About

Main

Contact

SEARCH

Archives

ARCHIVED ENTRIES FOR JUNE 2011

June 30,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

'It's a good example of how history works,' Howard says.  'We tend to think of it as something solid and unchanging, appearing out of nowhere etched in stone like the Ten Commandments.  But history, in the end, is only another kind of story and stories are different from the truth.  The truth is messy and chaotic and all over the place.  Often it just doesn't make sense.  Stories make things make sense, but the way they do that is to leave out anything that doesn't fit.  And often that is quite a lot.'

--Skippy Dies by Paul Murray

June 29,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

This is the way they live now, like two actors in the final performances of a show no one comes to see any more.

--Skippy Dies by Paul Murray

June 28,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

Dinner chez Fallon was a riot of cutlery on good china amidst long lakes of silence, like some unlistenable modernist symphony; beneath the prevailing veneer of politeness, a seething cauldron of disappointment and blame.  It was like eating with some Waspy clan in New Hampshire; Halley was surprised at how un-Irish they seemed, but then most things in Dublin she found to be un-Irish.

--Skippy Dies by Paul Murray

June 27,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

'You're covered in feathers,' she says judiciously.

'Yes,' he harrumphs, swiping his trousers summarily, straightening his tie.  Her eyes, which are a brilliant and dazzling shade of blue custom-made for sparkling mockingly, sparkle mockingly at him.

--Skippy Dies by Paul Murray

[N.B.:  I can't say that I'd recommend 650-plus-page monstrosity that is Skippy Dies (apparently, its editor dies too), but one has to admire the daredevil adverbial heroics of its author.]

June 26,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

I cannot now remember the exact sequence of events in those prehistoric years.  That we cannot remember such things, that our memory, which is our self, is tiny, limited and fallible, is also one of those important things about us, like our inwardness and our reason.  Indeed it is the very essence of both.

--The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch

June 25,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

If there is a fruitless mental torment which is greater than that of jealousy it is perhaps remorse.  Even the pains of loss may be less searching; and often of course these agonies combine, as now they did for me.  I say remorse not repentance.  I doubt it I have ever experienced repentance in a pure form; perhaps it does not exists in a pure form.  Remorse contains guilt, but helpless hopeless guilt which knows of no cure for the painful bite.

--The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch

June 24,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

'I can't understand your attitude to Tibet.'

'To Tibet?'

'Yes, oddly enough!  Surely it was just a primitive superstitious mediaeval tyranny.'

'Of course it was a primitive superstitious mediaeval tyranny,' said James, 'who's disputing that?'

'You seem to be.  You seem to regard it as a lost Buddhist paradise.'  I had never ventured to say anything like this to James before, it must have been the drink.

'I don't regard it as a Buddhist paradise.  Tibetan Buddhism was in many ways thoroughly corrupt.  It was a wonderful human relic, a last living link to the ancient world, an extraordinary untouched country with a unique texture of religion and folklore.  All this has been destroyed deliberately, ruthlessly and unselectively.  Such a quick thoughtless destruction of the past must always be a matter of regret whatever the subsequent advantages.'

[N.B.:  To be fair to the Chinese, they also "destroyed deliberately, ruthlessly and unselectively" their own culture as well.  Have to make way for the New Man and the New World, you know.]

--The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch

June 23,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

'Who knows?  You're a sea man.  I'm a mountain man.'

'The sea is clean.  The mountains are high.  I think I am becoming drunk.'

'The sea is not all that clean,' said James.  'Did you know that dolphins sometimes commit suicide by leaping onto the land because they're so tormented by parasites?'

'I wish you hadn't told me that.  Dolphins are such good beasts.  So even they have their attendant demons.'

--The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch

June 22,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

James said, 'Can you hear the sea?'

'That was Keats's favourite quotation from Shakespeare.'  I listened.  The beating sound had stopped and been succeeded by a kind of regular wailing hiss as the large methodical waves climbed the rocks and drenched them and fell back.  The wind must have increased.  'Yes.'

--The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch

June 21,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

But supposing it should turn out in the end that such a love should lose its object, could it, whatever happened, lose its object?  Some loves are not defeated by death, although it is not as easy as we think to love the dead.  But there are pains and devices which defeat love more ingeniously.  Would I at last absolutely lose Harltey because of a treachery or desertion on her part which should turn my love into hate?  Could I begin to see her as cold, heartless, uncanny, a witch, a sorceress?  I felt that this could never be, and I felt it as an achievement, almost as a mode of possession.  As James said, 'If even a dog's tooth is truly worshipped it glows with light.'  My love for Hartley was very nearly an end in itself.  Twist and turn as she might, whatever happened she could not escape me now.

--The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch

June 20,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

On several afternoons Lizzie and I walked inland, past the place where in a previous existence I had intended to put my herb garden, into the country which I had never explored.  The region just beyond the road was bog, full of outcrops of rock and gorse and little black pools.  There was some scrappy heather and a lot of those tiny yellow plants that catch flies, and purple and white flowers that looked like miniature orchids.  Two pairs of buzzards inhabited the blue air.  After the bog there was ordinary farm land, sheep-scattered hillsides, distant mustard fields catching the sunlight with their huge patches of glowing yellow.  There were many ruined stone cottages, roofless and full of willow-herb and wild buddleia and butterflies, and we came on the ruin of a big house with the box hedges of the formal garden grown into a forest and covered with rambler roses.  I record these details, which I recall so clearly, because they are the very image of sorrow; things seen which might have given pleasure, but could not.

--The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch

June 19,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

'OK, I can be jealous too.'

'But you yourself encouraged me to feel it was all right!  Why did you bother to pretend, and mislead me?  You can't blame me now--If you had looked more stricken I would have felt more guilty.  But you were so nice to me, so friendly--you always seemed so pleased to see me--'

'I am an actor.  And perhaps I was pleased to see you.  We sometimes like to see people whom we hate and despise so that we can stir them up to further demonstrations of how odious they are.'

--The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch

June 18,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

'Time can divorce us from the reality of people, it can separate us from people and turn them into ghosts.  Or rather it is we who turn them into ghosts and demons.  Some kinds of fruitless preoccupations with the past can create such simulacra, and they can exercise power, like those heroes at Troy fighting for a phantom Helen.'

'You think I'm fighting for a phantom Helen?'

'Yes.'

'She is real to me.  More real than you are.  How can you insult and unhappy and suffering person by calling her a ghost?'

'I'm not calling her a ghost.  She is real, as human creatures are, but what reality she has is elsewhere.  She does not coincide with your dream figure.  You were not able to transform her.  You must admit you tried and failed.'

--The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch

June 17,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

'He wants to pretend he doesn't care.  It's an available insult.  He wants to make it clear we come at his convenience.  It's just as well.  It gives you more time to write that letter.  It might be as well to deliver the letter before we all arrive, he'll be more likely to read it.'

'Oh, James-'

'Not to worry.  Sic biscuitus disintegrat.'

'What?'

'That's the way the cookie crumbles.'

--The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch

June 16,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

The prior, who was a learned man, despite being foolish and worldly, knew his Aelfric and his Bartholomew Anglicus well, and he went on to proclaim how those who were born to govern knew that the world was ordained by God to be divided into three permanent estates--bellatores, oratores, laboratores--warriors, prayers, laborers--the barons and knights who defended and ruled society, the clergy who prayed and attended to the cure of souls, and those who labored for a living.  Few in his audience could doubt that it was essential to the well-being of the world that the great mass of rustics at the base of society performed the work and paid the rents and other dues that provided the sustenance and wealth needed to maintain the other two estates, the clergy and the nobility and gentry.  "How could it be otherwise?" he asked without fear of dissent.  "If they did not do so, knights and bishops, priors and squires, lawyers and monks would have to become plowmen and herdsmen in order to survive, and so would be forced to abandon their higher vocations.  These are the commandments of God.  But now, instead of being turned from their sinful ways in fear and penitence, as God wished when he was unleashed the terrible pestilence that we have just suffered, the common people are setting their hearts against his commandments, and by their selfishness, arrogance, and immorality they are putting the world in grave danger of another terrible punishment delivered by his anger."

--The Black Death: A Personal History by John Hatcher

June 15,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

[P]arishioners had been told many times by their priests, "The passage of death out of the wretchedness of the exile of this world was extremely hard, very perilous, and also very terrifying," and that it was essential for all Christian folk "to die in a state of true repentance and contrition."  Deeply implanted in hearts and minds was the belief that "although bodily death is the most dreadful of all terrifying things, spiritual death of the soul is much more horrible and detestable, as the soul is more worthy and precious than the body."  Therefore, even the most unlearned of parishioners understood that the attainment of a pure and contrite condition at the moment of death required free and full confession in the last breaths to a priest, as well as the making of amends for past transgressions, the aid of the power of the Communion Host, and the protection of the Virgin.  It was no less a matter of fact that the safe passage of the soul required the sealing of the body anointed in holy oil, the collective prayers and candles of family and friends, the singing of psalms, the chanting of prayers, the solemn procession with clerks, the careful interring of the body in consecrated ground, and a multitude of Masses.  How could it now be accepted that a lonely death in a state of near madness or stupor, unshriven and unhouselled, except perhaps by the stumbling efforts of family, with bodies cast with little ceremony into shared graves, could serve the same purpose?

--The Black Death: A Personal History by John Hatcher

June 14,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

Also compelling were those who knew the secrets of the waxing and waning of the four humors of the body: blood, which was hot and moist and came from the heart; phlegm, which was cold and moist, and came from the brain; yellow bile, which was hot and dry and came from the liver; and black bile, which was cold and dry and came from the spleen.  It was obvious to all who listened that every ailment must be due to an imbalance between the humors, and that only those folk whose humors were in perfect balance could expect to resist the infection of the plague.  Unsurprisingly, virtually all whom these quacks examined were found to have one or more humors which were either deficient or excessive, so they readily purchased the expensive potions which would right this dangerous imbalance before the plague arrived.

--The Black Death: A Personal History by John Hatcher

June 13,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

It was a gusty twilight.  A sky full of wreckage flowed overhead in silence.  Down in the grounds a cherry tree whipped and shuddered, its fallen blossoms washing in waves back and forth over the grey grass.  How many moments had I known like this, when everything faltered somehow, like a carousel coming briefly to a stop, and I saw once again with weary eyes the thing that had been there all the time.

--Mefisto by John Banville

June 12,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

The common flea, or pulex irritans, which is the name we scientists call him, can survive a long time without food.  He likes a spicy drop of good red blood, of man or maiden, it's all one to him.  He doesn't bity, you know, for fun.  In fact, he doesn't bite, but, rather, pricks, sucks up a ruby drop, and off he kicks.  His cousin, xenopsylla cheopis, or rat flea, is a different type, for this lad does not at all like human gore, indeed, it makes him puke, which is a bore for such a lively fellow.  But when his host, the black rat, rattus rattus, gives up the ghost, he has no choice but to go after us.  The poor chap's little proventriculus gets all bunged up with swarming bacilli, whose name is pasteurella pestis, need I say any more?  Now, dying for a feed, he subjugates his loathing to his need, and finds a human target double quick.  In goes the sharp proboscis, and the trick is done, a drop of blood is aspirated into the proventriculus.  Now sated, our Jumping Jack relaxes, but, oh dear, some of that blood comes up again, I fear now rife with bacilli, and goes straight down the puncture hole.  The victim, with a frown, scratches the spot, while pasteurella pestis heads pell-mell for the region of the testes.  A week elapses, then the buboes swell, there's fever, stupor, and, of course, a smell as if the poor wretch were already dead.  Next wifey gets it, baby too, then Fred the postman, yes, and Fed, the postman's son, then in a twinkling half the town is gone.  It flies like black smoke, felling frail and fit, soon continents are in the grip of it.  And all the doing of his majesty, our lord of misrule, Harry Hotspur flea!  So now, remember, when you feel a bite, it really is an honour, not a slight.

--Mefisto by John Banville

June 11,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

He crossed the room, and from behind a screen, almost with a flourish, he wheeled out on its rubber wheels another trolley, on which my mother's body was laid, wrapped in a tartan blanket.  Her hands were folded.  She was still wearing one white glove.  Her face was turned aside, her cheek pressed against her shoulder.  Her eyes were not quite closed.  I could see no marks of the crash save for a small cut on her forehead.  But there was something in the way she was lying, all bundled up like that, as if she had been snatched up and shaken violently, and everything inside her was broken and in bits.  I caught a faint whiff of her face powder.  The doctor was hovering at my shoulder.  I nodded dully, identifying what was not there, for this was not my mother, but something she had left behind, like a mislaid glove.

--Mefisto by John Banville

June 10,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

As the year darkened so the house grew sombre, standing stark against a knife-coloured sky, a ragged flock of rooks wheeling above the chimney-pots.  The first gales of the season stripped half the trees in the park, opening unexpected vistas.  Indoors it was like being on a great ship at sea, the windows in their warped frames banged and boomed, and a grey, oceanic glow suffused the ceilings.  Beneath the creaks, the rattlings, there was a deep, undersea silence.

--Mefisto by John Banville

June 9,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

The nobility of self-sacrifice is what remains when the lesser things have fallen through the sieve of life.  It is the one thing that answers the aspirations in our own hearts for something more exalted than ourselves; it is the white flame of youth with its appetite for sacrifice.  This kind of death is not unredeemed.  After four years of war the magic has gone out of most things in life.  Nobility remains.  It lights the darkest battle-field.  If that is extinguished all is gone.  We have become so destructive in word and deed that it only remains now for us to pretend that nobility isn't noble.  If we do so we shall draw the blind upon the last hope of man.

--Vessel of Sadness by William Woodruff

June 8,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

The smell of the dead, sweet and sickly; of men rotting, of bloated dead horses and cattle, of smoke, of sweat and dirt, of louse powder, methylated spirits and soap.  The overwhelming, revolting stench of a pile of dead rats lying in a field.

The sound of the wind, blowing in gentle gusts, trying to put out the flames; the odd burst of gunfire from both sides, daring the other to move; gunfire that is no more than an involuntary twitch compared with what has gone before.  The sound of men whose voices have changed.  Men snoring.  The pop of exploding lice as the purifying candle flame is quickly run up and down the seams and corners of lousy clothing.  The cry of the wounded.  The sobbing of a boy soldier sitting in the corner of a barn, alone, weeping.  An older soldier sat with his back to a wall looking at the sea and peacefully talking to himself.  The sound of marching feet, dragging feet, trailing feet, the rattle and the roar of vehicles, the far away voice of the surf, the siren of a ship at sea, the shuffling of a deck of playing cards and the calling of the odds by four soldiers dressed in tatters gambling in the shadow of a well in a farm yard.  The sound of a soldier playing a mouth organ sitting on a tomb in the civilian cemetery.   The sound of rats gnawing on something in the cavity of a farm wall at night.  The hoot of an owl.  The tapping of a beetle.  The oaths of a man who stumbles over a stone.  A bugle sounding the Last Post; its notes thrown back from the hills and the sky, grave and beautiful.

--Vessel of Sadness by William Woodruff

June 7,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

The hush of false dawn.  The noise of the atmospherics on the radio lessens.  Watching heads nod.  Life is suspended; it is neither night nor day.  Momentarily, the guns are stilled.  The last despatch rider to be sent out before the dawn is put-puttering down the lane.  The sound of the German night fighters lessens in the sky.  A raven caws.  The patrols are in, soaked, sitting, chewing, blackfaced, not speaking, eyes staring over their tins of food at the ground, changed, giving involuntary shivers, wondering about what might have been and who was dead.

--Vessel of Sadness by William Woodruff

June 6,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

What lay completely outside Captain Prattfall's grasp was not the ability to talk.  He had done nothing but talk all his life.  Never had a word defeated him.  He could talk without notes, without pause, without breathing, without rest, without food, without drink, without meaning, without scruples, without end.  What eluded him was the ability to think.  Like a squirrel in winter he had stored up in his mind an immense supply of nuts of knowledge.  At least a squirrel had the sense to eat the nuts and digest them.  But not Captain Prattfall.  Knowledge to him was not something out of which wisdom might grow.  Knowledge was something you amassed in your head to be fired in salvo after salvo the moment the giant evil of ignorance showed itself.  There was no thrust and parry, no compromise, no doubts, no reassessment, only an unending barrage of words until ignorance was dead or had fled the field.

--Vessel of Sadness by William Woodruff

June 5,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

But while the Frenchman became a byword for lack of principle in an unprincipled age the American had principles for which he would have died.  While Talleyrand saw in politics a path to riches, Hamilton would sooner have picked a pocket than made a penny out of his political position.  Talleyrand frankly--for in such matters he was always frank--could not understand why Hamilton, fallen from office, was obliged to go back to the Bar in order to make a living.  He could not even admire a lack of self-interest, which seemed to him foolish.  Yet the two were friends.  Years afterwards Aaron Burr, who had killed Hamilton in a duel, left a card upon Talleyrand in Paris.  The major-domo was instructed to inform Monsieur Burr when he called again that over Talleyrand's mantelpiece there hung the portrait of Alexander Hamilton.

--Talleyrand by Duff Cooper

June 4,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

Alexander Hamilton was a man whom Talleyrand could both love and respect.  They had much in common.  Where they differed the advantage was wholly upon Hamilton's side.  They were both by breeding and in outlook aristocratic, and both without the prejudices that aristocracy too often connotes.  They were both passionately interested in politics, and both of them looked at politics from a realistic standpoint and despised sentimental twaddle whether it poured from the lips of a Robespierre or a Jefferson.  The terrorist sobbing over humanity or the slave-owner spouting about freedom were equally repulsive to these two practical statesmen who attempted to see things as they were.  Both loved pleasure, both rejoiced in that embroidery of life which we call elegance; neither was impervious to the charms of women.

--Talleyrand by Duff Cooper

June 3,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

There was at this time living in Paris an American gentleman named Gouverneur Morris.  He was a man of considerable intelligence, some experience of public afairs, especially of their financial side, and having warmly espoused the cause of the colonists in the American War of Independence, he retained a cynically aristocratic view of life and a profound contempt for democratic theories.  He was also a man of courage and resource.  Later on, when Jefferson left Paris for a safer place, Morris was appointed American Minister, and he was the only foreign representative who remained at his post throughout the worst days of the Terror.  On one occasion when he found himself the centre of a hostile mob in favour of hanging him on the nearest lamp-post as an Englishman and a spy, he unfastened his wooden leg, brandished it above his head, and proclaimed himself an American who had lost a limb fighting for liberty.  The mob's suspicions melted into enthusiastic cheers, but, as a matter of fact, he had never fought for liberty nor for anything else, and had lost his leg as the result of a carriage accident.

--Talleyrand by Duff Cooper

June 2,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

The oath of allegiance to the Civil Constitution of the Clergy, given as it had been in open disobedience to the instructions of the Pope, brought upon Talleyrand the anathema of Rome.  In April he was formally excommunicated.  He offered no excuse and no defence, but wrote to the Duke of Biron, one of his companions in pleasure and colleagues in politics: 'Have you heard that I have been excommunicated?  Come and console me by having supper with me.  Every one must refuse me fire and water, so this evening we will have cold meat and iced wine.'

--Talleyrand by Duff Cooper

June 1,  2011

Patrick: Lagniappe

Mirabeau, while he was in Berlin, began to suspect that Talleyrand was betraying him.  a man of violent passions and the greatest orator of the age, for any mood that was upon him he found memorable words: 'The Abbé de Périgord,' he wrote, 'would sell his soul for money; and he would be right, for he would be exchanging dung for gold.'  a report that in his absence Talleyrand was making love to his mistress may have been responsible for the vigour of this denunciation, and, in spite of it, the two men became again, almost immediately afterwards, the firmest of friends.

--Talleyrand by Duff Cooper