“It is as if everywhere one loses something one had hoped to keep.”
– Two sentences, several hundred words apart, on the last two pages of The Lawless Roads by Graham Greene
I just finished The Lawless Roads. I read it for the first time perhaps 25 years ago. This second reading was a shock. What I’d read first as a very adventurous travel book became a stylistic leap into a sort of modernity of form (it was published in 1938). Greene populates his travels through Tabasco and Chiapas, two tropical, desolate Mexican states reeling from a purge of Catholic Churches and priests, with a rich cast of characters he crosses paths with, many of whom seem to foreshadow the characters in his most accomplished novels to come. In those portraits he reveals himself in a way he covers over in his later, more declarative autobiographical books such as A Sort of Life and Reminiscences. Greene was near the peak of his religious conversion to the Catholic Church, and in the book he seems to find his future moral crossroads and his aesthetic voice. You get Greene as a man in The Lawless Roads – his coldness, distance and cynicism (stoical realism?) enclosed by a profound religious longing to merge with something that offers salvation – an explanation, a reason – for the moral decay and the horrors of humanity found throughout the world. It moves with great force and only in the final few pages did I feel I was, finally, coming up for air at the journey’s end.
4.002 Language disguises the thought; so that from the external form of the clothes one cannot infer the form of the thought they clothe, because the external form of the clothes is constructed with quite another object than to let the form of the body be recognised – Ludwig Wittgenstein from the Tractatus
This essay looks at comedians in China and how the US nurtured Joe Wong, a Chinese comedian who is a big star now in his native land.
Here’s the illustration by artist Hannah K. Lee for The New York Times‘ book review of Harold Bloom’s The Daemon Knows (a link can be found below this…). The book and the illustration are infused with capital A art. Read Lee’s illustration with the writers and poets in mind, and you will see what I mean.
Thomas Merton, during his Asian pilgrimage, waited for days to see and photograph Mount Kanchenjunga, but it was covered by clouds. His visual sense was acute. In Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, he wrote: “Nothing resembles substance less than its shadow [words, drawings…]. To convey the meaning of something substantial you have to use not a shadow but a sign, not the imitation but the image. The image is a new and different reality, and of course it does not convey an impression of some object, but the mind of the subject: and that is something else again.” I discuss his pilgrimage and his photography in an essay under “On the Record,” which is listed in the column on the right. Merton died in Bangkok in December 1968.
Amy Bloom writes: “I scan the latest tower of books in front of me on the dining-room table, not even bothering with the stacks listing toward the far end, where Jeanne’s laptop sits, ready for her correspondence and Harold’s dictation.
“Some of today’s stack: Dialogue on Poetry and Literary Aphorisms, by Friedrich Schlegel (“Very important to me”); Elizabeth Bishop, by Colm Tóibín (“That very well-done novel on Henry James, very good”); The Poetry of Kabbalah, by Peter Cole; Jewish Cryptotheologies of Late Modernity, by Agata Bielik-Robson (“Splendid lady”); Nothing to Declare, by Henri Cole (“Very good. The best poet of his generation”); Shakespeare’s Horses, by Joseph Harrison (“My pupil. Next to Henri Cole.”), and multiple books by authors I expect to see: Hans Jonas, Gershom Scholem, Friedrich Hölderlin.
“Then there is a pile of stuffed animals on the living-room couch that belong not to their grown sons but to Jeanne and Harold. I ask, and he tells me, happily. “Well, there’s Valentina, the ostrich, named after Valentinus, second-century author of The Gospel of Truth; she presides…” For the article, click here.
mere detachment falsely emphatic.”
– “An American complained that he didn’t have enough
time, and was told by the Indian chief Red Jacket, “Well,
I suppose you have all there is.”
– “Every sentence has some falsehood of exaggeration because the infinite diffuseness refuses to be epigrammatized – the world to be shut in a word.”