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ARCHIVED ENTRIES FOR OCTOBER 2009

October  29,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

He took the notebook from the breast pocket of his coat and went back to the telephone, which to his surprise was still talking with all its old authority.

'. . . process of education in remorse,' it said.  'But first, the freshman programme: horror, grief and fear.  And there are no grades, my son.  Here's one course of study where it takes no more than a heart honestly desiring to know--'

Roger spoke three words into the mouthpiece, of which two were 'the Pope,' rang off hard, looked through his notebook and dialled.

--One Fat Englishman by Kingsley Amis

October  28,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

'Conticuere Omnes,' Roger was saying urgently to himself half an hour later, 'intentique ora tenebant.  Inde toro pater Aeneas sic fatus ab alto: "Infandum, regina, iubes renovare dolorem; sed . . ."  No, it's . . . Hell: colle sub aprico celeberrimus ilice lucus. . . Trouble with the damned stuff it's all chopped up into lengths so you have to know the beginning of every line and never get a clue out of what's gone before.  Oh God--hic haec hoc hic-haec-hoc yes yes yes now hunc hanc hoc three huiuses three huics hoc hac hoc right his hae ha . . . Ha?  No, of course, it's haec, you idiot.  Get on with it--hi hae haec then straight on to the Greek irregulars esthio and good old blosko-moloumai yes now back to hi hae haec hos has hos three horums . . .'

What Roger was saying to himself might have struck a casual observer, if one could have been contrived, as greatly at variance with what he was doing.  In fact, however, the two were intimately linked.  If he wanted to go on doing what he was doing for more than another ten seconds at the outside it was essential that he should go on saying things to himself--any old things as long as the supply of them could be kept up.  Nothing else at hand suggested itself as a means of self-distraction.  Very early in his career (he had only been troubled in this way a couple of times since then) he had found himself reading the better part of a chapter of Evelyn Waugh's book on Rossetti in this situation, rather to the puzzlement and, after a time, to the irritation of his companion, an Irish waitress from the considerably worse of the two local hotels.  The episode had done nothing to alleviate his generally harsh view of Pre-Raphaelite theory and practice, notably its religiose aspects.

--One Fat Englishman by Kingsley Amis

October  27,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

As he went he kept his eyes open for flowers, which were one item in the external world he could honestly say he liked.  But, as might have been expected, there were none about.  People here only valued them as sex-cum-affluence tokens and sent girls orchids they had never seen and would barely recognise as such if they did.  Nobody was interested in having flowers just growing round the place: who would bother to plant and tend a rose-bed when he could have a Cadillac delivered in an hour?

--One Fat Englishman by Kingsley Amis

October  26,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

There was a good deal to be said against Pamela, as nobody knew better than he.  He remembered her mother warning him, that day at Ascot, how highly strung the girl was, how difficult to deal with.  She was a great one for imaginary slights, bursting into tears if he should as much as venture to correct her grammar or point out that her reading an occasional manuscript for him when he was too busy was no excuse for skimping the sauce vinaigrette when they gave one of their dinner parties.  She had even complained--once--that he was selfish in bed.  On the other hand, she was decorative, knew a lot of people and could carry on a serious discussion in the intervals of mistaking differences of opinion for him being beastly to her.  The real trouble was that times like the present, when, for some reason he could not pin down, he rather fancied the idea of a reconciliation, tended to coincide with the times when, just as unaccountably, he rather fancied the idea of getting on terms with the Church again.  And the Church, when consulted, had always said that according to it he was still married to his first wife., Marigold.  And knowing the Church was wrong, emotionally wrong, wrong by any standard but the most literal and obscurantist, somehow did not help.

--One Fat Englishman by Kingsley Amis

October  25,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

Perhaps everybody would not, as he half hoped they would, freeze to death after all on this barge that was to provide the venue for this evening's romp.  Barge?  With a concept like that, of course, they might jump in either of their two favourite opposite directions.  Would the barge turn out to be some funnelless yacht boasting a uniformed crew and two or three bars hung with abstract expressionist paintings?  Rather more likely he would find middle-aged men in jeans and leather jackets doling out martinis from the middle of a waterlogged raft, an authentic Mississippi relic transported in sections across a thousand miles of land for the occasion.  Could they never do things except by two-and-a-havles?

--One Fat Englishman by Kingsley Amis

October  24,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

What was in one way most galling to Roger about Blinkie Heaven was that it was not, as he had first suspected, entirely staffed by the kind of character America had made its primary fictional concern.  There were blind people, true, and the odd Negro, but they were not backed up by the expected paraplegic necrophiles, hippoerotic jockeys, exhibitionistic castrates, coprophagic pig-farmers, armless flagellationists and the rest of the bunch.  People like shopkeepers, pedestrians, New Englanders, neighbours, graduates, uncles walked Macher's pages.  Events took place and the reader could determine what they were.  There was spoken dialogue, appearing between quotation marks.

--One Fat Englishman by Kingsley Amis

October  23,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

Zaid's finest moment, however, comes in his second paragraph, when he says that "the truly cultured are capable of owning thousands of unread books without losing their composure or their desire for more."

That's me!  And you, probably!  That's us!  "Thousands of unread books"!  "Truly cultured"!  Look at this month's list: Chekhov's letters, Amis's letters, Dylan Thomas's letters. . .  What are the chances of getting through that lot? . . .  I suddenly had a little epiphany: all the books we own, both read and unread, are the fullest expression of self we have at our disposal.  My music is me, too, of course--but as I only really like rock and roll and its mutations, huge chunks of me--my rarely examined operatic streak, for example--are unrepresented in my CD collection.  And I don't have the wall space or the money for all the art I would want, and my house is a shabby mess, ruined by children. . .  But with each passing year, and with each whimsical purchase, our libraries become more and more able to articulate who we are, whether we read the books or not.  Maybe that's not worth the thirty-odd quid I blew on those collections of letters, admittedly, but it's got to be worth something, right?

--The Polysyllabic Spree by Nick Hornby

October  22,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

Here's Tom Shone writing about Spielberg's Jaws in his book Blockbuster:

What stays with you, even today, are less the movie's big action moments than the crowning gags, light as air, with which Spielberg gilds his action--Dreyfuss crushing his Styrofoam cup, in response to Quint's crushing his beercan, or Brody's son copying his finger-steepling at the dinner table. . .

To get anything resembling such fillets of improvised characterisation, you normally had to watch something far more boring--some chamber piece about marital disintegration by John Cassavetes, say--and yet here were such things, popping up in a movie starring a scary rubber shark.  It was nothing short of revolutionary: you could have finger steepling and scary rubber sharks in the same movie.  This seemed like important information.  Why had no one told us this before?

If this column has anything like an aesthetic, it's there: you can get finger-steepling and sharks in the same book.  And you really need the shark part, because a whole novel about finger steepling--and that's a fair synopsis of both the Abandoned Literary Novel and several thousand others like it--can be on the sleepy side.  You don't have to have a shark, of course; the shark could be replaced by a plot, or, say, thirty decent jokes.

--The Polysyllabic Spree by Nick Hornby

October  21,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

My other mistake was [trying to read] a literary first novel . . . .  I took every precaution, I promise: I was reading a paperback that came garlanded with superlative reviews, and there were a couple of recommendations involved, although I can see now that they came from untrustworthy sources.  I ignored the most boring opening sentence I have ever read in my life and ploughed on, prepared to forgive and forget; I got halfway through before its quietness and its lack of truth started to get me down.  I don't mind nothing happening in a book, but nothing happening in a phony way--characters saying things people never say, doing jobs that don't fit, the whole works--is simply asking too much of a reader.  Something happening in a phony way must beat nothing happening in a phony way every time, right?  I mean, you could prove that, mathematically, in an equation, and you can't often apply science to literature.

--The Polysyllabic Spree by Nick Hornby

October  20,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

Actually, when you think about it, not many novels in the Spare tradition are terribly cheerful.  Jokes you can usually pluck out whole, by the roots, so if you're doing some heavy-duty prose-weeding, they're the first things to go.  And there's some stuff about the whole winnowing process that I just don't get.  Why does it always stop when the work in question has been reduced to sixty or seventy thousand words--entirely coincidentally, I'm sure, the minimum length for a publishable novel?  I'm sure you could get it down to twenty or thirty, if you tried hard enough.  In fact, why stop at twenty or thirty?  Why write at all?  Why not just jot the plot and a couple of themes down on the back of an envelope and leave it at that?  The truth is, there's nothing very utilitarian about fiction or its creation, and I suspect that people are desperate to make it sound like manly, back-breaking labor because it's such a wussy thing to do in the first place.  The obsession with austerity is an attempt to compensate, to make writing resemble a real job, like farming, or logging.  (It's also why people who work in advertising put in twenty-hour days.)  Go on, young writers--treat yourself to a joke, or an adverb!  Spoil yourself!  Readers won't mind!

--The Polysyllabic Spree by Nick Hornby

October  19,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

We are never allowed to forget that some books are badly written; we should remember that sometimes they're badly read, too.

--The Polysyllabic Spree by Nick Hornby

October  18,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

For my own part, I declare it, that out of doors, I value not death at all:--not this . . added the corporal, snapping his fingers,--but with an air which no one but the corporal could have given to the sentiment.--In battle, I value death not this . . . and let him not take me cowardly, like poor Joe Gibbins, in scouring his gun.--What is he?  A pull of a trigger--a push of a bayonet an inch this way or that--makes the difference.--Look along the line--to the right--see!  Jack's down!  well,--'tis worth a regiment of horse to him.--No--'tis Dick.  Then Jack's no worse.--Never mind which,--we pass on, in hot pursuit the wound itself which brings him is not felt,--the best way is to stand up to him,--the man who flies, is in ten times more danger than the man who marches up into his jaws.--I've looked him, added the corporal, an hundred times in the face,--and know what he is.--He's nothing, Obadiah, at all in the field.--But he's very frightful in a house, quoth Obadiah.--I never mind it myself, said Jonathan, upon the coach-box.--It must, in my opinion, be most natural in bed, replied Susannah.--And could I escape him by creeping into the worst calf's skin that ever was made into a knapsack, I would do it there--said Trim--but that is nature.

--The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gent. by Laurence Sterne

October  17,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

In less than five minutes I shall have thrown my pen into the fire, and the little drop of thick ink which is left remaining at the bottom of my ink-horn, after it--I have but half a score things to do in the time--I have a thing to name--a thing to lament--a thing to hope--a thing to promise, and a thing to threaten--I have a thing to suppose--a thing to declare--a thing to conceal--a thing to choose, and a thing to pray for----This chapter, therefore, I name the chapter of Things----and my next chapter to it, that is, the first chapter of my next volume, if I live, shall be my chapter upon Whiskers, in order to keep up some sort of connection in my works.

--The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gent. by Laurence Sterne

October  16,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

--No doubt, Sir,--there is a whole chapter wanting here--and a chasm of ten pages made in the book by it--but the book-binder is neither a fool, or a knave, or a puppy--nor is the book a jot more imperfect (at least upon that score)--but, on the contrary, the book is more perfect and complete by wanting the chapter than having it, as I shall demonstrate to your reverences in this manner.--I question firty, by the bye, whether the same experiment might not be made as successfully upon sundry other chapters----but there is no end, an' please your reverences, in trying experiments upon chapters----we have had enough of it--So there's an end of that matter.

--The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gent. by Laurence Sterne

October  15,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

'Go to sleep.'  Perhaps to his fine palate the sentence sounded over-conscious, for without opening his eyes he added, 'One must avoid self-importance, you see.  In five hundred years' time, to the historian writing the Decline and Fall of the British Empire, this little episode would not exist.  There will be plenty of other causes.  You and me and poor Jones will not even figure in a footnote.  It will be all economics, politics, battles.'

'What do you think they did to Jones?'

'I don't supposes we shall ever know.  In time of war, so many bodies are unidentifiable.  So many bodies,' he said sleepily, 'waiting for a convenient blitz.'  Suddenly, surprisingly and rather shockingly, he began to snore.

--The Ministry of Fear by Graham Greene

October  14,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

Happiness should always be qualified by a knowledge of misery.  There on the book-shelf stood the Tolstoy with the pencil-marks rubbed out.  Knowledge was the great thing . . . not abstract knowledge in which Dr Forester had been so rich, the theories which lead one enticingly on with their appearance of nobility, of transcendent virtue, but detailed passionate trivial human knowledge.  He opened the Tolstoy again: 'What seemed to me good and lofty - love of fatherland, of one's own people - became to me repulsive and pitiable.  What seemed to me bad and shameful - rejection of fatherland and cosmopolitanism - now appeared to me on the contrary good and noble.'  Idealism had ended up with a bullet in the stomach at the foot of the stairs; the idealist had been caught out in treachery and murder.  Rowe didn't believe they had had to blackmail him much.  They had only to appeal to his virtues, his intellectual pride, his abstract love of humanity.  One can't love humanity.  One can only love people.

--The Ministry of Fear by Graham Greene

[N.B.:  Even Homer nods--note the grammatical infelicity in the last sentence.  It should be, "[o]ne can love only people."  As written, it indicates that one can only love--as opposed to hate, dislike or merely ignore--people."  Even the corrected construction is based on the inference that it is only humanity and people being compared, and not, in addition, cats, dogs, autumn leaves and the films of Humphrey Bogart (for who does not love the cinema of Bogie?).]

October  13,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

Mr Prentice burst suddenly out as they drove up through the Park in the thin windy rain.  'Pity is a terrible thing.  People talk about the passion of love.  Pity is the worst passion of all: we don't outlive it like sex.'

'After all, it's war,' Rowe said with a kind of exhilaration.  The old fake truism like a piece of common pyrites in the hands of a child split open and showed its sparkling core to him.  He was taking part . . .

Mr Prentice looked at him oddly, with curiosity.  'You don't feel it, do you?  Adolescents don't feel pity.  It's a mature passion.'

--The Ministry of Fear by Graham Greene

October  12,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

Amos's voice now took on a deceptively mild and conversational note.  His protruding eyes ranged slowly over his audience.

'Ye know, doan't ye, what it feels like when ye burn yer hand in takin' a cake out of the oven or wi' a match when ye're lightin' one of they godless cigarettes?  Ay.  It stings wi' a fearful pain, doan't it?  And ye run away to clap a bit o' butter on it to take the pain away.  Ah, but' (an impressive pause) 'there'll be no butter in hell!

--Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

October  11,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

As an audience, it compared most favourably with audiences she had studied in London; and particularly with an audience seen once - but only once - at a Sunday afternoon meeting of the Cinema Society to which she had, somewhat unwillingly, accompanied a friend who was interested in the progress of the cinema as an art.

That audience had run to beards and magenta shirts and original ways of arranging its neckwear; and not content with the ravages produced in its over-excitable nervous system by the remorseless workings of its critical intelligence, it had sat through a film of Japanese life called Yĕs, made by a Norwegian film company in 1915 with Japanese actors, which lasted an hour and three-quarters and contained twelve close-ups of water-lilies lying perfectly still in a scummy pond and four suicides, all done extremely slowly.

--Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

[N.B.  This book was first published in 1932.  Art, like history, also repeats itself, but in reverse order:  first as farce and then as tragedy.]

October  10,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

There were two steel engravings upon the walls, in frames of light yellow wood.  One showed the Grief of Andromache on Beholding the Dead Body of Hector.  The other showed the Captivity of Zenobia, Queen of Palmyra.

Flora pounced on some books which lay on the broad window-sill: Macaria, or Altars of Sacrifice, by A. J. Evans-Wilson; Home Influence, by Grace Aguilar; Did She Love Him? by James Grant, and How She Loved Him, by Florence Marryat.  She put these treasures away in a drawer, promising herself a gloat when she should have time.  She liked Victorian novels.  They were the only kind of novel you could read while you were eating an apple.

--Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

October  9,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

The life of the journalist is poor, nasty, brutish and short.  So is his style.  You, who are so adept at the lovely polishing of every grave and lucent phrase, will realize the magnitude of the task which confronted me when I found, after spending ten years as a journalist, learning to say exactly what I meant in short sentences, that I must learn, if I was to achieve literature and favourable reviews, to write as though I were not quite sure about what I meant but was jolly well going to say something all the same in sentences as long as possible.

--Foreword to Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

October  8,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

At least Kevin seemed glad to be here, he thought, listening to Macdermott making open love to Aunt Lin, with a word thrown to Christina every now and then to keep her happy and faithful.  Dear Heaven, the Irish!  Nevil was on his best behaviour, full of earnest attention, with a discreet 'sir' thrown in now and again: often enough to make Kevin feel superior but not often enough to make him feel old.  The subtler English form of flattery, in fact.  Aunt Lin was like a girl, pink-cheeked and radiant: absorbing flattery like a sponge, subjecting it to some chemical process, and pouring it out again as charm.  Listening to her talk Robert was amused to find that the Sharpes had suffered a sea-change in her mind.  By the mere fact of being in danger of imprisonment, they had been promoted from 'these people' to 'poor things'.  This had nothing to do with Kevin's presence: it was a combination of native kindness and woolly thinking.

--The Franchise Affair by Josephine Tey

October  7,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

His Lordship's letter had run very true to form.  The Watchman, he said, had always set its face against violence and was not now, of course, proposing to condone it, but there were occasions when violence was but a symptom of a deep social unrest, resentment, and insecurity.  As in the recent Nullahbad case, for instance.  (The 'unrest, resentment, and insecurity' in that Nullahbad case lay entirely in the bosoms of two thieves who could not find the opal bracelet they had come to steal and by way or reprisal killed the seven sleeping occupants of the bungalow in their beds.)  There were undoubtedly  times when the proletariat felt themselves helpless to redress a patent wrong, and it was not to be marvelled at that some of the more passionate spirits were moved to personal protest.

--The Franchise Affair by Josephine Tey

October  6,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

Mrs Tilsit was one of those women whose minds are always on something else.  They chat brightly with you, they agree with you, they admire what you are wearing, and they offer advice, but their real attention is concentrated on what to do with the fish, or what Florrie told them about Minnie's eldest, or where they have left the laundry book, or even just what a bad filling that is in your right front tooth: anything, everything, except the subject in hand.

--The Franchise Affair by Josephine Tey

October  5,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

'Oh, Rob, I love you,' he said delightedly.  'You are the very essence of England.  Everything we admire and envy in you.  You sit there so mild, so polite, and let people bait you, until they conclude that you are an old tabby and they can do what they like with you, and then just when they are beginning to preen themselves they go that short step too far and wham! out comes that businesslike paw with the glove off!'  He picked Robert's glass out of his hand without a by-your-leave and rose to fill it and Robert let him.  He was feeling better.

--The Franchise Affair by Josephine Tey

October  4,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

Instead of the firmly defined forms of the quattrocento or the enclosed forms of the high Renaissance, the subjects he describes could only be treated with the broken, suggestive forms of romantic painting.  That Leonardo felt the full evocative power of such forms is proved by a famous passage in the Trattato:

I shall not refrain [he says] from including among these precepts a new and speculative idea, which although it may seem trivial and almost laughable, is none the less of great value in quickening the spirit of invention.  It is this: that you should look at certain walls stained with damp or at stones of uneven colour.  If you have to invent some setting you will be able to see in these the likeness of divine landscapes, adorned with mountains, ruins, rocks, woods, great plains, hills, and valleys in great variety; and then again you will see there battles and strange figures in violent action, expression of faces, and clothes, and an infinity of things which you will be able to reduce to their complete and proper forms.  In such walls the same thing happens as in the sound of bells, in whose strokes you may find every named word which you can imagine.

--Leonardo da Vinci by Kenneth Clark

October  3,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

The most personal of all these emblematic writings is a series in the Codex Atlanticus which Leonardo has entitled 'Prophecies.'  These are in a form which seems to have been popular among the wits of Milan, and we read that Leonardo's prophecies were written in competition with those of Bramante.  They consist of descriptions of ordinary everyday happenings, so worded as to sound like appalling catastrophes.  Thus 'many people by puffing out a breath with too much haste will thereby lose their sight and soon after all consciousness'; to which Leonardo supplies the explanation 'of putting out the light when going to bed'.  Here the intention is solely humorous, and the 'prophecy' is really a sort of riddle.  But in some instances I believe that Leonardo has taken advantage of this form to express his own convictions.  Many describe acts of cruelty and injustice which sound unbelievable, until the 'key' tells us that they refer to animals.  'Endless multitudes will have their little children taken from them, ripped open and flayed and most cruelly cut in pieces (of sheep, cows, goats, and the like).'  'The severest labour will be repaid with hunger and thirst, blows and goadings, curses and great abuse (of asses).'  Knowing from contemporary sources Leonardo's love of animals, we can be sure that such 'prophecies' as these are not mere jokes, but represent his refusal to take as a matter of course the suffering which man's technical skill has allowed him to inflict on the other animals.

--Leonardo da Vinci by Kenneth Clark

October  2,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

Abbreviations do harm to knowledge and to love, seeing that the love of anything is the offspring of this knowledge, the love being the more fervent in proportion as the knowledge is more certain . . . Of what use, then, is he who abridges the details of those matters of which he professes to give thorough information, while he leaves behind the chief part of the things of which the whole is composed?  It is true that impatience, the mother of stupidity, praises brevity, as if such persons had not life long enough to serve them to acquire a complete knowledge of one single subject, such as the human body; and then they want to comprehend the mind of God in which the universe is included, weighing it minutely and mincing it into infinite parts, as if they had to dissect it.

--Leonardo da Vinci by Kenneth Clark

[N.B.:  A quotation from The Literary Works of Leonardo da Vinci]

October  1,  2009

Patrick: Lagniappe

Finally, we may claim that our knowledge of psychology is fuller than it was.  Whether or not we believe in the more elaborate doctrines of psychoanalysis, we are all aware that symbols come to the mind unsought, from some depths of unconscious memory, and that even the greatest intellect draws part of its strength from a dark centre of animal vitality.  We can no longer offer a simple explanation for every motif.  In particular is this true of the character and work of Leonardo.  The grand generalisations, the words of praise and blame, the categories of excellence in which older criticism abounds, cannot be applied to him without absurdity.  He is a standing refutation of the comfortable belief that all great men are simple.  No more complex and mysterious character ever existed, and any attempt at simplification would run contrary to the whole action of his mind.  He had such a strong sense of organic life, of growth and decay, of the infinitely small and infinitely big, in short of the nature of the physical world, that he rarely attempted an abstract proposition which was not mathematical; and we must observe the same caution in our attempts to study him.

--Leonardo da Vinci by Kenneth Clark