I remember boiling 4 "new Potatoes (those are the small ones others call salt potatoes) making myself a small sauce pan of melted butter with pepper, and eating the potatoes whole and scewered on my swiss army blade as I read Williams' Selected poems. I was 18 years old, and the only one awake in the house at three in the morning. It is one of the happiest memories of my life. Maybe it was the linoleum which was torn just under my seat. I scratched an itch on my bare foot with it. Maybe it was the flourescent light. It could have been Williams' poems, too, but I know, know beyond all doubt that, without those 4 potatoes, no happiness would have been as possible.
-- Joe Weil
Anyone can have a bad century.
-- Walter LaFeber
The eminent historian Walter LaFeber -- author of The American Age: U. S. Foreign Policy At Home and Abroad, from 1750 to the Present, as well as the more recent Michael Jordan and the New Global Capitalism (Norton) -- turns out to be a diehard Cubs' fan, the experience of which has to have a chastening effect on the mind and heart. The Clash: U.S.-Japanese Relations Throughout History (1997) won the Bancroft Prize in American History.
The line reminded me of a remark made by Marv Levy, coach of the Buffalo Bills, the team that was always the bridesmaid, never the bride, to use that most curious of all sportscaster's cliches. The Bills would get to the Superbowl and lose it -- not a bad fate, all in all, when you conside the history of teams that have been to the Superbowl once in forty-three years. One week Levy was asked whether the following Sunday's game was "do or die." No, Levy said firmly, putting things in perspective. "D-Day was do or die," he said. Sunday against the Packers or Giants was just another game.
We’re all People, before we’re anything else. People, even before we’re artists. The role of being a Person is sufficient to have lived and died for.
-- Thornton Wilder
Lizzie [Hardwick]: "Well, it's curtains for him, or, as my students would say, drapes."
from entry for 11/ 2 / 79 NYC
Susan Sontag, As Consciousness is Harnessed to Flesh: Journals & Notebooks, 1964-1980
(NY: Farrar Straus & Giroux, 2012)
Effort is its own reward. We are here to do, and through doing to learn; and through learning to know; and through knowing to experience wonder; and through wonder to attain wisdom; and through wisdom to find simplicity; and through simplicity to give attention; and through attention to see what needs to be done.
Pirkei Avot V:27
All political language is alienated. Political language as such is the enemy. (Joseph [Brodsky's] posiiton).
-- Susan Sontag, entry for 12/ 6 / 77, in As Consciousness is Harnessed to Flesh: Journals & Notebooks 1964-1980 (ed. David Rieff, FSG, 2012)
Sontag's journals are extraordinary. It is irresistible to quote from them. as I plan to do in the weeks to come. She had a fabulous mind and was as brave in her self-encounters as she was voracious in approaching a world of intellectual stimulation. Thank you, David Rieff, for this significant accomplishment. -- DL
Is it time to admit that avant-garde is a phenomenon of the 19h and 20th century? Camille Paglia think so:
It's high time for the art world to admit that the avant-garde is dead. It was killed by my hero, Andy Warhol, who incorporated into his art all the gaudy commercial imagery of capitalism (like Campbell's soup cans) that most artists had stubbornly scorned.
Young people today are avidly immersed in this hyper-technological environment, where their primary aesthetic experiences are derived from beautifully engineered industrial design. Personalized hand-held devices are their letters, diaries, telephones and newspapers, as well as their round-the-clock conduits for music, videos and movies. But there is no spiritual dimension to an iPhone, as there is to great works of art.
Thus we live in a strange and contradictory culture, where the most
talented college students are ideologically indoctrinated with contempt
for the economic system that made their freedom, comforts and privileges
possible. In the realm of arts and letters, religion is dismissed as
reactionary and unhip. The spiritual language even of major abstract
artists like Piet Mondrian, Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko is ignored
I quote from Camille Paglia's essay "How Capitalism Can Save Art" in the Wall Street Journal, October 6-7, 2012, p. C3.
It may also be "high time" to retire that impoverished term post-modernist, that sad token of belatedness, which has lost any of the descriptive power it may once have had, -- DL
A definitive example of the spontaneous aphorism:
One is irresistibly reminded of an incident in the French Chamber when capital punishment was being debated. A member had been passionately supporting its abolition and his speech was being received with tumultuous applause, when a voice from the hall called out: 'Que messieurs les assassins commencent!' [Let the murderers make the first move.]
-- Freud.Civilization and Its Discontents
OK, everyone. In the course of writing, Civilization and Its Discontents, what argument or quotation "irresistibly reminded" Freud of this incident?
I wonder whether others will concur when I say that Civilization and Its Discontents is one of the most irresistible titles of the twentieth century. -- DL
One of the derivations proposed for the name Canada is a Portuguese phrase meaning 'nobody here.'
-- Northrop Frye (in The Modern Century, 1967)
Compare to Gertrude Stein, "There's no there there," on Oakland. -- DL
"It's always so difficult to know what to do for the best," Fyne assured me. It is. Good intentions stand in their own way so much. Whereas if you want to do harm to any one you needn't hesitate. You have only to go on. No one will reproach you with your mistakes or call you a confounded, clumsy meddler.
A man who has had his way is seldom happy, for generally he finds that the way does not lead very far on this earth of desires which can never be fully satisfied.
from A Murder is Announced by Agatha Christie, 1950
What do you get when you kiss a guy?
You get enough germs to catch pneumonia.
After you do, he'll never phone ya,
I'll never fall in love again.
"I write mostly positive reviews. I don’t write about places that don’t interest me. I’ve been doing this long enough, and I’ve closed enough restaurants. It’s very strange that forty people can be put out of work because I make an aesthetic judgment."
from Interview with Jonathan Gold, food critic. The Believer, Sept 2012
The best New Yorker sentences of the summer appeared in John McPhee's piece "Editors & Publisher" (July 2, 2012).
Editors of every ilk seem to think that titles are their prerogative -- that they can buy a piece, cut the title off the top, and lay on one of their own. When I was young, this turned my skin pink and caused horripilation. I should add that I encountered such editors almost wholly at magazines other than The New Yorker -- Vogue, Holiday, the Saturday Evening Post. The title is an integral part of a piece of writing, and one of the most important parts, and ought not to be written by anyone but the writer of what follows the title. Editors' habit of replacing an author's title with one of their own is like a photo of a tourist's head on the cardboard body of Mao Zedong.
I chose this passage for the wonderful outlandish simile that nails it down and because I agree with McPhee in principle. He is certainly right about editors' sense of entitlement, to use the apt word. When I wrote for Newsweek, I rarely got to title any of my pieces, though I must admit that my senior editor very often improved on whatever I had proposed. The late Ken Auchincloss was especially gifted at headlines. And these are important. I have called headlines and captions the haiku of journalism, and I remember being pleased (though some associates grumbled) when Ken ordered writers to write the captions under photos illustrating their articles. (I forget what embarrassment provoked this change.) Among my favorite headlines: the sublime "Rose is a Red" (which was on the cover of Sports Illustrated when Pete Rose returned to Cincinnati in the 1980s). The Newsweek caption I enjoyed writing most was "Laurels for Mr. Warren's Profession" when Robert Penn Warren was named the nation's first official poet laureate in 1986 (if memory serves).
That takes care of the good. As for the bad, well, sometimes the bad is so bad it's good ("Though a strapping five-nine today -- closer to five-nine and a half, really -- in the prepubescent days of my love affair with sports I was a shrimp"), or it's bad on purpose ("A little history is always useful"), or it's just bad when stripped out of its context when that context consists of banal word-clusters (e.g., "in a world characterized mainly by mobility, change, and uncertainty"). The quotes come from Louis Menand's pre-Olympics navel-gazer, "Glory Days," in the issue of August 6. The last is followed immediately by this:
No matter what happens to us next year, there will be a Super Bowl.
The statement, while not nearly as funny in context as out of it, should have an admonitory effect on writers who value their sentences as much as their paragraphs. Perhaps the magazine might use "there will always be a Super Bowl" as a tag for odd witticisms on the order of "there will always be an England." Was it the same author who, in an earlier piece, characterized his father as a snob on the grounds that he favored good grammar and correct usage? -- DL
Hope is the feeling you have that the feeling you have isn't permanent.
-- Mignon McLaughlin
The Neurotic's Notebook, 1960
via The American Scholar (Summer, 2008)
Henry James and Edith Wharton often went "motoring" together. Wharton wrote about one such trip in A Motor-Flight Through France (1908). Here, she describes an experience with James while traveling in England:
From A Backward Glance by Edith Wharton
The most absurd of these episodes occurred on another rainy evening when James and I chanced to arrive at Windsor long after dark. […] While I was hesitating and peering out into the darkness James spied an ancient doddering man who had stopped in the rain to gaze at us. ‘Wait a moment, my dear—I’ll ask him where we are’; and leaning out he signalled to the spectator.
‘My good man, if you’ll be good enough to come here, please; a little nearer—so,’ and as the old man came up: ‘My friend, to put it to you in two words, this lady and I have just arrived here from Slough; that is to say, to be more strictly accurate, we have recently passed through Slough on our way here, having actually motored to Windsor from Rye, which was our point of departure; and the darkness having overtaken us, we should be much obliged if you would tell us where we now are in relation, say, to the High Street, which, as you of course know, leads to the Castle, after leaving on the left hand the turn down to the railway station.’
I was not surprised to have this extraordinary appeal met by silence, and a dazed expression on the old wrinkled face at the window; nor to have James go on: ‘In short’ (his invariable prelude to a fresh series of explanatory ramifications), ‘in short, my good man, what I want to put to you in a word is this: supposing we have already (as I have reason to think we have) driven past the turn down to the railway station (which in that case, by the way, would probably not have been on our left hand, but on our right) where are we now in relation to…’
‘Oh, please,’ I interrupted, feeling myself utterly unable to sit through another parenthesis, ‘do ask him where the King’s Road is.’
‘Ah—? The King’s Road? Just so! Quite right! Can you, as a matter of fact, my good man, tell us where, in relation to our present position, the King’s Road exactly is?’
‘Ye’re in it’, said the aged face at the window.
I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark
from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman
THE RULE OF THUMB
Ringfinger was nervous
when they learned
that Hand might succumb
to the rule of Thumb.