Untimeliness

[Also available as an issue of my newsletter, Leaflet]

“Had I devoted myself to birds, I might have produced something myself worth doing.” —Ruskin, quoted by Katherine Rundell in an essay on hummingbirds (London Review of Books)

“Mourn the past, mend the present, beware of the future.” —Jan Hus, quoted in Claire Sterling’s The Masaryk Case (1969)

“Puss grew presently familiar, would leap into my lap, raise himself upon his hinder feet, and bite the hair from my temples. He would suffer me to take him up, and to carry him about in my arms, and has more than once fallen fast asleep upon my knee. He was ill three days, during which time I nursed him, kept him apart from his fellows, that they might not molest him (for, like many other wild animals, they persecute one of their own species that is sick), and by constant care, and trying him with a variety of herbs, restored him to perfect health. No creature could be more grateful than my patient after his recovery; a sentiment which he most significantly expressed by licking my hand, first the back of it, then the palm, then every finger separately, then between all the fingers, as if anxious to leave no part of it unsaluted; a ceremony which he never performed but once again upon a similar occasion.” —William Cowper, describing one of his three pet hares in a 1784 letter to The Gentleman’s Magazine

When you search for the name of a specific domestic duck breed, Google tells you that people also asked, “Are they friendly?” and “How do they taste?”

“There are no real hedgehogs in those woods, only foxes, who do well in the margins of our dominion. Perhaps there’s an alternative parable in there.” —the novelist Christopher Brown, on armadillos real and stuffed (Field Notes)

“For one brief moment—maybe, say, six weeks—nobody understood art. That’s why it all happened. Because for a short while, these people were left alone. Six weeks is all it takes to get started.” —the composer Morton Feldman, quoted by the musician Damon Krukowski in an essay on that we’re-all-just-figuring-it-out feeling

“There is an aftermath in early autumn, and some spring flowers bloom again, followed by an Indian summer of finer atmosphere and of a pensive beauty. May my life be not destitute of its Indian summer, a season of fine and clear, mild weather in which I may prolong my hunting before the winter comes, when I may once more lie on the ground with faith, as in spring, and even with more serene confidence. And then I will wrap the drapery of summer about me and lie down to pleasant dreams.” —Thoreau, journal, 8 Sept. 1851

I dreamed I got a postcard from a graduate student, who wanted to know, If you don’t have anything to do, how do you do it?

“Individual artists and writers, however deeply they influence their peers, seldom think of themselves (at least after the age of thirty) as part of a movement, though they are too polite to object when critics and historians praise them for their membership in it.” —Edward Mendelson on Hugh Eakin’s Picasso’s War (Book Post)

“I feel tender for you tonight, walking the wet streets of Portland in your tent of a black coat. Reading the taped-up neon flyers with everyone else’s happenings, readings, meetups, shows; halting on the sidewalk outside a corner bungalow because you hear OK Computer playing inside; offering your arm to the ghost of Elliott Smith every time you pass one of the streets, Alameda or Division, that he named in his songs; yourself haunting the door of the café where once, during rain, a girl shared your table, you exchanged two sentences about the novels you were reading and never met again; letting go your last dollars on someone’s new novel, a Sibelius LP, a cup of Stumptown because those transactions are the only connections you know how to make. I wish I could take you out for that cup of coffee. I know what a gift you’d find it just to be taken out for an hour, especially by a woman. By another woman, I ought to say, but you’re in no place to receive that.” —the novelist Pauline Kerschen, writing a letter to her younger self, on the eve of gender-affirming surgery

“But why—I asked myself at numerous points over the last five years—was this such a productive era for experimentation? Apart from the opportunities provided by the phenomenal pace of change in the era, it occurred to me that the German Empire was, as perverse as it sounds, just repressive enough. Which is to say it was a semi-autocratic state with a reactionary mainstream culture so there was definitely something to rebel against, but it wasn’t so repressive that it silenced radical voices entirely. Yes, some writers were censored, fined or even jailed for lèse-majesté, blasphemy, obscenity and other infractions, but it’s remarkable how many more weren’t when you consider the extremity of their positions. The countercultural vigour of the age, it appears to me, dwelt in this narrow gap between widespread antipathy and blanket repression.” —the publisher and translator James J. Conway, reflecting on the neglected classics of Wilhelmine Germany that he issued in new English-language translation during the five-year run of his small press, Rixdorf Editions

“I wonder when again that lovely old tune was whistled in that cottage, and when again that jig was danced under that roof, for those who danced are dead, and he who whistled the tune is dead, and I think that those who live in that cottage now have forgotten these old things, as soon all will have forgotten them. So we lay another night in the great bed, and slept in each other’s arms, slept the sound sleep that lovers sleep, so sound and yet so light that like a dream the consciousness of the other is always there—the only dream that enters the deep sleep of lovers.” —Helen Thomas, As It Was (1926)

Extracts

[Also available as an issue of my newsletter]

Gleanings

“Vicki experienced the small prickle of power that comes to the one who rides in the back seat.” —Helen Garner, The Children’s Bach

“Sentences which suggest far more than they say, which have an atmosphere about them, which do not merely report an old, but make a new, impression; sentences which suggest as many things and are as durable as a Roman aqueduct; to frame these, that is the art of writing.” —Henry D. Thoreau, Journal, 22 August 1851

“To care about individuals and the complex relations they have with their intimate surroundings and local ecosystems (the only relationships that matter to the wild things themselves, after all), is to be accused of being subjective, or worse, sentimental.” —Richard Mabey, Nature Cure

“Like every other individual writer, he had unlearned all literary influences.” —Walter de la Mare on Edward Thomas

“It was a misfortune to him, trifle as it might have been to another. For, while all that was hard and stern in his recollection, remained Reality on being proved—was obdurate to the sight and touch, and relaxed nothing of its old indomitable grimness—the one tender recollection of his experience would not bear the same test, and melted away.” —Charles Dickens, Little Dorrit

“. . . those that love the world serve it in action,
Grow rich, popular and full of influence,
And should they paint or write, still it is action:
The struggle of the fly in marmalade.”
—W. B. Yeats, “Ego Dominus Tuus”

Electric vehicles don’t have front grilles because they don’t need to take in air. So they look like sharks, whose mouths are hidden beneath their snouts, instead of mammals, who are always grinning at you.

“If reading really does increase empathy, as we are constantly being told that it does, it appears that writing takes some away.” —Sigrid Nunez, The Friend

“We walk through dead autumn leaves. I comment on how nice it feels to walk through the leaves and Lucian [Freud] says ‘Yes, the ones like breakfast cereal are the best.’ ” —Celia Paul, Self-Portrait

“ ‘Isn’t that the trouble with most books? They look so good on paper.’ ” —Gavin Lambert, The Goodby People

“An old poet comes at last to watch his moods as narrowly as a cat does a mouse.” —Thoreau, Journal, 28 August 1851

Bangers

“The two-ness of the professional, as both worker and expert, could not be sidestepped through a mere act of decision. It does not matter if you decide that you have an inner truck driver, if you have not lived the life of a truck driver; this is a laughable form of escapism unworthy of the historical materialist tradition. Rather, the contradiction can only be resolved if it is met head on.” —Gabriel Winant, for n+1, on the intellectual legacy of Barbara Ehrenreich

“His ability to see the many facets of every person and every issue—“He felt and understood the opposite sides of life,” in the words of Henry James, who got to know him in Paris—served him well as a novelist. But this ability was less desirable in a political ally, or even in a pal.” —Keith Gessen, for the New Yorker, on Turgenev

“In a Christian setting, it’s tempting to see [the kora’s] blend of grit and grace as a mirror of the Incarnation—not the Word made flesh but the Note made fruit and hide.” —Julian Lucas, for The New Yorker, on a Senegalese monastery’s championing of a traditional calabash harp

“One of Carver’s particular pleasures, and the quality that’s made her first-person work since early Rollerderby so compelling, is the frequency and panache with which she makes the sorts of decisions that for most of us feel paralyzing and life-defining: marriage, pregnancy, divorce, and cross-country moves occur in her work as regularly as other memoirists describe their furniture or dreams. Reading most of her work, you’re reminded that it’s possible to live extraordinarily densely — that a life, even a very difficult one marked by repetitive domestic and economic struggles, can be dynamic and multiple, punctuated by frequent reinventions.” —Lisa Borst, for n+1, on Lisa Carver, a 1990s zine memoirist who has kept at it

“In ‘Recording Angel,’ in Cosmo Cosmolino, somebody plays a record of that Schubert quintet, the one with two cellos. That’s how I’ve always felt when I’m with a family that has a cozy life—­I’m the second cello. I once heard Rostropovich play that piece, and it was marvelous—­his droning, ferocious roving around the quartet. I hear that extra cello as a lost soul that’s prowling and roaming out there in the cold, and I recognize it. It’s me.” —Helen Garner, interviewed by Thessaly La Force for The Paris Review

“He [Harold Bloom] told me he was the model for Mickey Sabbath, which is nuts.” Joshua Cohen talks to Leo Robson about The Netanyahus.

“The fever pitch of opposition to debt cancellation among conservative and centrist elites reflects a different fear: that debt’s utility as an instrument of social control may be weakening.” —Astra Taylor, in the New York Times, on Biden’s jubilee of student debt (next up: cancelling medical debt to veterans’ hospitals)

“Travolta was describing his house in Florida, which is part of a fly-in community with its own runway, and said, ‘Wait, let me show you some pictures.’ But instead of going to the photos on his phone, he just googled ‘John Travolta house.’” —Rafil Kroll-Zaidi, for Harper’s, on the Travolta lore he collects while in Maine during the off-season

“There is at once a cynicism and an innocence in asserting that the existential problems that bedevil humans can best be ameliorated by denying the possibility of insight into a reality that can’t really be said to exist, anyway.” —Marco Roth, for Tablet, on Rachel Aviv’s new book on narrative and psychiatry

“Srinivasan’s sexual have-nots—the luckless men of Grindr, the trans lesbians being rejected by cis lesbians—are not asking for access to sexual services or assigned partners. They want to be found hot. They want to be wanted. They want what truly can’t be compelled. And we can’t make ourselves want someone we don’t for the sake of the social good—can we?” —Elaine Blair, in the New York Review of Books, unconvinced by Amia Srinivasan’s proposed distinction between liberal and radical sexual freedom

Burdens and unburdenings

[An issue of Leaflet]

Literature is no longer powerful and thus no longer dangerous. But the conformist agency that Rousseau ascribed to literature in his First Discourse (arts and letters, Rousseau wrote, “lace garlands of flowers over the iron chains with which men are burdened”) is still abroad in the world. Television is the first art today. Is the collaborative nature of the medium accelerating the conformity? Is the fact that TV is written in “rooms,” that is, by groups, making our culture more “groupy” and less heroic? The few heroic moments that appear in the culture now, I would argue, are almost always sentimental and deliberately false, meant to stand as symbols, not to be believed in as actions possible in the world. We are meant to believe only in moments when the hero bows to the group. In Sincerity and Authenticity, when Trilling wrote, of Rousseau’s vision of literature of literature, that

the individual who lives in this new circumstance is subject to the constant influence, to the literal in-flowing, of the mental processes of others, which, in the degree that they stimulate or enlarge his consciousness, make it less his own,

he was inadvertently describing our social-media–mediated world, more than half a century later. There are many things that it has become de rigueur to believe, in my social world, that I don’t happen to believe, and sometimes I’m afraid to say I don’t believe. It’s impossible to say this without sounding a note of self-pity and grandiosity. Perhaps the strangest aspect of the compulsion here is the pressure to say anything at all about controversial topics, but it seems more difficult now to feel peaceful merely knowing that I disagree. It seems incumbent on me either to conform or to express disagreement—out of the hope of triggering a new conformism but this time in my favor, or my team’s favor. The independent mind who doesn’t tweet is the new unheard tree falling in the forest.


The reproach that serious art makes to the audience’s wish for something merely pleasant has become in our day a class marker—a sign that the artwork in question is a fit vehicle for the display of wealth, which has to please no one.


“Atman and I continued living in this huge railroad flat on Fell Street that had practically no heat, and the plaster was literally falling off the walls. It was cold and empty, and falling apart, like the world. I liked it.” —the story of Aaron, qtd. in Walt Odets, Out of the Shadows


“There are some original authors whose least daring gives rise to disgust because they haven’t flattered the public’s taste first by serving it the commonplaces that it’s used to; Swann outraged Mr. Verdurin this way. For Swann, as for these authors, it was the novelty of his language that caused belief in the blackness of his intentions.” —Marcel Proust, Swann’s Way


“As for the pleasure that Italy was capable of bringing Oswald, the sorrow that consumed him put less of obstacle in his way than the count of Erfeuil’s actual cheerfulness: the regrets of a sensitive soul can make an alliance with the contemplation of nature and the enjoyment of the fine arts; but frivolity, in whatever form it presents itself, takes away from attention its force, from thought its originality, and from feeling its depth.” —Germaine de Staël, Corinne


All the difficulty of writing autobiographical fiction is in the trouble that Odette has when she tries to enhance her lie with a bit of truth:

She detached a little piece, unimportant in itself, telling herself that after all it was better this way, because it was a verifiable detail that didn’t present the same dangers that a false detail would. “That, at least—that’s true,” she said to herself; “that’s always something gained; he can research it, he’ll have to admit it’s true; that’s never going to be what betrays me.” She was mistaken; that was what betrayed her; she didn’t realize that the true detail had angles that only fit with the contiguous details of the true fact from which she had arbitrarily detached it, and which, whatever the invented details were in between which she positioned it, would always reveal, by the excess matter and by the gaps not filled in, that it was not from in between them that it originally came.

—Proust, Swann’s Way


“Art demands of us that we shall not stand still.” —Beethoven, qtd. in Laura Tunbridge, Beethoven: A Life in Nine Pieces


“There has never been anything I cared to express more, than I cared for the act of expressing it. (This sentence, clumsy and ambiguous, may be considered an exception.)” —James Merrill, 1959 January 15, in A Whole World


“Are you calling the dispatch with which I make my observations lightness?” the count of Erfeuil said. “Am I less correct because I’m correct faster?” —Staël, Corinne

Harvest

{An issue of my newsletter, Leaflet}

I wrote a short story about what it feels like to have once been able to fly, which The Altantic has published online; the title is “Trajectory.” As a sidebar, the magazine has also posted a short interview with me about the story. I feel like it’s a good story; I hope you’ll check it out. It happens to be the most recent piece of fiction I’ve written—from just slightly before we entered the end-times. (The photos and air quality numbers coming out of California the last couple of days are kind of freaking me out.)

I also wrote an essay for the website Public Books about a best-selling comic novel from 1919 about social climbing, written when its author was nine years old. This one I wrote way before the end-times—almost a year ago—so it’s almost unbearably lighthearted, sorry. Here’s the original dust jacket of the comic novel, somewhat artificially freshened up by photo editing software:

Daisy Ashford's "The Young Visiters"

In other news . . .

I dreamed recently that Keanu put on a sky blue textured rubber body suit that blocked out local noise and allowed him to hear the distant signal and learn that Trump had sold us to aliens for meat and they are coming for their harvest.

“He was a guy who talked with commas, like a heavy novel.” —Raymond Chandler, The Long Good-Bye

If you haven’t been reading Peter’s ongoing autobiography, told in year-by-year Instagram selfies, you should. Start here.

Write through the disenchantment, reads advice to myself that I have not been able to follow. More useful, in the same notebook: It’s hard to mourn while one is still being traumatized.

“Watch yourself. Every first-rate journalist has just one ambition—to become a second-rate author.” —Egon Kisch, quoted in Antonín Liehm’s Politics of Culture

There’s a new evolution in podcasting that I like: Two of my friends were recently interviewed in depth about their lives: poet and doctor Laura Kolbe, interviewed by Jordan Kisner in Thresholds, and teacher, activist, and birder David Robinson, interviewed by Sam Sebastian in How Are You Doing, Really?

“Writers need to hide in bourgeois life like ticks need to hide in an animal’s fur: the deeper they’re buried the better.” —Rachel Cusk, Outline

It’s fall migration season here in Brooklyn, and I’ve posted photos of Northern parulas, red-eyed and warbling vireos, and American redstarts on my blog. Also, on a hike upstate last weekend, I got a photo of a great blue heron shaking itself dry like a dog.

“To forget the past so easily seems scarcely loyal to oneself.” —W. N. P. Barbellion, Journal of a Disappointed Man

Here’s a photograph that I seem to take at the end of every summer:

Notes, 2018

“Je voyais tout en noir avant les élections, je vois tout en noir depuis.” [I saw everything black before the elections, I see everything black since.] —Ernst Renan, quoted by Henry James in a letter to William James, 14 March 1876

I dreamed there were two new hobo symbols, one for “You already know everything I need for you to know” and one for “Felonies.”

“I sat without stirring and gazed, gazed with effort and perplexity, as though I saw all my life before me, as though scales had fallen from my eyes. Oh, what have I done! my lips involuntarily murmured in a bitter whisper.” —Turgenev, “A Tour in the Forest”

“Is treatment, in particular bad treatment, ever given to a person?
“No. It is always meted out.
“Is anything else ever meted out?
“No. The only thing that is ever meted out is treatment.” —Myles na Gopaleen, The Best of Myles

“I heard Émile Zola characterize his [Droz’s] manner sometime since as merde à la vanille [vanilla shit].” —Henry James, reporting Zola’s diss of Gustave Droz in a letter to Thomas Sergeant Perry, 2 May 1876

What could Bitcoin possibly be good for other than money laundering and tax evasion? There’s an op-ed in the NYT today that maintains that it will help the poor with their banking and help the Federal Reserve manage the money supply. Surely these are the last things on earth that it would ever do—the things that it is least likely ever to do even accidentally. Governments refuse to allow gift cards that are dischargeable in multiple currencies, so it is inconceivable that they will not eventually be obliged to criminalize cryptocurrencies.

“To fear being ridiculous—is not to love truth.” —Turgenev, “A Correspondence”

equipollent (adj.): possessing equal power, identical in meaning

The two narratives are not equipollent.

—Gareth Dale, Karl Polanyi: The Limits of the Market

“It appears that my stuff has been over the heads of the readers. Imagine their stature!” —Henry James to Arthur George Sedgwick, 29 September 1876

“I believe fully, in spite of sneers, in interpreting the French Revolution by anecdotes, though not every diner out can do it.” —Emerson, journal, August 1849

“Eizenstat famously rebuked [Alfred Kahn] for publicly suggesting that rising inflation could result in a ‘very serious depression.’ Kahn responded by continuing to issue warnings of inflation-induced depression, but with the word ‘depression’ replaced with ‘banana.'” —Stephanie Mudge, Leftism Reinvented

At first depression seems to make one’s vision of the world sharpen. After all, narrowing the aperture for light increases the depth of field.

punnet (n.): small, light basket for strawberries, mushrooms, etc.

But there is a much more overwhelming sense of the strange beauty of tiny moments, such as [Oliver] Sacks’s response when Hayes dropped a punnet of cherry tomatoes on the kitchen floor (“How pretty! Do it again!”).

—Alex Clark, reviewing Bill Hayes’s Insomniac City in the TLS, 16 March 2018

semibreve: a whole note (under this terminology, a half-note is a minim, a quarter note is a crotchet, and an eighth note is a quaver)

The vaults and arches seem really to swing above you in great semibreves of rhythm.

—A. S. G. Butler, Recording Ruin

rani (n.): a Hindu queen, a rajah’s wife or widow

She had been there, unrememberingly, before, when she was small enough to ride in a backpack, little ranee on a jogging elephant, her view of the paintings relieved by the back of her father’s neck.

—Alan Hollinghurst, The Sparsholt Affair

“I don’t want to do so difficult a thing as dying without any chance of applause after having done it.” —Edward Thomas to Gordon Bottomley, quoted in Edna Longley, ed., Annotated Collected Poems

“The high, thin nose was a little lonely, a little sad, but the bud of her lips opened and closed smoothly, like a beautiful little circle of leeches.” —Yasunari Kawabata, Snow Country, trans. E. G. Seidensticker

shaw (n.): a thicket; the strip of trees or bushes forming the border of a field

. . . a law
Which was of old when one, like me, dreamed how
A thousand years might dust lie on his brow
Yet thus would birds do between hedge and shaw.

—Edward Thomas, “February Afternoon”

stook (n.): a shock; a group of twelve sheaves placed upright to support each other as the grain dries and ripens

The wheat, tawny with ripeness, had been cut and stood in tented stooks about the fields.

—Iris Murdoch, The Bell

“You make me want to bound about you and about the idea of you like an excited dog.” —Iris Murdoch to Michael Oakeshott, 4 November 1958

“One more step, and he would bid the dying gladiator be comforted by the stanzas of Childe Harold.” —Edward Thomas, critiquing the aestheticized “spectatorial attitude” of Walter Pater, quoted in Edna Longley, ed., Annotated Collected Poems

cagoule (n.): a thin waterproof hoodie

Both were swaddled in layers of fat, shiny nylon—what Alan now thought of as engorged cagoules.

—James Wood, Upstate

Believing in the Kool-Aid does not make it a good idea to drink it.

“Compared with a true artist’s conscience, Tamerlane is tenderhearted.” —Walter de la Mare, foreword to Edward Thomas’s Collected Poems (1920)

Butterflies must sometimes wish they could go back to being caterpillars.

thrawn (adj.): perverse, contrary, cross-grained, ill-tempered

He had some bread and cheese in his pocket, and this he began furtively to toss to the dogs, singling out for his favors those that seemed most thrawn in appearance.

—Gavin Maxwell, The Rocks Remain

“Inside the hall, the faces of the students and the lecturer were equally indistinct, which made everything somehow mystical, like eating a bean jam bun in the dark.” —Natsume Soseki, Sanshiro

What does it say about me that when I play fetch with the dog indoors, instead of saying, “Fetch,” I say, “Bring me the head of John the Baptist.”

Philosophy is a representation in language of what it is like and what it means to be in the world. Therefore it will always be impossible finally to distinguish it from literature and it will never be finished.

daedal (adj.): inventive, ingenious; rich, variously adorned; complex

. . . all the living things
that dwell within the daedal earth.

—Shelley, “Mont Blanc”

“And my relatives, moreover, were beginning to feel that this oldness in him was abnormal, excessive, shameful, and the sort of thing bachelors deserve, as do all those of whom it seems that the great day that has no day after is longer than it is for others because for them it’s empty, the moments in it adding up, from morning onward, without ever having to be divided later with children.” —Proust, Du côté de chez Swann

Listening to Nina Simone, I realize that I miss hearing people ask God to damn something.

How far away is Joan Didion from the character in Play It as It Lays who talks about “third-string faggots”?

Oh, ’tis a joy divine on summer days
When not a breeze is stirring, not a cloud,
To sit within some solitary wood,
Far in some lonely wood, and hear no sound
Which the heart does not make, or else so fit
To its own temper that in external things
No longer seem internal difference.
All melts away, and things that are without
Live in our minds as in their native home.

—Wordsworth, fragment 3 from the Christabel notebook

solatium (n.): a sum of money given to make up for loss, inconvenience, or injured feelings

The master in Osaka (Okubata’s older brother) had given him a modest solatium upon his being disinherited, and he had been eating into his capital ever since.

—Junichiro Tanizaki, The Makioka Sisters

To revisit the past is to say good-bye to it again, which is unbearable.

“Is it possible that any editor should endure any inconvenience without meditating an article?” —Trollope, Phineas Redux

A friend’s counsel to Phineas Finn, after he is slimed by Quintus Slide, the 19th-century version of an internet troll: “I don’t see what you can do. You have encountered a chimney sweeper, and of course you get some of the soot.”

Humans vs. AI: Our disadvantage is that we’re all essentially programmed the same, but we’re building many different AIs. There’s only one kind of “us” to be figured out, but every day someone puts together a new kind of “them.”

Arthur Russell sings in the key of heterosexuality with the same acceptance of generic constraint that ABBA sings in the language of English. One’s appreciation is in both cases heightened by the awareness that it isn’t natural.

“In a world where we are all transparent—unable to deceive each other—it might be rational to deceive ourselves about rationality.” —Derek Parfit, Reasons and Persons

“She began crying and laughing. This conflict of tears and laughter always reminds me of the flickering and spluttering of a brightly burning candle when one sprinkles it with water.” —Chekhov, “The Privy Councillor”

“It feels ominous to drive through West Texas with a clean windshield. Road trips always used to be accompanied by the incessant splatter of death. . . . The absence of insects seems to be part of a general diminution of life.” —Lawrence Wright, God Save Texas

clout (adj.): cloth, rag

But whenever did a pan or a clout—when kept clean and tidy—refuse to do its duty, or rebel against its lady?”

—T. F. Powys, Unclay

Music continued for a decade or two after it ended, but unless you already knew the provenance of one of these later songs, you couldn’t figure out when it had been recorded. You couldn’t even write an algorithm that could figure it out. The songs were already outside of music’s history.

After one has learned to manage the isolation and poverty, there is still the challenge of writing itself.

slane, or slean (adj.): a long-handled spade, with a wing or two wings on the blade, used for cutting peat

The men-folk were going to the turf-bogs with their sleans on their shoulders.

—Patrick Kavanagh, The Green Fool

barm (vi.): mix with yeast or leaven; rise in froth or fermentation

The porter was beginning to barm in bellies.

—Kavanagh, Green Fool

creel (n.): large wicker basket

The pot of potatoes was turned out on a creel.

—Kavanagh, Green Fool

Bassani captures perfectly the way that the mere visibility of a victim or former victim spurs in a fascist (or a fascist-leaning bystander) the impression of being unfairly attacked.

The word “mother” is always to some extent in the vocative.

The sonorous, etymologically spurious second “o” in the word “reportorial” is the reason one likes to say it so often.

“Be nice,” the man growled to his dog.

limber (n.): detachable, two-wheeled forepart of a gun-carriage, used for transporting ammunition

“And also, your honour, Artemyev got drunk yesterday, and the lieutenant ordered him to be put in the limber of a spare gun-carriage.”

—Chekhov, “The Kiss”

“And certainly this doesn’t mean that M. Legrandin was insincere when he thundered against snobs. He was incapable of knowing—on his own, at least—that he was one, because we only ever know the passions of other people, and insofar as we manage to know of our own, it’s only from others that we’re able to learn it. On us the passions only act in a secondary way, through the imagination, which substitutes for primary motives intermediate ones that are more decent. Legrandin’s snobbery never advised him to go see a duchess frequently. It charged his imagination with making this duchess appear to be arrayed with all the graces.” —Proust, Du côté de chez Swann; the passage also seems to describe the operation of unconscious racism

“The ferocity of the financial crisis in 2008 was met with a mobilization of state action without precedent in the history of capitalism. Never before outside wartime had states intervened on such a scale and with such speed. It was a devastating blow to the complacent belief in the great moderation, a shocking overturning of prevailing laissez-faire ideology. To mobilize trillions of dollars on the credit of the taxpayer to save banks from the consequences of their own folly and greed violated maxims of fairness and good government. But given the risk of contagion, how could states not act? Having done so, however, how could they ever go back to the idea that markets were efficient, self-regulating and best left to their own devices? It was a profound challenge to the basic idea that had guided economic government since the 1970s. It was all the more significant for the fact that the challenge came not from the outside. It was not motivated by some radical ideological turn to the Left or the Right. There was precious little time for thought or wider consideration. Intervention was driven by the financial system’s own malfunctioning and the impossibility of separating individual business failure from its wider systemic repercussions. Martin Wolf, the Financial Times‘s esteemed chief economic commentator, dubbed March 14, 2008, ‘the day the dream of global free-market capitalism died.'” —Adam Tooze, Crashed

“I once heard a filmmaker say that in order to be truly creative a person must be in possession of four things: irony, melancholy, a sense of competition, and boredom.” —Lisa Halliday, Asymmetry

“He who undertakes anything, thinking he is doing it out of a sense of duty, is deceiving himself and will ruin everything he touches.” —Auden, The Prolific and the Devourer

There is a charm in solitude that cheers,
A feeling that the world knows nothing of;
A green delight the wounded mind endears
After the hustling world is broken off,
Whose whole delight was crime—at good to scoff.
Green solitude, his prison, pleasure yields,
The bitch fox heeds him not; birds seem to laugh.
He lives the Crusoe of his lonely field
Whose dark green oaks his noontide leisure shield.

—John Clare, “Solitude”