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ARCHIVED ENTRIES FOR JULY 2013

July  31,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

The most strident criticism came in the form of a dense, multipage epistle from Ambler, a tiny Inupiat village on the Kobuk River north of the Arctic Circle.  The author was a white writer and schoolteacher, formerly from Washington, D.C., named Nick Jans.  Warning that it was 1:00 A.M. and he was well into a bottle of Seagram's, Jan let fly:

     Over the past 15 years, I've run into several McCandless Types out in the country.  Same story: idealistic, energetic young guys who overestimated themselves, underestimated the country, and ended up in trouble.  McCandless was hardly unique; there's quite a few of these guys hanging around the state, so much alike that they're almost a collective cliché.  The only difference is that McCandless ended up dead, with the story of his dumbassedness splashed across the media. . . . . (Jack London got it right in "To Build a Fire."  McCandless is, finally, just a pale 20th-century burlesque of London's protagonist, who freezes because he ignores advice and commits big-time hubris). . . .

     His ignorance, which could have been cured by a USGS quadrant and a Boy Scout manual, is what killed him.  And while I feel for his parents, I have no sympathy for him.  Such willful ignorance . . . amounts to disrespect for the land, and paradoxically demonstrates the same sort of arrogance that resulted in the Exxon Valdez spill--just another case of underprepared, overconfident men bumbling around out there and screwing up because they lacked the requisite humility.  It's all a matter of degree.

     McCandless's contrived asceticism and a pseudoliterary stance compound rather than reduce the fault. . . . McCandless's postcards, notes, and journals . . . read like the work of an above average, somewhat histrionic high school kid--or am I missing something? 

--Into the Wild by John Krakauer

[N.B.:  Krakauer rightly insinuates that this criticism can't be right--else how is Krakauer going to make money off of this book and sell the movie rights?  If McCandless is actually a callous, bumbling, quarter-educated miscreant, who's going to want to read about that?  Better to point out that the correspondent is a "strident" white guy suspiciously hanging out in Indian country (no doubt exploiting these Native Americans who truly understand the land and the value of a seeker such as McCandless).]

July  30,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

McCandless's apparent sexual innocence, however, is a corollary of a personality type that our culture purports to admire, at least in the case of its more famous adherents.  His ambivalence toward sex echoes that of celebrated others who embraced wilderness with single-minded passion--Thoreau (who was a lifelong virgin) and the naturalist John Muir, most prominently--to say nothing of countless lesser-known pilgrims, seekers, misfits, and adventurers.  Like not a few of those seduced by the wild, McCandless seems to have been driven by a variety of lust that supplanted sexual desire.  His yearning, in a sense, was too powerful to be quenched by human contact.  McCandless may have been tempted by the succor offered by women, but it paled beside the prospect of rough congress with nature, with the cosmos itself.  And thus was he drawn north, to Alaska.

--Into the Wild by John Krakauer

July  29,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

It felt comfortable to be in a country where it is so simple to make people happy.  You can never tell whether a Spanish waiter will thank you.  Everything is on such a clear financial basis in France.  It is the simplest country to live in.  No one makes things complicated by becoming your friend for any obscure reason.  If you want people to like you you have only to spend a little money.  I spent a little money and the waiter liked me.  He appreciated my valuable qualities.  He would be glad to see me back.  I would dine there again some time and he would be glad to see me, and would want me at his table.  It would be a sincere liking because it would have a sound basis.  I was back in France.

--The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

[N.B.:  Why this antipathy between the citizens of the United States and those of France?  We have much more in common than we know.]

July  28,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

He had flashes of the old greatness with his bulls, but they were not of value because he had discounted them in advance when he had picked the bulls out for their safety, getting out of a motor and leaning on a fence, looking over at the herd on the ranch of his friend and bull-breeder.  So he had two small, manageable bulls without much horns, and when he felt the greatness again coming, just a little of it through the pain that was always with him, it had been discounted and sold in advance, and it did not give him a good feeling.  It was the greatness, but it did not make bull-fighting wonderful to him any more.

--The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

July  27,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

There was no answer.  I tried the knob and it opened.  Inside the room was in great disorder.  All the bags were opened and clothing was strewn around.  There were empty bottles beside the bed.  Mike lay on the bed looking like a death mask of himself.  He opened his eyes and looked at me.

"Hello, Jake," he said very slowly.  "I'm getting a lit tle sleep.  I've want ed a lit tle sleep for a long time."

"Let me cover you over."

"No.  I'm quite warm."

"don't go.  I have n't got ten to sleep yet."

"You'll sleep, Mike.  Don't worry, boy."

--The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

[N.B.:  Neat trick--the gap between syllables of a word.]

July  26,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

Romero never made any contortions, always it was straight and pure and natural in line.  The others twisted themselves like corkscrews, their elbows raised, and leaned against the flanks of the bull after his horns had passed, to give a faked look of danger.  Afterward, all that was faked turned bad and gave an unpleasant feeling.  Romero's bull-fighting gave real emotion, because he kept the absolute purity of line in his movements and always quietly and calmly let the horns pass him close each time.  He did not have to emphasize their closeness.  Brett saw how something that was beautiful done close to the bull was ridiculous if it were done a little way off.  I told her how since the death of Joselito all the bull-fighters had been developing a technic that simulated this appearance of danger in order to give a fake emotional feeling, while the bull-fighter was really safe.   Romero had the old thing, the holding of his purity of line through the maximum of exposure, while he dominated the bull by making him realize he was unattainable, while he prepared him for the killing.

--The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

July  25,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

"How did you go bankrupt?" Bill asked.

"Two ways," Mike said.  "Gradually and then suddenly."

--The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

[N.B.:  Hmmm, this explanation reminds me of something.]

July  24,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

"Here's a taxidermist's," Bill said.  "Want to buy anything?  Nice stuffed dog?"

"Come on," I said.  "You're pie-eyed."

"Just one stuffed dog.  I can take 'em or leave 'em alone.  But listen, Jake.  Just one stuffed dog."

"Come on."

"Mean everything in the world to you after you bought it.  Simple exchange of values.  You give them money.  They give you a stuffed dog."

"We'll get one on the way back."

"All right.  Have it your own way.  Road to hell paved with unbought stuffed dogs.  Not my fault."

We went on.

--The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

July  23,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

At five o'clock I was in the Hotel Crillon waiting for Brett.  She was not there, so I sat down and wrote some letters.  They were not very good letters but I hoped their being on Crillon Stationery would help them.  Brett did not turn up, so about quarter to six I went down to the bar and had a Jack Rose with George the barman.  Brett had not been in the bar either, and so I looked for her up-stairs on my way out, and took a taxi to the Café Select.  Crossing the Seine I saw a string of barges being towed empty down the current, riding high, the bargemen at the sweeps as they came toward the bridge.  The river looked nice.  It was always pleasant crossing bridges in Paris.

--The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

July  22,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

"I didn't ask you to insult her."

"Oh, go to hell."

He stood up from the table his face white, and stood there white and angry behind the little plates of hors d'oeuvres.

"Sit down," I said.  "Don't be a fool."

"You've got to take that back."

"Oh, cut out the prep-school stuff."

"Take it back."

"Sure.  Anything.  I never heard of Brett Ashley.  How's that?"

"No.  Not that.  About me going to hell."

"Oh, don't go to hell," I said.  "Stick around.  We're just starting lunch."

--The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

July  21,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

THOMAS THE CYNIC

Nothing is more natural than that an unemployed fireman should turn to arson.

--The School for Dictators by Ignazio Silone (tr. William Weaver)

July  20,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

THOMAS THE CYNIC

In the Goebbels diary of the Berlin transport strike of November 1932, where Nazis and communists fought amicably together to make the strike succeed, there are some very revealing pages on this subject.  Goebbels records with irony the shocked comments of the democratic press at that apparently unnatural alliance, and he notes in lyrical terms the acts of violence that the strikers committed against the Social-Democrat scabs.  "Our party apparatus," he writes proudly, "works splendidly.  In every clash our men are leading the violence.  There are already four dead and countless wounded, both workers and police.  the authorities say that the financial conditions of the transport company make it impossible to grant the workers' requests.  These consideration," Goebbels remarks, "are no concern of ours.  An opposition has a right to ask even what the government cannot give."

--The School for Dictators by Ignazio Silone (tr. William Weaver)

July  19,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

THOMAS THE CYNIC

A single principle seems to have guided Mussolini and Hitler every time thy had the choice of taking part, by whatever means, in the struggle of workers against entrepreneurs: incite to disorder, aggravate disorder, maintain disorder as an endemic condition.  For only prolonged disorder can justify the installation of a dictatorship.  Systematic disorder paralyzes social and economic life, makes foreign relations difficult, increases poverty, throws irremediable discredit on established institutions, renders all plans uncertain, and finally makes dictatorship seem the only hope of salvation.  Permanent disorder creates the spiritual conditions in which the man in the street loses his patience, abandons all self-control, and keeps repeating to everyone he meets, even strangers: "I don't care who comes next, even if it's the devil himself, just so long as he governs the country properly and puts an end to this chaos once and for all."

--The School for Dictators by Ignazio Silone (tr. William Weaver)

July  18,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

THOMAS THE CYNIC

In modern times the death of a democracy is, more often than not, camouflaged suicide.  A regime of freedom should receive its lifeblood from the self-government of local institutions.  When democracy, driven by some of its baser tendencies, suppresses such autonomies, it is only devouring itself.  If in the factory the master's word is law, if bureaucracy takes over the trade union, if the central government's representative runs the city and the province, and the leader's henchman controls the local branches of political parties, then you can no longer speak of democracy.  Unfortunately, the democratic and socialist parties have always been, at least in Europe, the most active in promoting centralization to the detriment of local and regional autonomy, following the tradition of the Jacobins, who felt that the hegemony of the capital over the rest of the country provided them with a weapon in the struggle against the priests and the nobles.  Another cause of centralization of democratic and socialist parties can be found in the fact that their adherents, peasants, workers and lower middle class, are among the poorest of the population, and it seems necessary for the national government to assist them.  In this way the All-Providing State is born.  While the constant subsidies and protective laws of the state increase the supporters of the socialist and democratic parties, at the same time they stifle local autonomy.  So in the history of some countries you can observe this apparent contradiction: the maximum material and numerical strength of the democratic and socialist parties immediately precedes the collapse of democracy.

--The School for Dictators by Ignazio Silone (tr. William Weaver)

[N.B.:  Oh, and the stifling of local autonomy also stifles job creation as well--which accelerates unrest and collapse.  And what follows?  Hmmm, I do believe there is a title to this book.]

July  17,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

MR. DOUBLE YOU

Have you ever heard of Van Buren?  In 1828 he helped Jackson to the presidency with an over-whelming election campaign whose slogan was the defense of the "people's sacred rights."  Nobody was threatening those rights, least of all John Quincy Adams, the outgoing President, but Van Buren's slogan had a wild success.  Van Buren himself succeeded Jackson as president, and he was forced to witness the efficacy of his miraculous recipe when, standing for re-election, he found himself opposed by Harrison, presented as "the man of the people," and the "log-cabin man," the simple, modest, sober family man as opposed to Van Buren who, being President, lived in a palace with a whole lot of servants and ate with gold knives and forks.

THOMAS THE CYNIC

Forgive me, I am truly mortified.  You Americans have nothing to learn from a European.

--The School for Dictators by Ignazio Silone (tr. William Weaver)

July  16,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

THOMAS THE CYNIC

But Mussolini didn't lack the talent of piling emphasis on the most hackneyed formulas.  "We are against renunciations, we are for our rights," he used to say.  "We are against irresponsibility, we are for the respect of values," he often repeated.  Mind that word "values."  You can make unlimited use of it; it sounds well, and it doesn't commit you to anything.

--The School for Dictators by Ignazio Silone (tr. William Weaver)

July  15,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

I remember for a time feeling my heart unrulily beating in my breast, and a tight constriction at the throat.  That was perhaps only excitement, or tense expectation of activity.  It was not the shuddering grovelling impulse, the sudden jet of pus intot he thrilling blood stream, that would sometimes, on the sudden near detonation of a shell, poison one's humanity.  That, as I have said, is the only real kind of fear--the purely physical reaction.  From that state a few men can recover because they have minds that can surmount a physical state: an imaginative sense of equilibrium.  Imaginative--it was the men of imagination that were, if any, the men of courage.  The men of mere brute strength, the footballers and school captains, found no way out of the inevitable physical reaction.  Their bodies broke in fear because the wild energy of the instinct was impingeing on a brittle red wall of physical being.

--The Raid collected in The Contrary Experience by Herbert Read

July  14,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

One week in the trenches was sufficient to strip war of its lingering traces of romance: there was nothing, in the Ypres Salient where I first went into the line, but primitive filth, lice, boredom and death.  Even the novelty of the experience, in such circumstances, is no palliative.  But after weeks and then months, and finally years of such a life, with no moral sanction to support the spirit, no fervour or enthusiasm, no hatred of the enemy, the whole business became fantastically unreal, a monstrous nightmare from which one could not awake.  It should be remembered that a modern army is largely made up of young civilians without political experience, and the propaganda which is designed to inspire them (and perhaps does inspire them for a time) soon wears thin against the crude realities of war.  If only, I used to think, we poor bloody soldiers could walk out, walk home, and leave the politicians to make the best of a quarrel which we did not understand and which had no interest for us!  But though these were the sentiments of nine men out of ten, there was no possibility of proceeding to action. a soldier is part of a machine: once the machine is in movement, he functions as  part of that machine, or simply gets killed.

--The Impact of War collected in The Contrary Experience by Herbert Read

July  13,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

The human race is the trunk and branches of this tree, and individual men are the leaves which appear one season, flourish for a summer, and then die.  I am like a leaf of this tree, and one day I shall be torn off by a storm or simply decay and fall, and become a pinch of compost about its roots.  But meanwhile I am conscious of the tree's flowing sap and steadfast strength.  Deep down in my consciousness is the consciousness of a collective life, a life of which I am a part and to which I contribute a minute but unique extension.  When I die and fall, the tree remains, nourished to some small degree by my brief manifestation of life.  Millions of leaves have preceded me and millions will follow me; the tree itself grows and endures.

--The Tree of Life collected in The Contrary Experience by Herbert Read

July  12,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

Meanwhile death was being forced more brutally into my consciousness: men were being killed by my side, before my eyes.  The terrible fragility of life was made evident to me; I saw that individuality and intelligence and all the unique make of a man could seep into the ground with a trickle of warm blood.  But still I did not fear death, strongly as I wanted to live.  The philosophy which was force on me by this experience was simply fatalistic--it was not resigned enough to be called stoical.  It had in it an element of bitterness or resentment which we fin in 'the tragic view of life,' and fatalism is perhaps the best word to describe my permanent attitude to this problem.  My favourite symbol is the Tree of Life.

--The Tree of Life collected in The Contrary Experience by Herbert Read

July  11,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

This is not the place to enlarge on the question, but as a general indication of what I mean, I would say that it is necessary to make a clear separation of the historical and the technical aspects of each art.  The history of literature or the history of painting (including, of course, the history of their technical development) would be distinct subjects, taught like the history of any other aspect of social evolution.  But the technique of literature, like the technique of painting, would be encourage as a practical activity.  Poetry and plays would be written, recited or produced, and the creative artist would be elevated above the academic scholar.  It would, of course, revolutionize educational standards if marks were to be awarded, or even a degree granted, on the artistic merits of an original composition; but that, I contend, is the only way in which the arts can be brought into organic relation with a vital system of education.

--The Falcon and the Dove collected in The Contrary Experience by Herbert Read

[N.B.:  I don't disagree with this argument--but Read underestimates the power of co-option by academics.  Classes in creative writing were originally meant to operate somewhat on the lines outlined above.  But now they are little more than refuges for mediocre creative-writing graduates who in turn teach their charges how to excrete prose in a uniform manner much along the lines that McDonald's excretes hamburgers.  Hence the reason that there is no group of American writers comparable to the British literary generations starting with the baby boomers of Amis, McEwan, Banville, Barnes, etc....]

July  10,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

[T]he attempt to reconcile art and scholarship is nearly always fatal: poetry cannot be dissected unless it is first killed.  I do not imply, however, that poetry--or art in general--should be excluded from the curricula of our schools and universities.  On the contrary, I think that the arts should play a greater part in education.  But they should be treated as arts and not as 'subjects,' still less as sciences. 

--The Falcon and the Dove collected in The Contrary Experience by Herbert Read

July  9,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

It is possible to conceive of poetry as an established form, and of the poet's duty as merely to add to the general fund.  That is the classical conception of the poet.  But my conception was, and still is, of poetry as a unique experience: the individual, with his particular moods, emotions, thoughts, trying to express himself integrally, in his own choice of words.  It is true that he has to use words which are common to all his countrymen; but there is an infinite number of ways of selecting and combining these words, and from these infinite possibilities one exact, original correspondence of idea and expression must emerge, or the poem will be an affectation and a failure.

--The Falcon and the Dove collected in The Contrary Experience by Herbert Read

July  8,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

It is not easy for an adult to recollect the quality of his pre-adolescent emotions.  They have been obliterated by thousands of other emotions, which while not necessarily so acute, are more memorable.  The emotions of a boy or girl have a baffled intensity which is due to our inability, at that age, to express ourselves.  We have found words to describe outward objects, and to express simple sensations, like physical pain.  But the vague emotions which are aroused by our environment, by strange experiences, by the unknown--for these we have no ready words.  We cannot impart our moods, even to our most intimate friends.  Children of this intermediate age suffer like animals, dumbly and vaguely; and the only release is tears.

--The Falcon and the Dove collected in The Contrary Experience by Herbert Read

July  7,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

I suspect humanity has often entered periods like ours, in which discipline of judgment and the pursuit of intrinsic value have declined or disappeared.  When this happened in the past, however, no record was left of it, since a society without culture loses its memory and loses also the desire to immortalize itself in lasting monuments.  Very soon barbarism takes over, and the society is swept from the face of the earth.  What is interesting about our situation is that we have the technological means to sustain our society in being beyond the moment when it might lose all inner sense of its value, and therefore lose the ability to sustain itself from its own inherent reservoir of faith.  This is a new situation, and we should ask ourselves what we might do, in these circumstances, to ensure the survival of culture.

--Culture Counts by Roger Scruton

July  6,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

In almost every sphere we are now discouraged from offering criticism; it suffices that a work of art has an audience, that people want to look at it, to read it, to listen to it, or at any rate to overhear it.  . . .  We have entered a time when aesthetic judgments are routinely avoided.  People have tastes, certainly, but these tastes are no different from their tastes in food--desires for gratification of the kind that we can witness as easily in an animal as in a rational being.  What was distinctive of the aesthetic experience--namely, that it was founded in the perception of value--has dropped from the picture, and desire alone remains.  If people study art at all it is often merely to explore technique, or else to "go behind" the whole tradition of artistic expression and to deconstruct its hidden political assumptions.  Judgment itself--whether the judgment contained in art, or the judgment applied to it--is routinely avoided.

--Culture Counts by Roger Scruton

July  5,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

Aesthetic values are intrinsic values, which cannot be measured by price; they also prompt us to find intrinsic values in the world in which we live.  At the time of the industrial revolution, when the thought first entered people's heads that our natural environment is vulnerable, that all on which we depend could be squandered and polluted through our mad mismanagement, there emerged an aesthetic movement which had natural beauty as its ruling cause.  Burke's Treatise on the Sublime and Beautiful, Addison's essays on the "Pleasures of the Imagination," Kant's Critique of Judgment, and the works of such thinkers as Price, Alison, Home, Lessing, and Rousseau, all served to place nature at the center of our aesthetic interests, and to invoke a realm of intrinsic value that was threatened by our footsteps.  Now you could say that this invocation of aesthetic value, which led to the great revolution in artistic sensibility that we find in Novalis, Wordsworth, Beethoven, Schubert, Friedrich, and Constable, had a function--which was to protect the world form our predations.  And that is true: the aesthetic value of nature encouraged people to renounce the hubris which says we have a right to every natural resource.

--Culture Counts by Roger Scruton

July  4,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

Terry's buildings either go unmentioned in the architectural press or are subjected to dismissive polemics, focusing on their alleged nature as "pastiche."  This epithet--which, if taken seriously, would condemn all serious architecture from the Parthenon down to the Houses of Parliament--has been elevated into an all-purpose critical tool, by people who are determined that no whisper from the past shall ever again be heard in our cities.

--Culture Counts by Roger Scruton

July  3,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

As [Quinlan] Terry has frequently pointed out, modernist buildings use materials that no one fully understands, which have a coefficient of expansion so large that all joints loosen within a few years, and which involve massive environmental damage in their production and in their inevitable disposal within a few decades as waste.  Modernist buildings are ecological as well as aesthetic catastrophes: sealed environments, dependent on a constraint input of energy, and subject to the "sick-building syndrome" that arises when nobody can open a window to let in a breath of fresh air.

--Culture Counts by Roger Scruton

July  2,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

For three millennia Western builders looked back to their predecessors, respecting the temple architecture of the ancients, refining its language, and adapting it to the European landscape in ways that are subtly varied, entirely memorable, and, above all, human.  Then Le Corbusier burst on the scene.  His plan was to demolish Paris north of the Seine and to put all the people into glass boxes.  Instead of dismissing this charlatan as the dangerous madman that he clearly was, the world of architecture hailed him as a visionary, enthusiastically adopted the "new architecture" that he advocated--though it was not an architecture at all, but a recipe for hanging sheets of glass onto crates of steel--and set about to persuade the world that it was no longer necessary to learn the things that architects once knew.  Thus was born the modern movement.

--Culture Counts by Roger Scruton