Literary footnote

I might have saved this for a second of February one of these years. However Theodore Dalrymple mentioned it in a recent column, so I thought I’d post it now.

The Latest Decalogue

By Arthur Hugh Clough

Thou shalt have one God only; who
Would be at the expense of two?
No graven images may be
Worshipp’d, except the currency:
Swear not at all; for, for thy curse
Thine enemy is none the worse:
At church on Sunday to attend
Will serve to keep the world thy friend:
Honour thy parents; that is, all
From whom advancement may befall:
Thou shalt not kill; but need’st not strive
Officiously to keep alive:
Do not adultery commit;
Advantage rarely comes of it:
Thou shalt not steal; an empty feat,
When it’s so lucrative to cheat:
Bear not false witness; let the lie
Have time on its own wings to fly:
Thou shalt not covet; but tradition
Approves all forms of competition.

The view from 1984

I’ve been browsing around in Marc Aramini’s Between Light and Shadow: An Exploration of the Fiction of Gene Wolfe, 1951 to 1986. In his discussion of Free Live Free, he quotes a couple of passages that have gained force in the years since the year the novel was published. I thought I’d put them here, a bit more fully.

A history of America, delivered by a man in a duffel coat near the end of the story:

“Our country was founded on the principle of the destruction of the wild by the civilized. Let me … go back thirty thousand years before Christ, when the ancestors of the Indians crossed what are now the Bering Straits to occupy what some people have called an empty land. Those Indians represented civilization. The beavers felled trees and built lodges, but the Indians killed the beavers and skinned them.

Barnes said, “Then the whites came and skinned the Indians.”

“Precisely. But the frontiersmen who destroyed the Indians and their culture were destroyed themselves, with their culture, by the settlers who followed. Those settlers lost their farms to the banks, and the banks sold them to companies who have brought the advantages of corporate existence—immortality and amorality—to agriculture.

“In the cities, the same thing occurred. The early city of independent shops and restaurants is properly being displaced by one of the chain outlets, so that progressively greater control is exercised. Perhaps none of you have ever understood before why they are called that—chain outlets….

“You see the progress? The old stores had to sell things their customers wanted. As they’re eliminated, the need for their type of slavery is eliminated, too, and the chains can sell whatever they want. Their customers have to buy it because there is nothing else to buy. I ask you, all of you—how often have you gone into W. T. Grant’s and found there was nothing at all you wanted?”

And:

“The Indians used to be Americans—that’s what an American was. Then the trappers were Americans, the Americans of their day. Then the farmers, with their buggies and plow horses and white clapboard houses. Even today when you look at a picture of Uncle Sam, you’re seeing what those farmers were like dressed up to go to the county fair. Only farmers aren’t real Americans any more. Neither are Indians. Poor bastards of Indians aren’t even foreigners, and we like foreigners more than Americans, because foreigners are the Americans of the future. The trappers are gone, and pretty soon you’ll be gone too.”

After further provocation, one of his audience responds:

“… I am a gypsy and a princess. And a dupe, because you have made me one. But I will speak for the Indians too, because they were nomads when they were shaped by their own thoughts and not by yours, and we are nomads now, who will remain so though you will slay us….

“You have overcome us, but you have not conquered us. To conquer us you must beat us fairly, and you have not beaten us fairly, and so you have struck us to the ground, but you have not won. To conquer us, you must have dignity too, and for that reason you have not conquered us. A man may flee from a wasp and be stung by the wasp, but he has not been conquered by the wasp; it remains an insect and he is still a man. You deck yourselves like fools and chatter and hop like apes, and your princes marry whores. That is why even those you have crushed to dust will not call you master, and none will ever call you master until you meet a nation more foolish than yourselves.”

Earlier in the book the gypsy does some “catoptromancy.” She explains, “… what I have done is the verso of necromancy; I summoned the spirits of the unborn to reveal the future.” According to her,

“The greatest event of the coming decade will be the quadrumvirate. Four leaders, unknown today, shall unite to take political, financial, artistic, and judicial power. They shall create a revolution in thought. Many who are now rulers shall be imprisoned or exiled. Many who are now powerless shall rise to places of great authority. The rich shall be made poor, and the poor rich. Old crimes, now concealed, shall be made public, and their perpetrators given to the people as to a pride of lions. The four shall be hated and idolized, but their rule will not end within the period specified by my prediction.”

It’s time for the quadrumvirate to reveal itself.

Today’s word

Schleppoisie, noun.

When [Tom] Wolfe lets his own point of view peep through, it isn’t always pleasant to behold. His hatred for the high and vacuous celebrity culture is undisguised; his Olympian amusement at the nouveau riche has long been known. But what is surprising in his novel is to find him looking down his nose, as in the examples cited here, at the lower-middle class, or (as Marx neglected to call them) the schleppoisie.

Second-hand links

Via Edward Feser.

Dana Gioia on Ray Bradbury:

My favorite memory of Ray came from a science fiction convention at the University of California at Riverside. Not the convention itself but trying to get to it. Ray was the keynote speaker. He asked if I would introduce him. The speech was scheduled in a huge building at the center of campus. But there was no direct way to get Ray’s wheelchair into the building. Every entrance had high steps designed for 18-year-old college students. Our faculty hosts eventually took us around back to the service entrance by the garbage dumpsters. I pushed Ray through a series of underground corridors until we got to a huge elevator, which had been designed to bring trolleys up from the food service kitchen.

We went up a floor or two, and a group of guys from the food service came in with their packed trolleys. They were all young Mexicans speaking Spanish. They noticed this old man in a wheelchair. The professors all froze up. They felt uncomfortable. But these were the sort of guys I grew up with. I turned to them and asked in my lousy Spanish if they knew who this man was. They shook their heads. Then I told them he was “el escritor famoso, Ray Bradbury.” My hosts looked at me as if I were crazy. But then the guys shouted, “Ray Bradbury!” Every one of them knew who he was. Then they crowded around to get his autograph….

The moment strikes me as the best measure of Bradbury’s fame. Can you imagine the same reaction, indeed any reaction, to Saul Bellow or John Updike? These immigrant workers, whom American intellectuals consider beyond the compass of literature — you know all the social, cultural, and racial barriers that exist — were part of Ray’s audience.

And Ray was delighted to meet them. He chuckled and signed napkins and order slips. He had a global audience. He spoke to people novelists don’t usually reach. That is something that we should honor. Bradbury had an imagination that invited people in.

Update: See KT’s comment for more glimpses of Bradbury.

***

My first college may be one of the few not run by lunatics and quislings.

***

Trevor C. Merrill on Milan Kundera’s insights and limitations:

In the minds of many, Kundera and his specific political and national context were bound inseparably together. And so, once he was no longer surrounded by the dissident’s aura, his meditations on life behind the Iron Curtain felt passé; a new regime, and a new set of global concerns, had taken over: “… when communism vanishes, Kundera’s insights into humans under communism lose immediacy, too,” wrote novelist Jane Smiley in 2006.

A lot can happen in a decade. Those certain that the situations in Kundera’s novels were unique to the Soviet era, and that they were thus shrinking in history’s rearview mirror, turned out to be mistaken. In 2016, an essay by philosopher Ryszard Legutko argued that EU-style neoliberalism had become an oppressive ideology like the communism he and others in the Polish Solidarity movement fought to overthrow. More recently, Rod Dreher draws on the experience of Christians under Soviet rule in Live Not by Lies, a handbook for Americans faced with soft totalitarianism. Kundera’s novels now seem less like reports on a bygone disaster, and more like crystal balls showing aspects of our own society, and foreshadowing what could happen if current trends accelerate.

***

I haven’t noticed any pigs on the wing, but Dennou Coil was finally licensed for the USA a few years ago, and Texas has frozen over. Now it looks like The Last Dangerous Visions may at last be published. We’ll see.

In related news, Neil Gaiman confirms that Ellison did indeed mail a dead gopher to Ace Books.

Noise and pessimism

It is no coincidence that, as our culture has become stupider, it has also become noisier. Here’s an 1851 essay by Schopenhauer. He focuses on the wanton cracking of whips; I wonder what he would have said about subwoofers.

On Noise

Kant wrote a treatise on The Vital Powers. I should prefer to write a dirge for them. The superabundant display of vitality, which takes the form of knocking, hammering, and tumbling things about, has proved a daily torment to me all my life long. There are people, it is true — nay, a great many people — who smile at such things, because they are not sensitive to noise; but they are just the very people who are also not sensitive to argument, or thought, or poetry, or art, in a word, to any kind of intellectual influence. The reason of it is that the tissue of their brains is of a very rough and coarse quality. On the other hand, noise is a torture to intellectual people. In the biographies of almost all great writers, or wherever else their personal utterances are recorded, I find complaints about it; in the case of Kant, for instance, Goethe, Lichtenberg, Jean Paul; and if it should happen that any writer has omitted to express himself on the matter, it is only for want of an opportunity.

Continue reading “Noise and pessimism”

Today’s useful word

Fraudulum

And so I propose the FRAUDULUM. It is the smallest unit of fraud. I define it to be the amount of fraud that is taking place when a husband tells his wife that the pants do not make her ass look fat. When you call a company and their recorded message tells you “Your call is very important to us,” that is 2 or 3 fraudulum. When the gas company calls and you tell them the check is in the mail, that is a dozen fraudulum. A dozen dozen fraudulum is a gross fraudulum, and that’s when a politician tells you “I feel your pain.”

(The proper response to anyone who says “I feel your pain” is “Hand me a baseball bat and I’ll validate your feelings.”)

Divergence

O’Connor versus Hemingway:

The fact that our gal Flannery is repeatedly castigated and critiqued for “racism” when….hoo boy ….have you read Hemingway lately?

Let me put it this way. I would have no problem teaching any work of O’Connor – even a story with a title like “The Artificial Nigger” to any group of students, while I would give serious pause to teaching something like The Killers or The Battler.

What’s the difference? Well, if you are agonizing over whether or not O’Connor was racist, you should take a look at those two stories, compare and contrast. In Hemingway, his narrators regularly describe and characterize Black characters by the n-word, and describe their characteristics in those terms – as qualities or quirks specific to Black people – but not called Black. In O’Connor, her characters may think racist thoughts and treat Black people poorly…because that’s what those characters would do. And racist characters are there, not just because they were in her world and she was committed to accuracy, but because they are, and are ultimately understood as, one more specimen of that thing called Pride.

It doesn’t make it super-easy to have students encounter these words and descriptions and views, but at least in O’Connor they are presented as expressions of specific characters living in a specific place. Hemingway, being a bit more abstracted from time and place in many of his stories, has his mostly objective narrators describe Black characters in racist, stereotypical terms.

In O’Connor’s world, racism exists in the world, but it is obviously a damaged part of a fallen world. In Hemingway, racist attitudes are just The Way It Is, no problem, no argument, no tension.

Wordplay

Winter thus far has been mild here, with little snow and ice. Nevertheless, I’m in the mood for an old favorite by the lunatic from Idaho.

Winter is icummen in,
Lhude sing Goddamm.
Raineth drop and staineth slop,
And how the wind doth ramm!
Sing: Goddamm.

Skiddeth bus and sloppeth us,
An ague hath my ham.
Freezeth river, turneth liver,
Damn you, sing: Goddamm.

Goddamm, Goddamm, ’tis why I am, Goddamm,
So ‘gainst the winter’s balm.

Sing goddamm, damm, sing Goddamm.
Sing goddamm, sing goddamm, DAMM.

I particularly like how Pound exploits the rhymes to make the pleasant word “balm” sound like an obscenity.

Another nice word that sounds like an obscenity to me nowadays, for other reasons: “safe.”

Today’s quote

F.L. Lucas, via Joseph Epstein:

I have come passionately to prefer sense to sensibility, and even cynics (if one must have either) to rhapsodists and rapturists. . . . I can only ­suggest that humanity seems throughout its history to have suffered far worse from mental intoxications and fanaticisms than from any rare excess of sober reason.

Bonus quote:

I sometimes wonder if there have not been two great disasters in the history of modern letters: the first when literature began to be a full-time profession, with writers like Dryden and Lesage, instead of remaining a by-product of more sanely active lives; the second, when the criticism of literature became likewise a profession, and a livelihood for professors.

Odds and ends, mostly odd

Today’s useful term: “counter-Renaissance.” E.g.,

The Nazi leader who described the National Socialist revolution as a counter-Renaissance spoke more truly than he probably knew. It was a decisive step in the destruction of that civilization which modern man had built up from the age of the Renaissance….

—F.A. Hayek, The Road to Serfdom.

***

J Greely:

… for all the (mostly true) complaints about how horribly misogynist the Gor novels were, the core audience was female. The local bookstore clerks who more-or-less adopted me in the late Seventies often laughed about how women would come up to the counter with a Gor novel artfully concealed in the middle of their purchases.

I tried reading one of Norman’s novels once but gave up half-way through. He didn’t like women and had no understanding of them. Or so I thought — apparently he understood some well enough.

***

Greely found a little game:

“List 5 famous people you’ve either met or have been within a few feet of, but ONE is a lie. Then let your friends guess which one they think is a lie.”

Let’s play.

1. Wendy Whelan

2. Phil Keaggy

3. William F. Buckley, Jr.

4. R.A. Lafferty

5. James Lee Burke

(Don’t recognize all the names? All are legendary in their fields, though those fields might be ballet or music, rather than sports or television.)

***

Words, words, words

Don’t use the past tense of “to do” online, or Google will delete you.

(Via Pixy.)

***

Be wary of homonyms:

Expert is not the English word of the same spelling and pronunciation, and which means “one who has skill, experience, or extensive knowledge in his calling or in any special branch of learning.” This old word still exists and is in use in areas in which deplorables are to be found.

But this old useful word is just not the same as the modern expert. This modern word, which can only be distinguished in context from the old, means “a flack who repeats the consensus, and who causes the consensus.”

***

“Reactionary” may be an unsatisfactory term, but…

… I suppose bearing with things that you’re stuck with because they’ve been codified by long use is more or less a principle of being a reactionary. So it all works out!

Outwardly respectable

It’s February 2 today, when the students at the University of Dallas traditionally drink beer in the chilly drizzle at Forker Field (do they still do that?), and when bloggers post favorite poems if they remember to. So, here’s “Macavity, the Mystery Cat,” which I recited to my bored and fidgety classmates at grade school #4.

Macavity’s a Mystery Cat: he’s called the Hidden Paw—
For he’s the master criminal who can defy the Law.
He’s the bafflement of Scotland Yard, the Flying Squad’s despair:
For when they reach the scene of crime—Macavity’s not there!

Macavity, Macavity, there’s no one like Macavity,
He’s broken every human law, he breaks the law of gravity.
His powers of levitation would make a fakir stare,
And when you reach the scene of crime—Macavity’s not there!
You may seek him in the basement, you may look up in the air—
But I tell you once and once again, Macavity’s not there!

Macavity’s a ginger cat, he’s very tall and thin;
You would know him if you saw him, for his eyes are sunken in.
His brow is deeply lined with thought, his head is highly domed;
His coat is dusty from neglect, his whiskers are uncombed.
He sways his head from side to side, with movements like a snake;
And when you think he’s half asleep, he’s always wide awake.

Macavity, Macavity, there’s no one like Macavity,
For he’s a fiend in feline shape, a monster of depravity.
You may meet him in a by-street, you may see him in the square—
But when a crime’s discovered, then Macavity’s not there!

He’s outwardly respectable. (They say he cheats at cards.)
And his footprints are not found in any file of Scotland Yard’s.
And when the larder’s looted, or the jewel-case is rifled,
Or when the milk is missing, or another Peke’s been stifled,
Or the greenhouse glass is broken, and the trellis past repair—
Ay, there’s the wonder of the thing! Macavity’s not there!

And when the Foreign Office find a Treaty’s gone astray,
Or the Admiralty lose some plans and drawings by the way,
There may be a scrap of paper in the hall or on the stair—
But it’s useless to investigate—Macavity’s not there!
And when the loss has been disclosed, the Secret Service say:
‘It must have been Macavity!’—but he’s a mile away.
You’ll be sure to find him resting, or a-licking of his thumbs,
Or engaged in doing complicated long division sums.

Macavity, Macavity, there’s no one like Macavity,
There never was a Cat of such deceitfulness and suavity.
He always has an alibi, and one or two to spare:
At whatever time the deed took place—MACAVITY WASN’T THERE!
And they say that all the Cats whose wicked deeds are widely known
(I might mention Mungojerrie, I might mention Griddlebone)
Are nothing more than agents for the Cat who all the time
Just controls their operations: the Napoleon of Crime!

In a comment on a recent post, Fillyjonk mentioned that there were plans to give Cats a traditionally-animated movie version, with Steven Spielberg at the helm. While I would have preferred that Lloyd Webber et al had left Eliot’s poems alone, this probably would have been preferable to the recent movie. If nothing else, the sketches of Macavity more closely approximate my mental image of the feline Moriarty than the thug of the stage version.

Postcards from Boomer Flats

John C. Wright recently quoted R.A. Lafferty. Coincidentally, I spent part of the day moving all my Gene Wolfe and Lafferty books to their own bookcase. Over the years I’ve accumulated a bunch, most of them acquired on my regular visits to second-hand book stores.1 Around the turn of the century, Lafferty’s books disappeared even from used sources. I found a volume or two and some pamphlets from mail-order sources2, but pickings were slim.

Fortunately, now, about 30 years too late, there finally is a good introduction to the most original writer of the 20th century. The Best of R.A. Lafferty is available in the U.S. The table of contents is here; the book includes most of the essential stories.3. If you’ve ever been curious about this teller of tales unlike other tales, this is a good place to start.

Three of Lafferty’s early novels have also recently been reissued in a single volume. It’s been a long time since I read Past Master or Fourth Mansions, so I can’t say much except that I didn’t like them as much as the better short stories. They’re due for a re-reading; I might find more in them now. However, Space Chantey, Lafferty’s retelling of The Odyssey, is one of Lafferty’s funniest books and an old favorite.

“All right, girl,” Roadstrum said when they were alone. “I have a few questions. They will be to the point, and I want answers.”
I doubt that you could understand the answers,” Aeaea warned. “I see now that you are a common simpleminded man, and we maintain a very high intellectual average here. It will be difficult to communicate.”
“Who is the ‘we’ that maintains so high an average, girl?”
“Only myself now. My father has been dead these last several centuries.”
“It should be easy to maintain a high average with only one entity.”
“It is. I am mistress of all the sciences. I go so far beyond all else that my work is called magic. I manipulate noumena, regarding monads as points of entry tangential to hylomorphism. As to the paradox of Primary Essence being contained in Quiddity, the larger in the small, I have my own solution. The difficulty is always in not confusing Contingency with Accidence. Do you understand me?”
“Sure. You’re a witch.”
“Exactly, but I frown on the name. Very unscientific.”

***

I have several duplicate Lafferties on my shelves that need homes. If you are interested, send me an email. Please include “Lafferty” in the header so I don’t delete it with the blackmail spam and other digital trash.

Miscellany

Chainmail Bikini is back online.

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Art or garbage? It’s hard to tell sometimes.

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Derek Lowe recently added nitro groups to his “Things I won’t work with” category. You don’t need to be a chemist to enjoy his Lowe’s appreciations of azides, FOOF and other exceeding noisy or smelly substances.

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William Briggs:

“Any organization not explicitly right-wing sooner or later becomes left-wing.” This is, as everybody knows, Conquest’s Second Law. It is a true law, as all modern experience shows. But it says nothing about the pace or rate of the flight from Reality and Tradition.

A rock thrown upwards at the top of its flight is stationary. For a moment it neither goes up nor down. Then, a fraction of a second later, it begins it descent, but slowly, slowly. The speeds picks up, the rocks plummets faster and faster. It eventually crashes to the ground.

That’s the progress of rocks, a good but imperfect metaphor for the “progress” of human institutions. The imperfection comes in recalling a law Conquest didn’t mention: motus in fine velocior. Things accelerate toward the end. A falling rock has constant acceleration. Human failure is a force that feeds on itself.

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100 things Mark Evanier learned about the comics industry….

93. If your character wears a cape, it should be more or less the same length in every panel and it should not get shredded more than twice a year.

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Dr. Boli has completed his serial, Devil King Kun. From the 20th installment:

“Actually,” said Weyland, “good people generally don’t try to conquer the world. It’s not done, you know.”

“But if you don’t conquer the world, then won’t the evil people take over every time?”

“We generally prefer to let people choose their own government, and trust them to make the right choice.”

“Well,” said Miss Kun, “I’m willing to be good, but I’m not willing to be an idiot….”

The story begins here.

***

Saw Ginger Baker’s Jazz Confusion a couple of years ago and when a bloke in the audience shouted out for ‘Toad’ Baker asked if he’d ever had a drumstick shoved up his nostril.

The lovable Ginger Baker has been hospitalized, critically ill. Here’s an 1970 interview with the easy-going drummer, and a more recent look at the gentle soul.

Update: Ginger Baker has died at the age of 80.

Professor Mondo, a drummer himself, on Baker in 1990:

The other thing that struck me was that Ginger looked like a mad wizard from a fantasy novel, impossibly aged, but terrifyingly powerful. He was three years younger than I am now. I think both his mistakes as a human being and his phenomenal talent aged him in dog years.

See also Shabby Road for an overview of Baker’s life.

Have a Spoonful of Cream.