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ARCHIVED ENTRIES FOR JANUARY 2014

January  31,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

Three thousand people, or perhaps as many as five thousand, ended up in prison, and twice that number died, to the joy of hyenas and jackals that came from far away to roam the woods in search for food.  For a long time those woods laughed and howled all night long.

--The Emperor: Downfall of an Autocrat by Ryszard Kapuscinski

January  30,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

There is a sort of inverse proportionality between the corpulence of folders and of people.  He who wears himself out, loses weight, and wastes away in fighting against the Palace has a folder that grows fatter and fatter.  On the other hand, he who plants himself with dignified loyalty at His Majesty's side grows fat with favors while his folder remains as thin as the membrane of a bladder.

--The Emperor: Downfall of an Autocrat by Ryszard Kapuscinski

January  29,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

Whoever wanted to climb the steps of the Palace had first of all to master the negative knowledge: what was forbidden to him and his subalterns, what was not to be said or written, what should not be done, what should not be overlooked or neglected.  Only from such negative knowledge could positive knowledge be born--but that positive knowledge always remained obscure and worrisome, because no matter how well they knew what not to do, the Emperor's favorites ventured only with extreme caution and uncertainty into the area of propositions and postulates.  There they would immediately look to His Distinguished Majesty, waiting to hear what he would say.  And since His Majesty had the habit of being silent, waiting, and postponing things, they, too, were silent, waited, and postponed things.

--The Emperor: Downfall of an Autocrat by Ryszard Kapuscinski

January  28,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

Money in a poor country and money in a rich country are two different things.  In a rich country, money is a piece of paper with which you buy goods on the market.  You are only a customer.  Even a millionaire is only a customer.  He may purchase more, but he remains a customer, nothing more.  And in a poor country?  In a poor country, money is a wonderful, thick hedge, dazzling and always blooming, which separates you from everything else.  Through that hedge you do not see creeping poverty, you do not smell the stench of misery, and you do not hear the voices of the human dregs.  But at the same time you know that all of that exists, and you feel proud because of your hedge.  You have money; that means you have wings.  You are the bird of paradise that everyone admires.

--The Emperor: Downfall of an Autocrat by Ryszard Kapuscinski

[N.B.:  Now you know what Ethiopia and the United States have in common.]

January  27,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

I'll come out and say it: the King of Kings preferred bad ministers.  And the King of Kings preferred them because he liked to appear in a favorable light by contrast.  How could he show himself favorably if he were surrounded by good ministers?  The people would be disoriented.  Where would they look for help?  On whose wisdom and kindness would they depend?  Everyone would have been good and wise.  What disorder would have broken out in the Empire then!  Instead of one sun, fifty would be shining, and everyone would pay homage to a privately chosen planet.

--The Emperor: Downfall of an Autocrat by Ryszard Kapuscinski

January  26,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

The faction of "personal people" was a peculiarity of our regime, created by the Emperor himself.  His Supreme Majesty, a partisan of a strong state and centralized power, had to lead a cunning and skillful fight against the aristocratic faction, which wanted to rule in the provinces and have a weak, pliable Emperor.  But he could not fight the aristocracy with his own hands, so he always promoted into is circle, as representatives of the people, bright young men from the lowest orders, chosen from the lowest ranks of the plebeians, picked often on little more than a hunch from the mobs that surrounded His Majesty whenever he went among the people.  These "personal people" of the Emperor, dragged straight from our desperate and miserable provinces into the salons of the highest courtiers--where they met the undisguised hatred of the long-established aristocrats--served the Emperor with an almost indescribable eagerness, indeed a passion, for they had quickly tasted the splendors of the Palace and the evident charms of power, and they knew that they had arrived there, come within reach of the highest state dignities, only through the will of His Highness.  It was to them that the Emperor would entrust the positions requiring greatest confidence: the Ministry of the Pen, the Emperor's political police, and the superintendency of the Palace were manned by such people.

--The Emperor: Downfall of an Autocrat by Ryszard Kapuscinski

January  25,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

The arms of the plebeians were inferior and often quite old: flintlocks, breechloaders, muskets, shotguns, a whole museum to carry on one's back.  Most of these antiques are useless because nobody produces ammunition for them any more.  Thus, on the street market the bullet is often worth more than the gun.  Bullets are the most valuable currency in that market, more in demand than dollars.  After all, what is a dollar but paper?  A bullet can save your life.  Bullets make your weapons more significant, and that makes you more significant.

--The Emperor: Downfall of an Autocrat by Ryszard Kapuscinski

January  24,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

First of all, one can't unmask oneself too early, showing the rapacity for power, because that galvanizes competitors, making them rise to combat.  They will strike and destroy the one who has moved to the fore.  No, one should walk in step for years, making sure not to spring ahead, waiting attentively for the right moment.  In 1930 this game brought His Majesty the crown, which he kept for forty-four years.

--The Emperor: Downfall of an Autocrat by Ryszard Kapuscinski

January  23,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

Face rubbed against face, the taller ones squelching down the shorter ones, the darker ones over-shadowing the lighter ones.  Face despised face, the older ones moving in front of the younger ones, the weaker ones giving way to the stronger ones.  Face hated face, the common ones clashing with the noble ones, the grasping ones against the weaklings.  Face crushed face, but even the humiliated ones, the ones pushed away, the third-raters and the defeated ones, even those--from a certain distance imposed by the law of hierarchy, it's true--still moved toward the front showing here and there from behind the first-rate, titled ones, if only as fragments: an ear, a piece of temple, a cheek or a jaw . . . just to be closer to the Emperor's eye!

--The Emperor: Downfall of an Autocrat by Ryszard Kapuscinski

January  22,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

Let's says that the Imperial gaze just grazes your face--just grazes!  You could say that it was really nothing, but on the other hand, how could it really be nothing, when it did graze you?  Immediately you feel the temperature of your face rise, and the blood rush to your head, and your heart beat faster.  These are the best proofs that the eye of the Protector has touched you, but so what?  These proofs are of no importance at the moment.  More important is the process that might have taken place in His Majesty's memory.  You see, it was known that His Majesty, not using his powers of reading and writing, had a phenomenally developed visual memory.  On this gift of nature the owner of the face over which the Imperial gaze had passed could build his hopes.  Because he could already count on some passing trace, even an indistinct trace, having imprinted itself in His Highness's memory. 

--The Emperor: Downfall of an Autocrat by Ryszard Kapuscinski

January  21,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

As I've mentioned, Haile Selassie never commented on or questioned the reports he received, during his morning walks, about the state of conspiracy in the Empire.  But he knew what he was doing, as I shall show you.  His Highness wanted to receive the reports in a pure state, because if he asked questions or expressed opinions the informant would obligingly adjust his report to meet the Emperor's expectations.  Then the whole system of informing would collapse into subjectivity and fall prey to anyone's willfulness. 

--The Emperor: Downfall of an Autocrat by Ryszard Kapuscinski

January  20,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

The occupation to which these people devoted themselves was hard and dangerous.  They lived in fear of not reporting something in time and falling into disgrace, or of a competitor's reporting it better so that the Emperor would think, "Why did Solomon give me a feast today and Makomen only bring me leftovers?  Did he say nothing because he didn't know, or did he hold his tongue because he belongs to the conspiracy?"  Hadn't His Distinguished Highness often experienced, at cost to himself, betrayal by his most trusted allies?  That's why the Emperor punished silence.

--The Emperor: Downfall of an Autocrat by Ryszard Kapuscinski

January  19,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

Immediately the armistice had been signed, German engineers prepared to move Foch's wagon-lit in triumph to Berlin.*  With a barbarity worthy of Genghis Khan, Hitler decreed that--excepting Foch's statue--the site should be totally razed.  He then set off on a tour of First World War battlefields, together with two old comrades from the company in which he had served as a corporal, taking in some of the Maginot Line forts--like any German tourist--before returning to Berlin to organise the celebrations that would suitably commemorate this astonishing victory.  For Hitler, as for many of his soldiers, the war was over.  France, the archenemy, was prostrate at last; Britain no longer counted, she would fall like a plum from a tree in due course. Russia did not exist; America did not exist.  Ever since that day of humiliation at Versailles, it was France alone that had obsessed German thoughts.  Karl Heinz Mende summed them up well when, writing home about the armistice, he said; "The great battle in France is now ended.  It lasted twenty-six years. . . ."

* Where it was later destroyed in an RAF air raid.

--To Lose a Battle: France 1940 by Alistair Horne

January  18,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

When Huntziger and his co-delegates, dazed and weary from the journey, realised they were being led to Foch's wagon-lit, they were deeply shocked.  Together with his service chiefs, Ribbentrop and Hess, Hitler had already arrived at the clearing.  In warm sunshine he strode up to the great granite block and meticulously read the inscription on it:

HERE ON THE ELEVENTH OF NOVEMBER 1918 SUCCUMBED THE CRIMINAL PRIDE OF THE GERMAN PEOPLE . . .

Fifty yards away, Shirer was intently studying Hitler's expression through binoculars:

It is afire with scorn, anger, hate, revenge, triumph.  He steps off the monument and contrives to make even this gesture a masterpiece of contempt. . . . Suddenly . . . he throws his whole body into harmony with his mood.  He swiftly snaps his hands on his hips, arches his shoulders, plants his feet wide apart.  It is a magnificent gesture of defiance, of burning contempt for this place now and all that it has stood for in the twenty-two years since it witnessed the humbling of the German Empire.

Then Hitler led the way into the railway coach.

--To Lose a Battle: France 1940 by Alistair Horne

January  17,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

There is something infinitely pathetic about Pétain in these days.  Except when mention of the troops and their suffering would snap him to life, there were long periods when he seemed not to be aware of what was going on.  Reynaud notes in his memoirs that after Weygand had delivered his account of the fighting at the Cabinet meeting of June 9th, "Marshal Petain said nothing.  He seemed to be asleep, prostrated.  I questioned him.  'Don't you want to express an opinion, Marshal?  These gentlemen are anxious to hear you.'  'I've nothing to say,' he replied."  Listening to 'that thin voice and cough" on the radio, Arthur Koestler was reminded of "a skeleton with a chill" and somehow it was such images of the grave and "the snows of yesteryear" that most struck people on encountering Pétain in these days.

--To Lose a Battle: France 1940 by Alistair Horne

January  16,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

Yet, amid all the adverse accounts from these days of France's expiring agony, one episode at least will always leap froth from French history books in a blaze of glory, the kind of glory belonging almost to a past age.  On June 19th, the day Pétain was asking for an armistice, Bock's panzers had reached Saumur on the Loire, the site of the famous cavalry school.  Though still under instruction, the young cadets decided that they would not allow the school to fall without a fight.  Armed only with training weapons, they held the Saumur bridges for two whole days against panzers--until at last their ammunition ran out.

--To Lose a Battle: France 1940 by Alistair Horne

[N.B.:  Screenplay, anyone?]

January  15,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

At Lens, [General William E.] Ironside found Billotte with Blanchard, the commander of the French First Army.  They were both, he said, "in a state of complete depression.  No plan, no thought of a plan.  Ready to be slaughtered.  Defeated at the head without casualties.  Très fatigués and nothing doing."  There ensued an angry scene.  The British CIGS was also--to foreign eyes--something of a caricature of an Englishman; aged fifty-nine, he had been the original prototype for Buchan's Richard Hannay and stood six foot four (inevitably, this had gained him the nickname "Tiny").  In Army circles he had openly referred to Secretary of State Hore-Belisha as "that little monkey," the Cabinet as "the old gentlemen," and had a healthy, Kiplingesque contempt for those "lesser breeds."  In a rage he must have presented a daunting figure before the two distressed French generals of modest stature.  Ironside admits he lost his temper and "shook Billotte by the button of his tunic.  The man is completely beaten," he added contemptuously for the benefit of his diary.

--To Lose a Battle: France 1940 by Alistair Horne

January  14,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

Whatever sympathy the horse tribes may once have inspired was gone.  The idea was to annihilate them, both in retribution for what they had done and to prevent future attacks.  Chivington was their champion, and he believed God was on his side.  "Damn any man who sympathizes with the Indians!" he said.  "I have come to kill Indians, and I believe it is right and honorable to use any means under god's heaven to kill Indians."  To encourage recruitment into the volunteer units, he displayed the mutilated corpses of a white family of four next to the enlistment table.  He spoke enthusiastically of "taking scalps" and "wading in gore."  His instructions to his men, which later became famous, were unambiguous:  "Kill and scalp all, big and little.  Nits make lice."

--Empire of the Summer Moon by S. C. Gwynne

[N.B.: Chivington is an odd figure in history--he got his start fighting Texans in the Civil War as a Union abolitionist.  A true scoundrel, Chivington spent his life as a rogue falling from one scrape into another.  But irony, or ironies, he died a hero and his funeral was attended by thousands.  I do believe there's a good Hollywood bio-pic in them thar details.]

January  13,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

Texas was thus left alone, broke and militarily punchless, for ten years to confront two implacable enemies: Mexico on the south, and the Comanche nation on the west and north.  The fledgling country would never know peace.  Mexican incursions persisted; the city of San Antonio was captured twice by large Mexican armies in 1842.  Raids were constant, as was the predation of itinerant bandits across the border.  And Texas's western frontier was the scene of continuous attacks by Comanches.  It is interesting to note Texas's peculiar position here: Neither of these enemies would have accepted peace on the terms the new republic would have offered them.  Even more remarkably, neither would accept surrender.  The Mexican army consistently gave no quarter, most famously at the Alamo.  All Texan combatants were summarily shot.  The Nermernuh, meanwhile, did not even have a word for surrender.  In plains warfare there was never any such thing; it was always a fight to the death.  In this sense, the Texans did not have the usual range of diplomatic options.  They had to fight.

--Empire of the Summer Moon by S. C. Gwynne

January  12,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

The whole point of drawing is choosing the right line.

--Philip Larkin, June 15, 1943

[Epigram to Introduction in the September 2008 edition of Poetry]

January  11,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

Art is so much the most exciting thing in the world

--Philip Larkin, June 15, 1943

[Epigram to Introduction in the September 2008 edition of Poetry]

January  10,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

Years ago, when I was the Chicago stringer for Art in America, I faced a dilemma not unlike the one Jason Guriel describes in March's Poetry.  The magazine usually let me review only one exhibition per issue.  Why write a negative review?  There were good artists who could use the publicity; why waste the slot in telling the general reader that someone in Chicago he'd never heard of was no good?

So I wrote favorable reviews until I felt it beginning to injure my soul.  Some of this was the usual disquiet about being a part of the art marketing system: What's the difference between writing, "Joe Blow's new paintings are his best ever," and writing, "With new Crest toothpaste you'll have 74% fewer cavities?"  Not too much; both sets of words will be used to sell a product.

But on a deeper level, honest criticism involves a word that has fallen into disfavor: discrimination.  You have to be discriminating; you have to say this is great, this is good, and this is bad.  It's the middle value in such discrimination that makes the critic's job harder.  If something's great, you can rave about it; if something's terrible, you slam it; but the hardest books or exhibitions to review are those that can be summed up as "professional."  They're competent, honorable, and well-meaning, but six months later you can't remember reviewing them

--Reagan Upshaw letter to the editor in May 2009 edition of Poetry

[N.B.:  Mr. Upshaw alludes to perhaps the most terrible aspect of creating art:  In the long run--which, as Milord Keynes has so pithily put it, we'll be dead--all that survives is that which is not just great, but the best of the best.  So what can be recognized today at that middle category of art--the merely good--shall suffer the same fate as the bad: oblivion.  In the long run, good and bad art mean exactly the same thing and will be remembered in the same way.  The professional shall lie down with the unprofessional, the amateur in the same cold, dark grave.]

January  9,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

Lord Copper quite often gave banquets; it would be an understatement to say that no one enjoyed them at all, while Lord copper positively exulted in every minute.  For him they satisfied every requirement of a happy evening's entertainment; like everything that was to Lord Copper's taste, they were a little over life-size, unduly large and unduly long; they took place in restaurants which existed solely for such purposes, amid decorations which reminded Lord Copper of his execrable country seat at East Finchley; the provisions were copious, very bad and very expensive; the guests were assembled for no other reason than that Lord Copper had ordered it; they did not want to see each other; they had no reason to rejoice in the occasions which Lord Copper celebrated; they were there either because it was part of their job or because they were glad of a free dinner.  Many were already on Lord Copper's pay-roll and they thus found their working day prolonged by some three hours without recompense - with the forfeit, indeed, of the considerable expenses of dressing up, coming out at night, and missing the last train home; those who were normally the slaves of other masters were, Lord Copper felt, his for the evening.  He had bought them and bound them, hand and foot, with consommé and cream of chicken, turbot and saddle, duck and pêche Melba, and afterwards when the cigars had been furtively pocketed and the brandy glasses filled with the horrible brown compound for which Lord Copper was paying two pounds a bottle, there came the golden hour when he rose to speak at whatever length he liked and on whatever subject, without fear of rivalry or interruption.

--Scoop by Evelyn Waugh

January  8,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

"By the way, did Boot ever come and see me?"

"No, Lord Copper."

"But I asked for him."

"Yes, Lord Copper."

"Then why was she not brought?  Once and for all, Salter, I will not have a barrier erected between me and my staff.  I am accessible to the humblest . . ."  Lord Copper paused for an emphatic example . . . "the humblest book reviewer as I am to my immediate entourage.  I will have no cliques in the Beast, you understand me?"

--Scoop by Evelyn Waugh

January  7,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

Remember how tremendous it was in the canteen having sausages and chips and a cup of tea and listening to the Forces' Programme?  While some poor sod in the same barrack-room was on guard?  Same idea.  Going abroad teaches you how important small comforts are.  But I knew all about that already, see?  And then there's the weather.  It does make everything seem romantic, there's no getting away from that.  But aren't we supposed to have grown out of all that type of stuff?  It's just as much an evasion as looking at the telly, only more expensive and you can't stop it when you want to and go out to the pub, you have to wait for your ship.  Then when you get home you realise how much you like it here.

--I Like It Here by Kingsley Amis

January  6,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

Bowen thought about Fielding.  Perhaps it was worth dying in your forties if two hundred years later you were the only non-contemporary novelist who could be read with unaffected and whole-hearted interest, the only one who never had to be apologised for or excused on the grounds of changing taste.  And how enviable to live in the world of his novels, where duty was plain, evil arose out of male violence and a starving wayfarer could be invited indoors without hesitation and without fear.  Did that make it a simplified world?  Perhaps, but that hardly mattered beside the existence of a moral seriousness that could be made apparent without the aid of evangelical puffing and blowing.

--I Like It Here by Kingsley Amis

January  5,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

One of the insidious effects of abroad was to delude you into thinking that there were some things you had to come abroad in order to find out.  He had squashed that one pretty effectively, he remembered thinking, a couple of times already.  And yet here it was again.  It just showed how careful you had to be.

--I Like It Here by Kingsley Amis

January  4,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

"In England, it's  from the sons of the rich men that you draw so many of your splendid public servants, your officials in the colonies, your administrators, and your novelists and poets too.  But these [Portuguese]--they think of nothing but cars and new clothes and entertaining themselves.  They're like women.  Here in Portugal we have conscription, as you have in England.  But these bright lads will never join the Army; their pappas will see to that, bribe some fashionable doctor to give a medical certificate that they're unfit.  You imagine if that was tried in England.  Your Queen herself joined your women's Army.  You imagine the row which would be kicked up if some rich Englishman tried to keep his son from conscription.  No, my dear fellow.  The rich men of a country, if they have the sense of responsibility, can be everybody's salvation.  Without that responsibility they bring shame and ruin."

--I Like It Here by Kingsley Amis

January  3,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

Bowen rather liked what he had heard about Portuguese laws.  One extra good one said that any restaurant meal that included meat must also include free wine.  another one said that you could eat one course at a restaurant and then validly plead hunger in your defence when the time came to reveal that you had no money.  These were measures that no British Government could hope to get through, unless perhaps they were drafted to exclude from their provisions all poets, painters and sculptors, both supposed and real.

--I Like It Here by Kingsley Amis

January  2,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

After a time they reached the coast road, the estuary of the Tagus on their left.  Everything looked cheerful, expensive and brand-new, even vaguely important.  Perhaps it was all to do with the sun and how bright it was.  It was a pity that such terrible people said that colours were brighter in the south, because they were right.  Oh well, they talked so much that they were bound to be right occasionally, just by accident.

--I Like It Here by Kingsley Amis