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)
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.
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
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
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)
One of the most difficult things of all is not to have the painting be a depiction of the event but the event itself. That is the difference between great art and mediocre art. Most art looks like it is talking about something that happened some other place.—Grace Hartigan, quoted in Mary Gabriel, Ninth Street Women (2018), p. 487
Now, the linden, it turns out, is a radical tree, as different from an oak as a woman is from a man. It’s the bee tree, the tree of peace, whose tonics and teas can cure every kind of tension and anxiety—a tree that cannot be mistaken for any other, for alone in all the catalog of a hundred thousand earthly species, its flowers and tiny hard fruit hang down from surfboard bracts whose sole perverse purpose seems to be to state its own singularity.—Richard Powers, The Overstory, p. 72
Mamie Johnson remembers mid-fifties life on the road for the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro leagues, in Michelle Y. Green’s first-person biography, A Strong Right Arm: The Story of Mamie “Peanut” Johnson:
Sometimes that raggedy old bus would break down and we’d wear our muscles out before the game pushing it uphill. And we never knew if we had enough gas to make it from place to place, ’cause some of the towns we stopped in had “Whites-Only” gas pumps. That never made sense to me. Seems like if folks were so anxious to get rid of colored folks, they’d want to give us the gas we needed to get on down the road. (p. 86)
Cecil Taylor’s passing reminds me of my favorite passage from Craig Lucas, from scene 2 of Blue Window. It’s a good thing that I have a printed copy to refer to, because my recollection of the dialogue, from a production I saw 22 years ago, is faulty.
At a small gathering/party of friends, Tom has put a recording of Cecil Taylor on the sound system.
TOM. But I don’t know if you can hear it, but I mean, he’s literally rethinking what you can do with melody. He’s changing all the rules from the ground up.
* * *
TOM. Like a painter. He’s breaking it up, you know, and putting some parts of it in front of where they belong and he’s splitting up tonalities and colors, shapes —
ALICE. Splitting up did you say?
ALICE. No, I know, I was…
TOM. He’s literally challenging you to hear it, you know, rehear it. What is music?
GRIEVER. No, I know, but this isn’t like a famous melody? Or –?
TOM. Why not?
GRIEVER. I mean it isn’t like “Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens” backwards or something.
For some reason I always want to remember that as “‘Mairzy Doats’ upside down and backwards.”
Google, his mother says. The new new found land. Not so long ago it was only the mentally deranged, the unworldly pedants, the imperialists and the naivest of schoolchildren who believed that encyclopaediae gave you any equivalence for the actual world, or any real understanding of it. And door-to-door salesmen sold them, and they were never to be trusted. And even the authorized encyclopaediae, even them we never mistook for or accepted as any real knowledge of the world. But now the world trusts search engines without a thought. The canniest door-to-door salesmen ever invented. Never mind foot in the door. Already right at the heart of the house.—Ali Smith, Winter, pp. 192-193
And whoever makes up the story makes up the world, Daniel said. So always try to welcome people into the home of your story. That’s my suggestion.—Ali Smith, Autumn, p. 119