Copernique Marshall's Essays
No. 081 to 090
(September 5th, 2016 to ...)
Sur l'art de choisir sa place au concert
Peu à peu, Paul, notre disc-jockey est en train de me
convaincre qu'il est de plus en plus insensé d'aller au concert. Avec le prix
exigé par les artistes dont les dépenses (frais de déplacements, entre
autres) grimpent en flèche, les récents et même moins récents développements
électroniques de la reproduction sonore et surtout les vidéos disponibles
sur Internet, il est difficile de se faire à l'idée que la seule et
unique façon pour un mélomane le moindrement averti est de se déplacer pour
aller entendre un récital ou un concert. Et un autre argument, de taille
celui-là, est venu s'ajouter mercredi dernier lorsqu'en compagnie de Paul,
justement, je suis allé entendre le Quatuor Emerson en la salle Bourgie du Musée
des Beaux-Arts (de Montréal) : le peu d'espace disponible, même dans les plus
modernes salles de concert, pour voir et entendre correctement celui, ceux ou
celles qui, devant soi, interprètent ou interprètront la musique de ses
Prenez le cas des quatuors à
cordes. Le sketch qui suit (merci Paul !) en dit long sur l'emplacement idéal
pour les voir et entendre :
s'agit de la disposition la plus répandue des musiciens d'un quatuor sur une
scène : le premier (V1) et le deuxième (V2) violon à gauche, l'alto (Vi) à
droite et le violoncelle (Vc) au centre. Cette disposition est nécessaire parce
que les musiciens doivent se voir et s'entendre eux-mêmes pour que les sons
qu'ils produisent soient en harmonie.
(Il en existe une
autre et qui est de l'alto au centre et du violoncelle à droite, disposition
préconisée, entre autres, par le Quatuor Alban Berg, mais elle est moins répandue.)
leurs instruments et dites-moi vers où leurs sons se dirigent, mais également
où l'auditeur doit être placé pour les entendre et également voir les gestes et
mouvements de chacun des musiciens. À deux ou trois mètres, maximum, du
premier violon et un peu à gauche par rapport au centre des quatre musiciens.
Pourquoi ? Parce que c'est là où la complèxité sonore de l'ensemble est
dirigée et de là qu'on peut voir tous les mouvements des musiciens, en
particulier du violoncelliste et de l'altiste qui, lui, fait généralement face au premier violon.
Or, dans une salle, quelle que
soit sa grandeur, le nombre de sièges qu'on peut entasser dans la position d'écoute
idéale est, de ce fait, limité. Question d'accoustique d'abord, mais également
de vision car, à moins d'avoir une connaissances exceptionelle et une capacité
auditive hors du commun, nul ne saurait discerner les différentes notes et dans
quel ordre, et par qui les divers passages d'un quatuor sont interprétés chose
à mon avis essentielle pour comprendre l'ensemble.
cette approche, je vous le concède, mais à quoi bon dépenser une petite
fortune par année pour aller entendre ce que, chez soi, de plus en plus, on
peut reproduire en détials, quitte à juster la vitesse, la dynamique, le
volume de chque instreument, particulièrement avec des écouteurs de qualité
(dont le prix de revient est l'équivalent d'un seul billet d'un seul récital).
De plus, il est devenu très facile de nos jours de voir, et ce, de façon exceptionnelle l'exécution d'à
peu près n'importe quoi, bien confortablement assis dans un fauteuil,
soi, grace à la multiplicité des vidéos de grande qualité qui sont devenus
courants, surtout ceux où apparaissent les plus grands musiciens du monde
dont les visites, quel que soit l'endroit où l'on demeure, sont de moins en moins
fréquentes car ils sont en demande partout.
Dites-moi où et quand vous pourrez voir et
entendre d'une plus idéale position dans une salle les deux enregistrements
suivants (disponibles sur YouTube) :
1 - La symphone numéro cinq de Gustav Mahler dirigée
par Valery Gergiev :
2 - Le quatuor numéro 12 en mi bémol, opus 127, de
Beethoven par le quatuor Alban Berg :
le seul, si l'on fait exception de Paul (qui est définitivement anti-récital
et anti-concert), à penser ainsi ?
plus en plus de musiciens trouvent les tournées incompatiobles avec leur art
et s'en remettent de plus en plus à la musique enregistrée en studio, à
l'instar de Glenn Gould qui dès le début des années soixante a préféré s'en
remettre au contrôle absolu et à l'intimité des studios d'enregistrements
plutôt qu'aux salles de concerts qu'il considérait comme des arènes
sportives. «Quoi, disait-il. On voudrait que je joue tous les soirs
exactement comme je l'ai fait, un jour, dans un studio. C'est impossible.»
- Et, passant de la salle de concert (il donna son dernier récital en 1964),
il se confina uniquement aux studios d'enregistrement.
pourquoi aller au concert ? Pour les mêmes raisons que Paul a données
relativement à la contrebasse de Scott Lafaro (*) : pour entendre live le son
particulier d'un instrument ou d'un ensmble de telle sorte à s'en rappeler
lorsqu'on écoutera un enregistrement.
(*) Voir Le Castor™ - 4 juillet, 2016.
l'Emerson String Quartet ?
J'eusse préféré qu'il
interprète du Beethoven, mais pour des raisons de planification de la saison,
les musiciens s'en sont tenus à Mozart, Debussy et Tchaikovski qui ne sont
pas, en ce qui concerne les quatuos à cordes, mes compositeurs favoris.
naturellement, mais très passable au pizzicato.
Musée des Beaux-Arts
Montréal, Qc., Canada
In concert, but somewhere else
I'm not as old as Paul, but
I'm beginning to understand what he means by «getting the wrong end of a stick»
or words to that effect (usually involving a tool that's used
fasten things together).
I was - let us say - somewhere, Friday, not too long ago
having been invited to listen to a jazz quartet with a
based on the name of a dead politician.
Never heard, in a
while, such self-indulgent musical garbage. I understand that the
pianist whose name is that of the quartet was sick that evening (cold,
grippe or something) and wasn't quite himself, but the saxophonist ! I
could have stayed home and heard him - and still asked him to play a little
less louder - I mean : he was louder than
the drummer who totally burrried whatever was being played on the piano.
The bassist (there was one) seemed to enjoy himself but he
couldn't be heard either.
As Dizzie Gillespie used to say : «It doesn't matter if you play a
seventh sharp, followed by a 127th chord, as long as you can
dance to it...» - No dancing that evening. I was home by nine.
The Books I Don't Read
If I had to give one
reason why I don't read certain books, I'd say because
they're "poorly written" but that would
be an easy way out, wouldn't ? "Poorly
means a lot of different things to a lot of people. - One of
my friends, for example, nearly had a fit when she heard stand-up comic
Mitch Hedburg say : "I
used to do drug. I still do, but I used to do too." - "We don't do drug, we use them",
she said. Couldn't argue with that, could I ? Should have, but didn't.
- When anybody who speaks English tells me that Captain Kirk of the USS
Entreprise should have said "To go boldly where no-one has
gone before" instead of "To boldly go where no-one
has gone before." (the rule of split-infinitives) or that
Mick Jagger should have sung "I can't get any satisfaction"
instead of "I can't get no satisfaction" (two
negatives)... I don't argue.
is like W. C. Fields who said, when told he drank too much : "Root
beer might be better but it doesn't get any laugh." But,
basically, it means that it's difficult to understand what the writer
is writing about. (Another rule : not ending a sentence with a
French is worst, but let's
not get into that !
are certain types of books from which I try to stay away or which I try to stay away from. Novels, for
example. I am not, in that respect, as dead set as Paul who won't even
consider looking at one (see, quand
même, his review of «La
succession» below!), but I do try to
stay away from them particularly those whose sole
interest is telling a
story. Unfortunatly, most novels I've read lately seem to make sure
that they fall into that category or even worst : they tell stories to
make a point, sometimes through entire chapters devoted to
save forests, how to get rid of AIDS, how doctors should treat their
patients, how the hidden agendas of certain politicans will lead to
disaster and so on. - For God sake, if you want to talk about climate
changes, write an essay, not a story about a poor farmer in
who's having problems with his crops or what's going on in China (pollution and so on).
detective and spy novels all right for a while, but after read a dozen
or so, mainly on plane trips, I got bored with one notable exception :
John Le Carré. Not because of the story he tells but for the way he
Same thing with Sherlock Holmes' short stories, but I nearly gave up on
Arthur Con Doyle after going through his «Study in Scarlet»
long description of Joseph Smith and the Mormons. - If you like
Sherlock, skip that part. - As to the likes of Agatha
Christie, they've been out of my list of favorite books for a long
do, however read novels whose purpose is not to tell a story - which,
in a way, they all do - but tell it with panache, cleverness, twits and
turns or simply funny. Thomas Pynchon, Georges Pérec and a few others,
I do enjoy. So much that it takes me up to several weeks to read one of
their so-called «novels»
which, sometimes, they are not. «La
d'emploi», for example, is not a novel, nor is «Mason and Dixon» and
most of the stuff written by Alphonse Allais or Marcel Aymé. - Stating
that "Le parapluie de
l'escouade» (Allais) or «Garou-garou,
passe-muraille» (Aymé) are mainly stories, for example,
would amount to to the «Oedipe
roi» joke in todays' Simon column. Which
reminds me of another joke I heard not too long ago :
women are in a restaurant. One asks to the other two ; « Have you seen
the latest "Titanic" ?». One says yes, the other says no.
She then asks
the one who replied yes why the heroin throws the diamond into the
ocean, at then end. - «Why
did you have to tell her that
?» replied the woman, pointing to the third
woman. «Well... I didn't
tell her what happened to the ship, did I ?»
was the answer.
Biographies, I don't read
Especially about those of Hollywood stars. And I do make my
to avoid anything written about politicians, sport heroes,
scientists, Nobel Prize winners, Mother Therera or anyone that has gone
somewhere and returned to tell about it, be it the moon, Afghanistan,
South Dakota or the Great Barrier.
have no doubt that novelists - A-hum : people who write novels or
fiction - consider themselves as full member of the literary elite,
that is : genuine artits whose purpose in life is not only to
describe the complexity of human lives but bring aesthetic delight in
doing so. - Some do, did ; still do but used to do too.
To me they are like the
jokers one invite to parties because they make people laugh or seem to
have the ability to inject a sense of well being and hapiness to all
who sourround them albeit with one difference : writers
make you laugh and cry, but think as well. They tell stories about
what what we see everyday, what we thought when we were younger, what
could have tought had we lived five or six thousand years ago. and what
might be thinking two centuries from now. They invent
characters with whom we could interract or could have interracted in
some imaginary world.
Woody Allen once said that he
remembered vividly the scenery down to the last piece of furniture he heard about on radio
shows but had difficulties in seeing the furniture in Ralph Cramden's
flat which he saw every weeks for months... - I never had any diffculty in understanding
that because it happens to be the lot of us all.
novel to me, it seems, is just like that : a story built, not around
the author's imagination but my own
and I don't care how detailed were Balzac or Zola's
descriptions of a room, a street or even an entire city,
the room, the street or the city remain mine and not theirs. And this
where the power and failure fiction lies. With good novelists my
imagination is stimulated ; with bad I feel like I'm being cheated.
is no such deception in paintings, sculptures and moving pictures :
what you see is literaly what the painter, sculptor or movie director
wanted you to see ; «Here,
he or they say : let me open a window and let me show show what the
world looks like
from my perspective.» (Albeit to some extent : some movies and some paintings have to be seen more than once.)
I wonder, at times, what
Plinius the Younger would have thought had he been allowed to read Wuthering Heights
or David Copperfield,
all unusual vocabulary and anachronisms removed ; wether he would have
reacted the same way modern readers do...
I have nothing against novels. I just find them tedius and repetitive
at times : reading 600 pages about dresses and horses to learn about
Mary being mistreated in her youth managed to rise to be the prime
of her country is definitely not my cup of tea. That sort of story, and
even cruder and more realistic, I read about or listened to everyday in
dollar-a-copy newspapers or «free» tv news reports. Twists and turns and
unusual acounts I can follow but they keep telling me that I'm less
intelligent than Hercule Poirot or Sherlock Holmes and definitely less
handsome and clever than James Bond which is kinda frustrating ; and,
frankly, my cleaning lady has
been through better stories than what I can read in today's novels. And
I don't particularly give a damn how I would have performed
So, are novels works of art ?
Depends. If you read them as stories, they aren't and if you see in
them what everybody seem to see in them, they aren't either.
what's the solution ? - There's none. People will continue to
stories however they're written. Not to change their lives, not to learn
something but be entertained, to imagine how they might have been
during the One Hundred Year war.
«Those were the good old days,
as W. C. Fileds once said. I
hope they never come again.»
I do read novels but only
for one reason : to find out how they're written. This is why I like
John le Carré.
And another thing : you
remember the guy who's invited to every party . I'm always interested
know wether he is happy.
« It's no trick to make a lot of
money, if it's all you want : make a lot of money. »
(Everett Sloane as Mr. Bernstein in Citizen Kane -
Orson Welles, 1941)
I am, believe it or not,
constantly being told that I use too many long words, arcane
vocabulary, archaic forms, unusual contractions and other
idiosyncrasies that make everything I write difficult to
read. - Having heard these remarks, I said to myself : "Thank
God, no one has so far noticed that I often switch subjects in
the middle of paragraphs and even sentences ! "
Be that as it may, I should take exception to the above as,
the more I read some writers, well known writers, including
very popular writers, the more I find them difficult to
decipher ; the latest in this category is John Updike whom I've added
to a long list in which the likes of Henry James, John Ruskin and a few
19th century essayists figure prominently. The same applies to various
American authors who write in a telegrammatic prose style such as James
Ellroy of whom I wasn't able to read more than three pages of his L. A. Confidential about
which I had heard so much. On the other hand, some people can't
understand why I find Le Carré, Hitchens and even Joyce easy
A matter of likes or dislikes, I guess. Or perhaps a « birds
of a feather » thing.
And then, there's what one writes about. - Pulp fiction ? Keep it
simple. - Spy novels ? Make it complicated. - Five hundred word
articles on gardening ? Make it to the point and get out. -
Politics ? Use your imagination.
I agree with Shelby Foote : writing is hard work. It takes time, and
patience ; devotion actually. And a no shame
and stubborn attitude, particularly towards critics.
would say an unbreakable backbone helps, but I think it has more to do
with not for whom but for what or rather why one writes. Some say money. Makes sense. Fame ? Nah. Better try something else (dancing, singing or selling newspaper want-adds, comes
to mind). Even reading news live at eleven and try to make
everyone believe you're a journalist (1).
- One of the worst answer I got was « posterity ». I
didn't believe that
either, but I wished I had said it first. Unless t'is for revenge or
think people write because they have to, period, full stop. - To make
sense of their
endless, obsessive, confused thoughts. Which is why writing is dam'
hard work, Don't kid yourself.
I won't mention anybody because he's still alive, but one news
reader I remember couldn't have recognized what a news was if
it had happened in front of his house and had been preceded
by a band and neon
signs saying «THIS IS NEWS !».
He read news. That's all he did. (And I heard that some newsreader, in the
USA, have had their hair dyed white to look more serious...)
And another thing : too many
a book I mentioned last month, Christophe Hitchens said that he
used to open his writing classes by saying that anybody that could talk
could write, but he immediately followed that statement by a question: «How many people [amongst
you] can talk... really
talk ?». - That question, he adds, used to have a duly woeful
(Chapter V.) - Further on, he wrote that every composition should be
read aloud and that if something was worth hearing or listened to, it
was probably worth reading.
I can't, as I'm writing this, remember whom or who,
amongst French littérateurs,
had what he called a «gueuloir»
(a room where he could read aloud his own scribbles). Needless to
say that I never had such a room, but I don't remember writing
anything - I mean : anything - without mumbling it to myself,
sentence after sentence ; and
then whole paragraphs, and finally the entire thing. Which is why
you'll see so many commas in what I write. Something, it seems, I have
in common with Simon Popp. We call it breathing indications : a section
a sentence where one should inhale.
If you look up what
commas are to be used in any grammar, you'll find rules after rules
where one ought or ought not use a comma. I never followed any. A
comma, for me, besides the obvious tool to separate words in a list or
a series of adjectives, is a place where one should pause,
short break before going on with another section of a sentence. - Read
me aloud, one day, and you'll find out what I mean.
In the meantime, I shall concentrate on a problem which has plagued me
for years : how to describe in a few words what a sneeze does to one's
thought when it happens.
The tricks I use to buy
read good books
I don't read critics. nor anything written on back covers, but I must
confess that I do pay some attention, sometimes a lot of attention, to
opinions of people who actually read books, some of which are critics..
thing with films : I refuse to enter in a conversation with someone who
hasn't viewed at leats 500 movies - and some of them several times.
Particularly anyone who hasn't seen Cizien Kane, La grande
illusion and A
Touch of Evil, or is not familiar with silent
I don't pay attention either
to friends' recommendations and, what I consider even worst that of
people I barely know.
I look at the print - it's got to be readable - and the number of
pages. If it's a novel and longer than 200 pages or a book of essays
without an index, I put it back on the shelf.
I particularly avoid best sellers or books on which a sticker
has been affixed stating something like «The librarians' choice»
or «Coup de coeur de nos
employés». - Over the years, I have found that bookstores'
employees know very little about books.
I read a few sentences, randomly, and the
first, last or
before last. - Nothing remotely connected with an introduction or a
preface. Particularly if it's not written by the author.
I never judge beforehand. Condemn, yes, but judge, no.
Let me give you an example :
Would you buy a book whose first sentence of its last
paragraph reads like this :
«Rêver, aimer, écrire et voyager,
j'ai troqué mes lames de rasoir pour son fil, l'âme aiguisée comme un
My case rests.
(1) «Pourvu que ça brûle»
- Caryll Férey - Albin Michel, 2016.
083 - 2016-11-07
At the movies
(Warning : lotsa links)
I've been looking at
newsreels of funerals lately. Lots of them. Old newsreels (Pathé,
Movietone, The March of Time, Universal, etc.) - Plus a few
excerpts of televised news reports, some dating back to the fifities
and some more recent.
I watched the somehow pompous
ceremonies that followed the deaths of Queen
Victoria and Edward VII, but also the less grandiose funerals of
Ghandi, Ayatollah Homenei (my favorite),
Kennedy's (of course) and didn't stop there : I looked at Stalin's,
Sarah Bernhardt's, Jean Gabin's, Maurice Duplessis', Edith Piaf's and,
amongst others, even that of Caude (Cloclo)
T'was like looking at the
past through an out of focus magnifying glass thinking along the way
that we never find what we or others have left behind because our
memory keeps on altering everything. Like : who remembers men wearing
suits and women wearing dresses everyday ? Taking a streetcar to go to
work ? School uniforms ? Too old, you say? - Okay then : how about the Against
the Vietnam War protests ? Flower Power ? Hippies ?
Disco music ? - Still too old ? - Just stick around and
eventually you'll find that rap
music will become passé, replaced by something
Anyway, my looking at this
funeral stuff started after watching for the fourth of fifth time The
Guns of August, a documentary I mentioned August last,
directed by Nathan Kroll and based on the Pulitzer Prize book by
Barbara Tuchman which
begins with the following carton (title card or
of peaceful and industrious people were hounded
into a war by the folly of a few all-powerful leaders
immediately followed by images of the funeral of Edward VII (1910)
which drew to London the representatives of seventy nations including
nine crown heads of Europe :
from left to right :
King Haakon VII of Norway, King Ferdinand of Bulgaria, King Manuel II
Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, King George I of Greece and
King Albert of
Seated, in the same order :
King Alfonso XIII of Spain, King George V and King Frederick of
(Source : http://www.bbc.co.uk/)
well as forty imperial hignesses and scores of special ambassadors
including the Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich of Russia, Prince
Fushimi Sadanaru of Japan, Prince Louis of Orleans, Prince Ferdinand of
Serbia, Prince Henry of Prussia, Prince Charles Edward, the Duke of
Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, as well as Theodore Roosevelt, the former
president of the United
States and the Foreign Minister of France, Stéphane Pichon, who both
had to follow in a carriage because protocol would not permit
that they walked amongst royalty.
images and film footages are startling because not only do they depict
the ending of an Old Order but the imminent ending of the last
incarnation of various royalties that have lasted for centuries
not only in England but throughout the world : the Edwardian
era (which, technically covered the
reign of the deceased king (1901-1910) but has been often extended to
capture trends that lasted from 1890 to the first World War).
believe me ? Just count how many kingdom still exists today. I mean :
kingdoms of some importance. After all, unless you insist on counting
heads of countries such as Bahrain , Bhutan, Lesotho, Samoa and
probably never reach more than 8, maximum 10, including the heads of
state of Denmark, the
Netherland, Sweden and the United Kingdom, only one of whom still has
absolute power, that of Saudi Arabia, all the others having had their
divine rights to rule considerably reduced by their respective
Times They Were a-Changin'",
way before Bob Dylan.
somehow, we still insist on grand funerals as La Rochefoucauld
once said :
pompe des enterrements funèbres intéresse plus la vanité des vivants
que la mémoire des morts.»
see a few ?
with the grandest of them all (click on the photo) :
Funeral of Queen Victoria
(Source : http://members2.boardhost.com/)
And keep on going, with her
VII : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GD1TBUYc4I0
V : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qgJJbq8FvvQ
VI : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oh0JJcf4z6A
And don't tell me that you're
waiting for the
funeral of Queen Elizabeth II. - Don't forget that when she
her son, Charles, the current Prince of Whales, will become
successor which implies that not only will he be king of the United
Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand but also head of the Army,
Navy and Air Force of Great Britain and Supreme Governor (sic) of the
Anglican Church of England.
For the moment, try :
de Gaule : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZymAKKM1QMg
Churchill : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GC1WEdgXKEI
Piaf : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KPFutADQEWk
Gabin : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kvQz0MLBZa0
Bernhardt : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0gI4V7jqGvw
Franz Josef : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a3gMqxmZn4Y
Stalin : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T-EwVVm89og
Duplessis : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a5ZdUZfejRQ
Lévesque : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WfJ8ci1kjxo
Drapeau : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qvVDK7qdFYQ
Elliot Trudeau : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z_jiFO3uBTw
François : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n9WTeVNSrX4
Angelil : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=maadtoaf-vk (part 1 of 4 !)
But while you're at it, just
in case you might be invited to one
of those, perhaps you might be interested in looking over
following pages :
- and :
to Wear at a Funeral :https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B93LgTaXrnI
Finally, if you're an amateur
Star Trek, you might consider the following :
Death Ritual : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A5wNL29kdekI
(Which, in my opinion, makes
more sense than all the preceeding funeral ceremonies. - If you
remember the scene you
might recall what those present answered Capitain Picard who had asked
should do with the body : «Anything you wish. It's just an
Have a pleasant day.
P.-S. : A word from A. J. Ayer (1910-1989), the British philosopher, following his two near-death experiences by pneumonia) : "My recent encounters have slightly weakened my conviction that my genuine death will be the end of me, thought I continue to hope that it will."
082 - 2016-10-03
What are you talking about ?
(Said the husband to his wife who had mentioned that their friend, Sam, had called and that his friend, the other Sam, had had a problem with his car and that Margie who was supposed to come with him wouldn't make it, so that Sam's cousin, Margie's roommate would be there before he showed up and that he would be grateful if... )
Note : if you find what follows difficult to read (I had to rush it), skip to the P.-S. ; it contains a very funny joke.
T'was last Thursday, that is the Thursday before this edition of Le Castor™. - I was having lunch, alone, in some dive near the old Montreal Forum (don't ask), writing notes on a piece of paper when a friend of mine walked in and asked me what I was doing there. - I told him and he said : «Sorry !». (Which ought to give you an idea of how exciting it was.) «But I have to go back at two, I added. To see if they followed my instructions. - But you're writing... - Yeah : notes for my next column. - Next ? You mean Monday's ? I thought you always wrote them a couple of weeks ahead...»
(I don't know why... but people have a tendency to speak to me, when I'm in my most dishevelment state.)
I do, I told him, but last Monday, when we had our meeting, the other columnists, Mr. Perec, the Professor and myself, we all agreed that we should be writing on a certain subject for November and, as it happened, the column I had prepared for this month was found to be perfect for that issue and I was then forced to write another for this issue. (Or words to that effect.) - Which brought to mind what I had written last month on the writing habits of scribblers and my particular habit :
I have none. That is : I can't write anywhere, anytime on any subject. I don't have what Simon calls the «writer's muscle», that physical or intellectual part of , it seems, everybody, that makes it possible for certain people to fill six blank pages, ready, when they're through, to be printed. - I have to think, organize my thoughts, find the words to express them and then I can sit down and write. Which makes me not a quantity writer but, hopefully, a regular one.
Writing, for me, is a hard job unlike Simon or even Paul who seem to be able to write as they speak but who, ironically, envy me because they say that if they knew the conclusion or even the general idea of what they are about to say when they started writing, they wouldn't be able to continue ! - Julien Green wrote like that and so did Walker Percy (*)
(*) Author of The Moviegoer. You'll find an interview of him published by the Paris Review, summer of 1987, at this address : http://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/2643/the-art-of-fiction-no-97-walker-percy in which you will find some gems like : «I’m interested in—like the man Kierkegaard described who read Hegel, understood himself and the universe perfectly by noon, but then had the problem of living out the rest of the day.»
Conversation-wise, they're both the same - I mean Simon and Paul - and act the same way. They can hold the floor an entire evening and tell you very interesting things on all sorts of subject but after they're gone, you're left with a myriad of bons mots, superb jokes, hundreds of riveting new ideas, but nothing that will invite you to explore further so vast and complicated are their insights. - No offense meant. - They are both great entertainers and fun to be with but I wouldn't be able to last four minutes inside their brains. Mine is kind of slow, I guess - make that «more methodical» - although I've seen reports written by them in a day or so that would have taken me weeks to not write but simply plan.
Which brings me back by a commodius vicus of recirculation to :
What was I scribbling when I was interrupted by my friend mentioned above ? I was writing notes on Ludwig Wittgenstein, the Austrian-British philosopher who spoke, amongst many subjects, about the nature of language and why verbal or written communications between humans are impossible. Well, not quite so, but what he did write has made people think about how they do communicate with each other and I was thinking about how to make my children aware of this. And that morning something happened as I was driving to where I was going that struck me as, perhaps, being the way to do it :
Nothing dramatic. Just one of those accrochages that block traffic in the morning, like on a bridge with an embouteillage stretching from where you started to where you were going.
Made me think :
If I had phoned my wife and told her that I was involved in an accident, God knows what she could have imagined.
But if it had been her who had phoned me, from home, to tell me that she had just had an accident, I don't know what I would have thought.
And then a man walked in on crutches - an accident, I presumed - just as...
The waitress who was serving me dropped a glass behind the counter.
It's the sort of thing which reminded me that we do not think in words, nor in sentences but in images, in short clips ; in other ways as well : souvenirs, flashes of lights, patterns, colors, sounds, odors or any which way we individually communicate with the outside world or we experience it. And then - this is where things get very complicated, we associate these images and short clips with previous experiences unique not only to each and everyone of us but in the way they are chemically connected in our minds.
See what I'm driving at ?
Hope you remember this when your spouse starts talking about his or her friend called Sam but switches to another Sam in the middle of his or her sentence without telling you...
But then it might provoke, well not an accident, but an incident...
Did I read Wittgenstein ? Of course not. He's impossible to read. At least for a layman like me and probably half of the people who have read him. - I remember hearing one day a student (of philosophy) saying that the only way he could read wass with a bottle of Scotch. (*) - But, sans Scotch, I did read about him and I thought the above might interest you.
(*) Sounds like the mathematician and physicist Richard Feynmann said about quantum mechanic : « If you think you understand quantum mechanic, you don't understand quantum mechanic !».
What's uncanny about all of this is that Wittgenstein managed to make himself understood...
P.-S. : A quote by Dennis Miller : «I just got back from the airport. My taxi driver smelled like a man eating Gorgonzola cheese while getting a permanent in a septic tank of a slaughter house. So I said to him : "There's another five for you if you run over a skunk."»
081 - 2016-09-05
Shelby Foote - whom I quoted last month (more about him in the following section of this column) - once mentioned in an interview that he wrote between 500 and 600 words per day (a page, a page and a half, single line, on a 8.5 by 11 inches), six, seven hours at a time, seven days a week, weeks after weeks, taking a break once in a while. Something like 100,000 words per year. About 200 pages which, in 40 years time, is the equivalent of about 30 medium-sized books. Some people have all the fun.
On the same subject, some authors write only early in the morning, others only at night. Others, like Julien Green, imposed on themselves strict rules : from nine to noon and the rest of the afternoon for corrections.
Simenon is well known to have taken long walks for days before sitting down and writing an entire novel in a couple of days.
Kerouak typed his On the Road novel on a series of pages glued together to form a single roll which he filled so many feet per session.
Nabokov wrote on index cards, often in a parked car, and so did Georges Perec but in cafés.
Alexandre Dumas and James Joyce used, amongst various methods, a color-coded system.
Proust wrote, locked up in a room, twenty-four hours a day, for several years, going out once in a while to verify the color of a skirt or the shape of a flower. In bed, of course, and so did (write in bed) Mark Twain and George Orwell.
Victor Hugo, Dickens and Lewis Carroll wrote standing up but only Hugo did so without clothes having instructed his man servant to lock everything up so he wouldn't be able to go out.
Blondin and a few other authors had to be locked up because he was or they were drunk most of the time.
Balzac is known for drinking giant pots of coffee, writing for hours on end to meet deadlines but drinking a lot of coffee was also a known habit of Voltaire, Immanuel Kant and Kierkegaard.
Alphonse Allais wrote in cafés, sometimes haphazardly as a saute-ruiseau was waiting to bring his latest short story to a desperate newspaper publisher waiting to fill the last page of his canard.
Speer wrote about the Third Reich, while in jail, using bits of paper which were smuggled out on a daily or weekly basis. - Paine wrote his Rights of Man in jail as well, awaiting his execution which, by a stroke of luck, he avoided. - And most of the Marquis de Sade books were written while he was in captivity.
Sorry, but I can't, this morning, remember of a famous, or at least prolific, writer who dictated everything directly to a typographist.
Simon, our resident grumpy columnist, always carries notebooks in which he writes continuously throwing them away only when all the sentences and notes they contained have been used or discarded or copied into another notebook. Using lead pencil, of course. - If you meet him, by the way, he doesn't like to be touched, never shake hands and, in the middle of a lunch, he will pull out his notebook, note something down, as if you weren't there. Very annoying at first, but you'll get used to it as he never miss a word of what you're saying.
Mr. Perec can only be found writing, at his desk on which years of books, pens, bibelots and assorted knick-knacks have accumulated... on an old Remington typewriter. - I keep wondering where he gets his ribbons nowadays. You know : the kind with two colors. Red and Black. Haven't learned to use all black ribbons, I guess, the kind that when one side was used, you'd reverse it and used the other.
Christopher uses a word processor, after his kids have gone to bed, he insists.
Mrs Malhasti has already mentioned that in her translation work, she goes from one language to another, wait a while and translates it back to the original to see if both of them matched.
As to Paul, well he writes on anything : bits of paper, pages torned from small, medium and large calepins, post-it's, business cards, matchbooks, napkins and bar bills.
This and other little known facts about the working habits of scribblers have always fascinated me.
(source : https://theartstack.com)
I've meet a few authors, some of them well known, others totally unknown, and a few critics as well. I also read a lot about the working habits of major authors such as Gide, Alain, Wilde and others. - I remember having won, when I was a kid, a prize for something and for which I was given a book the title of which was : "How to write" (or an equivalent absurd title) which dealt with how different writers sort of invented their unique styles which one could recognize after a few paragraphs and even sentences.
Whatever or however one writes, the time, the techniques, the ususual habits of writers could be the subject of a twelve volume encyclopedia published under the title of The Crooked Timber of Littérateurs. - I wonder who would buy it, besides me and a couple of weirdos living in a house that was once occupied by an obscure romancier.
Some techniques have been lost because of the good sense of some writers who destroyed their manuscripts as they were published thereby wiping out the jobs of hundreds (thousands in the case of Proust, had he throwed away his) would-be-biographers or even worst, essayists.
The same applies to painting. Vermeer's technique has been lost, and so has most of Rembrandt's, to name two of the most admired painters of all time. Others have been partially documented but badly. Pollock was one of them. He was filmed «throwing paint» on a canvas spread out on the floor but no-one had the patience and honesty to watch him, day after day, sometimes for weeks, adding a line or a spot, here and there, to make sure that his finished work was what he wanted to begin with. On the other hand, the pointillisme of Seurat and the brush strokes of Van Gogh are well documented. Easy : you just have to look at their paintings.
I personnaly destroy all my brouillons which, with my magnifient handwriting, I can't even read after two or three days. So should every scribbler. Publishing Jean Santeuil as a novel that held the promises of À la recherche du Temps perdu is a perfect case for this.
In the meantime, writing with a pen dipped in ink like Shelby Foote does teach us that the beast of creativity is a monster.
How do you write ? If you write at all.
In my last month column, I mentioned two historians who I said were praise-worthy : Shelby Foote (mentiond above) who wrote the definitive books of the American Civil War and Barbara W. Tuchman whose Guns of August dealing with WWI is a joy to read. A third should have been mentioned. Oh, I know, Herodotus, Thucydes, Gibbon, Suetone and dozens more ought to be considered as «all-time great historians», not to add, wether you like them or not, Charles de Gaule, Winston Churchill and even Julius Caesar, all considered by people who think they know best as far better than the two, or three or four I quoted but, if you really want to read something out of the ordinary, one name stands out against all of them : Tacitus.
Publius (or Caius, no one really knows) Cornelius Tacitus, born c. A.D. 56, whose surviving portions of his two major works - the Annals and the Histories - span the history of the Roman Empire from the death of Augustus, AD 14, to the first Jewish-Roman War in AD 70. Not that he is accurate - anybody can be accurate - but he remains one of the few historians I know who didn't care if the facts disagreed with his vision of what really happened : he, to paraphrase Oscar Wilde, called a spade a spade even though he probably never saw one in his whole life, having been born in an old aristocratic family.
He's not easy to read, particularly, unless you are an exceptional scholar, in his original (and I mean original) native Latin as his verbal, syntactical and rhetorical style, not to mention his use of archaisms and constantly varying structure, is particularly difficult compared to, say, Plinius the Younger or Cicero. - Get a good translation. The classic, I am told, is that of Alfred Chuch and William Jackson Brodribb (1876). It is available in multiple versions on the WEB but I understand that A. J. Woodman's (Hackett, 2004) is a very good one as opposed to the ubiquitous Michael Grant's Penguin version (1956) but I haven't looked into any of them. I've used, ever since I started reading Tacitus, when I was twenty five or so - and it was because it was the onlty one around - is J. L. Burnouf's French version ( 1859 !) but I am told that the most recent, by Catherine Salles (Robert Laffont, 2014), is quite exceptional and so would be Pierre Grimal's for the Pléiade edition (1990). Haven't looked into Henri Goelzer's Le livre de poche version (1963), but it's most likely out of print. And how many times does one wants to read Tacitus ?
One piece of advice :
If, in the translation of Tacitus you bought or borrowed, you find words like sycophancy or expressions such as the sweet of repose, [he] required forsooth the defence of soldiers and aggrandised by revolution (which I found on the Internet - translator unkown (1)), learn latin, it'll be easier.
(1) the 1876 translation by Alfred Chuch and William Jackson Brodribb (Editor's note)
Anyway, as Simon Popp suggested, if I do find, at a reasonable price, the Grimal's, I'll buy it.
The thing is that Tacitus doesn't write like an historian. He writes like a novelist.
But on the subject of writing - to conclude this and my previous column - I'd say that anybody with a smattering knowledge of any language can write. A high school student can probably write a decent description of a landscape or a street, even a small village. It might take some talent to do the same about a character and make that character believable. But only exceptional writers can invent a plot. Aristotle said that, I think, speaking of [in his time] Greek theatre but he's been debunked about so many things over the years...
Sine ira et studio.
Last Word on William Lane Craig
I've had just about enough of this professional debator about which Richard Dawkins said that while his name might add some credential to this joker's C.V. , it surely wouldn't add anything to his own.
Look him up on YouTube and you'll find at least two dozens of his debates against atheists, anti-deists or simply agnostics in which he always insist on being the first to present his arguments always ending his preliminary speech the same way :
«If you're sincerily seeking God, the God will make his existence evident to you. The Bible promises : "Draw near to God and he will draw near to you." You musn't concentrate on eternal arguments...etc.»
And the usual punch line :
«In conclusion, we've seen five [sometimes six, sometimes eight] reasons that God exists. If [my opponent] wants us to believe that atheism is right, he must tear down all of these five [six, seven or eight] arguments I have presented for God's existence and then, in their place, present a case of his own to prove that atheism is true, etc.»
The main problem with this is well known : it takes twice as long to tear down an argument than it takes to state it and if, on top of that, WLC insists that one presents another one...
The goal here is blast your opponents with so many more or less logic statements that they can’t possibly respond.
The second problem is that all of his purpoted arguments for the exitence of God, in one variety or another (they're always the same), have been debunked and debunked time and time again. His ass, to put it another way, has been kicked around so many times that I'm surprised he still find people willing to enter into any conversation with him.
He sounds like a preacher - a well educated preacher, I admit (which does not imply intelleigence) - of the Bible Belt variety.
One thing is sure : if I wanted my kids to honestly believe in God, I would do everything to keep them away from this serious clown.
On proofreading the above, I remembered having read a long tine ago an article written by George Eliot in the 1850's on a preacher of immense popularity who went, at the time, under the name of Dr. Cumming. It was an article she (George Eliot's real name was Mary Ann Evans for those who have left school a long time ago) in the Westminster Review of which she was one of the editors.
Took me a while to find it but I finally got hold of it on the British Humanist Life site. At this address :
Basically, George Eliot's article was a scathing attack on the intellectual dishonesty of a then well-known
evangelical divine whose full name was [Rev.] John Cumming who was then a popular and influential minister of the National Scottish Church in Covent Garden and whose favourite subjects of his Sunday sermons were anti-Catholicism and apolyptic prophecies.
The article is quite long but I thought I would give you the urge to read it by quoting its first two paragraphs written in the inimitable George Eliot's style :
(As Christophe Hitchens one said abou it : "I shall be surprised if it
does not remind you of some more recent religious
«Given, a man with moderate intellect, a moral standard not higher than the average, some rhetorical affluence and great glibness of speech, what is the career in which, without the aid of birth or money, he may most easily attain power and reputation in English society ? Where is that Goshen of mediocrity in which a smattering of science and learning will pass for profound instruction, where platitudes will be accepted as wisdom, bigoted narrowness as holy zeal, unctuous egoism as God-given piety? Let such a man become an evangelical preacher; he will then find it possible to reconcile small ability with great ambition, superficial knowledge with the prestige of erudition, a middling morale with a high reputation for sanctity. Let him shun practical extremes and be ultra only in what is purely theoretic: let him be stringent on predestination, but latitudinarian on fasting; unflinching in insisting on the eternity of punishment, but diffident of curtailing the substantial comforts of time; ardent and imaginative on the premillennial advent of Christ, but cold and cautious towards every other infringement of the status quo. Let him fish for souls not with the bait of inconvenient singularity, but with the dragnet of comfortable conformity. Let him be hard and literal in his interpretation only when he wants to hurl texts at the heads of unbelievers and adversaries, but when the letter of the Scriptures presses too closely on the genteel Christianity of the nineteenth century, let him use his spiritualizing alembic and disperse it into impalpable ether. Let him preach less of Christ than of Antichrist; let him be less definite in showing what sin is than in showing who is the Man of Sin, less expansive on the blessedness of faith than on the accursedness of infidelity. Above all, let him set up as an interpreter of prophecy, and rival Moore’s Almanack in the prediction of political events, tickling the interest of hearers who are but moderately spiritual by showing how the Holy Spirit has dictated problems and charades for their benefit, and how, if they are ingenious enough to solve these, they may have their Christian graces nourished by learning precisely to whom they may point as the “horn that had eyes,” “the lying prophet,” and the “unclean spirits.” In this way he will draw men to him by the strong cords of their passions, made reason-proof by being baptized with the name of piety. In this way he may gain a metropolitan pulpit; the avenues to his church will be as crowded as the passages to the opera; he has but to print his prophetic sermons and bind them in lilac and gold, and they will adorn the drawing-room table of all evangelical ladies, who will regard as a sort of pious “light reading” the demonstration that the prophecy of the locusts, whose sting is in their tail, is fulfilled in the fact of the Turkish commander’s having taken a horse’s tail for his standard, and that the French are the very frogs predicted in the Revelation.
«Pleasant to the clerical flesh under such circumstances is the arrival of Sunday! Somewhat at a disadvantage during the week, in the presence of working-day interests and lay splendours, on Sunday the preacher becomes the cynosure of a thousand eyes, and predominates at once over the Amphitryon with whom he dines, and the most captious member of his church or vestry. He has an immense advantage over all other public speakers. The platform orator is subject to the criticism of hisses and groans. Counsel for the plaintiff expects the retort of counsel for the defendant. The honorable gentleman on one side of the House is liable to have his facts and figures shown up by his honourable friend on the opposite side. Even the scientific or literary lecturer, if he is dull or incompetent, may see the best part of his audience sli pquietly out one by one. But the preacher is completely master of the situation: no one may hiss, no one may depart. Like the writer of imaginary conversations, he may put what imbecilities he pleases into the mouths of his antagonists, and swell with triumph when he has refuted them. He may riot in gratuitous assertions, confident that no man will contradict him; he may exercise perfect free-will in logic, and invent illustrative experience he may give an evangelical edition of history with the inconvenient facts omitted;—all this he may do with impunity, certain that those of his hearers who are not sympathizing are not listening. For the Press has no band of critics who go the round of the churches and chapels, and are on the watch for a slip or defect in the preacher, to make a “feature” in their article: the clergy are practically the most irresponsible of all talkers. For this reason, at least, it is well that they do not always allow their discourses to be merely fugitive, but are often induced to fix them in that black and white in which they are open to the criticism of any man who has the courage and patience to treat them with thorough freedom of speech and pen.»
George Eliot by Samuel Laurence, c. 1860
(Source : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Eliot)
Wow ! Toute une question !
Elle m'a été posée par un certain A. Nonyme ayant visiblement emprunté un pseudonyme, via G-Mail, mais dont je soupçonne la vraie identité car il me l'a posée de différentes façons au cours des dernières années (n'est-ce pas, cher G. M. ?) :
"Est-ce que votre père est aussi fervent catholique que Monsieur Pérec nous le laisse sous-entendre ?"
Ma réponse ? (Parce qu'on m'a demandé de répondre publiquement)...
À froid, même après deux verres, je ne saurais pas vous le dire.
Il en démontre manifestement tous les signes, mais qui peut dire ce qui se passe dans la tête d'un autre, aussi proche que cet autre puisse l'être ?
Tout aussi à froid, mais à jeun cette fois-là, je vous dirais que mon père me fait penser à celui de John Stewart Mill (*) qui trouvait difficile d'imaginer un Dieu capable, tout en sachant sciemment ce qu'il faisait, de créer un enfer et, en même temps, des humains dont la majorité, à cause de leur ignorance, leur nature, leur lieu de naissance ou leur éducation, allaient s'y retrouver et ce, dans d'horribles tourments jusqu'à la fin des temps.
(1) John Stuart Mill fut un philosophe, logicien et économiste britannique. Parmi les penseurs libéraux les plus influents du XIXe siècle, il était un partisan de l'utilitarisme, une théorie éthique préalablement exposée par Jeremy Bentham, dont Mill proposa sa version personnelle. En économie, il fut l'un des derniers représentants de l'école classique. Féministe précurseur, Mill proposa en outre un système de logique qui opère la transition entre l'empirisme du XVIIe siècle et la logique contemporaine. Il fut enfin l'auteur du premier grand traité sur la démocratie représentative intitulé : Considération sur le gouvernement représentatif (1861). - (Wikipédia)
Oui, comme vous, je le vois à la messe tous les dimanches, à toutes les cérémonies religieuses, aux consécrations d'immeubles ou de statues, et quand, plus jeune, je lui ai demandé ce qu'il en pensait, sa réponse était toujours la même :
"Copernique, me disait-il, le dimanche est un jour dont tout homme ne saurait se dispenser ; non pas parce qu'il est sacré. mais parce qu'il est important ; important par sa nature même. - Le dimanche est le jour où l'on cesse de travailler, le jour où l'on met ses plus beaux vêtements, le jour où l'on rencontre les amis, les parents qu'on n'a pas le temps de voir au cours de la semaine, le jour où l'on se doit de réfléchir à non seulement ce que le curé nous dit du haut de sa chaire, mais à tout ce dont chaque humain doit réfléchir au cours de son existence, s'il veut la rendre sensée. Moins mécanique, si tu préfères."
Récemment, je l'ai surpris en train d'écouter un discours de William Lane Craig dont je parlais il y a un mois ou deux (2). M'a dit, tout simplement : "Ce que cet homme sera malheureux dans sa vieillesse !" - C'est de là que j'ai compris d'où provenait son éternelle jeunesse : mon père, même à l'âge de 82 ans, est tout aussi curieux qu'il devait l'être à vingt.
(2) Le Castor™ - Édition du 6 juin 2016 et ci-dessus. (Note de l'éditeur)
"Les passions sont, répète-t-il souvent, paraphrasant Proust, [de même que] les maisons, les routes, et les avenues, fugitives, hélas, comme les années."
Est-il, dans ces conditions, croyant ? - Je ne sais pas. - Il est, à la fois, j'en suis convaincu, stoïque, épicurien et cynique. Pas dans le sens où on l'entend aujourd'hui, mais dans le sens ancien et puis aussi sceptique, peut-être même agnostique. Tout comme le père de John Stewart Mill.
Cela répond, cher Monsieur A. Nonyme, à votre question ?
John Stewart Mill
(Source : http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/)
Retour au Castor™ - Édition courante