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ARCHIVED ENTRIES FOR JULY 2008

July  31,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

Perhaps he had been acting ever since.  It was easier to be cynical, cold, skeptical, pessimistic; easier, because almost everything in the world justified a pessimistic interpretation; easier, because if you said cynical things, people supposed you cleverer than if you said positive, obvious things.  Was it ever as crude and as blatantly self-conscious as that?

--Wise Virgin by A.N. Wilson

July  30,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

'Bind fast his corky arms!' she had gleefully, lugubriously exclaimed.  Melanie had repeated it in the same flat tones which she had used the first time.  Miss Russenberger was reading Gloucester's part, so she had to be quiet while Melanie said, 'Bind him I say' in the dullest, quietest voice; then Chantal (who hated Miss Russenberger_ had injected real venom into 'Hard, hard.  O filthy traitor,' and lots of the set had sniggered.  Tibba had sniggered with the rest, but only because she was hating the play so much.   It did not seem to be a dignified tragedy, like Phdre, nor written in beautiful language, like To the Lighthouse: the language Tibba herself tried to imitate in her school essays and in her diary.  The language of Shakespeare was grotesque, not beautiful in the way Mrs Woolf's was beautiful.  It was like eating too-strong curry when Chantal asked 'Wherefore to Dover?' and Miss Russenberger answered:

                          Because I would not see thy cruel nails

                          Pluck out his poor old eyes; nor thy fierce sister

                          In his anointed flesh stick boarish fangs.

You wanted to gasp at its terribleness.

--Wise Virgin by A.N. Wilson

[N.B.:  Shakespeare, like the Bible, is, above all else, a scandal and rebuke to humanity.  He is terrible in his strangeness--and nowhere stranger than in his greatest tragedy, King Lear (yes, I grant you leave to strew a kind word or two before the hesitant Hamlet).]

July  29,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

They came to know and love intimately the operas of Handel, the chamber music of Vivaldi, but more often than not Tibba read aloud to her father.  Her voice was not unmodulated but the variations of tone were quiet and subtle.  The stammer interrupted fluency, but she made no real attempt to imitate the voices of Nichol Jarvie or Meg Dodds any more than of Mr Crawley or Lady Lufton - for Scott and Trollope were the favoured novelists.  The literature they fed her with at school and which she seemed to like was, in Giles's view, shallow piffle: Pinter and Tom Stoppard and To the Lighthouse and the poetry of Wilfred Owen.  But Tibba, while keeping her literary tastes distinct from her father's, had no objection to reading from the giansts in the evening.  And sometimes, as when she read Northanger Abbey, their tastes would gloriously overlap.

--Wise Virgin by A.N. Wilson

[N.B.:  A.N. Wilson published this book in 1982, back when the internet--and video games, for that matter--was merely a glimmer in Ol' Scratch's slit eye.  How archaic this passage seems today.  Neither father nor daughter would have anything resembling a literary taste now.  And as for the name dropping of the likes of Meg Dodds or Lady Lufton, it's not name dropping if the words elicit no more than a blank, faintly irritated, stare--for the void goes by many names, and it is Legion.]

July  28,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

Outside every fat man there was an even fatter man trying to close in.

--One Fat Englishman by Kingsley Amis

July  26,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

'Oh, I'm sorry , Roger, how terribly tactless of me.  I didn't mean--'

'That's perfectly all right, Grace.'

'I do feel so--'

'Say no more.'  Or else stand by for a dose of grievous bodily harm (Roger thought to himself), you women's-cultural-lunch-club-organising Saturday Review of Literature-reading substantial-inheritance-from-soft-drink-corporation-awaiting old-New-Hampshire-family-invoking Kennedy-loving just-wunnerful-labelling Yank bag.

--One Fat Englishman by Kingsley Amis

July  25,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

Childless couples have a tendency to adopt single people and try and feed them up and marry them off.  And this is the way it had been.  Carol had invited me to a series of Tuesday evening affairs where I'd eaten spinach and lasagne and met a number of her female colleagues.

--Waiting from The Quantity Theory of Insanity by Will Self

July  24,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

Both phone calls and Post-it notes have a life cycle of their own.  They are not servants of man, but clever parasites that use human industry to further their own growth as a species.

--Waiting from The Quantity Theory of Insanity by Will Self

[N.B.:  This was written back in the dark ages of 1991 so we could excuse Mr. Self for not having the prescience to name the greatest parasite of them all.  And that would be, wait, wait, it's right on the tip of my tongue, it starts with an "e."  Hmmm, "elastic"?, ummm, it certainly expands like elastic, but no, no, "eraser"?, no, quite the opposite of that I think, "enema"?, no but I'm getting quite warm now.  Oh, but of course, here's notice of one that just popped up on my computer screen.  What?  A request to assist a benighted Nigerian transfer some cash for which I'll receive a modest seven-figure fee and all I have to do is give him my social security number and bank account information.  Well, one can't get much more parasitical than that.  We don't need no stinkin' parasites because we've got stinkin' email now.]

July  22,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

'There are only two great feelings left in the late twentieth century.  Two great feelings that have eaten up all the other, little feelings like love, loyalty, exaltation, anger and alienation; as surely as if they were krill being sucked into the maw of a whale.  Immanence and imminence, immanence and imminence.  Everyone is convinced that something is going to happen, but they don't know what it is.  Some people suspect that whatever it is will be some implosion of numen, some great exposure of the transcendent.  The rest don't know . . . yet.  But they will, they will.'

'Jim, we were going to have lunch, and you promised to cut down on the ranting.'

--Waiting from The Quantity Theory of Insanity by Will Self

July  21,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

"God listened and didn't say yes or no," her father said.  He was squatting at the river and now looked back at her, his chin creasing.  The back of his shirt was wet.  "If I could read Him right it was something like this--that I was caught in myself and them money people caught in themselves and God Himself caught in what He was and so couldn't be anything else.  Then I never thought about God again.

--By The River from Marriages and Infidelities by Joyce Carol Oates

July  20,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

As we became better acquainted, mealtime conversation takes on more range, and I am beginning to acquire some insight into the affluent mind.  F. Scott Fitzgerald is supposed to have said, "The rich are different from us," and Ernest Hemingway to have answered, "Yes, they have more money."  One wonders.

There is the lady from Florida who has six darling poodles at home.  She couldn't bear to leave all of them for two whole weeks, so she brought her favorite one and a maid to look after it, rented an apartment for them in Phoenix, and visits twice daily.  Today, at lunch, she swiped a piece of steak to take to Doggie.  This set us talking about bowser bags.  Another lady at our table complained about a queer thing that happens at her parties: guests bring along bowser bags, and behind her back get the servants to fill them up with food--but she know the food isn't really for their dogs, they take it home and eat it.  I was startled into saying that I must say nothing like that has ever happened to me when I give a party; she said, "My dear, check with your butler, I'm sure he'll admit to you that it goes on all the time."  There is the lady whose husband sends her fresh flowers every day, flown here from Honolulu.  Another has just returned from Portugal where she took her eight grandchildren for a little treat--and allowed each to bring a friend along for company, so they wouldn't fight.  Yet another sometimes flies from New York to London for the day, to see the races--her race horse lives in England with its trainer.

--Maine Chance Diary from Poison Penmanship by Jessica Mitford

[N.B.:  The truly shocking aspect of these anecdotes is that the author thought they were truly shocking when first published (circa 1966) but nowadays they elicit little more than a polite yawn as we learn of the latest billionaire building a yacht the size of a pocket battleship while another is in zero-gravity weight training for his vacation in space.  Ho-hum.  In other news, everyone else is up to their eyeballs in debt and is about to be thrown out of their house.  How sad.  Perhaps they can line up at the local bakery and receive a slice of day-old cake to eat.]

July  19,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

Then said Mrs Hauskbee too me--she looked a trifle faded and jaded in the lamplight--'Take my word for it, the silliest woman can manage a clever man; but it needs a very clever woman to manage a fool.'

--Three and-an Extra from Plain Tales from the Hills by Rudyard Kipling

July  18,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

Those in the know (the old-timers) tell me that by Wednesday one is for some reason at one's lowest ebb.  I can see why: the miraculous shedding of weight has slowed down (I only lost half a pound today), the novelty of the day's routine has worn off, and there are still three days left until Sunday.

Perhaps reflecting the Wednesday slump, lunchtime talk today turned from food to liquor: how many calories in a whiskey sour?  In an ounce of bourbon?  The duenna smilingly instructed us in these matters, and added that if one must drink, plain scotch and water is better than martinis.

--Maine Chance Diary from Poison Penmanship by Jessica Mitford

July  17,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

At dinnertime I got my first look at the main house.  It is a riot of elegance, or a profusion of magnificence.  This is where the Aubusson carpets are, and the marble floors.  It is like a small embassy: a large and splendid drawing room, another room called "the library" (in honor of a set of the Waverley Novels and the English Cyclopedia).  There is a visitors' book in the library going back to 1958, which gives many a clue to the sources of income of the patrons of Maine Chance.  The signatures read in part like a grocery shopping list (I found a popular ketchup, a famous cake flour, a brand of canned soup, a yeast, and a coffee), in part like a roster of the Republican National Committee.  Mamie Eisenhower's large round hand appears over and over.

--Maine Chance Diary from Poison Penmanship by Jessica Mitford

July  16,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

This woman, Sarah Bernhardt, lived for thirty-five years at the center of scandal and publicity; she was denounced for her love affairs and extravagances and lauded by others as the greatest genius of her time.

After eight years with the Comdie-Franaise she resigned in a quarrel with the director and made the first of eight triumphant tours in America.  She dragged with her across the country, in addition to her score of pets, the famous gold-fixtured coffin which an admirer had given her at her request.  After having been photographed in it to spite her director, she kept it at the foot of her bed wherever she went.  In the United States dozens of pamphlets circulated in her path, with titles like The Amours of Sarah.  The Bishop of Chicago thundered so eloquently from his pulpit against the corrupting influence of the French actress that her agent sent him a polite note: "Monseigneur: I make it a practice to spend $400 on publicity when I come to your city.  But since you have done the job for me, I am sending you $200 for your needy."  Every fortune Sarah amassed on her world-wide tours she proceeded to lose during the next season or two in Paris, even though she was idolized by all classes.  One after the other, three major Paris theaters passed through her hands; each had to be sold to cover her mounting depts.  When an injury to her leg first caused talk of amputation (which finally became necessary in 1915), P. T. Barnum approached her with an offer of $10,000 for the severed limb and the right to exhibit it.  In 1896 a municipal Journe Sarah Bernhardt brought the whole of Paris to her feet.  It began with a banquet for six hundred at the Grand Hotel.  The guests marveled at the undiminished youth of the fifty-two-year-old beauty whose son was already over thirty and managing her affairs.  A procession of two hundred carriages followed hers to her own Thtre de la Renaissance.  After her performance of the third act of Phdre, half a dozen poets, including Franois Coppe and her new lover, Edmond Rostand (shortly to write two hits, Cyrano de Bergerac and L'aiglon), recited versed to her on a stage banked with flowers.  Four years later she attempted her most ambitious performance: Hamlet, en travesti, in Marcel Schwob's fastidious prose translation.  For twelve days running she rehearsed from noon until six in the morning and finally staged a passionate, sometimes sentimental version in which she whispered "To be or not to be" almost in secreto.  Colette described her in the performance as having "a face sculpted in white powder."  Paris loved it; London, despite her previous successes there, refused it in outrage; the festival at Stratford-on-Avon was entranced.  She went on acting for fifteen years, short one leg at the end but never out of voice.  Sarah Bernhardt's was the most highly charged temperament of the era and one of its greatest talents.  Neither Caruso nor Nijinsky had such a career of enduring public adulation, somersaulting business ventures, and tumultuous private life.  Only an actress could replace the colossus of Victor Hugo, take Paris for her private stage, and become what the French have called ever since a monstre sacr.

--The Banquet Years by Roger Shattuck

July  15,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

But if you really want the best of modern fiction, you must read Henry James.  Here I do give my unqualified admiration.  I 'discovered' him only about a year ago, but since then I have read him almost continuously and have never tired and have a feeling that I never shall.  His is a blending of the finest style with the subtlest psychology.  One feels that not one of his characters is false: and the only possible criticism I can make is that he is far too indifferent to the 'problems' of life: he is purely an observer.  But this, from an aesthetic point of view, is an advantage.

--Entry for July 31, 1916 from A War Diary by Herbert Read from The Contrary Experience

July  14,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

The basis of their marriage was mutual respect, enduring love, and "a common sense of values."  There were certain things that were wrong absolutely, and so long as they agreed on what those things were, it did not matter much if in other ways they behaved differently or even (in the eyes of the world) outrageously.  When we were children, they divided misdemeanours into "crimes" and "sins," and applied the same rule to themselves.  Crimes were naughtinesses, for which we were punished.  (My mother was not very good at that.  When I broke the greenhouse windows, she decided to spank me on the bottom with her hairbrush, but never having done such a thing before, she used the brush bristle-side downwards, and the bristles were very soft.)  Sins were so dreadful that for them we were never punished at all: their very exposure was enough.  There were only three sins: cruelty, dishonesty and indolence.  Vita herself had been guilty of the first in 1919-20; never again.  Harold was innocent of them all.  Their morality can be summed up as consideration for other people, particularly for each other, and the development of their natural talents to the full.  It was an amalgam of the Christian virtues and the eighteenth-century concept of the civilized life.

--Portrait of a Marriage (V. Sackville-West & Harold Nicolson) by Nigel Nicolson

July  13,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

I walked all the way to Sotheby's, holding my tummy in nearly the whole time, terribly good for one.  There was a picture belonging to me in the sale, a tiny canvas of a Venetian nobleman's barge with livened gondoliers and a wonderfully blue sky.  I had bought it months before, hoping to persuade myself that it was by Longhi, but my efforts had been in vain so I had put it into Sotheby's, who had austerely called it 'Venetian School, XVIII Century.'  I ran it up to the figure I had paid for it, then left it to its own devices.  To my delight it ran for another three hundred and fifty before being knocked down to a man I detest.  It is probably in a Duke Street window this moment, labelled Marieschi or some such nonsense.  I stayed another ten minutes and spent my profit on a doubtful but splendidly naughty Bartolomaeus Sprnger showing Mars diddling Venus with his helmet on--such manners!  On my way out of the Rooms I telephoned a rich turkey farmer in Suffolk and sold him the Sprnger, sight unseen, for what is known as an undisclosed sum, and toddled righteously away towards Piccadilly.  There's nothing like a little dealing to buck one up.

--Don't Point that Thing at Me by Kyril Bonfiglioli

July  12,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

HYMN TO THE BELLY

Room! Room! make room for the bouncing Belly,

First father of the sauce and deviser of jelly;

Prime master of arts and the giver of wit,

That found out the excellent engine of spit,

The plough and the flail, the mill and the hopper,

The hutch and the boulter, the furnace and copp

The oven, the bavin, the mawkin, the peel

The hearth and the range, the dog and the whee

He, the first invented the hogshead and tun,

The gimlet and vice too, and taught 'em to run;

And since, with the funnel and hippocras bag,

He's made of himself that now he cries swag;

Which shows, though the pleasure be but of four inches,

Yet he is a weasel, the gullet that pinches

Of any delight, and not spares from his back

Whatever to make of the belly a sack.

Hail, hail, plump paunch! O the founder of taste,

For fresh meats or powdered, or pickle or paste!

Devourer of broiled, baked, roasted or sod!

And emptier of cups, be they even or odd!

All which have now made thee so wide i' the waist,

As scarce with no pudding thou art to be laced;

But eating and drinking, until thou dost nod,

Thou break'st all thy girdles and break'st forth a god.

--Ben Jonson (collected in The Wordly Muse (ed. A.J.M. Smith))

July  11,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

All those years of making, then losing, money, I hadn't noticed that music had disappeared from my life any more than I had noticed that friends, movies, ethics, sex, and Snickers bars had vanished as well.  When had a Snickers bar from the freezer stopped being a treat?  When had all my friends mutated into connections who slowly, then swiftly, dropped me after the divorce?

--How Perfect Is That ? by Sarah Bird

July  10,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

PHILOSOPHY

Nothing

Will

Come

Of

Anything.

--Alkaios (from Pure Pagan (tr. Burton Raffel))

July  9,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

But on the clearest days the Blue Ridge is not visible here even as a mirage, a high tossed smoky line penciled on the west.  Only within me can I hear the song of a waterfall--not the obliterating crash of a Niagra, but an airy cascade, spilling water from tilted ledges.  Water poured so fine that it shatters on the air and drifts, as a smoke, as a lightly laden breeze, amongst the filmy leaves of the sweet Appalachian flora.  There the maidenhair and the foam of the mountain bluets, deep gentian blue in tiny forests of threadfine stems, are spangled with spray.  And over the gleaming rocks creep the mosses--the deep black moss, the frail Jungermannias sending out green fingers everywhere--and the flat liverworts sprawl fast under the overhanging ledges, translucent emerald green, like seaweeds, or gray-green and nubbly, like a lizard's skin.  There the gentle wood frog lives, and in the wet moss the little red triton runs, perpetually grinning, a slippery living bit of coral.  Who, of a burning day upon the plain, cannot feel the coolness, the repose, of recurring phrases in the dryest of botany books, "in rich mountain woods," "in wet moss," "on dripping rocks," "in cold springs"?

--An Almanac for Moderns by Donald Culross Peattie (entry for July 20th)

July  8,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

I never hear the thrush now, without wondering if it will be the last time this season that he sings.  After each burning day I feel sure that, like a flower of the field, the song will be wilted in the heat.  All too soon the thrush will molt.  He will be here hopping about silently in the woods and thickets, but he will not sing.  Then indeed the dead of summer will be upon us; breathless heat and heavy-hearted silence will settle on the spots where now he still takes up his evening station to refresh the hour when the soul can breathe in quiet, the brief, brief moments between the fiery setting of the sun and the falling of the heavy-leaved darkness.

--An Almanac for Moderns by Donald Culross Peattie (entry for July 17th)

July  7,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

He stood alone on the stones, his mess-tin spilled at his feet.  Out of the vortex, rifling the air it came--bright, brass-shod, Pandoran; with all-filling screaming the howling crescendo's up-piling snapt.  The universal world, breath held, one half second, a bludgeoned stillness.  Then the pent violence released a consummation of all burstings out; all sudden up-renderings and rivings-through--all taking-out of vents--all barrier-breaking--all unmaking.  Pernitric begetting--the dissolving and splitting of solid things.  In which unearthing aftermath, John Ball picked up his mess-tin and hurried within; ashen, huddled, waited in the dismal straw. 

--In Parenthesis by David Jones

July  6,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

His chill fingers clumsy at full trouser pocket, scattered on the stones: one flattened candle-end, two centime pieces, palled silver sixpence, a length of pink Orderly Room tape, a latch-key.  The two young men together glanced where it lay incongruous, bright between the sets.  Keys of Stondon Park.  His father has its twin in his office in Knightryder Street.  Keys of Stondon Park in French farmyard.  Stupid Ball, it's no use here, so far from its complying lock.  Locks for shining doors for plaster porches, gentlemen of the 6.18, each with a shining key, like this strayed one in the wilderness.

--In Parenthesis by David Jones

July  5,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

You bunch together before a tarred door.  Chalk scrawls on its planking--initials, numbers, monograms, signs, hasty, half-erased, of many regiments.  Scratched outdates measuring the distance back to antique beginnings.

Dragoons--one troop.

4th Hussars--'D' Squadron No. 3 Troop.

Numerals crossed slanting indecipherable allocations earlier still.

More clear, and very newly chalked, you read the title of your entering, and feel confident, as one who reads his own name in a church pew.  '2 platoons, B Company', in large, ill-formed calligraphy, countermanding the shadowy ciphering of the previous occupants.  Lance-Corporal Lewis pushed open the door--and you file in.

The straw was grey and used and not so plentiful as the heaped-up hay of their morning's rising.

--In Parenthesis by David Jones

July  4,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

A man with his puttees fastened at the ankle, without tunic, his cap at a tilt, emerged upon the landscape and took water in a flexible green canvas bucket from the ditch, where a newly painted board, bearing a map reference, marked the direction of a gun position.  Tall uprights at regular intervals, to the north-east side of this path were hung with a sagging netting--in its meshes painted bits of rag, bleached with rain and very torn, having all the desolation peculiar to things that functioned in the immediate past but which are now no longer serviceable, either by neglect or by some movement of events.

--In Parenthesis by David Jones

July  3,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

Even in his boyhood Augustus had studied rhetoric with great eagerness and industry, and during the Mutina campaign, busy though he was, is said to have read, written, and declaimed daily.  He kept up his interest by carefully drafting every address intended for delivery to the Senate, the popular Assembly, or the troops; though gifted with quite a talent for extempore speech.  What is more, he avoided the embarrassment of forgetting his words, or the drudgery of memorizing them, by always reading from a manuscript.  All important statements made to individuals, and even to his wife Livia, were first committed to notebooks and then repeated aloud; he was haunted by a fear of saying either too much or too little if he spoke off-hand.  His articulation of words, constantly pracitsed under an elocution teacher, was pleasant and rather unusual; but sometimes, when his voice proved inadequate for addressing a large crowd, he called a herald.

--The Twelve Caesars by Suetonius (tr. Robert Graves)

[N.B.:  And there, in one terse paragraph, is the Platonic Form of our modern politicians' communications--teleprompter and all.  If only Bill Clinton had scripted out everything he would have had to say to his wife, who knows, maybe he could have avoided a thrown lamp or two . . . or not.]

July  2,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

English boarding schools have much to recommend them.  If boys are going to be adolescent, and science has failed to come up with a way of stopping them, then much better to herd them together and let them get on with it in private.  Six hundred suits of skin oozing with pustules, six hundred scalps weeping oil, twelve hundred armpits shooting out hair, twelve hundred inner thighs exploding with fungus and six hundred minds filling themselves with suicidal drivel: the world is best protected from this.

--The Liar by Stephen Fry

Patrick: Lagniappe

Precision and arbitrariness were the twin hallmarks of Conceptualist activity.  On the morning that inaugurated their "Gestures," as they called them, fifteen lowly civil servants were found scalped in their beds.  They were all sewage-disposal civil servants.  A political organization?  Fifteen days later a random selection of doctors, health inspectors, social workers, charity secretaries and Salvation Army officials had their Achilles' tendons severed in a lightning wave of synchronized attacks.  On the first day of the following month the newspapers reported that thirty hardware shop owners, in various parts of the country, had had their left eyes spooned out.  Four weeks later stolen helicopters showered over key cities a bizarre confetti of pornographic postcards, atrocity photographs, suppressed medical reproductions, vetoed X-ray plates, and blacklisted urinalyses.  (The police were not so much worried, by this time, as utterly hysterical).

--Dead Babies by Martin Amis

July  1,  2008