“The virtue of men in office is briefly this, to do their country as much good as they can, or in any case no harm that they can avoid.” — Thucydides, The History of the Peloponnesian War, Ch. XVIII (trans. Crawley)
Author: Tetman Callis
“Right, as the world goes, is only in question between equals in power, while the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.” — Thucydides, The History of the Peloponnesian War, Ch. XVII (trans. Crawley)
“God forbid you should have to live with the consequences of decisions, permanent, eternal, that will chase you in your head, turning from this side to that, tossing between wrong and right.” — Nathan Englander, “Free Fruit for Young Widows”
There was a different story I was going to post this week, but I got a piece of fan mail drawing my attention to “The Year Our Children Left”, so I’m posting that story instead. It was published last year in Neon, a sharp online litmag out of the UK.
“Publish and be damned.” — Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, 1824
“It is a habit of mankind to entrust to careless hope what they long for, and to use sovereign reason to thrust aside what they do not fancy.” — Thucydides, The History of the Peloponnesian War, Ch. XIV (trans. Crawley)
“The best life is suspected, not examined.” — Kay Ryan, “Witness”
“Whereas aestheticians from Aristotle on have insisted that figurative language should redouble and underline the thrust of the anecdote, it turns out that exactly the opposite is what often appeals to us in great works of art, a strange and even mystical discrepancy between the natural drift of the story and the contradictory impulses of the metaphors and similes and descriptions.” — Edmund White, “The Strange Charms of John Cheever”
“Insofar as we can treat a text as not referring to what is outside or beyond it, we more easily understand that it has internal relationships independent of the coding procedures by which we may find it transparent upon a known world.” — Kermode, “What Precisely Are the Facts?”, The Genesis of Secrecy
“We should never underestimate our predisposition to believe whatever is presented under the guise of an authoritative report and is also consistent with the mythological structure of a society from which we derive comfort, and which it may be uncomfortable to dispute.” — Kermode, “What Precisely Are the Facts?”, The Genesis of Secrecy
This morning I posted another of my published stories, “Tahoe”, to this site. “Tahoe” is a story that was a bit of a mess when I first wrote it, about ten or fifteen years ago. I sent it around a bit and it got rejected a bit, until Christopher Chambers, the editor at New Orleans Review, contacted me about it. A computer crash has since lost me the e-mails we exchanged, but the way I remember it, Christopher told me the rest of the staff thought the story should be rejected, but he thought it contained the seed of something useful, if I was willing to work with him on it. I was and we did. His input was so crucial to the fashioning of the finished tale, I thought he and I should get credit as co-authors, though I’ve never publicly said that before now.
“If so many causes act in concert to ensure that texts are from the beginning and sometimes indeterminately studded with interpretations; and if these texts in their very nature demand further interpretation and yet resist it, what should we expect when the document in question denies its own opacity by claiming to be a transparent account of the recognizable world? In practice we may feel that we have no particular difficulty in distinguishing between narratives which claim to be reliable records of fact, and narratives which simply go through the motions of being such a record. But when we think about it, as on occasion we may compel ourselves to do, the distinction may grow troublesome.” — Kermode, “What Precisely Are the Facts?”, The Genesis of Secrecy
Earthquake and tsunami (Humean constant conjunction)Earthquake and tsunami (Humean constant conjunction)
“The next summer the Peloponnesians and their allies set out to invade Attica under the command of Agis, son of Archidamus, and went as far as the Isthmus, but numerous earthquakes occurring, turned back again without the invasion taking place. About the same time that these earthquakes were so common, the sea at Orobiae, in Euboea, retiring from the then line of coast, returned in a huge wave and invaded a great part of the town, and retreated leaving some of it still under water; so that what was once land is now sea; such of the inhabitants perishing as could not run up to the higher ground in time. A similar inundation also occurred at Atalanta, the island off the Opuntian Locrian coast, carrying away part of the Athenian fort and wrecking one of two ships which were drawn up on the beach. At Peparethus also the sea retreated a little, without however any inundation following; and an earthquake threw down part of the wall, the town hall, and a few other buildings. The cause, in my opinion, of this phenomenon must be sought in the earthquake. At the point where its shock has been the most violent, the sea is driven back and, suddenly recoiling with redoubled force, causes the inundation. Without an earthquake I do not see how such an accident could happen.” — Thucydides, The History of the Peloponnesian War, Ch. XI (trans. Crawley)
“It don’t sound right if it ain’t said right.” — Bill Withers, Still Bill
“It takes very little to make a character: a few indications of idiosyncracy, of deviation from type, are enough, for our practiced eyes will make up the larger patterns of which such indications can be read as parts.” — Kermode, “Necessities of Upspringing”, The Genesis of Secrecy
“Good deeds can be shortly stated, but where wrong is done a wealth of language is needed to veil its deformity.” — Thucydides, The History of the Peloponnesian War, Ch. X (trans. Crawley)
“Two things most opposed to good counsel are haste and passion; haste usually goes hand in hand with folly, passion with coarseness and narrowness of mind.” — Thucydides, The History of the Peloponnesian War, Ch. IX (trans. Crawley)
“Sometimes it appears that the history of interpretation may be thought of as a history of exclusions, which enable us to seize upon [one] issue rather than on some other as central, and choose from the remaining mass only what seems most compliant.” — Kermode, “Carnal and Spiritual Senses”, The Genesis of Secrecy
“We are always having to explain not the story, but why it counts.” — Kermode, “Instances of Interpretation”, The Art of Telling
“The emotion of art is impersonal. And the poet cannot reach this impersonality without surrendering himself wholly to the work to be done. And he is not likely to know what is to be done unless he lives in what is not merely the present, but the present moment of the past, unless he is conscious, not of what is dead, but of what is already living.” — Eliot, “Tradition and the Individual Talent”
“In the family, schools and churches, tyrannies have been set up which have vested interests in mental stupor and convention, and which permeate the atmosphere with cant and hypocrisy convenient to themselves.” — from The Cambridge History of English and American Literature, regarding the targets of George Meredith’s writings (most notably, Erewhon) in the late 19th century
“If we have only to say, ‘humanity stinks in our nostrils’ then silence is better, because we have heard that news.” — Saul Bellow, in a 1959 letter
I posted another story this morning. This one is “Sandhills”, which was published in New York Tyrant, Volume 1, Number 1, in 2006. It’s a story I first sketched out in 1993, as part of another, longer work. It didn’t really fit in, though, so I cut it and in the next year or so I reworked it into its present form. It was accepted by The Quarterly in 1995, providing I changed the title to “The Crane Game”. I changed the title and made the other minor but necessary revisions required by Gordon Lish, who edited The Quarterly, but then his mag went bust (for the second and so far final time).
It took me another eleven years to find a publisher for it. The editor at the Tyrant (I can no longer remember her name, but it may have been Sarah) also required a few minor changes, which I accepted when she was right and I could not make a convincing case otherwise, either to her or myself. I had long since changed the title back to “Sandhills”. I never cared for “The Crane Game”, in large part because The Crying Game had come out in ’92 and broke big in ’93 and the two titles were far too close to one another acoustically and temporally.
“The confidence with which we form our schemes is never completely justified in their execution; speculation is carried on in safety, but, when it comes to action, fear causes failure.” — Thucydides, The History of the Peloponnesian War (trans. Crawley)
This guy’s brilliant:
“Every work of art, even though it is produced by following an explicit or implicit poetic of necessity, is effectively open to a virtually unlimited range of possible readings, each of which causes the work to acquire new vitality in terms of one particular taste, or perspective, or personal performance.” — Umberto Eco, “The Poetics of the Open Work”
“Where force can be used, law is not needed.” — Thucydides, The History of the Peloponnesian War (trans. Crawley)
“We do well to be thickly wadded with stupidity against an intolerable chaos.” — Frank Kermode, “Recognition and Deception”, The Art of Telling
“Greek tragedy was rooted in the empirical observation that there is no relationship between justice and suffering. Tragedy confronts us with our frailties and limits and the disastrous consequences of trying to exceed them. It advances a counter-intuitive thesis: that efforts to limit suffering through the accumulation of knowledge or power might invite more suffering.” — Richard Ned Lebow, The Tragic Vision of Politics
I went out this morning to water my back yard, which is mostly desert with a few patches of wild grass and herb borders and a vegetable patch, and there was a falcon there, eating a breakfast of fresh dove. I went back inside and called my wife and said, “Come quick!” We watched the falcon for a few minutes through a window, then I went back out to water. The falcon continued its breakfasting, which included the plucking of feathers from its entree, until I turned on the hose, at which point the falcon gathered up its meal and flew a couple yards over to finish.
The house my wife and I live in is near the geographic center of Albuquerque, New Mexico, in the Uptown part of town. Our neighborhood was built about fifty years ago, during the great expansion of Albuquerque that followed the Second World War. Adjacent parts of our neighborhood weren’t built up until the past twenty years or less, remaining desert enclaves until that time. Roadrunners who used to live in those enclaves migrated to our neighborhood and found they could survive here, so now we have about a half-dozen or so roadrunners about. We have various songbirds, doves and pigeons; in the winter we have crows and in the summer we have grackles.
The grackles have already started returning. One of them was perched on the top of a neighboring juniper this morning, giving warning cries about the falcon. I don’t imagine a falcon would go for a grackle with so many pigeons and doves around, pigeons and doves being essentially the sheep and cattle of the urban bird world. The falcons live down by the river (the Rio Grande), in the woods there, but we’ve had one in our neighborhood for at least a year. I’ve lived in the American Southwest most of my life, and this is the first time I’ve seen a raptor with its prey in my own back yard.