One feels happiness each day, you’re happy to be alive and not dead already. That’s a great capital.
From the person who died, I know that you love life to the very last moment. Basically, everyone loves to live. Life cannot be so terrible that you don’t keep on with it after all. The motivation is curiosity. You want to know: what will come next? It is more interesting to know what will come tomorrow then what is here today. When the body is ill the brain develops astonishingly well.
I prefer to know everything. And I always try to rob people and get everything that is in them out of them. As long as you can do so without the others recognizing it. When people discover that you want to rob them they shut their doors. Like the doors are shut when someone suspect comes near. But if nothing else is possible you can also break in. Everyone has some cellar window open. That also can be quite appealing.
Conjure up some last-minute romance. In the appendix to her collection of Florida folktales, Mules and Men, author Zora Neale Hurston offers up a host of Hoodoo, including the following love spells:
TO MAKE A MAN COME HOME
Take nine deep red or pink candles. Write his name three times on each candle. Wash the candles with Van-Van. Put the name three times on paper and place under the candles, and call the name of the party three times as the candle is placed at the hours of seven, nine or eleven.
TO MAKE PEOPLE LOVE YOU
Take nine lumps of starch, nine of sugar, nine teaspoons of steel dust. Wet it all with Jockey Club cologne. Take nine pieces of ribbon, blue, red or yellow. Take a dessertspoonful and put it on a piece of ribbon and tie it in a bag. As each fold is gathered together call his name. As you wrap it with yellow thread call his name till you finish. Make nine bags and place them under a rug, behind an armoire, under a step or over a door. They will love you and give you everything they can get. Distance makes no difference. Your mind is talking to his mind and nothing beats that.
TO BREAK UP A LOVE AFFAIR
Take nine needles, break each needle in three pieces. Write each person’s name three times on paper. Write one name backwards and one forwards and lay the broken needles on the paper. Take five black candles, four red and three green.
Tie a string across the door from it, suspend a large candle upside down, It will hang low on the door; bum one each day for one hour. If you burn your first in the daytime, keep on in the day; if at night, continue at night. A tin plate with paper and needles in it must be placed to catch wax in.
When the ninth day is finished, go out into the street and get some white or black dog dung. A dog only drops his dung in the street when he is running and barking, and whoever you curse will run and bark likewise. Put it in a bag with the paper and carry it to running water, and one of the parties will leave town.
- An article to be made of telling the stories of the tiles of an old-fashioned chimney-piece to a child.
- A person conscious that he was soon to die, the humor in which he would pay his last visit to familiar persons and things.
- A description of the various classes of hotels and taverns, and the prominent personages in each. There should be some story connected with it,–as of a person commencing with boarding at a great hotel, and gradually, as his means grew less, descending in life, till he got below ground into a cellar.
- A person to be in the possession of something as perfect as mortal man has a right to demand; he tries to make it better, and ruins it entirely.
- A person to spend all his life and splendid talents in trying to achieve something naturally impossible,–as to make a conquest over Nature.
- Meditations about the main gas-pipe of a great city,–if the supply were to be stopped, what would happen? How many different scenes it sheds light on? It might be made emblematical of something.
- A fairy tale about chasing Echo to her hiding-place. Echo is the voice of a reflection in a mirror.
from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s American Note-Books.
“A Still Moment”
by Eudora Welty
Lorenzo Dow rode the Old Natchez Trace at top speed upon a race horse, and the cry of the itinerant Man of God, “I must have souls! And souls I must have!” rang in his own windy ears. He rode as if never to stop, toward his night’s appointment.
It was the hour of sunset. All the souls that he had saved and all those he had not took dusky shapes in the mist that hung between the high banks, and seemed by their great number and density to block his way, and showed no signs of melting or changing back into mist, so that he feared his passage was to be difficult forever. The poor souls that were not saved were darker and more pitiful than those that were, and still there was not any of the radiance he would have hoped to see in such a congregation.
“Light up, in God’s name!” he called, in the pain of his disappointment.
Then a whole swarm of fireflies instantly flickered all around him, up and down, back and forth, first one golden light and then another, flashing without any of the weariness that had held back the souls. These were the signs sent from God that he had not seen the accumulated radiance of saved souls because he was not able, and that his eyes were more able to see the fireflies of the Lord than His blessed souls.
“Lord, give me the strength to see the angels when I am in Paradise,” he said. “Do not let my eyes remain in this failing proportion to my – loving heart always.”
He gasped and held on. It was that day’s complexity of horse-trading that had left him in the end with a Spanish race horse for which he was bound to send money in November from Georgia. Riding faster on the beast and still faster until he felt as if he were flying he sent thoughts of i love with matching speed to his wife Peggy in Massachusetts. He found it effortless to love at a distance. He could look at the flowering trees and love Peggy in fullness, just as he could see his visions and love God. And Peggy, to whom he had not spoken until he could speak fateful words (“Would she accept of such an object as him?”), Peggy, the bride, with whom he had spent a few hours of time, showing of herself a small round handwriting, declared all in one letter, her first, that she felt the same as he, and that the fear was never of separation, but only of death.
Lorenzo well knew that it was Death that opened underfoot, that rippled by at night, that was the silence the birds did their singing in. He was close to death, closer than any animal or bird. On the back of one horse after another, winding them all, he was always riding toward it or away from it, and the Lord sent him directions with protection in His mind.
Just then he rode into a thicket of Indians taking aim with their new guns. One stepped out and took the horse by the bridle, it stopped at a touch, and the rest made a closing circle. The guns pointed.
“Incline!” The inner voice spoke sternly and with its customary lightning-quickness.
“The Policemen’s Ball”
by Donald Barthelme
Horace, a policeman, was making Rock Cornish Game Hens for a special supper. The Game Hens are frozen solid, Horace thought. He was wearing his blue uniform pants.
Inside the Game Hens were the giblets in a plastic bag. Using his needlenose pliers Horace extracted the frozen giblets from the interior of the birds. Tonight is the night of the Policemen’s Ball, Horace thought. We will dance the night away. But first, these Game Hens must go into a three-hundred-and-fifty-degree oven.
Horace shined his black dress shoes. Would Margot “put out” tonight? On this night of nights? Well, if she didn’t– Horace regarded the necks of the birds which had been torn asunder by the pliers. No, he reflected, that is not a proper thought. Because I am a member of the force. I must try to keep my hatred under control. I must try to be an example for the rest of the people. Because if they can’t trust us. . .the blue men. . .
In the dark, outside the Policemen’s Ball, the horrors waited for Horace and Margot.
Margot was alone. Her roommates were in Provincetown for the weekend. She put pearl-colored lacquer on her nails to match the pearl of her new-bought gown. Police colonels and generals will be there, she thought. The Pendragon of the Police himself. Whirling past the dais, I will glance upward. The pearl of my eyes meeting the steel gray of high rank.
Margot got into a cab and went over to Horace’s place. The cabdriver was thinking: A nice-looking piece. I could love her.
Horace removed the birds from the oven. He slipped little gold frills, which has been included in the package, over the ends of the drumsticks. Then he uncorked the wine, thinking: This is a town without pity, this town. For those whose voices lack the crack of authority. Luckily the uniform. . . Why won’t she surrender her person? Does she think she can resist the force? The force of the force?
“These birds are delicious.”
Driving Horace and Margot smoothly to the Armory, the new cabdriver thought about basketball.
Why do they always applaud the man who makes the shot?
Why don’t they applaud the ball?
It’s the ball that actually goes into the net.
The man doesn’t go into the net.
Never have I seen a man going into the net.
Twenty thousand policemen of all grades attended the annual fete. The scene was Camelot, with gay colors and burgees. The interior of the Armory had been roofed with lavish tenting. Police colonels and generals looked down on the dark uniforms, white gloves, silvery ball gowns.
“Horace, not now. This scene is so brilliant. I want to remember it.”
Horace thought: It? Not me?
The Pendragon spoke. “I ask you to be reasonable with the citizens. They pay our salaries after all. I know they are difficult sometimes, obtuse sometimes, even criminal sometimes, as we often run across in our line of work. But I ask you despite all to be reasonable. I know it is hard. I know it is not easy. I know that for instance when you see a big car, a ’70 Biscayne hardtop, cutting around a corner at a pretty fair clip, with three in the front and three in the back, and they are all mixed up, ages and sexes and colors, your natural impulse is to– I know your first thought is, All those people! Together! And your second thought is, Force! But I must ask you in the name of force itself to be restrained. For force, that great principle, is most honored in the breach and the observance. And that is where you men are, in the breach. You are fine men, the finest. You are Americans. So for the sake of America, be careful. Be reasonable. Be slow. In the name of the Father and the Son and of the Holy Ghost. And now I would like to introduce Vercingetorix, leader of the firemen, who brings us a few words of congratulation from that fine body of men.”
Waves of applause for the Pendragon filled the tented area.
“He is a handsome older man,” Margot said.
“He was born in a Western state and advanced to his present position through raw merit,” Horace told her.
The government of Czechoslovakia sent observers to the Policemen’s Ball. “Our police are not enough happy,” Colonel-General Cepicky explained. “We seek ways to improve them. This is a way. It may not be the best of all possible ways, but. . . Also I like to drink the official whiskey! It makes me gay!”
A bartender thought: Who is that yellow-haired girl in the pearl costume? She is stacked.
The mood of the Ball changed. The dancing was more serious now. Margot’s eyes sparkled from the jorums of champagne she had drunk. She felt Horace’s delicately Game Hen-flavored breath on her cheek. I will give him what he wants, she decided. Tonight. His heroism deserves it. He stands between us and them. He represents what is best in society: decency, order, safety, strength, sirens, smoke. No, he does not represent smoke. Great billowing oily black clouds. That Vercingetorix has a noble look. With whom is Vercingetorix dancing, at present?
The horrors waited outside patiently. Even policemen, the horrors thought. We get even policemen, in the end.
In Horace’s apartment, a gold frill was placed on a pearl toe.
The horrors had moved outside Horace’s apartment. Not even policemen and their ladies are safe, the horrors thought. No one is safe. Safety does not exist. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!
by Flannery O’Connor
Rosa found him rolled over in the mud down by the gully. She started. The wash basket fell off her head and six white shirts-washed, pressed, and folded-flapped face-down in the mud. One of them was in reach of his hand, a rigid, immobile hand, strangely white against the soft red clay it lay in. She felt like sinking into the clay herself. It had taken her all afternoon to iron them shirts. She picked them up except the one that almost touched him. She fished that up with a stick and drop ped it into the basket. Then she looked at him again. He seemed almost to have been pressed down in the clay, his thin body and outstretched arms forming a weird white cross in relief on the red. Light-colored trousers clung to his wet body and Rosa notic ed that a thin coating of ice had begun to form around his arms and back.
He had on no coat.
“Whoever killed him ain’t lef’ nothin’ for nobody else,” she muttered. “Done took the coat offen his back. These niggers ’round here ain’t got no sense.” Allus got caught in some devilment an’ got theysevs in the ‘lectric chair. ‘Thout gittin’ nothin’ out it neither. Niggers was funny that way, she mused. Wonder howcome she was different? Allus had been. Even when she was little, she was brightern Lizzie an’ Boon. She was scrawny but she was bright. And scrawny as she was, she had got Abram. Strongest nigger in Bell’s Quarters was hers. He was devilish like the rest of ‘em, but, Lord, that nigger was strong! He could er strangled that man there wit one er his hans. She looked down at the cross apprehensively. Might er done it too ‘cepin’ he had gone in to wn for keresene an’ that had carried him t’other way. This would be one time Abram wouldn’t be mess up in nothin’. He warn’t a bad nigger, couldn’t help stealin’ now an’ then, er gittin’ hissef drunk, er fightin’. It was in his blood like sense was in her s. Abram had sense too-almost as much as she had- when he warn’t drunk; but git that nigger drunk and he’d forget he a king an’ gonna git him a throne someday. Him an’ her-they gonna have ‘em a throne, Abram say. He gonna git ‘em a throne. Would too. Long ‘s he won’t drunk an’ didn’t git hissef in trouble. But he warn’t mess up in this killin’ here. This was some other nigger’s doin’, er maybe a white man’s. Maybe.
Vaguely she wondered if they might think she had killed the man.
They sho would if they seen her tracks leadin’ up to him. Now how they gonna know them her tracks? They warn’t God Amighty. Rosa put the basket on her head again and went back home.
She was sorting the Grocery-Store-Wilkinson’s wash from the Sheriff-Thomases when Abram came in. She heard three, slow, deliberate footsteps and thought it was someone else. Then the door creaked and he peered in. She knew he was drunk by the way he opene d the door. If it had weighed a hundred, he couldn’t have done it more slowly. Cheap wine-allus got him. Abram closed the door behind him with infinite care and tiptoed to the bed where she had the wash laid out.
“You ain’t gonna lie down on that wash, nigger!” she screamed as he lowered himself to the Sheriff’s stiff, green-striped shirt. Abram rolled over on the floor.
Writers may be classified as meteors, planets and fixed stars. A meteor makes a striking effect for a moment. You look up and cry There! and it is gone for ever. Planets and wandering stars last a much longer time. They often outshine the fixed stars and are confounded with them by the inexperienced; but this only because they are near. It is not long before they must yield their place; nay, the light they give is reflected only, and the sphere of their influence is confined to their own orbit—their contemporaries. Their path is one of change and movement, and with the circuit of a few years their tale is told. Fixed stars are the only ones that are constant; their position in the firmament is secure; they shine with a light of their own; their effect to-day is the same as it was yesterday, because, having no parallax, their appearance does not alter with a difference in our standpoint. They belong not to one system, one nation only, but to the universe. And just because they are so very far away, it is usually many years before their light is visible to the inhabitants of this earth.
From The Art of Literature by Arthur Schopenhauer.
Literary journals should be a dam against the unconscionable scribbling of the age, and the ever-increasing deluge of bad and useless books. Their judgments should be uncorrupted, just and rigorous; and every piece of bad work done by an incapable person; every device by which the empty head tries to come to the assistance of the empty purse, that is to say, about nine-tenths of all existing books, should be mercilessly scourged. Literary journals would then perform their duty, which is to keep down the craving for writing and put a check upon the deception of the public, instead of furthering these evils by a miserable toleration, which plays into the hands of author and publisher, and robs the reader of his time and his money.
If there were such a paper as I mean, every bad writer, every brainless compiler, every plagiarist from other’s books, every hollow and incapable place-hunter, every sham-philosopher, every vain and languishing poetaster, would shudder at the prospect of the pillory in which his bad work would inevitably have to stand soon after publication. This would paralyze his twitching fingers, to the true welfare of literature, in which what is bad is not only useless but positively pernicious. Now, most books are bad and ought to have remained unwritten. Consequently praise should be as rare as is now the case with blame, which is withheld under the influence of personal considerations, coupled with the maxim accedas socius, laudes lauderis ut absens.
It is quite wrong to try to introduce into literature the same toleration as must necessarily prevail in society towards those stupid, brainless people who everywhere swarm in it. In literature such people are impudent intruders; and to disparage the bad is here duty towards the good; for he who thinks nothing bad will think nothing good either. Politeness, which has its source in social relations, is in literature an alien, and often injurious, element; because it exacts that bad work shall be called good. In this way the very aim of science and art is directly frustrated.
The ideal journal could, to be sure, be written only by people who joined incorruptible honesty with rare knowledge and still rarer power of judgment; so that perhaps there could, at the very most, be one, and even hardly one, in the whole country; but there it would stand, like a just Aeropagus, every member of which would have to be elected by all the others. Under the system that prevails at present, literary journals are carried on by a clique, and secretly perhaps also by booksellers for the good of the trade; and they are often nothing but coalitions of bad heads to prevent the good ones succeeding. As Goethe once remarked to me, nowhere is there so much dishonesty as in literature.
From The Art of Literature by Arthur Schopenhauer.
Style is the physiognomy of the mind, and a safer index to character than the face. To imitate another man’s style is like wearing a mask, which, be it never so fine, is not long in arousing disgust and abhorrence, because it is lifeless; so that even the ugliest living face is better. Hence those who write in Latin and copy the manner of ancient authors, may be said to speak through a mask; the reader, it is true, hears what they say, but he cannot observe their physiognomy too; he cannot see their style. With the Latin works of writers who think for themselves, the case is different, and their style is visible; writers, I mean, who have not condescended to any sort of imitation, such as Scotus Erigena, Petrarch, Bacon, Descartes, Spinoza, and many others. An affectation in style is like making grimaces. Further, the language in which a man writes is the physiognomy of the nation to which he belongs; and here there are many hard and fast differences, beginning from the language of the Greeks, down to that of the Caribbean islanders.
To form a provincial estimate of the value of a writer’s productions, it is not directly necessary to know the subject on which he has thought, or what it is that he has said about it; that would imply a perusal of all his works. It will be enough, in the main, to know how he has thought. This, which means the essential temper or general quality of his mind, may be precisely determined by his style. A man’s style shows the formal nature of all his thoughts—the formal nature which can never change, be the subject or the character of his thoughts what it may: it is, as it were, the dough out of which all the contents of his mind are kneaded. When Eulenspiegel was asked how long it would take to walk to the next village, he gave the seemingly incongruous answer: Walk. He wanted to find out by the man’s pace the distance he would cover in a given time. In the same way, when I have read a few pages of an author, I know fairly well how far he can bring me.
Every mediocre writer tries to mask his own natural style, because in his heart he knows the truth of what I am saying. He is thus forced, at the outset, to give up any attempt at being frank or naïve—a privilege which is thereby reserved for superior minds, conscious of their own worth, and therefore sure of themselves. What I mean is that these everyday writers are absolutely unable to resolve upon writing just as they think; because they have a notion that, were they to do so, their work might possibly look very childish and simple. For all that, it would not be without its value. If they would only go honestly to work, and say, quite simply, the things they have really thought, and just as they have thought them, these writers would be readable and, within their own proper sphere, even instructive.
From The Art of Literature by Arthur Schopenhauer.
“Notes on the Movements of Young Children” — Robert Louis Stevenson
I wish to direct the reader’s attention to a certain quality in the movements of children when young, which is somehow lovable in them, although it would be even unpleasant in any grown person. Their movements are not graceful, but they fall short of grace by something so sweetly humorous that we only admire them the more. The imperfection is so pretty and pathetic, and it gives so great a promise of something different in the future, that it attracts us more than many forms of beauty. They have something of the merit of a rough sketch by a master, in which we pardon what is wanting or excessive for the sake of the very bluntness and directness of the thing. It gives us pleasure to see the beginning of gracious impulses and the springs of harmonious movement laid bare to us with innocent simplicity.
One night some ladies formed a sort of impromptu dancing-school in the drawing-room of an hotel in France. One of the ladies led the ring, and I can recall her as a model of accomplished, cultured movement. Two little girls, about eight years old, were the pupils; that is an age of great interest in girls, when natural grace comes to its consummation of justice and purity, with little admixture of that other grace of forethought and discipline that will shortly supersede it altogether. In these two, particularly, the rhythm was sometimes broken by an excess of energy, as though the pleasure of the music in their light bodies could endure no longer the restraint of regulated dance. So that, between these and the lady, there was not only some beginning of the very contrast I wish to insist upon, but matter enough to set one thinking a long while on the beauty of motion. I do not know that, here in England, we have any good opportunity of seeing what that is; the generation of British dancing men and women are certainly more remarkable for other qualities than for grace: they are, many of them, very conscientious artists, and give quite a serious regard to the technical parts of their performance; but the spectacle, somehow, is not often beautiful, and strikes no note of pleasure. If I had seen no more, therefore, this evening might have remained in my memory as a rare experience. But the best part of it was yet to come. For after the others had desisted, the musician still continued to play, and a little button between two and three years old came out into the cleared space and began to figure before us as the music prompted. I had an opportunity of seeing her, not on this night only, but on many subsequent nights; and the wonder and comical admiration she inspired was only deepened as time went on. She had an admirable musical ear; and each new melody, as it struck in her a new humour, suggested wonderful combinations and variations of movement. Now it would be a dance with which she would suit the music, now rather an appropriate pantomime, and now a mere string of disconnected attitudes. But whatever she did, she did it with the same verve and gusto. The spirit of the air seemed to have entered into her, and to possess her like a passion; and you could see her struggling to find expression for the beauty that was in her against the inefficacy of the dull, half-informed body. Though her footing was uneven, and her gestures often ludicrously helpless, still the spectacle was not merely amusing; and though subtle inspirations of movement miscarried in tottering travesty, you could still see that they had been inspirations; you could still see that she had set her heart on realising something just and beautiful, and that, by the discipline of these abortive efforts, she was making for herself in the future a quick, supple, and obedient body. It was grace in the making. She was not to be daunted by any merriment of people looking on critically; the music said something to her, and her whole spirit was intent on what the music said: she must carry out its suggestions, she must do her best to translate its language into that other dialect of the modulated body into which it can be translated most easily and fully.
Every story in Jessica Hollander’s début collection In These Times the Home Is a Tired Place feels thoroughly real, deeply authentic, and if we already know the contours of these plots—perhaps having lived some of them ourselves—Hollander makes us experience them anew with her bristling, strange sentences. Hollander writes here of families on the brink and families broken, families fragmenting and families forgetting. She conjures domestic spaces limned with ghosts and memories, children and parents who aren’t quite sure how to be a family, but who nevertheless try—even if trying is really just imagining.
In the strong opener “You Are a Good Girl I Love You,” our narrator Gertrude, about to graduate high school, imagines her future as a kind of do-over, one without interference from her overprotective father, inert mother, and wild child sister:
Of course Pete and I would attend the same school, live in the same dorm, plan classes to start and end together so we would be only briefly apart. We had a dependable timeline mapped out behind the child’s armoire in his room involving dates: graduations, wedding, first jobs, first house, babies raised by smiling parents. Some evenings we practiced smiling thinking the more one does it the more natural it feels.
Many of the stories that follow respond to—and complicate—Gertrude’s dream of an ideal happy family. There’s “girlfriend,” the otherwise-unnamed hero of “This Kind of Happiness,” who imagines alternate titles she might assume: “Single Mother. Pregnant Bride. Gun-toting Madwoman.” In “The Good Luck Doll,” Claudia feigns a pregnancy to keep her boyfriend deluded but happy (if only for a time). She’s happy to imagine the pregnancy along with him. “March On,” like several of the stories here, follows the aftermath of a failed marriage. What happens when a family ceases to take the same form? Are the old appendages, the in-laws now essentially dead to their ex-family members? Waiting outside her father’s mother’s door after having knocked and yelled for Grandma to open, narrator Raimy reflects on these changes:
Then, briefly, I decided she was dead. I imagined her pale on the floor and me making all this noise, and I felt even more disruptive. I stared at the quiet street, thinking about us all dead in some ways: the distance between people and the everyday separation, and maybe we constantly grieved each other and our old lives. The only comfort we had was thinking maybe it was like this for everyone, maybe there was a connection in that.
The connection that Raimy imagines and takes solace in runs through In These Times the Home Is a Tired Place. We find it in one of the strongest stories in the collection, “What Became of What She Had Made,” as mother Lynette grieves her estrangement from her adult daughter Christine. She enlists her other daughter Olivia, “a lush,” to come along on the mission. They head from Michigan to Ohio by taxi, fortifying themselves with morning doses of schnapps. By the time we finally meet Christine, we see why she might want her family to simply pretend she’s dead. Hollander’s restraint pays off, her precise sentences revealing just enough detail for us to fill in the dark gaps.
Sometimes Hollander achieves a near archetypal mode, but one tempered in specificity. Consider how much she packs in to just one paragraph form “I Now Pronounce You”:
In the husband and wife’s third year of marriage, a woman—not the wife—pushed the no-longer-new husband from a third-story window after she’d slightly burnt some chicken and he’d refused to eat it. And also he had refused to leave hi no-longer-new wife for the other woman because he’d realized the other woman was crazy. Besides, it was nice with the wife, who didn’t complain when he watched sports in the morning and who stayed home and became a better cook and took care of their small son, whom he didn’t much like but planned to increasingly as the son came to resemble more a small man than a wild animal.
Hollander’s rhetorical force is perhaps most evident in the title story, which undertakes to describe a divorce from several perspectives. Written as three lists, each one perhaps a year removed from the next, “In These Times the Home Is a Tired Place” merges form and content, its broken, discontinuous structure mirroring the broken, discontinuous family at its non-center. That breaking up also figures in the daughter’s favorite pastime:
The girl spent a Saturday morning cutting snowflakes from a pile of paper she’d found on her mother’s desk. The snowflakes were peppered with sliced negotiations, diamond-pierced words like child and property and alimony, and when the girl finished she strung the flakes together and hung them from her window so they trailed to the berry bush and flapped in the stirred summer wind.
Attempting to mediate (if not ameliorate) the daughter’s trauma is the babysitter:
“A sad situation,” the babysitter told friends lounging at night on her parents’ screened-in porch. She planned years from now to marry the boy holding her hand, though he’d quit his job and all summer hung around his mother’s pool smoking cigarettes with his mother. Dark ahead; behind them bright inside with television and bills, an electric piano and screwed-together projects. The babysitter said, “Stay together for the child,” and one friend said, “Yes,” and another said, “No,” and another said, “Life is life,” and the boyfriend said nothing.
The babysitter might have stepped out of one of the other stories in this collection. Maybe she’s older in one of those stories. Maybe she’s Gertrude or Olivia or Raimy or girlfriend or wife. She dreams, she imagines, and we know enough—Hollander shows us enough—to see that her imagining the future is not enough.
Tolstoy gave us that famous opener: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” The unhappy families of Hollander’s collection are unhappy in their own, personal, distinct and distinctly unhappy ways—but our author, by focusing on the capacities of her characters to imagine ways of being happy, also shows us that in many ways unhappy families are all alike. Recommended.
by Joseph Conrad
That year I spent the best two months of the dry season on one of the estates—in fact, on the principal cattle estate—of a famous meat-extract manufacturing company.
B.O.S. Bos. You have seen the three magic letters on the advertisement pages of magazines and newspapers, in the windows of provision merchants, and on calendars for next year you receive by post in the month of November. They scatter pamphlets also, written in a sickly enthusiastic style and in several languages, giving statistics of slaughter and bloodshed enough to make a Turk turn faint. The “art” illustrating that “literature” represents in vivid and shining colours a large and enraged black bull stamping upon a yellow snake writhing in emerald-green grass, with a cobalt-blue sky for a background. It is atrocious and it is an allegory. The snake symbolizes disease, weakness—perhaps mere hunger, which last is the chronic disease of the majority of mankind. Of course everybody knows the B. O. S. Ltd., with its unrivalled products: Vinobos, Jellybos, and the latest unequalled perfection, Tribos, whose nourishment is offered to you not only highly concentrated, but already half digested. Such apparently is the love that Limited Company bears to its fellowmen—even as the love of the father and mother penguin for their hungry fledglings.
Of course the capital of a country must be productively employed. I have nothing to say against the company. But being myself animated by feelings of affection towards my fellow-men, I am saddened by the modern system of advertising. Whatever evidence it offers of enterprise, ingenuity, impudence, and resource in certain individuals, it proves to my mind the wide prevalence of that form of mental degradation which is called gullibility.
In various parts of the civilized and uncivilized world I have had to swallow B. O. S. with more or less benefit to myself, though without great pleasure. Prepared with hot water and abundantly peppered to bring out the taste, this extract is not really unpalatable. But I have never swallowed its advertisements. Perhaps they have not gone far enough. As far as I can remember they make no promise of everlasting youth to the users of B. O. S., nor yet have they claimed the power of raising the dead for their estimable products. Why this austere reserve, I wonder? But I don’t think they would have had me even on these terms. Whatever form of mental degradation I may (being but human) be suffering from, it is not the popular form. I am not gullible.
I have been at some pains to bring out distinctly this statement about myself in view of the story which follows. I have checked the facts as far as possible. I have turned up the files of French newspapers, and I have also talked with the officer who commands the military guard on the Ile Royale, when in the course of my travels I reached Cayenne. I believe the story to be in the main true. It is the sort of story that no man, I think, would ever invent about himself, for it is neither grandiose nor flattering, nor yet funny enough to gratify a perverted vanity.
“There’s a purity of intent and a lack of self-consciousness that I wish I could achieve when I was experiencing pleasure” (David Foster Wallace)
Let’s put it this way. Say you’ve got really serious art, and it takes really hard work, whether it’s painting or music or literature. That stuff’s not fun in the way commercial entertainment is fun. I mean fun — like eating a Twinkie. It’s like slipping into a warm bath after a hard day. It’s an escape. It’s a relaxation. And that’s fine, and that’s entirely appropriate. The danger comes when the escape becomes the overriding purpose. And one of the ways it seems that television has affected me is that my expectation for the amount of fun and pleasure to work — that ratio is very different than they are for my parents. I think my pain threshold is lower. My expectations are higher. My level of resentment at having to do anything I don’t particularly want to do that isn’t pleasurable is higher. I think a certain amount of that comes from the fact that for six hours a day I receive certain messages — you know, ‘relax, we’re going to give to you, you don’t have to give anything back, all you need to do is every so often go and buy this product.’ But animals have fun. My dogs play. And watching them play — there’s a purity of intent and a lack of self-consciousness that I wish I could achieve when I was experiencing pleasure. But Plato and John Stuart Mill both take books to talk about different types of pleasure. In my own personal life, I like really arty stuff a lot of the time. But there’s also times I watch an enormous amount of TV, and I’ve read probably 70 percent of Stephen King’s books. And I’ve read them basically because for a little while I want to forget that my name is David Wallace, you know, and that I have limitations, and that I’m sad that my girlfriend yelled at me. I think serious art is supposed to make us confront things that are difficult in ourselves and in the world. And one of the dangers is if we get conditioned to confront less and less and experience more and more pleasure, the commercial stuff’s gonna win out.
From a 1997 interview with David Foster Wallace by David Wiley, originally published in The Minnesota Daily, and archived here.