Tuesday, April 25, 2017

STYLE

In his “Books for Living,” Will Schwalbe refers to a friend as having an enjoyable style in his writing. He does not elaborate on what made it enjoyable. But whatever it was, it had to be basically in one of two modes, formal or informal, literary or conversational. Each is subject to personal variations, but by one or the other category all writing is subsumed.

The formal style (think, for example, Flaubert) is one as close to poetry as prose can get. It uses profuse imagery, vast vocabulary, careful rhythm, and distinct cadence. It can be rightly called elegant or, in French, soigné. The informal is the way one talks, full of hesitancies, parentheses, digressions, often needless elaborations, uncorseted utterance (think, for example, Whitman.)

It is perfectly possible to score in either manner, just as one can fail in either. The former can become too demanding, too tiring; the latter, too casual, too vague. But both can charm us equally. For the formal style, take this speech attributed by Walter Savage Landor in one of his “Imaginary Conversations” to Aesop, who was for a time a Roman slave, to Rhodope, a young female slave: Laodamia died; Helen died; Leda, the beloved of Jupiter, went before. It is better to repose in the earth betimes than to sit up late; better than to cling pertinaciously to what we feel crumbling under us, and to protract an inevitable fall. We may enjoy the present while we are insensible of infirmity and decay: but the present, like a note in music, is nothing but as it appertains to what is past and what is to come. There are no fields of amaranth on this side of the grave; there are no voices, O Rhodope! that are not soon mute, however tuneful; there is no name, with whatever emphasis of passionate love repeated, of which the echo is not faint at last.

No wonder that this is part of an imaginary conversation; no real one can be styled like this. Note what ingenuity, how much, if you will, style has gone into this passage. Observe the refrain-like near repetitions, the balances between phrases, the use of some fancy words (appertains, pertinaciously) the canny reference to Laodamia, who followed her beloved husband into the underworld and in one version of the myth threw herself on his funeral pyre. Catch the echo between “however” and “whatever,” also the dying fall, achieved partly by using “of which” rather than “whose.” 

For another example, take Oscar Wilde’s tribute to Walter Pater, whom he somewhat underappreciated when, as an Oxford undergraduate, he got to know him. “But Mr. Pater’s essays became to me ‘the golden book of spirit and sense, the holy writ of beauty.’ They are still this to me. It is possible, of course, that I may exaggerate about them. I certainly hope that I do; for where there is no exaggeration there is no love, and where there is no love there is no understanding. It is only about things that do not interest one, that one can give a really unbiassed opinion; and this is no doubt the reason why an unbiassed opinion is always absolutely valueless.” Wilde goes on to eulogize Pater, and we come upon this insight: “The critical pleasure . . . that we receive from tracing, through what may seem the intricacies of a sentence, the working of the constructive intelligence, must not be overlooked.” So here we have one great stylist about another one.  Except for the curious double “s” in “unbiassed”(which may be the British spelling), I could not agree more.

But what now of the opposite, the unbuttoned style? Perhaps the most enthusiastic exponent of it I can think of is the music critic of The New Criterion, Jay Nordlinger. Here he is reviewing a recital by the pianist Igor Levit, which focused on a work by Frederic Rzevski, “Dreams II.” Herewith Nordlinger: “Composers have given us many pieces about bells, and one of those composers is Rachmaninoff. Who wrote ‘The Bells.” a choral symphony. . . Rzewski’s  ‘Bells’ is very belly indeed. Each note has its purpose, and each is placed just so. There is an earnestness about ‘Bells,’ even a gravity. The idiom is something like ‘tonal-sounding atonality,’ to borrow phrase from Lorin Maazel. As I listened to the piece, I thought it sounded Japanese. Is that because, in the program notes, I had just read about the connection between Rzawski’s ‘Dreams” and Kurosawa’s? You have to watch these outside influences, these extra-musical influences. . . . The third piece, ‘Ruins,’ begins with Bachian counterpoint. Actually, I thought of Shostakovich, channeling Bach. (Igor Levit began his recital with some preludes and fugues of Shostakovich) ‘Ruins’ gets grand, very grand, and goes on an on, grandly. Is this visionary or merely undisciplined? I’m inclined toward the latter. “ This, however artfully constructed, conveys sheer spontaneity: spontaneous, improvisatory, conversational stuff, however, I repeat, deliberately replicated.

Not all unbuttoned writing is quite this unbuttoned, but all of it is less formal, rhetorical, more natural-sounding, more pajamas than tuxedos. To be sure these categories are not hermetically self-contained: even a formal writer has informal passages; even an informal one has corseted patches. What I am proposing here under the heading Style is for you to consider what is involved in various styles and appreciate the diversity.

In this context, let me give you another example of the natural, even chatty, style. This one is from Mark Twain. “A few years ago a Jew observed to me that there was no uncourteous reference to his people in my books, and asked how it happened. It happened because the disposition was lacking. I am quite sure that (bar one) I have no race prejudices, and I think I have no color prejudices nor caste prejudices nor creed prejudices. Indeed, I know it. I can stand any society. All that I care to know is
 that a man is a human being—he can’t be any worse.” I can’t help feeling a certain irony here. The statement means that to be human is good enough. But can it not imply that there is nothing worse than fallible man? That it is bad enough just to be a man, regardless of race or religion?

As J. A. Cuddon puts it in his wonderful “Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory’—a book I recommend to anyone who is interested in literature or writing in its many aspects—“style defies complete analysis or definition (Remy de Gourmont  put the matter tersely when he said that defining style was like trying to put a sack of flour in a thimble) because it is the tone and ‘voice’ of the writer himself; as peculiar to him as his laugh, his walk, his handwriting and the expression on his face. The style, as Buffon put it, is the man.”

Style, however, is something you choose, not something you’re born with. Accordingly, you choose “heavenly” or “celestial,” “tearful” or “lachrymose,” “jolly” or “cheerful,” “funny” or “droll” or “comical,” “person” or “individual,” “awkward” or “clumsy,” “typical” or “characteristic,” “shape” or “form,” “travel” or “voyage,” “hereafter” or “henceforward,” “choose” or “pick” or “select,” “something or other” or “je ne sais quoi.”  Choosing between them heads you toward Landor and Wilde, or Nordlinger and Twain, informal or formal. It enables you, consciously or unconsciously, to espouse a formal or informal style.

But if you are, or aspiring to be, a writer, a style you must have; without it, you are nowhere, a nonentity.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Barbara Hugo



Her name was Barbara Hugo, and she was beautiful, and perhaps a touch otherworldly in her delicate loveliness. But let me make clear, she was no fragile, pretty-pretty China doll. Perhaps more like Pre-Raphaelite Alexa, a slender, exquisite mistress-model of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, really too good for the likes of him. She was very much flesh and blood, only her flesh was somehow soft-spoken, like her clear voice.

A light brunette, she must have been about five-foot-seven, and her bearing and walk were as graceful as bearing and walk can be. But it was all somehow understated without being wishy-washy, with the softness of a pillow, not an ice cream cone.

She was married to Richard Hugo, chunky and rather unprepossessing. A tolerable poet, he was at the University of Washington along with several other disciples or acolytes of the residing genius, the poet Theodore Roethke. I considered him a good minor poet, and was never forgiven for uttering it by the entire English department. I taught at the University for a year, and of course had some use for the library. The library whose librarian was Barbara Hugo. According to the poet J. V. Cunningham reflecting back, I managed to alienate everybody at U of W. But not Barbara Hugo.

It was enchantment at first sight for me, and something like it for her at second. We started seeing each other. I was subletting a one-room ground-floor apartment where Barbara started coming to me on afternoons. The window was always open, and I can still summon up the excitement of hearing the clickety-clack of her high heels approaching on the pavement. It was as lovely as any music I ever heard, perhaps even more so.

  Once in the room, she and I got on top of the bed, but never inside it. We indulged in all kinds of loving sexual play, but there was never any real intercourse. She disallowed any penetration, out of some weird kind of minimal fidelity to her husband.

This went on for most of my year at the university, an instructor in the English and Comparative Literature Department. It is curious how I have forgotten the details of our relationship (if that’s the word for it). I do remember, however, how she told me one day that she had dreamt of still being the unmarried Barbara Williams in her parents’ house, and me driving a car through all the walls to her bedroom. One did not have to be a Freudian to interpret that dream.

As I was headed back East to Cambridge and Harvard, I had to transport some of my stuff from somewhere to somewhere else, I cannot recall from where to where, but there was a lot of schlepping to do and Barbara very touchingly helped. We were both broken-hearted, only slightly comforted by the promise of writing to each other. Nothing more. She had her husband, and I had a sexy student mistress who called herself Cheryle, in incorrect imitation of Lana Turner’s daughter Cheryl.
She joined me in Cambridge and, huge mistake, I ended up marrying her.

  Still, Barbara and I continued our affectionate correspondence until Cheryle dis-
covered Barbara’s hidden letters and, I presume, burned them. In any case, they have vanished. Barbara remained a memory that could not compete with reality, however prosaic. But marriage to Cheryle ended in a not very distant divorce.

A few years later, I attended a reading at the 92nd Street Y by Carolyn Kaiser , a poet I had befriended in Seattle. After the reading, she remarked to me that Barbara Hugo, now divorced, was very lonely, and I should write to her. Carolyn must have known about my “affair” with Barbara.

So I wrote to her, and before long we were again immersed in a glowing correspondence. What made Barbara’s letters even more endearing were the misspellings, droll from a librarian and poet. We decided to meet again as her vacation from the library was imminent. We chose a midway point, Toronto.

I was waiting for her at the airport, and then there she was, as winsome as ever. On the bus to the city, she confided that she had been worried that I might have turned
worse with time; I had similar worries. But we were happily unchanged.

Downtown, she had to go for a haircut, and I could hardly spare her that long. We picked a place called (if I remember correctly) Beaulieu for our French  Canadian holiday, but first she had to buy a bathing suit. The store had only two that fit: a very revealing bikini and I demure black one-piece suit. Barbara asked me to choose, and I chose the latter, which made her extremely happy.

About Beaulieu I can recall only that we felt fulfilled, and one detail. On a bosky hillside, we went picking wild strawberries, and competed for who could gather more. They tasted sweet, we were side by side, and I was pleasantly reminded of Ingmar Bergman’s “Wild Strawberries.” If there was a fly in the ointment, it was Barbara’s smoking, which she did keep infrequent.

At the hotel, we met a middle-aged couple who were driving back to Toronto and gave us a lift in the back seat. And then something happened reminiscent of Bergman. You may recall that in the movie the principal couple pick up a pair of young hitchhikers, who fight so vehemently in the back seat that they have to be ejected. Something similar happened to us. Barbara needed a cigarette for which we had to make a stop.

Acrimony ensued. Parting in Toronto (or was it Montreal?), was rather cool, but we professed continued correspondence. That, however, did not endure, and soon ended. There was no further contact.
 
I have now looked in Google, where in Richard Hugo’s bio there is mention of his marriage and of his divorce. No details about Barbara, of course. She could still be alive, but only namesakes can be found. Such delicate persons tend not to be long-lived.

Survival in memory is a melancholy business. So good-bye, Barbara, I loved you.



Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Contra Trump

One morning, Lord Byron woke up and found himself famous. One more recent morning, we awoke and found ourselves infamous: Donald J. Trump had been elected President. Only an atom bomb would be a worse alarm clock.

Now you may ask if one did not vote for him, or promulgate him in any fashion, why would one feel guilty. Because what you are surrounded by, submerged in, taints you. Even the time to be spent deriding and deploring him is humiliating, wasted. And, of course, divisive. In a time of plague, even the rare uninfected are bound to be affected. Trump should have been stopped by a joint effort from all of us, though who knows what that might have been other than the nonvote deployed against him, which clearly proved ineffective. So we are stuck with him, his family, his toadies, his ghastly appointees, for years to come, with a couple of weeks of his presidency already proving poisonous.

His very name might have warned us. Donald, Eric Partridge’s informative “Name This Child” tells me, is “the English form of Gaelic Domhnall, [meaning] world-ruler.” Isn’t that the way the Donald sees himself? As for Trump, it has several meanings, one of them, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is “a helpful and admired person.” I ask you: can you trump that? Evidently part of the man’s delusional repertoire. Finally, there is “trumpery,” defined as “a worthless article” or “junk.” Which covers him, most of his family, and the whole gang of his appointees. Or would you buy a used car from Stephen K. Bannon, or share the views that Mike Pence, with equal measure of fanaticism and smugness, espouses?

Just look at Trump! Even the hair, which, though purportedly genuine, the seventy-year-old surely has blondined, just as he makes his each new spouse that much younger than himself, as if coiffed could constitute coeval. Next, the face, which I would call porcine if it weren’t an insult to honest porkers. Take the way his mouth purses itself into a horrid cuteness, to accompany the childish vocalism and prissy finger and arm gestures. All of which would be laughable if the accompanying utterance weren’t balderdash or a monstrosity. I can think of only one face equally horrible, albeit in a different way, that of Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader.

And what of Trump’s ideas? They run mostly from preposterous to deleterious, with a very rare spark of common sense here and there, though as likely as not an empty boast or promise. And the style? Why, anyone who has read a few good books, which Trump evidently hasn’t, could manage a bit better. But the disheartening thing is that the very grandiloquence and pomposity, snappishness and obloquy are what have turned, even some of his betters, into his defenders, on the naïve assumption that any change has to be for the better. You know the one about the devil we know etc. Still, the majority of Trumpsters seems to consist of uneducated and unemployed whites in the red states, who may well deserve change, but not of this kind.

It is not as if, even so, he had far fewer voters than Mrs. Clinton’s millions. But under the obsolete and absurd system of an Electoral College, no better than the Trump University, the Donald managed to slip in. It should be the eternal shame of the Republicans that they could not come up with a better candidate, although not easy, considering the available field. We did have the overwhelming popular vote, but that manifestly wasn’t enough to get rid of him. So here we are now, at the mercy of a sinister, self-serving sot for years to come. Such narcissism, such egomania, such vengefulness for the slightest disagreement, cannot but wreak substantial harm on this country, this nation.

Our only hope, such as it is, is the courts. The “so-called judge,” as Trump declared the worthy who has been able to foil him, and other judges who joined the opposition, may find  ways to curb Trump, but it will be hard. How does one get around a Republican Congress—all who put party ahead of country? One wonders what circle of hell a contemporary Dante would consign Donald to. Meanwhile what is certain is that he is making America grate, nationally and internationally. But what the hell, he is making Putin happy.

Monday, February 6, 2017

FASHION

What a bizarre, paradoxical, self-contradictory and ephemeral thing is fashion! On the one hand, it challenges haute couture to come up with ever more unique, far out, incomparable women’s clothes, if something that frequently exposes enough flesh to scandalize the conservatives can still be considered clothing. On the other hand, it prods the less affluent to emulate what lesser novelties they can afford. In other, words, it simultaneously stimulates the more daring and moneyed to be wholeheartedly, if often half-nakedly, unique, while encouraging the less fortunate and flamboyant to ignore the runway models while still following trends as much as their means and modesty allow.  

I am concerned here with modern times. I have no idea to what extent, say, the togas of antiquity resembled or differed from one another: what was worn by Demosthenes and Cicero, by Caesar and his assassins, seems all equally like bed-sheets to my unsophisticated eye. My interest in fashion begins with George Bryan Brummell, known as Beau Brummell (1778-1840), a dandy who, contrary to what you might assume, actually launched more simply cut men’s clothes, favoring trousers rather than britches, although still fancying luxuriant neckwear.

Of course, there have been fops (bad) and dandies (okay) from way back, but also aficionados for whom fashion was a more levelheaded affair. Consider Shakespeare’s description of Hamlet as “the glass of fashion and the mould of form,/ The observed of all observers,” clearly intended as a model. Note the implication that he is the mirror in which all observant, discriminating persons would want to see themselves reflected. A fashion plate if you will, but surely no fop.

Yet there are no terms for female dandies, and indeed the chronicles of male and female fashions tell very different stories. The female fops, perhaps, may be called coquettes; the dandies, perhaps, chic or elegant--mere modest adjectives rather than brash nouns. Basically, the difference lies in that standard male attire resists major change, except on hipsters and showoffs. These may wear odd outfits, as to a degree do fanatical male fashionistas, who however are outside my purview. Women of fashion, conversely, go in for seemingly endless variety, ranging from the merely individual and stylish to the grossly outrageous, say from the Duchess of Cambridge to Lady Gaga.

Why the basic conservatism of male fashion and the dizzying diversity of the female? First consider what any clothing is about. It is to hide the so-called private parts of the body, not suited to public display, but also to protect from the weather. Yet why bypass the chance to make this appealing? To whom? To the dignified wearer himself: solid, but with a certain swing to it, say cinched waist and built-up shoulders. This allows for some flexibility, such as the color or length of the jacket and the choice of two or three front buttons. Also the width of the lapel, with higher or lower notch, and number and style of the pockets. Further, the length and finish of the trousers, cuffs or not, tight jeans or even bell bottoms. All relatively minor divergences, though, as between noodles and dumplings.

Accordingly, in its basic traditionalism or steadfastness, male apparel appeals to women looking for solid relationships, even marriage, from the dependable men who wear it, its near-conformity being a kind of sartorial oasis. The only area where men can safely be fanciful is—Brummell again—the necktie, of which I have a profligately profuse collection.

Thus I own scores of expensive ties, with perhaps twenty or thirty different labels, my probable favorites being, in alphabetical order, Abboud, Armani, Brioni, Chanel, Charvet, Fendi, Ferre, Hermes, Lanvin, Loewe, Mila Schön, Nina Ricci, Saint Laurent, Valentino, Versace, and Zegna, and several others (e.g., Celine and Guy Laroche) close at heel. Yet some fastidious Frenchwomen have mocked my zeal for what the French call griffé i.e., featuring prestigious labels, which they take as a sign of snobbery. But, snobbish or not, I got a nice range from them, a variety over the years, enhanced by changes of width, going from splashily wide to chastely narrow, though not quite the present pencil thin, an exiguity that strikes me as almost as bad as narrowness of mind.

But what now of women’s fashions?  Here freedom and diversity reign, from more sources than I can begin to enumerate, so I will limit myself to two great designers, both as it happens Spaniards by birth, but active in France or Italy. They are Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo and the Catalan Cristobal Balenciaga Eisaguirre, the latter referred to as the king of fashion by, among others, Women’s Wear Daily, and by Christian Dior as “the master of us all.” Fortuny because he was a pioneer; Balenciaga because—but here let me quote what Wikipedia has to say of him “the most brain-catching designer of his period because of his structural designs, that were never seen before—a master of tailoring. . . always able to translate his illustrations from paper to real life. . . . Due to his advanced tailoring skills . . . he reshaped women’s silhouette in the 50s” and beyond.

One of the reasons for the variety and exuberance of women’s fashions is that historical tradition has unjustly limited women to such minor pursuits. But it is also true that women strive for threefold appeal: to men, whom they wish to attract; to other women, whom they want to impress; and to themselves, whom they desire to gratify when they look in the mirror.  Which is where colorfulness and gaiety come in, as well as originality and variety.

All this, however, under some control, elegance or chic dictating certain judicious limitations. Many of today’s fashion designers, European or American, adhere to such restraint, but many, alas, do not.  Let me cite two egregious examples. In a photograph in the Times, which I regrettably did not keep, one of the Trump scions was seen escorting (and probably involved with) a fashion model who wore a truly curious dress--or undress. Its upper part consisted of a maze of ribbons, carefully calculated to the centimeter to reveal as much nudity as permissible while  avoiding what might be outright nakedness and considered sartorial porn. There once was a couturier called Rudy Gernreich who actually designed a topless dress, which, however, did not catch on.

My other example—this time excess rather than subtraction—is a picture in the January 29 Times Sunday Styles section, with the following caption: “Chanel’s belted crystalline slip finished in feathers [creating] an impression of modernity.” Down to well below the knee this is a straightforward dress—except for an overbroad, ostentatious, seemingly metallic belt—with two unassuming shoulder straps. It is made of an acceptable black and white, closely patterned fabric, and all is well until the extensive bottom part. From about mid-calf, we get a surrounding, dustbuster-like excrescence, apparently designed not only to ensnare the eye, but also to sweep the floor nearly as well as a broom. All feathery white, but heaven knows what color after the floors finish with it.

So then, if you are very wealthy or very famous, or better yet both, you can get away with gowns that no prudent woman would wear, such as this one with its alleged “impression of modernity.”  Or the one cited above, with its approximation of nudity. Fashion, I repeat, is a strange thing: embraced with taste and moderation—think, for example, Oscar de la Renta or Carolina Herrera—it can be very impressive, yet also, in excess, depressing or even ludicrous.

But beware! Colley Cibber, the second-rate dramatist ridiculed by Alexander Pope, wrote in his 1696 play “Love’s Last Shift”: “As good be out of the world as out of the fashion.”  Even inferior playwrights can occasionally speak the truth.                                                                                                                                                                                                                       

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

TEACHERS

My fans sometimes ask me whether I have learned from other writers, and if so, what and from whom. This does not elicit easy answers for more reasons than one. The first probable influence is that of Homer Nearing, my English teacher at Perkiomen High School, who solicited my input into an epistolary novel he and his far-away girlfriend were collaborating on. My senior year at the superior Horace Mann School, did not contribute any such influence.

At Harvard, I was a student of Harry Levin, and always admired, on a sympathetic rather than systematic basis, the scope of his erudition, his insight, his acuity and wit. But admiration is not necessarily learning. On a friendly basis in conversation, I probably learned a thing or two from Wilfrid Sheed, whose writing I also admired, though his novel “Max Jamison,” as he often persuasively maintained, had nothing to do with me, however often some thought otherwise. But I may have derived my sense of irony in part from him.

Some will mention Dwight Macdonald as a presumptive teacher. He surely was an admired friend, and wrote the somewhat cool introduction to my first critical collection, “Acid Test.” He did question some of my puns, as I may now the more labored ones, but not such good ones as his comment on Hollywood epics about Christ, in which “Romans were always the fall goys.”

Withal I cannot point to any specific lessons to have learned from him, admiration not being synonymous with influence. If Dwight was a model, neither in his writings nor in our many conversations, could one point to specific lessons. We usually agreed on things, as on a shallow lecture by Alberto Moravia we walked away from.

I actually recall most our one major disagreement, on Fellini’s “8 ½.” which he loved, but I found inferior to some of the earlier masterpieces. (I have since come to espouse  several of his points.) In any case, an admirer is not necessarily a disciple.

Regrettably, much as I bought his books and respected his criticism, I cannot lay claim—more’s the pity—to any serious emulation of Edmund Wilson, except to a somewhat similar, though much less extensive, intellectual voracity. I never met him except as an unintroduced bystander while walking with Renato Poggioli, with whom, at an accidental street-corner meeting, he stopped for a briefest of conversations. I was rather envious of friends who got to sit with him at a late-night Cambridge joint, and somehow mentioned my knowledge of Hungarian, which he, in connection with recent readings in translation, remarked on envying.

In English, I favored a number of poet critics such as Ransom, Jarrell, Charles Simic and Robert Graves, whom I enjoyed, along with such non-poets as Leslie Fiedler, Benjamin De Mott, William Pritchard, and the already mentioned Harry Levin. And a novelist-critic such as Vladimir Nabokov.

But I also read a number of German/Austrians, Frenchmen and women, Italians, Spaniards, Scandinavians, and Hungarians, though for some reason no Yugoslavs or Latin Americans. Yet little of it, and that mostly subconsciously, qualifies as teaching. As an occasional writer of verse (I dare not say poet), I learned from a whole bunch of poets, of whom I only mention Graves, Cummings, Ransom, MacNeice and Wilbur, as well as Erich Kaestner, whom I translated, and Jacques Prevert.

I must however look at one possible teacher more particularly: Kenneth Tynan, from whom I hope to have learned irony (just short of sarcasm) and, in so far as this is possible, wit, which, after all is mostly innate and automatic. I cannot resist quoting some of his boutades—here the French imposes itself, with the English sallies, witticisms, epigrams largely subsumed.

“When you have seen all of Ionesco’s plays . . . you have seen one of them.” “Whenever [Chekhov’s] Platonov deceives his wife, he is stung by an attack of remorse so savage that it can be alleviated only by deceiving her with someone else.” “As Lavinia, Vivien Leigh receives the news that she is about to be ravished on her husband’s corpse with little more than the mild annoyance of one who would have  preferred foam rubber.” “The true objection to [Genet’s “The Balcony”] is that nobody but M. Genet could have written the first half at all, while almost anyone else could have written the second half better.”

Or this: “Synge is often praised for his mastery of cadence, and for the splendor of his dying falls, Dying they may well be, but they take an unconscionable time doing it. Synge seldom lets a simple, declarative sentence alone. To its tail there must be pinned some such trailing tin can of verbiage as—to improvise an example—‘the way you’d be roaring and moiling in the hug of a Kilkenny ditch, and she with a shift on her would destroy a man entirely. I’m thinking, and him staring till the eyes would be lepping surely from the holes in his head.’” These are all negatives, but Ken could also be positive, about which some other time.

I am sorry that I didn’t get to know him better. At my one visit, when I asked him what he thought about my praise in an essay, he responded that it was merely to use him as a cudgel to clobber. George Steiner in the same essay.

Altogether, the question of from whom I may have derived demonstrable teaching is a thorny one, hardly ever fully provable, and except in the cases of full-blown discipleship perhaps not all that important. So much more characteristic and interesting is the innate and perfected independent talent, whatever it may be, and largely derived, however indirectly, from one’s living.

It is as with travel writing. One may get quite a bit from reading other travel writers, but you can truly learn only from your own experience, from your own travels. Even the best teachers are essentially road signs; the true discoveries are based on your own experiences.