LATELY — 23 September 2000

Things I've Read Recently

Things I’ve read recently:

Time (Australia), Aug. 28, 2000, p. 31: “FEB. 24, 1972: A rupture in a hydraulic fluid line starts a fire in a Soviet Hotel-class sub in the North Atlantic. Crewmen fight the fire for 24 days before being rescued, but 28 die.”

What is it like to fight a fire for 24 days straight? To do anything for 24 days straight? I cannot imagine this! I have trouble focussing on any one thing for more than a couple of hours at a time. Do you eat, do you sleep, do you think about anything other than how to kill off your fucking fire? Perhaps this is not a particularly exceptional feat, to do something for 24 days (there is war, after all). But it’s something I’m certainly not close to doing.

Theodore Dalrymple (my favourite conservative): “… the middle classes were persuaded by intellectuals for much of the century that an economy is a zero-sum game, and that they were prosperous because others were poor. Moreover, they were the bearers of a thoroughly undemocratic and elitist culture. This naturally made them feel guilty about their own privileged position (I was recently told by a colleague of mine how guilty he felt that, unlike so many of his patients, he had no financial worries whatever–as if, after half a lifetime of study and hard work, he ought still to have such worries, as if his patients had financial worries precisely because he had none).”

This is interesting. Theodore’s always interesting, even in his wilder moments. Here he comes about as close as is currently possible to saying that the poor deserve their lot, and that the well educated and financially comfortable are not responsible for their welfare. The guilt angle is novel though.

Roger Ebert: “One of the gifts one movie lover can give another is the title of a wonderful film they have not yet discovered. In university, I had a Shakespeare professor who was the world’s leading expert in ``Romeo and Juliet,’’ and who used to say he would give anything for the ability to read the play again for the first time.”

What would you like to experience again for the first time? I would like to be able to here name movies I’ve seen or poems I’ve read or songs I’ve heard that knocked me into another world. But I can’t think of anything that’s affected me in a suitably mind-altering way. I’ve grinned with delight at Tennyson, e.e. cummings, Donald Barthelme; I’ve been moved by Keith Jarrett, Beethoven, Pearl Jam; I’ve been enthralled by Jacques Tati’s Playtime. But my love for each of these things has faded over time…

Marcel Proust, Time Regained, pp. 261-2: “Naturally, when some insolent fellow insults us, we would rather he had paid us a compliment, and a fortiori, when a woman whom we adore betrays us, what would we not give for this not to have happened! But then the pain of an affront, the anguish of abandonment, would have been lands which we should never know, lands whose discovery, painful though it may be for the man, is nevertheless invaluable for the artist. … When I was in love with Albertine, I had realised very clearly that she did not love me and I had had to resign myself to the thought that through her I could gain nothing more than the experience of what it is to suffer and to love, and even, at the beginning, to be happy.”

My friend Christine came up with this concept called the “Party of Five Moment.” A PoF Moment is a dramatic, life-changing experience that you or someone close to you goes through, as was exemplified every week by those wretched Salingers. So painful breakups, protracted illnesses, unforeseen deaths, ill-considered relationships and so on all qualify. Now, Proust thinks that these experiences are important for writers. But, aren’t they important for all? So, where are my PoF Moments?! My score is: one awkward breakup. Maybe: one poor educational choice. I haven’t even broken a bone. I lead a lifeless life.