quotes

Picaresque

“When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him.”

(Jonathan Swift from “Thoughts on Various Subjects, Moral and Diverting”)

Do you ever go on a Google Safari?

This may look like a conjoining of two popular search engine names but really my meaning is the popular and ubiquitous meaning of the first word and the literal meaning of the second.

So, it may start by recalling a phrase or quotation or, in this instance, a title of a book, and I’m curious as to its origin or context or literal meaning. The book is the only work published by the author, John Kennedy Toole, A Confederacy of Dunces.

This was a book I’d judged by the title back in – whoa! the 1990s, I reckon, when Penguin issued a series of modern classic novels at an introductory bargain price. I wasn’t disappointed.

The phrase used for the title came to mind this morning after reading the news, but in particular the readers’ comments which are invited below many of the news items. I will admit that I have commented on items myself though I hope I haven’t been typical of these commenters. It’s a healthy sign of freedom and democracy that we are allowed to express ourselves publicly even if we wrongly equate our opinion with that of the author’s. A moment’s thought would tell any reasonable person how wrong this is likely to be so they might discard their certainty before going in search of the truth. Yet vanity and pride overwhelm, so generally people will choose ignorance over correcting themselves.

So, discovering the title comes from Jonathan Swift rather than The Holy Bible or Shakespeare, and being happy with that, I find a term I wasn’t familiar with but ought to be: Picaresque.

Essentially, Picaresque is a literary genre which deals with the lovable rogue, in particular someone from the lower orders in society, though in a broader sense anyone swimming against the popular tide. I love this genre and find such persons, whether fictitious or real, interesting.

In human nature, I feel there must be a “gene” which compels us to move with the herd. You can see its possible “evolutionary advantage”, can’t you? The downside is, amongst other things, people are informed by a narrow section of news outlets – somewhat bias driven for cynically commercial reasons, we get hemmed in by “party politics” – mostly self-serving and unrepresentative of ordinary citizen’s needs or views, and a largely out-of-date and devalued education.


The author, John Kennedy Toole’s life story is a sad one. Having written A Confederacy of Dunces – a brilliant and funny debut novel, I thought – he failed to get a publisher interested in it. He suffered depression and took his own life at the age of 31.

It was his mother, an influential figure throughout his life though not always a welcome one, who championed the novel in her son’s memory and eventually had it published. Later, Toole was posthumously awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. It reads like a good story in its own right and although there is a play, I don’t know if anyone’s made or thought of making a film of it.

Though the Safari could’ve gone on, I chose to end it there.

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The Abstract Truth

I had watched a clip featuring the late British art critic, Brian Sewell, in a discussion about abstract paintings. I got the impression he wasn’t overly impressed by abstract art but, after a pause in the conversation, he said something like,

“Well, any painting is an abstract, really.”

I can’t explain what he meant not having had, as he had, an education in the fine arts. While I can have a good guess at identifying an abstract work for what it is, I can’t tell you what makes any other work not an abstract, especially if the clues aren’t obvious.

But I was thinking, after writing a piece of flash fiction, whether, in a similar observation to abstract painting, all writing is fiction.

Or at least a version of it.


image: “Composition VIII” by Wassily Kandinsky

My playlist is a Memento Mori

Peter Tork, the unusual one from The Monkees, has died. Unusual in that he seemed the least like an actor and the most like a proper musician. He was actually an accomplished folk artist before auditioning for the part, and played bass guitar and keyboards. I just about remember The Monkees; it was youthful, subversive and wacky.

“Hope I die before I get old”, sang The Who‘s Roger Daltrey, around the same time. The words are Pete Townsend’s. Both are still with us. Yet they, and those like them, weren’t meant to die or grow old. It’s all about youth and youthfulness, permanently fresh and stretching out into infinite.

I don’t have The Monkees on my 750 song playlist in the car. I’d happily include The Who but I haven’t got around to it. It has become increasingly obvious that a lot of the artists on my playlist are no longer here. This is partly my fault because my tastes go far back to a time before I was born. Yet so many have fallen off the perch in recent years, not by misadventure but through boring old age.

“He’s dead, oh, she’s dead, is she gone now?, I imagine he’s no longer with us, I wonder if she’s still around…”

Does it matter, listening to dead musicians? The music still sounds good. And I think any reminder of mortality is an awareness of life. Rock on! While you’ve still got breath – live!


image: The Monkees (Peter Tork, far left)

Catching the Light Again

“…it wastes my time like an old friend.”

A beautiful turn of phrase, I think.

Thanks to Edmark at Learn Fun Facts, a blog I follow, for posting a letter from William Dean Howells to his friend, Mark Twain, in 1875, concerning difficulties he had trying out a new type-writer.

Click on the link above for the full transcript and more goodies.


image from Pexels.com

And here’s my earlier post mentioning Catching the Light.

Think on: Does any cheese complement a tomato?

The UK’s popular, and probably populist, newspaper, The Sun, states, following a poll of its readers, that a fraction above 62% of them would vote Leave if there was a second referendum on Brexit. Quelle surprise, as they may say in Brussels.

Polls are silly and I don’t like them, so much so that I might respond to any in a mischievous and inconsistent way just to subvert them. Am I alone in this? Let’s take a poll….

Seriously, I wondered if any of our other esteemed papers had instigated their own agenda driven readers’ polls. I didn’t find any but stumbled across a YouGov analysis of different paperstypical reader. It was all pretty banal until I read,

“A Daily Mail reader enjoys eating cheese and tomato sandwiches…”

Now I’m not saying reverse logic can apply and that knowing your character traits can point you towards the appropriate newspaper but, really, is there any way I can pick up the Daily Mail knowing this?

In my world, sliced tomatoes have no business between two slices of bread anymore than say a sliced lemon does (by all means try one and let me know). But then with cheese?!

I know, I know, the pairing of Cheese and tomato, have history – but how on Earth did that happen?

As usual, answers on a postcard, please, as we used to say….


YouGov Poll on UK newspaper readerships (via The Guardian) – old news

Views on Writing: Catching the Light

Clive James wrote of writing that it was turning a phrase until it catches the light.

When I read – and when I write, though this is a late experience and I’m still on the nursery slopes – too often I’m not noticing the glint of light. This is made more obvious when I consider those times when the light appears brilliantly, and it’s as if something magical is happening. It’s quite often an opening paragraph or an introduction to something, and it’s usually quite simple, precise, colourful and concise.

Following a path towards an understanding of Reena’s Exploration Challenge this week, I googled the name Kosho Uchiyama Rōshi. He was a Zen Buddhist monk in 20th century Japan, a master of origami, and an exponent of zazen, literally “sitting”, a method of meditation devised by the Zen master, Eihei Dōgen.

I follow his name in turn and find this passage on zazen attributed to him,

“I have not visited many Zen monasteries. I simply, with my master Tendo, quietly verified that the eyes are horizontal and the nose is vertical. I cannot be misled by anyone anymore. I have returned home empty-handed.

I quietly verified that the eyes are horizontal and the nose is vertical. This is a phrase that catches the light.

Honour #writephoto

A rose plucked and laid
red across a pallid stone
for love enduring,
memories of adonis’ wounds
mingled with a turmoiled earth
which, amongst the remains,
bore blossoms of a different kind
though red, not of a rose,
though dead, not for love
but honour.


written for Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo Photo Prompt Challenge – “Honour”

Up against Quintus Horatius Flaccus and Wilfred Owen, I ought not to try for a poem this time but I simply didn’t have a story.

I then wondered, in my ignorance, whether poetry was a higher form of literature and should therefore be truthful. From the heart, so to speak. I don’t think I believe in the sentiment of “Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori”.

Amour sans frontières.

Back to Normal

“We just want to go back to some semblance of a normal life that everyone else has”
(Eric Van Balen)

Humans are conservative by nature; they love normal, they desire normal whenever life seems… abnormal. An excess of normal is often seen as being boring.

Normal is the rock on which we build successfully. Normal is the level base upon which we grow, from which we develop. Normal is sane. Normal is rational. Normal produces a healthy intellect, encourages imagination and innovation.

Normal is the calm before a storm, and the calm following a storm (unless on Jupiter where the storms have been raging for thousands of years. For a Jovian, that’s normal).

Normal is peacefulness, a time free of trouble and conflict, unless you’re a child born in Yemen or Syria where war is continuing. Fear is normal.

Normal is routine. A morning begins with fresh coffee, from a pot which has already been cleaned from the previous day’s use, the coffee jar not yet empty, fresh water in the jug, sugar in the sugar pot and clean mugs.

It’s getting ready for work at the right hour. It’s regular work. When I explained to my father-in-law that I worked freelance for short contracts, he was aghast. He’d told me, with some pride, how he’d been with the same firm for forty years. I have known people who started work after university and are still at that same company, the same commute to the same office, the same lunchtime routine, the same time going home. The way the company works, the way it likes to do business, has become second nature. That’s normal. Though in that time, they say they have seen changes. That’s normal.

Normal. Even the sound of the word appears to grind to a standstill.

If you’re an adventurer, if you’re a party goer, if you grab life by the balls, carpe diem, and all that, and you do all this, then that’s normal for you.

Normal is what we want unless that’s all there is, and then we want something else. And that’s normal too.


Written for Reena Saxena’s Exploration Challenge #68 – “Back to Normal”

It’s a train of thought piece which is how posts normally start though it’s not normally how I publish them.

Family Dynamics

They say that Blood is Thicker than Water. I don’t know why that’s important because Treacle is thicker than Blood and it’s a darn sight tastier.

My family lived in a cupboard. Well, that isn’t strictly true. We lived in a full house; if someone opened the front door, we’d all fall out into the street. It was like a cupboard, and we were like the tins of treacle, preserves, beans and all kinds of things you might put in a cupboard that’s useful.

We were a very useful family. Dad would make things, Mum would bake things, Gramps would rake things, and I would break things. I was the most useful because I’d give the others something to do.

(120 words)


Inspired by Joelle’s Tales: Tell Me A Tale In Exactly 120 Words – “Family Dynamics”

To borrow or steal

I met a working artist who trained in England at a time when the prevailing painterly style was Abstract. As a consequence, that’s mostly all his generation of artists were comfortable painting.

When opening his gallery, he found customers preferred landscapes. Apparently there is a yawning chasm between what the art schools teach and what the public wants. To survive, he turned to copying the work of other artists, ones who painted landscapes, until his skill and confidence grew, and now he is a successful landscape painter.

This in part reflects a sentiment attributed to Pablo Picasso,

Good artists borrow, great artists steal.


As I’m reading over my little stories here prior to clicking the publish button, I’m partly aware that I’ve copied a style of a professional author I’ve read, and probably admired, recently. It’s probably automatic and possibly subconscious. It certainly must be easier than inventing your own unique “voice”, if this is at all possible to do.

When I read other people’s, I wonder if it too is an unconscious borrowing of whatever it is they like to read.

Romance, thriller, historical, classic, kitchen sink working class realism. Is there a regular prompt out there which involves writing in a particular style?