Henry Eastman, a lawyer, aged forty, was standing beside the Flatiron building in a driving November rainstorm, signaling frantically for a taxi. It was six-thirty, and everything on wheels was engaged. The streets were in confusion about him, the sky was in turmoil above him, and the Flatiron building, which seemed about to blow down, threw water like a mill-shoot. Suddenly, out of the brutal struggle of men and cars and machines and people tilting at each other with umbrellas, a quiet, well-mannered limousine paused before him, at the curb, and an agreeable, ruddy countenance confronted him through the open window of the car.
“Don’t you want me to pick you up, Mr. Eastman? I’m running directly home now.”
Eastman recognized Kier Cavenaugh, a young man of pleasure, who lived in the house on Central Park South, where he himself had an apartment.
“Don’t I?” he exclaimed, bolting into the car. “I’ll risk getting your cushions wet without compunction. I came up in a taxi, but I didn’t hold it. Bad economy. I thought I saw your car down on Fourteenth Street about half an hour ago.”
The owner of the car smiled. He had a pleasant, round face and round eyes, and a fringe of smooth, yellow hair showed under the rim of his soft felt hat. “With a lot of little broilers fluttering into it? You did. I know some girls who work in the cheap shops down there. I happened to be down-town and I stopped and took a load of them home. I do sometimes. Saves their poor little clothes, you know. Their shoes are never any good.”
Eastman looked at his rescuer. “Aren’t they notoriously afraid of cars and smooth young men?” he inquired. Read More
In his Autobiography, Benjamin Franklin inventoried his thirteen virtues:
Eat not to fulness; drink not to elevation.
Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.
Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.
Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.
Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself i.e., waste nothing.
Lose no time, be always employed in something useful; cut off all unnecessary action.
Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.
Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.
Avoid extremes, forbear resenting injuries as much as you think they deserve.
Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, clothes, or habitation.
Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.
Rarely use venery but for health and offspring, never to dulness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation.
Imitate Jesus and Socrates.
D.H. Lawrence revised them—for himself, of course—in Studies in Classic American Literature:
Eat and carouse with Bacchus, or munch dry bread with Jesus, but don’t sit down without one of the gods.
Be still when you have nothing to say; when genuine passion moves you, say what you’ve got to say, and say it hot.
Know that you are responsible to the gods inside you and to the men in whom the gods are manifest. Recognize your superiors and your inferiors, according to the gods. This is
the root of all order.
Resolve to abide by your own deepest promptings, and to sacrifice the smaller thing to the greater. Kill when you must, and be killed the same: the must coming from the gods inside you, or from the men in whom you recognize the Holy Ghost.
Demand nothing; accept what you see fit. Don’t waste your pride or squander your emotion.
Lose no time with ideals; serve the Holy Ghost; never serve mankind.
To be sincere is to remember that I am I, and that the other man is not me.
The only justice is to follow the sincere intuition of the soul, angry or gentle. Anger is just, and pity is just, but judgement is never just.
Beware of absolutes. There are many gods.
Don’t be too clean. It impoverishes the blood.
The soul has many motions, many gods come and go. Try and find your deepest issue, in every confusion, and abide by that. Obey the man in whom you recognize the Holy Ghost; command when your honour comes to command.
Never ‘use’ venery at all. Follow your passional impulse, if it be answered in the other being; but never have any motive in mind, neither offspring nor health nor even pleasure, nor even service. Only know that ‘venery’ is of the great gods. An offering-up of yourself to the very great gods, the dark ones, and nothing else.
See all men and women according to the Holy Ghost that is within them. Never yield before the barren.
If we hear something, says Oehler, on Wednesday we check what we have heard and we check what we have heard until we have to say that what we have heard is not true, what we have heard is a lie. If we see something, we check what we see until we are forced to say that what we are looking at is horrible. Thus throughout our lives we never escape from what is horrible and what is untrue, the lie, says Oehler. If we do something, we think about what we are doing until we are forced to say that it is something nasty, something low, something outrageous, what we are doing is something terribly hopeless and that what we are doing is in the nature of things obviously false. Thus every day becomes hell for us whether we like it or not, and what we think will, if we think about it, if we have the requisite coolness of intellect and acuity of intellect, always become something nasty, something low and superfluous which will depress us in the most shattering manner for the whole of our lives. For, everything that is thought is superfluous. Nature does not need thought, says Oehler, only human pride incessantly thinks into nature its thinking. What must thoroughly depress us is the fact that through this outrageous thinking into a nature which is, in the nature of things, fully immunized against this thinking, we enter into an even greater depression than that in which we already are. In the nature of things conditions become ever more unbearable through our thinking, says Oehler. If we think that we are turning unbearable conditions into bearable ones, we have to realize quickly that we have not made (have not been able to make) unbearable circumstances bearable or even less bearable but only still more unbearable. And circumstances are the same as conditions, says Oehler, and it’s the same with facts. The whole process of life is a process of deterioration in which everything–and this is the most cruel law–continually gets worse. If we look at a person, we are bound in a short space of time to say what a horrible, what an unbearable person. If we look at Nature, we are bound to say, what a horrible what an unbearable Nature. If we look at something artificial–it doesn’t matter what the artificiality is–we are bound to say in a short space of time what an unbearable artificiality. If we are out walking, we even say after the shortest space of time, what an unbearable walk, just as when we are running we say what an unbearable run, just as when we are standing still, what an unbearable standing still, just as when we are thinking what an unbearable process of thinking. If we meet someone, we think within the shortest space of time, what an unbearable meeting. If we go on a journey, we say to ourselves, after the shortest space of time, what an unbearable journey, what unbearable weather, we say, says Oehler, no matter what the weather is like, if we think about any sort of weather at all. If our intellect is keen, if our thinking is the most ruthless and the most lucid, says Oehler, we are bound after the shortest space of time to say ofeverything that it is unbearable and horrible. There is no doubt that the art lies in bearing what is unbearable and in not feeling that what is horrible is something horrible. Of course we have to label this art the most difficult of all. The art of existing against the facts, says Oehler, is the most difficult, the art that is the most difficult.
From Thomas Bernhard’s Walking. Translated by Kenneth Northcott and excerpted at length in Conjunctions 31.
As we were leaving the tobacconist’s, my friend carefully separated his change; in the left pocket of his waistcoat he slipped small gold coins; in the right, small silver coins; in his left trouser pocket, a handful of pennies and, finally, in the right he put a silver two-franc piece that he had scrutinized with particular care.
“What a singularly minute distribution!” I said to myself.
We encountered a poor man who held out his cap with a trembling hand‹I know nothing more disquieting than the mute eloquence of those supplicating eyes that contain at once, for the sensitive man who knows how to read them, so much humility and so much reproach. He finds there something close to the depth of complicated feeling one sees in the tear-filled eyes of a dog being beaten.
My friend’s offering was considerably larger than mine, and I said to him: “You are right; next to the pleasure of feeling surprise, there is none greater than to cause a surprise.” “It was the counterfeit coin,” he calmly replied as though to justify himself for his prodigality.
But into my miserable brain, always concerned with looking for noon at two o’clock (what an exhausting faculty is nature’s gift to me!), there suddenly came the idea that such conduct on my friend’s part was excusable only by the desire to create an event in this poor devil’s life, perhaps even to learn the varied consequences, disastrous or otherwise, that a counterfeit coin in the hands of a beggar might engender. Might it not multiply into real coins? Could it not also lead him to prison? A tavern keeper, a baker, for example, was perhaps going to have him arrested as a counterfeiter or for passing counterfeit money. The counterfeit coin could just as well, perhaps, be the germ of several days’ wealth for a poor little speculator. And so my fancy went its course, lending wings to my friend’s mind and drawing all possible deductions from all possible hypotheses.
But the latter suddenly shattered my reverie by repeating my own words: “Yes, you are right; there is no sweeter pleasure than to surprise a man by giving him more than he hopes for.”
I looked him squarely in the eyes and I was appalled to see that his eyes shone with unquestionable candor. I then saw clearly that his aim had been to do a good deed while at the same time making a good deal; to earn forty cents and the heart of God; to win paradise economically; in short, to pick up gratis the certificate of a charitable man. I could have almost forgiven him the desire for the criminal enjoyment of which a moment before I assumed him capable; I would have found something bizarre, singular in his amusing himself by compromising the poor; but I will never forgive him the ineptitude of his calculation. To be mean is never excusable, but there is some merit in knowing that one is; the most irreparable of vices is to do evil out of stupidity.
Chris Ware, one of the greatest living American novelists, will be publishing his new novel The Last Saturday, “tracing the lives of six individuals from Sandy Port, Michigan,”
in installments in The Guardian this fall. New episodes every Saturday.
It is very unhappy, but too late to be helped, the discovery we have made that we exist. That discovery is called the Fall of Man. Ever afterwards we suspect our instruments. We have learned that we do not see directly, but mediately, and that we have no means of correcting these colored and distorting lenses which we are, or of computing the amount of their errors. Perhaps these subject-lenses have a creative power; perhaps there are no objects. Once we lived in what we saw; now, the rapaciousness of this new power, which threatens to absorb all things, engages us. Nature, art, persons, letters, religions, objects, successively tumble in, and God is but one of its ideas. Nature and literature are subjective phenomena; every evil and every good thing is a shadow which we cast. The street is full of humiliations to the proud. As the fop contrived to dress his bailiffs in his livery and make them wait on his guests at table, so the chagrins which the bad heart gives off as bubbles, at once take form as ladies and gentlemen in the street, shopmen or bar-keepers in hotels, and threaten or insult whatever is threatenable and insultable in us. ‘Tis the same with our idolatries. People forget that it is the eye which makes the horizon, and the rounding mind’s eye which makes this or that man a type or representative of humanity, with the name of hero or saint. Jesus, the “providential man,” is a good man on whom many people are agreed that these optical laws shall take effect. By love on one part and by forbearance to press objection on the other part, it is for a time settled, that we will look at him in the centre of the horizon, and ascribe to him the properties that will attach to any man so seen. But the longest love or aversion has a speedy term. The great and crescive self, rooted in absolute nature, supplants all relative existence and ruins the kingdom of mortal friendship and love. Marriage (in what is called the spiritual world) is impossible, because of the inequality between every subject and every object. The subject is the receiver of Godhead, and at every comparison must feel his being enhanced by that cryptic might. Though not in energy, yet by presence, this magazine of substance cannot be otherwise than felt; nor can any force of intellect attribute to the object the proper deity which sleeps or wakes forever in every subject. Never can love make consciousness and ascription equal in force. There will be the same gulf between every me and thee as between the original and the picture. The universe is the bride of the soul. All private sympathy is partial. Two human beings are like globes, which can touch only in a point, and whilst they remain in contact, all other points of each of the spheres are inert; their turn must also come, and the longer a particular union lasts the more energy of appetency the parts not in union acquire.
I REMEMBER THE BOOKSTORE, long gone now, on Forty-Second Street. I stood in the narrow aisle reading the first paragraph of The Recognitions. It was a revelation, a piece of writing with the beauty and texture of a Shakespearean monologue-or, maybe more apt, a work of Renaissance art impossibly transformed from image to words. And they were the words of a contemporary American. This, to me, was the wonder of it.
Years later, when I was a writer myself, I read JR, and it seemed to me, at first, that Gaddis was working against his own gifts for narration and physical description, leaving the great world behind to enter the pigeon-coop clutter of minds intent on deal-making and soul-swindling. This was not self-denial, I began to understand, but a writer of uncommon courage and insight discovering a method that would allow him to realize his sense of what the great world had become.
JR in fact is a realistic novel–so unforgivingly real that we may fail to recognize it as such. It is the real world of its own terms, without the perceptual scrim that we tend to erect (novelists and others) in order to live and work safely within it.
Two tremendous novels. And the author maneuvering his car out of a dark and cramped driveway, the last time I saw him, with four or five friends and acquaintances calling out instructions as the car backed onto the country road, headlights shining on our waved good nights.
If you regularly read The New York Times or The New Yorker, you’ve probably already seen Roman Muradov’s compelling illustrations. If you’re a fan, you also know about his strange and wonderful Yellow Zine comics (and if you don’t know them, check out his adaptation of Italo Calvino).
Muradov’s début graphic novella (In a Sense) Lost and Found was released recently by Nobrow Press, and it’s a beauty—rich, imaginative, playful, and rewarding. And it smells good.
(In a Sense) Lost and Found begins with a nod to Kafka’s Metamorphosis:
Although we’re told by the narrative script that our heroine F. Premise (faulty premise?) “awoke,” the surreal world Muradov creates in Lost and Found suggests that those “troubled dreams” continue far into waking hours. The story runs on its own internal dream-logic, shifting into amorphous spaces without any kind of exposition to guide the reader who is, in a sense, as lost as the protagonist becomes at times on her Kafkaesque quest.
What is F. Premise’s mission? To regain her innocence, perhaps, although only the initial narrative script and the punning title allude to “innocence.” The characters seem unable or unwilling to name this object; each time they mention it, their speech trails off elliptically, as we see when Premise’s father (?) confronts her at the breakfast table:
Muradov’s imagery suggests Kafka’s bug again—the father’s antennae poke over the broadsheet he’s reading (the book is larded with readers), his strange mouth sagging out under it. Even more Kafkaesque though is Muradov’s refusal to reveal the father’s face, the face of authority, who sends his daughter back up to her room where she must remain locked away.
She sneaks out of course—would there be an adventure otherwise?—and it turns out that faceless father is right: F. Premise falls (literally) under the intense gaze of the community. F. Premise is startlingly present to others now by virtue of her absent virtue.
Muradov uses traditional nine-panel grids to tell his story, utilizing large splashes sparingly to convey the intensity of key moments in the narrative. The book brims with beautiful, weird energy, rendered in intense color and deep shadow. Muradov’s abstractions—pure shapes—cohere into representative objects only to fragment again into abstraction. (Perhaps I should switch “cohere” and “fragment” here—I may have the verbs backwards).
The art here seems as grounded in a kind of post-cubism as it does in the work of Muradov’s cartooning forebears. In the remarkable passage below, for example, our heroine moves from one world to another, her form nearly disappearing into complete abstraction by the fifth panel (an image that recalls Miró), before stabilizing again (if momentarily) in the sixth panel.
It’s in that last panel that F. Premise returns to her adopted home (of sorts)—a bookstore, of course. Earlier, the kindly owner of the bookstore loans her a pair of old plus-fours, and all of a sudden her identity shifts—or rather, the community shifts her identity, their penetrating gaze no longer trying to screw her to a particular preconception. Identity in Lost and Found is as fluid and changeable as the objects in Muradov’s haunting illustrations.
I have probably already belabored too much of the plot. Suffice to say that our heroine’s quest takes strange turns, makes radical shifts, she descends up and down and into other worlds. Embedded in the journey is a critique of nostalgia, of the commodification of memory (or, more accurately, the memory of memory). Is our innocence what we thought it was? Can we buy it back like some mass-produced object?
As I noted before, Lost and Found is stuffed with images of readers. There’s something almost Borgesian in the gesture, as if each background character might be on the threshold (if not right in the middle of) their own adventures.
It’s in the book’s final moments though that we see a move from reading to writing: Our heroine F. Premise picks up the pen and claims agency, writes her own life. She is indeed the narrative voice after all, the imposing script that, like some all-knowing hand, guided us into the narrative in the first place, only to disappear until the end.
I loved Lost and Found, finding more in its details, shadowy corners, and the spaces between the panels with each new reading. My only complaint is that I wish it were longer. The book is probably not for everyone—readers looking for a simple comic with an expository voice that will guide them through a traditional plot should probably look elsewhere. But readers willing to engage in Muradov’s ludic text will be rewarded—and even folks left scratching their heads will have to admit that the book is gorgeous, an aesthetic experience unto itself. And it smells good. Highly recommended.
“God Sees the Truth, but Waits”
In the town of Vladimir lived a young merchant named Ivan Dmitrich
Aksionov. He had two shops and a house of his own.
Aksionov was a handsome, fair-haired, curly-headed fellow, full of fun, and very fond of singing. When quite a young man he had been given to drink, and was riotous when he had had too much; but after he married he gave up drinking, except now and then.
One summer Aksionov was going to the Nizhny Fair, and as he bade good-bye to his family, his wife said to him, “Ivan Dmitrich, do not start to-day; I have had a bad dream about you.”
Aksionov laughed, and said, “You are afraid that when I get to the fair I shall go on a spree.”
His wife replied: “I do not know what I am afraid of; all I know is that I had a bad dream. I dreamt you returned from the town, and when you took off your cap I saw that your hair was quite grey.”
Aksionov laughed. “That’s a lucky sign,” said he. “See if I don’t sell out all my goods, and bring you some presents from the fair.”
So he said good-bye to his family, and drove away.
When he had travelled half-way, he met a merchant whom he knew, and they put up at the same inn for the night. They had some tea together, and then went to bed in adjoining rooms.
It was not Aksionov’s habit to sleep late, and, wishing to travel while it was still cool, he aroused his driver before dawn, and told him to put in the horses.
Then he made his way across to the landlord of the inn (who lived in a cottage at the back), paid his bill, and continued his journey.
When he had gone about twenty-five miles, he stopped for the horses to be fed. Aksionov rested awhile in the passage of the inn, then he stepped out into the porch, and, ordering a samovar to be heated, got out his guitar and began to play.
Suddenly a troika drove up with tinkling bells and an official alighted, followed by two soldiers. He came to Aksionov and began to question him, asking him who he was and whence he came. Aksionov answered him fully, and said, “Won’t you have some tea with me?” But the official went on cross-questioning him and asking him. “Where did you spend last night? Were you alone, or with a fellow-merchant? Did you see the other merchant this morning? Why did you leave the inn before dawn?” Read More