Autodidact: self-taught



by V. L. Craven

Oh, Pure and Radiant Heart by Lydia Millet
-01-…he had seen a boy whose massive blue jeans in which he seemed to wade with difficulty as though treading through quicksand, actually commenced fully beneath the lower edge of his buttocks, It was an engineering marvel that they did not fall down—either that or a sleight of hand trick.
-02- At certain moments of shock or stupefaction it is clear, she though, that doing anything is a waste of time, that effort itself is a waste. Doing something appears more wasteful than doing nothing, while only doing nothing seems safe. This may be because something is always, at base, a distraction from nothing. Paradoxically, nothing is full, whereas something is often surprisingly empty; yet in nothing all things are possible, whereas in something there are limits on all sides.
And it is possible to relax into nothing, let nothing envelop you like a love.
-03- No, she reassured herself as she got up and changed shirts, in fact it is the strong who feels no need to defend himself, any idiot knows that.
-04- Noting routine could alarm her again: she was sealed off.
-05- Ben decided to stay close to her at the party to ensure she did not wander off as she sometimes did in clients’ homes, wander off and stand alone in a dark walk-in closet where it was silent, or sit in am armchair in a neglected corner staring at some useless object she’d picked up off a shelf.
Because it was acceptable to pay attention to objects, and far easier than facing people she did not know, she would fasten herself to them sometimes to get away.
-06- He knew, like most of those on whom the sky has already fallen, that if the sky was, in fact, to fall there would be nothing he could do to stop it.
-07- Most people do not wish to be alarmed because, understandably, they would rather exist in denial than in horror.
-08- In affluent countries and families, he thought, reassurance is the dominant form of censorship.
-09- That was how it looked when, finding himself alone after she left one morning, it occurred to him that with her gone he was solitary in everything, in the bare, cold roads that stretched from coast to coast intersecting only with each other—the monolithic industry that squatted by the roadsides hunkered down, of infinite strip mall suburbs where no sympathy could be found for what had evolved instead of being manufactured, what was abstract instead of concrete, where everything was made for the convenience of the barely sensate, the men who followed football and NASCAR and Bud Ice, the women who emptied ashtrays out their car windows as they drove through the redwoods.
-10- He spoke from a point so far away that despite the solidity of his broad chest and arms and his legs the character that inhabited them seemed absent. He had assigned a clerical worker to walk around in his body for him; he had delegated authority.
-11- Frequently these men and women with grandiose visions do not believe the laws that apply to common people should apply to them. Because they have a mission, unlike the scurrying nine-to-fivers, the billions of performers of mundane tasks, they believed themselves to be exempted from obligations and niceties. Besides being so-called great men, for example, they may be shoplifters or kleptomaniacs, reckless or absent-minded drivers, habitually late or chronically unwashed.
The truth is, they know they can get away with it.
Also they know that merry of the customs and rituals with which we fill our time are just that. So many routine acts seem inverted to use up the day.
For those who are not invested with a sacred sense of purpose, organization may become important. A small landscape, say a kitchen, a closet or a drawer, takes the places of a kingdom.
It is transparent, but that does not mean it is obvious.
-12- ”…You only need a thousand hundred-kiloton warheads. That’s the threshold for nuclear winter…”
“…They have tools they’ve spent money on and they have to use them. Inertia. They have to and they want to. Do you get it? It’s not reason. It’s not strategy. It’s a fantasy of power. It’s what they want.”
…yet weapons are full of desire, shaking with it. They are instruments for the expression of longing… In an instrument of mass destruction is distilled great artistry, a gorgeous swiftness and a fierce will.
The four largest defense contractors in America have spent forty million dollars lobbying over the past three years. In one year alone, there businesses received $35 billion in Pentagon contracts.
-13- Causes had always kept her at a distance; they cried out for attention but left her numb. There were just too many of them, mostly hopeless.
-14- the government talks in words that makes horror trivial. But the people talk in words that make the trivial horrible.
-15- In being no one, he said, there was immense freedom. He had uncovered in himself a calm and perfect neutrality.
-16- Modern man can’t bear to be left alone with his thoughts for a second, can he?
What thoughts, answered Oppenheimer…
-17- Reason, like bombs, can be deployed from far away. Closer up there is nothing but feeling.
-18- Whether she was pressed onward by fear or exhilaration was not obvious to her and this made her furtive and shameful even as her legs moved.
-19-The first time her skin had touched his own the texture of the world had changed, grown warmer but also more expansive.

The Old Limey by H.W. Crocker III
001. It was odd, but the first thing he noticed was its cleanliness. He’d seen plenty of ambulances in less than perfect circumstances, but even given the advantages of peace, the Americans were a remarkably clean people, he thought.
And professional, too. One had grown used to the idea that the Americans were rather hysterical, given to mass panics and strange fears that they might never find the secret of eternal life.
002. Nigel forced a smile…Surely he wasn’t being propositioned? This was just the way our American cousins showed their frank, unrepressed, friendly equality…wasn’t it?
Well, if it was, he couldn’t help thinking that their frank, unrepressed, friendly equality was rather like walking around naked. It might be very comfortable for you, but it’s damned distressing to your neighbours.
003. …young women were really rather like miraculous talking cows who, when ones’ conversation didn’t involve them personally, when one took the conversation into some higher, theoretical plane, would suddenly remember that that were indeed cows, not human beings at all, and turn away, chewing their cud, gazing in contented vacuity over the long green fields…
004. Why couldn’t they make hospitals rather more like hotels? Wasn’t the idea to being comfort to those in pain? Instead, all hospitals seemed very Swedish or German. A bunch of very bossy people in very clean surroundings making one’s life an absolute hell.
005. …he never learned the really useful phrases one needs for Africa, such as, ‘How much for that chap’s ears?’
006. These Americans were certainly very friendly. No one is England would ever behave in this way. In England, one would be expected to bear one’s torments silently and in private so as not to impose on the privacy of others. In any event, in England nobody really gave a rat’s arse about anybody else’s problems anyway.
007. Malibu sounded perfect. As did Disneyland, San Juan Capistrano, Santa Catalina and all the other Spanish names that were as familiar to her and the Iron Duke’s peninsular campaign were to him: Vimiero, Fuentes d’Onoro, Salamanca—and all the other places where the British had gone around killing people. But then again, those people needed to be put in their place too: they’d been French after all.
008. Perhaps he deserved some time holidaying there in the service of Bacchus for all the years he’s spent as a servant of Mars.
009. She smiled at him in that knee-jerk way he’d noticed American girls are wont to do. But Nigel didn’t return her smile. That would have shown an accommodating weakness. Instead, he acknowledged it by a slightly raised eyebrow and a thoughtful expression, which showed complete self-mastery and no contemptuous desire to please.
010. …he said our role was to play Greece to America’s Rome…But it didn’t seem quite fair that we should settle for the Yanks to have all the good plumbing and all the good phones. The fact that we Greeks had once sacked their Rome—Washington–merely 190 years ago, seemed small compensation.
011. Where once decaying Roman aristocrats, perhaps at the onset of the Dark Ages, might have tried to relive the decadence of the past with the gladiatorial combats in a dark atmosphere like this…now young people gathered for their own entertainment, to have their eardrums pounded and give themselves over to some strange onset of St Vitus’s Dance…
It looked, frankly, like Juvenile Delinquents Day at the United Nations.
012. Biceps or ankles were tattooed in jagged black shaped that looked hideously like barbed wire. What was that supposed to prove?
013. Nigel gladly served as her senior advisor in all matter related to her life—from the importance of not attending university, especially Oxford or Cambridge, so as not to strain herself.
014. Now there were words to warm every guardian’s heart–‘he’s always taking me to the more exciting parties.’ What did that mean nowadays? Drugs? Rock stars? Members of the Labour Cabinet? (Thank God so many of them were homosexuals.)
015. Rather, she was more the Artemis type—the sort of Englishwoman used to leaving the men to their cigars and their port knowing that she was smarter than all of them, and who looked [???] and dignified no matter what the situation.
016. Across the room was his old black and white television, a bitch for watching snooker– [???] going for the grey ball in the middle of all the other grey balls.’
017. He navigated between the young thugs who trudged down the street looking like giant [???] eager for a bit of orgiastic eyeball gouging. Ah, the cosmopolitan life.
018. The music was incredibly loud. Nigel never expected that the noise of the battlefield could become dance music.
019. The night was young. His liver was still functioning. There was work to do.
020. ‘…I’m sure Penelope will be his next sacrifice to Moloch.’
‘Canaanite fire god, my dear. Ate children and [???] . Don’t let it worry you.’
021. To his immense surprise, they sounded like readers of Conan Doyle. He could have sworn he heard them calling to each other, ‘Hey, Holmes!’
022. He hoped she ascribed the tears welling in his eyes to a simple, natural, unimportant factor of age and not a sign that the rum was coming back up and spilling through his eyeballs.
023. …with a look in his eye usually reserved for when cannibals in the former Upper Yolta described their culinary habits.


‘Ollala’ by Robert Louis Stevenson
001. if they knew you were the handsomest and the most pleasant man that ever came from England (where I am told that handsome men are common, but pleasant ones not so much so),
002. I had before talked with persons of a similar mental constitution; persons who seemed to live (as he did) by the senses, taken and possessed by the visual object of the moment and unable to discharge their minds of that impression
003. he was a pleasant-looking lad, and I had no fault to find with him, beyond that he was of a dusky hue, and inclined to hairiness; two characteristics that I disliked.
003. “I think we are all mad to-day,” said I, affecting to laugh. “It is the black wind,” he replied dolefully. “You feel as if you must do something, and you don’t know what it is.”
004. My foot was on the topmost round, when a door opened, and I found myself face to face with Olalla. Surprise transfixed me; her loveliness struck to my heart; she glowed in the deep shadow of the gallery, a gem of colour; her eyes took hold upon mine and clung there, and bound us together like the joining of hands; and the moments we thus stood face to face, drinking each other in, were sacramental and the wedding of souls. I know not how long it was before I awoke out of a deep trance, and, hastily bowing, passed on into the upper stair. She did not move, but followed me with her great, thirsting eyes; and as I passed out of sight it seemed to me as if she paled and faded.
005. Beauty I had seen before, and not been charmed, and I had been often drawn to women, who were not beautiful except to me; but in Olalla all that I desired and had not dared to imagine was united.
006. when I remarked that Olalla seemed silent, merely yawned in my face and replied that speech was of no great use when you had nothing to say. “People speak much, very much,”

“Ovando” by Jamaica Kincaide collected in The New Gothic.
001. He took this to be a sign from his various divinities, for all visionaries take as a sign of affirmation a momentary loss of contact with the ordinariness of daily life.
002. Again let me say: I see an object, I see its myriad uses good and bad, I see it rise up to great heights. I see it hold sway, the foundations of vast enterprises are laid in it, I see it reduced again to its humble origins, a thing I can hold in my hand. In the many things I have held in my hand, from time to time I see my own humanity: I can hold religious beliefs, I can extol a moral value, I can prevent myself from entering the dungheap that is history. My world is flat. I accept this. Its borders are finite. I accept this. The flatness of my world is kind to me.
003. Then on this paper Ovando wrote that be dishonoured me, that he had a right to do so for I came from nothing, that since I came from nothing I could not now exist in something, and so my existence was now rooted in nothing, and though I seemed to live and needed the things necessary to the living such as food and water and air, I was dead; and so though I might seem present, in reality I was absent. This document consisted of hundreds of articles and each of them confirmed my dishonour, each of them confirmed my death, each of them confirmed my nothingness.
004. Ovando cannot pass judgment on himself, for, as is to be expected, he loves himself beyond measure. Such a love is a worm asleep in every heart, and must never be awakened; such a love lies like kindling in every heart, and must never be lit. A charge against Ovando, then, is that he loved himself so that all other selves and all other things became nothing to him. I became nothing to Ovando. My relatives became nothing to Ovando. Everything that could trace its lineage through me became nothing to Ovando. And so it came to be that Ovando loved nothing, lived in nothing and died in just that way. I cannot judge Ovando.

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