I should be ashamed of myself, but I will probably use the word carelessly again this very day. But still, I am ashamed of myself for it. There is not an easier word to use for both what is in fact the best and what is simply terrific, or momentarily special, or even unexpectedly good. And this unfortunate lexi-con comes to mind again whenever I have been called to account for the best in literature.
What is ‘Great Literature,’ which is to say, ‘What makes literature great?’ Such written stuff is often alluded to, without excuse, or explanation. Austen, Homer, Bronte, Hemingway, Eliot, Frost, Cather, Joyce, Melville, Byron, Shelly, et al. But the question ought to be asked, if for no other reason than to define the premises and allow you to recognize other works for what they are. That is unless you like being told what to read—in which case there is no point going further here. read more…
More screens but still nothing worth knowing
(from the novel in progress A Republic of Books, more of which can be found elsewhere on this ethereal site)
What is to be done? It is the question that comes shortly after you have asked, ‘what part do I play?”
And well that you should ask.
What are the chthonic joys of living underground, beneath the heel of the walking dead? The term ‘underground’ is metaphor today, much used and abused, mostly by those who would like to see themselves as some sort of ‘resistance,’ but don’t know what to resist without being told and haven’t the guts for their convictions, without being paid, much less the intelligence to understand the consequences of their resentments. Just about the same as it was in the 1960’s. Many of the slogans are even the same, but with history no longer taught, the latest generation of youth wouldn’t know. read more…
The book of my lifetime had only a vague but passing resemblance to those made by the Dutch emigrant to England, Wynken de Worde—like a cousin whose mother might have had extracurricular interests. The paper, the ink, the typography, the binding, and the covers of the year 1500 were all unlike anything I knew. Nevertheless, those handmade and crafted volumes were true relatives to the pale and near bloodless objects I read—devoured, really—bought and sold, wrote and published myself. And, this now ancient trade of bookmaking might have been my legacy, at least in some alternate universe that I might even write about someday, but in this corporeal and existential world we occupy, my grandchildren will not know the book.
The importance of this is incalculable. Even to the smallest detail. They will not know the pause of the page, the texture even, of manufactured paper, the smell of ink and glue in the gutters, or the feel and weight of a volume in hand. They will not understand the importance of typography in giving comfort to the eye, pleasing the mind, and aiding comprehension, perception and interpretation. That much, and more, to be had before the first word is read! read more…
[A post-preamble to A Republic of Books, portions of which may be found elsewhere on this ethereal site.]
This is my chance, then, to cast myself in the hero’s role. I’ve been a humble author and bookseller for all these years. (Allow me my hyperbole—at least I’m much humbled.) I don’t run into tall buildings to save women and children while other’s flee. (My knees have never been that strong, but do the women need the saving anymore?) My eyes are not good enough to fly jet planes or hit a fast ball. I sell old books and a few that are new, and write what I cannot sell. And though the writing has been much ignored, it is a witness to what I do and what I’ve done—that is, for sixty-eight years I have done pretty much what suited me. And here, at last, is a chance to do what is arguably better if not best. The argument is not settled. That I have waited until now, when I have so little left to lose, may be some mitigation of your judgment of all this, perhaps. Or that the overwhelming risk of failure at this point makes any effort romantically futile (and possibly planned that way). That I should have done more to prevent what has finally come to pass might cast me into the lower ranks of Dante’s hell, but at least I won’t be letting a good collapse of Western Civilization go waste. There is a story here to be written, and if it transpires that there is no one left to read it, so be it. That is at least consistent with all else. (The whine you hear is not self pity, but the wind in the gears.) I sally forth. My armor is the truth. I have a worthy truck for my steed. My companion is—well, we’ll work that out. read more…
an ongoing ramble
Oh, the incorporate me.
The ‘corporation’ as it has been recreated in modern business and law represents a large portion of our current problem and a significant cause thereof.
Oddly, interestingly, and contrarily, under our code of laws, you may not own a person. That is known as slavery. Yet you may own a corporation, or shares in a corporation, just as you may own a car or a house. However, a car is not currently entitled to vote. Nor a house. Nor a corporation, per se. A person is. A corporation is property. It can be sold. But according to the authorities, a corporation is a person . . . Got that. If you don’t it’s because you are not a sophisticated thinker—i.e., its your own fault. Most importantly, and included in this status as a human being, a corporation has limited liability. Now, if you run out of money, or are the cause of a misadventure, you are liable for your debts. If a corporation runs out of money, tough luck. You can read about this case law in many places, and this status has existed in our country for almost two centuries and has been upheld by no less than the Supreme Court of the United States in 1819 (Dartmouth College vs. Woodward), or here http://www.oyez.org/cases/1792-1850/1818/1818_0/. read more…
I was just rereading the great Richard Mitchell essay, ‘Children and Fish,’ and thinking it was my favorite of all. It is a difficult choice to make, given my appreciation of the others, but certainly I have read it more often and find myself considering it anew with each reading. The subject of what we make of ourselves was the particular point that hooked my thoughts this time.
One measure of Mitchell’s depth and breadth is that he could read a turgid socialist polemic like Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward and find something edifying. In this case, it was in the clear representation of a negative: Bellamy’s ruthless idea of human rights. Wading through the weeds of such thought, tiresome and full of poisonous ticks, had kept me from ever finishing the book, but Mitchell, always the good teacher and likely made immune to such foolishness by the annual inoculation of live virus in sophomoric term papers, has extracted the lie that is the very linchpin of the socialist state.
Remember now that Looking Backward was a stunning bestseller in its day. Stunning in all the senses of the word. How this came to be is another subject for another time, but it explains the mind of a certain intellectual strata of the late Nineteenth Century and how the thinking of people as diverse as Margaret Sanger and Woodrow Wilson, John Dewey and Eugene V. Debs might have developed. It was a ‘can do’ age and the idea that people could be educated to be good—as in, to act in a socially acceptable manner—was afoot as well as in a lot of heads. Never mind asking what ‘good’ is.