Things I've Read Recently

23 September 2000

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.