“I’m living rent-free inside of Donald Trump’s Brain.”


What a great line. I wonder if Hillary came up with it herself. Who cares. Great line.

‘”Abdication! One third of the alphabet!” coldly quipped the king…’

Everyone’s trying to get excited about the Japanese guy; but as is so often the case, UD finds literature much more amusing and interesting than life.

(The only fun the actual abdication story has afforded UD so far is the phrase “the declining ratio of male imperial members.”)

Funny, subdued, detailed, and true.

Read it once for enjoyment, and a second time to learn how to write well.

UD searching for the original Onion article from which this …

… was plagiarized.

‘As for sleep, he slept on a mattress without sheets – it was his abandoned marriage bed – or in the hammock, covered by his coat. Tall bearded grass and locust and maple seedlings surrounded him in the yard. When he opened his eyes in the night, the stars were near like spiritual bodies. Fires, of course; gases – minerals, heat, atoms, but eloquent at five in the morning to a man lying in a hammock, wrapped in his overcoat.’

From the first page of Saul Bellow’s Herzog, this description of a lost soul floating between stars and locust seedlings has always moved UD, herself a serious star-gazer.  

Late tonight she’ll haul her less oppressed consciousness out to a dark sky and see what she can see of the Geminids.  She’ll write about it here.

***********************

6:27 PM

It’s cloudy up and down the coast

But there are compensations.

Brief sightings of a crescent ghost

Still make it an occasion.

V.S. Naipaul – one of the few writers whose sentences echo in the mind – has died.

“Todos me acosan sexualmente,” she once said with irritation, in her actress days. “Everybody makes a pass at me.” She was the macho’s ideal victim-woman —- don’t those red lips still speak to the Argentine macho of her reputed skill in fellatio? But very soon she was beyond sex, and pure again. At twenty-nine she was dying from cancer of the uterus, and hemorrhaging through the vagina; and her plumpish body began to waste away. Toward the end she weighed 80 pounds. One day she looked at some old official photographs of herself and began to cry. Another day she saw herself in a long mirror and said, “When I think of the trouble I went to to keep my legs slim! Ahora que me veo estas piernitas me asusto. Now it frightens me to look at these matchsticks.”

The Corpse at the Iron Gate, 1972.







Great Writing.

An obituary, in the Economist, of Lini Puthussery, an ambitious young Indian nurse.

The journey [to the hospital] from her home village of Chempanoda by bus was slow but beautiful, across fresh-flowing rivers, through groves of areca-nut and rubber trees and past wooded hills. The Western Ghats towered to the east and, in the evenings, took the light of the sun. The place was not quite paradise, because from time to time farmers gathered outside the village office to protest when their land was misclassified as protected forest and their claims to ownership were rebuffed. In 2017 a farmer hanged himself there. Yet apart from those things it was a quiet, green place, with her parents, aunts and cousins all close by.

***************

In her spare time she was busy improving her knowledge, to be eligible for a permanent government nursing job. She had filled a large black hard-bound book with neatly underlined entries in English, rather than her native Malayalam, on diseases and their treatments. Her notes, however, did not seem to cover what Sadiq had.

Sadiq had a new, often fatal, virus.

For the virus to spread between humans, contact had to be intensive and direct. That was exactly what Lini, with her tireless nursing, had provided. On May 16th she felt feverish, but insisted … that she would go to work because “lots of patients are there”, as always. When she grew worse, she checked herself into a hospital in Kozhikode and asked to be quarantined. [Her husband] flew back from Bahrain to find her barely conscious. She left him a note, partly in Malayalam and partly in English, which he folded away inside the cover of his phone.

Sajeeshetta, am almost on the way. I don’t think I will be able to see you again. Sorry. Please take good care of our children. Poor Kunju [Sidharth], please take him to the Gulf with you. Don’t stay single like our father. Plz. With lots of love, Umma







Philip Roth has Died.

Prolific, hilarious, shameless, truth-bearing.

Like his anti-hero, Mickey Sabbath, Roth had “the talent of a ruined man for recklessness, of a saboteur for subversion, even the talent of a lunatic — or a simulated lunatic — to overawe and horrify ordinary people.” Whether young and reckless like Ozzie Freedman, or old and reckless like Sabbath, Roth’s characters tend to age toward self-hatred at the settled spectacle of their all-too-human depravity, their daily hopeless struggle (no; they’ve given up the struggle) against sloth, filth, lust, despair, envy, violence…

Notice how, in the excerpt from Sabbath’s Theater, the name Dostoevsky recurs:

I had been reading O’Neill. I was reading Conrad. A guy on board had given me books. I was reading all that stuff and jerking myself off over it. Dostoyevsky — everybody going around with grudges and immense fury, rage like it was all put to music…

The unbearable lightness of being. Unmitigated rage at being. Writers put this to music. What was it I quoted in a post a few days ago? A writer’s comment on the suicide of musician Scott Hutchison:

Frightened Rabbit [Hutchison’s band] was virtuosic when it came to expressing the odd anxieties of an early, hungover morning, when a person wakes up and has to reckon with herself, again — the relentless ennui of being, and being, and being, and being.

The deeply hopeless lowness of the human can be played strictly for laughs – Portnoy’s Complaint, or Woody Allen’s “Notes from the Overfed” – but the best writers at their best (Kafka) throw in high and low for a real Alban Berg effect.

Roth located this modern leit-motif and settled there, teasing out variations on our vileness and our moment-by-moment reckoning with our vileness, a reckoning that grinds on without any Jesus to perceive and forgive and redeem.







With ‘National Stop the Bleed Day’ …

coming up, UD remembers her favorite play title.

The drama is by Jorgen Lovberg (originally Lövberg), and it’s one of his most tortured embittered and agonizing works: While We Three Hemorrhage.







Thanksgiving.

One evening on the way back from the spring for some reason I suddenly thought of a break by Bix in Frankie Trumbauer’s record of Singing the Blues that had always seemed to me to express a moment of the most pure spontaneous happiness. I could never hear this break without feeling happy myself and wanting to do something good. Could one translate this kind of happiness into one’s life? Since this was only a moment of happiness, I seemed involved with irreconcilable impulses. One could not make a moment permanent and perhaps the attempt to try was some form of evil. But was there not some means of suggesting at least the existence of such happiness, that was like what is really meant by freedom, which was like the spring, which was like our love, which was like the desire to be truly good…

No wonder mystics have a hard task describing their illuminations, even though this was not exactly that; yet the experience seemed to be associated with light, even a blinding light, as when years afterwards recalling it I dreamed that my being had transformed into the inlet itself, not at dusk, by the moon, but at sunrise, as we had so often also seen it, suddenly transilluminated by the sun’s light, so that I seemed to contain the reflected sun deeply within my very soul, yet a sun which as I awoke was in turn transformed, Swedenborgwise, with its light and warmth into something perfectly simple, like a desire to be a better man, to be capable of more gentleness, understanding, love –


Malcolm Lowry 1909-1957
“The Forest Path to the Spring”







Color UD Excited About…

… the wonderful new statue of George Orwell at the BBC.

In lieu of a pilgrimage to it, she will read for the hundredth time, laughing again all the way through, “Down and Out in Paris and London.”

***************

It seems to be an open question whether that very weight — the strain and tedium and approximation of everyday existence — was a hindrance to Orwell or an assistance. He himself seems to have thought that the exigencies of poverty, ill health, and overwork were degrading him from being the serious writer he might have been and had reduced him to the status of a drudge and pamphleteer. Reading through these meticulous and occasionally laborious jottings, however, one cannot help but be struck by the degree to which he became, in Henry James’s words, one of those upon whom nothing was lost. By declining to lie, even as far as possible to himself, and by his determination to seek elusive but verifiable truth, he showed how much can be accomplished by an individual who unites the qualities of intellectual honesty and moral courage. And, permanently tempted though he was by cynicism and despair, Orwell also believed in the latent possession of these faculties by those we sometimes have the nerve to call “ordinary people.” Here, then, is some of the unpromising bedrock — hardscrabble soil in Scotland, gritty coal mines in Yorkshire, desert landscapes in Africa, soul-less slums and bureaucratic offices — combined with the richer soil and loam of ever renewing nature, and that tiny, irreducible core of the human personality that somehow manages to put up a resistance to deceit and coercion. Out of the endless attrition between them can come such hope as we may reasonably claim to possess.

Christopher Hitchens, Introduction to Orwell’s diaries.







Long ago, when he was a very young writing student, Angela Carter described his “elegaic sobriety.”

That’s precisely what I remember discovering, and being mesmerized by, in my also long-ago reading of his first novel, A Pale View of Hills.

This year’s Nobel Prize winner in literature, Kazuo Ishiguro, writes with a weird, weight-bearing austerity which really captured and held me. I remember that thin novel more vividly than I remember most.

When you are young, things like your moral stance and your political position seem very important. I’d spend long nights with my friends sorting out moral and political positions that we thought would take us through adult life. And part of that would end up meaning we despised some people not for what they did, but for the opinions they professed to hold. But as I’ve got older I think I’ve realised that while it is important to have principles, you have far less control of what happens. These principles and positions only get you so far because what actually happens is that you don’t carefully chart your way through life.







Sam Shepard, who led one of the more charmed lives…

… talented as he was in so many directions, has died.

True American. True West.

******************

From a 1997 Paris Review interview.

Alcoholism is an insidious disease; until I confronted it I wasn’t aware that it was creeping up on me. I finally did AA in the hardcore down on Pico Boulevard. I said, “Don’t put me in with Elton John or anything, just throw me to the lions.”

********************

Violence and conflict are part of the music… There’s no way to escape the fact that we’ve grown up in a violent culture, we just can’t get away from it, it’s part of our heritage. I think part of it is that we’ve always felt somewhat helpless in the face of this vast continent. Helplessness is answered in many ways, but one of them is violence.







“Far out to sea, and alone”: Fear, and the Death of Anne Dufourmantelle.

The French philosopher, who wrote about the importance of accepting risk and living a truly alive existence, died fearlessly, attempting to rescue children from choppy waves in Saint-Tropez. They survived; she did not.

Risk and fear: From water, and from fire: As we speak, Saint-Tropez is directly menaced by a massive forest fire in the region.

***********************

Here is a famous sentence from Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway (1925) — a rivulet of Clarissa’s consciousness:

This has the balance and beauty, the well-observed ‘interior’ feel, of the great modernist’s sentences. That is, this is not speech; it’s the intimate candid mulling mind, the mind observing London in motion and talking to itself about it. Woolf never forgets to meld the objective world and the subjective, to cast subjectivity as always in response to the world outside itself. All those repetitions – out, out, out; very, very – are the squirreling mind circling its deep familiar themes, its odd, personal, peculiar obsessions and dreads. The ever-circulating cabs function as an objective correlative for, a provocation in the direction of, nihilistic despair: They go in and out, in and out, around the taxi stands and the streets, perpetually, conveying the pointless fever and fret of existence (hence Clarissa’s sympathetic apprehension of what the frightened, shell-shocked Great War veteran Septimus Smith has communicated in killing himself).

The word perpetual, with its religious undertones, comes to this aggressively secular woman (“love and religion would destroy that, whatever it was, the privacy of the soul”) from what has inevitably clung to her from having grown up in a religious (though itself rapidly secularizing) culture. Lux perpetuam, in traumatized godless post-war London, becomes the infernal machinery (tanks, cabs) of perpetual motion. (And perpetual, paired with sense, offers Woolf the assonance that gives her sentences their poetic feel, just as a routine assonantal phrase like taxi cabs does.)

In this sentence’s reference to the sea, we get three crucial elements of human awareness and engagement: nature, culture, consciousness. If you look at the sentence in isolation, it doesn’t make much sense: Why, in the midst of intense city life, would one feel oneself alone and adrift at sea? Why would one say such a silly thing as that it’s very very dangerous to live for even one day?

At sea: Well, that one’s not too hard. The phrase to be at sea conveys confusion, bewilderment, displacement to a wilderness; and the vast formless sea rising up in Clarissa’s mind in the midst of the sharply delimited city of forms communicates her psychic distance from the ongoingness of life, her preoccupation with the majesty and stupendousness and vacancy of death itself. For, having no religious frame (heaven; hell) in which to place, narrate, furnish the event, she can only summon up the strongest image possible of nothingness and separation from all people and things.

The day is like wide water, without sound.

***************************

And why does it feel exceedingly dangerous to live even one day?

Two reasons come to mind: First of all, very simply, life is in fact quite treacherous, moment to moment. Read Robert Louis Stevenson’s spectacular essay, “Aes Triplex,” for the best evocation of our ridiculous and noble denial of this reality. You are lazing on an elegant beach in Saint-Tropez. Just behind you fires rage in its beautiful forest, and in front of you the placid ocean is also a devourer.

But every day is dangerous as well because life is so seductive: “Heaven only knows why one loves it so.” But one does; almost everyone desperately loves life. So the danger life extends toward us as we rush to embrace it every day is the danger of being caught up in the lie that it never ends. (Freud: “To endure life remains, when all is said, the first duty of all living beings. Illusion can have no value if it makes this more difficult for us.”) Both Woolf and James Joyce set their novels (I have Ulysses in mind) in one day; we follow their characters through one morning, afternoon, and night, and then the novel ends with the night. This is fiction allowing us access to the truth of our brevity.

In Ulysses, at the graveside of his friend Paddy Dignam, Martin Cunningham laments: “In the midst of life…”

In the midst of life, we are in death.

At the end of the same episode, Joyce’s hero, Leopold Bloom, inverts this: “In the midst of death we are in life.”







A Note on Austen.

Coming soon.







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