To speak truth, of pleasure and pain, and all the pretty little horses.


A lullaby goes;
Go to sleep, little baby.
And when you wake,
You shall have a cake,
And all the pretty little ponies.

All the pretty little ponies. All the pretty little horses. just go to sleep..

An old friend was chatting with me, while we sat in an old coffee shop. We’re talking about propaganda, we’re talking about people’s desire for simple things to listen to and believe in and hold onto. And he was pointing out to me a fatal of mine, in overcomplicating the truth.

Why is it that a simple lie may find more currency than a truth expressed in complicated terms?

Pain and pleasure. We avoid what causes pain. And oh, our lives are full of such dull sorrows and pains. And we yearn for those simple pleasures, we work and toil and then go home to our toys. Our drugs. Our booze. Our porn. Our sex. Our food.

Our TV. And it tells us such simple little things.

And then we go to sleep, and this we yearn for intensely.

**

Simple words soothe the mind and soul. Whether they are true or false. Complicated things ache the mind and soul.

Here is a power of persuasion, he or she who can master their words is not necessarily someone who uses pretty words, and high concepts expressed in high terms.

George Orwell and Winston Churchill bot pointed out, about effective communication, that the simple words penetrate the most.

So, if you want to speak or write truth, do yourself and others a favor and “keep it simple stupid,” as the phrase goes.

Don’t get to artsy about it, is it about your ‘self expression’ or is it about communicating a message?

Of course, a prerequisite is to actually know the truth. Much of the time we think we know the truth, a truth that we are aching and burning to tell the world, but we don’t really know the whole truth, or even an adequate part of it.

**

Sometimes what we think is true or know isn’t so. And sometimes, those truths that we think are in our deepest selves are things whispered in her ears while we’re going to sleep..

While dreaming of pretty little horses.

EOF

You don’t need to understand poetry to be moved by it.

pen-fountain-pen-ink-gold-39065I think that many people are not alone in thinking that they can’t understand poetry. I believe lots of people feel that way. There are many people who truly feel and believe that they don’t understand poetry, further that they can’t understand poetry, and that poetry is something best understood by particularly intellectual people.

I believe that nothing can be further from the truth.

Ignoring for a moment the distinction between high poetry and low poetry, it is important to realize that verse and versification have long been part of many cultures and language communities. I think that is also important to realize that poetry, or rather the idea of poetry, is very much a mental construction on top of the bare naked reality of verse itself.

What do I mean by this? Well simply put, verse is part of language. Verse is a way of arranging words. Versification and prosody, rhyme and meter, to whatever degrees they can be found in modern poetry, they are matters of language. Essentially matters of language itself. Prosody evokes things that can be felt, a beat. This can be perceived and felt without any sort of sophisticated intellectual training.

Here’s a proof; ‘Mary had a little lamb it’s fleece was white as snow, and everywhere that Mary went, the lamb was sure to go.

That line of text was metered and it had rhyme to it. I trust that no great heights of intellectual speculation were necessary to understand. It was about a little girl, named Mary, of whom a lamb was quite infatuated. Dig it?

Good.

All things in this world are characterized by heights and lows, and stuff in the middle. So too with poetry. Poetry can ring bells on monasteries on top of Mount Parnassus, rake the coals at the bottom of the valley of Jahannam, and sell breakfast cereal on the telly.

I think that poetry is often presented as something intellectually high, refined and sophisticated. But poetry can really be as simple as ‘Mary had a Little Lamb‘.

While verse and poetry can be separated, and typically are nowadays, the two share a close, more ambiguous relationship which, aforetime, was tighter.

For poetry to have a significant cultural role, it must be authentically part of the culture. High cultures are almost by definition matters of elite, often imperial, patronage and support. This means high cultures obey standards that are artificially maintained; typically reified standards drawn from the basis of some old hoary thing dug out of the closet, quite mummified, and stuffed in full regalia in front of the people.

The maintainers and advocates of ‘high culture’ may seem to over-protest. High culture typically has some sort of basis in the broader culture it is found in. Often, however, the connection is extraneous and non-essential connection. Someone somewhere has to maintain it like a difficult and moody orchid, sensitive and needing constant tending lest the delicate thing keels over pouting and rolling its eyes.

I won’t assert that all high culture is just extraneous to a people’s realities. Far from it. But at a certain point you sometimes seem to have at hand something that was once a bit more living and spunky, but long since extremely refined to the point of the life being sucked out of it.

Do remember, much classical music was at one time pop music. This is something older than the ‘Pops orchestras’ that are part of urban higher cultural establishments in the Anglosphere today. Mozart in his age was a bit of a rock star. So too, Ballet once had copulation as a theme. I’d use the F- word but someone reading this would have a hissy-fit. Ballet, or rather the theatrical dances that eventually became ballet, really could be almost pornographic in theme, once upon a time.

In a word, if you go back two or three hundred years ago, you would see that – in the West anyway – quite a bit of what people believe today to be high culture was part of the lower middle culture of that age.

Let’s leave alone the theme of decadence – and there was a time not so long ago in which many critics believed Tchaikovsky and Wagner were decadent composers, and avoiding an observation I once heard Seyyed Hossein Nasr make, in which he asserted in the middle of class that classical music after Bach had essentially lost a good deal of its higher intellectual grounding, there is a simple fact that humans have a tendency to over-romanticize the past. How we view the arts, poetry included, is part of this.

I’m sympathetic here; being a guy who rarely felt at home in his century much less than his decade. But part of trying to develop a historical consciousness, a feeling for history, is developing the ability to see things of a past age as they were in there mundane glory. Chamber pots, iron and flint fire-starters, plagues, child whores, summary executions in the middle of the street, and all.

That was all a tangent. The question is how did that tangent relate to the question at hand? Well, let’s tie it to the point. In order for poetry to be something alive and vibrant, part a living culture, it has to be something that is not in museums. It has to be something that is inside of people’s hearts and on the tongues. For this to be the case poetry must be understandable by people broadly speaking, not just a recondite erudite few sitting around patting each others’ backs..

This does not mean there is no room for high and difficult poetry. Take Geoffrey Hill, the Oxford poet laureate, or T.S. Eliot, of whom Hill is a contemporary heir. Or take Frederick Seidel. These three people, among others, are certainly near the height of the twentieth century’s formalist and aristocratic poetic establishment. Throw in Ezra Pound as well. Each of these poets is somewhat difficult, challenging, and formalistic. In a word, marked by a type of difficulty that requires some intellectual aptitude to tackle with.

So what. Each of those poets wrote a large amount of verse that simply requires the type of active imaginative faculty that your average teenager has, to navigate. In other words, you don’t have to be an intellectual to read T.S. Eliot, and be struck by his imagery.

I think this is a sign of successful poetry. Even if it seems to be over your head on some level, mainly because everyone around you keeps saying that it is, it can still move you as long as you understand the words.

I think these things can be overcomplicated. If you can understand ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’ then you have the tools necessary to apprehend poetry, to feel poetry if you hear it or read it. This is because you have the linguistic tools to viscerally feel poetry, which is what we’re talking about if we use words like ‘move’. Something that moves you does something kinetic to you, like push, shove, punch, caress, engage in frottage with, or kiss you. It’s a matter of the type of movement, and its intensity.

Verse, and most good poetry even ‘free verse’ ends up to some degree using verse-like elements even unconsciously on the poet’s part, uses rhythm and timing in speech. Verse makes you feel things, ‘beats,’ and this is powerful. Rhythm is powerful.

Verse is not equivalent to poetry. But verse and poetry spring from the same mother’s loins, and were probably wrapped around each others’ umbilical cords en utero. If you can feel the effects of verse, then you have the tools to get poetry. Just relax and don’t psych yourself out, thinking that you can’t get it.

End.

Non-Fiction versus fiction in an apocalypse culture, Adam Parfrey, the essay, and the novel.

In the Introduction to the second edition of his anthology, Apocalypse Culture, Adam Parfrey muses as follows;

“..reality has taken on such a dire and phantasmagoric cast that fictionalizing has become superfluous. The essay form has superseded the novel as the vehicle that best suggests the prevailing apocalyptic gestalt, and as the talisman that is most able to repel the onset of paralyzing dread.””
-Adam Parfrey, 1990.

The form of written language best able to convey a sense of, and indeed help make sense of, this age along these lines, would be the non-fiction essay. Some may disagree, it’s a perspective worth considering however. Truly paradigm shattering novels along dystopic lines are rare; 1984, A Clockwork Orange, Brave New World, the crop of current dystopian narratives seem to simply deepen the mood and spit it back at us while we, un-reflexively, watch and scratch our heads over The Hunger Games.

What the essay has that the novel or fictionalized narrative lacks is it’s ability to not be completely reduced to entertainment, and thus to a soporific, inducing dreams, but not waking us. Film fiction narratives, like The Matrix, being partial and useful exceptions that sort of prove the rule.

Where to find the language to express ideas? Indeed what is language in all of this? “All language is at once the ‘sensualization of the idea’ and the ‘idealization of the sensuous’. Language is, therefore, the most distinguishing characteristic of man..” notes C. Nisbet and D. Lemon in their 1892 Everybody’s Writing-Desk Book. Noting further that man can be defined, in quotations, as the speaking animal. A pity they didn’t note the origin of that quote, being the Classical Arabic definition of al-Insan, The Human, as ‘al-Hayawan al-Natiq‘ or the speaking, articulating, animal.

The theme of the Book of Eli, another fictionalized narrative, is interesting here; what obsessed Garry Oldman’s character was obtaining the word. At all costs. The overly biblical cast of the movie might distract a more skeptical viewer from the vital urgency of its core message, which is that the word, language, is all important in either controlling humanity, or saving humanity, Oldman’s character, though a villain, was in a way a flawed and tragic hero, stuck in a particular paradigm that gave him an edge, but only the sliver of an edge, in a world gone mad. It was an edge that he grasped without justice. And hence his undoing.

Words, language, are vital. And though Parfrey wrote those words something like 25 years ago, I think with the increasing popularity of Creative Nonfiction he was onto something.

One interesting quote on altruism in nanny states

I personally believe in altruism over selfishness. However if altruism is coerced or forced is it really altruism? Is it really a virtue? If a virtue is coerced is it a good or evil? This quote strikes me in this regard.

“Big Sister does not want her peasants holding values that are incompatible with the Good Society.  She will not tolerate adult behavior, or independent thought and action.  Thus she hates religion, morality, political dissent of any kind (democracy is, again, intolerant of dissent, even in dress), and in particular she hates the kind of moral abolutism that underlies most systems of honor.  As an example of how this works, Big Sister promulgates the now widespread idea that anyone who refuses welfare to which he is “entitled” is INSANE.  Thus even a debased petit-bourgeois notion of personal responsibility and independence becomes a symptom of insanity, and since insanity is, in our mythology, a disease like influenza, the insane must accept treatment. Must.  Tyrannies of the left-socialist type are characterized by their insistence on compulsory  altruism as the prime “social directive”.

Compulsory altruism is NOT a virtue, it is the behavior pattern of a slave or a mechanism.  NO compelled behavior is virtuous.  The Lizards have convinced most people that “obeying the law under pain of death” is *virtuous*.  This is useful to them, but there is no virtue in it.  It is virtuous to give alms to a worthy beggar, but it is not virtuous to pay taxes that aid the poor. This is why socialist tyrannies strive to monopolize charity: through taxation the element of private virtue is eliminated, through the perversion of meaning of virtue into “obedience”, virtue is no longer the result of honorable behavior, but is another “entitlement” dispensed by Big Sister.  Consider the travesty of “Honors Day” in the UK, when people are rewarded for making money and paying large taxes, i.e. for being good subjects.” – Marmota monax, the digital peasant, on a Def Con mailing list 30 Oct 1999

A note for anyone who gets in a tizzy over the writer’s mentioning, in a linked phrase, a nanny-state’s hatred of “religion, morality, political dissent of any kind” – the writer was an agnostic or atheist, if I recall, and certainly not religious. One does not need to be, however, to notice that when the State is effectively presented as god – or goddess as the case may be – then it obviously cannot tolerate other forms of religious expression. This is a matter of degrees of course, ranging from the gross to the subtle. In more subtle cases religion, morality, political dissent of any kind, are best assimilated to the operative logic of the state’s civil religion itself.

 

“Yet Schiller, Dante, Shakespeare I devoured.
My forehead trembled as I read their works.
As to those rakes that former tunes admired,
Virgil, and Horace, Homer, Cicero,
We know, thank God! just what to think of them.
Then quick to learn the art poetical,
My lisping muse began to plagiarize;
And then, in turn, I worshiped England, Spain,
And Italy, and, chiefly, Germany.
What would I not have done to know the dialect
The cobbler Sachs had gloried years a-gone!” – Alfred de Musset

If one wishes to be subtle, and not gross, and thus in the long term to be effective One may consider adding to one’s worship by consent and not naked bare coercion.
The Muslim, the Hindu, the Jain, the Christian, the Odinist, the Mithraist, the Jew: each becomes an acolyte of the mother goddess of the state. His or her belief system and sense of morality and virtue are best re-molded in ways consistent with the dominant narrative.
How many Hindus worship India instead of Vishnu or Krshina – in actual effect. How many Israeli Jews worship Israel instead of YWEH, in effect? How many Evangelical Christians worship Old Glory, the US Flag, and the Unites States of America – instead of Jesus? How many Anglicians worship Britain (and indeed it’s How many Muslims worship – in actual effect, as in each case – the Arab State and Qawm, or Pakistan or what-like, instead of Allah? How many Mithraic soldiers worshiped (rather openly) Rome itself and her emperor instead or, or in addition to, Mithras.
What is it to worship? It is to obey and to adore. Find out whom you obey and adore with emotional fervor and then you shall know who or what it is that you really worship.
So I think that a clever Big Sister would express her underlying intolerance of her little siblings’ questioning by more subtle, than gross, coercions and cooptations. In this way the Soft Tyranny is more effective in the long term than the Hard Tyranny, for is tyranny with the consent of the tyrannized really even tyranny anymore? Irrespective of how that consent was gained?

 

4 Last Minute Gift Ideas for Her. Tips on what to get your wife, mom, or lady.

Here is your last minute gift cheat-sheet. If you’re stumped, looking for last minute gift ideas for your mom, wife, girlfriend, or significant female, here are 7 suggestions that might work out well for you.

If you feel clueless about what to get the girl or women in your life, check out these gifts below and remember:

  • When she talks take mental notes. Pay attention a few weeks before a holiday or birthday listen closely to her, and keep your ears perked if she mentions anything she’s had her eyes on. Sometimes women intentionally drop subtle hints, sometimes it’s subconscious and unintentional. Either way, pay attention to her.
  • Think about what kind of person she actually is. How does she seem to see herself? All women want to feel like you pay attention to them and things they’re into. So think about her likes and dislikes, personality and interests. Make a cheat-sheet list of traits. Again, pay attention to her.
  • If you can find some way of personalizing or customizing the gift, try to do so. If a gift’s personalized, even with just a small special message, it shows you put extra thought into it.

That said, here are some last minute gift ideas for her, whoever she happens to be.

1. Pre De Provence Assorted Shea Butter Enriched Guest Soap Gift Set in Box – Includes Nine 25 Gram Soaps – Scented Herb. by Pre de Provence.

Last-minute gift idea for her, Pre De Provence Shea Butter Enriched Soap Set.

A delicious smelling Pre de Provence Gift Box of 9 assorted Shea Butter enriched soaps, for a cleansing and fragrant treat. Each of the nine soaps is 25 Gram.

  • 9 guest soaps, 25 grams each, with your favorite Pre de Provence scents.
  • 9 different clean, herb smelling scents: including White Gardenia, Honey Almond, Lavender, Linden, Rose, Verdena,Sage, Milk, Coconut
  • Quad milled Shea Butter enriched, with pure essential oils added for aroma.
  • No animal testing – Free of Parabens, Ethyl Alcohol, Phenoxyethanol, DEA

2. How To Be Parisian Wherever You Are: Love, Style, And Bad Habits by Anne Berest, Audrey Diwan, Caroline de Maigret, and Sophie Mas. Hardcover it’s only $25 ($10.99 on Kindle), available at Amazon.
Last-minute gift idea for her, How To Be Parisian Wherever You Are: Love, Style, And Bad Habits by Anne Berest, Audrey Diwan, Caroline de Maigret, and Sophie Mas. This book suggestion comes from Lauren Conrad, (of laurenconrad.com fame).

In it, four French women give humorous yet honest insights into what they feel it really means to be Parisian, from how to dress, to advice on love, dieting, vintage shopping, and family.

  • Hardcover
  • 272 pages
  • Published by Doubleday

3. Michael Calore and Christina Bonnington writing at Wired suggest the Amazon Fire TV.
Last-minute gift idea for her,  the Amazon Fire TV. This streaming 1080p media player has with voice search, is enabled for Netflix, Amazon Prime Instant Video, games, and more.

They say it’s;

“A great gift for the streaming-curious, the Fire TV runs Netflix, HBO Go, Showtime Anytime, Twitch, PBS and dozens of other services. It’s a no-brainer for Amazon Prime members who haven’t yet embraced streaming, since their Prime membership entitles them to stream thousands of movies and shows for free.”

4. Earmuffs –

The South Beach Blog and Modernfashionblog.com both recommend Earmufs, (among other things..) In fact, if you look around this season you’ll notice women everywhere wearing fun and quirky earmuffs. These ones not only keep her ears worm and cozy, but they reflect a quirky and cute personality.

Last-minute gift idea for her, Simplicity Women's Knitted Plush Earmuffs for the winter.
You can get these Simplicity Women’s Knitted Plush Earmuffs for the winter, for around $7.90 at Amazon.

Last-minute gift idea for her, N'Ice Caps Girls and Adults Faux Mink Trimmed Adjustable Ear Muffs.
Or you can go with the furry look, with these N’Ice Caps Girls and Adults Faux Mink Trimmed Adjustable Ear Muffs, for around $9.99.

 

No Headset No problem, Nuance Dragon NaturallySpeaking 13 Revealed

The Web is abuzz with the news, on July 22 Nuance Communications announced a new major release of Dragon NaturallySpeaking. Dragon NaturallySpeaking 13 is currently available in its Premium edition and its new features and refinements are serious value-added benefits to users of the software.

Keith Shaw at Networkworld writes:

“The software, which converts users’ speech into text that can get placed into applications such as Microsoft Word or email platforms like Microsoft Outlook, also includes command-and-control functionality for navigating around Web sites. New features include:

  • Faster out-of-the-box accuracy: Nuance said its new speech recognition is so good that it can eliminate the voice-training task that previous versions required users to go through. This helps cut down the time it takes for new users to set up their application.

  • Built-in microphone support: Previous versions required an external microphone or headset; version 13 now supports built-in microphones on laptops. The software can automatically detect the microphones a user has on their system, whether plugged in or built into the computer.

  • More web applications supported: Older versions worked with Internet Explorer only; the new version supports the Firefox and Google Chrome browsers through an install-once extension. This includes being able to dictate emails through Gmail or create a document through Google Docs. Outlook.com and Yahoo! Mail is also supported with DNS 13, Nuance says.”

This excites me.

Dave Smith, writing at Business Insider, notes:

“According to Nuance CMO Peter Mahoney, Dragon 13 is 15% more accurate than Dragon 12, 30% better than Dragon 11 and 42% improved from Dragon 10, which was released in 2008.

And for the first time, NaturallySpeaking supports the ability to dictate with built-in microphones so you don’t need to use a headset for a “truly untethered experience.”

I began using Dragon NaturallySpeaking 12 Premium roughly a year ago to ease my writing load. I prefer longhand drafting, but it is simply too tedious and slow at 27 words per minute. Not only is longhand difficult when dealing with a large amount of text but Internet writing still needs to be keyed in at some point, though I still prefer longhand for taking notes and certain tasks, and believe there are subtle psychological and cognitive benefits to its use. I type up to 100 words per minute, but this cannot be sustained without repetitive movement injuries or, at least, fatigue. With time this ends up averaging down to 60 words per minute, and eventually a break is needed.

This is where the age-old practice of dictation offers some benefits. With Software like Dragon NaturallySpeaking you do not need a transcriptionist, scribe or amanuensis. The clear time saving benefits historically made dictation a normal means of composition for writers such as Aleister Crowley, Stendhal, Henry James, Thomas Hobbes, Montaigne, Francis Bacon, Julius Caesar, al-Bukhari the Muhadith, Alexander Dumas, more recently Dan Brown, and numerous other authors throughout the centuries.

Whereas many past authors had the benefit of living in cultures in which mental composition and textual arrangement was primarily taught, and dictating (to servants and slaves, and later professional scribes – excepting Crowley who typically conned whichever ‘Babylon’ wench he was bedding into transcribing for him) was simply a time saving expedient over longhand, by the late 20th and early 21st centuries we have been trained for almost 3 generations in composition modes favoring active composition by pen and keyboard over mental arrangement, invention, and composition.

This means we primarily think while we write. This makes it difficult for many to switch over to dictation, unless they are older professionals, such as doctors or lawyers, or from executive/upper management class backgrounds and had been educated when dictating ruled supreme in offices. This state of affairs began to die in the 70s, and by 1988-1990 was pretty much dead. Given the price of the early Dragon programs, and the steep hardware requirements for its use, this kept the program largely within the active use of these last professional class holdouts of a mostly extinct dictating culture.

Nuance Dragon NaturallySpeaking now exists in an ambiance of massively improved Computer Hardware, in which even baseline low-level consumer electronics have capacities exceeding top-shelf hardware even a decade ago. With its improved speech recognition engine and the ability to reliably dictate from built-in microphones, I think Dragon NaturallySpeaking 13 will usher in a new era of productivity.

I am going to upgrade NaturallySpeaking 12 to version 13 this afternoon, and I’ll let you, dear reader, know of any struggles I have. Frankly I will never leave longhand writing, the pen and ink, or even humble pencil, are almost like fetish objects of delight to me. But when it comes to saving time, and saving finger joints, so far Nuance’s product has impressed me and helped me a great deal.

 

 

Hanif Kureishi’s effective admission of being a failed teacher

(Photo linked from the guardian)

The Guardian ran a recent piece on Britain based novelist, and Kingston University writing professor, Hanif Kureishi‘s claim that creative writing courses are a waste of time, and that most of his students are able to write sentences but incapable of telling an actual story. Hence, of course, taking a creative writing class is a waste of time. Writing is, in his view, something one either has or does not have.

(on the side, Hannah Jane Parkinson in her Guardian Books Blog response takes a somewhat different course than I am about to. This is, of course, fine..)

So, here is the irony; what we have is essentially a case of projection. Kureishi, author of The Black Album and My Son the Fanatic, is effectively admitting to being an ineffective teacher. Why call yourself a shitty professor in one of Britain’s most read papers? My mind boggles. This, in effect, makes him sound like a pretentious ass. Given that he is one of Britain’s more talented authors, in his generation at least, this is a bit dreadful.

I think, to some degree, Kureishi may be purposefully exaggerating, for the purpose of being provocative.

Something can be said about the long term value of many creative writing courses, or MFA (Master of Fine Arts) programs. Indeed some people have said certain things, some positive and others not so positive, about them. Some people defend both wholeheartedly; and the entire Anglosphere literary establishment more or less requires an MFA for entry.

In reality, though, there have long been multiple routes, formal and informal, through which people learned the craft of writing. There is, moreover, a long history of people tutoring and teaching the craft, and if you look deeply into the biographies of some of our most noted writers in history, there is always a learning phase. Sometimes in Journalism school, sometimes by excessive reading and self-taught practice after such reading, sometimes of course by creative writing classes, or reading and writing circles and groups.

No writer is born knowing craft. Every writer, be it of prose or verse, has to learn the craft of writing. As for storytelling, I couldn’t give a damn about it. Literary writing is far broader than making up fables read by a recondite small circle of literary critics. Let me put it a bit differently; being a good writer and a good storyteller are two separate things. Since I am neither, I feel no compunction regarding pointing this out. I simply have no dog, cock, or monkey in the fight.

What people like Kureishi forget is that the novel’s tyranny as the epitome of literary production is recent. In fact, to snidely plagiarize a turn from Matt Taibbi, one could almost call the novel a vampire squid, sucking with fanged chitin beak the very life out of modern literature. History lesson; at the turn of the 20th century English letters on an academic level had only recently conceded the novel a literary status of serious merit. The greatest novelists of the 19th and 18th centuries were seen, by the literary world’s doyens, much like genre novelists are today. At best, talented but not quite engaged in serious pursuits, say like William Gibson, Anne Rice, Steven King, or even J.A. Konrath (I do put him on the same line, he’s that good actually.) At worst, they saw novelists as hacks who pandered to the marketplace.

Literary fiction was viewed exactly like genre fiction is today. In fact our division between literary fiction and genre fiction is, in itself, a bit recent. It’s roots go back, of course, to the division between primarily market motivated, and artistically motivated, writing that predates even pulp fiction, and goes back to the division between dime novels, and cloth novels (the ancestors of our paperbacks and hardbacks). Of course there were authors who crossed over, just as today paperback editions exist of serious literary fiction.

In reality all of these divisions are contingent, and ignored in practice though not in cant and rhetoric. People read what they enjoy reading, and do not read what they do not enjoy reading, and today’s classics were yesterday’s disposable yarns. Nothing essential changes, only forms and names.

Back then the non-fiction essay and poetry held supreme sway as literary modes of production. To be respected as a literary figure (as modern English readers respect Hanif Kureishi for example) one would not write novels, rather one would write serious essays, critical ones at that (some essayists of course were critics of novels, ironically) and one would write verse. French letters held novelists and the novel in far greater respect, but it was only from the 1880s to the early 19teens that the novel fully emerged as something worthy of not just enjoyment but actual literary respect.

Today we conflate the concept of “writer” and “novelist.” This conflation is even more recent, really not only stemming from after the second World War, but from the late 60s and early 70s. With this in mind Kureishi’s claim should be rephrased. His students are bad fabulists, bad storytellers perhaps, but not bad writers. And frankly since storytelling itself is a craft, or has craft like aspects, that exist independently of the ability to produce good prose (or verse, for as people forget long form storytelling in the form of Romances, Romans, the very ancestors of the novel, were all in verse).

In this light, really, all that Kureishi is claiming is that he’s a bad teacher. This is hardly something one would want to claim in public, unless one was exceedingly honest and blunt. He is being blunt, but he is not being honest. Or, at least, that’s my opinion. Perhaps you disagree.

3 Quotes to Muse Over Today

Three quoted sayings or passages I am contemplating today.

One:
“Whoever wishes to foresee the future must consult the past; for human events ever resemble those of preceding times. This arises from the fact that they are produced by men who ever have been, and ever shall be, animated by the same passions, and thus they necessarily have the same results.” – Niccolò dei Machiavelli

Two:
“…Islam burst forth in the form of an epic: now, a heroic history is written with the sword, and in a religious context the sword assumes a sacred function; combat becomes an ordeal. The genesis of a religion amounts to the creation of a relatively new moral and spiritual type; in Islam, this type consists in the equilibrium — paradoxical from the Christian point of view — between contemplativeness and combativeness, and then between holy poverty and hallowed sexuality.

The Arab — and the man Arabized by Islam — has, so to speak, four poles, namely the desert, the sword, woman and religion. For the contemplative, the four poles become inward: the desert, the sword and woman become so many states or functions of the soul.

On the most general and, a priori, outward level, the sword represents death, the death one deals and the death one risks; its perfume is always present. Woman represents an analogous reciprocity; she is the love one receives and the love one gives, and thus she incarnates all the generous virtues; she compensates for the perfume of death with that of life. The deepest meaning of the sword is that there is no nobility without a renunciation of life, and this is why the initiatory vow of the Sufis — insofar as it relates historically to the “Pact of the Divine Acceptance” (Bay`at ar-Ridwan) — includes the promise to fight to the point of death, bodily in the case of the warrior-martyrs (shahada shuhada’) and spiritual in the case of the dervishes, the “poor” (faqir). The symbiosis of love and death within the framework of poverty and in the face of the Absolute, constitutes all that is essential in Arab nobility, so much so that we do not hesitate to say that here lies the very substance of the Moslem soul of the heroic epoch, a substance that Sufism tends to perpetuate by sublimizing it…” – Frithjof Schuon, in Images of Islam.

Three:
“Our fashion situation reflects our social and economic situation. Clothes have become more like costumes, intended more to hide than reveal who we are, or who we would like to be. An eclectic, basic, affordable style allows the super-rich to conceal their soaring exclusivity and to mimic humble circumstances, while it permits the rapidly contracting classes below them to camouflage their precarious status. The result is a place somewhere in between: a middle-class style without an actual middle class.

Call it the age of inconspicuous consumption, where the dominant style is either a preening or a self-protective understatement.

As some of our best fiction writers have grasped, in this atmosphere of concealment and masquerade, clothes have very nearly ceased to be markers of identity. Perhaps that’s why the craving for self-exposing memoirs has become even stronger than the desire for fiction. We don’t feel we really know anyone until we’ve seen them naked.”
– Lee Siegel, in a New York Times blog 10/7/2013 titled, when clothes no longer make the man.