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.


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.


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.


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.

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