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ARCHIVED ENTRIES FOR MAY 2015

May  30,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

Antiquity had indeed a conscious reason for insisting on religious conformity in wartime, where we have only unconscious ones.  To offend the gods by doubting their existence, or by calling the sun a stone, was risky enough in peacetime; but in war it was practically treason--it amounted to helping the enemy.  For religion was a collective responsibility.  The gods were not content to strike down the individual offender: did not Hesiod say that whole cities often suffered for one bad man?  That these ideas were still very much alive in the minds of the Athenian populace is evident from the enormous hysterical fuss created by the mutilation of the Hermae.

--The Greeks and the Irrational by E. R. Dodds.

May  29,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

More important, perhaps, was the influence of wartime hysteria.  If we allow for the fact that wars cast their shadows before them and leave emotional disturbances behind them, the Age of Persecution coincides pretty closely with the longest and most disastrous war in Greek history.  The coincidence is hardly accidental.  It has been observed that "in times of danger to the community the whole tendency to conformity is greatly strengthened: the herd huddles together and becomes more intolerant than every of 'cranky' opinion."  We have seen this observation confirmed in two recent wars, and we may assume that it was not otherwise in antiquity.

--The Greeks and the Irrational by E. R. Dodds.

May  28,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

But [Xenophanes'] decisive contribution was his discovery of the relativity of religious ideas.  "If the ox could paint a picture, his god would look like an ox" : once that had been said, it cold only be a matter of time before the entire fabric of traditional belief began to loosen.  Xenophanes was himself a deeply religious man; he had his private faint in a god "who is not like men in appearance or in mind."  But he was conscious that it was faith, not knowledge.  No man, he says, has ever had, or ever will have, sure knowledge about gods; even if he should chance to hit on the exact truth, he cannot know that he has done so, though we can all have our opinions.  That honest distinction between what is knowable and what is not appears again and again in fifth-century thought, and is surely one of its chief glories; it is the foundation of scientific humility.

--The Greeks and the Irrational by E. R. Dodds.

[N.B.:  Well, you don't see much of that anymore--paging Mr. Dawkins.]

May  28,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

Orpheus, however, is one thing, Orphism quite another.  But I must confess that I know very little about early Orphism, and the more I read about the more my knowledge diminishes.  Twenty years ago, I could have said quite a lot about it (we all could at that time).  Since then, I have lost a great deal of knowledge; for this loss I am indebted to Wilamowitz, Festugière, Thomas, and not least to a distinguished member of the University of California, Professor Linforth.  Let me illustrate my present ignorance by listing a few of the things I once knew.

There was a time when I knew: . . . .

When I say that I no longer possess these items of information, I do not intend to assert that all of them are false.  The last two I feel pretty sure are false: we really must not turn a bloodstained huntsman into an Orphic figure, or call "Orphic" a doctrine that Plato plainly denies to be Orphic.  But some of the others may very well happen to be true.  All I mean is that I cannot a present convince myself of their truth; and that until I can, the edifice reared by an ingenious scholarship upon these foundations remains for me a house of dreams--I am tempted to call it the unconscious projection upon the screen of antiquity of certain unsatisfied religious longings characteristic of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

--The Greeks and the Irrational by E. R. Dodds.

[N.B.:  What a wonderful metaphor--quite Gibbonian.]

May  27,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

All that I can do here is to consider briefly some aspects of it which crucially affected the Greek interpretation of nonrational factors in human experience.  But in attempting even this, I shall have to traverse ground which has been churned to deep and slippery mud by the heavy feet of contending scholars; ground, also, where those in a hurry are liable to trip over the partially decayed remains of dead theories that have not yet been decently interred.  We shall be wise, then, to move slowly, and to pick our steps rather carefully among the litter.

--The Greeks and the Irrational by E. R. Dodds.

[N.B.:  What a wonderful metaphor--quite Gibbonian.]

May  26,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

Mary's disappointment over the bazaars and their goods had to be assuaged, so our delightful and informative guide took us just outside one of them where they make the copper and brass "antiques" they sell inside.  Here she purchased, over my dead body (it's been dead so many times and stepped over by her, I wonder how I've survived), an enormous copper brazier, brand-new, but dated 1874.

--I Like What I Know by Vincent Price

May  25,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

[T]he greatest thrill the collector can have is the "discovery."  By discovery, I mean many things: (1) something someone thought was something else, but you know to be different; (2) something someone overlooked who was in the shop just before you were, but your eyes are brighter and you didn't overlook it, although sometime later you understand why they did, and wish you had; (3) something extraordinary which you "sense" is better or rarer than other people think, and it turns out to be so; (4) and lastly, something which you never heard of but which, after you've "discovered" it, turns out to have been "discovered" importantly many times before, but anyway was a discovery to you like a well-known little resort where everybody goes--or Paris.

--I Like What I Know by Vincent Price

May  24,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

In Luke's case, something took him away from the light, from what he most wanted and loved.  As if the seed's impulse towards the light becomes warped or damaged so that it takes itself deeper and deeper into the soil.  as it buries itself deeper so it redoubles its efforts to attain the light.  But in doing so, like the deer we saw exhausting itself by struggling in a trap, it succeeds only in burying itself still further.  Eventually the urge towards the light withers because, as if through the workings of some last-ditch, built-in fail-safe, only by ceasing to struggle can it hope to survive.  At some very late stage it senses that it is its longings which have condemned it.  And so it remains where it is, a faint pulse of life in the darkness, directionless, not moving.

--Paris Trance by Geoff Dyer

May  23,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

I think now that certain destinies are the opposite of manifest: ingrown, let's say.  Hidden, rarely revealing themselves, probably not even felt as a force, they work like the process or instinct that urges a seed in the soil in the direction of the light: as strong, silent and invisible - as imperceptible - as that. 

--Paris Trance by Geoff Dyer

May  22,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

Women withheld themselves from men and then, for a while at least, they gave themselves to a man, to one man.  And what a stroke of fortune it was, what a miracle, if you turned out to be that man!  I am her man, Luke thought to himself.  But how arbitrary it was, this privilege, and how precarious.  There could come a time when he would find himself excluded as totally as Pierre from the invisible field of her consent, her desire, her trust.  He held her tighter, as if this extra exertion of pressure could indefinitely forestall such an eventuality.  Everything he could think of saying was inadequate.  He was her man.  Nothing he could do or say could do justice to this fact.  He kissed her.

'You taste of cherries,' she said.

--Paris Trance by Geoff Dyer

May  21,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

People were crowded together as tightly and neatly as an audience at a cinema but here they were both audience and subject; in watching everyone else they were watching themselves.  Everyone had a part to play and everyone played the same part.  In these circumstances, sunglasses - looked at, looked through - came into their own.  Implicit in the idea of sitting on the café terrace was both question ('It's nice sitting here isn't it?') and response ('Yes, lovely') and all conversations were more or less elaborate versions of this basic call-and-response of reflexive affirmation: 'What better place to be in the world than here at this café?'  'Nowhere, this is perfect.'

--Paris Trance by Geoff Dyer

May  20,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

There was an element of novelty, of absurdity, to what had happened but they were both fearful that they had crashed through to that other dimension of domestic relationships where arguing and making up, yelling and apologising become the norm.  Then the making up and apologising fall by the wayside.  From there it is a small step to plate-smashing, hatred and attritional dependence.

--Paris Trance by Geoff Dyer

May  19,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

Especially as what had seemed so vital and affirming about him ('yes, always yes') became, exactly as Sahra, half-jokingly, had claimed, simply greedy ('more, always more').  He fell for the easy part of the Rimbaud myth, the prolonged and systematic derangement of the senses, but - like many before him - he had none of the discipline or drive of the genuine artist and ended up with nothing to show for it, except what he'd done to himself.

--Paris Trance by Geoff Dyer

May  18,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

Walking in the royal park at Brussels, the inquiring traveler, if he diverge but a few yards from the graveled alleys of pleached lime, will come across a hollow among the shrubberies which is now used as a midden in which the gathered leaves are rotted down for leaf mold.  In this declivity there is a small stone bearing a Latin inscription.  It ells the inquiring traveler that on this spot the Duke of Muscovy, having drunk heavily, was violently sick.  What is interesting about this memorial is that the Belgians at that date should have regarded the public vomiting of a reigning, even if barbarous, prince as so odd as to merit being recorded for posterity.  It is strange also that, even after Poltava, they should have styled him Duke of Muscovy and  not given him his correct title of Tsar of All the Russias.

--The Age of Reason: The Eighteenth Century in Reason and Violence by Harold Nicolson

[N.B.:  This little anecdote concerns Peter the Great, 1672-1725).]

May  17,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

Perhaps the most absurd of all these distinctions and badges was what they used to call "le pour."  When the King went to Marly only the most favored of his courtiers were asked to accompany him and it became a matter of intense preoccupation to know whether on arrival one had or had not been granted "le pour."  What did this so desired distinction amount to?  It was regarded as infinitely more glorious if the master of the household had written in chalk upon one's bedroom door "Pour M. le Duc de Soubise," or merely "Le Duc de Soubise."  By such tiny points of differentiation did the King impose upon his courtiers the illusion that they were in fact playing an honorable and useful part in public life.

--The Age of Reason: The Eighteenth Century in Reason and Violence by Harold Nicolson

May  16,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

The pattern of servitude that he imposed may appear to our minds degrading.  Yet when we were schoolboys we took it as quite natural that those who excelled in games or became prefects or monitors should be granted privileges, which although utterly trivial in practice were esteemed and sought for as symbols of distinction.  It was at Versailles regarded as a high honor to be permitted to hand the King his shirt in the morning or to hold the candle for him when he retired to bed.  Elderly ladies of the court would protest venomously if anybody not possessing the right to sit on a footstool was granted a footstool by royal favor.  Endless quarrels arose over the right, when in church, to kneel on a square of cloth laid on the marble pavement; on the right to have both panels of a double door opened for one by the lackeys; on whether one was privileged to attend the King's smaller levées or only to enter with the others when the doors were opened to the crowd.

--The Age of Reason: The Eighteenth Century in Reason and Violence by Harold Nicolson

May  15,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

Saint Simone, who disliked him personally, could not but admire the unsurpassed skill with which he fulfilled his function.  "Never," he writes, "has any prince possessed to so high a degree the art of reigning."  He admired his unwavering dignity and that "terrifying majesty of bearing which came so naturally to him."  He admired his capacity for regular hard work and the extreme punctuality with which he carried out his many duties.  He admired what he called "the mechanism" that he had invented for his courtiers, providing them with intricate ceremonial functions and thus diverting their attention from politics or the affairs of state.

--The Age of Reason: The Eighteenth Century in Reason and Violence by Harold Nicolson

May  14,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

Night after night the flicker of ten thousand candles would be reflected in the mirrors of saloons and galleries, throwing a radiance on tapestried or marbled walls, on painted ceilings, upon crowds of silk and velvet courtiers, upon the rubies and diamonds looped in their high headdresses, upon blue liveries and white wigs.  From the garden terraces outside would come the sound of violins mingling with the splash of fountains and cascades.  The King was about to enter.  The courtiers, with only apparent casualness, would range themselves down each side of the gallery, still laughing and chattering among themselves.  Suddenly the halberds of the guards would crash sharply upon the parquet of the anteroom and a hush would descend.  The doors would be flung open and Louis XIV, followed at a carefully prescribed distance by the reigning mistress, the bastards, and the great officers of state, would pass rapidly down the aisle, acknowledging the bows and curtsies with a slight but majestic inclination of the head--undeviating, formidable, and superb.

--The Age of Reason: The Eighteenth Century in Reason and Violence by Harold Nicolson

May  13,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

"I like," writes Fontenelle, "to discover small chance origins for important events.  It seems natural to me and worthy of the play of fortune."

--The Age of Reason: The Eighteenth Century in Reason and Violence by Harold Nicolson

May  12,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

He thus avoided all emotion, all passion, all unattainable desires, anything that might ruffle his equanimity.  As Madame Geoffin recorded, he never laughed; like Lord Chesterfield, he only smiled.  He never wept; he never lost his temper; he never "broke into a run."  He never allowed himself any feelings other than those that might profit his felicity.  As his biographer, Le Cat, remarked, he was like a bee who sucked nectar from every pleasure but never allowed himself to be pricked by a thorn.  He avoided all romantic attachments and busied himself, as Stendhal said, "by addressing subtle remarks to young women."  When Diderot commented upon this insensibility he replied, "It is now eighty years since I relegated emotion to my eclogues."

--The Age of Reason: The Eighteenth Century in Reason and Violence by Harold Nicolson

May  11,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

When misfortunes do occur it is a wise practice to look forward to the time when one will have forgotten all about them and thus to project oneself into a calm future.  He pities those "agitated persons" who despise tranquility.  Nothing is so fragile as the state of happiness and we should do everything to avoid giving it shocks.  Ambition, for instance, is a most dangerous emotion, since even when it is successful it increases a man's bulk and thus enlarges his area of vulnerability.  One should strive to be "on good terms with oneself [être bien avec soi]," since when misfortunes occur one is inevitably thrown back upon oneself and it is thus very important to render oneself "an agreeable place into which to retreat."

--The Age of Reason: The Eighteenth Century in Reason and Violence by Harold Nicolson

May  10,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

A curious link between the seventeenth and the eighteenth centuries was Bernard de Fontenelle, who lived for exactly one hundred years from 1657 to 1757.  He was not so much a skeptic as an Epicurean, who believed that the sole aim of life was happiness and that this could be achieved only by detaching oneself from all passion and all worldly ambition and by reaching a condition of almost complete ataraxy.  In a way he succeeded in this ambition.  His contention was that the gift of happiness was born in an individual character, even as a sound constitution and healthy organs are inherited.  Man is granted but a limited ration of happiness upon this earth and must preserve and expend his ration with care and forethought.  His precept was: "Do not by your imagination create for yourself imaginary ills, since we are not perfect enough to be continually miserable."

--The Age of Reason: The Eighteenth Century in Reason and Violence by Harold Nicolson

May  9,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

The youths of France have always been tempted to repudiate the conventions of the older generation, and they are glad to think that their own minds are nimble, fashionable, and up to date.  Thus in the eighteenth century the Paris intellectual acquired the habit of questioning, not the supernatural only, not only existing institutions, but anything that had been believed in, or reverenced by, their fathers and mothers.  And since Paris in those days was the crucible of ideas, what was felt and thought in Paris rapidly spread throughout the civilized world.

--The Age of Reason: The Eighteenth Century in Reason and Violence by Harold Nicolson

May  8,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

When Catherine II, in bidding farewell to Ségur III, referred to "the new philosophy," she was not thinking of any coherent system, such as that of Descartes or Locke, but rather of the pervading climate of skepticism that spread across Europe under the influence of Voltaire, Diderot, and the Encyclopédistes.  It is more difficult, when addressing intelligent minds, to found faith than to disseminate doubt.

--The Age of Reason: The Eighteenth Century in Reason and Violence by Harold Nicolson

May  7,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

[Saint Simon] was devoted to his placid and sensible wife, and when she died he gave orders that one side of her coffin should be left open, so that when he himself should follow her to the grave they should remain united and their two coffins could be joined together by iron clamps.  At the time of the Revolution the villagers of La Ferté-Vidame broke into the vault, dragged the coffins apart, and flung the two skeletons into the village midden.  Even in this posthumous outrage the duke and duchess remained united.

--The Age of Reason: The Eighteenth Century in Reason and Violence by Harold Nicolson

May  6,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

At length the Iron Chancellor would propound to his court his special recipes for roast oysters; grumble that once upon  a time he could devour eleven hard-boiled eggs for breakfast, but now he could only manage three; boast how in his diplomatic training he and his fellows practised drinking three-quarters of a bottle of champagne while negotiating.  'They drank the weak-headed ones below the table, then they asked them all sorts of things . . . and forced them to make all sorts of concessions . . . then they made them sign their names. . . . .'  It was a revealing insight into the art of 'blood and iron' diplomacy.

--The Fall of Paris by Alistair Horne

May  5,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

Few butchers were above taking advantage of their sudden emergence as the most powerful (and most detested) section of the community; cat, said Professor Sheppard, was frequently sold as 'an otter, or a rare species of hare, or an extraordinary small and odd kind of sheep', and a lamb offered to one British correspondent ironically turned out to be a wolf.

--The Fall of Paris by Alistair Horne

May  4,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

One resourceful Parisian made handsome profits through a factory manufacturing false 'trophies' of war, where he produced Prussian Pickelhauben and sabres by the score, as well as forging 'next-of-kin' letters that were certified to have been removed from a Prussian corpse; and O'Shea remembered an 'ingenious rascal with a bandaged head who paraded a pair of human ears in a jar of spirits of wine on the boulevards, and brought down a flush of coppers by making believe that they were his own, sliced off by the Barbarous Prussians'.

--The Fall of Paris by Alistair Horne

May  3,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

But most of the ideas reaching the Committee formed a fascinating catalogue of science fiction and sheer fantasy.  One suggested the poisoning of the river Seine where it left Paris; another the 'decomposition' of the air surrounding the Prussians; and a third the loosing of all the more ferocious beasts from the zoo--so that the enemy would be poisoned, asphyxiated, or devoured.  There was a considerable vogue for adaptations of 'Greek fire' that would consume him by fire in various ways, and someone proposed a 'musical mitrailleuse' that Siren-like would lure the Kultur-lovers by playing Wagner and Schubert, and then scythe them down.  Another ambitious soul suggested hitching a sledge-hammer worthy of Vulcan, weighing ten million tons and encompassing fifteen miles, to a series of balloons and then cutting the ropes over Moltke's H.Q.

--The Fall of Paris by Alistair Horne

May  2,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

Although it was by far the most practical, the balloon was by no means the only scientific development to occupy fertile Parisian minds during the Siege.  Inventions and ideas of all kinds poured into the government by the hundred, so that even before the investment it was forced to set up a Comité Scientifique to deal with this flood of ingenuity.  One of the first serious propositions placed before it had been the mining of Versailles and St.-Cloud; the mines to be fired electrically from Paris so as to prevent the Prussians setting up gun batteries there.  Fortunately--although some forebears of 'Dr. Strangelove' on the Committee seem to have regretted it--this proposal was turned down. 

--The Fall of Paris by Alistair Horne

May  1,  2015

Patrick: Lagniappe

All these conflicting components tended to lead to the same cul-de-sac; whatever Louis-Napoleon intended for his people, the final result was usually the opposite.  Above all, he pledged them 'the Empire means Peace', but gave France her most disastrous war; Canute-like, during the terrible floods of 1855 he had declared, 'I give my honour that under my reign rivers, like revolutions, will return to their beds and not be able to break forth'; yet in his wake France was plunged into the bloodies revolt in her history.  'If surnames were still given to Princes', said de Girardin, the journalist, 'he would be called the Well-Meaning.'  It was fair comment.

--The Fall of Paris by Alistair Horne