Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Vive la france

But the characteristic feature of the silly phase through which I was passing—a phase by no means irresponsive, indeed highly fertile—is that we do not consult our intelligence and that the most trivial attributes of other people seem to us then to form an inseparable part of their personality. In a world thronged with monsters and with gods, we are barely conscious of tranquillity. There is hardly one of the actions which we performed in that phase which we would not give anything, in later life, to be able to erase from our memory. Whereas what we ought to regret is that we no longer possess the spontaneity which made us perform them. In later life we look at things in a more practical way, in full conformity with the rest of society, but youth was the only time in which we learned anything.
From À l'ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs by Marcel Proust, translated by C. K. Scott Moncrieff

On the train this morning, while I was settling in and taking my copy of Proust from my backpack, I noticed that the woman sitting next to me was reading Les Misérables. Everyone else seemed to be looking at cell phones.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

paying out a long braided steel cable

The next morning, the Lady Grace encountered the ice pack. It was as if they had run aground in the night on the shores of a broken white wasteland, or had discovered an archipelago of floating islands, a few fathoms thick, blanketed with snow and streaked with muddy yellow at the waterline. The ice pack shifted, rising here and dropping there with the currents and the action of the slow waves. This shattered wasteland covered the hundreds of miles ahead of the Lady Grace, crazed ice hard and blinding bright in the daylight, the seams between the separate floes black as if great quantities of ink had been poured out by the hand of Heaven. The Lady Grace followed these dark seams south, into the pack. It was, as the whalers of Grytviken had warned, much farther north than usual, especially at the start of summer. But it was loose pack, and under reduced sail the Lady Grace pushed her way easily through the gaps in the frozen archipelago, sometimes running half a mile or more in open water.

Jernagen and Weir had set up their scientific gear on the quarterdeck. Weir lowered his dredge over the taffrail, paying out a long braided steel cable, hoping to find something new swimming in the deep cold water. Jernagen measured the air and water temperatures, the geomagnetic variances, the mineral content of the ice and the water, and the spectrum of the sunlight. Weir netted petrels, fulmar gulls and dreamed of dissecting Emperor penguins. He photographed crabeater seals, killer whales, humpback whales, and Finner whales. He found shrimp and jellyfish in his dredge, a thousand feet below the ship's keel. Jernagen and Weir sat on the deck with their heads close together, scribbling notes in their journals, smiling and breathing each other's pipe smoke.
This post is just a reminder to myself that yesterday, after a break of a month, I began again to work on the draft of the novel I'm calling Nowhere But North. I've written about 70,000 words of that draft, and have about 25,000 still to write. I think it will be a pretty good book. Currently, I realized at lunch today, I am entering that phase of first draft writing when I have pretty much abandoned ideas of propriety, which is to say that as far as what and how I write, anything goes. This is how it always is, having mentally collapsed under the pressure of the work, I decide that every idea--no matter how absurd--is probably a pretty good idea and should be allowed its place in the book. Three quarters of the way through and I've become punchy. The above-quoted excerpt is not an example of the absurd which creeps into the novel.

Friday, October 7, 2016

there have been great changes

like a kaleidoscope which is every now and then given a turn, society arranges successively in different orders elements which one would have supposed to be immovable, and composes a fresh pattern. Before I had made my first Communion, ladies on the "right side" in politics had had the stupefaction of meeting, while paying calls, a smart Jewess. These new arrangements of the kaleidoscope are produced by what a philosopher would call a "change of criterion." The Dreyfus case brought about another, at a period rather later than that in which I began to go to Mme. Swann's, and the kaleidoscope scattered once again its little scraps of color. Everything Jewish, even the smart lady herself, fell out of the pattern, and various obscure nationalities appeared in its place. The most brilliant drawing-room in Paris was that of a Prince who was an Austrian and ultra-Catholic. If instead of the Dreyfus case there had come a war with Germany, the base of the kaleidoscope would have been turned in the other direction, and its pattern reversed. The Jews having shewn, to the general astonishment, that they were patriots also, would have kept their position, and no one would have cared to go any more, or even to admit that he had ever gone to the Austrian Prince's. All this does not, however, prevent the people who move in it from imagining, whenever society is stationary for the moment, that no further change will occur, just as in spite of having witnessed the birth of the telephone they decline to believe in the aeroplane. Meanwhile the philosophers of journalism are at work, castigating the preceding epoch, and not only the kind of pleasures in which it indulged, which seem to them to be the last word in corruption, but even the work of its artists and philosophers, which have no longer the least value in their eyes, as though they were indissolubly linked to the successive moods of fashionable frivolity. The one thing that does not change is that at any and every time it appears that there have been "great changes."
from A l’ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs by Marcel Proust (C. K. Scott Moncrieff, trans.).