I don’t consciously avoid metaphors, or similes for that matter. If they don’t happen in my writing, it may be because I find the thing I am writing about compelling enough without comparing it to something else. Maybe I don’t want to introduce some completely different world or image. For instance, in the case of the cornmeal making little drops of condensation in the story “Cornmeal,” I could say, “like little nipples on the underside of the plate,” but then you introduce nipples into the story. Or dew drops—“like little dew drops”—but then you introduce the outdoor landscape. If I avoid metaphor, and if I have to think of a reason why, it may be that I don’t want to distract from the one thing that I’m concentrating on, and a metaphor immediately does that. It introduces some completely, even incongruous, other image and world. And it can work very beautifully, but maybe I don’t want to leave the scene of what I’m describing.—Lydia Davis, Art of Fiction No. 227, The Paris Review no. 212
Footnote of the month:
La tête d’un homme [by Georges Simenon] was adapted again in 1949, to lesser effect, as The Man on the Eiffel Tower. A clunky color spectacular starring Charles Laughton as Maigret, it is mostly notable for its location shooting in Paris, and for being directed by co-star Burgess Meredith, who took over after Laughton had the original director fired.—Jake Hinkson, “Georges Simenon: The Father of European Noir,” Noir City no. 22
This is what we so often find when searching for history—emptiness, quiet, acres of mowed grass. Battlefields where hundreds of men died on a single day become vast, pristine lawns, as lovely as a landscape by Constable or van Gogh, and historic birthplaces are so lovingly maintained that it’s hard to believe anyone ever lived there. Edith Wharton’s cellar becomes a gift shop. In the cemetery quiet of these places, all the clangor and hell of actual history—the smell of manure where horses were bedded, earth scorched from fire pits or cannonball explosions, the stench from bayonets ripping flesh—has been sanitized away. While preserving history, we remove it. There’s nothing wrong with this, of course, and I’d rather see a beautifully maintained battlefield than a Wal-Mart parking lot. But that is what we’re doing while visiting historic space. It’s Versailles without the hideously overdressed and clownish aristocrats, a Potemkin village without the rotting slums behind the facades.—Rinker Buck, The Oregon Trail (2015), chap. 16, pp. 215-216
“You have heard that it was said to the men of old, ‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be liable to the hell of fire. So if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Make friends quickly with your accuser, while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison; truly, I say to you, you will never get out till you have paid the last penny.”—Matthew 5:21-26
RUTH. Is that places?
SAM. Sure, Ruth. Places.
RUTH and DEBBIE. Thank you, places.GLOW, s1 e7
Moreover, as anyone who’s ever owned a remote control can tell you, new technologies themselves are often infuriatingly unfindable, a problem made worse by the trend toward ever smaller gadgets. It is difficult to lose an Apple IIe, easier to lose a laptop, a snap to lose a cell phone, and nearly impossible not to lose a flash drive. Then, there is the issue of passwords, which are to computers what socks are to washing machines. The only thing in the real or the digital world harder to keep track of than a password is the information required to retrieve it, which is why it is possible, as a grown adult, to find yourself caring about your first-grade teacher’s pet iguana’s maiden name.
JIM. Woulda come to your aid there, only I’m dealing with a little, uh, issue.
RUSS. Oh yeah?
JIM. Piano I told ya about?
JIM. Didya ever… (lowers voice) … ever need a truss? Have to wear one of those?
RUSS. Uhhhh… Don’t recall.
JIM. Oh, you’d recall it if you did.
RUSS. Guess not, then.
JIM. Then you are a fortunate man.
RUSS. I hear you.
JIM. Bend the knees or suffer the consequences.
RUSS. Yup.—Bruce Norris, Clybourne Park, act 1
Whoever touches pitch will be defiled,
and whoever associates with a proud man will become like him.
Do not lift a weight beyond your strength,
nor associate with a man mightier and richer than you.
How can the clay pot associate with the iron kettle?
The pot will strike against it, and will itself be broken.
A rich man does wrong, and he even adds reproaches;
a poor man suffers wrong, and he must add apologies.
A rich man will exploit you if you can be of use to him,
but if you are in need he will forsake you.
If you own something, he will live with you;
he will drain your resources and he will not care.
When he needs you he will deceive you,
he will smile at you and give you hope.
He will speak to you kindly and say, “What do you need?”
He will shame you with his foods,
until he has drained you two or three times;
and finally he will deride you.
Should he see you afterwards, he will forsake you,
and shake his head at you.—Sirach 13:1-7
That’s how it was. It was like we had had something in Jefferson for eighteen years and whether it has been right or whether it had been wrong to begin with didn’t matter anymore now because it was ours, we had lived with it and now it didn’t even show a scar, like the nail driven into the tree years ago that violated and outraged and anguished that tree. Except that the tree hasn’t got much choice either: either to put principle above sap and refuse the outrage and next year’s sap both, or accept the outrage and the sap for the privilege of going on being a tree as long as it can, until in time the nail disappears. It dont go away; it just stops being so glaring in sight, barked over; there is a lump, a bump of course, but after a while the other trees forgive that and everything else accepts that tree and that bump too until one day the saw or the axe goes into it and hits that old nail.—William Faulkner, The Town, chap. 19
Quoted in this blog several years ago, even more apposite now:
ROY COHN. So send me my pills, with a get-well bouquet, PRONTO, or I’ll ring up CBS and sing Mike Wallace a song: (Sotto voce, with relish) the ballad of adorable Ollie North and his secret contra slush fund. (He holds the phone away from his ear; Martin is excited.) Oh you only think you know all I know. I don’t even know what all I know. Half the time I just make it up, and it still turns out to be true!—Tony Kushner, Angels in America: Perestroika, Act 1 (“Spooj”) sc. 5
And yes, sure Shnorhk could
offer bottled water. And yes, more
is under pedal, but this makes little
difference here. Waste of fuel only.
Even if for customer Shnorhk still
pass car ahead.
Faster is meaning always out-
running time to keep from running
out of time. This passing, though, is
just passing time.—Mark Z. Danielewski, The Familiar, Volume 2, “Into the Forest,” p. 675
How else can we explain the fact that there is no physical unity to the work of art? What does a urinal have in common with a work on canvas, or a song, or a building, or an altarpiece? Artworks are dead in themselves, like mere noise or useless stuff. We bring them to life by putting them to work in thought, conversation, and appreciation. They have power in the way that jokes have power, as moves in a game of communication and reflection. Maker and public jointly undertake the work that makes art possible.—Alva Noë, Strange Tools: Art and Human Nature, p. 137
…no one really knows a bird until he has seen it in flight. Since my year upon the dunes, spent in a world of magnificent fliers, I have been tempted to believe that the relation of the living bird with its wings folded to the living bird in flight is almost that of the living bird to the same bird stuffed. In certain cases, the difference between the bird on the wing and the bird at rest is so great that one might be watching two different creatures. Not only do colours and new arrangements of colours appear in flight, there is also a revelation of personality.—Henry Beston, The Outermost House, chap. V
[Faber:] “Do you know why books such as this are so important? Because they have quality. And what does the word quality mean? To me it means texture. This book has pores. It has features. This book can go under the microscope. You’d find life under the glass, streaming past in infinite profusion. The more pores, the more truthfully recorded details of life per square inch you can get on a sheet of paper, the more ‘literary’ you are. That’s my definition, anyway. Telling detail. Freshdetail. The good writers touch life often.”—Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451 (1953)
Cannery Row, like every place else, is not superstitious but will not walk under a ladder or open an umbrella in the house. Doc was a pure scientist and incapable of superstition and yet when he came in late one night and found a line of white flowers across the doorsill he had a bad time of it. But most people in Cannery Row simply do not believe in such things and then live by them.—John Steinbeck, Cannery Row, chapter 25
A quick search doesn’t turn up anything relating to white flowers across the doorsill and their insalubrious nature. Any suggestions?