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ARCHIVED ENTRIES FOR JUNE 2010

June  30,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

In the wilderness, the universal caribou lives forever, but the individual caribou is born, eats, and is eaten in turn without ever having been given a name.  The deeper we traveled into the Barrens, the more I felt my civilized soul was nothing but meat.  Looking back on my life, I had done nothing worth remembering except to carry on the name of my ancestors, and I had never been very good at that.  But I had no other identity.

--Death on the Barrens by George James Grinnell

June  29,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

Nature, as the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead considers it, can be regarded as a process in which everything, by myriad means, eventually passes into everything else.  But within this process there is also an aspect we know as being, which, despite its dependence on the process, revolts against the passage of everything into nothing and struggles to assert its individual identity.  Human beings have their portraits painted to hang on the wall and bury themselves under ostentatious monuments, their names engraved in stone.  On the Barrens, however, there are no portraits and no walls.  Who knows the name of the caribou that gave up its life so I might live?

--Death on the Barrens by George James Grinnell

June  28,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

Rebellion is a substitute for inner peace.  It gives meaning and purpose to life as long as the object of rebellion is seen as the cause of discontent, but if the object of rebellion concedes, it becomes necessary to search more deeply inside.

--Death on the Barrens by George James Grinnell

June  27,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

Discipline at Groton had been strict.  If a first former showed disrespect to a sixth former, he was summarily tossed down the second-floor garbage chute.  More severe cases of disrespect were punished by "pumping."  There was only one bathtub at Groton, and it was not used for bathing (we washed in tin basins).  The offending lower former would be ordered into the senior prefect's office and then taken to the bathtub to have his lungs pumped.  Before the boy drowned, he would be rushed over to the infirmary to have his lungs pumped out.  This practice had to be discontinued when the irate parents of one boy threatened to bring charges of attempted murder against the senior prefect who had pumped him.  Likewise, the practice of tossing disrespectful lower formers down the garbage chute was discontinued because of broken bones, but both practices were accepted disciplinary measures when Franklin Delano Roosevelt and my father attended Groton.  Beneath the angelic guise of Christianity lay the reality of ruthless submission to the hierarchy.

--Death on the Barrens by George James Grinnell

June  26,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

The Reverend Endicott Peabody had modeled Groton after Eton and Harrow, the boarding schools in England that trained British aristocrats to govern the British empire.  Eton and Harrow, in turn, had been modeled after the schools of the Jesuits.  The Groton School prayer ("Teach us, O Lord, to give and not to count the cost, to seek and not to hope to find, to labor and not to ask for any reward save that of knowing we do thy will") was abridged by Peabody (without acknowledgment to the founder of the Society of Jesus from whence he had plagiarized it) and then used at Groton.  It has never been clear to me whether we were being trained to follow Jesus or to rule the American empire.

--Death on the Barrens by George James Grinnell

June  25,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

George Bird Grinnell had followed a slightly different path in life than my other relatives, as he appears to have been interested in things other than making money.  He founded the Audubon Society, the American Museum of Natural History, and the magazine Forest and Stream.  He went out west to live with Native Americans and wrote numerous books attempting to preserve their stories and their culture.  He worked hard to restore to them the lands some of my other relatives were stealing while building railroads across the nation.  Before he died, the Blackfoot Nation made him an honorary chief.  He was also a close friend of President Theodore Roosevelt, and together they founded Yellowstone National Park and Glacier National Park, where Grinnell Glacier and Grinnell Mountain are named in his honor.  He had taken my father out west to meet the Native Americans, but the reason he paid my way through Groton is not so clear to me.  Groton trained my soul to march, and the caribou taught it to dance, but I could not both march and dance to the same tune.

--Death on the Barrens by George James Grinnell

June  24,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

Art's method of educating us was very different from the methods used by Groton, Harvard, and the U.S. Army.  At Groton and Harvard, I had been trained to become part of the richest oligarchy in world history.  In the army, I had been trained to be part of the most powerful military force in world history.  But Art's method was completely different: he waited for the wilderness to do the educating.  What Art had understood, and what we did not, is that God is not the one who kills and eats; God is the one who is killed and eaten. 

--Death on the Barrens by George James Grinnell

June  23,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

My father had been the senior partner in a Wall street banking firm.  So had my grandfather and my great-great-uncle, L. P. Morton, who had also been vice president of the United States under President William Henry Harrison.  The Universal Almanac describes their campaign as one of the most corrupt in U.S. history.  One wing of my grandmother's summer cottage in Southampton, Long Island, was large enough to accommodate five servants, while the groom and his family lived above the stables a quarter mile away--distant enough, at the end of a beautiful lawn, to prevent the odor from the stalls from mingling with the scent of afternoon tea on the veranda.  I had been sent to the "best" schools, Groton and Harvard, as had my father before me; but wealth is not necessarily a blessing.  My great-great-uncle, vice president of the United States, died of syphilis, or at least that was the story I had been told by my mother, whose background was rather different.  My grandfather died of a perforated ulcer when my father was only four.  My father committed suicide when I was nineteen.  Money had not bought any of us happiness.

--Death on the Barrens by George James Grinnell

June  21,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

Only a few find war exciting and romantic.  To most it is dirt, suffering, interminable monotony; and its highlights consist in pressing a button that release what you long to experience, many miles away.  War is a bad way of experiencing the heights of life; it leaves you disappointed, and when you come back from it you discover that you have not had any sensible purpose and have lost contact with that to which you have returned; you have become restless, as it is called, and your nerve has gone.  That is true both for the victors and the vanquished.  Perhaps the tragedy is greater for the victor.  He has been victorious, but whom has he vanquished and for what has he conquered?  He cannot make head or tail of it.  It was so different when he set out, for then he believed in a simple truth; but that proved to be hopelessly involved once it was stripped of the proud words in which it had been presented to him.

--The Legion of the Damned by Sven Hassel (tr. Maurice Michael)

[N.B.:  Yes, this is a heap of clichés--but a cliché is not a cliché unless many believe that it contains some truth in an epigrammatic manner.  Banality plus compression equals profundity.]

June  21,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

It was not cynicism that made me not stop to help the wounded, but war.  War is like that.  There were others there to do the helping.  Apart from your immediate companions you do not know one another in war.

--The Legion of the Damned by Sven Hassel (tr. Maurice Michael)

June  20,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

The Russian soldiers understood how to die.  More than once we saw a handful of them occupy a strategically important point and delay our advance until their last cartridge was used, or till they themselves were crushed beneath our tank tracks.  It is odd seeing a person lying or sitting or running or hobbling away right in front and for you not to turn aside, but drive straight on, over him.  Odd.  You do not feel anything.  You are only aware that you cannot feel.  Perhaps some other day, in a week, a month, a year, fifty years.  But not just at that moment.  There is no time for feeling; the whole business is just something that is happening, going on, pictures and noises, most acutely perceived and immediately shoved automatically to one side to be analyzed later.

--The Legion of the Damned by Sven Hassel (tr. Maurice Michael)

June  19,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

It was a magnificent drama.  A battle is the big show, the real attraction.  War with its prolonged apprehension, dirt, hunger and unheroic misery culminates in a gripping display of splendor and savagery.  The scared soul frees itself and rises on strong wings and flies to meet its mighty destiny.  It is the suffering civilian's great hour.  His soul has never had an opportunity to unfold in riches and luxury; it has become dusty in an untidy office where it has been fashioned to the shape laid down by the personnel officer.  Nor has it found any opportunities in the world of the spirit; it was not of that caliber and money had been to scarce for a literary education and outlook.  And when the soul has paid a visit to Love, perhaps it was no more than briefly in a doorway, then a baby, marriage lines, a dreary flat in a viewless street, bills, sweat, lust with clipped wings and a woman who quickly becomes the bane of life, a deadly boring woman.

In battle the little civilian mobilizes all his accumulated dread, and there is much of it, and goes off to battle and liberates his soul in that great life-and-death drama.

No! the soul is not liberated.  That is a caricature.  Far from becoming a free human being, it is a crazy, hysterical cur it becomes, blindly obeying the prompting of his own fear of doing anything on his own.

--The Legion of the Damned by Sven Hassel (tr. Maurice Michael)

June  18,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

Hans and I several times talked of deserting again, but the Old Un advised us not to try.

"Not one in a thousand gets away with it, and if they catch you you've had it.  You're for the wall.  It's much better to get wounded--only for heaven's sake don't do it yourself, for they examine you pretty thoroughly to see if it could have been self-inflicted.  Remember there is always a little fouling left in the wound if you put a pistol to an arm or leg, and if you're caught with that, may lad, then you're for it.  Typhus or cholera are the best; they can't prove anything with those.  Syphilis is no good.  They chuck you into hospital and shove you out again a fortnight later, after giving you such treatment as you'll never forget.  Keep off VD, for they'll impale you alive if you come in with it bad.  Some people drink the gas we use for the tanks and that's quite good; it gives you bubonic plague that you can keep going for four or five months, if you know the dodge.  Or you could pull a cigarette through an exhaust pipe and eat that; that's pretty good too, gives quite a nice fever, but it doesn't last so long and you have to smuggle a bottle of gas and a bag of lump sugar into hospital with you and eat a lump soaked in gas every day; that keeps your temperature up at 39°C., but don't let them catch you or they'll have you for 'lowering the will to fight.'  If you can give a hospital orderly a couple of hundred cigarettes he can arrange a gangrened leg for you; then you lose a leg and the war is over, as far as you are concerned.  You can also get typhus-infected water.  But there is always a snag about these tricks and most other wangles; either they don't act with you--Porta has tried them all;  he has even eaten some dead dog full of maggots, but on Porta that sort of things acts more like a health cure--or you become paralyzed, or you end in the cemetery.  Many have done that."

--The Legion of the Damned by Sven Hassel (tr. Maurice Michael)

June  17,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

"And lastly I have won a mistress--with thighs and the rest of it."

"A what?"

"A what?"  Porta echoed.  "Don't you know, child, what a mistress is?  It's a toy for counts and barons.  It has thighs and breasts and buttocks.  That's what you play with.  You can buy them in very expensive shops where you drink champagne while you inspect the models.  It has to be wound up with a check before it will move.  It moves up and down till it becomes tired, then it has to be wound up with another check.  If you have enough checks it will never stop.

--The Legion of the Damned by Sven Hassel (tr. Maurice Michael)

June  16,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

And it is a well-known fact, which private soldiers in all countries will be able to confirm, that you cannot wage a war without muddles.  The amount of muddle and the tremendous waste of human life, food, material and brain-work that lie behind such expressions as "advance according to plan," to say nothing of "straightening the front" and "elastic retreat," is so immeasurably tragic that you could not conceive it even if you tried.

It seems to me that there is a sort of explanation for the muddle of war.  It is perhaps this, or this among other things, that if there were no muddle it would be possible to pin down responsibility.  If you take Muddle = no Responsibility, then my explanation becomes quite plausible:

if War = Muddle

and Muddle = no Responsibility

then War = no Responsibility

--The Legion of the Damned by Sven Hassel (tr. Maurice Michael)

June  15,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

'I feel better able to face the world, said Luke.  Better able, he meant, to face the journey home - not the Ancient Egypt section of one of the city's daunting museums.

'Why on earth do we want to see that?' he said.

'It's very interesting,' said Nicole.  'It was a civilisation in which nothing ever happened, a culture which consisted entirely of sitting.  Very like Paris in fact.'

--Paris Trance by Geoff Dyer

June  14,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

'And you?  Why did you come here?'

'To become a different person.  Or at least more of a person.'

'What were you before?'

'An Englishman living in England.'

'Who were you before?'

'Someone I'd lost interest in.'

'And now you're an Englishman living in Paris?'

'Put like that it sounds even less interesting.'

'How would you make it more interesting?'

'I'm here because the bars stay open late.'

--Paris Trance by Geoff Dyer

June  13,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

'I don't really study anything now.  I came here on a scholarship.  Now I just need to finish off a dissertation I have no interest in.  Is nearly finished.  I just need to add a comma here and there.'

'What is it on?'

'The same thing all dissertations are on.  Nothing at all.'

--Paris Trance by Geoff Dyer

June  12,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

The purpose of fiction is still, as it was to Joseph Conrad, to make the reader see.  That is our quarrel with television, is it not?  That it is not visual enough?  It cannot make us see Jeeves, the butler, entering the room, "a procession of one."  It cannot make us see the woman in Dorian Gray whose dresses always looked as though they had been designed in a rage and put on in a tempest.  It cannot make us see the character in Ring Lardner who served what he thought was good Scotch though he may have been deceived by some flavor lurking in his beard.  Least of all can it ever hope to begin to make us see anything like the young girl in Elizabeth Bowen's The Death of the Heart, who "walked about with the rather fated expression you see in photographs of girls who have subsequently been murdered, but nothing so far had happened to her. . . ."  Such wild rich subtleties require transmission from one mind to another via the written word upon the printed page, and remain beyond the power of the boob-tube to convey.

--Exploring Inner Space collected in Without a Stitch in Time by Peter de Vries

June  11,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

The figure I cut out there must, I imagined to myself, have an element of objective loneliness, like that of the solitary Man on the Road that illustrated the dust jackets of so many novels of social protest in the thirties.  To pass the time, I experimented with symbolic variations of this.  By trudging doggedly along, I typified the bindle stiffs who in the early works of John Steinbeck roamed the countryside in search of employment.  By grinning witlessly, I evoked the grotesquely doomed Southerners of Erskine Caldwell.  Pausing before a billboard emblazoned with some token of a materialist culture, I struck an ironic attitude that suggested the perceptive underdog as celebrated by William Saroyan.  Hooking my coat over y shoulder on two fingers, I executed a nervous, almost dancelike step that characterized a punch-drunk boxer out of Hemingway.  A tilt of the head as in the appraisal of fields in which one could take pride recalled a whole school of Iowa regionalists - eulogists of the Breadbasket of a Nation.

--A Walk in the Country; of, How to Keep Fit to Be Tied collected in Without a Stitch in Time by Peter de Vries

June  10,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

"She has no mind, merely a mind of her own" is something I recently said in open conversation, with less profit than I had anticipated.  When I say anticipated, I mean over a fairly long stretch, for the remark is one of a repertory of retorts I carry about in my head, waiting for the chance to spring them.  This is a form of wit I call prepartee - prepared repartee for use in contingencies that may or may not arise.  For instance, I have been waiting for years for some woman to dismiss a dress she has on as "just something I slipped into," so that I can say, behind my hand, "Looks more like something she slipped and fell into."

--Laughter in the Basement collected in Without a Stitch in Time by Peter de Vries

June  9,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

As I strode up the walk to my car, I knew a strange peace - the peace of a man who has faced up to what courage and chivalry demanded, and not flinched.  I knew it was the same with Dumbrowski.  We would never speak of this again, yet we were strangely cleansed.  Part of me regretted the incident - always would - but another, deeper part of me would always prize it for the challenge that had come out of it . . . a challenge met.  Somewhere a duck quacked.  The air was like wine.  It was with a high heart that I sprang into my car and drove - home - to the woman I loved.

--The Irony of It All collected in Without a Stitch in Time by Peter de Vries

June  8,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

This was a story, he told us as he stoked his pipe reparatory to the reading, about a burnt-out prizefighter who signs for one last fight in an attempt to get enough money to marry a woman he is in love with.  He is not only badly beaten but gravely injured, and is taken to the hospital immediately following the bout.

"'Stramaglia knew that he lay dying,'" Dumbrowski read, in a voice that was low and modulated, yet vibrant with respect for the material.  "'Part of him wanted to die.'"  See?  "'Part of him wanted desperately to live.  A great weariness assailed him.  Somewhere a cart rattled in the corridor.  Then he was dimly aware that the door of his room had opened and someone was sitting in the chair beside his bed.  He knew without opening his eyes that it was Constanza.

--The Irony of It All collected in Without a Stitch in Time by Peter de Vries

June  7,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

They are no good, those books.  But they sell.  They have the disproportionate quantities of seaminess that gain authors reputations as realists, and their style is no tax on the brain.  They abound in lines like "Behind him he could hear Dumbrowski's heavy breathing" and "With a bellow of mingled rage and pain he came at him."  There are more descriptive stencils like "a thickset man with beetling brows: and "a small birdlike woman" than you can shake a stick at, and the frequency of "You mean - ?" in his dialogue indicates that he is no pathfinder there, either.  Triter still is the lyric strain with which the brutal realism is relieved, being marked by an almost unlimited use of the atmospheric "somewhere": "Somewhere a bird sang," "Somewhere a woman's laughter broke the stillness of the night," and so on.  Complexity of characterization is achieved by the sedulous repetition of "part of him."  "Part of him wanted to so-and-so, while another part of him wanted to such-and-such."  It goes without saying that the "as if in a dream" locution appears on every fourth page.  As befits the work of a fearless realist, the aspect of life most abundantly dealt with is sex.

--The Irony of It All collected in Without a Stitch in Time by Peter de Vries

June  6,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

They have wild elephants and plenty of unicorns, which are scarcely smaller than elephants.  They have the hair of a buffalo and feet like an elephant's.  They have a single large, black horn in the middle of the forehead.  They do not attack with their horn, but only with their tongue and their knees; for their tongues are furnished with long, sharp spines, so that when they want to do any harm to anyone they first crush him by kneeling upon him and then lacerate him with their tongues.  They have  ahead like a wild boar's and always carry it stooped towards the ground.  They spend their time by preference wallowing in mud and slime.  They are very ugly brutes to look at.  They are not at all such as we describe them when we relate that they let themselves be captured by virgins, but clean contrary to our notions. 

 --The Travels of Marco Polo (tr. Ronald Latham)

[N.B.:  The rhinoceros?]

June  5,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

When the Great Khan learnt how badly the two barons who commanded the expedition had acquitted themselves, he had one of them beheaded and sent the other to a desolate island named Zorza, which he uses as a place of execution for those who have committed grave offences.  This is how the execution is carried out.  When a victim is sent to this island under sentence of death, his hands are wrapped in freshly flayed buffalo hide and securely sewn up.  As the skin dries, it shrinks so tight round the hands that it cannot possibly be removed.  So he is left to die a painful death: he can do nothing to help himself, he has nothing to eat and if he wants to eat grass he must needs crawl on the ground.  Such was the fate of the second baron.

 --The Travels of Marco Polo (tr. Ronald Latham)

June  4,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

Let me tell you now of a marvel that occurred while Bayan was besieging this city.  It happened, after King Facfur had taken to flight, that a multitude of the townsfolk were fleeing by boat by way of a broad, deep river that flows past one side of the city.  All of a sudden, while they were actually on the river, the water completely dried up, so that Bayan, on learning the news, came to this part and compelled all the fugitives to return to the city.  And a fish was found lying high and dry across the river-bed--and what a fish!  For it was fully 100 paces long, but its girth was by no means proportionate to its length.  Its whole body was hairy.  Many people ate of ti, and many of those who did so died.  Messer Marco, as he relates, saw the head of this fish with his own eyes in a certain temple of the idols.

 --The Travels of Marco Polo (tr. Ronald Latham)

June  3,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

Let me tell you further that on the southern side of the city is a lake, some thirty miles in circuit.  And all round it are stately palaces and mansions, of such workmanship that nothing better or more splendid could be devised or executed.  These are the abodes of the nobles and magnates.  There are also abbeys and monasteries of the idolaters in very great numbers.  Furthermore in the middle of the lake there are two islands, in each of which is a marvellous and magnificent palace, with so many rooms and apartments as to pass belief, and so sumptuously constructed and adorned that it seems like the palace of an emperor.  When anyone wishes to celebrate a wedding or hold a party, he goes to this palace.  Here their wedding-parties and feasts are held, and here they find all that is needful for such an occasion in the way of crockery, napery, and plate, and everything else, all kept in stock in the palaces for this purpose for the use of the citizenry; for it was they who had made it all.  On occasion the need may arise to cater for a hundred clients at once, some ordering banquets, others wedding-feasts; and yet they will all be accommodated in different rooms and pavilions so efficiently that one does not get in the way of another.

 --The Travels of Marco Polo (tr. Ronald Latham)

[N.B.:  I wonder if they had the medieval form of Bride-zilla along with the medieval form of wedding facilities.]

June  2,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

When a woman has given birth to a child, she washes and swaddles him.  Then her husband goes to bed and takes the baby with him and lies in bed for forty days without leaving it except for necessary purposes.  And all his friends and kinsmen come to see him and cheer him up and amuse him.  This they do because they say that his wife has had her share of trouble in carrying the infant in her womb, so they do not want her to endure more during this period of forty days.  And the wife is no sooner delivered of her child than she rises from bed and does all the work of the house and waits upon her lord in bed.

 --The Travels of Marco Polo (tr. Ronald Latham)

June  1,  2010

Patrick: Lagniappe

[H]e tells me that private motives are detrimental to public justice!  Confound his arrogance!  What is any public question but a conglomeration of private interests?  What is any newspaper article but an expression of the views taken by one side?  Truth!  It takes an age to ascertain the truth of any question!  The idea of Tom Towers talking of public motives and purity of purpose!

--The Warden by Anthony Trollope

[N.B.:  And to think it took something as esoteric as the internet to convert the general public to the view espoused by Trollope over 150 years ago that there can be no such things as "objective" newspaper reporting. ]