Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Down to desperate begging

What does it mean, when a Center-Right
opinion leader and namedropping hob-
nobber in powerful circles resorts to
anguished pleading in his elevated col-
umm, to a few noted oligarchs, to save
the Presidency by nannying its usurper?
It means an unconstitutional avoidance
of impeachment, ungentlemanly temptation.

Thomas L. Friedman
Calling on a few good men
The New York Times©
March 22, 2017

Mark A. Patterson
Defining the Presidency down
March 21, 2017

Eton College

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

How we live

The evening brought word of the death 
at 87 of Robert Silvers, a founding 
publisher of our most oft-cited maga-
zine, The New York Review of Books. 
Turning with reluctance, to the no-
tice in The Times, it was astonishing 
but apposite to read the most expansive 
and exuberant report of such a transi-
tion I had ever encountered, placing one 
in no mood whatever to go beyond a grate-
ful, “Yup, that’s right."

The Review and I go back, as must be true 
for most readers, to one’s college days, 
that period of such eruption of curiosity 
as to wed the social and institutional as-
pects of the one with the portable and 
printed ones of the other, without a hitch.

One seamless curriculum and recreation, too,
setting certain values and expectations to 
challenge the tide, as searchings concealed 
within undiminished delight from one decade 
to the next, in ways which no other outstand-
ing “liberal arts” periodical has done with-
out sharp vicissitudes and alienating embar-
rassments, or destruction by mismanagement.

But there is that ultimate distinction to
be raised on this occasion, and it is that
in other fine periodicals, one can be made
to feel one had missed out, by lacking the
requisite cultural bias or social identity,
to say nothing of academic advantage. This
magnificent journal opens every humanist
calling to its pursuit by any active mind.

Now, suddenly, we see it is not too soon to 
understand, unlike our cyclical academies, 
the Review never does gain an alumnus, until 
one achieves the rest now granted this guar-
dian of its ebullient play. The boat will go
out, the Review will go with it, and there
will be feasting on the beach as this is so.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Oh, to paint one's way from Winter

Art is the conscious design
of emotions that work on us
unconsciously, an achieve-
ment of naturalness through
the most unnatural of means.

The strange fact is that in-
spiration must be crafted,
that the flight of fancy must
be engineered.

Returning to Watteau again on Sunday, for an unhurried escape into co-herency as well as subtlety of gesture - particularly to research any background one could find at home, on a remembered model he created for a figure of indifference - I found it only too telling that one of Watteau's most ardent advocates on my shelves had chosen to discuss that extraordinary painting under the heading, rather, of unconscious-ness. For, truly, the very motive to examine the sources of indiffer-ence as Watteau proposes them, is to investigate calculations of dis-ciplined inspiration, and sustained craft. Merely to admire the in-congruousness of the result is not enough, I think, where so radiantly the painter is celebrating the method.

To enjoy the endowments of indif-ference is to generate them and protect them. 
Watteau's L'indifférent is not a fashionable idler, a flâneur out of Baudelaire or Edmund White. He is that spiritual accomplishment, a free man. But then how little recognition one might have given to his need to be painted, that is, to be crafted by a conscious, unconflicted vision. Yet the painting goes beyond structural resolution to present freedom, not so much in its expression, but as its expression. And this, we recognize as entirely the case in its every feature, as a mature construction within the concep-tion and conduct of its engineer. The critic left one no escape, only something better.

Antoine Watteau
Palais du Louvre

Jed Perl
Antoine's Alphabet
  Watteau and His World
Alfred A. Knopf, 2008©

Sunday, March 19, 2017

"Haec mea sunt," he says

I think one cannot recommend,
to relieve that sensation so
prevalent these days, of be-
ing too captivated by "cur-
rent events," any flight to
agrarian Classics we grew up
with, culturally, figurative-
ly, academically, literally.

Lycidas, we never thought that what
Has happened to us was ever going
  to happen,
And now we've lived to see it. 
  A stranger came
To take possession of our farm, and   said: 
"I own this place; you have to  leave this place."

"haec mea sunt; 
ueteres migrate coloni"

Now, when the literature of
the rural preserve, such as
we still renew so gainfully
in our time, is revisited as
an escape, we find a shadow
has always been there; and
if it is true, that finally
it is this nation's turn to
endure its weight, it is as
if we were being scavenged,
but for the life of poetry.

                  .. when eagles come
                  tell me what doves can do about it?

The Eclogues
  Eclogue IX
  Lycidas and Moeris
David Ferry
op. cit.

Verlyn Klinkenborg
The Rural Life
Little, Brown & Co, 2003©

Michael McCarthy
The Moth Snowstorm
  Nature and Joy
New York Review Books, 2015©

Saturday, March 18, 2017

The game blade and I

As I considered how to announce this 
posting, in the way of a heading, I 
thought I might just let the whole 
thing ride on a cheerful double en-
tendre, and say no more. But this is 
no way to get off one’s chest such an 
abiding, leeching peeve that I’d be re-
luctant to call it a pet. On the other 
hand, Saturday, with all its consoling 
liberty, is no time for a Miltonian 
trumpet blast on the proximity of “the 
end,” which in many things can be most 
welcome. If one could suggest an end, 
therefore, I’d certainly choose the ir-
rational, fashionable adoption of the 
device described as “the steak knife.” 

Readers are invited to peer over the 
shoulder, as we all tend to do anyway 
at this page, to observe how very near 
indeed “the end” may be, if one could 
wean the tenant opposite, of promoting 
the steak knife.

The steak knife is to gastronomy, and
to its table service, as the Modern Jazz
Quartet of the 1950s and 60s was to jazz:
a shiny, slightly glittering object of no
inherent derivation in its medium. Probab-
ly research will show they emerged at the
same time, along with turquoise roadsters.
Sadly, it seized the known world by its
consummate extraneousness, as any artifact
of ostentation always does, such as the
several superfluous chronometers in a sing-
le Breguet wristwatch: not having to have
them, means having to have them. Even ad-
mitting the restaurant's genius for botch-
ing things, fails to justify the easier
slicing of the undesirable, only to ac-
celerate the distress of the jaws.

Now, who would take on, on Saturday, the
remediation of commercial gastronomy, es-
pecially in a setting such as this one,
which has renounced that oxymoron, in no
uncertain terms? Only the present writer?
I greatly doubt it, for the impertinences
of public dining have penetrated our pre-
serves, in the assumptions of our guests.
In the feeding, then, of visitors, even
the discreet open themselves to emulating
that tragic discovery of restaurants: he
who dines alone, is likely to stay alone.
And Saturday affords no support for this.

Admitting that the cuisine of China,
Mexico, India, and Oceana, broadly
speaking, exempt us from the likeli-
hood of having to lend a guest this
idiot prop of Western dining, an en-
tire universe of red wines cries out
for the occasional presentation of a
slab of flesh unreduced to bite size.
We don't query why this should be so;
it is a fixture of adapting to guests.

And there we are: necessity is the
mother of preposterous invention,
not its excuse. Who among us, would
ever venture within a Marathon of
distance, to serve a cut of meat so
unyielding to the blandishments of a
simple dinner knife, at worst, as to
support a cultural obsession with sam-
urai standards of sharpness, only to
transit the nibble to the frailty of
human teeth? The pristine silliness
of the device cries out to be beaten
back into butter spreaders, for the
plush extractions of the braise, the
discerning selection of the tender-
loin, the opulently grained fibres
of the competently managed roast. 
Are there really tables in our very
homes, where the translation of a
carcass from vitality is in doubt?

Yet still the plea arises, once
the steak knife has been exposed
as the fetish that it is, of the
incompetent and the commercially
seduced, for some residual oppor-
tunity to enjoy the allure of the
boning device, without guilt. If
not from necessity, then certain-
ly from convenience, a whiff of
legitimacy arises from the con-
sumption of wild game, especially
of fowl, the noblest and in many
cases, the most ideal foils for
the glories of red wines. Here an
edge is welcome, in eliciting the
meat from the elegant bone, from
tenacious ligatures of flight as
we admire enough to present to
each other, generously. A roast
of squab is an engagement to be
savored meticulously to the ful-
lest; and, so far from destroy-
ing such a prospect by its bon-
ing in advance, the steak knife
gains preferment it never knew.

Claire MacDonald
The Game Cookbook
Birlinn Publishing, 2015©

Duchess of Rutland
  A Season of Discovery
Quiller Publishing, 2012©

Friday, March 17, 2017

For Burke, for Sheridan, and innocent pedestrians

Frederic Reynolds, twelve years old, thought he was going to die. He was walking down the narrow passage between Vinegar Yard and Bridges Street at nine o'clock on a May evening in 1777 when he heard a terrible noise above his head. The sudden, tremendous rumble made him sure that Drury Lane Theatre, which formed one side of the passage, was collapsing .. He covered his head with his hands and ran for his life, but 'found the next morning that the noise did not arise from the falling of the house, but from the falling of the screen in the fourth act; so violent and so tumultuous were the applause and laughter.' He had passed by the opening night of Sheridan's new play, The School for Scandal.

St Patrick's is more than certainly as good a day as any, for a coming to grips with the possible, when an entertainer turns to politics, and invokes the English language to do it. Never mind the factor of imperialism in its adoption, Ireland is all the rage in the Executive branch of the American government today, not for her genius with English, but for the myth of her people's welcome as immigrants to this land. It was not the shrewdest move of this mountebank regime, to patronise a people who has seen it all and then some, from such frauds. Sheridan's biographer has noticed, and by anyone in that dervish cabinet who can read, this might have been expected. 

Readers of this page will remember Sheridan as the brilliant Irish dramatist-statesman of the 18th Century, whose use of this language electrified audiences in Parliament and theatre alike, not merely with its acuity, but with its undeniability. In Sheridan, as in his rival Edmund Burke, the line between the power and the purpose in rhetoric was controlled by the most luminous exercise of conscience. Indeed, Sheridan once said to Burke, I don't mean to flatter, but when posterity reads one of your speeches in Parliament, it will be difficult to believe that you took so much pains, knowing with certainty that it could produce no effect, that not one vote would be gained by it.

With no falsity whatever, therefore,
by virtue of the genius of the great
unwashed - a phrase misattributed to
Edmund Burke - for the unvarnished 
and unfalsified, clean energy of a
language which only its scoundrels
demand to make compulsory in a free
nation, it's not only possible, not
only necessary, to revel on St Pat-
rick's day as a refreshment to Amer-
ican principles. It is a way of re-
vealing them.

Fintan O'Toole

A Traitor's Kiss
  The Life of 
  Richard Brinsley Sheridan
  pp. 122 & 258
op. cit. 

Green Beer and
  Rank Hypocrisy
The New York Times©
March 16, 2017

Thursday, March 16, 2017

A sea wall firebreak in the Lowlands?

In the Dutch national elections yesterday,
their Donny Thump-Thump didn't win such a
large minority as ours did, in the multi-
layered coup d'état that threw America out
of the family of nations. Was it our exem-
plary proof of nativist idiocy that turned
the tide, or an ingeniously fractured par-
at The New York Times? Withal, Holland's
salvation is not an occasion for the minc-
ing of words. They are safe, and they have
shown it can be done.

Instead of awakening this morning to an ab-
surdly unstable concentration of revanchist
power in one party, they've awakened to an
endearingly familiar mess of partisan frac-
turing, which our Constitution was design-
ed to preserve, institutionally. (It works
just fine, with weak parties). Instead of
awakening this morning to a declared war
in their national budget, upon the global
environment and domestic justice, they are
handed time for further reflection.

If the United States did contribute to an
outcome needed by this world, it's not a
precedent that we'd discourage, only its