Puzzling over “The Four Quartets”

This is a re-blog from THE ARGUMENTATIVE OLD GIT, my favorite literary blog. . .

The Argumentative Old Git

I have spent the first few days of this new year puzzling over T. S. Eliot’s The Four Quartets.

But when have I not puzzled over these endlessly mysterious and elusive works? And will there ever be a time when I won’t be puzzling over them? As Eliot put it himself, we shall not cease from exploration. He continued:

And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

Looked at logically, this does not make sense. Having declared categorically that our explorations will not end, Eliot immediately goes on to speak of the condition that will characterise the end that he has already declared will never happen.

The four poems, the “quartets”, as Eliot calls them, are full of such contradictions:

                      Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the…

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JUST DENY EVERYTHING. IT’S NEVER FAILED. . .

“I hardly know the lady.”
“Sir, she’s your wife, she’s the First Lady of the United States because she’s married to you.”
“Can you prove that ridiculous allegation? I don’t see any evidence.”
“Mr. President, you’ve been married to Melania for many years. You have a child together. She’s traveled all over the world with you.”
“You see, this is exactly what I’m talking about. You liberal media guys are just mouthpieces for the Democrats.”
“Mr. President, I’m with The National Review.
“Yeah? Well I don’t like smart alecks. Sit down and shut up or I’ll take your White House press pass away. You there, with the big cross and the NRA cap. What’s your question?”
“Mr. President, I interviewed you and Mrs. Trump just last month. My paper gave your campaign a big check and a special commemorative assault rifle. When Mrs. Trump said she’s afraid of guns you pulled the trigger just to show her it wasn’t loaded. The problem is, Mr. President, now you say you barely know her and, uh, it kinda, you know, makes my paper look bad.”

File:President Trump Delivers Remarks Upon Departure 2019-09-22.webm

“What the—”
“Mr. President, are you trying to distance yourself from Mrs. Trump because of—”
“I didn’t call on you, you’re very rude and out of—”

“—because of her statement today that she’s worried about you, that you’ve been talking Russian in your sleep and—”

“Security, I want that woman removed from this—”

“—and that you’ve been choking your pillow and calling out Rudy Giuliani’s name?”

“I don’t know that Giuliani guy. I think I saw him once at one of my country clubs, he was trespassing and double bogeyed the tenth hole.”
“Sir, over here Sir. In 2016 you said you would jump off your penthouse balcony if Melania asked you to, that’s how much you love and depend on her.”
“I never said that. Melania who?”
“Nice try, Mr. President. Every network has news footage of you saying that, Sir, and giving her a big sloppy kiss right afterwards.”
“It’s fake. They used computer tricks.”
“Mr. Trump, the whole world is watching this news conference as we speak. Do you realize that you are destroying any shred of credibility that you might still have had left?”
“That’s right, Mr. Trump, you can’t deny what the whole world sees and hears and what these cameras preserve for the record.”
“You guys think you’re so smart. Well how do I know that this is really me talking? How do I know that some Democratic conspiracy hasn’t built a fake me and put him up here at this podium to say things that make no sense? Maybe this whole room is a fake. Maybe all of you are hoaxes. Maybe you’re all holograms. Maybe the whole government is a hologram. Which means I’m a hologram. Which means I’m not the me that said that I’m me because I’m the me that someone else said was me before they realized that I’m a lot smarter me than that other me and I’m also twice as rich as that other me, and a hell of a lot better looking or why else would all those magazines and TV shows keep flashing my picture everywhere and why else would all those sexy broads keep flirting with me and make me do things that only a hologram could do and maybe I should ask for a better hologram, one with better hair, although really my hair is perfect, it was a perfect haircut, it was a beautiful haircut, there was nothing wrong with that haircut, there was no quid pro quo for any kind of investigation into anyone else’s haircut. Speaking of investigations, did you ever notice that it begins with the word ‘invest’? If they didn’t want rich people to own investigations and make money from them, they should have called them something else. Am I right? Any suggestions? Why do I see holograms wearing D.C. Department of Mental Health uniforms? Why are they coming towards me and smiling like Newt Gingrich? Why is Mike Pence coming towards me. Did you ever see a hologram with such a ridiculous smile?”

“TWO-BIT REVIEW” . . . The Way of All Flesh, by Samuel Butler

” I think the Church Catechism has a good deal to do with the unhappy relations which commonly even now exist between parents and children. That work was written too exclusively from the parental point of view; the person who composed it did not get a few children to come in and help him; he was clearly not young himself, nor should I say it was the work of one who liked children. . .”

Samuel Butler by Charles Gogin.jpg

BOOK? . . . The Way of All Flesh, by Samuel Butler (1903)

WHAT KIND? . . . Novel

BE MORE SPECIFIC . . . Realism/Satire

ABOUT WHAT? . . . This is a multigenerational family saga of 19th Century rural England, but it’s much more than just a story about a family’s historical struggles. The family is a typical one full of ordinary people who make the parish church their means of livelihood and the foundation of their self-identity. But, despite their ordinary lives, the insights Butler gives us about such families are extraordinary.

SIGNIFICANCE? . . . Thanks to its eloquent narration and its depiction of the traditional way the older generation raises and instructs the younger generation, The Way of All Flesh is one of the great novels exposing the cruelty of strict religions and other hypocrisies. The book dared to say things rarely, or never before, said about established religion and Victorian morals. The book was monumental in its impact on modern thinking. It was a work of humanist philosophy that used a fictional story as its vehicle.

SO SHOULD I READ IT OR WHAT? . . . Maybe. . . The plot is slow but it’s a slow-motion slap in the face. The characters are unremarkable but that’s how Butler needed them to be, and they’re as well-drawn and real as a portrait on a wall. The dialogue is sparse and the prose is unadorned. But Butler’s message is full of sympathy and kindness.

YOU GOT ANYTHING ELSE TO ADD? . . . . The finished manuscript sat in a drawer for twenty years until Samuel Butler gave it to a friend and as a dying wish asked the friend to arrange for it to be published, finally. It was published a year after Butler’s death.

“TWO-BIT REVIEW” . . . Lady Chatterley’s Lover, by D.H. Lawrence

” The bruise was deep, deep, deep…the bruise of the false inhuman war. It would take many years for the living blood of the generations to dissolve the vast black clot of bruised blood, deep inside their souls and bodies.”

BOOK? . . . Lady Chatterley’s Lover, by D.H. Lawrence

WHAT KIND? . . . Novel

BE MORE SPECIFIC . . . Romance plus philosophical and social themes

ABOUT WHAT? . . . An illicit and potentially scandalous love affair, described in intimate detail, and the emotional conditions leading up to it. The book portrays the sadness and emptiness of the generation that fought and endured World War I. It offers only a glimmer of hope that people so emotionally damaged can find fulfillment in their lives. Clifford, Lord Chatterley, who is left paraplegic from the war, physically personifies the emotional numbness that torments Connie, Lady Chatterley, and leaves her feeling that something is missing from her life and life in general.

The novel also describes the ugliness, the misery of modern industrial society, and laments the loss of pastoral beauty. At the same time the book deplores British class structure, which persists despite the social and economic upheaval all around it.

SIGNIFICANCE? . . . Most people think of Lady Chatterley’s Lover as a daringly sexual book that offended large segments of the public. Unlike other books (by Updike, Roth, Irving, etc.) that unfortunately add sexual content merely to shock or titillate, Lawrence’s novel is rich in sex because sex is a symbol and a symptom. It is there to convey serious feelings that matter to the characters. It is described with wondrous respect, and the love scenes place women and men on the same plane, in terms of desires and feelings.

SO SHOULD I READ IT OR WHAT? . . . Maybe. It may not be a great novel, standing head and shoulders about others. But it’s a very good one, with memorable characters, a lot of remarkable prose and deep disturbing thoughts about men, women, life, love and sex.

YOU GOT ANYTHING ELSE TO ADD? . . . Nope. I said what I gotta say.

War

The poor and lowly, who pay the heaviest price, since each fresh burden presses desperately on their poverty, who in their masses are killed off wholesale, true food for cannon, who suffer by far the most from the atrocious misery of war, because they are the feeblest and least resistant among us, such as these scarcely understand the meaning of our bellicose ardor, our touchy points of honor, our sacred political obligations, as they are called, which in six months can exhaust two  nations, victor no less than vanquished.

Guy de Maupassant, “Old Mother Savage” (translated by Mrs. John Galsworthy)

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A short story that somehow choked me up

I’m reading some stories by Guy de Maupassant and they’re all excellent but one in particular put a lump in my throat. It’s called “Mademoiselle Fifi” and it’s set during the Franco-Prussian war (1870-71), when Maupassant was about 20. He wrote it a few years later. That war actually changed Europe forever, because it prompted Prussia and various smaller German states to become a unified Germany. There is something very astute and foreshadowing in the story regarding the events that were eventually to shake Europe in the 20th Century. I don’t get the sense that Maupassant was anti-German per se, but simply that he was anti-war and anti-cruelty in any form.

You can read, online, the very edition of the story that I got from the library. The link is below this photo of the author as a young man. How often do you get to read a story with such distinguished credentials: story by Guy de Maupassant, translation by Mrs. John Galsworthy, and preface by Joseph Conrad! . . . .

Guy de Maupassant fotograferad av Félix Nadar 1888.jpg

https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=inu.32000007503560&view=1up&seq=145

“TWO-BIT REVIEW” . . . “Lady Audley’s Secret”, by Mary Elizabeth Braddon (pub. 1861)

“Circumstantial evidence,” continued the young man, as if he scarcely heard Lady Audley’s interruption—”that wonderful fabric which is built out of straws collected at every point of the compass, and which is yet strong enough to hang a man.”

BOOK? . . . Lady Audley’s Secret, by Mary Elizabeth Braddon (pub. 1861)

WHAT KIND? . . . Novel

BE MORE SPECIFIC . . . “Sensation” fiction, early detective novel or mystery

ABOUT WHAT? . . . An unarguably beautiful young woman (with a “Secret”) who marries into a wealthy English family, one of whose members, an idle bachelor solicitor named Robert Audley, is roused into amateur sleuthing by his unflagging loyalty to a childhood friend in trouble. Not surprisingly, Robert cannot help his troubled friend without boldly piercing the Lady’s veil of secrecy.

SIGNIFICANCE? . . . Lady Audley’s Secret was a popular novel in the early days of the detective or mystery genre (what they referred to as sensation fiction). Wilkie Collins was a better known contemporary of Braddon, although Braddon’s books were very numerous and successful. One of her mentors was Baron Edward Bulwer-Lytton (“It was a dark and stormy night.”).

SO SHOULD I READ IT OR WHAT? . . . Yes, in terms of pure enjoyment it ranks high on my recent reading list. It’s an excellent detective novel. It does not deal with social issues or deep themes, it’s just for entertainment. But, its style, construction and characterization are on a par with many well-respected Victorian authors who concerned themselves with weightier matters.

YOU GOT ANYTHING ELSE TO ADD? . . . The one oddity about the book is its frequent disparagement of women: both by the narrator and the protagonist. Certainly these critical views of women were not the views of Mary Elizabeth Braddon. My hunch is that she incorporated this attitude into the novel either as a sort of private joke, or as a way of appeasing male readers and reviewers who, in those days, often harbored strong prejudices against women writers.

Can Toni Morrison describe Spring? Oh, I think she can manage to find the words. . . .

What can beat bricks warming up to the sun? The return of awnings. The removal of blankets from horses’ backs. Tar softens under the heel and the darkness under bridges changes from gloom to cooling shade. After a light rain, when the leaves have come, tree limbs are like wet fingers playing in woolly green hair. Motor cars become black jet boxes gliding behind hoodlights weakened by mist. On sidewalks turned to satin figures move shoulders first, the crowns of their heads angled shields against the light buckshot that the raindrops are. The faces of children glimpsed at windows appear to be crying, but it is the glass pane dripping that makes it seem so.

Toni Morrison, Jazz

“TWO-BIT REVIEW” . . . “The Last Frontier”, by Howard Fast

“He thought of his long line of troopers as a blue, steel-studded whip.”

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BOOK? . . . The Last Frontier, by Howard Fast

WHAT KIND? . . . Novel

BE MORE SPECIFIC . . . Historical fiction, Western fiction, realism, social issues

ABOUT WHAT? . . . The fateful, heroic 1878 trek of Dull Knife’s starving band of Northern Cheyenne from the Indian Territory (Oklahoma) northward toward their ancestral homeland, while an entire country and its army demonized and pursued them.

SIGNIFICANCE? . . . Published in 1941, when the world was paying too little attention to racial extermination in Europe, the book was a reminder of past genocides even in this land of “freedom”.  The 1964 movie “Cheyenne Autumn” was inspired in part by Fast’s book, but also by Mari Sandoz’s novel which gave its general plot and its title to the movie. The movie was one of the first big films to portray Plains Indians in a sympathetic light.

SO SHOULD I READ IT OR WHAT? . . . Yes, if you have any interest in the Old West, the pioneer days, and the tragic situation of the Indian tribes in the late 1800’s.

YOU GOT ANYTHING ELSE TO ADD? . . . Howard Fast wrote some pretty impressive books, including among his several dozen novels, The Immigrants, Spartacus, and The Dinner Party. He was skilled at weaving history with fiction, and his writing style is more eloquent than many who write historical fiction.

New One-Act Play in Hollywood

In Conclusion:”, which reopens the most notorious murder case from Prohibition-era Chicago, is a brilliant exploration of a human rights issue that has divided America for two hundred years: capital punishment. Written, staged and performed with exceptional insight and artistry, realism and dark comedy, the play probes the inner struggles of the main players in the case: the twisted, tormented minds of the two murderers, and the equally tormented, idealistic minds of the opposing attorneys. With startling urgency, the play forces the audience to ask itself where it really stands on the death penalty. The audience must confront the issue as a matter of principle and not just a foregone “Conclusion” from yellowed tabloids and dusty old law books.

**Part of the Hollywood Fringe Festival, the final performance of “In Conclusion:”  can be seen this Thursday night in Hollywood. Go to the following: https://www.hollywoodfringe.org/projects/6189?tab=tickets

“TWO-BIT REVIEW” . . . The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver

“I could never work out whether we were to view religion as a life-insurance policy or a life sentence.”

Book? . . . The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver

What kind? . . . Novel

Be more specific . . . Literary fiction, realism with some mystical elements, social issues, historical family saga

About what? . . . American Baptist preacher and his wife and daughters go to the Belgian Congo in 1959 to do missionary work in the “heart of darkness”, the dense interior jungle of central Africa. Their experiences highlight the political and cultural conflicts that began with European colonization centuries earlier and continue to plague Africa today.

Significance? . . . A beautifully constructed historical family saga, about a subject that most readers know too little about (me included). Characters are developed brilliantly. Apt and memorable metaphors. A vivid exposé against colonialism in general and evangelical religion in particular, this is a story that had to be written. Fortunately, it was written by an author with depth, eloquence and heart.

So should I read it or what? . . . Sure it’s fairly long, but, weaving history, politics and family turmoil into a cohesive story, I believe it is the best historical family saga I have read.

You got anything else to add? . . . Kingsolver’s book The Bean Trees is a very good novel, worth reading if you want something shorter, simpler and lighter than her masterpiece The Poisonwood Bible.

“TWO-BIT REVIEW” . . . The Man With the Golden Arm, by Nelson Algren

“The great, secret and special American guilt of owning nothing, nothing at all, in the one land where ownership and virtue are one. Guilt that lay crouched behind every billboard which gave each man his commandments.”

Book? . . . The Man With the Golden Arm, by Nelson Algren

What kind? . . . Novel

Be more specific . . . Literary fiction, realism, social issues, urban, slum fiction, anti-establishment, muckraking

About what? . . . Chicago, post-WWII, poor working class Polish neighborhood. A back-room poker dealer named Frankie Machine. Crooked cops, tough times. And brown stuff that nowadays we call Opioids.

Nelson Algren, 1956

Significance? . . . Some of the sharpest, smartest street-vernacular dialogue ever. How he did it I’ll never know. Characters are developed as well as you could ever ask for. Story gives you goosebumps, if you really think about it. Whitman-like eloquence, especially his use of similes comparing the characters’ inner thoughts and feelings with their surroundings. A great Chicago book, right up there with The Jungle, Sister Carrie, Native Son, and Saul Bellow’s stuff which I really haven’t read much yet.

So should I read it or what? . . . Hey, you’re not puttin’ that rap on me. Sure it’s fairly long and full of poetic language, and may be a little outdated in style and the way he weaves characters’ dreams into it. But Nelson Algren was a great writer and led an interesting life himself. Maybe his life and his books are a chance you don’t want to miss out on. What kind of gambler are you, when the chips are down?

You got anything else to add? . . . Well, it’s not easy to find his books. They don’t seem to be very common in libraries. Online, they’re expensive, even used ones. Probably mostly out-of-print. He was once very well-known, but then was sort of forgotten by time. Making a slow comeback, I think. That’s a good bet.

“A Cottonwood Stand” is now an AUDIOBOOK . . .

FRIENDS —

Actor Michael Butler Murray does such a beautiful job narrating my novel “A Cottonwood Stand” that, as an AUDIOBOOK, it comes alive in ways I never expected. For those of you who have already read the book in paperback or ebook, I simply want to express my deep gratitude to both of you. . .

BUT IF you have never listened to audiobooks, I would be honored if “A Cottonwood Stand” were your first selection! HERE is the link to an upcoming blog tour and other information about the new audiobook, where it is available, etc. :  https://audiobookwormpromotions.com/a-cottonwood-stand/

OR here is where you can find it directly on Audible: http://cottonwood.press/audiobook

Thank you!

A book we can all learn from. . .

It’s clever and smart and creative in every way. Inspiring for all ages.

Operation Frog Effect, by Sarah Scheerger (https://www.sarahlynnbooks.com/) is a beautiful portrayal of young hearts and minds trying their best to cope with life’s problems and do the right thing when faced with hard choices. The novel is a “novel” look into the private thoughts of eight young students in a progressive classroom who are torn by conflicting friendships and rivalries. Each of these bright young people must overcome their self-concerns, along with family issues, to forge a cooperative culture in which together they can learn, solve problems, and even make a positive difference in their school district.

Click to download Sarah Scheerger's author photo

With deep insight into adolescent psychology, Scheerger has created a sweet, enriching surprise for any middle grade reader who sits down on the family room couch, puts their feet up on the coffee table, opens the colorful cover of Operation Frog Effect, and beholds the story that leaps from its amazing pages.

Almost 500 pages but worth it

The Bailiff’s wife looked at him as if half expecting that he was about to ask her for something, whereupon the soul within her receded like a star, far out into the frozen wastes of infinity, and only the cold smile remained on earth.

Halldór Kiljan Laxness 1955.jpg

Independent People, by Halldor Laxness (Nobel Prize winner, 1955), is one of the foremost sagas of rural family life. It is the life and times of Bjartur, an Icelandic peasant who becomes a landowner and a human metaphor for mankind’s struggle against nature, hunger, and human evolution itself. Written and translated with such poetic realism, the book makes its reader feel like an honorary Icelander—and not a city-dweller but a citizen of the endless, inhospitable moors.

Interview last night on “The Writer’s Block”

It was an honor to have a chance to be interviewed last night on LA Talk Radio’s show “The Writer’s Block”.

Host Jim Christina and co-host Russ Avison kept me laughing and talking about my book “A Cottonwood Stand”. Here is the link to the podcast. Thanks!

https://l.facebook.com/l.php?u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.latalkradio.com%2Fcontent%2Fwriter-022819%2520%3Ffbclid%3DIwAR1IJzmgMA44tVQQfSzWm269y1YFvQ-Wd_tOyvtZ8l7OYAU_Rb6QKbvwEGU%23audio_play&h=AT1v5rmY083kFhFH7AJm3btS5t9jkDOT6mofNj1zwlvX7pr6VI1Ot6mFyKH6oznavl-x-d5rQJw9GZczqNeATnGzRHroPU03DiPOtecf5gYIh1lub_bJ3e5K8yfz5tPJOgE

Sisterhood

Two fine feminist novels from two of the Bronte sisters. Both novels extraordinarily ahead of their time and written with that Bronte elegance of prose that is practically unmatched. And both novels relatively unknown, or at least unappreciated. And my reading both of them within a six month window (and usually within six feet of a window) was unplanned and unexpected. But I am quite unsorry.

Shirley was the novel that Charlotte Bronte (I don’t have those two little dots) published next after Jane Eyre. Naturally Shirley was a bit overshadowed by her older “sister”. And she was a less romantic novel, and less cohesive and way less compelling. Well, Charlotte had just lost a brother and two sisters to illness, which should account for some shortcomings in her written work product. But Shirley was, I think, a more feminist novel than Jane, which is saying something. Shirley, the title character, was a strong-willed independent and outspoken woman. Caroline was her friend, and Caroline was quiet and cautious. But not a pushover. They shared a romantic interest, Robert. Guess which one won. I’m not telling. You have to read the book. That’s not a heavy burden, it’s a beautiful novel, with plenty of themes besides feminism: friendship, love, political and economic struggle, human decency. It deserves to have the Bronte name on it.

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall was one of Anne Bronte’s novels (Anne was the youngest sister), and the title character could possibly be called the Mother of Modern Feminism. I don’t have the historical facts to back that up, that’s just my gut feeling about how amazing this book was for its time. The reason I got the book from the library is that my sister and brother-in-law loaned us a DVD of the movie and I wanted to read the book first. We haven’t watched the movie yet. Maybe Thursday. Anyway, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall should have made Anne just as famous as her sisters, but it didn’t. It has romance, but that’s not the main thrust of it. It’s really a social and psychological study of three characters, this time two men and one woman. The romance isn’t triangle shaped, it’s a line. Helen, the woman in the middle, is the Tenant. And, though she doesn’t know it, for my money she’s a heroic feminist of the first order. The reason she doesn’t know it is that she’s too busy dealing with the Victorian male chauvinist system and a husband whose character was inspired by the dissolute life and death of Branwell Bronte, Charlotte and Anne’s only brother.

I haven’t mentioned Emily. I read her book in college. Even though this little essay doesn’t give equal time to her book, I don’t think we have to feel too sad about where she stands in the halls of literature. She’s right up there with her sisters.

I Slept In Hitler’s Bed by Jay Balter

Excellent review. . . Sounds like an excellent book.

Daniel Casey

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I Slept in Hitler’s Bed 
Jay Balter 
Mandorla Books, 2018

♦♦♦♦
4 Stars

I Slept in Hitler’s Bedis a glimpse into the personal history of Jay Balter and part of a larger memoir to be titled Memoirs of a Middle Class Man. It is not so much inspirational (although it certainly has that element) as aspirational, a tale told to provoke readers especially young men and teens into seeing there is an alternative to violence. Balter is writing a book of conscience, exploring how and why he made the decisions he did as he lived through some of the greatest upheavals of the 20th century.

While this may sound rather rote for autobiographical works, Balter has put together a stunning first installment. With an amazing knack for zeroing in on the events that most charged his life, Balter is able to transmit to readers not so much the…

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