Copernique Marshall's Essays

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No. 081 to 090

(September 5th, 2016 to June 5th, 2017)

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090 - 2017-06-05

What a Load of Crap !

Being one of the meekest who will not inherit the earth, I have been reading the Bible lately not especially for its content but for the diferences existing between its various English translations starting with Tyndale's, the so-called Bishop's Bible, the King James and so on, including more modern versions.

For one thing, after having read, practicall all of the Old and the New testaments, I tend to agree with Richard Dawkins and Lewis Black :

Dawkins :

The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction : jealous and proud of it ; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak ; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser ; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.

Black :

I don't know what happened to the God of MY book, the Old Testament [Black is Jewish], but I have to agree that the God of YOUR book, the New Testament, is much better. HE's a kind of a great guy. - Maybe HE matured, mellowed down with time or went to an anger management group. Maybe just the birth of a son calmed HIM down... because before HE had the kid, Holy F***, HE was out of control !-

Both are right : the God of the New Testament is definitely better.

But the thing that really floored me is not that Jesus said to Peter that it was on him he counted to form his church. T'is that he actually that he counted on him to form his congregation in the sense that he wanted people to get together not create a church. 

This you find out by looking into the history of the King James Bible where you read that the translators were orderd by the King himself to make sure that the word «church» be inserted instead of «congregation» whenever the word ἐκκλησία (in the original Greek) appeared.

King James :

«And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter and upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.» (Matthew, chap. 16,18)

New International version :

«And I tell you that you are Peter,  and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades [That is, the realm of the dea] - will not overcome it.» 

Compared to Tyndale's condemned version :

«And I saye also vnto the yt thou arte Peter: and apon this rocke I wyll bylde my congregacion. And the gates of hell shall not prevayle ageynst it

The word ἐκκλησία can be use to mean only the following: 1) “assembly” such as a regularly summoned political body ; 2) “assemblage, gathering, meeting” 3) the congregation of the Israelites, especially when gathered for religious purposes 4) of the Christian church or community but is best understood as “the universal church to which all believers belong and of of which the owner of the is Jesus himself", which imnplies that Peter may be the “rock” (on which the «church» might be emanete)  but that church would not belong to Peter, his successors, or to any other eader but to it belongs to Jesus himself.

It's the old question : «Who died and made you king ?»

Let it be said :

The word «Church» is NOT in the Bible. Churches were created two, three centuries AFTER Christ was crucified if he ever existed, something which is seriously questioned nowadays. If he did, welle he never founded any chuch. I even believe that with his ideas, he would be rejected by the Catholic Chuch and most Christian-based communities.

*

You can read more about this on the Agressive Christianity site (sic), on a page entitled «The Correct Meaning of "Church" and "Ecclesia" : http://www.aggressivechristianity.net/articles/ecclesia.htm.

Copernique

***

089 - 2017-05-01

On a personal side...

I, like every North-American male, and this is probably true about every male in the known world - hate shopping. Women, on the other hand, do not. Which probably explains why they have so many shoes : they walk and walk from store to store looking for other shoes to replace the ones they're wearing out. - I do have a confession to make though. It's the  sort of advice that should be told to all Canadian wives and mothers : «Do not, under any circumstances, leave your husband or sons alone in a Canadian Tire store.»  First, you'll need wild horses to get them out of there and it'll cost you a fortune. The same advice could have been told several years ago about IKEA  but somehow, because of its interior decoration themes and the fact that, once you're in, you can't get out, it sort of got out of their system. - In other words, Canadian Tire, NO and IKEA or any similar outlets, YES. - And don't let them loose or on their own in a men's clothing store.

Men do not know how to dress themselves.

Some do, but if your daughter or sister is looking for that sort of individuals, remind them, as politely as you can, that they most likely already have a boyfriend.

Personally, I don't pick my own clothes anymore.  Whenever I have to buy a new suit, a shirt, a pair of pants and even socks or underwears, I bring along my wife.

It started years ago when, in London, I decided to buy a raincoat. - England ! Isn't that the place where raincoats were invented ? Where Burberry's sell the nec plus ultra in rain gears ?  - I couldn't afford the price of a genuine Burberry at the time, nor Harrod's and even Selfridges's - still can't - but on a street very close to Oxford, I found a delightful little shop that sold what were then called «trench coats». You know : the type soldiers of the first World War use to wear in trenches, which I don't think they did. Not the type I bought anyway. Had they, they would have lost that war and the following. They couldn't have lift their rifles, let alone throw a grenade : their trench coats would have left them unable to lift their arms, let alone walk, - Oh, my trench coat was solid enough, made of the finest everlasting material and kept me dry but instead of repelling rain, it actually absorbed it. Five minutes in a light shower and its weigth increased tenfold.. - I nearly kept it under lock and key just in case someone wanted to borrow it and involuntarily committed suicide. - Was it going to rain ? - No ? - Perfect it was okay to wear. Otherwise... - And it's colour ? It was between battleship-grey and cemetery-autumn-fog. - My wife, then my fiancée, hated it.

A trench coat, circa 1915

Unknown material made  Italian suits was another idea of mine. Didn't know if they had to be dry cleaned (they weren't) or were washable (they weren't) ; one accidental stain and they were gone. - Ever bought something which was made with two conflicting material (like silk and wool) ? I did. - And something out of Pakistan - which had to be washed separatly ? About ten times before its colour didn't soil an entire batch of clothing. - Did that too. - They looked okay but ruined several shirts of mine. The fifth time around. - T-shirts, extra-large which went into severely small once not just washed, just slightly wet. - Had a few of those. - The NYPD [Charity or whatever issue] happened to be one of those.

One thing I learned over the years - and I made a lot of enquires on the subject - is that men do not have to throw away boxers. They last forever. Well... not forever but they do disintegrate after a while, on their own. - That is what could be called an ecology statement or solution.  - Mine last several months but I do buy them a couple of dozens at a time. Unfortunately, they seem to disappear all of a sudden in the same week.

And finally, to the question I once was asked why I always carried, even on an overnite trip, a pair of jeans that were full of holes, the answer is : if I hadn't, my wife would have thrown them away.

***

On words

The word «Tinker» as in «Tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor...» has nothing to do with «thinking» (with an «h»). Its original meaning was a «person who travelled from place to place mending metal ustensils». Today it is mainly used, as a verb : to tinker or to attempt to repair or improve something in a casual or desultory way, often to no useful effect, i.e. : «He spent hours tinkering with his car». - The tinker, today, would be, in French, «un bricoleur», but a bad one.

*

The word "snoutband" is a piece of fabric inside the crown of a hat, designed to absorb perspiration...

You think so, heh ? Actually, it's an Old English term for a person who always interrupted other peoples conversations. There's one in every reunion of any kind. You know : the smart alec who knows everything. - I'll bet you that every smart alec you've meet never knew that and probably still don't. - Yet.

Another way you might call them is "ratchets".

"Smart alec" ? It has two origins : either "Smart" plus  the name "Alexander" or, as Professor Gerald Cohen mentioned in his 1985 "Studies of Slang", it originated in the mid-nineteen century, in New York where lived a fellow named Alec Hoag who was a pimp and a thief.

*

One of the worst French grammar «rules» I was taught when I was a kid is that involving adjectives singular nouns, singular adjectives ; multiple or plural nouns, plural adjectives ; masculine noun, masculine adjective, feminine noun, feminine adjective. But here comes the kicker  : masculine and feminine nouns, masculine plural adjective. It leads to sentences like this : «This humeur et sa grosièreté sont captivants.» - Doesn't sound nice. 

Copernique

***

088 - 2017-04-03

Down with Monarchy !

I don't know about you but I'm sick and tired, occasionaly mad and sometimes on the verge of writing frantic letters to the Times when I read newspaper headlines stating that Kate Middleton wore this or that in her recent visit in Paris or that her brother in law, fourth in line to inherit the British Crown, is dating an American actress. It was the same when the late Princess Diana was around. Worst actually as I was in Paris when she was killed, you know : in that car accident which we're still hearing about 10 years later. On the very next day. I was stuck for two hours in a traffic jam because people wanted to deposit flowers where it had happened. - I was in a «What is this ?» mood. Unfortunately driving.

I just can't imagine why we're so concerned about a family of German descendants who have nothing better to do than go around waving hands and receiving flowers as if each and every of its member was a demi-god or something. 

Fortunately there are less and less around nowadays. - I mean royals. - In the last hundred years, we got rid of most of them. - Five emperors, eight kings and eighteen minor dynasties expired during the 25 years reign of George V alone. - Missed the British Royal family though. - It is said that the British Crown survived by changing its name from Battenberg to Mountbatten and adopting the - oh so English sounding - title of Windsor before WW1 but, like everything else, people have short memories and don't read history. The «stability» and «continuation» of the British royal «succession» is a myth that ought to be banned because it is the result of was a series of ruptures, upheavals and wars, not to mention whims and fancies not even worth mentioning.. Remember, for example, the Duke of Windsor, the ex-Edwardd VIII ?  He was a total embarrassement during WWII because, well, he was for the «other» side.

What else can you say of a country who has a Royal Navy, a Royal Airforce, a Royal Opera, a Royal Postal Service, a Royal Everything, including - somebody's gotta print money out there - a Royal Mint. but then... a National Debt.

I have two books to suggest on this :

Common Sense by Thomas Paine - 1776 - Particularly chapter two dealing with «Monarchy and hereditary succession»

The Monarchy by Christopher Hitchens - Chatto and Windus - 1990

In the meantime, if you're still under the spell of glamour and pageantry, you can always line up and sign the on-going petition to be sent to the Vatican in order to have the disco-princess mentioned above declared a saint. After all, she did visit Mother Teresa, did she not ?

But don't get me involved with the Vatican. Not now.

Anyway, I'm in this mood because I just looked into the latest issue of Paris Match in which there was an article (with the usual photos) on a charity ball at which were present the count of so and so, the duchess of something that has to do with thunder-and-lightning, and, of course, the usual earls, barons, movie stars and assorted piques-assiettes.

No, the following is not from Paris Match, but you'll get the idea.

From left to right :
La Princesse Charlene de Monaco, le Prince Albert, la Princesse 
Caroline de Hanovre, Charlotte-et-Pierre Casiraghi, Beatrice Borromeo
and
Karl Lagerfeld 

(Photos from : Wikipedia Commons et RTL)

Don't recognize these people ? I guess you weren't invited to the launch of Savoir vivre au XXième siècle by La princesse de Clermont-Tonnerre. Too bad, you would have meet, amongst important people, Ze prince François d’Orléans, son of Ze comte d’Evreux, Ze princesse Hélène of Yougoslavia, Ze princesse Anne de Bourbon-Deux-Siciles as well as Ze prince Fayçal Bey of Tunisia.

Great book, I'm told.

***

Reading Habits of the Homo Sapiens

I know Simon won't read a book unless he's seated at a table or a bar stool with either Bristol cards or his famous notebook nearby with a ton of lead pencils.

Mrs. Malhasti, I am told, will only read (and write) in bed which she shares with her cat named "Bonbon".

George, in what she says is her hectic timetable, reads in buses, taxis, metro stations or trains.

Jeff, because of his incessant travels, says he's learned to read anywhere and that includes what he calls "difficult places" and, moreover, "difficult works", his latest having been a treatise on algorithms which, he swears, he read in a dive near Syracuse, New York, a city where a McDonald, with kids, is a quiet place. - Airport terminals, busy restaurants. crowded buses and people moving systems are his natural reading habitats.

Mr. Perec will only read in quiet rooms lighted by a single - but adequate, he insists - lamp. «Most people do not remember today what a 'bréviaire' used to be» he mentioned to me not too long ago. «It was read, practically on a daily basis, by every priest, bishop and cardinals(*), usually while walking about in the gardens surrounding their church or abbey... - I use to do the same when wood paths existed everywhere. - I just wished I could do the same today.»

(*) «And most likely read TO the pope during his afternoon nap...», I thought...

Politicians read newspapers, period. And less and less. They now watch CNN, FOX, NBC, ABC... and, I suppose,  won't start a single day without checking what one of their demented colleagues has tweeted overnight. What else is new ?

Doctors, engineers and other professionals must at least read their trade journals. Well I hope so..

Some people must read in their sleep because, regardless of their activity, they find the time to read and therefore are able to have opinion on every book ever printed or just off the press, including the old masters and the latest bios, novels or essays. Yet, you never see them reading. I know one to whom I can't recommend a single book of what I've read over the years, he (it's a she actually) has already read it. - Frustrating. - I guess I must be the slowest reader in the world.

Judging also by the number of magazines I see at my local newsstand, the general public must read a lot about current events (two shelves and a stand), fashion and cooking (an entire wall) and what's happening with Brad Pitt (several areas as you come in or near the cash register).

If statistics - I mean real statistics - were available on the number of copies The Wall Street Journal, The National Geographic or Le Nouvel OB's are sold as opposed to Star Secrets, Sex Scandals or People, we might have a better idea of what the general public actually reads. Who's gonna admit that they buy The Enquirer every week or read only Pulp fiction or pay only attention to the latest starlets' escapades ?

I used to travel around with leathered covered books with - you know - ribbons indicating at which page I had opened them up the last time. And I used to sit in a remote corner of a usually half-empty hotel bar. It was the best deterrent I had found not to be invited to join a conversation on the latest football game, nor bored stiff by the latest grand coup of a traveling salesman.

Finally, there's something to be said about what people in general do with their books or magazines after they've read them. They throw them away or what ? Thousands are printed every single week and yet, how many of your friends have what you could call a library, a room, a wall even a single shelf where they've accumulated the stuff they've read ? And I don't mean by that one or several bookcases filled with nice looking group of books by For collector's only editions such The Franklin Library or even Readers' Digest. - Not to mention coffee tables photo albums of castles, mountains, paintings...

Food for thought.

My father used to say : "Don't worry Copernique, the less people read, the less competition you'll have in life." - It turned out to be oh, so true.

Copernique

***

087 - 2017-03-06

Silent films

I can't understand why people don't watch silent movies anymore. First of all, they're cheap - if not free (*) - and exist in an enormous quantity. How enormous ?

(*) Most classics are available free of charge on the WEB.

I've been told or at least I once read in one of those trustworthy magazines that proliferate in waiting rooms that it wasn't until the early nineties (1990's) that the  number of sound films finally surpassed that of the silent variety. It didn't come as a surprise because it made sense : they were, after all, easier and less expensive to make and also easier to distribute than their full color, surround-a-sound, total-everything-scope counterparts. But that's only one aspect of moving pictures vs. talkies.

They're different. They belong to an entirely different class or art form. As different as photography and painting. It's pointless to even try to compare each other. They weren't soundless, they were silent.  The sound was removed : it was simply not recorded. Just like parts of a scenery removed from sound films. Ex. : Hitchcock filming an actor at the end of a corridor doing something in a room the viewer couldn't see : everybody who watches that scene unowingly bend their head to find out what might be going on. Some directors went as far as remove the sound all together from obviously very expensive scenes like Jean-Pierre Melville in Le cercle rouge : the famous jewel robbery scene.

Imagination was the trick. 

Think of how scary Lon Chaney must have been in a quiet theater :

                                    

 

Emotion was the trick. One loved the swashbuckling Douglas Frairbanks but hated Eric von Stroheim :

                           

Spectacular scenes were, well, spectacular :

The assassination scene from W. D. Grifith's Lincoln.

And then some people will never understand how erotic was anything by Rudolf Valentino.

For some odd reason, everytime my wife and I watch Valentino (we're big fans), she looks at the girl and I look at Valentino.

Go figure.

But, for God's sake, do yourself a favor, watch a silent film. Today.

Try this : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yS37kyfnGy4&list=PLvw32Z79OCPt8X5COusnviRi0FPG9IbL1&index=1

Don't worry : it has sound. It's a documentary.

Copernique

***

086-2017-02-06

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 compositeurs favoris.

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 :

Il 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.)

Regardez 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.

Puristissime, 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, toujours chez 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.

Deux exemples :

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 :

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UjmthMDpyco

 

2 - Le quatuor numéro 12 en mi bémol, opus 127, de Beethoven par le quatuor Alban Berg :

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UklsIaKocgo

Suis-je le seul, si l'on fait exception de Paul (qui est définitivement anti-récital et anti-concert), à penser ainsi ?

Non. De 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.

Alors 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.

Et 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.

Impeccable, naturellement, mais très passable au pizzicato.

Salle Bourgie
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 to 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 reputation based on the name of a dead politician. 

Never heard, in a long 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.

Copernique

***

085-2017-01-03

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 written» 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.

"Poorly written" 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 preposition).

French is worst, but let's not get into that !

There 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 how 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 South Dakota who's having problems with his crops or what's going on in China (pollution and so on).

I found 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 tells them. Same thing with Sherlock Holmes' short stories, but I nearly gave up on Arthur Con Doyle after going through his «Study in Scarlet» with its 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 while, now.

I 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 vie, mode 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 :

Three 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 either.  Especially about those of Hollywood stars. And I do make my best 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.

I 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 can 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 we 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.

A 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 is where the power and failure fiction lies. With good novelists my imagination is stimulated ; with bad I feel like I'm being cheated.

There 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...

No, 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 minister 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 at Azincourt...

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.

So what's the solution ? - There's  none. People will continue to read 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 to know wether he is happy.

 Copernique

***

084-2016-12-05

Hard work

 « 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 to read.

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. Some people 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 malicious intents.

I 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.

(1) 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 comas...

In «Mortality», 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 effect. (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 in 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, take a 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 (and) read good books

First, 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 the opinions of people who actually read books, some of which are critics..

(Same 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 films.)

I don't pay attention either to friends' recommendations and, what I consider even worst that of people I barely know.

Then 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.

Finally, 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 silex» (1)

My case rests.

Copernique

(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) François.

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 worst.

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 insert) :

1914

Millions of peaceful and industrious people were hounded
into a war by the folly of a few all-powerful leaders

It is 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 :

Standing from left to right :
King Haakon VII of Norway, King Ferdinand of Bulgaria, King Manuel II of Portugal,
Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany,  King George I of Greece and King Albert of Belgium.  
Seated, in the same order :
King Alfonso XIII of Spain, King George V and King Frederick of Denmark.          
(Source : http://www.bbc.co.uk/)

... as 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.

The 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).

Don't 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 Thailand, you'll 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 country's constitutions.

"The Times They Were a-Changin'", way before Bob Dylan.

But, somehow, we still insist on grand funerals as La Rochefoucauld once said :

«La pompe des enterrements funèbres intéresse plus la vanité des vivants que la mémoire des morts.»

Want to see a few ?

Start 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 successsors :

Edward VII : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GD1TBUYc4I0

George V : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qgJJbq8FvvQ

George 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 passes away, her son, Charles, the current Prince of Whales, will become her 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 :

Charles de Gaule : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZymAKKM1QMg

Winston Churchill : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GC1WEdgXKEI

Edith Piaf : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KPFutADQEWk

Jean Gabin : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kvQz0MLBZa0

Sarah Bernhardt : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0gI4V7jqGvw

Kaiser Franz Josef : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a3gMqxmZn4Y

Stalin : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T-EwVVm89og

Maurice Duplessis : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a5ZdUZfejRQ

René Lévesque : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WfJ8ci1kjxo

Jean Drapeau : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qvVDK7qdFYQ

Pierre Elliot Trudeau : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z_jiFO3uBTw

Claude François : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n9WTeVNSrX4

René 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 the the following pages :

Funeral Etiquette :https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NjbCToTsKu8

and :

What to Wear at a Funeral :https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B93LgTaXrnI

Finally, if you're an amateur of Star Trek, you might consider the following :

Kligon's 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 what he should do with the body : «Anything you wish. It's just an empty shell.»)

Have a pleasant day.

Copernique

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 :


Ludwig Wittgenstein
(1889-1951)

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 :

An accident.

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...

Copernique

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

On Writing

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.


Proust's «Paperolles»
(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.

On Historians

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.

   Addendum :

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 :

http://humanistlife.org.uk/2014/02/27/great-essays-in-the-humanist-tradition-evangelical-teaching-dr-cumming-by-george-eliot/

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 performers.")

Evangelical Teaching

by

George Eliot

«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 ?

Copernique


John Stewart Mill
(1806-1873)
(Source : http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/)

***

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