Lucy and Todd

Archive for January, 2012|Monthly archive page

Yet Again – Gentlemen’s Agreement?

In Lying in Bed Watching Movies on January 27, 2012 at 3:51 pm

… which I guess we watch when we want a little New York feeling but don’t want to ‘waste’ a good New York movie. I said to L that this might mark the end of my Gregory Peck watching career. The main fault here is that Gregory Peck never wavers in his insane commitment to Dorothy McGuire. It kills me that he doesn’t abandon her, at least for a while, for Celeste Holm, who’s practically proposed to him. He’d really rather be with Dorothy and her widely set apart eyes and schoolteacherish beliefs? A good picture for fans of domestic quarrels and bleak futures.


Diaries of a Dying Man – William Soutar

In The Gloves Are Off : Thoughts on Literature on January 27, 2012 at 3:27 pm

Soutar on love:

‘… the silent things of earth…proclaim…that nothing exists of itself and for itself, but that all are sustained by all … Sometimes we may wonder why the relationship of man and woman occupies so large a portion of life and art—-but the reason is obvious enough. For the majority of folk, the mutuality of sex is the one relationship which links them to life in vital partnership. Even at its nadir, sex exemplifies the law of gain by reciprocity; even at its blindest… But in true love, sex is the common ground whereon all may find the joy of creative experience. The other becomes a quintessential knowledge of life’s loveliness, of life’s demand for unconditional trust, of life’s basic interdependence, so that in the tangible we have a vision of the oneness of all things. And with the child, the creative act of faith is come to fullness; in the child, desire and life’s need meet, and there both death and life meet and are indistinguishable.’

Soutar’s diaries contain a lot of philosophizing, sometimes veering on dryness, but this is an example of his really passionate and inspiring theoretical thinking. In the book, such deliberations are humanely interrupted by humorous asides about his visitors, who plagued him, and occasional shamed bursts of lust for the maid, etc. One visitor clearly only came for the cigarettes – his eye would dart to the cigarette box on the mantle as soon as he arrived and, after smoking about ten of them, the guy would take one more for the road.

Enduring the patronizing hypocrisies of fake benevolence is an additional burden of the ill. My mother in her wheelchair attracted all kinds of self-centered philanthropists (no doubt assuaging ancient guilt complexes by visiting invalids) and other assorted time-fillers, some of them true friends. One guy came over EVERY WEEK, only to beat her at Scrabble.


Nemesis – Philip Roth

In The Gloves Are Off : Thoughts on Literature on January 27, 2012 at 3:19 pm

The thing about Roth is he’s no stylist, but he has so much to say (making him the exact opposite of D.H. Lawrence). He has claimed Newark as his own, and I like hearing about it. But the disappointments for Roth-readers are troubling. The quality of his output is a bit like Woody Allen’s – some efforts rise from the bottom of the barrel, while others stink beneath.

Portnoy’s Complaint is fabulously witty and wild – it may be structurally contorted but it’s so full of funny stuff, important stuff, you forgive its foibles (all that ‘Monkeying’ around in the second half of the book). Both The Plot Against America and I Married a Communist, though not the quintessential expression of 20th-century alarm that Portnoy is, manage to pull something off – they’re fierce and rich. Roth’s great at amassing a sheer volume of material. Patrimony, though short, is packed with purpose: an almost flawless gem.

But long ago I took umbrage against The Breast (too full of misogynistic distaste to be easily stomached), and The Human Stain makes almost no sense to me at all. Nemesis was the most recent let-down. For me the only good line in this po-faced polio puppet-show comes in the description of the sporty hero, dull Mr. Cantor, as ‘this maniac of the why’ (with its pun on the “Y”): the fellow is both sporty, and mystified by what happened to him. But the mystification is taken to such extremes, the novel descends into melodrama. Does anyone really spend their WHOLE life wondering about something?

Rather than polio, the novel’s real perplexity seems to be about the disease of SPORT, which has become America’s biggest (and weirdest) fixation – one reflected and, I think, supported by many American novelists. There’s no escaping sport if you’re there. Americans talk about sports, watch them, joke about them, perform them, and force their children to do them too, non-stop! Presidents come and go, leaving their fitness regime behind in their wake: the image of Bush on his bike, Clinton jogging, Obama playing basketball. Americans have pretty much given up thinking about anything but sport, and consider this fanaticism healthy, if not blameless! Any pangs of conscience they might have as a nation are daily obliterated by this collective mesmerism.

The automatic assumption that there’s some kind of virtue or glory in keeping physically fit is surely the height of inanity, the height of decadence (in the sense of fall-of-the-Roman-empire decadence: essentially, DECAY). Sports are a leveller, sure, a unifier, something everybody can participate in and agree on. Yeah, yeah, yeah. But it’s not like flexing those muscles, or watching somebody else flex one, will make the world a nicer place. It doesn’t stop the bombing, the shooting, the pollution, the general American insanity about abortion, foreigners, history, religion, socialism, and the heartless American health insurance system. It doesn’t make up for the lack of reparation to Native Americans and African Americans for systematic genocide, nor help the poor, the sick, and women.

Aw, never mind all that, let’s just watch the BALL GAME!


The Catcher in the Rye – J.D. Salinger

In The Gloves Are Off : Thoughts on Literature on January 27, 2012 at 3:10 pm

It’s a great moment when ‘old Sally’ digs in her heels about running off together, to Holden’s dismay:

‘…We’ll have oodles of time to do those things [says Sally]…I mean after you go to college and all, and if we should get married and all. There’ll be oodles of marvelous places to go to. You’re just–‘

‘No, there wouldn’t be. There wouldn’t be oodles of places to go to at all. It’d be entirely different… We’d have to go downstairs in elevators with suitcases and stuff. We’d have to phone up everybody and tell ’em good-by and send ’em postcards from hotels and all. And I’d be working in some office, making a lot of dough, and riding to work in cabs and Madison Avenue buses, and reading newspapers, and playing bridge all the time, and going to the movies and seeing a lot of stupid shorts and coming attractions and newsreels. Newsreels. Christ almighty. There’s always a dumb horse race, and some dame breaking a bottle over a ship, and some chimpanzee riding a goddam bicycle with pants on. It wouldn’t be the same at all…’

One of the best denunciations of adulthood ever.