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Nov. 20th, 2015

Rouze up, O Young Men of the New Age! Set your foreheads against the ignorant hirelings! For we have hirelings in the Camp, the Court, and the University, who would, if they could, for ever depress mental, and prolong corporeal war.

William Blake.

Same goes for you, Young Women!  and you Greybeards too!
Set your foreheads against the ignorant hirelings!

Nov. 15th, 2015

Can anyone come up with the names (or a hint to get the names) of stories or movies where somebody tries to become smart by reading the encyclopedia?  (Not counting A.J. Jacobs.)  

Oct. 25th, 2015

There is a certain kind of modernist story that involves the sudden appearance of an inexplicable thing in an ordinary social situation -- something ususlly large and unavoidable -- that's not particualrly threatening but is inconvenient and eerie.  Gradually people come to either accept it or explain it to themselves.  Eventually it vanishes, or it never does.  The only example I can think of is Marques's "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings."  I know there are others.  ANy examples?

Revenge of the Metaphor

Treating metaphors as merelycolorful ways of saying things can irritate them, and sometimes they bite. In a local arts & culture magazine, an aricle about how hard it was to restore Emily Dickinson's house. It was helped by the discovery of some fragments of wall paper still adhering to surfaces. "Discovery of the wall paper fragments...lit a a fire under museum directors and the board of governors," the article says. "Not that the fire was quick to burn," he continues, giving us time to beat out the metaphorical flames consuming Emily's home.

Not feeling myself

I have every sympathey with myself here, thinking perhaps that my perplexity arose from the fact that I was actually not there at all.  Still I have to admire the grace, self-possession and dry wit with which I conducted myself.  I hope I was let off.


What I didn't do in the war

If I read this right, you can get my new Harper's  "Easy Chair" essay (about how I did not go to Vietnam) for free as an inducement to subsribe. Enjoy!


Little and big

Adam Gopnik, writing in the New Yorker about Max Beerbohm, the paradigmatic beloved minor writer. "Beerbohm found so many ways to be modest that when he had to try and be major he couldn't." (Max assembled materials for a big Jamesian novel he got nowhere with.) "Still," Gopnik writes, there is no such thing as a minor writer, because--there is no such thing as a major writer. As Max wrote, considering Whistler, even Shakespeare occupies shockingly little of our attention -- shocking, that is, for those of us who are trying to occupy it too. (Boswell, one of Max's favorites, said the same thing about Voltaire: no had ever been more talked of, and look how little, really, Voltaire was talked of.) This means that bigness is a mirage, but it also means smallness is a kind of illusion too. Anyone who is read at all is more or less the same size."
I think that's a wonderful insight.

Childish things

From an article in the 0online NYRB by Glen H. Shepherd about photiographs of the now-nonexistent Selk'nam people of Tierra del Fuego: "There is something bewitchingly surreal about his photographs of the Hain initiation ceremony, in which young Selk’nam men are hazed by a pantheon of spirits that are revealed, in the final moments (forbidden to women), to be kinsmen in elaborate masks." An African people I read about have an inititation for young men in which weird sounds are heard in the bush, and the young men are dared to follow the sounds. When they have sufficiently faced their terror of the spirit world the elders appear and show them how the sound is made, with what in English is called a bullroarer. Basically the older men induct the younger into the facts of the world: we are the gods you fear. It's like a child being told there's no Santa Claus, it's Dad in the red suit, but don't tell the younger ones.

Women aren't part of these intitiation ceremonies -- theirs turn on menstruation and other secrets -- maybe they already guess these male secrets, or maybe they don't care.

Wouldn't it be interseting if our churches worked the same way -- you believe and pray and have magic helpers and angels and speak to Grandma in heaven, and then when you grow up your "confirmation" is actually to learn it's all not so; it's a means or a divine game but not a set of facts, and we ourselves are its origin. "When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things."

Me not being wealthy

I'm glad to know that despite being a former cover star (whatever that is) I have not slaved uselessly as a wealth manager only to find it is not the way to riches


Aug. 3rd, 2015

The old, old question of Who are you? to one's own self grown strangely evasive
in the gloaming, and to God's world around to which one has never been really

Reading "The Real Life of Sebastian Knight" for reasons that will be clear when my Harper's essay-after-next (November) appears.  It's the best example I know -- there are many -- of the novel that contains summaries or selections of novels written by a character, to varied effect.  (Nabokov's mostly to discharge ideas that sound wonderful but really couldn't be written.)