Thursday, September 24, 2015

It's the features

If you look good without a speck of makeup or a spear of hair showing, wearing white that yellows your skin and teeth, and black that squashes you down like a heavy weight, why, you are it, the real McCoy. A woman lived in Greece like that one time by the name of Phryne. When Rosetta made her acquaintance long years after this in the pages of Galen, the weird old doctor who lived in the second century A.D., she thought of Sister Genevieve, because she was one person who could do what Phryne did at a party one time, lead off a game of Follow the Leader by washing her face in a bowl of water and coming up shining like a rose, a stunt not popular, of course, with the other hetaerae, whose painted faces after they were washed disgraced them. It’s the features.
     --From Variation West

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Superstition is built to last

“Someday,” the homeopath said softly, “this world will be burned to a crisp by some solar mishap and all that will be left will be cinder about the size to blow in somebody’s eye. And this is a terrible thing to say but it’s the truth—when that day comes, I’ll be glad. And why, sir? I’ll tell you. Because of unreasonable and groundless superstition. Because of just such irrational and unfounded beliefs as this one you bring up today as if it was something deserving of serious attention. And this is just one instance, mind you. How many more do you think there are? Sometime you’d ought to look in a microscope at a drop of pure clear well water and see the bacteria in it moving and spinning around, it’d scare you to death. That’s how superstition moves and spins through the clear air of the world, like bacteria and deadly germs. You can buy Rough on Rats and for all I know Rough on Tarantulas and Rough on Death Adders but what kind of poison can you buy for a pest that’s ten times worse than them and itch and cholera combined? Afflictions and sickness wear out, but superstition’s like tarpaulin, made to weather the storm. If anybody asks you what’s built to last, to outwear platina and the impious towers of loony kings, put a bug in their ear for me, will  you?—say: half-baked opinions, half-cocked prepossessions and godless proprieties founded on dread and incomprehension!”
     --From Marry Me, Carry Me

Thursday, September 3, 2015

The first love in the world

There is an old Indian legend that says that in the beginning of the world men had four arms and four feet. They had such a high opinion of themselves they thought they were as good as the Great Spirit. This got the Great Spirit’s goat, naturally, so he took a knife and sliced them down the middle. Well, right away the two halves wanted to get together again, and their longing was the first love in the world. They dragged around till one day they met the Spirit of Fire and he asked what was the matter, for he saw they were down in the dumps. “We want you to sear us with flame,” they said, “melt us into one, for that is our only desire on earth.” So the Spirit of Fire took pity on them and did what they asked. And ever since, all the unconnected halves running around want to be seared with flame and melted together.
     --From Variation West

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The novel writer

How a novel writer has got to be:
     insatiably curious about other people,
     how life is actually lived by other, unrelated, distinct persons
     inquisitive about customs, manners, morals
     must search, must possess, must note, must absorb, must master how things go on
     have the power to bring another social world into existence like it was really there
     devoted to "the sheer polyglossia" of the lexicon (ain't I though?)
     know how the different classes use language
     know something about the language of work & working
     know how language has changed and does change
     To a novelist that's also a poet, incoherence is an anguish of peculiar magnitude. "Make it cohere."

     --Notes from Ardyth Kennelly's commonplace book, from reading Helen Vendler's review of Elizabeth Bishop's Collected Prose in The New York Review of Books, Feb. 16, 1984.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

"The rich fabric of her writing"

Miss Kennelly’s memory for details, both personal and factual, contributes to the rich fabric of her writing. She achieves an effect so realistic that the New York Times has said that her characters “all but march off the pages”; and so appealing that, as the Saturday Review of Literature has pointed out, “No one who reads (Ardyth Kennelly) can resist the temptation of reading aloud some of the passages that are sheer delight.”
     --From the back cover of Kennelly's novel Marry Me, Carry Me (1956)