Notes, 2017

The experience most easily shared on the internet is the experience of the internet. We thought, when the internet started, that it would be a revolutionary way for people to share with each other, and it is. But it’s biased against the sharing of anything that isn’t part of it. You don’t ever actually share your Thanksgiving dinner, say, over the internet. You share a picture of your Thanksgiving dinner, which, when you share it, you effectively surrender all ownership and control over. You give the picture to the internet, and other people then share in the picture that once was but is no longer yours. And so the internet, and our experience of it, gets larger and larger, while our experience of reality contracts, recedes, shrinks.

“But who is there that abstains from reading that which is printed in abuse of himself?” —Trollope, Phineas Finn

“The liar lives in fear.” —Adrienne Rich

As I grow older, my consciousness is beaten thinner and thinner, and by now it’s almost translucent, nacreous, like a film of mica or the surface of an abalone shell, opalescent, synesthetic, transposing feelings into textures and colors, not distinguishing itself from the weather.

“But then it is so pleasant to feel oneself to be naughty! There is a Bohemian flavour of picnic about it which, though it does not come up to the rich gusto of real wickedness, makes one fancy that one is on the border of that delightful region in which there is none of the constraint of custom,—where men and women say what they like, and do what they like.” —Trollope, Phineas Finn

It’s odd that as a matter of law, excretion is these days more heavily gendered than intercourse.

The last manifesto: What difference would it make to know that one was making art at the end of human time?

“She said Papa had to have me arrested, but Papa said he didn’t have to do but two things—die and stay black.” —Zora Neale Hurston, Dust Tracks on a Road

“A cell that has reached metabolic equilibrium is dead! The fact that metabolism as a whole is never at equilibrium is one of the defining features of life.” —Jane Reece, Campbell Biology, qtd. in David A. Moss, Democracy: A Case Study

“As the colony shrinks, the gossip and private jokes grow, I suspect, increasingly animated, like the thrashing of fish in a pond that is drying up.” —James Merrill on the subject of life in Alexandria, Egypt, qtd. in Langdon Hammer’s biography of him

convive (n.): member of a group who dine together; participant in a feast

“He is a rather gifted poet, I’m afraid, but terribly uneducated, and a real vampire; one is Drained after an hour with him, while he of course bursts with energy from his bloodless convives.”

—Merrill, qtd. in Hammer, James Merrill: Life and Art

“That poem, I mean, is not written to you, David, in the sense that this letter is. Though it addresses you, don’t forget that pronouns like You or I or We are also deep in the nature of language and help bring it to life. It is for you—it couldn’t have been written without what you showed me by way of landscape and happiness and, yes, tension. Don’t take it too personally: as a gift, if you will; as a message, no.” —Merrill, qtd. in Hammer’s bio

The dream is that the universe exists the way that it does because there’s no other way for it to.

When you drive past a wreck, your yen to look at the gore and mess is eventually overruled by the need to focus on the road ahead. I’m waiting for that moment.

destrier (n.): a medieval knight’s warhorse, a charger

“A group of English knights . . . rode forward on their great destriers to cut off the retreat.”

—Christopher Given-Wilson, Edward II

remora (n.): obstacle, hindrance; originally, an eel thought to attach itself to a ship to slow it down

“The Scots were goading parliamentary leaders who feared Strafford more than they feared the king: ‘the great remora to all matters is the head of Strafford.’ ”

—Mark Kishlansky, Charles I

They tell you that Robin Hood stole from the rich and gave to the poor, but they don’t tell you that the rich in question were monks and that the poor were gentry who couldn’t pay their debts.

My youth the glass where he his youth beheld,
Roses his lips, my breath sweet nectar showers,
For in my face was nature’s fairest field,
Richly adorned with beauty’s rarest flowers.
My breast his pillow, where he laid his head,
Mine eyes his books, my bosom was his bed.

—Michael Drayton, Peirs Gaveston

Is lying illocutionary or perlocutionary?

All the people who don’t know how to bicycle are bicycling again, and the air is florid with my curses.

damascene (v.t.): to ornament a metal object with inlaid designs of gold or silver

“A beautiful double-barreled hammer gun damascened with silver, its blue-black barrels worn paper-thin with firing”

—Richard Hughes, The Fox in the Attic

upas (n.): a poisonous Javanese mulberry tree, supposed capable of destroying all animal life nearby; often used metaphorically

“. . . he aims to be a kind of social upas, to kill conversation anywhere within reach of his shadow”

—Hughes, Fox in the Attic

Wordsworth turned from nature as a raw material for exploitation to nature as a resource for moral renewal and aesthetic refreshment. The poetic move had something to do with the shift from agriculture to industry: a new class of people were arising who no longer needed to look at a landscape for what it offered to them for survival. Will human labor undergo a similar revaluation? It probably won’t feel as liberating, because it’s not that a new class of people won’t need to look to their labor for survival, but that they simply won’t be able to any more. Their need may well persist, but their labor will no longer be able to supply it. The freedom may lead therefore not to a sublime access of meaningfulness but to a painful death of meaning. You will be free to learn to paint watercolors or play the ukelele, but your effort of self-improvement will only make you feel all the more worthless.

“Mr. Bartlett told me one story of Thoreau which I have not seen in print. . . . A number of loafers jeered at him as he passed one day, and said: ‘Halloo, Thoreau, and don’t you really ever shoot a bird when you want to study it?’
“ ‘Do you think,’ replied Thoreau, ‘that I should shoot you if I wanted to study you?’ ” —Hector Waylen, “A Visit to Walden Pond,” qtd. in Walter Harding, Thoreau, Man of Concord

A reality TV show that is staged is referred to euphemistically as “produced.” When a reality show is done in a more straightforwardly documentary style, it’s called a “follow show.”

“One of those heavenly days that cannot die” —Wordsworth, “Nutting”

Christopher Caldwell claims that addicts do choose addiction, and this seems plausible to me. It’s terrifying to know that one’s actions aren’t by any logic necessary, and addiction supplies all the necessity that anyone could ever need. Like tightening all the give out of a hinge.

And you must love him, ere to you
He will seem worthy of your love.

—Wordsworth, “A Poet’s Epitaph”

“And if I am asked today to advise a young writer who has not yet made up his mind what way to go, I would try to persuade him to devote himself first to the work of someone greater, interpreting or translating him. If you are a beginner there is more security in such self-sacrifice than in your own creativity, and nothing that you ever do with all your heart is done in vain.” —Stefan Zweig, World of Yesterday

What most of you don’t realize is that it isn’t safe to agree with me.

drey (n.): squirrel’s nest

“Squirrel’s drays, or ‘huts,’ as they are locally known, contain new-born young.”

—Edward Thomas, “A Diary in English Fields and Woods”

“He that would be well old, must be old betimes.” —George Herbert, Outlandish Proverbs

weal (n.): a ridge raised on the flesh by a blow

“I stepped on to the wing and got awkwardly into the cockpit beside him, giving my forehead a good unpremeditated whack on the edge of the top plane. I shut the door and bolted it awkwardly. Then I ran my finger along the weal in the roots of my hair.”

—David Garnett, A Rabbit in the Air

tedder (n.): an instrument for spreading out new-mown grass, so that it will dry

“Below me the fields of stubble had been brushed and combed with horse-rakes and tedders until they were better groomed than French schoolboys leaving the barber’s shop.”

—Garnett, Rabbit

croodle (v.i.): draw oneself together because of the cold, huddle for warmth

“And croodling shepherds bend along / Crouching to the whizzing storms.”

—John Clare, “February—A Thaw”

“The moving accident is not my trade.” —Wordsworth, “Hart-Leap Well”

“Be this your wall of brass, to have no guilty secrets, no wrong-doing that makes you turn pale.” —Horace, Epistolae, qtd. in Byron, Letters

lattermath (n.): the second mowing, the second crop of grass

“It was upon a July evening.
At a stile I stood, looking along a path
Over the country by a second spring
Drenched perfect green again. ‘The lattermath
Will be a fine one.’ So the stranger said,
A wandering man.”

—Edward Thomas, “Sonnet 5”

But in a co-work space would I be able to curl up on the floor and sob?

“Spring could do nothing to make me sad.” —Thomas, “May 23”

“I’ve always been sceptical of people who claim to understand [Wallace] Stevens.” —Bob Silvers, qtd. in Thomas Meaney, “The Legendary Editor”

“As a man is prepared in his mother’s womb to be brought forth into the world, so is he also after a sort prepared in this body and in this world to live in another world.” —Duplessis-Mornay, A Work Concerning the Trueness of the Christian Religion (1587), qtd. in the notes of my edition of Sidney’s Old Arcadia

Pyrocles vanishes completely into the persona of Cleophila; Sidney does almost nothing to remind the reader that she is “really” Pyrocles. Trollope, similarly, does not say that the marchioness of Hartletop, say, was formerly Griselda Grantly. It’s the reader’s task to remember the human being behind the new title—the hermit crab in the new shell. The contrast between the obscured humanity and the false disinctiveness is part of the humor but also the pathos: society doesn’t know who we are, or really care to know.

plummet (n.): a stick of lead, for writing or ruling lines

“On the flyleaf at the very end is a faint price written in plummet probably of the 14th of 15th century, ‘xxii lb. xix s.,’ 22 livres and 19 sous.”

—Christopher de Hamel, Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts

“To persons standing alone on a hill during a clear midnight such as this, the roll of the world eastward is almost a palpable movement. The sensation may be caused by the panoramic glide of the stars past earthly objects, which is perceptible in a few minutes of stillness, or by the better outlook upon space that a hill affords, or by the wind, or by the solitude; but whatever be its origin, the impression of riding along is vivid and abiding.” —Thomas Hardy, Far from the Madding Crowd

Here, in fact, is nothing at all
Except a silent place that once rang loud,
And trees and us—imperfect friends, we men
And trees since time began; and nevertheless
Between us still we breed a mystery.

—Edward Thomas, “The Chalk Pit”

On a Friend Who Is a Straight Novelist Tweeting out a Translation of Rimbaud’s Poem about How Our Butts Aren’t Like Theirs #titlesofunwrittenpoems

wimble (v.t.): make a rope by using a special instrument that twists together strands of straw

“ ‘What have you been doing?’
“ ‘Tending thrashing-machine, and wimbling haybands, and saying “Hoosh!” to the cocks and hens when they go upon your seeds . . .’ ”

—Hardy, Madding

Whatever wind blows, while they and I have leaves
We cannot other than an aspen be
That ceaselessly, unreasonably grieves,
Or so men think who like a different tree.

—Edward Thomas, “Aspens”

hikikomori (n.): complete withdrawal from society for a long period; a person undergoing such withdrawal

“Above all, they are isolated, scattered hikikomori sitting alone in front of a screen.”

—Byung-Chul Han, In the Swarm

“Solidarity is vanishing. Privatization now reaches into the depths of the soul itself.” —Han, Swarm

The internet coats with indifference any insight that might endanger that way it likes to do business.

“Define extreme candor.” —Matthew Keys, during his interrogation by FBI agent John Cauthen

When the cell phone became the phone, what had once been the phone had to be called the landline. What will we call cars that aren’t driverless? Steer-it-yourself cars? Driver-dependent cars?

“. . . his face showed that he was now living outside his defences for the first time, and with a fearful sense of exposure.” —Hardy, Madding

neap (n.): the tide following the first and third quarters of the moon, when the difference between high and low tides is least

“The spring tides were going by without floating him off, and the neap might soon come which could not.”

—Hardy, Madding

Every summer I learn the hard way anew that any sunblock that one buys at Whole Foods smells and feels like peanut butter.

archivolt (n.): the lower, or under, curve of an arch, stretching from impost to impost; intrados

“. . . it was the village schoolmaster who directed the festivities and arranged the bunting (some of it frankly red) to greet my father on his way home from the railway station, under archivolts of fir needles and crowns of bluebottles, my father’s favorite flower.”

—Vladimir Nabokor, Speak, Memory

“The new man will finger instead of handling.” —Han, Swarm

“It is difficult for a woman to define her feelings in language which is chiefly made by men to express theirs.” —Hardy, Madding

If I could write poems, I would write one that rhymed curtilage and sortilege.

frass (n.): the excrement of larvae

“In a sweating glass jar, several spiny caterpillars were feeding on nettle leaves (and ejecting interesting, barrel-shaped pellets of olive-green frass).”

—Nabokov, Speak, Memory

Overheard in the park . . .
Father: It goes priest, bishop, cardinal, pope.
Son: What about abbott?
Father: Umm.

There’s so much information about the wind when you walk under trees.

The crucial mistake the young writer makes is thinking that if he can write the kind of writing he admires he will be able to make a living.

adespota (n.): literary works not claimed by or attributed to an author

“In the process of verification they must have traced many of Peacock’s adespotic quotations.”

—R. W. Chapman, Review of English Studies, 1925

Having one’s secondary-process thinking only very lightly overlaid over one’s primary-process thinking may be aces for one as a writer but it is no good as a dental patient.

“I ate and drank slowly as one should (cook fast, eat slowly) and without distractions such as (thank heavens) conversation or reading. Indeed eating is so pleasant that one should even try to suppress thought.” —Iris Murdoch, The Sea, the Sea

“Oftener than you might think what human beings actually do is what they want to do.” —Murdoch, Sea

kipple (n.): objects that have lost their functionality through disuse or decay

“Kipple is useless objects, like junk mail or match folders after you use the last match or gum wrappers or yesterday’s homeopape.”

—Philip K. Dick, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

goupen (n.): amount that can be held in two cupped hands

“We did not exactly lie in the thoroughfare of those mighty masses of foreign commodities, the throughgoing of which left, to use the words of the old proverb, ‘goud in goupins’ [gold in goupens].”

—John Galt, The Provost

“. . . laws are not made like lime twigs or nets to catch everything that toucheth them, but rather like sea marks to avoid the shipwrack of ignorant passengers.” —Sidney, Old Arcadia

“Germaine opened the fridge door and looking in said, ‘What do I have for my darlings? What do I have for my darlings to eat?’ She reached inside. The cats had their noses into the bottom of the fridge. ‘Oh darlings,’ she said, ‘you’re so lucky. Here’s testicle.’ And she took out, in her hand, a large, yellowish lump with fleshy tissue hanging from it and threw it, with a soft wed thud, on the big wooden chopping block on the table at which I was standing with the open bottle of wine.” —David Plante, Difficult Women

Is every song on Haim’s new album about drunk-dialing the one-night-stands of yesteryear?

It wasn’t the warmest tentacle. #firstlinesofunwrittennovels

Dreamed that I was sitting in a library reading a newspaper and a woman sat down beside me who didn’t know what it was and called it a “poster.”

In Hans Keilson’s The Death of the Adversary, the narrator’s defense of B.—that is, Hitler—is that B. doesn’t really mean what he says but is only anti-Semitic for rhetorical purposes. This is like the defense made today of Trump: it’s just the way he talks. Keilson’s narrator: “I don’t know whether he means it all as seriously as we think. He pursues certain aims and needs an enemy, as a kind of peg on which to hang his propaganda. At bottom he means himself.” This, too, is said today of Trump. Trump’s former ghostwriter repeats as a drumbeat that every insult Trump delivers is a self-description.

“What you’re after is something impossible: you are trying to plaster up the crack that runs through this world, so that it becomes invisible; then, perhaps, you’ll think that it doesn’t exist any more.” —Keilson, Death of the Adversary

mandrel (n.): a cylindrical rod around which metal or another material is forged or shaped

“If you make a condom that’s less than half the volume of a standard condom, you’re not going to fill it with as much water, or it’s not long enough to stretch on the mandrel for airburst testing.”

—Pam Belluck, “A Condom Maker’s Discovery,” New York Times, 17 October 2017

It is unsurprising that the foolish do not understand how the intelligent see things. But it turns out that the intelligent rarely understand how the foolish see things, either.

“I basked in the thought that I was doing justice to my enemy. At that time my own neck was not yet in danger.” —Keilson, Adversary

The social dead zone of entering one’s PIN in a card reader, instead of interacting with the cashier. The even greater dead zone of the self-checkout kiosk. On the subway, the few of us still reading paper-based material are more accessible to the panhandlers and performers than those in headphones watching shows on their phones. When a stranger smiles on the subway now, he is as likely to be responding to some media he is privately consuming as to— [My note breaks off here, presumably because my train arrived at its station]

The way David France tells the story, in How to Survive a Plague, Larry Kramer was one of the first intellectuals to appreciate at its true value the news of the “gay cancer” because he was angry about the hypersexualization of gay culture and was gratified by the bad news. And this gratification on his part was widely recognized and was used to discredit Kramer and minimize the gravity of the news. There might be a contagious gay cancer, the argument went, but it was the sort of thing Kramer wanted to hear, and he’d be trumpeting it whether or not it was true. Which may have been correct, but was no argument against the truth of the news. In fact, it’s probably always the case that the first to sound an alarm are those who have been waiting for the bad news and who take a perverse pleasure in it, human nature and attention being what they are. This doesn’t mean that all Chicken Littles are always right, but it does mean that their being Chicken Littles is no evidence that the sky is not falling. (Cf. the way no one took seriously Michael Moore’s prediction that Trump would win.)

France says that Randy Shilts was the first gay-media reporter ever to cross over into the mainstream. If I had been born ten years earlier, my career would have been impossible.

wicket (n.): an opening or window with a grille; a ticket office, esp. at a bank

It being Wednesday the wickets in the Post Office were closed, but I had my key.

—Alice Munro, “Postcard”

It’s okay to put death in every story. In the real world, death is in every story.

The impulse to show off creativity coincides with actual talent so rarely that when one encounters shown-off talent, one is tempted to indulge it, almost out of a sense of relief. But maybe in fact it shouldn’t be encouraged even then.

Peter, pretend-sternly: “That’s what comes of staying up late reading the introductions to all the books about the end of democracy.”

“And, indeed, he had so cleverly learned the ways of the wealthy, that he hardly knew any longer how to live at his ease among the poor.” —Trollope, The Eustace Diamonds

“When Bob Bibleman unlocked the door of his one-room apartment, his telephone was on. It was looking for him. ‘There you are,’ the telephone said.” —Philip K. Dick, “The Exit Door Leads In”

Sometimes the sign of a tree’s death is that its leaves do not fall.

“Then he realized that his own image stood before him, the image of himself as he had been thirty years before. ‘Have I been reincarnated in his form?’ Casanova asked himself. ‘But I must have died before that could happen.’ It flashed through his mind: ‘Have I not been dead a long time? What is there left of the Casanova who was young, handsome, and happy?’ ” —Arthur Schnitzler, “Casanova’s Homecoming”

Or must I be content with discontent
As larks and swallows are perhaps with wings?

—Edward Thomas, “The Glory”

Trollope on the worth of street protest

In Anthony Trollope’s Phineas Finn, a novel set in the 1860s about a somewhat hapless member of Parliament, one of the crucial political issues of the day is “the ballot,” i.e., whether votes should be public or secret. Though Finn is a liberal, he thinks votes should be public, at least at the start of the novel (which I haven’t finished yet); he believes transparency deters voters from choosing a narrow self-interest. Electoral reform, however, is on the march. Even though MPs like Finn aren’t yet ready for a secret ballot, many citizens are, and at the end of volume one (it’s a three-decker), a large group of protesters is scheduled to meet outside the Houses of Parliament, in hopes of influenceing a debate inside about adding the secret ballot to a larger measure for electoral reform. Finn’s landlord, Mr. Bunce, supports the secret ballot and plans to attend the protest. Finn tries to dissuade him, not because he wants the protest to be smaller but because he doesn’t think a respectable man like Bunce ought to protest and he’s worried that Bunce could be arrested. The two have an argument, remarkably civil and considerate given that they hold opposing views, and the way they talk about the worth of street protest, or lack thereof, and how to balance freedom of expression with concern for law and order, makes the passage seem awfully relevant to America today:

“What good do you expect to do, Mr. Bunce?” Phineas said, with perhaps some little tone of authority in his voice.

“To carry my point,” said Bunce.

“And what is your point?”

“My present point is the ballot, as a part of the Government measure.”

“And you expect to carry that by going out into the streets with all the roughs of London, and putting yourself in direct opposition to the authority of the magistrates? Do you really believe that the ballot will become the law of the land any sooner because you incur this danger and inconvenience?”

“Look here, Mr. Finn; I don’t believe the sea will become any fuller because the Piddle runs into it out of the Dorsetshire fields; but I do believe that the waters from all the countries is what makes the ocean. I shall help; and it’s my duty to help.”

“It’s your duty, as a respectable citizen, with a wife and family, to stay at home.”

“If everybody with a wife and family was to say so, there’d be none but roughs, and then where should we be? What would the Government people say to us then? If every man with a wife and family was to show hisself in the streets to-night, we should have the ballot before Parliament breaks up, and if none of ’em don’t do it, we shall never have the ballot. Ain’t that so?” Phineas, who intended to be honest, was not prepared to dispute the assertion on the spur of the moment. “If that’s so,” said Bunce, triumphantly, “a man’s duty’s clear enough. He ought to go, though he’d two wives and families.” And he went.

Notes, 2015

Food is not improved by looking like a Calder mobile that has collapsed onto a plate.

nimrod (noun): a person fond of hunting

By hunting at all she had estranged the goodies, and by deserting she must scandalize the nimrods.

—Sylvia Townsend Warner, Summer Will Show

suther (verb): to sigh, to sough, to make the sound of wind in trees

. . . only the wise and timid pigeons, . . . leaving the green seclusion in which they had been “listening to the pleasant sutherings of the shade” . . .

—T. H. White, The Goshawk, quoting John Clare’s “The Woodpigeon’s Nest”

“The honourable estate of matrimony allowed one to read Don Juan in honour and ease, rather than by snatches in a cold bedroom.” —Warner, Summer Will Show

Pomegranate seeds gone opaque, like eyes with cataracts.

law (noun): an allowance in time or distance made to an animal that is to be hunted, or to a competitor in a race

He now had about seven yards law in what he was tied by.

—White, The Gowhawk

“On a retrospect, I observe that my long letter carries with it a quaint and magisterial air, and is very sententious.” —Gilbert White, A Natural History of Selborne

jink (verb): change direction quickly, dart, dodge

But the old buck jinked in a grass furrow.”

—White, Goshawk

One of the challenges that Twitter poses to information hygiene: it isn’t the same from day to day, and is qualitatively unlike itself from month to month. Is it good for you to read it? Past performance tells almost nothing, because it’s so protean.

rode (verb): of a woodcock, to perform a regular evening territorial flight during the breeding season

“I saw the long downward-pointing bill and the blunt, owl-like wings, and heard the thin whistle and throat croak of its roding call; a strange thing to hear in the cold November dusk.”

—J. A. Baker, The Peregrine

sporran (noun): a Scottish Highlander’s purse, worn at the front of the kilt

He carried on his study of pubic fig leaves (vine leaves in Rome, in Naples they were positive sporrans).

—Sylvia Townsend Warner, T. H. White

“. . . suitable to the composure of an animal said to be a whole month in performing one feat of copulation.” —G. White, in Selborne, on his tortoise

People talking on their cellphones while pooping in public restrooms is really the worst thing in the modern world.

“The rooms where I was born, the furniture which has been before my eyes all my life, a book case which has followed me about (like a faithful dog, only exceeding him in knowledge) wherever I have moved—old chairs, old tables, streets, squares, where I have sunned myself, my old school—these are my mistresses. Have I not enough, without your mountains? I do not envy you. I should pity you, did I not know, that the Mind will make friends of anything.” —Charles Lamb to William Wordsworth, 30 January 1801

“The first duty of an Author, I take it, is never to pay anything.” —Lamb to Wordsworth, 26 June 1806

On the enslavement of authors to booksellers: “Those fellows hate us. The reason I take to be, that, contrary to other trades, in which the Master gets all the credit (a Jeweller or Silversmith, for instance), and the Journeyman, who really does the fine work, is in the background: in our work the world gives all the credit to us, whom they consider as their Journeymen, and therefore do they hate us, and cheat us, and oppress us, and would wring the blood of us out, to put another sixpence in their mechanic pouches.” —Lamb to Bernard Barton, 9 January 1823

The simple catalogue of things
That reason would despise
Starts in the heart a thousand springs
Of half-forgotten joys.

—John Clare, “Childhood”

“I do not know that she was at all points a lady, but had Fate so willed it she would have been a thorough gentleman.” —Anthony Trollope, Can You Forgive Her?

I felt that I’d a right to song
And sung—but in a timid strain
Of fondness for my native plain

—John Clare, “Progress of Rhyme”

zarf (noun): a cup-shaped holder for a hot coffee cup, used in eastern Mediterranean, usually made of metal and with an ornamental design

He brought steaming conical cups in plastic zarfs, two by two, to the craving, sobering hands all around him.

—Jonathan Franzen, The Twenty-Seventh City

The nineteenth century admitted that the immortality of the soul was a fairy tale. The twenty-first will have to admit that the eternity of nature is one, too.

Dream: To someone who accused me of writing a book review that was too critical, I replied, “When I go to a bullfight, it’s to kill the bulls.”

Where ceneme becomes plereme.

“Yet now despair itself is mild . . .” —Shelley, “Stanzas Written in Dejection near Naples”

“In much wisdom is much grief, and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.” —Ecclesiastes

“‘It seems to me that if a man can so train himself that he may live honestly and die fearlessly, he has done about as much as is necessary.’ ‘He has done a great deal, certainly,’ said Mr. Palliser. . . . He knew very well that he himself was working for others, and not for himself; and he was aware, though he had not analysed his own convictions on the matter, that good men struggle as they do in order that others, besides themselves, may live honestly, and, if possible, die fearlessly.” —Trollope, Can You Forgive Her?

Peter thinks the rear windshield wiper says, “Hawn-hawn,” and the front ones say, “Needles-eewee.”

“I always think that worldliness and sentimentality are rather like brandy and water. I don’t like either of them separately, but taken together they make a very nice drink.” —Trollope, Can You Forgive Her?

tessitura (noun): the range within which most tones of a voice part or melody lie

With its long runs and jagged melodic line, it made great demands on the singer, but Hubert Anvil was more than equal to them, hitting every note in the middle, moving from top to bottom of the wide tessitura with no loss of tone or power.

—Kingsley Amis, The Alteration

flaw (verb): to ruffle, as a gust of wind does

Every now and then a gust stooped and flawed the creek, brushing up a fine spray.

— Sylvia Townsend Warner, The True Heart

“My guess is that writers probably make fun, skilled, satisfactory, and seemingly considerate partners for other people. But that the experience for them is often rather lonely.” —David Foster Wallace, quoted by David Lipsky

There are two arts of photography. There is the manufacture of images with light, lenses, and other physical equipment. And then there is the selection and presentation of those images. In the early twentieth century, the first of these arts had great prestige and the second was largely invisible. But by the end of the century, photography had done to itself what it had previously done to painting, and merely technical prowess was too common to command attention. The prestige now goes to those with ideas about what images are, or can be.

“The new rebels might be the ones willing to risk the yawn, the rolled eyes, the cool smile, the nudged ribs, the parody of gifted ironists, the ‘how banal.'” —David Foster Wallace, quoted by D. T. Max in Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story

A resurrected Roman would find a great deal familiar if he visited Prospect Park on a summer weekend: shirtless men presiding over the burning of meat on portable tripods, to the accompaniment of music. But he would wonder why the sacrifices were being made without priests and without temples.

liceity (noun): legitimacy of a human action, e.g., of the administration of a sacrament; not the same as validity; used in a Roman Catholic context

There are two separate issues in the Filioque controversy in Christianity, the orthodoxy of the doctrine itself and the liceity of the interpolation of the phrase into the Nicene creed

—Wikipedia

metheglin (noun): spiced mead

Where metheglin was making he would linger round the tubs and vessels, begging a draught of what he called bee-wine.

—White, Selborne

The schoolteacher, gravelled by his schoolteaching mind: “Nothing comes to him, not spoiled by the sophisticating medium of moral uses.” —Lamb, “Old and New Schoolmaster”

privity (noun): the fact of being privy to something

They affirmed that what the Irish rebels did was done with my privity at least, if not by my commission.

—Charles I and John Gauden, Eikon Basilike

“I had grown to my desk, as it were, and the wood had entered into my soul.” —Lamb, “The Superannuated Man”

cantle (noun): a section or segment cut out of anything; a thick slice or cut of bread or cheese

I can spare to go to church now, without grudging the huge cantle which it used to seem to cut out of the holiday.

—Lamb, “The Superannuated Man”

“But the display of married happiness . . . is throughout pure, unrecompensed, unqualified insult.” —Lamb, “A Bachelor’s Complaint”

“I had imagined that the world’s end was at the edge of the orison and that a day’s journey was able to find it. So I went on with my heart full of hopes, pleasures, and discoveries, expecting when I got to the brink of the world that I could look down like looking into a large pit and see into its secrets the same as I believed I could see heaven by looking into the water. So I eagerly wandered on and rambled among the furze the whole day till I got out of my knowledge when the very wildflowers and birds seemed to forget me and I imagined they were the inhabitants of new countries. The very sun seemed to be a new one and shining in a different quarter of the sky. Still I felt no fear. My wonder-seeking happiness had no room for it. I was finding new wonders every minute and was walking in a new world and expected the world’s end by and by but it never came often wondering to myself that I had not found the end of the old one.” —Clare, “Autobiographical Fragments”

“People who have tried it, tell me that a clear conscience makes you very happy and contented; but a full stomach does the business quite as well, and is cheaper, and more easily obtained.” —Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men in a Boat

“She measured out consideration as if it had been a yard of pretty ribbon.” —Henry James, The Outcry

“Remember.” —Charles I (his last word)

Say, maiden, wilt thou go with me
Through this sad non-identity?

—Clare, “An Invite to Eternity”

“‘Oh, they know things in the States,’ Hugh cheerfully agreed, ‘so independently of their happening!'” —James, The Outcry

A lesser-remarked sign of age: One’s fingernails used to be smooth curves, and are now polyhedra.

“The community included a nudist and a man who refused to eat tubers because any vegetable that grows downward displays questionable tendencies.” —Chris Jennings, on Fruitlands, in Paradise Now

“He seemed not to speak, but to be spoken from.” —Charles Lamb, “A Quakers’ Meeting”

caudle (noun): a drink of warm gruel, containing spice, sugar, and wine, given to invalids

On the twentieth day of her lying-in, she died of kindness and caudle.

—Robert Bage, Hermsprong

“Chastity, they say, is like unto time, which, being once lost, can no more be recovered.” —Mercy Harvey to Lord Surrey, her would-be seducer, quoted in Virginia Woolf’s “Strange Elizabethans”

“Good memories, good memories,” the old men in the gym say to each other, as a greeting.

“Authors in general know money does not make their happiness; and thence conclude, rather too hastily, it could not make that of other people.” —Bage, Hermsprong

“The beauty of his work consisted in the skill with which he evaded questions of principle.” —Henry Adams, Democracy

“There were so many spare hours that on looking back it would almost seem as if our planet must have made slower revolutions then.” —Georgiana Bruce Kirby, Years of Experience

The hipsters were sulky about the dogs frolicking in the park’s off-leash meadows this morning. They had got up early to photograph their drone, and now dogs might get, uninvited, into the pictures.

Fortune is most and strangest evermore
Where least foreknowing or intelligence
Is in the man; and, son, of wit or lore
Since thou art weak and feeble, lo, therefore
The more thou art in danger and commune
With her that clerks clepen so fortune.

—James I of Scotland, The Kingis Quair [The King’s Quire]

Practical freedom from prediction and manipulation by others (psychologists or dictators or whomever) is best achieved by the acquisition of knowledge in general. The more you know, the harder you are to control.” —Daniel Dennett, Elbow Room

“I am a straw upon the surface of the deep, and am tossed in all directions by the elephants.” —Mr. Micawber

habergeon (noun): a sleeveless jacket of armor

Hard by the lilied Nile I saw
A duskish river-dragon stretched along,
The brown habergeon of his limbs enamelled
With sanguine almandines and rainy pearl.

—Thomas Lovell Beddoes, “A Crocodile”

“I know what really goes on inside me. I’ll let you in on something. There isn’t a man living who doesn’t. All this business, ‘Know thyself’! Everybody knows but nobody wants to admit.” —Saul Bellow, The Victim

After taking the previous note, on the subway, I looked up to see a boy across the car staring at me as if he’d just seen a ghost. I guess the taking of notes by hand isn’t a very common sight any more.

The key to The Martian (the movie): It’s how the Internet makes us feel—alone on a desert planet. It’s an entire movie about talking to oneself and about sending and receiving text messages. Inner desolation, exteriorized.

“We don’t seem to hear nothing about the unpardonable sin now, but you may say it was not uncommon then.” —Sarah Orne Jewett, The Country of Pointed Firs

“Translating oneself is writing in fetters.” —Pierre Legouis, Andrew Marvell

“Spirits and fairies cannot be represented, they cannot even be painted—they can only be believed.” —Charles Lamb, The Tragedies of Shakespeare

“But to live in past ages is very expensive; you can’t do it on less than two thousand a year.” —George Orwell, A Clergyman’s Daughter

“It was only now, after becoming aware of most of the things about her, that she became aware of herself. Hitherto she had been as it were a pair of eyes with a receptive but purely impersonal brain behind them. But now, with a curious little shock, she discovered her separate and unique existence; she could feel herself existing; it was as though something within her were exclaiming, ‘I am I!'” —Orwell, A Clergyman’s Daughter, deftly describing the little “click” that does not happen when one wakes up into the depersonalization of a panic attack

The closing of the American heart: In the Middle Ages, people saw hangings, beheadings, and disfigured corpses often, and sympathy was sharply limited and rarely went beyond one’s intimates. In the eighteenth century Voltaire proposed that sympathy could be an instrument of virtue and reform, inducing people to feel injustice done to others. By the nineteenth century, sympathy had become a faculty to be nurtured and developed, especially in children, whose sensibilities needed to be shielded from the gratuitous sight of people in extremis, which would coarsen and jade (it’s meant to be progress for Oliver Twist to move from a vivid life of street crime to the eventlessness of Victorian propriety). The delicacy was not for its own sake; it was to preserve a moral fineness. Today, once again, the sight of torture and death has become common, and we have lost the idea that one ought to protect one’s sensibility in order to preserve one’s faculty of doing good. Sympathy, correspondingly, is receding.

“Earth-worms, though in appearance a small and despicable link in the chain of Nature, yet, if lost, would make a lamentable chasm.” —White, Selborne

Forgive us our micro-aggressions, as we forgive those who micro-aggress against us.

“Worms . . . are hermaphrodites, and much addicted to venery, and consequently very prolific.” —White, Selborne

“When he was puzzled or in difficulties, his moustaches seemed to bristle forward, giving him the appearance of a well-meaning but exceptionally brainless prawn.” —Orwell, Clergyman’s Daughter

All studium and no punctum makes Jonny a dull boy.

henway: a nonexistent tool that a novice worker is asked to go fetch, leading to the question, “What’s a henway?” Answer: About two and a half pounds. Cf. “Maybe we could touch base next week via Updog?”

How calculated the sentiment looks when one watches over the shoulder of a woman frenetically sampling the options for updating her Facebook profile picture so that it will express solidarity with victims of last night’s atrocity.

Does the revolt of Micawber against Heep (“Because I—in short, choose”) prefigure Bartleby’s “I would prefer not to”?

“The fact that many of us resent injuries on behalf of others is generally a convenient way of indulging our resements with an appearance of justice.” —Charles Williams, quoted in Grevel Lindop, The Third Inkling

doggo: without moving or making a sound, doing nothing to draw attention

The inhabitants lay doggo.

—Sybille Bedford, A Visit to Don Otavio

A robot’s meditation: I’m thinking, therefore I’m on.

“Constanza says that the novel plays such a part in shaping social behaviour. Perhaps the novel has not caught up?” —Sybille Bedford, A Compass Error

The saddest 7 words in the English language: I hope we can still be friends
The saddest 4: First in a series
The saddest 2: What party?
The saddest 1: carob

“But I made the unfortunate mistake, for a writer, of first having been Mr. Jake Barnes. So it is not going to be splendid and cool and detached after all.” —Ernest Hemingway, in a deleted second chapter of The Sun Also Rises

“Editors are troubled with nice amendings and if Doctors were as fond of Amputations as they are of altering and correcting the world would have nothing but cripples.” —John Clare, journal, 30 April 1825

“The cycle of manic enthusiasm, then fear, then Partei solutions of a desperate type—well, the point he got across was that all this tends to bring the most irresponsible and reckless aspirants to the top.” —Philip K. Dick, The Man in the High Castle

“I believe that when a scholar traffics in antihumanist theories for purposes of professional advancement, his or her private self stands in the doorway, listening in.” —Lisa Ruddick, “When Nothing Is Cool”

“Did I tell you about my discovery in Larkin Studies?” —Philip Larkin to Monica Jones, 21 November 1971

“I could have written longer notes, for the art of writing notes is not of difficult attainment.” —Samuel Johnson