Autodidact: self-taught



by V. L. Craven

What I Found Out About Her What I Found Out About Her: Stories of Dreaming Americans by Peter LaSalle
‘What I Found Out About Her’
001. There was that aroma of the city, a little bit asphalt and a little bit exhaust and a little bit just the strong, flat metallic something that  is New York
‘In the Southern Cone’
002. A man feared that he might find an assassin; Another that he might find a victim. One was more wise than the other. –Stephen Crane
‘A Dream of Falling Asleep: IX-XVII’
003. Difficulties arose: events I could not fathom seemed to conspire against all my good intentions.
‘The Saga of the Irish in America’
004. …she was working on a dissertation involving some rather complicated literary critical theory that looked more opaque than nuclear physics…
‘Tell Me About Nerval’
005. …the windows in that big foyer fogged up with steam from so many people there and because it was cold and damp outside in the gray afternoon of trees with coathanger-bare black limbs…
‘Tunis and Time’
006. Ancient civilizations even had their massive collective dreams, of conquest and glory, and spreading out from this very hill, there had once been an empire equaled by none, what included not only this North Africa but much of Spain and Gaul, and almost the largest prize beyond that, as Hannibal marched his leathery elephants and his thousands of shivering, sandaled soldiers across the snows of the high Alps, with the City of Rome itself, for a moment, anyway, within his grasp. But maybe here was also the overlooked truth about the dreaming, that everything was gone before it started, and now contemplating what had once been triumphant, the scant rubble of Carthage corporeal, Layton realized that it yielded merely the message of nothing to nothing–or possibly nothing all along, the suspected void, because, when you thought of it, everything was inevitably heading toward nothing before it even started, before it even aspired or had the chance to be something.

‘What the Dying Heart Says’ by John Toomey [from Best European Fiction 2015]
001. That’s always been your problem, Tommy. It will be why you will end up alone–you allow yourself to be loved, and you can love in return, but only remotely. You can’t trust. Those tiny betrayals of youth still hang over you. They gather in the dark shadows of your heart, in the recesses of your over-serious mind.

Who the Heck is Sylvia? by Joyce Porter
001. As the daughter of an earl and with the bluest of blood coursing through her veins she didn’t have to bother with trifles like gratitude or common politeness or even consideration for other people’s feelings.
002. ‘Any more tea in that pot, Bones?’
‘Of course, dear!’ Miss Jones dutifully poured out another steaming cup of the stuff that cheers but does not inebriate.
003.Precisely why Miss Jones failed to pick up the nearest heavy garden implement and wrap it around the Honourable Constance’s noble head is one of those little mysteries of human behaviour that are still awaiting scientific elucidation.

Wild Nights Wild Nights: Stories about the last days of Poe, Dickinson, Twain, James and Hemingway by Joyce Carol Oates
‘Poe Posthumous’
001. …for I acknowledge, I am one of those individuals of a somewhat fantastical and nervous disposition, who entertains worries when there are none, as my late beloved V. observed of me, yet who does not sufficiently worry of what is: ‘In this, you are not unlike all men, from our esteemed “leaders” downward,’ V. gently chided. (V. took but fond note of my character, never criticizing it; between us, who were related by cousinly blood as by matrimony, and by a like predilection for the great Gothic works of E.T.A. Hoffmann, Heinrich von Kleist, and Jean Paul Richter, there fluidly passed at all times as if we shared an identical bloodstream a kindred humour and wryness of sympathy undetectable to the crass individuals who surrounded us.)
002. To live immersed in society was a terrible error, for one of my temperament.
003. I am perfectly at ease with aloneness . As Pascal observed in the 139th Pensee: …all the unhappiness of men arises from one single fact, that they cannot stay quietly in their own chamber.
This Diary shall record whether such a ‘truth’ is universal, or applies merely to the weak.
004. [Following the death of Virginia] …when I vowed I would remain celibate, and penitent, for the remainder of my unhappy life. As V. dreaded the bestial, which permeates so much of human intercourse, within even the marital bed, I have a like aversion; tho’ I take pleasure in fondling Mercury and stroking his pricked up ears, I would be revulsed to so intimately touch another human being! For even hand-shaking, one gentleman with another, leaves me repelled.

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
001. 25-6 Going out to work can be tough, not something sweet and peaceful like picking the prettiest rose in your garden for your sick grandmother and spending the day with her, two streets away. Sometimes you have to do unpleasant things with unpleasant people…
002. 50 Nothing so consumes a person as meaningless exertion.
003. 57-8 Just before ten, it started to rain. Not a heavy rain. You couldn’t really be sure it was raining, the drops were so fine, but if you looked hard, you could tell. The world existed in two states, raining and nonraining, and there should be a line of demarcation between the two.
004. 78-9 I rarely suffer lengthy emotional distress from contact with other people. A person may anger or annoy me, but not for long. i can distinguish between myself and another as beings of two different realms. It’s a kind of talent (by which I do not mean to boast: it’s not an easy thing to do, so if you can do it, it is a kind of talent—a special power). When someone gets on my nerves, the first thing I do is transfer the object of my unpleasant feelings to another domain, one having no connection with me. Then I tell myself, Fine, I’m feeling bad, but I’ve put the source of these feelings into another zone, away from here, where I can examine it and deal with it later in my own good time. In other words, I put a freeze on my emotions. Later, when I thaw them out to perform the examination, I do occasionally find my emotions still in a distressed state, but that is rare. The passage of time will usually extract the venom from most things and render them harmless. Then, sooner or later, I forget about them.
005. 113 “I’m only sixteen,” she said, “and I don’t know much about the world, but I do know one thing for sure. If I’m pessimistic, then the adults in this world who are not pessimistic are a bunch of idiots.”
006. 261 “… it’s kind of impossible for anybody to do that stuff, like, ‘OK, now I’m gonna make a whole new world’ or ‘OK, now I’m gonna make a whole new self.’ That’s what I think. You might think you made a new world or a new self, but your old self is always gonna be there, just below the surface, and if something happens, it’ll stick its head out and say ‘Hi.’…”

The Witches of Chiswick by Robert Rankin
001. Gladys was a vision in scarlet—but a vision from the Book of Revelation.
002. [The protagonist has time-travelled back to the 19th century] Will’s hands clamped about his nose. His head swam and tears rose to his eyes. The nineteenth century didn’t smell at all good.
003. This season’s colour was presently black, because black was always the new black as far as Queen Victoria was concerned.
004. [Regarding an artist] Mr Dodd in his ‘you chuck it on and I’ll spread it’ period…
005. A prediction was made in the year eighteen ninety, which seemed a most logical prediction at the time, that with the ever-growing volume of horse-drawn traffic in London, by the year nineteen twenty, every street, road and lane in England would be nose to tail in horse-drawn vehicles and London would be thirty-five feet deep in horse manure. And it was a prediction based on logic.
006. Tim hid his face, put his hands together and recommended himself to his deity.
007. ‘It’s the best advice I’ve ever had,’ said Gamma. ‘i read it on the side of a matchbox. It is, “Keep dry and away from children”.’
008. There is a theory and it’s a very ancient theory, that Man and God are co-dependent upon one another…Without Man, God has no one to worship Him; therefore He is God to no one and as such does not exist…The Egyptians worshipped Ra and Horus and Isis. Those gods were real to the Egyptians, those gods existed to them. But the temples of Ra and Horus and Isis were eventually overthrown; those gods were no longer worshipped, so what of those gods now?’
‘They never existed,’ said Will.

Wonder Boys Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon
001. p34: …as with most red-headed women what beauty she possessed was protean and odd.
002. p80 …I looked at her face, flecked and pale and alive with the look of disappointment that often haunts the difficult faces of redheaded women.
003. [More personal notes] Mr Chabon is quite adept with metaphor—I particularly enjoyed a moment when he is describing Grady Tripp’s longing for some pharmaceutical refreshment, he says, ‘I wished to the point of religious feeling.’
004. Later he describes the sound of a cow lowing, ‘One of the cows out in the barnyard made a mournful comment on the burdensomeness of life.’
005. It reassured me that, if nothing else in life, at least I had fulfilled my earliest ambition simply to wander far afield, in a spirit if not in space, from the place of my birth.
006. I also liked his description of being stoned as feeling, ‘like everything already happened five minutes ago.’
007. ‘It’s always been had for me to tell the difference between denial and what used to be known as hope.’
008. ‘…for all that I still had never gotten used to the breathtaking impermanence of things.’
009. Professor Grady Tripp is a writer and his theory is that all writers have something he terms the midnight disease. It’s rather a combination of insomnia and detachedness from the world. At WordFest, a pseudo literary convention in the book, there is an author visiting, Q., who gives a talk about what he calls his doppelganger, a sort of phantom self who observes Q.’s life in order to later use parts for fiction. For the most part this gremlin is merely a observer, but occasionally he intercedes in Q.’s life in order to liven things up a bit so Q. would have something to write about [Sounds like a drama queen to me. I personally find these people to be terribly annoying myself, and loathe to find tendencies in myself. Perhaps that is why i usually try to keep my feelings to myself—the only person I really unload on is D. and most of the time I feel horribly about that. Then I remind myself that she is continually analysing and over-analysing every minute thing the guy she likes does/says, so if I have to hear that then turnabout is fair.] Professor Tripp then makes the observation that he thinks what Q. is speaking of is the nature of the midnight disease. ‘Which started as a simple feeling of disconnection from other people, an inability to ‘fit in’ by no means unique to writers, a sense of envy and of unbridgeable distance like that felt by someone tossing on a restless pillow in a world full of sleepers. Very quickly, though, what happened with the midnight disease was that you began actually to crave this feeling of apartness, to cultivate and even flourish within it. You pushed yourself farther and farther and farther apart until one black day you wake to discover that you yourself had become the chief object of your own hostile gaze.’
010. After a while you lost the ability to distinguish between your fictional and actual worlds; you confused yourself with your characters, and the random happenings of your life with the machinations of a plot.
011. I suppose that I derived some kind of comfort from the fact that my relationship with young Hannah Green remained a disaster waiting to happen and not, as would normally have been the case by this time, the usual disaster.
012. [Prof Tripp has a] native genius for externalising self-hatred.

2015 Best European Fiction ‘Worlds from the Word’s End’ by Joanna Walsh [from Best European Fiction 2015]
-001- If, at an international level, there was no news, at a local level there was no gossip, so most of us felt better. We ceased to judge people, having no common standards.
-002- Being able to name our own things to ourselves gave us comfort.
-003- What did we do with the space in our minds that had constantly processed what we read? Well…I guess we processed other things, but what they were, we could no longer say.
-004- Whatever we said, we knew contained the seed of its opposite. ‘It’s fine today,’ ‘I respect you,’ ‘Will you take out the trash?’ suggested the possibility of bad weather, cruelty, and refusal. It had become so difficult to say anything. Our awkwardness got to us. In the republic of words, ‘I love you,’ induced anxiety. ‘How was your day?’ would elicit merely a sigh. I think people just got tired, tired of explaining things they’d already said to one another, exhausted by the process of excavating words with words.
-005- You probably think we’ve all gone quiet over here, that you’ll never hear from us again. Yet it is quiet, but we are still thinking. In ways you can no longer describe.

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