the rigorous m

bits and bobs, quotes and catching up

Archive for December, 2010

quotes: on formal requirements (batuman)

Posted by rigorousm on December 28, 2010

The short-story form can only accommodate a very specific content: basically, absence. Missing persons, missed opportunities, very brief encounters, occurring in the margins of “Life Itself”: when the content is minimalist, then it makes sense to follow the short-fiction dictates: condense, delete, omit.

Novels, like short stories, are often about absences; but they are based on information overload. A short story says, “I looked for x, and didn’t find it,” or, “I was not looking anymore, and then I found x.” A novel says, “I looked for x, and found a, b, c, g, q, r, and w.” The novel consists of all the irrelevant garbage, the effort to redeem that garbage, to integrate it into Life Itself, to redraw the boundaries of Life Itself. The novel is a fundamentally ironic form; hence its power of self-regeneration. The short story is a fundamentally unironic form, and for this reason I think it is doomed.

Elif Batuman “Short Story & Novel,” n + 1 (online:


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quotes: on taking the leap (sexton)

Posted by rigorousm on December 28, 2010

watch out for love
(unless it is true,
and every part of you says yes including the toes),
it will wrap you up like a mummy
and your scream won’t be heard
and none of your running will run.

Love? Be it man. Be it woman.
It must be a wave you want to glide in on,
give your body to it, give your laugh to it,
give, when the gravelly sand takes you,
your tears to the land. To love another is something
like prayer and can’t be planned, you just fall
into its arms because your belief undoes your disbelief.

— anne sexton “admonitions to a special person”

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quotes: on enlivening disasters

Posted by rigorousm on December 28, 2010

“The disaster forces us to question the economy of soul and cosmos that grounds such knowledge. As Blanchot notes, the necessity of disaster forces us to recognize what is left out of a closed economy. He asks,

Is the cosmic thus the temptation to melt into the fiction of the universe, and thereby become indifferent to the tormenting vicissitudes of the near at hand (the neighboring)? Would the cosmic be a little heaven in which to survive, or with which to die universally, in stoic serenity? A “whole” which shelters us, even as we dissolve therein…? (Disaster 75)

“For Blanchot, emphasis on the “cosmic”—even an entropic, devolving, or paradoxical cosmos—inexorably shelters us from the disaster; it allows us to project or protect a realm not subject to the disaster, or to make ironic paradox itself the locus or theme of knowledge. Irony, in other words, reinvents the cosmic distance of the far-away star as it becomes the new metaphor for knowledge. In the process, there is a sheltering from the disaster.”

– JT Nealon, Disastrous Aesthetics: Irony, Ethics and Gender in Barthelme’s Snow White, p. 132.

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quotes: on letters in transit

Posted by rigorousm on December 28, 2010

This is the Night Mail crossing the border,
Bringing the cheque and the postal order,
Letters for the rich, letters for the poor,
The shop at the corner and the girl next door.
Pulling up Beattock, a steady climb:
The gradient’s against her, but she’s on time.
Past cotton-grass and moorland boulder
Shovelling white steam over her shoulder,
Snorting noisily as she passes
Silent miles of wind-bent grasses.

Birds turn their heads as she approaches,
Stare from the bushes at her blank-faced coaches.
Sheep-dogs cannot turn her course;
They slumber on with paws across.
In the farm she passes no one wakes,
But a jug in the bedroom gently shakes.

Dawn freshens, the climb is done.
Down towards Glasgow she descends
Towards the steam tugs yelping down the glade of cranes,
Towards the fields of apparatus, the furnaces
Set on the dark plain like gigantic chessmen.
All Scotland waits for her:
In the dark glens, beside the pale-green sea lochs
Men long for news.

Letters of thanks, letters from banks,
Letters of joy from the girl and the boy,
Receipted bills and invitations
To inspect new stock or visit relations,
And applications for situations
And timid lovers’ declarations
And gossip, gossip from all the nations,
News circumstantial, news financial,
Letters with holiday snaps to enlarge in,
Letters with faces scrawled in the margin,
Letters from uncles, cousins, and aunts,
Letters to Scotland from the South of France,
Letters of condolence to Highlands and Lowlands
Notes from overseas to Hebrides
Written on paper of every hue,
The pink, the violet, the white and the blue,
The chatty, the catty, the boring, adoring,
The cold and official and the heart’s outpouring,
Clever, stupid, short and long,
The typed and the printed and the spelt all wrong.

Thousands are still asleep
Dreaming of terrifying monsters,
Or of friendly tea beside the band at Cranston’s or Crawford’s:
Asleep in working Glasgow, asleep in well-set Edinburgh,
Asleep in granite Aberdeen,
They continue their dreams,
And shall wake soon and long for letters,
And none will hear the postman’s knock
Without a quickening of the heart,
For who can bear to feel himself forgotten?

— W H Auden “Night Mail”

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quotes: on the social function of letters

Posted by rigorousm on December 28, 2010

Letters are commonplace enough, yet what splendid things they are! When someone is in a distant province and one is worried about him, and then a letter suddenly arrives, one feels as though one were seeing him face to face. Again, it is a great comfort to have expressed one’s feelings in a letter even though one knows it cannot yet have arrived. If letters did not exist, what dark depressions would come over one! When one has been worrying about something and wants to tell a certain person about it, what a relief it is to put it all down in a letter! Still greater is one’s joy when a reply arrives. At that moment a letter really seems like an elixir of life.

— from the Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon

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quotes: on seeing america by train

Posted by rigorousm on December 28, 2010

“You leave with regret. Slowly and solemnly you pass by beautiful American factories which stretch all the way along the tracks for an hour. What a panorama. The huge chimneys with their smokestacks parallel to each other, like in a parade. Names are as legible as on ships. You dream of a gigantic orchestra adapted to the scene. Silhouettes of unknown machines. Eighteen chimneys in a single square, a giant organ. That is majestic, definitive.”

– Leger, “Chicago”

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quotes: on anomic and anemic public culture

Posted by rigorousm on December 28, 2010

77 – “Sensual vitality is essential to the struggle for life. Many people drink as if filling themselves with dirt or starch: the filling of an emptiness. But what comes after is a greater emptiness…. drinking has been romanticized as part of the “poetic fate,” the “despondency and madness” of the poet– as if bricklayers, surgeons, housewives, miners, generals, salesmen haven’t also poured down liquids to fiure up or numb interior spaces of dread.”

78 – “When a vast, stifling denial in the public realm is felt by every individual yet there is no language, no depiction, of what is being denied, it becomes for each his or her own anxious predicament, a daily struggle to act “as if” everything were normal. Alcohol, drugs offer a reprieve– not a ceremony or celebration, but a substitute for vital bonds of community and friendship, for collective memory and responsibility. When there is no public face of interdependence, of justice and mercy, where there is no social language for “picking up the pieces when we don’t know what/where they are,” anomie and amnesia, alcohol and drug abuse can work as social controls and, because they appear “normal,” can be more effective– in a very large country– than terrorization by a secret police.”

79 – “The loss can be a leak in history or a shrinking in the vitality of everyday life. Fewer and fewer people in this country entertain each other with verbal games, recitations, charades, singing, playing on instruments, doing anything as amateurs– people who are good at something because they enjoy it. To be good at talk, not pompously eloquent or didactic, but having a vivid tongue, savoring turns of phrase– to sing on key and know many songs by heart– to play fiddle, banjo, mandolin, flute, accordion, harmonica– to write long letters– to draw pictures or whittle wood with some amount of skill– to do moderately and pleasingly well, in short, a variety of things without solemn investment or disabling awe– these were common talents till recently…. People used their human equipment– memory, image making, narrative, voice, hand, eye– unself-consciously, to engage with other people, and not as specialists or “artistes.””

— Adrienne Rich, What is found there: notebooks on poetry and politics, A Leak in History”

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quotes: on the body

Posted by rigorousm on December 28, 2010

Indelicate is he who loathes
The aspect of his fleshy clothes, —
The flying fabric stitched on bone,
The vesture of the skeleton,
The garment neither fur nor hair,
The cloak of evil and despair,
The veil long violated by
Caresses of the hand and eye.
Yet such is my unseemliness:
I hate my epidermal dress,
The savage blood’s obscenity,
The rags of my anatomy,
And willingly would I dispense
With false accouterments of sense,
To sleep immodestly, a most
Incarnadine and carnal ghost.

— Theodore Roethke “Epidermal Macabre”

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quotes: fitzgerald

Posted by rigorousm on December 28, 2010

“I belong here, where everything is civilized and gay and rotted and polite.” – Fitzgerald, Sept 1935, on Baltimore

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quotes: on civil love (U A Fanthorpe)

Posted by rigorousm on December 28, 2010

There is a kind of love called maintenance
Which stores the WD40 and knows when to use it

Which checks the insurance, and doesn’t forget
The milkman; which remembers to plant bulbs;

Which answers letters; which knows the way
The money goes; which deals with dentists

And Road Fund Tax and meeting trains,
And postcards to the lonely; which upholds

The permanently rickety elaborate
Structures of living, which is Atlas.

And maintenance is the sensible side of love,
Which knows what time and weather are doing
To my brickwork; insulates my faulty wiring;
Laughs at my dryrotten jokes; remembers
My need for gloss and grouting; which keeps
My suspect edifice upright in air,
As Atlas did the sky.

— U A Fanthorpe, “Atlas”

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