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Writing

A Pagan Place

Wednesday, 17 July, 2019

“The towns were the colour of a creamery tank, pewter.” The novelist Edna O’Brien was born in Tuamgraney in County Clare. Many of her books are infused with that peculiar Irish sense of locality. The father in A Pagan Place (1970), in which every character is frustrated to the point of madness, had this Celtic notion of place to an uncanny degree in those pre-GPS days. Snippet:

“When the car crossed from one county to the next your father knew although it was not written up. He knew the fence or the stone wall, or the tree, or whatever it was that marked the boundary between one county and the next. If there was something in particular that he pointed to, you tried to focus it but your stomach began to sway and the sway interfered with your vision. Excitement got the better of you. Each time when he said ‘Look’, you got dizzy and couldn’t see.”

A Pagan Place


The gardening gift

Sunday, 30 June, 2019

What a life! Diplomat, dissident, defector, poet, Nobel Prize winner… Czesław Miłosz did it all, and more. After World War II, he served as Polish cultural attaché in Paris and Washington but, disillusioned with Communism, he defected to the West in 1951. His resulting book, The Captive Mind, exposed the pernicious effects of Marxist orthodoxy on his generation of idealists. “Written before the Berlin Wall went up, The Captive Mind was a key factor in eventually bringing it down,” noted Clive James in Cultural Amnesia.

When the Polish intelligentsia was being “wiped out half by one set of madmen and half by another”, Miłosz found strength in the Bible because it “provided a standard of authenticity against a much more dangerous language, the language of legalized murder,” writes James, a confirmed atheist. Of his own position regarding the Good Book, James declares: “But without the scriptures we poor wretches would be lost indeed, because without them, conscience itself would become just another disturbance of the personality to be cured by counselling. We are surrounded by voices telling us that everything will come right if we learn to love ourselves. Imagine the torment of Jesus in his passion, if, on top of the sponge of vinegar and the spear, they had offered him counselling as well.”

From 1961 to 1998, Miłosz was professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of California, Berkeley, and he punctuated his stay in the USA by winning the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1980. Fellow Nobel prize-winning poet Seamus Heaney, described Miłosz as “among those members of humankind who have had the ambiguous privilege of knowing and standing more reality than the rest of us.” Born on this day, 30 June, in 1911, Czesław Miłosz died on 14 August 2004 in Kraków.

Gift

A day so happy.
Fog lifted early, I worked in the garden.
Hummingbirds were stopping over honeysuckle flowers.
There was no thing on earth I wanted to possess.
I knew no one worth my envying him.
Whatever evil I had suffered, I forgot.
To think that once I was the same man did not embarrass me.
In my body I felt no pain.
When straightening up, I saw the blue sea and sails.

Czesław Miłosz (1911 – 2004)

Our garden


The blind leading the blind from Ballybunion

Friday, 21 June, 2019

We’re haven’t reached the end of June yet so it’s still a bit early in the year to be talking of the Pattern Day but this story by the late Kerry writer John B. Keane on the Pattern Day in Ballybunion, County Kerry, is worth sharing today. John B. never missed the 15th of August festivities when “the nine miles of road between Listowel and Ballybunion [were] black with a stream of several thousand bicycles.” What impressed the young writer most were the “scenes of humour near the Castle Green on the afternoon of the Pattern.” Example:

“It must be forty years ago now since we sat listening to a blind gorsoon singing This Poor Blind Boy while his equal innocent looking companion went around with a long collection sock explaining that the singer had been abandoned by his parents at the age of two and had been reared by asses. After he had cleared out what was cleanable from one party of onlookers he led the blind boy away to pastures new. I saw the pair later that night in Listowel and they staving drunk. The blind boy, now miraculously with sight recovered, was leading his companion who was now also blind drunk.”

He could tell them.


And there are gooseberries

Tuesday, 18 June, 2019

“Country life has its advantages,” he used to say. “You sit on the veranda drinking tea and your ducklings swim on the pond, and everything smells good… and there are gooseberries.” — Anton Chekhov, Gooseberries

Storyline: Ivan Ivanovich Chimsha-Gimalayski tells of how his brother Nikolai Ivanovich, a government official, becomes obsessed with the idea of returning to the countryside where the two of them had spent their happy childhood. The symbol of this obsession is a gooseberry bush. So, Nikolai buys a farm, plants gooseberry bushes, and when Ivan Ivanovich visits him he’s shocked so see this apparently happy man, now grossly obese, living in what he imagines to be his earthly paradise. Nikolai refers to himself as “We, noblemen” and expresses delight when his cook, as fat and pig-like as he is, arrives with a heaped plate of gooseberries. All this makes Ivan Ivanovich think about the nature of human happiness, which for him is the result of any happy man’s unawareness of how much grief and pain there is in the world.

Gooseberries


Chesterton said it

Wednesday, 29 May, 2019

The English writer, philosopher, journalist and literary critic G.K. Chesterton was born on this day in 1874. In his essay collection, Heretics, Chesterton wrote: “A good novel tells us the truth about its hero; but a bad novel tells us the truth about its author.”


Herman Wouk: Who wanted to unite Europe?

Saturday, 18 May, 2019

The author and screenwriter Herman Wouk has died at the age of 103. He was born in the Bronx on 27 May 1915 and passed away yesterday in Palm Springs. Wouk won the Pulitzer prize for fiction in 1951 with The Caine Mutiny and he topped the bestseller lists twenty years later with The Winds of War, which was made into a popular TV series in 1983. The novel begins six months before Germany’s invasion of Poland in September 1939 and ends shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. Here, the character Natalie Jastrow speaks:

“I’m sorry. I’m impressed with Hitler’s ability to use socialist prattle when necessary, and then discard it. He uses doctrines as he uses money, to get things done. They’re expendable. He uses racism because that’s the pure distillate of German romantic egotism, just as Lenin used utopian Marxism because it appealed to Russia’s messianic streak. Hitler means to hammer out a united Europe… He understands them, and he may just succeed. A unified Europe must come. The medieval jigsaw of nations is obsolete. The balance of power is dangerous foolishness in the industrial age. It must all be thrown out. Somebody has to be ruthless enough to do it, since the peoples with their ancient hatreds will never do it themselves. It’s only Napoleon’s original vision, but he was a century ahead of his time.”

The Caine Mutiny was made into a hit film in 1954 and Humphrey Bogart gave one of his finest performances as the paranoid Captain Queeg. The author knew whereof he spoke. He enlisted in the US naval reserve in 1942 and served in the Pacific aboard destroyer-minesweepers.

Herman Wouk Apart from epic historical novels of family and war, Herman Wouk’s literary output was devoted to an understanding of Judaism, especially the American Jewish experience. His religion was central to his work.

“Religious people tend to encounter, among those who are not, a cemented certainty that belief in God is a crutch for the weak and fearful. It would be just as silly to assert that disbelief in God is a crutch for the immoral and the ill-read.” — Herman Wouk, This is My God: A Guidebook to Judaism


White V

Friday, 10 May, 2019

Here we are at the end of our in-depth look at White, the latest work by Bret Easton Ellis. No reviews of the book were read before we began posting on Monday and none has been read since. Given that the author is less than admiring of what he terms “legacy media”, one expects that the mainstream reviews have not been flattering. But Ellis has taken a lot of criticism in his time and, no doubt, more of it won’t deter him from creating his art or expressing his opinions.

The final chapter is titled “these days” and it serves as the crescendo for what’s been building since the very first page with its dig at helicopter parents and their snowflake offspring. In “these days”, Ellis shines a bright light on the derangement that began in the USA and Europe on 9 November 2016 when the candidate of the liberal elites was not elected president. He learns that a friend of his has been shunned because he’d talked positively about President Trump on social media and this prompts the question: “Was this really all it took?” The chapter is filled with quotable paragraphs. Here’s one:

“Like me, my friend accepted all ideologies and opinions, even those diametrically opposed to his own, and we noted how many of our friends were living in a bubble, still reeling over the ‘unfairness’ of the election and the perceived evil of the Trump administration, and couldn’t bear to consider a different view — that is, to stand in someone else’s shoes. This was why it seemed to many of us in that summer that the Left was morphing into something it had never been in my lifetime: a morally superior, intolerant and authoritarian party that was out of touch and lacked any coherent ideology beyond its blanket refusal to credit an election in which someone they didn’t approve of had, at least legally, technically, won the White House. The Left had become a rage machine burning itself up: a melting blue bubble dissolving in on itself.”

We’ll return to White another day because Bret Easton Ellis’ views on “the toxic dead-end of identity politics” deserve a post or more. White is a timely book and a welcome antidote to the madness that has gripped the elites and their sycophantic transcriptionists in the media.

White


White IV

Thursday, 9 May, 2019

The way Bret Easton Ellis sees it, what “Generation Wuss” really wants is to be admired. White Only positive feedback, please. No negativity, please. But what’s going to happen to conversation and culture if this becomes the norm? Generation Wuss, by the way, comprises the hyper-sensitive Millennials who have grown up with the internet. As soon as they’re criticized, “they seem to collapse into a shame spiral and the person criticizing them is automatically labelled a hater, a contrarian, a troll.” Because their parents have tried to shield them from the dark side of life, they’ve created a generation “that appears to be super confident and positive about things but when the least bit of darkness enters into their realm they become paralyzed and unable to process it.” In White, Ellis claims that all this has led to an epidemic of self-victimization. Snippet:

“If you’re a Caucasian adult who can’t read Shakespeare or Melville or Toni Morrison because it might trigger something harmful and such texts could damage your hope to define yourself through your victimization, then you need to see a doctor, get into immersion therapy or take some meds. If you feel you’re experiencing ‘micro-aggressions’ when someone asks you where you are from or ‘Can you help me with my math?’ or offers a ‘God bless you’ after a sneeze, or a drunken guy tries to grope you at a Christmas party, or some douche purposefully brushes against you at a valet stand in order to cop a feel, or someone merely insulted you, or the candidate you voted for wasn’t elected, or someone correctly identifies you by your gender, and you consider this a missive societal dis, and it’s triggering you and you need a safe space, then you need to seek professional help. If you’re afflicted by these traumas that occurred years ago, and that is still a part of you years later, then you probably are still sick and in need of treatment. But victimizing oneself is like a drug — it feels so delicious, you get so much attention from people, it does in fact define you, making you feel alive and even important while showing off your supposed wounds, no matter how minor, so people can lick them. Don’t they taste so good?”

Tomorrow, here, our final post about White. It’s all about the hangover psychosis of the liberal identity-obsessed elites. Guess what triggered them? Hint: 8 November 2016.


White III

Wednesday, 8 May, 2019

“I’ve been involved with actors since I was a child, in close proximity from elementary school and high school into adulthood, both professionally and a few times romantically.” Thus begins Bret Easton Ellis his analysis of the acting trade in White, his latest book. Acting is a hard life, says Ellis, because actors want us to want them. That’s why they live in fear because if we don’t like them they won’t get roles and this fear of rejection is at the heart of their neuroses. None of us likes criticism but actors dread it because criticism “means the next job, the next flirtation, maybe the career-changing payday might not happen.” Then social media came along.

White “A long time ago in the faraway era of Empire, actors could protect their carefully designed and enigmatic selves more easily and completely than is possible now, when we all live in the digital land of social media where our phones candidly capture moments that used to be private and our unbidden thoughts can be typed up in a line or two on Twitter. Some actors have become more hidden, less likely to go public with their opinions, likes and dislikes — because who knows where the next job’s coming from? Others have become more vocal, stridently voicing their righteousness, but signalling one’s social-justice virtue isn’t necessarily the same as being honest — it can also be a pose…

… But most of us now lead lives on social media that are more performance based than we ever could have imagined even a decade ago, and thanks to this burgeoning cult of likability, in a sense, we’ve all become actors. We’ve had to rethink the means with which to express our feelings and thoughts and ideas and opinions in the void created by a corporate culture that is forever trying to silence us by sucking up everything human and contradictory and real with its assigned rule book on how to behave. We seem to have entered precariously into a kind of totalitarianism that actually abhors free speech and punishes people for revealing their true selves. In other words: the actor’s dream.”

Tomorrow here, Generation Wuss and the widespread epidemic of self-victimization.


White II

Tuesday, 7 May, 2019

“As a 1970s kid there were no helicopter parents: you navigated the world more or less on your own, an exploration unaided by parental authority.” So writes Bret Easton Ellis about growing up in California’s San Fernando Valley in his latest book, White. It was a different place and a different time. The children and their parents were different, too, and “not at all like parents today who document their children’s every move on Facebook and pose them on Instagram and urge them into safe spaces and demand only positivity while apparently trying to shelter them from everything. If you came of age in the 1970s this was most definitely not your childhood. The world wasn’t about kids yet.”

White The young Ellis roamed the Californian streets, sometimes with friends, sometimes on his own, and he spent a lot of time in cinemas watching movies that had not been made for children. Horror films fascinated him, and he quickly became acquainted with fear, blood, sex, death, pain and loss. Nobody held his hand and he felt quite educated and entertained thanks to Brian De Palma, Diana Rigg and Vincent Price. The directors, the actors and their films said this is how the world works: “you win some, you lose some, this is life.” It was all part of growing up.

“The movies reflected the overall disappointment of adulthood and life itself — disappointments I had already witnessed in my parents’ failing marriage, my father’s alcoholism and my own youthful unhappiness and alienation, which I dealt with and kept processing on my own. The horror movies made in the ’70s didn’t have rules and often lacked the reassuring backstory that explained the evil away or turned it into a postmodern meta-joke. Why did the killer stalk the sorority girls in Black Christmas? Why was Regan possessed in The Exorcist? Why was the shark cruising around Amity? Where did Carrie White’s powers come from? There were no answers, just as there were no concrete connect-the-dots justifications of daily life’s randomness: shit happens, deal with it, stop whining, take your medicine, grow the fuck up. If I often wished the world were a different place, I also knew — the horror movies helped reinforce this — that it never would be, a realization that in turn led me to a mode of acceptance. Horror smoothed the transition from the supposed innocence of childhood to the unsurprising disillusionment of adulthood, and it also served to refine my sense of irony.”

Tomorrow, here, Ellis looks at what happens when actors, with their hunger to seduce and control and be liked, are exposed to criticism on social media.


White I

Monday, 6 May, 2019

Our posts this week will be devoted to White, the latest book by Bret Easton Ellis, the author of Less Than Zero, American Psycho and Lunar Park, to mention just three of his best-selling novels. Talking about the act of writing was something he always avoided, Ellis says in White, “because part of the process was still mysterious to readers, with a kind of secret glamour that added to the excitement with which books were once received, whether negatively or positively.” White is not a novel, however, “because novels don’t engage with the public on that level anymore.”

Ellis says he’d “wistfully noted the overall lack of enthusiasm for the big American literary novels” back in the autumn of 2012, but he felt it wasn’t worth worrying about. “It’s only a fact, just as the notion of the great American studio movie or the great American band had become a smaller, narrower idea.” Then, he hits his stride. Snippet:

“Everything has been degraded by what the sensory overload and the supposed freedom-of-choice-technology has brought to us, and, in short, by the democratization of the arts. I started feeling the need to work my way through this transition — to move from the analog world in which I used to write and publish novels into the digital world we live in now (through podcasting, creating a web series, engaging on social media) even though I never thought there was any correlation between the two.”

Tomorrow, here, Ellis on the value of growing up in world where there were no helicopter parents versus today’s world where children refuse “to grow the fuck up.”

White