Saturday, May 7, 2011

Why do the heavens not darken?

February 8 [1991]

Dear [Laurent],

I wish to thank you for your very thoughtful letter. Indeed, I had a future Desert Storm in mind when writing and thinking the book. But you are the first to read between the lines, and to have seen one of the unwritten "texts" .. Judging by the tone of your letter you seem to have no regrets about having spent four years at this university!

Should you ever return for a reunion or some other occasion, why not give me advance notice so we can arrange to meet for a chat. In the meantime every best personal wish and again un grand merci for taking the trouble to write me that note.

What makes a man think ahead? What makes an historian think prospectively, once he's done his best to know what's happened? What lures him every Autumn from his château in Chérence, to a small town in New Jersey, after all?  

I think we know.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Mr Emerson, who can be cited for anything ..

Ah you're bringing what I meant with "some vague aspiration to be told a story"... This is exactly the feeling I have for two weeks now, and I still have not found what I am hungry of. Almost every day, I go to the library, .. I am looking for some tenderness, springing love, harmonious state of mind, blossoming sweetness of the heart, a deep and strong passion of life and youth, with a little bit of wildness of wildness of the soul. All that in some Poetry...

I was thinking Paul Verlaine, then maybe Rimbaud, or Victor Hugo, ... but still, I am lost, and cannot detect the answer to this strange query I have deep inside .. It is almost the way I am used to reacting with the changing season .. And I am used to responding very quickly and righteously. and to this non-answer, I tend not to feel like doing anything until then... Almost like the way anyone feels when they are in love ..

A reader's comment writes the page this morning; I've left aside his signature, to spare him any mistake of mine in framing this purloined entry. Emerson's maxim, 'Tis the good reader who makes the good book, was printed on the bookmark freely given by San Francisco's irreplaceable Tillman Place Book Shop. Their tags are all about one in the room that keeps the stories, always making room for the reader. He takes the story out of bindings, where it lives. 

Inès de la Fressange
anon reader
Valéry Lorenzo

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

I don't know if our rites were any more silly than Heidelberg's

It was the Harris matter, of course - of which you couldn't have helped hearing - which brought the peculiar-ities of our eating club selections to a mild sort of head. There was nothing especially wrong with Harris - a little ostentatiously fair, some noted, and not above a somewhat obtrusive quality of fitness - but discernibly a fellow, for all that, when word had got out that he would decline to be scarred. Well, I think you can see to what little choice we were left. With all of clubdom looking on, which of us should be saddled with this possibly too visible mockery of our scrupulously discreet inheritance? Yet would it be right, to allow a minor club to pick him up?

It was at the university that the sons of the nobility of land and public service obtruded their social primacy.. Once at the university, students joined Landsmannschaften, or fraternities that sustained the quasi-feudal ethos.. The student duel.. was the most notorious of the ordeals used to determine the worthiness of fraternity postulants.. In actual fact, the eyes, the throat, the right arm, and the torso were so thoroughly shielded that what was billed as a risky combat was really a benign and ritualised facial operation .. [but] to join any fraternity, was to subscribe to the aristocratic preten-sions of the old regime.

The unblinkable problem with Harris, in short, is that he threatened these precious, or even darling pretensions while doing so terribly little else to separate himself from the regime, itself. Naturally, this only left all our legitimate novices in a state of queasiness over what they'd be join-ing. The whole thing could well have fallen apart, if Harris' father (a member of our Board) hadn't interceded with the donation of the deed to Utah, where some liked to go skiing, with Harris agreeing to wearing a baggy pullover on weekends. That you've heard of this at all, is because of demographic inconvenience. Who knew, Utah would be so touchy? 

Arno J. Mayer
Dayton-Stockton Professor, emeritus
The Persistence of the Old Regime
Random House
Pantheon Books, 1981©

John Bacon
Coronation of George V, 1911
Mountbatten-Windsor Collection

"But I never knew until this day, it was Barzini, all along"

To this symbolic - and, presently, deflating - end, with a Guidance System that was panic, malice, neurosis and propaganda, this most wasteful and literally unconceived military gesture has boiled down to, “Well, that’ll teach ‘im.”

A nauseating standard of justice, but who could have expected anything else from a crusade rallied with a bull-horn and protracted with perversion, as a screen for domestic repression and disastrous financial misconduct? Tomorrow, if not today, we'll hear dutiful SEALs made human shields of this misgovernance; and lying with our men will have come full circle. 

Vito Corleone, eat your heart out. Your son Michael belongs to us.

Francis Ford Coppola
The Godfather
Paramount, 1972©

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Follies of a comfy night

I suppose I'm alone in this problem, but it recurs and has begun to affect my waking thoughts. I find I can get too comfortable to read. At first, of course, I chalked this up to the quality of the print. Then I thought, no, this is happening with articulate fonts, and on good paper. Next, I blamed the footnotes, so I switched to fiction; then I blamed the plod of plotting, so I switched to poetry; then I blamed the abstraction, so I switched to politics; then I blamed the self-interest, so I switched to philosophy; then I blamed the discursiveness, so I switched to portraiture; but then I couldn't blame anything, and so I couldn't sleep.

Quick! Get me Mr Porter

Upon reluctant review of unexpectedly available facts, it emerges that Public Enemy Number One was defended by two unarmed ladies and two flights of stairs; but he resisted, all right. Resistance doesn't require a weapon, the White House reminded us all. As if it might know.

But can the Pentagon afford such an admission, right on the eve of its annual feeding frenzy?

Meanwhile, Virginia Beach wants a parade of SEALs; and we, for our part, are unable to wait.

Hi, ho, Silver!

Cole Porter
I'm Always True to You
  in my Fashion
"Kiss Me, Kate," 1938

Ella Fitzgerald
The Cole Porter Songbook
Verve/Polygram, 1997©

More like it

Not nearly the frequent hazard in Virginia that he ought to be, the sailing gadfly nevertheless does occur at various neighborhood ponds. I'm holding out for whole picnic sites to be swept clear of frisbees and footballs, for this fair enhancement of the daylight sky to migrate to the Piedmont. We note the ebullient projectile, shorn of surf- and skate-board, attack bicycle and pogo stick, exploiting no more than the sailcloth of a pair of shorts to navigate in flight. Any gentleman who can turn co-efficients of flag to such loftier advantage may certainly sit by me, to parse the passing scene.

Mr Bush's masterpiece

Who was not gladdened, as fratties flooded streets of Washington in joy at the Supreme Court's defense of habeas corpus at Guantánamo? Whose heart didn't leap for the integrity of our culture, as our knightly little hedgehogs rose en masse to praise the President's end to torture? Do we not remember pandemonium incarnate when he said that he would abandon, Don't ask, don't tell? Many explained, how "this" had been the great cause of their whole life; and who could doubt it? Since puberty they'd been seduced by brutish manipulation of their childhood trauma, to make them such lusty consumers of death.  

Now we have the starkly mad assertion that Justice was done, on the blood of several nations and countless hundreds of thousands, and the sav-aged souls of children raised on lies.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Possibly, we should all just move to England and call it a book

Boy, it was clear, was still leaving all the dirty work to Polly. Perhaps his cold was sapping his will power, or perhaps the mere thought of a new young wife at his age was exhausting him already ..

English comedy of manners, mid-20th C

Having just indulged myself in the latest literary contrivance of Mr Julian Fellowes, I have good news and bad news. The good news is, we can all do it; the bad, for our vines at home, is that it will mean having to decamp to a cold climate. But, first, I want to claim full credit for dropping an elegant name, and for suspending disbelief that a contemporary fantasy on social climbing not written by Martin Amis may be worth destroying a favourite chair, for all the squirming it induces. I have not only pluct Past Imperfect from Mayfair's smartest shop, I have slogged through it on less than a magnum of Pommery and lived to avenge us all, here.

I shall try to see to it that what you have to do, is a little less daunt-ing. You have to remember 5 or 6 of the partners you danced with in your original set, and simply envision risking sleeping with them 30 years later. I know nobody who cannot dispatch 20 pages per tryst on that score-settling project.

You must visit each of them at the country house which garrisons their marriage, and critique their spouse and other furnishings with bitchy acumen. I know, I know; I can hear your skepticism now: and this requires a move to England?

Well, if you want to attract the gold leaf bindings of Weidenfeld & Nicolson, it does; if you want to draw comparison with The Greats - Mitford, Waugh, Coward - it does; and if you want to draw a headwaiter's zeal at Wilton's, it does. But for this, you get to be praised for waspish satire; you get to be deemed a guilty pleasure; Stephen Fry, himself (who's done this twice, to one's own library), may even deem you a thoroughbred.

Horses for courses, then, my dear colleagues. And who'd have conceived the prospect, that the new Jerusalem for reconciling our venture's Moonsome and its Gossamer wings would have found such domicile in the very capital, not only of our tongue but of its sublimest bindings?

I find nothing meretricious in Mr Fellowes' formula except, if I may, an excessively recurring interpola-tion of first-person offerings of the hoariest Britannic bigotry - toward Los Angeles, for being too meritocratic; homosexuality, for being too popular; yellow foyers, for being too frontal. He affects the cleverness of a catamite with the predictability of his client. A borrowed wit is worse than no wit at all, and it badly flattens what little bubble there is in this presumingly unassuming Prosecco. (He is almost originally funny about Pinot Grigio). Still, one can be paid for this.

Mr Fellowes is an asset of the realm, however, who is being permitted a couple of victory laps from a career of writing for other media. His hit, Snobs (2005), and now this thing will have a vogue among Virginia sorority girls, anxious to learn what to disdain; and among hardworking invitation-grubbers of either gender. He may be entitled to hang easy, for such readers; but he is not entitled to comparison with craftspeople of undisputed invention and devotion to the vitality of texts. Nothing is stirred more certainly by an hour with this derivative dram, than thirst for the untendentious trenchancy of Mrs Peter Rodd.

Julian Fellowes
Past Imperfect
Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2008©

Nancy Mitford
Love in a Cold Climate
Hamish Hamilton, 1949©

ii,   James Hampson
vii, Mathias Lauridsen

Sunday, May 1, 2011

May we see an end

May we see an end
to political gain
in human death?


Of all the ecclesiastic promises sometimes dangled before me, this one seems the least humane, the most necessary to refuse. It musters the folly of pride only to imbue it in another, where the end of that mistake is what is wanted. I'd be known for what I'd done before effacing it, resting harmony on candour before conceit. 

One has seen so much of that in religious Virginia, so much of that from religious Arkansas and reli-gious Texas, that the natural hunger for history grows deeper by the day, taking precedence over regard for any form of law and who might play with it for his delight. The painting-out, above, glosses over the space of a Schutzstaffel tattoo, as in being born again.

But the first lost state to free from sanctimony is one's own, and it is here where the hunger for history originates, and why - to be able to know welcome with others as we are.


i,   Jason Poisson
iv, Clément Chabernaud