About

Main

Contact

SEARCH

Archives

ARCHIVED ENTRIES FOR OCTOBER 2013

October  31,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

But as I say, this is not a conventional cookbook.  The presiding spirit of this work, and the primary influence on it, is the nineteenth-century culino-philosophico-autobiographical volume La Physiologie du Goût by the judge, soldier, violinist, language teacher, gourmand, and philosopher Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, who ranks with the Marquis de Sade as one of the two great oppositional minds of the period.  Brillat-Savarin, after narrowly escaping death during the French Revolution (the most surprising thing that has hitherto happened in the world," according to Burke), was mayor of Belley, and a judge on the post-revolutionary supreme court in Paris.  His sisters would stay in bed for three months of the year, building up strength for his annual visit.  His best-known remark is probably the aphorism "Tell me what you eat and I'll tell you who you are," though I personally have always preferred his summing up of a lifetime's eating: "I have drawn the following inference, that the limits to pleasure are as yet neither known nor fixed."

--The Debt to Pleasure by John Lanchester

October  30,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

Look, he says: once you have exhausted the process of negotiation and compromise, once you have fixed on the destruction of an enemy, that destruction must be swift and it must be perfect.  Before you even glance in his direction, you should have his name on a warrant, the ports blocked, his wife and friends bought, his heir under your protection, his money in your strong room and his dog running to your whistle.  Before he wakes in the morning, you should have the axe in your hand.

--Bring up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel

October  29,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

Norris raises his face.  'What has Mark Smeaton done to you?'

'Mark?'  He laughs.  'I don't like the way he looks at me.'

Would Norris understand if he spelled it out?  He needs guilty men.  So he has found men who are guilty.  Though perhaps not guilty as charged.

--Bring up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel

October  28,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

Gentle Norris: chief bottom-wiper to the king, spinner of silk threads, spider of spiders, black centre of the vast dripping web of court patronage: what a spry and amiable man he is, past forty but wearing it lightly.  Norris is a man always in equipoise, a living illustration of the art of sprezzatura.  No one has ever seen him ruffled.  He has the air of a man who has not so much achieved success, as become resigned to it.  He is as courteous to a dairy maid as to a duke; at least, for as long he has an audience.  A master of the tournament ground, he breaks a lance with an air of apology, and when he counts the coin of the realm he washes his hands afterwards, in spring water scented with rose petals.

Nevertheless, Harry has grown rich, as those about the king cannot help but grow rich, however modestly they strive, when Harry snaps up some perquisite, it is as if he, your obedient servant, were sweeping away from your sight something distasteful.  And when he volunteers for some lucrative office, it is as if he is doing it out of a sense of duty, and to save lesser men  he trouble.

--Bring up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel

[N.B.:  Why do creative writing instructors (there's a triple oxymoron for you), teach young writers to "show not tell"?  Why, it's because such fledglings have nothing to say, and, so, showing takes all so much longer to write down than telling.  I mean, please, how is the little writerling ever expected to scribble out that vast expanse of blank script?  Books are not written in a day--but showing certainly gets one to the end quicker.  And then you have a master such as Hilary Mantel who understands it is actually all so much more effective to tell.  It is the written equivalent of a powerful, spring-loaded man trap that snaps shut in an instant and captures its prey in one short, sharp clap.]

October  27,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

He looks at him, exasperated.  'You are not going to begin on that witchcraft business?'

'No.  But.  If she says she is not worthy, she is saying she is guilty.  Or so it seems to me.  But I do not know guilty of what.'

'Remind me what I said.  What kind of truth do we want?  Did I say, the whole truth?'

'You said, only the truth we can use.'

--Bring up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel

October  26,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

He did not relish the topic; he sensed in Jane Rochford's tone the peculiar cruelty of women.  They fight with the poor weapons God has bestowed - spite, guile, skill in deceit - and it is likely that in conversations between themselves they trespass in places where a man would never trust his footing.  The kind's body is borderless, fluent, like his realm; it is an island building itself or eroding itself, its substance washed out into the waters salt and fresh; it has its shores of polder, its marshy tracts, its reclaimed margins; it has tidal waters, emissions and effusions, quags that slough in and out of the conversation of Englishwomen, and dark mires where only priests should wade, rush lights in their hands.

--Bring up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel

October  25,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

Mr Wriothesley looks at him speculatively.  'I see.  It is not so much, who is guilty, as whose guilt is of service to you.'  He smiles.  'I admire you, sir.  You are deft in these matters, and without false compunction.'

--Bring up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel

October  24,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

Mr Wriothesley says, 'We can take you to the Tower where there is a rack.'

'Wriothesley, may I have a word with you aside?'  He waves Call-Me out of the room and on the threshold speaks in an undertone.  'It is better not to specify the nature of the pain.  As Juvenal says, the mind is its own best torturer.  Besides, you should not make empty threats.  I will not rack him.  I do not want him carried to his trial in a chair.  And if I needed to rack a sad little fellow like this . . . what next? Stamping on dormice?'

--Bring up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel

October  23,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

Once he had watched Liz making a silk braid.  One end was pinned to the wall and on each finger of her raised hands she was spinning loops of thread, her fingers flying so fast he couldn't see how it worked.  'Slow down,' he said, 'so I can see how you do it,' but she'd laughed and said, 'I can't slow down, if I stopped to think how I was doing it I couldn't do it at all.'

--Bring up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel

October  22,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

You can be merry with the king, you can share a joke with him.  But as Thomas More used to say, it's like sporting with a tamed lion.  You tousle its mane and pull its ears, but all the time you're thinking, those claw, those claws, those claws.

--Bring up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel

October  21,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

He could give him advice.  Extracts from The Book Called Henry.  As a child, a young man, praised for the sweetness of his nature and his golden looks, Henry grew up believing that all the world was his friend and everybody wanted him to be happy.  So any pain, any delay, frustration or stroke of ill-luck seems to him an anomaly, an outrage.  Any activity he finds wearying or displeasant, he will try honestly to turn into an amusement, and if he cannot find some tread of pleasure he will avoid it; this to him seems reasonable and natural.  He has councillors employed to fry their brains on his behalf, and if he is out of temper it is probably their fault; they shouldn't block him or provoke him.

--Bring up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel

[N.B.:  Basically, King Henry VIII was just the first member of the Millenials.]

October  18,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

The storm moved off to the north.  Suttree heard laughter and sounds of carnival.  He saw with a madman's clarity the perishability of his flesh.  Illbedowered harlots were calling from small porches in the night, in their gaudy rags like dolls panoplied out of a dirty dream.  And along the little ways in the rain and lightning came a troupe of squalid merrymakers bearing a caged wivern on shoulderpoles and other alchemical game, chimeras and cacodemons skewered up on boarspears and a pharmacopoeia of hellish condiments adorning a trestle and toted by trolls with an eldern gnome for guidon who shouted foul oaths from his mouthhole and a piper who piped a pipe of ploverbone and wore on his hip a glass flasket of some smoking fuel that yawed within viscid as quicksilver.  A mesosaur followed above on a string like a fourlegged garfish heliumfilled.  a tattered gonfalon embroidered with stars now extinct.  nemoral halfworld inhabitants, figures in buffoon's motley, a gross and blueblack foetus clopping along in brogues and toga.  Attendants attend.  Suttree watched these puckish reverls pass with a half grin of wry doubt.

--Suttree by Cormac McCarthy

[N.B.:  Just as Hemingway parodied Hemingway so too McCarthy selfscribbles with baroquebluster and nary a questinglance at such dustdreary criticmiddens as the objectivecorrelative (itself just a tinselfancy lingoslang for sentimentalslop).]

October  17,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

That evening he passed through a children's cemetery set in a bench of a hillside and forlorn save by weeds.  The stone footings of a church nearby was all the church there was and leaves fell few and slowly, here and here, him reading the names, the naked headboards all but perished in the weathers of seasons past, these tablets tilted or fallen, titles to small plots of earth against all claiming.  A storm had followed him for days.  He turned in an ashen twilight, crossing this garden of the early dead by weeds the wind has sown.  Brown jasmine among the nettles.  He saw small figurines composed of dust and light turn in the broken end of a bottle, spidersized marionettes in some minute ballet there in the purple glass so lightly strung with strands of cobweb floss.  A drop of rain sang on a stone.  Bell loud in the wild silence.

--Suttree by Cormac McCarthy

October  16,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

Suttree would see her in the street, dawn hours before the world's about.  A hookbacked crone going darkly and bent in a shapeless frock of sacking dyed dead black with logwood chips and fustic mordant.  Her spider hands clutching up a shawl of morling lamb.  Gimpen granddam hobbling through the gloom with your knobby cane go by, go by.  Over the bridge in the last hours of night to gather herbs from the bluff on the river's south shore.

--Suttree by Cormac McCarthy

[N.B.:  If nothing else, McCarthy is good for fortifying one's baroque vocabulary.]

October  15,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

Suttree was sitting at the foot of the bed.  He took a sip of the beer and held the bottle between his hands.

You see a man, he scratchin to make it.  Think once he got it made everything be all right.  But you dont never have it made.  Dont care who you are.  Look up one mornin and you a old man.  You aint got nothin to say to your brother.  Don't know no more'n when you started.

--Suttree by Cormac McCarthy

N.B.:  Here's my puzzler: How did that refugee apostrophe make it into "more'n" when he and his ilk were so effectively banished otherwise?  And will he be able to break out to free his brethren and maybe even his cousin quotation marks?]

October  14,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

Lights came on above the shops, a neon sign here, sudden paltry spanglements against the bluegray dusk.  A fabled miscellany in this pawnshop window.  The door clattered and hushed shut and the trolley lurched forward.  The pale domes of light in the clerestory waxed more yellow.  The seats to the front of the streetcar were vacant yet two blacks hung by one arm each like gibbons from the chrome rail overhead and swayed with the gathering speed.  With the heel of his hand Suttree cleared a small window in the frosted glass and peered out at the few figures receding along the walks.  Fellow citizens in this bewintered city.  A passing rack of hot neon washed his own sad countenance from the glass.  He leaned his head against the cold pane, watching pedestrians toil from pool to pool of lamplight, trailing wisps of vapor, bent figures, homebound.  He could smell the old varnished wood of the sash and the brass of the catches.  The trolley slowed, surged forth again.  Cars passed below, a rumpling sound of tires over the bricks.  The buildings dropped away.  The were going by a frozen mudflat, lunar, naked, spoored with fossil dogtracks.  Under the billboard lights small sprawling mica constellations.

--Suttree by Cormac McCarthy

October  13,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

Were you sorry about it?  The old lady's house I mean.

Sorry I got caught.

Suttree nodded and tilted his beer.  It occurred to him that other than the melon caper he'd never heard the city rat tell anything but the naked truth.

--Suttree by Cormac McCarthy

[N.B.:  McCarthy understands a deep and disturbing truth about human nature: true evil need not lie and, indeed, takes pleasure in telling the truth (although the truth might be a bit ambiguous).]

October  12,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

What do turtles eat?

Folks' toes if they dont be watchful wadin.  See yan'n?

Where?

Towards them willers yander.

Down there?

Dont pint ye fanger ye'll scare him.

You pointed.

Thatn's eyes was shut.  Hush now.

--Suttree by Cormac McCarthy

October  11,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

Do they ever sink?

The turtlehunter charged his rifle from a yellowed horn and slid a fresh ball down the bore.  He recapped the lock, cradling the piece in his armcrook.

Some does, some dont.  Quiet now, they be anothern directly.

What do you do with them?

Sell em for soup.  Or whatever.  The boy was watching the dead surface of the river.  Turkles and dumplins.  if ye've a mind to.  They's seven kinds of meat in one.

--Suttree by Cormac McCarthy

[N.B.:  You'd almost think that McCarthy has discovered a way to banish the bane of all creative-writing cretins struggling in that swamp of grammatical goo: the quotation mark.  It seems that way because the two speakers are so different and one is mostly asking questions of the other so it is easy to keep track of the dialogue.  But then you come to that last paragraph and McCarthy disappears under the goo without a goodbye.]

October  10,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

The child buried within him walked here one summer with an old turtlehunter who went catlike among the grasses, gesturing with his left hand for secrecy.  He has pointed, first a finger, then the long rifle of iron and applewood.  It honked over the river and the echo drifted back in a gray smoke of sulphur and coke ash.  The ball flattened on the water and rose and carried the whole of the turtle's skull away in a cloud of brainpulp and bonemeal. 

The wrinkled empty skin hung from the neck like a torn sock.  He hefted it by the tail and laid it up on the mud of the bank.  Green fungus hung from the serried hinder shell.  This dull and craggy dreamcreature, dark blood draining.

--Suttree by Cormac McCarthy

[N.B.:  Notice how McCarthy's creative use of compound-noun neologisms quickly devolves into a tiresome tic.  Or is that tiresometic?]

October  9,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

A whippoorwill had begun to call and with his ear to the ground this way he began to hear the train too.  A star arced long and dying down the sky.  He raised his head and looked toward the house.  Nothing moved.  The train had come on and her harpiethroated highball wailed down the lonely summer night.  He could hear the wheels shucking along the rails and he could feel the ground shudder and he could hear the tone of the trucks shift at the crossing and the huffing breath of the boiler and the rattle and clank and wheelclick and couplingclacking and then the last long shunting on the downgrade drawing on toward the distance and the low moan bawling across the sleeping land and fading and the caboose clicking away to final silence.  He rose and adjusted his clothes and went back along the rows of corn to the woods and to the road and set himself toward home again.

--Suttree by Cormac McCarthy

October  8,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

Moreover, with one's own staff one must be careful to display confidence and an air of decision; the important thing is to give the impression that you know what you are doing, even when in doubt: any commander will tell you that.  But what a burden it had been that he had had to carry by himself!  He remembered a cartoon he had seen in some magazine, making fun of the excesses of German discipline.  A platoon of storm-troopers were marching over a cliff while their officer was trying to decide what order to give next.  An N.C.O. was pleading with him: 'Say something, even if it's only goodbye!'  Brooke-Popham had chuckled heartily when he had seen that cartoon.  But in the last few terrible hours it had returned to haunt him and he had been unable to get it out of his head.  Say something, even if it's only goodbye!

--The Singapore Grip by J.G. Farrell

October  7,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

Brooke-Popham knew, even in his sleep, what had to be done.  What he did not know, and cold not decide, was when, if ever, to do it.  After all, by acting too soon he could start an  international incident!  And if he did that he would really look a fool.  Because, frankly, that is the sort of thing that people remember about a chap, not all the hard work he has got through in his career.

--The Singapore Grip by J.G. Farrell

October  6,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

[H]e recognised . . . Dupigny's wrinkled face, pickled in cynicism like a walnut in vinegar.

--The Singapore Grip by J.G. Farrell

October  5,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

Matthew went on: 'And yet there still persists this sad belief that a man can better himself by education.  At this very moment here in Singapore, according to the official figures, there are more than ten thousand clerks, most of whom live in the most dreadful conditions earning ten dollars a month if they're lucky, not even a living wage, simply because their numbers far exceed any possible demand for them.  Ten thousand clerks for a city of this size!  It seems it's a regular practice for older clerks to be replaced by younger men at lower salaries and yet that doesn't stop the schools turning out another seven hundred boys every year with qualifications for clerical jobs.  And all because of this pathetic, unfounded belief that education leads to lucrative jobs!'

--The Singapore Grip by J.G. Farrell

[N.B.:  Hello, sailor . . . errr . . .Biglaw-firm associate!]

October  4,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

'But Marx believed, did he not, that such a stage is necessary in the progress of society from feudalism to Communism and therefore even saw the British in India as a force for progress.'

'You can't have it both ways!  What you and Marx say is fine . . . that is, if Communism is what you want.  But what if we reach this stage where the poor are made poorer and organised into gangs of coolies and then . . . lo and behold, there is no revolution!  Are the natives not worse off than they were in their traditional communities?  Of course they are!  You still have to show me what advantages the coming of western capital has brought, in Burma at any rate.'  After a moment Matthew added: 'In any event, my bet is that in practice Communism would be scarcely any better than Capitalism, and perhaps even worse.'

--The Singapore Grip by J.G. Farrell

October  3,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

'If it's cheaper,' protested Ehrendorf, 'then they have more wealth to spend on other things.'

'Not so!  If they can live more cheaply it stands to reason that they can be paid less, provided there's no shortage of labour.  Yes, exactly, it's our old friend "the iron law" up to its tricks again!  What additional wealth may be generated by the use of cheaper methods and cheaper foods doesn't cling to the natives: the extra saving goes to swell the profits of the western businesses which control the land or the market . . . like Blackett and Webb!  The native masses are worse off than before.  For them the coming of capitalism has really been like the spreading of a disease.  Their culture is gone, their food is worse and their communities have been broken up by the need to migrate for work on estates and paddy-fields.   Well, am I right?'

--The Singapore Grip by J.G. Farrell

October  2,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

'Let me give you an example, Jim, of what happens when cash and the idea of profit strike root in a country unaccustomed to them like Burma.  It seems that there's a ghastly Darwinian principle of economics known as the Law of Substitution which declares, more or less, that "the cheapest will survive".  This has all sorts of unpleasant consequences, one of which is that non-economic values tend to be eliminated.  In Burma they used to build beautiful, elaborately carved cargo-boats which looked like galleons: these have been entirely replaced over the past fifty years by flat barges which can transport paddy more cheaply.  And it's the same everywhere you look: native art and craft replaced by cheap imported substitutes, handlooms have disappeared, pottery has given way to petrol tins.  Even the introduction of new crops by western capital has tended to impoverish rather than enrich the life people lead.  In Burma the natives used to cook with sesamum oil, now they use ground-nut oil because, though it doesn't taste so good, it's cheaper.  In Java people have taken to eating cassava instead of rice because it's cheaper . . .'

--The Singapore Grip by J.G. Farrell

October  1,  2013

Patrick: Lagniappe

There existed, Walter was aware, a macabre thermometer tot he state of health and well-being of the Shanghai population (of other cities in China, too): namely, the 'exposed corpse'.  Even in relatively good times, such was the precarious level of life in China, vast numbers of 'exposed corpses' would be collected on the streets . . .  six-thousand-odd in the streets of Shanghai in 1935.  In 1937 more than twenty thousand bodies had been found on the streets or on waste ground in the city.  By 1938 with the help of the war the number of corpses collected had risen to more than a hundred thousand in the International Settlement alone!  'The cremation of six hundred corpses,' the Health Department report for that year declared encouragingly, 'takes only four hours, though a greater number must have from six to eight hours for complete combustion.'

--The Singapore Grip by J.G. Farrell