Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Cloudbursts and demolition crews

1. A crash blossom (via Austen; cannot find article online): "Great white attacks seal off Carpinteria" -- this is the relevant story.

2. Parallel passages. Credit for noticing these goes to Calista.

A. Bohumil Hrabal, I Served the King of England:
[...] soon it was all I wanted to do too, walk up and down the platform several times a day selling hot frankfurters for one crown eighty apiece. Sometimes the passenger would only have a twenty-crown note, sometimes a fifty, and I'd never have the change, so I'd pocket his note and go on selling until finally the customer got on the train, worked his way to a window, and reached out his hand. Then I'd put down the caddy of hot frankfurters and fumble about in my pocket for the change, and the fellow would yell at me to forget the coins and just give him the notes. Very slowly I'd start patting my pockets, and the dispatcher would blow his whistle, and very slowly I'd ease the notes out of my pocket, and the train would start moving, and I'd trot alongside it, and when the train had picked up speed I'd reach out so that the notes would just barely brush the tips of the fellow's fingers, and sometimes he'd be leaning out so far that someone inside would have to hang on to his legs, and one of my customers even beaned himself on a signal post. But then the fingers would be out of reach and I'd stand there panting, the money still in my outstretched hand, and it was all mine. 
B. Terry Southern, "Grand Guy Grand":
The hotdog-man, in trying to utilize all their remaining time, passed the hotdog to Grand and reached into his change pocket even before having looked carefully at the bill—so that by the time he made out its denomination, he was running almost full tilt, grimacing oddly and shaking his head, trying to return the bill with one hand and recover the hotdog with the other. During their final seconds together, with the hotdog-man’s last overwhelming effort to reach his outstretched hand, Grand reached into his own coat pocket and took out a plastic, animal-mask—that of a pig—which he quickly donned before beginning to gorge the hotdog in through the mouth of the mask, at the same time reaching out wildly for the bill, yet managing somehow to keep it just beyond his finger’s grasp, and continuing with this while the distance between the two men lengthened, hopelessly, until at last the hotdog-man stood exhausted on the end of the platform, still holding the five-hundred dollar bill, and staring after the vanishing train.
The past two weeks have been good; various research things are moving forward and should be digested and voided as papers soon. I have also been reading a string of very good books -- Woodcutters, Manservant and Maidservant, The Fountain Overflows, Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age, and now I've acquired as much of Hrabal as is in the library. I can't imagine why I wasn't told to read him earlier; apart from the obvious visceral appeal there are affinities with Bernhard and even with Sebald -- e.g., from Too Loud a Solitude
Books have taught me the joy of devastation: I love cloudbursts and demolition crews, I can stand for hours watching the carefully coordinated pumping motions of detonation experts as they blast entire houses, entire streets, into the air while seeming only to fill tires.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Snail-nosed and glassy-eyed

It has been long enough since the last post that I've been asked whether I've given up blogging. I certainly don't mean to; I have just been a little crippled by anxiety for the past month, and in this state of mind one is more impatient than appreciative of the internet. (I suppose I could have posted about the books I've read, but I'm reluctant to do so as (a) I'd just be exposing my ignorance, (b) I have a terrible reviewing voice; I tend to PRONOUNCE on things in the worst undergraduate way, and such posts are painful to reread. I was recently skimming Lowell's critical prose and it struck me as stylistically very bad -- though clever and observant beyond anything I could aspire to -- for utterly familiar reasons. The judicial stance is dangerous for anyone who finds it appealing, and the only easy way out of this pass is never to write with primarily evaluative intent.)

(I will note, in passing, this remark by Brad Leithauser about Cheever and Lowell, which I think contains a dangerous implication:
We learn that one character’s “sense of these aspects of privacy was scrupulous and immutable” and that another’s “imagination remained resilient and fertile.” The high-flown adjective pair was for Cheever what the incongruous adjective triplet (“orange, bland, ambassadorial”) was to Robert Lowell: an opportunity to record a legible signature in an extremely confined space.
It is true that grammatical templates like this can be effective when used well; that one becomes better with practice at filling them in effectively; and that this eventual richness can compensate for the dangers of self-parody. Phrases like "flabby, bald, lobotomized" suggest that a one-track mind is not always a bad thing. But to appreciate mannerisms just for being mannerisms, to praise writers for the sameness of their special effects -- as Leithauser seems to -- is indulgent in ways that make my flesh creep; perhaps it is an error everyone falls into with favorite writers -- Auden, in my case -- but it is an error for all that.)

A few linked pairs of pictures and quotes:

Snout 1 (via Jenny Davidson):

Snout 2, an almost-ouroboros ("the great sea serpent" it seems):

Self-involved hawk 2 (see also): 

Passage 1a (from Rebecca West, The Fountain Overflows):
When we reached Edinburgh I awoke, feeling warm and babyish and contented, and the pain was so much less that I could hop with joy as we went along Princes Street, because of the splendor of the castle high on its rock over the trough of the green gardens, all the majesty of the city that lives more masterfully among its hills than Rome itself. But when I said, "Isn't it beautiful? Isn't it beautiful?" Mamma made no answer. 
Passage 1b (Beckett, "The End"):
The earth makes a sound as of sighs and the last drops fall from the emptied cloudless sky. A small boy, stretching out his hands and looking up at the blue sky, asked his mother how such a thing was possible. Fuck off, she said.
Passages 2 (via Calista):
Plath, the cadaver-room poem: "in their jars the snail-nosed babies moon and glow"; out-of-context Lowell [i.e., "For the Union Dead"]: "once my nose crawled like a snail on the glass"