a quarrel in a far-away country between people of whom we know nothing

This is London. In a moment, you will hear the Prime Minister, Right Honorable Neville Chamberlain, speaking from Number10 Downing Street. His speech will be heard all over the Empire, throughout the continent of America, and in a large number of foreign countries. Mr Chamberlain:

To-morrow Parliament is going to meet, and I shall be making a full statement of the events which have led up to the present anxious and critical situation.
    An earlier statement would not have been possible when I was flying backwards and forwards across Europe, and the position was changing from hour to hour. But to-day there is a lull for a brief time, and I want to say a few words to you, men and women of Britain and the Empire, and perhaps to others as well.
    First of all I must say something to those who have written to my wife or myself in these last weeks to tell us of their gratitude for my efforts and to assure us of their prayers for my success. Most of these letters have come from women — mothers or sisters of our own countrymen. But there are countless others besides – from France, from Belgium, from Italy, and even from Germany, and it has been heartbreaking to read the growing anxiety they reveal and their intense relief when they thought, too soon, that the danger of war was past.
    If I felt my responsibility heavy before, to read such letters has made it seem almost overwhelming. How horrible, fantastic, incredible it is that we should be digging trenches and trying on gas-masks here because of a quarrel in a far-away country between people of whom we know nothing. It seems still more impossible that a quarrel which has already been settled in principle should be the subject of war.
    I can well understand the reasons why the Czech Government have felt unable to accept the terms which have been put before them in the German memorandum. Yet I believe after my talks with Herr Hitler that, if only time were allowed, it ought to be possible for the arrangements for transferring the territory that the Czech Government has agreed to give to Germany to be settled by agreement under conditions which would assure fair treatment to the population concerned.
    You know already that I have done all that one man can do to compose this quarrel. After my visits to Germany I have realised vividly how Herr Hitler feels that he must champion other Germans, and his indignation that grievances have not been met before this. He told me privately, and last night he repeated publicly, that after this Sudeten German question is settled, that is the end of Germany’s territorial claims in Europe.
    After my first visit to Berchtesgaden I did get the assent of the Czech Government to proposals which gave the substance of what Herr Hitler wanted and I was taken completely by surprise when I got back to Germany and found that he insisted that the territory should be handed over to him immediately, and immediately occupied by German troops without previous arrangements for safeguarding the people within the territory who were not Germans, or did not want to join the German Reich.
    I must say that I find this attitude unreasonable. If it arises out of any doubts that Herr Hitler feels about the intentions of the Czech Government to carry out their promises and hand over the territory, I have offered on part of the British Government to guarantee their words, and I am sure the value of our promise will not be underrated anywhere.
    I shall not give up the hope of a peaceful solution, or abandon my efforts for peace, as long as any chance for peace remains. I would not hesitate to pay even a third visit to Germany if I thought it would do any good. But at this moment I see nothing further that I can usefully do in the way of mediation.
    Meanwhile there are certain things we can and shall do at home. Volunteers are still wanted for air raid precautions, for fire brigade and police services, and for the Territorial units. I know that all of you, men and women alike, are ready to play your part in the defence of the country, and I ask you all to offer your services, if you have not already done so, to the local authorities, who will tell you if you are wanted and in what capacity.
    Do not be alarmed if you hear of men being called up to man the anti-aircraft defences or ships. These are only precautionary measures such as a Government must take in times like this. But they do not necessarily mean that we have determined on war or that war is imminent.
    However much we may sympathise with a small nation confronted by a big and powerful neighbour, we cannot in all circumstances undertake to involve the whole British Empire in war simply on her account. If we have to fight it must be on larger issues than that. I am myself a man of peace to the depths of my soul. Armed conflict between nations is a nightmare to me; but if I were convinced that any nation had made up its mind to dominate the world by fear of its force, I should feel that it must be resisted. Under such a domination life for people who believe in liberty would not be worth living; but war is a fearful thing, and we must be very clear, before we embark on it, that it is really the great issues that are at stake, and that the call to risk everything in their defence, when all the consequences are weighed, is irresistible.
    For the present I ask you to wait as calmly as you can the events of the next few days. As long as war has not begun, there is always hope that it may be prevented, and you know that I am going to work for peace to the last moment. Good night.

Transcribed from BBC Archive, “Chamberlain Addresses the Nation on His Negotiations for Peace”, 27 September 1938. See Neville Chamberlain, In Search of Peace: Speeches, 1937-1938, London, 1939, pp. 274-6.

report on resistentialism

It is the peculiar genius of the French to express their philosophical thought in aphorisms, sayings hard and tight as diamonds, each one the crystal centre of a whole constellation of ideas. Thus, the entire scheme of seventeenth century intellectual rationalism may be said to branch out from that single, pregnant saying of Descartes, ‘Cogito ergo sum’ – ‘I think, therefore I am.’ Resistentialism, the philosophy which has swept present-day France, runs true to this aphoristic form. Go into any of the little cafés or horlogeries on Paris’s Left Bank (make sure the Seine is flowing away from you, otherwise you’ll be on the Right Bank, where no one is ever seen) and sooner or later you will hear someone say, ‘Les choses sont contre nous.’ ‘Things are against us.’
    This is the nearest English translation I can find for the basic concept of Resistentialisin, the grim but enthralling philosophy now identified with bespectacled, betrousered, two-eyed Pierre-Marie Ventre. In transferring the dynamic of philosophy from man to a world of hostile Things,’ Ventre has achieved a major revolution of thought, to which he himself gave the name ‘Resistentialism’. Things (res) resist (résister) man (homme, understood). Ventre makes a complete break with traditional philosophic method. Except for his German precursors, Freidegg and Heidansiecker, all previous thinkers from the Eleatics to Marx have allowed at least some legitimacy to human thought and effort. Some, like Hegel or Berkeley, go so far as to make man’s thought the supreme reality. In the Resistentialist cosmology that is now the intellectual rage of Paris Ventre offers us a grand vision of the Universe as One Thing – the Ultimate Thing (Dernière Chose). And it is against us.
    Two world wars have led to a general dissatisfaction with the traditional Western approach to cosmology, that of scientific domination. In Ventre’s view, the World-Thing, to which he sometimes refers impartially as the Thing-World, opposes man’s partial stealing, as it were, of consciousness – of his dividing it into the separate ‘minds’ with which human history has made increasingly fatal attempts to create a separate world of men. Man’s increase in this illusory domination over Things has been matched, pari passu, by the increasing hostility (and greater force) of the Things arrayed against him. Medieval man, for instance, had only a few actual Things to worry about – the lack of satisfactory illumination at night, the primitive hole in the roof blowing the smoke back and letting the rain in, and one or two other small Things like that. Modern, domesticated Western man has far more opportunities for battle-losing against Things – can-openers, collar-studs, chests of drawers, open manholes, shoelaces…
    Now that Ventre has done it for us, it is easy to see that the reaction against nineteenth-century idealism begun by Martin Freidegg and Martin Heidansiecker was bound eventually to coalesce with the findings of modern physics in a philosophical synthesis for our time. Since much stress has been laid on the ‘scientific’ basis of Resistentialism, it will not be out of place here, before passing on to a more detailed outline of Ventre’s thought, to give a brief account of those recent developments in physical science which have so blurred the line that separates it from metaphysics. It is an account which will surprise those whose acquaintance with Ventre is limited to reading reviews of his plays and who, therefore, are apt to think that Resistentialism is largely a matter of sitting inside a wet sack and moaning.
    A convenient point of departure is provided by the famous Clark-Trimble experiments of 1935. Clark-Trimble was not primarily a physicist, and his great discovery of the Graduated Hostility of Things was made almost accidentally. During some research into the relation between periods of the day and human bad temper, Clark-Trimble, a leading Cambridge psychologist, came to the conclusion that low human dynamics in the early morning could not sufficiently explain the apparent hostility of Things at the breakfast table – the way honey gets between the fingers, the unfoldability of newspapers, etc. In the experiments which finally confirmed him in this view, and which he demonstrated before the Royal Society in London, Clark-Trimble arranged four hundred pieces of carpet in ascending degrees of quality, from coarse matting to priceless Chinese silk. Pieces of toast and marmalade, graded, weighed, and measured, were then dropped on each piece of carpet, and the marmalade-downwards incidence was statistically analysed. The toast fell right-side-up every time on the cheap carpet, except when the cheap carpet was screened from the rest (in which case the toast didn’t know that Clark-Trimble had other and better carpets), and it fell marmalade-downwards every time on the Chinese silk. Most remarkable of all, the marmalade-downwards incidence for the intermediate grades was found to vary exactly with the quality of carpet.
    The success of these experiments naturally switched Clark-Trimble’s attention to further research on resistentia, a fact which was directly responsible for the tragic and sudden end to his career when he trod on a garden rake at the Cambridge School of Agronomy. In the meantime, Noys and Crangenbacker had been doing some notable work in America. Noys carried out literally thousands of experiments, in which subjects of all ages and sexes, sitting in chairs of every conceivable kind, dropped various kinds of pencils. In only three cases did the pencil come to rest within easy reach. Crangenbacker’s work in the social-industrial field, on the relation of human willpower to specific problems such as whether a train or subway will stop with the door opposite you on a crowded platform, or whether there will be a mail box anywhere on your side of the street, was attracting much attention.
    Resistentialism, a sombre, post-atomic philosophy of pagan, despairing nobility, advocates complete withdrawal from Things. Now that Ventre has done the thinking for us it is easy to see how the soil was being prepared for Resistentialism in the purely speculative field by the thought of Martin Freidegg (1839-1904) and Martin Heidansiecker (1850-1910), both well known anti-idealists and anti-intellectualists. It is in the latter’s Werke (Works) published at Tübingen in 1894, that the word Resistentialismus first appears, although it has not the definite meaning assigned to it by Ventre. It is now possible to trace a clear line of development to Ventre from Goethe, who said, with prophetic insight into the hostility of one Thing, at least, ‘Three times has an apple proved fatal. First to the human race in the fall of Adam; secondly to Troy, through the gift of Paris; and last of all, to science through the fall of Newton’s apple’ (Werke, XVI, 17). Later we find Heidansiecker’s concept of Dingenhass, the hatred of Things. But in the confused terminology of this tortured German mystic we are never sure whether it is Things who hate us, or we who hate the Things.
    To the disillusioned youth of post-war France there was an immediate appeal in Ventre’s relentlessly logical concept of man’s destiny as a néant, or No-Thing, and it was the aesthetic expression of this that gave Resistentialism such great popular currency outside the philosophical textbooks. Ventre himself is an extraordinarily powerful dramatist; his first play, Puits Clos, concerns three old men who walk ceaselessly round the bottom of a well. There are also some bricks in the well. These symbolize Things, and all the old men hate the bricks as much as they do each other. The play is full of their pitiful attempts to throw the bricks out of the top of the well, but they can, of course, never throw high enough, and the bricks always fall back on them. Puits Clos has only recently been taken off at the little Theatre Jambon to make room for another Resistentialist piece by Blanco del Huevo, called Comment sont les choses? Del Huevo is an ardent young disciple of Ventre, and in this play, which is also running in London under the title The Things That Are Caesar, he makes a very bold step forward in the application of Resistentialist imagery to the theatre. He has made Things the characters, and reduced the human beings to what are known in Resistentialist language as Poussés. The nearest English translation that suggests itself for this philosophical term is ‘pushed-arounds’.
    The chief ‘characters’ in Comment sont les choses? are thus a piano and a medicine cabinet; attached to the piano is Poussé Number One – no human beings are given actual names, because names are one of the devices by which man has for so long blinded himself to his fundamental inability to mark himself out from the Universe (Dernière Chose). Poussé Number One is determined to play the piano, and the piano is determined to resist him. For the first twenty minutes of Act I, he plays a Beethoven sonata up to a certain bar, which always defeats him. He stops, and plays this bar over a hundred times, very slowly. He gets it right. He begins the sonata again and when he gets to this bar he makes the very same mistake. He pours petrol on the piano and is just about to set it on fire when he hears a huge crash from the bathroom, also visible to the audience on the other side of a stage partition.
    All this time the medicine cabinet has been resisting the attempts of Poussé Number Two to fix it on the wall, and it has now fallen into the bath. Poussé Number One who is in love, naturally, with Poussé Number Two’s wife, Poussée, mimes his derision at the woeful lack of manhood of one who cannot even dominate Things to the extent of fixing a medicine cabinet. While he does so, the piano, with the tragic irony of a Greek chorus, speaks of Poussé Number One’s own hubris and insolence in imagining that he can master the piano. Poussé Number Two is too busy to retaliate, as he is sweeping up the mess of camphorated oil, essence of peppermint, hair cream, calamine lotion, and broken glass towards the plug end of the bath, meaning to swill them out with hot water. He is desperately anxious to get this done before Poussée arrives home. She comes, however, while he is still trying ignominiously to get the bits of glass off one sticky hand with the other sticky hand, the glass then sticking to the other sticky hand and having to be got off with the first sticky hand (a good example of choses co-rélatives in the Resistentialist sense). Poussée expresses her scorn and asks her husband, all in mime, why he can’t play the piano like Poussé Number One (who has persuaded her that he can). Eventually she goes out with Poussé Number One, and Poussé Number Two, exhausted by his labours at the bath, falls into it and into a deep coma.
    Act II is extremely unconventional, and although some critics have hailed it as a great attempt to break down the modern separation between players and audience it seems to me to be the weakest part of the play, the nearest to a mere philosophical treatise. The curtain simply goes up on a Resistentialist exhibition, and the audience are invited to walk round. While they are examining the exhibits, which contain not only Resistentialist paintings but also what Ventre as well as Del Huevo calls objets de vie (chests of drawers, toothpaste caps, collar buttons, etc.), the stage manager comes on in his shirt sleeves and reads the chapter on sex from Ventre’s Résistentialisme. Ventre takes a tragic view, of sex, concerned as it is with the body, by which the World-Thing obtains its mastery over human territory. In so far as man is not merely a body he is only a pseudo-Thing (pseudo-chose), a logical ‘monster’. Ventre sees woman, with her capacity for reproduction indefinitely prolonging this state of affairs, as the chief cause of humanity’s present dilemma of Thing-separation and therefore Thing-warfare. Love between humans, i.e. between Man (Not-woman) and Woman (Notman), perpetuates bodies as Things, because a man, in being a Not-woman, shows the capacity of all things for being only one Thing (it is all much clearer in the French, of course). Just as a man is a Not-woman, he is also a Not-sideboard, a Not-airplane. But this is as far as man can go in Thing-ness, and if it were not for women we could all die and be merged comfortably in the Universe or Ultimate Thing.
    In Act III, the action, if one can call it that, is resumed. When the curtain goes up Poussé Number Two is discovered still lying in the bath. The tragedy of man’s futile struggle against the power of Things begins to draw towards its fatal climax as we hear a conversation between the piano and the medicine cabinet in which the piano suggests an exchange of their respective Poussés. The piano, realizing that Poussée doesn’t know anything about music anyway and will probably accept Poussé Number One’s word that he can play, queering the pitch for Things, with this ambivalent concept of love, wishes to lure Number Two on instead. (In Ventre’s system, Things are quite capable of emanations and influences by reason of their affinity with man’s Thing-Body or Not-other.) Accordingly, when Poussé Number Two wakes up in the bath he feels a compulsive desire to play the piano, forgetting that his fingers are still sticky – and of course it is not his piano anyway. The piano, biding its time, lets him play quite well. (In Resistentialist jargon, which unashamedly borrows from the terminology of Gonk and others when necessary, the resistance of the I-Thing is infinite and that of the Thou-Thing is zero – it is always my bootlaces that break and of course Poussé Number Two thinks he is playing Poussé Number One’s piano.) Number Two only leaves the instrument when he hears the others coming back. He goes to the bathroom and listens through the partition with a knowing smile as Poussé Number One begins to play for Poussée. Naturally, his fingers stick to the keys, the piano being an I-Thing for him, or so he thinks. This makes Poussé Number Two feel so good that he actually manages to fix the medicine cabinet. Poussée, returning to him disillusioned from the pseudo-pianist, flings herself into his arms, but it is too late. He has cut an artery on a piece of the broken glass sticking out of the medicine cabinet. In despair she rushes back to the music room, where Poussé Number One has just lit a cigarette to console himself and think out the next move. (‘As if that mattered,’ says the piano scornfully.) As she comes in there is a great explosion. Poussé Number One has forgotten the petrol he had poured on the piano in Act 1.
    The drama is not the only art to have been revivified in France (and therefore everywhere) by Resistentialism. This remorseless modern philosophy has been reflected in the work of all the important younger composers and painters in Paris. Resistentialist music, based on acceptance of the tragic Thing-ness, and therefore limitation, of musical instruments, makes use of a new scale based on the Absolute Mathematical Reluctance of each instrument. The A.M.R. of the violin, for instance, is the critical speed beyond which it is impossible to play it because of the strings’ melting. The new scale is conceived, says Dufay, as ‘a geometric rather than a tonic progression. Each note is seen as a point on the circumference of a circle of which the centre is the A.M.R. The circle must then be conceived as inside-out’. Dufay has expressed in mathematical terms that cosmic dissatisfaction of the artist with the physical medium in which he is forced to work. Kodak, approaching the problem from a different angle, has taken more positive steps to limit the ‘cosmic offence-power’ of the conventional scale by reducing the number of notes available. His first concerto, for solo tympanum and thirty conductors, is an extension of the argument put forward some years ago, in remarkable anticipation of Resistentialism, by Ernest Newman, music critic of the London Sunday Times, who said that the highest musical pleasure was to be derived much more from score-reading than from actual performance. Kodak is now believed to be working on a piece for conductors only.
    I have left Resistentialism in painting to the end because it is over the quarrel between Ventre and Agfa, at one time his chief adherent among the artists, that the little cafes and bistros of the Quartier Latin are seething today. When Agfa first came under Ventre’s influence he accepted the latter’s detachment, not so much Franciscan as Olympic, from Things. His method was to sit for hours in front of a canvas brooding over disasters, particularly earthquakes, in which Things are hostile in the biggest and most obvious way. Sometimes he would discover that the canvas had been covered during his abstraction, sometimes not. At any rate, Agfa enjoyed a succès fou as a painter of earthquakes and recently he has shown himself impatient of the thoroughgoing néantisme (no-thingery) of Ventre, who insists relentlessly that to conform completely to the pure Resistentialist ideal a picture should not only have no paint but should be without canvas and without frame, since, as he irrefutably points out, these Things are all Things (ces choses sont toutes des choses).
    The defection of Agfa and of other ‘moderates’ among the Resistentialists has been brought to a head by the formation, under a thinker named Qwertyuiop, of a neo-Resistentialist group. The enthusiasm with which medieval students brawled in the streets of Paris over the Categories of Being has lost none of its keenness today, and the recent pitched battle between Ventristes and followers of Qwertyuiop outside the Café aux Fines Herbes, by now famous as Ventre’s headquarters, has, if nothing else, demonstrated that Paris still maintains her position as the world’s intellectual centre. It is rather difficult to state the terms of the problem without using some of the Resistentialists’ phraseology, so I hope I may be pardoned for briefly introducing it.
    Briefly, the issue is between Ventre, the pessimist, and Qwertyuiop, the optimist. Ventre, in elaborating on his central aphorism, les choses sont contre nous, distinguishes carefully between what he calls chose-en-soi, the Thing in itself, and chose-pour-soi, the Thing for itself. Chose-en-soi is his phrase for Things existing in their own right, sublimely and tragically independent of man. In so far as Ventre’s pregnant terminology can be related to traditional western categories, chose-en-soi stands for the Aristotelean outlook, which tends to ascribe a certain measure of reality to Things without reference to any objective Form in any mind, human or divine. There are even closer parallels with the later, medieval philosophy of Nominalism, which says, roughly that there are as many Things as we can find names for; Ventre has an interesting passage about what he calls inversion (inversion) in which he exploits to the full the contrast between the multiplicity of actions which Things can perform against us from a slightly overhanging tray falling off a table when the removal of one lump of sugar over-balances it, to the atomic bomb and the paucity of our vocabulary of names on such occasions.
    The third great concept of Ventre is le néant (the No-Thing). Man is ultimately, as I have said, a No-Thing, a metaphysical monster doomed to battle, with increasing non-success, against real Things. Resistentialism, with what Ventre’s followers admire as stark, pagan courage, bids man abandon his hopeless struggle.
    Into the dignified, tragic, Olympian detachment of Ventre’s ‘primitive’ Resistentialism the swarthy, flamboyant Qwertyuiop, has made a startling, meteoric irruption. Denounced scornfully by the Ventristes as a plagiarist, Qwertyuiop was, indeed, at one time a pupil of Ventre. He also asserts the hostility of Things to man – but he sees grounds for hope in the concept of chose-pour soi (the Thing for itself) with which it is at least possible to enter into relationship. But he is more a dramatist than a philosopher, and what enrages the Ventristes is the bouncing optimism of his plays and also the curious symbolic figure of the géant or giant which appears in them all. This giant is a kind of Resistentialist version of Nietzsche’s superman, a buskined, moustachioed figure who intervenes, often with great comic effect, just when the characters in the play are about to jump down a well (the well is, of course, a frequent Resistentialist symbol – cf. Ventre’s own Puits Clos).
    The Ventristes point out acidly that in the first edition of Résistentialisme the word géant appears throughout as a misprint for néant. Friction between the two groups was brought to a head by Qwertyuiop’s new play Messieurs, les choses sont terribles, (loosely, Gentlemen, Things are Terrible). On the first night at the Théatre des Somnambules, the Ventristes in the gallery created an uproar and had to be expelled when, at the end of the second act, the inevitable giant had stepped in to prevent three torturings, seven betrayals, and two suicides. The battle was renewed later with brickbats and bottles when Qwertyuiop and his followers interrupted one of Ventre’s choseries, or Thing-talks, at the Café aux Fines Herbes. Five of the moderates and two Ventristes were arrested by the gendarmerie and later released on bail. All Paris is speculating on the outcome of the trial, at which many important literary figures are expected to give evidence.
    It is, however, not in the law courts that the influence of Resistentialism on our time will be decided. It is in the little charcuteries and épiceries of the Left Bank. It is in the stimulating mental climate of Paris that the artists and dramatists will decide for themselves whether there is any future for art in the refined philosophical atmosphere to which Ventre’s remorseless logic would have them penetrate. Although Qwertyuiop has succeeded in attracting many of Ventre’s more lukewarm followers among the arts, who had begun to rebel against the Master’s uncompromising insistence on pictures without paint and music without instruments, without any Things at all, there seems no doubt that Ventre is the greater thinker, and it is an open question whether he will achieve his object of persuading the world to abandon Things without the indispensable help of the artistic confraternity in moulding public opinion.
    There is no doubt, either, that Ventre’s thought strikes a deep chord in everyone daring these sombre, post-atomic times. Ventre has, I think, liberated the vast flood of creative hatred which makes modern civilization possible. My body, says Ventre, is chose-en-soi for me, a Thing which I cannot control, a Thing which uses me. But it is chose-pour-soi for the Other. I am thus a Hostile Thing to the Other, and so is he to me. At the same time it follows (or it does in the French) that I am a No-Thing to the world. But I cannot be united or merged with the WorldThing because my Thing-Body, or Not-Other, gives me an illicit and tragically deceptive claim on existence and ‘happiness’. I am thus tragically committed to extending the area of my always illusory control over the Thing-body – and as the ‘mind’ associated with my Thing-body is merely the storing up of recollected struggles with Things, it follows that I cannot know the Other except as one of the weapons with which the World-Thing has increased its area of hostile action.
    Resistentialism thus formalizes hatred both in the cosmological and in the psychological sphere. It is becoming generally realized that the complex apparatus of our modern life – the hurried meals, the dashing for trains, the constant meeting of people who are seen only as ‘functions’: the barman, the wife, etc. – could not operate if our behaviour were truly dictated by the old, reactionary categories of human love and reason. This is where Ventre’s true greatness lies. He has transformed, indeed reversed the traditional mechanism of thought, steered it away from the old dogmatic assumption that we could use Things, and cleared the decks for the evolution of the Thing-process without futile human opposition. Ventre’s work brings us a great deal nearer to the realization of the Resistentialist goal summed up in the words, ‘Every Thing out of Control.’

—Paul Jennings, The Jenguin Pennings, 1963, reprinted from Town & Country.

fowler on pedantry and purism


Henry Watson Fowler
10 March 1858 – 26 December 1933

Pedantic Humour. No essential distinction is intended between this & Polysyllabic Humour; one or the other name is more appropriate to particular specimens, & the two headings are therefore useful for reference; but they are manifestations of the same impulse, & the few remarks needed may be made here for both. A warning is necessary, because we have all of us, except the abnormally stupid, been pedantic humourists in our time. We spend much of our childhood picking up a vocabulary; we like to air our latest finds; we discover that our elders are tickled when we come out with a new name that they thought beyond us; we devote some pains to tickle them further, & there we are, pedants & polysyllabists all. The impulse is healthy for children, & nearly universal—which is just why warning is necessary; for among so many there will always be some who fail to realize that the clever habit applauded at home will make them insufferable abroad. Most of those who are capable of writing well enough to find readers do learn sooner or later that playful use of long or learned words is a one-sided game boring the reader more than it pleases the writer, that the impulse to it is a danger-signal—for there must be something wrong with what they are saying if it needs recommending by such puerilities—, & that yielding to the impulse is a confession of failure. But now & then even an able writer will go on believing that the incongruity between simple things to be said & out-of-the-way words to say them in has a perennial charm. Perhaps it has for the reader who never outgrows hobbledehoyhood; but for the rest of us it is dreary indeed. It is possible that acquaintance with such labels as pedantic & polysyllabic humour may help to shorten the time it takes to cure a weakness incident to youth.
    An elementary example or two should be given. The words homoeopathic (small or minute), sartorial (of clothes), interregnum (gap), or familiar ones:—To introduce ‘Lords of Parliament’ in such a homoeopathic doses as to leave a preponderating power in the hands of those who enjoy a merely hereditary title./While we were motoring out to the station I took stock of his sartorial aspect, which had change somewhat since we parted./In his vehement action his breeches fall down & his waistcoat runs up, so that there is a great interregnum.
    These words are like most that are much used in humour of either kind, both pedantic & polysyllabic. A few specimens that cannot be described as polysyllabic are added here, & for the large class of long words, the article Polysyllabic Humour should be consulted:—ablution; aforesaid; beverage; bivalve (the succulent); caloric; cuticle; digit; domestics; eke (adv.); ergo; erstwhile; felicide; nasal organ; neighbourhood (in the n. of, = about); nether garments; optic (eye); parlous; vulpicide.

    Pedantry may be defined, for the purpose of this book, as the saying of things in language so learned or so demonstratively accurate as to imply a slur upon the generality, who are not capable or desirous of such displays. The term, then, is obviously a relative one; my pedantry is your scholarship, his reasonable accuracy, her irreducible minimum of education, & someone else’s ignorance. It is therefore not very profitable to dogmatize here on the subject; an essay would establish not what pedantry is, but only the place in the scale occupied by the author; & that, so far as it is worth inquiring into, can better be ascertained from the treatment of details […].

    Polysyllabic Humour. See Pedantic Humour for a slight account of the impulse that suggests long or abstruse words as a means of entertaining the hearer. Of the long as distinguished from the abstruse, terminological exactitude for lie or falsehood is a favourable example, but much less amusing ad the hundredth than at the first time of hearing. Oblivious to their pristine nudity (forgetting they were stark naked) is a less familiar specimen. Nothing need here be added to hat was said in the other article beyond a short specimen list of long words or phrases that sensible people avoid. Batavian, Caledonian, Celestial, Hibernian & Milesian for Dutch, Scotch, Chinese, Irish. Solution of continuity, femoral habiliments, refrain from lacteal addition, & olfactory organ for gap, breeches, take no milk, & nose. Osculatory, pachydermatous, matutinal, diminutive, fuliginous, fugacious, esurient, culinary, & minacious, for kissing, thick-skinned, morning, tiny, sooty, timid, hungry, kitchen, & threatening. Frontispiece, individual, equitation, intermediary, cachinnation, & epidermis, for face, person, riding, means, laughter, & skin. Negotiate & peregrinate for tackle & travel.

    Purism. Now & then a person may be heard to ‘confess’, in the pride that apes humility, to being ‘a bit of a purist’; but purist & purism are for the most part missile words, which we all of us fling at anyone who insults us by finding not good enough for him some manner of speech that is good enough for us. It is in that disparaging sense that the words are used in this book; by purism is to be understood a needless & irritating insistence on purity or correctness of speech. Pure English, however, even apart from the great number of elements (vocabulary, grammar, idiom, pronunciation, & so forth) that go to make it up, is so relative a term that almost every man is potentially a purist & a sloven at once to persons looking at him from a lower & a higher position in the scale than his own. The words have therefore not been very freely used; that they should be renounced altogether would be too much to expect considering the subject of the book. But readers who find a usage stigmatized as purism have a right to know the stigmatizer’s place in the purist scale, if his stigma is not to be valueless. […]

—Henry Watson Fowler, A Dictionary of Modern English Usage: The Classic First Edition,
Oxford University Press, 2009 (1926), pp. 426-427, 444, 474-475

essays on man and woman

An Essay on Man
An Essay on Woman
Awake, my St. John! leave all meaner things
To low ambition, and the pride of kings.
Let us (since life can little more supply
Than just to look about us and to die)
Expatiate free o’er all this scene of man;
A mighty maze! but not without a plan;
A wild, where weeds and flow’rs promiscuous shoot;
Or garden, tempting with forbidden fruit.
Together let us beat this ample field,
Try what the open, what the covert yield;
The latent tracts, the giddy heights explore
Of all who blindly creep, or sightless soar;
Eye Nature’s walks, shoot folly as it flies,
And catch the manners living as they rise;
Laugh where we must, be candid where we can;
But vindicate the ways of God to man.
Awake, my Fanny, leave all meaner things;
This morn shall prove what rapture swiving brings!
Let us (since life can little more supply
Than just a few good Fucks and then we die)
Expatiate free o’er that lov’d scene of Man,
A mighty Maze! for mighty Pricks to scan;
A wild, where Paphian thorns promiscuous shoot,
Where flow’rs the monthly Rose, but yields no Fruit.
Together let us beat this ample Field,
Try what the open, what the Covert yield;
The latent Tracts, the pleasing Depths explore,
And my Prick clapp’d where thousands were before.
Observe how Nature works, and if it rise
Too quick and rapid, check it ere it flies;
Spend when we must, but keep it while we can:
Thus Godlike will be deem’d the the Ways of Man.
I
I
Say first, of God above, or man below,
What can we reason, but from what we know?
Of man what see we, but his station here,
From which to reason, or to which refer?
Through worlds unnumber’d though the God be known,
’Tis ours to trace him only in our own.
He, who through vast immensity can pierce,
See worlds on worlds compose one universe,
Observe how system into system runs,
What other planets circle other suns,
What varied being peoples ev’ry star,
May tell why Heav’n has made us as we are.
But of this frame the bearings, and the ties,
The strong connections, nice dependencies,
Gradations just, has thy pervading soul
Look’d through? or can a part contain the whole?
Is the great chain, that draws all to agree,
And drawn supports, upheld by God, or thee?
Say, first of Woman’s latent Charms below,
What can we reason but from what we know?
A Face, a Neck, a Breast, are all, appear
From which to reason, or to which refer.
In ev’ry Part we heavenly beauty own,
But we can trace it only in what’s shewn.
He who the Hoop’s Immensity can pierce,
Dart thro’ the Whalebone Folds vast Universe,
Observe how Circle into Circle runs,
What courts the Eye, and what all Vision shuns,
All the wild Modes of Dress our Females wear,
May guess what makes them thus transform’d appear
But of their Cunts, the Bearings and the Ties,
The nice Connexions, strong Dependencies,
The Latitude and Longitude of each
Hast thou gone throu’, or can thy Pego reach?
Was that great Ocean, that unbounded Sea
Where Pricks like Whales may sport, fathom’d by Thee?
II
II
Presumptuous man! the reason wouldst thou find,
Why form’d so weak, so little, and so blind?
First, if thou canst, the harder reason guess,
Why form’d no weaker, blinder, and no less!
Ask of thy mother earth, why oaks are made
Taller or stronger than the weeds they shade?
Or ask of yonder argent fields above,
Why Jove’s satellites are less than Jove?
Presumptuous Prick! the reason would’st thou find
Why form’d so weak, so little and so blind?
First, if thou canst, the harder Reason guess
Why form’d no weaker, meaner and no less.
Ask of thy Mother’s Cunt why she was made
Of lesser Bore than Cow or hackney’d Jade?
Or ask thy raw-boned Scottish Father’s Tarse
Why larger he than Stallion or Jack Ass?
Of systems possible, if ’tis confest
That Wisdom infinite must form the best,
Where all must full or not coherent be,
And all that rises, rise in due degree;
Then, in the scale of reas’ning life, ’tis plain
There must be somewhere, such a rank as man:
And all the question (wrangle e’er so long)
Is only this, if God has plac’d him wrong?
Respecting man, whatever wrong we call,
May, must be right, as relative to all.
Of Pegos possible, if ’tis confess’d
That Wisdom infinite must form the best,
Where all must rise, or not coherent be,
And all that rises, rise in due Degree;
Then in the scale of various Pricks, ’tis plain
God-like erect, BUTE stands the foremost Man,
And all the Question (wrangle e’er so long)
Is only This, if Heaven plac’d him wrong?
Respecting him whatever wrong we call,
May, must be right, as relative to all.
In human works, though labour’d on with pain,
A thousand movements scarce one purpose gain;
In God’s, one single can its end produce;
Yet serves to second too some other use.
So man, who here seems principal alone,
Perhaps acts second to some sphere unknown,
Touches some wheel, or verges to some goal;
’Tis but a part we see, and not a whole.
When Frogs wou’d couple, labour’d on with Pain,
A thousand Wriggles scarce their purpose gain:
In Man a Dozen can his End produce,
And drench the Female with spermatic Juice.
Yet not our Pleasure seems God’s End alone,
Oft when we spend we propagate unknown;
Unwilling we may reach some other Goal,
And Sylphs and Gnomes may fuck in woman’s hole.
When the proud steed shall know why man restrains
His fiery course, or drives him o’er the plains:
When the dull ox, why now he breaks the clod,
Is now a victim, and now Egypt’s God:
Then shall man’s pride and dulness comprehend
His actions’, passions’, being’s, use and end;
Why doing, suff’ring, check’d, impell’d; and why
This hour a slave, the next a deity.
When the proud Stallion knows whence ev’ry Vein
Now throbs with Lust and now is shrunk again;
The lusty Bull, why now he breaks the Clod,
Now wears a Garland, fair Europe’s God:
Then shall Man’s Pride and Pego comprehend
His Actions and Erections, Use and End.
Why at Celaenae Martyrdom, and why
At Lampsacus ador’d chief Deity.
Then say not man’s imperfect, Heav’n in fault;
Say rather, man’s as perfect as he ought:
His knowledge measur’d to his state and place,
His time a moment, and a point his space.
If to be perfect in a certain sphere,
What matter, soon or late, or here or there?
The blest today is as completely so,
As who began a thousand years ago.
Then say not Man’s imperfect, Heaven in fault,
Say rather, Man’s as perfect as he ought;
His Pego measured to the female Case
Betwixt a woman’s Thighs his proper Place;
And if to fuck in a proportion’d Sphere,
What matter how it is, or when, or where?
Fly fuck’d by Fly, may be completely so,
As Hussey’s Dutchess, or yon well-bull’d Cow.
III
III
Heav’n from all creatures hides the book of fate,
All but the page prescrib’d, their present state:
From brutes what men, from men what spirits know:
Or who could suffer being here below?
The lamb thy riot dooms to bleed today,
Had he thy reason, would he skip and play?
Pleas’d to the last, he crops the flow’ry food,
And licks the hand just rais’d to shed his blood.
Heav’n from all creatures hides the Book of Fate
All but the page prescribed, the present state,
From boys what girls, from girls what women know,
Or what could suffer being here below?
Thy lust the Virgin dooms to bleed today,
Had she thy reason would she ’skip and play?
Pleas’d to the last, she likes the luscious food,
And grasps the prick just rais’d to shed her blood.
Oh blindness to the future! kindly giv’n,
That each may fill the circle mark’d by Heav’n:
Who sees with equal eye, as God of all,
A hero perish, or a sparrow fall,
Atoms or systems into ruin hurl’d,
And now a bubble burst, and now a world.
Oh! Blindness to the Future, kindly given,
That each m’enjoy what fucks are mark’d by Heaven.
Who sees with equal Eye, as God of all,
The Man just mounting, and the Virgin’s Fall;
Prick, Cunt, and Ballocks in Convulsions hurl’d
And now a Hymen burst, and now a World.
Hope humbly then; with trembling pinions soar;
Wait the great teacher Death; and God adore!
What future bliss, he gives not thee to know,
But gives that hope to be thy blessing now.
Hope springs eternal in the human breast:
Man never is, but always to be blest:
The soul, uneasy and confin’d from home,
Rests and expatiates in a life to come.
Hope, humbly, then, clean Girls; nor vainly soar
But fuck the Cunt at hand, and God adore.
What future Fucks he gives not thee to know
But gives that Cunt to be thy Blessing now.

— Alexander Pope

the casino and the suckers

“Most people are unconscious up to 17, dreaming until 25, awake to 39, mad after 40, dead after 60.”

— Ian Fleming

“Woe, woe, woe (I think I am quoting Ezra Pound more or less) in a little while we shall all be dead. Therefore let us behave as though we were dead already.”

“It was like this, Mr Bond.” Zographos had a precise way of speaking with the thin tips of his lips while his half-hard half-soft Greek eyes measured the reaction of his words on the listener… “The Russians are chess players. They are mathematicians. Cold machines. But they are also mad. The mad ones forsake the chess and the mathematics and become gamblers. Now, Mr Bond.” Zographos laid a hand on Bond’s sleeve and quickly withdrew it because he knew Englishmen, just as he knew the characteristics of every race, every race with money, in the world. “There are two gamblers… the man who lays the odds and the man who accepts them. The bookmaker and the punter. The casino and, if you like” — Mr Zographos’s smile was sly with the “shared secret” and proud with the right word — “The suckers.”


Of all the visitors to the Deauville casino, perhaps the greatest gambling wizard was Nicolas Zographos, a Greek-born mathematical marvel who in the nineteen-twenties and thirties was the keystone of “the Syndicate,” an association of gamblers who worked together and financed their star joueurs. His background was as mysterious as that of the late Sir Basil Zaharoff. Zographos’ favorite game was not roulette, boule, vingt-et-un, or chemin de fer, but the big one, baccarat in its most rarefied form — banque à tout va (the sky’s the limit ) — played in the privacy of the “salle privée,” a special room with its own set of alert guards. Experts have called Zographos the greatest cardplayer who ever lived. “I decided to perfect myself at them,” he once told a Deauville visitor in the thirties, and he added that he had worked hard at his chosen career and amassed a number of fortunes. “Perhaps you do not realize it, but there is as big a difference between a good baccarat player and a poor one as there is between a scratch golfer and a man with an eighteen handicap,” he went on. “People think, because at baccarat or chemin de fer you have to play with the cards dealt to you, that there is little opportunity for skill, except, of course, when it is à volonté to draw. But I assure you they are wrong, and I should know.” In those days, he kept himself in perfect shape by playing not six-pack bezique but eight-pack bezique and remembering the whereabouts of every card in the eight packs.
    Zographos’ largest loss at a single session of baccarat was thirty-six million francs, at a time when that amounted to nearly a million and a half dollars. “The largest number of times I have ever won consecutively on both sides of the table is twelve, and on one side of the table nineteen,” he has said. “The banker, in drawing his second card after the player’s, has a tiny but definite advantage. But the main difference is that the players double up their bets when they are losing and hedge when they are winning. It is only human nature, but there you are. I will put it another way. The bank plays baccarat as though it were contract bridge, weighing up every chance mathematically. And let me tell you it needs the brain of a very good accountant to assess immediately the amount of money being staked on either side of the table and then to work out mentally whether it is worth drawing a third card. … There is no such thing as good luck or bad luck.” Another member of the Syndicate, a Greek shipowner named Athanasios Vagliano, was often the banker of baccarat games in which two and a half million dollars changed hands in one night.

—Phyllis & Fred Feldkamp,
The Good Life… or What’s Left of It: Being a Recounting of the Pleasures of the Senses that Contribute to the Enjoyment of Life in France,
Harper’s Magazine Press, 1972, p. 123

stirred, not shaken

Citing Orwell to the effect that the mixing of incompatible metaphors is “a sure sign that the writer is not interested in what he is saying”, is a hackneyed excuse for failing to think independently. Mixed metaphors are as venerable as Plato, whose dialectic gently draws forth and leads up the soul sunk in the barbaric slough of the Orphic myth, in the Republic 7.533d. Likewise, in Timaeus 81c-d, when the root of the triangles that form the elements of living creatures grows slack owing to their having fought many fights during long periods, they are no longer able to divide the entering triangles of the food and assimilate them to themselves, but are themselves easily divided by those which enter from without. Most notably, criticasters have agonized over Hamlet echoing the proverbial Greek usage of “thalassa kakon” in proposing “to take arms against a sea of troubles”. Thus Alexander Pope proposed amending “sea” to “siege”, whereas William Warburton advocated the reading “assail of troubles”. For my part, upon being confronted with such noisome cavils, I repeat the immortal battle cry of Sir Boyle Roche: “Mr Speaker, I smell a rat; I see him forming in the air and darkening the sky; but I’ll nip him in the bud.”

what is to be done?

At the end of Patrice Leconte’s sublime film Ridicule, the marquis de Bellegarde, the refined and humane physician played by Jean Rochefort, discovers the villainy that underlies the “bel esprit” committed to the art of brilliant repartee that determines and defines the pecking order at the royal court. Revolution sweeps away the French aristocracy, and Bellegarde finds himself exiled in England, a humble tutor to the overprivileged offspring of his indigenous counterpart. There, while walking along a seaside cliff with his native host, he becomes agitated as a gust of wind carries away his hat. “Mieux vaut perdre son chapeau que sa tête”, better to lose one’s hat than one’s head, phlegmatically points out the Englishman. Whereupon Bellegarde, recalling his long forgotten befuddlement by the notion he is about to invoke, has his epiphany: “Ah… L’humour!”

Which is to say that it would take another Revolution followed by a therapeutic exile to instill a sense of humor in Russian intelligentsia.

— Быть невесёлым, это как кому угодно, — сказал Бьюмонт: — но скучать, по моему мнению, неизвинительно, Скука в моде у наших братьев, англичан; но мы, американцы, не знаем ее. Нам некогда скучать: у нас слишком много дела. Я считаю, мне кажется (поправил он свой американизм), что и русский народ должен бы видеть себя в таком положении: по-моему, у него тоже слишком много дела на руках. Но действительно, я вижу в русских совершенно противное: они очень расположены хандрить. Сами англичане далеко не выдерживают сравнения с ними в этом. Английское общество, ославленное на всю Европу, и в том числе на всю Россию, скучнейшим в мире, настолько же разговорчивее, живее, веселее русского, насколько уступает в этом французскому. И ваши путешественники говорят вам о скуке английского общества? Я не понимаю, где ж у этих людей глаза на своё домашнее!
    — И русские правы, что хандрят, — сказала Катерина Васильевна: — какое ж у них дело? им нечего делать; они должны сидеть сложа руки. Укажите мне дело, и я, вероятно, не буду скучать.

— Николай Гаврилович Чернышевский, «Что делать?»

“One may be melancholy as he pleases,” said Beaumont; “but to be bored is in my opinion unpardonable. Boredom is a fashion among our brethren, the English, but we Americans know nothing about it. We have no time to be bored; we have too much to do. I think; I mean, it seems to me” (he corrected his Americanism) “that the Russian people ought to see themselves in the same situation: as I see it, they too have too much to do. But, in reality, I see exactly the opposite in the Russians; they are very much disposed to gloom. Even the English cannot equal them in this respect. Englishmen are known all over Europe, including Russia, to be the most boring people in the world, but they are as superior to the Russians in sociability, vivacity, and good cheer, as they are inferior to the French in these respects. And your travelers tell you how boring English society is. I don’t understand what they see when they look at themselves.”
    “And the Russians are right in being gloomy,” said Katerina Vasilyevna; “what chance do they have for activity? They have nothing to do! They have to sit with folded hands. Give me something to do, and in all likelihood I shall not be bored.”

— Nikolay Gavrilovich Chernyshevsky, What Is to Be Done?

sincerity

The secret of acting is sincerity — and if you can fake that, you’ve got it made.
Usually attributed to [George] Burns — as, for example, in Michael York, Travelling Player (1991). Fred Metcalf in The Penguin Dictionary of Modern Humorous Quotations (1987) has Burns saying, rather: ‘Acting is about honesty. If you can fake that, you’ve got it made.’ However, Kingsley Amis in a devastating piece about Leo Rosten in his Memoirs (1991) has the humorist relating ‘at some stage in the 19705’ how he had given a Commencement address including the line: ‘Sincerity. If you can fake that… you’ll have the world at your feet’ So perhaps the saying was circulating even before Burns received the credit. Or perhaps Rosten took it from him? An advertisement in Rolling Stone in about 1982 offered a T-shirt with the slogan (anonymous): ‘The secret of success is sincerity. Once you can fake that you’ve got it made.’ Fred MacMurray was quoted in Variety (15 April 1987): ‘I once asked Barbara Stanwyck the secret of acting. She said: “Just be truthful — and if you can fake that you’ve got it made.”’

— Nigel Rees, Brewer’s Famous Quotations: 5000 Quotations and the Stories Behind Them, London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2006, p. 109

At some stage in the 1970s at some party in London I ran into an American called Leo Rosten, who turned out on investigation to be the author, under the pseudonym of Leonard Q. Ross, of a number of stories (reprinted from The New Yorker) in the now (and even then) long-defunct British magazine Lilliput in the war years and after, comic genre pieces about one Hyman Kaplan, an Eastern-European immigrant to America, and his attempts to learn English in night school in New York. I remembered having thought them genuinely funny in a closely observed verbal way, and when Rosten amiably proposed throwing a quadripartite dinner including wives I gladly accepted. Continue reading sincerity