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ARCHIVED ENTRIES FOR JANUARY 2011
 

 

 

January  31,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

"There is no particular wisdom in the East," she said to Argalia.  "All human beings are foolish to the same degree."

--The Enchantress of Florence by Salmon Rushdie

January  30,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

Order was restored and the risk of a coup eliminated.  (Many years later, when Argalia told il Machia about these deeds, he justified them by saying:  "When a prince takes power he should do his worst right away, because after that his every deed will strike his subjects as an improvement on the way he started out," and on hearing this il Machia grew silent and thoughtful and, after a time, slowly nodded his head.  "Terrible" he told Argalia, "but true.")

--The Enchantress of Florence by Salmon Rushdie

January  29,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

"What technique?" Ago asked.

"In the Rhetorica it's called by the same name, the memory palace," il Machia answered.  "You build a building in your head, you learn your way around it, and then you start attaching memories to its various features, its furniture, its decorations, whatever you choose.  If you attach a memory to a particular location you can remember an enormous amount by walking around the place in your head."

--The Enchantress of Florence by Salmon Rushdie

January  28,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

A man who always tells his story in the same words is exposed as a liar who has rehearsed his lie too well.

--The Enchantress of Florence by Salmon Rushdie

January  27,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

"Paradox, sire," Mogor dell'Amore answered cheekily, "is a knot that allows a man to seem intelligent even as it is trussing his brain like a hen bound for the pot.  'In death lies the meaning of life!'  'A man's wealth engenders his soul's poverty!'  And so violence may become gentleness, and ugliness beauty, and any blessed thing its opposite.  This is indeed a hall of mirrors, full of illusions and inversions.  A man may wallow in the bogs of paradox until his last day without ever thinking a clear thought worthy of the name."

--The Enchantress of Florence by Salmon Rushdie

January  26,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

Akbar had decided that this revolutionary temple would not be a permanent building.  Argument itself--and no deity, however mutilimbed or almighty--would here be the only god.  but reason was a mortal divinity, a god that died, and even if it was subsequently reborn it inevitably died again.  Ideas were like the tides of the sea or the phases of the moon; they came into being, rose, and grew in their proper time, and then ebbed, darkened, and vanished when the great wheel turned.  They were tempoarary dwellings, like tents, and a tent was their proper home.

--The Enchantress of Florence by Salmon Rushdie

January  25,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

The emperor Abul-Fath Jalaluddin Muhammad, king of kings, known since his childhood as akbar, meaning "the great," and latterly, in spite of the tautology of it, as Akbar the Great, the great great one, great in his greatness, doubly great, so great that the repetition in his title was not only appropriate but necessary in order to express the gloriousness of his glory--the Grand Mughal, the dusty, battle-weary, victorious, pensive, incipiently overweight, disenchanted, mustachioed, poetic, oversexed, and absolute emperor, who seemed altogether too magnificent, too world-encompassing, and, in sum, too much to be a single human personage--this all-engulfing flood of a ruler, this swallower of worlds, this many-headed monster who referred to himself in the first person plural--had begun to meditate, during his long, tedious journey home, on which he was accompanied by the heads of his defeated enemies bobbing in their sealed earthen pickle-jars, about the disturbing possibilities of the first person singular--the "I."

--The Enchantress of Florence by Salmon Rushdie

[N.B.:  Yes, Rushdie is slumming here (indeed, he's been slumming for some time now) with this Renaissance Bollywood Bodice-Ripper, but just sit back and marvel at that one long, sinuous sentence.]

January  24,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

Men have died--worms have eaten them--but not for love.

--Nowhere Man by Aleksander Hemon

January  23,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

I wanted to be alone, but you couldn't be alone with Jozef--he brought buckets of cold world into your life and poured it over your head and you gasped for air.

--Nowhere Man by Aleksander Hemon

January  22,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

Jozef and I shared a room, which was, to put it mildly, ascetic: bare walls (although my memory keeps stretching on its toes to hang up a Lenin picture); steel-frame beds with thin, sunken mattresses; a wobbly chair and a wobblier desk, which sported two symmetrical nails on the insides of its rear legs, a student-torture contraption.

--Nowhere Man by Aleksander Hemon

January  21,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

Humid evening heat; the streets covered with a dark, oily placenta.

--Nowhere Man by Aleksander Hemon

January  20,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

They learned more songs for the late party hours, going deeper into the feeling the Bosnians call sevdah--a feeling of pleasant soul pain, when you are at peace with your woeful life, which allows you to enjoy this very moment with abandon.

--Nowhere Man by Aleksander Hemon

January  19,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

'I should prefer to give away half of my kingdom and to give the Lieutenant-Generalship to Guise, and to be recognised by him and by the whole kingdom than still to tremble, as we do now, lest worse befall the King.  I know this is a hard medicine for him to swallow, but it is harder yet to lose all authority and obedience.'  Then she proferred the old formula that had served heer so well int he past: 'It would be much to his credit if he were to come to terms in whatever way he could for the present; for time often brings many things which one cannot foresee, and we admire those who know how to yield to time in order to preseve themselves.'

--Catherine de Medici: Renaissance Queen of France by Leonie Frieda

January  18,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

Catherine also promoted the use of scent.  (Florence claims one of the oldest perfumeries in the modern world, set up at the convent of Santa maria Novella.)  Since personal hygiene as we know it today was practically non-existent, body odours could be quite overwhelming.  Both men and women used quantities of scent to disguise their malodorousness; even pet animals were given a liberal sprinkling.  At Grasse, which had become a large glove-making centre, urine was applied in the tanning process; but to remove the unpleasant stench the tanners sprinkled perfume.  Thus gloves were scented and even after glove-making in Grasse collapsed in the eighteenth century, the perfume industry that had been set up there on the florentine model continued to thrive (as it does to this day).  This lack of personal hygiene and the rarely cleaned many-layered clothes also meant a constant infestation of fleas.  Taffeta was used as much as possible because of the belief that it acted as a deterrent.

--Catherine de Medici: Renaissance Queen of France by Leonie Frieda

January  17,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

The more irreconcilable modern opponents of mass culture are fond of quoting [Leslie Stephen's] remark that 'really the value of second-rate literatue is nil'; they conveniently overlook the fact that on another occasion he could reflect that 'all books are good, that is to say there is scarcely any book that may not serve as a match to fire our enthusiasm'.  Must one point out that neither statement is meant to be taken entirely literally, or treated as absolute dogma?  Yes, I suppose one must - as though it were not the most natural thing in the world to feel in certain moods that only a handful of writers are ultimately worth bothering with, and at other times that a diet of nothing but the classics would be intolerable.

--The Rise and Fall of the Man of Letters by John Gross

January  16,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

Admittedly of the two it was Hutton who came closer to being a representative spokesman for educated mid-Victorian critical opinion; but then in literature, at least, a representative spokesman is surely a rather dismal thing to be.

--The Rise and Fall of the Man of Letters by John Gross

January  15,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

Critics of mass culture have a trick of weighing the worst of the present against the best of the past, and for all his usual scrupulousness Mill is by no means immune.  It is tempting, indeed, to take his insights for granted, and to concentrate on picking holes in his more dubious assertions.  Since his time we have had more than our fill of critics ready to smother us with blanket denunciations of the modern world, critics who talk as thought the over-all quality of life in a society were an easy thing to assess.  There is a bad, false tradition which has grown up among literary men of assuming that it is permissible to measure a culture in terms of, say, advertisements but not of anaesthetics.  (A banal consideration?  Anyone who thinks so would do well, before protesting, to ponder some of the evidence: the quality of life depicted, for example, in Rowlandson's drawing of an eighteenth-century gentleman having his leg sawn off).

--The Rise and Fall of the Man of Letters by John Gross

January  14,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

The main reason why a satisfactory history of journalism will never be written is that journalism itself is such an elastic term.  In the 1830s it could have been stretched to cover the activities of the editor of the Edinburgh Review and the editor of the Eatenswill Gazette, the writings of a William Maginn and of a John Stuart Mill.  The men were all journalists only in the sense that, say, St Augustine, Talleyrand and Dr Proudie were all bishops: the form tells one nothing about the function.  It goes without saying, for instance, that a man of Mill's statute had no more use than Carlyle for a journalistic success as an end in itself, any more than he did for vague literary aspirations conceived, like Arthur Pendennis's, in a moral and intellectual vacuum.  When the committee of the Neophyte Writers' Society optimistically applied to him for support they were firmly slapped down.  'There is already,' he told them, 'an abundance, not to say superabundance of writers who are able to express in an effective manner the mischievous commonplaces which they have got to say' - and he was utterly opposed to encouraging scribble for its own sake.

--The Rise and Fall of the Man of Letters by John Gross

January  13,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

Journalism is a career; literature is, or ought to be, a vocation.  Few major nineteenth-century writers would have gone quite as far as Ruskin, who dismissed the entire output of Fleet Street as 'so many square leagues of dirtily printed falsehood', but most of them viewed the growth of the press as a very mixed blessing indeed.  It gave them a powerful new platform, and at the same time drowned out what they were trying to say with triviality and claptrap.  Nor could they take the same unalloyed pleasure that lesser men did in the improved position of authors as a social group.  This kind of petty haggling over status was the epitome of half the ignoble things they were fighting against.  In principle, at least, they saw themselves as witnesses to the truth, or nothing.

--The Rise and Fall of the Man of Letters by John Gross

[N.B.:  John Gross just died and so I thought it might be fitting to include a few quotations from what will be his best-remembered work.]

January  12,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

Do not open your minds to the filtering of the fallacious doctrine that it is less infamous to murder men for their politics than for their religion or their money, or that the courage to execute the deed is worse than the cowardice to excuse it.

--Lectures on the French Revolution by John Emerich Edward Dalberg-Acton

January  11,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

But you will find that murder, approved and acknowledged, is not an epidemic peculiar to any time, or any ocuntry, or any opinion.  We need not include hot-blooded nations of th eSouth in order to define it as one characteristic of modern Monarchy.  You may trace it in the Kings of France, Francis I., Charles IX., Henry III., Lewis XIII, Lewis XIV., in the Emperors Ferdinand I. and II., in Elizabeth Tudor and Mary Stuart, in James and William.  Still more if you consider a class of men, not much worse, according to general estimate, than their neighbours, that is,  the historians.  They have praise and hero-worship for nearly every one of these anointed culprits.  The strong man with the dagger is followed by the weaker man with the sponge.  First, the criminal who slays; then the sophist who defends the slayer.

--Lectures on the French Revolution by John Emerich Edward Dalberg-Acton

January  10,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

It's amazing how right you can sometimes be about a person you don't know; it's only the people you do know who confuse you.

--The Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy

January  9,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

But that was not the only reason he always turned up so late.  There was another one, as I suspected when he formed the habit of meeting me around eleven at the Ritz bar: it was that he simply refused to do anything in a straightforward way.  He felt that his unpunctuality increased his mystery and desirability.

The unfortunate thing was that he had reckoned without my naïveté.  I was honestly so thrilled at being at the Ritz in the first place that I didn't mind how long I was kept waiting.

--The Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy

January  8,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

Real, I thought . . . whatever that meant.  I looked at the Sorbonne students surging around us, the tables fairly rocking under their pounding fists and thumping elbows.  The whole vast panoramic carpet seemed to be woven out of old boots, checkered wool and wild, fuzzy hair.  I don't suppose there is anything on earth to compare with a Frence student cafe in the late morning.  You couldn't possibly reproduce the same numbers, noice, and intensity anywhere else without producing a riot as well. 

--The Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy

January  7,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

The phraseology throughout Nixon's address to the nation was pure Patton, though his slurred delivery and sweaty countenance sabotaged any intended resemblance.  'I would rather be a one-term President and do what I believe was right,' he intoned, 'than to be a two-term President at the cost of seeing America become a second-rate power and to see this nation accept the first defeat in its proud 190-year history.'  Or, as George C. Scott declared in Patton's opening monologue, delivered against the backdrop of a huge Stars and Stripes: 'Americans love a winner and will not tolerate a loser.  Americans play to win all the time.  I wouldn't give a hoot in hell for a man who lost and laughed.  That's why Americans never lost and never will lost a war, because the very thought of losing is hateful to Americans.'

--Strange Days Indeed by Francis Wheen

[N.B.:  Strangely enough, less than a year ago, Obama made a very similar remark that he'd "rather be a really good one-term president than a mediocre two-term president."  Maybe Obama is the new Nixon (or, even more bizarrely, the new Patton).]

January  6,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

The world we now inhabit, and often take for granted, was gestated in that unpromising decade.  The first call on a handheld mobile phone was made on 3 April 1973 in New York City by its inventor Martin Cooper of Motorola, who had been inspired by Captain Kirk's portable 'communicator' in Star Trek.  The first personal computer, the MITS Altair, appeared on the cover of Popular Electronics in January 1975, prompting a nineteen-year-old Harvard student, Bill Gates, and his friend Paul Allen to design a Basic operating system for it.  Their partnership, initially called Micro-soft (sic), had total earnings that year of $16,005.   (By the end of the century, its annual revenue was more than $20 billion.)  On April Fool's Day 1976, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak unveiled their Apple I computer.

--Strange Days Indeed by Francis Wheen

January  5,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

When [Kissinger] heard about the tapes, more than two years later, he was mortified to realise that the drunken madman in the White House - 'the meatball mind' - had outsmarted him.  'We are going to look perfect fools when all the tapes are released,' he told Ehrlichman, who had also been out of the loop.  'Nixon will be heard delivering one of his tirades, saying all sorts of outrageous things, and we will be sitting there quietlly, not protesting or disagreeing.  You and I know that's how we had to do business with, but we will be judged harshly . . .'  Which was, of course, precisely the intention.  Nixon himself described the tapes as 'my best insurance against the unforeseeable future.  I was prepared to believe that others, even people close to me, would turn against me . . . and in that case the tapes would at least give me some protection.'

--Strange Days Indeed by Francis Wheen

January  4,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

Nancy Dickerson was woken just after 1 a.m. by Nixon ringing to enquire plaintively why the media couldn't learn to love him.  'I'm the best thing they've got,' he whined.  'I'm the only President they have.'  He then asked suddenly if she'd be at the White House church service on Sunday.  'That man has not been drinking,' Dickerson told her husband when she put down the phone, 'but I would feel better if he had been.'

--Strange Days Indeed by Francis Wheen

January  3,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

Philip Larkin, recording the start of free love in 1963, lamented that this was 'rather late for me'.  For me, alas, it was rather too early.  I came to the party a full decade later, on 27 December 1973, when I caught a train to London from suburban Kent, having left a note on the kitchen table advising my parents that I'd gone to join the alternative society and wouldn't be back.  An hour or so later, clutching my rucksack and guitar, I arrived at the 'BIT Alternative Help and Information Centre,' a hippy hang-out on Westbourne Park Road which I'd often seen mentioned in the underground press.  'Hi,' I chirruped.  'I've dropped out.'  I may even have babbled something about wanting to build the counter-culture.  This boyish enthusiasm was met by groans from a furry freak slumped on the threadbare sofa.  'Drop back in, man,' he muttered through a dense foliage of beard.  'You're too late . . . It's over'.  And so it was.

--Strange Days Indeed by Francis Wheen