Archive for the 'Literature' Category

William Faulkner, Life Coach

Spoken by a character who has joined the Army in 1942, and has been issued a bombsight:

A bombsight— I hadn’t made pilot but at least I would be riding up front— allotted to me by a government which didn’t trust me with it and so set spies to watch what I did with it, which before entrusting it to me had trained me not to trust my spies nor anybody else respecting it, in a locked black case which stayed locked by a chain to me even while I was asleep— a condition of constant discomfort of course but mainly of unflagging mutual suspicion and mutual distrust and in time mutual hatred which you even come to endure, which is probably the best of all training for successful matrimony.

—William Faulkner
—The Mansion (Volume 3 of the Snopes Trilogy)

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William Faulkner, Political Economist

The feller you trust aint necessarily the one you never knowed to do nothing untrustable: it’s the one you have seen from experience that he knows exactly when being untrustable will pay a net profit and when it will pay a loss.

—William Faulkner
—The Mansion (Volume 3 of the Snopes Trilogy)

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William Faulkner Foresees the Internet

Because what somebody else jest tells you, you jest half believe, unless it was something you already wanted to hear. And in that case, you dont even listen to it because you had done already agreed, and so all it does is make you think what a sensible feller it was that told you. But something you dont want to hear is something you had done already made up your mind against, whether you knowed—knew it or not; and now you can even insulate against having to believe it by resisting or maybe even getting even with that-ere scoundrel that meddled in and told you.

—William Faulkner
—The Town (Volume 2 of the Snopes Trilogy)
—published 1957

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Merry Christmas

I think I’ll make the reposting of this an annual tradition:

What I Like About Scrooge

scroogeHere’s what I like about Ebenezer Scrooge: His meager lodgings were dark because darkness is cheap, and barely heated because coal is not free. His dinner was gruel, which he prepared himself. Scrooge paid no man to wait on him.

Scrooge has been called ungenerous. I say that’s a bum rap. What could be more generous than keeping your lamps unlit and your plate unfilled, leaving more fuel for others to burn and more food for others to eat? Who is a more benevolent neighbor than the man who employs no servants, freeing them to wait on someone else?

Oh, it might be slightly more complicated than that. Maybe when Scrooge demands less coal for his fire, less coal ends up being mined. But that’s fine, too. Instead of digging coal for Scrooge, some would-be miner is now free to perform some other service for himself or someone else.

Dickens tells us that the Lord Mayor, in the stronghold of the mighty Mansion House, gave orders to his 50 cooks and butlers to keep Christmas as a Lord Mayor’s household should—presumably for a houseful of guests who lavishly praised his generosity. The bricks, mortar, and labor that built the Mansion House might otherwise have built housing for hundreds; Scrooge, by living in three sparse rooms, deprived no man of a home. By employing no cooks or butlers, he ensured that cooks and butlers were available to some other household where guests reveled in ignorance of their debt to Ebenezer Scrooge.

Continue reading ‘Merry Christmas’

Happy Holidays

I’ll probably blog very little over the next ten days or so, in recognition of the fact that most of you won’t be reading. (On the other hand, if, say, the New York Times publishes something sufficiently egregious, I might not be able to restrain myself. Meanwhile, for your holiday pleasure, here’s the Christmas column I published in Slate in 2004:

What I Like About Scrooge

scroogeHere’s what I like about Ebenezer Scrooge: His meager lodgings were dark because darkness is cheap, and barely heated because coal is not free. His dinner was gruel, which he prepared himself. Scrooge paid no man to wait on him.

Scrooge has been called ungenerous. I say that’s a bum rap. What could be more generous than keeping your lamps unlit and your plate unfilled, leaving more fuel for others to burn and more food for others to eat? Who is a more benevolent neighbor than the man who employs no servants, freeing them to wait on someone else?

Oh, it might be slightly more complicated than that. Maybe when Scrooge demands less coal for his fire, less coal ends up being mined. But that’s fine, too. Instead of digging coal for Scrooge, some would-be miner is now free to perform some other service for himself or someone else.

Dickens tells us that the Lord Mayor, in the stronghold of the mighty Mansion House, gave orders to his 50 cooks and butlers to keep Christmas as a Lord Mayor’s household should—presumably for a houseful of guests who lavishly praised his generosity. The bricks, mortar, and labor that built the Mansion House might otherwise have built housing for hundreds; Scrooge, by living in three sparse rooms, deprived no man of a home. By employing no cooks or butlers, he ensured that cooks and butlers were available to some other household where guests reveled in ignorance of their debt to Ebenezer Scrooge.

Continue reading ‘Happy Holidays’

Ages of Innocence

Reading Edith Wharton’s Age of Innocence, it strikes me that this must have been the Mad Men of 1920. That was the publication date, but the story is set 50 years earlier, in a world poised on the edge of cultural upheaval. The characters are blind to how dramatically the world is about to change, and to how much better their lives might be if only they could break out of the social strictures of their time. They manage to be both charmingly quaint and tragically foolish. We care about them, but we also want to take them by the shoulders and shake them into something more like ourselves.

As Edith Wharton viewed the 1870s, and as Mad Men views the 1960s, so the fiction of the mid-to-late 21st century will probably view us. Which of our quaint but tragically foolish ways do you think it will emphasize?

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A Christmas Post

In the spirit of the season, I offer you one of the most popular of my old Slate columns. Merry Christmas.

What I Like About Scrooge

Here’s what I like about Ebenezer Scrooge: His meager lodgings were dark because darkness is cheap, and barely heated because coal is not free. His dinner was gruel, which he prepared himself. Scrooge paid no man to wait on him.

Scrooge has been called ungenerous. I say that’s a bum rap. What could be more generous than keeping your lamps unlit and your plate unfilled, leaving more fuel for others to burn and more food for others to eat? Who is a more benevolent neighbor than the man who employs no servants, freeing them to wait on someone else?

Continue reading ‘A Christmas Post’

The Times, They’ve Been a Changin’

I have recently finished reading Hunters and Gatherers, a (quite good) novel written and set in 1991, which includes the following plot elements:

1) A door-to-door saleswoman pitches (hardcopy) encyclopedias to customers who eagerly seek easy access to vast quantities of information.

2) A man is eager to read an obscure novel he’s heard about, so he scours used book stores, hoping to find a copy. In the meantime, he’s not sure what the novel is about, and has no way to find out.

3) A comedian stores his collection of jokes on notecards, filling two rooms worth of file cabinets.

4) A collector of sound effects stores her collection on cassette tapes, and has no cost-effective way to create backups.

5) A man is unable to stay in close contact with his (adult) children, because long distance calling rates are prohibitively high.

Continue reading ‘The Times, They’ve Been a Changin’’