August  31,  2007

Patrick: Lagniappe

"What's this hanging out your bag?"

"What do you think it is, stupid?  It's a string for my lute."

"What's that?"  The policeman drew back a little.  "Are you local?"

"Is it the part of the police department to harass me when this city is a flagrant vice capital of the civilized world?"  Ignatius bellowed over the crowd in front of the store.  "This city is famous for its gamblers, prostitutes, exhibitionists, anti-Christs, alcoholics, sodomites, drug addicts, fetishists, onanists, pornographers, frauds, jades, litterbugs, and lesbians, all of whom are only too well protected by graft.  If you have a moment, I shall endeavor to discuss the crime problem with you, but don't make the mistake of bothering me."

--A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

August  28,  2007

Patrick: Lagniappe

Back at his table, he tried to look soberly confident.  The trouble was, the more he reflected, the less cheerful he felt.  In recent years Western governments had been noisy about terrorism, about standing tall and facing down the threat; but the threat never seemed to understand that it was being faced down and continued much as before.  Those in the middle got killed; governments and terrorists survived.

--The Visitors from A History of the World in 10 Chapters by Julian Barnes

[N.B.:  This work was written pre-9/11 and is interesting with respect to its view of terrorism in those antediluvian times.  Mr. Barnes is a very good writer and his story, The Visitors, is a sophisticated and well-wrought tale of an incident on a cruise ship taken over by middle-eastern terrorists.  This is no common slice-of-life trifle but a good ol' fashioned yarn that comes to a satisfying conclusion.  And yet its conceit about terrorists and moral relativism--that their twisting of history is no different from what everyone does--seems simple minded when considered in tandem with the thoughts of the truly great writers such as Dostoevsky with his The Demons and Joseph Conrad and his Under Western Eyes (not to mention Henry James's Princess Casamassima).]

August  27,  2007

Patrick: Lagniappe

My memory is curious, a magpie with a perverse eyes, if fascinates me.  Jewels I remember only as glitter, and the feel of glass in my beak.  I have filled my nest with dross.  What does it mean?  That is a question I am forever asking, what can it mean?  There is never a precise answer, but instead, in the sky, as it were, a kind of jovian nod, a celestial tipping of the wink, that's all right, it means what it means.  Yes, but is that enough?  Am I satisfied?  I wonder.  That day I remember Nockter falling, Mama running across the garden in the rain, that scene in the hall, all those things, whereas, listen, what I should recall to the exclusion of all else is the scene in the summerhouse that met Michael and me when we sneaked down there, the ashes on the wall, that rendered purplish mass in the chair, Granny Godkin's two fee, all that was left of her, in their scorched button boots, and I do remember it, in a sense, as words, as facts, but I cannot see it, and there is the trouble.  Well, perhaps it is better thus.  I have no wish to make unseemly disclosures about myself, and I can never think of that ghastly day without suspecting that somewhere inside me some cruel little brute, a manikin in my mirror, is bent double with laughter.  Granny!  Forgive me.

--Birchwood by John Banville

[N.B.:  Yes!  Spontaneous combustion lives.  Who says only Dickens is allowed such a fanciful ending.  Krook, the Grand Chancellor of rags and bones in Bleak House is now joined by good Granny Godkins.  Kathryn has kept track of many a literary orphan if you glance at the left sidebar.  But what about all those cases of literary spontaneous composition?  Where's their roll of honor?  I wonder if there are many other such literary cases.  Curious minds.]

August  26,  2007

Patrick: Lagniappe

Squeeze!  squeeze!  squeeze! all the morning long; I squeezed that sperm till I myself almost melted into it; I squeezed that sperm till a strange sort of insanity came over me; and I found myself unwittingly squeezing my co-laborers' hands in it, mistaking their hands for the gentle globules.  Such an abounding, affectionate, friendly, loving feeling did this avocation beget; that at last I was continually squeezing their hands, and looking up into their eyes sentimentally; as much as to say,--Oh! my deaf fellow beings, why should we longer cherish any social acerbities, or know the slightest ill-humor or envy!  Come; let us squeeze hands all round; nay, let us all squeeze ourselves into each other; let us squeeze ourselves universally into the very milk and sperm of kindness.

--Moby Dick by Herman Melville

[N.B.:  I'm well aware that your are sniggering right now with a condescending air as you do a bit of parlor-psychologizing on good ol' Herman.  Indeed, you might think what a backwards hick rube he is--out of the mouths of babes and all that.  I would argue, though, that we're the rubes--the ones that squeeze all cultures onto the procrustean bed built by one of the most damaging frauds of the twentieth century, Sigmund Freud.  Freud's great crime is that he simplified a complex culture through a monomaniacal theory concerning human psychology.  Monomaniacal theories are false for that reason--humanity is infinitely complex and all who attempt to reduce that complexity are, at the same time, reducing humanity itself.    The world Melville describes is actually more complex in terms of human relations--particularly those between members of the same sex--than what we can imagine today.  But just because Freud has robbed us of our imagination in this area does not mean that at one time such complex relations did not exist (and, indeed, will not exist again).  Just keep sniggering as Ishmael sleeps in the same bed with queer Queequeg.  Queequeg is queer in the sense that he can imagine us but we can't imagine him.]

August  24,  2007

Patrick: Lagniappe

What person whose life is involved with the visual arts, as mine has been for some forty-five years, has not thought about Goya?  In the nineteenth century (as in any other) there are certain artists whose achievement is critical to an assessment of our own perhaps less urgent doings.  Not to know them is to be illiterate, and we cannot exceed their perceptions.  They give their times a face, or rather a thousand faces.  Their experience watches our, and can outflank it with the intensity of its feeling.  A writer on music who had not thought about Beethoven, or a literary critic who had never read the novels of Charles Dickens--what would such a person's views be worth, what momentum could they possible acquire?  They would not be worth taking seriously.  Goya was one of the seminal artists.

--Goya by Robert Hughes

[N.B.:  Having read all of the novels of Charles Dickens, I am painfully aware of the irony, perhaps unwitting, latent in this squib.  Several decades ago, one would run across an admiring reference to the fact that Ezra Pound one year read through all of Henry James.  Back then when that tidbit was bandied about it was done so to communicate Pound's deep knowledge as a critic--one that the retailer of the anecdote could not hope to reach.  Of course, that little story lies covered under a rock now because not only do the modern critics not even bother to aspire to such depths--with the glowing exception of James Wood--but they are contemptuous of those who would view such a goal as admirable.  And as for Dickens?  Oh please, he's so old fashioned.  Just like Shakespeare.  Once again, ring the tocsin for the knell of the book review while we puff the magic maslin.]

August  23,  2007

Patrick: Lagniappe

In the convent cemetery, among the tiny crosses of the nuns, was a big monument to one of the orphans, an infant known as Little Nellie of Holy God, who had suffered and died in a particularly edifying way, and about whom, at the time, a certain cult was growing up.  I had a deep personal interest in her, because not only was I rather in that line myself, but Father had assisted at her exhumation when her body was removed from a city cemetery, and verified the story that it was perfectly preserved.  Having attended several funerals, seen the broken coffins and the bones that were heaped on the side, and heard my relatives say knowingly: "That was Eugene now.  The one below him was Mary," I was strongly in favour of the saintly life.  When they dug me up, I wanted to be intact.

--An Only Child by Frank O'Connor

August  22,  2007

Patrick: Lagniappe

To treat Juliet as a friend is to value her for her own sake, as the particular person she is.  It is to value her, to use the language of Kant, "as an end in herself."  Only someone who sees other people as having intrinsic value can make friends.  This does not mean that his friends will not be of instrumental value.  But their instrumental value depends upon the refusal to pursue it.  The use of friends is available only to those who do not seek it.  Those who collect friends for utility's sake are not collecting friends: they are manipulating people.

--Culture Counts by Roger Scruton

August  21,  2007

Patrick: Lagniappe

There is nothing more becoming any wise man than to make choice of friends, for by them you shall be judged what you are.  Let them therefore be wise and virtuous, and none of those that follow you for gain.  But make election rather of your betters, than your inferiors, shunning always such as are poor and needy.  For if you give 20 gifts, and refuse to do the like but once, all that you have done will be lost, and such men will become your mortal enemies.  Take also special care that you never trust any friend or servant with any matter that may endanger your estate; for so shall you make yourself a bond slave to him that you trust, and leave yourself always to his mercy.  And be sure of this, you shall never find a friend in your young years whose conditions and qualities will please you after you come to more discretion and judgment, and then all you give is lost, and all wherein you shall trust such a one will be discovered.  Such therefore as are your inferiors will follow you but to eat you out, and when you cease to feed them they will hate you.  And such kind of men, if you preserve your estate, will always be had.  But if your friends be of better quality than yourself, you may be sure of two things.  The first, that they will be more careful to keep your counsel, because they have more to lose than you have.  The second, they will esteem you for yourself, and not for that which you possess.

--The Voyage of the Destiny by Robert Nye

[N.B.:  This is an imagined "Sir Walter Ralegh's Instructions to his son, and to posterity."  Polonius redux.]

August  20,  2007

Patrick: Lagniappe

I picked up the book she had dropped and thumbed glumly through it.  The words lay dead in ranks, file beside file of slaughtered music.  I rescued one, that verb to love, and singing its part in a whisper, I lifted my eyes to the window. 

--Birchwood by John Banville


Puff the Magic Maslin

In today's New York Times, book reviewer Janet Maslin starts out her review of Amy Bloom's new novel, Away, with the following two sentences:

"Away" is the modest name for a book as gloriously transporting as Amy Bloom's new novel.  Alive with incident and unforgettable characters, it sparkles and illuminates as brilliantly as it entertains.

I have never read any of Ms. Bloom's novels and never will (nor will I ever read any of Mr. Dan Brown's, Ms. Danielle Steel's (although I might try her latest literal stinker, "a beautiful blend of lush green notes, modern florals and sensual musk") or Mr. Jonathan Safran Foer's), but I have a feeling that although many words could be used to describe Ms. Bloom's prose-poems, "gloriously transporting" ain't two of 'em.  Why does criticism matter?  Because without it one can puff indiscriminately.  Lack of readers didn't kill the modern book review--it was self-inflicted suicide.  And good riddance.  Lastly, just because I can't resist the reference, in the immortal and gloriously transporting words of Joseph Welch:  "Have you no shame?"  Of course not, your a book reviewer.

August  18,  2007

Patrick: Lagniappe

The sea had jeeringly kept his finite body up, but drowned the infinite of his soul.  Not drowned entirely, though,  Rather carried down alive to wondrous depths, where strange shapes of the unwarped primal world glided to and fro before his passive eyes; and the miser-merman, Wisdom, revealed his hoarded heaps; and among the joyous, heartless, ever-juvenile eternities, Pip saw the multitudinous, God-omnipresent, coral insects, that out of the firmament of waters heaved the colossal orbs.  He was God's foot upon the treadle of the loom, and spoke it; and therefore his shipmates called him mad.  So man's insanity is heaven's sense; and wandering from all mortal reason, man comes at last to that celestial thought, which, to reason, is absurd and frantic; and weal or woe, feels then uncompromised, indifferent as his God.

--Moby Dick by Herman Melville

[N.B.:  Dear reader, you too, if able to plumb such depths of utter strangeness may produce the exotic GAN--but don't bet on it.]

August  16,  2007

Patrick: Lagniappe

In the evenings I usually watch television or go to the movies.  Week-ends I often spend on the Gulf Coast.  Our neighborhood theater in Gentilly has permanent lettering on the front of the marquee reading:  Where Happiness Costs So Little.  The fact is I am quite happy in a movie, even a bad movie.  Other people, so I have read, treasure memorable moments in their lives: the time one climbed the Parthenon at sunrise, the summer night one met a lonely girl in Central Park and achieved with her a sweet and natural relationship, as they say in books.  I too once met a girl in Central Park, but it is not much to remember.  What I remember is the time John Wayne killed three men with a carbine as he was falling to the dusty street in Stagecoach, and the time the kitten found Orson Welles in the doorway in The Third Man.

--The Moviegoer by Walker Percy

[N.B.:  This is such an alien book for our culture.  The thesis that seeing blown-up pictures on a screen in a darkened room can spiritually anaesthetize and alienate the viewer provoking profound anomie is not a disturbing notion--it is an incomprehensible one.  Further, the irony served up in this passage--that experiencing the Parthenon at sunrise is of a piece with sitting in a theater--is practically undetectable.  Truly, the most secure cage is the one the prisoner cannot comprehend.]

August  15,  2007

Patrick: Lagniappe

Wolf told me that the most important thing about a book was its date.  No point in reading a book if you didn't know its date, didn't know how far away or how close it was to you.  The date of a book fixed it in time, and when you got to know other books and events, the dates began to give you a time scale.  I can't tell you how liberating that has been for me.  When I think of our history, I no longer feel I am sinking in a timeless degradation.  I see more clearly.  I have an idea of the scale and sequence of things.

--Magic Seeds by V.S. Naipaul

August  14,  2007

Patrick: Lagniappe

Finally, having selected his equipment--the nice bit of timber that would nearly do for a shelf, and the brackets that didn't quite match, and the screws or nails that were either a bit too long or a bit too short, and the old chisel that would do for a screw-driver, and the hammer with the loose head--Father set to work.  He had lined up mother and myself as builder's mates, to hold the plank and the hammer, the saw that needed setting, and the nails and screws.  Before he had been at work for five minutes, the top of the hammer would have flown off and hit him in the face, or the saw would have cut the chair instead of the plank, or the nail that was to have provided the setting for the screw would have carried away inches of the plank with the unmerciful wallops he gave it.  Father had the secret of making inanimate objects appear to possess a secret, malevolent life of their own, and sometimes it was hard to believe that his tools and materials were not really in a conspiracy against him.

--An Only Child by Frank O'Connor

August  13,  2007

Patrick: Lagniappe

"Anyone who likes Rodin so much should really meet him," he said finally.  "Tomorrow I am going to his studio.  If you wish, I will take you with me."

If I wished!  I could not sleep for happiness.  But at Rodin's, the words stuck in my throat.  I could not say a single thing to him, and stood among his statues like one of them.  Strangely enough, my embarrassment seemed to please him, for at parting the old man asked me if I did not want to see his real studio in Meudon, and even asked me to dine with him.  My first lesson had been taught me--that the greatest men are always the kindest.

--The World of Yesterday by Stefan Zweig

August  13,  2007

Patrick: Lagniappe

His father was so rich that he had gone down in the Titanic, and it was told of Henry Montgomery, as it has been told of almost every other male on that vessel's passenger list, that he had been (a) a hero, and (b) that the captain had to shoot him dead to keep him out of the women's and children's lifeboats.

--Appointment in Samarra by John O'Hara

August  12,  2007

Patrick: Lagniappe

There are some enterprises in which a careful disorderliness is the true method.

--Moby Dick by Herman Melville

[N.B.:  This apercu is the introductory sentence to Melville's chapter titled, "The Honor and Glory of Whaling," a recap of the historical and mythological barnacles that have attached themselves to whaling's hide.  This chapter, along with a few others, are generally regarded as "filler" since they have nothing to do with the main plot of the book but rather seem to have been imported from another work entirely--which, by the bye, happens to be true--regarding the history of whaling.  As more readers, however, come to realize that plot is the least essential aspect of a novel, those same readers, when confronted with Moby Dick, should also realize that it is these chapters which create a mythos for Moby Dick and are largely responsible for making it one of the few Great American Novels ("GAN").  GAN does not live on plot alone--or character either.  GAN also requires a rich, loamy fertilizer, in which to grow (what one might call a "careful disorderliness").  As with any other kind of farming, shoveling the manure tends to be the most laborious and dullest of drudge duties--but without it the rest of the work cannot come to fruition.  It is precisely this task which modern novelists neglect--perfectly understandable and unforgivable.  Tom Wolfe is one of the few that is willing to ladle on the fertilizer nice and thick.  Unfortunately, he tends to choke out the rest of his work with the high acidic content.  Now don't I sound like Chance from Being There?]

August  10,  2007

Patrick: Lagniappe

 Arriving at Barribault's, I found him in the lobby where you have the pre-luncheon gargle before proceeding to the grillroom, and after the initial What-ho-ing and What-a-time-since-we-met-ing, inevitable when two vanished hands who haven't seen each other for ages re-establish contact, he asked me if I would like one for the tonsils.

--Much Obliged, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse

August  9,  2007

Patrick: Lagniappe

 One day I was presented to a muffin lady all in silk, plum-colored silk, with violet beads.  Her name was "The Poetess."  She looked like one, the first one I'd ever met, and like all others looked from that meeting on.  She read us a poem about the fog.  It wooed me into a cloudy nap, and when I told Mother she was delighted, if a little wary, that I had been "exposed" to such interesting people.  However, it was a month before I was allowed to go back to be exposed again.

--I Like What I Know by Vincent Price

[N.B.:  Yes, yes, it's that Vincent Price.  But, unlike most--one hovers enticingly over the emendation, "almost all"--celebrity books, this one was clearly written by the alleged author.  Indeed, one of the unexpected delights of this tome is to hear the dulcet tones of the author recite the words of the text within the reader's inner ear.  Certainly, this self-proclaimed "visual autobiography" of Vincent Price's aesthetic experiences feels a bit shop-worn since its publication in 1959.  But his enthusiasm and exquisite taste make for a delightful reading experience.  As for his musings on art, they are no more gaseous than those of John Updike whose art criticism graces the pages of the New York Review of Books.  Given this total collapse of art criticism one could do much worse than spend a few cozy evenings with the Master of Horror (and Peruvian Sculpture--as it turns out).]

August  8,  2007

Patrick: Lagniappe

 Mr. Cobbell became quite Horatian in mood as he discussed the Chablis at the last dinner of the "Friends of Old Books."

"When the secretary asked me what I thought of it," he boomed, "I replied that it was certainly water stained, but that I doubted if it would leave me even slightly foxed."

--Learning's Little Tribute from Such Darling Dodos by Angus Wilson

August  7,  2007

Patrick: Lagniappe

 The fruit we hardly picked, but rather saved.  From under their canopies of leaf the heavy purple clusters tumbled with a kind of abandon into our hands.  Down in the green gloom under the bushes, where spiders swarmed, the berries were gorgeous, achingly vivid against the dusty leaves, but once plucked, and in the baskets, their burnished lustre faded and a moist whitish film settled on the skin.  If they were to be eaten, and we ate them by the handful at the start, it was only in that shocked moment of separation from the stems that they held their true, their unearthly flavour.  Then the fat beads burst on our tongues with a chill bitterness which left our eyelids damp and our mouths flooded, a bitterness which can still pierce my heart, for it is the very taste of time.

--Birchwood by John Banville

August  6,  2007

Patrick: Lagniappe

Some soldiers enjoy serving in a sloppy unit; but in the long run it doesn't pay.  Sooner or later you are smartened up, and the zeal of the reformers makes life unpleasant even for those who have been conscientious.

--Family Favorites by Alfred Duggan


Wisdom from Mary Gordan

The New York Times Magazine has a continuing feature consisting of a pithy one-page interview of some semi-famous figure (typically, someone whose back the interviewer, for obscure reasons, has decided to scratch).  This week's is with the writer, Mary Gordon--another author I have not gotten around to reading, although, based on the strength of this interview, I'm now very curious to dip into.  I wonder what would be the best Mary Gordon book to start with--hmmmm.  Anyway, I wanted to draw your attention to two highlights:

Who do you think writes well about human sadness?  William Trevor is my absolute beau ideal.  I love him.  I love Coetzee.  I think Toni Morrison can be great.  "Beloved" is a great, searing novel.

What about Philip Roth?  He's not afraid of intense emotion.  O.K., Roth is not cold.  But his only real subject is himself.  And why is he still angry at women?

Why is Roth still angry at women?  And why is it that the three leading lauded literary lions (try saying that ten times quickly) can all be tainted with that same brush: solipsistic and misogynistic.  I am alluding to, of course, not just Roth, but also Norman Mailer and John Updike.  Maybe it was something in the creative-writing-retreat water.  Anyway, it is these limitations that, ultimately, will doom all three to the Hugh Walpole void.  Yes, even Roth.  Portnoy's Complaint is already a musty museum piece to place on the shelf with Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer.  One simply cannot build a lasting place in literature by mining the smithy of one's soul until the coal runs out.  As Joyce knew, one must also create, not just recover. 

August  5,  2007

Patrick: Lagniappe

As before, the Pequod steeply leaned over towards the sperm whale's head, now, by the counterpoise of both heads, she regained her even keel; though sorely strained, you may well believe.  So, when on one side you hoist in Locke's head, you go over that way; but now, on the other side, hoist in Kant's and you come back again; but in very poor plight.  Thus, some minds for ever keep trimming boat.  Oh, ye foolish! throw all these thunder-heads overboard, and then you will float light and right.

--Moby Dick by Herman Melville


Why Book Reviews Are a Dying Art

There's been some scuttlebutt concerning the decline of the book review in the daily press.  Apparently, this is taken as yet another sign of the public's growing indifference to books and its lack of cultural literacy.  Indeed, if only every newspaper carried a weekly book review section, all will return to normalcy: the prodigal will cease to frolic with the swine and Little Nell will live forever in the bosom of her adopted family with Quilt as a reformed scamp serving her every need.  But then, one peruses the pages of the leading book review section in the country, the New York Times Book Review, and comes upon this admission from one of its regular contributors, Walter Kirn, concerning a book of literary essays by one of my favorite writes, J. M. Coetzee:

Without experience to cloud one's judgment or information to slow one's thinking, the passage from ignorance of a writer's work to a vague acquaintance with its main elements--courtesy, say, of an essay or a review executed by someone better versed--can be a stimulating imaginative exercise.  On the basis of brief descriptions and short quotations the reader is free to conjure up a figure who may not much resemble the artists in question but is rich in associations anyway and who will do--will have to do--for now (which sometimes, sadly, is all the time one has).

I'm thinking her of W.G. Sebald, the late German writer whom I've never read but am told I should by people who impress me . . . .

First,  along the lines of the admiration I feel towards the bank robber, Willie Sutton, who candidly admitted that he robbed banks because that's where the money is, I wish to give Mr. Kirn points for honesty in admitting that he has not read anything by W.G. Sebald, one of the most important European writers of the second half of the 20th Century.  I'll admit, too, that although I own all of Sebald's books, I have yet to take a crack at him myself.  But, then again, I am not a regular book reviewer for the New York Times.  And if there is a more fatuous excuse for one's own laziness than proudly trumpeting the evils of experience in clouding one's judgment, I am not aware of it.  Britney Spears, doubtless, can bask along with Mr. Kirn, each in an obliterating tanning coffin of their own hermetically sealed ignorance.

Thank you, Mr. Kirn, in saving me the time of having to read any more of your reviews, given that they are, self-admittedly, unclouded by an informed judgment.  And that is why book review sections deserve to die--if the reviewers cannot be troubled to be well-read, then, I say, be done with it and start reading blogs where at least the writers have some passing familiarity with the material they dare to review, even if it is clouded by more than a "vague acquaintance" with an author's writings. 

August  4,  2007

Patrick: Lagniappe

Everyone knows the manner in which some specific name will recur several times in quick succession from different quarters; part of that inexplicable magic throughout life that makes us suddenly think of someone before turning a street corner and meeting him, or her, face to face.  In the same way, you may be struck, reading a book, by some obscure passage or lines of verse, quoted again, quite unexpectedly, twenty-four hours later. 

--At Lady Molly's by Anthony Powell

August  3,  2007

Patrick: Lagniappe

And so where does the fiction cease and the reality begin?  Perhaps even to ask that question is to posit a false antithesis.  For Mann the external world was of interest only as a source of art; life was subordinate to art.  And Diaghilev tried to live the life of a character of fiction, a latter-day Rastignac in the guise of a Des Esseintes or a Charlus.  At the turn of the century Theodor Herzl wrote that "dream is not so different from deed as many believe.  All activity of men begins as dream and later becomes dream once more."  And at roughly the same time Oscar Wilde could take a characteristically provocative position on the issue: "One should so live that one becomes a form of fiction.  To be a fact is to be a failure."  Marcel Duchamp, despite proclaiming the opposite intention, would blur the distinction between art and life by inserting actual objects into his work.  Man Ray, by juxtaposing a European face and an African mask in his photography, would blend time, culture, and history.  Truman Capote and Norman Mailer would write "nonfiction novels," and Tom Wolfe in his "new journalism" would introduce his readers to what one critic has called "fables of fact."  If there has been a single principal theme in our century's aesthetics, it is that the life of imagination and the life of action are one and the same.

--Rites of Spring by Modris Eksteins

August  2,  2007

Patrick: Lagniappe

I remember I used to despise sheep for being so profoundly stupid.  I'd seen them eat and eat and eat, I'd watched dogs outsmart whole flocks of them, I'd chase them and laughed at the way they ran, watched them get themselves into all sorts of stupid, tangled situations, and I'd thought they quite deserved to end up as mutton, and that being used as wool-making machines was too good for them.  It was years and a long slow process, before I eventually realised just what sheep really represented: not their own stupidity, but our power, our avarice and egotism.

--The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks