July  29,  2007

Patrick: Lagniappe

I tell you it will be more tolerable for the Fejee that salted down a lean missionary in his cellar against a coming famine; it will be more tolerable for that provident Fejee, I say, in the day of judgment, then for thee, civilized and enlightened gourmand, who nailest geese to the ground and feastest on their bloated livers in thy paté-de-foie-gras.

--Moby Dick by Herman Melville

[N.B.:  How do you spot a classic?  It seems like it was written today.  How do you spot ephemera?  It is praised as being timely--as depicting today.  How do you tell the difference?  Like fine wine, you must wait many years for the writer's generation to die off, and, if after that time the book is still being read, well, there you go.  I do believe that clock is winding down fairly quickly Mr. Mailer, Mr. Updike, Mr. Irving, Mr. Vidal, etc., etc., etc.]

July  28,  2007

Patrick: Lagniappe

The main hallway of the Sternwood place was two stories high.  Over the entrance doors, which would have let in a troop of Indian elephants, there was a broad stained-glass panel showing a knight in dark armor rescuing a lady who was tied to a tree and didn't have any clothes on but some very long and convenient hair.  The knight had pushed the vizor of his helmet back to be sociable, and he was fiddling with the knots on the ropes that tied the lady to the tree and not getting anywhere.  I stood there and thought that if I lived in the house, I would sooner or later have to climb up there and help him.  He didn't seem to be really trying.

--The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

July  25,  2007

Patrick: Lagniappe

British people crowd into pubs drinking Budweiser and smoking Marlboro because of movies; they wear what they see worn in movies, they aspire to a life, a slang, a vocabulary and modus vivendi that is shown them in seventy millimetre Eastmancolor and Dolby stereo.  This doesn't make them weak, pusillanimous or ovine.  Many of those who mock this apparent fashion slavery are themselves living in a style borrowed from an Evelyn Waugh novel, drinking drinks drunk by John Buchan protagonists or speaking a language from Trollope and Macaulay.  It is not people who are weak, it is culture that is strong.  That is why tyrants burn books, ban films and imprison artists.

--Thar's Gold in Them Thar Films from Paperweight by Stephen Fry

July  24,  2007

Patrick: Lagniappe

Lovers do not dislike.  We were not lovers.

Love sees--

Never mind what love sees.  How should I know?

I know only what dislike sees clearly through its absent-hearted eyes.  Trivial things, shabby details, the dust in the balance of our senses.  Dislike is nice.  It wears a turned-up nose.  Dislike is hard to please.  It can neither forget nor forgive the least speck of dandruff.  A mean thing itself, it makes much out of others' imperfections.  It leaves a sediment in the soul, a small poison which corrupts the disliker.

--The Voyage of the Destiny by Robert Nye

July  22,  2007

Patrick: Lagniappe

"Vengeance on a dumb brute!" cried Starbuck, "that simply smote thee from blindest instinct!  Madness!  To be enraged with a dumb thing, Captain Ahab, seems blasphemous."

"Hark ye yet again--the little lower layer.  All visible objects, man, are but as pasteboard masks.  But in each event--in the living act, the undoubted deed--there, some unknown but still reasoning thing puts forth the mouldings of its features from behind the unreasoning mask  If man will strike, strike through the mask!  How can the prisoner reach outside except by thrusting through the wall?  To me, the white whale is that wall, shoved near to me.  Sometimes I think there's naught beyond.  But 'tis enough.  He tasks me; he heaps me; I see in him outrageous strength, with an inscrutable malice sinewing it.  That inscrutable thing is chiefly what I hate; and be the white whale agent agent, or be the white whale principal, I will wreak that hate upon him.  Talk not to me of blasphemy, man; I'd strike the sun if it insulted me. . . ."

--Moby Dick by Herman Melville

July  20,  2007

Patrick: Lagniappe

Apollonius placed the cadaver on its side, drawing the arms up above the head.  He bent the knees and slightly spread the legs.  The corpse looked as if it was sleeping in a very uncomfortable position.

Apollonius began to pray a low, thick prayer.  His eyeballs turned dead green; thin, hazy stuff floated out of his ears.  He prayed and prayed and prayed.  To the subtle spirit of life he sent his terrible invocation.

Then all of a sudden, when everyone was most expecting it, the dead man came to life, sat up, coughed, and rubbed his eyes.

"Where the devil am I?" he wanted to know.

"You're at the circus," said the doctor.

"Well, lemme outa here," said the man.  "I got business to attend to."

He got to his feet and started off with a slight limp.

Luther caught his arm as he made for the door.  "Listen, mister," he asked, "was you really dead?"

"Deader than hell, brother," said the man and hurried on out of the tent.

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

July  19,  2007

Patrick: Lagniappe

I probably know more about the conventional school subjects that most people of my age.  I could complain about the truth of some of the bits of information my father passed on to me, mind you.  Ever since I was able to go into Porteneil alone and check things up in the library my father has had to be pretty straight with me, but when I was younger he used to fool me time after time answering my honest if naive questions with utter rubbish.  For years I believed Pathos was one of the Three Musketeers, Fellatio was a character in Hamlet, Vitreous a town in China, and that the Irish peasants had to tread the peat to make Guinness.

--The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks

July  18,  2007

Patrick: Lagniappe

Unlike Gaul, the pupils attending Mr. Hobson's school may be divided into two groups: those who shared our background, and those who did not.  We will concern ourselves with this first group primarily; and chief among them I shall mention George Apley's friend and contemporary, Winthrop Vassal.  The name itself describes his family--the Loyalist branch of the Tory Vassals, so many of whom left Boston for Halifax at the time of the Revolutionary War.  Let us hasten to add that distinguished ancestors did not turn Winthrop's head, then or on any other occasion.  He was a snub-nosed, reddish-haired, freckle-faced schoolboy who never lost the divine merriment of his youth.  "Winty" Vassal, the life of our class and our Club at Harvard, the toastmaster and inimitable story teller at our class reunions, has ever maintained that fresh interest in youth.  His imitation of the Irish conductor in the Brookline car, slightly mellowed by potations, is as side-splitting to the youngsters to-day as it is to us oldsters.

--The Late George Apley by John P. Marquand

July  17,  2007

Patrick: Lagniappe

As we approach the final weeks of filming Jeeves and Wooster 3 ('they're back . . . and this time they're angry') our days are getting longer and longer.  This has meant overnights.  Last night I stayed in a hotel which was once a coaching inn, a proud caravanserai that offered beers, wines, spirits, freshly aired sheets, shoulders of mutton, stuffed capons and as able a team of ostlers as ever ostled in the county of Buckinghamshire.  It is now, naturally, part of a chain and serves as a tragic emblem of this unhappy land.  It might as well be called the Albion Hotel and exist between the covers of an allegorical satire.

It is almost impossible to detect in the sad demeanours of its mostly young employees, under the woundingly foul polyester liveries in which they are costumed, under the layers of false and greasy group management training and staff protocols that cake them like cheap make-up, under the heavy burden of drudgery and dull adherence to company rules which prescribe their every move, traces of the features of once cheerful, rude, bouncy and hopeful school-leavers: the echoes of the playground must still ring in the ears of these unfortunates who have, like Leonard Bast in Howards End, 'given up the glory of the animal for a tail-coat and a set of ideas'.

--Heartbreak Hotels from Paperweight by Stephen Fry

[N.B.:  Who sez the purveyors of the creative long-form sentence, with its bewitching clockwork of interlocking clauses, are dead and grammatically buried.  Just check out that one-sentence second paragraph and weep, ye writer manqués, for you'll never produce its like.  And now, get down on your knees and grovel before the great Stephen Fry.  Please, go easy on the spittle, imported shoe leather, you know, not that cheap polyester stuff worn by imitation ostlers in some campy Ye Olde England Inn.]

July  16,  2007

Patrick: Lagniappe

I am forty today.  The shock is not too great because during the past year I have been telling people that I was forty, in anticipation.  But I am rather less good-looking and very bald now.  My figure is as slender as ever.  Only occasionally does my stomach swell, owing to the bard bread, but it soon flattens itself.  I have lately found that the skin of my jaw and chest is slacker than formerly.  I am less stirred by desire than I used to be.  It is the forms of physical falling-off that I most resent: the fact that the life-line only reaches an angle of 89.9 rather than 90 degrees.

--Diaries, 1942-1954 by James Lees-Milne (abridged and introduced by Michael Bloch), entry for Friday, 6th August 1948

July  15,  2007

Patrick: Lagniappe

Jealousy is perhaps the most involuntary of all strong emotions.  It steals consciousness, it lies deeper than thought.  It is always there, like a blackness in the eye, it discolours the world.

--The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch

July  13,  2007

Patrick: Lagniappe

You got it all, except the pride, in Joe's where they looked up from their bare tables and let him run the place through, the extra aces back in the sleeve, the watered spirit out of sight, facing him each with his individual mark of cruelty and egotism.  Even pride was perhaps there in a corner, bent over a sheet of paper, playing an endless game of double noughts and crossed against himself because there was no one else in that club he deigned to play with.

--A Gun for Sale by Graham Greene

[N.B.:  Oh my goodness, did Graham Greened just end that sentence with a preposition?  What a lousy writer.  Why haven't the grammarians burned him in effigy yet?  Perhaps they're busy stitching together a frayed expanse of split infinitives or propping up a bulging overhang of dangling modifiers.]

July  12,  2007

Patrick: Lagniappe

Luckily my father grew tired of this grand scheme and contented himself with firing the odd surprise question at me concerning the capacity of the umbrella-stand in pints or the total area in fractions of an acre of all the curtains in the house actually hung up at the time.

'I'm not answering these questions any more,' I said to him as I took my plate to the sink.  'We should have gone metric years ago.'

My father snorted into his glass as he drained it.  'Hectares and that sort of rubbish.  Certainly not.  It's all based on the measurement of the globe, you know.  I don't have to tell you what nonsense that is.

--The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks

[N.B.:  Of course, the British have been metric for some time now.  Although I might rant about the British way of life vis-à-vis the desiccated facsimile thereof practiced in the States, you won't hear a peep out of me about our so-called antiquated measurement system (inherited from the Brits, naturally).  Our system is based on the human body, a measuring stick that we carry about with us all of the time (it's not called a "foot" just because you walk on it).  As pointed out in the quote above, the French metric system is based on an idealized measurement of the globe--and an inaccurate one at that.  And that, boys and girls, sums up the difference between the British and the French, or the humanities and the intellectuals, if you will (if I can mix my bicycles with my fish).]

July  10,  2007

Patrick: Lagniappe

I was summoned to the bedside in the evening.  Granda Godkin wished to say goodbye to me.  For a long time he said nothing.  The others, at my back, began to fidget.  He gazed through me, into his private pale blue eternity, and it was as if he were already dead, a mere memory, he was so thin and faded.  At last his eyes came back and focused on me.  He took me for my father, and said very clearly,

'Joe, you'll never be anything but a waster!'

That was his farewell.  I knew that those attendant silences behind me expected something of me, but what it was I did not know.  I tried to take his hand but he would not let me lift it, and turned his face to the wall, so I caught hold of one of his brown-paper fingers and shook it solemnly and then made my escape.  Did I mourn him?  I suppose I did, in my way.  But I felt, as I have felt at every death, that something intangible had slipped through my fingers before I discovered its nature.  All deaths are scandalously mistimed.  People do not live long enough.  They come and go, briefly, shadows dwindling toward an empty blue noon.

--Birchwood by John Banville

July  8,  2007

Patrick: Lagniappe

But were the coming narrative to reveal in any instance, the complete abasement of poor Starbuck's fortitude, scarce might I have the heart to write it; but it is a thing most sorrowful, nay shocking, to expose the fall of valor in the soul.  Men may seem detestable as joint-stock companies and nations; knaves, fools, and murderers there may be; men may have mean and meagre faces; but, man, in the ideal, is so noble and so sparkling, such a grand and glowing creature, that over any ignominious blemish in him all his fellows should run to throw their costliest robes.  That immaculate manliness we feel within ourselves, so far within us, that it remains intact though all the outer character seem gone; bleeds with keenest anguish at the undraped spectacle of a valor-ruined man.  Nor can piety itself, at such a shameful sight, completely stifle her upbraidings against the permitting stars.  But this august dignity I treat of, is not the dignity of kings and robes, but that abounding dignity which has no robed investiture.  Thou shalt see it shining in the arm that wields a pick or drives a spike; that democratic dignity which, on all hands, radiates without end from God; Himself!  The great God absolute!  The centre and circumference of all democracy!  His omnipresence, our divine equality!

If, then, to meanest mariners, and renegades and castaways, I shall hereafter ascribe high qualities, though dark; weave around them tragic graces; if even the most mournful, perchance the most abased, among them all, shall at times lift himself to the exalted mounts; if I shall touch that workman's arm with some ethereal light; if I shall spread a rainbow over his disastrous set of sun; then against all mortal critics bear me out in it, thou just Spirit of Equality, which hast spread one royal mantle of humanity over all my kind!  Bear me out in it, thou great democratic God! who didst not refuse to the swart convict, Bunyan, the pale, poetic pearl; Thou who didst clothe with doubly hammered leaves of finest gold, the stumped and paupered arm of old Cervantes; Thou who didst pick up Andrew Jackson from the pebbles; who didst hurl him upon a war-horse; who didst thunder him higher than a throne!  Thou who, in all Thy mighty, earthly marchings, ever cullest Thy selectest champions from the kingly commoners; bear me out in it, O God!

--Moby Dick by Herman Melville

July  5,  2007

Patrick: Lagniappe

The poster of an evening paper caught her eye and as she ran down the train, looking back as often as she was able, she couldn't help remembering that war might be declared before they met again.  He would go to it; he always did what other people did, she told herself with irritation, although she knew it was his reliability she loved.  She wouldn't have loved him if he'd been eccentric, had his own opinions about things; she lived too closely to thwarted genius, to second touring company actresses who thought they ought to be Cochran stars, to admire difference.  She wanted her man to be ordinary, she wanted to be able to know what he'd say next.

--A Gun for Sale by Graham Greene