April  30,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

The performance of The Martyr, verse drama in two acts by Gareth Probert, was getting into something I didn't want it to get into: its stride.  Though material had been presented for me to have a shot at working out what was supposed to be going on.  A few moments of whimsical prose at the beginning had hinted that the protagonist, The Martyr himself, had done something, that other people intended to do something to him because of what he'd done, and that The Monk didn't want them to do it.  Apart from this there were various linguistic clues, and I felt myself on safe ground in inferring that the whole business was rather on the symbolical side.  Words like "death" and "life" and "love" and "man" cropped up every few lines, but were never attached to anything concrete or specific.  "Death," for example, wasn't my death or your death or his death or her death or our death or their death or my Aunt Fanny's death, but just death, and in the same way "love" wasn't my, etc., love and wasn't love of one person for another or love of God or lover of black currant purťe either, but just love.  There were also bits from the Bible turned back to front ("In the word was the beginning" and so on), and bits of daring jargon ("No hawkers, circulars or saints," "Dai Christ").  Dear, dear, the thing was symbolical all right.

--That Uncertain Feeling by Kingsley Amis

April  29,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

It could not be said that she had a heart of stone, for this usually implies some conscious rejection of pity.  Mrs Cressett's heart was more likely made of wood, as people are said to be wooden-headed; she just did not notice other people's emotions.

--Anglo-Saxon Attitudes by Angus Wilson

April  28,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

But one thing this lack of talent taught me.  Appreciation.  When you try to do something and can't--and admit you can't--you learn a healthy respect for it and for those who can.  In the achievements of others I learned to see what I'd learned I could not do myself, and the greater the achievement, the more humble I became before it.  And frankly, I have never regretted being unable to draw or paint, because if I could, I might not be quite as receptive to others.  But because I tried to do it and discovered my limitations, I am perhaps more tolerant of all kinds of art than one who hasn't tried--or has and won't admit his limitations.

I know an awful lot of amateurs . . . Sunday painters, they call them now . . . and it seems to follow that the less talent they have, the more intolerant they are of talent in others.  The one painter I knew as a child was a lady who sat near us in church.  She painted polite little pictures of flowers, crammed into dumpy little vases, set on the damnedest rag bag selection of fabrics.  Mother even bought one of these to give as a wedding present to the daughter of someone she didn't like very much.  Years later, when this lady found out that I was supposed to know about art, she sought me out for a chat, backstage.  Her first words were: "Now, don't tell me you like modern art, Vincent, because if you do, we won't have a word to say to each other."  Being polite by preference, and having sat so near to her in church for so many years, we did have a few words to say to each other, but not about art.  I learned a long time ago how to get out of that one .  .  . we talked about her.

--I Like What I Know by Vincent Price

[N.B.:  If only would-be writers could take Vincent's advice and never put pen to paper--or, at least, put paper to drawer and key to lock without ever venturing to revisit one's scribbling.  There's an entertaining article in The New York Times Book Review this week about the sorry state of affairs in publishing today where soon the vanity press will overtake the established one.  Certainly, anyone can put words to a page--but that does not indicate they can write.]

April  25,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

"Yes, but you understand, sir, we're not going down there for a dip.  We won't have time to wade the shallows with our trousers rolled up and our shoes in our hands.  We're going down there to cultivate some of the most important men in the state.  We need to stake out some key ground early.  Wasn't it Bismarck who said, 'He who holds the--something or other--controls the--something else'?  Controls the whole thing, you see.  It was Bismarck or one of those boys with a spike on his hat."

--Masters of Atlantis by Charles Portis

April  24,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

"I have been telling you your future!  Why don't you listen?  Do you want to know how many more times you will eat lettuce or boiled eggs?  Shall I enumerate the instances you will yell good-morning to your neighbor across the fence?  Must I tell you how many more times you will buy stockings, attend church, go to moving picture shows?  Shall I make a list showing how many more gallons of water in the future you will boil making tea, how many more combinations of cards will fall to you at auction bridge, how often the telephone will ring in your remaining years?  Do you want to know how many more times you will scold the paper-carrier for not leaving your copy in the spot that irks you least?  Must I tell you how many more times you will become annoyed at the weather because it rains or fails to rain according to your wishes?  Shall I compute the pounds of pennies you will save shopping at bargain centers?  Do you want to know all that?  For that is your future, doing the same small futile things you have done for the last fifty-eight years.  You face a repetition of your past, a recapitulation of the digits in the adding machine of your days.

--The Circus of Dr. Lao Charles G. Finney

April  22,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

Lord Emsworth adjusted his glasses, and the mild smile disappeared from his face, to be succeeded by a set look.  A stage-director of a moving-picture firm would have recognized the look; Lord Emsworth was 'registering' interest - interest which, he perceived from the first instant, would have to be completely simulated; for instinct told him, as Mr Peters began to talk, that he was about to be bored as he had seldom been bored in his life.

--Something Fresh by P.G. Wodehouse

April  21,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

Harris was born on the 14th of February 1855, according to his autobiography, which was written in his old age, and a year later, according to his statement in Who's Who.  Precision on this point, as on all other points where Harris is our sole authority, is impossible, for in writing about himself he touched nothing which he did not adorn.  His autobiography, though valuable as a self-revelation, is far more unreliable about facts even than his earlier books and talk.  It was written between ten and fifteen years after I knew him, and contains several incidents which he had told me in a more convincing form.  I have preferred any authority to it, but have been compelled to use it from time to time for his earlier years.

--Frank Harris by Hugh Kingsmill

[N.B.:  I have a soft spot for oddball book genres such as the biography of cads.  This is particularly the case where the biographer also has a soft spot for his subject which is certainly exemplified by Hugh Kingsmill, an unjustly forgotten critic and man of letters, writing of his old friend, Frank Harris, who, at one time, was regarded as the foremost critic of Shakespeare, but now, is a justly forgotten critic and man of letters.  Imagine Dr. Johnson as a fantastic rogue being followed around from scrape to scrape by his long-suffering factotum, Boswell.]

April  18,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

They arrived in the Geary.  The sea is right down those streets lashing and lapping.  And have to bend down to get under these clouds.  Or madam bend over, I want to tell you something.  Out here it's like soft bread and fish things burrow and hide.  I used to climb around here.  Get the tiny creatures caught in these crystal cradles of rock.  Like me.  Until they take the fearful sun away and give me a bosom of deep.

--The Ginger Man by J.P. Donleavy

April  17,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

For this was the favourable difference between the First World War and the second: in the first the word still had power.  It had not yet been done to death by the organization of lies, by "propaganda," and people still considered the written word, they looked to it.  Whereas in 1939 not a single pronouncement by any writer had the slightest effect either for good or evil, and up to the present no book, pamphlet, essay, or poem has stirred the masses to their core.  In 1914 a forty-eight-line poem like Lissauer's "Hymn of Hate," an inane manifesto like that of the "93 German Intellectuals," or an eight-page essay such as Rolland's Au-dessus de la MÍlťe, or a novel like Barbusse's Le Feu, became an event.  The moral conscience of the world had not yet become as tired or washed-out as it is today.  It reacted vehemently to every obvious lie, to every violation of international law and of humanity, with the whole force of centuries of conviction.  A violation such as Germany's invasion of neutral Belgium, which today, since Hitler elevated lying to a matter of course, and anti-humanitarianism to law, would hardly be complained of seriously, could then still arouse the world from end to end.  The shooting of Edith Cavell and the torpedoing of the Lusitania were more harmful to Germany than a battle lost, thanks to the universal outburst of moral indignation.  And so it was by no means vain for the poet, the writer, to speak out at that time when the ear and the soul had not yet been flooded wit the incessant chattering waves of the radio.  On the contrary, the spontaneous manifestation of a great poet was a thousand times more effective than all the official speeches of the statesmen, who were known to be geared tactically and politically to the immediate moment and to speak half-truths at best.

--The World of Yesterday by Stefan Zweig

April  16,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

My position among my Viennese Friends was much more difficult than my official one.  Limited in their experience of Europe as whole, and living entirely within the German circle of thought, most of our writers believed that their best contribution was to strengthen the enthusiasm of the masses and support the supposed beauty of war with poetic appeals or scientific ideologies.  Nearly all the German authors, led by Hauptmann and Dehmel, felt themselves obliged, like the bards of the ancient Germani, by songs and runes to inflame the advancing warriors with enthusiasm for death.  Poems poured forth that rhymed Krieg with Sieg and Not with Tod.  Solemnly the poets swore never again to have any cultural association with a Frenchman or an Englishman; they went even further, they denied overnight that there had ever been any French or English culture.  It was all insignificant and valueless in comparison with German character, German art, and German thought.  But the savants were even worse.  The sole wisdom of the philosophers was to declare the war a "bath of steel" which would beneficially preserve the strength of the people from enervation.  The physicians fell into line and praised the prosthesis so extravagantly that one was almost tempted to have a leg amputated so that the healthy member might be replaced by an artificial one.  The ministers of all creeds had no desire to be outdone and joined in the chorus, at times as if a horde of possessed were raving, and yet all of these men were the every same whose reason, creative power, and humane conduct one had admired only a week, a month, before.

--The World of Yesterday by Stefan Zweig

April  15,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

"No one ever found out Charley Raunce.  Lucky Charley they call me."

"It's the lucky ones have farthest to fall," she said low.

--Loving by Henry Green

April  14,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

Rambling and stuccoed, the massive edifice had been jerry-built to last.  In style it managed to combine elements of both East and West.  In Jacaranda House the twain had met.  At first sight it looked as though Windsor Castle had been used for the artificial insemination of the Brighton Pavilion and from its crenellated gables to its tiled and columned verandah it succeeded with an eclecticism truly English in bringing more than a touch of the durbah to a building as functionally efficient as a gents.  Whoever had built Jacaranda House might not and almost certainly did not know what he was doing, but he must have been a positive genius even to have known how.

--Riotous Assembly by Tom Sharpe

April  13,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

By a law of association, from the operation of which even minds the most strictly regulated by reason are not wholly exempt, misery disposes us to hatred, and happiness to love, although there be no person to whom our misery or our happiness can be ascribed.  The peevishness of an invalid vents itself even on those who alleviate his pain.  The good humour of a man elated by success often displays itself toward enemies. 

--John Dryden from Critical, Historical and Miscellaneous Essays, vol. I by Lord Macaulay

[N.B.:  Obama's current little remark dust-up, instead of generating the latest round of tit-for-tat, would have been seen by the likes of Lord Macaulay as merely the articulation of a well-known principle most pithily encapsulated in the above quotation.]

April  12,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

A few prime-ministerial staffers are comparing notes with a presidential equivalent on the question of foreign travel.  When Blair goes somewhere, he relies on a staff of thirty (and five bodyguards).  When Bush goes somewhere, he relies on a staff of 800 (and 100 bodyguards); and if he visits two countries on the same trip, the figure is 1,600; three countries, and the figure is 2,400.  Having reached his destination,  Blair will throw in his lot with whatever transport is made available.  Using military aircraft, Bush takes along his own limousine, his own backup limousine, his own refueling trucks, and his own helicopters.  "Mm," murmurs a chastened Brit.  "You make our lives seem very simple."  This, shall we say , is the diplomatic way of putting it.

--On the Move with Tony Blair collected in The Second Plane by Martin Amis

April  11,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

"Gentlemen."  This at once provoked derision:

"We're no bloody gentlemen."

"Hark at him, Horace."

"Gentlemen, he says."  Ennis cried:

"Those of you who can read, and that can't be many, must have seen the term 'Gentlemen' often outside public lavatories.  I use the term in that sense."  And then, while they were thinking that one out, he got in swiftly with "One of the things that must be in the minds of a lot of us just now is the future of the British Empire."  There were groans; Ennis hoped they were of resignation.

--A Vision of Battlements by Anthony Burgess

April  10,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

I let her go.  It was nice to be mothered, nice to be bossed.  Maybe that was my problem, unresolved complexes.  I needed someone to be in control.  The difficulty was people kept offering me the opposite.  They let me do whatever I wanted, as if I knew what I was doing, as if I had credibility.  It'd ruined the few relationships I'd had.  Sooner or later the woman had started asking meaningful questions and I gave meaningless answers, and somehow they'd got taken seriously.  It occurred to me sometimes that women listened too much, they considered too much, they paid attention to the wrong things.  They didn't just look.  If a man was there with them, he was there with them.  That was the most important thing.

--Praise by Andrew McGahan

[N.B.:  A concise illustration of the pathology of the modern male mind.]

April  9,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

The Urbs delighted in the mimes acted by Latinus and Panniculus, which were filled with stories of kidnappings, cuckolds, and lovers hidden in convenient chests.  In these plays the actresses were permitted to undress entirely (ut mimae nudarentur) which had formerly been tolerated only during midnight games of the Floralia.  The alternative was rough house, where loud words resounded and actual blows were exchanged, until finally the scrapping became serious and blood was shed copiously.  The fact that the Laureolus remained popular for nearly two centuries is explained by the ferocity of its brigand murderer and incendiary and by his hideous punishment.  Domitian allowed the play to end with a scene in which a criminal condemned under the common law was substituted for the actor and put to death with tortures in which there was nothing imaginary.  The spectators were not revolted by the ignoble spectacle of a pitiable Prometheus derided, torn by the nails which pinned his palms and ankles to the cross, or seared by the claws of the Calydonian bear to which he had been flung as prey; in fact, Martial sings the praises of the prince who made these things possible.  So performed, the mime seemed to the Romans of the time to reach the highest perfection attainable by the means and the effects at its disposal; and indeed, the slice of life cut from the living flesh leaves far behind the most graphic horrors portrayed today. 

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

[N.B.:  And who thought Mouse Trap was the longest running play?  Apparently, part of the play's longevity is due to its supposed "twist" ending which is explained in the link I provided above.  If only the villain in that piece of Agatha Christie confection were to be really "twisted" and tortured onstage nightly would it have a chance of reaching Laureolus's two-century mark.]

April  8,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

When once the public reading became an established fashion in Rome, and was recognised as the main and almost exclusive occupation of people of letters, literature lost all dignity and all serious purpose.  The fashionable world adopted a currency which became more and more alloyed as the circle of amateurs was enlarged.  Those who were invited wished to be the inviters in their turn, and when everybody mounted the dais in rotation, it ended by every listener becoming an author.  This was in appearance a triumph of literature.  But it was a Pyrrhic victory, an insensate inflation which foreshadowed bankruptcy.  When there were as many writers as listeners, or, as we should say, as many authors as readers, and the two roles were indistinguishable, literature suffered from an incurable, malignant tumour.

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

[N.B.:  Ah, blogs, I hardly knew thee, Mercutio.]

April  7,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

The habit of writing and then of reading from volumina, whose unrolling never permitted attention to more than one passage at a time, with as little heed to what had gone before as to what was afterwards to come, had already induced such fragmentary and scrappy composition that even the best of Roman authors, judged by our standards, more or less deserve the condemnation Caligula pronounced on Seneca: 'sand without mortar' (arena sine calce).  These public readings in which the author aimed to dazzle his audience more by the brilliance of the detail than by the beauty of the general plan aggravated the evil influence of volumen and hastened the disastrous evolution which culminated in a taste so perverted that it responded only to tirades aimed at effect and to epigrammatic conceits (sententiae).  By detaching the works they seized on from their natural setting--pleadings from the law court, political speeches from the Curia, tragedy and comedy from the theatre--these public recitations completed the severance of such links as still existed between literature and life, and drained literature of that genuine human content without which no masterpiece is possible.  They were peculiarly noxious in a manner of their own, to which the moderns have hitherto been no less blind than the ancients, and which helped to kill literature itself.  For one thing, the opportunity they gave the author of gratifying his vanity gradually turned writers aside from ambitions nobler than the attainment of immediate intoxicating success before an audience stimulated by artificial enthusiasm by the presence of complaisant friends and of colleagues hoping to secure reciprocal admiration. 

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

[N.B.:  This book was originally published in 1939 by an Italian who may, no doubt, have been thinking of Mussolini and his fascist minions (not to mention the Nazis and Herr Goebbels).  But his criticism is timeless and applies just as well to modern-day blogs (mine the least excepted).  And so, what was Mr. Carcopino's verdict regarding this movement?  Stay tuned.]

April  3,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

An auditorium was, however, not indispensable to a public recital unless the author was anxious to cut a dash and influence opinion.  The more fastidious author whose reputation was already well established preferred a select audience of connoisseurs like himself.  Pliny the Younger, for instance, took pride in inviting only a handful of friends whom he could accommodate in his triclinium, or dining room, some stretched on the couches which were the permanent furniture of the room, and the others in chairs carried in for the occasion.  As for the poor devils who had neither triclinium nor the money to hire a room, they contrived to find an audience all the same.  As soon as they spied a group of people anywhere whose curiosity at least they might pique, they would mingle with them and unblushingly unroll their manuscript--in the Forum, under a portico, or among the crowd at the baths.  The recitatio had invaded even the crossroads.  Examining the contemporary literature, we soon get the impression that everyone was reading something, no matter what, aloud in public all the time, morning and evening, winter and summer.

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

[N.B.:  Who says that blogs and, unfortunately, spam, are recent inventions?  Au contraire.  Spam has always been with us, like fleas on dogs, and there is nothing new under the sun or on television.]

April  2,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

The building of the Athenaeum was merely an indication of the importance public readings had acquired in the Urbs, which was now submerged under a flood of talent.  There was nothing new about its architecture; it simply added an official monument to the numerous other halls which had long been filled with the eloquent murmur of these recitals.  Any well-educated man who was moderately well off cherished the ambition of having a room in his house, the auditorium, especially for readings.  More than one friend of Pliny the Younger embarked light-heartedly on this considerable expense--Calpurnius Piso, for instance, and Titinius Capito.  The plan of these auditoria varied little from house to house: a dais on which the author-reader would take his seat after having attended to his toilet, smoothed his hair, put on a new toga, and adorned his fingers with all his rings for the occasion.  He was then prepared to entrance his audience not only with the merit of his writing but by the distinction of his presence, the caress of his glances, the modesty of his speech, and the gentleness of his modulations.  Behind him hung the curtains which hid those of his guests who wished to hear him without being seen, his wife for example.  In front of the reader the public who had been summoned by notes delivered at their homes (codicilli) were accommodated, in armchairs (cathedrae) for people of the higher ranks and benches for the others.  Attendants told off for the purpose distributed the programmes of the sťance (libelli).

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

April 1,  2008

Patrick: Lagniappe

Was I to start reading something?  A handy man skilled and sometimes energetic enough to arouse even Jean's admiration, I'd recently knocked up and bracketed to the wall a double bookshelf which now held most of my books.  I gave them a quick look-over.  Some were philosophical works, bought during my College career and still in my possession because the only secondhand bookseller in the town had declined them.  Others were the nucleus of a collection, begun a few years previously, of modern books agreed by week-end reviewers to be significant; this project had now lapsed.  Others again were novels from the Library awaiting return and, in many cases, reading as well.  The remainder had no nameable reason for being there, or at any rate still there: a few Penguins, an Everyman Jane Austen (a College set-book, I should explain), a guide to Monmouthsire, The Letters of John Keats, The Future of Swearing.  No, it was no good; one book would tell me what I knew already, another what I couldn't understand, a third what I knew to be untrue, a fourth what I didn't want to be told about--especially that.  And the next number of Astounding Science Fiction wouldn't be out till the 20th.

--That Uncertain Feeling by Kingsley Amis