Sunday, August 12, 2012

Popcorn by The Colonel #4

“Murder!” she bellowed, and a tree 
fell soundlessly in a forest. 
“Cheat!” she cried, and a cold hush 
fell over the card room.

0 “Cleanliness is next to Godliness” here in Middletown. Whenever you hear this chestnut, you probably say to yourself, “Sounds like something Rabbi Phinehas ben Jair would have said in the second century C.E. Although he was better known for his piety than his learning, he often hit the nail on the head, if I may permit myself a stale metaphor.”

1 If that is what you say to yourself, The Colonel is impressed with the erudition of your self-talk and appalled at your self-indulgence in allowing stale metaphors into that otherwise sparkling conversation.

2 The saying has taken different forms down the centuries, but it may not have turned up in English until rather late, when it found place in a work of Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1626) in this form: “Cleanness of body was ever deemed to proceed from a due reverence to God.” (The Advancement of Learning.)

3 The Colonel’s Lady threatens to make a form of the saying The Colonel’s motto: “Tidiness is next to impossible.”

4 Discriminating readers in Middletown like “Bring on the Bodies” by Hilary Mantel, who is as good as her English contemporaries David Lodge and Martin Amis, but less well known than they on this side of the pon...

5 The Colonel is toying with an idea. Instead of revising out clichés and other predictable words and phrases, black them out and let the black blocks work like bleak postmodern rebuses: “‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.” Why not turn writing vices into reader participation opportunities? Also, can you say “black blocks” three times fast? A certain person had better not take this as an invitation to censorship, though. Stick to your lemonade, you-know-who.

6 Back to Hilary Mantel: despite the facts that “Bodies” is a best seller and that its predecessor “Wolf Hall” won the prestigious Man Booker prize, she really does write well, so it comes as a surprise to hear her speak. She speaks fluently and is a mesmerizing storyteller, but her accent is, ah, not posh. Remember Daphne from “Frasier”? Not like that, but you get the idea.

7 After that, it wouldn’t be fair not to give a sample of her writing: “Sometimes ... he [Thomas Cromwell] feels almost impelled to speak in defense of his father, his childhood. But it is no use to justify yourself. It is no good to explain. It is weak to be anecdotal. It is wise to conceal the past even if there is nothing to conceal. A man’s power is in the half-light, in the half-seen movements of his hand and the unguessed-at expression of his face. It is the absence of facts that frightens people: the gap you open, into which they pour their fears, fantasies, desires.”

8 To demonstrate that she’s not just thinky, here’s the finale of the public execution of one of Henry VIII’s wives:“There is a groan, one single sound from the whole crowd. Then a silence, and into that silence, a sharp sigh or a sound like a whistle through a keyhole: the body exsanguinates, and its flat little presence becomes a puddle of gore.”

9 The late Enoch Powell was another outstanding writer, in a different field: “All political lives, unless they are cut off in midstream at a happy juncture, end in failure, because that is the nature of politics and of human affairs.”

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Douglas Adams P.S.: “He hoped and prayed that there wasn’t an afterlife. Then he realized there was a contradiction involved here and merely hoped that there wasn’t an afterlife.”

Another Douglas Adams P.S.: “In those days spirits were brave, the stakes were high, men were real men, women were real women and small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri were real small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri.”

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