Showing posts with label Oscar Wilde. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Oscar Wilde. Show all posts

24 September 2018

Are Super Men Bad for Your Health?

by Janice Law

I came across a quote from Oscar Wilde the other day, “Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life.” I am not sure I agree but it is certainly a thought that gave me pause, especially when coupled with a more contemporary quote out of Colorado.

As part of its coverage of the political primaries, The New York Times interviewed a pastor out in the Centennial State who was distressed by recent limitations on the size of gun magazines. The reason, beyond the fact that 15-round magazines were readily available in neighboring Utah, was that the citizenry need to be able to resist the government and that this was supposedly why the founders included the second amendment.

Now, I grew up in a rural area, where most families had a rifle or a shotgun, including my non-hunting father, who, to the horror of visiting Scottish relatives, kept a rifle leaning against the wall near the back door. The clip was kept separately, and the weapon was strictly for rats in the barn, woodchucks in the garden, and the occasional rabid or distempered raccoon or fox.

Other neighbors hunted rabbits, squirrels, pheasants – or the greatly-prized and in those days, rare, deer. No one, to the best of my ability, yearned for handguns, submachine guns, high tech sniper rifles or any other military grade weapons that now obsess a vocal portion of the populace. I  suspect that the men of my father’s generation ( WW1) and younger neighbors (WW2) had seen quite enough of military firepower.

Putting ancient history, modern opinion and Oscar Wilde together, I began wondering if it was true not only that “you are what you eat” as the hippies liked to say, but that “you are what you consume of all sorts of media.” For, while over the last 50 or so years, a smaller and smaller portion of the population has actually had to handle military weapons for real, the society has become more and more militarized and more and more fond of military gear, clothing and armaments.

Does this represent a realistic response to threats? Or is this in part the result of that popular fantasy, the super smart, super technically astute super guy who saves whatever needs saving, including the world. Or perhaps of the equally ubiquitous fantasies of current military thrillers, complete with all the latest death-dealing tech?

Sure, these are just amusements, along with the madly popular video games involving fantasy weaponry producing fantasy deaths. Yet attitudes have clearly changed, along with the entertainments, as reasonably realistic thrillers like Eric Ambler’s or clearly comic romps like the James Bond franchise have given way to super competent heroes, soaring body counts, and heavy weaponry in immensely elaborate and exceedingly well-promoted books, games, and films.

I suspect that these militaristic fantasies lie behind the Colorado pastor’s conviction that weapons – the heavier the better – can keep the citizenry safe from government encroachment as well as dangerous neighbors. That notion led me to the familiar lawyer’s question so popular with our genre: Cui bono?

The obvious answer is the gun manufacturers and the producers of ammo and gear, but I don’t think one has to be a paranoid conspiracy theorist to see that there are others who profit nicely as well. Ironically, the favorite villain of the gun fanciers –  corrupt, indifferent or incompetent governments at any level– stands to profit from the romance of the gun toting super man, along with the overly powerful corporate figures, home grown oligarchs, and corporations that sway so many of our political decisions.

They profit because fantasies of vigilante action, armed patriots, and military tech-savvy super men ( and women)  turn citizens away from real activity that can influence democracies: civic engagement, research into issues, political activity, unionization.

So was Oscar right, does “Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life?” I don’t know but I suspect that the overwhelming power of the profit motive is giving Life a good kick in that direction, and that super men, particularly with guns, have not been the most wholesome entertainment.

17 December 2017

The Happy Prince

by Leigh Lundin

Oscar Wilde
Oscar Wilde
Christmas not merely invokes joy, it also implies poignancy and sometimes brings tears when we look around us.

Our house not only featured a crowded library, books cascaded into four barrister bookcases and shelves in every bedroom. One thick tome contained the complete works of Oscar Wilde, and one story in that book my father read to us.

As a pre-school child, I felt stuck by the immense sadness of ‘The Happy Prince’. For some reason, Victorians deemed it necessary to remind children of sorrow and wretchedness. Perhaps they had a point– I never forgot the parable. From time to time, I’ve gone back to reread it.

‘The Happy Prince’ was hardly the only children’s tale of pathos. When I was six or so, I saw the film ‘The Little Match Girl’ based on the fable (‘Den Lille Pige med Svovlstikkerne’) by Hans Christian Andersen, published four decades before Wilde and referenced in today’s story. Try to read without weeping for those souls and for ourselves.

The Happy Prince

from 1888’s

The Happy Prince and Other Tales

by Oscar Wilde

High above the city, on a tall column, stood the statue of the Happy Prince. He was gilded all over with thin leaves of fine gold, for eyes he had two bright sapphires, and a large red ruby glowed on his sword-hilt.
He was very much admired indeed. “He is as beautiful as a weathercock,” remarked one of the Town Councillors who wished to gain a reputation for having artistic tastes; “only not quite so useful,” he added, fearing lest people should think him unpractical, which he really was not.
“Why can’t you be like the Happy Prince?” asked a sensible mother of her little boy who was crying for the moon. “The Happy Prince never dreams of crying for anything.”
“I am glad there is some one in the world who is quite happy,” muttered a disappointed man as he gazed at the wonderful statue.
“He looks just like an angel,” said the Charity Children as they came out of the cathedral in their bright scarlet cloaks and their clean white pinafores.
“How do you know?” said the Mathematical Master, “you have never seen one.”
“Ah! but we have, in our dreams,” answered the children; and the Mathematical Master frowned and looked very severe, for he did not approve of children dreaming.
One night there flew over the city a little Swallow. His friends had gone away to Egypt six weeks before, but he had stayed behind, for he was in love with the most beautiful Reed. He had met her early in the spring as he was flying down the river after a big yellow moth, and had been so attracted by her slender waist that he had stopped to talk to her.
“Shall I love you?” said the Swallow, who liked to come to the point at once, and the Reed made him a low bow. So he flew round and round her, touching the water with his wings, and making silver ripples. This was his courtship, and it lasted all through the summer.
“It is a ridiculous attachment,” twittered the other Swallows; “she has no money, and far too many relations”; and indeed the river was quite full of Reeds. Then, when the autumn came they all flew away.
After they had gone he felt lonely, and began to tire of his lady- love. “She has no conversation,” he said, “and I am afraid that she is a coquette, for she is always flirting with the wind.” And certainly, whenever the wind blew, the Reed made the most graceful curtseys. “I admit that she is domestic,” he continued, “but I love travelling, and my wife, consequently, should love travelling also.”
“Will you come away with me?” he said finally to her; but the Reed shook her head, she was so attached to her home.
“You have been trifling with me,” he cried. “I am off to the Pyramids. Good-bye!” and he flew away.
All day long he flew, and at night-time he arrived at the city. “Where shall I put up?” he said; “I hope the town has made preparations.”
Then he saw the statue on the tall column.
“I will put up there,” he cried; “it is a fine position, with plenty of fresh air.” So he alighted just between the feet of the Happy Prince.
“I have a golden bedroom,” he said softly to himself as he looked round, and he prepared to go to sleep; but just as he was putting his head under his wing a large drop of water fell on him. “What a curious thing!” he cried; “there is not a single cloud in the sky, the stars are quite clear and bright, and yet it is raining. The climate in the north of Europe is really dreadful. The Reed used to like the rain, but that was merely her selfishness.”
Then another drop fell.
“What is the use of a statue if it cannot keep the rain off?” he said; “I must look for a good chimney-pot,” and he determined to fly away.
But before he had opened his wings, a third drop fell, and he looked up, and saw - Ah! what did he see?
The eyes of the Happy Prince were filled with tears, and tears were running down his golden cheeks. His face was so beautiful in the moonlight that the little Swallow was filled with pity.
“Who are you?” he said.
“I am the Happy Prince.”
“Why are you weeping then?” asked the Swallow; “you have quite drenched me.”
“When I was alive and had a human heart,” answered the statue, “I did not know what tears were, for I lived in the Palace of Sans-Souci, where sorrow is not allowed to enter. In the daytime I played with my companions in the garden, and in the evening I led the dance in the Great Hall. Round the garden ran a very lofty wall, but I never cared to ask what lay beyond it, everything about me was so beautiful. My courtiers called me the Happy Prince, and happy indeed I was, if pleasure be happiness. So I lived, and so I died. And now that I am dead they have set me up here so high that I can see all the ugliness and all the misery of my city, and though my heart is made of lead yet I cannot chose but weep.”
“What! is he not solid gold?” said the Swallow to himself. He was too polite to make any personal remarks out loud.
“Far away,” continued the statue in a low musical voice, “far away in a little street there is a poor house. One of the windows is open, and through it I can see a woman seated at a table. Her face is thin and worn, and she has coarse, red hands, all pricked by the needle, for she is a seamstress. She is embroidering passion- flowers on a satin gown for the loveliest of the Queen’s maids-of- honour to wear at the next Court-ball. In a bed in the corner of the room her little boy is lying ill. He has a fever, and is asking for oranges. His mother has nothing to give him but river water, so he is crying. Swallow, Swallow, little Swallow, will you not bring her the ruby out of my sword-hilt? My feet are fastened to this pedestal and I cannot move.”
“I am waited for in Egypt,” said the Swallow. “My friends are flying up and down the Nile, and talking to the large lotus- flowers. Soon they will go to sleep in the tomb of the great King. The King is there himself in his painted coffin. He is wrapped in yellow linen, and embalmed with spices. Round his neck is a chain of pale green jade, and his hands are like withered leaves.”
“Swallow, Swallow, little Swallow,” said the Prince, “will you not stay with me for one night, and be my messenger? The boy is so thirsty, and the mother so sad.”
“I don’t think I like boys,” answered the Swallow. “Last summer, when I was staying on the river, there were two rude boys, the miller’s sons, who were always throwing stones at me. They never hit me, of course; we swallows fly far too well for that, and besides, I come of a family famous for its agility; but still, it was a mark of disrespect.”
But the Happy Prince looked so sad that the little Swallow was sorry. “It is very cold here,” he said; “but I will stay with you for one night, and be your messenger.”
“Thank you, little Swallow,” said the Prince.
So the Swallow picked out the great ruby from the Prince’s sword, and flew away with it in his beak over the roofs of the town.
He passed by the cathedral tower, where the white marble angels were sculptured. He passed by the palace and heard the sound of dancing. A beautiful girl came out on the balcony with her lover. “How wonderful the stars are,” he said to her, “and how wonderful is the power of love!”
“I hope my dress will be ready in time for the State-ball,” she answered; “I have ordered passion-flowers to be embroidered on it; but the seamstresses are so lazy.”
He passed over the river, and saw the lanterns hanging to the masts of the ships. He passed over the Ghetto, and saw the old merchants bargaining with each other and weighing out money in copper scales. At last he came to the poor house and looked in. The boy was tossing feverishly on his bed, and the mother had fallen asleep, she was so tired. In he hopped, and laid the great ruby on the table beside the woman’s thimble. Then he flew gently round the bed, fanning the boy’s forehead with his wings. “How cool I feel,” said the boy, “I must be getting better”; and he sank into a delicious slumber.
Then the Swallow flew back to the Happy Prince, and told him what he had done. “It is curious,” he remarked, “but I feel quite warm now, although it is so cold.”
“That is because you have done a good action,” said the Prince. And the little Swallow began to think, and then he fell asleep. Thinking always made him sleepy.
When day broke he flew down to the river and had a bath. “What a remarkable phenomenon,” said the Professor of Ornithology as he was passing over the bridge. “A swallow in winter!” And he wrote a long letter about it to the local newspaper. Every one quoted it, it was full of so many words that they could not understand.
“To-night I go to Egypt,” said the Swallow, and he was in high spirits at the prospect. He visited all the public monuments, and sat a long time on top of the church steeple. Wherever he went the Sparrows chirruped, and said to each other, “What a distinguished stranger!” so he enjoyed himself very much.
When the moon rose he flew back to the Happy Prince. “Have you any commissions for Egypt?” he cried; “I am just starting.”
“Swallow, Swallow, little Swallow,” said the Prince, “will you not stay with me one night longer?”
“I am waited for in Egypt,” answered the Swallow. “To-morrow my friends will fly up to the Second Cataract. The river-horse couches there among the bulrushes, and on a great granite throne sits the God Memnon. All night long he watches the stars, and when the morning star shines he utters one cry of joy, and then he is silent. At noon the yellow lions come down to the water’s edge to drink. They have eyes like green beryls, and their roar is louder than the roar of the cataract.
“Swallow, Swallow, little Swallow,” said the Prince, “far away across the city I see a young man in a garret. He is leaning over a desk covered with papers, and in a tumbler by his side there is a bunch of withered violets. His hair is brown and crisp, and his lips are red as a pomegranate, and he has large and dreamy eyes. He is trying to finish a play for the Director of the Theatre, but he is too cold to write any more. There is no fire in the grate, and hunger has made him faint.”
“I will wait with you one night longer,” said the Swallow, who really had a good heart. “Shall I take him another ruby?”
“Alas! I have no ruby now,” said the Prince; “my eyes are all that I have left. They are made of rare sapphires, which were brought out of India a thousand years ago. Pluck out one of them and take it to him. He will sell it to the jeweller, and buy food and firewood, and finish his play.”
“Dear Prince,” said the Swallow, “I cannot do that”; and he began to weep.
“Swallow, Swallow, little Swallow,” said the Prince, “do as I command you.”
So the Swallow plucked out the Prince’s eye, and flew away to the student’s garret. It was easy enough to get in, as there was a hole in the roof. Through this he darted, and came into the room. The young man had his head buried in his hands, so he did not hear the flutter of the bird’s wings, and when he looked up he found the beautiful sapphire lying on the withered violets.
“I am beginning to be appreciated,” he cried; “this is from some great admirer. Now I can finish my play,” and he looked quite happy.
The next day the Swallow flew down to the harbour. He sat on the mast of a large vessel and watched the sailors hauling big chests out of the hold with ropes. “Heave a-hoy!” they shouted as each chest came up. “I am going to Egypt”! cried the Swallow, but nobody minded, and when the moon rose he flew back to the Happy Prince.
“I am come to bid you good-bye,” he cried.
“Swallow, Swallow, little Swallow,” said the Prince, “will you not stay with me one night longer?”
“It is winter,” answered the Swallow, “and the chill snow will soon be here. In Egypt the sun is warm on the green palm-trees, and the crocodiles lie in the mud and look lazily about them. My companions are building a nest in the Temple of Baalbec, and the pink and white doves are watching them, and cooing to each other. Dear Prince, I must leave you, but I will never forget you, and next spring I will bring you back two beautiful jewels in place of those you have given away. The ruby shall be redder than a red rose, and the sapphire shall be as blue as the great sea.”
“In the square below,” said the Happy Prince, “there stands a little match-girl. She has let her matches fall in the gutter, and they are all spoiled. Her father will beat her if she does not bring home some money, and she is crying. She has no shoes or stockings, and her little head is bare. Pluck out my other eye, and give it to her, and her father will not beat her.”
“I will stay with you one night longer,” said the Swallow, “but I cannot pluck out your eye. You would be quite blind then.”
“Swallow, Swallow, little Swallow,” said the Prince, “do as I command you.”
So he plucked out the Prince’s other eye, and darted down with it. He swooped past the match-girl, and slipped the jewel into the palm of her hand. “What a lovely bit of glass,” cried the little girl; and she ran home, laughing.
Then the Swallow came back to the Prince. “You are blind now,” he said, “so I will stay with you always.”
“No, little Swallow,” said the poor Prince, “you must go away to Egypt.”
“I will stay with you always,” said the Swallow, and he slept at the Prince’s feet.
All the next day he sat on the Prince’s shoulder, and told him stories of what he had seen in strange lands. He told him of the red ibises, who stand in long rows on the banks of the Nile, and catch gold-fish in their beaks; of the Sphinx, who is as old as the world itself, and lives in the desert, and knows everything; of the merchants, who walk slowly by the side of their camels, and carry amber beads in their hands; of the King of the Mountains of the Moon, who is as black as ebony, and worships a large crystal; of the great green snake that sleeps in a palm-tree, and has twenty priests to feed it with honey-cakes; and of the pygmies who sail over a big lake on large flat leaves, and are always at war with the butterflies.
“Dear little Swallow,” said the Prince, “you tell me of marvellous things, but more marvellous than anything is the suffering of men and of women. There is no Mystery so great as Misery. Fly over my city, little Swallow, and tell me what you see there.”
So the Swallow flew over the great city, and saw the rich making merry in their beautiful houses, while the beggars were sitting at the gates. He flew into dark lanes, and saw the white faces of starving children looking out listlessly at the black streets. Under the archway of a bridge two little boys were lying in one another’s arms to try and keep themselves warm. “How hungry we are!” they said. “You must not lie here,” shouted the Watchman, and they wandered out into the rain.
Then he flew back and told the Prince what he had seen.
“I am covered with fine gold,” said the Prince, “you must take it off, leaf by leaf, and give it to my poor; the living always think that gold can make them happy.”
Leaf after leaf of the fine gold the Swallow picked off, till the Happy Prince looked quite dull and grey. Leaf after leaf of the fine gold he brought to the poor, and the children’s faces grew rosier, and they laughed and played games in the street. “We have bread now!” they cried.
Then the snow came, and after the snow came the frost. The streets looked as if they were made of silver, they were so bright and glistening; long icicles like crystal daggers hung down from the eaves of the houses, everybody went about in furs, and the little boys wore scarlet caps and skated on the ice.
The poor little Swallow grew colder and colder, but he would not leave the Prince, he loved him too well. He picked up crumbs outside the baker’s door when the baker was not looking and tried to keep himself warm by flapping his wings.
But at last he knew that he was going to die. He had just strength to fly up to the Prince’s shoulder once more. “Good-bye, dear Prince!” he murmured, “will you let me kiss your hand?”
“I am glad that you are going to Egypt at last, little Swallow,” said the Prince, “you have stayed too long here; but you must kiss me on the lips, for I love you.”
“It is not to Egypt that I am going,” said the Swallow. “I am going to the House of Death. Death is the brother of Sleep, is he not?”
And he kissed the Happy Prince on the lips, and fell down dead at his feet.
At that moment a curious crack sounded inside the statue, as if something had broken. The fact is that the leaden heart had snapped right in two. It certainly was a dreadfully hard frost.
Early the next morning the Mayor was walking in the square below in company with the Town Councillors. As they passed the column he looked up at the statue: “Dear me! how shabby the Happy Prince looks!” he said.
“How shabby indeed!” cried the Town Councillors, who always agreed with the Mayor; and they went up to look at it.
“The ruby has fallen out of his sword, his eyes are gone, and he is golden no longer,” said the Mayor in fact, “he is litttle beter than a beggar!”
“Little better than a beggar,” said the Town Councillors.
“And here is actually a dead bird at his feet!” continued the Mayor. “We must really issue a proclamation that birds are not to be allowed to die here.” And the Town Clerk made a note of the suggestion.
So they pulled down the statue of the Happy Prince. “As he is no longer beautiful he is no longer useful,” said the Art Professor at the University.
Then they melted the statue in a furnace, and the Mayor held a meeting of the Corporation to decide what was to be done with the metal. “We must have another statue, of course,” he said, “and it shall be a statue of myself.”
“Of myself,” said each of the Town Councillors, and they quarrelled. When I last heard of them they were quarrelling still.
“What a strange thing!” said the overseer of the workmen at the foundry. “This broken lead heart will not melt in the furnace. We must throw it away.” So they threw it on a dust-heap where the dead Swallow was also lying.
“Bring me the two most precious things in the city,” said God to one of His Angels; and the Angel brought Him the leaden heart and the dead bird.
Oscar Wilde by Napoleon Sarony (1882)
“You have rightly chosen,” said God, “for in my garden of Paradise this little bird shall sing for evermore, and in my city of gold the Happy Prince shall praise me.”



‘without worry’ or ‘carefree’

The beauty of Christmas opens it to everyone regardless of faith, politics or polemics. Even secular celebration cannot stifle the underlying, embracing message that caring, sharing, and love are meant for all.

11 October 2016

Killing Me Softly With Your Song…or Anything Else You Have Handy

by Paul D. Marks

As mystery/thriller writers, we know there are certainly a lot of ways to kill someone. As Kid Shelleen (Lee Marvin), says in “Cat Ballou”: “Guns, bottles, fists, knives, clubs - all the same to me. All the same to you?”

But let’s face it – been there, done that – and these are pretty mundane and ordinary ways to off someone. If you want to kill someone in an interesting and unique way, especially if you’re a character in a movie or book, you have to let the creative juices flow, like Herb Hawkins (Hume Cronyn) and Joseph Newton (Henry Travers) do in Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt (even if not in script format or what ended up in the film):   

     
Herb (Cronyn): You folks are getting pretty stylish. Having dinner later every evening.
Joe (Travers): Ha ha!
Herb:  l-l picked some mushrooms.
Joe: You don't say?
Herb: Mushrooms mean anything to you, Joe?
Joe: I eat 'em on my steak when I'm out and the meat's not good enough as it is.
Herb: If I brought you some mushrooms, would you eat 'em?
Joe: Suppose I would. Why?
Herb: Then I've got it. The worst I'd be accused of would be manslaughter. Doubt if I'd get that.   Accidental death, pure and simple. A basket of good mushrooms and...two or three poisonous              ones.
     Joe: No, no. Innocent party might get the poisonous ones. I thought of something better 
     when I was shaving. A bath tub. Pull the legs out from under you, hold you down. 
     Young Charlie (Teresa Wright): Oh, what's the matter with you two? Do you always have to 
     talk about killing people?
     Joe: We're not talking about killing people. Herb's talking about killing me, 
     and I'm talking about killing him.
     Mrs. Newton/Emmy (Patricia Collinge): Charlie, it's your father's way of relaxing.
     Young Charlie: Can't he find some other way to relax? Can't we have a little peace and quiet 
     without dragging in poisons all the time? 
     Mrs. Newton: Charlie! She doesn’t ' t make sense talking like that. I'm worried about her.

***

Of course, there’s always poison. Sure it’s been done before, but what hasn’t. So maybe get creative with it like this bit from The Court Jester:

    Hawkins (Danny Kaye): I've got it! I've got it! The pellet with the poison's in the vessel with the             pestle; the chalice from the palace has the brew that is true! Right?
    Griselda (Mildred Natwick): Right. But there's been a change: they broke the chalice from the                 palace!
    Hawkins: They *broke* the chalice from the palace?
    Griselda: And replaced it with a flagon.
    Hawkins: A flagon...?
    Griselda: With the figure of a dragon.
    Hawkins: Flagon with a dragon.
    Griselda: Right.
    Hawkins: But did you put the pellet with the poison in the vessel with the pestle?
    Griselda: No! The pellet with the poison's in the flagon with the dragon! The vessel with the pestle        has the brew that is true!
    Hawkins: The pellet with the poison's in the flagon with the dragon; the vessel with the pestle has          the brew that is true.
    Griselda: Just remember that.

Uh, okay.

***

So let’s talk about some creative ways to kill someone, though this list will hardly be complete.
And here’s a starter list of many fun, fab and creative ways to die as found in movies:

Poison string – James Bond
Light Saber – Star Wars
Captive Bolt Pistol – No Country for Old Men
Painted to death (gold, of course) – Goldfinger
Odd Job’s Hat – Goldfinger / James Bond
Chain Saw – American Psycho and, of course, The Texas Chainsaw Murders
Infection – Night of the Living Dead, V for Vendetta
Getting stomped to death by Ryan Gosling – Drive
Getting shower rodded to death by Ryan Gosling – Drive
(I could just list all the killings in Drive here and have a pretty good list…)
Getting stabbed to death by an ear of corn – Sleepwalkers
Wood chippered – Fargo
Getting raked to death - Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers
Getting skulled by a Louisville Slugger – the Untouchables
Getting blasted from a cancer gun – Videodrome
Getting run over by Bozo – Toxic Avenger
Sliced and diced and decapitated by flying glass – The Omen
Getting impaled by a stalactite – Cliffhanger
Luca Brasi getting garroted in The Godfather
Steak-boned to death – Law Abiding Citizen

And let’s not forget the multitude of “fun” deaths in the Saw movie series with its mélange of creative and grisly deaths: http://sawfilms.wikia.com/wiki/List_of_deaths

This list of creative mayhem is by no means exhaustive nor complete. It’s barely the tip of the iceberg – in fact, I’m sure someone was iceberged to death in the movies…like in Titanic.

             
Oscar Wilde puts it pretty well in The Ballad Of Reading Gaol:

Yet each man kills the thing he loves,
By each let this be heard,
Some do it with a bitter look,
Some with a flattering word,
The coward does it with a kiss,
The brave man with a sword.

So what are some your favorite ways to off someone that you’ve read about or seen in a movie? Hmm…

***

Please check out my story Deserted Cities of the Heart in Akashic’s recently released St. Louis Noir.




###

11 April 2016

Quote Unquote

by Susan Rogers Cooper

I was recently in the market for a good quote for a talk I was asked to give. So I started doing my research and found more than I bargained for. Unfortunately I can't bombard my listeners with all the great quotes I found, so, instead, I intend to bombard the reader. Go forth at your own risk.

On the act of writing:

“Sit down and put down everything that comes into your head and then you're a writer. But an author is one who can judge his own stuff's worth, without pity, and destroy most of it.”
Colette

“I've always believed in writing without a collaborator, because when two people are writing the same book, each believes he gets all the worry and only half the royalties.”
Agatha Christie

“Nothing you write, if you hope to be any good, will ever come out as you first hoped.”
Lillian Hellman

“All books are either dreams or swords. You can cut or you can drug with words.”
Amy Lowell

“Looking back, I imagine I was always writing. Twaddle it was too. But far better to write twaddle or anything, anything, than nothing at all.”
Katherine Mansfield

“The difference between a story and a painting or photograph is that in a story you can write, 'He's still alive.' But in a painting or a photo you can't show “still.” You can just show him being alive.”
Susan Sontag

“There is no such thing as a moral or immoral book. Books are well written or badly written. That is all.”
Oscar Wilde

“The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.”
Mary Heaton Vorse
*Note: I have also seen this quote attributed to Ernest Hemmingway.

“Writing a book is like scrubbing an elephant: there's no good place to begin or end, and it's hard to keep track of what you've already covered.”
Anon.

“The answers you get from literature depend upon the questions you pose.”
Margaret Atwood

On the consequences of writing:

“It is rarely that you see an American writer who is not hopelessly sane.”
Margaret Anderson

“I was gravely warned by some of my female acquaintances that no woman could expect to be regarded as a lady after she had written a book.”
Lydia M. Child

“A person who publishes a book appears willfully in public with his pants down.”
Edna St. Vincent Millay

On the opinions of others:

“This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.”
Dorothy Parker

“Nothing stinks like a pile of unpublished writing.”
Sylvia Plath

“The more sins you confess, the more books you will sell.”
Anon.

On criticism:

“There is probably no hell for authors in the next world – they suffer so much from critics and publishers in this.”
C.N. Bovee

“What I like in a good author is not what he says, but what he whispers.”
Logan Pearsall Smith

“Every author, however modest, keeps a most outrageous vanity chained like a madman in the padded cell of his breast.”
Logan Pearsall Smith

“Authors are partial to their wit, 'tis true,
But are not critics to their judgment too?”
Alexander Pope

“Criticism is a study by which men grow important and formidable at very small expense.”
Samuel Johnson

“People ask you for criticism, but they only want praise.”
W. Somerset Maugham

What are some of your favorite quotes about writing, authors, books, criticism, etc.?  Maybe that's something we all, we writers, can reach for -- to be quoted some day.  Would that be cool, or what?

08 October 2013

Our Common Language

by Dale C. Andrews


The United States and Great Britain are two countries separated by a common language.

     George Bernard Shaw
     Attributed

We have really everything in common with America nowadays, except, of course, language.                                                             
                                                                                                                                                              Oscar Wilde
                                                                                  The Canterville Ghost

       For whatever reason, the language of Shakespeare seems to invite inconsistencies.  Writer H. Beam Piper has attributed this to the very foundation of the language:  "English is the result of Norman men-at-arms attempting to pick up Saxon barmaids and is no more legitimate than any of the other results."   While that might be a bit over the edge, we are still left with a perplexing language.  Bill Bryson, taking a more scholarly approach, has observed that "English grammar is so complex and confusing for the very simple reason that its rules and terminology are based on Latin, a language with which it has precious little in common."  It is relatively easy to find examples of the resulting inconsistencies.  "Debt," a word we likely adopted from the French, nonetheless carries a non-French silent "b," which tracks its lineage back to the Latin word "debitum."  And look at our simple rule that putting the prefix "in" in front of a word turns the word into its opposite -- inhumane, inconsistent, inflexible are examples.  So what about invaluable?  Such internal quirks in the language only intensify when those speaking it are geographically separated.

       Years ago, when I was in private practice, an attorney with whom I worked traveled to Japan to make a presentation before the board of directors of one of our major clients. The attorney was accompanied by a representative of the client, a Japanese man who had lived most of his life in the U.S. and, as a result, was well positioned to straddle the differences between the two cultures. After the attorney’s presentation the chairman of the board stood, offered his hand, and as they shook said “Thank you for the presentation. Our views are completely parallel.” After leaving the board room the attorney turned to the company representative and said “I thought that went really well.” The representative’s eyes widened. “How can you say that? It was a disaster.” “But,” the attorney responded, “the chairman said their views were completely parallel.” “That means,” the representative said, shaking his head, “that they never intersect.” 

       This anecdote is a bit afield from the Shaw and Wilde quotes set forth above, since the countries involved were the United States and Japan, but it still illustrates the point. Just as species of animals and plants evolve differently on different continents, so, too, words, each of which is a work in progress. 

       In the new novel Lexicon (which premises a world in which words are used for their magical powers by a group of wordsmiths referred to as “poets”) author Max Barry notes, for example, that the word “cause” is in the process of changing from meaning strict causation to denoting the causation of something bad. (He was the cause of the problem). And, as noted by Shaw and Wilde, the evolution of words can proceed differently in different regions, even those purporting to speak the same language. This can be true regionally within a country, and can become even more pronounced in different countries, geographically separated, that start off with a common language.

Barney and Clyde, Weingarten & Clark, Copyright 2013,
The Washington Post
       In the United States, for instance, the word “moot” is used to denote a settled situation, one that is no longer open for discussion. By contrast, in England an issue that is “moot” is one open for discussion. Similarly, when we “table” an issue in the United States the issue becomes off limits for discussion, whereas “tabling” that same issue in the U.K. indicates that it is next up for discussion. 

        Reflective of all of this, a short guide for the English speaker (both U.K. and American) has been circulating on the internet the past couple months that further defines the separation between the two English speaking countries. First reported in an article by Alice Philipson of The Telegraph, the chart might as well make a stop here at SleuthSayers as well. 

WHAT THE BRITISH                 WHAT THE BRITISH                 WHAT FOREIGNERS
            SAY                                          MEAN                                UNDERSTAND

 I hear what you say                   I disagree and do not want to            He accepts my point of 
                                                 discuss it further                               view

With the greatest respect            You are an idiot                               He is listening to me 

That's not bad                            That's good                                     That's poor 

That is a very brave proposal      You are insane                                 He thinks I have courage

Quite good                                 A bit disappointing                            Quite good 

I would suggest                          Do it or be prepared to                     Think about the idea, but
                                                 justify yourself                                  do what you like

Oh, incidentally/ by the way        The primary purpose of                     That is not very important
                                                 our discussion is

I was a bit disappointed that        I am annoyed that                           It doesn't really matter

Very interesting                          That is clearly nonsense                   They are impressed

I'll bear it in mind                         I've forgotten it already                    They will probably do it

I'm sure it's my fault                    It's your fault                                   Why do they think it                                                                                                                          was their fault?

You must come for dinner            It's not an invitation, I'm just             I will get an invitation soon
                                                  being polite

I almost agree                             I don't agree at all                            He's not far from agreement

I only have a few minor                Please rewrite completely                 He has found a few typos
comments

Could we consider some              I don't like your idea                         They have not yet decided
other options

       This helpful little guide can doubtless get you a long way in conversing on either side of the pond, but even it does not cover all contingencies. As an example, if you ask the clerk at the front desk of your hotel “to knock you up” just before breakfast the result is likely to be decidedly different depending upon which side of the Atlantic your hotel is located!

       All of the foregoing examples focus on words that have evolved different meanings in different regions.  But that is not the only problem.  Even when words retain a common meaning pronunciation differences can render them unintelligible to those in different regions.  One of the best detective series that has been broadcast in the last year has been Broadchurch, which aired on BBC America.  Half way through the series, having been unable to understand some critical exchanges, I found that the best way to watch this English language series was with sub-captioning turned on.  And one can encounter similar dialectic challenges without crossing the Atlantic.  Last year I went into a liquor store in Gulf Shores, Alabama to purchase some scotch.  I handed the clerk my Mastercard and she looked at me and asked "Daybit?"  I was perplexed, but only for a moment, before replying "No.  Credit."

      Having led off with Shaw on the difficulty of maintaining a common English language, we might as well let him have the last word as well. With a little help from Lerner and Lowe, that is . . . .


14 August 2012

Oscar Wilde and Gore Vidal

by Dale C. Andrews

    On the last day of November, 1900, Oscar Wilde gazed up from his deathbed at the walls of the dingy hotel room in Paris that was to be his last refuge and reportedly muttered “either that wall paper goes, or I go.”  He then died.  One hundred and twelve years later, on the last day of July, 2012, Gore Vidal, a man described as the twentieth century answer to Oscar Wilde, died in his bed in Hollywood, California.  There are many common threads shared by these men of different centuries.   Each was a celebrated author of novels, mysteries, and plays.  But each was also known, perhaps even more so, for their celebrated caustic wits.  And each grappled throughout their respective lives with their own complicated sexuality.

Oscar Wilde
Gore Vidal
    Wilde and Vidal were each blessed with the privileges that come with having been born into aristocracy.  Oscar Wilde’s parents were Dublin intellectuals, Sir William Wilde and his wife, the poet Jane Francesca Wilde.  Oscar Wilde was raised with the assistance of a French governess, and later studied the classics at Trinity College, Dublin, and at Magdalene College at Cambridge.  Gore Vidal’s lineage was just as august, but seeped in the aristocracy of the New World.  Vidal’s father, James Lucas Vidal, served as Commerce Secretary under Franklin D. Roosevelt and then went on, in partnership with Amelia Earhart, to found Eastern Air Lines, Northeast Air Lines and TWA.  (If you have seen the 2009 movie Amelia you may have noted a young Gore Vidal, portrayed by William Cuddy.)  Gore Vidal’s mother, Nina Gore, was the daughter of a former Oklahoma Senator and later, after divorcing Vidal’s father, was the wife of Louis Auchincloss, who was later to become the stepfather of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.  And like Wilde, Vidal’s education was robust – he attended Sidwell Friends School and St. Albans in Washington, D.C., and then Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire.  Unlike Wilde, Vidal did not attend college, but instead enlisted in the Navy and served as a warrant officer in the Pacific during World War II.

    Both Wilde and Vidal also shared what can only be described as complicated sexual identities.  Wilde was married for a number of years to Constance Lloyd, a wealthy London heiress, and they had two children, Cyril and Vyvyan.  The marriage crumbled, however, soon after Wilde became enamored of Alfred Douglas, a brilliant but incorrigibly fey Oxford graduate and frequenter of the London gay nightlife community.  The ensuing flamboyant relationship between Wilde and Douglas soon became a cause célèbre in London.  Wilde, unlike Vidal, had the bad fortune to be borne into a less forgiving era.  The relationship in any event infuriated Douglas’ straight laced (even for Victorian times) father the Marquess of Queensberry, who on February 18, 1895 left a calling card for Wilde at his London club, the Albemarle.  The incorrectly spelled message said simply:  "For Oscar Wilde, posing somdomite"
The Marquess of Queensberry
(in all his rabid glory)

   While Wilde had embraced Douglas he could not bring himself to embrace his own sexuality, and his response was an outraged denial.  In short order Wilde sued the Marquess of Queensberry for libel.  There was, to say the least, ample evidence that Wilde was, indeed, homosexual and, no surprise, the Marquess of Queensberry was acquitted.  The acquittal rendered Wilde liable for the defense of the case, which ruined him financially.  But even worse, it provided the basis for Wilde’s own conviction for sodomy, his incarceration in London, the collapse of his health, and (doubtless) his death in that cheap Paris hotel room in November of 1900.

    By contrast, Vidal led his life in a far more open and less judgmental time.  He, too, reportedly was involved with a number of women – Vidal, for example, was engaged to Joanne Woodward just before her marriage to Paul Newman – but his longtime companion was Howard Austen, who died in 2003, and his essays and novels – notably The City and the Pilar and Myra Breckenridge are rife with homosexual themes.  And while Vidal never stooped to denial (the catalyst to Wilde’s downfall), this is not to say that he did not stoop to litigation.  The analog to Wilde’s libel suit against the Marquess of Queensberry was Vidal’s 1969 court battle with William F. Buckley.

William F. Buckley and Gore Vidal
    The feud between the two began, for all intent and purpose, in 1968 when ABC News decided to pair Buckley and Vidal for contrasting views on the Democratic convention in Chicago.  The pair had debated before, but by the penultimate Chicago broadcast – as the Democrats’ convention was descending into anarchy and ruin, and riots spread throughout Chicago, any hope of civility between Vidal and Buckley also washed out with the tide.  A report of the climactic exchange that took place on the broadcast, preserved in the archives of the University of Pittsburg, provides as follows:
[B]efore long the men began exchanging words that one simply didn’t hear on TV at that time. Vidal called Buckley a "pro-crypto-Nazi," a modest slip of the tongue, he later said, because he was searching for the word "fascist" and it just didn't come out. Inflamed by the word "Nazi" and the whole tenor of the discussion, Buckley snapped back: "Now listen, you queer,” he said, “stop calling me a crypto-Nazi or I’ll sock you in your goddamn face and you’ll stay plastered.”
    That ended the face-to-face appearances of the two:  the last ABC "debate" featured Vidal and Buckley in separate rooms.  But the feud continued in various published articles authored by the two and culminated in a libel suit, brought initially by Buckley, charging that Vidal had defamed him by referring to him as “anti-black and anti-Semitic.”  Vidal counter-sued alleging that Buckley libeled him by describing his novel Myra Breckenridge as “pornography.”  Both cases were dismissed, although pursuant to a settlement agreement, damages were paid by Buckley.

    The difference between the 1800s and the Twentieth Century was significant for Vidal.  While Wilde, for all of his intellect, was nonetheless forced into denial, even in the face of his own open behavior, Vidal had the option to more freely embrace who he was.  It is true that earlier in the 1950s homosexual themes in Vidal's novel The City and the Pillar affected his ability to sell books.  Indeed, that is why his series of three detective novels written at that time – Death before Bedtime, Death in the Fifth Position and Death Likes it Hot were written under the pseudonym Edgar Box.  But by the late 1960s sexual orientation had become less of a public concern and Vidal’s litigation with Buckley, and his flamboyance, if anything, simply increased his notoriety.  Regarding his sexual preferences Vidal openly wrote “[t]here is no such thing as a homosexual or a heterosexual person. There are only homo- or heterosexual acts. Most people are a mixture of impulses if not practices.”  Gore Vidal frequently described his role in life as “Gentleman bitch.”

    In any event, and as mentioned at the outset, both Wilde and Vidal are known, and will continue to be known, for their caustic wit.  So let’s end with a salute to that.

Oscar Wilde:

  • A gentleman is one who never hurts anyone's feelings unintentionally.
  • A little sincerity is a dangerous thing, and a great deal of it is absolutely fatal.
  • A man's face is his autobiography. A woman's face is her work of fiction.
  • A poet can survive everything but a misprint.
  • Alas, I am dying beyond my means.
  • All bad poetry springs from genuine feeling.
  • All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That's his.
  • Always forgive your enemies - nothing annoys them so much.
  • America is the only country that went from barbarism to decadence without civilization in between.
  • America has been discovered often before Columbus, but it was always hushed up.
  • An excellent man; he has no enemies; and none of his friends like him.
  • A man is very apt to complain of the ingratitude of those who have risen above him.  
  • Biography lends to death a new terror.
  • Anyone who lives within his means suffers from a lack of imagination.
  • I think God in creating Man somewhat overestimated his ability.
  • One should always play fairly when one holds the winning cards.

And, Gore Vidal:

  • A good deed never goes unpunished.
  • All children alarm their parents, if only because you are forever expecting to encounter yourself.
  • A narcissist is someone better looking than you are.
  • Andy Warhol is the only genius I've ever known with an I.Q. of 60.
  • Every time a friend succeeds, I die a little.
  • Fifty percent of people won't vote, and fifty percent don't read newspapers. I hope it's the same fifty percent.
  • It is not enough to succeed. Others must fail.
  • One is sorry one could not have taken both branches of the road. But we were not allotted multiple selves.
  • Television is now so desperately hungry for material that they're scraping the top of the barrel.
  • The four most beautiful words in our common language: I told you so.
  • There is no human problem that could not be solved if people would simply do as I advise.
  • Always a godfather, never a God.  
Norman Mailer and Gore Vidal
    One of my favorite Gore Vidal stories involves another television appearance, this time on Dick Cavett’s ABC show in 1971  Vidal was scheduled to appear with Norman Mailer, and while the two were in the green room, prior to their introductions, an argument erupted.  Vidal had recently published a not-so-glowing critique of Mailer’s latest work.  Mailer groused about the critique and an exchange of words ultimately culminated in Mailer decking Vidal.  Bloodied, and lying on the floor, Vidal reportedly looked up, raised one eyebrow and said, “Once again we find Mr. Mailer at a loss for words.”