The best blues, 1942

This is not Klak’s Store. But this could be what it looked like.


‘I don’t know where Son [House] took me. Down dusty roads, along a railroad track, into the back of an ageing country grocery store that smelt of liquorice and dill pickles and snuff. Of all of my times with the blues this was the best one, better than Leadbelly, better than Josh White, Son Terry, and all the rest of them. There was a harmonica player who howled and whined through his instrument like a hound dog on a hot trail. There was a mandolin player who did not pick his instrument delicately, but trailed cascades of blue-silver chords that lit up the harmonica’s chase like the hot moonlight of Southern midsummer nights. A second guitarist picked bass-string obbligato to the big country feet that whoomped out the rhythm and turned the whole frame building into a huge African drum. At the centre of all this was Son House, a man transformed, no longer the quiet affable person I had met, but possessed by the song, as Gypsies in Spain are possessed, gone blind with music and poetry.’
Alan Lomax, The Land Where The Blues Began

Fiddling Joe Martin played mandolin, Leroy Jones played harmonica, and, to my surprise, William Brown turned up to play second guitar.

on Don Juan

I still had the habit of consulting books on my problems, and I tried to fathom the mystery of irresistibility by studying the literature on Don Juan. It didn’t help. Moliére’s Don Juan had pride and daring, but was a rather boorish troublemaker; and Shaw’s version suggested that to be successul with women one must dislike them and flee from them. The only artist who really understood DonJuan, I felt, was Mozart. In the libretto, Mozart’s Don wasn’t so different from Moliere’s, but the music spoke of a great man. The trouble was, I couldn’t translate music into psychological insights – beyond Don Giovanni’s love of life and the wide range of his sensibilities. The psychoanalytic essays on Don Juan were no use at all. They presented him as a repressed homosexual or an egomaniac with an inferiority complex, or a psychopath who had no feeling for others — in short, as an emotional cripple who would find it difficult to seduce a girl on a desert island.

[ In Praise of Older Woman, Stephen Vizinczey ]

It’s a thin book, easy to read, which i chose because i wanted a book set in Hungary under stalin which wasn’t just all about the horror. It was that. Erotic without being pornographic, set in an opressive world without being too concerned with opression, it gave some feel for the way life was carried out during those years.
but then… the postscript. and profound and thoughtful reflection on the function of story and moral, on freedom and despair, on sexuality and community in the 20th century. it’s only 7 pages long but worth finding the book just to read it. That quote was not from the postscript, it was one of the better musings from the protagonist.

Holiness in The Grapes of Wrath

“I been thinkin’,” he said. “I been in the hills, thinkin’ almost you might say like Jesus went into the wilderness to think His way out of a mess of troubles.”
“Pu-raise Gawd!” Granma said, and the preacher glanced over at her in surprise.
“Seems like Jesus got all messed up with troubles, and He couldn’t figure nothin’ out, an’ He got to feelin’ what the hell good is it all, an’ what’s the use fightin’ an’ figurin’. Got tired, got good an’ tired, an’ His sperit all wore out. Jus’ about come to the conclusion, the hell with it. An’ so He went off into the wilderness.”
“A-men,” Granma bleated. So many years she had timed her responses to the pauses. And it was so many years since she had listened to or wondered at the words used.
“I ain’t sayin’ I’m like Jesus,” the preacher went on. .”But I got tired like Him, an’ I got mixed up like Him, an’ I went into the wilderness like Him, without no campin’ stuff. Nighttime I’d lay on my back an’ look up at the stars; morning I’d set an’ watch the sun come up; midday I’d look out from a hill at the rollin’ dry country; evenin’ I’d foller the sun down. Sometimes I’d pray like I always done. On’y I couldn’ figure what I was prayin’ to or for. There was the hills, an’ there was me, an’ we wasn’t separate no more. We was one thing. An’ that one thing was holy.”
“Hallelujah,” said Granma, and she rocked a little, back and forth, trying to catch hold of an ecstasy.
“An’ I got thinkin’, on’y it wasn’t thinkin’, it was deeper down than thinkin’ I got thinkin’ how we was holy when we was one thing, an’ mankin’ was holy when it was one thing. An’ it on’y got unholy w,hen one mis’able little fella got the bit in his teeth an run off his own way, kickin’ an draggin’ an’ fightin’. Fella like that bust the holiness. But when they’re all workin’ together, not one fella for another fella, but one fella kind of harnessed to the whole shebang, that’s right, that’s holy. An’ then I got thinkin’ I don’t even know what I mean by holy.” He paused, but the bowed heads stayed down, for they had been trained like dogs to rise at the “amen” signal. “I can’t say no grace like I use’ ta say. I’m glad of the holiness of breakfast. I’m glad there’s love here. That’s all.”

The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck, p81

Here’s a nice little presentation thingy with a set of quotes about God from The Grapes of Wrath

pain, joy, and calm : Ma Joad in The Grapes of Wrath

Ma was heavy, but not fat; thick with child-bearing and work. She wore a loose Mother Hubbard of gray cloth in which there had once been colored flowers, but the color was washed out now, so that the small flowered pattern was only a little lighter gray than the background. The dress came down to her ankles, and he strong, broad, bare feet moved quickly and deftly over the floor. Her thin, steel-gray hair was gathered in a sparse wispy knot at the back of her head. Strong, freckled arms were bare to the elbow, and her hands were chubby and delicate, like those of a plump little girl. She looked out into the sunshine. Her full face was not soft; it was controlled, kindly. Her hazel eyes seemed to have experienced all possible tragedy and to have mounted pain and suffering like steps into a high calm and a superhuman understanding. She seemed to know, to accept, to welcome her position, the citadel of the family, the strong place that could not be taken. And since old Tom and the children could not know hurt or fear unless she acknowledged hurt and fear, she had practiced denying them in herself. And since, when a joyful thing happened, they looked to see whether joy was on her, it was her habit to build up laughter out of inadequate materials. But better than joy was calm. Imperturbability could be depended upon. And from her great and humble position in the family she had taken dignity and a clean calm beauty. From her position as healer, her hands had grown sure and cool and quiet; from her position as arbiter she had become as remote and faultless in judgment as a goddess. She seemed to know that if she swayed the family shook, and if she ever really deeply wavered or despaired the family would fall, the family will to function would be gone.

The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck, p74

The Lord Of The Rings : when the world was changed

He prepared then the greatest armament that the world had seen, and when all was ready he sounded his trumpets and set sail; and he broke the Ban of the Valar, going with war to wrest everlasting life from the Lords of the West. But when Ar-Pharazôn set foot upon the shores of Aman the Blessed, the Valar laid down their Guardianship and called upon the One, and the world was changed. Numenor was thrown down and swallowed in the Sea, and the undying Lands were removed for ever from the circles of the world. So ended the glory of Númenor.

p. 280

Oliver Sacks on rhythm

Rhythm turns listeners into participants, makes listening active and motoric, and synchronises the brains and minds (and, since emotion is always intertwined with music, the “hearts”) of all who participate. It is very difficult to remain detached, to resist being drawn into the rhythm of chanting or dancing.

[Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain by Oliver Sacks ch.20]

The Lord Of The Rings : strength and refreshment

Sing hey! for the bath at close of day
That washes the weary mud away!
A loon is he that will not sing:
O! Water Hot is a noble thing!

O! Sweet is the sound of falling rain,
and the brook that leaps from hill to plain;
but better than rain or rippling streams
is Water Hot that smokes and steams.

O! Water cold we may pour at need
down a thirsty throat and be glad indeed;
but better is Beer, if drink we lack,
and Water Hot poured down the back.

O! Water is fair that leaps on high
in a fountain white beneath the sky;
but never did fountain sound so sweet
as splashing Hot Water with my feet!
p. 104

The road must be trod, but it will be very hard. And neither strength nor wisdom will carry us far upon it. This quest may be attempted by the weak with as much hope as the strong. Yet such is oft the course of deeds that move the wheels of the world: small hands do them because they must, while the eyes of the great are elsewhere.
p. 258

TLotR
book I

Milan Kundera – Karenin the dog

At six the alarm went off. Karenin’s great moment had arrived. He always woke up much earlier than they did, but did not dare to disturb them. He would wait impatiently for the alarm, because it gave him the right to jump up on their bed, trample their bodies, and butt them with his muzzle. for a time they had tried to curb him and pushed him off the bed, but he was more headstrong than they were and ended by defending his rights. Lately, Tereza realized, she positively enjoyed being welcomed into the day be Karenin. Waking up was sheer delight for him: he always showed a naive and simple amazement at the discovery that he was back on earth; he was sincerely pleased.

….

At three o’clock that morning [after the operation], he suddenly woke them up, wagging his tail and climbing all over them, cuddling up to them, unable to have his fill.
It was the first time he’d ever got them up, too! He had always waited until one of them woke up before he dared jump on them. But when he suddenly came to in the middle of the night, he could not control himself. Who can tell what distances he covered on his way back? Who knows what phantoms he battled? And now that he was at home with his dear ones, he felt compelled to share his overwhelming joy, a joy of return and rebirth.

….

…. Nor had she ever asked herself the questions that plague human couples: Does he love me? Does he love anyone more than me? Does he love me more than I love him? Perhaps all the questions we ask of love, to measure, test, probe, and save it, have the additional effect of cutting it short… Tereza accepted Karenin for what he was; she did not try to make him over in her image; she agreed from the outset with his dog’s life, did not wish to deprive him of it, did not envy him his secret intrigues… But most of all: No one can give anyone else the gift of the idyll; only an animal can do so, because only animals were not expelled from Paradise. The love between dog and man is idyllic. It knows no conflicts, no hair-raising scenes; it knows no development. Karenin surrounded Tereza and Tomas with a life based on repetition, and he expected the same from them.

….

“He’s doing it for us,” said Tereza. “He didn’t want to go for a walk. He’s just doing it to make us happy.”

[The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera]

that made me so sad when i first read it

The Lord Of The Rings : FinalWords

This morning i finished reading The Lord Of The Rings. Haven’t read it since the films came out. I enjoyed the original slow version of the story, but i had forgotten how amazing the language is. Here are the last few sentences of the last appendix :

[The elves] were a race high and beautiful, the older Children of the world, and among them the Eldar were as kings, who now are gone; the People of the Great Journey, the people of the Stars. they were tall, fair of skin and grey-eyed, though their locks were dark, save in the golden house of Finarfin; and their voices had more melodies than any mortal voice that now is heard. They were valiant, but the history of those that returned to Middle-earth in exile was grievous; and though it was in far-off days crossed by the fate of the Fathers, their fate is not that of Men. Their dominion passed long ago, and they dwell now beyond the circles of the world, and do not return.

Isaac Bashevis Singer : art and freedom

I had long ago formed the theory that freedom of choice was strictly individual.  Two people together had less choice than did one; the masses had virtually no choice at all.  A man who had a family had less choice than a bachelor; one who belonged to a party had less choice than his unaffiliated neighbour.  This went hand in hand with a theory of mine that human civilisation, and even human culture, strove to give mankind more choice, more free will.  I was still a pantheist, not of Spinoza’s school, but partly of the Cabala’s.  I identified love with freedom.  When a man loved a woman it was an act of freedom.  Love of God could not take place by commandment; it could only be an act of free will.  The fact that almost all creatures are born of a union between male and female was proof for me that life is an experiment in God’s laboratory of freedom.  Freedom could not remain passive, it wanted to create.  It wanted countless variations, possibilities, combinations.  It wanted love.

My bizarre fantasy concerning freedom of choice was also bound up with a theory of art.  Science was, at least provisionally, the teaching of constraint.  But art was in a sense the teaching of freedom.  It did what it wanted, not what it had to do.  The true artist was a free-willed man who did as he pleased.  Science was the product of teams of investigators: technology required a collective.  But art was created by a single individual.

[Meshugah by Isaac Bashevis Singer p. 225]

Marilyn and Virginia

i was listening to the counting crows.  this bit:

I was born on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay
But Maryland and Virginia have faded away
And I keep thinking tomorrow is coming today
So I am endlessly waiting

but what i heard was "Marilyn and Virginia had faded away", and i thought
wow, he's making some sort of nostalgic link between Marilyn Munroe and
Virginia Woolf. maybe between those two lie all the dead women of the
western world? maybe he felt that he was born after the smartest and sexiest
women had already died?  maybe America and England were in decline since
before he even got started?

it was a good moment, until i googled the lyrics and found out he meant
something much more mundane.

Dostoevsky on women

I’m not at all opposed to the present woman movement, Dmitri Fyodorovitch.  The development of woman, and even the political emancipation of woman in the near future – that’s my ideal.  I’ve a daughter myself, Dmitri Fyodorovitch, people don’t know that side of me.  I wrote a letter to the author, Shtchedrin, on that subject.  He has taught me so much, so much about the vocation of woman.  So last year I sent him an anonymous letter of two lines: “I kiss and embrace you, my teacher, for the modern woman.  Persevere.”  And I signed myself, “a Mother.”  I thought of signing myself “a contemporary Mother,” and hesitated, but I stuck to the simple “Mother”; there’s more moral beauty in that, Dmitri Fyodorovitch.

[The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky, end ch3]

of course these are not Dostoevsky’s sentiments, they are the sentiments of a character he invented

Greg Egan on caffeine

I woke every morning from five hours of enriched REM sleep, as wide-eyed and energetic as a hyperactive child, my head spinning with a thousand disintegrating dreams. I wouldn’t so much as yawn until eleven forty-five – but fifteen minutes later, I’d go out like a light. Melatonin was a natural circadian hormone, far safer and more precise in it’s effects than crude stimulants like caffeine or amphetamines (I’d tried caffeine a few times; it made me believe I was focused and energetic, but it turned my judgement to shit. Widespread use of caffeine explained a lot about the twentieth century.)

[Distress by Greg Egan p27]
(of course that isn’t what Greg thinks, it’s a thought he put into the head of one of his characters)

Jeanette Winterson and T.S.Eliot on time

Time. Newton visualized time as an arrow flying toward its target. Einstein understood time as a river, moving forward, forceful, directed, but also bowed, curved, sometimes subterranean, not ending but pouring itself into a greater sea. A river cannot flow against its current, but it can flow in circles, its eddies and whirlpools regularly break up its strong press forward. The riverrun is maverick, there is a high chance of cross current, a snag of time that returns us without warning to a place we thought we had sailed through long since.
Anyone to whom this happens clings faithfully to the clock; the hour will pass, we will certainly move on. Then we find the clock is neither raft nor lifebelt. the horological illusion of progress sinks. the past comes with us, like a drag-net of fishes. We tow it down river, people and things, emotions, time’s inhabitants, not left on shore way back, but still swimming close by.
A kick in the current twists you around, and suddenly we are caught in the net we made, the accumulations of a lifetime just under the surface. What were those stories about townships at the bottom of a river? Lost kingdoms tantalisingly visible when the water was calm? It is well-known that mermaids flash through the dark sea to swim like salmon against the river.
The unconscious, it seems, will not let go of its hoard. The past comes with us and occasionally kidnaps the present, so that the distinctions we depend on for safety, for sanity, disappear. Past. Present. Future. When this happens we are no longer sure of who we are, or perhaps we can no longer pretend to be sure who we are.
If time is a river then we shall all meet death by water.

[Gut Symmetries by Jeanette Winterson p.104]

IV. DEATH BY WATER

Phlebas the Phoenician, a fortnight dead,
Forgot the cry of gulls, and the deep sea swell
And the profit and loss.
A current under sea
Picked his bones in whispers. As he rose and fell
He passed the stages of his age and youth
Entering the whirlpool.
Gentile or Jew
O you who turn the wheel and look to windward,
Consider Phlebas, who was once handsome and tall as you.

[The Waste Land by T. S. Eliot]

(jeanette quotes The Love Song of Alfred J Prufrock in The Passion – “till human voices wake us”)

Mezz Mezzrow on Drums

(Mezz is on a big rave about where jazz went wrong … )

And then, to make things worse, along came an invention called the sock cymbal or highhat cymbal, and that was the end. This cymbal is played by the drummer with his left foot, as though he didn’t already have enough to do, what with his bass and snare drums and the cowbell and the woodblock and the rachet and the two or three Chinese and Turkish cymbals that real jazz drummers use. The result is a sort of topheavy effect, um-CHING, um-CHING, um-CHING for a beat instead of the steady tempo of the New Orleans drummers, and that strangles the rhythm so necessary to jazz. Now the tendency for the swing drummer is to play cymbal solos all the way through, fighting all the other musicians instead of helping to build them up. An offbeat ring comes out of his sock cymbal because the human body just isn’t constructed to do so many things all together – and that delayed CHING makes all the horn players fall into a kind of hesitation style, waiting for the drummer’s lagging cymbal beat before they can come up with their own notes. And they have to overblow their instruments, fighting to be heard above the drummer’s loud metallic hum; trumpets and clarinets go way up into their upper registers and become shrill and squealing, losing the rounded soulful tone of New Orleans music. Your improvisation, if you’re allowed any, isn’t built from a rich harmonic pattern any more, but centers around that clanging cymbal beat. Arrangers have to keep the sock cymbal in mind, and they build their orchestrations around it insted of using free chordal progressions, and all the New Orleans color is lost. When people with sensitive ears get apoplexy over the terrible din of so much modern swing and jump, they ought to remember that it’s not jazz they’re so horrified at. It’s the corruption of jazz that was brought about by the wrong, egocentric use of the piano, the individualistic sock cymbal, the modern-classical influence, and the terrible mechanization of today’s arrangements.

[ from Really the Blues, by Mezz Mezzrow

[barney says:

Whoa… and I thought jazz’s identity went south when Kenny G came along…
BUT then again, Imagine saying to any drummer now, “you have to play without that hi-hat cymbal”,
they’d have a fit!! They wouldn’t know what to do.
I’m with mezz, hi hats along with the other million things that happened after that. the internet for one.
I cant wait to be a grumpy old man and write a book of my own………
]

-> here’s another quote from Mezz, about the beauty of improvising with another human

Mezz Mezzrow on Harmony

I jumped into the harmony pattern like i was born to it, and never left the track for a moment. It was like slipping into a suit made to order for you by a tailor, silk-lined all through. When two musicians hit it off like that right from the start, a fine glow of ease and contentment creeps over them. They’ve reached a perfect understanding through their music; they’re friends, seeing eye to eye. Maybe there’s a parable here for the world. Two guys, complete strangers, face each other, and while one takes off on the lead, the other feeds the accompaniment to him, helping him to render his solo and making the solo richer, spurring him on and encouraging him all the way. One feeds harmony while the other speaks his piece on the horn, telling the world what’s on his mind, supported every inch of the way by his pal. It’s like a congregation backing up the minister’s words with whispered “Amen’s” at the right places. The congregation never stands up and hollers “Shut up! You’re a liar!” while the minister’s preaching – that would be dischord, the whole spell of being together and united in a common feeling would be broken. That’s how it is when you play music with a man you understand and who understands you. You preach to him with your horn and he answers back with his “Amen,” never contradicting you. You speak the same language , back each other up. Your message and his message fit together like pie and ice cream. When that happens, man, you know you’ve got a friend. You get that good feeling. You’re really sent.

Really The Blues, by Mezz Mezzrow

-> here’s another quote from Mezz, about when rhythm sections went wrong

C is for Copyright, P is for Politics

My two favourite definitions from Days Of War, Nights Of Love :

(C is for copyright)

we can throw out all superstitions surrounding the author’s signature… and see the signature for what it really is: another element of the composition itself.  The signing of a work is a part of the creative process: it offers a context in which the work will be interpreted… If one wanted to be honest, one would sign the name of one’s entire civilization to one’s poetry or pottery, and add to that the seal of the cosmos from which it arose.

(P is for Politics):

an afternoon of collecting food from businesses that would have thrown it away and serving it to hungry people and people who are tired of working to pay for food – that is good political action, but only if you enjoy it.  If you do it with your friends, if you meet new friends while you’re doing it, if you fall in love or trade funny stories or just feel proud to have helped a women by easing her financial need, that’s good political action.  On the other hand, if you spend the afternoon typing an angry letter to an obscure leftist tablid objecting to a columnists’ use of the term “anarcho-syndicalist”, that’s not going to accomplish shit, and you know it.

[Days of War, Nights of Love : Crimethinc for beginners]

Robert Farrar Capon on women and knives

One word about cleavers.

I still cannot conceive of a kitchen without one. If you use it for nothing more than cutting up fryers and dismembering turkey carcasses, it will be worth ten times its cost; and if you learn all its tricks, it will be priceless. Properly edged and skillfully used, a cleaver will prepare whole meals without the assistance of another knife.
But it does more. It bolsters your ego as a cook. Parting chickens with aplomb, you begin to believe you really might make it. And so does everyone else. A woman with cleaver in mid-swing is no mere woman. She breaks upon the eye of the beholder as an epiphany of power, as mistress of a house in which only trifles may be trifled with – and in which she defines the trifles. A man who has seen women only as gentle arrangers of flowers has not seen all that women have to offer. Unsuspected majesties await him.

[stuff about sharpening knives]
Your reward will be tools that help instead of hinder, that invite use rather than despair. Raw meat will not render you inoperative; you will approach ripe tomatoes as a virtuoso approaches difficult passage work: with confidence and delight in doing. You will become the Isaac Stern of the cutting board.
You will also be provided with an instant rejoinder to anyone who presumes to lecture you on housewifery as an abject capitulation to the feminine mystique. Simply let him see you presiding over your kitchen with steel in one hand and butcher knife in the other. Execute six well-drawn strokes, and his words will turn to ashes in his mouth. He was ready only for a maladjusted prisoner of the pantry; you have showed him instead one of the priestly archtypes of the race. Mystique indeed! He has hardly scratched the surface.
[The Supper of the Lamb p.62]

J.R.R.Tolkien The Gospels Contain A Fairy Story

This ‘joy’ which I have selected as the mark of the true fairy-story (or romance), or as the seal upon it, merits more consideration.

Probably every writer making a secondary world, a fantasy, every sub-creator, wishes in some measure to be a real maker, or hopes that he is drawing on reality; hopes that the peculiar quality of this secondary world (if not all the details) are derived from Reality, or are flowing into it. If he indeed achieves a quality that can fairly be described by the dictionary definition: “inner consistency of reality,’ it is difficult to conceive how this can be, if the work does not in some way partake of reality. The peculiar quality of the ‘joy’ in successful fantasy can thus be explained as a sudden glimpse of the underlying reality or truth. It is not only a ‘consolation’ for the sorrow of this world, but a satisfaction, and an answer to that question, ‘Is it true?’ The answer to this question that I gave at first was (quite rightly): ‘If you have built your little world well, yes: it is true in that world.’ That is enough for the artist (or the artist part of the artist). But in the ‘eucatastrophe’ we see in a brief vision that the answer may be greater-it may be a far-off gleam or echo of evangelium in the real world. The use of this word gives a hint of my epilogue. It is a serious and dangerous matter. It is presumptuous of me to touch upon such a theme; but if by grace what I say has in any respect any validity, it is, of course, only one facet of a truth incalculably rich: finite only because the capacity of Man for whom this was done is finite.

I would venture to say that approaching the Christian Story from this direction; it has long been my feeling (a joyous feeling) that God redeemed the corrupt making-creatures, men, in a way fitting to this aspect, as to others, of their strange nature. The Gospels contain a fairy-story, or a story of a larger kind which embraces all the essence of fairy-stories. They contain many marvels-peculiarly artistic,* beautiful, and moving: ‘mythical’ in their perfect, self-contained significance; and among the marvels is the greatest and most complete conceivable eucatastrophe. But this story has entered History and the primary world; the desire and aspiration of sub-creation has been raised to the fulfillment of Creation. The Birth of Christ is the eucatastrophe of Man’s history. The Resurrection is the eucatastrophe of the story of the Incarnation. This story begins and ends in joy. It has pre-eminently the “inner consistency of reality.’ There is no tale ever told that men would rather find was true, and none which so many skeptical men have accepted as true on its own merits. For the Art of it has the supremely convincing tone of Primary Art, that is, of Creation. To reject it leads either to sadness or to wrath.

“It is not difficult to imagine the peculiar excitement and joy that one would feel, if any specially beautiful fairy-story were found to be *primarily true, its narrative to be history, without thereby necessarily losing the mythical or allegorical significance that it had possessed. It is not difficult, for one is not called upon to try and conceive anything of a quality unknown. The joy would have exactly the same quality, if not the same degree, as the joy which the ‘turn* in a fairy-story gives such joy has the very taste of primary truth. (Otherwise its name would not be joy.) It looks forward (or backward: the direction in this regard is unimportant) to the Great Eucatastrophe. The Christian joy, the Gloria, is the same kind; but it is pre-eminently (infinitely, if our capacity were not finite) high and joyous. But this story is supreme; and it is true. Art has been verified. God is the Lord, of angels, and of men-and of elves. Legend and History have met and fused.

But in God’s kingdom the presence of the greatest does not depress the small. Redeemed Man is still man. Story, fantasy, still go on, and should go on. The Evangelium has not abrogated legends; it has hallowed them, especially the ‘happy ending.’ The Christian has still to work, with mind as well as body, to suffer, hope, and die; but he may now perceive that all his bents and faculties have a purpose, which can be redeemed. So great is the bounty with which he has been treated that he may now, perhaps, fairly dare to guess that in Fantasy he may actually assist in the effoliation and multiple enrichment of creation. All tales may come true; and yet, at the last, redeemed, they may be as like and as unlike the forms that we give them as Man, finally redeemed, will be like and unlike the fallen that we know.

JRRT On Fairy Stories Epilogue

Greg Egan on the future of advertising

Lack purpose and direction?  Axon has the answer!  Now, you can buy the goals you need!  Family life. . .  career success. . .  material wealth. . .  sexual fulfillment. . .  artistic expression. . .  spiritual enlightenment.  For more than twenty years, Axon has been helping you to attain life’s riches.  Now we can help you to want them.

[Quarantine by Greg Egan p. 61]

Johnny Got His Gun

He had a vision of himself as a new kind of Christ as a man who carries within himself all the seeds of a new order of things. He was the new messiah of the battlefields saying to people as I am so shall you be. For he had seen the future he had tasted it and now he was living it. He had seen the aeroplanes flying in the sky he had seen the skies of the future filled with them black with them and now he saw the horror beneath. He saw a world of lovers forever parted of dreams never consummated of plans that never turned into reality. He saw a world of dead fathers and crippled brothers and crazy screaming sons. He saw a world of armless mothers clasping headless babies to their breasts trying to scream out their grief from throats that were cancerous with gas. He saw starved cities black and cold and motionless and the only things in this whole dead terrible world that made a move or a sound were the aeroplanes that blackened the sky and far off against the horizon the thunder of the big guns and the puffs that rose from barren tortured earth when their shells exploded.

He was the future he was a perfect picture of the future and they were afraid to let anyone see what the future was like. Already they were looking ahead they were figuring the future and somewhere in the future they saw war. To fight that war they would;d need men and if men saw the future they wouldn’t fight. So they were masking the future they were keeping the future a soft quiet deadly secret. They knew that if all the little people all the little guys saw the future they would begin to ask questions. They would ask questions and they would find answers and they would say to the guys who wanted them to fight they would say you lying thieving sons-of-bitches we won’t fight we won’t be dead we will live we are the world we are the future and we will not let you butcher us no matter what you say no matter what speeches you make no matter what slogans you write. Remember it well we we we are the world we are what makes it go round we make bread and cloth and guns and we are the hub of the wheel and the spokes and the wheel itself without us you would be hungry naked worms and we will not die. We are immortal we are the sources of life we are the lowly despicable ugly people we are the great wonderful beautiful people of the world and we are sick of it we are utterly weary we are done with it forever and ever because we are the living and we will not be destroyed.

If you make a war if there are guns to be aimed if there are bullets to be fired if there are men to be killed they will not be us. they will not be us the guys who grow wheat and turn it into food the guys who make clothes and paper and houses and tiles and guys who build dams and power plants and string the long mourning high tension wires the guys who crack crude oil down into a dozen different parts who make light bulbs and sewing machines and shovels and automobiles and aeroplanes and tanks and guns oh no it will not be us who die. It will be you.

It will be you – you who urge us on to battle you who incite us against ourselves you who would have one cobbler kill another cobbler you who would have one man who works kill another man who works  you who would have one human being who wants only to live kill another human being who wants only to live. Remember this. Remember this well you people who plan for war. Remember this you patriots you fierce ones you spawners of hate you inventors of slogans. Remember this as you have never remembered anything else in your lives.

We are men of peace we are men who work and we want no quarrel. but if you destroy our peace if you take away our work if you try to range us one against the other we will know what to do. If you tell us to make the world safe for democracy  we will take you seriously and by god and by Christ we will make it so. We will use the guns you force upon us we will use them to defend our very lives and the menace to our lives does not lie on the other side of a nomansland that was set apart without our consent it lies within our own boundaries here and now we have seen it and we know it.

Put the guns into our hands ands we will use them.  Give us the slogans and we will turn them into realities.  Sing the battle hymns and we will take them up where you left off.  Not one not ten not ten thousand  not a million not ten million not a hundred million but a billion two billion of us all the people of the world we will have the slogans and we will have the hymns and we will have the guns and we will use them and we will live. Make no mistake of it we will live. We will be alive and we will walk and talk and eat and sing and laugh and feel and love and bear our children in tranquility in security in decency in peace. You plan the wars you masters of men plan the wars and point the way and we will point the gun.

[Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo ]

first published 1939.  so i guess that idea didn’t work out.

Status Anxiety by Alain de Botton

a book (a bestseller, in fact):
by Thomas P Hunt, 1836
The Book of Wealth: In Which it is Proved from the Bible that it is the Duty
of Every Man to Become Rich.
p.86

“In every country the principal entertainment of society has become card
playing. It is a measure of the worth of society and the declared bankruptcy
of all ideas and thoughts… The term coquin meprisable [contemptible rogue]
is alas applicable to an unholy number of people in thie world.”
[Parerga and Paralipomena]
p.127

Alain quotes Schopenhauer as quoting Voltaire as saying “La terre est
couverte de gens qui ne meritent pas qu’on leur parle.” [the earth swarms
with people who are not worth talking to]

commerce:
INPUT                                           OUTPUT
raw materials + labour + machinery = product + profit

Every organisation will attempt to gather raw materials, labour and
machinery at thelowest possible price to combine them into a product that
can be sold at the highest possible price.  From the economic perspective,
there are no differences between any of the elements in the input side of
the equation…  And yet, troublingly, there is one difference between
‘labour’ and other elements which conventional economics does not have a
means to represent… the fact that labour feels pain.
p.107

“The persons who become rich are, generally speaking, industrious, resolute,
proud, covetous, prompt, methodical, sensible, unimaginative, insensitive,
and ignorant.  The persons who remain poor are the entirely foolish, the
entirely wise, the idle, the reckless, the humble, the thoughtful, the dull,
the imaginative, the sensitive, the well-informed, the improvident, the
irregularly and impulsively wicked, the clumsy knave, the open theif and the
entirely merciful just and godly person.”
[Unto This Last, John Ruskin 1862]

it can be as hard to hate a child as it can be to hate someone we see
sleeping.  With their eyes closed and their features relaxes and
defenceless, sleepers invite a care and a kind of love – so much so that it
is embarrassing to gaze at length at a person asleep beside us on a train or
plane.  Their face prompts us to an intimacy which throws into question the
edifice of civilized indifference on which ordinary communal relations are
built.  But there is no such thing as a stranger, a Christian would insist,
there can only be an impression of strangeness born out of failure to
acknowledge that others share in our own needs and weaknesses.
p.258

In 1850, Gerard de Nerval ceased conforming to existing ideas of suitable
pets and acquired a lobster, which he led around the Jardin du Luxembourg on
the end of a blue ribbon.  “why should a lobster be any more rediculous than
a dog,” he questioned, “or any other animal that one chooses to take for a
walk?  I have a liking for lobsters.  They are peaceful, serious creatures.
They know the secrets of the sea, they don’t bark, and they don’t gnaw upon
one’s monadic privacy like dogs do.  And Goethe had an aversion to dogs, and
he wasn’t mad.”
p.294

[Status Anxiety by Alain de Botton

Jelly Roll Morton leaving New Orleans

Jelly Roll Morton, 1907:

Those days I hung out at Eloise Blackenstein and Louise Aberdeen’s place – the rendezvous for all the big sports like Pensacola Kid, who later came to be the champion pool player of the world.  Bob Rowe, the man who didn’t know how many suits he had, and his wife, Ready Money, were regulars, also the Suicide Queen, who used to take poison all the time.  Tony Jackson also hung out there and was the cause of me not playing much piano.  When Tony came in, the guys would tell me, “get off that piano stool.  You’re hurting the piano’s feelings.”

One day we were all up at Lala’s saloon.  Pensacola Kid was paying Buster Brown for ten dollars a round and they asked me to keep the game.  In came Chicken Dick, the uptown roughneck, and started yelling, “Keeping the game, hey, little boy?  You don’t know what you doing.  I’m going to keep game.”  He hit me hard and I fell on the table with my hands on some balls.  I hauled off and hit him with a pool ball and he jumped like he was made of rubber.  Then i laid into him with more balls and some billiard cues and they finally had to haul him out of there.  That gave me a name.  “Don’t fool with Winding Boy.  He like to kill Chicken Dick.”  I had sense enough to know it wasn’t healthy to wear a name like that around New Orleans where some tough guy might decide to see how hard I really was.  So i decided to accept Tony Jackson’ invitation to visit Chicago.

[Mister Jelly Roll by Alan Lomax and Jelly Roll Morton]

Fugitive Pieces

It’s a mistake to think it’s the small things we control and not the
large, it’s the other way around!  We can’t stop the small accident, the
tiny detail that conspires into fate: the extra moment you run back for
something forgotten, a moment that saves you from an accident – or causes
one.  but we can assert the largest order, the large human values daily,
the only order large enough to see.

p.22
the grief we carry, anybody’s grief, is exactly the weight of a sleeping
child.

p.158

 

history is the poisoned well, seeping into groundwater.  It’s not the
unknown past we’re doomed to repeat, but the past we know.  Every recorded
event is a brick of potential, of precedent, thrown into the future.
Eventually the idea will hit someone in the back of the head.  This is the
duplicity of history: an idea recorded will become an idea resurrected.
Out of fertile ground, the compost of history.

[p.161, with the parable of the rabbi]

 

when we married, naomi said: sometimes we need both hands to climb out of
a place, where one has to walk ahead of the other.  If i can’t find you,
i’ll look deper in myself.  If it can’t keep up, if you’re far ahead, look
back. Look back.

p.292

 

but sometimes the world disrobes, slips its dress off a shoulder, stops
time for a beat… the catastrophe of grace.

p.175

 

a parable: A respected rabbi is asked to speak to the congregation of a
neighbouring village.  The rabbi, rather famous for his practical wisdom,
is approached for advice wherever he goes.  Wishing to have a few hours to
himself on the train, he disguises himself in shabby clothes and, with his
withered posture, passes for a peasant.  The disguise is so effective that
he evokes disapproving stares and whispered insults from the well-to-do
passengers around him.  When the rabbi arrives at his destination, he’s
met by the dignitaries of the community who greet him with warmth and
respect, tactfully ignoring his appearance.  Those who had ridiculed him
on the train realize his prominence and their error and immediately beg
his forgiveness. The old man is silent.  For months after, these Jews –
who, after all, consider themselves good and pious men – implore the rabbi
to absolve them. The rabbi remains silent.  Finally, when almost an entire
year has passed, they come to the old man on the Day of Awe when, it is
written, each man must forgive his fellow.  But the rabbi still refuses to
speak. Exasperated, they finally raise their voices: How can a holy man
commit such a sin – to withhold forgiveness on this day of days?  The
rabbi smiles seriously.  “All this time you have been asking the wrong
man.  You must ask the man on the train to forgive you.”

p.160

[Fugitive Pieces by Anne Michaels]

this is in incredible, complex, beautiful book.

it’s the book i went to first after my mother died.

it contains all of life.

Stephen King and C.S.Lewis on terror, pain, and redemption

Stephen King

If there is any truth or worth to the danse macabre, it is simply that novels, movies, TV and radio programs -even the comic books dealing with horror always do their work on two levels. On top is he gross out level… The gross-out can be done with varying degrees of artistic finesse, but its always there.

But on another, more potent level, the work of horror really is a dance- a moving rthymic search. And what its looking for is the place where you, the viewer or the reader, live at your most primitive level. The work of horror is not interested in the civilized furniture of our lives. Such a work dances through these rooms which we have fitted out one piece at a time, each piece expressing-we hope!- our socially acceptable and pleasantly enlightened character. It is in search of another place, a room which may sometimes resemble the secret den of a Victorian gentleman, sometimes the torture chamber of the Spanish Inquisition… but perhaps more frequently and most successfully, the simple and brutally plain hole of a Stone Age cave-dweller.

Is horror art? On this secand level, the world of horror can be nothing else; it achieves the level of art simply because it is looking beyond art, something that predates art: it is looking for what I would call phobic pressure points. The good horror tale will dance its way to the centre of your life and find the secret door to the room you believed no-one but you knew of- as both Albert Camus and Billy Joel have pointed out, The Stranger makes us nervous… but we love to try on his face in secret.

Do spiders give you the horrors? Fine. Well have spiders as in Tarantula, The Incredible Shrinking Man, and Kingdom of the Spiders. What about rats? In James Herberts novel of the same name, you can feel them crawl all over you…and eat you alive. How about snakes? That shuddering feeling? Heights? Or whatever there is.

Because books and movies are the mass media, the field of horror has been able to do better than even these personal fears over the last thirty years. During that period(and to a lesser degree, in the seventy or so years preceding), the horror genre has been able to find national phobic pressure points, and those books and films which have been the most successful almost always seem to play upon and express fears which exist across a wide sprectrum of people. Such fears, which are often political, economic,and psychological rather than supernatural give the best work of horror a pleasing allegorical feel- and its the one sort of allegory that most film-makers seem most at home with. Maybe its because they know that if the shit starts getting too thick they can always bring the monster shambling out of the darkness again … … …

… This book is intended to be an informal overview of where the horror genre has been over the last thirty years, and not the autobiography of yours truly. The autobiography of a father, writer, and ex-high school teacher would make dull reading indeed. I am a writer by trade, which means that the most interesting things that have happened to me have happened in my dreams.
But because I am a horror novelist and also a child of my times, and because I believe that horror does not horrify unless the reader or viewer has been personally touched, you will find the autobiographical element constantly creeping in. Horror in real life is an emotion that one grapples with- as I grappled with the realization that the Russians had beaten us into space-all alone. It is a combat waged in the secret recesses of the heart.

I believe that we are all ultimately alone and that any deep and lasting human contact is nothing more nor less than a necessary illusion-but at least the feelings which we think of as positive and constructive are a reaching out, an effort to make contact and establish some sort of communication. Feelings of love and kindness, the ability to care and empathize, are all we know of the light. They are efforts to link and integrate; they are the emotions which bring us together, if not in fact then at least in a comforting illusion that makes the burden of mortality a little easierto bear.

Horror, terror, fear, panic: these are the emotions which drive wedges between us, split us off from the crowd, and make us alone. It is paradoxical that feelings and emotions we associate with the mob instinct should do this, but crowds are lonely places to be, were told, a fellowship with no love in it. The melodies of the horror tale are simple and repetitive, and they are the melodies of disestablishment and disintegration… but another paradox is that the outletting of these emotions seems to bring things back to a more stable and constructive state again. Ask any psychiatrist what his patient is doing when he lies there on the couch and talks about what keeps him awake and what he sees in his dreams. What do you see when you turn out the light the Beatles asked; their answer: I cant tell you but I know that its mine.

The genre we’re talking about, whether it be in terms of books film, or TV, is really all one: make believe horrors. And one of the questions that frequently comes up, asked by people who have grasped the paradox (but perhaps not fully articulated it in their own minds) is: Why do you want to make up horrible things when there is so much real horror in the world?

The answer seems to be that we make up horrors to help us cope with the real ones. With the endless inventiveness of the humankind, we grasp the very elements which are so divisive and destructive and try to turn them into tools-to dismantle themselves. The term catharsis is as old as Greek drama, and it has been used rather too glibly by some practictioners in my field to justify what they do, blut it still has its limited uses here. The dream of horror is in itself an out-letting and a lancing…and it may well be that the mass-media dream of horror can sometimes become a nationwide analysts couch.

… … …

So, for the final time before we push on, October of 1957; now, absurd as it looks on the face of it, Earth vs the Flying Saucers has become a symbolic political statement. Below its pulpy invaders-from-space storyline, it becomes a preview of the ultimate war. Those greedy, twisted old monsters piloting the saucers are really the Russians; the destruction of the Washington Monument, the Capitol dome and the Supreme Court- all rendered with graphic, eerie believability by Harryhausens stop-motion effects-becomes nothing less than the destruction one would logically expect when the A-bombs finally fly.

And then the end of the movie finally comes. The last saucer has been shot down by Hugh Marlowes secret weapon, an ultrasonic gun that interrupts the electromagnetic drive of the flying saucers, or some sort of similar disagreeable foolishness. Loudspeakers blare from every Washington street corner, seemingly: The present danger…is over. The present danger…is over. The present danger is over. The camera shows us clear skies. The evil old monsters with their frozen snarls and their twisted-root faces have been vanquished. We cut to a California beach, magically deserted except for Hugh Marlowe and his new wife ( who is , of course, the daughter of the Crusty Old Military Man Who Died For His Country); they are on their honeymoon.

Russ,she asks him, will they ever come back?

Marlowe looks sagely up at the sky, then back at his wife. Not on such a pretty day, he says comfortingly. And not to such a nice world.

They run hand in hand into the surf, and the end credits roll.

For a moment- just for a moment- the paradoxical trick has worked. We have taken horror in hand and used it to destroy itself, a trick akin to pulling oneself up by ones own bootstraps. For a little while the deeper fear- the reality of the Russian Sputnik and what it means -has been excised. It will grow back again, but that is for later. For now , the worst has been faced and it wasn’t so bad after all. There was that magic moment of reintegration and safety at the end, that same feeling that comes when the roller coaster stops at the end of its run and you get off with your best girl, both of you whole and unhurt.

I believe that this feeling of reintegration, arising from a field specializing in death , fear, and monstrosity, that makes the danse macabre so rewarding and magical… that and the boundless ability of the human imagination to create endless dreamworlds and then put them to work. ****It is a world which a fine poet such as Anne Sexton was able to use to write herself sane. From her poems expressing and delineating her descent into the maelstrom of insanity, her own ability to cope with the world eventually returned, at least for a while…and perhaps others have been able to use her poems in their turn. This is not to suggest that writing must be justified on the basis of its usefulness; to simply delight the reader is enough, isn’t it?

 

C.S.Lewis

Now the proper good of a creature is to surrender itself to its Creator – to enact intellectually, volitionally, and emotionally, that relationship which is given in the mere fact of its being a creature. When it does so, it is good and happy. Lest we should think this a hardship, this kind of good begins on a level far above the creatures, for God Himself, as Son, from all eternity renders back to God as Father by filial obedience the being which the Father by paternal love eternally generates in the Son. This is the pattern which man was made to imitate-which Paradisal man did imitate-and wherever the will conferred by the creator is thus perfectly offered back in delighted and delighting obedience by the creature, there, most undoubtably, is Heaven, and there the Holy Ghost proceeds. In the world as we now know it, the problem is how to recover this self surrender.We are not merely imperfect creatures who must be improved: we are, as Newman said, rebels who must lay down our arms.The first answer, then, to the question why our cure should be painful. is that to render back the will which we have so long claimed for our own, is in itself, wherever and however it is done, a grievous pain. Even in paradise I have supposed a minimal self adherence to be overcome, though the overcoming, and the yielding, would there be rapturous. But to surrender a self-will inflamed and swollen with years of usurpation is a kind of death. We all remember this self-will as it was in childhood: the bitter, prolonged rage at every thwarting, the burst of passionate tears, the black Satanic wish to kill or die rather than give in … If now that we are grown up, we do not howl and stamp quite so much, that is partly because our elders began the process of killing our self will in the nursery, and partly because the same passions now take more subtle forms and have grown clever at avoiding death by various compensations. Hence the necessity to die daily: however often we think we have broken the rebellious self we shall still find it alive. That this process cannot be without pain is sufficiently witnessed by the very history of the word Mortification.

But this intrinsic pain, or death, in mortifying the usurped self, is not the whole story. Paradoxically, mortification, though itself a pain is made easier by the presence of pain in its context. This happens, I think, principally in three ways.

The human spirit will not even begin to try to surrender self will as long as all seems to be well with it. Now error and sin both have this property, that the deeper they are the less their victim suspects their existence; they are masked evil. Pain is unmasked, unmistakable evil; every man knows that something is wrong when he is being hurt … And pain is not only immediately recognisable evil, but evil impossible to ignore. We can rest contentedly in our sins and in our stupidities; and anyone who has watched gluttons shovelling down the most exquisite foods as if they did not know what they were eating, will admit that we can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to.  God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world. A bad man, happy, is a man without the least inkling that his actions do not answer, that they are not in accord with the laws of the universe.

A perception of this truth lies at the back of the universal feeling that bad men ought to suffer. It is no use turning up our noses at this feeling, as if it were wholly base. On its mildest level it appeals to everyones sense of justice…

[A cool aside bit about how incarceration necessarily cannot be understood only as reform, but also must include the notion of retribution if it is to be just.]

When our ancestors referred to pains and sorrows as Gods vengeance upon sin they were not necessarily attributing evil passions to God; they may have been recognising the good element in the idea of retribution. Until the evil man finds evil unmistakably present in his existence, in the form of pain, he is enclosed in illusion. Once pain has roused him, he knows that he is in some way or other up against the real universe: he either rebels (with the possibility of a clearer issue and deeper repentance at some later stage) or else makes some attempt at an adjustment, which, if pursued, will lead him to religion. It is true that neither effect is so certain now as it was in ages when the existence of God (or even of the Gods)was more widely known, but even in our own days we see it operating. Even atheists rebel and express, like Hardy and Houseman, their rage against God although (or because) He does not, on their view exist: and other atheists, like Mr Huxley, are driven by suffering to raise the whole problem of existence and to find some way of coming to terms with it which, if not Christian, is almost infinitely superior to fatuous contentment with a profane life.  No doubt Pain as Gods megaphone is a terrible instrument; it may lead to final and unrepentant rebellion. But it gives the only opportunity the bad man can have for amendment. It removes the veil; it plants the flag of truth within the fortress of a rebel soul.

If the first and lowest operation of pain shatters the illusion that all is well, the second shatters the illusion that what we have, whether good or bad in itself, is our own and enough for us. Everyone has noticed how hard it is to turn our thoughts to God when everything is going well with us. We have all we want is a terrible saying when all does not include God. We find God an interruption. As St Augustine says somewhere, God wants to give us something, but cannot, because our hands are full – there’s nowhere for him to put it. Or as a friend of mine said, We regard God as an airman regards his parachute; its there for emergencies but he hopes that hell never have to use it. Now God, who has made us, knows what we are and that our happiness lies in Him. Yet we will not seek it in Him as long as He leaves us any other resort where it can possibly be looked for. While what we call our own life remains agreeable we will not surrender it to Him. What then can God do in our interests but make our own life less agreeable to us, and take away the plausible source of false happiness? It is just here, where Gods providence seems at first to be most cruel, that the Divine humility, the stooping down of the Highest, most deserves praise. We are perplexed to see misfortune falling upon decent, inoffensive, worthy people – on capable hard-working mothers of families, or diligent, thrifty, little trades-people. on those who have worked so hard, and so honestly, for their modest stock of happiness and now seem to be entering upon enjoyment of it with the fullest right. How can I say with sufficient tenderness what here needs to be said? It does not matter that I know that I must become, in the eyes of every hostile reader, as it were personally responsible for all the sufferings I try to explain – just as, to this day, everyone talks as if St Augustine wanted unbaptised infants to go to Hell. But it matters enormously if I alienate anyone from the truth. Let me implore the reader to try to believe, if only for a moment, that God, who made these deserving people, may really be right when He thinks that their modest prosperity and the happiness of their children are not enough to make them blessed: that all of this must fall from them in the end, and that if they have not learned to know Him  they will be wretched. And therefore He troubles them, warning them in advance of an insufficiency that one day they will have to discover. The life to themselves and their families stands between them and the recognition of their need; He makes that life less sweet to them. I call this a Divine humility because it is a poor thing to come to Him as a last resort, to offer up our own when it is no longer worth keeping. If God were proud He would hardly have us on such terms: but He is not proud, He stoops to conquer, He will have us even though we have shown that we prefer everything else to Him, and come to Him because there is nothing better now to be had. The same humility is shown by all those Divine appeals to our fears which trouble high-minded readers of Scripture. It is hardly complimentary to God that we should choose Him as an alternative to Hell: yet even this He accepts. The creatures illusion of self-sufficiency must, for the creatures sake, be shattered; and by trouble or fear of trouble on earth, by crude fear of the eternal flames, God shatters it unmindful of His glorys diminution. Those who would like the God of Scripture to be more purely ethical, do not know what they ask. If God were a Kantian, who would not have us until we came to him from the purest and best motives, who could be saved? And this illusion of self sufficiency may be at its strongest in some very honest, kindly and temperate people, and on such people, therefore, misfortune must fall.

The third operation of suffering is a little harder to grasp. Everyone will admit that choice is essentially conscious; to choose involves knowing that you choose. Now Paradisal man always chose to follow Gods will. In following it he also gratified his own desire, both because all the actions demanded of him were, in fact, agreeable to his blameless inclination, and also because the service of God was in itself his keenest pleasure, without which as their razor edge all joys would have been insipid to him. … His God-ward will rode his -happiness like a well-managed horse, whereas our will, when we are happy, is carried away in the happiness as in a ship racing down a swift stream. Pleasure was then an acceptable offering to God because offering was a pleasure. But we inherit a whole system of desires which do not necessarily contradict Gods will but which, after centuries of usurped autonomy, steadfastly ignore it. If the thing we like doing is, in fact the thing God wants us to do, yet that is not our reason for doing it; it remains a happy co-incidence. * * * We cannot therefore know that we are acting at all, or primarily, for Gods sake, unless the material of our action is contrary to our inclinations, or (in other words) painful, and what we cannot know that we are choosing, we cannot choose. The full acting out of the selfs surrender to God therefore demands pain: the action, to be perfect, must be done from the pure will to obey, in the absence, or in the teeth of inclination … …
Here we tread on very difficult ground. Kant thought that no action had moral value unless it were done out of pure reverence for the moral law, that is without inclination, and he has been accused of a morbid frame of mind which measures the value of an act by its unpleasantness. All popular opinion is, indeed, on Kants side. The people never admire a man for doing domething he likes … Yet against Kant stands the obvious truth, noted by Aristotle, that the more virtuous a man becomes the more he enjoys virtuous actions. What an atheist ought to do about this conflict between the ethics of duty and the ethics of virtue, I do not know: but as a Christian I suggest the following solution.

It has sometimes been asked whether God commands certain things because they are right, or whether certain things are right because God commands them. I emphatically embrace the first alternative. The second might lead to the abominable conclusion that charity is good only because God arbitrarily commanded it – that He might equally well have commanded us to hate Him and one another and that hatred would than have been right. I believe on the contrary, that  they err who think that of the will of God to do this or that there is no reason other than His will. Gods will is determined by His wisdom which always perceives, and His goodness which always embraces, the intrinsically good. But when we have said God commands things only because they are good, we must add that one of the things intrinsically good is that rational creatures should freely surrender thamselves to their Creator in obedience…
We therefore agree with Aristotle that what is intrinsically good may well be agreeable, and that the better a man is the more he will like it; but we agree with Kant so far as to say that there is one right act – that of self surrender – which cannot be willed to the height by fallen creatures unless it is unpleasant. ****And we must add that this one right act includes all other righteousness, and that the superior cancelling of Adams fall, the movement full speed astern by which we retrace our long journey from Paradise, the untying of the old hard knot, must be when the creature, with no desire to aid it, stripped naked to the bare willing of obedience, embraces what is contrary to its nature, and does that for which only one motive is possible. Such an act may be described as a test of the creatures return to God: hence our fathers said that troubles were sent to try us…

If pain sometimes shatters the creatures false self-sufficiency, yet in supreme Trial or Sacrifice it teaches him the self-sufficiency which really ought to be his – the strength, which, if Heaven gave it, may be called his own: for then, in the absence of all merely natural motives and supports, he acts in that strength, and that alone, which God confers upon him through his subjected will. Human will becomes truly creative and truly our own when it is wholly Gods, and this is one of the many senses in which he that loses his soul shall find it. In all our other acts our will is fed through nature, that is , through created things other than the self – through the desires which our physical organism and our heredity supply ti us. When we act from ourselves alone – that is, from God in ourselves – we are collaborators in, or live instruments of creation: and that is why such an act  undoes with backward mutters of dissevering power the uncreative spell which Adam laid upon his species.**** Hence as suicide is the typical expression of the stoic spirit. and battle of the warrior spirit, martyrdom always remains the supreme enacting and perfection of Christianity. This great action has been initiated for us, done on our behalf, exemplified for our imitation, and inconceivably communicated to all believers, by Christ on Calvary. ****There the degree of accepted Death reaches the utmost bounds of the imaginable and perhaps goes beyond them; not only all natural supports, but the presence of the very Father to whom the sacrifice is made deserts the victim, and surrender to God does not falter though God forsakes it….

I am only trying to show that the old Christian doctrine of being made perfect through suffering is not incredible. To prove it palatable is beyond my design.

In the first place we must remember that the actual moment of present pain is only the centre of what may be called the the whole tribulational system which extends itself by fear and pity. Whatever good effects these experiences have are dependent upon the centre; so that even if pain itself were of no spiritual value, yet if fear and pity were, pain itself would have to exist in order that there should be something that would be feared and pitied. And that fear and pity help us in our return to obedience and charity is not to be doubted.**** Everyone has experienced the effect of pity in making it easier for us to love the unlovely- that is to love men not because they are naturally agreeable to us but because they are our brethren. The beneficience of fear most of us have learned during the period of crises that led up to the present war. My own experience is something like this. I am progressing along the path of life in my ordinary contentedly and godless condition, absorbed in a merry meeting with my friends for the morrow or a bit of work that tickles my vanity today, a holiday or a new book, when suddenly a stab of abdominal pain that threatens serious disease, or a headline in the newspapers that threatens us all with destruction, sends this whole pack of cards tumbling down. At first I am overwhelmed, and all my happinesses look like broken toys. Then slowly and reluctantly, bit by bit, I try to bring myself into the frame of mind that I should be in at all times. I remind myself that these toys were never intended to possess my heart , that my good is in another world and my only real treasure is Christ. And perhaps, by Gods grace, I succeed, and for a day or two become a creature consciously dependant on God and drawing my strength from the right sources. But the moment the threat is withdrawn, my whole nature leaps back to the toys: I am even anxious, God forgive me, to banish from my mind the only thing that supported me under the threat because it is now associated with the misery of those few days. Thus the terrible necessity of tribulation is only too clear. God has had me for but fourty-eight hours and then only by dint of taking everything else away from me. Let Him but sheath that sword for a moment and I behave like a puppy when the hated bath is over- I shake myself dry as I can and race off to reacquire my comfortable dirtiness, if not in the nearest manure heap, at least in the nearest flower bed. And that is why tribulations cannot cease until God either sees us remade or sees that our remaking is now hopeless.

what Stephen King taught me about fiction

<– back to the creative sleep

What Stephen King taught me about fiction and the imagination

He says that writers of fiction are God’s Liars. Their primary duty is to tell us the truth about ourselves, by telling us lies about people who never existed. That seems a perfect description to me. and i like the way it contradicts the idea that all stories (all art) are out there waiting to be discovered. the lies which tell us the truth about ourselves are waiting for us to unearth them. One of the many forms of the Imagination is a gorilla. a mad gorilla, rampaging, dangerous, and totally out of control. We have a cage for it, to keep it from destroying our sanity with its primitive behaviour. Children’s cages are much more flimsy than ours, and while some adults have built safes with time delay locks which never open, others have their minds in such a mess that the gorilla comes and goes at will. Maybe, he says, the reason writers of fantasy often have such young faces is that they they have never taken the trouble to strengthen the cage. They are like the lazy pigs who built their house of straw – but instead of learning their lesson when it gets knocked down, the writer of fantasy simply rebuilds with straw again. In a crazy kind of way, he or she likes it when the wolf comes and blows it down, just as they like it when the gorilla escapes from its cage. When people read (or watch) horror stories, they agree to let the gorilla out of the cage for a while. Within the covers of a book, or the walls of the cinema, it’s safe to let him jump around and smash things, because when it’s over you can close the cage and go outside and get on with your rational, reasonable life. If it’s been a long time though, or you keep your imagination heavily sedated, the gorilla might have developed an institutional mentality, and it might have to be prodded out with a stick. Because you have to let him get a bit of exercise from time to time, or he will get sick or die. And that is a significant loss – even if you’re scared of him, he’s still a part of you. [it occurs to me that you could rewrite this in Jungian terms. i leave that as an exercise for the writer] He also told me that Coleridge was the author of the idea of ‘suspension of disbelief’. Coleridge describes it very well (poetically, even), but stephen king adds the idea that the muscles you use to keep your disbelief off the ground atrophy as you grow up. The younger you are the more disbelief you can suspend. Which means that as you ‘mature’, the things you disbelieve in have to be more and more believable, and the disbelieving has to be done in a carefully controlled environment. I haven’t really done him justice, but it’s all in On Writing.

–> James K Baxter said a very similar thing
–> on to contemplative consumption

Andrew Lorien June 01

William Gibson on bohemias

Bohemias.  Alternative subcultures.  They were a crucial aspect of industrial civilization in the previous centuries.  They were where industrial civilisation went to dream.  A lot of unconscious R&D, exploring alternate societal strategies.  Each one would have a dress code, characteristic forms of artistic expression, a substance or substances of choice, and a set of sexual values at odds with those of the culture at large.  And they did, frequently, have locales with which they became associated.  But they became extinct.
We started picking them before they could ripen.  A certain crucial growing period was lost, as marketing evolved and the mechanisms of recommodification became quicker, more rapacious.  Authentic subcultures required backwaters, and time, and there are no more backwaters.  They went the way of geography in general.

[All Tomorrow’s Parties by William Gibson p.174]

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