Autodidact: self-taught



by V. L. Craven

2015 Best European Fiction ‘G-text’  by Razvan Petrescu (translated by Alistair Ian Blyth) [From Best European Fiction 2015]
001. It’s not a case of masochistic nostalgia for communist times, but the melancholy awoken in us by a time when life had a fragrance, because, regardless of where we spent them, unless it was in prison, those were the years when we were young.
002. …during my internship they would form wide ripples around me, as if I were a pebble cast into their midst…
003. In the end I started to enjoy writing, I gave up moot erotic points, and I quickly realised that I wasn’t a genius but almost, and so I carried on out of sadism.
004. I was in the country, where, without a doubt, the eternity of absolute stupidity was born.

Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers
001. February was sobbing and blustering its lachrymose way into March…
002. [Two students were good naturedly arguing:] ‘No, Socrates!’ [in a way that I would say, ‘No, sir.’]
003. The Fellowes personality attracted and puzzled her very much. More than with any of the other dons, she felt that with Miss de Vine the devotion to the intellectual life was the result, not of the untroubled following of a natural or acquired bias, but of a powerful spiritual call, over-riding other possible tendencies and desires. She [Harriet Vane] felt inquisitive enough, without any prompting, about Miss de Vine’s past life; but inquiry was difficult, and she always emerged from an encounter feeling that she had told more than she had learnt. She could guess at a history of conflict, but she found it difficult to believe that Miss de Vine was unaware of her own repressions or unable to control them.
004. If one’s genuinely interested one knows how to be patient, and let time pass, as Queen Elizabeth said. Perhaps that’s the meaning of the phrase about genius being patience, which i always thought rather absurd. If you truly want a thing, you do not snatch; if you snatch, you do not really want it. Do you suppose that, if you find yourself taking pains about a thing, it’s a proof of its importance to you.
005. However loudly we may assert our own unworthiness, few of us are really offended by hearing the assertion contradicted by a disinterested party.
006. [One evening Harriet and the Dean of Shrewsbury had a fit of hilarity at a public function owing to an unfortunate clothing mishap, but in typical British vernacular:] On this occasion, Harriet and the Dean had disgraced themselves badly.
007. [Upon coming into contact with a most loathsome woman] Here, by special interposition of all the powers of evil, was Miss Schuster-Slatt…
008. [Lord Peter Wimsey successfully deflects a particularly tenacious don’s attempts at drawing him into a conversation on Philosophy, this is perhaps the first time that Dr Baring had failed at her ploy.] Harriet says to Lord Peter, ‘Nervous young dons and students have before now been carried out in convulsions thought being afraid to say loudly that they didn’t know.
009. She went to bed thinking more about another person than about herself. This goes to prove that even minor poetry may have its practical uses.

Gentlemen Prefers Blondes by Anita Loos
001. And I am beginning to think that family life is only for those who can’t stand it.
002. …if we could only manage to get all the songwriters to meet Henry’s Mother, it would be the quickest way to free the world of Mother songs.
003. And he does not even seem to be able to make people repent, because the only ones who ever want to listen to that kind of conversation are people whose morals are pure and who only want to listen to it talked about.
004. Because no matter how inferior your complex is, you can always meet very prominent people in New York, who have not got any more brains than you have.
005. And so I gave Henry a supscription to the Book of the Month Club that tells you the book you have to read every month to make your individuality stand out. And it really is remarkable, because it makes over 50,000 people read the same book every month.
006. And I think it is wonderful to have so many internal resources that you never have to go outside of yourself to see anything.
007. But Henry said that when girls like Dorothy do not pay, and pay, how are all the moral people going to get their satisfaction out of watching them suffer. And what would happen to Christianity?
008. …she gritted her teeth and let the Deputy Sheriff kiss her. And after it was all over, Dorothy says she felt like a little boy who had just found out that Santa Claus was the Sunday School Superintendent.
009. He asked Dorothy if she had not learned what it meant to be a Christian, since arriving in San Diego?
So Dorothy said that, as far as she could gather, it meant everything was OK so long as you don’t admit you enjoy it.
010. Dorothy is the cool type of temperament who quite frequently think that two is a crowd.
011. Well, the champagne was of the very best, so they had some more and the first thing Dorothy knew, she began to cheer up and feel better. And Dorothy says, that by the time the string quartet got through their program, she had reached a state where she could have been happy in a swamp.

Ghost Story Ghost Story by Peter Straub
01. None of them knew it was their golden age, nor that it was coming to an end: in fact they would have seen their lives, in the usual fashion of people with comfortable existences, a sufficiency of friends and the certainty of food on the table, as a process of gradual and even imperceptible improvement. Having survived the crises of youth and the middle years, they thought they had wisdom enough to meet the coming crises of age; having seen wars, adulteries, compromise and change, they thought they had seen most everything they  would see–they’d make no larger claim.
Yet there were things they had not seen, and which they would see in time.
It is always true in personal, if not historical, terms that a golden age’s defining characteristic is its dailiness, its offered succession of the small satisfactions of daily living.
02. ‘She is really sort of unnervingly pretty,’ Ricky said, and laughed. ‘Edward’s been unnerved too.’
‘Pete read in a magazine that she’s only seventeen years old.’
‘In that case, she’s a public menace.’
03. Sims reared back, and Ricky saw that he was too unsure of his dignity to take jokes well.
04. ‘Yeah!’ Sims began to show an alarming quantity of enthusiasm.
05. Ricky nodded in the direction of Sears James, who more than ever resembled a stormcloud in human form. It looked like Freddy Robinson, now separated from Miss Moore, was trying to sell him insurance.
06. ‘That’s it,’ Sears said. ‘I’m tired and I’m going home. Noisy music makes me want to bite someone.’
07. …the air had a peculiar midday darkness which seemed unaffected by his headlights. These were no more than a glow nearly invisible at the front of the car. It was the objects and oddments of the town which instead seemed to glow, not with the yellow glow of the headlights but whitely, with the white of the clouds still boiling and foaming overhead–here a picket fence, there a door and molding shone. Here a scattering of stones in a wall, there naked poplars on a lawn. Their bloodless color reminded Rickey eerily of John Jaffrey’s face. Above these random shining things the sky beyond the boiling clouds was even blacker.
08. The light snow had ceased during the early evening, but the air was cold and so sharp it felt as if you could break pieces off it with your bare hands.
09. …he feared to peer too closely into the last moments of any suicide’s life, be it friend or wife.
10. ‘I know who killed him. It was you. You-you Chowder Society. You killed him with your terrible stories. You made him sick–you and your Fenny Bates!’ Her face twisted; Stella rushed in too late to stop Milly’s final words. ‘They ought to call you the Murder Society! They ought to call you Murder Incorporated!’
11. So there they stood, Murder Incorporated, beneath a bright sky in late October.
12. Helen was a large girl with big glasses and loose hair which always seemed on its way from one style to another; it was hair with unfulfilled intentions.
13. Our lunch had been awkward: she had said, comparing the articles she was trying to write with my work, ‘But I’m trying to describe reality!’
14. The first impression I had of Alma Mobley was of a general paleness, a spiritual blurriness suggested by her long expressionless face and hanging straw-colored hair. Her round eyes were very pale blue. I felt an odd mixture of attraction and revulsion; in the dim light of the staircase, she looked like an attractive girl who’d spent all her life in a cave–she appeared to be the same ghostly shade of white all over.
15. After all, as a novelist wasn’t I too a kind of liar? My profession consisted of inventing things, and of surrounding them with enough detail to make them believable; a few inventions on someone else’s part did not upset me unduly.
16. ‘Well, for what it’s worth,’ he said, and stood up. He marched over to his window, which gave a splendid view of the plaza. ‘I dislike gossip, you know.’
What I knew was that he loved gossip, like most academics.
17. …the first draft took so many misdirections it could have been an exercise in the use of the unreliable narrator.
18. He had begun to envy the Chowder Society; before long he would begin to love what he considered they represented, a way of combining civilization with a quiet good time.
19. These houses under a black sky, snow drifted on their front lawns, looked sinister to Peter Barnes: the scale of the night diminished them to something larger than dollhouses, smaller than themselves.
20. Binghamton, four or five times the size of Milburn, even on a dark, lowering day was another, brighter world: full of traffic, new buildings, young people, the sound of urban life, it was of its decade; it pushed little Milburn back into some novelettish period of Gothic reomance. The larger city had made him recognize how enclosed Milburn was… In Binghamton there was no drone of the macabre, no lurking abnormality to be sniffed out in stories over whiskey and in nightmares by old men.
21. If you wrote down the things Hardie said and looked at them afterward, you’d find the errors, but just listening to him talk, you’d be convinced of anything.
22. Empty, but filled with bare rooms and the atmosphere of whatever kind of person chose to live in them, the house seemed to be feigning stillness.
23. The day was a long bolt of gray cloth; endless.
24. Now Anna Mostyn is a woman not far short of beauty, even the awesome Stella Hawthorne sort; her eyes seem to go all the way back to Norfolk and Florence, where she says her ancestors came from. She has apparently made herself indispensable to Sears and Ricky, but her greatest gift is for merely being politely there, helpful when that is needed, as on the day of the funeral. She suggest kindness and sympathy and intelligence but does not overwhelm you with her excellent. She is discreet, quiet on the surface of things a supremely self-contained, self-possessed young woman. She really is remarkably unobtrusive. Yet she is sensual in an inexplicably unsettling way. She seems  cold , sensually cold: it is a self-referring, self-pleasing sensuality.
25. …and for a moment looked so stupid that Stella knew she was an enigma to him. Men to whom you were an enigma were thoroughly useless.
26. ‘I see. You’re threatening to rape me, are you, Harold?’
‘It’s more than a threat.’
‘It’s a promise, is it?’ she asked, seeing real brutishness in him for the first time. ‘Well before you start slobbering over me, I’ll make you a promise too.’ Stella lifted a hand to the underside of her lapel and pulled out a long hatpin: she had carried it with her for years now, ever since a man in Schenectady had followed her all day through shops. She held the hatpin out before her. ‘If you make one move toward me, I promise you I’ll plant this thing in your neck.’ Then she smiled: and it was the smile that did it.
He scrambled out of the seat as if given an electric shock.
27. You know how when a woman gets angry, really angry, she can reach way back into herself and find rage enough to blow any man to pieces–how all that feeling comes out and hits you like a truck?
…I will take you places you’ve never been. I will show you things that you have never seen and I will see the life run out of you.”

Glass Books of the Dream Eaters  by Gordon Dahlquist
001. … he was not one for speaking in general and still less to anyone for whom he might possess actual feelings.
002. He had no real idea if he was the hunter or the hunted, but knew that is things went bad he could be fighting several men at once, which was almost always fatal. If the group of men kept their heads, one of them was always presented with an opening, and their lone opponent, no matter how vigorous or skilled, would fall. That man’s only option was to attack at as many points as possible and through pure aggression separate the group into fragile individuals—who might then be prone to hesitation. Hesitation created tiny moments of single combat, winnowing the group, which in turn created more hesitation—ferocity pitted against presence of mind, fear trumping logic. In short, it meant attacking like a madman.
003. His coat was [???] enough but unkempt—in fact the man’s whole appearance gave the impression of a once-cherished article—a sofa, for example—that had been left in the rain and partially ruined. Svenson had seen men like him at his university and wondered if this man was some kind of scholar.
004. They say that enemies are often close in character—what separates them is but an attitude of mind…
005. So many people in the world were disappointing, who was to say the lack of any one more was a loss?
006. On one hand, he recognised that there were few things more ridiculous than the trappings of another person’s pleasure.

Gravity's Rainbow Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon
-01- ‘Nature does not know extinction; all it knows is transformation.’ Wernher von Braun
-02- He’s afraid of the way the glass will fall—soon–it will be a spectacle: the fall of a crystal palace. But coming down in total blackout, without one glint of light, only great invisible crashing.
-03- ”You can’t run a war on gusts of emotion.”
-04- …a million bureaucrats are diligently plotting death and some of them even know it…
-05- But you had taken on a greater, and more harmful, illusion. The illusion of control. That A could do B. But that was false. No one can do. Things only happen, A and B are unreal, are names for parts that ought to be inseparable…
-06- I wonder you people aren’t a bit too—well, strong, on the virtues of analysis. I mean, once you’re taken it all apart, fine, I’ll be the first to applaud your industry. But other than a lot of bits and pieces lying about, what have you said?
-07- Pavlov believed that the ideal, the end we all struggle toward in science, is the true mechanical explanation. He was realistic enough not to expect it in his lifetime. Or in several lifetimes more. But his hope was for a long chain of better and better approximations. His faith ultimately lay in a pure physiological basis for the life of the psyche. No effect without cause, and a clear train of linkages.
-08- “…The point is,” cutting off Gustav’s usually indignant scream, “a person feels good listening to Rossini. All you feel like listening to Beethoven is going out and invading Poland.”
-09- “…but do you think we’d’ve had the Rocket if someone, some specific somebody with a name and a penis hadn’t wanted to chuck a ton of Amatol 300 miles and blow up a block full of civilians? …”
-10- “In the name of whatever marginal decency enables you to get through the day without being shot dead by the odd armed stranger, open this door.”
-11- “The basic problem,” he proposes, “has always been getting other people to die for you. What’s worth enough for a man to give up his life? That’s where religion had the edge, for centuries. Religion was always about death. It was used not as an opiate so much as a technique—it got people to die for one particular set of beliefs about death. Perverse, natürlich, but who are you to judge? It was a good pitch while it worked. But ever since it became impossible to die for death, we have a secular version—yours. Die to help History grow to its predestined shape. Die knowing your act will bring a good end a bit closer. Revolutionary suicide, fine. But look: if History’s changes are inevitable, why not not die? Vaslav? If it’s going to happen anyway, what does it matter?”

Griped  [extracts] by Tuomas Kyro (translated by Douglas Robinson) [from Best European Fiction 2015]
001. And all that means is, folks got too much time on their hands–if they got time to count how much time they got on their hands.

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