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ARCHIVED ENTRIES FOR OCTOBER 2012

October  31,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

(A word on the aspidistra.  This favoured pot-plant of the landlady and of the living-dead respectable is now so far out of fashion as to make Orwell's fascination with it seem quaint, if not antique.  It occurs again and again, not just in its own eponymous novel, but also in A Clergyman's Daughter, where an unfrocked vicar is found singing 'Keep the as-pi-distra flying', to the tune of 'Deutschland Über Alles', among the derelicts in Trafalgar Square.  And it is also to be found in Burmese Days, where Flory, looking for peace and nature in the jungle, reaches 'an impasse where the path was blocked by large ugly plants like magnified aspidistras.'  The original idea of the aspidistra as a fetish came to Orwell by way of Robert Tresell's celebrated proletarian novel The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists, in which a starving carpenter is forced to pawn everything but clings to his potted shrub as an idiotic token of social status.  What I suspect is this: for Orwell this grubbed-up and replanted things was de-natured, a pseudo or kitsch version of vegetation masquerading as greenery among the deracinated and the suburban.  What he liked and respected, in a phrase, was the real thing.)

--Why Orwell Matters by Christopher Hitchens

October  30,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

The liturgy of Cranmer and King James was dear to him, and in A Clergyman's Daughter he cleverly anticipated the fork on which Anglicanism has since impaled itself:

Nowadays, a clergyman who wants to keep his congregation has only two course open to him.  Either it must be Anglo-Catholicism pure and simple--or rather, pure and not simple; or he must be daringly modern and broad-minded and preach comforting sermons proving that there is no Hell and all good religions are the same.

--Why Orwell Matters by Christopher Hitchens

October  29,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

In his book The Captive Mind, written in 1951-2 and published in the West in 1953, the Polish poet and essayist Czeslaw Milosz paid Orwell one of the greatest compliments that one writer has ever bestowed upon another.  Milosz had seen the Stalinization of Eastern Europe from the inside, as a cultural official.  He wrote, of his fellow-sufferers:

A few have become acquainted with Orwell's 1984; because it is both difficult to obtain and dangerous to possess, it is known only to certain members of the Inner Party.  Orwell fascinates them through his insight into details they know well, and through his use of Swiftian satire.  Such a form of writing is forbidden by the New Faith because allegory, by nature manifold in meaning, would trespass beyond the prescriptions of socialist realism and the demands of the censor.  Even those who know Orwell only by hearsay are amazed that a writer who never lived in Russia should have so keen a perception into its life.

--Why Orwell Matters by Christopher Hitchens

October  28,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

The condemnation of Aristides the Just, in ancient Athens, is said by some to have occurred because people were irritated by hearing him referred to as 'the Just.'  and the plaster-saint element in Orwell's reputation has always irritated his critics.

--Why Orwell Matters by Christopher Hitchens

October  27,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

An old radical adage states that the will to command is not as corrupting as the will to obey.  We do not know with absolute certainty what impelled Orwell to abandon the life of a colonial policeman, but it seems to have involved a version of this same double-edged slogan.  The word 'brutalize' is now employed quite wrongly to mean harsh or cruel treatment meted out by the strong to the weak ('the Russian army brutalized the Chechens' etc.).  But in fact it means something subtler, namely the coarsening effect that this exercise of cruelty produces in the strong.

--Why Orwell Matters by Christopher Hitchens

October  26,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

Then he spoke again.  His face was drawn and strained.  He said, "I used to go to Lisbon sometimes.  It was a nice place to be in.  Dangerous, full of agents, full of South Africans.  But it was out of Africa.  I used to go to the bullfights.  They told me that in the Portuguese bullfight they didn't kill the bull.  I believed them.  I went a lot.  And then I heard that the bulls were killed afterwards, after the fight.  There was nothing else you could do with them.  I'd somehow believed that the spears or barbs would just be taken out and the wounds would heal.  Oh my God, why is any of us allowed to live at all?  That's the miracle, the sheer charity of man to man."

He was alarming her.  But he didn't notice.

"When I eat food and enjoy it, I wonder why I am allowed to do so.  When I lie down in my bed at night and make myself comfortable, I wonder why I am allowed to do so.  It would be so easy to take it away from me.  Every night I think about that.  It would be so easy to torment me.  Once you tie a man's hands you can do anything to him."

--Guerillas by V. S. Naipaul

October  25,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

"It's so odd.  When you're out in the country, in the old estates, and you see the country people walking to church or rocking in their hammocks or drinking in their little bars, you don't think it's that kind of country.  but every country is that kind of country.  People would be frightened if they know how easily it comes.  Meredith wanted to know about torture.  I should have told him.  You only have to start.  It's the first kick in the groin that matters.  It takes a lot to do that.  After that you can do anything.  You can find yourself kicking a man in the groin until he bleeds.  Then you find you've stopped tormenting.  You've destroyed a human being.  You can't put him together again, and all you can do is throw the bleeding meat out of the window.  At that stage it's so easy."

--Guerillas by V. S. Naipaul

October  24,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

"But the astonishing thing is that you risked so much for so little.  Looking back now, the guerrilla activities you describe in your book, the little acts of sabotage--they really cannot be compared with the guerrilla activities of other people in other countries.  Would you say that was fair?"

"We were amateurs.  The situation was different in other countries."

"And perhaps the motivation was different as well.  It isn't for me to pass any judgment, so far from the scene.  I can only admire.  But I find it hard to imagine that you expected what you were doing to have any result.  Tearing up a railway, bombing a power station."

"I'm amazed myself now at the things we tried to do.  I suppose we led too sheltered lives.  We exaggerated the effect of a bomb."

"It was a gesture.  You were making a gesture."

--Guerillas by V. S. Naipaul

[N.B.:  Professor Ayers, the dustbin of history is calling.]

October  23,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

"You can't just go back to the land as a gesture.  You can't pretend.  The land is a way of life."

"And perhaps also a way of work.  Not a way of dropping out.  But I believe you've used the key word, Peter: pretend."

"Only very rich people in very rich countries drop out.  You can't drop out if you're poor."

--Guerillas by V. S. Naipaul

October  22,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

If you chase the topical too hard you can end up being stale.

--Guerillas by V. S. Naipaul

October  21,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

At the back of that vision lay the certainties--of class and money--of which, in London, she had seemed so innocent.

And something of innocence remained.  She was without memory: he had decided that long ago.  She was under no obligation to make a whole of her attitudes or actions.  It was useless, as he had found, to point out her contradictions.  She was not abashed because she was not interested; she owed no one any explanations.  She was only what she did or said at any given moment; she was then what she was.  He had been drawn by what he had seen as her mystery.  But where he had once looked for passion born of violation and distress, he now found inviolability.

--Guerillas by V. S. Naipaul

October  20,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

I think I know what ails the Owner.  He's absolutely sound as regards what's right, but he lacks conviction.  He simply isn't stupid enough to be convinced his is the only way.  In the circumstances, it's a dangerous trait.

--The Birthday Boys by Beryl Bainbridge

October  19,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

It wasn't until some years later I realised Con was upset at me for being so pally with Shackleton.  He'd taken it on board that I was his man. . . . With Con it's all or nothing, which is in part why I admire him.  It sounds blasphemous, but one only has the energy to die for one man at a time. 

--The Birthday Boys by Beryl Bainbridge

October  18,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

'Men from our background,' I explained, 'are at an advantage.  They've been schooled to accept things, not to argue the toss once the umpire has made a decision.  Abiding by the rules is a great help, you know . . . it does away with introspection, leaves one free to get on with the game.'

--The Birthday Boys by Beryl Bainbridge

October  17,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

'Get up,' I said, feeling bad, and I hoisted him to his feet and helped wash the rusting blood from his mouth.  'Jump ship,' I advised.  'Where we're going the cold will snap you in two if your heart isn't whole.'

I was speaking hard sense.  To make a miscalculation in the selection of provisions is serious enough; to pick the wrong man when there's a lengthy voyage ahead is inviting disaster.  It's the old business of the rotten apple in the barrel.  We all lean towards contamination.

--The Birthday Boys by Beryl Bainbridge

October  16,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

It never ceases to puzzle me, that, while men and women's bodies fit jigsaw-tight in an altogether miraculous way their minds remain wretchedly unaligned.

--The Birthday Boys by Beryl Bainbridge

October  15,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

The old uncle was laid out on the sofa; every time the coals settled, or one of us swore or thumped the table, he shouted, 'Is that you knocking, Lizzie . . . is that you, cariad?' and we shouted back, 'Hush there, Lizzie's long since gone to her bed', which was no more than an arrangement of the truth, seeing his wife Elizabeth had been unravelling in the ground for the last twenty years.

--The Birthday Boys by Beryl Bainbridge

October  14,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

"You get so worked up and flowery!  You sound as if you were quoting something all the time!"

I felt a sizzling warmth in my coat pocket wherein I had thrust the folded manuscript of my review of Arnold's novel.  Arnold Baffin's work was a congeries of amusing anecdotes loosely garbled into "racy stories" with the help of half-baked unmeditated symbolism.  The dark powers of imagination were conspicuous by their absence.  Arnold Baffin wrote too much, too fast.

--The Black Prince by Iris Murdoch

[N.B.:  The literary tragedy of Joyce Carol Oates is that she possesses--like Hilary Mantel--a surfeit of the "dark powers of imagination" but unlike Ms. Mantel she writes "too much, too fast."]

October  13,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

"Art isn't chat plus fantasy.  Art comes out of endless restraint and silence."

"If the silence is endless there isn't any art!  It's people without creative gifts who say that more means worse!"

"One should only complete something when one feels one's bloody privileged to have it at all.  Those who only do what's easy will never be rewarded by--"

"Nonsense.  I write whether I feel like it or not.  I complete things whether I think they're perfect or not.  Anything else is hypocrisy.  I have no muse.  That's what being a professional writer is."

"Then thank God I'm not one."

--The Black Prince by Iris Murdoch

October  12,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

"I don't think curiosity is a kind of charity.  I think it is a kind of malice."

"That's what makes a writer, knowing the details."

"It may make your kind of writer.  It doesn't make mine."

"Here we go again," said Arnold.

"Why pile up a jumble of 'details'?  When you start really imagining something you have to forget the details anyhow, they just get in the way.  Art isn't the reproduction of oddments out of life."

--The Black Prince by Iris Murdoch

[N.B.:  Tom Wolfe, call you agent--errr, critic.]

October  11,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

"Being a real person oneself is a matter of setting up limits and drawing lines and saying no.  I don't want to be a nebulous bit of ectoplasm straying around in other people's lives.  That sort of vague sympathy with everybody precludes any real understanding of anybody."

"The sympathy needn't be vague--"

"And it precludes any real loyalty to anybody."

"One must know the details.  Justice, after all--"

"I detest chatter and gossip.  One must hold one's tongue.  Even sometimes just not think about people.  Real thoughts come out of silence."

--The Black Prince by Iris Murdoch

October  10,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

On principle I usually avoid introducing my friends and acquaintances to each other.  It is not that one fears treachery, though of course one does.  What human fear is deeper?  But endless little unnecessary troubles usually result from such introductions. 

--The Black Prince by Iris Murdoch

October  9,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

There is nothing quite like the dead dull feel of a failed marriage.  Nor is there anything like one's hatred for an ex-spouse.  (How can such a person dare to be happy?)  I cannot credit those who speak of "friendship" in such a context.  I lived for years with a sense of things irrevocably soiled and spoiled, it could give suddenly such a sad feel to the world sometimes.  I could not liberate myself from her mind.  This had nothing to do with love.  Those who have suffered this sort of bondage will understand.  Some people are just "diminishers" and "spoilers" for others.  I suppose almost everybody diminishes someone.  a saint would be nobody's spoiler.  Most of one's acquaintances however can be blessedly forgotten when not present.  Out of sight out of mind is a charter of human survival.

--The Black Prince by Iris Murdoch

October  8,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

For some reason which I cannot fully understand the profession of "taxman," like the profession of "dentist," seems to excite laughter.  But this laughter is, I suspect, uneasy.  Both taxman and dentist only too readily image forth the deeper horrors of human life: that we must pay, perhaps ruinously, for our pleasures, that our resources are lent, not given, and that our most irreplaceable faculties decay even as they grow.  and in an immediate sense, what makes a man more obsessively miserable than income tax or the toothache? 

--The Black Prince by Iris Murdoch

October  7,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

Human nature being what it is, no art can depend entirely on inspiration.  It was possible for a second-rate but able musician of Mozart's time to produce quite admirable results by following Mozart's methods--how many people indeed, without being primed, can tell when listening to the Requiem where Mozart ends and Sussmayer begins?  It is impossible, though, to produce neo-Mussorgsky or neo-Debussy.  There is indeed no more convincing proof of the dangers of the hit-or-miss method than Debussy's minor piano pieces.

--Music Ho! by Constant Lambert

October  6,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

Internationalism, like simplicity, is a desirable end but, like simplicity, it is found only in the highest and the lowest forms of art.  The paintings of Giotto speak an international language and so do lavatory drawings.  We must beware lest in aiming at one we produce the other.  It is fatally easy for the modern composer, reacting against the passionate nationalism of recent musical movements, to rid himself of parochialism not by intensifying his thought but by denuding it, and to reach universality through nullity.

--Music Ho! by Constant Lambert

October  5,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

This warping of the medium to use it for a form of expression best suited to another art is by no means confined to composers, amongst modern artists.  While Satie and Stravinsky may be said in their objective compositions to be taking up the work of the painter, the surrealist painters are working on lines which would obviously find more convincing and fluid expression in writing, while transitional writers like Gertrude Stein are aiming at rhythmic patterns and formal arrangements of sound that would have far more weight if expressed in musical form.  By working out of focus with one's medium one can undoubtedly achieve results of the utmost experimental interest; but it is rarely that these experiments have led to anything but a technical and spiritual cul-de-sac.

--Music Ho! by Constant Lambert

October  4,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

There is a moment, almost impossible to analyse, when a piece of sculpture, through excessive simplification on the part of the artist, ceases to be a living form however simplified and becomes an abstract object.  However much we may admire Brancusi's fish, for example, we may ask ourselves at times whether the process of simplification has not been carried to a point when not only the inessentials, but the essentials of sculpture have been thrust on one side.  Like Brancusi, Satie states a certain problem in its most acute form, but his work is even more open to question because he is dealing with a dynamic medium functioning in time, and far less suited to the static objectivity which both these artists undoubtedly achieve.

--Music Ho! by Constant Lambert

October  3,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

He was an old practitioner amongst over-zealous students and, like an Italian priest, could allow himself an occasional bottle of wine or a risqué story which the English convert would regard as a lapse from devoutness.

--Music Ho! by Constant Lambert

October  2,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

We are still apt to regard formalism and emotional expression as opposed interests instead of as an indissoluble whole.  That is why at the present time even sympathetic critics are sometimes puzzled by the combination of mathematical methods and melodramatic atmosphere to be found in so much atonal music.  If we were to forget the arbitrary distinction between classic and romantic we should realize that a composer like Alban Berg, who uses a carefully wrought and alembicated technique for highly expressive ends, stands nearer to the true tradition of music as represented by the sixteenth and seventeenth-century masters than any of the self-conscious classicists of the eighteenth, or the self-conscious romanticists of the nineteenth centuries.  Berg's music itself would have sounded strange to seventeenth-century ears, but his aims were much the same as theirs.  At that period there was no divorce between intellectuality and emotionalism.  Mace, lamenting the decline of the seventeenth-century string fantasias refers to these 'solemn and sweet delightful ayres' not only as 'so many pathetical stories', but as 'subtle and acute argumentations'.  Could one not also describe Pierrot Lunaire as a series of pathetical stories and acute argumentations?  The atonal school, whatever its faults and in spite of its superficial air of mathematical frigidity, can in no way be described as abstract.

--Music Ho! by Constant Lambert

October  1,  2012

Patrick: Lagniappe

In absolving the eighteenth-century minor composers from vulgarity we must remember that musical vulgarity though a pungent enough smell to the composer's contemporaries, is a quickly fading scent.  It may only be that our noses are not keen enough to catch the faint odour of corruption.  the dung of today becomes the potpourri of tomorrow.  The vulgarities of Auber have already taken on a period charm, like Victorian wool-work, and it is only a matter of time before the vulgarities of Wagner and Liszt achieve in turn an old lavender quality.

--Music Ho! by Constant Lambert