About

Main

Contact

SEARCH

Archives

ARCHIVED ENTRIES FOR MAY 2009

May  29,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

The blow could not have fallen at a more disastrous moment.  It came when Wall Street was in a condition of suppressed "scare"--suppressed, because for a week past the great interests known to act with or to be actually controlled by the Colossus had been desperately combating the effects of the sudden arrest of Lucas Hahn, and the exposure of his plundering of the Hahn banks.  This bombshell, in its turn, had fallen at a time when the market had been "boosted" beyond its real strength.  In the language of the place, a slump was due.  Reports from the corn-hands had not been good, and there had been two or three railway statements which had been expected to be much better than they were.  But at whatever point in the vast area of speculation the shudder of the threatened break had been felt, "the Manderson crowd" had stepped in and held the market up.  All though the week the speculator's mind, as shallow as it is quick-witted, as sentimental as greedy, had seen in this the hand of a giant stretched out in protection from afar.

--Trent's Last Case by E.C. Bentley

[N.B.:  Just substitute "Bernanke" for "Manderson" (oh, and "Madoff" for "Hahn") and you too can be an expert regarding the current economic unpleasantness.  Just another benefit of reading crime classics--this one first published in 1913.]

May  28,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

Sipping the dregs of a julep among the patriarchs of Chartres with the Queen of Sheba in her summer dress shedding immortal grace--in what better way could a little boy learn that the austerities of living are not incompatible with the courtesy and sweetness of life?  I never heard them over their juleps express a philosophy of life, but a philosophy was implicit in all their thoughts and actions.  It probably made the Southern pattern.  Perhaps it is all contained in a remark of Father's when he was thinking aloud one night and I sat at his feet eavesdropping eagerly:

"I guess a man's job is to make the world a better place to live in, so far as he is able--always remembering the results will be infinitesimal--and to attend to his own soul."

--Lanterns on the Levee by William Alexander Percy

May  27,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

After the first long swallow--really a slow and noiseless suck, because the thick crushed ice comes against your teeth and the ice must be kept out and the liquor let in--Cap Mac would say: "Very fine, Camille, you make the best julep in the world."  She probably did.  Certainly her juleps had nothing in common with those hybrid concoctions one buys in bars the world over under that name.  It would have been sacrilege to add lemon, or a slice of orange or of pineapple, or one of those wretched maraschino cherries.  First you needed excellent bourbon whisky; rye or Scotch would not do at all.  Then you put half an inch of sugar in the bottom of the glass and merely dampened it with water.  Next, very quickly--and here was the trick in the procedure--you crushed your ice, actually powdered it, preferably in a towel with a wooden mallet, so quickly that it remained dry, and, slipping two sprigs of fresh mint against the inside of the glass, you crammed the ice in right to the brim, packing it with your hand.  Last you filled, the glass, which apparently had no room left for anything else, with bourbon, the older the better, and grated a bit of nutmeg on the top.  The glass immediately frosted and you settled back in your chair for half an hour of sedate cumulative bliss.  Although you stirred the sugar at the bottom, it never all melted, therefore at the end of the half hour there was left a delicious mess of ice and mint and whisky which a small boy was allowed to consume with calm rapture.

--Lanterns on the Levee by William Alexander Percy

May  26,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

It was when we had come back from Canada and were living in the rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs and Miss Stein and I were still good friends that Miss Stein made the remark about the lost generation.  She had some ignition trouble with the old Model T Ford she then drove and the young man who worked in the garage and had served in the last year of the war had not been adept, or perhaps had not broken the priority of other vehicles, in repairing Miss Stein's Ford.  Anyway he had not been srieux and had been correctly severely by the patron of the garage after Miss Stein's protest.  The patron had said to him, "You are all a gnration perdue."

"That's what you are.  That's what you all are," Miss Stein said.  "All of you young people who served in the war.  You are a lost generation."

"Really?" I said.

"You are," she insisted.  "You have no respect for anything.  You drink yourselves to death. . . . "

"Was the young mechanic drunk?" I asked.

"Of course not."

"Have you ever seen me drunk?"

"No.  But your friends are drunk."

"I've been drunk," I said.  "But I don't come here drunk."

"Of course not.  I didn't say that."

"The boy's patron was probably drunk by eleven o'clock in the morning," I said.  "That's why he makes such lovely phrases."

--A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway

May  22,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

Most of all I became entranced by the aesthetic sensibility embodied in so many Japanese words, and I was soon copying out definitions into a notebook.  Yugen--"a kind of ethereal and profound beauty, one that lurks beneath the surface of things, unamenable to direct expression."  Eiga--"the love of colour and grandeur, of pomp and circumstance."  Mujokan--the Buddhist sense of the transitoriness of worldly things.  Miyabi--courtly beauty, elegance.  Sabi--"the desolation and beauty of loneliness; solitude, quiet."  Aware--a sensitivity to "the tears in things."  Utsutsu--reality; Yume--dream.  Yume no Ukihashi--The Floating Bridge of Dreams.  This last serves as the title for the final chapter of Genji; it is, of course, life itself that is the bridge of dreams.

--Heian Holiday collected in Readings: Essays and Literary Entertainments by Michael Dirda

May  21,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

"He's so good looking," Clarissa said, "and a charmer.  He hasn't done much, has he?  It's awfully dangerous really for people with brains to have money and good looks.  They're practically bound to waste their talents. . . ."

--Anglo-Saxon Attitudes by Angus Wilson

May  20,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

Marie Hlne sat rather stiffly on one of the striped couches and talked.  "Do you think that Anouilh is pass? she asked.  "I think he has lost his elegance.  I find a terrible lack of esprit in his last play."

Timothy was having a very familiar argument with Caroline Jevington.  "My mother's quite as embarrassing as yours," he said.

"Nonsense," said Caroline, "you just listen to Mummy now."

Mrs. Jevington, large and blond but dead and elegant--the English version of Marie Hlne--was holding froth from another sofa.  "Well, I think anyone who's experienced the creative process . . ." she said.

Timothy turned to Caroline.  "Yes, you're right," he said.

Gerald, overhearing this, smiled.  They're both quite right, he thought.  Nevertheless, he decided to say nothing.  To be confidential with the very young would be unbecoming in a man of his age.

--Anglo-Saxon Attitudes by Angus Wilson

May  19,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

They stood on the steps of the Club as the snow fell thickly around them, incongruous in height, contrasting in costume.  Gerald disliked talking to Clun from his superior height; he guessed rightly that it increased the little man's antagonism.

--Anglo-Saxon Attitudes by Angus Wilson

May  18,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

He was nearly forty, the age at which most men who are to make a mark in the world have struck the first impressions.  But Rolfe had made no mark: the world had stamped him, not he the world: no rolling stone ever gathered less moss.  Nevertheless, there were three things on his side.  First was the habit of hardship, which enabled him to accept poverty in spirit which has dignified so many artists' garrets.  It is easier to tolerate the accustomed, than deprivation.  And if the outcast had no cash, he was at least immune from the quotidian responsibilities that chain the lives of the free.  Second, his excellent, still unimpaired constitution and sense of the physical, which, when he was not hungry, brought him a ready, thrilling appreciation of the world around him.  And thirdly, he possessed a genuine talent, so far hidden behind the bushels of his other aspirations but now to be revealed.  Still, when all this has been allowed, it must be admitted that he wore thin armour against fate.

--The Quest for Corvo by A.J.A. Symons

May  17,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

I have never seen him happier than when he had to answer an unpleasant letter.  Before he sat down, I would hear him bubbling and chortling for quite a time.  'Now for it', he would say at last; 'I'm going to flick that gentleman with my satire.'  'I cultivate the gentle art of making enemies', he would say.  'A friend is necessary, one friend--but an enemy is more necessary.  An enemy keeps one alert.'  I do believe he made enemies, or fancied he made them, for the sole pleasure of being able to 'flick them with his satire'.

--The Quest for Corvo by A.J.A. Symons

May  16,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

His becoming a Catholic I could easily understand.  The attraction of the Catholic Faith for the artistic temperament is a phenomenon which has been the subject of many novels and is one of the facts of psychology.  Even among Rolfe's immediate contemporaries, Francis Thompson, Aubrey Beardsley, Ernest Dowson and Lionel Johnson had followed the same path, a path which has been charted by Joris Karl Huysmans.  Rolfe had become a Catholic at twenty-six; and, shortly afterwards, aspired to priesthood.  That, undoubtedly, was more unusual than his conversion; and yet perhaps it is not surprising that one in whom nature had not implanted a love for women should embrace a celibate career.  And then Rolfe, as his books showed, was a mediaevalist, an artist, and  a scholar in temperament; so that to him the tradition of the Catholic Church, with its championship of learning and beauty, must have been a real and living thing.

--The Quest for Corvo by A.J.A. Symons

May  15,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

My interest in the early years of the eminent is far less than that which the tradition of biographical writing painfully imposes on its devotees.  The facts of infancy may be vital when they refer to a prodigy such as Mozart, interesting when relevant to a rebel such as Shelly, valuable when they show the growth of a man out of his place, as Poe; but in Rolfe's case I felt that his childhood was by much the least interesting part of his life.  Moreover, it is possible to reason backwards as well as forwards, to infer the child from the man; and I proposed to do so.

--The Quest for Corvo by A.J.A. Symons

May  14,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

Discuss it?  Persuade people?  That would be madness.  An aspiring dictator must never appeal to the critical spirit of his listeners.  He would be the first victim.  A fascist leader must carry away, inflame, arouse his listeners, inspiring contempt and hatred for those timeservers who engage in discussions.  "Talk doesn't fill your belly"--there's an effective slogan against the traditional politicians.  Whatever the fascist leader says must be said as if it were self-evident, so as not to leave room for the slightest doubt or argument.  Expressions such as "perhaps," "It may be that," "It seems to me," "Unless I am mistaken," must all be strictly avoided.  Any invitation to discuss must be rejected.  "We don't discuss the safety of the Fatherland," "We don't argue with traitors," "The unemployed want jobs, not words"--these are answers that every follower will approve.  Any other kind of behavior would be disastrous.

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

May  13,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

This parable [from the Book of Judges] says that one day the trees, having decided to choose a king, went first to the olive and said, "Rule over us."  But the olive said, "Do you want to force me to stop making oil and thus rendering honor to man and God according to my nature, to go hither and thither, always on the move, to be your leader?"  Then the trees went to the fig tree and said "Come and be our ruler."  The fig answered, "Would you have me forsake my sweetness and my good fruit and go forth into the streets of the world to concern myself with politics from morning till night?"  Then the trees turned to the vine.  "Come and rule over us," they said.  And the vine also replied, "Would you have me stop making grapes, whose juice comforts man and God in sadness, in order to place myself at your head and waste time in idle chatter?"  Finally the trees went to the bramble and proposed, "Come and rule us."  And the bramble answered at once, "If your invitation to crown me is sincere, come, my subjects, and rest in my shade; otherwise, may fire burst from my brambles and burn you all to ashes."  This parable is undoubtedly one of the most subversive passage in the Bible.  The bramble agrees to rule over the other trees because it has nothing better to do.

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

May  12,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

A ruling class in decline lives by half-measures from day to day, and keeps putting off vital issues until tomorrow.  When forced to make a decision, it appoints committees and subcommittees, which complete their investigation when the situation has already changed.  To be late in these cases means to lock the stable door after the horse is stolen. It also gives the illusion that one is dodging responsibility, washing one's hands to show future historians how white and pure they are.  For democrats in troubled countries, the height of the art of governing seems to consist in accepting slaps so as to avoid kicks, in bearing the lesser evil, in constantly thinking up new compromises for minimizing disagreements and reconciling the irreconcilable.

The enemies of democracy take advantage of this and grow daily more insolent.  They conspire in broad daylight, they store up arms, they have their followers parade in the streets in military formations, they attack--ten to one--the most hated democratic leaders.  The government, "weighing its words so as not to worsen the situation," deplores the events and hopes "for the nation's good name" that they weren't premeditated, and makes fervent appeals to the citizenry that "peace may return to all hearts."  The important thing, in the minds of the democratic leaders, is to avoid any words and measures likely to irritate the seditious elements and make the situation worse.

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

May  11,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

That's what mad people do, see everything as evidence for what they want to believe.

--The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch

May  10,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

"Does it signify what really happened to Lawrence at Draa?  If even a dog's tooth is truly worshipped it glows with light.  The venerated object is endowed with power, that is the simple sense of the ontological proof.  And if there is art enough a lie can enlighten us as well as the truth.  What is the truth anyway, that truth?  As we know ourselves we are fake objects, fakes, bundles of illusions.  Can you determine exactly what you felt or thought or did?  We have to pretend in law courts that such things can be done, but that is just a matter of convenience.  Well, well, it doesn't signify.

--The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch

[N.B.:  This is the key to one of the deep mysteries of the craft of fiction.  Cormac McCarthy is the current literary master of this spell.  He used it to good effect in Suttree (the bits of venerated rock in the riverside cave) and again in The Road (the frozen, gnomic number on the clocks).  It also served to heighten the powerful ending to the movie, Tom Horn starring Steve McQueen as the eponymous main character.]

May  9,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

"We are such inward secret creatures, that inwardness is the most amazing thing about us, even more amazing than our reason.  But we cannot just walk into the cavern and look around.  Most of what we think we know about our minds is pseudo-knowledge.  We are all such shocking poseurs, so good at inflating the importance of what we think we value.  The heroes at Troy fought for a phantom Helen, according to Stesichorus.  Vain wars for phantom goods.  I hope you will allow yourself plenty of reflections on human vanity.  People lie so, even we old men do.  Though in a way, if there is art enough it doesn't matter, since there is another kind of truth in the art.  Proust is our authority on French aristocrats.  Who cares what they were really like?  What does it mean even?

--The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch

May  8,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

"What do you think of the country, the landscape?" he asked.

"I think it is rather monotonous," said Miles.

"Yes, it is, and it will be like that until we reach the Urals, and more or less like that, with the exception of forests and marshes, till we reach Irkutsk.  But it is what we would call an 'infectious' country.  You can't say that in English, I suppose.  Some countries are like that.  They tell me Ireland is the same.  You will be infected.  Once the microbe gets into one's blood--the Russian microbe, I mean--the disease never dies; it is fatal like a love-philtre, and to the end of your life you will say, 'Russia, what is there between you and me?'  That is what Gogol, one of our writers--you don't know him in translation, no?--explains.  Russia is a country without any obvious attractions and ornaments.  There are no show sights: no Niagara, no Vesuvius, no Killarney: and on the other hand, no Parthenon, no Heidelberg Castle.  Russia has no elegant make-up, no frills; and yet any one of these villages has more charm for me than all those things put together.

--Tinker's Leave by Maurice Baring

May  7,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

What is a repetition?  A repetition is the re-enactment of past experience toward the end of isolating the time segment which has lapsed in order that it, the lapsed time, can be savored of itself and without the usual adulteration of events that clog time like peanuts in brittle.  Last week, for example, I experienced an accidental repetition.  I picked up a German-language weekly in the library.  In it I noticed an advertisement for Nivea Creme, showing a woman with a grainy face turned up to the sun.  Then I remembered that twenty years ago I saw the same advertisement in a magazine on my father's desk, the same woman, the same grainy face, the same Nivea Creme.  The events of the intervening twenty years were neutralized, the thirty million deaths, the countless torturings, uprootings and wanderings to and fro.  Nothing of consequence could have happened because Nivea Creme was exactly as it was before.  There remained only time itself, like a yard of smooth peanut brittle.

--The Moviegoer by Walker Percy

May  6,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

Afterwards in the street, she looks around the neighborhood.  "Yes, it is certified now."

She refers to a phenomenon of moviegoing which I have called certification.  Nowadays when a person lives somewhere, in a neighborhood, the place is not certified for him.  More than likely he will live there sadly and the emptiness which is inside him will expand until it evacuates the entire neighborhood.  But if he sees a movie which shows his very neighborhood, it becomes possible for him to live, for a time at least, as a person who is Somewhere and not Anywhere.

--The Moviegoer by Walker Percy

May  5,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

"I no longer pretend to understand the world."  She is shaking her head yet still smiling her sweet menacing smile.  "The world I knew has come crashing down around my ears.  The things we hold dear are reviled and spat upon."  She nods toward Prytania Street.  "It's an interesting age you will live in--though I can't say I'm sorry to miss it.  But it should be quite a sight, the going under of the evening land.  That's us all right.  And I can tell you, my young friend, it is evening.  It is very late.

--The Moviegoer by Walker Percy

May  4,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

Brush leaned against the wash basin and examined the floor.  "I don't quite know yet, he said.  "All I can say is, no wonder they made prohibition.  I didn't know liquor was like that.  You know, I felt I was the greatest preacher in the world and the greatest thinker in the world.  It made me feel as though I was ready to be the greatest President of the United States.  I forgot I had any faults in my character.

--Heaven's My Destination by Thornton Wilder

[N.B.:  This soliloquy is brought to you courtesy of the novel's main character, George Brush.  Hmmm, that name seems one letter off from the name of somebody somewhat famous who also presided over the start of a Great Depression (we're calling it the Great Recession now so as not to scare the kiddies).  Now, who could that be?  Would it be someone who might regard himself as "the greatest President of the United States"?  Coincidence?  Sure it is, son.  Here, have another bottle of Big Red and go back to your nap.]

May  3,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

"Hello, Queenie!" he cried.  "Hitch up your pants, Queenie; the depression's over.  They've found a plan to make the ocean fresh water.  You'll love it.

--Heaven's My Destination by Thornton Wilder

May  2,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

All right, Michigan, when you find this guy tell him life's a big thrill.  See?  Tell him to stick around; we're going to have some more world wars.  He'll love it.  Tell him from me the depression's only begun.  Next year's going to make this year look sky-high.

--Heaven's My Destination by Thornton Wilder

May  1,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

The boys at Lubyanka like to say, Give us a man, we'll build a case.  I approve of their optimism and readiness to work.  But this is a more important matter than most.  It's not enough that the crime fits the man.  The man must rise to fit the crime.

Are the defendants guilty as charged?  The answer is a no that dialectically becomes a yes.

In a certain highly literal sense of the word, most of these men are not guilty of most of these crimes.  They may, however, be guilty of many other crimes, crimes for which the state has decided to spare itself the expenses of a trial but which would have cost them their head in any case.

--The Autobiography of Joseph Stalin by Richard Lourie

[N.B.:  Oh, and Stalin wishes you a very happy May Day, too.]