pseudopodium
Seraph, by Juliet Clark
. . .

The Death of Me Yet

An etiquette reminder: When someone tells me their life was saved by rock and roll, or by Jesus, or by love of a good dog, or by selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors, or by the cultural studies department, they may be offended when I ask if they'd considered the alternative.

Not everyone enjoys such challenges.

I do, but I crave conversation to a sometimes unhealthy extent.

Intermediate Hedonics

"Pleasure is no fun."
- Jean-Luc Godard, Vivre sa vie

Even with all my caveats, have I oversimplified? A bit, maybe, for correction's sake, remembering that occasional attention to a corrective is all I hope for. Only a saint makes career of conscience. I'm grateful to saints as a limit point, but when I conscientiously notice where I get most pleasure, I prefer the criticism of fellow sinners, unable to either deny or dwell in the light. Beatific extended verges on soporific, with blessed exceptions.

Which reminds me that I neglected attention when I listed the cognitive science topics most germane to aesthetics. To exercise one's attentiveness is a pleasure in itself, a significant reward-and-goal in all mammalian play, human art included. (That's why they're called "novels.")

Not all pleasure is interesting. Are all interests pleasurable?

Aversive interests we tend to call "compulsions." Some remain unwelcomely productive across a lifetime my waspish temper, across my own. Others can be resolved by admitting to their pleasure, as in the archetypal narrative of discovering one's sexuality. A focal shift effects hey-presto! as quickly as a cat turns on the soothing hand.

Pleasure and pain are "opposites" like bitter and sweet, rather than like acid and base: additive, not contradictory. On goes the Tabasco sauce; on goes the hair shirt. We feel conflicted; we feel like a conflict.

For myself, few pains seem more aversive than boredom. While such sensitivity's common among critics, it's not true of everyone. Artists of my acquaintance demonstrate a much higher tolerance for tedium. Sometimes even an appetite.

A good thing, too. Chefs may be guided primarily by their knowledge of pleasure, but the operation of cooking's rarely pleasurable in the same way. And chefs have other obligations: to not kill anyone, and, for some cooks, to not leave the diners feeling ill for weeks on end.

. . .

The Mullingar Heifer

P. Gaynor's public house and community
The family pub, Mullingar, c. 1904
From the collection of Juliet Clark

In Memoriam
Millicent Bloom
15 June 1889 - ?

—Is the brother with you, Malachi?
—Down in Westmeath. With the Bannons.
—Still there? I got a card from Bannon. Says he found a sweet young thing down there. Photo girl he calls her.
—Snapshot, eh? Brief exposure.

Dearest Papli,

Thanks ever so much for the lovely birthday present. It suits me splendid. Everyone says I'm quite the belle in my new tam. I got mummy's lovely box of creams and am writing. They are lovely. I am getting on swimming in the photo business now. Mr Coghlan took one of me and Mrs. Will send when developed. We did great biz yesterday. Fair day and all the beef to the heels were in. We are going to lough Owel on Monday with a few friends to make a scrap picnic. Give my love to mummy and to yourself a big kiss and thanks. I hear them at the piano downstairs. There is to be a concert in the Greville Arms on Saturday. There is a young student comes here some evenings named Bannon his cousins or something are big swells and he sings Boylan's (I was on the pop of writing Blazes Boylan's) song about those seaside girls. Tell him silly Milly sends my best respects. I must now close with fondest love

Your fond daughter

Milly
P.S. Excuse bad writing am in hurry. Byby.
M.
Over against the Rt. Hon. Mr Justice Fitzgibbon's door (that is to sit with Mr Healy the lawyer upon the college lands) Mal. Mulligan a gentleman's gentleman that had but come from Mr Moore's the writer's (that was a papish but is now, folk say, a good Williamite) chanced against Alec. Bannon in a cut bob (which are now in with dance cloaks of Kendal green) that was new got to town from Mullingar with the stage where his coz and Mal M's brother will stay a month yet till Saint Swithin and asks what in the earth he does there, he bound home and he to Andrew Horne's being stayed for to crush a cup of wine, so he said, but would tell him of a skittish heifer, big of her age and beef to the heel, and all this while poured with rain and so both together on to Horne's.
Gazing upon those features with a world of tenderness, Ah, Monsieur, he said, had you but beheld her as I did with these eyes at that affecting instant with her dainty tucker and her new coquette cap (a gift for her feastday as she told me prettily) in such an artless disorder, of so melting a tenderness, 'pon my conscience, even you, Monsieur, had been impelled by generous nature to deliver yourself wholly into the hands of such an enemy or to quit the field for ever. I declare, I was never so touched in all my life. God, I thank thee, as the Author of my days! Thrice happy will he be whom so amiable a creature will bless with her favours. A sigh of affection gave eloquence to these words and, having replaced the locket in his bosom, he wiped his eye and sighed again. Beneficent Disseminator of blessings to all Thy creatures, how great and universal must be that sweetest of Thy tyrannies which can hold in thrall the free and the bond, the simple swain and the polished coxcomb, the lover in the heyday of reckless passion and the husband of maturer years. But indeed, sir, I wander from the point. How mingled and imperfect are all our sublunary joys. Maledicity! he exclaimed in anguish. Would to God that foresight had but remembered me to take my cloak along! I could weep to think of it. Then, though it had poured seven showers, we were neither of us a penny the worse. But beshrew me, he cried, clapping hand to his forehead, tomorrow will be a new day and, thousand thunders, I know of a marchand de capotes, Monsieur Poyntz, from whom I can have for a livre as snug a cloak of the French fashion as ever kept a lady from wetting. Tut, tut! cries Le Fecondateur, tripping in, my friend Monsieur Moore, that most accomplished traveller (I have just cracked a half bottle avec lui in a circle of the best wits of the town), is my authority that in Cape Horn, ventre biche, they have a rain that will wet through any, even the stoutest cloak. A drenching of that violence, he tells me, sans blague, has sent more than one luckless fellow in good earnest posthaste to another world. Pooh! A livre! cries Monsieur Lynch. The clumsy things are dear at a sou. One umbrella, were it no bigger than a fairy mushroom, is worth ten such stopgaps. No woman of any wit would wear one. My dear Kitty told me today that she would dance in a deluge before ever she would starve in such an ark of salvation for, as she reminded me (blushing piquantly and whispering in my ear though there was none to snap her words but giddy butterflies), dame Nature, by the divine blessing, has implanted it in our hearts and it has become a household word that il y a deux choses for which the innocence of our original garb, in other circumstances a breach of the proprieties, is the fittest, nay, the only garment. The first, said she (and here my pretty philosopher, as I handed her to her tilbury, to fix my attention, gently tipped with her tongue the outer chamber of my ear), the first is a bath — But at this point a bell tinkling in the hall cut short a discourse which promised so bravely for the enrichment of our store of knowledge.
BLOOM
(in tattered mocassins with a rusty fowlingpiece, tiptoeing, fingertipping, his haggard bony bearded face peering through the diamond panes, cries out) I see her! It's she! The first night at Mat Dillon's! But that dress, the green! And her hair is dyed gold and he...
BELLO
(laughs mockingly) That's your daughter, you owl, with a Mullingar student.
(Milly Bloom, fairhaired, greenvested, slimsandalled, her blue scarf in the seawind simply swirling, breaks from the arms of her lover and calls, her young eyes wonderwide.)
MILLY
My! It's Papli! But, O Papli, how old you've grown!
Then out there came the jew's daughter
And she all dressed in green.
“Come back, come back, you pretty little boy,
And play your ball again.”
Had this latter or any cognate phenomenon declared itself in any member of his family?
Twice, in Holles street and in Ontario terrace, his daughter Millicent (Milly) at the ages of 6 and 8 years had uttered in sleep an exclamation of terror and had replied to the interrogations of two figures in night attire with a vacant mute expression.
What other infantile memories had he of her?
15 June 1889. A querulous newborn female infant crying to cause and lessen congestion. A child renamed Padney Socks she shook with shocks her moneybox: counted his three free moneypenny buttons, one, tloo, tlee: a doll, a boy, a sailor she cast away: blond, born of two dark, she had blond ancestry, remote, a violation, Herr Hauptmann Hainau, Austrian army, proximate, a hallucination, lieutenant Mulvey, British navy.
What endemic characteristics were present?
Conversely the nasal and frontal formation was derived in a direct line of lineage which, though interrupted, would continue at distant intervals to more distant intervals to its most distant intervals.
What memories had he of her adolescence?
She relegated her hoop and skippingrope to a recess. On the duke's lawn, entreated by an English visitor, she declined to permit him to make and take away her photographic image (objection not stated). On the South Circular road in the company of Elsa Potter, followed by an individual of sinister aspect, she went half way down Stamer street and turned abruptly back (reason of change not stated). On the vigil of the 15th anniversary of her birth she wrote a letter from Mullingar, county Westmeath, making a brief allusion to a local student (faculty and year not stated).
Did that first division, portending a second division, afflict him?
Less than he had imagined, more than he had hoped.
What did the 2nd drawer contain?
Documents: the birth certificate of Leopold Paula Bloom: an endowment assurance policy of £500 in the Scottish Widows' Assurance Society, intestated Millicent (Milly) Bloom, coming into force at 25 years as with profit policy of £430, £462-10-0 and £500 at 60 years or death, 65 years or death and death, respectively, or with profit policy (paidup) of £299-10-0 together with cash payment of £133-10-0, at option:
still its the feeling especially now with Milly away such an idea for him to send the girl down there to learn to take photographs on account of his grandfather instead of sending her to Skerrys academy where shed have to learn not like me getting all 1s at school only hed do a thing like that all the same on account of me and Boylan thats why he did it Im certain the way he plots and plans everything out I couldnt turn round with her in the place lately unless I bolted the door first gave me the fidgets coming in without knocking first when I put the chair against the door just as I was washing myself there below with the glove get on your nerves then doing the loglady all day put her in a glasscase with two at a time to look at her if he knew she broke off the hand off that little gimcrack statue with her roughness and carelessness before she left that I got that little Italian boy to mend so that you cant see the join for 2 shillings wouldnt even teem the potatoes for you of course shes right not to ruin her hands I noticed he was always talking to her lately at the table explaining things in the paper and she pretending to understand sly of course that comes from his side of the house he cant say I pretend things can he Im too honest as a matter of fact and helping her into her coat but if there was anything wrong with her its me shed tell not him I suppose he thinks Im finished out and laid on the shelf well Im not no nor anything like it well see well see now shes well on for flirting too with Tom Devans two sons imitating me whistling with those romps of Murray girls calling for her can Milly come out please shes in great demand to pick what they can out of her round in Nelson street riding Harry Devans bicycle at night its as well he sent her where she is she was just getting out of bounds wanting to go on the skatingrink and smoking their cigarettes through their nose I smelt it off her dress when I was biting off the thread of the button I sewed on to the bottom of her jacket she couldnt hide much from me I tell you only I oughtnt to have stitched it and it on her it brings a parting and the last plumpudding too split in 2 halves see it comes out no matter what they say her tongue is a bit too long for my taste your blouse is open too low she says to me the pan calling the kettle blackbottom and I had to tell her not to cock her legs up like that on show on the windowsill before all the people passing they all look at her like me when I was her age of course any old rag looks well on you then a great touchmenot too in her own way at the Only Way in the Theatre royal take your foot away out of that I hate people touching me afraid of her life Id crush her skirt with the pleats a lot of that touching must go on in theatres in the crush in the dark theyre always trying to wiggle up to you that fellow in the pit at the Gaiety for Beerbohm Tree in Trilby the last time Ill ever go there to be squashed like that for any Trilby or her barebum every two minutes tipping me there and looking away hes a bit daft I think I saw him after trying to get near two stylishdressed ladies outside Switzers window at the same little game I recognised him on the moment the face and everything but he didnt remember me yes and she didnt even want me to kiss her at the Broadstone going away well I hope shell get someone to dance attendance on her the way I did when she was down with the mumps and her glands swollen wheres this and wheres that of course she cant feel anything deep yet I never came properly till I was what 22 or so it went into the wrong place always only the usual girls nonsense and giggling that Conny Connolly writing to her in white ink on black paper sealed with sealingwax though she clapped when the curtain came down because he looked so handsome then we had Martin Harvey for breakfast dinner and supper I thought to myself afterwards it must be real love if a man gives up his life for her that way for nothing I suppose there are a few men like that left its hard to believe in it though unless it really happened to me
In Dublin's fair city where fine people dwell
Their fortunes would take me too long for to tell
There's one millionaire in the city, 'tis true
But he isn't Irish, he's only a Jew
There was an elopement down in Mullingar
So sad to relate the pair didn't get far
"Oh fly," said he, "darlin', and see how it feels!"
But the Mullingar heifer was beef to the heels

. . .

For who is there who anything of some significance has apprehended but is conscious that that exterior splendour may be the surface of a downwardtending lutulent reality

—The ways of the Creator are not our ways, Mr Deasy said. All history moves towards one great goal, the manifestation of God.

Stephen jerked his thumb towards the window, saying:

—That is God.

Hooray! Ay! Whrrwhee!

For most people, the real is what cannot be argued with (it partakes of a transcendental authority); for me (and those who agree with me), the real is what cannot be avoided, what must be dealt with, what must be interrogated, acted on, argued with. (Again, it's synonymous with the political.)
- Samuel R. Delany
STEPHEN
Here's another for you. (he frowns) The reason is because the fundamental and the dominant are separated by the greatest possible interval which...
THE CAP
Which? Finish. You can't.
STEPHEN
(with an effort) Interval which. Is the greatest possible ellipse. Consistent with. The ultimate return. The octave. Which.
THE CAP
Which?
(Outside the gramophone begins to blare The Holy City.)
STEPHEN
(Abruptly.) What went forth to the ends of the world to traverse not itself. God, the sun, Shakespeare, a commercial traveller, having itself traversed in reality itself becomes that self. Wait a moment. Wait a second. Damn that fellow's noise in the street. Self which it itself was ineluctably preconditioned to become. Ecco!

Pound's and Eliot's Ulysses is a depressing impoverished book by a quirkily upstart Irish-Catholic Zola. I don't know if they could've produced a plot summary, but it would've supported their view: This is the worst day of the protagonists' lives, and there's no reason to think next week or year will get any better.

Whereas my Ulysses has been a reliable pick-me-up Wonderworker for 25 years.

What the book does is much stranger than what the book tells.

As we learn more bewilderingly more details about the characters and their context, the text we know them by becomes more bizarrely more distant. This long dolly-zoom effects a vertginous ambiguity of scale. The clowns swell to heroic, archetypal, even divine proportions: Aristophanes on Olympus.

We lose all sense of perspective. We might even come to believe that there was some innate possibility for beauty and joy in the mere inescapability of human limits and plasticity of human vision. Almost like we wouldn't mind being one ourselves.

Near as Human, as Theodore Sturgeon almost might've said.

Like the best science fiction, a genre developing at the same time under similar pressures, Joyce's writing refuses either to evade the real or to take it as a given. Unlike science fiction, Joyce keeps his fire scrupulously within the confines of the whale.

Finnegans Wake would be the sneeze.

Responses

The real is what the king's foot measures.

Except in the court of Charles II, when the yard was the measure of man.

David Auerbach writes:

So what is your take on Milly's presence in the book, in light of your tribute to her? I probably have tended to underestimate it in favor of Rudy, but despite the light presence she has in the later parts, maybe she does seed the way for Bloom's tentative recovery. And on the subject of the text/story relation, it certainly has an alienating/distancing effect; you say that the text becomes more distant, but leaving aside the mythological aspects, the struggle to assemble the many, many constituent pieces as forces of abstraction and prolixity (a la Stephen) weigh in against piddling detail after piddling detail (a la Bloom) takes on its own significance. For me, it provokes a more interventionist attitude of reading since I was considerably more aware of the process of triage and simple elision when reading the thing. Reaching something that seems like closure (even when its not) was like finishing some video game and seeing the 1 minute cartoon at the end, which would have held no significance whatsoever but for what you go through to get there. (Again, when I wonder about the flow from Bloom to Stephen, which is less clear than that from Stephen to Bloom, this seems to resonate.) But Ulysses has lots of short cartoons... Maybe the metaphor isn't exact, but I couldn't resist.

I'm uncertain about Milly's part in any recovery (particularly if Bloom unwittingly supplied the condom that'll deflower her), but Milly's absence from the book seems to me to play an essential role in Bloom's marital crisis and paternal peregrinations.

Speaking of Rudy, another reader traces another ghostly presence:

Joyce's not-yet institutionalized daughter standing in ahead of the crowd for Bloom's and for Stephen's mother. "...by algebra that Hamlet's grandson is Shakespeare's grandfather..." The eternal seen in pieces. A refusal to bend any knee in any direction, home or away; he says time is disjunct and reconfabulated, but we don't believe him; it makes the story more fun though, and increases the grandeur of its scope.

He's dead nuts on that. And the retrospective arrangement.

A few weeks later, David Auerbach adds to the matter of the condom:

I guess I'm not much of a Joyce scholar, but the supposed passage providing the "evidence" seems so obscure I can't believe anyone would claim to know for certain. On thinking about this bit this time, it actually doesn't seem quite so grim, that whatever debauchery she engages in, it's ultimately a sign of progression (relative to Gertie Macdowell) that she's grown up and has survived childhood and the Bloom family and is at least reasonably a success.

Insofar as Ulysses is a well-constructed realistic novel, skepticism wins out. But insofar as Ulysses is a self-conscious experiment in the limits of well-constructed realism, there's one solid argument for gullibility: No chance to misinterpret Bloom will be passed up. Therefore Molly will discover no French letter in his pocketbook; therefore he will have donated it to young Bannon. Between twosofars I'm content to doubt.

I'm surer you're right that I wrote too glumly about Milly's prospects. Although her ending's iffy (which Joyce would hardly consider exceptional), Bloom has at least given her a happier starting point than any other young person in the novel.

. . .

In which a Slate writer comes this close to noticing that Karen Joy Fowler is better than The Onion

Anyhow, I'd like to end with the quote that summed up the book for me, and a question. Here is the quote.
"We had, most of us, also lost our mothers. We spent a moment missing them. The sun was blooming rosily in the west. The trees were in full leaf. The air was bright and soft and laced with the smells of grass, of coffee, of melted Brie. How our mothers would have loved it!"
Here is the question: Is this the bathetic, Windham Hill mishy-mosh I think it is? Or is it brilliantly satiric writing, of the quality of, say, the Onion?
(Slate via melymbrosia via Justine Larbalestier)

Ouch!

Although I found this stumblebum pas de deux painful to witness ("Such a relief to reveal my obtuseness publicly," one of them sighs near the end), it's fun to tip their lines into Fowler's compilation of Jane Austen reviews. In particular, their uneasiness with Fowler's apparent attempt to have her cake and eat it too would seem to disqualify them from enjoying not just Austen but any ambitious fiction from Cervantes (satire made chronicle) to Richardson (titillation made redemptive) and Fielding (mock-heroic made heroic), to Stendhal's and Flaubert's social tips from the clueless, and on towards Beckett's attenuated can't-go-on and the leftover genre hashes that intrigue John Holbo.

Oh foolish book clubbers, having the cake we eat's what fiction is for.

Responses

PF asks:
Also, speaking of Jane Austen, how do you feel about Clueless?

It and Persuasion are my favorite adaptations to date, although neither are a 100 Super Movie au maximum.

. . .

Questions of Turbulent Velvet

1) "It's all good and well to love your artifact, but why write to express your love for it?"

Because I am a river to my people. It's a small people cute as a handful of buttons but then it's a small river.

To put it another way: I don't write to the Heathers. I barely write to any public at all, as my poor editors used to bemoan. That's OK. Writing isn't oral tradition. It doesn't need a steady stream of oxygenated blood. Being stumbled over's the extent of my ambition.

To put it another way: Talking to myself is a poor substitute for conversation. Talking to the walls, or the page, or the screen is another poor substitute. But when those two substitutes get together (faint bass in the background)... they're about to discover (music begins to swell)... that they just might have to say (vocals kick in): "The Love I Saw in You Was Just a Mirage." No, wait, "I Like It Like That."

To put it another way: I wouldn't deny the thrill of spitting confrontation, or the increased attention with which it inevitably rewards me. Similarly, we get more attention when we break our child's arm than when we tuck our child into bed. Only a sociopath would take comparative levels of public attention as a guide through life.

Sociopathy is, as we've both noted, the sole spiritual goal currently approved and propagandized by our corporate fathers, a sociopath being the sole personage a corporation can convincingly mimic. And, as you've noted with special force, our weedy academic uncles mostly support that goal. Thus the need to explicitly remind myself of explicit reminders of slightly-less-sociopathic pleasures. Not that I believe that anything as piddly as an artist or as piddlier as a critic makes a lick of difference, but now's the season for empty things.

To put it another way: A vice that makes us better human beings is best renamed, no matter how minute the good effect or how greatly the renaming inconveniences our formulae.

Or, to put it another way: Where my attention's drawn, I become curious. But I'm constructed (or misassembled) in such a way that the only way I can feel I've understood is through words. If I don't write the words, they keep nagging the noggin. It's not heroic, it's chronic.

To put it another way:

—Goggins, you're the flamingest dirty devil I ever met, do you know.
—I had it on my mind to say that, Goggins answered firmly. It did no one any harm, did it?
Fff! Oo. Rrpr.

Nations of the earth. No-one behind. She's passed. Then and not till then. Tram. Kran, kran, kran. Good oppor. Coming. Krandlkrankran. I'm sure it's the burgund. Yes. One, two. Let my epitaph be. Kraaaaaa. Written. I have.

Pprrpffrrppffff.

Done.

2) What's all this about "pleasure"?

A manly sentiment. Almost Nietzschean: "Thou goest to cozy sofas? Do not forget thy whip!"

(What heavy metal band was it wrote a song boasting about how quickly they ejaculated?)

I want to take your word on it. But was there really nothing but mechanical reflex behind that word's satisfying snap, tang, and closure? You took no satisfaction in its shaping? Then it seems unfair that I take such satisfaction in its shape.

When a living writer asks Why write? or Why live?, they handle snakes. Making is inherently pleasurable, even if the line between pleasure and painful necessity remains mercifully unfixable, even if that pleasure is easily diverted and diversified. Like gravity, it's a comparatively weak force with comparatively visible results.

Responses

Pleasure is nature's bell. To get the spit out. The spit's the thing.

T.V. continues to find marrow in the bone here and here.

And, by email, here:

I used to bury them in the backyard, but was too dimwitted ever to find them later.

Growling, wagging, we do what we can to save the world.

My moral ambitions do tend toward the doggish (though not the dogged more chihuahua than pitbull). The Tutor interpreted "stumble over" as in drunken bum, which is fair enough, but the pet lying obtusely in the path from bed to bathroom was part of the image, too.

. . .

Potty Mouthpiece

The Republican right-wing, with admirable scientific detachment, continues to contrive the most definitive experiments imaginable to test their hypotheses. If Dick Cheney hasn't been publicly asked how he'd have reacted to Al Gore's expressing himself to "feel better," and if John Ashcroft hasn't been publicly asked how he'd react to Howard Stern's expressing himself to "feel better," I'd say the point's been proven.

Sadly, I've been on a business trip and missed most of the news coverage. Can you let me know?

(Of course, Stern is in broadcasting whereas Cheney was merely in the Senate, and so I can see how the offenses might carry different weights.)

Responses

Talk about that Moon thing. C'mon c'mon. I dare ya.

Anyone who could worship in Pat Robertson's church could worship just about anything. Given a newspaper or a cable network, Cthulu'd be an American hero.

Vote for Cthulu -- because you're tired of voting for the lesser of two evils!
Vulgarity is simply the conduct of other people.

All part of establishing The Great Society.

. . .

Intermediate Hedonics

The last word for now goes to the self-publishing crank:

One can bring no greater reproach against a man than to say that he does not set sufficient value upon pleasure, and there is no greater sign of a fool than the thinking that he can tell at once and easily what it is that pleases him. To know this is not easy, and how to extend our knowledge of it is the highest and the most neglected of all arts and branches of education. Indeed, if we could solve the difficulty of knowing what gives us pleasure, if we could find its springs, its inception, and earliest modus operandi, we should have discovered the secret of life and development, for the same difficulty has attended the development of every sense from touch onwards, and no new sense was ever developed without pains. A man had better stick to known and proved pleasures, but, if he will venture in quest of new ones, he should not do so with a light heart.

One reason why we find it so hard to know our own likings is because we are so little accustomed to try; we have our likings found for us in respect of by far the greater number of the matters that concern us; thus we have grown all our limbs on the strength of the likings of our ancestors and adopt these without question.

Another reason is that, except in mere matters of eating and drinking, people do not realize the importance of finding out what it is that gives them pleasure if, that is to say, they would make themselves as comfortable here as they reasonably can. Very few, however, seem to care greatly whether they are comfortable or no. There are some men so ignorant and careless of what gives them pleasure that they cannot be said ever to have been really born as living beings at all. They present some of the phenomena of having been born they reproduce, in fact, so many of the ideas which we associate with having been born that it is hard not to think of them as living beings but in spite of all appearances the central idea is wanting. At least one half of the misery which meets us daily might be removed or, at any rate, greatly alleviated, if those who suffer by it would think it worth their while to be at any pains to get rid of it. That they do not so think is proof that they neither know, nor care to know, more than in a very languid way, what it is that will relieve them most effectually or, in other words, that the shoe does not really pinch them so hard as we think it does. For when it really pinches, as when a man is being flogged, he will seek relief by any means in his power. So my great namesake said, “Surely the pleasure is as great of being cheated as to cheat”; and so, again, I remember to have seen a poem many years ago in Punch according to which a certain young lady, being discontented at home, went out into the world in quest to “Some burden make or burden bear, but which she did not greatly care —Oh Miseree!” So long as there was discomfort somewhere it was all right.

To those, however, who are desirous of knowing what gives them pleasure but do not quite know how to set about it I have no better advice to give than that they must take the same pains about acquiring this difficult art as about any other, and must acquire it in the same way that is by attending to one thing at a time and not being in too great a hurry. Proficiency is not to be attained here, any more than elsewhere, by short cuts or by getting other people to do work that no other than oneself can do. Above all things it is necessary here, as in all other branches of study, not to think we know a thing before we do know it to make sure of our ground and be quite certain that we really do like a thing before we say we do. When you cannot decide whether you like a thing or not, nothing is easier than to say so and to hang it up among the uncertainties. Or when you know you do not know and are in such doubt as to see no chance of deciding, then you may take one side or the other provisionally and throw yourself into it. This will sometimes make you uncomfortable, and you will feel you have taken the wrong side and thus learn that the other was the right one. Sometimes you will feel you have done right. Any way ere long you will know more about it. But there must have been a secret treaty with yourself to the effect that the decision was provisional only. For, after all, the most important first principle in this matter is the not lightly thinking you know what you like till you have made sure of your ground. I was nearly forty before I felt how stupid it was to pretend to know things that I did not know and I still often catch myself doing so. Not one of my school-masters taught me this, but altogether otherwise.

* * *

To know whether you are enjoying a piece of music or not you must see whether you find yourself looking at the advertisements of Pears’ soap at the end of the programme.

- Samuel Butler, Note-Books

Responses

Spinning the self-publishing crank: BLOG = Brautigan Library Online Glory-hole

God breaks a long silence:

Anywhere at high noon

I would also have quoted from Joseph Kugelmass's "The Assault on Hedonism" (Part 1, Part 2) if he hadn't written it three years in the future, where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives.

. . . before . . .. . . after . . .