Yet nobody requires the existence of a standard and a general pressure to conform more than the person who wishes to assume a position outside it. It is essential for the creative writer that there be, or be perceived to be, a usual way of saying things, if a new or unusual way is to stand out and to provoke some excitement. So when D. H. Lawrence in Women in Love writes of Gudrun’s insomnia after first making love to Gerald that she was “destroyed into perfect consciousness,” he needs the reader to sense at once that this is syntactically anomalous; a person can be “transformed into,” “turned into,” “changed into” but not “destroyed into.” The syntactical shock underlines Lawrence’s unconventional view of consciousness as a negative rather than positive state, which again is emphasized by the unexpected use of the word “perfect,” rather than a more immediately understandable and neutral “intense.”"Tim Parks, “In Praise of the Language Police”, New York Review of Books (“You have to have rules to break ‘em,” said Tim Parks eloquently)
His favorite example is the rainbow. For the rainbow experience to happen we need sunshine, raindrops, and a spectator. It is not that the sun and the raindrops cease to exist if there is no one there to see them. Manzotti is not a Bishop Berkeley. But unless someone is present at a particular point no colored arch can appear. The rainbow is hence a process requiring various elements, one of which happens to be an instrument of sense perception. It doesn’t exist whole and separate in the world nor does it exist as an acquired image in the head separated from what is perceived (the view held by the “internalists” who account for the majority of neuroscientists); rather, consciousness is spread between sunlight, raindrops, and visual cortex, creating a unique, transitory new whole, the rainbow experience. Or again: the viewer doesn’t see the world; he is part of a world process."Tim Parks, “The Mind Outside My Head”, New York Review of Books (what a fantastic way of thinking about the world)
Minds grow by questioning things, and adolescence is a great period of questions. Mark Twain and H. L. Mencken learned to cross-examine the Bible all on their own, without any help at all from college. An unquestioned faith is not faith but rote recitation. The opposite of such questioning is not deep belief but arrested development."Garry Wills, “Santorum’s Arrested Development”, New York Review of Books (I couldn’t agree more with this article)
He spends all his time at the window now, looking down at the earth. He says little or nothing. He simply wants to look, do nothing but look. The oceans, the continents, the archipelagoes. We are configured in what is called a cross-orbit series and there is no repetition from one swing around the earth to the next. He sits there looking. He takes meals at the window, does checklists at the window, barely glancing at the instruction sheets as we pass over tropical storms, over grass fires and major ranges. I keep waiting for him to return to his prewar habit of using quaint phrases to describe the earth: it’s a beach ball, a sun-ripened fruit. But he simply looks out the window, eating almond crunches, the wrappers floating away."Don DeLillo, “Human Moments in World War III”, from The Angel Esmerelda: Nine Stories (I need to read more DeLillo, evidently; also, I wish Charles Baxter could review every book)
excerpt from Memories of Chekhov, by Peter Sekirin
Ivan Belousov, “About A.P. Chekhov,” from Thirty Days (1929)
Anton Pavlovich sat in front of a fire-place, looking at the flames. From time to time, he tore a piece of bark from the birch log in front of him, and threw it in the fireplace, obviously thinking intently about something.
His maid called him from outside. He left for some time. Finally, he returned, and when we asked him why he was delayed, he reluctantly replied, “I had a medical patient waiting for me.”
I was surprised, “So late? Was it a friend?”
Chekhov replied, “Not at all. I saw her for the first time in my life. She needed a prescription for a medicine that can be poisonous. They can only dispense it from a pharmacy with a prescription.”
“You did not write it, did you?”
Anton Pavlovich did not answer anything. He sat at the fire-place, and threw in some more fire-wood. Then, after a long silence, he said quietly, “Maybe this is better for her. I looked into her eyes, and understood that she had made a decision. There is a big river not far from here, and the Stone Bridge. If she jumps, she would be in great pain before she died. With the poison, she would be better off.”
He was silent. We grew silent as well. Then, to change the subject, we began a conversation about literature.
Over the years I thoroughly explored many libraries, big and small, discovering numerous writers and individual books I never knew existed, a number of them completely unknown, forgotten, and still very much worth reading. No class I attended at the university could ever match that."Charles Simic, "A Country Without Libraries," The New York Review of Books
the new american pessimism
"In an atmosphere of growing anxiety and hysteria, in which the true causes and the scale of our dire national predicament are deliberately concealed and obfuscated by our political establishment and by the corporate media, no wonder there’s confusion and anger everywhere. As anyone who has traveled around this country and talked to people knows, Americans are not just badly informed, but downright ignorant about most things that affect their lives. How nice it would be if our President leveled with us and told us that our deficit is caused in significant part by the wars we are fighting in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the hundreds of military bases we are maintaining around the world, the huge tax breaks for the rich, and the bailout of Wall Street. As we know, we are not about to hear anything of the kind.” - Charles Simic