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ARCHIVED ENTRIES FOR MARCH 2008

March 31,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

It does not matter what a man collects; if Nature has given him the collector's mind, he will become a fanatic on the subject of whatever collection he sets to make.  Mr Peters had collected dollars, he began to collect scarabs with precisely the same enthusiasm.  He would have become just as enthusiastic about butterflies or old china, if he had turned his thoughts to them, but it chanced that what he had taken up was the collecting of the scarab, and it gripped him more and more as the years went on. 

--Something Fresh by P.G. Wodehouse

March 29,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

Edmund Wilson once offered a felicitous phrase to describe the sense of faith in the Old Testament.  It seems that no tense of the Hebrew verb conforms precisely to our active present.  Instead there are two time senses, both of them eternal: things are either completed (the past perfect) or they are part of prophecies unfolding, a tense that Wilson calls the '"prophetic perfect," that phase of the Hebrew verb which indicates that something is as good as accomplished.'  A people who live in perpetual prophetic perfect feel neither risk nor vicissitudes of time as we feel them.  There is no emphasis on present and active risk among neighbors.

--The Gift by Lewis Hyde

March 28,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

"Corpulent genius" was fair enough.  "Viselike grip" was good.  It was pleasing to see his oyster eyes described as "two live coals."  The fellow had a touch, all right, but how had he come up with such things as "the absolute powers of a Sultan" and "the sacred macaws of Tamputocco" and "Peruvian metals unknown to science" and "the Master awash in his oversize bathtub" and "likes to work with young people" and "a spray of spittle"?  Why was he, Lamar Jimmerson, who never raised his voice, shown to be expressing opinions he had never held in such an exclamatory way that droplets of saliva flew from his lips?

--Masters of Atlantis by Charles Portis

March 27,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

I find that I keep using these expressions "hunted animals," "panic fear" and "wild with terror."  I know that repetition is bad, that good literary style calls for variety in expression, but I am afraid that I shall have to go on sinning, for how can you find a variety of expression for what is uniform?  Some people could, but I am not sure that I can.  I am too tired, too bemused, too desperate, sometimes also too angry to be able to devote time and energy to the search for shades of meaning and fine distinctions.  What I have to tell is so tragic; and even now, all these years afterward, I am sometimes so oppressed by it that I feel that I have the right to ask for your help in making good where I have failed from your own vocabulary.  As long as you understand what I mean, I do not mind if now and again you shake your head and say: "He could have said that better."

--The Legion of the Damned by Sven Hassel (translated from the Danish by Maurice Michael)

March 26,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

There was a time when I thought that I should only need to tell about Lengries and people would be filled with the disgust that I felt and people would be filled with the disgust that I felt and set about improving the world, begin building a life in which there was no room for torture.  Yet you cannot get people to understand what you mean unless they have themselves experienced what you have experienced, and to those you do not need to tell anything.  The others, those who went free, look at me as if they would like to tell me that I must be exaggerating, although they know that I am not, for they have lapped up the reports of the Nuremberg trials.  But they shrink from looking the whole thing square in the face, prefer to nail another layer of flooring over the rottenness in the foundations, to burn more incense, to sprinkle more scent around.

--The Legion of the Damned by Sven Hassel (translated from the Danish by Maurice Michael)

March 25,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

The American publisher is presenting this book as a documentary novel rather than as an autobiography, primarily because this is Sven Hassel's wish.  It was originally presented in autobiographical form in Denmark.  Though the story is, in the author' words "ninety per cent fact," he has taken a few of its manifold episodes from the experiences of others.

--The Legion of the Damned by Sven Hassel (publisher's note)

[N.B.:  In this week's New Yorker, Jill Lepore has a good article about fake memoirs and factual fictions.   The publisher's note quoted above prefaces Hassel's work of fiction concerning the WWII exploits of a forced-labor Nazi tank brigade.  As it has turned out, the book, originally published in 1957, is a good deal less than "ninety per cent fact" and much more a work of fiction.  It's interesting that the same issues cropping up today also caused a bit of turmoil more than half a century ago--except with the telling difference, that, at least for one author and/or his publisher, integrity superseded greed.]

March 24,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

[Allen] Tate then addresses one of the common criticisms leveled at The Cantos, the same one frequently wielded against [Geoffrey] Hill: their difficulty.  To which Tate counters:

The  form [of The Cantos] is in fact so simple that almost no one has guessed it, and I suppose it will continue to puzzle, perhaps to enrage, our more academic critics for years to come.  But this form by virtue of its simplicity remains inviolable to critical terms: even now it cannot technically be described. . . .  The secret of his form is this: conversation.  The Cantos are talk, talk, talk; not by anyone in particular; they are just rambling talk. . . .  it is a many-voiced monologue.

Delineating the many voices in Hill's monologues can require a good deal of gloss.  Each book creates its own web of reference, based largely one suspects on what Hill was reading at the time.

--Geoffrey Hill's Civil Tongue by David Yezzi in The New Criterion, March 2008

March 23,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

Auden, in his lectures on Shakespeare, sees formal restlessness as characteristic of major artists "engaged in perpetual endeavors":  "The moment [such an artist] learns to do something, he stops and tries to do something else, something new, and not caring if he fails. . . ."  By contrast, minor artists, Auden argues, never risk failure, arriving quickly at a fixed style, at which point their "artistic history is over."  Discovering his early style is no country for old men, a poet may adopt a method better suited to a broadened range of experience.

--Geoffrey Hill's Civil Tongue by David Yezzi in The New Criterion, March 2008

March 20,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

A. and I have reached a happier and even high plane but she wants to be with me all the time.  This is where I fail for I cannot be with anyone all the time.  It is just not in my nature.  I console myself with the certitude that no true and enduring love affair ever runs entirely smoothly.   How can two individuals, who choose to coalesce, not clash fairly frequently?  The triumph of love consists, not in winning, but enduring.  Marriage is a very unnatural state.  But then so are logic and art unnatural.  All the most worthwhile and glorious things achieved by mankind are unnatural.  To be natural is to be animal.  Only fly-by-night lovers expect to have no ups and downs--for six weeks at most.

--Diaries, 1942-1954 by James Lees-Milne (abridged and introduced by Michael Bloch), entry for Tuesday, 4th October, 1949

March 19,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

All novelists know their art proceeds by indirection.  When tempted by didacticism, the writer should imagine a spruce sea-captain eyeing the storm ahead, bustling from instrument to instrument in a catherine wheel of gold braid, expelling crisp orders down the speaking tube.  But there is nobody below decks; the engine-room was never installed, and the rudder broke off centuries ago.  The captain may put on a very good act, convincing not just himself  but even some of the passengers; though whether their floating world will come through depends not on him but on the mad winds and sullen tides, the icebergs and the sudden crusts of reef.

--A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters by Julian Barnes

March 18,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

Walls newly papered with brown flowers even feel soggy to the touch.  And a nice brown, fourth-hand Axminster rug on the sitting-room floor and a scabrous, blue settee.  The kitchen was fine but the tap and sink were out the door.  Up steep narrow stairs, a closet with a plate sized skylight, the conservatory.  And a toilet bowl wedged between two walls, the lavatory.  Tory was a great suffix in this house.  And the sitting-room window two feet off the sidewalk was perfect for the neighbors passing by, so don't want to get caught with the pants down.  But the tram rumbling by keeps one on one's guard.

--The Ginger Man by J.P. Donleavy  

March 17,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

As the magnificence and originality of my worldview became explicit through conversation, the Minkoff minx began attacking me on all levels, even kicking me under the table rather vigorously at one point.  I both fascinated and confused her; in short, I was too much for her.  The parochialism of the ghettoes of Gotham had not prepared her for the uniqueness of Your Working Boy.  Myrna, you see, believed that all humans living south and west of the Hudson River were illiterate cowboys or--even worse--White Protestants, a class of humans who as a group specialized in ignorance, cruelty, and torture.  (I don't wish to especially defend White Protestants; I am not too fond of them myself.).

--A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole  

March 13,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

Had he not always said to Philip that there is a charm and even a beauty in unfinished work - the face which is broken by the sculptor and then abandoned, the poem which is interrupted and never ended?  Why should historical research not also remain incomplete, existing as a possibility and not fading into knowledge?

--Chatterton by Peter Ackroyd

March 12,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

Lillian Portway gave a throaty chuckle, "Oh, my dear, how we differ," she said.  "My advice to any girl would be: 'Leave home!  Break away!  Take all the wonderful things that life has to offer while you can!  The gods grow tired of showering their gifts on those who don't make use of them.'"

--Anglo-Saxon Attitudes by Angus Wilson

March 11,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

He walked on, greeted by various grinning troops.  It comforted him to think that there was something like affection in these greetings.  It was affection won by a kind of hypocrisy, for in most of his talks to the units he deliberately made himself a mere mouthpiece for the inchoate feelings of the many inarticulate.  The talks were called "bolshie"--delightful old-fashioned word--but they were not really political.  He invoked a vague golden age to come (they all, speaker and audience, knew it would never come) when wrongs would be righted, wives no longer seduced by the stranger in the land (Pole, Free French, American), work plentiful and beer cheap.  It was an opiate, but perhaps even a kind of poetry in which the act of expression meant everything, the content nothing.  "--And so perhaps we can look forward to an age when real equality will be possible, when we workers will no longer be spat upon, spurned like so much offal, when the mighty will be brought low and the humble raised.  Democracy a reality, no longer a pious shibboleth."   Such perorations often gained applause, sometimes cheers.  The troops merely needed a voice, their repressions and grievances the catharsis of a bard's utterance.  Nobody really believed that the new city would ever be built.

--A Vision of Battlements by Anthony Burgess

[N.B.:  Any resemblance between this speaker and modern political speakers is purely coincidental since such rhetoricians have always been with us.  As Ezra Pound once said, in, I'm sure, a more pungent and ungarbled fashion, "novels are news that stay news."]

March 10,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

Like both her parents she was a snob, in the sense that she attached exaggerated importance to birth and wealth, and believed that while the aristocracy had much in common with working people, particularly those who worked on the land, the middle class (or "bedints" in Sackville language) were to be pitied and shunned, unless, like Seery or Lord Leverhulme, they had acquired dignity by riches.  When she was twelve years old, she could write to her mother, "The little Gerard Leghs are not bedint, are they?" and "Yesterday we had a Sevenoaks girl to tea: she was rather nice, but a little bedint of course," and she never quite rid herself of this complex; her most famous novel, The Edwardians, written in 1930, was strongly influenced by it.  She was a conforming rebel, a romantic aristocrat.

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

March 9,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

'I hate snobbism.'  She was quite violent.  She had a way of saying some words very strong, very emphatic.  'Some of my best friends in London are - well, what some people call working class.  In origin.  We just don't think about it.'

--The Collector by John Fowles

[N.B.:  And here, in a nutshell, is an example of how people will always discriminate based on something, and will even resort to the same clichés to cover it up, but, if one must discriminate, at least pick something malleable ("In origin.").]

March 8,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

"Aye, sir," said Starbuck drawing near, " 'tis a solemn sight; an omen, and an ill one."

"Omen? omen?--the dictionary!  If the gods think to speak outright to man, they will honorably speak outright; not shake their heads, and give an old wives' darkling hint.--Begone! . . . ."

--Moby Dick by Herman Melville

March 7,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

There is a kind of despair involved in creation which I am sure any artist knows all about.  In art, as in morality, great things go by the board because at the crucial moment we blink our eyes.  When is the crucial moment?  Greatness is to recognize it and be able to hold it and to extend it.  But for most of us the space between "dreaming on things to come" and "it is too late, it is all over" is too tiny to enter.  And so we let each thing go, thinking vaguely that it will always be given to us to try again.  Thus works of art, and thus whole lives of men, are spoilt by blinking and moving quickly on.  I often found that I had ideas for stories, but by the time I had thought them out in detail they seemed to me hardly worth writing, as if had already "done" them: not because they were bad, but because they already belonged to the past and I had lost interest.

--The Black Prince by Iris Murdoch

March 6,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

"Dub goes way back.  He's an old newspaper reporter.  His first book was a WPA project called The Story of the Fort Wayne Post Office, 1840-1940.  It seems to me there used to be a copy of that lying around her in the Temple."

"I don't remember it."

"His first and, some people say, his best.  My personal favorite is Here Comes Gramps!  A humorous family memoir.  You know how I like a light touch.  Dub's a real pro, and not a bad egg once you get to know him.  He's done it all. Humor, suspense, poetry, romance, history, travel--there's nothing he can't handle.  He wrote So This Is Omaha! in a single afternoon.  Did you ever read a detective story called Too Many Gats by a man named Vince Beaudine?"

"No."

"That was Dub.  Dr. Klaus Ehrhart ring a bell?  Slimming Secrets of the Stars?"

"No."

"Dub puts that name on all his health books.  How about Ethel Decatur Cathcart?  I know you must have heard about her very popular juvenile series.  All those Billy books--Billy on the Farm, Billy and His Magic Socks.  The kids are crazy about them.  Well, Ethel is Dub.

--Masters of Atlantis by Charles Portis

March 5,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

Ramsay MacDonald was still Prime Minister, but it was clear that he was becoming unfit for his duties.  His public speeches were growing vaguer and vaguer.  At first only Opposition newspapers noticed this: the News Chronicle, for instance, laughed at a speech delivered early in 1934 at Leeds Town Hall as part of the National Government propaganda campaign.  In it MacDonald spoke of 'coming down to facts and facing them', of 'the sanctity of the firesides of the poor', and of the necessity of 'keeping in touch not only with progressive but also with retrograding movements in our advance'.  He had a fatal facility for confused metaphors: a well-known one was, 'Ah, my friends, how easy it would be to listen to the milk of human kindness.'  By 1935 many newspapers made cynical comments on reported statements of his, such as: 'Society goes on and on and on.  It is the same with ideas.' 

--The Long Week End by Robert Graves and Alan Hodge

[N.B.:  Ditto.  Too bad Ramsay MacDonald, as the decider, did not have a strategery to make sure his mission was accomplished without being misunderestimated.  But, at least, by listening to the milk of human kindness, he could still put food on your family.]

March 4,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

Major C. H. Douglas, a retired Royal Engineer, had been propounding his theory of Social Credit in a series of books and pamphlets for over ten years.  In the Thirties a Social Credit party was formed; its members adopted the new political habit of wearing coloured shirts as uniforms, and chose green. . . . .

The Social Credit plan was to distribute national dividends to everyone through the central banks.  The basis of the value of these dividends was supposed to be the capital equipment and the energy possessed by the community.  The present financial system, Major Douglas held, did not reflect the real credit of the community.  To prove this, he developed a theory meant to show that some of the country's income was continuously lost by the interest charges of the banking system.  'Dividends for All' would remedy this by bringing a country's purchasing power up to the level of its productive power.  Social Credit took for granted that modern science enabled productive power to be increased limitlessly, even to the point of luxury for all.  From this followed the first step in its argument: that only a lack of purchasing power prevented the masses from enjoying the natural increase.

--The Long Week End by Robert Graves and Alan Hodge

[N.B.:  I quote the above because it once again proves the old chestnut, "the more things change, etc., etc., etc."  True, this time around most people should receive a check from Uncle Sam for a few hundred dollars to help boost their purchasing power in order to stave off a recession/depression, not as some kind of national dividend.  But the result is the same.  If only everyone could get a green t-shirt too.]

March 3,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

Harriet Scrope rose from her chair, eager to deliver her news.  'Cut is the bough,' she said, 'that might have grown full straight.'  And she doubled up, as if she were about to be sawn in half.

'Branch.'  Sarah Tilt was very deliberate.

'I'm sorry?'

'It was a branch, dear, not a bough.  If you were quoting.'

Harriet stood upright.  'Don't you think I know?'  She paused before starting up again.  'We poets in our youth begin in gladness.  But thereof in the end come despondency and madness.'  She stuck her tongue out of the side of her mouth and rolled her eyes.  Then she sat down again.  'Of course I know it's a quotation.  I've given my life to English literature.'

Sarah was still very cool.  'It's a pity, then, that you didn't get anything in return.'  And they both laughed.

--Chatterton by Peter Ackroyd

March 2,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

In Emesa the sky-stone evidently carried great weight.  The pilgrims were most devout, and so was the priest, who saw it every day.  That morning a ram had been sacrificed, and a tethered he-goat was waiting to be killed at sunset.  The god received two lives every day.

All over Syria the gods are very close to mankind; because they are not very nice gods you sometimes wish they were farther off.  Most of our Gallic gods live at the bottom of springs and pools, and it is hard to get in touch with them.  That is the system I prefer.

--Family Favorites by Alfred Duggan