(Maybe that’s what you’re seeing whenever you see a little swirling updraft of debris in the city: someone’s panic taking shape, someone’s death setting out to find their body.)—Ben Lerner, “Café Loup”
On the way to Pirsig Avenue
The houses along Maple were a free-for-all of competitive decoration, their shrubbery and railings and rooflines infested with green plastic vines bearing fruits in dull colors. It wasn’t clear to Marion that the charm of Christmas lights at night was enough to offset how ugly the hardware looked in daylight hours, of which there were many. Nor was it clear that the excitement of Christmas for children was enough to make up for the disenchanted drudgery of it in their adult years, of which there were likewise many.Jonathan Franzen, Crossroads (2021), p. 127
Roll over you great big indolent vole.—Ali Smith, Like (1997), p. 19
At the lake we stop and stretch and mingle affably with the small crowd of tourists holding cameras and children yelling, “Don’t get too close!” and see cars and campers with all different license plates, and see the Crater Lake with a feeling of “Well, there it is,” just as the pictures show. I watch the other tourists, all of whom seem to have out-of-place looks too. I have no resentment at all this, just a feeling that it’s all unreal and that the quality of the lake is smothered by the fact that it’s so pointed to. You point to something as having Quality and the Quality tends to go away. Quality is what you see out of the corner of your eye, and so I look at the lake below but feel the peculiar quality from the chill, almost frigid sunlight behind me, and the almost motionless wind.
“Why did we come here?” Chris says.
“To see the lake.”—Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (1974), p. 341
Something lost in translation
O my son! know thou that if the tail of the dog or the pig were ten cubits long it would not approach to the worth of the horse’s even if it were like silk.The Story of Ahikar 7:12, Rutherford Platt, ed.
Assume, then, a prospect of chaos in the streets, joined by every group on the island with a grudge. This would include nearly everyone but the OAG and his staff. Doubtless each would think only of his immediate desires. But mob violence, like tourism, is a kind of communion. By its special magic a large number of lonely souls, however heterogeneous, can share the common property of opposition to what is. And like an epidemic or earthquake the politics of the street can overtake even the most stable-appearing of governments; like death it cuts through and gathers in all ranks of society.—Thomas Pynchon, V. (1963), epilogue, “1919,” I
To say that [the revival of evangelical Christianity in the 1820s] marked a turn away from the spirit of the nation’s founding is to wildly understate the case. The United States was founded during the most secular era in American history, either before or since. In the late eighteenth century, church membership was low, and anticlerical feeling was high. It is no accident that the Constitution does not mention God….
The United States was not founded as a Christian nation. The Constitution prohibits religious tests for officeholders. The Bill of Rights forbids the federal government from establishing a religion, James Madison having argued that to establish a religion would be “to foster in those who still reject it, a suspicion that its friends are too conscious of its fallacies to trust it to its own merits.”—Jill Lepore, These Truths: A History of the United States (2018), pp. 199-200
‘I don’t suppose,’ said Sophy honestly, ‘that I should ever advise anyone to despair, for I can’t bear such poor-spirited conduct!’—Georgette Heyer, The Grand Sophy (1950)
Peter Schjeldahl, “The Art of Dying”:
I retain, but suspend, my personal taste to deal with the panoply of the art I see. I have a trick for doing justice to an uncongenial work: “What would I like about this if I liked it?” I may come around; I may not. Failing that, I wonder, What must the people who like this be like? Anthropology.
This book is the final chapter of, and the summation of, a work conceived and begun in 1925. Since the author likes to believe, hopes that his entire life’s work is a part of a living literature, and since “living” is motion, and “motion” is change and alteration and therefore the only alternative to motion is un-motion, stasis, death, there will be found discrepancies and contradictions in the thirty-four-year progress of this particular chronicle; the purpose of this note is simply to notify the reader that the author has already found more discrepancies and contradictions than he hopes the reader will—contradictions and discrepancies due to the fact that the author has learned, he believes, more about the human heart and its dilemma than he knew thirty-four years ago; and is sure that, having lived with them that long time, he knows the characters in this chronicle better than he did then.W.F. [William Faulkner, preface to The Mansion (1959)]
Samuel Pepys lays down a paper trail:
…and that I do foresee the Duke of York would call us to an account why the fleete is not abroad, and we cannot answer otherwise than our want of money; and that indeed we do not do the King any service now, but do rather abuse and betray his service by being there, and seeming to do something, while we do not. Sir G. Carteret asked me (just in these words, for in this and all the rest I set down the very words for memory sake, if there should be occasion) whether 50l. or 60l. would do us any good; and when I told him the very rum man must have 200l., he held up his eyes as if we had asked a million. Sir W. Coventry told the Duke of York plainly he did rather desire to have his commission called in than serve in so ill a place, where he cannot do the King service, and I did concur in saying the same. This was all very plain, and the Duke of York did confess that he did not see how we could do anything without a present supply of 20,000l., and that he would speak to the King next Council day, and I promised to wait on him to put him in mind of it. This I set down for my future justification, if need be, and so we broke up, and all parted, Sir W. Coventry being not very well, but I believe made much worse by this night’s sad discourse.
For Leta: 9
SAM. Y’know, you let somebody in, you know, and then, you make room. And they go. And (yeah) the room’s still there.—GLOW, s2 e10
Don’t ask Eliot
A jewel of a simile in Alex Ross’s survey of composer and performer Tyshawn Sorey:
Anyone who worries whether Sorey has the chops to create “normal” music can sample “Movement,” on Alloy, which opens with a ravishingly melancholy piano solo in F-sharp minor. It’s a bit like Alban Berg playing piano in a hotel lounge at the end of the world.
LINCOLN. People are funny about they Lincoln shit. Its historical. People like they historical shit in a certain way. They like it to unfold the way they folded it up. Neatly like a book. Not raggedy and bloody and screaming.—Suzan-Lori Parks, Topdog/Underdog
Within you without you
Jackson [Pollock] had said, “I am nature.” In her paintings, Lee [Krasner] recognized nature as within us, without us, before us, and after us. As a continuum. As a religion. Humankind formed a part of it, but not nearly so significant a part as it imagined. (pp. 631-632)—Mary Gabriel, Ninth Street Women (2018)