Archive for July, 2011

Eros as delusion: Poet Helen Pinkerton tips her hat to Thomas Aquinas (and Yvor Winters)

Sunday, July 31st, 2011

Helen's hero ... as seen by Bernardo Daddi

Helen Pinkerton‘s interview in Think Journal, “The Love of Being,” starts out slowly – but by the time she gets to Thomas Aquinas, she’s on a tear.

The octogenarian poet came from hardscrabble upbringing in Montana. Her father died in a mining accident when she was 11, leaving her mother with four children to raise – well, if you want that story, you can read it in my own article about her here.

Then, she landed at Stanford, where she was one of Yvor Winters‘ inner circle, along with folks like Janet Lewis, Thom Gunn, Edgar Bowers, Turner Cassity, and J.V. Cunningham.  Although she intended to be a journalism major, her plans changed abruptly: “Winters’ level of teaching, the kinds of topics he expected us to write about, the seriousness of his consideration of literary and philosophical questions of all sorts simply brought out in me a whole new capacity for thinking and writing.”  After that, and a course on narrative with Cunningham, she launched an alternative career as a poet and a Herman Melville scholar, too.

After that experience, Pinkerton found that her subsequent graduate work at Harvard “was a breeze and made little mark on me as a poet or a scholar.”

Fra Angelico's Aquinas

Winters described Pinkerton’s poetry as “profoundly philosophical and religious,” and she discusses how  Ben Jonson scholar William Dinsmore Briggs led her in that direction, though she never met him – his teaching on medieval and Renaissance learning “permeated” the work of Winters and Cunningham, she said.  Helen became preoccupied with the Thomistic notion of esse, and sees “nothingness” as the primary temptation of humankind.  Hence, her poem, “Good Friday” (included in her book Taken in Faith), which claims:

Nothingness is our need:
Insatiable the guilt
For which in thought and deed
We break what we have built.

But more than temptation – it is delusion.  “The chief aspect of the drive is the metaphysical assertion that nothingness is the real reality – that there is no real being.”

She links this drive with the thinking of the 19th and 20th century, particularly romanticism, which she sees as a drive toward annihilation.  “Real love is the love of being. Eros is the love of non-being”:

Helen, me, and the late Turner Cassity

I found my way out of it by grasping the Thomistic idea of God as self-existent being. There is no nothingness in reality. It is a kind of figment of the imagination. To believe that there is is a verbal trick – a snare and a delusion. Much of modern philosophy (Hegel, the Existentialists, et al.) are caught up in this delusive state of consciousness.

I do scorn and critique (always) “romantic religion” – or the religion of eros … as I call it – and I did see in others, as well as in myself – a pervasive “unavowed guilt” in our culture – based on an unavowed longing for “nothingness.” This is a kind of obsession of mine in my early thinking (and consequently in my poems) after I came to a realization of the nature of my consciousness. What was driving me to be dissatisfied with everything and everyone, including myself, was this “eros,” this craving for extremes of feeling, for a kind of perfection in things and in others.

Patrick Kurp has written some lovely stuff about Helen at Anecdotal Evidencehere, and here, and here … oh, just type “Pinkerton” into his search engine.  There’s lots.  I’m proud to have introduced them.

Meanwhile, an Yvor Winters reading was always mesmerizing.  You can get a taste of it in this recording from San Francisco’s Poetry Center on Valentine’s Day, 1958:

Yvor Winters Reading – 1958

The ongoing demise of the L.A. Times Book Review

Saturday, July 30th, 2011

The “Incredible Shrinking Book Review Section,”  chapter 464:  this news from Publishers Weekly:

In a move as significant for its breadth as its implications for the future of book coverage, the Los Angeles Times book review laid off all of its freelance book reviewers and columnists on July 21.

Susan Salter Reynolds was with the Times for 23 years as both a staffer and freelancer and wrote the “Discoveries” column that appeared each week in the Sunday book review. She was told that her column was cancelled and will not be replaced by another writer. “I don’t know where these layoffs fit into the long-storied failure at the Times,” she said yesterday, “but these are not smart business decisions. This is shabby treatment.”

Four staffers remain in the book review section: David Ulin, Carolyn Kellogg, Nick Owchar, and [Jon] Thurber. In December 2009 the TimesTimes building.” Thurber did make an exception for Reynolds so she could come to the office to pick up the multiple review copies she received daily in order to produce her column.

In December 2009 the Times laid off 40 features writers, including Reynolds, but brought many of them back to work part-time. “We were paid about one-third of what we had been making, and lost our health insurance,” Reynolds says.

Reynolds nixed

Reynolds hadn’t quite finished having her say, and added in the comments section:  ‘There are probably ways to cut costs without eliminating a person’s entire income after twenty three years in one phone call. I offered to continue writing for very little money until things got better. Also the quote about continued commitment is insulting to readers’ intelligence. When I was laid off a year and a half ago I was assured by the editor of the book section that it was purely cost cutting and there would be no more hires. Next thing I knew he had become the book critic and then they hired a full time blogger one month later. I understand these are tough times but isn’t publishing a world in which expertise has some value?”

I remember writing for the Los Angeles Times Book Review back in the days when it was under the visionary leadership of Steve Wasserman (and Tom Curwen, too, as the deputy book edior).  We’re not talking the neolithic period – we’re talking about within the past decade.  In my opinion, it was at that time the best book review in the country, with articles that were intelligent, innovative, often reviewing off-the-beaten-track books that were going to influence our era, even if they didn’t make this year’s bestsellers list.

What a shame to see that legacy trashed.  By limiting itself to four writers, no matter how top-notch they might be, its isolating itself from the expertise that used to be its trademark.

Wrote Randy Rogers:  “Picking up my paper from the driveway this morning I looked at it and thought “If the LA Times gets any thinner I’m going to have to wait a few days just to have enough to line the bottom of a bird-cage.  Why am I still paying for this ghost of a rag?”

A Polish poet, an American archivist, and two summer reads

Thursday, July 28th, 2011

Music to my ears.  The following from Joanna Szupinska in Cosmopolitan Review –  a transatlantic quarterly with a Polish angle:

Edited by journalist and author Cynthia L. Haven, the timely new collection An Invisible Rope: Portraits of Czesław Miłosz brings together 33 entries by friends and scholars of the poet from the U.S. and Poland who worked closely with him during his life – as students, colleagues, and translators – spanning his entire career. Biographical in nature, each essay reveals delightful anecdotes illustrating the subject’s personality, including his raucous laughter, insatiable appetite for food and whiskey, and deftness at producing cutting insults. Through the collected vignettes, the reader gets to know him as a faithful letter-writer, devoted teacher, and thoughtful translator. Taken together, the volume offers a portrait of Miłosz’s life philosophy as he applied it to the circumstances dealt him by Fate.

The book is organized in a roughly chronological progression: from the subject landing himself in trouble for subversive leftist activities during his student years at Stefan Batory University in Vilnius, to his work as the cultural attaché in the Polish consulate in New York directly following the Second World War, to his swift realization of the new government’s totalitarian approach and Miłosz’s resultant defection to France. We then follow him to his professorship at the University of California, Berkeley, and that Northern California city by the bay would become his home for the next four decades until his eventual, permanent return to Kraków in 2000. Offered up as little stories about the now world-famous poet by people who knew him, An Invisible Rope is a fun, quick read perfect for a few summer afternoons. The reader comes away feeling as if she knows this person as a man – no longer merely the picture of a legend. It compels the reader to revisit even his most well-known works, from The Captive Mind to Road-Side Dog, to be read anew, refreshed by the contextualization of a life lived.

Read the rest here.

I’m not the only one who got a few nice words this month.  Sarah Peasley Miller over at Information Management said this about The Ethical Archivist:

There may be a delightfully subversive message woven throughout The Ethical Archivist, a focused and remarkably readable guide for archivists. Author Elena Danielson, a consultant and archivist emerita of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, provides a tidy summary of the profession as seen through the prism of ethics.  …

Archivists’ role has evolved over the centuries from protecting benefactors’ secrets, to ensuring authenticity for public good, to promoting open and equal access. “The postmodern archivist has a more complex challenge: preserving a sense of trust in the face of massive change,” states Danielson.

As documents are increasingly stored digitally, and the sheer volume of records presents challenges for ensuring accuracy and allowing retrieval, the author addresses myriad implications and observes that archivists, as information brokers, “are at the center of the IT storm.”

How to find?  If you google “The Ethical Archivist Information Management” you can get to a free pdf.  If you go to the journal website, you hit a pay wall.  Go figure. (Elena talks about pay walls in her book….)

That time again: Bulwer-Lytton contest for bad writing

Wednesday, July 27th, 2011

Bulwer-Lytton: No wonder he looks sad

And this year’s winner is … an Oshkosh professor, who wins the worst sentence of the year with this stinker:

Cheryl’s mind turned like the vanes of a wind-powered turbine, chopping her sparrow-like thoughts into bloody pieces that fell onto a growing pile of forgotten memories.

Rather than hiding the dishonor, the University of Wisconsin even ran a picture of its grand prize winner, Suzanne Fondrie, in its newspaper.  Perhaps as a bad example to her students.

Try, try again

Fondrie has an additional distinction: Her 26-word entry is the shortest in the Bulwer-Lytton contest’s nearly 30-year history. It’s another proof of the old adage:  Shorter is better.  Or worse, in this case.

Fondrie is a salutary story for the rest of us:  If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

“I had two others (entries), but I guess they were too good to be bad,” Fondrie explained to UW Osh Kosh Today.

The prize is part of an annual bad writing competition launched in 1982 at San Jose State University. The contest was named after Victorian novelist Edward George Earle Bulwer-Lytton, an author infamous for writing the opening line: “It was a dark and stormy night.”

The runner up, Rodney Reed of Ooltewah, Tennessee, made a political statement with his entry:

As I stood among the ransacked ruin that had been my home, surveying the aftermath of the senseless horrors and atrocities that had been perpetrated on my family and everything I hold dear, I swore to myself that no matter where I had to go, no matter what I had to do or endure, I would find the man who did this . . . and when I did, when I did, oh, there would be words.

There certainly were.

You can read the rest of the winners here.

Anders Behring Breivik: Maybe he’s not insane

Tuesday, July 26th, 2011

Copycat crimes

Anders Behring Breivik has left behind a screed,  and large parts of it appear to be lifted from another screed, penned by Theodore Kaczynski, the Unabomber.

Over a year ago, I interviewed Jean-Marie Apostolidès, the French literary scholar who befriended Kaczynski, at his lawyer’s request. Apostolidès also has a background as a psychologist.  He insists that Kaczynski is not insane.

I wrote then:

The translation of Kaczynski’s 1995 manifesto, which Apostolidès began the day after he read it in the Washington Post, was the first step in a longer journey. The next began with a secret.

“In the past, I was in a certain way tied to a secret that I think has no more value,” he explained. Shortly after the arrest, Apostolidès was approached by Kaczynski’s team of lawyers, who said they were concerned for the prisoner’s sanity and well-being in prison.

The Unabomber ... in Berkeley days

“They thought I would be a perfect penpal,” he said. Apostolidès was told to keep the correspondence secret even from his family. Thus began a brief, lopsided correspondence screened by Kaczynski’s lawyers and the FBI.

The brief correspondence did not go smoothly: “He did not want to talk to me; he wanted to preach. I detest that,” he said. “On one side he was scolding me, on the other side complimenting me.”

In retrospect, Apostolidès thinks the lawyers wanted him to help certify Kaczynski was insane. Yet, he said, “I’m convinced he has neurotic problems – but no more than anyone else. He has to be judged on his ideas and his deeds.” Our insistence on his insanity may be a way to avoid grappling with that, he said.

In an interview, Apostolidès leaned forward across the desk in his campus office and his voice dropped: “This will shock you. He’s a very nice guy, sweet, open-minded. And I know he has blood on his hands. You cannot be all bad – even if you kill, even Hitler.”

We would like our villains to be 100 percent evil, psychotic Snidely Whiplashes counting money in the backroom. (Look at the outcry at the portrayal of Hitler in the 2004 film Downfall.) We are uncomfortable when they look even a little bit like us, but such ambiguity is the stuff of life, said Apostolidès.

The most obvious ambiguity may be centered within Apostolidès himself. He admits he has a longstanding interest in avant-garde ideas – but he writes about radical thoughts from the safe perch of a university professorship and his comfortable home on the Stanford campus. In short, as a part of the petite bourgeoisie Kaczynski despises.

Kaczynski’s manifesto argues that the leftist liberals who present themselves as rebels are, in fact, obedient servants of the dominant society – a symptom of “oversocialization.” He singles out “university intellectuals” as prime examples.

Apostolidès, who says he wouldn’t kill a fly, finds the criticism “absolutely appropriate.”

Right again, René

We have our little boxes for people.  “Christian fundamentalist” – although Breivik insists in his own screed that he’s not religious (“Although I am not a religious person myself, I am usually in favor of a revitalization of Christianity in Europe” p. 676) .  “Psychopath,” though he has no criminal record, and his former stepmother describes him as a nice guy.

Perhaps we are dealing with a new psychology, a new class of criminal – aided and abetted by technology and mass communication – and none of our usual boxes fit.  Perhaps psychology itself doesn’t fit.  As Apostolidès said, some in this growing class of murderers are more than willing to kill brutally to promote their ideas.

A scary thought, and apparently a contagious one.  Each atrocity attempts to outdo the other in scope and depravity.  It seems like we are trapped, globally, in an irreversible spiral of imitated violence.  Violence, as René Girard notes, spreads mimetically like a fever over the planet.

Postscript on 7/27: Thanks to Morgan Meis of 3quarksdaily for the mention today.

Jack Foley’s “chronoencyclopedia” – California poets and poetry in 1,287 pages

Sunday, July 24th, 2011

Altogether, Jack Foley has written 1,287 pages on California poetry – and that’s only 65 years of it, from 1940-2005. It’s a feat that would not go unremarked in an earlier era – say, five years ago. But at a time when book review sections are folding left, right, and center  …  crickets.

Visions & Affiliations: A California Literary Time Line, Poets & Poetry, volumes one and two,  published last March by Pantograph Press, is a “chronoencyclopedia scene” describing, as Jack says on his title page, “the twentieth century in all its confused and troubled eloquence.”  Jack spent a decade documenting the writers, poems, and events in a tumbling, giddy present tense, from the first page when Kenneth Rexroth, in 1940, “invents the culture of the West Coast,” according to Robert Hass.

That’s the moment, writes Jack, when “California’s image had changed. The state had moved out of its early provincialism and had begun to take its place in the nation as a whole.”

According to the product description on amazon:

People, ideas, and stories appear, disappear, and reappear as the second half of the century moves forward. Poetry is a major element in this kaleidoscopic California scene. It is argued about, dismissed, renewed, denounced in fury, asserted as divine, criticized as pornographic. Poetry is as Western as the Sierra foothills, and the questions raised here go to its very heart. Beginning with the publication of Kenneth Rexroth’s first book, this all-encompassing history-as-collage plunges us forward into the 21st Century. California authors keep generating massive anthologies in an attempt to tame the chaos of California, to pretend it isn’t there. Yet there it is—staring them in the face like a great bear, alive, hungry and more than a little dangerous.

What could be more Californian?

Jack was introduced to me about a decade ago by Dana Gioia, who is acknowledged as a motivating force in getting the project launched.

The Oakland-based poet and critic has a radio show, “Cover to Cover,” aired on Wednesdays at 3 p.m. on Berkeley station KPFA (it’s available at the KPFA web site – see here).  His column, “Foley’s Books,” appears in the online magazine The Alsop Review.

Orwell Watch #15, #14, #13: Jens Stoltenberg’s graceful words, a few of our graceless ones

Saturday, July 23rd, 2011

In a shocking time, after horrific events, words rush to mind: “unspeakable,” though we speak about what’s happened nonstop; “unimaginable,” though we are imagining the atrocity at that very moment, with the help of CNN and Youtube.  Inevitably, prefabricated words and phrases leap into the reeling sense of chaos – “tragedy” is often repeated ad nauseum, though the very function of the dramatic form is precisely to bring order and sense to chaos.

But we warned about this misleading, commonplace phrase earlier: From the New York Times (and, really, just about everywhere else, too): “A terror group, Ansar al-Jihad al-Alami, or the Helpers of the Global Jihad, issued a statement claiming responsibility for the attack, according to Will McCants, a terrorism analyst at C.N.A., a research institute that studies terrorism.

Since the crime appears to have been perpetrated by a lone nutter, Anders Behring Breivik, the Ansar al-Jihad al-Alami group’s desire to assume responsibility for the attack is cheering. Will they be coming to Norway to help nurse the victims, console families, and rebuild gutted buildings?  No? … well… we thought not.

Terrorism, of course, is rife with its own clichés. “Helpers of the Global Jihad”?  Please.  Within minutes of the announcement, twitterer @billmurphy responded: “‘Helpers of the Global Jihad’ is the worst name for a terrorist group ever.”  Helpers of the Global Jihad? … Sounds so familiar and cozy – “We aim to please.”

Untheatrical and persuasive

Speaking of terrorism, the murderer appears to have been a member of the far-right “Progress Party.”  A few months back, the Book Haven questioned the rebranding of Democrats under the self-congratulatory term, “progressives,” and received a few verbal punches.  But now do you see what we mean?  Any group can insist that it represents “progress” – broadly construed to mean the way someone imagines the future to be headed – and hijack the term to make itself sound like hot stuff.  The term “progress” merely signifies an opinion, not an agenda.

The remarks of Norway’s Prime minister Jens Stoltenberg, a bespectacled former journalist, on the occasion of this atrocity have been bracing and graceful:

You will not destroy us,” the prime minister said. “You will not destroy our democracy, or our commitment to a better world.

We are a small country nation, but a proud nation. No one shall bomb us to silence, no one shall shoot us to silence, no one shall scare us out of being Norway.

As one Youtube one commenter put it, it’s “how you run a country humanely.”  His comments are all the more striking  given Stoltenberg’s implacable ordinariness, his utter lack of stage presence and rhetorical flourish on this occasion.

However another of his comments “our answer is more democracy” raises questions.  More democracy?  Why? Have they been holding back?  Will they respond with more voter registration drives? Let’s hope it was a crummy translation.

Postscript on 7/24:  Parden has written to offer a reasonable explanation: “‘Mer demokrati’ as was here translated into ‘more democracy,’ can (and in this instance probably should) be translated as ‘continued democracy.'”


Can the shopworn superlatives, please.

Meanwhile, over at the Chicago Tribune, Artur Plotnik draws the line:

In the event the Cubs win the pennant some day, Arthur Plotnik has a string of superlatives at the ready. Ascendant. Dumbstriking. Festal. Gobsmacking. Both-barrels brain-blasting.

Notably absent from his list? Awesome.

Plotnik, more language fan than sports fan, is on a mission. He couldn’t care less whether the Cubs proceed to the World Series, frankly. He just wants to shake things up, word-wise. “I’m trying to destroy ‘awesome’ and have everyone saying ‘transcendent.’
“Our superlatives are so bleached out,” says Plotnik, author of Better Than Great: A Plenitudinous Compendium of Wallopingly Fresh Superlatives (Viva Editions). “They have no force, no delight, no expressiveness—unless you add an intensifier, most of which are just as worn out: Really awesome.”

Good luck to him.  He notes a curiosity I observed some time ago:  “We have no problem with our exuberance of the negative, as you can find on every thread on every news story, where each poster outdoes the previous in snark and negativity,” he says.

According to his websiteHis recent Spunk & Bite: A Writer’s Guide to Punchier, More Engaging Language & Style (Random House) is among the best-selling recent titles on language and writing. Billy Collins, former U.S. Poet Laureate, called it “A must for every writer’s desk.”


And as a followup to our earlier post, David Meadvin of Inkwell Strategies’ much-awaited sequel to “Words That Make Us Cringe.”  You can check it out here, but we give out our own prize:

“Outside the Box” The fastest way to earn a place on the cringe-worthy hall of shame is with corporate catchphrases.  Last week, we singled out paradigm; this week “outside the box” earns our jeers.  Where is this box? Why is it so difficult and noteworthy to emerge from it? As we all know, the term refers to clever thinking and new ideas.  Wouldn’t it be nice if the words used to describe creativity weren’t so appallingly uncreative?

David ends with a pledge:  “The internet is filled with sites devoted to identifying misuse of quotation marks, and apostrophes.  A pair of self-styled grammar vigilantes has even been traversing the country in pursuit of grammar mistakes on signs.  Identifying inappropriate, overused words and phrases is admittedly tougher, because they don’t violate any specific grammar rules.  They do, however, violate our sensibilities.  And as such, we’ll continue working to root them out.”

Stay tuned.  Meanwhile, let’s end with a few moving words from Norway:

Russian translators get a shot at the Joseph Brodsky/Stephen Spender Prize and Ms. magazine celebrates its 40th with an essay contest

Thursday, July 21st, 2011

Two recent emails, alerting me to two very different kinds of literary contests:

1. The first commemorates the long friendship between Joseph Brodsky and Stephen Spender.   The Joseph Brodsky/Stephen Spender Prize, launched by Maria Brodsky and Natasha Spender, also celebrates the rich tradition of Russian poetry.

Details are here.  You supply the original Russian, your translation, and some commentary.  But do you translate a long novel, an essay, a few poems?  It doesn’t say.  Up to you, I guess.

The contest offers three prizes: £1,500 (first), £1,000 (second) and £500.

Entries must be received by August 31.  Judges of the 2011 competition are: Sasha Dugdale, Catriona Kelly, Paul Muldoon.

(Valentina Polukhina, one of the supporters of the contest, wrote to let me know.)

2.   Ms. magazine is celebrating its 40th birthday, and you are invited, too.

A group of Stanford faculty and Ms. editors are inviting you to submit a 150-word essay about one of the magazine’s 40 covers.

Ten $100 cash prizes will be awarded for the best short essays. Entries will be judged on originality, vision, awareness of feminist issues and quality of expression. Winning entries will be displayed alongside the Ms. covers on the Stanford campus in January 2012.

The contest will run from August 1, 2011 – October 15, 2011. Click here for more details.

There’s more:  In January 2012 at Stanford, Ms. founding editor, Gloria Steinem, will offer a keynote address, with a month-long series of events that looks back on the history of the magazine.

The contest and the month-long series of events are sponsored by Stanford’s American Studies Program, the Clayman Institute for Gender Research, and the Program in Feminist Studies, in conjunction with Ms. Magazine.

(This invite courtesy Adrienne Johnson and Shelley Fisher Fishkin.)

He got it right: The letters of Paul Scott, the man behind Jewel in the Crown

Tuesday, July 19th, 2011

Eliel Saarinen's Cranbrook

I met British author Paul Scott briefly, during a scholarship weekend decades ago at the Cranbrook Academy of Arts and Institute of Sciences – with its beautiful gardens and buildings by architect Eliel Saarinen, coincidentally, a mile or so down the street from my family home.  A writer’s scholarship was heady stuff back then.  Poetry and prose were separated like goats and sheep:  the poetry folks were shuffled off for meetings with Galway Kinnell; the fiction people were sent off with Paul Scott.

Debonair and rumpled Galway was the charmer of the two – he charmed me, anyway, over biscuits and tea.  Paul Scott seemed under the weather – an old tropical disease, was the rumor.  To my eye, it seemed to have a lot to do with alcohol.

At any rate, in our small prose sessions, Paul seemed displeased with the lot of us.  After dismissing one piece of writing after another, he came to mine – a short satire of Russian writers (take that, Elif Batuman!).  “This is quite different,” he said, lifting his eyes to mine.  “I can see what you must have been like as a child.  You were quite brave, quite courageous.”  I did not correct him, but met his gaze.  Actually, he called it wrong.  I had been quite timid and withdrawn.

The charmer

The Cranbrook week was over all too soon.  But I didn’t forget him, and planned to meet him when I was a young intern at Vogue in London (yes, it was exactly like The Devil Wears Prada, and I felt very much like the Anne Hathaway character, except for the looks).  So I was surprised to read in the news of his death, a few months after my arrival, of colon cancer.

I wonder now if that’s part of why he was “under the weather” before, in the lush green of a Michigan summer.

His newly published Staying On, a coda to his Raj Quartet, hadn’t grabbed me; it won a Booker Prize after his death.  Like everyone else, I became a devoted fan of the Jewel in the Crown series years later – but by that time I’d had my own experiences in India.

Under the weather

Now, in 2011, two volumes of his letters have been published: Behind Paul Scott’s Raj Quartet: A Life in Letters, edited by Janis Haswell.  The volumes are reviewed in the Times Literary Supplement here.  An excerpt:

For much of his life, Paul Scott was the epitome of the struggling novelist. Dogged by self-doubt and money worries, tormented by writer’s block or inching forward painfully with a many-stranded narrative, his health and family problems exacerbated by a sedentary and often solitary lifestyle, he suffered for his art on a daily basis. Even success had its drawbacks. In a letter recording a lucrative paperback deal, he inveighs against “this coming and going and signing on the dotted line and being wooed by some crap publisher you don’t want to go to . . . all this is now a bit nasty, this is what I used to have ambitions for; and worked myself up into a tizzy just to meet this great man or this useful woman”. His frustration boils over on to the page. But the underlying reason for it is clear: “I’d almost give my right arm just to be left in peace to get on with The Birds of Paradise”. Some people really have no choice but to write, and Scott was one of them. As he himself explains, “The bloody trouble is we are only alive when we’re half dead trying to get a paragraph right”.

Jewel in the Crown: Art Malik as Hari Kumar, Tim Pigott-Smith as Ronald Merrick

My own mega-volume of Scott’s Quartet is marked lightly with pencil in the margins. “For me, the British Raj is an extended metaphor [and] I don’t think a writer chooses his metaphors. They choose him,” Scott had said.

His biographer Hilary Spurling wrote:

“Probably only an outsider could have commanded the long, lucid perspectives he brought to bear on the end of the British raj, exploring with passionate, concentrated attention a subject still generally treated as taboo, or fit only for historical romance and adventure stories. However Scott saw things other people would sooner not see, and he looked too close for comfort. His was a bleak, stern, prophetic vision and, like E.M. Forster‘s, it has come to seem steadily more accurate with time.”

Thumbing through reminds me of why I loved his vision as large as the empire, his empathy, his humanity.  And when he got it right, he got it right:

It will end, she told herself, in total and unforgiveable disaster; that is the situation. As she continued to look down upon the tableau of Rowan, Gopal and Kumar – and the clerk who no re-entered, presumably as a result of the ring of a bell that Rowan had pressed – she felt that she was being vouchsafed a vision of the future they were all headed for. At its heart was the rumbling sound of martial music. It was a vision because the likeness of it would happen. In her own time it would happen. … The reality of the actual deed would be a monument to all that had been thought for the best. ‘But it isn’t the best we should remember,’ she said, and shocked herself by speaking aloud, and clutched the folds and mother-of-pearl buttons in that habitual gesture. We must remember the worst because the worst is the lives we lead, the best is only our history, and between our history and our lives there is this vast dark plain where the rapt and patient shepherds drive their invisible flocks in expectation of God’s forgiveness.

Orwell Watch #13, continued: “The American people”

Monday, July 18th, 2011

Our man in Washington – lobbyist Jack Weldon of Patton Boggs

Yesterday, we pointed out the problems with politicians’ frequent invocation of  “the American people” – followed by a generalization that could not possibly hold true for 300 million individuals.

I suggested it was simply a device to marginalize opposition.  In other words, if “the American people” want such-and-so, and you do not, then you are cast into outer darkness.  It’s a way to pressure you back into the herd.

In true Orwellian spirit, a colleague passed on this news item, suggesting just how much the term “the American people” has been used dishonestly, to mask political indifference.

Clearly, someone else is concerned about the misuse of the term “the American people” – that is, the American people themselves.

They have hired a high-powered lobbyist to push their interests in Washington. Jack Weldon of the firm Patton Boggs has been retained to help advance the American people’s agenda in Congress.  Sources said Weldon will encourage lawmakers to see the American people as more than “just a low-priority fringe group.”  A veteran Washington insider admitted that Weldon’s new client is at a disadvantage because it lacks the money and power of other groups.

Known among Beltway insiders for his ability to sway public policy on behalf of massive corporations such as Johnson & Johnson, Monsanto, and AT&T, Weldon, 53, is expected to use his vast network of political connections to give his new client a voice in the legislative process. …

“Unlike R.J. Reynolds, Pfizer, or Bank of America, the U.S. populace lacks the access to public officials required to further its legislative goals,” a statement from the nation read in part. “Jack Weldon gives us that access.”

“His daily presence in the Capitol will ensure the American people finally get a seat at the table,” the statement continued. “And it will allow him to advance our message that everyone, including Americans, deserves to be represented in Washington.” …

“The goal is to make it seem politically advantageous for legislators to keep the American people in mind when making laws,” Weldon said. “Lawmakers are going to ask me, ‘Why should I care about the American people? What’s in it for me?’ And it will be up to me and my team to find some reason why they should consider putting poverty and medical care for children on the legislative docket.”

“To be honest,” Weldon added, “the American people have always been perceived as a little naïve when it comes to their representative government. But having me on their side sends a clear message that they’re finally serious and want to play ball.”

Read the rest at The Onion here.