.  The flowers are thick with the white blur of wings, the rust and black camouflage of Red Admirals, silent as ghosts.  I remember the names of only a few butterflies but I know that the Greek word psyche means both 'soul' and 'butterfly'.  And as I sit and watch, I know also that what I am seeing are the soul of the nameless dead who lie here, fluttering through the perfect air.

--The Missing of the Somme by Geoff Dyer

January  15,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

Theodor Adorno said famously that there could be no poetry after Auschwitz.  Instead, he failed to add, there would be photography.

--The Missing of the Somme by Geoff Dyer

January  14,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

In some ways, then, we talk of the horror of war instinctively and enthusiastically as Rupert Brooke and his contemporaries jumped at the chance of war 'like swimmers into cleanness leaping'.

This is not just a linguistic quibble.  Off-the-peg formulae free you from thinking for yourself about what is being said.  Whenever words are bandied about automatically and easily, their meaning is in the process of leaking away and evaporating.  The ease with which Rupert Brooke coined his 'think only this of me' heroics by embracing a ready-made formula of feeling should alert us to - and make us skeptical of - the ease with which these sentiments have been overruled by another.

--The Missing of the Somme by Geoff Dyer

January  13,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

In 1919, at eleven a.m., not only in Britain but throughout the Empire, all activity ceased.  Traffic came to a standstill.  In workshops and factories and at the Stock Exchange no one moved.  In London not a single telephone call was made.  Trains scheduled to leave at eleven delayed their departures by two minutes; those already in motion stopped.  In Nottingham Assize Court a demobbed soldier was being tried for murder.  At eleven o'clock the whole court, including the prisoner, stood silently for two minutes.  Later in the day the soldier was sentenced to death.

--The Missing of the Somme by Geoff Dyer

[N.B.:  This is a description of the first Armistice Day on November 11th, 1919, the anniversary of the end of the Great War (now known as World War One).]

January  12,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

The Great War ruptured the historical continuum, destroying the legacy of the past.  Wyndham Lewis sounds the characteristic note when he calls it 'the turning-point in the history of the earth', but there is a sense in which, for the British at least, the war helped to preserve the past even as it destroyed it.  Life in the decade and a half preceding 1914 has come to be viewed inevitably and unavoidably through the optic of the war that followed it.  The past as past was preserved by the war that shattered it.  By ushering in a future characterized by instability and uncertainty, it embalmed for ever a past characterized by stability and certainty.

--The Missing of the Somme by Geoff Dyer

January  11,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

On the insensible stone Don Lelio lay, almost inconscious, his form wound in a ligature, marmoreal in white stillness.  His terete members but an hour ago so apt and flexuous, were distorted by incessant twitchings and cold as snow.  Already his lips were livid; they disclosed the purity of teeth clenched and continually strident.  In the pallid throat, palpitated a vein with diminishing rhythm.  Coerulean stains appeared below the flickering lashes of the half-closed eyes.  Like rose-petals in a breeze, even the nostrils quivered.  Bloomed the abhominable unmistakeable pallor on the bow, where the soft caesarial hair was humid with the dew of the breath of Death.

--The Quest for Corvo by A.J.A. Symons

January  10,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

Why continue to think me horrible?  For Goodness' Sake do try to get to the Height of the Comic Cosmic Viewpoint.  You MUST traverse the Valley of the Shadow.  The Realm of White Light is only reached through the Ravine of Ultra-Violet despair.  Get up on the Comic Cone; and peep at yourself in passing.  View your meaningless gyrations and senseless circumlocutions in perspective.  Stop your sulking; and come out on the blue blue blue (turquoise, sapphire, and sometimes) indigo blue (aquamarine) lagoon.  Squatting in your stews, you taint the light-dowered air.  And your livers get into your eyes, and your hearts into your boots.  People who can't change their minds are in danger of losing them.  It is Mirth alone which keeps men sane.  Oh yes--and, Life is Mind out for a Lark.  Well, now?

--The Quest for Corvo by A.J.A. Symons

January  9,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

Dr. and Mrs. van Someren found his company a continual source of pleasure.  Time had added new strings to his conversational bow.  'Have you ever seen serpents sliding out of the eye-holes of skulls?' was one of his openings, derived from his explorations among the islands, one of which he had found to be littered with the whitening bones of Austrians heaped there at the end of the war of liberation.  He talked of the violet evenings and rapid dawns which he had observed from his boat, and had many stories of the quaint behaviour of his young gondoliers, one of whom he frequently described as 'a tiger with a simper'.  There was a story, too, of a dark night when his miserable meditations had been interrupted by arrest as a spy. 

--The Quest for Corvo by A.J.A. Symons

January  8,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

I cannot tell you how profoundly moved I was by your gift, the silver ankh.  I instantly perceived how you, and Harry, must have thought hard till you thought my thoughts.  The evidence was of many kinds, the ankh itself, the size, the metal, AND above all the adornment of it, as never an ankh has been adorned before, with my sign of the crab, and my moon, and my cross-potent-elongate, all of which make it my very, very own.  Such interest in ME, shown by such an exactly intimate knowledge of my secret and not more than half-formed desire and taste, has never been shewn before.  The effect is almost to strike me dumb.  Thank you, I do: but thanks express but feebly what I feel.

--The Quest for Corvo by A.J.A. Symons

[N.B.:  And that, folks, in the good Baron's slightly prolix prose, is why gift cards and the gift of cash, although such presents may reflect generosity (along with the sunshine and the rain that fall on both the just and the damned, indiscriminately), fail to express thoughtfulness as to the individuality of the recipient.  True gifts--as opposed to mere means of support--validate the unique worthiness of the receiver:  I know you and know what would bring you special delight.  Oh, who am I kidding, here's a fiver and quit bugging me.]

January  7,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

The hands of the guilty don't necessarily tremble; only in stories does a dropped glass betray agitation.  Tension is more often shown in the studied action.

--The Third Man by Graham Greene

January  6,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

'What I disliked about him at first sight,' Martins told me, 'was his toupe.  It was one of those obvious toupes - flat and yellow, with the hair cut straight at the back and not fitting close.  There must be something phoney about a man who won't accept baldness gracefully.

--The Third Man by Graham Greene

January  5,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

As we drove away I noticed Martins never looked behind - it's nearly always the fake mourners and the fake lovers who take that last look, who wait waving on platforms, instead of clearing quickly out, not looking back.  It is perhaps that they love themselves so much and want to keep themselves in the sight of others, even of the dead?

--The Third Man by Graham Greene

January  4,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

To me it is almost impossible to write a film play without first writing a story.  Even a film depends on more than plot, on a certain measure of characterisation, on mood and atmosphere; and these seem to me almost impossible to capture for the first time in the dull shorthand of a script.  One can reproduce an effect caught in another medium, but one cannot make the first act of creation in script form.  One must have the sense of more material than one needs to draw on.  The Third Man, therefore, thought never intended for publication, had to start as a story before those apparently interminable transformations from one treatment to another.

--Preface to The Third Man by Graham Greene