gall and gumption

Saturday, October 09, 2004

Radioactive poo

How do I know? If you don't want to hear it from me, maybe Imelda (no, not that Imelda) will convince you.

There is a class of people wherever you go that will take an interest in you as long as you offer a prospect of helping them to rise, to become more important. To these people you are disposable. On the day that they become persuaded that you are of no use, they will drop you like radioactive poo and feel exquisitely moral about it. They will set about trying to prove that actually they have been much kinder to you than you deserve. Because the thing gets turned upside down somehow, and whereas they once showed that they were 'smart' by courting and flattering you, they now find that it is more 'smart' to run you down. Now all of this is just so much trash. You didn't come into the situation making any promises to elevate their social importance and whatever issues they have with the world at large. I hope you didn't because you'd be a fool if you did.

What's that line from one of the Henry plays of Shakespeare? "There is a thing called pitch and it doth defile." That's not the exact line, but that's the purport of it.

Therefore do not traffic in what such people traffic in. If you work in any sort of publicly visible role -- I cover the city council and cops and school board for a newspaper in a very small small town, and I get complimented on my work by various officials, and because I have to keep on fairly good terms with sources in a small town I know how to nod and smile and sympathize with people's feelings even when I'm not sure I agree with their opinions in really fundamental ways. There's no point being uncivil or contemptuous, I guess. However, if someone were to start galumphing around in territory that I care about, they wouldn't find me nearly so complacent. Luckily this rarely happens as the things that I care about to that extent are little known to most people and that's fine with me. Love the riches of privacy.

So I'm reading Simone Weil. Actually I read the whole book in no time flat. But it is the sort of book that I immediately want to turn around and read again. It is a book to live with for a while. What incredible moral instincts she had! So direct and incisive and clear, and subtle though too. This is a writer that can help you to think.

It is part of this interesting little divagation I am taking in 19th-century France. It all started because I ran across a used copy of Roberto Calasso's The Ruin of Kasch. I read that book years ago and loved it, it was the cause of my fascination with the figure of Talleyrand. But on this reading I began to be curious about Benjamin Constant. So a week or so ago I devoured Adolphe and The Red Notebook. The Red Notebook was fun. It was an autobiographical sketch and he reminded me a bit of Boswell, though he is not the equal in firepower of Boswell.

Then I read Lost Illusions by Balzac. Oh I should mention that I have been making my very very slow way through Hannah Arendt's The Origins of Totalitarianism. I only read it when I am trying to sleep. But that is in the background too, you see. So bit by bit I am putting together this picture of France in the 19th century. One thing that has happened as a result is that I have even greater respect for Eugene Delacroix as an artist, for his ability to keep his integrity in the midst of all the foolishness of those times. He was Talleyrand's son, by the way, a fact which I just LOVE. There's a quality to these guys that I like, a detachment that is the very very essence of cool. It isn't cool for the sake of style. It is cool that understands what is transient and what endures and knows which side to be on and doesn't trifle, at its core it does not trifle. Like Montaigne, they know the value of keeping that little room in the back of the shop where nobody goes.

In the little room in the back of my shop there is no phlegm, no chewing noises, no burps.

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