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ARCHIVED ENTRIES FOR OCTOBER 2007

October  31,  2007

Patrick: Lagniappe

'Why, it is the third day after Christmas Day, my lord.'

'And what dear day is that?' asked Gilles de Rais.

'It is,' said I, 'the Feast of the Holy Innocents.'

Then my master pronounced the reason why he had wanted me back on this particular day.  It was so that I should don the purple vestments and say for him the Mass of those poor infant martyrs, murdered in Bethlehem by order of King Herod long ago.  Their number is not known, but it cannot have been large, legends to the contrary notwithstanding.  The Church from early times has regarded these little ones as the first martyrs, and the festival of their massacre is commonly known as Childermas, of course.  I might add that this day is a day of ill omen for reasons which have nothing to do with Gilles de Rais, and so even then, before I knew all that there was to know about my master, I regarded the Feast of Childermas with abhorrence.  In the first place, there is the widespread feeling (crass superstition, I grant you) that Holy Innocents' Day is so black a day that whichever day of the week it falls on can be counted as the unlucky day of each week in the year that follows.  In the second place, there are the abuses and follies which have been associated in the past with Childermas, when sometimes boy-bishops were permitted into the pulpits to preach mock-sermons, and there was a Feast of Fools and other gross nonsense.  Parents used temporarily to abdicate their authority on this day, and in nunneries and monasteries the youngest nun and monk were for twenty-four hours allowed to masquerade as abbess and abbot.  These mockeries of religion were condemned and anathematized in 1431 by the Council of Basel.

--The Life and Death of My Lord Gilles de Rais by Robert Nye

[N.B.:  This short description of Childermas comes from a fictionalized account of the life and death of the notorious child murderer (among other wicked things), Bluebeard.  It seems to me that Childermas should have been the more appropriate day to commemorate all that goes bump in the night as opposed to Halloween--but then again I also believe that book critics should actually read the works they discuss and that the Tooth Fairy should come even when we lose our teeth in old age.  In any event, Happy Halloween.]

October  30,  2007

Patrick: Lagniappe

"Don't volunteer for anything," his pappie had warned him when the military eventually grabbed him, "stay in the centre of the rear rank with you mouth shut, don't go anywhere unless you've got to."  But hadn't his pappie also said: "If you've got to go, Son, make the damned best of it!"

--Vessel of Sadness by William Woodruff

October  23,  2007

Patrick: Lagniappe

'Come, come!' said Lord Ottercove.  But Dickin, dazed with the wine, was neither coming nor going.  His heart was overwhelmed with love for humanity.  'They feel they dream.  All familiar things by which they had learnt their values had vanished overnight.  They hear a tumult outside, no longer of the past : it is not there : it has vanished beneath their feet, and its history is not yet.  They are not of the present : they do not know it, and it knows them not.  They are silent, alone.  They are alive, but the shadow of death has crept over them.  They are dead souls with just a flicker of light on them..."

--Doom by William Gerhardie

[N.B.:  I chose this squib more for the interesting placement of colons than anything else.  It appears that the author is using the colon as an indicator of a stuttering stop-start interval between phrases, much like the intermittent pressing of a car's accelerator where the vehicle has been left out on the driveway during a frosty night.]

October  22,  2007

Patrick: Lagniappe

Golescu became louder and more assertive, revealing himself as an independent thinker.  Charles Darwin, he said, had bungled his research and gotten everything wrong.  Organisms were changing, it was true enough, but instead of becoming more complex and, as it were, ascending, they were steadily degenerating into lower and lower forms, ultimately back to mud.  In support of this he cited the poetic testimony of Hesiod, and gave the example of savages with complex languages, a vestige of better days.  He had dubbed the process "bio-entropy" and said that it could clearly be seen at work in everyday life.  One's father was invariably a better man than one's self, and one's grandfather better still.  And what a falling off there had been since the Golden Days of Mu when man was indeed a noble creature.

--Masters of Atlantis by Charles Portis

October  19,  2007

Patrick: Lagniappe

 Nature  would seem to have intended me for an undertaker's assistant, because in any book of verse I read I invariably discovered elegies on dead parents, dead wives, and children, and, though my knowledge of poetry expanded, that weakness has persisted, and my favourite poems would be bound to include Bridges' "Perfect Little Body," Landor's "Artemidora, Gods Invisible," De La Mare's mighty poem on the suicide that begins "Steep hung the drowsy street," Hardy's great series on his dead wife, and a mass of Emily Dickinson.  And though I was stupid, and went about everything as Father went about putting up a shelf, I did care madly for poetry, good and bad, without understanding why I cared, and coming home at night, still corpse and brass band, I spoke it aloud till people who overheard looked after me in surprise.  And this was as it should have been.  On the night before his execution at Tyburn Chidiock Tichbourne wrote: "My prime of life is but a frost of cares," and on the night before his in Kilmainham Patrick Pearse wrote: "The beauty of this world hath made me sad."  When life is at its harshest, "when so sad thou can'st not sadder be," poetry comes into its own.  Even more than music it is the universal speech, but it is spoken fluently only by those whose existence is already aflame with emotion, for then the beauty and order of language are the only beauty and order possible.  Above all, it is the art of the boy and girl overburdened by the troubles of their sex and station, for as Jane Austen so wistfully noted, the difficulty with it is that it can best be appreciated by those who should enjoy it most sparingly.

--An Only Child by Frank O'Connor

October  18,  2007

Patrick: Lagniappe

"What drivel."  My aunt comes in smiling, head to one side, hands outstretched, and I whistle with relief and feel myself smiling with pleasure as I await one of her special kind of attacks, attacks which are both playful and partly true.  She calls me an ingrate, a limb of Satan, the last and sorriest scion of a noble stock.  What makes it funny is that this is true.  In a split second I have forgotten everything, the years in Gentilly, even my search.  As always we take up again where we left off.  This is where I belong after all.

--The Moviegoer by Walker Percy

October  16,  2007

Patrick: Lagniappe

In any case, it is evident to the impartial observer that Voltaire's visit [to Frederick the Great] could only have ended as it did--in an explosion.  The elements of the situation were too combustible for any other conclusion.  When two confirmed egoists decide, for purely selfish reasons, to set up house together, everyone knows what will happen.  For some time their sense of mutual advantage may induce them to tolerate each other, but sooner or later human nature will assert itself, and the ménage will break up.  And, with Voltaire and Frederick, the difficulties inherent in all such cases were intensified by the fact that the relationship between them was, in effect, that of servant and master; that Voltaire, under a very thin disguise, was a paid menial, while Frederick, condescend as he might, was an autocrat whose will was law.  Thus the two famous and perhaps mythical sentences, invariably repeated by historians of the incident, about orange-skins and dirty linen, do in fact sum up the gist of the matter.  'When one has sucked the orange, one throws away the skin,' somebody told Voltaire that the Kind had said, on being asked how much longer he would put up with the poet's vagaries.  And Frederick, on his side, was informed that Voltaire, when a batch of the royal verses were brought to him for correction, had burst out with 'Does the mean expect me to go on washing his dirty linen for ever?'  Each knew well enough the weak spot in his position, and each was acutely and uncomfortably conscious that the other knew it too.

--Voltaire and Frederick from Books & Characters by Lytton Strachey

October  15,  2007

Patrick: Lagniappe

I confess I like this present indicative tense, but still I think that I must use it sparingly.  Otherwise it imparts too sharp an immediateness to the page, like a taste of quinces.  The result of that would be a two-fold danger: first, of making Gilles come too close to the reader, presenting him almost sympathetically in all his evil glamour; second, of letting Gilles come too close tome again, than which fate anything might be preferable.  For these good reasons I shall write the rest of this chapter in a more historical manner, though reserving the right to revert to the style of present images when theme or occasion so press.

--The Life and Death of My Lord Gilles de Rais by Robert Nye

October  14,  2007

Patrick: Lagniappe

There is, one knows not what sweet mystery about this sea, whose gently awful stirrings seems to speak of some hidden soul beneath; like those undulations of the Ephesian sod over the buried Evangelist St. John.  And meet it is, that over these sea-pastures, wide-rolling watery prairies and Potters' Fields of all four continents, the waves should rise and fall, and ebb and flow unceasingly; for here, millions of mixed shades and shadows, drowned dreams, somnambulisms, reveries; all that we call lives and souls, lie dreaming, dreaming, still; tossing like slumberers in their beds; the ever-rolling waves but made so by their restlessness.

--Moby Dick by Herman Melville

October  13,  2007

Patrick: Lagniappe

The victors imposed upon the Germans all the long-sought ideals of the liberal nations of the West.  They were relieved from the burden of compulsory military service and from the need of keeping up heavy armaments.  The enormous American loans were presently pressed upon them, though they had no credit.  A democratic constitution, in accordance with all the latest improvements, was established at Weimar.  Emperors having been driven out, nonentities were elected.  Beneath this flimsy fabric raged the passions of the mighty, defeated, but substantially uninjured German nation.  The prejudice of the Americans against monarchy, which Mr. Lloyd George made no attempt to counteract, had made it clear to the beaten Empire that it would have better treatment from the Allies as a republic than as a monarchy.  Wise policy would have crowned and fortified the Weimar Republic with a constitutional sovereign in the person of an infant grandson of the Kaiser, under a Council of Regency.  Instead, a gaping void was opened in the national life of the German people.  All the strong elements, military and feudal, which might have rallied to a constitutional monarchy and for its sake respected and sustained the new democratic and Parliamentary processes were for the time being unhinged.  The Weimar Republic, with all its liberal trappings and blessings, was regarded as an imposition of the enemy.  It could not hold the loyalties or the imagination of the German people.  For a spell they sought to cling as in desperation to the aged Marshal Hindenburg.  Thereafter mighty forces were adrift, the void was open, and into that void after a pause there strode a maniac of ferocious genius, the repository and expression of the most virulent hatreds that have ever corroded the human breast--Corporal Hitler.

--The Gathering Storm by Winston Churchill

[N.B.:  What a remarkable writer!  By the bye, any similarity between the defeat of Germany after World War One and modern geopolitical concerns is purely a matter of historical necessity.]

October  12,  2007

Patrick: Lagniappe

Who is to say that they would have achieved greater results if they had broadened their objectives?  The Germans tended to risk too little, and the Allies too much; but the results were invariably the same.  Practically all the ground won in an extended battle was won in the first three hours.  In trench warfare, Murphy's Law prevailed: Communications broke down.  Staffs too far removed from the front lines ordered men to respond to situations that no longer existed.  At Loos, the British commander in chief, Sir John French, was not even in telephone contact with Sir Douglas Haig, whose First Army made the assault.  Experiments miscarried.  The British probably suffered more casualties from their own gas at Loos than the Germans did.  A few outnumbered but determined defenders could check the advance of entire battalions: Witness the havoc a single machine gun inflicted on the Scottish Rifles at Neuve Chapelle.  Reserves were held too far back or went into action at the wrong time.  As much as anything, French's refusal to release the new army divisions on September 25 at Loos, and their gratuitous annihilation the next day, brought about his dismissal.

--1915: The Death of Innocence by Lyn McDonald

[N.B.:  In my opinion one of the finest prose stylists is Lyn McDonald.  She is not well known because: (1) she's British; (2) she's an old-fashioned historian (just the facts, no New Hystericalism or other theory mumbo-jumbo); and (3) she has chosen to write on a topic of unjustly neglected history--World War One.  This passage is taken from her book concerning the pivotal year of that war when the fighting became both hopeless and savage thanks to the mastery of the defensive machine-gun placement and the ineptitude involved in the introduction of poison gas.  Ms. McDonald's admirably sums up these matters in the excerpt above.  Such powers are rare and tend to be shared by the greatest of historians (think Gibbon).  In addition, note the varying use of long and short sentences and the use of the colon construction in two of the sentences.  By the bye, note that a number of the sentences use passive construction but, given the felicities in Ms. McDonald's prose, they go unnoticed (again, because they are varied with active constructions).  Anyway, I highly recommend Ms. McDonald's works to you--assuming, of course, you care for old-fashioned British historians writing about the Great War.  Sigh.]

October  11,  2007

Patrick: Lagniappe

Most of my endeavors were wasted on a single episode in Cu Chulainn's infancy.  He left home when he was little more  than a toddler, hurling his toy spear before him, pucking his hurling ball after that, throwing his hurling stick after the ball, and then catching all three before they alighted.  No one who has not tried that simple feat can imagine how difficult it is.  There was more sense in the story of how he killed the great watch-dog by throwing the hurling ball down its gullet and then beating it over the head with his hurley, and I practised that, too, beginning with very small dogs; but, knowing my character much better than I did, they decided I only wanted to play with them, and ran away with the ball.  When they finally let me catch up on them and grinned at me with the ball between their teeth, I could no more hit them with the hurley than I could do anything else that Cu Chulainn had done.  I was crazy about dogs and cats.  I saw clearly that the Irish race had gone to hell since saga times, and that this was what had enabled the English to do what they liked with us.

--An Only Child by Frank O'Connor

October  10,  2007

Patrick: Lagniappe

After a high tea we were driven, the five of us, to Bradfield School to see a performance of Agamemnon in Greek in outdoor theatre--a disused chalkpit converted, stone seats à la grecque.  Trees surrounding.  Very picturesque.  The boys performed extremely well and Clytemnestra brilliant.  I think boys prefer melodrama to less emotional forms of acting.  I was a bit bored at times, but the seat was too uncomfortable to allow dozing off.  As the night drew on, so lights were turned on to the stage.  The beauty of the setting, birds and doves cooing from the trees, the coloured togas, the chorus of boys declaiming, certainly made a picture. 

----Diaries, 1942-1954 by James Lees-Milne (abridged and introduced by Michael Bloch), entry for Saturday, 25th June, 1949

[N.B.:  If you ever wondered if your education was somehow not quite up to par with that of your immediate ancestors, now you know--sorry to have kept it from you all these years but we mustn't bruise little dweemums' delicate sensibilities.  Now go back to watching The Daily Show and congratulate yourself on having the intelligence to recognize the topical references--and don't forget David Letterman later.]

October  9,  2007

Patrick: Lagniappe

When three years later I started writing The American Way of Death, "St. Peter" proved to be virtually an outline for the book; in fact, I recycled some of the material in the piece for use in the book, a form of self-plagiarism that I recommend, as one does not want to waste one's better bits on the readership of one magazine, especially if that readership is as tiny as Frontier's

--Poison Penmanship by Jessica Mitford

[N.B.:  How refreshingly direct are the English.  In some quarters, self-plagiarism is frowned upon, at least for what is still referred to as "non-fiction," although one has not arrived as a novelist unless one's latest work has been excerpted preceding publication in one or more of the middle-to-quarter brow glossy periodicals.  Indeed, they tend to be the only "fiction" I'll read in the New Yorker--other than William Trevor's latest short story (bless him).] 

October  8,  2007

Patrick: Lagniappe

Spring has come again, St Brigid's day, right on time.  The harmony of the seasons mocks me.  I spend hours watching the sky, the lake, the enormous sea.  This world.  I feel that if I could understand it I might then begin to understand the creatures who inhabit it.  But I do not understand it.  I find the world always odd, but odder still, I suppose, is the fact that I find it so, for what are the eternal verities by which I measure these temporal aberrations?  Intimations abound, but they are felt only, and words fail to transfix them.  Anyway, some secrets are not to be disclosed under pain of who knows what retribution, and whereof I cannot speak, thereof I must be silent.

--Birchwood by John Banville

[N.B.:  This is the last paragraph from Birchwood.  It always seemed to me that this ending could have been pasted onto almost any novel as the closer.  Nonetheless, I still find it oddly compelling.  Perhaps it's that last sentence which paraphrases the famous bon mot of Wittgenstein.  It's a bit clichéd now in that many folks use it as a high-brow stratagem for avoiding the explication of a knotty issue.  Still, there's some power to it.]

 

Puff the Magic Maslin

Last week the magician Janet Maslin showed that yes, indeed, she has the power to logroll the dead.  One might think that such a thaumaturgical feat could not be surpassed.  Oh ye of little faith!  In today's New York Times, Ms. Maslin puts her amazing puff powers to the ultimate test of actually logrolling a fictitious person.  The contest is much in dispute--apparently, because the book under review is undeniably awful--but Ms. Maslin perseveres and, in the last sentence of her review, is able to provide a puff quote to be used in future ads.  Book sales are saved!  Thank you oh mighty Maslin. 

What is the book under review, you might ask?  Something called, I Am America (And So Can You!) by Stephen Colbert.  Even Ms. Maslin is a bit baffled in explaining exactly what this book is about.  Apparently, there's a television program that features, "'Stephen Colbert' the excitable commentator played to rock-star perfection by Stephen Colbert."  So, in a nod to today's post-irony ironic ironicity, there's this fellow, see, named "Stephen Colbert," who plays this fictitious, bombastic commentator named "Stephen Colbert" who, with the help of some "Stephen Colbert" manques has now authored a bombastic book by supposedly this same "Stephen Colbert" that is meant to be a parody of other bombastic books authored by other commentators who are actually not named "Stephen Colbert."  You got that?  Now, the tough part, as Ms. Maslin grudgingly admits, is that, even the best parts--apparently, transcripts taken from the television program--fall "surprisingly flat."  Oh well, there's only so much the magical, mystical Ms. Maslin can do.  But she is able to roll-up her wizard's cloak sleeves to deliver this parting spell:  "If 'I Am America (And So Can You!)' had nothing but its title, its Colbert cover portrait and 230 blank pages instead of printed ones, it would make a cherished keepsake just the same."  There's a rousing endorsement for you.  I think it's safe to say that Ms. Maslin will not be able to top this feat of inspired puffery.  What next--a review of the latest issue of People Magazine

October  6,  2007

Patrick: Lagniappe

The traditional terms AD and BC have been retained, in preference to CE and BCE, for two reasons: adopting the latter causes the maximally distinguished 1 BC and 1 AD to become the minimally distinguished 1 BCE and 1 CE; and although as a date for the birth of Jesus Christ the epoch is almost certainly wrong, it remains a commemoration of that event, and no other event of the same year can be proposed as an alternative of world significance.  Attractive, especially in a globalised age, as a purely secular era may appear, the Christian era cannot be made secular by denying its origin.

--A Short History of Time by Lenfranc Holford-Strevens

[N.B.:  First, I'd like to draw your attention to that delightful, double-barreled name of the author.  Not even Anthony Powell would be allowed to get away with such a fantastic moniker as he cataloged the various doings of his Grey Middle-Aged People in his magisterial A Dance to the Music of Time.  Second, as to the argument set forth above, I find the first rationale unpersuasive simply because it rarely comes up--for the reasons given in the second rationale.  That second rationale, to my mind, is compelling: for the same reason that we need not change the name of the month of January (named after the Roman two-faced god, Janus) or March (ditto for Mars) or, for Pete's sake, July and August (named after the two Roman emperors who straddle AD and BC), we need not modify the terms AD or BC.  Ironically, if Christianity was as dead as so-called Greek and Roman Paganism, there would be attempt to modify the terms, so, the more vociferous the demand to effectuate the change, the more the critics implicitly acknowledge the continued robust vitality of Christianity.  Finally, given the relative weight of the two rationales, I think this short squib demonstrates the error of piling up arguments of unequal value in support of one's position.  Why lead with a relatively weak (indeed, some might say, silly) argument and thereby discredit one's persuasive authority instead of contenting one's self (and one's readers) with the single argument of undoubted force?  The vagaries of the scholarly mind shall always remain a mystery to me.]

October  5,  2007

Patrick: Lagniappe

One day the horse died, buckled under me and flopped on its side on the road, coughed up unspeakable stuff, kicked and was gone.  There is a point at which one decides to surrender.  Under one's dancing feet a black chasm waits always, always inviting.  I had felt that darkness beneath me for so long that it had come to seem like a last refuge into which I could fly, and now as I left the dead brute there on the road and plunged into the woods I was content to think that I would never again see the light of day.

--Birchwood by John Banville

October  3,  2007

Patrick: Lagniappe

The supreme purpose of biography in Symons's view is not to record but to reveal.  To achieve that purpose the idea of completeness must be abandoned, for in any event it is unattainable, and in its place must be a conscious selection of the significant, and the omission of all else.  But no such selection can possibly be made by the biographer unless he has the indispensable quality of understanding and a preconceived picture of what he desires to present, so that he may reflect his understanding in the most effective way.  The ideal biographer must have exceptional insight into the oddities and moods of man, and be dowered, the more richly the better, with exceptional curiosity to carry him through the tiresome task of necessary research.  The equipment of the biographer must even transcend all this, for he must possess the power of awakening interest in a highly specialized sense.  The skill of the analyst must be united with the skill of the artist.  The words of the biographer, like Poe's or Swift's, should be set in sentences like jewels in a crown: his paragraphs should fit into the chapters as inevitably as the parts of a piece of music.  He must possess the power of presentation, and preserve at all times his essential artistic integrity.

--Introduction by Norman Birkett of The Quest for Corvo by A.J.A. Symons

[N.B.:  The biographer's manifesto; biographers of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your pedantry.] 

October  2,  2007

Patrick: Lagniappe

"What ya doin' there, Andy?"

 

"Rocks," the boy said.  "They's pitchers on 'em."  He handed Buddy a piece of shale.

 

"Fossils.  Ol' dead stuff."

 

"I'm collectin' 'em."

 

"What ya wanna save ol' dead stuff for?" he said, handing the shale back.

 

The boy looked down and shrugged.

 

--Hollow from The Stories of Breece D'J Pancake

 

[N.B.:   Just in case you can't get the reference, the publishers of my version of this book included on the cover a small photograph--an emblem, perhaps--of a fossil.  Mr. Pancake shot himself after writing these stories, so we'll get no input from him on why he wanted to save ol' dead stuff about various white-trash West Virginia hillbillies and their dysfunctional families.  But I can lend a hand in turning over the burn pile and pointing out why Mr. Pancake is still seen as one of the saints of creative-writing programs: he was a trailblazer in mapping out the genre of trailer-park porn.  Here's an example from the same story:

 

The shot jerked Sally from her half-sleep, but she settled back again, watching the blue TV light play against the rusty flowers of ceiling leaks as the last grains of cocaine soaked into her head.  She stretched, felt afloat in an ocean of blue light rippling around her body, and relaxed.  She knew she was prettier than the girls in the Thunderball Club, or the girl on the TV, and lots more fun.

 

No, no, this isn't a bad parody--remember, Mr. Pancake was one of the first writers of this by now dated and clichéd material; he just got there the firstest with the mostest.  And when this small vein of trailer-park porn ore was used up (which didn't take long) he was used up, too.  Unfortunately, his many admirers who lack aesthetic sensibility to see this material as a dead end continue to sing his praises while churning out sub-prime heaps of this slag.   Enough already--I get it.  Can't we all just get along and stop viewing our rural neighbors as caged geeks to be gawked at?]

October  1,  2007

Patrick: Lagniappe

The emperor had as many categories of slaves to arrange and tend his wardrobe as he had separate types of clothes: for his palace garments the slaves a veste privata, for his city clothes the a veste forensi, for his undress military uniforms the a veste castrensi, and for his full-dress parade uniforms the a veste triumphali, for the clothes he to the theatre the a veste gladiatoria.  His eating utensils were polished by as many teams of slaves as there were kinds; the eating vessels, the drinking vessels, the silver vessels, the golden vessels, the vessels of rock crystal, the vessels set with precious stones.  His jewels were entrusted to a crowd of servi or liberti ab ornamentis, among whom were distinguished those in charge of his pins (the a fibulis) and those responsible for his pearls (the a margaritis).  Several varieties of slaves competed over his toilet: the bathers (balneatores), the masseurs (aliptae), the hairdressers (ornatores), and the barbers (tonsores).  The ceremonial of his receptions was regulated by several kinds of ushers: the velarii who raised the curtains to let the visitors enter, the ab admissione who admitted him to the presence, the nomenclatores who called out the name.  A heterogeneous troop were employed to cook his food, lay his table, and serve the dishes, ranging from the stokers of his furnaces (fornacarii) and the simple cooks (coci) to his bakers (pistores), his pastry-cooks (libarii) and his sweetmeat-makers (dulciarii), and including, apart from the major-domos responsible for ordering his meals (structores), the dining-room attendants (triclinarii), the waiters (ministratores) who carried in the dishes, the servants charged with removing them again (analectae), the cupbearers who offered him drink and who differed in importance according to whether they held the flagon (the a lagona) or presented the cup (the a cyatho), and finally the tasters (praegustatores), whose duty it was to test on themselves the perfect harmlessness of his food and drink--and who were assuredly expected to perform their task more efficiently than the tasters of Claudius and Britannicus.  Finally, for his recreation, the emperor had an embarrassing variety of choice between the songs of his choristers (symphoniaci), the music of his orchestra, the pirouettes of his dancing women (saltatrices), the jests of his dwarfs (nani), of his 'chatterboxes' (fatui), and of his buffoons (moriones).

 

--Daily Life in Ancient Rome by Jerome Carcopino (tr. E.O. Lorimer)

 

 

Puff the Magic Maslin

 

Yes, boys and girls, it's once again time to peek in at the further adventures of that log-roller extraordinaire, Ms. Janet Maslin, as she affirmatively answers the age-old query, "Can you log-roll the dead?"  But, of course!  Her material this time does not sound promising: an almost 900-page pulp block of the condensed (just imagine the massiveness of the unexpurgated) journals of Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.   And yet she perseveres, letting us know immediately that "[t]his arch, irresistibly revealing book manages to be both showstopping and doorstopping."  Let's admire for a bit that egregious adverbial phrase, "irresistibly revealing."  Here's a textbook example of why one should place adverbs after the verb--for if Ms. Maslin had done so in this instance she would have realized that "irresistibly" adds nothing to the sentence, and, indeed, appears nonsensical.  But enough kvetching--let's end on an upbeat note of Ms. Maslin's own devising:  "The lively, confiding voice of these journals is also dutiful, conscientious, ever aware of history, eager to record after-dinner conversations for posterity's sake."  Not too long ago a snobbish, name-dropping bore was to be avoided at all costs.  Now we are asked to immerse ourselves in his edited musings with the promise of the much, much more to come.  Where's my whiskey?