That day I tweeted with Gary Shteyngart.
On every new thing there lies already the shadow of annihilation. For the history of every individual, of every social order, indeed of the whole word, does not describe an ever-widening, more and more wonderful arc, but rather follows a course which, once the meridian is reached, leads without fail down in to the dark.
How like a book the body is! We each write our life story in it, describing to perfection what was done to us, what was done by us.
We are imperfect mortal beings, aware of that mortality even as we push it away, failed by our very complication, so wired that when we mourn our losses we also mourn, for better or for worse, ourselves. As we were. As we are no longer. As we will one day not be at all.
Much is misnomer in our present way of grasping the world.
Here, in other words, at the heart of the maelstrom threatening to suck in the whole of the civilised world, is a pathetic conspiracy of denial; a denial of responsibility which has turned in on itself and gone sour, manifesting itself in the sort of pompous defensiveness I have encountered so often.
Weird Literary Coincidences
I’m reading The Blindfold by Siri Hustvedt right now and in it the narrator, Iris Vegan, is given a book by a friend:
…a volume of poems called Unearth by an American poet I had never heard of.
Turns out Unearth is a now out of print poetry collection by Paul Auster, to whom Hustvedt is married and The Blindfold dedicated. (The poems from Unearth are now included in Paul Auster Collected Poems.)
Weirdly, I picked up Auster’s Leviathan at a Goodwill this week while dropping off some old clothes. In it is this description of a character named Iris:
Iris was just twenty-four back then, a dazzling blond presence, six feet tall with an exquisite Scandinavian face and the deepest, merriest blue eyes to be found between heaven and hell. How could I have guessed that she was a graduate student in English literature at Columbia University? How could I have known that she had read more books than I had and was about to begin a six-hundred-page dissertation on the works of Charles Dickens?
That description matches Iris from The Blindfold as well as Hustvedt herself, right down to the Dickens dissertation. Furthermore, Hustvedt’s mother’s maiden name is Vegan (see bio).
Books are fun.
We can only hover around the inexpressible with our words anyway, and there is comfort in saying what we have heard before.
Suppose yourself in a large cinema, sitting at first in the back row, and gradually moving up, row by row, until your nose is almost pressed against the screen. Gradually the stars’ faces dissolve into dancing grain; tiny details assume grotesque proportions; the illusion dissolves—or rather, it becomes clear that the illusion itself is reality….
Silence fell on the table like a bad simile.
From fifty years of experience in the art of getting along in the world, he had learned that mediocrity was the secret of contentment.
The partially deaf know like cellmates the frequencies at which their heads ring.
From The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen.
I find that sentence completely fantastic for some reason. And, yes, I realize I’m a decade late on this book, but still.
Propaganda in favor of action dictated by the impulses that are below self-interest offers false, garbled or incomplete evidence, avoids logical argument and seeks to influence its victims by the mere repetition of catchwords, by the furious denunciation of foreign or domestic scapegoats, and by cunningly associating the lowest passions with the highest ideals, so that atrocities come to be perpetrated in the name of God and the most cynical kind of Realpolitik is treated as a matter of religious principle and patriotic duty.
Test yourself on mankind. It is something that makes the doubter doubt, the believer believe.
It’s random Kafka aphorism time (this was 75).
I found this tattered old copy of Steinbeck's Cannery Row in my building’s basement. It’s falling apart, the pages are brittle, and there are random blue ink scribbles throughout, but it was free.