“Even when it turns its thoughts to death, true art…

… seeks a path to affirmation. Schubert’s meditations on death, in the last piano sonata, D960, the slow movement of the String Quintet in C, D956, and the incomparable String Quartet in G major, D887, are among the profoundest testimonies in art to the beauty of life and the pain of losing it; they are also true gestures of acceptance – since that which is accepted is neither sentimentalized nor set aside, but confronted in all its unspeakable darkness.”

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[A] man of extraordinary intellect, learning and humour, a great supporter of central European dissidents, and the kind of provocative – sometimes outrageous – conservative thinker that a truly liberal society should be glad to have challenging it. Timothy Garton Ash

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Roger Scruton, 1944 – 2020

“Impeachment! One third of the alphabet!”

Just wondering what my beloved Nabokov would say this morning.

“I can see the paragraphs I’m writing as little jail cells, penning me into perspectives, conceits, ideas, jokes, and memories – stories! Not an original type of anxiety, for a writer.”

Writers can only be so conscientious about truth before becoming paralyzed…

We have lousy memories. Proust had a lousy memory. (There is no “little patch of yellow wall” in Vermeer’s “View of Delft.”). Memory is a liar. It’s a heap of dog-eared, smudged, incessantly revised fictions. The stories make cumulative lies – or, give us a break, conjecture – of our lives…

Meaning is so much better than nothing, in that it defines “nothing” as everything that meaning is not. Meaning prevents nothing from being only nothing.

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The spectacular writer and art critic Peter Schjeldahl thinks about life as he approaches death.

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On meaning and nothing, see also John Cheever:

Fiction is art and art is the triumph over chaos (no less) and we can accomplish this only by the most vigilant exercise of choice, but in a world that changes more swiftly than we can perceive there is always the danger that our powers of selection will be mistaken and that the vision we serve will come to nothing.

Lines Written at Seventy-One.

Scathing Online Schoolmarm howled with laughter through this wonderful essay. But she’s a mere sixty-six. Your mileage may differ.

***********

But this, by Roger Angell, is even better. I’ve mulled over this paragraph for years.

“My list of names [of dead friends] is banal but astounding, and it’s barely a fraction, the ones that slip into view in the first minute or two. Anyone over sixty knows this; my list is only longer. I don’t go there often, but, once I start, the battalion of the dead is on duty, alertly waiting. Why do they sustain me so, cheer me up, remind me of life? I don’t understand this. Why am I not endlessly grieving?”

As for Peter Handke, the other Nobel recipient: A long time ago, UD read A Sorrow Beyond Dreams…

… and I suspect she did so because of her father’s suicide. It’s a meditation on Handke’s mother’s suicide. I don’t own the book, but Jeffrey Eugenides’ introduction brought the thing back to me:

[This is] … a rigorous demonstration of the failure of language to express the horror of existence. The American postmodernists gave up on traditional storytelling out of an essentially playful, optimistic, revolutionary urge. Handke despairs of narrative out of sheer despair.

… There is something funny about nihilism, and about super-depressing artworks by German members of the Generation of ’68. But this darkness arises directly out of German and Austrian history, a welter of grief and guilt that is only now, half a century after the German genocide, beginning to lift.

‘As public intellectual, [and] feminist vegetarian, she has frequently rankled the conservative edges of Poland.’

Oh good.

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Lots of good stuff about Tokarczuk here.

Hitchens on Orwell

What [Orwell] knew … was that there was a filthy secret at the heart of power, and that secret was in a sense a pornographic secret – that some people don’t even need [an] excuse to wield power – they won’t even say we’re doing it for your own good or to civilize your colony, or to save you from communism, or to save you from fascism or to liberate you from capitalism… We’re in power because we like it. We’re in power because we enjoy punishing people. We’re in power because we enjoy owning people. We enjoy telling them what they can do. We enjoy telling them when we feel like having sex with them and when we don’t. We do this for its own sake. The pornography element of power is a very important thing to understand… It’s an exercise of sheer cruelty, and I think it was a tremendous advantage to Orwell as a writer to have understood this from the start…

“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.

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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.

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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.







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