6 April 20: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

Good congee (great texture), tasty strawberries from friends, Hamlet re-read.

If you are local, stop by for strawberries and chocolate: can’t finish.

I need to moderate the chocs, with these chocs being Lindt white chocs and excellent it’s hard to resist just hammering them, so in the next day or so I shall offer these exceptionally delicious chocs to visitors. The probability being that I will hammer them alone, for ever since I was a lad, I enjoyed sneaking off with sweets of my own, away from my brothers and sisters, and eating them while reading a book.

But the strawberries are also good. I guess they were grown in Korea. I also push them on the doctors and nurses.

Rereading the start of the “Player King” material in Act 3 of Hamlet. The scene leading up to the entry of the Players is increasingly tense because of Hamlet’s impatience with Polonius and Rosencrantz/Guildenstern.

Trying to get the image and voice of Ken Branagh out of my mind’s eye

Hor.: Where my lord
Ham.: In my mind’s eye, Horatio

in re-enacting this in imagination.

S. not JUST (just) a “practical man” for where’s it writ that a practical man may not be a dreamer, indeed must be?

That is: das ist. It was more and not less needful for me, when struggling in Silicon Valley to survive, pay my child support, and succeed, to take a little time at day’s end to read a poem or more out of my wondrous 1913 Morocco leather Oxford Book of English Verse.

Today’s OBEV strives mightily to be PC, I wonder why they bother for there are those of us who like the old rip-roarers that had naught to do with PC: “On the Burial of Sir John Moore, After Corunna“:

We carved naught a line, we raised naught a stone
But we left him alone with his glory

Don’t misunderstand me. I like the new, global and PC stuff and at my longest job in HK, teaching amongst many other things English Lit I taught world English and feminist lit with enthusiasm. But I also like a good chunky poem like Sir John Moore where I can speak and glower and pout like Churchill.

At one point a few years ago, a lad or chap read Sir John Moore for YouTube but cried with genuine anguish at the end, “but I don’t fookin oonderstand it!!”. My own surviving kid has rebuked me from time to time for my linguistic praxis and I thought, three years ago, that I had a shot at getting a teaching job at Hong Kong only to learn that words like “logic” were verboten in the modern academic job search. The professor who told me this (also my director in Glengarry Glen Ross) meant well, but also said she understood why my former wife rejects me based on my prose style.

The style being hypercorrect and more elaborate is in all contexts today a mistake, one of fashion but precisely for that reason far more serious than writing full of solecisms or even pompous administrative BS.

Look (I tell myself) at the way modern British men dress. Even more than Americans, British men are aggressively informal, at times in proportion to their academic success: today’s Oxonian don will look like a mad gardener whilst staff will be expected to conform to a dress code. Even in politics, while Cameron and his rather disgusting ilk will go tieless only reluctantly, there’s been a slow reduction in formality, while the Tory politicians still prefer the expensive shirt even if tieless.

My style might likewise offend by violating the new regime of informality. My use of “attributive” adjectives that front the noun (“poor Yorick”) in proportion to “predicative” adjectives that follow linker verbs like “is” (“Yorick is poor” [in the sense of to be sympathized with: the attributive cannot here be translated directly to predicative]) may strike readers as feminine in a tabu way: when reading late 19th century literature with a student a few years ago (Edith Wharton: Henry James) I compared their greater frequency of attributive with Hemingway’s greater frequency of predication.

A typical Wharton or James sentence might at least be parodied as “the serene Hotel by the glassy lake”. Hemingway might, I think, prefer “The hotel was serene, the lake was a reflecting mirror until the barrage”. His style, and its change from that of the 19th century, reflects a “hard boiled”, 20th century attitude that was no more, no less natural than that of Wharton or Henry James.

Perhaps (and only perhaps) this is part of what irritates my kid and the HKUST professoriate where modern professoriates are IMO too eager to embrace, to pander-to, to celebrate the destructive anti-intellectualism of their ill-formed students.

Today’s professoriate, still stuck in the groove of the 1960s, is like Justice Shallow a bit o’erhasty to reassure today’s students that they heard the chimes at midnight as if the student cared. And I certainly heard the chimes at midnight circa 1969 but was a more interesting person in 1963, a more interesting and fecund year in which Pope John XXIII told us Catholics we might yet be able to keep our faith without being throwbacks (“nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition”) and President Kennedy reassured us we might not die ablaze. I was reading Greek and even Roman drama. I lost my way in the summer, finding too much pleasure in collecting used books as opposed to actual reading, and Kennedy’s assassination cast a backwards-reaching shadow over the entire year, whose hope was thereby forgotten.

As the older cohort of my generation started to teach as graduate assistants, I found myself shambolic, unable to express myself in person. A superficial political correctness, which I could not project, became de rigueur: du jour, like soup.

“And so as in many ways he lost his way.” That’s a sentence that would, I think, have appealed more to Scott Fitzgerald who had a musical, almost dancing prose style (“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”) superior to either Wharton or Hemingway.

The only real education left today was, perhaps (and always “perhaps” in these tentative speculations) a period in one’s youth where one reads “classics” for a good reason (genuine passion), a bad reason (my desire to connect with Dad) or no reason at all, and exposure to a classical or in-depth education where for me this was a fucked up Catholic secondary education and five years working at Princeton whilst absorbing/inhaling a second education.

I shall workout around 2:00 and then attempt a short walk to counteract this blasted atrophy.


4 Responses to “6 April 20: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.””

  1. I love your prose style. It feels classic but also sharp and subversive, and thank god it’s not PC! Your writing always makes me think of William Burroughs.

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    great blog. A fantastic read. I’ll definitely be back.

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