“We know what things cost but have no idea what they are worth.” — Tony Judt, “Ill Fares the Land”
“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
“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 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
“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
“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
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.
“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”
“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